College Hoops Top 25 Stock Watch: Maryland Finally Grabs a Signature Win
The Big 12-SEC Challenge stole the spotlight this past weekend, with some really fun matchups that left many of us wondering why they don't do non-conference games this late in the season more often.
A few observations from our high-profile pit stop from conference play:
LSU belongs in the NCAA Tournament, but they could be one-and-done if Ben Simmons doesn't become more assertive in close-and-late situations.
Kentucky is beginning to round into form, just as it started to look like Texas A&M might take control of the SEC. No one will want to see Kentucky in the conference tourney.
Buddy Hield is an assassin, the exact kind of guy everyone would love to avoid in March. Oklahoma really looks like a 1 seed, and all college hoops fans (minus those whose teams will play Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament) should be rooting for the Sooners to advance far in the bracket.
For this week's stock watch, we'll go outside the Big 12 and SEC to profile three teams ascending and three on the way down. Fans of schadenfreude will want to keep reading, because Duke is mentioned in the unflattering part of this article.
Current Rank: 4th
Last Week: 8th
Maryland's been inside the AP's top five for most of the season, powered by a number-three preseason rank and a 15-1 start. Two weeks later, the Terrapins fell to eighth, having lost to the three best teams they'd played (North Carolina, Michigan, and Michigan State) without picking up a single top-50 win. That changed on Thursday, when Maryland took out third-ranked Iowa, just as the Hawkeyes looked poised to separate themselves from the rest of the Big Ten. Maryland is one of the most balanced teams in country according to KenPom, ranking 12th in Defensive Efficiency and 24th in Offensive Efficiency. The Terps still have a home-and-home with Purdue and games remaining against Michigan and Indiana in order to pad their resume before the Big Ten Tournament. If they take advantage of their remaining top-50 matchups, Maryland will be in the conversation for a 1 or 2 seed.
Current Rank: 24th
Last Week: NR
Dayton, VCU, and Saint Joseph's, the top three teams in the Atlantic 10, each find themselves in the top 25 of KenPom's Defensive Efficiency ratings and could all slug their way into the NCAA Tournament. Though they're a game behind VCU in the loss column in the conference standings, Dayton has quietly compiled a resume that allows them to stand out from their A-10 brethren, sitting as a 5 seed in our latest bracketology. Dayton trails only Oregon, Virginia, North Carolina, and Utah with 10 top-100 wins, and their non-conference win against Iowa on a neutral floor keeps looking better and better. The Flyers host VCU in their regular season finale, a game that could crown the A-10 champion.
Current Rank: NR
Last Week: NR
Saint Mary's is the first team out of the AP's Top 25, and could break through in next week's rankings with a win at BYU on Thursday. We profiled the Gaels earlier this season as a team slowly emerging from the shadow of Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference. Saint Mary's is off to a 9-1 start in the WCC and can score with the best in the nation. The Gaels are our number-one ranked team in Offensive Efficiency and own incredible shooting rankings in KenPom's metrics (first in Effective Field Goal percentage and second in both 2- and 3-point shooting). Saint Mary's will likely need to win the WCC Tournament to ensure a spot in the Big Dance. Otherwise, their strength of schedule (currently 304th) could stick out like a sore thumb against other teams vying for an at-large bid.
Current Rank: NR
Last Week: 24th
For the first time since 2007, Duke is outside the AP's top 25. Does that mean Duke's chances of repeating as national champs are officially toast? While the Blue Devils are struggling defensively, it’s probably still too early to stick a pitchfork in them. In terms of Offensive Efficiency, Duke is ranked first in KenPom's ratings and second in ours. The Blue Devils are 10th in our power rankings, 13th in ESPN's BPI rankings, and 19th in KenPom's Adjusted Efficiency ratings. So all hope is not lost. But four losses in their last five, including three straight, have dropped Duke to 4-4 in the ACC. Worse yet, none of those losses have come against North Carolina, Virginia, or Louisville, the three ACC teams ahead of Duke in our power rankings. The Blue Devils have five regular-season games left with that trio, so in about a month, we should know if Duke is ready to contend again or if they'll be a great pick to get upset in the first round of the tournament, thanks a defense currently ranked 172nd in our efficiency metrics..
Current Rank: NR
Last Week: 25th
Like Duke, Notre Dame: (a) plays in the ACC, (b) has only two top-50 wins, (c) is inside the top five in Offensive Efficiency, and (d) has a below-average defense that holds them back against quality opponents. Notre Dame's current resume stacks up like a classic 8 or 9 seed: solid computer numbers, one signature win (over Iowa on a neutral court), but not an overwhelming number of top-100 wins. Notre Dame dropped from the AP's top 25 this week after getting blown out at Syracuse and will have a tough journey back. KenPom projects the Fighting Irish to lose their next five games: at Miami, home for UNC, at Clemson, home for Louisville, and at Georgia Tech. The Irish have to steal a couple of those games to avoid putting their tournament hopes in jeopardy.
Current Rank: 22nd
Last Week: 19th
Last week, the Hoosiers dropped their first Big Ten game, in overtime at Wisconsin, but remain tied with Iowa for the conference lead. With only four top-50 wins and a 183rd-ranked strength of schedule, Indiana's got more resume work left to do than any other Big Ten contender. The Hoosiers' 8-1 conference start has come without a single game played against the other teams in the top six of the conference. Indiana has at least six games left against likely NCAA Tournament teams. That stretch will determine Indiana's worthiness for the field of 68.