College Hoops Top 25 Stock Watch: Villanova Makes History, UNC Slides
Ask an Associated Press voter who the best college basketball team in the country is right now, and you could get at least six different answers.
I guess that's what happens when the top two teams in the country lose within two hours of one another.
After Oklahoma became the latest victim of Kansas State's "Octagon of Doom" and North Carolina dropped its second game of the week, the door was opened for Villanova to ascend to the top of the poll for the first time in school history. The Wildcats grabbed 32 of the 65 first place votes in this week's AP poll after a short-handed, double-digit win at Providence.
Maryland, Iowa, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Kansas also received at least one vote for number one, ensuring there will be no shortage of options if and when Villanova cedes the top spot.
Hey, we've got a whole month left before the conference tournaments really get going. This thing will be crystal clear by then, right? Maybe?
Current Rank: 1st
Last Week: 3rd
Nova's leap to number one may raise a few eyebrows from those who think that top basketball schools have to come from big football conferences, but the Wildcats are as deserving as anyone for a turn at the top spot.
All but four of Villanova's wins this season are by double digits. The Wildcats have six wins against the top 50, and 10 wins inside the top 100, while their only losses have come against Oklahoma, Virginia, and Providence. Villanova is the top team in RPI and our power rankings, and just behind Iowa for second in KenPom's Pythagorean ratings. While Villanova's guard play and perimeter scoring are typically the program's hallmarks, defense and team rebounding could be the driving factors that get the Cats deeper into March this time around. With DePaul and St. John's up this week, it would be shocking not to see Villanova top the charts for the second time next Monday.
Current Rank: 7th
Last Week: 9th
After consistently being in the conversation for a top seed the last two seasons, the Cavaliers' three losses in early January made everyone forget about them for a bit. But Tony Bennett's squad deserves plenty of attention again after winning its last six games in the ACC. Virginia is tied for first in top-25 wins (four), first in top-50 wins (nine), and second in top-100 wins (13). They're fifth in RPI and have played the eighth-hardest schedule in the country, notching wins over Villanova, West Virginia, Louisville, and Miami. If the Cavaliers can get past North Carolina to win either the ACC regular season or tournament championship, they will certainly have a strong case to make for the top line.
Current Rank: 11th
Last Week: 16th
Three weeks ago, after losing at Colorado for their fourth defeat of the season, the Ducks were the last team listed in the AP poll's "others receiving votes" section, with just one little point. Since then, Oregon's gone from 23rd to 16th to just outside the top 10, fueled by six straight wins inside the Pac 12.
The only team that's picked up more top-100 wins than Virginia's aforementioned 13 is Oregon, with 14. The Ducks have taken advantage of a deeper Pac 12 this season, already racking up resume-boosting wins against every team in the top half of the conference, including a signature win at Arizona. Add in non-conference wins over Baylor and Valparaiso, and this is a team with a shot of being inside the top eight of the S-curve come Selection Sunday.
Current Rank: 9th
Last Week: 2nd
There's no great shame in losing at Louisville and at Notre Dame, but when both losses come in the same week, the polls will be unkind. Carolina still figures to be one of the favorites to win it all once the brackets are announced, but they'll have to steady themselves against a tough remaining schedule that includes six top-50 opponents and trips to Virginia and Duke.
Much has been made of UNC's recent shooting woes, as the Tar Heels sit outside the top 300 in the country in three-point field goal percentage. But pair that with the Heels' deficiencies in defending the three (267th in the country, according to KenPom), and it's easy to see how, against the wrong kind of opponent, a disparity in perimeter scoring could lead to an early upset of UNC.
Current Rank: 21st
Last Week: 15th
Baylor's dropped three of its last five, and while the losses have started to pile up, their resume is still blemish-free. The problem for the Bears isn't who they've played, or where their defeats have come. It's a lack of quality wins, as Baylor is 1-6 against the seven best teams it's played this year. The Bears are still a 5 seed according to our bracketology, but are now chasing Oklahoma, Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa State, and Texas inside the Big 12. They've got a game remaining against each of the teams ahead of them in the conference, so Scott Drew's squad will still have plenty of say in where they'll land on Selection Sunday.
Current Rank: 20th
Last Week: 11th
Two weeks ago, the Friars' win at Villanova catapulted them into the AP's top 10, despite advanced metrics suggesting they weren't even one of the country's 30 best teams. Since that time, regression has kicked in, with two home losses (albeit, against top-five teams in Xavier and Villanova) and a loss at DePaul. Providence has two headliners in Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but it's clear that they'll need a lot more from their supporting cast if they hope to right the ship down the stretch. The Friars still have trips to Xavier and Seton Hall left on the docket, and if they don't win one of those two, they could start to drift into the 7-9 range of the bracket.