Credit: AP

College Basketball Talk’s latest top 25

source: AP
Credit: AP

The toughest part about putting these rankings together right now is trying to balance out the difference the performance we’ve seen to date and the potential that each team has on their roster.

Look at Kansas, for example. They’re lost three times to top 15 teams away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse, none of which came by more than six points. They have as much talent, top-to-bottom, as anyone in the country, and they have arguably the best head coach in the game. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re sitting at 7-3.

I think the Jayhawks are still the best team in the Big 12, better than Baylor and better than Oklahoma State. I think they’re a better team than Oregon or Wichita State or UConn. But, a third of the way through the season, can we rank the Jayhawks higher than teams that have outperformed them?

1. Arizona (11-0, LW: No. 1): The Wildcats came back from 11 points down in the second half to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon. Arizona just keeps on impressing. The week, it was the development of Brandon Ashley that started to draw attention.

2. Syracuse (10-0, LW: No. 2): The Orange only played one game this week, but it was a 68-63 win over former Big East rivals St. John’s at Madison Sqaure Garden. Tyler Ennis continues to play like an all-american, but C.J. Fair has been playing well of late as well.

3. Wisconsin (12-0, LW: No. 3): It was actually a relatively quiet week for the Badgers, who beat Horizon contender Milwaukee and Ohio Valley favorite Eastern Kentucky without breaking a sweat.

4. Ohio State (10-0, LW: No. 4): The Buckeyes are still locking people up defensively. Now that LaQuinton Ross looks like he may be breaking out of his funk, the Buckeyes are becoming more dangerous. Now if they would only play someone good …

5. Louisville (9-1, LW: No. 5): With Chris Jones out of the lineup, Russ Smith stepped in and posted a double-double, 14 points and 10 assists, in a 16-point win over Western Kentucky.

6. Michigan State (9-1, LW: No. 6): Sparty needs Christmas break to get here so they can get healthy. Tom Izzo’s club struggled to knock off Oakland on Saturday. Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Matt Costello — four starters — are all banged up right now.

7. Duke (7-2, LW: No. 7): Duke didn’t play this week because of finals.

8. Florida (7-2, LW: No. 17): I’m buying the Gators. I think they’re going to end up being one of the top five teams in the country in a month, especially now that it looks like Chris Walker’s first appearance is coming soon.

9. Oklahoma State (9-1, LW: No. 9): Le’Bryan Nash went for 22 points, 10 boards and three steals for the Pokes on Saturday. He’s a key for them, a third option and a post presence to help keep defenses honest.

10. Villanova (10-0, LW: No. 14): I watched some tape on Villanova and came away more impressed this weekend. This is the epitome of a Jay Wright team. Tough, talented guards and big men that create matchup nightmares on the perimeter. This will be a fun team to watch.

11. UConn (9-0, LW: No. 11)
12. Wichita State (10-0, LW: No. 12)
13. Oregon (9-0, LW: No. 13)
14. Baylor (8-1, LW: No. 15)
15. Kansas (7-3, LW: No. 10)
16. North Carolina (7-2, LW: No. 24)
17. Kentucky (8-3, LW: No. 8)
18. Memphis (7-1, LW: No. 16)
19. Iowa State (7-0, LW: No. 18)
20. Gonzaga (10-1, LW: No. 19)
21. Iowa (10-1, LW: No. 20)
22. UMass (9-0, LW: No. 21)
23. San Diego State (7-1, LW: No. 22)
24. Colorado (10-1, LW: No. 23)
25. Pitt (10-0, LW: No. 25)

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.