The best part of doing the top 25 for NBCSports.com is that, now the season has started, I can ignore anything that anyone else has to say and rank these teams as I see fit.
That said, the rankings mostly remain the same as they were before. No. 20 Georgetown and No. 25 Wisconsin both dropped out because if you lose to Radford or Western Illinois at home in your opener, you forfeit your spot in the top 25.
I also dropped Gonzaga a few spots. That’s not a result of what happened in Okinawa on Friday night — you can’t really judge a team based on one half that was played on an ice rink — I’ve just felt this team was overrated all preseason.
Baylor and Purdue both received a bit of a bump, which Cincinnati and Louisville are the two teams that snuck into our top 25 at the back-end.
1. Kentucky (31-0, LW: No. 1): The Wildcats did it. They finished the regular season a perfect 31-0. I’m not sure anyone is disagreeing with this ranking.
2. Virginia (28-2, LW: No. 2): Virginia lost at Louisville on Saturday. On a last-second jumper. From Mangok Mathiang. Not exactly a sign that this team is crumbling. The bigger concern? They’re still waiting for Justin Anderson to return to health. After nearly completing his recovery from a fractured finger, Anderson underwent an appendectomy last week. Will he be healthy for the NCAA tournament?
3. Wisconsin (28-3, LW: No. 3): The Badgers finished their regular season without a hiccup, pounding No. 23 Ohio State in Columbus on Sunday. Like Virginia, the Badgers are still waiting on a starter — Trae Jackson — to get healthy. Unlike Virginia, his replacement — Bronson Koenig — has been terrific in a starting role.
4. Duke (28-3, LW: No. 4): The Blue Devils are tough to peg for me. They’ve got such glaring problems that they are impossible to ignore. But … they’ve won at Virginia, at Wisconsin, at Louisville, at North Carolina and at St. John’s. They have the nation’s most dominant low-post scorer in Jahlil Okafor. They have a point guard (Tyus Jones) that is channelling his inner-Bobby Hurley. And they have a pair of wings (Quinn Cook and Justise Winslow) that can take over a game in the drop of a hat.
5. Villanova (29-2, LW: No. 5): The outright Big East champs for the second straight season, a span where Virginia has only lost seven total games. My concern with them: Who have they beaten this season? Their best win is … VCU? Rolling through the Big East, winning that league by four games, is truly impressive, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the Wildcats square off against one of the other elite teams.
6. Arizona (28-3, LW: No. 6): The Wildcats are cruising now. After beating Utah in Utah last Saturday, they pounded both Cal and Stanford at home to close out the regular season. This is the right time for Sean Miller’s team to peak.
7. Gonzaga (30-2, LW: No. 7): Will this be the year that the Zags end up making it past the Sweet 16? They haven’t been playing like it of late. The most recent was Saturday’s game against San Francisco, when they trailed by seven at halftime.
8. Kansas (24-7, LW: No. 8): The Jayhawks are hemorrhaging players right now. Perry Ellis sprained his knee against West Virginia. Brannen Greene was suspended for the Oklahoma game. Cliff Alexander is still sitting out, reportedly due to the NCAA looking into a loan that his mother took out. And they still won the outright Big 12 title. Not bad.
9. Maryland (26-5, LW: No. 9): Maryland won at Nebraska by three on Sunday night, yet another nail-biter for a team that has already chewed their fingers down to the cuticles. Maryland is 11-0 in games decided by six points or less, the kind of stat that makes a team ranked 31st in KenPom and 60th in offensive efficiency a top ten team. Are the Terps lucky, or do they “know how to win”?
10. Notre Dame (26-5, LW: No. 12): The Irish hop back up into the top ten, which is impressive when you consider the issues this team has defensively. They have been playing 6-foot-6 Bonzie Colson at center for the last month!
1. Kentucky (29-0, LW: No. 1): Ho-hum, just another pair of blowout wins for the Wildcats. March Madness can’t get here soon enough. Here’s what I’m hoping happens: Kentucky has to beat Wisconsin, Virginia and Arizona or Duke to win the national title. I want to see them challenged. Seeing this team coast to No. 9 without beating anyone higher than a No. 3 seed would not only be boring, but it would result in their season having an asterisk next to it. I can see the headlines now: “Kentucky might be the greatest team ever, but we’ll never know because they were never tested.” That would get annoying really, really quick.
2. Virginia (27-1, LW: No. 4): No Justin Anderson, no problem. London Perrantes breaks his nose, Virginia beats Wake Forest by 36 on the road. They just keep on winning. We can only hope Anderson gets healthy. This team deserves to be at 100 percent in March.
3. Wisconsin (26-3, LW: No. 2): The Badgers picked up their first loss since January on Tuesday, as they went into College Park and lost to a Maryland team that is going to find themselves in the top ten of every poll in the country on Monday morning. What a devastating blow! I won’t mention the part about how the Terps matchup very well with Wisconsin, or how the Badgers missed a number of very good looks at threes in the first half, a major reason they found themselves down 11 at the break. The only real damage from that loss? It hurts their chances of getting a No. 1 seed, and may set them up for a date with Kentucky in the Elite 8.
4. Duke (26-3, LW: No. 5): As good as Duke’s wins are this season, I still have my doubts about their ability to win a national title. Their defensive issues are a major, major problem — it almost cost them against Virginia Tech — but that’s not it. Duke has four different guys that can take over a game when Justise Winslow plays the way he did this past week. But they lack depth and balance beyond that, which says nothing about how badly they need a stretch four or another big, athletic wing. The advantage that Duke gets when playing Winslow at the four is negated by the fact that they have to play either Matt Jones (too small) or Grayson Allen (not ready) at the three, and Amile Jefferson isn’t a good enough shooter to make it difficult for opposing defenses to smother Jahlil Okafor with big-to-big doubles.
5. Villanova (27-2, LW: No. 6): The Wildcats just keep winning. They clinched the outright Big East title this week with a 28 point win over Providence on Tuesday, following that up with an impressive win at Xavier over the weekend.
6. Arizona (26-3, LW: No. 7): The Wildcats have clinched a share of the Pac-12 title, and as long as they beat either Cal or Stanford at home next week, they will be the outright league champs. Sean Miller’s club seems to have shaken off their road struggles, and while they still have some issues with their perimeter shooting, Arizona can really, really defend. Also, it’s good to see Kaleb Tarczewski starting to play like a former top ten recruit.
7. Gonzaga (29-2, LW: No. 3): I can understand why Gonzaga lost on Saturday night. They were distracted by Senior Night in a game that didn’t mean much to them and that gave life to BYU’s season. It happens. But it doesn’t explain why the Zags have not looked like themselves over the course of the last three weeks.
8. Kansas (23-6, LW: No. 8): I still think that Kansas is one of the top eight teams in the country, but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Cliff Alexander. He wasn’t playing all that effectively to begin with, but without him, the Jayhawks have a massive hole in their front line. At least Alexander provided them with some athleticism and physicality up front. The Jayhawks all but have a No. 2 seed locked up because of how strong their schedule is, but I think there’s a real gap between them and the rest of the top seven.
9. Maryland (24-5, LW: No. 17): After knocking off Wisconsin on Tuesday, the Terps are getting a bump into the top ten. I’ll be honest: after seeing them in person, I’m not convinced this is actually one of the top ten teams in the country. I’m also not convinced this is a team that can make the Final Four. But I don’t known if any of the teams below them can do that either.
10. Baylor (22-7, LW: No. 15): Has there been a hotter team in the country over the course of the last two weeks than Baylor? The run that they used to beat Iowa State in Ames on Wednesday — hitting six threes in six possessions — was impressive. It’s fluky, yes, but it shows you how dangerous this group is.