Top-ranked Duke went down early in the week. No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Virginia, the last of Division I’s unbeaten teams, both fell over the weekend. In all, six top-10 teams lost.
Tennessee kept rolling amid chaos across the AP Top 25.
The Vols are the new No. 1 in The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll on Monday, climbing three spots to earn their first top ranking since the 2007-08 season.
Tennessee received 48 of 64 first-place votes from a media panel in the poll released Monday, well ahead of No. 2 Duke with 11. No. 3 Virginia received three first-place votes and No. 6 Michigan State two. Gonzaga and Michigan rounded out the top five.
“The guys playing right now built this thing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
Expectations followed the Vols into the 2018-19 season. With its top six scorers back from a team that shared the SEC title, Tennessee had its highest preseason ranking at No. 6 and was eyeing a deep NCAA Tournament run in Barnes’ fourth season.
The Vols have lived up to the forecast so far, bouncing back from an overtime loss to then-No. 2 Kansas to win 12 straight games. Tennessee knocked Gonzaga from atop the AP Top 25 with Barnes’ first win over a No. 1 team in early December and won its two games last week, rolling over Arkansas and holding off Alabama .
The only other time Tennessee (16-1, 5-0) was No. 1, it lost the next night to Vanderbilt — the Vols’ opponent on Wednesday.
“Tennessee basketball hasn’t been ranked No. 1 in a long time,” Vols guard Jordan Bone said. “That’s a good feeling, but we can’t be so locked in on that. We have to continue to stay hungry. We can’t be so focused on that. It’s so fleeting. It can change really quick.”
The changes in the AP Top 25 came quickly after a wild week.
Duke started by losing to Syracuse in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils played without a sick Cam Reddish and lost point guard Tre Jones to a shoulder injury in the first half.
Reddish returned against Virginia on Saturday and Duke responded with a superb game, knocking Virginia from the unbeaten ranks with a 72-70 victory despite playing without Jones.
Michigan lost to Wisconsin by 10, also on Saturday, leaving the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers as the last Division I team to go undefeated.
No. 7 Kansas, No. 8 Texas Tech and No. 9 Virginia Tech also lost. The Jayhawks fell two spots after losing to West Virginia. The Red Raiders dropped six spots to No. 14 after losses to Iowa State and Baylor. The Hokies were down one to No. 10 following a loss to Virginia.
In all, 13 ranked teams lost last week.
HERE IS THE FULL POLL
1. Tennessee (48 first-place votes)
2. Duke (11)
3. Virginia (3)
6. Michigan State
10. Virginia Tech
11. North Carolina
14. Texas Tech
20. Ole Miss
21. N.C. State
22. Mississippi State
24. Iowa State
Kentucky saw a steady slide down the AP Top 25 after opening the season with a blowout loss to Duke. The preseason No. 2, the Wildcats were down to No. 19 just a month ago, but started climbing again.
Kentucky is up to No. 8 after beating No. 14 Auburn and Georgia this week, with games against No. 22 Mississippi State and No. 9 Kansas coming up.
RISING AND FALLING
No. 13 Maryland moved up six spots after beating Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Kentucky, No. 17 Houston and No. 18 Villanova each moved up four spots.
Florida State after stretching its losing streak to three games with losses to Pittsburgh and Boston College, falling out of the poll from No. 11.
Louisville moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time this season at No. 23 following wins over Boston College and Georgia Tech.
Iowa State’s wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State put the Cyclones back in at No. 24 after they dropped out from No. 20 last week.
LSU beat then-No. 19 Mississippi and South Carolina last week to return to the poll at No. 25.
Oklahoma joined Florida State in dropping out of the poll following losses to Kansas State and Texas. The Sooners were No. 20 last week.
Indiana, No. 25 last week, did not receive a single vote after lopsided losses to Nebraska and Purdue.
It does not appear that Duke will be getting their freshman point guard back for Tuesday’s game against Pitt.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters on Monday morning that Tre Jones is “doubtful” to play in the next game for the Blue Devils.
“He’s not going to play unless something miraculous happens,” Krzyzewski said.
Jones injured his shoulder six minutes into Duke’s loss to Syracuse last Monday. He did not return to the floor and Duke later announced that Jones had suffered a sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. He did not play in Saturday’s win over No. 4 Virginia, but earlier in the week Coach K told The Athletic that the injury was not expected to keep Jones out for an extended amount of time.
Zion Williamson on sitting out: ‘If I was going to sit out, I wouldn’t have gone to college’
Zion Williamson is not going to be taking Scottie Pippen’s advice anytime soon.
After putting up 27 points and nine boards in Saturday night’s win over No. 4 Virginia, Williamson spoke to reporters and put an end to any speculation that he would listen to the NBA Hall of Famer and cut his college career short by sitting out the rest of the season.
“I can’t just stop playing,” he told Yahoo Sports on Saturday. “I’d be letting my teammates down. I’d be letting Coach K down. I’d be letting a lot of people down.”
Earlier in the week, Pippen had posed the theory that Williamson needed to shut it down, that risking injury by playing for free when he’s already sewn up being the No. 1 pick in June’s draft and ensured himself millions and millions (and millions) in marketing dollars was the wrong decision.
Frankly, it’s not the worst idea that I’ve ever heard. Zion has a chance to make a billion dollars during his basketball career. If you don’t believe me at face value, think about it like this: He is two months into his college career, and you already unequivocally know exactly who I am talking about when I say the name “Zion”.
That’s a lot of risk to take on even if the chances of a career-ending injury actually occurring is so low.
So I get it.
And I’m sure Pippen isn’t the only one saying as much to to him.
But rest easy, Duke fans.
It’s not happening.
“If I was going to sit out, I wouldn’t have gone to college,” he said. “I’m thankful that Coach K gave me the opportunity.”
Monday Overreactions: The Big 12 is drunk, Duke-Virginia is the new Duke-Maryland
The turnaround that Kansas State has made over the course of the last 12 days is absolutely incredible.
It wasn’t even two weeks ago that the Wildcats found themselves trailing Big 12 bottom feeder West Virginia 42-21 early in the second half in their own building. Kansas not only managed to win that game, they won their next three as well — at Iowa State, at Oklahoma (by 13 points) and TCU on Saturday.
It’s not a coincidence that their three biggest wins of the season happened to come when their best player returned from a foot injury that was initially expected to keep him out of action for eight weeks. This week he was at his all-american best. He went for 20 points in the win over Oklahoma and followed that up with 13 points and six assists as the Wildcats dispatched TCU.
These numbers aren’t overly impressive, but it is Wade’s presence on the floor more than anything that helps KSU win games. He’s their best shooter, which helps open up space on the floor for the myriad drivers on this roster, and he also happens to be the best passer on the team. Everything flows better offensively when he plays, and the proof is in the results.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears
Baylor is as much to blame for the insanity at the top of the Big 12 conference as anyone.
Just 10 days after they knocked off Iowa State in the Ferrell Center, Scott Drew’s club picked off No. 8 Texas Tech, handing the Red Raiders their second loss in league play and dropping them out of sole possession of first place in the conference standings.
The Bears, believe it or not, are now a win over West Virginia on Monday night away from being in a tie for first place in the Big 12, which is not something that I think anyone would have predicted in October. Makai Mason is making memories for Baylor instead of knocking them out of the NCAA tournament. Jared Butler has been on fire in recent weeks and has given Drew another perimeter weapon. They’ve been able to survive the loss of sophomore forward Tristan Clark admirably.
Baylor has a shot of getting back to the NCAA tournament now.
Who predicted that?
1. THERE IS A CLEAR-CUT TOP SIX, AND DUKE AND VIRGINIA MAY TOP THE LIST
At this point in the season, it has become pretty clear that their is a tier of six elite teams in college basketball: Duke, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Virginia, Michigan and Michigan State. The order in which you rank them will vary based on how much you value performance vs. accomplishment vs. raw talent, but there really is an argument for ranking those six in just about any order. Tennessee probably needs to be top two and the Michigan schools probably shouldn’t be in the top two, but beyond that, I wouldn’t really disagree with any order you decided to put them in.
But I do think that it has to be those six teams at the top.
They are the six best teams in college basketball this season.
And honestly, I think there’s a very real chance that the two best teams in the country this year are Duke and Virginia. We already know that we are going to see them square off in Charlottesville on Saturday, Feb. 9th. Would anyone complain if they played for the ACC title? Or if they met at some point in the Final Four?
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying that rivalry as it has grown in recent years, and it’s helped replace what we lost when Maryland left the ACC. In the glory years of the ACC, Duke and Maryland once played four times in a season — back in 2002. I’ll take it.
2. MICHIGAN STATE IS BETTER THAN MICHIGAN AND WILL LOSE THE BIG TEN TITLE?
The Spartans took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten on Saturday when Wisconsin picked off Michigan in the Kohl Center, and if the Spartans can get past Maryland on Monday night, they will move 1.5 games clear of the Wolverines and two games clear of the Terps, who are currently sitting in second place in the league.
And as crazy as this sounds after the start that Michigan had to the season, I think that at this point the Spartans are the best team in the Big Ten. They’ve now won 11 straight games, and their only two losses on the season have come to a full strength Kansas on a neutral court and at Louisville in overtime in a game where Cassius Winston — Michigan State’s engine and arguably the best point guard in college hoops — fouled out with four minutes left. As good as Michigan has been defensively, what we saw on Saturday was that this is a team that can struggle on the offensive end of the floor.
But heres the twist in my theory: Michigan is actually the favorite to win the Big Ten regular season title, and that’s because the Wolverines seem to have Michigan State’s number of late. the last three times they’ve played, Michigan has won, and in those three games, Winston — who has a career 2.64:1 assist-to-turnover ration — has 11 assists and 11 turnovers while averaging just 8.3 points and shooting 33.3 percent from the floor and 25 percent from three.
No one can take Winston out of a game like Zavier Simpson can, and we’ll get to see him take two swings at it in the last four games of the regular season. Buckle up!
3. KENTUCKY IS BACK!
The Wildcats landed one of their best win of the season on Saturday, as they went into Auburn Arena, opened up a 45-29 second half lead and then won after Bryce Brown scored 25 second half points to launch a comeback where the Tigers eventually took the lead in the closing minutes.
Building that kind of a lead on a team as dangerous as Auburn is really impressive, but what struck me was the poise that Kentucky had in big moments down the stretch. This is a young basketball team, one that doesn’t really have an alpha and that hasn’t played the most consistent basketball this season.
And yet, after blowing a 16-point lead on the road in the second half in front of a rowdy, raucous crowd, they responded immediately by getting fouled, hitting two free throws and getting the stop they needed to win the game.
4. THE BIG 12 IS DRUNK
Things got really weird in the Big 12 on Saturday.
First, No. 7 Kansas managed to find a way to blow a lead at West Virginia, choking away a win when the Jayhawks couldn’t execute Bill Self’s after-timeout sets to get a good look at the rim. Then, No. 8 Texas Tech lost to Baylor, their second loss of the week after falling at home to Iowa State on Wednesday night. Then Texas beat Oklahoma, Kansas State won their fourth straight and Iowa State picked up where they left off by handling Oklahoma State, and what we have is the weirdest league title race in the country.
Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State are all sitting at 4-2 in the league. Baylor is just a half-game back at 3-2 in the conference. Texas is a game out of first place and sitting in six place. TCU is a game back in the loss column and sitting in seventh. Oklahoma, who was ranked entering this week, is eighth with a 2-4 record. The last place team (West Virginia) is the one that beat Kansas.
I still think Kansas will get it done, but I’m not going to pretend to have any idea about this conference.
5. SAM HAUSER SAVES MARQUETTE
If you’ve read this space this season, you know where I stand on this Marquette team — I think Markus Howard is the most dangerous scorer in the country, I think that the Golden Eagles can beat literally in the sport as a result and I think Marquette can get to the Final Four.
And the reason for that is because of what Hauser did this week.
With Howard dealing with a back injury — which limited him to three minutes at Georgetown and slowed him against Providence — Hauser picked up the slack, going for 31 points in the win in D.C. and following that up by leading the team with 25 points against the Friars.
So before you do it, just listen to my reasoning: Duke, regardless of what happened on Monday night, is still the best college basketball team in the country — which, after all, is what rankings are supposed to determine, right? — largely due to the fact that they still have the two best players in the sport in Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. Those two, playing without the team’s starting point guard, combined to put 57 points on Virginia in a 72-70 win on Saturday. Virginia, I think it’s worth mentioning here, has the second-highest adjusted efficiency margin of any team in KenPom’s database. Kentucky’s 2015 team is the only team that rated higher.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that the No. 2 team in the country in my poll — and the team that is likely going to be No. 1 in the AP Poll come Monday morning — won a one possession game at home against an unranked Alabama on Saturday. They won that game because John Petty, who had 30 points on the afternoon, traveled with the Crimson Tide down 69-68 with 3.2 seconds left.
In just about the same scenario, Duke lost to an unranked Syracuse in an overtime game where Zion missed a free throw in the final seconds of regulation that would have won the game. If Zion makes his free throw and Petty doesn’t travel, we’re not even having this conversation.
That’s how close it is, and making concrete decisions about whom is better than whom based off of one missed free throw and a traveling call is probably sub-optimal.
And, lest we forget, that Duke’s loss came without two of their top four players. Would that game have played out differently if it was Cam “I hit the game-winning three at Florida State” Reddish chucking corner threes instead of Jack “I went 0-for-10 from deep” White?
I say all that to say this: I am not seeding NCAA tournament teams here. Our bracket projection gets updated every Thursday morning, and our Dave Ommen is the very best in the business when it comes to projecting the field. He has Duke as a No. 2 seed, and that is probably correct. If you are looking for someone to do rankings strictly based on accomplishment — if all you are looking for someone to tell you what team has amassed the most impressive array of results — that is the place to go.
There literally is nowhere better on the internet for it.
But this space is supposed to be about ranking the best teams in the country.
And Duke, for my money, is the best team in the country because as of today, I would pick them to beat any other team in the country on a neutral court.
Anyway, here are the full rankings:
1. Duke (15-2, Last Week: 1)
2. Tennessee (16-1, 2)
3. Gonzaga (18-2, 5)
4. Virginia (16-1, 4)
5. Michigan State 16-2, 6)
6. Michigan (17-1, 2)
7. Kentucky (14-3, 10)
8. Virginia Tech (15-2, 9)
9. Kansas (15-3, 7)
10. Texas Tech (15-3, 8)
11. Nevada (18-1, 11)
12. Marquette (16-3, 12)
13. North Carolina (14-4, 13)
14. Maryland (16-3, 20)
15. Ole Miss (14-3, 15)
16. N.C. State (15-3, 16)
17. Auburn (13-4, 17)
18. Mississippi State (14-3, 18)
19. Buffalo (17-1, 19)
20. Villanova (14-4, 21)
21. Houston (18-1, 22)
22. LSU (14-3, NR)
23. Louisville (13-5, 25)
24. Iowa State (14-4, NR)
25. Purdue (12-6, NR)