Before I get into these rankings, a quick disclaimer: I don’t subscribe to the idea that you have to rank a team based strictly on their accomplishments on the court — that’s the NCAA tournament seeding — but, once the season gets rolling, I also don’t strictly base it on my opinion of a team, either.
I may think someone is great, but if they continue to lose games, it’s difficult to justify putting them in these rankings. The perfect example is Georgetown. I truly believe they are one of the top 25 basketball teams in the country and that, by the end of the season, we will see that. They’re also 1-3 on the season with a home loss to Radford, so ranking them at this point is simply not an option.
I also try to avoid hammering teams for things that happen early in the year, especially in road games. Take North Carolina, for example: They lost a road game to a good, well-coached team on the eighth day of the season while playing without their all-american guard, Marcus Paige. Is that really what’s going to make you drastically change your opinion of them?
The same goes for Virginia. They lost on the road against a George Washington team that looks like the best team in the Atlantic 10 on the fourth day of the season. They need to drop, but are we really going to drop them all that far for what could very well end up being a “good” loss when we start breaking down NCAA tournament profiles?
That’s silly to me.
And it’s also negative reinforcement for the best programs in the country, teams that only need to play road games against the likes of GW and UNI when they’re feeling particularly generous.
It’s tough to play in an opponent’s gym early in the season, especially when that opponent is an NCAA tournament-caliber team. Everyone in the media acknowledges it, just like they acknowledge their love of raucous, on-campus games in mid-November.
You want more of them to happen? Don’t hammer a team in the polls when they lose a tough road game early in the year.
Anyway, here is the top 25 …
1. Kentucky (4-0, LW: No. 2): The Wildcats are the clear-cut pick for No. 1 in the country at this point, although I will say that I think their demolition of Duke was as much a result of a beneficial matchup for Kentucky as it was a product of how good the Wildcats are. Their performances against the cupcakes on their schedule have been underwhelming.
2. Maryland (3-0, LW: No. 3): The Terps would have had a stronger argument to be No. 1 is they hadn’t dug themselves a 14-point hole against Rider. The win over Georgetown looks less impressive on paper than it was in real life.
3. North Carolina (3-1, LW: No. 1): They lost on the road to a good Northern Iowa team while playing without Marcus Paige. Paige’s loss was the most evident when UNI’s notoriously stingy defense geared-up down the stretch and a reeling Tar Heels team was left without a leader or a go-to guy. That loss shouldn’t drastically change your opinion of them.
4. Michigan State (3-0, LW: No. 9): I’m torn on the Spartans. They were outplayed for 32 minutes by Kansas and won thanks to an otherworldy performance from Denzel Valentine. Are they this good or was that a choke-job from Kansas?
5. Villanova (4-0, LW: No. 8): The Wildcats have looked terrific through four games. Josh Hart is emerging as a star, Jalen Brunson has been quite effective while Ryan Arcidiacono is averaging 13.3 points and 5.5 assists with a 22:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
6. Kansas (1-1, LW: No. 4): We’re going to learn a lot about Kansas in the Maui Invitational. Will Wayne Selden take that step forward? Is Carlton Bragg the answer? Will we see Cheick Diallo? I still think they’re a national title threat, but they have as many unanswered questions as anyone in the top ten.
7. Iowa State (2-0, LW: No. 6): The performance against Colorado was worrisome. The lack of depth in the front court is more so.
8. Oklahoma (2-0, LW: No. 10): The Sooners picked up a decent win over an improved Memphis team on the road during the Tip-Off Marathon, but Dedric Lawson exposed their lack of a four-man.
9. Miami (5-0, LW: UR): Miami is the real deal. I’m not sure they’re going to contend with North Carolina for an ACC title — mostly because I’m not sure anyone contends with North Carolina for an ACC title — but I do think they have as good of a chance as anyone to make a run at it. They looked really, really good in Puerto Rico.
10. Duke (4-1, LW: No. 7): Apparently Grayson Allen can only be stopped if he’s being guarded by Isaiah Briscoe. Duke looked the part of a top ten team now that they’ve moved Derryck Thornton into the starting lineup.
11. Virginia (4-1, LW: No. 5)
12. Cal (3-0, LW: No. 11)
13. Arizona (4-0, LW: No. 12)
14. Indiana (3-0, LW: No. 14)
15. Purdue (5-0, LW: No. 18)
16. Vanderbilt (3-0, LW: No. 13)
17. Gonzaga (2-0, LW: No. 19)
18. UConn (3-0, LW: No. 22)
19. Notre Dame (3-0, LW: No. 23)
20. Cincinnati (4-0, LW: No. 24)
21. Xavier (3-0, LW: UR)
22. Baylor (2-1, LW: No. 16)
23. Butler (3-1, LW: No. 22)
24. Wichita State (2-1, LW: No. 15)
25. Oregon (4-0, LW: UR)
TEAMS I WISH I HAD SPACE FOR: No. 26 Utah, No. 27 George Washington, No. 28 SMU
DROPPED OUT: No. 17 Michigan, No. 20 Utah, No. 25 Louisville