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.
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.
After Tuesday night’s craziness in college hoops, things were bound to slow down on a Wednesday that only featured a few intriguing conference games. Of course, things got weird with a double head-coach ejection in the American while the Big 12 had some enticing contests.
UCONN’S DAN HURLEY AND TULSA’S FRANK HAITH HIT WITH DOUBLE DOUBLE-TECHNICALS. YOU READ THAT RIGHT.
Strange ejections went down in the American on Wednesday night when UConn head Dan Hurley and Tulsa’s Frank Haith were both kicked out — as they were trying to shake hands to make amends for an argument. The bizarre incident occured one day after Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin was ejected, as the American has a lot of incidents like this being talked about lately.
Tulsa ended up holding on for the close 89-83 win as Jeriah Horne dropped 27 points.
Both head coaches released statements after the game, as well as the officials, as this will surely be talked about among sports talking heads for all of Thursday.
IOWA STATE WIN AT No. 8 TEXAS TECH AFTER LOSING TWO STRAIGHT
Falling to Baylor and Kansas State, the Cyclones avenged those losses and even held everything together once Texas Tech made a late rally. Getting multiple important stops and doing just enough offensively to finish the job, this is a great job by Iowa State to win an important Big 12 road game while staying right in the mix of a very crowded Big 12 race.
Now that unbeaten Texas Tech has fallen, every team in the Big 12 has lost at least one game in conference play as a deep conference looks like it’s going to be a bloodbath once again.
KANSAS STATE BLOWS OUT No. 20 OKLAHOMA IN NORMAN
Perhaps more than any other team going on Wednesday night, Kansas State needed a win to help its cause. With the Wildcats right on the bubble for a handful of NCAA tournament projections, an opportunity for a road win against another ranked team would be huge.
After knocking off Iowa State on the road the last game, Kansas State earned its second straight Big 12 road win over a ranked team with a convincing 74-61 win over the Sooners. The back-to-back road wins are the first true road wins of the season for the Wildcats — who appear to be gaining confidence.
Senior guard Barry Brown Jr. poured in 25 points — his third straight outing of at least 23 points — to pace the Kansas State offense as he’s looked like a consistent go-to scorer in recent wins.
Brown and Wade lead Kansas State past No. 20 Oklahoma, 74-61
NORMAN, Okla. — Kansas State guard Barry Brown didn’t need any last-minute heroics this time.
After hitting game-winners in the final minute of the Wildcats’ previous two games, he helped Kansas State control Oklahoma from start to finish. Brown scored 25 points as Kansas State beat the 20th-ranked Sooners 74-61 on Wednesday night.
Brown, coming off his first Big 12 player of the week honor, is averaging 25.7 points during the Wildcats’ three-game win streak.
“Obviously, Barry’s playing at a really high level,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “But I love that he had five assists. That means at least he’s seeing some other things.”
Dean Wade added 20 points in his second game back since missing six in a row with a torn tendon in his right foot. It was Kansas State’s second straight road win over a ranked team — the Wildcats won at Iowa State last Saturday.
Kansas State (13-4, 3-2 Big 12) shot 50 percent from the field against an Oklahoma squad that was holding opponents to 37.7 percent, good for ninth nationally.
“Sometimes you line up and just get whipped,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We did that tonight. Kansas State whipped us. They kind of got us down a little bit and they kept working. We just couldn’t overcome that. We have to figure out a way to keep that from happening. But they whipped us tonight for sure.”
Christian James scored 20 points and Rashard Odomes added a season-high 17 for Oklahoma (13-4, 2-3). It was the Sooners’ first home defeat and their first loss to an unranked team this season.
Kansas State ran out to an 8-0 lead as Oklahoma went scoreless for more than three minutes to start the game. The Wildcats stretched their advantage to 20-7 before the Sooners found their footing. James hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half to cut Kansas State’s lead to 30-24.
The Wildcats kept the Sooners at bay, and an emphatic two-handed dunk by Wade with just over two minutes to play put the Wildcats up 71-56.
Kansas State forced Oklahoma into 16 turnovers and one of its lowest-scoring outputs of the season.
“I think our main priority as a team is defense,” Wade said. “It’s where we hang our hat. We’re a great defensive team.”
Oklahoma’s giveaways sabotaged a 47 percent shooting effort.
“I thought we were careless with the ball in the first half, especially,” Kruger said. “Drove into some gaps that were crowded and didn’t make very good decisions.”
Kansas State: The Wildcats are starting to look like the team that was ranked No. 12 in the preseason. With Brown and Wade clicking, they are gaining momentum. The two road wins early in Big 12 play put them in an ideal position to challenge for a spot near the top of the league standings.
Oklahoma: The Sooners got just 14 minutes from starting center Jamuni McNeace, who is still struggling after coming back from an ankle injury. He did not score and had only two rebounds. The Sooners could benefit from more production from him heading into games at Texas and Oklahoma State.
Kansas State, which was 33rd in votes in the AP Top 25 this week, positioned itself for a potential spot in the rankings pending Saturday’s game against TCU, which dropped out of the poll this week after losing to Oklahoma last Saturday. Oklahoma might lose its spot in the Top 25 after this home loss to an unranked opponent.
HE SAID IT
Weber, on Brown and Wade: “They’re seniors. They’ve been through it. They make you good coaches. They know what to look for.”
James surpassed 1,000 points in his Oklahoma career.
Kansas State hosts TCU on Saturday.
Oklahoma plays at Texas on Saturday.
Monday Overreactions: Cam Reddish is back, Markus Howard the GOAT, is Maryland for real?
On Saturday, Howard helped the Golden Eagles pick off one of the hotter teams in the Big East, scoring 26 points and adding six boards, six assists and two steals in a win over Seton Hall.
For anyone else, that might be the best game of their season.
For Howard, it was less than half the number of points he scored on Wednesday night.
In a game at Creighton, Howard finished with 53 points, the second time in his career he broke 50 and the third time this season he scored at least 45 points. He was 15-for-26 from the field and 10-for-14 from three, and added his usual array of ridiculous step-back threes and off-balance jumpers.
And the most important part — he helped the Golden Eagles pick up a win on the road against a good team.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ole Miss Rebels
I’ll be honestly — I hadn’t given Ole Miss basketball all that much thought prior to Wednesday, when they whipped up on a good Auburn team at home.
OK, I thought, that’s notable, but it’s a home game in league play. Let’s see what happens when they play at Mississippi State.
And, as you probably have figured out by now, the Rebels went out and won that game as well. Kermit Davis is doing one of the best coaching jobs in the country, and looks to have a team that will be in the top 20 with the AP Poll is released this week.
1. CAM REDDISH IS AWESOME AGAIN AND DUKE IS NEVER GOING TO LOSE
The issue for Cam Reddish this season, the reason that he has struggled over the course of the last month, has nothing to do with his ability and everything to do with the way that ability fits on a roster that already includes a stud point guard, a dynamic and ball-dominant lead guard and the best player in the country, who himself is quite effective with the ball in his hands.
Put another way, when Tre Jones is the point guard, R.J. Barrett is the go-to guy offensively and Zion Williamson is Zion Williamson, Reddish is forced out of the picture. It’s not just a confidence thing, although that is likely playing a part: It’s his fit within the roster. The reason Reddish is such an intriguing and high-ceiling prospect is not just that he’s 6-foot-8 and toolsy with three-point range, but that he is all of those things and capable of being a ball-handler. He can run pick-and-rolls. He can create in isolation. He, as the saying in basketball circles goes, “has some s*** to his game.”
Asking a player that can do those things to be nothing but a floor-spacer is a tough ask, a tough sell and a tough thing for that player to adjust to.
And it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that when he was given the opportunity, he thrived. On Saturday, he scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half and hit the game-winning shot on the road against a top 15 team.
All he needed was some space, some time with the ball and his number to get called.
I don’t know if this is what busts Reddish out of his funk. He’s not the most demanding player — the knock on him has always been that he plays it too cool, and some scouts will tell you that he lacks competitiveness — and it is very easy to fade into the background when you’re personality is naturally inclined to do so. But what I do know is that this is definitive proof that Duke is the most talented team — the best team — in the country.
Winning a game on the road against someone as good as Florida State without the best player in the sport for an entire half is not an easy thing to do.
And Duke did it on Saturday.
2. MARYLAND IS THE BEST BIG TEN TEAM OUTSIDE THE STATE OF MICHIGAN
I thought this would be a hot take, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is just the truth.
Part of the reason is that Maryland has one of the most improved players in the country on their roster. Bruno Fernando is a 6-foot-10, 230 pound monster that is flying up NBA draft boards because of the fact that, you know, he’s a 6-foot-10, 230 pound monster. He dominated Indiana in the second half of Maryland’s win on Friday, and he’s been arguably the best big man in the league this side of Ethan Happ.
Throw in Jalen Smith — a potential top 20 pick in his own right — along with a backcourt anchored by veteran guard Anthony Cowan, and it makes sense.
But the other side of this is that I’m not convinced anyone in the Big Ten outside of Michigan and Michigan State has set themselves apart. Ohio State and Iowa have come back down to earth after hot starts. Nebraska and Wisconsin, too. Purdue is dangerous, but they are the Carsen Edwards Show. Indiana can’t find a way to stay healthy. Minnesota? They’re fine. Penn State? Northwestern? Nah.
It’s probably Maryland right now.
And with Wisconsin at home followed by road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State in the next eight days, we’ll know for sure pretty soon.
3. AFTER ALL OF THAT DRAMA, VILLANOVA IS GOING TO WIN THE BIG EAST
They were humiliated at home by Michigan. They were beaten at home by Furman. They lost to Penn. They struggled with the likes of La Salle, and St. Joseph’s, and DePaul. We all thought that this was the year where the talent drain and youth movement would put an end to Villanova’s reign of dominance.
That was a dumb thing to think.
Because Villanova is going to win the Big East regular season title again.
As things currently stand, the Wildcats are the only team in the league that has not yet lost a conference game after they went into Creighton and knocked off the Bluejays on Sunday afternoon. Marquette is the only other Big East team that has less than two league losses.
The change, as much as anything, has been Phil Booth and Eric Paschall playing the way that fifth-year seniors should play for the Wildcats. Since the loss to Penn, Booth is averaging 22.7 points, 5.2 boards and 5.0 assists while shooting 53.7 percent from the floor and 47.8 percent from three. During that same stretch, Paschall is averaging 20.2 points and 7.5 boards while shooting 52.1 percent from the floor and 48.5 percent from beyond the arc. In those six games, Villanova is 5-1 with the only loss coming by three points at Kansas.
4. SATURDAY’S BLOWOUT SAID MORE ABOUT LOUISVILLE THAN NORTH CAROLINA
The Tar Heels are exactly what we thought they were.
A talented team that lacks the bigs that Roy Williams wants and has a freshman point guard that is going to do freshman point guard things. Teams like this are going to be able to do things like win at N.C. State and beat Gonzaga handily. They are also going to be inconsistent enough to lose to Texas, or get smoked by Louisville, or Michigan, or Kentucky.
That’s who they are.
And we knew this prior to Saturday.
What’s notable here is that it was Louisville that did this to them. The Cardinals had been man-handled by Kentucky in their own gym and lost to Pitt in the course of the previous two weeks, which is not exactly the best way to head into league play.
But Jordan Nwora and Dwayne Sutton were terrific against the Tar Heels, the Cardinals controlled the paint and by 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, they had a 21 point win at the Dean Dome on their resume.
5. NO ONE IN THE BIG 12 IS ALL THAT GOOD
The more Big 12 basketball that I watch, the more that I believe the conference as a whole is deep but that the best teams in the conference really aren’t great.
Put another way, as the season progresses and we continue to talk more and more about putting teams into tiers, I don’t think that there is anyone in the league that deserves to be mentioned as a top tier team nationally. I’m sure that is going to rankle some feathers in Lawrence, but I think it’s a reasonable take. Right now, without Udoka Azubuike anchoring their offense and with Quentin Grimes continuing to work through some of his confidence and shooting issues, it’s hard to figure out what Kansas is great at on that end of the floor. The goal may be to run offense through Lawson in the post, but playing four-around-one with a passer that is as skilled as Lawson is rendered somewhat ineffective when you can’t shoot; on the season, Kansas is making 34.5 percent of their threes, a number that dropped to 30.8 percent in four Big 12 games.
As far as Texas Tech is concerned, they have one of the best defenses that we have ever seen in the collegiate ranks, but the problem with them is that they can really struggle to score. They rank 92nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and as I study I did last year shows, it is very difficult to win a national title when you have an elite defense that can struggle to score. If that’s not enough evidence, how about this: The two best defenses in college basketball last season were Virginia and Cincinnati. Cincinnati lost to Nevada in the second round and, I’m not sure if you have heard, but Virginia lost to UMBC.
I thought Iowa State was loaded — they lost two games last week to Baylor and Kansas State. Oklahoma is good, but they’re 2-2 in the league and don’t have a star score they can trust. TCU is not the same team without Jaylen Fisher healthy. Hell, the most frustrating thing about the league is that it seems as if everyone in the conference can really, really guard, but no one knows how to score. It’s the opposite of the problem the league’s football teams have.
There is still a ton of basketball left to play, but as of today, I am not buying that there is a Final Four team in this conference.