Every Monday throughout the College Basketball Season, I will be giving out my Top 25 teams in the country. These rankings will be based on not only wins and your team's current resume but also, how much trust and belief I have in them going forward, coaching, depth and more!
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Now, let's get to today's rankings after the craziest Saturday of the season.
1. Baylor (15-0)
It was another successful week for the defending national champions as they were able to pick up a pair of hard fought Big 12 Conference wins over Oklahoma and at TCU. This may not be the same team that won the National Championship, but one trait that both squads have in common is that whenever they’re challenged even a little bit, they will always find a way to overcome it and rise to the occasion. Baylor has been challenged a handful of times throughout the start of their Big 12 season including trailing TCU by 9 at one point early in the second half. However, Baylor was able to close the game on a 45-24 run and left with a quality victory. Every night, it seems the Bears have a few different pieces that are capable of stepping up. Upperclassmen guard Adam Flagler had 22 points on 6/10 shooting from three in the victory. In addition, Arizona transfer James Akinjo is getting better and better throughout the course of the season, as he has scored in double digits in each of Baylor’s last seven games. Scott Drew having this team right back at the top of college basketball just one year after winning a national championship and losing four key players is one of the better coaching jobs in recent memory, but the scary thing is that Baylor is not going anywhere. As crazy as this may sound, with Baylor bringing in another elite recruiting class next year Scott Drew’s program is on the cusp of becoming a blue blood. They’re that good and are on pace to win 26+ plus games for a third consecutive season.
2. Gonzaga (12-2)
After a 10-day absence Mark Few’s Bulldogs returned the court on Saturday night against Pepperdine and followed suit with a dominating 117-83 victory. This included putting up a ridiculous 63 points in the first half. It’s been said in these rankings for a while now, that Gonzaga is in a much more favorable spot this year than at this time last year. The Zags already have two losses to learn from (which puts them a bit off the radar), plus this year's version of the WCC is the best the league has been in a significant amount of time. Squaring up with really good teams such as BYU, San Francisco and Saint Mary's will give Gonzaga a little bit of a bigger challenge throughout conference play and experience playing in close, tight knit games against good competition. This was something that Gonzaga really didn’t do all a season ago, as basically their entire season consisted of blow out victories until the national title game. The one concern is hopefully the WCC will be able to get back to playing some conference games as no league has had worse luck due to COVID. Optimism does remain in spite of the high number of cancellations in the WCC, as Gonzaga along with BYU, Saint Mary's and San Francisco were all able to return to the floor at some point this past week.
3. Arizona (12-1)
The Wildcats are another team that has been dealt some tough breaks with their schedule due to COVID-19 issues. After suffering their first loss of the season to Tennessee, Arizona didn’t have an opportunity to get right back on the floor and bounce back as two of what were supposed to be the biggest games of the Pac 12 conference season against UCLA and USC were called off. Thankfully, Arizona was able to return to the floor on Monday night for the first time in nine days and showed no rust in a dominant victory over Washington. After the victory, Arizona moved to 2-0 in Pac 12 conference and remains one of, if not the best story to start the college basketball season. First year head coach Tommy Lloyd's explosive offense was on full display against Washington, as Arizona was able to score 95 points on 55 percent shooting from the field, and this is after a long, extended break. You could just tell that after a long layoff, Arizona was eager to get back on the basketball floor. That is a sign of a good team that will come prepared and ready to play each and every night which is very valuable over the course of a long, tenuous season that will have many ups and downs. With Benedict Mathurin and Azoulis Tubelis looking like the best inside/ outside combination in the sport and Christian Koloko’s drastic improvement on both ends of the floor, watch out for these Wildcats. The race for the No. 1 seed in the West Region, between Gonzaga and the top of the Pac 12 will be something to monitor closely as we get closer and closer to Selection Sunday.
4. Auburn (14-1)
Auburn had a pair of SEC victories to improve to a 3-0 record in conference play to start off the SEC slate. The Tigers had one of the more impressive, under the radar wins this past week on Tuesday night when they went into Columbia, South Carolina and not only beat but dismantled South Carolina. The reason why this was such an impressive effort was the fact that it was Auburn's first game after what felt like their biggest victory of the season over LSU. The contest also tipped off at 6:30 PM ET and there was very little energy in the building, especially compared to the raucous home court advantage of Auburn Arena. All signs pointed, this would be a game that Auburn may come out with not much energy and that costs you, especially in conference play. For Auburn to put up 81 points while shooting 53 percent from the field and 46 percent from three tells me this team means business. Beyond that, North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler has stepped up in recent weeks - drastically raising the ceiling of this team. The former 5-star recruit is currently averaging 9.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 4.1 blocks per game which is second in the entire country. Combine that, with a future top 5 NBA draft pick in Jabari Smith and a bevy of guards that can beat you on any night this Auburn team is legitimate. An enormous rivalry game in the SEC waits, as the Tigers will head to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama Tuesday night.
5. LSU (14-1)
The atmosphere at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for LSU’s home wins over Kentucky and Tennessee this past week were off the charts. From Tari Eason's monster grown man jams to Darius Days' high arcing threes, Will Wade’s Tigers are absolutely rolling and it is very fun to watch. Many were ready for a little regression from this LSU group, after starting the season 12-0 against a not-so-great non-conference schedule and a loss to Auburn to open up SEC play. However, LSU was able to outscore Auburn, after being clearly flustered to start the game, letting the Tigers get out to an enormous 18-1 lead to start the game. This was also the first true road game Will Wade’s team had played up to that point and were still able to almost win at one of the best home court advantages in all of college basketball against one of the best teams in all of college basketball. For the first time since Will Wade got to Baton Rouge, the Tigers are playing legitimate defense. The Tigers currently have 5 players in Tari Eason, Darius Days, Eric Gaines, Efton Reid and Mwani Wilkinson who are in the top 10 of individual defensive ratings in the country according to Sports-Reference, and the 56.4 points per game allowed is fifth in the country. Not bad considering they just played three straight Top 20 opponents. All Will Wade has done as a head coach is win and this team might just be his best team yet. Unfortunately, LSU did have a little bit of a scare against Tennessee when their Point Guard Xavier Pinson exited the game with a knee injury, but Will Wade did say after the game there was no ACL or MCL tear which is obviously a good sign. These Tigers are legitimate contenders to not only win the SEC but make the Final Four.
6. Duke (12-2)
The Blue Devils suffered their second loss of the season on Saturday Night as they fell 76-74 to the Miami Hurricanes. What made this result so eye opening is that usually when a big upset like this happens, the team that pulls the upset does something crazy. Miami didn’t make 60 percent of their 3's or hit a miracle shot. They took care of the ball, played great defense and just battled Duke in their building until the last second. It wasn’t a fluke, it was a gutty victory from Miami. As spoken about many times in these rankings, we are currently witnessing a historically down year for the ACC. Until this past week, there was no clear second-best team in the league behind Duke. While Miami's surge is good for the league, the fact that Duke lost what is going to be their only matchup of the season to Miami is a tad concerning for the Blue Devils. Even in the two ACC games that Duke has won against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home, they didn’t look very impressive in the process. Very early into this Miami game, you weren’t sure if Miami was going to be able to pull off the upset, but you got the sense that Duke didn’t have enough to smoke them like many people expected. While playing in a weak ACC, it is fair to wonder how many realistic challenges Duke would get leading up to the NCAA Tournament, which could cost them in a similar way to how it’s cost Gonzaga the past few tournaments. However, sleep walking through conference games and expecting their talent advantage to win games by itself isn’t going to get the job done either. It’s been a while since the Gonzaga game, and we haven’t seen another elite performance against a good team since.
7. UCLA (10-1)
It was great to see the Bruins back on the basketball floor after a staggering 25-day absence from the basketball floor due to COVID-19 issues. After a home victory over Long Beach State to get their footing back, the Bruins were able to win their second Pac 12 conference game of the season over a slowly improving California team in Berkeley. The Bruins are one of the few teams in college basketball that I’m not entirely sure of who exactly there are yet. Senior forward Cody Riley - a starter on last year's Final Four squad - played in his first game on Tuesday against Long Beach State since getting hurt in the season opener with a knee injury. Riley did have nine points and five rebounds in 26 minutes of action against California and will be the primary big man in the Bruins front court going forward. With UCLA’s recently scheduled contests against North Carolina, Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford all being postponed due to COVID-19 issues, we’ll see just exactly how good this Bruins team is as they face some better competition starting on Thursday night when Oregon comes to town. Bruin point guard Tyger Campbell is one of the more underrated players in all of college hoops as he led the Bruins with 17 points and shot 2 / 3 from downtown in the victory over California. After averaging just 10 points per game last season, Tyger’s offense has improved as he is currently averaging 12.8 points per game and even had 21 points in UCLA’s Pac 12 opening victory over Colorado. Tyger’s improvement on the offensive end along with the dynamic scoring ability of Johnny Juzang and the presence of an elite college player in Jaime Jacquez, should keep the Bruins competing at the top of the Pac 12 and maybe even college basketball.
The Wildcats did have their third loss of the season on Tuesday in a close 65-60 game against LSU. Considering circumstances, even in a loss the Wildcats did come to play and competed at a very high level. Things got crazy quickly for Kentucky in this one, when point guard Sahvir Wheeler had to leave the game before the first media timeout occurred, after getting taken out on a hard screen from LSU’s Efton Reid. In addition, freshman guard TyTy Washington had to leave the game in the second half while dealing with cramps. To make matters even worse, Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe who is currently averaging 13.3 rebounds on the season picked up his second foul with 11 minutes remaining in the first half and didn’t return until the start of the second half. With Oscar back on the floor, it was a different game as Kentucky was able to raise their lead all the way up to 9 early in the second half, but LSU was able to respond and eventually win. To its credit, the Wildcats bounced back from the LSU loss nicely as they beat up on Georgia with a 92-77 victory on Saturday. In the process, TyTy Washington proved that he is not only healthy, but is also still capable of being that big time play maker that many Kentucky fans were so high on going into the season. Washington had 17 points and an eye popping 17 assists in the victory. When Sahvir Wheeler is healthy and plays the game with his fearless style of play, TyTy is making plays, Oscar is dominating and Davidson transfer Kellen Grady continues to shoot the ball at an elite level than this team will be very dangerous. Kentucky has yet to put it all together, but when they do this will be a very difficult basketball team to beat.
Purdue suffered its second loss of the season at home on Monday against Wisconsin. With Mackey Arena, being one of the best home court advantages in college basketball combined with Purdue starting the season, rising all the way to the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25, many people thought there would be a realistic chance that Purdue wouldn’t lose a single game at Mackey Arena this season. It was going to take a special effort to beat the Boilers in Mackey but that is exactly what happened. It was going to take a special effort to beat the Boilers in Mackey but that is exactly what happened. Johnny Davis scored 37 points for the Badgers, an incredible effort, but it also continued a concerning streak for the Boilermakers. Following that loss to Wisconsin they were just 1-2 in league play, and also recently gave up 90 points to Nichols State in a win. Purdue bounced back with a win at Penn State on Saturday, but defense is clearly something that needs to be improved going forward. The Boilermakers are off until Saturday, after their game at Michigan Tuesday was cancelled for Covid.
10. Kansas (12-2)
Bill Self's Jayhawks suffered their second loss of the season on Saturday - a loss that was frustrating, not because Texas Tech isn't good, but because they were without their top two players (Terrence Shannon Jr. and Kevin McCullar). Remember, this is the same Texas Tech team which put up 47 points earlier in the week in a loss to Iowa State. Right now, the positives for Bill Self's squad are simple: They have the best combination of wings in the country, in Ochai Abaji and Christian Braun, with Jalen Wilson coming on strong (he had 20 points on Saturday). What is starting to become a bigger concern is everyone around them however. Starting center David McCormack - a key piece from last season's team - was actually removed from the starting lineup on Saturday, as was highly-touted transfer Remy Martin, who played just 12 minutes on Saturday. Maybe their backups (DaJuan Harris and Mitch Lightfoot) are simply playing better than expected, but for the Jayhawks to reach their potential, they need McCormack and Martin specifically to step up. Self will have to figure things out in a hurry, as Iowa State comes to town on Tuesday.
11. Seton Hall (11-3)
Saturday’s contest between UConn and Seton Hall at the Prudential Center was one of the better games in college basketball so far this season. It had it all, between a number of lead changes, big shots and controversial calls but in the end and overtime. But in the end, Kevin Willard’s Pirates were able to leave with their second Big East victory of the week to improve their conference record to 2-2. Even though Seton Hall did lose both of their Big East games to start off conference play last week, they weren’t significantly penalized in these rankings due to the fact that they were missing their top frontcourt player in Ike Obiagu whose ability to protect the rim impacts the game in a major way along with Tyrese Samuel who is a key reserve off the bench. We saw this week what this Seton Hall team looks like at full strength and it is a scary sight for the rest of the Big East. Syracuse transfer Kadary Richmond had a career high 27 points off the bench, and at one point scored 17 straight Pirates points in a miniature run of his own. The depth of this Pirates team is so strong, that Kevin Willard has so many different options to beat with you late in the game. In all of Seton Hall’s marquee victories, they had to earn them by winning close games in the second half. What makes these late close victories over Michigan, Texas and now UConn so impressive, is that each time it was a couple of different players that stepped up to earn the win. Along with Richmond, Harvard transfer Bryce Aiken was clutch again down the stretch and looks fully healthy for the first time in a handful of year. This Pirates team might just be a special one for Kevin Willard as the Pirates are among the top contenders in the Big East and should make some serious noise in March.
12. USC (13-0)
Andy Enfield’s team returned to action for the first time in 18 days after having three games postponed because of Covid. The Trojans looked solid in that return, with a 77-63 victory over Cal. Junior forward Isaiah Mobley is averaging 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game and is playing like a First Team All Pac 12 Conference player. In addition to developing a player like Mobley over the course of his 3 years in the program, Andy Enfied has also done a really good job of not only bringing in transfers but keeping them in the program for more than a year and watching them improve. This can be applied to many members of the current Trojans including Drew Peterson, Chavez Goodwin and Isaiah White. In addition, Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis has grabbed the role of lead ball handler by storm, as he is currently averaging 11.9 points per game in only his first year in the program. Despite a long COVID pause, USC was able to pick up a pair of Pac 12 Conference wins over Utah and Washington State in early December, so they currently sit at 3-0 in conference play following the win over California. Even though USC is currently one of the only three remaining undefeated teams in all of college basketball the reason why they are not ranked higher is due to the fact that their best win is currently over San Diego State, who is very good but not a 100 percent lock for the NCAA Tournament. It was unfortunate that USC’s game against Arizona scheduled for January 2nd was postponed due to COVID-19 issues, so we will have to wait and see exactly just how good this Trojans team is. No matter what happens, Andy Enfield has done a tremendous job with this program in the past three years, getting talent and developing that talent over the course of an extended period of time.
13. Illinois (11-3)
The Fighting Illini’s resume may not necessarily match this high of a ranking for Brad Underwood’s team. However, considering one of their early season losses came without Kofi Cockburn and the Illini currently sitting at 4-0 in the Big Ten with all four wins coming in very impressive fashion, this is one of the best teams in all of college basketball. Kofi Cockburn, is putting up monster numbers and is right up there for not only Big Ten player of the year but National Player of the Year as well. Kofi’s impact on the game while averaging 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game is unmatched, and Kofi is another example of just how good a player can get by playing at the highest level in College Basketball for a few years. Trent Frazier is shooting 38 percent from three, which is higher than any of his final percentages in his first 3 years of college. Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer also provides a unique shooting threat, and makes plays with the ball in his hands. Jacob Grandison also provides good size and a shooting threat as a glue guy off the bench. The way this team just fits together, seems much better and more natural than last years as well. Illinois has two games upcoming at Nebraska and home against Michigan until their clash on Martin Luther King's Day clash at home against Purdue. After that game, we will see just how good these Illini are. The mystery for Illinois remains when preseason 1st team all-Big Ten player Andre Curbelo as he has not played since November 22nd against Kansas State due to a Neck Injury. Even without Curbelo, the combination of Kofi and these guards makes Illinois Purdue's number one threat in the Big Ten and a team that can do some serious damage in March.
14. Providence (14-2)
The Friars suffered their second loss of the season on Tuesday night when they got blown out in Milwaukee, against Marquette. This was one of those games, where you were able to tell from very early on that it just was not going to be the Friars' night, as Providence was down 20 at the end of the first half and it only got worse. Luckily for the Friars whether you get blown out by 50 or lose by only a point, it counts exactly the same in the record books. Not to make any excuses, but Providence looked tired. The Friars team was still on the road following their blowout victory over DePaul in Chicago, the previous Saturday. Not that this makes losing in blowout fashion, any better but with that information in mind, the result of the game. Impressively enough, the Friars were able to respond to their first bit of adversity in a long time, as they defeated St Johns at home on Saturday without the services of AJ Reaves who is a very important piece. In the absence of Reaves, South Carolina transfer Justin Minaya stepped up, with 13 points and seven rebounds. That is a sign of a good team, when role players can step up in others absences. Providence’s front line of Nate Watson, Noah Horchler, Minaya and Ed Croswell is among the most intimidating groups in the sport and Ed Cooley continues to do a great job with this Friars team in a loaded Big East conference. Cooley is an early favorite for Big East Coach of the Year, with the job he has done so far this season.
15. Villanova (11-4)
There will not be a shortage of Big East teams found in these rankings, as Villanova checks in as the third team representing the conference. Villanova has been so good since the “new” Big East conference was realigned, that whenever they start to struggle a little bit, everyone will try to speak of their demise, especially fans of other Big East teams. However, every time that happens, the results are always the same and it becomes clear that as long as Jay Wright is around, Villanova isn’t going anywhere. After Villanova had suffered their fourth loss of the season to Creighton on December 17th, there were many who counted Villanova out in terms of their ability to get back to the top of the Big East. Since then, they have won four Big East conference games in a row, including a revenge game against Creighton where they held them to just 41 points. They followed it up with a solid victory at DePaul with Collin Gillespie leading the way with 28 points. Ss Villanova the clear-cut favorite to win the Big East? No, however, you would be foolish to count them out.
16. Ohio State (10-3)
The Buckeyes were able to pick up a victory on Sunday over Northwestern to give themselves a split in Big Ten play for the week. Ohio State suffered their first loss of Big Ten Conference play, on Thursday night against a desperate Indiana team that needed a win but bounced back nicely against Northwestern on Sunday. There were a few key things that occurred leading up to and during the Northwestern game, that made this performance by Ohio State even more impressive. Primarily, Buckeyes Head Coach Chris Holtmann missed the game due to health and safety protocols. Anytime, your coach is just taken away in a bizarre circumstance like that it can sometimes be expected that the players come out a little unfocused, especially against a team Ohio State is significantly more talented than in Northwestern. Ohio State came out focused and firing, as they put up 51 points in the first half and a total of 96 points for the game. Buckeyes star EJ Liddell, who at one point earlier in the season, was looking like the possible favorite to win National Player of the Year had really struggled in Ohio State’s two games prior to the contest against Northwestern. After being held to a combined 21 points in Ohio State’s previous two games against Nebraska and Indiana, Liddell dropped 34 in the victory over Northwestern, including having 17 of his own points, before the first media timeout occurred. That is one of the more impressive stats, by any player in college hoops so far this season. With a trip to Madison Wisconsin coming up next week, I wouldn't expect the Buckeyes to go anywhere considering the emergence of freshman Malaki Branham plus so many other options Chris Holtmann has to go to down stretch in close, late game scenarios.
17. Wisconsin (13-2)
There hasn’t been a team in College Basketball, so far this season to put together as impressive of a week as the Wisconsin Badgers just did. In the past seven days, Wisconsin has earned true road wins at Purdue and at Maryland, along with a home victory over Iowa. Greg Gard has done a tremendous job with this team, after losing some talent from last year's squad that did win a game in the NCAA Tournament. Future NBA lottery pick Johnny Davis has been the go-to guy for Wisconsin as he is currently averaging 22.6 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game. Behind those numbers, and a 37 point effort that carried the Badgers to a true road victory in Mackey Arena, Davis should be considered the current favorite for National Player of the Year. The only realistic way Wisconsin had of winning that game to begin with was if Davis had a monster game and that is exactly what happened. An encouraging sign for the Badgers, is that going into last week it was a question if they had enough around Johnny Davis to be a Top 25 team. Wisconsin has struggled in a few of the games that Davis had missed earlier in the season which included a home loss to Providence and a recent home game against Illinois State that was a little bit too close for comfort. However, in the past week many different Badgers have contributed along with Davis. 5th year senior Brad Davison is averaging 14.8 points per game which is on pace for a career high and was key in Wisconsin's win over Iowa with 18 points. Junior forward Tyler Wahl also contributed in a big-time way against Maryland, as he led the way with 21 points to secure a one-point Badgers Road victory. Wahl has had some big moments so far this season, making key plays in Wisconsin's marquee win over Huston. Finally, there is a reason why Gard trusts freshman point guard Chuckie Hepburn with the ball in his hands, as that is something that is very rare for a team that is usually, so veteran led like Wisconsin. Hepburn is one of the best on ball defenders in the Big Ten and seems to always be able to make a big time play when the Badgers need him to most. Things are pointing up, for Greg Gard and his team going forward.
18. Xavier (12-2)
Travis Steele’s team was able to return to the court this week, following a 17 day break due to COVID-19 related issues. Friday night, Xavier was able to go into a tough environment at Hinkle Fieldhouse and leave with a victory over Butler. It has been illustrated in these rankings for a while now, that this Xavier team should be Travis Steele’s best team since he took over in 2018-2019, and at their ceiling this Xavier team should be right up there with Chris Mack’s 2016 and 2018 teams that each earned top two seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier has had talent the past few years, but one constant that was apparent in their struggles was that they would always lose games to teams that are flat out better than. conference play is very hard and winning games on the road should not be taken for granted, like they did Friday night at Hinkle Field House. Beating a Butler team that Xavier was clearly better than is a great start for this group and a real opportunity to gain some confidence as they head into a rematch with Villanova at the Cintas Center on Wednesday night. What makes this team so dangerous, is that they have eight different players that can give you buckets each and every night. On Friday against Butler, it was Adam Kunkel who had 25 points in the victory. With all of the different options Xavier has and the number of games against elite competition they will play in during Big East play, don’t be shocked if these Musketeers earn a high seed on Selection Sunday.
19. Michigan State (13-2)
Tom Izzo’s Spartans were victorious in the only game they played in this past week as they were able to pick up a comfortable 79-67 victory over a not-so-great Nebraska team that improved the Spartans record to 4-0 opening up Big Ten Conference play. Unfortunately, Michigan State’s rivalry game against Michigan was postponed due to COVID-19 related issues within the Michigan program. This would have been a great opportunity to see just how good this Spartans team really is. Tom Izzo does deserve credit for having his team back in the Top 25 and starting off conference play so well, but in a similar way to USC, it is to be determined just how good this Spartans team really is. This past week in the AP Poll Michigan State was ranked at No. 10 in the AP poll. Not to say they don’t deserve it, but there is a reason why Michigan State is ranked significantly lower in this poll than the AP Top 25. Michigan State hasn’t really had any eye-opening results so far this season as for the most part they have won all of the games that they were expected to win and lost most of the games that they were expected to lose. aside from their win over UConn which was very close and isn’t aging particularly well due to the Huskies injuries and COVID problems in Big East play. In addition, three of Michigan State’s four wins to open up Big Ten play were against Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern which aren’t top notch teams in the league. Once Michigan State goes to war against some of the Big Ten’s elites like Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin and more then we will find out just how good these Spartans are. However, the job Tom Izzo has done with this team cannot be understated as Michigan State was not ranked in the preseason by many, and Izzo has them right back in the Top 25.
20. Houston (14-2)
It is not being spoken about enough, just how seamless Houston has made the transition after losing two key contributors which included leading scorer Marcus Sasser along with Tramon Mark for the season right before the start of American Athletic Conference play. Since the injuries, Houston has opened up conference play, 3-0 which included a victory over Wichita State on Saturday that the Cougars were really able to control from start to finish. Many different players have made big time impacts in these past few games following the injuries, but no one bigger than UConn transfer Josh Carlton who had season highs of 22 and 30 points in Houston’s past two games against Wichita State and South Florida. Senior Forward Fabian White is another player that can be added to the list of why experience matters. Currently, in his fourth season as a part of the program. White’s role has expanded this year more than it’s ever before as he is currently averaging 11.1 points per game while shooting 40% from three. Sophomore guard Jamal Shead has taken a lot of the minutes Sasser left behind in the back court as he is an absolute meance on the defensive side of the ball while averaging 9.9 points per game. Kelvin Sampson is an elite college hoops coach that has gotten enough recognition after the job that he has done turning around this Houston program. After losing pro talent from last year’s team that made it all the way to the Final Four and Marcus Sasser for the season, it is more than impressive that Sampson still has these Cougars ranked, and in very good position to win another AAC title.
21. Texas Tech
Texas Tech finding a way to beat Kansas without the services of Terrence Shannon Jr and Kevin McCullar is guaranteed to go down as one of the more impressive victories by any team this season. Lubbock, Texas has quickly risen to the top of my list in terms of possible future places to go for a big game as the atmosphere inside United Supermarkets Arena against the Jayhawks looked absolutely electric. This home court helped a shorthanded Texas Tech control Kansas for a majority of the game as the Jayhawks took their final lead of the game with 5:57 left in the first half and didn’t lead since. Unlike their loss earlier in the week against Iowa State, Texas Tech had a number of key guys step up in the absence of Shannon and McCullar. UTEP transfer Bryson Williams led the way for the Red Raiders, with 22 points and served as a consistent offensive threat in the low post which was very important for a Texas Tech team that has had some recent troubles scoring the basketball. In addition, Junior Clarence Nadolny contributed 17 big points while hitting a number of key shots in the victory. It’s not shocking that Texas Tech finds themselves ranked in the Top 25 at this point in the season even with a first year Head Coach in Mark Adams. However, what is pretty shocking is that Shannon and McCullar have now struggled with injuries since the season started, and still Texas Tech has found a way to win games. Hopefully McCullar and Shannon will be back this week for the ultimate test looming with a trip to Waco, Texas to take on Baylor, but the schedule does get significantly more manageable after that. With games against Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Iowa State and West Virginia following suit, that will be an opportunity to not only get healthy but gain a significant more amount of confidence and chemistry before we get to March.
22. Iowa State (13-2)
TJ Otzelberger’s Cyclones were able to split a pair of tough Big 12 games this past week, as they earned a victory over Texas Tech but followed it up by dropping their second game of the season on the road against Oklahoma. You should never apologize for a Big 12 conference win, but Iowa State’s offensive performance against Texas Tech was pretty ugly. Iowa State shot 31% from the field and 28% from three but were still able to win the game thanks to a gutty performance on the defensive side of the floor holding Texas Tech to 47 points. Even though Texas Tech was missing two of their better players in Shannon and McCullar, Iowa State finding a way to leave with a victory after that poor of an offensive performance is what good teams do. The Cyclones are now 13-2 which includes wins over Texas Tech, Xavier, Memphis, Creighton and Iowa. The job Otzelberger has done turning around this program, just one year after only winning two games should keep him as favorite to take home National Coach of the Year. For a team consisting of so many new players and coaches, the fact that Iowa State has looked so connected throughout the early course of the season is another complement to Coach Otz and the culture he has quickly built within this program. However, with Iowa State now struggling a little bit to open up Big 12 play following their loss to Oklahoma, it is fair to ask the question of is a little regression on the way? The Cyclones will head to Allen Fieldhouse to take on Kansas and host Texas this week, while a trip to Texas Tech follows. If Iowa State can go 2-1 in this stretch, then TJ Otzelberger will officially never be doubted in these rankings again. However, if Iowa State does want to bounce back following the loss to Oklahoma, they are going to need to play better during this very important stretch.
25. UConn (10-4)
Even in a loss, it was hard not to be impressed with the Huskies effort considering the circumstances against Seton Hall. Remember, this game was played on the road and it was the Huskies first game in 17 days, due to their past two scheduled games being postponed due to COVID. Therefore, despite the loss, it was an impressive showing by Dan Hurley's squad. And overall, despite their four losses, it's hard not to like this Huskies squad. Remember, this is the only team to beat Auburn this season, and since then have dealt with injuries to starters Tyrese Martin and Adama Sanogo, plus Isaiah Whaley missing the game following Auburn for precautionary measures. Once this team can get healthy and play games on a consistent basis without any issues, this team will be among the competitors at the top of the Big East.
Follow Zac on Twitter @ZKrull3