Outside of Louisville/Kentucky, the schedule for college hoops recently has been the definition of blah. So, there’s not much to say about movement in the top-25 or around the country.
So, let’s take a minute to talk about the Big East – arguably the winners of the non-conference schedule.
The entire conference is sitting at .500 or better. Yes, that includes St. John’s somehow, which lost to Fordham, NJIT and Incarnate Word. Xavier and Villanova both look like absolute Final Four contenders, with Xavier having probably the most impressive season to date of anyone in the country. Butler looks like a top-10 team. Providence has surprised people and is ranked in the top-10 of the AP. Marquette is sitting at 10-2 and looks like a tournament team.
One of the biggest questions a lot of people asked when this ‘new’ conference formed was would it be labeled a power conference like it once was? For me, it’s still one of the Power Six conferences. Tier 2 conferences don’t get six teams invited to the dance like the Big East did last year. However, it’s becoming a punching bag of sorts because of the failures of Villanova, the flagship program of this league.
Now, the rankings. Just a reminder this is based on the teams as of 12/28, not what I expect by March.
1. Oklahoma: No doubt the best team in college basketball this season with the favorite for Player of the Year in Buddy Hield. This team is shooting well from deep and as always with a Lon Kruger team, defending well.
2. Xavier: While OU has been the best team, Xavier has been the most impressive. Road wins against Wake Forest and Michigan, while getting a home win against Cincinnati and a neutral win against Dayton, are nothing to bat your eyes at. This team is a legit Final Four contender.
3. Kansas: The Jayhawks have quietly rolled since blowing a halftime lead to Michigan State early in the season. Wayne Selden is playing well, averaging 15 a game, and shooting over 55 percent from deep.
4. Michigan State: The Spartans would be higher up if they had Denzel Valentine. Like I said, this is based on the team as of right now and this team without Valentine suffers. The return of him and Gavin Schilling will help this roster in conference play, though.
5. Maryland: Melo Trimble is playing better than expected so far this season. He still can get careless with the ball, but is figuring out how to play with a strong roster. The chemistry is starting to come together with one of the better rosters in the country.
6. UNC: This is a tough team to evaluate because someone is seemingly constantly injured and I don’t believe in Roy Williams. However, Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson are matchup problems and can take advantage of that on skill alone.
7. Arizona: Imagine how good this team would be if completely healthy? The Wildcats have played without freshman stud Ray Smith and big man Kaleb Tarczewski all season. Sean Miller has another Elite Eight team on his hands.
8. Butler: The offense is humming and Kellen Dunham is playing the best he ever has. He’s averaging 16.3 a game to lead the way for the Bulldogs. Butler got a big win against Purdue on a neutral site, but they will be challenged this week when they head to Xavier on Saturday.
9. Virginia: The Cavaliers would be higher if the big wins came on a neutral court. Instead, Virginia beat Villanova and California at home. Still good wins obviously, but not as impressive because winning at home is pretty common in college basketball. Malcolm Brogdon has been an absolute star for Virginia and is a likely All-American candidate.
10. Kentucky: The Wildcats got the win they needed at home against Louisville. Tyler Ulis finally shot the ball well and showed he’s capable of taking a game over despite being just 5’8”. The most impressive part of the win, though, was doing it without Isaiah Briscoe, who turned his ankle during warmups.
11. Miami: I’m still not sure how Miami lost at home to Northeastern, but it happened. This team is balanced and scoring the ball well, led by Sheldon McClellan at 16.3 a game.
12. SMU: It truly is a joke and shame this team won’t be in the NCAA Tournament. Nic Moore is the favorite to win AAC Player of the Year again and the Mustangs are undefeated. Larry Brown should be banished from the sidelines since they showed they don’t need him.
13. Providence: The Friars have been a surprise climbing this high behind the play of Kris Dunn. My biggest question is whether or not his supporting cast can maintain the level of play through the Big East. They will get challenged on New Year’s Eve at Butler.
14. Iowa State: Georges Niang is in the conversation for Player of the Year and Monte Morris is getting better with each season. However, the loss of Naz Long’s shooting will hurt tremendously as the season goes on.
15. Villanova: Villanova shoots a ton of 3’s. Villanova misses a ton of 3’s. That will change at some point, though, and this small-ball lineup will be in the Big East race. If you haven’t gotten a chance yet, watch Jalen Brunson
16. Purdue: My biggest concern with Purdue is the guard play and shooting. The Boilermakers can defend with anyone and can play in the post with anyone thanks to A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan.
17. Duke: Not having Amile Jefferson has proven to be a huge loss for the Blue Devils. This team desperately needs him back as top-10 recruit Chase Jeter has shown he’s not ready to play at this level, yet. However, Grayson Allen is still scoring and Brandon Ingram is starting to get comfortable within the system.
18. West Virginia: Press Virginia is back again. As long as this team doesn’t have to play in the halfcourt or shoot jumpers, it’s a good team. Just go watch the first half of the Virginia game again – a game this team should have won.
19. Texas A&M: Jalen Jones, Danuel House and Alex Caruso are three names you need to know. Why? Because they make up one of the best backcourts in the country. Both House and Jones are averaging over 15 points a game.
20. Louisville: Damion Lee should never have played at Drexel. He’s too good of a talent to have played that long in the CAA. That said, this team will miss Mangok Mathiang in the post. For now it’s all about Lee and Trey Lewis.
21. Cincinnati: The Bearcats are a deep team that can do damage come the NCAA Tournament. However, right now they are a 3-loss team with two of the losses coming at home. Cincinnati blew a lead against Butler and tried to fight back against Iowa State.
22. Baylor: Can we please start talking about Taurean Prince? He’s one of the best two-way players in the country and is averaging 16.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 2.8 apg. He’s also nearly getting two steals a game.
23. Gonzaga: Much like Cincinnati, this is a team with three losses and two of them came at home. Gonzaga struggled to close out games against Arizona and UCLA, showing the youth of the backcourt. However, the Zags still Kyle Wiltjer, who can score from anywhere on the court.
24. Utah: Jakob Poeltl needs to stay out of foul trouble. When he’s not in foul trouble, this is a great team. The problem is he’s in foul trouble quite a bit.
25. South Carolina: Frank Martin is doing a good job despite his seat being extra hot heading into the season. The Gamecocks had a weak non-conference schedule but South Carolina is sitting undefeated with a game against Memphis on Saturday.