There are three tiers in college basketball this season. The first tier is Kentucky. There’s no team in the country nearly as talented as the Wildcats. The second tier consists of Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Duke, Arizona and Villanova. These are all teams I’d consider Final Four favorites with Gonzaga and Wisconsin able to beat Kentucky.
The third tier is Kansas, Utah, whoever the second best Big 12 team is and Virginia when Justin Anderson is healthy. With Selection Sunday a month away, it will be interesting to see if anyone can move up in the tiers and how seeding works out.
Note: These rankings are before games played on February 16.
The Owls have won seven straight and teams can’t decide who top-25 worthy in college basketball. They get this spot for one week before they inevitably lose to a team like East Carolina.
24. Ohio State
Ohio State lost in the closing seconds at Michigan State thanks to Denzel Valentine’s three. That’s not a terrible loss for the Buckeyes, however it continues to expose them as a one-man team. There might not be one player in the country who has regressed as much as Amir Williams.
The Big East has been wildly entertaining this year. The teams continue to beat up on each other and the Friars have a great one-two combo in Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton.
If SMU could just find a way to not play Cincinnati it’d be okay. The Mustangs keep winning games not involving the Bearcats. They’ve won 11 out of their last 12 with the average margin of victory over 13 points.
- Michigan State
Typical Tom Izzo team. Doesn’t look good to start the year. Plays a tougher non-conference schedule. Gradually gets better during each game. Now watch them make a run in March.
Maryland is only ranked here because someone has to be. The Terps haven’t looked good over the last seven games but somehow continue to hang on to second place in the Big 10. They need to start winning games easily again. Otherwise, they won’t win a game come March.
The Razorbacks got a much-needed road win at Ole Miss this weekend that should solidify them as the No. 2 team in the SEC. They still struggle away from Bud Walton Arena with a 5-4 record while scoring 16 points less on the road than at home. This needs to improve with the talent of Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls.
- Wichita State
Wichita State will stay stagnant until it plays Northern Iowa again in a couple weeks. There should be no trouble running through the MVC until that game, but this isn’t as good of a Wichita State team as the last couple of years.
Getting dominated at home against North Carolina State can’t happen. However, Louisville still refuses to score. The Cardinals’ defense will keep them in games, but Saturday showed how vulnerable they are to an upset. They also keep losing to good teams, inflating their record by beating up on weaker opponents.
Butler found heartbreak on Valentine’s Day. A late three by Darrun Hilliard of Villanova followed up by just missing an open look to tie handed them the loss. This team is still incredibly talented and don’t be surprised to see them as a Final Four darkhorse.
After winning five straight in the deep Big 12, the Sooners stumbled against Kansas State in a game that they should have won. Buddy Hield continues to be an excellent scorer for Oklahoma as they play great defense. They most likely won’t win the Big 12 as Kansas has a comfortable lead, but come Big 12 Tournament time, this could be a team to watch.
- North Carolina
UNC got embarrassed by Pittsburgh, and it needs to play much smarter basketball moving forward. Bad losses continue to happen way too often.
Baylor went into Lawrence, Kansas and had a win taken away from them. The Bears led for the majority of the game but couldn’t hold off a late second half run by Kansas. Baylor is one of the deepest teams in the country and give me Rico Gathers on my team any day. He’s a walking double-double that will single-handily get Baylor to the Sweet 16.
This team without Justin Anderson simply isn’t that good. Seriously, watch them play. Two close calls against North Carolina State and Wake Forest is exactly what I expected, especially on the offensive side of the ball for the Cavs. Virginia fans should be lucky the Demon Deacons don’t know how to run a play with 20 seconds to go. If Justin Anderson doesn’t come back fully healthy in March, this team isn’t close to being a threat.
- Notre Dame
Notre Dame is poised to finish second in the ACC this season. That’s quite a miraculous feat considering where the Irish were heading into the year. Jerian Grant should be a lock for All-American, and Mike Brey should garner a lot of Coach of the Year votes.
- Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa and Wichita State are showing mid-majors can win at this level. It just so happens these two teams are in the same conference and we get to see them play against each other at least one more time. The Panthers are tough to stop offensively as they rank in the top 20 in both two-point percentage and three-point percentage.
- Iowa State
Iowa State is likely going to finish in the Top-10 offensively per KenPom for the third-straight season. The main reason this year? Sophomore point guard Monte Morris, who might be the best pure point guard in the country. He has an assist to turnover ratio of 4.68:1, easily leading the country.
If Utah can make it to February 28 without a loss, a home game against Arizona for a share of the Pac-12 title and a leg up in seeding come March could be the most important game of the season. Utah and Arizona are likely battling out for the No. 2 seed in the West region, a highly coveted position when the other regions are in Cleveland, Syracuse and Houston.
They did it again. The Jayhawks are poised to win another Big 12 title. Rinse. Wash. Repeat. The come-from-behind victory against Baylor showed how far this team has come since the 40-point blowout to Kentucky.
The win at Butler was a huge road victory that all but locked up the Big East for Villanova. Senior guard Darrun Hilliard is one of the best players and shooters in the country who often goes unnoticed. More importantly, the Wildcats keep winning on the road, going 16-4 over the last two seasons.
A couple dominating wins was just what Arizona needed this week. The Wildcats beat the Washington schools by a combined 51 points. Point guard T.J. McConnell continues to be the engine for this team, notching either five assists or 20 points in every Pac-12 game.
The Blue Devils are 5-0 since Rasheed Sulaimon got dismissed. On top of that, their high-scoring offense has gotten even better according to KenPom, going from 120.2 points per 100 possessions to 120.8.
You could convince me to rank Wisconsin over Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs keep winning. The Badgers are a legitimate threat to Kentucky if they see each other in the title game. It would be fitting to see Wisconsin and Kentucky play each other as Bo Ryan and John Calipari were both named finalists for the Hall of Fame.
People will continue to knock Gonzaga because of the conference the Bulldogs play in. Don’t let any close games fool you. This team is for real. There’s too much talent and experience on this roster for Mark Few’s team to fail early in the NCAA Tournament.
But, LSU almost beat them! Undefeated. Easily the best team in the country.