Last week the AP Poll top ten didn’t move at all. Well, that is about to change as already this week we have seen some really good teams lose. Duke lost as huge favorites to Syracuse, and Virginia Tech got blown out by their in-state rival Virginia. Those two teams highlight our movement in week eleven, but there should be lots of movement this week in the top ten. Let’s get started!
#1. Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week’s Rank: #2 (15-1)
The Tennessee Volunteers slide into the top spot this week for the first time all season long. The Vols didn’t do anything glamorous this week, but they did take care of business against three solid SEC teams. Picking up wins over Missouri, Florida, and Arkansas. The SEC is strong top to bottom, so any wins in league play are going to be strong ones. Especially when you are able to win on the road like this Tennessee team did this week.
As long as Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams are healthy, the Vols feature the best one-two punch in the SEC and are my pick to win the regular season title. Next, up for the Vols, they host the Alabama Crimson Tide and then travel to Vanderbilt to play the Commodores. Nothing is ever easy in conference play, so these games aren’t going to be gimmies, but the Vols should be heavy favorites in both games. Tennessee plays mostly middle of the pack teams the next several weeks before wrapping up league play against four straight teams that are currently ranked in the top twenty-five.
#2. Michigan Wolverines
Last Week’s Rank: #3 (17-0)
The Michigan Wolverines are one of only two undefeated teams left in division one college hoops. Their undefeated record was never really at risk this week as they beat a clearly overmatched Illinois team on the road by double-digits and then followed that win up by beating Northwestern for the second time this year. The first time that Big Blue played the Wildcats it was a nail-biter that went down to the last possession. This time, Michigan had no problems at all with Northwestern as they blew them out by twenty points.
The Wolverines have a lethal combination of an elite defense and a very good offense. Per kenpom, Michigan has the number three rated defensive efficiency of any team in America. Their offense comes in at number twenty. These guys can do it on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines have what might be their toughest test of the year coming up as they play at Wisconsin, a place that is never easy to win. Then after that, they play Minnesota at home and then Indiana on the road. If Big Blue manages to survive this tough week, don’t be shocked if they end up in the number one spot in my power rankings.
#3. Virginia Cavaliers
Last Week’s Ranking: #4 (16-0)
I can certainly listen to a case for the Virginia Cavaliers as the number one team. They are undefeated and just came off an enormous win over a top ten ranked Virginia Tech team. And I’ll be the first one to admit, I thought they would be on upset alert against the Hokies. But they dominated them, eventually winning by twenty-two points. I had the same feeling when they played Florida State last week, and they won that game by thirteen. Maybe it is their defense-first mentality the scares me off ranking them higher? Maybe it is lingering fear of seeing them lose last year in the first round of the NCAA tournament with that very same defense-first mentality?
Whatever the case may be, the Cavaliers will have a chance to play themselves into that top spot later this week as they travel to Durham to play Duke. Yes, Duke lost this week and fell out of the top spot, but the Blue Devils are still clearly the most talented team in the nation. If the Cavs can go into Cameron Indoor and knock the Blue Devils off, I will have no choice but to put them at number one. If they lose, like I suspicion they will, this number four ranking will feel just about right.
#4. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last Week’s Rank: #5 (16-2)
If the Gonzaga Bulldogs were going to lose a conference game this year, it would have been this week at San Francisco. I know some of you guys out there that don’t follow the smaller conferences might be snickering right now that beating the Dons is a big accomplishment, but don’t let your ignorance tarnish what was a good win for the Zags. San Francisco has a strong team and gave Gonzaga all they could handle, as they were leading 81-79, with under four minutes to play in the game.
The Bulldogs were able to finish on a big run, that saw them not only win, but cover the spread against the Dons, but they are happy they won’t have to head to the bay again this season. I am not saying the rest of the WCC play is going to be a breeze for the Zags, the league is better than it has been in years, but they are likely to be double-digit favorites in every game the rest of the way out. Running the table in league play is never easy, but this is clearly the Zags conference to lose at this point.
#5. Duke Blue Devils
Last Week’s Rank: #1 (14-2)
I can see many of you might be shocked by seeing that I have dropped Duke all the way to number five. But hear me out here. I had to jump Michigan and Virginia over them as they are both undefeated with major wins this week. And when I went to slot the Blue Devils in at number four ahead of Gonzaga, that didn’t feel right either as the Blue Devils have a head to head loss to the Zags. So, here the Blue Devils are at number five. As I mentioned above, the Blue Devils will have a great opportunity to rebound from the upset loss to Syracuse when they host Virginia later this week.
But we saw what happened when they sat one of their best players, Cam Reddish, against Syracuse this week. Reddish has been a little bit up and down this season but not having him on the floor really hurt them against the Orange.
After having to play Florida State in a thriller, and then losing to Syracuse in overtime, the Blue Devils play Virginia and then things calm down a little bit for Coach K’s team. Whether or not the Blue Devils have that number one ranking by their name, they clearly have a huge target on their back and will get everyone’s best shot.
#6. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last Week’s Ranking: #8 (15-1)
So, just who is the best team in the Big 12 this year? I think it is none other than the Texas Tech Red Raiders. This week the Red Raiders took on two of the best teams the Big 12 has to offer and managed to beat both Texas and Oklahoma. Jarrett Culver continues to develop as a player and is my dark horse candidate for Big 12 player of the year. It is hard to discount what Dedric Lawson is doing in Lawrence, but when Culver dropped twenty-three and thirteen against a ranked Sooners team earlier tis week, he put the rest of the league on notice. Tech plays against a sneaky good Iowa State team next before heading out on the road against Baylor and K-State. The date to circle on your calendar now is February 2nd, when the Red Raiders head to Lawrence to play the Jayhawks, likely with the Big 12 title on the line.
#7. Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week’s Rank: #6 (14-2)
And slotted just behind the Red Raiders are those Kansas Jayhawks. These teams are one and one-A at this point, and you could easily swap them in the rankings. I give the slight nod to the Red Raiders right now, but I could be convinced otherwise. The Jayhawks have had a rough ride recently and that is why I have them behind Texas Tech. They won a tight game against Oklahoma, then lost at Iowa State, and have followed up that loss with three straight wins against TCU, Baylor, and Texas. But all three of those wins were by single-digits in tight games.
Are the Jayhawks the best team in the Big 12? Maybe they are, but not by much. This team is having to earn every win right now. Next up for Kansas is a trip to Morgantown to play the West Virginia Mountaineers. And while Bob Huggins squad is down this year, Morgantown is never an easy place to win. After that, they get a chance for revenge at home against Iowa State and then travel to Lexington for a non-conference matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats. If the Jayhawks haven’t lost another game by this time next week, you can expect them to jump back into the top five. But you could make the case they could lose one or more games in this upcoming stretch, so the future is really up in the air right now for Bill Self’s team.
#8. Michigan State
Last Week’s Ranking: #9 (15-2)
Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans have very quietly won ten straight games. This week the Spartans beat Purdue and Penn State, and neither game was overly competitive as the Spartans rolled. Things are about to get a lot tougher for Michigan State next week though as they play at Nebraska, then home against Maryland before heading out on the road against Iowa. The Wolverines are snatching up all of the hype in the state and the league, but don’t be shocked if the Big 10 title runs through the Breslin Center again this year.
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies
Last Week’s Ranking: #7 (14-2)
There is certainly no shame in losing at Virginia. The Cavaliers just might be the best team in the country. But the way that the Cavs dismantled Virginia Tech was quite surprising. They didn’t just lose to Virginia, they got beat down. Tech managed just nineteen rebounds in that game and shot just 43% from the field in the loss. I am going to just chalk that one up to a bad night against an elite team and try to move on. The Hokies have a soft one at home against Wake Forrest before traveling to Chapel Hill to play the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Hokies need to knock off the Tar Heels if they want to stay in the ACC regular season title conversation.
#10. Nevada Wolfpack
Last Week’s Ranking: #10 (17-1)
What is going on in Reno? A couple of weeks ago, all the talk at UNR was about going undefeated during the regular season. Then they got shocked by New Mexico, losing by nearly thirty points. And this week, they were lucky to survive on the road at Fresno State and Boise State. Both of those teams can play, but we are looking at Reno like a potential Final Four team, not a team that is barely sneaking pass Boise State. The schedule has been and will continue to be a light one for Reno, and their biggest enemy right now is themselves as they try and get up for games against inferior competition. Don’t be shocked if the Wolfpack slide out of the top ten if they don’t start playing better.
If you thought this week was a wild one wait until next week! As conference play continues, these teams are going to be tested night in and night out. Teams like Kentucky, Florida State, and North Carolina lurk just outside the top ten, hoping to play themselves into a higher ranking.
Thanks for reading and good luck betting this week!