A new year has begun, and with it a new season. College hoops have officially transitioned from non-conference play — filled with easy-to-buy games, exciting challenges, and tournaments played in casinos and tropical locations — to conference play, in which teams must navigate freezing temperatures and trying to win matches in hostile cauldrons. This means no more hiding and no more smooth browsing for anyone. There’s nothing but frigid, choppy waters ahead of us.
So this may be the last time all season that I can say there hasn’t been much movement on my ballot. Here, then, for the first time in 2023, I present the correct order of the top 25 men’s college basketball teams, as submitted to The Associated Press on Sunday evening:
Seth Davis’ Top 25 for Monday, January 2
Abandoned: North Carolina (16), Kentucky (19), Memphis (21)
Almost known: Auburn, Florida Atlantic, Illinois, Missouri, Providence, Saint Mary’s, State of Utah
• Those of you who follow my rankings closely (and you know who you are) understand that I consider more than just the fact that a team won or lost matches in the previous week. I put extra weight on who he played, how he played and most importantly, where he played. We all know how hard it is to win on the road. Conversely, this means that a top 25 team should win at home, especially if it’s against a lower-ranked team or not at all.
I had three results in my top five from last Saturday that I had to consider: UConn’s 83-73 loss to Xavier, Kansas’ 69-67 home win over Oklahoma State, and Kansas’ 69-60 win over Arizona vs. Arizona State. I almost left UConn at No. 2 because there’s no shame in losing to a good team on the road, and the Huskies have been arguably the best team in the country this season. I was, however, forced to move Arizona up a few spots because their victory was decisive and it came against a good team on the road. Arizona also had a neutral-court win over Indiana and a home win over Tennessee in December, which pushed its 81-66 loss to Utah on Dec. 1 deeper into the rearview mirror. Most teams will have a bad game once in a while, and this loss was inflicted on a conference opponent on the road.
As for Kansas, I don’t usually believe in punitive teams after wins, but the Jayhawks were playing at home against an unranked team from Oklahoma State that lost this season to Southern Illinois and the UCF, and they almost lost. I don’t consider dropping a team a spot a punishment anyway, but the Jayhawks went down because of my decision to skip Arizona.
Bill Self’s deft coaching moves send Kansas to another comeback win
• I guess there is still some confusion as to why I have Houston at No. 8 when the Cougars were No. 3 in the AP poll last week and are No. 1 in the NET, Ken Pom and Bart Torvik. The answer is in their resume. Houston’s best win was at Virginia. A fabulous win on the road, no doubt, but Virginia also lost their next game in Miami. Other than that, Houston’s best win came in Fort Worth against unranked Saint Mary’s. He also had several wins against unranked teams that were uncomfortably close, including Saturday’s 71-65 home win over UCF. It should be noted that Houston is No. 7 in Kevin Pauga’s KPI ranking, which is based purely on results, while the other metrics are meant to be predictive. There are also some head-to-head results to consider. Houston lost at home to Alabama, so shouldn’t the Cougars be ranked behind the Crimson Tide? And Alabama lost to Gonzaga in Birmingham later that week, so shouldn’t the Tide be behind the Zags? Given that Houston is by far the best team in its conference, I expect this team to continue to win and move up the standings accordingly, but that’s why I have the Cougars where they are. Metrics are useful, but they are not the gospel.
• To expand on my point on metrics, let’s look at a few teams where the rankings seem to be way off, for better and for worse. Is there anyone who would say Miami doesn’t deserve to be ranked? Well, the Hurricanes are 33rd in the NET, 37th on KenPom and 50th on BartTorvik. Still, KPI has them at #9. They shouldn’t be ranked that high, but in this case, KPI is much closer to accurate.
Then there are the two teams the metrics love to hate: Wisconsin (44 NET, 42 KenPom, 49 BartTorvik) and Providence (57 NET, 44 KenPom, 58 BartTorvik). KPI is split on this one – it has Wisconsin at 12 and Providence at 64. All because the metrics don’t like teams that win a lot of close games. Still, when they calculate Quad standings and records, a win counts the same whether it’s one or 100. By the way, Providence has a big game Wednesday night at home against UConn. The Huskies won’t be in a good mood, but it’s not often you face a top-five team on your home turf. The Brothers would do well to at least pass the eyesight test.
On the other hand, the stats are hit by West Virginia (13 NET, 20 KenPom, 13 BartTorvik, 25 KPI), even though the Mountaineers’ best win was at Pittsburgh and they just lost at Kansas State. in their Big 12 opener. Auburn also has strong metrics and continues to be ranked in the AP top 25 even though the Tigers’ resume is very meh. Their best win was on neutral ground over Northwestern, and they lost in December to Memphis (neutral) and USC (road).
• The big winner this week, of course, is Xavier. It was an incredible victory which the Musketeers secured on Saturday under immense pressure. The two things that stood out to me were Jack Nunge’s 15 points, three rebounds and three assists as he battled a virus. Most people don’t want to get out of bed when they’re so sick, let alone play a high-profile basketball game, but Nunge pulled through like a champ. The other was the off-the-bench contributions of 6-7 senior forward Jerome Hunter, a glue guy who played for Sean Miller’s brother Archie at Indiana. Xavier is a very good offensive team but only moderately defensive. Hunter gives this team the toughness they need at this end of the field. It will become an extremely valuable piece during the February heat waves.
• I was more supportive of North Carolina and Kentucky than my fellow voters, but those teams allowed me to easily drop them after losing to Pitt and Missouri, respectively. Speaking of Missouri, I watched the Tigers closely, not only for their victory over Kentucky, but also for their gutting of Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure of the quality of these teams, and the Tigers had a very suspect non-conference schedule, so I decided to wait a little longer before putting a number next to their name. . But if they keep playing like this, it’s only a matter of time.
Is John Calipari now the Jimbo Fisher of college basketball?
• Memphis’ loss to Tulane on Sunday opened up another spot for them. I’ve fought for Creighton for the past two weeks – I even gave the Jays a coveted Buy-Plus rating in my Hoop Thoughts annual stock report – so I gave them last place even though it doesn’t take much to beat Butler and DePaul at home. My starting point was that the reason Creighton fell so badly was because Ryan Kalkbrenner was out, but now that he’s back I expect them to rise again. They have Seton Hall at home and UConn on the road this week, followed by Xavier (road) and Providence (home) next week. We will know soon enough if my faith in this team is justified.
(Xavier’s Colby Jones top photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
. basketball rankings college reshuffle after anger Xavier vs UConn