College basketball rankings: A shakeup after Xavier’s upset of UConn

A new year has dawned, and with it a new season. College hoops has officially pivoted from nonconference play — replete with easy to buy games, titillating challenges, and tournaments played inside casinos and at tropical locales — to conference play, during which teams must travel through frigid temperatures and try to win games in hostile cauldrons. That means no more hiding, and no more smooth sailing for anyone. It’s nothing but frigid, choppy waters ahead.

So this might be the last time all season that I can say there was not much movement on my ballot. Here, then, for the first time in 2023, I present the correct order of the top 25 teams in men’s college basketball, as submitted to the Associated Press on Sunday night:

Seth Davis’ Top 25 for Monday, Jan. 2

Dropped out: North Carolina (16), Kentucky (19), Memphis (21)

Almost Famous: Auburn, Florida Atlantic, Illinois, Missouri, Providence, Saint Mary’s, Utah State

Notes on the votes

• Those of you who follow my rankings closely (and you know who you are) understand that I consider far more than just whether a team won or lost games the previous week. I put added weight on who played it, how it played, and most of all, where it played. We all know it’s really, really hard to win on the road. Conversely, that means a top-25 team should win at home, especially if it’s against a team that’s ranked lower or not at all.

I had three results inside my top five from last Saturday that I needed to consider: UConn’s 83-73 loss at Xavier, Kansas’ 69-67 home win over Oklahoma State, and Arizona’s 69-60 win at Arizona State. I almost left UConn at No. 2, because there is 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 compelled, however, to bump Arizona up a couple of spots because its win was decisive, and it happened 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 at Utah on Dec. 1 deeper into the rearview mirror. Most teams will have a bad game once in a while, and that loss was to a conference opponent on the road.

As for Kansas, I generally don’t believe in punishing teams after wins, but the Jayhawks were playing at home against an unranked team in Oklahoma State that has lost this season to Southern Illinois and UCF, and they damn near lost. I don’t consider moving a team down one slot much of a punishment anyway, but the Jayhawks dropped because of my decision to leapfrog Arizona.

GO DEEPER

Bill Self’s deft coaching moves send Kansas to another comeback win

• I’m guessing 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, KenPom and BartTorvik. The answer lies in their resume. Houston’s best win was at Virginia. A fabulous road win, no doubt, but Virginia also lost its next game at Miami. Other than that, Houston’s best win came in Fort Worth over unranked Saint Mary’s. It also has several wins over unranked teams that were uncomfortably close, including Saturday’s 71-65 home win over UCF. It’s notable that Houston is No. 7 in Kevin Pauga’s KPI rankings, which is based solely on results, whereas the other metrics are intended 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 will keep winning and rise in the rankings accordingly, but that’s why I have the Cougars where they are. Metrics are useful, but they’re not gospel.

• To expand on my point about the metrics, let’s look at some teams where the rankings seem to be way off, for better and worse. Is there anyone who would argue that Miami does not deserve to be ranked? Well, the Hurricanes are 33rd in the NET, 37th on KenPom, and 50th on BartTorvik. Yet, KPI has them at No. 9. They shouldn’t be ranked that high, but in this case, KPI is much closer to accurate.

Then there are the two teams that 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. This is all because the metrics do not like teams that win a lot of close games. Yet, when they calculate the standings and the Quad records, a win counts the same whether it comes by one or 100. By the way, Providence has a big game Wednesday night at home against UConn. The Huskies won’t be in a great mood, but it’s not often you get to play a top-five team on your home court. The Friars would do well to at least pass the eye test.

On the flip side, the metrics are smitten with 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 a neutral court over Northwestern, and they had losses in December to Memphis (neutral) and USC (road).

• The big winner this week, of course, was Xavier. That was an amazing win the Musketeers pulled off Saturday under immense pressure. The two things that stood out to me were Jack Nunge’s 15 points, three rebounds and three assists while battling a virus. Most people don’t want to get out of bed when they’re that sick, much less play a high-level basketball game, but Nunge pulled through like a champ. The other was the contributions off the bench by 6-7 senior forward Jerome Hunter, a Glue Guy who played for Sean Miller’s brother, Archie, at Indiana. Xavier is a really good offensive team but only a so-so-defensive one. Hunter gives this team the toughness it needs at that end of the floor. He will become an extremely valuable piece during the dog days of February.

• I’ve been more supportive of North Carolina and Kentucky than my fellow voters, but those teams made it easy for me to drop them after losing to Pitt and Missouri, respectively. Speaking of Missouri, I gave the Tigers a hard look, not only for their win over Kentucky but also their evisceration of Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game. Frankly, I’m not quite sure just how good those teams are, and the Tigers had a very suspicious non-conference schedule otherwise, so I decided to wait just a little bit longer before putting a number next to their name. But if they keep playing like this, it’s only a matter of time.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Is John Calipari now the Jimbo Fisher of college basketball?

• Memphis’ loss at Tulane on Sunday opened up another spot. I’ve been stumping for Creighton the last couple of weeks — I even gave the Jays a coveted Buy-Plus rating in my annual Hoop Thoughts Stock Report — so I gave them the final spot even though it doesn’t take much to beat Butler and DePaul at home. My point all along was that the reason Creighton plummeted so badly was because Ryan Kalkbrenner was out, but now that he’s back, I expect them to rise again. They’ve got Seton Hall at home and UConn on the road this week, to be followed by Xavier (road) and Providence (home) next week. We’ll find out soon enough whether my faith in this team is justified.

(Top photo of Xavier’s Colby Jones: Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

.

Leave a Comment