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College basketball top 50: Kansas on top with asterisk

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN.com senior editor) 

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Bill Self
© Imagn

Seven teams have been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll this season. I rarely look at the college basketball poll, which always has been a joke for several reasons (many voters are clueless, for one reason) and exists only to stir up fan and media interest.

Baylor, the latest team to top the poll, nearly was upset as a 10-point home favorite Monday night. If a late 3-point shot by Oklahoma had dropped, the Bears would have plummeted in the poll next week. Instead, Baylor will stay at No. 1 until it loses, which will happen soon. It’s a mindless game of knee-jerk reactions and musical chairs.

Most handicappers and oddsmakers form power ratings that are more accurate and consistent than media rankings. The most difficult ratings to do are in the preseason because of the guesswork involved. I rated each relevant team and ranked my top 50 in early November for VSiN’s first College Basketball Betting Guide, which featured breakdowns of all 32 Division I conferences and 353 teams. Here are my updated rankings:

 

1. KANSAS

Preseason ranking: 2This rating comes with an asterisk because things could change for the worse for the Jayhawks after their brawl against Kansas State on Tuesday night. Suspensions are sure to be handed down and we likely have seen the last of chair-swinging forward Silvio De Sousa, though he’s not a big loss. I still prefer the star combo of point guard Devon Dotson and 7-foot, 270-pound Udoka Azubuike. Bill Self is a legit coach, and his team has improved as expected. Kansas turned in a clumsy performance in a 68-66 season-opening loss to Duke yet has only one black eye (home to Baylor) on its resume since. The Jayhawks rank No. 1 overall and in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings (Kenpom.com), and my ratings are similar. Kansas is 15-3 straight up and 11-7 against the spread.

2. GONZAGA

Preseason ranking: 13

Six players average double figures in scoring, led by forwards Filip Petrusev and Corey Kispert. I questioned Mark Few’s team in the preseason because he lost four starters from a 33-win team, but he reloaded right away. The Zags (20-1) had one bad day, an 82-64 loss to Michigan in the Bahamas in late November.

3. DUKE

Preseason ranking: 3

A lot of people love to hate the Blue Devils, but their 87-75 win Dec. 3 at Michigan State displayed the potential of this Coach K team at full strength. Duke’s loss to Stephen F. Austin as a 27½-point favorite in late November also showed this team is young. In recent back-to-back losses to Clemson and Louisville, the Devils were missing Wendell Moore. This still is an elite team, with sophomore point guard Tre Jones and big man Vernon Carey leading the way. Duke is the only team ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (Kenpom).

4. LOUISVILLE

Preseason ranking: 4

The Cardinals were underachieving in December and early January, but they appear to be back on track after a convincing win at Duke. Junior forward Jordan Nwora is arguably the top player in the ACC. Louisville can make a nice living with its 3-point shooting, yet its guard play has been too inconsistent. Chris Mack is an outstanding coach.

5. DAYTON

Preseason ranking: 56

My preseason rating on the Flyers was a major mistake, but I did catch it early. After watching Dayton play two games at the Maui Invitational before Thanksgiving, I bet the Flyers at 200/1 odds to win the national championship. The next day, Dayton lost to Kansas in overtime in the tournament title game. Led by forward Obi Toppin and guards Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson, the Flyers rank No. 2 in adjusted offensive efficiency (Kenpom) behind Gonzaga.

6. WEST VIRGINIA

Preseason ranking: 55

The Mountaineers were picked by Blue Ribbon to finish seventh in the 10-team Big 12, and some other forecasts were more pessimistic. But we all underestimated Bob Huggins after a 15-21 season (4-14 in conference play). Freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe is a stud, and Huggins has developed a phenomenal defensive team that pressures relentlessly.

7. BAYLOR

Preseason ranking: 29

The Bears rank fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency (Kenpom) behind Kansas, Virginia and West Virginia, but their offensive shortcomings will be a problem down the road for coach Scott Drew. Baylor’s next test Saturday at Florida will be telling.

8. OREGON

Preseason ranking: 11

Senior leader Payton Pritchard is probably the best point guard in the college game. The Ducks have been disappointing at times, but coach Dana Altman typically has his teams peaking in March.

9. BUTLER

Preseason ranking: 53

It was easy to overlook the Bulldogs, who had one returning starter from a 16-17 season. But senior guard Kamar Baldwin is a big-time scorer, and 6-foot-6 senior Sean McDermott is a complementary do-it-all sidekick. Butler coach LaVall Jordan has redeemed himself this season. Still, the Bulldogs had dropped two in a row before Tuesday’s game at Villanova.

10. MICHIGAN STATE

Preseason ranking: 1

When the Spartans were voted No. 1 in the preseason poll, a ranking I agreed with at the time, it was not known that senior guard Joshua Langford would miss the entire season with a foot injury. Langford’s loss meant a major ratings adjustment. Senior point guard Cassius Winston has not performed like the Big Ten’s top player, and he was awful in a recent 29-point defeat at Purdue. Tom Izzo still will be a tough out in March because his team defends, rebounds and has been challenged by a difficult schedule.

11. SETON HALL

Preseason ranking: 26

The Pirates suffered early losses to Michigan State and Oregon, but they are back to full strength with senior guard Myles Powell playing at a superstar level.

12. TEXAS TECH

Preseason ranking: 7

Injuries were part of the problem during the Red Raiders’ three-game losing streak after Thanksgiving. But as I said in the preseason, do not underestimate coach Chris Beard, who’s a younger John Beilein. Tech, which knocked off Louisville on Dec. 10, faces Kentucky, West Virginia and Kansas in an upcoming three-game stretch.

13. OHIO STATE

Preseason ranking: 21

Chris Holtmann is a sharp coach who will get the Buckeyes to rebound after losing five of their last six. Before that slide, Ohio State was ranked No. 1 in the AP poll and by Kenpom, yet I never had this team rated in the top five. Junior center Kaleb Wesson will be a matchup problem for several opponents, and the Buckeyes are set to make a good run down the stretch.

14. SAN DIEGO STATE

Preseason ranking: 38

Washington State transfer guard Malachi Flynn has turned the Aztecs (20-0) into the nation’s last unbeaten team and the toughest team in the Mountain West, but their top-five poll ranking is inflated. San Diego State’s best wins — Brigham Young, Creighton, Iowa, Utah State — won’t blow anyone away. Remember that Flynn needed to hit a buzzer-beating 3 to lift the Aztecs, 29-point favorites, to a 59-57 victory over San Jose State on Dec. 8. This team is elite defensively but short of offensive firepower. The Aztecs will get a good test Sunday at UNLV.

15. VILLANOVA

Preseason ranking: 10

Jay Wright is doing another nice coaching job with this team, and junior Collin Gillespie is a smart, tough point guard similar to Oregon’s Pritchard. The Wildcats have some upside.

16. ARIZONA

Preseason ranking: 28

Zeke Nnaji, a 6-foot-11 freshman, makes the Wildcats more of a threat than expected in the preseason. Freshman guard Nico Mannion has not shot that well after getting hyped as a five-star recruit. Sean Miller finds ways to win — and hold off the FBI, NCAA and some of his ESPN critics — and his team’s home-court advantage in Tucson remains strong.

17. FLORIDA STATE

Preseason ranking: 45

The Seminoles’ shining moment was a double-digit win Jan. 4 at Louisville, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt their offensive efficiency and coach Leonard Hamilton in general.

18. KENTUCKY

Preseason ranking: 5

A season-opening victory over Michigan State led to the Wildcats being overrated. Kentucky ranks outside of the top 30 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency (Kenpom), yet John Calipari is a coach who gets teams to develop and improve.

19. HOUSTON

Preseason ranking: 51

Like him or not, Kelvin Sampson is a great coach. The Cougars picked up a statement win at Wichita State last weekend.

20. WICHITA STATE

Preseason ranking: 22

Despite a recent slump, the Shockers still could be Final Four contenders. Gregg Marshall has a deep roster with size and tough guards.

THE NEXT 30 (preseason rankings in parentheses)

21. FLORIDA (6)

22. MARYLAND (12)

23. AUBURN (23)

24. WISCONSIN (52)

25. STANFORD (NR)

26. MICHIGAN (36)

27. COLORADO (19)

28. BYU (NR)

29. MARQUETTE (30)

30. USC (54)

31. RUTGERS (NR)

32. PENN STATE (NR)

33. CREIGHTON (49)

34. LOUISIANA STATE (31)

35. ARKANSAS (NR)

36. INDIANA (35)

37. NORTH CAROLINA STATE (37)

38. ILLINOIS (NR)

39. NORTHERN IOWA (NR)

40. PURDUE (20)

41. MEMPHIS (24)

42. SAINT MARY’S (17)

43. IOWA (NR)

44. VIRGINIA (9)

45. MINNESOTA (NR)

46. SYRACUSE (43)

47. DePAUL (NR)

48. XAVIER (18)

49. NOTRE DAME (32)

50. VCU (25)

Dropped out of preseason Top 50: North Carolina, Utah State, Washington, Davidson, Tennessee, Harvard, Cincinnati, Liberty, Oregon State, Georgetown, UC Santa Barbara, Texas, Alabama, Providence, Georgia, Western Kentucky.

 

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