This weekend saw some phenomenal college basketball action. The tip-off weekend rarely sees top teams fall, but it does have the potential to be very revealing of where top programs stand at the earliest parts of the season. Though none of the top 15 teams suffered a loss, there were some games that were incredibly eye opening, and the State Farm Championship this week in Indianapolis will certainly allow for some shaking up in the top ten. Here is my power ranking of the top ten basketball programs following opening weekend:
Outside looking in: Gonzaga, Villanova, Virginia, Texas
Next Best: Syracuse – Clearly, this is an incredibly bold pick to make the top ten, jumping nearly fifteen spots ahead of where the AP Poll has placed them. Yes, this pick is incredibly bold, and is more than likely to bite me where it hurts when we enter into conference play. However, the Orange had a phenomenal opening weekend, which showcased the ability of their freshman point guard, Kaleb Joseph, who has to follow in Tyler Ennis’ remarkable footsteps; and Rakeem Christmas could prove to be the big man Syracuse needs to contend. Their depth at forward was also evident, and Jim Boeheim always puts his teams in positions to win.
10. Wichita State – The Shockers lost Cleanthony Early in the offseason, but they don’t look like they’ve lost a step. Their leadership at the guard position, spearheaded by Fred Van Vleet, puts the shockers in a prime position to make another deep run into March. Head coach Gregg Marshall is quickly moving up the ranks of the top college basketball coaches as well.
9. Iowa State – Though the Cyclones have not cracked the top ten in the AP Rankings, they are definitely ready to. Being led by a potential player of the year candidate in Georges Niang, Iowa State is ready to not only take on the Big 12, but also the entire country. It’s tough to ignore a team who has a 30 point scorer in Niang that is also surrounded by more than capable contributors. UNLV transfer guard Bryce Deejan-Jones has proven in the past he can produce at a high level as well, which makes Iowa State a very dangerous team.
8. Florida – I have Florida right where the AP Poll has them at number seven. The Gators have experience, something that a few teams later in this list lack. Billy Donovan knows how to gear his teams up for late runs into March, as we always seem to see the Gators maneuvering the tournament with ease. Forward Dorian Finney-Smith has returned for his junior season, and with the help of Michael Frazier II and the long anticipated Chris Walker, the Gators could contend with Kentucky in the SEC. Their upcoming game against a serious opponent, Miami, should be an opportunity for them to prove themselves a bit more.
7. North Carolina – There is no doubt about it, UNC is an incredibly talented basketball team. Marcus Paige is excellent at the guard position, and forward/center Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down and is ready to take on the best big men in the country with hopes of proving he should be in the conversation. Now, the question becomes, “With all of the talent and improvement from returning players, how do the Tar Heels find themselves so low on the list?” It’s simple. The off-the-court distractions surrounding the University are troubling. It’s tough to imagine that a team could shake all of the negative attention towards their school the way the Florida State football team has, but the Tar Heels will need to do just that to find success this season.
6. Kansas – The Jayhawks lost two top three NBA Picks this past year, which is a void that no group of players could fill this early in the season. However, the Jayhawks seemed to have replenished what they lost, and if these replenishments live up to their potential, Kansas could find itself at the top of these power rankings before season’s end. Perry Ellis could arguably be the best stretch four in the country, and freshman phenom Cliff Alexander is looking to pick up right where Joel Embiid left off. Let’s remember not to sleep on Wayne Selden, who could make a run at National Player of the Year. This team is dangerous top to bottom.
5. Louisville – The Cardinals opened their season with the premier game of the opening night, in a matchup with Minnesota. Though there were some major red flags (fifty fouls between the two teams), the Cardinals won by double digits against a team that I think is ready to compete in the daunting Big Ten. Montrezl Harrell is going to compete for player of the year, and the backcourt of Terry Rozier and Chris Jones has shown that it could be the most formidable in the country. They are playing with an intense level of energy and enthusiasm, the trademark of the 2013 Cardinals that won the national championship.
4. Arizona – To have a team drop two spots in the power rankings this early in the season without showing any flaws opening weekend doesn’t make sense. The only reason I’ve placed the Wildcats at number four is due to the fact that the three teams above them are just too good to have anyone else ahead. Arizona brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the country last season, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson returned this season in hopes of being a lottery pick next summer. He proved this weekend that he should be in that conversation, looking like a man among boys on the court. Arizona is the clear cut favorite in the PAC-12 this season, and has yet to show any reason why it shouldn’t be.
3. Wisconsin – The Badgers lost one player from their starting five that carried them to the final four last season, Ben Brust. Yes, Brust could come in and hit big time shots in big time games, but he is now replaced by a bigger, stronger, faster version of himself in Bronson Koenig. The Badgers have two potential All Americans in forward Sam Dekker and center Frank Kaminsky, and they are improved from their Final Four run last season. Head coach Bo Ryan’s system seems to fit this squad perfectly, and forward Nigel Hayes is going to inevitably make some noise in the sixth man of the year conversation.
2. Kentucky – HOW ON EARTH COULD KENTUCKY NOT BE NUMBER ONE!? Yes, I’m asking myself the same question. My answer is simple. For a team with nine McDonald’s All-Americans, the Wildcats looked incredibly sloppy against Buffalo. They went into halftime losing by five points at home in Rupp Arena against Buffalo. Yes, Buffalo. This is not a knock at Buffalo by any means, but I think this game proved that the “platoon” system is going to have flaws. When the blue platoon got into foul trouble, coach John Calipari then had to abandon the system and make substitutions hoping to keep the continuity together. There is no doubt that Kentucky is going to figure it out eventually though, as they always do. For now, they will sit at number two.
1. Duke – Duke leap frogs Kentucky in the first installment of my power rankings for one main reason: Jahlil Okafor. In college basketball, we love to find NBA comparisons of potential lottery picks to help identify their games. Okafor has gotten the best comparisons possible: he bangs like Shaq, has pure talent like DeMarcus Cousins, passes like Marc Gasol, etc. Normally, the loop holes in the comparisons are easy to find. With Okafor, they aren’t. He is the best center in college basketball in nearly every important category by far. It’s also important to remember that yes, Kentucky has nine McDonald’s All-Americans, and likely the most talent; but let’s not forget something even more important: Duke has nine, too.
*Section Photo credit to Peter Aiken, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Mark L. Baer, USA Today Sports