The first two weeks of the college basketball season have a tendency to be deceitful. There are teams that lose to other programs that are much worse than them, and there are those who overachieve and come up with a big win. Look no further than Indiana losing to Eastern Washington…at home. Despite that, there have been some marquee games that have created a chance for some teams to prove themselves, and others to prove that they are just not ready.
Looking back at last week, there are a few points I’d like to address. First, I was horribly wrong about Syracuse. Rakeem Christmas is the real deal, but early on he appears surrounded by a team who just isn’t ready to hang with the ACC elite. Second, I underestimated Texas. The Longhorns are as ready as ever to end Kansas’ streak of 10 consecutive Big 12 titles this season, with the Jayhawks underperforming so far and Texas playing with unfamiliar consistency. Last, both myself and the AP Poll were wrong about Florida. They got banged up early in the season, but they still struggled through the opening two weeks. Let’s get into my power rankings through two weeks of college basketball:
Outside looking in: San Diego State, Florida, Villanova, Iowa State
Next Best: Virginia – The defending ACC champs are still fully capable of making some noise this season. Despite the loss of their stellar guard Joe Harris, who is now getting some serious playing time with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA, the Wahoos are a serious sleeper in this year’s overcrowded ACC. Junior guard Justin Anderson has Virginia on the right track again this season. Though they have yet to play any top-notch competition, they have been convincing through four games so far this season.
10. Kansas – Yes, the Jayhawks were annihilated by Kentucky. The game was hardly a competition considering Kansas racked up a whopping 11 field goals versus the ultra-talented Wildcats. Though they clearly had to drop out of the top five this week, I am not ready to give up on Kansas yet. Cliff Alexander still has the potential to make a run as the next best freshman behind Jahlil Okafor, and Kansas simply has too much talent to keep out of the top ten at this juncture of the season.
9. Gonzaga – Gonzaga is in a difficult position. Every season, they seem to enter March as a feared team on the West Coast, but they always have a bit of a question mark looming over them. They often don’t play enough games against real competition, and the Kelly Olynyk’s of the world always seem to get them the hype they need to earn a high seed in the tournament. However, this season could be different. They still have that same level of talent, headlined by Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer and senior guard Kevin Pangos, but this season have huge matchups on the road to prove their worth, against No. 3 Arizona and No. 22 UCLA. Watch out for the Bulldogs.
8. Wichita State – Though they often suffer the same eye test failures as Gonzaga, the Shockers are a slightly different case. In the past two seasons, the Shockers have made the Final Four, and lost to Kentucky (never something to be ashamed of in the Calipari era). The Shockers’ backcourt of Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker is as good as any in the country. The starting tandem of guards can score, pass, and defend at the highest level and are eager to prove that their program is not a fluke. They’re off to a good start, after dismantling a pretty solid Memphis squad at a neutral site.
7. Texas – The Longhorns are big, tough, and perfectly capable of hanging with the most talented teams in the country. Texas enters this season not only experienced, but also ready to knock off the Jayhawks in the Big 12 to create a new dominance in that conference. They, much like Gonzaga, will have opportunities to prove that they are worthy of their recent praise with upcoming matchups with No. 24 Connecticut and No. 1 Kentucky. Though I don’t expect them to beat Kentucky, I do expect them to challenge the Wildcats more than anyone will until perhaps No. 6 Louisville. Senior Jonathan Holmes is 1.7 rebounds away from averaging a double-double, and is primed to keep that up all season.
6. North Carolina – Some might say that I am too harsh on UNC. I agree. They have exceptional talent in Marcus Paige and Kennedy Meeks, and they are incredibly well-coached by Hall of Famer Roy Williams. As we still wait on the potential sanctions from the NCAA, I am still hesitant to jump on the UNC bandwagon. Despite all that, I am still anxiously awaiting JP Tokoto’s next big play, because he is a human highlight reel.
5. Louisville – Yesterday, Louisville almost broke the record for fewest points allowed in full game. The Cards gave up 26 points in the entire game versus Savannah State, including solid game time being played by, in Rick Pitino’s words, “four white guys and an Egyptian.” It took Savannah State nearly 16 minutes to score their first point, and Louisville dominated that entire game. Of course, it was against lackluster competition, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Montrezl Harrell is still near the top of the list for National Player of the Year as he still dominates the paint and has added a shooting stroke, while Terry Rozier is quickly establishing himself as a top guard in the country.
4. Arizona – The Wildcats again sit at No. 4 not because of their lack of performance but rather because I am simply more sold on those above them. Arizona has played some “real games” already, taking on Kansas State and Missouri, winning both convincingly. However, if the Wildcats are able to pick apart and physically overmatch Gonzaga the way they have their competition already this season, there’s a great chance they make their way into a higher spot on this list. Everyone knows what Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is capable of, and he is consistently proving that he can do it on a night-in and night-out basis. This team is scary.
3. Wisconsin – You’ve heard the names Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker hundreds of times already this season. I picked them both as preseason All-Americans and they make up perhaps the best four-five combo in all of the starting lineups in college basketball. However, they are overshadowing sixth man Nigel Hayes who is .2 rebounds away from averaging a double-double…off the bench. The Badgers moved up to No. 2 in this week’s AP Poll for good reason, as they seem to be stronger and deeper than last year’s final four team.
2. Duke – The Blue Devils moved down a spot in this week for the same reason that Arizona sits at No. 4 on this list; the team above them is unfairly good. However, Duke is primed to challenge Kentucky for the top spot all season. Jahlil Okafor continues to shine, but senior guard Quinn Cook is going to be the leader of this team. He leads the team in points and is second in assists, but has asserted his leadership already in the young season. Duke will travel to Madison to take on No. 3 Wisconsin in about ten days, and if they are able to win on the road in that game, they could move back into the No. 1 spot.
1. Kentucky – Sorry for all the suspense, I know you didn’t see this one coming. There is no more conversation to be had about who is the best team in the country. The Kentucky Wildcats are an unfair matchup for any team they face. Whether you believe in the platoon system or not (which I don’t), it doesn’t really matter. Either platoon on its own with a decent bench could be a top five team in the country. The harsh reality is that Kentucky has both platoons at their disposal, and both platoons are eager to play and assert their dominance. The only member of either platoon who is not a McDonald’s All-American is Willie Cauley-Stein, who is averaging nearly two blocks in just over twenty minutes of game time this season, and is likely a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft. The Cats have four games against Top-25 teams before the end of the year, three of whom are ranked in the top ten. If they win those, I will be comfortable saying that this team is literally unbeatable.
*Section Photo credit to Streeter Lecka, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Mark Zerof, USA Today Sports.