Campus Sports Top 25: Spartans stay on top after crazy week

Well, basketball fans, this week was nothing short of crazy. So many Top Ten (at the time) teams fell to seemingly lesser teams, while others stayed the course.

Either way, the rankings have experienced an epic shakeup this week while Michigan State has remained the only constant. After them, it’s starting to look like anybody’s game and with non-conference play ending this week, it’s time to turn on the afterburners.

Let’s get right to it. Here are this week’s Top 25 rankings!

 

1. Michigan State (12-0)

Nothing can stop the Spartans, it seems. With a week between an ugly win over Florida and a cupcake matchup with Northeastern, Michigan State dominated from start to finish and won by 20. The team closes out non-conference play with a trip to the Palace of Auburn Hills to take on the Oakland Golden Grizzlies of the Horizon League and so long as Denzel Washington continues to play at a high level, it’s hard to imagine anyone keeping this team from a championship.

 

2. Oklahoma (8-0)

Boomer Sooner, folks. Shout it loud and proud. This team is officially for real after slowing down high-scoring and hot shooting Creighton, but has a bit of a challenge to close out non-conference competition this week. Oklahoma takes on Washington State in Hawaii and while the Sooners are a better team on paper, the travel could be a factor. But that doesn’t take away from one fact: this team can PLAY.

 

3. Kansas (9-1)

The Jayhawks are dominant once again. Were it not for their sole loss to Michigan State, they’d likely be No. 2. Games against San Diego State and UC Irvine will be non-conference tests for Kansas but if Bill Self smarts up and gives Cheick Diallo more minutes, then the rest will be gravy. Don’t let the Big 12 membership fool you. This team is one of the best.

 

4. Maryland (10-1)

The Terps may have a week off to enjoy Christmas before hosting Marshall, and it is well deserved. Maryland handled Princeton with ease and Maryland-Eastern Shore before them, and there is little to suggest that this team is headed for anything but another strong Big Ten season. Whatever coach Mark Turgeon has his men doing, it’s working quite well.

 

5. Virginia (9-1)

The Cavaliers are back, ladies and gentlemen, and with a vengeance. Coach Tony Bennett has gotten his players to shake off an early loss to George Washington and have won eight in a row since then, including key games against West Virginia and, more recently, Villanova. ACC season will soon be in full swing and so long as UVA handles California and Oakland with ease, the rest could and should be smooth sailing as the quest for a championship continues.

 

6. North Carolina (9-2)

UNC needed a win over UCLA after falling to Texas the weekend before, and got just that. Roy Williams’ team didn’t stumble without big man Kennedy Meeks and has two easy games remaining this month against Appalachian State and UNC-Greensboro, so look for the Tar Heels to continue marching strong headed into the New Year.

 

7. Xavier (11-0)

It’s official, folks. The Musketeers are for real this year. Wins over Cincinnati and Auburn are proof that coach Chris Mack’s team is fully locked in and ready to roll this year and with a trip to 8-2 Wake Forest on the horizon, look for this team to head into its latest test with poise and precision. Should Xavier win, then they could rocket up the rankings even more next week.

 

8. Arizona (11-1)

Arizona is officially back following wins over Gonzaga and, more recently, UNLV, and will have earned a nice long break after facing Long Beach State on Tuesday. Conference play for this team doesn’t begin until January 2 against Arizona State and so long as the holiday cobwebs don’t linger, Arizona should be a force in the Pac-12 per usual once every game starts counting.

 

9. Miami (9-1)

The Hurricanes may have had a light schedule as of late, but their dominant win over Charleston strongly suggests that this momentum isn’t going anywhere. Games against La Salle and Princeton should offer enough of a test to this high-scoring team from Coral Gables and once the on-ball defense comes together, it should handle ACC play with ease.

 

10. Providence (11-1)

These aren’t your father’s Friars. Providence may have had a relatively easy schedule thus far, but grinding out another win over Rider suggests a toughness that simply cannot be taught. Ed Cooley’s squad wraps up non-conference play against UMass this week and if Kris Dunn can get back from a lingering stomach bug, expect the Friars to continue to rise.

 

11. Iowa State (9-1)

The Cyclones fell to giant slayer Northern Iowa over the weekend, thus their drop in the rankings. Non-conference losses sometimes happen but to a team from the Missouri Valley Conference? That’s borderline unacceptable. The team had better find its stride against tough and defensive Cincinnati on Tuesday, lest it want to fall out of the rankings completely.

 

12. Duke (9-2)

The Blue Devils just couldn’t catch a break in overtime against Utah over the weekend, ultimately falling to a Utes team that took full advantage of leading rebounder Amile Jefferson being out with a broken foot. Duke was out-rebounded 56-38, the sole silver lining being that the game was played at a neutral site in Madison Square Garden. Games against Elon and Long Beach State should alleviate the crushing defeat at the hands of the Utes a small bit, but this team needs to get its you-know-what together until Jefferson is back, and quickly if the team wants any shot at winning a second straight championship.

 

13. Butler (9-1)

The Bulldogs are as pugnacious as their namesake, having outclassed Purdue on defense and forcing 18 turnovers against the Boilermakers. They’re still relatively new to the national scene and aren’t as big as other Big East counterparts like Georgetown or Villanova, but they’re slowly becoming one of the best teams in the nation this year and have easy non-conference matchups remaining in Southern Utah and IUPU. If the momentum can be held once Big East play begins, then look for the Bulldogs to remain in attack mode.

 

14. Kentucky (9-2)

The Wildcats are officially vulnerable, having officially lost to two unranked opponents on the season. This time, they lost to Ohio State at the Barclays Center and just looked lost on the court. And it’s not going to get any easier for the team, with a matchup against Louisville looming on the 26th and the Wildcats’ in-state rival looking to prove a point.

John Calipari’s interior players had better get it together, or they’ll fall out of contention fast.

 

15. Louisville (9-1)

Speaking of Louisville, they’ve earned a jump after shellacking Kennesaw State and Western Kentucky. The Cardinals have a busy week, playing UMKC and Utah Valley before heated rival Kentucky on Saturday, but the team chemistry is so great that losing big man Mangok Mathiang probably won’t matter all that much over the first two games. So long as Damion Lee and Trey Lewis can play consistently and the defense is strong, look for the team to continue rising.

 

16. Purdue (11-1)

If Purdue was going to lose to a non-conference opponent, they couldn’t have done it in an uglier manner. The team might as well have been called the Turnovers against Butler, and it won’t get easier with Vanderbilt next on the docket. The good news is that Caleb Swanigan continues to get better and should become the team’s go-to guy, but Purdue’s next goal is to prove that their 11-0 start wasn’t a fluke.

 

17. West Virginia (9-1)

The Mountaineers bounced back quickly from a loss to Virginia with wins over UL-Monroe and Marshall, but Eastern Kentucky and Virginia Tech could provide bigger tests to Bob Huggins’ fast-paced team. The good news is that this team is disciplined on both offense and defense and communicates well on the court, so they could still make some noise in the Big 12 once conference play starts.

 

18. Villanova (8-2)

Villanova looked strong for most of its game against Virginia, but poor rebounding and typical over-reliance on the three-ball led to a defeat, meaning that the Wildcats have lost two of three and both to ranked non-conference opponents. Given how the team was already falling down the rankings to begin with, this time it will cost them more.

Coach Jay Wright’s men need to play better against Delaware and then Penn before opening Big East play against Xavier because after being too one-dimensional last year, Villanova seems headed towards that trend once again.

 

19. Texas A&M (9-2)

As A&M’s football program collapses in on itself, the basketball team provides a sweet escape. Despite losing key freshman Elijah Thomas to a transfer, the Aggies are making noise in the SEC and scored a signature win over Baylor on Saturday. Cue a 10-day break before a tuneup game against Cal Poly, and this team is slowly looking like the one to beat on top of Kentucky in the SEC.

 

20. Utah (9-2)

The Utes clawed their way back into the rankings with a key win over Duke, and they could be here to stay long-term. Jakol Poeltl is becoming a serious Wooden Award finalist. Even better news is that Utah’s strong play should continue, as it closes out exhibition season with contests against Delaware State and then an NAIA team in the College of Idaho. Simply put, after making the Sweet Sixteen last year, Utah is playing with the strength and determination of a Final Four regular, and that will only help down the road.

 

21. Cincinnati (10-2)

Any team that beats fast and feisty VCU deserves a small bump in the rankings, but Cincinnati will have to earn its place in the Top 25 this week. Next is a visit from Iowa State, who will be out for blood after falling to UNI, so the Bearcats will have to play their signature tough on-ball defense in order to pull off what could be an epic upset. It’s not a do-or-die game by any means, but it has plenty of long-term implications attached and at least keeping the game close from start to finish will be important.

 

22. Baylor (8-2)

After being stunned by Texas A&M, Baylor needs to fall down before it can work its way back up. Fortunately, two cupcake games against New Mexico State and Texas Southern provide just what the doctor ordered before the start of Big 12 play. Rico Gathers needs to keep being dominant on the inside, while Taurean Prince simply needs to improve shot selection and get some more high percentage looks.

Baylor is a talented enough squad that it should bounce back from losing to the Aggies fairly easily, but they’ll have to put in some work to make significant progress from a rankings standpoint.

 

23. Texas (8-3)

Havoc has officially come to Austin, with the Longhorns having already defeated North Carolina and now Stanford on last-second buzzer beaters. Shaka Smart is determined to not let this technically being a “rebuild year” get either he or his team down, and it’s time to consider Texas for what it really is: an underrated team that can win in multiple ways and hang with the best of the despite being on the verge of a significant transition.

 

24. George Washington (10-1)

The Colonials continue to play well in the Atlantic 10, but had fairly easy games the last two weeks against Rutgers and then Saint Peter’s. Next are DePaul and UCF, both of whom GW should beat easily, but the long and short of it is that this team’s hot start is getting noticed and until the engine stalls, they’re a team to keep an eye on long-term.

 

25. Connecticut (7-3)

Just another week at the office for UConn, who manhandled UMass-Lowell to maintain pace in the tough AAC. Next is a gimme against Central Connecticut on Wednesday, but then comes Texas on the 29th. It is during the next week that the Huskies will see their strength tested and should they emerge almost entirely unscathed from their match with the Longhorns, they could very well become a team to be reckoned with once conference play begins.

 

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*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports