Campus Sports Top 25: Sparty falls, Sooners rise in latest rankings

Conference play is underway and with it comes a major shuffling of the rankings. One team finally felt the loss of its star player hard, while another didn’t blink in the face of the ultimate challenge.

Needless to say, what could very well be a great part of the  tournament field in March is starting to take shape and at this point, there’s no telling who will be the last team standing. The talent pool is just that deep.

Here we go again, folks, with the latest Campus Sports Top 25!

 

1. Oklahoma (12-0)

The Big 12 is more competitive than usual this season and the white-hot Sooners are leading the way. Led by hot-shooting guard Buddy Hield, who only gets better and better with each passing game, Oklahoma is definitely the team to beat.

The best part, however, is that Hield had a bad game against Iowa State this weekend, and Oklahoma STILL won thanks to a double-double by Ryan Spangler. Next up is a matchup with another Big 12 opponent tonight, and that team just happens to be…

 

2. Kansas (12-1)

Yes, the Sooners pass through the fire once again in taking on the Jayhawks in Lawrence tonight. Kansas is as deep as ever and primed for a high tournament seeding, and that’s even with giving five-star freshman Cheick Diallo limited minutes!

Blowing out Baylor over the weekend proved Kansas to be a true force this year and so long as everyone stays healthy, it’s going to be tough to count the team out once it’s crunch time.

 

3. Maryland (13-1)

The Terps opened Big Ten play with a literal 1-2 punch, knocking off both Penn State and Northwestern. Defense has been the name of Maryland’s game and the team chemistry is at an even higher point than it was last year.

Simply put, there’s a new sheriff in Big Ten Town, and its name is Maryland. With an easy match against Rutgers next, count on the Terps continuing to maintain momentum.

 

4. Virginia (12-1)

The Cavaliers’ win streak has reached 11, most recently with a win over Notre Dame. Virginia’s fast-paced offense just can’t be stopped, it seems, which is why the next game is so important.

That’s because Virginia takes on the tough defense of Buzz Williams-coached Virginia Tech and though the Cavaliers may be the better team on paper, a true test of any run-and-gun team is one that can beat strong on-ball defense, so this game could wind up being one that gives us a deeper look into how much the Cavaliers can do.

 

5. Arizona (13-1)

It’s official, ladies and gentlemen. The Arizona we know and love is back.

Despite big man Kaleb Tarczewski playing limited minutes, the Wildcats beat Arizona State to open Pac-12 play. Considering how the Sun Devils are coached by Bobby Hurley, who puts a strong emphasis on rebounding, this is a big step forward. Thus, they make the jump into the Top 5.

 

6. North Carolina (13-2)

The Tar Heels have two non-conference losses, but have rebounded from each nicely. It also helps that they opened ACC play with wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech. Those two aren’t exactly the cream of the ACC crop but with a game against Florida State and dynamic 2-guard Dwayne Bacon looming in Tallahassee, UNC should just ride with the momentum and continue rising as much as it can.

 

7. Kentucky (11-2)

Kentucky has hit its fair share of bumps early this season, losing to UCLA and Ohio State prior to SEC play. But after a close victory over Louisville at Rupp Arena, the Wildcats handled ever-tough Ole Miss with authority and once again established itself as the squad to beat in the SEC.

Next, however, is a big test against LSU and top freshman Ben Simmons, who could prove tough to handle against a team that has issues rebounding. If Kentucky wins that game, then it’s just business as usual for the team that has dominated the SEC for much of John Calipari’s tenure. If not, then there just might be a new SEC superpower.

 

8. Michigan State (14-1)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Sure, Michigan State beat Minnesota in a tight game over the weekend, but lost to unranked Iowa before that. The good thing is that Denzel Valentine should be back from injury this week, when the Spartans take on Illinois and Penn State.

If Valentine gets his legs under him quickly, then he can put his team in a prime position for the rematch with Iowa in East Lansing on the 14th.

 

9. Xavier (13-1)

It turns out the Musketeers are mortal after all, having been blown out by Villanova on New Year’s Eve. The good news is that instead of crumbling, Xavier bounced right back and beat a tough Big East rival in Butler.

A match with St. John’s this week means that Xavier just has to maintain momentum because this team is in rare form this year, and could seriously make a deep run down the road so long as everyone stays healthy.

 

10. Providence (14-1)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Friars are for real after knocking off Butler and St. John’s to open Big East play. Led by guard Kris Dunn and Big Ben Bentil, this team has a 1-2 punch of players that some coaches can only dream of.

Next up for Providence is Marquette, a team that has lost its first two conference games despite taking steps forward in its second year under coach Steve Wojciechowski. Barring injury, look for the Friars to keep spreading their gospel that is excellent basketball, the program’s best in two decades.

 

11. Miami (12-1)

Even in having a relatively easy inaugural ACC opponent in Syracuse to start conference play this year, Miami is still legit. This team has already beaten some great non-conference teams in Utah and Butler, but faces a tough task next weekend against Florida State. If coach Jim Larranaga’s tough defense can slow down Dwayne Bacon, then the ‘Canes could definitely warrant evacuation more and more down the stretch.

 

12. Duke (12-2)

Even with ugly losses to Kentucky and Utah this year, Duke is starting to turn up and figure itself out. Freshman Luke Kennard is slowly establishing himself as the sixth man and Brandon Ingram is starting to turn a corner. The Blue Devils handily beat Boston College over the weekend and if they can slow down Wake Forest this week, then the odds of them repeating as national champions could slowly start to increase.

 

13. Villanova (12-2)

I’ve been particularly hard on Villanova for a long time, long before I started making these weekly rankings, but they were nothing short of impressive last week. Not only did the Wildcats blow out Xavier, but they also handily beat Creighton in Omaha over the weekend.

Next is a match with ever-improving and potential spoiler Seton Hall, who have really turned a corner this year under coach Kevin Willard. With experience set to go up against youth, this game could definitely be one that either reestablishes Villanova as a team to beat or one that CAN be beat.

 

14. Louisville (12-2)

Losing to Kentucky stung the Cardinals quite a bit last week, with coach Rick Pitino allegedly flipping off a heckler as he exited the court, but that loss was quickly shaken off in beating Wake Forest to open ACC play. Chinanu Onuaku is only continuing to grow as a big man and Damion Lee is proving to be a great go-to scorer.

Next is a strong opponent in N.C. State, a team that will be out for blood after starting ACC competition with a loss to Virginia Tech. Throw in that this game is in Raleigh, and the Cardinals are definitely on upset watch this week.

 

15. Butler (11-3)

As much as we love Butler, they drop in the rankings this week due to a two-game losing streak, with insult being added to injury in that both losses were to strong Big East rivals in Providence and Xavier. The Bulldogs get a bit of a breather when they host DePaul this week, but there’s no denying that the ship is in rocky waters and needs to be righted soon if the team is to be taken seriously down the stretch.

 

16. West Virginia (12-1)

It wasn’t pretty, but the Mountaineers knocked off Kansas State in double-overtime to earn a win against Kansas State to open Big 12 play. This team is one that will score a lot of points for most of the season and should have a relatively easy matchup against TCU next. Depending on how that game pans out, particularly in margin of victory, don’t be shocked to see WVU slowly keep on rising as the season progresses.

 

17. Texas A&M (11-2)

Two words: GIG ‘EM. Aggies basketball is back with a vengeance and is on a road that could very well lead to making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Texas A&M knocked off Arkansas to open conference play and has Mississippi State next. Though it may seem like a light start, consider the fact that it’s starting to look like big man Tyler Davis is impossible to defend, having already shot 76 percent from the field this season.

Unless he’s contained, it’s going to be tough for any team to slow down the Aggies.

 

18. SMU (13-0)

It’s a crying shame that SMU is banned from postseason play this year because the Mustangs are playing some of their best basketball in years. Decisive wins over Tulsa and South Florida have this team with a lot of momentum at its back entering a date with Cincinnati this week and if Larry Brown’s team can keep playing with a chip on its shoulder and hand the Bearcats another defeat, the NCAA should kick itself for not having this team in the tournament this year because in all honesty, SMU are one of the squads most fun to watch.

 

19. Iowa State (11-2)

Iowa State hasn’t quite hit the wall yet, but it’s getting close. The Cyclones lost to Oklahoma to open Big 12 play, but only by four points. To take a team as hot as the Sooners to the brink, you have to be pretty talented as a unit.

Next on the docket is Texas Tech, a team that has gone 11-1 thus far in its third season under the legendary Tubby Smith. Iowa State’s experience should provide an advantage but in conference play, the worst thing any team can do is underestimate the competition.

 

20. Purdue (13-2)

A team cannot win on size alone, and Purdue learned that against Iowa over the weekend. Tough defense severely limited the collective production of Caleb Swanigan, A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, and Purdue’s guards just couldn’t keep up with the Hawkeyes.

The good news is that Matt Painter is a good enough coach that he’ll make adjustments as the season progresses, but there’s no denying that it’s put-up or shut up time for the Boilermakers. Next up is Michigan and if Purdue can’t slow that team down, they could very well become Big Ten toast instead of Big Ten top-of-the-line.

 

21. Cincinnati (11-4)

Cincy may have four losses, but hasn’t been blown out once, Thus, they remain in the Top 25. The bad news is that the Bearcats’ most recent loss was to unranked Temple and though the team rebounded with a win against Tulsa, the real test happens this week.

That’s when Cincinnati travels to Dallas to play undefeated SMU, who would likely be ranked higher were it not for their postseason ban. Simply put, in order for Cincinnati to continue being taken seriously, that game is a must-win and could give them a huge pop in the rankings department.

 

22. South Carolina (13-0)

Even though the Gamecocks haven’t started SEC play yet, they’re still looking fantastic in their fourth year under Frank Martin. They’ll open conference competition against Auburn this week and if this team can handle the necessary rigor of the SEC, they could definitely be one to watch over the next month-plus as the schedule gets tougher.

 

23. California (12-3)

Fresh off an upset of Utah, Cal is officially for real. The Golden Bears have also knocked off hot-shooting Davidson this year as well as Colorado, and also have probably one of the more underrated big men in the country in freshman Ivan Rabb.

Next comes competitive Oregon in Eugene and if the Ducks’ guards can be contained by this team, Cal will only continue to rise over the next couple of months.

 

24. Iowa (11-3)

Signature wins count for quite a bit, and Iowa has quite a few of them. The Hawkeyes have beaten Michigan State, Purdue and Wichita State already this year, and also very nearly defeated Iowa State in non-conference play.

Long story short, Fran McCaffery’s team is not one to be taken lightly, so Nebraska had better bring its best unless it wants to be blown out this week.

 

25. Pittsburgh (12-1)

Another season, another year that Pitt has a scrappy defensive squad capable of reaching great heights. The Panthers don’t have any signature wins this year, but being 12-1 and having defeated Syracuse already counts for something.

Coach Jamie Dixon’s men host Georgia Tech this week before visiting Notre Dame this weekend and by handling the Yellow Jackets in the Steel City, the Panthers could have plenty of momentum to pull off an important road win against the Fighting Irish.

 

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*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports