1672684328 College basketball rankings A shake after Xaviers upset from UConn

College basketball rankings: A shake after Xavier’s upset from UConn

A new year has dawned and with it a new season. College Hoops has officially evolved from non-conference games – replete with simple buy games, thrilling challenges and tournaments played in casinos and tropical locations – to conference games where teams must travel through freezing temperatures and try to beat games in enemy cauldrons to win. That means no more hiding and no more smooth sailing for anyone. Ahead is nothing but icy, moving water.

So this could be the last time all season that I can say my ballot didn’t move much. So here I present, for the first time in 2023, the correct ranking of the top 25 teams in men’s collegiate basketball as submitted to the Associated Press Sunday night:

Seth Davis’ Top 25 for Monday 2nd January

Eliminated: North Carolina (16), Kentucky (19), Memphis (21)

Almost Famous: Auburn, Florida Atlantic, Illinois, Missouri, Providence, Saint Mary’s, State of Utah

Notes on voting

• Those of you who follow my rankings closely (and you know who you are) know that I consider far more than just whether a team won or lost games in the past week. I put more emphasis on who it played, how it played, and most importantly, where it played. We all know it’s really, really hard to win on the road. Conversely, this means that a top 25 team should win at home, especially against a team that ranks lower or not at all.

I had three results in my top 5 from last Saturday to consider: UConn’s 83-73 loss at Xavier, Kansas’ 69-67 home win over Oklahoma State, and Arizona’s 69-60 win at Arizona State. I almost left UConn in 2nd place because there’s no shame in losing to a good team on the road and the Huskies have been arguably the best team in the country this season. However, I was forced to move up Arizona a few spots because his win was crucial and it came against a good team on the road. Arizona also had a neutral win over Indiana and a home win over Tennessee in December, pushing their 81-66 loss in Utah on Dec. 1 deeper into the rearview mirror. Most teams will have a bad game once in a while, and that loss came down the road against a conference opponent.

As for Kansas, I don’t generally believe in penalizing teams by wins, but the Jayhawks played at home against an unranked Oklahoma State team that lost to Southern Illinois and UCF this season, and they almost lost. I don’t think moving a team down a spot is much of a punishment anyway, but the Jayhawks dropped because of my decision to skip Arizona.

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• I guess there’s still some confusion as to why I have Houston at #8 while the Cougars were #3 in the AP poll last week and #1 in the NET, KenPom and BartTorvik. The answer lies in your resume. Houston’s best win was in Virginia. A fabulous away win, no doubt, but Virginia also lost their next game in Miami. Other than that, Houston’s best win came in Fort Worth over the unranked Saint Mary’s. It also has several wins against unranked teams who were uncomfortably close, including Saturday’s 71-65 home win over UCF. It is notable that Houston ranks 7th in Kevin Pauga’s KPI ranking based solely on results, while the other metrics are said to be predictive. There are also some head-to-head results to consider. Houston lost to Alabama at home, so shouldn’t the Cougars be ranked behind the Crimson Tide? And Alabama lost to Gonzaga later that week in Birmingham, so shouldn’t the tide be behind the Zags? Given that Houston is by far the best team in their conference, I expect that team will keep winning and move up the rankings accordingly, but that’s why I have the Cougars where they are. Metrics are useful, but they’re not gospel.

• To further my point on the metrics, let’s look at a few teams where the rankings seem far off, for better or worse. Is there anyone who would argue that Miami doesn’t deserve to be ranked? Well, the Hurricanes are 33rd in the NET, 37th in KenPom and 50th in BartTorvik. However, KPI has them at number 9. They shouldn’t be ranked that high, but in this case, KPI is much closer to accuracy.

Then there are the two teams that like to hate the metrics: Wisconsin (44 NET, 42 KenPom, 49 BartTorvik) and Providence (57 NET, 44 KenPom, 58 BartTorvik). The KPI is split in this case – Wisconsin is 12 and Providence is 64. This is all because the metrics don’t like teams that win a lot of close games. However, when they calculate the leaderboard and quad records, a win counts whether it’s one or 100. By the way, Providence has a big game at home against UConn on Wednesday night. The Huskies won’t be in a good mood, but it’s not often you find yourself playing a top five team on your home court. The brothers would do well to at least pass the eye test.

On the other hand, West Virginia’s metrics are raving (13 NET, 20 KenPom, 13 BartTorvik, 25 KPI), although the Mountaineers grabbed their best win in Pittsburgh and they just lost to Kansas State in their Big 12 opener. Auburn also has strong metrics and remains in the AP Top 25 despite the Tigers’ résumé being very meh. Their best win was on a neutral ground over Northwestern, and they lost to Memphis (neutral) and USC (road) in December.

• This week’s big winner was, of course, Xavier. It was an amazing victory that the Musketeers achieved under immense pressure on Saturday. The two things that stood out to me were Jack Nunge’s 15 points, three rebounds and three assists while battling a virus. Most people don’t want to get out of bed when they’re this sick, let alone play a high-level basketball game, but Nunge came through like a champ. The other was contributions from the bench by 6-7 older forward Jerome Hunter, a glue guy who played for Sean Miller’s brother Archie in Indiana. Xavier is a really good offensive team, but only a mediocre defensive team. Hunter gives this team the toughness it needs on this end of the ground. It will become an extremely valuable piece during the Dog Days in February.

• I supported North Carolina and Kentucky more than my fellow voters, but those teams made it easy for me to drop them after losing to Pitt and Missouri respectively. Speaking of Missouri, I’ve been scrutinizing the Tigers not only for their win over Kentucky, but for their evisceration of Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how good these teams are, and the Tigers otherwise had a very suspect schedule out of conference, so I decided to wait a little longer before putting a number next to their name. But if they keep playing like this, it’s only a matter of time.

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• Memphis’ loss at Tulane on Sunday opened up another spot. I’ve stumbled upon Creighton in the past few weeks — I even gave the Jays a coveted Buy-Plus rating in my annual Hoop Thoughts Stock Report — so I gave them last place, although it doesn’t take much to beat Butler and DePaul at home. My point all along was that the reason Creighton crashed so badly was because Ryan Kalkbrenner was out, but now that he’s back I expect they’ll get back up. They have Seton Hall at home this week and UConn on the road, followed by Xavier (road) and Providence (home) next week. We’ll soon see whether my trust in this team is justified.

(Top Photo by Xaviers Colby Jones: Dylan Buell/Getty Images)