Arizona takes over No. 1 spot after wild week

If you wait until March to follow college basketball, I’ll say a prayer for you. In the midst of college football conference championship weekend, college hoops managed to not only break into the headlines, but produce some absolutely shocking results along the way. 

In an 18-hour span from Friday night to Saturday afternoon, three of the top-four teams in the country – Purdue, Marquette and UConn – all suffered losses. In a 24-hour span, those three teams were joined by Villanova, Duke and Kentucky in the loss column as well. 

The most puzzling of the losses was Kentucky’s home defeat to UNCW, because the Wildcats were coming off a dominant performance in a win over a top-10 Miami team. Credit to Trazarien White, a very underrated coach in Takayo Siddle, and the Seahawks for a great win for the CAA. It also signifies the risk of having so much youth on a team. This will be the Wildcats’ season. They rely on freshmen – very talented ones, but still first-year college players – and this sport has shown that it can be difficult to do at times. The loss to the Seahawks will impact the Wildcats’ seed line on Selection Sunday.

As for Duke, there has to be legitimate concern with Jon Scheyer in road games. The Blue Devils are 4-8 in his tenure when they step away from Cameron Indoor Stadium and into a true road environment. After losing at Arkansas – a loss that really is not harmful – I think we all expected the Blue Devils to respond against first-year head coach Damon Stoudamire’s Georgia Tech team. But Tyrese Proctor exited the game with a leg injury just a minute in, setting up a day where Duke never found a rhythm. There are two major problems for the Blue Devils: they don’t shoot it consistently from the perimeter, going 4-of-16 on Saturday from downtown, and this team’s rim protection is suspect. The Yellow Jackets’ Baye Ndongo had his way on Saturday, scoring 21 points on 9-of-11 from the floor. What a week for Stoudamire and Georgia Tech, as they followed up a win over Mississippi State with as strong of a victory to start ACC play as one could ask for. But on the other side, this Duke team that was projected to be a national championship threat doesn’t look like that at all at the moment, and now all we can do is wait to hear the news on Proctor’s injury.

Finally, let’s turn to the team that had the worst week in college basketball: Villanova. The Wildcats finished sixth in the Big 5. How is that possible? Well, the association of Philadelphia schools welcomed Drexel this season to form a pair of three-team pods, setting up the Big 5 Classic at Wells Fargo Center, which was won by Saint Joseph’s on Saturday over Temple. After losing at home to the Hawks on Wednesday for the first time since 2004, Villanova was playing in the fifth-place game on Saturday. The Wildcats trailed the entire game and suffered their first loss to the Dragons since 2006 and only the second one to Drexel in program history, 57-55. Credit to Dragons head coach Zach Spiker and his team, which ranks in the top-30 in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency, for locking down Villanova and imposing their brand of basketball on the game. It was Spiker’s 200th career victory. 

That being said, sometimes the truth is hard. This past week is inexcusable for Villanova basketball. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 last season, the program regrouped in the offseason and a total of $3 million was spent in NIL money on this roster. That’s an awfully expensive way to finish in last place among the Philadelphia schools. The pressure is rising on second-year head coach Kyle Neptune, with Villanova visiting Kansas State on Tuesday before hosting UCLA at 7 p.m. ET Saturday on FOX.

What’s the main issue I have with this team? They don’t have consistent point guard play. Justin Moore isn’t a point guard, and Mark Armstrong has not risen to the level that many thought he could get to yet. There’s not much in-game adjusting happening on offense, and the Wildcats are constantly relying on 3-point shooting, a staple under Jay Wright. But the fact is, Villanova is 15-for-64 from 3 in the last two games, including 5-for-27 against Drexel. But what is most puzzling is that this program just beat Texas Tech, North Carolina and Memphis en route to a Battle 4 Atlantis championship. What a bizarre start to a season, one that would have to create a conundrum for the selection committee.  

Now, let’s turn to the updated Top 25. How about this? Eight of my top-16 teams lost this past week. This sport is off its collective rocker already, and the parity within it is something that should be celebrated. And, Sunday’s College Football Playoff chaos, with an unbeaten Florida State team not being allowed to compete for a national championship, is the latest form of evidence for this statement. 

We should all be thankful for March Madness, the best postseason in sports. 

Here are my latest Top 25 rankings:

1. Arizona (7-0)

The Wildcats have tested themselves, and will continue to test themselves in non-conference play with games ahead against Wisconsin, Purdue, Alabama and Florida Atlantic before Pac-12 play even begins. Arizona earned its way here with a 7-0 start, which includes the team’s two best wins coming away from Tucson – a 78-73 victory over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium and a 74-68 Thanksgiving Day victory over Michigan State that should age better with time. 

What is there to like about this Arizona team? Plenty. They are one of only two teams in the country ranking in the top-10 in KenPom adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. They have five players averaging double figures in scoring, and play at the eighth-fastest tempo in America. They’re shooting 38% from 3-point range, and it’s not all on North Carolina transfer Caleb Love in the backcourt, as Kylan Boswell has taken a huge leap this year. The Wildcats also have an X-factor in Pelle Larsson and a really underrated transfer in Keshad Johnson, who plays really physical inside and is a winner from his time at San Diego State. Oh, and Oumar Ballo is a rock on the interior. 

Lost in everything is the fact that Tommy Lloyd is 67-11 as the head coach at Arizona, and it’s not like he can’t win in March because he went to the Sweet 16 in his first year. We often talk about Purdue seeking redemption this March, but Arizona is pursuing that too. The Wildcats fell to 15-seed Princeton last year, but that loss wasn’t as discussed because of what FDU did. Look out for a redemption story out of Tucson – and guess where the Final Four is? In Glendale this year. 

2. Houston (8-0)

The Cougars are the No. 1 team in KenPom and No. 2 in Torvik. Kelvin Sampson has the best defensive team in college basketball once again, and the duo of LJ Cryer and Jamal Shead combined for 36 points in a road win at Xavier on Friday. 

LJ Cryer goes off for 21 points in No. 6 Houston’s narrow 66-60 win over Xavier

3. Kansas (7-1)

After the Jayhawks’ win over Connecticut on Friday, Kansas moved to 10-1 in home games against top-five teams since Bill Self took over the program in 2003. Kevin McCullar Jr. was incredible. 

4. UConn (7-1)     

I am not penalizing the Huskies for taking the Jayhawks to the final possession at Allen Fieldhouse. Tristen Newton is playing at an All-American level right now, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. I think Connecticut could be the most complete team in college hoops. Remember, they still did not have five-star freshman Stephon Castle

5. Purdue (7-1)

The same issues that arose for the Boilermakers in March Madness came up Friday night in a 92-88 loss against Northwestern. Zach Edey scoring 35 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in a game should allow for this Purdue team to win. But Boo Buie was the best guard on the floor, and a guard’s impact outweighs a big man’s impact. Purdue turned it over 17 times and shot 5-for-19 from 3. Credit to Northwestern, though. The Wildcats are ranked this week and have the look of a good, veteran team. I would say let’s not overreact to Purdue. 

6. Baylor (8-0)

The Bears are 8-0 after a 91-40 win over Northwestern State on Saturday. Jalen Bridges led four scorers in double figures with 16 points and eight rebounds. Scott Drew’s team hosts Seton Hall on Tuesday in the Big East-Big 12 Battle, and then has 11 days before taking on Michigan State in Detroit at 2 p.m. ET on Dec. 16 on FOX. 

7. Marquette (6-2)

Wisconsin has the formula to slow down Marquette’s offense, as the Badgers have now taken three straight meetings over the Golden Eagles. Marquette shot just 7-of-29 from 3-point range in the loss. One overarching takeaway from Marquette is that Tyler Kolek needs to take over in key situations. He can’t defer. Stretch four-man David Joplin struggled in the loss as well, shooting 3-for-13. Marquette will try to bounce back on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, hosting Texas on FS1 in the Big East-Big 12 Battle finale.

8. Florida Atlantic (7-1)

Since losing to Bryant, the Owls have won five consecutive games by an average of 19 points. Dusty May’s team won the Field of 68 Tip-Off with a pair of blowout wins over quality mid-major programs Liberty and Charleston, with Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis leading the way. This team can repeat and get to a second straight Final Four like Brad Stevens and Butler in 2010 and 2011. 

9. Gonzaga (6-1)

Seven players scored at least nine points in the Zags’ 89-76 victory over USC in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Creighton transfer Ryan Nembhard is really settling in as Mark Few’s point guard, combining for 37 points and 12 assists in his last two games. Four-star freshman Dusty Stromer had his best game of his early career on Saturday, drilling four triples and scoring 15 points. 

10. North Carolina (7-1)

The Tar Heels caught a scare on Saturday from Florida State, but went on a 22-0 run to overcome a 14-point deficit and beat the Seminoles, 78-70, in Chapel Hill. Hubert Davis adjusted to fullcourt pressure, which worked perfectly, and UNC capped off a great week that included a 100-point performance in a win over Tennessee

How about RJ Davis this week? He scored 27 points and shot 47% from the floor in each of the wins over Tennessee and Florida State. 

The remaining Top 25:
11. BYU (7-0)
12. Clemson (7-0)
13. Colorado State (8-0)
14. Creighton (7-1)  
15. Tennessee (4-3)
16. Illinois (6-1)
17. Kentucky (6-2)
18. Miami (6-1)
19. Duke (5-3)
20. Princeton (8-0) 
21. Northwestern (6-1)
22. James Madison (8-0)
23. Oklahoma (7-0)
24. Virginia (7-1)
25. Ohio State (7-1)

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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