NCAA Basketball Top 10 Report

A Weekly Breakdown of the NCAA Men’s hoops Top 10

As the NFL season has come to an end, the wandering eyes of sports fans will start making their way to College Basketball and the NBA. With the MLB season in-doubt, there may be a substantial interest in the hoops world this March. With that in mind, there has been plenty of parity this year in college basketball. For anyone checking-in on college basketball now, they’re going to find it to be entertaining and unpredictable.

Over the last ten days, we’ve had more mixup in the Top 10, per usual. Auburn fell to #2 after losing at Arkansas, while Gonzaga floated back to the top of the rankings. Arizona climbed back to the #3 spot. Kentucky launched itself into the #4 spot after beating Bama. UCLA and Houston tumbled to #13 and #14 following multiple losses between them, while Providence and Villanova broke back into the Top 10.

 

The Top 10

 

Gonzaga (21-2)

Gonzaga has an easy task until March: Win-out in their weak conference. It’s kind-of a cheat code, but it’s hard to debate, given their resume outside the conference. The nice thing for Gonzaga is, their conference schedule is so weak, they face little threat to yo-yo in the rankings through conference play, like everyone else in the Top 25. That being said, they are handling their business and doing so in impressive fashion.

BYU was blown off the court by Gonzaga on February 5th. The Cougars were supposed to be one of the three or four teams in the West Coast Conference who could potentially give Gonzaga problems. The reality is, Gonzaga just outclasses the rest of the teams in the conference. After destroying BYU, Gonzaga flattened Pacific by 38 and #22 St. Mary’s by 16. Gonzaga has just four games left in the season, so we shouldn’t expect a misstep over that stretch.

 

Auburn (24-2)

Auburn finally got the loss they needed to get into gear. The Tigers were horrible at the line and committed 19 turnovers in the game. Despite a +18 differential on rebounding, Auburn was sloppy and couldn’t make the easy buckets. Despite the OT loss, Auburn was able to come back strong against Texas A&M and follow that up with a 14 point victory over Vanderbilt.

Auburn is a premier rebounding team who scores efficiently on offense (#14 offensively by KenPom). Their rebounding alone gives them a high floor in most games and should carry them when they have those struggles offensively. Rebounding and ball protection is half the battle. Next-up for the Tigers is Florida (2/19), Ole Miss (2/23) and Tennessee (2/25). With just five games to go, Auburn has just one more premier game by which they can help secure a one seed (aside from the conference tourney).

 

Arizona (23-2)

Following their pivotal meeting with USC, Arizona re-established themselves as the undisputed top team in the PAC 12 conference. The Wildcats have now won seven straight and face just two of the top six teams in the conference to close the season. Arizona is #2 on KenPom’s rankings (#9 on adjusted offense and #7 on adjusted defense.

The Wildcats are now three full games clear of USC and Oregon with just six games remaining. They’ll go-on to face both USC and Oregon in the coming weeks, as their other four games are fairly weak (minus Colorado). Up next for the Wildcats are Oregon (2/19), Utah (2/24), Colorado (2/26), and USC (2/28).

 

Kentucky (21-4)

Kentucky may have been the hottest team in the country going into last week’s game against Tennessee. Unfortunately, the Vols were firing on all cylinders at home that night. Tennessee went 47% from deep and +6 on turnover differential. Though they aren’t a gread rebounding team (-8 on the night), Tennessee can get hot and beat anyone (Arizona, Kentucky, etc). Kentucky will have to get back on their feet following the loss, as they have a difficult stretch upcoming.

Kentucky will face Alabama (2/19), LSU (2/23), and Arkansas (2/26) over the next 10 days. After that, their final two games will be a relatively easy go before the SEC Tournament tips-off in early March. The Wildcats will likely need to either go 4-1 down the stretch or have a good showing in the SEC Tournament if they want to lock-in a #1 seed for March Madness.

 

Purdue (22-4)

Purdue is in a similar spot to Kentucky. They have a frisky conference and two tough games remaining, like Kentucky. Unfortunately, the Boilermakers were blown-out by Michigan a little over a week ago. Purdue was -10 on the glass, -7 on turnovers, and were absolutely shelled from beyond the arc (57% to 22%). Since then, they haven’t look very comfortable. Purdue escaped Maryland by one and Northwestern by just six.

Purdue will get a revenge opportunity against Rutgers on Sunday, before travelling to Michigan State (2/26) and Wisconsin (3/1). For a team with their size and offensive balance, they need to be more aggressive on the boards if they want to have a chance in March. They shouldn’t be losing on the glass by 10+ in any game. If this team runs into a team like Auburn in the tournament, it won’t end well for them.

 

Kansas (20-4)

Kansas had the toughest schedule in the country from January 21st through February 14th. Over that period, they played five consecutive ranked teams and went 4-1 on that stretch. Their only loss was a slim loss at Texas, which should be attributed solely to the careless ball control (-8 on turnover differential). Kansas is 6th on KenPom with a #3 Adjusted offensive rank and a #34 Adjusted defensive rank.  

Up next for Kansas are West Virginia (2/19), Kansas State (2/22), Baylor (2/26), and TCU (3/1). With six games to go against two ranked opponents, Kansas needs to go 5-1 down the stretch to win the Conference outright. Kansas has been surprisingly good on offense this season, but can they fix that defense in time for March.

 

Baylor (21-5)

The Baylor Bears’ volatility continues, though the stretch of games they just had makes it a lot more excusable. What wasn’t excusable was how badly the Bears were dominated in the paint against Kansas. Kansas was +9 in rebounds and both teams shot 25% from deep. However, Kansas went 51% from the field, while Baylor went just 29% from the field. Baylor got out-muscled, and that’s concerning. Despite the second chance opportunities (17 to 11 in offense boards), Baylor was -15 on defensive rebounding.

Baylor also lost their game Wednesday, and subsequently were swept by Texas Tech on the season. Rebounding was again a major issue as Baylor was -11 on the glass. When the new poll comes out, Baylor may be on the fringe of the top 10, but all they can worry about now is handling their business against TCU (2/19), Oklahoma State (2/21), Kansas (2/26), and Texas (2/28).

 

Providence (21-3)

Providence may not still be in the top 10 next week after what happened earlier in the week. On Tuesday, Providence lost in Rhode Island to Villanova, 89-84. Really, Providence’s performance (aside from being weak from deep at 22%) can be chalked-up to “running into a hot team.” Collin Gillespie (33 points) led Villanova over Providence with a strong 5/8 performance from deep. As a team, Villanova shot 48% from three.

Despite the loss to Villanova, Providence still has a half game lead in the Big East with just four games to go. They’ll have the disadvantage of facing Villanova in Philadelphia to end the season. To end the season, Providence will face Butler (2/20), Xavier (2/23), Creighton (2/26), and Villanova (3/1). In case you’re thinking, “This could be a Cinderella team come March”, think again. This team has nine wins by five or less points and has lost by an average of 18 points in their three losses. KenPom has them as the #46 team in their power ranking.

 

Duke (21-4)

Duke continues to underwhelm the country. With possibly four players going in the first round of the draft this season, Duke has been underwhelming, to say the least. Things just haven’t clicked for about 90% of the season the way they should. After blowing North Carolina out of the water, Duke appeared to have found something. That quickly dissipated, as Duke lost their very next game against Virginia.

The odd part about that game was, Duke was better from three (35% to 17%), better from the line (81% to 55%), and +7 on the boards and still lost. Like many other teams who dropped one in the top 10 this week, turnovers (-10) were the key issue. Following the loss, Duke beat Clemson, Boston College, and Wake Forest, but had stints against the Demon Deacons where they looked like a team assembled for a pickup game. Duke led by as much as 19 before nearly choking the game away.

Alas, Duke is still alive, well, and tied for the ACC Conference lead. Assuming they close-out the season on top, it would be Duke’s first regular season title since 2010 (which seems hard to believe). The conference is the weakest it’s been in over 30 years, but Duke still controls their own destiny, somehow. Duke will have their final five games in the next 15 days. They’ll play Florida State (2/19), Virginia (2/23), Syracuse (2/26), Pitt (3/1), and North Carolina (3/5) to close.

 

Villanova (19-6)

We talked briefly about Villanova earlier when we went over Providence. The Wildcats have experienced a lot of highs and lows this season, but they seem like the highest ceiling team in the Big East. With Senior, Collin Gillespie (who might be in his 6th year now), Justin Moore, and Jermaine Samuels, the Wildcats have roughly 13 years combined experience from their three best players. For a defense-first team, the Wildcats are very adaptable for game tempos, but KenPom definitely gives them the respect they deserve (#8 in KenPom overall).

The Wildcats have an impressive win over Tennessee, but losses to UCLA, Purdue, Baylor, Creighton, and both games against Marquette. This team may be limited offensively, but their defense can keep them close against a vast majority of their opponents. Nova has Georgetown (2/19), UCONN (2/22), Providence (3/1), and Butler (3/4)to close the season. At this point, they control their own destiny for at least a share of the Big East regular season crown.

 

Best Futures for NCAA Tournament

Team To Make 2022 Final Four: Duke +240

This might seem like a silly bet. It certainly will look that way if Duke falls in round 2-4 of the Tourney, but there’s just so much there. Duke has a good chance to have four guys taken in the first round of the draft. If they get even the slightest improvement between now and the start of the tournament, this team should be in great shape for the NCAA Tournament. As far as talent goes, no team is even close across their starting five. Combine that with a legendary coach and another solid coach in-waiting and this team is due to start clicking very soon.

Author: Paula Dunn