Not every voter uses the same guidelines and metrics, but college basketball polls are generally supposed to reflect teams’ resumes to date. They’re based on what you’ve done, not what you’re going to do. This list is different. This is not a list of the top 25 college basketball teams based on resume; this is a list of the 25 teams most likely to win the 2017 National Championship.
The standings will change week-to-week, but you won’t see the drastic changes that occur in the Coaches Poll and AP Poll. One loss, quality or otherwise, is just that: one loss. Unless there’s reason for long-term concern, I won’t be overreacting.
What will drop a team down my list? Injuries, suspensions, and internal conflicts will result in an immediate and severe drop. Again this isn’t where we are; it’s where we’re going.
The top seven are unchanged from last week. These seven schools appear to be the legitimate contenders and have to be considered the top-tier.
Kansas and Kentucky continue to fade. Both should still be considered the class of the Big 12 and SEC respectively, but March is becoming a huge concern for fans of each school. The Jayhawks’ off-court issues are beginning to show up on game day, while the Wildcats’ defensive vulnerabilities are obvious. Both teams have dropped out of the top-tier.
Florida and Cincinnati are climbing the rankings together. The Gators are playing elite basketball and are no longer a secret. They destroyed Kentucky by 22 points and have moved up to number 14. Meanwhile, the Bearcats continue to thrive with consistency and their signature defense. UC is number 13 this week.
Top 25 Nat’l Championship Contenders (2017)
1. North Carolina (Last week: 1)
Seven regular season games left and things are getting tough. UNC plays two against Duke, two against Virginia, and one with Louisville. A strong finish will make the Tar Heels the favorite in March. This Thursday night, UNC takes the eight mile bus ride to Durham to square off with Duke.
2. Louisville (Last week: 2)
The loss at Virginia was predicted. The short-handed Cardinals hung tough for a half but UVA dominated the final 20 minutes. Louisville will be favored in the rest of its games, except when it travels to Chapel Hill on February 22.
3. Oregon (Last week: 3)
This weekend is the Los Angeles trip. Oregon plays at UCLA and at USC within 48 hours of each other. If it gets at least one win in L.A., it has the inside track to the number two seed in the West. The Ducks showed how good they can be while dismantling Arizona 85-58 last Saturday.
4. Gonzaga (Last week 4)
Finally a challenge, when the Bulldogs head to Moraga, for a Saturday night showdown against St. Mary’s. What an environment that will be. If this team enters the NCAA without a loss; it will be the number one seed in the West and could play the entire tournament on the West Coast.
5. Wisconsin (Last week 5)
It’s a blue-collar crew with great team chemistry. Whoever finds a way to beat the Badgers in March will have to knock down plenty of shots from three-point range. Opponents struggle to get good looks near the basket against this feisty defense.
6. Duke (Last week 6)
Duke is the wildcard of the top-tier teams. The Blue Devils are loaded with talent and have the potential to climb back near the top but they must continue to swiftly improve. Thursday night’s showdown with North Carolina is a great barometer for where this team is.
7. Villanova (Last week 7)
A Saturday trip to Xavier will be another great test for the Wildcats. Josh Hart is a first-team all-American but somehow stays under the radar. The 6’5 senior plays three positions and is the clear leader of this talented crew.
8. UCLA (Last week 9)
Thursday’s home game against Oregon is must see TV. The Bruins have revenge on their side and Pauley Pavilion will be rocking. Still the most dynamic offensive team in the game, will have to be bombing away from long-range in order to sink the Ducks.
9. Kansas (Last week 8)
Off-court issues continue to mount and the distractions seem to be taking a toll. Saturday’s trip to Lubbock is an interesting spot for this team. KU has four days to prepare for what is always a difficult environment. Watch the team effort and continuity closely in this telling game.
10. West Virginia (Last week 12)
Funny week for WV. It played great and won at Iowa St. but then stumbled at home against Oklahoma St. The Mountaineers frantic pace has to be appreciated. Despite flying around the court, they are controlled and discipline when in possession of the ball. They consistently get good shots and attack the offensive glass.
11. Virginia (Last week 13)
UVA has lost two in a row on the road. It has all week to prepare for a Sunday match-up at Virginia Tech. Senior point-guard London Perrantes is one the premier on-court leaders in college basketball.
12. Kentucky (Last week: 10)
Four consecutive sub-par performances have folks in Lexington scratching their heads. The Cats are too good and it’s too early to press the panic button but Kentucky seems to be going the wrong way.
13. Cincinnati (Last week: 15)
The Bearcats haven’t lost since December 10 but must play at SMU Sunday. This team doesn’t have enough big wins to receive a high seed in the NCAA tournament, but it will be a nightmare match-up for a lot of opponents.
14. Florida (Last week: 16)
Nobody has been better than the Gators the last two weeks. This team has been elite defensively all season and is now showing it’s offensive capabilities. Tuesday’s game at Georgia will be a tough spot.
15. Arizona (Last week: 11)
The game in Eugene exposed the Wildcats in several areas. It’s been a great season and there aren’t many losses left on the schedule. However, it’s tough to imagine this team winning the Pac-12 tournament or making a deep run in March.
16. Purdue (Last week: 14)
Crushing Northwestern and winning at Maryland is certainly a good week. However, in the closing minutes at Maryland, the Boilers looked slow and prone to foul on defense.
17. Florida St. (Last week: 19)
Great bounce back week for FSU after going through the inevitable ACC lull. Don’t bet against this team in Tallahassee.
18. St. Mary’s (Last week: 21)
Moraga will be rocking Saturday night when Gonzaga comes to town. It’s the game that’s been circled on the calendar all year and the Gaels will go off as slight dogs. Do they have the athleticism to pull off the signature win?
19. Dayton (Last week: 22)
If the Flyers win at Rhode Island Friday, they’ll have the inside-track to the regular season Atlantic 10 championship. The team runs through senior point-guard Scoochie Smith.
20. SMU (Last week: 20)
Sunday’s home game against Cincinnati will quietly be one of the best this week. It’s a revenge spot for the Mustangs and it will be as physical as the referees allow. Both teams like to go at it defensively.
21. South Carolina (Last week: 25)
Frank Martin just keeps winning games in Columbia. There’s no bubble this year; the Gamecocks are dancing.
22. Baylor (Last week: 17)
The Big 12 is tough and losing a couple tight games isn’t a cause for concern. However, Baylor may have played its best basketball in November and may continue to falter down the stretch.
23. Notre Dame (Last week: 18)
The Irish should snap their four-game losing streak with home games against Wake Forest and Florida State this week.
24. Northwestern (Last week: 20)
Scottie Lindsey is battling a nagging injury and the Wildcats will need him to have any shot against Wisconsin, Saturday. Actually no, they’re not winning in Madison anyway.
25. Maryland (Last week: unranked)
The Terps can’t be completely ignored. They’re 20-3 and just took a very good Purdue team to the wire. However, beyond Melo Trimble this is an average team at best. It’s hard to imagine Maryland surviving the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Dropped out this week: Butler
Projected top seeds:
1. North Carolina
Photo credit: Anders94 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.