For any program that has been ranked in the top-10 this season, it has been a tumultuous undertaking to be considered an elite team for more than a week. Most recently, six of the top ten teams in the country lost this past week with five of those programs losing to unranked opponents. Although the notion of college basketball being rife with parity is hardly anything new, it is the unprecedented frequency of these upsets that has truly befuddled critics and fans alike. As a result, there is not a single stand out team that should be considered the favorite to the win the National Title by the beginning of April. As we close in on the end of the regular season and near the start of the postseason, bubble programs will fight vigorously for a spot in the limelight in an attempt to bolster their resumes with the hopes of competing in the NCAA Tournament come March.
1. Virginia Cavaliers
Make no mistake, the disparity in competitiveness between every team in these rankings is relatively slim. However, the Cavaliers are rightfully deserving of being considered the best program in the country (for now) given the fact that they have only lost two games and that their defense is by far the best that college basketball has to offer.
2. Michigan State Spartans
Down by as many as 23 points to Northwestern on Saturday, the Spartans rallied valiantly to avoid the shocking upset on the road. Like every program in college basketball, the Spartans are fallible and are susceptible to being defeated when their athletic playmakers fail to play up to their potential.
3. Villanova Wildcats
Crushing the Musketeers on the road, the Wildcats have to be feeling both incredibly motivated and euphoric after dispatching a conference opponent that had not lost at home until Saturday evening. Although their inability to rebound consistently could be problematic against some of the more lengthy teams in college basketball, the Wildcats have the accurate shooters and unselfish playmakers to overcome this concerning weakness.
4. Xavier Musketeers
Getting blown out on your home court is never fun. However, when it happens against a shorthanded Villanova program, it makes the loss all the more devastating. Still, the Musketeers have a slim lead in the Big East standings, something that they need to be wary about as the end of the regular season draws closer.
5. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Tied with Kansas for the lead in the Big 12 standings, the Red Raiders have to be kicking themselves for losing to an inferior Baylor program on Saturday. However, with a rematch against Kansas looming large this week, the Red Raiders can emphatically stake their claim as the best team in the Big 12 with a win on Saturday.
6. Duke Blue Devils
Don’t look now, but the Blue Devils are actually looking like a strong defensive team…without Marvin Bagley III. Winning their last three games without the superstar big man, Duke fans have to be fairly encouraged of how great their program to be once all of their elite athletes are on the court at the same time.
7. Gonzaga Bulldogs
As they usually do, the Bulldogs are currently rolling easily through the West Coast Conference. Looking much better defensively in recent weeks, Gonzaga has the playmakers to be a dynamic program that could make another run at being in the National Title game.
8. Kansas Jayhawks
Winning in dramatic comeback fashion against West Virginia on Saturday, the Jayhawks are refusing to relinquish what has been their conference to lose the last 15 years. At the very least, the Jayhawks appear poised to share the title by the end of the season.
9. North Carolina Tar Heels
Scoring 82 points or more during their five-game winning streak, the Tar Heels are showing the nation what they are capable of when their offense is getting production from their athletic albeit streak shooters. Although their defensive issues are a less than ideal blemish, the Tar Heels have not appeared to be affected by this glaring weakness recently.
10. Cincinnati Bearcats
Losing to both Houston and Wichita State this past week, the Bearcats have almost completely relinquished their hold on the top spot in the American Conference. Considering their offense is one-dimensional and unreliable, the Bearcats need their defense to be nothing less than great if they hope to win consistently.
11. Purdue Boilermakers
Although it may not seem impressive, the Boilermakers Sunday afternoon win over Penn State was crucial for them to avoid an epic free fall both within their conference and nationally speaking. If this program can get back to firing on all cylinders like they had been during the majority of the season, the Boilermakers have a great chance of making a serious run at a National Title.
12. Auburn Tigers
Yes, the Tigers defense has struggled noticeably, especially against inferior opponents within their conference. However, their physical rebounders and dynamic shooters have allowed them to be a hassle to contend with more often than not.
13. Ohio State Buckeyes
One of three teams vying for the Big 10 title, the Buckeyes have blown two opportunities to jump to the top of the standings. With their most recent loss coming at the hands of an upset-minded Wolverines program, the Buckeyes need to go back to the drawing board to ascertain why their once disciplined defense has been below average in recent weeks.
14. Arizona Wildcats
Sweeping Arizona State for the season last week, the Wildcats clearly have the potential as an efficient offensive unit to make it to a Final Four this year. However, their wildly inconsistent defense needs to be at least average for them to avoid another early exit come March.
15. Wichita State Shockers
Although the Shockers have been victims of a porous defense from time to time this season, their offense has stepped up mightily in their last four games (have scored 85 points or more in three of their last four games). With a win over a defensively stout Bearcats program, the Shockers have to be feeling great about their chances of going far in the NCAA Tournament.
16. Tennessee Volunteers
With a defense that appeared to be one of the most dominant in college basketball early last week, the Volunteers have started to slip a little bit in that department as they have allowed their opponents to score 73 points or more in two of their last three games (both losses). While this team is capable of hitting mid-range shots, they need to be more opportunistic and aggressive when pursuing the basket in transition.
17. Clemson Tigers
Although the Tigers appeared to be the most resilient program in college basketball only a couple of weeks ago, they have since struggled to hold their own both offensively and defensively. For this team to have any success in the postseason, they need to solidify what has typically been an exceptional defensive unit as their offense is not nearly consistent enough to get the job done.
18. Rhode Island Rams
After dominating their conference opponents defensively throughout most of the season, the Rams finally met their match against an underrated St. Bonaventure program on Friday. Although the loss should not discourage Rhode Island supporters, this program does need to be a bit more ruthless and consistent on offense if they hope to make a splash in the NCAA Tournament.
19. Nevada Wolf Pack
While their defense has been problematic this season (71.8 PAPG), the Wolf Pack are fortunate enough to possess four dynamic shooters that can hit shots from anywhere on the court. Similar to Creighton, the Wolf Pack will only go as far as their highly prolific offense can take them.
20. Michigan Wolverines
Scrappy, virile and gifted defensively, the Wolverines have clawed their way to one close victory after another this season. They may not be the most talented program in college basketball, but they certainly have the guts and stamina to wear down any opponent they will have to face come postseason play.
21. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Losing two of their last three contests, the Gaels have slowed down a bit in terms of being an efficient defensive program. Still, Saint Mary’s has rarely suffered any lapses this season and should finish out the season strong against Pepperdine and Santa Clara.
22. Houston Cougars
I have been advocating for the Cougars for the past couple of weeks as being a stout defensive program that is completely deserving of a spot in the rankings. Winning their last five games while holding their opponents to 65 points or less during their win streak, the Cougars are hitting their stride at the best possible time and have a strong chance of snatching the American Conference title away from Cincinnati by the end of the season.
23. West Virginia Mountaineers
Up by double digits going into the second half against Kansas, the Mountaineers once again failed to close out a contest that was within their grasp to win. With that being said, this team has the personnel and the coaching to be an intriguing competitor in the NCAA Tournament, they just have to do away with the head-scratching mistakes and the inexplicable mental lapses late in tight game affairs.
24. Creighton Blue Jays
Wildly inconsistent yet highly capable as a scoring team (85.4 PPG), the Blue Jays have been living on the fringe of these power rankings since the start of the season. Once March Madness commences, the Blue Jays could be a come out of nowhere Cinderella story or lose decisively in the first round of the tournament.
25. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
While the Bonnies may not be a prolific offensive team (77.6 PPG) or intimidating defensively (69.8 PAPG), they do just enough in these respective categories to be a consistently competitive team in the A-10 Conference. After taking down the Rhode Island Rams last week, the Bonnies are worthy of being recognized as a team that should get the benefit of the doubt on Selection Sunday.