1. INDIANA (1) (23-3, 11-2)
LAST WEEK: Beat Nebraska (76-47); Beat Purdue (83-55)
THIS WEEK: At No. 4 Michigan State (2/19)
Indiana is one good (or average) minute against Illinois from being the only team in college basketball with a truly elite status. Most people will agree right now that they're the favorites to win the national title, but the Hoosiers don't have that "Oh my God, Indiana lost!?" aura like Kentucky did a season ago. They'd be near that level if they were riding a nine-game winning streak right now. A impressive win over Michigan State on Tuesday night might still be enough to get the job done.
2. FLORIDA (2) (21-3, 11-1)
LAST WEEK: Beat Kentucky (69-52); Beat Auburn (83-52)
THIS WEEK: At Missouri (2/19); vs. Arkansas (2/23)
For as often as the cycle happens, it still amazes me that people freak out when teams like Florida are dealt semi-surprising losses. In the immediate wake of the Gators' defeat at Arkansas (where no one wins, by the way), the near-universal reaction on Twitter and the like was to declare UF a fraud and make fun of the computer rankings that hold them in such high esteem. Now, following a week in which it convincingly defeated a pair of teams that probably aren't going to make the NCAA Tournament, everyone is in agreement that the loss to the Razorbacks was a fluke and Florida is one of the two or three best teams in college basketball.
The big picture is hard to grasp in moments of heightened excitement, but I still wish folks would make a little bit more of an effort.
LAST WEEK: Beat Florida State (74-68); Beat Clemson (45-43)
THIS WEEK: vs. Virginia (2/19); At Wake Forest (2/23)
You hear a lot about perception trumping reality when it comes to college football, but the phenomenon is also clearly present in college hoops when you talk about the Miami Hurricanes. Everyone agrees that what Jim Larranaga's team is doing is extraordinary, but no one (myself included) is eager to lump the 'Canes into their current Final Four. People use their bad early losses or ho-hum performances like Sunday's against Clemson as justification, but do you really think there would be this much debate if the only BCS conference unbeaten in the country was Duke or North Carolina? You're lying if you say yes.
4. MICHIGAN STATE (6) (22-4, 11-2)
LAST WEEK: Beat No. 4 Michigan (75-52); Beat Nebraska (73-64)
THIS WEEK: vs. No. 1 Indiana (2/19); At No. 18 Ohio State (2/24)
So how does this happen every year? Tom Izzo in his own words:
"One of the reasons people say we get better is because every Final Four we've been in, except one, I think we had the most losses (of Final Four teams)," Izzo said. "It's because of the scheduling. We build up the scheduling. Some years, it's been so brutal, it's scary. I've looked at the schedule when I do it, and I go, 'Oh, that sucks.' Then I look at it when it comes, and I'm like, 'What am I thinking?' Last year, we opened up with Duke and Carolina (which were both losses). I think that always puts you down a little bit off the bat.
"If we had played Northern Michigan and Eastern Michigan, we would have been ranked fifth, sixth, the whole time - like Michigan has, they've been a top five, seven team. Indiana has been that. You almost act like they aren't getting better. Maybe they are getting better, but you don't see it as easy as ours."
"Our schedule, I don't think every year, but over time, it's been as good as anybody's in the nonconference," Izzo continued. "If we think we're better than we are, we get our brains beat in by somebody, and I don't have to coach it. It's kind of self-inflicted. That's one thing. It does give you somewhat of a barometer. Usually what I get, and the reason I do it, is I get teams from different conferences. Every conference plays a little differently. Some are softer and more athletic. Some are bigger, it seems like. Some are more athletic.
"I think that gives me a better view of what could happen in the tournament. ... I might not play Texas in the tournament, but maybe I'll play Tennessee or Oklahoma who's played Texas and I can get an (idea). That's what's always worked for me."
5. DUKE (4) (22-3, 9-3)
LAST WEEK: Beat North Carolina (73-68); Lost to Maryland (83-81)
THIS WEEK: At Virginia Tech (2/21); vs. Boston College (2/24)
The perfect setup for an upset was in play in College Park on Saturday, so Duke losing to Maryland alone isn't cause for any red flags. The Blue Devils being outrebounded 40-20 and getting just four points and three rebounds, however, is more than a bit concerning.
"This has been an exhausting schedule for our team," coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the loss. "We're playing on fumes and I think you could tell that with Mason. I thought he looked exhausted the whole game. He's been great. Obviously not good tonight."
Whether it's been Plumlee, Seth Curry or someone else, too many poor performances from the Blue Devils have been chalked up to exhaustion this season. That's a troubling fact for a team that is going to have to win two games in as many days three different times if it wants to claim a national championship.
LAST WEEK: Beat Saint Mary's (77-60); Beat San Francisco (71-61)
THIS WEEK: vs. Santa Clara (2/20); vs. San Diego (2/23)
It was a big week for the Zags (or at least as big as they come in a down WCC), who blew out rival Saint Mary's on the road and exorcised some past demons by beating San Francisco. Gonzaga had lost on the road to the Dons in each of the past three seasons. Lack of focus, or just downright boredom, would be a major concern for this team if it wasn't playing for a potential No. 1 seed every time it takes the court for the next three weeks.
7. MICHIGAN (5) (22-4, 9-4)
LAST WEEK: Lost to No. 8 Michigan State (75-52); Beat Penn State (79-71)
THIS WEEK: vs. Illinois (2/24)
Even after the Wolverines were throttled by their rivals from East Lansing, I had every intention of keeping them ahead of Gonzaga in this week's rankings. And then I watched about 15 minutes of their on-court re-enactment of Warm Bodies against Penn State on Sunday. I don't think it was indicative of any sort of late-February slide, but it was disappointing to see from a team with all the physical necessities to end its season in Atlanta.
The good news for the Wolverines, who are currently a full two games out of first place in the Big Ten standings, is that the schedule favors them down the stretch. They'll be tested at home by an Illinois team still squarely on the bubble, but shouldn't have much trouble with Penn State or Purdue. Then they get conference leaders Indiana and Michigan State at their place. Win all five of those games and John Beilein's team probably finishes with a share of the league title and is right in the middle of the No. 1 seed discussion.
8. SYRACUSE (8) (21-4, 9-3)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Connecticut (66-58); Beat Seton Hall (76-65)
THIS WEEK: vs. Providence (2/20); vs. No. 11 Georgetown (2/23)
With four total games remaining against the trio of Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville, Syracuse controls its own destiny in the race for a Big East championship. Still, that brutal schedule is just one of the reasons fans of the Orange have some cause for concern as their team makes the final turn towards March.
No transition points
Heading into Saturday's game versus Seton Hall, the Orange were averaging 66.2 points per game, while last season they nearly average 10 more ppg - 74.2.
This season, SU is averaging half that total - 7.0 per game - and it is hurting the offense.
Last season during Big East play, the Orange averaged, AVERAGED, 14.2 transition points per game.
In many aspects, comparing last year's squad to this year's squad is unfair. However, one trend I've noticed is the lack of fast-break (transition) points for Syracuse.
9. LOUISVILLE (9) (21-5, 9-4)
LAST WEEK: Beat St. John's (72-58); Beat South Florida (59-41)
THIS WEEK: vs. Seton Hall (2/23)
Lay the wood on the Cards if you see they're playing a game that starts at 7 p.m. EST. Louisville is 8-0 this season in those situations.
10. GEORGETOWN (10) (19-4, 9-3)
LAST WEEK: Beat Cincinnati (62-55)
THIS WEEK: vs. DePaul (2/20); At No. 8 Syracuse (2/23)
The Hoyas have won seven straight, and their only loss since Jan. 8 is a 61-58 setback at South Florida. That game also represents USF's only Big East victory this season. College basketball 2012-13, folks.
11. KANSAS (12) (21-4, 9-3)
LAST WEEK: Beat Texas (73-47)
THIS WEEK: At No. 14 Oklahoma State (2/20); vs. TCU (2/23); At Iowa State (2/25)
Back in the halcyon days of Harlem Shake video-making (last Wednesday through friday), no one did it better than the Jayawks.
12. KANSAS STATE (14) (21-5, 10-3)
LAST WEEK: Beat Baylor (81-61); Beat West Virginia (71-61)
THIS WEEK: At Texas (2/23); vs. Texas Tech (2/25)
Who knows whether or not it will translate into tournament success, but the Wildcats have shown far more maturity this season than similarly (or more) talented groups in recent years. Case in point: Bouncing back from a beating at the hands of rival Kansas by taking down Baylor and West Virginia by a combined 30 points. K-State teams of old would have let that one debilitating loss snowball into two or three.
13. OKLAHOMA STATE (15) (19-5, 9-3)
LAST WEEK: Beat Texas Tech (91-67); Beat Oklahoma (84-79 OT)
THIS WEEK: vs. No. 9 Kansas (2/20); At West Virginia (2/23)
Kansas has made no attempt to hide the fact that they fully remember this taking place.
The kid has been playing at a level above every other freshman in the country for the past three weeks, but because of all the attention surrounding the flip (and the fact that, you know, Kansas is good), Wednesday night will be his toughest test to date.
14. ARIZONA (11) (21-4, 9-4)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Colorado (71-58); Beat Utah (68-64)
THIS WEEK: vs. Washington (2/20); vs. Washington State (2/23)
It's fight or flight time for the Wildcats, who have looked more like a bubble team than one battling for a protected seed over the past two weeks. Sean Miller says a giant step in the right direction for his team would be getting more production from its bench.
15. NEW MEXICO (NR) (22-4, 9-2)
LAST WEEK: Beat Fresno State (54-48); Beat Boise State (60-50)
THIS WEEK: At No. 22 Colorado State (2/23)
The Mountain West announced last week that that the league's board of directors had reached a three-year agreement to keep the postseason basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas through 2016. This didn't sit well with a number of coaches, namely Steve Alford.
"The coaches have been up for anything that doesn't have it at the Thomas & Mack Center," Alford said. "My only complaint is that it's in the building of a member institution in our league. Nobody will be able to tell me any different that it's not a tremendous advantage for UNLV."
If the underachieving Rebels are able to beat out teams like New Mexico this season for the tournament title, then I think he might be onto something.
16. COLORADO STATE (NR) (21-4, 8-2)
LAST WEEK: Beat San Diego State (66-60); Beat Air Force (89-86)
THIS WEEK: At UNLV (2/20); vs. No. 16 New Mexico (2/23)
The Rams are now just three victories away from breaking the school record for wins in a season, which has stood since 1988-89. With the controversial Larry Eustachy overseeing all this this success in his first year on the job, my guess is you're about to hear a lot more about this team over the next few weeks.
Also, yes, I'm aware of the various streaks of consecutive teams from the same conference in this week's rankings. It was not intentional, but I wasn't going to change something for the sole purpose of breaking those teams up. Blame the meteor. I don't know why, just do it.
DROPPED OUT: Ohio State (13); Butler (16)