1. SYRACUSE (15-0, 2-0) (1)
LAST WEEK: Beat Seton Hall (75-49); Beat DePaul (87-68)
THIS WEEK: At Providence (1/4); vs. Marquette (1/7)
There's no question that the Orange have been deserving of their No. 1 ranking for the past four weeks, but there have still been more than a few people hesitant to group them with the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio State in terms of national title contenders. That's starting to change, and the recent play of sophomore center Fab Melo has a lot to do with it.
After a disappointing freshman season, the once highly-touted recruit has become a huge defensive presence and is starting to show signs of life on the offensive end. In Syracuse's Big East-opening victory over Seton Hall, Melo had 12 points, seven rebounds and a school-record 10 blocked shots. On Sunday against DePaul, his line in the stat sheet read: 12 points, five rebounds, six blocked shots. Before last week, Melo had reached double figures in just three of 46 career games.
"He’s gotten better,’’ SU coach Jim Boeheim said on Sunday. "He’s one of the most improved players I’ve seen in a long time.’’
2. KENTUCKY (13-1) (2)
LAST WEEK: Beat Lamar (86-64); Beat Louisville (69-62)
THIS WEEK: vs.UALR (1/3); vs. South Carolina (1/7)
Classmate Anthony Davis gets more publicity because of the likelihood of him being the No. 1 pick in this spring's NBA Draft (and because there are plenty of national writers who would enjoy seeing their preseason Freshman of the Year and All-American picks vindicated), but it's been Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who has consistently looked like the best freshman in the country during the season's opening two months. The latest evidence was MKG's remarkable 24-point, 19-rebound performance in a rivalry game against Louisville where it's generally the upperclassmen who find a way to shine.
3. NORTH CAROLINA (13-2) (4)
LAST WEEK: Beat Elon (100-62); Beat Monmouth (102-65)
THIS WEEK: vs. Boston College (1/7)
Carolina's 102-65 thrashing of Monmouth on Saturday was the Heels' 26th straight victory in the Smith Center, breaking the old record of 25 straight (set from 1992-94).
LAST WEEK: Beat Northwestern (87-54); Lost to Indiana (74-70)
THIS WEEK: vs. Nebraska (1/3); At Iowa (1/7)
Ohio State turned the ball over on four of its final five possessions against Indiana and took a contested/rushed three-pointer on its other. With several players in foul trouble, the Buckeyes played extremely timid defense down the stretch and allowed the Hoosiers to score 33 points over the game's final 12 and-a-half minutes. There are far too many experienced guys on that roster for something like that to happen in a league game.
5. MISSOURI (13-0) (5)
LAST WEEK: Beat Old Dominion (75-68)
THIS WEEK: vs. Oklahoma (1/3); At Kansas State (1/7)
Missouri capped an unbeaten November and December with a tough road win over Old Dominion on Friday, but the Tigers are well aware of just how little an impressive non-conference resume can end up meaning. Mizzou was 14-1 and ranked ninth in the country when it tipped off its Big 12 season with a loss to Colorado last year. That loss was an indication of things to come as the Tigers went 8-8 in conference play and 1-7 on the road. MU lost five of its last six games and was one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament.
6. BAYLOR (13-0) (7)
LAST WEEK: Beat Mississippi State (54-52)
THIS WEEK: vs. Texas A&M (1/2); At Texas Tech (1/7)
The Bears are off to the best start in school history after an impressive - albeit ugly - two-point win over Mississippi State last Wednesday. The victory was Baylor's fifth win away from home this season. They had three wins away from the Ferrell Center in all of the 2010-2011 season.
7. DUKE (12-1) (9)
LAST WEEK: Beat Western Michigan (110-70); Beat Pennsylvania (85-55)
THIS WEEK: At Temple (1/4); At Georgia Tech (1/7)
Seniorwon his 100th career game at Duke on Sunday, becoming only the 32nd player in school history to join the 100-win club. The Blue Devils are 100-14 (.877) in games that Plumlee has played in. (88 wins), (85) and (84) are also on pace to reach 100 career victories.
8. CONNECTICUT (12-1, 2-0) (8)
LAST WEEK: Beat South Florida (60-57); Beat St. John's (83-69)
THIS WEEK: At Seton Hall (1/3); At Rutgers (1/7)
The Huskies have just one more game to play before head coach Jim Calhoun returns to the bench. Calhoun was suspended for three Big East games by the NCAA because of recruiting violations.
9. GEORGETOWN (12-1, 2-0) (11)
LAST WEEK: Beat Louisville (71-68); Beat Providence (49-40)
THIS WEEK: vs. Marquette (1/4); At West Virginia (1/7)
The Hoyas landed a signature victory by going on the road and upsetting Louisville in their Big East opener and then avoided a letdown against Providence despite giving easily their worst offensive performance of the season. Against the Friars, Georgetown connected on only 26.7 percent of its shots in the second half and 30.5 percent for the game (18 for 59). It was the Hoyas’ lowest field goal percentage in a victory during John Thompson III's eight year tenure.
10. INDIANA (13-1, 1-1) (10)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Michigan State (80-65); Beat Ohio State (74-70)
THIS WEEK: vs. Michigan (1/5); At Penn State (1/8)
The Hoosiers were pummeled at Michigan State to open Big Ten play, but then added a victory over No. 2 Ohio State to go with its win over No. 1 Kentucky three weeks ago. SI's Andy Glocker is now a Hoosier-believer.
Is Indiana for real? Well, along with UNLV's win over North Carolina, the Hoosiers have two of the nation's three best wins this season. Before tonight's win, the Hoosiers were No. 8 in both Ken Pomeroy's and Jeff Sagarin's overall rankings, and No. 7 in Sagarin's "predictor" rankings, which incorporates margins of victory and is a better predictive measure of future accomplishment. They also have the No. 7 offensive efficiency and No. 23 defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com. What does all that mean? It means, yeah, it appears Indiana is very legit. In a year where there's some (perceived) separation between the top four or five and everyone else, teams like Missouri and Indiana may not "feel" like top-7 teams, but it's possible they are. They also won at NC State, which is a better road win than most teams have at this point. Enjoy it, Bloomington. It looks like your program is back a year early, and the future looks very promising.
11. MICHIGAN STATE (13-2, 2-0) (NR)
LAST WEEK: Beat Indiana (80-65); Beat Nebraska (68-55)
THIS WEEK: At Wisconsin (1/3)
It appears the extremely tough early schedule might be paying off for Tom Izzo's team, which all of the sudden is one of the hottest in the country. The Spartans have now reeled off 13 straight since beginning the season with back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Duke.
12. LOUISVILLE (12-2, 0-1) (6)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Georgetown (71-68); Lost to Kentucky (69-62)
THIS WEEK: At St. John's (1/3); vs. Notre Dame (1/7)
The Cardinals confirmed what a lot of people suspected by losing back-to-back games to Georgetown and Kentucky last week. Louisville's offensive struggles in those two games were rivaled only by their issues on the glass. The Wildcats outrebounded the Cards 57-31 on Saturday, this coming three days after the Hoyas had posted a 38-32 rebounding advantage over U of L.
13. UNLV (15-2) (16)
LAST WEEK: Beat Central Arkansas (124-75); Beat Hawaii (74-69)
THIS WEEK: At Cal State Bakersfield (1/5)
Perhaps the most encouraging development for Vegas over the past couple of weeks has been Anthony Marshall's emergence as a third legitimate scoring threat to compliment Mike Moser and Chace Stanback. In Saturday's win at Hawaii, the junior guard led the team with 19 points and a season-high 13 rebounds.
14. KANSAS (10-3) (NR)
LAST WEEK: Beat Howard (89-34); Beat North Dakota (84-58)
THIS WEEK: vs. Kansas State (1/4); At Oklahoma (1/7)
You wouldn't think toughness would be a big concern on a team led by Thomas Robinson, but Bill Self says it's actually his primary one.
"The thing that concerns me is how soft we are," Self said. "Everybody sees it. You have balls hitting guys in the hands, and they don’t come away with it, and we are getting ready to play big-boy ball starting Wednesday (7 p.m., at home against Kansas State). I am really concerned with our big guys because other than Thomas (Robinson). I don’t think we have a big guy that can get a rebound in traffic against men. That would be my biggest concern right now."
15. Mississippi State (13-2) (15)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Baylor (54-52); Beat Utah State (66-64)
THIS WEEK: At Arkansas (1/7)
Dee Bost broke the Mississippi State career record for assists by dishing out his 516th during Saturday's two-point win over Utah State. He also hit what would prove to be the game-winning free-throws in the final minute.
16. FLORIDA (10-2) (12)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Rutgers (85-83 2 OT); Beat Yale (90-70)
THIS WEEK: vs. UAB (1/3); At Tennessee (1/7)
The Gators produced a dismal assist-to-turnover ratio of 14:18 in a chaotic environment at Rutgers. Much of the reason for the hostility at the RAC was the return of former Scarlet Knight Mike Rosario, who transferred to Florida after saying he had teammates at RU who "didn't want to work hard."
ON THE CUSP: Michigan, Murray State, Harvard, Marquette, Virginia, Wisconsin, Kansas State.
FELL OUT: Wisconsin (13), Marquette (14)