"The field" is a horse racing term, and horse racing is another thing that Kentucky is known for.
That's called layering. I'm slowly building towards owning the reputation of being the Jim Jarmusch of SB Nation. Except slightly more boring. And I wear backwards hats.
1. KENTUCKY (21-1, 7-0) (1)
LAST WEEK: Beat Georgia (57-44); Beat LSU (74-50)
THIS WEEK: vs. Tennessee (1/31); At South Carolina (2/4)
Kentucky has looked like the best team in the country for most of the season, but the recent coming of age of preseason All-American Terrence Jones suddenly has the Wildcats looking like the crystal clear favorite to the win the national title. Jones ferociously attacked the rim, crashed the boards and chased loose balls in an impressive 24-point UK win over LSU last Saturday. He finished the afternoon with 27 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
LSU coach Trent Johnson summed up the feelings of the nation afterward: "If Terrence is going to show up and play like that, they need to crown them right now."
2. SYRACUSE (22-1, 9-1) (2)
LAST WEEK: Beat West Virginia (63-61)
THIS WEEK: At St. John's (2/4)
The controversial no-call on what clearly appeared to be a goaltend at the end of Syracuse's 63-61 win over West Virginia last Saturday took focus off of the fact that the Orange shot just 4-for-20 from beyond the arc and were out-rebounded 41-20.
SU has won two of three since news of Fab Melo's indefinite suspension broke, but the Orange haven't looked anything like the unstoppable force from a couple of weeks ago that appeared to have a legitimate shot at running the table in the Big East.
LAST WEEK: Beat Penn State (78-54); Beat Michigan (64-49)
THIS WEEK: At Wisconsin (2/4)
Among the national title contenders, no one wins more impressively than the Buckeyes. Sunday's 15-point victory over Michigan was actually the second-closest game Ohio State has played at the Schottenstein Center so far this season. In its 19 wins, OSU's average margin of victory is right at 22 points
4. MISSOURI (20-2, 7-2) (3)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Oklahoma State (79-72); Beat Texas Tech (63-50); Beat Texas (67-66)
THIS WEEK: vs. Kansas (2/4); At Oklahoma (2/6)
Stop talking about Dorial Green-Beckham. Your hoops team is 20-2 and has the offensive firepower to knock off anyone in the country.
The SEC's already enveloped them...they're already gone.
5. KANSAS (17-4, 7-1) (5)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Iowa State (72-64)
THIS WEEK: vs. Oklahoma (2/1); At Missouri (2/4)
A deficiency in talent seemed like it would be Kansas' main problem heading into this season, which is why Bill Self has to be disappointed that lack of enthusiasm appears to the biggest issue plaguing his team as it heads into February.
"It's not about playing hard," Self said on his weekly radio show. "I'm talking about just being enthusiastic, energetic. When we do that, we're pretty good. When we are not (energized), we don't appear to be near as athletic and don't seem to make plays that players make when games are tight. When you are energized, it covers up for a lot of mistakes. When you are not energized, then execution and discipline - all those things become more a factor."
Against Iowa State the last five minutes, we didn't get stops. The majority of those times it all came with under seven seconds on the shot clock. A guy reaches, a guy loses sight of his man, a guy doesn't block out. All these things can be avoided if we are a little more in-tune."
6. BAYLOR (19-2, 6-2) (6)
LAST WEEK: Beat Oklahoma (77-65); Beat Texas (76-71)
THIS WEEK: At Texas A&M (2/1); At Oklahoma State (2/4)
Baylor is going to wind up having the most successful season in program history, but with that established, the bigger question becomes whether or not they're really a threat to cut down the nets in New Orleans. The next-level talent is impossible to ignore, but so is the youth. In their few close games this season, nearly every member of the Bears has appeared to be playing not to lose. A far cry from the wheeling and dealing style that permeates when BU squares off against a lesser opponent.
7. NORTH CAROLINA (18-3, 5-1) (8)
LAST WEEK: Beat NC State (74-55); Beat Georgia Tech (93-81)
THIS WEEK: At Wake Forest (1/31); At Maryland (2/4)
I keep wanting to jump North Carolina two or three spots since this is a power poll and everyone who follows the sport knows the Heels are still without question one of the two or three favorites to win it all. Then they go and do something like give up 81 points to Georgia Tech and give me zero justification to do so.
This UNC team continues to remind followers of the insanely talented 2005-06 UConn team that toyed with opponents all season before ultimately being shocked by George Mason in the Elite Eight.
8. DUKE (18-3, 5-1) (7)
LAST WEEK: Beat Maryland (74-61); Beat St. John's (83-76)
THIS WEEK: At Virginia Tech (2/2); vs. Miami (2/5)
There's an underachieving, overly-athletic team somewhere out there that's going to give Duke an absolute fit in NCAA Tournament. I know this, you know this, and deep down, I think the Blue Devil probably know this.
9. MICHIGAN STATE (17-4, 6-2) (10)
LAST WEEK: Beat Minnesota (68-52)
THIS WEEK: At Illinois (1/31); vs. Michigan (2/5)
The Spartans' combination of junior Derrick Nix and sophomore Adreian Payne did a tremendous job on both Indiana big man Cody Zeller and Minnesota's Ralph Sampson Jr., but Illinois' Meyers Leonard may provide the biggest test for the MSU big men yet. State takes on the Fighting Illini Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.
LAST WEEK: Beat Eastern Illinois (73-58)
THIS WEEK: vs. Southeast Missouri State (2/2); At Tennessee-Martin (2/4)
Have you seen the anthem? It's...it's not great.
11. UNLV (18-3, 2-1) (11)
LAST WEEK: Beat Boise State (77-72 OT); Beat Air Force (65-63 OT)
THIS WEEK: vs. Colorado State (2/1); At Wyoming (2/4)
It's a dangerous week for the Rebs, hosting a Colorado State team that just pounded San Diego State, and then traveling to Laramie for a game against Wyoming that the Cowboys desperately need to win.
LAST WEEK: Beat Drake (77-69); Beat Bradley (73-59)
THIS WEEK: vs. Illinois State (2/1); At Northern Iowa (2/4)
Creighton currently ranks eighth in the nation in home attendance. That's one spot ahead of Kansas and two ahead of Indiana. A tip of the SB Nation cap (it's bejeweled) to the Bluejay fans.
13. SAINT MARY'S (21-2, 10-0) (16)
LAST WEEK: Beat Loyola Marymount (81-74); Beat BYU (80-66)
THIS WEEK: vs. San Diego (2/2)
The Gaels impressively dealt with their first two major WCC road tests by knocking off Loyola Marymount by seven and then pummeling BYU for the second time this season. After facing San Diego on Thursday, they'll get a full week off before the rematch at Gonzaga on Feb. 9.
If Saint Mary's can somehow win its next four games, then there won't be any question that their Feb. 18 date at (presumably unbeaten) Murray State will be the biggest game in the history of the BracketBusters series.
14. FLORIDA (17-4, 5-1) (NR)
LAST WEEK: Beat Ole Miss (64-60); Beat Mississippi State (69-57)
THIS WEEK: vs. South Carolina (2/2); vs. Vanderbilt (2/4)
15. GEORGETOWN (16-4, 6-3) (9)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Pittsburgh (72-60)
THIS WEEK: vs. Connecticut (2/1); vs. South Florida (2/4)
The Hoyas had held 12 of their last 14 opponents under 71 points before a shocking 12-point loss to Pitt on Saturday. Georgetown's low post defense was startlingly nonexistent as Nasir Robinson scored 23 points and hit all nine of his field goal attempts, most of them coming from right around the basket.
16. MARQUETTE (16-4, 6-3) (NR)
LAST WEEK: Beat South Florida (67-47); Beat Villanova (82-78)
THIS WEEK: vs. Seton Hall (1/31); At Notre Dame (2/4); At DePaul (2/6)
There seems to be no in between for the Golden Eagles, who have gone straight from being one of the nation's coldest teams to one of the hottest. A large part of the turnaround has to do with senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who is without question playing the best basketball of his career.
DJO scored a season-high 26 points in last Saturday's victory at Villanova and was named the Big East's player of the week on Monday. He is averaging a team-high 18.5 points per game, has scored in double figures in every game this season and ranks second to West Virginia's Kevin Jones (20.9) in Big East scoring.
DROPPED OUT: San Diego State (13), Indiana (15).
ON THE CUSP: Virginia, Florida State, San Diego State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Harvard, Michigan.