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College basketball's top 10 teams lost 9 times last week

Most figured this would be a season where the national landscape was fairly clear heading into February. Nope.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The last week of January gave college basketball fans something they were supposed to have to wait until next season for.

Madness, the sport’s defining trademark, was supposed to be tempered in 2016-17. The unpredictability and wide-openness of a year ago was supposed to have given way to a campaign of traditional powerhouses on a collision course with one another in regional finals and national semifinals.

Instead, as the calendar prepares to flip to February, we sit here once again with little to do but shrug our shoulders when presented with the sport’s biggest questions. Never was this uncertainty more prevalent than over the course of the week that came to an end on Sunday.

The numbers are staggering. Top 25 teams were defeated 16 times between Jan. 23 and Jan. 29, the largest total of any seven-day period this season. The most generous donors to that loss total came from the top 10, which was a collective 11-9 over the course of the week, with all but two of those losses coming to unranked opponents. The win total for the top 10 was also a bit inflated by the contributions of unbeaten Gonzaga, which defeated three West Coast Conference opponents that are a combined 26-40.

No. 1 lost to an unranked foe on the road, and then needed a last-second tip-in to win a home game against No. 12 Virginia. No. 2 fell about an hour after No. 1 went down on Tuesday night, and then went on the road to beat No. 4, which finished the week 0-2 after its own Tuesday road loss to an unranked team. No. 6 also went 0-2 on the week, while No. 8 went 0-1. No. 9 lost by 15 on the road to an unranked foe, and No. 10 rounded things out with a road loss to a league opponent that had entered the evening just one game above .500.

If this is all easier to process in list form, we can make that happen:

No. 1 Villanova - Lost at Marquette (74-72), beat No. 12 Virginia (61-59)
No. 2 Kansas - Lost at No. 18 West Virginia (85-69), won at No. 4 Kentucky (79-73)
No. 3 Gonzaga - Beat Portland, San Diego, and Pepperdine (all by a lot)
No. 4 Kentucky - Lost at Tennessee (82-80), lost to No. 2 Kansas (79-73)
No. 5 Baylor - Beat Texas Tech (65-61), won at Ole Miss (78-75)
No. 6 Florida State - Lost at Georgia Tech (78-56), lost at Syracuse (82-72)
No. 7 Arizona - Beat Washington State (79-62), beat Washington (77-66)
No. 8 UCLA - Lost at USC (84-76)
No. 9 North Carolina - Beat Virginia Tech (91-72), lost at Miami (77-62)
No. 10 Oregon - Won at Utah (73-67), lost at Colorado (74-65)

If there’s a point to all this madness, it’s this: A season that was supposed to have five or six teams that had separated themselves from the rest of the pack by February is instead going to have none.

Reigning national champion Villanova has been steady, but far from dominant to the point that they’re discussed in terms of being a lock for Phoenix. The same can be said for the Big 12’s top-five duo of Kansas and Baylor, which will meet this week for the first of their two regular-season showdowns.

Then there’s Gonzaga, which appears destined to assume its biennial role of being college basketball’s most polarizing team heading into March.

The Zags are the nation’s only unbeaten at 22-0, and they’ve beaten three teams that appear to be safe bets to be single-digit seeds in the NCAA tournament. None of those victories have come on the road, however, and none of them have changed the widely-held perception that Gonzaga’s record is more a product of playing in a conference that has one and a half other teams with a pulse than it is a testament to the Bulldogs’ worth as a national title contender. America is very much taking a “believe it when we see it” approach to Mark Few’s team, an understandable one until the Zags break through and crash the season’s final weekend.

Perhaps a handful of powerhouses will flex their collective muscles over the course of the next five weeks and clear things up for us. The more likely scenario is that the trail we’re convinced is the right one winds up taking us back through a route of scenery that appears suspiciously familiar.

With just a month of the regular season and a month of postseason madness to go, none of us really know anything. The confusion is even more beautiful when you’re not expecting it.