1. SYRACUSE (10-0) (3)
LAST WEEK: Beat Marshall (62-56); Beat George Washington (80-55)
THIS WEEK: At NC State (12/17)
Despite one of the most tumultuous off-the-court months in the history of the program, the Syracuse Orange find themselves at 10-0 and on top of the college basketball world today. They may not have the next-level talent of the preseason big three (North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio State), but there can't be another team in college basketball that's more mentally tough.
LAST WEEK: Lost to Kansas (78-67)
THIS WEEK: vs. USC-Upstate (12/14); At South Carolina (12/17)
Thad Matta says the team is evaluating Jared Sullinger's battle with back spasms on a day-to-day basis. The good news for the Buckeyes is that they shouldn't need him to win any of the four games they have remaining before opening Big Ten play against Northwestern on Dec. 28. The loss to Kansas with Sully on the sidelines should have virtually no effect on OSU's seeding come March. A loss to someone like South Carolina or Miami of Ohio, however, would be a different story.
3. KENTUCKY (8-1) (1)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Indiana (73-72)
THIS WEEK: vs. Chattanooga (12/17)
The loss to Indiana shows that the formula for beating Kentucky is relatively simple: create an incredibly hostile environment and shoot an uncharacteristically high percentage from beyond the arc. The first part might become slightly more difficult once the postseason rolls around. Also, do whatever the Hoosiers did to make Terrence Jones play like his dog just died. If his dog actually did die, I apologize.
4. MISSOURI (9-0) (8)
LAST WEEK: Beat Villanova (81-71); Beat Navy (84-59)
THIS WEEK: vs. Kennesaw St. (12/15); vs. William & Mary (12/17)
Missouri might be the best first half team in the country, but the Tigers are developing a bit of a nasty habit of taking their foot off the gas. It's a trend that matters little against someone like Navy - which went on a 24-6 run in the second half but still lost to Mizzou by 25 on Saturday - but it's something that has to end if Frank Haith's club is serious about winning the Big 12.
5. NORTH CAROLINA (8-2) (4)
LAST WEEK: Beat Evansville (97-48); Beat Long Beach State (84-78)
THIS WEEK: vs. Appalachian St. (12/17)
It seemed like the Kentucky loss may have been the cure for all of UNC's ills, as the Tar Heels finally went right for the throat of a lesser opponent in an absolute thrashing of Evansville to begin the week. And then they were right back to refusing to play defense on Saturday, allowing Casper Ware to score 21 points in the first half and having to come from behind to beat visiting Long Beach State. It also wasn't a great week for the teams that have beaten Carolina. Kentucky got knocked off by Indiana while UNLV went down again at Wisconsin.
6. BAYLOR (7-0) (5)
LAST WEEK: Idle
THIS WEEK: vs. Bethune-Cookman (12/14); At BYU (12/17)
We didn't learn anything more about the Bears this week since they didn't take the floor, but we won't be able to say the same thing in seven days. An impressive win at BYU would all but assure Scott Drew and company of at least one step up.
7. MARQUETTE (9-0) (6)
LAST WEEK: Beat Washington (79-77); Beat Green Bay (79-61)
THIS WEEK: vs. Northern Colorado (12/17)
The Golden Eagles would be two spots higher were they not dealing with so many injuries. A team whose strength was once its immense depth is currently playing without Chris Otule (knee), Jamil Wilson (ankle) and Juan Anderson (shoulder). That leaves Buzz Williams with only eight serviceable bodies and just two true frontcourt players...and Jae Crowder is a guy who enjoys the perimeter. The good news is MU has a relatively soft schedule on the horizon, starting this Saturday against Northern Colorado.
8. LOUISVILLE (9-0) (7)
LAST WEEK: Beat IUPUI (90-60); Fairleigh Dickinson (80-58)
THIS WEEK: vs. Memphis (12/17)
The Cardinals were supposed to have one of the elite non-conference schedules in the country this season, but the disappointing starts by preseason top 15 squads Vanderbilt and Memphis have put a damper on that. U of L's road win at Butler is also looking less and less impressive with each Bulldog loss. Still, you can't fault Louisville, which just keeps winning despite a rash of injuries. If they can knock off both Georgetown and Kentucky in the final week of 2011, they'll deserve to be the No. 1 team in the country.
LAST WEEK: Beat Butler (73-61); Beat Cincinnati (76-53)
THIS WEEK: vs. Oral Roberts (12/18)
Until the final moments of Saturday's Crosstown Shootout, the story was set to be X proving it's a legitimate top ten team by dismantling a solid rival. Instead the Musketeers are now dealing with a slew of off-the-court issues heading into a dangerous three-game stretch before A-10 play starts. Don't be surprised if Oral Robers, Long Beach St. or Gonzaga pull an on what should be a distracted group of X-men.
10. DUKE (9-1) (9)
LAST WEEK: Beat Colorado St. (87-64); Beat Washington (86-80)
THIS WEEK: Idle
I know this seems like standard Duke-bashing, but let's be honest: the Blue Devils didn't look like they belonged on the same floor as Ohio St., and their Maui run doesn't appear nearly as impressive now as it did at the time. The good news is that Austin Rivers is emerging as a legitimate star, something that had to happen for this team to be able to make a Final Four run.
11. WISCONSIN (8-2) (12)
LAST WEEK: Beat Green Bay (70-42); Beat UNLV (62-51)
THIS WEEK: At Milwaukee (12/13); vs. Savannah St. (12/15)
Wisconsin has now faced three opponents ranked in the nation's top 15 in team scoring, and the Badgers have held all three to 61 points or less. In fact, nine of Bucky's ten opponents have produced their lowest scoring output of the season against the Badgers.
12. KANSAS (7-2) (13)
LAST WEEK: Beat Long Beach St. (88-80); Beat Ohio St. (78-67)
THIS WEEK: Idle
There always seems to be a rub with the Jayhawks this season. Look sluggish in a win over Georgetown; turns out the Hoyas are awfully good. Knock off the No. 2 team in the country; it happens when they're without the nation's best player. Now just when it looks like KU's got things rolling, Tyshawn Taylor will be sidelined for three weeks after undergoing surgery on his right knee. The conflicting news this time? Kansas has a bit of a break in its rugged schedule before K-State comes calling on Jan. 4.
13. CONNECTICUT (8-1) (NR)
LAST WEEK: Beat Harvard (67-53)
THIS WEEK: vs. Holy Cross (12/18)
There have been some gelling issues with talented newcomers Ryan Boatwright and Andre Drummond, but it seems like things are starting to click for the Huskies. Boatwright's averaging 16.0 ppg since being cleared by the NCAA, and Drummond looked like he was on a different level in the Huskies' 14-point win over Harvard, scoring ten of his 12 points on monstrous dunks.
14. FLORIDA (7-2) (11)
LAST WEEK: Beat Arizona (78-72, OT); Beat Rider (90-60)
THIS WEEK: vs. Texas A&M (12/17)
The Gators showed heart in their overtime victory over Arizona, but the edge they possess in talent shouldn't have allowed the game to get that far. Eventually, Billy Donovan's four talented guards are going to have to learn how to put their egos aside for the betterment of the team. The key is recognizing which guys are hot on which night and then making sure they're getting the ball in the right places. Oh, and feeding Patric Young a bit more would probably also be a step in the right direction.
15. INDIANA (9-0) (NR)
LAST WEEK: Beat Kentucky (73-72)
THIS WEEK: vs. Notre Dame (12/17)
Is Indiana back? I think it depends on how far you're willing to stretch the meaning of "back." Back as in good enough to make the NCAA Tournament? Absolutely. Back as in legitimate national title contender? Give it 12 months. All that matters right now is that the Hoosiers have beaten everyone they were supposed to beat (convincingly) and one team very few people thought they could beat. IU belongs here.
16. GEORGETOWN (8-1) (14)
LAST WEEK: Beat Howard (62-48)
THIS WEEK: vs. American (12/17)
The Hoyas allowed a 17-point halftime lead over Howard to dwindle all the way to two before they held the Bison scoreless for ten minutes and put the game away. It was a rare old-school sluggish performance from a Georgetown team that has scored 80 or more points in six of its nine games this season.
ON THE CUSP: Mississippi St., Illinois, Murray St., Pittsburgh, Harvard, Michigan St.
FELL OUT: Creighton (15), Mississippi State (16).