We’ll start with North Carolina, which rose three spots to No. 9 after a big 103-90 win over Gonzaga on Saturday. The Tar Heels struggled (relatively speaking) earlier in the year, falling to Texas and getting smoked by Michigan. But North Carolina looks like a team that can make a deep run in March.
The offense, now ranked third, has a chance to be the best in the country. And that’s with Nassir Little only averaging 19.9 minutes per game. Freshman point guard Coby White has been a revelation; he’s averaging 15.2 points and 3.9 assists. The Tar Heels are loaded with shooters and playmakers up and down the lineup.
That said, the defense is still a question mark. North Carolina ranks 30th on that end and didn’t exactly stifle Gonzaga. But this is a group that can beat anyone. And it will have a chance to knock off Kentucky on Saturday.
Gonzaga was on the other side of that outcome, and the Bulldogs dropped four spots to No. 8 as a result. Good on the voters for not dropping them too much. Gonzaga has played a ridiculous schedule thus far, facing the likes of Duke, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arizona and Texas A&M before the start of the new year. They’re 9-2 despite all of that, and Killian Tillie still hasn’t played. The North Carolina performance was their worst, but it was a true road game.
Now, one could reasonably argue that Gonzaga and North Carolina could be flipped based on Saturday’s game. But UNC hasn’t played the kind of schedule Gonzaga has and also has two losses, so the ranking is defensible. The Bulldogs should still run through the WCC, especially once Tillie returns.
It’s been a roller-coaster of a season for defending champion Villanova, and the Wildcats fell out of the AP Top 25 once again after losses to Penn and Kansas. The Penn loss stings. But Villanova played well against Kansas, only losing by three. While it deserved to drop out of the rankings, the Kansas performance should actually inspire confidence for Big East play.
That league is going to be wide open, and only losing by three at Phog Allen is an accomplishment. Villanova still needs to find an identity. The offense has been solid, even if it doesn’t always pass the eye test. It ranks 11th. But the defense is 59th, and the Wildcats have really struggled to defend the 3-point arc. Penn made 16 3-pointers against them.
It feels like Villanova will be in and out of the AP poll all season, though a Big East surge is fathomable. It’s certainly unlike anything we’ve seen out of Jay Wright’s squad in the last half decade.
There wasn’t a ton of activity in the rankings besides those three schools, as the schedule was light due to finals week. One new school joined the poll: No. 25 Nebraska. Indiana also jumped three spots to No. 22 after a thrilling win over Butler in the Crossroads Classic.
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The Hoosiers are 9-2 with wins over Marquette, Northwestern, Louisville, Penn State and Butler. They’ve won their last four games by a combined eight points, and while point differential is all the rage these days, there’s something to be said for eking out close wins. Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan form a dominant 1-2 punch, and Archie Miller has made his mark on the defense. Indiana is a notch below the Big Ten’s elite, but the Hoosiers are looking like a solid tournament team.
Conference season is just around the corner for most leagues. The top of the poll features a bunch of fantastic teams, and contenders loom in the bottom half of the top 10. It’s going to be a fun road to March.