The top four teams remain the same, but Michigan vaulted into the top five this week after impressive wins over North Carolina and Purdue. Preseason expectations still play some of a role in these rankings, so it’s fair that the Wolverines aren’t first. But has any team looked better this year?
The defense is crazy good. It’s ranked first in the nation by a good margin and has held offenses like Villanova, Providence, North Carolina and Purdue under wraps. The Tar Heels are the only team to crack 65 on John Beilein’s squad, which features athletic, tenacious defenders at every spot. The offense, ranked 20th, has done its part. These guys are looking like national championship contenders once again.
Michigan isn’t the only Big Ten team with a resume to be proud of. Wisconsin, ranked 22nd last week, is all the way up to No. 12 after wins over North Carolina State and Iowa.
Ethan Happ is balling, and he’s the biggest reason behind the Badgers’ hot start. But he’s not the only reason. D’Mitrik Trice struggled offensively to start his career, but he looks like a new man this year. Wisconsin is scoring 123.5 points per 100 possessions when Trice is in the game, a team high. He’s hitting a ridiculous 58.3 percent of his 3s on six attempts per game after hitting 30 percent from distance last year.
Wisconsin has long been known as a player development hub. Trice is a quality second option right now, and if he keeps this up, the Badgers could jump into the top 10 soon.
Another team to highlight is Texas Tech, which rose seven spots to No. 13. Chris Beard is doing incredible work in Lubbock once again; a team that lost Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans in the offseason shouldn’t be this good.
But the Red Raiders are doing what they did in 2017-18: playing stout defense (second in the country behind Michigan) and relying on a star player to drive the offense. Jarrett Culver has blossomed into a legitimate star after playing a complementary role last year. He’s averaging 19 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game; Tech’s offensive rating with Culver in the game is almost 10 points higher than its mark as team. The Big 12 Player of the Year probably plays for Kansas, but Culver could have a real shot at the award by season’s end.
This week’s poll wasn’t all about the high-major teams. Buffalo rose four more spots to No. 17 while Furman made an appearance in this week’s top 25, rounding out the rankings.
The Bulls are a perfect 7-0, and while West Virginia is their only win that jumps off the resume, it’s impressive how they’ve dismantled opponents this season. And Buffalo’s win over San Francisco on Saturday was significant. San Francisco isn’t West Virginia, but it’s a top-60 KenPom team. The Dons were undefeated going into the game, and C.J. Massinburg remains amazing. His 67.2 true shooting percentage is tops on the team by a mile, and he’s one of the best offensive players in the sport.
Furman, meanwhile, is 8-0 with wins over two Final Four teams from last year (Villanova and Loyola Chicago). There’s a good chance the Paladins could enter their Dec. 21 road game at LSU with a 12-0 record. Head coach Bob Richey has done a tremendous job in Greenville.
A few final tidbits: Arizona State joined the fray this week and is ranked 20th. That said, the Sun Devils got off to a blazing start last season before struggling in Pac-12 play. It’s worth seeing if Bob Hurley’s team can build off of this. Villanova is up two spots to No. 21; the offense is still clunky at times, but the Wildcats could still win a down Big East. The ACC, Big Ten and SEC are still looking like the best conferences, in some order.
There’s more excitement to come, and this poll features one of the most loaded top fives in recent memory. It will be fascinating to see if any of those teams will be upset in the next seven days.