We’ll start with Gonzaga, which absolutely dismantled Saint Mary’s by a score of 94-46 on Saturday. The Bulldogs led by 33 at half time over their biggest rival, and it was one of the most impressive performances any squad has put forth this season. The Zags rose to No. 3 for their efforts.
That’s all good news. The bad news is that Killian Tillie will likely miss the rest of the season. That’s a blow, but Gonzaga has done just about all of its damage without Tillie anyway. He was so good last year, and adding him to the mix probably gave the Bulldogs the second-highest ceiling of any team after Duke.
But Gonzaga is 23-2 and has the No. 1 offense in the country. Brandon Clarke is a top 10 player in college basketball, and this team is firing at both ends right now. The Tillie news stings, but this is looking like a 1-seed come Selection Sunday regardless.
Gonzaga swapped spots with Virginia, and that’s fair. UVA’s two losses this season have come to Duke. Gonzaga beat Duke. One could argue that the Hoos’ full resume is better, but the Bulldogs are clearly more talented and have some outstanding wins of their own. Virginia gets a chance to vault back into the top three with a matchup against North Carolina on Monday night.
PREDICTED: North Carolina vs. Virginia tonight
Houston is the only new team to join the top 10 this week, and the Cougars are certainly deserving. They took down perennial AAC power Cincinnati on Sunday to improve to 23-1 on the year. Houston is 10-1 in its conference.
The Cougars’ defense is just nasty. How about these numbers: opponents are shooting 27 percent from 3-point range against Houston (third in the country) and 43.2 percent from 2-point range (seventh). There might not be a team that works harder on that end in America. Credit Kelvin Sampson, who should be in the running for coach of the year honors.
Kansas State was the biggest riser in the poll this week, going from unranked to No. 18. The Wildcats beat Kansas and Baylor this week and are in the driver’s seat to end the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak. K-State’s defense, ranked sixth, is a force right now.
Florida State as the next-highest riser in this week’s poll. The Seminoles jumped five spots to No. 15 after wins over Syracuse and Louisville and are now 6-4 in the ACC.
It’s easy to sleep on FSU. When you’re in the ACC and aren’t a basketball-first school like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville or Syracuse, you have to be really good to earn mainstream attention. The Seminoles aren’t elite, but no team should want to face them right now. They return plenty of pieces from last year’s Elite Eight squad and are deeper and hungrier than ever.
We should take a moment to appreciate Mfiondu Kabengele. The rangy center scored 22 points against Louisville and has transformed into a two-way terror; he has a 6.8 percent block rate this season, meaning he swats almost seven percent of foes’ shot attempts when he’s in the game. That’s a massive clip, and it’s a reason Florida State’s guards are able to be so aggressive on the perimeter.
The Seminoles are rounding into form at the perfect time.
THE NCAA’S NEW SELECTION TOOL: NET rankings of every NCAA Division I team
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, dropped the most of any team this week, falling 11 spots to No. 22. The Hokies are probably better than their current ranking, but not a top 10 team like they’ve been for most of the season. Virginia Tech lives and dies by the 3; it still makes more than 40 percent of its triples. But it needs to become more diverse in its offensive approach. The Hokies fell to Louisville and Clemson this week and when the bombs weren’t falling, they looked lost.
Buzz Williams is one of the best and most innovative coaches in the game. Let’s see what he has up his sleeve for the rest of the way.
There were a few mini-risers we should quickly highlight: Purdue is up to No. 12 after another impressive week. It seems like the Boilermakers shoot up every time a new poll is released, and they’re playing their best basketball of the season. Texas Tech vaulted three spots to No. 15. The Red Raiders slipped a bit after their torrid start, but seem to have reclaimed their defensive swagger. Lastly, LSU jumped two spots to No. 19. The SEC is loaded with guards, but Tremont Waters may be the most fun to watch of all of them.
We’re just more than a month of way from Selection Sunday. The best time of year is rapidly approaching.