So, I’m a little late to the party in getting out my first hoops Top 25 of the year — or maybe not; after all this is just now about the time that teams really dive into conference action and so it’s hard to really get a grip on what everyone has until that happens. Anyway, here’s my first stab at ranking the nation’s top 25 men’s basketball squads. Records are given for all games against Division One opponents.
1. Arizona (21-0): Of the three unbeatens, ‘Zona has the best resume of good wins (Duke, Michigan, UCLA, San Diego State, Arizona State, Stanford).
2. Syracuse (20-0): Point guard Tyler Ennis (34.1 minutes, 12.3 points, 5.4 assists vs. 1.4 turnovers, and 2.5 steals per game) may not be the nation’s best freshman, but he might be the most important to his team.
3. Kansas (16-4): The young Jayhawks stumbled early, but there may not be a team in college hoops you’d less-rather face about now.
4. Duke (17-4): The Blue Devils struggled earlier in the year with defense, but they’ve got it rolling now. Those losses to Notre Dame and Clemson earlier in the month now seem like ages ago.
5. Michigan (16-4): If Kansas is the team you don’t want to play right now, then Michigan might a 1a. Imagine how good the Wolverines could be if All-American center Mitch McGary could come back from back troubles?
6. Michigan St. (19-2): Speaking of hypotheticals, if the Spartans could ever get all players healthy at once, they might be the best team in college hoops.
7. San Diego St. (18-1): The Aztecs get dragged down in power rankings like Jeff Sagarin and Ken Pomeroys because the Mountain West isn’t a strong league, but let’s not forget they beat Creighton and Kansas and have just a 9-point loss to Arizona.
8. Creighton (18-3): As if having the nation’s best offensive player in Doug McDermott weren’t good enough, the Blue Jays also have three guys who shoot over 45 percent from 3.
9. Florida (18-2): The Gators are going to suffer from the same soft-conference malady as San Diego State, but they’re awfully good and now, 5-star recruit Chris Walker is also eligible.
10. Wichita St. (21-0): Yes, the Shockers are undefeated coming off a Final Four campaign, it’s just hard to know how good they are when St. Louis (which WSU beat 70-65 on Dec. 1) are the only Top 25-caliber team on the schedule.
11. Iowa State (15-4): On the other hand, you have the Cyclones, who have played 10 of their 19 games against teams in Pomeroy’s top 61 teams, and are 6-4 against those squads.
12. Villanova (18-2): When the Wildcats are good, they’re very good, as defeats of Kansas and Iowa proved. When they’re off their game… well, let’s just say they lost to Creighton and Syracuse by a combined 44 points.
13. Wisconsin (17-4): The Badgers are slumping of late, but wins over four teams in my Top 25 (Florida, Iowa, Virginia and St. Louis) prove they belong this high.
14. Iowa (15-5): It’s been a big of a tough-luck winter in Iowa City: the Hawkeyes’ five losses (Michigan St., Villanova, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa State) have come by a combined 22 points.
15. Cincinnati (20-2): Mick Cronin’s club nearly blew a huge lead at Louisville last night, but they didn’t, and are now 2 1/2 games ahead in the American Athletic Conference standings.
16. Oklahoma (17-4): Sagarin and Pomeroy have a heavy influence on what I do, but this is one place where I disagree with the two, who have the Sooners 34th and 38th, respectively. After all, Sooners have beaten Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas. and all four losses are to teams that would probably make the NCAA Tournament if it were played today.
17. Oklahoma St. (16-4): The Cowboys have the horses to score with anybody, but the first step (a loss to Oklahoma) post-Marcus Smart-meltdown was a step back.
18. Pitt (18-3): The Panthers’ record is a bit suspect as they’ve not beaten a Top 25 team yet.
19. Memphis (15-4): Coach Josh Pastner has his team playing solid on both ends of the floor.
20. Minnesota (14-6): Gophers have stumbled a big lately, but that’s life on the road just about anywhere in the Big Ten.
21. Kentucky (15-5): The Wildcats may be the nation’s biggest mystery: the raw talent is there, but it’s nowhere close to coming together. Last year, that recipe kept UK out of the NCAA Tournament.
22. Louisville (17-4): It looks as if the Cardinals miss point guard Peyton Siva more than anyone expected.
23. UCLA (17-4): The Bruins enter Saturday’s Oregon State game on a three-game winning streak thanks to victories over NCAA Tournament-caliber teams Stanford, Cal and Oregon.
24. Virginia (16-5): Folks in Tennessee may scratch their head at this in remembrance of the Vols’ 35-point romp over UVA, but the Cavs (13th by Pomeroy, 19th by Sagarin) have been excellent otherwise.
25. St. Louis (18-2): Coach Jim Crews has seen his career take a rebound thanks to his Billikens, whose players play better defense than anyone in the country according to Pomeroy.
Next five: Texas (16-4), Connecticut (17-4), George Washington (17-3), Xavier (14-5), Florida State (13-7)