The college basketball season is almost done with 2016 and is just about to jump into 2017, which means conference play is here. Teams might have one more non-conference game left before or on the weekend, but once next week arrives, it’s nearly all about conference play until the NCAA Tournament. One big event occurred in college basketball relative to the top five this past week, and another shakeup took place at the lower end of the top five. Here’s where things now stand:
1. Baylor Bears
The Bears still haven’t lost. They play at Oklahoma on Friday in the Big 12 opener, which could very well stir things up. If they can win that game, they would certainly deserve to be No. 1.
It is true that in the national rankings, more voters and commentators have Villanova at the top. The Wildcats are a hard team to not vote at No. 1 simply because they are the defending national champions and, like Baylor, have not lost. Yet, Baylor’s combination of Xavier (the second-best team to Villanova in last season’s Big East Conference), Oregon (which just beat UCLA) and Louisville is very solid. The Bears have collected more and bigger wins than Villanova has, and that has to mean something if we’re strictly judging teams for their body of work this season, not based on what they achieved last season. Baylor should be No. 1, even if most voters go with Villanova.
2. Villanova Wildcats
The defending national champions deserve to be second, and they should be very happy with it. Villanova just got by DePaul in the Big East opener. Perhaps feeling the pressure of the season and the unbeaten record, the Wildcats might now be able to settle down. They’ve certainly done some very good work, polishing off Purdue and Notre Dame among others, and their resilience is so evident each time they take the court. If they keep winning while Baylor loses, they will become the top team in the country.
3. UCLA Bruins
The Bruins lost to Oregon, but they barely did, on a last-second jump shot after normally reliable foul shooter Bryce Alford missed the front end of a one-and-one in the final few seconds against the Ducks on Wednesday night. We’re not going to fault them too much for a close loss on the road to a team we consider to be the fifth-best in the nation. This was a good loss against a very good team which is getting healthier and better as the season goes along. It’s certainly not something which should plunge the Bruins out of the top five, but now they’re certainly behind Villanova and Baylor – no question.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
This is where the picture gets muddled. Kansas, on the basis of its win over Duke, still has a credible argument to be here, but if one wanted to argue for North Carolina or Virginia, the case would be reasonable. Kansas has flown under the radar, but that’s going to change when the Jayhawks take on Baylor at the top of the Big 12. The Jayhawks should have an easy time of things in the early part of January but things will get tougher at the end of the month. They have three games in a row against teams that are currently ranked in the Top 11 as they face West Virginia, Kentucky and Baylor.
5. Oregon Ducks
A number of college basketball experts might disagree, but we’ve got the Oregon Ducks as the fifth-best team in the nation right now. Yes, there is some debate as to whether someone like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia or maybe West Virginia could be here, but the three ACC teams we just mentioned have all lost this week. On the contrary, the Ducks have had one of the best weeks in the nation.
Oregon pounded No. 22 USC en route to a 23-point win this week. That was quite impressive. What was even better was their win over the No. 2 team in the country when they edged out the UCLA Bruins. On the season, the Ducks have beaten every team in front of them except for the Baylor Bears, who hold the top spot in our power rankings, and Georgetown.
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