Louisville and Kansas finally provided some consistency to what has been a volatile Top 25 poll this season while perennial bluebloods Michigan State and North Carolina continued to tumble after another wave of defeats.
The Cardinals solidified their place at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 released Monday after routing then-No. 4 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and breezing past Pittsburgh over the past week. The Jayhawks stayed at No. 2 after returning from their Maui Invitaitonal title to thump former Big 12 member Colorado.
“I think it’s two games in a row, where we got stops,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “We didn’t allow second shots. We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups, and that’s a killer.”
Ohio State jumped from sixth to third following its 74-49 rout of then-No. 7 North Carolina and a blowout of Penn State. Maryland dropped one spot to fourth despite continuing to pile up wins, while Michigan slid one spot to round out the top five after Juwan Howard’s bunch ran into the Louisville buzzsaw for their first loss of the season.
“There are always areas that you can improve on as a coach,” Howard said. “I’ll go back and look at film and evaluate and see areas we can counteract.”
The Wolverines’ in-state rivals have plenty of evaluation to do, too.
Michigan State was the preseason No. 1 after returning a bevy of talent from last year’s Final Four team, led by star guard Cassius Winston. But after a season-opening loss to Kentucky in the Champions Classic, the Spartans lost to Virginia Tech and then fell to Duke last week to drop from 11th to No. 16 in the poll.
That drop wasn’t nearly as startling as that of North Carolina, which tumbled 10 spots to No. 17 after losses to Ohio State and Virginia. The biggest culprit for the Tar Heels remains their offense, which failed to score at least 50 points in back-to-back games for the first time since the 1947-48 season.
“This is the most frustrated I’ve ever been,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I don’t think we’re playing basketball the way that I want us to play and that is probably the most frustrating. Pushing the pace, sharing the ball, competing like crazy — I’ve been very fortunate over the years, find the right buttons to push to get guys to do that and I haven’t found the right buttons to push to get these guys to do it that way.”
The Tar Heels catch a breather this week with their only game Sunday against Wofford. Then comes another big showdown against sixth-ranked Gonzaga next week.
“We got to try to get better later this week,” Williams said. “That’s not the way that, hopefully, I’ve tried to coach for 32 years but that’s the way that we’re playing right now so we have to get that changed.”
The biggest climb this week belonged to Baylor, which jumped seven spots to No. 11 after edging then-No. 12 Arizona 63-58 to run its record to 7-1. The Bears have emerged as perhaps the biggest challenger to Kansas in the Big 12.
Sixth-ranked Gonzaga, No. 7 Duke and No. 10 Oregon each climbed three spots. Dayton continued its move up the rankings after its run to the Maui Invitational title game, moving up five spots to No. 14. Butler rose six spots to No. 18 after the Bulldogs beat Ole Miss and Florida.
Arizona dropped three spots to No. 15, Florida State fell four spots to No. 21 and Seton Hall tumbled six spots to No. 22 after a loss to Iowa State. As if that wasn’t bad enough for the Pirates, they also lost key contributor Sandro Mamukelashvili to a broken right wrist against the Cyclones.
Xavier moved into the poll at No. 22 after wins over Green Bay and Cincinnati, and San Diego State made its debut at No. 25 after edging San Jose State to improve to 10-0 on the season.
Utah State was the first team out of the Top 25 after needing overtime to beat Fresno State last week. Washington also fell from No. 22 out of the poll after a loss to Gonzaga.
Many schools have a light week because of final exams, but some big games are on the docket. Butler visits Baylor on Tuesday night, while Oregon travels to Michigan, Memphis visits Tennessee and Gonzaga heads to Arizona on Saturday.