Frankly, compared to some of the exciting weeks we’ve had this season, last week looked like a bit of a dud. Sure, a handful of ranked teams lost, but Saturday was largely uneventful except for Gonzaga-St. Mary’s, and the only games of note were the Thursday night clashes won by Duke and UCLA. This isn’t to say this past week was boring or unexciting, because it was. However, in a year that’s seen a week where seven top ten teams lost, this past week was certainly lacking a bit of flair.
Then, Sunday happened. Outside of Friday, Sunday is usually the slowest day in the college basketball week. But, this past Sunday delivered a trio of upsets that showed that week 14 was just as crazy, if not more so, than any other this season. As polls were already being put together Sunday afternoon, Cincinnati, Virginia, and shockingly, Wisconsin, all lost games, changing a dynamic that many of our voters felt was already in place for the upcoming rankings. The result: massive movement throughout the poll, although our number one team predictably stayed the same. After a week of competitive games and a Sunday of drama, here’s the CPP Poll for Week 15:
- Gonzaga (26-0, LW: 1) Def. Loyola Marymount 90-60, Def. St. Mary’s 74-64. Well, that was anticlimactic. The Bulldogs led the entire way against St. Mary’s, often by double digits, en route to confirming that they are indeed the top team in the country, and a major threat to reach the Final Four. Przemek Karnowski netted 19 points, including 15 in the first half to lead the Zags. There really is no excuse for Mark Few to not guide his team to an undefeated record entering the NCAA Tournament. Next on the docket for the talented Bulldogs are San Francisco and Pacific. Both games will take place in the Kennel.
- Villanova (24-2, LW: 2) Def. Georgetown 75-64, Def. Xavier 73-57. The lead for the Wildcats at the top of he Big East is now 2.5 games, and they all but eliminated a competitor in the Xavier Musketeers. The road win over Xavier showcased what makes Villanova so good; they put five players in double figures, held Xavier to 35 percent shooting, and forced 11 turnovers. However, they were outrebounded 42-26. If there is one flaw to the Wildcats, it’s their lack of post depth and ability to crash the boards. They play on the road twice this week, first up in Chicago against DePaul, followed by a trip up to the Garden State to face Seton Hall.
- Kansas (22-3, LW: 4) Def. Kansas State 74-71, Def. Texas Tech 80-79. It’s been said multiple times, but winning on the road is one of the hardest things to do in college basketball. This makes the week Kansas had so impressive, despite the close final scores. Still, winning is all that matters, and that’s exactly what the Jayhawks did in both Manhattan and Lubbock. Josh Jackson has begun to tap into his unlimited potential, and scored 31 points, including hitting the game winner free throw, against TTU. This will be a major week for Bill Self’s squad. West Virginia and Baylor are next, with the game against the Bears coming on the road. But, as this past week showed, the Jayhawks can handle the heat in a hostile environment.
- Louisville (20-5, LW: 3) Lost to Virginia 55-71, Def. Miami 71-66. It was a tumultuous week for the Cards, as they were shorthanded due to suspensions against the Cavs, and predictably were defeated. The suspended players, Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang then returned for their weekend tango with Miami, but did not start (though they played 36 and 32 minutes respectively). Louisville will look to put these troubles behind them quick, as they travel to the Carrier Dome for ESPN’s Big Monday, before hosting upstart Virginia Tech later in the week.
- Baylor (22-3, LW: 8) Def. Oklahoma State 72-69, Def. TCU 70-52. Baylor continued to roll this past week, though their road victory in Stillwater tested their resolve. The Bears passed that exam, then got 25 points from Jonathan Motley in their blowout win against the Horned Frogs. Baylor was on the one seed line when the NCAA released the top 16 seeds on Saturday. This week will test their ability to stay there, as they face a road test against Texas Tech, and then host Kansas in a game that may decide the fate of the Big 12 regular season. If any team can snap KU’s streak this year, it just might be the Bears.
- UCLA (23-3, LW: 10) Def. Oregon 82-79, Def. Oregon State 78-60. Nothing may be sweeter than revenge, as the Bruins found out this week, mounting a ferocious comeback against Oregon after trailing for most of the game, often by double digits. With 34 seconds left, Lonzo Ball hit a triple from Hollywood that wound up being the dagger. The talented freshman had 15 points and 11 rebounds against Oregon’s deep backcourt. Against the lowly Beavers, UCLA simply took care of business. This week, they play only one game, though it will be against crosstown rival USC. The battle will take place next Saturday from UCLA’s home court.
- Oregon (22-4, LW: 5) Lost to UCLA 79-82, Def. USC 81-70. The Ducks jumped out to a big lead, but were unable to hold on late as the Bruins stormed back behind the strength of Pauley Pavilion and, uh, whimsical announcing of Bill Walton. However, their next game provided a nice rebound, as USC is a likely tournament team that the Ducks were able to beat in their own building. Looking at the schedule, Oregon next battles Utah and Colorado in a pair of home games. The hardest part of their schedule is over, and Oregon arguably should finish out the season with five consecutive wins.
- North Carolina (21-5, LW: 6) Lost to Duke 78-86. The Tar Heels only played once last week, and unfortunately they were defeated by Tobacco Road Rival Duke. However, they did play that game without starting forward Isaiah Hicks, a senior who is important on both ends of the floor. In the loaded ACC, it doesn’t get any easier for Roy Williams. The Heels will travel to Raleigh to play NC State next Wednesday, and then welcome the Virginia Cavaliers to the Dean Dome on Saturday.
- Arizona (23-3, LW: 9) Def. Stanford 74-67, Def. California 62-57. At 12-1, the Wildcats are the number one team in the Pac-12. Their wins this week were not particularly pretty, but still results placed in the correct column. It’s clear Allonzo Trier isn’t quite all the way back, as he went 0-5 from the field in only 23 minutes against the Golden Bears. Still, when he does find his footing, he’s one of the top shooting guards in the country, and will combine well with the talented freshman in Sean Miller’s rotation. For this week, the Wildcats will hit the road (or take a plane) to the great northwest, as they’ll play against both Washington and Washington State in a pair of games they should win rather easily.
- Duke (20-5, LW: 16) Def. North Carolina 86-78, Def. Clemson 64-62. Don’t look now, but the Blue Devils are back to playing at a high level, the game against Clemson not included. They welcomed the Tar Heels to Cameron for a marquee matchup on Thursday, as Grayson Allen reminded everyone he’s more than just an episode of TMZ, pouring in seven three-pointers on his way to leading Duke over UNC. However, a difficult road game awaits Coach K. His team will spend Wednesday night visiting the University of Virginia. Over the weekend they return home for a game against Wake Forest, a very beatable opponent.
- Kentucky (20-5, LW: 13) Def. LSU 92-85, Def. Alabama 67-58. This Kentucky team is an enigma. Player for player, they have the most talented team in the nation. However, they oftentimes do not get close to this vast potential, leading to unimpressive games which the Wildcats win on skill alone. Examples would be each of their games this past week, where UK played vastly inferior opponents and couldn’t win by double digits. However, Calipari should be fully expected to have this team gunning on all cylinders by March. This week, they have a chance to avenge their loss to Tennessee, as the Vols trek to Lexington for a game on Tuesday. Over the weekend, they travel to Georgia.
- Wisconsin (21-4, LW: 7) Def. Nebraska 70-69, Lost to Northwestern 59-66. On Saturday, when the NCAA released the current top 16 seeds, the Badgers were a notable absentee. However, the next day, they lost a home contest to Northwestern, in which they turned the ball over a dozen times, compared to forcing just six from the Wildcats. While the loss is a definite setback for a team with one seed aspirations, there is still time in the season for Wisconsin to rebound. The process begins this week with an away game against Michigan preceding a home game against Maryland, a team in the thick of the Big Ten regular season race currently led by the Badgers.
- Florida State (21-5, LW: 11) Def. NC State 95-71, Lost to Notre Dame 72-84. Despite taking a tough loss on the road to the Irish, the Seminoles’ résumé remains top notch. In addition, they blew out the lowly Wolfpack behind 21 points from freshman Jonathan Isaac. Moving forward, the Seminoles will only have one game this week. Dwayne Bacon will look to keep his sizzling season going in the Steel City, as Florida State takes on Pittsburgh next weekend.
- West Virginia (20-5, LW: 15) Def. Oklahoma 61-50, Def. Kansas State 85-66. Last week was rather quiet for the Mountaineers, as they played and beat the teams in front of them. The win over a good K-State team was especially impressive, as WVU and their pressure defense were able to pull away in the second half to exact revenge on the Wildcats. Coming up for Bob Huggins is none other than Kansas, as his teams faces the herculean task of playing in Allen Fieldhouse this week. On Saturday, they will host the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
- Purdue (20-5, LW: 18) Def. Indiana 69-64. For how disappointing this season has been for the Hoosiers, it has been that good for Purdue. The Boilermakers went into Assembly Hall in their only game this week, and came away with a hard-fought victory that further weakened the Hoosiers’ tournament case. For Purdue, however, it was another quality road win to put on their résumé. They get to return home this week, as they first play conference minnows Rutgers, and then Michigan State, a team that like Indiana had sky-high expectations at the start of the season and is now fighting to get in the tourney at all. Two wins this week should put Purdue firmly in the picture for a top four seed come Selection Sunday.
- Cincinnati (22-3, LW: 12) Def. Central Florida 60-50, Lost to SMU 51-60. For most of the season, the Bearcats have bore only a minimal resemblance to past Mick Cronin teams. However, this past week, they had a pair of grinders, a win over the Knights at home, and a tough loss on the road in which they couldn’t do anything right on offense for the last ten minutes of the game. Credit should go to the SMU defense, but Cincy’s shooters from deep couldn’t have hit water if they fell out of a boat. They’ll move forward with battles against lowly South Florida and upstart Tulsa.
- SMU (22-4, LW: 23) Def. Temple 66-50, Def. Cincinnati 60-51. It was an impressive defensive week for the Mustangs, who saw a major jump in their ranking on the back of two strong performances. Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye leads the team at over 18 points a game, and is the frontrunner for AAC Player of the Year. The Ponies will take on Tulane and Houston next. They had an interesting fan sitting in the front row against Cincinnati: President George W. Bush.
- Virginia (18-6, LW: 14) Def. Louisville 71-55, Lost to Virginia Tech 78-80. Just like when the teams played at the Yum! Center, Virginia proved to be Louisville’s kryptonite when the teams met in Charlottesville last week. However, the Cavs were unable to have a perfect week, as they dropped a tough heartbreaker on the road to the rival Hokies in a game that went to double overtime. Virginia may have the hardest remaining schedule of anyone in the country. This week alone, they host Duke and travel to North Carolina. Quite a daunting pair of opponents.
- Florida (20-5, LW: 17) Def. Georgia 72-60, Def. Texas A&M 71-62. After being taken to overtime in their own building by the Bulldogs, the Gators went to Athens and picked up a convincing W behind 15 bench points from guard Chris Chiozza. Against A&M, Florida successfully defended their home court to pick up their tenth win in SEC play. They must leave the Swamp for both games this weekend, as their road trip will take them first to Auburn, and then on to Starkville to play Ben Howland and Mississippi State. Return games against South Carolina and Kentucky are waiting ominously on the schedule, though the Gators must not look past their opponents this week.
- Wichita State (23-4, LW: 24) Def. Missouri State 80-62, Def. Loyola (IL) 81-64. The Shockers continued to roll their MVC opponents, winning two more to get to 13-1 in conference play, which puts them in a tie with rival Illinois State. This is still a team flying a bit under the radar, but expect them to burst onto the national scene before long. This week, their victims will be Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa. Wichita State is rolling right now, and should prevail in both contests.
- St. Mary’s (22-3, LW: 21) Def. Portland 51-41, Lost to Gonzaga 64-74. The Gaels were seen as the last hope for someone to stop Gonzaga, and they were beaten decisively. Jock Landale scored 24 points for St. Mary’s despite dealing with extensive foul trouble, but it wasn’t enough against the deeper and more skilled Zags. Still, there is a reason the Gaels have not lost a conference game to anyone but Gonzaga. They are a cut above the rest of the WCC. They’ll look to prove it with games against Loyola Marymount and BYU this week. The game against the Cougars will be especially tricky, as it will come in the raucous environment of the Marriott Center in Provo.
- Creighton (21-4, LW: 25) Def. DePaul 93-58. Even with their star out for the year, the Jays will not concede this season. Against poor DePaul, they showed out, shooting over 60 percent and dishing out 24 assists. Between Marcus Foster, Justin Patton, and others, there is still legitimate top talent on this roster. This week, Creighton will come east for a game against Seton Hall during the week, and then return to Omaha for a home contest against Georgetown on Sunday.
- South Carolina (20-5, LW: 22) Lost to Alabama 86-90, Def. Mississippi State 77-73. At the top of the SEC, three teams are tied for the conference lead with 10-2 records. Two of them are usual suspects, Kentucky and Florida. The third is the South Carolina Gamecocks. The impressive thing is that had South Carolina not lost a heartbreaker to Alabama in four overtimes, they would have sole possession of first place. This week, the Gamecocks will meet Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
- Northwestern (19-6, LW: NR) Lost to Illinois 61-68, Def. Wisconsin 66-59. On the strength of what may be the best conference win in the Big Ten this season, the Wildcats are back in the polls with a stronger tournament résumé than ever. The win, on the road against the Wisconsin Badgers, more than offset their tough loss to the Illini. How will the Wildcats follow up their shocking victory? With contests against Maryland and the worst team in the Big Ten, Rutgers. Both games will be played at home.
- Butler (19-6, LW: 19) Def. Marquette 68-65, Lost to Providence 65-71. The road victory over Marquette was impressive, and puts the Golden Eagles’ hopes for a tourney bid in jeopardy. However, the Bulldogs couldn’t follow it up with another win, falling in Providence against the Friars. It has been an enigmatic season for the Bulldogs, as in addition to the Providence loss, they had losses at home to Indiana State and Georgetown, while also wins over Villanova, Cincinnati, and Arizona. This week, they have home games against St. John’s and DePaul on the docket.
Just Missed the Cut: Notre Dame, Kansas State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Maryland
There are just three weeks left in the college basketball regular season. Some teams have played the worst part of their schedule, like Oregon, and should have every opportunity to coast into March. Others, however, like Virginia, must now face a gauntlet of ranked teams in a stretch of games that could potentially define their entire season. A team to watch this week? Kansas. The Jayhawks were run out of the gym in Morgantown, and have a chance to avenge that loss this week. They will also meet Baylor in Waco over the weekend. Winning both games this week will all but clinch a thirteenth consecutive conference crown for Bill Self. As March approaches, the cream will rise to the top, while pretenders will fade into the background.