College Pride Press Top 25 – Week 16

There are only two weeks of regular season basketball left! There’s two ways to look at this: with the glass half empty, because college basketball will end soon, or with the glass half full, because it’s almost March! Indeed, that remarkable time, which rivals only Christmas in the fun and emotion, is just two weeks away. Still, some teams are playing for March already, attempting to augment their résumés and stave off the dogs of bad losses. However, listed below, you won’t find any of those teams. No, these are the units that are gearing up to not only play meaningful games in March, but contend for the national title. Squads like Oregon, Duke, and Florida seem to be rounding into form at the right time. Still, others have hit a rough patch that they need to stop. If teams like Virginia and Wisconsin keep sliding, their seeding could be affected so aversely that just making the second weekend would be a coup. Without further ado, here’s this week’s top 25:

 

  1. Gonzaga (28-0, LW: 1) Def. San Francisco 96-61, Def. Pacific 82-61. It’s going to happen. The Zags are closing in on a perfect regular season, and after another two blowouts this week, it is likely a mere formality. In addition to their current 28 game winning streak, the Zags have a twenty-game streak of winning by double digits. With guards like Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss, that streak should not be snapped during this upcoming week. First up for the Zags will be a road game against San Diego. That’s on Thursday. On Saturday, they have a home game against BYU. Assuming they win both of those games, Mark Few will guide a 30-0 Bulldogs unit into the WCC tournament, which will begin March 2nd from Paradise, Nevada.

 

  1. Kansas (24-3, LW: 3) Def. West Virginia 84-80, Def. Baylor 67-65. With some drama, the Jayhawks managed to pass both of their tests last week. The results truly showed what separates championship-caliber programs from great programs: the ability to win close games no matter the situation. They trailed for large parts of both contests, but did enough to claim a pair of victories. Devonte’ Graham may not put up the numbers of Frank Mason, but he’s got just as large of a clutch gene and deserves a similar amount of hype, although he had his worst game of the year against Baylor. With the Big 12 title all but secured, the Jayhawks can now zero in on playing efficient basketball and ensuring that everything is in order for March. Next opponents for them are TCU and Texas, the latter of which will be on the road.

 

  1. Louisville (22-5, LW: 4) Def. Syracuse 76-72, Def. Virginia Tech 94-90. It may have only been by a combined eight points, but the two wins last week for the Cards allowed them to keep pace one game back of North Carolina in the ACC standings. Their wild win over the Hokies was spearheaded by Donovan Mitchell’s 26 points and five three-pointers. Louisville must make the difficult trip to the Dean Dome in their next contest, before coming back to the Yum! Center for a return contest against familiar face Syracuse, who will look to avenge the overtime loss Louisville handed them at the Carrier Dome.

 

  1. Villanova (26-2, LW: 2) Def. DePaul 75-62, Def. Seton Hall 92-70. Due to some voter discrepancy, the Wildcats fell a couple places this week. However, it is not indicative of a drop in talent, or expectations. They showed out in a hostile environment, getting 22 points from Jalen Brunson on their way to a blowout win over Seton Hall. The Wildcats have four players that average double-digit scoring, and have to be considered a team in pole position to grab a number one seed. They’ve also got just three regular season games left, and play two of them this week. Both will be at home, and their opponents are Butler and Creighton, a pair of the Big East’s better teams. Both are capable of keeping the game close and pressing ‘Nova into a tough contest.

 

  1. North Carolina (23-5, LW: 8) Def. NC State 97-73, Def. Virginia 65-41. Carolina jumped up three spots after a pair of impressive performances. They did it in different ways, too, showcasing their prowess on both ends of the floor. Against the Wolfpack, they scored nearly a hundred points and shot 56 percent. Then, they held Virginia to 28 percent shooting from the field in a stellar defensive effort. Next up for UNC, a massive showdown against Louisville. That game will be on Wednesday night. Then, on Saturday, they have a road game against Pittsburgh.

 

  1. Oregon (24-4, LW: 7) Def. Utah 79-61, Def. Colorado 101-73. Somehow, Oregon was at one point ranked all the way down in the twenties this season. Clearly, the Ducks have since righted the ship and performed like the team people expected them to be in the preseason. Much of that has to do with Dillon Brooks, who was injured in the beginning of the season, and then took some time to get loose. Now, however, the star Canadian leads the Ducks with over fifteen points a game. Next up for Oregon is a road trip to northern California, where they and travel partner Oregon State (congrats on the win!) will play Cal and Stanford.

 

  1. Arizona (25-3, LW: 9) Def. Washington State 78-59, Def. Washington 76-68. Arizona’s trip to the northwest resulted in two victories, though they faced a valiant challenge from Markelle Fultz and the Washington Huskies. The two wins moved Arizona to 15-1 in Pac-12 play, putting them one game in front of Oregon. Their two games this week will be played from the friendly confines of the McKale Center. First up, the USC Trojans. But then, on Saturday, the UCLA Bruins will make the trip to the desert for a rematch of epic proportions, as Arizona handed UCLA their only home loss of the season. It will be interesting to see if Allonzo Trier can build on the 21-point game he had against Washington. Getting him going would spell danger for the Trojans and Bruins.

 

  1. UCLA (24-3, LW: 6) Def. USC 102-70. In their only game this past week, UCLA got a chance to avenge one of their earlier losses, and just like they did to Oregon, the Bruins completed the job. This time, they did it in emphatic fashion, decimating the Trojans. The box score looked like something out of a video game, as each starter scored at least thirteen points, led by Bryce Alford’s 26. The coach’s son also hit five triples, while center Thomas Welsh grabbed sixteen rebounds. Lonzo Ball flirted with a triple double, putting up 15, 8, and 8. This coming week, UCLA again has a chance to avenge a loss, as they play their return game against Arizona. However, to get this victory, they will have to do it on the road. Prior to that showdown, they will first head to Tempe, where they will likely beat the Arizona State Sun Devils.

 

  1. Duke (22-5, LW: 10) Def. Virginia 65-55, Def. Wake Forest 99-94. Duke has now tucked itself inside the CPP Top 10, after winning in Charlottesville and outshooting the Demon Deacons. Coach K’s squad seems to be hitting their stride at the right time, as their current seven game winning streak is more indicative of what people had in mind for Duke during the preseason. The Blue Devils will look to stay hot this week with games against Syracuse and Miami. However, both contests will be on the road, and Duke always takes the best shot from opposing fan bases when playing in hostile confines.

 

  1. Kentucky (22-5, LW: 11) Def. Tennessee 83-58, Def. Georgia 82-77. The Wildcats were not going to miss their chance to avenge their worst loss of the season. When the Volunteers came to Rupp Arena, there was an overwhelming chance the Wildcats would blow them out, which is exactly what happened. They then had a tougher time on the road against Georgia, but still got away thanks to De’Aaron Fox. Kentucky travels to Missouri on Tuesday for what should be an easy win. However, the Wildcats will host Florida in a game that will effectively decide the SEC over the weekend. Both teams sit at 12-2 in conference play, so this late in the season, the winner has a clear inside track to the title.

 

  1. Baylor (22-5, LW: 5) Lost to Texas Tech 78-84, Lost to Kansas 65-67. Last week was a rough one for the Bears, who dealt with multiple issues, including a technical foul, during their loss to the Red Raiders, before being unable to finish the Jayhawks off at home despite playing the better game. Still, they had the ball with a chance to tie against Kansas, but couldn’t come up with the crucial bucket. It will be difficult for the Bears to move on, but they can still regroup and put themselves back in the one seed conversation by winning out the regular season. That quest starts this week at home against Oklahoma, and on the road against Iowa State.

 

  1. Florida (22-5, LW: 19) Def. Auburn 114-95, Def. Mississippi State 57-52. Like an alligator lurking just under the surface of the water with prey in his sights, the Florida basketball team has looked for the right time to make a jump up the polls. Now, after jumping seven spots, that time has arrived. The Gators won a shootout in Auburn before prevailing in a defensive slugfest in Starkville, showing their ability to beat teams of both varieties. However, for the surging Gators, this will be the most important week of the season. First up will be a home game against South Carolina, who although may appear to be fading are more than capable of coming to the swamp and winning. On Saturday is the biggest game of the year for Florida. Coach White will take his team to Lexington and attempt to beat the Kentucky Wildcats on their own floor.

 

  1. West Virginia (21-6, LW: 14) Lost to Kansas, 80-84, Def. Texas Tech 83-74. There were under three minutes left. A fourteen-point lead. And they lost. In a game that is sure to make the Warriors and Indians feel a bit better about 3-1, the Mountaineers saw literally everything go wrong that possibly could, as Kansas, behind Frank Mason, rallied to stun WVU and deny them the best road win of the season. Rebounding from this must have been excruciatingly difficult, as the loss was probably still on their minds when their next game tipped off. But, forty minutes and 24 Jevon Carter points later, the Mountaineers had beaten Texas Tech. Bob Huggins and his crew host Texas on Monday night and then travel to TCU for a game on Saturday afternoon.

 

  1. Purdue (22-5, LW: 15) Def. Rutgers 74-55, Def. Michigan State 80-63. As the Badgers have fallen, the Boilermakers have risen. They’ve won five in a row now, after dispatching the Spartans and the wart on the bottom of the Big Ten’s foot, also known as Rutgers. Caleb Swanigan continues to dominate the paint, and collected his 23rd double-double against Coach Izzo’s team. His quest for more continues this week with a pair of games on the road. Matt Painter will guide his team first to Penn State, before having to play an upstart Michigan team at the Crisler Center.

 

  1. Cincinnati (24-3, LW: 16) Def. South Florida 68-54, Def. Tulsa 80-60. It was strictly business for Cincy, as they handled USF on the road before blowing out the Golden Hurricane from their home arena. Kyle Washington averaged 15.5 points per game over the week, bumping his season average to 13.8 a contest. There are two more American foes for Cincy to deal with this week. Mick Cronin’s squad will first host Memphis during the week, and play at Central Florida on Sunday.

 

  1. SMU (24-4, LW: 17) Def. Tulane 80-75, Def. Houston 76-66. The Mustangs sleepwalked through their game against Tulane, facing multiple double-digit deficits before pulling out the win. However, they were able to pick up a quality road victory against Houston, which was their tenth in a row. Semi Ojeleye and Ben Moore both played a full forty minutes and combined for forty points against the Cougars. SMU is in first place in the AAC, and travels to surging UConn next Saturday in their only contest of the upcoming week.

 

  1. Wisconsin (22-5, LW: 12) Lost to Michigan 58-64, Def. Maryland 71-60. Are the Badgers fading? For two consecutive weeks, they have taken a loss. That is not the sign of a team hitting its stride for March. However, their performance against Maryland showed that they still may have some bullets in the chamber for the big games coming in a couple weeks. For now, they’ll look to finish the regular season on a high note. Currently, they and Purdue are tied atop the Big Ten standings, with Maryland one game behind. Coming up for the enigmatic Nigel Hayes and his teammates are Ohio State and Michigan State. Winning both would be a coup for the Badgers, as they spend the entire week on the road.

 

  1. Butler (21-6, LW: 25) Def. St. John’s 110-86, Def. DePaul 82-66. In the win over the Red Storm, Butler scored at an incredible rate. They got twenty points from Andrew Chrabascz and former Memphis guard Avery Woodson, in addition to Kelan Martin being his usual self and scoring 19 to go along with nine boards. This is a team capable of reaching the third weekend in March, and capable of being an upset victim in the round of 64. This week will help us tell which one is more likely when the tournament actually arrives, as both of the Bulldogs’ upcoming opponents, Villanova and Xavier, are tournament quality. In addition, Butler will have to play both games on the road.

 

  1. Virginia (18-8, LW: 18) Lost to Duke 55-65, Lost to North Carolina 41-65. Someone took Virginia’s deliberate but efficient offense and replaced it with a farce. Against Duke, they shot 5-20 from beyond the arc, a performance so bad there was no chance they could do worse against the Tar Heels. Except, they went 2-20 in Chapel Hill en route to scoring their lowest point total since scoring 38 against Wisconsin in 2013. The Cavs have to put those performances behind them. They have a chance for a quick turnaround, as they play Monday against Miami. Over the weekend, they will travel to Raleigh for a game against the NC State Wolfpack, who are spinning out of control.

 

  1. Florida State (21-6, LW: 13) Lost to Pittsburgh 66-80. Florida State played only once this past week, and took a negative result against the Pitt Panthers. This winless week, combined with positive results for several of the teams around them in the polls, meant Florida State had to plummet down multiple spots. Dwayne Bacon was shockingly held scoreless by the Panthers in only twenty minutes of game action. Surely, he’ll be on a mission when the Seminoles next take the court, which will be on Monday night against Boston College. They follow that one up with a road game against Clemson.

 

  1. St. Mary’s (24-3, LW: 21) Def. Loyola Marymount 81-48, Def. BYU 70-57. The Gaels rebounded nicely from their loss to Gonzaga, knocking down LMU behind Jock Landale’s double-double. Then, in one of the toughest road tests on western side of the country, Coach Bennett’s team prevailed against BYU in Provo. With the WCC tournament beginning next week, the two games the Gaels will play this week represent the last of their regular season. These final contests will be contested at Pepperdine and at home against Santa Clara.

 

  1. Notre Dame (21-7, LW: NR) Def. Boston College 84-76, Def. NC State 81-72. Back in the rankings this week are the Irish, in a result that is unsurprising when combining their road wins last week with the turbulence faced by teams at the end of the poll. Sliding the Irish back seems to have been an easy vote. Budding star Bonzie Colson is only listed at six foot five, but averages ten and a half rebounds per game and is one of the most skilled post players in America. Notre Dame hosts Georgia Tech in their only game of the next seven days.

 

  1. Wichita State (25-4, LW: 20) Def. Southern Illinois 87-68, Def. Northern Iowa 73-44. Another week, another pair of blowouts for the Shockers. It will be very interesting to see what the committee does with them on Selection Sunday. They are deserving of a six seed, but may get stuck down on the eight or nine line. If that happens, it would be in true, psychopathic committee fashion for the Shockers to be in an 8-9 game opposite of one seed Gonzaga. Anyways, Wichita State must first finish off their regular season, which they do this week with games against Evansville and Missouri State, and then string together a few victories in the MVC tourney the following week.

 

  1. Creighton (22-5, LW: 22) Lost to Seton Hall 81-87, Def. Georgetown 87-70. Creighton did their job on Sunday, picking off a Hoya team limping to the finish that may be in the market for a new coach sometime soon. However, they themselves were also defeated, being upset in a road game against Seton Hall. Still, the Jays have an impressive résumé, and deserved to keep a spot in the top 25. This coming week, they’ve got a home contest against Providence, before traveling to Philly for a clash with the Villanova Wildcats.

 

  1. Michigan (17-10, LW: NR) Def. Wisconsin 64-58, Lost to Minnesota 78-83. In an intriguing result, Michigan claimed the 25th most votes this past week. However, despite an up and down season, the Wolverines earned this spot with their win over the highly rated Badgers last Thursday. Meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with losing at Minnesota this year, a team that has hit the twenty-win plateau. Moving forward for Michigan, they’ve got a road game against Rutgers, which they should win by a hundred, and then a home game against Purdue, in which a win would assure them of a tournament spot.

 

Just Missed the Cut: Maryland, Oklahoma State, VCU, Iowa State, Vermont

 

With just two weeks (and in some conferences, one!) of regular season play left, now is the time to pick up that victory that pushes a team up a seed line. For either UNC or Louisville, a win this week could mean a number one seed. In the game between Florida and Kentucky, the winner not only will likely win the SEC regular season title, but potentially push themselves onto the two line. Stay tuned in, everyone, it should be as exciting and chaotic as ever!

Nick Schwartz
Senior History major at UConn, and planning to attend graduate school in the future. One of the best moments of my life was winning a national title my freshman year. Husky basketball is a lifestyle! Avid New York sports fan, as well: Yankees, Giants, Knicks, Rangers! Also root for Manchester City and NYCFC.

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