There’s a top tier of four teams in college basketball, at least that’s what the AP Top 25 Poll voters seem to think. No. 1 Tennessee, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Virginia and No. 4 Gonzaga maintained their respective rankings in the latest AP poll that was released Monday, marking the third week in a row that those top four teams were ranked in the same order.
But 17 teams did move up or down in the AP poll this week, including three schools that improved their standing in the top 10.
Here are our reactions to the college basketball AP Top 25 Poll for Week 14.
Have the top four teams separated themselves?
As mentioned earlier, the AP poll voters appear to have made a delineation separating Tennessee, Duke, Virginia and Gonzaga from the next group of teams that includes No. 5 Kentucky, No. 6 Nevada, No. 7 Michigan, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 9 Michigan State and No. 10 Marquette.
That holds true with a theory we proposed last week. We graphed the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency for the best teams in the country and compared them to past national champions.
We found that Tennessee, Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga and Michigan State – the latter of which is on a two-game losing streak and recently announced that guard Joshua Langford will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury – had separated themselves from the pack as the leading national title contenders this season.
Remember that teams can reasonably move in or out of this elite pack, as shown by the recent skid by the Spartans. For example, No. 5 Kentucky appears next in line and maybe when it gets to the door, the bouncer will pull back the velvet ropes and let the Wildcats join this exclusive club. They’ll have the chance to prove they belong when they host the Volunteers on Feb. 16.
But for now, there appears to be a clearly defined group of top-four teams.
Speaking of Kentucky…
For the fourth week in a row, the Wildcats climbed in the AP Top 25 Poll. This week, they jumped two spots to No. 5 after a pair of road wins at Vanderbilt and Florida. They dominated the Commodores 87-52 just six days after the Volunteers needed overtime to win in the same building, then they had an impressive run to finish the second half in a 65-54 win at Florida Saturday.
Kentucky will take an eight-game winning streak into its home game against South Carolina Tuesday.
The Wildcats are one of just seven teams that’s ranked in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on kenpom.com. At worst, that puts them in college basketball’s second tier of teams that includes Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Iowa State, but it might only be a matter of time until they’re seen as equals to Tennessee, Duke, Virginia and Gonzaga – if they’re not already.
Does the Big 12 or Big Ten have a title contender?
We promise this isn’t an overreaction or a hot take. But if you take a step back and look at the top of the Big 12 and the Big Ten, are those teams on the same level as the top four teams in the AP poll?
Michigan fell two spots to No. 7, Michigan State slid three spots to No. 9 and Kansas dropped two spots to No. 13 in the latest AP poll. That means the ACC and SEC have two teams (and the WCC and Mountain West have one team each) that are ranked higher than the highest-ranked Big Ten team.
The ACC has four teams ranked higher than Kansas and seven different conferences have at least one team ranked higher than the Jayhawks.
Michigan, Michigan State and Kansas have strong records, resumes and efficiency margins — we don’t dispute that.
But each team has taken a recent downturn that makes it fair to wonder if they’re on the short list of national title contenders.
No love for Baylor
Baylor is currently tied for first in the Big 12 with Kansas State, and the Bears are riding a six-game winning streak into their road game at Texas Wednesday. That means they’ve gone undefeated in the last three weeks, winning two games since the release of each of the previous three AP polls.
Yet they only received 44 votes in the latest AP poll, which puts them fifth among “Others Receiving Votes.”
Baylor is 25th on kenpom.com, 26th in KPI, 29th in the NET and 30th in BPI, so it’s not some great injustice that the Bears aren’t ranked this week. Advanced analytics suggest they’re a borderline top-25 team and that’s where they fall in the AP poll, but it’s surprising just how little consideration they received for Monday’s poll.
They would’ve needed 99 more votes (143, or roughly triple the number they received) to be ranked No. 25.
That comes after a week in which Baylor beat Oklahoma on the road by 30, then TCU at home by 26. Both schools were ranked in mid-January.
The Bears are also just over two weeks removed from an 11-point win over then-No. 8 Texas Tech.
Baylor’s 15-6 record is worse than any team that’s ranked in the latest AP poll, but four teams ranked between No. 15 and No. 25 also have six losses.
At this rate, it might take one more undefeated week, if not two, for Baylor to crack the AP Top 25, which seems like an unreasonably high bar, even for a team with a pair of Quadrant 4 losses.