At this point during last year’s college basketball season, the teams in the Associated Press top 25 included the then-undefeated University of Kentucky Wildcats, the runners in the NCAA Division I National Championship game, the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the Duke University Blue Devils. These three teams made up three quarters of the national semifinalists from last year’s tournament. The other team, the Michigan State University Spartans, received only one vote in the AP top 25, not even cracking the rankings.
What a difference a year makes. Looking at the top 25 now, one could find teams such as Providence, Dayton and Iowa. These are not exactly the basketball programs that people expect to be at the top of the rankings.
As of February 1, Michigan State is ranked 10th in the country, while the other three final four teams aren’t even in the top 25.
For the Blue Devils, this is unfamiliar territory. They are unranked for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. Duke put themselves in this position with multiple losses to unranked teams, including an overtime defeat at home against the University of Utah Utes and the Syracuse University Orange. Kentucky is currently ranked 20th, but after a road loss to the unranked University of Tennessee Volunteers on February 2, they may drop off as well.
As of February 1, there have been five different teams ranked 1st in the nation, happening for the first time since 1949, according to an article found on SB Nation. In comparison, Kentucky remained ranked first through the same period of time.
Upsets haven’t been uncommon this year, for ranked teams in general. In fact the unusual amount of upsets have proven that parody is at a premium in collegiate basketball right now.
The same SB Nation article notes that 14 AP top 10 teams lost as recently as January 1. The University of North Carolina Tar Heels, the preseason number one ranked team, lost on the road to the University of Northern Iowa Panthers early in the season. The current number one team, The University of Oklahoma Sooners lost to the unranked Kansas State University Jayhawks on February 6, possibly making room for a new top ranked team. The home state University of Maryland Terrapins, spending all season in the AP top ten, fell to the unranked University of Michigan Wolverines on the road. The ninth ranked University of Virginia Cavaliers lost to an unranked team their second game of the season to the George Washington University Colonials.
With there being more upsets than usual this year in college hoops, is it safe to assume that the AP top 25 rankings are an outdated measure of how talented a basketball program is. A poll that began during the 1948-49 season, the ranking system’s main purpose is to spark debate and compare different teams. But it has proven to not even be a major factor in selecting teams for the NCAA Tournament. A recent example occurred in 2014 when the then 25th ranked Southern Methodist University failed to qualify. It seems to be more of a tv ratings draw now.
Elite players once all committed to the same programs year after year. The trend as of late has shown that the elites are now looking for lesser known schools to build a legacy. Players such as Adam Morrison, Ray McCallum Jr, Damien Lillard, and of course Steph Curry, found extreme success playing at schools many have never heard of and dominated. Many recently have followed this model and it has created a competitive scene across the collegiate landscape.
No matter who finishes in or out of the top 25, it is sure to be another interesting finish to the season with conference tournaments about a month away.