Top 25: A Tale of Two Years

By Zachery Bonzheim

2016 has been characterized as one of the most unique, out of the ordinary, and strange years in recent memory. There were changes in nearly every realm of life, even college basketball. This article looks to compare the current landscape of college basketball to this same time last year. All of the data in regards to this article is using the “2016-17 AP College Basketball Week 10 Poll”.

To begin, let’s examine the top teams in college basketball while hitting on where they were this time, last season.

  1. Baylor (15-0).To start week 10 the bears sat atop of the college basketball world, a much different story than last year. Baylor sat at #22 in the nation this time last year with a still impressive record of 12-3. What’s the difference? Perhaps the surge of junior, Johnathan Motley. Big man, Johnathan Motley and his 15.6 points per game, has improved in all aspects of his game. With rebounds going from 5.1 to 9.1, points increasing from 11.1 to 15.3, assists up from .9 to 2.1, and the lowing of personal fouls, Motley has made the jump to elite. The Bears look poised to continue their great form. Their impressive resume includes major wins against Michigan State, Oregon, Louisville, Xavier, Florida Gulf Coast, VCU, Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State. They have the #2 RPI in country proving their dominance.

    (Ed. Note:  By now we know that Baylor just received a historic beatdown at the hands of the West Virginia Mountaineers and this is a short lived ranking)

  2. Kansas (14-1).The Jayhawks are off and soaring, something we are all accustomed to. Last year, Kansas sat the #1 in the nation with an identical record of 14-1. What’s different from this year to last year? To be fair, they are still elite, they are still playing for a national title, but the only difference may be that there were no major undefeated teams left this time last year. Had Baylor not escaped their scares with Louisville, Iowa State, or Oklahoma State, it is very believable and probable that Kansas would be the top-ranked team. Kansas has nothing to worry about. An opening loss to Indiana (103-99) is the only blemish on their resume. Major wins coming against Duke, UNLV, and Kansas State, Stanford, Nebraska, Georgia, and Oklahoma, along with an RPI of 4 proves their worthiness of the second spot in the AP Poll. The emergence of a senior point guard, Frank Mason III, and freshman Josh Jackson have played a large part in their continued success. Mason III is scoring a team high 20.4 points, while dishing over five assists and snagging 4.5 rebounds. The Mason-Jackson tandem is averaging 35.8 points per game once you add in Jackson’s impressive 15.4 points per game. Their offensive firepower has led them to be averaging 86.3 points per game as a team, slotting them at 14th in the nation. Don’t be surprised if Kansas keeps this up and ends up playing deep into March.
  1. Villanova (15-1).The Wildcats of Villanova have been busy. After capping off a championship season they jumped into a schedule that would test them. This time last year the Wildcats sat at 6th in the nation with a record of 14-2. They were .500 against ranked teams, losses to #7 Oklahoma and #8 Virginia and wins to #6 Xavier and #18 Butler. This year, they have improved their games against ranked opponents sitting at 4-2. A schedule with wins coming against #15 Purdue, #23 Notre Dame, #10 Creighton, #15 Xavier, along with big with against Western Michigan, Wake Forest, UCF, Temple, and Marquette have entered them in the serious consideration for the title. Their only loss this year was at Hinkle Fieldhouse to the current #12 Butler Bulldogs, one of the toughest venues in the nation. A trio of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Jalen Brunson know what it takes to win it all and they are all in on this season. Be prepared to see them on national television more with big games against Marquette, Virginia, Georgetown twice, Providence, Butler, Xavier, and Creighton still left on the docket.
  2. UCLA (16-1)UCLA has been relying on a duo of super-freshman, Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf, and a duo of seniors, Bryce Alfred and Isaac Hamilton, to get the job done. This time last year the Bruins sat at a lackluster 11-6. They had impressive wins against #1 Kentucky, #20 Gonzaga, #7 Arizona, and an unranked UNLV team. With losses coming to Monmouth, Kansas, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Washington, and Washington State, it is not hard to understand why they were not ranked. What has been the difference? The definite answer has been their recruiting class. Although Alfred and Hamilton have been team leaders for years, Leaf and Ball and stepped up and brought their offense to life. The Bruins are scoring the ball at an extreme rate of 92.8 points per game (3rd in the nation). Not only are they scoring it, they are sharing the rock. The Bruins are averaging an NCAA-best 22.8 assists a game. The tandem of Leaf and Ball are averaging 32.1 points per game and 10.9 assists, that is over one-third of the team scoring and over a half of their assists. UCLA’s schedule has included wins over Nebraska, Texas A&M, at the time #1 Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio State, star-studded Cal, Stanford, and Oregon State. The only imperfection on UCLA’s record is a loss at Oregon on a buzzer beater from National Player of the Year candidate, Dillon Brooks. Don’t count the Bruins out of the championship game, it’s not to often the title is decided by a buzzer beater. Wait…
  3. Gonzaga (15-0). The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the only undefeated team in the AP Poll and the highest mid-major. We have all grown consistent to seeing them to in the top 25, and this time last year they were barely squeaking in at #25 and 13-3. What is the difference between an undefeated team and a team barely in the AP Top 25? The answer is closing out the games. Last season at this time, Gonzaga had suffered three losses to a total of 11 points. A one point loss to Texas A&M, a five-point loss to UCLA, and a five-point loss to Arizona is all the difference. Gonzaga did have good wins last year, #18 UCONN, Tennessee, Washington, and Washington State, but most of their remaining games were against low-level mid-majors just trying to enter the big dance. This year, Gonzaga has taken care of business. They have beaten a good San Diego State team, Florida, #21 Iowa State, #16 Arizona, Washington, and Tennessee. Gonzaga has not been doing this in down to wire games as last year but rather blowing teams out. With average points per game of 85.5 (16th in the nation) and allowing opponents to 65 points per game, the Bulldogs have been winning by an average of 20.5 points per game (3rd in the nation). This team, led by Nigel Williams-Goss, has remained to be the last unbeaten team in the country. With no ranked opponents until #21 Saint Mary’s on January, 14th, the Bulldogs will hold onto their streak a little longer.

Only one of the top five teams from last year’s top five; number one Kansas, number two Oklahoma, number three Maryland, number four Michigan State, and number five North Carolina, are in the top five right now. Furthermore, Kansas and North Carolina are the only teams from that bunch who are even ranked. With conference play underway, Michigan State (number one in the Big Ten at 12-6) and Maryland (number two in the Big Ten at 15-2), have made a much-needed turn midway through the season. Oklahoma has not been so fortunate going 6-9 and currently 0-4 in conference play, putting them in the last spot of the Big 12. These three teams all have some major commonalities, the loss of major players. Michigan State lost Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello, and Deyonta Davis; Oklahoma lost Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler, and Isaiah Cousins; and Maryland lost Diamond Stone, Jake Layman, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Robert Carter. These players were all NBA talent, some not being on current rosters, but these teams were loaded this time last year. Seeing the fate of Kansas, North Carolina, and two turned around clubs in Michigan State and Maryland, gives hope for the current top five in a year’s time. Yet, there always looms the impossible task of replacing a star-studded team in one offseason, just ask Oklahoma.