The college basketball season, like any other college sports, is going to experience great changes within the rankings, through quality wins, bad upsets, and teams rising due to surprising wins. And within the last two years we’ve seen a lot more upsets and a lot more new programs make splashes and show they can compete with the usual powerhouses. This Top 25 and even Top 10 features several surprises in the AP poll. Here are, in my opinion, the biggest risers and fallers of the week.
Riser: #7 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Safe to say that the chairs at Texas Tech University are safe at least for a little while. All kidding aside, this Red Raider team proves to be more and more legitimate every week. Last week, they knocked off Texas at the buzzer and then went on the road to TCU and defeated the Horned Frogs by 12. This defense, currently ranked #8 in the nation, allowed no more than 71 points on their 4-game winning streak. They also held TCU, the 9th best offense in the nation at 85.8 points per game, to just 71. In addition, they held a talented Oklahoma State offense (77.9 points per game) to just 70. Neither team is ranked right now but the Big 12 is deeper and a lot more competitive than in previous years, where it felt like it was always Kansas, West Virginia, and one random splash that had a legitimate shot to make it to the Final Four. In addition to their great defense, their offense is not too bad either at 76.7 points per game. Keenan Evans scored 38 against Texas, and Jarrett Culver led the way with 20 points including 4 3-pointers against TCU. They are a well-coached team that continue to make big leaps here in the Big 12, and they were rewarded from the AP poll with a jump from 10 to 7 this week.
Riser: #16 Clemson Tigers
For the last 5 years, Clemson has been such a dominant football program, including a National Championship last year, that their basketball team has constantly gotten slept on by fans. Enter a small upset victory against the defending National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels, and all of a sudden they have a lot more public spotlight. But this team deserves more public attention with the way they have been rising and the way they’ve dominated defensively. Their defense played very well for most of the game against North Carolina. The Tar Heels made a late second half run to tie the game late, but that is expected from a talented offense especially in college basketball. Clemson was stifling Carolina for much of the first half inside blocking shots and getting rebounds defensively. They were also able to move the ball quickly and effectively on UNC’s defense, and especially dominated from the corner 3 position. Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, and Gabe DeVoe combined for 11-for-21 from behind the arc in that game, showing how they can get off to fast starts and be able to use their defense to hold leads. They continued that with a 75-67 road victory against Wake Forest, who granted hasn’t been great this year, but 9-14 in the ACC is like 14-10 in another conference, so they are still a tough test. They only have one game this week, against Pitt this Thursday, so there is potential that momentum could be lost from this extended time off. But what Clemson’s rise proves is just how balanced a team they are and how ready they are to face consistent powerhouses and beat them like they did last week against the defending champion Tar Heels.
Riser: Missouri Tigers
Some teams, when a top 5 talent in the nation go down, could just crumble and fall apart. That has not been the case for Missouri, who has been a borderline bracket team all year long with a couple high quality wins. Two of those have come this past week, against two of the better teams in the SEC in Alabama and Kentucky. Missouri’s 45th ranked defense was especially strong in these two games, as they won both 69-60. Despite dynamic freshman Collin Sexton scoring 23 on them, there was only one other scorer in double digits for the Crimson Tide. In addition, Kassius Robertson played even with Sexton, with 22 points and 4 3-pointers made in that game. Against Kentucky, they held some of Kentucky’s best players, including Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, and P.J. Washington, all in single digit scoring and a combined 7-for-21 shooting. They also held Kentucky to just 2-for-20 from shooting the 3 ball, which is a very impressive mark for any defense. Robertson had another strong game in that one too, with 16 points and 4 assists, but also received 16 from Jordan Barnett. They continue to do well with balanced scoring despite losing Porter Jr. for the season, still remaining in the top half of the nation. They also got to the line very often and shot 24 for 33 from the line against Kentucky, which is very difficult to do against a Kentucky defense that has been great year in and year out. So overall, this leap isn’t one to jump them into the rankings, but this Missouri team can still make a leap into the tournament bracket if they keep getting quality wins like this.
Faller: Florida Gators
This is a team I have liked for a while as a threat in the NCAA tournament every year. They seem to develop players well and maintain them throughout their entire college degree. They have many talented players, including Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, and Jalen Hudson. However, this week was not a good one for them, as they lost badly against both Alabama and Georgia. Their offense struggled, scoring only 60 points against Georgia and 50 against Alabama. Granted, both those teams have defenses in the Top 100 in the nation, especially with Georgia being ranked 37th. However, Florida’s offense is too talented to be going in that big of offensive slumps. And with Alabama and Tennessee rising, and Texas A&M playing a lot better now too, Florida’s stock in the SEC is not as strong as it once was. And even though I still believe they will make it and I still believe they are a talented team, losing games in conference is never a good thing especially with the SEC getting better with the emergence of new teams. And you can’t win when you get 1 point from your bench in a single game. That never goes your way especially against those top defenses. Florida can still do it with their talent, but their stock is falling big right now and need adjustments.
Faller: Wichita State Shockers
One loss can mean big. When you’re 12-10 in a non-power conference, it generally means you got upset by a team that isn’t legitimate. That is what happened when Wichita State got upset by Temple this past Thursday, falling 81-79. I don’t say this because I think it was a terrible loss. It isn’t like they got blown out or they lost to a 7-15 team. This Temple Owl team beat Clemson, Auburn, Wisconsin, and South Carolina this year. However, in this better conference, with teams like Cincinnati, Houston, and SMU in their conference too, they can’t get away with bad losses like they could in the Missouri Valley Conference, where their only competition was Northern Iowa for the last 3 years. This also proves how their defense has fallen from what it was. Wichita State, under coach Gregg Marshall, have been a consistently great defense from their Final Four run as a 9 seed to today. But this year, it has been vulnerable at times, especially allowing 81 last week to Temple. Temple is an offense averaging 68.7 points per game, which is currently 289th in the nation. This just shows how vulnerable they have become getting from their preseason ranking and even their consistent middle of the season ranking still in the middle tier top 25. They can turn it around come tournament time, as they have been very pesky year in and year out. But this is not the same Wichita State team that was so dominant, and losses like this show that.
Faller: #9 Duke Blue Devils
This seems like the most obvious of the fallers for the Week 14 edition of stock watch. Arguably the most talented team in basketball with all their 5-star recruits just lost to St. John’s, an 11-13 team that was on a losing streak that lasted into the calendar year of 2017. A team that is 0-11 in their conference, the Big East, just beat the best team in the ACC, the best conference in college basketball. That’s not a good look for a Duke team that is so talented. Why do I say that? Because they continue to be vulnerable to the random upsets. They have lost to Boston College, N.C. State, and now St. Johns, all teams they should have no business losing to. I mentioned this last year when everybody was riding the Duke bandwagon when they won the ACC tournament. They were upset-vulnerable and ended up losing to South Carolina, which I predicted right when I saw the matchup despite me not doing it initially in my bracket (I picked Marquette, oops). This team is more talented, but reminds me of that team just because of losses like these, and think they can be vulnerable to strange opponents that nobody thinks stands a chance to beat them like South Carolina was last year. We’ll see come March Madness if the right team appears in their side of the bracket, but Duke is not as much of a lock for the Final Four with losses like these.