This college basketball season continues to be unpredictable. There was another day where three top ten teams fell, with Purdue, Ohio State, and Cincinnati being the victims to major upsets this week. And not only did Ohio State lose two games, they lost two games by double digits, including by 23 at Penn State. This week also saw some other upsets, including #10 Auburn falling at South Carolina and #11 Clemson falling at Florida State. As a result of all this, both Top 25 rankings and overall bracketology rankings have some major shakeups this week. Here are the three teams I believe that will be the most impacted both rising and falling this week.
Rising: #19 Wichita State
Fresh into the AAC, the Shockers have certainly not had the cakewalk they had this season in comparison to playing in the Missouri Valley Conference. That being said, they are still proving their dominance within this group of teams, and wins against a pesky Temple team and previously top-ten Cincinnati team will help their stock rise this week both in the conference and in the polls. The Shockers’ prolific offense showed in both matchups. Against a pesky Temple Owls team, the Shockers got a double-double from Shaquille Morris with 23 points and 13 rebounds. They also got 38 points from the bench, including 24 from Darral Willis Jr. Those two were very efficient as well, a major staple in the Wichita State offense ever since Gregg Marshall has coached this team. Those two players combined to shoot 18-for-21, and the team as a whole shot 56% from the field and 79% from the free throw line, which are both good numbers to go forward with. Moving on to the major upset that got them rising, Wichita State put up 76 on a very talented Cincinnati defense, including 3 starters in double-digits, led by Landry Shamet with 19 points and 5 assists. But it was also the defense that contributed to this victory. They held Cincinnati to just 32 points in the second half, and they held the Bearcats’ bench to just 16 for the entire game. Even though the team defense isn’t elite like it has been in years past (125th, 70.3 points allowed per game) it is still a well-coached team defense and again may show a higher ranking had they still been playing in the Missouri Valley Conference. Regardless, they don’t need to be stuck in the Missouri Valley Conference to show that they still can be dominant on both sides of the ball and still can be pesky in the tournament, as proven by winning on the road in a back-and-forth affair with the previous #5 ranked team in the nation.
Rising: Houston Cougars
I’ve mentioned how the AAC has had a lot more parity this year. And it is not just Wichita State who I have mentioned above. This Houston Cougars team also defeated Cincinnati and Temple this week, with the Cougars blowing out Temple on the road, 80-59. Their win against #5 Cincinnati puts the Cougars closer to them in the conference standings and could make them a borderline ranked team, which they have been several times earlier in the season. Against the Bearcats, Houston got a double double from Devin Davis, with 16 points and 10 rebounds. They also got 16 points and 4 assists from Rob Gray in that game, and as a result Houston had 4 players in double-digits in scoring. Defensively, like Wichita State, they limited the bench of Cincinnati to practically nothing. However, this time I am not exaggerating when I say practically nothing. This time, it means two whole points, which will never win you a game unless three starters have 20. Well, that didn’t happen in this game. Despite Cincinnati having 4 double-digit scorers, they had a lot of inefficient shooting. Jacob Evans shot just 3-of-9 from the field and 1-of-4 from 3 point territory. Gary Clark was just 4-for-10 and Jarron Cumberland was 3-of-9 overall and 2-of-6 from 3. That kind of performance shows how balanced Houston can play, and they were able to outduel the Bearcats’ #6 ranked defense in the nation in this game. Against Temple, they were able to put up 80 poins for the game. Once again, they had 4 scorers in double digits, showing how well they have distributed the basketball. Corey Davis Jr. led the way with 20 points and 5 rebounds, and Davis added another double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Galen Robinson also had a strong game in that one, with 12 points and 7 assists. Houston’s defense was also able to hold a talented Owl offense to just 59 points, with the highest individual scorer having 13. They also held Temple to 36.1% shooting from the field and 30.4% from 3. Temple also only had 7 assists in the entire game, which will almost never win you a basketball game. Overall, Houston is playing some of their best basketball at the right time, and on both ends of the floor. And that has helped them improve to a record of 21-5, only a game and a half back of 23-4 Cincinnati.
Rising: Baylor Bears
Another team that pulled off a Top-10 upset this week were the Baylor Bears. In what has been a very well-rounded Big 12, Baylor is one of those rising teams after beating what has been a breakout team all season in Texas Tech. They also edged out a struggling but still talented Texas Longhorns team in Austin, by a final of 74-73. This has been one of the best offensive teams Baylor has assembled in a long time. But against the Red Raiders, it was the defense that came through, as they won 59-57 with the help of some physical defense inside. They were able to hold two of Texas Tech’s best scorers, Keenan Evans and Jarrett Culver, to just 13 points combined on 4-of-22 shooting. They were also able to hold the bench to just 11 points and only two scorers to double digits for the entire game. This was a very impressive performance against a Texas Tech offense that has normally been very consistent in terms of scoring. Terry Maston had 24 points for them off the bench, leaing to about half of their offensive production. However, it was the defense that came through in that game against a difficult offense. Against the Longhorns, it was a little bit of both. Maston was once again the leading scorer in that game, with 26 points and 6 rebounds. However, they got other sources of scoring as well. Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. contributed a double-double, with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Manu Lecomte had 16 points and 7 assists. Defensively, Baylor was able to hold Texas to a dismal 15.3% shooting from 3, and 36.1% overall from the field. Mohamed Bamba was his usual self for Texas, with the projected Top 10 pick having 16 points and 16 rebounds. However, even he was inefficent, shooting just 7-for-17 in that game, which is not where a star player should be. Baylor has pulled off various wins against talented Big 12 opponents this season, raising their record to 17-10. So if they continue to stay hot and beat quality opponents like they have, don’t be surprised if this more balanced Baylor team squeaks into the NCAA tournament as a double digit seed.
Falling: #5 Cincinnati Bearcats
You had to have seen this coming when I showed praise to the two teams that were able to upset the Bearcats this week. These two losses within conference play and this late in the season are something that could bump them out of the Top 10 likely for teams in more powerful conferences or teams on larger winning streaks, such as Gonzaga. Now granted, both games were close, so it’s not like they are transforming themselves into a terrible team. Mick Cronin is still a trustworthy coach and they still have a lot of talent on that team. However, performances like the one they had against Houston offensively where they have that much inefficient shooting will not cut it at all come tournament time. They may be able to get away with 62 points in early rounds, but likely not in the round of 32 and beyond if they are playing against more balanced teams. And with these two losses, they may turn into a ranking that puts them as a 4 or 5 seed in this tournament, which means they could draw a talented 12 seed in the first round, which they have been upset prone too before (Harvard). But even if they make it through the first round, a good 5 seed or 4 could certainly beat them, or even a talented 6. And with both power and non-power conferences getting deeper, they certainly don’t want to slip down the rankings and become one of those middle tier seeds. They still have time to turn it around and certainly could gain a boost if they do win the conference tournament. However, negative experience in these two games could show that the Bearcats are not necessarily the easiest pick in the AAC come conference tournament time.
Falling: #8 Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State has been the ultimate boom or bust team. When they are a middle-tier ranked team, they have beaten teams such as Michigan State and Purdue when they were at the top of their game (Michigan State was 1 and Purdue was 3). However, all of a sudden put them into the Top 10 after that Purdue thriller, and they get demolished twice by double digits to their two biggest football rivals. After coming back on Penn State football after being down 12 with less than 5 minutes remaining, their higher ranked basketball team has lost to them twice. Penn State beat them on a buzzer beater in Columbus, and when they went home to play them, it wasn’t even close, as the Nittany Lions won 79-56. Penn State outscored Ohio State 45-21 in the first half, and never looked back. Tony Carr had 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists, one meeting after hitting the game-winning 3-pointer. Penn State also had 3 other double-digit scorers in that game, which Ohio State isn’t accustomed to allowing, having a defense that ranks #45 in the nation. Likewise, the Buckeyes’ offense fell flat in that game, with only two scorers in double digits and only 9 assists as a team. They shot 21-of-54 (39%) from the field and an abysmal 2-of-15 from 3. Their best player, Jahlil Tate, had just 6 points in that game as well. Their second matchup came in Ann Arbor against a talented Michigan Wolverines team. Michigan has been a more consistent basketball program, but with Ohio State being higher ranked this season, this is still considered an upset and a ranked loss that will plummet them down. Despite Tate bouncing back with 20 points and 15 rebounds, there was very little production elsewhere. The bench combined for just 6 points, and the Wesson brothers had just 8 a piece. Meanwhile, Michigan had 4 scorers in double digits and 4 different players with 3 or more assists against an Ohio State defense that is very talented. Overall, this stretch just shows how boom-or-bust this Buckeyes team is. They can look like the best team in the Big 10 one week and then lose or struggle against teams that are a little lower in the conference.
Falling: Florida Gators
I’ve mentioned how much I’ve liked this team in terms of a talent perspective. However, they just aren’t getting it together right now, struggling defensively against teams they should have no business losing too. I mentioned how the SEC is deeper and has more parity, but the teams they lost to this week are not teams I would say are part of that mix. Their first loss came to Georgia, who has been a streaky team all year, and aren’t a great overall offense. The 14-11 Bulldogs came into Gainesville and upset them on their home floor, led by Yante Maten who scored 23 points and had 10 rebounds. They also got 24 points coming off the bench, with Tyree Crump and Derek Ogbeide both scoring double digits. This is a worrysome sign for a Florida defense that is talented and has been very consistent even since the loss of coach Billy Donovan. Offensively, their stars struggled too. Kevarrius Hayes had just 3 points, Chris Chiozza had 5, and Jalen Hudson had 0. They had some bench scoring keep them in it, but the starters struggling like they are will still hurt more. Then there was their second meeting against Vanderbilt, a below .500 team (11-16) that was coming into this game cold. The Commodores had two 20-point scorers against that Gators defense, with Riley LaChance scoring 21 points and 5 assists and Jeff Roberson scoring 26 points and 7 rebounds. Offensively, both Hayes and Chiozza continued to struggle, both putting up single digit point totals again. Jalen Hudson had 10, but could have been better than that, as he shot only 4-for-12 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3. These poor individual shooting performances are something that has plagued Florida in their recent drought that they have been on. And now with a record of 17-10, they continue to get leapfrogged by other SEC teams, such as Alabama, Texas A&M, and Missouri, not to mention Tennessee and Kentucky still looming on top. And if they don’t get their act together, they may find themselves watching March Madness from the couch, because 8 teams from a conference usually don’t find themselves in the tournament, even if they are as good as this year’s SEC.