With more than half of the season gone, there are just six weeks until the famed March Madness begins. College basketball, unlike most sports, is an ever-changing mix of teams leaping and crashing up and down the rankings week by week. As the tournament inches closer, we are beginning to learn which teams are destined for a deep run to the Final Four.
On top for another week is No. 1 Villanova, who improved to 18-1 with wins at Georgetown and UConn and received 63 of 65 available first-place votes. With only one ranked matchup remaining on their schedule (Feb. 17 at Xavier), the Wildcats’ spot as the No.1-overall seed in the tourney seems inevitable.
Following ‘Nova is No. 2 Virginia, set for a home-stand after road wins against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Looming this week, though, are matchups against two ranked teams in Clemson and Duke. With arguably the most impressive season thus far, Purdue stays at No. 3 and at No. 1 in the Big Ten. Fresh off a 15-game win streak, the first big test for the Boilermakers lies ahead this week at home against No. 25 Michigan.
Closing out the top five are two of the heavy favorites, No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Kansas. In what could be a preview of the ACC Championship, the Blue Devils host the No. 2 Cavaliers. This matchup could shape the final pre-tournament rankings and ultimately affect both teams’ seeds. The Jayhawks, on the other hand, have finally hit their stride, picking up five straights wins while two challenging matchups against No. 12 Oklahoma and Texas A&M wait on the horizon. With Kansas quickly looking like the Big 12-favorite, their 14th straight regular-season title could arrive sooner rather than later.
Bouncing back in the rankings after tough losses to Ohio State and Michigan over the last few weeks is No. 6 Michigan State. Led by one of the best players in the nation, big man Miles Bridges, the Spartans are looking to gain momentum with a Feb. 10 matchup against No. 3 Purdue. After starting 15-0, No. 7 West Virginia has lost three of its last four, dropping matchups to Texas Tech, Kansas and TCU. The Mountaineers next host Kentucky on Saturday with an opportunity to rebound back to the top five.
Jumping into the top 10 is No. 8 Xavier, who looks like Villanova’s only competition en route to yet another Big East title. Like ‘Nova, the Musketeers face a rather-easy schedule with just one ranked matchup remaining against the Wildcats. Rounding out the top 10 are No. 9 Cincinnati and No. 10 North Carolina. However, with a loss Monday night at Virginia Tech, expect the Tar Heels to drop a few spots after this week.
Other movers in the AP Poll were No. 12 Oklahoma, who dropped eight spots after road losses at Kansas State and Oklahoma State; No. 13 Ohio State, who jumped nine spots after road wins against Northwestern and Minnesota; and No. 17 Wichita State, who tanked 10 spots after bad losses to SMU and Houston.
New to the rankings were No. 16 Saint Mary’s, who notably won at No. 15 Gonzaga; No. 20 Florida, No. 23 Nevada and No. 24 Rhode Island.
Dropping out of the rankings for the first time since 2014 was Kentucky, who fell at South Carolina and against Florida this week. After opening up as a preseason favorite, coach Cal and the Wildcats are currently experiencing one of their worst seasons in recent history. And with matchups against No. 7 West Virginia, No. 19 Auburn, No. 20 Florida and No. 22 Tennessee left on their schedule, they could be in serious trouble. Of course, the last season they were unranked, they went to the national championship as a No. 8 seed. It could happen again.