Rauf 25: Kansas, Houston surge in latest top 25 rankings

In my top 25 rankings last week, I wrote about how there was some stability in the sport as the top 11 teams remained the same and appeared to have separated themselves from the pack a little bit. That’s still the case for the top two (Gonzaga, Baylor), yet upheaval has taken hold everywhere else.

Four of the teams previously ranked in that top 11 lost at least once over the last week, making for a not-so-happy holiday season. No team tumbled further than Michigan State, which went from No. 4 to outside my top 20 following back-to-back disappointing performances against Northwestern and Wisconsin.

Speaking of the Wildcats, they are one of two new additions to the poll following their 3-0 start to Big Ten play. Virginia Tech is the other new entrant thanks to their overall resume.

Where do they both land? And how does the top 10 look given that aforementioned upheaval?

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Here’s a look at my full top 25 rankings:

25. Virginia Tech Hokies (7-1)

Last week: NR
Games: Longwood (84-58 W)

The Hokies have been lurking around the top 25 with quality wins over Villanova and Clemson on their resume and fill this opening left by North Carolina and Marquette.

24. Northwestern Wildcats (6-1)

Last week: NR
Games: Michigan State (79-65 W), Indiana (74-67 W), Ohio State (71-70 W)

Northwestern fills the other vacancy and, while I really wanted to rank the Wildcats higher given the run they’ve been on this week, I don’t know if they warrant it yet given their loss to Pitt. We’ll find out just how real this group is in their next two games against Iowa and Michigan, both of which are on the road.

23. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (7-0)

Last week: 25
Games: Nebraska (80-69 W)

Speaking of the Wolverines, they took care of business and keep rolling without a truly notable win. However, they deserve this spot based on their level of play.

22. DUKE BLUE DEVILS (3-2)

Last week: 22
Games: None

Duke did not play a game and stays in the same spot.

21. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (6-2)

Last week: 4
Games: Northwestern (79-65 L), Wisconsin (85-78 L)

It’s not just that Michigan State lost twice, including once to Northwestern — it’s how the Spartans lost. Tom Izzo’s team has been lackluster defensively and limited offensively due to inconsistent production from Rocket Watts and Aaron Henry.

20. SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS (6-1)

Last week: 24
Games: Saint Mary’s (74-49 W)

San Diego State’s loss to BYU isn’t a bad one, especially considering it looked like just an off shooting night. The Aztecs took out their anger on the Gaels, reasserting themselves as a legitimate threat.

19. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (4-2)

Last week: 14
Games: William & Mary (76-40 W), Gonzaga (98-75 L)

OK, so losing to Gonzaga is not a bad thing — everyone’s doing it. But this group’s limitations were painfully obvious. Tony Bennett’s squad also doesn’t have anything resembling a quality win.

18. SAINT LOUIS BILLIKENS (7-1)

Last week: 16
Games: Minnesota (90-82 L), UMKC (62-46 W)

Saint Louis’ loss to Minnesota doesn’t look as bad with the Gophers following it up with an upset of Iowa. The Billikens also missed a lot of shots they normally make in that game, too, so they don’t drop all that far. I’m still very high on this team.

17. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (5-1)

Last week: 20
Games: Gardner Webb (72-59 W)

FSU bounced back from that UCF loss with a business-like win over a lesser opponent. And, after UCF nearly upset Houston, it’s another loss that doesn’t look as bad as previously thought.

16. TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (7-2)

Last week: 19
Games: Oklahoma (69-67 W)

Texas Tech’s two losses have come to teams currently ranked in my top five, yet the Red Raiders lacked a quality win until now. Mac McClung has emerged as this group’s go-to guy late in close games.

15. OREGON DUCKS (6-1)

Last week: 18
Games: None

Oregon did not play a game but moves up because of the number of teams that lost ahead of them.

14. RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (6-1)

Last week: 13
Games: Illinois (91-88 W), Ohio State (80-68 L)

Rutgers cracked my mid-week top 10 with a win over Illinois but falls after the loss to Ohio State in which its lack of depth (caused by Cliff Omoruyi’s absence) was exploited in the paint. Since we don’t know when he will return, I’m dropping Rutgers a bit.

13. CREIGHTON BLUEJAYS (7-2)

Last week: 17
Games: UConn (76-74 W), Xavier (66-61 W)

Creighton had its best week of the season, beating a good UConn team on the road and handing Xavier their first loss. The Bluejays aren’t perfect, but they’re certainly good enough.

12. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (7-3)

Last week: 10
Games: Rutgers (91-88 L), Penn State (98-81 W), Indiana (69-60 W)

Losing to a fully healthy Rutgers team is disappointing, but certainly not a bad loss, especially with how the Illini bounced back. Illinois shows flashes of being special but don’t yet play with consistent effort, leading to inconsistent production.

11. MISSOURI TIGERS (6-0)

Last week: 15
Games: Bradley (54-53 W)

Mizzou survived against a tough Bradley team and benefitted from the losses ahead of them. Its defense has them on the verge of the top 10.

10. WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (7-2)

Last week: 7
Games: Kansas (79-65 L)

West Virginia’s two losses to Gonzaga and Kansas certainly aren’t bad. However, the Mountaineers looked lost in the second half against the Jayhawks. The Mountaineers have a get-right game upcoming against Northeastern before getting back into conference play.

9. WISCONSIN BADGERS (8-1)

Last week: 12
Games: Nebraska (67-53 W), Michigan State (85-76 W)

Wisconsin continues to prove itself, though the biggest wins (Louisville, Michigan State) have lost some of their sparkle. We can expect a high level of play from the Badgers every single night, which is more than you can say about most teams in the country.

8. TEXAS LONGHORNS (7-1)

Last week: 11
Games: Oklahoma State (77-74 W)

Texas still isn’t perfect offensively, but its length and athleticism have made the Longhorns an elite defensive unit. The win over Oklahoma State is yet another step in the right direction.

7. IOWA HAWKEYES (7-2)

Last week: 3
Games: Purdue (70-55 W), Minnesota (102-95 L)

Iowa has now lost two of its last three and had its defense completely shredded in those games. Luka Garza is great and so is the Hawkeye offense, but their defense appears to be holding them back (as we feared in the preseason).

6. VILLANOVA WILDCATS (8-1)

Last week: 9
Games: Marquette (85-68 W)

The Wildcats are back to looking like the machine we’ve come to expect under Jay Wright. They have scored at least 85 points in each of their last three games.

5. HOUSTON COUGARS (7-0)

Last week: 8
Games: Alcorn State (88-55 W), Temple (76-50 W), UCF (63-54 W)

Houston returned from a COVID-19-induced break to rip off three big victories. The Cougars are balanced offensively, elite defensively and experienced. This group will be in contention for a No. 1 seed all year long.

4. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (6-0)

Last week: 5
Games: Saint Joseph’s (102-66 W), USC Upstate (80-60 W)

The Vols handled a solid Colorado team in their opener and have shredded the lesser opponents they have played since. Wednesday’s showdown with Missouri will be a must-watch contest.

3. KANSAS JAYHAWKS (8-1)

Last week: 6
Games: West Virginia (79-65 W)

Just like Villanova is back to looking like a machine, Kansas is back to looking like Kansas. Bill Self has figured out his rotation, who his go-to guys are, and who he can rely on. The Jayhawks have been playing better defensively, too, which has spearheaded their recent play.

2. BAYLOR BEARS (6-0)

Last week: 2
Games: Arkansas-Pine Bluff (99-42 W)

Baylor continues to roll against lesser competition and won’t be tested again until the Bears start Big 12 play in the new year.

1. GONZAGA BULLDOGS (7-0)

Last week: 1
Games: Northwestern State (95-57 W, 95-78 W), Virginia (98-75 W)

Gonzaga reaffirmed its dominance with the win over Virginia. The Zags are now the first team ever to beat four top 20 teams in their first seven games. This group deserves any and all praise that is heaped upon them.

Brian Rauf is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and FanSided, among other publications. Rauf is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.