Rauf 25: Michigan surges as top tier emerges in top 25 rankings

Michigan did not crack my top 25 rankings until a couple of weeks ago. The Wolverines had taken care of business against lesser competition but hadn’t done anything notable.

But as the level of competition has increased, so has Michigan’s level of play. Head coach Juwan Howard’s squad put forth their two best performances of the season this week, blowing out ranked Northwestern and Minnesota teams.

Those games have pushed the Wolverines into the No. 11 spot in these rankings and into a solid tier that has emerged with the top 12 teams in the country. Gonzaga is obviously in a tier of its own followed by Baylor, which has also separated themselves, and then there is a group from Nos. 3-12 that have proven to be solid contenders.

Underneath that top 12 has been, well, absolute chaos which continued this week. Here are my full top 25 rankings:

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25. WINTHROP EAGLES (10-0)

Last week: NR
Games: Charleston Southern (85-69 W; 78-76 W), Gardner Webb (75-65 W)

Winthrop continues to roll as one of the best mid-majors in the country and could go undefeated in the Big South. The Eagles play at the fastest tempo in the country and have one of the nation’s most versatile players in Chandler Vaudrin.

24. Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-3)

Last week: NR
Games: Ohio State (77-60 W), Michigan (82-57 L)

Minnesota’s win over Ohio State pushed the Gophers high in my rankings. They moved down a bit — OK, a lot — after being smacked by Michigan, but Minnesota is still good enough to be ranked. All three losses have come against top 11 teams in these rankings.

23. OREGON DUCKS (9-2)

Last week: 14
Games: Colorado (79-72 L), Utah (79-73 W)

Oregon looks like a good team but really hasn’t beaten anyone of note to earn a top 15 ranking. Its loss to Colorado and struggles with Utah prove that.

22. TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (10-3)

Last week: 23
Games: Kansas State (82-71 W), Iowa State (91-64 W)

Last week, I wrote that we still don’t know how good Texas Tech really is, and nothing this week changed that. The Red Raiders took care of business against the bottom of the Big 12.

21. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (8-2)

Last week: 19
Games: Louisville (73-71 L)

The Hokies shouldn’t be punished too much for a close loss to a good Louisville team on the road. A home contest with Duke is looming as their next test to prove themselves.

20. DUKE BLUE DEVILS (5-2)

Last week: 20
Games: Boston College (83-82 W), Wake Forest (79-68 W)

Duke did not look good against either Boston College or Wake Forest — at all. But they were coming off an extended COVID-induced break and won both, so they stay put.

19. MISSOURI TIGERS (7-2)

Last week: 13
Games: Mississippi State (78-63 L)

Some of that nonconference shine is really wearing off here, huh? Mizzou has now lost two of its last three games.

18. RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (7-4)

Last week: 12
Games: Michigan State (68-45 L), Ohio State (79-68 L)

Speaking of losing shine, we have Rutgers. Steve Pikiell’s squad has been missing Cliff Omoruyi in the middle but losing four of their last five — especially in the way they did this week — is not good.

17. alabama Crimson Tide (9-3)

Last week: NR
Games: Florida (86-71 W), Auburn (94-90 W)

The Crimson Tide are the biggest risers benefitting from the struggles of the teams mentioned previously. This talented team has won five games in a row as its offense has found a groove.

16. CLEMSON TIGERS (9-1)

Last week: 21
Games: NC State (74-70 W)

I’ve probably been too low on Clemson because it lacks a signature win but it does have a lot of quality wins, including one over Alabama on a neutral court. The Tigers can prove they’re the best team in the ACC if they can beat Virginia on Saturday.

15. WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (9-4)

Last week: 15
Games: Oklahoma State (87-84 W), Texas (72-70 L)

West Virginia stays put. Its switch to a smaller lineup led to a 19-point comeback victory over Oklahoma State and the Mountaineers were seconds away from upsetting Texas. This group has proven their legitimacy despite the four losses.

14. SAINT LOUIS BILLIKENS (7-1)

Last week: 16
Games: None

Saint Louis did not play due to COVID-19 protocols.

13. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (7-2)

Last week: 18
Games: Wake Forest (70-61 W), Boston College (61-49 W)

Virginia is doing that thing it does where it settles in and finds a rhythm at the start of ACC play. The Cavaliers are playing smarter on offense and more consistent on defense. As mentioned previously, Saturday’s game at Clemson will be huge.

12. WISCONSIN BADGERS (10-2)

Last week: 11
Games: Indiana (80-73 W)

Wisconsin needed a couple of overtimes to beat a middling Indiana team at home. It wasn’t a glowing performance, so they get jumped by Michigan, but there is a clear gap between the Badgers and the teams ranked 13-25.

11. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (10-0)

Last week: 17
Games: Northwestern (85-66 W), Minnesota (82-57 W)

Michigan and Wisconsin play on Tuesday, so we’ll be able to settle this spot on the court. But what the Wolverines did this week was nothing short of spectacular. This may be several spots too low for them — we just haven’t seen them play a top-tier team yet. We will soon enough.

10. CREIGHTON BLUEJAYS (8-2)

Last week: 10
Games: Seton Hall (89-53 W), St. John’s (97-79 W)

Greg McDermott’s squad has found their rhythm, winning six in a row with the latest two coming in very impressive fashion. The Bluejays are starting to look like a legitimate challenger to Villanova in the Big East.

9. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (9-3)

Last week: 9
Games: Northwestern (81-56 W)

There are two different Illinois teams. There’s the one we saw in the first half against Northwestern, which resulted in a 15-point halftime deficit. Then there’s the one we saw in the second half, which outscored the Wildcats by 40. This group is so dangerous when they’re engaged.

8. HOUSTON COUGARS (10-1)

Last week: 8
Games: SMU (74-60 W), Wichita State (70-63 W), Tulane (71-50 W)

Houston rebounded from their first loss last week with quality wins over good SMU and Wichita State teams before blowing out Tulane.

7. KANSAS JAYHAWKS (10-2)

Last week: 7
Games: TCU (93-64 W), Oklahoma (63-59 W)

It may not look pretty all the time for Kansas, but this group knows how to get the job done. Its only losses have been against teams in the top four.

6. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (9-1)

Last week: 5
Games: Arkansas (79-74 W), Texas A&M (68-54 W)

Tennessee struggled more than expected with Arkansas before handling the Aggies. This group has struggled against teams that push the pace and space them out on the perimeter, but their offense is improving.

5. IOWA HAWKEYES (10-2)

Last week: 6
Games: Maryland (89-67 W)

The Hawkeyes are about as steady as they come. We know what to expect from them on a nightly basis and, while their defense caps their ceiling, that offense makes them so tough to beat.

4. TEXAS LONGHORNS (10-1)

Last week: 4
Games: Iowa State (78-72 W), West Virginia (72-70 W)

Texas is winning tight contests they haven’t in past years. For as good as its defense is, the balance on offense paid dividends this week.

3. VILLANOVA WILDCATS (8-1)

Last week: 3
Games: None

The Wildcats did not play a game due to COVID-19 protocols.

2. BAYLOR BEARS (11-0)

Last week: 2
Games: Oklahoma (76-61 W), TCU (67-49 W)

Baylor continues to roll on the strength of its balance. The Bears are the only team that ranked in the KenPom top 10 in both AdjO (4th) and AdjD (3rd).

1. GONZAGA BULLDOGS (12-0)

Last week: 1
Games: BYU (86-69 W), Portland (116-88 W)

Gonzaga is winning games by an average of 22.7 points. That comes against what has been one of the toughest schedules in the country, too. This team will be here all season long.

Brian Rauf
Brian Rauf

Heat Check CBB lead national writer