Rauf 25: Strong performances bolster Iowa, Missouri in new Top 25 rankings

In what has already been a crazy college basketball season, the past week’s results have actually brought more clarity to my top 25 rankings.

Iowa entered the year with hype but questions about its defense and was unproven. The Hawkeyes passed their first test against North Carolina with flying colors. Was Illinois’ loss to Baylor a sign of problems with the Illini or a sign of Baylor’s greatness? Perhaps it was a little bit of both. I had questions about Kansas, but they answered with a big home win over Creighton.

On the flip side, Duke proved it is not a top 20 team — one could argue the Blue Devils shouldn’t be ranked at all — and Kentucky’s season has gotten to the point where the Wildcats shouldn’t even be considered.

How do my full top 25 rankings shake out following the past week’s action? Here’s the full breakdown:

25. DUKE BLUE DEVILS (2-2)

Last week: 11
Games: Illinois (83-68 L)

It’s not going to be a surprise if Duke falls out of the AP top 25 this week given how it has looked this season. At the same time, both losses have come against teams ranked in my top five. So, I’m keeping the Blue Devils ranked in my poll, but only barely.

24. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (4-2)

Last week: 18
Games: Iowa (93-80 L), NC Central (73-67 W)

UNC looked overmatched against Iowa, which is to be expected given how good the Hawkeyes look. But struggling to get past NC Central? While the Eagles are the perennial MEAC favorites, the Tar Heels played well below their abilities.

23. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (4-0)

Last week: 21
Games: Notre Dame (90-85 W)

The Buckeyes drop for the second consecutive week despite winning. The bottom line is that Ohio State did not look all that impressive in narrowly beating a relatively poor Notre Dame squad, which was OSU’s first game against a KenPom top 200 team.

22. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (4-0)

Last week: NR
Games: None

Louisville did not play this week but already has two quality wins on its resume in Seton Hall and Western Kentucky.

21. SAINT LOUIS BILLIKENS (4-0)

Last week: 23
Games: Central Arkansas (88-65 W)

The Billikens handled a lesser Central Arkansas team the way one would expect out of a top 20 team. Noted for their defense, Jordan Goodwin and Javonte Perkins have provided a good deal of offense.

20. RICHMOND SPIDERS (4-0)

Last week: 17
Games: Wofford (77-72 W), Northern Iowa (78-68 W)

Richmond picked up two hard-fought victories over a pair of solid mid-major programs this week, but it didn’t look dominant. With that Kentucky victory not shining as brightly, Richmond falls a few spots. However, the Spiders have another great chance to prove themselves Sunday against West Virginia.

19. SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS (5-0)

Last week: 24
Games: Pepperdine (65-60 W), Arizona State (80-68 W)

San Diego State looks really dangerous once again. I broke down why in Friday’s Rauf Report.

18. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (3-0)

Last week: 22
Games: Indiana (69-67 W/OT), Florida (83-71 W)

Florida State continues to shake off rust and find its rhythm with only three played games, though the ‘Noles look better and better with each outing. Freshman Scottie Barnes is emerging as a legitimate star, too.

17. TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (5-1)

Last week: 19
Games: Grambling State (81-40 W), Abilene Christian (51-44 W), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (77-57 W)

Texas Tech took care of its business with dominant wins over lesser competition. The Red Raiders will start Big 12 play on Thursday with a showdown with Kansas.

16. Missouri Tigers (5-0)

Last week: NR
Games: Wichita State (72-62 W), Liberty (69-60 W), Illinois (81-78 W)

How about Mizzou! I wrote about how good the Tigers were a week ago, and all they did since then was beat three quality teams, headlined by a really good Illinois team. Missouri has put itself among the SEC favorites now.

15. WISCONSIN BADGERS (4-1)

Last week: 15
Games: Rhode Island (73-62 W)

The Badgers got back on track with a convincing home victory over a solid Rhode Island squad. Still, they didn’t put together a complete 40 minutes as the Rams outscored them in the second half, which is why they don’t rise.

14. RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (4-0)

Last week: 14
Games: Syracuse (79-69 W)

Rutgers passed its first real test of the season this week, knocking off Syracuse without star Geo Baker. The Scarlet Knights will look to solidify their ranking in my top 15 this week as they start Big Ten play.

13. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (3-1)

Last week: 16
Games: None

No games this week for Virginia, though that loss to San Francisco continues to look better and better.

12. CREIGHTON BLUEJAYS (4-1)

Last week: 12
Games: Kansas (73-72 L), Nebraska (98-74 W)

Creighton lost its first game of the season this week, but I’m not going to drop the Bluejays for losing by one to Kansas on the road. They bounced back in a big way against Nebraska, too.

11. TEXAS LONGHORNS (5-1)

Last week: 13
Games: Villanova (68-64 L), Texas State (74-63 W)

Texas did suffer its first loss to a team ranked higher but still moves up as a) other candidates for this spot lost, too and, b) the Longhorns still validated their legitimacy even in the loss.

10. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (4-2)

Last week: 5
Games: Duke (83-68 W), Missouri (81-78 L)

Illinois demolished Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium and looked excellent. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn were dominant against Missouri, too, but didn’t get much help from their young supporting cast. They’re still a top 10 team but need to work on their consistency.

9. VILLANOVA WILDCATS (5-1)

Last week: 10
Games: Texas (68-64 W), Georgetown (76-63 W)

The Wildcats picked up that impressive road win against Texas, then followed it with a really lackluster performance against the Hoyas even in the win. Villanova holds firm.

8. HOUSTON COUGARS (4-0)

Last week: 8
Games: None

Houston did not play a game this week.

7. WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (5-1)

Last week: 7
Games: Georgetown (80-71 W), North Texas (62-50 W)

WVU keeps rolling along with solid victories over Georgetown and a quality North Texas team. It does get leapfrogged by Kansas because of the Jayhawks’ win over Creighton, but the Mountaineers are still a dangerous team.

6. KANSAS JAYHAWKS (6-1)

Last week: 9
Games: Creighton (73-72 W), Omaha (95-50 W)

I had some doubts about the Jayhawks last week and, while they haven’t been completely erased, Jalen Wilson’s emergence and the win over Creighton gave them a big boost in my eyes.

5. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (2-0)

Last week: 6
Games: Colorado (56-47 W), Cincinnati (65-56 W)

Tennessee played its first games of the season this week and showcased a dominant defense that already ranks in the top five nationally. I talked about how good its defense can be in Friday’s Rauf Report.

4. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (5-0)

Last week: 3
Games: Western Michigan (79-61 W)

The Spartans drop a bit through no fault of their own — just the victim of how well Iowa and Illinois look. Tom Izzo’s squad were as you would expect in an easy win over Western Michigan.

3. IOWA HAWKEYES (5-0)

Last week: 4
Games: North Carolina (93-80 W), Iowa State (105-77 W)

Iowa earned the No. 3 spot with its dominant win over UNC. Luka Garza continues to be the clear best player in college basketball, too.

2. BAYLOR BEARS (4-0)

Last week: 2
Games: Stephen F. Austin (83-52 W)

Baylor didn’t get a chance to prove itself against Gonzaga — which could’ve put the Bears at No. 1 — and instead took its anger out on the Lumberjacks. Now, with news Baylor is on pause due to positive COVID-19 tests, it will be a while before we see this team on the court again.

1. GONZAGA BULLDOGS (3-0)

Last week: 1
Games: None.

Gonzaga is in the midst of a two-week pause due to positive COVID-19 tests. The Bulldogs will return to the court on Dec. 19 against Iowa but have already proven themselves worthy of this ranking.

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.



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