NCAA Basketball Rankings: Overrated/Underrated
While the college football rankings will provide endless debate in the next week, it is time to start dissecting the college basketball rankings now that most teams have a few meaningful games under their belts. Here is a look at a few teams checking in a bit too high and a few teams that may be underrated at the end November in the current AP Poll.
#2 Purdue: The Boilermakers have wins over North Carolina and Villanova but those results may not be quite what those program’s reputations suggest at least at this point in the season. North Carolina is in a major transition season and lost by 17 to Tennessee the day after giving Purdue a good test. That game was very tight late despite the nine-point final, even with the Tar Heels missing one of their top players. Purdue’s win over Villanova featured an epic comeback in the final nine minutes with hot 3-point shooting while Villanova uncharacteristically shot 53 percent on free throws. Purdue will be a good team this year but a loss or two in December looks possible with five top 100 games upcoming as this is not a team that is going to create separation in a tough top tier of the Big Ten.
#10 Arkansas: The Razorbacks are 6-0 but without a top 50 win and they struggled vs. Cincinnati in their most difficult game so far this season, winning by six but trailing in the final minutes. Arkansas was handed a 32-13 edge in free throws in that game for a fortunate result in Kansas City. Arkansas could wind up 12-0 before the SEC season as the schedule is incredibly weak outside of a game with Oklahoma in early December. Eric Musselman’s team made the Elite 8 last season but wasn’t far from being eliminated in each of the first three games last March as some of his game management has been questionable. The starting five is very small by major conference standards with the addition of Miami transfer Chris Lykes and this team has shot below 30 percent on 3-point shots this season.
#17 Connecticut: The Huskies finished 15-8 last season before being bounced in the Round of 64 as a #7 seed. This year’s team is 6-1 but the only meaningful wins were both overtime results, beating Auburn in double-OT and VCU in OT while going 2-1 in the Bahamas. So far this season Connecticut has shot more than five percent better from 3-point range compared to last season and has been a big beneficiary of turnovers, something that isn’t typical of Dan Hurley defense. The Huskies could climb further with two light games this week but tests vs. West Virginia and St. Bonaventure lurk as difficult games ahead of the Big East season.
#19 Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up two double-digit wins in Brooklyn last week surprising Xavier and Memphis to reach 6-0. Iowa State also beat Oregon State early in the season for a promising start for T.J. Otzelberger in his first season with the program, coming from UNLV. Two wins have been against teams outside the top 300 however and the offensive numbers have been marginal for this group. Iowa State had 33 free throw attempts for a big edge vs. Memphis and shot 50 percent from 3-point range vs. Xavier, things that are not likely to be repeated often for this group that is still in a significant transition season.
#15 Houston: One loss has bumped the Cougars down in the rankings despite five top 150 caliber wins including likely top 50 results against Virginia and Oregon. Houston has endured a tough non-conference path and simply got caught in Las Vegas with a red-hot shooting game from Wisconsin, who won the Maui Invitational. Houston shot 53 percent from the line in that game and was out of sync on offense but still nearly rallied for an epic comeback, losing by just two despite trailing by 20 at halftime. This squad has the makings of a team capable of another Final Four run and they will have a prominent opportunity to show it playing at Alabama next week.
#20 USC: Evan Mobley is impossible to replace but Isaiah Mobley has done his part while Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis joins a veteran roster with great size. Free throw shooting has been an adventure this season, but the Trojans are 6-0 with only two home games. The only high-quality win was a 15-point win over San Diego State with a dominant defensive performance. USC may be overshadowed in Los Angeles with UCLA’s Final Four run and early season win over Villanova, but it won’t be a surprise if USC is ahead of UCLA in the Pac-12 standings by the end of the season. The Trojans have a favorable pair of games to open the conference season and should be in good form before the tougher games on the schedule hit in late December and early January.
Unranked Illinois: The Illini have started just 4-2 but this team should not be discounted as a Big Ten and national contender again this season. Kofi Cockburn’s three-game suspension was well publicized but four other regular contributors have missed time as Brad Underwood has had six different starting lineups in six games. The ACC Challenge, two Big Ten games, and a big game with Arizona are the next four games on the schedule as Illinois will have an opportunity to deliver a few quality wins and once the roster issues are sorted out this team still has a very high ceiling.
Unranked Louisville: The Cardinals are getting penalized for a loss at home to Furman in early November. That game was an overtime game where Furman had a big edge at the line and made 12 3-point shots. Furman has been an elite Southern Conference team for the past four years under Bob Richey and the Paladins nearly beat Cincinnati and Alabama in early season action last year, while beating Villanova in November 2018. Louisville has two top 50 wins away from home with decisive results in the Bahamas and they should provide Michigan State a test this week. Overall, the non-conference path is quite tough for the Cardinals relative to their ACC peers as this group may be underrated ahead of the conference season.