Men’s college basketball has been underway for a while now. However, with all that has been going on in the world this past month including the presidential inauguration, Covid-19 and the recent stock market fiasco, this season has gone largely unnoticed. This is a shame, since there have been several noteworthy headlines this season.
Probably the most noteworthy story is Gonzaga and Baylor’s stranglehold on the top two spots, with Gonzaga in first place and Baylor just behind them. Both teams are currently 16-0 and account for all 64 of the possible first-place votes. This stranglehold isn’t recent either, as both Gonzaga and Baylor have topped the rankings for the past 11 weeks while the rest of the top 25 remains chaotic. Despite the apparent evenness at the top, there appears to be a much bigger difference. In the preseason polls, four teams received first-place votes, with Gonzaga claiming 28 and Baylor 24. However, the next polls that came out showed a drastic change, as Gonzaga received 57 while Baylor only received six. This hasn’t changed much either, despite both teams being undefeated — in the last rankings, Gonzaga accounted for 61 votes and Baylor three.
The last rankings also had several notable occurrences; of these, the two biggest are the massive jumps made in the ranking by both Oklahoma (11-4, 6-3 Big-12) and Ohio State (14-4, 8-4 Big-10). Oklahoma jumped 15 spots to land inside the top 10 after defeating their third straight top 10 team, defeating previously ninth-ranked Alabama. They became the second team in 25 years to accomplish that feat while also becoming the first team to beat four top 10 teams in the same month since 1974. Ohio State, on the other hand, jumped six spots to land at number seven in the rankings after quietly putting together a decent season, including winning each of their past seven games, with four of those coming by double digits. They are now the second-highest ranked team from the Big-10 behind Michigan despite being the fourth-ranked team in the conference.
Other notable teams in the top 25 include both Tennessee (12-4, 5-4 SEC) and Illinois (12-5, 8-3 Big10) which both jumped seven spots to 11th and 12th, respectively. On the opposite end, Kansas dropped eight spots to number 23 in the rankings after dropping two of their last three games and six of their last 10.
Looking outside of the top 25 and ahead in time, Duke (7-6, 5-4 ACC) will play the University of North Carolina (11-6, 6-4 ACC) on the sixth of this month. In most years, this would be a huge matchup that has seeding implications for the NCAA tournament. However, for one of the few times ever, both Duke and UNC will be unranked heading into their matchup. The last time the two teams met as unranked opponents was Feb. 27, 1960 while the last time both teams were unranked at the same time was in December of 1984. Current ESPN predictors give Duke the edge by the slimmest of margins, giving Duke a 50.1 percent chance to win and UNC a 49.9 percent chance.
Affecting basketball, but outside the realm of sports, COVID-19 has greatly impacted the sport. Many teams have quarantined due to protocols including the fourth-ranked University of Michigan,which sits atop the Big-10 conference. That position is more precarious than ever, however, as without being able to play, their hold on the conference has been loosening and they are in danger of dropping in the conference rankings. Other teams are facing similar situations, but one thing that is most surprising is the effect that the break has had on returning teams. Characteristically strong teams have dropped games that they should have won in their return as teams try to “shake off the rust” of not practicing or playing for two weeks. This has caused some teams and athletic directors to call for conferences to allow a practice game or scrimmage upon return to help. However, with the encroaching conference and NCAA tournaments, this seems unlikely as it would likely impact the scheduling of the remaining games and may push back those tournaments.