RALEIGH, NC – Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke and Louisville have each spent time at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 men’s college basketball poll only to lose quickly. The challenge now falls on Kansas to avoid the same fate.
The Jayhawks reached No. 1 in Monday’s poll, marking the first time the AP poll has had five different No. 1s before New Year’s Day. They play once this week with their new ranking, visiting No. 18 Villanova on Saturday.
None of the previous four teams to hold the No. 1 ranking this season have won more than twice before stumbling, illustrating that this is a year with no dominant team in college basketball.
Kansas (9-1), which earned 47 of 65 first-place votes, hasn’t lost since falling to Duke in the Champions Classic to open the season. That run has included winning the Maui Invitational and beating a then-ranked Colorado team, with all but the overtime win against Dayton for the Maui title coming by double-digit margins.
“We’ve done what we’re supposed to do,” Kansas coach Bill Self said last week of potentially rising to No. 1. “We’ve played pretty well since the Duke game.”
The Jayhawks committed 28 turnovers in that game but have done a better job taking care of the basketball since; they had 21 turnovers against the Buffaloes but have had 15 or fewer in every other game. They entered the week alongside No. 3 Louisville and No. 5 Ohio State as the only teams in the top 12 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency rankings.
After Saturday's win against UMKC, Self said the team would have to work around exam schedules as it prepared for Villanova.
“We are going to give Villanova three intense days of practice even though they will be an hour-and-a-half long, probably each one of them, not long, because of finals,” Self said.
The Jayhawks will find out if that’s enough to pass their first test at No. 1.
THE BIG MATCHUP
Fifth-ranked Ohio State and sixth-ranked Kentucky have the week’s headlining matchup in Saturday’s CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas.
For the Buckeyes, it will be a chance to add to an already impressive nonconference resume that could position them for a top NCAA Tournament seed come Selection Sunday.
Ohio State (9-1) already has 25-point wins against both Villanova and then-ranked North Carolina. Chris Holtmann’s team lost at Minnesota in Big Ten play Sunday but returns to action Tuesday against Southeast Missouri State at home before playing John Calipari’s Wildcats.
Kentucky (8-1) is playing a doubleheader this week in Las Vegas, first against Utah on Wednesday.
BEEN A WHILE
No. 23 Penn State (9-2) is in the AP poll for the first time since the final poll of the 1995-96 season. The Nittany Lions play their first game with that ranking Friday against Central Connecticut State.
RANKED TO UNRANKED
No. 2 Gonzaga, No. 7 Maryland and No. 13 Dayton all have matchups with formerly ranked teams.
The Bulldogs (11-1), who claimed 15 first-place votes to jump four spots in the latest poll, host North Carolina on Wednesday night. It comes with the Tar Heels (6-4) sliding from No. 5 in November to unranked for the first time since February 2014 while facing questions about the health of star freshman point guard Cole Anthony along with fellow starter Leaky Black.
The Terrapins (10-1) on Thursday visit Seton Hall, which was ranked 12th in the preseason but fell out of the poll after losses to Iowa State and Rutgers. The Pirates are banged up, too, with preseason AP All-American Myles Powell leaving the Rutgers loss with a concussion a game after starter Sandro Mamukelashvili went down with a broken wrist at Iowa State.
The Flyers (8-1) face a Colorado team that spent five weeks in the poll before exiting Monday.
While UNC and Xavier are the leading vote-getters among unranked teams, keep an eye on Iowa (8-3), which will aim to build on wins against Minnesota and Iowa State when it faces Cincinnati in Chicago on Saturday.
Additionally, Liberty (12-0) is off to the best start in school history. The Flames earned their first win at a Southeastern Conference venue over the weekend against Vanderbilt and play Towson on Friday in the DC Holiday Hoops Fest Tournament.
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