The Bilastrator loves football, as a casual fan. It doesn't matter whether it is college football or the NFL. There is only one thing better than a good football game, however, and that is any kind of basketball game. I find basketball to be a better game, played by the best athletes in the world. Basketball is the second-most popular game in the world, and every player is required to play both offense and defense, with no breaks for committee meetings or radios in your point guard's ear.
The Bilastrator loves college football. Football is football. Pretending football that is played by college teams has some magical quality due to "education" is pure fantasy. It has magical qualities because it is football. College football has long lied to us, telling us that "every game counts." Of course, as has been revealed lately, that has always been untrue. Hardly any of the games played in college football truly count toward the national championship. In fact, the overwhelming majority of all games played don't count for anything other than pride, fan interest and money. The College Football Playoff is an exclusive, private party to which only Power 5 Conference teams can be invited. Teams like UCF and Boise State have no chance whatsoever -- none -- to gain entry into college football's committee-selected CFP.
The Bilastrator does not quarrel with any informed judgment that Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson and Alabama were the four "best" teams in college football this past season. But when you examine the wild fluctuations in the rankings, what excuse does the committee have for consistently ranking UCF outside of the big shots? None. UCF might not have been in the top four, but it was clearly not outside of the top 10.
As far as crowning a champion, rather than selecting one, college basketball allows every conference champion into its national championship race, and only then selects the next best teams. Of course, basketball and football are different games. But basketball and FCS football are different games too, and FCS football has a 16-team tournament to decide its national championship. It defies logic to suggest that FBS football cannot do the same thing. Of course it can. The power conference power brokers simply do not want to.
The problem is obvious, as evidenced by the power brokers' consistent, defensive responses to UCF's national championship trolling. The power brokers respond when they should remain silent, and they sound elitist, tone deaf and silly trying to defend the indefensible. The power brokers sound as if they are saying, "Let them eat cake."
The solution is equally obvious. The College Football Playoff should be expanded to allow conference champions and the top non-champion teams. Or the Power 5 Conferences should break away and do their own thing. Pretty simple.
Imagine how ridiculous it would be to select four teams in college basketball to duke it out for the national championship. We could come up with a committee to examine the metrics and select four teams. Last year, do you think South Carolina would have been anywhere near the top 4? Of course not. Perhaps Gonzaga would have been left out, as well. Who did the Zags beat in the regular season? Florida, Arizona, Iowa State and Saint Mary's were the only NCAA tournament teams that Gonzaga beat. The Zags were UCF. Conference commissioners could easily have congratulated Gonzaga on its fine season, then disingenuously stated that Gonzaga would have lost more games in the Big Ten or Big 12 than in its cute little West Coast Conference. Heck, they might even be right. But it wouldn't be right.
Right now, college basketball is a beautiful mess. There is not a dominant team or group of teams. No team has shown that it might separate itself -- yet. We have several really good teams but no truly great teams. We have had some roller-coaster performances, and there are currently only two teams that are ranked in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency: Michigan State and Purdue.
As always, you're welcome.
1. Villanova Wildcats
The Wildcats lead the Big East in field goal percentage -- they are neck and neck with Creighton -- at 51 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range, largely because Villanova is such a good passing team. Mikal Bridges is the team's most versatile two-way player, but Jalen Brunson is the most underrated star in America. Brunson is averaging 19 points and 5.4 assists and is shooting an incredible 59 percent from the floor and a Big East-leading 49 percent from deep. He is the best point guard in America.
2. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans have the deepest team, the most balanced team and very well could have the best team. Michigan State leads the Big Ten in both field goal percentage (52 percent), 3-point percentage (41 percent) and field goal percentage defense (34 percent), so the Spartans are formidable on both ends of the floor. The Spartans also lead the Big Ten in assists, rebounding and blocked shots. Michigan State has periodic lapses on the offensive end -- with turnovers and settling for jump shots -- but no team is as solid in every way as Tom Izzo's bunch. There is no real explanation for getting handled at Ohio State, because every team will lose games. But letting a close game get away from them in the last two minutes of the first half and never getting back in it was an odd sight.
3. West Virginia Mountaineers
If you dismissed the Mountaineers after getting drubbed in Germany by Texas A&M to start the season, you made a mistake. West Virginia is legit. Jevon Carter is averaging just under 17 points and seven assists, and leads the Big 12 with just under four steals a game. West Virginia brings heat on you for 40 minutes, forcing more than 20 turnovers per game and racking up 10 steals per game -- both leading the Big 12. Watch out for Teddy Allen; that kid can score. Bob Huggins compared his team's offense to a golf scramble: Not everyone has to hit a good shot, but somebody has to on each hole. So far, West Virginia is hitting fairways and making putts.
4. Purdue Boilermakers
How is Purdue not talked about more? The Boilermakers are really good -- and just as solid as Michigan State in so many areas. Perhaps it was the underwhelming performance in the Bahamas, where Purdue and Arizona played for seventh place. Well, that is so far in the past, The Bilastrator can barely remember it. While Michigan State leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and field goal percentage defense, Purdue is second in all three categories. The dynamic Carsen Edwards leads Purdue in scoring, but Dakota Mathias is the team's best player. Mathias is tough as all get-out.
5. Virginia Cavaliers
Yikes. Virginia is crazy good defensively. The Cavaliers are holding opponents to 52 points and 36 percent from the field. They are physical and fantastic on post doubles, rotations and help-side positioning. You have to score over Virginia. You will not get anything easy. Virginia's best defender is Isaiah Wilkins, who is as solid a defender as you will see anywhere in America.
6. Duke Blue Devils
On talent, Duke stands alone. The Blue Devils have NBA players at every position. However, right now, Duke does not guard anybody. In three ACC games, Duke's defensive stat line looks like a great team's offensive stat line. Duke is giving up 93 points per game, allowing 49 percent from the floor and 49 percent from 3-point range. Duke is getting outshot and outscored from the foul line. Duke has had ample time to practice in the past month, but the young, talented freshmen don't seem to be collectively grasping Mike Krzyzewski's defensive principles. If the young guns get it, Duke is the best team. If things stay as is, Duke can still beat anyone, but the range of teams that can beat Duke is a pretty wide one.
7. Wichita State Shockers
The Shockers are finally getting healthy. Markis McDuffie is back. This team is capable of getting to San Antonio for the Final Four. Wichita State leads the American in field goal percentage (49 percent) and assists (18.6) and is second in three-point percentage (41 percent). But what makes Wichita State special is its grit. With Rashard Kelly, Zach Brown and Darral Willis Jr., Wichita State has a tough bunch of "role players" who can kick the crap out of you when the game gets tough.
8. Kansas Jayhawks
This is a different Kansas team, with very little depth and very few big men. But Bill Self continues to prove he is among the all-time great coaches in this game. If the rest of the Big 12 cannot catch Kansas this year, it might be time to just surrender. Kansas is leading the Big 12 in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage, making 11 treys per game. Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk combine for almost seven 3-point field goals per game, and Kansas relies upon its perimeter to win. But if Graham, Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick don't play well together, Kansas has a tough time beating the best teams. They all have to play well.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Red Raiders are a fun team to watch. Chris Beard does a great job teaching real motion offense -- and Texas Tech runs it very well. Keenan Evans is Texas Tech's best player, and he averages better than 17 points and is automatic from the foul line. Texas Tech is really solid on the defensive end and does a great job forcing turnovers and guarding the 3-point line. With wins over Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor, the Red Raiders have proven to be legit.
10. Cincinnati Bearcats
The Bearcats are balanced, with no standout scorers or go-to guys that can be targeted. Cincinnati has a bunch of really good players who can each go for 20 on a given night. This is an unselfish team that will find the open man. Not every team does that. Cincinnati leads the American in field goal percentage defense and is second to Wichita State in rebounding, always staples of the Bearcats' program. The difference is that this team can score.
11. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Bilastrator believes that Villanova's Jalen Brunson is the best point guard in the country, but Joel Berry II is right there with him. Berry is carrying a big scoring and leadership role for North Carolina right now. He needs some help. Carolina is good, but its young big guys need to mature faster to be able to contribute on both ends of the floor so that Carolina can be multidimensional. Right now, Carolina is shooting 46 percent from the field, 10th in the ACC, and still averaging better than 17 assists per game. If the big guys come along, Carolina is second-weekend-of-the-NCAA-tournament good. This is a good team that will get better and better.
12. Oklahoma Sooners
Don't get too concerned over losing at West Virginia. Everyone will lose at West Virginia. That is an arena of agony, and not even a young phenom could navigate it successfully. Oklahoma is a very good offensive team that leads the Big 12 in scoring. But the Sooners are not yet great on the defensive end. Of course, the story is Trae Young, the most dynamic and fun player to watch since Steph Curry was torturing people at Davidson. Young leads the nation in both scoring (29.4 points per game) and assists (10.2) and has from-the-logo range. The dude is a wizard with the ball and has every shot in the book -- and a few off the books. If you haven't seen him, check him out. He's a video game.
13. Xavier Musketeers
The Bilastrator loves Xavier's team. This is a tough, gritty bunch that plays together and plays hard. Trevon Bluiett leads the Musketeers in scoring, Tyrique Jones leads in rebounding, Quentin Goodin leads in assists and J.P. Macura leads in steals and opponents that want to step outside. While Bluiett is the best player, Xavier doesn't beat you on talent. Xavier beats you by playing together at both ends. Chris Mack has another Sweet 16 (or beyond) team.
14. Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils score with such ease, spread the floor and attack from the guard spots. This team is really good, and there is no question that Arizona State can score and will score on anybody. The question is whether the Sun Devils can defend at the highest level and limit opponents to one challenged shot? Arizona State allows opponents too many second chances, and that can be the difference in first weekend and second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
15. Tennessee Volunteers
Rick Barnes has done a masterful job of bringing this program along and teaching the young players how to win. For the past two years, Tennessee has been close but has not closed or finished. Well, this team has shown it can do that. If it continues to grow, Tennessee can do that consistently. The Vols are very good defensively but do not score easily. Finishing is a key. Tennessee shoots only 47 percent inside the arc, which is a low percentage.
16. Seton Hall Pirates
The Hall is underrated. The win at Butler was a great indicator of how much tougher this team is this season and how ready Seton Hall is to compete for a championship. Toward the end of the Butler game in Hinkle Fieldhouse, it looked like the Hall could crumble. A couple of bad calls, some tough possessions and Butler was getting the ball consistently to Kelan Martin. But Angel Delgado shrugged off the bad calls and made huge plays down the stretch to win it. Seton Hall showed it has the right stuff. With Delgado, who leads the Big East in rebounding and offensive rebounding, Khadeen Carrington (29 points at Butler), Desi Rodriguez and Myles Powell, Seton Hall has a number of "go-to" options. Seton Hall is for real.
17. Kentucky Wildcats
The Wildcats are a bit of a puzzle. Youth is a given with Kentucky, but there is more youth than ever in Lexington and very little veteran leadership. There is good talent, just not the NBA draft lottery talent to which Kentucky has become accustomed. Kevin Knox is the Wildcats' best player, but he is being keyed on by opposing defenses. The player who has broken out is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA is averaging more than 11 points and five assists, and he is Kentucky's best defender. Since SGA cut his magnificent hair, he has been Kentucky's best player. He is shooting 48 percent from the floor, 45 percent from deep and 86 percent from the free throw line on the season. Kentucky has two issues to deal with -- turnovers and rebounding. Actually, Kentucky's "first-shot" defense is not as bad as some like to portray it. But what puts Kentucky in a bad spot is coughing up the ball and allowing second opportunities. No defense can stop run-outs or defend second chances.
18. Arizona Wildcats
The talent is there. But clearly, the "want to" is not where it needs to be. It was alarming to hear Sean Miller tell the media that he cannot get this group to play hard for him. One guy who is playing hard is Deandre Ayton, the man child who is averaging 20 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots, all while shooting 62 percent from the field. With a talent like Ayton, the Wildcats should play hard, because he gives them a chance to win the whole thing.
19. Creighton Bluejays
This team is a joy to watch on the offensive end of the floor: passing, cutting, screening and doing so with pace and purpose. Creighton puts up better than 90 points per game and does so on 20 assists per game. Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas form one of the nation's best backcourts, and Martin Krampelj is one of the most improved players in the Big East. Krampelj is not the biggest, but he can really run and move his feet, and he has good mobility. Creighton has yet to lose at home and is solid in every area of the game.
20. Gonzaga Bulldogs
The Zags are torturing the West Coast Conference -- again. While not as big or as gifted up front, Gonzaga has really good guards and a very balanced offensive attack. Six players are averaging 9.7 points or better, with Jonathan Williams leading the team with 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Rui Hachimura is figuring it out. Watch out for Corey Kispert. That kid is going to be really good in Spokane.
21. Clemson Tigers
Brad Brownell has his best team in his time at Clemson. The Tigers are older, together and solid in every area of play. Donte Grantham has put it together. He is no longer a player with potential; he is a productive player. Marcquise Reed is the team's top scorer, Gabe DeVoe can shoot it and Elijah Thomas (a transfer from Texas A&M) can rebound and protect the rim. Clemson is an NCAA tournament team.
22. Auburn Tigers
Auburn is the fastest riser in The Bilas Index. There is a positive vibe to this team. The Tigers play hard. Back-to-back wins over ranked teams -- Tennessee and Arkansas -- have not occurred at Auburn since Sonny Smith was coaching. Bruce Pearl's team of unknowns has accepted roles and is willing to do the dirty work in order to win. People are noticing. Don't worry about running your out-of-bounds plays against Auburn. Just get the ball in, because the Tigers guard five strong for five seconds as well as anyone to limit out-of-bounds plays.
23. Florida Gators
When, or if, the Gators get healthy up front, this is a terrific team. It does not have the defensive grit of last season's bunch, but this is a fun team to watch. Chris Chiozza's steal to win the game at Missouri was an example of what a terrific college player Chiozza is. He was alert off the ball, read the play and shot the gap for the steal and the win. Only a handful of players would make that play. Florida averages 83 points per game, third in the SEC to Arkansas and Auburn, and hits almost 10 3s per game.
24. Miami Hurricanes
The Hurricanes do not play fast and they don't shoot it particularly well, but they play solid defense without fouling. Without a scorer in the top 25 of the ACC, Miami ranks just behind Virginia in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. Miami leads the ACC in defending the 3-point line. Scoring droughts cost Miami games against New Mexico State and Georgia Tech. That will be the issue all year. Can Miami score efficiently? So far, it has been game to game.
25. Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles again are big, athletic and talented. This team has very good leadership and versatility, though, and that makes it better than Leonard Hamilton's past few teams. There is a togetherness with this group that stands out. Watch senior guard Braian Angola -- a long, athletic wing who can shoot it and defend with length and athleticism. He never gets tired. Angola is one of those players who never gets the attention he deserves but is a respected athlete in the ACC.
26. Texas A&M Aggies
The only thing that is keeping Texas A&M out of the top 10 is health and availability. For a few weeks, the Aggies have been without DJ Hogg (suspension), Admon Gilder (injury) and Duane Wilson (injury). With those veteran scorers out, defenses have keyed on Tyler Davis and Robert Williams. Plus, the freshmen guards have had to grow up. Without Hogg and Gilder, Texas A&M cannot score from the perimeter. When healthy -- and the Aggies should be healthy this month -- this is a contending team.
27. Ohio State Buckeyes
In case you didn't notice when he was at Butler, Chris Holtmann can coach this game. Ohio State is still a work in progress, but the Buckeyes are really improving. The overall profile of the team looks average, but the trends are pointing upward. Keita Bates-Diop is ridiculously talented and is perhaps the most underrated star in college basketball. Bates-Diop is leading the Big Ten in scoring (20 PPG) and is third in rebounding (8.8 RPG). He is long, athletic, fluid and very skilled. With a great shooting stroke, Bates-Diop can score from range, and he is really versatile. Ohio State has a great one in Bates-Diop.
28. Arkansas Razorbacks
There are some misconceptions about Arkansas. The Razorbacks are a very good offensive team but nowhere near the defensive team that we have seen in the past. Arkansas tries to heat up the ball full court, but this group does not force turnovers and create chaos like past Arkansas teams. Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon form an excellent backcourt with experience and talent -- and both are among the top six scorers in the SEC. As freshman big man Daniel Gafford improves and gains more consistency, Arkansas should improve with him.
29. TCU Horned Frogs
For the Pitt fans and administrators who were tired of going to the NCAA tournament every year and believed they could do better than Jamie Dixon, I give you the TCU Horned Frogs. A program that had not been competitive in quite some time is now a legit NCAA tournament team and a program to be reckoned with. Kenrich Williams, Vladimir Brodziansky, Jaylen Fisher and Desmond Bane are all among the Big 12's top 30 scorers, and Williams is one of the top rebounders in the league. TCU can score and rarely turns the ball over. That said, TCU has not guarded as effectively in Big 12 play. Against Baylor on the road and versus Oklahoma and Kansas at home, TCU is giving up 85 points per game at 47 percent field goal defense, both near the bottom of the Big 12.
30. Nevada Wolf Pack
The Wolf Pack are really good, due to terrific personnel. Nevada can score with anyone, but the ultimate level of this team will be determined by defense and rebounding. Can Nevada defend and rebound at a higher level? Jordan Caroline certainly can. Caroline averages 17 points and 9.4 rebounds, but he is not alone in his ability level. Caleb Martin leads Nevada in scoring at 19 points per game and is second in the Mountain West only to UNLV freshman Brandon McCoy. Caleb's twin brother, Cody, is averaging almost 14 points per game and is among the league's rebounding leaders. If Nevada defends and rebounds, this is an NCAA tournament team that can win when it gets there.
31. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
How does Mike Brey do it? Without Bonzie Colson, who is out two months with a broken foot, and Matt Farrell, who sprained an ankle against NC State, the Irish went into the Carrier Dome and beat Syracuse. That just doesn't happen. Notre Dame is 3-0 in the ACC. Rex Pflueger will be on instructional coaching videos for years with his "don't give up on the play" offensive rebound to win the game against the Orange. With Farrell back, Notre Dame will be competitive, but don't expect the Irish to maintain its current foothold on the league lead. No Bonzie, no league title contention. Going 9-9 in the league is possible, which would carry with it an NCAA bid and a healthy Bonzie back.
32. Saint Mary's Gaels
The Gaels have won 10 in a row, but the schedule has been underwhelming. Decisions over New Mexico State and BYU are good wins, but Saint Mary's has not been truly tested yet. The Bilastrator feels the Gaels will pass future tests with their outstanding offense, but the Saint Mary's defense has yet to distinguish itself. SMC has to get tougher to score upon to unseat Gonzaga as the West Coast Conference's best team.
33. Marquette Golden Eagles
Markus Howard is on a hot streak. The sophomore guard put up 52 points at Providence in a remarkable performance and followed it up with 37 points in a loss to Villanova. Howard, who actually is six months younger than Oklahoma's Trae Young, is becoming a complete basketball player. Marquette is a good team. As the season progresses, Marquette needs to get grittier on defense to reach the next level.
34. Boise State Broncos
The Bilas Index is very bullish on the Broncos. While Nevada has terrific personnel, especially at the top of the roster, Boise State has more balance and is the better rebounding and defensive team. Chandler Hutchison, the Broncos' best player, is among the Mountain West leaders in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. He will be known by all before the NCAA tournament is over. Hutchison is a gamer who just glides out there. The Bilastrator saw Hutchison play several times early in his career and didn't see greatness in him. However, this kid is a great player. He has clearly retooled his shot, his feet are terrific and he is incredibly confident. Watch this kid. He is an NBA player.
35. Michigan Wolverines
Led by Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews and big man Moe Wagner, Michigan is a solid team. There is no Trey Burke or Derrick Walton on the roster, but John Beilein is getting it done by committee. The Wolverines don't turn it over, but they don't really rebound on offense or get to the foul line, either. As a team, Michigan plays solid defense and all five guys try to limit opponents to one shot. After winning seven in a row, Michigan has Purdue, Michigan State and Maryland in a really key stretch.
36. Baylor Bears
In its first three Big 12 games, Baylor hit seven 3-point field goals. Total. For comparison, Kansas hit 34. Oklahoma hit 32. Even Iowa State hit 17, and that is second to last in the Big 12.
37. Rhode Island Rams
Rhody is the best team in the Atlantic 10 and has won six straight. With a victory over George Washington, the Rams set a program record by winning its sixth straight A-10 road game. If you count last season's A-10 tournament, Rhode Island has won nine straight conference games away from home.
38. Texas Longhorns
Shaka Smart is a great coach, and he is pushing every button to try to figure out this team. Texas has a great defender in Mo Bamba and players that play hard. But scoring is a chore. In order to put points on the board, Texas has to generate offense from its defense and get quicker shots in transition so as not to grind it out without shooters. Texas can defend with anyone, but the lack of offensive production puts a lot of pressure on that defense.
39. Butler Bulldogs
The Bulldogs beat Villanova, then dropped consecutive games to Xavier and Seton Hall. Kelan Martin has been excellent of late, putting up 27 points against Seton Hall. He has hit for 20 or more points in six straight games.
40. Maryland Terrapins
Injuries have hit Maryland hard. Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender are out for the season, and the Terps have to find new ways to win. Maryland was blown out at Michigan State but bounced back with an 18-point win against Iowa. Bruno Fernando put up 21 points in a rout of the Hawkeyes. Anthony Cowan leads the team with 16 points and 4.6 assists per game. One area in which Maryland needs to improve is taking care of the ball. Maryland turns the ball over on almost 22 percent of its possessions, 309th in the nation.
41. Georgia Bulldogs
After a tough loss at Kentucky -- which was a rock fight -- and a win over Ole Miss, Georgia played its best game of the season against Alabama. Yante Maten had 26 points and 11 rebounds as the Georgia big men dominated the contest. Turnovers and suspect perimeter shooting have made things difficult on Maten, who is the primary target of opposing defenses.
42. Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals were blown out at Kentucky, then lost in overtime to Clemson on the road. Louisville's defense has been solid. The Cards are very long and can protect the lane. But their shooting has been poor. Louisville is hitting only 33 percent from deep, which is in the bottom third of Division I.
43. SMU Mustangs
The Ponies are solid in most areas of play. They do a great job hunting shots from the 3-point line. Shake Milton is among the American's leaders in scoring, assists and steals. He is one of the five best players in the league.
44. Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies' offense was so potent early in the season, but most of those games were against lesser competition. Virginia Tech has hit the skids recently. After a close loss to Kentucky, the Hokies put up an anemic 56 points at Syracuse and were blown out at home by Virginia. This team is much better than it has played in the past three weeks.
45. UCLA Bruins
The Bruins have been through quite a bit this season, and a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area added to some of the intrigue. After holding a lead most of the game, UCLA was loose with possessions late against Stanford and missed a ton of free throws down the stretch. Then the Bruins allowed the Cardinal to hit an unlikely shot late to send the game to overtime, where UCLA could not get anything going. The Bruins' season can go either way right now. This can be an NCAA tournament team or this can be a wrong-side-of-the-bubble team. The Bruins' next seven games will determine that.
46. Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions responded well to a tough loss at Maryland with a win over struggling Northwestern. To date, that win is the best on the Penn State resume. This roster is capable of being a factor in the Big Ten. The league schedule is back-loaded against Penn State, which means it must pile up wins now. This is a huge stretch in which the Nittany Lions have to win.
47. Providence Friars
After a tough loss to Marquette in which the story was Markus Howard and his 52 points, Providence responded with a terrific win over Xavier at home. Kyron Cartwright led the way with 19 points, nine assists and four steals, and Rodney Bullock had 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Providence has a brutal remaining schedule.
48. USC Trojans
The Bilastrator is stunned that USC has not been better. There is still plenty of time to pull out of this, and the Pac-12 is not as resistant this year as it has been in past years. USC has lost to Princeton, Washington and Stanford, and it has not beaten a team ranked in the top 50 of the KenPom.com efficiency ratings. USC's best wins are over Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State and Vanderbilt (in overtime).
49. Missouri Tigers
The loss to Florida at home was soul-crushing. The late turnover that led to Chris Chiozza's winning layup was tough, but so were the fouls called on Jeremiah Tilmon. Cuonzo Martin subtly railed on the issue after the game, but it won't do any good. Missouri is another team that does not have a win over a team ranked in the top 50 of the KenPom.com efficiency ratings. This is a good 3-point shooting team that is improving on the defensive end and playing much better. Missouri is one of 15 D-I teams that already has eclipsed its win total from last season. After going 8-24 last season, Missouri is 11-4 this season.
50. Syracuse Orange
The Orange have lost three of five -- to St. Bonaventure, Wake Forest and a very short-handed Notre Dame. Syracuse is very good defensively, but it does not force turnovers like Jim Boeheim's best teams have. The Orange struggle to make shots but are excellent on the offensive glass. If you can force Syracuse out of transition and keep it off the glass, you can win. The zone is working, as opponents are shooting just 38.1 percent, which is 11th in D-I. However, Syracuse hits on just 42.9 percent of its own shots, which is 269th in D-I and last in the ACC. With wins over Virginia Tech and Maryland, Syracuse has a decent résumé, but there is a lot more work to do for an NCAA bid.
51. Houston Cougars
The Cougars had won four straight games and 11 out of 12 heading to Wichita State, where Houston got hit with a bag of hammers. Houston will not be the only team beaten senseless by Wichita State, but it certainly shakes your confidence. You had better make Houston play in the half court and limit its second shots, because this team can run and rebound well. Rob Gray is the engine that makes this team go. Houston has wins over Providence, Arkansas and Temple, but it only has five more regular-season games against top 50 competition (Wichita State, SMU and Cincinnati). Houston is one of three teams in Division I to rank in the top 35 of both offensive rebound percentage (31st) and defensive rebound percentage (35th), according to KenPom.com. The Cougars have done it despite ranking 318th in average height; the other two teams rank 15th (Gonzaga) and 78th (North Carolina).
52. UCF Knights
The Knights' defense is stifling and one of the five best in the country. The Knights' offense is rough, and without B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins, it is one of the most challenged in the country. Still, it is exceedingly difficult to score against UCF. Games with the Knights are one of the toughest in which to establish any kind of rhythm. A real bright spot has been the play of A.J. Davis, a terrific rebounder who leads the American in rebounding and defensive rebounding. UCF ranks sixth in Division I in adjusted defensive efficiency and 281st in adjusted offensive efficiency. That's the biggest differential (275) between offense and defense in Division I.
53. Minnesota Golden Gophers
This season was filled with promise, but without Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey going forward, duplicating last season's NCAA tournament berth will be far more challenging. Minnesota played hard against Indiana but did a poor job down the stretch to give up a lead late in the game. Indiana was without De'Ron Davis and still won on the road.
54. New Mexico State Aggies
Jemerrio Jones, a 6-foot-5 forward, is one of the best rebounders in the country, averaging better than 11 rebounds per game and more than 3.8 offensive rebounds per game. Jones has 10 double-doubles on the season and anchors a team that does not surrender second shots. New Mexico State is an excellent defensive team that has beaten Miami and Davidson, its only two top-100 wins. New Mexico State's weakness is at the free throw line. The Aggies are tied for 317th in Division I in free throw attempts per game (16.0) and rank 345th in percentage (62.9).
55. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
The Bonnies were 11-2 with a win over Syracuse before dropping back-to-back games against Dayton and Saint Joseph's on the road. Matt Mobley and Jaylen Adams comprise one of the nation's top senior backcourts. With Adams and Mobley, St. Bonaventure is one of four Division I teams to have two seniors averaging at least 17 points per game. The other three are Oakland (which has three), Saint Joseph's and Niagara.
56. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Former Alabama and Memphis player Nick King is having a great season as a graduate transfer for Kermit Davis. Very strong with the ability to drive it or pull up, King is averaging 23 points and 7.5 rebounds. Middle Tennessee has really struggled to shoot the ball in conference play, but it is 3-0 on the strength of its defense. The Blue Raiders are 7-0 on the road this season, the most road wins in Division I. They have won 10 straight road games dating back to last season, the longest active such win streak in D-I.
57. BYU Cougars
The Cougars suffered a tough loss at Pacific, despite 29 points from Elijah Bryant. Yoeli Childs leads BYU in rebounding (8.6) and is tied with Bryant in scoring (17.5). BYU has beaten Utah, but it has only Gonzaga and Saint Mary's as quality opponents from here on in. BYU needs to beat each and to do very well in the WCC tournament for any hope of an at-large bid. Childs has seven double-doubles this season, which ranks second in the West Coast Conference and is two more than he had all of last season.
58. LSU Tigers
Freshman guard Tremont Waters is a special talent. His last minute against Texas A&M on the road was truly amazing. Waters was named SEC Freshman of the Week for averaging 19.5 points and eight rebounds in games against Kentucky and Texas A&M. He is so quick and crafty that very few defenders can stay in front of him. He is the only player in Division I this season averaging at least 17 points, six assists and two steals per game.
59. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
The Hilltoppers have two wins that most teams in America don't have, and those were the two wins over Purdue and SMU in the Bahamas. Western Kentucky is led by former Tennessee and Virginia player Darius Thompson, who just put up a triple-double with 33 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Marshall. He is the second player in school history to post a triple-double.
60. Utah Utes
The Utes have suffered some tough losses but are a good team; they are balanced, with five guys averaging double figures. Utah has lost tough ones to Arizona State and Arizona, playing pretty well in both games. The Utes are getting 28.8 PPG in paint, second fewest in Pac-12, after leading major conferences in paint PPG last season at 41.1 A road trip to USC and UCLA this week will be a big one. Going into this week, Utah has only one quality win -- over Missouri.
61. Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats were manhandled at Texas Tech, and Kamau Stokes could not really play due to an ankle injury. Barry Brown was a bright spot with 24 points against the Red Raiders, but Kansas State was not competitive in that game. Kansas State has only one win against a team ranked in the top 100 of the KenPom.com efficiency ratings.
62. Oklahoma State Cowboys
With wins over Florida State and Iowa State, the Cowboys have had some good moments. Jeffrey Carroll is the Cowboys' best player. All of Oklahoma State's losses have come to top-25 teams (Texas A&M, Wichita State, West Virginia and Oklahoma). The Cowboys are getting 18.3 PPG off turnovers, the most by them since ESPN began tracking that stat in 2011-12.
63. Alabama Crimson Tide
This team has young talent but is scattered on the offensive end. After crushing a depleted Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide lost to Vanderbilt by one point and was blown out by Georgia. Alabama's biggest problem is competing on the glass, where the Crimson Tide give up second shots and don't get many for themselves. Freshman Collin Sexton is averaging 20.6 PPG, the most in the SEC. He would be the first freshman to lead the SEC in scoring since Chris Jackson of LSU in 1988-89.
64. Boston College Eagles
Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman form one of the best guard tandems in the country. Robinson averages 18 PPG, while Bowman accounts for averages of 16 points and five assists. BC is capable. Boston College has played three current AP top-10 teams this season, beating Duke by five, losing to Virginia by one and losing by 11 to Texas Tech -- a game the Eagles trailed by just three points with 1:30 to play. Boston College's average scoring margin against current top-10 teams (-2.3) is the third-best among the 23 teams that have played multiple games against those opponents this season. Bowman, who led the Eagles with 30 points in the win over Duke, is averaging 7.1 rebounds per game, the second most in Division I this season by a player 6-foot-1 or shorter (Tramaine Isabell averages 7.4 for Drexel).
65. Northern Kentucky Norse
The Norse is out of the Horizon League and have been in every single game with a legit chance to win. Led by Lavone Holland II and Drew McDonald -- the preseason Horizon League Player of the Year -- Northern Kentucky is a solid defensive team that does not make many mistakes. Where the Norse can be had against bigger teams is on the backboards.
66. San Diego State Aztecs
The coach has changed, but the overall makeup of the program has not. The Aztecs guard the ball well, rotate to the ball and rebound well, but they cannot shoot straight. The Aztecs lead the Mountain West in opponent FG percentage at 39.8 percent. San Diego State is 220th in the country in effective field goal percentage and 248th in 3-point field goal percentage at 33 percent.
67. Missouri State Bears
Paul Lusk's team has beaten Western Kentucky, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa. It is among the best defensive teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. Alize Johnson has a defensive rebounding rate of 30.1, per KenPom.com. That is seventh nationally. The Bears lost a tough one to Illinois State, but this team should challenge for the MVC title. On another note, all the best to former Bears star Jackie Stiles, currently undergoing treatment for ocular melanoma. Stiles was women's college basketball's all-time leading scorer before Washington's Kelsey Plum eclipsed her record last season.
68. Old Dominion Monarchs
The Monarchs have won seven straight games and are one of the nation's top 50 defensive teams. Scoring is not a smooth sail for ODU, but the Monarchs are very solid chest-to-chest defenders. The Monarchs hold opponents to just 40.9 percent on 2-point field goals, good for sixth in D-I and the best outside of the major conferences and the American Athletic Conference. Trey Porter, a 6-foot-10 junior, has been very good lately, putting up 23 points and 11 rebounds against North Texas on the road. The Monarchs are led by former Virginia player B.J. Stith, who averages 15 points per game and shoots over 40 percent from deep.