Winners and Losers from the AP College Basketball Top 25 Rankings in Week 17
By narrowly escaping with victories over Auburn and Ole Miss while Syracuse picked up its first (and second) loss of the season, the Florida Gators ascended to No. 1 in this week's AP Top 25.
They became the fifth team to earn the top spot in the poll—joining Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan State and Syracuse in that elusive club—but there are bigger winners and losers to discuss.
North Carolina, Southern Methodist and New Mexico all returned to the AP Top 25 this week after spending last Monday on the sidelines. Those winners took the place of Connecticut, UCLA and Gonzaga.
Farther up in the rankings, both Kansas and Louisville made big leaps this week after statement wins on Saturday. Meanwhile, San Diego State took the biggest tumble of the week, dropping seven spots to No. 13 despite suffering just one completely understandable loss at New Mexico.
In less than three weeks, Selection Sunday will be here and this poll won't mean a darn thing anymore. But for now, it's all we've got.
Here are the rest of this week's winners and losers.
Winner: North Carolina Tar Heels
Those losses to Belmont, UAB, Wake Forest and Miami are a thing of the past.
North Carolina is one of the hottest teams in the country.
After a 3-0 week against Florida State, Duke and Wake Forest, the Tar Heels have now pushed their winning streak to nine games. The ACC hasn't been anywhere near as good as it was advertised to be four months ago, but it's still pretty impressive to win that many consecutive ACC games by an average of 13.3 points per game.
The AP voters finally took notice. North Carolina returned to the AP Top 25 at No. 19 after a seven-week hiatus.
Loser: Syracuse Orange
Not since Saint Joseph's lost by 20 points to Xavier in the 2004 A-10 tournament has a team put such an emphatic end to a perfect record this late in the season.
Syracuse's home loss to Boston College was about as bad as it gets. Even after beating one of the best teams in the country, the Eagles still have an RPI rank of 180.
Rather than bouncing back three days later against a new rival, the Orange lost to Duke, and Jim Boeheim had perhaps the most memorable coaching meltdown of the season.
Things won't get any easier this week, as Syracuse plays on the road against Maryland and Virginia.
The Orange only dropped from No. 1 to No. 4 this week, but there might be even more slippage in their near future.
Winner: Kansas Jayhawks
With the way that many have been heralding the Jayhawks as a favorite to win it all, it might feel like Kansas has been ranked in the Top 5 all season.
However, this is the first time since Nov. 25 that Rock Chalk has climbed this high in the polls, closing out the month of February at No. 5 in the nation.
Midway through the week, it didn't seem like this was possible. Kansas needed some last-second heroics to come away with a one-point win against a Texas Tech team that is now below .500 for the year.
But the Jayhawks bounced back and simply murdered Texas over the weekend, opening up a 28-point lead by halftime.
Before the game against Texas, we were at least subconsciously wondering if the rigorous schedule was starting to wear down the Jayhawks.
By halftime, we were right back to assuming that Kansas is pretty much a lock for the Final Four.
Loser: Texas Longhorns
For as good as they have played this season, it certainly wasn't a surprise that the Texas Longhorns lost at Iowa State and at Kansas this week.
The manner in which they lost, though, was pretty alarming.
Defense has been their forte, but the Cyclones and Jayhawks averaged 1.25 points per possession this week against the Longhorns.
On offense, they're relying far too heavily on Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix—neither of whom is shooting 40 percent from the field on the season. In the two losses this week, they combined to make just 17-of-65 field-goal attempts.
The Longhorns were No. 19 a week ago, but have now dropped to No. 24.
Frankly, you could make an argument that they're a winner for remaining in the polls, but if they're going to stay in the AP Top 25 for another week, they'll need to buckle down on defense and make Jonathan Holmes a more focal point of the offensive attack.
Winner: Louisville Cardinals
While everyone else spent the past few months battling for pole position, the defending champs have been biding their time—waiting for the perfect opportunity to make their move.
Louisville was lurking in the teens for the past eight weeks, but after beating Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon, the Cardinals have jumped back into the Top 10 at No. 7.
It was more than just that one win, though. Louisville has won 10 out of its last 11 games. During that stretch, the Cardinals played seven games against the bottom half of the conference, winning by an average of 29.7 points per game.
They have three good games remaining against Connecticut, Memphis and Southern Methodist before the AAC tournament. They were largely overlooked for two months, but could realistically play their way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament by playing well down the stretch.
Loser: Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga sneaked back into the polls last week at No. 25. It was Gonzaga's 11th consecutive week ranking somewhere between No. 20 and No. 30 in the AP Top 25.
But forget about the poll, because the Bulldogs only received two votes this week.
Is Gonzaga playing its way onto the tournament bubble?
The Bulldogs lost road games against BYU and San Diego this week. They have now lost three out of their last five.
They are 1-4 vs. RPI Top 60 and have two losses to teams outside the RPI Top 100. Their profile is pretty similar to Indiana State's, and hardly anyone is arguing that the Sycamores deserve an at-large bid.
Gonzaga is probably OK for now, but a loss in the next week to either Pacific or Saint Mary's could be a serious problem.
Winner: New Mexico Lobos
Save for North Carolina, no team in the country had a more impressive week than New Mexico.
UNLV isn't having a great season by any means, but it's never easy for visiting teams to win at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Lobos did so by double digits behind a 29-point effort from Kendall Williams.
Building on that big win, the Lobos picked up arguably their best win of the season on Saturday night. They held San Diego State to just 44 points in upsetting the No. 6 team in the country. Cameron Bairstow scored 26 points for the Lobos—incredibly his 22nd consecutive game with at least 14 points.
New Mexico was ranked 37th in the country in RPI after losing to Boise State on Feb. 12. After three straight convincing wins, the Lobos are now ranked 21st in RPI and 25th in the AP Top 25.
With a road game against San Diego State still on the schedule, they might not be finished climbing, either.
Loser: Iowa Hawkeyes
Against currently ranked teams, Iowa is 2-7 this season.
Good thing the Hawkeyes are 17-0 against everyone else.
They played just one game this week, losing at home to a red-hot Wisconsin. It was their third loss in their last four home games. They are now 8-5 in B1G play with a pair of difficult road games against Minnesota and Michigan State still to be played.
There's a very real possibility that Iowa could finish the regular season in sixth place in the conference standings—even though KenPom.com rated Iowa (subscription required) as the sixth-best team in the country before the loss to Wisconsin.
Granted, none of their losses have been bad—the eight-point loss to Michigan was their largest margin of defeat this season—but it's clear the AP voters have become a little skeptical about how good the Hawkeyes actually are.
Iowa dropped from No. 15 to No. 20.
Winner: Wichita State Shockers
They didn't quite make the (much-deserved) jump to No. 1, but we had to mention the Shockers as a winner this week—if only because it has been four weeks since they appeared in this weekly article.
Wichita State is now the only remaining undefeated team in the country. Regardless of your opinion about the strength of their schedule, the Shockers have beaten every team in their path while every other team has lost at least twice.
That has to count for something.
Thanks to Syracuse's two losses, this is the first time that Wichita State has been No. 2 in the country since Dec. 29, 1981.
Next stop No. 1? The Shockers did receive 14 first-place votes on Monday. If they can jump Florida before the end of the season, it will be their first appearance at the top of the AP Top 25 in almost 50 years. They spent one week at No. 1 in December 1964.
After beating Drake on Saturday to clinch a regular-season Missouri Valley title, reporters asked for Fred VanVleet's thoughts on the team's accomplishment.
"It means a lot, it really does," said the point guard. "It's something we didn't do last year. It's special, and we appreciate it. But, at the same time, we have more goals ahead of us."
Loser: Stanford Cardinal
Stanford had a fantastic week, taking the screws to USC on Thursday with a 21-point win and handing UCLA just its second loss in the past month on Saturday.
The Cardinal have now won five out of six—three of which were against likely NCAA tournament teams.
I didn't actually expect them to jump into the consensus Top 25, but how is it even possible that not a single voter put Stanford on their ballot?
Gonzaga lost twice and still got two votes. North Carolina Central hasn't played a single team in the RPI Top 150 in nearly two months, and yet someone had the audacity to award the Eagles with a 25th-place vote.
But because Stanford's win over UCLA was good enough to eliminate the Bruins from the AP Top 25, there is once again only one ranked team in the Pac-12.
That conference deserves much better.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.