The Spartans have steadily risen up the AP and coaches’ polls since losing at home to Michigan in mid-January, winning seven in a row against mostly mediocre competition. They weren’t exactly moving the needle in projected brackets and were ranked outside the top 10 in ESPN’s Power Rankings. After winning their eighth game in a row on Saturday, a home victory over Purdue, the buzz began to grow for Michigan State to jump to No. 1 overall in the polls. After all, Virginia, Villanova and Purdue all lost, meaning the No. 4 team — Michigan State — should theoretically just move up.
We’re here to pump the brakes a bit.
Michigan State’s résumé and full-season body of work just isn’t close to that of Virginia, Villanova or Xavier right now.
The Spartans have the lowest RPI of the four, the lowest strength of schedule of the four — and a nonconference strength of schedule in the 200s, by far the worst of the four. While they do own wins over Purdue and North Carolina, they have just three Quadrant 1 wins and seven Quadrant 1 and 2 wins. For comparison, Virginia has seven Quadrant 1 wins and 13 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins; Villanova has eight Quadrant 1 wins and 13 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins; and Xavier has seven Quadrant 1 wins and 14 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins. Virginia, Villanova and Xavier also are No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in ESPN’s strength of record metric.
Michigan State’s win over Purdue absolutely moves it up in the pecking order, and the case can be made for the Spartans to be ranked No. 4 (the final 1-seed) ahead of Purdue.
But No. 1 overall? If we’re basing it on a season-long body of work, there’s no argument.
1. Virginia Cavaliers
Last week: 1
Tony Bennett’s team doesn’t fall from the top spot despite a home loss to Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers would have dropped to No. 2 or No. 3 — but Villanova also suffered a surprising home loss this week, while Purdue went 0-2. Virginia’s No. 1 RPI and KenPom ranking give the Cavaliers the edge over Nova.
2. Villanova Wildcats
Last week: 2
Villanova’s injuries and defensive issues are starting to catch up to them, and only one seems likely to change in the coming weeks. Villanova’s trip to Xavier this weekend could decide the Big East title — something the Wildcats have won in each of the past five years.
3. Xavier Musketeers
Last week: 5
Xavier controls its destiny for a 1-seed and Big East title, after having one of the most impressive weeks of anyone in the country. The Musketeers picked up road wins at Butler and Creighton, pushing their winning streak to eight games. Seton Hall and Villanova come to Cincinnati this week.
4. Purdue Boilermakers
Last week: 3
Purdue gets the edge for the final 1-seed despite going 0-2 this week and ending its 19-game winning streak. The Boilermakers still have better RPI and SOS numbers — as well as KenPom and BPI — than Michigan State. They have five Quadrant 1 wins and 11 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins.
5. Michigan State Spartans
Last week: 12
The Spartans see a significant rise after beating Purdue. Coming into the season, Michigan State was one of three teams — with Duke and Arizona — that many had pegged to win a national title. The Spartans are clearly playing the best of those preseason favorites right now, and they remain a popular title pick.
6. Cincinnati Bearcats
Last week: 9
Despite lacking a marquee win, the Bearcats have 11 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins and are considered elite in the BPI and at KenPom. This is a huge week, though, as the Bearcats have to travel to Houston on Thursday, then play their first of two games against Wichita State this weekend.
7. Auburn Tigers
Last week: 6
A one-point home loss to a suddenly hot Texas A&M team doesn’t drop Auburn too far, especially since the Tigers bounced back to throttle Georgia on the road. Bruce Pearl’s team has a two-game edge on the SEC standings heading into the final six games. No one would have expected this type of season.
8. Clemson Tigers
Last week: 8
As Duke and North Carolina continue to alternate bad weeks, Clemson is solidly the second-best team in the ACC standings — and the Tigers have the résumé to back it up. They have a top-five RPI and 11 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins. They do travel to Florida State and host Duke this week, though.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last week: 10
With three weeks left in the Big 12 season, Texas Tech has sole possession of first place in the conference after the Red Raiders dominated Kansas State on the road and Kansas lost at Baylor. That’s now six wins in a row for Texas Tech after a January slump. The Jayhawks still have to come to Lubbock, by the way.
10. North Carolina Tar Heels
Last week: 15
On paper, the Tar Heels’ résumé has always remained fairly impressive, but a week that included wins over Duke and NC State finally boosts them back into the top 10. North Carolina has top-10 RPI, SOS and nonconference SOS, as well as seven Quadrant 1 wins. The Tar Heels face five potential NCAA tournament teams to finish the season.
11. Kansas Jayhawks
Last week: 4
Had Kansas won at Baylor, it would have likely been a top-five team, but the 16-point loss starts showing cracks in the Jayhawks’ résumé. And now they are a game behind Texas Tech in the Big 12 standings. They do have 14 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins, which is tied with Xavier for tops in the country.
12. Duke Blue Devils
Last week: 7
What’s going on with the Blue Devils? They had lost three of four before beating Georgia Tech on the road on Sunday, but their seed is plummeting. The issues still revolve mostly around their defense, and it’s getting awfully late in the season to assume that will be fixed. Four of their final six games are at home.
13. Tennessee Volunteers
Last week: 11
Intriguing split for the Volunteers last week, as they went into Lexington and beat Kentucky — before losing by 28 at Alabama. Tennessee’s hopes of running the table and potentially earning a 1-seed are now likely done, but the Volunteers still have 10 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins and very solid result-based metrics.
14. Ohio State Buckeyes
Last week: 16
What a job Chris Holtmann has done with the Buckeyes. With wins at Purdue and over Iowa last week, Ohio State is now in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have won 17 of their past 19 games. But keep an eye on their schedule: Three of their final four games are on the road.
15. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last week: 20
Evidently Gonzaga wasn’t ready to give up the West Coast Conference crown just yet. The Bulldogs absolutely smacked Saint Mary’s in Moraga, California, to pull back into a tie for first place. The season series likely will be decided in the West Coast Conference title game (although Gonzaga still has to play at BYU).
16. Rhode Island Rams
Last week: 17
While seemingly everyone else around them falters, the Rams just continue to plug along and dominate the Atlantic 10. Dan Hurley’s team has now won 15 in a row, although perhaps their most difficult game comes on Friday: at St. Bonaventure. Rhode Island won the first meeting by 14 at home.
17. Arizona Wildcats
Last week: 13
It’s unclear why Arizona played without any sense of urgency in a home loss to UCLA last week, but the Wildcats bounced back with a victory over USC. The next three are on the road for Sean Miller’s program, starting on Thursday with a trip to Tempe to face an Arizona State team that is rounding back into form.
18. Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: NR
Billy Kennedy’s team makes the biggest jump of any team from outside the rankings this week, after winning at Auburn, then dominating the second half against Kentucky. The Aggies have arguably the most talent in the SEC, and they’ve now won four in a row and six of their past eight.
19. West Virginia Mountaineers
Last week: 18
Wouldn’t have expected the split West Virginia had last week: winning at Oklahoma and then blowing a late lead to lose at home to Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers have now lost six of their past nine, including three games in Morgantown. Ten Quadrant 1 and 2 wins help them from falling too far.
20. Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 14
Unfortunately for Trae Young, this might be the highest Oklahoma is ranked the rest of the regular season. The Sooners have lost their past six road games, and they head to Lubbock on Tuesday to face Texas Tech before coming home to play Texas. Oklahoma might enter the NCAA tournament with 12 losses.
21. Wichita State Shockers
Last week: NR
The Shockers are back in the rankings after blowing out Memphis and Connecticut in a couple of easy wins. They also finally picked up a Quadrant 1 win, thanks to Houston beating SMU last week. Wichita State has a statement opportunity this weekend, heading to Cincinnati face the Bearcats.
22. Arizona State Sun Devils
Last week: NR
After plummeting from No. 1 in December to out of the rankings last week, Bobby Hurley’s group is back. They have now won three in a row after beating USC and UCLA last week, moving above .500 in the Pac-12 for the first time all season. In-state rival Arizona comes to town on Thursday.
23. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Last week: 19
Saint Mary’s had a chance to essentially seal the West Coast Conference regular-season championship on Saturday night, but the Gaels were dominated by Gonzaga. They’re still likely to earn a share of the title, but the résumé is still lacking in quality wins — something a second win over Gonzaga would have solved.
24. Florida Gators
Last week: NR
Florida is another team that has bounced back and forth between the rankings and on the outside looking in, but the Gators worked themselves back in this week after wins over LSU and South Carolina. A neutral-site win over Cincinnati and a road win over Texas A&M are looking better and better.
25. Miami Hurricanes
Last week: 21
The Hurricanes, despite losing at Boston College on Saturday, edge out Nevada, Missouri and a couple of other teams for the final spot — mostly because the Hurricanes have zero Quadrant 3 or 4 losses. They have two big chances this week, with Virginia and Syracuse both coming to Coral Gables, Florida.
Dropped out: Kentucky, Nevada, Seton Hall, Butler