College basketball rankings: Houston leaps UNC for No. 1

It’s a beautiful thing to have college basketball back and the preseason prognostications in our rearview mirror. As the opening week went on, the sport reminded us of its pageantry and impact, with Friday night acting as the main example.

There was the Veterans Day epic between Gonzaga and Michigan State — a 64-63 win for the second-ranked Bulldogs — on the USS Abraham Lincoln, which our own Andy Katz was on site for and recapped below.

In Philadelphia, Temple completed a five-day stretch that served as a reminder that anything can happen. On opening night, the Owls lost a 15-point lead to Wagner at home and lost. But four nights later there was a court-storming at the Liacourus Center, as Temple beat Villanova for the first time in 10 years, the biggest win of the Aaron McKie era.

If that doesn’t sum up the randomness that we love about college basketball, nothing does. But there was more drama than that during opening week. Grambling State beat Colorado, which in turn knocked off Tennessee on Sunday. Sam Houston shocked Oklahoma on opening night, while an 0-2 Texas State team went to Arizona State and beat the Sun Devils on Sunday. 

The point? You never know what’s going to happen in this sport, especially early on when many teams are still trying to figure themselves out. With the transfer portal and super seniors still in play, the gap between the high- and mid-to-low-majors has only gotten closer. Oral Roberts and Saint Peter’s making NCAA Tournament runs in back-to-back years is no coincidence.

With that, here’s our updated weekly Top 15, followed by weekly superlatives and takeaways on a busy first week of the season.

We begin with a shakeup in my weekly rankings.

No. 1: Houston (Preseason rank: 3)

I know what you may be thinking. Yes, we had North Carolina as our preseason No. 1, a deserving position due to all the Heels returned to the fold. But this is a weekly reactionary poll, and seeing UNC give up 50 points in the first half to Charleston on Friday evening gave us pause.

The Cougars look like the toughest team in college basketball, and they showed Friday night against Saint Joe’s that they’ve found another way to win: play through five-star freshman Jarace Walker. While preseason All-American Marcus Sasser shot 2-for-9 from beyond the arc and backcourt mate Jamal Shead went 2-for-10, Houston still won 81-55 at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis behind Walker’s 23-point night. The stout Houston defense held the Hawks to 16-for-54 from the floor and forced 16 turnovers. 

The fact that coach Kelvin Sampson can blend in a potential NBA Draft lottery pick with the experience Houston has back is pretty scary for everybody else. I am buying stock in the Cougars as the best team in college basketball, and instead of reacting off a big win, why not do it now!

No. 2 Gonzaga (Preseason rank: 2)

Some view Friday’s one-point win over Michigan State as a reason to be concerned. But what it really showed is that Tom Izzo’s Spartans didn’t deserve to be left out of the AP Top 25. You also have to credit Izzo and Mark Few for being willing to play a tough early-season game in an outdoor setting. Looking at the opening week slate, it was mostly cupcake city. Drew Timme showed why he’s a National Player of the Year front-runner, willing the Zags back from 12 down with 22 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.

No. 3 North Carolina (Preseason rank: 1)

The Tar Heels were the hottest team in college basketball last March, making the national title game as a No. 8 seed. But even given that — plus the fact they welcomed the majority of their core back and added Pete Nance — it was absolutely fair to have them as the preseason No. 1. But the Tar Heels did not look good defensively on Friday night, allowing 86 points. Their offense is lethal, and if Armando Bacot gets touches, success will happen. There’s no question Hubert Davis has one of the best teams in college basketball. But are they No. 1? We might find out when the schedule intensifies at the Phil Knight Invitational.

No. 4 Kentucky (Preseason rank: 4)

No Oscar Tshiebwe? No problem. John Calipari’s team went to 2-0 last week. The standout storylines? Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick, who missed all of last season with an injury, is 6-for-12 from downtown in two games. Sharpshooter Antonio Reeves is 10-for-18 from 3-point range. That catch-and-shoot ability is perfect for Sahvir Wheeler to set up, as the senior point guard went for 11 assists Friday night. Tshiebwe is listed as day-to-day with a right leg injury and his status is up in the air for Kentucky’s Champions Classic game in Indianapolis on Tuesday night against Michigan State.

No. 5 Baylor (Preseason rank: 5)

Scott Drew knew he would have a nice core of players back in Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer and Flo Thamba. The fact that he added a five-star freshman in Keyonte George and transfer Jalen Bridges is downright scary. George dazzled in Friday’s 87-70 win over Norfolk State, going for 23 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. Bridges added 20 points in 23 minutes, going 5-for-7 from the floor. The Bears are tough, but also have multiple perimeter threats who can score in bunches. George might be the best freshman in the country.

No. 6 UCLA (Preseason rank: 6)

While Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell headline the Bruins, there’s no shortage of experience on the roster. Mick Cronin loved what fifth-year senior David Singleton brought to the table in Friday’s 93-69 win over Long Beach State. The 6-foot-4 guard came off the bench in the victory, totaling 14 points to go with nine boards, three assists, two steals and no turnovers. Five-star freshman guard Amari Bailey has also been as advertised with 24 points through the first two games.

No. 7 Creighton (Preseason rank: 7)

Ryan Kalkbrenner is one of the best big men in America. One of 50 named to the Naismith Award watch list, the 7-foot-1 junior shot 10-for-11 in Thursday’s 96-61 win over North Dakota, putting up a career-high 24 points. Being paired with Arthur Kaluma gives the Jays a difficult frontcourt to match up with. Trey Alexander’s jumper has also looked really good early in the season, and he could be a significant breakout candidate in the Big East.

No. 8 Duke (Preseason rank: 8)

The Jon Scheyer era has started with defense. Duke has allowed just 82 points so far, its fewest through the first two games since 1946. Five-star freshman Kyle Filipowski has a pair of double-doubles to start the season, joining Marvin Bagley III as the only other Duke freshman in program history to do so. The other first-year Blue Devil standing out is 6-foot-8 forward Mark Mitchell, who’s combined for 31 points through two games. His length gives him major defensive potential, and if he can keep scoring somewhat consistently, look for him to continue to play a significant role for this team. We get a better gauge Tuesday night when the Devils meet reigning national champion Kansas in Indianapolis at the Champions Classic.

No. 9 Kansas (Preseason rank: 9)

This is Jalen Wilson’s team — the junior forward has made that clear. In Kansas’ wins over North Dakota State and Omaha, he’s combined for 40 points and 20 rebounds. The other standout to opening week for KU: Gradey Dick. The five-star freshman is such a lethal perimeter threat, notching 23 points in the season opener before a 12-point, three-assist performance on Thursday. The Jayhawks are more versatile this season. How will they match up against Duke’s size? What will happen when Dajuan Harris Jr. meets Jeremy Roach on Tuesday? Grab your popcorn.

No. 10 Arkansas (Preseason rank: 10)

The Razorbacks are 2-0 without one of the nation’s top freshmen in Nick Smith, who is dealing with a right knee injury. It doesn’t look to be too significant, but it’s certainly something worth monitoring. In Friday’s 74-48 win over Fordham, the Hogs forced 30 turnovers, the most in a single game in the Eric Musselman era. Of the 11 new faces, transfers Ricky Council IV (15 points, seven assists, 37 minutes) and Trevon Brazile (eight points, eight rebounds in 32 minutes off the bench) stood out Friday. Freshman wing Jordan Walsh went for 12 points vs. Fordham. Musselman has a lot to work with. We’ll see in the Maui Invitational exactly where this team stands.

No. 11 Texas (Preseason rank: 12)

The Longhorns have a lot of options. Six players scored in double-figures — and Texas’ defense was on point — in an 82-31 win over Houston Christian on Thursday night. Iowa State transfer Tyrese Hunter has 28 points and 12 rebounds in two games. Chris Beard called him a grand slam addition, as he was the No. 1 player on the Longhorns board. We find out much more the Horns on Wednesday night when they host Gonzaga at the brand-new Moody Center.

No. 12 Indiana (Preseason rank: 13)

It’s been a ho-hum start. Trayce Jackson-Davis has 36 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in two games. The preseason All-American has been as advertised. It looks as though four-star freshman Malik Reneau will be a spark plug off the bench. At 6-foot-9, he brings great length, athleticism and energy, and has combined for 24 points and nine rebounds through two games. Mike Woodson leads the Hoosiers into Cincinnati to face Sean Miller’s Xavier Musketeers on Friday at 6 p.m. ET on FS1. The matchup is part of the seventh edition of the Gavitt Games, featuring the Big Ten and Big East.

No. 13 Virginia (Preseason rank: Unranked)

There are only two teams that rank in the top-eight in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency both on offense and defense: Kentucky and Virginia. The Cavaliers look the part of a team that can win the ACC, with Tony Bennett having all five starters back and an offense that can be more potent from the perimeter. The fact that the Hoos have hit 24 3-pointers in the first two games of the season is a really nice sign. UVA has multiple backcourt playmakers, with grad student Kihei Clark and junior Reece Beekman combining for 23 assists to seven turnovers in the first two games. Virginia is always going to defend, but the depth of offensive options makes them a top-15 team. We find out much more about the Cavaliers when they face Baylor in Las Vegas on Friday night.

No. 14 San Diego State (Preseason rank: 15)

The Aztecs probably wouldn’t have beaten BYU a year ago with the circumstances faced in Friday night’s game at Viejas Arena. On a night in which San Diego State shot 4-for-14 from downtown and star guard Matt Bradley was 3-for-16 from the floor, the Aztecs beat the Cougars 82-75. The offensive improvement is pretty clear through two games, as SDSU has reached the 80-point mark in both contests after achieving that feat just once all of last season. The X-factor? TCU transfer Jaedon LeDee, who scored 23 points off the bench.

No. 15 TCU (Preseason rank: 11)

We’ll keep the Horned Frogs in the top-15 despite just a one-point win on opening night against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. In Friday’s 77-66 win over Lamar, junior guard Mike Miles went off for 26 points with five assists and five rebounds. The Horned Frogs are also without senior guard Damion Baugh at the moment. He has been suspended by the NCAA due to signing with an uncertified agent last year before he ended up withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft. He is the Horned Frogs second leading scorer. The schedule is fairly easy to start, and Dixon sounds optimistic about Baugh returning shortly.

Player of the Week: Foster Loyer, Davidson

The former four-star recruit to Michigan State has found a great home at Davidson, and the senior put up an amazing performance on Wednesday night to earn the nod as our Player of the Week. In the 102-97 double-overtime win over Wright State, Loyer scored 38 points on 11-for-22 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds and nine assists … in 48 minutes! For coach Matt McKillop — the son of Bob, who retired in June after 33 years at the helm — Loyer is a lead veteran guard who can be a game-changer in the Atlantic 10. While things never worked out for Loyer in three seasons in East Lansing, he averaged more than 16 points per game a season ago and charged Davidson to a 27-win year and NCAA Tournament berth.

Team of the Week: Stetson

The Hatters beat Florida State for the first time since March 5, 1975, a feat deserving of our Team of the Week honor! What a victory for head coach Donnie Jones, the program’s first win over an ACC opponent in 12 years. This team was picked 12th out of 14 in the Atlantic Sun Preseason Coaches Poll — 12th in the ASUN! Yes, 0-2 Florida State has been a disappointment, but we have a soft spot for the little guy — who doesn’t? Stetson made national headlines and was the story of opening night, so we will give them their flowers.

Game of the Week

We’ve mentioned Gonzaga/Michigan State and Villanova/Temple, but how about the battle between Michigan and Eastern Michigan in Detroit on Friday night? The Wolverines prevailed 88-83 in a game that felt like an NCAA Tournament first-round contest featuring former five-star recruit Emoni Bates and All-American candidate Hunter Dickinson. Bates, who decided to transfer from Memphis back to his hometown of Ypsilanti for his next chapter, put together a 30-point performance. It’s been a matter of showing results, and at least on Friday night, he shined. But Dickinson was the best player on the floor — 31 points, 13-for-17 from the floor, and seven rebounds in 32 minutes.

Major disappointments

The Kenny Payne era has started with severe pain — Louisville is 0-2 for the first time since 1999 after losing to Bellarmine Wednesday and at the buzzer to Wright State on Saturday. If this isn’t rock bottom, I’m not sure what is. Louisville lacks backcourt talent and could be a team that ends up with single-digit wins this year.

Meanwhile, Florida State is 0-2 for the first time since 2000. That’s bad news for the depth of the ACC.

Out west, the Pac-12 has stumbled several times. Oregon endured one of the worst losses of the Dana Altman era on Friday, falling 69-56 at home to UC Irvine. Will Richardson, pegged as a potential star for the Ducks, scored just four points. Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Colorado lost at Grambling State, USC fell to FGCU, Cal dropped to 0-2 with a loss to UC Davis, and Stanford was unable to capitalize on an opportunity to beat Wisconsin in the Brew City Battle on Friday. It looks like it’s UCLA and Arizona then everyone else in the Pac-12.

What to watch for Monday

The Gavitt Tipoff Games get underway with DePaul visiting Minnesota (7 p.m. ET, BTN) and Penn State hosting Butler (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1). It’s the first test for the Bulldogs in the Thad Matta era, and it comes against a potential Big Ten sleeper. The game follows the biggest matchup of the women’s basketball season to date, when No. 3 Texas visits No. 6 UConn at 6:30 ET on FS1.

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John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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