One month into the 2017-18 basketball season (i.e., through the games of December 10), all but one of the top teams in preseason analysis have lost (sometimes shockingly so), and crystal balls across the country have gotten very cloudy.
We'll examine how six highly rated teams in the preseason have fared thus far in order to bring some readers up-to-date after approximately one third of the season has transpired. Proceeding alphabetically, here are the six schools from across the country.
Arizona - The Wildcats were the consensus pick for best in the west, and they rose to No. 2 in the nation before the Caribbean Catastrophe. Zona lost all three games during a Thanksgiving event (including a 25-point blowout to Purdue) and fell completely out of the Top 25. Some questioned whether the team would recover, but Arizona recently won close games with Texas A&M and Alabama, and should move up the ratings ladder.
Duke - The Blue Devils were No. 1 in the preseason, and they quickly displayed their ability (despite starting four freshmen) by beating second-ranked Michigan State, 88- 81, in mid-November. Then there was more good news for Duke as they won a Thanksgiving tournament by coming from well behind to triumph over Texas and Florida. Last weekend, however, the top team lost at lightly regarded Boston College 89-84.
Florida - Though the Gators lost to Duke 87-84, they moved up in the ratings. However, when they returned home, they were beaten handily by FSU, 83-66, and stunned by Loyola of Chicago (the Ramblers were national champions in 1963, but have not been too good since then). Many thought the slump would continue versus a ranked Cincinnati team last weekend, but Florida bounced back with a 66-60 win.
Kansas - The comparatively experienced Jayhawks defeated Kentucky 68-61 in the second week of the season, and then KU rolled along victoriously until quite recently when they were upset by both Washington and Arizona State. With West Virginia and several other conference teams playing well, it is no longer a foregone conclusion that Kansas will again capture the regular season title.
Michigan State - After the Spartans lost to Duke, they have gone undefeated, including 16-point victories over both Notre Dame and North Carolina. With the Big 10 looking less formidable than usual, it appears only Purdue will challenge MSU for league honors.
Villanova - The 2016 national champions are undefeated so far, but their two best victories are against Gonzaga and Tennessee. Thus it's hard to evaluate the defending Big East champs, but, suffice to say, Nova currently has the inside track for the top seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.
Speaking of the national tournament, once conference play begins in earnest in January, we'll have a better idea of how these teams stack up. In the weeks ahead, however, I hope you and your families have a blessed Christmas celebration.
(Chuck Cleveland is a guest columnist who writes about college basketball)