The college basketball offseason felt especially long this year, and yet this always happens: we get through the November tournaments, then next thing you know, Christmas is staring you in the face.
In a flash, the season is more than 30 percent complete. That's where we stand as of today.
Teams across the sport are collecting wins and losses that will make up the majority of their non-conference dossiers. In the spirit of this, we're going to continue giving you a look at the teams at the top, the squads in the best position to earn No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds as the calendar turns to 2017 and to league play. A lot of changes will come in conference play (that's one of the reasons why I love the grind of conference matchups), but critical components to their NCAA Tournament resumes have already been decided.
I'm evaluating teams' resumes based on this criteria: Who did you beat and where did you beat them, how many good teams have you played/defeated, who have you lost to and where did you lose to them, and what is your overall strength of schedule?
I've looked through the resumes of every team ranked in the top 50 of KenPom, CBSSports' RPI and the always-helpful KPI, and so here are the 10 most impressive team reports in college basketball as of Dec. 15.
10. Butler Bulldogs (9-1)
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 18th
Butler has a rightful stake to a No. 3 seed at the moment because the Bulldogs' only loss came on the road by one point in a hostile, in-state environment against Indiana State. Butler also has a road win over a good opponent (Utah) and has faced a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 112th. The Bulldogs are 3-0 vs. KenPom teams ranked in the top 50, including wins over Cincinnati and Arizona -- both of which should be tournament teams this season.
The win against Northwestern is looking stronger by the week, too. And as for that Indiana State game, the tournament selection committee needs to be diligent in properly framing how tough it is to win on the road -- and to not unnecessarily punish teams for scheduling road games in non-conference and then losing them in close fashion. On a given night, all but maybe 50 teams (if that) in college basketball would be an underdog if they had to play at Indiana State.
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 7th
North Carolina could have very easily played its way off this list for the near-term with a home loss to Tennessee on Sunday night. The Heels skimmed by with a 73-71 win, one that Roy Williams called the "luckiest" of his career. Still, on the whole, Carolina is looking good so far. The Tar Heels have a schedule ranked 56th at this point, and remember, this team has defeated Wisconsin and Oklahoma State -- and not played a team ranked in the bottom fourth of the sport. On the whole, that's a clear-cut top-10 dossier.
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 3rd
The eligibility of Carlton Bragg would have made for a legitimate conversation going forward, but Bragg has been cleared of battery charges against a female with whom he has/had a relationship with. He'll be back on the floor for Kansas' game against Davidson on Saturday. The Jayhawks are riding a nine-game winning streak and have a non-con SOS ranked at a very respectable 63rd. KU would be in the running for a top-three resume if it had won its season-opening game over Indiana. But the Jayhawks do have wins over Duke and Georgia (that one is just OK as of now, and is why KU isn't higher).
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 10th
Might be the most underrated team in America. Start looking at Creighton as a legitimate Final Four contender. The Bluejays' non-con SOS: 178th. Not upper-crust, but the team is undefeated, has a win over Wisconsin, has a road win (vs. Nebraska) and is 4-0 in road/neutral games. Keep an eye on a seemingly forgettable game, but it's important: Creighton plays at Arizona State on Dec. 20. Another road win there would cement CU's road/neutral mark to 5-0 for the year in non-con. Will stack up well vs. a lot of other teams vying for top bids -- and Creighton's strength of schedule will only grow with Big East play. And by the way, you'll notice that 30 percent of this list is occupied by Big East teams, and that doesn't even include Xavier, which could wind up as the No. 2 team in the conference by late February.
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 11th
Well, the football team's involved in quite a commotion at the moment. The basketball program, for now, is looking good. Louisville won't be on a postseason ban this season, and if the season ended today, the Cardinals would be a lock for a No. 2 seed. Rick Pitino's team has only lost once, and that is to Baylor, which not only hasn't lost -- but has the best evidence in the sport. (Spoiler!)
Louisville has a 2-1 record against teams ranked in the top 20 of KenPom at the moment. The Cards also have a road win at Grand Canyon, which Rick Pitino said was an environment that rivals Duke.. Non-con strength of schedule: 69th, which is nice in the grand scheme. No opponents ranked lower than 200, either. That's a critical detail. No absolute, surefire gimmes here.
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 8th
Gonzaga's only game in the past week was an 18-point over Akron, and what a win it was. The Zips -- maybe the best team in the MAC -- only managed 43 points vs. the Zags. Mark Few's guys are 3-0 against teams ranked in the top 30 of KenPom. Hopefully you're starting to come around on Gonzaga as a team truly vying for a No. 1 seed. GU is projected to finish the regular season at 27-3. I'll go one game further and say 28-2. The Bulldogs look that good, and if they keep winning, they'll be in the driver's seat for a No. 1 seed by early January because teams ahead of them are inevitably going to lose.
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 9th
The non-con strength of schedule (333rd; ouch) is hurting the Hoosiers, but that pair of wins over Kansas and UNC are going a long way; no other team in the top 10 can say it's defeated two other teams on this list. The loss to Fort Wayne (remember, OG Anunoby was sick; that made a difference) is damaging, sure, but if you have an issue with this ranking then you'll get your verdict this weekend. Butler plays Indiana in the Crossroads Classic. A win for IU there validates the Hoosiers as a top-four team of accomplishment this season. A loss would drop the Hoosiers significantly. Even if the game went three OTs and IU lost by one, it'd be illogical to have the Hoosiers higher than No. 9 at best in next week's addition.
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 2nd
An entertaining 102-84 win at home over a Michigan team (jury still out on the Wolverines) that caught fire in the first half only helps UCLA's cause. The Bruins are firmly at No. 3 here. They have the best win in the country (on the road over Kentucky) and a non-con SOS that rates 217th. The Bruins beat UC Santa Barbara big on Wednesday night, and if they take out Ohio State on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic, they'll only need to topple Western Michigan in Pauley Pavilion to finish the out-of-league slate with a flawless record. If all that happens, UCLA would need to completely implode to not have a No. 4 seed or better come Selection Sunday. As it is, Steve Alford's team is on the track for a No. 1.
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 1st
Villanova does have a case for the No. 1 overall resume, what with that great win against Notre Dame last Saturday and a convincing killing of Temple on Tuesday night. UCLA and Nova are the only 11-0 teams in America. Josh Hart is in the lead for Player of the Year. The Wildcats have been able to wear the crown and not be fazed by the weight. It's been really impressive, but remember, every season is its own sample set. The fact that Villanova won the title last year does not, and should not, affect the team this season because the committee selects and seeds based purely on accomplishment from the season at hand. All that considered, Nova is a sure shot at No. 2 as we head toward Christmas.
Current AP Top 25 ranking: 4th
If Villanova or UCLA fans want to moan about Baylor here, they're off. Because Baylor's had the best resume in the sport for nearly four weeks going, and no other team has done enough to warrant vaulting over the Bears just yet. So no, the Bears don't move a bit, not after going from 8-0 last week to 9-0 this week, fresh off a 30-point on Wednesday night over Southern U. Still, we await the road game, and that won't come until Dec. 30 at Oklahoma. Before then, in theory, UCLA and Villanova could threaten to leapfrog, but I doubt it. It would take a Baylor loss first.
What about Duke and Kentucky?
The only teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll not to have top-10 resumes are indeed the Blue Devils and Wildcats. Why is that? Here's an explanation for each.
Duke (10-1): It's close. I'd put Duke one or two spots outside the top 10. Its only loss was in the last second against Kansas at Madison Square Garden. Duke is 3-1 vs. teams ranked in the KenPom top 50. But Duke has also not played a true road game (the UNLV game was not at UNLV's home venue) and has three wins over teams ranked below 280th. Duke is close, but it won't have a clear-cut say to a top-10 file until/if it wins at Virginia Tech in its first road game of the season, on Dec. 31. And you know what? A win there in that spot would be so big, Duke would probably launch to a top-seven or top-six ranking.
Kentucky (9-1): Will crack the top five in our next edition (I'm going to run these resume posts every Thursday) with a win over UNC on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic and a win at Louisville next Wednesday. Split the games? Then it's going to be interesting. UK is just 1-1 vs. top-50 competition, and the one win came against a shorthanded Michigan State team. These next two games will go a long way to UK establishing its profile nationally. MSU, Valpo and Arizona State are Kentucky's three best wins. It needs these next two in a big way in order to help land a big seed down the road, because the SEC will not be overflowing with opportunities to bolster the resume.