The NCAA released its NET rankings Monday for the first time this season, with a household name at the top of the men’s list. Houston, which ranks #1 in both the AP and Coach Polls, leads the first NET release from an 8-0 start. Because the NET is an analytically based ranking that doesn’t include pre-season predictions like KenPom, there are usually some early outliers. The most notable this year is State of Sam Houston, which has ridden victories over Oklahoma and Utah at No. 7 on the NET (compared to its No. 91 rank in KenPom). The ranking list will now be updated daily until selection Sunday.
Monday’s top 10 are as follows:
- State of Mississippi
- State of Sam Houston
Here’s a look at some of the notable results from this first ranking.
PK85 champions crack the top 5
Few teams have moved up more in the first month of the season compared to preseason consensus than UConn and Purdue, so it is not surprising that they are slightly higher in the NET than in the current polls. Both teams have been NET favorites so far this season due to their love of blowing out opponents, which inflates the NET by increasing raw efficiency margins. UConn has won all nine games it has played by double digits and eight of those by 15 points or more, while Purdue defeated Duke and Gonzaga by a total of 37 points behind what is currently the nation’s most efficient offense. Losses will almost certainly come at some point for these two teams, but they’ve earned their spot in the top three based on what they’ve accomplished so far.
Freshman coach at Mississippi State, Maryland, thrive
Chris Jans and Kevin Willard made impressive unbeaten starts on their new programs and were rewarded with high early NET rankings. The number 5 bulldogs came into the season with little fanfare but started 8-0 thanks to fierce defense and dominance on the offensive boards. Jans, who has won 79% of his games in five seasons at New Mexico State, just finds ways to win games. Parts he inherited, like big man Tolu Smith, helped make the transition an easy one.
Meanwhile, Willard Maryland just outside the top 5. The Terps were dominant even when facing high-flight competition, knocking out Saint Louis and Miami in their early-season tournament in two eyebrow-raising games in the second week of the season. They also got off to a great start in the Big Ten game with a gritty 71-66 home win over another conference contender on Friday Illinois. Maryland may not be deep, but its starting five is one of the most talented and cohesive groups in the country, and that could be enough to catapult the Terps into the Big Ten.
Average starts for Bluebloods
With duke in 17th place, defending champion Kansas at No. 18, preseason AP No. 1 North Carolina at 39 and Kentucky At #42, some of the brands that we expect to top any men’s college basketball ranking are outside the top 10. Evenly gonzagawhich has been the sport’s most dominant program of late (regular season, at least) and a mainstay in the NET’s top five, is ranked 29th at early release.
All five of these teams have shown early failures as they work to introduce new faces. Duke and Kentucky also struggled with major preseason injuries that disrupted rotations during the early weeks of the season. But those placings tell a story: the traditional forces in the sport were good, but not great, earlier this season.
Notable rankings for top-mid majors
Preseason favorite Dayton comes in at No. 163 in the first NET, but there are several mid-majors with flashy preseason ranks — like Sam Houston’s top-10 finish.
The Mountain West was a big early winner, with five teams in the top 50, led by undefeated Utah State at No. 15. USU, New Mexico (No. 27) and UNLV (No. 44) are all unbeaten, which is what Mountain West is all about one of two conferences (along with the SEC) where three teams remain undefeated. Also in the top 50 from Mountain West: Nevada, who started with a surprising 7-2 start, and San Diego State (No. 45), a top 25 team last season that looked impressive at the Maui Invitational.
Louisville at #361
Louisville, currently 0-8, came in 361 out of 363 in the first ranking, a staggering number for one of the sport’s proudest programs. In a way, the mark is understandable: the Cardinals were dismantled by every high-major team they’ve played against and lost three buy-games at home to mid-tier mid-majors. Still, I’d bet that number will increase a bit as the season progresses.
A disastrous first season for Kenny Payne as coach continues Saturday against 1-9 Florida State (No. 293 in the first NET). The Cardinals also meet No. 356 Florida A&M later this month, providing another good opportunity for their first win of the Payne era.
More college basketball coverage:
• Hurley has built a title contender at UConn
• Five takeaways from the ACC/Big Ten Men’s Challenge
• Miller of Maryland sinks Notre Dame on Buzzer Beater