This week's AP Poll was released this morning, and after the Canes 8-0 start, Miami finds itself ranked 6th, which is the highest they've been in the polls since March 18, 2013. Coach Larranaga has put his team in a great position to make a run at another ACC Title. The Canes currently rank 2nd nationally in points allowed per game (57.1) and are outscoring opponents by 22.2 points per game. Considering that it's been almost 4 years since Miami has been ranked this high in basketball, the top of the college hoops summit is mostly uncharted territory. The Canes likely won't face a team in the top 5 until they play Duke in January, so since we won't have hard evidence with how we'll perform against top competition, let's compare the top 6 programs on paper:
The 2016 national champions have been consistently in the top 10 teams in the nation since their recent triumph. Villanova is one of the most well-balanced teams in the country, as they rank 29th in points per game with 85.6, and 30th in points allowed per game with 63.3. They have a similar point differential to the Canes, but Villanova has won their games by outscoring opponents as opposed to Miami's formula of shutting their opponents down and scoring enough to win. Both teams have played similar levels of competition so far, we've both played La Salle with similar results, we both have one win over a ranked opponent, we've both played no name programs (Nicholls State, Gardner Webb). Villanova will face a similar level of competition in their conference, while the ACC has better teams at the top, the Big East will likely be more competitive top to bottom. The Wildcats have 2 top-tier talents in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, which would match Bruce Brown Jr, and be ranked slightly above Dewan Huell, Lonnie Walker IV and Ja'Quan Newton. Championship mettle from the top players and coach on Villanova would be the main reason for the gap between #1 and #6 at this point.
#2 Michigan State
The Canes are familiar with this foe, as the Spartans knocked Miami out of the tournament last season. National Player of the Year candidate Miles Bridges was too much too handle for last year's edition of the Canes, and while he has struggled so far this year, his supporting cast looks much stronger. Cassius Winston is one of the elite point guards in the country, averaging 12.7 points on 54% shooting and 6.7 assists, and Jaren Jackson is a great anchor on the inside, averaging 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. The scariest part, Winston and Jackson are the 4th and 5th scorers on the team, meaning there are TWO MORE scoring options for this team. Michigan State is a strong defensive team like the Canes, giving up only 61.3 points per game, albeit against much stronger competition than Miami has faced this season. The Spartans have already faced 3 top-10 teams in their first 10 games, winning two of those games. Their only loss is against Duke (who you'll hear more about later). Michigan State is clearly the class of the Big Ten, and shouldn't have much of a problem running away with their conference, which is much less competitive than the ACC.
#3 Wichita State
Wichita State is a mid-major school that has turned itself into somewhat of a national powerhouse, featuring in the conversation of top programs for a few years now. The Shockers have taken on an ambitious non-conference schedule to ensure their national pedigree with 2 games against ranked opponents and numerous other tough matchups. Their only loss was a 1-point heartbreaker to Notre Dame. They are a high-scoring team, ranking 24th in the country at 86.9 points per game. They are not a strong defensive team, ranking 96th in the country at 68.2 points allowed per game. Their top scorer, Landry Shamet, is a deadeye shooter, draining 53% of his 3-point attempts and 55% of his shots overall, and the Shockers are one of the best passing teams in the nation, ranking 20th in the nation with 18.2 assists per game as a team, with 4 different players averaging over 2 assists per game. If there's a team that appears especially susceptible to the Canes style of play, however, its Wichita State.
Duke was on top of the college basketball world until they were knocked off their perch by conference-foe Boston College in their first ACC contest of the season. Duke ironically now sit at the bottom of the ACC standings despite coming into the season as the clear favorites (No one else other than Boston College has had a conference game yet, but it's still fun). Duke have who many consider to be the best player in the country in freshman Marvin Bagley III, a 6'11" 234 lb NBA-ready forward putting up ridiculous numbers to the tune of 21.3 points per game on 61% from the field, and 11.3 points per game. Also working his way back into the limelight is polarizing National Player of the Year candidate Grayson Allen, who is putting up another quality season with 17.2 points per game, 3.3 rebounds per game and 4.4 assists per game. The top-end talent at Duke is unmatched, however Saturday's matchup with Boston College shows that the Blue Devils are not invincible. Duke is an elite offensive team, ranking 2nd in all of college basketball in points per game at an astonishing 93.3 points per game, but has also been an ordinary defensive team, ranking 232nd allowing 75.2 points per game. Duke has taken on an intense non-conference schedule, playing the most games of any top 25 program so far, and their place among the top basketball programs in the country will likely be strengthened with their play in arguably the best conference in the country.
#5 Arizona State
Arizona State, like the Canes, is a non-traditional basketball school starting strong and trying to remain among the school's that have been here before. The Sun Devils have 2 season-defining wins over ranked teams, including a 10-point victory over a true traditional power in Kansas. Arizona State follows a similar formula to Duke, with outstanding offensive play (91.8 points per game) and not-so-notable defensive play (74.4 points allowed per game). The Pac-10 favorite is led by senior guards Tra Holder (21.2 ppg) and Shannon Evans II (19 ppg) and freshman big man Romello White (16.1 ppg & 9 rpg). The Sun Devils will benefit from playing in a weaker conference, so their time in the top 5 may not be short lived.
The teams in the top 5 will almost definitely change over the course of the season, as will the positioning of many teams. With 64 teams getting into the big dance, these rankings aren't nearly as important as in football, but this year's Canes have much higher aspirations than just making it to the tournament. If we want to win an ACC Championship or make a deep run in the tournament, we have to be ready to compete with the top programs. So far this season, the Canes look like they are very capable.