The NFL season is over, and college basketball is ready for its annual moment in the sun. If you haven’t read anything since the preseason previews, today’s column will update you on what we’ve learned in the first three months of the season.

With so many key games left to be played, I think it is way too early to be creating a mock bracket. We have no idea what the top line will look like, let along the last four teams in. Kentucky has yet to play key road games at LSU, at Florida, and at Georgia. Arizona still plays at Utah. Kansas and Villanova now hold the lead in the Big 12 and Big East, but almost every game will be a challenge. Wisconsin still has to play at Ohio St. and at Maryland. Virginia plays North Carolina and Louisville this week. And Duke and North Carolina will still tangle twice this year. College basketball really has been saving the best games for the tail end of the season. So if you are just tuning in, you picked the right time.

The focus of today’s column is going to be on the best teams going forward, not on current resumes. It is true that some teams may have damaged their resumes beyond the point of no return. Defending National Champion UConn is 11-9 overall. That’s 2-7 vs The RPI Top 50, 1-1 vs Teams 51-100, and UConn just picked up a horrible loss to a Houston team ranked 200+ by almost all metrics. Connecticut seems NIT bound. But teams in power conferences almost always have chances for redemption. UConn currently has four top 50 games left on the schedule, hosting Tulsa and SMU, and going on the road to Temple and SMU. Sweep those games, and go 9-1 in a relatively weak conference, and the Huskies still have a chance at the NCAA tournament. The real problem is that UConn just doesn’t appear to be very good. From a predictive standpoint, Connecticut currently has the 76th best margin-of-victory in the land, which means that even if they have the chance to pick up some quality wins, there isn’t much reason to expect that they will.

If the topic is expectations going forward, the answer is of course opponent-adjusted margin-of-victory. We’re finally at the point where we have some pretty serious data on most teams. Teams have played over 20 games, and most teams have now played at least 10 games against meaningful peer competition. That doesn’t mean margin-of-victory is definitive. South Carolina’s blowout wins against Oklahoma St. in December and Georgia this weekend, probably have the Gamecocks a shade too high. But for the most part, the margin-of-victory numbers paint an accurate picture of team strength. There are a few different margin-of-victory systems out there. ESPN has BPI. USA Today has Jeff Sagarin’s Predictor. Team Rankings is underrated. But today I’m going to focus on the numbers on Ken Pomeroy’s website.

Elite Eight (Eight Teams most likely to win going forward)

Arizona (Hanner Preseason #2 to Pomeroy Current #3), Wisconsin (#3 to #5), and Villanova (#8 to #8) are playing about as expected.

Kentucky (#1 to #1): In the preseason I said Kentucky had enough depth that even if someone didn’t pan out or if someone was injured, Kentucky wouldn’t miss a beat. And that has proven to be true. When Alex Poythress went down it only made it easier for the team to play three guard lineups which is usually the optimal lineup in a college basketball game.

Duke (#4 to #7) has similar expectations to the preseason, but that doesn’t mean this team is exactly what we expected. Yes, they can still sometimes score at an incredible clip. The six threes they hit late in the game at Virginia show that no one can score points in a hurry quite like the Blue Devils. But the shocking thing is that Duke has started employing zone defense. They used it to shut-down Louisville; they used it for a late rally at St. John’s; and they used it for a late rally at Virginia. Duke kicked Rasheed Suilamon off the roster last week, but with the team’s starting five and Grayson Allen and Matt Jones shooting, it isn’t as crippling as it might be for some other teams.

Moving Up

Virginia (#9 to #2): Virginia’s play hasn’t been a huge surprise. We knew they returned a lot of efficient offensive players. We knew the pack-line defense could shut people down. The reason their power numbers are at #2 is because of a few mind-boggling blowouts, beating Harvard 76-27, beating Georgia Tech 57-28, and beating Rutgers 45-26. But against quality competition they’ve been about what we expected.

Gonzaga (#10 to #4): Gonzaga’s top 7 players can match up with anyone. This team looked loaded in the preseason and everyone has delivered.

Utah (#25 to #6) We missed one big factor in the preseason with this team. We didn’t realize that international center recruit Jakob Poeltl was going to be an instant impact player. Poeltl has helped improved Utah’s 2 PT FG% defense from 103rd in the nation to 5th. We also didn’t know that Delon Wright was going to be a superstar, but with so many players back it was likely that someone on Utah was going to take a jump forward. Most experts still don’t view Utah at the elite level (in part because they didn’t play well at Arizona). And like Virginia, their numbers are a bit inflated by blowout wins over non-elite teams. But Utah is one of this season’s truly pleasant surprises.

Falling Down

Kansas (#5 to #12): The Jayhawks had a slow start to the season, when Kelly Oubre wasn’t playing. Then Devonte Graham was injured. But Oubre has gained confidence on the basketball court, Graham is back, and don’t be surprised if the Jayhawks have Top 8 power numbers by the end of the year.

Louisville (#7 to #10): Louisville is a mild disappointment. Their on-ball defense is still phenomenal. Terry Rozier is a star. Chris Jones, Montrezl Harrell, and Wayne Blackshear have been a little inconsistent, but all have been dominant more often than not. The problem is that the team is really only four players deep. The team has a slew of elite freshmen and sophomore recruits, but none of those young players has developed into an efficient option. Teams in the Top 8 tend to be more than four players deep.

Florida (#6 to #34): There are those that will say that Florida was ranked too high in the preseason. But lots of teams rely on new players. The problem for Florida is that none of their high level prospects have panned out. Former Top 20 recruit Chris Walker is athletic, but not polished enough for the college game. The same can be said for Top 20 recruit Devin Robinson. Transfer Eli Carter has been injured and ineffective. Duke transfer Alex Murphy has had a surprisingly small impact. Michigan transfer Jon Horford has played well, but taken too many perimeter shots for a big man. Elite recruit Chris Chiozza has been a phenomenal defensive player, but he doesn’t have any offensive game yet. And former Top 10 recruit Kasey Hill has not broken out as a sophomore because he still doesn’t have a jump shot. This is really just about the worst case scenario for the Gators, where none of the elite talent they brought in has developed.

Top 25

North Carolina (Hanner Preseason #11 to Pomeroy Current #11) was higher in the preseason AP poll, but I was worried about their defensive rebounding and three-point shooting in the preseason (or more specifically their lack of off-guard depth.) They’ve played almost exactly as I expected. Theo Pinson was injured, but with Justin Jackson, Pinson’s loss is far less critical than it would have been for another team.

Ohio St. (#13 to #18), Wichita St. (#16 to #14), Iowa St. (#15 to #23), VCU (#18 to #24), SMU (#17 to #22) have been about what I expected in the preseason.

Michigan St (#21 to #25) needed OT to beat Michigan at home on Sunday, but they still pulled away with a 10 point victory in the extra session. Perhaps that game was a good metaphor for this season. Nothing has come easy for a Tom Izzo squad with the fewest Top 100 recruits in a decade, but they still win decisively when they win. Their resume isn’t great at this point, but their margin-of-victory numbers say this is still a dangerous team.

Moving Up

Oklahoma (#27 to #9): In fairness, I would have had the Sooners in the Top 25 if I knew TaShawn Thomas was going to be eligible. I don’t want to say Thomas was the complete answer, because this has been a total team effort, but the greater post depth has allowed the teams 2 PT FG% defense  to improve from 177th in the nation to 12th, and the overall defense has moved up from 91st to 5th. That’s more than you typically see for any team, even a veteran squad.

Baylor (#56 to #13): Perhaps we over-rated the importance of Isaiah Austin. Despite losing a 7 footer, and going from the 10th tallest team in the nation to the 146th tallest, Baylor’s defensive rebounding has gotten better, and the team’s interior defense has stayed steady. Baylor’s 6’9” freshmen forward Jonathan Motley was on my list of non-elite freshmen who have made an impact. JUCO Lester Medford has been one of the few JUCOs to have a big impact this season. But mostly this is just about an offensive coach, Scott Drew, building a Top 50 defense for only the third time in his career.

Notre Dame (#34 to #15): After the fighting Irish finished with the 99th best margin-of-victory last season, I saw a lot of publications that picked Notre Dame to have a losing record in the ACC. I thought Jerian Grant was going to lead to a resurgence, but even I didn’t think the swing would be quite this dramatic. Forward Zach Auguste is also one of the most-improved players in the country.

Northern Iowa (#70 to #16): The only downside to their blowout win against Wichita St. this weekend is that I think fewer experts stuck around to watch the second half. If you’ve noticed a theme with this year’s surprise teams, it is huge improvements on defense, and Northern Iowa is no different. Their interior defense has improved from 186th to 22nd. Point forward Seth Tuttle absolutely blew up with 29 points against Wichita St. this weekend, and his shooting percentage, usage, and defensive rebounding have allowed him to crack Ken Pomeroy’s Top 10 player rankings. The last time Northern Iowa was relevant, Ali Farokhmanesh was nailing a bunch of threes in the team’s upset of Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tournament. Tuttle enrolled at Northern Iowa a year later and he is now a senior. Sometimes, it takes time for moments of great publicity to pay off.

West Virginia (#71 to #17): The team has made a complete makeover defensively, using pressure defense more than almost any team in the country, and now forcing steals at the highest rate in the nation. It helps that transfers have been good at creating turnovers; both the JUCO additions and Rhode Island transfer Jonathan Holton have thrived in the system. But Bob Huggins has never approached Shaka Smart levels of HAVOC defense until this year.

Xavier (#42 to #19): Their ranking is a little inflated based on a blowout win over a solid Stephen F. Austin squad, and two crushing victories over a solid Georgetown group. But this is one of the deepest frontcourts in the nation, and Matt Stainbrook’s glasses are still cool.

Butler (#102 to #20): Butler’s early season win over North Carolina was shocking, but their Big East performance shows it was no fluke. And watching the team’s come-from behind OT win at Marquette this weekend, I was struck how much Butler gets out of every player. A Marquette team filled with Top 100 recruits was panicking, playing too quickly and turning the ball over at home. Meanwhile, there was Butler guard Alex Barlow. Barlow started out as a walk-on. He had to earn a spot on the Butler team in 2011-2012. He’s not a natural athlete, but there’s no question he’s put in the hours in the gym to chisel his physique and become a well-conditioned athlete. And on Saturday, there he was beating the full-court pressure in OT, making 7 assists to set up his teammates, scoring 15 points, and getting two huge late free throws to seal a win. New head coach Chris Holtmann gets the most out of his players, which is exactly what we used to say about Brad Stevens.

This brings up the question, how does Butler keep finding these brilliant young coaches? Does it have something to do with promoting from within? Brad Stevens started out as a Butler assistant under Thad Matta, and was eventually promoted from within. When Brad Stevens left for the NBA, Butler hired new head coach Brandon Miller from the team’s assistant coaching ranks.

Meanwhile, Chris Holtmann was a very successful low-major head coach at Gardner-Webb where he improved that team’s margin-of-victory from 328th to 189th over three seasons.  And when Holtmann was offered the chance to be a Butler assistant, did part of him subconsciously think that if Miller ever left, that Butler might hire from its own assistant coaching ranks again? Whether he thought that or not, Holtmann took the assistant coaching job, and he was ready when the head coach opportunity became available. And Holtmann has improved Butler’s margin-of-victory from 104th to 19th in just one season. Given Butler’s current track record of promoting from within, does this mean they are going to have the best assistant coaching staff in the country going forward? What brilliant young coach wouldn’t want to take a chance at becoming an assistant with this team?

Georgetown (#31 to #21): Joshua Smith has stayed eligible, but you can’t overlook the importance of Georgetown’s talented freshman, particularly on defense. Creighton went 17 minutes without a basket on Saturday against the Hoyas, missing 23 shots in a row. Part of that is because Creighton is struggling offensively, but at least some part of that came because Georgetown’s interior defense is much improved from last year.

Falling Down

Texas (#12 to #26) A lot of people had Texas in the Top 10 in the preseason, but I had them slightly lower because of concerns about their guard depth (and outside shooting.) Texas is getting beat up a bit in the Big 12, but this is still a dangerous squad.

San Diego St. (#14 to #27): Dwayne Polee has been out with a medical condition. Polee was one of the team’s most efficient and most important players in February and March last year. Losing Xavier Thames was tough, but losing Thames and Polee has led to some extremely ugly offensive games this year.

Connecticut (#19 to #76): UConn appeared to have great guard depth, but Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis, Omar Calhoun, Sam Cassell, and Terrence Samuel have all performed below expectations this year. The result is a lot of games like the weekend loss at Houston. No one had any confidence to take a shot except Ryan Boatright. And as great as Boatright has been, he can’t do it alone.

Iowa (#20 to #47): As well as forwards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff have played, Iowa’s guards haven’t been consistent enough and the team’s offense has taken a big step back.

Kansas St (#22 to #73): Kansas St.’s transfers Justin Edwards and Stephen Hurt have not lived up to expectations.

Syracuse (#23 to #65): DaJuan Coleman has never suited up. Super-frosh Chris McCullough tore his ACL and is out for the year. The Orange went with a non-elite freshman PG for the second year in a row, and while Tyler Ennis panned out last season, Kaleb Joseph is not nearly as ready. And this is all too bad because it may spoil the fact that Rakeem Christmas has had one of the more remarkable turnarounds in college basketball. He took a paltry 11% of Syracuse’s shots last year. This year he’s taking 25% of the team’s shots and maintained a high level of efficiency.

Michigan: (#24 to #79): Caris LeVert is hurt, but even before he went down, his ORtg fell from 112 to 104. Derrick Walton is hurt, but even before he went down, his efficiency fell from 112 to 98. Zak Irvin’s efficiency has also fallen from 118 to 100. Nik Stauskas was a great player, but he wasn’t the only PG on the team last year. His loss shouldn’t have caused such a catastrophic drop in shot-making across the board. Oddly, Michigan’s turnaround in Big Ten play has been fueled by new faces like Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Rahkman. Between those two and Ricky Doyle, John Beilein has actually done a pretty good job developing some new pieces. But when the veterans all play so poorly, that’s a bad sign, and a reason the team lost to NJIT earlier this year.

Bubble Worthy (25-75)

I have some other near perfect hits (Maryland #33 to #32), Stanford (#26 to #29), but the reality is that the distinctions between most bubble teams are pretty thin. In the preseason I projected that UCLA, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Texas A&M, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Oklahoma St., Miami FL, NC State, Providence, St. John’s, Dayton, George Washington, Richmond, Tulsa, Cincinnati, St. Mary’s, BYU, Colorado St., Harvard, and Louisiana Tech would finish in the range of the bubble, and all are playing like bubble teams currently.

Falling Down

My biggest mistakes include Pittsburgh (#29 to #93), but I think the Cameron Wright’s early season injury was a big factor. Wright made some huge plays offensive and defensively in the team’s home win against Notre Dame, and as he rounds into shape, I think Pittsburgh will start playing more like a bubble team again.

Memphis (#32 to #93) had a lot of highly recruited guards, and a transfer from Vanderbilt who was once a prolific scorer, but none of them were ready this season. Elite prospect Kuran Iverson was also kicked off the team.

Nebraska (#36 to #113) was actually an AP preseason Top 25 squad. I had Nebraska lower than most experts, in part because I didn’t think people realized how little talent the team had around Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, particularly with Leslee Smith injured in the preseason. But the poor efficiency across the board for this team has disturbed even me. Nebraska has three PGs playing sizable minutes, and a shot-creator in Terran Petteway, and yet the team had 15 turnovers in the first half in the loss at Minnesota, and a 33% turnover rate in the entire game. The defense has held strong, but Nebraska has the worst offense of any team in the Top 8 RPI conferences.

I wrote at length in the preseason about how Colorado (#41 to #83) did not deserve any preseason Top 25 votes, but even I am surprised that a team with 90+% of minutes returning has made zero improvement. Early in the season Florida St. (#48 to #122) lost Aaron Thomas, the team’s most important returning player, to injury, and they haven’t recovered. Meanwhile Wyoming (#49 to #100) is one of those teams that doesn’t make a lot of sense. On the one hand, I’d like to say I over-rated them, but they are tied for first in the MWC.

Moving Up

On the flip side, I thought Davidson (#133 to #33) was going to struggle because of the team’s lack of experience in the paint. Well, it really helps that lightly recruited 6’7” Peyton Aldridge has been a super-efficient player off the bat. It helps that 6’4” rebounding machine Jordan Barham is so good. And it helps that the team plays in the A10. Dayton has been without a player over 6’6” in conference play, and this is one league where teams have been able to get away with playing smaller lineups.

Seton Hall (#79 to #42) has looked more human recently, but with super-frosh Isaiah Whitehead returning from injury and scoring 19 points in his return, the team picked up a nice win over Xavier over the weekend.

Stephen F. Austin (#101 to #36) lost some key players, so I thought the Southland team with limited resources might slip back. But for the third straight year, this team is putting up dominant margin-of-victory numbers. And while I liked Green Bay, Old Dominion, and Murray St. to be Top 100 squads in the preseason, all three have been even better than I expected. I feel particularly good about my Old Dominion sleeper pick, since their non-conference wins against VCU, Richmond, and LSU still hold up pretty well.