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The Other Top 25: Dayton flies to the Toppin of the polls

The Flyers are for real.

2019 Maui Invitational - Dayton v Kansas Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Our voters have the same complaint every week: “The top four or five teams were easy to rank. After that it was impossible.”

Somehow, it was the opposite this week.

San Diego State was the No. 1 team in the land last week, albeit narrowly over Dayton and Gonzaga. The Aztecs then won at Colorado State and beat San Jose State at home in order to stay undefeated and start 2-0 in Mountain West play.

And yet when the votes were tallied this week, it was Dayton sitting in the top spot — technically tied with Gonzaga but with one more first-place vote. This isn’t a matter of voters over-reacting to a sub-par showing from the Aztecs against the Spartans (one where they needed a Malachi Flynn buzzer-beater to bail them out). It’s just a product of how razor-thin the differences were in the top three.

While San Diego State struggled, Dayton took down Saint Mary’s in a win more convincing than the final 10-point margin indicates. Later on Sunday, Gonzaga outlasted a ranked Washington team on the road. We don’t normally punish teams for winning games, but here it seemed warranted.

That’s why San Diego State is ranked third now with a week to regroup before getting back at it on Dec. 18. As for Dayton, the Flyers’ new ranking will be put to the test when they host Drake on Saturday. The Bulldogs might not be the sexiest draw, but they’ve won four in a row and have defeated Northeastern and Murray State in the process.

Even if Dayton beats Drake, however, it is not guaranteed to still be No. 1 next week. That’s because Gonzaga’s daunting non-conference schedule pushes forward with a trip to Tucson and a date with Arizona. If the Bulldogs win that, it would be their third KenPom tier A win of the year, with their only loss coming to a Michigan team that played out of its mind in Atlantis.

See how hard it is to rank these top teams?

We haven’t even touched on VCU — a team that was maybe unfairly punished for two losses to good teams during Feast Week — or Saint Mary’s, who Dayton handled easily but still has wins over Utah State and Wisconsin. Speaking of Utah State, Neemias Queta is back and the Aggies get BYU on Saturday.

What these rankings look like next week is anyone’s guess, but for now, here’s where we stand:

The Other Top 25

Rank School Record Change Our reasoning This week's games
Rank School Record Change Our reasoning This week's games
1 Dayton 7-1 1 Dayton's backcourt put on an absolute clinic against Saint Mary's in Phoenix this weekend. Between Jalen Crutcher's shooting, Rodney Chatman's defense and Trey Landers doing a little bit of everything, one would be hard-pressed to find a more dynamic, multi-faceted group of guards in the country. So far, the Flyers' offense hasn't missed a beat since the Maui Invitational. 12/14 vs. Drake
2 Gonzaga 10-1 2 One down, two to go. Frenchmen Joel Ayayi and Killian Tillie were the difference at Washington, and with Anton Watson slowly getting back in the swing of things, a win at McKale Center doesn't seem far out of the question. 12/14 at Arizona
3 San Diego State 10-0 -2 The Aztecs, a 10-0 team ranked No. 25 in the nation, needed Malachi Flynn's last-second heroics to get past San Jose State. That is all. 12/18 vs. San Diego Christian
4 VCU 7-2 1 The Rams bounced back from their two tight Feast Week losses to stifle Old Dominion -- a game they lost a year ago. Efficiency-wise, it was their second best defensive performance of the year per KenPom. 12/15 vs. Missouri State
5 Saint Mary's 9-2 -1 The loss to Dayton isn't quite enough to pin the Gaels' postseason hopes on winning the WCC Championships, but it's almost time to panic in Moraga. Saint Mary's will need some combination of Kristers Zoriks, Logan Johnson or Tommy Kuhse to become a reliable tertiary offensive option whenever Jordan Ford or Malik Fitts have off nights. The next three games will make or break Saint Mary's at-large resume. 12/14 at California
6 Utah State 9-1 A pair of MWC wins keeps the Aggies stable in the rankings. They needed overtime to get past Fresno State at home but, more importantly, sophomore center Neemias Queta (10 minutes, 6 points) saw his first action of the season. 12/10 vs. Saint Katherine, 12/14 vs. BYU (in Salt Lake City)
7 Richmond 8-1 1 It was bombs away yet again for the Spiders, who hit a total of 26 three's last week across wins over Hampton and South Alabama. As a team, they're shooting 41.2 percent from distance on the season. 12/14 vs. Charleston
8 New Mexico 9-2 1 Welcome to Mountain West play, JaQuan Lyle. The Lobos' super senior tied his career-high with 31 points in a thrilling win over Boise State, then struggled mightily in his first (and only) trip to Laramie, Wyo. If guys like Corey Manigault and Zane Martin become consistent threats off the bench, then New Mexico might have the deepest team in the Mountain West. 12/14 vs. New Mexico State
9 Western Kentucky 7-3 3 We finished our rankings minutes before Western Kentucky's athletic department announced Charles Bassey would miss the remainder of the season with a tibial plateau fracture. A thin roster becomes even thinner. None
10 BYU 7-4 The good news: Yoeli Childs is back and hasn't missed a beat (29 points against Utah, 13 and 14 against UNLV). The bad news: BYU stays on-brand by refusing to do itself any favors, this time with an overtime loss to a Utah team picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12. 12/10 vs. Nevada, 12/14 vs. Utah State (in Salt Lake City)
11 Rhode Island 6-3 4 Fatts Russell. You should've bought stock a long time ago. None
12 East Tennessee State 8-2 -5 For what it's worth, both of ETSU's losses have been against NCAA Tournament teams from last year. Does it matter that one of those was at the hands of 16-seed North Dakota State last weekend? Perhaps. 12/15 vs. Milligan
13 Northern Iowa 8-1 1 The Panthers gain a spot after a week that saw them throttle Division III Luther. Freshman forward Noah Carter scored a career-high 25 points in the win. Can that be a launching pad with a big game against Colorado looming? 12/10 at Colorado
14 Furman 8-3 -3 That's not how you build an at-large resume, Furman. The close shave against Auburn was acceptable, but losing at South Florida was a big disappointment. With no more opportunities for a marquee win, the Paladins will have to win out and gear up for SoCon play to build a postseason resume. 12/11 vs. North Greenville, 12/14 vs. Winthrop
15 Vermont 7-4 -2 Vermont bounced back from consecutive losses by grinding Towson's offense into paste (38 points) in a home win. The Catamounts have an 11-day layover before a quality game against UNC Greensboro on Dec. 18. None
16 Duquesne 7-0 2 Duquesne's second-half rallies continue. The Dukes were *this close* to becoming another unbeaten to fall during last week's come-from-behind win over VMI. 12/9 vs. Columbia, 12/14 vs. Radford (in Akron)
17 Liberty 11-0 All apologies to Kentucky Christian and Trinity Baptist, but the Flames finally got to play against Power 5-caliber guards in the win over GCU last weekend. They're still undefeated. 12/14 at Vanderbilt
18 Buffalo 6-3 1 Here's a sentence that might be true: Buffalo might've earned this season's marquee victory with that win at DePaul. 12/14 vs. Army
19 Bowling Green 7-2 1 Daeqwon Plowden scored a career-high 23 points as the Falcons snuck past Oakland at home. Our voters still believe in BGSU, even if fellow MAC buddy Buffalo has surprised it by a nose in the poll. 12/15 vs. Cleveland State
20 Saint Louis 8-1 1 Don't look now, but the Billikens are off to their best start since the 2011-12 season. But Saint Louis will face its toughest test of the season with a quasi-neutral-site tilt against No. 12 Auburn. 12/14 vs. Auburn (in Birmingham)
21 UNC Greensboro 8-2 2 Seemingly without as much fanfare, the Spartans are off to their second straight 8-2 start by getting a nice road win at Radford. In Wes Miller we trust. 12/15 vs. N.C. State
22 Yale 8-3 The Bulldogs are now riding a five-game winning streak and are the sole Ivy representative in the poll. We hardly knew ye, #2BidIvy. 12/11 at Massachusetts
23 George Mason 10-1 1 The only Patriots in American sports that are worth rooting for None
24 UTEP 6-1 -8 If anything, the Miners dropped the furthest because of their limited number of games against D1 teams. UTEP suffered its first loss of the season at New Mexico State, then followed that up by letting Arkansas Pine Bluff (KenPom rank: 341) hang around. None
25 Nevada 7-3 NR Steve Alford's Wolf Pack is a far cry from the transfer-laden Musselman teams of old, but they're getting better. Nevada's offense is one of the best in the country. LA Tech transfer Jalen Harris, who has taken the reins as the number-one option (18.3 PPG), while Jazz Johnson is still a walking bucket. His 67.4 true shooting percentage ranks 16th in the country. 12/10 at BYU

Also receiving votes: Harvard 11, Louisiana Tech 6, San Francisco 4, Kent State 2, Toledo 1.