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  • The Tar Heels have found a budding star in their March hero, while the Jayhawks have proven to be far from a charity stripe case. Plus, what's wrong with Notre Dame, and is Tennessee basketball back?
By Molly Geary
December 06, 2017

We’re back with the second edition of SI.com’s 2017–18 weekly college hoops Power Rankings. It’s been a fun last seven days across the sport, including the opening games of Big Ten play and three AP top-10 teams falling to unranked opponents already. Outside of the top three, the new rankings saw a pretty good shakeup before we head into a quieter span as finals approach for most universities.

* = game played at a neutral site

1. Duke (11–0)

Last Week (1): beat Indiana, beat South Dakota, beat St. Francis (PA)
This Week: at Boston College

The No. 1 offensive team in the country dropped 124 points on poor St. Francis Tuesday night, but we already knew the Blue Devils had that kind of explosive ability. Right now it seems like Duke’s going to need to rely on its offense to overpower opponents while it tries to get its defense (which Kenpom ranks 50th in adjusted efficiency) in gear. This team is so talented offensively that it’s going to be very difficult for even the best defensive teams (see: State, Michigan) to slow it down, but opponents can attempt to score enough to keep it close, at which point anything could happen. It’s the formula Indiana used last week to build a four-point lead late in the second half before the Blue Devils overwhelmed them.

2. Villanova (9–0)

Last Week (2): beat Penn, beat St. Joseph’s, beat No. 12 Gonzaga
This Week: vs. La Salle

How do you stop the Wildcats? That question will go unanswered for now after Gonzaga came up empty in its attempt at the Jimmy V Classic. Villanova is already playing like a well-oiled machine in early December while owning the nation’s No. 2 most-efficient offense. You’ve got Jalen Brunson running the point and posting an absurd offensive rating (144.1) through nine games. You have Mikal Bridges, who enjoyed an official coming-out party Tuesday with a 28-point performance against the Zags, including this poster dunk.

Then you have big man Omari Spellman anchoring the paint, Phil Booth being back from injury and playing well in a starting role, and Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall also serving as key pieces. The scary part is that this team is only going to get better.

3. Michigan State (8–1)

Last Week (3): beat Notre Dame, beat Nebraska, beat Rutgers
Next Week: vs. Southern Utah

The Spartans have now played three of the ACC’s best teams and gone 2–1, with both wins not being close. They followed up their defensive gem against North Carolina by becoming the first team in 14 games (dating back to last season) to hold Notre Dame to less than one point per possession thanks to having an excellent game plan for the Irish. Since its track meet against Duke, Michigan State’s defense has been playing at another level. It leads the country in both defensive field goal percentage and defensive two-point percentage, and made sure not to have a letdown against a soft opening to Big Ten play against Nebraska and Rutgers. When the Spartans’ offense was stalling and the Scarlet Knights pulled to within two with 8:14 to go on Tuesday, the defense clamped down, holding Rutgers scoreless for the next four and a half minutes.

4. Kansas (7–0)

Last Week (6): beat Syracuse
Next Week: vs. Washington, vs. Arizona State

The Jayhawks took care of Syracuse in Miami in their lone game of the last week, with Devonte’ Graham posting his second straight 35-point effort. One particular thing that jumps out about Kansas right now is its free-throw rate, which ranks 347th in the country. KU isn’t a bad free-throw shooting team, but only 11.2% of its points are coming from the line. That’s a lower percentage than all but two other Division I teams. What’s behind it? Per Hoop-Math.com, the Jayhawks’ key returners (Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike) aren’t taking a lower percentage of shots at the rim compared to last season. But nobody is posting a free-throw rate close to what Frank Mason and Josh Jackson did in 2016–17 or attacking the rim as often as they did. Will this change as we get deeper into the season?

5. Wichita State (7–1)

Last Week (8): beat Savannah State, beat Baylor, beat South Dakota State
Next Week: at Oklahoma State

The Shockers got their best win of the season to date by taking down Baylor on the road over the weekend, then needed a second-half comeback to beat South Dakota State on Tuesday. In the latter, Mike Daum feasted on the Shockers’ usually reliable D, knocking down seven threes as part of a 31-point effort. The Jackrabbits were just the second team this season to outshoot Wichita State from the perimeter and nearly rode that to an upset, but Wichita used a second-half press to jump-start its defense and the comeback. By the way, speaking of three-point shooting, Shockers guard Conner Frankamp has now made one in 30-straight games.

6. Kentucky (7–1)

Last Week (9): beat Harvard
This Week: vs. Monmouth*

After Kentucky’s only game of the week, a nine-point win over Harvard, John Calipari told EPSN’s Jay Bilas that his young Wildcats are “still learning how to win.” He said his team will “get up, and then revert a little bit,” a likely reference to how UK ballooned a seven-point lead to a 20-point one behind a 13–0 second-half run, then let a 20-point lead with seven minutes left become just a single-digit win. The ‘Cats can get it going in a hurry, especially with their ability in transition, but they’re still learning how to close games out. Saturday’s game against Monmouth represents their last one against sub-top-100 competition; after that, we’ll start to find out exactly what this Kentucky team is made of.

7. North Carolina (8–1)

Last Week (11): beat Michigan, beat Davidson, beat Tulane
This Week: vs. Western Carolina

It was a successful three-win week for the Tar Heels, who earned a top-50 victory when they beat Michigan in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Luke Maye continues to torch opposing defenses not named Michigan State, and it’s hard to overstate just how valuable his breakout has been for North Carolina. With all of the frontcourt questions UNC had going into the season, it needed someone—whether it had been Maye, freshman Garrison Brooks or someone else—to emerge as a dependable option. But what Maye has done so far has gone beyond expectations. He’s gone from a role player to a budding star, averaging 20.8 points and 10.3 rebounds through nine games with an efficient field-goal percentage of 60.5% and a 44.0% mark from three.

8. Texas A&M (7–1)

Last Week (4): beat UT Rio Grande Valley, lost to Arizona
Next Week: vs. Prairie View A&M

The Aggies dropped a tough one to Arizona in Phoenix, but there's no shame in it being their first loss. It might be time to start asking this though: What’s going on with Robert Williams? After being suspended for the first two games of the season, he scored a combined 31 in his first two back. Since then, he’s scored four points in four straight games. Williams has contributed in other ways, but it’s unexpected to see him playing such a small role in the A&M offense. He’s been used on only 17.2% of possessions and 16.2% of shots while on the floor, down from 23.7% and 24.4%, respectively, in 2016–17. One thing he’s still doing a lot of: blocking shots, with a 9.9% rate and 14 swats total in six games.

9. Miami (8–0)

Last Week (14): beat No. 14 Minnesota, beat Princeton, beat Boston
Next Week: Off

The Hurricanes earned a strong road win in front of a raucous crowd at The Barn in their first test of the season, which pit the enticing matchup of Dewan Huell against Minnesota’s big man duo of Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch. Huell rose to the occasion with a season-high 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting, but the bigger story was the way Miami used pick-and-rolls and handoffs to get the sophomore open in the lane for dunks. Ja'Quan Newton and Bruce Brown combined for 14 assists on the night, seven of which were in tandem with Huell. Here’s one that came in crunch time to give the ‘Canes a crucial extension of their lead:

10. Xavier (7–1)

Last Week (18): beat No. 17 Cincinnati
Next Week: vs. Kent State, vs. Colorado

The story that made headlines after the Crosstown Shootout came from the postgame handshake and press conferences, but before all that went down, the Musketeers were closing out their second win over a ranked team in five days. Xavier had no problems solving Cincinnati’s top-10 defense, scoring 1.19 points per possession as part of an 89-point outing (with 28 from Trevon Bluiett), but perhaps the most surprising thing was how dominant it was on the boards. The Musketeers grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and had a 44-to-27 overall edge, scoring 19 second-chance points to the Bearcats’ five.

11. Florida (5–2)

Last Week (5): lost to Florida State
Next Week: vs. Loyola Chicago, vs. Cincinnati*

The Gators got a dose of reality when rival Florida State came to Gainesville and cruised to a double-digit win. UF was thoroughly out-rebounded on its home court, with the Seminoles collecting the same number of offensive rebounds (23) as the Gators had defensive ones. FSU likewise crushed Florida in both points in the paint and second-chance scoring. The Gators were able to mitigate their height disadvantage when they took on Gonzaga and Duke, but their undersized lineup was exposed against the lengthy Seminoles. Until John Egbunu returns, UF’s two most frequently-used lineups feature just one player over 6'6", with only one rotation player standing taller than 6'9" (6'11" Gorjok Gak). How much of a problem will this be going forward?

12. Arizona State (7–0)

Last Week (15): beat San Francisco
Next Week: vs. St. John’s*, at No. 2 Kansas

The Sun Devils are operating opposite many of the teams on this list, with the last week having been a light one and the one coming up holding multiple challenges. After Sunday, we should have a better idea of whether ASU could truly be a surprise Pac-12 contender, or perhaps just a team that’s very much improved but still below that top tier. The biggest thing Arizona State needs to show right now is that it has the defense to be the former. The Sun Devils rank 177th defensively on Kenpom, which is largely responsible for why they’re 54th overall despite wins over Xavier and Kansas State. Going into Allen Fieldhouse is a daunting task, but if they can compete there, it will speak volumes.

13. Seton Hall (7–1)

Last Week (NR): beat Texas Tech, beat Louisville
Next Week: vs. VCU, vs. Saint Peter’s

The Pirates have now rebounded from a one-point loss to Rhode Island with three quality wins over Vanderbilt, Texas Tech and on the road at Louisville. The common thread in all three has been the stellar play of senior wing Desi Rodriguez, who is coming off a 29-point, eight-rebound, four-steal effort against the Cardinals. Rodriguez has stepped up his play inside the arc so far this season, shooting 67.6% at the rim and 58.3% on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com. He scored in a number of ways against Louisville and made a superb 10 of his 11 two-point attempts, including this tough game-winner in the final 10 seconds.

14. West Virginia (8–1)

Last Week (19): beat NJIT, beat No. 15 Virginia
Next Week: at Pittsburgh

It’s probably not a coincidence that Jevon Carter’s worst game of the season so far was also West Virginia’s collective worst (and only loss). The senior point guard is the engine that makes the Mountaineers run, with his 6.7% steal percentage ranking second in the country. The reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year has stepped up his game offensively this season, too, with his most recent feat being leading WVU’s key win over Virginia behind 23 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals. It was his third straight game hitting the 20-point plateau, the first time in his career that he’s done that.

15. Purdue (8–2)

Last Week (23): beat Maryland, beat Northwestern
Next Week: vs. Valparaiso, vs. IUPUI

The Boilermakers, one of the disappointments of the season’s first few weeks, now have four straight wins over top-60 Kenpom teams. They had one of the tougher pairs of games for the mini-start to Big Ten play and came away with two five-point wins. Purdue is showing it can beat teams in different ways, whether it’s on the perimeter with Dakota Mathias, Carsen Edwards and PJ Thompson, or inside with 7'2" Isaac Haas and Vincent Edwards. Mathias in particular is shooting at an absurd level right now: He’s made 29 of 54 three-point attempts (53.7%) and has a true shooting percentage of 73.2%—higher than all but 16 players in the country. Lest teams attempt to zone in on him while he’s red-hot, he can get it in to Haas—as he did five times against Northwestern to help the big man collect 26 points.

16. Virginia (8–1)

Last Week (16): beat Lehigh, lost to No. 18 West Virginia
Next Week: OFF

The Cavaliers got taken a bit out of their element in their visit to Morgantown, which, to be fair, happens to most teams who make the trip to WVU Coliseum. Normally sound at taking care of the ball, they committed a season-high 14 turnovers at the hands of Press Virginia, and the Mountaineers posted the highest number of points (68) and points per possession (1.10) this season on the Hoos’ No. 1 ranked defense. Offensively, it took leading scorer Kyle Guy some time to get going amid an 18-point, 6-of-17 shooting night, and he settled for 14 three-point attempts—by far the most of any game in his career. The challenge for Virginia when it faces similarly defensive-minded teams will be finding enough scoring.

17. Gonzaga (7–2)

Last Week (12): beat Incarnate Word, beat Creighton, lost to No. 4 Villanova
Next Week: at Washington

Here’s a startling stat: Per the AP, Villanova’s 51.7% field-goal percentage against the Zags Tuesday night was the first time in 65 games that an opponent shot 50% from the field against Gonzaga. That speaks to a lot of things—namely how good the Bulldogs have been defensively over the last couple years and how good this Wildcats team is. The Zags shot nearly that well themselves (48.1%) but were done in by 19 turnovers, including 11 through the first 12 and a half minutes. They’ve now lost their only two opportunities to pick up a signature win in nonconference play, but they did get a nice 17-point home win over Creighton last Friday.

18. Cincinnati (7–1)

Last Week (13): lost to No. 13 Xavier
Next Week: vs. No. 5 Florida*, vs. Mississippi State

The Bearcats had their first test of the season, falling by 13 on the road in the Crosstown Shootout. Cincinnati’s stingy defense wasn’t able to slow Xavier’s powerful offense, giving up 1.19 points per possession and 89 points. What’s interesting is that the Bearcats were able to win the battle against the Musketeers’ No. 2-ranked two-point shooting, holding them 15% below their season average, but they weren’t able to keep Xavier off the free-throw line. Led by Trevon Bluiett, Xavier attempted 30 free throws—26 of which came in its 46-point second half. Cincinnati has a week to reset before taking on another high-octane offense in Florida.

19. TCU (9–0)

Last Week (22): beat Belmont, beat Yale, beat SMU
Next Week: vs. Nevada*

The Horned Frogs got their first significant win of the season in beating SMU, a team that’s been a bit hot-and-cold but owns wins over Arizona and USC. It did so by making half of its threes (12 of 24) and 14 of its 22 two-point attempts (on 21 assists), a good sign for a team whose previous high offensive efficiency numbers could be perhaps chalked up to level of competition. A note about those assists: both TCU’s starting point guard (Jaylen Fisher) and backup (Alex Robinson) have assist rates over 30% on the season, making it one of just four teams to have two players in the top 100 nationally.

20. Florida State (7–0)

Last Week (NR): beat No. 5 Florida
This Week: vs. Loyola (MD), vs. Tulane

The undefeated record the Seminoles took into Monday’s game with Florida came with a healthy level of skepticism. Their best win was against Rutgers and they had yet to play a top-100 opponent, so a team that lost as much production as FSU did would always come with a “proceed with caution” sign from anyone thinking of buying in. But Florida State’s impressive win over the top-five Gators shook up the narrative. Perhaps this isn’t a team in a rebuilding year—perhaps it’s even one that could make a little noise in the ACC. It’s important to not read too much into one result, but it’s hard to ignore the job Terance Mann and the ‘Noles did in attacking the rim and controlling the boards against a very good, veteran Florida team.

21. Notre Dame (7–2)

Last Week (7): lost to No. 3 Michigan State, beat St. Francis NY, lost to Ball State
Next Week: at Delaware

The Irish suffered their first setback of the season when they got outplayed by Michigan State in East Lansing ... then had a much bigger one by falling at home to Ball State. Take a look at the first-half stat line of senior point guard Matt Farrell in both losses:

Against Michigan State: 0-for-3, 0 points, 4 assists, 1 turnover, 19 minutes
Against Ball State: 1-for-5, 2 points, 4 assists, 0 turnovers, 20 minutes

Both Farrell and (to a lesser extent) fellow senior Bonzie Colson had slow first halves in these games before recovering in the second, which is simply not a formula that Notre Dame can get away with against many teams. Another troubling sign? The Irish were thoroughly outrebounded in both losses, with only nine total offensive boards.

22. Minnesota (8–2)

Last Week (10): lost to No. 10 Miami, beat Rutgers, lost to Nebraska
This Week: at Arkansas, vs. Drake

What happened to the Golden Gophers Tuesday night? While most of America was watching the Arizona-Texas A&M showdown, Minnesota fell by 10 at Nebraska, a team that entered the night outside the Kenpom top 100 and one that is expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. No road game in the Big Ten is a gimme, but the Gophers can’t drop games like that if they want to challenge Michigan State for the title. The Minnesota offense, which had been so good to open the season, shot just 32.4% from the floor, including just 30.8% inside the arc. Jordan Murphy was held to a season-low 10 points, and as a team the Gophers had just nine assists, well below their 18.9 per game average, which ranks 11th in the country.

23. Arizona (5–3)

Last Week (NR): beat Long Beach State, beat UNLV, beat No. 7 Texas A&M
This Week: vs. Alabama

Ah, there’s the Wildcats. Zona took its first big step toward becoming a team that can live up to its lofty preseason expectations by outlasting Texas A&M in front of a navy and red-clad crowd in Phoenix. It came on the heels of gutting out a tough overtime win at UNLV over the weekend, showing an ability to close out games (with, uh, a little free-throw miss luck against A&M) that it failed to do against SMU on Thanksgiving. Maybe the most encouraging thing for Arizona was the way it beat the Aggies. After Allonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton poured in a combined 57 points against the Rebels, Trier was largely invisible in a seven-point outing Tuesday where six of his seven shot attempts were threes. Instead, Ayton, Dusan Ristic, Brandon Rudolph and Dylan Smith scored 13 apiece, showing the Wildcats can win without their star duo carrying the team.

24. Tennessee (6–1)

Last Week (NR): beat Mercer, beat Georgia Tech
This Week: vs. Lipscomb

Vols basketball is back! (Maybe.) As the search for a football coach continues to grip Knoxville, its hoops team has quietly started the season 6–1, including a neutral-court win over Purdue that should stand up very well come Selection Sunday. The Vols even gave a run to Villanova, at one point holding a 15-point lead over the Wildcats. Tennessee has relied on an infusion of sophomores—Grant Williams, Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Jordan Bone—around juniors Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander and senior James Daniel, and the early returns have been positive. SI.com's projection system predicted the Vols to finish 13th in the SEC this year, but a young team developing quicker than expected is a good way to buck expectations.

25. Texas Tech (7–1)

Last Week (20): lost to No. 19 Seton Hall, beat No. 22 Nevada
Next Week: OFF

This final spot could probably go to a number of teams, as separation can be hard to come by this early in the season. The Red Raiders get the edge despite their loss to Seton Hall last week because A) the Pirates are a great team and B) Tech edged a solid Nevada team in overtime on Tuesday (its 36-point win over Northwestern is still bearing fruit here as well). Texas Tech has done well defensively this season, but it couldn't slow Desi Rodriguez & Co. in a loss at Madison Square Garden. The Raiders need to find a consistent scoring option beyond Keenan Evans, and freshman Jarrett Culver is an intriguing possibility.

Dropped Out: USC, Texas Tech, Baylor, Louisville, Alabama. Next Five Out: Baylor, Texas, Creighton, Louisville, USC.

Mid-Major Meter

(For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10.)

1. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs’ early 27-point win over Ohio State is looking better and better after the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin and Michigan.

2. Nevada: The Wolf Pack took Texas Tech to overtime in a loss but will get another crack at a win over a Big 12 team on Friday against TCU in Los Angeles.

3. Northern Iowa: The Panthers beat UNLV in overtime just three days before the Rebels took Arizona to overtime. Their only losses have been to UNC and Villanova.

4. UT Arlington: Thursday night pits the 7–1 Mavericks against the team right above them in this ranking.

5. Saint Mary's: Their loss to Washington State is still a bad look, but the Gaels are fourth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (per Kenpom).

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