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  • While Villanova, Purdue, Virginia and Duke stayed put in their positions at the top, this week's new rankings saw Wichita State plummet, Saint Mary's rise and two non-power-conference teams make the cut.
By Molly Geary
January 24, 2018

Welcome to another edition of SI.com’s college basketball power rankings. Last week was probably the most stable for the top teams this season, with the only top-five movement being Wichita State dropping down after a surprising two-loss week. But the upcoming slate of games brings a rare nonconference-action-during-conference play treat in the Big 12/SEC Challenge this weekend, which will give Big 12 teams a chance to briefly stop beating up on each other. Here’s our updated top 25:

1. Villanova (19–1)

Last Week (1): beat Georgetown, beat Connecticut, beat Providence
Next Week: at Marquette

The Wildcats kept rolling with three wins in the last week, including routing a Providence team that was coming off four straight Big East wins. Of the nation’s top 15 three-point shooting teams, Villanova is one of just three (Michigan State, Saint Mary’s) that also lands in the top 15 in two-point percentage—and the Wildcats rank seventh and sixth, respectively. ‘Nova has four different players who have attempted at least 60 threes and made at least 41%, one of the reasons that only two of the top-30 perimeter shooting teams (Marquette and Princeton) have a higher three-point rate.

2. Purdue (19–2)

Last Week (2): beat Iowa
Next Week: vs. Michigan, at Indiana

SI.com’s Dan Greene led his Monday Rebound column this week talking about why Purdue has been overlooked this season despite its record, and why it looks like a team that could go deep into March. It’s easy for these talented and balanced Boilermakers to get lost in the shuffle, and it’s certainly fair for skeptics point out that they’ve yet to face both the Big Ten’s preseason favorite (Michigan State) and the league’s biggest surprise team (Ohio State), the latter of which is undefeated in conference play. Those matchups won’t come until February, but it’s not like Purdue hasn’t played anyone decent. It’s overall strength of schedule on kenpom.com ranks a modest 46th, which isn’t world beating but lands four spots higher than Virginia, 27 spots higher than the Big 12’s Texas Tech and 71 spots higher than Michigan State.

3. Virginia (19–1)

Last Week (3): beat Georgia Tech, beat Wake Forest, beat Clemson
Next Week: at Duke

The Cavaliers play at Duke on Saturday. The Cavaliers have not won at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995. Is this the year that changes? On paper, it looks like a great opportunity for Virginia to get that elusive win. UVA’s defense is playing at another level this year, giving up an adjusted 81.5 points per 100 possessions, which is the best mark in the nation. Consider that last season, when it ranked second defensively, it gave up 88.0 points per 100 possessions. In a win over Clemson on Tuesday night it held the Tigers to just 0.58 PPP, one of the Hoos’ finest defensive efforts of the season. But it’s also true that they’ve yet to face an offense on the level of Duke, and the Cavaliers will need their own offense to show up if they’re going to stay undefeated in ACC play.

4. Duke (18–2)

Last Week (4): beat Pittsburgh, beat Wake Forest
Next Week: vs. Virginia, vs. Notre Dame

Despite a rough start, the Blue Devils’ own ACC regular-season title hopes are still in play, but a lot rests on Saturday’s critical matchup with Virginia. Win, and they’ll be just one game behind the Cavaliers; lose, and they’ll be three games behind and would need a lot of help with no rematch with Virginia to count on. Duke has shown some defensive improvements of late as its continued to play more zone, but its five-game win streak has consisted of four wins over two of the league’s worst teams in Pitt and Wake Forest, and it hasn’t faced a top-75 efficient offense since its loss to NC State. Virginia represents a chance for the Blue Devils to make a statement at home, where they haven’t lost this season.

5. Michigan State (18–3)

Last Week (8): beat Indiana, beat Illinois
Next Week: vs. Wisconsin, at Maryland

How do you turn the ball over 25 times and win by 13? Have a record day in the paint, dominate the boards and keep your opponent from getting hot from deep, it seems. The Spartans turned it over on 34.2% of their possessions in their Monday night win over Illinois, but when they weren’t making errors they were hitting almost everything inside the arc, scoring 50 of their 87 points from the paint and posting an overall 74.3% shooting percentage on two-point attempts (while rebounding 60% of their offensive misses). A prolific three-point shooting team, MSU took just nine and made four, but held the Illini to an 8-for-28 mark from the perimeter and posted a +22 advantage on the boards. It worked this time, but the Spartans’ turnover issues continue to feel foreboding.

6. Kansas (16–4)

Last Week (7): beat Baylor, lost to Oklahoma
Next Week: vs. Texas A&M, at Kansas State

The Jayhawks had one of their flaws exploited in Tuesday’s loss at Oklahoma, blowing a 10-point lead in the final 10 minutes partly because the Sooners zoned in on the free-throw struggles of Udoka Azubuike. Kansas gets just 12.7% of its points from the charity stripe and is only shooting 69.7% as a team there, but Azubuike is shooting 38.1% on 63 attempts this season. Late in Monday’s game, Oklahoma started intentionally sending the sophomore to the line, where he went 0 for 6 in a less than two-minute span before the Sooners took the lead. Afterwards, Bill Self called his decision to keep Azubuike in the game despite OU’s strategy a “bad” one that he made with long-term implications in mind, and it’s a situation to keep an eye on in the future.

7. Oklahoma (15–4)

Last Week (10): lost to Oklahoma State, beat Kansas
Next Week: at Alabama, vs. Baylor

Trae Young in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State: 48 points on 14-of-39 shooting, 117 offensive rating.
Trae Young in Tuesday’s win over Kansas: 26 points on 7-of-9 shooting, 141 offensive rating.

The Sooners scored 1.01 PPP in the former, 1.15 in the latter. Credit Young for being able to come back from a tough overtime loss and make such a drastic adjustment, which resulted in seeing a stronger version of Oklahoma’s offense. OU is better when Young doesn’t have to carry the team on his back, especially considering how good he is at finding his teammates. The Sooners’ two biggest shots against the Jayhawks came on late threes by Christian James and Brady Manek—both off assists by Young after he drew multiple defenders and got it to the open man.

Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

8. Xavier (18–3)

Last Week (12): beat St. John’s, beat Seton Hall
Next Week: vs. Marquette, at St. John’s

A nine-point road win over Seton Hall—the first team to beat the Pirates in Newark this season—was critical for the Musketeers in a crowded Big East. The standings are tight, but Xavier looks safely like the second-best team in the conference behind Villanova right now. He didn’t score in nine minutes against Seton Hall, but Green Bay grad transfer Kerem Kanter has been quietly starting to produce more consistently, including a 22-point, 13-rebound performance against St. John’s last week on 8-of-10 shooting. In a smaller role, Kanter is actually shooting better than he did at Green Bay, and when he’s on the floor, he’s no afterthought. According to kenpom.com, Kanter has taken 30.2% of Xavier’s shots during Big East play when he’s in the game, the highest mark on the team.

9. Arizona (16–4)

Last Week (11): beat Cal, beat Stanford
Next Week: vs. Colorado, vs. Utah

The Wildcats rallied back to eke out a win over surprise Pac-12 challenger Stanford despite the fact that Deandre Ayton had his worst offensive game of the season amid foul trouble. Fellow 7-footer Dusan Ristic stepped up with 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Meanwhile, in a rout of Cal last week, sophomore Dylan Smith hit all four of his three-point attempts for 14 points, his most yet as a Wildcat. Smith, a former UNC Asheville transfer, has been an underrated, if inconsistent, contributor for Arizona this season. His main value is on the perimeter, where he’s connected on 38.8% of his 49 attempts, and he’s played a key role in a couple of the Wildcats’ biggest wins this season, going a combined 6-of-8 from three against Arizona State and Texas A&M.

10. Cincinnati (17–2)

Last Week (13): beat East Carolina
Next Week: vs. Temple, at Memphis

Of the top 10 teams people are most skeptical about, the Bearcats are probably at the top of the list. There’s reason for it—of the top 50 teams on kenpom.com, Cincy has the weakest strength of schedule at a rank of 257, and it lost both games against its toughest opponents so far (Xavier and Florida). Despite that though, the Bearcats and their stingy defense sit at No. 6 overall on kenpom, 10 points higher than they ever got last year amidst a 22–2 start. Cincinnati has the feeling of a team that will be very polarizing among bracket pickers in March, even if it were to sweep its games against Wichita State. For now though, it’s in the driver’s seat in the AAC after the Shockers dropped back-to-back games.

11. West Virginia (16–4)

Last Week (9): beat Texas, lost to TCU
Next Week: vs. Kentucky

The Mountaineers have now lost three of four after getting nearly blown out by TCU on the road on Monday. The problem was shooting—WVU shot just 33.3% from the floor and 25.9% from three against the Horned Frogs, but it’s a common theme throughout its losses. The truth is, West Virginia isn’t a good shooting team overall. Its effective field goal percentage of 49.2% ranks 232rd in the country and it’s outside the top 200 in both three- and two-point shooting. In a narrow win over Baylor earlier this month, the Mountaineers made just 9 of 36 shots inside the arc. Everyone knows they can get stops, but can they consistently convert enough on the other end?

12. Texas Tech (16–4)

Last Week (6): lost to Texas, lost to Iowa State
Next Week: at South Carolina

Another Big 12 team skidding of late, the Red Raiders have not looked the same since losing senior big man Zach Smith indefinitely with a foot injury. They’ve lost three of five without him, though they did beat both Kansas and Baylor with Smith playing just 10 total minutes. Smith’s stats didn’t jump off the page, but he was a key piece at forward and on defense and his absence has forced Chris Beard to make adjustments with no clear answer. In getting picked apart by Iowa State over the weekend, the Raiders let Cyclones freshman center Cameron Lard convert on 9 of 11 shots for 18 points.

13. Ohio State (18–4)

Last Week (21): beat Northwestern, beat Minnesota, beat Nebraska
Next Week: vs. Penn State, vs. Indiana

The Buckeyes continue to make waves after a 3–0 week, and they now have three winnable home games on dock before what will likely be a pivotal showdown at Purdue. What they’ve done so far this year is pretty remarkable: it’s not even February yet and Ohio State has already gone from No. 78 on kenpom.com to start the year (and No. 75 on Dec. 2) to No. 11, where it sits on Jan. 24. That’s a stunning and rapid rise—even SI.com’s own projection system had the Buckeyes going 7–11 and finishing 11th in the Big Ten. Keita Bates-Diop has been a huge part of the exceeded expectations, but so have freshman Kaleb Wesson and junior C.J. Jackson, who have both produced more scoring and been more efficient than projected.

14. Wichita State (15–4)

Last Week (5): lost to SMU, lost to Houston
Next Week: vs. UCF, vs. Tulsa

The Shockers got their “welcome to the AAC” moment—twice—in the last week in dropping games to SMU and Houston. Both of those teams are in the American’s upper tier, but they were the kind of games that seemed more likely to serve as résumé builders for Wichita State rather than losses. It’s easy to pinpoint the Shockers’ biggest issue right now, and that’s their defense. Despite ranking sixth in the nation in minutes continuity from last season and being one of its most experienced teams, the Shockers’ D has dropped from the No. 13 ranking in adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com to No. 59. The Mustangs, which have a top-30 offense, recently scorched them for 1.38 PPP, after scoring only 0.82 against AAC leader Cincinnati. We know Wichita State has the pieces to defend much better, and maybe it’s still partly a matter of not having Markis McDuffie operating at his 2016–17 level. But for now, the Shockers have lost their edge.

15. Auburn (17–2)

Last Week (16): lost to Alabama, beat Georgia
Next Week: at Missouri, vs. LSU

Here’s where things get sticky. Every team ranked from No. 14–23 last week dropped at least one game in the past seven days, and none of them had a particularly great win, so there’s really not a ton of separation. The Tigers’ road loss at Alabama snapped a 14-game winning streak, so they’ll hold their ground right now. Against the Tide, Auburn failed to score at least 1.0 PPP for the first time in eight games, and got torched on defense by Bama freshman John Petty, who made up for Collin Sexton’s absence by knocking in eight of his 13 three-point attempts. The Tigers also uncharacteristically made just 14 of 22 free throws despite being one of the top free-throw shooting teams in the country.

16. Arizona State (15–4)

Last Week (14): lost to Stanford, beat Cal
Next Week: vs. Utah, vs. Colorado

The Sun Devils haven’t really done much to turn around their spiral, but with such a mish mash in the middle, the fact that they’re the only team on this list with a win over two different top-10 teams keeps them on the higher end of the mix…for now. ASU’s defense hasn’t shown the improvement necessary to make up for the fact that its effective field goal percentage in Big 12 play ranks ninth in the conference and its offensive efficiency seventh. Arizona State needs to find a way to get its offense back into the high gear it enjoyed during nonconference action, when it was able to overpower opponents despite its defensive deficiencies. This is still a team with plenty of talent and the ability to get hot.

Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

17. Saint Mary’s (19–2)

Last Week (25): beat Gonzaga, beat Pacific
Next Week: vs. BYU, vs. Portland

The Gaels take a bit of an advantageous leap after their big win on the road at Gonzaga, a place that hasn’t been too kind to opposing teams over the years. Saint Mary’s stopped a four-game losing streak in its ongoing series with the Zags and put itself in position to potentially win its first outright WCC regular-season title since 2012. It now has road wins over both the Bulldogs and BYU, but nearly suffered a letdown in a three-point win over Pacific on Saturday. The defense is going to continue to be a question mark for the Gaels, but offensively they proved their worth, scoring nearly as many PPP (1.19) against Gonzaga as Florida (1.23) and Villanova (1.22) did this season.

18. Tennessee (14–5)

Last Week (20): lost to Missouri, beat South Carolina, beat Vanderbilt
Next Week: at Iowa State

The Vols didn’t muster much offensively in a 59–55 loss to Missouri, but rebounded with a win at South Carolina before holding off Vanderbilt to keep themselves two back in the SEC race. Tennessee has been getting contributions from a couple different sources lately, which helps ease some pressure off of Grant Williams and d. Against South Carolina, Lamonte Turner tied his career high with 25 points, while freshman big man Derrick Walker made all five of his shots to hit double figures for the first time.

19. North Carolina (16–5)

Last Week (17): beat Georgia Tech, lost to Virginia Tech
Next Week: vs. North Carolina State, at Clemson

The Tar Heels’ three ACC losses have now come against two teams that play at a high tempo like themselves (Florida State, Virginia Tech) and one that plays at a snail’s pace (Virginia). Against the Hokies on Monday, UNC let its opponent get the best of it in the transition game, scoring just two points off turnovers and four on fast breaks as opposed to Tech’s 11 off turnovers and 12 on fast breaks. Luke Maye and Joel Berry II each scored 23, but there was little else offensively, with Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams combining to go 1 of 10 from three.

20. Gonzaga

Last Week (15): lost to Saint Mary’s, beat Santa Clara
Next Week: at Portland, vs. San Francisco

The Bulldogs have now gone against both the No. 1 and No. 3 adjusted efficient offenses on kenpom.com this season—the country’s only team to go against two of the top three—and unsurprisingly had a tough time defensively against both. In their loss to Saint Mary’s, they weren’t able to get Jock Landale into foul trouble (he didn’t pick up his third until there were 42 seconds left) like they did in all three meetings last season, and the senior burned them for 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting. The silver lining of the loss was the performance of Rui Hachimura, who shot 11 of 14 for 23 points and continued his breakout play of late. The big man is posting a true shooting percentage of 66.1% and has scored in double figures for nine straight games.

21. Florida (14–5)

Last Week (NR): beat Arkansas, beat Kentucky
Next Week: vs. South Carolina, vs. Baylor, at Georgia

The Gators won at Rupp Arena for the first time since 2014 and, as winners of eight of nine, have seemed to have officially righted the ship. Per kenpom.com, they’ve posted the top offensive efficiency throughout SEC play so far while hitting 40.3% of their threes and turning it over on just 12.5% of their possessions, both of which also lead the conference. Perhaps most encouraging was that Florida found a way to win on the road at Kentucky despite the fact that its three ball wasn’t falling (it went 6 for 30), it shot just 33.3% overall, missed nine free throws and got out-rebounded by 11. What the Gators did do was take care of the ball, which they do better than all but one team nationally, and largely kept the Wildcats off the free-throw line.

22. TCU (15–5)

Last Week (25): beat Iowa State, lost to Kansas State, beat West Virginia
Next Week: at Vanderbilt, at Oklahoma State

The Horned Frogs found out last week that starting point guard Jaylen Fisher is lost for the season after needing knee surgery, terrible news for a team that was already 1–4 in Big 12 play. What did TCU do in response? It went 2­–1 in its first three games without Fisher, including a signature win over West Virginia in Fort Worth. Junior Alex Robinson has stepped up admirably in Fisher’s absence, dishing out 17 assists in a win over Iowa State and totaling 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the upset of the Mountaineers. Fisher had the Frog’s highest assist rate at 32.5%, but Robinson isn’t far behind him at 31.4% and is showing he can handle his new extra responsibility.

23. Kentucky (15–5)

Last Week (18): lost to Florida, beat Mississippi State
Next Week: at West Virginia, vs. Vanderbilt

Things have been better in Lexington, where the Wildcats have slipped out of the AP poll for the first time since 2014 and have dropped down to No. 33 on kenpom.com. Kentucky’s 13-point home win over Mississippi State Tuesday night was its first double-digit win of SEC play so far, which probably shouldn’t be surprising considering this team’s youth. These Wildcats don’t have much experience in closing out tight games at this level, and it shows against veteran teams like South Carolina and Florida. Up next is a daunting trip to Morgantown.

24. Nevada (18–3)

Last Week (NR): beat San Jose State, beat Boise State
Next Week: at Wyoming

The Wolfpack make their power rankings debut this season after getting a solid home win over Boise State, a team that could very well earn an at-large NCAA bid. Nevada is led by the Martin twins—Caleb and Cody, who many will probably remember from their time at NC State—and junior Jordan Caroline. Its starting point guard, Lindsey Drew, is 6’4”—and the only member of the starting lineup who is not 6’7”. The Wolfpack boast the country’s 11th-best adjusted efficient offense, and the defense has improved during Mountain West play, including holding opponents to just 26.4% from deep.

25. Rhode Island (15–3)

Last Week (NR): beat UMass, beat Dayton
Next Week: at Fordham, vs. Duquesne, at UMass

This hasn’t been a great year for the A-10, but the Rams have been a bright spot at 15–3 overall and 7–0 in conference play. Rhode Island doesn’t have a bad loss (its worst was on the road at Alabama) and it has nonconference wins over Seton Hall and Providence in its pocket, which like the loss to the Tide, came without second-leading scorer E.C. Matthews. Matthews and senior guard Jared Terrell form a potent one-two punch, and Terrell has been having an impressive senior year, averaging 18.3 points and shooting 41.9% from three, both career highs by far. Terrell has notably improved his shooting percentages both inside and outside the arc and has gotten off to a terrific start to Atlantic 10 play.

DROPPED OUT: Seton Hall, Michigan, Clemson

NEXT FIVE OUT: Clemson, Miami, Michigan, Kansas State, Louisville

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. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels dethrone Gonzaga in the No. 1 spot here for the first time this season thanks to their head-to-head win—on the road no less.

2. Gonzaga: The Zags are still a top-10 team on kenpom.com and will have their chance at revenge next month.

3. Nevada: The Wolfpack are in full control of their own destiny in the Mountain West after opening up a two-game lead.

4. New Mexico State: The Aggies are now top 50 in both RPI and kenpom.com, which would be a big plus for them when it comes to NCAA seeding if they get there.

5. Louisiana Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns are rolling through the Sun Belt right now at 7–0 and just beat the second-place team by 25…on the road.                        

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