- After the same three squads held a stranglehold on the top spots for four consecutive weeks, the top 25 finally saw some movement this week.
Nothing lasts forever, isn’t that the saying? After four straight weeks of Villanova, Purdue and Virginia topping our Power Rankings—in that order—we finally have a changing of the guard at the top after all three lost in the same week. Much like the AP poll, the Cavaliers actually wound up moving up a spot after all the dust settled, which seems like a testament to how unique this season has been. While these rankings weigh strongly (but certainly not entirely) on recent results/performance, it’s important to not be overly reactive to one bad result, especially if it’s an anomaly compared to a team’s overall play or trend of late. Here’s the new top 25:
1. Michigan State (25–3)
Last Week (4): beat Iowa, beat Purdue, beat Minnesota
Next Week: at Northwestern, vs. Illinois
After the carnage around them, the Spartans slide back into No. 1 after a three-win week that included a critical win over Purdue. They took down the Boilermakers by being more efficient in the paint, where they shot 54.8% to Purdue’s 44.4%, by neutralizing one of their biggest weaknesses in committing just six turnovers and by getting 24 points from their bench to make up for a two-point, foul trouble-shortened effort by Jaren Jackson Jr. Foul trouble has been a concern for Jackson, who has been held to 20 minutes or less due to it in four of the last six games, but he was able to stay out of it entirely Tuesday night at Minnesota when he exploded for 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting.
2. Virginia (24–2)
Last Week (3): beat Florida State, lost to Virginia Tech, beat Miami
Next Week: OFF
Virginia finally got clipped for the first time in ACC play over the weekend, falling by one to Virginia Tech in overtime at home. While one loss doesn’t change the big picture or their status as one of the country’s very best teams, the result was part of a week that reminded the college basketball world that even the teams that have been the most stable can be vulnerable. For the Cavaliers, the main question may be whether they have enough offensive firepower to win it all. While their defense is other-worldly, their offense ranks 44th on kenpom.com and sixth in ACC play. That’s by no means bad—and with that kind of defense, you don’t need an elite offense—but when you slow games down the way UVA does, all it can take is one or two possessions to turn a contest on its head late.
3. Villanova (23–2)
Last Week (1): lost to St. John’s, beat Butler
Next Week: at Providence, at Xavier
Donte DiVincenzo, X-factor? The sophomore’s role has become ever more important after the injury to Phil Booth, and his last week encapsulates his value to the Wildcats. In their stunning loss to St. John’s, DiVincenzo had his least efficient game of the season, going 0 for 5 from three and turning it over four times, finishing with 11 points and three rebounds in 38 minutes. Then in Villanova’s win over Butler, in which they avenged an earlier loss to the Bulldogs, DiVincenzo scored 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting with three rebounds, two turnovers and two steals. He wasn’t the only one to struggle against the Red Storm, especially from the perimeter, but with the Wildcats using such a short rotation his continued emergence is vital.
4. Xavier (23–3)
Last Week (5): beat Butler, beat Creighton
Next Week: vs. Seton Hall, vs. Villanova
The Musketeers keep winning, but their last three games now include two overtime wins and a one-point victory that came on two free throws with less than a second remaining. The wins are what count, but they’re going to need to be on their A game when they host Villanova this weekend in a rematch that may very well determine the Big East crown. Xavier’s defense is going to be once again put to the test by the uber-efficient Wildcats, who hung 89 points (1.25 per possession) on it in Philadelphia. That game was one of Phil Booth’s best of the season, but ‘Nova is now without the junior guard. Offensively, the Musketeers will need better games from Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Quentin Goodin this time around after the trio combined for just 16 points in that Jan. 10 matchup.
5. Cincinnati (23–2)
Last Week (6): beat UCF, beat SMU
Next Week: at Houston, vs. Wichita State
The Bearcats and their defense just keep humming, but let’s talk about their offense this time. The first time Cincinnati faced UCF (which has a top-10 defense) this season it scored just 0.86 PPP in a 49–38 win. This time around, playing at BB&T Arena in Kentucky, it posted 1.15 PPP in a 77–40 win (albeit without 7’6” Tacko Fall playing for the Knights). That’s significant because like Virginia, Cincy is a team with an elite defense that could potentially be held back by its offense (in this case, the Bearcats rank 51st on kenpom.com in adjusted offensive efficiency). They need consistency from guys like Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans, and they notably don’t have a “go-to” player on offense. We’ll see if they carry this momentum into the long awaited first Cincinnati-Wichita State showdown is this weekend.
6. Purdue (23–4)
Last Week (2): lost to Ohio State, lost to Michigan State
Next Week: at Wisconsin, vs. Penn State
The Boilermakers had their first setbacks in a looong time last week, losing back-to-back games to the Big Ten’s other elite teams, Ohio State and Michigan State. It’s not the best optics that Purdue went 0 for 2 in its biggest tests since Thanksgiving weekend, but it did still land a No. 1 seed in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal. Against the Spartans, it was the Isaac Haas show, but good as the 7’2” senior is, Purdue can’t allow opponents to let Haas get his and have the rest of the team be largely shut down. Outside of Haas, the rest of the Boilermakers converted just 8 for 23 (34.8%) two-point attempts and made just 6 of 19 (31.6%) threes despite being the second-best perimeter shooting tem nationally.
7. Texas Tech (22–4)
Last Week (8): beat Iowa State, beat Kansas State, beat Oklahoma
Next Week: at Baylor
Now alone in first in the Big 12, the Red Raiders are winners of seven straight. Their latest accomplishment was holding Trae Young to 19 points and seven assists on 4-for-16 shooting, including a 0-for-9 mark from three. Those numbers aren’t a coincidence—Texas Tech has the nation’s 17th-best three-point defense and ranks second in Big 12 play in that area, per kenpom.com. Virginia and Cincinnati’s defenses have grabbed the headlines this season, but the Raiders’ third-ranked defense shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re giving up just 88.8 adjusted points per 100 possessions, 3.3 fewer than the next closest team, Texas A&M.
8. Ohio State (22–5)
Last Week (14): beat Purdue, beat Iowa
Next Week: at Penn State, at Michigan
A notable jump for the Buckeyes, but they earned one of the most impressive wins of the season in beating Purdue on the road and benefit from losses by all the teams that were in the group above them. Ohio State is now in position to win the Big Ten outright, something even its most ardent fans probably never thought possible three months ago. If you want a reason to believe the Buckeyes are real contenders, look no further than the fact that it didn’t take a crazy shooting night or one player having the game of his life to knock off the Boilermakers. OSU shot 42.1% from the floor, made only 10 of 16 free throws and won the rebounding battle by just one—and still came out on top.
9. Gonzaga (23–4)
Last Week (15): beat Pacific, beat Saint Mary’s
Next Week: vs. Loyola Marymount, vs. Pepperdine
The Zags restored order in the WCC by taking it to Saint Mary’s on the road in the rematch, pulling into a tie for first place that’s not likely to be broken. Gonzaga looked much more like itself this time around, especially on the defensive end, where it used a double team of Gaels star Jock Landale to hold him to just four field-goal attempts, a far cry from the 15 he had when he scored 26 in Spokane. The Bulldogs also held hot-shooting Saint Mary’s to just 5-of-20 shooting from three, effectively killing both ways the Gaels use to beat opponents. Finally, There’s Something About (Saint) Mary’s that seems to bring out the best in Rui Hachimura, who has now led the Zags in scoring in both games against their chief WCC rival.
10. Auburn (22–3)
Last Week (7): lost to Texas A&M, beat Georgia
Next Week: vs. Kentucky, at South Carolina
The Tigers are still two games up in the SEC race despite falling to Texas A&M by one last week, their first home loss of the season. They’re also in serious play for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, landing fifth in the selection committee’s top 16 reveal—just one off the pace from a No. 1 seed. It’s not surprising that a team like the Aggies is the one that gave Auburn trouble; the Tigers’ defensive weaknesses lie in rebounding and two-point shooting, which Robert Williams and Tyler Davis took advantage of, combining for 31 points on 15-for-21 shooting inside the arc with six offensive boards between the pair.
11. Duke (20–5)
Last Week (9): lost to North Carolina, beat Georgia Tech
Next Week: vs. Virginia Tech, at Clemson
Before the Blue Devils’ loss to UNC last week, SI.com’s Chris Johnson gave a good breakdown of where the team stands and which areas it needs to improve on to be a true tourney threat. Defense was an obvious subject, and Johnson noted that in both recent years where Duke got bounced by a mid-major in the NCAA first round, it entered the tournament with a top-six offense and a defense ranked in the 70s on kenpom.com. In fact, the 2013–14 team that lost to Mercer had the No. 2 offense and No. 77 defense. This year’s Blue Devils currently rank No. 2 in offense and No. 79 in defense, which is alarmingly similar—for now, at least. Of course, Duke isn’t the country’s only team with a top-10 offense dealing with this kind of imbalance.
12. Kansas (20–6)
Last Week (10): beat TCU, lost to Baylor, beat Iowa State
Next Week: vs. West Virginia, vs. Oklahoma
We’re not accustomed to seeing the Jayhawks in the position they’re in; that is, not in position to win the Big 12 with just five games to go. But Kansas is still very much in play for extending its streak, even with a tough schedule on deck. To do so though, it’s going to need much better efforts than the one it gave at Baylor over the weekend, when a poor three-point shooting performance doomed it. The Jayhawks took almost exactly as many threes as twos, but made just six of the former, and had just nine free-throw attempts.
13. Rhode Island (21–3)
Last Week (16): beat Davidson, beat Richmond
Next Week: at St. Bonaventure, at LaSalle
The Rams had a big scare when E.C. Matthews left Tuesday’s game against Richmond with a knee injury, but Dan Hurley said afterwards that the prognosis is “pretty good” regarding the senior, which if accurate would leave fans breathing a side of relief. Losing Matthews for an extended period of time at this point in the season would be crushing for Rhode Island and for Matthews himself, who missed the entire 2015–16 season with an ACL tear. With Matthews, the Rams are a dangerous team that has run the table in the Atlantic 10 so far, including a wire-to-wire win Friday night over Davidson where they held the league’s top offense to 59 points.
14. Clemson (20–4)
Last Week (17): beat Pittsburgh
Next Week: at Florida State, vs. Duke
Up to the program’s highest rank in the AP poll (No. 11) since 2009, expect Littlejohn Coliseum to be absolutely rocking on Sunday when the Tigers host Duke in the two schools’ only regular-season meeting this year. Clemson is currently ahead of the Blue Devils in the standings—something that probably would have seemed incredulous to many at the beginning of the season—and now it has a chance to make its most direct statement yet. The Tigers struggled big time when they faced Virginia back on Jan. 23, but Duke presents a completely different kind of challenge, one Clemson and its 13th-ranked defense may be better apt to face.
15. Tennessee (19–6)
Last Week (12): beat Kentucky, lost to Alabama, beat South Carolina
Next Week: at Georgia
It was an up-and-down week for the Vols, who took down Kentucky at Rupp but then laid an egg in Tuscaloosa before beating South Carolina back in Knoxville. The 28-point loss to Alabama was the most surprising result, with Tennessee’s offense generating just 0.74 PPP and making just 13 of 41 (29.3%) of its two-point shots and 4 of 17 threes. Two-point shooting has been a sore spot for the Vols, with Grant Williams (51.3%) and Kyle Alexander (72.2%) being their only primary players making at least 47% of their twos, but they had been converting much better of late inside the arc before Saturday’s debacle.
16. North Carolina (20–7)
Last Week (24): beat Duke, beat NC State, beat Notre Dame
Next Week: at Louisville
Saying it was a great week for the Tar Heels would be an understatement. They started it with a big win over rival Duke in Chapel Hill, then survived in Raleigh against an NC State squad that was gunning for a season sweep, and finally eased past Notre Dame back at home. Against the Blue Devils, UNC was able to get out in transition, outscore Duke off turnovers by 10 and control the boards in the second half, and against the Wolf Pack, Luke Maye went off for 33 points and 17 rebounds (with six turnovers being the only damper on an otherwise stellar performance). Will the emotional win over Duke stand out long-term as a turning point in UNC’s season?
17. Saint Mary’s (24–3)
Last Week (11): beat Loyola Marymount, lost to Gonzaga
Next Week: at San Francisco, at Portland
The flip side of Gonzaga’s success was the Gaels’, well, lack of it in their first loss since November. The Bulldogs provided the blueprint to beating Saint Mary’s, which doesn’t have the kind of defense that can make up for an off offensive night. But here’s the thing: if Saint Mary’s had shot better from three, it would’ve forced Gonzaga to rethink its strategy on Landale and likely make adjustments, which perhaps would’ve changed the outcome of the game. The Zags deserve a lot of credit for committing defensively, especially in an area (three-point defense) that’s been a weakness for them, but it doesn’t mean other teams will be able to replicate it with ease. In any event, it will be interesting to see how the Gaels adjust and respond should they meet Gonzaga again in the WCC tournament final.
18. Arizona (20–6)
Last Week (13): lost to UCLA, beat USC
Next Week: at Arizona State
Seven straight opponents have scored at least 1.0 PPP against the Wildcats, whose defense ranks 107th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Arizona was considered a national title favorite before the season began, but it’s hard to see how that can come to fruition without serious improvement on that end in the next month. The ‘Cats have DeAndre Ayton and his shot-blocking ability inside, but their perimeter defense is severely lacking, ranking 11th in Pac-12 play, and they don’t generate many turnovers. It allowed them to be upset in back-to-back games, with Washington hitting 8 of 14 threes and UCLA connecting on 11 of 24 while also making 55.3% of their shots inside the arc.
19. Wichita State (19–5)
Last Week (19): beat Memphis, beat UConn
Next Week: vs. Temple, at Cincinnati
The good: the Shockers went 2–0 with two routs last week to bounce back from a loss to Temple. The bad: the defensive concerns aren’t exactly alleviated after they gave up 1.12 points per possession to a UConn team that ranks sub-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Against Memphis though, things were better, with the Tigers scoring 0.90 PPP and turning it over 18 times on a quarter of their possessions. Turnovers are an interesting area to look at for Wichita State, because it’s one where this team diverts from the one that had much more overall defensive success last year. The Shockers weren’t an elite team at generating steals or turnovers in 2016–17, but they weren’t bad at it, either. But this season, they rank 268th in defensive turnover percentage (down from 119th last year) and a paltry 320th in defensive steal percentage, down from 123rd.
20. West Virginia (19–7)
Last Week (20): lost to Oklahoma State, beat TCU
Next Week: at Kansas, at Baylor
After giving up 1.26 PPP over the weekend in a loss to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers turned around and held the Big 12’s best offense (and the fifth-best nationally) to 1.03 PPP and 66 points overall on Monday. The WVU offense has been more consistent, posting PPP of 1.15, 1.20, 1.14, 1.06, 1.21 and 1.28 over its last six games. West Virginia’s offense ranks 18th on kenpom.com and is scoring an adjusted 118.1 points per 100 possessions, which is higher than any Mountaineer team has finished with in the KenPom era or under Bob Huggins. And it’s doing it despite the fact that its effective field goal percentage ranks 196th in the country.
21. Arizona State (19–6)
Last Week (NR): beat USC, beat UCLA
Next Week: vs. Arizona
The mysterious saga of the Sun Devils continues. After opening 12–0, then going over six weeks without notching back-to-back wins, ASU has now won three straight, including two solid wins over UCLA and USC. It helps that they’ve been getting back to the free throw line: in those two games, they attempted 28 and 32 free throws, respectively, after taking just 14 and 17 freebies in their previous two losses. The Sun Devils have the nation’s seventh-best free-throw rate and get more points from the charity stripe than all but 21 teams nationally, so when they’re kept off the line, it takes away a big weapon. In particular, senior guard Tra Holder hit more free throws against each of USC and UCLA than he had even attempted in the previous 10 games.
22. Texas A&M (17–9)
Last Week (NR): beat Auburn, beat Kentucky, lost to Missouri
Next Week: at Arkansas, vs. Mississippi State
It’s been a while since the Aggies have appeared here, but they earned their way back with a 2–1 week that included wins over Auburn and Kentucky. A&M became just the second SEC team to beat the Tigers this season and the first to win at Auburn Arena all season. The weekend news that J.J. Caldwell has been dismissed and Jay Jay Chandler suspended indefinitely shouldn’t affect the team’s recent play much, as neither have had a big presence as a now healthy Texas A&M has won six of nine, but it’s a continuing trend of off-court issues threatening to torpedo the Aggies’ season.
23. Alabama (17–9)
Last Week (NR): lost to Mississippi State, beat Tennessee, beat LSU
Next Week: at Kentucky, at Auburn
The Crimson Tide have some Jekyll and Hyde tendencies to them, but they’ve been trending in the right direction lately, winning four of six, including an impressive 28-point rout of Tennessee over the weekend. Is this a team that is randomly inconsistent or one that plays to the level of its competition? It has strong wins, including over the Vols, Oklahoma, Florida and Auburn, yet has lost to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all since the start of the new year. The remaining SEC schedule for Collin Sexton and Co. is tough: at Kentucky, at Auburn, vs. Arkansas, vs. Florida and at Texas A&M. It’s make-or-break time for Alabama.
24. Oklahoma (16–9)
Last Week (18): lost to Iowa State, lost to Texas Tech
Next Week: vs. Texas, at Kansas
Things continue to spiral for the Sooners, who frankly despite losing four straight are only hanging on here because so many of the teams that would have been “next up” had bad-to-mixed weeks of their own. To be fair, it’s not like Oklahoma’s recent schedule has been easy: three of those four games were on the road, and two of its last three opponents are ranked in the top 15 on kenpom.com. But OU needs more on the defensive end if it wants to avoid a short stay in the NCAA tournament, and even with Trae Young leading the way, the offensive can have its flaws. Against Texas Tech’s elite defense Tuesday night, Young went 0 for 9 from three, the first time all season he failed to make at least one shot from deep.
25. Nevada (21–5)
Last Week (22): lost to UNLV, beat San Diego State
Next Week: at Boise State, at Utah State
The Wolfpack’s home loss to UNLV last week comes with a caveat: they were without their best player, Caleb Martin, who averages 19.4 points and 5.3 rebounds and is shooting 45.1% from three. Then things got worse when it was announced that Martin would be out indefinitely with a Lisfranc sprain, threatening to cast a big cloud over Nevada’s postseason hopes. Martin was expected to miss multiple—maybe even several weeks—then he suddenly suited up over the weekend for their win over San Diego State. He struggled from three in that game, going 2 for 10 in 23 minutes off the bench, but if Martin is truly O.K. that’s a very fortunate turn of events for the Wolfpack.
DROPPED OUT: Kentucky, Nevada, Michigan, Butler
NEXT FIVE OUT: New Mexico State, Michigan, Kentucky, Butler, Florida
(For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10.)
1. Gonzaga: The Zags and the Gaels swap spots here after Gonzaga took the showdown in Moraga.
2. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels can recollect after their home loss knowing all of their goals for the season are still attainable.
3. New Mexico State: The Aggies are closing in on clinching the WAC regular-season title.
4. Nevada: If you didn’t see SI.com’s Jeremy Fuch’s feature on the Martin twins last week, check it out.
5. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders are currently atop the C-USA at 12–1 and have won seven straight. After what Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has done the last two years, no high major is going to want to see it in a potential first-round NCAA matchup.