After the majority of last week's top 25 dropping at least one game, Michigan State remained No. 1 while Duke and Kansas surged into the top 5 and Baylor and Middle Tennessee joined the rankings.

By Molly Geary
February 21, 2018

Selection Sunday is only two and a half weeks away, but you don’t have to wait that long for some postseason action. We’re in the midst of the last week of the regular season for several conferences, most notably the Big Ten and the WCC, and by this time next week those league tournaments will be ready to get underway. For now, though, there continues to be movement in our top 25 after a week that included a wild comeback, some eye-raising results and—as has been custom this season—the majority of last week’s top 25 dropping at least one game. Here’s the new Power Rankings:

1. Michigan State (27–3)

Last Week (1): beat Northwestern, beat Illinois
Next Week: at Wisconsin

The Spartans flirted with disaster big time over the weekend, falling into a 43–16(!) hole at Northwestern before improbably coming back in the second half behind their lockdown defense. Should we be more concerned that Michigan State went down by that many to a non-tournament team or impressed that they pulled off such a feat on the road? The answer may depend on where you stand on the Spartans overall, but what we know for sure is this: currently, MSU is the only team in the country in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on kenpom.com. (with only Purdue and, to a lesser degree, Gonzaga, even being close.)

2. Virginia (24–2)

Last Week (2): OFF
Next Week: vs. Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh

The Cavaliers had a rare seven days off as they prepare for their final four games of the regular season, all of which they should be favored in.

3. Villanova (24–3)

Last Week (3): lost to Providence, beat Xavier
Next Week: vs. DePaul, at Creighton

You could ask a similar question about the Wildcats as we did the Spartans: was their loss at Providence or their win at Xavier more telling? There’s again no definitive answer, but ‘Nova certainly made a statement with its 16-point road win in Cincinnati. It was a team effort in that one, perhaps illustrated no better by this crazy stat line: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall combined for 23 assists…and just one turnover. Against Providence, the trio combined for 13 turnovers (seven of which belonged to Brunson) against just eight assists. This is not a team with a turnover problem (the Wildcats are seventh in the nation in turnover rate), so it’s probably wise to consider that particular aspect against the Friars—especially on the part of Brunson—an anomaly.

4. Duke (22–5)

Last Week (11): beat Virginia Tech, beat Clemson
Next Week: vs. Louisville, vs. Syracuse

The Blue Devils have now played three games without Marvin Bagley, who has been sidelined with a knee sprain, and gone 3–0. Even more impressive, they’ve actually made notable defensive strides behind an increased focus on playing zone. Using it, they held Virginia Tech and its 21st-ranked offense to just 0.90 points per possession and 52 overall, and have soared up to 42nd nationally in kenpom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. That number is far closer to what will likely be necessary for a deep NCAA tournament run than what Duke had just a few weeks ago, when it was flirting near the 80s. Additionally, with Bagley out, Grayson Allen has taken charge for three of his finest games of the season. The next step for the senior is maintaining this level of aggressiveness and efficiency when Duke’s star freshman returns.

5. Kansas (22–6)

Last Week (12): beat West Virginia, beat Oklahoma
Next Week: at Texas Tech, vs. Texas

It feels like the Jayhawks are rounding into form, punctuated by a 30-point thrashing of Oklahoma on Monday night in which they hung 104 points and a whopping 1.46 per possession against the Sooners’ hapless defense. After getting benched from the starting lineup due to his poor play earlier this month, Lagerald Vick has responded by scoring 16, 13 and 17 in his three games since returning as a starter, snapping out of his three-point shooting funk and totaling 15 rebounds over that trio of contests. That’s the kind of value Kansas needs out of Vick, and it’s probably not a coincidence that all four of its Big 12 losses have come in games where he posted a low offensive rating and failed to score more than single digits.

6. Xavier (24–4)

Last Week (4): beat Seton Hall, lost to Villanova
Next Week: at Georgetown

The Musketeers had a chance to take sole control of the Big East after Villanova lost to Providence last week, but their showdown with the Wildcats didn’t go a whole lot better than the first one in Philly did. Xavier limited ‘Nova’s second chances, rebounding 92% of the Wildcats’ misses, and it kept them almost entirely off the foul line, but it didn’t matter, because Villanova shot 75.9% inside the arc and 47.1% outside it. Interior defense has been an overarching concern for the Musketeers, who rank ninth out of 10 teams in Big East play in both defensive two-point percentage and block percentage.

7. Gonzaga (25–4)

Last Week (9): beat Loyola Marymount, beat Pepperdine
Next Week: at San Diego, at BYU

Thanks to Saint Mary’s surprising loss to San Francisco last week, another outright WCC title is in sights for the Zags if they close out their final two games with wins. Gonzaga is looking sharp as it barrels toward what it hopes is another long postseason run, and one thing it would love to see continue is the play of Killian Tillie. The sophomore big man went 5-for-5 from three in the last week and is now up to 40.6% on the season to go along with a 63.3% two-point mark, and his offensive rating of 127.2 during WCC play leads the conference.

Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

8. Purdue (24–5)

Last Week (6): lost to Wisconsin, beat Penn State
Next Week: at Illinois, vs. Minnesota

While the Boilermakers’ recent losses to Ohio State and Michigan State were understandable, their loss to Wisconsin, where their fifth-ranked offense scored just 53 points (0.83 per possession) and had a scoring drought of over eight minutes, was a major head-scratcher. Purdue is at its best when it’s balanced offensively, so a combined two points from starters Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson in the loss was significant. Both have been struggling of late, with Thompson totaling just three points in the last four games and Mathias shooting 1-for-8 from two and 4-for-13 from three in the Boilermakers’ three-game skid. But Mathias responded with an 18-point effort in a win over Penn State Sunday night, a good sign for Purdue.

9. Texas Tech (22–5)

Last Week (7): lost to Baylor
Next Week: at Oklahoma State, vs. Kansas

The Red Raiders’ loss to Baylor knocked them out of sole possession of first in the Big 12 race, but a more pressing concern for them is probably the status of Keenan Evans, who is day-to-day after sustaining a toe injury in the defeat. It sounds like Evans won’t miss much time, but if he’s not ready for Saturday’s showdown against Kansas—which, should Texas Tech win Wednesday night, will be for first place—it’s going to be mighty hard for the Raiders to pull out a win. With Evans limited to 18 minutes and four points against Baylor, their already shaky offense managed just 0.88 PPP on 39.2% shooting in the loss, and he leads the team in both offensive and defensive win shares.

10. North Carolina (21–7)

Last Week (16): beat Louisville
Next Week: at Syracuse, vs. Miami

The Tar Heels continued on their upward trajectory with a 17-point win at Louisville, exploiting the Cardinals’ struggles on the defensive glass by grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and notching 22 second-chance points. UNC, which boasts the nation’s sixth-best offensive efficiency behind the likes of Luke Maye and Joel Berry, has now had five straight games of scoring at least 1.22 PPP, and hasn’t been held below 1.0 PPP since its Jan. 6 loss to Virginia.

11. Auburn (23–4)

Last Week (10): beat Kentucky, lost to South Carolina
Next Week: vs. Alabama, at Florida, at Arkansas

Coming off the high of beating Kentucky, the Tigers took a double hit Saturday in their loss to South Carolina, which cost sophomore center Anfernee McLemore the rest of his season after a horrific ankle injury. McLemore might not be one of the team’s stars, but it’s a notable loss that shouldn’t be overlooked: just look at his stat line against the Wildcats, where he scored 13 and added 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist. Defensively, his block rate of 15.7% was fourth in the country and he led the team in defensive win shares, and offensively he owned the team’s highest two-point percentage (60.2%). Auburn already ranked 11th in the SEC in two-point defense and ninth in two-point shooting before the injury—now, it must overcome the loss of McLemore.  

12. Wichita State (21–5)

Last Week (19): beat Temple, beat Cincinnati
Next Week: vs. Tulane, at SMU

What a week for the Shockers, who first got revenge on Temple before cracking Cincinnati’s defense in a huge road win. Wichita State took away Cincinnati’s defensive strengths, shooting 44.4% from three and 57.6% inside the arc despite the Bearcats being top 10 in both categories. Landry Shamet appears to be officially out of his shooting slump, having made 13 of his last 25 three-point attempts. The Shockers still have defensive questions, but their offense is for real.

13. Arizona (21–6)

Last Week (18): beat Arizona State
Next Week: at Oregon State, at Oregon

The biggest takeaway from the Wildcats’ lone game of the week, a win at in-state rival Arizona State: they held the Sun Devils to just 0.97 PPP, the first opponent they held under 1.0 PPP since California a month ago. And unlike Cal, ASU actually has a good—actually, great offense, the kind of offense that Arizona has to be able to slow down if it wants to make a deep tournament run. Its defense still ranks 97th nationally in adjusted efficiency, which is a long ways from where it needs to be, but efforts like last week’s are a positive step forward. The Wildcats held the Sun Devils to a 7-for-25 mark from three, only allowed three players to make trips to the free-throw line and racked up 10 steals at nearly double the rate of their season average.

14. Cincinnati (23–4)

Last Week (5): lost to Houston, lost to Wichita State
Next Week: vs. Connecticut, vs. Tulsa  

The Bearcats had their second-least efficient defensive game of the season in their loss to Wichita State, which was their first home defeat since 2015. On the heels of a loss to Houston, it’s not a great look for a team that has a strength of schedule outside the top 100, with few opportunities left for notable wins before Selection Sunday (they do, however, have a rematch with Wichita State). Only three teams all season have managed to shoot at least 50% on two-point attempts against Cincinnati, and two came in its most recent pair of games. With an offense ranked 54th, the Bearcats can hardly afford to have defensive deviations like that if they want to make a deep March run.

15. Ohio State (23–7)

Last Week (8): lost to Penn State, lost to Michigan, beat Rutgers
Next Week: at Indiana

Is Keita Bates-Diop in a simple slump, or are opponents making the necessary adjustments to slow the Buckeyes’ star? The junior is just 8 for 27 inside the arc over the last three games, which includes losses to Penn State and Michigan. Against the Wolverines, Bates-Diop made just 2 of 11 two-point attempts and turned it over four times, prompting Chris Holtmann to say that while he’s not worried about his player, the forward has “got to do a better job” of adjusting to the physicality opponents are using against him. Bates-Diop has had a spectacular season, but as the engine that makes Ohio State go, they’re naturally going to struggle if he is.

16. Rhode Island (22–4)

Last Week (13): lost to St. Bonaventure, beat LaSalle
Next Week: vs. Dayton, vs. St. Joseph’s

In what has become a trend lately around the country, the Rams had their nation-leading 16-game winning streak snapped at St. Bonaventure on Friday night, then got taken to overtime in a win over LaSalle this week. The issues were different—against the Bonnies, they uncharacteristically committed 17 turnovers on a season-high 25% of their possessions, and against the Explorers a season-low 3-for-19 mark from three nearly did them in. In the big picture, the defeat to St. Bonaventure didn’t change much, as Rhode Island has still all but locked up the Atlantic 10 title, but the Rams are probably eager to get back home to the Ryan Center.

17. West Virginia (20–8)

Last Week (20): lost to Kansas, beat Baylor
Next Week: vs. Iowa State, vs. Texas Tech

In the last two months, the Mountaineers have lost games where, late in the second half, their opponent had a 2.2% chance (Kentucky), 4.9% chance (Oklahoma State), 5.3% chance (vs. Kansas) and 7.8% chance (at Kansas) of winning, per kenpom.com’s win probability graphs. WVU has shown a pattern of struggling to close out games it has all but locked up, and without those collapses, the Big 12 race might look a lot different right now. Even in their win over Baylor on Tuesday, the Mountaineers saw a 28-point lead nearly turn into single digits, but this time they made the plays that they needed to keep the Bears at bay.

18. Tennessee (19–7)

Last Week (15): lost to Georgia
Next Week: vs. Florida, at Mississippi

The SEC’s depth this year is both a blessing and a curse to its teams; having a stronger overall league gives it more legitimacy nationally and makes everyone better…which also means that you need to be on your ‘A’ game night in and night out. Georgia entered the last week 4–8 in league play before beating both Florida and Tennessee, and the Vols, still in second in the SEC, have now lost two of three. In both losses, they’ve struggled greatly inside the arc, and Bulldogs big men Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide were able to combine for 35 points and 16 rebounds, outplaying Grant Williams (who fouled out in 25 minutes) and Kyle Alexander.

19. Nevada (23–5)

Last Week (25): beat Boise State, beat Utah State
Next Week: vs. San Jose State, vs. Colorado State

The Wolf Pack secured two key road wins over the last week, including against their closest contender in the Mountain West, Boise State, but lost starting point guard Lindsey Drew for the rest of the season in the win over the Broncos. It’s a tough injury for Nevada at this point in the season, but the Wolf Pack still have their “Big Three” of twins Caleb and Cody Martin and junior Jordan Caroline, who combined for 73 of the team’s 93 points in a win over Utah State, its first without Drew. It was a career-high 30 points for Cody, who like his brother has made significant strides with Nevada after sitting out last season following a transfer from NC State.

20. Michigan (22–7)

Last Week (NR): beat Iowa, beat Ohio State
Next Week: at Penn State, at Maryland

The Wolverines got a big win over the rival Buckeyes over the weekend, and encouragingly got 15 points in 19 minutes from freshman Jordan Poole, who connected on four of five threes. It was Poole’s first double-digit scoring game since a Jan. 15 win over Maryland, and only his third of 2018. Not surprisingly, the freshman’s best games have come when he makes an impact from behind the arc, and Michigan could really benefit from him catching the hot hand more often as it looks to secure a few more wins before Selection Sunday.

21. Clemson (20–6)

Last Week (14): lost to Florida State, lost to Duke
Next Week: at Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia Tech

It feels like the Tigers have been steadily in the 15–23 range for most of the last couple months, which stems from a “two steps forward, one step back” series of results. They’re 9–5 in the ACC, but they’ve gone 1–3 against the three teams ahead of them while avoiding any questionable losses in league play. It all equals a solidly top half ACC team, but it’s still one searching for more offense, especially in the interior ever since losing Donte Grantham (additionally on the injury front, point guard Shelton Mitchell is currently sidelined with a concussion). In conference play, Clemson ranks 13th in the ACC in two-point shooting, 10th in offensive rebounding rate and 10th in free-throw rate.

22. Houston (21–5)

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

The Cougars have been flying under the radar for most of the year, but they earned deserved attention for knocking off Cincinnati a game before Wichita State did it in the last week. They’ve now gone 1–1 against both the Bearcats and the Shockers and are still in play for the AAC title if things get crazy. Rob Gray isn’t quite putting up the numbers he did last season, with his points per game average and his shooting statistics taking a dip, but his assist rate is up and he hasn’t needed to shoot as much to carry the offensive load. Overall, Houston does its best damage on defense, where it ranks 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

23. Baylor (17–11)

Last Week (NR): beat Texas Tech, lost to West Virginia
Next Week: at TCU, vs. Oklahoma

The Bears slide in here despite their loss to West Virginia because they won five in a row before that, which is a lot more than most teams can say right now. Baylor has played itself into the at-large conversation thanks to its recent surge, which has included wins over the Big 12’s best in Kansas and Texas Tech. In their loss to WVU, the Bears were doomed by losing the battle inside, where they made just 16 of 49 two-point attempts, as well as committing 14 turnovers. They’re owners of a strange paradox where they’re first in conference play in two-point defense but last in two-point offense, but prior to their win over Texas Tech they had posted four straight games of making at least 50% of their shots inside the arc.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

24. Kentucky (19–9)

Last Week (NR): lost to Auburn, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas
Next Week: vs. Missouri

And the Wildcats return again. After losing four straight SEC games, UK has earned back-to-back solid wins over Alabama and Arkansas to put themselves back on more solid ground. The offensive resurgence of P.J. Washington, who has shot 53.6% over his last three games while scoring in double figures in all three, has helped, as has the play of Jarred Vanderbilt, who has become a solid contributor off the bench, especially given his rebounding abilities. Vanderbilt, who missed over half the season due to injury, hasn’t played enough to chart nationally, but he’s posting an absurd 24.6% offensive rebounding rate and 25.9% defensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com.

25. Middle Tennessee (22–5)

Last Week (NR): beat Southern Miss, beat Louisiana Tech
Next Week: vs. UAB

Remember Middle Tennessee? How could you forget—Kermit Davis Jr.’s squad has pulled a first-round upset in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, including their improbable 2016 win over No. 2 seed Michigan State. The Blue Raiders could very well be dancing again this year and shouldn’t be taken lightly, ranking 48th on kenpom.com and 22nd in RPI. Giddy Potts is still in Murfreesboro, but the team’s star is Nick King, formerly of both Memphis and Alabama. King has found great success leading the offense at Middle Tennessee, where he takes a whopping 34.4% of the team’s shots when on the floor (per kenpom.com) and shoots 51.8% inside the arc and 38.4% behind it, good for a 56.8% true shooting percentage.

DROPPED OUT: Saint Mary’s, Texas A&M, Alabama, Oklahoma

NEXT FIVE OUT: Arizona State, Florida State, Penn State, Saint Mary’s, Butler


Mid-Major Meter

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

Gonzaga: The Zags can earn another good win for their résumé when they play at BYU in the regular-season finale.

Nevada: The Wolf Pack can clinch at least a share of the Mountain West title this upcoming week and are in position to win it outright.

Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have cracked the AP top 25 poll for the first time in program history, coming in at No. 24.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels stumbled against San Francisco, something they couldn’t afford to do to keep pace with Gonzaga. Now, they’ll need help—and ASAP—if they are to get a share of the WCC title.

Loyola Chicago: With Wichita State gone, the Ramblers have assumed the position of top dog in the Missouri Valley and will win the conference outright if they beat Southern Illinois Wednesday.

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