Power Rankings: With No Unbeatens Left, Michigan State Claims Top Spot

After college basketball was left with no undefeated teams remaining, Michigan State earned top honors while Kentucky and UNC dropped out of the top 10 and Oklahoma and Texas Tech climbed the rankings.
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It’s been two weeks since our last power rankings after taking last week off due to the holiday break. Since then, six of our top-10 teams have lost, including No. 1 Villanova, and college basketball is now left with zero unbeaten teams. Because of the two-week break, the new rankings will take all games since the last edition into account (and list them under ‘last week’), which for most teams means both its final nonconference game(s) and the start of conference play.

1. Michigan State (14–1)

Last Week (2): beat Long Beach State, beat Cleveland State, beat Savannah State
Next Week: vs. Maryland, at Ohio State

The Spartans take this spot over Duke (yes, even despite their mid-November loss to the Blue Devils) by the slimmest of margins. Michigan State has been feasting on lower competition for the last month, but things are about to change as it resumes Big Ten play with a visit from Maryland on Thursday and a trip to Columbus this weekend. Will Cassius Winston continue his incredibly hot shooting into the New Year? The sophomore has improved markedly so far in 2017–18, including connecting on 59.5% of his three-point tries in December.

2. Duke (13–1)

Last Week (4): beat Evansville, beat Florida State
Next Week: at North Carolina State

Playing in just their second game since their loss to Boston College, the Blue Devils survived a tough test from Florida State over the weekend. Duke relied heavily on its starters and Marvin Bagley once again produced a monster stat line with 32 points and 21 rebounds on 13-of-17 shooting. At 100–93, the game was a shootout, which might be the way the Blue Devils are going to win many of their games in the ACC right now. They’ve given up at least 1.0 points per possession (PPP) in all seven games against top-100 opponents, but their top-ranked offense is remarkably strong and efficient, and they’re controlling the offensive boards better than anyone in the country in rebounding 43.0% of their misses. Against FSU, they had a whopping 23.

3. Villanova (13–1)

Last Week (1): beat Hofstra, beat DePaul, lost to Butler
Next Week: vs. Marquette

Saturday was a day to forget for the Wildcats, who got absolutely annihilated defensively in a surprising 101–93 loss to Butler. The Bulldogs scored 1.40 PPP, the highest mark a team has had against Villanova since Virginia posted 1.43 back on Dec. 19, 2015. Butler has been ‘Nova’s kryptonite of late, having won three straight now in the series (it’s also one of just three teams to have beaten the Wildcats since the start of the 2016–17 season). On Saturday, Butler nailed 15 of its 22 three-point tries to help spring the upset despite Villanova having a strong offensive game of its own. The outing put a notable dip into ‘Nova’s overall adjusted defensive efficiency ranking (now 25th), and it’s got two tough defensive tests up next in visits from Marquette and Xavier.

4. Arizona State (12–1)

Last Week (3): beat Pacific, lost to Arizona
Next Week: at Colorado, at Utah

The Sun Devils became the last team to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten with a loss at Arizona late Saturday night. Despite an off night from nearly everyone not named Tra Holder, ASU nearly pulled off a comeback in Tucson. Even with the strides made in their frontcourt, the Sun Devils couldn’t stop Deandre Ayton, and a poor shooting night from both inside and outside the arc doomed them. The Wildcats now have a leg up on ASU in the Pac-12 race, which already looks like it’s going to be a two-team battle. That means even though it’s only played one conference game, Arizona State’s margin of error now is likely slim if it wants to challenge for the Pac-12 regular-season title, something it has never won.

5. Xavier (15–1)

Last Week (8): beat Marquette, beat DePaul, beat Butler
Next Week: at Providence

The Musketeers have won their last six games by an average of just 5.3 points, which depending on your perspective could be a bubble waiting to burst or evidence that this team knows how to close out tight games (or…both?). One thing that helps in close games is free throws, which is an area that Xavier has improved in significantly. Last season, the team shot just 68.8% from the charity stripe, but it’s up to 78.9% in 2017–18, the sixth-best mark in the country. The Musketeers didn’t have their best night at the line against Butler, hitting just 24 of 37, but all but two of their points in the final five minutes came from there as they moved to 3–0 to open Big East play.  

6. Purdue (13-2)

Last Week (9): beat Tennessee State, beat Lipscomb
Next Week: vs. Rutgers, vs. Nebraska, at Michigan

Don’t look now, but the Boilermakers have quietly crept up to No. 3 on KenPom.com, which is eight spots higher than they ever reached last year when they still had Caleb Swanigan. Their thorough handling of Butler a few weeks ago looks even better after the Bulldogs knocked off Villanova, putting them in good position as they get ready to resume conference play. Like the Pac-12, the Big Ten already has a feeling of a two-team race between Purdue and Michigan State. The Spartans are the nation’s top-ranked team and still the conference favorite, but don’t overlook the Boilermakers and the many ways they can beat you.


7. Oklahoma (11–1)

Last Week (14): beat Northwestern, beat TCU
Next Week: vs. Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, vs. Texas Tech

The Sooners have continued their surprising march to an 11–1 start, most recently knocking off previously undefeated TCU on the road. Oklahoma now has two road wins over teams that were ranked in the top 10 when it happened (the other was Wichita State), and it will get even more opportunities as Big 12 play heats up. And while Trae Young has continued to post stellar numbers in his freshman season, he’s not the only reason for Oklahoma’s success. In its last four games, sophomore Kameron McGusty has started to turn it on, posting four straight games of double-figure scoring (his previous season-high was nine) and tying his career-high with 22 in the win over the Horned Frogs.

8. West Virginia (11–1)

Last Week (11): beat Fordham, beat Oklahoma State, beat Kansas State
Next Week: vs. Oklahoma, vs. Baylor

The Mountaineers got conference play started by picking up two solid road wins, which is always crucial in the Big 12. They did it despite uncharacteristically turning the ball over 18 times in both games, something that’s a little easier to get away with when you force miscues at the rate that WVU does. It now has a big showdown with Oklahoma this weekend in what should be a track meet, as the Sooners rank fifth in average tempo and West Virginia ranks 24th. Oklahoma has taken pretty good care of the ball this season, but Trae Young has been susceptible to turnovers at times and the Mountaineers will need to exploit that.

9. Arizona (11–3)

Last Week (17): beat UConn, beat No. 3 Arizona State
Next Week: at Utah, at Colorado

After its in-state rival grabbed all the positive headlines out of the Pac-12 in the first two months of the season, Arizona reminded everyone why it was the preseason favorite in the conference with a gutsy home win over the Sun Devils to open league play. The Wildcats got another big game from both Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier, though Ayton’s career-high six turnovers (including a particularly poor one in the final two minutes) were a reminder of his youth. Ayton’s control of the boards (he had 19 of Arizona’s 40) was a key factor, with five of his six offensive rebounds keeping possessions alive that either he or a teammate eventually scored on.

10. Virginia (12–1)

Last Week (12): beat Hampton, beat Boston College
Next Week: at Virginia Tech, vs. North Carolina, vs. Syracuse

The Cavaliers hung on to edge Boston College by one in their ACC opener thanks to Ty Jerome, who scored a career-high 31 points in the 59–58 win—or 53% of their points on the day. Like it does against so many teams, UVA made the Eagles play at their pace, holding the game to just 61 possessions (for context, BC’s upset win over Duke featured 74). Virginia will need more of the same when it faces two top-35 offenses next in Virginia Tech and UNC.


11. Texas Tech (13–1)

Last Week (21): beat Abeline Christian, beat Baylor, beat Kansas
Next Week: vs. Kansas State, at Oklahoma

On Tuesday night, the Red Raiders did something they’d never done before in 17 previous tries: they beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Texas Tech led from wire-to-wire in an impressive 12-point win, which featured five players hitting double figures. Before that, they opened Big 12 play with a 25-point win over Baylor (who was without Jo Lual-Acuil). The Raiders played one of the weakest nonconference schedules in the country, but they’re quickly proving they’re a legit player in the loaded Big 12—and perhaps even a serious threat to win it.

12. UNC (12–2)

Last Week (5): lost to Wofford, beat Ohio State, beat Wake Forest
Next Week: at Florida State, at Virginia

Immediately after they rose into the top-five in our last power rankings two weeks ago, the Tar Heels went out and lost to…Wofford? It was one of the shockers of the season so far, but UNC made sure it didn’t snowball with a solid performance against Ohio State in New Orleans. Luke Maye has cooled off a bit after his torrid start, mainly due to struggling inside the arc, where he’s shot 10 of 31 over the last three games. North Carolina has two big road tests up next, including at the nation’s most adjusted efficient defense in Virginia. After the way it struggled back in November against a similarly-elite defense in Michigan State, this is an opportunity to either show growth or start a negative trend.

13. Kentucky (11–2)

Last Week (6): lost to UCLA, beat Louisville, beat Georgia
Next Week: at LSU, at Tennessee, vs. Texas A&M

The Wildcats got through their trio of late nonconference tests at 2–1, which considering their immense youth (under all that talent) can be considered a success. Their 90–61 win over rival Louisville in response to the UCLA loss was particularly impressive, but it was even more important that they didn’t suffer a letdown against Georgia on New Year’s Eve. Now, though, Kentucky must do something it has yet to do all season: play a true road game. LSU won’t pose the toughest environment as the Wildcats’ freshmen get their feet wet, but a weekend trip to Knoxville will serve as a solid barometer.

14. Seton Hall (13–2)

Last Week (18): beat Manhattan, beat Creighton, beat St. John’s
Next Week: at Butler, at Marquette

The Pirates got a scare from a short-handed St. John’s team, but Desi Rodriguez was there to save the day with a jumper in the final 15 seconds that sealed the win. He finished with 23 points, the sixth time this season he’s reached the 20-point plateau—and all six came against Power 5 opponents. Seton Hall went 6–0 in those games, with Rodriguez scoring 12 and 15 in its two losses. Over the last two seasons, the Pirates have gone 12–3 when Rodriguez scores 20 or more—and 19–4 when he scores at least 17. It’s hard to overstate the senior’s importance.

15. TCU (13–1)

Last Week (15): beat William & Mary, lost to Oklahoma, beat Baylor
Next Week: vs. Kansas

In its one-point home loss to Oklahoma, TCU shot better from outside the arc than inside it, where it went just 22 of 55. It was blocked 10 times on the day and sophomore Jaylen Fisher had the least efficient game of his career, scoring no points and turning it over three times. So how did the Horned Frogs respond against Baylor, a team with a better block rate and similar two-point defense as the Sooners? Quite well. Fisher recovered with a 15-point outing on 5-of-7 shooting and TCU shot 54.1% on twos and was blocked just four times. The Frogs nearly squandered a second-half lead but pulled it together in overtime for the road win.

16. Wichita State (11–2)

Last Week (16): beat FGCU, beat UConn
Next Week: vs. Houston, vs. South Florida

It’s the dawn of a new era for Wichita State as it started its first-ever AAC slate with a road win over UConn. And in good news for the Shockers (and probably bad news for opponents), Markis McDuffie is finally back. He’s still being eased in, having logged nine and 16 minutes in his first two games, but his presence once he gets back up to speed could be a pivotal and stabilizing factor for Wichita, which doesn’t face what’s likely its biggest challenger for the American crown, Cincinnati, until Feb. 18.

17. Miami (12–1)

Last Week (10): lost to New Mexico State, beat Middle Tennessee, beat Pittsburgh
Next Week: at Georgia Tech, vs. Florida Sate

Let’s go back to Dec. 23 for a second. On a trip to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic, the Hurricanes suffered a dismal offensive outing against New Mexico State, resulting in their first loss of the season. Miami scored just 54 points on 0.79 PPP, shot 2 of 18 from three and just 34.0% overall and turned it over 14 times, all ugly numbers. It was clearly an off night—and came over 4,000 miles from home two days before Christmas, but the ‘Canes offense overall ranks 68th in the country in efficiency, so there’s room for improvement there.

18. Cincinnati (12–2)

Last Week (20): beat Cleveland State, beat Memphis
Next Week: at Temple, vs. SMU

The Bearcats have now held five of their six opponents since their loss to Xavier to below 1.0 PPP, a good sign considering how much of a staple their defense is. Offensively, Cincinnati has been a very balanced team; per KenPom.com, it has five different players taking at least 21% of shots when on the floor—but no one taking more than 23.9%. Having that kind of balance can be advantage, but a lack of a go-to guy can also sometimes be costly in close games, of which Cincinnati hasn’t played many of yet this season.

19. Gonzaga (12–3)

Last Week (13): lost to San Diego State, beat Santa Clara, beat Pacific
Next Week: at Pepperdine, at Loyola Marymount

The Zags took a tough two-point loss at San Diego State before Christmas in which they failed to score 1.0 PPP for just the second time this season. Gonzaga let a win get away despite the fact that the Aztecs shot just 36.1% from the field and got outrebounded. Sixteen turnovers and six missed free throws hurt the Bulldogs, but all three of their losses on the season so far are respectable (San Diego State is ranked No. 51 in RPI and No. 55 on KenPom.com). It’s hard to glean too much out of the Zags’ first two WCC wins over Pacific and Santa Clara, nor from its upcoming schedule until a Jan. 18 date with Saint Mary’s.

20. Texas A&M (11–3)

Last Week (7): beat Buffalo, lost to Alabama, lost to Florida
Next Week: vs. LSU, at Kentucky

The Aggies had the biggest fall of anyone from two weeks ago after starting SEC play 0–2. A&M looked like a legitimate national threat a month ago—and it still can be—but it’s hurting right now due to suspensions and a key injury. J.J. Caldwell, D.J. Hogg and T.J. Starks were all suspended for a win over Buffalo (Caldwell was also previously suspended four games to open the season), with leading scorer Hogg being suspended an additional two games against Alabama and Florida. That was especially consequential given the injury to Admon Gilder, who’s missed the last four contests. On the court, you can’t take a full picture from the Aggies’ back-to-back double-digit losses because of who they were missing, but they clearly can’t afford to keep running into trouble off of it.

21. Clemson (12–1)

Last Week (22): beat Louisiana-Lafayette, beat NC State
Next Week: at Boston College, vs. Louisville

The Tigers took care of business in their ACC opener and now get a BC team that beat Duke and took Virginia down to the wire. One of the reasons for the Tigers’ early success so far this season has been the improvement of Donte Grantham, who’s made a nice jump as a senior. The forward has upped his scoring from 7.3 ppg a year ago to 14.6 and his rebounding from 4.3 per game to 6.5. Most notably, his shooting has improved from 38.3% from the floor to 60.7%, with his effective field-goal percentage going from 46.4% to 66.8%, which is currently the 35th-best mark in the country. The biggest difference for Grantham has been his play at the rim, where he’s making an astounding 88.3% of his shots as compared to 55.4% last year, per Hoop-Math. And unlike last year, half of his shot attempts are now coming at the rim rather than from three.

22. Kansas (11–3)

Last Week (19): beat Stanford, beat Texas, lost to No. 18 Texas Tech
Next Week: at TCU, vs. Iowa State

Yes, yes, it’s only January 3 and the Jayhawks have 17 conference games left. But it honestly might not be too soon to start wondering if their incredible Big 12 regular-season title streak is in jeopardy. Kansas didn’t lead once in a loss on its home floor to Texas Tech Tuesday night, dropping a second game this season at Allen Fieldhouse for the first time since…2006–07. That year, the Jayhawks went on to win 14 straight after that second loss, but don’t expect a repeat. Until it gets Silvio De Sousa and Billy Preston on the court, KU is undermanned and undersized and often very reliant on perimeter shooting. When those shots are falling, like they did in its recent road win over Texas, good things can happen. When they’re not, like they weren’t against the Red Raiders, it’s a hard thing to overcome for a team that ranks dead last in the country in free-throw rate.

23. SMU (12–3)

Last Week (NR): beat UCF, beat South Florida
Next Week: at Tulane, at Cincinnati

The Mustangs have been flirting with cracking the top 25 of these power rankings for a while now, and finally get the nod this week. After beating UCF to start AAC play, SMU has four top-80 wins, most notably its win in the Bahamas over Arizona, which will only grow in value. One interesting thing benefitting the Mustangs right now is that they lead the country in defensive free-throw percentage, where opponents are shooting just 63.2%. It’s something SMU has little-to-no control over, and if that starts to swing it could make a difference in close games, especially since it hits just 67.3% as a team itself from the charity stripe.

24. Florida (10–4)

Last Week: (NR): beat Incarnate Word, beat Vanderbilt, beat No. 11. Texas A&M
Next Week: at Missouri

The Gators’ roller-coaster season is back on the upswing after starting SEC play 2–0, including a 17-point road win over a short-handed Texas A&M team. Even though the Aggies were without two starters, Florida showed what makes it so dangerous by knocking down 17 threes (on 60.7% shooting), with five different players hitting at least two. When the Gators’ “Big Three” on the perimeter are hitting from deep, they’re hard to beat. Consider this: in UF’s four losses, Jalen Hudson, Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov shot a combined 16 for 52 (30.8%) from three. In the Gators’ five wins against teams from the top seven conferences, the trio went 43 for 72 (59.7%) from beyond the arc.

25. Auburn (13–1)

Last Week (NR): beat UConn, beat Cornell, beat No. 23 Tennessee
Next Week: vs. Arkansas, vs. Ole Miss

It’s time to start talking about Auburn. The Tigers’ season got off to an inauspicious start before its opener was even played when assistant Chuck Person was one of the coaches indicted in the college basketball FBI probe, but it hasn’t seemed to affect their on-court play. Since an early neutral-court loss to Temple, Auburn has reeled off 11 straight wins. And while many of those weren’t overly impressive—its win over Middle Tennessee was its best entering SEC action—it made a statement by beating Tennessee in Knoxville Tuesday night. The SEC looks quite deep this year thanks to several teams currently playing better than expected, but the Tigers may be able to make some noise.

DROPPED OUT: Florida State, Tennessee, Baylor

NEXT FIVE OUT: Saint Mary’s, Arkansas, Butler, Michigan, Florida State

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 Zags stumbled at San Diego State but remain on top here on the strength of their overall résumé.

2. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels are on an eight-game win streak and got an important win over BYU over the weekend to remain in place to challenge Gonzaga in the WCC.

3. Nevada: The loss to San Francisco to close out nonconference play was a bit of a head-scratcher, but the Wolf Pack are still the favorite right now in a strong Mountain West.

4. New Mexico State: The Aggies notched an impressive win over Miami in Hawaii, but couldn’t pull off the double in a five-point loss to USC.

5. Missouri State: With Wichita State having moved on to the AAC, the Bears are looking like the favorite in the Missouri Valley.