College basketball had gotten a little too…orderly in the latter part of January, with few top-five shakeups or shocking results. And while the top three teams in our power rankings continue to remain rock solid in the same spots they’ve held for four weeks now, the last week saw Duke get stunned by St. John’s, Kansas lose for the third time this season at home and a lot of other movement in the back half of the rankings. The last five spots have been up for grabs week-to-week, with few teams really latching on. Better buckle up now as we barrel down the final month of regular-season play.
1. Villanova (22–1)
Last Week (1): beat Creighton, beat Seton Hall
Next Week: vs. St. John’s vs. Butler
The Wildcats cruised to a pair of convincing wins over solid Big East teams, posting a whopping 1.46 and 1.33 points per possession. Remember three weeks ago, when Villanova had just barely eclipsed Duke for the nation’s best adjusted efficient offense? It now has a firm grasp on that top spot, sitting at 131.0 points per 100 possessions compared to the Blue Devils’ 126.9. For comparison, last season’s top adjusted offense, which belonged to Oklahoma State, scored 126.0 points per 100 possessions. Should the Wildcats maintain a number above 129.0 through the end of the season, they’d wind up with the best offense in the kenpom era (2002–present).
2. Purdue (23–2)
Last Week (2): beat Maryland, beat Rutgers
Next Week: vs. Ohio State, at Michigan State
The Boilermakers’ 19-game win streak gets put to the test this week as they take on the two teams on their tail in the Big Ten standings: Ohio State and Michigan State. Should Purdue go 2–0, there’s a very real chance it finishes off an undefeated conference run and heads into the Big Ten tournament having won 25 straight. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: neither of this week’s games are likely to be easy, especially the trip to East Lansing. That game will pit the Boilermakers’ top-five offense with the Spartans’ top-10 defense and should feature a terrific frontcourt battle between two of the nation’s top shot-blocking teams.
3. Virginia (22–1)
Last Week (3): beat Louisville, beat Syracuse
Next Week: at Florida State, vs. Virginia Tech, at Miami
Barring a sudden and unlikely collapse over their final seven games, the Cavaliers have already sealed the ACC regular-season crown, which is pretty remarkable. In their most recent win, the Hoos held Syracuse’s top three scorers to a 13-for-45 mark (28.9%) from the field while grinding the game to just 56 possessions, the fewest in a contest yet this year for UVA, which to no one’s surprise plays at the slowest tempo in the country.
4. Michigan State (22–3)
Last Week (4): beat Penn State, beat Indiana
Next Week: at Iowa, vs. Purdue, at Minnesota
Spartans fans will be keeping a close eye on the upcoming Purdue-Ohio State game, as it will ultimately draw MSU closer to one of the two in the Big Ten race—but not enough to control its own destiny. Regardless, Michigan State’s own game against the Boilermakers this weekend will give it a great opportunity for the kind of marquee win it hasn’t picked up since shutting down North Carolina and a healthy Notre Dame in November. With NCAA tournament seeding debates approaching, a win over Purdue would look great on the Spartans’ résumé, especially since they already lost their only regular-season matchup with the Buckeyes.
5. Xavier (21–3)
Last Week (5): beat Georgetown
Next Week: at Butler, at Creighton
A telling stretch is coming up for the Musketeers, who needed overtime to survive Georgetown at home over the weekend. Their next pair of games are at Butler and Creighton before returning home to face Seton Hall and Villanova. At one game behind the Wildcats, a Big East title (or at least a share of it) is still in play for Xavier, but it’s likely going to come down to these next four games. Against the Hoyas, the Musketeers won through free throws, getting all of their points in overtime from the line and attempting 41 for the night. Xavier is a team that can do a lot of damage from the charity stripe, ranking 23rd in the country in free-throw rate and getting 21.9% of its overall points from there.
6. Cincinnati (21–2)
Last Week (9): beat Houston, beat UConn
Next Week: vs. UCF, at SMU
It’s an exciting time for college hoops in Cincinnati, with the city boasting two schools in the AP top six. The Bearcats will be looking for a bit of revenge when they visit SMU at Moody Coliseum this weekend, where they lost in each of the last two seasons. Last year, that loss snapped Cincinnati’s 15-game win streak and ended its perfect record in the AAC. This year, assuming the Bearcats take care of UCF Tuesday, they’ll once again come to Dallas on a 15-game win streak and undefeated in AAC play. Will they rewrite the script this time?
7. Auburn (21–2)
Last Week (10): beat Vanderbilt
Next Week: vs. Texas A&M, at Georgia
You know you have a good offensive day as a team when one guy scores 25, another 23, and a third adds 14…with 14 assists. That double-double belonged to Jared Harper, who assisted on 21 of Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron’s combined 48 points and on just about 40% of the Tigers’ overall points on the night. Harper’s development as a point guard has been key for Auburn this year. The sophomore has raised his assist rate from 23% as a freshman to 32.6% in 2017–18, while improving his three-point mark from 34.4% to 40.9%. Harper hasn’t had the same success inside the arc, with just a 32.9% shooting percentage on twos, but his 66.2% free throw rate ranks 32nd in the country.
8. Texas Tech (19–4)
Last Week (12): beat Texas, beat TCU
Next Week: vs. Iowa State, vs. Kansas State
By virtue of Kansas’s weekend loss to Oklahoma State, the Red Raiders were given new life in the Big 12 race in terms of controlling their own fate. They and the Jayhawks are now tied for first at 7–3, with the Raiders (for now) holding a head-to-head edge. In their recent win over TCU, freshman Jarrett Culver had the best outing of his young career, posting an absurd 205 offensive rating and scoring 20 points with four assists, three blocks and no turnovers while hitting 4 of 5 threes. When Culver’s three-point shot is falling, he can be a really valuable offensive asset that helps take some of the pressure off Keenan Evans.
9. Duke (19–4)
Last Week (5): lost to St. John’s
Next Week: at North Carolina, at Georgia Tech
Losing to a St. John’s team that is 0–11 in the Big East is a tough pill to swallow for Duke, which continues to have its defensive deficiencies exposed. The Red Storm rank 160th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency on kenpom.com, yet put up their highest points per possession (1.19) since a Dec. 2 win over a Sacred Heart team that ranks 200th in defense. This should have been a game where the Blue Devils’ offense was enough to overpower a subpar defensive showing against a mediocre opponent, but Grayson Allen went 1 for 7 from the floor and Marvin Bagley and Trevon Duval combined for 10 of Duke’s 18 turnovers in the surprising loss.
10. Kansas (18–5)
Last Week (6): lost to Oklahoma State
Next Week: vs. TCU, at Baylor, at Iowa State
The Jayhawks suffered a setback at home against Oklahoma State over the weekend, marking the first season since 1998–99 that they’ve dropped three games at Allen Fieldhouse. It was a pretty simple formula for what went wrong: Kansas’s defense, which leads Big 12 play in holding opponents to a 30.8% mark from three, got burned by a 12-for-27 perimeter effort from the Cowboys, who scored 1.22 PPP and won the rebounding battle 41-to-28. Kansas gets 37.9% of its points from three, per kenpom, and its 8-for-22 mark on Saturday wasn’t enough to avoid an upset.
11. Saint Mary’s (23–2)
Last Week (14): beat San Francisco, beat San Diego
Next Week: at Loyola Marymount, vs. Gonzaga
The Gaels needed 34 points and 18 rebounds from Jock Landale to beat San Diego by three, but the bottom line is they keep winning. After a game at Loyola Marymount on Thursday that Saint Mary’s *should* win with ease, it’ll get its chance to all but secure its first outright WCC title since 2012 when it hosts Gonzaga in the highly-anticipated rematch. The Gaels’ defense is still a question, but they’ve actually fared well in WCC play, sitting not far behind Gonzaga in giving up 94.7 points per 100 possessions to the Zags’ 93.0 and leading the league in defensive effective field-goal percentage and three-point percentage. The Bulldogs shot just 6 for 22 from three in their first meeting, and if Saint Mary’s can win the perimeter battle again it just may deliver itself a season sweep.
12. Tennessee (17–5)
Last Week (15): beat LSU, beat Ole Miss
Next Week: at Kentucky, at Alabama, vs. South Carolina
The Vols travel to Rupp Tuesday night with a chance to win two regular-season matchups with Kentucky for the first time in a season since 1998–99—but to do so, they’ll have to win in Lexington for the first time since 2006. Tennessee’s defense is up to No. 6 on kenpom.com in adjusted efficiency after blowouts of LSU and Ole Miss, and it’ll need a similar outing to the one it had in its first game against the Wildcats a month ago, when it held them to 0.97 PPP, forced 16 turnovers, grabbed four more offensive boards and limited UK to 16 free-throw attempts.
13. Arizona (19–5)
Last Week (8): beat Washington State, lost to Washington
Next Week: vs. UCLA, vs. USC
The Wildcats got RawleAlkins back last week, but they still got clipped by upstart Washington after DeAndreAyton’s third block of the game got re-routed right to Dominic Green. Luckily for Arizona, USC’s loss to UCLA the same day kept it a game ahead in the Pac-12 standings, but a critical stretch lies ahead. Its next three games are against UCLA, USC and Arizona State, a window that’s very likely to determine whether Zona wins the regular-season crown as expected. In terms of the bigger picture, the Wildcats really need to show they can tighten up defensively—their defense now ranks outside the top 100 in adjusted efficiency and they’ve allowed more than 1.0 PPP in five straight games.
14. Ohio State (20–5)
Last Week (16): beat Illinois
Next Week: at Purdue, vs. Iowa
Will Kam Williams play in the Buckeyes’ big showdown at Purdue? That’s the question likely on the mind of Ohio State fans everywhere after the senior guard was suspended indefinitely Sunday for violating team rules. Williams missed the team’s win over Illinois that afternoon, so if he sits out any more games he won’t be suiting up in West Lafayette. That would be a notable but not crushing blow for the Buckeyes; Williams is the team’s fifth-leading scorer at 8.0 ppg, but his absence Sunday resulted in a new lineup and look for OSU, which had to adjust on the fly. Sophomore Andre Wesson entered the starting lineup in Williams’s place, scoring just two points and committing three turnovers in 26 minutes.
15. Gonzaga (21–4)
Last Week (19): beat San Diego, beat BYU
Next Week: at Pacific, at Saint Mary’s
The Zags’ hyper-efficient offense got brought down a bit to earth when they faced two of the WCC’s most efficient defenses in San Diego and BYU, but they got the job done in both. Gonzaga’s perimeter defense typically leaves something to be desired, ranking 252nd in the country, but the Cougars made just 3 of 20 three-point attempts in Spokane on Saturday to seal their fate. Soon the Bulldogs will turn their attention to Saint Mary’s, which went 8 for 13 from three in the teams’ first meeting. The Zags will either need to crack down on the perimeter or find a way to stop Jock Landale inside if they want to slow the Gaels’ offense this time.
16. Rhode Island (19–3)
Last Week (20): beat VCU
Next Week: vs. Davidson, vs. Richmond
Winners of 19 straight games against Atlantic-10 opponents dating back to last year, the Rams have a target on their back every time they take the court. They’re getting their opponents’ best shot, and so far, they’ve withstood everything in building an 11–0 conference record this season. Their next game will perhaps be their most exciting one yet when they host Davidson. That game (on national TV Friday night, no less) will pit what’s been the No. 1 and No. 2 (Davidson, Rhode Island) offenses in conference play against the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses (Rhode Island, Davidson). If you haven’t been paying attention to Rhode Island and its winning streak, here’s your chance to get a good look at a team that could very well be Sweet 16-caliber.
17. Clemson (19–4)
Last Week (22): beat Wake Forest
Next Week: vs. Pittsburgh
Clemson? A possible No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament? Believe that it can happen. The Tigers have a solid résumé dating back to nonconference action and are actually ranked No. 4 in RPI, with chances still this season to pick up significant wins against Duke and Florida State, both of whom they still face twice. Like last year, one area Clemson has excelled in has been keeping opponents off the free-throw line. It’s held its opponent to 19 free throws or less in its last five games, and nationally the Tigers have the 10th-best defensive free-throw rate.
18. Oklahoma (16–7)
Last Week (11): lost to Texas, lost to West Virginia
Next Week: at Iowa State, at Texas Tech
The brutality of Big 12 play is wearing on the Sooners, who have lost two straight, three of four and five of seven. They’ve all but played themselves out of conference title contention and still have upcoming road games against the league’s two best teams, Kansas and Texas Tech. Right now, Oklahoma isn’t getting enough consistency beyond Trae Young. In the Sooners’ last six wins (not counting one he missed), Christian James has averaged 13 points. In their last six losses, he’s averaged 7.7. Likewise, Brady Manek has gone 20 of 29 from three in the last six wins, but just 6 for 30 in the last six losses.
19. Wichita State (17–5)
Last Week (13): lost to Temple
Next Week: at Memphis, vs. UConn
Another surprising loss—this time in overtime at Temple—has made it very unlikely that the Shockers are going to win the AAC crown in their first year in the league. They still have two games against Cincinnati that would directly make up ground, but not even that would be enough if the Bearcats don’t lose elsewhere. And beyond that, Wichita State has bigger problems on its hands right now as it continues to search for answers. For example, where has Conner Frankamp gone? Like Landry Shamet, the senior has struggled from three of late, going 2 for 12 from the arc in three games before seeing just 10 minutes in the loss to Temple, where he took two shots for two points. Wichita can hardly afford shooting slumps from both he and Shamet at the same time, but odds are it’s temporary for both.
20. West Virginia (18–6)
Last Week (18): lost to Iowa State, beat Kansas State, beat Oklahoma
Next Week: vs. Oklahoma State, vs. TCU
Just when you start to count the Mountaineers out, they pull you back in. Things looked bleak after they dropped their fifth of six games in embarrassing fashion a week ago, getting routed by last-place Iowa State. But WVU rebounded by destroying Kansas State by 38, pulling off a rare mega defensive swing in going from giving up 1.45 PPP to the Cyclones to just 0.81 against the Wildcats’ top-50 offense. It then followed it up with a two-point road win over Oklahoma on Monday night for its first back-to-back wins in a month. The Mountaineers have been a vexing team lately, but we’ll see if this is an actual righting of the ship.
21. Kentucky (17–6)
Last Week (17): lost to Missouri
Next Week: vs. Tennessee, at Texas A&M
Step forward, step back. That’s how things often feel for this Kentucky team, which had little go right offensively in a road loss at Missouri—the Tigers’ first-ever in 11 tries against UK. The Wildcats have now totaled just 16 assists in their last two games, which combined with a 2-for-20 showing from three and 19-for-47 mark inside the arc against Mizzou spelled out the loss. Kentucky relies on the three ball less than all but one team in the country, getting just 19.2% of its points from behind the arc, but in its four SEC losses it’s averaged 16.8 perimeter attempts (and made just 20.9%). In its six SEC wins, it’s never attempted more than 16, with an average of 13 (while making 34.7%).
22. Nevada (20–4)
Last Week (NR): beat Fresno State, beat Colorado State
Next Week: vs. UNLV, vs. San Diego State
The Wolf Pack got back on track after their double OT heartbreaker with a 2–0 week. Junior Caleb Martin went a combined 7 for 13 from three in the wins and is now 14 for 19 (48.3%) from deep over his last four games and up to a scalding 46.9% on the season, the 39th-best mark in the country. Nevada is a No. 7 seed in SI.com’s latest NCAA tournament bracket projection, and if that’s where it ends up it wouldn’t be shrewd for anyone to overlook it in a potential second-round matchup with a No. 2 seed. Defensively, the Wolf Pack might not have what it takes to knock off a favorite, but this is a team that can shoot it from deep, limits its turnovers and is overall ninth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. It won’t be uncomfortable getting into a shootout.
23. Michigan (19–6)
Last Week (NR): beat Minnesota
Next Week: at Northwestern, at Wisconsin
One thing the Wolverines have done really well this season is take care of the basketball. They rank fourth in the country in turnover percentage, coughing it up on just 14.4% of their possessions. The biggest contributor to that mark is senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who has committed zero turnovers in a game (13 times) over four times as many occasions as he’s committed more than one (three times). Per kenpom.com, Abdur-Rahkman’s stellar 6.1% turnover ranks fifth in the country, and his even lower 4.9% mark in Big Ten play leads the conference. The senior has come a long way from when he had a 20.6% turnover rate as a freshman.
24. North Carolina (17–7)
Last Week (NR): beat Pittsburgh
Next Week: vs. Duke, at North Carolina State
The Tar Heels being back in our power rankings this week is less about what they did (blew out a Pitt team with zero Power-5 wins) and more about what other teams didn’t do (win) last week, but plenty of opportunity awaits, starting with a visit from Duke on Thursday. UNC’s three-point defense, which ranks 313th in the nation, could be key in this year’s rivalry matchups. The Blue Devils are a good three-point shooting team (38.9%), but their second-best shooter, Grayson Allen, can be streaky. The Tar Heels are going to need to limit (or at least make difficult) the attempts of Gary Trent Jr., who’s hit 49.3% of his perimeter attempts in ACC play and could take advantage of their porous three-point D. If North Carolina can’t stop Duke, perhaps Luke Maye and Co. will be able to get hot from deep themselves.
25. Butler (17–7)
Last Week (NR): beat Marquette, beat DePaul
Next Week: vs. Xavier, at Villanova
The Bulldogs haven’t always been on the national radar this season, but they’ve quietly crept up to No. 19 on kenpom.com and No. 26 in RPI, both of which will help their case when it comes time for NCAA tournament seeding. But you know what would help their case even more? A win (or two) in this upcoming week, when they have two tough games against Xavier and Villanova. Butler already earned the privilege of being the only team to beat ‘Nova this season, and doing it again in Philly may be too difficult an ask, but a win over the Musketeers would give it two top-5 wins in addition to an early-season victory over Ohio State. That would be an impressive trio of wins on its résumé.
DROPPED OUT: Arizona State, Florida State, Louisville, USC
NEXT FIVE OUT: Miami, Florida State, New Mexico State, Washington, NC State
(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: Clear your Saturday night to watch the Gaels take on Gonzaga at 10 p.m. ET on national television.
2. Gonzaga: ^Seriously, don’t miss this rematch.
3. Nevada: The Wolf Pack lead the Mountain West in offensive efficiency in conference play and are second to Boise State in defensive efficiency.
4. New Mexico State: Aggies opponents in the WAC are hitting just 24.8% of their three-pointers, and their 30.6% overall three-point defense mark ranks sixth in the country.
5. Louisiana Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns lead all teams in Sun Belt play at 40.2% from three and have yet to make less than 30% of their perimeter shots in a conference game.