After a temporary break due to the Christmas holiday last week, Power Rankings are back just in time for the calendar to turn to 2019. Since we took a week off, this edition will encompass the previous two weeks of play, which included some notable pre-Christmas contests, like Kentucky beating UNC and Arizona State knocking off our previous No. 1, Kansas.
The next couple days mark the last few non-conference games of the season, with a few isolated exceptions down the road like the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. As we head into conference play (or the re-start of conference play, in the Big Ten’s case), where do the nation's top teams stand?
Our Week 8 Power Rankings are below, but first, some notable performances—for better or for worse—from last edition's top 25...
Five on the Rise
The five most impressive team performances of the last week:
Kentucky: The Wildcats are finally starting to look like the team we expected in preseason after earning back-to-back wins over North Carolina in Chicago and at rival Louisville. It's no coincidence that this is occuring when Kentucky is starting to get big contributions from defensive standout Ashton Hagans and sharp-shooter Tyler Herro. Hagans had eight steals against the Tar Heels, and Herro scored 24 and shot 10 of 13 from the field against the Cardinals. Consistency from both of those freshmen is key for UK going forward, especially with the beginning of SEC play looming this weekend.
Duke: Back before Christmas, the Blue Devils closed out their non-conference slate with a strong win over Texas Tech, pulling away late for an 11-point victory. Most importantly, the win showed Duke could both handle an elite defense and have its role players step up, which proved especially valuable in a contest where Zion Williamson fouled out with almost four minutes to play. Jack White hit a couple key threes in the win, while Tre Jones logged 13 points, six steals and five assists, using his defense to spur the Blue Devils in the second half.
Oklahoma: The Sooners continue to surprise and will enter Big 12 play 11–1 after beating Creighton at home and Northwestern on the road. Oklahoma's defense, which was its biggest weakness a season ago, has been its driving force so far this year, currently sitting in the top 10 of kenpom.com's efficiency rankings. In the win over the Bluejays, the Sooners held Creighton to its lowest points per possession (PPP) in 2018–19, at 0.90.
Marquette: If you haven't heard about Markus Howard's 40-point, second-half outburst against Buffalo, get yourself acquianted with it. One of college basketball's most explosive scorers, the junior virtually single-handedly carried the Golden Eagles to victory in the final 20 minutes. He then followed it up by hitting all six of his three-point attempts in a win over Southern on Dec. 28.
NC State: The Wolfpack got the signature win their non-conference résumé needed back on Dec. 19 over Auburn, beating the Tigers by seven at home while holdng that powerful offense to 71 points and 0.91 PPP. Junior Markell Johnson came up huge in the win, scoring a career-high 27 and hitting 5 of 8 three-point attempts.
Not Their Best Work
Three teams from last week's top 25 that had a bad or middling week:
Arizona State: It's not every day that you can beat the AP No. 1 team and still land on this list, but the Sun Devils have been on a roller coaster in the last two weeks. It started with a 16-point road loss to a good-but-not great Vanderbilt team, one they rebounded from by knocking off the Jayhawks back home in Tempe before Christmas. But just a week later, ASU came back to earth by narrowly falling at home to Princeton. The Kansas win is still immensely important to Arizona State's résumé—especially given the state of the Pac-12—but the losses sandwiching it have certainly tempered some expectations, for now.
Furman: The feel-good story of Furman's undefeated start finally hit a wall just before Christmas, as the Paladins fell on the road to LSU. That loss was certainly understandable, if not expected, but Furman then followed it up with a blowout road loss to East Tennessee State in its conference opener on Saturday. The Paladins should still head into the heart of SoCon play as the league favorite, but back-to-back road games at UNC Greensboro and Wofford in mid-January will put that title to the test.
Auburn: In our look at the potential Achilles' heel for top teams, we asked what happens for Auburn when the three-pointers aren't falling. In the loss to NC State (which, to be clear, is not a bad loss at all, especially on the road), the Tigers shot 67.7% on two-pointers, grabbed 15 offensive rebonds and forced 22 turnovers, but were doomed by a 5-of-25 mark from the perimeter and 25 turnovers of their own. In a continuing trend, they didn't get to the charity stripe much either, taking 12 free throws and making six. With SEC play up next, it's something to continue to watch with this talented team.
Mid-Major Thumbs Up
A mid-major team outside the top 25 that nonetheless deserves praise for its week:
Texas Southern: The Tigers, who routinely play one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, are seeing some of those efforts pay off. After opening the season with a road win over Baylor and then winning at Oregon in late November, they took down Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday. Last year, Texas Southern's brutal schedule led to an 0–13 start, but it then went on to win the SWAC and earn a trip to the NCAA tournament. This year, under new coach Johnny Jones, the Tigers will head into conference play not only battle-tested but with three Power 5 wins under their belts. Should they get back to the tournament, chances are it won't be as a No. 16 seed.
Top 25 Power Rankings
Last Two Weeks: beat Princeton, beat Texas Tech
Up Next: vs. Clemson
Last Two Weeks: beat Samford, beat Wake Forest, beat Tennessee Tech
Up Next: vs. Georgia
Last Two Weeks: beat Air Force
Up Next: vs. Penn State, vs. Indiana
Last Two Weeks: beat South Carolina, beat William & Mary
Up Next: vs. Marshall, vs. Florida State
Last Two Weeks: beat South Dakota, lost to Arizona State, beat Eastern Michigan
Up Next: vs. Oklahoma, at Iowa State
Last Two Weeks: beat Akron, beat Utah
Up Next: vs. Utah State, at New Mexico
Last Two Weeks: beat UT Arlington, beat Denver, beat North Alabama
Up Next: vs. Cal State Bakersfield, vs. Santa Clara
Michigan State (11–2)
Last Two Weeks: beat Oakland, beat Northern Illinois
Up Next: vs. Northwestern, at Ohio State
Last Two Weeks: beat North Carolina, beat Louisville
Up Next: at Alabama
Florida State (11–1)
Last Two Weeks: beat Southeast Missouri State, beat North Florida, beat St. Louis
Up Next: vs. Winthrop, at Virginia
Virginia Tech (11–1)
Last Two Weeks: beat North Carolina A&T, beat UMES
Up Next: vs. Notre Dame, vs. Boston College
Texas Tech (11–1)
Last Two Weeks: lost to Duke, beat UT Rio Grande Valley
Up Next: at West Virginia, vs. Kansas State
Last Two Weeks: lost to NC State, beat Murray State, beat North Florida
Up Next: OFF
North Carolina (9–3)
Last Two Weeks: lost to Kentucky, beat Davidson
Up Next: vs. Harvard, at Pittsburgh
Mississippi State (12–1)
Last Two Weeks: beat Wofford, beat Wright State, beat BYU
Up Next: at South Carolina, vs. Ole Miss
Last Two Weeks: beat Central Arkansas, beat Jacksonville
Up Next: vs. Illinois, at Michigan
Last Two Weeks: beat North Dakota, beat Buffalo, beat Southern
Up Next: at St. John's, vs. Xavier
NC State (12–1)
Last Two Weeks: beat Auburn, beat USC Upstate, beat Loyola (MD)
Up Next: at Miami
Last Two Weeks: beat Syracuse, lost to Marquette, beat Canisius
Up Next: at Eastern Michigan
Ohio State (12–1)
Last Two Weeks: beat Youngstown State, beat UCLA, beat High Point
Up Next: vs. Michigan State
Last Two Weeks: beat Grambling State, lost to Western Kentucky
Up Next: vs. Minnesota, at Penn State
Last Two Weeks: beat Creighton, beat Northwestern
Up Next: at Kansas, vs. Oklahoma State
Last Two Weeks: beat Cal State Fullerton
Up Next: at Maryland, at Iowa
Last Two Weeks: beat Utah State, beat Coppin State, beat NJIT
Up Next: vs. Tulsa, vs. Memphis
Seton Hall (10–3)
Last Two Weeks: beat Sacred Heart, beat Maryland, beat St. John's
Up Next: at Xavier, at DePaul
Dropped Out: Arizona State, Furman
Next Man Up: Arizona State, TCU, Iowa