It’s unusual when we don’t need to use the intro section to hash out the latest No. 1 debate. We discussed last week why Baylor jumped Gonzaga and moved to the top of the rankings, and a 2-0 week from the Bears didn’t do much to change that decision.
But there was a third team loosely involved in the No. 1 debate last week, and it had arguably looked like the most dominant team in the country for the previous month. The Duke Blue Devils had rattled off nine straight wins, with only one coming by single digits — and that game was a nine-point win on the road. But that all ended last week, with back-to-back losses to Clemson and Louisville, the latter coming at Cameron Indoor.
It obviously takes the Blue Devils out of the debate for No. 1 — but it also starts a new discussion. How far do they drop?
They still have wins over Kansas and Michigan State, the former on a neutral court and the latter in East Lansing, Michigan, which is as good a tandem of victories as anyone will have this season. They’re still No. 1 in the BPI and No. 2 at KenPom. But they also have just three Quadrant 1 wins and that infamous Quadrant 3 loss at home to Stephen F. Austin. Those two wins at the top of the résumé are outstanding, but the Blue Devils might not own another victory over an NCAA tournament team.
So we’ll put them just outside the top 10, a happy medium between their metrics and elite wins and the bad loss and middling rest of the résumé. But as we said last week, Duke has a favorable ACC schedule the rest of the way. The Blue Devils get Florida State in Durham, North Carolina, and their toughest game away from home is at Virginia at the end of February.
In other words, Duke is more likely to get back into the top 10 than to fall out of the Power Rankings.
1. Baylor Bears (15-1)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Oklahoma (Monday), at Florida (Saturday)
Baylor remains atop the rankings after coming back to beat Oklahoma State, and a positive sign from that win in Stillwater, Oklahoma, was the play off the bench of Tristan Clark. Clark, the team’s best player a season ago, has been a shell of his former self after recovering from last January’s knee surgery and dealing with other injuries. But he had eight points and two boards in 12 minutes on Saturday, perhaps his best game since the November win over Villanova. We know all about Baylor’s guards, but the Bears could use some inside balance. Clark stepping up would be a huge boost, while Freddie Gillespie has also increased his production recently: The 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in his past three games.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (20-1)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Pacific (Saturday)
Gonzaga passed one of its few remaining tests on Saturday with a blowout win over BYU, putting five guys in double figures — and that didn’t include Filip Petrusev, the Bulldogs’ most productive player so far this season. The reason for Petrusev’s low scoring output? He left the game early in the second half with what appeared to be an ankle injury. There was more bad news for Mark Few’s program earlier in the week, when the school announced last week that freshman Anton Watson needed to undergo shoulder surgery and would miss the rest of the season. Few has used mostly an eight-man rotation this season when everyone is healthy, and any extended absence for Petrusev would really hurt the Bulldogs’ frontcourt depth.
3. San Diego State Aztecs (19-0)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. Wyoming (Tuesday), at UNLV (Sunday)
The No. 1 debate revolves mostly around Baylor and Gonzaga, but San Diego State continues to roll through its schedule and doesn’t look like it’ll be slowing down anytime soon. The Aztecs should be favored by at least five or six points in every single remaining game. But before you go and knock their résumé, take a closer look. They’re No. 2 in the NET, top 10 in the BPI and at KenPom, and have nine wins away from home — the second most in the country. They have three Quadrant 1 wins — the same amount as Gonzaga, Duke, Florida State, etc. It’s not a résumé that will get much better as the season enters the homestretch, but the Aztecs are clearly a top-five team in the country right now.
4. Kansas Jayhawks (14-3)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Kansas State (Tuesday), vs. Tennessee (Saturday)
Kansas’ week revolved around Devon Dotson, both when he played and when he was out. He missed the road trip to Oklahoma, forcing Bill Self to use Marcus Garrett at the point guard spot — and it worked out. Isaiah Moss was able to move into the starting lineup and provide some real perimeter pop for the Jayhawks, hitting six 3-pointers. Garrett had five assists and one turnover. But Dotson returned for the game at Texas, and showed why he’s so important to Kansas. He finished with 21 points and three assists and brought an entirely different element to the Jayhawks’ offense. Garrett also continued to make plays, totaling seven assists.
5. Florida State Seminoles (16-2)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Notre Dame (Saturday)
Devin Vassell continues to ascend NBA draft boards and is developing into Florida State’s go-to guy since entering full-time ACC play a couple of weeks ago. In the past five games, Vassell is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals while shooting 39.1% from 3-point range. He had arguably his best game of the season in the overtime win against Miami on Saturday, finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and 3 steals. Vassell is 6-foot-7, long, athletic and can score in a variety of ways. Under-recruited coming out of high school, Vassell is trending toward being a possible two-and-done player at the college level.
6. Louisville Cardinals (15-3)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Georgia Tech (Wednesday), vs. Clemson (Saturday)
For the first two months of the season, Louisville had trouble winning when Jordan Nwora didn’t play well. But against Duke on Saturday — on the road, likely the toughest game Louisville is going to play this season — Nwora had a season-low six points on 12 shots … and Louisville had one of its most efficient offensive performances in the past month. The biggest factor was the continued emergence of freshman guard David Johnson. He had 11 points and four assists against Pittsburgh, and then truly broke out with 19 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists against Duke. Chris Mack has been looking for consistency and playmaking from the point guard position; he might have his answer in Johnson.
7. Seton Hall PIrates (14-4)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. Providence (Wednesday)
Kevin Willard’s team sees the biggest rise in the rankings this week after winning road games at Butler and St. John’s. The Pirates have now won eight games in a row and sit alone atop the Big East standings. And they’ve been doing it without big man Sandro Mamukelashvili, the team’s second-leading scorer who has missed the past nine games with a fractured right wrist. Romaro Gill’s breakout senior year down low has been the key for Seton Hall. He has scored in double figures in five straight games after doing it once in his first 47 games in South Orange, New Jersey. Gill had the first double-double of his career against St. John’s, finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks.
8. Villanova Wildcats (14-3)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Butler (Tuesday), at Providence (Saturday)
Villanova’s résumé is an interesting one. The Wildcats don’t have great metrics for the most part, sitting just inside the top 25 of the BPI and just outside the top 25 at KenPom. They’re solid in the NET and have played a top-25 schedule. Their three losses are all away from home, against Ohio State, Baylor and Marquette. But they need some more meat in the quality wins column. They do have the victory over Kansas and winning at Creighton is also impressive. But a huge chance will come on Tuesday, as Butler heads to Villanova on a two-game losing streak. The Wildcats are playing better of late, figuring things out on the offensive end after going four straight games with fewer than one point per possession.
9. Michigan State Spartans (14-4)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: at Indiana (Thursday), at Minnesota (Sunday)
The big rise for Tom Izzo’s program comes mostly as a result of other teams losing, but the 12-point win over Wisconsin on Friday was the Spartans’ ninth in their past 10 games. Of course, the one loss came by 29 at Purdue, which nearly sent Michigan State out of the rankings just last week. Izzo will hope Cassius Winston’s two-game mini slump is just that. In those games against the Boilermakers and Badgers, Winston shot 7-for-25 from the field and 0-for-8 from 3-point range, averaging 8.0 points, 4.5 assists and 7.0 turnovers. Rocket Watts has provided a boost off the bench in both games, but Winston has to play at the Wooden Award level at which he was performing from mid-December to mid-January.
10. Dayton Flyers (16-2)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. St. Bonaventure (Wednesday), at Richmond (Saturday)
The Flyers’ résumé still lacks the high-end quality wins of some other top-10 teams, but after beating VCU and then winning at Saint Louis last week, it’s really hard to ignore their overall résumé. Anthony Grant’s team is top five at KenPom and in the NET, top 10 in the BPI and has three Quadrant 1 wins. The only losses are to Kansas and Colorado, both on neutral courts and both in overtime. The Flyers have a Wooden Award candidate in Obi Toppin and one of the nation’s best offenses. Jalen Crutcher’s game-winning 3-pointer to beat the Billikens on Friday has made the highlight reel, but the Memphis native has been terrific the past two games. He totaled 41 points, 7 assists and 6 3-pointers in those games.
11. Duke Blue Devils (15-3)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. Miami (Tuesday)
There have been clear issues at both ends of the floor in the past two games, both losses. Duke had scored at least one point per possession in nine straight games; the Blue Devils didn’t reach that mark in either game. They had allowed fewer than one point per possession in all but one game this season; both Clemson and Louisville exceeded that mark. Offensively, Tre Jones has had to shoulder the load a bit more lately with Wendell Moore out, Vernon Carey Jr. continuing to struggle with foul trouble and seemingly everyone besides Cassius Stanley struggling with consistency. Jones took 31 shots combined in the two losses.
12. West Virginia Mountaineers (14-3)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Texas (Monday), vs. Missouri (Saturday)
West Virginia has three losses this season, but the defeat at Kansas State might have been the first in which the Mountaineers truly struggled at both ends of the floor. The two previous losses came at St. John’s by two and at Kansas in a game that was close throughout. But against Kansas State, the Mountaineers fell apart defensively and struggled to consistently score — an issue that has plagued them during most of the past few weeks. But even when they haven’t been efficient offensively, they’ve been excellent at the other end. That didn’t happen against the Wildcats. Kansas State shot 50% from 3, nearly 65% from 2 and rebounded nearly a third of its misses. It was by far the worst defensive effort of the season for Bob Huggins’ team.
13. Oregon Ducks (15-4)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. USC (Thursday), vs. UCLA (Sunday)
It wouldn’t have been a shock to see Oregon go 1-1 during the Ducks’ Washington swing last week — but for the win to come at Washington and the loss at Washington State was something of a surprise. Payton Pritchard received most of the headlines in the overtime win against the Huskies, but Chandler Lawson’s season-best game was just as important. Francis Okoro struggled with foul trouble, Shakur Juiston fouled out and N’Faly Dante played only five minutes with a twisted knee. Dana Altman needed help up front and Lawson answered the bell with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists. Lawson has developed into more of a big man role with the Ducks, playing mostly the 4 and even some 5 in smaller lineups.
14. Butler Bulldogs (15-3)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Villanova (Tuesday), vs. Marquette (Friday)
The Bulldogs’ hot first half of the season came to a crashing halt last week, with back-to-back losses to Seton Hall and DePaul. The issues came mostly on the defensive end, although shooting a combined 13-for-42 from 3-point range didn’t help. Both Seton Hall and DePaul had far too easy of a time scoring, totaling 157 points on 135 possessions. The Blue Demons made nearly 59% of their 3s and Seton Hall did whatever it wanted during the second half. LaVall Jordan needs Sean McDermott to find his shot again. McDermott was one of the most efficient players during the first half of the season, but over the past three games he’s just 8-for-24 from the field and 4-for-14 from 3-point range.
15. Kentucky Wildcats (13-4)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Georgia (Tuesday), at Texas Tech (Saturday)
The Wildcats’ response following John Calipari’s ejection on Saturday at Arkansas could be a huge moment in their season. Two of their tougher road games of the season are coming up in the next two weekends, at Texas Tech and at Auburn, so Kentucky could have been looking at something like four losses in six if things went totally awry. Instead, the Wildcats finished on a run to knock off the Razorbacks and now look like perhaps the SEC regular-season favorite with Auburn losing two games (they currently sit one game behind LSU). Quick update on Nick Richards’ numbers in SEC play: 16.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.0 blocks. Richards’ emergence into a consistent and efficient offensive weapon inside raises Kentucky’s ceiling come March.
16. Maryland Terrapins (14-4)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at Northwestern (Tuesday), at Indiana (Sunday)
Maryland is arguably the best team in the country without a true road win (the only other candidate is Arizona or maybe Michigan), but the Terrapins will get two chances to lose that title this week. They have games at Northwestern and Indiana, with the former theoretically more winnable. The key could be a return to form for Anthony Cowan Jr., who has struggled in two of the past three games. He went 2-for-10 from the field in an 18-point loss to Iowa, bounced back with 16 points on 14 shots in the loss to Wisconsin, but finished with five points on 1-for-8 shooting against Purdue. Cowan is shooting just 26.7% from 3 in Big Ten play.
Dropped out: Auburn (6), Wichita State (15)
In the waiting room
Iowa: The Hawkeyes, one of the elite offensive teams in the country, have won three in a row and will hope to push that to five with home games against Rutgers and Wisconsin over the next eight days. Luka Garza continues his remarkably efficient season, moving up to No. 1 in KenPom’s metric-based Player of the Year standings.
Auburn: Bruce Pearl’s team entered last week unbeaten and exited the week falling out of the Power Rankings after losing on the road at Alabama and Florida. Neither loss is terrible, but it highlights the hollowness of Auburn’s undefeated start. The Tigers’ best wins are still over NC State and Mississippi State.
Arizona: The Wildcats have some of the best metrics of any team outside the Power Rankings, coming in at No. 5 in the BPI and also sitting in the top 15 of the NET and at KenPom. They also picked up a big win over the weekend against Colorado — the Wildcats’ best victory of the season so far. Their next three games are on the road, though.