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Andy Katz, Correspondent | November 13, 2017

Andy Katz's Power 36: A weekly look at the NCAA tournament field

  Michigan State debuts at No. 1 in Andy Katz's Power 36.

During Selection Week in March, the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee will select the best 36 at-large teams to join the 32 automatic qualifiers to play in the Division I men’s basketball championship. Each week, Andy will rank his best 36 teams based on results to date. These rankings are his own and are in no way affiliated with the committee.

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1. Michigan State: The Spartans are finally healthy and loaded with the right mix of experience and an impact freshman. Getting double-doubles from potential player of the year sophomore Miles Bridges and first-year stud Jaren Jackson Jr., in the opening win over North Florida is a great sign.

Last week: Beat North Florida, 98-66

Up next: vs. Duke in Chicago Tuesday; vs. Stony Brook Sunday.

2. Duke: Coach K got his 1000th win at Duke and may have one of his most talented freshman two games into the season. Marvin Bagley III's talent was on display in wins over Elon and Utah Valley, finishing the weekend averaging 24.5 points and 10 rebounds. Five players are averaging double figures. Don’t expect that to change much early in the season.

Last week: Beat Elon, 97-68; Beat Utah Valley, 99-69

Up next: vs. Michigan State in Chicago Tuesday; vs. Southern Friday.

3. Kansas: Lagerald Vick put up 23 points in a season-opening win over Tennessee State. Does it mean much? Well it could show that the Jayhawks are deeper than originally thought. And having a healthy Udoka Azubuike put up 13 points and six rebounds is a signal that the Jayhawks will be more complete.

Last week: Beat Tennessee State, 92-56.

Up next: vs. Kentucky in Chicago Tuesday; vs. South Dakota State Friday.

4. Villanova: The Wildcats waited a year for Omari Spellman to contribute and immediately got what they wanted: a double-double in the season opener. Jay Wright has this program so stable that it can continue to churn out wins while integrating newcomers without a hitch.

Last week: Beat Columbia, 75-60

Up next: vs. Nicholls Tuesday; vs. Lafayette Friday.

5. Cincinnati: This Bearcats team might be Mick Cronin’s most offensively talented since he’s been at Cincinnati. The options are plentiful with the addition of Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome. He put up 17 in the opener. Combine his production with Gary Clark and Jacob Evans and the Bearcats will be much more of a complete team as they chase a Final Four.

Last week: Beat Savannah State, 107-77

Up next: vs. Western Carolina tonight; vs. Coppin State Thursday.

6. Arizona: The Wildcats didn’t have Allonzo Trier to start last season. They have him now. Wow. What a difference a year makes. Trier scored 32 points in the opener and 30 in the second game Sunday. Arizona is once again loaded to make an Elite Eight run. The question to track this season is do they finally have the pieces to win at least one more game to get to the Final Four.

Last week: Beat Northern Arizona, 101-67; Beat UMBC, 103-78

Up next: vs. Bakersfield Thursday.

7. Kentucky: Don’t read too much into a tight game with Vermont Sunday. The Catamounts will be a factor in March if they can get out of the America East and into the NCAA tournament. Kentucky is as much of a work in progress as any other team at this time of the year. Sure, the talent is deep and NBA-bound, but they still need to find their way. Having Hamidou Diallo produce when it matters is significant.

Last week: Beat Utah Valley, 73-63; Beat Vermont, 73-69

Up next: vs. Kansas in Chicago Tuesday; vs. East Tennessee State Friday.

8. Wichita State: The Shockers might be one of Gregg Marshall’s most balanced teams during his highly successful run in Wichita. They won’t lack for offense after putting up 109 in the opener. And having a diversity of scorers is a benefit that they haven’t always had in Wichita. This team will always defend. Being able to score in bunches is another major development.

Last week: Beat UMKC, 109-57

Up next: vs. College of Charleston, tonight.

9. Notre Dame: Mike Brey doesn’t fret challenging his team, regardless of opponent or site. He’s loose, relaxed and able to deal with curves thrown his way. That’s why it should come as no surprise that he opened up DePaul’s new on campus arena, bringing back a tradition-rich rivalry in the Chicagoland area. The Irish got the true road win in the opener and will be better for the opening-night test.

Last week: Won at DePaul, 72-58

Up next: vs. Mount Saint Mary’s, tonight; vs. Chicago State, Thursday.

10. North Carolina: The Tar Heels weathered their first test without injured point guard Joel Berry II and got a dominating performance from Luke Maye in the opening win over Northern Iowa. Maye, who hit the game-winning shot to beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight, proved he can be counted on to produce significant numbers with a 26 and 10 in an efficient 10-of-16 shooting performance.

Last week: Beat Northern Iowa, 86-69

Up next: vs. Bucknell, Wednesday.

11. Texas A&M: The Aggies had one of the most important wins of the first weekend, beating West Virginia in the Armed Forces Classic in Germany without Robert Williams and J.J. Caldwell. They blew open the game in the second half and had the Mountaineers perplexed over how to contain them. The Aggies' depth is something to behold in today’s game with bountiful choices for coach Billy Kennedy. Admon Gilder, Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg couldn’t be touched in the opener. This team will be a force once it’s whole.

Last week: Beat West Virginia in Germany, 88-65

Up next: vs. UC Santa Barbara Friday.

12. Xavier: The Musketeers still have the momentum off their Sweet 16 upset over Arizona. This squad oozes confidence, led by Trevon Bluiett, who lit up for 25 points in the opener. Once again, coach Chris Mack has a number of choices with six to seven legit double-figure scorers. The Big East race among the top three to four should be a must watch throughout the season.

Last week: Beat Morehead State, 101-49.

Up next: vs. Rider tonight; at Wisconsin Thursday in Gavitt Games.

13. Purdue: The World University Games experience for Purdue will be a theme throughout the season. The Boilermakers essentially had a season already together with the practices and the intense competition on the way to a silver medal finish in Taiwan. Purdue put up over 100 points in the two opening games. This team’s offense has to be ahead of most based on the summer. And Carsen Edwards depositing a career-high 25 in game two is a huge plus.

Last week: Beat SIU-Edwardsville, 105-74; Beat Chicago State, 111-42.

Up next: at Marquette Tuesday in Gavitt Games; vs. Fairfield Saturday.

14. Seton Hall: The Pirates started the season in the top 25, but the buzz still may not have resonated nationally — yet. But it will. Seton Hall has the balance to be a tough out no matter the competition. Kevin Willard has built a program that can sustain the norms of exhausted eligibility or early entries. The schedule is favorable early to give this team momentum heading into a showdown against Rhode Island next week.

Last week: Beat Fairleigh Dickinson, 90-68; Beat Monmouth, 75-65.

Up next: vs. Indiana Wednesday in Gavitt Games; vs. NJIT, Saturday.

15. Gonzaga: The Zags could have been a preseason top four had Zach Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss returned. But the Zags have plenty left, enough to mount another deep run. The experience was on display in the opening win over Texas Southern. Josh Perkins made six 3s for 20 points. The difference for this team could be Rui Hachimura, who has finally developed to where he can contribute. He scored 11 points in 18 minutes.

Last week: Beat Texas Southern, 97-69.

Up next: vs. Howard Tuesday; vs. Utah State Saturday.

16. Saint Mary’s: Coach Randy Bennett agreed to a 10-year contract extension, keeping him in Moraga until 2026-27. The commitment he has shown to the school and Saint Mary’s toward him is the reason the Gaels have been so consistent. Jock Landale gets most of the pub on this squad but Calvin Hermanson will be pushing to get his share after putting up 24 in the opener. The Gaels are a trendy pick in the WCC, but they have to knock off the Zags first.

Last week: Beat St. Francis (Pa.), 85-68.

Up next: vs. New Mexico State, tonight; vs. Fullerton Wednesday, at San Jose State, Sunday.

17. Alabama: The Tide was missing four players, including stud Collin Sexton, against Memphis. But it didn’t make much of a difference as the Tide were able to get through this initial adversity. Sexton will return after serving a one-game suspension. Coach Avery Johnson was quoted saying Braxton Key will be out at least a month due to a meniscus tear. All eyes will be on Sexton to see if he can become an impactful freshman this month.

Last week: Beat Memphis 82-70 in Annapolis.

Up next: vs. Lipscomb Tuesday, vs. Alabama A&M Friday.

18. Providence: The Friars have the deepest team returning under Ed Cooley. This may not be the most talented, but Cooley can feel safe with a sub at nearly every position. The consistency of this program is a credit to Cooley’s patience and perseverance to deliver a reliable product to the passionate fan base. The Friars will know quickly — against Minnesota and at Rhode Island — how ready this team is to mount a Big East title chase.

Last week: Beat Houston Baptist, 84-55.

Up next: vs. Minnesota tonight in the Gavitt Games; vs. Washington Thursday at Madison Square Garden in NYC in the 2K Classic; Friday vs. either Saint Louis or Virginia Tech at MSG.

19. Minnesota: Forget for a minute the season opener was a guarantee game for the Gophers. Just digest that Jordan Murphy put up 35 points and grabbed 15 boards. Reggie Lynch finished with a double-double, too. Coach Richard Pitino has the Gophers primed for a top-three finish in the Big Ten because of the offensive production, the size and depth of a squad that has come together quite nicely over the past year.

Last week: Beat South Carolina Upstate, 92-77.

Up next: at Providence tonight in the Gavitt Games; vs. Niagara Wednesday; vs. Western Carolina Sunday.

20. Northwestern: The Wildcats won’t have the same raucous homecourt (crazy for longtime fans that Northwestern can now be viewed as an intimidating road trip) this season while they play in Rosemont during the facelift for Welsh-Ryan Arena. That’s why it was critical to get momentum with the first home-away-from-home game against Loyola (Md.). The Wildcats didn’t close out as well in the second half, but still had enough production from Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Derek Pardon to finish off the Greyhounds.

Last week: Beat Loyola (Md.), 79-75.

Up next: vs. Saint Peter’s tonight; vs. Creighton Wednesday in the Gavitt Games; vs. La Salle Saturday at Hall of Fame Tip Off at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT; vs. Texas Tech or Boston College Sunday at the Mohegan Sun.

21. Florida: The Gators haven’t started their season yet, but remain one of the more intriguing teams in the country. Florida fell to South Carolina in the Elite Eight at Madison Square Garden and returns the majority of its roster. Coach Mike White was the perfect replacement for Billy Donovan, looking to build a similar program and profile. Expect the Gators to be in the thick of the SEC race.

Last week: Didn’t play.

Up next: vs. Gardner-Webb tonight; vs. North Florida, Thursday; vs. New Hampshire Sunday.

22. Georgia: Yante Maten is healthy and that alone puts the Bulldogs in the race in the SEC. He debuted this season with 21 points and 12 boards in an efficient 23 minutes. This team has the size needed to compete with the best in the league. The issue for the Bulldogs has been and remains consistency late in the season.

Last week: Beat Bryant, 79-54.

Up next: vs. South Carolina Upstate, Tuesday; vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Sunday.

23. TCU: Jamie Dixon proved he knew what was best for him — and the Horned Frogs program when he made the decision to return to his alma mater last season from Pitt. Dixon led TCU to the NIT title, and prior to that the team was in the discussion for a possible NCAA bid. That should happen this March, barring any unforeseen derailments. TCU returns its top six scorers. Defensively will be a chore for this group, especially defending the 3-pointer (they gave up 12 made 3s in the opener). But the Horned Frogs could be Kansas’ toughest road out in the Big 12 this season.

Last week: Beat Louisiana Monroe, 83-73.

Up next: vs. Tennessee Tech tonight; vs. South Dakota Wednesday.

24. USC: The Trojans might be a tad low in our first power rankings of the season. But USC will have plenty of opportunities to move up this season, especially with a matchup pending against Texas A&M. Defense was solid in the opener against Fullerton and Chimezi Metu finished with a double-double. Coach Andy Enfield has so many options at his disposable with Bennie Boatwright, Jordan McLaughlin, Derryck Thornton and Jonah Matthews all scoring in double figures in the opener.

Last week: Beat Fullerton, 84-42.

Up next: vs. North Dakota State tonight; at Vanderbilt, Sunday.

25. Rhode Island: The Rams have legitimate buzz in the state that usually leans heavily toward the Friars. URI had its largest opening-night crowd and there is surely to be more packing the Ryan Center, especially when Providence comes calling on Dec. 2. E.C. Matthews gets the national pub, but Stanford Robinson and Andre Berry stuffed the stat sheet on game one.

Last week: Beat UNC Asheville, 84-60

Up next: at Nevada tonight; vs. Holy Cross Sunday.

26. Miami: The Hurricanes should be in the thick of the ACC race behind Duke and North Carolina throughout the season. The key will be mimicking what they did in the first weekend, getting five double-figure scorers. Bruce Brown is off to a slow start, but the Canes don’t seem to be missing a step. Defensively they didn’t let anyone go off and kept their first two opponents under 56 points.

Last week: Beat Gardner-Webb, 77-45; Beat Navy, 89-55.

Up next: vs. Florida A&M, Thursday.

27. Missouri: The focus was on Michael Porter Jr., in the opener against Iowa State. But he only played two minutes due to a hip injury. Yet, the Tigers didn’t miss him at all. They dominated the game, shooting over 50 percent and making 10 3s. This is a much deeper team than just Porter. And the fans are all in. There is a buzz about Mizzou that hadn’t been felt for a while with the anticipation of Porter’s arrival and the desire to see a winner in Columbia.

Last week: Beat Iowa State, 74-59.

Up next: vs. Wagner tonight; at Utah, Thursday.

28. Wisconsin: The Badgers are not rebuilding. They are just reshuffling a few new faces into key positions. The defense is once again a staple and this squad has more than a few options. Ethan Happ and D’Mitrik Trice are the known commodities but be prepared to hear a lot about stretch big man Andy Van Vliet, wing Brevin Pritzl and freshmen Kobe King and Brad Davison. And the athleticism of Khalil Iverson was on display against a depleted Yale team Sunday.

Last week: Beat South Carolina State, 85-50; Beat Yale, 89-61.

Up next: vs. Xavier in the Gavitt Games Thursday.

29. Iowa: The Hawkeyes lost Peter Jok, but don’t consider that this team a year ago was all about him. He was a big-time scorer, but Iowa still had depth. If there is a sleeper team not named Wisconsin in the Big Ten this season it may just be the Hawkeyes. Luke Garza became a familiar name to the fans Sunday by scoring 11 points and grabbing 13 boards in the second win of the season.

Last week: Beat Chicago State, 95-62; beat Alabama State, 92-58.

Up next: vs. Grambling Thursday.

30. Oklahoma: Wait, you thought Lon Kruger would have more than one transition season after the Final Four? No chance. The Sooners have retooled and are ready to make another run at Kansas in the Big 12. Trae Young was highly anticipated, and the high-profile freshman delivered in his debut with 15 points, 10 assists and six boards. One stat that jumps out from a blowout win: 13 blocks. If the Sooners can erase or alter shots that effectively on a consistent basis then watch this team be a tough out.

Last week: Beat Omaha, 108-89.

Up next: vs. Ball State, Wednesday.

31. Maryland: The Terps may not have the household names — yet — but this squad will be in the thick of the Big Ten race. Get ready to hear a lot about Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter. The Terps are a good watch, can be a pest defensively and give coach Mark Turgeon plenty of options offensively. This team will likely be a riser rather quickly in this poll.

Last week: Beat Stony Brook in New York, 76-61; Beat Maryland-Eastern Shore, 96-43.

Up next: vs. Butler Wednesday in the Gavitt Games; vs. Bucknell Saturday.

32. UCLA: Give UCLA credit for rallying and beating Georgia Tech in China after dealing with the circus of having three players be detained on shoplifting allegations. Kris Wilkes, who will likely be a proficient scorer this season, finished with 18 points. Classmate Jaylen Hands will also be counted on to produce, as well. But getting Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh to be a consistent presence on the court at both ends will be critical to this team’s fate.

Last week: Beat Georgia Tech 63-60 in Shanghai, China.

Up next: vs. Central Arkansas, Wednesday; vs. South Carolina State, Friday.

33. Louisville: The Cardinals trailed George Mason at the half Sunday in David Padgett’s head coaching debut. But the combination of veteran Deng Adel and freshmen Darius Perry and Jordan Nwora led the Cards to the win. What you’ll see here in the short term is still a transition from Rick Pitino to Padgett to a team that establishes itself from the opening tip to one that might take a few more possessions. The talent is in place. But no one can quantify how long it will take to be fully engaged.

Last week: Beat George Mason, 72-61.

Up next: vs. Omaha, Friday.

34. Virginia: The Cavaliers have absorbed serious losses the past few seasons with elite talent moving on and yet there is a comfort in knowing coach Tony Bennett will have this team ready on day one. The Cavaliers once again will be incredibly difficult to score against. The question — and this does occur often — is will there be enough scorers. Bennett said after the opening win that “nothing came easy.” That might be the mantra this season on offense.

Last week: Beat UNC Greensboro, 60-48.

Up next: vs. Austin Peay, tonight; at VCU, Friday; vs. Monmouth, Sunday.

35. Texas: All Shaka Smart needed was time. He was destined to get more of his style in Austin once he had the talent and the time. The Longhorns had great balance with seven players in double figures in the opener. Heralded freshman big man Mo Bamba didn’t disappoint with nearly a double-double, finishing with 15 points and eight boards. Last season, this team struggled to score. That doesn’t seem like it will be a tag on Texas this season.

Last week: Beat Northwestern State, 105-59.

Up next: vs. New Hampshire Tuesday; vs. Lipscomb, Saturday.

36. Creighton: The Bluejays are now a standard Big East contender under Greg McDermott. Marcus Foster is a prolific scorer and will be one of the top guards in the country. He’s averaging 23 points in two games this season. If he continues on that streak he’ll be a Big East player of the year candidate. No one should over analyze a major mismatch, but getting 55 points off the bench is still getting 55 points off the bench. Significant!

Last week: Beat Yale, 92-76; Beat Alcorn State, 109-72.

Up next: at Northwestern, Wednesday in the Gavitt Games.

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