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Andy Katz | Correspondent | November 20, 2017

Andy Katz's Power 36 look at the NCAA tournament

  The Blue Devils have taken over the top spot in the latest 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.

1. Duke: The Blue Devils were No. 1 in the AP poll going into the Champions Classic and beat No. 2 Michigan State. So why not switch those two teams in the Power 36? Of course. Duke beat the Spartans behind 37 points from Grayson Allen and a superb floor game from point freshman guard Trevon Duval. Marvin Bagley III was a non factor due to an eye injury, proving just how deep this squad will be this season. Wendell Carter Jr., yes another standout freshman, poured in 20 and 11 against overmatched Southern. Duke gets the early-season praise often, but it’s hard to argue so far against any accolades heading toward Durham right now.

Last week: Beat Michigan State, 88-81 in Chicago; Beat Southern, 78-61.

Up next: vs. Furman, Monday; vs. Portland State Thursday in quarterfinals of PK80 in Portland.

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2. Michigan State: The Spartans shouldn’t drop in the AP poll because of the loss to Duke. They are only sliding one spot in the Power 36. The game was a preview of a potential national title game so why should the Spartans be dinged because of a neutral court loss to the best team — right now. Michigan State has to finish the game better and coach Tom Izzo discussed that he might have played Miles Bridges too many minutes (37). But it’s hard not to be encouraged by Jaren Jackson Jr.,’s 19 points or Nick Ward’s early aggressiveness. Losing Kenny Goins for a few weeks with a sprained left knee hurts this team’s depth but Izzo’s crew has always been able to deal with adversity early in the season.

Last week: Lost to Duke, 88-81 in Chicago; Beat Stony Brook, 93-71

Up next: vs. DePaul Thursday in the quarterfinals of the PK80 in Portland.

3. Kansas: The Jayhawks are still thin without Billy Preston (investigation into on-campus car accident). But the experience in key spots is shining through. Take the win over South Dakota State as yet another example with Svi Mykhailiuk’s 27 points and Lagerald Vick’s 22 as reasons why the Jayhawks can still contend. This team has veteran players in the right spots. Kansas has the necessary experience to be a title contender, without the NBA-level star power.

Last week: Beat Kentucky, 65-61 in Chicago; Beat South Dakota State, 98-64.

Up next: vs. Texas Southern, Tuesday; vs. Oakland Friday.

4. Villanova: The Wildcats are putting up video game like numbers in the early part of the season, scoring over 100 points in the last two games. Villanova has seven players in double figures and actually might be even more offensively productive than it has been recently, even without the ready-made pros. Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson have delivered from day one this season. The defense hasn’t been too shabby, either. Now, the competition hasn’t warranted title talk just yet. But the confidence must be oozing from this crew. A week from now — after the Battle 4 Atlantis — will give Nova the barometer it needs with Purdue and Arizona also making the trip to the Bahamas.

Last week: Beat Nicholls, 113-77, Beat Lafayette in Allentown, 104-57.

Up next: vs. Western Kentucky, Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

5. Cincinnati: No reason to move down the Bearcats due to the level of competition. But what Cincinnati is proving right now is it is an elite level team, taking care of the teams it should before the gauntlet of the schedule unfolds against Xavier, Florida and UCLA. The Bearcats are no longer a team that might hit some scoring droughts. The identity hasn’t changed defensively. But it has been enhanced by the Bearcats’ ability to score with six players averaging in double figures. Coach Mick Cronin hasn’t had as many options in the past. Now, he doesn’t have to rely on one or two hot hands.

Last week: Beat Western Carolina, 102-51; Beat Coppin State, 97-54.

Up next: vs. Buffalo, Monday in the Cayman Islands.

6. Arizona: The Wildcats continued to rip up their opponents as Allonzo Trier scored in bunches. The preseason Pac-12 player of the year candidate scored 28 points in yet another rout for the Wildcats. He’s averaging 30 a game! But now Arizona will find out where it stands as it heads to the Battle 4 Atlantis where NC State, Purdue and Villanova await.

Last week: Beat CSU Bakersfield, 91-59.

Up next: vs. NC State in the Battle 4 Atlantis Thursday in the Bahamas.

7. Kentucky: The Wildcats don’t drop just because they lost. They fell to Kansas. All is well in Lexington. This team will continue to develop into what John Calipari wants to see throughout the season. Kentucky will continue to lean on Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo as others develop. The Wildcats may not have the slew of lottery-type picks, but the talent is still there to potentially hold off a charge of contenders in the SEC.

Last week: Beat East Tennessee State, 78-61.

Up next: vs. Troy Monday, vs. Fort Wayne Wednesday, vs. UIC, Sunday.

8. Wichita State: The Shockers haven’t done enough yet to move up or down but the buzz is still genuine for a team that could make another run to the Final Four. Wichita State has five double-figure scorers, experience, defensive toughness and drive to be one of the toughest outs in any game this season.

Last week: Beat Charleston, 81-63.

Up next: vs. Cal in the Maui Invitational today.

9. Notre Dame: Bonzie Colson had the preseason hype of being a national player of the year. Two things had to happen: He had to score well and the Irish had to have the look of an elite level team. So far, despite the lesser competition, that is happening. Colson is averaging 20 and 11 and the Irish are dominating. But the real tests will unfold in the coming weeks.

Last week: Beat Mount Saint Mary’s, 88-62; Beat Chicago State, 105-66.

Up next: at Chaminade today to open the Maui Invitational.

10. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have been off the radar a bit in the first week of the season due to the schedule. But the pieces are all in place to make another run. Having Joel Berry II back puts them in their rightful place of contenders. He came back to score 8 points, dish out six assists and grab four rebounds. The surprise will be whether Luke Maye continues to lead this team in scoring. He’s been all-ACC so far with 23 a game.

Last week: Beat Bucknell, 93-81.

Up next: at Stanford tonight; vs. Portland Thursday in the PK80 in Portland.

11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have weathered not having J.J. Caldwell and Robert Williams so far without a hiccup. Once this team is whole, it’s clearly obvious that the pieces exist for them to make a significant run in March, let alone challenge Kentucky and other contenders for the SEC title.

Last week: Beat UCSB, 84-65.

Up next: vs. Oklahoma State today in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn; vs. Pepperdine, Friday; at USC Sunday.

12. Xavier: The Musketeers withstood a raucous atmosphere at the Kohl Center in the Gavitt Tipoff Games to pull off one of the best wins of the week. Trevon Bluiett rose up in the final few minutes and the grittiness of J.P. Macura helped carry this team to a true road win. Nova has plenty of company in the quest for the Big East title this season.

Last week: Beat Rider, 101-75; Won at Wisconsin, 80-70

Up next: vs. Hampton, tonight; vs. George Washington Thursday at the Las Vegas Invitational (Kansas State/Arizona State in second game Friday).

13. Purdue: Time to give serious consideration that the Boilermakers may be a Final Four contender. The trip this past summer with the World University Games to Taiwan could prove to be a difference maker. This team is tough, tested and disciplined early in the season. Five players are in double figures and the Boilermakers showed in a road game at Maquette that they will be difficult to match inside.

Last week: Won at Marquette, 86-71; Beat Fairfield, 106-64.

Up next: vs. Tennessee Wednesday in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

14. Seton Hall: The Pirates can hurt you in a number of ways with a bevy of options. Offense is clicking. The defense is looking to be tough to penetrate. And the team is bonding. The Pirates will be a tough out, no matter the opponent this season. And yes they will join a number of candidates that has a chance to dethrone Nova.

Last week: Beat Indiana, 84-68, Beat NJIT, 82-53.

Up next: vs. Rhode Island in the NIT season tipoff in Brooklyn.

15. Gonzaga: The Zags continue to show a diversity of scorers with Killian Tillie, Zach Norvell Jr., and Josh Perkins each leading the team in scoring in each of the first three games. Johnathan Williams will have his share of games where he leads the team in scoring, too. The Bulldogs will be just fine. But the first test comes this week in the PK80.

Last week: Beat Howard, 106-69; Beat Utah State, 79-66.

Up next: vs. Ohio State, Thursday in the PK80 in Portland.

16. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels continue to manufacture points at a high level, but one of the more intriguing things to watch will be how Randy Bennett uses Cullen Neal. Neal was supposed to go to Saint Mary’s but then went to New Mexico when his father, Craig, got the Lobos job. Since then, Neal has bounced from UNM to Ole Miss back to Saint Mary’s. He can be a facilitator and scoring, but needs to be complimentary not a star.

Last week: Beat New Mexico State, 92-74; Beat Fullerton, 76-57; Won at San Jose State, 79-61.

Up next: vs. Harvard Thursday in the Wooden Legacy in Fullerton.

17. Alabama: If there was any doubt about the impact Colin Sexton can have on the Tide it has been erased. Sexton sat out the first game and in the next two he delivered an average of 23.5 points a game. Alabama can be an NCAA tournament team on the scoring of Sexton. Add in John Petty’s nearly 20 a game and the Tide have a 1-2 punch that will be tough to match in the SEC.

Last week: Beat Lipscomb, 86-64; Beat Alabama A&M, 104-67.

Up next: vs. UT Arlington, Tuesday; vs. BYU Friday at the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn; vs. Minnesota Saturday in the same event.

18. Minnesota: The Gophers showed tremendous resolve in a win at Providence Monday. Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch are tough to keep out of the paint. Nate Mason and Amir Coffey made winning decisions. Richard Pitino has depth and options within his rotations. This team will be in the hunt in the Big Ten title chase.

Last week: Won at Providence, 86-74; Beat Niagara, 107-81; Beat Western Carolina, 92-64.

Up next: vs. Alabama A&M Tuesday; vs. UMass Friday in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn; vs. Alabama Saturday in the same event.

19. Florida: Remember the name Egor Koulechov. He’s had stints at ASU and Rice and now will finish his career with the Gators. In each of his stops he has elevated his production. So far he’s scoring over 20 points for the Gators, making them even more of a tough team to defend.

Last week: Beat Gardner-Webb, 116-74; Beat North Florida, 108-68; Beat UNH, 70-63.

Up next: vs. Stanford, Thursday in the PK80 in Portland.

20. Georgia: The Bulldogs have a go-to anchor in the post in Yante Maten, who can carry them all the way into March. He’s healthy, experienced and demands and commands the ball. If the pieces around him, especially in the backcourt, remain consistent then the SEC is really wide open at the top.

Last week: Beat South Carolina Upstate, 74-65; Beat Texas A&M-Coprus Christi, 68-65.

Up next: at Fullerton in the Wooden Legacy.

21. Oklahoma: Trae Young is the next super stud to come out of Oklahoma. This time, though, unlike Buddy Hield, he may not stay long in Norman. Young has been on fire of late, averaging over 18 points and 11 assists and just two turnovers a game. He’s lived up to the hype. The Sooners continued to improve last season under Lon Kruger. But they were missing a star in the gap year between the Final Four and Hield. Young’s arrival means they’ve got their guy.

Last week: Beat Ball State, 108-69.

Up next: vs. Arkansas, Thursday in the PK80 in Portland.

22. TCU: Don’t ask me to spell or pronounce it yet on a regular basis but we all better remember the name Vladimir Brodziansky. he’s been a difference maker for the Horned Frogs, so far this season. Coach Jamie Dixon has his alma mater in position to make an NCAA-bid run in year two of his tenure after winning the NIT last season.

Last week: Beat Tennessee Tech, 100-63; Beat South Dakota, 76-71.

Up next: vs. Omaha, Monday; vs. New Mexico, Friday in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla.; vs. Maryland/St. Bonaventure, Saturday in the same event.

23. USC: The buzz is real on the Trojans, setting up some monster games win the city this season between USC and UCLA, let alone USC and Arizona. So far, Bennie Boatwright’s decision to return to the Trojans instead of going to the NBA draft has been a huge plus. No negatives on the court. But the tests are coming, even after the Sunday night win at Vanderbilt. The showdown will be next Sunday against the Aggies, a great early-season matchup.

Last week: Beat North Dakota, 75-65; Won at Vanderbilt, 93-89 in OT.

Up next: vs. Lehigh, Wednesday; vs. Texas A&M, Sunday.

24. Creighton: The Bluejays could easily move up and will if they play well in the next few days in Kansas City. The win at Northwestern at the Wildcats rental home by O’Hare was a significant confidence boost for this squad. The Bluejays have three stars right now in Marcus Foster, Khryri Thomas and Martin Krampelj, making them extremely difficult to defend. Book the Bluejays in the Big East race this season.

Last week: Won at Northwestern, 92-88.

Up next: vs. UCLA, tonight, in the CBE Classic in Kansas City; vs. Baylor/Wisconsin, Tuesday, in the same event.

25. Miami: The Canes were one of those teams last season that had the look of being one year away. Well, that season has arrived. And this team is as versatile as Jim Larranaga has had in his tenure. It may lack the star power, but it won’t lack the ability to contend with any team on the schedule. The real test for this squad will come next week in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at Minnesota. For now, Miami has to avoid natural slip ups.

Last week: Beat Florida A&M, 90-59.

Up next: vs. La Salle, Wednesday, in Reading, Pa., vs. North Florida, Saturday.

26. Maryland: The Terps are proving to have quite a one-two punch with Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter. Maryland has quietly put together another upper level Big Ten team that will be right in the thick of the race. The home win over Butler was a great effort with plenty to build off of, especially in the way in which the Terps closed it out.

Last week: Beat Butler, 79-65; Beat Bucknell, 80-78.

Up next: vs. Jackston State, tonight; vs. St. Bonaventure, Friday in the Emerald Coast Classic, in Niceville, Fla.; Saturday vs. TCU or New Mexico in the same event.

27. Iowa: Let’s keep it in the Big Ten with the Hawkeyes next in the Power 36. No Peter Jok means the Hawkeyes may have more diversity of scorers. So far they’ve got four in double figures, led by Isaiah Moss and Luke Garza. The schedule is light so this prediction is based on speculation so far. But it should be more than a hunch. Iowa could be the Big Ten sleeper.

Last week: Beat Grambling, 85-74.

Up next: vs. Louisiana, today in the Cayman Islands Classic. Tournament continues through Wednesday.

28. Virginia: The pack line is in February form by locking in opponents and making it very difficult for them to score through the first three games. And Kyle Guy will ultimately be the player who will star on a regular basis for the Cavaliers. He’s making quite an early-season impression with 19.7 a game, so far.

Last week: Beat Austin Peay, 93-49; Won at VCU, 76-67; Beat Monmouth, 73-53.

Up next: vs. Vanderbilt, Thursday in the NIT Season-Tip Off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn; Friday vs. Seton Hall or Rhode Island in the same event.

29. Texas: Shaka Smart just needed time and another stud. He’s got a team now that should be an NCAA tournament-bid contender and a major factor in a rebuilding Big 12. Mo Bamba missed one game, but in the two he played so far he’s been as billed with 14 points, nine boards and a total of nine blocks. Having three others in double figures, picking up a total of 23 steals in three games shows the system is working.

Last week: Beat New Hampshire, 78-60; Beat Lipscomb, 80-57.

Up next: vs. Butler, Thursday, in the PK80 in Portland.

30. Louisville: Two games into the season and it’s clear this is David Padgett’s squad. Rick Pitino isn’t walking through that door this season. And the players have responded. The talent is still there to make the Cards a tough out regardless of the opponent. Deng Adel is playing like an all-league player, averaging over 20 a game.

Last week: Beat Omaha, 87-78.

Up next: vs. Southern Illinois, Tuesday; vs. St. Francis (Pa.), Friday.

31. Providence: The Friars won the 2K Classic with wins over Washington and Saint Louis after falling at home to Minnesota. The Huskies and Billikens may not be NCAA tournament-bound teams. But the Friars should be and this tournament title was a much-needed confidence boost after losing at home to the Gophers.

Last week: Lost to Minnesota, 86-74; Beat Washington, 77-70; Beat SLU, 90-63 in the 2K Classic in NYC.

Up next: vs. Belmont, Wednesday; vs. Boston College, Saturday.

32. Arizona State: This is all you have to know about how well ASU is playing on the offensive end: The Sun Devils have scored over 90 points in four-straight games for the first time since 1975. Bobby Hurley has a squad that should be an upper division Pac-12 team at the very least, but could finish even in the top three.

Last week: Beat San Diego State, 90-68; Beat Northern Arizona, 97-62; Beat UC Irvine, 99-78.

Up next: vs. Kansas State, Thursday, in the Continental Tire Invitational in Las Vegas; vs. Xavier or GW in the same event Friday.

33. Texas Tech: Welcome to the Power 36 Texas Tech! The Red Raiders are the ultimate in balance, with Chris Beard maximizing his roster. The Red Raiders are locking in defensively, absolutely shutting down teams like Northwestern Sunday to win the Hall of Fame tournament at the Mohegan Sun. Northwestern scored only 49 points. That’s it. The Big 12 just got deeper.

Last week: Beat Maine, 83-44; Beat Boston College, 75-64, in the HOF tournament in Uncasville, CT; Beat Northwestern, 85-49 to win the HOF tournament.

Up next: vs. Wofford, Wednesday; vs. Savannah State, Saturday.

34. UCLA: The Bruins are still thin, based on the suspensions of three players but Kris Wilkes has delivered as expected. Still, UCLA tends to play down to the competition and that has to be a concern for Steve Alford. Going to overtime with Central Arkansas was hardly what they expected when they returned from China. The CBE tournament this week will give a good barometer on where this squad stands now.

Last week: Beat Central Arkansas, 106-101, OT; Beat South Carolina State, 96-88.

Up next: vs. Creighton tonight in the CBE Classic in Kansas City; vs. Wisconsin or Baylor, Tuesday, in the same event; vs. UC Irvine, Sunday.

35. Colorado: The Buffs won the Paradise Jam Sunday in Lynchburg, Va., behind senior George King’s 25 points. But the star of the weekend was freshman point guard McKinley Wright IV. Dubbed the Roadrunner (by me) because of his ability to get from one end of the court to the other as quick as anyone you’ll see, Wright was sensational. He hit the game-winner to knock off Quinnipiac, as the Buffs came back from 13 down with five minutes left. The last two games in the tournament, Wright had 16 assists and only two turnovers. Coach Tad Boyle has a squad that will be in the mix in the Pac-12 for a bid.

Last week: Beat Denver, 89-62; Beat Quinnipiac, 70-69, in the Paradise Jam; Beat Drake, 86-81 and Mercer, 79-70 to win the Paradise Jam.

Up next: vs. Air Force, Sunday.

36. Houston: This is based on the eye test. And the Cougars, seen in person in the Paradise Jam, have the goods to be a Power 36 team. Rob Gray is a scoring star, either on 3s or getting to the line. He can pass and makes smart basketball plays. The Cougars have a number of strong bodies and versatile bigs led by Devin Davis and Nora Zanna. And watch out for the shooting of Wes VanBeck. The squad can be a bit helter-skelter at times, but when they are right Houston will be a serious pest to put down.

Last week: lost to Drexel, 84-80 in the Paradise Jam in Lynchburg, Va.; Won at Liberty, 68-66, in the Paradise Jam; Beat Wake Forest, 78-73, in the Paradise Jam.

Up next: vs. Incarnate Word, Saturday.

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