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Andy Katz | Correspondent | November 29, 2017

Andy Katz's Power 36: Who's in the NCAA tournament?

  Duke sits on top of Andy Katz's Power 36, in no small part to the play of Marvin Bagley III (35).

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.

A wild holiday week shook up the Power 36 with two games — Florida-Gonzaga in Portland and Notre Dame-Wichita State in Maui — that will be hard to match the rest of the regular season.

Now, on to the 36...

1. Duke
Who’s hot? Marvin Bagley III. The 6-11 freshman is the favorite for national player of the year after the first few weeks of the season. He scored 30 and grabbed 15 boards in the PK80 title game win against Florida. That performance was after he scored 34 and grabbed 15 in the comeback overtime win over Texas. He had a modest 18 and 15 in the opening second-half comeback win over Portland State.

What stands out? The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country. Their freshman class of Bagley, Gary Trent, Jr., Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter, Jr., and Alex O’Connell is as good as any they’ve had recently at Duke. And none of them seem to act like this is their first foray into college basketball.

Word association: Impressive. Duke could have lost any of the past three games and won them all by coming back.

Last week: Beat Furman, 92-63; Beat Portland State, 99-81; Beat Texas, 85-78 in OT; Beat Florida, 87-74 in the PK80 in Portland.

Up next: at Indiana, Wednesday, vs. South Dakota, Saturday.

2. Villanova
Who’s hot? Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. They were the dominant tandem in delivering the Battle 4 Atlantis title for the Wildcats. Bridges and Brunson are each averaging 18 a game and only a little over a turnover a game.

What stands out? Defense. Villanova took apart Northern Iowa, limiting the Panthers to just 50 points.

Word association: Winning. Nova continues to be a tough out in November under Jay Wright the past five years.

Last week: Beat Western Kentucky, 66-58; Tennessee, 85-76; Northern Iowa, 64-50 to win the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Up next: vs. Penn, Wednesday; at Saint Joseph’s, Saturday.

3. Florida
Who’s hot? Jalen Hudson. He had himself a tournament with 24 in a loss to Duke, 35 in the double OT win over Gonzaga and 17 in the opening win over Stanford in the PK80 in Portland. The Virginia Tech transfer is exactly what the Gators needed to give their scoring some pop.

What stands out? This team is a title contender. The Gators should have beaten Duke. But they couldn’t handle the late pressure in the final possessions. Egor Koulechov, Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen are all ballers. These guys will have sensational seasons for Mike White.

Word association: Heart. The Gators showed so much of it in Portland. They were sensational to get the Gonzaga game into not just one, but two overtimes. Chiozza gave it every ounce of energy he had in that game. And even though they couldn’t hold off Duke, the Gators showed again that they are a legitimate Final Four team.

Last week: Beat Stanford, 108-87; Beat Gonzaga, 111-105, 2OT; Lost to Duke, 87-84 in the PK80 in Portland.

Up next: vs Florida State, Dec. 4.

4. Michigan State
Who’s hot? Joshua Langford. He was the difference for Michigan State in the win over North Carolina. He scored 23, made 5 of 7 3s and 8 of 11 field goals. If he’s a hot hand for Michigan State then that makes the Spartans even more of a contender.

What stands out? Defense. The Spartans held North Carolina to only 45 points. Stunning. The Spartans sputtered offensively, but if the defense can hold then they can assume their rightful place this season as the Big Ten title favorite.

Word association: Tested. The Spartans are always pushed by Tom Izzo’s schedule. This team won’t wilt against any competition because they don’t shy away from it.

Last week: Beat DePaul, 73-51; Beat UConn, 77-57; Beat North Carolina, 63-45 at the PK80 in Portland.

Up next: vs. Notre Dame, Thursday; vs. Nebraska, Sunday.

5. Kansas
Who’s hot? Svi Mykhailiuk. He’s averaging 18. He scored 27 and 21 in consecutive games. And he was hardly the one considered to be the star scorer in the preseason. He has spent the first three seasons at Kansas being a complimentary player. Now he can be counted on to be a go-to scorer/shooter.

What stands out? The Jayhawks are limited in numbers without Billy Preston but scoring isn’t an issue, going for over 100 in the past two games. Udoka Azubuike is the lone constant in the post and so far he has delivered without being foul prone.

Word association: Defense. The Jayhawks have only played one elite team so far — Kentucky — but even then held the Wildcats to 61 points. Kansas can outscore teams, but four of the five opponents have scored 64 points or less.

Last week: Beat Oakland, 102-59; Beat Texas Southern, 114-71.

Up next: vs. Toledo, Tuesday; vs. Syracuse, Saturday in Miami.

6. Cincinnati
Who’s hot? Gary Clark. He took home the MVP for the Cayman Islands Classic with 49 points, 28 boards and seven assists. Clark is the go-to player on the Bearcats. But he doesn’t have to be the sole provider. This team is deep offensively, maybe the most since Mick Cronin has been at UC.

What stands out? The Bearcats can score. Yes, scoring is a non-issue. There will be no rock fights this season. Cincinnati has options with Jacob Evans, Jarron Cumberland, Kyle Washington and Cane Broome all having the ability to put up double figures.

Word association: Champion. The Bearcats have the look of a champ after taking the Cayman Islands title. Never underestimate the importance of winning a tournament championship. This should give the Bearcats plenty of confidence the rest of the non-conference.

Last week: Beat Buffalo, 73-67; Richmond, 75-48; Wyoming 78-53 to win the Cayman Islands title.

Up next: vs. Alabama State, tonight; at Xavier, Saturday.

7. Notre Dame
Who’s hot? Bonzie Colson. He’s living up to his preseason hype so far with an average of 20 points and 10 boards. He finished off Wichita State in the Maui Invitational title game with 25 and 11. Colson is a grinder, hunting the ball and delivering when the game matters most.

What stands out? Matt Farrell’s beard and Mike Brey’s casual attire. Farrell is the ultimate winner, glue guy, and teammate to make things happen for the Irish. Brey is as a laid back a coach as there is at the highest level in the sport. He polished off the Maui title with a lei around his neck shirtless.

Word association: Entertaining. Whether it’s the way they play, the loose nature of the squad or simply balling with shots falling and diving for loose balls this team is a good watch every night out.

Last week: Beat Chaminade, 83-56; LSU, 92-53; Wichita State, 67-66 for the Maui Invitational title.

Up next: at Michigan State, Thursday, vs. St. Francis (N.Y.), Sunday.

8. North Carolina
Who’s hot? No one during the Spartans game. Prior to Michigan State, it was Luke Maye. He scored 28 points against Arkansas, 20 against Portland before only eight against the Spartans.

What stands out? The Tar Heels still have key pieces from their national title team with Maye, Joel Berry and Theo Pinson. And that’s what made scoring only 45 points so out of character. The Tar Heels were an out of character 1-18 on 3s and 15-61 overall. The 16 turnovers stung too

Word association: Champs. They are and they still could get to the Final Four for the third-straight season. But they won’t be a favorite, with some offensive challenges exposed against the Spartans.

Last week: Won at Stanford, 96-72; Beat Portland, 102-78; Beat Arkansas, 87-68; Lost to Michigan State, 63-45 in the PK80 in Portland.

Up next: vs. Michigan, Wednesday; vs. Davidson, Friday; vs. Tulane, Sunday.

9. Wichita State
Who’s hot? Landry Shamet. Shamet is the leader of the Shockers and proved it during the Maui Invitational. He put up 23 points in a comeback win over Cal, 19 in the win over Marquette and 10 against the Irish in the title game. But he had seven assists and three turnovers. He didn’t make any of his four 3s, but still he’s a necessary constant on the floor.

What stands out? The Shockers bookended a convincing win over Marquette with a few frenzied games. The Shockers trailed Cal by nine at the half before the second-half comeback. Wichita State held a 16-point lead over the Irish before blowing the game in the final minute. Limiting the drama would probably be a good idea going forward. Getting Marcus McDuffie back healthy will help.

Word association: Tough. The Shockers breed and bleed it. Wichita State plays hard, and every possession seems to be a battle.

Last week: Beat Cal, 92-82; Marquette, 80-66; lost to Notre Dame, 67-66 in the Maui Invitational.

Up next: vs. Savannah State, Tuesday, at Baylor, Saturday.

10. Texas A&M
Who’s hot? DJ Hogg. Hogg had proficient game against USC Sunday in Los Angeles, with 15 points and eight boards with four assists and three steals. He had 18 in two other games this week, against Pepperdine and Oklahoma State.

What stands out? The depth. Now that JJ Caldwell is eligible, the Aggies are whole. Robert Williams is back, too, and he is averaging a dozen with nine rebounds a game.

Word association: Evolving. The Aggies keep adding pieces and they only get better. Billy Kennedy is having a blast putting this one together. He knows that it’s only a matter of time before the Aggies are rolling.

Last week: Beat Oklahoma State, 72-55 and Penn State, 98-87 at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn; Beat Pepperdine, 81-65 and won at USC, 75-59.

Up next: vs. UT Rio Grande Valley, Thursday.

11. Arizona State
Who’s hot? Tra Holder. He’s actually on fire. He scored 40, making 14 field goals and converted five 3s in scoring 40 in a win over Xavier in Las Vegas. Holder is averaging 23 a game, up from 16 from a year ago. Two weeks into the season, Holder is the early favorite for Pac-12 player of the year. He’s a lock for all-Pac-12 if he keeps up this pace.

What stands out? The Sun Devils can score with any team in the country. 90, 97, 99, 92 and 102. That’s the point total so far this season. Not sure anyone had the Sun Devils, outside of the team and staff, able to score with such volume.

Word association: Newcomer. That’s as in newcomer to the top 25, Pac-12 title contention and NCAA tournament team. They’ve made their debut in the Power 36 already and now they’re in the top 15.

Last week: Beat Kansas State, 92-90; Xavier, 102-86 in the Las Vegas Continental Tire tournament.

Up next: vs. San Francisco, Saturday.

12. Kentucky
Who’s hot? Kevin Knox. The Wildcats desperately needed him to bust out and he did just that against UIC on Sunday. He scored 25, got to the line 7 of 10 and made nearly 70 percent of his shots.

What stands out? The options John Calipari has with Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nick Richards, PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones all able to make plays and contribute when called upon.

Word association: Youth. The Wildcats are so young, really young. And it shows at times. The Wildcats also don’t have that experienced player, even if he’s a sophomore, to steady the team. A freshman will have to likely be that player for Calipari this season. This may not be the most NBA-laden team he has had in Lexington, but don’t think for a second they won’t be in contention for the SEC title.

Last week: Beat Troy, 70-62; Beat Fort Wayne, 86-67; Beat UIC, 107-73.

Up next: vs. Harvard, Saturday.

13. Gonzaga
Who’s hot? Johnathan Williams. He may have only scored 10 in the overtime win over Texas Sunday, but he was a beast on Friday with 39 points and 12 boards, making 16 of 22 shots in the double overtime loss to Florida Friday night. Williams was expected to be the go-to scorer for the Bulldogs. And he has delivered.

What stands out? The Bulldogs continue to reload with freshmen forwards who aren’t household names but end up being major contributors almost immediately. Corey Kispert and Jacob Larsen have fit right into the Zags, complimenting Williams and Killian Tillie. And they come in with the necessary toughness needed to provide the hustle plays, rebounding and conversions in the post.

Word association: Drama. The Bulldogs never seem to shy away from it. They embrace it and give their fans constant palpitations. Gonzaga could have beaten Florida if Silas Melson had converted a free throw on a three-point play. They shouldn’t have gone to overtime with Texas Sunday, but turnovers and an opportunistic Texas team forced it into the extra five. Gonzaga is young in spots, but are once again a team that could make a deep run in March/April.

Last week: Beat Ohio State, 86-59; Lost to Florida, 111-105 in 2OT, Beat Texas, 76-71, OT in the PK80 in Portland.

Up next: vs. Incarnate Word, Wednesday; vs. Creighton, Friday.

14. Minnesota
Who’s hot? Jordan Murphy is dominating his competition at both ends of the floor. He has made seven field goals two games in a row, nine prior to that and has a double-double in every game so far this season. He’s a beast to keep off the offensive backboard and gets down the floor without any issue to beat his defender for a layup or dunk.

What stands out? This team has handled all sorts of challenges so far this season with a hostile road win at Providence, a bizarre 5 on 3 final 10 minutes against Alabama, and continues to show it has some of the top players in the country in their respective positions (see Nate Mason at the point).

Word association: Unfazed. The Gophers don’t have the experience of being a conference title contender. But that doesn’t matter one bit. They have the experience to handle any challenge.

Last week: Beat Alabama A&M, 100-57; Beat UMass, 69-51 and Alabama, 89-84 in Brooklyn in the Barclays Center Classic.

Up next: vs. Miami, Wednesday; vs. Rutgers, Sunday.

15. Texas
Who’s hot? Andrew Jones. He buried a game-tying 3-pointer against Gonzaga to send Sunday’s game into overtime. He scored 16 twice and 18 once in the three games at the PK80 in Portland. The sophomore wing seems to be yet another Texas scoring guard who can score in bunches, averaging 14 so far this season.

What stands out? This does seem to be the team that Shaka Smart coveted when he arrived in Austin. They’ve got the big in Mo Bamba, the guards who can defend, shoot, and defend, and a squad that shows no fear or quit.

Word association: Big. Bamba is a space eater. He is a presence with a wide frame and reach at 6-11. Dylan Osetkowski measures at 6-9, but looks like he’s even bigger. He can handle the ball, pass and alter shots.

Last week: Beat Butler, 61-48; lost to Duke, 85-78 in OT; lost to Gonzaga, 76-71 in OT at the PK80 in Portland.

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

16. Xavier
Who’s hot? Even though the Musketeers got run out in the second half against Arizona State, Trevon Bluiett is still the hot hand for Xavier. He’s averaging 21.3 and shooting 56 percent. If the Musketeers need a bucket, they will look for Bluiett. He has become the closer, most notably against Wisconsin in Madison. There is more to come from him this season like that night.

What stands out? The Musketeers shockingly didn’t defend well against ASU in the second half (maybe no one could that night) as the Sun Devils scored 58 of their 102 points in the final 20 minutes. Overall, Xavier is still a defensively stingy team. Let’s assume the ASU game was more of an outlier than the norm.

Word association: Aggressive. Xavier always seems to play with a chip and that aggressive mindset carries them quite far. They get it from their coach Chris Mack, who is as calm as they come off the court, but intense when he’s coaching for 40 minutes.

Last week: Beat Hampton, 96-60; Beat George Washington, 83-64 and lost to Arizona State, 102-86 in Las Vegas.

Up next: vs. Baylor, Tuesday; vs. Cincinnati, Saturday.

17. Baylor
Who’s hot? Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., is yet another long, athletic, wide, big in Waco. Scott Drew continues to find them on a consistent basis. Lual-Acuil Jr., was sensational in Kansas City, last week to win the CBE Classic. He was an identical 7 of 14 in both games against Wisconsin and Creighton. Lual-Acuil Jr., scored 34 points and grabbed 25 boards in the two games.

What stands out? The Bears zone is once again tough to deal with because of the overall wingspan of this group. Baylor can mesmerize teams with their athleticism as much as their neon hinted uniforms. Baylor is almost never rebuilding, always retooling. And no team has as brutal a pair of non-conference games like the Bears do this week (see below).

Word association: Length. It’s the word that immediately comes to mind when discussing, watching and breaking down the Bears.

Last week: Beat Wisconsin, 70-65 and Creighton, 65-59 in the CBE tournament in Kansas City.

Up next: at Xavier, Tuesday; vs. Wichita State, Saturday.

18. Texas Tech
Who’s hot? Freshman Jarrett Culver. The 6-5 wing is putting up numbers for the surprising Red Raiders. He scored 21 and 18 in the past two games, making 50 percent of his shots. He wasn’t as productive in the high-major games against Northwestern and Boston College. But his latest pop could prove critical as the schedule becomes tougher in the coming week.

What stands out? Defense. Chris Beard’s squad is got the D down, locking in and holding three of the five opponents below 57 points.

Word association: Surprise. The Red Raiders have the look of a balanced, efficient team that could be a factor for an NCAA tournament berth come March and finish in contention among the top four or five in the Big 12.

Last week: Beat Wofford, 79-56; Beat Savannah State, 103-69.

Up next: vs. Seton Hall, Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

19. Virginia
Who’s hot? Isaiah Wilkins. He’s never averaged over double figures at Virginia. But the senior forward was the difference in the NIT Season Tip-Off title win over Rhode Island Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Wilkins scored 19 on a night when the Cavaliers couldn’t get Kyle Guy going on multiple possessions.

What stands out? This team can run more than maybe in the past. Devon Hall, transfer Nigel Johnson and Guy have this team running. Add Ty Jerome to the transition game and the Cavaliers aren’t afraid to rip and run if Mamadi Diakite and Jack Salt can get the rebound.

Word association: Defense. It still looms large. Virginia doesn’t give up transition buckets. They settle back into the pack line. And running your system can be extremely frustrating.

Last week: Beat Vanderbilt, 68-42 and Rhode Island, 70-55 to win the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn.

Up next: vs. Wisconsin, tonight; vs. Lehigh, Saturday.

20. TCU
Who’s hot? Kenrich Williams. The 6-7 senior was the go-to player for the Horned Frogs in the Emerald Coast title in Niceville, Fla. Williams scored 23 and 17 in the wins over New Mexico and St. Bonaventure. Williams continues to show the depth of this upstart program.

What stands out? Jamie Dixon has elevated the program from an NIT champ to one that must be taken seriously in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs are winning the games they are supposed to as they prep for the Big 12 gauntlet.

Word association: Confidence. This squad has it. They believe they can win at a high level. The games will get even more challenging. Winning multiple championships (the NIT and now a two-game tournament title) is only going to boost this team’s self esteem.

Last week: Beat Omaha, 99-66; Beat New Mexico, 69-67 and St. Bonaventure, 89-79 for the Emerald title in Niceville, Fla.

Up next: vs. Belmont, Wednesday; vs. Yale, Saturday.

21. USC
Who’s hot? Chimezie Metu. He’s not a household name like Bennie Boatright, but he is putting up numbers for the Trojans. He has been a double-figure scorer and nearly a double-figure rebounder.

What stands out? Size. The Trojans have plenty of it and others do not. If they can make it effective enough over the course of the season is still in question.

Word association: Waiting. The buzz on the Trojans has been high, but they need to show better than losing at home by double figures to Texas A&M and needing to go to overtime to beat a rebuilding Vanderbilt.

Last week: Beat Lehigh, 88-63; Lost to Texas A&M, 75-59.

Up next: at SMU, Saturday.

22. Miami
Who’s hot? Dewan Huell. The Hurricanes haven’t been truly tested yet. The competition will increase dramatically this week with the trip to Minnesota. But Huell is leading the team in scoring because he’s posting up numbers on a consistent basis, making 12 of 16 shots for a total of 29 points in two games last week.

What stands out? The ‘Canes may not have played a strong schedule so far, but they are defending. Teams can’t score more than 60 points, save North Florida’s 65. That is the one outlier, so far.

Word association: Unproven. Miami has the talent, the depth and the athleticism to be an upper division ACC team. But this projection is on speculation since the tests haven’t happened yet.

Last week: Beat La Salle, 57-46; Beat North Florida, 86-65.

Up next: at Minnesota, Wednesday; vs. Princeton, Saturday.

23. Louisville
Who’s hot? Ray Spalding. Deng Adel has been the most consistent but Spalding splashed down with a monster game against St. Francis (Pa.). He scored 19 points and grabbed 13 boards. He was efficient with 8 of 10 shooting. The Cardinals are showing they are balanced and unfazed by any distractions.

What stands out? The Cardinals are remarkably offensively consistent. They’ve scored over 80 points in the last three games. Interim coach David Padgett has had the feel of a head coach from day one. He has handled this surreal situation without a hiccup.

Word association: Focused. The Cardinals have new assistants, a different lead voice in Padgett with Rick Pitino gone, and yet aren’t fading one bit. The schedule difficult will ramp up considerably this week.

Last week: Beat Southern Illinois, 84-42; Beat St. Francis (Pa.), 84-72.

Up next: at Purdue, Tuesday; vs. Seton Hall, Sunday.

24. Creighton
Who’s hot? Khryi Thomas. The junior guard is filling up the stat sheet throughout the season. He has been yet another stuffer on the offensive end playing for Greg McDermott. Thomas scored 16 against UCLA, 15 against Baylor and 17 against SIU-Edwardsville. He has been the perfect compliment to Marcus Foster on the perimeter. They’ll need to be on when the Bluejays take on the Zags later this week.

What stands out? This team can score. OK, so Baylor’s length was an issue. But the Bluejays have been balling on the offensive end. And it shouldn’t slow down in the Big East.

Word association: Entertaining. Watching Creighton is always a good watch. If Creighton is on, make sure you watch a few possessions.

Last week: Beat UCLA, 100-89 and lost to Baylor, 65-59, in Kansas City; Beat SIU-Edwardsville, 103-66.

Up next: at Gonzaga, Friday.

25. Seton Hall
Who’s hot? Desi Rodriguez took over the Vanderbilt game Friday night in Brooklyn. He scored 27 and grabbed five boards in the consolation victory. Rodriguez can score in a variety of ways. And he relished the challenge of rising to the needs of his teammates.

What stands out? The Pirates don’t get rocked. OK, so they could have handled the final few possessions against Rhode Island Thursday much better. But that performance is more out of character, not the norm.

Word association: Options. Coach Kevin Willard can look for Rodriguez, Angel Delgado, Khadeem Carrington, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Myles Powell or Myles Cale. There is confidence in all of them to deliver.

Last week: Lost to Rhode Island, 75-74, and beat Vanderbilt, 72-59 in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn.

Up next: vs. Texas Tech, Thursday at Madison Square Garden; at Louisville, Sunday.

26. Nevada
Who’s hot? Caleb Martin. He’s one of the best scorers nobody outside of Reno is discussing. The junior forward didn’t miss a minute in scoring 26 against Davidson and 22 at Hawaii. He’s shooting over 60 percent and gets to the free-throw line to convert at a high percentage.

What stands out? Eric Musselman’s defense has been stingy. The Wolf Pack shut down Hawaii, Davidson and Rhode Island when it mattered most.

Word association: Resilient. Nevada has already won three true road games. Got that? Three. Those are NCAA resume numbers. Also, Nevada didn’t play chumps. Davidson and Rhode Island are two of the best teams in the A-10.

Last week: Beat Davidson, 81-68; Won at Hawaii, 67-54.

Up next: vs. Illinois State, Wednesday; at UC Irvine, Saturday.

27. Colorado
Who’s hot? George King. King, who was the top player for the Buffaloes on their trip to Italy, scored 25 points in a win over Air Force. That comes on the heels of scoring 25 a week ago in the championship game of the Paradise Jam over Mercer. King plays off McKinley Wright, who will be a sensational point guard for Tad Boyle in Boulder.

What stands out? Well, it’s Wright. He didn’t mind I kept calling him the Roadrunner because of his end-to-end speed. Wright scored 19 in the win over the Falcons. He did have five turnovers, but he’s still finding his way. He gets to the line and made 8 of 8.

Word association: Rising. Colorado is a team to start buzzing about in the Pac-12. Trust me on this one.

Last week: Beat Air Force, 81-69.

Up next: at Colorado State, Saturday.

28. Alabama
Who’s hot? Collin Sexton. The freshman dropped 40 on Minnesota Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And 19 of the Tide’s 23 points in the final 10 minutes came with Alabama only having three players on the court due to five players being ejected for leaving the bench during a scuffle. And then Dazon Ingram fouled out and John Petty got hurt (he’s day to day with an ankle injury).

What stands out? Avery Johnson. He was unmoved by the bizarre circumstances Saturday night. He didn’t miss a step. He had Alabama on point during the final 10 minutes and cut the 13-point lead down to three.

Word association: Talent. The Tide have it and if they can avoid some of these defensive lulls and rebound, gang rebound as Johnson says, then they have a chance to be a top four SEC finisher.

Last week: Beat UT-Arlington, 77-76; Beat BYU, 71-59 and then lost to Minnesota, 89-84 in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn.

Up next: vs. Louisiana Tech, Wednesday.

29. Providence
Who’s hot? Rodney Bullock. Bullock can be a Big East MVP candidate if he can consistently be a high volume scorer. He put up 20 against BC and 15 in a last-second win over Belmont. He gets to the line, too, and has only missed four free throws this season.

What stands out? Experience. The Friars have depth at each spot. And it shows. They have been able to withstand plenty of runs in each of their games, save the second half against Minnesota.

Word association: Gritty. The Friars tend to grind and take on the personality of coach Ed Cooley, a team that won’t wilt.

Last week: Beat Belmont, 66-65; Beat Boston College, 86-66.

Up next: at Rhode Island, Saturday.

30. Houston
Who’s hot? Let’s still go with Rob Gray, even if the Cougars only had one game. Gray, who scored 37 in his opening game and 23 against Wake Forest, had a modest 16 in the one game for the Cougars. But he’s still efficient.

What stands out? Kelvin Sampson can go in a variety of ways if Gray is off or being defended well. Wes VanBeck can make 3s, Devin Davis is a post-up forward who has range, Armoni Brooks is a deep threat and Corey Davis Jr., is another shooter.

Word association: Depth. Add to this litany of names four players who will log impactful minutes. Nura Zanna, a glue guy, Fabian White, Jr., a versatile forward, Galen Robinson Jr., another option at guard, and Breaon Brady, a long, physical undersized forward.

Last week: Beat Incarnate Word, 97-58.

Up next: vs. New Orleans, Wednesday; vs. Arkansas, Saturday.

31. Purdue
Who’s hot? Dakota Mathias. The senior guard was finally the player who stood up and made something happen to avoid a disastrous trip to the Bahamas. He scored 24 and made three 3s in the win over the Wildcats.
What stands out? The Boilermakers still have size few teams do and Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards and Matt Haarms can cause plenty of problems in the post.

Word association: Phew. The Boilermakers had the look of being a Big Ten title contender after winning at Marquette and then couldn’t close out the Vols. The loss to Western Kentucky was hard to swallow. That’s why beating Arizona was a must to redirect the non-conference.

Last week: Lost to Tennessee, 78-75, OT, to Western Kentucky, 77-73 and then beat Arizona, 89-64, in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Up next: vs. Louisville, Tuesday; at Maryland, Friday; vs. Northwestern, Sunday.

32. Arkansas
Who’s hot? Jaylen Barford. He was the difference for the Razorbacks in their win over the Huskies, finishing with 16 of his 24 in the second half.

What stands out? The Hogs’ second gear. Arkansas blitzed UConn in the second half. That will serve them well in the SEC.

Word association: Pace. Arkansas loves to dictate it and so far they have save the game against the Tar Heels.

Last week: Beat Oklahoma, 92-83; Lost to North Carolina, 87-68; Beat UConn, 102-67, at the PK80 in Portland.

Up next: at Houston, Saturday.

33. Oklahoma
Who’s hot? Trae Young. The freshman had himself a game against Oregon Sunday. He torched the Ducks for 43 points, of which 30 came in the second half. He had seven assists, too. Oh, he also had 33 points and eight assists on Friday in a loss against Portland.

What stands out? Other than Young? Well, The Sooners can score. they have scored over 90 in all but one game — the 83 they put up in the loss to Arkansas.

Word association: Back. That’s what pops in my head when I think of the Sooners. This team is relevant again after just one season on the fringe. The Sooners have Buddy Heild 2.0 in Young — a star scoring guard.

Last week: Lost to Arkansas, 92-83; Beat Portland, 93-71 and beat Oregon, 90-80 at the PK80 in Portland.

Up next: vs. North Texas, Thursday.

34. West Virginia
Who’s hot? Jevon Carter. He scored 29 in the win over Missouri Sunday night in Orlando as the Mountaineers went on a 23-6 run.

What stands out? The 1-2 punch. Carter is the leader, but he’s got a partner in Daxter Miles, Jr. The two of them were hot Sunday night. Miles Jr., scored 26, including 14 of 15 at the line.

Word association: Huggs. What does that mean? Well, it translates for me that this team will play for him, his style, and never stop.

Last week: Beat Long Beach State, 91-62; Beat Marist, 84-78; Beat UCF, 83-45 and beat Missouri, 83-79 at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando.

Up next: vs. NJIT, Thursday.

35. UNLV
Who’s hot? Brandon McCoy. The 7-1 freshman has been a force so far this season. He is averaging 20.2 points and 13 rebounds a game. He is putting up some monopoly numbers, like 26 points and 17 boards in the win over Utah.

What stands out? This team can ball. The Runnin’ Rebels are playing the way Marvin Menzies envisioned when he left New Mexico State for Las Vegas. They run. They defend. They board. They are a good watch.

Word association: Marvelous. That’s Marvin Menzies nickname. And the Runnin’ Rebels could be adopting that moniker if they continue this pace.

Last week: Beat Rice, 95-68; Beat Utah, 85-58; Beat Southern Utah, 101-82.

Up next: at Northern Iowa, Wednesday; at Arizona, Saturday.

36. Washington State
Who’s hot? Malachi Flynn. The 6-1 sophomore scored 24 points for the Cougars during the Wooden Legacy title game Sunday night. He’s averaging 17 a game up from 9.7 last season. He scored 26 in the semifinal victory over Saint Mary’s and over the two games, he made 9 of 17 on 3s.

What stands out? The Cougars resolve. They were dealing with injuries during the game and continued to answer each of the Aztec runs during the championship game late Sunday in Anaheim.

Word association: Pac-12. Wazzu being relevant is a huge development for the conference. Ernie Kent has been a winner in the league, formerly at Oregon. If he can bring the Cougars back onto the grid, that would be a huge development for the conference.

Last week: Beat Saint Joseph’s, 75-71; Beat Saint Mary’s, 84-79; Beat San Diego State, 93-86 in the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim.

Up next: vs. UC Davis, Saturday.

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