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Andy Katz | Correspondent | December 4, 2017

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

  It's early, but the Sun Devils are making some statements.

The frenzied few weeks of tournaments, challenges and even conference games are starting to finally slow down. Time for a check in on the Power 36 with a lot of newcomers, movement and leap frogging simply because of a better week (the number next to the team was the ranking in the Power 36 last week):

1. Duke (Last Week: 1):

The Blue Devils are handling every obstacle so far this season. Just think about this: Duke is starting four freshmen. And they never seem to get rattled. Indiana had the look of pulling off a major upset, only to be humbled by Marvin Bagley inside or Grayson Allen from the perimeter or Trevon Duval on a drive. The Blue Devils have quite a No. 1 resume so far with wins over Michigan State, Texas and Florida on neutral courts and Indiana on the road. Don’t expect this ranking to change next week with upcoming games against St. Francis (Pa.) and an ACC opener at Boston College.

2. Michigan State (4):

The Spartans jumped up to No. 2 in large part because they took down Notre Dame in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Spartans raced out to a lead, only to hold off a mini-Irish run. Cassius Winston has emerged as the type of lead guard Tom Izzo loves to coach. Jaren Jackson is only scratching the surface inside and out. Miles Bridges doesn’t need to carry this team. And Josh Langford and Nick Ward are filling their roles perfectly so far. The Spartans opened the Big Ten season with home win over Nebraska. Beating Rutgers on the road and Southern Utah this week would keep the Spartans right behind Duke.

3. Villanova (2):

How do the Wildcats drop down without losing last week to Penn or Saint Joseph’s? Credit Michigan State for the better win of the week over Notre Dame. Sorry. But that doesn’t diminish the Wildcats at all! Villanova destroyed the competition in the Big Five games. Teams are really frustrated against the Wildcats trying to score. Nova has a monster game wedged in between the next set of Big Five games (La Salle on Sunday and Temple next week) against Gonzaga Tuesday night in the Jimmy V in New York. How the Wildcats handle the Zags’ offense Tuesday will be the toughest challenge to date.

4. Florida (3):

Once again, the Gators did nothing wrong to drop down a spot. This is clearly based on who they played last week in comparison to Michigan State. And that was ….. no one. The Gators had the week off after losing the lead late to Duke at the PK80. Florida will be tested plenty with the rivalry game against Florida State Monday night and then Cincinnati on Saturday after a game against Loyola-Chicago. If the bracket came out today, the Gators would be either a 1 or the top 2 behind Kansas.

5. Kansas (5):

The Jayhawks don’t need to move a spot at all after disposing of Syracuse in Miami and Toledo last week. Devonte Graham had a player of the week stretch (see Monday’s Daily Word). Kansas will be severely tested this week again with an upstart Washington, a team that has scorers, and one of the hottest teams in the country on Sunday in Arizona State.

6. Arizona State (11):

Yes, the Sun Devils are skyrocketing up in the Power 36. And why not, this team is scoring at a ferocious clip, save a mere mortal 75 against San Francisco. But the Dons scored only 57. The Sun Devils, who will play St. John’s before the showdown at Kansas, are 7-0 for the first time since 1980-81. ASU coach Bobby Hurley said the Sun Devils have gone out and proven that they belong. No doubt.

7. Texas A&M (10):

The Aggies beat USC late the previous Sunday and then had a rather coasting win over UT-Rio Grande Valley. The Aggies moved up three spots in large part because of losses from others. Still, the Aggies are a legit top 10 team right now. The wins over USC on the road should speak loudly to anyone questioning their ranking. Playing Arizona on Tuesday in Phoenix is another chance to make a statement.

8. Xavier (16):

The Musketeers had a tremendous week (and the recipient of the team of the week) by knocking off Baylor and Cincinnati at home. Both games were rocking at the Cintas Center, with the latter one as heated as ever. Chris Mack’s team is tough. Very tough. And is able to finish games when challenged (see road win at Wisconsin earlier in the season). The Musketeers schedule doesn’t fade this week with games against Kent State and Colorado.

9. Cincinnati (6):

The Bearcats were rolling before playing Xavier. And then they got down early and as coach Mick Cronin said they couldn’t recover. Defense, which had been a staple for the Bearcats, wasn’t sharp against Xavier. The openings were given for the Musketeers and the Bearcats couldn’t recover. And that’s why there is a drop in the rankings. Now, let’s see how Cincinnati handles Florida Saturday in Newark in yet another showdown for the Bearcats.

10. Notre Dame (7):

The Irish went on the road to Michigan State and played catch-up. That’s a tall task in East Lansing. But this squad grows on you quickly. Bonzi Colson is a tough matchup. Matt Farrell is a winner. This team has pieces that will fit well enough to challenge for the ACC title, although not getting Duke at home is a tough draw. Ball State and a road game against Delaware against Mike Brey’s former assistant Martin Inglesby is on tap this week.

11. Wichita State (9): Don’t get upset Shocker fans. Wichita State only dropped because of the games ahead of them and it was hard to put them ahead of the Irish based on the result in Maui. But the Shockers win at Baylor was a major statement. The Shockers limited the Bears to just 62 points. Good news for the Shockers was getting a solid effort from Connor Frankamp (17 points) against the Baylor zone. The schedule doesn’t get easier with South Dakota State (love the Jackrabbits) and a game at Oklahoma State on tap this week.

12. Gonzaga (13): The Bulldogs had one of the most impressive wins of the week, knocking off Creighton at home by putting up 91 points against the offensive Bluejays. And the Zags did it without Corey Kispert, who got hurt in the previous game against Incarnate Word. The Zags, who would love nothing more than to be in the Big East, can show the conference office and its power brokers that they belong with a win over Villanova in New York at the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday. OK, there is something called geography in the way, but Gonzaga would like to be in the league. They return to their regular schedule (non-Big East games) Sunday with the revival of the Washington series, this time back in Seattle on Sunday.

13. Kentucky (12):

The Wildcats are on a bit of cruise control in their schedule. They only dropped one spot, largely because of scheduling. Kentucky held off Harvard, led by Kevin Knox’ 20 points. Knox said after the win that the Wildcats can’t turn into a selfish team. That will come. This team is YOUNG. So, the maturity will occur. And the schedule difficulty will increase dramatically. Monmouth, which took UConn to overtime, won’t be a pushover Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

14. Miami (22): The Hurricanes made a huge jump in the Power 36 after one of the best road wins of the season to date by winning at Minnesota in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Beating Princeton in Miami and holding the Tigers to 52 points is yet another example of how tough the defense can be when the ‘Canes are locked in to their assignments. The difference against the Gophers was Dewan Huell, who scored 23 points in 27 minutes and 15 in the second half. The ‘Canes should keep climbing with Boston University in Miami this week before a slate of road/neutral games unfolds for Miami.

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15. North Carolina (8): OK, OK, the Tar Heels did lose to Michigan State and couldn’t score in the game. And yes, that was the previous week. The Tar Heels did knock off Michigan at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and took out Davidson and Tulane for a busy, productive week. But someone had to slide down. So, start throwing the darts at this pick and it could be a fair criticism for knocking down the Tar Heels. Not much could change with a home game against Western Carolina before a post-finals game against Tennessee.

16. Virginia (19):

The Cavaliers didn’t need Kyle Guy to beat Rhode Island in the NIT Season Tip-Off but he went off to get them past Lehigh and Wisconsin. But it was the pack line defense that was suffocating against the Badgers, limiting Wisconsin to just 37 points. Virginia is quietly putting together another ACC top-four type of season. This Virginia team will be stingy on defense and has a diversity of scores that will be tough to match.But the schedule will get even tougher with this week’s matchup at West Virginia.

17. Minnesota (14): The Gophers didn’t have Dupree McBrayer for the home loss against Miami in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It was the first hiccup for a team that has answered every challenge so far this season. The Gophers then responded to start out the Big Ten season with a Sunday win over Rutgers, in which Jordan Murphy had yet another double-double and McBrayer was back in the lineup. How the Gophers handle this week will tell a lot about where it stands right now with road games at Nebraska in the Big Ten before a non-conference games at Arkansas.

18. Purdue (31): The Boilermakers made a massive jump in the Power 36 after a stellar week, knocking off Louisville at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and then sweeping the two games in the Big Ten at Maryland and at home against Northwestern. Purdue is a different team now than the one that went 1-2 at Altantis a few weeks ago. The rebounding has improved, the shooting is on target, and the bench is contributing. Purdue is a lock at home, but will get challenged by Valparaiso this week before ending the weekend against IUPUI.

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19. Rhode Island (NR): Dan Hurley wondered where the Rams were last week in the Power 36 after knocking off Seton Hall in Brooklyn in the NIT Season Tip-Off. And he was right. The Rams should have made an appearance last week. And after the home win over Providence in the Ocean State rivalry, the Rams are safely in the top 20. URI is the only team with two wins against the Big East. Hurley has a hidden gem in reserve point guard Fatts Russell. He oozes energy every time he steps on the floor. He’s a game changer at both ends of the court. Love his game. The Rams will get a chance to show how worthy with a road game at Alabama Wednesday. This is the last game they will play without E.C. Matthews, who has been out since the second game at Nevada. He will be back for the College of Charleston game the following weekend.

20. Seton Hall (25):

The Pirates moved up five spots with a great week, knocking off Texas Tech in New York and then winning at Louisville Sunday. Desi Rodriguez is emerging as a big-time talent, scoring 29 points and hitting the game-winning shot in the final eight seconds to beat the Cardinals. Coach Kevin Willard has plenty of options to go to in that situation and Rodriguez delivered. Seton Hall has the goods to be in contention for a top three finish in the Big East. Yet, another challenging game is on tap this week against VCU.

21. Houston (30): The Cougars are legit. Saw it during the Paradise Jam. Kelvin Sampson has all the necessary pieces for the Cougars to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time since he got back into college basketball. The win over Arkansas this past week was as much a statement as they have had this season. Devin Davis lit up Arkansas with 28 and 10. He has started to feel incredibly comfortable in how Sampson is using him. And he is the perfect compliment to Rob Gray on the perimeter. If the inside-out combo is clicking for the Cougars then this team will be in the mix for the AAC title.

22. TCU (20): The Horned Frogs only dropped because of the wins by other teams. Don’t think for a second that TCU isn’t still on top of its game. The win over Belmont will be highlighted later in the season. This will be a high-level resume win in March. Disposing Yale, or rather holding them to only 66 points, was very impressive. But the schedule really kicks up this week against SMU and then Nevada at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Get through this week unscathed and the Horned Frogs will climb even higher.

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23. Nevada (26): Well, now look who is right behind the Horned Frogs? Yes, the Wolf Pack, which will play TCU later in the week. Nevada continues to handle everything on its schedule, regardless of location. Knocking off Illinois State will turn out to be a quality win and winning a true road game — this time at UC Irvine — for their fourth of the season already is selection committee resume worthy. Playing another one at Texas Tech and then TCU on a natural court will enhance the profile even more.

24. SMU (NR):

Rebuilding? Come on. No shot. Tim Jankovich has this program at a consistently high level. Need proof? SMU beat USC at home, behind Ben Emelogu’s 11 second-half points. The most impressive part of that win was limiting the Trojans to just 55 points. SMU’s defense has been sensational so far this season. If that’s the anchor of this team then the Mustangs will be just fine once they get into the AAC. And it proves even more how deep this conference will be at the top. Playing at rival TCU Tuesday will show even more growth.

25. West Virginia (34): The Mountaineers were probably ranked too low last week after winning the Advocare Orlando Invitational over Missouri. The combination of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles is quite a 1-2 combo. But Bob Huggins is getting a diversity of scoring options from James Bolden, Lamont West and Sagaba Konate, too. Beating NJIT isn’t going to move the needle. Taking out Virginia at home this week certainly would next week. Oh, and on Saturday, Huggins gets a chance to reinvigorate the Backyard Brawl by playing at Pitt. West Virginia should win this game, which could intensify the rivalry even more.

26. Tennessee (NR): The Volunteers probably could have made a strong argument to be included in the Power 36 last week. The wins this week were significant. Knocking off Mercer 84-60 will go down as one of the most consequential wins for the Vols this season. Mercer is a good get. And then winning at Georgia Tech Sunday is another important true road win. Now comes a Lipscomb game against a team that beat Belmont. These are all quality resume additions.

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27. Creighton (24): The Bluejays have lost two of three games, but the games were against Baylor in the CBE in Kansas City and then last Friday at Gonzaga. That’s nothing to dismiss. The Bluejays have a squad that can score, get out and run and will, repeat will, be a factor in the Big East. Give Greg McDermott a lot of credit for scheduling the home-and-home with Gonzaga and starting on the road in Spokane (the return game is next season in Omaha). After the North Dakota game this seek, the Bluejays play their rivalry game against Nebraska Saturday. Expect another raucous atmosphere in Omaha.

28. Texas (15):

Once again, this may be a bit of a course correction with the Longhorns. The losses against Duke and Gonzaga in Portland were against two of the best teams in the country. So it’s hard to judge the Longhorns too harshly based on this schedule. Let’s see how Texas handles one of the hardest games for Shaka Smart on the schedule — at VCU Tuesday. Yes, it’s the same program Shaka Smart led to the Final Four. Texas has locked in defensively in every game, except the two against Duke and Gonzaga. Once again, no issues in losing and giving up points to those two.

29. Baylor (17): The Bears played a brutal slate of games last week against Xavier at Cintas and then at home against Wichita State. Baylor coach Scott Drew doesn’t shy away from a tough slate. The issue for Baylor, though, was the offense stalled a bit against Xavier and Wichita State (not scoring over 63 in either game). The Bears were 5 of 16 against Xavier and 5 of 21 against the Shockers on 3s. This will be a good week to get back on track against Sam Houston State and Randall University.

30. Texas Tech (18): The slate of Big 12 teams in the Power 36 continues with the Red Raiders, who did slip against a high-level Seton Hall in New York. Texas Tech had been a defensive stopper of a team prior to the Pirates. But the Red Raiders weren’t able to handle the options of the Pirates and will get another challenge, albeit at home against Nevada. One thing Chris Beard has done this season is set up his team for a March tournament appearance with a quality non-conference slate if they can hold their own in the Big 12.

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31. Alabama (28): The Tide got snipped by UCF at home Sunday. The Tide are still holding a spot in the Power 36 because this squad will still be a factor in the SEC. The wins over Lipscomb and UT-Arlington will end up being quality wins. But the next five games are as tough a slate as any team has in the SEC. Check this out: Rhode Island, at Arizona this week, then Mercer, Texas and Texas A&M all before Christmas. Wow.

32. Providence (29):

The Friars ran into a chaotic atmosphere at rival Rhode Island last Saturday night. Providence made runs, but couldn’t handle the late-game pressure put on PC by the Rams or contain freshman Fatts Russell. But the turnovers aren’t the norm for Providence. Providence will play two more rivalry games this week against Brown and at UMass this week.

33. Arkansas (32): The Hogs played a difficult true road game at Houston. They gave up 91 points. It wasn’t a game. But it went against how the Hogs had played in the previous outings in Portland against Oklahoma and UConn. How Arkansas responds against Colorado State and Minnesota at home should go along way to determine the overall resume heading into the SEC. Arkansas won’t need to stress as much in the SEC if they can post a few more of these Ws.

34. Oklahoma (33): The Sooners have one of the top players in the country in Trae Young and he has been a delight. He scored 32 against North Texas on the heels of his stellar play at the PK80 in Portland. The Sooners will be tested even more in the next few weeks. Following the UT-San Antonio game, the Sooners will play USC at Staples Center Saturday night in Los Angeles. Playing at Wichita State the following week will be the toughest test to date.

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35. Georgia (NR): The Bulldogs have made quite a recovery after the second game loss to San Diego State in the Wooden Legacy. The Bulldogs knocked off Saint Mary’s and then last week won at Marquette for another true road win (they will get credit for beating Fullerton in the Wooden Legacy since it was on their homecourt). Mark Fox deserves a March where he doesn’t have to sweat as much on the bubble. Taking care of the rest of the non-conference slate would help quite a bit, beginning with Winthrop.

36. Colorado (35):

The Buffaloes shouldn’t be penalized too much for losing a road rivalry game (see Providence at URI). So dropping their first game of the season, at Colorado State, only knocked them down one spot. The Buffaloes are still a work in progress with a host of newcomers. McKinley Wright IV was once again dominant at his position, even in the loss to the Rams. This will be a monster test week for the squad playing New Mexico at home and then at Xavier, one of the toughest places to play in the country.

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