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Andy Katz | Correspondent | December 11, 2017

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

Arizona is back, looking like a possible Pac-12 title team after wins over Texas A&M and Alabama.

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.

The Power 36 has a few newcomers yet again, and a shakeup at the top after Duke went down at Boston College. And a team that could make a strong case for No. 1 after another impressive victory.

Let’s get to it.

1. Michigan State (Last week: 2)

The Spartans edged out Villanova and Arizona State for this spot. The Spartans’ defense has been stellar the past seven games. North Carolina scored only 45, Notre Dame 63, Nebraska 57, Rutgers 52 and Southern Utah 63. Freshman Jaren Jackson continues to soar. Michigan State is still only scratching the surface of its potential. Their schedule is favorable with the next ranked game not until Feb. 10 against Purdue, unless Michigan or Maryland find a way into the poll before then. Finals week produces a light week for the Spartans, with a game against nearby Oakland next Saturday.

2. Villanova (3)

The Wildcats had one of the most impressive wins of the week by taking down Gonzaga Tuesday in Madison Square Garden at the Jimmy V Classic. Villanova is working like a machine and even when things go awry for a bit (see: Sunday against La Salle), they have the experienced closers to finish the game. Mikail Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth can all be counted on to deliver when Jay Wright needs them most. The Big Five games continue this week for the Wildcats with, arguably, their toughest one of the season — at Temple on Wednesday.

3. Arizona State (6)

The Sun Devils continue to shock not just the Pac-12 but the country with their offensive output and the carnage they leave behind. ASU scored 95 on Kansas Sunday as Tra Holder poured in 29 points to go along with his seven assists in 40 minutes. Shannon Evans was right behind with 22 points. The pair combined for nine 3s. ASU had a fantastic week with a win over St. John’s at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Friday before the Kansas win Sunday. They get to enjoy the week of exams and finish it off with a Sunday home game against Vanderbilt.

4. Duke (1)

The critics will come out and say how can the Blue Devils only drop three spots after losing at unranked Boston College? Well, Duke still owns neutral wins over Texas, Florida, Michigan State and a true road win at Indiana. Oh, and if you watch Duke, the talent is still tops in the country. They didn’t play well. They didn’t guard the perimeter. But they are still a top five team (they scored 124 points against St. Francis of Pa., three days prior). They don’t play again until Dec. 20, so they have plenty of time to figure out what went wrong at BC.

MORE: Who's No. 1? The cases for Michigan State and Villanova after Duke's loss to BC

5. Xavier (8)

The Musketeers only loss so far this season is to Arizona State (see: above) in Las Vegas. This team is clicking at a high, high level right now. And it makes one wonder if the upset win over Arizona in the Sweet 16 last season before the loss to Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, was clearly no fluke. Xavier scored 96 points in consecutive home games against Kent State and Colorado. The offensive outpouring should continue next Saturday against East Tennessee State. Villanova-Xavier will be must-see games this season in the Big East.

6. Wichita State (11)

The Shockers had yet another impressive week with a pair of wins over South Dakota State and at Oklahoma State. Landry Shamet lived up to his preseason hype with a breakout 30 in Stillwater. Wichita State is scoring without any hiccups of late. Known for their defense, they are is showing more that they can be just as difficult to deal with on the offensive end. The Shockers continue their strong schedule by playing host to Trae Young and Oklahoma next Saturday.

7. Arizona (NR)

No team has been all over the polls more than Arizona. The Wildcats went from top two to out after dropping three straight at the Battle 4 Atlantis. But the Wildcats are back, looking like a possible Pac-12 title team (behind Arizona State). Wins over Texas A&M in Phoenix and over Alabama at home gives Arizona four in a row. Two of the four were away from Tucson. The Wildcats are getting dominant play from highly-touted freshman Deandre Ayton and should continue the win streak with a game at struggling and rebuilding New Mexico next Saturday.

8. North Carolina (15)

The Tar Heels' 45-point output against Michigan State in Portland a few weeks ago may have been the outlier. The Tar Heels put down 104 in the one game this week over Western Carolina. North Carolina was shooting below 40 percent in threes, but made 16 of 22 against Western Carolina. The shots can fall and when they do, if they have the good looks, then this team is a contender. Next up is Tennessee in Knoxville on Sunday, which will be quite a different chore to get good looks against the Vols.

9. Miami (14)

The Hurricanes’ defense is the staple here, limiting Boston University to just 54 points. Miami won’t play at home again until Jan. 7 against Florida State. But this veteran team is tested, especially after the road win at Minnesota two weeks ago. So, expect the same result when they play at George Washington next Saturday.

MORE: College basketball TV schedule, game times

10. Kentucky (13)

The Wildcats are starting to blossom while being under the radar, as odd as that sounds for a Kentucky team. Hamidou Diallo delivered 23 for Kentucky in a Madison Square Garden win over Monmouth. The crazy stat is that Kentucky was near the bottom of Division I in free-throw shooting at 265 with 66.8 percent prior to this game. Making 24 of 32 should take a bit of the sting out of it. Kentucky hosts a scrappy Virginia Tech next Saturday as the competition rises to only power schools the rest of the schedule.

11. Purdue (18)

The Boilermakers are starting to look like the team projected in the preseason and the one that won the silver medal at the World University Games in Taipei last August. Pounding previously unbeaten Valparaiso by 30 and then taking care of IUPUI has them ready for the next challenge against Butler next Saturday in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.

UPDATE: 11A. Texas A&M (7)

The Aggies were omitted in an earlier version, so we are wedging them in here for this week where they should be in the top 11 or so. OK, so the Aggies lost to Arizona in Phoenix. There is no shame in falling to a team that should have been in the top 10 in the first place. The Aggies continue to be one of the most intriguing teams in the country with their size and overall length. They won't get tested again until Dec. 30 when they are at Alabama. But fear not; the Aggies will be one of the favorites in the SEC. 

12. Houston (21)

The Houston team I saw at Liberty in the Paradise Jam had the pieces but didn’t have the experience of playing together yet to finish off games. Well, the past month has proven fruitful. Houston followed up the Arkansas win at home on Dec. 2 by crushing Fairfield and Saint Louis, the latter on the road. The defense has been lock down, limiting SLU to just 58 points. Houston’s motto is “For the City,’’ and it’s going to stick this season because the Cougars don’t appear to be letting anyone down.

13. TCU (22)

TCU is playing the best basketball in the Big 12 — right now. But will it hold? They will find out quickly with home games against Oklahoma and Kansas in two of the first three games of the conference season. The Horned Frogs are no longer a team that could compete with Kansas for the Big 12 title, however, the wins over SMU at home and Nevada in L.A. last week should send a strong message that the winning culture has arrived in Fort Worth. There is no game this week so TCU can relax and enjoy being 10-0.

MORE: Undefeated college basketball teams in 2017-18

14. West Virginia (25)

The Mountaineers have steadily improved since that first game in Germany. Bob Huggins has his squad all in and it shows in grinding out wins over Virginia at home and at Pitt, in the Backyard Brawl. Jevon Carter’s line against the Cavaliers was an MVP type of performance with 23 points, 10 boards and seven assists. Carter is a classic Huggs’-type player: tough, driven, and well-rounded.

MORE: West Virginia basketball holds off Pittsburgh in Backyard Brawl

15. Seton Hall (20)

The Pirates are on the heels of Villanova and Xavier and have every reason to believe they can challenge for the Big East title. The numbers and results don’t lie. The Pirates have already knocked off ranked Texas Tech and Louisville, on neutral and road courts, then they took down VCU. Angel Delgado has been the perfect compliment to Desi Rodriguez. Toss in Myles Powell and Khadeen Carrington give Kevin Willard plenty of options, games against Saint Peter’s and at Rutgers this week should show the Pirates’ staying power and ability to beat teams it should, regardless of venue.

16. Gonzaga (12)

The Bulldogs were outplayed in a matchup with Villanova at the Jimmy V Classic in New York last Tuesday, but then turned around and do what they do best: handle the next challenge. Gonzaga dominated Washington in Seattle Sunday night, right after the Huskies had won at Kansas. Johnathan Williams was back to being a reliable scorer with 23 points and 12 boards after a disappearing act against Nova (five points and zero rebounds). Getting Corey Kispert back on the court for Washington after missing two games is great news for the Zags.

17. Virginia (16)

Credit Tony Bennett for wanting to rekindle the West Virginia series. Anytime you go to Morgantown it will be a struggle, so Virginia shouldn’t be penalized too much for losing one game at West Virginia. When Isaiah Wilkins and Nigel Johnson are contributing on the offensive end, then this team is tough. They didn’t produce against West Virginia but they have a number of other times this season. The balance is still in place for UVA to be a major factor in the ACC. Davidson will be another strong test for this crew next Saturday.

College basketball's best: Weekly superlatives for Dec. 11

18. Tennessee (26)

The Vols’ win over Lipscomb should be celebrated. The Bison swept Belmont, a team that will be difficult for anyone to face throughout the season. Grant Williams has stepped up in big games for the Vols this season; 19 against Lipscomb, 21 against Mercer and 20 even in a loss to Villanova. Tennessee will get its toughest test since Nova when it hosts North Carolina next Sunday.

19. Florida State (NR)

The Seminoles dominated Tulane from the opening tip Sunday to complete quite a week with wins over Florida on the road and over Loyola (Md.). The victory over the Gators should send a strong signal that the Seminoles should be taken seriously in the ACC this season. Leonard Hamilton teams is at its best when it defends and it was stingy against Florida and Tulane. Taking on Oklahoma State later in the week, a team that Hamilton used to coach, could give the Seminoles another reason to think this season will turn out quite well. But consider this: No team in the country probably has a harder slate of its first conference games than Florida State with games at Duke, home North Carolina and at Miami.

20. Kansas (5)

The Jayhawks simply aren’t defending the way they have in the past, or at least the way they did to beat Kentucky a month ago. Pushing Kansas way down shouldn’t be objectionable. The Jayhawks are not playing like a top 10 team right now, and that’s why they are positioned in this spot. They lost in Kansas City to an unranked Washington and couldn’t figure out the zone. They were outscored by Arizona State. Going into Nebraska next Saturday is suddenly a tall task. This team is missing a piece or two and needs to figure out how to fix the issues, quickly.

MORE: In new leadership role, Maryland's Cowan trying to find scoring-assisting balance

21. Florida (4)

The Gators broke a three-game losing streak with a huge neutral-court win over Cincinnati in New Jersey, but they still aren’t scoring at the clip they did in Portland. The Gators can win without making a plethora of threes (6 of 15). Forcing 21 turnovers helps immensely. This Gators team will be fine, especially because this team is as tested as any in the country. But the manner in which their offense disappeared and their 3-point shooting slumped against Florida State and Loyola of Chicago earlier in the week is still a major concern.

22. Cincinnati (9)

The Bearcats were rolling before losing to Xavier on the road in a game that they simply didn’t play well (credit Xavier for forcing its will upon the Bearcats). But the offense hit a bit of a skid in the loss to Florida, shooting 4 of 15 on threes. Committing the 21 turnovers is an alarming number for Mick Cronin. Cincinnati has no time to sit still with games against undefeated Mississippi State and a road trip to UCLA on tap this week.

23. Notre Dame (10)

The Irish desperately needed a road win after losing at home to Ball State in South Bend. Give Mike Brey props for going to Delaware, the school he used to coach and now led by his former longtime assistant Martin Inglesby. The Irish big three delivered with Bonzie Colson (19 and 12), Matt Farrell (24) and TJ Gibbs (21). The potential for the Irish to be in the thick of the ACC has not changed. Next up for the Irish will be Indiana in Indianapolis at the Crossroads Classic next Saturday.

24. Alabama (31)

The Tide have been playing on the edge all season, but they are as entertaining a team as there is in the Power 36. Collin Sexton seems to put on a show each night. The late-possession win over Rhode Island at home and the near-miss at Arizona continues the narrative that the Tide should be on your watch list. Check out games this week against Mercer and Texas this week for more drama.

25. Rhode Island (19)

The Rams nearly pulled off a road win at Alabama, just days after knocking off Providence at home. E.C. Matthews (out since Nov. 13 with a broken wrist) is due back for this week’s game against College of Charleston. This gives Dan Hurley the opportunity to see his full team on display. URI is coming into shape as the A-10 favorite, making the soon-to-be race against St. Bonaventure one to watch.

26. Arkansas (33)

The Hogs continue to look like a team that will be tough to stamp out in the SEC. Arkansas has made Bud Walton Arena a place no one wants to go after dispatching Colorado State and Minnesota the past week. Tennessee will find out how difficult a spot this will be when they open the SEC in Fayetteville at the end of the month.

27. Oklahoma (34)

The Sooners have their star in Trae Young. He was a stud with 29 in the win over USC at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Forcing 19 turnovers on USC and making 15 threes were examples of how difficult this team will be to face in the Big 12. Christian James wasn’t too shabby himself with 19 points against the Trojans. Facing Wichita State next will be the toughest task to date.

28. Syracuse (NR)

The Orange make their debut in the Power 36 after disposing UConn at the Jimmy V Classic in New York. The star was Tyus Battle, but the play of Oshae Brisett and Matthew Moyer of late should give Syracuse fans hope that this team won’t fade in the ACC but rather will continue to get stronger as they develop, mesh and tighten the zone even more in the coming weeks. Playing Georgetown next on the road will be a good test to show how they handle a raucous environment.

MORE: Despite 7-1 start, Jim Boeheim optimistic Orange can improve a lot

29. Texas (28)

Shaka Smart went back to Richmond and promptly beat VCU at its own game. The Longhorns forced the Rams into shooting 28 percent on threes and the Longhorns continue to get a balanced effort, regardless of the outcome. Andrew Jones on the perimeter with Mo Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski inside are providing the necessary pop. Michigan and Louisiana Tech are on tap next.

30. Creighton (27)

The Bluejays handled the rivalry game this past week against Nebraska by going to their finisher, Marcus Foster: He scored 17 of his 19 in the second half. If the game is on the line in the Big East, Foster is someone Greg McDermott can always count on during the final minutes. The Bluejays will need to ensure their homeport is as dominant in the Big East, too.

31. Texas Tech (30)

The Red Raiders can be excused for losing to Seton Hall in New York. Texas Tech has already exceeded expectations at this point in the season. So, the overtime win against Nevada at home serves notice that the Big 12 could be even deeper than anyone projected. Games against Kennesaw State and Rice this week at home are the ones they should win without an issue if Tech wants to remain in the at-large pool.

MORE: Minnesota aiming to meet new expectations

32. Georgia (35)

Mark Fox has a squad that can handle adversity (road/neutral) and now take care of teams it should beat at home (Winthrop). The schedule will pick up with a road game at UMass (which beat Providence over the weekend) before Georgia Tech, Temple and the SEC opener at Kentucky are on tap.

33. Loyola-Chicago (NR)

The Ramblers shocked Florida in Gainesville earlier in the week for one of the most surprising results this season. But Porter Moser’s crew clearly isn’t a fluke. They are 10-1 with the only loss at Boise State. Aundre Jackson had himself a night at Florida, scoring 23 points and making all three 3s in the game. Now let’s see how they handle a game at former league rival Milwaukee Saturday, a game that will test Loyola maybe as much mentally as playing Florida.

34. Butler (NR)

Lavell Jordan has put his imprint on this program. He has the Butler way running through his bloodstream. And he has seamlessly moved into the head coaching position. The Bulldogs took apart Utah and then Youngstown State last week but the real test will be how they handle the size of Purdue Saturday in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis. Kelan Martin is an anchor for this team who will be a matchup issue for the Boilermakers.

35. Ohio State (NR)

Chris Holtmann’s hardest loss this season was probably losing to Butler in the PK80 after coaching the Bulldogs. The Buckeyes got stung in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against Clemson but the wins at Wisconsin and over Michigan to start the Big Ten, followed up by a shut down of William & Mary proved this squad may finally be turning under its new staff. Up next is pesky Appalachian State. Looming in two weeks is a game against North Carolina.

36. SMU (24)

The Mustangs had one game last week and lost at rival TCU. No issue here. Sure, it drops them in the poll, but the Mustangs are still worthy of a spot. This team isn’t having an issue scoring, despite a shortened roster.

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