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Andy Katz | NCAA.com Correspondent | December 19, 2017

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

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.

This was one of the most difficult Power 36 to put together — after the top 15. The last tiers of teams could be jumbled together and put in any order. Moving out Florida, Notre Dame, Texas, Georgia, Butler and Loyola-Illinois, well at least the first five, wasn’t an easy decision. But losses occurred, some worse than others. Deciding whether or not to put in Missouri, Maryland, Minnesota, Boise State, BYU and Louisville came down to the wire. All have played well enough to have a spot at times, but for now are on the outside looking in with the 36. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be selected if it was occurring today (remember there are automatic qualifiers from this pool). But they didn’t make this week’s cut:

1. Michigan State (Last week: 1)

The Spartans retain the top spot in the poll, despite being pushed yet again by Oakland on a neutral court. It seems like the Grizzlies under Greg Kampe always give the Spartans a game. The schedule will lighten a bit and expect Michigan State to roll through the next four buy games before the Big Ten resumes on Jan. 4.

2. Villanova (2)

The Wildcats were supposed to get pushed by Temple in the final Big Five game. That didn’t happen. Nova continued to look the part of a possible title team, controlling the game from the outset. Jay Wright is taking his team to Long Island for a game against Hofstra this week before the Big East begins with Nova on the road for two at DePaul and Butler.

3. Arizona State (3)

The Sun Devils got a bit of a scare in the first half against Vanderbilt, before kicking it into their second, third, and fourth gear and pulling away. The Sun Devils remain unbeaten and unfazed. Games against Longwood and Pacific should get this team primed for a monster matchup against rival Arizona on Dec. 30.

4. Duke (4)

The Blue Devils didn’t play last week so there is no reason to bump them down. The loss at Boston College is in the rearview mirror. Duke will blitz Evansville at home this week and be ready for the ACC home opener against Florida State on Dec. 30. No need to pace, worry, or be bothered for one minute with the loss to the Eagles.

5. Xavier (5)

The Musketeers had to mount an amazing comeback against East Tennessee State to win by two. It was one of those games where the home team just wasn’t ready for the aggressive nature of the road team that was ready for this moment. But talent won out and a home crowd that wouldn’t let Xavier fall. So, there’s no reason to bump down X since they found a way to win — like they have in every second half, save the one against Arizona State in Las Vegas. The tests will continue, though, after Marshall comes through Tuesday, Xavier has to go to Northern Iowa Friday.

6. Arizona (7)

Let’s assume Arizona is done moving up and down and out of this poll. The Arizona you’ve seen the past few weeks should be the one we get for the rest of the season. Arizona is winning on a neutral court (Texas A&M), at home (Alabama) and in true road games (UNLV and New Mexico). Rawle Alkins is back and in a big way. He scored 26 points in 31 minutes in only his second game back this season.

7. North Carolina (8)

The Tar Heels’ 45 points against Michigan State in Portland is clearly more of an outlier. North Carolina picked up a high-level true road win by beating Tennessee in Knoxville Sunday. The Heels got plenty of pop from Joel Berry II (21 points) and defended the Vols quite well, keeping them under 40 percent from the field and on 3s. This should be another interesting week for the Tar Heels. After playing Wofford at home, the Tar Heels get surging Ohio State in New Orleans Saturday.

8. Miami (9)

The Hurricanes are 9-0 after a true road win at George Washington. Miami will be at Hawaii in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic, not shying away from playing the home team. That should be the toughest game. The hope will be they get a matchup with USC in the final, something the Trojans need to do to get back on track.

9. Kentucky (10)

The Wildcats got pushed, which they needed to be, by Virginia Tech. But they didn’t fold and Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have emerged as high-level go-to players. Kentucky held on for the win and will continue their string of quality opponents from this point forward with UCLA in New Orleans Saturday, a week before playing Louisville.

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10. Purdue (11)

It’s hard not to love watching Purdue play. This team has a second gear, and plays with such enthusiasm. Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, Carsen Edwards and Vincent Edwards look like they absolutely love playing. They don’t mind showing emotion. This team has been together for quite a while, going back to the World University Games run to silver in Taipai. The win over Butler, which had a second wind feel in the second half, is another example of how the Bahamas was a blip, a hiccup, an interruption from what should be a fantastic season.

11. Oklahoma (26)

Well, well, well, look who is now on the verge of being a top 10 team — Oklahoma. The Sooners have the best player in the country right now on their team. His name is Trae Young. He was sensational in the win over Wichita State. He scored 29 points and dished out 10 assists. He made four 3s of Oklahoma’s 13 3s. But don’t think this is a one-man band. Freshman forward Brady Manek delivered 21 points on five 3s in the win over the Shockers. The Sooners have won two huge games in a row, winning at USC the previous week. Oklahoma gets Northwestern State before another mega game on Friday, this time against Northwestern.

12. Texas A&M (11a)

The Aggies are on cruise control through buy games, obliterating Savannah State 113-66. Get through Northern Kentucky and Buffalo this week and the Aggies will be primed for yet another showdown — this time to open the SEC at Alabama on Dec. 30. So far, Texas A&M has stepped up to each challenge, falling only once, by three late to Arizona in Phoenix.

13. TCU (13)

The Horned Frogs didn’t play this past week during final exams. They return to the court Monday against Texas Southern and will play William & Mary Friday before opening the Big 12 against Oklahoma on Dec. 30. So what does the layoff mean? TCU doesn’t move in the rankings and Jamie Dixon likely had plenty of time to make this team even more sound. Circle the Jan. 6 game against Kansas in Fort Worth. That could be a program-changing event for TCU.

14. Cincinnati (21)

The Bearcats had a great week, knocking off previously unbeaten Mississippi State and then rocking UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. Those two wins are more indicative of the Bearcats than maybe the way in which they started the Xavier game earlier in the month. Cincinnati gets a breather with two more buy games this week before starting the American on New Year’s Eve against Memphis. Expect Cincinnati to re-emerge as a top 10 team sooner than later.

15. Kansas (19)

Hey, guess who is climbing back up the charts after winning at Nebraska on a Svi Mykhailiuk 3-pointer? Kansas made the play to set up the game-winning shot. And that win could be the springboard the Jayhawks need to create momentum again. But after playing Omaha Monday, the schedule has ZERO soft spots. It’s on from now on in the season. Going to Stanford later this week is a true road game that will test this crew. The Big 12 starts in Austin, followed by Texas Tech and at TCU. Strap in for a wild ride to a possible 14th-straight title.

16. West Virginia (14)

The Mountaineers only dipped a few spots because of other wins this week. West Virginia gets nothing out of pounding Wheeling Jesuit other than another win. But this squad is growing on everyone that is watching them. Bob Huggins has his crew primed for another run in the Big 12. They’ve ripped off 10 in a row and once they get through Coppin State and Fordham they will take their act on the road for two to start the Big 12.

17. Wichita State (6)

The Shockers couldn’t handle Trae Young and the upstart Sooners in Wichita. Maybe this drop is too much. Maybe not. Wichita State is still an American contender and a team that can go deep in March. The biggest concern for Wichita was the slow start, getting down 54-39 at the half. Wichita State had given up more than 66 points in only two previous games. That’s not the norm for Gregg Marshall’s squad.

18. Gonzaga (16)

The Zags won. That’s ultimately what mattered most. But playing the buy games sometimes is no fun for the home team. Gonzaga had one of the best turnaround games of the season by crushing Washington in Seattle after losing to Villanova in New York. Then, six days later, the malaise of finals week stung the Zags as they had to go to overtime against North Dakota. But Gonzaga found a way and will likely do the same against IUPUI before one last road non-conference game — this time at San Diego State.

19. Michigan (NR)

Seriously, did you really believe John Beilein wouldn’t have the Wolverines back where they belong? Michigan has had quite a two weeks since losing at Ohio State. Michigan came back to beat UCLA in overtime, went down and beat Texas in Austin and then took care of Detroit without Mo Wagner (sprained ankle). The Wolverines defense is locked in, holding Detroit to 33 percent and the offense is flowing 11 3-pointers. Expect Michigan to cruise through the next two buy games before beginning the Big Ten again at Iowa on Jan. 2.

20. Virginia (17)

The Cavs immediately turned a West Virginia loss into a convincing 20-point win over Davidson. The defense was impressive as usual, but even more important was the lack of fouls committed by Virginia. The Cavs sent Davidson to the line only seven times. Defending without fouling is a mantra for Tony Bennett’s crew. And the more that continues, the more Virginia will be a tough out throughout the ACC.

21. Tennessee (18)

The Vols showed well in a home loss to North Carolina. Rick Barnes has the goods with this group to be in the NCAA tournament and challenge for an upper division finish in the SEC. Once Tennessee gets past Furman, the Vols will take on a Wake Forest team in Winston-Salem that is playing its best basketball of the season. That game should tell Barnes quite a bit about the maturity of this team.

22. Syracuse (27)

The Orange continue to climb, coming back from 13 down to win at Georgetown in overtime, handing the Hoyas their first loss of the season. Tyus Battle had 29. Oshae Brissett scored 25 and had 14. Battle told NCAA.com last week about the Syracuse zone and why this season’s edition is so effective (read: length and reach at the top with him and Frank Howard). But the offense isn’t too shabby, either. The comeback road win should do wonders for this team’s self confidence, if it even needed a jump.

23. Alabama (23)

No reason to drop the Tide when they didn’t play last week. The last game was a solid effort in a loss at Arizona. And kudos yet again to Avery Johnson for his schedule. Next up for the Tide is Mercer, another quality team outside a power conference. Then, the week ends with a game in Birmingham against Texas. Alabama will end up with a resume that the selection committee should promote.

24. Rhode Island (24)

E.C. Matthews is back and the Rams are ready to roll toward the A-10. The Rams took care of the College of Charleston and should continue to improve the resume with Iona and Florida Gulf Coast coming into the Ryan Center.

25. Arkansas (25)

The Hogs continue to defend at a high level, limiting Troy to 63 points and keeping them shooting at 27 percent. Arkansas has Bud Walton as a feared homecourt again. They should go into the SEC opener against Tennessee at 10-2 with home games coming up against Oral Roberts and Bakersfield.

26. Florida State (19)

The Seminoles were stunned by Oklahoma State in Sunrise, Fla. The win was a tremendous, potentially season-changing win for the Cowboys. The Seminoles should be able to win the next two against Charleston Southern and Southern Miss before opening the ACC with a brutal stretch at Duke, North Carolina and at Miami.

27. Seton Hall: (15)

The Pirates drop after losing a rivalry road game at rocking Rutgers. But this Seton Hall team should be well-primed for a Big East run once it gets past Wagner and Manhattan in the coming week. The Pirates need to cut down on turnovers after committing 18 in the loss at Rutgers. But let’s chalk that up to it being more of an anomaly since Seton Hall has had a solid pre-conference so far.

28. Ohio State (35)

The Buckeyes did lose to Clemson. No need to remind them or me. But Ohio State is a different team than they were in November. The Buckeyes haven’t lost in December and Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop, C.J. Jackson and Caleb Wesson are playing at a high level. The Buckeyes now have an anchor inside in Wesson. They’ve got the ability to beat teams off the dribble from the wing with Diop. Tate can finish and Jackson has cut way down on his turnovers. Wins over William & Mary and Appalachian State are the type of wins they should get. Beating The Citadel should be one, too. The real barometer will come Saturday against North Carolina in New Orleans.

29. Houston (12)

Big drop for the Cougars after falling at LSU. But don’t be too dismayed. Teams are moving all over the Power 36 by virtue of what is happening. This is still an NCAA tournament team and one that will be right with Wichita State and Cincinnati (and SMU too) for the American title. Houston can continue to improve its profile by knocking off Providence in Connecticut on Wednesday before league play begins on Dec. 28.

30. Clemson (NR)

Time to give the Tigers their due after knocking off Florida in the final few seconds in Sunrise, Fla. Clemson has one loss — to Temple on a neutral court — and has a win over Ohio State that will have a ton of shelf life. The Buckeyes will be a quality win for Clemson come March. This team is back defending the way Brad Brownell desires. A rivalry game with South Carolina awaits and one more non-conference game against Louisiana before the ACC begins.

31. Creighton (29)

The Bluejays picked up a quality win over rival Nebraska at home and blitzed Maryland-Eastern Shore. They continue to average 90 points a game overall. The defensive effort hasn’t wilted since the loss at Gonzaga. But it will get a major test Monday night when the Bluejays host UT-Arlington and Kevin Hervey. They need to make sure they are in lock down mode because the Big East season will start on Dec. 28 at Seton Hall.

32. Texas Tech (30)

Don’t sweat that the Red Raiders dropped despite winning this week. Some of the wins above were just more impressive. That shouldn’t diminish what the Red Raiders continue to do: Defend. Texas Tech held Rice to just 53 points. The Red Raiders don’t dazzle, but they are a balanced team that has responded well to the one loss against Seton Hall. Tech is beating the teams it should, and has risen against the teams perceived to be superior. Tech should be fine against FAU and Abilene Christian before Big 12 begins.

33. Northwestern (NR)

The Wildcats have their groove back after getting demoralized by Texas Tech on Nov. 19. The offense is clicking, shots are falling and the defense is locking down. Everyone is finally all in. The blowouts over Chicago State and a depleted Valparaiso weren’t the only indicator. Winning a rivalry game at DePaul, and holding the Blue Demons to 60 should send a signal to the Big Ten that Northwestern has to be taken seriously yet again. But their toughest defensive test will come Friday when Northwestern has to figure out how to bottle up Trae Young of Oklahoma — the hottest player on one of the top surging teams — when they go to Norman Friday.

34. SMU (36)

The Mustangs move up a bit based on losses by others above. But another huge test comes calling Monday night when Boise State visits Dallas. The Broncos could have easily made a play to be in the Power 36 and a win over SMU on the road would certainly put them here. Shake Milton continues to shine for the Mustangs, regardless of the competition. The hype in the American has been rightfully for Cincinnati, Wichita State and most recently Houston. But SMU will be in the mix within that group by season’s end.

35. Iowa State (NR)

The Cyclones have ripped off eight in a row after losing the first two games. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season under Steve Prohm. But this team is ahead of the plan. And the Cyclones have to be taken seriously as a team that can be in contention for a bid. Actually, it’s not crazy to think about putting all 10 Big 12 schools in contention for bids at some point this season. Baylor and Oklahoma State could have made a play for this spot. Texas has been in the Power 36. The difference for Iowa State has been Lindell Wigginton. The freshman guard has combined for 44 points, four assists, nine boards, made 16 out of 30 shots, 5 of 11 on 3s and ZERO turnovers in the two wins over in-state rivals Iowa and Northern Iowa the past 10 days. Iowa State has one more non-conference game against Maryland-Eastern Shore before the Big 12 begins.

36. St. Bonaventure (NR)

The Bonnies are back. I know some may question who have they beaten, but this team is playing its best basketball of the non-conference and is finally healthy. The Bonnies have won five in a row, including winning three-straight away from Olean. Jaylen Adams has played in the past four. He’s not just the Bonnies top talent, he may be arguably the top guard in the A-10. He’s averaging 17.8 a game and has been one assist shy in two of the four games from a double-double in points and assists. The Adams-Matt Mobley senior backcourt will be tough to deal with, regardless of opponent. The Bonnies will find out where they stand nationally later this week. After playing Northeastern at home, they’ll travel to Syracuse.