The week proved two things: Villanova is clearly going to enter the NCAA tournament as one of the favorites and Purdue may end up joining the Wildcats as one of the four No. 1 seeds.
On to this week’s Power 36 (last week’s ranking):
1. Villanova (1): Destroyed Xavier by 24. Handled St. John’s by seven on the road. Nova right now is your lock to be a No. 1 seed and make the Final Four if you’re ready to pick one in mid-January. Games at Georgetown Wednesday and at UConn Saturday will continue to enhance this team’s resume.
2. Purdue (3): The Boilermakers are now the team to beat in the Big Ten. This is as entertaining a team to watch as Matt Painter has had in his tenure. Purdue squeezed out a one-point win at Michigan and then obliterated Minnesota by 34. Boilers host Wisconsin Tuesday and are at Iowa Saturday as they go for 14 and 15 straight wins.
3. Virginia (4): NC State was not going to also upset Virginia. No chance. Not in Charlottesville. So Virginia blitzes the Wolfpack Sunday night after handling Syracuse earlier in the week. No one had the Cavs as a top three team a month ago. No shot. But believe it. Virginia is right now the best team in the ACC. Road games at Georgia Tech Thursday and at Wake Forest Sunday should continue to pad the lead.
4. Oklahoma (6): Trae Young is the leader for national player of the year and the Sooners are playing the best basketball in the Big 12. That’s a recipe for a possible Final Four run. The Sooners outlasted TCU in overtime and ran up 102 points in doing so while earlier in the week handing Texas Tech its first loss in the Big 12. The road awaits for the Sooners at Kansas State Tuesday and then the second bedlam game at Oklahoma State on Saturday.
5. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders are storming the Big 12 race and aren’t going to fade away. That was made clear by the win over West Virginia. That one-point win came after the Red Raiders couldn’t outlast Oklahoma in Norman. This week, they're are at Texas and at Iowa State Wednesday and Saturday, respectively. In the past, these would be difficult tasks. But there’s no reason to believe Texas Tech can’t get a sweep or a split at the very least to stay in step for the Big 12 title race.
6. West Virginia (2): Do you notice a trend? The Big 12 is really, really good. Also, we’ve gone three-straight teams from the Big 12 and haven’t mentioned Kansas yet. The Mountaineers drop a bit after losing on the road to Texas Tech, but there’s no reason to push them down much at all. They lost by one to the Red Raiders after squeezing out a three-point win over Baylor. Now, let’s see how they handle Kansas Monday as they go for their fifth-straight win in Morgantown against the Jayhawks. A home game against Texas awaits Saturday.
7. Cincinnati (8): All the Bearcats are doing lately is winning. Cincinnati is going about its business, keeping teams below 60 points in four-straight games. The Bearcats had one game last week, and they trounced South Florida on the road. Games at UCF Tuesday and then at home against East Carolina Saturday should continue a similar narrative for UC.
8. Wichita State (9): The Shockers are getting pushed as evident of the three-point win at Tulsa. That’s good. But they’re also winning in the American and have no blemishes. Wichita State blew out East Carolina by 35 earlier in the week. The next two games against SMU Wednesday and at Houston Saturday should go a long way toward telling the league about where the Shockers will be in the standings before facing Cincinnati for the first time on Feb. 18.
9. Michigan (12): The Wolverines were within one possession of being the team of the week and pulling themselves into the chase for first in the Big Ten. They lost to Purdue by one and then shocked Michigan State by winning in East Lansing by 10. This team has loads of room for growth. And once again John Beilein is having a ball creating a winner. The Wolverines host Maryland Monday and then go to Nebraska Thursday and host Rutgers Sunday in a chaotic three-game conference week.
10. Arizona (13): The Wildcats weren’t messing around after losing at Colorado. Sean Miller challenged this squad and they responded by beating Oregon State by nine and then holding off Oregon by seven. The road swing to the Bay Area is next at Cal Wednesday and then at Stanford Saturday, which should be a challenge considering the Cardinal is tied with 'Zona at the top of the standings.
11. Kansas (15): Can we pause and not hand the Big 12 title to someone else yet? The Jayhawks are 4-1 in the Big 12 after beating Iowa State and Kansas State at home last week. Yes, they head to West Virginia Monday night and then are home to Baylor this week. They could fall one game off the pack in the loss column. But this is going to go down to the final weekend and Kansas will be right there with the Mountaineers, Oklahoma and Texas Tech for the title. A record 14-straight championships is of course still obtainable.12. Ohio State (16): The time is now to take the Buckeyes seriously. Ohio State is no longer a team that may make the NCAA tournament. Ohio State is now working on a possible Big Ten title and a high seed. The Buckeyes are 25 in the RPI and have one quadrant 1 win and three in quadrant 2. The Buckeyes easily dispatched Maryland at home and then blitzed the same Rutgers team in New Jersey that had taken Michigan State to overtime in East Lansing. Now it’s onto Northwestern Wednesday before playing a sliding Minnesota Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
13. Seton Hall (11): The Pirates finally had one bad game, losing by 20 at Marquette. They were due for one after a thrilling comeback win at Butler and other games they played along the edge. The bounce back win over Georgetown at home sets the Pirates up for their next challenge, trying to throttle the offense of Creighton Wednesday in Omaha. The week will end with a showdown against Xavier at the Prudential Center. At 4-1, the Pirates will know if they can stay with Villanova atop the standings before they even get a chance to play the Wildcats next month.
14. Michigan State (5): OK, this may seem like a crazy drop for the Spartans. And it is. This may rile up some of the fan base. But let’s qualify it this way: Michigan State is still a team to pick for the Final Four and possibly land a No. 1 seed. But the Spartans aren’t playing that way right now. The last week has been disastrous. They lost by 16 at Ohio State and then had to go to overtime to beat Rutgers at home before losing by 10 at home to Michigan. Turnovers are high and attention to detail needs to be refocused. It will happen. This team will rise again to the top. And it will likely start with a home game against Indiana Friday. That’s the only game the Spartans have this week, giving Tom Izzo plenty of time to practice with his crew.
15. Xavier (10): The Musketeers blitzed Creighton by 22 points at home. That was the kind of performance Xavier has had earlier in the season. But it’s hard to erase the no-show against Villanova in Philadelphia earlier in the week. Xavier was out run by 24 points, days after losing at Providence. This team, like Michigan State above, has the goods to be a high seed and go deep in the NCAA tournament. Maybe the game against Creighton means they have rid themselves of the ills of the previous games. This will be a good week to show with a home game against struggling St. John’s Wednesday and a road game at Seton Hall Saturday. Catching Nova will be hard with road games still to come at Butler and Creighton before hosting Nova.
16. Duke (17): The Blue Devils have the most front court talent in the country. They have multiple lottery picks. But this team is incredibly young. They finally regained some of their swagger in the road win at Pitt and a home win over Wake Forest. How they play at Miami Monday night will be a strong indicator about the future of this team. Getting Pitt again on Saturday will help potentially with momentum. Games against Virginia and North Carolina at home and road games at UNC and Clemson look to be the toughest remaining stops. But after losses at BC and NC State, nothing can be taken for granted. Remember, the ranking here is not the seed later. Duke has the top RPI, with two wins in quadrant 1 and three in quadrant 2.
17. Gonzaga (18): The Zags just finished the part of their schedule where they dominate the WCC, pounding Portland then winning by 10 at San Francisco. Now comes fellow WCC unbeaten Saint Mary’s Thursday for the first real check of the conference. The Gaels desperately need this win. The Zags could use it for its power seeding profile later in the season. There aren’t many chances left to gain a bit of a pop or really a quadrant 2 win (Saint Mary’s). There are no quadrant 1 wins remaining on the schedule as of now.
18. Rhode Island (25): The Rams are going to win the A-10 regular-season title. I said it. I believe it. I don’t see anything derailing them from doing it. URI is the class of the league. They had a great week by winning at St. Louis and then beating St. Bonaventure by 14 at home, the same Bonnies who were supposed to challenge them for the title but now have three losses in the league to the Rams’ zero. A rising UMass is on tap Wednesday before a road game at Dayton, that always proves to be difficult. Still, the Rams will win the league. Book it.
19. Auburn (26): Bruce Pearl’s crew could have easily stumbled after opening the SEC with wins at Tennessee and over Arkansas. But no. This thin, but spirited group went out and beat Ole Miss and won at Mississippi State to remain undefeated (4-0) in the SEC. The Tigers go to rival Alabama Wednesday before hosting Georgia. Pearl said on March Madness 365 that the Tigers could win every remaining game or lose each one. The line is thin, and the Tigers are the right side as of now.
20. Tennessee (29): The Vols had quite a week with wins over Vanderbilt on the road and beating a Texas A&M team by 13 that is now shockingly winless in the SEC. Tennessee heads to Missouri Wednesday and South Carolina Saturday. This will be an NCAA tournament team. The Vols are No. 13 in the RPI and have two wins in quadrant 1 and five in quadrant 2. Tennessee will also likely get a good seed, barring a collapse. Keep an eye on this squad as it’s only going to rise.
21. Kentucky (30): The Wildcats are on a steady climb back up after beating Texas A&M by one and winning at Vanderbilt by seven. Kentucky had to do that without Quade Green, who is out with a back injury. Kentucky leaned again on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who followed up a three-point outing against Tennessee, by scoring 16 and 22 in the games against Texas A&M and Vandy, respectively. Kentucky will be fine, ultimately, once it’s healthy. How they navigate the games at South Carolina Tuesday and a home game against Florida Saturday should give a good indication. A road game later this month at West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge still looms.
22. Clemson (20): The Tigers got bit at NC State, just like Duke, falling by one. But Clemson then turned around and handed Miami a nine-point loss at home. What does that show? The Tigers are legitimately going to be a solid, NCAA tournament team. Now, let’s see if they are going to really stay in the race for the ACC title. They’ve never won at North Carolina. That’s first up Tuesday before hosting Notre Dame. A road game at Virginia awaits next week.
23. North Carolina (24): The Tar Heels have the closer in Joel Berry II. He’s a winner. And because of him, so is UNC. The Tar Heels beat Boston College and then squeezed out a one-point win at Notre Dame because of Berry. Now comes two home games — one against Clemson Tuesday and then Georgia Tech Saturday. Normally, these would be two games that should be put in the win column for UNC. But this has hardly been a season that has gone to script. So, stay tuned.
24. TCU (21): OK, on the surface, a team that loses three-straight shouldn’t be in the top 25, right? Well, these weren’t “normal” games. TCU is good. Let’s leave that right here. They are better than most teams that would start out 1-4 in their league. TCU lost at Texas by one in double overtime in an emotional night after the Longhorns learned Andrew Jones has leukemia. Then, they went to Oklahoma and lost in overtime to Trae Young and the Sooners by three. The Horned Frogs host Iowa State Wednesday and are at Kansas State Saturday. No one should be surprised if the Horned Frogs are back moving up the standings at 3-4 by the end of the week.
25. Creighton (19): The Bluejays had won five in a row before losing by 22 at Xavier on the wrong day to go to the Musketeers. Xavier had just come off two straight losses. This is a huge week for the Bluejays, hosting Seton Hall Wednesday and then at Providence Saturday in a chance to reassert themselves as a contender for a top two finish in the Big East. A top 30 RPI, two wins in the quadrant 1 and four in quadrant 2 should be a strong indicator that the Bluejays are working on seeding.
26. Arizona State (14): I’m not giving up on the Sun Devils. I was driving the bandwagon early on this squad. The offense is a great watch. And they seem to play games that come down to late possessions. But defense has gone awry of late and the Sun Devils cannot get on a roll. The home loss to Oregon by four, just after squeezing out a three-point win at Utah was hard to explain. Oregon is better than its record. That’s true. But ASU didn’t look like it had earlier in the season. They then barely got by Oregon State by two to avoid a home sweep. The Sun Devils are 2-3 in the Pac-12 after starting the season at 12-0. If the Sun Devils are going to be a contender and not a pretender then sweeping the Bay Area this week would be a good idea with upstart Stanford first Wednesday before playing at Cal Saturday.
27. Miami (22): The ‘Canes could change the narrative of their season by beating Duke Monday night and taking out NC State Sunday. This is a week where Miami can thrust itself back into the ACC title race — or fall completely out. The one game last week — a nine-point loss at Clemson — was more of an indication that Miami isn’t the elite team yet in this conference this season. The previous week they lost at Georgia Tech by 10. Well, the faith is still there for Miami with this ranking.
28. Louisville (NR): Well, now, look who is back in the Power 36. The Cardinals had an impressive week by knocking off Florida State on the road by four and then beating Virginia Tech by eight. David Padgett has his feet firmly planted as the head coach. He’s still the interim, but like freshmen who are well into their first season, they have had enough experience to handle adverse situations. The Cardinals will get two more tests this week at Notre Dame Tuesday and then against Boston College Sunday.
The Cards picked up another conference W yesterday to move to 3-1 in the ACC. some of the moments . pic.twitter.com/YG01qHFb10— Louisville Basketball (@LouisvilleMBB) January 14, 2018
29. Butler (27): The Bulldogs ended a three-game slide with an 11-point win over Marquette to pull up at 3-3 in the Big East. A road game at Providence Monday and then at DePaul Saturday should go a long way in determining where the Bulldogs finish in the standings. Finishing in the top four won’t be easy. Finishing fifth would be a statement too. This league is deep. And getting road wins is hardly a walk.
30. Colorado (33): Just when it looked like the Buffaloes couldn’t sustain their good fortune in the Pac-12 — they win at UCLA. The Buffs got the split they needed in LA, losing at USC but winning at Pauley to go to 3-3 in the conference. Colorado is going to be on the edge all season and has to sweep the opportunities at home, like Washington State Thursday and Washington Saturday. The 53 RPI and the three wins in quadrant 1 and one and quadrant 2 put the Buffs in the ballpark for a bid.
31. Florida (31): The Gators ran into a spoiler in Ole Miss, and lost by six to drop their first SEC game of the season. But the earlier easy win over Mississippi State is more likely the profile of this squad. Now comes the hardest week of the season since the PK80 in November. Florida hosts Arkansas Wednesday before playing at Kentucky Saturday. Florida could be sitting fine in the SEC with a sweep. A split and the Gators are in the mix. But get swept and Florida will once again be searching for consistency. My gut is that the latter won’t happen. This team will stay right in the race.
32. Nevada (35): Remember when the Wolf Pack only lost at Texas Tech by six in overtime? Or by four to TCU in LA? Well, Nevada is pretty good and those schools know it. The Wolf Pack are off to a 5-0 start in the Mountain West and 16-3 overall. They’ve got a road game at San Jose State before a showdown with Boise State Saturday.
33. Boise State (NR): What, did you think no one was paying attention to the Broncos? The Broncos rallied after the overtime loss at Wyoming to win at Fresno State and beat San Diego State by three. Now comes Utah State Wednesday and the road trip to Nevada Saturday. The good news is the Broncos get two cracks at Nevada, so a loss won’t take them out of the race.
34. Indiana (NR): Hey now, look who is in the Power 36! The Hoosiers are playing their best basketball of the season, despite the loss of De’Ron Davis to a season-ending achilles injury. Indiana has won three in a row, winning at Minnesota, then taking out Penn State and Northwestern at home. OK, so the bid is a long shot at 11-7, 4-2 overall, an RPI of 116 and just one win in quadrant 1 and 1 in quadrant 2. So, you’re saying there is a chance? Well, the next game is at Michigan State Friday. What if the Hoosiers won? Then, yes, it all changes. So, for a few days, enjoy the Hoosiers playing well and making things very entertaining.
35. New Mexico State (NR): The Aggies are going to be one of the toughest teams to deal with in the first round of the NCAA tournament because of their length, athleticism and overall pesky behavior. Oh, yeah, lock it in, barring an upset in the WAC tournament title game. NMSU just won four-straight games on the road, including at Grand Canyon. Seattle and Utah Valley are up next and the Aggies should move to 17-3 and 5-0 in the league by week’s end. And with an RPI of 48 and at least one win in quadrant 1 (Miami), the Aggies are definitely a team to watch.
36. East Tennessee State (NR): The Buccaneers deserve some love in this last spot. They’ve won eight in a row since nearly taking down Xavier (up by 22 before losing on the road). They’re 14-4 overall, 5-0 in the Southern Conference and have a showdown against Furman Thursday before hosting Western Carolina Saturday. The RPI of 81 and zero quadrant 1 or 2 wins isn’t going to get them an at-large berth. There aren’t chances to improve those power rating categories. So, all they can do is win and win and win.