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Andy Katz | Correspondent | January 22, 2018

Andy Katz's Power 36: Who's in the NCAA tournament? (Jan. 22)

  Cincinnati hasn't lost since Dec. 9.

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.

Here’s the deal: the top three teams are a given. The rest of the Top 10 is starting to take shape. But the range of teams from No. 11 on down is growing. Let's take a look:

1. Villanova (Last week: 1)

The Wildcats are a machine. The latest teams subjected to the machine were Georgetown and UConn on the road, the latter being in a non-conference game. If I have to pick one team that will be in the Final Four, it’s Villanova. Jalen Brunson is also playing like a national player of the year candidate. He may not have Trae Young’s numbers, but he’s on his heels for the honor. The Wildcats are hosting Providence on Tuesday and are at Marquette on Sunday.

2. Purdue (2)

The Boilermakers are my second pick to be a lock for the Final Four, if I had to pick another team right now. Purdue dismantled Iowa on the road as if the game was at Mackey Arena. I don’t see the Boilermakers losing at home, not this season. Mackey Arena is currently one of the top three home courts in the country, along with playing at Kansas and Duke. Purdue has to have an elite team to make that happen, and this season the Boilers do. The starting five is as good as any team in the nation. And this team is old — in a good way, much like Nova. Purdue hosts Michigan on Thursday and is at Indiana on Sunday.

3. Virginia (3)

The defense has been phenomenal, holding Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to 48 and 49 points, respectively, on their home courts. The Cavaliers are one of the surprise teams in the country. They are confident, can score easily, and defend just as well as a year ago. This week should tell a lot about the ACC race with the Cavaliers hosting Clemson on Tuesday and then traveling to Duke on Saturday.

4. Cincinnati (7)

Seriously, is there a team that is this good with so little publicity? The Bearcats could get to the Final Four, and no one should be shocked. This team defends, has a variety of scorers and is going to win the American -- book it. The Bearcats host Temple on Wednesday and are at Memphis on Saturday.

5. Arizona (10)

The Wildcats listened well to head coach Sean Miller. They responded to the loss at Colorado. Since then, the they have won four in a row, including sweeping the Bay Area schools and knocking off Stanford. Now comes the rematch with Colorado, and Utah on Saturday. Something tells me the Wildcats and the fans will be jacked to see the Buffaloes come to Tucson.

6. Kansas (11)

The Jayhawks have had quite a week, winning at West Virginia, knocking off Baylor at home, and finding out Billy Preston won’t play for them and will be playing pro in Bosnia. The Big 12 goes through Lawrence. End of story. The schedule will still be rigorous, and there are no givens, but Kansas is still the favorite to win its fourteenth straight Big 12 title. The next showdown is at Oklahoma on Tuesday before the SEC/Big 12 Challenge game Saturday against Texas A&M.

7. Ohio State (12)

The Buckeyes are blossoming before our eyes, and Ohio State is only going to get better. Sure, Keita Bates-Diop is a star. But others are coming into their supporting roles, too. Kaleb Wesson is one of them, and will end up being tough to defend as the season progresses. The Buckeyes host Nebraska on Monday and Penn State on Thursday. They’ve got two more at home next week, which means Ohio State could be 12-0 heading into a road showdown at Purdue.

8. Duke (16)

The Blue Devils are starting to look like they did in November again — at least, on the offensive end. It’s hard to gauge the Blue Devils on D since two of their recent games were against a middling Pitt team. But the frontline of Marvin Bagley III, Gary Trent Jr., and Wendell Carter, Jr., is daunting. Duke is at Wake Forest on Tuesday, and then hosts Virginia on Saturday in a huge ACC showdown.

9. West Virginia (6):

The Mountaineers missed a golden chance to move ahead of the Jayhawks when they lost at home to Kansas. That came on the heels of losing last weekend at Texas Tech. But fret not, the Mountaineers knocked off Texas at home handily. West Virginia is at TCU on Monday before hosting Kentucky in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday in yet another chance to prove the Mountaineers can be a Final Four contender.

10. Michigan State (14)

The Spartans finally looked the part of being an elite, Final Four, title team in pounding Indiana last Friday night. Now comes the hard part: consistency. The Spartans are at Illinois Monday and host Wisconsin on Friday before ending the week at Maryland on Sunday. This is where the experience of the Spartans should play well for them. It should also show whether or not Michigan State still has a shot at competing for the top spot in the Big Ten. Purdue and Ohio State may not slip enough this week to open that door for the Spartans. Michigan State has to keep pace.

11. Xavier (15): The Musketeers got the win that they have needed to reinsert themselves into the national conversation at Seton Hall. This was a big one for Xavier’s profile, considering the last time they had a big game on the road they got squashed at Villanova. Xavier hosts Marquette on Wednesday in its only game of the week.

12. Rhode Island (18): The Rams are rolling. URI knocked off UMass at home, and then won at Dayton. Up next is a game at Fordham on Wednesday and then surging Duquesne on Saturday. The Rams still have to play twice against Davidson, which looks to be the toughest challenger to the Rams in the A-10. But it’s about time URI got its due. This team has deep March potential.

13. North Carolina (23): The Tar Heels had quite a good week at home, beating back upstart Clemson before taking down Georgia Tech. UNC has won four in a row. The Tar Heels are at Virginia Tech on Monday before hosting NC State on Saturday. The Tar Heels dominated the backboard in the win over Georgia Tech, a great sign of how and why this team could still reach its potential.

14. Michigan (9)

The Wolverines had an exhausting week, but in the end a productive one by winning two of three, topping Maryland and Rutgers while losing at Nebraska. The defense was locked in against Rutgers on Sunday, limiting the Scarlet Knights to 47 points. The Wolverines catch a break in the scheduling sort of with only one game this week. Well, it just happens to be at Purdue on Thursday.

15. Florida (31): It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but who cares? The Gators won at Kentucky after beating Arkansas. The Gators have now ascended toward the top of the SEC, the same spot they looked like they could claim in November. Two home games this week should further the rise — South Carolina, and then Baylor in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

16. Oklahoma (4): The Sooners had to drop in the Power 36 after dropping two games at Kansas State and at Oklahoma State. Trae Young has been sensational ... at scoring. But the turnovers and number of shots have to come down for the Sooners to eventually reach their potential. Oklahoma has two more chances this week to rise back up with a game against Kansas on Tuesday in Norman before going to Alabama on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

College basketball: Opportunity abounds for Final Four hopefuls Purdue, Virginia

17. Texas Tech (5): The Red Raiders were bound to hit the wall of the Big 12. Tech went to Texas and then Iowa State. There are NO easy games in the Big 12. ZERO. The most troubling aspect of the two-game swing was scoring only 52 at Iowa State. But this Red Raider team has been resilient. Expect Tech to respond quite well against Oklahoma State on Tuesday and likely again Saturday at South Carolina in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

18. Seton Hall (13): OK, now we’re into the Power 36 portion where everyone has flaws. The Pirates are no longer immune to them after losing at Creighton by 17 and Xavier at home by nine. But I believe in the Pirates. This team has too much experience and versatility on the perimeter and inside to be dismissed. The Pirates get a week to work on themselves before going to DePaul on Sunday.

19. Louisville (28)

The Cardinals are quietly having quite a season under David Padgett in the ACC. Louisville has won four in a row to move to 5-1, including a double overtime win at Notre Dame. Now let’s see how Louisville handles the next week. A road game at Miami on Wednesday and a home game against Wake Forest should be another good barometer. A split keeps Louisville on pace.

20. Clemson (22): The Tigers are 2-2 in their last four games, losing both on the road. OK, we get it: Clemson is a beast at home. But the road has been a different story, save the road game at Boston College. So, this week will be another trial for the Tigers with games at Virginia and at Georgia Tech. A split would help the overall profile.

21. Auburn (19): The Tigers followed up a road loss to rival Alabama with an epic second-half comeback against Georgia.

The house was rocking and Bruce Pearl couldn’t stop smiling. This team has something, a mojo that Pearl hasn’t had yet at Auburn. The Tigers head to Mizzou on Wednesday and then host LSU on Saturday. Pearl said on our March Madness 365 podcast last week that no game is a given either way. But this team tends to play on the edge, relishing every minute.

22. Tennessee (20): Here’s what you need to know about Rick Barnes’ crew: This team has grit. The Vols didn’t play well at Mizzou and lost by four, but then took down South Carolina in Columbia, stealing the Gamecocks’ momentum after they had knocked off Kentucky. Up next is Vanderbilt and a road game at Iowa State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Vols will get into the NCAAs and be a tough out. Book it.

23. SMU (NR): Hey, guess who is back in the Power 36 and on the road to a potential NCAA berth? The Mustangs. A win at Wichita State and then a home win over Tulane puts the Mustang back in the good graces in the American at 4-3. Now, the Mustangs must take this act on the road again and win agains UConn on Thursday and at home against East Carolina on Sunday.

24. Houston (NR)

The Cougars are back in the Power 36 like their conference rival SMU. Houston lost at Tulane but then the bounce back win over Wichita State Saturday was proof this team has staying power. Rob Gray is a stud and can lead this team to the tournament. Houston has a week to work on itself with a game against South Florida up next on Sunday. That’s good because the following week is going to be tough with games at Cincinnati and UCF.

25. Providence (NR): The Friars are back in the NCAA tournament space, as well as the Big East’s top four. The Friars knocked off Butler and Creighton at home to run the win streak to four. Oh, but guess what? The next two games are brutal. The Friars go to No. 1 Villanova on Tuesday before taking a week before going to Seton Hall. Yikes.

26. Saint Mary’s (NR): The Gaels are playing their best basketball of the season with an impressive three-point win at Gonzaga and then a three-point win at Pacific to go to 19-2 overall, 8-0 in the WCC. Saint Mary’s had to beat Gonzaga at least once. To do it in Spokane is the kind of win that can ultimately help the Gaels get a bid. The home slate gets tougher with games against BYU on Thursday and Portland on Saturday.

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27. Gonzaga (17): The Zags let the lead over the Gaels slip and then late-game management wasn’t their finest hour. But a 15-point win at Santa Clara on Saturday was a positive sign. The Zags will be fine ultimately, but they need to work on closing out close games, something that was an issue in November and December. Gonzaga is at Portland on Thursday before hosting San Francisco on Saturday.

28. Wichita State (8): Now we’re into the penalty phase of the Power 36. The Shockers still have the look of a team that could go far in the NCAAs, but this was a troubling week, losing at home to SMU and at Houston. Those two teams are legit and ultimately could/should be in the field. Wichita State has a chance to get healthy this week in two games where they will be challenged versus UCF on Thursday and Tulsa on Sunday.

29. Kentucky (21)

The Wildcats continue to be up and down in the Power 36. The consistency is a struggling. Losing at South Carolina and at home to Florida raises a red flag about how this team deals with late-game situations. How they handle this week — at home against Mississippi State and at West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge — could go a long way toward gauging where this team will be in a month. Playing well against Press Virginia would be a positive sign, even if they don’t win in Morgantown. Playing well and winning at Rupp against Mississippi State is a must.

30. Nevada (32): Caleb Martin and the Wolf Pack are going to get a decent seed and have a great shot to win a game in the first round. Watch. The six-point win over Boise State was another example of how this team finds ways to win. The Wolf Pack have won seven in a row. Playing at Wyoming on Wednesday will be another challenge the rest of the country fully doesn’t appreciate.

31. Creighton (25): The Bluejays still have a diverse and dangerous offense, even without third-leading Martin Krampelj to a season-ending injury. The Bluejays lost a road game at Providence, but took apart Seton Hall at home. That might be the norm the rest of the season — be extremely tough to knock out at home, but struggle on the road. This could be a good week to change that narrative at St. John’s on Tuesday before hosting Georgetown on Saturday.

32. Alabama (NR): Avery Johnson is putting together quite an interesting season. The Tide beat Auburn and Mississippi State at home without Collin Sexton (abdominal injury). This squad is a constantly evolving and hasn’t even come close to its potential. The Tide are at Ole Miss on Tuesday and then host Trae Young and Oklahoma on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

33. Arizona State (26):

I can’t give up on the Sun Devils yet. I just can’t. But it will get harder and harder to keep them in if they continue this loss-win-loss-win stretch at home and on the road. Utah and Colorado come calling Thursday and Saturday. The Sun Devils have to get back on a roll.

34. Miami (27): The Hurricanes had lost two in a row — at Clemson and then at home to Duke before salvaging the week with a road win at NC State Sunday night. Miami will find out if it’s a contender or pretender this week with games against Louisville on Wednesday and at Florida State on Saturday.

35. New Mexico State (NR): What you thought I would drop the Aggies out after a week? Hardly. This wasn’t a token appearance. The Aggies are the real deal, pounding Utah Valley last week. A road game at UMKC is the one game this week. So, I don’t anticipate the Aggies going anywhere.

36. East Tennessee State (NR): The Buccaneers had a legit challenge by playing at Furman. They won by one and then crushed Western Carolina by 16. But this is a week where ETSU will see if it can create distance in the Southern Conference race with games against Mercer Wednesday and then at Wofford Saturday.

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