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Andy Katz | NCAA.com Correspondent | January 29, 2018

Rhode Island leaps, Duke tumbles in latest Power 36

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.

Time to justify the weekly Power 36. Why am I selling these teams to you this week? Here's why:

1. Villanova (1):

Jalen Brunson. He scored 31 Sunday in the win over Marquette and is in position to possibly take the pole position in the national player of the year chase. The Wildcats got pushed at Marquette, but they rarely get rattled or fazed. This is a modern-day machine in the sport. Expect Nova to keep on rolling through Creighton on Thursday and Seton Hall on Sunday at home this week.

2. Purdue (2):

The Boilermakers have had issues with Michigan. Two games and two tight affairs. But Purdue won them both. Why? Experience. Purdue knows how to finish games. And that’s why any deficit doesn’t seem to be an issue, as was the case early against Indiana in Bloomington on Sunday. Maryland comes into Mackey Arena on Wednesday before a trip to the RAC Saturday at Rutgers.

3. Virginia (3):

Methodical. The Cavaliers have a plan and stick to it. They have complete buy-in. How else do you explain a team with only two double-digit scorers being so disciplined? Virginia locked Clemson away from the basket as the Tigers scored only 36 points. Duke managed 63 on its home court. It was a statement week for the Cavaliers. This team can win the national title. The Cavs don’t have to be better than previous, and more talented, Virginia teams. This is all relative to the competition this season. And this team can beat any team this season. That’s all you have to know.

4. Cincinnati (4):

Defense. The Bearcats defend as well as, if not better than, any team in the country. Temple scored 42. Memphis scored 48 at home. That's dominance. Houston is up next Wednesday in an AAC showdown before traveling to UConn on Saturday.

5. Arizona (5):

The season is not a sprint, it's a marathon. There will be plenty of highs and lows. And the Wildcats rode them early. Now they’re on the type of roll that could put them in position for a Final Four run. Arizona has developed a diverse collection of scorers of late, too. The sweep of Colorado and Utah has them on the verge of running away with the Pac-12 title. The road trip to the Washington schools, Pullman first and then Seattle, is on tap for Wednesday and Saturday this week.

6. Xavier (11):

The Musketeers had one game last week. And they blitzed Marquette by 19. Resiliency is the word for this squad. They have forgotten how bad they looked against Villanova and have been on a rampage since, outside one close game against St. John’s. The return game to the Red Storm is Tuesday, before Georgetown comes Saturday. Book two wins to keep the Musketeers surging.

7. Kansas (6): 

Bounce-back. The Jayhawks ran into a desperate Oklahoma and fell by five, but then turned around and took apart Texas A&M by 11. Anytime it looks like Kansas is going sideways the Jayhawks correct themselves and get on a roll. Now, the schedule continues to be daunting in the Big 12, but Kansas still goes into each game as the team to beat, regardless of venue. That’s true for Monday’s game against Kansas State for sure. Oklahoma State finishes the week in Phog Allen on Saturday.

8. Michigan State (10):

On the court, this team is locked in right now like no other time this season. Michigan State is dealing with hostile environments and thriving, as was the case Sunday against Maryland. That joint was jumping and yet the Spartans emerged winners by six. MSU went on a 20-4 run to erase a 13-point halftime deficit, and that was that. The next week should be another interesting test with suddenly-hot Penn State arriving in East Lansing on Wednesday before going to Indiana on Saturday.

9. Rhode Island (12):

Winners. That’s what the Rams have right now. Winners. Stanford Robinson’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knock off Duquesne was the type of play winners claim en route to a special season. And don’t scoff at Duquesne one bit. If you don’t know that the Dukes are a formidable foe this season then you might want to take a closer look. URI will take its act on the road this week at UMass on Tuesday and at VCU on Friday. Normally, this would mean possibly two Ls, since the rivalry road and a trip to Richmond can be daunting. Not this season. Not with this group.

10. Ohio State (7): 

The Buckeyes shouldn’t be penalized too much for losing on a buzzer-beater to Penn State at home. Sorry, not going to do it. The game was crazy and the Buckeyes made a tremendous comeback to tie the game. OK, so they lost. That doesn’t take anything away from how far Ohio Sate has come. They held on to beat Nebraska earlier in the week. The Buckeyes have two home games this week that will test them again but prove they are a Big Ten title contender with games against Indiana on Tuesday and Illinois on Sunday.

11. Duke (8): The Blue Devils can look so dominant, like they did against Wake Forest in Winston Salem, but then can be flustered. Virginia was in control of the game in Durham and won by two. The late-game finish was all dictated by Virginia. Duke has oodles of talent and is at times unstoppable in the post. But decision making late is still an issue. Duke will likely return to the win column again this week against Notre Dame on Monday and then at St. John’s on Saturday.

12. Florida (15): The Gators still need to handle winning. They fell flat after the road win at Kentucky, losing by five to South Carolina at home. But then the Gators walloped Baylor by 21. Making 14 threes will do that for a team. When the Gators are making shots, mostly threes like they were earlier in the season, this team can go (pardon the pun) deep. When they falter, they can look very ordinary. This week will be an interesting barometer for the Gators with games at Georgia on Tuesday and against Alabama on Saturday.

13. Auburn (21): Entertaining. That’s what pops in my mind when I think about the Tigers right now. Auburn is putting up points, with 91 against Missouri in Columbia and 95 against LSU. Nobody outside that locker room saw this coming. Nobody. The Tigers are at Ole Miss and host Vanderbilt this week, sporting a gaudy 19-2 overall record, and 7-1 in the SEC.

14. Tennessee (22):

Unknown. The Vols may be one of the best teams that gets very little pub. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tennessee in the second weekend of the tournament. Tennessee held Iowa State to 45 points. I don’t care if the Cyclones are rebuilding: that’s 45 points at Hilton Coliseum. That’s impressive. Now the key will be maintaining that effort this week against LSU Wednesday and Ole Miss Saturday to continue to pad the resume.

15. Houston (24): Bandwagon. Yup, I’ve been driving it for Houston for a while now. The Cougars defend. They finish games. And they are tough and gritty like their coach Kelvin Sampson. They had one game last week and crushed South Florida by 23. Now comes the toughest week of the season — at Cincinnati on Wednesday and at UCF on Saturday. Trust me, they may not win, but they will be prepared.

16. NC State (NR): Finally. Yes, finally the Wolfpack have the ACC road win that should have everyone recognizing that this team is the real deal when it’s right. The Wolfpack had already beaten Duke and Clemson at home and Arizona on a neutral. But winning at North Carolina was a strong signal that Kevin Keatts’ crew is in this race to stay. The Wolfpack have a week of practice to get ready for Notre Dame on Saturday. This is the week where they get even better. Watch.

17. North Carolina (13): The Tar Heels still have the goods to be a dangerous team in the ACC tournament and into March. But they’ve now lost two games at home to teams that they weren’t expected to win in Wofford and NC State. Oh, and they’re on their second two-game losing streak. The next game is at Clemson on Tuesday before hosting Pitt on Saturday. This losing skid could extend to three games in a row. But maybe this is where the Tar Heels show us that they have the resiliency to stop the skid.

18. Michigan (14): Geez, the Wolverines can’t beat Purdue. I mean, come on. (To be fair, Purdue could win the national title.) The Wolverines' only other loss since Dec. 4 was at Nebraska against a Huskers team that was desperate for a significant win. Michigan should get better this next week with Northwestern at home Monday and Minnesota on Saturday. These are the type of home games that can separate the Wolverines from the pack.

19. Oklahoma (16):

Here’s a theory: maybe the loss at Alabama wasn’t all that bad for the Sooners. Trae Young didn’t lead the Sooners in scoring or to a victory like he did against Kansas and many other times this season. The Sooners can still reach their potential this season, but this is a team that is a work in progress and has barely scratched its potential. This should be another telling week with games against Baylor on Tuesday and at Texas on Saturday.

20. Alabama (32): Resiliency. The Tide have dealt with injuries throughout the season and continue to find a way. Collin Sexton back healthy means this team might be finally able to be even more consistent after a week of losing at Ole Miss and knocking off Oklahoma. Onto Missouri and then at Florida this week.

21. Kentucky (29): Kevin Knox. Yes, he scored 34 in the win at West Virginia. And yes, John Calipari continues to say how much he loves this team. And he should. If this were say — anywhere else — the Wildcats would have time to develop and go through some growing pains. But in the world of instant gratification and immediate results, the Wildcats aren’t afforded that type of progress. Kentucky has the ability to get on a roll here with home games against Vanderbilt and at Missouri. That’s if they play the way they did against West Virginia. And that’s all entirely possible.

22. West Virginia (9): This just seems odd. West Virginia shouldn’t be this low. But… losing its second home game, granted to another blue blood, forces West Virginia to drop. The Mountaineers are on a two-game skid and the first game at TCU Monday was probably their poorest showing since the opener against Texas A&M. Now comes a game they should win at Iowa State Wednesday and a tough home game Saturday against Kansas State. This team will ultimately be fine but this stretch will test them.

23. Louisville (19):

The Cardinals lost by three in overtime at Miami. There is no shame in that at all. They turned around and beat Wake Forest handedly at home. The problem is that any momentum from the week could be stunted with a road trip to Virginia on Wednesday. The Cavaliers have a way of making teams look lost offensively. Still, Louisville has done a great job of playing the full 40 under David Padgett. A potential separation game comes on the weekend when Florida State arrives. The Cardinals are looking for the Seminole sweep after beating FSU earlier in the month in Tallahassee.

24. Clemson (20): Forgive the Tigers if they only scored 36 points against Virginia. They didn’t have Donte Grantham. But that’s why the 72-70 win over Georgia Tech was so significant. It proved that the Virginia game wasn’t going to beat Clemson twice. The road win in Atlanta should do wonders for how the Tigers' reset and refocus for North Carolina on Tuesday. Get that one and the Tigers will be right back in the thick of the race for second place (we’re handing Virginia the ACC title here in this space). A road game at Wake on Saturday will be another game that Clemson can and maybe should win to stay on pace if it knocks off UNC.

25. Saint Mary’s (26): The Gaels have looked as impressive as any team recently, dispatching BYU and Portland at home last week. San Francisco is next before a road trip to pesky San Diego. Gonzaga would love to pounce on one Saint Mary’s slip before they meet again on Feb. 10 in Moraga. If it were to happen, then it would be at USD. But this Gaels team is proving to be disciplined when it gets pushed.

26. Gonzaga (27): The Zags are doing what they do best in the WCC — taking apart everyone other than Saint Mary’s and BYU. There was a time when one of the other teams might catch them napping, but it’s very rare. Gonzaga now gets San Diego on Thursday and BYU on Saturday at home. They just have to keep pace with the Gaels in the quest for the WCC title. BYU has played well at the Kennel, but the Cougars have struggled to close out games this season.

27. Providence (25): OK, so the Friars lost by 20 at Villanova. So? That’s not out of the ordinary in this league. Now the test for the Friars will be can the duplicate their efforts in the previous two games in wins over Butler and Creighton at home again this week at Seton Hall on Wednesday and at Marquette on Saturday?

28. Seton Hall (18):

The Pirates got healthy by pounding DePaul by 16 on the road. That came after losing two in a row at Creighton and against Xavier. Still love this team. They’ve got in the inside-out pair, and a defensive mindset that will bode well in March. This could be another gauging week with Providence at home Wednesday and then the monster showdown Sunday at Villanova. The Pirates will try to dampen the Philadelphia Super Bowl Sunday crowd.

29. Texas Tech (17): Keenan Evans. Stud. Star. He scored 31 in the win over South Carolina. The two-game losing streak now seems like a distant memory. Oh, but the schedule in the Big 12 is not forgiving. Texas Tech hosts Texas on Wednesday and is at TCU on Saturday. Relentless.

30. Wichita State (28): OK, now we see you again. The Shockers got back to being Wichita State the past week, dismantling teams with their defense (81-62 over UCF) and putting their offense all together (90-71 over Tulsa). The American road should provide another test this week with one game at Temple on Thursday.

31. Nevada (30): Once again, the Wolf Pack shouldn’t be dinged must at all for losing a double-overtime game at Wyoming. The AA is one of the tougher venues in the West. Seen it. Know it. Nevada is tourney-good. The Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, are flourishing in their new digs. This team will be just fine. Fresno State comes Wednesday before a road trip to Colorado State on Saturday.

32. Creighton (31): Adaptable. That’s the Bluejays. Creighton lost Martin Krampelj for the season, but the offense hasn’t suffered dramatically with Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas still filling up the stat sheet. Wins over St. John’s on the road and at home against Georgetown showed how the Bluejays can win a manufactured game in the 60s or a shootout in the high 70s and 80s. Creighton is at Villanova on Thursday in the one game this week. That’s enough.

33. Texas (NR):

The Longhorns have Mo Bamba and other teams don’t. He is a game changer. Love watching him play, run the floor and alter shots before they are even taken. He was on full display against Ole Miss. Loved his line: 25 points, four blocks, 15 boards, 12-13 at the line and 6 of 8 overall. The Longhorns have a monster week ahead at Texas Tech on Wednesday and at home against Oklahoma. Breathe. Whew.

34. Buffalo (NR): Welcome to the Power 36, Buffalo. The Bulls are rolling in the MAC. They’re 8-0 and have already won four road games in the league. If you don’t follow the MAC, you may not know how difficult the road venues are in this league. The issue for Buffalo is they couldn’t land a knockout in the nonconference. So, Buffalo has to earn an automatic bid in the MAC. But they are well on their way to getting the top seed in the conference tournament.

35. New Mexico State (35): The Aggies are rolling along with an 18-3 record, 6-0 in the WAC after winning at UMKC. Games against Northern New Mexico on Tuesday and UT Rio Grande Valley on Saturday aren’t going to move the meter much at all. All the Aggies can do is rack up the wins and have people doubt just how difficult they will be to beat in a first-round game in March.

36. East Tennessee State (36): The Buccaneers have handled every Southern Conference challenge. Everyone. They are 9-0. They beat Greensboro. They won at Furman. And last Saturday, they beat Wofford on the road. The Bucs head to The Citadel Monday and host Samford on Thursday and Chattanooga on Saturday. They just have to keep winning. That is all.