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Andy Katz | NCAA.com Correspondent | February 5, 2018

Andy Katz's Power 36: Auburn's stock keeps rising

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 is starting to take shape of NCAA-bound teams from top to bottom. The teams listed look like they would be in the field today.

Now, don’t fret New Mexico State and East Tennessee State. You got bumped out for no fault of your own. You keep winning. But the wins this past week were a bit overshadowed by a few newcomers. Keep winning and you’ll be in the field. The Aggies are the better choice to get in if they run the table and only lose in the WAC final. ETSU would have a tougher go by winning out and then losing in the Southern final. Win out all the way and take out any doubt.

There are newcomers here below that have the look of winners, making big plays when the games matter most in February.

Onto the Power 36 (last week’s ranking)

1. Villanova (1) 

Omari Spellman is the latest to go off for the Wildcats. He had 26 and 11 in the win over Seton Hall. Seriously. If you’re questioning whether there are elite teams in college basketball this season, this is certainly one. St. John’s and Butler are on the docket this week in Philly.

2. Purdue (2) 

The Boilermakers get pushed. They get sent to the edge. And they find a way. They're machine-like. And don’t start with the "Boilermakers can’t advance deep" routine. History has no bearing this season. This team can do it. But, wow, this is going to be quite a week and test for Purdue: Ohio State at home Wednesday and then at Michigan State on Saturday.

MORE: Entering rivalry week, the college basketball world has been turned upside down

3. Virginia (3) 

Ho-hum. Virginia just keeps on cruising. Dominating. Defense. The Cavs beat Louisville by 10 at home and the Syracuse by 15 on the road. Once again, if you didn’t see this above, there are elite teams in college basketball this season. This week Virginia goes to Florida State and hosts Virginia Tech, a team that the Cavs rocked by 26 earlier in Blacksburg.

4. Cincinnati (4) 

The best four teams — right now — are these four. The Bearcats don’t always make it look gorgeous, but they get it done, especially defensively. A 10-point win over Houston and an eight-point win at UConn keep this train rolling. The Bearcats will host UCF and then take their act to SMU on Sunday this week. Catch them when you can.

5. Xavier (6)

Look, this may ruffle the locals in Cincinnati, that Xavier is one spot behind the Bearcats since they beat them soundly — in early December. But the Musketeers haven’t been as dominant since. That’s OK. The Musketeers have regained their swagger, even if they are getting pushed quite a bit (see: six-point win at St. John’s and eight-point overtime win against Georgetown). The road will get mighty tough this week in the Big East at Butler and Creighton.

6. Michigan State (8) 

The Spartans are getting everyone’s best shot in the Big Ten. But the slow starts are putting them in a bit of a hole. So far they have had the ability to climb out and knock off pesky Penn State and Indiana in Bloomington. The second half against Penn State was as good a 20 minutes as the Spartans have played in the Big Ten. They should win at Iowa and then the game against Purdue on Saturday should tell us a lot more about this group.

7. Rhode Island (9)

Yes, the Rams are top-10 good -- hey, everyone else is losing and the Rams are not. So give it up for the boys from Kingston. The Rams are playing like champions, finding a way to win. They are the hunted this season. And every A-10 team sees the Rams as a game to define their season. Davidson should be the next victim this week after the Rams swept road games at UMass and VCU.

8. Ohio State (10)

The Buckeyes rebounded well after the stunning loss to Penn State by sweeping Indiana and Illinois at home. Keita Bates-Diop was a superstar Sunday. Now, the Buckeyes will try to pull what was unthinkable two months ago and beat Purdue at home to move into a first-place tie in the Big Ten. A home game against Iowa awaits the fallout after the game in West Lafayette.

9. Auburn (13)

There’s no way anyone, not me, no one, not even Bruce Pearl and the gang, thought the Tigers would be top 10 in early February. But here we are. The Tigers are 21-2 and 9-1 in the SEC after winning at Ole Miss and beating Vanderbilt at home. Auburn gets Texas A&M and travels to Georgia this week in the quest to win the league.

10. Arizona (5)

The Wildcats can’t be dinged too much for losing a buzzer beater at Washington. The Huskies are the real deal (see below). Arizona is still the best team out West right now and a Final Four contender. UCLA and USC come to Tucson this week and will be hungry for a quality road win. That will be very tough to get against a team that has Deandre Ayton roaming the middle.

11. Tennessee (14): The Volunteers have been straight-up nasty on the defensive end the past week, holding LSU and Ole Miss to 61 points at home. Tennessee is the second-best team in the SEC this week. Deal. But now it gets interesting. How will the Vols handle the road at Kentucky and Alabama this week? Sweep those two and the Vols will be playing for more than a top two finish in the SEC. A high seed will come their way, too.

12. NC State (16): Yes, I’m this high on the Wolfpack. And why not? NC State has some of the best wins in the ACC outside of Virginia. The Wolfpack continue to get great shelf life out of the neutral-court win over Arizona. The 18-point win over Notre Dame is the type of game the Wolfpack wouldn’t have won in the past few seasons. They were coming off the high of the road win at UNC. But they didn’t fall flat. Well, this week will be another test with a road game at Virginia Tech before hosting UNC in going for the season sweep.

13. Texas Tech (29): OK, I was wrong. I’m not quite sure why I dropped Texas Tech so far after the losses at Texas and Iowa State. But I did. And now the Red Raiders are back, winning four in a row, including a road win at TCU. This should be the kind of week that shows the Red Raiders are a true Big 12 title contender. Iowa State at home and at Kansas State are two games they need to win to stay on pace to challenge for the league title. 

14. Saint Mary’s (25): The Gaels make a huge jump into the top 15 after a quality road win at San Diego where Jock Landale was something special with 34 points. That win gives the Gaels two of the best wins in the league on the road (the other would be at BYU this season since Saint Mary’s has already won at Gonzaga). The Gaels have a chance to essentially win the WCC if they can win at Loyola and then beat Gonzaga at home to get the season sweep. There are four more games to play after that one but the Zags would be two games back and down a sweep.

15. Kansas (7)

Earlier in the week, the Jayhawks looked like a top five team but by the end of the week they looked like one that should be in the middle of the top 25. Sorry, but as well as Oklahoma State played in that game, that’s still a game Kansas should win at home. Kansas has now lost two Big 12 home games, three overall, and actually four when they are the defacto home team. Stunning. The Jayhawks host TCU before going to Baylor this week. Now, with Texas Tech in step, they can’t afford slips to teams below them.

16. Duke (11): This just doesn’t make sense. Watch the Blue Devils and there is no way they should be this far down in the Power 36. Their seeding won’t reflect this number. And Duke is all about March, not winning the ACC regular-season title or even a non-conference game at St. John’s. But they are all interconnected since seeding does matter for the path to a title. Still, the Blue Devils have now lost two in a row and fallen to two teams this season (Boston College and St. John’s) on the road that won’t be in the NCAA tournament. Don’t be surprised to see Duke play its best game of the season at North Carolina Thursday. That would make more sense than what happened Saturday at MSG. A road game at Georgia Tech Sunday ends what could be a season-changing week.

17. Houston (15): Do yourself a favor and watch Rob Gray at some point this season. He’s having a special season. Now, the Cougars couldn’t hold off Cincinnati’s surge, but the Cougars definitely had the Bearcats nervous. But then Houston followed that up by splitting the road trip and winning at UCF. Home games against SMU and Tulane this week should keep the Cougars on pace to finish as high as second in the American.

18. North Carolina (17): The Tar Heels stopped the bleeding by beating woeful Pitt at home by 31. But the damage was done and the they entered that game with a three-game losing streak, thus justifying the them further down in the poll. The Heels have a monster week with the home game against Duke and then a road game at NC State. UNC is just 6-5 in the ACC. Let that sink in.

19. Washington (NR): The Huskies splash into the Power 36 like Dominic Green’s game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer that knocked off Arizona in Seattle. The Huskies swept the Arizona schools for their fourth-straight win. They are 7-3 in the Pac-12. They aren’t just looking like an NCAA team, they still can pursue a Pac-12 regular-season title. But they’ve got to continue the surge on the road at Oregon and Oregon State this week — all doable.

20. Michigan (18)

The Wolverines have proven they can win in a variety of ways — a low-scoring affair against Northwestern or a shootout in overtime against a desperate Minnesota. February seems to be John Beilein time where the Wolverines continue to improve and diversify. Road games at Northwestern and Wisconsin await Michigan this week as they jockey for Big Ten tournament seeding.

21. Texas (33): The Longhorns nearly clipped Texas Tech in Lubbock before losing in overtime. But they rebounded to take out Oklahoma. Texas is still incredibly young but the inspired Longhorns will be in the NCAA tournament and a good watch. The quest continues with Kansas State at home and a road game at TCU this week.

22. Missouri (NR): Welcome to the Power 36, Tigers! Mizzou knocked off Kentucky for the first time after winning at Alabama. The two wins earned Mizzou the NCAA.com team of the week honor. Those two wins came after a three-game skid. Mizzou now needs to continue to be consistent at Ole Miss and against Mississippi State.

23. Clemson (24): The Tigers had a great week by knocking off North Carolina at home and then winning at Wake Forest. Clemson has been able to absorb the loss of its second-leading scorer Donte Grantham. The good news for Clemson is the Tigers get Pitt next in the only game of the week. That bodes well for the Tigers holding steady or moving up a tad next week.

24. Oklahoma (15): Look the Sooners have one of the most electrifying and top talents in the game in Trae Young. But the team is still inexperienced in key spots and has faded in some key games as was evident at Texas. The Sooners have lost two of their past three. Oklahoma hosts West Virginia Monday and then is at Iowa State Saturday. OU could use a week where they play its best basketball of the season.

25. Gonzaga (26)

The Zags had lost three in a row in Spokane to BYU. So the eight-point home win over the Cougars was significant for Gonzaga. It also meant the Zags swept the home games against San Diego and BYU to stay a game behind Saint Mary’s in the week of the rematch. The Zags just need to get through Pacific first before the showdown in Moraga.

26. Providence (27): The Friars needed to get a quality road win and got it done at Marquette, avenging an earlier loss to the Golden Eagles in Providence. The Friars had a brutal road trip the previous two games at Villanova and at Seton Hall. The Friars can pad the resume with home games against Georgetown and DePaul this week.

27. Alabama (20): The Tide had one of the, if not their best, win of the season by knocking off Florida in Gainesville after falling to Mizzou by nine at home. Collin Sexton once again rose to the challenge and delivered. Now, let’s see how the Tide handle a road game at Mississippi State and a home game against upstart and surging Tennessee.

28. Florida (12): The Gators' shots weren’t falling and thus they lost. Florida fell at Georgia and at home to Alabama. The once SEC favorites are now 6-4 and desperately need to start finding ways to win when their shots are dropping. LSU at home and then a game at South Carolina are up next.

29. Miami (NR): The Canes are back in the Power 36 after picking up a road win at Virginia Tech. They also own a road win at NC State and have a split with Florida State on the resume. Miami will host Wake Forest and go to Boston College this week.

30. Florida State (NR)

The Seminoles get the nod here after winning at Louisville to get a split of the season series with the Cardinals. The road loss at Wake Forest is a bit troubling, but the Seminoles still have the goods to be an NCAA tournament team. They could do wonders for their profile with a win against Virginia Wednesday before hosting Notre Dame Saturday.

31. Nevada (31): The Wolf Pack are scorching at 20-4 overall, 9-1 in the Mountain West. They rebounded quite well after the double-overtime loss at Wyoming. Nevada should continue to roll with UNLV and San Diego State coming to Reno.

32. Temple (NR): The Owls are getting rewarded here for a GREAT week for them and the city of Philadelphia. Temple beat Wichita State in overtime and then took out Tulane on the road. Look, the 13-10 overall record and 5-6 in the American isn’t going to wow anyone. But don’t sleep on the overall resume with wins over Clemson and Auburn still on the docket. East Carolina and South Florida on the road are up next. Temple has to win those games to keep hope alive to get a bid.

MARCH MADNESS SHOP
33. Kentucky (21): The Wildcats can get their act together and be a factor in March. But they continue to play on the edges. They had to go to overtime to beat Vanderbilt at home and then lost by nine at Mizzou. Tennessee is up next and then a road game at Texas A&M. The Wildcats will either soar back up in the Power 36 or be out next week.

34. West Virginia (22): The Mountaineers were crushed by the flu, but it didn’t prevent them from beating Kansas State by 38 when they needed it more than any other game this season. That win stopped a three-game losing streak. West Virginia are at Oklahoma and then host Oklahoma State, a team that just won at Kansas. The Big 12 is unforgiving.

35. Seton Hall (28): It’s hard to punish the Pirates too badly after losing at Villanova. Everyone has so far this season. The Pirates had come off a home win over Providence. The Pirates host Marquette and are at Georgetown this week as they attempt to finish in the top three.

36. Creighton (32): The Bluejays are going to be fine — as long as they don’t have to go to Villanova. The Bluejays go to DePaul this week and then host Xavier in a game that could help determine Big East seeding.