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Andy Katz | Correspondent | February 19, 2018

Villanova returns to the top in the 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. These rankings are his own and are in no way affiliated with the committee.

For this week’s Power 36 let’s go ahead and lock in with the teams that were playing the best basketball this past week. Some of these teams did lose, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be ranked high. There are a lot of new teams in the bottom part of the poll. Let's dive in. 

1. Villanova (Last week: 9)

The Wildcats are the most reliable team in the field. That doesn’t mean they will win the title. But when Villanova needs a win, it usually gets it. The win at Xavier was one of the most impressive of the season.

2. Virginia (4)

The Cavaliers have one wart: a late possession overtime loss to Virginia Tech. That’s it. The defense, experience and calmness to this club is contagious.

3. Michigan State (5)

The Spartans looked dead against Northwestern before an epic comeback. That shows the grit this crew has and is proof that Michigan State can return to its rightful spot as one of the title contenders.

4. Arizona (14)

No team had to sweat out as rough a road environment last week as the Wildcats. That was some intense heat Arizona had to deal with and yet they survived and advanced. Arizona is making a strong case to be a top two line team.

5. Duke (13)

The Blue Devils are starting to look the part of a title contender again after dispatching Clemson on the road without Marvin Bagley III. The Blue Devils are now getting money shots from Grayson Allen. And the depth up front, notably Wendell Carter, is proving to be invaluable. Sure, Clemson was depleted. But this was still a road game in which Duke had to earn everything.

6. Xavier (1)

The Musketeers didn’t deliver at home against Villanova. But that should hardly be something to quibble over. Xavier will still challenge for a top two line seed and could get a third shot against the Wildcats in the Big East tournament in New York.

7. Wichita State (NR)

The Shockers played a high level game Sunday in a road win at Cincinnati after dispatching Temple at home. The Shockers are proving to be more than capable to play up during the regular season, just like they have in the postseason under Gregg Marshall. That road win Sunday will go down as one of the best under Marshall prior to March.

8. Gonzaga (11)

The Zags have won nine in a row and are looking every bit the part of a team that could contend for a national title. Gonzaga wasn’t ready for the schedule it had earlier in the season. But they are now. The Zags could hang with anyone and aren’t making the same unforced mistakes they did earlier in the season.

9. North Carolina (10)

The Tar Heels have won five in a row and the win at Louisville was a strong statement that UNC should be considered a contender for the ACC tournament title. Carolina has a real shot to still earn the second seed in the ACC tournament, too. The combination of Joel Berry II and Luke Maye is providing the necessary pop and experience to get the Tar Heels across the finishing line in the regular season.

10. Kansas (19)

Well, well, well, the Jayhawks are on the verge of possibly winning their 14th-straight Big 12 title if they can get past Oklahoma on Monday night and take out Texas Tech on Saturday in Lubbock. Do that and Kansas is going to win the title. The Jayhawks beat back a strong challenge from West Virginia and know now what it will take to finish games and compete for the title.

11. Texas Tech (6): The Red Raiders did lose to Baylor and the status of Keenan Evans is unknown. Hopefully he will be back for the Kansas game at the latest since Texas Tech deserves to have its team complete for what could be the biggest game in Lubbock — maybe ever. Texas Tech is still one of the top defensive teams, but losing Evans was too much to overcome.

12. Purdue (8): The Boilermakers ended their three-game slide by holding off Penn State Sunday night. Purdue did that without Vincent Edwards, who sprained his ankle the day before in practice. If healthy — and now that the losing skid is behind them — the Boilermakers are still a team worthy of consideration for a Final Four berth. They have to just get back to their identity, which they certainly looked like it was there against Penn State.

13. Rhode Island (7): The Rams lost at St. Bonaventure in a crazy, intense game in Olean, N.Y. That’s the Rams first loss in the A-10 this season. There’s no reason to think that should be some sort of punishment. URI will be just fine and handily win the A-10.

14. Michigan (21): The Wolverines have won three in a row and are starting to look like a team that could be a sleeper pick to make a deep run. Michigan’s offense is clicking at a high pace and the defense isn’t too shabby, either. The convincing win over Ohio State Sunday should send a strong signal to the rest of the league. A showdown at Penn State looms next week.

15. Cincinnati (2): The Bearcats lost two games last week, at Houston and at home to Wichita State. Cincinnati still has the chops to be a Final Four contender. But the Bearcats didn’t handle the expectation of being the favorite against teams that needed to make their mark. This past week may have damaged the seeding, but could be what the Bearcats needed to get a reset on the final few weeks.

16. Ohio State (3): The Buckeyes have dropped two in a row, losing at Penn State and Michigan. Ohio State needs to regroup and get back to starting well. Poor starts have contributed to deep holes the Buckeyes have had to try and climb out of lately. This is still a team with one of the best — if not the best — player in the country this season in Keita Bates-Diop. Don’t fret too much about this recent road slide.

17. Auburn (12): The Tigers fell at South Carolina and lost Anfernee McLemore to a season-ending injury. The Tigers still own a two-game lead in the SEC. But how they handle this injury and whether or not they can sustain it remains unknown. The schedule continues to get tougher with Alabama coming to Auburn and then a trip to Florida, which has turned into the hardest team to predict in the SEC.

18. Houston (18): The Cougars won both games this past week to likely lock in a possible berth. Beating Cincinnati for the season split and then winning at Temple was the most significant week for the Cougars since Kelvin Sampson was hired. I fell for this group in November. Nothing has changed.

MORE: How Villanova and Wichita State triumphed over Cincinnati's finest this weekend

19. Clemson (22): The Tigers have tremendous wins for a team that didn’t get the preseason respect it deserved. This was a hard week for Clemson, losing in overtime to Florida State on the road and then falling to Duke at home Sunday. The short-handed Tigers will need to regroup and figure out how to close out games better in the coming weeks.

20. NC State (24): The Wolfpack had an impressive week, winning at Syracuse and then at Wake Forest. Kevin Keatts would be a strong contender for ACC coach of the year if Tony Bennett hadn’t been crushing it this season. Keatts has the Wolfpack NCAA bound by playing a strong schedule and not letting it wear this team down.

21. Tennessee (17): The Vols missed an opportunity to pull closer to Auburn, but this is still a team that could be a trendy pick to win the SEC tournament. Tennessee has balance and a stud in Grant Williams, who should deliver when the games matter most.

22. Penn State (NR): The Nittany Lions deserve all of this praise. Penn State hammered Ohio State at home earlier in the week and then took Purdue down to the final few seconds at Mackey Arena. There is no way you can’t watch Penn State and say “that’s an NCAA tournament team.” Penn State has to watch a face plant in the final week, but the opportunities remain to earn a bid.

23. Missouri (16): The Tigers will be a trendy pick in the SEC tournament as a possible winner with it being played in St. Louis. But the reason should be because this team defends like a top 10 team. There is all this speculation about Michael Porter, Jr. coming back. But he doesn’t need to for the Tigers to be a factor in March. They already are on the path to do so.

24. Nevada (34): The Wolf Pack were ripe to be beaten and knocked from the top perch in the Mountain West. But what happened? They went out and swept Boise State and Utah State on the road. Remember, road wins matter more.

25. Arkansas (NR): Hey, guess who has won four in a row? Arkansas. The Hogs even won one road game during that stretch at Ole Miss. The win over a depleted Texas A&M was convincing at Bud Walton. Kentucky comes calling next before one of the toughest end of season slates in the SEC with games at Alabama, Auburn and at Missouri.

26. Alabama (15): The Tide did lose at Kentucky. But watch Alabama and you’ll see how much this team could be a sleeper pick to make a deep run. If they stay healthy — and that’s not been a given — Alabama has the versatility to be a tough out. Don’t sleep on Avery Johnson’s crew once the NCAA tournament begins.

27. Baylor (NR): Why not? The Bears have knocked off Kansas and Texas Tech — the top two teams in the Big 12. Barring a face plant, the Bears have put themselves in position to earn an NCAA tournament berth.

28. Kentucky (NR): The Wildcats leap back into the mix after the win over Alabama ended a four-game slide. Alabama is ahead of Kentucky because overall in the SEC, the Tide have been better (see: wins over Auburn and Tennessee, two teams Kentucky didn’t beat).

29. Butler (NR): Kelan Martin doesn’t get the national pub he deserves. This Butler team has risen up to the challenge on a number of occasions this season. The latest was knocking down Providence rather easily, to end a three-game losing streak.

30. UCLA (35): The Bruins swept the Oregon schools at home, but needed overtime to hold off the Ducks. UCLA has won six of the last seven games, including the road win at Arizona. But UCLA could see its seeding drop for the Pac-12 tournament with games at Utah, Colorado and USC to end the season.

31. West Virginia (NR): The Mountaineers have lost two of the past three games. The most stunning defeat was at home to Oklahoma State. Still, it’s hard not to see West Virginia being a major pest for any team to put out in the Big 12 and NCAA tournament.

32. Kansas State (NR): The Wildcats did get rocked at home against Texas Tech, but then last week won at Oklahoma State in a season-changing win before beating Iowa State. Kansas State has four Big 12 road wins in one of the tougher conferences to get those.

33. Providence (NR): The Friars beat Villanova by six in the best win of the season. But then the Friars got humbled a few days later at Butler. This all comes a week after the Friars were stunned by 17 points to DePaul at home. When the Friars want to be an intense defensive team then they have a chance to win critical games down the stretch and into the Big East tournament. That didn’t happen against DePaul, but it did when they needed to against Nova.

34. Syracuse (NR): The Orange added a significant piece to its NCAA tournament profile with a road win at Miami. Syracuse still has a brutal slate to end the season with UNC and Duke up next but the road win at Miami could give them some room to breathe.

35. Utah (NR): The Utes are making a late push toward an NCAA tournament birth after sweeping the Washington schools. Utah has already won at Arizona State, too. Utah finishes with three home games and could be in position to make the selection committee seriously consider their case.

36. St. Bonaventure (NR): The Bonnies handed Rhode Island its first A-10 loss in front of a raucous crowd in Olean, N.Y. The Bonnies have two exceptional guards in Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. They are seniors and it would be something special to see them make an NCAA tournament game.

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