Winning on the road in conference is never easy.
And it’s a reason why going undefeated sounds simple, but rarely happens.
The losses by Nevada at New Mexico and Kansas at Iowa State are the first of many for potential Final Four teams.
Strap in for what should be a wild ride in conference play.
Onto the debate:
1. Michigan (1): The Wolverines put away Indiana on Sunday and continue to meet every challenge to remain undefeated.
2. Tennessee (2): The Vols obliterated Georgia and made it perfectly clear that they are the team to beat in the SEC.
3. Virginia (3): The Cavaliers made Florida State look like the Seminoles didn’t belong in the top 25. But the Seminoles do. Virginia played that well.
4. Duke (4): The Blue Devils dispatched Clemson at Cameron, looking well rested and ready for the ACC grind.
IN-GAME ZION 360 😱pic.twitter.com/YhlLFXiiie— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 6, 2019
5. Michigan State (6): The Spartans got a monster road win at Ohio State without Joshua Langford, a clear sign that this team has the depth to challenge for the title.
6. Gonzaga (8): Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall are back and that means the Bulldogs are primed for a Final Four run (and likely not going to lose again during the regular season).
7. Texas Tech (10): The Red Raiders have something special going on with Chris Beard in Lubbock. This team is loose but doesn’t get fazed, as evidenced by a poor start against West Virginia before clicking into a second gear.
8. Houston (11): The Cougars are rolling. Kelvin Sampson has built a solid program, not just a quality team. I’m not sure he’s getting enough national recognition for the job he has done in resurrecting the Cougars.
9. NC State (12): The Wolfpack were pushed but proved they have the staying power to hang in the ACC race this season with their comeback against Miami. Sure, it was Miami, but it was on the road and proved NC State won’t wilt.
10. St. John’s (32): The Red Storm with the monster jump in the Power 36. St. John’s destroyed Marquette at home and then held on in overtime to win at Georgetown. The Red Storm have met every challenge so far this season and are currently the team to beat in the Big East.
11. Kansas (7): Now we’re entering the phase of the Power 36 where the results should push teams down further but it’s hard to dismiss the overall production and talent. Kansas didn’t have Udoka Azubuike and played at the second-best venue in the Big 12 at Iowa State and lost. That’s enough to warrant a drop but not too much to send them reeling. Azubuike is done for the season with a ligament injury to his right hand, but the Jayhawks shouldn’t drop further based on speculation of what might occur without him.
12. Nevada (5): The Wolf Pack had been playing on the edge of late and finally flamed out at The Pit in Albuquerque. New Mexico was amped up to put Nevada away and did. Nevada now needs to reset and understand it is the Super Bowl for every Mountain West opponent from this point forward.
13. Kentucky (9): The Wildcats had a chance to still tie or win at Alabama in the final seconds. This was a conference road game and so Kentucky can’t be dinged too much, especially when it had an opportunity to snatch a victory late.
14. Iowa State (27): The Cyclones made a huge leap after winning at Oklahoma State and taking down Kansas. They are healthy and look extremely confident.
15. Virginia Tech (26): The Hokies take another leap in the Power 36 after holding on to knock off Boston College. Virginia Tech hasn’t dazzled yet, but the Hokies have been methodical in dispatching foes.
16. North Carolina (17): The Tar Heels dispatched Harvard and Pitt this past week rather easily. The tough stuff gets going this week when the Tar Heels play NC State in a showdown in the triangle
17. TCU (22): The Horned Frogs took care of Baylor and are quietly putting together a top-four Big 12 campaign. Alex Robinson is a lead guard who needs to get more attention.
18. Indiana (13): The Hoosiers put up a gallant effort against Michigan in Ann Arbor. Romeo Langford is a star. And the Hoosiers will be in the thick of the race for a top-four finish in the Big Ten.
19. Oklahoma (19): The Sooners took down rival Oklahoma State and while they lost at Kansas they will be a major factor in the Big 12 over the next two months.
20. Auburn (21): The Tigers still need a real statement win. It will come. There is too much talent and experience returning from last year's tournament squad.
21. Mississippi State (28): The Bulldogs haven’t started their SEC slate yet. But give them time and they will fit right into the narrative of being a contender for a top-four finish.
22. Ohio State (15): The Buckeyes had to drop a bit after losing a home game — even if it was to one of the top teams in the country.
23. Minnesota (24): The Gophers are moving up after getting healthy and winning in Madison.
24. Maryland (NR): The Terps had a monster week, knocking off Nebraska and winning at Rutgers to finally announce that they are in the chase for a bid.
25. Buffalo (20): The Bulls opened up the MAC with a solid win over Eastern Michigan. Will Buffalo get tripped up in its league like Nevada? Possibly, but the Bulls aren’t slipping out of bid contention if they do happen to once.
26. LSU (35): The Tigers climb higher in large part to the losses above them. I’m intrigued to see how the Tigers will handle the expectations that they should be an upper-level SEC team.
27. Purdue (NR): The Boilermakers are back in the Power 36 after dismantling Iowa rather easily.
28. Ole Miss (NR): Say hello to the Rebels. Kermit Davis is working wonders in Oxford as Ole Miss beat Vanderbilt and served notice that it is in the race for a bid to stay.
29. Marquette (14): The Golden Eagles rebounded with a convincing win Sunday over Xavier. But Marquette had to drop after getting crushed at St. John’s. The Red Storm are a difficult team to keep off the 3-point line but Marquette didn’t defend well at all when needed.
30. Florida State (17): The Seminoles ran into one of the best (or possibly the best) team in the country in Virginia. They didn’t fare well at all. So, naturally, they have to take a tumble a bit in the poll.
31. Villanova (31): The Wildcats have a chance to re-assert themselves as a team to beat atop the Big East when they host St. John’s Tuesday. The win over DePaul was a bit dicey but the road win at Providence showed this team still has the "it" factor.
32. Seton Hall (18): I’m still Hall in on the Pirates but the performance Sunday at DePaul was troubling. Sure, Seton Hall made a strong comeback but they went through too much of an offensive funk in the first half to climb out of the hole.
33. Wisconsin (30): The Badgers redeemed themselves with a convincing road win at Penn State on Sunday after the dreadful offensive performance against Minnesota earlier in the week in Madison.
34. Missouri (34): The Tigers are creeping back up by virtue of losses ahead of them by Cincinnati to East Carolina and Nebraska to Maryland and Iowa. A showdown with Tennessee looms large.
35. Iowa (23): The Hawkeyes did beat Nebraska at home. But the loss at Purdue was still disappointing and showed Iowa must be better on the road before everyone gets all in on the Hawkeyes chances.
36. UCF (NR): The Knights return to the Power 36 after a strong 2-0 start in the AAC.
Team of the Week
Iowa State: The Cyclones are healthy and now a real threat with Texas Tech (and maybe TCU but I’m not so sure about that on the road long-term) to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title. The Cyclones, with Lindell Wigginton and Solomon Young back, had stellar performances from Marial Shayok and Tyrese Haliburton in an upset at home over the Udoka Azubuike-less Jayhawks. That came after winning at Oklahoma State earlier in the week. Iowa State has the second-best homecourt in the Big 12 at Hilton Coliseum behind Phog Allen at Kansas. And if they can clean up at home then they will have a shot.
Player of the week
Shamorie Ponds, Jr., St. John’s: Ponds was dazzling again, catapulting himself not just into the pole position for Big East Player of the Year, but he would now resides in the category of one of the frontrunners for national player of the year if the Red Storm can win the Big East (wouldn’t that be something if the Big East had back-to-back national player of the year winners from two different teams). Ponds scored 37 points in an overtime win over Georgetown and 26 in a dismantling of Marquette at home earlier in the week. Ponds overshadowed Marquette’s Markus Howard in the marquee matchup in Queens.
The backup five
Anthony Mathis, New Mexico: Mathis scored 27 points in the Lobos’ upset win over Nevada, sending the Pit into a frenzy.
Kamar Baldwin, Butler: Baldwin laid down 28 points in a must-win home game for the Bulldogs over Creighton.
Breein Tyree, Ole Miss: Breein had a sensational game against Vanderbilt with 31 points. He’s got the Rebels as a factor in the SEC.
Chase Jeter, Arizona: The Wildcats swept through Colorado and Utah on a homestead and Jeter was a difference against the Utes with 21 points and 13 boards.
Antoine Davis, Detroit: He may no longer be known as just Mike’s son. Antoine is making a name for himself, lighting up Wright State with 48 points.
Providence: The Friars are simply not the same team without AJ Reeves, dropping home games to Creighton and Villanova. Providence is losing its margin for error to get a bid. The Friars cannot afford to lose another home game.
Kansas State: Dean Wade has only played in nine of the 14 games and the Wildcats desperately need his production back. Kansas State dropped its first two Big 12 games, including a home game to Texas where it scored only 47 points. Kansas State needs to start resetting this season to avoid a fall from Elite Eight to out of the field.
Most important win of the week: Minnesota over Wisconsin.
The Gophers are finally healthy and looking the part of being a top-three contender in the Big Ten. This was the first win in Madison for Richard Pitino. They needed this win for their confidence on the road. I’ve been high on the Gophers for a while now and it’s looking like they may finally start to reach their potential.
Keep an eye on
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: Culver is leading the Red Raiders in scoring at 18.7 per game. He was an omission by me in our top players to look at for player of the year. Winning the honor may be a reach but he’s a real threat to compete for the Big 12 Player of the Year. Culver led the Red Raiders back against West Virginia with 18 points after a subpar first. He is the difference maker.
UCF: The Knights are starting to finally mesh after dealing with injuries a year ago and a bit of an erratic start. UCF is starting to look like a real contender to challenge Houston (and still maybe Cincinnati) for the American title after beating Temple and winning at UConn.