The title chase has a new member and it’s a familiar face: Kentucky. The preseason No. 1 in a number of rankings, including this one, has found its groove at the right time. And now the SEC joins the ACC and Big Ten with two title contenders each as the calendar turns to February later this week.
The Power 36 has plenty of turnover beyond the top 20. The margin between these teams is slim and will continue to be so throughout the rest of the season. Let's get to it:
1. Tennessee (1): The Vols have answered every challenge so far this season. The latest was winning at rival Vanderbilt in overtime.
2. Duke (2): The Blue Devils have oddly had some stretches where teams shouldn’t hang with them but still did. Georgia Tech was the most recent example before Duke hit its second gear in a 66-53 win.
3. Gonzaga (4): The Zags are destroying WCC teams right now, as evident by a 98-39 beatdown of Santa Clara. Brandon Clarke is looking unstoppable at times.
4. Virginia (5): The Cavaliers haven’t missed a beat since the close loss to Duke on the road. They are still a favorite to win the ACC.
5. Kentucky (8): The Wildcats are now looking the part of a national title contender. I can’t wait to see the two games with Tennessee. Both are teams that could find their way to Minneapolis.
6. Michigan State (3): The Spartans had a brutal slate last week playing Maryland, at Iowa and at Purdue. Going 2-1 is pretty, pretty, pretty good.
7. Michigan (6): The Wolverines had been slipping a tad with a loss at Wisconsin and then needing a buzzer beater to knock off Minnesota. But the Wolverines dominated Indiana from opening tip in Bloomington to prove they are back on track.
8. Nevada (7): The Wolf Pack are only sliding back because Kentucky is playing so well. But Nevada is looking like it won’t lose again before March.
9. Villanova (12): It was only a matter of time. The Wildcats are the team to beat in the Big East and should be legitimately considered a Final Four contender.
10. Houston (11): The Cougars continue to get tested in the American, and save one late possession loss to Temple, have answered every challenge.
11. Purdue (22): Matt Painter may be doing one of his best coaching jobs of his career. The Boilermakers are rolling and could definitely be a top three finisher in the loaded Big Ten.
12. Marquette (13): The Golden Eagles have had one real slip — at St. John’s — over the last month. Marquette has won seven in a row and are just one game behind Nova.
13. LSU (14): The Tigers continue to fly under the radar. LSU has done an outstanding job of handling late-game situations, especially on the road.
14. Louisville (20): The Cardinals are playing as well as any team in the ACC. If this keeps up, Chris Mack will be in contention for ACC coach of the year.
15. North Carolina (19): The Tar Heels crushed Virginia Tech and re-established itself as a top-three ACC candidate.
16. Kansas (15): The Jayhawks gave a run at Kentucky, but clearly the lack of interior depth is a major concern going forward.
17. Washington (23): The Huskies were the preseason favorite in the Pac-12 but didn’t stand out in the non-conference. Well, in the league, the Huskies haven’t lost, coming off a sweep in the state of Oregon.
18. Wisconsin (28): The Badgers are back. They followed up the win over Michigan with a road win at Illinois and a home win over Northwestern.
19. Virginia Tech (10): The Hokies followed up a disheartening loss at North Carolina with a convincing home win over Syracuse to stay only one game back of the conference leaders.
20. Maryland (9): The Terps had to take a tumble after losing at Michigan State and then to Illinois in New York. But I still am all in on this team being a major factor in March.
21. Minnesota (NR): The Gophers were within a whisker of winning at Michigan. And then Minnesota took care of Iowa at home. The Gophers at their best are definitely a top 25 team.
22. Baylor (NR): The Bears have won four in a row, including knocking off Alabama in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. Baylor is playing its way back into the field.
23. Cincinnati (24): The Bearcats have won six in a row and are clearly the team to challenge Houston for the top of the AAC.
24. Buffalo (16): The Bulls were going to have a hard time sweeping the MAC. Where that loss would come wasn’t known. Northern Illinois got the Bulls in a surprise, but then Buffalo won at Kent State to show it may have been more of an outlier.
25. Iowa State (26): The Cyclones did lose at Kansas, but that’s not unexpected. Iowa State probably has the best shot to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title based on personnel.
26. Kansas State (25): The Wildcats had a bad loss at Texas A&M, but had won five in a row prior to the setback. The hope is that the loss to the Aggies was more of a blip rather than old offensive struggles rearing its head again.
27. Mississippi State (29): The Bulldogs rebounded after a crushing loss at Kentucky to handle Auburn. The Bulldogs are here to stay as an NCAA tournament bid contender.
28. TCU (NR): The Horned Frogs are starting to mesh quite well. They’ve won three of four and are set for a showdown at Texas Tech.
29. Texas Tech (17): The Red Raiders shook off a three-game losing skid by dropping Arkansas by three. The next week will certainly test this team with games against TCU and at Kansas.
30. Iowa (21): The Hawkeyes had a rough week, losing at home to Michigan State and then at Minnesota Sunday. But I still have faith this team has changed the narrative on its season. Hosting Michigan on Friday will be a strong indicator.
31. Syracuse (27): The Orange did drop a road game at Virginia Tech. But I’m more inclined to buy into the team that shocked Duke and stick with Syracuse for the time being.
32. NC State (31): The Wolfpack survived against Clemson at the buzzer to stay in the Power 36. The reward is facing Virginia next. Yikes.
33. Hofstra (36): The Pride have won 16 in a row. That is all you need to know.
34. Davidson (NR): My preseason pick for the A-10 title is atop the standings, technically tied with George Mason. But the Wildcats have already beaten the Patriots. Their one A-10 loss was at Saint Joseph’s by one.
35. Memphis (NR): A 20-point win over UCF got my attention. The Tigers did lose at Temple and at Houston, but they have been impressive at home during the AAC. Memphis will find out if it is ready for primetime at Tulsa and at USF this week.
36. Belmont (NR): The Bruins had quite a week in the OVC, knocking off Murray State and Austin Peay. While Ja Morant and the Racers do get the hype and Jacksonville State is ahead of the Bruins by a game, Belmont is more than capable of winning the OVC and being a tough first-round out behind Dylan Windler.
Dropped out: Ole Miss (18), Auburn (30), UCF (32), Saint Louis (33), Murray State (34), San Francisco (35).
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Team of the Week
Purdue: The Boilermakers have won five in a row with this being the best week of the season. Purdue won at Ohio State and then took down previously undefeated Big Ten favorite Michigan State Sunday. Purdue has now taken the place as the third best team in the Big Ten — a great place to be this season.
Player of the week
Grant Williams, Sr., F, Tennessee: Williams is one of the top two candidates right now for national player of the year. He needed a player of the year game and he got one at Vanderbilt with 43 points and an amazing 23-of-23 performance at the free-throw line in the overtime win in Nashville. Williams followed that up with 19 in an SEC-Big 12 Challenge win over West Virginia.
The backup five
Phil Booth, Sr., G, Villanova: Booth scored 25 in a home win over Seton Hall after posting 17 in a road win at Butler.
Mac McClung, Fr., G, Georgetown: McClung was injured in the first St. John’s matchup in D.C. But he came to play in his Madison Square Garden debut, posting 25 points in a season-changing road win for the Hoyas on Sunday.
Quinndary Weatherspoon, Sr., G, Mississippi State: Weatherspoon put on a show in a major win over Auburn with 27 points to keep the Bulldogs in the thick of the race fortop-fourour finish in the SEC.
Ignas Brazdeikis, Fr., F, Michigan: Iggy broke out of a slump against Minnesota with 18 points and 11 boards. He followed that up with 20 points and seven rebounds in a road win at Indiana.
Markus Howard, Jr., G, Marquette: Howard continued to look the part of a Big East player of the year with 31 points at Xavier and 23 against DePaul.
St. John’s: The Red Storm have lost two in a row and now are about to go on an eight-day road swing to Creighton, Duke and Marquette with a 3-5 Big East record. No other team outside of Villanova and Marquette is above .500 in league play.
Indiana: The Hoosiers have lost six in a row and are trending out of the field. They don’t look like they are enjoying the season anymore. They need to relax and embrace the joy of playing again. But the road is littered with obstacles with Rutgers and Michigan State on the schedule this week.
Most significant win
Ohio State at Nebraska: The Buckeyes had lost five in a row but a win over the struggling Huskers should stave off any fear that Ohio State was sliding off the radar. This should be the reset the Buckeyes needed.
Keep an eye on
Wofford: The Terriers have won eight in a row in the rugged Southern Conference, and have one of the top scorers/shooters in Fletcher Magee. He has made 85 3s so far this season and scored 55 combined points (13 3s) in two wins last week over Samford and Chattanooga.
Yale: The Bulldogs are likely the team to beat in the Ivy. Yale has won eight in a row and will host the four-team Ivy League playoff in March.