Duke takes over the top spot in my latest Power 36 college basketball rankings and Gonzaga is second. The chance of a Maui Invitational rematch is real.
And yet, there are clearly at least nine others in the top 11 that could end up in the title game.
The latest to deal with adversity is Michigan State, which won’t have center Nick Ward for an indefinite amount of time due to a fractured hand. That means the Spartans are down two starters with Joshua Langford sidelined for the rest of the season. The Spartans still have depth, but this will be one of Tom Izzo’s most challenging end-of-season stretches.
Onto the debate:
1. Duke (2): The Blue Devils have won nine in a row, including a sweep of Virginia. The mega showdown with North Carolina arrives Wednesday night.
2. Gonzaga (3): The Zags got pushed on the road this past weekend, but the second-gear in the second half is unlike previous Zags teams. They just find a way to pull ahead. Oh, and Gonzaga has won 16 in a row and hasn’t lost since falling to North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Dec. 15.
3. Virginia (5): The Cavaliers can’t beat Duke this season. But they can take care of everyone else.
4. Kentucky (4): The Wildcats had a monster bounce back after the loss to LSU by topping No. 1 Tennessee. The Wildcats reasserted themselves back into the SEC and NCAA title conversation.
5. Tennessee (1): The Vols got rocked at Rupp, but that doesn’t mean they should fall out of the top five. Let’s give Tennessee one mulligan of playing poorly on one night.
6. Nevada (6): The Wolf Pack have won 10 in a row and show no signs of letting up. They are making a case — even if the numbers aren’t there — to be higher than a 4-seed in the NCAA tournament.
7. North Carolina (10): When the Tar Heels are on, wow they can look good. When they’re off, the pedestrian side takes over. Let’s see who shows up Wednesday.
8.Michigan (7): The Wolverines defense was outstanding in the win over Maryland. Michigan — for the first time in a while — looked like a team that could win the championship.
9.Houston (9): The Cougars are rolling, winners of 10 in a row with only one blemish on the season.
10. Michigan State (12): The Spartans took care of Ohio State for their third win in a row after losing three straight. But the Ward injury is a brutal setback for a title contending team.
11. LSU (18): The Tigers stunned Kentucky with a home win, won at Georgia and are still one of the least discussed Final Four contenders.
12. Marquette (11): The Golden Eagles have Markus Howard and a tremendous home court (save St. John’s playing on it). That has made Marquette a great watch at home this season.
13. Purdue (8): The Boilermakers did lose at Maryland, but they are two games ahead of the Terps in the loss column and have overall been playing better.
14. Iowa (15): The crazy 3-point buzzer beater by Joe Wieskamp gave Iowa its fourth win in a row and sent them into a tie for fifth in the Big Ten.
15. Iowa State (16): The Cyclones have a Sweet 16/second weekend look about them lately.
16. Kansas State (14): Hopefully Dean Wade isn’t out too long and this latest setback doesn’t hamper the Wildcats' Big 12 title hopes.
17. Kansas (20): The Jayhawks have won three in a row despite a flurry of injuries and issues.
18. Texas Tech (27): The Red Raiders are done with their mini slump and are primed to chase the Big 12 title.
19. Villanova (13): The Wildcats were stunned by St. John’s Sunday. But the Big East title is still within their grasp.
20. Florida State (23): The Seminoles' polarizing season is back in a positive direction with a seven-game winning streak.
21. Cincinnati (26): This may be the least amount of publicity a Bearcats team has received. But don’t make the mistake of dismissing Cincinnati’s chances of causing issues in March.
22. Maryland (22): The Terps got off to a rocky start at Michigan, but closed strong until the final two minutes. They are still legit (see win over Purdue) and will be a tough out in March.
23. Louisville (21): The Cardinals blew a 23-point lead against Duke, but then saved face by beating Clemson.
24. Washington (19): The Huskies have survived at Washington State. This team is still worthy of a top 25 ranking and should be in the field, even without a Pac-12 tournament title.
25. Wisconsin (17): The Badgers whiffed on taking out Michigan State at home after losing to Michigan on the road. But they should still be a safe pick to finish between 4-6 in the Big Ten.
26. Baylor (25): The Bears took a back seat to the Big 12 title pack and now must hold their ground to try and get in the top four.
27. Buffalo (28): The Bulls won at Toledo after trailing at the half. Buffalo is now 22-3 overall, 10-2 in the MAC (tied with Bowling Green) and looking every bit like a dangerous foe in the NCAA tournament.
28. Illinois (NR): OK, this is a reminder that the rankings are different than the seedings. Few teams in a power league are playing better than the Illini right now. Illinois has won four in a row to move to 6-8 in conference, and nobody wants to play them in the Big Ten in the final few weeks.
29. Belmont (31): The Bruins have won nine in a row and are tied with Murray State in the Ohio Valley. Both teams are 21-4. The case for each to make it alone will be tough, but if they meet in the conference final they may have a compelling argument.
30. Virginia Tech (30): The Hokies have won two games now without Justin Robinson after going 1-2 without him the first three games.
31. Syracuse (24): The Orange have beaten up on BC and Pitt of late before losing to NC State. The real test comes this week against Louisville and Duke at the Carrier Dome.
32. Seton Hall (NR): The Pirates have one of the most reliable scorers in the country in Myles Powell. Winning three in a row gives them even more confidence they can secure a bid.
33. St. John’s (NR): The Red Storm may have punched their ticket, barring a collapse, with a comeback win over Villanova Sunday.
34. Ole Miss (NR): The Rebels are back in the Power 36 after winning four in a row.
35. Wofford (36): The Terriers throttled UNC Greensboro for their 14th straight win. Wofford has a shot at an at-large. The Terriers are that good.
36. VCU (NR): The Rams have won six in a row, with four of those coming on the road to stay tied with Davidson atop the A-10.
Dropped out: Ohio State (29), Clemson (32), Lipscomb (33), Texas (34), TCU (35)
Team of the Week
LSU: The Tigers won at Kentucky on a tip in and then came back to beat Georgia in Athens. LSU is 21-4 overall, 11-1 in the SEC, tied with Tennessee. The Tigers are done with Kentucky but still have a game left with the Vols in Baton Rouge. They control their own fate for the SEC title. Amazing.
Player of the Week
Zion Williamson, Fr., F, Duke: The overwhelming favorite for national player of the year had yet another jaw-dropping week. He scored 27 points in 32 foul-plagued minutes to lead Duke to an epic 23-point comeback win at Louisville. He followed that up with 32 in a win over NC State. He had 12 boards and three steals in the win at Louisville and added six boards and three steals in the victory over the Wolfpack.
The backup five
Cameron Young, Quinnipiac: Young scored 55 points in a triple-overtime win over Siena on Sunday.
L.J. Figueroa, St. John’s: His 22 points were a difference in the Red Storm knocking off Villanova Sunday.
Chris Clemons, Campbell: The senior had 28 points in a loss to Presbyterian to reach 3,006 points, only the ninth player in Division I history to eclipse that mark.
Fletcher Magee, Wofford: He scored 26 in a blowout win over UNC Greensboro to establish supremacy in the SoCon.
Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State: He posted 23 points in a critical road win at Kansas State to keep the Cyclones in the thick of the Big 12 race.
Keep an eye on…..
Colorado: The Buffaloes have won five in a row (sweeping the Arizona schools) and could be a sleeper pick to upset the conference and win the tournament title.
Harvard: The Crimson swept Penn and Princeton on the road and are now just one game back of Yale atop the Ivy League. The top four teams make the Ivy tournament, and Princeton and Cornell have a two game lead on Penn and Brown for the last two spots with six games left.
The race in the Missouri Valley: Drake, Loyola Chicago and Missouri State are all tied at 9-5 atop the league. This is a one-bid league this season but the chase for the tournament title will be fierce and likely produce a team capable of at least one win in March.
The C-USA new scheduling format for the final four games: The league did something very cool for the final two weeks of the regular season by seeding the league and ensuring the best teams will play each other down the stretch. These are the new pools and the remaining games:
|GROUP 1||group 2||group 3|
|1. Old Dominion||6. North Texas||11. Rice|
|2. Western Ky.||7. Marshall||12. Middle Tennessee|
|3. Southern Miss.||8. Florida Atlantic||13. UTEP|
|4. UTSA||9. FIU||14. Charlotte|
|5. UAB||10. Louisiana Tech|
Indiana: There has been zero carry over from the road win at Michigan State, and a tournament bid is a long shot at this point.
Arizona: The Wildcats actually had a look of a possible conference contender in early January. But they’ve lost seven in a row.
Most important wins
- St. John’s beating Villanova Sunday to enhance resume.
- Florida winning at Alabama to get closer to being off the bubble.
- Minnesota ending a skid by beating Indiana at home.
- Temple getting another road win at USF.