December is ending with the sixth No. 1 team in the country. January may finish with the same one.
Gonzaga doesn’t play at Saint Mary’s until Feb. 8 and at BYU until Feb. 22. The Zags can’t sleep on Santa Clara (on the road on Jan. 30) or BYU at home (Jan. 18), since the Cougars have had success in Spokane.
Still, there’s a good shot the revolving door in the rankings and polls will be more from 2-10 than at No. 1 for at least the first few weeks of the new year. Here's my latest Power 36.
1. Gonzaga (1): The Zags are getting healthier with the return of freshman forward Anton Watson to the lineup. That means the depth inside is going to be tough to match.
2. Auburn (3): The Tigers are one of two remaining unbeaten teams and right now the best in the SEC.
3. Oregon (4): This Ducks team is going to get better throughout the Pac-12 and is the prohibitive favorite to win the league.
4. Duke (5): The Blue Devils won games without Tre Jones, which says something about how much this team is locked in defensively.
5. Kansas (12): The Jayhawks didn’t let the loss at Villanova linger, getting a true road win at Stanford.
6. Baylor (6): The Bears are going to be a fun team to track all season, especially in chasing Kansas.
7. West Virginia (21): The Mountaineers shoot up into the top 10 after a win over Ohio State in Cleveland.
8. Memphis (7): The Tigers are going to be a contender with their remaining roster.
9. San Diego State (9): The Aztecs have a grit about them that they had earlier in the decade.
10. Butler (10): The Bulldogs are holding serve and are ready to mount a Big East title run.
11. Villanova (11): Jay Wright says he knows the Wildcats were fortunate to beat Kansas without Marcus Garrett in the second half. But he’s still got a squad that is getting tougher by the game.
12. Ohio State (2): The Buckeyes didn’t win the fight with West Virginia. That should be a lesson heading into the Big Ten.
13. Michigan State (13): Tom Izzo rested Cassius Winston against Western Michigan. The Spartans may still end up being the team to beat in the Big Ten.
14. Florida State (14): The Seminoles have a legit shot to finish in the top three in the ACC.
15. Kentucky (NR): The Wildcats won the most important game on their non-conference schedule by beating Louisville, bouncing back after a disastrous trip to Las Vegas where they lost to Utah and Ohio State.
16. Louisville (8): The Cardinals lost in overtime at Kentucky. But of the three big games this season for Louisville — Michigan, vs. Texas Tech and at Kentucky — the Cardinals are 1-2.
17. Michigan (15): The Wolverines will enter the Big Ten down Isaiah Livers (groin injury).
18. Marquette (16): The Golden Eagles have been steady this month and should be in the thick of the Big East race.
19. Penn State (17): The Nittany Lions are going to be an NCAA tournament team. If I keep saying it, it will happen.
20. Maryland (28): The Terps are back in the good graces after a rough previous week.
21. Northern Iowa (18): The Ben Jacobson cycle of being NCAA tournament good has arrived.
22. Colorado (19): The Buffaloes have proven they can challenge for the Pac-12 title.
23. Dayton (20): The Flyers enter January as the team to beat in the Atlantic 10.
24. Wichita State (22): The Shockers are going to be as much a threat to win the AAC as Memphis.
25. Arkansas (35): Eric Musselman has the Razorbacks relevant and ready to roll into the SEC.
26. Saint Mary’s (25): The Gaels only slid because Arkansas had a better win over the weekend. But this squad is legit.
27. Creighton (24): The Bluejays are one of the surprise teams of the non-conference.
28. DePaul (26): The Blue Demons have proven they can win at home or on the road so far. That says something about how far they’ve come.
29. Iowa (27): Luka Garza is carrying this team and is probably the Big Ten player of the year through two months.
30. Texas Tech (29): Jahmi’us Ramsey is back scoring and that means the Red Raiders will likely be moving up in the rankings.
31. Xavier (30): Naji Marshall has stepped up and delivered in being a go-to scorer and leader.
32. USC (33): The Trojans are going to be the team to watch in SoCal outside of San Diego State.
33. Houston (NR): Welcome back to the Power 36, Cougars, after the Rainbow Classic title win over Washington.
34. Utah State (36): The healthier the Aggies get the more interesting the Mountain West race with San Diego State will become.
35. St. John’s (NR): The Red Storm get oodles of credit for wins over Arizona on a neutral and West Virginia at home. Mike Anderson has made an immediate impact.
36. Seton Hall (NR): The Pirates still aren’t healthy yet found a way to knock off Maryland before Christmas. Let’s see if they can sustain the momentum in the Big East this week.
Team of the week
West Virginia: Life is good in college basketball when Bob Huggins has a nationally relevant program. The Mountaineers are proving last season was an outlier. They are back. West Virginia took down No. 2 Ohio State in Cleveland for its best win of the season. WVU showed it's got great depth when the leading scorer came off the bench in freshman guard Miles McBride (21). The Mountaineers get a chance to send a strong message in the Big 12 by opening the conference season Saturday at Kansas. The 11-1 Mountaineers have built a strong NCAA tournament resume heading into January.
Player of the week
Tyrese Maxey, Fr., G, Kentucky: So, there seems to be a trend. Kentucky’s two best wins of the season came when Maxey went off. He scored 26 in the season-opening win over Michigan State in New York on Nov. 5. He capped the November-December portion of the schedule with a season/career-high 27 in the rivalry win over Louisville. Maxey played 40 of the possible 45 minutes (overtime), made 4-of-5 3s, 9-of-14 shots, 5-of-6 free throws, grabbed seven boards and had a steal in the Wildcats' most important win of the season.