There hasn’t been much action on the college hoops hardwood lately, as between the Christmas vacation, final’s week, and a nasty COVID-19 outbreak spreading across the country, few games were scheduled, and even fewer were actually played. Normally I post my power rankings each week, but with so few games played, I decided to wait a week before updating my power rankings.
The pandemic is wreaking havoc on the college basketball schedule but there are still some marquee games coming up.
— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) December 28, 2021
We are going to see a handful of games played today, and assuming that we don’t see another large swath of games canceled, we should be back up to our normal schedule again by Wednesday. With that, let’s jump right into this week’s NCAA Men’s Basketball power rankings!
Baylor Bears (11-0)
The Baylor Bears were the number 1 team in my power rankings before the break, and after a 2-0 week, they remain the top team with an undefeated record at 11-0. The Bears picked up a solid top-100 win over a very talented yet struggling Oregon Ducks team and followed that up with a slobber knocker over 315th ranked Alcorn State.
Baylor has 2 quad 1 wins, and 2 quad 2 wins, so they are going to need to beef up their resume by Selection Sunday, but they will have plenty of time to do just that during Big 12 league play, as the conference is stacked right now. The Bears are 6-0 against the Kenpom top-100 on the year, so it’s not like they have been playing cupcakes all season long, and after cutting down the nets last year, you would be silly to dismiss Scott Drew and company’s hot start this year.
— Baylor Men’s Basketball (@BaylorMBB) December 28, 2021
Next up for Baylor is another gimme game against 333rd ranked Northwestern State, before a huge league test, on the road, against the undefeated Iowa State Cyclones on New Year’s Day. Baylor is likely to be favored in that game, and by several points, but with the Cyclones breaking into the top-10 of the latest AP poll with their hot start, that win will get them a bunch of style points if they can make it happen.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (10-2)
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have played a brutal schedule so far this season, with games against UCLA, Duke, Alabama, and Texas, and that tough non-conference schedule continued this week, with a neutral floor game against Texas Tech. The Zags took care of business against the Red Raiders, beating them up to the tune of a 69-55 final score.
Gonzaga again showed that if they play their best game, that they can beat any team in the nation, no matter where the game is being played. And interestingly enough, the Zags didn’t even play all that well, as big men Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren did very little, at least in terms of scoring the basketball, as they combined for just 12 points. The Bulldogs relied on what I see as a very underrated guard unit, with Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton scoring 31 points on a smoking hot 9-18 from beyond the arc.
Winter wins ?❄️ pic.twitter.com/1e6bKNztM9
— Gonzaga Basketball (@ZagMBB) December 21, 2021
The Zags wrap up their non-conference play schedule today with a home game against an outmatched Northern Alabama squad, before them jumping into league play in the better than most people seem to think WCC. The WCC is typically a 1 or 2 bid league, but this year, there are 4 teams with legit dreams of dancing in March, with the Zags joined by BYU, Saint Mary’s, and San Francisco as teams currently ranked in the top-40 on Kenpom. Don’t be shocked if the Zags pick up another loss or 2 in the WCC, but that won’t change my mind that Mark Few’s team can absolutely win it all in March.
Purdue Boilermakers (11-1)
The Purdue Boilermakers are 1 half-court buzzer-beating shot away from being undefeated and likely the number 1 team in the nation. Purdue was slow to rebound from that stunning loss to Rutgers and nearly dropped their next game to NC State, but they went 2-0 this week, with dominating blowout victories over the likes of Butler and Incarnate Word. Neither of those teams are very good, but it was good to see Purdue get back to dominating teams like they did early in the season.
There isn’t a team in the Big 10 that has more top line talent than the Boilermakers do, as they have superstars in Trevion Wiliams, Zach Edey, and Jaden Ivey. Purdue has tons of size in the paint, and they are the most efficient offense in the country. The only area statistically that they struggle is forcing turnovers, and I see that turning around as the season wears on, as these guys are too athletic to struggle like this on defense for much longer.
3️⃣rd straight week at No. 3️⃣.
✅: Been ranked in the top 3️⃣ for 6️⃣ straight weeks – a new school record. pic.twitter.com/zLqJaXpHi4
— Purdue Mens Basketball (@BoilerBall) December 27, 2021
The gauntlet that is the Big 10 regular season is about to start for Purdue, and the Boilermakers are nearly certain to drop at least a couple of games, as the schedule is just too tough for them to run the table. Purdue gets one last soft non-conference game tomorrow against Nicholls State before welcoming the Wisconsin Badgers to town for the start of 20 straight league games in the Big 10.
Don’t let the occasional loss fool you into thinking this team is overrated. This is a supremely talented team, and it just might be the best team that Matt Painter has ever had in West Lafayette.
Kansas Jayhawks (9-1)
We haven’t gotten to see much out of the Kansas Jayhawks since the last power rankings, as they only played 1 game, coming against the always dangerous Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks. That game was much closer than the final score might lead you to believe, as it was just a 1 possession game with under a minute left to play. Arizona State transfer Remy Martin put the nail in the coffin for KU, connecting on a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to play to lock down the win for the Jayhawks.
Kansas is scheduled to play their final non-conference game tomorrow night against top-100 ranked Nevada Reno. That game shouldn’t be much trouble for Kansas, but things are going to get tough in a hurry for the Jayhawks in Big 12 play, as the Big 12 is the best conference in the nation right now if you ask me.
Up a spot ? pic.twitter.com/5qEPAKkTaM
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) December 27, 2021
First up in league play for Kansas is a home game against the upstart TCU Horned Frogs. TCU isn’t getting much attention in the crowded Big 12, but the Frogs are an impressive 10-1, and that game isn’t going to be an easy one for the Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks have a 3-headed monster at guard with national player of the year candidate Ochai Agbaji, as well as a stellar supporting cast with Remy Martin and Christian Braun. This team is deep and experienced, and with the Big 12 being so good, they are going to be battle-tested come March.
UCLA Bruins (8-1)
The UCLA Bruins are in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak and haven’t played a game since December 11th, and they won’t play again until at least January 6th. Losing nearly a month of the regular season is going to be hard on the Bruins, as that is an awfully long break, and it is going to be nearly impossible to not have the delay affect their on the court production. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see this delay go on even longer, as COVOD-19 continues to run rampant through the program and the nation as a whole.
Holding onto that Top 10 real estate. ?@UCLAMBB, @USC_Hoops, and @ArizonaMBB come in at No. 5, No. 7, and No. 9 in the latest @AP_Top25 poll, with the Trojans securing their highest ranking since 1975.#BackThePac | #Pac12MBB pic.twitter.com/RnHEaH4Kfl
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) December 27, 2021
UCLA had a lot of momentum going prior to being shut down, as they knocked off Colorado and Marquette. Their next scheduled game comes against Stanford, on the road, in a conference game. A lot of people like to poke fun at the PAC-12, but after watching the league dominate last year’s NCAA tournament and seeing the league have 3 teams in the top-10 of the most recent AP poll, you don’t want to sleep on the PAC-12.
Here’s to hoping that the Bruins can get back on the floor sooner rather than later, and until they give me a reason to drop them out of my top-10, they are going to hang around my weekly power rankings as they have far too much talent to be dismissed, especially when these issues are completely out of their control.
Arizona Wildcats (11-1)
I absolutely love what new head coach Tommy Lloyd is doing at Arizona right now. Lloyd followed in his mentor, Mark Few of Gonzaga, footsteps by scheduling very tough in the non-conference. Arizona has already played Wichita State and Michigan on neutral floors, and they played true road games at Illinois and Tennessee. That tough schedule makes their 11-1 record all the more impressive.
This week, Arizona lost in a tightly contested game against Tennessee, coming up just short of the road upset in Knoxville. Had the Wildcats come away with the win, they could very well be in the top-3 this week or even higher. The loss to the Volunteers marked the end of their non-conference season, and the next game for the Wildcats will come at home to their rivals, the Sun Devils of Arizona State.
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaMBB) December 27, 2021
While ASU has a putrid record, they have played one of the toughest schedules in the country, and in a rivalry game, you can usually throw the records out the window. Similar to the Bruins, Arizona hasn’t played in a week, and they won’t play again for another week. That delay could slow down what they had going, but my gut says that this team is far too talented to slip up too much.
The PAC-12 has 3 of the very best teams in the country, with Arizona, UCLA, and USC all looking like Final Four threats. Right now, I see Arizona as just behind UCLA in the pecking order out west, but this team is only going to get better each week, and by the time Selection Sunday comes around, the Wildcats could very well be the team to beat in what is a criminally underrated conference.
Duke Blue Devils (11-1)
For the first time that I can ever remember, the ACC just isn’t very good this year. The Blue Devils of Duke are currently the only team ranked from the conference, and they played host to Virginia Tech this week, the 2nd highest-ranked team in the league, at least per Kenpom, and the Blue Devils had no problems dispatching the Hokies, beating them 76-65.
You have to wonder if any team in the ACC is going to be able to hang with Duke this season? Perennial powerhouses like Virginia, North Carolina, and Louisville are all way down, and the only team that has a solid record right now besides Duke is Wake Forrest, and that says more about the Demon Deacons joke of a non-conference schedule than it does about them being any good or not.
Merry Christmas, Duke Nation! ?? pic.twitter.com/uwiFs1Ef9T
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) December 25, 2021
With Duke now starting their conference play schedule, it is hard not to put an asterisk next to their record, as it is almost like they are playing in a second-tier league like the WCC or MWC. I can’t imagine that the ACC is going to be a 1-bid league, but it is going to be much harder than usual for the Blue Devils to pick up quality victories, as the competition just isn’t going to be there.
Duke will play at Notre Dame on New Year’s Day and then home against Georgia Tech this week, and I am not overly excited for either game, as both games project out as fairly easy Blue Devil victories. You can pencil Duke in for yet another 2-0 week, and an undefeated ACC schedule is a real possibility for Coach K’s boys this season.
USC Trojans (12-0)
If you thought that Duke had things easy, wait until you look at the schedule that the USC Trojans have played! USC is a perfect 12-0 on the year, but they don’t have much in terms of quality wins to show for it, as their best win is over a San Diego State team that currently projects out as a bubble team. The analytics don’t love the Trojans based on that weak schedule, as Kenpom has the Trojans ranked 20th right now, but the eye test tells me this is a very good team.
The Trojans have a dynamic duo in the paint with Isaiah Mobley and Chevez Goodwin. Both guys can score and rebound, and they give the Trojans a lot of size in the post that is going to be nearly impossible to guard at the college level. Mobley’s older brother Evan was a monster last season and is now tearing it up in the NBA, and without his brother stealing the spotlight away, Isaiah is looking like a lottery pick himself this year for the Trojans.
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) December 28, 2021
The schedule is backloaded for USC, as they won’t play Arizona or UCLA until February, and I would expect them to continue racking up wins in the meantime. The entire PAC-12 is currently delayed, so we won’t see the Trojans back on the floor until next week when they play a pair of road games at Stanford and at California.
Neither of those teams are tournament-level teams, and while conference road games are never sure things, I see the Trojans taking care of business in both contests. We won’t see this team truly tested until early February when USC plays Arizona and UCLA in back-to-back games. It is going to take a while for the analytics to catch up, but make sure you keep a close eye on the Trojans as they continue to thrash weak opposition.
Tennessee Volunteers (9-2)
The Tennessee Volunteers make their debut in the top-10 this week with a huge win over then-undefeated Arizona. That win capped off the Vols non-conference schedule, and while big wins were somewhat hard to come by for Tennessee in the non-conference, they add the Wildcats to their hit list that also includes top-100 teams Colorado and North Carolina.
Unlike the last couple of teams that we have talked about that have softer schedules, the Vols play in the SEC, which is tied with the Big 12 with a whopping 5 teams ranked in the top-25 nationally, so there are lots of tough games left to be played for the Volunteers. Tennessee will face what is likely their biggest test of the season thus far, in their next game, with a road game in Tuscaloosa against the Crimson Tide of Alabama.
Hitting the road for the SEC opener.
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) December 28, 2021
Tennessee gets the job done on the defensive side of the floor, with the 2nd ranked defense in terms of efficiency per Kenpom. They love to force turnovers and then turn those extra possessions into points on the other side of the floor.
There are some soft games left on the schedule for the Vols, but they won’t play many of those in the next month, as they play teams ranked inside the top-50 in 6 of their next 9 games. We are going to find out just how good this team is in a hurry, and while they are sure to drop at least a couple of those games, the win over Arizona solidified the Vols as one of the teams to beat in the SEC.
Iowa State Cyclones (12-0)
Coming in at number 10 this week is another newcomer to my power rankings, the Iowa State Cyclones. Power rankings are tough. Do you rank teams based on their upside? Do you rank them on their record? Do you rank them on how deep they project to go in the NCAA tournament? I try to use a blended approach as I want to make sure I am giving credit for what a team has actually done while also making sure that I don’t overrate a team that is just playing a soft schedule and beating bad teams.
No team makes that harder to do right now than this Iowa State team. The Cyclones were probably the worst power conference team in the country last year with an embarrassing 2-22 record. This year, under new head coach T.J. Otzelberger, they are the most surprising team in the nation, at 12-0.
Otzelberger made a name for himself at South Dakota State, taking the Jackrabbits to 2 NCAA tournaments in his 3 years at the helm, but never could replicate that success at UNLV, where he racked up an underachieving 29-30 record as head coach of the Runnin’ Rebels.
Otzelberger has the Cyclones playing better than they have in many years, and he is doing it by focusing on defense. Iowa State currently ranks 7th in team defense in terms of efficiency, and that lock-down mentality has led the Cyclones to big wins over teams like Xavier, Memphis, Creighton, and Iowa. Even with as impressive as this hot start has been for Iowa State has been, the reality of playing in the Big 12 is going to set in fast, as the Cyclones are projected to lose their next 6 consecutive games.
— Iowa State Men’s Basketball (@CycloneMBB) December 27, 2021
Last year, Iowa State didn’t win a single game in league play, and with the league really good again this year, even a .500 record in league play would be a huge accomplishment. I don’t want to understate just how great of a start it has been for the Cyclones, as they have played a solid schedule and they have a resume well worth their top-10 ranking, but if they are sitting at 12-6 a month from now, as they still going to be a team that is looked at as an NCAA tournament team? I hope so.
The Cyclones will have a shot to prove all the haters wrong in their next game as they host the undefeated and number 1 ranked Baylor Bears in their Big 12 home opener. A win over Baylor would immediately make the Cyclones one of the favorites in the Big 12, but I just don’t see that happening. There is no better story in college basketball right now than this Iowa State squad, and I, for one, hope that the dream season continues in Aimes.
And there you have it, folks, my weekly NCAA Men’s Basketball power rankings. With several major conferences already starting conference play, and the rest soon to follow, we hit what many consider to be the real start to the college hoops season.
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