With conference play just around the corner, the action on the college hoops hardwood is about to heat up! We are just 7 weeks into the college basketball season, but man, do things look a lot different than most expected just a couple of months ago!
Preseason top-10 teams like Texas, Kentucky, and Michigan are struggling, whereas teams that few saw coming like Arizona, USC, and Baylor are looking like legit title contenders. With that, let’s jump into this week’s top-10 power rankings!
Baylor Bears (9-0)
Well, it is starting to look like this season is picking up right where last season ended, with the Baylor Bears as the top team in the nation. Bear’s head coach Scott Drew was expected to have a rebuilding year this year after winning the national title last year and seeing several of his best players bolt to the NBA, but that just hasn’t been the case as the Bears are undefeated and playing great basketball.
The Bears were the unanimous top team in the latest AP poll, and they come in at the top on Kenpom’s rankings as well. It is basically impossible to poke holes in this Baylor resume right now as they have top-100 wins over the likes of Arizona State, Stanford, VCU, Michigan State, and Villanova. And it’s not just that the Bears are beating quality teams, it is how they are beating them that is so impressive. Baylor blew out Michigan State and Villanova by an average of 19 points, and on the year, the only game that was even remotely competitive came in the Bahamas against a solid VCU team.
"There's something to be said about no changes [to your coaching staff]."@TheAndyKatz explains how @BaylorMBB is the new No. 1 after losing four starters from their National Championship team last season ?? pic.twitter.com/yGIhmwiWnp
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) December 16, 2021
The real question in Waco right now, is can the Bears keep up this pace? Baylor heads to Oregon for a true road game against the talented, but struggling Ducks, before getting into league play in the loaded Big 12. The Bears scheduled tough, as they have a late-season true non-conference road game in Tuscaloosa against the Alabama Crimson Tide as well.
That strength of schedule tells me that an undefeated season isn’t in the cards for Baylor this year, but if we learned anything from last season when the Gonzaga Bulldogs went undefeated until the national finals, where they lost to this very same Baylor team, it isn’t about winning early, it is about winning late, and right now there is no team in the nation playing better than the Baylor Bears.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (8-2)
Speaking of those Gonzaga Bulldogs, they come in here at number 2, as they too have played a brutal schedule and have managed to rack up some impressive wins. While the losses to Duke and Alabama slowed down all of the preseason undefeated talk in Spokane, the wins over Texas and UCLA tell me that the Zags are indeed one of the top teams in the country.
— Gonzaga Basketball (@ZagMBB) December 10, 2021
What is scary about this Zags squad is that they are almost certain to be better at the end of the year than they are now. Returning studs like Drew Timme, Andrew Nembhard, and Julian Strawther make them very good, but new additions like super freshman Chet Holmgren and transfer Rasir Bolton have the potential to make them national title great.
The X-factor here is Holmgren, as the number 1 recruit in the nation has shown flashes of being elite, but he has yet to play up to his ample potential, and if he does, watch out, as he brings something that we have just never seen at the college level. Holmgren is a giant at over 7 feet tall, but he isn’t afraid to let it fly from 3-point land, and his rim protection has been epic, as he is averaging nearly 4 blocks per game.
— Gonzaga Basketball (@ZagMBB) December 15, 2021
It is easy to look at the Zags early losses and think that they might be overrated, but when you see that the Bulldogs have already played 4 teams ranked in the top-10 and that they will play another tough game this weekend against Texas Tech, the losses likely say more about Mark Few’s scheduling than it does about how good this team is right now. Generally, league play in the WCC is very soft, but that isn’t the case this year, as the league has 4 teams ranked inside the top-40, which tells me that these Zags are going to hit March Madness battle-tested and ready to take on all comers. Is this the year that Mark Few finally gets to cut down the nets?
Purdue Boilermakers (9-1)
There weren’t many people that picked Purdue to win the Big 10 this season, but in my opinion, no team has looked better in the Big 10 this year than the Purdue Boilermakers, and they come in here at number 3 in my weekly power rankings. Purdue looked like the best team in the nation for the first several weeks, pounding teams like North Carolina, Villanova, Florida State, and Iowa.
But then the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers shocked the Boilermakers, hitting a half-court buzzer beater to hand them their first loss of the season. Purdue came out flat in their next game, nearly losing to a mediocre NC State team, before taking care of business in overtime to pick up the win. Looking back on what Purdue has been able to accomplish, you could make a case that they should be ranked even higher, and this team has shown me plenty for them to be considered amongst the best of the best in not only the Big 10, but the nation.
Can’t wait until Saturday. pic.twitter.com/QlUE97h7mb
— Purdue Mens Basketball (@BoilerBall) December 15, 2021
Purdue head coach Matt Painter has been known for his ability to attract big men, and this year is no different as Zach Edey and Trevion Williams give the Boilermakers a dynamic duo in the paint that rivals the Zags post rotation of Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme as the best in the country. Throw in superstar in the making Jaden Ivey, and Purdue has as much top line talent as any team in the Big 10. Assuming that Purdue can get over this hangover from the shocker against Rutgers and get right back on track, it is hard not to like the Boilermakers as the best team, in what might very well be the best league, the Big 10.
Next up for Purdue is a neutral floor non-conference game with a decent Butler squad, then gimme games against Incarnate Word and Nicholls State before heading into the buzz saw that is Big 10 league play. The Big 10 is far too tough for the Boilermakers to run the table, but don’t let losses against good teams distract you from the fact that this team can beat anybody on a given night.
Kansas Jayhawks (8-1)
The lack of media coverage on the Kansas Jayhawks is hard to understand as the Jayhawks are one of college basketball’s Blue Bloods, and they are off to a hot start, but if all you did was watch ESPN, you wouldn’t know that they are even playing, as it has mostly been radio silence on Kansas. I will get this out of the way right up front, do not sleep on the Jayhawks!
The schedule has been light for Kansas, and the loss to Dayton was a head scratcher, but Kansas does have double-digit victories over Michigan State and St. John’s, and they will be tested with a true road game against Colorado next week as well, a game that I see them winning. The Big 12 is always great, and while Kansas seems to always find a way to bring home the league title, they are going to again have to earn it this year, as the Big 12 has been fantastic, with the entire league ranking inside the top-80 on Kenpom.
No better feeling ? pic.twitter.com/Ozkm9pFJIE
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) December 17, 2021
Kansas head coach Bill Self is one of the top recruiters in the country, and normally, he has several underclassmen in his rotation, but this year, the Jayhawks are stacked with veteran upperclassmen. Kansas boasts a bevy of seniors, led by Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun, and Arizona State transfer Remy Martin. There might not be a team in the nation that has more experience on the floor than Kansas does, and that veteran leadership will be huge in March.
Looking ahead on the schedule, there are land mines everywhere for the Jayhawks, so you can expect some losses along the way. Kansas didn’t schedule heavy in the non-conference, but they will more than make up for that in league play in the Big 12. Kenpom projects a 25-6 record for Kansas, which would be good enough for them to get a top-4 seed for sure, and that would set them up well for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Eventually, the media will catch up in terms of coverage on Kansas but make sure that you keep your eye on this team as they have everything you need to win it all.
UCLA Bruins (8-1)
The UCLA Bruins shocked the nation last year when they went from a First Four game all of the way to the Final Four, and after returning that entire team, they just might be the most talented team in the country. Yeah, the beat down at the hands of the Zags in Las Vegas was a major letdown for UCLA, but this team has at least 3 NBA players on the roster, and if they play their best, there isn’t a team in the country that they can’t beat.
The East Coast biased college hoops media likes to laugh at the PAC-12, but they weren’t laughing last year when the conference took the NCAA tournament by storm, and the league is almost certainly better this year, evidenced by the conference having 3 teams in my top-10. The Bruins will have a showdown with Arizona on December 30th, and the winner of that game is going to have the inside track on winning the PAC-12 regular season title.
"We had a great week of preparation. I'm a big believer in preparation and practice. We had some of our best practices of the year, and a lot of that was because Cody [Riley] had practiced."
Coach Cronin, speaking on Tuesday about UCLA's win at Marquette pic.twitter.com/C4zmXQr0Wg
— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) December 14, 2021
It is fitting that this team that plays their home game in Hollywood would have a roster full of stars, and no star is bigger than standout Johnny Juzang. Juzang leads the team in scoring and is one of the favorites to win the national player of the year award. Juzang combines with fellow guards Jaime Jaquez Jr., Jules Bernard, and Tyger Campbell to give the Bruins the best set of perimeter guards in the country.
Mick Cronin is a proven winner, and I only see this team getting better as we get deeper into the season. The PAC-12 schedule will be strong enough for the Bruins to fade some losses and still end up with a nice seed in the tournament, so we won’t be seeing UCLA playing in the First Four round this year, but we just might see them playing in the Final Four again!
Arizona Wildcats (10-0)
When the Arizona Wildcats lured longtime Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd away from Spokane, many within the Wildcat’s program hated the hire. The students, boosters, and fans all booed the hire, at least initially. But they aren’t booing now, as Lloyd has led Arizona to an undefeated record, and the Wildcats have gone from unranked, to the top-10, in a hurry with Lloyd leading the way.
A lot of people will tell you that the Big 10 is the better league when compared to the PAC-12, but don’t tell Arizona that, as the Wildcats have already beaten a couple of the top teams from the Big 10, with wins over Michigan and Illinois. The win over Illinois, in a true road game, was particularly impressive, and despite having tempered expectations coming into the season, the Wildcats are now very much in the national title conversation. There were stretches of that Illinois game where Arizona looked like they were the best team in the country and that just might end up being the case.
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaMBB) December 16, 2021
The analytics love the Wildcats, as Kenpom has Arizona ranked as the 12th best offense and 9th best defense, making them one of the most well-balanced teams around. They score the ball efficiently, and they never give up easy looks on defense. If the Jayhawks are the most experienced team on this list, the Wildcats are the least experienced, as many of their best players are young, which tells me that once these guys get some more experience, they are going to be insanely hard to beat.
We are about to find out just how good this team can be, as they have 4 straight road games upcoming, all coming against good teams. Arizona plays their final non-conference game on the road against Tennessee, then they kick off PAC-12 play with road games at UCLA, USC, and Arizona State. While winning each of those games is a nearly impossible task, if the Wildcats do come out of that stretch still undefeated, they are locks to be the top-ranked team in every major poll.
Duke Blue Devils (9-1)
In what is the final year of Coach K’s legendary career at Duke, he has a shot at taking home yet another national title, as this team is the real deal. The Blue Devils have a big win over Gonzaga as well as a nice win over Kentucky, and really, they should probably be undefeated. Duke fell apart late against Ohio State to lose to the Buckeyes on the road in a game that they should have won.
I won’t knock the Blue Devils too much for that loss in hostile territory, and as Duke prepares for their league play in the ACC, they stand out as clearly the team to beat. Normally the ACC is amongst the best leagues in the country, but the conference is down this year, with the Blue Devils the only team currently ranked in the top-25 nationally.
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) December 17, 2021
The guy that gets all of the headlines in Durham is freshman sensation, Paulo Banchero. Banchero torched the Zags for 19 first half points before cramps cost him significant minutes in the second half, but he showed that he can take over a game, no matter who the Blue Devils are matched up against. And while Banchero is the most talented player on this team and could very well end up as the number one overall draft pick in next year’s NBA draft, if you ask me, the key to winning a national title for Duke is none other than Wendell Moore.
Moore leads the team in scoring, and his stat line of 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists a game has him posting numbers that are going to get him a look for All American honors. Moore spent most of the game against the Zags being guarded by preseason All-American Drew Timme and flirted with a quadruple-double, posting 20 points, 6 boards, 6 dimes, and a sizzling hot 6 steals, that ended up being the difference in a tightly contested contest. To see Coach K wrap up his career with another national title would be a storybook ending to a Hall of Fame career, and it is hard not to find yourself rooting for the Blue Devils this year.
Alabama Crimson Tide (8-2)
When Alabama is on, they can beat anybody. When they are off, well, they are way off. No team has a better stack of wins than the Tide do, as they beat Gonzaga and Houston in back-to-back games, and they have a whopping 6 top-100 wins already this year. But as great as the Tide looked against the Zags and the Cougars, they looked that bad in losses to Memphis and unranked Iona.
Alabama head coach Nate Oats lives and dies by the 3-pointer as the Tide basically only shoot from deep or from the paint, with zero shots coming from the mid-range. If that 3-point ball is dropping, they are basically unbeatable. If it’s not, they can lose to a team like Iona. The upside of this team will keep them on my national title radar no matter how many games they might lose. They already beat half of last year’s Final Four, and slow shooting nights and fluky losses to teams that they should beat won’t change that.
A top-25 match-up at next week's @CMNewtonClassic!
No. 6/8 Alabama vs. No. 23/23 Colorado State
Make sure you're there!
— Alabama Men’s Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) December 16, 2021
Alabama has a lethal combination with Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford, and as long as one of those guys is on, this team is scary. If I had to have one concern about his team, it is shot selection, as they can take some bad looks here and there. That is particularly true for Quinerly, as his 2-8 shooting from 3 was one of the biggest reasons why the Tide lost to Memphis, and he had a game earlier this year against lowly South Dakota State, where he launched an absurd 15 3s, hitting just 4 of them.
There probably isn’t a team with a wider range of performances than Alabama, and in the SEC, which is the best league in the nation right now, hands down, there are going to be plenty of ups and downs. The game that I am circling on my calendar right now comes to us on December 21st, when Alabama plays against the undefeated Colorado State Rams. The Rams are a good team, and that is going to be a fun game to watch. Alabama could win by double digits or lose by double digits and that makes them must-see TV!
USC Trojans (11-0)
If I had to put my finger on the most surprising team in the country right now, I would lean towards Arizona, as the Wildcats truly came out of nowhere. But the USC Trojans are a close second, as this team was expected to be down after losing lottery pick Evan Mobley last year, and at 11-0, they are looking like a really good basketball team.
The schedule has been admittedly weak for the Trojans, and they might be a tad overrated due to their lack of competition, but the eye test tells me that this team is a lock to still be playing after the first weekend of March Madness is all said and done. In a lot of years, being the 3rd or 4th best team in the PAC-12 would put you on the bubble, but this year, finishing anywhere near the top of the league standings is going to make you a threat to go deep in March, as the league is as strong as it has been in a very long time.
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) December 17, 2021
Evan Mobley is gone, but his brother Isiah is still here, and he has been explosive for the Trojans. Mobley is filling up the stat sheet with team high averages in points (15) and rebounds (10), as well as averaging 3 assists, a block, and a steal per game. After a slow start to the season, Mobley has scored 20 or more points in 4 out of his last 5 games, with a double-double in each contest.
Things are going to get a lot tougher for USC in a hurry as they have a couple of non-conference games against top-100 teams Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State before hosting Arizona early in January. I don’t see the Trojans staying undefeated much longer, but as long as Isiah Mobley keeps looking like a first-round draft pick and the supporting cast shows up to contribute, this team is going to be hard to beat.
Villanova Wildcats (7-3)
Some of you out there might be questioning why I am leaving a 3-loss Villanova team in the top-10. I mean, I get it, they have had some early-season struggles, but you shouldn’t ever have to apologize for losing to Baylor, Purdue, or UCLA as those teams all project out as Final Four caliber squads. I am not going to fault Jay Wright for scheduling tough, and this team has top-10 level talent, so they still deserve mention.
We already talked a little bit about how experience is the name of the game in March, and just like the Kansas Jayhawks, this Villanova team has tons of experience on the floor. Collin Gillespie took advantage of the extra season due to COVID-19 last year, and he is joined by upperclassmen Justin Moore, Caleb Daniels, Jermaine Samuels, and Brandon Slater.
Preparation ? pic.twitter.com/HIODLMhvqZ
— Villanova MBB (@NovaMBB) December 17, 2021
Jay Wright is far too good of a head coach, and this roster has far too much talent and experience, for the Wildcats to be counted out because of a couple of losses to elite teams. The Big East is always nasty, and there will be lots of time for Villanova to rack up quality victories, and as the favorites to win the Big East, that is just what I see happening.
For those of you out there doubting Jay Wright’s team, hit me back in a couple of months when Vilanova has a dozen or more top-100 wins and hits March sitting at a 2 or 3 seed that nobody wants to see in their bracket. Having a senior leader at point guard is the single biggest weapon a team can have in the NCAA tournament, and with Collin Gillespie leading the way, the Wildcats are going to be a very tough out in March.
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.
If you want to win in March betting on college hoops, you need to start doing your homework now, and that starts by swinging by TheSportsGeek’s college hoops betting page, where our team of expert handicappers bring you high value, free, NCAA Men’s Basketball betting picks!