Good morning and happy Tuesday friends and readers of Music City Drive In. Welcome back to another week of our college basketball power rankings. We had a lot of great games last week that will have made a huge impact on the rankings from last week, with one team that made a statement during the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Speaking of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, the SEC took the challenge by winning 6 out of the 10 games on the schedule Saturday. The Big 12 has been touted all year as the deepest league top to bottom, with it looking to secure 7 to 8 bids to the NCAA tournament this year. However, the SEC seems to be the top conference in college basketball this year. With so many schools “focusing” on football, it is good to see that the investments made in these programs by athletic departments have made the SEC more than Kentucky and everybody else. Let’s get to the power rankings and as always, a team’s previous ranking is in parentheses.
- Auburn (1) – 20-1
What else can be said about Jabari Smith? If Auburn wasn’t as deep as they are, he would probably be asked to do more than he has to but that isn’t the case. However, when this team needs a bucket, he is the one guy they have who can get it. This team is deep, talented and just secured Bruce Pearl a fancy new extension with the Louisville job open. Pretty good week that also happened to include an easy win over Oklahoma after a scare against lowly Missouri.
- Gonzaga (2) – 17-2
The top two teams in this ranking could end the year as the top two teams in the country. We all thought that the WCC would give the Zags a bigger challenge this year, but they just keep on winning and winning easily. Andrew Nembhard has emerged from his mid-year slump to lead this team offensively, and oh yeah, they still have Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren in the middle. Gonzaga should cruise to another WCC title.
- Purdue (8) – 18-3
Jaden Ivey is somehow flying under the radar in the National Player of the Year race, but he has been one of the most consistent players in the B1G this year. He is the main reason, along with the twin towers of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams, that Purdue has been able to stabilize themselves towards the top of the conference standings. The Boilermakers almost blew a second half lead to Ohio State on Sunday, but pulled out the big win to secure a move up.
- Kentucky (12) – 17-4
The Wildcats just secured one of the more impressive wins of the year, going into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and running Kansas out of their own gym. They controlled the game from tip to the final buzzer, winning in the end by 18. Keion Brooks finally put everything together for his best game in a Kentucky uniform, finishing with 27 points and 8 rebounds. Oscar Tshiebwe keeps doing Oscar Tshiebwe things and is one of the front runners for the NPOY himself. This team at full strength is a national title contender.
- UCLA (7) – 16-2
UCLA finally secured a signature win in the Pac 12 conference, with a dominating performance at home over Arizona on Tuesday. Arizona has one of the most efficient offenses in the country and the Bruins held them to 59 points. Johnny Juzang seems to be rounding into form over the last couple of weeks, even though he missed the win over Stanford on Saturday because of COVID protocols. They have to go on the road to Arizona this week, so we will see if they have a repeat performance in them.
- Houston (6) – 18-2
Kelvin Sampson is the current leader in the clubhouse for National Coach of the Year, followed closely by Bruce Pearl, but what Sampson has done with this team is nothing short of a miracle. Yes, the AAC may be a one-bid league this year, but Houston just keeps on winning. The emergence of transfer Kyler Edwards since the Cougars top two scorers were lost for the season has helped steady the ship. This may be their ceiling because of how bad the AAC is, however, with only bad losses on the horizon and no opportunities for good wins.
- Baylor (4) – 18-3
Baylor has not been at full strength for a while now, and that was no different on Saturday on the road against Alabama. James Akinjo is still dealing with that lingering back issue and LJ Cryer, the Bears leading scorer, missed the game entirely. At the end of the day, you cannot fault a team for losing on the road not at full strength but let’s hope they get healthy soon.
- Arizona (3) – 17-2
Arizona’s first opportunity for a signature win since the loss to Tennessee did not go well at Pauley Pavilion last Tuesday. That efficient offense finally had an off night like no other, barely shooting 30% from the floor and just not sharing the ball like they normally do. Bennedict Mathurin came crashing back to earth, going 5/22 from the floor in that game. The good news is the Bruins are coming to town for a rematch on Thursday.
- Duke (10) – 17-3
The struggles of the ACC have reflected poorly on Duke in Coach K’s last year on the bench. There just aren’t many opportunities for quality wins in this league, so the Blue Devils have a razor thin margin of error moving forward. They have the rivalry game at the Dean Dome against North Carolina on Saturday, but a win there is not likely to boost their resume by much. The good news is that Trevor Keels returned Monday against Notre Dame, so they seem to be getting healthy again.
- Wisconsin (11) – 17-3
Wisconsin bounced back from that disappointing loss to Michigan State by winning a couple of nail biters this past week, which is par for the course this year for the Badgers. The metrics don’t love this team, but the results are there. Johnny Davis is still a revelation and probably the leader above all in the NPOY race at this moment.
- Kansas (5) – 17-3
Sheesh. Bill Self said it best when he said that they Jayhawks just didn’t have the athletes to compete with Kentucky on Saturday. Ochai Agbaji was bottled up by the Wildcats and they dared anyone else to beat them, the trouble is Kansas didn’t have anyone else that could. David McCormack didn’t play in the final 18 minutes, and his inconsistency is starting to really hurt this team. They have a couple of opportunities this week to get back on track against Iowa State and Baylor, but they could just as easily be staring at a 3-game losing streak when this week is over.
- Michigan State (9) – 16-4
Michigan State couldn’t pull out a close one against Illinois that was playing without Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo but bounced back nicely by blowing out their hated rival Michigan. They missed an opportunity to take control of the B1G race with the loss to Illinois, but as it stands, they are only a half game back of Wisconsin and Illinois with a couple of easy games this week against Maryland and Rutgers.
- Villanova (15) – 16-5
The Wildcats have taken care of business against three bottom feeders in the Big East, beating Georgetown, Depaul and St. Johns by double digits since the surprising loss to Marquette. The schedule is much tougher this week, with a rematch against Marquette followed by maybe the hottest team in the Big East in UCONN. Colin Gillespie needs to be more consistent nightly for Villanova to climb back into the top 10.
- Texas Tech (13) – 16-5
Texas Tech lost a heartbreaker against Kansas last Monday, but they just could not bottle up Ochai Agbaji on the road. They probably should have won that game several times, but they let it slip through their fingers. As of this writing, Red Raider students are camping out for seats to Chris Beard’s return on Tuesday. That environment in Lubbock is going to be fun, and with Terrance Shannon back at full strength this team should be amped up for the contest.
- Providence (18) – 18-2
Nobody saw Ed Cooley’s team coming, and they just keep on winning. Providence fans are used to baffling losses followed by a run in February that gets them to the fringe of an at-large bid, so this should be a nice change of pace. The Friars are currently leading the Big East with a week and a half before their next test against Villanova. They should be 11-1 in the conference going into that contest.
- Ohio State (16) – 13-5
The best two-way player in the country, EJ Liddell, couldn’t drag the Buckeyes to a road win over Purdue on Sunday but he gave it everything he had. The emergence of other stars across the conference and country have overshadowed what he is consistently doing every night, but he is very much in the race for National Player of the Year. Everyone expects it from him, and he continues to deliver.
- UConn (NR) – 15-4
If Providence wasn’t playing as well as they are, UConn would be the most surprising team in the Big East. Still the only team that has defeated Auburn this season, they have crept back into the conference race by way of 5 straight wins. An opportunity for a statement win lurks on Saturday against Villanova but they can’t get caught looking ahead against a decent, albeit inconsistent, Creighton squad on Tuesday.
- Illinois (NR) – 15-5
One of the more frustrating teams to peg so far this season, Illinois seems to always take one step forward then two steps back. The Illini showed tremendous resiliency by holding on at home against Michigan State without Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo. Trent Frazier has emerged as a solid third option for Illinois, and hopefully they stay healthy the rest of the way so we can see this team at full strength.
- USC (14) – 18-3
As it turns out, USC is a head below Arizona and UCLA in the Pac 12. They were product of an easier schedule when they rose as high as 6 in the AP poll, but this is still a talented squad. Isaiah Mobley leads this team in every major statistical category, and they do not have a consistent complementary option to him right now. They will need someone else to step up if they are going to pull off the upset against Arizona on Saturday and change opinions throughout the nation.
- Iowa State (NR) – 16-5
Iowa State is another team that has come back to earth a bit after a hot start against a lackluster non-conference slate. The Big 12 offers plenty of opportunities for quality wins, however, so their outlook could change quickly in either direction with games against Kansas and Texas this week. If they cannot get going on offense, however, it is going to be tough for them to win consistently.
Teams that Dropped Out: Tennessee (17), LSU (19), Marquette (20)
Three Games to Watch this Week:
Texas @ (14) Texas Tech – Tuesday 2/1 @ 9 PM EST
The environment in Lubbock, TX on Tuesday night is going to be a pressure cooker. Red Raider Nation is still not happy that Chris Beard left for their in-state rival last off-season, and they are going to let him hear it. Students were already camping out Saturday night for a game 72 hours later. This one is going to be fun.
(5) UCLA @ (8) Arizona – Thursday 2/3 @ 8 PM EST
Thankfully this one will tip off three hours earlier than the game last Tuesday evening at UCLA. Arizona gets another shot at a signature win and to prove themselves as a national title contender. If the Wildcats are going to win, they will need to figure out how to shoot better from outside to overtake the Bruins in the Pac 12 standings.
(17) UConn @ (13) Villanova – Saturday 2/5 @ 12 PM EST
UConn is playing as well as anyone in the Big East right now and can prove that Dan Hurley has turned a corner with this program on Saturday. In order to be considered the best you need to beat the best, and it doesn’t get much better than on the road against Villanova. RJ Cole is not mentioned often in POY conversations for the Big East, but that could change in a big way with a breakout performance against the Wildcats.