The resident college basketball power ranking forward is off this week so I took the off-the-bench opportunity to bring my A-game to The Sports Fan Journal’s college basketball weekly power rankings. The leaders of the pack escaped most of my wrath, but some teams, like Clemson, weren’t so lucky. Here’s how things shook out while the MVP Josh Naso was away.
1. Virginia (24-2) Last Week: 1
After a crazy nail biting, double-overtime loss to Virginia Tech last weekend, the Cavaliers bounced back with a decisive 59-50 victory over Miami Wednesday. Maybe decisive isn’t the right word, but they did avoid a Chaminade-esque upset, marking their first week at No. 1 in the AP a success. Not that nine-points over the Hurricanes is impressive per say, but compared to the rest of the field its enough to keep the top spot in this week’s power rankings.
2. Michigan State (26-3) last Week: 3
Defeated Minnesota and Northwestern
Rallying from 27-points down to beat Northwestern 65-60 earns you the number two spot. And if Virginia had lost, it would have earned the Spartans the top spot. Maybe next week…
Tom Izzo’s squad leads the Big Ten and hasn’t recorded a loss since January 13th when they fell to rival Michigan. The 10-game win streak the Spartans are on is solid despite its unranked nature. They are clearly clutch, so the Cavaliers should beware.
3. Villanova (24-3) Last Week: 2
Defeated No. 4 Xavier and lost to Providence
Talk about a high-low week – first the Friars stun the Wildcats in a 76-71 upset fueled by 17-points from Kyron Cartwright. Then Villanova bounces back and defeats one of the best teams in the country, Xavier, by a 16-point margin in a game that meant everything for the two Big East teams. The Wildcats effectively cut the Musketeers league lead to half a game and swept the head-to-head series. But the loss to Providence – a story of turnovers and faulty perimeter shooting, dropped Villanova down a spot this week.
Fun fact: the win over Xavier was the second-largest win by Villanova against a Top-5 team under coach Jay Wright (according to ESPN Stats& Info).
4. Xavier (24-3) Last Week: 4
Defeated Seton Hall, lost to No. 3 Villanova
Speaking of Chris Mack’s squad…Xavier stays exactly the same this week with a solid 102-90 win over Seton Hall, who is a sneaky good team. But the aforementioned loss to Villanova prevented them from making money moves. Senior guard Trevon Bluiett put up 26 points against Nova though, surpassing David West for second place on Xavier’s career scoring list with 2,140 points.
Chippy, aggressive play from Xavier in the first half against Villanova set a weird tone that the Musketeers couldn’t shake off. But bad first halves are common for Xavier when playing the Wildcats: they have suffered double-digit losses to Villanova the last four times the two teams have met, in large part to bad first-half play.
5. Texas Tech (22-5) Last Week: 7
Defeated No. 23 Oklahoma, Lost to Baylor
The Red Raiders round out the top-5 after splitting games this week – big win over Oklahoma, pretty bad loss to Baylor. Such is life in the Big-12 though. Texas Tech is one of my favorite teams to watch due to high-level play from Keenan Evans and freshman Zhaire Smith and stingy defense – the Red Raiders held Lubbock local Trae Young to just 19 points, kept him from scoring beyond the arc and forced him to commit six of the Oklahoma's 14 turnovers.
But an early toe injury removed Evans from Saturday’s bout with Baylor, causing Tech to stumble without their leader. Smith stepped up and led the team with 15 points, only two of which came in the second half, unfortunately. The loss to the Bears dropped the Red Raiders into a tie for first place with Kansas, with Tech having the head-to-head edge.
6. Gonzaga (25-4) Last Week: 9
Defeated LMU and Pepperdine
It pains me to move the Zags up this far but with everyone else faltering, how could I not? Two unimpressive WCC wins but nary a loss since the January 18th defeat at the hands of conference rival Saint Mary’s. And smooth sailing ahead for the Zags with just USD and BYU left on the schedule. Could we see an upset in Provo? Probably not but a girl can dream.
7. Duke (21-5) Last Week: NR
Defeated No. 11 Clemson and Virginia Tech
It’s always a weird year when you don’t know how you are supposed to feel about Duke. The Blue Devils are much like the unpopular character in a teen movie, cast out for their losses to Boston College and NC State but then they take their glasses off and beat No. 11 Clemson and you realize they were super cool all along. The 66-57 victory over the Tigers coupled with a 74-52 win over Virginia Tech propelled Duke back into the power rankings this week. But they must navigate the murky ACC waters the next few games to avoid being kicked out of the inner circle.
8. Cincinnati (23-4) Last Week: 5
Losses to Houston and No. 19 Wichita State
I debated removing the Bearcats from the power rankings altogether this week but couldn’t come up with a suitable replacement. So they have the field to thank for their minor tumble. The loss to the Shockers I understand, but shooting only 32 percent against Houston in the second half is not acceptable. I’m all for a good court storming, but I desire a little consistency in my top teams. I’m just old-fashioned that way I guess. The AAC race is going to be fun to watch though.
Fun fact: Wichita State’s win at Cincinnati is the Shockers first road win against a top-5 opponent since 1964. And they did so against a team that hadn’t lost a game at home since December 29th, 2015.
9. Kansas (21-6) Last Week: NR
Defeated Iowa State and No. 20 West Virginia
After a rocky past couple of weeks, the Jayhawks seem to have finally evened things out. Kansas beat up on Iowa State and won a wild-west type game against No. 20 West Virginia AT HOME. That win sets up an exciting showdown between Texas Tech and Kansas on Saturday, which will likely determine the conference champion.
Kansas’ second-half play against the Mountaineers was a welcome blast from the past – from a time when you didn’t have to hold your breath in Allen Fieldhouse, a time before missed jumpers and soft defensive play. But shout out to Cole Aldrich who had his number retired on Saturday. He is the 32nd player to have his number hanging in Allen Fieldhouse. And he is my favorite player.
Fun fact(s): Kansas’ +33 edge in free throw attempts against West Virginia was its largest ever against a Big-12 opponent. The Jayhawks went +33 against Emporia State in 1997 and +31 against Oklahoma State last year.
Also, West Virginia has now blown a double-digit second-half lead to lose in each of its last three games against Kansas #NowYouKnow
10. Arizona (21-6) Last Week: NR
Defeated USC and No. 25 Arizona State
Surprised to see a Pac-12 school? Understandable. The Conference of Champions, much like its brethren the Big-12 suffers from the curse of 12. But that’s a story for another article. The Wildcats trounced the Trojans 81-67 and evaded the Curtain of Distraction, beating ASU 77-70. Arizona remained cool during a heated rivalry game, particularly Deandre Ayton who put up 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to aide Arizona in sweeping its in-state rival.
A first? Arizona Wildcats cheerleader ejected from the #ASU game. pic.twitter.com/vtqEvYZH2X
— azcentral sports (@azcsports) February 16, 2018
Lurking: Wichita State, Rhode Island and Saint Mary’s
Dropped from rankings: Clemson, Purdue and Auburn
SMC is the perpetual lurker, the definition of “always a bridesmaid” and the Gaels loss to USF helped confirm my decision to leave them out. Rhode Island dropped a close game to St. Bonaventure. Wichita State is the only true outsider in the hunt, circling closer after its historic win over Cincy. And to the teams who fell out, you know what you did. Florida State? Really?
It’s about to be an exciting final stretch as we draw ever closer to the month of March. Check back next week for the latest, and stick with TSFJ for everything you need to know regarding college hoops as we approach the tournament.
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.