We have to start of this week’s power rankings by giving a huge shout out to Emily Van Buskirk for stepping in and handling the rankings last week.
As for this week, the top remains the same despite some less than challenging opponents and a stumble from one of the teams. The top three or four teams have put enough distance between themselves and the pack that it would take a losing streak to really hurt their position. The same can’t be said towards the bottom, where two teams went tumbling out of this week’s rankings. Let’s dive in as we come down the stretch in college hoops.
1. Virginia (26-2) Last week: 1
Defeated Georgia Tech, Pitt
Pitt has been so bad that it’s too easy to pick on it, but Virginia handled its business against the Panthers, holding them to seven - yes, seven! - first half points en route to a 29-point victory. We’ve grown accustomed to discussing Virginia’s defense, but that unit is crazy good. The Cavalier defense is more than three points better per 100 possessions than the next best team, per KenPom. Anyone who doubted Tony Bennett’s squad entering the season has had their fill of crow by now, and no one is looking forward to being matched up with Virginia on Selection Sunday.
2. Michigan State (28-3) Last week: 2
Defeated Illinois, Wisconsin
The Spartans escaped Wisconsin on Sunday to wrap up the Big Ten title, as the conference’s desperation to play its tournament in Madison Square Garden caused its teams to finish their regular season schedules on Sunday. After a hiccup in mid-January, Michigan State enters the conference tournament winners of 12 straight, and the Spartans once again look like one of the most dangerous teams in the country.
3. Villanova (25-4) Last week: 3
Defeated DePaul, Lost to Creighton
After building on its impressive win over Xavier last Saturday with a trouncing of DePaul, Villanova stumbled in a chaotic road game at Creighton. You’d think that would cause the Wildcats to fall in the rankings, but the only team suited to overtake them, Xavier, holds an identical 25-4 record and was defeated head-to-head by ‘Nova twice. That, combined with Villanova’s season-long consistency, allows it to hold its position. For now.
4. Xavier (25-4) Last week: 4
We just explained why the Musketeers remain slotted at number four despite Villanova’s loss. But Xavier has bigger fish to fry, as it now controls its own destiny in the Big East race and to be the first team besides Villanova to win the regular season conference title since the league reconfigured. Xavier is likely to get the last laugh over the Wildcats, at least in the regular season, and is in line for a one seed in the NCAA tournament.
5. Gonzaga (27-4) Last week: 6
Defeated San Diego, BYU
The ‘Zags have gone MIA from the national discourse since falling in their biggest non-conference test against Villanova. Losses to San Diego State and St. Mary’s didn’t help either. But Gonzaga responded by avenging that St. Mary’s loss with a 13-point victory in the rematch, putting itself in line to win the WCC. In addition, the Bulldogs hold nice wins over Ohio State and Texas and have won 11 straight. The have creeped back into the top 10 in the polls and are prepared to sneak some people in the big dance.
6. Duke (24-5) Last week: 7
Defeated Louisville, Syracuse
After losing three of four in late January/early February, the Dookies have now won five straight. Four of those wins came without Marvin Bagley III and included were three top 35 KenPom wins (Clemson, Louisville, Virginia Tech). Stiff tests remain in Virginia Tech and North Carolina, but the Blue Devils look to be righting the ship just in time for a postseason run.
7. Kansas (23-6) Last week: 9
Defeated Oklahoma, No. 6 Texas Tech
The Jayhawks spent the week making everyone who doubted their ability to claim their 14th consecutive Big 12 title feel silly. In getting the best win of the week by beating No. 6 Texas Tech, Kansas claimed at least a share of the conference title and proved it’s a bad idea to bet against them. Kansas continues to win big games and will be among the favorites come March.
8. Cincinnati (25-4) Last week: 8
Defeated UConn, Tulsa
The Bearcats were fortunate not to fall from the rankings a week ago after two tough losses. Luckily for them, no one behind them put together a convincing week, allowing the ‘Cats to only tumble a few spots. This week they hold steady with two wins. Cincy’s defense is legit, as the Bearcats hold as big of a cushion over the rest of the pack with the exception of top-ranked Virginia. Sunday’s season finale against Wichita State will be huge for Cincinnati in terms of seeding.
9. Purdue (26-5) Last week: NR
Defeated Illinois, Minnesota
After dropping from the rankings a week ago following a disastrous three-game stretch, the Boilermakers responded by finishing the regular season with three straight wins, including a solid win over Penn State. Purdue was able to secure a second-place finish in the Big Ten. Despite the recent three-game skid fresh in the memory, the Boilermakers are one of only three teams (Michigan State, Duke) who meet the mythical top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Keep an eye on Purdue, as right now it feels like there are equal chances of a spectacular flameout or a run to the Final Four.
10. Rhode Island (23-4) Last week: NR
Defeated LaSalle, Dayton
Rhode Island has been lurking for quite some time, and finally cracks the rankings with just a week to go in the regular season. None of the Rams’ four losses would be considered 'bad,' to be honest. The schedule leaves some questions, but wins over Seton Hall, Providence and Davidson are solid. It’s understandable if you're not completely sold on the Rams, but they get the nod this week as the losses continue to pile up for the teams around them.
Lurking: Wichita State, Auburn, Texas Tech, St. Mary’s, Nevada, North Carolina
Dropped from rankings: Texas Tech, Arizona
Already down an assistant coach after firing Book Richardson amid the initial reverberations of the FBI investigation into college basketball, Arizona fell to Oregon without head coach Sean Miller, who skipped the game after being linked to knowledge of payments made to Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton. On-court results are the least of the issues at Arizona right now.
Meanwhile Texas Tech has lost three straight with tough games against West Virginia and TCU looming as it tries to end the tailspin.
We’ve reached the final week of a crazy regular season of college hoops, and things will likely get crazier as teams make their final pushes and we head into the madness. Check back next week to see how things have changed and stick with The Sports Fan Journal for everything you need to know heading into the conference and NCAA tournaments.
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Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.