It may be mid-January, but the current level of madness in college basketball has made it feel much later in the season.
Saturday brought the latest on-court drama, with 11 teams in the AP Top 25 taking a loss, tying the record for the most ranked teams to fall on a single day. The takeaways from these results? For starters, it’s that you really can’t come to a full conclusion on the national scene right now. Secondly, it reflects how something like North Carolina going to the national title game, or Saint Peter’s and Oral Roberts making the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, can become reality.
We say that entering March, it’s about the hottest teams peaking at the right time. There are more than enough candidates to fit into that column, and it’s going to be fun to see it all get figured out. One other item regarding the 11 ranked teams falling Saturday: nine of those losses came on the road, something that should not come as a surprise. There are a few surprises, though, and some teams that looked to have Final Four potential have been exposed in recent weeks. We’ll get to that in our takeaways following the updated top 15, which has another shakeup of its own.
A reminder: these are weekly power rankings. Just because a team may have won a game does not mean that we’ll be stale and keep them in the same spot.
1. Alabama (15-2)
The Crimson Tide have won their five SEC games by a combined 114 points. After beating a previously 12-4 LSU team 106-66 on Saturday, Nate Oats and Bama get the top spot. Brandon Miller is the best freshman in college basketball, and it isn’t close. For a team starting three freshmen, it’s hard to believe how poised and in control Alabama is in games. Ohio transfer Mark Sears has been an invaluable addition.
2. Kansas (16-1)
KJ Adams Jr. has really evolved in Bill Self’s system and was the hero in Saturday’s 62-60 win over Iowa State. And speaking of freshmen, Gradey Dick has been superb for the Jayhawks, going for a team-high 21 points in the victory over the Cyclones.
3. Houston (17-1)
The Cougars trailed USF with 13 minutes on the clock this past week, and while they ended up winning the game, it seems like we haven’t yet fully seen the best from Kelvin Sampson’s team. Marcus Sasser went off for 31 in the win over the Bulls. With his leadership and scoring prowess, Houston can beat anyone.
4. Purdue (16-1)
Fletcher Loyer put up a career-high 27 points with six triples — the most by a Purdue freshman in a game in program history — as the Boilers commanded Nebraska by 18 on Friday. It marked Matt Painter’s 400th win at Purdue, who turns the page to a showdown at Michigan State on Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
5. UCLA (16-2)
6. Texas (15-2)
The Longhorns are 4-1 in the challenging Big 12 after a 72-70 win over Texas Tech on Saturday. Credit to Rodney Terry, who’s done a terrific job leading Texas through the Chris Beard drama and firing. An X-factor for the Longhorns? Sir’Jabari Rice. He posted 18 points and four assists in Saturday’s win over the Red Raiders.
7. Gonzaga (16-3)
You cannot overstate the importance of Julian Strawther’s impact on Mark Few’s team, which has won 11 straight after a dramatic one-point victory at BYU on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Drew Timme is averaging 21.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
8. Xavier (15-3)
The Musketeers have won 11 consecutive games, and Souley Boum is very much in the Big East Player of the Year race. He leads the conference with 17.7 points per game, and in wins over Creighton and No. 25 Marquette this past week, the senior combined for 48 points, 14 assists and 15 rebounds.
9. Tennessee (14-3)
We saw the potential pitfalls for the Volunteers get exposed on Saturday. When Tennessee is struggling, it’s because they lack firepower on the perimeter and the offense becomes stagnant. In the home loss to Kentucky, Tennessee shot 3-for-21 from downtown. They will go as Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi go.
10. Iowa State (13-3)
But what! The Cyclones lost at Kansas on Saturday. Yes, I’m well aware, but I’m not going to hit T.J. Otzelberger’s team for losing a game by two at Allen Fieldhouse in which any team would be an underdog. Senior guard Gabe Kalscheur was phenomenal this past week, combining for 48 points in two games.
11. Virginia (13-3)
Senior guard Armaan Franklin is averaging 16 points per game on the Cavaliers’ three-game winning streak, and the Hoos are ranked top-30 in KenPom offense and defense.
12. TCU (14-3)
The Horned Frogs answered a heartbreaking loss to Texas with a dominant performance in a 14-point win over Kansas State. Jamie Dixon’s team scored 26 points off 20 turnovers and Mike Miles, an All-American caliber guard, posted 13 points and 11 assists.
13. Clemson (15-3)
Brad Brownell’s Tigers are 7-0 in ACC play and have not lost since Dec. 10! Saturday’s 72-64 comeback win over Duke showed the defensive toughness of the Tigers, while big man PJ Hall led the way with 26 points and Brevin Galloway came up clutch with a season-high 17. We’re giving the first-place team in the ACC a well-deserved slot.
14. Rutgers (13-5)
The Scarlet Knights have won seven of their last eight games. They currently rank No. 14 on KenPom and No. 10 on Torvik, owning the nation’s second-best adjusted defensive efficiency rating. Sharpshooting transfer Cam Spencer combined for 44 points in a 2-0 week for Steve Pikiell’s team, capped off by a revenge win over Ohio State on Sunday. Ask any Big Ten coach, and they’ll tell you Rutgers is a real pain to play because of its defensive intensity and physicality.
15. Kansas State (15-2)
The Big 12 is a beast, and frankly, the Wildcats were due for a loss Saturday at TCU. I’m keeping them in the top 15 because I believe Kansas State will take down Kansas on Tuesday night in Manhattan. Will the Wildcats be the more physical team and ride the duo of Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell? We shall see.
Five other takeaways around college basketball:
Kentucky was the story of the weekend. Just when it looked like the Wildcats were spiraling out of control, they knocked off Tennessee, 63-56. The victory, the first quad one win for UK on the season, produced a 23-spot jump for the Wildcats in the NET rankings. Did John Calipari reveal something that we didn’t know about this team? Are they about to go on a big run? Let’s pump the brakes on that.
To me, Saturday was about Oscar Tshiebwe willing his team with 15 points and 13 rebounds, and the Wildcats finding a rotation that could give the Volunteers fits. Jacob Toppin, CJ Fredrick, Antonio Reeves, Cason Wallace and Tshiebwe together made it hard for the Volunteers to score, and that five produced Kentucky’s best basketball of the season. UK was without senior point guard Sahvir Wheeler (shoulder) and Daimion Collins (foot). It’s an encouraging sign for this team and a win with unlimited mileage, but I still didn’t see much of a difference offensively from the Wildcats. We’ll see if they prove me wrong, but to say this win means Kentucky’s back? I’m not sold on that.
The first team out of my top 15? Illinois. The Fighting Illini are showing signs of progress, winning their last three games and showing real toughness in a comeback win over Michigan State on Friday night. The Baylor transfers, Dain Dainja and Matthew Mayer, came up huge for Brad Underwood’s team. Dainja is a real X-factor for this team. There are some games where he’s been quiet, but when he comes on, it really changes just how difficult the Illini can be to guard. The big man went for 20 points and seven rebounds in the win over the undersized Spartans. Mayer totaled 19 points and six blocks in the victory. Illinois hosts Indiana on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1.
UConn and Arizona are both struggling, and guard play inconsistencies are present with each. The Huskies, who started the year 14-0, have lost four out of five and were all out of sorts in an 85-74 loss to St. John’s on Sunday. Meanwhile, for the Wildcats, an 87-68 blowout loss to Oregon on Saturday featured 16 turnovers, while Kerr Kriisa and Courtney Ramey combined to go 6-for-22 from the floor. For Dan Hurley and Tommy Lloyd, things must be fixed in the backcourt.
In a crucial year for Kevin Keatts and NC State, the Wolfpack are on track to return to the NCAA Tournament. Saturday’s game against Miami was a thriller, as Terquavion Smith delivered 20 points while fellow sophomore big man Ernest Ross had 17 and nine in an 83-81 overtime victory. Keatts has a balanced attack with five players averaging 9.1 points or more per game, and the duo of Smith and Jarkel Joiner in the backcourt is a handful for opposing defenses. I’m buying stock in the Wolfpack as second-weekend sleeper in the NCAA Tournament.
I was on hand at the Cintas Center on Sunday for Xavier’s 80-76 win over Marquette. It served as a reminder of what that building is when the Musketeers have it rolling. The atmosphere was off the charts, and the buzz that Sean Miller has injected back into a program with rich tradition stands out. The fans also had an extra pep on their step, with some on their first sports stop of the game before they went tailgating for the Bengals/Ravens Wild Card thriller on Sunday night. While XU won its 11th straight game, I continue to be impressed by Shaka Smart’s Golden Eagles and particularly, junior point guard Tyler Kolek. He is one of the best guards in the country, and his ability to create plays for his teammates is special. In the last six Marquette games, Kolek has tallied 54 assists to just 11 turnovers.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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