College Basketball Power Rankings – January 18
The college basketball season is just over two months old. Let’s take a look at the top 10 teams in the country, with a lot of change and volatility marking the landscape of the sport after a wild and turbulent week.
The Bears have lost two straight games, so it’s easy to dispute the idea that they are still the team to beat. It’s completely fair to question this selection. However, they’re still No. 1 because with their full roster, they have looked unbeatable. A key player has been missing in the Bears’ two losses over the past week, both at home against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Jeremy Sochan has been out of the lineup, and without him, the Bears’ offense has collapsed. Sochan is not an overwhelmingly dominant offensive player, but when he is on the floor, setting screens and spacing the floor, everyone else on the Baylor roster has more freedom and room to operate. It totally changes the character and fluidity of the Baylor offense. When Baylor gets Sochan back later this season, the Bears should return to being the best team in a cutthroat Big 12 Conference. If Baylor struggles even after Sochan returns to the court, then you can remove Baylor from the top spot. If Sochan comes back and Baylor dominates again, there’s no reason to displace the Bears from the No. 1 position.
Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils crushed Gonzaga earlier in the season. They struggled for awhile, but have looked really strong in recent games against Wake Forest and North Carolina State. The big limitation with Duke is that the Atlantic Coast Conference is very weak this season, meaning Duke won’t get elite-level tests before the NCAA Tournament. That could hurt this team. However, the win over Gonzaga shows how high the ceiling is for Mike Krzyzewski in his final season as a head coach. You know his Duke players will want to take him to the Final Four in his last ride. That’s a powerful motivator for a team with Paolo Banchero, who is likely to be a top-three pick in the 2022 NBA draft later this year. There are many reasons to think that Duke is going to find its best form when March Madness rolls around.
The team which made the national championship game last season and came one win away from an unbeaten year has a very good chance at getting back to the title game. Chet Holmgren is one of the best freshmen in the country, alongside Banchero of Duke. Holmgren is surrounded by Drew Timme, Andrew Nembhard, and other veterans from last season’s team, giving Gonzaga a mixture of youth and experience which will be hard to beat.
In full candor, Gonzaga hasn’t played all that well for a good portion of the season. Gonzaga lost to Duke and Alabama, showing that the losses of Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert from last season’s team were more substantial than many had previously thought or anticipated. It’s true, however, that in recent weeks, Gonzaga’s offense has come alive and you’re seeing the Zags play at a much higher level. They have scored over 100 points in three straight games. They are playing with more clarity and precision. The limitation placed on this team, however, is that this offensive resurgence has come against the WCC, which has not been quite as strong as many had anticipated this season. San Francisco just lost to BYU, and Santa Clara has fallen off the pace after an encouraging month of November. Gonzaga’s improved play is enough to put the Zags in third place, but Baylor and Duke do deserve to be rated higher.
The Tigers have won a lot of games this season without Allen Flanigan, who has been injured. They have Jabari Smith, who might go higher than Paulo Banchero in the NBA draft. He has been projected to be the No. 1 pick on some early draft boards. Walker Kessler, the transfer from North Carolina, is a shot-blocking big man who provides a lot of defensive muscle for the Tigers. Ultimately, Auburn has a ton of depth and a lot of different complementary parts. The Tigers have many different ways to win, which is the mark of a great team. They can play fast or slow. They can win games in the 80s or in the 60s. They can win with offense or defense. They aren’t especially limited in how they play. They can adjust based on the needs of a specific game and react to the challenges posed by different opponents. Auburn is the clear SEC favorite and has a great chance to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That puts the Tigers in the top four.
The emergence of David McCormack gives Kansas a high-quality big man. Whenever the Jayhawks have an elite big man performing at a high level, the rest of their roster relaxes and settles into its designed role. If McCormack remains a top-quality player for the rest of the season, Kansas will get a very high NCAA seed and be a frontline threat to make the Final Four and win the national championship.
The Wildcats struggled a lot on offense earlier in the season, but in the past month, they have really come alive. They put 98 points on North Carolina. This past Saturday, they scored 107 points and beat the Tennessee Volunteers, a very good defensive team, by 28. Kentucky is showing that its ceiling is very high, although the loss of shooter C.J. Fredrick might still come back to bite this team in March.
Villanova lost to UCLA and Baylor and Creighton earlier this season, but the Wildcats might be finding their form. They beat Seton Hall on the road earlier in January, and they just pounded Butler by 40 points over the weekend. This team might be able to hit its stride in February and enter March with a full head of steam. Don’t doubt the ability of two-time national championship head coach Jay Wright to get this team ready for March Madness.
The Bruins have a lot to prove, and they are coming off a COVID-19 pause in their program, which did not help them in a recent loss at home to Oregon. However, their win over Villanova earlier this season shows what they are capable of. UCLA plays Arizona on Jan. 25. That’s a huge game for both sides.
The UCLA game on Jan. 25 is a huge indicator of where the Wildcats are. We can re-evaluate them and the Bruins after that contest.
The Badgers have won at Purdue. They beat Iowa. They avenged a recent loss to Ohio State. They are probably the Big Ten favorites thanks to the emergence of Johnny Davis, a candidate for National Player of the Year. Wisconsin, even more than Michigan State, might have the right formula needed to advance in March.