College hoops Power Rankings: Virginia's win at Duke is a game-changer

Since losing to Butler in late December, Villanova has won seven in a row, scoring at least 78 points in every game and winning five of them by double digits. The Wildcats might be the best team in the country right now, and they have been terrific since their lone loss of the season.

Yet we're dropping them from first to second in this week's Power Rankings.

Of course, it's nothing against Villanova.

But Virginia going into Durham, North Carolina, and beating Duke on Saturday night is one of the best wins we'll see all season. And that victory came on the heels of the Cavaliers' 25-point win over Clemson on Tuesday -- a game in which they held the Tigers to 36 points (20 of those points coming in the first 11-plus minutes of the game).

On the court, one can make an argument for Virginia, Villanova or Purdue being the best team in the country. There's a gap between those three teams and the rest of America right now, and they're the top three teams in KenPom, ESPN's College Basketball Power Index (BPI), strength of record and Sagarin. Purdue is arguably the most complete team of the three, especially with Phil Booth out injured for Villanova, but the Boilermakers' overall profile is just a step below the other two.

Virginia has the No. 1 RPI in the country right now, backed by a top-25 SOS and six wins against Group 1 teams. The Cavaliers also are 10-1 against Group 1 and Group 2 teams, with noteworthy victories against Duke, Clemson, Rhode Island and North Carolina -- four teams listed in this week's Power Rankings and all ranked in the top 12 of the RPI.

Villanova is No. 2 in the RPI, with a better nonconference SOS than Virginia. The Wildcats have won an astounding 13 games away from home this season, and they have 11 wins against Group 1 and Group 2 teams. Where Virginia gets the edge is in the quality wins department. Villanova's best victories are over Xavier, Tennessee and Gonzaga, but then they fall off a bit to Providence, Western Kentucky and Marquette (twice).

The argument can go either way, but Virginia winning at Duke is the trump card this week.

What would help this debate is Round 3 of the Virginia-Villanova head-to-head battle. The two teams split their games from the past two years, with Virginia winning two seasons ago and Villanova prevailing by two points last season. They don't play each other this season, unfortunately.

Guess we'll have to wait for San Antonio and the Final Four.

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1. Virginia Cavaliers
Record: 20-1
Last week: 3

The Cavaliers ascend to the top spot after going on the road and beating Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Earlier in the week, they held Clemson -- top-20 Clemson, mind you -- to 36 points and 0.58 points per possession. The Cavaliers are going to shatter the defensive efficiency record.

2. Villanova Wildcats
Record: 20-1
Last week: 1

As mentioned above, Villanova did nothing to fall from the top spot; Virginia just had a great week. The Wildcats now head home for four straight games and can pad their résumé. One thing came to mind when Jalen Brunson momentarily looked hurt a couple of times on Sunday: The Wildcats can survive a lot of injuries -- but Brunson isn't one of them. He's a legitimate Wooden Award front-runner along with Trae Young right now.

3. Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 21-2
Last week: 2

Purdue has had two tests since the beginning of December, both coming against Michigan. The Boilermakers escaped both, winning by a combined five points. The back-to-back games on Feb. 7 and Feb. 10 against Ohio State and Michigan State will decide the Big Ten title race. There's not a clear spot for Purdue to lose otherwise.

4. Kansas Jayhawks
Record: 17-4
Last week: 5

Despite losing at Oklahoma, Kansas moves up a spot into 1-seed territory. The Jayhawks have six RPI Group 1 wins, which is tied for the most in the country. Their 11 Group 1 and 2 wins are tied for the most in the country, and they also have the best average win RPI in America, at 90. That's the profile of a top-seed contender.

5. Xavier Musketeers
Record: 19-3
Last week: 6

Chris Mack's team has rolled to four straight wins since losing back-to-back games at Providence and Villanova in early January. Now the Musketeers head on the road for three of their next four. Quentin Goodin is a key for Xavier; he averaged 4.7 points and shot 5-for-23 in the Musketeers' three losses.

6. Duke Blue Devils
Record: 18-3
Last week: 4

Losing at home to Virginia isn't really cause for concern, but Duke is now essentially out of the ACC title race. The Blue Devils are three games behind the Cavaliers and don't get another shot at them. Three of Duke's next four are on the road, starting next weekend with its semiannual game against a reeling St. John's team.

7. Auburn Tigers
Record: 19-2
Last week: 14

Looking closer at profiles over the weekend, Auburn's really stood out -- and thus the Tigers get a major bump despite "only" beating Missouri and LSU. The Tigers have a top-5 RPI, five Group 1 wins and a 10-2 record against Groups 1 and 2. Moreover, some of those SEC wins are only going to grow in stature after the league's performance against the Big 12.

8. Arizona Wildcats
Record: 18-4
Last week: 11

It still seems like something is missing with the Wildcats, and whether that is Rawle Alkins -- out for three of the past four games -- or something else is undetermined. But what matters for Sean Miller is that Arizona is winning regardless, especially as it embarks on a stretch that includes five of seven games on the road.

9. Cincinnati Bearcats
Record: 19-2
Last week: 12

Since the KenPom era began in 2002, no team has finished with a better defensive efficiency than Cincinnati's current 83.9 points per 100 possessions mark. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, they're overshadowed by Virginia's record-setting defense (the Cavaliers are at 80.6).

10. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Record: 17-4
Last week: 13

Chris Beard's team didn't make it look easy last week, but getting two straight wins against Oklahoma State and at South Carolina was huge after dropping three of four. Keenan Evans snapped out of his mini-slump, hitting seven 3-pointers in the two games and averaging 28.5 points.

11. Tennessee Volunteers
Record: 15-5
Last week: 15

The Volunteers have won six of their past seven after thumping Iowa State on the road by 23 -- not the typical result in Hilton Coliseum. They also have eight wins against Groups 1 and 2 teams, as well as terrific power numbers (RPI, SOS, nonconference SOS). Tennessee should hope to pad its record at home this week against LSU and Ole Miss.

12. Oklahoma Sooners
Record: 15-5
Last week: 10

Trae Young had his quietest week of the season, averaging 21.5 points and 8.5 assists against Kansas and Alabama. Yes, that's "quiet" for him -- that's how productive he has been this season. Oklahoma has now lost three of its past four, though, and four straight road games. The Sooners still have six Group 1 wins.

13. Michigan State Spartans
Record: 20-3
Last week: 9

Much like Auburn took a nice leap when reassessing some profiles, Michigan State took a tumble. The Spartans' résumé just isn't great right now. They have just two Group 1 wins and five against Groups 1 and 2. Fourteen of their 20 wins are against teams outside the top 100 in the RPI, and their second- and third-best wins are over Maryland.

14. Clemson Tigers
Record: 17-4
Last week: 17

On paper, Clemson has a terrific résumé. The Tigers are ranked in the top 10 of the RPI with a strength of record ranking of 12th. They have five Group 1 wins and a 9-4 record against Groups 1 and 2 teams. The key for Brad Brownell's team will be its performance without the injured Donte Grantham. The Tigers beat Georgia Tech, but they also scored just 36 points against Virginia.

15. North Carolina Tar Heels
Record: 16-6
Last week: 8

For the second time this season, Carolina went 0-2 in a week, with last week's defeats coming at Virginia Tech and at home against NC State. Every game, the Tar Heels need good performances from Joel Berry II and Luke Maye -- and a third scorer to step up. Against Tech, players not named Berry and Maye scored 23 points total. Against State, Berry had six points on 3-for-12 shooting.

16. West Virginia Mountaineers
Record: 16-5
Last week: 7

That's now four losses in five games for West Virginia, which has blown a double-digit second-half lead in three of them. The Mountaineers are having the same issues they've had in recent years. When they're not making shots, they can't press; and when they can't press, they can't force turnovers. And when they're forced to play in the half court, they struggle.

17. Florida Gators
Record: 15-6
Last week: 19

The overall record might not look great, but Florida has quality wins very few teams in this area of the rankings can match. They've won at Kentucky, at Texas A&M and at Missouri, while beating Cincinnati and Gonzaga on a neutral court and Arkansas at home. Chris Chiozza is playing like one of the best point guards in the country.

18. Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 18-5
Last week: 16

So much for being undefeated heading into a showdown at Purdue on Feb. 7. The Buckeyes lost their first game since before Christmas, falling to Penn State on a Tony Carr buzzer-beater. With that said, they're one of only two teams in the top 25 of the RPI that haven't lost a true road game (the other being Purdue), going 5-0 in those games.

19. Wichita State Shockers
Record: 17-4
Last week: 22

After a significant drop last week, Wichita State inches back up the rankings with home wins over UCF and Tulsa. The key for the Shockers moving forward is still on the defensive end of the floor, where they've had issues. Against UCF and Tulsa, though, both opponents scored well under one point per possession.

20. Kentucky Wildcats
Record: 16-5
Last week: NR

Welcome back to the Wildcats, who pulled away from Mississippi State and then came back from down 17 at West Virginia on Saturday night. Kevin Knox played out of his mind, finishing with 34 points, and John Calipari had consistent success going with a smaller lineup against the Mountaineers.

21. Arizona State Sun Devils
Record: 16-5
Last week: 18

The Sun Devils could be an interesting test case on Selection Sunday if they don't develop some consistency in Pac-12 play. Those wins over Kansas and Xavier look great, and the win over Kansas State is growing in power. But they're 4-5 in Pac-12 play and could be in trouble if they finish below .500, given how mediocre the league is this season.

22. Saint Mary's Gaels
Record: 21-2
Last week: 20

The Gaels continue to roll, now sitting at 10-0 in the West Coast Conference after double-digit wins over BYU and Portland. Jock Landale, after scoring 32 points in three of his previous four games, had just six points in the win over Portland. Landale had been quietly rising up the Wooden Award pecking order, given his dominant performances.

23. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Record: 19-4
Last week: 21

Killian Tillie is on a tear lately for Gonzaga, averaging 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in his past four games, while shooting 62.8 percent from the field. He also has totaled four blocks and six steals in that span. The 6-foot-10 Frenchman is helping form a consistent interior trio alongside Johnathan Williams and Rui Hachimura.

24. Rhode Island Rams
Record: 17-3
Last week: 23

The Rams sleepwalked through the first half against Duquesne on Saturday, then showed why they're going to be a popular pick in March regardless of seeding. E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell are capable of getting their own shot against anyone in the country. Rhode Island has now won 12 straight and is running away with the Atlantic 10.

25. Seton Hall Pirates
Record: 16-5
Last week: NR

The Pirates dropped out last week, and while a road win at DePaul is nothing to get excited about, a closer look at their résumé got them back in the rankings. They have a top-25 RPI and SOS to go with four Group 1 wins. The last team left out of the rankings this week was Alabama, which now has eight wins against Groups 1 and 2 teams and just beat Oklahoma.

Dropped out: Nevada, TCU