A year ago at this time, the top eight in the Power Rankings were, in order, Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Villanova, Alabama and Houston. On Selection Sunday, five weeks later, seven of those eight teams received a 1-seed or a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament. The only member of that group that didn't receive a top-two seed was Villanova, which dealt with a season-ending injury to Collin Gillespie. Iowa, which moved into the 2-seed range, was ranked No. 14 at the time.
Why am I pointing this out? Well, it's one month until the big conference tournaments for the 2021-22 men's college basketball season begin and five weeks until Selection Sunday. So while there's plenty of time for movement in the rankings and projected seedings, we now have three months of evidence on these teams in terms of building their profiles and assessing how dangerous they are in March.
And after the past couple of weeks of results, we might be getting a little bit of separation near the top of the rankings. Auburn and Gonzaga aren't going anywhere, while Kentucky is perhaps playing the best basketball of anyone. Purdue and Duke are rolling, and Arizona and Kansas have regained their mojo after losses.
After that? It's wide-open. Houston has elite metrics but only one Quad 1 win, while Baylor's injuries are catching up to it. Predictive metrics are still slow to rate Providence and Wisconsin. Texas Tech and Illinois are performing at a high level right now, and could make a move up in the coming weeks. The same can be said for UCLA and Villanova, but both struggle with consistency.
Will early February rankings be as predictive for Selection Sunday as they were last year? We're only five weeks away.
Team of the Week: Wyoming Cowboys
This past week was a prove-it week for Wyoming. Going into it, the Cowboys were 16-3 overall and 5-1 in the Mountain West, but their best nonconference win had come over Washington and the only top-half conference opponent they had defeated was Utah State. How good was Jeff Linder's team? We were about to find out.
Seven days later, the Cowboys are a legitimate Mountain West title contender and an at-large threat.
It started with an overtime win against preseason favorite Colorado State, which was 16-2 entering the week. Senior guard Hunter Maldonado made big play after big play, finishing with 35 points and seven assists. Up next was Thursday's victory over first-place Boise State, which hadn't lost a league game before this matchup. The Cowboys got revenge for last month's three-point loss, led by Graham Ike's 33 points and 10 rebounds.
To cap it off, Wyoming went on the road to face a Fresno State team that had lost just once all season on its home court -- and walked out with a two-point win. Once again it was Maldonado leading the way, finishing with 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists. In three games, the star guard averaged 24.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists, while Ike averaged 21.0 points and 8.7 rebounds in the same span.
Wyoming is now tied with Boise in the loss column and only a half-game back in the standings. And its top-30 NET ranking, 6-3 record vs. Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents and zero losses outside of Quadrant 2 give it a great at-large résumé.
Player of the Week: Kofi Cockburn, Illinois Fighting Illini
Although Cockburn is putting up numbers worthy of All-American status, he has struggled in some big games so far this season -- namely in the Fighting Illini's double-overtime loss to Purdue and their home defeat to Arizona back in December. Against the Boilermakers, he dealt with foul trouble, and against Arizona, Christian Koloko's length and shot-blocking ability caused problems.
Dajuan Harris Jr. drops a beautiful touch pass to Jalen Wilson for the layup.
But Cockburn is very much back in the All-American and Wooden Award conversations, especially after last week. His performance in the win over Wisconsin was one of the most physically dominant we've seen all season. The Badgers simply had no answer for the 7-footer. Cockburn finished with 37 points and 12 rebounds, and missed just three shots from the field. It was the second-highest point total of his career, after November's 38 points against UT Rio Grande Valley. But this was in the Big Ten, against Wisconsin.
Cockburn followed that up by outplaying fellow elite big man, Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis. His stat line on Saturday wasn't as impressive as Wednesday's, but he still finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. Since missing two games while in concussion protocol, Cockburn has been as dominant as ever, averaging 25.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in three games, while shooting 65.3% from the field.
A few honorable mentions go to Saint Louis guard Yuri Collins, who had 35 points and 13 assists in a win at George Mason and then went for 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists against Dayton; and Bryant guard Charles Pride, who totaled 76 points and 22 rebounds in wins over St. Francis (Pennsylvania) and Mount St. Mary's.
Win of the Week: Kansas Jayhawks 83, Baylor Bears 59
It was just over a week ago that Kentucky walked into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and lit up Kansas by 18 points in a game that wasn't even that close. That loss came on the heels of a slew of close wins and performances that weren't quite overwhelming. The Jayhawks had issues with consistency, with health, with role allocation. Those preseason Final Four hopes seemed like a reach.
Now? Kansas is back in the mix for a 1-seed.
Dalen Terry finishes strong in the paint for Arizona
The Jayhawks had as good a week as anyone in college basketball, going into Hilton Coliseum on Tuesday and beating Iowa State by nine, then sending a huge statement to the rest of the Big 12 on Saturday, beating Baylor by 24 after leading by as much as 34 in the second half. Kansas started out with a 12-0 run in the opening minutes and led 27-10 midway through the first half. Baylor was never competitive the rest of the way.
Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun did typical Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun things, while Jalen Wilson had 15 points, his fifth double-figure scoring effort in his past seven games. It was as dominant a performance as I've seen against Baylor in a long time. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 24-point loss was the seventh-largest loss by the defending national champion since 2000.
Coach of the Week: Mark Adams, Texas Tech Red Raiders
I thought about giving this to Shaka Smart for the incredible job he's done at Marquette this season. But Lubbock was the epicenter of college basketball this week, and Adams deserves the attention for how he's kept things rolling at Texas Tech.
When Adams was promoted to replace Chris Beard last spring, there were questions about his ability to recruit and how he would run his own program, given that he hadn't been a Division I head coach since 1997. But he went into the transfer portal and replenished the roster, while also keeping a couple of key pieces from last season. Not only has he answered any doubters from last spring, he's actually improved the Red Raiders from the past couple of seasons. The vaunted no-middle defense that Adams was the architect of under Beard is the best it's looked since the program's Final Four run in 2019, and is ranked No. 2 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Now Tech is in the mix for a top-three seed come Selection Sunday.
But why does he win out this week? It's all about the victory over Texas on Tuesday. It was the most heated and electric environment of the college basketball season, but Adams and Tech left no doubt as to which team is superior right now. The Red Raiders came out with plenty of energy, but Adams kept his players focused on the game instead of the outside noise, and they cruised to a fairly comfortable win. They then followed it up with a road win at West Virginia.
Three teams with questions
LSU Tigers: After starting 15-1 (the lone defeat came at Auburn), the Tigers have lost six of their past seven through Saturday's loss at Vanderbilt. Their defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the country for most the season, is now really starting to struggle: They allowed 77 points to TCU, 76 to Ole Miss and 75 to Vandy in their past three games.
North Carolina Tar Heels: A four-game winning streak meant Saturday's Tobacco Road showdown was for first place in the ACC -- but a blowout loss to Duke leaves the Tar Heels in a precarious position. They now have four 20-point losses since Dec. 18 and are allowing 89.7 points in their seven overall losses this season. They're also now 0-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies: Mark Schmidt's team opened the season in the top 25 and beat Boise State, Clemson and Marquette before Thanksgiving. Just over two months later, it's pretty much automatic bid or bust for the Bonnies. They've lost four of their past six, including last week to Davidson and at Richmond. They're just 4-4 in conference play.
1. Auburn Tigers (22-1)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at Arkansas (Tuesday), vs. Texas A&M (Saturday)
Auburn put up 100 points on Alabama on Tuesday, looking like the clear-cut No. 1 team in the country, but then needed a Wendell Green layup with three seconds left to beat Georgia on Saturday, looking like a team that might struggle to win a couple NCAA tournament games. The difference? The Tigers' frontcourt production. Against Alabama, Jabari Smith had 17 points and consistently had opportunities to finish or get to the free throw line, while Walker Kessler had 14 points, 12 boards and eight blocks. But against Georgia, neither player received enough touches, especially when the Bulldogs started cutting into the lead. Smith had seven points on seven shots, while Kessler had 10 points on seven shots. Smith and Kessler are brutal matchups for most opponents -- but they need to get touches.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (19-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Pacific (Thursday), vs. Saint Mary's (Saturday)
It's scary how quickly Chet Holmgren has turned it up over the past few weeks. Turns out, his 22 points and nine rebounds against San Francisco and 21 points and nine rebounds against Loyola Marymount in January were only precursors: Holmgren had as good a week as we've seen from a freshman in a long time, putting up 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks against San Diego, then following it up with 20 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and five blocks in the Zags' 33-point win at BYU.
CHET GOING CRAZY 🔥 pic.twitter.com/luBVegmAbf— SLAM University (@slam_university) February 4, 2022
He shot 5-for-10 from 3 in those two games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Holmgren is the first Division I player this season to record at least 20 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five blocks in a game.
3. Kentucky Wildcats (19-4)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at South Carolina (Tuesday), vs. Florida (Saturday)
On a neutral court, I'm not sure I'm taking anyone over Kentucky right now. The Wildcats are playing at an elite, elite level and have shown a couple of times over the past few weeks -- at Texas A&M, at Alabama -- that they can win when shots aren't falling and their offense isn't clicking for 40 minutes. The number of ways John Calipari's group can match up with opponents is also remarkably impressive. The latest example was freshman Daimion Collins, who was relegated to the end of the bench for the past two months. He had played just 12 minutes total in Kentucky's last eight games, including four DNPs. But on Saturday, the Wildcats needed some help against the Crimson Tide's interior size and length. So Collins came off the bench to play nine minutes, and finished with 10 points and six boards.
4. Purdue Boilermakers (20-3)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Illinois (Tuesday), at Michigan (Thursday), vs. Maryland (Sunday)
Purdue's offense is on another planet right now. The Boilermakers are the top-ranked team in adjusted offensive efficiency at KenPom.com, but they've taken that to a new level over the past five games. During that stretch, they have scored 414 points on 323 possessions, good for 1.28 points per possession. For comparison's sake: Their No. 1 offensive efficiency is at 1.24 points per possession before being adjusted for schedule.
Now, the other side of the floor is a different story. Purdue hasn't had a very good defense all season and has now allowed at least 1.10 points per possession in four straight games. It hasn't really mattered yet, because of its ridiculous offense. But will it hurt the Boilermakers against Illinois on Tuesday?
5. Duke Blue Devils (19-3)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: vs. Virginia (Monday), at Clemson (Thursday), at Boston College (Saturday)
I've written about A.J. Griffin countless times over the past few weeks, but after the week he had, it's really hard to avoid discussing him again. Simply put, he really does take the Blue Devils to new heights offensively, especially with the way he's playing lately. He was one of the few Duke players to really produce against Notre Dame, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds, and was then awesome against North Carolina with 27 points and three 3s.
Griffin is shooting 52.2% from 3 in ACC play and has scored in double figures in all but four games since becoming a regular part of the rotation in mid-December. With his size and ability to make shots, teams don't really have an answer for him. As Trevor Keels returns to full health, Duke is just going to have too many weapons to use against opponents.
6. Arizona Wildcats (19-2)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Arizona State (Monday), at Washington State (Thursday), at Washington (Saturday)
Justin Lewis leads the way with 19 points as No. 24-seed Marquette knocks off No. 12-seed Villanova.
The Wildcats head out on the road for three games this week, but first took care of business with home wins over UCLA and USC last week, grabbing control of the Pac-12 title race. The star of the week might have been Dalen Terry, one of the best glue guys in all of college basketball. The sophomore wing had 10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists against UCLA, then followed it up with nine points, four rebounds and four assists against USC. He's long, he's versatile, he can guard multiple positions and he's a capable slasher and scorer.
Last week also saw Kerr Kriisa break out of his slump. He didn't shoot well against UCLA but still scored 16 points, hit three 3s and dished out five assists, and then went 3-for-5 from 3 against USC.
7. Kansas Jayhawks (19-3)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Texas (Monday), vs. Oklahoma (Saturday)
I talked about Kansas in depth above, but to continue the "glue guy" narrative, let's show a little love to sophomore guard Dajuan Harris. In a season in which Bill Self has had to tinker with his lineups and rotations thanks to injuries and inconsistency, Harris has been one of two players to start all 22 games (Braun is the other). He's a very good defender, ranking in the top 10 in the Big 12 in steal percentage and racking up seven steals in two games last week. He's a good distributor, totaling 15 assists to five turnovers last week and notching multiple assists in every game this season. He's also shown some flashes of scoring ability, even if he doesn't need to do it consistently. Harris had 14 against Iowa State and also hit the game winner earlier this season in the Jayhawks' first meeting against Iowa State.
8. Houston Cougars (20-2)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at SMU (Wednesday), vs. Memphis (Saturday)
Houston has needed more frontcourt production this season than the past few years, mostly because of the injuries on the perimeter -- and for the most part, the Cougars' big men have obliged. Josh Carlton has been very productive on the interior, but last week belonged to senior forward Fabian White. White had 21 points and eight rebounds in Wednesday's win over Tulane, then went for 22 points and nine rebounds in Sunday's road win at Cincinnati. For the week, White shot 7-for-11 from 3, and he's now making better than 40% of his 3s this season. Making that even more remarkable is the fact he attempted just eight 3s in his first four seasons with the Cougars, making just two shots from behind the arc.
9. Baylor Bears (19-4)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: at Kansas State (Wednesday), vs. Texas (Saturday)
Baylor has obviously not been the same team since losing to Texas Tech on Jan. 11 -- the first game that Jeremy Sochan missed, and the game in which James Akinjo initially suffered his tailbone injury. The Bears are 4-4 in their last eight, and although Sochan is back, Akinjo isn't at 100%, Adam Flagler only returned on Saturday after missing a game and LJ Cryer is still out.
Still, losing at Kansas by 24? Trailing by as many as 34 points? That just shouldn't happen. There are issues on both sides of the ball, but the defensive problems are a bit more noticeable. The Bears are only sixth in the Big 12 in defensive efficiency in conference play, with huge issues defending the rim and the paint. As one league coach pointed out last week, it was nearly impossible to get into the lane against Baylor last season; this season, it's much easier.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders (18-5)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at Oklahoma (Wednesday), vs. TCU (Saturday)
Back at the beginning of January, junior forward Kevin McCullar missed the first two games of conference play with an ankle injury. He returned after those two games but was clearly not the same player. After going for 12 points, six rebounds and five assists in a road win at Baylor, McCullar was invisible from a scoring perspective for the next three weeks. Over the next six games, he averaged 5.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and shot 20% from the field and 9.1% from 3.
McCullar's defense and passing ability still made him a positive contributor at both ends of the floor. But last week, his scoring returned, too. He had 19 points in the win over Texas, with 12 of them coming at the free throw line, and then made 10 points and buried two 3s in the road win at West Virginia.
11. Providence Friars (20-2)
Previous ranking: 15
This week:vs. DePaul (Saturday)
Junior guard Jared Bynum had one of the best games off the bench I've seen from anyone all season, hitting seven 3s and finishing with 32 points in Sunday's 19-point win at Georgetown. He also grabbed five rebounds, racked up five steals and dished out two assists. It was yet another impressive game for Bynum, who has been consistently solid in Big East play. Earlier last week, he came off the bench to make four 3s and score 19 points in a road win at St. John's. After starting the season slowly as a starter and missing four games with an ankle injury, he moved to the bench and has provided a huge boost for the Friars. In conference games, Bynum is averaging 13.8 points and 4.4 assists while shooting 51.4% from 3.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini (17-5)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: at Purdue (Tuesday), vs. Northwestern (Sunday)
The Fighting Illini don't have the elite wins that most of the other teams in the top 16 have, but that can change on Tuesday when they head to West Lafayette in a rematch of Purdue's double-overtime win on Martin Luther King Day. In that one, Cockburn got into early foul trouble thanks to Zach Edey and finished with just 10 points and five boards in 22 minutes. He's been nothing short of dominant recently, though. Meanwhile, Trent Frazier finished with 16 points and six assists in the first meeting with Purdue, shooting just 2-for-9 from 3. He's been streaky in Big Ten play, but he's a career 35.8% 3-point shooter and had 23 points against Indiana on Saturday. If Cockburn and Frazier produce like they usually do, Illinois has a shot against the Boilermakers.
13. Wisconsin Badgers (18-4)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Michigan State (Tuesday), vs. Rutgers (Saturday)
Providence is getting most of the attention for its collection of close wins, but Wisconsin has more close wins than anyone in the country, and continues to be on the positive side of variance. According to the metrics at BartTorvik.com, the Badgers are 11-1 in games decided by six points or fewer. That's two more close wins than anyone else in the country (Boston University and James Madison have nine apiece), and three more than the Friars' eight. It's worth noting that the Badgers' adjusted efficiency margin in close games is No. 16 in the country, compared to Providence at No. 1.
Wisconsin's propensity for close games, especially against inferior opponents, helps explain why the Badgers' efficiency-based metrics pale in comparison to their résumé-based metrics. They still do have seven Quadrant 1 wins, tied for the most in the country.
14. Marquette Golden Eagles (16-7)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: at UConn (Tuesday), at Butler (Saturday)
Justin Lewis showed flashes of his ability last season: 18 points and eight rebounds in an early-season win over Wisconsin, four double-figure scoring outings in a six-game stretch in January, 14 points against UConn in late February. But the forward was inconsistent.
This season, he's playing like a legitimate Big East Player of the Year. Over the past nine games, Lewis has averaged 18.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, while shooting 47.8% from 3. That stretch was highlighted by a 33-point, nine-rebound, six-assist performance in a late January win over Seton Hall. Lewis has hit double figures in all but two games this season, and has tallied five double-doubles. Marquette's success has been headlined by its elite defense, but Lewis' offensive emergence has been a key factor.
15. Villanova Wildcats (17-6)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at St. John's (Tuesday), vs. Seton Hall (Saturday)
While Villanova's best teams under Jay Wright have been predicated on elite guards with a slew of perimeter players who can make plays off the bounce and knock down 3s consistently, there has also usually been a high-level big to provide some balance. Some, like Daniel Ochefu, brought size, length and a defensive presence. Others, like Omari Spellman, were more versatile and could score inside and out. This season it's Eric Dixon, who doesn't really fall into either category but is starting to come into his own for the Wildcats. He's scored in double figures in six of his past eight games and is coming off his best game in a Nova uniform. On Saturday against UConn, he finished with 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting, grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing out four assists.
16. UCLA Bruins (16-4)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Stanford (Tuesday), at USC (Saturday)
After one of the best weeks in college basketball at the end of January -- hammering Arizona at home and looking like the team that ran through the NCAA tournament to the Final Four last season -- UCLA has tumbled down the rankings after falling at Arizona and Arizona State. The Bruins' defense was tremendous during their six-game winning streak, when they held three straight opponents to fewer than 0.87 points per possession. But they allowed both the Wildcats and Sun Devils to score at least 1.04 points per possession in the two losses last week. UCLA's ability to make shots from the perimeter has also been far too inconsistent. The Bruins ranked second in the Pac-12 last season in 3-point percentage; they're down to No. 11 this season, making just 29.2% of their 3s in league play.
In the waiting room
Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes drop out of the top 16 solely due to the rise of Illinois and Marquette, but they go down only one spot. They rolled past Maryland on Sunday behind another terrific performance from E.J. Liddell, who continues to quietly stay in consideration for All-American status. He had 24 points, 11 boards and five assists against the Terps.
Tennessee Volunteers: Tennessee's schedule has softened up somewhat, but the Volunteers have quietly won five of their past six games, and they're really starting to shoot the ball well. The Vols have made double-digit 3s in four of their past five games, including 14 against South Carolina on Saturday. Zakai Zeigler continues to provide a huge boost off the bench.
Michigan State Spartans: Tom Izzo has to hope a trip to Piscataway, New Jersey, isn't on the docket for next season. After losing by 30 to Rutgers last season, the Spartans fell by 21 on the road to the Scarlet Knights on Saturday. It was by far their worst defensive performance of the season, allowing Rutgers to shoot nearly 72% inside the arc.