It took some time for Gonzaga to reemerge as the clear-cut No. 1 men's college basketball team in the country. But with Auburn's loss last week, the Zags are back at the top -- and they look highly unlikely to give up that position before the NCAA tournament.
Mark Few's team started out the 2021-22 season at No. 1, held it for the first two weeks and then dropped games to Duke and Alabama in an eight-day stretch in late November and early December. They eventually regained the top spot in mid-January, but Auburn overtook them after its win over Kentucky.
Gonzaga now looks well-suited to stay atop the rankings for a long, long time. The Zags have not won a West Coast Conference game by fewer than 16 points, and their 10 league victories have come by an average of 30.1 points. Say whatever you want about WCC competition, but that's a wildly impressive number. The WCC might get four NCAA tournament bids this season, and Gonzaga has won its four games against those other teams so far by an average of 22.8 points.
The scary thing about the Zags is that they're continuing to improve, mostly because Chet Holmgren is still adapting and adjusting to the college game. Holmgren has been putting up otherworldly numbers over the past few weeks, while fellow five-star freshmen Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis give Mark Few a dimension off the bench he hasn't had in the past.
I don't see how Gonzaga loses before the NCAA tournament. Which means the Zags should once again enter the dance as the overall 1-seed.
Team of the Week: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
For the first three months of the campaign, Rutgers had a few highlights but was mostly mired in a season of mediocrity likely to end in the NIT or a lesser postseason situation. There were nonconference losses to Lafayette and UMass and then three defeats in four games to Minnesota, Maryland and Northwestern in late January and early February. Two weeks later, though, Steve Pikiell's team is suddenly squarely on the bubble.
The Scarlet Knights' winning run started with a 21-point drubbing of Michigan State last weekend -- which doesn't count toward Rutgers' Team of the Week candidacy. That began with an impressive home win over Ohio State, a game they finished on a 10-0 run to score the two-point victory. Geo Baker was fantastic, finishing with 25 points and six assists.
Saturday's performance was even more impressive, however. Rutgers played at Wisconsin, where the Badgers have lost just twice all season, and knocked off Greg Gard's team by eight points. Another late surge -- an 11-0 run in the second half to give Rutgers the lead -- provided the difference. Ron Harper (21 points) and Paul Mulcahy (18 points, five assists) were the headliners.
Rutgers is now firmly on the bubble, with one of the weirder at-large résumés: It is 6-3 in Quadrant 1 games; only six teams in the country have more Quadrant 1 wins. But the Scarlet Knights' metrics aren't good, and they also have three losses outside of Quadrants 1 and 2. Their finishing stretch is fairly difficult, but that also means more chances to improve their profile.
Player of the Week: Keegan Murray, Iowa Hawkeyes
I was all set to go with Hofstra guard Aaron Estrada, who had a terrific three-game week in which he averaged 25.3 points in wins over three of the top five teams in the CAA. But then Iowa forward Keegan Murray furthered his All-American case by going out and dropping 37 points in a blowout win over Nebraska on Sunday.
Murray started his week with 30 points on 12-for-14 shooting in a 23-point win at Maryland on Thursday. He pitched in with seven rebounds and two blocks. And he followed that up with 37 points and six rebounds on 15-for-21 shooting in the win versus the Cornhuskers.
A couple of numbers from ESPN Stats & Information about Murray's week: He is only the third major-conference player to put up back-to-back 30-point games so far this season. He's the first player with back-to-back 30-point games in Big Ten play since Ayo Dosunmu did it last season for Illinois. And here's arguably the most impressive stat: Murray is the first Big Ten player with 35 points and zero turnovers on 70% shooting in a game since Frank Kaminsky did it in 2013, and he's the first player to do it in a Big Ten conference game since Devin Harris in 2004.
Murray now has three 35-point games this season and is closing the gap on Bryant guard Peter Kiss at the top of the nation's scoring charts.
Win of the Week: Arkansas Razorbacks 80, Auburn Tigers 76
Julian Strawther gets out for a Gonzaga jam
Julian Strawther gets the pass from Rasir Bolton on the break and hammers home a big dunk for Gonzaga.
There were myriad contenders for this award this week: SMU and Memphis both beat Houston; Michigan pummeled Purdue; Virginia won at Duke; Texas took down Kansas. But when a No. 1 goes down for the first time in 19 games, that's the clear winner.
Arkansas entered Tuesday night on an eight-game winning streak, but it faced a lot of questions. The only NCAA tournament team the Razorbacks had defeated over that stretch was LSU. Taking down Auburn, on its own 19-game winning streak? That would be a different challenge. In front of a record crowd at Bud Walton Arena, however, the Razorbacks defeated the Tigers in overtime. The Razorbacks led by as many as 12 points in the first half, before Auburn cut the lead by holding Arkansas without a field goal for the final 8:28. A back-and-forth second half resulted in an extra period, where a 7-0 Arkansas run provided the difference, with JD Notae (28 points) leading the way.
Tuesday's result gave Arkansas a marquee win for its résumé, and it would have found itself in this week's Power Rankings had it won at Alabama on Saturday. The Razorbacks fell short, by just one point, but they still earn this huge mention, for being just the second team to beat Auburn this season.
Coach of the Week: Penny Hardaway, Memphis Tigers
As mentioned earlier, there were a slew of elite-level wins at the top of the sport. Several mid-major coaches -- specifically, Long Beach State's Dan Monson -- would've been justified in this space after taking control of their conference in the past week. But the Tigers' win at Houston might have been the second-best performance of the week, and Hardaway & Co. have completely turned their season around. That deserves a nod.
Memphis' season was considered over at various points during the past three months. There were publicly acknowledged chemistry issues, news conference tirades, the Emoni Bates situation -- and, above all else, losses. A lot of losses. The Tigers were 9-8 overall and 3-4 in the AAC following a home loss to SMU in late January, after which Hardaway told the media to "stop asking me stupid f---ing questions."
The Tigers haven't lost since, and they are riding a five-game winning streak after handing Houston its first home defeat in 38 games -- since December 2019 -- on Saturday afternoon. Memphis went on a 15-0 run late in the game to take the lead, and one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country went 18-for-19 from the stripe.
Memphis is now back in the NCAA tournament mix and is following a familiar trend under Hardaway. In his first season at Memphis, the Tigers won nine of their last 12 games before the NIT. Last season, they won 14 of their final 17 games, including an NIT title. They're now 3-0 in February, and they still get another chance at Houston at home to end the regular season.
Three teams with questions
Iowa State Cyclones: It's officially danger time for the Cyclones. Their losing streak is now up to four, after defeats to West Virginia and Kansas State -- the latter coming at home. They have sole possession of last place in the Big 12 at 3-9. They've racked up so many good wins: against Xavier, Iowa, Texas Tech, Texas. But is the committee really taking the worst team in the Big 12?
Indiana Hoosiers: It was a week filled with drama for Indiana. Suspensions, reinstatements, technical fouls and two losses. The first of those was a short-handed defeat at Northwestern, with five players suspended shortly before tipoff. The second was at Michigan State by 15, despite all five players returning to the fold. The Hoosiers are now just 7-7 in the Big Ten.
Oregon Ducks: After winning 10 of its previous 11 games and positioning itself in a good spot for the NCAA tournament, Oregon might have undone all its impressive work with Saturday's 14-point home loss to California. The Ducks have good wins over UCLA and USC, but the loss to Cal is their third Quadrant 3 defeat of the season. They're in bubble trouble.
Mathurin finds Tubelis with nice pass
Bennedict Mathurin connects with Azuolas Tubelis for two points in the first half.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: at Pepperdine (Wednesday), vs. Santa Clara (Saturday)
One of the differences between this season's Gonzaga team and last season's Gonzaga team is the caliber of players on the wings. Last season featured NBA draft picks Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert. Replacing them with Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton seemed like a step down -- and while it still might be, both of them have provided consistent production and some balance between Andrew Nembhard at the point and the Holmgren-Drew Timme duo down low. Strawther has scored in double figures in each of his past six outings, shooting 41.3% from 3 in WCC play, while Bolton hit double figures in five straight before Saturday's game, including a 20-point effort against Pacific. Bolton is shooting nearly 49% from behind the arc in league play.
2. Kentucky Wildcats (21-4)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Tennessee (Tuesday), vs. Alabama (Saturday)
All eyes in Big Blue Nation -- and around college basketball -- are on TyTy Washington, who left Saturday's win over Florida after suffering an injury to his lower left leg. While it seemed like Washington avoided major injury -- John Calipari called Washington "day-to-day" after the game -- it's unclear if he'll be able to suit up for Tuesday's huge matchup in Knoxville against Tennessee. It would be a crucial miss for Kentucky, as Washington has been one of the best freshman guards in the country this season. He went through a mini slump in late January that included an ankle injury, which forced him to miss the better part of two games. But he had bounced back over the past three games. In wins over Alabama, South Carolina and Florida, Washington averaged 13.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
3. Auburn Tigers (23-2)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Vanderbilt (Wednesday), at Florida (Saturday)
After their loss to Arkansas, is the Tigers' projected 1-seed in any sort of danger moving forward? For now, they're still in very good shape. At the top of their résumé is a win over Kentucky, which could come in handy if the two are neck and neck on Selection Sunday. They also have beaten Alabama twice and have a win over LSU. They haven't lost in regulation this season, with the lone defeats coming to UConn and Arkansas. It's easy to make the case they have a better résumé than Arizona or Kentucky (or anyone else not named Gonzaga) right now. Sure, the Tigers' predictive metrics aren't as elite, but they're still ranked No. 1 in ESPN's strength of record. The schedule eases up slightly moving forward, save for a road trip to Tennessee, so they remain in a strong position.
4. Arizona Wildcats (22-2)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: vs. Oregon State (Thursday), vs. Oregon (Saturday)
Terrence Shannon Jr. steals and slams one down
Terrence Shannon Jr. makes a great defensive play for the steal and slams it down for Texas Tech.
After its supporting cast helped Arizona regain its momentum following a bit of a blip in the middle of the Pac-12 season, the Wildcats' star duo of Bennedict Mathurin and Azuolas Tubelis are back at their best. Mathurin was outstanding in two of the Wildcats' three games last week, scoring 20 points in a road win versus Washington State and then finishing with 25 at Washington. He shot 6-for-11 from 3 after making just two of his previous 17 3-point attempts. Tubelis has been in terrific form over his past five games, averaging 17.4 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 55.6% from the field. He dealt with an ankle injury for a few games earlier in conference play, but Tubelis now looks to be good to go moving forward. Those two form as good a pair as there is in college basketball.
5. Kansas Jayhawks (20-4)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Oklahoma State (Monday), at West Virginia (Saturday)
Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun have received most of the plaudits for the Jayhawks so far this season, but Jalen Wilson has been making a strong push over the past month, providing a consistent third option for Kansas. That was key this past week, as Agbaji shot just 7-for-19 from the field and totaled 22 points in two games. Wilson is playing his best basketball since early last season. In his past nine games, he is averaging 15.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists, while shooting 57.6% from the field. He has tallied three double-doubles over that stretch. Against Oklahoma on Saturday, Wilson had 22 points and nine rebounds, providing a spark and hitting some big shots in the second half to help the Jayhawks come back to beat the Sooners.
6. Purdue Boilermakers (20-3)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: at Northwestern (Wednesday), vs. Rutgers (Sunday)
After Tuesday's win over Illinois, Jaden Ivey seemed like a shoo-in for Player of the Week honors. He was unbelievable in the second half of that victory, simply toying with the Fighting Illini at times. He had 22 points and three assists after halftime, constantly attacking in transition, gliding past defenders and finishing through traffic at the rim. Unfortunately, Purdue lost by 24 to Michigan two days later, even as Ivey managed to finish with 18 points on 12 shots. He then struggled against Maryland on Sunday, going for 11 points on nine shots, but he had the game-winning three-point play in the final minute to help Purdue avoid a 1-2 week. The Big Ten player of the year race looked like a battle between Kofi Cockburn, Johnny Davis and E.J. Liddell -- but Ivey is still very much in the conversation.
7. Baylor Bears (21-4)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Texas Tech (Wednesday), vs. TCU (Saturday)
Baylor rebounded extremely well from its blowout loss at Kansas last weekend, beating Kansas State by 15 on the road and then handling Texas with relative ease. But the injuries continue to pile up for Scott Drew and the Bears, with Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua's left knee injury on Saturday the most serious one yet. His left leg turned awkwardly while running down the court midway through the first half against the Longhorns, and he was in clear pain. Drew said after the game it "obviously didn't look good" and Baylor subsequently ruled him out for the season.
Without Tchamwa Tchatchoua, whose energy and motor has typified Baylor over the past couple of seasons, the Bears don't have much depth up front. They could end up playing small, with versatile forwards Matthew Mayer, Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan potentially forming the frontcourt trio when Flo Thamba is out of the game. For what it's worth, Thamba had 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in a season-high 30 minutes against Texas.
8. Duke Blue Devils (21-4)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Wake Forest (Tuesday), vs. Florida State (Saturday)
Duke's biggest issue this season has been closing out games. In all four of the Blue Devils' losses, they led in the final 65 seconds. Against Ohio State, they led by 11 points with seven minutes left, until the Buckeyes scored the final 12 points to win. Against Miami, Duke led by three with 35 seconds left, before the Hurricanes scored the final five points. Against Florida State, the Blue Devils were up with three seconds left in regulation and then again with 13 seconds left in overtime. And against Virginia last week, they were up with two seconds left, before Reece Beekman hit the game winner for the Cavaliers. In fact, Duke has only won two games by fewer than five points this season: against Gonzaga back in November and Clemson in late January.
9. Providence Friars (21-2)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Villanova (Tuesday), at Butler (Sunday)
Another week, another close win over an inferior opponent. But a win is a win, and now Providence has a two-game lead in the loss column over Villanova with five games left on its schedule. The Friars can effectively put the nail in the Wildcats' coffin in the league race on Tuesday, when Jay Wright's program comes to town in a Big East showdown. A win there and it's going to be difficult to dismiss the Friars' winning ways as "luck" anymore.
While Providence's overall efficiency metrics put it at sixth in the Big East, the numbers look better when homing in on conference play. Villanova is clearly ahead of the rest of the league in Big East-only efficiency, but Providence is very much in the next tier, alongside UConn and Marquette. At some point, the Friars might regress to the mean in terms of close wins, but right now, it looks like the sign of a very good team that is starting five seniors.
10. Villanova Wildcats (19-6)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: at Providence (Tuesday), vs. Georgetown (Saturday)
Despite winning 12 of its past 14 games and dominating the Big East on a per-possession basis, Villanova seems to be a bit underrated when discussing potential Final Four contenders. The Wildcats have been on the positive side of variance when it comes to close wins in league play, but they're also outscoring conference opponents by better than 15 points per 100 possessions. They are by far the best offensive team in the Big East, and they possess the second-best defense (behind, surprisingly, Creighton) in the league. Eric Dixon's emergence as a legitimate inside option has been a boost; he has scored in double figures in eight of his past 10 games. Meanwhile, Brandon Slater has found his rhythm offensively. After scoring five or fewer points in seven straight games, the senior forward is averaging 13.5 points and shooting 60.0% from the field over his past four contests.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini (18-6)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Rutgers (Wednesday), at Michigan State (Saturday)
Illinois looked set to enact revenge on Purdue for its January loss, leading the Boilermakers by two in West Lafayette, Indiana, on Tuesday -- until Ivey took over in the second half and helped Purdue notch a 16-point win and keep the Big Ten title race tight at the top of the standings. The Fighting Illini bounced back by holding on for a victory over Northwestern. The key for Illinois now might be getting Trent Frazier back on the right track. Over the past five games, the senior guard is shooting just 7-for-26 from 3 -- and that includes an 8-for-11 overall shooting effort for 23 points against Indiana last weekend. He has scored seven or fewer points in four of those five games. Frazier has still been terrific as a playmaker and distributor, but when he and Alfonso Plummer are making shots consistently, Illinois is nearly impossible to defend.
12. Texas Tech Red Raiders (19-6)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Baylor (Wednesday), at Texas (Saturday)
Could Texas Tech be getting peak Terrence Shannon at the right time of the season? Shannon has had a choppy junior campaign, mostly due to a nagging back injury and a subsequent knee injury he suffered shortly after returning from said back injury. He also missed the first three games of the season while his eligibility was under review. In total, Shannon has played in 14 games -- looking less than 100 percent in several of those -- and missed 11. After averaging 12.9 points and 4.0 rebounds last season, he is down to 11.6 points and 2.5 rebounds. But since an early five-game stretch during which he hit double figures in all five, Shannon had averaged just 6.7 points in his next seven. This past week, however, we might have seen Shannon warming up again. He had 11 points in the loss to Oklahoma but followed it up with 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting in Saturday's win over TCU.
13. Wisconsin Badgers (19-5)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at Indiana (Tuesday), vs. Michigan (Sunday)
Wisconsin is going to be an interesting team to track moving forward. The Badgers' home loss to Rutgers on Saturday, which came on the heels of a road win versus Michigan State, was their worst of the season and prompted a closer look at their résumé. In terms of NET, it's a bulletproof profile. They're tied for the second-most Quadrant 1 wins in the country with eight -- a group that includes victories over Houston, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Marquette. But they're also ranked outside the top 25 in the three predictive metrics on a squad's tournament team sheet. According to BartTorvik.com, of the 10 most similar historical tournament résumés to 2022 Wisconsin, all of those received (or would have received when referring to 2020) seeds between 3 and 6 ... but none advanced out of the first weekend.
14. Tennessee Volunteers (18-6)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. Kentucky (Tuesday), at Arkansas (Saturday)
Since getting steamrollered by Kentucky on Jan. 15, Tennessee has won seven of its past eight games, bookended by two victories over Vanderbilt. The lone loss over that stretch was by one point at Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. And now the Volunteers get a chance to really make a move in the national rankings with a home game against Kentucky on Tuesday and a trip to Arkansas on Saturday. Rick Barnes' team hasn't missed a beat since the injury to starting forward Olivier Nkamhoua suffered on Feb. 5 against South Carolina, but it is the continued stellar play of freshman guard Zakai Zeigler that's garnering headlines. Over the past six games -- all off the bench -- Zeigler is averaging 13.7 points, 2.8 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting 55.6% from 3. He has turned the ball over just eight times during that stretch.
15. Houston Cougars (20-4)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. UCF (Thursday), at Wichita State (Sunday)
It went all wrong for the Cougars last week, who saw their 12-game winning streak end on Wednesday against SMU and then their 37-game home winning streak fall on Saturday to Memphis. The most obvious problem spots in the two contests were Houston's typical calling cards: offensive rebounding and defense. Houston, which is consistently ranked near the top of the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, had nine offensive rebounds in each game, rebounding around 29% of its misses -- a far cry from its season average of better than 37%. At the other end, the Cougars had two of their worst defensive outings of the season, allowing 1.19 points per possession to SMU and 1.04 to Memphis. They hadn't allowed more than that since losing to Alabama more than two months ago.
16. UCLA Bruins (17-5)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Washington State (Thursday), vs. Washington (Saturday)
The 16 teams from last week's Power Rankings lost a total of 12 times, while two of the three teams in the waiting room also took defeats. That allows UCLA to stay at No. 16 despite losing three of its past four. After blowing out Arizona, California and Stanford in a five-day span at the end of January, UCLA looked to be back to its Final Four self. But the Bruins have played themselves out of the Pac-12 title race in the four games since, with their defense really struggling to get stops. They allowed at least 1.03 points in those four games; they had allowed more than that just three times all season before this month. They need to get right with three straight home games.
Dropped out: Marquette Golden Eagles (No. 14)
In the waiting room
Texas Longhorns: Texas split its blockbuster week against the top of the Big 12 with a home win over Kansas and a road loss versus Baylor, further separating itself from the middle of the pack of the league. The Longhorns have won five of their past seven games, but they are still too inconsistent. One highlight from the week? Courtney Ramey's defense on Ochai Agbaji; Ramey rarely let the star Jayhawks player get a clean touch in the second half.
Michigan State Spartans: Speaking of inconsistency, I present to you the Michigan State Spartans. They're just 4-4 over the past eight games, with losses to Northwestern and Rutgers and a double-digit road win against Wisconsin. And their schedule is going to get brutal. After Tuesday's trip to Penn State, the Spartans will host Illinois, travel to Iowa, host Purdue and then go to Michigan and Ohio State.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Alabama's defense is ranked No. 11 in the SEC in conference-only games, but the Crimson Tide showed up at that end of the floor in a crucial one-point win over Arkansas on Saturday. They held the Razorbacks to 32.7% shooting inside the arc and 28.6% from 3. Alabama coughing it up 24 times kept the game close, but the Tide won the paint battle -- and the game.