How the selection committee figures out the Big 12 pecking order is going to be one of the key NCAA tournament-centric storylines to follow over the next two months. It's been the best men's college basketball league in the country, with all 10 teams looking like they had a chance to play in March when conference play began. Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas Tech have faltered since then, but the Cowboys and Mountaineers are still ranked in the top 40 in most metrics.
For our purposes, sifting through the second tier of teams behind Kansas will be a weekly task. Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State Wildcats, TCU and Baylor are likely all going to find themselves in the Power Rankings at one point or another, and it will lead to a situation where the teams are beating up on each other every single week. For example: Texas has a win over TCU, TCU has a win over Kansas State, Kansas State has a win over Texas and Iowa State has a win over TCU.
Texas created some separation this past week, coming back to beat TCU and Texas Tech. A nonconference win over Gonzaga is also a nice trump card for the Longhorns moving forward.
Iowa State has the edge on TCU and Kansas State after the Wildcats' blowout loss to the Horned Frogs on Saturday. The Cyclones suffered a two-point loss at Kansas, but they have top-15 metrics as well as four Quadrant 1 wins. TCU is still held back by its Quadrant 4 loss to Northwestern State, although that defeat came when the team wasn't at full strength. Kansas State has the worst predictive metrics of the trio, but the Wildcats also have four Quadrant 1 wins.
With matchups like Kansas at Kansas State and Iowa State at Texas this week, though, we'll be revisiting this conversation again in seven days. Welcome to life in the Big 12.
On to this week's awards and rankings.
Team of the Week: Alabama Crimson Tide
No. 4 Alabama freshman Brandon Miller drains seven from behind the arc to post a team-high 31 points in a 106-66 rout of the Tigers.
It was a fairly light week for Team of the Week contenders. Xavier, Texas and Illinois had a solid couple of wins, while NC State posted a great victory over Miami. But I'm not sure there's a better team in college basketball right now than Alabama.
While some teams around the country have struggled since the start of conference play, that hasn't been the case for Nate Oats' club. The Crimson Tide have won their five SEC games by an average of 22.8 points. Winning by 15 at Arkansas -- which has what is considered one of the best home-court environments in the SEC, if not all of college basketball -- shouldn't be overlooked, despite the Razorbacks' recent struggles. Then Bama went out and absolutely demolished LSU by 40 on Saturday, scoring 1.46 points per possession, making 20 3-pointers and dropping 106 on the Tigers. The Crimson Tide are absolutely rolling.
Player of the Week: Joel Soriano, St. John's Red Storm
Andre Curbelo dishes a sweet no-look dime to Joel Soriano for a Red Storm basket.
Soriano, a 6-foot-11 former Fordham transfer, has been putting up numbers in relative anonymity all season. He is third in the nation in rebounding and has 16 double-doubles in 19 games. But the Red Storm's Big East struggles have meant Soriano wasn't getting the attention he deserved. That changed this week. Against Butler on Tuesday, Soriano started off his week with 20 points and 10 rebounds on 10-for-13 shooting from the field, while also blocking a pair of shots. He then went toe-to-toe with arguably the nation's best big man tandem in UConn's Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan -- and came out on top. Soriano finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds in a shocking upset of the Huskies, while Sanogo and Clingan combined for 14 points.
Honorable mention goes to Xavier's Souley Boum, who averaged 21.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in wins over Marquette and Creighton; and Rutgers' Cam Spencer, who averaged 22.0 points and 4.0 assists in triumphs over Northwestern and Ohio State. Had Memphis not lost to UCF, Kendric Davis would've been an easy choice too.
Win of the Week: Kentucky Wildcats 63, Tennessee Volunteers 56
Kentucky entered the weekend in disarray. Coming off a 26-point defeat to Alabama and a stunning home loss to South Carolina, the Wildcats were missing key players to injury, had a coach linked to another job and were dealing with reports of upheaval behind the scenes within the athletic department. And then they went into Knoxville and beat one of the hottest teams in the country on their home court.
Tennessee jumped out to an 8-0 lead early, and it looked like more of the same from Kentucky. But an injury to Sahvir Wheeler forced John Calipari to tweak his lineup, which allowed Antonio Reeves and CJ Fredrick to thrive. More importantly, the Wildcats played with some passion and energy defensively. Oscar Tshiebwe was integral in keeping the Vols off the offensive glass, Jacob Toppin had some moments -- and Tennessee ended up with its worst offensive performance since last February.
Coach of the Week: Brad Brownell, Clemson Tigers
Brevin Galloway hits a clutch and-1 layup to extend Clemson's lead late in its matchup with Duke.
We usually use this section to shine a light on some of the more impressive mid-major teams over the course of a given week. But what Brownell is doing at Clemson deserves some attention. After the Tigers' 72-64 win over Duke on Saturday, they're 7-0 in the ACC -- a full two games ahead of anyone else in the league. There's still a long way to go, of course, starting with Tuesday's trip to face a hot Wake Forest team, but being in this position at this point in the season is entirely unexpected after being picked 11th in the preseason ACC poll. Brownell seems to enter every single season in the hot seat, yet hasn't finished .500 or below overall since 2013. That streak isn't ending this season.
Three teams with questions
Mississippi State Bulldogs: Initially one of the darlings of the men's college basketball season after an undefeated 11-0 start, the Bulldogs have dropped five of their past six games and sit at 1-4 in SEC play. Making matters worse, three of their next four games are against Tennessee, Alabama and TCU.
Texas Tech Red Raiders: One of two 0-5 teams in Big 12 play, the Red Raiders lost by 34 to Iowa State on Tuesday and then fell just short at Texas on Saturday. Baylor and Kansas State await this week. Texas Tech has zero top-100 wins this season, with its best win coming at home over a Louisiana Tech team that's below .500 in Conference USA.
Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes have now dropped four games in a row, most of them coming in heartbreaking fashion. In that run, there was a two-point home loss to Purdue, a three-point home loss to Minnesota and an overtime defeat at Rutgers. But Chris Holtmann's team needs to right the ship quickly or risk being lost in the Big Ten shuffle.
Marcus Sasser's late 3-pointer, part of a 31-point night, helps Houston put away South Florida 83-77.
Houston didn't look at its best in a six-point home win over South Florida on Wednesday, but Marcus Sasser did have one of the best games of his college career. The All-American candidate had a career-high 31 points, making six 3-pointers and dishing out four assists. After shooting the ball from the perimeter at an inconsistent clip to start 2022-23, he has started to heat up over the past couple weeks. He has made 41.7% of his 3s over his past six games, averaging 18.0 points in the process. In the 12 games prior to that stretch, Sasser was averaging 15.9 points on 30.5% 3-point shooting.
2. Kansas Jayhawks (16-1)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: at Kansas State (Tuesday), vs. TCU (Saturday)
Kansas continues to find a way. Four of the Jayhawks' five Big 12 wins have come by four or fewer points, including both wins last week. Are they playing with fire, or is their performance sustainable? Well, their defense has struggled somewhat in recent weeks, allowing more than one point per possession in three of their five Big 12 games -- after not allowing a single opponent to hit that mark in nonconference play. Per KenPom, the Jayhawks are just fourth in the league in adjusted defensive efficiency. But they ranked fifth in league play last season, and went on to win the national championship.
Only one game last week for Purdue, which has three this week to make up for it. In the lone victory, over Nebraska at home, Fletcher Loyer picked up where he left off in the second half against Penn State. Loyer had 27 points against the Cornhuskers, hitting 6-for-12 from 3. The freshman is now shooting better than 43% from beyond the arc in Big Ten play, including 50% in his past four games. He has clearly snapped out of his December slump, a seven-game stretch in which he averaged 13.1 points and shot 25.6% from 3.
Over his past 60 minutes of basketball, spanning three halves and two games, Brandon Miller has totaled 45 points and shot 14-for-20 from the field, including 9-for-13 from 3. The star freshman was held scoreless in the first half against Arkansas, resulting in a tied game at the half in Fayetteville. But after not taking a single shot in those first 20 minutes, he had 14 after the break, including a pair of key 3s. And then against LSU on Saturday, he was the catalyst in Alabama's 40-point win. He matched LSU point for point in the first half and finished with 31 points, nine boards and seven 3s.
The Bruins' defense has been on a different level in recent weeks. They've held five of their last seven opponents to under 0.80 points per possession and have allowed just three teams to surpass 0.90 points per possession since the start of December. They have the best defense in the Pac-12, they're forcing turnovers at the highest rate in the league, and teams simply can't make 3s against them. Over the past seven games, no team has made more than eight 3s against the Bruins, and only one made more than one-third of its 3-point attempts. UCLA's past four opponents are a combined 15-for-74 from 3.
Souley Boum gets the jumper to fall with less than a minute to play to give Xavier the go-ahead lead vs. Marquette.
There are very few teams playing at the level of Xavier right now. The Musketeers have won 11 straight games since losses to Duke and Gonzaga out in Portland. During that time, according to BartTorvik.com, they're No. 10 nationally in adjusted efficiency margin. Their offense is performing at an extremely high level, leading them to scoring more than 1.14 points per possession in Big East play, and ranking them in the top 10 nationally as a unit. They've scored fewer than one point per possession just once all season, and are shooting better than 40% from 3 on the season.
After three straight games decided in the final minute -- all wins -- Gonzaga was finally able to stretch its legs in Saturday's 40-point win over Portland. It's worth taking a minute to look at Anton Watson's development, especially on the offensive end. He has always been a defensive asset, a more physical foil to Drew Timme's offensive skill and low-post dominance. But Watson has now hit double figures in six of his past eight games, including 18 points against BYU on Thursday and 17 against Alabama back in December. Over that stretch, he has averaged 12.3 points and 5.0 boards, shooting 61.4% from the field.
8. Tennessee Volunteers (14-3)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Mississippi State (Tuesday), at LSU (Saturday)
Tennessee's run toward the top five nationally ended in stunning fashion Saturday thanks to Kentucky. The Vols' offense really struggled against the Wildcats, not just including the 10-for-21 shooting on layups. They shot only 3-for-21 from 3, tied for the fewest perimeter shots made and worst 3-point percentage all season. Here's where it gets worse: The team grabbed just 11.8% of its misses, also its fewest all season. Tennessee ranks fourth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, but Kentucky did a fantastic job keeping the Vols off the offensive glass.
9. Texas Longhorns (15-2)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Iowa State (Tuesday), at West Virginia (Saturday)
Texas erases a first-half deficit and closes out Texas Tech 72-70.
Texas answered a lot of questions this week. Could the Longhorns be the same team without Chris Beard at the helm? Was allowing 116 points to Kansas State just a blip? After being down by as many as 18 points to TCU on Wednesday, they looked like a team in trouble. But they came back to win that one, then needed a 12-point turnaround to knock off Texas Tech on Saturday. The trio of Marcus Carr, Timmy Allen and Sir'Jabari Rice were big in both games. Carr hit several key shots, Allen was difficult to handle around the rim, and Rice had the ball in his hands late to ice the game from the free throw line.
UConn is officially struggling. The Huskies have lost four of their past five games to drop to .500 in Big East play. Road losses to Xavier, Providence and Marquette, while not ideal, were understandable. Those are the three best teams in the league outside of the Huskies, and Xavier and Providence are high-level atmospheres. But Sunday's home loss to St. John's is in a different category. Dan Hurley simply didn't get enough from his guards. Andre Jackson had two points and one assist before fouling out, while Tristen Newton was held scoreless. As a team, the Huskies also shot just 14-for-48 from 3 in last week's two losses.
11. Iowa State Cyclones (13-3)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: vs. Texas (Tuesday), at Oklahoma State (Saturday)
The Cyclones' six-game winning streak was snapped at Kansas on Saturday: a narrow two-point game the Cyclones had a shot to win at the buzzer, but couldn't. The loss certainly shouldn't change anyone's mind about how good this team is right now. And the recent performance of Gabe Kalscheur has made Iowa State more dangerous offensively. The former Minnesota transfer has hit double figures in seven of his past eight games, hitting clutch shots in multiple games, and totaled 48 points, 13 rebounds and nine 3s in two games alone this past week. In his past seven, Kalscheur is averaging 17.3 points and shooting 45.5% from 3.
Their offensive struggles had a slight respite against Oregon State, but the Wildcats once again couldn't consistently score against Oregon on Saturday. They've now failed to hit one point per possession in four of their past five games, a mark they reached in all but six games last season. Over the past three games, their defensive woes have creeped up, too. Oregon did whatever it wanted to Arizona, shooting nearly 72% inside the arc and making 11 3s, while also grabbing more than 40% of its own misses. This also happened:
N'FALY DANTE POSTERIZED HIM 😱 pic.twitter.com/I8Lc1LBkYX— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 14, 2023
13. TCU Horned Frogs (14-3)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: at West Virginia (Wednesday), at Kansas (Saturday)
We're awfully close to going all-in on this TCU team. The Horned Frogs have just two losses at full strength this season: a two-point defeat to Iowa State and a four-point road loss at Texas -- the latter coming after they were up by 18 points. They're incredible in transition, consistently beating even the most disciplined and organized teams downcourt for easy fast-break baskets. Mike Miles Jr. is one of the best guards in college basketball, and Emanuel Miller is playing some of the best basketball of his career lately. The only issue? Shooting. Per KenPom, TCU ranks No. 333 in 3-point attempt rate and No. 342 in 3-point percentage.
It was a good week for former Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas. He was the difference-maker off the bench in the win over North Carolina, scoring 17 points, grabbing eight rebounds, blocking three shots and hitting three 3s. It earned him a start against Florida State, with Kadin Shedrick playing a season-low five minutes against the Seminoles. Vander Plas backed up Tony Bennett's decision, finishing with 15 points, seven boards, three assists and another three 3s. Using him up front opens things up for Virginia's offense, adding much-needed shooting and spacing in the half court.
15. Kansas State Wildcats (15-2)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Kansas (Tuesday), vs. Texas Tech (Saturday)
Kansas State finally saw its winning run come to an end Saturday against TCU, just its second loss of the campaign. One thing that jumps out when looking at the two defeats is the Wildcats' lack of free throws in both games. On Saturday, they shot just seven free throws, making six. Against Butler back in November, they were just 2-for-3 from the stripe. Over the entire season, they're taking more than 20 free throws per game and making more than 15 per game. When Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson aren't getting to the line, it puts a lot of pressure on them to create -- and make -- shots.
16. Marquette Golden Eagles (14-5)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: vs. Providence (Wednesday), at Seton Hall (Saturday)
Tyler Kolek speeds to the rim for big Marquette basket
Here are Marquette's five losses this season: by five at Purdue, by three vs. Mississippi State, in overtime to Wisconsin, in double overtime at Providence, by four at Xavier. The Golden Eagles are a couple bounces of the ball from being a consensus top 10-15 team. They make a huge rise this week despite the loss at Xavier, thanks to a home win over UConn. It's time to show love to Tyler Kolek, one of the elite passers and most underrated guards in the country. In his past six games, he's averaging 9.0 assists and only 1.8 turnovers -- and threw in 25 points against Xavier, too.
Dropped out: Miami Hurricanes (No. 16)
In the waiting room
Miami Hurricanes: The Hurricanes have now dropped two of three after falling in overtime at NC State on Saturday. Isaiah Wong broke out of his shooting slump, but now they need Nijel Pack to start making shots again. In his past three games, Pack is averaging 9.0 points on 30% shooting from the field.
Baylor Bears: The Bears disappeared from the rankings after losing three in a row to Iowa State, TCU and Kansas State, but they bounced back with a couple wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma State this past week. Keyonte George had one of the best games any freshman has had this season, going for 32 points and seven boards against the Mountaineers.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Steve Pikiell's team quietly moved into second place in the Big Ten over the weekend after a pair of close wins over Northwestern and Ohio State. The Scarlet Knights have now won seven of their past eight games -- and have a road win at Purdue atop their résumé.