Maybe we'll get one week of calm atop the Power Rankings before the end of the season.
Even with the chaos throughout the rest of the field, the trio of Purdue, Alabama and Houston seemed fairly rock-solid. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, this past Saturday was the fourth Saturday in the last five weeks to feature at least eight ranked teams losing. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers, Crimson Tide and Cougars were separating themselves in their own tier.
Or so we thought.
Purdue lost at Northwestern on Sunday afternoon, its second loss in three games. The Boilermakers held onto the No. 1 spot after losing to Indiana the weekend prior, because their body of work was still stronger than the rest of the competition. But their résumé isn't quite bulletproof enough to withstand a second loss in eight days.
So, Alabama rises back to the top, with Houston moving to No. 2. The Crimson Tide's profile ticks every box. They rank No. 1 in the résumé-based metrics, including ESPN's Strength of Record. They're in the top three in each of the predictive metrics, including No. 2 at KenPom. They're also tied for the second-most Quadrant 1 and 2 wins in the country, with 13. A road win at Houston is also a nice trump card to keep in their back pocket.
What will this week bring? Well, Alabama has to head to Tennessee on Wednesday -- the only game the rest of the season that the Crimson Tide will likely be underdogs. Meanwhile, Houston and its top-ranked predictive rankings are waiting in the wings for Nate Oats' team to stumble. Or will Purdue get its chance back at the top?
Only one month until Selection Sunday ...
Team of the Week: Northwestern Wildcats
John-Michael Wright's timely putback helps the Cowboys to a 71-68 win over the Red Raiders.
It wasn't a huge secret Chris Collins entered 2022-23 on the hot seat. Since he led them to their first NCAA tournament in 2017, the Wildcats had finished below .500 in five straight seasons, winning seven or fewer Big Ten games in each of those. They were picked 13th in this preseason Big Ten poll. But after this past week, Northwestern is likely heading back to the dance, and Collins' near-term future is potentially secure.
The Wildcats opened the week with a road win at Ohio State, with Boo Buie and Brooks Barnhizer each scoring 19 points and Northwestern using a late-second half surge to knock off the Buckeyes. But the best win of the week came while most of the country was preparing their Super Bowl spreads. The Cats went on a 12-1 run in the final minutes to take down No. 1 Purdue, 64-58. Buie had 26 points, and the Wildcats forced 16 turnovers, several of them coming on the Boilermakers' final possessions. Chase Audige had 15 points, including a clutch corner 3 late in the game. Northwestern is now 18-7 overall, 9-5 in the Big Ten and has won six of its last eight games.
Player of the Week: Tyree Appleby, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
With so many high-major teams having big weeks, there wasn't an obvious option for Player of the Week. Vanderbilt's Liam Robbins, Texas A&M's Wade Taylor IV, Baylor's Adam Flagler and Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis all had worthy shouts, but Appleby gets the edge.
He opened the week with a tremendous showing against North Carolina, finishing with 35 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists (to just one turnover) -- and a ridiculous 23-for-28 effort at the free-throw line. To take the free-throw numbers a step further, he made 13 from the stripe in the final two minutes to seal the win over the Tar Heels. Appleby backed it up with 16 points and six assists in a one-point win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, keeping Wake Forest's at-large hopes alive. Once again, he was hugely clutch, scoring six in the final two minutes -- including a layup with 13 seconds left to give the Demon Deacons a one-point lead, and then two more free throws with two seconds left for the victory.
On top of that, he secured an NIL deal with Applebee's. Or, if he gets his way, Appleby's.
Wins of the Week: Vanderbilt Commodores 66, Tennessee Volunteers 65; Missouri Tigers 86, Tennessee Volunteers 85
Dueling buzzer-beaters! How could we pass that up? I suppose Missouri gets the edge since its win came in Knoxville; but Vanderbilt's win was certainly more surprising. Both teams were also in play for Team of the Week: The Tigers opened their week with a win over South Carolina, while Vanderbilt went into Florida and beat the Gators on Saturday. There's really not much to add, so let's just watch the two game-winners.
TYRIN LAWRENCE!!!!— Vanderbilt Men's Basketball (@VandyMBB) February 9, 2023
DORES WIN!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/JLG5f4Y4iv
MISSOURI STUNS NO. 6 TENNESSEE AT THE BUZZER 😱 pic.twitter.com/AeiT1b1KfK— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 12, 2023
One more mention goes to Stanford, which beat Arizona on Saturday night. It was the Cardinal's first home win over the Wildcats since 2009, and the program's highest-ranked win since beating UCLA (then No. 3) in January 2007.
Coach of the Week: Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State Cowboys
In the last month, the Cowboys have gone from barely hovering over .500 and looking like a potential candidate to finish last in the Big 12, to a likely NCAA tournament team on a five-game winning streak. And in a week that saw Tennessee lose by buzzer beaters (twice!), and Purdue, Arizona and Texas all drop games, Mike Boynton's team had a win that might trump them all. OSU went into Ames on Saturday and handed Iowa State a 64-56 loss, the Cyclones' first defeat at home all season. It also opened the week with a home win over Texas Tech, with John-Michael Wright finishing a three-point play with 0.4 seconds left to give the Cowboys a three-point win. Boynton and his team went through a rough 2021-22 after the NCAA banned the program from the postseason -- but he has righted the ship, and has the Cowboys back on track to hear their names on Selection Sunday.
Freshman Rylan Griffen scores a team-high 16 points against the Tigers and explains how intense defense helped the No. 3 Tide claw from behind.
Three teams with questions
Auburn Tigers: The Tigers aren't in danger of falling out of the NCAA tournament picture yet, but their home defeat to Alabama on Saturday was their fifth loss in six games, and another missed opportunity for a résumé-boosting win. They're just 2-6 against Quadrant 1 opponents, and their best wins are over Arkansas and Northwestern.
Penn State Nittany Lions: Things looked promising for the Nittany Lions after an 11-3 start that included wins over Illinois and Iowa, but they've now lost four in a row and eight of 11 since January 1. They've fallen to 5-9 in the Big Ten. The defense has been a huge issue, allowing at least 1.14 points in four straight.
New Mexico Lobos: Once the last unbeaten team in men's college basketball, New Mexico is now squarely on the cutline of the NCAA tournament. The Lobos dropped their third game in a row on Friday, falling by 12 at Air Force. They're also now just 6-6 in the Mountain West and still have to travel to Boise State and host San Diego State.
Dajuan Harris Jr. grabs the steal and goes the rest of the way for a reverse layup.
Nate Oats has received remarkable production all season from his freshman class, and is now getting a boost from yet another 2022 recruit. Rylan Griffen led the team in scoring on Saturday against Auburn, scoring 16 off the bench, making three of his five attempts from 3-point range. It's the fourth time in his last five games he's scored at least 12 points, a mark he hit just three times in the first 20 games of the season. Over that five-game stretch, he's shooting 54.2% from behind the arc -- after shooting 28.8% from 3 in his first 20 games.
For the first time in nearly a month, Houston had a mostly stress-free single-game week, beating Tulsa by 38 points. One name to keep in mind over the next month is freshman Emanuel Sharp. The Tampa native has played sporadic minutes throughout the season, but provides Kelvin Sampson with a consistent shooting option if needed. Seventy-eight of his 95 shots from the field this season have been 3s, and he's making them at a 40% clip. He's also shooting 92% from the free-throw line. Sharp has hit double figures in scoring six times, despite averaging 14.9 minutes and having four DNPs.
Purdue has now dropped two of its last three games after losing 64-58 at Northwestern on Sunday afternoon. Last weekend's defeat at Indiana fell mostly on the defense, but Sunday's loss was Purdue's worst offensive performance of the season by some distance. The Boilermakers really struggled from the perimeter, shooting just 5-for-22 from 3 -- with the typically reliable Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer combining to shoot 2-for-13 from the field. Turnovers were another issue, and it was the third straight game in which Purdue coughed it up on at least 23.9% of its possessions. The Boilermakers now rank last in the Big Ten in turnover percentage in conference play, a worrying trend with March approaching.
Duke appears poised to win with Kyle Filipowski headed to the free throw line, but the foul call is negated and the game goes to overtime.
If Kansas' supporting cast performs like it did in two games this past week, Bill Self will feel much better about the Jayhawks' NCAA tournament chances. In the 15-point loss at Iowa State last weekend, Jalen Wilson scored 26 points, and the rest of the team scored just 27. Those numbers flipped dramatically against Texas on Monday. Wilson scored in single digits for the first time all season, while the rest of the team combined for 86 points -- including five players in double figures. Then against Oklahoma, Wilson shot 7-for-17 from the field, and Gradey Dick was held to eight points, but Dajuan Harris Jr. (16 points) had yet another strong offensive game and Kevin McCullar Jr. had 13 points to go with five assists.
5. Texas Longhorns (20-5)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: at Texas Tech (Monday), vs. Oklahoma (Saturday)
Texas bounced back in a big way on Saturday after its loss at Kansas on Monday night, playing its best defensive game in more than a month and having its most efficient offensive performance since the calendar turned to 2023. It helps that the Longhorns made 10 3s for the first time since January 3, and made 96% of their free-throw attempts. It's the latter statistic that is awfully intriguing for March. Texas shooting 24-for-25 from the stripe on Saturday is incredible, but it's not a complete anomaly. The Longhorns are the best free-throw shooting team in the Big 12, making nearly 82% of their free-throw attempts in league play. Sir'Jabari Rice shoots 86.3% from the line, and Marcus Carr is at 81.6%. Just a nugget to file away when filling out your bracket.
Baylor has now won nine of its last 10 since opening Big 12 play with three straight losses. And the Bears also now have the No. 1-ranked offense at KenPom. Scott Drew's team has scored at least one point per possession in 11 straight games, including at least 1.10 points per possession in eight of those. They simply don't waste possessions. They take care of the ball better than anyone in the league, turning it over on just 15.5% of their possessions, while also leading the Big 12 in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing nearly 35% of their misses. That's a difficult combination for opponents to overcome, especially when you factor in three high-level shot-makers in Adam Flagler, Keyonte George and LJ Cryer.
There might not be a team in the country with a more impressive collection of wins than Arizona -- UCLA and Tennessee are top-five teams in most predictive metrics, while neutral-site victories over Creighton and Indiana continue to look better and better. San Diego State is also ranked. But if the Wildcats are in the hunt for a 1-seed come Selection Sunday, it's likely to be the other side of their résumé that could come back to haunt them. Their loss to Stanford on Saturday was their fourth defeat to a team ranked 50 or lower in the NET this season. For comparison's sake, Purdue, Kansas and Texas have zero, while Houston and Alabama have one.
While Virginia might have gotten away with one on Saturday night against Duke, coming out with an overtime win keeps the Cavaliers squarely in the mix in the ACC regular-season title race. They're tied for first with Pittsburgh, although the Panthers own the tiebreaker thanks to their head-to-head win back in early January. Miami sits a half-game back (and also owns the tiebreaker over UVA). Which team should be the ACC favorite right now? BPI gives Virginia a 91.9% chance of winning at least a share of the title, while Pittsburgh has 23.1% and Miami has 8.8%. KenPom has Virginia finishing at 16-4, one game ahead of Pitt. It likely comes down to whether the Cavaliers can win in Chapel Hill on Feb. 25.
Gonzaga rallies late behind Julian Strawther's 26 points to avoid the upset from BYU.
Amari Bailey didn't take long to hit his stride after returning from his seven-game injury absence, scoring in double figures in his first three games back, then blowing up for a season-high 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting in a win at Oregon State on Thursday. The five-star guard then had eight points in the first half against Oregon before landing awkwardly and going to the locker room. Bailey did return in the second half, but was scoreless in 11 minutes. He has a burst and an explosiveness the rest of the Bruins roster lacks, a dimension that could be a difference-maker in March. Mick Cronin will hope he's 100% moving forward.
10. Kansas State Wildcats (19-6)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Oklahoma (Tuesday), vs. Iowa State (Saturday)
Much like Iowa State -- coincidentally, the two teams face each other on Saturday -- Kansas State is in the midst of a slump right now. The Wildcats have lost four of their last six games, with home wins over Florida and a shorthanded TCU team the bright spots during that stretch. We talked about their turnover and 3-point shooting issues last week, and those problems popped up again -- particularly in the loss at Texas Tech on Saturday. Keyontae Johnson is also not shooting the ball quite as consistently as he was earlier in the season: 40.8% from the field in his last six games. In the first 19 games, he was making shots at a 54.8% clip.
Well, we can't blame the offense this week. Tennessee dropped both of its games in heartbreaking fashion, losing on buzzer-beaters at Vanderbilt and then at home to Missouri. Surprisingly, it was the nation's top-ranked defense that showed cracks. The Commodores and Tigers shot a combined 24-for-51 from 3 against the Vols, 47.1%. For the season, Tennessee ranks No. 1 nationally in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to make just 24.2%. The two opponents also turned it over just 15 times combined in the two games; Tennessee is in the top 20 in the country in defensive turnover percentage.
Outside of Trayce Jackson-Davis' dominance and Jalen Hood-Schifino generally playing Robin to his Batman, Indiana's stretch of eight wins in nine games has seen a variety of different ways to win. Four of the first five wins in the run came by at least 15 points, but the last three have come by a combined 12 points. The Hoosiers made nine 3s in a win over Michigan State and 10 3s in a win over Ohio State -- but made five or fewer in the other six wins. Race Thompson essentially missed four of the wins (three DNPs, and one game with four minutes) and played in four. As long as Mike Woodson has the likely runner-up for National Player of the Year, though, that might be all that matters.
Gonzaga shook off its loss last weekend to Saint Mary's with back-to-back wins over San Francisco and BYU, although the Zags needed several clutch baskets late to hold off the latter on Saturday night. And it was mostly Drew Timme's supporting cast that made plays down the stretch. In fact, the All-American's final points came with 7:34 remaining -- with Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton shouldering the load. Strawther hit back-to-back 3s to tie the game and then take the lead with 3:10 left, and then made all three free throws after getting fouled on a 3-pointer. Bolton iced the game with six free throws.
14. Marquette Golden Eagles (20-6)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Xavier (Wednesday)
Shaka Smart will be hoping Saturday's 14-point performance from Kam Jones has broken him out of his mini-slump. The sophomore guard was one of the biggest breakout players in the country for the first two and a half months of the season, averaging 16.4 points and shooting 37.2% from 3 through the first 21 games. He scored in single digits just twice in that span. But in the four games prior to Saturday, Jones was down to 9.5 points and 27.3% from 3, staying in single digits three times. He appeared to return to form against Georgetown though, going 4-for-9 from 3 and tying for the team lead in scoring.
Creighton is starting to look more and more like the team picked to win the Big East back in October. The Bluejays have won eight in a row after taking care of business on the road at Seton Hall and then gutting out a tough three-point win over UConn on Saturday. They're also now 17-5 with a healthy Ryan Kalkbrenner in the lineup. For as much offensive power as this team possesses when they're firing on all cylinders, the Bluejays have been dialed in defensively. They haven't allowed anyone to score more than 1.01 points per possession during the winning streak, have the best defense in the league and, according to BartTorvik.com, rank No. 3 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency over the stretch.
While ISU's loss at home to Oklahoma State on Saturday was surprising, the Cyclones have quietly been struggling for the last month. They're now just 3-6 in their last nine games and haven't won away from home since January 7. The elite defense that carried Iowa State for the first two months of the season hasn't been nearly as effective. For the season, the Cyclones lead the country in defensive turnover percentage, forcing opponents to cough it up on more than 26% of possessions. But in their last nine games, BartTorvik.com credits them with a defensive turnover percentage of just over 20%, ranking No. 61 nationally.
In the waiting room
Xavier Musketeers: Much of Xavier's success this season comes down to pace. The Musketeers are playing the fastest tempo of Sean Miller's career, by far, and it's been a huge asset. But when they can't push the ball, they're not nearly as effective. According to EvanMiya.com, Xavier is 12-1 when it plays at least 74 possessions, but just 7-5 otherwise.
UConn Huskies: The rejuvenated Huskies came up just short at Creighton on Saturday, but a résumé that includes wins over Alabama, Iowa State, Creighton, Marquette and Oklahoma State will keep them in the mix for a top-four seed. They'll need Tristen Newton to find his form again, though. After averaging 15.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists in his previous six games, he had just two points on Saturday.
Miami Hurricanes: Miami stayed in the ACC title hunt with a 22-point blowout of Duke and a narrower-than-expected victory over Louisville. The Hurricanes' offense is clicking at a high level right now, scoring 1.14 points per possession in conference play and ranking fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency over their last four games.