Ad Blocker Detected
Our website is made possible by displaying online advertisements to our visitors. Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker.
The top of the rankings sees a shake-up this week after two losses by SEC favorites Auburn and Kentucky.
We’ll get to those games shortly, but what does it all mean? Do the results of past week open the door for another team or two to crack the top five? Are Auburn’s and Kentucky’s résumés good enough to withstand some slipups? Or are the Wildcats’ short-handed losses starting to catch up to them? Is there anything to be concerned about for either team?
Starting with the last question: I don’t think so. I still think full-strength Kentucky is a clear-cut national title favorite, and the Wildcats showed on Saturday against Alabama that a short-handed Kentucky is pretty good too. As for the Tigers, their decision-making in the backcourt is still worrisome late in games, and Wendell Green has had some really, really poor final possessions in recent weeks. That’s the area to watch.
With the SEC losses, though, Kansas’ route to a 1-seed is more apparent. The Jayhawks are the only team in the country with 10 Quadrant 1 wins. They also have just one loss outside of Quadrant 1, and they’re ranked No. 1 in ESPN’s strength of record and in the KPI.
The most interesting team in this discussion, though, is Baylor, which raised some eyebrows when it was ranked No. 5 overall in Saturday’s mock bracket reveal. With Baylor as one of the elite teams in the country when completely healthy, the selection committee was obviously putting a huge amount of weight on the Bears’ full-strength résumé and predictive metrics. If the Bears can avenge their blowout loss to Kansas with a win over the Jayhawks on Saturday, their path to 1-seed is wide-open — especially if everyone besides Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (knee, out for the season) comes back fully healthy before Selection Sunday.
Since Texas Tech started looking like one of the elite teams in the country in early January, the Red Raiders have earned Win of the Week honors on a pair of occasions, and Mark Adams also landed Coach of the Week after a home victory over Texas in the first week of February. But they hadn’t earned Team of the Week honors — until now.
That’s what a double-digit win over Baylor and a road victory versus Texas will do for you.
Texas Tech dominated the second half against Baylor on Wednesday, scoring 51 points en route to a 10-point win. Kevin Obanor was terrific, posting a season-high 23 points and grabbing a season-high 13 rebounds, as well. He was quieter against Texas on Saturday, but Bryson Williams stepped up there with 17 points, while Clarence Nadolny came off the bench to score 14. The Red Raiders’ defense against the Longhorns was remarkable, holding Texas to just 10 paint points and 26.5% shooting from inside the arc. Oh, and the game was in Austin, but you could barely tell. “Air ball” chants after a second-half miss from Longhorns guard Andrew Jones stood out.
The most impressive part? The Red Raiders won both contests without two-year starter and double-figure scorer Kevin McCullar, also arguably the team’s best defender. This team is for real.
Saint Mary’s got some separation in the top tier of the West Coast Conference this past week, beating San Francisco and BYU by matching 69-64 scores and clearly establishing the Gaels as the second-best team in the league and the likely 2-seed in the conference tournament. And the star of the show was Kuhse.
Starting for the first time since mid-December, the senior guard played 40 minutes in both wins. He had 22 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals against San Francisco, making several clutch free throws down the stretch to keep the Dons at bay. He followed that up with a second straight season high in scoring on Saturday night, finishing with 25 points, four 3-pointers and four assists in the key triumph over BYU. His bucket with just over five minutes left gave the Gaels a 12-point lead that the Cougars couldn’t overcome.
Over Kuhse’s past five games, he is averaging 18.4 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 43.5% from 3.
I mentioned the SEC shake-up at the very beginning, and it’s hard to differentiate between the two big victories, so I’m giving the Gators and the Vols co-wins of the week.
Florida was essentially in a must-win situation against Auburn on Saturday. The Gators had lost two in a row, at Kentucky and Texas A&M, and their NCAA tournament hopes were foundering. A 17-2 Auburn run spanning both halves looked like it would bury them, but the Gators responded with a 12-2 run midway through the second half and got some huge shots from Tyree Appleby (26 points). Florida forward Colin Castleton (19 points, eight boards, three blocks) also outplayed counterpart Walker Kessler inside.
Earlier in the week, Tennessee avenged its 28-point mid-January loss at Kentucky in beating the Wildcats by 13 in Knoxville. The Volunteers went on a 17-1 run early in the game, and Kentucky was rarely able to make it a game for the final 30 minutes. The two biggest keys for the Vols were limiting turnovers and transition defense. The Vols coughed it up 20 times in the first meeting and were consistently beat down the floor; they turned it over just eight times on Tuesday and rarely allowed easy baskets.
McCasland has done an incredible job with North Texas this season, capping the week with a last-second win at UAB and giving the Mean Green a two-game lead over Middle Tennessee in the loss column entering the final two weeks of the regular season.
North Texas surprised the nation last season, going from 9-5 in league play — tied for the fifth-best record in Conference USA — to winning the conference tournament and then upsetting Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tourney. But McCasland lost three seniors from that team, and North Texas was picked all the way down at sixth in the preseason C-USA poll. After losing three of five to start the 2021-22 campaign, North Texas has lost just one game since. The Mean Green have won 12 games in a row and 18 of their past 19.
That most recent victory might have been the best. North Texas visited UAB on Saturday, went back and forth with the talented Blazers for the better part of 35 minutes and then allowed a late 11-0 run that looked like it would give UAB the win and a shot at the regular-season title. But Tylor Perry made a 3 with 23 seconds left to cut UAB’s lead to one and then hit another deep 3 with fewer than three seconds left to give North Texas the W.
Three teams with questions
Xavier Musketeers: I don’t think the Musketeers’ NCAA tournament chances are in any sort of trouble, but they’ve now lost four of their past five games after falling by double digits to St. John’s and UConn this past week. They’re now below .500 in the Big East, and they’ve allowed at least 1.00 point per possession in nine of their past 10 outings.
Loyola Chicago Ramblers: For the first time in months, the Ramblers no longer have the edge in the Missouri Valley regular-season race. They lost at home to Drake on Saturday for their fourth defeat in 10 games — following a 10-game winning streak. Their at-large résumé is good enough right now, but they can’t afford too many more slipups.
Georgetown Hoyas: I’ve included the Hoyas in this section before, but we’re nearing historic levels of embarrassment in the nation’s capital. Georgetown fell to 0-15 in Big East play on Saturday, and the Hoyas realistically have only one more chance to get a win: at home against DePaul on Thursday. If the Hoyas don’t, 0-19 looks awfully likely. In that case, does Patrick Ewing get another season at the helm?
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-2)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at San Francisco (Thursday), at Saint Mary’s (Saturday)
The Zags are just two games from securing their third unbeaten regular-season performance in the past four campaigns — and four wins from their fourth NCAA tournament 1-seed in a row. They’re also very likely to be the overall 1-seed for the second straight season. Gonzaga’s stranglehold on the top of the bracket was strengthened with Auburn’s loss to Florida, and I find it hard to believe anyone can pass the Zags between now and Selection Sunday if Mark Few’s team wins out. The Zags have three wins against the top 15 of the NET, their only losses are to top-25 NET teams and they rank No. 1 in all three predictive metrics and in the NET. Barring a shock defeat, the Zags are going to be at the top of the bracket in three weeks.
Tommy Lloyd and Arizona have not lost in nearly a month. Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images
2. Arizona Wildcats (24-2)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: at Utah (Thursday), at Colorado (Saturday)
It wasn’t Arizona’s finest week, but the Wildcats used big second-half efforts to beat Oregon State and Oregon. And aside from showing some resilience in taking every punch a desperate Oregon team threw on Saturday night, one of the bigger positives of the week was Bennedict Mathurin really rounding back into form. After a nine-game stretch in which he averaged 13.1 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 38.1% from the field and 29.3% from 3 — and never scored more than 18 in a single game — he has now registered at least 20 points in four straight contests. Over that stretch, Mathurin is averaging 22.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 55.6% from the field and 50.0% from 3.
3. Kansas Jayhawks (22-4)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Kansas State (Tuesday), at Baylor (Saturday)
Kerr Kriisa lets it fly and buries the clutch 3-pointer to give the Wildcats’ the lead late in the second half.
Finally, some consistency from David McCormack! The 6-foot-10 senior center surged toward the end of last season, and after a wildly inconsistent first three months of this one, he seems to be on the right track once again. Through 22 games, he averaged 9.0 points and 6.9 rebounds on 51.4% shooting from the field. That was highlighted by four double-doubles but also by five games with three or fewer points. He never tallied double figures in scorning for more than two games in a row. But over the past four matchups, McCormack has scored at least 11 points in every game and is averaging 14.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and shooting 55.0% from the field. With Jalen Wilson hitting his stride during Big 12 play and McCormack peaking at the right time, Bill Self’s offensive options are expanding.
4. Auburn Tigers (24-3)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. Ole Miss (Wednesday), at Tennessee (Saturday)
Auburn has still only lost once in regulation, and that came by one point at Florida, so the Tigers aren’t falling too far in the rankings. And as mentioned earlier, I don’t think there’s any reason to suddenly write off Auburn as a title contender. But decision-making and turnovers are starting to highlight its losses. In the Tigers’ past 13 games, they’ve had two in which they turned the ball over on at least 23% of their offensive possessions. Those two tilts were the losses to Arkansas and Florida. Wendell Green and K.D. Johnson combined for 10 turnovers against Arkansas and eight against Florida. Both players are at their best when they’re aggressive, getting downhill and making plays off the bounce. But they sometimes forget Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler exist — which isn’t ideal, considering Smith and Kessler are the Tigers’ two best players.
5. Kentucky Wildcats (22-5)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. LSU (Wednesday), at Arkansas (Saturday)
While John Calipari will obviously want to be at full strength as often as possible moving forward, injuries to TyTy Washington and Sahvir Wheeler have forced him to dip into his rotation a bit more recently — and the coach might have found something with Jacob Toppin. Toppin has been a solid reserve for most of the season, starting one game back in January and otherwise providing a spark off the bench with his explosiveness and size. But he was thrust into a starting role on Saturday against Alabama, and he responded. Toppin finished with 13 points, six rebounds and three assists, including some momentum-shifting plays in the first half when the Crimson Tide had a lead. Over Toppin’s past three games, he is averaging 11.3 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 60.9% from the field.
6. Purdue Boilermakers (24-4)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: at Michigan State (Saturday)
The Big Ten title race is going to be as competitive as any in the country, with Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin all tied in the loss column. Purdue only has three games remaining, while Illinois and Wisconsin have four apiece. Both BPI and BartTorvik.com give the Boilermakers the best chance to win the league, as well as the easiest remaining schedule. The March 1 matchup of Purdue and Wisconsin in Madison is essentially an elimination game, however. In full disclosure, all of that was just a way to fill space to get to Jaden Ivey’s ridiculous dunk and strut against Rutgers on Sunday. One of the best of the season.
Best @BoilerBall dunk since _______? 😲 pic.twitter.com/GvUGZlYuQP
— Purdue On BTN (@PurdueOnBTN) February 20, 2022
7. Duke Blue Devils (23-4)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Virginia (Wednesday), at Syracuse (Saturday)
After a November that put Wendell Moore squarely in the thick of the All-American discussion, he had been mostly up and down for the past two months. But he had arguably his best week in 2022 this past week, putting up 16 points, six rebounds and five assists in the win over Wake Forest and then going for 16 points, five rebounds, seven assists and six steals in the victory over Florida State. With Mike Krzyzewski moving Jeremy Roach to the bench and AJ Griffin into the starting lineup, more of the playmaking duties have fallen on the shoulders of Moore and Trevor Keels. Neither is a classic point guard, but both are strong with the ball and good passers. They combined for 15 assists against the Seminoles on Saturday.
8. Villanova Wildcats (21-6)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at UConn (Tuesday)
Collin Gillespie’s performance against Providence on Tuesday was a vintage Villanova point guard effort: 33 points, five 3s, four rebounds, a pair of assists and 8-for-8 from the free throw line. With multiple huge shots down the stretch in the second half, he lead the Wildcats to a big road win over the team ahead of them in the standings. (Gillespie likely would have earned Player of the Week honors, but he shot 2-for-10 and scored nine points in Saturday’s win over Georgetown.) That’s going to be the type of performance Villanova will need from Gillespie in the NCAA tournament. He had some struggles in big nonconference games this season, but he is still capable of carrying the Wildcats.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (21-6)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Oklahoma (Tuesday), at TCU (Saturday)
David McCormack gets up for the putback jam
I gave Texas Tech a lot of love in the Team of the Week section, so let’s take a quick look at the Red Raiders’ overall résumé — mainly to see why the selection committee had them four full spots behind Baylor, despite sweeping the Bears and tying with them in the Big 12 standings. Baylor edges Tech in every single metric, with a pretty sizable advantage in the BPI, Sagarin and KPI. The Bears also are better away from home (9-3 vs. 5-6) and have a better Quadrant 1 record (9-4 vs. 7-6). The top end of the résumé, though, is where Tech can make its argument. The Red Raiders have a win against Kansas, the two aforementioned victories over Baylor, a sweep of Texas and a neutral-court triumph versus Tennessee. Baylor has home wins against Villanova and Texas — and then there’s a drop-off to a neutral-court victory over Michigan State.
10. Baylor Bears (22-5)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: at Oklahoma State (Monday), vs. Kansas (Saturday)
Scott Drew’s piecing this team together and keeping the Bears in the hunt for a Big 12 regular-season title and a potential 1-seed in the NCAA tournament is tremendously impressive. They were missing Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer on Saturday against TCU, and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua is already out for the season — and they still managed to beat the Horned Frogs by 10. Drew essentially had just six players to use, but he gave Dale Bonner his second start of the season. Bonner responded with five free throws and four steals. Flo Thamba had played more than 23 minutes once all season before last weekend, but he has now played at least 27 minutes for three games in a row and is averaging 9.7 points and 9.3 rebounds over that span. The return of Flagler and Cryer will be crucial for Saturday’s game against Kansas, however.
11. Wisconsin Badgers (21-5)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at Minnesota (Wednesday), at Rutgers (Saturday)
As I’m writing this, the fallout from the postgame fracas involving Juwan Howard and the Wisconsin coaching staff has not been determined, so we’ll wait to address the ramifications of possible suspensions. In the meantime, Johnny Davis’ Wooden Award hopes were taken up a notch last week. He started with 30 points and 12 rebounds in a key win at Indiana, scoring the Badgers’ final 13 points and willing them to victory. He followed that up with 25 points, six rebounds and three blocks in Sunday’s home win over Michigan. In the two games, he shot 21-for-27 from inside the arc and 13-for-17 from the free throw line. Heading down the stretch, it feels like an Oscar Tshiebwe vs. Johnny Davis race.
12. Tennessee Volunteers (19-7)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: at Missouri (Tuesday), vs. Auburn (Saturday)
Tennessee had one of the best wins of the week over Kentucky, but the Volunteers’ offense then disappeared at Arkansas on Saturday. Against the Wildcats, Tennessee shot 47% from 3 and only turned it over eight times, scoring 1.11 points per possession. Against the Razorbacks, Tennessee was down to 0.71 points per possession after shooting 4-for-24 from behind the arc and coughing it up 15 times. Tennessee really struggled to get points in the paint against Arkansas. John Fulkerson had just two points in Fayetteville, while Kennedy Chandler and Zakai Zeigler didn’t get the space to consistently finish at the rim or find teammates for open shots. The trio shot 4-for-17 from 2 and had just three total assists.
13. Providence Friars (22-3)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Xavier (Wednesday), vs. Creighton (Saturday)
This is just what they do, folks. After a midweek loss to Villanova threatened the Friars’ position atop the Big East, Butler looked like it was going to make it a miserable week for Providence. But Ed Cooley’s team came back from 19 points down to pick up an overtime win on the road — and stay one game ahead of Villanova in the loss column at the top of the standings. Now the Friars have to take care of business at home against Xavier and Creighton before getting a rematch with Villanova on March 1. The key will be getting Al Durham back; he missed Sunday’s game with a lower body injury, and he has been playing through pain for a while.
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (19-7)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Ohio State (Thursday), at Michigan (Sunday)
So what’s going on with Andre Curbelo this season? He has been limited to just 12 games and four starts due to concussion issues related to the one he suffered back in the preseason, but he hasn’t been nearly as effective even when on the floor. Before missing 11 games in a row, Curbelo started his only four games of the season in November, averaging 9.3 points and 5.5 assists. When he returned on Martin Luther King Jr. Day against Purdue, he had 20 points, six rebounds and three assists and looked poised to be the elite playmaker he showed flashes of being last season. Since then, Curbelo has averaged just 5.4 points, 1.7 assists and 2.3 turnovers in 15.4 minutes while shooting 31.7% from the field. He has played more than 20 minutes just once in the past seven games. So far, Illinois is 13-1 without Curbelo and 6-6 with him. The Fighting Illini have Final Four potential — but Curbelo returning to his freshman-year form might be the key.
15. UCLA Bruins (19-5)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: vs. Arizona State (Monday), at Oregon (Thursday), at Oregon State (Saturday)
Along with Tommy Kuhse and Johnny Davis, UCLA wing Jaylen Clark was another prime candidate for Player of the Week after the sophomore broke out in his second and third starts of the season. Against Washington State on Thursday, Clark was inserted into the starting lineup with Tyger Campbell out and responded with 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Campbell returned against Washington, but Johnny Juzang and Cody Riley were out, so Clark kept his starting spot. And he looked even better, going for 25 points on 12-for-16 shooting and grabbing five boards. Clark has been considered as arguably UCLA’s best defensive player, but he rarely showed that level of offensive ability. That could be a huge boost for the Bruins moving forward.
16. Houston Cougars (22-4)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: at Tulane (Wednesday), vs. SMU (Sunday)
Houston nearly let Sunday’s game against Wichita State slip away several times, but the way the Cougars finished the second overtime and got the win was classic Houston. With the game tied at 71, Houston missed two shots but grabbed two offensive rebounds — as the Cougars are wont to do — dove for a loose ball on the floor and ended up getting a bucket plus the foul by Josh Carlton. Wichita State came back down and tied it on a 3 (that part wasn’t classic Houston), but Jamal Shead then took the inbounds pass with five seconds left, drove the length of the floor and dumped it off to J’Wan Roberts for a game-winning dunk. It’s not always pretty for Houston, but regardless of personnel, Kelvin Sampson’s teams always seem to crash the offensive glass, always hustle, always play to the whistle and, more often than not, get a win.
Dropped out: NONE
In the waiting room
Arkansas Razorbacks: Few teams nationally are playing as well as Arkansas right now. The Razorbacks have won 11 of their past dozen games after taking care of business against Tennessee on Saturday. Check out this remaining schedule, though: at Florida, vs. Kentucky, vs. LSU, at Tennessee.
UConn Huskies: The Huskies picked up résumé-boosting wins this past week against Seton Hall and Xavier, giving them nine victories in their past 12 games. Adama Sanogo was dominant down low, totaling 35 points and 25 rebounds in the two contests. Up next is a visit from Villanova on Tuesday.
Texas Longhorns: The Longhorns need to find some sort of offensive consistency. They’ve scored more than one point per possession just twice in the past seven games, during wins over Kansas and Oklahoma. In those two tilts, they made a combined 49 2-point shots; they didn’t make more than 16 2-pointers in any of the other games over that stretch.