Power Rankings: First Week of Conference Play Brings Plenty of Changes
Conference play is here, which means the upsets are flowing now that teams are being challenged night in and night out. Four of last week's top 10 teams fell in the past seven days, with all four of those defeats coming on the road, where it's tough to play no matter who you're facing. Others, like Michigan State, continue to climb the rankings after using a trip away from home to make a statement. One week into 2019, how did a full slate of league games impact our top 25?
Our Week 9 Power Rankings are below, but first, some notable performances—for better or for worse—from last edition's top 25...
Five on the Rise
The five most impressive team performances of the last week:
Michigan State: There's been a lot of talk about Michigan this season, and for good reason, but the other team in the Mitten State is quietly putting together its own stellar résumé. MSU has now won eight in a row since its late meltdown at Louisville, earning an impressive win at Ohio State without Joshua Langford on Saturday. Per kenpom.com, the Spartans have the nation's third-most efficient offense behind Gonzaga and Duke. They look poised to challenge the rival Wolverines for Big Ten supremacy.
Michigan: Speaking of the Wolverines, they don't appear to be going anywhere. Michigan played its first top-50 team in a month on Sunday afternoon and fairly easily handled a shorthanded Indiana team at home, shutting down the non-Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford Hoosiers (the aforementioned two combined for 42 of Indiana's 63 points) in a nine-point win. Going back to a Nov. 28 win over North Carolina, Charles Matthews has now made 13 of his last 28 (46.4%) three-point tries, an encouraging sign for a player that has often struggled from the perimeter.
Virginia: The Cavaliers dispatched Florida State by 13 in their ACC opener in a game that wasn't as close as the final margin indicates. Since giving up 71 points to Maryland in late November, Virginia's defense has been rolling, allowing an average of 0.78 points per possession in six games. On offense, Kyle Guy has been lights-out from beyond the arc, where he's made 19 of his last 31 shots—a 61.3% clip.
Iowa State: After knocking off Kansas by 17 at home, the scariest thing about this Cyclones team is the fact that it probably is still a ways off from its ceiling. Lindell Wigginton, last year's leading scorer, has only been back for three games and is still coming off the bench, yet Iowa State is all the way up to No. 13 on analytics sites kenpom and Sagarin and No. 14 on T-rank. Believe the hype around the 'Clones.
St. John's: The Red Storm bounced back nicely from their first loss of the season, cruising past Marquette at home (and holding the Golden Eagles below 1.0 points per possession) for their best win to date and then gutting out an overtime win at Georgetown, a place they hadn't won at since 2003. The Big East feels wide open right now, and St. John's trip to Villanova on Tuesday night is a crucial early conference battle for both.
Not Their Best Work
Three teams from last week's top 25 that had a bad or middling week:
Nevada: The Wolf Pack were surprisingly routed in a trip to The Pit against New Mexico on Saturday, falling for the first time this season. The most concerning aspect of it, though, was Nevada's struggles with a zone defense.
Kansas: The Jayhawks fell by 17 in Ames, but their biggest loss of the week came off the court, when they found out that center Udoka Azubuike—who missed the defeat to Iowa State—is out for the rest of the season due to a torn ligament in his wrist. It's a crushing blow for Kansas, which has not looked good at times without the big man this season (he missed a few early games with an ankle injury) and now must learn to adapt if it wants to achieve its lofty goals this season.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers felt like a sleeper pick to contend in the Big Ten this season, but they're already in a 1–3 hole in league play after dropping two tough road games this week at Maryland and at Iowa. Nebraska didn't play poorly in either, but was sunk by the Terps' 14 offensive rebounds in the former and a poor shooting night from the perimeter in the latter. There are some defensive concerns here, as the Huskers rank 13th in the conference in kenpom efficiency on that end through four league games, with opponents making 43.5% of their threes.
Mid-Major Thumbs Up
A mid-major team outside the top 25 that nonetheless deserves praise for its week:
Hofstra: The Pride won their 10th straight on Saturday thanks to the heroics of senior Justin Wright-Foreman, who drained a running three-pointer that beat the buzzer to down Northeastern. The Huskies were the preseason pick to win the CAA, but it's already looking like Hofstra has an early edge as not only the conference's highest-rated team on kenpom.com, but also its only one unbeaten in league play, at 3–0. The Pride have a dangerous offense that's led by Wright-Foreman, a super-scorer who poured in 42 against Northeastern, makes 42.7% of his threes and is once again one of the nation's top scorers at 26.7 points per game.
Top 25 Power Rankings
1. Duke (12–1)
Last Week (1): beat Clemson
Up Next: at Wake Forest, at Florida State
2. Tennessee (12–1)
Last Week (2): beat Georgia
Up Next: at Missouri, at Florida
3. Michigan (15–0)
Last Week (3): beat Penn State, beat Indiana
Up Next: at Illinois, vs. Northwestern
4. Virginia (13–0)
Last Week (4): beat Marshall, beat Florida State
Up Next: at Boston College, at Clemson
5. Gonzaga (14–2)
Last Week (7): beat Cal State Bakersfield, beat Santa Clara
Up Next: vs. Pacific, at San Francisco
6. Michigan State (13–2)
Last Week (8): beat Northwestern, beat Ohio State
Up Next: vs. Purdue, at Penn State
7. Kansas (12–2)
Last Week (5): beat Oklahoma, lost to Iowa State
Up Next: vs. TCU, at Baylor
8. Virginia Tech (13–1)
Last Week (11): beat Notre Dame, beat Boston College
Up Next: at Georgia Tech
9. Texas Tech (13–1)
Last Week (12): beat West Virginia, beat Kansas State
Up Next: vs. Oklahoma, at Texas
10. Nevada (14–1)
Last Week (6): beat Utah State, lost to New Mexico
Up Next: vs. San Jose State, at Fresno State
11. Auburn (11–2)
Last Week (13): OFF
Up Next: at Ole Miss, vs. Georgia
12. Mississippi State (12–1)
Last Week (15): OFF
Up Next: at South Carolina, vs. Ole Miss
13. Florida State (12–2)
Last Week (10): beat Winthrop, lost to Virginia
Up Next: vs. Miami, vs. Duke
14. Kentucky (10–3)
Last Week (9): lost to Alabama
Up Next: vs. Texas A&M, vs. Vanderbilt
15. North Carolina (11–3)
Last Week (14): beat Harvard, beat Pittsburgh
Up Next: at NC State, vs. Louisville
16. NC State (13–1)
Last Week (18): beat Miami
Up Next: vs. North Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh
17. Houston (15–0)
Last Week (24): beat Tulsa, beat Memphis
Up Next: at Temple, vs. Wichita State
18. Indiana (12–3)
Last Week (16): beat Illinois, lost to Michigan
Up Next: at Maryland
19. Marquette (12–3)
Last Week (17): lost to St. John's, beat Xavier
Up Next: at Creighton, vs. Seton Hall
20. Buffalo (13–1)
Last Week (19): beat Eastern Michigan
Up Next: vs. Toledo, vs. Miami-Ohio
21. Iowa State (12–2)
Last Week (NR): beat Oklahoma State, beat Kansas
Up Next: at Baylor, vs. Kansas State
22. St. John's (14–1)
Last Week (NR): beat Marquette, beat Georgetown
Up Next: at Villanova, vs. DePaul
23. Oklahoma (12–2)
Last Week (22): lost to Kansas, beat Oklahoma State
Up Next: at Texas Tech, vs. TCU
24. Ohio State (12–2)
Last Week (20): lost to Michigan State
Up Next: at Rutgers, at Iowa
25. TCU (12–1)
Last Week (NR): beat Baylor
Up Next: at Kansas, at Oklahoma
Dropped Out: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Seton Hall.
Next Man Up: Texas, Purdue, Wisconsin.