Power Rankings: Why the Battle at the Top Hasn't Produced a New No. 1 (for Now)
The biggest news of the weekend was, obviously, that Duke beat Virginia (again), and while it's up in the air whether that will be enough for it to usurp Tennessee in Monday afternoon's AP poll, you'll notice the Vols are still holding off the Blue Devils at No. 1 here in our power rankings. There's certainly a fair and compelling argument for Duke to be No. 1, but we decided to ride with Tennessee because it hasn't done anything to merit being stripped of its title. Some years, the battle for the top spot can become a game of hot potato, but the Vols haven't lost since Nov. 23. It's true that their SEC schedule so far has been fairly soft, but that will change this weekend when they travel to Lexington. We'll give Tennessee a chance to answer Duke with a top-five road win of its own before making a switch.
The rest of our latest 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:
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs delivered some bad news on Saturday with the update that forward Killian Tillie will likely miss at least the rest of the regular season. They then went out and clinically destructed (as in, won-by-48-points-destructed) a Saint Mary's team that entered Saturday ranked No. 40 on kenpom. Three days before that, they destroyed a San Francisco team that ranked 43rd by 30. The was some social media hand-wringing over a team from the WCC that lost to Tennessee and UNC being a No. 1 seed in Saturday's top 16 bracket preview, but didn't we all learn this lesson in 2016–17? Gonzaga is ranked No. 1 in the NET, No. 2 on kenpom and could be No. 3 in Monday's AP poll. That's no coincidence.
Duke: The glass-half-full view of Duke's win over Virginia for the rest of college basketball: The Blue Devils shot double their season percentage from three in going 62% from the perimeter! When will they ever make 8 of 11 threes in a half again?! The glass-half-empty view for the rest of college basketball: Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett combined for 10 turnovers, and Williamson had just his third game under 20 points in 2019, and Duke still beat a top-five team on the road ... by 10.
Michigan: Even more encouraging than the Wolverines avenging their earlier loss to Wisconsin was the way Charles Matthews took over offensively in the second half. Michigan is going to need more of that from Matthews if it's going to reach its ceiling this season, especially in games when Ignas Brazdeikis scores just two points and goes 1 for 9 from the floor. The Wolverines' offense isn't revived yet, but it was a good step forward.
Kansas State: Don't look now, but the Big 12 has a leader from the state of Kansas and it's not the Jayhawks. The Wildcats snapped an eight-game skid against their Sunflower State rival earlier in the week, then beat upstart contender Baylor on the road over the weekend to pull two games ahead in the loss column in the conference standings. This season has not been kind to Big 12 teams that have been either in the lead or perceived as the favorite, but maybe K-State will break the curse.
Houston: The Cougars may be having one of the quieter top-10/15 seasons in some time. They're now 23–1 and one of just three one-loss teams remaining (along with Tennessee and Nevada) after beating both of their closest AAC challengers this past week in UCF and Cincinnati. The victories added two Quadrant 1 wins to Houston's résumé, a significant development as it chases a No. 3 or higher seed for March.
Not Their Best Work
Three teams from last week's top 25 that had a bad or middling week:
Michigan State: The Spartans turned the ball over 24 times in a nightmare home loss to Illinois last Tuesday, including 16 giveaways in the first 15 minutes of the game, which almost seems impossible. While Michigan State's ballhandling issues have fluctuated this season, their current 19% turnover rate (which ranks 193rd nationally) marks the third season in a row they've been at 19% or higher, so it doesn't seem likely that this will suddenly improve. The Spartans don't force turnovers either, ranking in the bottom 20 nationally, per kenpom. They're playing with fire when they have bad nights with the ball.
Virginia Tech: Back-to-back losses to Louisville and Clemson last week revealed some major concerns for the Hokies when they're without Justin Robinson. The senior is out indefinitely with a foot injury and has missed three straight games, and in those contests Virginia Tech scored 47, 64 and 51 points, notching 1.0 points per possession in just one of them. The Hokies may not be able to win the ACC, but these games are still critical for seeding purposes, especially considering the weak non-conference slate they played. If Robinson doesn't play against Georgia Tech on Wednesday, it's a potential trap game going against the Yellow Jackets' No. 12 efficient defense.
Baylor: Faced with a big week, the Bears went 0–2 to make their stay in the power rankings a short one. They lost on the road at Texas and then back at home to Kansas State (the latter without leading scorers Makai Mason and King McClure), neither of which is close to a bad loss, but they now sit at 6–4 in the Big 12 and behind four other teams. Baylor has been the surprise story of the conference season, overcoming some dismal non-conference defeats and the loss of Tristan Clark to shockingly play itself into the NCAA tournament picture, but contending for the conference crown may be a bridge too far right now, especially if Mason and McClure miss any more time.
Mid-Major Thumbs Up
A mid-major team outside the top 25 that nonetheless deserves praise for its week:
New Mexico State: The Aggies are firmly in control of the WAC after a pair of road wins last week, first outlasting Cal State Bakersfield in overtime and then traveling to the tough enviornment at Grand Canyon and edging their biggest conference challenger. New Mexico State is a team that thrives on balance, leading the nation in bench minutes and having 10 players averaging between 4.2 and 12 points. The Aggies shoot a lot of three-pointers but probably won't beat you from there; instead, they rank 21st nationally in two-point percentage. And despite being generally undersized, they rank seventh in offensive rebounding rate and 16th in defensive rebounding rate. With four of their remaining six WAC games coming at home, a conference title is within their sights.
Top 25 Power Rankings
Last Week (1): beat Missouri, beat Florida
Up Next: vs. South Carolina, at Kentucky
Last Week (2): beat Boston College, beat Virginia
Up Next: at Louisville, vs. NC State
Last Week (4): beat San Francisco, beat St. Mary's
Up Next: at Loyola Marymount, at San Diego
Last Week (5): beat South Carolina, beat Mississippi State
Up Next: vs. LSU, vs. Tennessee
Last Week (3): beat Miami, lost to Duke
Up Next: at North Carolina, vs. Notre Dame
Last Week (6): beat Colorado State, beat New Mexico
Up Next: at Wyoming
Last Week (7): beat Rutgers, beat Wisconsin
Up Next: at Penn State, vs. Maryland
North Carolina (19–4)
Last Week (8): beat NC State, beat Miami
Up Next: vs. Virginia, at Wake Forest
Last Week (13): beat UCF, beat Cincinnati
Up Next: at UConn, at Tulane
Last Week (9): lost to St. John's, beat Villanova
Up Next: at DePaul
Last Week (15): beat Nebraska
Up Next: at Maryland, vs. Penn State
Last Week (10): beat Creighton, lost to Marquette
Up Next: vs. Providence, at St. John's
Michigan State (19–5)
Last Week (11): lost to Illinois, beat Minnesota
Up Next: at Wisconsin, vs. Ohio State
Last Week (14): lost to Kansas State, beat Oklahoma State
Up Next: at TCU, vs. West Virginia
Last Week (22): beat Mississippi State, beat Auburn
Up Next: at Kentucky, at Georgia
Kansas State (18–5)
Last Week (NR): beat Kansas, beat Baylor
Up Next: at Texas, vs. Iowa State
Virginia Tech (18–5)
Last Week (12): lost to Louisville, lost to Clemson
Up Next: vs. Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh
Iowa State (18–6)
Last Week (16): beat Oklahoma, lost to TCU
Up Next: at Kansas State
Last Week (17): beat Minnesota, lost to Michigan
Up Next: vs. Michigan State
Last Week (18): beat Virginia Tech, lost to Florida State
Up Next: at Georgia Tech, at Pittsburgh
Last Week (21): beat Indiana, beat Northwestern
Up Next: at Rutgers
Florida State (18–5)
Last Week (NR): beat Syracuse, beat Louisville
Up Next: vs. Wake Forest, at Georgia Tech
Texas Tech (19–5)
Last Week (23): beat West Virginia, beat Oklahoma
Up Next: vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Baylor
Last Week (19): beat Memphis, lost to Houston
Up Next: vs. Wichita State
Last Week (NR): beat Nebraska
Up Next: vs. Purdue, at Michigan
Dropped Out: Baylor, Auburn, Washington.
Next Man Up: Auburn, Buffalo, Wofford.