College Basketball Power Rankings: Michigan State reigns, Duke slips, Kentucky vanishes

Welcome to Sporting News’ College Basketball Power Rankings. 

Well, first of all (Charles Barkley voice), this is not the AP Top 25 poll or an analysis of it. As much as we sought to review each team’s resume up to this point, we also sought to project how they might fare, given their history and upcoming schedule, over the course of the next week and beyond. 

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So, for example, if you’re looking for Kentucky, you won’t see it listed in our top 25 rankings. What have the Wildcats done other than blow out Louisville and barely beat a sliding Texas A&M squad? (We’ll wait.) They have a couple road games this week before they face Florida, and a big road matchup against West Virginia on Jan. 27 to show us who they really are.

And, sure, Duke is seventh in the ACC right now and struggling on defense, but we see that loaded roster turning things around real quick, fast and in a hurry. So, that’s reflected in our Power Rankings with the Blue Devils in the top five. 

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College Basketball Power Rankings

25. Florida (11-4, 3-0)

The Gators jumped out to a 5-0 record, including an impressive double-overtime win against defending national runner-up Gonzaga, before dropping four of their next five. One of those came at home against Loyola-Chicago. However, since then Florida has won seven of eight, knocking off Cincinnati and Texas A&M. Its lone loss during the stretch came against Clemson, one of the most surprising teams in the country. 

24. Florida State (12-4, 1-3) 

The Seminoles have only played .500 ball during their last six games, losing three of their last four. But they nearly went into Durham and downed Duke on Dec. 30 in the first of three straight games against ranked opponents. A one-point win against defending national champion North Carolina, a strong showing on the road against Miami and a tough loss against Louisville should have the ACC’s third-highest scoring team (83.6 ppg) primed to start a winning streak, beginning with Saturday’s matchup against Syracuse. 

23. Notre Dame (13-4, 3-1) 

The Fighting Irish will have to go all the way to March without the services of SN preseason All-American Bonzie Colson, who leads the team in points (21.4 ), rebounds (10.4) and blocks (2.4) per game. He suffered a broken foot  just one game into their ACC slate. But Notre Dame seems to have regrouped nicely with wins against North Carolina State and Syracuse, before a defeat at Georgia Tech on Wednesday to snap a five-game winning streak. 

22. UCLA (12-4, 3-1) 

Just like we all thought, after a season-opening trip to China that resulted in the indefinite suspensions of three key freshmen (Jalen Hill, Cody Riley and LiAngelo Ball), following a shoplifting incident that became international news, the Bruins are sitting pretty atop the Pac 12 standings.

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They’re averaging 107 points per in their last two contests, heading into a two-game homestand against Utah and Colorado on Thursday and Saturday. Their success is in large part due to the play of junior Aaron Holiday, whose breakout averages of 19.4 points and 5.3 assists per game lead the team. 

21. Gonzaga (14-3, 4-0)

The Bulldogs went just 1-2 against ranked competition in non-conference play, but have looked their typical dominant selves, winning each of their first four West Coast Conference games by an average of 32.7 points while scoring 89 points per game. With seven players putting up at least eight points per game, Gonzaga’s balanced scoring attack should insure their consistency the rest of the way. 

20. Kansas (13-3, 3-1) 

Kansas’ degree of difficulty makes it one of the more beatable teams with legitimate national title aspirations. The Jayhawks’ 11.1 made 3-pointers per game is second only to Marquette’s (11.9) among high-major programs and they’re connecting at a 41.4 percent clip, 14th in the nation as of Wednesday. But they simply can’t get to the free-throw line. Their 226 attempts through 16 games ranks 342nd among 351 Division I teams.

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They’ve split games against Texas and Texas Tech, the Big 12’s stingiest defenses against the 3-pointer, defeating the Longhorns and falling against the Red Raiders. Back-to-back meetings this week against Kansas State and West Virginia, rated No. 3  and No. 4 in the Big 12 in defensive scoring and 3-point defense, respectively, could highlight the deficiencies again. 

19. Clemson (14-1, 3-0) 

Riding a 10-game winning streak, the Tigers, led by Marcquise Reid (15.9 ppg) and Donte Grantham (14.9 ppg and 7.3 rpg), on Thursday face an N.C. State squad that upset Duke last week. Saturday, Clemson hosts Miami before a three-game stretch that includes road matchups against North Carolina and Duke. Coach Brad Brownell’s team has looked good thus far, but its true mettle is about to be tested like never before. 

18. Auburn (15-1, 3-0) 

The Tigers earned their first ranking in the AP poll since 2003, but they might be even better than their standing. Bruce Pearl is finally beginning to live up to the expectations Tigers fans had when he signed on to coach at Auburn four years ago.

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Auburn is filling it up, averaging 87.2 points per game, second-best in the SEC, and leading the SEC in 3-pointers made as of Wednesday with 153. The Tigers travel to Mississippi State on Saturday. 

17. North Carolina (13-4, 2-2)

The defending national champions have looked vulnerable against ranked opponents, going 1-3 with losses to Michigan State, Florida State and, most recently, Virginia, which limited UNC to its second-lowest scoring output of the season at 49 points (they only scored 45 vs. Sparty). But there’s still more than enough firepower and veteran leadership in Chapel Hill with junior Luke Maye (18.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and senior Joel Berry (17.6 ppg) to rectify the wrongs as the Tar Heels face Notre Dame and Clemson in their next two games. 

16. TCU (13-3, 1-3) 

The Horned Frogs are a three-point overtime victory against Baylor away from being 0-4 in the Big 12. But TCU’s conference record includes a one-point defeat against Oklahoma, a four-point loss at home against Kansas and an overtime setback versus Texas, the only games they’ve dropped all season. It’s easy to tell why TCU makes coach Jamie Dixon proud. They rank at or among the league’s best in defensive rebounding, assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-point field-goal percentage. TCU has developed a formula for success that should bode well as it travels to Norman, Okla., for a rematch with the Sooners. 

15. Cincinnati  (14-2, 3-0) 

Still in search of a win they can really hang their hats on, the Bearcats have been all business. During their current seven-game winning streak, they’ve won six by double-digits and absolutely smothered opponents on defense, giving up 58.6 points per game. That’s the second-lowest total in the country. With grizzled vets such as junior Jacob Evans (13.7 ppg) and senior Gary Clark (12.7 ppg), Cincinnati shouldn’t have any trouble dispatching USF, losers of four straight, Saturday. Next Tuesday, the Bearcats will get it on with UCF, rated No. 3 in the country in scoring defense, in a battle that’ll make the hearts of hoops purists melt. 

14. Miami (13-2, 2-1) 

The Hurricanes reeled off 10 straight wins to start the season, downing then 12th-ranked Minnesota on the road in the process. But they’ve gone 3-2 in the last five, a handful of contests that have all been decided by 10 or fewer points.

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Lonnie Walker IV is thought by some to be a first-round NBA Draft choice, but the 6-4 freshman is putting up just 8.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. His minutes and point production have decreased in each of Miami’s last three games. It’s time to put up or shut up for the Hurricanes, who travel to Clemson on Saturday and host Duke on Monday. 

13. Arizona State (13-2, 1-2) 

It was all good about a week ago. At 12-0, the Sun Devils rose to No. 3 in the AP poll and everyone was ready to label them “the Warriors of college basketball” the way they were shooting. Then, on Jan. 4, they lost to in-state rival Arizona. Three days later, Colorado clipped them in overtime. A three-point victory against Utah ended the skid, but thoughts that the Sun Devils could be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament are on hold. They’ll have a chance to get on the good foot again, hosting Oregon and Oregon State this week.  

12. Xavier (15-3, 3-2) 

Xavier is legit. The Musketeers’ pedigree, advancing to at least the Sweet 16 in three of the last four seasons, proves it. But their nine-point loss at home against unranked Providence last weekend, followed by an outright shellacking at Villanova couldn’t have come at a worse time. Saturday, they entertain Creighton before hosting St. John’s and traveling to Seton Hall for an elite Big East showdown Jan. 20. It’s a tough stretch, but SN preseason All-American Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura are capable of seeing them through it. 

11. Seton Hall (14-3, 3-1)

Having already logged wins against Texas Tech, Louisville and Creighton, the Pirates have shown they’re for real. With a quartet of scoring options in Desi Rodriguez (18.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Khadeen Carrington (14.5 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.0 rpg), Angel Delgado (14.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg) and Myles Powell (13.9 ppg), the Pirates are capable of contending in the Big East and beyond. 

10. Wichita State (13-2, 3-0) 

The Shockers’ two losses have come by a combined nine points against Notre Dame (with a healthy Bonzie Colson) and Oklahoma, which is led by arguably the best guard in America, Trae Young. Gregg Marshall’s squad is more than ready for prime time in its first season in the American Conference. Wichita State should easily handle road trips to ECU (Thursday) and Tulsa (Saturday). 

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9. Arizona

It’s okay to trust Arizona again. With a pair of SN preseason All-Americans in freshman DeAndre Ayton and junior Allonzo Trier, they were tapped by many to run away with the Pac-12 on their way to the Final Four. But the wheels fell off the wagon when Arizona dropped three straight games in the Battle 4 Atlantis. However, since falling to N.C. State, SMU and Purdue, the Wildcats have proved those outings were an aberration and not a sign of things to come, winning nine in a row before being upended by Colorado this past Saturday. They host Oregon State and Oregon this week. 

8. Purdue (16-2, 5-0) 

The Boilermakers have won 12 straight games and feature one of college basketball’s most imposing physical presences in 7-2, 290-pound senior Isaac Haas (14.8 ppg). Carsen Edwards (16.9 ppg) leads Purdue in scoring, while Vincent Edwards and Dakota Mathias contribute a combined 27.1 points per game. After leaving Ann Arbor with a 70-69 win Tuesday night, the Boilermakers will put their streak on the line against Minnesota on Saturday. 

7. Texas Tech  14-2 (3-1) 

The Red Raiders have logged four victories against ranked opposition, beating Northwestern, Baylor, Nevada and Kansas, but how they’ve done it this season has been just as important as who they’ve defeated. The NCAA’s fifth-best defense, allowing a shade over 60 points per game, Texas Tech has limited opponents to 50 or fewer points on four occasions. The Red Raiders are holding Big 12 teams to 62.2 points per game heading into a defensive showdown on the road against West Virginia on Saturday. 

6. Oklahoma (13-2, 3-1)

Freshman sensation Trae Young, who leads the nation in scoring (29.2 ppg) and assists (10.1 apg), isn’t the only star on the Sooners. Christian James (42.7 percent) and Brady Manek (41.4) are shooting it well from 3-point range, and Kameron McGusty (37.0) isn’t too far behind. Senior Khadeem Lattin leads the Sooners, averaging 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Sure, they have the sharpest knife in the box but it’s their total arsenal that makes them a threat every time they touch the floor. The Sooners face TCU at home Saturday. 

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5. Duke (14-2, 2-2)

Yes, the Blue Devils have lost two of their first three in the ACC. Yes, they’re dead last in the ACC in defense, allowing 75.4 points per game. But no, no, that’s not swaying us from believing they’re still title contenders. They still can put the most talented starting five in the country on the floor with Marvin Bagley (22.1 ppg, 11.8 rpg), Grayson Allen (16.4 ppg, 4.3 apg), Wendell Carter Jr. (13.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Gary Trent Jr. (13 .1 ppg) and Trevon Duval (12.5 ppg, 6.5 apg). They lead the country in scoring at 93.9 points per game; the last time we checked, the team with the most points still wins. 

4. Virginia (15-1, 4-0) 

There’s not a whole lot to why Virginia is so good. The Cavs defend better than anyone in America and they don’t make many mistakes. No one allows fewer points (53) and no one turns the ball over less than the Cavaliers at just nine turnovers per game. Their opponents shoot 36.2 percent from the field, the second-lowest figure in the country. Virginia hasn’t lost since West Virginia beat the Cavaliers, 68-61, in Morgantown on Dec. 5. You guessed it: The 68 points are the most Virginia has given up all season. 

3. Villanova (15-1, 3-1)

College basketball has always been about guard play, and Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges might arguably form the best backcourt in the country. The two can flat out score. Prior to Wednesday’s blowout of Xavier, they had combined for 37.2 points and 7.3 assists per game while shooting a collective 55.4 percent from the field, including 47.3 from 3-point range.

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Villanova was also fifth in the nation in fewest turnovers and fourth in assists-to-turnover ratio, both of which can be attributed to Brunson and Bridges. 

2. West Virginia (15-1, 4-0)

Texas A&M ran the Mountaineers out of their own gym in West Virginia’s season-opener, but the Mountaineers haven’t dropped a game since the 23-point trouncing. Their 15-game win streak includes victories against Virginia and Oklahoma. Everybody’s eating under Bob Huggins, in his 11th year at the helm. Six Mountaineers average at least nine points per game. And, of course, everyone’s getting after it on defense. “Press Virginia’s” 164 steals through 16 games ranks eighth in the nation. 

1. Michigan State (16-2, 4-1) 

Sparty is big and balanced. Like a football team that excels on offense, defense and special teams, there isn’t much Michigan State doesn’t do exceptionally well.

The Spartans have shown they aren’t invincible recently, falling by 16 to Ohio State on the road and needing overtime to avoid an upset against Rutgers on Wednesday. But they’re still anchored by a pair of potential lottery picks in freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. (11.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.1 bpg) and sophomore Miles Bridges (16.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.1 apg). 

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They also roster star contributors such as point guard Cassius Winston, who leads the Big Ten in assists at 7.2 per game and is second in 3-point field-goal percentage at 52.5; Nick Ward (14.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg), third in the nation in field-goal percentage at 71.8 percent; and Joshua Langford  (13.8 ppg). Michigan State leads the nation in total blocks (144), is second in rebounding margin (12.8) and third in rebounds per game (43.4).

We’re not letting a couple of minor hiccups deter us from seeing the big picture. 

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