NCAA basketball rankings: Auburn keeps climbing; Kentucky soars

Auburn’s winning streak and Kentucky’s recent surge lead to jumps in our NCAA basketball rankings.

Let’s talk about Baylor for a second. The Bears were destined to be a No. 1 seed in the canceled 2020 NCAA Tournament, then won the 2021 national championship, and are holding down the No. 1 spot in the first Top 25 of 2022 as well. Head coach Scott Drew is leading a powerhouse program and its road win over Iowa State this past week solidified the Bears as one of three remaining unbeaten in the nation.

Baylor is far from alone when it comes to impressive teams, though. Auburn has climbed to 12-1 in recent weeks while picking up three straight wins over the KenPom top 75. Jabari Smith is emerging as perhaps the No. 1 prospect for the NBA Draft and there is a strong supporting cast around him. The Tigers have risen into the spotlight after being unranked by most in the preseason.

As a reminder, Heat Check CBB will be releasing a weekly Top 25 of our own throughout this season that is a composite of our entire staff — which includes Lukas Harkins, Brian Rauf, Eli Boettger, Andy Dieckhoff, Riley Davis, Connor Hope and Jamie Shaw.

Now, what does college basketball’s new pecking order look like? Here’s this week’s Heat Check CBB Top 25, with blurbs provided by Harkins and Rauf.

Auburn’s Jabari Smith enjoying breakout Year 1
—Ranking most likely first-time NCAA Tournament teams
—DPI: Game Predictions | Team Grades | Player Rankings

Others receiving votes (For reference, our No. 25 team received 10 points each): Oklahoma (5), Wisconsin (5), and Illinois (4).

25. Loyola Chicago Ramblers (9-2)

Highest vote: No. 23 | Lowest vote: Unranked

Loyola Chicago has not played since December 10. Therefore, there is not a whole lot to talk about regarding the Ramblers. They hold three solid, albeit not spectacular, wins over Arizona State, DePaul, and Vanderbilt while their losses (to Michigan State and Auburn) have both aged well. Those defeats are far from resume-killers. The Ramblers are the overwhelming favorite to win the MVC as an analytics darling. -Lukas Harkins

T-23. Texas Tech Red Raiders (10-2)

Highest vote: No. 22 | Lowest vote: Unranked

The Red Raiders have not played a KenPom top-200 opponent since losing to Gonzaga, but they have looked the part of a good team. Defensively, this group is elite, and Terrence Shannon provides enough offense when healthy. We’ll find out a lot about this team as it starts conference play this week against Iowa State and Kansas. -Brian Rauf

T-23. Xavier Musketeers (11-2)

Highest vote: No. 21 | Lowest vote: Unranked

A road loss to Villanova is the lone result from Xavier since our last update. The Musketeers did not slip much based on that finish, though. They are still 11-2 for the year with several quality victories and no bad losses. This was a make-or-break year for head coach Travis Steele and his team has performed very well to this point. Iowa transfer Jack Nunge has been one of the biggest additions by any program in the country. The top of the Big East is filled with teams capable of competing for the conference title. With Nunge playing so well and Nate Johnson seemingly never missing from three, Xavier could be among those teams. –LH

22. Seton Hall Pirates (9-3)

Highest vote: No. 18 | Lowest vote: No. 25

Seton Hall dropped games to fellow Big East contenders Providence and Villanova last week, causing them to fall in our rankings. However, context matters here. COVID caused the Pirates to play without half of their roster against Providence and with only one frontcourt player against Villanova — and Seton Hall still nearly won both games. When healthy, this is still a dangerous team. -BR

T-20. Texas Longhorns (11-2)

Highest vote: No. 15 | Lowest vote: Unranked

The Longhorns have only allowed two opponents to score at least 60 points through their first 13 games. For all the talk about what this group isn’t right now, we don’t talk enough about how good Chris Beard’s team has been defensively. -BR

T-20. Villanova Wildcats (9-4)

Highest vote: No. 15 | Lowest vote: No. 21

Villanova was blown out in back-to-back road games at Baylor and Creighton just before our last Top 25 update. Since then, though, they returned the favor with quality victories over fellow ranked teams in Xavier and Seton Hall. The Wildcats are 9-4 (2-1 Big East) overall while playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules. There is still a lot to like about this group, but their ceiling depends on star power. Are Gillespie and Moore enough to carry them back into the upper echelon of the country? -LH

19. Providence Friars (13-1)

Highest vote: No. 11 | Lowest vote: No. 22

Providence was blown out of Virginia in late November. Since then, the Friars have put together a resume that is impossible to ignore. Head coach Ed Cooley’s team leads the nation in Q1 victories. They have knocked off six KenPom top-100 opponents during their current eight-game winning streak. Providence holds a 13-1 (3-0 Big East) record that has pushed them into the spotlight. Could the Friars contend for the Big East title? It certainly looks that way right now. Former transfer additions Jared Bynum and Noah Horchler have been much-improved compared to last season. -LH

18. Tennessee Volunteers (9-3)

Highest vote: No. 9 | Lowest vote: No. 24

Tennessee handed Arizona its lone loss of the season just before Christmas, but followed that up with a tough road loss to Alabama. The Volunteers are very, very close to blossoming and emerging as a national contender. They are elite defensively and already claim wins over a pair of KenPom top-30 opponents. Head coach Rick Barnes nearly pulled off the victory over ‘Bama without Kennedy Chandler and John Fulkerson. He has a great core and Zakai Zeigler is showing his chops as an underrated freshman. -LH

17. Iowa State Cyclones (12-1)

Highest vote: No. 15 | Lowest vote: No. 20

Iowa State suffered its first loss of the season over the weekend at the hands of top-ranked Baylor, yet the Cyclones gained a lot of respect nationally with the way they pushed the Bears in Ames. ISU’s defense is elite and that performance showed this group is legit, which is why they rise in our rankings despite the loss. -BR

16. Alabama Crimson Tide (10-3)

Highest vote: No. 11 | Lowest vote: No. 21

The Tide have looked shaky since beating Gonzaga, and beating a short-handed Tennessee team that didn’t have its two best players by only five points didn’t exactly inspire confidence. A win’s a win, though. To get more of them, Alabama has to clean up the turnovers and shoot better from three (200th nationally in 3-point percentage). -BR

15. Houston Cougars (12-2)

Highest vote: No. 12 | Lowest vote: No. 20

Houston has had rotten luck with injuries of late: Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser are already ruled out for the season while Kyler Edwards is out with a sprained ankle as well. Yet, they are still highly ranked due to their resume-to-date and strong coaching. The Cougars rank 189th in the country in bench minutes percentage this season; those depth pieces are going to have to step up in order to keep UH in the top 10. Ramon Walker, most notably, could be the most important Cougar to watch moving forward. -LH

14. LSU Tigers (12-1)

Highest vote: No. 12 | Lowest vote: No. 20

LSU suffered its first loss of the season to Auburn in a game that reinforced some concerns about the Tigers. Will Wade’s squad did not face a KenPom top-50 team during its 12-0 start and fell behind Auburn 18-1 early. LSU can bounce back this week with games against Kentucky and Tennessee. -BR

13. Ohio State Buckeyes (9-2)

Highest vote: No. 10 | Lowest vote: No. 19

Ohio State returned to action this week after a long break and took down Nebraska in overtime. It wasn’t pretty, but the Buckeyes dominated Wisconsin by 18 points when they were last in action. Head coach Chris Holtmann is currently leading his sixth top-25 offense (by adjusted efficiency measures) in seven years dating back to his time at Butler. Ohio State should be one of the better Big Ten teams this year. -LH

12. Colorado State Rams (10-0)

Highest vote: No. 10 | Lowest vote: No. 19

The Rams have been on COVID pause since December 11 and will return to the court this week against Air Force and Boise State. They still lead the country in 3-point shooting. – BR

11. Kentucky Wildcats (11-2)

Highest vote: No. 10 | Lowest vote: No. 17

Kentucky is one of the trickiest teams in the country to evaluate. The Wildcats rank in the top 10 in every quality ranking used by the selection committee (BPI, KenPom, Sagarin) but their resume rankings are about 30-40 spots lower. Such is the life of playing a weak nonconference schedule. Kentucky is 11-2 on the season but only has one truly impressive win all year. We will quickly find out if Kentucky truly belongs among the elite once it dives into SEC play. -LH

10. Michigan State Spartans (12-2)

Highest vote: No. 8 | Lowest vote: No. 18

Michigan State is yet to knock off an “elite” opponent this season but it’s still rolling. The Spartans hold a 12-2 (3-0 Big Ten) record with their lone losses coming against Kansas and Baylor. They have also already won six games away from the Breslin Center, all of which are over teams ranked in the KenPom top 115. Marcus Bingham Jr. is emerging as a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner. -LH

9. USC Trojans (12-0)

Highest vote: No. 8 | Lowest vote: No. 15

Another one of the three remaining unbeaten teams in the country, the Trojans have been on COVID pause since December 18. Winnable road games against Cal and Stanford await as they return to the court this week. – BR

8. Auburn Tigers (12-1)

Highest vote: No. 7 | Lowest vote: No. 9

Auburn has played as well as anyone over the last month and a half, and many finally took notice when it blasted then-undefeated LSU. Jabari Smith looks every bit like the top three pick and Walker Kessler has been the nation’s best shot-blocker, giving the Tigers perhaps the country’s best frontcourt. Auburn might be the favorite in the SEC. – BR

7. Arizona Wildcats (11-1)

Highest vote: No. 5 | Lowest vote: No. 9

The Wildcats suffered their first loss of the season back on December 22 against Tennessee and haven’t played since due to COVID issues within both the UCLA and USC programs. Arizona will try to back back on track against two of the Pac-12’s worst teams — Washington and Arizona State — this week. -BR

6. UCLA Bruins (8-1)

Highest vote: No. 4 | Lowest vote: No. 8

UCLA has not played since December 11 due to a long COVID pause. The Bruins are slated to return to action on Saturday at Cal. -BR

5. Kansas Jayhawks (11-1)

Highest vote: No. 3 | Lowest vote: No. 7

The Jayhawks continue to roll and are 11-1 headed into the start of Big 12 play. Ochai Agbaji is playing like a first team All-American and Christian Braun has been very good as well, as both are in the Gold Star Guide’s top nine players in the country. They will be tested on the road this week against both Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. -BR

4. Gonzaga Bulldogs (11-2)

Highest vote: No. 4 | Lowest vote: No. 6

Gonzaga finished its nonconference schedule with an 11-2 record following wins over Northern Arizona and North Alabama. The Bulldogs are once again the clear favorite to win the WCC heading into conference play. Three of their first conference games will come against KenPom top-100 opponents, though; this is not the same WCC that some are accustomed to. Gonzaga is the best team but will be challenged. -LH

3. Purdue Boilermakers (12-1)

Highest vote: No. 2 | Lowest vote: No. 5

Purdue picked up home victories over Incarnate Word and Nicholls State to finish off its nonconference schedule with an 11-0 record. The Boilermakers’ lone loss to date came in Big Ten play on the road against Rutgers. They own the nation’s top offensive by adjusted efficiency measures and it’s easy to see why. Head coach Matt Painter has a group that is nearly impossible to slow down; is Purdue’s defense good enough to win it all? -LH

2. Duke Blue Devils (11-1)

Highest vote: No. 2 | Lowest vote: No. 3

Duke has been on COVID pause since its December 22 win over Virginia Tech but is expected to be back on the court Tuesday against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils will be favored in every ACC game they play and are the clear favorite to win their first regular season conference title since 2010. – BR

1. Baylor Bears (13-0)

Highest vote: No. 1 | Lowest vote: No. 1

Baylor went on the road to hand Iowa State its first loss of the season this past week. As a result, the Bears are one of three remaining undefeated teams in the nation. They have not played the most challenging schedule but hold seven wins over KenPom top-100 opponents. Adam Flagler is finding his rhythm, shooting 11-for-24 (45.8 percent) over his last four games. -LH



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