Harkins 25: Florida State rolling, Kansas faltering, Michigan returning to form

Another week of NCAA basketball is complete and we are drawing closer to the NCAA Tournament. Selection Sunday is now under two months away and sample sizes for evaluating teams are growing quickly. That is also pertinent to my power rankings, as several teams are jockeying for position based on their recent play. I say recent play, specifically, as Drake once again sits just on the outside of my rankings.

The Bulldogs, despite being 13-0 and ranked relatively highly by efficiency metrics, have not played since Jan. 4 and other teams have jumped over them as a result. They should be back in action this week with two road games against Missouri State. They will also play the first of two games against Illinois State prior to my next power rankings. Win all three, and Drake will rejoin.

They are not the only undefeated team outside of my power rankings right now, though. Winthrop (15-0) also fits that bill, though they are also still ranked outside of the Top 100 on KenPom. The Eagles have only played one Top 100 KenPom opponent all season, so it is difficult to gauge where they belong relative to most teams in the country. Regardless, head coach Pat Kelsey has his team playing at a frenetic pace (6th in tempo) and warranting attention for their elite record.

Sticking with the mid-major ranks, Loyola-Chicago is another team that I want to spotlight here. The Ramblers were my Cinderella pick in the preseason and they started the year slow out of the gates with just a 2-2 record against D1 opponents. Porter Moser‘s group has won nine of its last 10 games, however, and has skyrocketed all the way up to No. 21 on KenPom. Their elite defense has dominated the Missouri Valley. Everyone should be circling the weekend of Feb. 13-14 when the Ramblers will travel to face previously mentioned Drake for back-to-back games.

Lastly, the WCC is not just Gonzaga this season. BYU has quietly put together a 13-3 (4-1 WCC) start and has won eight of its last nine games. The Cougars’ lone loss during this stretch came on the road against Gonzaga, and they already hold wins over St. John’s, Utah State, Utah, San Diego State, St. Mary’s, and San Francisco. That is a pretty solid collection of six KenPom Top 100 wins.

Now, without any further honorable mentions, let’s dive into this week’s Harkins 25!

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25. USC Trojans (12-3)

USC embarked on a two-game road trip over this past week and returned with a loss at Oregon State and a victory over Cal. On the whole, it wasn’t the most productive week but the Trojans have a strong enough resume to warrant a place in the Top 25 right now. Head coach Andy Enfield’s team is 12-3 (6-2 P12) overall with victories over BYU and Arizona. They have risen to 20th nationally on KenPom as a result of winning seven of their last eight games.

Star freshman center Evan Mobley is at the core of USC’s successes to this point. Not only does he lead the team in points (16.5), rebounds (8.6) and blocks (2.9) but his fingerprints are all over the Trojans’ scouting report this season. Just a quick glance at USC’s biggest strengths shows why Mobley is regarded as one of the top freshmen in NCAA basketball:

Statistics via KenPom.

A pair of transfers in Tahj Eaddy and Drew Peterson surround Mobley. Eaddy came to the Trojans via Santa Clara and is second on the team in scoring (12.9 pts) while emerging as the top perimeter shooting threat. Peterson, formerly of Rice, is a swiss-army-knife wing posting 10.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Mobley, Eaddy, and Peterson are the three leaders offensively but have also helped USC own the No. 1 AdjD in the Pac-12 thus far.

24. North Carolina Tar Heels (10-5)

This season has been marred by disappointing seasons by bluebloods across the nation. But while Kentucky (5-9) and Duke (5-5) have continued to struggle in recent weeks, North Carolina has begun to find its footing. Behind a dynamic frontcourt trio and a blossoming freshman guard, the Tar Heels have won five of six and are trending back towards being a solidly ranked team. Their resume leaves plenty to be desired but they have climbed to No. 33 on KenPom and are playing better than most teams in the nation.

North Carolina has been led on the season by Armando Bacot (12.0 pts, 7.7 rebs), Garrison Brooks (10.3 pts, 7.1 rebs) and Day’Ron Sharpe (9.5 pts, 7.7 rebs) in the frontcourt. This comes as no surprise considering head coach Roy Williams‘ successes in the past with two-big lineups. Freshmen guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis are both averaging around double-digits as well, although on low efficiency. They could be a dangerous duo once they figure it out.

Their fellow freshman Kerwin Walton, though, has perhaps been the biggest difference-maker in recent weeks. Well known as an elite high-school shooter, the 6-5 wing has found his range recently. He moved into the starting lineup on Dec. 30 and has been a mainstay thanks to his shooting ability. While the Tar Heels still rank near the bottom of the nation in 3-point attempt rate, his presence helps space the floor around the trio of bigs.

23. Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-5)

Minnesota has had to play murderer’s row for the past few weeks. After cracking the Top 25 with a 9-1 start that included a win over Iowa, they have since had to face Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan (twice), Iowa and Maryland. That is a six-game stretch with only one opponent falling outside of the KenPom Top 12. And while they went 2-4 to fall to 11-5 (4-5 B1G) on the year, it’s hard to imagine many teams in the country doing better.

The Golden Gophers entered this impossible segment of schedule ranked at No. 29 on KenPom. Now? 30th. That’s pretty solid despite having to play so many elite opponents in a row. The biggest problem, though, is that it doesn’t get much easier. Minnesota’s next two games come against Purdue and Rutgers, both on the road. So goes competing in the Big Ten this season, it appears.

Nonetheless, I still think that this is a good team worthy of being ranked for the time being. The Gophers will have an entire six days of rest before facing Purdue next weekend and that reprieve might be exactly what they need to regain some rhythm. Marcus Carr is a superstar and there are enough contributions from his supporting cast to keep Minnesota ranked.

22. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3)

I see how it is, Hokies. I write an article hyping up how well you have been playing over the last few weeks, publish it, and then you respond by losing by 18 on the road to Syracuse? That loss was Virginia Tech’s lone game of the week and it resulted in a drop of several spots in my rankings. But despite Mike Young’s team only ranking at 45th on KenPom, their resume still supports a spot in my power rankings. They still hold an excellent 11-3 (5-2 ACC) overall record that includes a win over Villanova that continues to age well (who thought it wouldn’t?).

As I stated in my article last week, Virginia Tech has the potential to be a dangerous team because of his propensity to catch fire from 3-point range. The Hokies shoot a ton of threes and are more efficient than the national average on said attempts. But as much as that makes them a threat for a deep run in March from a lower seed, they can be wildly inconsistent as a result of that scheme.

We saw that volatility this past week as they shot a dreadful 27.6% from beyond the arc against Syracuse. That mark includes Nahiem Alleyne attempting to carry with 5-for-10 3-point shooting by himself. The rest of the team shot just 3-for-19 (15.8%). This loss to Syracuse marked their second game in a stretch of playing five of six games on the road. Their lone home game will come against Top 10 Virginia. Monday morning’s news of Tyrece Radford’s indefinite suspension doesn’t make things any easier.

21. Boise State Broncos (13-1)

I try to award teams for winning the games on their schedules in these power rankings. While Boise State might not receive a ton of bracketology credit for its work to this point, the 13-1 (9-0 MWC) record speaks for itself in terms of warranting national attention. The Broncos’ lone loss to date came on the road to a Top 10 team (Houston) and they also have a solid road victory over BYU to brag about. While those have been their only KenPom Top 100 opponents to date, they deserve credit for not just taking care of business, but doing so easily.

Boise State sat at 0-1 and 107th on KenPom after its season-opening loss to Houston. Since then, head coach Leon Rice’s squad has rattled off 13 consecutive wins to leap all the way up to No. 55 on the nation’s most respected analytics site. For those that prefer the WAB method of determining how well a team has played, Boise ranks 21st nationally since the start of December in that particular measuring tool. No matter how you slice it, this is a team outperforming expectations.

Two crucial games approach during this coming week, though, as the Broncos will travel for back-to-back road games against Colorado State (No. 74 on KenPom). If the senior-laden group of Derrick Alston, Abu Kigab, and Marcus Shaver are able to lead the squad to both victories, then this team should garner a major uptick in national attention. That will be easier said than done, but the top of the Mountain West is very intriguing with four potential bubble-quality teams.

20. Saint Louis Billikens (7-1)

It has now been over a month since Saint Louis last took the court (Dec. 23). As a result, I once again have nothing new to add regarding the Billikens. They entered the season as a fringe Top 25 team and jumped out to a solid 7-1 start with a win over LSU and their lone loss coming to Minnesota before going on pause. They have stuck in my rankings while recovering and will hopefully start their A10 schedule this week. Head coach Travis Ford’s squad will look to pick up where it left off; their last game was a 16-point victory over UMKC.

19. Kansas Jayhawks (10-5)

Slotting Kansas this low in the power rankings feels wrong. The Jayhawks have been the most consistently elite regular-season program in the nation for over 20 years and putting them down here is unnatural for me. Three consecutive losses, even with all of them coming on the road, always results in a dip for any team in the country. Head coach Bill Self’s unit now holds just a 10-5 (4-4 B12) record and is far behind in the Big 12 standings. Unlike Illinois, which maintains the No. 7 spot on KenPom despite five early losses, Kansas has already dipped to No. 17.

Despite these recent struggles, though, the Jayhawks are one of only eight teams in the nation to rank in the Top 20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. They are very balanced (19th in both categories) and will be battle-tested when March rolls around (4th in schedule strength). Kansas might be struggling now, but I can’t imagine that this slide will continue. Coach Self has led this program to the NCAA Tournament with at least a No. 4 seed in each of his 17 years at the helm.

All tremendous streaks like that are bound to come to an end eventually, but it would just feel wrong for KU to not be favored to reach the Sweet 16. I expect that the Jayhawks will be back on the rise soon this season. Home games against TCU and Kansas State sandwiched around a road date with Tennessee should help them get back on track.

18. Tennessee Volunteers (10-3)

This past week was not kind to Tennessee basketball. The Volunteers entered the week with a 10-1 record and slotted at No. 6 on KenPom. After a 26-point road drubbing by Florida and a nine-point home loss to Missouri, they have quickly dropped several spots by efficiency measures and are no longer looking like one of the top contenders in the SEC. Everyone in the league appears to be chasing Alabama right now and the Volunteers are now a member of that group with a 10-3 (4-3 SEC) record that includes only three KenPom Top 80 wins.

Head coach Rick Barnes’ team still ranks third in adjusted defensive efficiency but it has lost its offensive mojo. They scored only 113 points across their two games this week, scoring fewer than one point per possession both times. Tennessee needs to find more consistent scoring in order to reemerge as a national title contender, and I’m not sure exactly where that will come. Senior forward John Fulkerson has struggled compared to last year but scored 22 on 9-for-16 this week (nothing wrong about that).

There is lots of time left in the season for Tennessee to get back on track. A pair of home games approach against Mississippi State and Kansas this week. Winning both would not only signal a return to their prior level of play but also warrant a jump in my rankings. We’ll see if they are up to the challenge.

17. Illinois Fighting Illini (10-5)

Illinois represents the lone five-loss team that remains in the KenPom Top 15, and it is slotted at No. 7 still. This comes as a result of the Illini playing the 11th-toughest schedule in the nation and losing four of its five games by six points or fewer. The fact is that this team plays everybody close and also has already collected seven Top 75 wins. At a certain point, however, finding enough consistency to be able to close those tight games with victories will be crucial.

When this team is on its game, they easily belong in the Top 10 and as a national title contender. Far too often, however, they come out of the gates slow and are forced to make huge comebacks. That was the case against Northwestern (and still won by 25) and vs. Ohio State (lost by six) — both games were played in the last two weeks. They have trailed at the 12-minute mark of the first half in each of their last four games.

Illinois’ schedule does not get any easier from this point on. Only two of their remaining nine games come against teams ranked outside of the KenPom Top 30 as we will continue to find out what this team is made of. The Illini are a balanced team, in theory, but need to find a way for their defensive consistency to match what their offense seems to bring every night. This could start with improved work defending the 3-point line and keeping opponents off the charity stripe.

16. Missouri Tigers (10-2)

NCAA basketball pundits have been ranking Missouri in their Top 20s for over a month now. Efficiency measures such as KenPom, however, did not quite believe in the Tigers but are finally starting to relinquish some of that hesitancy. After a week that includes a home win over South Carolina and an upset road defeat of Tennessee, head coach Cuonzo Martin’s team holds a 10-2 (4-2 SEC) record and has propelled to a season-high No. 32 on KenPom.

Missouri now holds a 6-2 record against Top 100 opponents and continues to warrant attention as a nationally ranked team. They have recovered beautifully from a double-digit loss to Mississippi State and are now entering a relatively favorable portion of the schedule that could indicate another potential rise in the power rankings. The Tigers will face Auburn on the road in their next game but then return home for three straight.

Everyone should circle Feb. 6 on their calendars as the date of Missouri’s home meeting with Alabama. That could be a crucial game to determine if anyone will be able to catch the Tide in the regular-season SEC title race. The Tide are an undefeated 6-0 in the conference thus far while every other SEC team already has at least two losses in league play.

15. Wisconsin Badgers (12-4)

Wisconsin played host to Northwestern and Ohio State during this past week for a two-game homestand. And while the Badgers were able to secure a double-digit victory over the Wildcats, they fell to the Buckeyes by a similar margin. This week dropped head coach Greg Gard’s team to 12-4 (6-3 B1G) on the season and the loss kept them from holding sole position of second place in the early Big Ten standings. Wisconsin has largely lived up to my expectations this season — the Badgers aren’t quite a top national title contender but will reside safely in the Top 25 throughout the year.

As I wrote about in the preseason, Wisconsin’s national title hopes hinge greatly on its 3-point shooting. Connecting on a high rate from distance was the main reason for the tremendous run to finish last season and that has mostly carried over into this year. The Badgers’ defense (No. 7 in AdjD) keeps them in most games but they need to be efficient from deep in order to take down the best of the best.

They have largely been able to do exactly that this season with 37.9% efficiency on an above-average attempt rate, but their losses mostly have one thing in common: 

14. Texas Tech Red Raiders (11-4)

Texas Tech did not play during this past week. As a result of teams around them in my power rankings dropping games, though, the Red Raiders experienced a little bit of a boost. They hold an 11-4 (4-3 B12) overall record with each of their four losses coming to teams ranked in the KenPom Top 40. Their crowning achievement to date was a road victory over Texas and they hold the nation’s fifth-best adjusted defensive efficiency mark.

Head coach Chris Beard is about as consistent as they come and you can expect that TTU will likely stick in my Top 25 for the rest of the season. An interesting week approaches, though, as the Red Raiders will be on the road against both West Virginia and LSU. Their frontcourt will be challenged by the Mountaineers while their entire defense needs to be on high alert against the Tigers’ high-powered offensive attack.

13. West Virginia Mountaineers (10-4)

Speaking of the Mountaineers, they continue to be situated in the middle of my rankings despite playing just .500 basketball over their last six games. Nonetheless, West Virginia’s overall record of 10-4 (3-3 B12) including seven KenPom Top 100 wins warrants a high ranking.

Head coach Bob Huggins’ team only played one game during this past week and it was a 22-point domination of Big 12 bottomfeeder Kansas State. It is difficult to draw too many conclusions from that performance but it might have been a much-needed tuneup game heading into a crucial stretch.

West Virginia will face Texas Tech and Florida at home during this coming week before going on the road against Iowa State. The Mountaineers will be favored to win all three games and might need to take two given the grueling schedule that awaits after that — six Top 25 KP opponents in 14 days:

12. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-4)

Ohio State split its games this week with a home loss to Purdue (by two) and a double-digit road upset of Wisconsin. This brought the Buckeyes to 12-4 (6-4 B1G) on the season and they are currently playing their best basketball of the season.

Head coach Chris Holtmann’s squad has won four of their last five and blew a 92% chance of victory against Purdue with under four minutes to play in their lone loss. Included in this recent excellent play are road wins over Rutgers, Illinois, and Wisconsin. They rank third in WAB since Jan. 9, the start of this five-game stretch.

Leading the way for this group has been their impressive offensive output. The Buckeyes do not play with a ton of pace but are highly efficient, ranking 5th in adjusted offense to date. There are several reasons for this, but their dominance in the mid-range is among them. While layups and threes are the most coveted shots in basketball, games are often won in the mid-range.

Ohio State is shooting 46.6% as a team on “farther twos” this season, a mark that ranks 11th nationally. Sophomore star E.J. Liddell is at the forefront of this as he is shooting 35-for-69 (50.7%) on such mid-range attempts.

11. Creighton Bluejays (11-4)

Creighton recently dropped head-scratching games to Butler (away) and Providence (home), both by four points, but recovered nicely over this past weekend to take down UConn. On the whole, the Bluejays are 11-4 (7-3 BE) and the clear-cut No. 2 team in the Big East. With Marcus Zegarowski back in the lineup (1-1 without him), they can start to return to looking like a dark-horse title contender. He makes them that much better.

The Bluejays have won seven of their last nine games and now have arguably the best player in the conference back on the court at point guard. Head coach Greg McDermott has always been well-known for his ability to generate highly efficient offensive units, but this is his best defensive team in some time. That sets Creighton up for a potential deep run if they are able to put it all together over the next month and a half.

Creighton is favored to win each of its next five games, according to KenPom, but four of them will come away from home. Even in a year such as this one, winning true road games can be quite difficult. Big East home teams are winning 54.8% of the time so far in conference play.

10. Florida State Seminoles (9-2)

Florida State is always good — that’s just the rule at this point. Regardless of how much talent departs in a given offseason, just know that head coach Leonard Hamilton will find a way to reload and have enough talent to be ranked nationally and in contention for the ACC title. That is once again the case this year as they have launched out to a 9-2 (5-1 ACC) start and have won four straight since returning from a pause.

They have skyrocketed up 20 spots on KenPom in just a couple of weeks thanks to not only winning games, but absolutely demolishing their opposition. Since returning to the court on Jan. 13, the Seminoles have beaten NC State by 32, North Carolina by seven, Louisville by 13 and Clemson by 19. That is four consecutive Top 70 wins and only one of them by single-digits. Unlike most seasons in which FSU is led by its defense, this time holding the nation’s 12th-most efficient offense is guiding the way.

In terms of individual performers, senior M.J. Walker and freshman Scottie Barnes are leading the charge. They rank second and first on the team in assists per game, respectively, while also being the team’s top scoring threats. These two are excellent and their superb size for their positions is a trend across Florida State’s entire roster. The Seminoles rank No. 1 in average height (79.6”) this season as the roster fits Coach Hamilton’s scheme. There is not a single member of the rotation listed at shorter than 6-4.

9. Virginia Cavaliers (10-2)

Virginia only played one game during this past week but it was able to maintain its winning streak by taking down Georgia Tech at home by two. The Cavaliers trailed for much of the contest but were able to come away victorious thanks to their veteran frontcourt. Sam Hauser and Jay Huff combined for 40 points on 16-for-23 shooting (6-for-8 from three), 11 rebounds, and six blocks. They were simply all over the floor and led the way in the second half.

The Cavaliers have now won six straight and are atop the ACC with a 10-2 (6-0 ACC) record. Head coach Tony Bennett is one of the best in the business as he always finds ways for his team to be successful over the course of a season. The Cavaliers have seemingly put their losses to San Francisco and Gonzaga in the rear-view mirror, though I’m guessing they want to avoid WCC opponents in the NCAA Tournament.

Virginia doesn’t get to the free-throw line or secure offensive rebounds all that often, but you’d be otherwise hard-pressed to find many offensive units more efficient. The Cavaliers rank 22nd in 3-point shooting (38.9%), 11th in 2-point shooting (58.3%), fourth at the foul line (80.4%), and fourth in turnover rate (13.5%). They just don’t make unforced mistakes.

8. Iowa Hawkeyes (12-3)

Iowa put forth its worst performance of the season during this past week with a 12-point home loss to Indiana. While the Hoosiers are a solid team that played well, the Hawkeyes’ No. 1-ranked offense went ice-cold over the latter portion of the second half and that is something that just cannot start happening with more consistency.

Iowa ranks only 98th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency as the team relies greatly on simply outscoring opponents. If the offense is struggling, the Hawkeyes are struggling. Regardless, Iowa is ranked fourth on KenPom with a 12-3 (6-2 B1G) record. The Hawkeyes firmly belong in the second tier of the nation — the first tier is only two teams — and safely in the Top 10. A difficult road matchup with Illinois looms next on the schedule for Iowa, though, as they look to avoid a two-game skid. 

Considering Gonzaga is the only team in the same stratosphere as Iowa in terms of offensive efficiency, I am guessing that the Hawkeyes return to form quickly after their poor stretch against Indiana. Taking down Illinois would be a great start in doing that, but is easier said than done.

7. Houston Cougars (13-1)

Houston started the season 7-0 before dropping a road game to Tulsa that had many concerned. The Cougars have crushed those worries, however, by winning each of their last six games to propel to 13-1 (8-1 AAC). They now rank at a season-best No. 6 on KenPom and are simply rolling. All but one of their victories during this current winning streak have come by double-digits. This is the best team in the AAC and it’s not even close.

The Cougars rank second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency as they are absolutely dominant on that end. They allow their opponents to shoot a ton of free throws, but that is their only weakness. Houston otherwise ranks well in every other major defensive category: 7th in 3-point defense (26.1%), 14th in 2-point defense (43.1%) and 19th in turnover rate (23.8%).

Houston’s preseason AAC Player of the Year (Caleb Mills) recently elected to transfer midseason, but that hasn’t slowed them down. One individual, in particular, has seriously picked up his game without Mills in the lineup:

6. Texas Longhorns (11-2)

Texas did not play during this past week, standing pat at 11-2 (5-1 B12) and safely in my Top 10. The Longhorns have been impressive at just about every turn this season and are ranked in the Top 15 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Head coach Shaka Smart seemingly felt his seat get a bit warm in the preseason and instantly rushed to push the program back into the national spotlight this season. He has succeeded in a big way by assembling a team capable of contending for the national title.

Texas’ upcoming schedule includes four straight difficult matchups. It will face Oklahoma at home next before traveling to Lexington to take on the scuffling Kentucky Wildcats. Once the Longhorns return home, they will be greeted by the likely No. 2 team in the country (Baylor) and then go on the road again to face Cade Cunningham and Co. at Oklahoma State. Not an easy stretch, but so is the life of being a contender in a high-major league.

5. Alabama Crimson Tide (13-3)

Alabama is arguably the hottest team in all of NCAA basketball right now. The Crimson Tide started this season with a pedestrian 4-3 record but have since rattled off nine straight wins. They hold a 13-3 (8-0 SEC) record as a result and are all alone atop the SEC. They are undefeated in league play and have at least a two-game advantage on everyone else already.

Head coach Nate Oats’ team is playing with a ton of pace and exceeding expectations on both ends of the floor. Even without big man Jordan Bruner for their last three games, the Tide have rolled over Arkansas, LSU, and Mississippi State. Sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly has returned to action and is filling the sixth man role — he had 22 in the win over LSU.

Alabama is deep, fast, well-coached, able to spray from three from all five positions, and is soaring up the national rankings. Herbert Jones and John Petty are an elite senior duo while underclassmen Jaden Shackelford, Josh Primo, and Quinerly continue to perform at high levels. Senior big Alex Reese has stepped up well with Bruner out.

4. Michigan Wolverines (13-1)

Michigan took a punch in the mouth with an 18-point road loss to Minnesota a couple of weeks ago for its first defeat of the season. I kept the Wolverines highly ranked as a result of their 11 games prior to the loss, but pondered how they would respond. Well, head coach Juwan Howard guided his troops to dominant victories over Maryland (by 24) and Purdue (by 17) to answer that call and return to the No. 4 spot in my rankings. Michigan ranks seventh in AdjO and eight in AdjD this season and there is simply no point denying how well they have played.

With a 13-1 (8-1 B1G) record, the Wolverines are the clear-cut favorites in the Big Ten right now. They were criticized early for a weak nonconference schedule but dominating in the best conference in the country has quickly stifled the haters. There is a plus-14.6% difference in their offensive eFG% and opponent eFG%. That is flat-out incredible and easily one of the top differentials in the nation.

Hunter Dickinson, Isaiah Livers, and Franz Wagner are all averaging in double-figures as Michigan’s offensive leaders this season. In addition, seniors Mike Smith and Eli Brooks have done excellent jobs running the offense to the tune of combining for 9.1 assists per game.

3. Villanova Wildcats (10-1)

Villanova returned to the court for the first time since Dec. 23 this week and quickly resumed its domination of the Big East. The Wildcats were first able to survive at home against Seton Hall by two during their first game back and then took down Providence by 15 a few days later. The Wildcats are now 10-1 (5-0 BE) on the season and firmly ahead as the favorite in the Big East. Head coach Jay Wright’s team entered this campaign widely projected to be in the same tier as Baylor and Gonzaga. While that hasn’t been quite the case, they belong in the Top 5.

Collin Gillespie has led the team following the pause. The senior guard posted 22 points against the Pirates and followed that up with 15 versus the Friars. He shot 5-for-11 from three during the performances. Gillespie is now up to leading the team in scoring (15.9 ppg) and playmaking (4.1 rpg) so far this season. He is joined in double-figures per game by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, and Caleb Daniels.

This is a well-rounded unit capable of piling up points in a hurry. Villanova doesn’t play at a fast pace but can bury trifectas in short order if not defended well beyond the arc. The Wildcats rank well in just about every offensive category, including 29th in eFG% (54.8%) and first in turnover rate (11.9%). It’s no wonder they hold the fourth-best adjusted offensive efficiency nationally.

2. Baylor Bears (14-0)

Baylor has been impressive all season long and just put together its best week of the season. The Bears first extended their lead in the Big 12 by defeating Kansas at home and then went on the road to dispatch Oklahoma State as well. Head coach Scott Drew’s team sits at 14-0 (7-0 B12) on the season and is clearly in the first tier nationally. This could change as the year progresses, but the Bulldogs and Bears are now in their own tier separate from the rest of the country. Baylor ranks third nationally in AdjO and first in AdjD.

The most notable statistic to mention regarding the Bears are the ones in which they dominate. Thanks to 42.6% shooting from 3-point range on relatively high volume, Baylor ranks fifth in eFG% this season. They have also done a superb job securing second-chance opportunities, slotting in at fifth in offensive rebounding rate (38.5%). With their propensity to snag offensive boards and also force turnovers defensively (26.5%, 4th nationally), there aren’t many marginal advantages against this team.

Junior guard Jared Butler is the top individual for the squad, averaging 17.1 points and 5.4 assists per game. He is joined in the backcourt by a trio of other stars in MaCio Teague (14.6 pts), Davion Mitchell (11.6 pts, 5.9 asts) and Adam Flagler (10.1 pts). Good luck finding many stronger backcourts in the country.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (15-0)

Gonzaga played one game this week and rolled over Pacific by 46 points. The Bulldogs moved to 15-0 (6-0 WCC) with the win and it’s hard to find new things to say about this team. They are flat-out incredible and operating in a business-like manner when it comes to approaching games. Gonzaga’s offensive possessions are only lasting an average of 14.2 seconds this season (second-fastest nationally) as they are getting the shots they want almost immediately.

The Bulldogs rank first in eFG% nationally (60.4%) thanks in large part to 63.9% shooting inside the arc. Every single Bulldog seeing more than 10 minutes per game (seven qualifying players) is finishing on over 58% of their 2-point attempts. That is just absolutely insane interior dominance.

Corey Kispert’s high-volume efficiency from three (49.0% on 6.4 3PA per game) has also contributed greatly to the team’s eFG% as arguably the best sniper in the country. With his 20.6 points per game average, he is quietly building an under-the-radar National Player of the Year argument (only if Iowa falls apart down the stretch, though).

With five players averaging two or more assists per game, it should also come as no surprise that Gonzaga ranks 79th in assist rate. Its offense is beautiful to watch.

Lukas Harkins
Lukas Harkins

Heat Check CBB national writer and bracketologist



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