Harkins 25: Texas soars, Michigan keeps passing tests

Another week of NCAA basketball is complete, and several teams impressed enough to either rise in my power rankings or make the list for the first time. Additionally, there were plenty of teams that dropped games and even fell out of the rankings. This includes Texas Tech, who dropped to 8-3 and holds only two wins over the KenPom Top 250. Before diving into my full rankings this week, though, I want to highlight a few teams that have really been undervalued through the opening portion of this season and are yet to crack my Top 25.

Starting with the Missouri Valley, Loyola-Chicago has seemingly found its groove after a couple of early losses to Wisconsin and Richmond. The Ramblers are winners of four straight, albeit mostly against weak competition, and their defense is starting to hit its stride. None of their opponents during this winning streak have exceeded 60 points. I was high on Porter Moser‘s experienced squad coming into the year and they are finally starting to look like themselves heading into a double-header with soon-to-be-discussed Drake during this coming week.

I also want to highlight Alabama for its impressive road victory over Tennessee over the past week. The Crimson Tide struggled a bit out of the gates but are riding a three-game winning streak right now while steadily climbing in efficiency ranks. They have jumped 20 spots on KenPom over the last two weeks and now hold a 7-3 (2-0 SEC) record that puts them on the fringe of my power rankings.

Lastly, I am very curious to see just how good Boise State could be this season. The Broncos lost their opening game of the season by 10, but it was on the road against Houston — not a bad loss. They have rattled off eight straight victories since then to sit at 8-1, though only one of those games was against a Top 200 opponent (road win over BYU). As the Mountain West schedule progresses, I am eager to see just how strong they might now.

Now, without any further delay, let’s dive into this week’s Harkins 25 by returning to the Missouri Valley.

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25. Drake Bulldogs (12-0)

Drake quietly holds the best record in the entire country this season at 12-0. Head coach Darian DeVries’ unit has performed at an extremely high level offensively despite losing star big man Liam Robbins to transfer this offseason. The Bulldogs are shooting 42.4% from three this season and rank seventh nationally in eFG%. Considering they also rank 26th in offensive rebounding rate, even their missed shots often turn into second-chance buckets.

Leading the way has been senior point guard Roman Penn. While not the leading scorer — Tank Hemphill (14.1 pts) holds that claim — Penn has been hyper-efficient as a creator. He is averaging 12.5 points and 6.1 assists per game while connecting on 68.7% of his 2-point attempts and 40.9% of his 3-pointers. You would be hard-pressed to find a more underrated guard in the nation through the opening month of the season. The senior is playing exceptionally well.

D.J. Wilkins (29-for-55, 52.7%) has been the team’s primary sniper in Drake’s starting lineup while Jonah Jackson has been letting it fly off the bench. The latter is 18-for-40 (45.0%) while averaging a 3-point attempt every 3.4 minutes on the floor. He only has one 2-point attempt.

24. Seton Hall Pirates (8-4)

Seton Hall dropped three of its first four games to start this season. Since then, though, the Pirates have clearly found their groove by winning seven of their last eight games with their lone loss coming in overtime to Providence. Head coach Kevin Willard’s squad has made victims of five KenPom Top 100 opponents during this stretch thanks largely to strong offensive play.

Myles Powell might no longer lead the way but senior Sandro Mamukelashvili is filling the void tremendously well. The 6-11 forward is doing it all for the Pirates while averaging 18.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. He is surrounded by several strong perimeter shooting threats, a major breakout performer in Jared Rhoden (15.8 pts, 7.4 rebs), and a shot-blocking phenom in Ike Obiagu (14.8% block rate, sixth nationally).

Seton Hall has emerged as possibly the third-best team in the Big East this season. The Pirates are already 5-1 in the early conference season and are seemingly hitting their stride.

23. Florida Gators (5-1)

Florida returned to action over this past week after a 17-day hiatus with victories over Vanderbilt and LSU. The Gators now hold a 5-1 (2-0 SEC) early-season record but have proven that they belong on the fringe of the Top 25. Even without Keyontae Johnson on the floor, there is plenty of talent for head coach Mike White with which to work. During these past two games, Colin Castleton has been the main standout with 44 total points on 18-for-23 from the floor. The Michigan transfer has been tremendous while taking home back-to-back KenPom Game MVP honors.

The Gators are also getting strong contributions from their former five-star sophomores. Tre Mann (15.2 pts, 5.5 rebs, 4.0 asts) and Scottie Lewis (14.0 pts, 5.0 rebs, 2.5 asts) are both playing well and shooting the ball efficiently from 3-point range. Due to Florida’s lack of ball-handling, Tre Mann is arguably the team’s most important player and he has been excellent to begin the year. The Gators have more turnovers than assists so far this year.

22. Louisville Cardinals (7-1)

Louisville’s lone loss of the season came at the hands of Wisconsin. While that was a disastrous effort (37-point defeat), the Cardinals were undermanned and have looked like a completely different team when healthy. Head coach Chris Mack’s group holds a 7-1 (2-0 ACC) overall record that includes solid victories over Seton Hall and Kentucky. They rank among the nation’s best in adjusted defensive efficiency so far and have a strong senior leader in Carlik Jones.

The Radford transfer is averaging 16.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game as the team’s leader in several major categories, including minutes. Jones has played in seven of Louisville’s eight games and was the key missing piece against the Badgers. In addition to Jones, David Johnson has taken a significant sophomore leap to the tune of 14.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. This do-it-all backcourt is carrying Louisville’s offense thus far.

Freshmen Dre Davis (9.1 pts) and Jae’lyn Withers (9.0 pts, 6.9 rebs) have both performed well so far and should only improve.

21. Arkansas Razorbacks (9-1)

Arkansas was unranked by most last week but I had them slotted at No. 16. And while the Razorbacks lost their first game of the season recently, I’m not yet going to drop them from my rankings. They still hold a very strong 9-1 record and picked up their first KenPom Top 100 win (at Auburn) over this past week as well as suffering their first loss. Head coach Eric Musselman’s team remains performing at a level higher than most in the nation and I am extremely intrigued by their upcoming matchup with Tennessee this week.

Freshman wing Moses Moody is the Arkansas’ top performer thus far with averages of 16.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He is a dangerous threat from 3-point range (42.0% for the season) but has shown some weaknesses inside the arc. Moody shot just 0-for-7 on 2-point attempts in the Razorbacks’ loss to Missouri. Around him, JD Notae and Desi Sills are both averaging in double-figures per game.

It is important to note that senior Justin Smith will miss the next 2-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his ankle. The IU transfer missed his first game of the season in the loss to Missouri and had previously been averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

20. Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-2)

Minnesota was thoroughly outplayed in a 12-point road loss to Wisconsin during this past week but won its other two games convincingly to move up a couple of spots in my power rankings. These victories came over the likes of Michigan State (by 25) and Ohio State (by 17). While both games were at home, both performances were very impressive and head coach Richard Pitino has to be pleased with his team’s level of play. Marcus Carr has especially been a stud to begin the season but he is starting to get a lot of help from his supporting cast.

Namely, big man Liam Robbins is hitting his stride. The Drake transfer was especially excellent against Ohio State as he dominated the middle to the tune of 27 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, and five blocks. His overall block rate of 10.5% ranks 28th in the entire nation thus far. Additionally, fellow transfer Both Gach has also played well while averaging 11.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game as a do-it-all wing.

Perhaps the biggest key moving forward will be Gabe Kalscheur regaining his prior form from distance. The 6-4 junior sniper has started the year only 15-for-64 (23.4%) from beyond the arc after connecting on 37.2% of his prior 411 career 3-pointers.

19. Saint Louis Billikens (7-1)

Saint Louis did not play over the last week and moved up a few spots in my rankings as a result of other teams dropping games. The Billikens hold a 7-1 record through the first month and a half of the season behind strong efforts on both ends of the floor. They have experienced a major jump in shooting efficiency compared to last season, especially from beyond the arc and at the charity stripe. The senior duo of Jordan Goodwin and Javonte Perkins has led the team.

18. Virginia Tech Hokies (8-1)

Virginia Tech burst onto the scene early this season with a win over Villanova on Nov. 28th. Since then, the Hokies have been out to prove that they are not a “one-hit wonder” and have accomplished exactly that. Head coach Mike Young’s group sits at 8-1 and some of its victories have been aging quite well. Not only has Villanova risen back to its No. 3 status, but Clemson (who VT defeated in mid-December) has also jumped into the Top 25. The Hokies’ lone loss thus far came at the hands of Penn State.

Junior forward Keve Aluma has been at the forefront of the success. The 6-9 transfer from Wofford seems to have used his sit-out year effectively as he is averaging 16.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game for the Hokies. He is then surrounded by three other double-digit scorers, including a pair of dangerous floor-spacers in Jalen Cone and Nahiem Alleyne, both of whom are burying over two 3-pointers per game. Hunter Cattoor has also been highly efficient from beyond the arc.

17. West Virginia Mountaineers (8-3)

West Virginia remains a rock-solid team but falls down my rankings following a road loss to Oklahoma. The defeat dropped the Mountaineers to 8-3 (1-2 B12) on the season with two of their losses coming to Top 10 opponents. Additionally, though, sophomore big man Oscar Tshiebwe has left the team and will not be returning this season. Freshman forward Jalen Bridges was inserted into his starting role against the Sooners and performed admirably (19 points on 7-for-9 shooting) but Tshiebwe could prove difficult to replace.

A matchup with fringe Top 25 team Oklahoma State looms next on the schedule for West Virginia before facing Texas and Baylor in back-to-back games. These next three contests will be pivotal for the Mountaineers to prove that they belong back in the Top 10 of the power rankings. I am still a believer in WVU as a better than this No. 17 ranking, but there are better resumes right now and teams playing at a higher level.

16. Oregon Ducks (8-1)

Oregon is currently riding an eight-game winning streak that includes victories over Seton Hall, San Francisco, and Stanford. This has moved the Ducks to 8-1 on the season as they have seemingly put their season-opening loss to Missouri, which has aged well, in the rear-view mirror. Getting St. John’s transfer L.J. Figueroa eligible to play has played a role in this, but the fact of the matter is that head coach Dana Altman simply wins basketball games. He is one of the more proven sideline generals in the country and deserves respect.

Four former transfers have led the Ducks in scoring this season with Eugene Omoruyi (18.7 pts), Chris Duarte (16.7 pts), Eric Williams (12.7), and Figeruoa (9.5 pts, 7.5 rebs) headlining the scoring column. While none of these players began their careers in the Pac-12, all of them seem to be finding a strong home in Eugene. Only Duarte is a holdover from last season while the other three are all either coming off sit-out years or were deemed immediately eligible.

Coach Altman has put together his team in a puzzle-like fashion but the final product is well-done and organized. That much was particularly evident in Oregon’s 17-point victory over Stanford during this past week. Are the Ducks the best team in the Pac-12? They just might be, even while playing without Will Richardson, who is expected to return in a couple of weeks and should add another dimension to the rotation.

15. Clemson Tigers (8-1)

I bought into Clemson’s 5-0 start a bit more than I should have, and then overreacted too much to their road loss to Virginia Tech. Now, though, as the Tigers are 8-1 and ranked in the Top 20 of KenPom, I have come around to simply be a full believer in head coach Brad Brownell’s team. This group is excellent defensively across just about every possible stat. Teams are exhibiting just a 44.2% effective field goal percentage against the Tigers (24th-best defensive rate allowed) this season while coughing up turnovers on 27.3% of possessions (8th-best).

Offensively, Aamir Simms (13.1 pts) and Al-Amir Dawes (10.2 pts) have been leading the way as Clemson’s double-digit scorers. Nick Honor has also been impactful on that end by averaging 9.6 points and 2.9 steals per game while connecting on 18-of-46 (39.1%) from 3-point range over the first month. Clemson wins with its defense, but having a few go-to scorers and a legitimate sniper helps open things up on the other end.

The ACC feels like a mess this season so far. With Virginia and Duke (among others) disappointing, there seems to be a void at the top of the conference. Could Clemson of all teams be the one to swoop in? Possibly.

14. Illinois Fighting Illini (8-3)

Illinois has been far from the nation’s most consistent team this season, but can be extremely dominant for long stretches. Once they put it all together, you will be hard-pressed to find many better teams. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn form an elite duo and they are receiving plenty of help from their supporting cast. As of late, it has been freshman guard Andre Curbelo who has really stepped up. A star in the making, Curbelo has flashed his superb playmaking ability to the tune of 4.5 assists per game while coming off the bench.

The Fighting Illini are currently riding a three-game winning streak that has moved their overall record to 8-3 (4-1 B1G) for the year. Could this recent string of play be a sign of consistency moving forward? If so, they will be one of the main players for the Big Ten regular-season title. Their offense has taken a big leap this year and the defense might not be far behind. Easily one of the nation’s most fun teams to watch when they are on their game.

13. Missouri Tigers (7-1)

Missouri dropped its first game of the season during this past week to Tennessee but I’m not going to penalize anyone much for losing to a Top 10 team (even if it was by 20). It is also worth noting that the Tigers responded with a double-digit road victory over Arkansas, a win that I value a tad bit more than most in the country. Missouri has an excellent early-season resume with their 7-1 record that includes victories over Oregon, Illinois, and now the Razorbacks.

Defense has been the catalyst of the Tigers’ success as they rank 14th nationally in effective field goal percentage allowed (42.9%). While they might not create turnovers, they harass opponents all over the court. Offensively, Jeremiah Tilmon was Mizzou’s star of the week. The 6-10 senior big man was superb against Arkansas with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Xavier Pinson (23 points on 12-for-15 FT) also chipped in a big day.

12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-2)

Rutgers has dropped two of its last three games but I am not selling any stock on this team. The Scarlet Knights have performed admirably recently despite dealing with some injuries. Most notably, the team’s frontcourt depth has been severely impacted by losing Cliff Omoruyi. The talented freshman big has missed the last three games and his absence was noticed most when Myles Johnson fouled out in the second half of their loss to Ohio State. He also would have helped cover Luka Garza as Rutgers fell to Iowa by just two points over this past week.

Head coach Steve Pikiell’s squad continues to show tremendous fight even while missing some significant pieces. That was evident against Purdue as the Scarlet Knights overcame not only missing Omoruyi but also star player Ron Harper to take home the victory. When completely healthy, Rutgers could flirt with the Top 10 this season. They have seemingly built on the successes of last year and Coach Pikiell has the program trending in all the right directions.

11. Wisconsin Badgers (9-2)

Wisconsin has lived up to expectations in the early portion of this season. While their home loss to Maryland this past week was certainly disappointing, the Badgers have otherwise simply answered the call of being a fringe preseason Top 10 team. They have continued to shoot the absolute lights out from three (41.4%) as they did to end last season and that bodes well moving forward if the hot shooting continues. Additionally, they hold the nation’s fifth-best adjusted defensive efficiency rating so they have a strong base as well.

With the sheer amount of experience on the roster (22nd in experience rating and 14th in minutes continuity), Wisconsin is going to be a difficult out as the season progresses. The Badgers are one of the best teams in the nation’s toughest conference and also have a go-to guard that can help them win ballgames in crunch time. D’Mitrik Trice proved that against Michigan State and the senior is averaging a team-high 14.2 points per game.

The big key for Wisconsin will be continuing to torch the nets from three. Three different starting Badgers are shooting over 40% from beyond the arc this season, and that goes without mentioning reserve Trevor Anderson connecting on 8-of-9 from deep. As long as they are connecting from three…good luck.

10. Creighton Bluejays (8-2)

I’ll be honest: I am a fan of the Big East, but I haven’t been super impressed by Creighton at many points this season. They never seem to really crush teams like I had been expecting (aside from St. John’s) and have played more than their fair share of tight games so far this season. Their two losses have come by a total of six points and their last three wins exhibit only a nine-point edge to the ‘Jays (one of those games went to OT).

Yet, the results on the scoreboard are all that really matter and the Bluejays keep winning. They are up to 8-2 on the year with four KenPom Top 100 victories. Even while star player Marcus Zegarowski has struggled inside the arc compared to prior campaigns, he is still right at the forefront of one of the nation’s best offensive units. He is also getting a great deal of help from the likes of Denzel Mahoney, Christian Bishop, Damian Jefferson, and Mitchell Ballock. All five players are averaging in double-figures.

Three weeks ago, I wrote about how the sharpshooting Ballock was starting the year cold from beyond the arc. He shot only 30% on his first 30 3-point attempts for the year. Over the five games that have followed, he is 19-for-41 (46.3%). Back on track? You bet.

9. Houston Cougars (8-1)

Houston embarked on a three-game AAC road trip over this past week and returned home with two victories and their first loss of the season (at Tulsa). While most will focus on the “1” that now appears in the loss column, I think it is important to mention that road wins over UCF and SMU should not simply be overlooked. The Cougars might have dropped a few spots in my power rankings this week but they are still a definite Top 10 team, in my opinion — at least until they drop another game.

While they are now going to be playing without Caleb Mills for the foreseeable future (personal reasons), there is still plenty of talent in Houston’s backcourt. The collective contributions of Quentin Grimes, Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark, and Dejon Jarreau still give this team plenty of firepower from the guard slots. Additionally, Justin Gorham has filled into the small-big spot beautifully. The 6-7 senior is averaging 6.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game as a top-tier glue guy.

8. Michigan Wolverines (9-0)

I was high on Michigan heading into this season and this team has answered the call at every turn through the first month and a half of the campaign. Previously my No. 12 team a week ago, the Wolverines moved to 9-0 and cracked my Top 10 easily with victories over Maryland and Northwestern. Not only did they walk away victorious in both of these contests, but did so by double-digits, making things look incredibly easy in the latter performance against the Wildcats.

The Wolverines rank seventh in adjusted offensive efficiency this season thanks in large part to arguably the most productive freshman in the country. Big man Hunter Dickinson started the season hot and continues to prove that he is a dominant throwback performer against whatever defense is thrown at him. Play him one-on-one and he beats you in the post; double him and he flashes excellent playmaking ability to find open shooters. Dickinson is averaging 16.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

He is also surrounded by savvy veteran transfers in Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown, and Mike Smith while Michigan also features a dynamic wing duo of Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner. Wagner, a 6-9 sophomore, was particularly excellent against Northwestern as he was all over the floor. He posted 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five blocks, and two steals against the Wildcats.

7. Iowa Hawkeyes (9-2)

Iowa outscores teams. It’s that simple. Regardless of your thoughts on their sometimes porous defense, the fact is that the Hawkeyes are far more likely to outscore their opponent over the course of 40 minutes than take a defeat. Even in their losses this season, Iowa has scored 88 (against Gonzaga) and 95 (against Minnesota). They are just nearly impossible to stop with Luka Garza as arguably the nation’s best player and tons of more-than-adequate snipers around him.

Iowa holds a 9-2 record so far this season and recorded back-to-back strong wins over Northwestern and Rutgers during this past week to remain in my Top 10.

I certainly have my doubts about whether or not this team can win enough in a row against talented teams to reach a Final Four due to their defense, but their dominating offensive play deserves plenty of recognition. They rank 32nd nationally in offensive effective field goal percentage while ranking in the Top 20 in both turnover rate (just 13.3%) and offensive rebounding rate (36.6%). They do not give up possessions offensively and often create second-chances. Hard to disagree with their scoring math.

The Big Ten is a gauntlet and I’m eager to see if Iowa will either take a step back offensively against teams that are familiar with their scheme … or take a step forward defensively with teams they are familiar with guarding.

6. Kansas Jayhawks (8-2)

Kansas is my top-rated two-loss team and it is easy to understand why. Although both of their defeats to date have come by double-digits, they have also come against opponents ranked No. 1 and No. 4 in my current rankings. The Jayhawks have simply played a gauntlet of a schedule thus far and could make an argument to still be in the Top 5 as a result. Their 8-2 record boasts victories over Kentucky, Creighton, Texas Tech, and West Virginia.

Despite being the third-highest rated Big 12 team in my rankings, I would still be a fool to think that they aren’t one of the clear favorites to win the league this season. The Jayhawks might lack some of the familiar starpower from previous years but are plenty talented and Bill Self remains one of the best coaches in the country. A somewhat favorable schedule approaches over the next few weeks compared to their grueling start and KU could rise up the rankings again soon as a result.

Jalen Wilson has been excellent to begin this season, scoring in double-figures in all but two games thus far. Additionally, Christian Braun has taken a big sophomore leap into averaging 11.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game on 22-for-56 (39.3%) shooting from beyond the arc.

5. Tennessee Volunteers (7-1)

Tennessee’s first week against SEC competition resulted in a bit of a mixed bag. After opening the week with a 20-point thumping of Top 15 Missouri on the road, they returned home for a letdown performance in an eight-point loss to Alabama. Regardless, though, due to teams around them also losing and the weight of beating the Tigers, the Volunteers only dropped one spot in my rankings. Head coach Rick Barnes’ unit still boasts the nation’s top adjusted defensive efficiency rating and I am a major believer in this team moving forward.

Their freshmen have been excellent on the defensive end and Yves Pons has reprised his role as an elite interior anchor (36th-best block rate nationally). There is room for improvement on the offensive end, but I think that will come with time as everyone grows accustomed to playing alongside one another. Victor Bailey and John Fulkerson are the team’s leading scorers, while the latter has seemingly taken a step back compared to last season so far.

Fulkerson averaged 13.7 pints per game last season on 61.2% shooting from the field. And while his usage rate has remained relatively steady (20.1% this year compared to 21.5% last), his efficiency has dipped to just 49.2% from the field. That has had a detrimental effect on his overall offensive impact and the Vols would welcome him returning to his usual form.

On the bright side offensively, sophomore point guard Santiago Vescovi has taken a significant leap as a 3-point threat. He shot a respectable 36-for-100 (36%, duh) from distance as a late addition a year ago and has been a scorching 18-for-41 (43.9%) so far this year)

4. Texas Longhorns (8-1)

While many (myself included) doubted Texas heading into this season and I, for one, am so excited about being proven wrong. The Longhorns have impressed at every single turn and are definitely deserving of a spot in the Top 5 right now. They hold an 8-1 overall record that includes wins over Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, and Kansas. This last victory, which occurred over this past weekend, was the most impressive as they absolutely demolished the Jayhawks on the road by 25 points.

Texas’ lone loss to date came against my No. 3 team in Villanova and they put up a darn good fight in that one as well (lost by four). Head coach Shaka Smart’s team is surrendering the sixth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the entire nation (40.9%) as they have been absolutely lockdown on the defensive end. Opponents are getting off extremely few 3-point attempts (and not hitting the ones they do get) and are also dishing out assists on the second-lowest rate nationally.

The backcourt trio of Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, and Andrew Jones has been leading the way this season but the Longhorns are seeing massive in-seasons strides from frontcourt underclassmen Kai Jones and Greg Brown as well. Jones and Brown are both big-time NBA Draft prospects and are proving their worth on a very good team.

3. Villanova Wildcats (8-1)

Villanova is 8-1 with its only defeat coming in overtime against a fellow ranked team in Virginia Tech. While it seemed early on that the Wildcats would struggle to live up to their preseason hype, they have responded well over the past few weeks to answer the call. While they perhaps haven’t played the toughest schedule to date, they do hold an elite road win over Texas as well as victories over Arizona State, Butler, and Marquette (all KenPom Top 100 teams).

Looking ahead, the Wildcats are on a COVID-19 pause for the next couple of weeks as they will not take the court again until a road matchup with UConn on Jan. 15th. That will be a tough return-to-action game but you can expect Villanova to remain in my Top 10 throughout the season. I believe that head coach Jay Wright’s team is once again a tier ahead of everyone else in the Big East and should make that clear in the coming months.

Villanova is 3-0 in conference play thus far with an average margin of victory of 16.3 points.

2. Baylor Bears (9-0)

Baylor went 2-0 over this past week to move to 9-0 (2-0 B12) on the season. While the Bears struggled a bit through 30 minutes against Iowa State, they went on to win that game by double-figures, continuing to assert themselves as a Top 2 team in the process. Head coach Scott Drew’s team entered this season projected to be a national title frontrunner and they have passed every test to the tune of an undefeated opening month and a half.

There honestly isn’t much else to say here. Baylor set the bar extremely high for this season and it is impossible to know whether or not they will reach those expectations until April. This is a team with its sights set on reaching (at least) the Final Four. They have only played the nation’s 233rd-toughest schedule (per KenPom) so far this season as their lone “big win” came over Illinois.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (10-0)

Gonzaga was the preseason No. 1 team in the nation. Now, after a month and a half of the campaign, the Bulldogs are still holding onto that top spot but have seriously lengthened the gap between them and the rest of the pack. Unlike Baylor’s somewhat soft schedule, head coach Mark Few has gone out and scheduled like a mad man. Gonzaga is not only an undefeated 10-0 but that record includes wins over Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia, Iowa, Virginia, and San Francisco. I’m honestly not sure what else could be asked of this team.

When it is all said and done, though, Gonzaga’s non-conference scheduling will only silence the doubters for so long. Soon enough, questions will once again arise about not playing in a power conference and people will pick them to disappoint in their March Madness brackets. I am a big-time believer that this is easily Coach Few’s most talented roster and is head and shoulders better than the rest of the nation right now.

The bar for this team has been set at the absolute highest that it can be: National Championship.


Lukas Harkins is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com and covers the nation with rankings, bracketology, analysis, and recruiting breakdowns. He is currently a Rockin’ 25 voter and is credentialed media for Butler (Dawgs’ contest on Patreon). He previously worked as one of the site experts at Busting Brackets. Harkins graduated from Butler University in 2019 and majored in Healthcare and Business.



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