NCAA Basketball rankings: Providence vaults into top 10; Wyoming rising

Providence continues to thrive in spite of close games while Wyoming rises in our NCAA basketball rankings.

Football season is over and it is time for college basketball to take center stage. For those just joining us, this has been a wild season of NCAA basketball. Bluebloods are back to wreaking havoc at the top of the rankings after a down season last year, plus several surprises have come out of nowhere. Auburn, for instance, has blossomed into a top-5 team while first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd has thrust Arizona into the national spotlight.

During this past week, though, our biggest winners were Providence and Wyoming, two more of the nation’s season-long darlings in terms of overall record. The Friars are an analytics anomaly, rating barely within the KenPom top 50 yet holding a 21-2 record with several high-quality wins. While their home victory over DePaul in overtime didn’t help their metrics, it did result in a rise in the rankings due to other teams losing. Providence has now cracked our top 10 for the first time all season.

Wyoming, on the flip side, is consistently winning while also seeing its quality metrics rise along the way. The Cowboys are currently riding a six-game winning streak that includes four victories over KenPom top 55 teams. This streak is just a continuation of what has been a tremendous season in Laramie. Wyoming is 21-3 and has risen from a preseason KenPom rank of No. 183 all the way up to No. 31.

As a reminder, the Heat Check CBB Top 25 is a composite of our entire staff — which includes Lukas Harkins, Brian Rauf, Eli Boettger, Andy Dieckhoff, Riley Davis and Connor Hope.

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

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Others receiving votes (For reference, our No. 25 team received nine points): Marquette (6), Davidson (5), Alabama (2), Loyola Chicago (1), Iowa (1), and North Texas (1).

25. UConn Huskies (17-7)

Highest vote: No. 19 | Lowest vote: Unranked

The Huskies hang onto the last spot in our rankings after beating Marquette and hanging on to beat St. John’s. However, a loss at Xavier on Friday means UConn is just 2-3 in its last five games and is trending in the wrong direction. With its toughest three-game homestand of the season on deck (Seton Hall, Xavier, Villanova), the Huskies have a chance to make a statement to the Big East and nationally. -Brian Rauf

24. Colorado State Rams (20-3)

Highest vote: No. 19 | Lowest vote: Unranked

Colorado State notched one of the most underrated victories of this past week, going on the road and taking down Boise State. The Mountain West features several quality teams this season and the Rams are right in the thick of them. David Roddy and Co. are 20-3 and have won their last two road games. Will that continue with their next two also coming on the road? Their offense is electric. -Lukas Harkins

23. Murray State Racers (24-2)

Highest vote: No. 20 | Lowest vote: No. 25

Murray State just continues to pile up wins. The Racers are an undefeated 14-0 in OVC play and have not lost to a non-No. 1 seed since Nov. 22. Their dominant play of late has led to a skyrocket in efficiency metrics, plus a road win over Morehead State should not be overlooked. The Racers have played four of the last six games on the road and won them all. Likely the biggest obstacle standing in their way for an undefeated OVC season is a home game with Belmont in a week and a half. -LH

22. USC Trojans (21-4)

Highest vote: No. 20 | Lowest vote: No. 24

USC returns to our rankings after beating UCLA this past weekend without Isaiah Mobley, who missed the game with a concussion. Drew Peterson was the star of the game with 27 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. He will not maintain that level of play but getting consistent production out of him alongside Mobley and Boogie Ellis would take the Trojans to another level. -BR

21. Michigan State Spartans (18-6)

Highest vote: No. 16 | Lowest vote: No. 24

There might be a ceiling on this Spartans squad as we saw in back-to-back losses to Rutgers and Wisconsin, but they’ve consistently shown a pretty high floor. We saw that in Saturday’s 15-point win over Illinois. Yes, Michigan State’s guard play is still suspect and inconsistent, but the emergence of Malik Hall as one of the Big Ten’s better players has been huge. – BR

20. Ohio State Buckeyes (15-6)

Highest vote: No. 16 | Lowest vote: Unranked

Ohio State is an elite offensive team, ranking eighth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 15th in effective field goal percentage. However, the Buckeyes are also poor defensively, ranking outside the top 100. That can lead to a wide variance in play, which we saw with a loss to Rutgers and convincing win over Michigan this week. Ohio State can play with anyone, yet the poor defense sometimes allows lesser teams to play with them as well. -BR

19. Wyoming Cowboys (21-3)

Highest vote: No. 16 | Lowest vote: No. 21

Wyoming has been one of the most impressive teams in the country over the last few weeks. The Cowboys are riding a six-game winning streak with victories over Colorado State, Boise State, Fresno State and Utah State in consecutive games. Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado are as good of a duo as there is nationwide while Drake Jeffries (59-for-137, 43.1 percent) is an elite floor-spacer. Efficiency metrics are starting to buy in. -LH

T-17. Arkansas Razorbacks (19-6)

Highest vote: No. 15 | Lowest vote: No. 22

Arkansas earned an impressive overtime victory over Auburn to begin the week, which extended its winning streak to eight games. Even though the Razorbacks dropped their next game on the road to Alabama, that is far from a bad loss and it was by a single point. There is no denying that Eric Musselman and Co. are on the right track recently and will be a dangerous team as the season progresses. They have figured out their recipe for success. -LH

T-17. Wisconsin Badgers (19-5)

Highest vote: No. 15 | Lowest vote: No. 22

Wisconsin put together a mixed bag of a week. The Badgers first added one of their most impressive victories of the season, taking down Michigan State in a true road game. However, they then returned home and lost to Rutgers in a game where they trailed for three-fourths of the contest. Wisconsin is a shaky shooting team and defenses are starting to slow down Johnny Davis a bit more. Tyler Wahl has been incredible inside lately, but the Badgers need stronger perimeter shooting in order to return to their prior form. Brad Davison is 4-for-28 from three over his last four games. -LH

16. Texas Longhorns (18-7)

Highest vote: No. 14 | Lowest vote: No. 24

There is no shame in losing to Baylor in Waco, especially when it comes on the heels of a victory over Kansas. That was the first signature win of the Chris Beard era at Texas. This week brings about two more marquee matchups for the Longhorns with a road game against Oklahoma and home showdown with Texas Tech on deck. – BR

15. Houston Cougars (20-4)

Highest vote: No. 9 | Lowest vote: No. 18

We figured Houston’s injuries would come back to bite them sooner or later, and they finally did this week. The Cougars had a 12-game win streak snapped by SMU and Memphis, both of whom are the highest-rated teams Houston has played since its loss to Alabama in December. A neutral-court win over Oklahoma State remains this team’s only Quad 1 victory. – BR

14. UCLA Bruins (17-5)

Highest vote: No. 11 | Lowest vote: No. 17

The Bruins are sliding of late, losing three games during a four-game road trip to start the month. UCLA is now just 5-6 in February over the last two seasons. The good news is that Mick Cronin’s squad won’t face a ranked team until the regular-season finale when USC makes the trip across town. Can the Bruins right the ship and take care of business until then? – BR

13. Tennessee Volunteers (18-6)

Highest vote: No. 10 | Lowest vote: No. 15

Tennessee continues to fly under the radar as one of the most rock-solid teams in the country. The Volunteers lack the elite wins of the teams ahead of them, but rate extremely well across all metrics and boast a great record. Head coach Rick Barnes is again deploying one of the best defenses in the country. Tennessee has won four straight heading into these rankings, which comes just before the team hosts Kentucky this week. Zakai Zeigler has reached double-figures as a scorer in six straight games off the bench. -LH

12. Illinois Fighting Illini (18-6)

Highest vote: No. 10 | Lowest vote: No. 13

A 16-point loss to Purdue may have tempered some of the hype behind the Illini, but this is still a group that has won five of its last six games. They’ve proven they belong in the top 15 and a pair of road games this week (Rutgers, Michigan State) may determine if they’re top-10 worthy. – BR

11. Villanova Wildcats (19-6)

Highest vote: No. 9 | Lowest vote: No. 14

Maybe Marquette is simply Villanova’s kryptonite this season? The Wildcats are 12-2 over their last 14 games with their lone two losses coming to the Golden Eagles. During this past week, Villanova added a pair of solid wins over St. John’s (road) and Seton Hall (home). A huge matchup approaches on the road against Providence; both have emerged as the frontrunners to win the Big East regular-season title. Caleb Daniels has put up some strong performances (mostly) off the bench of late. -LH

10. Providence Friars (21-2)

Highest vote: No. 9 | Lowest vote: No. 16

Welcome to the top 10, Providence! The Friars might be universally low-rated by efficiency metrics but these rankings are not a bracketology field; their results speak for themselves in terms of deserving a high ranking. Head coach Ed Cooley’s bunch has been terrific in the clutch and it has led to an outstanding 21-2 record against a difficult schedule. Both intra-conference matchups with Villanova still loom, so the Big East title is far from wrapped up. Providence is right in the mix, though. -LH

9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (19-6)

Highest vote: No. 6 | Lowest vote: No. 13

The Red Raiders have solidified themselves as one of the nation’s elite teams since the calendar flipped to 2022. They lead the country in defensive efficiency since the start of conference play and, more impressively given how they started the season, are sixth in offensive efficiency. Winning Wednesday’s home game against Baylor is a must if they want to remain at the forefront of the Big 12 race. – BR

8. Purdue Boilermakers (22-4)

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

Purdue is arguably the most dominant offensive team in the country; Gonzaga is perhaps the only team in the same area code in that department. However, the Boilermakers are going to have a difficult time staying in the national title conversation if they do not improve defensively. Purdue ranks just 116th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency this season. They suffered a blowout loss to Michigan this week in which they allowed 82 points. Thankfully, they were able to avoid an upset at home against Maryland a few days later. -LH

7. Baylor Bears (21-4)

Highest vote: No. 3 | Lowest vote: No. 9

The good news is that Baylor rebounded from that blowout loss to Kansas with back-to-back blowout wins over Kansas State and Texas. The bad news is that it lost big man Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua for the season with a knee injury. Flo Thamba and the rest of Baylor’s bigs will have to step up accordingly. – BR

6. Kansas Jayhawks (20-4)

Highest vote: No. 5 | Lowest vote: No. 8

Kansas split its contests during this past week, taking a narrow loss on the road against Texas before returning home and squeaking one out against Oklahoma. The Jayhawks have not been all that dominant over the past few weeks, but you have to remember the gauntlet that is the Big 12 schedule. They have still climbed in quality metrics and boast a resume full of excellent wins. Kansas is 20-4 overall and is battle-tested. -LH

5. Duke Blue Devils (21-4)

Highest vote: No. 4 | Lowest vote: No. 7

Duke is clearly the most talented team in the ACC. It doesn’t always play like it, though, and Monday’s 15-turnover performance in a loss to Virginia – a game in which Paolo Banchero took one shot in the second half – is the latest reminder. Still, those blips on the radar have been few and far between, and there are few teams in the country with the firepower to match the Blue Devils when they’re on. – BR

4. Arizona Wildcats (22-2)

Highest vote: No. 3 | Lowest vote: No. 6

Arizona not only continues to win but is making it look easy. The Wildcats completed a three-game road trip during this past week alone, notching three victories – all by double-digits (16.0 average margin of victory) – in the span of six days. Head coach Tommy Lloyd has his team rolling and up to No. 2 on KenPom. Pelle Larson is 5-for-6 from 3-point range over his last three games as a key bench piece. -LH

3. Auburn Tigers (23-2)

Highest vote: No. 2 | Lowest vote: No. 8

The Tigers fall from our No. 2 spot after suffering their second defeat of the season. An overtime loss to Arkansas continued Auburn’s road woes and snapped their 19-game win streak. Of course, the Tigers responded as great teams do with a blowout win over Texas A&M. Walker Kessler picked up his second triple-double of the season in that one (12 points, 11 rebounds, 12 blocks), becoming just the fifth player in SEC history with multiple triple-doubles in a season. – BR

2. Kentucky Wildcats (21-4)

Highest vote: No. 1 | Lowest vote: No. 3

Kentucky leapfrogs Auburn thanks to a stretch in which it has won 14 of the last 16 games. The only two losses (LSU, Auburn), came in games when both Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington got hurt. When healthy, the Wildcats have been blowing everyone out. Washington will be out for a bit after getting injured in Saturday’s win over Florida, but it doesn’t appear he’ll miss a significant amount of time. That is excellent news for Kentucky as we head into March. – BR

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-2)

Highest vote: No. 1 | Lowest vote: No. 2

Gonzaga is the No. 1 team by quality metric standards and is lengthening its lead on the rest of the pack. The Bulldogs hold a plus-4.95 advantage in adjusted efficiency margin over KenPom’s No. 2 team (Arizona) at the moment; that differential is more than the margin between Arizona and the No. 9 team. The Bulldogs most recently rolled over Pacific (by 38) and Saint Mary’s (by 16) at home this week. Regardless of their conference affiliation, not many teams could dominate the WCC at the level Gonzaga is right now without any sort of a slip-up. -LH

Header image courtesy of Wyoming Athletics.