NCAA Basketball rankings: Texas Tech climbing; Arizona maintaining its pace

Texas Tech is nearing the top 10 after another strong week while Arizona’s up-tempo success has them in the title conversation.

The 2021-22 college basketball season is building up to a potentially special NCAA Tournament. It is nearly February, and nobody has truly emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 team in the country. Gonzaga and Auburn form the top tier of the national rankings, but neither has separated from the other. The Bulldogs and Tigers tied for our No. 1 ranking this week. There are several teams right on the cusp of joining them in the upper echelon as well, including Baylor and Arizona.

Speaking of the Wildcats, they have been one of the most impressive teams in the country all year long. Head coach Tommy Lloyd is in his first year guiding the program but Arizona is turning heads with its tempo and efficiency. They rank tops in the country in average offensive possession length and second in adjusted tempo. Coach Lloyd has propelled the program into the modern era and they are currently riding a five-game winning streak to its 16-1 record.

Texas Tech is also climbing up the rankings. After playing a weak nonconference slate, the Red Raiders are proving their ability in the Big 12 season. They are 15-4 (5-2 B12) overall and notched home victories over Iowa State and West Virginia over the past week. They already hold wins over Big 12 favorites Kansas and Baylor. Don’t count out Mark Adams in his first season walking the sidelines as a head coach.

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 11 points each): Alabama (7), BYU (6), Miami-FL (4), Oregon (3) and Loyola Chicago (2).

25. Davidson Wildcats (16-2)

Highest vote: No. 22 | Lowest vote: Unranked

Davidson is absolutely rolling right now. The Wildcats started the year dropping two of their first three games, but they have since rattled off 15 consecutive victories. They are undefeated in A10 play (6-0) with four of those wins coming on the road. In total, Davidson is 9-2 away from home. Head coach Bob McKillop is thriving while leading a group loaded with offensive talent. Foster Loyer, Luka Brajkovic, Hyunjung Lee and Michael Jones form a dynamic quartet that guides the 14th-best adjusted offense in the country. -Lukas Harkins

24. Xavier Musketeers (14-4)

Highest vote: No. 19 | Lowest vote: No. 25

Xavier has cooled since its hot start to the season, going 3-3 over its last six games. However, two of those losses came against Villanova with the other being on the road against a red-hot Marquette team. A home date with Providence on Wednesday looms as a chance for the Musketeers to really get back into the forefront of the Big East race. -Brian Rauf

23. Marquette Golden Eagles (14-6)

Highest vote: No. 17 | Lowest vote: Unranked

Look who enters the poll for the first time this season! The Golden Eagles have won six games in a row, the last three of which have come against ranked teams with another coming against a team currently ranked (Providence). Shaka Smart’s squad has greatly improved its 3-point shooting and found a go-to option in Justin Lewis. – BR

22. UConn Huskies (13-4)

Highest vote: No. 15 | Lowest vote: Unranked

The Huskies picked up back-to-back resounding victories over Butler as RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin and Adama Sanogo returned to looking like one of the Big East’s best trios. UConn hopes to maintain some momentum and extend its current three-game win streak after splitting wins and losses in December. – BR

21. Providence Friars (16-2)

Highest vote: No. 17 | Lowest vote: Unranked

Providence continues to be an enigma. The Friars are 16-2 with several quality wins, including those over Wisconsin, Texas Tech, UConn and Seton Hall. There is simply no denying their resume, and they rank top 8 in both KPI and SOR as a result. Providence is making a killing this season at the free-throw line, both shooting a better percentage than its opponents and also reaching the charity stripe at a much higher rate. -LH

20. Illinois Fighting Illini (13-5)

Highest vote: No. 14 | Lowest vote: Unranked

Illinois deserves major credit for pushing Purdue to double overtime and nearly had the Boilermakers beat a few times during that game. Then, we were reminded how important Kofi Cockburn is to their attack. The star big man missed Friday’s game against Maryland and the Illini were upset by the Terps. – BR

19. Colorado State Rams (15-1)

Highest vote: No. 11 | Lowest vote: Unranked

The Rams have won four consecutive games since suffering their lone defeat of the season. David Roddy continues to play like the best player in the Mountain West as this lethal offense (19th in adjusted offensive efficiency) is back in rhythm. – BR

18. USC Trojans (16-2)

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

The Trojans got back to their winning ways by knocking off Colorado and Utah on the road. USC is heavy favorites in its next four games before back-to-back showdowns with Arizona and UCLA, which will tell us a lot about this team’s legitimacy. Isaiah Mobley and Boogie Elis continue to play like stars. – BR

17. Tennessee Volunteers (13-5)

Highest vote: No. 13 | Lowest vote: No. 21

Tennessee bounced back from its brutal road loss to Kentucky with back-to-back victories during this past week. Most notably, the Volunteers took down LSU at home behind 16 points, six rebounds, and five assists from Santiago Vescovi. The junior guard has now notched double-digit points per game in eight consecutive games, shooting 39.7 percent from three during this stretch. Given Tennessee’s already stout defense, Vescovi’s emergence offensively really helps. -LH

16. LSU Tigers (15-4)

Highest vote: No. 14 | Lowest vote: No. 21

LSU’s 12-0 start feels like a distant memory as the Tigers have gone just 3-4 since starting SEC play. Will Wade’s squad does have the nation’s best defense, per KenPom, but the offense ranks just 132nd and has really limited this group. The schedule does lighten up for the Tigers, though, over the next month, so the opportunity is there for LSU to start stringing wins together again. – BR

15. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-4)

Highest vote: No. 15 | Lowest vote: No. 18

The Buckeyes had a bit of a reprieve this week with just lowly IUPUI on the schedule, and they took care of business. Road tests against Minnesota and Purdue await as Chris Holtmann’s squad looks to get back on a roll. They’ve lost their last two games away from Columbus. – BR

14. Wisconsin Badgers (15-3)

Highest vote: No. 13 | Lowest vote: No. 20

Wisconsin is one of the trickiest teams to figure out in the country. The Badgers boast an elite resume – even with a home loss to Michigan State this week – and a frontrunner for National Player of the Year but predictive metrics are not particularly kind to them. Wisconsin ranks 28th on KenPom and their record in close games might not be sustainable. Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Sweeney made a great point in this regard (see below). It will be interesting to follow if Wisconsin is able to continue its winning ways and buck predictive metrics’ expectations. -LH

13. Michigan State Spartans (15-3)

Highest vote: No. 9 | Lowest vote: No. 17

Wisconsin entered this week undefeated when shooting over 23 percent from three in a game. That the Badgers made a season-high 12 3-pointers at a 41.4 percent clip earlier this week makes Michigan State’s road win over them all the more impressive. The Spartans dropped 86 points at the Kohl Center behind a balanced offensive attack. AJ Hoggard was tremendous off the bench with 12 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Head coach Tom Izzo continues to exceed expectations as MSU holds a 6-1 Big Ten record. -LH

12. Texas Tech Red Raiders (15-4)

Highest vote: No. 9 | Lowest vote: No. 12

Texas Tech bounced back with double-digit victories over Iowa State and West Virginia as its offense is starting to match its elite defense. The Red Raiders have emerged as a legitimate threat in the Big 12 race, and they can become even more of a factor with a win over Kansas on Monday. – BR

11. Villanova Wildcats (14-5)

Highest vote: No. 8 | Lowest vote: No. 14

Villanova may have lost at home to Marquette this year, but head coach Jay Wright’s team has still won seven of its last eight games. The Wildcats have played one of the toughest schedules in the country and have their fair share of quality wins to back up their resume. Villanova is one of seven teams nationwide to rank in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Collin Gillespie posted 28 points on 6-for-9 from three in Nova’s road win over Georgetown. -LH

10. UCLA Bruins (13-2)

Highest vote: No. 7 | Lowest vote: No. 11

The Bruins continue to simply take care of business as Johnny Juzang has found his groove. The junior has scored at least 23 points in each of UCLA’s last four games and is playing like the All-American he was billed as in the preseason. – BR

9. Houston Cougars (17-2)

Highest vote: No. 6 | Lowest vote: No. 11

The injury bug has bit Houston time and time again this season. Yet, the Cougars seem to always have an antidote on hand. Despite suffering key losses, they have won nine straight games and hold a 17-2 (6-0 AAC) record. Former Texas Tech guard Kyler Edwards has found his rhythm in a big way; he has posted 77 points (19-for-37 3P), 17 rebounds, and 14 assists in total over the Cougars’ last three wins. -LH

8. Kentucky Wildcats (15-4)

Highest vote: No. 5 | Lowest vote: No. 12

Kentucky split a tough week away from home with a victory over Texas A&M and a loss to new-No. 1 Auburn. Overall, their performances did not warrant a major drop in the rankings. The concern moving forward is the health of point guard TyTy Washington, who left the game against Auburn after nine minutes with an ankle injury. He is a huge part of their success as the dynamic three-level scorer next to big man Oscar Tshiebwe. According to Adam Zagoria, Washington is “doing fine and will be reassessed daily.” -LH

7. Duke Blue Devils (15-3)

Highest vote: No. 5 | Lowest vote: No. 13

Duke’s loss to Florida State highlighted this team’s weakness on the glass. Despite their size, the Blue Devils rank outside the top 100 in offensive rebounding rate and 255th in defensive rebounding rate. Duke has enough talent to win a lot of games, but its fall from the sport’s elite tier can be directly tied to its rebounding struggles. – BR

6. Purdue Boilermakers (16-3)

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

The Boilermakers look like an offensive juggernaut at times. Other times, their size and lack of foot speed prove to be defensive liabilities – which is why they’re 67th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. It leaves Purdue vulnerable to upsets, which Indiana took advantage of last week. – BR

5. Kansas Jayhawks (16-2)

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

Kansas continues to find ways to survive, picking up three-point road victories over both Oklahoma and Kansas State. Ochai Agbaji has cemented his place as the Big 12 Player of the Year frontrunner, but the Jayhawks’ ceiling will be determined by more consistent play from David McCormack and Remy Martin. – BR

4. Baylor Bears (17-2)

Highest vote: No. 3 | Lowest vote: No. 4

Baylor’s back-to-back home losses last week were concerning considering the team was heading into a stretch including several away games. The Bears eased those worries, though, with road games over West Virginia (by nine) and Oklahoma (by 14). They are still one of the most balanced teams in the country with their sights set on the Big 12 title. Adam Flagler has found his rhythm. -LH

3. Arizona Wildcats (16-1)

Highest vote: No. 3 | Lowest vote: No. 5

Road trips are supposed to be challenges, right? Well, the Wildcats made quick work of theirs this week by taking down Stanford (by 28) and California (by 25) to bolster their quality rankings. Arizona has now leaped to the No. 2 spot on KenPom and is also undefeated in Pac-12 play. Oumar Ballo posted 35 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks in just 41 total bench minutes during the two victories. He is blossoming while backing up star Christian Koloko. -LH

1. Gonzaga vs. Auburn

Gonzaga and Auburn each finished with 147 points in this week’s Heat Check Top 25, making them tied for the No. 1 spot. Three of our voters led their poll with the Bulldogs with the Tigers in second while the other three did the opposite. Each team has a strong argument for the No. 1 spot, but those are rooted in how voters value predictive metrics relative to resumes earned to date.

Auburn holds the clear edge in terms of resume. The Tigers rank first and second nationally in SOR and KPI, respectively, both of which reward teams for their wins and losses to date. Auburn owns the best Q1+2 winning percentage in the country among teams with more than one game played in those quadrants. They boast a better record than Gonzaga in games versus quality opposition, so they may have “earned” the No. 1 spot based on what we’ve seen.

Gonzaga, on the flip side, dominates in quality/predictive metrics. The Bulldogs rank No. 1 in KenPom and Sagarin while placing second to Houston in the BPI. They are dominating the vast majority of their opponents and have built an elite adjusted efficiency margin as a result. Essentially, there is a higher likelihood of Gonzaga remaining among the nation’s top title contenders than there is for Auburn at this time. Predictive metrics have their value, and the argument for Gonzaga as the No. 1 right now centers around their efficiency dominance. -LH



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