Top 20 College Hoops Power Rankings: How Good is Tennessee?
With the NFL season set to conclude in less than a week, fans will start shifting their attention more toward college basketball. This makes it the perfect time to debut my inaugural college basketball power rankings. For those looking to catch up on the college hoops landscape, this list will serve as a good representation of the true contenders. For those that have followed college basketball closely all season, this list will highlight a few potential teams that could provide value from a futures perspective come March. I will update the list on a weekly basis through the start of the tourney. Because I’m doing this from a betting perspective, you should expect to see drastic differences from the garden variety polls out there. You can interpret my rankings as the order of teams I would have favored on a neutral court. For example, I would have Villanova listed as a favorite over every other team in the country as of today. Let’s dive in.
1. Villanova (20-1)
This week: vs. Creighton, vs. Seton Hall
Besides the Butler loss, Nova hasn’t trailed in the second half of a Big East game this year. I still think they have some issues in rim protection, and depth is certainly a concern with Phil Booth’s injury. However, when the Cats are clicking, they have the best offense in the country.
2. Virginia (20-1)
This week: vs. Louisville, @ Syracuse
It’s hard to win at Duke and not have a serious claim for the top spot, but some concerns about the offense linger. Having potentially the best defense in the history of college basketball certainly makes up for some of those shortcomings. Isaiah Wilkins is the best individual frontcourt defender in the country, but the addition of freshman De’Andre Hunter has sent the UVA pack line into hyper drive. When Virginia head coach Tony Bennett has those two on the floor together, they hold opposing offenses to an absurd .73 points per possession, per Hooplens.com. Hunter was huge against Duke with Wilkins limited by foul trouble and a tight back.
3. Purdue (21-2)
This week: vs. Maryland, @ Rutgers
The Boilermakers, winners of their last 17 games, have a complete team. They’re dominant in the post, they have athletic wings that can shoot, and they have loads of experience. Mobile, athletic bigs can give them some fits, but other than that, there are not many holes in the Purdue lineup.
4. Cincinnati (19-2)
This week: vs. Houston, @ UConn
Starting here, we have a clear delineation after the top three. If not for Virginia, Cincy would actually be on pace to have the best defense of the KenPom era. They currently hold teams to .841 points per possession, which rates slightly better than Kentucky’s 2014-15 team. Despite all the offseason talk from Mick Cronin, the Cincy offense is actually worse than last year. But Cane Broome has actually turned more facilitator than scorer of late, and the the Bearcats have been rolling. The lack of quality wins is concerning, but two late-season games with Wichita State loom.
5. Michigan State (20-3)
This week: vs. Penn State, @ Indiana
Sparty has all the pieces, but the turnovers continue to plague Cassius Winston in the halfcourt. Off-court issues surrounding the program are also certainly not ideal this time of year.
6. Duke (19-3)
This week: vs. Notre Dame (W), @ St. John’s
If this team finds a way to consistently defend, they’re a very serious title contender because of their unparalleled offensive talent. There are actually a lot of similarities to Coach K’s last national championship team.
7. Kansas (18-4)
This week: @ Kansas State (W), vs. Oklahoma State
Similar to Duke, Kansas coach Bill Self has to find a way to get the Jayhawks to defend. He effectively went zone last night against Kansas State, which legitimately might be an option going forward for the smallest team he’s had in Lawrence.
8. Tennessee (15-5)
This week: vs. LSU, vs. Ole Miss
The Vols will pose a plethora of matchup issues in March, legitimately qualifying them as one of the 10 best teams in the country. The Vols lack height, but they have so much athleticism and quickness in the frontcourt, with multiple ball handlers and shooters in the backcourt. They’re a poor man’s Villanova.
9. Xavier (19-3)
This week: @ St. John’s, vs. Georgetown
This is another team where defense is a concern, but Chris Mack appears to have righted the ship somewhat in that regard. Tre Bluiett also appears to have his swag back on the offensive end. The Muskies must maintain focus during this slow week, because they have a murderer’s row on the schedule after.
10. Texas Tech (17-4)
This week: vs. Texas, @ TCU
The loss of Zach Smith really threw the Red Raiders for a loop. His numbers don’t pop out at you, but the advanced metrics show he was a vital, veteran presence for Chris Beard, especially on defense. Wins over South Carolina and Oklahoma State may not move the needle much right now, but they show TTU is back on track to being a top-10 team with a bullet.
11. St. Mary’s (21-2)
This week: vs. San Francisco, @ San Diego
That Thanksgiving tournament in Fullerton still haunts the Gaels. Randy Bennett’s offense is as good as ever, and the defense has improved thanks to some tweaks (and WCC competition). Because of the poor OOC showing, the Gaels will enter the tournament horribly underseeded, where they could potentially wreak havoc.
12. Gonzaga (19-4)
This week: vs. San Diego, vs. BYU
Gonzaga played elite defense last year. Their defense this year is very good, but not at that level. We also have yet to see that defense perform against top-shelf competition (outside of Ohio State in the PK 80 tourney, when the Buckeyes were still getting their bearings). However, Mark Few’s offense hasn’t missed a beat without Nigel Williams-Goss at the helm. The early injury to Corey Kispert really allowed Zach Norvell to settle into a major offensive role with this team, and he hasn’t disappointed. Additionally, Rui Hachimura has as much upside as anyone in college basketball right now. This team has the potential to climb up the rankings soon.
13. Arizona (18-4)
This week: @ Washington State, @ Washington
The Zona defense has fallen off a cliff, as Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic are still lost in the post. And if Rawle Alkins can’t get his foot healthy, the dribble penetration defense once again goes down the toilet. That said, they are loaded with offensive talent. We’ll see what kind of adjustments Sean Miller can make, which hasn’t typically been his strong suit. I don’t think there’s been a coach more frustrated with his team this year than Miller. His reaction to Ristic hitting the huge 3-pointer against Utah was an all-timer.
14. Florida (15-6)
This week: @ Georgia, vs. Alabama
I love Chris Chiozza, but the Gators are far too jump shot dependent without much going on defensively on the perimeter or at the rim. This team does have multiple long and lethal shooters, which make them a team I wouldn’t want near me in March.
15. Kentucky (16-5)
This week: vs. Vandy, @ Missouri
Kevin Knox has returned to aggressive Kevin Knox instead of shooter Kevin Knox. The Wildcats are also suddenly playing like underdogs — a weird position for any UK team to be in. The win in Morgantown was impressive and a potential season changer. Coach Cal still needs some rim defense, though.
16. West Virginia (16-5)
This week: @ Iowa State, vs. Kansas State
Bob Huggins has to tweak his offense. The triangle-based cut-and-fill motion isn’t working against Big 12 coaches who have it scouted to a tee. Defenses are simply crowding the ball handlers, and WVU has horrific spacing in the halfcourt. But with Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles leading this team, I would not write them off just yet, especially after they regroup from their hellish Big 12 travel schedule.
17. Auburn (19-2)
This week: @ Ole Miss, vs. Vandy
I’m not quite sold on Auburn yet, simply because I have some major concerns about their halfcourt offense. The Tigers score at just .97 points per possession in halfcourt offense, which isn’t terrible, but it’s not elite. The Tigers have also played one of the easier SEC schedules to date. Nothing jumps out of the OOC schedule except some decent CUSA wins.
18. Wichita State (17-4)
This week: @ Temple, @ Memphis
Gregg Marshall recently switched up the lineup and tweaked some ball screen defensive schemes. The Shockers responded to a two-game losing streak with a pair of easy wins over UCF and Tulsa at home. It’s not changing anyone’s mind about the issues facing this team, and likely nothing will until we see what happens with Cincy. Having said that, the Shockers started out as a team I was willing to sell high on. Now, I’m suddenly willing to buy low.
19. Florida State (16-5)
This week: @ Wake Forest, @ Louisville
I’m willing to strike the BC loss from the record given the insane travel the Noles had to endure after a 2OT win over Syracuse. FSU has also rarely played with its full roster this year.
20. Nevada (18-4)
This week: vs. Fresno State, @ Colorado State
Curious losses to San Francisco and Wyoming weigh down the Pack some, but I’m willing to discount a loss in Laramie with a banged up Cody Martin. That’s arguably the worst road trip in college basketball and a tremendous home-court advantage for Wyoming in their biggest game of the year. Eric Musselman has built a positionless team with high-major talent across the board. They’re legit enough to warrant in a space in our inaugural top 20 power rankings.
Just missed the cut: Creighton, North Carolina, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State