In what was, to be blunt, a boring week in college basketball, not much really happened. Monday through Thursday consisted of zero ranked teams in action and it wasn’t until Friday that we saw some big-name schools back on the hardwood. However, fans won’t be disappointed for long as conference play tips-off midway through next week.
Although not much changed this week, the excitement is in the air as everyone is ready to get into the meaty part of the season. Which teams will make a statement? Which teams will be exposed? We will find out next week. But for now, here are the Power 16 and players of the week.
Rank (Last week’s rank)
1. Duke (1)
|The Blue Devils have had some time to rest since their game against Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden. Duke will have over two weeks of leisure time before they take on Clemson to open up their ACC conference play. Coach K has already notched three Top-15 wins this season and many would say this Duke team is far from being at their best. It’s a scary thought for the rest of the country, but it just might be the truth.|
2. Michigan (2)
|With wins over North Carolina, Villanova and Purdue, Michigan has crawled their way up the rankings after starting the season at No. 19. The Wolverines opened the year demolishing everyone in their path but have slowed down a bit as of late. Despite their recent stretch of close games, Michigan is undefeated with a handful of quality wins which more than warrants their spot right under Duke.|
3. Kansas (3)
|Kansas has been one of the best teams in the country without a doubt and they’ve done so without one of their most important players. Udoka Azubuike made his return from his ankle injury and his impact was immediately felt. Azubuike recorded 23 points and 9 boards in just 20 minutes of action. With his return, Kansas just became even more lethal.|
4. Tennessee (4)
|Tennessee capped off an undefeated December with a crushing win over Tennessee Tech. The Vols had many fans wondering why they were ranked sixth to start the year and they have not only silenced the critics, but turned them into believers. Tennessee took Kansas into OT, beat Gonzaga and has just blatantly outclassed most of their opponents. The Vols are hungry and will look to continue this dominance into conference play.|
5. Virginia (5)
|Virginia is still sitting pretty at 11-0 and despite having beat Wisconsin, I still feel that the Cavaliers have something to prove. After what should be a glorified exhibition game against Marshall, Virginia will have the chance to solidify themselves as an elite team in the country once again as they open conference play with Virginia tech coming to town. I’m not saying I’m doubting them, but I just need to see them prove it before I can say they are truly competing for the top spot in the nation.|
6. Nevada (6)
|The Wolfpack added to their undefeated season with a win over Utah by the score of 86-71. Caleb Martin scored a career-high 33 points which helped Nevada pull away in the second half. Nevada is an interesting team that shows flashes of excellence as well as moments where they play down to their competition. The Wolfpack have a long time to prepare for the postseason which gives us more time to figure out what exactly Nevada is.|
7. Michigan State (7)
|Michigan State’s experienced core continues to prove beneficial for Tom Izzo. The Spartans beat all but one of their opponents in December by at least a margin of 20 points. Michigan State doesn’t seem to be getting the same level of recognition that they have in past but don’t get it twisted, this team is fully capable of surpassing past year’s results.|
8. Gonzaga (8)
|After losing back-to-back games earlier in the year, it seems that people have started to forget that this team was ranked No. 1 at the beginning of the month. The Zags have taken out their anger from those losses on their recent opponents. The Bulldogs have won their last three games by an average of over 50 points per game and are also tallying over 95 points per game in that stretch. I don’t anticipate Gonzaga losing another game this season just due to their competition, but if they continue on this pace, who’s to say they won’t continue the momentum into postseason play.|
9. Florida St. (9)
|Florida State is another team that we won’t see on the court until the year’s end. The Seminoles will have a bit of a tune-up game against Winthrop before facing off with Virginia. This will be, without a doubt, the most important game of the season for Florida State who is looking for that signature win to propel them up the rankings. FSU has one of the most balanced scoring attacks I’ve ever seen. Their leading scorer averages 12.3 points per game, but they have seven people averaging at least 7 per game. The Seminoles seem to have a formula, we just want to see if it will work against some of the best teams in the country.|
10. Kentucky (10)
|The Wildcats bested their in-state rival this week to improve to 10-2 and add to their recent stretch of impressive play. Kentucky might lack a true star-player but the amount of talent they have on the roster is still up there with the best. Under John Calipari, Kentucky basketball is thought to be one of the best teams in the nation each year. Recently, they fell of a bit, but a falling off for Kentucky is still where dozens of programs wish to be in. I think we might be seeing a turn around where the Wildcats thrust their name back into the national conversation.|
11. Auburn (11)
|Let me start by saying, Auburn’s loss to NC State is starting to look better and better as the days go by. Add that to the fact that their only other loss is to Duke, and you start to realize there isn’t much of a reason to question this team. The Tigers have a few different players that are capable of going off on any given night, but Bryce Brown is the player who will need to consistently be the best player on the court if Auburn will take down Tennessee in the SEC.|
12. Texas Tech (12)
|Texas Tech earned a lot of respect in their matchup against Duke and despite the Blue Devils being their only ranked opposition to date, people believe this team is legit. Jarrett Culver has established himself as a player to look at for offensive firepower while his supporting cast is capable of putting together terrific games as well. The Red Raiders are a team that is built off of defense, as they are unquestionably right up there with Virginia as best defenses in the country.|
13. North Carolina (13)
|From afar, it doesn’t look right that a three-loss team should be ahead of so many one or two-loss teams. However, the Tar Heels have a very odd resume that makes them look more respectable than their record. They lost to a then-undefeated Texas team who outplayed Michigan State the next game, an elite Michigan team and to a very good Kentucky team on their best day. They’ve also beaten Gonzaga and UCLA. UNC may need to show some more consistency, but they’ve shown that they are capable of being as good as anyone in the country.|
14. Virginia Tech (14)
|Virginia Tech has thrusted themselves into the Top-10 in many people’s minds but I just can’t do it just yet. Sure, they went undefeated in the month of December, but the teams they played are far from something to write home about. Central Connecticut State, Virginia Military Institute, South Carolina State, Washington, North Carolina A&T and Maryland-Eastern Shore were the Hokies competition this month. To be fair, they have blown all of them out of the water, but they still have something to prove.|
15. Ohio State (15)
|It’s crazy that a team can look even better after losing a player of the caliber of Keita Bates-Diop, but that’s exactly what Ohio State has done. Their lone loss is to Syracuse on a neutral-floor and has added a handful of decent wins en route to their 12-1 record. Big Ten conference play should give us a better look to determine if they can hang with the bluebloods such as Michigan and Michigan State.|
16. Mississippi State (NR)
|After being the first team left out in the rankings for the past few weeks, Mississippi State finally breaks their way in. The Bulldogs actually dropped two spots in the AP rankings despite not long last week and I’m here to give them their justice. They’ve only lost to Arizona State (who beat Kansas) and have themselves a couple of solid wins as well. The other top teams in the SEC have yet another team to worry about come conference play.|
Next Five: Marquette (11-2), Houston (13-0), Oklahoma (11-1), Buffalo (12-1), NC State (12-1)
Top Five Players of the Week
1. Markus Howard – Marquette
This man has been an absolute delight to watch this season. Last week he dropped 40 in one half alone and scored 19 in the final 10 minutes. So, we’ve seen that Howard is able to close out games strong, but this week he got hot early in the game. The Golden Eagle’s star player dropped 23 points in the first half including 5-5 from behind the arc. We’re still waiting on Howard to stay hot through both halves, but 26 points on 9-10 shooting including a perfect 6-6 from deep in nothing to scoff at.
2. Brandon Clarke – Gonzaga
I have to start with this… as the under 12-minute media timeout was approaching, Gonzaga was winning 29-1 over North Alabama. I mean have some mercy Gonzaga! In order to start a game in that fashion, you need to be playing some tough defense. Brandon Clarke was active in all areas of the game by sending away four shots and getting three steals to go along with his 16 points and 12 rebounds. I’m not sure if Clarke would’ve made this list without the absurd start to their game, but that’s something that deserves to be noticed.
3.Udoka Azubuike – Kansas
I alluded to it earlier, but Udoka Azubuike was a force to be reckoned with on the floor Saturday afternoon. In his first game since the first week of the month, Azubuike was limited to just 20 minutes but let his presence be felt in his time on the court. He shot 10-13 from the floor, scored 23 points, grabbed nine rebounds and also blocked two shots. Averaging over a point per minute played is always a good sign, but it’s even more impressive when you’ve been away from the game for multiple weeks.
4.Ja Morant – Murray State
Ja Morant is averaging 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists per game this season in what is quietly one of the most impressive averages in the country. While Morant only grabbed four rebounds this week, he did manage to score 23 points and dish out 13 dimes to his teammates. While this isn’t even a spectacular game by his standards, average performances from Ja Morant is something that many wish they could pull off.
5. Ian DuBose – Houston Baptist
This week wasn’t the most entertaining in terms of college basketball, but while most people were catching the start of the CFB Playoff, Dallas Baptist was finishing up scoring 143 points over Dallas Christian. 143 points is a score you expect to see every now and then in the NBA, but a score that high is almost never seen in the NCAA. Ian DuBose was the team’s leading scorer, tallying 29 points on 13-16 shooting. I can’t imagine many people even know this game was happening, but if anyone bet the under… I think 235 total points might’ve been a little too much.