This is why we love conference play. The madness that occurs week-in and week-out is what makes college basketball so exciting to watch. The No. 1 team suffered their second loss on the year after barely survivng a few nights earlier, North Carolina got a ranked win and got blown out in the same week, and seemingly everybody lost in what is one of the best weeks of basketball to date.

All in all, ten of the 21 teams from the power rankings last week suffered losses which resulted in a fairly big shakeup, especially in the bottom half of the rankings. There’s a whole bunch of new names in the conversation this week as well as some familiar ones. It was a record setting week, and here are your Power 16 and Players of the Week at the conclusion of it.

Rank (Last week’s rank)
1. Michigan (2)
Michigan just keeps on trucking and refuses to stop. Their undefeated start to the season marched on into a 17-0 record this year after wins over Illinois and Northwestern. I understand this team made it to the championship game last year, but it seemed that what they’d done had flown under the radar. Until now. With Duke’s loss, they should begin to see the attention they deserve as the top team in the nation right now. Their recent stretch of games hasn’t been to exciting but this is the same team that crushed both Villanova and UNC. The Big Ten is loaded with a bunch of good teams which could both improve their record and give them the experience they need to return to the national championship game.
2. Virginia (5)
Virginia improved to 15-0 on the season with wins over Boston College and Clemson this week. Both wins came fairly easy for the Cavaliers as they won by 27 and 20 points. Virginia will have a gauntlet of a week coming up as they will have to face off with both Virginia Tech and Duke. With two wins Virginia could very well vault themselves into the number one spot on this list.
3. Tennessee (4)
The Volunteers continued their dominance of the SEC with a pair of wins over Missouri and Florida. Tennessee seems like the team who will have the easiest time winning their conference due to their elite level of play and some other teams underperforming. The Vols haven’t been tested in quite awhile which could always cause for a dropped game here or there but if this team keeps playing at their best, it will be hard for anyone to take them down.
4. Duke (1)
Tre Jones value to the Blue Devils was on full display with their OT loss to Syracuse on Monday night. Despite not having the potential for the next level of his highly publicized teammates, he is Duke’s most indispensible piece.  Prior to the loss, the Blue Devils registered wins over Wake Forest and Florida State. They were able to eek out a victory with a Cameron Reddish 23-point performance including a game-winning three pointer with under a second remaining in Talehassee. Unfortunately Reddish missed the Syracuse game due to an illness, a game they sorely needed him. Duke’s future looks very hazy without Jones, and they will have to hope he can make it back before too long as they figure to be extremely vulnerable without him.
5. Michigan State (7)
Michigan State recorded their 10th consecutive win over Penn State on Saturday to add on to one of the best stretches of gameplay in the country. For some reason, Tom Izzo and the Spartans seem to be eluding the mainstream talk of a championship team when it couldn’t be further from the truth. This team is filled with experienced and talented players that should prove crucial in the team’s overall success both in the regular season and in postseason play.
6. Gonzaga (8)
Gonzaga kicked off the week by holding Pacific to just 37 points in a 31-point win. The Bulldogs then proceeded to survive a scare from San Francisco in a game that was tied at the 4-minute media timeout. Brandon Clarke has emerged as the team’s best player and has been doing everything in his power to keep Gonzaga afloat after some questionable play a month ago. The recipe for Gonzaga is simple, keep winning. Considering the lack of talent on their schedule, a two-loss team at the season’s conclusion would be far from an issue for the Bulldogs.
7. Texas Tech (7)
The Red Raiders added another quality win to their resume with a 7-point win over Oklahoma.  Texas Tech seems to have the same game plan for every game. They know they can put up 60-something points and they will trust their elite defense to hold their opposition. It sounds offensively simple to say they try to allow less points than they score but that really is how this team plays. But hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
8. Kansas (9)
Kansas still hasn’t necessarily looked good since their loss to Iowa State, but they’ve outlasted a upset minded Texas team at Allen Fieldhouse, beaten a good TCU team and played better than what a 5-point win looks like against Baylor. Despite the Big 12 being an all-around good conference, it seems as if it has become a two-team race between Texas Tech and Kansas. I still believe Kansas is a legit national contender, but why have shown some weaknesses and need a bit of more consistency to complete with these other powerhouses.
9. Virginia Tech (11)
VTech is still searching for their signature win but have looked impressive nonetheless. Well, the Hokies have their chance to make a statement next week when they will clash with in-state rival Virginia. A win over a top five team could force me to throw the Virginia Tech name up above some of these previously listed team as they are just one big win away from earning it.
10. Nevada (12)
Cam Johnson made his return to Pittsburgh against his former team and ended up on the right side of a blowout. UNC has responded from their loss to Kentucky by rattling off three straight wins of 20+ points. The Tar Heels are easily the most respected three-loss team in the country and it’s for a reason, they’ve lost to some damn good teams and beaten a few too. The ACC is always fun to watch and with the talent on this team, they’re definitely a part of the reason why.
11. Buffalo (15)
I talked about it earlier. When you play bad teams, I want to see you dominate them, and that’s exactly what Buffalo has been doing. This week they dropped 110 points on Toledo and beat them by 30 and also beat Miami (OH) by 24. I don’t think anyone is truly convinced that Buffalo is the 11th best team in the country, but what they’ve been able to do is well worthy of being ranked this high.
Auburn (8)
I talked about Kansas having a shaky month of December, but they weren’t the only ones. An 8-point win over Grand Canyon, a 4-point win over South Dakota State and a 6-point win over Akron filled up the majority of the month for the Wolfpack who finally saw their undefeated season come to an end this week. A team like Nevada should never be getting blown out by New Mexico. Losing 85-58 to an 8-6 team when you don’t have a true quality win of your own is more than worrisome. I might be a little to harsh on the Wolfpack, but there are more than a few reasons to feel the way I do about this team.
13. Kentucky (16)
The Wildcats are one of the most disrespected teams in the country in my eyes. I’m not saying that they’re a top five team or even a top ten team but I see people argue if they should even be in the top 20. They’ve lost to Duke and then to two teams by a combined 3 points. I guess people forgot that they also took down UNC. Just because they don’t have a Karl Anthony-Towns or a John Wall doesn’t mean that they deserve to be overlooked or given up on.
14. Marquette (NR)
Marquette has a 14-3 record and one of the most exciting players to watch in college basketball. Markus Howard is a familiar face on the Players of the Week list in these articles and it’s for good reason. The man is averaging almost 26 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists per game while having a couple of the top performances of the year in the process. The Golden Eagles have shown they can hang in and even beat some very good teams and I am a believer in Marquette moving forward.
15. Iowa (NR)
Iowa has quietly had one of the toughest schedules in the country to this date. They’ve already played Oregon, Michigan State, Iowa State, Purdue, Nebraska and Ohio State. To emerge from that schedule with only three losses is something to look at. Their win over Ohio State, to me, has put them over the edge from potential fraud, to a respectable conference contender.
16. Houston (14)
Despite losing their undefeated record at the hands of Temple, Houston is still a team to look out for. The Cougars met Michigan in the NCAA Tournament last year, but many would argue they could’ve gone on a run if they played another team. This year they might be an even better team than they were a year ago. Houston is a team to keep an eye on for the future.

Next Five: NC State (14-2), Oklahoma (13-3), Villanova (13-4), Ole Miss (13-2), Florida State (13-4)

Top Five Players of the Week

1. Markus Howard – Marquette

Are you surprised? Markus Howard is seemingly on this list every week so why would this be an exception. This week Howard dropped a career-high 53 points on Creighton. It was his second time scoring 50+ this season, becoming the first athlete to do so in 20 years. This stellar performance was also good enough to inscribe his name into the Big East record books as this was the most prolific scoring performance. The junior guard hit 10 threes on 14 attempts to help bring his three-point percentage to 44% on the year. And oh yeah, he also went for a quiet 26 points against Seton Hall this week.

2. Ja Morant – Murray State

Get used to this name. Ja Morant has been on a tear this entire season and has only stepped it up as of late. This week, Morant decided he was going to score 26 points on 9-14 shooting, but he also wanted to get his teammates involved so he dished out a phenomenal 18 assists. The biggest takeaway from the game was how the 6’3” sophomore scored the loudest two points in the NCAA this year. Morant channeled his Olympic Vince Carter and jumped over a 6’8” defender and hammered it home. Murray State’s star player and potential No. 1 draft pick also tallied 17 points and 14 rebounds on Saturday to cap off an amazing week. By the way, here’s a link to Morant’s dunk because everyone deserves to see it. https://twitter.com/MSURacers/status/1083570355057373184?s=20

3. RJ Barrett – Duke

It looked like Zion was going to be the one who made this list this week but after an injury that prevented him from playing in the second half against Florida State, RJ Barrett was the one who stole the show. Barrett went for 32 points on 10-19 shooting and helped the Blue Devils emerge victorious in a big ranked matchup. The freshman also put up 21 points and 7 assists against Wake Forest.

4. Jeremy Harris – Buffalo

Jeremy Harris contributed 34 of his team’s 110 points against Toledo en route to one of the best games of the week. Harris also added 7 rebounds and 5 assists to add to his overall excellence this week. The 6’7” junior from Greensboro, NC also added a team-high 17 points in a win over Miami (OH) to cap off his week as one of the best.

5. Caleb Martin – Nevada

Caleb Martin has a week that can hopefully help people distinguish between him and his twin brother. Martin recorded 23 points on 8-15 shooting including a 6-11 shooting performance from behind the arc. The 6’7” senior then proceeded drop 27 points to go along with 9 rebounds to close out the week.


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