Fans are back. Buzzer-beaters are back. Upsets are back. At long last, college basketball is BACK. And that brings us to our first Power 16 rankings of the year that are headlined by a lot of teams that you need to become familiar with as the season goes on.
As always, our rankings will put together the top 16 teams as they are right now, so do not expect a carbon copy of the AP Poll or the Coaches Poll. I will list who I believe are the best teams in the country, provide a list of the top players of the week, and wrap everything up with the best clip in college basketball each week.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the first of many Power 16 rankings for the 2021-22 college basketball season.
1. Gonzaga (2-0)
There are few teams who challenge themselves more in non-conference play than Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. This year is no different as Drew Timme and the Zags dominated #5 Texas from start to finish on Saturday night and they did it with their most talented player only scoring two points in nine minutes.
2. UCLA (2-0)
The Bruins also organized a competitive non-conference game with #4 Villanova and used the incredible home crowd to pull off an overtime victory over the Wildcats on Friday. Even with Cody Riley going down in the first game of the season, the Bruins were able to defend home court and come away victorious against an impressive Villanova squad.
3. Kansas (2-0)
I know I’m sticking with the AP Poll here for the first few teams, but they all challenged themselves and came away with big victories in week one. The Jayhawks defeated Michigan State in the Champions Classic and Ochai Agbaji looks like he is ready to take a step as one of the top wings in the nation and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12.
4. Duke (3-0)
Not only did Duke play against a top-ten team in the first week, but they also scheduled a weekend back-to-back, which is something you rarely see in college basketball. Their freshman combination of [PLayer: Paolo Banchero] and Trevor Keels won over the nation on Tuesday and returning starters Wendell Moore Jr., Mark Williams, and Jeremy Roach all look improved and hungry to make Coach K’s final season a memorable one.
5. Villanova (1-1)
I am not someone who will punish good losses here as I would rather see a team schedule and lose against a top team in the country than win by 40 against a bottom-half MAAC team (with all due respect to the MAAC). These Wildcats pushed UCLA to the brink in an electric Pauley Pavilion and nearly pulled off the upset in OT, and for that, I reward the Wildcats and still consider them a top-five team in the country.
6. Kentucky (1-1)
The same theory applies here to another set of Wildcats. Coach Cal’s squad performed admirably against a loaded, experienced Duke team, and there is a considerable difference between this team and the 9-16 we saw a year ago. They have guys who can really shoot the ball, crafty playmakers, and a menace in the paint who is averaging 20 rebounds per game for Big Blue.
7. Michigan (2-0)
We have now reached the part of the rankings with teams who scheduled cupcakes, but still looked really good in the process. The Wolverines took care of business against a decent Buffalo team to open the season and Hunter Dickinson looks better than ever, including knocking down a three-pointer, which could be a dangerous addition to his repertoire.
8. Purdue (2-0)
Purdue looked fantastic this week and they did it with Trevion Williams as their sixth-highest scorer. Zach Edey and Jaden Ivey had great weeks, but we should learn a whole lot about this team this Saturday against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
9. Oregon (2-0)
Nobody gets more out of transfers than Dana Altman and with three of his starters coming from the portal and looking solid, that trend looks to be continuing. Will Richardson returned for another season and if the frontcourt of Nate Bittle and N’Faly Dante can get healthy, this team will challenge UCLA for a Pac-12 title.
10. Alabama (2-0)
The Tide are going to score a lot of points this year and they have a ton of guys who can do it. They have a three-headed monster in the backcourt in [PLayer: Jahvon Quinerly], Jaden Shackelford, and Keon Ellis with JD Davison, a star in the making, coming off the bench. The SEC will be an intriguing race this year and should probably get eight teams in the NCAA Tournament.
11. Auburn (2-0)
Another SEC team who can take home the conference crown is Bruce Pearl’s Tigers. Jabari Smith is a potential top-five pick and he is so much fun to watch. Walker Kessler will find his footing eventually alongside him and Wendell Green is filling in better than anyone could have hoped this early.
12. Memphis (2-0)
Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren will win games on talent alone, but the Tigers have plenty more talent and experience alongside them with a team Penny Hardaway has been waiting for since he arrived. When the Tigers meet with Alabama and Tennessee in mid-December, the entire country will learn that this Memphis team is legit.
13. Tennessee (2-0)
Speaking of Tennessee, the Vols are 2-0 to start the year and Kennedy Chandler is the real deal. John Fulkerson is back with a solid core around him and Auburn transfer Justin Powell is a great addition for this team. The SEC is absolutely loaded.
14. Baylor (1-0)
We only saw the Bears once so far, but I have them a lot lower than their actual ranking only because there are so many question marks. They struggled for most of the first half but eventually found their rhythm and I think we will see that play out for this entire season as a whole. Be patient with the Bears, but know that Scott Drew will have this group clicking at just the right time in March.
15. Texas (1-1)
This loss is punished a lot more than Kentucky and Villanova above simply because of the way the Longhorns lost to Gonzaga. It was clear who the better team was all night and just like with Baylor, we need to be patient with Texas. There are a lot of new pieces, and this team will be a lot different in a few months than they are right now, and that is why they take a hit in these rankings.
16. Connecticut (2-0)
While James Bouknight moved onto the NBA, the Connecticut Huskies are still a dangerous team this year without him. Adama Sanogo, RJ Cole, and Tyrese Martin will lead the way, but there are a lot of good players who Dan Hurley can rotate and make some noise with this year.
Next 5: Illinois, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Florida, Loyola-Chicago
Players of the Week
Drew Timme – #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
After a slow start in his first game, Drew Timme reminded us all why he’s the favorite for the Wooden Award with 37 points against #5 Texas. He shot 15-19 and made up for Chet Holmgren’s foul trouble by single handedly leading the Zags to a huge early season win.
EJ Liddell – #17 Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes struggled in both of their games this week, but it definitely wasn’t because of EJ Liddell. The junior forward averaged 27 points and 8 rebounds between the two games and his team could easily be 0-2 against two weak opponents without him.
Ochai Agbaji – #3 Kansas Jayhawks
We have been waiting four years for Ochai Agbaji to develop into the player we saw Tuesday night at the Champions Classic. He showed off his impressive jump-shooting ability but also showcased an ability to get to the basket and if we see some consistency to his game this year, he could work his way into first-round consideration at the NBA Draft.
Keegan Murray – Iowa Hawkeyes
No Luka? No problem. The quality of opponents was far from stellar, but Keegan Murray delivered 24.5 points per game in just 20 minutes per game as the Hawkeyes got off to a flying start in the post-Luka Garza era thanks to Murray.
Oscar Tshiebwe – #10 Kentucky Wildcats
Not only did Tshiebwe average 20 rebounds per game in his first two contests for the Wildcats, but he also posted 22 of his 40 rebounds on the offensive glass and kept his team in the game with all of the second chances against Duke. Tshiebwe is entering his name very early for most impactful transfer after his first two games for Coach Cal.
Play of the Week
UC Riverside Half Court Buzzer Beater
Not only did the Highlanders walk into Tempe and beat the Sun Devils, but they also did it in exhilarating fashion. Trailing by 2 with 1.7 seconds left, JP Moorman unloaded a half court heave to beat the buzzer, and his prayers were answered as the shot rippled the net. We saw plenty of teams lose “buy games” in the first week of the season, but this was certainly the most heartbreaking and the obvious choice for the play of the week.