Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! There weren’t many games this week due to the holiday season approaching but there was still a ton of movement in our weekly rankings. We are left with 5 undefeated teams in the nation as Tennessee took down Arizona, but will all of them make an appearance in the top 16? Check to find out below!
1. Baylor (11-0)
The Bears make it easy each week by dismantling every opponent in their path. This week it was Alcorn State and Baylor’s average margin of victory jumped to 26.1 points.
2. Purdue (11-1)
Purdue comes in ahead of Duke simply because of their depth and experience. Duke is extremely talented, but there are a ton of freshman leading the way. The Boilermakers only have one freshman who contributes on a consistent basis and plenty of valuable experience that will help them make a deep run in March. Trevion Williams is one of the most versatile and valuable bigs in the country.
3. Duke (11-1)
The Blue Devils are not too far behind Purdue, and they will most likely jump ahead because they’ll be favored in every matchup before the NCAA Tournament. There are no ranked teams in the ACC aside from the Blue Devils who could easily run the table and enter the tournament with a 33-1 record.
4. Arizona (11-1)
Tommy Lloyd experienced his first loss as a head coach this week, but his team is still well-equipped for a deep run in March and one of the most talented teams in the nation. Foul trouble handicapped his team in the first half and an early 22-7 deficit was too much to overcome. I still believe these guys are the favorites in the Pac-12 and can challenge anyone for a National Championship.
5. Gonzaga (10-2)
The toughest non-conference schedule in the nation is wrapping up and few teams in the nation could’ve finished it with a 10-2 record. The WCC is no joke this season, but the Zags should still go into the tournament with no more than three losses.
6. Auburn (11-1)
I continue to be impressed with the Tigers and Jabari Smith who will have the opportunity to be the first team to knock off LSU next week and prove their legitimacy.
7. UCLA (8-1)
COVID-19 is running its course within the UCLA program and highly anticipated matchups with Arizona and Arizona State have already been postponed.
8. Kansas (9-1)
Aside from beating Michigan State in the first game of the season, the Jayhawks most impressive win is against St. John’s. They could be in for a rude awakening when conference play starts, but until then they are a top ten team in the nation.
9. Houston (11-2)
Few teams challenged themselves more than the Cougars in non-conference play and they are going into the AAC with an 11-2 record. Their two losses came to ranked teams as Wisconsin and Alabama defeated them by a combined 3 points. Don’t underestimate this team when they’re inevitably a top-three seed when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
10. USC (12-0)
The Trojans are another team in the Pac-12 dealing with COVID-19 as their next two conference games were also postponed due to problems within the program.
11. Iowa State (12-0)
Iowa State went 12-18 during 2020. They went 0-18 in conference play last season and haven’t lost since they brought in T.J. Otzelberger. We’ll see how real this team is as soon as 2021 starts with a top-10 clash with Baylor taking place in Ames on New Year’s Day.
12. Michigan State (10-2)
The Spartans rival Purdue as one of the deepest teams in the country and their unpredictability and experience make them as dangerous as any team in the nation.
13. Tennessee (9-2)
Tennessee was able to knock off Arizona this week despite Kennedy Chandler shooting 2-14 from the field. Their suffocating defense was able to shut down the top offense in the nation for most of the game and they’ll have another challenge next week with the struggling, but frustratingly fast Crimson Tide offense.
14. LSU (12-0)
I mentioned above that Auburn has a chance to prove their legitimacy in their upcoming matchup, but it is even more true for Will Wade and his Tigers. They are 12-0 to start the season, but their best win of the season is against Wake Forest and a win against Auburn could catapult them into the top-10 in the nation.
15. Ohio State (8-2)
The Buckeyes weren’t able to play Kentucky at the Champions Classic, but they should be ready for Big Ten play to start back up in the new year. They were one of the hottest teams in the country before their COVID pause, and hopefully they can pick up where they left off when they return.
16. Kentucky (9-2)
Look out for the Wildcats. They are finding their groove offensively and are averaging close to 100 points in their last two wins over North Carolina and Western Kentucky. The Notre Dame loss is in the rear view mirror and the Cats proved they can play with top teams after beating up on some weak opponents for an entire month.
Next 5: Providence, Seton Hall, Alabama, Connecticut, Villanova
Players of the Week:
Oscar Tshiebwe, PF/C, #20 Kentucky Wildcats
It turns out that not even 7’5 Jamarion Sharp can slow down Kentucky’s rebounding machine, Oscar Tshiebwe. The Hilltoppers surrendered just 28 rebounds to Louisville last weekend and grabbed only 27 boards this game against Kentucky. Tshiebwe grabbed 28 rebounds on his own in the 95-60 UK victory over Western Kentucky. This broke Shaq’s Rupp Arena record of 21 rebounds and it is not a stretch to say that Tshiebwe can break the Kentucky record of 34 in a game. If you can find a better rebounder than the 6’9 Tshiebwe please let me know, because I’m not sure that’s possible.
John Fulkerson, PF, #19 Tennessee Volunteers
Welcome back John Fulkerson! The 6th year senior finally showed what he is capable of Wednesday night in the Volunteers’ upset victory over unbeaten Arizona. He posted a 24-point double-double for the Vols, which capped off non-conference play in the best possible way.
Bennedict Mathurin, SG, #6 Arizona Wildcats
Arizona might have lost their undefeated season, but their star player isn’t going anywhere. Mathurin was the only reason the Wildcats survived as long as they did with a game-high 28 points while shooting 50% from the field. The 6’6 freshman is my favorite for National Player of the Year and should be a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft this summer.
Marcus Bingham Jr., PF/C, #11 Michigan State Spartans
Marcus Bingham Jr. averaged 3 points and 3 rebounds in his last two seasons. This year? 11 points and 8 rebounds. He is taking immense strides as a scorer and a shot blocker this season and the Spartans are reaping the benefits. Bingham helped avoid the upset on Tuesday to the Oakland Golden Grizzlies with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks. If he continues to play like an interior force, the Spartans could surprise some people and rival Purdue for a conference championship.
Darius McGhee, PG, Liberty Flames
The Flames may have gone 1-2 in the Diamond Head Classic this week, but nobody can blame Darius McGhee for that record. The 5’9 guard averaged 30 points throughout the tournament and dropped 41 in a three-point loss to Stanford on Thursday. He is just the fifth player to score 40 points in a game this season, so don’t be surprised if he does it again in an attempt to take the Flames to their 3rd straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Play of the Week:
We all know how much Bruce Pearl loves to shoot three-pointers, but I don’t think this is what he has in mind when he encourages his guys to shoot from all over the floor. Wendell Green Jr. loves to let it fly, but not even he could have predicted this half-court heave to ripple the net. Take a look at this incredible shot to beat the shot clock and extend Auburn’s lead over the pesky Racers from Murray State.