2022 is finally here and hopefully it can knock off COVID-19, the two-time defending champions in 2020 and 2021. The reigning NCAA Tournament champion Baylor Bears entered the new year ranked first, and they could potentially stay there the rest of the season. There are plenty of potential challengers who will have their say, but as of right now the Bears are the favorites to defend their crown. See where the rest of country shapes up below in 2022’s first power rankings.
1. Baylor (13-0)
The Baylor Bears are 67-6 over the last three seasons. They would have been a 1 seed in 2020, won the national championship in 2021 and are undefeated to start the 2022 season. Scott Drew’s body of work in these last three seasons is almost unprecedented this century. There is a very short list of teams who can beat the Bears and it’s only appearing smaller the more I watch them. Arizona transfer James Akinjo (pictured) was exactly what this team needed to add to be in position to defend their crown.
2. Purdue (12-1)
I’m not sure how anyone will plan to stop the two-headed frontcourt monster of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams in 2022, but no one was able to figure it out so far this season, and that will most likely continue all the way into April.
3. Auburn (12-1)
I’ve considered Auburn underrated all season long and a dominant 70-55 win over unbeaten #16 LSU should finally give this team the recognition they deserve. As far as losses are concerned, a double-OT loss to a fully healthy Connecticut team is one of the better ones of any team this season and the Tigers are unscathed other than this. Bruce Pearl might have another Final Four team in 2022, so don’t forget who told you first.
4. Duke (11-1)
The Blue Devils didn’t do anything wrong to drop a spot this week except have their games cancelled due to COVID-19. This isn’t actually their fault, but their absence opened the door for an impressive Auburn team to jump them temporarily in the rankings.
5. Arizona (11-1)
Much like Auburn, the Wildcats have spent most of the season being disrespected in the rankings. Not here. We were robbed of two outstanding games against UCLA and USC this week, but these Cats will have their chance to prove their legitimacy sometime soon.
6. Gonzaga (11-2)
If the role players can consistently step up for the Zags, they will quickly jump up to first in these rankings. Depth robbed this team of a championship last season, so if their young players can play a role, Mark Few might just lift his first championship trophy this Spring.
7. UCLA (9-1)
The Bruins played just 2 games in the month of December, so it is hard to tell how well they are playing, but you can’t argue with the experience and talent they have under Mick Cronin.
8. Kansas (11-1)
If you want to watch exciting matchups with a lot of points, find some time to watch Bill Self and the Jayhawks. They boast a prolific offensive attack headlined by one of the best duos in all of college basketball in Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun.
9. Kentucky (11-2)
The Wildcats have two losses this season and zero ranked wins. That resume is nowhere near worthy of being ranked #9, especially with how many good teams there are this year. But this team is playing as well as anyone and they are mowing down any team put in their path. A 27-point win over Missouri is their lowest margin of victory in their last four and they are averaging 92 points in those games.
10. Iowa State (12-1)
Despite the loss, I think more highly of the Cyclones than I did before their matchup with #1 Baylor. Every player has bought into their scrappy identity and they have some real stars in Ames. This team is legit, so don’t let that first loss make you think otherwise.
11. Michigan State (12-2)
It’s easy to overlook a six-point victory over unranked Northwestern on a Sunday afternoon in early January, but that is an impressive win for the Spartans. Izzo’s squad has Final Four potential once again.
12. Tennessee (9-3)
I’m more impressed with Tennessee’s loss than Alabama’s win in their mid-week conference clash. The Vols were missing their two best players, Kennedy Chandler and John Fulkerson, and nearly stole a win on the road versus the Tide.
13. Ohio State (9-2)
The Buckeyes escaped Lincoln with a win over Nebraska, but their rust was understandable considering they didn’t play a game since early December. They were on fire back then and they kept it going with another win on Sunday.
14. USC (12-0)
I dropped the Trojans here not because I don’t think they’re legit, but because there are a lot of dangerous teams who only have worse records because of harder games. It’s a shame their games were cancelled this week because they were great opportunities to prove if they are for real.
15. Providence (13-1)
The success for the Friars is no longer a well-kept secret. They currently hold a 13-1 with three great wins to start conference play. Ed Cooley has a great core of players who are hungry to make some noise in a wide open Big East race.
16. Villanova (9-4)
So much for a down year at Villanova. Three losses to teams ranked in the top five were forgivable, but a 20-point thrashing at the hands of unranked Creighton raised questions about the Wildcats. Wins at #15 Seton Hall and versus #18 Xavier showed this team isn’t going anywhere.
Next 5: Houston, LSU, Texas, Illinois, Alabama
Players of the Week:
Walker Kessler, C, #11 Auburn Tigers
Almost every triple-double is subconsciously considered a cumulation of points, rebounds and assists. Not Walker Kessler. The North Carolina transfer posted 16 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocks throughout Auburn’s win to open up their conference slate. That’s 18 blocks in the last two games for Kessler who is now averaging more than four blocks per game on the season.
James Akinjo, PG, #1 Baylor Bears
Baylor needed to replace Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and Macio Teague in the backcourt following a national championship. Akinjo, an Arizona transfer, proved he is doing his part by leading his team in scoring both games this week. He led the team with 27 points and nine assists on Tuesday and helped the Bears knock off #8 Iowa State on Saturday with 16 points.
Gabe Brown, SF, #10 Michigan State Spartans
You typically don’t see wings throw up 13 threes in a game at the college level, but that’s exactly what Brown did in a close victory over High Point. The Spartans were on upset alert for a large amount of time in this game, but Brown’s 24 shooting carried the Spartans past not only High Point, but also Northwestern in their matchups this week.
Darin Green Jr and Brandon Mahan, UCF Knights
This duo combined for 53 points and shot 12-16 from beyond the arc in an electric 14-point victory against the Michigan Wolverines. These two came up with clutch shots throughout the entire second half to put the Wolverines away and showed off impressive shot-making in the process.
Dereon Seabron, SG/SF, NC State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack might be 0-3 in the ACC, but this can’t be attributed to the play of their new star Dereon Seabron. In a losing effort Saturday afternoon, the 6’7 sophomore scored 32 points with 7 assists and 5 boards, but it wasn’t enough to knock off the Seminoles. It was the fifth straight loss for NC State, but they’ve found a superstar in Seabron who gives them a chance to beat anybody on any given night.
Play of the Week:
We didn’t have a whole lot of basketball this week, but Drew Timme still found a way to amaze us. Not many point guards can make the pass he made this week and he did it as a 6’10 big man in transition. If you haven’t seen this unbelievable pass, here is your chance!