With January over, we are officially in the home-stretch of the college basketball season. Teams continue to beat each other up in hopes of improving their NCAA Tournament position, or in some cases just securing a postseason berth all together. And for the fourth time in as many weeks, we have a new number one.
Jim Calhoun and the UConn Huskies, you’re on the clock:
1. Connecticut (21-1, 10-1): If there was any doubt that UConn deserved the no. 1 ranking, they erased it with a dominating win at Louisville Monday night. Hasheem Thabeet has turned himself into not only the best defensive player in college basketball, but an offensive force as well.
2. Oklahoma (21-1, 7-0): Lost in the shuffle of Blake Griffin’s nightly double-doubles is how good Oklahoma’s guard play has been. Willie Warren and Austin Johnson each went over 20 points last week as the Sooners got two rough road wins at Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
3. Duke (19-2, 6-1): The Blue Devils lost their no. 1 ranking at Wake Forest, but rebounded nicely with a decisive win against Virginia on Super Bowl Sunday. Gerald Henderson has been the difference in Duke’s recent resurgence, as the junior has had at least 17 points in each of his last seven games.
4. North Carolina (19-2, 5-2): The Tar Heels went 2-0 this past week, but needed a Ty Lawson buzzer-beater to win at Florida State. North Carolina is starting to regain its early season form, just in time for a trip to Duke next Wednesday.
5. Marquette (19-2, 8-0): In a conference which continues to cannibalize itself, Marquette keeps chalking up wins, beating Notre Dame and Georgetown this week. With trips to DePaul and South Florida – two of the Big East’s worst teams- the Golden Eagles should stay in the top five for quite some time.
6. Pittsburgh (20-2, 7-2): For all the talk about Luke Harangody in the Big East, DeJuan Blair has been just as good, as he dominated Notre Dame’s award winning power forward with 23 points and 22 rebounds in Pittsburgh’s victory over the Fighting Irish. However, the Panthers did lose to Villanova earlier in the week, proving if Blair is in foul trouble, this team suddenly becomes vulnerable.
7. Wake Forest (17-2, 4-2): It’s always going to be an adventure with a team as young as Wake Forest, as the Demon Deacons beat no. 1 Duke at home, only to lose at Georgia Tech just a few days later. A road trip to Miami this week will be no day at the beach, as the Hurricanes are good, and desperate for a win.
8. Louisville (17-4, 8-1): Louisville’s loss to UConn Monday may be more of an indication of how good the Huskies are than anything the Cardinals did wrong. That being said, the Cardinals can’t afford to let up, as they have back-to-back road games at St. John’s and Notre Dame in the coming week.
9. Purdue (17-4, 6-2): An old adage in basketball goes, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish,” and the Boilermakers have certainly taken that to heart, playing without a loss in close to a month. If Purdue can survive trips to Ohio State and Illinois this week, they may be in the drivers seat in the Big 10 race, especially with Michigan State struggling of late.
10. Clemson (18-2, 4-2): It took a herculean effort and a lot of heart (something Clemson has been lacking the last couple of years), but the Tigers overcame a 15 point deficit and beat Virginia Tech on the road. Clemson will once again have a chance to prove themselves to the college basketball establishment when they host Duke Wednesday night.
11. Xavier (19-2, 7-0): The Musketeers needed all 40 minutes to hold off UMass Saturday afternoon, winning by just two. Xavier has two tough games this week before taking a trip to Dayton; its toughest competition in the Atlantic 10 this season.
12. Michigan State (17-4, 7-2): The Breslin Center is no longer a house of horrors for visiting opponents, as Penn State won on Michigan State’s home court just a few weeks after Northwestern did the same. While Kalin Lucas has been superb for the Spartans, he needs more consistency from his teammates if this team wants to do any damage in March.
13. UCLA (17-4, 7-2): UCLA proved it is still the deepest team in the Pac-10, and maybe the favorite, after sweeping Stanford and Cal at home this weekend. The schedule gets no easier as both USC and Notre Dame come to Pauley Pavilion in the next few days.
14. Gonzaga (16-4, 7-0): Remember when Gonzaga lost three of four, and we all forgot about them? Well, after sweeping Saint Mary’s and San Diego over the weekend, the ‘Zags are back, and playing as well as anyone.
15. Villanova (17-4, 5-3): We’ve been waiting all year for Villanova to get a signature win, and they finally got it with a victory of Pittsburgh Wednesday night. The Wildcats can’t lose focus, as a trip to Providence doesn’t look like nearly the sure thing it did just a few weeks ago.
16. Memphis (18-3, 7-0): Memphis continues to win games, but the question is, how good is the Tigers competition? If this team wants to be taken seriously, a win at Gonzaga Saturday night would be a major step in the right direction.
17. Texas (15-5, 4-2): Damion James continues to improve (19 points and 12 rebounds Saturday afternoon), but his team continues to struggle, as the Longhorns fell at Kansas State in overtime. Texas’s troubles always seem to coincide with A.J. Abrams going cold, as the senior guard shot just 5-21 from the field in the loss.
18. Syracuse 17-5, 5-4): The Orange suffered their third loss in a row Wednesday night at Providence, as they simply couldn’t overcome the absence of three starters from their line-up. A team which was ranked so highly just a few weeks ago desperately needs to right the ship Wednesday night against West Virginia.
19. Minnesota (18-3, 6-3): Minnesota needed a win against Illinois and got it, holding their opponent to 29 percent shooting and 36 points in their strongest defensive effort of the season. The schedule gets no easier as the Golden Gophers play Michigan State Wednesday.
20. Kansas (18-4, 7-0): The champ is here! After struggling early in the season, the young Jayhawks have won 10 of their last 11 and are looking like Oklahoma’s biggest threat in the Big XII.
New to the Power Rankings: Gonzaga, Villanova, Memphis and Kansas
Dropping Out: Arizona State, Butler, Illinois, Saint Mary’s
Photo Credit: ICON Sports Media