As we inch our way closer to March, the cream of college basketball is starting to rise, as others the pretenders slowly fade into the sunset. For the first time in a month, our No. 1 team- the Connecticut Huskies- held onto the top spot for a second straight week.
1. Connecticut (22-1, 10-1): Connecticut continues to win, and Hasheem Thabeet continues to be the reason why, as the junior had 17 points and 12 rebounds in a victory over Michigan. Syracuse – which hasn’t been very good on the road this year – comes to Gampel Pavilion Wednesday, but don’t sleep on the Orange, which are always a thorn in the Huskies side.
2. Oklahoma (23-1, 9-0): We all know Blake Griffin is the best player in college basketball, but he’s not winning alone, as Tony Crocker chipped in 24 points in a win over Colorado. If Crocker and his backcourt mates Austin Johnson and Willie Warren continue to play the way they have, this team is as likely as any to cut down the nets in March.
3. North Carolina (21-2, 7-2): While Duke and Wake Forest have stolen the headlines over the past month, North Carolina has quietly continued to win, in the process re-gaining the top spot in the ACC standings. Everyone knows the Heels can score, but can they play enough defense to win at Duke on Wednesday, and in the tournament come March?
4. Pittsburgh (21-2, 8-2): DeJuan Blair had 32 points and 14 rebounds Saturday against DePaul, as he continues to make his case for Big East player of the year. The Panthers host West Virginia in the “Backyard Brawl,” Monday night, a game sure to entertain, and with all its physical play, potentially put someone in the hospital.
5. Louisville (18-4, 9-1): Give Louisville credit for a finding a way to win Sunday after Samardo Samuels got injured and St. Johns held the Cardinals to just 19 first half points. This is a tough, savvy team, but must get healthier in the coming weeks.
6. Duke (20-3, 7-2): Boy oh boy, what do we make of these Blue Devils? They’ve looked so good all year, and then beaten by 27 at Clemson and needed overtime to get past Miami. A visit from UNC Wednesday couldn’t have come at a worse time.
7. Marquette (20-3, 9-1): The Golden Eagles loss to South Florida stings, but we knew they’d lose a game eventually. Now the question becomes, how does this senior-laden team respond, with a trip to Villanova Tuesday night?
8. UCLA (19-4, 8-2): As is pretty standard come mid-February, UCLA is picking up its game and running away from the rest of the Pac-10. Should the Bruins sweep their trip to Arizona this weekend, it’d be hard to dismiss them as a threat nationally.
9. Wake Forest (18-3, 5-3): Wake Forest continues to be the Jekyll and Hyde of college basketball, losing by 27 points at Miami before bouncing back with a convincing victory over Boston College. This team has as much talent as anyone in college basketball, but the question is if they’re mentally tough enough to handle being a top ranked team.
10. Clemson (19-3, 5-3): Right after Clemson’s 27 point beat down of Duke, I was ready to take every negative thing I’ve said about the Tigers and put it to rest for good. Then they lost to Florida State after having a huge lead for virtually the entire game, which begs the question: is this Clemson team really any different than those of years past after all?
11. Michigan State (19-4, 9-2): Everyone has been waiting all year for Michigan State to figure itself out, and they may finally have, beating Minnesota and Indiana by a combined 57 points in their last two games. For a team that desperately needs to get healthy, playing only one game this week – at Michigan – should help.
12. Villanova (19-4, 7-3): It’s never a bad thing when two players go for over 30 points in one week, as Scottie Reynolds tallied 31 at Providence, and Dante Cunningham did likewise against Syracuse. This team continues to climb the Big East leader board, and could do themselves a big favor by winning Tuesday night against Marquette.
13. Memphis (20-3, 8-0): There isn’t a hotter team in college basketball right now then the Tigers, who went to Spokane and beat Gonzaga by 18. The Tigers have won 14 in a row, and have been a completely different team with Tyreke Evans running the point.
14. Xavier (20-3, 8-1): Xavier wasn’t expected to go undefeated in the Atlantic 10, but honestly, who thought they’d lose to Duquesne? The Musketeers must rebound quickly, as they travel to Dayton Wednesday, a team which is 21-3, and has a win over Marquette on their resume.
15. Kansas (19-4, 8-2): Even the most optimistic of Jayhawks fans couldn’t have predicted this team would be undefeated in conference play halfway through their slate. But with trips to Missouri and Kansas State (where Kansas lost last year), how long will they remain undefeated?
16. Gonzaga (17-5, 8-0): There’s no nice way to put it: Gonzaga got outplayed in every facet of their game with Memphis Saturday night. The good news is that there isn’t anyone left on the Bulldogs schedule nearly the caliber of the team they just played, meaning an undefeated season in the West Coast Conference is possible.
17. Butler (21-2, 12-1): The Bulldogs rebounded nicely from their loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay, getting two road victories in the last week. Butler will never wow you on offense, but if they continue to hold opponents to 56.5 points per game (good for third in the country), they’re probably not going to lose much either.
18. Utah State (23-1, 11-0): Pop quiz, which college basketball team currently holds the nation’s longest winning streak? If you guessed Stew Morrill’s club, which has won 18 in row, you’d be correct.
19. Missouri (20-4, 7-2): DeMarre Carroll is the best player you’ve never heard of, as the senior went for 31 points in Saturday’s win over Iowa State, just a game after Missouri upset Texas. Whether or not the Tigers can stay in the Power Rankings will largely be determined by how they handle Kansas Monday night.
20. Florida State (18-5, 5-3): While major conference teams like Texas, Purdue and Syracuse continue to find ways to lose, the Seminoles quietly keep on winning. Their victory at Clemson Saturday was a statement, and they can get another one when they travel to Wake Forest this weekend.
New to the Power Rankings: Butler, Utah State, Missouri, Florida State
Dropping Out: Purdue, Texas, Syracuse, Minnesota
Photo Credit: ICON Sports Media