Sports

Men’s Power Rankings: We have questions for Kentucky and Wisconsin

Last week we’d talked here about UConn and Purdue separating themselves from the rest of the country. That theme was cemented once again this past week, with eight of the other 14 teams in last week’s Power Rankings suffering at least one defeat. All three teams in the waiting room lost. The next three teams under consideration did, too.

But let’s talk about the two biggest storylines of this week’s rankings: Wisconsin and Kentucky. The Badgers have lost four in a row, including back-to-back defeats this past week at Michigan and Rutgers. They’re still one of the four teams in Division I men’s basketball with double-digit Quadrant 1 and 2 wins, but their efficiency-based metrics are falling, and they’re just No. 51 in the country over their past eight games at BartTorvik.com.

The Wildcats also find themselves completely out of the Power Rankings, disappearing from the waiting room following a home loss to Gonzaga. It’s fair to start questioning the solidity of their résumé, too. They’re just 2-5 against Quad 1 opponents, they have a Quad 3 loss and their best wins since beating North Carolina in mid-December are against Florida, Mississippi State and Arkansas.

Can either team turn things around — Wisconsin offensively and Kentucky defensively — to fight their way back into the top 16? We’ll have to see.

On to this week’s awards and rankings …


The dreams of a six-bid Mountain West got a shot in the arm this past week when Nevada won at Utah State on Tuesday then turned around and knocked off San Diego State on Friday. The Wolf Pack were one of the few teams nationally to beat two projected NCAA tournament teams this week, while also improving their résumé enough to find themselves knocking on the door of projected brackets.

Nevada opened the season with 15 wins in its first 16 games but lost four of the next five to fall below .500 in the Mountain West. Steve Alford’s team opened the most recent week with a 14-point win at USU, which hadn’t lost at home all season. Nick Davidson led the way there with 25 points and 10 boards. The Wolf Pack followed up with a 70-66 overtime win over an Aztecs team that found itself at No. 24 in this week’s AP poll. This time it was Kenan Blackshear (22 points) to pace the team.

The Wolf Pack now have five Quadrant 1 wins, tied for the eighth-most nationally.

Texas A&M has turned things around since a rocky two-month stretch in the middle of the season, and this duo has led the way. They both edge out Arizona‘s Pelle Larsson for the nod — it was too hard to choose one — after carrying the Aggies to a road win over Missouri and a dominant home victory over Tennessee.

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Wade Taylor IV gets the electric and-1 bucket

Wade Taylor IV drives to the rim to float in an and-1 bucket for Texas A&M.

Against the Tigers, Radford had 22 points and four boards, while Taylor went for 18 points, 5 boards and 3 assists. On Saturday, both players went off. Taylor had 25 points and seven assists, with Radford going for 27 points, 5 boards and 5 assists. According to ESPN Stats & Information, they became just the third pair of teammates in the past 25 years to each have 25 points and five assists against a top-10 opponent.

Radford is now averaging 25.0 points in his past three games, while Taylor has another huge performance to add to his growing list of big-time individual performances: 35 points vs. FAU, 34 points vs. Houston, 31 points vs. Kentucky, 41 points vs. Arkansas, 30 points vs. Ole Miss.

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Clemson goes to Chapel Hill and upsets North Carolina

Clemson picks up the huge upset as they go into Chapel Hill and win for only the second time at North Carolina.

There were a slew of impressive wins this week: Florida crushing Auburn, Texas A&M blowing out Tennessee, and Kansas State knocking off Kansas in overtime. All deserve recognition. But knocking off No. 3-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill wins the week. The Tigers were essentially entering a make-or-break week to feel comfortable about their NCAA tournament hopes after losing six of their previous nine games and sitting at 4-6 in the ACC.

Clemson scored the first basket of Tuesday’s game, had a 15-2 lead in the first 3½ minutes and never trailed. PJ Hall (25 points) and Joseph Girard III (21 points) had huge baskets in the final minutes to break a 70-70 tie and hold off a comeback attempt by the Tar Heels. The Tigers, who also won at Syracuse on Saturday, have improved to 2-60 all time at UNC.

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South Florida Bulls vs. Rice Owls: Game Highlights

South Florida Bulls vs. Rice Owls: Game Highlights

When Abdur-Rahim accepted this job back in March, he knew he was taking over a program in a difficult spot. The Bulls were coming off a 14-18 campaign and had never finished .500 or better in league play since moving from the Big East to the American in 2013. Although Abdur-Rahim brought a couple of players with him from the Kennesaw State team he took to the NCAA tournament last season, USF was picked ninth in the AAC in the preseason poll.

After winning at Rice on Saturday, however, the Bulls are by themselves atop the conference standings entering the final seven games of regular play. They’ve won nine games in a row and 15 of their past 16 to sit at 17-5 overall and 10-1 in the AAC. Abdur-Rahim has done it almost entirely with newcomers, with sixth man Selton Miguel the only USF returnee in the top seven of the rotation.


Three teams with questions

Kentucky Wildcats: The Wildcats’ defensive issues were apparent earlier in the season, but their offense was so efficient it didn’t seem to matter. Well, that’s no longer the case. They’re 4-5 in their past nine games and have lost three straight games at home for the first time since 1966. Over the past four games, the Wildcats are No. 283 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency at BartTorvik.com.

St. John’s Red Storm: The Johnnies had a 15-point lead late in the first half at Marquette, in position to grab a marquee win. They ended up losing by 11, missing a number of shots around the rim in the final minutes. Rick Pitino’s team is now just 2-6 in its past eight games and has to travel to Providence on Tuesday. The Johnnies might be on the wrong side of the bubble as it stands.

Utah Utes: We’ve highlighted the Utes in this section previously, due to their road struggles. But this past week, Utah lost to Arizona and Arizona State at home, bringing the tally up to four losses in its past five games and dropping the Utes to 6-7 in the Pac-12. Most concerning, however, is that their next three games are on the road — where they’re 0-5 in Pac-12 play so far this season.


Power Rankings

1. UConn Huskies (22-2)
Previous ranking:
1
This week: at DePaul (Wednesday), vs. Marquette (Saturday)

Since Donovan Clingan returned from a foot injury that cost him five games in December and January, UConn is No. 2 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency at BartTorvik.com. That includes limiting six of seven opponents to fewer than one point per possession — highlighted by the Huskies holding Creighton to 48 points back on Jan. 17 and Xavier to 22 first-half points on Jan. 28. With Clingan anchoring the paint defense, Xavier shot 3-for-23 on 2-pointers with him on the floor in that game. This past week, it happened again, with Georgetown going 7-for-22 on layups on Saturday.

2. Purdue Boilermakers (22-2)
Previous ranking:
2
This week: vs. Minnesota (Thursday), at Ohio State (Sunday)

Purdue’s lone game this week was a drubbing of Indiana, giving the Boilermakers two 20-point wins over their in-state rivals for the first time since 1933-34, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Zach Edey had 26 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists, but he also did something he had never done in his college career: Make a 3-pointer. Edey’s banked-in trey from the top of the key with 6:35 left in the second half was his first in four years in West Lafayette.

3. Houston Cougars (21-3)
Previous ranking:
7
This week: vs. Texas (Saturday)

While Houston’s defense gets all the headlines, the Cougars’ three key metrics at EvanMiya.com all revolve around their offense. Entering Saturday, all three of their losses this season came when they attempted fewer than 15 free throws, made fewer than 33.3% of their 3-pointers and their opponent committed fewer than 15 fouls. Against Cincinnati on Saturday, however, the Cougars were still able to come out with a win, despite none of those thresholds being met.

4. Marquette Golden Eagles (18-5)
Previous ranking:
5
This week: at Butler (Tuesday), at UConn (Saturday)

Marquette’s winning streak is now at seven games after a comeback to beat St. John’s on Saturday, although road games at Butler and UConn await. The Eagles’ last loss came against Butler more than a month ago, when star guard Tyler Kolek had two points on 1-for-13 shooting. Since that loss, Kolek is averaging 19.7 points and 10.0 assists, shooting 47.4% from 3-point range. He had 27 points, 7 boards and 13 assists against the Johnnies on Saturday.

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Kylan Boswell hits the 3-pointer vs. Colorado Buffaloes

Kylan Boswell hits the 3-pointer vs. Colorado Buffaloes

5. Arizona Wildcats (19-5)
Previous ranking:
8
This week: vs. Arizona State (Saturday)

Kylan Boswell has been at the heart of nearly everything Arizona has done well this season. The sophomore guard had a terrific first month of the season, when the Wildcats were at their best, and has been inconsistent since then — which can also be said for his team. Boswell has averaged just 4.6 points in Arizona’s five losses, with two scoreless outings among those games. But he looks to be rounding back into form, scoring 16 points and making five assists in the triple-overtime win at Utah and then going for 15 points and four dimes at Colorado.

6. North Carolina Tar Heels (19-5)
Previous ranking:
3
This week: at Syracuse (Tuesday), vs. Virginia Tech (Saturday)

Carolina’s aforementioned stunning loss to Clemson on Tuesday was the third game in a row its defense — which had been the catalyst for a 10-game winning streak — allowed more than one point per possession. The Tar Heels returned to form against Miami on Saturday, holding the Hurricanes to 6-for-23 from 3-point range. Offensively, Elliot Cadeau had arguably the best game of his college career, finishing with 19 points and eight assists, while also hitting two 3s for the first time.

7. Kansas Jayhawks (19-5)
Previous ranking:
6
This week: at Texas Tech (Monday), at Oklahoma (Saturday)

Kansas has to hope Dajuan Harris Jr.‘s late-game injury against Baylor doesn’t force him to miss any time moving forward. He finished up the game against the Bears, but we’ll have to monitor his health. Particularly because Kansas doesn’t really have a replacement for him. According to KenPom, Harris has played 90% of the Jayhawks’ point guard minutes over the past five games. He also had two of his better offensive performances in the past week, averaging 14.5 points and 6.5 assists against Kansas State and Baylor.

8. Tennessee Volunteers (17-6)
Previous ranking:
4
This week: at Arkansas (Wednesday), vs. Vanderbilt (Saturday)

Tennessee suffered its worst loss of the season on Saturday, giving up 85 points in a 16-point defeat at Texas A&M. The Vols simply couldn’t contain Wade Taylor IV and Tyrece Radford and really struggled to generate consistent offense at the other end. They went without a field goal for a nine-minute stretch spanning both halves and were just 3-for-15 from 3 for the first 25 minutes. They’ve also now allowed at least 1.20 points per possession twice in the past three games — after allowing just one opponent to hit even 1.10 points per possession in the first 20 games of the campaign.

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Iowa State goes into Texas and grabs win over the Longhorns

Iowa State goes into Texas and grabs win over the Longhorns

9. Iowa State Cyclones (18-5)
Previous ranking:
10
This week: at Cincinnati (Tuesday), vs. Texas Tech (Saturday)

Not dropping Iowa State after its two-point loss at Baylor last weekend looks wise in retrospect, after the Cyclones went on the road and beat Texas, then handled their business against TCU at home on Saturday. Curtis Jones‘ emergence as a reliable producer off the bench in the past three weeks has been a boost for T.J. Otzelberger. The former Buffalo transfer hit double figures in scoring in six of his first 17 games of the season. He now has done it in six straight games, averaging 14.2 points over that span.

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Collin Murray-Boyles fights off defender for and-1

Collin Murray-Boyles fights off defender for and-1

10. South Carolina Gamecocks (20-3)
Previous ranking:
15
This week: at Auburn (Wednesday), vs. LSU (Saturday)

The continued emergence of Collin Murray-Boyles gives Lamont Paris a new dimension at both ends of the floor. In the first 15 games of his college career, the freshman forward averaged 6.5 points and 4.1 rebounds. He scored more than 15 points once during that stretch. In the past three games, though, he’s averaging 21.0 points and 7.0 rebounds and just had 31 points on 14-for-17 shooting in a win over Vanderbilt.

11. Auburn Tigers (19-5)
Previous ranking:
12
This week: vs. South Carolina (Wednesday), vs. Kentucky (Saturday)

It’s going to be hard to find a bigger disparity in performances in a four-day span than Auburn’s this past week. Auburn looked every bit of a national title contender against Alabama, scoring 99 points and holding Bama to one of its worst offensive efforts of the campaign. Three days later, Florida hammered the Tigers in Gainesville, scoring 81 points despite not making a field goal in the final nine minutes. Fortunately, Bruce Pearl’s team returns home for two key games this week.

12. Alabama Crimson Tide (17-7)
Previous ranking:
9
This week: vs. Texas A&M (Saturday)

On Wednesday, Alabama had its worst defensive performance since late in the 2021-22 season, giving up 99 points to Auburn on 1.28 points per possession. Making matters worse, the Tide made just nine 3-pointers, only the third time in their past 12 games they failed to reach double figures in made 3s. The defense wasn’t much better against LSU on Saturday, as the Tigers were able to shoot better than 63% inside the arc after Auburn dominated the paint earlier in the week. The difference was, Alabama made 18 treys at the other end, en route to a program-record 109 points on the road.

13. Duke Blue Devils (18-5)
Previous ranking:
16
This week: vs. Wake Forest (Monday), at Florida State (Saturday)

On a roster without a ton of next-level athleticism or slashing ability, Mark Mitchell has become a real asset offensively for the Blue Devils. He totaled 30 points and 17 rebounds in wins over Notre Dame and Boston College this past week, missing just five shots over the two games. He also hit two 3s against BC, only the second time this season he has made multiple shots from behind the arc. Mitchell’s ability to crash the offensive glass and get to the free throw line to create easy offense is unique for Jon Scheyer’s team.

14. Baylor Bears (17-6)
Previous ranking:
14
This week: vs. Oklahoma (Tuesday), at West Virginia (Saturday)

The Bears’ three-game winning streak came to an end in Lawrence on Saturday, although having two chances to send the game against Kansas to overtime despite missing Langston Love and despite turning the ball over 21 times is a positive sign for the team’s defense. It also helps that Ja’Kobe Walter finally saw the ball go in the hoop a few times, as he had his first double-figure scoring effort (17 points) since Jan. 27. He’s still shooting just 23.7% from 3 in Big 12 play, however.

15. Illinois Fighting Illini (17-6)
Previous ranking:
13
This week: vs. Michigan (Tuesday), at Maryland (Saturday)

Illinois got absolutely blitzed down the stretch of Saturday’s game against Michigan State, giving up 24 points in the final 6:32 — including 13 points in the final 2:15. The defense is something to monitor in the coming weeks, as the Illini have now allowed 1.15 points per possession over their past three games. They also need to get Quincy Guerrier back on track. After averaging 15.8 points and 8.9 boards in an 11-game stretch, he’s at 5.5 points and 4.5 boards in his last four games.

16. Creighton Bluejays (17-7)
Previous ranking:
In the waiting room
This week: vs. Georgetown (Tuesday), at Butler (Saturday)

The Bluejays move from the waiting room into the top 16 despite a loss at Providence, mostly because everyone else around them also lost. CU won at Xavier on Saturday, snapping a two-game losing streak — a one-point loss to Butler and an overtime defeat to the Friars. Greg McDermott has one of the most consolidated offenses in the country, with four players scoring almost all of Creighton’s points, but outside of them, Mason Miller provided a nice lift on Saturday, making three 3s.

Dropped out: Wisconsin Badgers (No. 11)

In the waiting room

Colorado State Rams: After losing four of six games in January, the Rams have now won four in a row, a stretch that includes wins over San Diego State and Boise State. But the next five games will shape the Rams’ fate: at San Diego State, vs. Utah State, at New Mexico, at UNLV, vs. Nevada. We’ll know a lot more about Niko Medved’s team, and their potential March seeding, after this run.

Oklahoma Sooners: The Sooners return to the fold after winning three of four games, with their 16-point win over BYU on Tuesday giving them the edge over the Cougars in the order. They have a brutal few weeks ahead, with trips to Baylor, Oklahoma State and Iowa State and home tilts against Kansas and Houston. Their seeding will shift dramatically after those games.

BYU Cougars: Despite the loss at Oklahoma on Tuesday, the Cougars have won three of their past four and have a pretty manageable — at least in terms of the Big 12 — upcoming schedule. Fousseyni Traore has been a real factor since returning to regular minutes following a hamstring injury: 18.8 points, 7.0 rebounds on 63.8% shooting in his past four games.




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