College Basketball Power Rankings: Baylor proves itself, Arizona + Bama make their case for No. 1


Credit: Baylor Athletics


Every Monday throughout the college basketball season, I will be giving out my Top 25 teams in the country. These rankings will be based on not only wins and your team's current resume but also, how much trust and belief I have in them going forward, coaching, depth and more!


Here was last week's edition.


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1. Baylor (9-0)


Last week, this Top 25 was one of the few editions that had the defending national champion Baylor Bears in the No. 1 spot over Purdue, and it appears as though we were ahead of the curve. There were a few reasons I was so high on Baylor coming into last week. Among them, were the fact that Baylor has really not played a game where it felt like they were even in trouble for a second. In addition, last year Baylor was known for having one of, if not the best defense in all of college basketball and this year might just be better. The 2021-2022 version of Baylor’s defense is longer, deeper and held Villanova to only 36 points which is their lowest number of points scored in a game under Jay Wright and the lowest number of Villanova points in a game since 1979. Scott Drew has an argument for being the best coach in the sport right now, when you consider how good of a job he has done turning this program around from the time he got there, and also maintaining a spot at the top once he’s got there.


2. Arizona (9-0)


There have not been many environments in College Basketball so far this season, better than the one we saw at the State Farm Center Saturday afternoon in Champaign when Arizona went into Illinois and left with a win. First year Head Coach Tommy Lloyd has done a phenomenal job with a handful of players that were left over from Sean Miller’s time in Tucson and just one year after being ineligible from the NCAA Tournament, Arizona is right back in the mix at the top of college hoops. Ben Mathurin, who is a future NBA lottery pick, had 30 points on 10/17 from the field, while point guard Kerr Kriisa made several big plays late after struggling in the first half. These Wildcats have scoring, size and depth with Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko providing toughness. In only the first year of the Lloyd era, the fact that Arizona is playing this well already should give Wildcat fans bright, bright hope for the future.


3. Alabama (8-1)


Nate Oats' Crimson Tide added another marquee victory to their resume this past weekend, with a win over Houston. In a very exciting basketball game with a controversial finish, Alabama’s guards were the reason why the Tide were able to come out on top against a really good team for the second game in a row. Jahvon Quinerly was the best player on the floor in this one and really did a good job controlling the game from start to finish. While watching him at Villanova, I never thought it would be this enjoyable watching him play basketball, but this Alabama system fits his style of play perfectly. Jaden Shackelford had 18 points and five made three pointers, after an off-season where most forget that Oats actually had to re-recruit Shackelford as he entered the transfer portal after the end of last season. It’s been the ability to make moves like that which has made Nate Oats establish himself as one of the best coaches in college basketball. Plus, he is only in his third year in Tuscaloosa. This program isn't going anywhere. Alabama fans need to realize just how good they have it with this guy running things.

4. Duke (7-1)


The Blue Devils have not seen the floor in the last week or since their 71-66 loss to Ohio State on November 30th. Entering that contest, fresh off their win against Gonzaga, Duke looked like they might just be the team to beat in College Basketball this season but since there have been a handful of other teams that have entered a possible conversion with Duke at the top. Duke will close out their non-conference portion of the schedule this week, with games against South Carolina State, Appalachian State and Cleveland State before hosting Virginia Tech on December 22nd to start ACC play. There are some issues that Duke showed in the Ohio State game that need to be fixed which starts with the lack of depth this Devils team has outside their top 5-6 guys. Even with a solid big in Theo John, they aren't getting enough scoring off the bench and a healthy AJ Griffin should provide that, but Griffin only played two minutes against Ohio State. Hopefully, after a long time period between games Griffin will be making an impact Tuesday against South Carolina State.


5. Kansas (8-1)


The loss to Dayton earlier in the season was a tad concerning for the Jayhawks, but they have shown way too many other good signs throughout the start of the season to not be included at the top of this list. Since the loss to Dayton, Kansas has picked up victories over Iona, St Johns and lately this past weekend against Missouri. It was great to see a traditional rivalry game with so much history being played, but this one was never close as Kansas won 102-65. While many expected Remy Martin to be the second option scoring the ball behind Ochai Agbaji, it’s been the local kid Christian Braun who has made a big-time impact for these Jayhawks. Braun has some of that Tyler Herro swagger in his game and is never afraid to take a big shot. Combine that with Agbaji looking smarter and smarter by the day to stay in college and wait one more year for the NBA Draft and these Jayhawks will be right in the conversation to finish on top of the Big 12.


6. Gonzaga (8-2)


The Bulldogs were scheduled to face in-state rival Washington on Sunday, however that contest was cancelled due to a COVID-19 problem within the Huskies program. Earlier this week, Gonzaga did pick up an 80-55 victory over Merrimack. I understand why there are some Gonzaga fans who may be a tad disappointed by the way the last couple weeks have gone as against Texas and UCLA, there were Bulldogs fans asking themselves if this team could be better than last year’s historically great team that made it all the way to the National Championship. As crazy as this sounds however, Gonzaga actually playing teams like UCLA, Duke and Alabama that actually gave them legitimate games and challenges is much better than blowing everyone out going forward. If Gonzaga and Baylor’s matchup last year in December wasn’t cancelled and Baylor ran the Bulldogs off the floor like they did in the National Championship, Gonzaga definitely comes into the National Championship game more prepared. Plus, with more teams fighting with the Bulldogs at the top there will be less pressure on everyone. With the WCC looking improved as a league Gonzaga is in a good spot going forward.


7. Purdue (9-1)


It hasn't been the best week for the Boilermakers as after being voted No. 1 in the AP Poll for the first time in school history, they lost on a heartbreaking buzzer beater to Rutgers and almost lost to a so-so NC State team at the Barclays Center on Sunday. These results weren’t completely shocking to me as Purdue had a tough time completely putting away North Carolina until late, were down eight late in the second half to Villanova and almost fumbled the game away against Iowa when they didn't have Keegan Murray. Against Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights and Boilers went back and forth, but being in a close game late finally cost Purdue. After Trevion Williams may have given Purdue the lead for good after a basket in the post with about 3.5 seconds left, Rutgers came away victorious after Ron Harper Jr. nailed the buzzer beater heard ‘round the world. The Boilermakers deserve some credit for coming back against NC State in a low energy environment when their guards couldn't’ get anything going thanks to Trevion Williams. Williams had 22 and 12 against NC State and was the flat-out strongest player on the floor. The Boilers are really good but will take some losses in the Big 10, with some of the toughest road environments in the country like Rutgers on Thursday Night.

8. UCLA (8-1)


One of the more impressive victories of the weekend that not a lot of people will talk about was UCLA going on the road into Marquette and destroying an overachieving Golden Eagle team. Which makes this even more impressive, was the game was originally scheduled for 2:30 PM ET but had to be moved to 9:30 PM ET due to these travel issues. The Bruins showed it didn’t matter what time this game was being played as they beat Marquette 67-56, but that final score is not accurately representing just how dominant UCLA was in this game. Jaime Jaquez Jr. who has proven himself to be the most important UCLA player for Mick Cronin had 24 points and 11 rebounds. Anytime Jaquez plays well, the Bruins seem to follow suit as he was a factor in UCLA's marquee win over Villanova earlier this season. Since that Villanova win and a loss to Gonzaga, the Bruins have been a little bit off the radar but that will change as UCLA will take on North Carolina in Las Vegas on Saturday, before hosting the team right up there with them at the top of the Pac 12 in Arizona to open up Pac 12 play on December 30th.


9. Auburn (8-1)


The Tigers' only game of this past week was against a Nebraska team that has not only really struggled to start off the season, but they have been fat out bad. However, that doesn’t make what Auburn did to them in the Tigers 99-68 victory any less impressive. Jabari Smith is playing like he could have a legitimate argument to go No. 1 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft and the guard depth that this Auburn team has is legitimate. KD Johnson is one of the more underrated transfer portal pickups from this past offseason, as he is averaging 15 points per game. Zep Jasper, Devan Cambridge, Wendell Green and Lior Berman all played quality minutes in the win over Nebraska and starting point guard Allen Flannigan isn't even healthy yet. The way Auburn just pounded Nebraska, should have made it very clear to everyone that Auburn can absolutely win the SEC and are one of the better teams in the sport. Bruce Pearl has done a phenomenal job over the past 3-4 years accomplishing things like getting to the Final Four and winning the SEC regular season and tournament Championships with Auburn. With legitimate talent on this version of Auburn the sky's the limit.


10. Houston (8-2)


Even though the Cougars did lose an absolute heartbreaker on Saturday night against Alabama they did show some things that were very encouraging and should make Cougar fans feel pretty good going forward. Last year, this Cougars squad was able to get all the way to the Final Four based on their rebounding and toughness. Those two things have not gone anywhere as Houston outrebounded Alabama 38-30 and 17-5 in the offensive rebounding category which really helped keep the Cougars in the game. Having a guy like J’Wan Roberts who only averaged 1.9 points in 10.8 minutes last year come off the bench and give you nine points and 13 rebounds in a game like this is valuable. Marcus Sasser also continues to prove that he is not only an NBA caliber player but also one of the best point guards in college basketball. His ability to create open shots for himself and others has been key in Houston’s early success. Never pick anyone not named Houston to win the AAC as long as Kelvin Sampson is in charge because every year Houston seems to lose a lot of talent, but is also able to rebound and have his program right back in the conversation at the top of the sport.


11. Villanova (7-3)


You have to give Jay Wright credit for putting his Villanova team in so many marquee, big time games this season. Villanova has picked up quality victories over Tennessee and Syracuse but have now also lost to the three best teams they have played this season in UCLA, Villanova and Baylor. What made the losses to UCLA and Purdue so frustrating was that throughout the first 30 minutes of each game Villanova looked to be the better team but their lack of depth and only playing about 6 guys really cost them in the end. The good news for Villanova is that earlier this week against Syracuse senior Forward Dhamir Cosby- Roundtree - who was a part of the 2018 National Championship Villanova team and hasn’t seen any action since late last season - returned to the lineup. Cosby-Roundtree gives a team with not much depth some much needed help especially on defense in the middle protecting the rim and proving size. The bad news is that Villanova played Baylor on Sunday and it was Villanova’s worst offensive performance under Jay Wright. Their 36 points against Baylor was tied for the fewest points by an AP-Top 10 team in the shot clock era. Villanova will be fine in the big picture, but the Big East is too good of a league not to take some losses and giving up the games against UCLA and Purdue may come back to haunt them.


12. Seton Hall (9-1)


Not many teams in the sport had a better week than Seton Hall, as the Pirates were victorious in the Big 12/ Big East Challenge with a 64-60 win over Texas, and then picked up a victory over a rival Rutgers team that just upset Purdue. The number of options this Pirates depth has lineup wise, gives them the ability to play so many different ways and they haven’t even been fully healthy yet for a lot of these big games. Forward Ike Obiagu, who is one of, if not the best, rim protector in the country was injured early in the game against Texas and was only able to play 5 minutes. Bryce Aiken, who has had a tough time staying healthy throughout the course of his college career wasn’t 100% but was able to give it a go against Texas and even though he wasn't great early he did finish the game with 10 points including the game-sealing three pointer to put Seton Hall up four in the last minute. In the Pirates one loss, Myles Cale was injured early in the first half and I have a feeling the game could have gone in a different direction if Cale was out there. As great of a run as it has been for Kevin Willard at Seton Hall, he has been waiting for that one deep long NCAA Tournament run that could have happened in 2020 when the NCAA Tournament was cancelled. This year could be the year he’s been waiting for.


13. Ohio State (8-2)


What makes the start of the season for the Buckeyes even more impressive than most would realize is that they are already a significantly better team on December 12th than they we’re on the opening night of the season. On opening night, Ohio State came very close to losing to Akron, but escaped thanks to a Zed Key buzzer beater. That is not the same team that has already picked up victories over Seton Hall, Duke and Wisconsin. No one should be surprised about this turnaround though, because that is exactly what Chris Holtmann does each and every year in Columbus. Take a team with some talent that should be good but nothing special, and make them great. EJ Liddell is a prime example of someone that when he started out playing for Holtmann was good but has developed into great. The 6’7 Junior is averaging 20.6 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and 2.7 assists per game. Those numbers and popping off the TV screen every time you watch him, might have put EJ Liddell as the early favorite for the Wooden Award. He outplayed the guy who most people thought was the best player in the Big 10 in Johnny Davis on Saturday. Liddell along with this Buckeye team is that good.


14. Colorado State (10-0)


This past offseason there were 13 new coaches hired to take over basketball programs at the Power 5 level. Maybe Niko Medved realized just how special this Colorado State team could be this season and that is why he didn’t leave. But if there were 13 Athletic Directors that really thought that the candidate they bought in is a better coach and program builder than Medved, it is more than likely that a majority of them will be mistaken. Medved now has his Rams team at 10-0 overall after their comeback win on Saturday against Mississippi State in Fort Worth Texas. This was the kind of game that looked to be the one the Rams might finally lose against a big and talented SEC opponent in a game that was being played in SEC country. Colorado State trailed 51-44 midway through the second half. However, the Rams have so many guys that can beat you including Isaiah Stevens who hit the game ceiling three pointer with less than a minute to go to put the Rams up by 4. Josh Tonje and Dischon Thomas also hit some big-time shots down the stretch to help David Roddy and his 19 points. There aren’t many players in the sport right now better than Roddy as the Mountain West officially runs through Fort Collins Colorado until further notice.

15. Texas Tech (7-1)


It wasn’t the prettiest of games but Texas Tech was able to find a way to beat Tennessee at the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden this past Tuesday. The win was not only the Red Raiders best win on the Red Raiders' resume to start the season but it was also the Red Raiders first marquee win under first year head coach Mark Adams. This Adams hire has gotten off to a really good start from a Texas Tech perspective and it makes sense. When a guy like Chris Beard comes out of nowhere and turns around a Texas Tech basketball program that hadn’t been good in a while even though it hurt when he left, this program needed to keep his DNA. There was no better guy to bring in than Adams as Beard’s former defensive coordinator has his Red Raiders defending their tails off to start the season including holding Tennessee to 52 points on 22% from the field including overtime.


16. LSU (9-0)


Not enough people are talking about the start that Will Wade and his club has gotten off to as they improved to 9-0 after their victory against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Early in the game, it was a struggle for LSU as they trailed Georgia Tech 24-9 at one point in the first half. To me though, it’s not how you start it is how you finish, especially when you face adversity in the way. If you are able to find a way to get past that adversity and find a way to win when it’s not your best night. Those are the kind of wins that make me impressed and that is exactly what the Tigers delivered as they outscored Georgia Tech 39-19 in the second half. Cincinnati transfer Tari Eason is a name that all SEC fans should know about as he is a problem when you have to guard him. Eason had 23 points in 27 minutes of action in the win over Georgia Tech. LSU’s resume doesn’t have wins over the best teams, but they were able to beat Wake Forest who is the surprise team in the ACC and the Tigers have wins over good mid majors Belmont and Liberty. Will Wade and LSU are going to be a problem in the SEC and they’re the sleeper team in that league right now.


17. UConn (9-2)


In their first week without key players Adama Songo and Tyrese Martin, UConn was able to split games between West Virginia in Morgantown and St. Bonaventure in the Never Forget Classic in Newark, NJ. Although it was overall a good week for the Huskies the loss to West Virginia did hurt as they turned the ball over 14 times and missed some looks at the rim. The Huskies did respond nicely against a quality St Bonaventure team though as four players, RJ Cole, Tyler Polley, Akok Akok and Jordan Hawkins all scored in double digits. Those contributors alone, show you just how deep this UConn team is even with the injuries. RJ Cole is a weapon for Danny Hurley running the offense and is a cold-blooded shot maker. His presence in the lineup alone will win games for the Huskies. UConn finishes the non-conference portion of their schedule 9-2 with wins over Auburn, St Bonaventure and VCU and losses to Michigan State and West Virginia.


18. Xavier (9-1)


The amount of talent on this Xavier basketball team is insane. Travis Steele hasn’t done much as a head coach for me to put a team he coaches this high but the overall talent level of this team was on full display in their blowout win in The Crosstown Shootout over rival Cincinnati. The Crosstown shootout is one of those games where the rivalry is so big that you usually throw each team's record going into the game out the window and expect an all-out war. This wasn’t a war though. Xavier just dominated from start to finish. Iowa transfer Jack Nunge led Xavier with 31 points and 15 rebounds in the rivalry game win. Nunge has always been a solid player but never got that opportunity to shine while playing behind Luka Garza at Iowa. Now, even in a crowded Xavier frontcourt he is a key piece. On any given night Paul Scruggs or Nate Johnson or Colby Jones or Jack Nunge can take over a game. Preseason All Big East First Team member Zach Freemantle is now healthy and in the mix. Watch out because Xavier is coming.


19. Iowa State (10-0)


Unlike many other Top 25 rankings this is going to be Iowa State’s first time making an appearance. No one in America has done a better coaching job this season than first year Cyclone coach TJ Otzelberger. Even though Otz, is a former Iowa State assistant there were some people doubtful that he did enough at UNLV to earn a Big 12 job and anyone following Big 12 or College Basketball didn’t even consider that Otzelberger can turn around an Iowa State team that finished last season with a 2-22 overall record and 0-18 in the Big 12. However, after wins over Xavier, Memphis, Creighton and Iowa here we are. Anytime Iowa State is on the court and they need someone to deliver, they get that production. Whether it was Izaiah Brockington against Xavier dropping 30, Gabe Kalscheur against Memphis dropping 30, Caleb Grill against Creighton with 16 key points off the bench, this team always finds a way to deliver.


20. Kentucky (7-2)


I still believe in the talent on this Kentucky team. Oscar Tshiebwe is the best rebounder in college basketball, TyTy Washington is a bucket and when Sahvir Wheeler, Kellen Grady and Keion Brooks are your role players that is more than enough. But Kentucky just flat out didn’t look ready for Notre Dame. Kentucky had shown some good signs since the opening night loss to Duke in the Champions Classic but how seriously should those signs be taken considering the competition or lack thereof Kentucky has faced since the Champions Classic. If the Wildcats looked overwhelmed by Notre Dame's speed and pace, what is going to happen when they play Alabama? John Calipari has won enough games over the course of his coaching career that I still believe in him to figure it out with this talent on the roster. However, when you shoot 2/17 from three and need offense in the worst way, not playing Dontaie Allen is a move that should be questioned. Kentucky needs to figure it out and quickly with Ohio State and Louisville upcoming. The Wildcats need some positive momentum and more importantly a non-conference resume.


21. USC (10-0)


In a similar way to LSU, USC is another team that just simply isn’t getting enough attention among the national College Basketball landscape. It is understandable, not only due to the fact that most of USC’s games tip after 10:00 PM ET but also that the Pac 12 just flat out isn’t very good this year after finding a way to get 4 teams into the Sweet 16 last year. USC along with Arizona and UCLA are the only three good teams in the league right now and that is great for USC who can take advantage of that opportunity. USC’s schedule hasn’t been too challenging to start but they have picked up wins over San Diego State, at Temple and at Washington State which is a tough road conference game against an improving team. The one-two punch of Boogie Ellis and Isaiah Mobley have been working great together on offense plus Drew Peterson has only gotten better and better since he transferred to USC from Rice. Peterson is averaging 10.4 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game and is a heck of a player. This is a Trojan team that should be able to take advantage of a light Pac 12 schedule and as long as they can win a game or two against UCLA and or Arizona I like where they stand.


22. Michigan State (9-2)


In a similar way to their Big 10 foe Ohio State, Michigan State has only gotten better since the start of the season. Teams coached by Tom Izzo have consistently shown the ability to get better and better as the season goes on and that will not change with this Michigan State team. A handful of players in the Big Ten including Cedric Russell of Ohio State, Devante Jones of Michigan and Tyson Walker of Michigan State transferred up to the league this year coming from Mid Major schools and have had a hard time adjusting to a league that is as good and as physical as the Big Ten. After a rough start to the season, it has looked like Tyson Walker has turned a corner by playing like a real pass first point guard after having nine assists in this past weekend's victory against Penn State and 10 assists in last week's victory against Louisville. Marcus Bingham also looks like one of the more improved players in the country averaging 10.3 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. His offensive rebounding ability is a game changer.


23. Texas (6-2)


In the second marquee game that Texas has played this season against Seton Hall, it was the same result and the same feeling of frustration as the first. However, on a night when the Longhorns shot eight percent from three, they did only lose by four and were in the game the whole way on the road and at least figured some things out. Utah transfer, Timmy Allen seems to be the go-to scoring option as he had 17 points on 8/15 shooting from the field. UMass transfer Tre Mitchell also made a significant impact on the offensive end with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Texas is a team full of transfers and a first-year head coach that have never played with each other before. It was going to take some time for everyone to figure out a role but Marcus Carr needs to be better. The highly touted Minnesota transfer had a combined 21 points in Texas’ two marquee games against Gonzaga and Seton Hall. I trust Chris Beard and the talent on this team to keep them ranked but it’s getting a little late to not have any big wins and the Big 12 is a tough league. Longhorns in a similar way to Kentucky just need some positive momentum in the worst way.


24. North Carolina (7-2)


It was a light week for Hubert Davis’ Tar Heels as they picked up an 80-63 victory over Elon in their only contest. North Carolina showed many flashes against Michigan and Georgia Tech that should leave fans encouraged especially when they play in an ACC that could be historically bad given the league's standards. Legitimate arguments can be made that Louisville, Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia and Virginia Tech have all underachieved to start league play. That is already when Syracuse is down considering the sleeping giant that program is. Even with a first year Head Coach in Hubert Davis there is no excuse for North Carolina not to finish in at least 2nd place let alone top 4 in the league. Caleb Love is playing like one of the best point guards in the country averaging 17 points per game and 4 assists per game.


25. Illinois (7-3)


The Illini are the only 3 loss team in these rankings not named Villanova but they are without a doubt one of the 25 best teams in the country right now even after their loss to Arizona. Earlier in the week Illinois was able to pick up a conference road win at Iowa in which they showed many good things that translated to the Arizona game. Guards Alfonso Plummer and Trent Frazier are giving Illinois much better spacing then last years team that finished with a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Both of these guards' ability to create offense off of the bounce is a total game changer for the Illini. Trent Frazier is playing his 5th year of College Basketball and he has always been really good. However, this is the first time in his career that he is playing at an all conference caliber level. Alfonso Plummer has done a great job running the offense with the loss of Preseason First Team All Big Ten Point Guard Andre Curbelo. To have these guards around a big like Kofi Cockburn is a luxury he has never had in his career. Big picture. If you were to give me one Big Ten team that I thought had the best chance to knock off current frontrunner Purdue it’s Illinois. Arizona was able to go into a tough environment and make tough shots. One of those games where you tip your hat and move on.


Follow Zac Krull on Twitter @ZKrull3


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