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College Basketball Power Rankings: Kentucky and Providence rising + welcome to the poll Murray State

Credit: Kentucky 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!

1. Auburn (20-1)

Just when you thought the past week and change couldn't have gotten better for Auburn, Athletic Director Allen Greene announced on Friday Night Bruce Pearl will be coaching on the Plains for a “long, long, time" - essentially giving Pearl a lifetime extension. With Louisville (and Maryland) rumors swirling it wasn't only well-deserved, but necessary from Auburn, as Pearl’s energy and passion for the Auburn program is exactly what any football school who wants to focus on basketball should be looking for. Auburn won 20 games just once in the 11 seasons before Pearl's arrival. Then he won an SEC regular season title in 2018, made the school's first Final Four in 2019 and in 2020 won 25 games before the NCAA Tournament is postposed. With Auburn picking up victories over Missouri and Oklahoma this past week, and Pearl here for the long term, let the good times keep on rolling in Auburn. An in-state showdown with Alabama awaits Tuesday.

2. Gonzaga (17-2)

Even with BYU, San Francisco and St Mary’s all expected to and still having realistic NCAA Tournament aspirations, it is clear none of them are close to the same level as these Bulldogs. Gonzaga is now 6-0 in the WCC following Saturday’s win over Portland and the six wins are coming by an average of 29 points. Chet Holmgren’s performance against Portland was very encouraging, with 4 made threes and 11 rebounds. Chet is still going to be a Top 3 pick in the NBA Draft but playing late out west combined with the play of Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero, it seems as though Holmgren is a bit of a forgotten man - which might not be a bad thing. Gonzaga still has to play road games against all three of those quality opponents, and hopefully with these games coming late, they will be a good warm up for the Bulldogs before they enter March. As great of a program as Gonzaga is, not playing elite teams late has cost them the last handful of March’s. There is no doubt that this team is good enough to win a National Championship, but the question will still remain if they can win six consecutive games against the best in the NCAA Tournament. The Zags next big test comes Saturday when they travel to Provo to face BYU.

3. Arizona (17-2)

The Wildcats did suffer their second loss of the season on Tuesday at UCLA. As bad of a performance as it was for the Wildcats, this was going to be the toughest challenge they faced in Pac 12 play, especially with fans returning to Pauley Pavillion. It turned out to be their worst game of the season as Arizona shot just 31 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. In addition, point guard Kerr Kriisa played the worst game of his career, which included 0 of 12 shooting from the field, and 0 of 9 from three. There is zero chance, he will play that poorly again this season. Arizona did struggle on Saturday at times in a rivalry game against Arizona State but still won, and now get set for a rematch this Thursday with UCLA, this time at home. The emergence of Gonzaga transfer Oumar Ballo has the potential to give this Arizona team another weapon that can do serious damage. Ballo has now scored in double digits in three of Arizona’s last four games and is giving Arizona some much needed production off the bench. With the only small flaw for Arizona leading up to this point, being not too much bench production outside of Pelle Larsson, Ballo’s production is much needed. The Wildcats host UCLA and USC in a pivotal pair of Pac-12 games this weekend.

4. Kentucky (17-4)

There hasn’t been a more impressive performance in college basketball this season than the one we saw from Kentucky on Saturday at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. After failing to win some of their early road games against quality teams including Auburn, LSU and Notre Dame, Kentucky was in need of a big-time road performance and that is exactly what happened. Kentucky not only beat Kansas, but it felt like the game was over, before it really even started. Kentucky was able to stretch their lead all the way to 12 midway through the first half and never looked back. Junior Forward Keion Brooks, put together a performance for the ages, with a career high 27 points along with eight rebounds. It was great to see a kid like Brooks, who has been through so much adversity during his years in Lexington have a moment like that. It is now clear that when Kentucky’s top dogs of Tshiebwe, Washington, Wheeler, Grady, Brooks and Toppin are healthy this is a tough team to beat. Although Kentucky doesn’t have the fourth best resume in the country, overall resume is not the only thing factored into these rankings. There is zero doubt that Kentucky is one of the best teams in college basketball which John Calipari deserves much more credit for, after last year's disastrous campaign. The Wildcats are home versus Vanderbilt mid-week and travel to Alabama on Saturday.

5. Purdue (18-3)

At this point, Purdue has to be one of the more intriguing and polarizing teams in all of college. There were some points Iowa and Ohio State this past week, where Purdue looked like they could be the best team in the country. On the other side, Purdue was up 52-32 with 14:35 remaining and basically needed a buzzer beater to top them. Therefore, while I can pick the Boilers apart, I have to credit them for putting together a resume worthy of a No. 1 or 2 seed in the tournament. Now the question becomes, is Purdue the team best suited to end the Big Ten's championship drought since 2000? Jaden Ivey is an assassin with the ball in his hands, Trevion Williams is the best passing big in college hoops, Sasha Stefonovic knows how to make clutch shots. Matt Painter has an argument to be the best coach in college hoops who hasn't made a Final Four, and hopefully one day will come. Coaching this group of guys may just be Painter’s best chance to get there, but again, every time you watch them you can't help but think, “Wow they showed flashes but imagine they are able to do this consistently.” There was some concern, after almost blowing the lead to Ohio State, but you will never apologize for a road win in the Big Ten.

6. UCLA (16-2)

After weeks of not knowing who or what exactly Mick Cronin’s team was, we finally saw them back in a big game in a normal environment on Tuesday Night against Arizona and they absolutely dominated in a 16-point victory. It was so impressive seeing flashes of the same Bruins team that made it to the Final Four last year, against Arizona as the Bruins dominated the game from start to finish. Going into the game even though both Arizona and UCLA were considered by most to be the 2 best teams in the Pac 12, we had already seen Arizona hit that other gear that only the best teams can hit. Up until Tuesday, UCLA hadn’t been able to show that gear but a lot of that had to do with the long COVID pause and not playing in front of fans to start Pac 12 play. That is what made the game against Arizona so intriguing, and Pauley Pavilion lived up to the hype. There is a reason why UCLA never left the top of these rankings, after the odd circumstances to open the season. With Mick Cronin and these veterans back on board, UCLA is in a great position going into February. Now, they travel to Tucson for a return game against Arizona this week.

7. Duke (17-3)

While Duke was in control of their game at Louisville for most of the day Saturday, they really weren't all that impressive. However, that changed in a big way when Duke ended the game on a 14-5 run to secure the win, and they showed the same flashes of greatness as they did in the victory over Gonzaga. When Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin and Mark Williams are all active at the rim and making shots like they were against Louisville, then watch out. Griffin was phenomenal against Louisville, shooting a perfect 5 for 5 from three and scoring 22 points. Earlier in the week, when Duke barely found a way to beat Clemson at home and combined losses to Florida State Ohio State and Miami there was some reason for concern. Duke seems like a team that has been sleepwalking a little bit through the ACC, which won’t necessarily hurt them that much considering they are by far and away the best team. However, the question is will they be able to show the flashes we saw against Louisville for six games in March? Duke's first game against North Carolina comes next Saturday.

8. Baylor (18-3)

Although Baylor was able to get James Akinjo and Jeremy Sochan back in the lineup and healthy on Saturday against Alabama, they suffered their third loss of the season in what was a bad day for the Big 12. What's more concerning however is that the loss on Saturday to Alabama wasn’t even the most concerning thing for Baylor coming out of the game. Instead, the attention has shifted to leading scorer LJ Cryer, who missed the game with a foot injury. Cryer’s status for Monday Night against West Virginia is unknown, but with Baylor already losing freshman Langston Love for the season and Dain Dainja transferring, all of these losses may start to take a toll. Thankfully, Akinjo and Sochan did return against Alabama, and should continue to get healthy. Scott Drew’s team may not be the top team to beat, that many people thought they could be at one point earlier in the season, but they will still compete for the Big 12 title with Kansas. Speaking of Kansas, they head to Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday - the place where the Bears first arrived as a national power back in 2020 when they pulled off the upset in Lawrence. The 2022 Bears will have that same chance to prove themselves at the Phog, just like Kentucky did on Saturday.

9. Houston (18-2)

There are very few teams in the country that could have just lost a potential All American candidate in Marcus Sasser, and just have another player in Kyler Edwards step up and say “Ok, now it’s my turn” and run with it. Following the losses of Sasser and key contributor Tramon Mark, Houston is now 10-0 and have not lost a conference game in the process. This is just one year after making a Final Four and losing NBA players Quentin Grimes and Dejan Jarreau. The more you watch Kelvin Sampson coach, the more clear it becomes that he might just be one of the three or four best coaches in the sport. If Houston is going to be challenged at all in the American Athletic Conference, one possible spot that could have been a little tough was Saturday Night’s game against UCF. After finding themselves down 9-2 at the first media timeout, Houston’s energy was shot out of a cannon, they took a lead and never relinquished the rest of the game. With Edwards becoming the go to guy, and others such as Jamal Shead, Fabian White and Josh Carlton continuing to get better and better, it would be surprising if Houston loses more than two or three games for the remainder of the season. With the amount of chaos and parody surrounding the Power 6 level, assuming Houston keeps on winning they are a pretty good bet to ultimately earn a high seed on Selection Sunday. Despite all of the injuries, with Kelvin Sampson in charge, these Cougars are not going anywhere.

10. Providence (18-2)

KenPom can be a very helpful tool, with a lot of very valuable and good information. Although, they do have one statistic that doesn’t add up and that is that Providence is ranked No. 1 in their “luck metric.” Yet when Providence is on the floor however, it is clear that the Friars success is not luck. The Big East is a league where there are so many close games that come down to the wire and Providence knows how to win them. Against Xavier, after leading for most of the game, Providence was able to respond to adversity and find a way to win on the road after Jared Bynum hit the clutch step back three to ice the game. It was the same Sunday against Marquette, where the Friars trailed for most of the first 30 minutes, but rallied for victory. So many guys including Noah Horchler, Justin Minaya along with Bynum have stepped up in a big way and now that AJ Reeves is back, this team looks to be the team to beat in the Big East. Providence is now 7-0 in games decided by five points or less and that is not just luck. While in some instances that could be considered luck, it is evident when this Friar team takes the floor, they can beat anyone and are well deserving of this ranking.

11. Kansas (17-3)

It was a busy week at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks needed overtime to beat Texas Tech and then - as mentioned above - lost to Kentucky on Saturday. The question for Kansas has never been talent and that holds true with this group. However, even in their wins of late they have not been particularly impressive and when Ochai Agbaji is having an off night, how are they going to be able to win games? Senior big man, David McCormack - who most Jayhawk fans would agree needs to be at his best for Kansas to compete for a title - has been way too inconsistent. He barely touched the floor in the second half of the Kentucky game and finished with only three points in 16 minutes. This weekend’s game at home against Baylor, is going to be a huge litmus test for both sides, as even though there is plenty of reason to still think each will win the Big 12, there are also some concerns following Saturday’s losses. Prior to the Baylor game, Kansas has to focus on their game Tuesday Night at Hilton Coliseum against Iowa State. This is the same Iowa State team that took Kansas all the way down to the wire before losing by one at the Phog just a few weeks ago. This upcoming week is a big one for the Jayhawks, with two huge tests following Saturday’s blowout loss to Kentucky.

12. Texas Tech (16-5)

It is very rare that after watching a game you come away more impressed with the team that lost than the team that won. That is exactly what happened with Texas Tech following their overtime loss at Kansas. While Terrence Shannon Jr. and Kevin McCullar were expected to be the go-to guys on the offensive end for Mark Adams, it has been Bryson Williams who has taken on that role and is very slowly becoming an absolute star. The fifth-year senior, who played his first two years of college at Fresno State, while playing the last two years at UTEP is Texas Tech’s answer every time they need a basket. What made Monday’s game so impressive for Williams, was how he was able to score from inside, mid-range and from deep. Williams finished with 33 points, while shooting 14/19 from the field and a perfect 4/4 from three-point range. Mark Adams continues to play with about 10 guys, and it is because of that depth that Texas Tech never runs out of energy on the defensive end of the floor. Tech responded nicely following the Kansas loss by blowing out Mississippi State in the Big 12/ SEC challenge. Now comes this week where one of the most intriguing games of the season will take place in Lubbock, as Tech hosts Texas and their former coach Chris Beard. The atmosphere for Tuesday Night should be off the charts, as Texas Tech has very quickly developed one of the best home court advantages in all of college basketball. Tickets are apparently, very hard to come by.

13. Wisconsin (16-3)

The Badgers were able to take care of business this week, with wins over Nebraska and Minnesota. Although these two wins weren’t the best basketball that Wisconsin has played all season, the fact that they are still right up there in terms of teams at the top of the Big Ten is so impressive considering expectations. Two of Wisconsin's next 3 games will be on the road against Illinois and Michigan State. If the Badgers are just able to find a way to win one of those games, that stretch will be considered a success, especially considering Michigan State just became the first team in Big Ten to beat Wisconsin at the Kohl Center last week. Thankfully for Wisconsin, Tyler Wahl was able to return to the lineup for both games this past week after missing the loss to Michigan State. It is clear just how important Wahl’s overall presence impacts the Badgers, as things start to open up and other players seem to play better with Wahl in the lineup. Whether or not Johnny Davis had enough help around him has been one of the concerns for Wisconsin, and the results have varied up to this point. We'll start to get clarification in the coming week. These two upcoming games will tell us a lot about just exactly how good these Badgers are.

14. Villanova (16-5)

One thing about Villanova that cannot be denied is that they do respond to adversity really well. Following their heartbreaking loss to Marquette, Villanova has since won three Big East Conference games in a row in anticipation for a big week coming up. The Wildcats will travel to Marquette on Wednesday Night in an attempt to get some revenge on the same team that won on their home floor last week. On Saturday, Villanova will host a red-hot UConn team that is finally healthy. Considering Villanova and UConn have not matched up in Big East play yet and what happened last week against Marquette, Villanova should be out for blood in what will be one of their bigger stretches of the season, with Providence still ahead of them in the Big East standings. Depth has always been a concern for this Villanova team, but as the season has gone on they are starting to get some more production off the bench. Caleb Daniels, who has had some moments this season, but has yet to really get it going consistently stepped up in a big-time way against St John's with 15 points off the bench. In addition, Freshman Jordan Longino is starting to see the floor a little more, in an attempt to get some Villanova some more pop off the bench. Villanova’s starters can match up with any team in the country, however the concern is if one or two of them have an off night will there be enough production to match it? The depth is finally starting to come at Villanova.

15. UConn (15-4)

The more time goes on, the more you start to realize that the only team in College Basketball to have a win over the No. 1 ranked Auburn Tigers is UConn. What makes that even more interesting, is that it came at the Battle 4 Atlantis, in November, which was really the last time this UConn was fully healthy. With Adama Sonogo and Tyrese Martin, now back in the picture and looking 100 percent healthy, the Huskies have won 5 games in a row, before the competition really starts to gear up this week with games against Creighton and Villanova on the horizon. There is no reason to think that this UConn team can’t compete with Villanova and Providence at the top of the Big East, and from a national perspective, UConn might just be one of the more undervalued teams in the country, as they have only lost one game at full strength, in overtime to Seton Hall right after Sanogo came back from injury and the team came off a Covid pause. The top of the Big East looks to be establishing themselves quickly with UConn joined by Providence, Villanova, Marquette and possibly Xavier. Even with all of the injuries faced earlier in the season, UConn’s resume has a lot of good wins in addition to Auburn which also includes a win at Marquette. With a big time performance over the next two weeks, Danny Hurley’s team can finally start to approach the national radar, as the Huskies might be one of the best teams in all of college basketball. We have just yet to see them play a really good team at full strength, since November and thankfully that will finally change this week.

16. Illinois (15-5)

Two Friday's ago Illinois lost without Kofi Cockburn, but to its credit, they went 2-0 this past week

with wins over Michigan State and Northwestern - both again, without Kofi. This is an encouraging sign considering that earlier in the season Illinois also lost to a really good Marquette team without Kofi, and hadn’t shown they were capable of beating anyone, let alone good teams without Kofi in the lineup. Against Michigan State, Illinois’ guards came out firing, and that didn’t include Andre Curbelo who has missed the past two games with an illness. Especially without Kofi, the Illini are at their best when guys like Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer making shots, and both of them combined for 27 of Illinois’ 55 points to give them a close victory in a low scoring affair. Looking ahead, it is going to be important for the Illini to defend home court. They already have two losses in Champaign (although in their defense they were to Arizona and Purdue, two of the best teams in the country), with Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa all coming before the end of the season. Michigan State was a good start, but it needs to continue in what is a busy week. They host the Badgers and go to Indiana this week.

17. Michigan State (16-4)

The Spartans were not able to take advantage of playing Illinois without Kofi Cockburn but were able to bounce back and earn a home victory in a rivalry game against Michigan on Saturday. Against Illinois, Michigan State had a chance to tie things late, before a last second free throw miss from Malik Hall. In the bigger picture, Michigan State has some nice wins on their resume, including UConn, at Wisconsin and Loyola Chicago, however they still have yet to put together a consistent stretch of really good, quality basketball, and have plenty of flaws. One good sign for Michigan State is that five-star freshman Max Christie is starting to look more and more comfortable and had 16 points while shooting 4 for 4 from three against Michigan. If Christie can keep improving, this would be a game changer for Michigan State having a guy that can really go get them a bucket when they need it. Another factor for the Spartans success is keeping big man Marcus Bingham on the floor. He was very effective against Illinois with 13 points and 6 rebounds but was only to play 18 minutes due to foul. Similarly to David McCormack with Kansas, in order for Michigan State to really be at their best, they will need Bingham to stay on the floor and playing at his best.

18. Marquette (15-7)

A seven-game Big East win streak ended for Marquette on Saturday, against Providence in what was one heck of a basketball game. After originally being scheduled for Saturday, the game was moved to Sunday due to inclement weather in the Rhode Island area. Both teams came into the game locked in and ready to play, and Marquette led by as many as 9 in the second half. Although there is never an ideal time to blow a lead like that, Marquette won’t be getting penalized too hard considering the number of games they were able to win leading up to this point and they looked like they belonged every second of the game. Sophomore forward Justin Lewis is making a legitimate case for Big East Conference Player of the Year, which included dropping a career high 33 points in Marquette’s blowout victory over Seton Hall on Tuesday. Lewis is one of the only three members from last year’s team under Steve Wojciechowski to come back and play for Shaka Smart, and it has paid off for both times in a big way. It is so refreshing seeing this Marquette team play this hard for a guy like Shaka who fits the team so well. Especially when compared to Wojo, who never seemed like a great fit at Marquette. In college sports fit is everything and the reality is, a place like Marquette seems to have found a good one in Smart.

19. Ohio State (13-5)

After trailing by 20 with 14:35 on the road against Purdue on Sunday, Ohio State was somehow able to come back and tie the game, before ultimately falling at the buzzer to Purdue. There are never going to be many moral victories in this sport, however it was very impressive to see Ohio State come all the way back against one of the better teams in college basketball on the road. Junior forward EJ Liddell is continuing to play like one of the best players in the sport, as he alongside freshman Malaki Branham each contributed 20 points against Purdue. That included the game tying three by Liddell with 33 seconds to play. Although the freshman Branham has shown some nice flashes at times, the Buckeyes have really been missing a guy with some offensive firepower to go alongside Liddell. Branham has had his moments, and will be the next big-time Buckeyes player, however what the Buckeyes really need is the return of wing Justice Sueing, who has been out since mid-November with an abdominal injury. The concern for the Buckeyes, is that at this point it seems like they will be lucky to get anything out of Sueing at all and can’t rely on him coming back. Alongside Liddell and Branham, guys like Cedric Russell, Meechie Johnson, Zed Key and Justin Ahrens have yet to really get going on a consistent basis. Ohio State has the potential to be really good with Chris Holtmann leading the way, however they just need a little more firepower on the offensive end to be considered a legitimate threat in the Big Ten. Thankfully the Buckeyes did get in the win column in their other game this week against Minnesota, and will start a huge stretch hosting Iowa and Maryland this week.

20. Iowa State (16-5)

Anytime, TJ Otzelberger’s team is ever doubted or slips out of these rankings, they always find a way to immediately come right back in. The Cyclones were able to pick up a pair of victories this past week at Oklahoma State and against Missouri, bouncing back from back-to-back previous losses in the process. Although Oklahoma State and Missouri aren’t necessarily the biggest resume wins, the fact that Iowa State was able to handle business and bounce back so nicely against opponents they should be beating is a very good sign for a team that is still learning to win in some ways. Keep in mind, this is a team with a first-year head coach that only won two games the entire year in 2021. Penn State transfer Izaiah Brockington has really taken advantage of the becoming the go to guy for the Cyclones, as there are very few players in college basketball who you should have more confidence in with the ball in his hands than Brockington. The senior guard has now scored in double digits in every single Big 12 Conference game besides one. What made the road victory over Oklahoma State so impressive, was that it didn't only go to overtime but there was such a balanced scoring effort for the Cyclones. Brockington led the way with 26 points, but three other Cyclones scored in double digits. Even with Iowa State facing another tough challenge with Kansas and road games at Texas and at West Virginia upcoming, TJ Otzlelberger’s squad is putting together some really nice quality wins in hopes to get the Cyclones back to the NCAA Tournament just one year after last year’s disastrous campaign.

21. USC (18-3)

What is starting to get really concerning for Andy Enfield’s team, is the fact that it is about February and USC’s best win remains over San Diego State, who is not anything close to a 100 percent lock for the NCAA Tournament. While a lot of that will have to do with the fact that there aren’t that many opportunities for good wins outside of UCLA and Arizona for the Trojans, USC’s play in other conference games hasn’t been anything spectacular. That was especially true this week, when Stanford completed a season sweep of the Trojans, and then trailed Cal 27-18 early before rallying late. To its credit, USC does have firepower with Isaiah Mobley and Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis (who combined for 45 points on Saturday) as well as Drew Peterson and the energy of Chavez Goodwin. Still, the Trojans have three games left against Arizona and UCLA in the Pac-12, starting with a visit to Arizona on Saturday, and really probably needs to win one or two to feel good about their ability to compete at the top of the sport.

22. Xaver (15-5)

After dropping Tuesday Night’s game to Providence at home in the most heartbreaking fashion as possible, Travis Steele’s team picked up a signature win on the road Saturday at Creighton. It was especially important as the Musketeers trailed 36-19 at halftime, and was part of a continued bad stretch where the Musketeers lost to Marquette and Providence and also did not play well in a win against DePaul. The Musketeers were able to outscore Creighton 55-28 in the second half, behind Paul Scruggs, Jack Nunge, Zach Freemantle and Nate Johnson all scoring at least 15 points. Despite the amount of really good players on this Xavier roster, Travis Steele played his best guys for a majority of the game, and it paid off. With the schedule easing up a bit, before consecutive games against Seton Hall and UConn, there is a chance for Xavier to gain some confidence and momentum after this big win.

23. Murray State (20-2)

It isn’t very often that a team that plays in the Ohio Valley Conference, finds their way onto this list and no, Ja Morant is not walking through that door. However, Matt McMahon’s Racers are very quietly one of the hottest teams in all of college basketball. Only two members of the Murray State team that won an NCAA Tournament game in 2019 with Morant remain, in Tevin Brown and KJ Williams. That doesn't even include coach Matt McMahon, who has won over 67 percent of his games since taking control of the Racers and should have an opportunity at a Power 6 school soon if he wants it. Murray State also has some transfers that have played in some of the better leagues in the country including Trae Hannibal from South Carolina, Carter Collins from Davidson and former Arkansas signee Justice Hill. Part of what has made the start of this season so good, is the number of transfers and experienced players on so many teams due to the extra COVID year, NIL and changing of the transfer rule. Matt McMahon and Murray State are right in that category, winning 10 games in a row. They join Auburn as the only 20-win teams in college basketball right now.

24. Texas (16-5)

For the first time all season, Chris Beard’s Longhorns are finally starting to rack up some wins together consecutively. Even with Texas starting off this season with a 1st year Head Coach and a handful of transfers that have never played with each other before, things were not looking good for the Longhorns following their home loss to Kansas State on January 18th where they blew a five-point lead late. Since that loss, Texas has now won three consecutive games which included their best and most complete performance of the season up to this point, on Tuesday Night at TCU. In that game, four Longhorns - Timmy Allen, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones and Marcus Carr - all scored in double digits. It was very encouraging to see this group then respond with a solid home win against Tennessee just a few days later in Rick Barnes' return to Austin. It was very important that Texas was able to earn some quality wins and get some confidence back to open up Big 12 Conference play because their toughest stretch of the season is quickly approaching. Following Chris Beard’s return to Lubbock on Tuesday, Texas will host Iowa State and Kansas, followed by trips to Baylor and Oklahoma, and a home game against Texas Tech. While paying in the Big 12 is never easy, not many teams will face a stretch as difficult as Texas this season. This team has so many good and experienced players that a big run coming, even while playing this hard of a schedule would not be shocking.

25. Alabama (14-7)

By now, we all know the narrative on Alabama basketball: They can either beat anyone or lose to anyone in the country, and that was confirmed with Saturday's victory over Baylor. The Tide now own wins over the Bears, Gonzaga and Houston, while also suffering losses to Georgia and Missouri, arguably the two worst teams in the SEC. That Baylor game marked the beginning of a ridiculous three-game stretch for Alabama, as they have at Auburn and Kentucky at home next. Alabama has always been a team that can get to the Final Four when they are playing their best basketball. They just have not been able to show it at all, on a consistent basis. Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford reminded the country they could be the top backcourt in the land, combining for 39 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the victory. With the SEC, looking as wide open as ever behind the top two in Kentucky and Auburn, there is no reason to think Alabama is not capable of making a late push.

Follow Zac on Twitter @ZKrull3

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