Men's Power Rankings: UConn, Purdue are in a whole different tier


The dust has settled from the most loaded weekend schedule of the entire regular season, a stretch that featured four matchups involving two top-10 teams. There were nine losses this past week by teams ranked in the top 10 of last week’s Power Rankings, including Wisconsin and Kentucky suffering two each. While the high-profile matchups led to plenty of movement, perhaps the biggest storyline coming out of the weekend was at the top of the rankings, where UConn and Purdue have put themselves in a tier of their own entering the final month of the regular season.

UConn and Purdue are two of only three teams ranked in the top five in all five NCAA tournament metrics, with Houston as the other. UConn and Purdue are also the only two teams in the country with more than six Quadrant 1 wins — both have eight. Purdue leads the nation in Quadrant 1 and 2 wins, with 15. UConn is second, with 11. Neither team has a loss outside of Quadrant 1.

The Huskies get the edge for me at No. 1 because of injury issues in both losses and their consistent dominance over opponents, especially at full strength. But Purdue is the only other team with a case to be ranked No. 1, and there’s a sizable drop-off after the Huskies and Boilermakers.

This past weekend kept North Carolina and Tennessee in the top five and brought Kansas back into the title contender conversation while sending Wisconsin and Kentucky down the rankings. But it was UConn and Purdue that perhaps emerged as the biggest winners across the landscape.

On to this week’s awards and rankings …


Two weeks in a row?! South Carolina won Team of the Week honors last week, but the Gamecocks then went on the road and beat Tennessee and Georgia. No other team can match those wins, especially away from home. There were a litany of top-10 upsets, but none of Georgia Tech, Florida or Nebraska could back it up over the weekend and the Gamecocks winning both games on the road gives them the edge over Kansas.

South Carolina’s 63-59 win at Tennessee on Tuesday was the program’s first road win over a top-five opponent since March 2, 1997, and was its second top-10 win in a week after knocking off Kentucky two weeks ago. The Volunteers’ loss was the first home defeat for a top-five team in almost three months. The Gamecocks then followed that up by erasing a double-digit deficit against Georgia and coming back to beat the Bulldogs in Athens. Showing how balanced South Carolina is, six different players scored in double-figures this past week — and only Ta’Lon Cooper did it in both games. South Carolina is now 19-3 overall and 7-2 in the SEC.

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In an all-Big East battle, Olivari edges out Marquette’s Tyler Kolek for this week’s award. Olivari has been one of the most productive transfers in the country this season, averaging 19.1 points and 5.1 rebounds, shooting 45.4% from 3-point range. The transfer from Rice continued his stellar play against St. John’s on Wednesday, finishing with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals, going 4-for-8 from 3-point range in a key 88-77 win.

Against DePaul on Saturday, Olivari had one of the elite offensive performances of anyone in college hoops this season. He finished with 43 points on 12-for-20 shooting, going 7-for-12 from 3-point range — and adding 10 rebounds and three assists for good measure. He didn’t miss a free throw all week, going 19-for-19 from the stripe.

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Florida’s overtime win at Kentucky deserves a mention, but the Wildcats turning around and giving up 103 points three days later in a loss to Tennessee takes off some of the luster. So Georgia Tech beating North Carolina gets the nod. The Yellow Jackets erased an 11-point halftime lead and took every punch the Tar Heels had down the stretch to win it on a Naithan George bucket with seven seconds remaining. The result snapped a 10-game winning streak for Carolina, handing the Tar Heels their first ACC loss of the season. It was their worst defensive performance since a loss to Kentucky in mid-December — and Tech’s best defensive effort since Dec. 21.

This has been a difficult first season for coach Damon Stoudamire at Georgia Tech, but despite the 3-8 ACC record, the Yellow Jackets have wins over North Carolina, Duke, Clemson and Mississippi State. Stoudamire is just the third first-year ACC coach in the past 30 seasons to beat both Duke and North Carolina in his debut campaign, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

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Coach of the Week: Thad Matta, Butler Bulldogs

Does Matta still have it? That was the question being asked after last season, when Butler finished 14-18 overall and 6-14 in Big East play in Matta’s first year at the helm, his first season anywhere as a head coach since 2017. The Bulldogs were picked 10th in the preseason Big East poll, just one vote ahead of DePaul.

That question isn’t being asked anymore. Butler had one of the best road wins of the week, going into Omaha and beating Creighton 99-98. The Bluejays, who entered the game with the Big East’s best defense in league play, were forced into their worst defensive performance since November 2021. Butler shot 55% from the field — 62.5% in the second half — and made 13 3-pointers on 59.1% shooting from behind the arc. Matta hit the lottery in the transfer portal last spring, adding Jahmyl Telfort, Pierre Brooks and DJ Davis — who combined for 62 points Friday night.

Butler has now won four in a row to move to 6-5 in the Big East and has four Quadrant 1 victories, putting the Bulldogs in position to potentially get their first NCAA tournament bid since 2018.


Three teams with questions

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Kansas State Wildcats: The Wildcats suffered two more losses this past week, including Saturday’s defeat to an Oklahoma State team that had one Big 12 win entering the weekend. They’re now on a four-game losing streak with a crucial upcoming stretch: vs. Kansas, at BYU, vs. TCU, at Texas, vs. BYU. With a NET ranking in the 80s, it’s make-or-break time for their NCAA hopes.

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Missouri Tigers: One of the biggest surprises in college basketball last season, the Tigers dropped to 0-9 in SEC play with Saturday’s loss at Vanderbilt — which also didn’t have a league win before the weekend. The Tigers have won just one of their past 13 games after starting 7-2. They’re likely to be underdogs in every game the rest of the way, too.

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Michigan Wolverines: A nightmare season for the Wolverines might have hit rock bottom Saturday. They led Rutgers — which was 2-7 in Big Ten play entering the day — by 15 with 17 minutes left in the game. Michigan would be outscored by 25 the rest of the game, getting just two points in the final 7:15 and losing at home by 10. The Wolverines have now lost 10 of their past 11 games.


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1:08

Scott Drew ejected after leaving coaching box for 2nd time

Baylor coach Scott Drew leaves the coaching box for the second time of the game and is ejected.

Power Rankings

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1. UConn Huskies (20-2)
Previous ranking:
1
This week: vs. Butler Bulldogs (Tuesday), at Georgetown Hoyas (Saturday)

Just when it looked like UConn couldn’t get any stronger, star freshman Stephon Castle is beginning to truly break out. He set a career high with 20 points in Wednesday’s win over Providence, then another with 21 on Saturday against St. John’s. He has now scored in double figures in seven of his past nine games. Perhaps most notably, he is 4-for-6 from 3 in his past two games and 8-for-18 in his past six after opening his career going 2-for-13 in his first 10.

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2. Purdue Boilermakers (21-2)
Previous ranking:
2
This week: vs. Indiana Hoosiers (Saturday)

We wrote about Lance Jones in this space last week, and he was the catalyst for the Boilermakers once again as they got key wins over Northwestern and at Wisconsin. He had 26 points and five 3-pointers in the overtime win over the Wildcats, then had 20 points, 6 boards and 3 assists in the road victory over the Badgers. Coach Matt Painter’s core quartet of Jones, Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer and Zach Edey took 49 of the team’s 57 shots and scored 69 of its 75 points.

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3. North Carolina Tar Heels (18-4)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. Clemson Tigers (Tuesday), at Miami Hurricanes (Saturday)

Welcome back, Armando Bacot. The All-American big man has become the second option in Carolina’s offense to RJ Davis this season, but against Duke on Saturday, he dominated like he has almost his entire career. Bacot finished with 25 points, 10 boards and 5 assists — his first 20-point game since November. He had scored in single digits in three straight, but Hubert Davis pushed him to be more aggressive Saturday against Kyle Filipowski. “The ACC runs through me,” Bacot said afterward.

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4. Tennessee Volunteers (16-5)
Previous ranking:
4
This week: vs. LSU Tigers (Wednesday), vs. Texas A&M Aggies (Sunday)

Speaking of bounce-backs, Zakai Zeigler had one of the best individual performances from a point guard we’ve seen this season. Against Kentucky on Saturday, he finished with 26 points and 13 assists — the first Tennessee player with 25 points and 10 assists in at least 25 years and the second player in the past 25 seasons to put up those numbers at Rupp Arena, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He scored or assisted on 60 of Tennessee’s 103 points. It was a positive for Rick Barnes’ team that it could produce such explosive offense without Dalton Knecht needing to go for 30-plus.

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5. Marquette Golden Eagles (17-5)
Previous ranking:
7
This week: vs. St. John’s Red Storm (Saturday)

Tyler Kolek had a tremendous week for the Golden Eagles, going for 32 points, 6 rebounds and 9 assists in a road win at Villanova on Tuesday, then following that up with 17 points and eight assists in a blowout victory at Georgetown. He turned it over only three times in those games. Coach Shaka Smart will also be pleased by Kam Jones’ return from an ankle injury Saturday. Jones played just five minutes last weekend and missed the Villanova game, but came back and scored 31 on seven 3-pointers against the Hoyas.

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6. Kansas Jayhawks (18-4)
Previous ranking:
12
This week: at Kansas State Wildcats (Monday), vs. Baylor Bears (Sunday)

The doom and gloom after road losses to West Virginia and Iowa State seem like a distant memory after the Jayhawks put forth arguably the best offensive performance a Kelvin Sampson-coached Houston team has allowed. Kansas shot 68.9% from the field — the highest for any team against the Cougars since Sampson took over in 2014 — hitting 46% from 3 and scoring 42 points in the paint, which is the most Houston has allowed since 2017.

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7. Houston Cougars (19-3)
Previous ranking:
5
This week: vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (Tuesday), at Cincinnati Bearcats (Saturday)

To be clear, the sky is not falling on Houston’s defense despite Texas and Kansas both scoring more than 70 points on the Cougars this past week — the first opponents all season to reach that threshold. The only two times in the past three seasons a team scored higher than Kansas’ 1.22 points per possession were the NCAA tournament losses to Baylor in 2021 and Miami in 2023, which makes me think this is more an anomaly than the new norm. It’s also worth noting that Houston is allowing just 94.8 points per 100 possessions in Big 12 play — the exact number it permitted last season in the AAC.

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8. Arizona Wildcats (17-5)
Previous ranking:
11
This week: at Utah Utes (Thursday), at Colorado Buffaloes (Saturday)

Down 11 at home to Stanford on Sunday, Arizona badly needed a spark. Enter KJ Lewis. The freshman sixth man came back into the game with 15 minutes remaining and was never subbed out again. He was terrific, with his size and physicality causing problems for the Cardinal defensively. Lewis had 2 steals, a block and 3 rebounds, while also being highly effective at the other end, scoring 12 points and dishing out three assists — and icing the game with a finish through traffic with 1:19 left. That performance came on the heels of a 14-point game against California on Thursday.

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1:10

Tempers flare between Kentucky and Tennessee

Multiple Kentucky and Tennessee players have to be separated as tempers flare.

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9. Alabama Crimson Tide (16-6)
Previous ranking:
In the waiting room
This week: at Auburn Tigers (Wednesday), at LSU Tigers (Saturday)

It’s a big jump into the top 10 for Alabama, but the Crimson Tide’s wins-based résumé is starting to catch up to their metrics-based résumé, which has been fantastic all season. The Tide won at Georgia on Wednesday, then destroyed Mississippi State by 32 on Saturday, giving Nate Oats’ team 10 wins in its past 11 games. Alabama has three Quadrant 1 wins and four more against Quadrant 2, along with a top-seven ranking from the NET, BPI and KenPom. Wednesday’s trip to Auburn is huge for both teams.

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10. Iowa State Cyclones (16-5)
Previous ranking:
10
This week: at Texas Longhorns (Tuesday), vs. TCU Horned Frogs (Saturday)

We’re not dropping Iowa State despite its two-point loss at Baylor on Saturday night in one of the wildest games of the season. The Cyclones went on a 20-0 run at one point, Baylor coach Scott Drew was ejected, the Bears regained the lead on a late 7-0 run and then Iowa State’s Milan Momcilovic hit a game-winning 3 at the buzzer — except it came after the buzzer and was waived off. On the plus side, Keshon Gilbert continued his fantastic recent play, finishing with 24 points. That brought his averages over his past five games to 18.2 points and 6.2 rebounds on 43.5% 3-point shooting.

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11. Wisconsin Badgers (16-6)
Previous ranking:
6
This week: at Michigan Wolverines (Wednesday), at Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Saturday)

Wisconsin dropped two games this past week, but didn’t fall out of the rankings thanks to its rock-solid overall résumé. The Badgers are third in the country with 10 Quadrant 1 and 2 wins, and only UConn and Purdue have more than their six Quadrant 1 victories. That keeps them on the fringes of the top 10. But the D needs to turn it around this week, as the Badgers have now allowed at least 1.05 points per possession in five of their past six games and rank just seventh in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency.

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12. Auburn Tigers (18-4)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (Wednesday), at Florida Gators (Sunday)

The Tigers rolled to two wins this past week, capped by a dominant 56-point second half on the road at Ole Miss on Saturday. That helped turn a 13-point first-half deficit into a 14-point win. Six players were in double figures, but it was Jaylin Williams who led the team in scoring in both games this past week. A reliable contributor his entire career, Williams has taken his offensive game to a new level over the past two months, hitting the 20-point mark six times in his past 15 games and averaging 15.0 points over that span.

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13. Illinois Fighting Illini (17-5)
Previous ranking:
15
This week: at Michigan State Spartans (Saturday)

Entering mid-January, Coleman Hawkins had two 20-point games in his first 3½ seasons of college basketball. In his past six games, he has three 20-point performances. Hawkins has always had the talent to get looks at the next level, but consistency has been a question. And while he’s still capable of subpar games, the 6-foot-10 senior has hit double figures in 12 of his past 14 games, averaging 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds over that stretch and shooting 43.2% from 3. In Sunday’s overtime win, he went for 20 points, 7 boards, 5 assists and 4 made 3s.

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14. Baylor Bears (16-5)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (Tuesday), at Kansas Jayhawks (Saturday)

Baylor snapped its three-game losing streak with a pair of wins this past week, and it seems like it’s time to highlight Langston Love even though he scored just three points against Iowa State on Saturday. Love missed all of his freshman season with an injury, was a solid role player last season and has emerged as one of the best sixth men in the country this season. Prior to Saturday, the 6-5 guard had averaged 15.1 points over his previous seven games, shooting 55.6% from 3 — capped by a career-high 24 points in the win at UCF.

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15. South Carolina Gamecocks (19-3)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: vs. Ole Miss Rebels (Tuesday), vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (Saturday)

You win Team of the Week two weeks in a row, chances are you’re going to find yourselves in the Power Rankings proper coming out of that stretch. Lamont Paris’ team now owns wins over Tennessee and Kentucky and is 7-2 against Quadrants 1 and 2. That gives it the third-best winning percentage against Quads 1 and 2 among teams with five or more total wins in those categories. The Gamecocks’ efficiency-based metrics haven’t quite caught up to their record, but they’re fourth in adjusted efficiency margin in league games, behind Auburn, Tennessee and Alabama, which seems spot-on.

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16. Duke Blue Devils (16-5)
Previous ranking:
9
This week: vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Wednesday), vs. Boston College Eagles (Saturday)

Though Duke’s 3-point shooting in its loss at North Carolina was below par for the season, it is the Blue Devils’ defense that has really come under scrutiny over the past few weeks. They’ve allowed at least 1.03 points per possession in each of their past six games — including their worst defensive performance of the season against the Tar Heels, allowing 1.22. They rank No. 149 nationally and No. 12 in the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency in their past six games, according to BartTorvik.com.

Dropped out: Kentucky Wildcats (No. 8), Creighton Bluejays (No. 13), Utah State Aggies (No. 16)

In the waiting room

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Kentucky Wildcats: The Wildcats plummet out of the top 16 following an 0-2 week, with both losses — to Florida and Tennessee — coming at home. The defensive concerns are clearly legit, as the Wildcats allowed a combined 197 points in the two games and dropped to 13th in the SEC in defensive efficiency. They’re also ranked No. 24 or lower in all five NCAA tournament metrics.

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Creighton Bluejays: The Bluejays dropped from first to fourth in the Big East in defensive efficiency in league play following their 99-98 home loss to Butler. It will be interesting to see how they respond, as the next two games are road trips to Providence and Xavier, teams badly in need of a win. Can Creighton get anything from players outside of its big four? The rest of the roster has combined for 21 points in the past three games.

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BYU Cougars: The Cougars have maintained their stellar metrics profile since Big 12 play began, still ranking inside the top 10 of the NET and KenPom and in the top 15 of the BPI. They also have a manageable upcoming schedule to help boost their résumé: at Oklahoma, vs. Kansas State, vs. UCF, at Oklahoma State. They’ll likely be favored by double digits in three of those games.



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