College basketball Power Rankings: Xavier topples UConn, Purdue returns to the top

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, January 2, 2023

For the first time since UConn ascended to the top spot in early December, the 2022-23 men's college basketball Power Rankings has a new No. 1 team. The Huskies suffered their first loss of the season Saturday, falling by 10 at Xavier, but there's very little debate about which team will take their place.

We moved Purdue to No. 1 after Thanksgiving, when the Boilermakers beat West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke en route to the Phil Knight Legacy title. Matt Painter's team has hit a few speed bumps since, with closer-than-expected wins over Nebraska and Davidson, but it remains one of two unbeaten teams in college basketball -- the other is New Mexico -- and looks every bit a national championship contender. Zach Edey is still the Wooden Award front-runner, Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer are still arguably the best freshman backcourt in the country and the Boilermakers still have a slew of role players and shot-makers around them.

As the calendar turns to 2023, Purdue is the best team in college basketball.

As you were, in other words.

On to this week's awards and rankings -- and remember, we didn't post a Power Rankings update last week, so the "previous ranking" refers to what we had the teams at two weeks ago.

Team of the Week: Xavier Musketeers

Beat the No. 1 team in our rankings and chances are a Team of the Week honor is soon to follow. Ever since a couple of narrow losses in Portland to Duke and Gonzaga, Xavier has looked like a legitimate second-weekend NCAA tournament team -- but the Musketeers needed a big-game performance to back that up. That came Saturday, against previously unbeaten UConn, with Xavier finishing the game on a 12-2 run in the final 3:33 to win by 10. Zach Freemantle was the team's anchor in the first half, going toe-to-toe with Adama Sanogo on the interior. In the second half, Colby Jones scored 10 points, Jerome Hunter and star guard Souley Boum made timely plays and Jack Nunge played through an illness to finish with 15 points. Xavier forced UConn into its worst performance at both ends of the floor all season.

It capped a good week for Sean Miller's team, who earlier had a road win at St. John's after getting out to an early double-digit lead and holding on to finish 84-79. Nunge had 23 and 12 in that game.

Player of the Week: Kobe Brown, Missouri Tigers

Brown's back-to-back efforts against Illinois and Kentucky are unmatched by anyone this season, when considering the top-25 opposition in both games. Against the Illini in the Tigers' blowout win, Brown finished with 31 points, five rebounds, eight assists and four steals. And then in Missouri's 89-75 win over Kentucky, Brown ran it back with 30 points and six rebounds. In the two games, he averaged 31.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.0 steals, 61.9 FG%, 58.3 3PT%, 87.5 FT%. Brown stuck it out in Columbia through the coaching change from Cuonzo Martin to Dennis Gates, and he's playing the best basketball of his career.

Win of the Week: LSU Tigers 60, Arkansas Razorbacks 57

It was impossible to predict what type of campaign LSU would have this season. The Tigers underwent one of the biggest rebuilds in the country, with the entire team entering the transfer portal at one point. LSU went 11-1 in the nonconference schedule, with the lone loss coming by two against Kansas State. But a two-point win over Wake Forest was the team's only top-150 KenPom win. After Wednesday, though, we have a better idea about Matt McMahon's program.

LSU handed Arkansas its second loss of the season, coming back in the second half to pull out a three-point win. The Razorbacks couldn't handle Trae Hannibal (19 points) late in the game, and it was two transfers with SEC experience -- Hannibal and Derek Fountain (14 points, 10 boards) -- who were the difference-makers. McMahon's decision to switch to a zone defense was also a masterstroke, as the Razorbacks couldn't figure it out en route to a 4-for-25 3-point shooting effort.

Coach of the Week: Tim Miles, San José State Spartans

There were a number of good candidates for this week, with Charleston and Pat Kelsey knocking off preseason CAA favorite Towson on the road to move to 14-1 and Dusty May and Florida Atlantic winning at North Texas to improve to 12-1. But what Tim Miles is doing at San José State so far this season is nothing short of remarkable. The Spartans are already 11-4 -- only the second time since 2011 that the team has won double-digit games. They're 2-0 in the Mountain West after handing UNLV its second loss of the season, and then winning at 2022 NCAA tournament participant Colorado State.

Just look at this stat:

Three teams with questions

St. John's Red Storm: After starting the season 11-1, St. John's has now lost three in a row, including two blowouts at the hands of Villanova and Seton Hall. On Saturday against the Pirates, the Red Storm got out to an early 10-point lead before being outscored by 32 points over the final 30 minutes.

NC State Wolfpack: NC State showed promise in the nonconference portion of the season, beating Dayton, Butler and Vanderbilt, but has now dropped to 1-3 in the ACC with a 14-point loss at Clemson. It doesn't get easier any time soon either, with Duke, Virginia Tech and Miami next on the schedule.

Iowa Hawkeyes: A potentially promising season for the Hawkeyes has gone completely off the rails. Before Christmas, they had the incredibly embarrassing home loss to Eastern Illinois -- and followed that up with losses this past week to Nebraska and Penn State. They're now 0-3 in the Big Ten and have lost six of nine overall.

Power Rankings

1. Purdue Boilermakers (13-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Rutgers (Monday), at Ohio State (Thursday), at Penn State (Sunday)

Former ESPN 100 recruit Trey Kaufman-Renn drew positive praise while redshirting last season, and started this campaign as a rotation piece in the frontcourt. With Zach Edey (one game) and Mason Gillis (three games) missing time recently, though, he has seen his minutes increase -- and he has responded nicely. The 6-foot-9 forward has scored in double figures in four of his past six games, including 24 points against New Orleans before Christmas and 11 points and six boards against Florida A&M on Thursday. He's yet another option for Matt Painter and the nation's No. 1 team.

2. Arizona Wildcats (13-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Washington (Thursday), vs. Washington State (Saturday)

Outside of Zach Edey and, lately, Drew Timme, there aren't many players performing more consistently than Azuolas Tubelis. The 6-11 forward from Lithuania has scored in double figures in every game this season (20 or more on eight occasions), tallied three double-doubles and grabbed at least nine rebounds in each of his past four games. He has jumped from 13.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 54% from the field and 26.3% from 3 last season to 20.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 61.4% from the field and 42.9% from 3 so far in 2022-23. He's also doing things like this:

3. Houston Cougars (14-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. SMU (Thursday), at Cincinnati (Sunday)

While Houston's defense struggled in the win over UCF on Saturday, the Cougars will look to get freshman Jarace Walker out of his mini slump on the offensive end moving forward. He had his breakout performance in the win over Virginia in mid-December, going for 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Cavaliers, but in the three games since he has totaled just 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Given his size, strength and playmaking ability, Walker is a brutal matchup for most defenders and adds a dimension to Houston's offense that it hasn't had in recent years.

4. UConn Huskies (14-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Providence (Wednesday), vs. Creighton (Saturday)

UConn's worst offensive and defensive performance of the season came at the wrong time, resulting in the Huskies' first loss of 2022-23. They got to the free throw line only nine times -- making just four -- while Xavier went 23-for-28 from the stripe. UConn had success in the first half getting points off turnovers, but ultimately coughed it up 16 times. And while they made 10 of their first 21 attempts from 3, the Huskies made three of their final 16 attempts. In addition to the free throw differential, Xavier had a lot of success around the rim, shooting 61.5% on 2s and scoring 48 points inside the arc.

5. Kansas Jayhawks (12-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Texas Tech (Tuesday), at West Virginia (Saturday)

Kansas had a closer-than-expected win to open Big 12 play against Oklahoma State, needing a K.J. Adams Jr. layup in the final seconds and a couple game-saving defensive plays to hold off the Cowboys. Despite shooting struggles from Gradey Dick and Kevin McCullar Jr., Kansas' offense wasn't the primary issue Saturday. The Jayhawks had their worst defensive performance of the season by far, allowing Oklahoma State to make 13 3s on 44.8% shooting. The only other time a Kansas opponent shot 40% from 3 or made double-figure 3s was Nov. 25 against Tennessee -- the Jayhawks' lone loss of 2022-23.

6. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Ole Miss (Tuesday), vs. Kentucky (Saturday)

It was unclear what Mark Sears' role would be when Alabama was at full strength. The box-score-stuffing Ohio transfer is capable of playing both guard spots, but with Jahvon Quinerly returning quicker than expected from his ACL injury and five-star recruit Jaden Bradley forcing his way into the starting lineup, would Sears' numbers come anywhere close to last season's? Not quite, but he's still averaging 16.0 points, 2.4 assists and shooting 48.9% from 3 over his past seven games, and just had 20 points at Mississippi State and 24 in the November win over North Carolina.

7. Texas Longhorns (12-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Kansas State (Tuesday), at Oklahoma State (Saturday)

Kobe Brown's historic back-to-back performances kept Marcus Carr from earning Player of the Week honors, but we couldn't go without showing the former Minnesota transfer some love. Carr went for 41 points, 10 3s and four assists against Texas A&M Commerce on Tuesday. He struggled shooting the ball against Oklahoma on Saturday but still finished with a team-high 13 points and four steals. Over his past five games, Carr has taken his offensive game to a new level, averaging 23.2 points and 3.6 assists and shooting a ridiculous 61.8% from 3.

8. Tennessee Volunteers (11-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Mississippi State (Tuesday), at South Carolina (Saturday)

When Olivier Nkamhoua went down with a season-ending ankle injury last February, Tennessee's frontcourt depth took a significant hit. He started the first 22 games of last season, and he stepped right back into that spot at the start of this campaign. After a month getting up to speed, Nkamhoua hit his stride in December. Over the past six games, the 6-9 forward is averaging 13.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists -- with two 20-point games against Alcorn State and Austin Peay. Combined with Jonas Aidoo's recent surge -- 18 points and 22 rebounds in his past two games -- head coach Rick Barnes might have found his interior tandem moving forward.

9. Gonzaga Bulldogs (12-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at San Francisco (Thursday), at Santa Clara (Saturday)

Drew Timme has been producing at an incredible clip in recent weeks, scoring at least 22 points in six of his past seven games, including two 30-point efforts. But it's another frontcourt player who seems poised to become an intriguing weapon in conference play. Ben Gregg, a former ESPN 100 recruit in the 2020 class, didn't score in double figures in his first 44 college games, and played more than 10 minutes only three times. But over his past five games, Gregg is averaging 9.0 points and 4.0 rebounds, and shooting better than 57% from the field, highlighted by 18 points and seven rebounds against Northern Illinois.

10. UCLA Bruins (13-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. USC (Thursday)

With Amari Bailey missing the past two games because of a foot injury, Mick Cronin has turned to senior guard David Singleton in the starting lineup, and the Bruins haven't missed a beat. Singleton had been playing well prior to the change, scoring 18 points against Maryland earlier this month and making multiple 3s in five straight games overall. He produced in both games he has started, scoring 14 and making a pair of 3s in each. He has been one of the best shooters in the Pac-12 since arriving in Westwood back in 2019, and was shooting a career-best 52.5% from 3 entering Sunday.

11. Virginia Cavaliers (10-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Pittsburgh (Tuesday), vs. Syracuse (Saturday)

The Cavaliers will be hoping Saturday's win over Georgia Tech sparks an offense that has recently looked lackluster. The Cavaliers made 10 3s, the first time since Nov. 18 they made more than six in a game. They also had their most efficient offensive performance in more than a month. Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin have formed a solid inside-outside duo, Kihei Clark has 18 assists to five turnovers over the past two games, and Isaac McKneely has provided some perimeter pop off the bench. A fully healthy Reece Beekman should also be a boost for Tony Bennett; he returned to the lineup against Tech after missing the game against Albany.

12. TCU Horned Frogs (12-1)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: at Baylor (Wednesday), vs. Iowa State (Saturday)

After erasing a 13-point deficit to come back to beat Texas Tech on Saturday, TCU has now rattled off 10 wins in a row since losing by one to Northwestern State on Nov. 14. The Horned Frogs are unbeaten at full strength, as Mike Miles Jr. has missed three games and Damion Baugh has only played seven of 13 games. Emanuel Miller has also missed three games this season, although he did suit up against the Demons. Miles, Baugh and Miller are TCU's top three scorers, and they seem to be finding their form as Big 12 play gets underway. This team looks like the top-20 team we all expected in the preseason.

13. Miami Hurricanes (13-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Georgia Tech (Wednesday)

Miami has won nine games in a row and is now 4-0 in ACC play after beating Virginia at home and Notre Dame in South Bend in its past two games. Isaiah Wong has looked like an elite guard in college basketball this season, averaging 26.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists in his past four games prior to the win over Notre Dame, shooting nearly 46% from 3. Against the Fighting Irish, Wong didn't shoot the ball well from the perimeter, but Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack had arguably his best game in a Hurricanes uniform, finishing with 21 points and five 3s. Coach Jim Larrañaga has himself another terrific backcourt.

14. Wisconsin Badgers (10-2)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: vs. Minnesota (Tuesday), at Illinois (Saturday)

The Badgers are one of the bigger surprises of the first half of the season, with only two losses through 12 games: a one-point overtime defeat to Kansas in the Bahamas and a three-point home loss to Wake Forest. The biggest bright spot for the Badgers in recent weeks has been the emergence of 7-foot junior Steven Crowl. After scoring in double figures twice in the first eight games of the season, averaging 9.3 points during that span, Crowl has notched at least 12 points in each of his past four games, including a 25-point, eight-rebound effort against Western Michigan on Friday.

15. Baylor Bears (10-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. TCU (Wednesday), vs. Kansas State (Saturday)

Scott Drew needs all three of his star guards, Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer and Keyonte George, to be healthy and productive for the Bears to reach their full potential -- and lately, that just hasn't happened. Flagler missed two of three games before Christmas, and Cryer has missed three of the past five, including the past two. When any of the three players is out, especially against formidable opposition and especially considering Jalen Bridges' inconsistency, it puts a lot of pressure on the other two offensively. Against Iowa State (an excellent defensive team), Baylor had its second-worst offensive performance of the season, and its worst 3-point-shooting effort.

16. Arkansas Razorbacks (11-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Missouri (Wednesday), at Auburn (Saturday)

Arkansas had its worst offensive outing of the season in the loss at LSU last week, which is also its second worst over the past two seasons. The Razorbacks had major issues figuring out the Tigers' zone, and their 3-point shooting issues came to the forefront. They ultimately went 4-for-25 from behind the arc against LSU -- the seventh time in eight games in which the Razorbacks have made five or fewer 3s. Arkansas wasn't expected to be a very good shooting team entering the season, but the injuries to Trevon Brazile and Nick Smith Jr., have exacerbated the issue. Only two players on the roster have made more than one 3 per game: Brazile and Smith.

Dropped out: Duke Blue Devils (No. 14), Illinois Fighting Illini (No. 15), Mississippi State Bulldogs (No. 16)

In the waiting room

Duke Blue Devils: Although Dereck Lively II returned to the lineup Saturday against Florida State Seminoles, he quickly got into foul trouble. Fortunately for Jon Scheyer, Ryan Young had his best game in a Duke uniform. The Northwestern transfer finished with 20 points and 12 boards and didn't miss a single shot from the field or the free throw line.

Xavier Musketeers: The Musketeers have only three losses on the season: Indiana Hoosiers by two at home, and neutral-site defeats to Duke and Gonzaga. Their win over UConn on Saturday gives them a marquee win, and they have a chance to solidify themselves as the second-best team in the Big East with Villanova, Creighton and Marquette up next.

Iowa State Cyclones: We've been a bit higher on the Cyclones for the past month than the AP poll, but T.J. Otzelberger's team made us look good Saturday by battering Baylor by 15. Gabe Kalscheur has scored double figures in four straight games, including 23 against the Bears, while freshman Tamin Lipsey has 21 assists in the Cyclones' three-game winning streak.

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