Men's college basketball Power Rankings: The No. 1 shuffle continues

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, March 6, 2023
ESPN

Another week of upsets, another No. 1 debate, and more upheaval and losses throughout the Power Rankings. The final week of the 2022-23 men's college basketball regular season looked much like the previous four months did, with the added intrigue of conference championship games and bubble battles. If the past couple of weekends are any indication, the NCAA tournament will feature the same chaos we've come to expect all season.

We still have one week before we get there, though. And there's still much to figure out. Here are the biggest things to monitor:

Who is No. 1 -- and No. 4? The entire top five is wide open entering Champ Week. We have an idea who they are -- Houston, Alabama, Kansas, UCLA and Purdue -- but the order is completely up in the air. Alabama and Kansas lost over the weekend, Purdue has lost four times since the start of February, and UCLA and Houston don't have the depth of quality wins the others possess. So, it could come down to the conference tournaments. Early exits could spell doom.

Big 12 and Big East pecking orders. Of the 16 teams in this week's Power Rankings, seven of the top 13 are in the Big 12 or Big East. The conference tournaments must help differentiate the groups. In the Big 12, Kansas is at the top, but Texas, Baylor and Kansas State aren't far behind. TCU is still knocking on the top-16 door, too. Over in the Big East, Marquette won the regular season, but UConn has the best metrics and Xavier has the most Quadrant 1 and 2 wins.

Does the ACC have a top-16 team? Needless to say, this league is down this season. It will still likely get five bids to the NCAA tournament, but none of its teams are in the top 20 of the BPI or the top 30 at KenPom. Will Virginia or Miami end up as top-four seeds? Both might have to win the conference tournament to have a chance.

Lastly, this is the final Power Rankings of the season. We appreciate everyone reading for the past four months. Check back in at the buzzer of the title game for the Way-Too-Early Top 25 for the 2023-24 season.

Until then, on to this week's awards and rankings ...

Team of the Week: Texas A&M Aggies

On Dec. 20, Texas A&M looked like a massive disappointment. The Aggies were one of the last teams left out of the 2022 NCAA tournament, then made a run to the NIT championship game and were projected to take the next step. Yet two months into this season, they were just 6-5 overall and had just lost at home to Wofford -- to go with a neutral-court loss to Murray State in November.

Since then, they've gone 17-3 overall, ripping off win after win after win in SEC play. The Aggies finished the regular season with victories in eight of their last nine to go 15-3 in SEC play, just one game back of Alabama. It's been an incredible in-season turnaround by Buzz Williams. And it was capped over the weekend with a 67-61 victory over the Crimson Tide. A&M led by as many as 15 points in the first half, playing at its pace, keeping Alabama out of transition and forcing the Tide into difficult and early-possession 3-point shots. Alabama came all the way back to take the lead in the second half, but A&M went on another run to pull away down the stretch.

Player of the Week: Drew Pember, UNC Asheville Bulldogs

Averaging nearly 21 points and better than nine rebounds -- which ranks him in the top 30 nationally in both categories -- Pember has been one of the most productive players in college basketball all season. This past weekend at the Big South tournament, the former Tennessee transfer got his chance to prove it on a national stage, and he did just that. Pember averaged 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in three games, helping lead UNC Asheville to a conference tournament championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

In the title game, he finished with 29 points and eight rebounds, teaming with Tajion Jones to erase a 14-point Campbell lead in the final seven minutes. Pember and Jones scored 30 straight points in the second half, helping the Bulldogs complete the regular-season and conference tournament sweep.

Quick shoutout to Penn State's Camren Wynter, too. The former Drexel transfer hit two-game winning shots -- with exactly 0.5 seconds left -- to give the Nittany Lions wins over Northwestern and Maryland last week.

Win of the Week: Texas Longhorns 75, Kansas Jayhawks 59

After Alabama's loss to Texas A&M early Saturday afternoon, the door seemed wide open for Kansas to walk through and grab control of the NCAA tournament's overall 1-seed. Texas had other ideas. The Longhorns had one of the most impressive big-game performances of any team this season. Kansas scored the first two points of the game, the Longhorns responded with the next nine -- and the Jayhawks were rarely a threat the rest of the way. Rodney Terry's group was dialed in defensively, holding its opponent to 36% shooting from the field. It was another impressive performance for Sir'Jabari Rice, the nation's best sixth man. The New Mexico State transfer finished with 23 points off the bench, also grabbing seven rebounds and hitting multiple big shots in the second half. He helped give the Longhorns a 32-8 advantage in bench points.

Coaches of the Week: Tobin Anderson, Fairleigh Dickinson Knights and Amir Abdur-Rahim, Kennesaw State Owls

FDU was the first team to punch its ticket to the 2023 NCAA tournament on Saturday, without even winning the NEC tournament. Because Merrimack reached the title game and is ineligible for the tournament, the winner of the semifinal between FDU and St. Francis (Pa.) would receive the automatic bid. The Knights cruised past the Red Flash, capping a remarkable turnaround for first-year head coach Tobin Anderson. FDU finished 4-22 last season, but Anderson led the Knights to a 15-win improvement and now an NCAA tournament appearance.

Kennesaw State went 1-28 overall just three seasons ago, not winning a single Atlantic Sun game in Amir Abdur-Rahim's first season at the helm. The Owls won two league games in his second season. Two years later, they're going dancing. Abdur-Rahim helped guide Kennesaw State to the ASUN's regular-season title, and then took down Liberty in Sunday's conference tournament title game. To provide some perspective on the job Abdur-Rahim has done: Not only is this Kennesaw's first NCAA tournament appearance since moving to Division I, but it's also the program's first season finishing above .500.

Three teams with questions

Nevada Wolf Pack: No bubble team arguably did more damage to its résumé this past week than Steve Alford's group. Nevada entered the week with zero losses outside of Quadrants 1 and 2, then suffered defeats at last-place Wyoming and at home against UNLV. The Wolf Pack now have two Quadrant 3 losses and will enter the Mountain West tournament needing to get to at least the title game.

Arkansas Razorbacks: Eric Musselman's team isn't in danger of missing the NCAA tournament, but the Razorbacks' home loss to a short-handed Kentucky team on Saturday was their third in a row and fifth in seven games. They're just 3-9 in Quad 1 games. What was once a reliable defense has really struggled in the past few weeks.

Providence Friars: After not losing a home game the entire season, Providence dropped back-to-back games on its home court this past week: by five to Xavier and by 24 to Seton Hall. The Friars are now facing a Big East quarterfinal game against UConn on Thursday. Their NCAA seed is also plummeting, with 10 of their 21 wins coming vs. Quad 4 opponents.

Power Rankings

1. Houston Cougars (29-2)

Previous ranking:
2

This week: AAC tournament

While the debate for the overall 1-seed in the NCAA tournament has centered around Kansas' nation-leading 15 Quadrant 1 wins and Alabama's nonconference win at Houston, it's worth exploring whether the Cougars have a case come Selection Sunday. When the selection committee revealed its mock bracket on Feb. 18, Houston was No. 2 overall. Since then, the Cougars haven't lost. In the same time frame, Alabama lost to Texas A&M and Kansas lost to Texas. Is that enough for Kansas to leapfrog Houston, and is Alabama's head-to-head win enough to keep its advantage on the Cougars? Houston doesn't have the wins the others have, but it ranks No. 1 in the NET, BPI, KenPom and Sagarin -- and is 12-1 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents.

2. Kansas Jayhawks (25-6)

Previous ranking:
3

This week: Big 12 tournament

Against Texas, Kansas' offense looked like it did when it struggled somewhat in late January and early February, when it was mostly Jalen Wilson and not much else. During the Jayhawks' seven-game winning streak in between, Dajuan Harris Jr. looked like one of the elite point guards nationally, averaging 13.0 points, 6.4 assists, just 1.4 turnovers and shooting 55.6% from the field and 57.1% from 3. While he still had seven assists to zero turnovers on Saturday, he also shot 2-for-12 and had five points. Gradey Dick didn't even attempt a 2-pointer and had six points. Kevin McCullar Jr. struggled, scoring eight after having at least 13 in six of seven games. Lesson learned: Kansas' offense has been its most dangerous when Wilson doesn't have to shoulder the entire load.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide (26-5)

Previous ranking:
1

This week: SEC tournament

Slow starts and poor 3-point shooting finally caught up to the Crimson Tide on Saturday, with Texas A&M jumping out to an early double-digit lead and then pulling away down the stretch after Alabama came all the way back. In its past four games -- three close, comeback wins and the A&M loss -- Nate Oats' squad has been outscored in the first half by a combined 30 points and is shooting just 25-for-116 from 3, a 21.6% clip. For comparison's sake, Alabama is second in SEC play in 3-point shooting, making 34.1% of its perimeter shots. Brandon Miller, a 40% 3-point shooter on the season, is just 4-for-24 from 3 in his past three games.

4. UCLA Bruins (27-4)

Previous ranking:
4

This week: Pac-12 tournament

UCLA picked up its best win of the season on Saturday, avenging its earlier loss to Arizona with a nine-point victory. Jaime Jaquez Jr. was once again fantastic; he has scored at least 20 points in six of his past seven games. David Singleton made a season-high five 3-pointers. But the storyline looming over the Bruins coming out of the win is the status of Jaylen Clark. The team's best defender went to the locker room with a leg injury and later returned with crutches and his right foot in a boot. Without him, UCLA's individual defense will take a big hit. He also improved dramatically offensively this season and adds pop on the offensive glass.

5. Purdue Boilermakers (26-5)

Previous ranking:
5

This week: Big Ten tournament

Purdue had its first 2-0 week since January, but not without stress. The Boilermakers beat Wisconsin by two and Illinois by five, nearly blowing a 24-point second-half lead to the latter. But wins are all that matter, and Purdue now enters the Big Ten tournament with top-seed hopes. That said, the Boilermakers likely need to win the tournament to get the overall 1-seed on Selection Sunday. Matt Painter has made a couple of lineup moves in recent weeks, starting Mason Gillis for Caleb Furst and Brandon Newman for Ethan Morton. The Newman decision, in particular, has looked like a masterstroke. He consistently has been one of Purdue's better defenders, and his offense made a difference on Sunday: three 3s en route to 19 points and five assists, season highs in both categories.

6. Texas Longhorns (23-8)

Previous ranking:
6

This week: Big 12 tournament

More of Saturday's performance, please. Texas played some of its best basketball all season, leading for almost the entirety of the 40 minutes. And it started on the defensive end. The Longhorns held Kansas to 0.85 points per possession, with players not named Jalen Wilson scoring just 36 points. Texas' defense has struggled at times in Big 12 play, but it's mostly the same group that ranked in the top 15 nationally last season and stymied Gonzaga and Creighton back in nonconference play this season. Also, a quick nod to Rodney Terry, who took over a team in not-so-ideal circumstances and led it to within a game of the best team in the best league in the country. The Longhorns even exceeded the preseason expectations that were established under Chris Beard. Just a really stellar job by Terry.

7. Baylor Bears (22-9)

Previous ranking:
7

This week: Big 12 tournament

After a solid home win over Texas and a road victory at Oklahoma State, Baylor surprisingly didn't show up Saturday against Iowa State in Waco. The Cyclones entered the weekend in complete disarray but led by as many as 20 late in the game. It was Baylor's worst offensive performance since the early-December win over Gonzaga, as well as another reminder of its defensive vulnerability. The Bears allowed ISU to shoot 62.5% inside the arc and gave up more than 1.04 points per possession for the seventh time in eight games. Baylor has had the worst defense in the Big 12 during league play, giving up an alarming 1.09 points per possession overall.

8. Arizona Wildcats (25-6)

Previous ranking:
9

This week: Pac-12 tournament

Arizona will enter the postseason with three losses in its past six games, giving up at least 82 points in each of those losses. In fact, the Wildcats have now allowed at least 1.06 points per possession in four of their past six, giving up double-digit 3s in four games as well. They dropped to the middle of the pack in the league defensively over the past few weeks, and over their past six games rank No. 109 in adjusted defensive efficiency at BartTorvik.com. There's still enough firepower offensively to overcome this on most nights, but Oumar Ballo isn't producing as consistently as he was earlier in the season, and the Wildcats aren't consistently winning the turnover or rebounding battle.

9. Marquette Golden Eagles (25-6)

Previous ranking:
11

This week: Big East tournament

In last week's story on transfers and freshmen, I spotlighted Shaka Smart's approach to roster construction this season. Smart took only one player from the portal and opted to start five players who returned from last season. There was one quote from him that didn't make the piece that I thought was telling:

"There's always a leap of faith in this thing. There's a leap of faith for players, leap of faith for coaches, leap of faith in recruiting. We decided we trust Tyler Kolek. We trust Oso Ighodaro. We trust Stevie Mitchell, O-Max Prosper. We trust those guys. And it's a two-way street. They trusted us. And if they do, for us to turn around and take five transfers -- actions speak louder than words."

10. Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-5)

Previous ranking:
10

This week: WCC tournament

While this isn't quite the Gonzaga of recent years, the Bulldogs enter the postseason with the nation's best offense for the fourth time in the past five years. They have an offensive rating at KenPom of 124.1 -- which is points per 100 possessions adjusted for level of competition -- the third-most efficient offense of the Mark Few era. The only ones better are the 2021 team that looked like one of the best offensive teams of all time for almost the entire season, and the 2019 group that went 33-4 and lost in the Elite Eight. Despite not having the lottery picks of previous outfits, this team is still incredibly effective in the paint and ranks in the top 20 nationally in 3-point percentage, while also rarely turning the ball over.

11. UConn Huskies (24-7)

Previous ranking:
12

This week: Big East tournament

Despite starting its run in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 quarterfinal, UConn enters the Big East tournament among the favorites -- a trendy pick to win it all, given the Huskies fan base's propensity to fill up Madison Square Garden. Few teams are playing better right now. The Huskies have won five in a row and eight of their past nine. Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo are still the anchors, but Alex Karaban is playing very good basketball to finish the season. He had 11 points, 6 boards and 4 assists in Wednesday's win over DePaul, then followed it up with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists at Villanova. He blocked five shots in the two games and shot 4-for-8 from 3.

12. Kansas State Wildcats (23-8)

Previous ranking:
8

This week: Big 12 tournament

Desi Sills' emergence over the past few weeks had provided a huge boost to Jerome Tang, as the veteran guard moved into the starting lineup on Feb. 18 and the Wildcats promptly won four in a row. Sills provides an additional ball handler and playmaker and hit double figures in scoring against both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma -- also grabbing nine rebounds and making eight assists in the win over the Sooners. He missed Saturday's game against West Virginia to attend a funeral, and Kansas State struggled without him. The Wildcats moved 6-foot-9 David N'Guessan into the lineup instead of the 6-2 Sills and it was a completely different (and bigger) rotation.

13. Xavier Musketeers (23-8)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: Big East tournament

After a couple of hiccups mid-February, Xavier finished the regular season with three straight wins, including road victories at Seton Hall and Providence. And Sean Miller's team did it without star big man Zach Freemantle. After initially earmarking the Big East tournament as a potential return date, the school announced Sunday night that Freemantle would undergo season-ending foot surgery on Tuesday. In his absence, Jerome Hunter had stepped in, averaging 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. Colby Jones was averaging 17.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists since Freemantle's injury, including 24.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in last week's games. The Musketeers also improved defensively, ranking No. 56 in adjusted defensive efficiency at BartTorvik.com in the last nine games after ranking No. 112 in the first 22.

14. Tennessee Volunteers (22-9)

Previous ranking:
14

This week: SEC tournament

What does Tennessee look like without Zakai Zeigler? The point guard from Long Island is out for the rest of the season after tearing his ACL against Arkansas, whom the Vols blew out despite the injury. They then lost at Auburn on Saturday, recording their second-worst defensive performance of the season. Santiago Vescovi handled some of the playmaking responsibilities without Zeigler, while sophomore Jahmai Mashack played well at both ends against Arkansas before taking a backseat against Auburn due to foul trouble. Former Indiana State transfer Tyreke Key isn't a natural point guard, but he's one of the few other guards on the roster; he came off the bench against Auburn and scored 13 points.

15. Indiana Hoosiers (21-10)

Previous ranking:
13

This week: Big Ten tournament

Indiana nearly ruined its road win at Purdue last Saturday with back-to-back home losses to Iowa and Michigan. The Hoosiers pulled it out in overtime against the Wolverines, though, to right the ship entering the Big Ten tournament. Since winning eight of nine in the second half of January and early February, IU went 3-3 down the stretch. One of the biggest culprits for the inconsistency has been the defensive glass. Three of the Hoosiers' past five opponents grabbed at least 30% of their missed shots, which has helped five of their past six opponents score at least one point per possession. Indiana ranks near the bottom of the league in defensive turnover percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and defensive free throw rate. Good teams will take advantage in the NCAA tournament.

16. Virginia Cavaliers (23-6)

Previous ranking:
16

This week: ACC tournament

Fans will hope the Cavaliers' late-season malaise is behind them now. After a four-game stretch in which they went 2-2, with the two wins coming over bad Louisville and Notre Dame teams by a combined five points, the Cavs solidly won both games this past week. They were efficient at both ends against Clemson, then went out and had their best offensive performance since Nov. 11 in the 15-point win over the Cardinals. Reece Beekman was terrific, totaling 19 points, six steals and just one turnover. Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin were productive in both games, while freshman Ryan Dunn totaled 19 points in two games, after going scoreless in four straight off the bench.

Dropped out: San Diego State Aztecs (No. 15)

In the waiting room

Miami Hurricanes: Jim Larranaga's squad earned the 1-seed in the ACC tournament by holding off Pitt down the stretch on Saturday night, and it did it without big nights from either Isaiah Wong or Nijel Pack. Jordan Miller continued his fantastic senior season, while Wooga Poplar made six 3s and finished with 18 points.

Texas A&M Aggies: There are very few guards in the country playing better than Wade Taylor IV right now. Over his past eight games, he's averaging 21.3 points, 4.3 assists, 2.0 steals, shooting 42.9% from 3. He has come up big in the biggest games, going for the aforementioned 28 points on Saturday and also scoring 25 against Tennessee.

TCU Horned Frogs: They looked like they were rounding back into form on Wednesday, when they knocked off Texas despite 22 turnovers and just one point from Mike Miles Jr. But then they went out against Oklahoma on Saturday and got dropped by 14. They were held to 0.94 points per possession and shot just 38.1% from inside the arc.

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