By: Quin Pezoldt
- Texas Tech
- Virginia Tech
1. Gonzaga (14-0, 5-0)
Mark Few’s next toughest matchup in the remainder of the season is in the last game against BYU on the road of which Gonzaga has an 85% chance of winning according to KenPom. They’re now up to a 62% chance of going undefeated in their next ten games going into the WCC conference tournament. So, hopefully we get that Baylor game rescheduled before the end of the season because every other team on this list will be tested many more times before the Big Dance. I’m still keeping the Zags alone in the top tier because of that and the fact that they are clear-and-away the best offense in the country with the highest effective field goal percentage and the best 2pt%. Every other team in the country will be punching up when they meet the Bulldogs. In the next 5 games, their lowest percentage to win is 97%.
2. Baylor (13-0, 6-0)
The Bears added a great win to their resume on Monday night against Kansas where Jared Butler went nuts shooting 10-14 FG and 7-9 from 3-point range for 30 points. Unfortunately, Baylor was not able to hold onto the -8.5 point cover in that game after owning a 14-point lead with a little over a minute left. Butler was making up for the game before against Texas Tech where he didn’t score a point in most of the game. He’s had two 20% or less field goal percentage games in their last five. The game against Texas Tech on Saturday might’ve been their worst performance of the season and they were still able to handle Mac McClung and a gritty Tech team and pull off an 8-point win. The Bears’ defense is so brutal and intimidating that it’s probably difficult to convince a team to take the court against them. They have the best defense in the country according to KenPom and Haslametrics with the latter ranking Baylor above Gonzaga based on that fact. The Bears play Texas in Austin to start February where they’ll most likely put their undefeated streak on the line.
3. Iowa (12-2, 6-1)
The Iowa Luka Garzas are on a five game winning streak and are securely holding onto the best offensive efficiency rating in the country. Right now he has the most amount of “Game MVP’s” of any player in the country according to KenPom and he’s easily the highest-point-valued player on any court. Jordan Bohannon has been helping out the team by stretching out the defense and scoring 85 points in their last 5 games. The Hawkeyes finished their series sweep against Northwestern in a 23-point rout on Sunday. The McCaffery team has a good grip on the Big 10 at the moment and most of us thought that was going to be a tough conference to string together wins in. Iowa has been doing a great job with game spacing and scheduling so far this season which is helping the team get rested and prepared for the next game. They play Illinois on the road next Friday and Indiana on this upcoming Thursday at home.
4. Villanova (8-1, 4-0)
The Wildcats took to the court Tuesday night against Seton Hall, playing their first game at The Finn in a month. Nova had a little bit of rust in the first half against the Pirates with Robinson-Earl shooting 25% from the field along with Brandon Slater and Justin Moore. However, they only had 3 turnovers so they weren’t looking bad; they just needed to shake off the rust and return to value. Even though it was a close win over Seton Hall, Collin Gillespie stayed up as their consistent scorer with 22 points even with Robinson-Earl having a tough night on 3-12 from the field. Mamu was the most impactful player on the hardwood but as this Wildcats team can get back into a groove, they should be able to put their names in the ‘talking heads’ minds.
5. Texas (11-2, 5-1)
Shaka Smart and his Texas team took a rough loss to their in-state rivals, Texas Tech, on Wednesday night in what might’ve been the most exciting game of the entire season so far. Mac McClung hit the game winner and has dove headfirst into the #1 guy on that roster after transferring from Georgetown. The Longhorns were able to recover in the weekend at home against Kansas State with a comfortable win before a week break to tackle that loss and pick momentum back up. The win over Kansas State was well short-handed too without Brock Cunningham and Greg Brown so Shaka had to prove his depth is what everyone is saying they are. Kamaka Hepa, who plays less than 10% of the team’s minutes, was able to pick up a valuable 26 minutes where he roped up 15 points off of 55.6% from the field. Even after that loss to a good Tech team, they have the depth to run with pretty much any team in the country and they are going to get to prove it at home against Baylor in 2 weeks.
6. Michigan (11-1, 7-1)
Michigan let a lot of punters and bettors down on Saturday in their marquee and only loss of the season to Minnesota. Juwan Howard and company lost by almost 20 points in that game where they never had control over the game at any point. Mike Smith played the most minutes on the team and wasn’t able to manage a single basket on six tries but still had 10 assists and was the only one passing the ball for a team that has done so well because of that. On Tuesday night, the Wolverines handled Maryland where those players came back into the light and put their shoes on the Terps’ throats. Isaiah Livers ate up 20 points on seven shots within 24 minutes all while Franz Wagner was doing his thing with his cuts and grabbing boards. They covered 24 points over Maryland. Mighigan’s next two games are against Purdue and Indiana.
7. Tennessee (10-1, 4-2)
After going down against Alabama at home a couple weeks ago, Tennessee has faced an overrated Arkansas team, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt to build their confidence and get back on a roll before Florida and then the Missouri rematch. The Vols didn’t play well at all against Florida which should bring in doubt about whether this team should be a 2-seed anymore. They just got completely outclassed on the road on Tuesday night. The SEC is sneaky good this season (and last) but they are having a tougher time against teams that they should be putting away. Regardless of their seeding, having six players that can get Rick Barnes +10 points on any given night is a huge asset if they are trying to make a run in the NCAA tournament. They desperately need to bounce back against Mizzou on Saturday.
8. Houston (11-1, 6-1)
The Sampson family has their team sitting in the top-10 in the country after finishing off 2020 with their first loss of the season to a pesky Tulsa team in the American Conference. Even with Caleb Mills transferring to Florida State, they have been able to grip the conference by the horns stringing together four straight wins before getting set to avenge their only loss against Golden Hurricanes at home on Wednesday. The Cougars’ bread and butter is their defense and their ability to completely wipe the glass clean thanks to senior forward Justin Gorham who has 55 boards in their last 5 games and is averaging a double-double in that span. Gorham flies towards the board as soon as a shot is hoisted up and he has been working on his 3-point shot hitting 47.1% on the season. This team is still extremely talented without Mills because they have a top-10 player in the country in Quentin Grimes and Marcus Sasser both averaging over 15 points per game.
9. Texas Tech (11-4, 4-3)
The Red Raiders have been mentioned a few times already in this article before their own section because of how amazing they played last week. They’ll get a well-deserved break this week as two of their closest games have recently been postponed due to Iowa State and TCU coming up with positive tests. That would make their next game another tough one against West Virginia. They could just be afraid to face Mac McClung after the week he just had. McClung put up 22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 game winner on the road against a top-5 Texas team. Then he followed that up by staring toughness in the face and putting up 24 points and 3 blocks on 44.4% from the field against a top ranked Baylor squad. Chris Beard’s team looks like they just made a statement to the country and they aren’t done with their tare. The Red Raiders have the third best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country because they are amazing at putting pressure on any team and make them make the mistakes.
10. Kansas (10-4, 4-3)
Kansas had their opportunity to bounce back in a crazy way against Baylor after their loss to Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys of Oklahoma. The Jayhawks have now lost two games in a row bringing their total up to four losses. I’m still keeping them in the top-10 of these power rankings because all of their losses have come against top teams in the country even though OSU might be off the radar for most people because of their self-imposed ban. To have your only losses be to Gonzaga, Texas, Baylor, and OSU it’s actually crazy that they weren’t able to sneak one of those out. They’ll get a chance to split those series and take down each of the four teams before the national championship game assuming they could meet Gonzaga again on the road to the title. There are still a lot of things for Self to figure out on this team before they can avenge any of those losses and return to being a top-5 team. Preferably less silly turnovers and actually getting to the hoop with conviction instead of getting blocked and matted down. Next week they’ll get another shot at a resume-defining win when they go on the road to face Tennessee.
11. Virginia (9-2, 5-0)
The Hoos picked up one of the more impressive wins of the entire season when they smacked a positively trending Clemson squad that had a full head of steam. Virginia is still undefeated in the (muted) ACC and is looking like the favorite to come out on top of that conference. Death, taxes, and Virginia defense but their offense is underrated this season. The duo of Sam Hauser and Jay Huff is possibly the best frontcourt in the country combining for 26.6 PPG and 13.4 RPG off +50% shooting from the field (1.5 points per possession). Their only two losses of the season came against Gonzaga and in an unlucky loss to San Francisco on a neutral to start the season. Tony Bennett’s team is now scheduled to win every game from now until March. Their next top-20 matchup is against Florida State in the middle of February but I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up a couple losses before then. I also wouldn’t be that shocked if they continued to go undefeated in the ACC.
12. Wisconsin (11-3, 5-2)
For some reason, the value in this Wisconsin team has dropped significantly in relative value compared to the top-20 teams in the country. Greg Gard still has one of the most mature teams in D-1 who plays as disciplined when in possession as any team in the top-5. They’ve recently played and lost by 23 points to Michigan which was the turning point for the “eye test.” Wisconsin may have lost either way but Reuvers, Ford, and Davison were having a bad night and the shots just weren’t falling throughout the entire game. I don’t need to make a ton of excuses for them because Michigan is a great team so a loss to them isn’t the end of the world but it’s the manner in which they lost that is causing the overreaction. After that game they took advantage of a struggling Rutgers team in a two-possession win but if the Badgers can beat Ohio State and Northwestern this week, they should still be considered in the Big 10 title talk.
13. Minnesota (11-4, 4-4)
The Golden Gophers are back in the conversation after taking down, the previously undefeated, Michigan. Minnesota is another really mature team as their entire starting roster is an upperclassman and it shows in their ball-handling and turnover percentages. They’ve broken the top-20 in the AP polls but most might double take at fact that all of their losses have come within the recent month and in conference play but their losses are all to teams that are ranked in the top-11 of KenPom in games that they lost in the second half. Marcus Carr is the real deal hybrid point guard for this team averaging 20.6 PPG 3.9 RPG 5.5 APG. The next closest scorer is Liam Robbins who contributed 22 points and 8 rebounds in their win over Michigan on 3-3 from 3-point range. He’s a 7-footer who averages 47.5% from the field and 7.3 rebounds per game as he represents a quarter of their possessions. Their next game is against an inconsistent Maryland team in Minneapolis.
14. Virginia Tech (11-2, 5-1)
Va Tech is another extremely underrated team and possibly second favorite in the ACC with their only loss in-conference being against Louisville (who is hard to pin down; bottom 100 in the country in terms of consistency per Hasla). The Hokies are just as hard to pin down because their second best scorer averages the 7th most minutes on the team and makes you wonder the true ceiling for this team and if there isn’t a better starting lineup combination that they could run (somewhat similar to Kentucky’s problem). Keve Aluma is their most consistent and leading scorer at 14.8 PPG 7.3 RPG 1.4 APG who is able to draw enough fouls to strike a little fear into the opposing coach to change the lineups. Aluma is poised to earn the All-ACC team but maybe N’Guessan is starting to shine. He had 13 points in 14 minutes against Wake Forest the other day on 100% from the field and the charity stripe.
15. Alabama (11-3, 7-0)
Through the first half of The Tide’s game against Cam Thomas and the LSU Tigers, the team had 60 points because John Petty Jr was working 21 points off of 7-8 from 3-point range. Alabama completely trashed LSU, finishing with a 30-point win. Joshua Primo blew up the scouting reports and stunned the Gators’ coaching staff by shooting 80% from the 3-point range for 22 points on ten shots. In that game on Tuesday night, they were able to break their own SEC record for made 3-point shots in a game at 23 made. After a Tennessee loss and a convincing Bama win the Tides have changed in the SEC. Nate Oats’ team is starting to emerge as a favorite in another underrated conference.
16. Colorado (11-3, 5-2)
The Buffs have covered their last 4 games straight and McKinley Wright IV is trying to make his case for a lottery pick in the upcoming draft. He is t-5 in the nation in terms of most game MVP’s per KenPom at 6 games where he was the most impactful player on the court. Colorado is ranked 7th in the NET Rankings which would give them a 2-seed even though Joe Lunardi is projecting them as a 5th seed in the tournament come March. They’ll spend the next week on a road trip in Washington against some of the lowest teams in the Pac 12. KenPom projects, individually, that Colorado will win every game on the remainder of the schedule except against Oregon in the middle of February (a team that they beat by 7 points two weeks ago. Tad Boyle has a great top-10 defensive scheme in Boulder and could be a favorite to win the conference but the odds updated 1/18/21) are +1500 if you’re looking for a good future.