NCAAB Power Rankings 2/3/21

  1. Gonzaga
  2. Baylor
  3. Villanova (Tied with Michigan)
  4. Michigan
  5. Texas (Tied with Houston)
  6. Houston
  7. Texas Tech
  8. Iowa
  9. Ohio State
  10. Virginia
  11. Oklahoma
  12. Alabama
  13. Illinois
  14. USC
  15. Tennessee
  16. West Virginia

#1: Gonzaga Bulldogs (17-0)

Gonzaga’s just out here doing business as usual with another two-win week last week. Gonzaga knocked off San Diego and Pepperdine—both on the road—since the last edition of these Power Rankings. Since the ‘Zags play in the WCC, there aren’t many opportunities for this team to shine once we get into the month of February, especially with Satin Mary’s and BYU having down years by their recent standards. Because of that, the ‘Zags actually lost ground in our staff top-8 poll, as Baylor received two first place votes this week. Don’t be surprised if that trend starts to play out at the national level, as well. Gonzaga got 61 of 64 first place votes in this week’s AP Poll, while Baylor got three, and the ‘Zags got 28-32 first place votes in the Coaches Poll, with the remaining votes going to Baylor. Those first place vote totals for Baylor could creep up in the next two weeks of polling, assuming the Bears knock off Oklahoma and Texas Tech next week. KenPom’s rankings already have the Bears ahead of the ‘Zags, and that should continue given the upcoming disparity in strength of schedule if both teams remain undefeated. Speaking of Baylor…

#2: Baylor Bears (17-0)

Jon Rothstein tweets it practically every day that Gonzaga or Baylor wins a game, but it really is getting to the point where the Final Four is almost certainly going to consist of Gonzaga, Baylor, and two other teams. The rest of the field of 66 will be hoping to avoid the Bulldogs’ and the Bears’ regions come Selection Sunday. Baylor beat a fully healthy Texas team last night by 14 points in Austin to quell any speculation that they may slow down as Big 12 play rolls on. It was an easy cover for Baylor, which was a 5-point favorite last night. That was the third smallest line they’ve had all season, and they’re now 13-4 ATS. That old saying of “good teams win, great teams cover” applies to the Bears, and they’re showing no signs of fatigue even with a bullseye on their back each and every night in the Big 12. The stretch of February 10-20 will be the hardest slate of games this team faces all season long, as they’re scheduled to play @ Oklahoma, vs Texas Tech, @ West Virginia, vs West Virginia, and vs Oklahoma State over an 11-day period, barring any COVID postponements. If Baylor is sitting at 23-0 come February 21, I’d say it’s far more likely than not they enter the Final Four with a perfect record.

#T3: Villanova Wildcats (11-1)

Villanova picked up one win since our last Power Rankings by beating Seton Hall 80-72 on the road this past weekend. It was a good showing for ‘Nova, as they almost lost to the Pirates on January 19 at home. Villanova is suffering from a mediocre Big East this season, as their schedule just doesn’t have many good wins with the exception of a road victory at Texas back in early December. With two games against Creighton and one against UCONN left, though, Villanova has a couple more opportunities to pass the eye test and solidify their spot as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Jay Wright’s team is a top-5 offense, according to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, due in large part to the fact that the Wildcats rarely turn the ball over. They’re #1 in the nation in turnover rate on offense, with just 12.3% of possessions ending in a TO. In keeping with a recent trend in Wright’s coaching career, ‘Nova plays at a slower pace, which allows senior point guard Collin Gillespie (15.5 PPG, 4.7 APG, 42.6% 3PT FG%) to pick apart opposing defenses. Gillespie had an impressive 11 assists on just 1 turnover in ‘Nova’s 8-point road win against Seton Hall this past weekend. If he continues to rack up assists at that rate without giving the ball away, Villanova should have no issue picking up their fourth #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2015, and their first since 2018.

#T3: Michigan Wolverines (13-1)

Nothing to say about Michigan hoops this week. They remain in a school-wide COVID shutdown. They’re scheduled to return to action on Thursday, February 11 against Illinois at home. That game would be an excellent first test for Michigan to see how the layoff has impacted the team, if things stay that way.

#T5: Texas Longhorns (11-4)

The Longhorns have now lost two straight and three of their last four (Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor), although none are bad losses, unlike the team they’re tied with in this week’s rankings—more on that below. However, all three losses were suffered at home. For Texas to go 0-3 over those three games at home is certainly a missed opportunity that will harm them come seeding time in the NCAA Tournament. While they still have revenge games against Oklahoma and Texas Tech on the schedule, winning away from home is typically the more difficult option. The Longhorns lost to Texas Tech and Oklahoma by a combined three points before getting shellacked—like everyone else—by Baylor by a final score of 83-69 last night. According to the advanced analytics, we might have Texas ranked a bit too high; while they’re a top-20 team on both offense and defense, according to KenPom, they’re not in the top-15 on either side of the ball. Every other team in our top 8 is in the top-10 in either (or both) of KenPom’s adjusted offensive or defensive efficiency rankings. Texas has had COVID issues internally over the past month and they only just recently got back to full strength, so that is likely weighing some of their numbers down, but don’t be surprised if the Longhorns slip back to the #4 line in the NCAA Tournament when it’s all said and done.

#T5: Houston Cougars (15-2)

As our very own Jack O’Keefe said tonight about these rankings: Houston, we have a problem. Between the time the staff cast its votes for these Power Rankings and the time this piece was published, the Cougars had fallen to East Carolina on the road by a final score of 82-73. Junior guard Quentin Grimes, Houston’s leading scorer at 16.8 PPG, was ice cold tonight, as he managed just 7 points in 28 minutes on 2-10 shooting, including 1-7 from deep. Houston is a team that lives by the three, as 41.7% of field goals attempted are from beyond the arc (76th most in the country), and in their two losses at Tulsa and at ECU, they’ve shot a combined 13-50 (26.0%) from deep. Ultimately, that could be what dooms the Cougars come March, and it may be only a matter of time, as they’re not a particularly great three-point shooting team (34.1%, 139th in the country). Defense is Houston’s calling card (3rd in the country according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings), and they’re limiting opponents to just 26.4% from deep this season (4th best in the NCAA). But, ECU shot 11-24 (45.8%) tonight. If the Cougars run into a hot shooting team in the Big Dance, they could very well have an off night of their own and struggle to keep pace.

#7: Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-5)

Texas Tech got a patented Chris Beard win this week against Oklahoma at home, as they held the scorching hot Sooners to just 52 points in their 57-52 victory on Monday. After a heartbreaking collapse at West Virginia last week—a game the Red Raiders were going to win until WVU couldn’t miss in the last five minutes—Texas Tech has recovered nicely with wins at LSU and vs Oklahoma. The win at LSU involved a chaotic final minute, as the Red Raiders erased a 7-point deficit in the final 60 seconds thanks to a pair of 3’s from junior guard Mac McClung (16.8 PPG) and a timely turnover by LSU under their own goal that resulted in an easy layup for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are a solid defense (#9 according to KenPom) with an inconsistent offense (#30 in KenPom). That’s part of the deal with McClung. He produces a number of impressive highlights and big moments, but his shot selection can be questionable at times and he’s a high volume shooter—he’s leading the team 2PT FGA, 3PT FGA, and FTA, but he’s only 33.7% from three and 50.0% from two. You take the good with the bad when it comes to McClung, and if he can reel it in over the next month and show better judgement with more comfort in Beard’s offense, this team has the pieces and the defense to make a deep run in March.

#8: Iowa Hawkeyes (13-4)

Iowa continues sliding down our Power Rankings this week, as they Hawkeyes went just 1-1 over the past week. A road loss by 5 at Illinois isn’t a backbreaker for this team, but with three Big 10 losses now, a #1 seed looks to be in doubt. Iowa sits behind Michigan and Illinois in the standings, and their path to a Big 10 regular season title now depends on a) Michigan getting back on the floor b) Michigan dropping a game between now and March 4 and c) winning out, including beating Michigan on the road on March 4. That’s a herculean task in a conference as tough as the Big 10 is this year. First step’s first, though, and Iowa needs to knock off Ohio State at home and Indiana on the road later this week. It’s entirely conceivable the Hawkeyes could lose both of those games (they lost to Indiana at home by 12 in late January). Iowa has the #1 offense, according to KenPom, but their defense is ranked the worst of any team in our Power Rankings this week. In fact, Iowa’s defense (#117 in KenPom) is worse than any other team in the top-38 of KenPom’s rankings. Their offense usually renders it a moot point, but what happens when Iowa needs a big stop on defense late in a game? Odds are, nothing good for Hawkeyes fans.

#9: Ohio State Buckeyes (14-4)

The team right behind Iowa in the Big 10 standings comes in at #9 in our Power Rankings this week. Ohio State has a venerable offense (5th in KenPom) and is more balanced than the Hawkeyes, as the Buckeyes rank 66th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. Much like the next team on this list, the Buckeyes are extremely conservative on both sides of the ball, as they do not turn the ball over very often on offense and they don’t force many turnovers on defense. Ohio State also does an excellent job of getting to the line and converting, as they’re in the top-30 in FTA/FGA and FT%. Sophomore forward E.J. Liddell leads the team in scoring and rebounding (15.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG), while junior guard Duane Washington (14.5 PPG, 3.1 APG, 37.1% 3PT FG%) forms the other half of a solid inside-out combo for the Buckeyes. With games against Iowa (x2), Michigan, and Illinois still on the schedule, it’s entirely conceivable Ohio State could play their way onto the #2 seed line for the NCAA Tournament. The #3 seed line feels like the most likely outcome to us, though.

#10: Virginia Cavaliers (11-3)

All good things have to come to an end at some point. UVA’s 7-game winning streak (all in the ACC) was no different, as the ‘Hoos fell to in-state rival Virginia Tech on the road this past weekend by a final score of 65-51. The final score line doesn’t do the game justice, though, as UVA was leading 29-21 at the half. VT reeled off 44 points in the second half, while UVA managed just 22 second half points en route to the 14-point loss. That second half felt like UVA coming back down to earth after some incredible shooting performances over the two weeks prior. A road win against N.C. State tonight would get UVA back on the right track, and they have a fairly manageable schedule between now and February 15, when they face Florida State in Tallahassee for what could very well be the right to the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC in March.

#11: Oklahoma Sooners (11-5)

Speaking of all good things coming to an end, Oklahoma’s five game win streak—which included victories over Kansas, Texas on the road, and Alabama—came to an end with its 52-point performance on the road against Texas Tech. The Sooners have shown they can hang with anyone over the past two weeks, though, and they still get a crack at Baylor at home next week. The Sooners are excellent at protecting the ball (12th in turnover rate on offense) and not putting opponents on the foul line (13th in opponents’ FTA/FGA). That means they make the other team earn it if they’re going to beat OU. With leading scorer, rebounder, and assist man senior Austin Reaves (15.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 5.1 APG) having missed the team’s last two games due to quarantine from exposure to COVID-19, it’s amazing Oklahoma has been able to go 1-1 with a win over Alabama and a close loss at Texas Tech. Come April, we may look back on this stretch as having been extremely beneficial for the Sooners, who have had to learn how to play well as a team without their most impactful player on the floor.

#12: Alabama Crimson Tide (15-4)

We promise this is not a column about SEC football. The Crimson Tide remained perfect in SEC play (10-0) tonight after they knocked off LSU by 18-points at home. It was yet another balanced scoring attack from Alabama, as the team had five players in double figures, and none of them were leading scorer and senior wing John Petty (13.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 41.1 3PT FG%). Head Coach Nate Oats is known for his breakneck pace of play, and this year’s Crimson Tide team is no different, as they rank 9th in pace according to KenPom. In an amazing stat, the Crimson tide are 15-1 when they score 70 points or more. They’re 0-3 when they fail to hit the 70-point mark, and two of those games came when their opponents didn’t crack 70 points, as well. If Alabama has one weakness, it’s teams that thrive on slowing the pace down. Limited possessions can expose this Alabama team, but that hasn’t happened yet in SEC play. A pair of titles in the SEC regular season and the SEC Tournament could land this Alabama team in the #2 seed line for the NCAA Tournament, but for now we’ve got them as a #3 seed.

#13: Illinois Illini (12-5)

Illinois continues to be a highly perplexing team. They have a win over Iowa at home, but they also have a home loss to Maryland and road losses at Missouri and at Rutgers. Between junior guard Ayo Dosunmu (21.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 4.6 APG, 41.1% 3PT FG%) and sophomore center Kofi Cockburn (16.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 66.3% FG%), this team has potentially the best inside-out duo in the country—no, maybe even the best duo straight up of any team in the land. But, their Big 10 schedule has been comparatively lighter than most other teams, giving them fewer chances to earn key wins over top opponents this season. Illinois has home-and-homes against Penn State and Northwestern, and they only face off once against Iowa and Michigan (still to come). They’ve also yet to play Wisconsin, although they have two games left against the Badgers. A 2-1 performance against Michigan and Wisconsin between now and the end of the regular season could propel Illinois into the #3 line in the NCAA Tournament. However, if the Illini fail to capitalize on their upcoming opportunities, I could see them as far down as a #5 seed having to face off against a dreaded #12 seed.

#14: USC Trojans (14-3)

While UCLA is the only ranked PAC 12 team in the AP and Coaches polls, USC makes our Power Rankings for the first time this season and is the only PAC 12 team in this edition. Head Coach Andy Enfield’s team has won three straight, including an impressive 72-66 win at Stanford this week, and they have a huge showdown against UCLA at home looming this weekend. The winner of that game will likely be in our Power Rankings next week. USC is a well-balanced squad, ranking 27th and 26th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency rankings, respectively. Unsurprisingly, much of what differentiates this team on both sides of the ball stems from its height. The Trojans are the 2nd tallest team in the country by average height, according to KenPom. It stands to reason, then, that they’re ranked 6th in the country in offensive rebound rate (36.8% of their misses result in offensive boards), 5th in 2PT FG% allowed on defense (41.5%), and 8th in block rate on defense (USC blocks 15.0% of opponents’ shot attempts). The Mobley brothers have brought a significant size advantage to LA, and freshman 7-footer Evan Mobley has been as good as advertised (16.8 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.9 BLK, 58.0% FG%). The younger of the two Mobley brothers is expected to be a lottery pick in this upcoming summer’s 2021 NBA Draft, and some mock drafts have him as the #2 pick.

#15: Tennessee Volunteers (12-4)

Much like Illinois, Tennessee continues to be an extremely frustrating team to watch and try to figure out. I talked about this in last week’s Power Rankings, but the lack of a go-to guy on offense is killing this team. That problem was on full display last night, as the Vols managed just 50 points in a 52-50 loss at Ole Miss. Tennessee’s ranking in these Power Rankings remains unchanged this week, but that’s due in large party to a 19-point win at home, in which they scored 80 points, over a free falling Kansas team this past weekend during the Big 12 / SEC challenge. KenPom ranks this team as the #1 defense in the land, but with an offense that can put up 50 points just as frequently as it puts up 80 points, a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament may be the ceiling for this Tennessee team.

#16: West Virginia Mountaineers (12-5)

West Virginia drops 6 spots this week to #16 in our Power Rankings after suffering a loss to Florida at home this past weekend by a final score of 85-80. After beating a bad Iowa State team on the road by 4 points earlier this week, now we get to see what the Mountaineers are made of. With their next six games against Kansas at home, @ Texas Tech, Oklahoma at home, Baylor at home, @ Baylor, and @ Texas, there’s a lot of opportunity for WVU to play its way onto the #3 seed line in the coming weeks. A winning record over that stretch should put West Virginia in position to capture that #3 seed (or better if they can miraculously run the table). A .500 record or below will leave them some work to do in the final couple of weeks before the Big Dance.

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