NCAAB Top 10 (+1) Power Rankings

Conference play is underway. Some teams and conferences as a whole (that’s you Pac 12) have fallen flat, while others have exceeded expectations. Let’s take a look at my Top 10 teams right now and one team to keep an eye on that isn’t quite Top 10 caliber yet.
  1. Michigan – Are the Wolverines the most electric team in college basketball? No. Are they the most star-studded? Nope. Have they been the best team to this point in the season? Absolutely. Duke garners the headlines and Tennessee is becoming a trendy pick, but being undefeated means something. The Wolverines rank 68th in overall strength of schedule and 190th in non-conference strength of schedule. Yet, they have a 17-point win over North Carolina, a 19-point win over Purdue, and an 11-point win over Indiana. That doesn’t even include the commanding 27-point win at Villanova, in which Michigan led 44-17 at halftime. When a team’s fifth-best win at the half-way point in the season is a 19-point win over a solid Providence team, that’s impressive. This team is leaps and bounds better than last year’s squad that made it all the way to the National Championship game.
  2. Virginia – The undefeated card also plays a role for Virginia. Last season’s disappointment against UMBC hasn’t affected this Cavaliers team that returns many of the players who experienced that loss first-hand. Kyle Guy is the best player no one is talking about. The junior has increased his points, rebounds, and assists each of his three seasons, topping out at 15.8 points per game thus far this season. He still doesn’t show up on many, if any, draft radars, but he’s the backbone of this undefeated Cavaliers team. The lockdown defense is still there, but the team has been much better offensively in the 2018-2019 season. They rank fifth in KenPom offensive efficiency, up from an average of fortieth over the last two seasons.
  3. Duke – No. 3??? That’s way too low for this team. At least that’s what you’re probably saying. Duke is probably the most talented team in the nation. Zion Williamson is as close to must-see-TV as you can get. RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish aren’t a bad supporting cast, even if they shouldn’t be called that. Tre Jones could be the star on most teams in the nation and he’s option No. 4 on this Blue Devils squad. Duke isn’t just the offensive fireworks; Duke is ranked in the top three in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to KenPom. They are No. 3 only because of that one loss to Gonzaga. Also, come March I just don’t know how much I believe in the team. A good friend once told me that experience matter in March. Villanova’s success and the recent failure of one-and-done schools have highlighted that. Can these Blue Devils buck that trend with pure talent?
  4. Tennessee – The Volunteers are that trendy team right now. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield form a dynamic frontcourt-backcourt duo, each averaging over 18 points per game and six rebounds per game. Led by Schofield’s 30 points, the Vols handed then-No. 1 Gonzaga their only loss of the season. They also took then-No. 2 Kansas to overtime. Wins over Louisville and upstart Memphis also appear on the resume. With Kentucky struggling, the SEC is Tennessee’s to lose. Expect a big run by the Vols in conference play.
  5. Texas Tech – The offense leaves something to be desired, but just look at that defense. The Red Raiders have the best KenPom defensive efficiency, and it’s not even close. The gap between Texas Tech and the next closest team is the same as the defensive efficiency gap between No. 2 and No. 8. The team gave up 10 first-half points to Northwestern State and 37 total points to Incarnate Word. The lack of big-time opponents scare you off? Duke averages over 90 PPG; Texas Tech held them to 69. Memphis averages 85 PPG; Texas Tech yielded 67.
  6. Kansas – The Jayhawks are the best 2-loss team in the nation because they’ve had the hardest schedule of any of the top teams. With 7 quality wins, according to ESPN, Kansas has more than any other team in the nation. Arizona State and Iowa State on the road aren’t bad losses, but the Sun Devils are .500 since the upset and the Cyclones lost to Baylor right after the Kansas win. Regardless, Kansas has wins over Michigan State, Marquette, Tennessee, Villanova, Oklahoma, and TCU. Adjustments need to be made after the news that Udoka Azubuike, but freshman Ochai Agbaji’s arrival, he burned his redshirt to play in Azubuike’s absence, should help alleviate some of the troubles. Agbaji was energetic and electric in his debut, scoring 7 points and logging 4 rebounds in 25 minutes against TCU. The leadership and experience of Dedric Lawson and Legerald Vick, combined with the youthful exuberance of Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, and Agbaji form a dangerous combination for Bill Self’s squad. Texas Tech provides a formidable threat to Kansas’ Big 12 dominance, but the Jayhawks, even without Azubuike, should still be the favorites in the conference.
  7. Gonzaga – The only problem with Gonzaga is that the team won’t have another chance to prove its worth until March. The 89-87 November win over Duke is the best win of the season by any team. A close loss to Tennessee and a road loss at North Carolina in back-to-back games are as close to good losses as a team can get, but those are really the only quality games on Gonzaga’s resume, and no others will really be added in a weak West Coast Conference. San Francisco is the only other WCC team with a record comparable to Gonzaga’s, and the Dons are the only team from the conference that can give the Bulldogs a real fight. Experience is a huge plus for the Bulldogs. Josh Perkins is in his fifth season, Rui Hachimura is in his third, and Zach Norvell Jr. is in his second with Gonzaga. Brandon Clarke is in his first season in Spokane, but he has played two seasons at San Jose State. Clarke broke out his sophomore season averaging 17.3 points per game as the team’s star. Now, after a year off, he has joined a deep Gonzaga squad and is still averaging 17.0 PPG.
  8. Michigan State – Three Spartans are averaging over 15 points per game for a team that ranks second behind Gonzaga in KenPom offensive efficiency. The strange thing is that Michigan State has less high-end talent and star power than Spartans teams of recent years that have fallen short of expectations, yet they have won nine in a row and are No. 6 in the AP Polls. Michigan State’s status in the Big Ten should come down to its two battles with Michigan over the final four games of the regular season. Right now, the last Big Ten team standing in March looks like it should come out of the state of Michigan.
  9. Nevada – the Wolf Pack don’t quite have the resume yet, and probably never will get the chance to build one during the season. A top-10 ranking is more an indication of my confidence in the team come March. Consider this Nevada team to be the anti-Duke or the Gonzaga replica. The Pack have experience; Nevada is one of only two teams in the nation, Maine being the other, to start five seniors. Nevada would’ve been the darlings of the 2018 tournament, had it not been for Loyola-Chicago, the team that eventually defeated the Pack in the Sweet 16. Caleb and Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline are all still around and all averaging double digits in points. This team knows how to win and win on the biggest stage, but just won’t get a chance to prove it until March.
  10. Virginia Tech – This spot belonged to Houston until the Cougars fell to Temple Wednesday night and an ACC team was supposed to the first team out, but now this spot belongs to the Hokies. Florida State, NC State, and North Carolina could easily have secured this spot, but the Hokies only have one loss. A one-point loss to Penn State is the only blemish on a remarkable start to the season for Virginia Tech. The quality wins aren’t there yet, Purdue is the only ranked team the Hokies have faced, but the Hokies have taken care of business against inferior opponents where other teams haven’t. Virginia Tech is shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. This number may not be sustainable, but it’s an encouraging sign as ACC play begins.

Watch out for: Buffalo – Buffalo is the hardest-working team in college basketball. I got to watch them against Syracuse a few weeks ago, and Bulls players were always standing in for charges and diving for loose balls. Their shooting can go cold at times, and there will be a talent gap in March, but Buffalo can grind out wins. This is, after all, the same Buffalo team that torched Deandre Ayton and Arizona last March.

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