NCAA Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Week 15

Thad NovakCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2013

NCAA Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Week 15

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    It hasn’t been a fun week for the top teams in college basketball, with unranked opponents knocking off the nation’s supposed powerhouses right and left. Of course, all those upsets mean plenty of chances for lower-ranked teams to climb, even though it’s been only a week since our last look at the country’s 25 best.

    One squad that’s made huge strides this week is the Pitt Panthers. Lamar Patterson and company have risen to third place in the Big East thanks to a pair of conference wins, including a hard-earned victory at Cincinnati.

    Check out more on the Panthers and the rest of the upward (and downward) movers in this week’s look at the 25 best teams in college hoops.

25. UCLA

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked

    UCLA broke out of its mini-slump in eye-opening fashion, slipping past Washington on a Larry Drew II buzzer-beater. Add in Saturday’s romp over Washington State, and Shabazz Muhammad and company are tied for first place in the Pac-12.

    Why They’re Here: An impressive road record (wins at Colorado and Arizona) has the Pac-12’s flashiest team in a first-place tie in a surprisingly tough conference.

    Next Real Test: Cal is coming off an upset win at Arizona, and the Golden Bears’ veteran backcourt of Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe will be a tough matchup on the road for the less-experienced Bruins.

    Thursday’s meeting in Berkeley gives the home team a chance to avenge a 14-point loss at Pauley Pavilion.

24. Marquette

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked

    Defensive-minded Marquette got an unexpected burst of offense this week.

    Seventy points in a rout at South Florida (one of the highest totals allowed by the Bulls all year) and 89 against DePaul (tying Marquette’s highest output of the season) led to a pair of welcome conference wins and a share of the Big East lead.

    Why They’re Here: The surprise leaders in the Big East standings have recovered from a rough nonconference showing to beat Pitt, Georgetown and UConn.

    Next Real Test: A rematch with the Hoyas in D.C. looms on Monday night. The Golden Eagles only won by a point in the first meeting, so they’ll have their work cut out for them.

23. Butler

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    Previous Ranking: 23

    Rotnei Clarke and company keep on rolling with a pair of Atlantic 10 wins on the week. Better still, the Bulldogs got their first road victory in three tries, squeaking past George Washington in D.C.

    Why They’re Here: Nonconference wins over Indiana and Gonzaga have proven that Brad Stevens’ A-10 leaders can compete with anyone in the country.

    Next Real Test: A backloaded schedule sees Butler take on most of its toughest conference foes starting on Feb. 22, when Saint Louis comes to Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs want revenge for a 17-point whipping they took in the first meeting.

22. Minnesota

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    Previous Ranking: 19

    An ugly week of Big Ten action saw Minnesota slip below .500 in conference for the second time. Losing at powerful Michigan State isn’t so bad, but a home loss to an Illinois team that’s under .500 in the league really hurts.

    Why They’re Here: Athletic forwards Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe give the Gophers enough talent to compete with anybody—as decisive wins over Michigan State and Illinois earlier in the year can attest.

    Next Real Test: Wisconsin’s red-hot defense comes to Williams Arena on Valentine’s Day. If Andre Hollins isn’t at the top of his game, the Gophers could easily take their seventh conference loss.

21. Cincinnati

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    Previous Ranking: 18

    It’s been a dismal week for the Bearcats, who plummeted from third place in the Big East to ninth thanks to a pair of conference losses.

    A home defeat by Pitt was bad enough, but the real killer was a road loss to 12-11 Providence in which Cincinnati shot 3-of-13 from deep and 11-of-20 from the charity stripe.

    Why They’re Here: Despite a sub-.500 home record in the Big East, the lethal backcourt of Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick has led Cincy to wins over Marquette, Pitt and Oregon.

    Next Real Test: Upset-happy Villanova, already victorious over Syracuse and Louisville, looks to deal Cincinnati its fourth home loss in conference play when the Wildcats come to Fifth Third Arena on Tuesday.

20. VCU

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    Previous Ranking: 22

    In a light week on the schedule, the Rams took care of business in their only game, handling Charlotte on the road. VCU has now won three straight overall, standing pat in a first-place tie with Butler and Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10.

    Why They’re Here: Shaka Smart’s havoc defense is as disruptive as ever, leading the nation in turnovers forced (20.3 per game).

    Next Real Test: UMass, which visits the Rams Thursday, has six conference wins and a point guard (Chaz Williams) good enough to make life difficult for the VCU press.

19. Colorado State

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    Previous Ranking: 21

    Very quietly, the Rams have crept up into second place in one of the country’s most competitive conferences. A tough road win at Nevada has CSU at 6-2 in the Mountain West, half a game behind New Mexico.

    Why They’re Here: A small but senior-laden lineup has won 19 games by powering its way to the best rebounding average in all of Division I.

    Next Real Test: San Diego State travels to Fort Collins on Wednesday, with the winner taking second place in the MWC. The Aztecs won the first meeting, but not before a huge Ram comeback forced overtime.

18. Creighton

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    Previous Ranking: 15

    Just when Creighton looked like it had gained control in the Missouri Valley title chase, another lost week plunges the Bluejays into a three-way tie atop the league.

    A road loss at dangerous Indiana State wasn't such a surprise, but there’s no excuse for losing at home to an Illinois State team that came in at 5-7 in the MVC.

    Why They’re Here: The ludicrous offensive punch of 23-point-per-game man Doug McDermott has the Blue Jays in the national top 15 in scoring, assists and field-goal percentage (No. 1).

    Next Real Test: Wednesday night brings a trip to Northern Iowa, which already toppled Wichita State in Cedar Falls this season.

17. Georgetown

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    Previous Ranking: 20

    Every road win in conference play matters, even when the victim is Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights’ home-court edge had helped them surprise Pitt earlier in the year, but Georgetown took care of business to improve to 7-3 in the Big East.

    Why They’re Here: Winners of five in a row (including victories over Notre Dame and Louisville), the Hoyas defense is among the best in the country when Otto Porter and his mates are playing well.

    Next Real Test: Georgetown won’t get much time to celebrate its improved spot in the polls, as it hosts another bruising defense (the Marquette Golden Eagles) Monday night.

    When the two teams met in Milwaukee earlier this season, Marquette eked out a 49-48 win.

16. Kansas State

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    Previous Ranking: 17

    While archrival Kansas is sinking, the Wildcats are soaring. A road win at lowly Texas Tech won’t impress many, but a home victory over tough Iowa State leaves K-State in sole possession of first place in the Big 12.

    Why They’re Here: The brand-new conference leaders are off to one of the best starts in school history at 19-4, thanks in part to an improved offense under new coach Bruce Weber.

    Next Real Test: Monday’s rematch with Kansas at Phog Allen will be a take-no-prisoners kind of game. KU won the first meeting (by just four points), but the Jayhawks have now dropped three in a row, two of them to teams that aren’t as good as K-State.

15. Oklahoma State

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    Previous Ranking: 16

    The Marcus Smart juggernaut just keeps picking up steam, adding two more huge Big 12 wins. The sensational freshman point guard keyed wins at Texas and over Baylor (in OT) with a combined 37 points, 10 assists and nine steals.

    Why They’re Here: The Cowboys have now beaten Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor in climbing to 7-3 (and second place) in the conference.

    Next Real Test: The Jayhawks will look for revenge in Stillwater on February 20.

14. Kentucky

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    Previous Ranking: 14

    With two home games against inferior competition, Kentucky did exactly what it was expected to do. The Wildcats earned a pair of double-digit wins to take advantage of Florida’s loss and move within one game of first place in the SEC.

    Why They’re Here: Nerlens Noel’s unparalleled defense leads a rapidly developing group of freshmen that’s now won five in a row.

    Next Real Test: Kentucky’s toughest road game of the season comes on Tuesday night as the Wildcats must go into Gainesville and challenge the 19-3 Gators.

13. Arizona

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    Previous Ranking: 11

    As hot as the Wildcats were to start this season, they haven’t exactly blown people out on their home floor.

    Sunday’s upset loss to Cal was the second of Arizona’s three defeats to come in Tucson, largely negating the benefits of a Wednesday win over Stanford.

    Why They’re Here: Though it’s often taken until the last possible second, Arizona has done very little but win this season, riding Mark Lyons’ late-game magic to a 20-3 record.

    Next Real Test: On Valentine’s Day, the Colorado Buffaloes get a chance to avenge their heartbreaking loss in Tucson from earlier this season.

    Angry team plus Boulder altitude plus Josh Scott and Andre Roberson up front equals a very dangerous game.

12. Ohio State

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    Previous Ranking: 10

    There’s no shame in back-to-back losses when the schedule hands you No. 3 Michigan and No. 1 Indiana in consecutive games. Still, the successive defeats won’t do the Buckeyes any good in the race for the Big Ten title.

    Why They’re Here: Ball-hawking guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott lead a ferocious defense that (usually) gets just enough support from scoring star Deshaun Thomas.

    Next Real Test: The Buckeyes visit Upset Central in Madison next Sunday. If there’s any defense in the Big Ten that’s better than OSU’s, it’s the Badgers’ on their home floor.

11. Syracuse

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    Previous Ranking: 12

    Syracuse held serve at home this week, pummeling both St. John’s and a dangerous Notre Dame team. The wins keep the Orange tied with Marquette for first place in the Big East.

    Why They’re Here: Jim Boeheim’s always-potent 2-3 zone has extra bite this year with ball pressure (led by Michael Carter-Williams) creating plenty of turnovers, not to mention fast-break points for the offense.

    Next Real Test: Even with UConn in a down year, winning in Storrs is never easy. The Orange make that trip on Wednesday, and sharp-shooting Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier will be ready for them.

10. Kansas

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    Previous Ranking: 5

    When do the Jayhawks get to wake up from their nightmare?

    Last week’s home upset by Oklahoma State has turned into a humiliating three-game skid, including losses at Oklahoma and (horror of horrors) TCU, providing the Horned Frogs with their first-ever Big 12 win.

    Why They’re Here: Despite its current troubles, Kansas had the season’s longest winning streak at 18 games, thanks primarily to one of the country’s most impenetrable defenses.

    Next Real Test: KU narrowly escaped from rival Kansas State three weeks ago in Manhattan. Now the reeling Jayhawks host the Wildcats in an attempt to reclaim first place in the Big 12.

9. Louisville

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    Previous Ranking: 9

    Louisville’s Wednesday win at Rutgers loses much of its shine thanks to a heartbreaking Saturday defeat at Notre Dame. Even so, it’s hard to fault the Cardinals too much for losing in five overtimes in the hardest-fought game of the season.

    Why They’re Here: Electric shooting guard Russ Smith (with plenty of help from steady senior Peyton Siva) makes the Cardinals backcourt the most exciting in the country, not to mention one of the best.

    Next Real Test: The Cards should have little trouble winning their remaining four February games, which could set up a first-place battle in a huge March 2 showdown with Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

    The Orange, of course, started Louisville’s Big East slide with a two-point win at the (ludicrously named) KFC Yum! Center back in January.

8. Pittsburgh

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    Previous Ranking: 13

    Seven-foot freshman Steven Adams posted back-to-back huge games, starting with a career-high 15 boards in a win over Seton Hall.

    Adams then ate up height-challenged Cincinnati for 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting (plus four blocks) in a huge road victory.

    Why They’re Here: Extraordinary rebounding (led by Adams) has the Panthers up to 20 wins and contending in the mighty Big East.

    Next Real Test: Conference-leading Marquette hosts Pitt next Saturday in the season’s last big road test for the Panthers.

7. Duke

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    Previous Ranking: 8

    Duke needed a bit of luck to escape with a win at Boston College on Sunday, but escape it did. Now 8-2 in ACC action, Coach K’s squad had looked much more impressive in routing N.C. State behind Mason Plumlee’s 30 points.

    Why They’re Here: The Blue Devils’ fearsome offense, led by Plumlee and three-point gunner Seth Curry, has adjusted to life without Ryan Kelly and started dominating the ACC (except for Miami).

    Next Real Test: Duke renews one of the game’s best rivalries as North Carolina comes to Cameron Indoor on Wednesday. The Tar Heels aren’t having the strongest of seasons, but there’s no doubt they’ll be primed for this game.

6. Gonzaga

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    Previous Ranking: 6

    A pair of blowout wins at the Kennel extended the Zags’ winning streak to six this week. Of course, beating Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount at home doesn't really compare to the opposition facing teams such as Indiana or Miami on a nightly basis.

    Why They’re Here: Gonzaga has yet to lose to a team outside the AP Top 25 in starting 23-2. That mark includes five wins against the Big 12, with Kansas State and Oklahoma State among the victims.

    Next Real Test: Few opponents have challenged the Bulldogs at home, but Matthew Dellavedova and St. Mary’s only lost by five in Spokane.

    Now, Kelly Olynyk and company have to go on the road against the Gaels, with a chance to sew up the WCC title (for all practical purposes) on Valentine’s Day.

5. Miami

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    Previous Ranking: 7

    The Hurricanes continued their rampage on their home floor, routing Boston College and North Carolina by a combined 48 points. Miami, now 10-0 in the ACC, has won its last four home games by an average margin of 24.8 points per contest.

    Why They’re Here: Reggie Johnson, Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble are the biggest (average of 6’10”, 261 lbs) and best frontcourt in the college game.

    Next Real Test: After a string of ACC also-rans (plus a home date with Virginia), Miami must travel to Cameron Indoor to take on Duke on March 2.

4. Michigan

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    Previous Ranking: 3

    You can’t accuse Michigan of being boring. Back-to-back overtime games saw the Wolverines hold off archrival Ohio State (staying unbeaten in Ann Arbor) before losing a heartbreaker at Wisconsin on Ben Brust’s timely three-point shooting.

    Why They’re Here: Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke has led one of the most dangerous offenses in the game to a 21-3 record so far.

    Next Real Test: Another daunting road game is coming up fast, as the Wolverines visit Michigan State (the first of the teams’ two meetings) on Tuesday night.

3. Florida

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    Previous Ranking: 2

    After annihilating every SEC foe by a margin of over 25 points per game, Florida went into Fayetteville and…lost by 11 to unranked Arkansas?

    Another 25-point romp over Mississippi State on Saturday did little to numb the pain of the Gators’ most surprising defeat of the year.

    Why They’re Here: A headache-inducing combination of full-court pressure and a morphing man/zone approach make the SEC-leading Gators the fourth-toughest team in the country to score against.

    Next Real Test: Streaking Kentucky is 8-2 in conference entering Tuesday’s showdown in Gainesville. First place will be on the line (as it might be again in a season-ending rematch at Rupp Arena).

2. Indiana

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    Previous Ranking: 1

    The 2013 national title could depend on which version of the away-from-home Hoosiers is more accurate. Is it the high-precision squad that humbled the mighty Ohio State defense with 53.1 percent shooting in Columbus?

    Or, far more worrisome, is it the erratic bunch that choked away a win at Illinois on a late turnover and a missed defensive assignment in the final seconds?

    Why They’re Here: The best offense in college hoops features two legitimate Player of the Year candidates in center Cody Zeller and multi-talented Victor Oladipo.

    Next Real Test: Michigan State only lost by five when the Spartans came to Bloomington. On February 19, the Hoosiers make the return trip to East Lansing for what’s sure to be a hotly contested game.

1. Michigan State

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    Previous Ranking: 4

    Surviving a week without a loss in this year’s Big Ten is proving to be no mean feat. The Spartans hammered Purdue on the road and No. 18 Minnesota in East Lansing to climb to 20 wins overall (and nine in conference play).

    Why They’re Here: The first-place team in the nation’s toughest conference, the Spartans—led by the dynamic backcourt of Keith Appling and Gary Harris—just avenged one of their four losses on the season by beating the Golden Gophers.

    Next Real Test: As usual in this conference, Tom Izzo’s squad won’t have to wait long for a brutal matchup. Archrival Michigan visits East Lansing on Tuesday night in the first of their two meetings with the Spartans.