NCAA Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Week 17

Thad NovakCorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2013

NCAA Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Week 17

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    It’s becoming clear that in this NCAA basketball season, the real surprise is when the top teams don’t lose. Not one of the Power Six conferences made it through the week without at least one of its first-place teams getting beaten.

    One major beneficiary of all that carnage at the top has been the Ohio State Buckeyes. Two huge conference wins—including the week’s second loss for former Big Ten front-runner Michigan State—have Deshaun Thomas and his mates soaring toward the top of the rankings.

    Read on for more on the Buckeyes and the rest of the 25 best teams in college basketball with just two weeks to go in the regular season.

25. Wisconsin

1 of 25

    Previous Ranking: Unranked

    A predictable win at Northwestern this week gave the Badgers five victories in their last six Big Ten contests.

    That surge includes wins over Michigan and Ohio State, leaving Wisconsin just two games back of mighty Indiana at the top of the conference standings.

    Why They’re Here: There isn’t a more frustrating defense to face in all of college basketball.

    The Badgers' performance in the country's strongest conference gives them the edge over Marquette, the original No. 25 in this article. 

    Next Real Test: A March 7 visit to East Lansing is sure to leave both teams black and blue. Michigan State is one of the few visitors to win in Madison this season, having taken the first meeting by a slender 49-47 margin.

24. Notre Dame

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked

    Last weekend’s blowout at Providence hurt, but Notre Dame has now won four of five overall.

    In that stretch, its victims have included Pitt, Cincinnati and Louisville (albeit in five OTs), and it’s climbed within 1.5 games of the lead in the crowded Big East.

    Why They’re Here: One of the country’s best big men, Jack Cooley, anchors an exceptionally balanced, ball-moving offense that’s second in the country in assists.

    Next Real Test: Next Saturday sends the Irish to Marquette, where the Golden Eagles have been tough to beat. It’s the first meeting between the two teams, and the shooting guard matchup of Vander Blue and Jerian Grant could be decisive.

23. Colorado State

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    Previous Ranking: 17

    CSU’s six-game winning streak ended with a thud this week.

    A nail-biting loss to the Rebels in Las Vegas, plus an ugly home defeat featuring 46 points from New Mexico’s Kendall Williams, leaves the Rams two games out of first and scrambling to pick up the pieces.

    Why They’re Here: A solid defense and one of the best collections of rebounders in the nation had helped Colorado State surprise the loaded Mountain West…until this week.

    Next Real Test: None. The Rams won’t face a team with a winning record in the MWC until the conference tournament.

22. New Mexico

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked

    Facing their first Top 25 opponent since early January, the Lobos put on a dominant performance, flooring Colorado State on its home floor behind 46 points from Kendall Williams.

    The victory gives New Mexico a commanding two-game lead in a tough Mountain West that features three other 20-win squads.

    Why They’re Here: A hard-working defense led by rising star Alex Kirk is getting just enough offense from Williams and a streaky collection of scorers. 

    Next Real Test: New Mexico hosts a tough San Diego State team on Wednesday night. Tough as it is to win at the Pit, the Aztecs—who smothered the Lobos 55-34 in the first meeting—aren't exactly pushovers.

21. Creighton

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    Previous Ranking: 20

    Creighton botched one of its last chances to break out of its second-half slump, getting thrashed on the road by an outstanding St. Mary’s squad.

    For all the Blue Jays’ troubles, though, a win over SIU does keep them within striking distance of first place in the MVC.

    Why They’re Here: Doug McDermott’s dazzling offense is still one of the scariest units in all of college hoops.

    Next Real Test: Creighton’s regular season ends on the early side, but Saturday’s finale against Wichita State will be a huge one.

    The Shockers won the first meeting in Wichita, 67-64, but a Bluejays victory this weekend should give them a share of the conference crown.

20. Saint Louis

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    Previous Ranking: Unranked

    Saint Louis’ current nine-game winning run peaked this week with wins over both Virginia Commonwealth and Butler (in Indianapolis). Dwayne Evans and company are now 4-1 against ranked teams, including a season sweep of the Bulldogs.

    Why They’re Here: The Billikens’ big week has them alone in first place in the Atlantic 10, the country’s toughest mid-major by a wide margin.

    Next Real Test: Xavier hasn’t been the most consistent team, but the Musketeers are tough on their home floor. Saint Louis visits the Cintas Center on March 6, the only meeting between the two teams.

19. VCU

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    Previous Ranking: 18

    On its home floor with first place on the line, Virginia Commonwealth got pummeled by St. Louis, 76-62. To the Rams’ credit, they did bounce back strong on Saturday, mounting a tremendous comeback to earn a road win at dangerous Xavier.

    Why They’re Here: No other defense turns up the heat as well as the Rams, who lead the country in forcing turnovers.

    Next Real Test: VCU hosts Butler in Richmond on Saturday. The Bulldogs, who have no other games on the week, will have a chip on their shoulders after Friday’s painful home loss to St. Louis.

18. Memphis

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    Previous Ranking: 21

    A pair of home games turned into predictable wins for the streaking Tigers, including a season sweep of second-place Southern Miss.

    Of course, the fact that the second-place team in the conference has lost two games to Memphis by a combined 29 points says a lot about the quality of Conference USA these days.

    Why They’re Here: Joe Jackson’s red-hot offense has topped 70 points in five straight games, helping the Tigers extend their winning run to 18 in a row (and counting).

    Next Real Test: Tuesday night’s visit to a tough Xavier squad will be one of the last chances for Memphis to have a competitive game before March Madness.

17. Kentucky

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    Previous Ranking: 19

    Against any reasonable odds, Kentucky earned its highest-quality win of the season without injured freshman sensation Nerlens Noel.

    The Wildcats’ home upset of Missouri (combined with another close win over Vandy) keeps them in an improbable second-place tie with Alabama in the SEC.

    Why They’re Here: Even with Noel gone, the freshman-heavy ‘Cats have improved steadily as the season has progressed, to the point that they’re now among the league's top teams.

    Next Real Test: Fayetteville has been a miserable place to play for the rest of the SEC, and Kentucky gets to make its road trip to Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.

    Arkansas, which hasn’t yet faced the Wildcats on the year, can improve to 16-1 at home with a win.

16. Kansas State

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    Previous Ranking: 16

    Kansas State cruised to double-digit wins over a pair of overmatched opponents this week. The bigger news is that, by continuing a hot streak that’s seen them win seven of eight, the Wildcats stayed in a first-place tie with Kansas in the conference.

    Why They’re Here: Bruce Weber’s motion offense is adding a second dimension to the defense-first Wildcats.

    Next Real Test: K-State faces a beast of a regular-season finale, traveling to Stillwater on March 9.

    The Wildcats did beat Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State in Manhattan, but that was the very beginning of the Big 12 season, and the Cowboys are a much tougher team right now.

15. Arizona

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    Previous Ranking: 15

    Arizona capitalized on an Oregon loss in spades, routing Washington and Washington State in Tucson to move back into a first-place tie in the Pac-12.

    Nick Johnson picked up his playmaking this week, dishing out 11 much-needed assists over the two games.

    Why They’re Here: Clutch specialist Mark Lyons, with help from a physical young frontcourt, has the Wildcats back in their usual perch atop the conference standings.

    Next Real Test: On Saturday, the ‘Cats get a chance to avenge an ugly home loss when they travel to Pauley Pavilion. UCLA crushed Arizona 84-73 the first time around, and Sean Miller’s squad will be hungry to even the score.

14. Syracuse

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    Previous Ranking: 11

    Thanks to Otto Porter Jr.’s career day, the Orange suffered their first home loss in two seasons on Saturday. With the defeat, Syracuse falls a game behind Georgetown for the Big East lead.

    Why They’re Here: A balanced offense takes a back seat to the nation’s best zone D (which is all the better for Michael Carter-Williams’ ability to extend pressure at the top).

    Next Real Test: ‘Cuse has had its issues on the road this season, and Monday’s trip to Marquette is no picnic. Golden Eagle forward Davante Gardner will make the Orange work for every rebound in what’s likely to be another defensive struggle.

13. Oklahoma State

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    Previous Ranking: 12

    The Cowboys played their hearts out in the rematch with Kansas, but the veteran Jayhawks outlasted OSU in double OT in Stillwater.

    On the plus side, there wasn’t any hangover for Oklahoma State, which stayed just a game behind the Big 12 leaders by thumping West Virginia on Saturday.

    Why They’re Here: Marcus Smart is one of the country’s best players, and he has the Cowboy backcourt making plays and scoring points in bunches.

    Next Real Test: The Cowboys barely escaped with a two-point home win over Iowa State in January. On March 6, Travis Ford’s squad travels to Ames to take on Will Clyburn and the rising Cyclones.

12. Pittsburgh

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    Previous Ranking: 10

    The Panthers lost a great opportunity for a quality win by falling at home to a solid Notre Dame team on Monday night. Sunday’s road romp over St. John’s isn’t a bad thing, but it won’t do much for Pittsburgh’s tournament hopes.

    Why They’re Here: Slick PG Tray Woodall has given Pitt a smooth-running offense to go with a reasonable approximation of Jamie Dixon’s typical bruising D.

    Next Real Test: None. The Panthers should have little trouble winning their final three games before the Big East tourney.

11. Georgetown

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    Previous Ranking: 14

    After blasting DePaul at home, the Hoyas went on the road and stunned Syracuse behind the Otto Porter Jr. Show. Porter rang up a career-high 33 against one of the country’s best defenses, while the entire Orange team managed only 46.

    Why They’re Here: The Big East’s hottest team can bash you on defense or offense now that Porter is really coming into his own.

    Next Real Test: March 9 could be payback time as Michael Carter-Williams and the Orange come to D.C. If the standings stay as they are, first place in the Big East will be on the line in the regular-season finale.

10. Ohio State

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    Previous Ranking: 13

    A two-game homestand was just the tonic the slumping Buckeyes needed. After walloping Minnesota on Wednesday night, Aaron Craft and company rallied in the second half to topple Michigan State and earn their 10th conference win.

    Why They’re Here: Craft’s smothering defense does the dirty work while high-scoring Deshaun Thomas gets the headlines.

    Next Real Test: Ohio State is a good bet to be brought back to earth on March 5, when the Buckeyes visit league-leading Indiana. The Hoosiers dispatched OSU in Columbus in the first meeting by a convincing 81-68 score.

9. Duke

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    Previous Ranking: 9

    Duke closed the gap with ACC-leading Miami by slaughtering two of the conference’s worst teams. Even with Ryan Kelly out, the Blue Devils have a bona fide shot at a Final Four trip.

    Why They’re Here: Duke has finally learned how to play without Kelly, and the rest of its seniors have it very much in the picture for a top seed.

    Next Real Test: Thursday’s road trip to Virginia is a huge trap game, coming less than 48 hours before Duke’s rematch with Miami. The Cavaliers’ slowdown defense will frustrate fast-breaking Duke, which hasn’t faced Virginia on the year.

8. Louisville

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    Previous Ranking: 7

    The Cardinals only got to play once this week, and their home date with unimpressive Seton Hall went exactly as expected. With the win, Louisville stays in the Big East title picture, only a game behind front-running Georgetown.

    Why They’re Here: Two-way star Russ Smith leads an aggressive defense that creates a big chunk of the Cards’ scoring.

    Next Real Test: Saturday’s visit to Syracuse gives Peyton Siva and company a chance for payback. They controlled most of their January meeting with the Orange in Louisville, but Michael Carter-Williams’ frenetic finish stole a two-point win for the visitors.

7. Kansas

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    Previous Ranking: 8

    Revenge against TCU had to have felt good, but it’s the Jayhawks’ other win this week that will impress the selection committee.

    A hard-fought double-OT victory at Oklahoma State keeps Kansas in a first-place tie and avenges the Cowboys’ stunner in Lawrence earlier in the season.

    Why They’re Here: Jeff Withey’s shot-blocking leads the nation’s toughest field-goal defense, with electrifying Ben McLemore handling the offense.

    Next Real Test: KU opened the Big 12 season by getting a scare at home from Iowa State before winning in OT. The Jayhawks aren’t going to look past the Cyclones a second time around as they visit Ames on Monday night.

6. Miami

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    Previous Ranking: 4

    The most unexpected winning streak in college hoops came to an equally unexpected end Saturday.

    Miami suffered its first ACC loss on the road at Wake Forest, though it still holds a commanding conference lead after beating dangerous Virginia earlier in the week.

    Why They’re Here: The nation’s biggest surprise still tops the ACC standings behind a rising star PG (Shane Larkin) and a towering front line.

    Next Real Test: As well as Miami has played all year, plenty of opposing fans will discount its ACC success if it doesn’t “prove something” with a win at Duke on Saturday.

    The Hurricanes blew the doors off the Blue Devils in the first meeting, but Duke is playing a good deal better now (and is near-unbeatable on its home floor, as always).

5. Michigan State

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    Previous Ranking: 1

    For a week in which the Spartans’ combined point margin was just minus-12, it was an awfully damaging couple of games for Michigan State.

    A narrow home defeat by Indiana and a tough road loss at Ohio State are far from embarrassing results, but they combine to knock the Spartans well off their No. 1 perch.

    Why They’re Here: Tom Izzo’s always intimidating D is getting some offensive help this season from an impressive collection of perimeter athletes led by veteran PG Keith Appling.

    Next Real Test: Next Sunday, the Spartans must travel to arch-rival Michigan for the second leg of their season series. The Wolverines will be playing angry after getting run out of the gym in East Lansing, 75-52, two weeks ago.

4. Florida

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    Previous Ranking: 3

    Although Florida did avenge its tough loss at Arkansas this week, the Gators also showed that they’re still vulnerable away from Gainesville.

    A comeback home win by Missouri won’t keep Florida from running away with the title in an iffy SEC, but it will increase the odds that Kenny Boynton and company fall off the top line of the bracket come March.

    Why They’re Here: The nation’s No. 3 scoring defense—highlighted by a lethal full-court press—has a wealth of three-point shooters backing it up.

    Next Real Test: It’s hard to believe, but Florida might actually get a competitive game from the banged-up Kentucky Wildcats in the regular-season finale.

    Even without Nerlens Noel, injured in an easy Florida win two weeks ago, UK just beat Mizzou at Rupp Arena, which is where the Gators must travel on March 9.

3. Michigan

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    Previous Ranking: 6

    Michigan got the job done in its lone game of the week, handling a Jekyll-and-Hyde Illinois squad in Ann Arbor to complete a season sweep.

    Even with the win, though, the Wolverines sit two games behind Big Ten leader Indiana with time running out in the regular year.

    Why They’re Here: Player of the Year prospect Trey Burke is just one of Michigan’s brigade of three-point marksmen.

    Next Real Test: The Maize and Blue will be looking to make a statement when rival Michigan State comes to the Crisler Center on Sunday. The Spartans annihilated the Wolverines by 23 in the first meeting.

2. Gonzaga

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    Previous Ranking: 5

    Two more home games, two more demolition jobs for the Gonzaga offensive behemoth. The Zags haven’t lost since January 19, they’re 14-0 in conference and a No. 1 seed is easily within reach.

    Why They’re Here: Kelly Olynyk and his sweet shooting touch lead one of the country’s smoothest, scariest offenses.

    Next Real Test: None. The chances of Gonzaga losing before the WCC tournament are slim and none (and it has a great chance of winning out in that tourney too).

1. Indiana

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    Previous Ranking: 2

    Statements don’t come much bigger than the Hoosiers’ clutch win on the road at powerful Michigan State. IU now controls its destiny for the Big Ten title (along with, almost certainly, a No. 1 overall seed in March).

    Why They’re Here: The preseason’s top-ranked team continues to walk the walk with an astonishing offensive arsenal and Victor Oladipo’s defensive playmaking.

    Next Real Test: It’s not over yet for the Hoosiers, who host the terrific defense of Ohio State on March 5. The Buckeyes will get a chance to avenge a 13-point home loss from a couple of weeks ago.