More than two months remain in the 2013-14 college basketball season, but the Arizona Wildcats have already made history.
For the seventh week in a row, Sean Miller’s squad will rank No. 1 when the Associated Press Top 25 poll is released later Monday.
That’s a school record, beating the six-week stretch when Arizona sat atop the poll at the beginning of the 2002-03 season.
Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats end up shattering their previous streak. At 18-0 overall and 5-0 in league play, Arizona has distinguished itself as the class of the Pac-12. The distance between Miller’s team and the conference’s second-place squad—whichever team that may be—isn’t even close.
That doesn’t mean Arizona isn’t capable of being upset.
The scariest game on the schedule appears to be a Feb. 1 showdown at Cal. The Golden Bears are making their debut in the Bleacher Report Top 25 this week after opening conference play with five straight wins.
On a national level, Syracuse and Wichita State are also undefeated, but Arizona hasn’t had as many scares as the Orange, who beat St. John’s, Miami and Pittsburgh by five points each. And the Wildcats have played a much tougher schedule than Wichita State.
Just missed the cut in this week’s poll: Texas, Xavier, Southern Methodist, UCLA
Dropped out: Colorado, Memphis, Baylor
Record: 14-4, 3-2
Previous Power Ranking: 24
The Sooners notched their biggest win of the season by knocking off then-No. 12 Baylor 66-64 in Waco on Saturday. Everyone knows Lon Kruger is a great coach, but no one expected Oklahoma to be this good after losing its top three scorers from last season.
One of the biggest difference-makers for Oklahoma has been Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler, a 6'8" sophomore who is averaging 11.2 points and 9.4 rebounds. Spangler is among five Sooners averaging double digits in scoring. Cameron Clark ranks fifth in the Big 12 with 17.1 points per game.
Record: 15-3, 2-3
Previous Power Ranking: 14
Once ranked as high as No. 3 in the country, the Buckeyes will take a three-game losing streak into Monday’s game against Nebraska in Lincoln.
Ohio State’s biggest problem is a lack of a go-to scorer. LaQuinton Ross (14.1 points) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (12) have posted respectable numbers, but neither boasts the offensive skills of past stars such as Deshaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger or Evan Turner.
Don’t be surprised if Ohio State goes on a three-game win streak (against Nebraska, Illinois and Penn State) before taking on Wisconsin on Feb. 1 in Madison.
Record: 14-4, 4-1
Previous Power Ranking: Not ranked
The Kansas State Wildcats’ decision to hire Bruce Weber nearly two years ago is looking better and better each week.
Since his arrival in Manhattan, Weber has gone 20-2 against Big 12 opponents other than Kansas. Yes, he’s 0-4 against the Jayhawks, but he should be. The talent differential between the two teams is significant.
Instead of whining about his inability to beat an in-state rival, Kansas State fans should relish all of the other wins that most coaches wouldn’t be able to achieve with limited talent in a conference as tough as the Big 12.
Record: 15-3, 5-1
Previous Power Ranking: 22
The Creighton Bluejays are one of the top teams in the Big East, but they won’t be a serious threat to make much noise in the postseason unless they find a second scorer to complement Doug McDermott.
The leading candidate for national player of the year, McDermott scored 21 points in Saturday’s 81-68 road loss to Providence. Only one other Bluejay reached double figures, as reserve guard Devin Brooks had 10.
McDermott has always had to shoulder a heavy load at Creighton, but this year it’s on another level.
Record: 14-4, 5-0
Previous Power Ranking: Not ranked
The California Golden Bears are the surprise of the Pac-12. Mike Montgomery’s squad opened the conference season with road wins at Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State and then thumped Washington and Washington State by an average of 23.5 points at home.
Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs is vying for first-team all-league honors with averages of 14.9 points and 6.4 assists.
Cal shouldn’t have any trouble winning at USC on Wednesday, but Sunday’s tilt with UCLA in Westwood could be one of the better Pac-12 games of the season thus far.
Record: 14-3, 2-3
Previous Power Ranking: 7
It’s been an atrocious two weeks for the Iowa State Cyclones, who have dropped three straight games after opening the season with 14 consecutive wins.
After falling to a solid Oklahoma team on Jan. 11 in Norman, Fred Hoiberg’s squad hoped to get back on track by avenging last year’s controversial loss to Kansas in Ames. Iowa State, though, was dreadful in a 77-70 loss to the Jayhawks, going just 4-of-25 from three-point range while missing 12 free throws.
The sting of that loss was obviously still lingering when Iowa State visited Texas on Saturday. The Cyclones trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half and lost 86-76 to a good, but not great, Texas squad.
A tough stretch lies ahead, with red-hot Kansas State visiting on Saturday. After that it’s a rematch with Kansas on Jan. 29 in Lawrence.
Record: 16-1, 3-0
Previous Power Ranking: 19
One sign of a good coach is when his team wins close games, and Derek Kellogg’s Minutemen have done plenty of that in 2013-14.
Ten of Massachusetts’ 16 victories have been decided by 10 points or less, including five by five points or less.
Of course, having a high-caliber guard such as Chaz Williams helps, too. Williams ranks third in the country with 7.4 assists per game while leading the team in scoring with 16.3 points per contest. In his last two games, Williams is averaging 23 points and 3.5 steals.
Record: 14-4, 3-2
Previous Power Ranking: 23
After losing two of their first three ACC games, the Blue Devils are playing with a renewed energy.
Five days after staving off a pesky Virginia team 69-65, Duke blasted in-state rival North Carolina State 90-65 in Durham. Jabari Parker had 23 points in the victory after averaging just 10.5 points in his first four league games.
The most encouraging signs lately, though, have come from guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who had 21 points against Virginia and 13 against North Carolina State. That's not bad for a guy who could hardly get off the bench a month ago.
Record: 16-2, 4-1
Previous Power Ranking: 21
Pittsburgh led No. 2-ranked Syracuse 52-49 with less than five minutes to play Saturday, but it eventually fell to the Orange in the Carrier Dome, 59-54. Pittsburgh’s only other loss this season came in a one-point setback against Cincinnati at Madison Square Garden.
If Pittsburgh continues its winning ways, Jamie Dixon should be in the conversation for ACC Coach of the Year. At this point, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim would have to be the favorite, considering the Orange have yet to lose. But Syracuse was expected to be good. Pittsburgh wasn’t.
Record: 17-2, 4-0
Previous Power Ranking: 20
The Billikens are one of the country’s best-kept secrets, which seems strange considering they return many of the key pieces of last year’s Atlantic 10 championship squad.
Saint Louis hasn’t lost since Dec. 1, when it fell 70-65 to Wichita State. Its only other setback came in a 63-57 defeat to Wisconsin.
Dwayne Evans (15.5) and Jordair Jett (12.3) are the only two Billikens averaging double figures in scoring.
Saint Louis plays at Duquesne on Wednesday and then has a week off before hosting Richmond on Jan. 29.
Record: 13-4, 5-0
Previous Power Ranking: Not ranked
It’s time to start talking about the Michigan Wolverines as serious contenders for the Big Ten title. Most people probably thought the season was over when Mitch McGary was deemed out for the year with a back injury requiring surgery. Instead, Michigan is in the middle of a seven-game winning streak that is highlighted by Saturday’s 77-70 victory at Wisconsin.
Michigan has four losses, but only one of them (against Charlotte) is considered “bad.” The others are road setbacks against Iowa State and Duke and a home defeat against Arizona.
Nik Stauskas is averaging 18 points while shooting 44 percent from three-point range.
Record: 17-2, 6-0
Previous Power Ranking: 16
The Cincinnati Bearcats are the only undefeated team in the American Athletic Conference. Granted, they’ve yet to play preseason favorite Louisville, but they’ve looked impressive in lopsided victories over Memphis and SMU.
Sean Kilpatrick continues to lead Cincinnati in scoring with 18.6 points per game. But one of the biggest keys to the Bearcats’ success has been senior Justin Jackson, who went from averaging 3.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as a junior to 11.6 and 7.5 this season.
Record: 16-3, 5-1
Previous Power Ranking: 18
A Jan. 9 home loss to Memphis apparently lit a fire in the Louisville Cardinals, who looked as good as they have all season in victories over SMU, Houston (by 39 points) and Connecticut.
Forward Montrezl Harrell has been particularly impressive, with double-doubles in three of his last four contests, including an 18-point, 13-rebound effort in Saturday’s 12-point win at Connecticut.
After playing at South Florida on Wednesday, Rick Pitino’s squad will have eight days off before a Jan. 30 showdown against league leader Cincinnati at the KFC Yum! Center.
Record: 13-4, 3-1
Previous Power Ranking: 10
Even though they lost, I was encouraged by what I saw from the Wildcats in Tuesday’s 87-85 overtime road setback against Arkansas. Kentucky made two gutsy three-pointers in the game’s waning minutes: one by Andrew Harrison to force overtime and another by James Young to tie the game 85-85 with 10 seconds remaining. Those were big shots by freshmen in a raucous environment.
The toughness impressed me.
So, too, did Kentucky’s resiliency after falling behind against Tennessee on Saturday. The Wildcats fought back and posted a 74-66 win.
Kentucky needs to make a statement this week by beating Texas A&M (Tuesday) and Georgia (Saturday) convincingly at Rupp Arena.
Record: 16-2, 3-2
Previous Power Ranking: 3
After opening the season with 16 straight wins, the Badgers are toting back-to-back losses against Indiana and Michigan, the latter of which occurred at home.
Wisconsin didn’t play particularly poorly in either defeat, especially not on the offensive end. If they're truly an elite team, the Badgers will bounce back and establish some positive momentum by winning their next three games against Minnesota, Purdue and Northwestern. The Minnesota and Purdue games, however, are on the road and shouldn’t be considered easy wins.
Record: 15-3, 3-2
Previous Power Ranking: 13
Travis Ford’s team saw a valiant comeback attempt fall just short against Kansas on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. The Cowboys shaved a 19-point deficit to two and had a chance to win or tie on the game’s final possession, but they failed to get off a shot as time expired in an 80-78 loss.
Still, the swagger that’s been missing from this team since Michael Cobbins’ injury has clearly returned. Guards Phil Forte and Markel Brown went a combined 12-of-19 from three-point range against Kansas, and Marcus Smart was one assist shy of a triple-double.
Record: 15-3, 4-1
Previous Power Ranking: 9
Is Iowa the best team in the Big Ten? The Hawkeyes certainly belong in the conversation after winning four of their first five league games, including one at Ohio State.
On Sunday, Fran McCaffery’s squad annihilated a Minnesota team that has been giving opponents fits. Iowa’s biggest test to date, however, will come Wednesday when it travels to take on a Michigan squad that has won seven straight games. A victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor would awaken anyone who made the mistake of sleeping on this year’s team.
Record: 16-1, 5-0
Previous Power Ranking: 11
The San Diego State Aztecs have won 15 straight since falling 69-60 to Arizona on Nov. 14. Much of their success can be attributed to two players.
Point guard Xavier Thames is averaging 17 points while shooting 46.7 percent from three-point range. In the paint, Tulane transfer Josh Davis is averaging 11.5 rebounds, a mark that ranks third in the nation.
Three of San Diego State’s next four games are on the road, with the toughest test coming at Boise State on Feb. 5.
Record: 13-4, 4-0
Previous Power Ranking: 15
The Jayhawks aren’t the best team in America, but they could be by the end of the season. The strides Bill Self’s team is making are huge. Not many teams in the nation would’ve been able to hang with Kansas during the first half of Saturday’s 80-78 victory over Oklahoma State. Heck, the Jayhawks led by 19 points on a night when leading scorer Andrew Wiggins only contributed three points.
The biggest difference for Kansas is the improved play of 7-foot center Joel Embiid, who is averaging 13.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and five blocks in his last three games.
Record: 16-1, 5-0
Previous Power Ranking: 8
Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats are the only undefeated team in the Big East heading into Monday night’s showdown against second-place Creighton.
One of the biggest surprises for Villanova has been the play of freshman Josh Hart, a 6’5” guard who is averaging 11.3 points in his last eight games. Four other Villanova players average between 9.7 and 15.6 points, the sign of a balanced team.
Villanova’s only loss came against No. 2-ranked and undefeated Syracuse.
Record: 15-2, 4-0
Previous Power Ranking: 6
Thank goodness leading scorer Casey Prather was healthy enough to play against last-place Auburn on Saturday. Otherwise, the Florida Gators may have lost.
Prather, who missed the previous two contests with a bruised knee, scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half of a 68-61 win.
Exactly one week earlier, the Gators defeated Arkansas on the road without Prather. In that game it was forward Dorian Finney-Smith who provided the heroics.
Record: 19-0, 6-0
Previous Power Ranking: 5
The Shockers molly-whopped Indiana State 68-48 on Saturday, and the Sycamores are generally considered the second-best team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
So, yes, it’s very possible that Wichita State could finish the regular season without a loss.
Fred VanVleet is establishing himself as one of the top point guards in America. He’s averaging 12.9 points on the season but 17.7 points in his last three games.
Wichita State’s next two games (against Illinois State and Drake) are on the road.
Record: 17-1, 6-0
Previous Power Ranking: 4
The Spartans are off to their best start in school history at 17-1. Considering all of the great teams Tom Izzo has had in the past, that’s quite a feat.
And it’s even more impressive when you consider Michigan State hasn’t been healthy for nearly a month.
Forward and likely first-round NBA draft pick Adreian Payne has missed the last three games with a foot injury. If Payne—who averages 16.2 points and 7.7 boards—returns at full strength, the Spartans will be as good as any team in the country.
Record: 18-0, 5-0
Previous Power Ranking: 2
Players from Kansas and Kentucky may get more attention, but Orange point guard Tyler Ennis belongs in any conversation about the best freshmen in college basketball.
Ennis is averaging 11.9 points, 5.5 assists and 2.7 steals for one of America’s three undefeated teams. He carries himself like a seasoned veteran. His leadership permeates throughout the entire locker room.
Syracuse hits the road this week to play Miami and Wake Forest. Its Feb. 1 game against Duke is getting closer and closer.
Record: 18-0, 5-0
Previous Power Ranking: 1
Arizona Wildcats junior Nick Johnson is beginning to receive some mention as a potential All-American, and rightfully so.
A shooting guard, Johnson averages 16.3 points and 2.4 assists for the No. 1 team in the country. He's making 49.7 percent of his field-goal attempts and 81.9 percent of his free throws, both incredible numbers. In his last four games, Johnson is averaging 19.5 points. He and point guard T.J. McConnell form one of the top backcourt duos in the country.