Andy Katz's Power 36: Who's in the NCAA tournament (Jan. 2)
During Selection Week in March, the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee will select the best 36 at-large teams to join the 32 automatic qualifiers to play in the Division I men’s basketball championship. Each week, Andy will rank his best 36 teams based on results to date. These rankings are his own and are in no way affiliated with the committee.
The Power 36 wishes everyone a Happy New Year and good health and happiness to all our loyal readers. And just think, the new year means March Madness is just two months away! Conference play is about to dominate the sport this week for a sprint toward champ week. Strap in for what should be a wild ride.
Onto the rankings (which will return to its normal Monday schedule on Jan. 8):
1. Michigan State (Last week’s Power 36 ranking - 1): The Associated Press poll caught up to the Power 36 and put the Spartans No. 1 on Monday. Tom Izzo has had plenty of potential title teams since he last won in 2000. But he's usually had a few obstacles to deal with — crazy schedule, injuries, a mini-losing skid. None of that is happening this season so far. This team is as complete as he has had in East Lansing. And it’s only going to get better. The younger players are still finding their way. The beauty of this group is that the potential is still extremely high, despite the top ranking. The latest hot hand for the Spartans is Nick Ward, scoring 43 points and grabbing 24 boards in two games last weekend.
Up next: Maryland, Thursday; at Ohio State Sunday.
2. Xavier (5): The Musketeers have handled every challenge so far this season, save a second-half onslaught by Arizona State. Chris Mack has himself a squad. The Musketeers took care of Marquette on the road and DePaul. Sure, they get pushed, but the second gear the Musketeers can unleash on teams can be suffocating.
Up next: Butler, Tuesday; at Providence, Saturday.
3. Duke (4): The Blue Devils’ defense needs to get tighter when the competition increases. That’s the lesson from the Florida State game. Duke limited Evansville to 40 points. But Florida State is not Evansville and put 93 on the Blue Devils. The good news is Duke can outscore anyone, especially with Marvin Bagley III on the squad. He put up 32 points and 21 boards in the win at Cameron.
Up next: at NC State, Saturday.
4. Arizona (6): Remember, a head-to-head earlier in the season may not mean the exact same as it does now. Teams evolve and improve and get closer to their potential. The Wildcats are hitting their stride and had their best win of the season at home against rival and previously undefeated Arizona State. Deandre Ayton, the NCAA.com national player of the week, was unstoppable at both ends of the court with 23 and 19. Allonzo Trier finished with 23. Arizona had to defend the 3 against ASU and while the Sun Devils made eight, they attempted 25. Now, the chore will be how well Arizona plays on the road against tougher competition.
Up next: at Utah, Thursday; at Colorado Saturday.
5. Arizona State (3): What, did you think I was going to fall off the bandwagon? Come on. The Power 36 has been driving this bus from day one. The Sun Devils lost a rivalry road game by six. There is no shame in that one bit. Conference play is the great equalizer for teams that have a tremendous non-conference slate. Still, this team is built for the long haul and as Bobby Hurley said last week on the March Madness 365 podcast, he is never worried when they get down because of their ability to score in bunches.
Up next: at Colorado, Thursday; at Utah, Saturday.
6. Oklahoma (7): The Sooners knocked off undefeated TCU behind 39 points and 14 assists from Trae Young. He is the leader in the clubhouse for national player of the year, ahead of Bagley and Ayton at this juncture. But he’s not alone on the Sooners. He can’t be. And against TCU, sophomore Kameron McGusty chipped in with 22 off the bench. Freshman forward Brady Manek grabbed 13 boards. This team knows its roles as the players tend to stay in their lane.
Up next: Oklahoma State, Wednesday; at West Virginia, Saturday.
7. Villanova (2): The Wildcats shouldn’t get penalized too much for losing at unranked Butler. They’ve done it before. And they were bound to get beat, or even get run for a bit. Nova made a furious comeback in the second half to make the game interesting. The drop for the Wildcats is really more about who they lost to rather than taking a loss. Ultimately, Villanova still has the look, feel and likely resume of a No. 1 seed. This will all even out for the Wildcats. But there could be at least one or two more losses forthcoming in a rugged Big East.
Up next: Marquette, Saturday.
8. Purdue (8): The Boilermakers are remarkably consistent this season. They disputed Tennessee State and a quality Lipscomb at home. Now it gets real again with the restart of Big Ten play, although the Butler win two weeks ago looks better and better with age. The best thing for Purdue is the stars seem to play every night with Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias, Issac Haas and Matt Haarms as reliable producers each game.
Up next: Rutgers, Wednesday; Nebraska, Saturday.
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Up next: Texas Tech, Tuesday; at TCU, Saturday.
10. West Virginia (12): Bob Huggins requests to start on the road in the Big 12. He wants to get a pair of road games out of the way since the Mountaineers have to travel further than any other Big 12 team on a regular basis. So, for the Mountaineers to get wins at Oklahoma State and Kansas State to start off league action is huge. West Virginia hasn’t lost since the opener against Texas A&M in Germany. This squad is rolling, playing with oodles of confidence and has the look of one of Huggs' better teams since he has been in Morgantown. The latest hot hand has been freshman Teddy Allen. He scored 22 against Kansas State after a tidy 15 against Oklahoma State.
Up next: Oklahoma, Saturday.
11. North Carolina (14): The Tar Heels moved up when you combine the neutral site win a week ago over Ohio State in New Orleans and a solid home win over Wake Forest, even if it came in the final few possessions. They didn’t let the Wofford loss beat them twice. North Carolina defended the Demon Deacons exceptionally well, forcing contested and difficult shots in the final Wake possessions. The best news for UNC is that it can hand the ball to Joel Berry II to make a play, and he will. He buried a floater in the final 10 seconds to essentially win the game for UNC.
Up next: at Florida State, Wednesday; at Virginia, Saturday.
12. TCU (9): There’s no reason to drop the Horned Frogs too far after losing to Oklahoma and arguably the top player in the country in Young. It doesn’t matter that the game was at home. Oklahoma can make a deep, deep run. But TCU could be a dangerous team come March, as well. This team is playing with tons of confidence. But this will be the week to find out how the Horned Frogs will deal with obstacles. How they handle a difficult road game and then another monster home game could be a determining factor. TCU could be 0-3 quickly and then will have to ensure that they can deal with adversity.
Up next: at Baylor, Tuesday; Kansas, Saturday.
13. Cincinnati (13): The Bearcats were dominant in their AAC opener, limiting Memphis to just 48 points. Cincinnati is no longer an offensive question. Gary Clark had his fourth double-double of the season against the Tigers and Jarron Cumberland and Jacob Evans III are all viable options. Cincinnati is going to be a good watch all season long.
Up next: at Temple, Thursday; SMU, Sunday.
14. Wichita State (15): The Shockers took UConn’s best shot and held on for a 10-point win on the road to open their first season in the American. The Shockers continue to be a top draw, regardless of conference affiliation. Wichita State can rely on Landry Shamet to make timely shots. Markis McDuffie is still getting into game shape, and once he does the Shockers will be even more productive on the offensive end.
Up next: Houston, Thursday; South Florida, Sunday.
15. Kentucky (26): The Wildcats are likely done being outside the top 25 in the Power 36. Kentucky had as impressive a win over Louisville as there has been in that historic series. The domination of the Cardinals was followed up by a solid, lower-scoring win over Georgia Sunday. The Bulldogs had multiple chances to win the game, but couldn’t keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in check at the 3-point line. The Wildcats’ defense was strong over the two games when the game mattered most.
Up next: at LSU, Wednesday; at Tennessee, Saturday.
16. Michigan (16): The Wolverines are winning the games they should, easily dispatching Alabama A&M and Jacksonville at home. The defense is in lockdown mode. Mo Wagner is back in the lineup after being injured and all seems well for Michigan as it heads back into Big Ten play. Michigan has as much of a claim to be a top three team in the league as any other team.
Up next: at Iowa, Tuesday; Illinois, Saturday.
17. Miami (17): The Hurricanes are in the middle of quite a road swing. With frigid temperatures blanketing the midwest and northeast, the ACC should have kept the Canes at home. Of course, the first part of this road trip was in Hawaii. But Miami dispatched Pitt and hasn’t looked back since losing to New Mexico State Dec. 23. Miami needs a little national attention and will get it in two weeks when it plays host to Duke on a big Monday. But there are a few hiccups possibly before that game.
Up next: at Georgia Tech, Wednesday; Florida State, Sunday.
18. Texas A&M (11): The Aggies have had a bizarre season. Texas A&M has been riddled with suspensions, the latest from D.J. Hogg. And it cost them in a loss at Alabama, scoring only 57 points. If —and it’s a big if — this team is fully free of distractions, then it has the talent and the versatility to be a difficult out in March. But getting there and receiving a high seed could be determined on how they navigate the next few weeks. A road game at Kansas in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge will be a tall task, but could also alter the perception and power rating for this team.
Up next: Florida, Tuesday; LSU, Saturday.
19. Virginia (18): The Cavaliers had to grind out a home win over a much-improved Boston College, beating the Eagles 59-58. And the good news is that the Eagles only scored 58. Now, let’s see how the Cavs translate their defense on the road in the ACC at their rival. They also have a golden opportunity over the weekend to make a statement in the league with Carolina coming to Charlottesville.
Up next: at Virginia Tech, Wednesday; North Carolina, Saturday.
20. Gonzaga (21): The Zags followed up the road loss at San Diego State by taking it out on the WCC, crushing Pacific and Santa Clara. Those schools clearly aren’t in the same class of the Zags this season, despite league affiliation. There is still a chasm between the bottom of the WCC and the Zags. The convincing wins should continue for a few weeks, even on the road.
Up next: at Pepperdine, Thursday; at Loyola Marymount, Saturday.
21. Butler (NR): The Bulldogs surge back into the Power 36 with an impressive week of beating Georgetown in double overtime in D.C. and then taking down No. 1 Villanova at Hinkle. LaVall Jordan has continued the Butler Way, just like his predecessors. The Bulldogs have won four in a row and nine of their last 10 and that includes a gritty overtime win against Ohio State in Portland. This team has some serious chops when the game is on the line.
Up next: at Xavier, Tuesday; Seton Hall, Saturday.
22. UCLA (NR): The Bruins seem to be done with distractions. They have settled on the season-long suspensions for Cody Riley and Jalen Hill. The Ball family is out of their crosshairs. All is well now at Pauley. This squad is playing at a high level, able to withstand opposing team runs and deal with in-game adversity. If Kris Wilkes continues to be a big-time scorer then the Bruins can return to their rightful place and be a top three Pac-12 team.
Up next: at Stanford, Thursday; at Cal, Saturday.
23. Arkansas (24): The Hogs completed an extremely impressive five-game homestand with the overtime win over Tennessee. The Hogs knocked off Colorado State, Minnesota and the Vols during the stretch. The play of senior guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon has been all-SEC. Now, let’s see how it all translates on the road in the league. Arkansas must be taken seriously as a real threat to finish near the top, or who knows, contend for the regular-season title.
Up next: at Mississippi State, Tuesday; at Auburn, Saturday.
24. Rhode Island (22): The Rams handled their A-10 opener by knocking off George Mason by 19. E.C. Matthews, a preseason all-A-10 pick, is healthy and delivered with 18. Jared Terrell chimed in with 16 and eight. The Rams made 10 3s against the Patriots. That’s yet another good sign as to the offensive breakout potential of this group.
Up next: La Salle, Wednesday; at George Washington, Saturday.
25. St. Bonaventure (23): The Bonnies dropped a few spots, not because of anything they did, but rather the type of wins Butler and UCLA had over the past week. But fear not Bonnie Nation, they're looking still extremely strong as an NCAA tournament team and a possible A-10 champ if they can get by URI. The 20-point win over Massachusetts, a team that knocked off Georgia and Providence at home, may be as impressive as winning at Syracuse. Seriously? Yes. Because it showed the Bonnies are taking every opponent as real as the next. And they didn’t let the win over the Orange go to their heads. This team is locked in with an experienced lot that can make a run.
Up next: at Dayton, Wednesday; at Saint Joseph’s, Saturday.
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26. Clemson (25): The Tigers continue to defend as well as any Brad Brownell team. NC State mustered only 62 points. That’s the third-straight game a team hasn’t been able to score over 62. And you have to go back to Nov. 24 to find a team that scored over 69. The Tigers have won eight in a row since losing to Temple on a neutral court in mid-November. The Tigers don’t have the offensive stars they’ve had in the past, but they may be a more complete team.
Up next: at Boston College, Wednesday; Louisville, Saturday.
27. Seton Hall (30): The Pirates are shaping up to be a late-game, decisive team that will show well as the weeks and months unfold. Save the late loss to Rutgers and a last-possession shot against URI, the Pirates are closers. Creighton and St. John’s gave it a go at challenging the Pirates in Newark but couldn’t prevail. Now comes a brutal stretch of four of the next six Big East games on the road.
Up next: at Butler, Saturday.
28. Creighton (27): The Bluejays had a great bounce back win over Providence after the late loss to Seton Hall. The versatile scoring crew of Khryri Thomas, Marcus Foster, Martin Krampelj and Davion Mintz give Greg McDermott plenty of options. The Bluejays can go five or six double-scorers deep on a given night. This is a fun watch.
Up next: St. John’s, Wednesday; at Georgetown, Saturday.
29. Texas Tech (28): Chris Beard has done a superb job so far in Lubbock. This continues to be the repetitive mantra about this team: they defend. Baylor was limited to 53 points. Keenan Evans and Zaire Smith were the scorers of note against the Bears. But this team will go as far as its defense takes it this season. So far, that’s to an impressive 12-1 record.
Up next: at Kansas, Tuesday; Kansas State, Saturday.
30. Houston (31): The Cougars should be a tournament team. I’ve seen them. They’ve got the look of one. They have the pieces; now they’ve got to go out and win the games they should and take down a few of the comparable teams in the AAC. So far they are doing what they should in winning at South Florida and beating Temple. Circle the games against Wichita State, Cincinnati and SMU to see if this team can lock in a bid. The first one is coming up this week.
Up next: at Wichita State, Thursday.
31. SMU (32): The Mustangs are making Moody one of the toughest places to win in the country. Quietly, they are extremely difficult to beat in their house. UCF pushed and got the game close, but the Mustangs can finish at home. They absolutely annihilated South Florida 79-39. Now comes a tough slate of three of the next four on the road. Contender or pretender? We shall see.
Up next: at Tulane, Thursday; at Cincinnati, Sunday.
32. Tennessee (19): The Vols were one of the toughest teams to rank this week. Watch this team and Tennessee is an NCAA tournament team. And they nearly won at Arkansas, losing in overtime. But peel back the schedule and they still need to beat another team that is definitely going to be in the field. The neutral court win over Purdue will have tremendous shelf life. The road win at Wake Forest was impressive, but the Demon Deacons don’t have the resume. This team is still learning how to close out games. All three of their losses this season have come late. It’s only a matter of time before the Vols rip off a slew in a row. Maybe it will start this week against two hot teams.
Up next: Auburn, Tuesday; Kentucky, Saturday.
33. Texas (20): The Longhorns had their moments against Kansas in the Big 12 opener. Mo Bamba was sensational with 22 points, 15 boards and eight blocks. But Texas’ 3-point perimeter defense failed them, giving up 17 3s. That’s why the win at Iowa State Monday night was so critical. Texas didn’t let the Kansas loss contribute to a second one. Iowa State traditionally is one of the toughest places to win. Texas hadn’t done so since 2010. It took overtime, but the play of Dylan Osetkowski was special down the stretch, nailing the decisive 3-pointer. He finished with 25 points and nine boards. Andrew Jones is still not 100 percent after suffering a broken wrist. He has been limited in his minutes and production in his first two games back since missing the previous four. Once he’s a viable perimeter option, this team will surge.
Up next: at Baylor, Saturday.
Dylan Osetkowski recorded a career-high 25 points and Matt Coleman matched a season-high with nine assists and brought down a career-high seven rebounds in the overtime win.— Texas Basketball (@TexasMBB) January 2, 2018
Next Up: Jan 6th at Baylor. Tip is set for 1 p.m. Central. #Hookem pic.twitter.com/6RJSt4hggL
34. Florida State (29): The Seminoles played extremely well at Duke. But they couldn’t close out the Blue Devils and did give up 100 points. Sure, they scored 93, which is hardly the norm for a Leonard Hamilton team. But this is not a traditional Florida State offense. This team has been racking up points of late, averaging 85 a game. The Seminoles never get any scheduling favors from the ACC. They always have to earn their way, usually with a collection of difficult games all in a row. Well, this is season is no different.
Up next: North Carolina, Wednesday; at Miami, Sunday.
35. Alabama (NR): The Tide capitalized on the depleted Texas A&M Aggies and won handily 79-57 after a 16-point loss to Texas in Birmingham. The good news for the Tide was that they didn’t have to rely on Collin Sexton to win. John Petty made five 3s in the game The bad news for the Tide is that Riley Norris, Alabama’s most experienced player is done for the season with a hip injury. Not having a glue guy like Norris will have an effect on Alabama. This will be a team that has to grind its way toward a bid. But it’s doable.
Up next: at Vanderbilt, Tuesday; at Georgia, Saturday.
36: Auburn (36): The Tigers will know if they are a real threat in the SEC in the first week of the season. They were off this past weekend in the conference, beating Cornell. Now, let’s see if the Tigers are ready for prime time. Bruce Pearl has done a quality job keeping this group together. Split the next two games and the Tigers will still be in the poll next week. Check out who’s on tap below.
Up next: at Tennessee, Tuesday; Arkansas, Saturday.