Still less than one month into the 2021-22 men’s college basketball season, we’re already onto our third No. 1 team at the top of the rankings. But this time, it was a much easier debate than last week’s.
Purdue is the clear No. 1 — and based on its upcoming schedule, that doesn’t appear likely to change any time soon. As things stand now, the Boilermakers will be heavily favored in each of their next seven games before they head to Ann Arbor to face Michigan on Jan. 11. The schedule does stiffen up after that, but this year’s Big Ten is not last year’s Big Ten, which featured two 1-seeds, two 2-seeds, another 4-seed and six teams ranked in the top 15 at KenPom.
From a résumé standpoint, Purdue has a marquee win over Villanova on a neutral court, as well as solid wins over North Carolina, Florida State and Iowa.
On the court, it ticks all the boxes as well. It has the No. 1 adjusted offensive efficiency in the country, ranking in the top five in both 2-point percentage and 3-point percentage — while also ranking in top 10 in offensive rebounding percentage and in the top 25 in free-throw rate. Simply put, how do you stop that type of balance? Jaden Ivey is playing himself into the conversation for top-five pick, Zach Edey and Trevion Williams are the best low-post duo in the country and Matt Painter has surrounded them with capable shooters and role players.
Purdue was narrowly beat out by Duke last week, but there’s no need for a debate on that this week. The Boilermakers are No. 1 in our Power Rankings. And they’ll also be No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time in school history.
Undoubtedly the greatest moment for Alabama athletics in the last couple days. Hours after their counterparts on the gridiron took down top-ranked Georgia in the SEC championship game on Saturday, Nate Oats’ Crimson Tide went to Seattle and knocked off No. 3 Gonzaga — and made a statement that they’re going to be a factor in the SEC college basketball title race once again this season.
Alabama jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half, and finished the first 20 minutes on a 15-2 run in what would become something of a theme for the second half. The Crimson Tide took punch after punch from Gonzaga after halftime, with the Zags constantly going on runs to cut the lead to single digits, and eventually four points. But Alabama continued to respond with a couple of 3-pointers or a 5-0 or 8-0 run, to provide some separation.
Jaden Shackelford was outstanding in the first half with 20 points, and then made a couple of key baskets late in the game after a quiet start to the second half. Jahvon Quinerly outplayed Andrew Nembhard at the point guard spot, and JD Davison was outstanding off the bench, making four 3-pointers — something he’s struggled to do so far this season. Alabama made 13 3s, kept Gonzaga out of transition and threw multiple bodies (and fouls) at Drew Timme down low, making him battle for everything around the rim.
Aimaq was a revelation last season for Utah Valley, winning WAC Player of the Year honors and leading the nation in rebounding. After declaring for the NBA draft, he opted to return to the Wolverines — and might be even better this season.
He was dominant in Utah Valley’s overtime upset win over BYU last week, finishing with 24 points, 22 rebounds (eight on the offensive end), four assists, three blocks and four steals. Moreover, he played a game-high 44 minutes in the victory. He’s now tallied double-doubles in all but one game this season, helping lead the Wolverines to a 7-1 start — and seven straight wins since their season-opening loss at Boise State.
The 6-foot-11 Canada native is also now averaging 20.8 points and 14.8 rebounds — the most combined points and rebounds per game in the country.
E.J. Liddell hits a clutch shot for Ohio State and Paolo Banchero tries to answer with the long 3-pointer.
The top-ranked Blue Devils looked like they were going through the motions in the first half and were still able to get out to a 13-point lead at the break. Ohio State struggled with turnovers, missed free throws and continued to make self-inflicted errors. That changed after halftime, with Zed Key (20 points) dominating in the post and EJ Liddell (14 points, 14 rebounds, six assists) making plays at both ends of the floor. Chris Holtmann might have also found another asset in Louisiana transfer Cedric Russell, who made three 3s and scored 12 points in 15 minutes after having played just 23 minutes until then this season.
The Buckeyes’ defense turned it up a notch in the second half too, with Duke going on multiple prolonged offensive droughts. The Blue Devils scored just 23 points after halftime, shooting 7-for-31. Paolo Banchero couldn’t get shots to fall, and Ohio State held Duke without a point for the final four and a half minutes.
The ACC has been abysmal so far this season, but one of the few bright spots has been Forbes. The Demon Deacons have just one blemish on their record, a neutral-court loss to LSU in Florida. And after this past week, they look poised for at least a top-half — and perhaps much higher — finish in the ACC.
It started with an overtime win over Northwestern, behind 42 points and 16 rebounds from the transfer duo of Jake LaRavia (Indiana State) and Alondes Williams (Oklahoma). The statement of the week came in a 19-point road drubbing of Virginia Tech, whom most expected to be a top-five team in the ACC. This time, it was two more former transfers leading the way, in Daivien Williamson (East Tennessee State) and Dallas Walton (Colorado).
Forbes has Wake Forest pushing the tempo, scoring efficiently at all three levels of the floor and playing disciplined but aggressive defense. The well-traveled coach has won wherever he’s been, and after just a season and a half in Winston-Salem, it’s happening again with the Demon Deacons.
Three teams with questions
Memphis Tigers: The most disappointing team in the country by some margin so far this season. Memphis has now lost three straight games after falling to Georgia and Ole Miss last week, and doesn’t seem close to figuring things out. Penny Hardaway spoke after both losses about chemistry issues, and the Tigers have also been really, really poor offensively: in their last four games, they have 48 assists, 67 turnovers and are shooting below 30% from 3.
St. John’s Red Storm: Mike Anderson’s team harbored NCAA tournament hopes coming into the season, and while the Red Storm can still get there, their schedule is going to be completely bereft of anything noteworthy entering Big East play. They lost by 20 to Kansas on Friday in a game that was closer than the final score, but they’re now 0-2 in the only two resume-building nonconference games they’ll play all season.
Oregon Ducks: We’ve mentioned the Ducks’ struggles in this space before, but Sunday might have been a new low for them so far this season. They lost at home to Arizona State, which had lost five in a row and scored just 29 points in a home loss to Washington State earlier in the week. Oregon is now just 4-4 against Division-I competition this season, and the preseason top-25 talk feels like a long, long time ago.
1. Purdue Boilermakers (8-0)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: at Rutgers (Thursday), vs. NC State (Sunday)
Purdue had, by far, its worst offensive outing of the season in its win over Iowa on Friday, and the main culprit was its struggles inside the arc. The Boilermakers shot just 41.9% on 2-pointers; their previous lowest percentage on 2-pointers this season was 59.4%. Iowa isn’t a particularly imposing defense at the rim with shot-blockers all over the floor, so what happened?
I went back and rewatched the game, and mostly, they just didn’t get great position on their post-ups. Zach Edey was just 2-for-4 and played only 16 minutes due to foul trouble, while Trevion Williams shot 3-for-11 on 2s. Iowa collapsed on Edey whenever he touched the ball with his back to the basket, while Williams was pushed further from the rim than he would prefer, forcing him to take contested shots instead of powering through defenders for easy finishes.
2. Duke Blue Devils (7-1)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: None
Duke suffered its first loss of the season last Tuesday, when Ohio State completely stifled the Blue Devils in the second half and came back from a double-digit halftime deficit to get the win. I don’t think there’s any real cause for concern. Offensive droughts and uncharacteristic play happens in true road games against good teams. But the one thing that might be worth monitoring is Duke’s perimeter shooting — which is something we’ve mentioned here before, even when the Blue Devils were winning games.
Duke is shooting below 33% from 3-point range on the season, a number inflated by games against inferior competition. In three games against Kentucky, Gonzaga and Ohio State, its 3-point shooting drops to 12-for-49 (24.5%). Banchero, Wendell Moore and Trevor Keels would all prefer to score going to the rim rather than from the perimeter, and Jeremy Roach isn’t a very good shooter. It won’t matter most nights, but keep an eye on it against teams that keep the Blue Devils out of the paint.
3. Baylor Bears (8-0)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Villanova (Sunday)
How about this stat from ESPN Stats and Information: Baylor freshman Kendall Brown is the first player in Big 12 history to score at least 10 points on 60% shooting in each of his first eight games of the season. Brown is shooting an outrageous 73.7% on 2-pointers and has also made four 3-pointers and 11 free throws, scoring between 10 and 19 points every game. He’s been one of the best two-way freshmen in the country.
Things get taken up a notch for the Bears this week, with Villanova coming to Waco on Sunday, and then a trip to Oregon next Saturday. The key matchup against the Wildcats is going to be whether Villanova can take care of the ball against Baylor’s ball pressure, and if ‘Nova can keep the Bears’ elite offensive rebounders from getting second-chance opportunities.
4. UCLA Bruins (7-1)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Marquette (Saturday)
There’s been a lot of talk this season about the best point guard in the country, from Collin Gillespie to Marcus Carr to Andrew Nembhard to whichever player is next on the carousel. And while Tyger Campbell is unlikely to get that recognition by the end of 2021-22, he’s playing the best basketball of his career right now, and deserves some notice. He held his own against Gillespie in UCLA’s win over Villanova in the second game of the season, making several big shots late in the game. He has a ridiculous 30-to-6 assists-to-turnover ratio on the season, and is also shooting a career best 48.6% from 3-point range. Campbell had his best offensive game of the season against Colorado last week, finishing with 21 points, four 3-pointers, seven rebounds and five assists.
5. Gonzaga Bulldogs (7-2)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. Merrimack (Thursday), vs. Washington (Sunday)
So what’s going on with Gonzaga? It’s all relative, since the Zags still own blowout wins over Texas and UCLA and aren’t dropping too far in the rankings, but there are some questions worth asking. And contrary to some, I don’t think it’s on the defensive end. Sure, Alabama scored 91 points on Saturday and Duke scored 84 two weeks ago, but taking pace and tempo into account, those weren’t even Gonzaga’s worst defensive efforts of the season (that came in its win over Texas).
I think there are some offensive issues. Teams are starting to be more aggressive with Nembhard and the Gonzaga guards coming out of ball-screens, making them make decisions quicker than they would like. Duke and Alabama limited transition opportunities for the Zags, forcing them to play in the half-court. And lastly, because Gonzaga hasn’t shot the ball consistently well from 3, teams are collapsing in the paint and Timme is having to really fight for anything he gets around the rim.
6. Villanova Wildcats (6-2)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: vs. Syracuse (Tuesday), at Baylor (Sunday)
Perhaps shaking off some rust from the injury layoff, Gillespie took a few weeks to get back to last season’s form, and is now playing like the preseason All-American we all expected him to be. He hadn’t been playing poorly before, averaging 15.5 points, 4.2 assists and shooting 42.9% from 3-point range over the first six games, but he was just 7-for-20 inside the arc. Over the last two games, though, Gillespie has found that extra gear. Against both Penn and Saint Joseph’s, Gillespie totaled 49 points, shot 7-for-12 on 2-pointers and went 9-for-15 from 3-point range. With two massive games coming up this week against Syracuse’s zone on Tuesday and then Baylor on Sunday, Gillespie continuing his hot streak will be crucial for Jay Wright’s team to come away with victories.
7. Kansas Jayhawks (6-1)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. UTEP (Tuesday), vs. Missouri (Saturday)
Bill Self has such an advantage over most teams due to his veteran-laden lineup, which features three seniors in Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack and Remy Martin, and one junior in Christian Braun. Not only can all four of them get a bucket if needed, having that sort of experience on the floor allows Self not to micromanage when an opponent goes on a run. That happened against St. John’s a couple of times on Friday, when the Red Storm cut the lead to three. Kansas immediately responded with a 22-3 run and put the game out of reach. Braun was the star on Friday, finishing with 31 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. With Jalen Wilson off to a slow start following his suspension, Braun has taken another step on the offensive end and gives Self another consistent perimeter scorer.
Christian Braun is fired up after slamming home a dunk through contact for the Jayhawks.
8. Texas Longhorns (6-1)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Seton Hall (Thursday)
Marcus Carr has broken out of his slump. Arguably the best transfer in the portal last offseason, he really struggled to start 2021-22. He had double-figures in his first two games of the season, but waited too long to become aggressive against Gonzaga, and then had three straight games with a combined 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting. In order for Texas to live up to its preseason Final Four hopes, Carr was going to have to be much more assertive on the offensive end.
And that’s what he’s done the last two games, against Sam Houston State and UT Rio Grande Valley. He had 19 points and four assists against the former, followed up by 11 points, four assists and zero turnovers against the latter. He also shot 5-for-10 from 3-point range in those two games, a step forward from his 3-for-13 in the first five games.
9. Arkansas Razorbacks (8-0)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Charlotte (Tuesday), vs. Oklahoma (Saturday)
It’s been an interesting few weeks for Devo Davis. After bursting onto the national scene last season with an impressive NCAA tournament at both ends of the floor, Davis entered 2021-22 with heightened expectations and a potential All-SEC campaign in his future. And then he opened the season with five turnovers and zero points on zero shots in the first game of the season. Over the first six games, Davis averaged just 6.3 points on 38.1% shooting.
But he appears to have woken up over the last two games, averaging 16.0 points and shooting 14-for-20 in wins over Central Arkansas and Little Rock last week. He also dished out 10 assists and turned it over just twice. Eric Musselman has plenty of scorers on the roster, but an in-form Davis gives the Razorbacks a different dimension, as he’s also one of the best defenders in the country.
10. Kentucky Wildcats (5-1)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Central Michigan (Monday)
Kentucky is mostly still here because of its preseason ranking, given it has yet to be tested — or even play a top-100 KenPom team — since its season-opening loss to Duke. That’s set to change, somewhat. Following Tuesday’s home game against Southern, Kentucky will travel to Notre Dame, face Ohio State in Las Vegas and then welcome Louisville to Lexington.
For the people that haven’t paid attention to Kentucky since the Duke game, touted freshman guard TyTy Washington has completely turned his season around. Washington drew some criticism after going 3-for-14 in his first college game, but in the six games since, the 6-foot-3 Phoenix native is averaging 15.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 52% from the field and 43.5% from 3-point range.
Standard caveats about strength of schedule apply, but Washington is going to be a huge factor moving forward.
Arizona has been one of the early-season surprises under new head coach Tommy Lloyd, and while clear improvements from the likes of Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis are at the heart of that fast start, last season’s leading returning scorer Bennedict Mathurin is still capable of huge performances. He had 25 points in an overtime win against Wichita State, went for 15 in the win over Michigan — and then kicked off Pac-12 play with a 29-point performance in Sunday’s road win at Oregon State. Mathurin’s 3-point shooting has taken a step back from last season, but he went 4-for-9 from behind the arc on Sunday and was the best player on the floor. With Koloko and Tubelis controlling the interior, Kerr Kriisa running the show and Mathurin starting to fill it up again, the Wildcats are loaded offensively.
Alabama’s JD Davison gets the steal and races down the court to emphatically throw down a dunk on the break.
12. Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: vs. Houston (Saturday)
Perhaps the most promising sign in Alabama’s win over Gonzaga on Saturday night was Davison’s performance off the bench. A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Davison relied mostly on his athleticism and open-court ability to make plays. But he shot 4-for-6 from 3 off the bench on Saturday night, and looked confident with his stroke.
That’s a really good sign for Davison, who continued to show impressive two-way ability, locking in on the defensive end and turning that into transition opportunities going the other way. He seems to have bought into his sixth man role behind Shackelford, Quinerly and blossoming NBA prospect Keon Ellis. If Davison can become more consistent from the perimeter, that will be hugely beneficial to his draft stock — and Alabama’s ceiling.
13. USC Trojans (8-0)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. Eastern Kentucky (Tuesday), vs. Long Beach State (Sunday)
USC was knocking on the door of the rankings last week and two Pac-12 wins — including a road win at Washington State on Saturday — brings it into the top 16. While Boogie Ellis‘ scoring has received most of the attention for the Trojans this season, former Wofford transfer Chevez Goodwin‘s step forward has been noteworthy. He was a nice rotation piece for the Trojans last season, contributing six double-figure scoring efforts off the bench and starting one game.
This season, Goodwin has become Andy Enfield’s go-to guy on the interior. He’s shooting nearly 64% from the field, has scored in double figures six times in eight games and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. With most of the offense struggling against Washington State, Goodwin led the way with 14 points.
14. Tennessee Volunteers (6-1)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Texas Tech (Tuesday), vs. UNC Greensboro (Saturday)
As in-state rival Memphis deals with myriad point guard issues, Memphis native Kennedy Chandler is taking his game to another level for the Volunteers. Since struggling in the blowout loss to Villanova on Nov. 20, Chandler has averaged 17.8 points, 5.3 assists and totaled just eight turnovers in four games — while also racking up 14 steals. His best game as a scorer came in a road win against Colorado on Saturday, when he went for 27 points in Tennessee’s 15-point win.
Chandler hasn’t shot the ball consistently well from 3-point range, going 5-for-19 from the perimeter in the last five games, but he’s getting into the paint and finishing, while taking care of the ball and running the show for an experienced Tennessee team. Texas Tech’s “no-middle defense” will be another test for him this week.
15. Michigan State Spartans (7-2)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: at Minnesota (Wednesday), vs. Penn State (Saturday)
With the exception of games against Kansas and Baylor, Michigan State’s defense has been almost impenetrable — holding its other seven opponents to 0.90 points per possession or fewer. And that includes games against potential NCAA tournament teams Loyola Chicago, UConn and Louisville. One of the primary reasons for the Spartans’ success at that end of the floor is Marcus Bingham: one of the nation’s premier interior defenders. He’s blocked at least six shots on three occasions this season and ranks in the top 10 nationally in block rate. But it’s his emergence on the offensive end that has those in East Lansing excited. After scoring in double-figures three times total in his three seasons in college, he’s hit that mark six times already this season.
16. Houston Cougars (7-1)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: vs. Alcorn State (Monday), at Alabama (Saturday)
Houston has bounced back from its lone loss of the season to Wisconsin with three straight blowout wins, a streak that’s likely to get to four against Alcorn State on Monday. Then comes a showdown in Tuscaloosa against Alabama, a Crimson Tide team that seems to have rediscovered its identity since losing to Iona on Thanksgiving. The key in that game will be whether Houston can slow down Alabama from the perimeter. The Cougars have arguably the nation’s best defense, but they do allow teams to get shots from 3. Gonzaga didn’t do a great job of running Shackelford off the 3-point line in the first half against Alabama, and Houston will have to beware of the Crimson Tide getting hot. One positive for Houston the last couple weeks has been the return of Tramon Mark; he missed the first three games of the season, but is working himself back into the mix and had 22 points against Bryant on Friday.
In the waiting room
Florida Gators: Florida drops out of the top 16 following its first loss of the season, to Oklahoma in Norman. The Gators really struggled to stop the Sooners’ inside duo of Tanner Groves and Jalen Hill and had a dreadful night shooting the ball from the perimeter. A couple home games against Texas Southern and North Florida should right the ship before facing Maryland in Brooklyn.
UConn Huskies: UConn is about to enter a stretch where it will play 10 straight opponents ranked in the top 90 at KenPom. Some of them will be without Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin, who are both dealing with injuries. That means more minutes for freshman Jordan Hawkins, who scored 15 points in 22 minutes against Grambling on Saturday.
Iowa State Cyclones: If you were wondering whether Iowa State’s performance in Brooklyn during Thanksgiving week was a fluke, the Cyclones went on the road on Saturday and knocked off Creighton. While the Bluejays aren’t as good as previous years, it’s still a true road win and improves Iowa State to 8-0. An in-state showdown with Iowa on Thursday awaits.