College basketball Power Rankings: Alabama disrupts the top 16 as UConn ascends to No. 1

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, December 12, 2022

It was another week when the No. 1 team in the AP poll went down, with Alabama going to Houston and knocking off the Cougars with a late surge on Saturday. Much like when North Carolina took its first loss, however, last week's Power Rankings hadn't had Houston at No. 1. Purdue had passed the Cougars after the Boilermakers' huge Thanksgiving weekend out in Portland, Oregon.

And we once again have a new No. 1 team this week.

No one has been more consistently dominant through the first month of the 2022-23 men's college basketball season than the UConn Huskies. Dan Hurley's team is 11-0, with all 11 wins by double figures. The closest victory came by 10 points against Oklahoma State, in a game that wasn't really that close, as the Huskies led by 20 in the second half. They faced Florida on the road last week, simply went through the motions and still beat the Gators by 21. TheHuskies have played five high-major opponents, none of which has been able to lay a glove on them yet.

UConn's résumé being headlined by a 15-point neutral-site win over Alabama also looks nicer after what the Crimson Tide did over the weekend. UConn also has triumphs over Iowa StateandOregon.

The Huskies are No. 1 at KenPom and No. 1 in Sagarin, they are ahead of Purdue and Virginia in ESPN's Basketball Power Index (BPI) and they are the only team ranked in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency; and they would be my pick in a head-to-head game against Purdue tomorrow. That's enough for them to edge the Boilermakers this week.

Let's get to the rest of this week's awards and rankings.

Team of the Week: Alabama Crimson Tide

Here at the Power Rankings, we've generally been a bit higher than consensus on Alabama all season, but even we didn't expect the Crimson Tide to go to AP No. 1 Houston and beat the Cougars 71-65 -- especially after being down by 15 points in the second half and with leading scorer Brandon Miller not making a field goal all night. Houston seemed to be in control for most of the second half, but it couldn't land a true knockout punch that would send Alabama back to Tuscaloosa with a loss. Nate Oats' team just kept hanging around, with another stellar performance from Noah Clowney and excellent defense late from Nimari Burnett on Marcus Sasser. Miller also eventually shook off his struggles to clinch the game late with free throws. Here's a wild fact about Alabama's second-half offense: The Tide scored 42 points in the final 16:20. Houston hadn't allowed an opponent to break 56 in an entire game all season.

And according to ESPN Stats & Information research, Alabama became only the second team in AP poll history to beat two No. 1-ranked teams before the new year -- with 1965-66 Duke the first one. That's tough to top for Team of the Week.

Player of the Week: Donovan Clingan, UConn Huskies

This was a difficult week to single out a player. Miami's Isaiah Wong, LSU's KJ Williams and Penn State's Jalen Pickett all garnered consideration. But Clingan had one of the most analytically impressive weeks we've seen this season, and it's unlikely to be repeated by anyone over the next few months.

He played just 34 minutes total in two wins over Florida and LIU, averaging 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting a ridiculous 18-for-19 from the field. He didn't miss any of his 10 shots in UConn's win over the Sharks on Saturday, finishing with 21 points and 11 rebounds in just 15 minutes. The 7-foot-2 freshman from Bristol, Connecticut, is off to a much stronger start than many expected, providing a dominant backup option behind star big man Adama Sanogo.

Win of the Week: Illinois Fighting Illini 85, Texas Longhorns 78

Alabama already has bagged an award, and given our policy on avoiding repeats in a given week, Illinois beating the AP No. 2 team on neutral ground gets the nod here.

The Longhorns entered the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday as a legitimate candidate for the No. 1 spot, with an improved offense to go with a typical Chris Beard defense and wins over Gonzaga Bulldogs and Creighton Bluejays already in their back pocket. Illinois, however, went toe-to-toe with the Longhorns before winning it late. Matthew Mayer snapped out of his season-long slump to keep Illinois in it early. But Texas took a two-possession lead into the final minute and looked likely to salt the game away before costly turnovers sent it to overtime. That was when Terrence Shannon Jr., who had struggled against all night his former coach, took over; he scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, and Illinois picked up the huge win.

Coach of the Week: Kevin Kruger, UNLV Rebels

UNLV was picked sixth in the Mountain West preseason poll, but Kevin Kruger now has the Rebels as one of just three teams with double-digit wins and zero losses. (UConn and Purdue, the top two squads in the Power Rankings, are the other two.) The Rebels haven't had the most imposing schedule thus far, but they did beat Dayton in mid-November and took care of business against Washington State on Saturday. If they can beat San Francisco and Southern Miss in Las Vegas in their next two games, the Rebels will enter conference play at 12-0.

Kruger, college basketball's first graduate transfer, has built his roster almost exclusively via the portal: eight of his top nine players started their careers elsewhere. The lone exception, sophomore guard Keshon Gilbert, went for 25 points in the win over Washington State.

Three teams with questions

Vanderbilt Commodores: Jerry Stackhouse's team actually rebounded pretty well from a home loss to Southern Miss in the second game of the season, but theCommodores fell to visiting Grambling State on Friday, and they are now just 5-5 through 10 games.

The entire Atlantic 10: Barring some team getting hot and running through conference play virtually unscathed, it's hard to see the A-10 getting multiple 2023 NCAA tournament bids. Preseason favorite Dayton is just 6-5; another projected NCAA contender, Saint Louis, just lost by 22 to Iona; and VCU dropped one at home to Jacksonville.

Florida Gators: The Gators had NCAA tournament hopes in Todd Golden's first season in Gainesville; but they are now 0-4 against teams inside the top 135 at KenPom, and they were barely competitive against theWest Virginia Mountaineers and UConn. The Gators have to right the ship quickly if they're to turn things around in SEC play.

Power Rankings

1. UConn Huskies (11-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Butler (Saturday)

Andre Jackson Jr.'s transformation from a physical two-way wing to a supremely versatile point forward has been one of the key aspects of UConn's impressive start to 2022-23. The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging a career high in assists this season while taking care of the ball better than ever in his three-year college career. Since moving back into UConn's starting lineup three games ago, Jackson is averaging 9.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists -- and hasn't committed a single turnover. He is a primary reason the Huskies have assists on an eye-opening 63.7% of their field goals.

2. Purdue Boilermakers (10-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Davidson (Saturday)

Purdue's win at Nebraska on Saturday was its worst performance of the season: It was held below 1.00 point per possession for the first time in 2022-23. Much of that came down to Zach Edey scoring a season-low 11 points and only one other player hitting double figures. That one other player, however, was Fletcher Loyer, who continues to establish himself as the clear No. 2 in the Boilermakers' offense. Loyer finished with 22 points against the Cornhuskers, his sixth straight game in double figures. Over those six contests, Loyer averaged 15.8 points and 3.7 assists and shot nearly 36% from 3-point range.

3. Virginia Cavaliers (8-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Houston (Saturday)

Reece Beekman, one of the breakout stars of the 2022-23 campaign, suffered a hamstring injury less than four minutes into Virginia's game against James Madison last week and didn't return. He already had been dealing with an ankle issue. While it doesn't seem like a long-term problem, it's unclear whether he'll be available for Saturday's showdown against Houston. If Beekman is limited or can't play, Tony Bennett will likely turn to the freshman duo of Isaac McKneely and Ryan Dunn. Either player will need to help jump-start Virginia's offense, which has fallen off a cliff recently. The Cavaliers scored 62 points on 64 possessions against Florida State last weekend then registered 55 points on 62 possessions against the Dukes.

4. Alabama Crimson Tide (8-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Memphis (Tuesday), vs. Gonzaga (Saturday)

Alabama keeps finding different ways to win. Early in the season, it was freshman Brandon Miller carrying the load offensively. In Portland, Jahvon Quinerly began to take on a bigger share of the offense. On Saturday against Houston, though, it was another impressive game from Noah Clowney and a huge impact off the bench from fellow freshman Jaden Bradley. Beating perhaps the nation's best team on the road with Miller going 0-for-8 and Quinerly playing just 13 minutes sounds far-fetched, but Alabama's depth and balance continue to shine. Who will step up this week in two more key nonconference tests?

5. Arizona Wildcats (8-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Tuesday), vs. Tennessee (Saturday)

Arizona added another impressive victory to its ledger in Las Vegas on Saturday night, getting out to a big early lead against Indiana and holding off a couple of Hoosiers runs in the second half to notch a 14-point win. The big man duo of Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo completely dominated Indiana's frontcourt of Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, beating their counterparts down the floor, getting good position and scoring in the paint. Thompson hitting four 3s (one more than he had tallied all season) made things interesting for a stretch -- which is worth noting, given Utah beat Arizona the week prior, mostly due to 7-footerBranden Carlson's ability to step out and hit 3s.

6. Texas Longhorns (7-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Rice (Monday), vs. Stanford (Sunday)

Texas will feel it gave away last week's game against Illinois after leading in the final minute, only to turn the ball over a couple of times late and let Terrence Shannon Jr. dominate in overtime. While Marcus Carr struggled and Tyrese Hunter also was stifled, one bright spot was the performance of Timmy Allen, who finished with a season-high 21 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Allen has taken a back seat offensively this season, averaging a career-low 7.9 points. But he is the same player who averaged more than 17 points per game in two straight seasons at Utah and led the 2021-22 Longhorns in scoring. Allen's versatility makes him a difficult matchup.

7. Houston Cougars (9-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. North Carolina A&T (Tuesday), at Virginia (Saturday)

Houston's defensive collapse in the second half against Alabama was likely an outlier, but this is the second time in two seasons that the Crimson Tide have created huge issues for this team. Last season, Alabama scored 83 points (the second-most points Houston would give up in 2021-22) and consistently finished at the rim, making 59.4% of its 2-pointers (also the second best anyone would shoot inside the arc against Houston in 2021-22). On Saturday, Nate Oats' team once again finished consistently in the paint. The numbers back this up: According to ESPN Stats & Information data, Houston has allowed 12 layups just three times since the start of 2021-22; Alabama is responsible for two of those three occasions.

8. Tennessee Volunteers (9-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Arizona (Saturday)

Tennessee's win over Maryland on Sunday won't show up on many end-of-season highlight reels, but it was another sign that the Volunteers' November loss to Colorado was an anomaly. Rick Barnes' team is simply exceptional defensively. The Vols held Maryland to just three first-half field goals, forced the Terps into a 2 for 24 outing from behind the arc and limited their opponent to a season-low 0.80 points per possession.

Which means we'll have a true offense vs. defense battle this weekend when Tennessee heads to Tucson to take on Arizona. The Vols have the nation's No. 1 defense at KenPom. Arizona? The No. 1 offense. If Tennessee is to keep up, Julian Phillips will have to stay on the floor. The return of injured frontcourt playersJosiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo would help too.

9. Kansas Jayhawks (9-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Indiana (Saturday)

So much for a rivalry game. Kansas battered Missouri on Saturday by 28 points. A true breakout performance from sophomore forward K.J. Adams Jr. was the big talking point. Adams scored 38 points all of last season, recording just five points in the final 17 games and going scoreless in the final nine. He was inserted into the starting lineup from day one of the 2022-23 campaign, however, and he has started to become a key cog in the Jayhawks' offense. Over his past three games, Adams is averaging 13.3 points and 3.3 assists and shooting 77.3% from the field. Against Missouri, he went for 19 points, six boards and three assists while shooting 9-for-11 from the field.

10. Arkansas Razorbacks (9-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Bradley (Saturday)

How will Arkansas adapt without Trevon Brazile, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn right ACL? Despite not starting a single game this season, Brazile was the team's leading rebounder and shot-blocker, while also averaging 11.8 points and shooting 37.9% from 3. The 6-foot-10 sophomore looked poised to be one of the more difficult matchups in the SEC. In a small sample size since Brazile's injury, Eric Musselman looks like he'll go with a smaller lineup; five-star freshman Jordan Walsh should continue to see an extended role, while Kamani Johnson should provide frontcourt depth. Keep an eye on former Arizona State transfer Jalen Graham down the road too.

11. Baylor Bears (7-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Washington State (Sunday)

Baylor already had perhaps the best guard trio in men's college basketball in Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer and Keyonte George. But Scott Drew has another potential impact player in the pipeline. Langston Love, a top-30 prospect in the 2021 class, missed all of last season after suffering an ACL tear in a preseason scrimmage, and it appeared unlikely he would get too much run in 2022-23 behind a star-studded starting backcourt. But Love started against Tarleton with Flagler and Cryer out and responded with 20 points, six rebounds and a pair of assists. That came on the heels of 10 points in 13 minutes against Gonzaga.

12. Duke Blue Devils (10-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: NONE

If two weeks ago was the stretch for No. 1 recruit Dereck Lively II to flash his potential, this past week was the time for No. 2 recruit Dariq Whitehead to begin emerging. Whitehead played a then-season-high 21 minutes against Iowa at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, finishing with eight points, six rebounds and three assists in the win. Then, with Jeremy Roach missing Saturday's game against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Whitehead earned his first start. And he looked the part of a starter, scoring 15 points in 25 minutes. With the way Kyle Filipowski, Mark Mitchell and Tyrese Proctor have been playing all season, along with the recent performances from Lively and Whitehead, Jon Scheyer has to be happy with the progression of his freshmen.

13. Gonzaga Bulldogs (7-3)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: vs. Northern Illinois (Monday), at Alabama (Saturday)

After a couple of "down" games -- nine points against Baylor, 16 points on 15 shots against Xavier -- Drew Timme is starting to look like his dominant self again. He had 29 points and 17 rebounds against Kent State earlier in the week then posted 22 points on 13 shots in Friday's win over Washington. He also dished out four assists in each game. Saturday's test against Alabama should be intriguing for the Zags. The Crimson Tide have been vulnerable in the paint: UConn's Adama Sanogo had 25 points, and North Carolina's Armando Bacot went for 20 against them. But the Tide also held their own against Houston's elite offensive rebounders and didn't let Michigan State's bigs get much inside.

14. Maryland Terrapins (8-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. UCLA (Wednesday)

After beating Illinois last weekend and seeing a huge rise in the rankings, Maryland crashed back down to Earth with losses to Wisconsin and Tennessee. Neither is anything close to a bad loss, but the offensive struggles are a bit of a concern. While they did come against two top-20 defenses (and Wednesday's opponent, UCLA, isn't far behind), scoring 59 points on 66 possessions and 53 on 66, respectively, is worth noting. Against Wisconsin, the Terps shot nearly 42% from 3 but couldn't finish inside the arc. Against Tennessee, though, they shot 54% from 2 and were 2-for-24 from 3. Kevin Willard needs to get Donta Scott going again. After averaging 15.4 points and shooting 39.4% from 3 through eight games, Scott averaged just 9.0 points and shot 2-for-13 from 3 in the two losses.

15. Indiana Hoosiers (8-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Kansas (Saturday)

Indiana has now lost two of its past three games since starting the season with seven straight wins. Not showing up against Rutgers and running into the buzz saw that is Arizona means the Hoosiers might have lost both games anyway, but this is clearly not the same team without Jalen Hood-Schifino. The freshman guard started those first seven games, scoring in double figures in three of his final four (including 14 points against North Carolina) before injuring his back. The Hoosiers are 1-2 without him. They simply don't have enough playmaking and shot creation on the offensive end without him. Xavier Johnson's recent shooting struggles during his absence (7.7 PPG, 21.9 FG%) have exacerbated those issues.

16. Illinois Fighting Illini (7-3)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: vs. Alabama A&M (Saturday)

Illinois showed its ceiling on Tuesday against Texas, only to turn around and lay an egg at home against Penn State. While the Fighting Illini's balance has been a positive for most of this season, Brad Underwood not being able to rely on consistency from certain players night in and night out has been visibly frustrating. Terrence Shannon Jr. struggled for the entirety of regulation against Texas then took over in the overtime and looked like the All-American candidate and potential first-round pick he was earlier in the season. But on Saturday against Penn State, Shannon disappeared again, finishing with four points on seven shots. After the game, Underwood was, let's say, not thrilled.

Dropped out: Iowa State Cyclones (No. 14), Auburn Tigers (No. 15)

In the waiting room

Kentucky Wildcats: For a team that was not lacking for depth on paper coming into the season, John Calipari is already tightening up his bench. Only six players saw double-digit minutes in the win over Yale over the weekend, after only seven saw more than eight minutes against Michigan. Can Chris Livingston become a more consistent contributor?

UCLA Bruins: We're going to learn a lot more about UCLA (and Kentucky) this week. The Bruins first head to Maryland on Wednesday then go to New York City for a Saturday showdown against the Wildcats. Through five weeks of 2022-23, UCLA's best win is at home over Oregon. Two marquee tests await.

Mississippi State Bulldogs: Chris Jans is doing an incredible job with the Bulldogs in his first year at the helm. They are 9-0 with decent wins over Marquette and Utah and should be 12-0 entering SEC play -- assuming they take care of business over the next few weeks. It's not a fluke, either; Mississippi State is elite defensively, and it crashes the offensive glass better than anyone else in the country.

Related Video