College basketball Power Rankings: Baylor is back at No. 2, and some fresh faces in the top 16

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, February 28, 2022

Are we sure March didn't actually start on Saturday?

After a historic day that saw each of the top six teams in the country lose -- for the first time in college basketball history -- and seven of the top 10 teams in the country lose -- also for the first time in college basketball history -- we're headed for a massive reshuffle at the top of the rankings.

Or are we?

Gonzaga is still No. 1. The Zags are still No. 1 in most metrics and they still have eight Quadrant 1 wins. Given that the five teams behind them all lost on the same day, it's hard to drop them. There's a real argument to be made for Baylor at No. 2, even though I had them at No. 10 last week. The Bears have the most Quadrant 1 wins in the country with 11, and they're squarely in the Big 12 title hunt again. Is that enough to drop Arizona from No. 2 after its 16-point loss at Colorado? The Wildcats have been flawless for most of the season, and they're still No. 2 in the NET, but their lack of top-level wins besides UCLA and Illinois could hurt them in head-to-head comparisons.

Kansas would round out my 1-seeds. The Jayhawks are near the top of both résumé-based metrics and have 10 Quadrant 1 wins. In a head-to-head comparison, Baylor gets the edge because of its one additional Quadrant 1 win and slightly superior standing in most metrics.

Duke rises after sweeping both of its games this past week, while Auburn drops because of its continued road struggles. The Tigers (and Duke) remain ahead of Kentucky because of their head-to-head win. SinceVillanova and Texas Tech also lost, Purdue stays inside the top eight.

One team to watch in the top-two seed conversation is Wisconsin. The Badgers don't have very good predictive metrics, but they're in the top five of both KPI and ESPN's Strength of Record, and they're 15-4 against Quadrants 1 and 2.

Team of the Week: Baylor Bears

It comes down to Baylor and UConn for me, but as mentioned above, the Bears' rise all the way to No. 2 in my rankings gives them the edge over the Huskies. Don't worry, UConn fans, I'll have more on the Huskies later in the rankings.

Baylor is starting to hit its stride again after a rough month that saw the Bears go 6-5 in an 11-game stretch, a run filled with injuries and constant tweaks to the rotation. But this might have been the week that gets them back on the right track, a week in which they knocked off Oklahoma State in overtime and then came back to beat Kansas on Saturday.

The battle in Stillwater was a tight one throughout, with Isaac Likekele's shot after the buzzer of regulation one of the all-time what-if shots in recent memory. But James Akinjo's shot in the final 15 seconds of overtime gave Baylor the road win.

On Saturday, it looked like Baylor might get blown out by Kansas after the Jayhawks jumped out to a 28-15 lead. But the Bears responded with a 10-0 run and were fairly content entering halftime. In the second half, an 8-2 Baylor run after Ochai Agbaji's 3-pointer tied it at 61 gave the Bears the momentum they needed to pull away for the 80-70 win.

Player of the Week: JD Notae, Arkansas Razorbacks

When JD Notae entered the transfer portal after the 2018-19 season, it was to limited fanfare. He had put up very good numbers during his two seasons at Jacksonville, but there wasn't a rush of schools waiting to sign him. The Razorbacks beat out a slew of mid-major programs for his commitment -- which makes sense, given Eric Musselman was still at Nevada when Notae hit the portal.

Arkansas is certainly glad it took a chance on Notae, though. After establishing himself as one of the best sixth men in the country last season, the talented guard is second in the SEC in scoring and is coming off arguably his best two-game stretch in an Arkansas uniform. Notae had 22 points and six rebounds in a solid road win at Florida on Tuesday, then followed it up with one of the best offensive performances we've seen in the league this season. Against Kentucky on Saturday, Notae was mostly unguardable. He carried the Razorbacks on his back in the first half, scoring 18 points, and then used the added defensive attention in the second half to his advantage, dishing out five assists. He finished with 30 points and eight assists in another huge win for Arkansas.

The Razorbacks have won 13 of their last 14 games, and Notae's elite offensive exploits are a major reason for the surge.

Win of the Week: Saint Mary's Gaels, 67, Gonzaga Bulldogs 57

Obviously, there were a record number of options for this category. But when No. 1 goes down, the team that beat them gets the nod.

The Gaels' recipe for attempting to beat Gonzaga is well-known throughout the WCC: Slow down the pace of the game, don't shoot early in the shot clock and keep Gonzaga out of transition. Because the Zags are so talented and explosive offensively, it often doesn't work. But Randy Bennett's team has had success in the past using this strategy, and the Gaels employed it again on Saturday.

Saint Mary's jumped out to a 12-3 lead, then went on a 12-0 run midway through the first half to lead by 15 into the break. It always seemed like the Bulldogs had one big run in them, a game-changing surge to take back control and continue their perfect conference-play season. But it never came. Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren never got going, the Zags looked discombobulated offensively for the majority of the game and Saint Mary's made timely shots down the stretch. Tommy Kuhse was terrific, Logan Johnson had multiple highlight-reel plays and Matthias Tass and Mitchell Saxen outplayed Timme and Holmgren down low.

Coach of the Week: Eric Henderson, South Dakota State Jackrabbits

For the first time in the 40-year history of the Summit League, a team went undefeated in conference play: Eric Henderson's South Dakota State team beat Oral Roberts and UMKC on the road this week to complete a remarkable 18-0 conference campaign. The Jackrabbits haven't lost since Dec. 15, and are a legitimate NCAA first-round upset threat if they win the conference tournament.

They were utterly dominant in league play. Twelve of South Dakota State's 18 wins came by double digits, and zero games were decided by one possession. The Jackrabbits were by far the best offense in the league, putting up an absurd 1.23 points per possession, and edged North Dakota State for the best defense in the Summit.

Henderson has been one of the more successful mid-major coaches in the country since taking over in Brookings in 2019. He carried over the winning ways established by Scott Nagy and T.J. Otzelberger, and has taken it to a new level. Henderson tied for the regular-season title in 2020, won the outright championship in 2021 and dominated the league this season. The only thing missing from his time at South Dakota State? An NCAA tournament appearance. That could change very soon.

Three teams with questions

Rutgers Scarlet Knights: After four straight top-25 wins to get into the NCAA tournament conversation, the Scarlet Knights have now dropped three straight after Saturday's home loss to Wisconsin. They have high-level wins at the top of their résumé, but they're also .500 or worse against each of the first three Quadrants. They have work to do.

Dayton Flyers: Since a bizarre three-game losing streak to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay back in November, Anthony Grant's team looked like a legitimate top-25 team. But Saturday's loss at La Salle likely takes the Flyers out of the at-large hunt. They now have four Quadrant 4 losses, and wins over Kansas, Miami and Virginia Tech just aren't enough at the top.

Miami Hurricanes: I think Miami is still in the field as of today -- and probably several spots from the cutline -- but the Hurricanes have given themselves very little wiggle room with home losses to Virginia and Virginia Tech the last two weekends. They have two road games to end the regular season and can't afford to slip up.

Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs(24-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: West Coast Conference tournament

Any real cause for concern moving forward for Gonzaga? It's unlikely Timme will miss his first eight shots like he did on Saturday, and it's unlikely Holmgren will struggle to impact the game offensively like he did on Saturday, too. Mark Few's two star big men combined for just 12 points on 5-for-17 shooting, turning the ball over six times -- and Holmgren also fouled out.

Holmgren's performance is slightly more concerning to me, mostly because we've seen him struggle against a good opponent a few times this season. Against Texas, he had two points on three shots. He was productive against UCLA and Duke, but had 10 points on nine shots against Alabama and five points against Texas Tech. What gives me optimism is that he's taken huge strides since those games and looked like a legitimate All-American for most of the last two months. Holmgren will be fine. Gonzaga will be fine.

2. Baylor Bears(24-5)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Texas (Monday), vs. Iowa State (Saturday)

Baylor makes a huge rise in this week's rankings, partially because of basically every team in front of them losing, partially because of their impressive win over Kansas and partially because of its résumé just being so solid, despite some of its struggles over the last six weeks. The Bears are starting to figure out how to play small ball effectively. After a poor performance against Texas Tech in Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua's first game out, Baylor has won three in a row -- and it's been some of the best basketball Flo Thamba and Jeremy Sochan have played all season. Thamba had 18 points and nine boards against Kansas, while Sochan has scored 17 points twice in his last three games. Even Kendall Brown and Matthew Mayer held their own up front when Thamba went to the bench.

3. Arizona Wildcats (25-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Southern California (Tuesday), vs. Stanford (Thursday), vs. California (Saturday)

The Wildcats' loss at Colorado on Saturday was their worst game of the season -- and it was due to issues at both ends of the floor. The biggest thing: Colorado won the paint battle. Arizona is used to having its way around the rim, in terms of getting to the basket and finishing or throwing the ball to Azuolas Tubelis or Christian Koloko for a bucket, and also in terms of Koloko protecting the rim at the other end. But Colorado had the big edge inside. Arizona also struggled to make shots from the perimeter, and while the Wildcats aren't an elite shooting team, they've only made fewer than Saturday's five 3-pointers just five times all season.

4. Kansas Jayhawks (23-5)

Previous ranking:

This week: at TCU (Tuesday), vs. TCU (Thursday), vs. Texas (Saturday)

Kansas' loss to Baylor on Saturday night tightens up the Big 12 title race in a major way, while also putting the Jayhawks' 1-seed in potential danger. On the plus side, they still have 10 Quadrant 1 wins, which is second nationally to Baylor, as well as the No. 1 ranking in the two result-based metrics on an NCAA team sheet, ESPN's Strength of Record and KPI. One takeaway I had from Kansas' game against Baylor was regarding Bill Self's use of the Jayhawks' bench. Only six players played more than four minutes, with Remy Martin -- who hadn't played since Jan. 29 -- the only bench player seeing double-digit minutes (11). Will Martin's role increase as he gets more comfortable back on the court, or is Self only expecting him to be a 15-to-17-minute type of player?

5. Duke Blue Devils(25-4)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Pittsburgh (Tuesday), vs. North Carolina (Saturday)

Duke's offensive performance against Syracuse was phenomenal. The Blue Devils scored nearly 1.58 points per possession, by far their best outing of the season and their best since scoring 1.68 points per possession against Presbyterian in November 2014, according to KenPom's database. But doing it against the 2-3 zone at the Carrier Dome is slightly different than a home game in November against a Big South opponent. They shot 60.6% inside the arc and 46.9% from 3 on 15 made 3s. They had 26 assists on 35 made field goals. They turned it over just six times. Mark Williams dominated the paint, Paolo Banchero was the perfect option to run offense through against the zone and AJ Griffin was outstanding from the perimeter.

6. Auburn Tigers (25-4)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Mississippi State (Wednesday), vs. South Carolina (Saturday)

While Saturday's other top-10 losses keep Auburn squarely in the mix for a 1-seed, the Tigers have now lost three of their last six games, with all three losses coming on the road. Their performance on the road, especially offensively, has been something of an issue all season. Auburn is only No. 99 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency in road games, according to Bart Torvik's metrics. Outside shooting has been a problem, regardless of where the Tigers play, but they're making just 27.4% of their 3-pointers in road games. Now, the SEC and NCAA tournaments aren't played in true road environments, and neutral floors are actually where Auburn has been most effective shooting the basketball this season. It has played four neutral-site games and made at least 12 3s in three of those.

7. Kentucky Wildcats (23-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Ole Miss (Tuesday), at Florida (Saturday)

Kentucky's defense is starting to become something of a mild concern heading down the stretch. When the Wildcats looked like arguably the best team in college basketball, they went six games in a row without allowing an opponent to score more than 1.00 point per possession -- and that included road games at Kansas and Alabama. Over that stretch, they had the No. 4 adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Bart Torvik's metrics. Since then, they've allowed at least 1.02 points per possession in four straight games, including Arkansas' 1.09 points per possession on Saturday. Their adjusted defensive efficiency over that span is No. 236 nationally. They badly need a fully healthy Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington to round back into form.

8. Purdue Boilermakers (24-5)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Wisconsin (Tuesday), vs. Indiana (Saturday)

For the first time in more than a month, Purdue's offense might have been more at fault for Saturday's loss at Michigan State than its defense. The Boilermakers had their worst 3-point shooting performance of the season, going just 1-for-9 from behind the arc. It was only the fifth time all season they made fewer than eight 3s. Shortly after the loss, it looked like the Boilermakers' chances at a 1-seed on Selection Sunday were completely gone -- and then pretty much every other top-10 team ended up losing on Saturday too.

But Purdue still has a ton of work to do if it wants to avoid dropping to a 3-seed. Tuesday's game at Wisconsin could decide whether it earns at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, but a loss there could drop it as low as fourth in the standings.

9. Wisconsin Badgers(23-5)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Purdue (Tuesday), vs. Nebraska (Sunday)

Wisconsin has quietly won four straight since a surprising home loss to Rutgers. The Badgers have also won four straight road games and eight of their last nine away from home. That bodes well for the NCAA tournament. What also bodes well is Wisconsin becoming more consistent on the offensive end. The Badgers are middle of the pack in the Big Ten in most offensive stats, but they've scored at least 1.02 points per possession in four straight games and have been highly efficient inside the arc. They've made at least 54% of their 2-point shots in five of their last six games, making at least 19 2-point shots in all five of those contests. The big issue at that end of the floor comes from behind the arc; Wisconsin has made double-figure 3s just five times all season and ranks last in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage.

10. Tennessee Volunteers (21-7)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Georgia (Tuesday), vs. Arkansas (Saturday)

Kennedy Chandler shot out of the gates back in November, looking like one of the best point guards in the country during the first month of the season. He then hit some bumps in the road during December and January -- before returning to his early-season form over the last four weeks. In his last eight games, Chandler is averaging 14.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists, while also racking up 2.1 steals at the other end. Having Zakai Zeigler alongside him in the backcourt for long stretches has taken some of the burden off of him from a playmaking and ballhandling perspective, and he's taken advantage of less attention from the defense. As a two-headed backcourt, they put so much pressure on opposing guards.

11. Providence Friars (24-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Villanova (Tuesday)

It's been a special, special season for Ed Cooley and the Friars, who on Saturday clinched their first-ever Big East regular-season title with a blowout win over Creighton. Now, how does Providence carry that momentum into the postseason? A positive sign was the shooting of senior guard A.J. Reeves in the past week. After missing five games in January due to a finger injury and then struggling upon his return, Reeves is starting to find his shooting stroke again. Against Xavier in Wednesday's triple-overtime win, Reeves went 5-for-8 from behind the arc en route to a 16-point effort, and against Creighton on Saturday, he made seven 3s and finished with 23 points.

12. Villanova Wildcats (21-7)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Providence (Tuesday), at Butler (Saturday)

How the committee views Villanova's profile is something I'll be watching for on Selection Sunday. The Wildcats are squarely in the 3-seed range, but the top of their résumé isn't as strong as that of some of the teams around them. Villanova has impressive wins over Tennessee, UConn and Providence, but that's not quite at the level as others in that range. Take the teams directly behind Villanova in Joe Lunardi's bracket on Saturday night: Texas Tech and Tennessee. Tech has two wins over Baylor and wins over Kansas and Tennessee. Tennessee has knocked off Arizona, Kentucky and Auburn. Ahead of Villanova, Purdue has a head-to-head win over Nova, plus a sweep of Illinois. Duke beat Gonzaga and Kentucky. That could be the type of thing to keep the Wildcats off the 2-line. But if they're in Philadelphia as the 3 instead of San Antonio as the 2, I'm sure Jay Wright will still be happy.

13. Texas Tech Red Raiders (22-7)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Kansas State (Monday), at Oklahoma State (Saturday)

Texas Tech's march toward a potential 2-seed on Selection Sunday took a huge hit with Saturday's three-point road loss at TCU. Much of the Red Raiders' struggles came from the Horned Frogs finding ways to score inside the arc. That's been Texas Tech's strength all season: It simply doesn't allow teams to get into the paint and score at the rim. But TCU scored 30 points in the paint, shot 55.9% from inside the arc and made 19 2-pointers. For comparison's sake, 19 is the second-most 2-point field goals Texas Tech has allowed all season -- the most was Kansas' 24 on Jan. 24, also in a Texas Tech loss. 55.9% on 2-pointers was the second-highest percentage Tech has allowed all season. The third-highest was Oklahoma's 52.9%, also in a Texas Tech loss. (The highest, Arkansas State's 60.9%, resulted in a Texas Tech win.)

14. Arkansas Razorbacks (23-6)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: vs. LSU (Wednesday), at Tennessee (Saturday)

The SEC is filled with talented big men: Oscar Tshiebwe is the Wooden Award favorite, Walker Kessler is among the best defensive players in the country andColin Castleton has had some huge games. But Jaylin Williams has been as good as anyone in the country besides Tshiebwe over the last six weeks. He showed flashes toward the end of last season, but that didn't carry over to the first half of 2021-22. Since the Razorbacks started their winning stretch back on Jan. 12, Williams has been terrific (and yes, those two things are related). Over that 14-game run, he's averaging 14.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists while also making an impact on the defensive end of the floor. He was huge late in the game against Kentucky on Saturday, scoring 10 straight for Arkansas at one point.

15. UConn Huskies (21-7)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: at Creighton (Wednesday), vs. DePaul (Saturday)

UConn moves into the rankings following its home win over Villanova on Tuesday and its road victory at Georgetown on Sunday afternoon. The Huskies have now won five in a row and 11 of their last 14 games, to give them a real chance at a top-four seed come Selection Sunday. Contrary to some past Dan Hurley-coached teams, this season's iteration is led by its offense. UConn has a top-20 offense nationally and the second-ranked offensive unit in the Big East. The Huskies are elite on the offensive glass and are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league. Over their last four games, they've scored at least 1.06 points per possession in each game, making at least 41.7% of their 3-pointers in each of their last 3 games. According to Bart Torvik's metrics, they're No. 11 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency over that stretch.

16. Saint Mary's Gaels (24-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: WCC tournament

Don't think the Gaels are just a one-hit wonder, only getting into the rankings because of their win over Gonzaga with nothing else on their résumé. They also have neutral-court wins over Notre Dame and Oregon, and they swept San Francisco and knocked off BYU two weekends ago. They're right around the top 25 of nearly every metric and are 9-6 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents. On the floor, they're terrific defensively for a second straight season. Only five teams have scored more than 1.00 point per possession against them all season, and they really limit their opponents on the perimeter. Will Randy Bennett's team end up with a top-four seed on Selection Sunday? It feels like something of a longshot -- unless they can knock off Gonzaga in the WCC title game.

Dropped out: Illinois Fighting Illini (No. 14), UCLA Bruins (No. 15), Houston Cougars (No. 16)

In the waiting room

Houston Cougars: The Cougars dropped out of the rankings despite winning both games this past week; teams with marquee wins added to their profiles (Arkansas, UConn, Saint Mary's) all start to look more attractive when compared to Houston and its zero Quadrant 1 wins. The metrics are tough to ignore, meaning it's shaping up to be a huge question for the committee.

Illinois Fighting Illini: Illinois has now lost three of its last six games since making a push for the Big Ten title and a top-10 ranking. But the Fighting Illini's win at Michigan on Sunday afternoon gets some of the momentum back -- and it also capped a tremendous week for Alfonso Plummer. He had 26 points in both games last week, shooting 14-for-19 from 3.

UCLA Bruins: The Bruins edge Texas, Southern California and Murray State for the last spot in the waiting room, mostly because of their wins over Arizona and Villanova. But they're going to need a fit Johnny Juzang if they're going to be a factor moving forward. In UCLA's last five games, Juzang has two DNPs and played fewer than 20 minutes in two others. He had a hip issue and now has a right ankle injury.

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