College Basketball Power Rankings: Baylor's impressive week bumps Zags from top spot

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, January 13, 2020

There's generally a fairly steadfast rule with polls, especially the AP poll, that says the No. 1 team doesn't drop if it doesn't lose. It makes some sense, since people look at a No. 1 dropping as some sort of punishment, with the No. 1 team having done something to lose the spot.

Here at the Power Rankings, we don't abide by any unwritten rules -- and therefore, we have a new No. 1 team this week despite Gonzaga continuing to roll by its West Coast Conference opponents.

Baylor had one of the best weeks any team will have this season, beating Texas Tech and Kansas back-to-back in Lubbock, Texas, and Lawrence, Kansas, respectively. Before Baylor's visit, Tech's last home loss had come nearly a year ago, and Kansas' last loss at Allen Fieldhouse had been in February 2018. Those two wins add to a résumé that already included a neutral-court win over Villanova and home victories against Butler and Arizona. That's five top-25 wins, more than anyone else in the country, and a 5-0 record in Quadrant 1 games, the best record of any team in the country.

The Bears' lone loss came by three in Alaska against Washington on the first Friday of the season, in a game Baylor led for nearly its entirety. Baylor is also No. 1 in the NET rankings.

There are two other legitimate candidates for the No. 1 spot: Gonzaga and Duke. The Bulldogs held the spot for a couple of weeks after the craziness of the first two months of the season, and Mark Few's team was expected to lend some stability to the situation. The Bulldogs have done just that, but their résumé isn't quite as strong as Baylor's profile. There are wins over Oregon and Arizona, both away from home, as well as at Washington. The Zags sit behind Baylor and Duke in the NET and at KenPom.

Duke is the best team in most metrics. The Blue Devils are No. 1 at KenPom and No. 1 in the BPI, while sitting at No. 2 in the NET. They've been crushing most opponents since the home loss to Stephen F. Austin -- a loss that is a massive black eye on their résumé. On the plus side is a road win at Michigan State and a neutral-court victory over Kansas to start the season.

We lean toward Baylor this week thanks to the Bears' elite collection of wins and the fact they've looked like the best team in the country for the better part of two months now. They have elite guards, are one of the best defensive teams in the country and play consistently hard. They're No. 1.

1. Baylor Bears (13-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Iowa State (Wednesday), at Oklahoma State (Saturday)

The emergence of Davion Mitchell as a consistent third option could bode well for Baylor moving forward. Mitchell, a transfer from Auburn who sat out last season, has been used more as a lockdown defender so far this season, but the Bears have needed him to step up on the offensive end -- and he has answered the bell the past five games. Mitchell has scored in double figures in four of the past five games, going 8-for-14 from 3-point range over that span. He had 14 points at Texas Tech, then scored 10 against Kansas. They're not eye-popping numbers, but top guns MaCio Teague and Jared Butler were quiet for stretches in the past two games and Scott Drew needed someone to make shots. Last week, that guy was Mitchell.

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (18-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Santa Clara (Thursday), vs. BYU (Saturday)

Gonzaga's first two WCC games might have been a wake-up call for the Bulldogs. After looking less than impressive against Portland and Pepperdine, they throttled San Diego and Loyola Marymount, both on the road. They do have one of their four games against BYU and Saint Mary's coming up on Saturday, however, although it's unclear whether BYU will have Yoeli Childs for that game. The Cougars have looked like one of the most underrated teams in the country since Childs returned from suspension in early December, but he suffered a finger injury and has missed the past two games. With Childs, BYU might be able to score with Gonzaga. It could be an interesting test for the Zags.

3. Duke Blue Devils (15-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Clemson (Tuesday), vs. Louisville (Saturday)

Despite various injuries to Tre Jones, Cassius Stanley and Wendell Moore, Duke has been a relatively dominant unit since the loss to Stephen F. Austin in late November. The Blue Devils have won all but one game by double figures, with that one single-digit margin coming by nine points against Georgia Tech. They've won at Michigan State, at Virginia Tech, at Miami and at Georgia Tech. And with the ACC looking very down this season, there's a good chance Duke is favored by several points in every game the rest of the way. The Blue Devils get Louisville and Florida State in Durham, and the toughest road game is at Virginia in late February. The two games against Carolina are going to be more difficult than they look on paper, but still, there aren't a ton of trouble spots remaining for Duke.

4. San Diego State Aztecs (17-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Fresno State (Tuesday), vs. Nevada (Saturday)

With Nathan Mensah missing the past four games with a respiratory issue, Matt Mitchell has stepped into the starting lineup and provided yet another consistent weapon for the Aztecs. The junior forward has scored in double figures in three of his four games as a starter, also averaging 7.0 rebounds and going 17-for-18 from the free throw line. Mitchell doesn't bring the same 6-foot-10 size as Mensah, but instead of providing high-level rebounding and shot-blocking, Mitchell can shoot from the perimeter and get to the free throw line at a high clip. It's a different look without the two bigs (Mensah and Yanni Wetzell) on the floor together, but the Aztecs haven't missed a beat.

5. Butler Bulldogs (15-1)

Previous ranking:

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

At the start of the season, there might not have been a single person on the planet who circled Seton Hall's trip to Butler on Jan. 15 as a pivotal matchup in the race for the Big East regular-season title. But the Pirates and Bulldogs are the only two unbeaten teams remaining in the league, and have looked like the best bets to go the distance so far in the early part of conference play. That game will also feature a head-to-head battle between two of the best guards in the country, Butler's Kamar Baldwin and Seton Hall's Myles Powell. Baldwin has had issues shooting the ball in the past against the Pirates, and Seton Hall lockdown defender Quincy McKnight will look to continue that trend.

6. Auburn Tigers (15-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Alabama (Wednesday), at Florida (Saturday)

We finally get to see how good Auburn is this week. Or something like that. The Tigers have their two most difficult games of the season thus far, with road trips to Alabama and Florida. Now, those two games being the toughest of the season says something about Auburn's nonconference schedule. But both games are on the road, and even despite the Crimson Tide's and Gators' struggles, the two teams have combined for just two home losses this season. It's a good sign for Bruce Pearl's team that senior big man Anfernee McLemore, one of the unsung heroes of last season's Final Four run, is starting to come alive. McLemore has totaled 26 points and seven rebounds off the bench in the past two games.

7. Kansas Jayhawks (12-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Oklahoma (Tuesday), at Texas (Saturday)

Bill Self has to hopeDevon Dotson's hip injury doesn't linger. The Jayhawks don't have a capable backup point guard on the roster, and the secondary ball-handler duties have generally fallen to Marcus Garrett. Although Garrett is a solid distributor, he's not a high-level point guard and he's also not much of a shooting threat; in 83 career games, Garrett has made 33 3-pointers. It allows defenses to sag off and make life more difficult for Udoka Azubuike down low. Dotson was able to come back from the locker room for the final several minutes of Saturday's game against Baylor, so there should be optimism he will be able to play moving forward.

8. Oregon Ducks (14-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Washington State (Thursday), at Washington (Saturday)

Payton Pritchard continues to build his case for Wooden Award honors. Against Arizona last week, Pritchard finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals -- while playing all 45 minutes in an overtime win. He followed that up with 29 points, six 3-pointers and six assists in a win over Arizona State. Pritchard's overall numbers, combined with efficiency on increased usage this season, put him in the hunt -- and his consistent clutch plays late in games only add to his argument. Pritchard has shown high-level scoring ability throughout his career in Eugene, but he was able to defer to guys like Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks and even Louis King last season. This season, he's the clear go-to guy for the Ducks, but he has also increased his shooting percentages, his efficiency and his assist rate.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers (13-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. TCU (Tuesday), at Kansas State (Saturday)

Miles McBride is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous freshman guards in the Big 12. He's still coming off the bench for West Virginia, but McBride has scored in double figures in six straight games. He scored a career-high 22 points in the win over Texas Tech on Saturday and is being asked to provide instant offense when he's in the game. Over this recent six-game stretch, McBride has also shot 10-for-20 from 3-point range. Bob Huggins' team isn't overly explosive on the offensive end, especially from the perimeter, but McBride could single-handedly change that narrative.

10. Florida State Seminoles (14-2)

Previous ranking: 9

This week: vs. Virginia (Wednesday), at Miami (Saturday)

Sophomore wing Devin Vassell's breakout campaign wasn't easy to predict. Vassell scored in double figures five times as a freshman and was an under-the-radar prospect for much of his high school career. But he has come on strong as a sophomore and is hitting his stride in ACC play. Vassell is averaging 15.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in his past three ACC games, while also contributing on the defensive end. Combine his rise with the recent play of Trent Forrest andM.J. Walkerand Leonard Hamilton's team is getting more dangerous on the offensive end as the season progresses. The Seminoles have scored more than one point per possession in four straight games after doing it just twice in their previous six outings.

11. Kentucky Wildcats (12-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at South Carolina (Wednesday), at Arkansas (Saturday)

Kentucky is starting to look more and more like, "As Nick Richards and Immanuel Quickley go, so go the Wildcats." Richards' recent resurgence and dominance down low have been a huge boost for Kentucky's half-court offense, and Quickley's perimeter prowess is adding another dimension to the Wildcats' offense. Both were evident Saturday against Alabama, as Richards and Quickley had strong first halves to get the Wildcats out to a 10-point lead -- but when they slowed down, Kentucky went cold and Alabama came back. Quickley hit more big shots down the stretch, though. During Kentucky's four-game winning streak, the sophomore guard is averaging 18.8 points while shooting 60.9% from 3-point range and 95.4% from the free throw line.

12. Louisville Cardinals (13-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Pittsburgh (Tuesday), at Duke (Saturday)

The Cardinals notched back-to-back wins this past week, including Saturday's road victory at Notre Dame. A big key for Chris Mack's team has been getting consistent production from the backcourt, providing some perimeter help for Jordan Nwora. Against Miami, Darius Perry scored 10 points and made three assists, and against Notre Dame, Ryan McMahon erupted for 17 points and three 3-pointers. Nwora has also returned to form, averaging 23.7 points and shooting 63.2% from 3-point range over his past three games. Mack will need all hands on deck for this week, with two more road games, against Pittsburgh and Duke.

13. Maryland Terrapins (13-3)

Previous ranking:

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

It was a mixed bag for Maryland last week, with a comfortable home win over Ohio State and a blowout road loss at Iowa. The Terrapins' résumé is an interesting one, a profile that has an elite SOS and wins over the Buckeyes and a few other NCAA tournament-caliber opponents -- but also a profile that includes zero true road wins. Maryland's last road win came against Iowa on Feb. 19 of last season. That's something the Terps will have to rectify for seeding purposes on Selection Sunday, and they'll have three chances in their next four games. Mark Turgeon will hope Anthony Cowan is making shots during that stretch. In Maryland's three losses, Cowan is shooting 24.4% from the field.

14. Villanova Wildcats (12-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. DePaul (Tuesday), vs. UConn (Saturday)

Saddiq Bey is in the midst of a breakout sophomore campaign for the Wildcats, leading the team in scoring and ranking second in rebounding. There were discussions last preseason that the one-time NC State commit might redshirt as a freshman, but Bey ended up cracking the rotation early and has now played himself onto NBA draft boards. He had the best offensive game of his career Saturday against Georgetown, knocking down eight 3-pointers and finishing with 33 points. After an inconsistent start to the season, Villanova is beginning to hit its stride. The Wildcats have won eight of their past nine, including victories over Kansas, Creighton, Xavier and Georgetown.

15. Wichita State Shockers (15-1)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: at Temple (Wednesday), vs. Houston (Saturday)

Gregg Marshall has done a tremendous job with this season's Shockers, taking a team pegged to finish fourth in the American conference and making it the favorite with two months left in the season. The Shockers passed a couple of big tests last week, beating Memphis at home and then going on the road and outlasting UConn in double overtime. They can really take control of the standings this week with Houston coming to town on Saturday. The Shockers don't have any true marquee wins on their résumé yet this season, but they've defeated several quality teams and rank in the top 10 of the NET. They're also one of just six teams with one loss -- and that came against West Virginia in Mexico.

16. Michigan State Spartans (13-4)

Previous ranking:

This week:vs. Wisconsin (Friday)

Just when we thought Michigan State was hitting its stride and primed to live up to preseason expectations, the Spartans went out and laid a complete egg against Purdue. The Boilermakers beat Sparty by 29, never trailed and led by double digits for nearly 35 minutes. The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak and was also perhaps Cassius Winston's worst game of the season. He went 0-for-5 from 3-point range, scored 10 points and turned the ball over nine times. On paper, Tom Izzo still has one of the best teams in the country and one capable of winning the national championship -- but the Spartans are also capable of really struggling when Winston and Xavier Tillman aren't carrying the offense.

Dropped out: Ohio State (11), Penn State (14)

In the waiting room

Dayton Flyers: The Flyers fare well in several metrics, ranking in the top 10 in the NET, at KenPom and in the BPI. Their only negative right now is a lack of wins against NCAA tournament-caliber competition, with the best victories coming over Saint Mary's and Virginia Tech. They have a big one coming up on Tuesday against VCU. Keep an eye on Obi Toppin's ankle, too.

Seton Hall Pirates: After a 6-4 start following a blowout loss at Rutgers, it didn't appear the Pirates were ready to justify the preseason hype. Since then, they've won six in a row, including wins over Maryland, Marquette and Xavier -- and sit atop the Big East standings at 4-0. They have a huge chance to get a statement road win on Wednesday, as they travel to Butler.

Ohio State Buckeyes: Four losses in a row send the Buckeyes falling out of the rankings -- after sitting at No. 1 just a few weeks ago. The offense has completely disappeared, with a lack of creators at that end of the floor causing Ohio State to bog down in the half court. But the Buckeyes should bounce back, and their solid efficiency metrics and quality wins over Kentucky, Villanova and Penn State keep them in the mix.

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