College basketball Power Rankings: Gonzaga finishes the regular season at No. 1

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, March 7, 2022

After a week in which the top six men's college basketball teams in the country lost on the same day and we saw a shuffle throughout the top 10 of the Power Rankings, the final week of the 2021-22 regular season brought a little less drama. But, what did we really expect? We needed a break from the chaos, to save some of it for the NCAA tournament right around the corner.

Before we get there, there are conference tournaments and Champ Week. And given how unpredictable this season has been at the top, there is sure to be another shake-up coming. But what else do we need to figure out over the next few days?

SEC pecking order: There are four teams from the SEC likely to end up in the top 16: Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. The Tigers have been near the top of the rankings for months; the Wildcats will be one of the favorites to cut down the nets; the Vols might be playing the best of anyone in the league; and the Razorbacks have lost only twice in two months. If all four make the semifinals of the SEC tournament, the winners of those two games might end up going a long way toward determining Selection Sunday seeding.

Baylor or Kansas? Or both? Could both end up in the top four? If Kansas beats Baylor in the Big 12 title game, do the Jayhawks jump them on Selection Sunday? Can Baylor even become the overall No. 1 team?

Is Houston a top-16 team?After Sunday's loss to Memphis, it's hard to see Houston living up to its predictive metrics. The Cougars entered the day with a top-five ranking in the NET, KenPom, BPI and Sagarin, and remained in the top five of KenPom even after losing. But they have just one Quadrant 1 win, and it was a neutral-court win over Oklahoma State. The Cougars haven't beaten an NCAA tournament team all season.

Lastly, this is the final Power Rankings of the season. Thanks so much for reading for the past four months. I'll be back at the buzzer of the title game with the Way-Too-Early Top 25 for the 2022-23 season.

Team of the Week: North Carolina Tar Heels

Sure, there were some other good wins this week: TCU beating Kansas, Wisconsin clinching the Big Ten title by beating Purdue, Tennessee's victory over Arkansas, Memphis locking up a bid vs. Houston. But come on, there's no other pick for this past week. The biggest rivalry in the sport, Mike Krzyzewski's final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, in front of celebrities and 90-plus former players -- and North Carolina went into Durham and walked away with a signature win that also punched the Tar Heels' ticket to the NCAA tournament.

I'll be the first to admit I didn't think there was any chance Duke was going to lose Coach K's final home game. Zero chance. Then throw in the fact that Duke beat Carolina by 20 in Chapel Hill exactly one month ago, and the Tar Heels haven't beaten a surefire NCAA tournament team all season, and it just seemed unlikely. But Carolina was terrific on Saturday. The Tar Heels came out with a quick jab and then responded well to a 14-0 Duke run late in the first half. Carolina went punch for punch with Duke, then got some separation in the second half and kept its foot on the gas.

That was the most impressive facet of Carolina's win: The Tar Heels were so aggressive. It was all attack, attack, attack. Hubert Davis had his guards continue to drive at Duke's defense, especially out of ball screens, and then either finish at the rim or dish it to Brady Manek for a 3 or Armando Bacot for a bucket. R.J. Davis (23 points, four assists), Caleb Love (22 points, five assists), Manek (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Bacot (23 points, seven rebounds) were all terrific.

It was a statement win for Carolina's NCAA résumé -- and a statement win for Davis' first year as the head coach in Chapel Hill.

Player of the Week: Matt Bradley, San Diego State Aztecs

San Diego State had one of the best weeks of any team in the country, winning at Wyoming on Monday, beating Fresno State in double overtime on Thursday and then holding on to beat Nevada in Reno on Saturday night. It was a three-game stretch that could see the Aztecs wearing home jerseys in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And the catalyst in all three games was star guard Matt Bradley.

Bradley has been fantastic all season since transferring from California, but he took his game up a notch last week. He had 30 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists against Wyoming, making five 3-pointers in the process. Against Fresno State, Bradley finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 2 assists. And then in the win over Nevada, Bradley had 24 points and six rebounds. Overall, he averaged 26.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in the three games, shooting 42.1% from 3-point range.

Oh, and I can't forget that Bradley and teammate Adam Seiko opted not to walk on senior night, meaning Aztecs fans are likely to get both players back next season. More scoring exploits to come.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention Houston Baptistforward Darius Lee, who was part of the epic 149-144 four-overtime game between Baptist and McNeese State on Saturday night. Lee finished with 52 points, 18 rebounds and 5 assists. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Lee is the first Division I player over the past 25 seasons to record at least 50 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in a game.

Wins of the Week: Nebraska Cornhuskers 78, Ohio State Buckeyes 70; Nebraska Cornhuskers 74, Wisconsin Badgers 73

It was less than two weeks ago that Nebraska needed to come out and receive a vote of confidence from Fred Hoiberg as the Cornhuskers were heading toward yet another disappointing season. They started 7-21 overall this season, 1-16 in the Big Ten and without a single road win all season.

Of course, Nebraska has since won three straight road games, including top-25 tilts this past week at Ohio State and at Wisconsin.

On Tuesday, the Cornhuskers took control of the game against Ohio State toward the end of the first half and then the beginning of the second, and didn't let the Buckeyes consistently get within striking distance down the stretch. Freshman star Bryce McGowens led the way, finishing with 26 points, while Alonzo Verge Jr., made 11 assists.

McGowens missed Sunday's game at Wisconsin with a hand injury, but Nebraska still played spoiler to the Badgers, who just needed a win to clinch the outright Big Ten regular-season title. The Cornhuskers jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half, saw it disappear after Trey McGowens was ejected and then went on a 12-0 run in the final minutes to win. Verge was the star this time, finishing with 26 points and six assists.

Coach of the Week: Griff Aldrich, Longwood Lancers

When Aldrich was hired at Longwood in the spring of 2018, an NCAA tournament appearance within four years seemed a little far-fetched. Aldrich's previous coaching career consisted of one season as an assistant coach at Hampton-Sydney in 2000, two seasons in an administrative role at UMBC in 2017 and 2018 -- and 16 years as a lawyer and energy executive in between.

On the court, Longwood had never been to an NCAA tournament. The Lancers transitioned to Division I in 2004, and since joining D-I, had finished above .500 once and never won more than five conference games. They won single-digit games in four of six seasons before hiring Aldrich.

Fast-forward to Sunday night, and Aldrich and Longwood officially punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament by dominating Winthrop in the Big South title game. The Lancers won 26 games this season, a 14-game improvement on last season, and have lost just once since Dec. 22. In the 21-point win over Winthrop in the championship, former Virginia Tech and Wake Forest transfer Isaiah Wilkins was the key, finishing with 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 3-pointers.

Three teams with questions

Indiana Hoosiers: The Hoosiers likely needed to split their final two regular-season games to feel good about their NCAA chances entering the Big Ten tournament. They fell at home to fellow bubbler Rutgers on Wednesday and then let a chance slip away at Purdue. They're 2-7 in their past nine games and need to do a ton of work in the conference tourney.

BYU Cougars: It's going to be a very long week for BYU, which has no choice but to sit and wait until Selection Sunday after losing to San Francisco in the WCC quarterfinals on Saturday night. A win there, and I think the Cougars would have been in. It's hard to see them getting a bid now, though. They're 7-9 against Quadrants 1 and 2, with a Quad 4 loss -- and their metrics aren't good enough to make up for it. Plus, their competition on the bubble will have a full week of chances to pass them.

Alabama Crimson Tide: Obviously the Crimson Tide are not in bubble trouble like the Hoosiers and Cougars, but they did lose by 16 at home to Texas A&M and then fell in overtime at LSU. Bama has now lost five of its past 10 games and is just 11-11 since beating Gonzaga and Houston in back-to-back games in early December. It has the No. 143 defense nationally since those wins.

Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs(24-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: West Coast Conference tournament

The West Coast Conference gives the top two seeds double byes directly into the semifinal, so Gonzaga was off this past week. That also means it's impossible for it to fall off the 1-seed line -- plus I think it would take a semifinal loss by Gonzaga, and Baylor winning the Big 12 tournament, to even entertain a conversation about the Zags not being the overall No. 1 seed. Their metrics are too good -- No. 1 in the NET, KenPom, BPI and Sagarin -- and their eight Quadrant 1 wins are enough to back up the predictive metrics.

2. Baylor Bears(26-5)

Previous ranking:

This week: Big 12 tournament

I think it's safe to say James Akinjo is back. One of the best point guards in the country during the first half of the season, Akinjo suffered a tailbone injury in early January and his absence was the main catalyst behind Baylor's January-February slump. He missed only two games but was hampered in several others and didn't quite look himself. But this past week, Akinjo looked like the dynamic scoring playmaker whom Baylor relied so heavily on during its 15-0 start. Akinjo had 19 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and just 2 turnovers on the road at Texas on Monday, then followed that up with 20 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists in Saturday's home win over Iowa State. He also hit five 3s in the two games after making just seven since Jan. 15.

3. Arizona Wildcats (28-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: Pac-12 tournament

Arizona responded to its first loss in a month with an impressive 3-0 week, starting with one of the most complete performances I've seen from a top team all season. The Wildcats went to USC on Tuesday and pummeled the Trojans, scoring 51 points in the first half and winning by 20. They scored 1.33 points per possession, one of their most efficient offensive efforts of the season. One of the few games better? Saturday's blowout of California, in which Arizona scored 1.34 points per possession. Against USC, it was a barrage of 3s, with the Wildcats shooting 12-for-25 from behind the arc. But against California, the Wildcats were unstoppable inside the arc, and shot 75% from 2. In between those two games, Arizona had a 12-point win over Stanford, scoring "only" 81 points on 1.13 points per possession.

4. Auburn Tigers (27-4)

Previous ranking:

This week: SEC tournament

Jabari Smith jumped into the No. 1 overall pick conversation pretty early in the season, but the freshman forward might be playing his best basketball right now. He still sometimes goes long stretches without touching the ball, which isn't entirely his fault. But when he does consistently get touches, he has been super productive. Over his past six games, Smith is averaging 24.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists, while shooting nearly 57% from 3. He has scored at least 27 points in four of his past six games, including 31 against Vanderbilt in mid-February and 27 points in an overtime win at Mississippi State on Wednesday. His 3-point percentage isn't sustainable, but his size and ability to make jumpers make him borderline unguardable at times.

5. Kansas Jayhawks (25-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: Big 12 tournament

Kansas isn't playing its best basketball of the season entering the Big 12 tournament, coming off a four-game stretch in which it lost on the road to Baylor and TCU, then had a couple of close home wins over TCU and Texas. And most of the issues over that stretch have come on the offensive end. Granted, the defense was porous in the two losses, but the offense struggled for the most part in all four games. The Jayhawks didn't score more than 1.05 points per possession in any of the four games, didn't shoot over 50% from 2-point range in any of the four games and shot below 32% from 3-point range in two of the four games. An offense that ranks No. 6 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency for the season is down at No. 65 in's metrics over that four-game stretch.

6. Kentucky Wildcats (25-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: SEC tournament

If Kentucky is going to look like the team it was for most of January and February, it will need Kellan Grady to find his shooting stroke from the perimeter again. The former Davidson transfer is shooting 43.1% from 3 on the season, which is obviously fantastic, but that drops a bit in SEC play, down to 37.8%. And over the past four games, Grady is clearly in a slump, shooting just 3-for-15 from behind the arc. During an 11-game stretch, starting with Kentucky's demolition of Tennessee in mid-January and ending with the Wildcats' win over Alabama on Feb. 19, Grady shot better than 45% from 3 and was making 3.5 of those per game. He provides spacing and perimeter balance for Kentucky, which has two drive-first guards in the backcourt and two frontcourt players far more comfortable around the rim.

7. Tennessee Volunteers (23-7)

Previous ranking:

This week: SEC tournament

Very few teams nationally are playing better than the Vols right now. They've won 12 of their past 14 games since getting blown out at Kentucky, a stretch that includes wins over Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas and LSU. The lone losses came at Texas (by one point) and at Arkansas. The numbers back it up, too. Since Feb. 1, Tennessee has been the fifth-best team in the country according to's metrics. It has been elite defensively all season, but over the past five weeks, it's in the top 30 nationally offensively too. It's not enough to jump off the page, but it's more than enough when you haven't allowed a team to score more than one point per possession since Feb. 1. This is a legitimate SEC tournament title and Final Four contender.

8. Duke Blue Devils(26-5)

Previous ranking:

This week: ACC tournament

I got into Carolina's win over the Blue Devils above, so let's look at a bigger trend for Duke. The Blue Devils have four ACC losses this season: to Miami, Florida State, Virginia and North Carolina. In each, the winning team turned it over exactly five times. Those four games were the four lowest defensive turnover percentage performances of the season for Duke's defense, too. In every other ACC game this season, Duke's opponent turned it over more than five times. One of the big keys all season to beating Duke is forcing the Blue Devils to go against a set defense in the half court as often as possible -- no transition opportunities for Paolo Banchero, Trevor Keels and Wendell Moore to get going downhill. Taking care of the ball and making it a half-court game is a crucial part of that.

9. Wisconsin Badgers(24-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: Big Ten tournament

I was starting to buy into the potential 1-seed résumé of Wisconsin, after it beat Purdue on Tuesday. And then the Badgers went out and lost at home to Nebraska. So that dream is dead. But the more important issue is the status of Johnny Davis. Davis left Sunday's game following Trey McGowens' flagrant foul 2, with the school calling it a lower body injury. After the game, coach Greg Gard expressed optimism that Davis would be "fine" and potentially play in Friday's Big Ten tournament contest. If Davis isn't quite ready, Wisconsin is obviously not the same team. He has missed two games this season: a home loss to Providence back in November and a narrow home win over Nicholls State in December.

10. Purdue Boilermakers (25-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: Big Ten tournament

Trevion Williams came up with big play after big play in the final minutes against Indiana on Saturday, starting with a low-post basket with two-plus minutes left to give Purdue a four-point lead. He then blocked a shot and got a deflection and steal in the final minute, before hitting two free throws with 11 seconds left to push the Boilermakers' lead back to four. Overall, though, Williams has been struggling on the offensive end for the past couple weeks. He's shooting just 49.2% from 2 in Big Ten play, the lowest percentage of his career. Since Purdue's struggles started in early February, Williams hasn't been able to consistently get it going. Over his past seven games, Williams is averaging 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds with three single-digit scoring efforts.

11. Villanova Wildcats (23-7)

Previous ranking:

This week: Big East tournament

I want to believe in Villanova in March. And at times this season, it looked like the Wildcats were starting to round into form as a real Final Four threat. They have the experience, the guards, the coaching and more. But their defense hasn't been overly consistent down the stretch of the season, and that concerns me. In six of its past nine games, Nova has allowed at least 1.09 points per possession. The three teams that didn't hit that mark were St. John's, Georgetown and Butler. The six that did hit the mark were all NCAA tournament teams. Villanova doesn't have much in the way of rim protection, although the Wildcats rarely do, but they've also been susceptible lately to second-chance opportunities and effective low-post players.

12. Providence Friars (24-4)

Previous ranking:

This week: Big East tournament

I didn't expect much from Providence's regular-season finale at Villanova. The Friars had already clinched the regular-season title, they celebrated it pretty heavily on the court after beating Creighton and Al Durham was out. But they went toe-to-toe with the Wildcats, going on a 13-2 run in the second half to get within striking distance and making it a game down the stretch. It was a testament to Ed Cooley and the Friars' ability. It was also a chance for Jared Bynum to get a rare start, and he responded with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists in the loss. Bynum has been fantastic all season in mostly a bench role, establishing himself as one of the best sixth men in the country. In his past eight games, Bynum is averaging 20.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 53.2% from 3.

13. UCLA Bruins (23-6)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: Pac-12 tournament

Despite a slump during the first half of February and then slipping up against Oregon for a second time this season, UCLA has quietly built up a very strong résumé, particularly from a metrics standpoint. The Bruins are in the top 16 of every metric on the NCAA team sheet, including a top-10 ranking at KenPom and in the BPI. They're also 11-6 against Quadrants 1 and 2, don't have any losses lower than Quadrant 2 and own wins over Arizona and Villanova at the top of the profile. On the floor, UCLA has won six of its past seven games, and is starting to get back to full health. Johnny Juzang played 32 minutes against USC on Saturday after missing three of the previous five games, while Jaime Jaquez was terrific last week, scoring a combined 57 points on 21-for-33 shooting, with 15 rebounds and 5 assists in two games.

14. Texas Tech Red Raiders (23-8)

Previous ranking:

This week: Big 12 tournament

Given its perimeter shooting issues, how deep a run can Texas Tech make in the NCAA tournament? The Red Raiders are the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, making just 28.0% of their 3s in conference play. They haven't made double-digit 3s in a game since November and they've made fewer than seven in 12 of their past 15 games. Nobody on the roster has made more than 41 3s this season, and only Bryson Williams shoots better than 33.3% from the perimeter.

Now throw in the fact that Texas Tech's opponents shoot 3s at a higher rate than nearly anyone in the country and get a higher percentage of their points from 3s than nearly anyone in the country, and it might be a concern against a prolific perimeter team in the opening couple rounds. But I'm still buying into Mark Adams' team, mostly due to its elite defense and how difficult facing it will be on a short turnaround.

15. Illinois Fighting Illini (22-8)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: Big Ten tournament

Illinois' quest for a Big Ten title seemed over after a home loss to Ohio State toward the end of February. But Purdue proceeded to lose back-to-back games to Michigan State and Wisconsin, and then the Badgers lost on the final day of the regular season at home to Nebraska, leaving the door open for the Fighting Illini to forge a tie. And Illinois held up its end of the bargain, coming back from 15 down to beat Iowa and earn the 1-seed in the Big Ten tournament. Andre Curbelo had too many turnovers and fouls, but his playmaking ability was on display on Sunday, and will be important moving forward. He had 14 points and six assists. From a résumé standpoint, the Fighting Illini are now solidly a top-four seed. They're 12-8 against Quadrants 1 and 2, with a sweep of Iowa and a home win over Wisconsin at the top of the profile.

16. Arkansas Razorbacks (23-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: SEC tournament

Arkansas lost for just the second time in 16 games on Saturday, with the Razorbacks' comeback falling just short at Tennessee in Knoxville. I don't want to read too much into the loss -- Tennessee jumped out to a huge first-half lead after shooting 75% from 3 in the first 20 minutes, which doesn't feel sustainable -- but it is the fourth straight game in which Arkansas has allowed at least 1.05 points per possession. The Razorbacks have been the SEC's best defense in league play, allowing just 0.93 points per possession and keeping 12 straight opponents below 1.00 point per possession. But Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee all found success against the Razorbacks. The latter three teams in that group are all surefire NCAA tournament teams, and Kentucky and Tennessee are Final Four threats, so the uptick in competition could have played a role, but Arkansas does need to tighten things back up entering the postseason.

Dropped out: UConn Huskies (No. 15), Saint Mary's Gaels (No. 16)

In the waiting room

UConn Huskies: UConn split its final two games, losing at Creighton by two and then handling DePaul at home, but the Huskies get edged out in the rankings by Arkansas and Illinois, which both picked up résumé-boosting wins this past week. UConn does have some huge chances in the Big East tournament, with Seton Hall and Villanova on its side of the bracket.

Saint Mary's Gaels: Saint Mary's drops from the rankings after getting a double bye into the WCC semifinals, simply because the teams behind the Gaels picked up key wins and leapfrogged them. I still think the Gaels are very much in position to grab a 5-seed if they can get into the WCC title game and not get steamrollered by Gonzaga.

Houston Cougars: As mentioned earlier, Houston is going to be an awfully interesting test case for the committee. Getting blown out by Memphis on Sunday likely takes the Cougars out of the mix for a top-four seed, when combined with their complete dearth of quality wins. But they still have elite metrics and an AAC tournament title would keep them in a favorable position.

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