After a tumultuous first month of the 2021-22 men's college basketball season that saw the No. 1 spot constantly changing teams, Baylorbrought some stability to the top of the Power Rankings. The Bears looked legitimately dominant through the first eight weeks, carrying their momentum from last season's national championship run over into this season. And with two home games and some manageable road trips coming up, it appeared Scott Drew's program would continue to keep its grip on the top spot.
Then Baylor dropped those back-to-back home games, to Texas Techand Oklahoma State, and became the first AP No. 1 team ever to lose two home games in a week, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
So, what happened to Baylor?
Let's start with the personnel. Freshman Jeremy Sochan missed both games because of an ankle injury. While he started only one game this season, the forward provided a matchup problem for opponents who can make plays at both ends of the floor. James Akinjo struggled against Oklahoma State and then didn't play in the final minutes, with Drew saying after the game that he was dealing with an injury resulting from a hard fall in the Texas Tech game.
On the court, offense was the main culprit. Baylor had two of its three worst offensive performances of the season, going just 16-for-52 from 3-point range in the two games and shooting below 50% from inside the arc for the first time since Thanksgiving Day. The Bears also didn't get out for easy baskets as often as usual. After forcing turnovers on at least 21% of possessions in every game so far this season -- and an average of 25% of possessions -- both the Red Raiders and the Cowboys turned it over on less than 20%.
Akinjo's injury and Sochan's absence hurt, but the supporting cast also struggled to step up consistently. Adam Flagler, who had been fantastic for the past six weeks, went 1-for-10 from the field against Oklahoma State; Matthew Mayer did have 16 points against the Cowboys, but it was his first time hitting double figures since Dec. 4; and Kendall Brown, one of the most impressive freshmen of the first half of the season, averaged just 4.8 points and 4.4 rebounds over his past five games.
Oregon entered the season picked second in the Pac-12, even receiving a pair of first-place votes in the preseason poll. The Ducks were a consensus preseason top-25 team, mixing some key returnees with one of the better transfer classes in the country. A 23-point blowout of SMU in their second game of the season did nothing to quiet the hype. Then came a stunning 31-point loss to BYU in Portland, followed by an embarrassing effort at the Maui Invitational, where they lost to Saint Mary's and got destroyed by Houston. Losses to Arizona State and Stanford in early December had Oregon's season on life support.
But after a 3-0 week, including road wins at AP No. 3 UCLA and AP No. 5 USC, the Ducks clearly have a pulse. The week opened with a road win at Oregon State, when Oregon took the lead on an Eric Williams 3-pointer with 13 seconds left, then hung on for a two-point win after a missed layup in the final seconds. Jacob Young started his week with 16 points.
The Ducks nearly blew their game against UCLA, giving up a six-point lead in the final minute before winning by three in overtime -- with Young (23 points) and Will Richardson (16 points) constantly causing issues for the Bruins' defense.
The week was capped off with a third straight road win, this time coming against the Trojans. Oregon jumped out to a 10-point lead within the first five minutes, and led by as many as 18 in the second half. Richardson was sensational, scoring 28 points and dishing out four assists.
Per ESPN Stats & Information research, Oregon is the first team since 1975-76 Clemson to beat two AP top-five teams on the road in a five-day span. The Ducks have now won five in a row, and have three straight home games coming up. There's room for the Ducks to make a push toward the top of the Pac-12 standings and get into the NCAA tournament mix.
It takes something special for someone like Timme to win Player of the Week. A couple of 20-and-10 performances are too common for him; it's expected. But when Timme faces two of the five best teams in the West Coast Conference in a three-day span and drops alarmingly efficient back-to-back 30-point efforts, he deserves some recognition.
The junior forward opened with 30 points on 13-for-14 shooting against BYU on Thursday. His only missed shot was a 3; he was a perfect 13-for-13 from inside the arc. He also contributed five rebounds and four assists. Against Santa Clara on Saturday, Timme went 14-for-18 from the field -- including a made 3 -- while also grabbing eight rebounds.
For the week, Timme averaged 31.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists, while shooting 84.4% from the field. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, he became the first Division I player to average 30 points on 80% shooting over a two-game span since Luka Garza last season, while Evan Miyakawa pointed out on Twitter how ridiculously efficient he was last week.
Quick honorable mention to Mississippi State's Iverson Molinar, who averaged 26.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in wins over Georgia and Alabama last week. The Bulldogs have now won six of their past seven and are starting to play to their on-paper potential.
Texas Tech looked like the clear pick for Team of the Week, until the Red Raiders suffered a surprising 11-point loss at Kansas State on Saturday. But their win over Baylor in Waco on Tuesday was still the most impressive victory of the week. Oklahoma State did the same thing, of course, but Tech did it first, and broke Baylor's aura of invincibility, so it gets the nod.
Mark Adams' team held Baylor to its second-worst (at the time) offensive outing of the season, while also scoring nearly 1.03 points per possession -- the second-highest number allowed by the Bears this season. And the Red Raiders did it without Terrence Shannon Jr., who missed seven games before returning against Kansas State.
Baylor jumped out to an early double-digit lead and it seemed like it was going to be business as usual in Waco, until Tech went on a 17-2 run spanning both halves to get back in the game and ended up gutting out a one-possession win late. Adonis Arms had arguably his best game in a Red Raiders uniform, finishing with 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while a hobbled Kevin McCullar, who had missed the previous two games, came off the bench to score 12 points and dish out five assists.
The last time Murray State and/or Belmont didn't win the regular-season championship in the Ohio Valley Conference was 2009, so these two programs' head-to-head matchups matter a bit more than other mid-major rivalries.
It's also why Murray State's 82-60 blowout win at Belmont on Saturday is so crucial, and positions McMahon and his Racers as the league favorite moving forward. Murray State once again has a slew of shot-making guards who can make plays: Justice Hill had eight 3s and 36 points on Saturday, while proven stud Tevin Brown had an efficient 18 points on 10 shots. Six-foot-tenKJ Williams gives the Racers legitimate size down low. He notched three double-doubles in a row before settling for 13 points and five boards against Belmont, and also helped limit the Bruins' Nick Muszynski to 12 points. Belmont had its worst 3-point shooting game of the season and was held to just 0.91 points per possession.
Some of the credit for Murray State's road performance also goes to McMahon, who prepared this team effectively in nonconference play, scheduling three true road games and playing in an MTE in Florida. The Racers won at Memphis in early December and also hung with Auburn for 25 minutes before losing right before Christmas.
Louisville Cardinals: After starting 4-0 in ACC play, the Cardinals have now lost three in a row -- including a 16-point home defeat to NC State on Wednesday and a 12-point loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday. As Jeff Greer noted on Twitter, the loss to Pitt was Louisville's worst KenPom loss in 20 years.
After the game, head coach Chris Mack told reporters, "Until I figure out what motivates our group, I don't see a lot changing."
Oklahoma Sooners: I think Oklahoma is an NCAA tournament-caliber team. But the Sooners also lost games at Texas and TCU last week, and now have a brutal four-game stretch that includes home games against Kansas and Baylor, and road trips to West Virginia and Auburn. Could their losing streak grow to six games? It's not completely out of the question.
Alabama Crimson Tide: It was just over a month ago that the Crimson Tide beat Gonzaga and Houston in back-to-back games and looked like a top-10 team and clear SEC favorite. They've now lost three games in a row after Saturday's defeat to Mississippi State, and their defense has fallen off a cliff. A unit that ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency last season is 10th in SEC play this season, while allowing 83.7 points over its past three games.
1. Auburn Tigers (16-1)
Previous ranking: 5
This week:vs. Georgia (Wednesday), vs. Kentucky (Saturday)
For the first time in a month, there's a legitimate No. 1 debate. For me, it's between Auburn and Gonzaga, with Arizona's relative lack of key wins keeping the Wildcats one notch behind the Tigers and Bulldogs.
So why Auburn?
Simply put, I think the Tigers' overall résumé is slightly better. They have eight wins away from home, compared to Gonzaga's four. They have eight Quadrant 1 and 2 wins, which is three more than Gonzaga's. It's very close: The Zags rank No. 1 in NET, KenPom, BPI and Sagarin, and own wins over Texas, Texas Tech, UCLA and BYU, but Auburn just edges it out -- for now. The Tigers host Kentucky on Saturday, in a game that is shaping up to be one of the best conference matchups of the season. Kentucky, as I'll get to shortly, has been one of the best teams in the country over the past month and will be looking to knock Auburn from its perch.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs(14-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. San Francisco (Thursday)
I'm pretty certain Gonzaga will regain the No. 1 spot at some point this season, so Zags fans shouldn't be too upset with my decision not to put them up at the top this week. Plus, it seems the Bulldogs have regained the momentum and swagger they had at the start of the season. They're scoring at an absurdly efficient level over the past week and a half, putting up at least 110 points in each of their past three games while also scoring at least 1.27 points per possession. In fact, the last time the Zags scored fewer than 1.20 points per possession was Dec. 18 against Texas Tech. In its past three games, Gonzaga has shot at least 60% from 2-point range, made at least 10 3s and shot at least 40% from 3.
The perfect example of Gonzaga's offensive prowess? BYU was awesome in the first half against Gonzaga on Thursday, making 10 3s and scoring 49 points -- and still went into halftime down 12.
3. Arizona Wildcats (14-1)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Stanford (Thursday), at California (Sunday)
After playing just one game in three weeks due to opponents dealing with COVID-19 issues and protocols, Arizona finally got in a two-game week. In those two comfortable wins, the Wildcats were able to showcase their depth and myriad options.
Against Colorado on Thursday, Arizona received production off the bench from backup guards Pelle Larsson and Justin Kier, which would be useful again on Saturday against Utah with starting point guard Kerr Kriisa out. Kier had 14 points off the bench on Thursday, and then dished out eight assists to just one turnover on Saturday. Larsson, a former Utah transfer, had 12 points and two 3s against Colorado and then played a season-high 26 minutes against his former team.
4. Duke Blue Devils(14-2)
Previous ranking: 6
This week:at Florida State (Tuesday), vs. Syracuse (Saturday)
After a stretch of unimpressive performances that culminated in a home loss to Miami last weekend, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski tweaked his lineup to notch wins over Wake Forest and NC State last week. Starting point guard Jeremy Roach was out, and freshman A.J. Griffin was in. It resulted in two solid wins and a breakout performance from Griffin. The highly touted recruit had been injured in the preseason, and got off to a slow start in November, but he has scored in double figures in six of his past eight games, including Wednesday's 22-point, four-rebound performance against Wake Forest. He makes plays at both ends of the floor and can shoot from the perimeter. Meanwhile, Roach responded by providing some stability at the point guard spot off the bench. In two games, he totaled five assists, two steals and zero turnovers.
5. Baylor Bears(15-2)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at West Virginia (Tuesday), at Oklahoma (Saturday)
Despite the two losses, Baylor's résumé is still awfully impressive, and the Bears are still very much in the mix for a top-five ranking and projected 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. They're ranked in the top five of the NET and KenPom, are tied for the most Quadrant 1 wins in the country and are 6-0 away from home. They still have wins over Villanova, Michigan State and Iowa State. So there shouldn't have been any real expectation that they would free fall down the rankings. But they showed their vulnerabilities, some of which I mentioned above, in their two losses of the past week. Moving forward, Drew needs Akinjo and Sochan to be fully healthy for this week. Part of what has made Baylor so successful in the past two and a half seasons is that it had players who could make plays on their own; Akinjo might be better at that than anyone else on the roster, and Sochan is an X factor.
6. Kansas Jayhawks (14-2)
Previous ranking: 7
This week:at Oklahoma (Tuesday), at Kansas State (Saturday)
If Kansas is going to be enough of a threat to reach New Orleans in early April, the Jayhawks need Jalen Wilson and David McCormack to play like they did against West Virginia on Saturday. Wilson, one of last season's breakout stars, was suspended for the first three games of this season and had one double-figure scoring game once he returned to the lineup. But against the Mountaineers, the sophomore guard went for 23 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three 3-pointers. McCormack meanwhile continued his frustrating inconsistency, following up his one-point, 10-minute effort in Tuesday's win against Iowa State with 19 points, 15 rebounds and three assists against West Virginia.
7. Purdue Boilermakers (14-2)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Illinois (Monday), at Indiana (Thursday), vs. Northwestern (Sunday)
Given the way Illinois is playing of late, Monday's trip to Champaign is essentially a must-win for Purdue if the Boilermakers still harbor Big Ten title hopes. The Fighting Illini are 6-0 in conference play, while the Boilermakers already have two league losses. Dropping to three in the loss column could be tough to overcome. To avoid that, Purdue will need to get a bit more from the supporting cast that was so, so productive early in the season. Sasha Stefanovic, a 40% 3-point shooter, is 5-for-20 from behind the arc over his past three games and is shooting 26.7% from 3 in Big Ten play. Isaiah Thompson has never been much of a scorer, but he could make a shot and keep defenses honest; he has been held scoreless in two of his past three games, and is 1-for-12 from 3 during that span. Caleb Furst scoring 10 points against Nebraska is promising, however.
8. Villanova Wildcats (13-4)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Marquette (Wednesday), at Georgetown (Saturday)
Jay Wright's team is now on a six-game winning streak and coming off arguably its most complete performance all season. The Wildcats beat Butler by 40 on Sunday, making 12 3s and shooting better than 63% from behind the arc, while also holding Butler to 0.72 points per possession. Sure, Butler's defense has completely collapsed over the past month, but Villanova finding its outside shooting stroke is going to be key over the final two months of the season.
Sunday was the first time since Dec. 7 that the Wildcats made double-figure 3s -- a threshold they hit seven times in the first nine games of the season. It's also worth noting that Villanova is starting to get some interior production from big man Eric Dixon, who had 14 points and four assists against Butler after going for 15 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday's win over Xavier.
9. Kentucky Wildcats (14-3)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: at Texas A&M (Wednesday), at Auburn (Saturday)
Kentucky's offensive effort against Tennessee on Saturday was as good as we've seen from anyone in college basketball this season. The Wildcats dropped 107 points on the Volunteers, who had entered Tuesday with the No. 2-ranked defense in the country. The most points Tennessee had allowed all season entering the game was 79, a number that Kentucky hit with more than 12 minutes still remaining. The Wildcats shot 71.1% from 2, 61.1% from 3 and 95.2% from the free throw line, and forced 20 turnovers. Kentucky played fast and aggressive and consistently scored before Tennessee could get organized. Since the Wildcats beat North Carolina on Dec. 18 -- a span that includes their past eight games -- only one team (Gonzaga) has had a better adjusted efficiency rating, according to BartTorvik.com, than Kentucky.
10. Wisconsin Badgers(14-2)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: at Northwestern (Tuesday), vs. Michigan State (Friday)
After Wisconsin knocked off Purdue, Iowa and Maryland two weeks ago, the Badgers were right on the precipice of moving into the Power Rankings. A 10-point win over Ohio State on Thursday sealed it. And while Wisconsin's performance-based metrics aren't all that impressive when compared with some of the other teams in this range, the Badgers' résumé-based metrics have few peers at this point in the season. They're ranked No. 2 in ESPN's Strength of Record, which judges overall body of work. They have five Quadrant 1 wins, tied for the most in the country, and nine Quadrant 1 and 2 wins, which are the most in college basketball. Wisconsin has knocked off Houston, Purdue, Iowa, Ohio State, Saint Mary's, Indiana, Marquette and Texas A&M -- with four of those wins coming away from home.
11. Houston Cougars (15-2)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. South Florida (Tuesday), vs. East Carolina (Saturday)
Given the season-ending injuries last month to Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser, the last thing Houston could afford was another perimeter injury, but that's what happened at Tulsa on Saturday. Point guard Jamal Shead, who started the past 12 games and scored in double figures in seven straight games entering the weekend, went down with an ankle injury in the first half and didn't return. For a team already low on perimeter depth, that could be crushing. But Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars were able to figure things out and gut out the win. Freshman Ramon Walkerplayed 31 minutes off the bench, while former Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards played all 40 minutes and finished with 29 points and seven 3-pointers. Here's hoping Shead's injury doesn't keep him out too long.
12. UCLA Bruins (11-2)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: at Utah (Thursday), at Colorado (Saturday)
UCLA still hasn't quite regained its early-season form, and it finally cost the Bruins against Oregon on Thursday. In a tough game, the Bruins came back in the final minute to force an extra period but didn't have the legs to get a win over the line. Some of the recent struggles have coincided with Jaime Jaquez's ankle injury, and inconsistency potentially related to said injury. Since UCLA came off its 26-day pause, Jaquez has averaged 8.7 points and 3.0 rebounds in three games, and sat out the Bruins' win over Oregon State on Saturday. A healthy Jaquez is one of the toughest matchups in the Pac-12, and Mick Cronin will need him at 100% for the stretch run. In his place, UCLA has used Jaylen Clark and Peyton Watson. Clark started on Saturday and scored 11 points, while Watson had one of his best games of the season in the Oregon loss, going for 10 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
13. LSU Tigers (15-2)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at Alabama (Wednesday), at Tennessee (Saturday)
When talking to opposing coaches about LSU, the one thing that stands out in terms of potential trouble spots is the Tigers' inability to create consistent offense in the half court. Because they have the No. 1 defense in the country and rank in the top 10 in steal percentage and block percentage, it doesn't often matter. They're so good in transition and so good at creating fast-break opportunities. And it looked like more of the same against Arkansas on Saturday -- until the Razorbacks stopped turning the ball over and started scoring in the second half. They finished the game on a 17-2 run and handed LSU a seven-point home loss. Arkansas committed 19 turnovers for the game, but it was able to keep LSU in the half court late, and the Tigers couldn't get a basket. Xavier Pinson's injury has only heightened that issue.
14. Michigan State Spartans (14-3)
Previous ranking: 9
This week:at Wisconsin (Friday)
Even when Michigan State was on its nine-game winning streak and ranked inside the top 10, it was difficult to fully jump on the Sparty bandwagon. The Spartans struggled in several of those victories and haven't beaten an NCAA tournament team since Thanksgiving. But Gabe Brown had become a go-to guy, Max Christie was emerging, Tyson Walker or AJ Hoggard was providing competent point guard play and Tom Izzo had plenty of frontcourt options. So there was optimism in East Lansing.
That feels a little less widespread after the weekend. Michigan State dropped a home game to a Northwestern team playing without Pete Nance on Saturday, putting up just 62 points on 67 possessions. It was the Spartans' worst offensive performance since November, turning it over 17 times and going just 6-for-21 from behind the arc. Four of their next five games are on the road, too, starting with Wisconsin and Illinois. How will the Spartans respond?
15. Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-4)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. Iowa State (Tuesday), vs. West Virginia (Saturday)
A one-week stretch that started with a win over Kansas and included a road win at previously undefeated Baylor and a blowout of Oklahoma State somehow ended with an 11-point loss at Kansas State. But it's still enough to get the Red Raiders into the Power Rankings, as they have a top-20 NET with wins over Baylor, Kansas and Tennessee. A potential trouble spot on their résumé could be their road/neutral record, as they're one of just two teams in the top 16 below .500 away from home (Kentucky is the other). But given that they beat Baylor in Waco, I don't imagine it's a long-term problem. After dominating the paint in the wins over the Jayhawks and the Bears, most of Tech's offensive issues against Kansas State stemmed from their lack of efficiency inside the arc. Bryson Williams dominated, but the supporting cast didn't step up like it had in previous games.
16. Iowa State Cyclones (14-3)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at Texas Tech (Tuesday), vs. TCU (Saturday)
Entering Big 12 play, Iowa State was 12-0 and arguably the biggest surprise during the first half of the season. But the Cyclones' opening six-game schedule in conference play is as daunting as any six-game stretch anyone will face all season. So, the narrative was clear: How TJ Otzelberger's team navigated the first three weeks of conference play would determine how legitimate a threat the Cyclones would be in the Big 12. Through five of those six games, Iowa State did it pretty effectively. The Cyclones are 2-3 in league play, after bouncing back from Tuesday's heartbreaking one-point road loss at Kansas with a solid home win over Texas. The six-game stretch ends with a road trip to Texas Tech on Tuesday, before things ease up ever so slightly for a couple games. A 3-3 split would be a fairly remarkable start to Big 12 play.
Illinois Fighting Illini: The only thing keeping Illinois from moving much higher up the rankings is a lack of signature wins. Right now, the Fighting Illini's best win is over Iowa. That can change as soon as Monday night, when Purdue visits Champaign. A win there and at Maryland on Friday, and Illinois will be the clear-cut favorite for the Big Ten title.
Ohio State Buckeyes: Ohio State dropped out of the rankings following its loss at Wisconsin on Thursday, but then bounced back with a five-point win over Penn State on Sunday. The Buckeyes should roll out a couple of wins this week against IUPUI and Nebraska, which should give Zed Key -- who has notched back-to-back double-figure scoring games -- a chance to continue his momentum.
Xavier Musketeers: The only two losses for Xavier since Thanksgiving came at the hands of Villanova, including a tough four-point defeat to the Wildcats on Wednesday. But Travis Steele's Musketeers can make a strong case that they're the second-best team in the Big East. They're 7-3 against Quadrants 1 and 2, with top-20 rankings in the NET, KenPom, BPI and ESPN's Strength of Record.