College Basketball Power Rankings: There's chaos beyond the top five teams

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, March 2, 2020

After a tumultuous first two months of the season, things really settled down over the next two months, with the top five teams rarely losing and remaining fairly static and teams behind them developing clear-cut second and third tiers.

And then this weekend happened. Nine teams in last week's College Basketball Power Rankings lost this week, including seven on Saturday.

While that has caused a massive reshuffle among the teams outside the top five, it also has limited the number of teams that could potentially make a jump into the top five (or even into 1-seed territory) with a strong finish to the regular season and a run in the conference tournament. The trend began last weekend, when both Gonzaga and San Diego State lost and looked set to lose their status as guaranteed 1-seeds. And then Maryland lost on Sunday to start the chaos.

Kansas is locked into the top five. Barring an 0-2 finish to the regular season and then a one-and-done path in the Big 12 tournament, Baylor is going to be the same. Gonzaga's win over Saint Mary's likely keeps it in the top five heading into the NCAA tournament, simply because the Bulldogs have a maximum of two games remaining and one could come against BYU.

San Diego State could tumble with a loss in the Mountain West tournament, while Dayton likely needs to run the table to keep its spot in the top five and stay in the mix for a 1-seed.

But are there any teams seriously poised to jump into the top five?

Maryland had its chances, but the Terrapins have lost two of three and now lead the Big Ten by just one game -- and have to play at Rutgers and home against Michigan to finish the regular season. I've long maintained that Seton Hall is the sneaky team to watch in the 1-seed race, simply because of the Pirates' 10 Quadrant 1 wins. But they have a brutal finish to the regular season and then would need to win the Big East tournament. The three teams from the ACC might have all seen their top-five hopes fade with losses this week. Kentucky would need to see its hot streak continue and run the table in the SEC tournament to get into the conversation.

As things stand, it looks like the top five that has remained fairly consistent for the past two months will stay that way for another two weeks.

1. Kansas Jayhawks (26-3)

Previous ranking: 1

This week: vs. TCU (Wednesday), at Texas Tech (Saturday)

After winning at least a share of 14 straight Big 12 titles, Kansas finished in third last season, behind Texas Tech and Kansas State. But the Jayhawks are now on track to begin a new streak, after escaping against Kansas State -- and Baylor falling at TCU. They are now one game ahead of Baylor with two games to go. The big story from Saturday's win over Kansas State -- aside fromDevon Dotson's 25 points -- was Udoka Azubuike injuring an ankle on a couple of occasions, leading to an extended role for sophomore David McCormack, who answered the bell. McCormack finished with nine points off the bench. Azubuike still might be the most valuable player in the country, though, and coach Bill Self will not want to test out that theory.

2. Baylor Bears (25-3)

Previous ranking: 2

This week: vs. Texas Tech (Monday), at West Virginia (Saturday)

Baylor might have seen its chance at a split of the Big 12 title go out the window with its loss at TCU on Saturday. The Bears now have three losses this season: vs. Washington in Alaska, vs. Kansas and now at TCU. Not the typical trio of losses for a 1-seed -- but it will be the case for the Bears, who are not close to dropping off the top line. They still have 10 Quadrant 1 wins and a 15-3 record against Quadrants 1 and 2. Baylor has had issues with its quartet of guards in both recent losses, however. Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Devonte Bandoo went 12-for-38 against Kansas, and then they shot 16-for-47 in the loss to TCU. Baylor relies heavily on its perimeter group to generate most of the team's offense, and it's going to be hard to win when three or four of the guards aren't consistently hitting shots.

3. Gonzaga Bulldogs (29-2)

Previous ranking: 3

This week: NONE

Perhaps no one will welcome the nine-day layoff more than Killian Tillie, although it's a positive sign he played 27 minutes against Saint Mary's on Saturday night, his fourth game in nine days playing at least 22 minutes. Tillie completely changes the complexion of the Bulldogs at both ends of the floor, and coach Mark Few needs him in the NCAA tournament. By beating the Gaels, the number of scenarios in which Gonzaga drops off the 1-seed line on Selection Sunday decreased dramatically. Not only did several teams in the 2- and 3-seed range lose this week, but Gonzaga earning a bye into the WCC semifinals minimizes the chance at a bad loss. Perhaps the only scenario would be if Gonzaga loses in the semis and San Diego State and Dayton both win their conference tournaments, but even that wouldn't lock the Zags out of a 1. Sitting in the top three of the NET and all three predictive rankings bodes well.

4. San Diego State Aztecs (28-1)

Previous ranking: 4

This week: Mountain West tournament

San Diego State looked poised to lose its second game of the season on Saturday, trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half at Nevada. But Malachi Flynn had arguably the best game of his college career to carry the Aztecs to a road win. Flynn finished with a career-high 36 points, while also grabbing five boards and dishing out five assists. Flynn hasn't had to do it much this season, but he's the type of player who can put a team on his shoulders in the NCAA tournament and win games on his own. Nevada simply couldn't keep him in front down the stretch. Entering the Mountain West tournament, San Diego State likely needs to win it all to earn a 1-seed on Selection Sunday. With Dayton breathing down the Aztecs' neck, any slip-up could drop them to the 2-line ... but it also likely means they won't be sent to New York for the East Regional.

5. Dayton Flyers (27-2)

Previous ranking: 5

This week: at Rhode Island (Wednesday), vs. George Washington (Saturday)

Dayton is now just two games from an unbeaten Atlantic-10 season, but one of them is the Flyers' toughest game of the conference campaign: at Rhode Island on Wednesday. In the first meeting between the two teams, Obi Toppin and Jalen Crutcher combined for 43 points and Dayton cruised to a 14-point win after starting the game on a 17-0 run. One thing perhaps going in the Rams' favor heading into the matchup will be Dayton's road form; the Flyers haven't won a road game by double digits since Jan. 5 at Saint Joseph's. Coach Anthony Grant will hopeIbi Watson's past two games are a sign of things to come. Watson averaged 11.0 points in his two most recent outings after struggling offensively for most of the past month. He scored in double figures in the first seven A-10 games and then didn't hit that mark again until Friday night.

6. Seton Hall Pirates (21-7)

Previous ranking: 8

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

If Seton Hall is going to win an outright Big East regular-season title, the Pirates are going to earn it. They host Villanova on Wednesday, followed by a road trip to Creighton -- which was one of the hottest teams in the country before its blowout loss to St. John's. Fortunately for the Pirates, they need only one win to secure the outright title. And Kevin WIllard's team will enter the week on a high note after easily handling Marquette on the road Saturday. Sandro Mamukelashvili had his best game since returning from injury, finishing with 26 points and nine rebounds. "Mamu" is starting to return to his pre-injury form, averaging 19.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in his past three games -- all wins for Seton Hall. He provides consistent inside balance to the perimeter prowess of Myles Powell, who needs to find his outside shot to finish the season. Powell is shooting just 26.0% from 3 in Big East play.

7. Maryland Terrapins (23-6)

Previous ranking: 6

This week: at Rutgers (Tuesday), vs. Michigan (Sunday)

That wasn't the best week of the season for Mark Turgeon's team. The Terrapins ended up with a split (at Minnesota and home vs. Michigan State), but they needed a complete Golden Gophers collapse to beat Minnesota and were handled from start to finish by Michigan State. While it avoided a three-game losing streak, Maryland's lead in the Big Ten standings is down to just one game with two remaining. Most of the issues during the recent stretch have come on the defensive end of the floor, where Maryland has allowed more than one point per possession in four straight games and at least 1.13 points per possession in three straight. Its past three opponents have all made double-figure 3-pointers and shot at least 40% from 3-point range -- while also grabbing around a third of their misses. That's a bad recipe for the Terps' defense.

8. Florida State Seminoles (24-5)

Previous ranking: 9

This week: at Notre Dame (Wednesday), vs. Boston College (Saturday)

After Florida State smashed Louisville by 15 on Monday night to complete the sweep of the Cardinals, it looked like the Seminoles had a clear path to the ACC title -- and then they went out and lost in the final seconds to Clemson. After Duke's loss at Virginia, the Noles still own the tiebreaker over Louisville and therefore are still the favorite to earn the 1-seed in the ACC tournament, but there's no room for error in the final week. Florida State's trend of having its worst performances in games Patrick Williams doesn't make an impact offensively continued against Clemson, as the freshman took just four shots from the field and finished with nine points. But in general, the offense wasn't the issue over the weekend -- Clemson simply had more success inside the arc against the Seminoles than just about any team so far this season. The Tigers shot 58.3% on 2-pointers, making 21 shots inside the arc.

9. Kentucky Wildcats (24-5)

Previous ranking: 13

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

The Wildcats locked up their first SEC regular-season title since 2017, beating Auburn on Saturday and extending their lead to three games over the Tigers with two games remaining. John Calipari has his team playing its best basketball of the season, winning eight games in a row since the loss at Auburn on Feb. 1. The catalyst for the recent stretch of stellar play has been Immanuel Quickley, who made another SEC Player of the Year statement over the weekend, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds against Auburn. But the key in March will be Ashton Hagans, who needs to break out of his offensive slump for Kentucky to reach its peak. He seemed to take steps forward against Texas A&M, but then he went 2-for-13 against Auburn -- although he did have five assists, one turnover and three steals.

10. Duke Blue Devils (23-6)

Previous ranking: 7

This week: vs. NC State (Monday), vs. North Carolina (Saturday)

Back-to-back losses last week sent Duke into a tie for third place in the ACC standings and leaves the Blue Devils needing lots of help to grab a share of the league title. There were problems at both ends of the floor for Duke in the two losses. Against Wake Forest, the Blue Devils had their worst defensive effort of the season -- the second time in a three-game stretch in which they simply couldn't force turnovers and couldn't get stops. The Demon Deacons shot 54.5% from 3 and attempted 50 free throws (a high number even in a double-overtime game). And against Virginia, Duke had its worst offensive outing -- measured by points per possession -- since 2009. The Blue Devils are struggling to shoot the ball. During this recent 1-3 stretch, Duke has shot 14-for-57 from 3-point range in the three losses.

11. Louisville Cardinals(24-6)

Previous ranking: 11

This week: at Virginia (Saturday)

The Cardinals' quest for an ACC regular-season title will come down to their final game of the season, as a win at Virginia on Saturday will clinch at least a share. Sunday's win over Virginia Tech gives Louisville a half-game lead over Florida State, which has to go to Notre Dame and then host Boston College. Jordan Nwora had arguably his best game in almost a month on Sunday, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds -- his first 20-point game since Feb. 8 against Virginia. Coach Chris Mack will need Nwora to have another big game against the Cavaliers this weekend. Mack also will hope Malik Williams is healthy; he played just two minutes against Florida State before leaving with an ankle injury and sat out Sunday's game. Williams had 13 points and six boards in the first meeting with Virginia.

12. Villanova Wildcats (22-7)

Previous ranking: 10

This week: at Seton Hall (Wednesday), at Georgetown (Saturday)

Villanova might have seen its Big East title hopes go up in smoke with its home loss to Providence on Saturday, coupled with Seton Hall getting a road win this weekend. But the Wildcats can keep their hopes alive for a split on their trip to Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Pirates won the first meeting -- which was Villanova's last loss prior to Saturday's defeat. Villanova has turned up the defense over the past five games, holding five straight opponents to fewer than one point per possession and four of the past five to fewer than 0.90 points per possession. It was the offense at fault on Saturday, with the Wildcats shooting 5-for-30 from 3-point range. Justin Moore had been on a tear for the previous three games, but he struggled to get going against the Friars.

13. Creighton Bluejays

Previous ranking: 12

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

After an in-depth look during the week, Creighton's resume looked like it deserved a substantial bump to be somewhere in the 2-seed range ... and then the Bluejays went to St. John's and got blown out by 20 points. The Red Storm won one game the entire month of February, but they simply couldn't miss from the perimeter on Sunday -- while Creighton shot only 4-for-27 from 3-point range. The loss leaves Greg McDermott's team two games back of Seton Hall heading into the final week, ending a five-game winning streak that put pressure on the Pirates. The Bluejays finish the regular season with two home games, including a season finale against Seton Hall. Sunday was Creighton's second-worst offensive outing in its past 12 games and its worst defensive performance of the season.

14. Oregon Ducks (22-7)

Previous ranking: In the waiting room

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

After losses all around them near the top of the Pac-12 standings, the Ducks have the inside track to at least a share of the Pac-12 title, as Oregon just needs to win its final two games. Both of those games happen in Eugene -- where Oregon hasn't lost since Jan. 24 of last season. There are some questions facing Dana Altman's team down the stretch, though. The school announced before Oregon's win over Oregon State on Thursday that Chris Duarte was out with a broken finger, and it didn't specify a timetable for his return. Anthony Mathis started in his place and had 13 points and three 3-pointers. On the positive side, N'Faly Dante played for the first time since Jan. 18 and was able to give the Ducks five minutes off the bench. Dante brings size, rebounding and shot-blocking ability that simply doesn't exist elsewhere on the roster.

15. Michigan State Spartans (20-9)

Previous ranking: In the waiting room

This week: at Penn State (Tuesday), vs. Ohio State (Sunday)

And here come the Spartans ... again. Michigan State played one of its best games of the season on Saturday night at Maryland, leading from start to finish and sending a message that they're rounding into form heading into March. Much of the Spartans' NCAA tournament hopes will rest onCassius Winston's supporting cast, and that group had a positive impact against the Terrapins. Malik Hall had his best game since a November win at Seton Hall, and Rocket Watts made plays at both ends of the floor in the second half. Hall adds some versatility and the ability to stretch the floor from the 4-spot, while Watts can get his own shot and has quickness defensively. They're now just one game out of first place in the Big Ten.

16. BYU Cougars (24-7)

Previous ranking: 16

This week: NONE

As a result of finishing second in the WCC standings, BYU gets a bye into the semifinals -- which means the Cougars won't play again until March 9, when they're likely to face Saint Mary's. The two teams split the regular-season series, with the Gaels winning on Jan. 9 by three and BYU winning on Feb. 1 by two. The nine days between games might not come at a great time for Mark Pope's team, which won nine in a row to end the regular season. It capped the campaign with a comeback win over Pepperdine, paced byYoeli Childs' dominant frontcourt effort. The senior forward had 38 points and 14 rebounds, giving him averages of 29.3 points and 11.7 rebounds over his final three games of the regular season. This is going to be a nightmare matchup for most teams in the NCAA tournament, with Childs inside and BYU's top-ranked 3-point shooting ability.

Dropped out: Auburn (14), Penn State (15)

In the waiting room

Ohio State Buckeyes:Sunday's 14-point win over Michigan was the Buckeyes' eighth win in 10 games and has them knocking on the door of a top-four seed. They have been shorthanded for several games, with Kyle Young suffering from a sprained ankle and Alonzo Gaffney out with an illness. But coach Chris Holtmann has had success going with a smaller lineup, including three guards and Andre Wesson and Kaleb Wesson up front.

Penn State Nittany Lions: Penn State tumbles out of the rankings after losing for the third time in four games at Iowa inMyreon Jones' first game since Feb. 4. Penn State actually went 4-2 in his absence, and he was clearly rusty against the Hawkeyes. The Nittany Lions are in danger of falling to sixth in the Big Ten.

Auburn Tigers: Although most of Saturday's showdown against Kentucky was played within a possession or two, the Tigers never really seemed a threat to beat the Wildcats. Bruce Pearl's team has now lost three of their past five. Their middling metric numbers (28 in the NET, 37 at KenPom) and owning just two wins over surefire NCAA tournament teams could pose seeding issues on Selection Sunday.

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