Men's college basketball Power Rankings: Pre-Feast Week, Kansas is still No. 1

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, November 20, 2023

While the first couple of weeks have brought a string of top-25 upsets and a trio of high-profile marquee nonconference matchups, one of the best weeks on the men's college basketball calendar is finally here: Feast Week. By this time next week, the Power Rankings will look completely different, with nearly every team in the rankings facing a difficult test or two (or three) in the next several days.

It begins Monday, with the Maui Invitational and a UConn vs. Texas showdown at Madison Square Garden for the Empire Classic, but it doesn't slow down from there. Here are a couple of things we're watching from three key events this week:

  • Maui Invitational: Perhaps the most loaded field we've seen for a nonconference tournament. The top teams in this week's rankings (Kansas and Purdue) lead the way, with three other top 10 teams (Tennessee, Marquette, Gonzaga) also in the field. There's a good chance the winner will be the No. 1 team in the sport next week.
  • Battle 4 Atlantis: No top-10 teams in the field, but several that are intriguing because they have something to prove. Villanova, Michigan and Arkansas all suffered surprising losses last week; how do they bounce back? Is North Carolina a worthy favorite in the field? Is Memphis going to be a factor in the rankings all season? And how will Grant McCasland fare in his first season at Texas Tech?
  • ESPN Events Invitational: Despite Florida Atlantic's loss to Bryant on Saturday, a potential semifinal matchup between Texas A&M and FAU would be terrific -- particularly Wade Taylor IV vs. Johnell Davis in the backcourt. At the bottom of the bracket, Iowa State might be the team to watch. The Cyclones have been elite defensively the past couple of years and have a little more offensive pop this season.
  • Others: UConn vs. Texas in the Empire Classic final; a potential Baylor vs. Florida or Pittsburgh title game at the NIT Season Tip-Off; Arizona vs. Michigan State in Palm Springs.

On to this week's awards and rankings ...

Team of the Week: Liberty Flames

In a week without any obvious choices for this category -- Miami and Mississippi State had very good weeks, Marquette had a great road win, a bunch of mid-majors picked up upset victories -- Liberty laid the foundation for an intriguing at-large résumé three and a half months from now. The Flames won the Myrtle Beach Invitational on Sunday night with an impressive 10-point win over Vermont, a victory that followed up wins over Furman and Wichita State. All three wins at the event came by double-digits. Kyle Rode and Zach Cleveland were big factors.

While there were no power conference programs on the hit list, Furman and Vermont are the preseason favorites to win the Southern Conference and America East, respectively. Liberty moved up from the Atlantic Sun to Conference USA this offseason and was still picked to win the league. This last week made it clear the Flames' quest for a fourth league title in five years is within reach.

Player of the Week: Jaedon LeDee, San Diego State Aztecs

As LeDee sat out the 2021-22 season following his transfer from TCU to San Diego State, word kept coming out of the program that he was the most dominant player in practice and was going to have his long-anticipated breakout season. It didn't quite happen that way in 2022-23, although he did play a key role for a team that played in the national title game.

Well, his first two weeks of the 2023-24 season can certainly be classified as a breakout. LeDee is putting up simply ridiculous numbers. He went for 34 points and 17 rebounds in an overtime win over Washington on Sunday night in the title game of the Continental Tire Main Event. It capped a week in which he also had 27 points and 11 boards against Long Beach State and 25 points and eight rebounds against Saint Mary's.

Through five games, he's averaging 26.8 points and 10.6 rebounds. According to ESPN Stats & Information, LeDee is the first men's player in Mountain West history to average 25 and 10 through the first five games of the season.

Special mention for Kansas' Hunter Dickinson, whose 27 points and 21 boards against Kentucky was the first 20-20 game in Champions Classic history and the first 20-20 game against Kentucky in the last 25 years.

Win of the Week: UNC Greensboro Spartans 78, Arkansas Razorbacks 72

There were several good options this week: Penn beating Villanova at The Palestra, UC Irvine knocking off USC, Long Beach State stopping Michigan's momentum in its tracks and, of course, Bryant beating Florida Atlantic, which we'll get to in a minute. But UNC Greensboro going into Fayetteville and beating an Arkansas team that had generated preseason buzz as a chic Final Four sleeper gets the nod.

The six-point margin doesn't begin to tell the story. Arkansas' final lead of the game came at 4-2 with 18:40 left in the first half. UNCG led by 14 points at halftime, and as many as 15 early in the second half. The Razorbacks did cut it to four midway through the half, but the Spartans responded with a 7-2 run to push the lead back to nine and were able to keep Arkansas at an arm's length down the stretch with clutch free throws. Keyshaun Langley led the way with 23 points and five assists for Mike Jones' team.

Coach of the Week: Phil Martelli Jr., Bryant Bulldogs

It's not often a coach's team can suffer a 16-point loss to Boston University and still get an award, but we'll have to make a special exception for Martelli Jr. He worked under Jared Grasso at Bryant since 2018 and was named interim head coach when Grasso took a leave of absence in September. On Wednesday, he was promoted to permanent head coach following Grasso's resignation.

Three days later, he led the Bulldogs into Boca Raton and knocked off the No. 12 Owls. It was Bryant's first Division-I win of the season, its first win against a ranked team, and came just two days after the aforementioned defeat at the Terriers. Just an incredible whirlwind week for Martelli Jr.

"The plan was to come win the game," Martelli told the Providence Journal after the game. "I haven't had time to process that piece of it and never had time to think about what that would look like. I'm just happy our guys got to experience that and feel that."

Three teams with questions

Saint Mary's Gaels: Here are the past eight days for the Gaels: blew a 16-point lead and lost at home to Weber State,lost by 25 to San Diego State,scored just 49 in a 17-point loss to Xavier. And digging a little deeper, the issues are even more troubling.

Missouri Tigers: One of last season's biggest surprise teams is off to a rocky start in 2023-24. The Tigers lost at home by 15 to Memphis two weeks ago, needed to come back from being down 20 to beat Minnesota -- and then lost at home to Jackson State on Sunday night. For context, Jackson State entered the game 0-5 with all five losses coming by at least 14 points.

Arkansas Razorbacks: It wouldn't be an Arkansas basketball season without a surprise loss early on. Two years ago, it was back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Hofstra. Last year, it was at LSU -- which promptly lost its next 14 games. This year, it was Friday's home defeat to UNC Greensboro.

Power Rankings

1. Kansas Jayhawks (3-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: Maui Invitational (First game: vs. Chaminade on Monday)

It will be interesting to see which version of Dajuan Harris Jr. we get this week in Maui. In the first two games of the season, Harris took a combined four shots, scoring just two points in two games. He had 15 assists to two turnovers, but simply wasn't shooting the ball. Against Kentucky in the Champions Classic, however, the Jayhawks badly needed a perimeter player to make plays off the dribble -- and Harris responded with 23 points, seven assists and five 3-pointers.

2. Purdue Boilermakers (3-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: Maui Invitational (First game: vs. Gonzaga on Monday)

Does Purdue have its next four-year knockdown shooter in Myles Colvin? The four-star high school recruit from Indianapolis wasn't touted much entering the season as a key factor for the veteran Boilermakers, but he's scored at least eight points in all three of their games. Most noticeably, 10 of his 14 field goal attempts have been from behind the arc -- and he's made seven of those. If he keeps this up, Colvin could be next in the Ryan Cline-Sasha Stefanovic lineage.

3. Arizona Wildcats (5-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Michigan State in Palm Springs (Thursday)

Most international prospects take some time to acclimate to the college game, but 7-2 Motiejus Krivas has come out of the gate providing quality depth behind Oumar Ballo. The Lithuanian big man has scored in double figures in four of Arizona's five games, including 20 points and nine boards against Belmont on Friday. And in the one game in which he didn't hit double figures -- the win over Duke -- he still played 12 minutes and finished with six points and six boards.

4. UConn Huskies (4-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Texas in New York (Empire Classic on Monday), vs. Manhattan (Friday)

Tristen Newton is playing the best basketball of his UConn career through four games this season. With the departures of Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson Jr. and Adama Sanogo -- and now the injury to stud freshman Stephon Castle -- Newton has stepped up dramatically on the offensive end, especially picking up where he left off in last season's national championship game against San Diego State. He had 23 points, 11 boards and 6 assists against Indiana on Sunday and is averaging 17.3 points, 8.3 boards and 5.0 assists.

5. Tennessee Volunteers (3-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: Maui Invitational (First game: vs. Syracuse on Monday)

Dalton Knecht is getting most of the attention as a mid-major impact transfer for the Volunteers, but Jordan Gainey has also added a different dimension to Rick Barnes' club. After two seasons at USC Upstate, Gainey opted to join his father -- Tennessee associate head coach Justin Gainey -- in Knoxville. And through three games, he's averaging 13.3 points and shooting better than 41% from deep.

6. Houston Cougars (6-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Montana (Friday)

Kelvin Sampson's club racked up four wins this last week, including a three-game run to the Charleston Classic title. A promising development was the 3-point performance of LJ Cryer. The Baylor transfer went just 3-for-16 from deep in the first two games of the season, but he rebounded to shoot 14-for-30 in the last week. Cryer shot 42.5% from 3-point range during his three seasons at Baylor, so a return to form was expected.

7. Marquette Golden Eagles (3-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: Maui Invitational (First game: vs. UCLA on Monday)

In a week filled with top-25 upsets and a couple of marquee matchups, Marquette's win at Illinois might have flown under the radar a bit. It shouldn't have. True road win, in a tough environment -- with All-American point guard Tyler Kolek a game-time decision due to an ankle injury. It turns out the injury wasn't all that debilitating, as Kolek was fantastic: 24 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals, shooting 10-for-18 from the field.

8. Creighton Bluejays (4-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: Hall of Fame Classic (First game: vs. Loyola Chicago on Wednesday)

There might not be a more fun offensive team in men's college basketball so far this season than Creighton, which has scored at least 82 points in each of its four games and ranks in the top five nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, 2-point percentage and 3-point attempt rate. Even more worrying for opponents: Steven Ashworth hasn't gotten going yet. The Utah State transfer had 17 points in the opener but has a total of 13 in his past three games, shooting 3-for-14 from 3 in those matchups.

9. Duke Blue Devils (3-1)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. La Salle (Tuesday), vs. Southern Indiana (Friday)

One of the big keys to Duke's season was the play of its incoming freshman guards, namely Jared McCain and Caleb Foster. McCain has started all four games for the Blue Devils, but had his best game Friday against Bucknell, finishing with 17 points (including five 3s) and 10 rebounds. Foster has arguably been more impressive, scoring 18 against Michigan State -- including several big shots in the second half of their Champions Classic matchup -- and then dishing out six assists against the Bison.

10. Gonzaga Bulldogs (2-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: Maui Invitational (First game: vs. Purdue on Monday)

This is a big week for the Zags, and there's certainly no easing into it, with Purdue up as their first opponent Monday. Through two games, the Bulldogs' frontcourt has been their strength, with Graham Ike, Anton Watson and Braden Huff all having impressive performances. That will be tested against Zach Edey. On the perimeter, Nolan Hickman has been inconsistent for the better part of his career in Spokane, but he's been solid through two games. Can he be a reliable piece for Mark Few?

11. Baylor Bears (4-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: NIT Season Tip-Off (First game: vs. Oregon State on Wednesday)

Ja'Kobe Walter and RayJ Dennis received more plaudits entering the campaign, but let's talk about VCU transfer Jayden Nunn, a third newcomer who immediately inserted into Baylor's backcourt. After a 2022-23 season in which he shot 40% from 3 and established himself as one of the better defensive players in the Atlantic 10, Nunn is averaging 14.8 points through four games and is 4-for-7 from 3.

12. North Carolina Tar Heels (3-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: Battle 4 Atlantis (First game: vs. Northern Iowa on Wednesday)

What will Hubert Davis get from his bench this season? The Tar Heels' starting five has a good balance and plenty of experience, but there's very little proven production in reserve. Our affinity for Elliott Cadeau and his passing ability is well-established, and through three games, it appears sophomore Jalen Washington is poised to take a step forward. He had 11 points -- and two 3s -- in Friday's win over UC Riverside.

13. Miami Hurricanes (5-0)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: None

There were two big keys for Miami entering this season: Wooga Poplar taking a major step forward, and Matthew Cleveland fitting in seamlessly after transferring from Florida State. The Hurricanes are 2-for-2 thus far. Poplar has scored at least 13 points in all five games and is making nearly 60% of his 3s, while Cleveland is making 50% of his 3s and has scored at least 12 points in each game. Combined with Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier, Jim Larranaga once again has a fearsome quartet.

14. Texas A&M Aggies (4-0)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: ESPN Events Invitational (First game: vs. Penn State on Thursday)

Aside from allowing exactly 66 points in three straight games, the biggest trend from the opening couple of weeks for the Aggies is how well they're taking care of the ball. This is a team that turned it over on at least 18% of possessions in four straight seasons, ranking No. 200 or worse in turnover percentage. So far this season, they're ninth at KenPom in turnover percentage, coughing it up on just 11.1% of possessions. In fact, A&M has turned it over just 18 times in three games.

15. Kentucky Wildcats (3-1)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

This week: vs. Saint Joseph's (Monday), vs. Marshall (Friday)

Kentucky moves up despite losing to Kansas in the Champions Classic. The Wildcats really opened some eyes in the first 25 minutes of that game, showing off exceptional speed and attack-minded guards who could go and get their own shot. They eventually were overmatched by Hunter Dickinson down low and the perimeter shots stopped falling, but John Calipari's club came out of that game with optimism. And Reed Sheppard (25 points and seven assists vs. Stonehill on Friday) looks like he's going to be a real factor this season.

16. Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0)

Previous ranking:

This week: Emerald Coast Classic (First game: vs. Ohio State on Friday)

After playing a complementary role for most of last season, Mark Sears is starting more and more to resemble the player we saw at Ohio in 2021 and 2022. He's averaging 19.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists after finishing with 24 points, 5 boards and 6 assists in a blowout win over Mercer last Friday. Nate Oats needs one of his guards to step forward this season, and Sears looks to be that guy.

Dropped out: Michigan State Spartans (No. 10), Florida Atlantic Owls (No. 12), Villanova Wildcats (No. 14), Arkansas Razorbacks (No. 16)

In the waiting room

Texas Longhorns: The Longhorns' win over Louisville was far from impressive, but Max Abmas' contested jumper in the final seconds shows they might have a chance at a marquee win against UConn in the final of the Empire Classic. They'll have to shoot better than they did against the Cardinals (2-for-17 from 3) -- although they made double-digit 3s in each of their first three games, so there should be some positive regression.

Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans fall out of the rankings after the loss to Duke, but not too far out thanks to wins over Butler and Alcorn State. Star guard Tyson Walker missed Sunday's game against Alcorn, but Tom Izzo slotted sophomore Tre Holloman into the starting lineup -- and he responded with 17 points, five assists and 5-for-5 shooting from 3. Considering he totaled 15 points in the first four games, his performance could portend a bigger role in the coming weeks.

Mississippi State Bulldogs: Chris Jans' team is off to a 5-0 start after winning the Hall of Fame Tip-Off with wins over Washington State and Northwestern. The Bulldogs' elite defense is still there, but they've added extra dynamism offensively in freshman guard Josh Hubbard, who finished with 29 points and four 3s Sunday. He might have to move into the starting lineup eventually.

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