Men's Power Rankings: UConn, UNC, Wisconsin rise while Houston, Arizona fall

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, January 15, 2024

We've talked about carnage at the top of the men's college basketball rankings before. But we've never seen a week like the one we just finished.

Four of the top five teams in the Power Rankings (and in the AP poll) lost to unranked opponents. By the time Sunday ended, eight top-10 teams had lost to unranked opponents, and top-10 teams finished 9-10 on the week -- with nine of the losses coming to unranked opponents. Top-10 teams finished 3-9 in road games.

When the dust finally settled, how did the top of the pecking order shake out?

To start, we moved UConn from No. 4 to No. 1. The Huskies have been in the top tier for much of the season, and winning at Xavier on Wednesday when seemingly every other high-ranked team couldn't figure out how to win on the road was a big plus. Predictive and résumé-based metrics like the Huskies, and they're 7-2 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents.

Purdue didn't drop too far, moving down to No. 2. The Boilermakers still fare well across the board in the metrics, and they have the most Quad 1 wins in the country with six. Moving forward, are people going to be wary of putting them at No. 1, given their string of upset losses in the top spot? Perhaps, but that seems ill-advised and ignores their ironclad résumé.

The big mover was North Carolina, which is all the way up to No. 3. The Tar Heels are playing as well as anyone in the country right now, particularly their defense, which we'll talk about in a second. With RJ Davis looking like the best guard in America, Carolina is the ACC favorite and a potential Final Four contender.

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

Team of the Week: TCU Horned Frogs

Entering the week, it was still entirely unclear how good Jamie Dixon's team was this season. Its best win came against Arizona State, though the Frogs took Kansasto the wire at Allen Fieldhouse. This past week should have answered any questions. They handed Oklahoma just its second loss of the season on Wednesday, then turned around and beat No. 2 Houston by one in the final seconds on Saturday.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was just the second time in program history that TCU defeated AP top-10 teams in consecutive games -- after also doing it in 2022. It was also the Horned Frogs' fourth win over a team ranked in the top two, and third in the past five seasons.

Dixon has an incredibly experienced group, with eight seniors and a junior in his 10-man rotation. They're perhaps not as dynamic in the backcourt as they were last season, without Mike Miles Jr., but they're still elite in transition and shoot it better than they did a season ago. This should be another NCAA tournament team in Fort Worth.

Player of the Week: Isaac Jones, Washington State Cougars

It was a great week for Player of the Week candidates: Drake's Tucker DeVries, Duke's Kyle Filipowski and Alabama's Mark Sears all had huge individual performances in 2-0 weeks, while the likes of Zach Edey, Dalton Knecht and Virginia Tech's Sean Pedulla went off in 1-1 weeks. But Jones had the best combination of individual performances in a big team week.

The former Idaho transfer started the week with 26 points on 7-for-10 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and 3 assists in an eight-point road win at USC. And then the 6-foot-9 forward went for 24 points and 13 rebounds in the Cougars' three-point upset win over Arizona. Jones was dominant in the second half, going for 15 points and seven boards after the break, including three early baskets to help get the lead to double digits and then a game-tying finish with 4:36 left after Arizona had all the momentum.

Jones is now up to 15.4 points and 7.7 boards in his first season in Pullman.

Win of the Week: Nebraska Cornhuskers 88, Purdue Boilermakers 72

After winning 12 of its first 14 games, Nebraska still needed a statement victory for its potential at-large résumé. And they don't come much bigger than this 16-point win over then-No. 1 Purdue on Tuesday. It was a back-and-forth first half, but Nebraska finished the opening 20 minutes on a 13-0 run and took an 11-point lead into the break. Purdue erased nearly the entire deficit in the first six minutes of the second period, cutting it to one, before the Huskers responded with a 14-2 run. Matt Painter's team wouldn't get closer than six points the rest of the game.

The Cornhuskers shot 14-for-23 from 3-point range, their sixth time in seven games making double-digit 3s. Keisei Tominaga led the way with 19 points.

It was Nebraska's first win over an AP No. 1 team since Feb. 6, 1982.

Coach of the Week: T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State Cyclones

Otzelberger has Iowa State on track to exceed expectations again in the Big 12. The Cyclones were picked last in Otzelberger's first season at the helm, then reached the NCAA tournament. They were eighth in last year's preseason poll, then earned a 6-seed in the NCAA tournament. Picked seventh this preseason, they are now ranked inside the top 15 in most metrics (including inside the top 10 of the BPI).

Iowa State opened its week by handingHouston its first loss of the season, then followed that up by avoiding a letdown performance and crushing Oklahoma State by 24. Since Otzelberger was hired in 2021, the Cyclones' ranks in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom have been No. 5, No. 8 and now No. 2. They're No. 1 in defensive turnover percentage and No. 10 in 2-point percentage defense, and just held Houston and Oklahoma State to their worst offensive performances of the season.

Three teams with questions

Gonzaga Bulldogs: The Zags have been out of the Power Rankings for weeks, but they're poised to drop out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2016 after losing to Santa Clara. They're now 11-5 overall, with zero Quad 1 wins. They have work to do just to reach the NCAA tournament.

Providence Friars: The Friars lost by 20 at home to Xavieron Saturday, their fourth loss in a row since Bryce Hopkins tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Prior to the injury, Providence was 11-2 and had just beaten Marquetteand Butlerto open Big East play. Wednesday against DePaulshould be a get-right opportunity.

Saint Joseph's Hawks: Less than a month ago, Billy Lange's team looked like it had a case to be the second best in the Atlantic 10. The Hawks took Kentucky to overtime and beat Villanova and Princeton. However, they've now lost four of five and are 0-3 in the league after a home loss to Loyola Chicago.

Power Rankings

1. UConn Huskies (15-2)

Previous ranking:

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

On paper, a road win at Xavier doesn't look overwhelming -- but when every other top-10 team besides North Carolina struggles to beat anyone on the road, it matters. The most positive sign for Dan Hurley's team this past week was the continued stellar play of Alex Karaban. After struggling to make shots against Seton Hall and St. John's a couple of weeks ago, Karaban is now averaging 19.3 points and shooting 41.8% from 3-point range over his past four games, including Sunday's career-high 26 points against Georgetown.

2. Purdue Boilermakers (15-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Indiana (Tuesday), at Iowa (Saturday)

First, the good. In Saturday's win over Penn State, Zach Edey finished with 30 points and 20 rebounds, becoming the first Big Ten player in the past 25 seasons with multiple games of 30 points and 20 rebounds in his career, and the first Big Ten player in the past 25 seasons to finish a game with 30 points, 20 rebounds and 80% shooting. Now, the bad. Purdue suffered the aforementioned loss at Nebraska, its fourth loss in the past two years to an unranked opponent while ranked No. 1.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (13-3)

Previous ranking:

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

In the six games since UNC lost to Kentucky, the Tar Heels have had the best defense in college basketball, according to During this span, they're first in defensive effective field goal percentage, fourth in 2-point percentage defense, second in 3-point percentage defense. They've held all six opponents to fewer than 0.93 points per possession, with neither NC State or Syracuse -- the past two opponents -- reaching even 0.80 points per possession. Their past four opponents have shot a combined 12-for-87 (13.8%) from 3-point range.

4. Kansas Jayhawks (14-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Oklahoma State (Tuesday), at West Virginia (Saturday)

Kansas suffered a stunning loss at UCF on Wednesday with its worst offensive performance since the Maui Invitational. The Jayhawks took just 11 free throws and turned it over 18 times. They did bounce back with the win over Oklahoma on Saturday, as Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. regained their All-American form. One note from the win: Freshman Johnny Furphy earned his first start of the season and scored seven points in 19 minutes.

5. Tennessee Volunteers (12-4)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Florida (Tuesday), vs. Alabama (Saturday)

Tennessee's seven-game winning streak was snapped at Mississippi State on Wednesday, but the Volunteers were able to get a road win at Georgia on Saturday by closing on a 21-4 run to erase an 11-point deficit in the final few minutes. While Zakai Zeigler continued his terrific stretch, it was Dalton Knecht who was the biggest talking point. After scoring 28 in the loss, he had 36 points against Georgia, including five 3s -- and collected 10 points in the aforementioned game-ending run.

6. Kentucky Wildcats (12-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Mississippi State (Wednesday), vs. Georgia (Saturday)

Kentucky's six-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday at Texas A&M, in overtime. It's easy to pinpoint where things went wrong in College Station, and it was on the defensive end. UK allowed 1.21 points per possession, by far the most the Wildcats have given up all season and the most since a February loss to Arkansas last season. A&M meanwhile grabbed 25 offensive rebounds, and Aaron Bradshawplaying only six minutes due to foul trouble could have been a factor in the Aggies' success, too.

7. Houston Cougars (14-2)

Previous ranking:

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

Welcome to the Big 12, Houston. After the Cougars blew out West Virginia in their first Big 12 game, it was time to head on the road -- and their first two losses of the season promptly followed. Against Iowa State, it was the offense that struggled, with 16 turnovers to just eight assists. Against TCU, the Cougars had their second-worst defensive performance of the campaign, allowing the Horned Frogs to shoot 53.3% from 3. L.J. Cryer's 2-for-14 performance didn't help, either.

8. Auburn Tigers (14-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Vanderbilt (Wednesday), vs. Ole Miss (Saturday)

Auburn continues to roll over any opponent in its way, running its winning streak to nine games after beating Texas A&M and LSU. All 14 wins this season have come by double figures. The Tigers should take care of business at Vanderbilt and at home against Ole Miss this coming week, leaving back-to-back road games at Alabama and Mississippi State toward the end of January as two real litmus tests for Bruce Pearl's team.

9. Arizona Wildcats (12-4)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. USC (Wednesday), vs. UCLA (Saturday)

Just when we thought the Wildcats were going to run away with the Pac-12 title, they lost to Washington State on Saturday and now find themselves a full two games behind Oregon in the standings. The loss to the Cougars featured Arizona's worst offensive showing of the campaign: just 37.5% shooting inside the arc and 29.2% shooting from 3. Kylan Boswell was held scoreless in 25 minutes and is now averaging 5.8 points on 22.0% shooting in Arizona's four losses.

10. Wisconsin Badgers (13-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Penn State (Tuesday), vs. Indiana (Friday)

It's been an interesting season for guard Max Klesmit, the former Wofford transfer. Earlier this season, he had 21 points and five 3s in the win over Marquette, but all 21 came in the first half and it was the only time he scored more than 14 in the first 12 games of the season. This past week, though, Klesmit was the catalyst for the Badgers in wins over Ohio State and Northwestern. He had 18 points against the Buckeyes, then went for 24, including five 3s, against the Wildcats.

11. Duke Blue Devils (13-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Pittsburgh (Saturday)

Duke ran its winning streak to eight games with the victories over Pitt and then Georgia Tech. Kyle Filipowski put forth a dominant week, totaling 56 points, 23 rebounds and 5 assists in the two wins, including shooting 8-for-9 from 3-point range. Starting forward Mark Mitchell missed Saturday's game with a sprained knee, which allowed Jon Scheyer to put Tyrese Proctor back into the starting lineup. Proctor responded with 17 points and three 3s, by far his best game since returning from injury.

12. Memphis Tigers (15-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. South Florida (Thursday), at Tulane (Sunday)

Memphis badly needed a performance like it had on Sunday at Wichita State. The Tigers have won 10 in a row, but the past five or six have been a grind despite facing far inferior competition in most of those games. They needed Jahvon Quinerly 3s to beat Tulsa and SMU and overtime to beat UTSA. But on Sunday, Memphis snapped out of it, scoring 112 points for its best offensive performance of the Penny Hardaway era by far. The Tigers scored a ridiculous 1.55 points per possession and made 19 3s.

13. Baylor Bears (14-2)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Kansas State (Tuesday), at Texas (Saturday)

Camera angles in Baylor's new arena aside, it was a good week for the Bears, who picked up two solid Big 12 wins against BYU and Cincinnati. The win over Cincinnati was particularly intriguing, as Baylor shot just 5-for-20 from 3-point range and was held under one point per possession for only the second time this season. Scott Drew's defense has been inconsistent in 2023-24, but it has tightened up since the loss to Duke on Dec. 20 and needs to continue in that direction.

14. Utah State Aggies (16-1)

Previous ranking:
In the waiting room

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

Utah State's road win at UNLV featured one of the wildest endings on a wild Saturday. Down four in the final 15 seconds, the Aggies came down the floor andDarius Brown IIhit a 3-pointer with eight seconds left. Then UNLV's Kalib Boone was also called for an off-ball foul on Great Osobor, who hit both free throws -- and Utah State won its 15th in a row on a five-point play.

15. Oklahoma Sooners (13-3)

Previous ranking:

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

Back-to-back road losses to TCU and Kansas sent Oklahoma falling down the rankings, and there were some concerning aspects to both defeats. The Sooners were held below one point per possession in the two games, a benchmark they had failed to reach just once all season before the week. Their two worst defensive performances of the season also came in the two losses. Oklahoma's defense isn't exactly predicated on forcing turnovers, but it was alarming to see only nine combined turnovers from TCU and Kansas.

16. Marquette Golden Eagles (11-5)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Villanova (Monday), at St. John's (Saturday)

The injury issues are piling up for Marquette, which will be without Chase Ross for a couple more weeks and lost Sean Jones for the season after he tore an ACL in the home loss to Butler. The Golden Eagles are now just 6-5 in their past 11 games and Tyler Kolek is struggling. The preseason All-American has a combined seven points on 2-for-19 shooting in his past two games. This week's games are difficult bounce-back spots.

Dropped out: Illinois Fighting Illini (No. 10)

In the waiting room

Illinois Fighting Illini: Of all the top-10 losses this past week, Illinois falling at home to Maryland might have raised the most eyebrows. The Terps have underachieved this season, and their only win away from College Park before Sunday was at UCLA. But the Illini came out and produced their worst offensive performance since the loss to Marquette two months ago, and also allowed better than one point per possession for the third consecutive game.

Dayton Flyers: UD has now won 10 in a row since losing to Houston in Charleston almost two months ago. The Flyers are likely to be favored in every game moving forward in the regular season, and it's a good sign their defense has picked it up in conference play. Dayton has held five opponents to below one point per possession all season, and three of these instances have come in their past three games, against Atlantic 10 competition.

Creighton Bluejays: The defense has tightened up over the past four games, with Greg McDermott's team holding all of those opponents to below one point per possession. Only St. John's shot better than 40% on 2-point attempts. Ryan Kalkbrenner has been at the heart of that, while also stepping up on the offensive end; he's averaging 20.0 points and 10.0 boards on 61.8% shooting in his past three games.

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