College Basketball Power Rankings Update: Welcoming the New Year
Following a slow week in NCAA due to holiday breaks and minimal premier matchups, the college basketball season is about to tip-off in earnest this week.
After wading through the slop that can be the non-conference schedule, the nation gets to enjoy some premium clashes. Just as the calendar closes out 2016, most schedules for basketball programs get significantly more daunting upon entering conference play.
Some of the premier matchups this week includes the high-powered offense of the UCLA Bruins making a road trip to Eugene to face a top-15 defensive team in the Oregon Ducks. Then there is the clash of two possibly unbeaten and top-10 ranked Big East teams with Villanova Wildcats and Creighton Bluejays. Finally, fresh off their huge win over Kentucky, the Louisville Cardinals don't have things much easier as they kick off ACC play with a visit from fellow defensive stalwart, the Virginia Cavaliers.
While we wait in anticipation of these big matchups, let us take a look at the top 25 schools in our power rankings, while breaking down the performance of the five most notable programs in the country.
You will find that our rankings can sometimes be much different from the AP Top 25 or the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Our power rankings here at numberFire are not subjective or influenced by the latest hype; we put our faith and trust in our algorithms. Each week, we’ll list the top 25 teams in Division I from worst to best based on our nERD metric, a predictive measure that projects the number of points we would expect that squad to win by against a league-average team.
25. Oklahoma State Cowboys (nERD: 13.41, Record: 10-2, Last Week: NR)
24. Texas Christian Horned Frogs (nERD: 13.50, Record: 11-1, Last Week: NR)
23. Saint Mary's (CA) Gaels (nERD: 13.70, Record: 10-1, Last Week: 23)
22. South Carolina Gamecocks (nERD: 13.90, Record: 9-2, Last Week: 19)
After starting the year 8-0, with wins over then-top-25 ranked Michigan Wolverines and Syracuse Orange, the South Carolina Gamecocks looked like a force to be reckoned with in the SEC. Their crushing defense was holding opponents to only 46.9 points per game, while Sindarius Thornwell was dropping 18.7 points per game as the Gamecocks won by double-digits six times.
However, the team is 1-2 over their last three games, losing by a grand total of five points. While the defense has taken a predictable step back -- allowing an average of 65.0 points per game -- the offense has completely disappeared thanks to the suspension of Thornwell.
On December 4, South Carolina suspended their leading scorer and rebounder indefinitely for violating an undisclosed school rule. In his absence, sophomore P.J. Dozier has stepped up with four 20-plus point performances, but despite his best efforts, the Gamecocks have not made up for the loss of Thornwell.
With Thornwell not expected back anytime soon, the rest of South Carolina's offense better step up and give their fifth-ranked defense (in terms of defensive rating) a hand.
21. Wichita State Shockers (nERD: 14.39, Record: 10-3, Last Week: 20)
20. Florida State Seminoles (nERD: 14.46, Record: 12-1, Last Week: 24)
19. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (nERD: 14.53, Record: 10-2, Last Week: 18)
18. Wisconsin Badgers (nERD: 14.76, Record: 11-2, Last Week: 17)
After two disappointing double-digit losses to now top-10 ranked Creighton and the North Carolina Tar Heels, the Wisconsin Badgers have rolled with seven consecutive wins by an average margin of 27.4 points. While there have been a few cupcakes in there, the Badgers did defeat Syracuse and Oklahoma Sooners by an average of 18.5 points and beat our 38th-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles on the road by 9.
Leading the way over the past month has been senior Nigel Hayes. After shooting 35.6% and averaging only 10.7 points per game the first 6 contests, the 6'8" forward has put Wisconsin on his back and taken over during the winning streak.
He is averaging 16.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game while shooting nearly 60%. Against the Sooners, Hayes went off for a season-high 28 points. In the 17-point defeat of Syracuse, Hayes nearly pulled off his first triple-double, falling just one point short with 9 points, 11 rebounds, and a career-high 10 assists.
After what should be an easy Big 10 opener against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the Badgers have an intimidating start to the new year with an Indiana road trip against both the Purdue Boilermakers and the Indiana Hoosiers.
17. Creighton Bluejays (nERD: 14.86, Record: 12-0, Last Week: 21)
16. Cincinnati Bearcats (nERD: 15.15, Record: 10-2, Last Week: 14)
15. Indiana Hoosiers (nERD: 15.34, Record: 10-2, Last Week: 16)
14. Butler Bulldogs (nERD: 15.71, Record: 11-1, Last Week: 15)
13. Florida Gators (nERD: 16.83, Record: 9-3, Last Week: 13)
After an incredible nearly 20-year run of prosperity the school had during the Billy Donovan era -- four Final Four trips and two NCAA championships -- the Gators have missed the NCAA Tournament each of the last two years.
Florida now has their strongest squad in years and their best chance -- a projected 81.5% probability -- at re-entering the field of 68.
Even at 9-3, the Gators rank high due to not only their above average balance of offense and defense, but because of the strong nature of their schedule so far. Six of their 12 opponents rank in our top-85 with five coming in at 50 or better. All three of their losses have come against the nation's elite teams, including two top-10 squads in Duke Blue Devils and Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Florida lost by just five to the Bulldogs, in a game they ended up being outshot 51.7% to 36.9%. They kept themselves alive by forcing 16 turnovers, something they have done a lot this year -- they rank 33rd in the nation with 16.3 turnovers forced per game.
Next up for Florida is another top-40 squad, as they open Southeastern Conference play on Thursday with a road game versus the 11-1 Arkansas Razorbacks.
12. UCLA Bruins (nERD: 17.34, Record: 13-0, Last Week: 9)
11. Purdue Boilermakers (nERD: 17.44, Record: 11-2, Last Week: 12)
10. Baylor Bears (nERD: 18.10, Record: 12-0, Last Week: 11)
In preparation for what will be a difficult Big 12 schedule -- there are seven schools from the conference in our top-30 -- the Bears didn't take their non-conference schedule easy as they faced off with four then-ranked top-25 programs, including three in the top-10.
While it wasn't easy, every game they've played has ended the same way -- with a Baylor win.
The team's defense has been stifling, allowing only one opponent to score more than 63 points. The Bears rank 17th out of the 351 Division I schools in defensive rating, as opposing teams are shooting only 37.7% from the floor and only 28.9% from beyond the arc.
They have a fearsome shot blocker in the paint; seven-footer Jo Acuil leads the nation with 4.1 blocks per game and his 79.5 defensive rating ranks seventh.
Teaming up with Acuil in the front court is Johnathan Motley, and the two have blossomed into one of the best big man duos in all of basketball. They are averaging over 16 rebounds per game while both own a rebounding percentage over 17%.
With one of the nation's best defenses and an offense that ranks sixth in the country in offensive rating, there is no wonder why the Bears are one of only six undefeated teams left in college basketball.
9. Gonzaga Bulldogs (nERD: 18.76, Record: 12-0, Last Week: 10)
8. Duke Blue Devils (nERD: 18.78, Record: 12-1, Last Week: 8)
7. Virginia Cavaliers (nERD: 18.84, Record: 10-1, Last Week: 5)
6. Louisville Cardinals (nERD: 19.41, Record: 11-1, Last Week: 6)
Even with the quiet week, the Cardinals made as much noise as possible by knocking off sixth-ranked and in-state rival, the Kentucky Wildcats.
They defeated their big brother for only the second time in the last 10 tries by a score of 73-70. Rick Pitino's crew was led by a brilliant performance from junior guard Quentin Snider, who scored a season-high 22 points with 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
With Snider boosting the offense, the defense did their thing and shut down one of the best offenses in the country. The Wildcats were averaging just over 95 points per game, but were held to under 40% shooting.
Louisville's D has allowed only 60.2 points per game while owning the sixth-best defensive rating in Division I. That has also come against some stiff competition, as they have played three schools ranked in the AP's top-15 (Kentucky, Baylor, and Purdue).
The Cardinals' schedule does not give them a break anytime soon, either. They face Virginia on Wednesday, followed up with tilts against Indiana and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, all within one week.
5. Kansas Jayhawks (nERD: 19.71, Record: 11-1, Last Week: 4)
4. North Carolina Tar Heels (nERD: 20.33, Record: 11-2, Last Week: 7)
3. Villanova Wildcats (nERD: 20.39, Record: 12-0, Last Week: 3)
2. Kentucky Wildcats (nERD: 20.74, Record: 10-2, Last Week: 2)
1. West Virginia Mountaineers (nERD: 21.47, Record: 11-1, Last Week: 1)