College Basketball Power Rankings Update: Kentucky Reigns Supreme
It is hard to say, but the Kentucky Wildcats have been overlooked when discussing the best teams in the nation, recently.
The two losses on their résumé, make undefeated Gonzaga or the many one-loss schools look more deserving of being in the elite class this season. However, if you take a closer look at how dominating the Wildcats have been, particularly on offense, you start to get a better feel of why they are our top ranked team.
They lead all the major conferences in points per game (93.6) and rank second with a 21.9-point-per-game scoring margin. Shift over to conference play, and John Calipari's talented group has stepped up their game.
This week, we will take a closer look at their dominating performance in SEC games, along with the performance of four other of the most notable teams in college basketball.
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.
T-24. Wichita State Shockers (nERD: 13.47, Record: 15-4, Last Week: 20)
T-24. Indiana Hoosiers (nERD: 13.47, Record: 12-6, Last Week: NR)
23. St. Mary's (CA) Gaels (nERD: 13.92, Record: 14-1, Last Week: 24)
22. Iowa State Cyclones (nERD: 14.16, Record: 11-6, Last Week: NR)
21. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (nERD: 14.41, Record: 16-2, Last Week: 23)
With all the powerhouses schools residing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, who would have guessed that the only team with an unblemished record in the conference would be the 5-0 Notre Dame Fighting Irish? While they haven't had to face top 10 ranked North Carolina or Florida State, Mike Brey's squad has played -- and defeated -- four top-45 teams, based on nERD rating, including our eighth-ranked Louisville Cardinals.
Even without an imposing defense, the Irish have been able to slip by some tough competition by owning the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the land. They have committed only 9.4 turnovers per game this season -- second in the nation -- and rank third with a 13.1 turnover percentage. Add in their top-20 standing with 17.4 assists per game, and you start to see why they own the sixth-most efficient offense in the country.
In their five ACC wins, the Irish have had to scratch and claw, winning by an average of 4.6 points per game. With two of their next three games coming against 10th-ranked FSU and the third-best defensive in the country, the Virginia Cavaliers, don't expect the tight contests to end anytime soon for Notre Dame.
20. Oregon Ducks (nERD: 14.95, Record: 16-2, Last Week: 21)
19. Arizona Wildcats (nERD: 15.09, Record: 16-2, Last Week: 19)
18. Cincinnati Bearcats (nERD: 15.66, Record: 15-2, Last Week: 15)
17. Purdue Boilermakers (nERD: 15.95, Record: 14-4, Last Week: 12)
16. Wisconsin Badgers (nERD: 16.05, Record: 14-3, Last Week: 18)
15. Florida State Seminoles (nERD: 16.14, Record: 16-2, Last Week: 17)
14. Butler Bulldogs (nERD: 16.17, Record: 16-3, Last Week: 13)
13. Creighton Bluejays (nERD: 16.45, Record: 18-1, Last Week: 16)
Since suffering their only defeat of the year, New Year's Eve versus Villanova, the Creighton Bluejays have been rolling, winning five straight by an average of 15.0 points. Versus Providence, the Bluejays shot over 55% from the field as they dished out 19 assists while committing only 6 turnovers. Their next time out, they overcame 17 turnovers by shooting over 55% from the field as they beat Butler.
On Monday versus Xavier, the Bluejays suffered a damaging blow, as they lost the catalyst of their offense, senior Maurice Watson to what looked like a serious knee injury. While the severity is still to be determined, the point guard is looking at an extended period on the sidelines. Watson was leading the nation with 8.8 assists per game while owning a 45.0 assist percentage, a top-five mark.
Creighton won't have much time before being tested without their point guard. The 36th-best team in the nation, the Marquette Golden Eagles, comes to town on Saturday.
12. Duke Blue Devils (nERD: 16.58, Record: 14-4, Last Week: 9)
11. UCLA Bruins (nERD: 16.89, Record: 18-1, Last Week: 14)
After losing their conference opener to Oregon, the UCLA Bruins have been taking out their anger by unleashing an offensive onslaught on the rest of the Pac-12. They have averaged 92.0 points in their last three games while shooting 51.6% from the field. Already the leader, by any major conference school, in three-pointers per game (10.8), the Bruins have drained 13.0 per game since January 8.
In their 104-89 thrashing of Colorado, senior Bryce Alford went 9-for-12 from three to set a new school record for most long-distance makes in a game. He recorded a career-best 37 points in the process for the nation's top offense, in terms of offensive rating. In fact, in the six Pac-12 games the Bruins have played, Alford is shooting an absurd 60.4% on threes.
This week, the Bruins will need their unstoppable offense to continue to fire away as they welcome the two Arizona schools to Pauley Pavilion. There, they will get their first shot to smudge up the perfect conference record of the 14th-ranked Arizona Wildcats.
10. Florida Gators (nERD: 17.01, Record: 14-3, Last Week: 11)
9. Virginia Cavaliers (nERD: 17.53, Record: 13-3, Last Week: 10)
8. Louisville Cardinals (nERD: 17.89, Record: 15-3, Last Week: 8)
7. Baylor Bears (nERD: 18.02, Record: 16-1, Last Week: 6)
6. Kansas Jayhawks (nERD: 19.27, Record: 17-1, Last Week: 4)
5. Villanova Wildcats (nERD: 19.93, Record: 18-1, Last Week: 5)
On January 4, the Villanova Wildcats suffered their first defeat in 20 games, stretching back to last season, a 66-58 loss to Butler. In that game, the nation's number-three offense, with a 121.6 offensive rating adjusted for opponent per KenPom.com, shot a miserable 37% from the floor while scoring their fewest amount of points in nearly a year. In the four games since, the Wildcats have been on a mission.
Against Marquette, they shot 65% from the field, including 60% on three-pointers. The defense has stepped up, too, suffocating Xavier and Seton Hall to shooting percentages below 30% while allowing an average of 50.0 points to the two schools. Overall, the Wildcats have won their last four games by an average of 20.0 points per game as they reclaimed the top spot in the AP Top 25 Poll.
There are a few occasional stiff challenges on their remaining regular season schedule. A January 29 tilt versus the third-beast defense in the country in Virginia jumps out. You can guarantee the Wildcats have February 22 circled on their calendars. That is when Butler comes to town, and Nova will be looking to exact their revenge.
4. Gonzaga Bulldogs (nERD: 19.95, Record: 17-0, Last Week: 7)
3. North Carolina Tar Heels (nERD: 20.09, Record: 17-3, Last Week: 3)
2. West Virginia Mountaineers (nERD: 21.05, Record: 15-2, Last Week: 2)
1. Kentucky Wildcats (nERD: 22.61, Record: 15-2, Last Week: 1)
With two losses already, the Kentucky Wildcats cannot finish the regular season with a flawless record, like Gonzaga can. What they can do, just like the Bulldogs, is run the table to end the season perfect in their conference. With the way they have started SEC play, it looks like a real possibility.
In four of their first five conference games, the Wildcats have won by more than 20 points. They have averaged 95.0 points per game as they are shooting 52.5% from the field and 42.2% from three -- all three are tops in the SEC. With a seemingly endless supply of top-tier freshman talent, this year is no different as Malik Monk has stepped up for coach Calipari to become an elite scorer. He is averaging 22.8 points and 3.0 three-pointers per game with a 71.5% true shooting percentage in conference play.
While most people get the weekends off, the Wildcats will need to get to work during the next three Saturdays. They face the 24th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks, the 2nd-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, and the Florida Gators in Gainesville on February 4.