/College basketball power rankings: Minnesota barrels into the Hey Nineteen thanks to its marvelous 9-1 start

College basketball power rankings: Minnesota barrels into the Hey Nineteen thanks to its marvelous 9-1 start

1 🔄Last week: No. 1 | Record: 8-0. You can find my thoughts about Gonzaga as of this moment in the form of 1,000 words and change after the Bulldogs’ breezy, easy 98-75 win over Virginia on Saturday. In short: Yes, it’s realistic to expect Gonzaga to not lose a game before Selection Sunday. Such a story would be an ideal one for college hoops a year after losing in the NCAA Tournament. Do read the column, if you haven’t already. 2 🔄Last week: No. 2 | Record: 6-0. The Bears should easily bloat their record this week with two auto wins coming against Central Arkansas and Alcorn State on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Big 12 schedule comes after that, but Baylor’s not projected to be in a single-digit game until a home game vs. West Virginia on Jan. 12. The Bears have scored at least 80 in six straight games for the first time in 26 years. 3 🔄Last week: No. 3 | Record: 8-1. Like a number of programs, the Jayhawks sent their players home for a short Christmas holiday — based on conversations I’ve had with numerous sources, dozens of programs did this last week — so the rest of this week is going to be wait-and-see in terms of if those decisions wind up putting teams into COVID pauses or not. Hopefully not. As for KU’s performance so far, its most recent wins are at Texas Tech and vs. West Virginia by a combined 15 points. Turns out having the best team in the sport last season is translating nicely for 2020-21. 4 🔄Last week: No. 4 | Record: 8-1. The big Nova news is Jay Wright’s positive COVID-19 test, which put Villanova’s game against Xavier on the back burner. As of now, Villanova at DePaul on Jan. 5 is still scheduled. Don’t expect an update on that game’s status until at least the end of this week. If Villanova avoids any additional positive tests, I would expect that game to be played. 5 ⤴️Last week: No. 7 | Record: 7-0. Kelvin Sampson’s team got its first road win of the season over the weekend, taking out UCF 63-54. Though KenPom’s rankings right now still heavily rely on preseason predictive info (read: the stats don’t explicitly include data from this season and this season alone), it is stark to see Houston so far out ahead of everyone else in the American. Houston ranks No. 8 at KenPom. The next closest team is 5-0 SMU, which is 46th. 6 🔄Last week: No. 6 | Record: 6-0. Rick Barnes’ team is also facing its first road test this week. The Vols play Wednesday night in an undefeated matchup against Missouri; the Tigers can be found a bit further down this list. Tennessee ranks third in defensive efficiency so far, allowing 87.1 points per 100 possessions. Asking Tennessee to keep that rate going is a big challenge, but if the Vols can finish 89.4 or lower in defensive rating at KenPom, it will be the best defensive team of Barnes’ career. 7 ⤴️Last week: No. 10 | Record: 7-1. The Longhorns are in the midst of a two-week break, having last played (and won) on Dec. 20 against Texas. Next up is a big game this weekend, the first for UT on the road: Kansas awaits. Texas is 8-32 all time vs. the Jayhawks, with only one win (Jan. 22, 2011) coming at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. This is UT’s chance to confirm its status as Big 12 championship contenders. 8 ⤴️Last week: No. 13 | Record: 7-0. On one hand I thought it’d be strange to look around and see so many teams with six or seven games completed on the doorstep of New Year’s Eve, but given this year, it’s really not. If anything, it seems strangely optimistic that a lot of teams have gotten in that many games in six weeks’ time. Michigan’s yet another unbeaten power conference team, but it probably is yet to face a team that will ultimately wind up in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. On Thursday, Michigan gets a slippery test at Maryland, which perked up eyebrows around the Big Ten with its Monday evening win at Wisconsin. 9 🔻Last week: No. 8 | Record: 6-1. A 12-point loss at Ohio State last Wednesday ended Rutgers’ hope of having its best start in almost 45 years. Tonight, Steve Pikiell’s team welcomes in Purdue. RU has a good shot at being a top-four team in a loaded Big Ten this season, but not having fans at the RAC is going to hurt its chances. Most Big Ten venues will be facing the same challenge of course, but with Rutgers there’s a certain spirit and momentum-pusher that’s lost by not having that building full and capitalizing off maybe the best team in decades to come out of Piscataway. 10 🔻Last week: No. 5 | Record: 7-2. The Mountaineers have the best two loss results in college basketball and it’s not all that close: against Gonzaga on a neutral court and at Kansas. The most random game in college basketball this week might be Northeastern at WVU on Tuesday. A likely win there, then on the road to face Oklahoma on Saturday. 11 ⤴️Last week: N/R | Record: 9-1. The last time Minnesota started 9-1 was the 2016-17 season. The Golden Gophers went on to be a No. 5 seed in that NCAA Tournament. Nobody, and I mean nobody, had Minny opening up winning nine of its first 10. This is the surprise team of the Big Ten and one of the five biggest surprises in college hoops. Richard Pitino’s team has the most impressive three-game win streak in America at this moment due to the victims: Saint Louis, Iowa, Michigan State. The first two were competitive; Minnesota walked all over MSU on Monday night. 12 🔄Last week: No. 12 | Record: 9-1. The Musketeers dropped a close road game last week at Creighton, so let’s see how the X men recover with Wednesday night’s home tilt against Seton Hall. Five of Xavier’s nine games have been decided by five points or fewer. It’s early — and we’ll see how they grow by the end of January — but Paul Scruggs, Zach Freemantle and KyKy Tandy are close to developing into as strong a trio as almost any other troika in the Big East. 13 🔻Last week: No. 9 | Record: 7-2. The Hawkeyes have dropped two of their past three, so that kind of hiccup is going to bump you out of the top 10 almost every time. That said, the losses are understandable so it’s not like I’m going to embarrass the Hawkeyes: vs. Gonzaga in South Dakota and at Minnesota in overtime. Sandwiched in between was a 15-point home win against Purdue. Now, if you can believe it, Tuesday offers up a top-three intriguing game this week: Northwestern heads to Iowa City to face off vs. Luka Garza and Co. 14 🔻Last week: No. 11 | Record: 8-2. It would be too easy to chalk up Wisconsin’s 70-64 home loss on Monday night to Maryland as a typically tough defeat the ever-agonizing Big Ten. This Wisconsin team has little business losing to that Maryland team, fans or not, when the game is in Madison. Maryland could hardly miss in the final 10 minutes of that game, while Wisconsin got stuck in the sand and then had some bad shots in the final two minutes. I didn’t expect Maryland to get itself a little bit of breathing room with about four minutes to go and then basically keep Wisconsin in a two-possession game the rest of the way, but that’s what happened. Now the Badgers suddenly have this compelling game at home on New Year’s Eve against Minnesota. Who knew! 15 🔻Last week: No. 14 | Record: 7-1. No games since last week’s Hey Nineteen for Mike Young’s Hokies. Wednesday night brings a winnable opportunity at home against Miami. A win there would get VT to 8-1, which might seem uncommon, but Buzz Williams did it thrice during his short tenure — the fan base has quickly grown to expect strong starts (with varying results in ACC play). Of note: Cartier Diarra has opted out of the season, citing COVID concerns, at least for now. Young said Diarra is welcome back at any point, should he choose. I want to see VT a bit more without Diarra, so that’s why it’s not a spot or two higher. 16 🔻Last week: No. 15 | Record: 6-1. The Tigers are yet another team in this week’s rankings that have a game scheduled for Tuesday night. The foe: Florida State. Game’s in Clemson, which will give Brad Brownell’s team a good shot at getting to even in the ACC — its lone game and loss came vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 15. Clemson ranks No. 2 in defensive efficiency. Defense has been Brownell’s calling card. This should be his most reliable squad yet. 17 🔻Last week: No. 16 | Record: 6-0. Wins against Oregon (neutral), Wichita State (on the road) and Illinois (home) put Missouri in comfortable standing, though the Tigers barely beat Bradley a week ago. Cuonzo Martin will open SEC play by going against the program he led to a Sweet 16 in 2014, before leaving to take the Cal job. This is Martin’s fourth season at Mizzou, making it his longest run at a job in the four spots he’s held the post of head coach. 18 🔄Last week: No. 18 | Record: 9-2. The WCC still has multiple reps in this week’s rankings. BYU is going to have to earn its keep to stick around, though. If the schedule holds, the Cougars have four of their next five on the road, which includes games against Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. Those two foes figure to be top-four good in the league. BYU has defeated St. John’s, Utah, Utah State and San Diego State (which is why SDSU is not in the Hey Nineteen). 19 ⤴️Last week: N/R | Record: 11-0. Oh, why not? Let’s have some fun and reward the little guy in this time of giving. You see that sweet record. No other team even has 10 wins to this point. And nine of Drake’s 11 victories have come against D-I competition, including road dubs against Kansas State, South Dakota and a road sweep of Indiana State. With power-conference teams on the move, I can’t promise Drake will be able to stick around (the logjam behind 19 is huge), but at least for this week the Bulldogs are getting respect in what’s turning into a pretty good season for the Missouri Valley Conference.