It’s undebatable: Purdue is the best team in the country
- Basketball recruiting insider.
- Joined ESPN in 2014.
- Graduate of University of Delaware.
Last week in this space, we debated the merits of Alabama and Purdue in the battle for the top spot in the 2022-23 men’s college basketball Power Rankings. This week, there’s no need for a debate. The Crimson Tide lost by 24 to Oklahoma on Saturday (and it wasn’t even that close for a long stretch of the second half), leaving the Boilermakers as the clear-cut pick for No. 1.
Matt Painter’s team took any drama out of the proceedings by handling business early against Michigan State, jumping out to an 18-point lead by halftime and cruising from there. Zach Edey finished with 38 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists, adding to his runaway favorite campaign for national player of the year.
Besides, Purdue has a rock-solid résumé clearly worthy of the spot. It’s in the top five in adjusted efficiency margin and sits atop ESPN’s strength of record metric. It’s No. 3 in the NET and has eight Quadrant 1 wins, tied with Kansas for the most in the country. It also has a slew of impressive nonconference wins, including against Marquette, Gonzaga, Duke and West Virginia.
Will we have to revisit this again next week? A daunting trip to Bloomington to face Trayce Jackson-Davis and Indiana awaits on Saturday. It’s the only game the rest of the season in which BPI projects the Boilermakers as underdogs.
On to this week’s awards and rankings …
Team of the Week: USC Trojans
There were a number of good candidates for this week. Baylor beat two NCAA tournament teams in Kansas and Arkansas, Creighton had a great win over Xavier, while Missouri surprisingly blew out Iowa State. And we’ll get to Pittsburgh shortly. But arguably no team helped itself more than USC, which beat crosstown rival UCLA in its lone game of the week.
The Trojans had come up just short in some of their biggest games this season, losing by two at UCLA and in overtime against Tennessee. And it initially looked like more of the same on Thursday, with the Bruins getting out to a 12-point lead at halftime. But the Trojans went on a 25-3 run early in the second half and completely flipped the game, eventually pulling away for a 77-64 win. Boogie Ellis was the star, finishing with 31 points and six assists, while Drew Peterson had 16 points. Andy Enfield’s team has now played itself into NCAA tournament contention, winning four of its past five games and separating itself as the third-best team in the Pac-12.
Player of the Week: Aaron Estrada, Hofstra Pride
Estrada, last season’s CAA Player of the Year, boosted his candidacy to win it again this season in a major way last week. He had 40 points against Elon on Thursday, shooting 16-for-25 from the field and 8-for-15 from 3-point range, grabbing four rebounds and making three assists. He then led the Pride in defeating AP No. 18 Charleston, which entered the game on a 20-game winning streak and hadn’t lost at home since Feb. 19, 2022. Estrada finished with 25 points, including 23 in the first half, as well as seven rebounds and six assists. He shot 5-for-9 from 3 and played all 40 minutes in the win.
Win of the Week: Oklahoma Sooners 93, Alabama Crimson Tide 69
So far into a wildly unpredictable season, it takes a lot for a result to be considered jaw-dropping. What happened on Saturday in Norman certainly qualifies. The Sooners entered the day with a three-game losing streak and a 2-6 record in the Big 12. Alabama was on a nine-game winning streak stretching back to Dec. 17 and had won its first seven SEC games by an average of 21 points.
Then Oklahoma went out and ran Alabama off the floor. The Sooners landed a couple of early punches, did whatever they wanted offensively and didn’t let Alabama get within single digits for the final 24 minutes of the game. They even led by as many as 32 points in the second half. Grant Sherfield was fantastic, finishing with 30 points and six assists. Oklahoma shot 57.6% from the field and 69.2% from 3. It was shocking to see.
Coach of the Week: Jeff Capel, Pittsburgh Panthers
A few months ago, it seemed like Capel’s days at Pitt might be numbered. He was on the coaching hot seat at the end of last season — his fourth consecutive campaign finishing below .500. Pitt was picked 14th in the 2022-23 preseason ACC poll in October, and then started the season with three losses in four games. Fast-forward 2½ months, and the Panthers are 15-7 overall, 8-3 in the ACC and third in the conference standings. They’re coming off arguably their most important week of the season, too, beating fellow ACC bubble team Wake Forest on Wednesday, then stunning Miami with a game-ending 11-0 run to win by three in the final minute. According to ESPN’s win probability, Pitt had a 4.9% chance to come out with a victory when Miami led by eight with 2:05 left. The Panthers now own wins over Virginia, Miami, North Carolina, NC State and Northwestern.
Three teams with questions
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Tech is now 1-10 in the ACC after two more blowout losses this past week: a 72-51 defeat at Clemson followed by an 86-43 drubbing at home at the hands of Duke.
DePaul Blue Demons: DePaul has shown signs of life this season, but it also lost to Georgetown on Tuesday, giving the Hoyas their first win over a Big East team since March 2021. Sorry, that’s basically automatic inclusion in this category.
Michigan Wolverines: The Wolverines appeared to right the ship early in Big Ten play, winning their first three conference games despite a home loss to Central Michigan right in the middle. But the wheels have fallen off in the three weeks since: Michigan has lost five of its past seven games to drop to 11-10 overall. It was 7-7 and 11-9 at certain points last season before making a tournament run, but it would take a bigger effort to turn this campaign around.
1. Purdue Boilermakers (21-1)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Penn State (Wednesday), at Indiana (Saturday)
Edey continues to hoard most of the Purdue-related praise, but his supporting cast continues to expand. This past week, it was the well-traveled David Jenkins Jr. who showed promise as a perimeter threat for the Boilermakers. The 6-foot-1 guard, who is on his fourth school after transferring from Utah last spring, has struggled shooting the ball for much of the season but is beginning to come to life. He made both 3-point attempts against Michigan on Thursday, then went 3-for-4 from behind the arc and scored a season-high 11 points against Michigan State on Sunday. He’s now up to 41.7% from 3 in Big Ten play after making just 22.7% in the nonconference.
2. Tennessee Volunteers (18-3)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: at Florida (Wednesday), vs. Auburn (Saturday)
Tennessee allowed Texas back into Saturday’s game for a few minutes late in the second half — but the first 30 or so minutes were as good as we’ve seen anyone play this season. The Vols are just an elite outfit defensively. After keeping each of their previous three opponents below 60 points for the game, they held Texas to 28 points in the first half. And although it was somewhat inflated by a late surge, after Tennessee went up 67-50 with eight minutes left, Texas’ 1.08 points per possession were the most Tennessee has allowed all season. The Vols are starting to look much more dangerous offensively too, especially since Rick Barnes went to a smaller lineup. Olivier Nkamhoua had a career-high 27 points on Saturday, while Zakai Zeigler is averaging 17.3 points, 7.8 assists and 2.8 steals in the four games since he was inserted back into the starting five.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide (18-3)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Vanderbilt (Tuesday), at LSU (Saturday)
So, what happened this past week? It was more than just the aforementioned Oklahoma loss: Alabama’s defense was a train wreck, and the Sooners caused problems with ball screens early and often in the first half. The Tide also looked lackadaisical in their three-point home win over Mississippi State earlier in the week. Their offense was concerning in both games, being held under one point per possession — which hasn’t happened since early December. The easy culprit is 3-point shooting, or lack of it. Alabama made just 11 3s last week, shooting a combined 22% in both games. A drop-off for a team that ranks second in the SEC at 33.6% from the perimeter, sure, but volume is the bigger issue. The Crimson Tide ranked 12th nationally in 3s per game entering the weekend, averaging 10 made 3s per night.
4. Houston Cougars (20-2)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Wichita State (Thursday), at Temple (Sunday)
Jarace Walker had a tremendous week in early January, when he totaled 44 points and 15 boards in two games against SMU and Cincinnati. He did it again last week, going for 17 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in a win over UCF on Wednesday and leading the way with 25 points and seven rebounds in Saturday’s comeback win over the Bearcats. However, the freshman forward’s performance comes on the heels of a two-game stretch in which he shot 6-for-20 and averaged 7.5 points. If Walker can become a bit more consistent, especially on the days Marcus Sasser or Tramon Mark isn’t shooting well, the floor of Houston’s offense becomes much higher.
5. Arizona Wildcats (19-3)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Oregon (Thursday), vs. Oregon State (Saturday)
After Arizona lost to Oregon by 19 earlier this month, Tommy Lloyd made a lineup change, moving Pelle Larsson to the bench and inserting Cedric Henderson into the starting five. The result is a four-game winning streak, with Henderson providing a spark in wins over USC and Washington. Larsson still plays an extended role off the bench: He had 15 points against the Trojans, was excellent defensively against Jaime Jaquez Jr. and UCLA, then went for 10 points against Washington State. Against Washington, though, his offensive slump was salvaged by Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. The two interior forces combined for 46 points, 22 rebounds and 10 assists.
6. Kansas State Wildcats (18-3)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Kansas (Tuesday), vs. Texas (Saturday)
David N’Guessan returned to the starting lineup on Saturday against Florida for the first time since suffering an injury in December, and immediately provided a lift on the interior. He missed six straight games after Christmas, before playing four minutes against Texas Tech and then sitting out the loss to Iowa State. But he looked good to go against the Gators, finishing with nine points and two steals in 19 minutes. The 6-9 former Virginia Tech transfer provides a nice frontcourt complement next to Nae’Qwan Tomlin and showed flashes in nonconference play of being a reliable option for coach Jerome Tang. Abayomi Iyiola returned to the bench with N’Guessan back in the lineup.
7. Kansas Jayhawks (17-4)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: vs. Kansas State (Tuesday), at Iowa State (Saturday)
Saturday’s win at Kentucky was an impressive bounce-back for the Jayhawks after losing three in a row. Some of the issues that plagued them in that stretch completely flipped. Dajuan Harris Jr. looked fully healthy, finishing with eight points and eight assists — after totaling five points in his previous four games. Jalen Wilson was once again sensational, but he got more help from his supporting cast. And the Jayhawks were far more dialed in defensively. Kentucky shot just 2-for-13 from 3; Kansas’ previous three opponents averaged eight in those games. And, the Wildcats didn’t have a single second-chance point — this, coming after Baylor grabbed more than 40% of its misses on Monday against KU.
8. Virginia Cavaliers (16-3)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Syracuse (Monday), at Virginia Tech (Saturday)
Virginia continues to quietly go about its business as the clear-cut best team in the ACC, winning back-to-back games by identical 76-57 scorelines. Armaan Franklin is continuing his resurgence, scoring another 18 points and making another three 3s against Boston College. He’s now up to 16.8 points on 41.9% 3-point shooting in his past nine games. Isaac McKneely hit double figures for the fourth time in six games after hitting that mark once in his first 13 games. Kihei Clark is also playing arguably his best basketball in a Cavs uniform, shooting a career-best 39% from 3 and totaling 34 assists to nine turnovers in UVa’s six-game winning streak.
9. Iowa State Cyclones (15-5)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at Texas Tech (Monday), vs. Kansas (Saturday)
It’s hard to find too much fault with Iowa State lately, given it has beaten Texas and Kansas State in the past two weeks. But the Cyclones have also lost three games in that stretch. The recent struggles coincide with Caleb Grill suffering from back stiffness, which limited him against Oklahoma State and Kansas State and kept him out against Missouri on Saturday. In the Cyclones’ five overall losses this season, Grill has one DNP and averaged 1.5 points in the other four. ISU’s defense, which has been its calling card the past two seasons, has also shown some cracks lately. Its past three opponents have shot a combined 47.8% from 3, and it actually lost the turnover battle against Mizzou.
10. Baylor Bears (16-5)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: at Texas (Monday), vs. Texas Tech (Saturday)
After a choppy stretch in December where he struggled to shoot and also missed three games, LJ Cryer has reemerged as a big-time shot-maker for coach Scott Drew. During Baylor’s recent six-game winning streak, he averaged 15.8 points and shot 55.2% from 3 — including this past week’s 22 points against Kansas and 20 points against Arkansas. In both, Cryer shot 7-for-15 from 3 and also made plays inside the arc. Adam Flagler is likely to have the ball in his hands late in games, while Keyonte George offers a different dimension in terms of shot creation, but Cryer’s consistent 3-point shooting gives real balance to Baylor’s perimeter group.
11. UCLA Bruins (17-4)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. Washington (Thursday), vs. Washington State (Saturday)
After looking like arguably the hottest team in college basketball a couple of weeks ago, UCLA has now lost two in a row — including Thursday’s 13-point loss at crosstown rival USC, which featured a remarkably bad second half from the Bruins and is not something we’ve come to expect from a Mick Cronin-coached team with this much experience. The Bruins were actually up by 12 at the half, but that disappeared within about seven minutes. While it’s tough to draw similarities between the losses to USC and Arizona, Jaime Jaquez Jr. wasn’t quite at his best in either game and Jaylen Clark struggled to make shots, too. But the lack of energy shown in the second half against USC is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.
12. Texas Longhorns (17-4)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Baylor (Monday), at Kansas State (Saturday)
Texas’ frontcourt has undergone some changes as the season has progressed. Dylan Disu has started 20 games this season, but his minutes and role have increased over the past couple of weeks. The former Vanderbilt transfer hit double figures in three straight games before struggling against Tennessee. On the flip side, five-star freshman Dillon Mitchell, who looked like the consummate versatile glue guy for the first half of the season, has been a complete nonfactor, despite starting every game. He has played 16 or fewer minutes in three of his past four games — capped by one point in 11 minutes against Tennessee. He’s still pulling down offensive rebounds at an incredibly high level, but he’s dropping in the frontcourt rotation.
13. Marquette Golden Eagles (17-5)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Villanova (Wednesday), vs. Butler (Saturday)
The development of Tyler Kolek has been fascinating to watch. As a freshman at George Mason in 2021, the Rhode Island native was a volume 3-point shooter and a solid passer. He attempted nearly seven 3s per game and never had more than four assists in a game. Two seasons later, Kolek has one of the highest assist rates in college basketball and is down to three 3-point attempts per game. He’s now one of the most efficient and productive point guards in the country. He had 24 points, 9 boards and 10 assists on Saturday, and over his past 10 games is averaging 13.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists.
14. Xavier Musketeers (17-5)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: vs. Providence (Wednesday), vs. St. John’s (Saturday)
It was a mixed bag for the Musketeers last week, winning at UConn to complete the season sweep of the Huskies but then losing by 17 at Creighton on Saturday. While part of the defeat could be attributed to Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle getting into early foul trouble, the Musketeers’ defensive performance was also concerning. Xavier has now allowed at least 1.07 points per possession in six of its past seven games, giving up an average of 81.7 points in its past three. Marquette, Georgetown and Creighton all shot 60% or better from inside the arc over the past two weeks. Overall, the Musketeers rank eighth in the Big East in defensive efficiency in league play.
15. TCU Horned Frogs (16-5)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. West Virginia (Tuesday), at Oklahoma State (Saturday)
The absences are starting to pile up for the Horned Frogs, with the most concerning one being Mike Miles Jr. Their star guard left Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State with a right knee hyperextension and didn’t return. He was expected to undergo an MRI on Sunday. Miles is the third key player missing for Saturday’s game, with Eddie Lampkin Jr. still out with an ankle injury and reserve guard Rondel Walker out with an illness. Even Shahada Wells briefly left the game with an injury. Jamie Dixon has one of the deepest teams in the country, but that’s going to be tested. If Miles misses time, Wells will be the main player asked to step up and produce from the perimeter.
16. Gonzaga Bulldogs (18-4)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: vs. Santa Clara (Thursday), at Saint Mary’s (Saturday)
It’s safe to assume Julian Strawther has broken out of his mini-slump from the perimeter. After a three-game stretch where he went 5-for-19 from 3, Strawther took a step forward with three makes from behind the arc against Pacific. On Saturday against Portland, the junior wing was on fire: He finished with 40 points, becoming the first Gonzaga player to hit that mark since Kyle Wiltjer in 2015. He went 8-for-12 from 3, coming just one short of tying the program record for 3s in a game. Strawther has become a reliable secondary scorer to Drew Timme and he’s had big performances in a couple of big games this season (Kentucky, Xavier), but Saturday showed a different level for the Las Vegas native.
Dropped out: None
In the waiting room
Saint Mary’s Gaels: Aidan Mahaney is a baller. He has been one of the elite first-year guards in the country, and he added to his résumé this past week with three 20-point games in the past four entering Saturday’s trip to the BYU — then hit a turnaround game winner in the final seconds to knock off the Cougars.
Florida Atlantic Owls: The Owls now have the nation’s longest active winning streak, winning their 20th game in a row against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Saturday. They’ve stiffened up defensively over the past few weeks, too, holding five straight opponents to below 1.00 point per possession — after allowing four straight teams to exceed that mark.
Indiana Hoosiers: There are few teams with more momentum than the Hoosiers right now. Trayce Jackson-Davis is playing as well as anyone in college basketball, averaging a ridiculous 27.3 points, 13.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 4.0 blocks in his past four games. They’ve won five in a row and head to Maryland on Tuesday before an enormous showdown against Zach Edey and Purdue in Bloomington.
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