Iowa State, top-10 team?
It might look a bit off at first glance, but the Cyclones are playing as well as anyone in men’s college basketball outside the top three or four teams in the country — and they’re quickly building the type of résumé to back that up.
We all know about Hilton Magic and Iowa State’s ability on its home court. The Cyclones own wins over Houston and Kansas in Ames this season, after Saturday’s 79-75 victory over the Jayhawks. But they also beat TCU by one on the Horned Frogs’ floor earlier this month. They now have three Quadrant 1 wins, and six overall against Quadrants 1 and 2. And in the three weeks since their loss at Oklahoma in the Big 12 opener, they’re fourth in the country in adjusted efficiency margin at BartTorvik.com.
Their metrics are also deserving of top-10 buzz. Iowa State is up to No. 10 in the NET, No. 12 at KenPom, No. 7 at BPI and No. 14 in ESPN’s strength of record.
And how about this nugget? Iowa State’s win over Kansas was its eighth AP top-10 win in the past two years; according to ESPN Stats & Information, that’s the most of any team in the country during that span.
Could it all come crashing down with road games at Baylor, Texas, Cincinnati and Houston in the next three weeks? Sure, but Iowa State has greatly exceeded expectations so far, and its top-10 spot in this week’s Power Rankings is indicative of the Cyclones’ performance.
On to this week’s awards and rankings …
Meechie Johnson Jr.’s logo 3 caps South Carolina’s upset of No. 6 Kentucky
Meechie Johnson Jr. splashes a 3 from near the logo to seal the upset win for South Carolina.
Lamont Paris might be the favorite for Coach of the Year nationally. He’s taken a South Carolina team picked 14th in the SEC preseason poll to the brink of the top 25 after this week’s two wins improved the Gamecocks to 17-3 overall and 5-2 in league play. The stunner was the team’s 79-62 blowout win over Kentucky, which was ranked in the top five entering the week and looked every bit like a true Final Four contender. But South Carolina ended the first half on a 17-4 run and then rolled in the second half. Ta’Lon Cooper led the way with 20 points. The Gamecocks followed that up with a 72-64 win over Missouri, sealing the game late with free throws. B.J. Mack paced the team with 21 points.
Remember, this is a team that went 11-21 last season (4-14 in the SEC) and then lost freshman star G.G. Jackson to the NBA. Paris has worked wonders this campaign and has South Carolina in position to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017.
It’s been a long three seasons for Oregon State, but the Beavers just had their best week of that period, beating Arizona and Arizona State — and it was Pope who led the way for Wayne Tinkle. The sophomore guard went for 31 points and five assists against Arizona, including the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. He wasn’t quite as prolific against ASU, but still had an efficient 19 points and six dimes.
JORDAN POPE AT THE BUZZER!
Oregon State takes down No. 9 Arizona in thrilling fashion!pic.twitter.com/CgrXQsVji5
— Heat Check CBB (@HeatCheckCBB) January 26, 2024
Boo Buie, meanwhile, has established himself as one of the best big-game players in the country, especially down the stretch, and he did it again against Illinois on Wednesday. Buie finished with 29 points — eight of which came in overtime — and seven assists. He followed that up with 19 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in an easy win over Ohio State on Saturday. The Wildcats are now 15-5 overall and 6-3 in Big Ten play, and Buie is playing like one of the elite guards in the country.
Richmond upsets No. 16 Dayton and the fans storm the court
Richmond forward Dji Bailey throws down a late dunk to ice the win over No. 16 Dayton leading to a court storm.
Dayton entered the weekend with the longest winning streak in men’s college basketball, a potential All-America forward in DaRon Holmes II and looked like the clear favorite in the Atlantic 10. It exited Saturday in second place after suffering its first loss since Nov. 19. In defeating the Flyers, Richmond won its 10th game in a row to remain unbeaten in the league. This was a battle between the league’s best offense and the league’s best defense. The Spiders held the Flyers to 33.9% shooting from the field and their fewest points per possession of the campaign. Coach Chris Mooney’s defense also limited Holmes to nine points on 2-for-12 shooting.
Richmond was picked 11th in the preseason Atlantic 10 poll, but the Spiders — behind East Tennessee State transfer Jordan King, who is averaging better than 19 points per game and had 17 against Dayton — are atop the league.
High Point Panthers vs. South Carolina Upstate Spartans: Full Highlights
High Point Panthers vs. South Carolina Upstate Spartans: Full Highlights
In a season with several first-year head coaches doing remarkable jobs, Huss is near the top of the list. High Point was picked seventh in the nine-team Big South preseason poll after finishing below .500 in league play in each of the past four seasons. However, the Panthers improved to 18-4 on the season after erasing a 17-point second-half deficit on the road at Winthrop on Saturday. They are 7-0 in conference play and are tied for the nation’s second-longest winning streak (10).
Huss spent the past six seasons as an assistant coach under Greg McDermott at Creighton, so the Panthers’ offensive prowess shouldn’t come as a surprise. While we’re talking High Point, it would be negligent not to mention guard Kezza Giffa, who has emerged as one of the best mid-major scorers in the country since the calendar flipped to 2024. He had 37 points in the win over Winthrop on Saturday and is averaging 29.7 points in three games as a starter.
Three teams with questions
Villanova Wildcats: After winning four in a row around the turn of the new year, Villanova has now lost five of its last six games to drop to 11-9 overall and 4-5 in the Big East. Tuesday’s home game against Marquette has now essentially turned into a must-win situation for Kyle Neptune’s team.
Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes are in disarray. They were steamrolled this past week by Nebraska and Northwestern, falling to 3-6 in Big Ten play, with defeats in five of their last six games. OSU has also now lost 14 consecutive road games dating back to last season.
Utah Utes: The home/road splits for Utah in Pac-12 play are alarming. The Utes are 5-0 at home but are now 0-5 on the road after getting drilled by Washington State and Washington by a combined 47 points this past week. They’ve lost five of their past eight games overall entering a crucial two-game stretch against Colorado and Arizona.
1. UConn Huskies (18-2)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Providence (Wednesday), at St. John’s (Saturday)
One area in which the Huskies hadn’t been quite as dominant this season as a year ago was the defensive end. But when they lock in, like they did against Creighton and Xavier in the past couple of weeks, they can absolutely suffocate teams with size, length and pressure. They held the Bluejays to 0.78 points per possession on Jan. 17, and the Musketeers scored just seven points through the first 14-plus minutes Sunday and finished with just 56 in a 43-point loss. It was one of the most dominant performances of UConn’s entire Big East tenure.
2. Purdue Boilermakers (19-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Northwestern (Wednesday), at Wisconsin (Sunday)
If there was a week to show the impact of Southern Illinois transfer Lance Jones, it was this one. Against Michigan, Jones made five 3-pointers and led the team with 24 points. Against Rutgers five days later, he really struggled to shoot the ball, scoring four points on 1-for-10 shooting — but still grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out eight assists and racked up five steals. He makes a difference at both ends of the floor and provides a dimension the Boilermakers haven’t had the last couple of seasons.
Elliott Cadeau crosses his defender for slick bucket
Elliott Cadeau works past his defender and finds a crease inside to bury the UNC bucket.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels (17-3)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Georgia Tech (Tuesday), vs. Duke (Saturday)
RJ Davis has clearly established himself as the best guard in the country — and his 36 points against Wake Forest on Monday affirmed it — but it’s been the recent play of Elliot Cadeau that could take the Tar Heels to another level. The five-star freshman is playing his best basketball of the season. He had 14 points and three assists in the win over the Demon Deacons, then followed it up with a career-high 16 points and six assists in the win over Florida State. Cadeau sparked the early second-half run that turned the game around for Carolina.
4. Tennessee Volunteers (15-4)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. South Carolina (Tuesday), at Kentucky (Saturday)
Dalton Knecht’s All-America case gets stronger with every game, and there’s also a case to be made that he’s a top two or three Wooden Award candidate. Unfortunately for Knecht, Zach Edey exists and is going to be the runaway player of the year, but that shouldn’t diminish what the Northern Colorado transfer has done. He’s averaging 32.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in his past five games, shooting 47.2% from 3. Knecht had another 32 against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Jamal Shead drains an impressive up-and-under bucket for Houston
Jamal Shead is smooth as silk as he knocks down a smooth up-and-under bucket for the Cougars.
5. Houston Cougars (18-2)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Texas (Monday), at Kansas (Saturday)
Houston has shaken off its two-game losing streak to grab four wins in a row, including an impressive road victory at BYU on Tuesday. Jamal Shead has been one of the premier guards in the country all season, but he wasn’t at his best during the losses, totaling eight assists and six turnovers and shooting 2-for-11 from 3. Shead has bounced back, however, averaging 18.0 points, 5.5 assists and just 1.5 turnovers since. He’s also shooting 43.8% from 3 over the past four games.
6. Wisconsin Badgers (16-4)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Nebraska (Thursday), vs. Purdue (Sunday)
When AJ Storr transferred to Wisconsin from St. John’s last spring, there was some question as to whether he would be able to break into a lineup that returned all five starters. Connor Essegian’s early struggles made it easier than expected, but Storr has been a starter since day one and has provided a dimension Greg Gard’s offense has lacked for several years. He’s only gotten better as the season has progressed, capped this past week by 15 points and 12 boards against Minnesota and then a 28-point performance against Michigan State.
7. Marquette Golden Eagles (15-5)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at Villanova (Tuesday), at Georgetown (Saturday)
Tyler Kolek’s struggles of early January — when he totaled seven points and shot 2-for-19 in two losses — seem like a lifetime ago. During Marquette’s four-game winning streak since the home loss to Butler, Kolek has totaled 40 assists to just 12 turnovers, while averaging 15.5 points, despite Saturday’s four-point effort against Seton Hall. The emergence of David Joplin has also helped overcome the injuries to Chase Ross and Sean Jones. In his last three games, Joplin is averaging 18.0 points and shooting 12-for-23 from 3-point range.
No. 6 Kentucky earns gritty road win at Arkansas
The Wildcats rely on defense after opening the night by missing 16 of their first 17 shots, rallying to win 63-57 over the Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena.
8. Kentucky Wildcats (15-4)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Florida (Wednesday), vs. Tennessee (Saturday)
Kentucky had its two worst offensive performances since early December this past week, scoring 62 points in a 17-point loss at South Carolina and then going for 63 points in a six-point win over Arkansas. The Gamecocks did a good job of keeping the Wildcats out of transition, forcing them to make plays in the half court, and Kentucky shooting 4-for-13 from 3-point range couldn’t make up for it. Rob Dillingham’s absence hurt on Saturday against Arkansas, but the Wildcats had their best defensive showing since the season opener, holding the Razorbacks to 0.81 points per possession.
9. Duke Blue Devils (15-4)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: at Virginia Tech (Monday), at North Carolina (Saturday)
While Duke is 3-1 in its past four games, the Blue Devils during that stretch have not looked like a team capable of making a deep run in March. They had to come back to beat Georgia Tech, lost at home to Pitt, looked underwhelming against a dreadful Louisville team and then escaped after a late foul call against Clemson. Defensively, there have been real issues. They’ve allowed at least 1.03 points per possession in each of those games and they’re struggling to put pressure on the ball. Pitt, Louisville and Clemson combined for just 27 turnovers.
10. Iowa State Cyclones (16-4)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: at Baylor (Saturday)
Iowa State didn’t beat Kansas with its defense or its ability to force turnovers. The Cyclones uncharacteristically made 14 3-pointers, including nine after halftime. It was the most 3s they’ve made since knocking down 16 in a loss at Oklahoma in the 2020-21 season. Even if it doesn’t come in the form of trifectas, coach T.J. Otzelberger is starting to get consistent production from his backcourt. Curtis Jones is averaging 16.7 points in his past three games, while Keshon Gilbert has scored at least 15 points in four straight after scoring 10 or fewer in six straight.
Caleb Love cashes long 3-pointer
Caleb Love cashes long 3-pointer
11. Arizona Wildcats (15-5)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. Cal (Thursday), vs. Stanford (Sunday)
The importance of Arizona’s win at Oregon on Saturday can’t be overstated. The Wildcats were coming off a loss at the buzzer at Oregon State, were just 6-5 in their past 11 games and would have risked falling out of first place in the Pac-12. But Caleb Love’s career-high 36 points carried Arizona to a win. Their defensive performances on the road are still troubling: they’re eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency in Pac-12 play away from home, according to BartTorvik.com.
12. Kansas Jayhawks (16-4)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Oklahoma State (Tuesday), vs. Houston (Saturday)
Kansas has now lost three of its past six games, dropping to 4-3 in the Big 12 — tied for the Jayhawks’ worst start in league play under Bill Self. For the first half of the season, it was easy to point to their lack of a consistent fifth option when they were struggling. But the recent downturn in form has happened as Johnny Furphy was thrust into the starting lineup and became a consistent perimeter shooter. Kansas’ defense has been inconsistent in league play, and it has also fallen victim to variance in certain cases, with West Virginia and Iowa State combining to make 26 3-pointers.
13. Creighton Bluejays (16-5)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. Butler (Friday)
Since starting 0-2 in Big East play and losing three of four to end December, CU has won seven of its past eight, with the lone loss coming at UConn. The Bluejays’ 3-point shooting has gotten back on track in the past three games, with them making 12 each in the wins over Seton Hall, Xavier and DePaul. Before these, they were held to eight or fewer 3s in seven of the previous nine games. Trey Alexander has also returned to his early-season form, averaging 24.3 points in his past three outings, to go with 7.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
14. Auburn Tigers (16-4)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Vanderbilt (Wednesday), at Ole Miss (Saturday)
This week was always going to be an illuminating one for the Tigers, who had won 11 straight games but hadn’t really been tested on the road against a tournament-caliber team. And they responded with two close losses to Alabama and Mississippi State. It was Auburn’s offense that struggled both times. The Tigers shot just 11-for-49 from 3-point range and really struggled to finish at the rim against Mississippi State, missing nine layups.
15. Illinois Fighting Illini (15-5)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at Ohio State (Tuesday), vs. Nebraska (Sunday)
Terrence Shannon Jr.’s return from his six-game suspension was expected to shake Illinois out of its up-and-down few weeks and get the Fighting Illini playing the way they were for the first two months of the season. But Shannon hasn’t been quite as effective offensively. He’s still averaging 13.3 points in his three games back, but he’s really struggling to shoot the ball, going just 1-for-14 from 3.
16. Utah State Aggies (18-2)
Previous ranking: In the waiting room
This week: vs. San José State (Tuesday), at San Diego State (Saturday)
Utah State ends the week atop the Mountain West after going on the road and beating Boise State in overtime. The Aggies are now 7-2 against Quadrants 1 and 2; only six teams have more wins against the top two quadrants than Danny Sprinkle’s team. They’re operating at an incredibly high rate on the offensive end, scoring at least 1.09 points per possession in every Mountain West game so far, scoring 1.19 points per possession through seven league games.
Dropped out: Oklahoma Sooners (No. 13), Dayton Flyers (No. 14), Baylor Bears (No. 16)
In the waiting room
Texas Tech Red Raiders: Grant McCasland is doing a fantastic job in Year 1 in Lubbock, guiding the Red Raiders to the top of the Big 12 after Saturday’s road win at Oklahoma. They’ve lost just one game since November — and that was a road tilt at Houston. Chance McMillian, who led the way with 27 points Saturday, has hit double figures in seven of his last 10 games.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Nate Oats’ team picked up its biggest win of the season on Wednesday, holding off Auburn down the stretch for a four-point victory. The Tide have now won eight of their past nine games and have a record more in line with their lofty metrics. They have also made at least 10 3s in all eight of those wins, with the lone loss coming when they shot 4-for-21 from 3 against Tennessee Volunteers.
Baylor Bears: It’s been tough loss after tough loss for the Bears over the past two weeks, with three defeats by a combined nine points in four overtimes. The latest was a triple-overtime loss at home to TCU, where the Bears’ downturn in 3-point shooting continued with a 5-for-22 showing. They’re down to just 29.2% in league play despite shooting it at 41% for the season.