Men's Power Rankings: How far do Kansas, Alabama drop after losses?

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Monday, March 4, 2024

Is there some separation -- and semblance of calm -- coming to 2023-24 college basketball just as we enter the madness of March?

After four months of action that saw top-15 teams getting upset seemingly every single night, this past week saw just five losses from teams ranked in the top 16 of last week's Power Rankings. And all but one of those five losses were to teams also ranked in the Power Rankings. That outlier was Kansas' home loss to BYU, which is now in the waiting room this week.

Is the past week's performance a blip or a sign of the rankings chaos slowing down? Three weeks ago, there were only seven losses by the 16 teams in the Power Rankings, but two weeks ago featured 10 losses by teams in the top 16. Only one team has dropped out of the Top 16 in each of the past two updates, and zero teams dropped out from last week to this week.

Neil Payne wrote earlier this week that top-10 teams have won just 78.1% of their games against unranked opponents this season, far below the past average of 85.5%.

Are the truly best teams finally emerging and separating themselves from the pack? Or is this just the calm before the storm of the postseason? We don't quite have the answers (yet).

On to this week's awards and rankings ...

Team of the Week: Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee's chance at an SEC regular-season title -- and a potential 1-seed in the NCAA tournament -- essentially hinged on this past week: against the best defense in the SEC outside of Knoxville (vs. Auburn) and the best offense in college basketball (at Alabama). And Rick Barnes' team passed both tests -- in very different ways.

Against the Tigers, it was the Dalton Knecht Show. Auburn looked poised to come out with an upset win on the road, leading by eight in the second half, until the Northern Colorado transfer completely took the game over, finishing with 39 points on 12-for-21 shooting and 5-for-8 from 3-point range. Twenty-seven of Knecht's points came in the second half, including 25 in the final 12 minutes -- a stretch during which Auburn scored just 21 as a team.

On Saturday, Tennessee's defense and supporting cast carried the load. The Vols limited Alabama to 9-for-37 shooting from behind the arc, including just two 3s after halftime, and didn't let the Tide play the game at their preferred pace. Moreover, with Knecht struggling -- he finished with 13 points on 14 shots and dealt with foul trouble -- the complementary pieces stepped up to outduel Bama down the stretch.

Player of the Week: Graham Ike, Gonzaga Bulldogs

After a home loss to Saint Mary's on Feb. 3, the Zags' at-large hopes seemed just about finished. They needed to thread an incredibly small needle to feel remotely comfortable entering Selection Sunday: win at Kentucky on Feb. 10 and sweep their season-ending road trip to San Francisco and Saint Mary's. Gonzaga completed that trifecta in impressive fashion, winning 13 of 14 to end the regular season and likely punching its ticket to the NCAA tournament. And Ike, the former Wyoming transfer, established himself as the best player in the WCC and dominated the final week of the campaign.

He had 26 points and seven rebounds in the win at San Francisco on Thursday then teamed up with Ryan Nembhard to form a lethal inside-outside duo against the Gaels on Saturday, finishing with 24 points, 10 boards and 2 blocks. He set the tone early, scoring eight in the first six-plus minutes and entering halftime with 14. Ike has now scored at least 20 points in seven straight games to end the regular season, notching a pair of double-doubles over that span.

It's worth noting that this week had some of the best single-game performances we've seen all season: North Carolina's RJ Davis (42 points), Tennessee's Dalton Knecht (39 points), Kentucky's Reed Sheppard (32 points), Drake's Tucker DeVries (39 points), Indiana State's Robbie Avila (35 points), Weber State's Dillon Jones (30 points, 23 rebounds, 9 assists).

Win of the Week: BYU Cougars 76, Kansas Jayhawks 68

The matchup didn't seem conducive to an upset. BYU had struggled on the road this season, winning just two true road games all season (at UCF and West Virginia). Meanwhile, Kansas hadn't lost a home game the entire season -- the last loss at Allen Fieldhouse was Jan. 21, 2023.

And for most of the night, the game was going according to plan. Kansas led for the first 35 minutes and had a 12-point lead early in the second half. But the Cougars stayed within arm's reach, then made their move down the stretch. They scored 26 points in the final seven minutes, getting huge second-half performances from Dallin Hall and Jaxson Robinson and making 13 3s as a team. Tennessee's incredible week made it impossible for any other team to come close to the Vols for Team of the Week, but it should be noted BYU was next up, following up the win at Kansas by erasing a 17-point halftime deficit to beat TCU by 12 on Saturday night.

Coach of the Week: Micah Shrewsberry, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame won't hear its name on Selection Sunday and the Fighting Irish aren't fighting for a conference championship, but it's worth shining a light on the job Shrewsberry has done over the past five weeks. The Irish were picked last in the ACC preseason poll, returned fewer than three points per game from last season's team and had a roster with a severe dearth of high-level talent. Year one for Shrewsberry was always going to be difficult, and it has been. They're 12-17 overall and 7-11 in the ACC, after all.

But they're coming off a week in which they took down two potential NCAA tournament teams, beating Wake Forest after the Demon Deacons knocked off Duke and then following that up with a seven-point victory over Clemson on Saturday. They've now won five of their past six games, with a three-point loss at Syracuse the lone defeat. Notre Dame has been terrific defensively over that stretch and Markus Burton has established himself as one of the premier freshman point guards in the country. Burton went for 31 against Wake and averaged 26.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the two wins.

Three teams with questions

Wake Forest Demon Deacons: After putting some breathing room between itself and the cutline by beating Duke last weekend, Wake Forest has suffered back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech -- blowing a 15-point lead in the latter. The Demon Deacons are now just 1-6 in Quadrant 1 games and slipping toward the wrong side of the bubble.

New Mexico Lobos: If there's a Mountain West team sweating on Selection Sunday, it's going to be the Lobos. They've now lost five of their past eight after a double-digit loss at Boise State on Saturday that followed up a home loss to Air Force last weekend. Numbers-wise, they're 5-6 against Quads 1 and 2, they have a Quad 3 loss and a Quad 4 loss and a poor nonconference SOS.

Michigan State Spartans: In a vacuum, losing to Purdue on the road is not an issue, but the Spartans have now lost three in a row to drop to .500 in the Big Ten and 17-12 overall. They have a home game against Northwestern and a road trip to Indiana this week, and they really can't afford two more losses. The metrics are holding up, but things could get dicey.

Power Rankings

1. Purdue Boilermakers (26-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Illinois (Tuesday), vs. Wisconsin (Sunday)

There are a couple of areas of concern with Purdue as it enters the final week of the regular season. It has allowed more than one point per possession in five straight games and seven of the past eight, including at least 1.11 points per possession in four of the past five. On the other side, the Boilermakers will hope for more consistency from Fletcher Loyer. He went for 15 points and four 3-pointers in the win over Michigan State on Saturday night. That was after he scored in single digits in his previous five games.

2. Houston Cougars (26-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at UCF (Wednesday), vs. Kansas (Saturday)

Houston's past four games -- all wins, it should be noted -- have been decided by single digits, capped by Jamal Shead's winner in the final second to beat Oklahoma on Saturday night. That win also featured the Cougars' worst defensive performance since their 2021 NCAA tournament Final Four loss to Baylor. While Kelvin Sampson's defense doesn't have many weaknesses, teams can sometimes exploit their less-than-perfect 3-point defense and their bigs' tendency to get into foul trouble: On Saturday, Ja'Vier Francis fouled out and key reserve Joseph Tugler didn't suit up due to an ankle injury. The Sooners also hit 12 3s.

3. UConn Huskies (26-3)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Marquette (Wednesday), at Providence (Saturday)

More often than not, the coach of the reigning national champions is going to get overlooked in the Coach of the Year discussion the following season if his team is a contender again. But Dan Hurley should probably be right in the conversation with Lamont Paris (South Carolina), Kyle Smith (Washington State), Danny Sprinkle (Utah State), Amir Abdur-Rahim (South Florida) and others. Although his Huskies won the title last season, they were picked third in the preseason Big East poll, not garnering a first-place vote or landing a player on the league's preseason all-conference first team.

4. Tennessee Volunteers (23-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: at South Carolina (Wednesday), vs. Kentucky (Saturday)

Jonas Aidoo has had stretches over a couple weeks, three or four games, where he plays consistently well on the interior. But he's now scored at least 11 points in six straight games and his dominance on the offensive glass has been a real boost for the Vols -- especially in games where Dalton Knecht isn't firing on all cylinders, like on Saturday against Alabama. In his past six games, Aidoo is averaging 15.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks, shooting 63.5% from the field.

5. Arizona Wildcats (23-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: at UCLA (Thursday), at USC (Saturday)

Three of Arizona's five most efficient offensive performances of the season have come in the past three weeks: 99 points and 1.36 points per possession against Colorado on Feb. 10; 105 points and 1.43 points per possession against Arizona State on Feb. 17; 103 points and 1.43 points per possession against Oregon on Saturday. The Wildcats have been incredibly effective inside the arc, while also taking care of the ball and dominating the offensive glass.

6. Iowa State Cyclones (23-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. BYU (Wednesday), at Kansas State (Saturday)

Demarion Watson's breakout game against Oklahoma on Wednesday has to be one of the more random late-season, one-off performances we've seen in some time. Entering the game, he was averaging 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds over his first 25 games, playing 8.4 minutes. In Big 12 play, he saw double-figure minutes on five occasions and totaled 23 points in 14 games. Against the Sooners, he suddenly went off for 15 points (all in the second half) and nine rebounds, shooting 7-for-7 from the field.

7. North Carolina Tar Heels (23-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Notre Dame (Tuesday), at Duke (Saturday)

How legitimate is the Tar Heels' case for a 1-seed? Compared to the other candidates for the fourth 1-seed behind Purdue, UConn and Houston, Carolina doesn't quite have the metrics of Arizona or Tennessee. The Tar Heels do, however, have a head-to-head win over the Volunteers and they don't have a loss outside of Quads 1 and 2 (Arizona has a Quad 3 loss). They'll need a win at Duke this weekend in the regular-season finale to maintain their hopes entering the conference tournament.

8. Creighton Bluejays (22-8)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Villanova (Saturday)

Trey Alexander has been terrific this season and Ryan Kalkbrenner is critical for Creighton at both ends of the floor, but Baylor Scheierman has clearly established himself as the team's best player over the final month of the season. He's scored at least 26 points in four of his past nine games, averaging 20.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists over that stretch -- including Saturday's 26-point, 16-rebound, 4-assist performance in the Bluejays' win over Marquette.

8. Marquette Golden Eagles (22-7)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. UConn (Wednesday), at Xavier (Saturday)

Marquette has some awfully interesting splits between the first half and second half of the season, and it's not entirely clear why. Overall, things are similar. Marquette has been No. 10 in adjusted efficiency margin all season long. Against Quad 1 opponents, the Golden Eagles were No. 23 in the first half of the season, No. 24 in the second half. But how they achieved this is completely different. In the first half of the season, they were No. 46 offensively and No. 7 defensively, No. 105 offensively against Quad 1 opponents and No. 16 defensively against Quad 1 opponents. In the second half, it's flipped. They're No. 12 offensively and No. 36 defensively overall, No. 16 offensively against Quad 1 opponents and No. 74 defensively against Quad 1 opponents. There's been some injuries --Sean Jones played the first 16 games and hasn't played since -- but it's worth monitoring to see if it's signal or noise.

10. Duke Blue Devils (23-6)

Previous ranking:

This week: at NC State (Monday), vs. North Carolina (Saturday)

The Blue Devils are starting to round into form. Since the loss to North Carolina on Feb. 3, Duke ranks No. 2 in the country in adjusted efficiency margin at, ranking No. 1 in the ACC in both adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency. It is dominating the offensive glass, shooting better than 39% from 3 and holding opponents to below 27% from 3. Kyle Filipowski is starting to shine again, while Jeremy Roach is dictating things at the point of attack.

11. Kentucky Wildcats (21-8)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Vanderbilt (Wednesday), at Tennessee (Saturday)

John Calipari's trust in his freshmen to close out Saturday's win over Arkansas is a great sign for the next few weeks. Justin Edwards continues to develop into a real asset at both ends of the floor, while Zvonimir Ivisic is more than just a fascinating footnote now. He had 18 points against Alabama the previous weekend and went for 12 points and nine boards against Arkansas. And while Aaron Bradshaw didn't finish the game, he had his best performance in months: 15 points, five rebounds, 4-for-4 from the field.

12. Baylor Bears (21-8)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Texas (Monday), at Texas Tech (Saturday)

RayJ Dennis' effectiveness down the stretch of Saturday's win over Kansas was noticeable. He was the one his teammates looked to in closing out the win -- which he did, by getting into the lane at will and either finishing himself or finding a teammate. He finished with 19 points and 10 assists, the latest in a string of big performances in big wins. His win/loss splits are worth mentioning too: In wins, Dennis is averaging 14.2 points, 6.5 assists, 3.0 turnovers and shooting 45.2% from 3. In losses, he's at 11.4 points, 7.1 assists, 4.5 turnovers and 23.1% from 3.

13. Illinois Fighting Illini (22-7)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Purdue (Tuesday), at Iowa (Sunday)

There were few more effective offensive duos last week than Terrence Shannon Jr., and Marcus Domask. Shannon Jr. was playing at an All-American earlier in the season and he's returning to form, scoring at least 23 points in six of his past seven games, including 29 and 23 against Minnesota and Wisconsin, respectively, this past week. Domask carried the load while Shannon Jr. was suspended, and he showed he's still capable of monster performances as the second option, going for 31 points against the Badgers.

14. Auburn Tigers (22-7)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Missouri (Tuesday), vs. Georgia (Saturday)

An injury that was expected to keep Jaylin Williams out for a couple weeks ultimately forced him to miss just one game. And he almost immediately returned to his aggressive, productive tendencies this week. He had 12 points off the bench against Tennessee, also dishing out four assists, then went for 10 points (including 8-for-8 from the free throw line), 3 assists and 2 blocks in the 15-point win over Mississippi State.

15. Kansas Jayhawks (21-8)

Previous ranking:

This week: vs. Kansas State (Tuesday), at Houston (Saturday)

Can Kansas make a deep NCAA tournament run despite its severe lack of 3-point shooting? The Jayhawks rank last in the Big 12 in 3-point attempt rate and in percentage of points from 3-pointers, and sit 11th in 3-point shooting percentage in league play. It's part of the reason they're seventh in the league in offensive efficiency and have been held to fewer than one point per possession in five of their past seven games. Kevin McCullar Jr.'s return undoubtedly helped the offense against Baylor, but it's alarming that McCullar Jr. -- who missed five games -- and Johnny Furphy, who came off the bench for the first half of the season, are the only players on the team with more than 24 made 3s.

16. Alabama Crimson Tide (20-9)

Previous ranking:

This week: at Florida (Tuesday), vs. Arkansas (Saturday)

Lost in the defensive discourse regarding Alabama has been the emergence of Nick Pringle over the past few weeks. In the first 23 games of the season, Pringle hit double figures in points just four times, despite starting 11 times over that stretch. He's now hit that threshold in five of six games -- including a four-game span in which he's averaged 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds. He was a real factor on the offensive glass against Tennessee on Saturday, giving Alabama another out if its 3-pointers aren't falling.

Dropped out: None

In the waiting room

South Carolina Gamecocks: Lamont Paris' crew notched a road win at Texas A&M then came back to beat Florida after switching to a 1-3-1 zone that flummoxed the Gators. They remain just one game back of Tennessee in the SEC standings and host the Volunteers on Wednesday before finishing up on the road at Mississippi State over the weekend.

San Diego State Aztecs: After a couple of weeks midway through conference play that saw Jaedon LeDee take a backseat offensively, he's turned things back up. Over his past six games, LeDee is averaging 23.7 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 63.9% from the field. He deserves All-American recognition this season.

BYU Cougars: The Cougars' lofty metrics might have been too high earlier this season, but with five Quad 1 wins and 10 Quad 1 and 2 wins, their résumé is catching up to their efficiency-based numbers. Dallin Hall had an impressive week, going for 18 points and three 3s against Kansas and then 12 points, 6 boards and 7 assists against TCU.

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