I've seen a little bit of this attitude going around: College basketball is harder to embrace this year because of so many postponements and cancellations for a second consecutive season.
I've gotta say, I feel the opposite. If anything, the lack of games is making me appreciate the good matchups we do have even more. And in speaking with people around the sport since the calendar flipped to 2022, there is optimism emerging. While more teams will go on COVID pause in the coming days, the rate at which we're seeing pauses is reduced from a week ago and especially two weeks ago. I won't go promising or proclaiming anything tied to this pandemic -- because it has a way of making a lot of people look foolish on a daily basis -- but I can say people in college athletics are encouraged that February will offer a sunrise on a new phase of this season. The postponements should (hopefully) be minimal and the ramp-up to March can (largely) go on as planned.
With that, let's get to this week's 19 hottest teams.
Hey Nineteen Power Rankings
Reminder: My rankings are not solely about whom I think is "best." (Our Top 25 And 1 already does that daily.) The Hey Nineteen is a weekly encapsulation of the 19 hottest, most successful and/or most interesting teams in college basketball, combining team quality with win quality but also leaving no shame for recency bias and rewarding significant winning streaks.
|Record: 14-0 | Last week: 1st. I think two things are true. The first: There are many teams in the "can win the 2022 national title" conversation. I'd put eight teams comfortably in that bucket right now. The other part of this that's true: none of those teams in that conversation with Baylor are on Baylor's level right now. Baylor is a notch above the rest of the sport, and really, has been that way since November. |
|Record: 12-1. Last week: 4th. Naturally, Duke is the only ACC team represented here. The league is fifth-best at best in the nation, and after North Carolina's road loss to Notre Dame on Wednesday night, the gap between Duke and the rest of the conference might be larger now than it's ever been. I mean ever. Duke is a top-three team. No one else in the ACC is in the top 30. Has this ever happened before? |
|Record: 13-1 | Last week: 3rd. The Cyclones went 1-1 since last week's Hey Nineteen, losing at home to top-ranked Baylor but winning an ugly game Wednesday night against No. 25 Texas Tech. TTU really muddies up these games and makes them a hard watch. Iowa State went more than nine minutes of game time in the second half without scoring, only managed three second half field goals and still managed to win 51-47. It was the first time since 1997 those two met as ranked teams. As I wrote earlier this week, T.J. Otzelberger is my midway-through-the-season pick for national coach of the year.|
|Record: 12-0. | Last week: 2nd. The Trojans return to competition Thursday, squaring off vs. Cal in what is their first game since Dec. 18. Times are great for Cal, by the by. The Bears are on a five-game winning streak, the program's first in almost five years (Jan. 21-Feb. 8 of 2017.) USC has won the last six in this series. No team has shot above 40% vs. Andy Enfield's team this season. |
|Record: 13-1 | Last week: 9th. The Tigers were my lead item in this week's Court Report. I spoke to Bruce Pearl about his coaching philosophy, how Walker Kessler has changed after transferring from UNC, why star freshman/future top-five pick Jabari Smith is as good as advertised, and how the program's mood has been in recent weeks after it received word there would be no 2022 postseason ban. You can read the piece here. |
|Record: 12-1. Last week: 10th. The Jayhawks' most two recent wins came at home vs. George Mason (76-67) and at Oklahoma State (74-63). David McCormack came off the bench vs. OSU to have one of the best games of his career, going for 17 points and a career-best 15 rebounds. The win against the Cowboys marks the 31st consecutive season Kansas begins conference play with a 1-0 record. |
|Record: 11-2. Last week: 7th. The Bulldogs remain on pause, but word on that will be updated later Thursday and we'll reflect that update in this space once it changes. Mark Few's team is still scheduled to open WCC play at home vs. Pepperdine. It was initially scheduled to play Thursday vs. San Francisco but doesn't have enough players who have cleared COVID protocols. |
|Record: 12-1 | Last week: 6th. The Wildcats have been fortunate to avoid having to COVID-pause but not been so fortunate with scheduling. The team had its games between Christmas and New Year's taken off the schedule, and Wednesday, it lost a potential great nonconference opportunity vs. Colorado State (more on that in the next capsule). It would make the most sense for the Pac-12 to schedule Arizona vs. USC for this Saturday, as both teams don't have league opponents to play and can't find solid out-of-conference teams to face. |
|Record: 11-0 | Last week: 11th. The Rams returned earlier this week after a long layoff to defeat Air Force 67-59. CSU was in the mix to play against Arizona on Saturday, but the Mountain West stepped in and stepped up to offer a huge intra-league game. Colorado State will now travel to play San Diego State at 4 p.m. ET on CBS on Saturday; SDSU lost its scheduled game vs. Nevada due to COVID protocol at Nevada. Rams vs. Aztecs on big CBS is a great opportunity for the Mountain West this weekend. |
|Record: 13-1 | Last week: 13th. The Tigers' escape at home Tuesday vs. Kentucky prevented an 0-2 start in the SEC for Will Wade's team – which was coming off a 15-point beatdown at Auburn over the weekend. LSU recently jumped to the top of KenPom's defensive efficiency rankings, allowing 87.1 points per 100 possessions. LSU might have more collective strengths and weaknesses than any team listed in the Hey Nineteen. Fun team, though. |
|Record: 8-1. Last week: 12th. Finally, UCLA is back. The Bruins managed to get Long Beach State to come to Pauley Pavilion for Thursday night after the Bruins' game vs. Stanford was postponed. The last time UCLA played I don't even know if the omicron variant was on American soil. The date: Dec. 11. Mick Cronin's team will be champing at the bit. I'm curious to see if there's rust or if this team emerges from its cocoon like a ferocious predator. |
|Record: 11-3 | Last week: 16th. The Tide didn't have much trouble getting past Florida on the road Wednesday (83-70). You know you're good when you can beat a potential NCAA Tournament team in their gym and get out by 13 points despite shooting 28% from beyond the arc. Alabama did it with volume, shooting 9 for 32, aided by 20 offensive rebounds (a rate of 44.4%). Step-up game for sophomore forward Juwan Gary, who had 19 points. |
|Record: 11-2 | Last week: N/R. You beat Purdue, you're coming into the party. Wisconsin is among the five most surprising teams in the country this season. The story starts with Johnny Davis, who has been one of the five best players in men's basketball. He steps up when the competition is toughest. Davis is averaging 30.3 points vs. ranked teams this season. His 37 points and 14 rebounds in Monday's win at Purdue were personal bests. On Thursday night, Davis will face another elite Big Ten sophomore, Iowa's Keegan Murray. It's the must-see matchup of the day. |
|Record: 12-2. Last week: N/R. The Longhorns were held out for lack of notable wins for most of the first two months of the season, but now it's time to give UT its credit. A 12-2 record with victories recently against West Virginia and at Kansas State — to go along with a six-game winning streak — is enough. The wins vs. WVU and K-State also saw Marcus Carr go for a combined 39 points. It's the first time Carr's play matched his offseason hype.|
|Record: 12-2 | Last week: 5th. The Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 was revealed on Wednesday. Nine of the 25 players are from the Big Ten and three of those nine play for Purdue: Trevion Williams, Zach Edey, Jaden Ivey. As it should be. Matt Painter's team takes a sizable hit after the home loss to Wisconsin. Next up is a road test against Penn State on Saturday at noon ET. If Purdue is elite, it will not allow the game to be close. |
|Record: 13-2 | Last week: 18th. The Spartans have won eight straight, the two victories since last week's rankings coming at Northwestern (and overcoming a 13-point first half deficit) and home vs. Nebraska. Sparty's strangely a bit quiet overall, but that will change in a week's time or so if this team avoids a third loss in the near future. Next on the schedule: a chance to destroy Michigan's at-large hopes for good with a road game against the Wolverines on Saturday. |
|Record: 13-2. Last week: 17th. The Cougars started AAC play with two road games and two road wins against Temple and South Florida. Kelvin Sampson's team hosts Wichita State on Saturday. The American will struggle to get to three bids, but if it's to get there, Houston losing to the Shockers is the kind of thing that would put that into motion. I don't expect it to happen. UH ranks No. 6 in offensive efficiency and No. 11 in defensive efficiency. Its only losses this season came away from home to two teams ranked higher in the Hey Nineteen: Wisconsin and Alabama (by a combined three points). |
|Record: 13-2 | Last week: 8th. Huge slide, because what on earth happened in Milwaukee, Friars? Tuesday night, Marquette mutilated PC 88-56. It was one of the worst losses of Ed Cooley's tenure at Providence. It was also a bit of a course-correction given that, despite ranking highly here and in the polls, predictive metrics have not pushed Providence into the top 30 this season. As of today, PC ranks 39th at Torvik, 39th at Sagarin, 50th at KenPom. |
|Record: 13-1 | Last week: 19th. The Dons still own this space … at least for a few more hours. The Hey Nineteen is publishing shortly before USF tips off vs. Loyola Chicago in Salt Lake City in what, I think, is the best noncon mid-major game of the season. And it all came together in a few hours on Monday. If you missed that story, here's how two young coaches made sure not to lose a scheduling opportunity that amounts to a 2022 version of BracketBusters. |