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When Houston dropped consecutive road games against Iowa State and TCU by a combined five points early in Big 12 play, it was tempting to view the skid as indicative of the struggles the Cougars would face amid their transition from the AAC to the Big 12. But the last 10 games have proven that idea to be nonsense.

It's the Big 12 that wasn't ready for Houston, not the other way around. The Cougars have won nine of their last 10 after handling Iowa State 73-65 in a top-10 showdown on Monday night. With five games left, UH is in sole possession of first place in the conference and comfortably projected as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament in CBS Sports expert Jerry Palm's Bracketology. projections 

Now, Houston is also No. 1 in the CBS Sports power rankings. The Cougars' rise comes after losses from UConn and Purdue over the past few weeks, but it's not exclusively a product of those outcomes. The Cougars are a deserving No. 1 who were never far off the pace set by the Huskies and Boilermakers.

With point guard Jamal Shead looking like an All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year candidate, Houston's first season in college basketball's best league is serving as impressive validation for the program built by 10th-year coach Kelvin Sampson.

With that, here are the latest CBS Sports college basketball power rankings.

College basketball power rankings

The gap between Houston and the top two teams has disappeared as the Cougars continue to string victories together against quality foes. Jamal Shead is averaging 18.5 points, 5.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game over Houston's current 9-1 stretch. Holding on to the top spot will require a good showing at Baylor on Saturday. Last week: 3
Tuesday night's loss at Creighton showed that UConn is fallible. But let's not forget the Huskies' 81-53 bludgeoning of Marquette that occurred three days earlier. UConn is still the favorite to win the national title and remains on a march to the Big East title that won't be derailed by the hot shooting of one opponent. Last week: 1
Purdue's 73-69 loss at Ohio State was its first in over a month. Even the best teams in the sport are allowed an occasional slip-up on the road in tough conferences. That's the nature of all three of the Boilermakers' defeats. The first two were followed by winning streaks of seven and nine games, respectively. Last week: 2
Arizona will take a major step toward solidifying the Pac-12 title if it beats Washington State on Thursday after losing on the road against the Cougars on Jan. 13. The Wildcats have been great recently and remain unbeaten at home. Last week: 7
Iowa State handled itself well in defeat amid the hostility of a trip to Houston on Monday. The Cyclones kept it close before falling 73-65. With three of their final five games at home during a relatively light finishing stretch, ISU could still win at least a share the Big 12 crown. Last week: 5
Tennessee looked asleep for much of its Tuesday win at Missouri before rallying to reach 5-2 in SEC road games. The Volunteers remain squarely in the SEC title hunt -- and Dalton Knecht remains firmly in the SEC Player of the Year hunt -- entering a closing stretch against some of the league's top squads. Last week: 6
It took overtime, but Alabama knocked off a surging Florida team on Wednesday night to reach 11-2 in SEC play entering a huge game at Kentucky on Saturday. The Crimson Tide are a wagon offensively and could be regarded as national title contenders if their defense improves. Last week: 13
Marquette's eight-game winning streak came crashing to an end in an 81-53 loss at UConn on Saturday. The Golden Eagles rebounded with a predictably easy win over DePaul on Wednesday and should be motivated over the next couple weeks leading into a March 6 rematch with the Huskies. Last week: 4
Creighton showed its potential in an 85-66 win over UConn. The Bluejays got balanced scoring contributions, which included a big spurt from Steven Ashworth and help from the bench in the first half. Success seems to come and go in waves with Creighton, which has a pair of double-digit losses to Mountain West teams. But, right now, the Bluejays are flying high. Last week: NR
Saint Mary's now stands alone with the nation's longest winning streak after UConn fell to Creighton and the Gaels beat a quality San Francisco team on Tuesday. This program has been rock solid for over two decades under Randy Bennett but has just one Sweet 16 appearance in that time (2010). This could be the year for another second weekend run. Last week: 15
The five victories comprising Duke's winning streak have all come by at least eight points, including an 84-55 road win over Miami on Wednesday. All signs are pointing toward an ACC title -- or at least a share of the league crown -- being on the line when the Blue Devils host North Carolina on March 9 to close the regular season. Last week: 17
Texas Tech got smacked around at Iowa State on Saturday, but who doesn't get smacked around there? The Red Raiders responded with an 82-81 win over TCU on Tuesday and have a relatively manageable final five games in league play. Last week: 10
If Bill Self can keep Kansas healthy and get it peaking as March arrives, the Jayhawks can contend for a national title. But the margin for error is thin because of depth limitations and the associated lack of offensive firepower. Last week: 11
Baylor could've made Saturday's showdown with Houston even more interesting if it had beaten BYU on Tuesday night. But even after losing there, the Bears can still make a national statement by claiming their 20th victory when they welcome the Cougars this weekend. Last week: 12
Illinois led Penn State by as much as 14 in the second half on Wednesday and was still ahead by 10 with 2:30 remaining before the Nittany Lions rallied for 90-89 win. The Illini need to demonstrate a little more sturdiness in clutch situations before they can be trusted in the NCAA Tournament. Last week: 8
Armando Bacot is on a run of five straight double-doubles, but North Carolina is just 3-3 over its last six games heading into a Saturday showdown at Virginia. It's the only scheduled meeting between the ACC contenders, and both teams badly need a win to build momentum after some recent struggles. Last week: 16
Auburn went three months without losing a game by more than six points to start the season. Now, it has suffered two double-digit losses in its past three games. What's going on with the Tigers? First, it was a dud performance at Florida. Then, on Saturday, it was an offensively horrendous showing against Kentucky at home. Last week: 6
BYU rebounded from a loss at Oklahoma State by knocking off Baylor 78-71 on Tuesday. After finishing 7-9 in WCC play last season, the Cougars are 7-6 during their inaugural season in the Big 12. Mark Pope has done a great job, but with games at Kansas and at Iowa State still on the docket, finishing above .500 in the league will be a challenge. Last week: 18
Washington State's winning streak is up to seven after comfortable victories over Cal and Stanford. Thursday's showdown at Arizona will be a significant test for the Cougars and a chance to elevate their national profile after they beat the Wildcats at home on Jan. 13. A win would also bring a Pac-12 title into the picture, which would be particularly sweet for a program that is essentially getting left behind in conference realignment next season. Last week: 19
If the power rankings included 30 teams, a handful of Mountain West teams would make the cut. As it is, there is a cluster of likely NCAA Tournament teams from the league bunched together in the 20-35 range. Right now, Utah State stands atop the heap with a 10-4 league record, which includes a nice 68-63 win over an excellent San Diego State team on Tuesday. Last week: NR