Kim O'Reilly, CBS Sports

Kentucky and North Carolina aren't the most trustworthy teams in college basketball, but they are two of the most captivating as March arrives with parity resounding in spots 4-15 of the national pecking order. The Tar Heels dropped three of five at one point in ACC play, only to rebound with three straight wins to position themselves atop the league standings entering the home stretch.

The Wildcats also dealt with their struggles in league play but have won four of their last five while continuing to offer tantalizing flashes of offensive greatness. At their best, it's easy to imagine UNC and Kentucky as Final Four teams. At their worst, either could be susceptible to a first-round NCAA Tournament upset. Just look at UNC's losses to Georgia Tech and Syracuse, or Kentucky's losses to UNC Wilmington and LSU, as evidence.

For now, both are grinding out wins against league foes with the help of elite guard play, and both are massive risers in this week's power rankings. The Wildcats have two manageable home games against Arkansas and Vanderbilt before closing at Tennessee on March 9. UNC will also be heavily favored in home contests against NC State and Notre Dame before closing at Duke on March 9.

Thus, it's reasonable to assume that the stock on Kentucky and North Carolina will continue to rise over the next week as the best month of college basketball dawns.

College basketball power rankings

Houston cemented its hold on the top spot with an overtime win at Baylor and a home win over Cincinnati. The Cougars are closing in on the Big 12 title, which is an insane accomplishment for a program playing its first season in arguably the nation's toughest league. Last week: 1
UConn rebounded from its 19-point loss at Creighton by crushing Villanova at home over the weekend. Closing out the Big East title looks mostly like a formality for the Huskies at this point, and it will be an accomplishment that not even last season's national-title winning team can claim. Last week: 2
With a two-game lead and only three left to play, Purdue is on the cusp of repeating as the Big Ten champion. At this point, it's all about gearing up for the postseason for a team that has thoroughly proved its regular-season dominance in recent years. Last week: 3
Dalton Knecht continued making his case to be National Player of the Year with a 39-point performance in Tennessee's win over Auburn on Wednesday. The Volunteers face a tough finishing stretch but are firmly in the mix to claim the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Last week: 6
Iowa State is 17-0 at home and would likely win the national title if the entire NCAA Tournament were played at Hilton Coliseum. Alas, the Cyclones will still be a threat in March because of their excellent defense, which could keep them in games played anywhere against anyone. Last week: 5
Since wetting its pants in a 28-point loss at UConn on Feb. 17, Marquette has responded with three straight blowout home wins against overmatched Big East foes. Now comes a tough finishing stretch at Creighton, vs. UConn and at Xavier. Last week: 8
North Carolina is led by a pair of veteran stars in RJ Davis and Armando Bacot. That productive leadership, combined with solid team defense, makes the Tar Heels a team to watch as the postseason approaches. Last week: 16
Just when you thought you could trust Arizona, the Wildcats lost at home to Washington State to make the Pac-12 title race interesting. The Wildcats hold a one-game edge in the standings, but a finishing stretch vs. Oregon, at UCLA and at USC is relatively difficult by the standards of a bad league. Last week: 4
Alabama got smacked at Kentucky on Saturday, allowing 117 points and putting its defensive flaws on full display. It'll be hard to trust this squad to stack victories in the NCAA Tournament. But the offensive potential remains tantalizing, as evidenced by a 103-88 bounce-back win at Ole Miss on Wednesday. Last week: 7
The nation's longest winning streak stands at 15 entering Thursday night's game at Pepperdine. Saint Mary's appears to be an NCAA Tournament lock. Now, the question is whether the Gaels will deny Gonzaga a win that the Bulldogs desperately need when the WCC powers collide on Sunday. Last week: 10
Kentucky fell from last week's rankings after a loss at LSU. But after putting 117 on Alabama and winning a road thriller against a defensively solid Mississippi State team, the Wildcats are officially headed in the right direction once again. Last week: NR
Creighton has won five of its last six, but an 80-66 loss at St. John's on Sunday was quite a dud. Perhaps a letdown was unavoidable following last Tuesday's big win over UConn. Last week: 9
Duke's villain status has reached its post-Coach K peak because of all the court-storming hubbub following its loss at Wake Forest. Nonetheless, the Blue Devils could be playing for an ACC title when they host North Carolina to close the regular season on March 9. Last week: 11
BYU picked up an exceedingly rare road win at Kanas on Tuesday to reach 20 victories. Though KU was missing star wing Kevin McCullar, it was still an eye-catching result for a program playing its first season of Big 12 basketball. Last week: 18
Illinois is another team whose sky-high potential is reined in by sketchy defense. The Illini will be hard to trust in the Big Dance, but their offensive capabilities make them dangerous. Last week: 15
Baylor turned in its best defensive performance of the season against a Big 12 foe in Monday's 62-54 win at TCU. If it can replicate that performance more frequently, its offense is good enough to make the Bears a serious March menace. Last week: 14
Everything hinges on the health of McCullar. KU's star wing has missed five of the last seven due to injury. If he's close to 100%, this team can make the Final Four. But if he's hobbled or unavailable, it could be a disappointing March. Last week: 13
Washington State followed up a massive win at Arizona with a letdown loss at Arizona State two days later. But the Cougars still remain in the Pac-12 title hunt with three games to play. Last week: 19
Utah State is tied atop the Mountain West standings with a relatively favorable three-game closing stretch ahead. First-year coach Danny Sprinkle has done an incredible job in a tough league. Last week: 20
Clemson has won six of its last seven and is a projected No. 5 seed for the NCAA Tournament in Jerry Palm's Bracketology. The Tigers. It's been a quietly impressive bounce-back for this team following a worrisome 4-6 start to ACC play. Last week: NR