College basketball power rankings: Arizona holds tight at No. 1

T.J. McConnell greets backcourt mate Gabe York during Arizona's easy victory on Monday night over NAU.

One of the early surprises of the college basketball season has been the strength and depth of the Big 12 Conference. Preseason favorites Kansas and Oklahoma State have had a constant presence in our power rankings, along with Iowa State and Baylor. But Oklahoma and Texas are among the top 30 teams in the RPI, giving the league six powers during the non-conference portion of the schedule. That sets the stage for a wild Big 12 regular season race. The Sooners enter our power rankings for the first time this season, getting the nod just ahead of Texas.

1 Arizona Wildcats 13-0

After leading the Wildcats to a 77-44 victory over Northern Arizona, Nick Johnson admitted his team is good. "But we can get a lot better." Coach Sean Miller says his team has "embraced" being No. 1 and Arizona should hold that ranking a while. The Wildcats don’t play again until Jan. 2.

Easy does it

2 Syracuse Orange 11-0

If you are disappointed with what Santa left under the tree, don’t despair. Villanova plays at the Carrier Dome Saturday in a battle of undefeated teams. The floor will have that ACC logo, but this is old school Big East basketball.

3 Ohio State Buckeyes 12-0

Senior guard Aaron Craft said, "It was a big blur." Imagine how it felt for Notre Dame. The Buckeyes trailed the Irish by eight points with 50 seconds left Saturday but remained undefeated with a crazy 64-61 win. Ohio State showed tremendous toughness.

4 Louisville Cardinals 11-1

The Cardinals had the option to cancel their series with FIU after the Panthers’ Richard Pitino left to coach Minnesota, but Richard’s dad, Rick, decided to honor the deal. Why not? Louisville won 85-56. Kentucky is next for Louisville.

5 Michigan State Spartans 10-1

Adreian Payne turned out to be an enormous pain for the Texas Longhorns. Payne scored a career-high 33 to lift the Spartans to a 92-78 victory over Texas, just as the Horns were close to cracking the rankings.

6 Wisconsin Badgers 12-0

The Badgers are still undefeated but haven’t played in almost two weeks. The first big assignment for Wisconsin comes Jan. 5 when Iowa visits the Kohl Center.

7 Oklahoma State Cowboys 11-1

Oklahoma State had to hold off the hard charging Buffaloes of Colorado and Markel Brown’s 23 points gave the Cowboys their 11th victory of the season. OSU plays Robert Morris before diving into the Big 12.

8 Villanova Wildcats 11-0 +1

Jay Wright’s squad has victories over Kansas and Iowa. Can the Wildcats add Syracuse to their resume? Senior James Bell is averaging 15.4 points and 6.5 rebounds for Villanova but has failed to score in double figures the last two games.

9 Wichita State Shockers 12-0 +1

The Shockers seem pretty comfortable in the Top 10. Next up is a Davidson team that is 4-8 but just took North Carolina to OT before losing. Wichita State could go deep into the Missouri Valley schedule without a loss.

10 Duke Blue Devils 9-2 +1

With Bruce Springsteen in the Madison Square Garden crowd and Jabari Parker on the court, you could say the Blue Devils were "Born To Run" when they raced past UCLA 80-63 last Thursday. Parker had 23 points and 10 rebounds. The Boss got lots of TV time.

11 Connecticut Huskies 10-1 -3

The Huskies entered their home game with Stanford leading the nation in three-point shooting. They went 0 for 12 beyond the arc in the second half and lost 53-51. Give UConn credit for bouncing back Sunday with a win at Washington.

12 Oregon Ducks 11-0

We warned you about that BYU game. The Ducks needed overtime to survive BYU 100-96. Jason Calliste scored a career-high 31 points for the Ducks, who remain unbeaten.

13 Iowa State Cyclones 10-0 +1

The Cyclones have so many offensive weapons. They proved that again with a win over Akron when Georges Niang (22 points), Melvin Ejim (21), Dustin Hogue (18) and DeAndre Kane (15) led Iowa State to the title game of the Diamond Head Classic.

14 Baylor Bears 10-1 +1

Circle Jan. 7 on your calendar. That’s when the Bears travel to Ames to play Iowa State. But until then, there’s not much on the schedule to challenge Baylor. Oral Roberts and Savannah State are next in line for the Bears.

15 Florida Gators 9-2 +1

Senior forward Casey Prather might be the most improved player in the nation. He averaged 6.2 points and 3.7 rebounds last season. Those averages are up to 18.5 and 5.8. He’s already scored 203 points this season.

16 Kansas Jayhawks 8-3 +1

There’s a new variation on an old saying at Kansas and it’s gaining popularity with every game. The signs at Allen Fieldhouse read, "Pay Heed, We’ve Got Joel Embiid." The Kansas big man is improving at such a rapid rate, some are predicting Embiid might be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

17 Memphis Tigers 8-2 +1

Shaq Goodwin scored 20 points and had eight rebounds. The Tigers forced 19 turnovers that they converted into 24 points. The result was a 77-65 victory over Southeast Missouri State.

18 Kentucky Wildcats 9-3 +1

In Kentucky, what’s bigger than Christmas and New Year’s rolled into one? That’s easy: the Kentucky-Louisville basketball game. It’s coming up Saturday from Rupp Arena. Can Calipari’s Cats keep up with the Cardinals?

19 San Diego State Aztecs 9-1 +5

Remember the name Xavier Thames. The senior guard is averaging 16 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He’s another of the most improved players in the country.

20 North Carolina Tar Heels 8-3 -5

Rick Barnes and the Texas Longhorns marched into Chapel Hill and took care of business. Texas dominated the boards and scored 21 second-chance points in an 86-83 win over the inconsistent North Carolina. The Heels then bounced back to beat Davidson.

21 Iowa Hawkeyes +4

The Hawkeyes let a win slip away at Iowa State but it is tough to finish against the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum. Iowa begins Big Ten action on New Year’s Eve against Nebraska.

22 Massachusetts Minutemen 10-1 -2

The Minutemen suffered their first loss of the season, falling to Florida State 60-55 in the Orange Bowl Classic on Saturday. UMass was 1 for 15 from 3-point range against the Seminoles.

23 Colorado Buffaloes 10-2 (-2)

The Buffs took a trip to Las Vegas and ran into the high rollers from Oklahoma State. The Cowboys shot 62 percent in the second half against Colorado on the way to a 78-73 win at the MGM Grand Showcase.

24 Illinois Fighting Illini 10-2 (unranked last week)

The Braggin’ Rights game is known for producing high drama and this year’s contest was no different as the Illini beat Missouri 65-64 — handing the Tigers their first loss of the season. Tracy Abrams scored 22 points, including the decisive free throws.

25 Oklahoma Sooners 11-1 (unranked last week)

The Sooners have quietly put together a decent start to the season. Oklahoma is 11-1 with a RPI among the top 20 teams in the nation. That one loss came against Michigan State. The Sooners face a stiff test early in the Big 12, opening against Texas, Kansas and Iowa State.