Conference play can chew up some teams. That’s especially true in the highly competitive and extremely balanced Big East, where Cincinnati, Georgetown and Pittsburgh have run into tough times. All three have dropped from our rankings this week. Cincinnati lost two in a row at home. Goodbye. Georgetown can’t score 50 points and lost to Marquette and Pitt. And even though Pitt finally lived up to expectations with a 73-45 win at Georgetown, the Panthers are 1-2 in the Big East. That won’t cut it.
1 Duke Blue Devils 15-0
This marks Duke’s fourth straight week in the top spot of our power rankings. The Blue Devils have been cruising along since that home win over Ohio State back on Nov. 28. That makes Saturday’s game at North Carolina State all the more interesting.
2 Michigan Wolverines 15-0
The Wolverines just aren’t familiar with empty possessions. Michigan’s offense is clicking along, averaging 1.26 points per possession and the Wolverines are averaging 82 points a game. Ohio State gets an up-close look on Sunday.
3 Louisville Cardinals 13-1
Forward Chane Behanan sprained his left ankle in practice Monday and could miss 10 days. The Cardinals have games at Seton Hall (Jan. 9), vs. USF (Jan. 12), at UConn (Jan. 14) and vs. Syracuse (Jan. 19).
4 Kansas Jayhawks 12-1
The Jayhawks demonstrated a great deal of toughness in a 69-62 victory over a good Temple team that visited Allen Fieldhouse. Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore get most of the attention at Kansas, but Travis Releford’s huge contribution gets overlooked.
5 Indiana Hoosiers 14-1
The Hoosiers looked like championship material again Monday night when they went on the road to Penn State and roughed up the Nittany Lions in the first half. The Hoosiers return home Saturday for an enormous test against Tubby Smith and the Minnesota Gophers.
6 Arizona Wildcats 14-0
The Wildcats should adopt “Livin’ On The Edge” as their new school fight song. Last week included that controversial overtime win against Colorado and a three-point win over Utah. Road trip to the Oregon schools this week. 7 Syracuse Orange 14-1
Strange to see a Syracuse team score just 55 points, but the Orange survived South Florida 55-44. This week Syracuse pays its respects to two of the Catholic 7 teams: Providence and Villanova.
8 Minnesota Golden Gophers 14-1 +1
How high is the ceiling for these Golden Gophers? We may find out in the next few days. Minnesota is at Illinois Wednesday night and at Indiana Saturday. And after that brutal road trip, it’s home to play Michigan on Jan. 17.
9 Gonzaga Bulldogs 15-1 +1
Kelly Olynyk is coming on strong for the Bulldogs, averaging 17.1 points and shooting 67.5 percent from the field. Mark Few’s team battles Saint Mary’s in a big West Coast game on Thursday.
10 Florida Gators 10-2 +1
After disposing of Yale on Sunday, the Gators turn their attention to the SEC race. Billy Donovan’s team still looks like the favorite in conference play. Georgia and LSU are this week’s opponents.
11 Creighton Bluejays 15-1 +3
It’s not all about Doug McDermott. Ethan Wragge scored a career-high 22 points in a 91-61 win over Drake. When Wragge is making threes it has to be frightening for the rest of the Missouri Valley. 12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 14-1 +6
Monday night wasn’t a total loss for the Golden Domers. Things didn’t work out too well against Alabama in the BCS title game, but Mike Brey’s team went to Cincinnati and came away with an impressive Big East road win. The Irish return home to play UConn next.
13 Missouri Tigers 12-2 -1
The Tigers won their first-ever SEC conference game, pulling away from Alabama at home Tuesday night. But senior forward Laurence Bowers, who missed all last season with a torn left ACL, injured his right knee and is scheduled for an MRI on Wednesday. 14 Illinois Fighting Illini 14-2 -1
John Groce’s team is getting a study in life in the Big Ten. After a loss at Purdue, the Illini throttled Ohio State at home. This week’s highlight is playing Minnesota at home, then it is on to Wisconsin.
15 San Diego State Aztecs 12-2 +2
The Aztecs have lost to Syracuse (62-49) and Arizona (68-67). That’s it. Mountain West play begins Wednesday night at Fresno State, with Colorado State on Saturday. 16 Butler Bulldogs 12-2 +3
In case you’ve forgotten, Butler is in the Atlantic 10 these days. What better way to debut in a new conference than to visit the preseason league favorite in the opener? The Bulldogs are at Saint Joseph’s searching for a 10th consecutive victory overall. 17 North Carolina State Wolfpack 12-2 +3
The Wolfpack must be chomping at the bit for that chance against Duke on Saturday. But first things first, and that means getting past Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.
18 Ohio State Buckeyes 12-3 -10
Until the Buckeyes find another scorer to take some of the burden off Deshaun Thomas, every night is going to be an adventure. Not sure the Buckeyes can keep up with Michigan on Sunday.
19 UCLA Bruins 12-3 +5
The Bruins will be going for an eighth consecutive victory Thursday at Utah, then traveling to Colorado on Saturday. If Ben Howland’s team keeps winning, there will be a big build up to the Jan. 24 game at Arizona.
20 Kansas State Wildcats 12-2 +5
The Wildcats opened the Big 12 season with a bang, defeating Oklahoma State 73-67 in Manhattan. Rodney McGruder was into it, scoring 28 points for K-State. Next up: A visit to old friend Bob Huggins in West Virginia.
21 Michigan State Spartans 12-3
We are going to excuse the 76-63 loss at Minnesota, just because the Golden Gophers seem to be that good. Michigan State bounced back against Purdue. If the Spartans win at Iowa and against Nebraska, they will move up some more.
22 UNLV Rebels 13-2
The Running Rebels have bounced back with two wins after losing at North Carolina. Mountain West play opens Wednesday with an enormous showdown. The Rebels are at New Mexico, and the Lobos have lost two of their last three.
23 Wichita State Shockers 14-1 (unranked last week)
Welcome back to the Shockers. Wichita State takes a five-game winning streak into Wednesday night’s home against Southern Illinois.
24 Virginia Commonwealth Rams 12-3 (unranked last week)
The Rams are back to creating havoc again with their defense. VCU has rattled off nine consecutive wins since losing back-to-back games to Duke and Missouri back in November. The Atlantic 10 should be a very interesting race.
25 Maryland Terrapins 13-1 (unranked last week)
Georgetown was still in the power rankings until Tuesday night, but the Hoyas were embarrassed, scoring just 45 points in a loss to Pittsburgh at home. So we move north on the beltway to Maryland. We know the Terps haven’t played anyone since Nov. 9, when they lost to Kentucky. But a 13-game win streak, including a rout of Virginia Tech, deserves a little recognition.