NCAA Basketball: Conference battles shake up top 25

Jan 21, 2017; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Mark Few looks on against the Portland Pilots during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Mark Few looks on against the Portland Pilots during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA basketball conference races will not be kind to the top 25 this year.

New faces from the Conference-USA and the Colonial Athletic Association grace our top 25 this week. They add to a competitive group of teams that continue to jockey for national recognition as we march onward through January. Bubbles are starting to form and solidify among many of the power conference’s mid-tiers, but many weeks remain between now and Selection Sunday.

Conference races remain as tight as ever in the Big Ten, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12. The SEC is the only major conference where the leader leads by more than one game. The top mid-majors, the American, C-USA and the WCC are all at one-game leads as well. The trend of close games and conference races will likely continue the rest of the way.

One underrated aspect of getting to do this list every week is showing smaller programs that surge in place of middling power conference teams. Not enough credit is given to the nation’s mid-majors because they play in smaller groups with less-heralded company. That is usually a grievous oversight given how many upsets take place in March. Power schools will always dominate the landscape, but their constant infighting opens the door to feature dominant Cinderellas in the lower ranks.

We are now near the halfway point for most conference races and very few things are decided. The top 25 will continue to shift as favorites fall and dark horses hit their strides. I have no doubt the season will remain as it has thus far.

Jan 21, 2017; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas State Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber hugs guard Kamau Stokes (3) late in a game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Fred Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats won the game 79-75. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas State Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber hugs guard Kamau Stokes (3) late in a game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Fred Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats won the game 79-75. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Just Missed

Kansas State Wildcats – KSU had already proven it can play tough with their controversial loss to Kansas but wins at Oklahoma State and home against West Virginia have catapulted this team to the fringe of the top 25. Watch a rough battle at Iowa State to see what the young Wildcats can do.

South Carolina Gamecocks – Sure, the Gamecocks beat Florida but they then got absolutely hammered at Kentucky while other squads surged ahead. USC will host Auburn for their next conference showdown.

Illinois State Redbirds – The MVC finally gets back on the board thanks to Illinois State’s recent wins over Wichita State and a resurgent Drake team. The Redbirds will host Indiana State in Normal, IL to try and win their 10th straight.

Akron Zips – We are showing the MAC some love this week. The Zips are flying through conference play at 6-0 after beating Eastern Michigan. Akron next travels to Kalamazoo to face the Western Michigan Broncos.

Iowa State Cyclones – The Cyclones’ vaunted Hilton Magic failed them against Kansas, but they bounced back with gritty, thrilling 2OT victory at Oklahoma. Iowa State returns home for their next match-up against Kansas State.

Jan 21, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs guard Shake Milton (1) drives on Houston Cougars guard Galen Robinson Jr. (25) in the second half at Moody Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs guard Shake Milton (1) drives on Houston Cougars guard Galen Robinson Jr. (25) in the second half at Moody Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

25. SMU Mustangs

Previous Ranking: NA

Record: 17-4 (7-1 American)

The American Athletic Conference claims its second top 25 spot thanks to Southern Methodist. SMU took down Houston and Connecticut last week and have won three straight since losing at Cincinnati. The Mustangs will next battle UCF in Orlando.

Semi Ojeleye and Shake Milton have propelled the Ponies thus far. They currently combine for nearly 31 points and 11 rebounds an evening. Ben Moore and Sterling Brown also average more than 10 points a game to form a pretty balanced attack. Most impressively, this squad shoots over 40 percent as a group. Cincinnati might be the AAC power, but SMU will likely stay right on their heels through the rest of winter.

Mar 20, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders forward Reggie Upshaw (30), guard Giddy Potts (20) and forward Darnell Harris (0) react during the second half of the second round against the Syracuse Orange in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 20, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders forward Reggie Upshaw (30), guard Giddy Potts (20) and forward Darnell Harris (0) react during the second half of the second round against the Syracuse Orange in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

24. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

Previous Ranking: NA

Record: 17-3 (7-0 Conference-USA)

C-USA makes its debut in our rankings thanks to some impressive performances from its top team. MTSU took two straight road games over Florida International and Florida Atlantic to remain king of the conference. They will host 11th place Southern Miss on Thursday.

Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw have both been huge this year, averaging 15.1 and 14.9 points per game, respectively. They were two major pieces returning on the team that upset title favorite Michigan State last year. However, the real story in Murfreesboro has got to be Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams. The former Razorback is putting up 17.9 points and 7.1 boards in just under 30 minutes a night. This might be an even more dangerous team than last year’s upset squad. Watch out for this program.

Mar 7, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks forward Devontae Cacok (15) rebounds over Hofstra Pride forward Rokas Gustys (11) during the first half of the CAA conference tournament finals at Royal Farms Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 7, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks forward Devontae Cacok (15) rebounds over Hofstra Pride forward Rokas Gustys (11) during the first half of the CAA conference tournament finals at Royal Farms Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

23. UNC Wilmington Seahawks

Previous Ranking: NA

Record: 19-2 (8-0 CAA)

You absolutely need to check out UNCW if you haven’t already. The reigning CAA champs are dominating their competition again this season. The Seahawks recently took down second-place College of Charleston on the road to hold a solid lead on the CAA.

C.J. Bryce currently leads the team with 17.1 points per contest, along with 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Last year’s leading scorer, Chris Flemmings, is right behind him at 15.9 points per game. Denzel Ingram and Devontae Cacok round out the top scorers with 15.4 and 12.8 points, respectively. Cacok is also averaging an impressive double-double with 10.4 rebounds a night. This team looks ready to run through the CAA and into March with how they are playing right now.

Dec 12, 2016; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins forward Justin Jackson (21) drives to the basket defended by Jacksonville State Gamecocks forward Joshua Tomaic (33) at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 12, 2016; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins forward Justin Jackson (21) drives to the basket defended by Jacksonville State Gamecocks forward Joshua Tomaic (33) at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

22. Maryland Terrapins

Previous Ranking: 24

Record: 17-2 (5-1 Big Ten)

Maryland is in a surprising tie for first in the Big Ten after a road victory over Iowa. The Terrapins have demonstrated they have the chops to win in tough environments and get last-place Rutgers next.

Melo Trimble was dominant against the Hawkeyes with 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists, but he had plenty of help. Freshman Justin Jackson had 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds. His classmate Anthony Cowan also had 15 and six for the Terps. It’s possible Maryland’s youth could falter at some point, but they have definitely exceeded all early expectations in College Park.

Jan 8, 2017; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers forward Caleb Swanigan (50) talks with freshman guard Carsen Edwards (3) after a turnover n the first half at Mackey Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 8, 2017; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers forward Caleb Swanigan (50) talks with freshman guard Carsen Edwards (3) after a turnover n the first half at Mackey Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

21. Purdue Boilermakers

Previous Ranking: 25

Record: 16-4 (5-2 Big Ten)

Purdue bounced back big after losing at Iowa. The Boilermakers crushed both Illinois and Penn State at home to reach a tie for third in the Big Ten with Northwestern. The team’s next test is a big one at Michigan State.

I just can’t talk enough about how dominant Caleb Swanigan is this year. He averaged 20.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the team’s two recent victories. He also leads the nation in double-doubles with 15. Fellow bruiser Isaac Haas scored 24 points in the Illinois victory and guard Dakota Mathias has put up at least four assists in his last four contests. This team is still well-equipped for a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight run due to their size and talent.

Jan 21, 2017; Moraga, CA, USA; St. Mary's Gaels guard Joe Rahon (25) controls the ball against the Pepperdine Waves during the second half at McKeon Pavilion. St. Mary's defeated Pepperdine 85-65. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Moraga, CA, USA; St. Mary’s Gaels guard Joe Rahon (25) controls the ball against the Pepperdine Waves during the second half at McKeon Pavilion. St. Mary’s defeated Pepperdine 85-65. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

20. Saint Mary’s Gaels

Previous Ranking: 22

Record: 17-2 (7-1 WCC)

Saint Mary’s took down both Pacific and Pepperdine last week to remain in second in the West Coast Conference. The Gaels will host fifth-pace San Francisco to try and sweep the Dons.

Guard Joe Rahon exploded against Pepperdine. The senior scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting while also contributing five rebounds and five assists. Calvin Hermanson continued his recent hot streak with 19 against the Waves, while center Jock Landale had a double-double with 15 and 10. The conference still runs through Gonzaga, but SMC clearly looksl ike the second best team.

Jan 18, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers guard Tarik Phillip (12) celebrates from the bench during the second half against the Oklahoma Sooners at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 18, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers guard Tarik Phillip (12) celebrates from the bench during the second half against the Oklahoma Sooners at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

19. West Virginia Mountaineers

Previous Ranking: 8

Record: 15-4 (4-3 Big 12)

WVU suffered two unexpected losses, hosting Oklahoma and at Kansas State. The team is now tied for third going into a brutal showdown at Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Jevon Carter has assumed the scoring lead for the Mountaineers (11.9 points an evening). He scored 23 in the shocking home upset against the Sooners while pulling down 11 rebounds and dishing out six assists. Fellow guard Tarik Phillip had 20 points against the Wildcats. Top forward Esa Ahmad has been horrible in their two losses with just 4.5 points and two rebounds. He needs to be much better if this team is to have any real chance in the Big 12.

Top forward Esa Ahmad has been horrible in their two losses with just 4.5 points and two rebounds. He needs to be much better if this team is to have any real chance in the Big 12.

Jan 21, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) greets the Cameron Crazies after their 70-58 win over the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) greets the Cameron Crazies after their 70-58 win over the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

18. Duke Blue Devils

Previous Ranking: 18

Record: 15-5 (3-4 ACC)

Duke stands still at 18 despite losing to North Carolina State on Monday night. Why because of their high ceiling and the way they played in the 2nd half against Miami.

Freshman Jayson Tatum led the team with 14 points in the win over the Hurricanes. Senior Matt Jones had 13 off the bench and leading scorer Luke Kennard chipped in with 13. The team also got Amile Jefferson back from injury and got five points and 12 rebounds out of their double-double machine. Give credit to the Wolfpack for going into Cameron Indoor and stealing a game.

Jan 15, 2017; Greenville, NC, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats guard Jacob Evans (1) goes to the basket against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. The Cincinnati Bearcats defeated the East Carolina Pirates 55-46. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 15, 2017; Greenville, NC, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats guard Jacob Evans (1) goes to the basket against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. The Cincinnati Bearcats defeated the East Carolina Pirates 55-46. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

17. Cincinnati Bearcats

Previous Ranking: 17

Record: 17-2 (7-0 American)

Cincy also stays in place despite beating both Temple and Tulane; those teams are in the bottom four of the American Athletic Conference standings so the wins were expected. An intriguing non-conference matchup is next for the Bearcats when they host cross-town rival, Xavier.

Jacob Evans, Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson were all solid in the most recent victory at Tulane. They combined for 43 of the Bearcats’ 78 points. Cincinnati’s guards have helped carry the team despite the occasional struggles from both Kyle Washington or Gary Clark. I can’t wait to see if this team has enough stamina to carry the American and make a deep March run.

Jan 21, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward V.J. Beachem (3) stands with fans and teammates for the Notre Dame Alma Mater after Notre Dame defeated the Syracuse Orange 84-66 at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward V.J. Beachem (3) stands with fans and teammates for the Notre Dame Alma Mater after Notre Dame defeated the Syracuse Orange 84-66 at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

16. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Previous Ranking: 14

Record: 17-3 (6-1 ACC)

Notre Dame took a tough loss at Florida State but bounced back in dominating fashion over Syracuse. The first-place Irish host top 25 Virginia to start off their week on Tuesday.

V.J. Beachem stole the show against the Orange. The senior forward scored career-high 30 points and grabbed seven boards in the 18-point victory at home. Bonzie Colson was his usual solid self with a 14-point, 14-rebound double-double and Matt Farrell continued his successful junior campaign with 15 points and nine assists. This might be coach Mike Brey’s best coaching job as he has this team playing as well as almost anyone in the ACC.

Jan 7, 2017; Providence, RI, USA; Creighton Bluejays guard Marcus Foster (0), guard Maurice Watson Jr. (10), and center Justin Patton (23) high-five after a game at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The Bluejays won 78-64. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 7, 2017; Providence, RI, USA; Creighton Bluejays guard Marcus Foster (0), guard Maurice Watson Jr. (10), and center Justin Patton (23) high-five after a game at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The Bluejays won 78-64. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

15. Creighton Bluejays

Previous Ranking: 10

Record: 18-2 (5-2 Big East)

Creighton held off Xavier on the road but got upset at home at the hands of Marquette. The loss to the Golden Eagles was the first full game the Bluejays have played without star point Maurice Watson Jr., who will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury. The team will try to keep pace in the Big East when they travel to Georgetown Wednesday.

Senior Isaiah Zierden got the start in place of Watson and played admirably in the loss to Marquette. Zierden scored a season-high 15 points and grabbed five rebounds. Marcus Foster also did his best to keep Creighton in the game with a season-high 30. Those two, along with freshman Davion Mintz (17 points, eight assists), will have to lead the rest of the Bluejays through the rest of their tough conference season.

Jan 21, 2017; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard Tony Hicks (1) moves the ball past Florida State Seminoles guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) during the first half at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard Tony Hicks (1) moves the ball past Florida State Seminoles guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) during the first half at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

14. Louisville Cardinals

Previous Ranking: 12

Record: 16-4 (15-3 ACC)

Louisville easily beat Clemson before suffering a road loss to Florida State. The Cardinals are in a tie for fifth-place in the ACC and travel to Pitt for Super Tuesday.

Despite the loss to FSU, Louisville got great bench play out of Penn transfer Tony Hicks and senior forward Mangok Mathiang. The two reserves scored 16 and 13 for the Cardinals, respectively. They were even more effective than the team’s starters, who scored just 28 of the team’s 68 points. The team was undone by a dismal 2-of-13 performance from deep. Rick Pitino’s squad has the defense to win a lot of games, but they absolutely must shoot better against better competition to be a long-term threat.

Jan 21, 2017; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers guard Marial Shayok (4) celebrates with head coach Tony Bennett (R) after scoring against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the first half at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers won 62-49. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers guard Marial Shayok (4) celebrates with head coach Tony Bennett (R) after scoring against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the first half at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers won 62-49. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

13. Virginia Cavaliers

Previous Ranking: 19

Record: 15-3 (5-2 ACC)

Virginia is on a four-game winning streak after beating Boston College and Georgia Tech last week, but get a stiffer test when the travel to Notre Dame Tuesday.

Junior Marial Shayok had himself a game against the Yellow Jackets with a season-high 19 points and four boards. His scoring output helped star London Perrantes who had just 11. Fellow perimeter player Devon Hall chipped in with 10. The Cavalier guards have been essential in keeping the team afloat as their interior play doesn’t have the constant threat it did before Austin Nichols was dismissed from the team.

January 21, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats guard Allonzo Trier (35) controls the ball against UCLA Bruins guard Lonzo Ball (2) during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

January 21, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats guard Allonzo Trier (35) controls the ball against UCLA Bruins guard Lonzo Ball (2) during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

12. UCLA Bruins

Previous Ranking: 9 

Record: 19-2 (6-2 Pac-12)

UCLA dominated Arizona State before losing to Arizona. The Bruins are 0-2 so far against the Pac-12’s other legitimate contenders, but will still try to remain in the race when they visit USC Wednesday.

The rough home loss to the Wildcats did see a terrific performance from star freshman Lonzo Ball, who scored 24 points, collected six rebounds and had eight assists. That performance will help his quest to become the best point guard in the country. Four other Bruins scored in double-figures for the offensive-minded group, but this team’s defensive lapses could keep them out of the title conversation in March.

Jan 11, 2017; Omaha, NE, USA; Butler Bulldogs forward Kelan Martin (30) signals against Creighton Bluejays guard Khyri Thomas (2) at CenturyLink Center Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 11, 2017; Omaha, NE, USA; Butler Bulldogs forward Kelan Martin (30) signals against Creighton Bluejays guard Khyri Thomas (2) at CenturyLink Center Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

11. Butler Bulldogs

Previous Ranking: 15

Record: 17-3 (6-2 Big East)

Butler has assumed the mantle of second-best in the Big East after beating Marquette and coming back against DePaul on the road. The Bulldogs get sixth-place Seton Hall to start this week.

Kethan Savage was important in the overtime win against the Blue Demons. The senior scored 20 points off the bench on 7-of-13 shooting. He got help from Kamar Baldwin’s 18 and Kelan Martin’s 12. This team has already proven it can beat Villanova, so I can’t wait for the rematch in February to potentially decides who wins the Big East regular season title.

Jan 21, 2017; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward Ray Spalding (13) defends Florida State Seminoles forward Jonathan Isaac (1) during the second half at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward Ray Spalding (13) defends Florida State Seminoles forward Jonathan Isaac (1) during the second half at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

10. Florida State Seminoles

Previous Ranking: 13 

Record: 18-2 (6-1 ACC)

Florida State rebounded with consecutive wins over top 25 Notre Dame and Louisville, both in Tallahassee, to remain atop the ACC standings in a tie for first. The Seminoles hit the road to challenge Georgia Tech in their next contest.

Freshman Jonathan Isaac is still in the mix for one of the nation’s better freshman after scoring 23 and 16 in the team’s two most recent wins. He also had 10 rebounds in those games and has recorded three straight double-doubles and five on the year. His play has been huge for a team that already had stars in the form of Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes. I love this team’s potential with their balance; FSU ranks in the top 25 for both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

Jan 21, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Ethan Happ (22) drives to the basket against Minnesota Golden Gophers center Bakary Konate (21) during the first half at Williams Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Ethan Happ (22) drives to the basket against Minnesota Golden Gophers center Bakary Konate (21) during the first half at Williams Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

9. Wisconsin Badgers

Previous Ranking: 11

Record: 16-3 (5-1 Big Ten)

Wisconsin has won three straight since dropping to Purdue. Their last two victories were over Michigan and at Minnesota, and they have tied Maryland for the Big Ten lead. The Badgers host struggling Penn State next.

The overtime win over the Gophers was a breakout moment for forward Ethan Happ. The sophomore scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and swatted five shots in a thoroughly dominating performance. Nigel Hayes was also terrific with 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Wisconsin might be finding its footing again as the conference’s most talented team. That is bad news for the rest of the Big Ten.

January 21, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats guard Allonzo Trier (35) after scoring a basket and drawing a foul against the UCLA Bruins during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

January 21, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats guard Allonzo Trier (35) after scoring a basket and drawing a foul against the UCLA Bruins during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

8. Arizona Wildcats

Previous Ranking: 16

Record: 18-2 (7-0 Pac-12)

Sean Miller and Arizona continue to impress this season. They’ve suffered several setbacks, but are now in a tie for the Pac-12 lead with Oregon after beating both USC and UCLA on the road. They have a huge boost now that Allonzo Trier is back from a PED-related suspension. The Wildcats host the Washington State Cougars in their next showdown.

Six players scored in double-figures in the huge road win over the Bruins. Kobi Simmons led the way with 20 points and got plenty of help from Lauri Markkanen (18 points) and Trier’s 12 off the bench. This team becomes even more dangerous with their best player back.

Jan 10, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; Baylor Bears forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (0) shoots in the lane over West Virginia Mountaineers guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the first half at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 10, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; Baylor Bears forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (0) shoots in the lane over West Virginia Mountaineers guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the first half at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

7. Baylor Bears

Previous Ranking: 7

Record: 18-1 (6-1 Big 12)

Baylor has won three straight since dropping to West Virginia. Baylor took down Texas at home and TCU on the road to remain alone in second-place in the Big 12. The Bears will next host Texas Tech in Waco.

Manu Lecomte had a great game against the upstart Horned Frogs. The former Miami Hurricane scored 17 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists in the nine-point win. Johnathan Motley was productive as usual with 15 points and eight boards himself. This team will be a solid contender to win the Big 12 crown, but the match-up with Kansas presents some interesting obstacles for Scott Drew’s team.

Jan 21, 2017; Chestnut Hill, MA, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) is guarded by Boston College Eagles forward Connar Tava (2) during the second half at Silvio O. Conte Forum. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 90-82. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Chestnut Hill, MA, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) is guarded by Boston College Eagles forward Connar Tava (2) during the second half at Silvio O. Conte Forum. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 90-82. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

6. North Carolina Tar Heels

Previous Ranking: 6

Record: 18-3 (6-1 ACC)

North Carolina has fought their way to a tie for the ACC lead after beating Syracuse and Boston College last week. The Tar Heels will host Virginia Tech on Thursday to begin this week’s contests.

Justin Jackson scored 22 points to lead the team over BC and remains the team’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. Kennedy Meeks has been near unstoppable in the last two victories with 17.5 points and 10.5 boards. This is Roy Williams’ best and most balanced team in several years and could win the ACC with their remaining schedule; the hardest game left is at Virginia.

Jan 19, 2017; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks forward Jordan Bell (1) and California Golden Bears forward Ivan Rabb (1) battle for the ball in the first half at Matthew Knight Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 19, 2017; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks forward Jordan Bell (1) and California Golden Bears forward Ivan Rabb (1) battle for the ball in the first half at Matthew Knight Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

5. Oregon Ducks

Previous Ranking: 5

Record: 18-2 (7-0 Pac-12)

Oregon remains in a tie for the Pac-12 lead after beating both Cal and Stanford in Eugene last week. The Ducks will hit the road for a trip to Utah and colorado. The trip became a bit harder after star forward Dillon Brooks went down with a foot sprain. It is currently unknown how much time the junior will miss.

Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis stepped up big in Brooks’ absence. The two seniors combined for 31 points and 14 rebounds in the Ducks’ win over Stanford. Their talent and leadership will be vital until Brooks is cleared to return. Jordan Bell also has a great opportunity to produce more after scoring 26 points and grabbing six boards against Cal. Oregon still has plenty of weapons overall, but there is no doubt Brooks’ absence hurts their title chances.

Jan 21, 2017; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) celebrates with forward Edrice Bam Adebayo (3) during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 85-69. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) celebrates with forward Edrice Bam Adebayo (3) during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated South Carolina 85-69. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

4. Kentucky Wildcats

Previous Ranking: 4

Record: 17-2 (7-0 SEC)

Kentucky remains the cream of the SEC crop after holding off Mississippi State on the road and dominating South Carolina in Lexington. The Wildcats will visit Knoxville and the Tennessee Volunteers before a showdown with Kansas in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge this weekend.

Kentucky’s usual suspects showed up in the win over the Gamecocks. Malik Monk scored 27 and Edrice ‘Bam’ Adebayo had 18 in the 16-point win. Point guard De’Aaron Fox scored just eight and exited early with a sprained ankle. Isaiah Briscoe will likely assume much of Fox’s load should the frosh miss time along with senior reserve guard Dominique Hawkins. Kentucky is still a title contender even if Fox misses a few games.

Jan 21, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Villanova Wildcats guard Mikal Bridges (25) is introduced before a game against the Providence Friars at Wells Fargo Center. The Villanova Wildcats won 78-68. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Villanova Wildcats guard Mikal Bridges (25) is introduced before a game against the Providence Friars at Wells Fargo Center. The Villanova Wildcats won 78-68. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

3. Villanova Wildcats

Previous Ranking: 3

Record: 19-1 (7-1 Big East)

Villanova still stands alone in the Big East. They beat Seton Hall and Providence last week, but get a road date at confident Marquette next.

Josh Hart led the Wildcats in their recent victory over the Friars with 25 points and six boards. Fellow senior Kris Jenkins had 19, four and four, and sophomore Miles Bridges chipped in 15. Butler is charging hard for the Big East crown but has to go through ‘Nova in Philadelphia first.

Jan 21, 2017; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Frank Mason (0) shoots a lay up as Texas Longhorns forward Shaquille Cleare (32) defends during the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks won 79-67. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Frank Mason (0) shoots a lay up as Texas Longhorns forward Shaquille Cleare (32) defends during the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks won 79-67. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

2. Kansas Jayhawks

Previous Ranking: 2

Record: 18-1 (7-0 Big 12)

Kansas had themselves a nice week while winning at Iowa State and holding off Texas in Lawrence. The Jayhawks will travel to perhaps their most difficult road game Tuesday when they visit West Virginia in Morgantown.

In Kansas’ defiant victory against the Cyclones and Hilton Magic, Frank Mason III scored 16 points and had six rebounds. He seemed to hit a big shot every time ISU cut the lead to one possession late. He got a huge boost from his post players Landen Lucas and Carlton Brag Jr.g. The two combined for 24 points and 12 rebounds against the overmatched Cyclone frontcout, but faltered against Texas’ young size. The KU guards are more than capable of taking this team far this March.

Jan 21, 2017; Spokane, WA, USA; Portland Pilots guard Jazz Johnson (22) knocks the ball away from Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Silas Melson (0) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 21, 2017; Spokane, WA, USA; Portland Pilots guard Jazz Johnson (22) knocks the ball away from Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Silas Melson (0) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Previous Ranking: 1

Record: 20-0 (8-0 WCC)

The nation’s lone unbeaten has yet to face a challenge in WCC play. Coming into their game against Portland, Gonzaga had won its conference games by an average of 25 points.

Nigel Willams-Goss led the Bulldogs in their win over Portland at home with 15 points and three assists. Przemek Karnowski was the only other player in double-figures with 12, but five other players scored at least six points. This team has too many weapons to expect a real challenge, at least until the postseason.

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