College Basketball Power 10: Watch Out For Baylor Bears

College basketball had one of its busiest weekends of the season. With two of the top three teams going down, who remains standing in the Power 10?

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The college basketball season is off to a hectic start. A second top-ranked team in the nation, Kentucky Wildcats, already lost, meaning Villanova is already the third team to be ranked No. 1 this season and it’s only the start of the December.

North Carolina also lost, meaning two of the top three teams in the nation fell in a week where many ranked teams played each other.

Also, the ACC easily took down the Big Ten in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge this season, as they asserted themselves as the best conference in the nation. The ACC won 9-5 and the worry that there is no elite team in the Big Ten continues, even with Indiana’s upset win over North Carolina.

In a year where no one expected any team to run away with the championship or run the table, only 11 undefeated teams remain. With no perennial powerhouses like Kentucky, Duke or Kansas still undefeated, the idea of the national title being an open race is still there.

There has been no clear-cut best team in the nation so far, which will make the 2016-17 season even more exciting come conference play.

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10. Butler (8-0)

Butler basketball is back to being a threat on the national landscape. While lacking a Gordon Hayward or Shelvin Mack, Kelan Martin is quietly averaging 18.1 points per game and quietly leading Butler to one of the more impressive resumes in the early season.

Along with quality wins over Northwestern and Utah, the Bulldogs also took down Arizona, then ranked in the top 10, 69-65. Butler’s three most impressive wins have all come by single-digits, but they’re still showing they can beat quality teams early in the season.

Plus, against mid-majors, they haven’t won by fewer than 24 points and beat a Power 5 Vanderbilt team by 10.

Therefore, while they might not be blowing out great teams, simply taking care of business against them and blowing out bad teams says a lot.

In a conference with Villanova, Creighton and Xavier, Butler is being battle-tested early and is learning how to handle close games in crunch time.

The Bulldogs also held Northwestern, Arizona and Utah to less than 70 points. They’re not going to score a ton of points, however they’ve forced teams to play at their tempo and win with defense.

Maybe Butler will need a scoring option outside of Martin to eventually develop, but right now their defensive-minded style of play is working.

Butler travels to Indiana State and hosts Cincinnati this week.

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9. Kentucky (7-1)

Kentucky has boatloads of NBA talent and potential this season. Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe only scratch the surface of how much talent this team has. Although it’s the same story with Kentucky every year.

Multiple five-star recruits earn the Wildcats a very high (frankly, too high) preseason ranking. The young Wildcats met their match in UCLA on Saturday, as they fell 97-92 in a game no one expected them to lose.

By the time conference play comes around, and especially the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky has the potential to be one of the best teams in the nation.

However, through the freshman love fest that is given to them every year, they simply haven’t played anyone good enough to warrant a super-high ranking.

For as much of a first test Kentucky was for UCLA, the same is true about Kentucky. And they failed, at home.

Sure, the Wildcats demolished a ranked Michigan State team on a neutral site, but the Spartans are currently 5-4, unranked and don’t look like a good basketball team. The win will look better come March, but Kentucky didn’t beat a good, let alone great, team.

Going off of NBA talent and potential, Kentucky is a top-five team every week. Going off blowouts against Arizona State and Tennessee-Martin, then losing to UCLA at home, Kentucky is barely in the top 10.

Kentucky will have a respectable opponent in Valparaiso and host Hofstra on Sunday.

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8. Indiana (7-1)

Indiana is the hardest team to get a gauge on early in the season. On one hand, they’ve beaten two top-five teams in Kansas and North Carolina, but they also lost to Fort Wayne in overtime.

At the end of the season, the loss to Fort Wayne might simply be a funny blemish, but early in the season it looks huge.

With Og Anunoby expected to miss some time after injuring his ankle against North Carolina, the Hoosiers might be in some trouble if he’s not able to play against Butler in a couple of weeks. With basically a whole week off, the Hoosiers should be fine and have a healthy team by then.

Even without Anunoby, the Hoosiers have a ton of talent. James Blackmon Jr, Thomas Bryant and Robert Johnson all played huge roles in their convincing win over North Carolina. With the help of a home crowd, Indiana dominated on both ends of the floor and made North Carolina look lost.

If that Indiana continues to show up then the Hoosiers should run away with the Big Ten and be considered a national title contender.

On the other hand, it’s too early in the season to tell if their loss to Fort Wayne is due to a mere bad day or a cause for concern that Indiana isn’t as consistent as they should be.

Only time will tell, but right now Indiana is back to playing very good basketball.

Indiana only has one game this week. The Hoosiers will host Houston Baptist on Saturday.

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7. Duke (8-1)

Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden made their Duke debut, however Grayson Allen missed the same game. For as many injuries as Duke has suffered, it’s impressive how good they have still been.

With only a two-point hiccup to a top-10 Kansas team, Duke is now on a six-game winning streak with a win over then-ranked Rhode Island team.

That being said, Duke’s biggest wins of the season thus far, over Rhode Island and Michigan State, came against teams that are both unranked and struggling right now.

Plus, for as impressive as Tatum and Bolden looked in their first collegiate action, granted it came against Maine, Duke will need time to adjust with them in the rotation.

Duke is hoping their season doesn’t turn into one big “what if” because it’s headed that way right now. They continue to beat bad teams, beat two teams who started the season ranked, but lost their lone big game of the season.

Still, a two-point loss with a team full of injuries isn’t terribly concerning.

Duke needs to get healthy, but it will be hard to get a grasp on them until conference play. Until then, Duke will likely hang around the top-five area as we anticipate the team they have the potential to be.

Duke has a chance to bolster their resume with a game against Florida and then travel to UNLV later in the week.

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6. Gonzaga (8-0)

This might be the year Gonzaga makes a run at the Final Four. Through their first eight games, Gonzaga looks like a legitimate threat come March. They’re extremely deep and well-rounded and continue to beat good teams.

Prior to Florida being ranked, the Bulldogs overcame a five-point second half deficit with stellar play down the stretch to win by five.

Great play in crunch time has been Gonzaga’s forte this season. After blowing a big lead to Iowa State, Gonzaga held the Cyclones scoreless in the last three minutes to secure a close two-point win.

Also, this past week, the Bulldogs held a huge 14-point second half lead against Arizona. Gonzaga took them out of the game early with their inside scoring and hot three-point shooting to start the game.

They sort of let Arizona back in the game late in the second half, but never let them get closer than six points.

When it comes down to it, Gonzaga passed their tough part of the season in impressive fashion. Their well-rounded team will be hard for any team to beat this season. With a dominating win over a good Arizona team, the Bulldogs look like they might have found their identity.

Gonzaga has the best chance in the nation of going undefeated this season. They’ll look to keep that dream alive with Washington and Akron coming to town this week.

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5. Kansas (7-1)

Kansas’ season-opening overtime loss to Indiana seems like centuries ago. The Jayhawks have rattled off seven straight wins, which includes a win over a respectable team in Stanford last week and top-ranked Duke earlier in the season.

This week, the Associated Press Top 25 had Kansas third. It’s hard to argue with that ranking with the way they’ve looked as of late. Still, their lone loss haunts them as undefeated teams remain.

The Jayhawks rank fifth in field-goal percentage at 51.5 percent and 18th in three-point percentage at 40.8 percent.

They’re as efficient an offense as they come, but even with star freshman defender Josh Jackson, Kansas’ defense has come into question against good teams this season.

Indiana scored 103 points including overtime and 89 in regulation, while Duke and Stanford each topped 70 points.

Granted the Jayhawks still won two of those three games, but there’s a clear discrepancy on defense against bad and good teams, which could form into bigger problems in conference play.

Against their other five opponents, Siena is the only team to score at least 65 points.

While it’s normal to give up more points to better teams, Kansas allowed Indiana, Duke and Stanford to average 84 points per game. That compares to the 60 points per contest the Jayhawks have surrendered to lesser lights Siena, UAB, Georgia. UNC Asheville and Long Beach State.

It’s still early in the season, so Kansas will have time to tighten up their defense. Still, owning the 125th ranked scoring defense shows a clear issue at hand.

Kansas will play UMKC and an underrated Nebraska team this week.

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4. North Carolina (8-1)

The team that looked almost unbeatable a week ago was beaten by Indiana this past week, 76-67. The Hoosiers took the Tar Heels out of their game early, and the usually composed Tar Heels unraveled and never found their rhythm.

It showed that North Carolina isn’t unbeatable and that hostile away environments could be their downfall this season.

Their usual explosive offense looked stagnant as they got nothing going inside and point guard Joel Berry II struggled shooting all game, finishing 3-of-13 from the field and 1-of-6 from three.

Despite playing their worst game of the year, the Tar Heels still showed how great they are by hanging around against Indiana.

Even though the Hoosiers dominated the first 35 minutes, North Carolina cut the lead to five with 3:28 remaining and it looked like a comeback was possible.

Of course, a loss is a loss, but even on North Carolina’s worst night they almost beat a top-10 caliber team on the road in one of the hardest places to win in college basketball, Assembly Hall.

By the AP ranking North Carolina seventh, it shows how under the radar this team still is. Their dominating Maui Invitational might be a couple of weeks ago, but they’re still the same dominating team that looks like they have no weaknesses other than if they beat themselves.

North Carolina isn’t just good, they’re great. They have the team that can challenge a healthy Duke team in the ACC.

The Tar Heels will host Davidson and Tennessee this week.

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3. UCLA (9-0)

No one believed in the Bruins against Kentucky. Their sub-par defense emerged in one of the highest scoring games college basketball will have this season. Nonetheless, UCLA came out on top 97-92 by forcing Kentucky to play their brand of basketball.

UCLA’s defense will have questions all year. They’re not going to magically fix their 240th ranked scoring defense by the end of the season. UCLA wants to outscore their opponents to win, and so far they’ve done it in all nine games.

It starts with star point guard Lonzo Ball, however the Bruins go way deeper than just Ball. Fellow freshman T.J. Leaf was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week and National Player of the Week for his 17 points, 13 assists and five assists against Kentucky on Saturday.

Yet Leaf’s 17.2 points per game only ranks second behind Isaac Hamilton and his 9.4 rebounds per game ranks second behind Thomas Welsh on his own team. UCLA is undoubtedly one of the deepest and most talented teams in the nation.

Their roster of freshmen and upperclassmen is the mix you need to compete for a national championship.

It took a win over top-ranked Kentucky for people to believe in the UCLA hype, but the Bruins have looked this impressive all season. Being ranked second in this week’s AP Poll is a testament to how impressive they looked against Kentucky and the whole season.

UCLA has a legitimate argument for being considered the top team in the nation. Everything has clicked for them so far and they force teams to play their up-tempo, offensive-minded brand of basketball.

UCLA will host the Michigan Wolverines this week.

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2. Baylor (8-0)

If Baylor’s 15-point win over a top-10 ranked Xavier squad doesn’t have you believing in them, then I don’t know what will. Once again needing to overcome a halftime deficit, this time only three points, Baylor outscored Xavier by 18 in the second half to win 76-61.

Johnathan Motley is their star, but the Bears go nine deep every game.

Nine players average double-digit minutes per game and all but Motley have played in all eight games this season. It’s a big reason why they’re unstoppable in the second half, since they seemingly never get tired or out-hustled at any point in the game.

Xavier marks the fourth ranked opponent Baylor has beaten this season and that doesn’t include a very good VCU team that is currently 6-2. Simply put, if Baylor was 3-5 or 4-4 right now it wouldn’t be a shock, but instead they’re 8-0 with the most impressive resume in the nation.

Unlike a lot of the top teams in the nation, Baylor prides itself on its defense and hustle. As previously mentioned, they have the depth to constantly have fresh legs and good defenders on the floor. Its helped them allow a mere 59 points per game this season — ninth in the nation.

If a team can crack their defense and force them into a shootout then Baylor might have problems, but so far no team has been able to figure out how to score against them.

Besides, outscoring ranked opponents in the second half by an average of 15.3 points will get the job done more often than not.

The question is how long Baylor will keep this improbable run of dominance. It will last another week, as the Bears are off the entire week.

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1. Villanova (8-0)

Villanova is now the top team in the nation, according to the AP. They beat their only ranked opponent on the road by three in the Purdue Boilermakers and haven’t had much competition other than that.

Despite their somewhat easy schedule, Villanova looks like the best team in the nation. They’re not suffering from a championship hangover, rather look as focused as ever and continue to get better.

If you had any doubts about head coach Jay Wright not being focused and worrying about where his team will be ranked in the poll, his response to a reporter asking him about it after their 31-point win over Saint Joseph’s will relieve any doubt:

In the same game, Josh Hart fooled around and recorded the first triple-double of his career with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Six players in total scored in double-figures for the Wildcats against St. Joes and three had at least four assists.

Sure, Villanova hasn’t had the grueling schedule that other teams have had, but they own a deep roster with veteran leadership who knows what it takes to win a championship.

Of course March Madness is still months away, but that leadership is already showing by how Villanova comes to play every night.

Right now, the Wildcats don’t have any glaring weaknesses. Maybe once they play tougher competition in the Big East one or two will emerge, but they’re a disciplined team that doesn’t beat themselves, and that’s hard to play against.

Villanova will host La Salle and a ranked Notre Dame team this week.

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