There are officially less than two weeks until the end of the regular season, and there’s a race shaping up to nab the final 1-seed — and the last couple of spots in the top five of the Power Rankings. Duke is in pretty good shape with its résumé (assuming Zion Williamson returns soon); Virginia has lost only twice all season (both times to Duke) and is 9-0 in its other Quadrant 1 games; and Gonzaga has won 18 straight, hasn’t had a game within single digits since Dec. 15 and appears unlikely to lose before the NCAA tournament. Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Michigan and Michigan State all still have shots to move up.
While conference tournaments will also play a major role, what remaining regular-season games will help determine the pecking order of the top-tier teams in the Power Rankings?
Kentucky at Tennessee (March 2): Tennessee seemed to be in great shape a couple of weeks ago, but the Volunteers are now locked in a three-way tie for first place in the SEC, and their lack of high-level wins outside of Gonzaga is more noticeable. Kentucky likely has to win in Knoxville or win the SEC tournament to remain a 1-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket (and the top four in the Power Rankings).
Duke at North Carolina (March 9): Will Williamson be back by then? Carolina hammered the Blue Devils last week without Williamson, and the Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the country. If they beat Duke again and then make a deep run in the ACC tournament, can they jump the Blue Devils? Their combination of wins over Duke and Gonzaga is unparalleled (besides Duke’s two wins over Virginia).
There should be no asterisk on North Carolina’s victory in Durham. The Tar Heels are the real deal.
Here’s your updated source for all the latest on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Michigan at Michigan State (March 9): Michigan State won Round 1 on Sunday, and the Wolverines have now lost four of their past 11. Michigan would likely have to win Round 2 to have a chance at a share of the Big Ten title. The Spartans are an interesting case because of their injury issues, but they have 11 Quadrant 1 wins and could get another one over Michigan.
Houston at Cincinnati (March 10): The Cougars don’t and won’t have the profile of some of the other teams in this discussion, but one can consider how high they might go. If they are able to run the table — including winning at Cincinnati on the final day of the season — and then win the conference tournament, they’re likely going to end the season with a 33-1 record, a top-five NET and 18 wins against Quadrant 1 and 2 teams.
1. Duke Blue Devils (24-3)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at Virginia Tech (Tuesday), vs. Miami (Saturday)
Duke remains the overall No. 1 team by virtue of its two wins over the No. 2 team, but the Blue Devils need Williamson back to stay here. RJ Barrett was sensational on Saturday night at Syracuse, finishing with 30 points, but it’s going to be awfully hard for him to shoulder such a big load without consistent help from Cam Reddish.
2. Virginia Cavaliers (24-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Georgia Tech (Wednesday), vs. Pittsburgh (Saturday)
Virginia should be able to build off its dominant second half at Louisville on Saturday, as the next two games for the Cavaliers are at home against two of the worst teams in the ACC. Tony Bennett’s team did have a stretch recently with some uncharacteristically sloppy halves mixed in, but this week will give it a chance to work out some of the kinks heading down the stretch.
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-2)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Pacific (Thursday), at Saint Mary’s (Saturday)
Gonzaga hasn’t had to get into top gear since December, but the Bulldogs face arguably their toughest test of the West Coast Conference season on Saturday, when they head to Moraga for a road showdown against conference rival Saint Mary’s. The Gaels aren’t as good as they’ve been in recent years, but they’ve won four in a row, and McKeon Pavilion should be rocking for the season finale.
4. Kentucky Wildcats (23-4)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Arkansas (Tuesday), at Tennessee (Saturday)
EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards appear likely to split the minutes down low while Reid Travis is sidelined. On Saturday against Auburn, Montgomery got the start and played 23 minutes, finishing with six points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Richards played 20 minutes off the bench, also blocking three shots and finishing with four points and three boards. That combined production will make John Calipari happy.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels (23-5)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Syracuse (Tuesday), at Clemson (Saturday)
North Carolina might have had the best week of anyone in the country last week, beating Duke by 16 points in Cameron Indoor Stadium and crushing Florida State in the second half on Saturday. More important than scoring consistently around the rim against both teams was the Tar Heels’ defense. They held the Blue Devils and Seminoles to a combined 131 points on 157 possessions. They’ve won 10 of 11 and 14 of 16.
6. Tennessee Volunteers (24-3)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Ole Miss (Wednesday), vs. Kentucky (Saturday)
We’ve said for weeks that the return of Lamonte Turner from injury at the start of SEC play gave Tennessee a huge boost because of his ability to make shots from the perimeter and add a different dimension to the Volunteers’ offense. When Turner’s shots aren’t falling, though, Tennessee can lack perimeter pop. He went a combined 1-for-14 from behind the arc in the Volunteers’ two recent losses.
7. Michigan State Spartans (23-5)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Indiana (Saturday)
The Spartans made a huge statement by going into Ann Arbor and beating Michigan by seven points without Nick Ward (and Joshua Langford). It’s their best win of the season, and they did it while scoring 77 points — the first time Michigan has allowed more than 75 in a loss since last season’s national championship game. Cassius Winston was unbelievable, with 27 points and eight assists in 40 minutes.
8. Michigan Wolverines (24-4)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Nebraska (Thursday), at Maryland (Sunday)
The Wolverines fall into third place in the Big Ten standings with their loss to Michigan State. Charles Matthews struggled offensively on Sunday, finishing with four points on eight shots. The Wolverines aren’t likely to win many games shooting 26.9 percent from 3-point range. Two of Michigan’s final three games of the season are at Maryland and at Michigan State. It’s a tough finishing stretch.
9. Houston Cougars (26-1)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at East Carolina (Wednesday), vs. UCF (Saturday)
The Cougars won their 11th game in a row on Saturday, a streak that should improve to 12 on Wednesday at East Carolina before preseason favorite UCF (and College GameDay) comes to town. In the first meeting against the Knights, Corey Davis Jr. carried most of the load offensively, and Davis is starting to find his perimeter stroke again. Davis is 12-for-20 on 3-pointers in his past two games.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders (22-5)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Oklahoma State (Wednesday), at TCU (Saturday)
One of the hottest teams in the country right now, Texas Tech has won five in a row and seven of its past eight and is making a push for the Big 12 title. Part of the reason for the turnaround since losing by 16 in Lawrence earlier this month is the Red Raiders’ efficiency on the offensive end. Chris Beard’s team is always going to lock up defensively, but the Red Raiders have scored 255 points on 188 possessions in their past three games. It’s a small sample, but those are elite-level offensive numbers.
11. LSU Tigers (22-5)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. Texas A&M (Tuesday), at Alabama (Saturday)
LSU has a real chance to win the SEC regular-season title this season, or at least earn a share of it. The Tigers forged a three-way tie on Saturday by beating Tennessee without Tremont Waters, and they have a much easier remaining schedule than Kentucky or Tennessee, who face each other later this week. LSU doesn’t face either team the rest of the way.
12. Marquette Golden Eagles (23-4)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Villanova (Wednesday), vs. Creighton (Sunday)
This weekend’s results went awfully well for the Golden Eagles. Not only did they blow out Providence on the road, but Villanova also lost its fourth game in the past 15 days, this time at Xavier. Marquette goes to Villanova on Wednesday with a chance to essentially seal the regular-season title. Even if they stumble, though, the Golden Eagles have some margin for error in their quest for the crown.
13. Purdue Boilermakers (20-7)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: vs. Illinois (Wednesday), vs. Ohio State (Saturday)
Purdue won its third game in a row on Saturday, but Carsen Edwards continues to struggle shooting the ball. He went 3-for-16 from the field — including 1-for-10 from 3-point range — against the Cornhuskers. That came four days after he shot 4-for-24 from the field and 0-for-10 from 3-point range against Indiana. Fortunately for Matt Painter, Matt Haarms has really stepped up, sandwiching 18- and 17-point efforts around Purdue’s victory over Indiana in which he had the game-winning basket.
14. Kansas Jayhawks (20-7)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Kansas State (Monday), at Oklahoma State (Saturday)
We’re not ready to write off Kansas’ chances at a 15th straight Big 12 title just yet, but the Jayhawks’ task became much more difficult after they lost by 29 at Texas Tech on Saturday. Kansas hosts Big 12 leader Kansas State on Monday night in a must-win game for the Jayhawks. If Kansas loses Monday, it will be three games out of first place with three games left to play.
15. Nevada Wolf Pack (25-2)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: vs. UNLV (Wednesday), at Utah State (Saturday)
Nevada pulled off a win over Fresno State on Saturday to avoid a second straight loss. While the Wolf Pack’s NCAA tournament inclusion is not in question, racking up a loss one week before a trip to Utah State would have been disastrous for their seeding. Remember, this is a team without a Quadrant 1 game, let alone a Quadrant 1 win. That changes this weekend in a game that will be absolutely huge for Utah State’s at-large chances.
16. Wisconsin Badgers (19-8)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: at Indiana (Tuesday), vs. Penn State (Saturday)
The Badgers have now won eight of their past 10 games after winning at Northwestern on Saturday. Most notably, Ethan Happ finally hit a free throw after missing all 10 of his attempts the past three games. On the flip side, Wisconsin’s underlying numbers have fallen off over the past few games. The Badgers have scored fewer than one point per possession in four of their past five games and allowed at least one point per possession in three of their past four.
Dropped out: None