2023 College Basketball Power Rankings: 3 teams have risen above the pack
A common theme in the weekly college basketball power rankings this season has been to expect the unexpected — and that parity rules. While that is the truth and there’s a wide-open nature to March that could produce historic levels of chaos, here’s a twist worth thinking about:
There’s a clear-cut top three in the country: Houston, Alabama and Kansas.
Yes, that’s different from the narrative of the season, but look at the way those three teams have performed this season. That’s a reasonable argument for each of them to have a stake as the top team in the country. Would it be a surprise to see another program rise to the top and win it all? Of course not. That’s what makes March Madness so watchable. But these teams have separated themselves, and here’s why.
While the narrative on Houston is that the Cougars have not been tested to the same degree as others because they play in the American, Kelvin Sampson’s team is 25-2 and ranks first in the NET rankings, as well as analytics sites KenPom and T-Rank. Houston is the safest bet to reach the Elite Eight at the very least because the Cougars lead the country in scoring defense at 55.4 points per game — a formula for winning in March.
Named the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s top-16 reveal Saturday, Alabama has dominated the SEC with a 13-1 record, winning 11 of those games by double-figures. The Crimson Tide bounced back from a loss to Tennessee with a 49-point win over Georgia on Saturday. I don’t care who the opponent is: to beat an SEC team by that margin is ridiculous. The Tide have the best all-around talent in the sport in superstar freshman Brandon Miller. They also defend at a high level and have several scoring options with a veteran guard in Mark Sears to organize them.
The third of these teams, Kansas, might have the most ridiculous stat in college hoops associated with them: The Jayhawks own 13 wins over Quadrant 1 opponents. Nobody else in college basketball possesses more than nine. On Saturday against a Baylor team that the committee had as a 2-seed in its reveal on Saturday, the Jayhawks trailed by 17 points. The Bears were beating them in all facets through 20 minutes. But then Bill Self’s team reminded everybody what makes them so scary. Kansas outscored Baylor — yes, Baylor! — 55-26 in the second half behind Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris Jr.
They flipped the game on its head in the opening minutes of the second half and never looked back with a raucous Allen Fieldhouse crowd only adding to the absurdity of the final 20 minutes. Could the Jayhawks be the first repeat champions since 2006 and 2007? Saturday made it feel like that’s very much on the table.
Here’s my updated top 15 with just three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday!
1. Houston (25-2)
The Cougars swarmed Memphis defensively on Sunday, and a Tigers team without Kendric Davis was never able to settle in. Houston forced 18 turnovers while Marcus Sasser and J’wan Roberts each posted 20 points in a 72-64 win.
2. Alabama (23-4)
Brandon Miller put up his 10th performance of 20-plus points this season in Saturday’s 49-point win over Georgia, becoming the fastest Alabama player to score 500 career points. He joined Collin Sexton and James “Hollywood” Robinson as the only three Crimson Tide freshmen to reach the mark.
3. Kansas (22-5)
Since joining the Big 12 in 1996-97, Kansas had never overcome a double-digit halftime deficit and won a game by double-figures … until Saturday. One of the underrated things that Bill Self has done with this team is getting KJ Adams to fit perfectly in the Jayhawks frontcourt. This is not a Kansas team with an elite, true 5-man, but Adams (17 points on Saturday) has filled the role nicely. The bigger point: Harris Jr. is this team’s most important player.
4. UCLA (23-4)
Jaime Jaquez Jr. is performing like one of the five best players in college basketball in recent weeks. Over his last three games, the senior wing is averaging 23.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest.
5. Purdue (24-4)
The Boilermakers are dealing with life as the hunted through the depth of the Big Ten. Matt Painter’s team bounced back on Sunday, rolling past lowly Ohio State as Zach Edey went for 26 and 11.
Maryland takes down Purdue
The Maryland Terrapins upset Purdue last week, prompting their fans to storm the court.
6. Texas (21-6)
The Longhorns survived a scare against Oklahoma before pulling out an 85-83 overtime win on Saturday, showing that there are literally no off days in the Big 12. Sir’Jabari Rice has emerged as a key sixth man for Rodney Terry’s group, scoring 24 points in two of the last three games.
7. Baylor (20-7)
Even though the Bears lost on Saturday, they still showed how dangerous they could be in March. It may be the best form of praise on the Big 12 that this Baylor team started 0-3 in conference play. With that backcourt, they could get hot in the big dance and win it all.
8. Arizona (24-4)
The Wildcats rolled to a 2-0 week in the Pac-12, with Oumar Ballo leading them with 18 points and 16 rebounds in a 78-68 win over Colorado on Saturday.
9. Miami (22-5)
The Hurricanes own one of the best three backcourts in college basketball. While this top-10 ranking may catch some by surprise, it should not. They’ve won six in a row behind Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack, who combined for 51 points and seven assists in Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest.
10. Marquette (21-6)
The Golden Eagles edged Xavier in the Big East game of the year so far, moving into the driver’s seat of the conference race at 13-3. A massive game comes Tuesday on FS1 at 8:30 p.m. ET, when Shaka Smart’s team visits Creighton, which sits at 12-4 along with Providence and Xavier.
11. Creighton (18-9)
The Bluejays came so close to making it nine wins in a row, but fell just short to Providence in double-overtime. There’s a reason why the Friars have won 17 consecutive home games. Greg McDermott’s team bounced back by winning at St. John’s on Saturday behind Arthur Kaluma, who had 13 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Creighton’s defense turns into offense
Arthur Kaluma flushed a nice two-handed jam against St. John’s in their matchup on Saturday.
12. Virginia (21-4)
The Cavaliers won two games by a combined five points last week … over Louisville and Notre Dame. Their style of play and lack of offensive firepower could lead to them getting picked off earlier than expected in the NCAA Tournament. That’s why I have Miami ahead of them out of the ACC.
13. Indiana (19-8)
The Hoosiers have won nine of their last 11 games and showed toughness in rallying back to beat Illinois on Saturday behind Trayce Jackson-Davis. The Indiana senior superstar put up 26 points and 12 rebounds in the win, with 15 points and nine boards in the second half. Over the last five contests, TJD has posted 24.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, elevating his production as the plot of the season thickens to a consistent All-American first-team level.
14. Gonzaga (23-5)
Because Drew Timme is a first-team All-American and Julian Strawther is such a matchup nightmare when he’s in a rhythm, the Zags are a top-15 team. The duo combined for 62 points and 14 rebounds in Saturday’s 97-88 win over Pepperdine.
15. Kansas State (20-7)
Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson are one of the nation’s best duos, and the way Jerome Tang has gotten this team to always stay in the fight has been admirable. Saturday did not start well, as the Wildcats trailed Iowa State by eight at the half. But Nowell scored 18 in the final 20 minutes and K-State outscored the Cyclones 38-24 in the final frame for the win. Are they worthy of staying in this top-15? We find out this week when they host Baylor before visiting Oklahoma State.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter at @John_Fanta.
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