College Basketball Power Rankings: Why Michigan beats out Duke, Kansas, Virginia for No. 1
Matt Norlander's weekly rundown of the most impressive teams in college hoops debuts with the Wolverines on top
These power rankings have been baking in the oven for quite a while.
It's time to take them out and share with you.
Let's be clear on this: These rankings are not done in the same mold as Gary Parrish's. These rankings are a weekly feature for CBS Sports that will publish every Thursday throughout the season and sort out the most impressive teams in a contemporary sense. I'm ranking teams with a particular weight on more recent performance as opposed to explicitly looking at how they've played since the start of the season and putting equal weight on all games. Résumé alone doesn't dictate these rankings, though. It's also about what teams you've beaten and how, if you've looked particularly dominant doing so, if you've managed to make noise -- and how you're tracking across multiple metrics.
To put it simply, it's a ranking of the teams I think are both strongest and most impressive in college basketball at this time. It's a snapshot of where the most notably successful teams in college hoops are in a given week. There will be fluctuation every Thursday, and I'm sure you'll still find a way to quibble, but that's the fun of all this.
I'm subheading the Power Rankings "Hey Nineteen" because 16 is too commonly used in the format -- 19 is better, because it's bigger -- and because Steely Dan still smacks.
Let's unveil the debut version!
|The 10-0 Wolverines are No. 1 because they're the best combination of being undefeated and have looked the most dominant. Michigan has the No. 1-ranked defense in America, has wins away from home against Villanova, Providence and Northwestern, and also owns victories against North Carolina and Purdue. It's also made a habit of holding opponents to 10, 15, 20, even 30 points below their scoring average. This team already looks better than the group that made last season's national title game.|
|The Blue Devils (9-1) are slotted at No. 2 because they're trending as one of the most dominant statistical teams of the past decade. At this point, Duke would be favored over every team in college basketball on a neutral court. The loss to Gonzaga knocks them from the top spot for now, however. Duke ranks first in most modern metrics, which tells you how much the computers respect it, particularly with a lot of good teams still sans a loss. In the midst of a stretch against teams from one-bid leagues, so the next must-see game comes in a week against Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden.|
|Undefeated Kansas (8-0) is tops in the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll, but it hasn't played up to expectations in the big picture so far. Part of that is the injury to big man Udoka Azubuike, but beyond that, the team's not getting consistent play in the backcourt. Still, KU is undefeated and has played a very respectable schedule. It's pushed on and won out despite some bumps and close calls (almost lost at home to Stanford, had a close call against New Mexico). Next up is a tricky but obviously very winnable proposition: Villanova comes to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.|
|Tony Bennett's team is 9-0 but isn't without its issues. Starting point guard Kihei Clark, who has been an unexpected impact guy almost immediately, is out indefinitely due to a wrist injury. But I won't dock UVA in the PR until I see how it plays without Clark in there. The Wahoos are averaging 72.8 points, which is tracking as the most under Bennett (who took the job in 2009). Remains to be seen if Virginia can stay above 70 once ACC play gets humming.|
|KenPom.com gives the 10-0 Wolf Pack a 12.4-percent chance at running the regular-season table. That's by far the best of any undefeated team left standing. For comparison, Michigan is at 0.20 percent; Buffalo: 0.20; Kansas: 0.10; Virginia: -.04; St. John's: 0.01; Texas Tech: 0.00; and St. John's: 0.00. For Nevada to be at 12.4 is a gargantuan probability lead.|
|The Volunteers sit at 7-1, their only loss coming in overtime in Brooklyn against Kansas. Tennessee's of course got that bullet-point win over Gonzaga, and it's also beaten Louisville. The Vols have one of the three most noteworthy/high-profile wins so far in college hoops, but the Power Rankings take into account overall team quality in addition to recent performance, team record and strength of competition. The margins are slim between all the teams I've got in the top seven.|
|The loss to Tennessee has to drop Gonzaga. As readers will soon come to see, losing head-to-head matchups doesn't explicitly mean that one team will be ranked below another, but in the here and now, Tennessee's got to be ranked above the 9-1 Zags. And six weeks into the season, I like all the teams above Tennessee more than the Vols, so Gonzaga slips to seven by default -- but again, these top seven are tightly packed. Gonzaga's got a chance to make a big move up if it can win at UNC on Saturday.|
|Chris Beard's one hell of a coach. The Red Raiders were expected to slip back after making an Elite Eight run last season, thanks in part to eventual top-15 pick Zhaire Smith and five outgoing seniors, most notably Keenan Evans. Instead, TTU is 9-0 and just knocked off Northwestern State 79-44. TTU has the No. 2-ranked defense at KenPom.com and has wins over USC and Nebraska. If it manages to beat Duke next Thursday, it's probably going to swoop into the top three of these rankings. But it's got to pull it off. Should be a fascinating battle in Manhattan. |
|The Tigers were one of the big surprises of college basketball's first two months a year ago, when they started 16-1 en route to sharing the SEC title with Tennessee. These Tigers are 8-1 with wins against Washington, Xavier, Arizona and Dayton. The lone loss? You might recall it was a competitive tussle against Duke in Maui that settled at 88-82. Auburn's defense is forcing turnovers 29.6 percent of the time, which ranks No. 1 in college basketball. Definitely one of the 10 most impressive teams in the sport from Nov. 6 through now. |
|Of course there's room for two-loss teams in the debut version of the Power Rankings. Michigan State ranks top-10 in many a metric, and with good reason. Sparty's two losses: vs. Kansas in the season-opener in Indy and at Louisville in overtime. Michigan State owns wins over UCLA, Texas, Iowa and Florida, all four of which rank as top-50 quality across many metrics. Not a lot of teams can claim four Ws in quad-one territory at this stage of the season. And thanks to an offense that's improving by the week, MSU slides in comfortably here at No. 10. |
|Here's the first surprise of the rankings, I think. I figured Ohio State would crack into the Nineteen somewhere, but No. 11? Believe it. Chris Holtmann's team is 8-1, its lone loss at home to Syracuse (not great, not bad). OSU has also won at Cincinnati, at Creighton and beat Illinois in Chicago. Those road victories are carrying a lot of weight for me at the moment. And if you've watched OSU play, you've seen a sound team on both ends of the floor. How Holtmann's doing this, I don't know. But the Buckeyes belong on the list. |
|The 8-2 Badgers rate better than the Buckeyes in just about every poll, but I narrowly slot Bucky behind the Buckeyes because I prefer OSU's two road wins to Wisconsin's (Xavier and Iowa). Plus, two losses vs. one. With a lower total of data points, the losses should count when splitting hairs. Overall, Wisconsin has bounced back well after a down year. Though UW fans will no doubt be clenching their fists after the lost opportunity against Marquette last weekend. |
|So close to an undefeated record. The Hokies (8-1) took a one-point loss at Penn State on Nov. 27. I sorta think those outside Virginia Tech's program take Buzz Williams a little bit for granted. Just because he left Marquette for Va. Tech in 2014 didn't guarantee that the Hokies would eventually be good. But they are and they're on their way to three straight NCAA Tournaments for the first time in program history. Next up is a slippery one: vs. Washington in Atlantic City, New Jersey on Saturday. |
|One of the true big-conference surprises of the first six weeks of the season. It's not just that Oklahoma is 8-1 in the first nine games after Trae Young, it's that Oklahoma ranks 20th in defense this season. The Sooners were an out-of-sorts sieve last season. Now they've got six wins outside their home building. No other team on this list can compete with that. Sooners absolutely belong. What a start. |
|An Elite Eight team last season -- a surprise one, to say the least -- FSU is better on offense and defense nine games into this season. The 8-1 Seminoles have also played a good schedule, only losing by six to Villanova in Orlando. The wins include Florida, LSU, Purdue and UConn. The ACC is stacked again, but don't let FSU get lost in your mix. This is one of the five best teams in that conference. |
|Wednesday night's 82-76 comeback performance by UH vaults the Cougars into these rankings. Houston trailed by 15 at home in the second the half against a talented LSU team but managed to come back -- and come back with a fervor. The Fertitta Center (formerly Hofheinz Pavilion) has been completely redone and it seems to be for the better. Houston's won 22 straight home games. It's 9-0 and has defeated teams from the SEC (LSU), Big 12 (Oklahoma State), Pac-12 (Oregon) and WCC (BYU). |
|What's amazing about the Buffalo program is that, until Bobby Hurley took it to the NCAAs in 2015, the school had never made the Big Dance. Now Nate Oats is in Year Four at UB and should get the Bulls into the tournament for the third time in four years. And at 9-0, Buffalo is getting unprecedented regular season attention. It sits at a program-high No. 14 in the AP Poll. It's won at West Virginia and defeated a quality San Francisco team ... in Ireland! The Bulls are legit. Five losses pre-Selection Sunday is this team's floor. |
|The Tar Heels (7-2) still rank highly in many metrics despite losing against the two best teams they've played in Texas and Michigan. The wins? At Wofford (which is a quality win), at Elon, and UCLA in Las Vegas. The offense, overall, has looked nice. Coby White is a baller, potentially a sneaky first-round pick in 2019, even. I like a lot of what UNC has here. I'm putting it in because I believe the team is better than the résumé at this stage, and résumé alone will never dictate how these Power Rankings are assembled; that's what Bracketology is for. |
|I must close out with the charming-yet-dangerous Paladins, who have the most wins of any undefeated team (11) and also won on the road against half the 2018 Final Four: Villanova and Loyola-Chicago. Bob Richey's veteran squad also has three other road victories to its name. This team is is genuinely good and deserving of its No. 23 ranking in the AP Poll. And here, at the Power Rankings, it's earned a spot amongst the best of the best so far. |
CBS Sports HQ Daily Newsletter
Get the best highlights and stories - yeah, just the good stuff handpicked by our team to start your day.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
After landing five-star Trendon Watford, Wade and LSU appear to be back as strong as ever
Watford is the third five-star prospect to commit to LSU since Will Wade took over the program...
Hardaway just delivered a better recruiting class than Kentucky, Duke and everyone else in...
The Tigers jump over Kentucky after landing Precious Achiuwa, the No. 14 player in the cou...
The Red Raiders, the NCAA Tournament runners-up, have brought in some impressive players
History suggests it's hard for college coaches to find success if indeed they jump to the NBA;...