Power Rankings: Houston takes the top spot, Villanova, Tennessee drop out in Week 1
- Basketball recruiting insider.
- Joined ESPN in 2014.
- Graduate of University of Delaware.
That was a fun appetizer. Now it’s time for things to heat up.
With Election Day and other circumstances forcing the Champions Classic to move from the start of the 2022-23 men’s college basketball season to the second week, most top programs opted to schedule a couple of buy games to kick off their campaigns. As a result, the first week saw plenty of blowouts, very few notable wins and only a couple of top-25 losses (we’re looking at you, Villanova, Tennessee and Oregon).
But the coming week will more than make up for it: Champions Classic on Tuesday, Gonzaga at Texas on Wednesday, Baylor vs. Virginia on Friday, Kentucky at Gonzaga on Sunday — just to name a few marquee matchups over the next several days.
Before we get to the awards and rankings, a quick refresher on the rules of the Power Rankings:
This is not a poll; teams don’t automatically rise, fall or stay the same with a win or loss. (You’ll notice Houston already jumped North Carolina and Gonzaga to move to No. 1, despite neither the Tar Heels nor the Zags losing.) Head-to-head matters, but it isn’t the only thing. We look at the overall body of work.
We try to avoid repeating awards in a given week (for example, Gonzaga, Drew Timme and Mark Few winning Team, Player and Coach of the Week, respectively).
Let’s dive in.
Teams of the Week: The SWAC (Grambling Tigers, Texas Southern Tigers, Alcorn State Braves)
Very few leagues in the country — and none at the low-major level — can match the SWAC and its teams’ impressive wins in the first week of the season. Grambling got things started by beating Colorado on Friday, Alcorn State won at Wichita State on Saturday and Texas Southern rounded things out by taking down Arizona State on Sunday. When the Pac-12 and SWAC announced a Pac-12/SWAC Legacy Series in basketball, going 2-2 over the course of a weekend can’t be what the Pac-12 had in mind.
The wins weren’t fluky, either. Grambling led Colorado wire-to-wire and held a double-digit lead for most of the game — with the margin growing as big as 19 points in the first half. Alcorn State went on a 14-2 run midway through the second half to take the lead and kept Wichita State at an arm’s length the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Texas Southern already had wins over Florida, Baylor, Oregon and Texas A&M over the last few seasons — and can now add an overtime victory over Arizona State to that group.
Player of the Week: Foster Loyer, Davidson Wildcats
After three seasons at Michigan State, Loyer transferred to Davidson in 2021-22 and earned second-team All-Atlantic 10 honors. With Luka Brajkovic and Hyunjung Lee now gone, though, Loyer looks poised for an enormous season with the Wildcats — if his opening week is any indication. He had 30 points and six 3s against Guilford to open Davidson’s season on Monday, then went for 38 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists in a double-overtime win at Wright State on Wednesday. He’s now leading the nation in scoring after two games, and was one of just two players to hit 30 points in each of their first two games (Santa Clara’s Brandin Podziemski was the other).
Wins of the Week: Temple Owls 68, Villanova Wildcats 64; Colorado Buffaloes 78, Tennessee Volunteers 66
It took two court stormings, but the final buzzer eventually sounded on Temple’s 68-64 upset win over the No. 16 Wildcats. It marked the first top-25 loss of the season. It was also Temple’s first win over Villanova in a decade, with the average margin of defeat in seven losses over that time a whopping 18.0 points. But the Owls laid a Big 5 marker down that it might not be as easy for Villanova with coach Jay Wright retiring last spring. Temple jumped out to an early lead, was up by double digits in the first half and then won the game on a pair of Damian Dunn free throws with 1.1 seconds left.
Colorado bounced back incredibly quickly from its loss to Grambling, taking down a Tennessee team — in Nashville, no less — that dominated Gonzaga in a televised preseason exhibition game just two weeks earlier and beat Tennessee Tech by 32 points last Monday. It was nip-and-tuck most of the way, but the Buffs got some separation midway through the second half and iced the game from the free throw line. Sophomore guard KJ Simpson was the standout for Tad Boyle’s team, finishing with 23 points and nine boards. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s 25.4% field goal percentage was its lowest in a single game over the last three seasons, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
Coach of the Week: Russell Turner, UC Irvine Anteaters
One of two programs to beat a top-25 team last week, UC Irvine battered Oregon in Eugene on Friday, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half and cruising to a 13-point road win over the Ducks. The Anteaters, who finished outside the top two of the Big West last season for the first time since 2013, showed clear signs they’re ready to compete at the top of the league again. Russell Turner has been one of the most successful mid-major coaches since arriving at Irvine, leading the Anteaters to two NCAA tournaments and at least a share of five regular-season titles. They’ve been to the postseason six times. And now, despite being picked fourth in the preseason Big West poll, they’ve sent a message to the rest of the league.
Three teams with questions
Florida State Seminoles: A bounceback season was the expectation in Tallahassee after a disappointing 2021-22. But the Seminoles haven’t quite gotten out of the starting gate yet. They lost to Stetson at home to open the season, then lost by 14 on Friday to UCF.
Louisville Cardinals: It’s going to be a long first season for Kenny Payne. The Cardinals had already dropped an exhibition game to Lenoir-Rhyne before losing two consecutive home games to open 2022-23 — to Bellarmine and Wright State, both by one point.
California Golden Bears: Entering a key season for Mark Fox, Cal didn’t get off on the right foot. The Golden Bears lost at home to UC Davis to open the season, and then fell to Kansas State on Friday. Next up is a UC San Diego team that shouldn’t be imposing, but did beat Cal in Berkeley last season.
1. Houston Cougars (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 3
This week: vs. Oral Roberts (Monday), vs. Texas Southern (Wednesday), at Oregon (Sunday)
As North Carolina struggled through its first two games and Gonzaga needed a second-half surge to beat Michigan State, Houston looked like a well-oiled machine right from the opening tip of 2022-23. Marcus Sasser picked up right where he left off before his injury last season, while five-star freshman Jarace Walker had 23 points and eight boards against Saint Joseph’s. Jamal Shead looks like one of the elite playmakers in the country. The Cougars defense allowed 91 points in two games. And then there’s the emergence of J’Wan Roberts, who averaged 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in two games. Kelvin Sampson has a national title contender.
2. North Carolina Tar Heels (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 1
This week: vs. Gardner-Webb (Tuesday), vs. James Madison (Sunday)
The Tar Heels needed to turn things up in the second half of each of their first two games to beat UNC Wilmington and Charleston, but the final stretch of the Charleston game seemed like a wake-up call — at least for Armando Bacot, who shook off a tough start to finish with 28 points in the win.
Carolina has a couple more tuneups — although James Madison should keep things competitive on Sunday — before heading to Portland for the Phil Knight Invitational.
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 2
This week: at Texas (Wednesday), vs. Kentucky (Sunday)
Gonzaga has been ranked No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons, finishing No. 3 at KenPom last season. But the Bulldogs are going to need to do things a bit differently this season. They don’t have the playmakers they’ve had the last couple of years, and so far, they don’t have the shooting either (29% through two games). But they might have found something in the second half of their comeback over Michigan State, when Mark Few went to a smaller lineup featuring Hunter Sallis, Rasir Bolton, Malachi Smith and Julian Strawther around Drew Timme. It had better spacing and looked more fluid.
4. Kentucky Wildcats (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 4
This week: vs. Michigan State (Tuesday), vs. South Carolina State (Thursday), at Gonzaga (Sunday)
Oscar Tshiebwe is still out, but Sahvir Wheeler ended up only missing one game — and his performance against Duquesne indicated there are no lingering effects of his leg injury. He had 11 points and 11 assists, showing the same distribution and playmaking abilities that made him an All-SEC player a year ago. John Calipari hit the portal the last two springs in hopes of finding some perimeter shooting, and through two games, it looks like he has done just that: CJ Fredrick is 6-for-12 from behind the arc, while Antonio Reeves is 10-for-18.
5. Duke Blue Devils (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 5
This week: vs. Kansas (Tuesday), vs. Delaware (Friday)
It’s going to get real this week, as Duke faces Kansas in Indianapolis at the Champions Classic, but the reviews of Jon Scheyer’s team are positive. They only allowed 82 points in the first two games of the season and seem to have overcome the injuries to Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively II (who played in Game 2). Early returns had Kyle Filipowski struggling in the preseason, but he has posted back-to-back double-doubles and Northwestern transfer Ryan Young has continued his efficient post scoring from the Big Ten.
6. Kansas Jayhawks (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 6
This week: vs. Duke (Tuesday), vs. Southern Utah (Friday)
If Kansas has any shot to repeat as national champions — or even get back to the Final Four — much of it will come down to whether Jalen Wilson can become a star. And through two games, the flashes he showed the last couple seasons seem like they could become more of an every-night thing. In wins over Omaha and North Dakota State, Wilson averaged 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists, shooting 6-for-13 from 3-point range. He’s a difficult matchup because of his inside-outside game and he’s primed to take a step forward.
7. Baylor Bears (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 8
This week: vs. Northern Colorado (Monday), vs. Virginia (Friday), UCLA or Illinois (Sunday)
When Adam Flagler made the decision to return to Waco, part of the reason was that he wanted to demonstrate more of his playmaking ability. The last two seasons, Flagler has played mostly off the ball, with the likes of Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and James Akinjo having the ball in their hands. But he’ll have plenty more responsibility this season, alongside Keyonte George. And he’s already showing potential in that department, totaling 13 assists in two games along with scoring 19.5 points per game.
8. UCLA Bruins (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 10
This week: vs. Norfolk State (Monday), vs. Illinois (Friday), Baylor or Virginia (Sunday)
Some of the preseason buzz coming out of Westwood had to do with Jaylen Clark, who produced when called upon last season but only started a handful of games. With shots up for grabs this year, Clark was going to be needed more often. He has looked the part so far. Through two games, he’s averaging 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and an astonishing 5.5 steals. Clark is already one of the best defenders in the Pac-12, but he’s also going to be a consistent contributor on the offensive end for Mick Cronin’s team.
9. Creighton Bluejays (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 7
This week: vs. Holy Cross (Monday), vs. UC Riverside (Thursday)
Given Creighton’s offensive struggles last season, the Bluejays weren’t going to become a juggernaut overnight, even with the addition of Baylor Scheierman. It might have looked that way last Monday, when they jumped out to a huge lead in the first few minutes against St. Thomas – Minnesota, but there are still some kinks to work out. Scheierman only totaled 19 points in the first two games, but he’s contributing as a rebounder, passer and 3-point shooter. The offense (thanks to the 12-for-27 3-point shooting) looked better against North Dakota, so perhaps that’s a sign of things to come.
10. Texas Longhorns (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 11
This week: vs. Gonzaga (Wednesday)
One of the things worth watching in Texas’ opening couple of games was how the backcourt of Tyrese Hunter and Marcus Carr would coexist. Both players prefer to make plays with the ball in their hands. Hunter has surprisingly been more of the scorer through two games, averaging 14.0 points and 2.0 assists, while Carr is averaging 11.5 points and 4.0 assists. They’re both contributing as expected on the defensive end as well. The only negative? A combined 1-for-14 shooting from 3-point range.
11. Arkansas Razorbacks (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 9
This week: vs. South Dakota State (Wednesday)
It’s going to be hard to truly gauge Arkansas until Nick Smith Jr. suits up — and it’s unclear when the projected top-five NBA draft pick will. News emerged shortly before the Razorbacks’ opening game that Smith was going to sit out with a knee injury, and he didn’t play in the win over Fordham either. In his stead, Wichita State transfer Ricky Council IV took on a bigger playmaking role, averaging 18.5 points and 4.5 assists in the first two games. Will Smith be back for the Maui Invitational?
12. Indiana Hoosiers (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 14
This week: at Xavier (Friday)
The freshman receiving all the buzz coming out of Bloomington was Jalen Hood-Schifino, but Malik Reneau was actually ranked higher in ESPN’s class of 2022. While Hood-Schifino has lived up to the billing early, Reneau is contributing as well. He had 15 points and six rebounds in the win over Morehead State, then followed it up with nine points and four boards against Bethune-Cookman. He was one of the more productive low-post operators at the high school level, and that has carried over so far.
13. Auburn Tigers (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 15
This week: vs. Winthrop (Tuesday), vs. Texas Southern (Friday)
It wasn’t an overly imposing schedule on paper, but games against George Mason and South Florida provided more of a test than most of the other teams in the rankings faced. The top performer for Bruce Pearl’s team through two games was Wendell Green Jr., whose decision-making left something to be desired at times last season. While he has turned it over six times in two games, he’s shouldering a heavier usage load. Green totaled 36 points in two games, taking 17 free throws in the two wins.
14. Arizona Wildcats (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 17
This week: vs. Utah Tech (Thursday)
Arizona likely won’t be as balanced and explosive offensively as it was last season, but Tommy Lloyd’s team put up 212 points in the Wildcats’ first two wins of the season. Azuolas Tubelis has clearly erased his struggles down the stretch last season: With three NBA draft picks gone from the starting lineup, Tubelis has become the team’s go-to guy. He had 23 points and six assists in the opener, then went for 17 points against Southern. Forty points on only 21 shots through two games? Absurdly efficient.
15. Alabama Crimson Tide (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 20
This week: at South Alabama (Tuesday), vs. Jacksonville State (Friday)
The popular line of thinking entering the season was that Alabama might not hit its stride until Jahvon Quinerly returns from injury, but the Crimson Tide jumped out of the gates on fire. Their win over Liberty was quietly one of the most impressive victories of the season: The Flames won the ASUN Conference three of the last four seasons and have star Darius McGhee. But Alabama beat them by 36 on Friday. Freshman Brandon Miller is living up to all the hype so far too. He’s averaging 17.0 points and 10.5 rebounds, shooting 4-for-11 from 3 through two games.
16. Virginia Cavaliers (2-0)
Preseason ranking: 18
This week: vs. Northern Iowa (Monday), vs. Baylor (Friday), UCLA or Illinois (Sunday)
The Cavaliers needed a 15-2 second-half run to beat the North Carolina Central Eagles in the season opener, but then returned to form with a blowout win over Monmouth Hawks. It’s a small sample size, but it does seem like Armaan Franklin has discovered his 3-point stroke after making just 29.6% of his attempts last season. For a team that shot just 32.3% from 3 in 2022-23, taking a step forward in that department is necessary. ESPN 100 freshman Isaac McKneely made four 3s on Friday, and Ohio transfer Ben Vander Plas went 4-for-7 in two games. Tony Bennett has options now.
Dropped out: Villanova Wildcats (No. 12), Tennessee Volunteers (No. 13), TCU Horned Frogs (No. 16)
In the waiting room
TCU Horned Frogs: Bringing back nearly everyone from last season didn’t help TCU hit the ground running. The Horned Frogs had to come back from 20 points down to beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff and then struggled with Lamar before pulling away in the second half.
San Diego State Aztecs: San Diego State will undoubtedly figure things out defensively, but BYU scored 75 points on Friday — a number only two teams hit all of last season against the Aztecs. On the plus side, transfer additions Darrion Trammell (19.5 PPG) and Jaedon LeDee (17.0 PPG) are adding scoring pop.
Dayton Flyers: The Flyers won’t be at full strength until Malachi Smith returns, but freshman Mike Sharavjamts is already staking his claim in the starting lineup. He had 14 points and five assists in the opener against Lindenwood Lions, then went for 10 points against SMU Mustangs. At full strength, Anthony Grant’s team is loaded.
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