College basketball Power Rankings, Jan. 12: Kansas, West Virginia rising

Two Big 12 teams are moving in the right direction but a third slid after a 21-point loss. (Getty)
West Virginia’s 21-point beatdown of Baylor caused a significant shakeup in the top 10 of The Dagger’s weekly power rankings. (Getty)

Some pretty big news hit the sports world Tuesday morning. It had nothing, but also maybe something, to do with college basketball.

FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, decided to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams in 2026, and introduced a flawed, watered-down format that has been lambasted by the majority of the international soccer community, including yours truly.

How is this in any way related to college basketball and the second edition of The Dagger’s weekly power rankings? Well it’s not related to the latter at all. But as I warned last week, this is the part where I ramble, and the part past which you scroll to get to the rankings.

It’s related to the former, however, because the World Cup, which will feature 48 of 211 FIFA-certified soccer nations, now admits a similar percentage of teams to its premier championship event as college basketball does.

Both still admit proportionally fewer members than American professional sports leagues. Major League Baseball and the NFL admit 40 percent. The NBA and NHL admit 53 percent. MLS admits 60 percent. But our two events in question admit proportionally more teams than FBS college football (3 percent) and most major professional club soccer leagues, which admit no teams, but really all teams — their regular seasons are their premier events.

Each one is its own specific case, and there are hundreds of factors that determine their popularity. There are outliers — looking at you, NFL. But in general, there’s an inverse relationship between postseason size and regular season fan interest. The English Premier League is the world’s most popular league, and derives 100 percent of that popularity from the regular season.

This is not an argument against the NCAA tournament. (But don’t go to 96 teams, please.) The Big Dance makes college basketball what it is. March Madness is college basketball. It is wonderful. It’s also impossible to argue that those three weeks make the four-month-long regular season more interesting. The effect is just the opposite.

What would college basketball look like if the NCAA tournament were a 16-team elimination tournament rather than a 68-team one? We’d lose four enthralling days in mid-March, but gain many compelling ones in January, February and early March, games between real championship contenders that would be their own de facto elimination games rather than, in the grand scheme of things, close to irrelevant. That’s exactly what college football has right now, and often what basketball doesn’t. A more exclusive tournament wouldn’t benefit the NCAA economically. But would the sport be better off?

To suggest it would be is heresy, but just think: How much more hype and tension would there be surrounding this Saturday’s Duke-Louisville clash?

Just a thought to ruminate on throughout your Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.

Below are 20 more. Plus five. And some mid-majors. As always, direct your complaints to @HenryBushnell on Twitter.

1. Villanova | 16-1 | KenPom: 3 | Last week: 1

Yep. Still here. Though for a brief period on Tuesday night, the Wildcats were slipping. They were misfiring from three and struggling with Xavier at home. As Jay Wright admitted at halftime, they weren’t doing much of anything well offensively. Then they stormed to a 79-54 victory. But that first half, in a weird way, is exactly why Villanova remains atop these rankings. Its offense powered it through non-conference play, but it has shown flashes of being an elite defensive team in its five Big East contests. Holding Creighton to 1.03 points per possession on the road is a big deal. Holding Xavier to 0.78 is even more noteworthy.

2. Kansas | 15-1 | KenPom: 5 | Last week: 6

Remember when we were slightly concerned about Kansas’ defense after a close call with Kansas State? Josh Jackson swatted that take into the fourth row, and that’s where it’ll remain until further notice. Defense was one of many reasons Kansas’ 85-68 win over Texas Tech was more impressive than it seemed on paper. Another was the offense of Frank Mason, who continues to build a strangely quiet Player of the Year campaign. Check this space next week for the case for Mason — and potentially, if the Jayhawks handle a trip to Hilton Coliseum on Monday, for a new No. 1.

3. Kentucky | 14-2 | KenPom: 3 | Last week: 2

Kentucky’s 87-81 win at Vanderbilt Tuesday was … weird. Just plain weird. In part because the Wildcats were so physically superior, yet didn’t make a single three-point field goal over the game’s final 38 minutes. In part because the Commodores stayed in the game by shooting just as many shots from outside the arc as they did from inside it. In part because Jim Harbaugh was there. But more so because of this:

This screenshot, via WatchESPN, is from a Vanderbilt free throw early in the first half.
This screenshot, via WatchESPN, is from a Vanderbilt free throw early in the first half.

Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew was so afraid of Kentucky’s speed that he ordered all four of his non-free throw shooting players to retreat and set up their halfcourt defense rather than pursue an offensive rebound. And this wasn’t a one-time occurrence; it was the strategy all night. Here’s Bam Adebayo rebounding a missed freebie late in the second half:

Drew’s ploy might have some merit too. The Wildcats love to push the ball off misses; per, 62.5 percent of their shots after defensive rebounds are taken within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, the highest rate in Division I. And their effective field goal percentage on such shots is 8.9 percentage points higher than it is on those taken later in the possession. Vandy pulled down just five offensive rebounds Tuesday, but held the Wildcats to eight fast break points, and was within two with 18 seconds remaining. So is the tactic worth it? That’s another statistical breakdown for another day.

4. UCLA | 16-1 | KenPom: 13 | Last week: 5

Any absent-minded thoughts that the Bruins’ dynamic freshman duo of Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf could be deterred by stiffer competition have proven to be unfounded so far. Leaf notched two double-doubles and a 65.8 effective field goal percentage in wins over Cal and Stanford. Ball had a combined 35 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds in the two games, and knocked down four of five three-pointers against the Cardinal. The competition, however, hasn’t actually been that stiff — yet. The annual arduous Colorado-Utah road swing begins Thursday night, and Arizona visits Westwood next Saturday.

5. West Virginia | 14-2 | KenPom: 2 | Last week: 9

If, as Albert Einstein posited, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, what word do we ascribe to a person or persons who coerce the same thing out of another person over and over again, forcibly demand the same results, and darn near always gets them? Bob Huggins and West Virginia drove Scott Drew and Baylor insane Tuesday night, both by Einstein’s definition and probably by many others. Twenty-nine turnovers (29!) from a top-ranked team is obscene. Press Virginia has never been better than it is right now.

6. Florida State | 16-1 | KenPom: 15 | Last week: 16

Recency bias often engenders hyperbole, and hyperbole can be dangerous. Hyperbole, however, is fun, so here goes: Has there ever been a college basketball team with Florida State’s combination of A) size, B) length, C) depth and D) tempo? Surely there has been, but there haven’t been many, and that’s what makes Florida State so intriguing. Leonard Hamilton plays 12 guys, only one of whom is under 6-foot-4. And these giants get up and down the floor: They average under 15 seconds per possession, the 16th fastest pace in Division I. Even if the Seminoles only get one of the next three — at North Carolina, vs. Notre Dame, vs. Louisville — they’re firmly entrenched in the ACC discussion, and possibly in the national one.

7. Louisville | 14-3 | KenPom: 10 | Last week: 7

Let’s revisit the Cardinals in two weeks. Between now and then, they have home games against Duke and Clemson followed by trips to Florida State and Pittsburgh. We’ll learn more in due course. Patience is a virtue.

8. North Carolina | 15-3 | KenPom: 6 | Last week: 8

North Carolina’s 107-58 demolition of NC State was every bit as lopsided as the score suggests, and was the second largest margin in the history of the rivalry. It also said more about NC State — who lost to Boston College three days later — than the Tar Heels. Fortunately, if we want to learn about North Carolina, Florida State comes to the Dean Dome on Saturday.

9. Baylor | 15-1 | KenPom: 8 | Last week: 4

Vegas knows. The Bears were 6-point underdogs in Morgantown despite their undefeated mark and No. 1 ranking. They had just the ninth-shortest odds to win the national title in a Bovada update released last week. Baylor’s ascension from unranked to No. 1 was remarkable. But it was never going to last. This isn’t the best team in the nation. We’ll learn how close it is to the top in the coming weeks.

10. Duke | 14-3 | KenPom: 9 | Last week: 3

A reminder that this ranking, as established in last week’s intro, is based on Duke right now, at this very moment, and thus without Amile Jefferson. And the Blue Devils’ first — and possibly only — game without Jefferson was ugly. They allowed 56 points in the paint and a 40 percent opponent offensive rebound percentage in an 88-72 loss at Florida State. Unless Harry Giles emerges as a formidable interior presence, Jefferson is the one player Duke cannot afford to lose. Thinking retrospectively, we learned that last year. We re-learned it Tuesday night.

11. Gonzaga | 15-0 | KenPom: 7 | Last week: 10

I can hear the “East Coast Bias!” cries from Spokane. I can even hear them coming from my own home. Because I’m screaming those very words at myself. I hate this. Gonzaga is better than the 11th best team in the nation. Much better. I know this. It’s true. But for some reason, I can’t bring myself to put the Zags ahead of the teams above. We’ll explore why in the coming weeks. (Or perhaps my mind will be changed when Gonzaga takes on St. Mary’s this Saturday.)

12. Creighton | 16-1 | KenPom: 19 | Last week: 12

Creighton’s 75-64 win over Butler — wait. Let’s stop right there. The award for most deceiving final score of the week can be shipped to Omaha, where the hometown Bluejays led the visiting Bulldogs by as many as 25 early in the second half, and by 17 with 1:30 remaining. Maurice Watson scurried all over the court. Justin Patton suffocated Andrew Chrabascz and Tyler Wideman (eight combined points). This was a blowout, and Creighton is the second best team in a strong Big East.

13. Oregon | 15-2 | KenPom: 21 | Last week: 14

I’ll use this space to admit two things: One, that I think I was a little too low on the Ducks last week, and might still be. And two, that my initial reaction to Dillon Brooks’ groin kick against Washington State was probably too strong. The play was violent, but it was violent because it was a snap reaction in a treacherous, even desperate situation with Brooks’ right leg caught underneath him. When we talk about players like Draymond Green and Grayson Allen and their similar transgressions, we often try to determine whether their actions are “natural” or “unnatural.” In a weird way, Brooks’ kick may have been natural despite being so out of the ordinary as far as actions on a basketball court go. It also may not have been. We’ll never know.

14. Virginia | 12-3 | KenPom: 4 | Last week: 11

Kyle Guy’s rise has hit a slight snag. The freshman marksman is 2-for-11 from two-point range in Virginia’s last three games (two of them losses), and 0-for-5 from deep in the last two. The Cavaliers’ defense can carry them back into the ACC race, but they’ll need Guy to be a consistent scorer if they’re to be a legitimate player in that race.

15. Purdue | 14-3 | KenPom: 14 | Last week: 18

Purdue’s biggest challenge over the next two months is to figure out how to consistently trouble a given opponent with both of its base lineups, not just one of them. The Boilermakers play roughly 50 percent of minutes with Caleb Swanigan at center (and either Vince Edwards or Basil Smotherman as undersized power forwards). They play the rest with 7-foot-2 ogre Isaac Haas, and a majority of that rest with Haas and Swanigan alongside each other. They are two significantly different looks, and both have been successful, but not often in the same game. If Matt Painter can use them both prosperously against teams that match up with Purdue physically, the Big Ten might have a borderline top 10 team. If he can’t, it won’t.

16. Notre Dame | 14-2 | KenPom: 26 | Last week: 19

Two difficult road games that typify the 2017 ACC slate await the Irish. They’re at Miami Thursday night, and at Virginia Tech 43 hours later. Winning one of two would be totally acceptable.

17. Wisconsin | 13-3 | KenPom: 11 | Last week: 13

The Badgers are the prototypical low-ceiling, high-floor team. It’s sometimes lazy to bestow that label upon senior-laden teams without five-star recruits like Wisconsin, but in this case it’s so true. Greg Gard’s team has spent the entire season in the top 25, but isn’t likely to ever be mentioned as a Final Four contender between now and mid-March.

18. Butler | 14-3 | KenPom: 18 | Last week: 15

One of the most real college basketball coachisms is the “don’t get too high, don’t get too low” mantra. It applies to so many teams in so many cases. It certainly applies to Butler, which laid an egg at Creighton seven days after temporarily dethroning Villanova. Brad Stevens preaches (and practices) the even-keeled mentality. And he texts Chris Holtmann after every game. You can be sure Holtmann does too.

19. Arizona | 15-2 | KenPom: 17 | Last week: 17

Nobody is talking about the Wildcats. They’re probably just fine with that, for now. So we won’t either. But they’re lurking. The USC-UCLA road trip looms next week.

20. Florida | 13-3 | KenPom: 12 | Last week: 20

Next week’s Power Rankings will go live 12 hours after Florida’s road test at South Carolina, who is ready to surge with Sindarius Thornwell back from suspension. Until then …

Keep an eye (or two) on: St. Mary’s, South Carolina, Clemson, Cincinnati, Iowa State

Best of the mids (Atlantic-10 excluded): Wichita State, UNC-Wilmington, Chattanooga, Middle Tennessee State, Illinois State