NCAA hoops power rankings: Gonzaga, Auburn, Kansas set the pace

We call them “power ratings” because that’s what they’re all about.

It’s not about achievement. It helps show that you can beat significant opponents, and that’s the critical ingredient of any NCAA tournament bracket projection, but that doesn’t always equate to raw power.

They are not based on anyone’s metrics, nor on a reading of them in combination.

They are, in essence, an assessment of which teams appear poised to rack up wins in the biggest games: the ones playing with league titles on the line, the ones playing in conference tournaments and, of course, the ones playing on the Road. to the Final Four.

This ranking is entirely subjective and open to debate, but remember this is the assessment of someone preparing to cover a 32nd Final Four, who first covered college basketball when Mike Krzyzewski was in his fourth season at Duke.

Let the madness begin.

1. Gonzaga (15-2, 4-0 WCC)

It’s amazing that after reaching two NCAA title games in five seasons and reaching six straight Sweet 16s and racking up 20 wins at March Madness in that span, how could there be so many questioning the Zags’ veracity as a national powerhouse? What do you need to see? This is the most overwhelming offensive team in college basketball. They have topped 100 points in their last three games, and that includes 110 against BYU, an almost certain tournament entrant and the No. 17 defense in Division I. The Zags are No. 1 in the nation in effective shooting percentage field, according to KenPom.com. And here’s what’s really scary: 7-foot-tall Chet Holmgren may still be a lot better than he was in his first 16 college games.

2. Auburn (17-1, 6-0 SECOND)

The Tigers would have been No. 1 in this week’s AP poll if they had gotten more support from some of the metric-oriented voters. Frankly, the only thing I care less about than the survey is how much sushi costs at a given restaurant. (It could be free, no way would I ask for it.) But people get pretty nervous about it. So how much is Auburn really worth it? Well, the Tigers have a top 15 offense and a top 10 defense. They have a game-changer in Jabari Smith, who has had more success than Holmgren but could become a bigger factor than him. They haven’t faced as many severe challenges as some other top teams, and they won’t either, due to a league schedule that requires them to play once each against three of the other four top 25 teams on the NET. That means more pressure to win Saturday’s home game against Kentucky.

3. Kansas (15-2, 4-1 Big 12)

Can I just say Kansas is a weird team? I guess my editors will decide after I submit this. But what else to think of a team with such an inconsistent core game, who might play 10 or 11 players on any given night, who seem a bit reluctant to embrace their current point guard Dajuan Harris and yet seem to find ways to win (almost) every night? One of the reasons is that they have so many places to look. Another is that they are trained by one of the best in the game.

4. Baylor (16-2, 4-2 Big 12)

So we’ve seen that the Bears can be beaten. Can they be beaten with James Akinjo at full strength? He injured his tailbone in a home game against Texas Tech and wound up shooting 5-for-14 from the field, tried to play against Oklahoma State and it was even worse. So the Bears lost their only two games of the season, then visited West Virginia without him and won, while finally getting a high-end performance from forward Matthew Mayer. I was surprised that they played so well with Mayer contributing so little. If he’s ready to escape, that’s trouble for everyone else.

5. Kentucky (15-3, 5-1 SECOND)

There are holes in this Kentucky lineup, primarily the one that should be filled by a regulation-size forward who can drive the ball. (For example, someone like Shaedon Sharpe). But while much of this top 10 is looking for a point guard who can break down a defense, the Wildcats have two. Really. Point guard Sahvir Wheeler is an assist machine, and outfield partner TyTy Washington may be more effective at creating his own shots, high-quality shots, than any other player in the country. The only problem has been the lack of high level achievements. Auburn is there on Saturday afternoon to provide the opportunity. It will not be easy.

6. Arizona (15-1, 5-0 Pac-12)

The Wildcats crossed the Mississippi River for a game against Illinois, conquered one of the best teams in the nation and some really tough road environments, and you’d think that would have been enough to convince everyone that this team is a serious threat. But they had chances for statement-type wins against UCLA and USC erased by the COVID breaks, so they still face a lot of doubt. Based on his dominance of Stanford, there’s probably too much doubt.

7. Purdue (15-3, 4-3 Big Ten)

It still says rated powers, and no one has more than the Boilers. Dealing with Zach Edey can be overwhelming for opponents. Wing Jaden Ivey is playing three feet above everyone’s heads. But as everyone saw in the Indiana game, Purdue lacks the kind of direction from the point guard position that can make the difference in a highly competitive game. This program has a strong team-first culture. But who is the leader on the Boilers court, the player who can (figuratively) grab his teammates and turn them on or quiet them down?

8. Duke (14-3, 4-2 ACC)

No one else is putting four first-round picks on the court, but the Devils are one of many teams struggling with their own lack of a top point guard. The absence of such a player is one reason All-America candidate Paolo Banchero can basically go 10 minutes without shooting during the second half at Florida State, a game in which he was playing well. Trying to resolve that concern will define the Blue Devils’ results in a season defined by Mike Krzyzewski’s last lap on the college basketball scene.

9. Villanova (13-5, 6-2 Big East)

The Wildcats rank 151st in the nation in blocked shot percentage. They block two shots per game. Given the nature of their lineup, that’s what you’d expect. The tallest player in the rotation is 6-8. They play winning defense by not allowing opponents to comfortably run through their preferred actions, being physical and rebounding effectively. But it’s hard to win the biggest games without protecting the rim.

10. Illinois (13-4, 6-1 Big Ten)

It’s still nearly impossible to accurately rank the Illini, because it’s been three different teams in 17 games. There was Illinois with Andre Curbelo at point guard but without All-American center Kofi Cockburn due to a bogus NCAA suspension; there was Illinois with Cockburn but without Curbelo because of a concussion that cost him 12 games, and now there’s Illinois with both and trying to see how Curbelo fits back into the operation. They have one of the highest ceilings of any team, but there’s no telling when they’ll get there. Or if.

11. UCLA (12-2, 4-1 Pac-12)

Defensive efficiency statistics at KenPom.com indicate that the Bruins are the 19th most effective defense in college basketball. Is that what you’re seeing? Perhaps it’s the lingering effects of the team’s extended COVID shutdown, but they allow opponents to shoot 41.8 percent from the field and struggle to stop them when it’s essential. There is a lot of room to improve.

12. LSU (15-3, 3-3 SECOND)

After winning 19 games last season and reaching the SEC Tournament finals with an 82-point-per-game offense, coach Will Wade reinvented the Tigers into an elite precision defensive team after losing Cam Thomas and Trendon Watford. . They went from 124th in defensive efficiency to first in an offseason. That’s like learning to sing like Bruno Mars after a few Friday nights at karaoke.

13. Wisconsin (15-2, 6-1 Big Ten)

Teams that pay too much attention to All-America candidate Johnny Davis, and how could you not? – are learning that means being punished just as harshly by Tyler Wahl.

14. UConn (13-4, 4-2 Grand East)

They missed star center Adama Sanogo for four games and gave away forward Tyrese Martin for four games. Huskies coaches are pleased to have allowed point guard RJ Cole to flourish as a scoring point guard, but it has also led to UConn being behind in their development. UConn ditched games that maybe should have won, but also have room for improvement, some others on this list don’t.

15. Houston (16-2, 5-0 AAC)

Marcus Sasser was leading the Cougars in scoring before he was injured and missed the season on Dec. 25. Since then they are 5-0. It’s kind of like when star point guard Caleb Mills decided to transfer last season after playing four games. What happened after? Oh right: Houston finished in the Final Four.

16. Ohio State (12-4, 5-2 Big Ten)

More than any team on this list, the Buckeyes have to play precision to stand out. They have great individual talent — hello, EJ Liddell — but they don’t have overwhelming size in the front court and almost everyone in the back court is either new to the program or new to college basketball. They can literally beat everyone in their prime, but they’re within reach of many less respected opponents.