We’re starting to feel a little bad for Kansas.
The Jayhawks were No. 1 entering the season in the Power Rankings — then got jumped when Duke dominated Kentucky in the opener, despite Kansas looking impressive against Michigan State. And now, with the Blue Devils losing on Wednesday night, it’s time for a new No. 1.
But it’s not going to be Kansas.
We’re going with the team that beat Duke: Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs had their highest-ever preseason ranking this season and are living up to it so far. They actually looked inconsistent through their first two games at the Maui Invitational, but they punched Duke in the mouth early on Wednesday and never looked back en route to a 16-point second-half lead. The way the Zags hung on late in the game was also impressive, coming up with multiple stops in the final minute to finish off the two-point win.
Gonzaga has all the pieces. Josh Perkins looks far more poised and patient at the point guard spot; Zach Norvell Jr. can make shots and get his own; Rui Hachimura might be a lottery pick; and graduate transfer Brandon Clarke was terrific against Duke, at both ends of the floor. And remember: Killian Tillie won’t be healthy for another month.
By the way, if Kansas beats Marquette on Wednesday and Tennessee on Friday, we’ll have a legitimate No. 1 debate on our hands
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (6-0)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Illinois 84-78 on Monday. Beat Arizona 91-78 on Tuesday. Beat Duke 89-87 on Wednesday.
No one will be able to accuse Gonzaga of playing a soft schedule this season; the Bulldogs are scheduled to play two more top-10 teams in the next month: vs. Tennessee in Phoenix and at North Carolina. Will they still be No. 1 by then?
2. Duke Blue Devils (5-1)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat San Diego State 90-63 on Monday. Beat Auburn 78-72 on Tuesday. Lost to Gonzaga 89-87 on Wednesday.
We finally saw some weaknesses pop up for the Blue Devils on Wednesday. Duke didn’t shoot well from behind the arc; Cam Reddish floated in and out of the game; and the offense became far too stagnant late in the game.
3. Kansas Jayhawks (4-0)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Marquette 77-68 on Wednesday
Wednesday should bring plenty of offensive fireworks. Kansas has scored between 84 and 92 points in every game, while Marquette has struggled defensively under Steve Wojciechowski (although the Golden Eagles are better this season). Will Lagerald Vick continue his hot shooting?
4. Nevada Wolf Pack (4-0)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Cal Baptist 90-55 on Monday; at Las Vegas Holiday Invitational — vs. Tulsa (Thursday, 4 p.m., FS1)
Until Nevada goes against a similarly talented team who can go small, we might not really get a gauge on whether the Wolf Pack can adjust with their jumbo lineup. For now though, 6-foot-7 Cody Martin playing the point and averaging 10 assists a game is fun to watch.
5. Virginia Cavaliers (3-0)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Battle 4 Atlantis — vs. Middle Tennessee (Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.)
The Battle 4 Atlantis is Virginia’s to lose this year, and the Cavaliers haven’t been tested at all yet. De’Andre Hunter has been a difference-maker again, and if he’s becoming a threat from 3-point range (4-for-4 vs. Coppin State), look out.
6. North Carolina Tar Heels (5-0)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat St. Francis, Pa., 101-76; at Las Vegas Invitational vs. Texas (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., FS1)
Another uber-efficient performance from Nassir Little, once again off the bench. Little had 19 points on nine shots, seven rebounds — in just 16 minutes. NBA scouts must be salivating.
7. Auburn Tigers (4-1)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat Xavier 88-79 on Monday. Lost to Duke 78-72 on Tuesday; vs. Arizona (11:30 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN)
Considering Auburn had its worst shooting performance of the season and gave up 1.10 points per possession defensively, losing to Duke by only six points isn’t the end of the world. Avoiding a 1-2 stretch in Maui is key, though.
8. Tennessee Volunteers (4-0)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Louisville 92-81 on Wednesday. vs. Kansas/Marquette on Friday .
Tennessee’s forward duo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield is nearly unparalleled in terms of physicality, and the Vols rode those two to victory on Wednesday. Williams and Schofield combined for 44 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.
9. Michigan Wolverines (5-0)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Chattanooga (Friday, 4 p.m., BTN)
After yet another lockdown defensive performance from Michigan, the Wolverines now have the No. 1 defense in the country at KenPom.com. Only one team has scored more than 47 points and none has cracked the 40 percent mark from the field.
10. Virginia Tech Hokies (4-0)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: vs. St. Francis PA (Saturday, 1 p.m., SECN)
The Hokies erased a first-half deficit to knock off Purdue and win the Charleston Classic. Buzz Williams’ group now has plenty of momentum — and might be favored in every single game until they head to Virginia on Jan. 15 to face the Cavaliers.
11. Kentucky Wildcats (3-1)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Winthrop 87-74 on Wednesday. vs. Tennessee State (Friday)
In the past two games — against VMI and Winthrop — Kentucky has allowed opponents to shoot 32-for-66 from 3-point range. It didn’t make a difference, but it’s something to keep an eye on. They do have time to work out the kinks, as they’ll be favored in every game until Dec. 22 against North Carolina.
12. Kansas State Wildcats (5-0)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat Missouri 82-67 on Monday; vs. Lehigh (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN3)
Kansas State won the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands by knocking off Missouri in the title game. Dean Wade finally broke out from the perimeter, burying four 3-pointers — after not making one through the Wildcats’ first four games.
13. Michigan State Spartans (3-1)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at Las Vegas Invitational — vs. UCLA (Thursday, 10 p.m., FS1)
The Spartans are set to begin an interesting stretch with several potential pitfalls: vs. UCLA, then either North Carolina or Texas, then road trips to Louisville and Rutgers, followed up by games against Iowa and Florida. We’ll know a lot more in three weeks.
14. Florida State Seminoles (3-0)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: Beat Canisius 93-61 on Monday; at Advocare Invitational — vs. UAB (Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPNU)
It’s not a stretch to say Florida State could be the favorite to win the Advocare Invitational this week. Villanova is struggling, and Florida State is a bit further along in its development than potential semifinal opponent LSU..
15. LSU Tigers (4-0)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: at Advocare Invitational — vs. Charleston (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
We just hit on the potential semifinal between Florida State and LSU — but if LSU is to win that game, the Tigers will have to improve on the defensive end of the floor. They’re allowing 103.1 points per 100 possessions so far this season.
16. UCLA Bruins (4-0)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Presbyterian 80-65 on Monday; vs. Michigan State (10 p.m. Thursday, FS1), Las Vegas Invitational
Moses Brown had his quietest game of the season on Monday (10 points, seven boards), but he has been one of the most dominant freshmen in the country so far this season, averaging 19.7 points and 13.7 rebounds.
Dropped out: Mississippi State (No. 16)1, Earns, Gonzaga, Power, Rankings, Spot