Rankings over the first two months of a men's college basketball season are ever-changing. They're inherently based on a small sample size, schedules are unbalanced and one or two good weeks can completely change the perception of a team. As we get deeper into the campaign, it's easier to point to a body of work and give a clear explanation for one team over another. But for now, there's a lot of subjectivity.
Which brings us to the debate for No. 1 this week. We had already moved Houston past North Carolina, so the Tar Heels' losses at the Phil Knight Invitational weren't much of a factor in the discussion. But the incredibly impressive play from the likes of Arizona, Purdue and UConn (and Virginia last week) means they deserve a spot in the discussion -- despite being back-end top-25 teams, at best, entering the 2022-23 season.
Houston's best wins are over Oregon and Kent State, and the Cougars didn't look impressive on Saturday against the Golden Flashes. Texas had one of the best performances of the season against Gonzaga a couple of weeks ago -- although the Zags suffered a blowout loss to Purdue this past week. Virginia has victories over Baylor and Illinois from two weeks ago. Arizona knocked off Cincinnati, San Diego State and Creighton en route to the Maui Invitational title.
But when it comes to a combination of eye test and headline wins, it's really hard to top Purdue right now. The Boilermakers blew out both Gonzaga and Duke, and they also have victories over West Virginia and Marquette. You might say, "But that's only one week!" Well, the season is only three weeks old. It's enough to convince me, for now.
Onto this week's awards and rankings.
Team of the Week: Purdue Boilermakers
I can't give that whole spiel about making Purdue the No. 1 team in the country and then not give the Boilermakers the Team of the Week award, come on. Matt Painter's team was fantastic out in Portland, Oregon, beating West Virginia by 12, Gonzaga by 18 and Duke by 19. The Boilermakers put on an offensive clinic, especially in the wins over the Zags and Blue Devils. And it all revolves around Zach Edey, the most dominant presence in college basketball right now. The 7-foot-4 center averaged 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in the three games this past week, going toe-to-toe with Drew Timme on Friday then fouling out Duke's entire frontcourt on Sunday. And Painter has found the perfect combination of players to surround Edey with: four guys who can pass, make 3s and give him room to operate.
Oumar Ballo catapults Arizona to a win over Creighton with a dominant 30-point, 13-rebound performance.
Player of the Week: Oumar Ballo, Arizona Wildcats
The development of Ballo, a 7-footer from Mali, is going to be one of the best stories of 2022-23. He redshirted as a freshman at Gonzaga then played sparingly the next season before entering the transfer portal and following assistant coach Tommy Lloyd from Spokane, Washington, to Arizona. Last season, Ballo became a key bench player for the Wildcats -- and he is now one of the best big men in the country. Ballo had 21 points and 10 boards against Cincinnati and 12 and 9 against San Diego State before dominating against Creighton with 30 and 13. Overall, he averaged 21.0 points and 10.7 rebounds and shot 79.4% from the floor for the week, with the latter two games coming against last season's Mountain West and Big East defensive players of the year.
Win of the Week: Iowa State Cyclones 70, North Carolina Tar Heels 65
This win lost some of its luster when North Carolina also fell to Alabama, in quadruple overtime, later in the week. But if you take down the No. 1 team in the country, chances are you're going to get a mention in this category. A second-half Tar Heels run against the Cyclones looked like it was going to put the game out of reach -- but Iowa State went on a 17-3 run of its own and prevented UNC from making a shot from the field over the final 3:55, save for an irrelevant Puff Johnson layup in the final seconds. This is also a chance to mention Caleb Grill, who simply couldn't miss. The Iowa State guard finished with 31 points and seven 3-pointers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was the most points by any player in a win over a No. 1 team since Syracuse's Tyus Battle had 32 in a victory against Duke in 2019.
Coach of the Week: Dan Hurley, UConn Huskies
If not for Purdue's run through Portland, UConn likely would have earned Team of the Week honors. But we'll give Hurley the nod for guiding the Huskies through a tremendous week and a wildly impressive start to the season. They won the Phil Knight Legacy with double-digit victories over Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State, beating their opponents in a variety of ways -- and in ways different to past Hurley outfits. Adama Sanogo is a dominant force down low, but Hurley hit the recruiting trail and transfer portal the past couple of cycles and surrounded him with shooters. UConn is attempting and making a significantly higher number of 3s and sharing the ball better than it has in past seasons under Hurley. The Huskies are a legitimate Big East title contender. And it's worth noting that the past two UConn teams to start this well went on to win the national championship.
Three teams with questions
Villanova Wildcats: There are certainly excuses to be made: first season post-Jay Wright, no Justin Moore, no Cameron Whitmore. But the Wildcats went 0-3 in Portland this past week, and they are now just 2-5 on the season. That represents the program's worst start since 1991-92, during Rollie Massimino's final year at the helm.
Wyoming Cowboys: After last season's NCAA tournament appearance, there were high hopes for Jeff Linder's team. The Cowboys have been without Graham Ike so far this season, but a loss to Boston College (which had just lost to Maine and Tarleton) dropped them to 3-3. Another at-large bid seems some distance away.
Dayton Flyers: The Flyers, who were in plenty of preseason top 25s, are now just 3-4 after three straight losses and an eighth-place finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis. None of the losses was particularly bad on paper, but there's now just a very narrow path for Dayton to get into the NCAA tournament hunt without a remarkable turnaround in league play.
Braden Smith's no-look dime sets up slam for Zach Edey
The big question facing Purdue entering the season was point guard play. Jaden Ivey and Isaiah Thompson were both gone, and the only pure point guard on the roster was four-star recruit Braden Smith. Could Matt Painter just hand the keys to Smith and let him run the show? Looks like it. Smith has started all six games thus far and does a little bit of everything: Twenty points against Marquette; 14 against Gonzaga; seven steals against Milwaukee; shooting 44.4% from 3; five or more rebounds in each of his past three games. Ethan Morton has distributed extremely well too, but Smith has been a huge key to Purdue's hot start.
Houston had its first real scare on Saturday against Kent State, going down by 10 early and trailing with under a minute left after a Malique Jacobs 3-pointer put the Golden Flashes up by a point. But the Cougars finished on a 6-0 run to remain unbeaten. Houston doesn't mind grind-it-out games, but this was a rough performance. The 49 points on 70 possessions was its worst offensive outing since Kelvin Sampson's first season in 2014-15. The Cougars went 2-for-17 from 3. Fortunately, the defense showed up and held Kent State star Sincere Carry to 2-for-22 shooting.
Arizona's offense last season was truly elite, able to hurt teams at all five spots, from the perimeter or the paint, in the half-court or in transition. With three players leaving for the NBA last spring, it was hard to envision the Wildcats replicating that type of effectiveness this season. Yet, through six games, Tommy Lloyd's team is very much already there. Oumar Ballo's development has been eye-opening, Azuolas Tubelis looks like he'll be in the Pac-12 player of the year discussion and Texas transfer Courtney Ramey has brought some toughness and shot-making to the backcourt. That's on top of Pelle Larsson taking a step forward and Kerr Kriisa still running the show with the same swagger and shot-making from a season ago.
It's nice to see Dylan Disu slowly working his way back to being a consistent contributor for the Longhorns. Disu averaged 15.0 points and 9.2 rebounds at Vanderbilt two seasons ago, but he missed the first month of last season due to a knee injury -- then never really got into a rhythm over the second half of the campaign. The 6-foot-9 big man stepped into Texas' starting lineup from game one this season, and he is showing signs of his production from a couple of years ago. Disu has missed just four shots inside the arc. He had 12 points against Gonzaga then went for 10 boards and five blocks over the weekend against UT Rio Grande Valley.
One of the noteworthy developments for Virginia through the first month of the season has been the maturation of Kadin Shedrick on the interior. The 6-foot-11 forward wasn't asked to be much of an offensive contributor in 2021-22, hitting double figures 10 times all season. He still isn't the focal point (or a second or third option), but he has given the Cavaliers another legitimate threat inside. Shedrick is averaging 11.2 points through five games, shooting nearly 74% from the field, and he had 17 points in the win over Baylor earlier this month. He also is getting to the free throw line at a very high rate.
We're highlighting Donovan Clingan this week for the Huskies. The 7-foot-2 center from Bristol, Connecticut, wasn't expected to be a consistent contributor for UConn right off the bat, but he has impacted the game at both ends of the floor from day one. He has scored in double figures in four of eight games, is crashing the offensive glass and blocking shots at incredibly high rates and is giving Dan Hurley a legitimate bench option behind Adama Sanogo. Clingan came off the bench against Iowa State in Sunday's Phil Knight Invitational championship game and had 15 points and 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes.
There were questions about whether the Bluejays were as good as the rankings perceived, given they went just 23-12 last season. But Creighton proved its top-10 credentials in Maui last week, despite the two-point loss to Arizona in the title game. It's clear Greg McDermott has a team that can make a deep NCAA tournament run. Ryan Nembhard is as good a point guard as there is in the sport, averaging 20.3 points and 4.3 assists and shooting 63.6% from 3 in three Maui games. Baylor Scheierman is a big-time tough-shot maker, and Ryan Kalkbrenner is a terrific two-way big man.
Alabama survives at the buzzer to take down No. 1 UNC in 4OT
Some of the Crimson Tide's time in Portland wasn't overly aesthetically pleasing, including the final 10 minutes against UConn and some of the final possessions against North Carolina. But Nate Oats' club has returned to Tuscaloosa with wins over Michigan State and North Carolina, plus a loss to what appears to be an outstanding Huskies team. Alabama's roster also continues to look deeper and deeper, especially after Jahvon Quinerly's return from an ACL injury during the first round of the 2022 NCAA tournament. Jaden Bradley hit double figures in back-to-back games. And against UNC, Noah Gurley had 13 off the bench, Mark Sears buried seven 3s and Charles Bediako came out of nowhere to post 14 points and 16 boards.
Kansas had played with fire a few times this season, with four wins by six points or fewer, before its 17-game winning streak (dating back to last season) finally ended against Tennessee in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. It was the Jayhawks' worst offensive performance in more than eight years. When a team's two offensive stars -- in this case, Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick -- shoot a combined 5-for-23, it's going to be difficult to beat a good team. While the Jayhawks likely won't shoot like that again, it's worth noting they've now been held below 1.00 point per possession in three of seven games.
Arkansas made it clear it's not going to be a team anybody wants to play come February and March. The Razorbacks are loaded with pro talent and are still without Nick Smith Jr., arguably the best NBA prospect in college basketball. But the biggest headliner from Arkansas' 2-1 trip to Maui was freshman guard Anthony Black. The 6-foot-7 Texas native made plays at both ends of the floor and went toe-to-toe with Creighton's Ryan Nembhard, finishing with 26 points, six rebounds and six assists. He controls the tempo, has terrific vision and also shot 40% from 3 during the three games in Hawai'i.
11. Gonzaga Bulldogs (5-2)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: vs. Baylor in South Dakota (Friday)
The only two-loss team in the rankings, Gonzaga has played an absolutely brutal nonconference schedule so far -- and still has big games against Baylor and Alabama, among others, remaining. A couple of noteworthy items from Sunday's win over Xavier. First, the Zags didn't miss a shot from the field over the final 6:30, and went 9-for-12 from the free throw line over that stretch. They can close out wins. Second, consider Mark Few's rotation. Only six players played more than nine minutes, with Ben Gregg seeing an extended role off the bench for the second game in a row after playing sparingly for more than two seasons in Spokane.
It's about to get real for Indiana. The Hoosiers, who have played just one team ranked inside the top 250 in KenPom.com's rankings so far in 2022-23, will face North Carolina, Arizona, Kansas -- along with a road game at Rutgers and a home game versus Nebraska -- over the next three weeks. Their win at Xavier should only grow in stature over the course of the season, but Mike Woodson's squad can make serious statements during the coming stretch. How will Indiana stack up from the perimeter? It's shooting an impressive 38.3% from 3, but the Hoosiers have made more than seven 3s just twice in six games and rank in the bottom 40 in 3-point attempt rate.
Jayden Epps' emergence through the first month of the season has been a welcome surprise for Brad Underwood. The freshman from Virginia is a onetime Providence commit who was ranked just inside the top 100 in the 2022 class. But Epps has been the team's first guard off the bench, averaging double figures in the first six games. He is shooting 61% from inside the arc, 38% from 3-point range and has been impossible to keep out of the lane. Epps is shifty off the bounce and provides something different offensively than the rest of the Illinois perimeter players.
Baylor's perimeter depth continues to grow. Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer are the stalwarts, with freshman star and future NBA lottery pick Keyonte George also off to a stellar start. They aren't the only guards Scott Drew can turn to, though. Dale Bonner has been a consistent piece off the bench, scoring in double figures twice and also dishing out 12 assists in this past week's win over McNeese State. Keep an eye on Langston Love. The former top-50 recruit redshirted last season with a torn ACL, but he has shown flashes of skill so far, including 13 points against Mississippi Valley State and 11 against McNeese State.
The Volunteers earn their fifth straight win over an AP top 10 opponent by defeating the Jayhawks 64-50 and winning the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
Tennessee pretty definitively answered the question of whether it was closer to the team that battered Gonzaga in a preseason exhibition game or the one that lost by 12 in Nashville to a wildly inconsistent Colorado team. It's the former. The Volunteers won the Battle 4 Atlantis last week, capped by a dominant 64-50 win over Kansas. The title game was an elite defensive performance, holding the Jayhawks to their fewest points since Nov. 18, 2014 -- and just 0.75 points per possession, also Kansas' lowest since that 2014 game against Kentucky. Rick Barnes has had a top-five defense in each of the past two seasons and seems poised for another in 2022-23.
Last season's Cyclones were one of the surprise teams nationally, starting 12-0 and making it to the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed before falling to Miami. Although they lost several key pieces from that group, evidently the defense that T.J. Otzelberger preaches in Ames didn't change. Iowa State beat Villanova in overtime before taking down top-ranked North Carolina in the PKI semifinals and ultimately losing to UConn in the title game. The Cyclones have a veteran unit filled with plenty of transfers. Was their week in Portland a hot few games or a sign of things to come?
In the waiting room
Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans lost to Alabama on Thanksgiving, then struggled in wins over Oregon and Portland. The big concern is Malik Hall's injury. He is expected to miss a couple of weeks, which is brutal timing after it seemed like he was hitting his stride against Kentucky and Villanova.
Auburn Tigers: It's going to be hard to tell how good the Tigers actually are for a few weeks (they play Memphis in Atlanta on Dec. 10 and travel west to USC and Washington before Christmas), but they did hang on to beat both Northwestern and Saint Louis this past week.
Duke Blue Devils: While Jon Scheyer waits for Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead to find their games after preseason injuries, and for Tyrese Proctor to find some consistency, at least he's getting consistent production from Kyle Filipowski. The 7-footer has hit double figures in every single game this season and is shooting 36.4% from 3.