June 22, 2024

It was exactly one year ago that Purdue went from unranked to No. 1 in the ESPN Power Rankings (No. 24 to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll) following its Phil Knight Legacy championship, which featured wins over West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke. The Boilermakers would ultimately spend seven weeks at No. 1 in the AP poll and the rest of the 2022-23 season inside the top five, before suffering the infamous NCAA tournament loss to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson.

Once again, Purdue is rising to No. 1 in the Power Rankings — and almost assuredly the AP poll — on the Monday after Feast Week. This time around, it had an even more difficult run to a title, needing to beat Gonzaga, Tennessee and Marquette to win the Maui Invitational.

How long will Purdue stick at No. 1 this season?

In 2022-23, the Boilermakers won their first 13 games — and 22 of their first 23 — but the early-season schedule features a few more potential speedbumps this time around. The Boilermakers open Big Ten play at Northwestern on Friday, with nonconference games against Alabama and Arizona still on the docket.

The Arizona matchup on Dec. 16 might be the game of the year: The No. 1 vs. No. 2 teams In Indianapolis. Circle your calendars.

On to this week’s awards and rankings …


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Zach Edey puts up 28 points, 15 rebounds in key win vs. No. 4 Marquette

Zach Edey puts up a remarkable 28-point, 15-rebound double-double in No. 2 Purdue’s win vs. No. 4 Marquette.

Purdue ran through an absolute gauntlet to win the Maui Invitational and take over the No. 1 spot in the rankings this week. The Boilermakers beat Gonzaga in the quarterfinals, Tennessee in the semifinals and Marquette in the title game. Different foes, different styles, different games. They trailed the Zags by nine in the first half before dominating the final 15 minutes and pulling away for a comfortable victory. They were dreadful in the first half against the Vols, making just two of their final 22 attempts from the floor — and still trailed by just one. But Braden Smith and Trey Kaufman-Renn provided support for Zach Edey and Fletcher Loyer down the stretch and they won by four.

And then in the title game, the Golden Eagles simply had no answer for Edey, especially once Oso Ighodaro went to the bench with foul trouble. Edey scored 11 straight Purdue points late in the first half and helped keep Marquette at bay, before grabbing two late offensive rebounds and a layup with 16 seconds left to preserve the three-point win. Edey isn’t going to win Player of the Week because we try to avoid multiple awards going to the same team, but he averaged 25.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in Hawai’i. He was utterly dominant.

While the Rams took a massive step back last season, going from 25-6 and a 6-seed in the NCAA tournament to 15-18 and eighth in the Mountain West, Isaiah Stevens remained a bright spot, finishing 2022-23 with career highs across the board. One of the elite point guards in the country, he has picked up where he left off for this campaign. He went for 18 points and eight assists in the Hall of Fame Classic semifinal against Boston College, then put on a show against a top-10 Creighton team, finishing with 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists in the Rams’ stunning 69-48 victory.

Considering this was a week with a large amount of high-level basketball, there were surprisingly few legitimate Player of the Week candidates. Hofstra‘s Tyler Thomas, however, deserves a mention. He led the Pride to a Gulf Coast Showcase championship with a 40-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist performance in the title game against High Point. And that came after 30 points in the semifinal against Wright State and 21 in the quarterfinal against Buffalo.

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Sean Jones muscles his way into the and-1 bucket

Marquette’s Sean Jones drives into the paint and finishes strong with a tough and-1 layup vs. Kansas.

If you beat the No. 1 team in the land, chances are you’re getting this award. I don’t make the rules. (Well, I do, but that’s not the point.) Marquette’s victory over Kansas was maybe the best single-game performance we’ve seen so far this season. The Golden Eagles simply overwhelmed the Jayhawks with their aggressiveness at both ends of the floor, making them uncomfortable and forcing 18 turnovers at one end, then constantly attacking the rim and pushing the ball in transition offensively.

Marquette went on an 11-0 run midway through the first half to break open a tie game, and KU never got closer than five the rest of the way. Oso Ighodaro was tremendous on the interior, finishing with 21 points and nine rebounds and outplaying Hunter Dickinson. And Sean Jones was the X factor off the Golden Eagles’ bench, scoring nine points and dishing out three assists, changing the game with his speed.

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Tyler Burton claps it off the backboard for a big-time block

Tyler Burton rises up and smashes it off the backboard for a huge Villanova block.

It might not be an understatement to say last week was a tenure-shaping week for Neptune at Nova. After last season, when the Wildcats finished 17-17 overall and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012, Neptune entered his second season under a certain level of pressure. A 76-72 loss to Penn at The Palestra in the third game of the season further raised eyebrows.

Two weeks later, though, Villanova looks like a second-weekend NCAA tournament team and a top-four team in the Big East. The Wildcats ran through the Battle 4 Atlantis with wins over Texas Tech, North Carolina and Memphis. At one point in the title game, they led the Tigers by 35. In the offseason, Neptune assembled one of the most talented and experienced teams in college basketball. And now, he has the Wildcats playing like it.

Three teams with questions

DePaul Blue Demons: After dropping to 1-5 on Saturday night with a 10-point home loss to Northern Illinois, the Blue Demons now have three home losses to teams ranked sub-100 in most metrics. It doesn’t get any easier for them, either. Iowa State and Texas A&M are the next two games, with Villanova and UConn the first two Big East opponents up in a few weeks.

Stanford Cardinal: In a critical year for coach Jerod Haase’s future in Palo Alto, the Cardinal left the Battle 4 Atlantis with an 0-3 record. Close losses to Arkansas and Michigan sting, but the 22-point defeat to Northern Iowa doesn’t help. These losses also come on the heels of a 12-point home defeat to Santa Clara in mid-November.

Michigan Wolverines: After being hyped as perhaps the second-best team in the Big Ten following its win over St. John’s, Michigan is now 4-3 after losing at home to Long Beach State then going 1-2 in the Bahamas. Are the Wolverines closer to an NCAA tournament team or the group that was picked 11th in the Big Ten in the preseason?


Power Rankings

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Braden Smith crosses his defender and drains an impressive bucket

Braden Smith crosses his defender and drains a smooth basket to pull the Boilermakers closer.

1. Purdue Boilermakers (6-0)
Previous ranking:
2
This week: vs. Texas Southern (Tuesday), at Northwestern (Friday)

Braden Smith showed in Hawai’i how much he has progressed since last season. The sophomore point guard had 13 points, six assists and five steals in the Maui Invitational quarterfinal game against Gonzaga and went for 18 points, five assists and four 3-pointers in the title game against Marquette. His six points and 2-for-9 shooting performance against Tennessee didn’t impress in a vacuum, but he was being guarded by Zakai Zeigler, one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and still managed to make big shots late. If he can deal with ball pressure in big games, that’s another area Purdue has improved upon since last season.

2. Arizona Wildcats (6-0)
Previous ranking:
3
This week: vs. Colgate (Saturday)

When Arizona signed San Diego State transfer Keshad Johnson, it was mostly an attempt to get tougher and more versatile defensively; Johnson was considered one of the best defensive players in the country, playing on one of the best defensive teams in the country. But the 6-foot-7 forward has scored in double figures in all six games for Arizona this season, something he did just twice in the final 10 games last season for the Aztecs. He has also made four 3s in his past two games, and his rebounding and defense have been as advertised, too.

3. UConn Huskies (6-0)
Previous ranking:
4
This week: vs. New Hampshire (Monday), at Kansas (Friday)

While UConn’s showdown in Lawrence on Friday is the biggest game of the week, the Huskies’ game against New Hampshire on Monday night in Storrs holds a different level of importance. With a 10-point win over the Wildcats, UConn will set the record for most consecutive nonconference wins that come by a double-digit margin. The Huskies won their 23rd straight Friday against Manhattan, tying the record set by North Carolina in 2008-09.

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Oso Ighodaro’s steal leads to two points at the other end

Marquette’s Oso Ighodaro steals the ball and carries it the length of the floor for the layup.

4. Marquette Golden Eagles (5-1)
Previous ranking:
7
This week: vs. Southern (Tuesday), at Wisconsin (Saturday)

We mentioned Oso Ighodaro earlier, but he has been one of the biggest breakout stars of the first month of the season. He just went up against Coleman Hawkins, Adem Bona, Hunter Dickinson and Zach Edey in four straight games — and played well in all four, getting outplayed by only Edey in the Maui Invitational title game. In those four games, Ighodaro averaged 16.0 points and 6.5 rebounds, shooting nearly 66% from the field.

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Jamal Shead steals and scores for Houston

Jamal Shead steals and scores for Houston

5. Houston Cougars (7-0)
Previous ranking:
6
This week: at Xavier (Friday)

Jamal Shead is starting to hit his stride on the offensive end. He didn’t show much as a scorer through the first three games of this season (mostly because the Cougars didn’t need him), averaging just 4.0 points. He has scored in double figures in the past three games, though, making two 3s against both Utah and Dayton. His defense hasn’t suffered, either — he generated at least two steals in each of his past five games and has averaged 3.0 steals through seven games.

6. Kansas Jayhawks (5-1)
Previous ranking:
1
This week: vs. Eastern Illinois (Tuesday), vs. UConn (Friday)

Jamari McDowell might be the name to watch for Kansas in its two games this week. Since the preseason, the common thought has been that the Jayhawks have four stalwarts — Dajuan Harris Jr., Kevin McCullar Jr., K.J. Adams Jr. and Hunter Dickinson — but needed something from one of their newcomers on the wings. Elmarko Jackson, Johnny Furphy and Nick Timberlake were the primary candidates for that role, but it might actually be McDowell. The 6-4 freshman played 27 minutes against Tennessee and hit a pair of 3s.

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Tyrese Proctor elevates for jam vs. Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles

Tyrese Proctor elevates for jam vs. Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles

7. Duke Blue Devils (5-1)
Previous ranking:
9
This week: at Arkansas (Wednesday), at Georgia Tech (Saturday)

Tyrese Proctor has played much better since the Blue Devils’ loss to Arizona in the second game of the season. In the three games following that defeat, he averaged 16.0 points and 4.7 assists, while shooting 42.8% from 3-point range and not turning the ball over a single time. He wasn’t as efficient against Southern Indiana but did dish out seven assists.

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Baylor drains back-to-back triples in the 2nd half

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Jalen Bridges knock down back-to-back 3-pointers to pad the Bears’ lead in the second half.

8. Baylor Bears 6-0)
Previous ranking:
11
This week: vs. Nicholls State (Tuesday), vs. Northwestern State (Saturday)

Baylor’s plethora of perimeter shot-makers and shot-creators has few peers in college basketball this season. That depth was on display against Florida in the NIT season tip-off Friday night, when Ja’Kobe Walter was limited to two second-half minutes by foul trouble and Jayden Nunn shot 1-for-8 from the field. Up stepped RayJ Dennis, who scored 22 of his 24 total points in the second half; Jalen Bridges, who made five 3s; and Langston Love, who came off the bench to score 16 points.

9. Miami Hurricanes (5-0)
Previous ranking:
13
This week: at Kentucky (Tuesday), vs. Notre Dame (Saturday)

The Hurricanes had the week off and will have a full nine days of rest to prepare for the Wildcats in Lexington on Tuesday. The key in that game could come at the 3-point line. Miami ranks No. 1 nationally in 3-point percentage, making nearly 46% of its attempts; Kentucky ranks sixth nationally, at 42.5%. Miami has done a better job of defending perimeter shots up to this point, though, and Kentucky did allow Saint Joseph’s to make 15 3s last week.

10. Tennessee Volunteers (4-2)
Previous ranking:
5
This week: at North Carolina (Wednesday)

We were pretty high on the Volunteers after their offensive performance the first three games of the season, and we’re still believers in the Volunteers at that end of the floor. But their performance in Hawaii was reminiscent of last season’s struggling unit. They scored fewer than 0.96 points per possession in all three Maui Invitational games and shot a combined 17-for-63 from 3 against Purdue and Kansas. How will they respond in Chapel Hill this week?

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Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Kentucky Wildcats: Full Highlights

Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Kentucky Wildcats: Full Highlights

11. Kentucky Wildcats (5-1)
Previous ranking:
15
This week: vs. Miami (Tuesday), vs. UNC Wilmington (Saturday)

Kentucky’s offense has clearly improved this season, both schematically and from a talent perspective, and facing Marshall and its fast-paced style on Friday was the perfect storm for a record-breaking performance. Via ESPN Stats & Information, the Wildcats’ 118 points were the most scored under John Calipari and the most scored by Kentucky against a Division I opponent since December 1995.

12. Gonzaga Bulldogs (4-1)
Previous ranking:
10
This week: vs. Cal State Bakersfield (Tuesday), vs. USC in Las Vegas (Saturday)

While Anton Watson‘s incredible performance against UCLA (32 points, 14-for-15 from the field) helped Gonzaga escape Hawai’i with just one loss and a spot in the Power Rankings, the issues for the Zags on the offensive end were magnified against stiffer competition. The biggest difference between this season and the previous iterations of the Zags is their performance from the 3-point line. Steele Venters‘ injury obviously hurts, but Gonzaga is shooting just 29.9% from 3. For context, it hasn’t shot below 35% since before Dan Monson took over in Spokane in 1997.

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Eric Dixon sinks the and-1 trey for Villanova

Eric Dixon creates space off the dribble, then he knocks down the triple vs. the Tar Heels.

13. Villanova Wildcats (6-1)
Previous ranking:
Unranked
This week: vs. Saint Joseph’s (Wednesday)

Despite the addition of three transfers and the return to full health of Justin Moore, Eric Dixon has maintained his production from last season, and he had the best game of his career in Villanova’s overtime win over North Carolina: 34 points and 10 rebounds, 11-for-19 shooting from the field and 3-for-5 from 3. Dixon is one of five Wildcats to make at least nine 3s already this season, as the team is taking nearly 50% of its field goal attempts from behind the arc.

14. Colorado State Rams (6-0)
Previous ranking:
Unranked
This week: vs. Colorado (Wednesday), vs. Washington in Las Vegas (Saturday)

The buzz coming out of Fort Collins in the preseason was that 2022-23 was an anomaly for the Rams, a slow start because of Isaiah Stevens‘ early injury that just snowballed into a poor and inconsistent campaign. So far, that seems correct. Colorado State is 6-0 coming out of Feast Week, with two big tests coming this week. The Rams host in-state rival Colorado on Wednesday before heading to Las Vegas to face a talented Huskies team.

15. Creighton Bluejays (5-1)
Previous ranking:
8
This week: at Oklahoma State (Thursday), at Nebraska (Sunday)

There might not have been a more stunning result last week than Creighton getting its doors blown off by Colorado State on Thanksgiving. The Bluejays had been arguably the best offensive team in the country the first two weeks of the season, scoring at least 82 points and 1.2 points per possession in every game, and making double-digit 3-pointers in each one, too. But against the Rams, Creighton scored just 48 points and 0.72 points per possession and shot 6-for-29 from 3. Star guard Trey Alexander was 1-for-16 from the floor.

16. BYU Cougars (6-0)
Previous ranking:
Unranked
This week: vs. Fresno State (Friday)

Picked next to last in the preseason Big 12 poll, BYU is off to a 6-0 start with wins over San Diego State and NC State. And looking at the Cougars’ schedule, they’re likely to be favored in every game until their trip to Baylor on Jan. 9. A 14-0 start isn’t out of the question for Mark Pope’s team. What has been the story so far? The performances of a pair of former two-time transfers in Noah Waterman and Jaxson Robinson. Waterman had 24 against Arizona State and is averaging 12.5 points and 6.8 boards, while Robinson went for 23 off the bench against NC State and is averaging 15.3 points.

Dropped out: North Carolina Tar Heels (No. 12), Texas A&M Aggies (No. 14), Alabama Crimson Tide (No. 16)

In the waiting room

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RJ Davis scores 30 points to power UNC to win over Arkansas

RJ Davis scores 30 points to help North Carolina defeat Arkansas 87-72.

North Carolina Tar Heels: Perhaps the most impressive part about Carolina taking Villanova to overtime and then beating Arkansas by 15 was that both performances came without Armando Bacot being much of a factor offensively. He averaged just 9.0 points in the Battle 4 Atlantis. RJ Davis stepped up, however, with 30 points against the Razorbacks.

Florida Atlantic Owls: Really impressive response by Dusty May’s team following the stunning home loss to Bryant last weekend. The Owls won the ESPN Events Invitational, beating Butler, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech — scoring at least 84 points in all three games. Alijah Martin finally looked like last season’s Alijah Martin, averaging 18.3 points and 5.7 boards.

Mississippi State Bulldogs: With their win over Nicholls State, the Bulldogs moved to 6-0 this past week, and Josh Hubbard continues to grow his reputation as one of the best sixth men in the country. He scored 15 points, his fifth straight game with at least 12 points.

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