Duke’s loss means there’s a new No. 1

Duke maintained its spot despite losing to North Carolina last week because the Blue Devils had the best resume in the country. After a second loss in three games without Zion Williamson, though, we can’t keep Duke in the top spot anymore.

Virginia moves up to No. 1, as the Cavaliers have nine Quadrant 1 wins and only two losses on the season, both coming to Duke. They get the edge over Gonzaga due to their sheer number of quality wins, as they own victories over North Carolina, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech twice, Florida State, Maryland, Louisville, etc. Gonzaga has the victory over Duke, a decent win over Washington, and that’s about it.

As for Duke, its resume is getting a little dicey when it comes to feeling great about landing a 1-seed on Selection Sunday. The Blue Devils still have to go to North Carolina next weekend, and then will have the ACC tournament. If they lose two more times, with or without Williamson, can they get jumped by someone else? Williamson appears likely to return at some point this season, but it will be interesting to see how much the committee weighs their games without him — especially Tuesday night’s loss to Virginia Tech, which also was without its best player, Justin Robinson.

The Blue Devils simply haven’t looked good without Williamson. RJ Barrett has been the sole source of consistent offense, and teams have begun to collapse on him and force him to give the ball to someone else. There will be stretches like we saw in the second half when he still gets his points, but he’s going to need more consistent help from Cam Reddish and Tre Jones. He’s just not getting it right now. Defensively, Duke had its second-worst performance of the season on Tuesday.

As a result, Duke drops to No. 3 and now Virginia is atop the rankings.

Monday: Circle these games over the final two weeks

There are officially less than two weeks until the end of the regular season, and there’s a race shaping up to nab the final 1-seed — and the last couple of spots in the top five of the Power Rankings. Duke is in pretty good shape with its résumé (assuming Zion Williamson returns soon); Virginia has lost only twice all season (both times to Duke) and is 9-0 in its other Quadrant 1 games; and Gonzaga has won 18 straight, hasn’t had a game within single digits since Dec. 15 and appears unlikely to lose before the NCAA tournament. Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Michigan and Michigan State all still have shots to move up.

While conference tournaments also will play a major role, what remaining regular-season games will help determine the pecking order of the top-tier teams in the Power Rankings?

Kentucky at Tennessee (Saturday): Tennessee seemed to be in great shape a couple of weeks ago, but the Volunteers are now locked in a three-way tie for first place in the SEC, and their lack of high-level wins outside of Gonzaga is more noticeable. Kentucky likely has to win in Knoxville or win the SEC tournament to remain a 1-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket (and the top four in the Power Rankings).

Duke at North Carolina (March 9): Will Williamson be back by then? Carolina hammered the Blue Devils last week without Williamson, and the Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the country. If they beat Duke again and then make a deep run in the ACC tournament, can they jump the Blue Devils? Their combination of wins over Duke and Gonzaga is unparalleled (besides Duke’s two wins over Virginia).

Michigan at Michigan State (March 9): Michigan State won Round 1 on Sunday, and the Wolverines have now lost four of their past 11. Michigan would likely have to win Round 2 to have a chance at a share of the Big Ten title. The Spartans are an interesting case because of their injury issues, but they have 11 Quadrant 1 wins and could get another one over Michigan.

Houston at Cincinnati (March 10): The Cougars don’t and won’t have the profile of some of the other teams in this discussion, but one can consider how high they might go. If they are able to run the table — including winning at Cincinnati on the final day of the regular season — and then win the conference tournament, they’re likely going to end the season with a 33-1 record, a top-five NET and 18 wins against Quadrant 1 and 2 teams.

1. Virginia Cavaliers (24-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Georgia Tech (Wednesday), vs. Pittsburgh (Saturday)

Virginia should be able to build off its dominant second half at Louisville on Saturday, as the next two games for the Cavaliers are at home against two of the worst teams in the ACC. Tony Bennett’s team did have a stretch recently with some uncharacteristically sloppy halves mixed in, but this week will give it a chance to work out some of the kinks heading down the stretch.

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-2)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Pacific (Thursday), at Saint Mary’s (Saturday)

Gonzaga hasn’t had to get into top gear since December, but the Bulldogs face arguably their toughest test of the West Coast Conference season on Saturday, when they head to Moraga for a road showdown against conference rival Saint Mary’s. The Gaels aren’t as good as they’ve been in recent years, but they’ve won four in a row, and McKeon Pavilion should be rocking for the season finale.

3. Duke Blue Devils (24-4)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: Lost to Virginia Tech 77-72 on Tuesday, vs. Miami (Saturday)

In its three games since Zion Williamson was hurt, Duke has been outscored 230-219. RJ Barrett has scored 84 of those 219 points, and is too often looked at to provide all the offense. Tre Jones is 6-for-32 (3-for-17 from 3-point range) in those three games, and Cam Reddish is 18-for-47. Moreover, Duke has allowed at least one point per possession in two of those three games — after doing it eight times in the first 25 games of the season.

4. Kentucky Wildcats (24-4)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat Arkansas 70-66 on Tuesday, at Tennessee (Saturday)

Kentucky outscored Arkansas by 15 points in the second half and escaped in the final minute with a win over the Razorbacks. PJ Washington finally ended his hot streak, but Tyler Herro made up for it. Herro, despite playing with an injured ankle, had 29 points on 10 shots — including five 3-pointers. He also hit two huge free throws in the final seconds. Up next is a trip to Knoxville.

5. North Carolina Tar Heels (23-5)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Syracuse 93-85 on Tuesday, at Clemson (Saturday)

Coby White had been in a bit of a slump over the past three games, totaling 29 points on 37 shots. He certainly snapped out of it on Tuesday, though, going for 34 points on 14 shots, making six 3-pointers. The Tar Heels needed White, as Luke Maye wasn’t hitting. Nassir Little made an impact off the bench with 11 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.

6. Tennessee Volunteers (24-3)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Ole Miss (Wednesday), vs. Kentucky (Saturday)

We’ve said for weeks that the return of Lamonte Turner from injury at the start of SEC play gave Tennessee a huge boost because of his ability to make shots from the perimeter and add a different dimension to the Volunteers’ offense. When Turner’s shots aren’t falling, though, Tennessee can lack perimeter pop. He went a combined 1-for-14 from behind the arc in the Volunteers’ two recent losses.

7. Michigan State Spartans (23-5)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Indiana (Saturday)

The Spartans made a huge statement by going into Ann Arbor and beating Michigan by seven points without Nick Ward (and Joshua Langford). It’s their best win of the season, and they did it while scoring 77 points — the first time Michigan has allowed more than 75 in a loss since last season’s national championship game. Cassius Winston was unbelievable, with 27 points and eight assists in 40 minutes.

8. Michigan Wolverines (24-4)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Nebraska (Thursday), at Maryland (Sunday)

The Wolverines fall into third place in the Big Ten standings with their loss to Michigan State. Charles Matthews struggled offensively on Sunday, finishing with four points on eight shots. The Wolverines aren’t likely to win many games shooting 26.9 percent from 3-point range. Two of Michigan’s final three games of the season are at Maryland and at Michigan State. It’s a tough finishing stretch.

9. Houston Cougars (26-1)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at East Carolina (Wednesday), vs. UCF (Saturday)

The Cougars won their 11th game in a row Saturday, a streak that should improve to 12 on Wednesday at East Carolina before preseason favorite UCF (and College GameDay) comes to town. In the first meeting against the Knights, Corey Davis Jr. carried most of the load offensively, and Davis is starting to find his perimeter stroke again. Davis is 12-for-20 on 3-pointers in his past two games.

10. Texas Tech Red Raiders (22-5)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Oklahoma State (Wednesday), at TCU (Saturday)

One of the hottest teams in the country right now, Texas Tech has won five in a row and seven of its past eight and is making a push for the Big 12 title. Part of the reason for the turnaround since losing by 16 in Lawrence earlier this month is the Red Raiders’ efficiency on the offensive end. Chris Beard’s team is always going to lock up defensively, but the Red Raiders have scored 255 points on 188 possessions in their past three games. It’s a small sample, but those are elite-level offensive numbers.

11. LSU Tigers (23-5)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Texas A&M 66-55 on Tuesday, at Alabama (Saturday)

The Tigers are now 2-0 without Tremont Waters, who missed his second consecutive game — albeit an easier matchup than last Saturday’s showdown with Tennessee. All five starters scored in double figures for Will Wade’s team, and Ja’vonte Smart continued rolling. He went for 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists after finishing with 29 points, five rebounds and five assists against Tennessee. The freshman has helped LSU make up for Waters’ absence.

12. Marquette Golden Eagles (23-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: at Villanova (Wednesday), vs. Creighton (Sunday)

This weekend’s results went awfully well for the Golden Eagles. Not only did they blow out Providence on the road, but Villanova also lost its fourth game in the past 15 days, this time at Xavier. Marquette goes to Villanova on Wednesday with a chance to essentially seal the regular-season title. Even if they stumble, though, the Golden Eagles have some margin for error in their quest for the crown.

13. Purdue Boilermakers (20-7)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: vs. Illinois (Wednesday), vs. Ohio State (Saturday)

Purdue won its third game in a row Saturday, but Carsen Edwards continues to struggle shooting the ball. He went 3-for-16 from the field — including 1-for-10 from 3-point range — against the Cornhuskers. That came four days after he shot 4-for-24 from the field and 0-for-10 from 3-point range against Indiana. Fortunately for Matt Painter, Matt Haarms has really stepped up, sandwiching 18- and 17-point efforts around Purdue’s victory over Indiana in which he had the game-winning basket.

14. Kansas Jayhawks (21-7)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: beat Kansas State 64-49 on Monday, at Oklahoma State (Saturday)

The Streak is not quite done just yet. Kansas received surprisingly productive performances from Quentin Grimes and Mitch Lightfoot and handled first-place Kansas State fairly easily in Lawrence. The Big 12 race looks a little bit different now than it did on Monday morning. Kansas is just one game back of Kansas State, while Texas Tech is tied with the Wildcats in the loss column. The three teams don’t face one another the rest of the way.

15. Nevada Wolf Pack (25-2)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: vs. UNLV (Wednesday), at Utah State (Saturday)

Nevada pulled off a win over Fresno State on Saturday to avoid a second straight loss. While the Wolf Pack’s NCAA tournament inclusion is not in question, racking up a loss one week before a trip to Utah State would have been disastrous for their seeding. Remember, this is a team without a Quadrant 1 game, let alone a Quadrant 1 win. That changes this weekend in a game that will be absolutely huge for Utah State’s at-large chances.

16. Maryland Terrapins (21-7)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: at Penn State (Wednesday), vs. Michigan (Sunday)

Maryland replaces its conference brethren after Wisconsin’s loss to Indiana. The Terrapins have won four of five, including home wins over Purdue and Ohio State and road victories at Iowa and Nebraska. They don’t have much of a chance at the Big Ten title, but if they get past Penn State on Wednesday, they have a major chance at a marquee win with Michigan headed to College Park on Sunday.

Dropped out: Wisconsin (No. 16)

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