College basketball rolls on as we approach the holidays.
Teams are starting to come back on line. The top teams are showing they are ready to compete for a national title. Upsets are happening. So are buzzer-beaters. We’re getting through the first bumpy phase of the season. Let’s keep rolling.
On to the rankings for Dec. 21, for fans to digest and debate (last week’s ranking in parentheses):
1. Gonzaga (1): The Zags came back from a two-week pause and dominated Iowa in South Dakota.
2. Baylor (2): The shorthanded Bears beat Kansas State to open the Big 12.
3. Villanova (5): The Wildcats continue to roll, never get rattled and are clearly the team to beat in the Big East.
4. Kansas (8): The Jayhawks haven’t lost since falling to Gonzaga in the opener, finding ways to win against Creighton and at Texas Tech to open the Big 12.
5. Iowa (3): I refuse to drop the Hawkeyes down too far after losing to the best team in the country. Luka Garza still scored 30 and Iowa did post 88 points.
6. Houston (6): The Cougars came back off pause and won. But they may not get tested for some time.
7. Texas (7): The Longhorns got a stellar performance from Greg Brown and Andrew Jones to upend Oklahoma State in the Big 12.
8. West Virginia (10): The Mountaineers escaped their Big 12 opener against Iowa State. But that’s no reason to ding West Virginia. They are a Big 12 contender.
9. Tennessee (11): The Vols are the team to beat in the SEC. That’s it. That’s the truth now.
10. Michigan State (4): The Spartans lost to Northwestern on Sunday night. Let’s see if that’s a blip or the sign of something awry.
11. Missouri (13): The Tigers are still the second-best team in the SEC to the Vols at this juncture.
12. Rutgers (17): The Scarlet Knights had quite a week by beating Maryland on the road and taking down Illinois at home Sunday.
13. Wisconsin (16): The Badgers destroyed Louisville, showing that when they play to their potential they’ve got an offense to match a stingy D.
14. Virginia (18): The Cavaliers are coming off pause this week and will play Gonzaga in Fort Worth on Saturday.
15. Oregon (20): The Ducks are once again the class of the Pac-12.
16. North Carolina (19): The Tar Heels showed they’ve got the big-man depth that will help them contend for the ACC title after coming back to beat Kentucky.
17. Xavier (24): The Musketeers find a way to win. They are undefeated. That’s it.
18. Michigan (25): The Wolverines remained undefeated this week and are poised to be in the Big Ten top-five chase.
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19. Illinois (14): I’m not getting off this bandwagon. Rutgers is one of the best teams in the Big Ten. There is no shame in losing on the road at the RAC.
20. Florida State (12): The Seminoles were stunned at home by UCF. Let’s see if that was an anomaly.
21. Creighton (9): The Bluejays got beat at home by Marquette and escaped UConn with a win. That’s what life in the Big East will be this season.
22. Indiana (27): The Hoosiers beat back Butler in Indianapolis and will continue to become one of the tougher teams to beat in the Big Ten.
23. Ohio State (30): The Buckeyes got healthier and took down UCLA in Cleveland.
24. BYU (NR): The Cougars had one of the most significant wins of the week by winning at San Diego State.
25. San Diego State (15): The Aztecs lost at home, but are still one of the toughest outs on the West Coast.
26. Minnesota (36): The Gophers got blitzed by Illinois but then turned around and handed Saint Louis its first loss of the season.
27. Texas Tech (33): How do you move up by losing? The Red Raiders were one possession away from knocking off Kansas and certainly looked the part of being an elite team.
28. UCLA (26): The Bruins lost to Ohio State, but still remain with Oregon as the top two teams in the Pac-12.
29. Richmond (29): Jacob Gilyard is one of the best-kept secrets in the country. So, too, are the Spiders.
30. Arkansas (35): The Hogs have played like a top-30 team. But they need to start playing some top-30 teams.
31. UConn (28): The Huskies came off pause and lost in overtime to Creighton. They are good enough to be in this ranking.
32. Stanford (NR): The Cardinal handled Arizona in what could be their new home of Santa Cruz.
33. Clemson (23): The Tigers suffered their first loss of the season to Virginia Tech.
34. USC (34): The Trojans are on pause. When they come back they have the goods to be a top-25 team.
35. Saint Louis (21): The Billikens showed tremendous grit in the final minutes at Minnesota. Still, it was their first loss. It won’t be the first of many. This team is going to be a problem come March.
36. UCF (NR): The Knights pulled off one of the upsets of the season. But they also beat Auburn this season. Maybe this wasn’t a fluke. Let’s see how it plays out in the American.
Dropped out: No. 22 Oklahoma State, No. 31 Florida, No. 32 Louisville.
Editor’s note: If you’re a new reader of the Power 36, you can read more on its background here. The TL/DR version: College basketball expert Andy Katz releases a Power 36 ranking for Division I men’s basketball every week during the regular season and at select times in the offseason. It’s his personal ranking of the 36 best teams at the moment that each ranking is released, based on his extensive history in covering the sport and his ongoing experiences watching games and traveling the country to get behind-the-scenes information while talking to coaches and players.