This is the season debut of Hey Nineteen, CBS’ college basketball power rankings.
For the newly initiated, these are different from Gary Parrish’s Top 25 And 1 rankings. His refresh daily and are assorted more along the lines of an NCAA Tournament résumé. The Hey Nineteen is an encapsulation of the hottest and most successful teams in college basketball as of late, combining team quality with win quality and leaving no shame for recency bias. Think of it as a hot list of sorts. It also will reward mid-major teams on dominant win streaks if those win streaks get long enough. Bad losses can also damage your reputation in this space (thus: Michigan State, fresh off that stunner at Northwestern, is nowhere to be found this week).
Why “Hey Nineteen”? It’s a Steely Dan reference, of course. No other reason needed. Why 19 teams? Because predictable power rankings do 16. Polls are 25 (or 25 And 1). Nineteen is just enough to keep you wanting more.
Donald and Walter, play us in.
Hey Nineteen Power Rankings
1. Gonzaga The best team with the best trio of wins this season. Gonzaga has knocked off Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa, three teams in the top 10 of the latest AP Top 25. The 5-0 Zags also have a win over Auburn, the four victories all coming on neutral courts. On Monday night Mark Few’s team played its first home game of the season, defeating Northwestern State 95-57. The two will play again tonight. And on Saturday, another must-see Gonzaga game: the Bulldogs play Virginia.
2. Baylor Say hello to the best 3-point shooting team in America. Baylor has made 47% of its 3-point attempts, which an incredible clip that doesn’t seem sustainable. Scott Drew’s team has gotten to 6-0, though due to postponements and cancellations, its only win over a top-100 team to this point is Illinois. Still, this clearly one of the top two teams in the country at this point.
3. Kansas Bill Self’s Jayhawks have a huge test tonight at home against West Virginia. Kansas has not lost since its season-opener on Thanksgiving against Gonzaga in Fort Myers, Florida. At 7-1, the Jayhawks boast wins over middling Kentucky, top-10 Creighton and, most recently, a road win over Texas Tech. KU had some healthy skeptics coming into the season but so far it’s been all Jayhawk faithful could have hoped for. Self told me although Kansas has room for one more game in its non-league schedule, KU will not be filling that vacancy.
4. Villanova At 7-1, Jay Wright and his team’s only loss came in Bubbleville against a good Virginia Tech team, the game arranged less than 48 hours before it was played. The Wildcats land here in the same spot they are at KenPom: fourth. The win over Arizona State is not aging gracefully (ASU is 4-3) but the road victory against Texas is probably going to wind up as one of the three best nonconference road wins any team will claim by March.
5. West Virginia The Mountaineers can claim this: their five-point loss in Indianapolis against Gonzaga (Dec.2) was the toughest game anyone’s given the Zags yet. WVU is 7-1 and as noted above is prepping for a humongous game tonight at Kansas. The winner there will be No. 3 at worst in next week’s Hey Nineteen. WVU defeated VCU and Western Kentucky on a neutral in South Dakota and also won at Georgetown. It’s scheduled to play Buffalo on Dec. 29 but that game seems in doubt in light of Buffalo going on pause Monday.
6. Tennessee The Volunteers are 5-0 on the heels of their cruise-control home win against Saint Joseph’s on Monday night. Rick Barnes has what is easily the best team in the SEC heading into Christmas. The Vols didn’t play their first game until two weeks ago (Dec. 8 vs. Colorado) but showed no signs of rust. The first four games saw UT score more with each passing win: 56, 65, 79, 103. On Monday night, an ever-so-slight step back: merely 102 points in the 36-point win over Saint Joseph’s.
7. Houston The Cougars are 5-0 but the win over Texas Tech combined with an average margin of victory of 24.3 in its other four wins make this an easy call for me at this point. Houston is the class of the American Athletic Conference, and unlike in college football, the best team in that league not only will get a chance to compete for a national title, it will be handsomely rewarded with a quality seed. Houston welcomes in Temple tonight. I expect a 20-point victory for Kelvin Sampson’s team.
8. Rutgers The first three wins weren’t going to get anyone’s attention, but victories four, five and six have vaulted Rutgers back into nationally relevancy, effectively picking up where RU left off when the season was canceled on March 12. On Dec. 8, Steve Pikiell’s squad knocked off Syracuse 79-69. Six days later, it won by 14 at Maryland. And on Sunday, it held off a game, good Illinois squad, winning 91-88. If Rutgers can win at Ohio State on Wednesday, it will be the team’s first 7-0 start in 45 years.
9. Iowa The Hawkeyes had no real shot to beat top-ranked Gonzaga in South Dakota on Saturday, but Iowa did keep it respectable and the loss won’t be too damaging. If anything, my ranking is harsher than what you’ll find in the polls. Though the race tightened as a result of Gonzaga winning 99-88 and getting a 7-of-10-from-3 performance by Zags freshman Jalen Suggs, Luka Garza is still firmly the frontrunner for 2020-21 national player of the year. Iowa will try to rebound tonight at home against Purdue.
10. Texas Wins against Indiana, North Carolina and Oklahoma State. This is the second consecutive season that Texas has started off with seven wins in its first eight games. The Longhorns have nothing scheduled until Dec. 29. Objectively a top 10 team so far in terms of performance vs. expectation and overall résumé.
11. Wisconsin KenPom is going back to its old ways here — it’s got Wisconsin ranked third in the country. That’s a bridge too far for me at the moment, but clearly Wisconsin has a case to be as good as any Big Ten team to this point, thus it’s snuggled up against Rutgers, Iowa and another team just below it in the Hey Nineteen. The only loss came against Marquette on a rare ending — the Golden Eagles won on a missed foul shout followed by a put-back at the buzzer. The Badgers are coming off an 85-48 win over Louisville, the largest margin of victory for Wisconsin against a ranked team in school history.
12. Xavier No team has had a better start to its season than Xavier. With an 8-0 record, X is the only team with that many wins vs. D-I competition and still with zero losses. Now, a challenge awaits as Travis Steele’s team will leave Cincinnati’s city limits on Wednesday to play at Creighton. Xavier’s winning games by 15.4 points, the best gap in the Big East and it also leads the league in assists (29.8 per game) and 3-point accuracy (41.5). Xavier made a program-record 19 3s in its. 99-77 win over Oklahoma on Dec. 9. Paul Scruggs dropped 29 on Marquette Sunday, landing him the league’s player of the week honor. Things are rolling here.
13. Michigan If you told Michigan fans they’d get back-to-back 6-0 starts in Juwan Howard’s first two seasons — knowing full well there’d be some good opponents mixed in there — they’d have been overjoyed. So far, so good for the Wolverines who don’t have a top-tier win yet (Penn State is best) but have a top-10 offense and feature a 7-1 freshman, Hunter Dickinson, who could be top-10 quality in college basketball’s rookie class by February.
14. Virginia Tech Mike Young has the Hokies off to a 7-1 start and comfortably ranked in the AP Top 25. The only wart is a weird 20-point loss at Penn State, but that’s offset by wins against Villanova and Clemson. We’ll see what league schedule brings, but Virginia Tech will wind up being one of those teams thankful it could get in all of its nonconference games. The Hokies wrapped the non-league schedule on Monday night with an 84-58 shellacking of Longwood.
15. Clemson I see you, Tigers. A 6-1 start with four wins over teams from power conferences (Mississippi State, Purdue, Maryland, Alabama). Figure at least two of those four teams will be NCAA Tournament players later this season. Clemson should be as well. Brad Brownell’s seat might have been a little warm heading into the season but this team is the goods. Clemson has the No. 2-ranked defense, according to KenPom, allowing 86.3 points per 100 possessions (adjusted for competition).
16. Missouri Beat Oregon on a neutral court in Omaha, Nebraska. Won at Wichita State. Knocked off Illinois at home 10 days ago, Mizzou’s most recent game until tonight’s matchup against Bradley. The Tigers are 5-0 and seem to be the second-best SEC right now. That is subject to change, but boy do Tigers fans cherish times like these. It’s been a lot of false hope since Cuonzo Martin took over. This should be a tournament team in 2021.
17. Saint Mary’s You bet your butt I’m going to reward the only other eight-win team against D-I competition so far this season (Xavier being the other. The Gaels sit at 8-1 and have an intriguing test tonight against San Diego State. Randy Bennett’s team started out with a 73-56 loss to Memphis back on Nov. 25, the first day of the season. Since: six of the eight wins were by double digits, capped off Saturday when SMC held Colorado State to 33 points (!).
18. BYU It’s true: three WCC teams in the Hey Nineteen. The Cougars are cracking through thanks to an 8-2 start with wins over in-state rivals Utah State and Utah, the former coming on the road. But the real reason is BYU’s road victory last Friday at San Diego State, doling out a rare home loss to the Aztecs. Mark Pope’s team took a bizarre 79-53 loss in Bubbleville against USC, but that is proving to be aberrational.
19. Arkansas The unbeaten Razorbacks haven’t played anyone of note yet. Average KenPom rank of its opponents: 221. Strength of schedule rank as of Tuesday morning: 301. But 7-0 is solid and so I am in the Christmas spirit and giving Eric Musselman’s team the benefit of the doubt early. There is a quality test at home tonight: Abilene Christian (7-1) is in town. The Hogs are holding off against Oregon and Ohio State and will need to remain unbeaten to stay here next week.
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