College hoops power rankings: Duke carries top spot into conference play

USA TODAY Sports

Conference season is officially upon us, which means weeks like this one where the top five remains unchanged figure to be few and far between from this point on.

Very little movement among the top half of the rankings this week thanks in large part to the light schedule demanded by the New Year's holiday. This figures to be the last time we'll be able to say that, as the final holdouts begin conference play this week.

1. DUKE (1) (14-0, 1-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat Davidson (67-50); Beat Wake Forest (80-62)

THIS WEEK: vs. Clemson (1/8); At NC State (1/12)

The nation keeps looking for a reason to justify its assertion that Duke is not the best team in the country, but the Blue Devils simply refuse to play along. If anything, their resume is getting stronger as time passes. Take the case of Temple, for instance, which has gone on to beat Syracuse in New York and nearly knock off Kanas at Phog Allen since being thrashed by the Dukies (90-67) back on Dec. 8.

Saturday's game at NC State might be the most likely scenario for a Duke loss that we've seen since the team returned home from the Bahamas in November. The Wolfpack are ultra-talented, playing much better, and desperate to make a major national statement.

2. MICHIGAN (2) (15-0, 2-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat Northwestern (94-66); Beat Iowa (95-67)

THIS WEEK: vs. Nebraska (1/9); At Ohio State (1/13)

The Wolverines have generated some significant "best team in the country?" buzz by scoring at least 81 points in their last five games, which they've won by an average of 25.0 points. Trey Burke and company get Nebraska at home on Wednesday before back-to-back road tests at Ohio State and Minnesota.

3. LOUISVILLE (3) (13-1, 1-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat Providence (80-62)

THIS WEEK: At Seton Hall (1/9); vs. South Florida (1/12)

Junior center Gorgui Dieng made his return to the starting lineup last Wednesday against Providence and responded by scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 36 minutes of action. In his two games back, Dieng has showed no signs of being hampered by the fractured left wrist that kept him sidelined for more than a month.

4. KANSAS (4) (12-1)

LAST WEEK: Beat Temple (69-62)

THIS WEEK: vs. Iowa State (1/9); At Texas Tech (1/12)

In the one-and-era, it's almost unheard of for a legitimate national title contender to start four seniors. That's exactly the scenario at play for Kansas, which boasts three fifth-year seniors (Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and Travis Releford) and one four-year senior (Elijah Johnson), in its starting five. The Jayhawks start three players who are a least 22-years-old. For reference, the Cleveland Cavaliers start three players who are 21-years-old or younger.

5. ARIZONA (5) (14-0, 2-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat Colorado (92-83 OT); Beat Utah (60-57)

THIS WEEK: At Oregon (1/10); At Oregon State (1/12)

This has become the Zapruder film of the 2012-13 college basketball season.

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Via The Big Lead

I had every intention of dropping Arizona when I sat down to do these rankings, but there's no one immediately behind them that has been setting the world on fire (so to speak) in recent weeks. A win is a win is a win, but I have a sneaking suspicion the Wildcats won't be returning home from their weekend trip to Oregon unscathed.

6. MINNESOTA (7) (14-1, 2-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat No. 18 Michigan State (76-63); Beat Northwestern (69-51)

THIS WEEK: At Illinois (1/9); At Indiana (1/12)

They certainly passed the eye test on New Year's Eve against Michigan State, but now the world really gets to find out if the Golden Gophers are legitimate national title contenders (the world is very interested). At Illinois, at Indiana and vs. Michigan is as brutal a three-game stretch as any team will face in conference play this season.

7. INDIANA (6) (13-1, 1-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat Iowa (69-65)

THIS WEEK: At Penn State (1/7); vs. Minnesota (1/12)

With Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Peter Jurkin and Derek Elston all healthy and eligible for the first time, Tom Crean is hopeful that the Hoosiers can finally look like the team everyone expected them to be at the beginning of the season. The big issue for Crean becomes how to work (or whether to work) each player into what has been mostly a seven-man rotation to date.

8. SYRACUSE (9) (14-1, 2-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat Central Connecticut State (96-62); Beat Rutgers (78-53); Beat South Florida (55-44)

THIS WEEK: At Providence (1/9); vs. Villanova (1/12)

The Orange will have a week off after their game with Villanova to prepare for a Jan. 19 showdown at No. 4 Louisville. Both teams figure to be unbeaten in league play when the game rolls around.

9. (11) MISSOURI (11-2)

LAST WEEK: Beat Bucknell (66-64)

THIS WEEK: vs. Alabama (1/8); At Ole Miss (1/12)

Even though the Tigers have looked like the most impressive team in the SEC during the non-conference portion of the season, we should still expect some otherwise inexplicable stumbles from them over the next two months. It's not difficult to make the argument that basketball is the sport where teams making the switch to a new conference are at the largest disadvantage. Being familiar with opposing players, styles and arenas is a huge edge that Mizzou won't have during the January and February grind.

10. ILLINOIS (12) (14-2, 1-1)

LAST WEEK: Lost to Purdue (68-61); Beat No. 8 Ohio State (74-55)

THIS WEEK: vs. Minnesota (1/9); At Wisconsin (1/12)

If Illinois' opening week is any indication, then everyone should already go ahead and give up any hope of being able to understand the Big Ten this year. Losing to Purdue by seven and then beating Ohio State by 19 falls outside any realm of comprehension I'm familiar with, or want to be familiar with.

I_medium11. GONZAGA (13) (15-1, 2-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat No. 22 Oklahoma State (69-68); Beat Pepperdine (78-62); Beat Santa Clara (71-64)

THIS WEEK: vs. Saint Mary's (1/10)

The Zags left home on Dec. 30 and returned on Sunday with wins over nationally-ranked Oklahoma State, Pepperdine and a resurgent Santa Clara team. Their reward is a few days off before a Thursday night showdown with arch-rival Saint Mary's. The Gaels snapped Gonzaga's run of 11-straight shared or outright WCC titles last season.

12. KANSAS STATE (14) (12-2, 1-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat South Dakota (70-50); Beat No. 22 Oklahoma State (75-67)

THIS WEEK: At West Virginia (1/12)

K-State has what every team in college basketball desires: a go-to guy they can turn to when in desperate need of instant offense. The latest example of Rodney McGruder's vast underratedness (word) came on Saturday against Oklahoma State, when he drilled 10-of-13 shots in the second half to finish with a game-high 28 points. Among those 10 hits were five three-pointers, all of which seemed to come at times when the Cowboys were in desperate need of a stop.

13. FLORIDA (15) (10-2)

LAST WEEK: Beat Yale (79-58)

THIS WEEK: vs. Georgia (1/9); At LSU (1/12)

Kenny Boynton was 4-of-32 from behind the three-point line between Nov. 29 and Dec. 22. Naturally, he was 8-for-10 from deep on Sunday against Yale. In the process he passed both Erving Walker and Lee Humphrey to become Florida's all-time leader in made three-pointers.

Billy Donovan's primary concern now goes from Boynton's extended shooting slump to the rib injury that kept second-leading scorer Erik Murphy off the floor on Sunday. According to Donovan the injury is in Murphy's right lat, and the senior forward is dealing with some serious pain.

I_medium14. BUTLER (NR) (12-2)

LAST WEEK: Beat Pennsylvania (70-57); Beat New Orleans (57-44)

THIS WEEK: At Saint Joseph's (1/9); At Dayton (1/12)

The Bulldogs have a chance to make an early statement to the rest of the A-10 when they debut on Wednesday against preseason favorite Saint Joseph's. They'll likely need to perform better than they did over the weekend against overmatched New Orleans, when they committed 15 largely unforced turnovers and made just 17 field goals.

15. OHIO STATE (8) (11-3, 1-1)

LAST WEEK: Beat Nebraska (70-44); Lost to No. 11 Illinois (74-55)

THIS WEEK: At Purdue (1/8); vs. Michigan (1/13)

The Buckeyes fell to 0-3 against teams in Ken Pomeryo's top 100 in impressive(?) fashion over the weekend. They never really showed up to Champaign in a game where it seemed like they trailed by around 20 from the opening tip to the final horn. You shouldn't be able to say this about a team with so many tested veterans, but Ohio State appears to be in desperate need of some solid leadership.

I_medium_medium16. CREIGHTON (NR) (14-1, 3-0)

LAST WEEK: Beat Illinois State (79-72); Beat Indiana State (79-66)

THIS WEEK: vs. Drake (1/8); At Missouri State (1/11)

Just when it looked like the SB Nation power rankings curse was going to be brought to an end, Cincinnati goes and loses to St. John's by a point. The curse will be put to perhaps its toughest test to date this week, as Creighton will be a heavy favorite against both Drake and Missouri State.

DROPPED OUT: Georgetown (10), Cincinnati (16)

ON THE CUSP: Georgetown, Notre Dame, NC State, San Diego State, Wyoming, VCU, Wichita State
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