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College basketball power rankings: Surging Marquette enters top five, finds offensive rhythm despite injuries

It wasn’t pretty, but UConn maintained its two-game edge in the Big East standings by taking down Providence on Wednesday for its ninth straight win. At the end of last January, the Huskies were 17-6 (6-6 Big East). They went on to win the national title. This time around, they are 19-2 (9-1) and have sights squarely set on a repeat. Last week: 1
Purdue survived Northwestern’s bid for a season sweep with a home win over the Wildcats in overtime on Wednesday. A 46-8 edge in free throws helped and likely explains why Northwestern coach Chris Collins was ejected. Nonetheless, the Boilermakers are poised to reach first in the Big Ten standings if they win at Wisconsin on Sunday. Last week: 2
Houston has rattled off five straight wins since beginning Big 12 play 1-2. Among them are road victories against BYU and Texas. The Longhorns were the first team to reach 70 points against the Cougars this season, and that was only because the game required five extra minutes. Houston would play better defense with four men on the floor than most teams do with five. Last week: 5
Wisconsin faces a tricky road trip to Nebraska on Thursday before hosting Purdue on Sunday. If the Badgers get caught looking ahead, the Cornhuskers will make it a long night. If you haven’t noticed, top-10 teams are struggling on the road this season. Last week: 8
Marquette has shot 50% or better from the floor in every game during its five-game winning streak after doing so only six times in its first 16 games. This is Marquette’s best defensive team under third-year coach Shaka Smart, and with the offense rounding into form, this team can cut down nets. Last week: 11
North Carolina became the last team from one of college basketball’s major six conferences to lose a conference game when it fell 74-73 at Georgia Tech on Tuesday. Perhaps the Tar Heels were looking ahead to Saturday’s rivalry showdown with Duke, which also has a loss against the otherwise unimpressive Yellow Jackets. Last week: 3
Tennessee became South Carolina’s latest victim on Tuesday night as it fell 63-59 for its first home loss of the season. It was a vintage offensive effort from the Volunteers, but not in a good way. Saturday’s game at Kentucky is suddenly a game between two teams fighting to remain in SEC title contention. Last week: 4
With Terrence Shannon Jr. regaining his form after a missing a month, Illinois is back on track to compete for the Big Ten title and an excellent NCAA Tournament seed. But much like with Alabama last season, everything Illinois accomplishes will be tainted by the star player’s unsavory off-court entanglements. Last week: 12
Hilton Magic is approaching peak levels as the Cyclones continue defending their home floor at Hilton Coliseum with remarkable vigor. Iowa State is 13-0 at home, and the victims include Houston and Kansas. Road tests against Baylor and Texas over the next few days will determine if ISU will remain a factor in the league title race. Last week: 13
Kansas finds itself playing catch-up in the Big 12 standings behind the likes of Houston, Iowa State and Texas Tech. A home win over the Cougars on Saturday would go a long way toward reestablishing KU as the league’s presumptive favorite. Last week: 6
Creighton has won seven of eight since starting 0-2 in Big East play. The Bluejays shouldn’t be dismissed from the conference title conversation just yet as the big three of Trey Alexander, Baylor Scheierman and Ryan Kalkbrenner put up monster numbers in league competition. Last week: 14
Duke was fortunate to escape with a home win over Clemson on Saturday but then handled a potentially tricky spot on the road against Virginia Tech with impressive vigor. Now comes a rivalry showdown at North Carolina on Saturday that could essentially even the ACC title race as the second half of league play begins. Last week: 12
South Carolina erased any lingering doubt over its legitimacy by handing Tennessee its first home loss of the season on Tuesday. At 18-3 and 6-2 in the SEC, the Gamecocks are destined to go dancing for just the second time in the past 20 years. Second-year coach Lamont Paris has done an incredible job of implementing a hard-nosed defensive identity in his team after a rough first season. Last week: NR
Utah State is one victory away from reaching 20 wins for the fifth time in the last six seasons under three different coaches. But this team, under first-year coach Danny Sprinkle, may be the best of the recent bunch. Saturday’s overtime win at Boise State put the Aggies in first place in the Mountain West, and they followed upon with a blowout win against San Jose State. Last week: 17
Alabama gave us the full experience on Wednesday night. It trailed 41-27 against Georgia at halftime before scoring 58 points in the second half while shooting 62.5% on the way to an 85-76 victory. The post-halftime version of the Crimson Tide will win the SEC and could make the Final Four. The pre-halftime version would lose to a No. 13 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Last week: 20
Auburn is 17-4 (6-2 SEC) after beating Vanderbilt on Wednesday, but the Tigers still do not have a Quad 1 win. The next opportunity comes Saturday at Ole Miss. This team is exciting and well-rated in advanced metrics, but its lack of a perimeter star may be an issue. Last week: 9
Kentucky is 3-3 over its last six after losing at home to Florida on Wednesday. Two of those three losses came in overtime. Maybe the sky is falling, but it’s more likely that this is just a young team navigating a reality check after it was prematurely anointed as a national title contender in early January. Last week: 10
The Sycamores continue towering above the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference. This team hasn’t lost a game outside of Quad 1 and is 18-3 (10-1 MVC) after a 78-72 win at Belmont on Wednesday. An at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament is squarely in play, but Indiana State may not need it at this rate. Last week: NR
Texas Tech lucked out and only plays Kansas and Houston once each this season. Luck aside, the Red Raiders deserve some recognition for their 16-4 (5-2 Big 12) start under first-year coach Grant McCasland. If they keep up their .500 pace in road games and continue to protect their homer floor, this team will remain a factor in the league title hunt. Last week: NR



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