With Oklahoma’s loss to North Carolina on Wednesday night, we’re down to just three remaining unbeaten teams in Division I: Houston, James Madison and Ole Miss. We all had that in our preseason predictions, right?

In the past week, unranked Providence smashed Marquette by 15, unranked Seton Hall slapped Connecticut by 15 and unranked Villanova erased a 14-point deficit to win at Creighton — have we mentioned that the loaded Big East is going to be an absolute bloodbath? — while previously unranked Memphis swept ACC sweethearts Clemson and Virginia (by 23), and a .500 Michigan State team wrecked Baylor by 24. And that’s been a pretty typical week so far.

Dunno about you guys, but our heads are spinning. All we know for sure at this point is that Purdue is the obvious choice at No. 1 this week … until another series of crazy things happen. In the meantime, here’s one holiday wish for all 16 teams who made the cut this week:

1. Purdue (10-1)

Last week: No. 4

Holiday wish: An end to the questions about whether the Boilermakers’ guards are good enough to go deep in March. That’s their wish, at least, obviously. Those guards are apparently tired of hearing that 7-foot-4 star Zach Edey doesn’t have enough help on the perimeter, because they were more than enough Saturday against then-No. 1 Arizona. Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer combined to make 20 of 33 shots, 9 of 16 3-pointers and score 53 points (with seven steals for good measure). That performance just goes to show, though, how unstoppable Purdue is when Edey does have help. He was productive as ever — 22 points, nine boards, five assists, two steals — but didn’t have to be freakishly dominant for his team to steamroll the Wildcats. Purdue led by as many as 15 points and never really lost control against a team that beat Duke and Michigan State away from home and smoked Wisconsin by 25.

Minus that one hiccup at Northwestern, it’s been a mighty impressive start to the Matt Painter revenge tour. Six weeks into the season, the Boilermakers already have five wins against top-40 teams in the NET (as of Wednesday): No. 2 Arizona, No. 9 Tennessee, No. 10 Alabama, No. 13 Marquette, No. 36 Gonzaga. Now, can those guards keep it up? Smith, whose six turnovers helped doom Purdue at Northwestern, has been on a tear lately. He dropped 27 on Alabama, then 26 on Arizona, and he’s averaging 14.4 points, 6.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and shooting 48 percent from 3 as a sophomore. Loyer’s two best games of the season came in marquee wins, 27 points apiece against Tennessee and Arizona, but he’s been fairly underwhelming (12 of 32 from 3) in the rest. Consistently excellent guard play would shut up most of the Purdue skeptics. — Kyle Tucker

GO DEEPER

Men’s college basketball rankings: Purdue beats No. 1, then gets to be No. 1

2. Arizona (9-1)

Last week: 1

A visit from Arizona alum Steve Kerr with a friendly reminder: It’s OK to shoot 3s. This might sound like nit-picking — especially considering Arizona is the only team in the country with a top-10 adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency rating, per KenPom — but what if an already very good team could take another step? Arizona is 31st nationally in 3-point percentage, making 37.7 percent of its 3s … yet, per CBB Analytics, it’s only in the 40th percentile in 3-point attempts. Make it make sense. (One theory? Lloyd doesn’t want UNC transfer Caleb Love, a career 31.7 percent 3-point shooter, to get too trigger-happy. Which, fair; Love has already missed more 3s this season — 44 — than all but one of his teammates has attempted.)

Sophomore point guard Kylan Boswell doesn’t have the gaudiest counting stats — 11.7 points, 4.6 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game — but he’s easily the team’s best 3-point shooter. His 47.7 percent mark from 3 is top-20 nationally amongst high-major players, and — outside of the Purdue loss — he’s made at least two triples in every game. Love, on the other hand, has six games with multiple made 3s … and four with one or none. In Saturday’s loss to Purdue, the Wildcats made 37.5 percent of their 3s, but only attempted 16, below their already-low average of 21.1 per game. We’re not saying Arizona suddenly needs to be Alabama — whom it beat Wednesday, when the Crimson Tide took 40 (!!) 3s and only made eight — but the reticence at times feels a little overly cautious. What do we know, though? Unlike Lloyd, we haven’t won the most games through two seasons of any Division I men’s coach ever. — Brendan Marks

3. Houston (11-0)

Last week: 7

Holiday wish: A bottle of Michael’s Secret Stuff from “Space Jam” … or whatever other magic potion it’ll take to snap Damian Dunn out of his funk.

Because when Houston plucked Dunn, a career 14.6 ppg scorer, out of the transfer portal from Temple this summer — basically as a one-for-one Tramon Mark replacement — the assumption was that he would provide offense commensurate to the program’s typically elite defense. That … has not happened. In Houston’s four games against top-50 KenPom opponents this season, Dunn is averaging a meager five points per game on 26.3 percent shooting. Against a solid Texas A&M squad on Saturday, in a game Houston very much needed second-half scoring — thank Jamal Shead and Emmaneul Sharp for coming through there, and staving off the Aggies’ 21-point comeback attempt — Dunn produced the following stat line: One point on 0-of-1 shooting, one rebound, one assist, and three turnovers in 16 minutes. Oof. For a player whose KenPom comparison last season was Tristen Newton, of all people — UConn’s current leading scorer and a probable All-American — that’s a precipitous dropoff.

This is not to say that Houston’s offense isn’t fine without more from Dunn; in addition to the Cougars’ No. 1 defense — per KenPom and basically any advanced metrics site you can find — Kelvin Sampson’s team sneakily has the nation’s 16th-best adjusted offensive efficiency. Sharp, who had 21 points against A&M and made what was effectively the game-winning shot, has been a key part of that. So too has Baylor transfer LJ Cryer; he averages a team-best 17.7 points per game, and his offensive rating is ninth-best nationally amongst players who use 20 percent of their team’s possessions or more. And Shead, who’s known more for his defensive and passing prowess, has been as steady as ever offensively, too. Dunn isn’t going to fundamentally change that formula, but with Terrance Arceneaux — who sadly tore his Achilles against TAMU — now out for the season, it wouldn’t hurt to have another reliable every-game scorer. At some point in March, Houston’s gonna need that. — Marks

Last week: 3

Holiday wish: An alarm clock, as to avoid any future slow starts. Because there are now multiple instances this season — against Kentucky in Chicago, at Indiana — where the Jayhawks have trailed by double-digits, whilst also not looking incredibly urgent. That Kansas pulled out both wins is a testament to their talent and coaching, but, like, c’mon. Things don’t have to be this hard, guys!

Ultimately, when the going gets tough, KU knows it has four veterans — Hunter Dickinson, Kevin McCullar Jr., Dajuan Harris Jr., and KJ Adams — as good as any foursome in America. In related news, guess who scored the team’s final 17 points against the Hoosiers? Ding ding ding. That’s a great safety net for Bill Self to fall back on. But depending on those four to don their Superman capes and constantly dig KU out of double-digit holes, even as good as they are, isn’t super sustainable. (It would also help matters if one of Elmarko Jackson, Johnny Furphy, or Nick Timberlake stepped up and became more reliable, but alas. The wait continues.) Assembly Hall is a tough place to play, yes, and Indiana hit more 3s than it will any game the rest of this season (probably), but this is the same Indiana team that trailed by 15 against Morehead State on Tuesday, and only eked out a one-point home win after a 20-8 run in the final eight minutes. Take away the candy stripes, and that’s a team Kansas should swiftly crush without any theatrics.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Indiana had Kansas on the ropes. But the Jayhawks had Hunter Dickinson

At this point, you — the vested KU fan definitely not reading these rankings instead of working the last two days before Christmas — might offer a retort: But it’s only two games! You’re correct that Kansas needed no such come-from-behind magic against Tennessee, and it led most of the Connecticut game even with Newton going Super Saiyan. But against Kentucky (bright lights, national spotlight) and Indiana (the same) and Marquette, the only team to beat it all season (in Hawaii, in the semis of “the best MTE everrrrr”), KU got punched in the face first. In games of such circumstance, that shouldn’t be an issue. — Marks

5. UConn (10-2)

Last week: 2

Holiday wish: For a healthy Donovan Clingan. We aren’t overly concerned about the 15-point loss at Seton Hall on Wednesday night, although it certainly was surprising. But road wins in the brutal Big East are clearly going to be hard to come by — Shaheen Holloway’s Pirates beat the eventual national champion Huskies at home last season too, after all — and both Clingan and Cam Spencer were limited in the second half. Spencer because of foul trouble and Clingan because of what Dan Hurley said after the game was an ankle injury, which is the big headline from that game. The 7-foot-2 center hobbled off in considerable pain after delivering 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a block in just 14 minutes. It was a four-point game when he exited, a 10-point game five minutes later.

Given Clingan’s previous foot problems, and what we know about big men with recurring lower-extremity issues, seeing him wince and limp into the locker room Wednesday was a worrisome sight. Hurley said afterward his status is unclear. As for the actual game, it feels like a bit of an anomaly, but we can’t completely ignore the way Seton Hall flipped the script on UConn. The Huskies came in ranked No. 1 nationally in 2-point percentage, No. 3 in offensive efficiency and No. 6 in effective field-goal percentage — with the Big East’s highest scoring average (86.4 ppg) — and got  shut down. They scored just 60 points on 38 percent shooting, 4 of 21 from 3, with more turnovers (17) than assists (13). Assuming Clingan’s injury isn’t serious, and that he can get and stay healthy, we’re still big believers in this team. But Hurley has a few new things to stress out about. — Tucker


It was a rough Big East opener for Marquette on Tuesday. (Steve Senne / AP)

6. Marquette (9-3)

Last week: 6

Holiday wish: For The Athletic writers to stop covering its players and, naturally, jinxing the entire team. Kidding … kind of. First, before we get to the reality of Marquette’s out-of-character loss at Providence on Tuesday — the Big East, indeed, is going to be crazy this season — we’d like to make a shameless plug. If you haven’t already read CJ Moore’s profile of Oso Ighodaro, please do so.

So, Tuesday wasn’t great for the Golden Eagles. They didn’t look like their normal selves, what with the cold shooting — just 32.1 percent overall, far below their season-average 47.5 percent — and turning the ball over 14 times. Outside of Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones, who accounted for 34 of Marquette’s 57 points, the other seven players who suited up made just six baskets on 27 attempts. Thus, a ranked Marquette team lost to an unranked Providence one for the third time in five seasons.

So, how do we feel about Marquette? Still pretty good — the Golden Eagles remain the only team to have beaten Kansas, and their Purdue loss came in arguably the best, most competitive game this season — but not as unflinchingly positive as after the Maui Invitational. Marquette fans in the comments don’t want to hear any more about rebounding — Providence won the battle on the boards 38-35 — but that’s a legitimate concern, one we assume will be more regularly apparent as conference play begins in earnest. And for as good as Kolek is, a team making just 32.9 percent of its 3s — barely a top-200 mark nationally — is always going to be at risk on cold shooting nights. The ceiling is there to beat any team in America … but the floor might be a bit lower than previously thought. — Marks

7. Kentucky (8-2)

Last week: Not ranked

Holiday wish: A resolution to the bizarre Zvonimir Ivisic situation. The 7-foot-2 Croatian center had trouble getting admitted to Kentucky, arrived well into the fall semester, then ran into a mountain of NCAA eligibility red tape. He still hasn’t been cleared, stuck in a miserable limbo, as the Wildcats’ other two 7-footers, Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso, finally returned from offseason foot surgeries to make instant impacts in the last two weeks. As loaded as John Calipari’s team is, it almost seems unfair to give him another skilled big man halfway through the season — but it’s much more unfair to keep Ivisic in purgatory.

There’s at least some concern in Lexington that, without a positive update from the NCAA soon, he’ll just stay in Croatia until the 2024 NBA Draft.

It’s not that the Wildcats really need him, considering they nearly knocked off Kansas and demolished Miami with zero available big men, then led North Carolina from start to finish in a big win Saturday. Bradshaw looked like a budding star and Onyenso was a shot-blocking menace in that one. Even so, shouldn’t this process go a little faster for the young man thousands of miles from home trying to figure out his next move? — Tucker

8. Memphis (9-2)

Last week: 10

Holiday wish: Some respect on Penny Hardaway’s name. He has certainly earned it. And look, full disclosure, at least one of the co-authors of these Power Rankings has long been skeptical of the former NBA star’s actual coaching ability. Sure, he could parlay recruiting connections into signing top talent, but could he do anything with those blue-chip players? For a good while, that was a fair question. Remember, there was a time not long ago when he’d landed the No. 1 recruiting class, including top-10 players Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates, and still managed to start the season 9-8. It appeared then that the latest Hire a Famous Alum experiment had failed in Year 4.

But then he saved that season, made the NCAA Tournament, won a game, and took No. 1 seed Gonzaga to the wire. Then he rolled through last season, winning 26 games and the AAC tournament over Houston, before falling by a single point to Florida Atlantic, which then made the Final Four. Now Hardaway has loaded up on veterans — we mentioned last week that Memphis’ top eight players are all at least 22 years old — and quality nonconference wins. The Tigers have beaten Missouri, Michigan, Arkansas, VCU and Texas A&M away from home. More recently, in four days, they took out ACC contenders Clemson and Virginia, the latter by 23 (!!!) points. OK, fine, we admit it: Penny can coach. — Tucker

9. Tennessee (8-3)

Last week: 13

Holiday wish: Consistency from Dalton Knecht. The prized Northern Colorado transfer has run hot and cold for the Vols. Through a 4-0 start, including wins over Wisconsin and Syracuse away from home, he averaged 19 points on 52 percent shooting, 39 percent from 3. Then he shot 10 of 30 in UT’s first two losses of the season. Then he dropped 37 in a loss to UNC. Then just 10 points against George Mason. Then 21 in a win over Illinois. Then nine total points on a combined 3 of 14 shooting the last two games. Tennessee, with that typical top-5 defense, needs to know it can count on Knecht’s scoring.

It helps that Zakai Zeigler is finding his pre-ACL-injury form, averaging 31 minutes, 10.4 points, 6.4 assists, 2.2 steals the last five games. But he’s only scored more than 15 points seven times in 76 career games. Similarly, it’s nice to know that 23-year-old former McDonald’s All-American Josiah-Jordan James can still surprise you with a super-efficient 20-plus performance, as he did against both UNC and NC State. But 119 games into his college career, JJJ is still good for a handful of duds too; he’s scored four or fewer points three times this season — and 29 times in his career, compared to just six 20-point games.

Defense is always going to be there for Rick Barnes, whose team has held 9 of 11 opponents under 44 percent shooting, six of them under 38 percent, and forced more turnovers than it has allowed assists this season. But inconsistent scoring threats have doomed UT in all its recent NCAA Tournament exits. The Volunteers, who haven’t had a leading scorer top 14 points per game since 2018-19, averaged 59.7 points and shot a combined 19.4 percent from 3-point range in their last three season-ending losses. Knecht, who has scored 20-plus in 22 career games and 16-plus in 37 of 78 games, is supposed to be insurance against that kind of power outage. — Tucker

10. BYU (10-1)

Last week: 11

Holiday wish list: A healthy hamstring for forward Fousseyni Traore, who has missed the bulk of six games since injuring himself on a fast break against NC State. BYU still has one of the nation’s better offenses even without Traore — it averages 12.5 made 3s per game, second-most in the nation, and just hit 15 against Georgia State on Saturday — but imagine how good this team could be once he gets back. (Or, you know, what it’ll need once the level of competition picks up, in the program’s first Big 12 season.) That San Diego State win is still mostly carrying the torch for BYU’s nonconference resume, but shooting tends to translate, and Mark Pope’s team has pleeeeenty of it; four guys attempt at least 3.5 triples per game while knocking down 40 percent or more of them. Here’s a wild stat: Sixth man Jaxson Robinson sprained his ankle early against Georgia State, missing the rest of the game … and it was the first time this season he’s made fewer than two 3s in a game or attempted fewer than five. Shooters shoot. (And Robinson, it sounds like, is going to be OK in the long term.)

Traore, though, is a critical piece, a top-50 offensive rebounder nationally last season who is a key to the Cougars’ prowess on the glass. Making a ton of 3s is, fundamentally, a good strategy, but you know what’s better? Making a ton of 3s and grabbing an obscene number of the ones you miss. BYU does that — it’s 25th nationally in offensive rebounding rate, per KenPom — and should only maintain that pace once Traore returns.

The good news is, BYU only has two games — home against Bellarmine and Wyoming, a week apart — between now and its Jan. 6 date versus Cincinnati. We at Power Rankings, Inc. would like to suggest that Pope give Traore (and maybe even Robinson) that time to rest, before the gauntlet of Big 12 play begins … and the Cougars prove to those idiot preseason voters that they’re way better than 13th in the league. We smell a March sleeper. — Marks


Auburn comes at you in waves. (John Reed / USA Today)

Last week: NR

Holiday wish: An extra basketball. You know, since there’s only one ball and the Tigers (fifth nationally in assist percentage) have been so good all year about sharing it. Bruce Pearl predicted before the season exactly what kind of team he’d have: maybe a couple of All-SEC caliber players in McDonald’s All-American freshman Aden Holloway and fourth-year college starter Johni Broome, but not an overwhelming level of talent. No, their secret sauce would be the sheer volume of competent hoopers. “The bad thing is when the ball gets tossed, our five guys may not be that much better than anybody else’s five guys,” Pearl said at the league’s media day. “But when I go to the bench, I’m not dropping off. We will have a 10-man rotation.”

And he absolutely does. These Tigers are winning with depth: 10 guys averaging at least 15 minutes per game, none more than 23 minutes, nine of them averaging at least one assist, eight averaging five-plus points, seven who have made at least four 3-pointers this season. Broome leads them in points (14.7), rebounds (8.0) and blocks (1.6); Holloway leads them in assists (3.6) and made 3s (25) while shooting 40 percent from deep. Everyone else is really just a willing, winning role player. Broome’s backup, Dylan Cardwell, went for 11 points, five boards, three steals, two blocks and two assists in just 17 minutes against USC. He averages 13 points, 10 boards, 3 blocks per 40. He’s probably a starter somewhere else, but he’s the sledgehammer Pearl can sub in any time he needs one.

That’s how a team not loaded with draft picks is top-20 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency and top-10 overall at KenPom, with wins over Notre Dame by 24, Virginia Tech by 17, Indiana by 28 and USC by 16. Other than the margin of victory, none of those constitutes a “wow” win, but there are plenty of chances coming in SEC play, which starts at Arkansas on Jan. 6. – Tucker

12. North Carolina (8-3)

Last week: NR

Holiday wish: For preseason All-America big man Armando Bacot to play like he’s deserving of that designation. Because over UNC’s last three games — two of them losses, to UConn in Madison Square Garden and Kentucky in Atlanta — the fifth-year center has been anything but. In that span, Bacot is averaging just 12 points per game on 44 percent shooting and about nine rebounds. Those numbers are not befitting the player who owns UNC’s all-time rebounding record and tied David Robinson for the most double-doubles in a single season. To make matters worse, Bacot is basically the Tar Heels’ only center option, so he has to produce.

Credit Hubert Davis, then, for finally sending a message of sorts to Bacot on Wednesday night, in UNC’s win over previously unbeaten Oklahoma. The veteran big still played 33 minutes, but bouncy freshman Zayden High — who tied his season-high minutes with 12 — also got some serious run. If UNC truly is going to remain in the national conversation — which it absolutely can, considering it’s gone 8-3 with the nation’s 17th-toughest schedule, per KenPom, including wins over Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Arkansas — then it simply has to get more out of Bacot. The Tar Heels are sub-120 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and fairly or not, a large portion of the responsibility for that falls back on Bacot. With R.J. Davis’ emergence as a legitimate All-America candidate, not to mention the steady presence of transfers Harrison Ingram and Cormac Ryan, Bacot doesn’t have to be a superhuman scorer. But he does have to dominate the glass more than he has been, or it’ll be tough for the Tar Heels to overcome their rebounding woes against elite competition. — Marks

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

RJ Davis carrying Tar Heels to best regular-season start in at least 5 seasons

13. Villanova (8-4)

Last week: NR

Holiday wish: A comprehensive (but still affordable) insurance policy, to cover the whiplash that comes with trying to understand the Wildcats. There isn’t a more confusing team in America. Consider this: Villanova has wins this season over a trio of top-25 teams — North Carolina, Memphis, and as of Wednesday night, Creighton — as well as UCLA and Maryland … and losses to three Big 5 schools, including sub-100 Drexel and Penn. Huh?

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Can Kyle Neptune get Villanova back on the Wright track?

On the surface, there are good players here. Many of them. Big man Eric Dixon, who shredded UNC to the tune of 34 points, is at the top of that list alongside fifth-year guard Justin Moore, probably the team’s best player, who missed the Creighton game but will likely lead the team in scoring throughout the season. The rest of the pieces around them? The fit is … questionable, or at least has been. Take Washington State transfer T.J. Bamba, for example, one of the more highly sought-after wings in the transfer portal this offseason. This is what he produced in 25 minutes against Creighton on Wednesday: No points, no rebounds, no assists, six missed shots, three fouls, and two turnovers. That’s a dude who averaged almost 16 points per game in the Pac-12 last season.

And outside of foul shooting — Nova is second nationally at the line, hitting 81.2 percent as a team — Kyle Neptune’s team isn’t great at anything. It’s 25th nationally in the percentage of its points that come from 3s… yet it only shoots 32.1 percent from deep, a sub-200 mark nationally. We don’t get it, but we also aren’t here to argue with the results. Jekyll and Hyde were at least productive, right? — Marks

14. Ole Miss (11-0)

Last week: NR

Holiday wish: More opponents with a pulse. The good news is they’re coming, starting with a brutal SEC opener at Tennessee on Jan. 6, but real tests have been few and far between so far. That’s why it’s hard to know for sure how legit this undefeated start under new coach Chris Beard really is. That Dec. 2 home win over Memphis looks better every day, but there’s basically nothing else of note on the resume. Eight of the Rebels’ wins have come against teams outside the KenPom top 150. Two more sub-200 opponents are up next before that trip to Knoxville.

The computers aren’t sold yet on Ole Miss, the lowest KenPom team by far among the three remaining unbeatens in Division I, because of both the competition and the fact there’s no category in which it is elite. But Beard’s team is top-20 in 3-point percentage (.392), block percentage (17.7) and steal percentage (13.1), all things that can quickly shift momentum in any game. Beard inherited a veteran star, Matthew Murrell, who tied an SEC single-game record with 10 steals Tuesday against Troy, then remade the rest of the roster through the portal: Auburn transfer Allen Flanigan leads them in scoring (17.0) and rebounding (7.0), Saint Peter’s transfer Jaylen Murray leads them in assists (4.0) and Western Kentucky transfer Jamarion Sharp leads them in blocks (2.8). Now, let’s see these guys run the SEC gauntlet. — Tucker

15. Duke (8-3)

Last week: NR

Holiday wish: For a time machine, to go back and replay its nonconference schedule. Because the Duke team that outlasted Baylor on Wednesday night at MSG is not the same Duke team that struggled in road losses at Arkansas and Georgia Tech. (And, hey: Another crack at Arizona wouldn’t hurt either, especially knowing how good the Wildcats have been.) Not to make too much of one win, but to beat this Baylor team? The one with a top-five offense and plenty of motivation, following Saturday’s 24-point drubbing by Michigan State? The one whose 3-point marksmanship and offensive rebounding prowess seemed like especially bad matchups? Jon Scheyer’s team may not have quantity when it comes to marquee nonconference wins, but it darn sure has quality now.

What changed, then? Well, despite Tyrese Proctor’s continued absence with a sprained ankle — getting him back ASAP would be a lovely present, too — the Blue Devils have figured out their ball movement again. That process began with 37 combined assists against Charlotte and Hofstra, but it (mostly) carried over to the big stage, too. There were still periods when the ball stuck and the offense stagnated against the Bears, but 14 assists — a team-best four of them by 7-footer Kyle Filipowski, who continues to expand his already All-America-caliber game — is absolutely progress. Duke still isn’t shooting the ball to its potential from 3, but at least it didn’t force the issue against Baylor; instead, Scheyer’s squad went hard in the paint, got to the free-throw line, and played with an intensity that hadn’t been there most of this season. Entering the new year, Duke seems to be figuring things out, and maybe fast. — Marks

Last week: NR

Holiday wish: For leading scorer Jamal Mashburn Jr. (18.2 ppg) to get well soon. Thanks to a leg injury (healed now) and ligament tear in his right thumb (still healing), he hasn’t played since Nov. 22. Luckily for the Lobos, they haven’t really played anybody since their only loss — at Saint Mary’s the first week of the season — and he could be back in the lineup after Christmas. It would be huge if returned in time for the Jan. 2 showdown with Colorado State (10-1). Even with Mashburn sidelined, Richard Pitino has himself a squad. They play fast, shoot it well, have a top-50 offense and top-40 defense, which averages almost 10 steals per game.

New Mexico won 22 games last season and was briefly ranked. Now the mission, for a program that won six games the year before Pitino took over in 2021, is to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade. The Lobos just need to get healthy and stay that way. Former Arizona State transfer Jaelen House, a fifth-year senior with 120 games under his belt, is on his third season as a starter for Pitino. He’s well on his way to leading the Mountain West in steals for a third straight year — and has 246 for his career, the active Division I leader — but he’s only played six games himself this season due to injury.

Fun fact about this team: It has an odd number of Kentucky connections. There are the Pitino and Mashburn scions, plus UK star TyTy Washington’s uncle, Tru Washington, and UK transfer (thrice removed) Jemarl Baker in the rotation. Baker, a seventh-year player who spent two seasons at Kentucky, two at Arizona and two at Fresno State, has started 10 games for the Lobos and made 22 of 50 3-pointers (44 percent). — Tucker

Also thinking about: Providence (10-2) only needed one Big East game under new coach Kim English to send a message. That 15-point win over Marquette, plus a previous 13-point win over Wisconsin, suggests the Friars aren’t going to fall off a cliff post-Ed Cooley. … Iowa State (9-2) doesn’t have a top-50 win, but a 25-point demolition of rival Iowa and some very sexy metrics have our attention. TJ Otzelberger’s team leads the nation in steal percentage and 2-point defense and ranks fifth in points allowed (59.1) and defensive efficiency. Now, let’s see how all that holds up when the Cyclones play three top-20 teams in four games – at Oklahoma, vs. Houston, at BYU – from Jan. 6-16. … James Madison (11-0) just keeps validating that season-opening win at Michigan State by demolishing its lesser competition. The Dukes have won their last five games against Division I opponents by a minimum of 15 points and an average of 23.

(Editor’s note: Power rankings will be off next week for the holidays and will return Jan. 4)

(Top photo of Memphis’ David Jones: Nikki Boertman / AP)



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Golam Muktadir is the chief editor of Surprise Sports and the Proges News. He checks all the sports content and craft it to make it more digesting for the readers.

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