College Basketball Power Rankings Update: Arizona Makes a Move

Finally at full strength, the Wildcats climbed the rankings thanks to an impressive win at UCLA. Meanwhile, Duke continued its slide with another loss.

A perennial powerhouse program, the Arizona Wildcats have once again risen to the top of the Pac-12. Entering last week 0-2 versus RPI top-25 schools, they finally broke through with a huge win over then-No. 3 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion last Saturday.

Not the flashiest of teams, the Wildcats are built around a stingy defense, ranking 14th in defensive efficiency while limiting opponents to 39.8% field goal shooting. Due to injuries and suspension, they started the season shorthanded. But with the new year came renewed health and a full arsenal, boosting a sagging offense. In seven conference games, they have been clicking, scoring 80.9 points per game.

This week we will take a closer look at Arizona and four other programs making noise in the world of college basketball.

You will find that our rankings can sometimes be much different from the AP Top 25 or the USA Today Coaches Poll. Our power rankings here at numberFire are not subjective or influenced by the latest hype; we put our faith and trust in our algorithms. Each week, we’ll list the top 25 teams in Division I from worst to best based on our nERD metric, a predictive measure that projects the number of points we would expect that squad to win by against a league-average team.

25. Xavier Musketeers (nERD: 13.42, Record: 14-5, Last Week: NR)
24. Southern Methodist Mustangs (nERD: 13.56, Record: 17-4, Last Week: NR)
23. Iowa State Cyclones (nERD: 14.18, Record: 12-6, Last Week: 22)
22. Wichita State Shockers (nERD: 14.30, Record: 17-4, Last Week: 24)
21. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (nERD: 14.81, Record: 17-3, Last Week: 21)
20. Cincinnati Bearcats (nERD: 15.23, Record: 17-2, Last Week: 18)
19. Oregon Ducks (nERD: 15.46, Record: 18-2, Last Week: 20)

Since starting the season 2-2, the Oregon Ducks have rattled off 16 consecutive wins, the third-longest active winning streak in Division I. They have dominated Pac-12 play.

After giving UCLA their first loss of the season in an 89-87 thriller, the Ducks have won their next six games without much of a test. They have won by an average of 24.3 points per game in that span while their 69-52 beat down of Stanford, without leading scorer Dillon Brooks, was the closest game of the set.

Brooks' injury is a troubling one for Dana Altman's team as he owns a massive 33.6% usage. The junior sprained his foot in Oregon's win over California and remains out indefinitely. Brooks had offseason surgery on the same foot, and that forced him to miss the first three games of the season and relegated him to limited minutes for the next eight. He has played only 20.4 minutes per game but is still averaging 13.4 points per night.

The Ducks will try to keep the good times rolling as the travel to face the Utah Utes on Thursday.

18. Butler Bulldogs (nERD: 15.62, Record: 17-3, Last Week: 14)
17. Creighton Bluejays (nERD: 15.76, Record: 18-2, Last Week: 13)
16. Wisconsin Badgers (nERD: 15.83, Record: 16-3, Last Week: 16)
15. Duke Blue Devils (nERD: 15.89, Record: 15-5, Last Week: 12)

Now may officially be the time to press the panic button in Durham. Losers of three of their last four games, the Duke Blue Devils blew a nine-point lead with under seven minutes remaining at home to North Carolina State on Monday night. A team that had not won at Cameron Indoor in over 20 years, the Wolfpack had also come into Monday's contest losers of four of their last five, including a 51-point demolishing by North Carolina.

While interim coach Jeff Capel will get the blame for most of the recent failure, Duke can also blame injuries and youthful inexperience for their struggles. The team's leading rebounder, Amile Jefferson, missed the losses to Louisville and Florida State due to a foot injury. Freshman Harry Giles has struggled. Even the team's second leading scorer, Jayson Tatum, another freshman, has had his growing pains in the past two weeks. Tatum entered Monday's game shooting 37.8% from the field while committing 3.3 turnovers per game.

14. Arizona Wildcats (nERD: 16.02, Record: 18-2, Last Week: 19)

With the Wildcats 96-85 road win over high-flying UCLA and the return of Allonzo Trier, Sean Miller's crew has become the unofficial favorite to take home the Pac-12 title.

In their victory against the Bruins, Arizona owned an 11-point lead at halftime as they limited the nation's second-highest scoring team to 13.1 points below their season average of 98.1 points per game -- on UCLA's home court, no less. The Wildcats' perimeter defense was key as they held the Bruins to 10-of-31 shooting on three-pointers (32.3%), well below their season mark of 44.1%.

While the defense did their job, the offense received a boost with the return of Trier, who was cleared to play just last week after failing a drug test this summer. The sophomore averaged 14.8 points per game last year and will make a potent one-two punch with freshman Lauri Markkanen. The Finnish big man has averaged 23.3 points in his last four games while sinking 4.0 three-pointers per game in that span.

13. Florida Gators (nERD: 16.07, Record: 14-5, Last Week: 10)
12. Florida State Seminoles (nERD: 16.28, Record: 18-2, Last Week: 15)
11. UCLA Bruins (nERD: 16.37, Record: 19-2, Last Week: 11)
10. Purdue Boilermakers (nERD: 16.98, Record: 16-4, Last Week: 17)

When the Purdue Boilermakers win, they make a statement. Of Purdue's 16 wins this season, 11 have come by 20 or more points, including two such victories last week. They flexed their defensive muscle, limiting Penn State to 52 points on 31.3% shooting from the field as the Boilers won by 25 points. When the Illinois Fighting Illini came to town and lost 91-68, the Boilermakers showed they could catch fire offensively as they shot over 60% from the field. They also showcased their unselfishness by assisting on 45 of 62 field goals (72.5%) in the two blowout victories.

While the offense has been a true team effort, with four players averaging at least 11.0 points per game in Big 10 Conference play, the real superstar of the team is National Player of the Year candidate Caleb Swanigan. The sophomore leads the country in rebounds per game (12.5) and double-doubles (16 in 20 games).

The Boilers have a big game tonight at Michigan State. Even though the Spartans have lost three of their last four, it's never easy to win in East Lansing.

9. Virginia Cavaliers (nERD: 17.36, Record: 15-3, Last Week: 9)
8. Baylor Bears (nERD: 18.21, Record: 18-1, Last Week: 7)
7. Louisville Cardinals (nERD: 18.40, Record: 16-4, Last Week: 8)
6. Kansas Jayhawks (nERD: 18.95, Record: 18-1, Last Week: 6)
5. West Virginia Mountaineers (nERD: 19.45, Record: 15-4, Last Week: 2)

Not too long ago, West Virginia held the top spot in our power rankings, but they've had a slow start to conference play, owning a 4-3 record in the Big 12.

In their first 12 games, they allowed only 58.3 points per game while their trapping "Press Virginia" defense allowed only one team to score more than 66 points. They were 11-1 with their 11 wins coming by an average winning margin of 33.8 points per game. Since starting Big 12 play, the defense has faltered, allowing 75.7 points per game.

The defensive woes have caused the Mountaineers to double their season total of losses -- from two to four -- in just the past week. In losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State, their opponents shot 49.6% from the floor while scoring an average of 84.0 points. In the Mountaineers first 17 games, they caused 24.3 turnovers per game, but they were only able to force 14.0 turnovers in their last two games.

Bob Huggins better get his crew re-focused quickly as they face one of their toughest tests of the year tonight, when the second-ranked Kansas Jayhawks bring their explosive offensive to Morgantown.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels (nERD: 19.74, Record: 18-3, Last Week: 3)
3. Villanova Wildcats (nERD: 19.79, Record: 19-1, Last Week: 5)
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (nERD: 19.88, Record: 20-0, Last Week: 4)
1. Kentucky Wildcats (nERD: 22.42, Record: 17-2, Last Week: 1)