Power Rankings: Nevada slips after first loss of season

And then there were three.

Just three unbeaten teams remain after Nevada dropped a game for the first time this season on Saturday night. The Wolf Pack went into The Pit and were destroyed by New Mexico 85-68. Eric Musselman’s team had developed a propensity for getting off to slow starts and digging a hole, but it had always been able to erase the deficit in fairly short order. New Mexico just kept coming on Saturday and Nevada wasn’t able to adjust. When a team’s offense is based mostly on its players’ ability to beat their defender one-on-one, it’s not the easiest to come back when the opponent gets in a rhythm.

Let’s put this loss into perspective quickly: New Mexico is not a very good team. The Lobos were 6-6 against Division I competition heading into Saturday. They had lost four games at home, including ones to North Texas and Penn. They lost by 35 points to New Mexico State. Some of those defeats had come without Carlton Bragg, but not all of them.

The loss very likely knocks Nevada from 1-seed contention come Selection Sunday, and it sends the Wolf Pack plummeting in the Power Rankings. Now, they’re just another 1-loss team … without a litany of quality wins to stand on.

1. Duke Blue Devils (12-1)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Clemson 87-68 on Saturday

This was a competitive contest for one half, but the Blue Devils came out of halftime and rattled off a 14-0 run. Duke’s supporting cast has stepped up a couple of times this season, and it happened again on Saturday. Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett combined for just 17 points on 6-for-22 shooting — but Jack White hit four 3-pointers off the bench, and Marques Bolden finished 11 points.

2. Michigan Wolverines (14-0)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Penn State 68-55 on Thursday, vs. Indiana (4:30 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS)

After Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews shouldered much of the offensive load the first few weeks of the season, sophomore guard Jordan Poole has been a consistent option of late. He has gone for double figures in nine straight games, including two 20-point efforts. His ability to stretch the defense from the perimeter is key for the Wolverines’ offense.

3. Tennessee Volunteers (12-1)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: beat Georgia 96-50 on Saturday

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but look at Tennessee’s upcoming schedule. The Volunteers don’t play Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State or LSU until Feb. 16 or later. They get Alabama and Arkansas at home in the next couple of weeks. There are two games against Florida, but Rick Barnes’ team could conceivably go into Valentine’s Day with just one or two losses — before a brutal finishing stretch.

4. Virginia Cavaliers (12-0)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Marshall 100-64 on Monday, beat Florida State 65-52 on Saturday

We saw Virginia at its best this week, at both ends of the floor. The Cavaliers started by putting up 100 points for the first time in the Tony Bennett era, against Marshall, and followed that up by completely stifling Florida State on Saturday. The Seminoles were helpless offensively for the first 38 minutes before going on a game-ending, 16-0 run to make the margin look less drastic.

5. Gonzaga Bulldogs (12-2)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Cal State Bakersfield 89-54 on Monday, beat Santa Clara 91-48 on Saturday

Saturday was huge for Gonzaga. Not because the Bulldogs beat Santa Clara, but because of the return of guard Geno Crandall and, perhaps more notably, forward Killian Tillie. Tillie had been out the entire season thus far with an ankle injury, and Crandall had been out since late November with a fractured hand. Tillie likely slots into the starting lineup when he’s 100 percent, and Crandall provides needed backcourt depth.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-1)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat West Virginia 62-59 on Wednesday, beat Kansas State 63-57 on Saturday

Texas Tech’s defense is on another planet. The Red Raiders have allowed just one team to reach 0.90 points per possession for an entire game — Northern Colorado in late November. Tech won that game by 31 points. Even Duke managed only 0.85 points per possession. Tech’s raw defensive efficiency is No. 1 — and more than five points per 100 possessions better than No. 2.

7. Michigan State Spartans (13-2)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: Beat Northwestern 81-55 on Wednesday, beat Ohio State 86-77 on Saturday

Two games without Joshua Langford, two wins for Michigan State. The Spartans went into Columbus on Saturday and overcame a halftime deficit to beat Ohio State. Cassius Winston was outstanding, going for 25 points and five assists — simply taking the game over in the second half. Nick Ward also hit the 20-point mark for the second straight game.

8. Kansas Jayhawks (12-2)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Oklahoma 70-63 on Wednesday, at Iowa State (5 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2)

So maybe we were premature in saying Kansas won’t face the Big 12 title chase it has in recent years. Iowa State shredded the Jayhawks on Saturday, hitting 13 3-pointers and forcing 24 turnovers. Kansas had no response in the second half, and Udoka Azubuike‘s absence enabled Iowa State to go small and really dictate the game. The lone bright spot for Kansas was the continued emergence of freshman Quentin Grimes.

9. Virginia Tech Hokies (13-1)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat Notre Dame 81-66 on Tuesday, beat Boston College 77-66 on Saturday

Virginia Tech just keeps on moving forward, racking up another ACC win by double digits despite a middling offensive performance. The Hokies struggled to shoot against Boston College on Saturday, making just 6-for-22 from behind the arc — but Buzz Williams’ team is now 13-1 heading into a game at Georgia Tech and then at Virginia next week.

10. Nevada Wolf Pack (14-1)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: Beat Utah State 72-49 on Wednesday, lost at New Mexico 85-58 on Saturday

How the Wolf Pack respond moving forward will be interesting to see. The quest for an unbeaten season is no longer in play, so some of the intrigue is gone. At the same time, some of the pressure is also gone. Fortunately, Eric Musselman’s team next game is against San Jose State, which has won two Division I games all season and lost its past two games by a combined 50 points.

11. North Carolina Tar Heels (11-3)

Previous ranking: 12
This week: Beat Harvard 77-57 on Wednesday, Beat Pittsburgh 85-60 on Saturday

Since North Carolina lost to Kentucky, the Tar Heels’ third defeat in six games, they have begun to buy in defensively and dominate at that end of the floor. Three of their four best defensive performances of the season have come in the past three games, against Davidson, Harvard and Pittsburgh. All three opponents have scored fewer than 0.79 points per possession.

12. Florida State Seminoles (12-2)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat Winthrop 87-76 on Tuesday, lost at Virginia 65-52 on Saturday

Well, that was one Leonard Hamilton will love to forget. The final margin of 13 points doesn’t come close to describing how easy the win was for Virginia. Florida State went on a 16-0 run over the final 2:01, trimming Virginia’s 29-point lead to something less embarrassing. The Seminoles scored 13 points in the first 18 minutes of the second half.

13. Auburn Tigers (11-2)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: no games

The opponent probably had more to do with it than anything, but Auburn finally locked down defensively against North Florida on Saturday. It’s that side of the floor where the Tigers will determine their fate in SEC play. They have the best defensive turnover percentage and block percentage in the country, but they’ll have to get stops and defensive rebounds moving forward.

14. NC State Wolfpack (13-1)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: Beat Miami 87-82 on Thursday

The Wolfpack overcame a second-half deficit to win on the road at Miami on Thursday, moving to 13-1 on the season and opening their ACC campaign with a victory. After seeing his minutes drop for the previous two games (and the first half on Thursday), Markell Johnson was the catalyst, finishing with 20 points and five assists.

15. Houston Cougars (14-0)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Tulsa 74-56 on Wednesday, vs. Memphis (Sunday)

One of four unbeatens remaining in college basketball, the Cougars are sort of the forgotten of the quartet. Kelvin Sampson has this team rolling, though. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country, and while they don’t have a Rob Gray on the offensive end, they have multiple options. Houston has already defeated LSU, Oregon, Utah State and three other top-100 opponents.

16. Kentucky Wildcats (10-3)
Previous
ranking: 13
This week: Lost at Alabama 77-75 on Saturday

Lost in Kentucky’s loss on Saturday is Ashton Hagans‘ continued emergence at the point guard spot for the Wildcats. He beat his man off the bounce several times, getting to the rim and finishing. He also had six assists to just two turnovers — while racking up another three steals. He simply changes the game at both ends of the floor.

Dropped out: Ohio State (No. 16)

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