The season is two weeks away and after canvassing the country for media days (there are still two more this week — the Big 12 and A-10), it’s time to revisit the Power 36.
Injuries have altered a few of the rankings. Re-examining some of the teams has forced some to slide and move up, as well. There is an actual exhibition result to go on here after USC beat Villanova, too. And in a few weeks we will have game results to affect the Power 36. The speculation will be gone. The facts will drive the rankings.
So, for the last time in the preseason, here is the Power 36:
1. Michigan State (1): The Spartans have more depth on the perimeter than any other title contender. Joshua Langford’s return is undervalued. He can ball.
2. Kansas (2): Kansas was picked to win the Big 12 and has one of the top power post players in a healthy Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks can make a strong statement by beating Duke on Nov. 5 in the Champions Classic.
3. Kentucky (3): The Wildcats were the pick to win the SEC. Ashton Hagans is ready to lead. The freshmen are already making waves and the veteran bigs are ready to make an impact. The showdown with Michigan State on Nov. 5 at the Champions Classic could be a title game preview.
4. Duke (4): The Blue Devils are the most unknown of the top four, but may have the top defender on the perimeter in Tre Jones. If the freshmen are ready for prime time then the matchup with Kansas on Nov. 5 could be a season changer.
5. Maryland (5): The Terps are embracing the role of being the top challenger to Michigan State in the Big Ten. Anthony Cowan Jr. is up for the challenge of leading this squad to a possible deep March run.
6. Florida (8): The Gators move up a few spots upon further review. They have the SEC preseason player of the year in Kerry Blackshear Jr. He’s a leader and the missing piece to take the Gators to a possible Final Four.
7. Seton Hall (6): The preseason Big East champs are new to the role as favorites. But preseason Big East player of the year Myles Powell is showing why in practices so far that he’s ready for the challenge to be an all-American.
8. Louisville (9): The Cardinals were my preseason ACC favorite but didn’t get the nod from the ACC media. Still, Jordan Nwora did get tabbed as the ACC player of the year. The Cards are top 10 good.
9. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders only slide down a tad due to the experience of those ahead of them. Texas Tech will still be the top challenger to Kansas in the Big 12 and has plenty of chances to prove its worth early in the season.
10. North Carolina (10): The Tar Heels have the top freshman guard in the country in Cole Anthony and Garrison Brooks is ready to be the anchor in the post. The Tar Heels will be a tough out as the season progresses.
11. Gonzaga (11): The Zags will have experience, albeit not in Spokane at guard, with transfers Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder. The knee scope on Killian Tillie isn’t expected to keep him out too long. And the freshmen bigs are getting rave reviews so far in practice.
12. Memphis (13): The Tigers brought James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa to AAC media day. They’re both huge. Memphis may not have the experience to win the title, but they’ve got the talent to make a deep run. And now the expectation of being tabbed as a co-favorite to win the AAC.
13. Virginia (12): The Cavaliers are still going to have to find shooters/makers this season. But the defense should be just fine. Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key discussed welcoming the challenge of keeping Virginia atop the ACC at media day. There’s no reason to doubt them.
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14. Purdue (16): The Boilermakers are at a point where they expect to be in contention in the Big Ten, especially during seasons when they aren’t predicted. Look for Nojel Eastern to pick up some scoring. He is relishing the opportunity.
15. Illinois (19): I continue to drive the Illini bandwagon. There aren’t many flaws here in the preseason. The one question Brad Underwood had was about toughness. Illinois will find out early where it stands in that category.
16. Ohio State (18): The Buckeyes have the big man in Kaleb Wesson to center the season around. If DJ Carton lives up to his hype then the Buckeyes will be a top four Big Ten contender.
17. USC (32): The Trojans knocked off Villanova 72-61 in a Friday night exhibition at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. The freshmen — Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley — lived up to their hype. Okongwu had a double-double with 15 and 10 and Mobley was strong in the second half to push the Trojans to the win. Toss in freshman Ethan Anderson’s play at the point (nine points and five assists) and the Trojans are looking like a Pac-12 title contender.
18. Georgetown (20): The more I look and talk to the Hoyas the more I’m on board with their big three of James Akinjo, Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven. The Hoyas are a legit Big East top three contender.
19. Villanova (14): The Wildcats lost to USC without their starting backcourt Collin Gillespie (broken nose) and Bryan Antoine (shoulder surgery). Still, freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl finished the exhibition game with 20 points and nine boards. If he can deliver on his pub then the Wildcats could weather the early season as they get healthy.
20. Xavier (15): This is probably a safer slot for the Musketeers in advance of the season opener. Naji Marshall said he’s ready for the challenge to be one of the Big East’s best. The key will be if Xavier is the team that finished the Big East, not the one that started.
21. Washington (21): The Huskies will have a long, athletic and extremely difficult to get through back line of the zone. Washington is welcoming the nod of being a team to beat now in the Pac-12. Playing Baylor early in Alaska should be a strong indicator of where the Huskies stand.
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22. Baylor (17): The Bears have the possible player of the year in Tristan Clark in the Big 12 but losing Mario Kegler was a hit to the wings. Baylor has the depth to survive the loss and the aforementioned Washington game will be a good barometer.
23. Auburn (24): Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said Auburn may be bigger than last season but won’t be slower. They aren’t going to take as many 3s, but don’t think for a second this team won’t be as exciting.
24. Oregon (22): The Ducks were the pick to win the Pac-12 but they did take an early-season hit with the news that N’Faly Dante won’t be joining them until December, missing the first nine games after missing an NCAA eligibility date.
25. Saint Mary’s (26): The Gaels could be the deepest Randy Bennett has had during his tenure. Jordan Ford could be the WCC player of the year. The schedule is challenging and the Gaels should be able to get into the NCAA tournament without sweating.
26. Utah State (23): The Aggies were the obvious choice to win the Mountain West. Sam Merrill was the pick to win MWC player of the year for the second straight season. The buzz is real in Logan.
27. Marquette (25): Markus Howard is all in on the challenge that the Eagles won’t be the same team without the Hauser brothers. If the Eagles can defend at a high clip then Marquette will in the hunt for a top four finish in the Big East.
28. Davidson (28): The Wildcats will have a 1-2-3 pop that could be scary good with Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Luke Frampton. If this team defends well then they could be a regular in these rankings.
29. Wisconsin (29): Nate Reuvers will be one of the most important players in the Big Ten — if he can deliver as a scoring facing forward and board. Yes, he has to board, then the Badgers will be a real threat in the Big Ten. The guard play will be the strength.
30. Penn State (30): The Nittany Lions have a possible first-team all-American in Lamar Stevens. He told me at Big Ten media day he came back to deliver the NCAA tournament berth. He will leave a legacy. The Nittany Lions will be there.
31. Colorado (31): The Buffaloes are ready for the breakthrough. McKinley Wright IV and Tyler Bey were on the preseason first team (10 players). Wright IV said he can get his turnovers down. If that happens, then he can be the player of the year in the conference.
32. LSU (35): Skylar Mays will be the leader the Tigers need while Trendon Watford will deliver the freshmen hype. The question will be can the Tigers board and protect the rim as well as they did last season.
33. Tennessee (NR): Lamonte Turner is fully on board to be the leader the Vols need now that Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are gone. Rick Barnes said this team won’t have the same experience but there is no feeling of despair in Knoxville. The Vols expect to be in play in the top tier of the SEC.
34. VCU (33): The Rams aren’t getting the national pub they deserve. They will have an early chance against LSU on Nov. 13 to prove they belong maybe even higher. Expect VCU and Davidson to be in a tight battle throughout the season in the A-10.
35. Houston (34): The Cougars were picked with Memphis to win the AAC. That’s showing tremendous respect to what Kelvin Sampson has built in Houston. This team will defend. The question will be can they score well.
36. Vermont (36): The America East preseason pick to win the league and the preseason America East player of the year Anthony Lamb will be on the clock to prove they are a real contender for a first-round upset — if they can take care of their non-conference slate in games at St. Bonaventure, St. John’s and of course if they can show extremely well at Virginia.
Under consideration (in alphabetical order by conference): Cincinnati (AAC), South Florida (AAC), Wichita State (AAC), NC State (ACC), Florida State (ACC), Syracuse (ACC), Notre Dame (ACC), Providence (Big East), Creighton (Big East), Iowa State (Big 12), West Virginia (Big 12), Kansas State (Big 12), Michigan (Big Ten), Western Kentucky (CUSA), UTSA (CUSA), Harvard (Ivy), Arizona (Pac-12), Arizona State (Pac-12), Oregon State (Pac-12), Mississippi State (SEC), Ole Miss (SEC), South Carolina (SEC), Georgia (SEC), BYU (WCC) and Pepperdine (WCC).