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College basketball power rankings: Duke can leapfrog Michigan for No. 1 if it can beat Texas Tech

1 The Wolverines are clinging No. 1 after winning — with a little tussle — vs. Western Michigan on Saturday. Michigan ranks No. 3 in overall defense and is No. 1 nationally in not turning the ball over via steals. John Beilein’s team sits at 11-0 and will not play a team projected to make the NCAA Tournament until Jan. 6, when it hosts Indiana. This the fourth time in program history UM has started 11-0.  2 The Blue Devils are still rating across the board, on average, as the strongest team in college basketball. Obviously Thursday night’s game against Texas Tech looms large. A win there, and there’s basically no keeping Duke (10-1) from bumping back up to No. 1 in next week’s rankings. A loss? Then things get really interesting. Also, a Duke win would mark the 20th time in the past 22 seasons that the Blue Devils have won at least 11 of their first 12 games.  3 A home win over VCU on Sunday and a road win against South Carolina on Wednesday night improved the Wahoos up to 10-0 from last week’s PR. More importantly, UVA got freshman point guard Kihei Clark back for the game on Wednesday, which is remarkable considering he had wrist surgery less than two weeks ago. It’s honestly the fasted wrist-operation recovery I can ever remember in basketball.  4 Kansas (10-0) drops from three to four after getting a close-shave win at home over wishy-washy Villanova. But there was the 89-53 win on Tuesday night against South Dakota. If nothing else, Bill Self has to be excited to get 18 points from Charlie Moore and 12 from David McCormack. The bloom has to come soon, right? Well, a significant game at Arizona State on Saturday looms. A win there would reinforce Kansas’ standing atop college basketball. 5 The 9-1 Vols skip into the top five in light of their 102-92 road win over increasingly hated rival Memphis on Saturday. (There was an oh-by-the-way 13-point win at home on Wednesday night against Samford too.) UT clearing the century mark on Penny Hardaway’s Tigers marked just the second time since 2011 that the Vols scored at least 100 in game.  6 After eight straight games to start the season with double-digit margins of victory, the Wolf Pack (11-0) have won their past three games by defeating Arizona State by six, Grand Canyon by eight and South Dakota State by four. The SDSU game came at home Saturday and it was in doubt until the final minute. At this point, Eric Musselman’s team has defeated schools from the WCC, AAC, A-10, Missouri Valley and Pac-12 (twice) with a third (Utah) still to come on the schedule. 7 The Bulldogs were outpaced at UNC, but I’m not dropping Gonzaga because it’s still got the No. 1 offense and there’s no big shame in falling to the Tar Heels in their house. As a reminder: a team continuing to win doesn’t guarantee they will rise in the power rankings, and taking an understandable road loss doesn’t equate to automatic slippage here. The margins are slim, but I think Gonzaga (10-2) is just slightly better than Texas Tech at the moment — Thursday night could prove otherwise — so I’m holding firm with GU in the top seven.  8 So … Duke … Zion/RJ/Reddish/Tre … Madison Square Garden. Is Thursday night’s Red Raiders game the biggest nonconference game in program history? Feels like it. Even if it’s not, it’s one of the biggest, and it’s a prime opportunity for a major chapter to be written in Chris Beard’s coaching career. He’s been terrific from the jump at Texas Tech. And we get to see how for-real that defense is when it faces up against multiple future lottery picks.   9 It might surprise you to learn that, across seven modern/major metrics, only Duke, Michigan and Kansas mean out to a higher rating than the 9-2 Spartans. The computers still like this team — and so do I. I’ve thought since the start of the season it’s a top-10 club in the sport and am not ready to step off that. It should remain that way into the new year. It’s going to be almost three more weeks before we get MSU in a true test (at Ohio State on Jan. 5), so MSU will hover in the background a bit nationally until then. 10 The Tar Heels jump seven spots in wake of their high-profile home domination of Gonzaga. If you’re wondering why UNC isn’t ahead of the Bulldogs, given both teams have two losses: Gonzaga’s neutral-court win over Duke trumps UNC’s best win being at home against Gonzaga. But no team in the Power Rankings has been placed in front of bigger opportunities than UNC. If the Tar Heels beat Kentucky this weekend at the CBS Sports Classic, and jumping another 3-5 spots by next week is in play.  11 The Bulls are borderline top-10 material thanks to getting to 11-0 after beating Syracuse for the first time in program history. Buffalo could boast arguably one of the five best resumes in all of college basketball by Saturday morning if it can manage to win one more really good tilt. UB travels to Marquette for the biggest game in the sport on Friday. This team already owns quad one-level wins against West Virginia, San Francisco and Syracuse. 12 The Hokies (10-1) easily dispatched Washington on Saturday. Buzz Williams’ team is now beaten opponents by an average of 23 points. Interestingly, VT ranks No. 7 in points allowed (58.1 per game), and yet from an efficiency standpoint, the Hokies are better. At KenPom, this team is No. 6 in America in offensive efficiency and No. 26 in defense. That’s an encouraging sign for a group that’s hitting 43.5 percent of its 3-pointers. 13 The Badgers (9-2) seem destined to build a stout case file with almost no bad losses that inevitably winds up with them landing on the 4-line come Selection Sunday. Falling to Virginia in the Bahamas and losing in overtime at Marquette are the only scratches so far, and now the Dec. 29 game at Western Kentucky doesn’t seem as tough s it did in the preseason. WKU is 5-6 and has lost to Indiana State, Missouri State and Troy.  14 The Sooners actually have a case to be as high as No. 11 here, but it’s a squeeze between Buffalo and OU. Lon Kruger’s team is now 10-1 after taking out two more schools from big conferences. Both were home games: an 81-70 dismissal of USC on Saturday and an 83-70 takedown of Creighton. An unexpectedly great start for the Sooners has been needed, as three of the next four games are on the road, starting with Northwestern on Friday.  15 The Buckeyes (10-1) haven’t lost since last week’s rankings, but OSU coach Chris Holtmann was so pragmatic about his team’s play with me on the phone earlier this week, I’m going to drop them a few spots. All teams above Ohio State won and won against good opponents. The Buckeyes barely got past Bucknell, 73-71, and started their game on Tuesday against terrible Youngstown State with a 14-2 deficit. Offensively, the team is still working through a lot, and it’s young. To even be ranked right now is a major testament to Holtmann.   16 The Cougars had just one game since last week’s PRs — a 64-60 home win over Saint Louis — but Thursday night provides a really good under-the-radar affair. While Duke-Texas Tech will dominate the night, a 9-2 Utah State team will travel into H-town to play the Coogs. Kelvin Sampson knows he’s got a real one there. You might think this 10-0 start is the best for UH since the Phi Slamma Jamma days, but you’d be wrong. It’s been 50 years since the team won its first 10 out of the gate.  17 Casually moving along at 10-1 after nonchalant wins this week over Southeast Missouri State and North Florida. With wins over Saint Louis and Winthrop in its next two games, FSU would finish nonconference play with just one loss for the third straight season. Bet you didn’t know that.  18 The Paladins aren’t going anywhere — at least for one more week. Now at 12-0, and moving up a spot in the PRs after whooping UNC Wilmington 93-50 on Saturday, a big game looms on Friday night. Can Furman go into LSU and steal a win there? It would be humongous to this team’s overall at-large credentials for March. Beating the Tigers would wrap up an undefeated nonconference run for FU and put Bob Richey arguably at the top of the coach-of-the-year convo heading into Christmas.  19 Yes, Kevin Keatts’ team is going to get some love here in light of its home win over Auburn on Wednesday night. In fact, Auburn’s loss boots it from the PRs. How about NC State (10-1)? It’s got one of the worst noncon strength of schedules in college basketball, but beating a top-10 team will fuel you into the convo. For the Wolfpack, it was their first win at home to a top-10 team in the AP Poll since 1986, when it knocked off Kentucky. Keatts is proving to be a top-10 killer, though. Arizona, when it was ranked No. 2; Duke, when it was ranked No. 2; and UNC when it was ranked No. 10 have all fallen victim the past two seasons to this program.

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