After the first month of the season, it was looking fairly ugly for teams outside the power-six conferences and the American Athletic Conference. Leagues like the Big Ten and Pac-12 were really struggling, but non-power conferences didn't look poised to take advantage come Selection Sunday.
That has changed over the past couple of months, as four teams from non-power conferences are now in ESPN's Power Rankings: Saint Mary's, Gonzaga, Rhode Island and Nevada.
It has been hard to value some of these teams, but it's clear now that all four teams belong in the top 25.
Gonzaga might have the best résumé of the group. The Bulldogs have KenPom and BPI rankings in the top 10, as well as wins over Ohio State, Creighton and Texas, with two of those wins coming away from home. No one anticipated the Buckeyes being 8-0 in the Big Ten when Gonzaga throttled them by 27 back in November. On the negative side, Gonzaga has the lowest RPI of the quartet, sitting in the 50s with a sub-100 loss at San Diego State.
Perception-wise, Saint Mary's has changed the most since November. The Gaels were pegged as one of the more disappointing teams in nonconference play after back-to-back losses to Washington State and Georgia at the Wooden Legacy in California. They haven't lost since, winning 14 in a row, including a three-point win at Gonzaga last week. The Gaels also have a home win over New Mexico State, which is looking better every week.
Rhode Island weathered the storm without E.C. Matthews in November and December, despite dropping two games. Since his return, the Rams haven't lost, rattling off 10 wins in a row and looking like the clear-cut favorite in the Atlantic 10. With Matthews on the court, Dan Hurley's team is 11-1 with a lone loss at Nevada by seven points. The Rams own a neutral-site win over Seton Hall, a home win over Providence -- and zero bad losses. They're also No. 10 in the RPI.
Lastly, Nevada has shaken off a neutral-court loss to San Francisco before Christmas to right the ship and move to 18-3 with a Saturday night win over Mountain West contender Boise State. The Wolf Pack have a top-15 RPI, top-20 KenPom and top-25 BPI ranking -- and seven true road wins, the most of any team ranked in the top 20 of the RPI. Their victory over Rhode Island looks solid, and two of their three losses came at Texas Tech and TCU.
We've talked all season about how seemingly every team in the country is beatable on an off night; don't be surprised to see a handful of non-power-conference teams survive the first weekend, led by these four.
1. Villanova Wildcats
Last week: 1
After three straight road games, Villanova returns home for five of its next six games -- meaning the Wildcats should be able to pad their record until a very difficult five-game stretch that includes road games at Providence, Xavier, Creighton and Seton Hall. Interesting nugget: The Wildcats have made more 3-pointers than 2-pointers in three consecutive games.
2. Purdue Boilermakers
Last week: 2
Purdue doesn't have a ton of great wins this season, with its best victory coming over Arizona in the Bahamas -- but the Boilermakers have six Group 1 RPI wins, which is tied for the most in the country. They also haven't lost since Thanksgiving and have won their past three games by an average of 28.3 points.
3. Virginia Cavaliers
Last week: 3
Everything is setting up for a monster showdown next weekend at Duke. A Virginia win in Durham would give the Cavaliers a leg up for the ACC title, as they would still be undefeated -- and have a three-game lead on the Blue Devils. If the Cavaliers can control tempo and force Duke to score in the half court, they've got a good shot.
4. Duke Blue Devils
Last week: 6
Duke beat Miami and Pittsburgh this week, but the Blue Devils' biggest news of the week came off the court, coming out of nowhere to nab a commitment from Zion Williamson, the No. 2 recruit in the ESPN 100. Mike Krzyzewski now has the top three players in the 2018 class -- and will have the No. 1 class for the fourth time in the past five years.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
Last week: 10
As we head toward the end of January, it's starting to look all too familiar in Lawrence: Kansas at the top of the Big 12 standings and sitting in the top five of the Power Rankings. The Jayhawks have now won five in a row -- by a combined 18 points -- and beat West Virginia on the road last week. They face Trae Young and Oklahoma in Norman on Tuesday.
6. Xavier Musketeers
Last week: 9
Xavier is staking its claim as the clear-cut second-best team in the Big East, going to New Jersey and taking care of business against Seton Hall. After Trevon Bluiett started to come out of his slump, we said J.P. Macura needed to be next. Macura responded with 43 points and 60 percent shooting from 3-point range in two games.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
Last week: 5
After back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas, the Mountaineers responded by throttling Texas by 35 on Saturday. Heading into the season, their showdown with Kentucky next weekend was arguably the best SEC/Big 12 Challenge game -- but now Press Virginia should have the edge on Kentucky's inexperienced backcourt.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels
Last week: 12
North Carolina has the best/lowest average RPI win in the country -- with nine wins against RPI Group 1 and Group 2 teams. The Tar Heels bounced back after losing three of five with a four-game winning streak, including a home win against Clemson to keep the streak alive. Cameron Johnson averaged 18.5 points last week.
9. Michigan State Spartans
Last week: 11
We can't really glean too much from a 28-point home win over Indiana, but the Spartans seem to have righted the ship for now. With the Big Ten as mediocre as it is this season, there's a good chance for Michigan State to figure things out before a showdown on Feb. 10 against Purdue. Remember, the two teams play only once this season.
10. Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 4
Everyone seems to be piling on Trae Young lately, but the fact of the matter is that Young is not getting the help he needs. That has been the key for Oklahoma all season; the supporting cast needs to step up. Sooners not named Young shot 2-for-15 from 3-point range against Oklahoma State; that's not going to get it done.
11. Arizona Wildcats
Last week: 14
Since returning from the Bahamas, Arizona is 13-1, with the lone loss coming by three points at Colorado earlier this month. With all the talk about how Sean Miller should play Deandre Ayton at the 5 more, Dusan Ristic responded well last week; he averaged 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in two wins over Stanford and California.
12. Cincinnati Bearcats
Last week: 18
What looked like a tight race for the American conference title is now looking like Cincinnati's to lose. Wichita State lost twice last week, while Cincinnati hasn't fallen since early December. Cane Broome is steadily increasing his minutes since returning from injury, and has dished out 17 assists to just six turnovers in his past four games.
13. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last week: 7
The injury to Zach Smith is hurting the Red Raiders more than expected. Since Smith went down because of a foot injury, Texas Tech is 1-3 -- including losses last week to Texas and Iowa State, the latter coming by 18 points. Its next five Big 12 games are against Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU, Iowa State and Kansas State.
14. Auburn Tigers
Last week: 13
Auburn's 14-game winning streak ended last week at Alabama, but the Tigers bounced back to beat Georgia by 14 over the weekend. Bruce Pearl's team has made a living off comebacks in recent weeks, which can be dangerous. Bryce Brown is averaging 18.0 points in Auburn's past seven games, a major step forward as a junior.
15. Tennessee Volunteers
Last week: 17
Despite a road loss at Missouri, Tennessee moves up a couple of notches in the rankings -- mostly because several teams ahead of the Volunteers had worse weeks than they did. Moreover, that win over Purdue continues to gain in stature. They need to rack up SEC wins in the next couple of weeks at home against Vanderbilt, LSU and Ole Miss.
16. Ohio State Buckeyes
Last week: 22
Chris Holtmann is squarely in the mix for national coach of the year, as he has the Buckeyes at 8-0 in the Big Ten. The craziest part about Ohio State's Big Ten schedule? The Buckeyes' next four games are at home, meaning they could be 12-0 in the league heading into a road tilt at Purdue on Feb. 7. The biggest surprise in college hoops.
17. Clemson Tigers
Last week: 20
Not a great week for Clemson, despite beating Notre Dame on Saturday to move to 16-3 overall. The Tigers lost out on Zion Williamson, as he stunned the recruiting world by choosing Duke. And on Sunday, we found out that Donte Grantham suffered a torn ACL and is done for the season. He was the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder.
18. Arizona State Sun Devils
Last week: 16
Based on Arizona State's recent performance, the Sun Devils probably should be a couple of spots lower in the rankings. They have lost four of their past seven -- and have allowed at least one point per possession in every Pac-12 game so far this season. However, they still have wins over Kansas and Xavier, which is more than a lot of teams can say.
19. Florida Gators
Last week: NR
Welcome back to Mike White's team, which has ebbed and flowed as much as any team in the country this season. The Gators have now won eight of their past nine games since losing four of five, including a road win at Kentucky on Saturday night. Chris Chiozza has been terrific this season -- and had 17 assists to only two turnovers last week.
20. Saint Mary's Gaels
Last week: NR
Before the season, Saint Mary's was a popular pick to win the West Coast Conference ahead of Gonzaga -- and then the Gaels went out and lost to Washington State and Georgia in November. Since then, they have won 14 in a row, including last week's three-point win at Gonzaga. This might be Saint Mary's year in the WCC.
21. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last week: 15
Gonzaga lost its grip on the WCC on Thursday, when Saint Mary's came into Spokane and won. The Zags still have a fairly solid résumé, with November's 27-point win over Ohio State looking better and better. They also own wins over Creighton and Texas -- but haven't beaten an RPI top-100 team since early December.
22. Wichita State Shockers
Last week: 8
Two losses last week to SMU and Houston have made people re-evaluate Wichita State's overall profile -- and the results aren't all that positive for the Shockers. Their best wins are over Houston, Baylor and Marquette, which doesn't exactly blow anyone away. Moreover, they are now two games behind Cincinnati in the loss column.
23. Rhode Island Rams
Last week: 25
The Rams' winning streak is now at 10 games, and they are sitting in good position in the Atlantic 10 standings after the recent struggles for St. Bonaventure. Jared Terrell has been on a tear during that winning streak, hitting the 20-point mark on six different occasions. He and E.C. Matthews are experienced and battle-tested.
24. Nevada Wolf Pack
Last week: NR
Nevada took the lead in the Mountain West standings Saturday night, holding off Boise State in Reno. The Wolf Pack have won seven in a row since a surprising neutral-site loss to San Francisco. This team has the talent to win games in March, too. Eric Musselman has pieced it together with a plethora of transfers who won't be afraid of power-conference teams.
25. TCU Horned Frogs
Last week: 23
Another single-digit loss for TCU in Big 12 play, as the Horned Frogs dropped to 2-5 in the league. They have now lost all five games by five points or fewer, including two overtime games. They have a chance to back up their top-25 ranking Monday when West Virginia comes to town. The loss of Jaylen Fisher will hurt.
Dropped out: Seton Hall, Kentucky, Michigan