Duke moves into the No. 1 spot this week, becoming the third team to occupy the top position already this season. Louisville was our preseason No. 1. Indiana replaced the Cardinals when Louisville lost to Duke. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team has the most impressive body of work so far, so there are no regrets about moving them up.
1. Duke -- It would have been easy to build a case for the Blue Devils at No. 1 after those back-to-back victories over Louisville and Ohio State. But now there’s no question. Duke takes advantage of Indiana’s loss to Butler last Saturday and climbs to the top. Coach K’s team could stay a while. The next ranked team on the schedule is NC State, on the road, Jan. 12.
2. Indiana -- Voters in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls may have overreacted just a bit to Indiana’s first loss, don’t you think? Dropping the Hoosiers to No. 6 after an 88-86 overtime loss to rival Butler is downright silly. There are not five teams better than the Hoosiers. Not right now. Let’s see what happens in Big Ten play.
3. Syracuse -- The Orange almost found a way to mess up Jim Boeheim’s 900th victory party but Syracuse held on for a 72-68 victory over Detroit. James Southerland had 22 points and Syracuse increased its winning streak at the Carrier Dome to 30 games. Boeheim could pass Bob Knight’s victory total before the end of 2012.
4. Michigan -- Coach John Beilein says his backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. keeps surprising him. That can’t be good news for opponents. Burke scored 27 and Hardaway had 25 as the Wolverines crushed West Virginia. “Both have the same passion for the game and it shows,” Beilein said. Michigan is off to its best start since the national championship season of 1988-89.
5. Louisville -- There will be a Pitino family affair Wednesday night in Louisville. Before that, the coach of the visiting team was expected to spend the night at Rick Pitino’s home. Florida International is in town and coached by Richard Pitino, Rick’s son, who left the Louisville staff after last season. And this is the Billy Minardi Classic, named for Rick Pitino’s brother-in-law who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
6. Ohio State -- We are going to assume that the Buckeyes were looking ahead to Saturday’s home game against Kansas and didn’t take Winthrop seriously on Tuesday night. Ohio State escaped with a 65-55 victory after Deshaun Thomas found the basket. But the Buckeyes should be fired up against the Jayhawks, a team that beat Ohio State twice last year -- including at the Final Four.
7. Arizona -- The Wildcats turned more than a few heads with a 65-64 win over Florida. Sean Miller’s team should be able to build on the big victory heading into Pac-12 competition. Guard Mark Lyons, the transfer from Xavier, seems to be the floor general Arizona needed.
8. Kansas -- The Jayhawks have dominated opponents the last month. Richmond was the latest victim. Ben McLemore is scoring with the greatest of ease and, against the Spiders, center Jeff Withey was making steals, dribbling the ball, leading the fastbreak and passing to the open man. That’s scary stuff. KU is at Ohio State Saturday for the game of the week.
9. Florida -- The Gators had a bad final minute on the road against Arizona. Florida held a 64-58 lead going into the final minute and lost 65-64. The final basket by Arizona’s Mark Lyons was the result of a bad match-up as center Patric Young tried to defend the Wildcat guard. The SEC should still fear the Gators.
10. Cincinnati -- The Big East might be going through an extended breakup, but right now the conference is sizzling hot again. The Bearcats are undefeated heading into the city rivalry game against Xavier on Wednesday night. We are still looking forward to those back-to-back games against New Mexico (Dec. 27) and Pittsburgh (Dec. 31) to find out how good this team might be.
11. Illinois -- First-year coach John Groce went with the Lou Henson orange coat and it almost cost him. Illinois needed a 12-2 late run to defeat Eastern Kentucky 66-53 with Groce wearing that jacket. He might not want to tempt fate that way in the upcoming showdown with Missouri, which promises to be a very entertaining game.
12. Missouri -- How convenient. We just mentioned the Tigers and their Dec. 22 showdown with the Illini. The game will be played in St. Louis and, for the first time in this series, Mizzou doesn’t represent the Big 8 or Big 12. The Tigers are leading the nation in rebounding and have welcomed Jabari Brown back to the lineup. Mizzou warmed up Monday night with a 102-51 victory over South Carolina State.
13. Minnesota -- Still watching the replay of that 360-degree dunk by Rodney Williams. Wow. Williams and Trevor Mbakwe have paired up to give the Gophers quite a presence in the post. Tubby Smith’s team plays Lafayette on Dec. 22.
14. Gonzaga -- The Bulldogs bounced back from their loss to Illinois quite nicely, shutting down Kansas State 68-52. Gonzaga has a couple of Big 12 opponents coming up, including Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve, and then the Bulldogs will head into league play.
15. Creighton -- The Bluejays take a four-game winning streak into Wednesday’s game against Tulsa. That should be interesting with the Golden Hurricane at 6-4 under first-year coach Danny Manning. Creighton’s Doug McDermott put 35 on Tulsa last season, hitting 16 of 23 field goal attempts. Tulsa has lost 19 straight to ranked teams.
16. Georgetown -- The Hoyas have been able to win any type of game. After the three-game stretch against Tennessee, Texas and Towson where Georgetown scored 37, 64 and 46, the Hoyas have climbed back into the 80s the last two times out. American U. is up next on Dec. 22.
17. San Diego State -- The Aztecs knocked off Point Loma on Tuesday night. Yes, Point Loma. Officially known as Point Loma Nazarene University. They are the Sea Lions. And that’s all you need to know. San Diego State managed to win 76-49 even without leading scorer Jamaal Franklin, who sat out with a back injury.
18. Notre Dame -- The Irish got a big game from Pat Connaughton on Monday night against IPFW as the sophomore scored 18 points, had six rebounds and five assists. Notre Dame has two more easy ones before opening Big East play against Seton Hall.
19. New Mexico -- Coming off Saturday’s 73-58 victory over New Mexico State, the Lobos face New Mexico State on Wednesday. That’s right. The Lobos are hoping for the home-and-home sweep of the Aggies to remain undefeated. It’s only the second road game of the season for Steve Alford’s squad.
20. Michigan State -- It really seems that the Spartans go as Keith Appling goes. Michigan State’s leading scorer had 25 last week but just nine Tuesday as the Spartans squeezed by Bowling Green 64-53. Tom Izzo’s guys relied on defense to win this one on the road. Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine scored 12 each. It was Michigan State’s first trip to Bowling Green since 1990 when the Spartans were No. 5 and lost. Then-coach Jud Heathcote vowed they would never return.
21. North Carolina State -- The Wolfpack won its fourth straight Tuesday night, getting past Stanford 88-79 at home. Lorenzo Brown led the way with 24 points as NC State shot 56 percent from the field. The Wolfpack lead the nation in field goal percentage. Richard Howell has recorded four consecutive double-doubles.
22. Oklahoma State -- Texas-Arlington and Tennessee Tech on the slate this week for the Cowboys, who crushed Central Arkansas 91-63 last week. OSU had to rally from a 22-11 deficit in that one. Coach Travis Ford woke his team up with an early timeout. Really shouldn’t have needed that, but it’s that time of year for many teams.
23. Pittsburgh -- Not sure what the Panthers have to do to impress the media or coaches voting in the polls. Jamie Dixon’s team is 10-1 heading into Wednesday’s game against Delaware State. Pitt ranks second in the nation in assists (19.7) and fifth in field goal percentage (51.8). Pitt has outscored its last two opponents 178-87. The Panthers close out 2012 in style with a Dec. 31 game against Cincinnati. This is a good team.
24. Butler -- Welcome back, Bulldogs. Butler cracked our power rankings earlier in the season after victories over Marquette and North Carolina. Then came the 78-61 loss to Illinois. But Brad Stevens’ team is back after the big win over No. 1 Indiana. This stay might be a little longer.
25. North Carolina -- The Tar Heels are 8-2 and have an interesting test Wednesday night at Texas. The Longhorns are struggling at 6-4 and have not drawn well at home. But the Frank Erwin Special Events Center could be pumped up for Roy Williams and North Carolina. The Longhorns are 5-0 at home.