Conference play can chew up some teams. That’s especially true in the highly competitive and extremely balanced Big East, where Cincinnati, Georgetown and Pittsburgh have run into tough times. All three have dropped from our rankings this week. Cincinnati lost two in a row at home. Goodbye. Georgetown can’t score 50 points and lost to Marquette and Pitt. And even though Pitt finally lived up to expectations with a 73-45 win at Georgetown, the Panthers are 1-2 in the Big East. That won’t cut it.
1. Duke -- This marks Duke’s fourth straight week in the top spot of our power rankings. The Blue Devils have been cruising along since that home win over Ohio State back on Nov. 28. That makes Saturday’s game at North Carolina State all the more interesting.
2. Michigan -- The Wolverines just aren’t familiar with empty possessions. Michigan’s offense is clicking along, averaging 1.26 points per possession and the Wolverines are averaging 82 points a game. Ohio State gets an up-close look on Sunday.
3. Louisville -- Forward Chane Behanan sprained his left ankle in practice Monday and could miss 10 days. The Cardinals have games at Seton Hall (Jan. 9), vs. USF (Jan. 12), at UConn (Jan. 14) and vs. Syracuse (Jan. 19) in that stretch.
4. Kansas -- The Jayhawks demonstrated a great deal of toughness in a 69-62 victory over a good Temple team that visited Allen Fieldhouse. Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore get most of the attention at Kansas, but Travis Releford’s huge contribution gets overlooked.
5. Indiana -- The Hoosiers looked like championship material again Monday night when they went on the road to Penn State and roughed up the Nittany Lions in the first half. The Hoosiers return home Saturday for an enormous test against Tubby Smith and the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
6. Arizona -- The Wildcats should adopt “Livin’ On The Edge” as their new school fight song. Last week included that controversial overtime win against Colorado and a three-point win over Utah. Road trip to the Oregon schools this week.
7. Syracuse -- Strange to see a Syracuse team score just 55 points, but the Orange survived South Florida 55-44. This week Syracuse pays its respects to two of the Catholic 7 teams: Providence and Villanova.
8. Minnesota -- How high is the ceiling for these Golden Gophers? We may find out in the next few days. Minnesota is at Illinois Wednesday night and at Indiana Saturday. And after that brutal road trip, it’s home to play Michigan on Jan. 17.
9. Gonzaga -- Kelly Olynk is coming on strong for the Bulldogs, averaging 17.1 points and shooting 67.5 percent from the field. Mark Few’s team battles Saint Mary’s in a big West Coast game on Thursday.
10. Florida -- After disposing of Yale on Sunday, the Gators turn their attention to the SEC race. Billy Donovan’s team still looks like the favorite in conference play. Georgia and LSU are this week’s opponents.
11. Creighton -- It’s not all about Doug McDermott. Ethan Wragge scored a career-high 22 points in a 91-61 win over Drake. When Wragge is making threes it has to be frightening for the rest of the Missouri Valley.
12. Notre Dame -- Monday night wasn’t a total loss for the Golden Domers. Things didn’t work out too well against Alabama in the BCS title game, but Mike Brey’s team went to Cincinnati and came away with an impressive Big East road win. The Irish return home to play UConn next.
13. Missouri -- The Tigers won their first-ever SEC conference game, pulling away from Alabama at home Tuesday night. But senior forward Laurence Bowers, who missed all last season with a torn left ACL, injured his right knee and is scheduled for an MRI on Wednesday.
14. Illinois -- John Groce’s team is getting study in life in the Big Ten. After a loss at Purdue, the Illini throttled Ohio State at home. This week’s highlight is playing Minnesota at home, then it is on to Wisconsin.
15. San Diego State -- The Aztecs have lost to Syracuse (62-49) and Arizona (68-67). That’s it. Mountain West play begins Wednesday night at Fresno State, with Colorado State on Saturday.
16. Butler -- In case you’ve forgotten, Butler is in the Atlantic 10 these days. What better way to debut in a new conference than to visit the preseason league favorite in the opener? The Bulldogs are at Saint Joseph’s searching for a 10th consecutive victory overall.
17. North Carolina State -- The Wolfpack must be chomping at the bit for that chance against Duke on Saturday. But first things first, and that means getting past Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.
18. Ohio State -- Until the Buckeyes find another scorer to take some of the burden off Deshaun Thomas, every night is going to be an adventure. Not sure the Buckeyes can keep up with Michigan on Sunday.
19. UCLA -- The Bruins will be going for an eighth consecutive victory Thursday at Utah, then traveling to Colorado on Saturday. If Ben Howland’s team keeps winning, there will be a big build-up to the Jan. 24 game at Arizona.
20. Kansas State -- The Wildcats opened the Big 12 season with a bang, defeating Oklahoma State 73-67 in Manhattan. Rodney McGruder was into it, scoring 28 points for K-State. Next up: A visit to old friend Bob Huggins in West Virginia.
21. Michigan State -- We are going to excuse the 76-63 loss at Minnesota, just because the Golden Gophers seem to be that good. MSU bounced back against Purdue. If the Spartans win at Iowa and against Nebraska, they will move up some more.
22. UNLV -- The Running Rebels have bounced back with two wins after losing at North Carolina. Mountain West play opens Wednesday with an enormous showdown. The Rebels are at New Mexico and the Lobos have lost two of their last three.
23. Wichita State -- Welcome back to the Shockers. Wichita State takes a five-game winning streak into Wednesday night’s home against Southern Illinois.
24. VCU -- The Rams are back to creating havoc again with their defense. VCU has rattled off nine consecutive wins since losing back-to-back games to Duke and Missouri back in November. The Atlantic 10 should feature a very interesting race.
25. Maryland -- Georgetown was still in the power rankings until Tuesday night, but the Hoyas were embarrassed, scoring just 45 points in a loss to Pittsburgh at home. So we move north on the beltway to Maryland. We know the Terps haven’t played anyone since Nov. 9, when they lost to Kentucky. But a 13-game win streak, including a rout of Virginia Tech, deserves a little recognition.