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NCAA Power Rankings: Merry Hoopsmas

Newcomers abound in this week's edition of the Slippery Power Rankings

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This week in college hoops featured one of the coolest things I've seen on a basketball court. Florida walk-on, Zach Hodskins, entered the Gators' game on Tuesday night and scored the first basket of his collegiate career on a spinning finger-roll layup. Most college basketball players will tell you how memorable their first basket was to them, but for Zach, I'm sure his bucket was extra special considering he was born with only one hand.

It's fun to watch that video and see how excited Zach and his teammates are. Basketball is a tough enough game to play with two hands, and I can't even begin to imagine how much work Zach has put in over the course of his life to be able to play at the D-1 level. Having the opportunity to watch a guy like Zach Hodskins overcome such a significant obstacle to achieve his dreams is one of the reasons why I love sports.

The Top 11 has experienced several upsets since we last looked at the teams, so this week's edition features several newcomers. At this point in the season, it's evident that every team is flawed in some way--even Michigan State. I suspect we'll continue to see a shakeup in the rankings each week as the top teams can win, or lose, to just about anyone on any given day.

On the Bubble: Domantas Sabonis, Louisville, Maryland

No. 11 - SMU (11-0, LW: NR)

The 11-0 Mustangs are off to their best start in program history. As one of six undefeated teams remaining in the country, and with the return of head coach Larry Brown back following a nine-game suspension for NCAA violations (SMU shocker, I know), things should be looking up for this team. But, those pesky violations mean the postseason is not in the cards for this team no matter how good their record is at the end of the season. I'd be seriously bummed out if I was a kid on that team playing with the knowledge that I'd be sitting at home at the end of the year no matter what. I give the NCAA a hard time regarding most of their rules, but this one is on SMU. The adults need to get a grip down there.

No. 10 - Miami (FL) (10-1, LW: NR)

The Hurricanes have won six games this season by a margin of 22 points or more, and if not for a buzzer-beater loss to Northeastern, would be undefeated this year. Their success so far has been pretty surprising, but in a crowded ACC, they'll have to keep elevating their game if they want to keep up with the rest of the conference.

No. 9 - North Carolina (10-2, LW: 4)

Last time we were here I was singing UNC's praises, as they looked like a truly elite team with the return of Marcus Paige. They rewarded my praise with a loss to Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns, and because they like to confuse me, they easily beat UCLA a week later. I don't think I'll ever truly trust these Tar Heels, and they really seem to be missing the "it" factor of a championship team. But with no truly dominant team in the field, and a roster as talented as any in the country, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Tar Heels get hot at the right time and be there at the end. I just don't think they will.

No. 8 - Butler (10-1, LW: NR)

This team is soooooo Indiana. They take really good care of the ball (3rd in the nation with a 13.7% turnover rate) and shoot the ball really well (57% eFG). If you were to ask what are the most important factors to win a basketball game, those two statistical categories would be at the top. Butler doesn't play great defense, despite getting lots of steals, and they lack the elite athleticism to match up well with the blue blood programs. However, this team is still well-coached even though Brad Stevens no longer patrols their sideline, and are a tough out on any night.

No. 7 - Arizona (12-1, LW: NR)

The Wildcats completed another successful year of non-conference play as their senior class has now gone 49-2 in non-conference games over the last four years. Arizona also holds the nation's longest active home-winning streak at 47 games. After loading up their non-con schedule with home games (Gonzaga was their only true road game), the Wildcats take their act on the road following a long holiday layoff. However, I don't expect their form to slip too much, if at all, as the dearth of quality teams in the Pac-12 probably doesn't keep Sean Miller up late at night.

No. 6 - Purdue (12-1, LW: 6)

The Boilermakers lost some of their early-season steam (see what I did there???) when they lost the Battle for Indiana (that's really a game where everyone's a loser, if we're being honest) to the Butler Bulldogs last weekend in a neutral site game. Despite the loss, Purdue gets to keep its spot due to a nice rebound win over Vanderbilt and because I still think they're really good. The Boilermakers have only played one true away game (at Pitt), so I'm anxious to see how good they really are when they're tested in more hostile environments. The Wisconsin Badgers have struggled this year, but a game against them in the Kohl Center on 12/29 will prove a good test for one of my dark horse contenders.

No. 5 - Xavier (12-0, LW: NR)

The undefeated Musketeers make their debut in the rankings after hanging around the periphery of the Top 11 all season. I honestly didn't think Xavier would be able to recover from the loss of wunderkind Center/Uber driver, Matt Stainbrook, but somehow they did. Stainbrook was one of my favorite players in college basketball last season, with his goofy rec specs and lumbering game, and I've yet to emotionally recover from his departure. Here's hoping little brother Tim can get off the Xavier bench and fill in his brother's big shoes.

No. 4 - Virginia (10-1, LW: 7)

Tony Bennett and his boys have shaken off the early-season loss to George Washington by posting impressive wins against Villanova and Cal in their last two games. I've already discussed how good Virginia's defense is this year--and every year--but their offense has reached new heights as they currently rank 2nd in the nation in offensive efficiency. If UVA keeps this up, they're as good a bet as anyone to cut down the nets at the end of the season.

No. 3 - Kansas (10-1, LW: 3)

Rock Chalk has had a pretty easy go of it in the month of December, as their toughest game this month was against Harvard (the guys who see all the angles). But, the vacation is going to end pretty soon as they face Baylor and Oklahoma back-to-back in the first week of January to start Big-12 play. The Jayhawks have proved to be one of the nation's best three-point shooting teams (they rank 3rd at 45.4%) behind the duo of Frank Mason Jr. (he of missed dunk fame) and Wayne Selden shooting 50% and 54% respectively from deep. Even super-super-super senior, Perry Ellis, has contributed from three-point land as he has seven to his name. Kansas has become much more balanced as they've worked Cheick Diallo into the rotation, and it makes you wonder what could have been had he been available in their lone loss of the season against Michigan State.

No. 2 - Oklahoma (10-0, LW: 2)

The Sooners survived a scare against basketball powerhouse Hawaii in the semifinal game of the Diamondhead Classic last night, but some fortunate bounces and solid free throw shooting down the stretch kept OU undefeated. They'll face Harvard--who are well-coached by Tommy Amaker despite the 5-6 record--and should not be dismissed. After that the Sooners will get about a week and a half off off before they dive in to their conference schedule with games against Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State.

No. 1 - Michigan State (13-0, LW: 1)

Michigan State's presence in the top spot may not last much longer with the recent announcement that NPOY-candidate, Denzel Valentine, will miss the next 2-3 weeks following knee surgery. In their first game without Valentine, the Spartans were taken to the brink by Khalil Felder and the Oakland Grizzlies, before eventually pulling out a 99-93 win in overtime. With that win, MSU achieved their first 13-0 start in program history which is really hard to believe. Outside of two games against Iowa, MSU's schedule isn't terribly difficult over the next few weeks so they should be able to weather the storm without their leader, but conference play in the Big10 is usually ripe with landmines.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Friends!