The Golden Eagles are soaring

In previous seasons, had Marquette struggled to score consistently, it was game over for the Golden Eagles. They simply weren’t good enough defensively to win games when they weren’t going shot-for-shot with the opponent.

That has changed this season — and Saturday’s win over Villanova is yet another example.

It’s not totally fair to say Marquette couldn’t score against the Wildcats. Markus Howard went for 38 points, and Sacar Anim came up big in the second half — but Sam and Joey Hauser combined for four points on 2-for-10 shooting. Theo John was a non-factor offensively when he was actually on the floor.

But Marquette got stops when it mattered late in the game, ultimately holding Villanova to its least efficient offensive outing since an early January game against Providence. The Wildcats were just 9-for-29 from 3-point range.

This is by far Steve Wojciechowski’s best defensive team since he arrived at Marquette. Since Big East play began, the Golden Eagles are the second-best unit in the league at that end of the floor. They contest shots, especially at the rim, and John is one of the better interior defenders in the league. He consistently battles foul trouble, though, which has limited him at times this season.

With Marquette’s improvement defensively, the Golden Eagles’ ability to shoot from the perimeter and the presence of Howard, Wojciechowski has a team that can win multiple games in March.

1. Tennessee Volunteers (22-1)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: Beat Missouri 72-60 on Tuesday, beat Florida 73-61 on Saturday,

One more game awaits before a No. 1 Tennessee team heads to Kentucky on Saturday to face one of the hottest teams in college basketball. The Volunteers will host South Carolina on Wednesday, in a rematch of a game that Tennessee won by 22 points on the road. While Tennessee’s offense remains elite, the defense is also looking better. The Vols have held four of their past five opponents to fewer than one point per possession..

2. Duke Blue Devils (21-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Boston College 80-55 on Tuesday, beat Virginia 81-71 on Saturday

If Duke is going to shoot like it did on Saturday night, give the Blue Devils the national championship trophy right now. It’s unlikely, however. Duke simply couldn’t miss in the first half and then didn’t cool off too much after halftime. RJ Barrett was terrific early on and Cam Reddish buried three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the second half. Duke is the only team to score 72 or more points against Virginia this season — and the Blue Devils have done it twice.

3. Virginia Cavaliers (19-2)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: Lost to Duke 81-71 on Saturday

If someone had told Tony Bennett before Saturday’s game that Duke would turn the ball over 15 times and would be outscored in the paint, odds are he would have taken that and been content. Unfortunately for Bennett, Duke was unbelievable from behind the 3-point line, making 13 of 21 attempts — the first time Virginia has allowed more than eight 3-pointers in a game all season.

4. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-2)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: Beat San Francisco 92-62 on Thursday, beat Saint Mary’s 94-46 on Saturday

A vintage battle between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga, Saturday night was not. The Bulldogs pummeled the Gaels, but the bigger story for Gonzaga will be the status of Killian Tillie. The school announced shortly before the game that Tillie will miss the rest of the regular season with a partially torn ligament in his right foot. Freshman Filip Petrusev will see a bigger role moving forward.

5. Michigan Wolverines (22-2)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: Beat Rutgers 77-65 on Tuesday, beat Wisconsin 61-52 on Saturday

Jon Teske was a major catalyst for Michigan on Saturday. He held Ethan Happ to just four points on nine shots in the second half, guarding him one-on-one for long stretches. Teske also finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds of his own, while blocking three shots. Saturday also ended a three-game slump for Teske, a stretch where he totaled just 19 points on 21 shots.

6. Kentucky Wildcats (20-3)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: Beat South Carolina 76-48 on Tuesday, beat Mississippi State 71-67 on Saturday

It took some mental toughness for the Wildcats to pull out the win in Starkville on Saturday after nearly blowing an 18-point second-half lead. It also took another stellar performance from PJ Washington, who finished with 23 points in just 24 minutes before fouling out. Washington is now averaging 20.8 points in his past six games, and has been a handful for opposing defenses.

7. North Carolina Tar Heels (19-4)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. Beat NC State 113-96 on Tuesday, beat Miami 88-85 on Saturday

Coby White continues to perform as one of the best freshmen in the country — despite not getting the attention he would seemingly deserve. He finished with 33 points and six assists on Saturday, including 23 points in the second half. In the final seven minutes of regulation alone, White buried five 3-pointers to single-handedly keep the Tar Heels in the game.

8. Nevada Wolf Pack (23-1)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: Beat Colorado State 98-82 on Wednesday, beat New Mexico 91-62 on Saturday

Nevada had the rematch with New Mexico circled on its calendar since the night of their first meeting, as the Lobos handed the Wolf Pack their lone loss of the season — by 27 points — back in early January. The Wolf Pack clearly remembered. They dominated New Mexico on Saturday by 29, behind 20 points and nine rebounds from Trey Porter.

9. Houston Cougars (22-1)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: Beat UCF 77-68 on Thursday, vs. Cincinnati (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN)

One test down, one to go. Houston began arguably its most difficult week of the season with a nine-point road win at preseason favorite UCF, getting 26 points and five assists from Corey Davis Jr. Next up is a battle for first place with Cincinnati, which has won eight games in a row and is playing some of the best offense we’ve seen under Mick Cronin.

10. Michigan State Spartans (19-5)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: Lost to Illinois 79-74 on Tuesday, beat Minnesota 79-55 on Saturday

The Spartans snapped their three-game losing streak by pummeling Minnesota on Saturday, and we once again saw how vital Nick Ward is to their success. He finished with 22 points and nine rebounds against the Golden Gophers, after totaling 30 points and 10 rebounds over Michigan State’s previous three games. He needs to be a dominant force down low.

11. Kansas Jayhawks (18-6)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: Lost to Kansas State 74-67 on Tuesday, beat Oklahoma State 84-72 on Saturday

The Jayhawks had their best offensive performance of the season on Saturday, scoring 1.34 points per possession. The big key was freshman Ochai Agbaji, who had five 3-pointers en route to 23 points. Remember, Agbaji was expected to redshirt the entire season, but Bill Self had to play him after Udoka Azubuike was lost for the season. He’s now a locked-in starter.

12. Marquette Golden Eagles (20-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: Lost to St. John’s 70-69 on Tuesday, beat Villanova 66-65 on Saturday

Getting 38 points from Markus Howard will get all the attention for Marquette — and deservedly so. But don’t overlook Sacar Anim, who went for 18 points on 10 shots. Anim has now scored in double figures in three straight games and six times in Big East play, after hitting that number just two times in Marquette’s first 14 games. He’s given Steve Wojciechowski yet another offensive option.

13. Purdue Boilermakers (16-6)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: Beat Nebraska 81-62 on Saturday

That’s now eight wins in a row for the Boilermakers, who are likely to be favored in every game the rest of the season after Tuesday’s trip to Maryland. If Purdue can get through that game with a win, it will have a legitimate shot to win the Big Ten title. Michigan, the co-leader atop the standings, has to face Michigan State twice in the final two weeks of the season.

14. Louisville Cardinals (17-7)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: Beat Virginia Tech 72-64 on Monday, lost to Florida State 80-75 on Saturday in OT

The Cardinals led Florida State by seven with just under five minutes remaining — and were outscored by 12 in the rest of regulation and overtime. There’s not much time for Louisville to dwell on what went wrong down the stretch, though; Duke comes to town on Tuesday in a major bounce-back opportunity for the Cardinals. They’ve now lost two of three in this brutal four-game stretch.

15. Iowa State Cyclones (18-6)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: Beat Oklahoma 75-74 on Monday, lost to TCU 92-83 on Saturday

The Cyclones were on the wrong side of history on Saturday, as TCU’s win was the Horned Frogs’ first road win over a ranked team since 1998 — and only the second in program history. Iowa State shot just 29.2 percent from 3-point range and had its worst defensive performance since an early December loss at Iowa. Steve Prohm’s team had won four in a row before the weekend.

16. Wisconsin Badgers (17-7)
Previous ranking: Unranked
This week: Beat Minnesota 56-51 on Wednesday, lost to Michigan 61-52 on Saturday

Virginia Tech’s loss knocked the Hokies out of the rankings, and we’ll go with Wisconsin over LSU for the final spot for now. The Badgers fell at Michigan on Saturday, as the Wolverines avenged their lone loss of the season. Ethan Happ really struggled in the second half when he was on the floor, and his supporting cast couldn’t make up for it. Michigan State awaits on Tuesday.

Dropped out: Virginia Tech (No. 16)

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