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College Basketball

Gonzaga, Georgetown battle atop latest Power Rankings

The arrival of March called for a Power Rankings graphic bonanza: radar plots, Russ Smith GIF-action, GaZeller Watch and the Craft Turnometer, all in one place. Dig in.

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Gonzaga <a href=Bulldogs" title="Gonzaga Bulldogs">
Last Week: 1
Because the "does Gonzaga deserve a No. 1 seed?" debate will be sports-shouting fodder for the next few weeks, I might as well state that I have no problem with it. The Zags play in a lesser league but they've dominated it to an absurd degree; they're on a 12-game win streak that would be a 21-game win streak if not for Roosevelt Jones' shove/steal/miracle; and they rank fourth nationally in adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com.

Judging by kenpom's Pythagorean win percentage formula, which is adjusted for schedule strength and game locations, the Zags' profile is about average for a No. 1 seed in the past 10 NCAA tournaments. Here are the 10 weakest No. 1s, along with the efficiency profile that best matches Gonzaga's -- 2004 St. Joseph's, which is only 20th-weakest out of 40:



Next three: 3/9 WCC tournament semifinals
 
2Georgetown <a href=Hoyas" title="Georgetown Hoyas">
Last Week: 2
Continuing the Power Rankings' obsession with the Ottomaton, Georgetown's efficient scoring machine ... Otto Porter is in the player of the year conversation because he does everything well -- scoring, rebounding, defending -- but his biggest improvement this season has been in the jump-shooting department. Synergy Sports Technology's jump-shooting data (which excludes layups, dunks and post-ups) shows that Porter has significantly altered his shot distribution, taking 57 percent of his jumpers from three-point range, as opposed to 42 percent as a freshman:



Not only is Porter taking far more threes, he's making far more threes -- scoring 1.413 points per possession on those shots. On this radar plot of his freshman/sophomore jumper efficiency, his gains in long-range PPP make his drops in the other two categories irrelevant:



Next three: 3/6 at Villanova, 3/9 vs. Syracuse, Big East tournament TBD
 
3Duke <a href=Blue Devils" title="Duke Blue Devils">
Last Week: 5
Smart folks have stated that Ryan Kelly's return to Duke is more likely to impact its defense than its offense ... but the immediate impact of his return, against Miami on Saturday, was offensive. He had a career-high 36 points, and the differences in the Blue Devils' floor-spacing with/without Kelly were striking.

Here's a screenshot of one of Duke's first offensive possessions in its embarrassing, 27-point loss at Miami on Jan. 23. Mason Plumlee has the ball on the left block, Julian Gamble is guarding him, and Kenny Kadji is lurking in the middle of the lane. That's because his man, Amile Jefferson (21, just off the right block), is only being used as a screener to keep the weakside corner defender from closing out on a three. Defending the rim (and closing off the kick-out passing lanes) isn't difficult in this arrangement:



Now here's a shot of Plumlee getting the ball in the same spot, in the first half of Saturday's Duke-Miami game. The Blue Devils have four shooters on the perimeter. (It's not a great image, as their bodies are clipped, but you get the idea.) Kadji (35), who's guarding Kelly (34), sells out into the lane to help Gamble ...



... and there's no way Kadji can recover in time to challenge a Kelly three after a kick-out. When Kelly rises to shoot, he has six feet of space:



Here's the same thing, from the right block, in the second half. Kadji is on Plumlee, and Julian Gamble gets pulled into a sort of no-man's land just below the free-throw line, where he's too far away to help stop Plumlee from scoring.



Calling Kelly a game-changer isn't hyperbole. He completely alters the way Duke opponents can play help defense (or double-team) in the post.

(Screenshots from CBS and ESPN.)

Next three: 3/5 vs. Virginia Tech, 3/9 at North Carolina, ACC tournament TBD
 
4Louisville <a href=Cardinals" title="Louisville-Cardinals">
Last Week: 8
Every time I think I've seen the ultimate Russ Smith play, he delivers a new one. Against Syracuse on Saturday, with 4:27 left in the first half, he managed to take an inbounds pass after a make, get into a camera frame that featured just one Louisville player (Russ) and five Syracuse players, and without hesitation, drive all the way to the rim, get fouled and score. Behold, the Russ Smith 1-on-5 Fastbreak:



Synergy has Russ credited with 191 points in transition this season. I could only find one major-conference player with more -- Virginia Tech's Erick Green, who has 200.

(GIF from CBS footage.)

Next three: 3/4 vs Cincinnati, 3/9 vs. Notre Dame, Big East tournament TBD
 
5Indiana <a href=Hoosiers" title="Indiana Hoosiers">
Last Week: 3
It's been three weeks since the last GaZeller Watch, and Indiana's center remains the nation's premiere rim-runnin' big man, with Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk a distant second:



(Chart built from Synergy's transition-possession data.)

Next three: 3/10 at Michigan, Big Ten tournament TBD
 
6Kansas <a href=Jayhawks" title="Kansas Jayhawks">
Last Week: 6
After praising/radar-plotting Otto Porter's jumper stats, I had the urge to see how he stacked up against the guy who's been getting the most NBA-scout attention for his jump-shooting: Kansas' Ben McLemore.

McLemore's jumper volume is slightly higher than Porter's (Synergy has McLemore with 23 short Js, 25 long twos, and 106 threes, while Porter has 35/18/75) but they're close enough to make reasonable comparisons.

In terms of distribution, McLemore is even more three-point focused than Porter is ...



... but efficiency-wise, they're almost identical. Should Porter be in the conversation for No. 1 overall pick in the draft, too?



Next three: 3/9 at Baylor, Big 12 tournament TBD
 
7Michigan <a href=Wolverines" title="Michigan Wolverines">
Last Week: 7
More context with these radar plots: Here's what happens if we swap in Tim Hardaway Jr.'s jump-shooting numbers for Porter's. Hardaway's volume (40/18/122) is similar to McLemore's, as is their distribution:



But the difference in three-point efficiency is significant, as McLemore scores 1.311 PPP to Hardaway's 1.082:



Those are the last radar plots of the week. I promise.

Next three: 3/6 at Purdue, 3/10 vs. Indiana, Big Ten tournament TBD
 
8Miami <a href=Hurricanes" title="Miami Hurricanes">
Last Week: 4
First thing: There's a six-page Miami story in this week's SI, so pick up the mag or download it on your iPad. (The opening photo is quite nice, and you may be familiar with the writer.)

In other news, Hurricanes point guard Shane Larkin is closing in on ACC Player of the Year honors. The only other reasonable candidates are Virginia's Joe Harris and Duke's Mason Plumlee, but if Miami wins the league outright -- and I expect that to happen -- it should go to Larkin. He's living out his dream this season. He told me that after always playing on under-appreciated AAU teams -- the only other D-I guys from his Showtime Ballers, out of Orlando, were Virginia Tech's Robert Brown and Morehead State's Angelo Warner -- he wanted to do something similar in college. "I dreamed of going to a lesser-known school in a major conference and beating the top dogs -- being on a team that had an attitude about them that no matter if you're [not the most famous] team in the ACC, you'll beat Duke or Carolina every time you step on the court."

They haven't beaten Duke and Carolina every time this season, but they've come close ... and they're going to finish ahead of both in the standings.

Next three: 3/6 vs. Georgia Tech, 3/9 vs. Clemson, ACC tournament TBD
 
9Florida <a href=Gators" title="Florida Gators">
Last Week: 10
No. 1 on the Gators' pre-NCAA tournament priority list has to be getting glue guy Will Yeguete healthy, as I can't see them winning the national title without him making big contributions. No. 2 is getting Kenny Boynton back to his midseason shooting form. He's shooting just 30.3 percent from long range in SEC play, and his five-game effective field goal percentage is almost 20 points lower than it was at this time last season:



Next three: 3/6 vs. Vanderbilt, 3/9 at Kentucky, SEC tournament TBD
 
10Saint Louis <a href=Billikens" title="Saint Louis Billikens">
Last Week: 12
One of the great things that can only exist in college basketball, and not the NBA*: The star power forward who's only 6-foot-5. St. Louis' Dwayne Evans has been a rebounding monster in the A-10 at that height, pulling down 10.2 percent of offensive boards and 20.9 percent of defensive. The entire Billikens team is unsung, but Evans has to be one of the more under-appreciated stars in the nation, as the usage/efficiency/rebounding leader of a ranked, 23-5 club. His chief competitors for status as king of the 6-5 four-men are Colorado State's Pierce Hornung, who does more work than Evans on the offensive glass (15.8% OReb rate) but less on the defensive (18.1), and Southern Miss' Jonathan Mills, whose numbers are similar to Hornung's. Southern Miss is the land of the 6-5 forwards, by the way: Somehow Donnie Tyndall has amassed five such guys on his roster.

* Aside from Charles Barkley, but he's long gone.

Next three: 3/6 at Xavier, 3/9 vs. La Salle, Big Ten tournament TBD
 
11New Mexico <a href=Lobos" title="New Mexico Lobos">
Last Week: 13
Andy Glockner's Bracket Watch (now running as part of SI's new One And One blog) has the Lobos as a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional. That's something I didn't figure was possible after they lost to South Dakota State and St. Louis in one 10-day span in December, but Steve Alford's team has emerged as the clear leader of the Mountain West, and the only one capable of winning tough conference road games. It's amazing how much less hype the Lobos have around them than 2010 San Diego State and Jimmer teams that earned Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, respectively. Those were stronger clubs with NBA-bound stars, but New Mexico will be emerging out of one of the toughest Mountain West fields ever: kenpom.com has the conference rated third overall in efficiency, behind only the Big Ten and Big East.

Next three: 3/6 at Nevada, 3/9 at Air Force, Mountain West tournament TBD
 
12Marquette <a href=Golden Eagles" title="Marquette Golden Eagles">
Last Week: 19
It's well-known that Marquette's offense is great inside the arc and not-so-great outside of it ... but were you aware that the Golden Eagles have the biggest drop-off in the nation between their two-point and three-point field-goal percentage rankings? Here's the top 10:



Next three: 3/9 at St. John's, Big East tournament TBD
 
13Kansas State <a href=Wildcats" title="Kansas State Wildcats">
Last Week: 20
Bracket discussions this time of year tend to focus on either the top lines or the bubble, but the Wildcats' bid for a No. 4 seed is a big deal. Mr. Glockner has them on the No. 4 line in his latest mock, but they may need either a win at Oklahoma State on Saturday or have a decent showing in the Big 12 tournament to stay in that spot. It matters because Kansas City is hosting second- and third-round games this season. Kansas is a lock for one of those geographic-advantage pods, and K-State would be very likely to end up there as No. 4, where it would enjoy a serious home-fan advantage in two difficult games. If the Wildcats drop to a No. 5, they could get shipped to say, Salt Lake City or San Jose, Calif., and be playing on a truly neutral, more upset-friendly court.

Next three: 3/9 at Oklahoma State, Big 12 tournament TBD
 
14Ohio State <a href=Buckeyes" title="Ohio State Buckeyes">
Last Week: 18
I realized why something felt missing from the Power Rankings for the past four weeks: There was no spot for the Buckeyes, and therefore, no place for the Aaron Craft Turnometer. I had to rip through nine OSU games to get it back up to speed. Craft's TO-creation numbers are noticeably down from last season's 7.56 percent, so I present this more as a traditional exercise than a way of saying he's awesome.*



*If you want a gauge of his awesomeness, check the point totals of the guys he helped guard in last night's upset of Indiana. Victor Oladipo and Yogi Ferrell only had seven apiece.

Next three: 3/10 vs. Illinois, Big Ten tournament TBD
 
15Oklahoma State <a href=Cowboys" title="Oklahoma State Cowboys">
Last Week: 16
Sophomore wing Brian Williams has the potential to be an important late-season addition for the Cowboys. He missed the first three months of the season with a wrist injury and didn't truly join their rotation until Feb. 9. His shooting form is still off (leading to an offensive rating of just 91.5), but his value is on defense, where he can join Marcus Smart on the perimeter and create a formidable lockdown combo. I don't think it's a coincidence that with Williams getting serious minutes, Oklahoma State has held its past four opponents -- Kansas, West Virginia, TCU and Texas -- under 0.900 PPP. If they can translate this defensive momentum into a Big 12 tournament title, they might have a shot at a No. 3 seed in the NCAAs.

Next three: 3/6 at Iowa State, 3/9 vs. Kansas State, Big 12 tournament TBD
 
16VCU <a href=Rams" title="VCU Rams">
Last Week: 25
The Rams are incredibly reliant on turnovers for their defensive success. Not only do they rank No. 1 in the nation in turnover percentage, they're the ONLY team in the nation for whom turnover percentage has a higher correlation to defensive efficiency than does effective field-goal percentage.

The chart below lists the 10 best turnover-creating teams that are likely to make the NCAA tournament, along with their defensive-efficiency correlations from kenpom.com. You'll see VCU has the highest TO% correlation -- and that rebounding and free-throw rate are irrelevant to their defensive success. Syracuse, on the other hand, has somewhat even correlations from all four factors, even though it creates plenty of turnovers.



Next three: 3/6 vs. Richmond, 3/10 at Temple, A-10 tournament TBD
 

The Next 16: 17. Michigan State, 18. Syracuse, 19. Wisconsin, 20. Arizona, 21. Cal, 22. Notre Dame, 23. Oregon, 24. Pittsburgh, 25. Missouri, 26. UNLV, 27. Colorado State, 28. San Diego State, 29. St. Mary's, 30. Creighton, 31. Akron, 32. Middle Tennessee

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