UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
College Basketball

Louisville breaks through, Duke falls in latest power rankings

Out of the chaos -- four undefeateds losing since last week's rankings! -- comes a rightful re-ordering: For the first time in many weeks, the team at No. 1 is also my pick to win the national title.

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Louisville <a href=Cardinals" title="Louisville-Cardinals">
Last Week: 2
Louisville has the nation's best defense, but its defensive performance does not always please coach Rick Pitino. The Courier-Journal reports that at halftime of the Cardinals' win over Seton Hall on Jan. 9, Pitino called them "13 Michael Jacksons" because they were speaking to each other too softly on D. Since then they've been quite stingy, shutting down the Pirates, South Florida and UConn in succession.

To get a sense of how Louisville's defensive quality has fluctuated over the course of the season, I borrowed a net-efficiency concept from Crashing The Dance, essentially asking the question: What's the difference between how the Cardinals defended in each game vs. how a D-I average defense would have been expected to perform against those same opponents? Here's the answer:



The performances are rated on a points-allowed-per-100-possessions scale; you'll see that the Cards' D was nearly 40 points/100 possessions better than an average team against South Florida, and that the absence of center Gorgui Dieng from the Duke game through a portion of the Kentucky game brought them much closer to the D-I baseline.

Next three: 1/19 vs. Syracuse, 1/22 at Villanova, 1/26 at Georgetown
 
2Kansas <a href=Jayhawks" title="Kansas Jayhawks">
Last Week: 6
This is the second straight year in which an elite college freshman has been compared by draftniks and TV announcers to former UConn star Ray Allen. Last season it was Florida's Brad Beal, who was drafted third overall by the Wizards. This season it's Kansas' Ben McLemore, who's shooting up draft boards and could very well land in the top three in June. The problem with the Beal-Allen comps was that Beal was/is not nearly as good of a shooter as the guy with the NBA's prettiest stroke, whereas McLemore may actually have Allen-level potential. Below is a chart of each player's freshman-year stats; you'll see that in a small-ish sample, McLemore is ahead of where Allen was on threes and free throws, while Beal lagged well behind from beyond the arc.



With Allen having turned into somewhat of a three-point specialist in his Boston/Miami years, it's worth remembering that during college and his Milwaukee days, he did a lot of work inside the arc. As you see in the far-right category, just 26 percent of his attempts as a UConn freshman were threes.

(Photo credits, left to right: AP/Getty Images/USA Today)

Next three: 1/19 at Texas, 1/22 at Kansas State, 1/26 vs. Oklahoma
 
3Duke <a href=Blue Devils" title="Duke Blue Devils">
Last Week: 1
It feels weird to write this, but I think there's a good chance that Ryan Kelly's absence will impact Duke's D even more than Gorgui Dieng's absence impacted Louisville's D*. The 6-foot-11 Kelly once had a rep for being soft, but he emerged this season as a well-positioned, versatile defender who helped key the Blue Devils' return to the defensive elite. It wasn't a coincidence that Duke had its worst defensive game of the season -- giving up 1.17 points per possession to NC State on Saturday -- while Kelly is out indefinitely with a foot injury. The guy Kelly would have marked, C.J. Leslie, scored 25 points against a combination of Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Mason Plumlee, and the thinning-out of Duke's frontcourt also allowed Richard Howell to have a 16-point, 18-rebound game. The Blue Devils' overall resume keeps them in the conversation for No. 1, but they can't be considered the country's best team while Kelly is out of the lineup.

(*Dieng is still a far better defensive anchor and rim-protector, but Louisville had enough great defenders around him to absorb the loss. Duke isn't nearly as deep on D.)

Next three: 1/17 vs. Georgia Tech, 1/23 at Miami, 1/26 vs. Maryland
 
4Michigan <a href=Wolverines" title="Michigan Wolverines">
Last Week: 3
UMHoops.com, which covers the Wolverines in incredible detail, did a revealing Q&A with ex-player Zack Novak about Sunday's loss to Ohio State. In it, Novak talked about how the Buckeyes blew up Michigan's side ball-screen game, particularly with Trey Burke:

Coach [Beilein] has referred to "locking the rails" in describing what OSU does to guard sideline ball screens, a huge staple of the offense. They do this better than anyone else. Many teams will take away a ball screen by having the defender on the ball play with his butt to the other sideline and bringing a big man in front of the ball handler. They take it to another level. They pretty much play the ball handler not to go to the opposite corner of mid court, essentially taking away any chance for the ball handler to still use the screen. This takes away all uncertainty a big man would have in playing in front of the ball handler.

Below is a CBS-screenshot example from early in the first half on Saturday, where Craft is "locking the rails" by sitting at an extreme angle above the screen, while Evan Ravenel blocks Burke's path to the rim:



Next three: 1/17 at Minnesota, 1/24 vs. Purdue, 1/27 at Illinois
 
5Arizona <a href=Wildcats" title="Arizona Wildcats">
Last Week: 4
First, some Wildcats history: The college hoops chapter of The Classical's Kenny Lofton week is a must-read. (But only after you've read the rest of the Power Rankings.)

Second, some warnings: According to kenpom.com, Arizona has played the weakest in-conference slate of any Pac-12 team thus far ... yet ranks eighth in defensive points per possession. In John Gasaway's Tuesday Truths, he points out that the Wildcats only have the Pac-12's fourth-best efficiency margin, and are nearly even with Arizona State in that department. The point being that while Arizona's record is good enough to warrant a high ranking, it has not been dominating its league, and is far from a lock as the Pac-12 champ. Oregon and UCLA have just as good of a shot, and a revived Washington team has to be considered a dark-horse candidate.

Next three: 1/19 at Arizona State, 1/24 vs. UCLA, 1/26 vs. USC
 
6Gonzaga <a href=Bulldogs" title="Gonzaga Bulldogs">
Last Week: 8
Saturday's mid-major Super Bowl between the Zags and Butler lost a lot of its allure once Rotnei Clarke was ruled out due to his neck injury, but there's still one matchup I'm excited to see: Kelly Olynyk vs. Andrew Smith. The 7-foot Olynyk has been playing well enough of late -- he had 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting against St. Mary's last week -- to put himself in the All-America conversation, but Smith is likely to be the most physical defender he's faced all season. Recall that the last All-America-level big man to face Butler, Indiana's Cody Zeller, got outmuscled on the block during an upset. The Bulldogs' odds of winning without Clarke are extremely slim, but they can keep themselves close by neutralizing Olynyk down low. If he continues his high-usage (29.2 percent of possessions), high-efficiency (69.7 percent shooting inside the arc!) ways, it may not be much of a game.

Next three: 1/17 at Portland, 1/19 at Butler, 1/24 vs. BYU
 
7Syracuse <a href=Orange" title="Syracuse Orange">
Last Week: 9
Orange coach Jim Boeheim says that James Southerland's eligibility situation "could be resolved", but it seems unlikely that the senior forward, who was averaging 13.6 points per game, will appear in Saturday's duel with No. 1 Louisville. That deals quite the blow to Syracuse's halfcourt offense, which does not have another spot-up shooter of Southerland's ilk, and it removes point guard Michael Carter-Williams' favorite target for assisted threes in transition. The chart below shows Southerland's Synergy-efficiency stats compared to the Orange's other shooters:



Next three: 1/19 at Louisville, 1/21 vs. Cincinnati, 2/16 at Villanova
 
8Indiana <a href=Hoosiers" title="Indiana Hoosiers">
Last Week: 5
The best way to beat Indiana is not to force senior sharpshooter Jordan Hulls to take contested threes. It's to stop him from taking threes altogether. On Dec. 15, Butler repeatedly jammed Hulls at the three-point line on catches, and the 51.9 percent long-range shooter only got off two attempts, making none. The Bulldogs won. On Tuesday, Wisconsin came to Bloomington and seemed to make running Hulls off the arc its top defensive priority. He was able to attempt just one trey (and missed it) in 32 minutes. This has been a long-time specialty of coach Bo Ryan, whose team held IU to just 12 long-range attempts in the game. The Badgers are allowing opponents to take just 25 percent of their shots from beyond the arc this season -- the 12th-lowest rate in the nation. Last season, UW opponents' only took 24.1 percent of their shots as threes, which was the second-lowest rate nationally.

Next three: 1/20 at Northwestern, 1/23 vs. Penn State, 1/27 vs. Michigan State
 
9Creighton <a href=Bluejays" title="Creighton Bluejays">
Last Week: 11
A frame-by-frame* look at Doug McDermott's masterpiece against Missouri State on Jan. 11, which was remarkable not just for the point total (39) but also the variety:



(*Screengrabs from KMTV. My apologies for the blurriness; the only thing available online was a standard-def broadcast.)

Next three: 1/19 at Wichita State, 1/23 at Drake, 1/27 at Southern Illinois
 
10Minnesota <a href=Golden Gophers" title="Minnesota Golden Gophers">
Last Week: 7
The Gophers are a demoralizing opponent, because while they don't shoot all that well, they keep extending possessions by grabbing nearly half of their misses. They rank No. 1 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage at 48.0, and they've posted single-game offensive-board rates higher than 50 on seven occasions. Controlling the offensive glass is the most important element of Minnesota's offense.

To give you some context on how off-the-charts good the Gophers have been: Each season only 5-10 teams finish with OReb%s north of 40, and the national leader tends to be in the 42-43 range. There's no way that Minnesota can maintain its current rate of 48 through Big Ten play, but even if it drops five percentage points, it'll be one of the best OReb% teams in the past decade.

Next three: 1/17 vs. Michigan, 1/23 at Northwestern, 1/26 at Wisconsin
 
11San Diego State <a href=Aztecs" title="San Diego State Aztecs">
Last Week: 14
Question mark for the Aztecs: Will five-star freshman guard Winston Shepard make major contributions for the rest of the season, or did he only thrive while Xavier Thames was out of the lineup? When Thames, SDSU's normal starting point guard, sat out Jan. 9's Fresno State game with a back strain, Shepard started in his place and delivered 34 high-value minutes. He only scored four points, but he had seven rebounds, seven assists against just two turnovers, two blocks and a steal. The Aztecs won by three; it was by far Shepard's best game of the season. He had started slow, struggling with turnovers and sitting out three games due to an NCAA suspension, but the Fresno State game signaled a potential turning point. But when Thames returned to the lineup on Jan. 12 for an overtime win over Colorado State, Shepard resumed being a bench guy, and delivered 15 low-efficiency minutes (1-of-5 shooting, one assist, one turnover). Which version of him will the Aztecs get for the rest of the Mountain West season?

Next three: 1/19 at Wyoming, 1/23 at Nevada, 1/26 vs. New Mexico
 
12UCLA <a href=Bruins" title="UCLA Bruins">
Last Week: 17
Ben Howland told the L.A. Times that he's "evolving" into a guy who's letting his team play faster, more offensive-minded basketball. According to Synergy, 19.8 percent of the Bruins' possessions are in transition this season, compared to 14.9 last season, and kenpom.com's pace stats show that UCLA is playing 3.9 possessions per game faster than they did in '11-12.

Those are significant jumps, but what's even more remarkable is when you compare the current Bruins' pace-and-efficiency profile to that of Howland's three Final Four teams. Not only is the '12-13 team playing much, much faster, it has sacrificed any semblance of an elite defense in order to put up points:



Next three: 1/17 vs. Oregon State, 1/19 vs. Oregon, 1/24 at Arizona
 
13Butler Bulldogs
Last Week: 13
The fact that Butler frontcourt starters Andrew Smith, Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones are all having more efficient offensive seasons than they did a year ago is promising for a team that needs to weather at least two games without shooting guard Rotnei Clarke. The bad news is that Brad Stevens has never relied on a player for a higher volume of shots than the coach has on Clarke. The table below includes the player with the highest shot% from each of Stevens' six seasons; Clarke is the only one who's broken the 30-percent mark.



Pete Campbell's 29.6 rate in '07-08 was less significant because he played a low percentage of minutes. Clarke's closest comp is Shelvin Mack's junior season, when he took on a heavy load while leading the Bulldogs to their second straight national-title game.

Next three: 1/16 vs. Richmond, 1/19 vs. Gonzaga, 1/23 at La Salle
 
14Michigan State <a href=Spartans" title="Michigan State Spartans">
Last Week: 19
Tom Izzo hates Twitter, according to the Detroit Free Press. He thinks all the anonymously-sent negativity -- what senior Derrick Nix calls "hate Tweets" -- makes players more defensive than they should be, and has a serious impact on their psyches. "[The players] all think they can handle it," Izzo told the paper. "I'm gonna tell you something, guys, there ain't none of us -- are you ready, not even my man Nick [Saban] -- there ain't none of us that can handle getting crucified and not knowing who's crucifying them."

Well, here's something (sorta) positive to make them feel better: Michigan State seems like the Big Ten contender that's still the farthest away from its ceiling. The Spartans are tied for second place in the league but have dealt with long-range shooting slumps, and are just starting to eradicate the turnover problems that plagued them in the first few months. (They still rank 243rd nationally in turnover percentage.) If their offense ever starts clicking, they'll have a real chance to climb into the top 10.

Next three: 1/16 at Penn State, 1/19 vs. Ohio State, 1/22 at Wisconsin
 
15Oregon <a href=Ducks" title="Missouri Tigers">
Last Week: 25
I recently heard ESPN's Jay Bilas praising Nerlens Noel's rare ability to get blocks and steals, which is dead-on; there's no guy with more combined production in those departments than Kentucky's long-limbed freshman center. But while we're on the topic of rare defensive skill sets, what about Ducks forward Arsalan Kazemi's incredible combination of glass-domination and steal-production? Through Monday's games, according to kenpom.com, Kazemi ranked No. 2 nationally in defensive-rebounding percentage and No. 9 in steal percentage. There's no other player in the country who's even in the top 100 in both categories, and I could only find four others who ranked in the top 300 in both. Noel happens to be one of them:



Next three: 1/17 at USC, 1/19 at UCLA, 1/23 vs. Washington State
 
16NC State <a href=Wolfpack" title="NC State Wolfpack">
Last Week: 26
In the preseason I had plans to do a regular Scott Wood watch in the Power Rankings, but that was before the Wolfpack nosedived in Puerto Rico and fell out of the top 16. The question was if the senior marksman's offseason work -- which focused on adding wrinkles to his game that would create more trips to the free-throw line, where he's automatic, and perhaps a few more shots off the bounce -- would translate to different stats in 2013. The results thus far?

• As a junior, Wood's ratio of FTA/100 FGA was 31.3; it's now 38.0. So, slightly better.

• As a junior, 74.8 percent of Wood's attempts were threes; as a senior, 76.9 percent of his attempts are threes. Pretty much the same, and this isn't a bad thing: Threes are what make him valuable, and he's shooting a career-high 45.2 percent from beyond the arc.

• As a junior, 91.3 percent of his attempts were jumpers, and 91.5 percent of those were catch-and-shoots. As a senior, 95.3 percent of his attempts are jumpers, and 84.1 percent of those are catch-and-shoots. That means Wood's creating a few more scoring opportunities off the dribble; it may be only a one-attempt-per-game addition, but all he really wanted was to have the threat of a one-dribble pull-up move in his arsenal.

Next three: 1/16 at Maryland, 1/20 vs. Clemson, 1/22 at Wake Forest
 

The Next 16: 17. Florida, 18. Ohio State, 19. VCU, 20. Kansas State, 21. Ole Miss, 22. New Mexico 23. Missouri, 24. Wisconsin, 25. Miami, 26. Boise State, 27. Wyoming, 28. Marquette, 29. Cincinnati, 30. Notre Dame, 31. Kentucky, 32. UNLV

More College Basketball

Close

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 4 easy steps:

  1. Click the Chrome menu on the browser toolbar.
  2. Select Bookmarks.
  3. Select Bookmark manager.
  4. Locate your current Sports Illustrated bookmark, click the Organize menu, then select Edit. You can now easily update the web address of your Sports Illustrated bookmark.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 2 easy steps:

  1. Click the Safari bookmark manager on the browser toolbar.
  2. This will open the Bookmarks Bar. In the Bookmarks Bar, select your Sports Illustrated bookmark and manually edit the Address field.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 3 easy steps:

  1. Click the Firefox bookmark manager on the browser toolbar.
  2. Select Show All Bookmarks.
  3. This will open the library window. In the Library window, select your Sports Illustrated bookmark and manually edit the Location field.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.
Don't Show This Again