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The sign of threes: How top teams are shooting and defending the arc

The Trifecta Edition of the Power Rankings (in which 43.8 percent of the sections delve into three-point-related matters, and another contains a clip of Joel Embiid obliterating a three):

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Arizona Wildcats
Last Week: 1
One of the few flaws in the Wildcats' offense was that point guard T.J. McConnell was not a three-point shooting threat. Heading into Sunday's visit to USC, he was 8-of-30 from long range on the season and 0-of-9 in their previous five games. Pac-12 opponents were deploying sagging, 2-3 zones to combat Arizona's interior might, and the Trojans went the same route, playing a 2-3 zone two-thirds of the time and making minimal effort to extend out to bother McConnell's jumpers.

He proceeded to burn USC by going 5-of-7 from deep, and you'll see from these screengrabs that none of the attempts came with a defender outside the arc:

If opponents have to start extending out on McConnell, or abandoning the zone option altogether, Arizona will be nearly impossible to defend.

(Screengrabs source: Pac-12 Network.)

Next three: 1/16 vs. Arizona State, 1/23 vs. Colorado, 1/26 vs. Utah

 
2Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 2
Just so you know what it looks like when a 2-3 zone makes a concerted effort to challenge threes ...

... these are screengrabs of every long-range attempt North Carolina's two shooting threats, Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald, took against Syracuse on Jan. 11. On only one of eight shots does a defender not get to or past the arc and into the shooter's personal space:

(Screengrabs source: ESPN.)

Next three: 1/18 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/25 at Miami, 1/29 at Wake Forest

 
3Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: 4
How often does an elite team unveil a new offensive weapon in January? The Spartans have done that with redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski, a 6-8 forward who self-sabotaged his non-conference season by getting two three-game suspensions. Kaminski has come off the bench in Big Ten games to go 12-of-18 from long range, and he's a strange power forward in that he does almost nothing else. He's only taken two shots inside the arc in the same stretch, hasn't made a trip to the free throw line and barely rebounds or blocks shots. Kaminski is -- and I thank friend-of-the-Rankings John Ezekowitz for this half-serious comparison -- a two-inches-shorter, college version of Steve Novak:

Next three: 1/18 at Illinois, 1/21 vs. Indiana, 1/25 vs. Michigan

 
4Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 3
Bo Ryan's strategy for leveraging the value of the three -- what I call three-point gapping -- has been working rather well. Threes account for 39 percent of the Badgers' shots, and their defense is structured so that threes account for just 25 percent of their opponents' shots. That 14-percent gap was the largest of any team in the Big Ten through Tuesday's games:

Next three: 1/18 vs. Michigan, 1/22 at Minnesota, 1/25 at Purdue

 
5Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 7
Is Jay Wright now the East Coast version of Bo Ryan? I ran the same three-point gapping numbers on the new Big East, and Villanova's strategy looks much like Wisconsin's: The Wildcats take 44.8 percent of their shots from deep, while their opponents take 32 percent.

Next three: 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/20 vs. Creighton, 1/25 at Marquette

 
6Wichita State Shockers
Last Week: 8
For their past two Missouri Valley games, the Shockers have started a frontcourt with a Cleanthony (Early, their leading scorer) and a Chadrack (Lufile, a little-known senior who's becoming worthy of your attention). Lufile, like Early, is a juco transfer. But Lufile, as Bradley coach Geno Ford put it, did not have a strong debut season in Wichita. "A year ago, he was not very good," Ford told The Wichita Eagle. "And now he's become really good."

Compare the 6-9 Lufile's Missouri Valley-only numbers from last season against those from this season (per Statsheet.com), and the difference is striking. His minutes more than doubled ... and his per-minute production more than doubled:

Next three: 1/19 vs. Indiana State, 1/22 at Illinois State, 1/25 at Drake

 
7San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 9
Middle-of-the-Rankings Video Interlude No. 1: How not to defend Aztecs star Xavier Thames in pick-and-rolls, starring Thames and various members of the Air Force basketball team.

Next three: 1/18 vs. UNLV, 1/22 at San Jose State, 1/25 at Utah State

 
8Florida Gators
Last Week: 10
Kevin Brockway, the Gators beat writer for the  Gainesville Sun, Tweeted this photo of Florida students wearing "Free Chris Walker" shirts on Tuesday at the O-Dome:

Walker, a 6-10 McDonald's All-American, has been enrolled at UF since December but has yet to make his debut. Yahoo's Jeff Eisenberg reported that Walker is being held out due to an "NCAA investigation into a pre-enrollment eligibility issue," potentially involving his former AAU coach's contact with agent Andy Miller. Billy Donovan has cautioned that Walker shouldn't be regarded as a savior, given that he missed months of practice, and the Gators' frontcourt is guarding the interior just fine without him, ranking No. 1 in the SEC in two-point field-goal D (at 36.4 percent). It is, nonetheless, no fun to see a forward with NBA-level athleticism stuck in extended NCAA purgatory.

Next three: 1/18 at Auburn, 1/23 at Alabama, 1/25 vs. Tennessee

 
9Iowa State Cyclones
Last Week: 5
Middle-of-the-Rankings Video Interlude No. 2: The ease with which Georges Niang scored against BYU's big men in November, juxtaposed with the difficulty he had doing similar moves against Kansas' 7-foot monster, Joel Embiid, on Monday:

Niang is one my favorite post players to watch due to his diversity of effective moves, and Embiid was the first player I've seen that gave him fits on the interior.

Next three: 1/18 at Texas, 1/25 vs. Kansas State, 1/29 at Kansas

 
10Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 6
I left the Buckeyes out of this season's Magic Eight -- a midseason list of eight teams that's guaranteed to contain the national champion. They were the riskiest cut, and could blow up the guarantee if they figure things out on offense. The reasoning behind the omission is that, for the first time since 2009, Ohio State does not have an elite offense. For the past four seasons, Thad Matta's teams have ranked in the top 11 in adjusted offensive efficiency, including No. 1 overall in 2010-11, when he had Jared Sullinger on the inside and the super-efficient Jon Diebler on the outside. The 2013-14 Buckeyes rank 72nd, which could doom them even though they have the best defense of any major-conference team.

Next three: 1/16 at Minnesota, 1/20 at Nebraska, 1/23 vs. Illinois

 
11Creighton Bluejays
Last Week: 14
A Power Rankings full of three-point screengrabs wouldn't be complete without an appearance from Ethan Wragge, Creighton's long-range lumberjack. This trio of successful Wraggebombs, launched 67 seconds apart in the second half of a win over Xavier on Sunday, is deep even by NBA standards. Musketeers coach Chris Mack called it a "circus show":

(H/T to Bluejays blog White and Blue Review and a poster on Bluejay Underground for originally identifying the absurdity of Wragge's shot locations. Screengrabs are from CBS Sports Network.)

Next three: 1/18 at Providence, 1/20 at Villanova, 1/25 vs. Georgetown

 
12Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 19
Amen, Bill Self. The KU coach said he wants to keep using the alternate/throwback jerseys the Jayhawks wore in their past two games, "because I personally, and our players personally, prefer those to what we have been wearing." They beat Iowa State on Monday wearing the grays at left (which Self called "gorgeous"), and routed Kansas State on Saturday wearing the script whites at right:

With these classic, blueblood-appropriate looks, Adidas' designers have redeemed themselves (somewhat, but not entirely, because I will never fully forgive them) for the heinous crimes they committed against Kansas last season:

(Game images from AP; model image from University of Kansas/Adidas.)

Next three: 1/18 vs. Oklahoma State, 1/20 vs. Baylor, 1/25 at TCU

 
13Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: 16
A reason to be bullish on the Bearcats: They've been able to survive games where senior star Sean Kilpatrick isn't hitting threes. He had been a bellwether of sorts, as they lost the two non-conference games in which he only connected once from long range -- to New Mexico (when he was 1-of-7) and Xavier (1-of-3). But in late December and January, Cincy went undefeated in a five-game stretch in which Kilpatrick went 4-of-33 on threes, still finding ways to beat possible NCAA tourney teams SMU and Memphis. Kilpatrick rediscovered his stroke against Temple on Tuesday, going 6-of-13 from deep, and the Bearcats have emerged as the new favorite (at least according to me) to win the inaugural AAC title.

Next three: 1/18 at South Florida, 1/23 vs. UCF, 1/26 at Temple

 
14Oklahoma State Sooners
Last Week: 13
One way do-everything point guard Marcus Smart has stepped up his game in the wake of the Cowboys losing center Michael Cobbins for the season: rebounding. Smart has been crashing the glass, especially on offense, with an increased fervor in their past four games, grabbing double-digit boards against Texas and West Virginia. Here are Smart's running four-game averages for offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, on a with- and without-Cobbins timeline:

Next three: 1/18 at Kansas, 1/25 vs. West Virginia, 1/27 at Oklahoma

 
15Iowa Hawkeyes
Last Week: 18
The fastest offensive team in any major conference ... is Iowa, at an average of 14.2 seconds per possession, according to kenpom.com. Only BYU (13 seconds) and Northwestern State (13.8) have shorter offensive possession averages nationally. The next-closest Big Ten teams are Indiana (15.8) and, surprisingly, Purdue (also 15.8). In order for the  conference to avoid a total identity crisis, its most efficient scoring attack -- Wisconsin -- is staying true to its roots by averaging 20.2 seconds per offensive trip, ranking 338th out of 351 D-I teams.

Next three: 1/19 vs. Minnesota, 1/22 at Michigan, 1/25 at Northwestern

 
16Colorado Buffaloes
Last Week: 18
Getting a good grasp on the A-10 race has been difficult. UMass had the best start of any team, going undefeated until Dec. 21. St. Louis has locked down so well over the past month that it now has the nation's stingiest defense, according to adjusted efficiency, but it won't get to face UMass until March 9. VCU is just 12-4 but has nearly the same kenpom ranking as the Minutemen and Billikens; there's a chance that the Rams could still be the league's best team. La Salle was dismal in non-conference but is off to a 3-0 start, and Dayton and George Washington still have to be considered contenders. The A-10 race won't get as much attention as the Big Ten's or Big 12's, but this is one wide-open conference.

Next three: 1/18 at Elon, 1/22 at Richmond, 1/26 vs. Fordham

 

The Next 16: 17. St. Louis, 18. Baylor, 19. Kentucky, 20. Memphis, 21. Pittsburgh, 22. Florida State, 23. Duke, 24. Xavier, 25. Louisville, 26. UCLA, 27. Kansas State, 28. Gonzaga, 29. UConn, 30. Harvard, 31. Michigan, 32. Colorado

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