Last Week: 1
| Today's meeting of the Sean Miller Appreciation Society will cover the final 30 seconds of Arizona's win at Michigan on Dec. 14. |
1. The Wildcats trail 66-65 with 30 seconds on the game clock and 23.5 on the shot clock, and they're in the bonus. What would be the optimal thing to do? Well, junior Nick Johnson is their best free-throw shooter, the best drawer-of-fouls in their backcourt, and a more efficient pick-and-roll scorer than point guard T.J. McConnell -- plus, Johnson is being guarded by the weakest defender on the floor, Spike Albrecht. Also, if you're targeting Michigan big men, Mitch McGary is the one who's most foul-prone. So what does Miller do?
He calls for the optimal thing. Gives Johnson the ball and a flat screen from Brandon Ashley, who's their most efficient big man -- and being guarded McGary. Johnson drives left off the screen, gets fouled by McGary and makes both free throws, putting Arizona up 67-66.
On the ensuing defensive possession, Johnson sticks with Nik Stauskas on a wing handoff and Ashley fronts the Wolverines' best foul-drawing option, McGary, forcing Stauskas to drive and miss a contested two:
Aaron Gordon rebounds the miss and gets tied up, with the Wildcats maintaining possession. What's the optimal thing to do on the inbounds play? Get the ball to Johnson. That's what Miller does, running Johnson off staggered screens while he's being guarded, inexplicably, on the high side by freshman sub Zak Irvin, rather than denied the ball ...
Johnson gets fouled and once again makes two free throws. Arizona goes up 69-66 with 9.1 seconds left, and Miller uses his final timeout to strategize.
Michigan inbounds from under Arizona's basket, and what the Wolverines seem to want to do -- indicated by Mitch McGary's "T" signal, and the casual nature of their three other non-ballhandlers -- is have Albrecht dribble toward the bench and call their final timeout, to set up a sideline-out-of-bounds play for a three.
Miller ruins this by having McConnell foul Albrecht before he can call the timeout -- pulling off the rarely seen combination of up-three, under-seven-seconds fouling and timeout-foiling. And Albrecht's a great guy to foul here, too: He's only attempted two free throws all season, the last one coming on Nov. 24. He misses the crucial first free throw and makes the second, shrinking Arizona's lead to 69-67 with 6.7 seconds left.
While Albrecht is at the line, this is what Miller is doing:
He's prepping his designated inbounds-passer, Gabe York, because the Wildcats have no timeouts left and cannot afford to blow this. York subs in and successfully inbounds to Johnson, who makes two more free throws to put Arizona up 71-67.
After one hiccup -- they allow Albrecht to make a far-too-easy three with 2.0 seconds left -- Miller calls an inbounds play with Johnson and York (maybe the team's best pure shooter) as the receiving options. York gets fouled, makes the first, and then at Miller's request, intentionally front-rims the second. This leaves the Wolverines with an 80-foot, rebound-turn-and-chuck Hail Mary at the buzzer, rather than a baseball-pass inbounds play.
The Hail Mary misses. Miller didn't do anything complex or genius. He just made the optimal decision, over and over again. Is it a surprise that his team is undefeated and ranked No. 1?
(Screengrabs source: CBS)
Next three: 12/19 vs. Southern, 12/23 vs. Northern Arizona, 1/2 vs. Washington State
Last Week: 2
| The Orange have played five good or halfway-decent opponents thus far in Minnesota, Cal, Baylor, Indiana and St. John's. The following chart shows what freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has done in those games only. For the sake of comparison, I've also listed the full 2012-13 numbers for Syracuse's previous point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, who is a frontrunner for NBA Rookie of the Year honors. |
An interpretation, if it isn't obvious: Ennis has been off-the-charts good against quality competition, scoring with an All-America level of efficiency, an All-America assist/turnover ratio and a steal percentage that tops MC-Dubz's very impressive steal percentage. Syracuse lost a Lottery Pick point guard and somehow upgraded at the position.
Next three: 12/20 vs. High Point, 12/28 vs. Villanova, 12/31 vs. Eastern Michigan
Last Week: 3
| Brief end-of-year list of notable courts I've screengrabbed while watching film: |
1. Best Throwback Surface: The parquet, narrow-laned weirdness of the Pentagon's "Heritage Court" in Sioux Falls, S.D., where the Wisconsin overachievers beat the St. John's underachievers in the season opener on Nov. 8. It's a decent court that could be a visually great one if they strip off the extra NBA lines.
2. Best Court-Shrinking/Opponent-Confusing Device: The sideline tide/palm fronds combo at Florida International. This is real. And FIU is undefeated on it, with respectable wins over Texas Southern, Georgia State and Dunk City.
3. Ballsiest Graphic: The Spartan shields at San Jose State, which, from a center-court view, look like a row of cartoon Spartans, but when the camera pans right, take on a testicular quality. I'm guessing this was unintended.
Next three: 12/28 vs. Prairie View A&M, 1/2 vs. Northwestern, 1/5 vs. Iowa
Last Week: 4
| The Aaron Craft-Shannon Scott duo has led the Buckeyes to No. 1-defense status on kenpom.com, and the Power Rankings is charting (from film) every turnover they create this season. They're almost even in raw turnovers-forced thus far, with Craft at 34.5 and Scott at 35.5, but Scott has done his work in 64 fewer minutes, so his impact his much greater. |
Charge-taking has almost disappeared from Craft's arsenal under the new rules, but his turnover production has remained at an elite level.
Next three: 12/21 vs. Notre Dame, 11/27 vs. Louisiana-Monroe, 12/31 at Purdue
Last Week: 7
| My early top five for national coach of the year: |
1. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
2. Miller, Arizona
3. Jay Wright, Villanova
4. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
5. Derek Kellogg, UMass
Villanova was picked fourth in the Big East preseason coaches poll and didn't appear in any preseason Top 25s. As we close in on the new year, the Wildcats have established themselves as the best Big East team, and Wright has them playing the stingiest defense (at an adjusted 0.900 PPP) of anyone outside of Ohio State. That's worthy of COY recognition.
Next three: 12/21 vs. Rider, 12/28 at Syracuse, 1/31 at Butler
Last Week: 7
| The Spartans' lack of production from the free-throw line -- particularly by big man Adreian Payne, who only generates 3.2 FT makes per game -- is a big part of what's keeping their offense from being truly elite. Here's a breakdown of how many free throws each Power Rankings team makes per 100 possessions, through Tuesday: |
Next three: 12/21 at Texas, 12/28 vs. New Orleans, 12/31 at Penn State
Last Week: 9
| Luke Hancock, the three-point shooting star of the Final Four, has been in a serious slump to start this season, making just nine of 38 long-range attempts (23.7 percent). His cold start isn't all that alarming, though; he started slowly as a junior, too. And even though he's missing threes, he's figured out how to be just as efficient as he was last season (his ORating is 120.7, compared to 120.9 in '12-13). |
This is Hancock's new, three-pronged efficiency plan:
• He rarely gives away possessions, committing just seven turnovers in 10 games.
• He gets to the free-throw line almost twice as much as he did as a junior. He's driving (or pump-faking and then driving) more and drawing contact despite his lack of explosiveness or hops.
• When Hancock gets to the line, he makes 91.9 percent of his free throws. This aspect of his shooting game has been just fine. It's the rest that needs to thaw.
Next three: 12/21 at Florida International, 12/28 at Kentucky, 12/31 at UCF
Last Week: 12
| Juco-transfer forward Dustin Hogue rewarded last week's Power Rankings blurbage by going for 12 points and 16 boards in a Dec. 13 win over Iowa. Not only has Hogue been the most productive juco transfer in the nation, he's also the most productive rebounder (on a per-40-minute basis) on any major-conference team. Here are the top 10 per-40 rebounders from all conferences, according to DraftExpress.com's database: |
Next three: 12/22 vs. George Mason and TBD (Diamond Head Classic)
Last Week: 19
| Tuesday's column from the Jimmy V Classic looked at the unexpected senior breakout of Casey Prather who has transformed from a marginal, oft-injured role player to a go-to-guy who averages 18.7 points per game. Coach Billy Donovan said that the 6-foot-6 Prather is finally self-aware of who he is offensively -- namely that he understands his best work is done attacking the rim off the bounce. Prather's Synergy Sports Technology shot charts from his two best games -- Tuesday's win over Memphis (22 points) and the season opener against North Florida (28 points) are concentrated in and around the paint. |
Here's his shot chart vs. Memphis (at-rim attempts are in the bottom row; makes are circled; shooting fouls drawn are in red):
Here's his shot chart vs. North Florida:
(Image sources: Synergy Sports Technology)
Next three: 12/21 vs. Fresno St. (in Sunrise, Fla.), 12/29 vs. Savannah State, 1/4 vs. Richmond
Last Week: 11
| Sophomore guard Phil Forte got his annual 1-for-10-from-deep game out of the way against Delaware State on Tuesday. He did the same thing on Dec. 1, 2012 against Virginia Tech, and went on to finish that season as a 33.8 percent shooter. He's up to 45.6 percent accuracy this year, which is more in line with his recruiting billing as one of the game's best marksmen, and he's taking nearly all of his field-goal attempts (79.7%) from beyond the arc. |
Only five major-conference players break the 80-percent mark for three-point specialization: Creighton's Ethan Wragge (95.7%), Seton Hall's Brian Oliver (85.4%), Purdue's Kendall Stephens (83.1%), Xavier's Myles Davis (82.1%), and Baylor's Brady Heslip (81.2%).
Next three: 12/21 vs. Colorado (in Las Vegas), 12/20 vs. Robert Morris, 1/4 at Kansas State
Last Week: 13
| Chances of going undefeated in the regular season, according to kenpom.com: |
1. Wichita State: 7.6%
2. Ohio State: 0.4%
3. Arizona: 0.3%
3. UMass: 0.3%
3. Saint Mary's: 0.3%
6. Villanova: 0.1%
6. Wisconsin: 0.1%
8. Syracuse: 0.09%
9. Toledo: 0.03%
10. Oregon: 0.02%
11. Iowa State: 0.00%
12. Missouri: 0.00%
So, if you have to bet on someone, bet on the Shockers. If you don't have to bet on anyone, don't bet on anyone. (My guess is that Wichita's run of perfection will last 'til early February, when they take back-to-back trips to Indiana State and Northern Iowa.)
Next three: 12/22 vs. N.C. Central, 12/29 vs. Davidson, 1/2 at Southern Illinois
Last Week: 10
| Proof that having NBA prospects in the post doesn't guarantee you'll actually be effective in the post: Baylor is last among Power Rankings teams in efficiency on post-ups and post passes, at a woeful 0.691 PPP. It might be wise for Scott Drew to dial back on that aspect of his offense. |
Next three: 12/22 vs. Southern, 12/30 vs. Oral Roberts, 1/3 vs. Savannah State
Last Week: 16
| Because of reader/respected hoops historian/fellow music-lover Ben Steele requested it on Twitter (and because it's a December tradition around here), UMass' space gets hijacked for the Power Rankings' top 10 songs of the year. Some of them get B- and C-sided, since I'm less decisive about choosing favorite tracks than I am about ranking basketball teams: |
1. William Tyler :: Cadillac Desert / The Geography of Nowhere / Hotel Catatonia
2. Phosphorescent :: Song for Zula / Ride On Right On
3. Daft Punk :: Doin' It Right (ft. Panda Bear)
4. Kurt Vile :: Walkin' On a Pretty Day / Girl Called Alex
5. Parquet Courts :: You've Got Me Wonderin' Now
6. War on Drugs :: Red Eyes
7. White Denim :: Pretty Green
8. James Blake :: Retrograde
9. Rich Homie Quan :: Type of Way
10. Golden Gunn :: Dickie's Theme / The Sun Comes Up a Purple Diamond
Next three: 12/21 vs. Florida State (in Sunrise, Fla.), 12/28 vs. Providence, 1/4 vs. Miami (Ohio)
Last Week: 8
| My early top five for national player of the year: |
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
2. Shabazz Napier, UConn
3. Jabari Parker, Duke
4. Jordan Adams, UCLA
5. Russ Smith, Louisville
Had Napier been able to rescue the Huskies again last night -- as he did against Florida and Boston College -- he would have been No. 1. McDermott and Parker are similar in that they're elite, high-usage, high-efficiency scorers who contribute on the defensive glass. Adams is hugely underrated and needs to be regarded as the best player on the West Coast. Smith has made huge strides as a distributor, is still scoring at a high rate, and his ball-pressure is spearheading a top-five defense.
Next three: 12/22 at Washington, 12/28 vs. Eastern Washington, 12/31 at Houston
Last Week: 15
| To continue that POY discussion, my second team is: |
1. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
2. Chaz Williams, UMass
3. Nick Johnson, Arizona
4. Julius Randle, Kentucky
5. Joseph Young, Oregon
... with some of the last cuts being two Mountain West stars, San Diego State's Xavier Thames and New Mexico's Cameron Bairstow, as well as Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Wichita State's Ron Baker.
Next three: 12/21 vs. McNeese State, 12/27 vs. St. Katherine, 1/1 at Colorado State
Last Week: 6
| (I really don't know what to do with Carolina, but No. 16 seems like an OK place for a team with better wins and worse losses than anyone else in the rankings. Beating Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky buys you enough Power Rankings cred to excuse multiple implosions.) |
The most interesting thing from Wednesday's loss to Texas? That the Heels attempted an uncharacteristic 29.2 percent of their shots as threes, with nine of the 19 launched by fresh-off-suspension senior Leslie McDonald. Coming into the game, UNC had taken just 15.9 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc, which was the lowest rate in the nation by a wide margin. There were only two teams under 20, the other one being Pat Knight's three-point-allergic Lamar squad, at 19.8.
Next three: 12/21 vs. Davidson, 12/27 vs. Northern Kentucky, 12/31 vs. UNC-Wilmington