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Steve Fisher's San Diego State Aztecs storm into the top 10

The first Power Rankings of the post-football season pay tribute to stubborn defense, a Syracuse point guard and a guy named VanVleet:

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Arizona Wildcats
Last Week: 1
Trying to score on the Wildcats' Pack-Line D this season can be frustrating. The seven-point first half they held Washington State to on Jan. 2 is some of the most miserable offensive footage I've watched in a long while and is not suitable for public re-consumption, so I offer this as an alternative means of grasping the frustration.

Kenpom devotees have been blessed, in 2013-14, with the ability to track the average length of teams' offensive and defensive possessions. And would you guess which team has the longest defensive possessions in all of Division I? It's Arizona, at an average of 20.5 seconds.

Now: Kenpom tracks the full length of possessions, and thus includes those extended by offensive rebounds, so there's a risk of confusing a rebounding-deficient defense with one that forces opponents to work for a shot attempt. But Arizona has the longest defensive possessions in D-I while barely allowing any second chances. The Wildcats rank 13th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, at 74.4 percent.

Running offense against Arizona is a long grind -- the longest grind -- and it tends to result in just one contested shot.

Next three: 1/9 at UCLA, 1/12 at USC, 1/16 vs. Arizona State

 
2Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 2
Tyler Ennis, the co-MVP of this freshman class along with Jabari Parker, continues to outperform Syracuse's three previous point guards. In the chart below, I've taken Ennis' stats against the Orange's seven kenpom top-100 opponents, to eliminate non-conference fluff, and compared them to those of the team's primary point guard from the past five seasons. Ennis is in a class by himself:

(Photos source: Getty Images.)

Next three: 1/11 vs. North Carolina, 1/13 at Boston College, 1/18 vs. Pitt

 
3Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 3
Nigel Hayes did not start the season looking like an impact freshman. Early on, the three-star power forward looked like a guy who might not be able to contribute quality minutes off the bench once the Badgers hit Big Ten play. That has changed. In games Nos. 12-15, Hayes began making a clear effort to seek out contact on offense, and his free-throw rate (and offensive rating) skyrocketed while he averaged 13.5 points. These are his splits:

Hayes told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that film work had led to him being more calculating with his post moves. "I've learned to catch the ball and let the defense settle and then you can attack," he said. The video below opens with clips of Hayes in November against Saint Louis, when he wasn't attacking the bodies of opponents, and then closes with clips from UW's Sunday win over Iowa, where that was his primary focus. See the difference:

Next three: 1/14 at Indiana, 1/18 vs. Michigan, 1/22 at Minnesota

 
4Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: 5
Friend-o'-the-Rankings Chris Mackinder compiled Defensive Score Sheets from the Spartans' overtime win over Ohio State on Tuesday, and his charting suggests that ESPN's lovefest should have been for Gary Harris instead of Aaron Craft. Craft's loose-ball dive near the end of regulation was one of the game's signature plays, and he did force four turnovers, but by DSS' standards -- which take into account field goals and free throws allowed, as well as rebounding -- it was not a Craftacular performance. Harris, meanwhile, forced seven (!) turnovers and 4.5 misses while yielding just three points in 42 minutes, which is incredible.

Here are condensed versions of each team's DSS; the full versions are available on Mackinder's site:

Next three: 1/11 vs. Minnesota, 1/15 at Northwestern, 1/18 at Illinois

 
5Iowa State Cyclones
Last Week: 6
DeAndre Kane's 30-point, nine-assist, eight-rebound, five-steal game against Baylor on Tuesday only solidified his standing as the best guard in the Big 12. The Cyclones are getting surprisingly excellent production out of the point-guard spot from two newcomers -- Kane and Monte Morris, the freshman who's going to inherit the starting job next season. Morris has yet to get much attention due to an inconsistent November and December, but in his past 100 minutes played, he has 12 assists against zero turnovers, is shooting 8-of-14 on twos, 5-of-10 on threes and 6-of-6 from the stripe. He's getting used more and more in lineups alongside Kane, making what was already an efficient Iowa State offense even better.

Next three: 1/11 at Oklahoma, 1/13 vs. Kansas, 1/18 at Texas

 
6Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 4
Thoughts while re-watching the Buckeyes' final possession of overtime against Michigan State, when they trailed 71-68 and needed a trey:

  • Their first move was a side pick-and-roll involving Craft (a 25.0 percent three-point shooter) and Sam Thompson (a 28.1 percent three-point shooter). Thompson had hit a clutch three on the previous trip, but still, when this is your No. 1 option in crunch time, it's a sign that your offense has some deficiencies.
  • The Spartans made a smart switch on the first P&R, but they also got lucky to survive losing track of Marc Loving for a few seconds. Had Thompson spaced out the floor more and made it tougher for Michigan State's defense to scramble, either he or Loving might had had a decent chance at a three. Take a look:

Next three: 1/12 vs. Iowa, 1/16 at Minnesota, 1/20 at Nebraska

 
7Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 7
It's remarkable how a team that uses so many small lineups is so adept at protecting the interior. The Wildcats have a nice defensive big man in 6-foot-11 sophomore Daniel Ochefu, but he's foul-prone and only plays 19.1 minutes per game. That means Villanova has 6-7 JayVaughn Pinkston in the middle the majority of the time, flanked by 6-6 or 6-5 wings -- and it manages to rank 11th in two-point field goal percentage allowed, at 41.5. Jay Wright has the best undersized defense in the nation.

Next three: 1/11 at St. John's, 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/20 vs. Creighton

 
8Wichita State Shockers
Last Week: *
Sophomore Fred VanVleet's efficient command of the Shockers' offense has been the biggest key to their 16-0 start. The chart below plots his running, five-game assist-turnover ratios from this season and last season, as well as those of Wichita State's starting point guard from '12-13, Malcolm Armstead. Armstead hovered around a respectable 2-to-1 ratio all season, but VanVleet did some foreshadowing in the lead-up to the Final Four, going on a 16-assists-against-one-turnover run during March:

Next three: 1/11 at Missouri State, 1/14 vs. Bradley, 1/19 vs. Indiana State

 
9San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 13
The Power Rankings was the only poll to have the Aztecs ahead of Kansas before they went into Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday and left with a 61-57 win, and this is the only place to find San Diego State in the top 10 this week. The Aztecs need to be regarded as the Ohio State of the West: a team with an elite defense than can score well enough to win 85 percent of its games. And Steve Fisher needs to be high up on everyone's coach-of-the-year lists. My top five thus far:

1. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
2. Steve Fisher, San Diego State
3. Sean Miller, Arizona
4. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
5. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State

Next three: 1/12 at Air Force, 1/15 vs. Fresno State, 1/18 vs. UNLV

 
10Florida Gators
Last Week: 9
Florida's stout defense and South Carolina's inept offense combined to produce a nightmarish first half on Wednesday in Gainesville. The Gamecocks had one point and seven turnovers in their first 10 possessions, and they didn't get their turnover percentage under 50 until the 25th possession. This is misery in chart form, with turnovers in red and running turnover percentages in the right-most column:

Next three: 1/11 at Arkansas, 1/14 vs. Georgia, 1/18 at Auburn

 
11Baylor Bears
Last Week: 12
While we're on the topic of turnovers ...

Is there reason to be concerned about Isaiah Austin? The 7-1 center's lone freshman-to-sophomore improvement has been in the shot-blocking department, while his offensive game has regressed following an offseason shoulder surgery that kept him out of the NBA draft. He's no longer a pick-and-pop threat, since he's mostly stopped shooting threes, and he's been giving the ball away at an alarming rate. Austin has 16 turnovers in his last four games, and 29.5 percent of his possessions have ended in turnovers during that span. His season-long turnover percentage is 24.9, up from 15.6 as a freshman. If Baylor is going to seriously contend in the Big 12, he'll need to be stronger with the ball.

Next three: 1/11 vs. TCU, 1/15 at Texas Tech, 1/18 vs. Oklahoma

 
12Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 15
The Wildcats are developing an odd offensive profile. They rank seventh in adjusted efficiency because they do two things very, very well: rebound their misses and get to the free throw line. They're No. 1 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (at 45.4) because all five of their forwards/centers -- Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee -- grab at least 14 percent of available misses. And they're No. 2 in free-throw rate because Randle draws 8.2 fouls per 40 minutes, and point guard Andrew Harrison draws 6.5. This is how they survive not being able to knock down threes.

Next three: 1/11 at Vanderbilt, 1/14 at Arkansas, 1/18 vs. Tennessee

 
13Oklahoma State Sooners
Last Week: 10
In the post-Michael Cobbins phase of their season, the Cowboys seem to be varying their defensive looks with greater frequency. During Wednesday's 87-74 win over Texas, they did all this in the first half alone:

1. Post-fronting man-to-man

2. Compact, 2-3 zone

3. Trapping man-to-man

4. Man-to-man press with trap just over halfcourt

5. Press with trap in backcourt

(Screengrabs source: ESPN)

Next three: 1/11 at West Virginia, 1/15 vs. TCU, 1/18 at Kansas

 
14Creighton Bluejays
Last Week: 18
Sad news that point forward Grant Gibbs, who just made his blogging debut for USA Today, dislocated a kneecap in the Bluejays' win over DePaul and will be out 3-4 weeks, removing one of the game's best passers from an elite scoring attack. Creighton's small-ball lineup with the 6-5 Gibbs, 6-7 Ethan Wragge and 6-8 Doug McDermott in the frontcourt was working so well that its offense ranks second nationally in adjusted efficiency, and it was looking like Big East co-favorites along with Villanova. It now has the option of giving increased minutes to backup, 6-6 forward Avery Dingman, who scored 16 points in relief against the Blue Demons, or shift to a more traditional lineup with 6-11 Will Artino at the five. Artino had been limited to 11-12 minutes per game to make room for lineups with five long-range threats.

Next three: 1/12 vs. Xavier, 1/14 vs. Butler, 1/18 at Providence

 
15Colorado Buffaloes
Last Week: 23
Like Kentucky, the Buffaloes' offense is heavily dependent on points from the free-throw line, and their ringleader is junior guard Spencer Dindwiddie, who draws 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes and shoots 86.8 percent from the stripe. He ranks 10th among major-conference players in free throws made per 40 minutes, pace-adjusted:

Next three: 1/12 at Washington, 1/16 vs. UCLA, 1/18 vs. USC

 
16Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: 28
Mick Cronin has a rep as a strong defensive coach, but I'm still surprised to see the Bearcats ranked higher in adjusted defensive efficiency (5th) than Louisville is (14th) in January. Given the Cardinals' issues, how much Memphis has underwhelmed, and UConn's midseason swoon, it seems reasonable to call Cincy the new favorite to win the American Athletic Conference in its first year of existence. Following a 17-point loss to Xavier in mid-December, the Bearcats' defense locked down and has yet to allow an opponent to score more than 0.979 PPP.

Next three: 1/11 vs. Rutgers, 1/14 vs. Temple, 1/18 vs. South Florida

 

The Next 16: 17. Oregon, 18. UMass, 19. Kansas, 20. Louisville, 21. Duke, 22. Kansas State, 23. Pittsburgh, 24. Iowa, 25. Xavier, 26. Tennessee, 27. UCLA, 28. St. Louis, 29. UConn, 30. Gonzaga, 31. Memphis, 32. Harvard

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