UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
College Basketball

Fred VanVleet's protection service, Arizona's offensive reboot and more

The final Power Rankings of February are rolling, replacing and Wraggebombing:

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Florida Gators
Last Week: 1
Last week's Power Rankings looked at how the pick-and-pop three had all but disappeared from Florida's offense. Dorian Finney-Smith, the Gators' most natural P&P candidate, was in the midst of a 1-for-23 slump from long range. To try to break him out of it against Vanderbilt, they kept running a different action: a roll-and-replace with point guard Scottie Wilbekin as the ballhandler, center Patric Young as the roll man and Finney-Smith as his replacement.

The first two attempts resulted in misses, but with Florida in serious upset danger in the final minute, Finney-Smith finally connected. This film edit breaks it down:

Next three: 3/1 vs. LSU, 3/4 at South Carolina, 3/8 vs. Kentucky

 
2Wichita State Shockers
Last Week: 2
Shockers point guard Fred VanVleet excels at turnover avoidance. During one five-game stretch from Dec. 22 to Jan. 8, he had an assist/turnover ratio of 31-to-1, and he's at 27-to-6 in his past five games. His running averages have consistently outperformed those of Wichita's starting point guard from last season, Malcolm Armstead, and the chart below shows that this was foreshadowed by VanVleet's excellent 2012-13 postseason:

Next three: 3/1 vs. Missouri State, Missouri Valley tournament TBD

 
3Arizona Wildcats
Last Week: 4
Here's something to make you reconsider the "Arizona can't score without Brandon Ashley" narrative, which I, at one point, was starting to believe: 

In their past two games -- victories at Colorado and at home against Cal -- the Wildcats had their two best offensive performances of the season against major-conference opponents. Powered by their ultra-efficient backcourt of T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson, they scored 1.326 points per possession against the Buffaloes and 1.274 PPP against the Bears. Those are elite-offense numbers. The kind of numbers that, paired with their always-stellar defense, should put them right back in the national-title-favorite discussion along with Florida.  

Next three: 3/2 vs. Stanford, 3/5 at Oregon State, 3/8 at Oregon

 
4Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 7
It's been a while -- too long, really -- since the Power Rankings last had a Visual Quiz, and so Duke's spot gets requisitioned for that purpose.

This grid is comprised of close-ups of 40-plus-percent three-point shooters' hands. Who are they? Tweet your guesses to @lukewinn; the first person to correctly ID all six gets the Major Award of having their Twitter handle shouted-out in an edit to this story.

(UPDATE: The winner is NBCSports' @RobDauster, whose answers can be found here.)

(Photos source: Getty Images.)

Next three: 3/5 at Wake Forest, 3/8 vs. North Carolina, ACC tournament TBD

 
5Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 3
One big reason why the Orange's offense is so susceptible to cold spells, even against weak competition: Its three-point attack is one-dimensional, with Trevor Cooney accounting for 56 percent of the team's treys. Only two players in the nation account for larger shares of their team's makes:

Cooney has gone cold during Syracuse's rough stretch, shooting 5-of-25 from deep against N.C. State, Boston College, Duke and Maryland. When he's off, the Orange's offense has to depend on twos and free throws, and that's when they become upset-prone. 

Next three: 3/1 at Virginia, 3/4 vs. Georgia Tech, 3/9 at Florida State

 
6Creighton Bluejays
Last Week: 6
An update to the Wraggebombs Chart, which plots 90 of Ethan Wragge's 91* Big East three-point attempts! 

Wragge is the rare breed of shooter whose best spots are the deep wings, where he's absolutely lethal ... and for a guy who makes 50 percent of his overall treys, he remains unable to connect from the toes-on-the-line, top-of-the-key spot. It seems that he gets more accurate the farther he is away from the line.

(*One is not available on video, and its location may forever be unknown.)

Next three: 3/1 at Xavier, 3/4 at Georgetown, 3/8 vs. Providence

 
7Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 8
Jayhawks freshman center Joel Embiid ranks 20th nationally in block percentage, at 11.9, and KU's defense keeps 52.1 percent of his blocks. This Block Matrix puts his numbers into context with the top six shot-blockers from Power Ranked teams (Cincinnati's Justin Jackson, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, Embiid, San Diego State's Skylar Spencer, Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas and Texas' Cameron Ridley), the national leader in block% (St. John's Chris Obekpa) and overall blocks (Arizona State's Jordan Bachynski):

Obekpa is in a class by himself, with a block% of 15.9 and a kept% of 65.5. More of Christmas' blocks (68.0 percent) are kept than anyone else's, and Ridley's blocks have the lowest impact, with more than half resulting in offensive rebounds for the opponent.

(Chart data from kenpom.com and hoop-math.com.)

Next three: 3/1 at Oklahoma State, 3/5 vs. Texas Tech, 3/8 at West Virginia

 
8Virginia Cavaliers
Last Week: 9
It's no shock that the Cavs have the most efficient defense in the ACC, but the fact that their offense ranks second in the league at 1.119 PPP -- ahead of everyone but Duke -- is one of the season's biggest surprises. Freshman point guard London Perrantes has a VanVleet-like 5.1-to-1 assist/turnover ratio in ACC games (only Duke backup Tyler Thornton is higher, at 5.7), and Virginia has the best in-conference three-point percentage, at 39.1. The emergence of guards Malcolm Brogdon and Perrantes as complementary long-range threats to senior star Joe Harris has opened up the offense, and has the Cavs one win away from locking up a share of the ACC regular-season title.

Next three: 3/1 vs. Syracuse, 3/9 at Maryland, ACC tournament TBD

 
9Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 12
This is not a brilliant play, by any means, but I saved it because it's representative of the Badgers' offensive success. Late in the second half on Tuesday, with the shot clock dipping under 10 seconds against Indiana's 2-3 zone, UW looked as if it might do what most offenses do in that situation: take a low-percentage, contested jumper out of an isolation. 

Except ... they improvised a quick action that engaged the whole weak side of the zone, resulting in a perfect drive-and-kick from Ben Brust to Traevon Jackson, and a dagger three as the clock expired. Smart stuff, Bucky.

Next three: 3/2 at Penn State, 3/5 vs. Purdue, 3/9 at Nebraska

 
10Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 11
Junior guard Darrun Hilliard is having a breakout season for the breakout Wildcats, serving as one of their best long-range shooters (39.7 percent on threes) and finishers around the rim (56.3 percent on twos). Something I did not know about him until reading David Jones' PennLive.com feature this week: Although Hilliard shoots threes left-handed, he does pretty much everything else righty. He was even a right-handed high-school quarterback. That's why you're more likely to see him use his right hand around the basket ... and that's why he's a confounding player to defend.

Next three: 3/2 vs. Marquette, 3/6 at Xavier, 3/8 vs. Georgetown

 
11Saint Louis Billikens
Last Week: 10
An interesting point made by John Gasaway in his Tuesday Truths: VCU, despite having lost three of its past four A-10 games, has played at almost the same level of efficiency as St. Louis. There's a sizable gap between their conference records -- the Billikens are 12-0, the Rams are 8-4 -- but not their efficiency margins. Remember this when SLU visits VCU on Saturday.

(Chart data from kenpom.com and hoop-math.com.)

Next three: 2/27 vs. Duquesne, 3/1 at VCU, 3/5 vs. Dayton

 
12San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 5
Aztecs point guard Xavier Thames was having an incredible season until mid-February, when his usage rate and scoring (shown below as five-game running averages) began to decline from go-to-guy levels to role-player levels:

That this coincided with San Diego State's first two losses since November is no fluke. Thames is by far its most efficient scorer, and even though I'm sure he wants to get teammates more involved, sacrificing possessions on their behalf doesn't make SDSU better.

Next three: 3/1 at Fresno State, 3/5 at UNLV, 3/8 vs. New Mexico

 
13Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 15
The Cardinals finally got their signature win on Saturday at Cincinnati, with Russ Smith's game-winning rainmaker as the signature moment. My other favorite moment came during the refs' we-aren't-calling-any-fouls phase, when Louisville's gnats went to work on Cincy's Ge'Lawn Guyn. The Smith & Jones press featured two backwards flails from Chris Jones and a veteran, chest-'em-off-balance, pocket-pick move from Smith:

Next three: 2/27 vs. Temple, 3/1 at Memphis, 3/5 at SMU

 
14Michigan Wolverines
Last Week: 13
Which end-game scenario would you most expect to be successful?

A. Possible Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas isolated near the top of the key, with multiple shooting options on the wings

or

B. An out-of-bounds play in which Caris LeVert throws a high-arcing baseball pass from the left sideline to the right mid-baseline, caught by Glenn Robinson III while his momentum is taking him away from the basket -- oh, and he also has two defenders converging on him and only 2.9 seconds to shoot

A was what Michigan did at the end of regulation against Purdue on Wednesday. B came at the end of overtime. B is what worked.

Next three: 3/1 vs. Minnesota, 3/4 at Illinois, 3/8 vs. Indiana

 
15Iowa State Cyclones
Last Week: 16
The Cyclones are the team whose efficiency numbers seem to jibe the least with the eye test. Their offense has so many options -- forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, guards DeAndre Kane, Monte Morris and Naz Long -- and it's fun to watch due to its high tempo and versatility. They score in the 80s on a regular basis. Iowa State gives off the vibe of a top-10 offense nationally ... and yet ranks 27th and is only the fifth-most efficient offense in Big 12 play, behind Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor and West Virginia. The explanation, I think, is that the Cyclones do the ascetically pleasing stuff well but have issues in the grunt-work department, ranking ninth in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and 10th in free-throw rate. 

Next three: 3/1 at Kansas State, 3/4 at Baylor, 3/8 vs. Oklahoma State

 
16Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: 14
In his four seasons with the Bearcats, Sean Kilpatrick has evolved from a nobody to a Naismith/Wooden award candidate. He's having a career year (121.6 ORating while using 28.6 percent of Cincy's possessions) in part because he's generating more offense than ever from the free throw line, where he shoots 85.1 percent. Here's a season-by-season breakdown of where Kilpatrick gets his points:

Next three: 3/1 at UConn, 3/6 vs. Memphis, 3/8 at Rutgers

 

The Next 16:
17. North Carolina, 18. Michigan State, 19. Kentucky, 20. Texas, 21. Ohio State, 22. SMU, 23. UConn, 24. Memphis, 25. UCLA, 26. New Mexico, 27. Iowa, 28. UMass, 29. Oklahoma, 30. Arizona State, 31. Kansas State, 32. BYU

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