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Badgers, Tar Heels, Lobos rise in final regular-season rankings

The final Power Rankings of the regular season comes with a double dose of Florida, a shorts-focused Visual Quiz, picks for conference players and coaches of the year, and more ...

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Florida Gators
Last Week: 1
  • I was beginning to wonder if Michael Frazier II's three-point volume had peaked in late January/early February, when he took 39 attempts in one four-game stretch ... and then he took 18 (making a school-record 11) against South Carolina on Tuesday. After neglecting their most efficient offensive option for the first two months of the season, the Gators have made a concerted effort to create looks for Frazier during their undefeated run through the SEC. Here's how his rate of 3PA/40 minutes has trended:

  • Frazier has to appreciate the screen-setting abilities of Patric Young, who freed him for three of his 11 treys against the Gamecocks. Florida is a veteran team that does a lot of the little things correctly; check out Young, in the following film edit, setting and holding screens that are either impossible to fight over the top of, or that knock the defender off balance enough to create an open look:

Next up: 3/8 vs. Kentucky, SEC tournament TBD

 
2Wichita State Shockers
Last Week: 2
Post offense is a diminishing art in college basketball, but not for the Shockers, who have three legitimate options on the blocks in Darius Carter, Chadrack Lufile and Cleanthony Early. According to Synergy Sports Technology, 12.1 percent of Wichita's play types are post-ups, which puts them in the  upper quartile of Power-Ranked teams, behind only North Carolina, Kansas and New Mexico:

Next up: 3/7 in Missouri Valley tournament

 
3Arizona Wildcats
Last Week: 3
This is your regularly scheduled check-in on the respectably balanced assist distribution* of Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell, in two rotating images -- one that shows his assists in the 21 games before Brandon Ashley got injured against Cal, and one that shows the full-season data. Aaron Gordon has emerged as McConnell's co-favorite target along with Nick Johnson, and the two players who've seen the biggest increases, percentage-wise, are Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski.

* McConnell has two assists to Jordin Mayes and one to Elliott Pitts that don't appear in the graphic. If either of those guys gets into double-digits, I promise to make room for them.

Next up: 3/8 at Oregon, Pac-12 tournament TBD

 
4Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 9
Even though the Badgers can't win the Big Ten regular-season title (congrats on that, Michigan), their resume of wins may allow them to sneak up and grab a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. Consider that Wisconsin has beaten:

  • The SEC champ and No. 1-ranked team (Florida)
  • The ACC champ on the road (Virginia)
  • The Big Ten champ on the road (Michigan)
  • The Horizon League champ on the road (Green Bay)
  • The likely Atlantic 10 champ on a neutral court (St. Louis)
  • Michigan State, Iowa twice and St. John's

That list is nuts. I don't care if Kansas has more top-25 and top-50 RPI wins: UW has the superior resume.

Next up: 3/9 at Nebraska, Big Ten tournament TBD

 
5Virginia Cavaliers
Last Week: 8
Evidence (to me) that Virginia has the best transition-limiting defense in the country: The Cavs and Clemson are the only teams to rank in the top 10 on Synergy in "lowest percentage of defensive possessions allowed in transition" and in the top 10 on hoop-math.com in "lowest percentage of initial field-goal attempts allowed in transition." And in both situations, Virginia is stingier than Clemson, giving Tony Bennett's team a slight edge.

Next up: 3/9 at Maryland, ACC tournament TBD

 
6North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 17
After being a drain on Carolina's offensive efficiency last season, power forward James Michael McAdoo has made strides simply by cutting his turnover percentage down from 18.2 as a sophomore to 10.7 as a junior. He's making more controlled moves in mid-range and post situations, and if you examine his five-game turnover percentages in the following chart, you'll see that he's entering the backstretch of '13-14 on much better footing than he was in March of last season.

(Chart data source: kenpom.com.)

Next up: 3/8 at Duke, ACC tournament TBD

 
7Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 7
VISUAL QUIZ TIME! Last week's "hands of shooters" quiz was popular enough (at least until @RobDauster guessed nine times in 10 minutes and solved it) to warrant another edition. This week I'm asking you to identify teams' side-of-shorts art -- and I've raised the difficulty by running the grid in black-and-white.

Tweet your guesses to @lukewinn; the first person to correctly ID all nine teams gets the Major Award of having their Twitter handle shouted-out in an edit to this story.

(UPDATE: The winner is Jeff McCrea, who knew that "geeking out over uniforms would one (day) come in handy," and who knew the answers.

(Photos source: Getty Images.)

Next up: 3/8 at West Virginia, Big 12 tournament TBD

 
8Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 4
Picks for conference players of the year (or 10 of them, at least):

AAC: Russ Smith, Louisville
ACC: Jabari Parker, Duke
Atlantic 10: Jordair Jett, St. Louis
Big East: Doug McDermott, Creighton
Big Ten: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Big 12: DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Missouri Valley: Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
Mountain West: Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Pac-12: Nick Johnson, Arizona
SEC: Scottie Wilbekin, Florida

The ACC's POY race might be the best from a debate standpoint; I chose Parker because he carries the country's No. 2 offense and is an elite rebounder, but arguments could be made for Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon (the MVP of the league champ), Clemson's K.J. McDaniels (who might have the highest all-around value) and N.C. State's T.J. Warren (an insanely prolific scorer on a bad team).

Next up: 3/8 vs. North Carolina, ACC tournament TBD

 
9Michigan Wolverines
Last Week: 14
This sequence, from the end of of the first half of Michigan-Illinois, is exhibit A of how the best-laid college strategies can still go awry. The Wolverines have the ball with 14.8 seconds left, and the Illini have three fouls to give before the bonus, so coach John Groce instructs them to use fouls to whittle down the clock and minimize Michigan's chance of scoring. They follow instructions, forcing Michigan into a sideline-out-of-bounds play in the backcourt with just 4.3 seconds left ... but on that play, Illinois' defense chooses to triple-team freshman Derrick Walton, who has the ball, and inexplicably leave the Big Ten's best shooter, Nik Stauskas, wide open. If I had any animation skills, I'd edit in art of Groce's head exploding after Stauskas drills the buzzer-beater.

Next up: 3/8 vs. Indiana, Big Ten tournament TBD

 
10Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 10
Creighton is the Big East team most known for launching threes, but Villanova is the one that takes the biggest share of its shots from beyond the arc. The Wildcats' three-point reliance has been a frequent topic in the Power Rankings, and for good reason: As the end of the regular season nears, they have the highest ratio of 3PA/FGA of any major-conference team, at 45.6 percent. Only five other majors take more than 40 percent of their shots as threes, according to kenpom.com: Boston College (44.7), Creighton (44.2), Washington State (42.8), Northwestern (41.9) and Duke (40.2). To find a major-conference team with a ratio higher than Villanova's, you have to go back to 2009-10, when Northwestern came in at 48.8 and Iowa at 46.2.

Next up: 3/6 at Xavier, 3/8 vs. Georgetown, Big East tournament TBD

 
11San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 12
Last week's Power Rankings urged Xavier Thames to shoot more, after a four-game run in which he used just 24, 19, 20 and 14 percent of the Aztecs' possessions despite being their only player capable of high-usage, high-efficiency scoring. Seems like he got the message. In San Diego State's past two games, Thames' usage rates were 31 percent (vs. Fresno State, resulting in 22 points) and 30 (at UNLV, resulting in 19 points). The Aztecs won both to remain tied with New Mexico in the Mountain West standings.

Next up: 3/8 vs. New Mexico, Mountain West tournament TBD

 
12Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 13
A+ work by SMU's student section on Wednesday, blowing up the Waffle House portrait from Russ Smith's 2012 profile in Sports Illustrated along with shots of squirrels, because the Louisville Courier-Journal recently revealed that Cardinals backup guard Terry Rozier is terrified of squirrels.

When WDRB reporter Steve Andress Tweeted the above image prior to the game, Card Chronicle's Mike Rutherford responded by predicting Rozier would struggle and Russ would "go off." And how accurate was that prediction? Smith went off for 26 points, six rebounds and five assists, averaging 1.47 points per possession in one of the best games of his career, despite puking multiple times on the sideline ... while Rozier failed to score a single bucket. Waffles inspire; squirrels incapacitate.

Next up: 3/8 vs. UConn, AAC tournament TBD

 
13Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 5
How bad have things gotten for the Orange? Their offense has failed to break the 1.00 points per possession mark for six straight games. During their 25-game win streak to open the season, they broke the 1.00 PPP mark 23 times. This six-game scoring drought has included a visit to Virginia, where nearly all ACC teams have struggled to score, but Syracuse's low PPP against defensive mediocrities such as Boston College (which ranks 301st in adjusted defensive efficiency) and N.C. State (147th) is a sign of real trouble.

Next up: 3/9 at Florida State, ACC tournament TBD

 
14Creighton Bluejays
Last Week: 6
As an addendum to last week's Wraggebombs chart, which plotted out all of Ethan Wragge's Big East threes, I've also tracked who has assisted on each of his 49 makes. The leaderboard:

Jahenns Manigat: 17
Doug McDermott: 12
Austin Chatman: 11
Devin Brooks: 5
Avery Dingman: 2
Grant Gibbs: 1
Unassisted: 1

Whereas Gibbs is McDermott's most frequent assist man, the sixth-year senior only has one successful connection with Wragge. Manigat is the best Wragge-feeder, and when Manigat's playing time time against Georgetown was limited to 20 minutes due to foul trouble, it may not have been a coincidence that Wragge finished just 1-of-6 from deep in a loss.

Next up: 3/8 vs. Providence, Big East tournament TBD

 
15New Mexico Lobos
Last Week: 26
A hearty Power Rankings welcome to the Lobos, who are making their 2013-14 debut. After a couple of non-conference defeats dinged their reputation (a 16-point, neutral-court loss to UMass and a six-point home loss to New Mexico State), they've gone 15-2 in the Mountain West and are tied for first with San Diego State. While New Mexico has much of the same personnel it did last season, when its elite defense helped it earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAAs, its success is based more on offense under new coach Craig Neal. The Lobos have the rare combination of an elite post-up player (Cameron Bairstow) and an elite pick-and-roll scorer (Kendall Williams), and that's helped them have the most efficient offense in the Mountain West.

Next up: 3/8 at San Diego State, Mountain West tournament TBD

 
16Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: 16
Picks for conference coaches of the year (or 10 of them, at least):

AAC: Larry Brown, SMU
ACC: Tony Bennett, Virginia
Atlantic 10: Mike Lonergan, George Washington
Big East: Jay Wright, Villanova
Big Ten: John Beilein, Michigan
Big 12: Rick Barnes, Texas
Missouri Valley: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Mountain West: Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Pac-12: Sean Miller, Arizona
SEC: Billy Donovan, Florida

I took Brown over Cincinnati's Mick Cronin in the American COY race due to the degree of turnaround Brown has orchestrated: He took over a team in 2012-13 that was coming off a 13-19 season, and has it 23-7 and headed to the NCAA tournament in Year 2. Cronin has a solid argument, though: He's turned a major-conference starting lineup with no players over 6-foot-8 into the fourth-most efficient defense in the country.

Next up: 3/6 vs. Memphis, 3/8 at Rutgers, AAC tournament TBD

 

The Next 16:
17. UConn, 18. VCU, 19. Michigan State, 20. Iowa State, 21. Memphis, 22. St. Louis, 23. SMU, 24. Texas, 25. Oklahoma, 26. Kentucky, 27. Iowa, 28. Kansas State, 29. Ohio State, 30. UCLA, 31. BYU, 32. Tennessee

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