Vol. 6 of the Power Rankings has Kansas moving up to No. 1, a deep dive into the Jayhawks-Sooners epic, and tributes to Jarrod Uhtoff and Bill Walton:
11Kansas Jayhawkslast week: 2record: 13–1
You don’t need another person telling you how amazing Monday’s Kansas-Oklahoma, three-overtime epic was. Its status as the Game of the Season (to date) was sealed before the final buzzer. In my film review I focused on my favorite postgame quote, from Jayhawks coach Bill Self, in regards to their defense on Sooner star Buddy Hield: “We actually did a really good job holding him to 46 [points].”
In almost any context but this one, it’s a ridiculous quote, but in the context of this ridiculous game, it’s not. Hield probably could’ve scored 60 if not for all the ball-denial work by Frank Mason III (and early in the game, Wayne Selden).
For every possession Hield was on the floor, I charted who guarded him and the outcome. In the chart below, PPP is Hield’s points per possession on all the possessions he was guarded, not just the ones he attempted a shot or committed a turnover; the next column is the percentage of time he took a shot or drew a shooting foul; the final column is the percentage of time he committed a turnover. In regulation, Mason did the bulk of the work, and did it quite well, but it was Selden’s stretch of guarding Hield to open the game that was exceptional:
Hield was exclusively guarded by Mason in the three overtimes, and this is where Buddy Love did a lot of his damage:
Although Mason got burned a few times in OT, on the biggest possessions—the final two possessions of regulation and each of the three overtimes—he did some of his best work. Mason held Hield to just two points on eight possessions, and forced him into two turnovers.
Here’s Mason on Oklahoma’s penultimate offensive possession of regulation, denying Hield from the touching the ball on a hand-off play:Here’s Mason on the Sooners’ final possession of OT1, denying Hield from receiving passes on the left wing and top of the key:And finally—on the play after Mason’s famous inbounds steeal—here he is disrupting Hield’s final three-point attempt at the end of OT3:Next up: 1/9 at Texas tech, 1/12 at West Virginia
22Oklahoma Soonerslast week: 1record: 12–1
I also charted Buddy Hield’s possession types from his 46-point explosion; he was 5-for-11 on catch-and-shoot threes, and 3-for-4 on off-dribble threes, scoring just over half of his points from beyond the arc:
If charts don’t satisfy you, and you prefer to relive Buddy’s big adventure in video form, YouTuberSQUADawkins has posted a full edit:
Next up: 1/9 vs. Kansas State, 1/13 at Oklahoma State
3last week: 4record: 14–1
Naismith/Wooden candidate Denzel Valentine could return to Michigan State as early as Sunday’s game at Penn State, which is great news for the Spartans and for the Power Rankings; it’s been hard to do substantive analysis on Sparty while it lacks the hub of everything it does offensively.
In the meantime, I’ll use this space to revisit a topic from December: the fact that the teams atop this year’s kenpom.com efficiency rankings are lagging well behind their counterparts from 2014–15. The top four teams from Jan. 6 of last season—Kentucky, Virginia, Duke and Wisconsin—ere all stronger, efficiency-wise, than the No. 1 team as of Jan. 6 of this season, Villanova.
The advanced stats support the theory that there are no elite teams this season, although the eye test suggests that Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan State, at their peak levels, are still pretty damn good.
Next up: 1/7 vs. Illinois, 1/10 at Penn State.
4last week: 6record: 14–2
It was more entertaining on film ...
... and after watching that, I used hoop-math.com’s data to see where Johnson ranks in terms of at-the-rim success, which means attempts classified in box scores as layups or dunks. And although this stat should asterisked—it can be impacted by human-scorer subjectivity, with one man’s layups being another man’s short-range jumpers—Johnson led the nation at an astounding 94.6% through Tuesday’s games. Wow:
Next up: 1/9 at Syracuse, 1/16 vs. NC State.
55Maryland Terrapinslast week: 7record: 14–1
After an uneven November that cost him his spot in the Terrapins’ starting lineup, five-star freshman center Diamond Stone has blown up in December and January, and is looking like one of the more efficient, high-usage scorers in the Big Ten, using 32.4% of Maryland’s possessions with a 135.3 Offensive Rating in three conference games. The next step Stone needs to take is with his passing; through Tuesday’s games, he had the lowest assist rate (1.6%) of any major-conference player with at least 20% possession usage, according to DraftExpress.com’s data. Stone had just two assists in 280 minutes played:
Next up: 1/9 at Wisconsin, 1/12 at Michigan
66Miami (FL) Hurricaneslast week: 8record: 12–1
I take it as a sign of the Hurricanes’ resiliency that they could shoot 3-for-25 from long range against Syracuse’s zone on Jan. 2 and still beat the Orange by 13. According to Sports-Reference.com’s Play Index, which has data going back to the 2010–11 season, Miami had the fifth-worst shooting effort of any team that took at least 20 threes against a major-conference opponent and still won. The worst, which may never be topped, is Notre Dame beating Cal on Nov. 26, 2010, despite going 1-for-20 from deep:
Next up: 1/9 vs. Florida State, 1/12 at Virginia
77Virginia Cavalierslast week: 3record: 12–2
The Cavaliers’ penalty for losing at Virginia Tech on Monday: drop four spots in the Power Rankings, and have your blurb dedicated to a play that broke down your defense. I like what the Hokies did here, running a handoff-and-roll action with two guys who aren’t shooters (Kerry Blackshear as the handoff guy, Justin Robinson as the recipient), with the ultimate goal of freeing their one legit long-range threat, Justin Bibbs, for a three. Pay attention to the Bibbs downscreen that sets everything in motion:
Next up: 1/9 at Georgia Tech, 1/12 vs. Miami
88Xavier Musketeerslast week: 5record: 14–1
During the Musketeers’ rout of Butler on Saturday, their offensive rebounding was at peak level in the 19 possessions that center James Farr and guard J.P. Macura were on the floor together. In that stretch, according to hooplens.com’s data, Xavier’s OReb% was 62.5%; on its other 50 possessions, it was 27.8%.
Further investigation revealed that this was no one-game phenomenon: On the season, the Musketeers have been at their offensive-rebounding best when using the Farr-Macura combo. Through Tuesday, that combo had been on the floor for 290 offensive possessions, during which the team had an OReb% of 48.7 and scored 1.27 PPP. On all other possessions, the OReb% dropped to 34.9, and scoring dropped to 1.07 PPP.
Next up: 1/12 vs. DePaul, 1/16 at Marquette
99Arizona Wildcatslast week: 15record: 13–1
The wait has been too long! Tonight (at UCLA) is the season’s first Arizona game that intergalactic explorer Bill Walton and evolution-denier Dave Pasch are calling together for ESPN, and Walton will be coming in fresh off an appearance as a Father Time Wizard (complete with light saber) at the Dead & Company’s New Year’s show in Los Angeles:IG: @andysternberg
This is an occasion for which the Power Rankings is breaking out its greatest eBay acquisition in many years: a Bill Walton Rex Foundation T-shirt from 1992.
Next up: 1/7 at UCLA, 1/9 at USC
1010Villanova Wildcatslast week: 17record: 13–2
I got too down on the Wildcats and bumped them out of the Power Rankings after their fell to 8–2, but after further consideration, they have too good of a résumé to get buried that low. Consider their credentials:
• Only losses are to Oklahoma, either the best or second-best team in the country, and at Virginia, where only one team has beaten the Cavaliers since 2014
• Ranked No. 1 in overall efficiency on kenpom.com, mostly on the strength of a 31-point rout of the site’s No. 9 team, Xavier
• Has beaten seven kenpom top-100 teams (Akron, Stanford, Georgia Tech, St. Joe's, Xavier, Creighton and Seton Hall)
• Has a new, emerging star in wing Josh Hart, who’s scored at an absurd level in three Big East games, putting on a 142.6 ORating on 24.7% usage, and had a 15-and-10 double-double against Seton Hall on Wednesday
Next up: 1/10 at Butler, 1/13 vs. Marquette
11last week: 11record: 12–2
The Cyclones have now played six games since losing starting two-guard Naz Mitrou-Long for the season with a hip injury in mid-December. In the four Long-less games they’ve played against kenpom top-100 competition—the kind of competition they’ll be facing almost all the way through the Big 12 schedule—they’ve given just 13.9% of their minutes to bench players. This is a trend worth monitoring, as it could have an impact on Iowa State’s legs later in the season. Across all of 2015–16, ISU has given 22.3% of its minutes to reserves, which is the eighth-lowest share in all of Division I, according to kenpom.com. If the Cyclones continue to use a strict seven-man rotation in conference games, they could surpass Syracuse (currently at 16.0%) for the lowest bench-minute total in the nation.
Next up: 1/9 vs. Baylor, 1/12 at Texas
1212SMU Mustangslast week: 16record: 13–0
The lone good way to spin this story is that seniors Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert are staging a memorable season after getting screwed by their own program out of a final shot at March Madness, and I hope they pull it off, even though kenpom.com gives them a 1.4% chance of staying perfect.
But if you hear someone spinning it as SMU raging against the machine of the NCAA, remember that SMU did this to itself. It hired Larry Brown, who got UCLA and Kansas banned from the postseason in his previous two college stints, it was found guilty of committing academic fraud ... and one of the defenses it (weakly) tried to use in its NCAA infractions case was that Brown was rusty on the rules, having been “out of college basketball for a quarter-century”:
Next up: 1/7 vs. Cincinnati, 1/10 vs. UCF
1313Iowa Hawkeyeslast week: 31record: 12–3
Something I did not expect to be writing in January: Iowa senior Jarrod Uthoff looks like he’ll be giving Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Maryland’s Melo Trimble a serious run for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Uthoff has scored 25 points in each of the Hawkeyes’ past two Big Ten wins (over Purdue and Nebraska), established himself as the go-to-guy on one of the nation’s elite offenses, and is a defensive force, ranking 17th nationally in block%.
Research by Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants—in a post titled JARROD UTHOFF IS UNREAL—indicates that Uthoff’s rare combination of three-point shooting and blocks is Shane Battier-like. My own research suggests that Uthoff’s combination of high-usage/efficiency and blocks is rare, too. According to DraftExpress.com data from the past five seasons, only two players have finished with usage rates above 20%, ORatings above 120, and block rates above 10%, and both went on to the NBA: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn. Uthoff, along with Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney and Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku, is on that pace this season:
Next up: 1/14 at Michigan State, 1/17 vs. Michigan
1414Providence Friarslast week: 14record: 14–2
Rankings-within-rankings, on the current state of the National Player of the Year race:
1. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
2. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
3. Kris Dunn, Providence
4. Ben Simmons, LSU
5. Grayson Allen, Duke
6. Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Dunn is within striking distance of Hield and Valentine—I consider them to be in a tier apart from everyone else—but I worry about the Providence star’s turnover rate. He’s committed 12 turnovers in his past two games, against middling defenses, and will need to be a bit more efficient to take the No. 1 spot.
Next up: 1/12 at Creighton, 1/16 vs. Seton Hall
1515Duke Blue Devilslast week: 13record: 13–2
In December, I proposed a Brandon Ingram Theory: that if the Duke freshman makes his first three-point attempt in any game, he plays exceptionally well, and if he misses it (or doesn’t attempt one at all), he’s pedestrian. The splits at that point were huge, and although they’re no longer as striking after Ingram had big games against Boston College and Elon despite missing his first trey, there remain vast splits in his offensive rating and three-point accuracy:
Next up: 1/9 vs. Virginia Tech, 1/13 at Clemson
16last week: 19record: 13–1
I’m enjoying Bob Huggins’s role as a critic of the NCAA rules committee, even if I don’t agree with his takes. In a Tuesday appearance on ESPN, Huggins blasted the two big rule changes for 2015–16—the move to the 30-second shot clock (from 35) and the tighter, freedom-of-movement-minded refereeing:
Huggins, whose helter-skelter defense does not use the shot clock as a weapon, feels that the move to the 30-second shot clock hasn’t made any difference, but will ultimately prevent us from having more historic NCAA tournament upsets like Villanova-Georgetown or NC State-Houston. “The great games of all-time had no shot clock,” Huggins said. “And the lesser guys had a chance to win.”
It’s understandable why he dislikes the refs’ new freedom of movement emphasis: West Virginia has the worst defensive free throw rate in the nation, as it opponents are attempting an astronomical 58.9 free throws for every 100 field goals. (Iowa State’s opponents, on the other end of the spectrum, attempt just 19.6.) “If you really want freedom of movement,” Huggins said, “let's put a height limit on guys.”
Next up: 1/9 vs. Oklahoma State, 1/12 vs. Kansas
The Next 16
21. Texas A&M
22. South Carolina
27. St. Mary’s
29. Seton Hall
31. Texas Tech