Power Rankings: Villanova stays No. 1, Louisville surges, Indiana tumbles

0:39 | College Basketball
Duke indefinitely suspends guard Grayson Allen
Thursday December 22nd, 2016

Part of the winning formula in college basketball is developing upside—as in, having players make breakthroughs that are beyond what their career stats, projected development curves and recruiting evaluations would suggest. The final, full week of non-conference play seems like the right time to take stock of how the Power Ranked 16 stand vis-à-vis SI's preseason projections, and answer the same question for each team: In what way are they most outperforming our analytic forecasts?

 
 
  • 1
    1Villanova Wildcats
     
    last week: 1
    record: 12-0
    Senior wing Josh Hart was No. 2 in our preseason Player of the Year forecast based not on an expectation of extreme, offensive excellence but rather all-around value—scoring, rebounding and defense. Hart has since moved up to No. 1 in every pundit's assessment of the Wooden/Naismith race by playing out of his mind offensively. He's the nation's most efficient player (with a 137.8 offensive rating on kenpom.com) that uses at least 25% of his team's possessions, and he's averaging nearly as many assists (3.7) as point guard Jalen Brunson (3.8).

    (Overall, though, 'Nova is right in line with its projections, which were to be the No. 3 team in offensive efficiency and No. 13 in D. The Wildcats are currently No. 1 and No. 16.)

    Next up: 12/28 vs. DePaul, 12/31 at Creighton

  • 2
    2UCLA Bruins
     
    last week: 2
    record: 13-0
    The Lonzo Ball Effect is pushing nearly every Bruin well beyond their expected offensive rating, but freshman forward T.J. Leaf is their real breakthrough star. The baseline expectation for a big man ranked No. 16 in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (as Leaf was) is along the lines of what Trey Lyles gave Kentucky two seasons ago when it was on its undefeated run—20-plus minutes as a moderately efficient role player. Leaf, however, is producing like a top-five, one-and-done big man, serving as the most efficient scorer (and a productive rebounder) for the nation's best offense. Even in a loaded freshman class, Leaf was underrated.
     
    Next up: 12/28 at Oregon, 12/30 at Oregon State

  • 3
    3Kansas Jayhawks
     
    last week: 3
    record: 10-1
    Point guard Frank Mason III came into this season with a three-year track record as a valuable—but not high-volume-shooting—piece of the Jayhawks' offense. In big games as a senior, he's taken on the clear go-to-guy role and thrived in it, making himself the No. 2 contender in the POY race behind Villanova's Hart. Mason's willingness (and ability) to carry KU's offense in crunch time this season has allowed him to break through from "quality point guard"—which is what our projections viewed him as—to "bonafide star."
     
    Next up: 12/22 at UNLV, 12/30 at TCU

  • 4
    4Duke Blue Devils
     
    last week: 4
    record: 12-1
    Early injuries to Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen and Harry Giles—SI's projected top three Duke scorers—gave way to the rise of Luke Kennard, offensive assassin. The sophomore guard has been so effective, averaging 20.4 points per game with an offensive rating of 132.3, that there's no reason to deviate from him as a primary option in the offense, even though he entered the season more likely to be a Plan B/C. While Kennard was a strong midrange player as a freshman, he's been lethal on all sorts of short curls, leaners and dribble pull-ups, leading to a two-point percentage (59.0%) that you generally only see in high-efficiency big men who finish drop-off passes for dunks.
     
    Next up: 12/31 at Virginia Tech, 1/4 vs. Georgia Tech

  • 5
    5Baylor Bears
     
    last week: 6
    record: 12-0
    SI's projections liked the Bears, ranking them 24th despite their not appearing in the AP or Coaches' polls. But we forecasted that Baylor would have a quality offense (which it does) while struggling on D (which it most definitely does not). Juco recruits are difficult to project, and few make a star-level impact, so it was hard to foresee the full impact of 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil. He stays camped near the rim, leads the nation in block percentage (17.4% of opponents' twos) and helps the Bears rank 10th in effective field-goal percentage allowed. They now have one of the country's best morphing, zone defenses.
     
    Next up: 12/30 at Oklahoma, 1/4 vs. Iowa State

  • 6
    6Louisville Cardinals
     
    last week: 11
    record: 11-1
    The Cardinals' personnel combined with our coaching-based adjustments—Rick Pitino being one of the three most reliable creators of elite defenses—led to Louisville being forecasted as the No. 5-ranked D. It's actually been the best defense in the nation, by getting even-better-than-expected rim protection from a frontline quartet led by Mangok Mathiang and excellent perimeter D from the 2-3 combo of Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel. Pitino has tapped into a lot of defensive upside by simply increasing (from last season) the minutes Mitchell and Adel are together on the floor: According to hooplens.com, the Cardinals have allowed just 0.74 PPP in their Mitchell-Adel possessions, compared to a pedestrian 0.94 in all other situations.
     
    Next up: 12/28 vs. Virginia, 12/31 vs. Indiana in Indianapolis

  • 7
    7Gonzaga Bulldogs
     
    last week: 9
    record: 12-0

    The Zags are pretty much who we thought they'd be. I'm amazed at how close the actual stats of their top seven guys are to their projections:

    The lone Gonzaga player who's truly expanded his repertoire this season is senior center Przemek Karnowski, who can now post up, throw crafty, lefty passes to cutters and play Santa Shem during timeouts of game telecasts:

    Next up: 12/29 vs. Pepperdine, 12/31 at Pacific

  • 8
    8Creighton Bluejays
     
    last week: 10
    record: 12-0
    The Jays' backcourt of Maurice Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster was expected to thrive—that's why Creighton was ranked No. 21 in the preseason—but breakthroughs by auxiliary options have taken this offense to the next level. Khyri Thomas was a 2.5-star recruit who had miserable Big East season as a freshman backup, making just 37% of his twos and 20% of his threes . . . yet as a sophomore he's become one of the most efficient role players in the country, hitting 60.9% of his twos and 54.5% of his threes, as well as cutting down on his turnovers. That kind of leap can't be forecasted by any kind of projection system. Freshman center Justin Patton, a former four-star recruit who sat out last season, is producing more like a top-20 prospect, acting as a super-efficient finisher around the rim. His 78.6 effective field goal percentage ranks second in the nation.
     
    Next up: 12/28 vs. Seton Hall, 12/31 vs. Villanova

  • 9
    9Kentucky Wildcats
     
    last week: 7
    record: 10-2
    Kentucky's players, like Gonzaga's, are mostly right in line with their preseason projections. The most unexpected thing about the Wildcats has been their overall pace; our system projected them to rank 197th in pace, at 68.6 possessions per game, because Kentukcy had ranked 220th last season, 271st the season before that and 221st the season before that. John Calipari's best teams in Lexington have not played super-fast … but this one is flying, ranking 16th in tempo at 76.3 possessions per game. Primary credit goes to freshman De'Aaron Fox, who is UK's fastest point guard since John Wall in 2009-10 and is committed to pushing the ball in transition. But there's also a team-wide buy-in to running that's leading to some insanely fast, transition buckets, even following opponents' makes.
     
    Next up: 12/29 at Mississippi, 1/3 vs. Texas A&M

  • 10
    10North Carolina Tar Heels
     
    last week: 8
    record: 11-2
    Carolina's starting forwards—junior Justin Jackson and seniors Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks—are playing near forecasted levels while junior point guard Joel Berry II is slightly ahead of his offensive projections, looking like a first-team All-ACC player. The nicest surprise for the Tar Heels, though, has been freshman big man Tony Bradley, who's outplaying the baseline projection for a No. 19 recruit in the RSCI. He's playing reserve minutes, but he's leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (at 22.0) drawing fouls at a higher rate than North Carolina's veteran bigs, and scoring efficiently. Bradley has been pretty much the ideal big frontcourt piece to have in reserve for a contender, and he should be able to assume a big role when Meeks and Hicks are gone in 2017-18.
     
    Next up: 12/28 vs. Monmouth, 12/31 at Georgia Tech

  • 11
    11Butler Bulldogs
     
    last week: 14
    record: 11-1
    The Bulldogs were projected to have the No. 16 offense, and they have the No. 16 offense. They were projected as the No. 94 defense … and they have the No. 32 D. Third-year coach Chris Holtmann is finding ways for an undersized team—its tallest backcourt starter is 6'0" and its tallest frontcourt starter is 6'8"—to succeed defensively. Giving big minutes to freshman guard Kamar Baldwin has helped, as he's an elite turnover creator who's helped them rank in the top 50 in turnover percentage and make up for their lack of a natural rim protector.
     
    Next up: 12/29 at St. John's, 1/1 vs. Providence

  • 12
    12West Virginia Mountaineers
     
    last week: 13
    record: 10-1
    The Mountaineers' offense has been boosted by a breakout senior year from forward Nathan Adrian, who's not just contributing on the offensive glass—a common specialty of Bob Huggins bigs—but is also serving as a surprisingly good, secondary playmaker. His assist stats from his first three seasons are unremarkable, but he now has the team's second-highest assist percentage, at 21.4%, and its best assist-turnover ratio, at 3.6-to-1. West Virginia hasn't had a frontcourt player contribute this much as a passer since Da'Sean Butler on its last Final Four team, in 2010.
     
    Next up: 12/23 vs. Northern Kentucky, 12/30 at Oklahoma State

  • 13
    13Virginia Cavaliers
     
    last week: 17
    record: 10-1
    The Cavaliers are somehow beating their offensive projections despite kicking their projected leading scorer, Memphis transfer Austin Nichols, off the team after just one game for a violation of team rules. Recently, the key has been the emergence of freshman guard Kyle Guy as an off-the-bench sniper. Recruits in his range—he was No. 32 in the RSCI—typically take until Year 2 to become valuable, high-efficiency scorers, but Guy has the highest offensive rating (148.0) for any player using at least 20% of his team's possessions, so I'd say he's quite valuable already. Had he not lit up Cal with a series of catch-and-shoot and off-dribble jumpers in the second half on Thursday night, finishing with 17 points, Virginia would have lost, and thus would not be in these Power Rankings.
     
    Next up: 12/28 at Louisville, 12/31 vs. Florida State

  • 14
    14Indiana Hoosiers
     
    last week: 5
    record: 9-2
    In the preseason, sophomore guard O.G. Anunoby was on nearly every pundit's breakout list, and he's off to a solid start, exceeding his projection in both offensive efficiency and defensive rebounding. But the Hoosiers have another breakout sophomore in Juwan Morgan, who's not a star but has increased the size of his role since his freshman year, serving as a Swiss Army knife four-man who can rebound, block shots, defend and handle the ball. He was Indiana's best role player in two of its biggest games—its season-opening win over Kansas in Hawaii on Nov. 11 and its Crossroads Classic loss to Butler in Indianapolis on Dec. 17.
     
    Next up: 12/22 vs. Austin Peay, 12/28 vs. Nebraska

  • 15
    15Wisconsin Badgers
     
    last week: 12
    record: 10-2
    It was thought that five-man Ethan Happ would have to cut down on his problematic, freshman-year turnover rate to take Wisconsin's offense to the next level. His turnover rate has actually gone up as a sophomore (to 19.8%) but he—and the Badgers—have still become more efficient, mainly because he rarely misses at point-blank range (making 69.3% of his twos) and has become a much better passer out of the post. Happ has doubled his assist totals from '15-16 and flipped a 0.58-to-1 assist-turnover ratio to 1.2-to-1 as a sophomore. That was an improvement our projections did not see coming.
     
    Next up: 12/23 vs. Florida A&M, 12/27 vs. Rutgers

  • 16
    16USC Trojans
     
    last week: 16
    record: 11-0
    De'Anthony Melton was a 3.3-star recruit, not ranked in the top 100, who averaged 6.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists off the bench for his Cal Supreme AAU team in Nike's EYBL in 2015. Our projection system thus did not think all that highly of the 6'4" point guard, but he's emerged as the undefeated Trojans' most valuable reserve, averaging 9.0 points, 5.5 boards, 3.5 assists and playing high-impact defense. If this keeps up into Pac-12 play, Melton will go down as one of the biggest steals of the 2016 recruiting class.
     
    Next up: 12/22 vs. Missouri State in Las Vegas, 12/23 vs. Wyoming/DePaul in Las Vegas

The Next 16

17. Oregon
18. Purdue
19. Arizona
20. Notre Dame
21. Xavier
22. Florida State
23. Florida
24. St. Mary's
25. Cincinnati
26. Clemson
27. Virginia Tech
28. Seton Hall
29. Minnesota
30. Maryland
31. UT Arlington
32. Arkansas

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