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Wall, Kentucky climb the charts

We've entered college basketball's snowy season. Just this week, a blizzard hit Iowa, leaving the Hawkeyes stranded in a Cedar Falls hotel; digital flurries hit Berkeley, as the Golden Bears' YouTube rendition of Jingle Bells -- featuring world-class sway-dancer Max Zhang -- surfaced on a Cal blog; and the one-man storm known as John Wall hit Madison Square Garden, inspiring awe all across hoops nation, and propelling Big Blue up to No. 2:
NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 1
When our college hoops Style Archive makes its 2009-10 debut next week, it will most certainly feature one of the Jayhawks' opponents from Wednesday, Radford forward Lazar Trifunovic. The Serbian's style trifecta, seen in all its glory in this photo, consists of a giant, wispy, lead-singer-in-a-thrash-metal-band goatee; a Chinese character shoulder tattoo; and a black left-hand cast that resembles a fingerless glove. Trifunovic only scored seven points against KU in a 99-64 loss, but he made his aesthetic presence felt.

Kansas' first contribution to the Archive will be Cole Aldrich's much-discussed, missing front tooth, which I saw firsthand over a meal of fried pickles in October. If it makes him look like a hockey goon, well, so be it, because there is no question he is anchoring the most fearsome interior defense in America. Although Aldrich's offensive numbers are down from last season due to Kansas' more balanced scoring attack (a preseason first-team All-American, he's averaging just 11.1 points to go with his 10.0 boards), he has the Jayhawks ranked first nationally in two-point field goal percentage D, at 36.5 percent. The only way to upset KU this season, I suspect, will be with a barrage on threes.

Next three: 12/12 vs. La Salle, 12/19 vs. Michigan, 12/22 vs. Cal
 
2Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 8
Among my biggest mistakes this preseason: Only ranking John Wall sixth on my list of the most entertaining players. It seemed weird to call someone who had yet to play a college game the sport's most entertaining player, and so I ended up putting Maryland's Greivis Vasquez Experience in the top spot. Wall has made it quite clear since that he's the rightful No. 1, especially after Wednesday's heroics against UConn at the Garden.

In my column from the game, I mentioned a play from UK's Dec. 5 win over North Carolina that shows Wall's raw power in the open floor. He's a master of going upcourt at breakneck speed while dribbling the ball side-to-side. Backpedaling defenders -- like Tar Heels point guard Larry Drew on that play -- almost have to make like a soccer goalie facing a penalty kick, and pick the side Wall seems most likely to attack. And when this happens, Wall has such superb body control that he's able to change directions in a split-second and get to the rim. Behold this series of screengrabs from the CBS broadcast, in which Drew, at the top of the key, leans the wrong way (to his right) and Wall makes him pay:

John Wall

Next three: 12/12 at Indiana, 12/19 vs. Austin Peay, 12/21 vs. Drexel
 
3Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 2
This is the team that on Nov. 29 bloodied the head of my feature subject this week, Rice forward (and Iranian groundbreaker) Arsalan Kazemi. He was scratched on the forehead while trying to grab a second-half rebound, and told me that he looked like Harry Potter -- with the lightning-shaped scar -- afterwards. I didn't drop the Longhorns to No. 3 for retribution, though; Kentucky just had more "power" this week after beating North Carolina and UConn back-to-back.

I still like Texas plenty, and am impressed how its own foreign import, Turkish point guard Dogus Balbay, has emerged as an early candidate for All-Glue Guy honors. The 'Horns started out with a glut of point personnel; sophomore Varez Ward was looked at as an emerging star, freshman J'Covan Brown was hailed as the best all-around point, highly touted junior transfer Jai Lucas was waiting in the wings, and Balbay seemed like an afterthought. Since then, Ward has been lost to a season-ending injury, Brown has struggled to create offense for teammates, and Balbay, despite being an atrocious shooter, has earned major minutes (23.1 per game in UT's deep rotation) by defending like a madman and being unselfish with the ball. He often harasses opposing guards for the full length of the court, and he has a 4.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio through seven games.

Next three: 12/12 vs. Texas State, 12/15 vs. Texas-Pan American
 
4West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Week: 3
Mountaineers senior Da'Sean Butler doesn't have the Q-Rating of most All-America candidates. He's not even the most talked-about player on his own team; that would be sophomore Devin Ebanks, who has myriad personal issues but is a bigger NBA prospect. But Butler needs to be considered one of the college game's best wing forwards. He stacks up favorably against the wing who got the most preseason attention (Duke's Kyle Singler, a first-team AP All-America), and the wing getting the most early-season attention (Syracuse's Wes Johnson, a transfer from Iowa State) in the categories of offensive efficiency rating, possession usage, assist-to-turnover ratio, and offensive and defensive rebounding percentages:
Player    O-Rating   Poss%   A/T    OR%    DR%
Butler 129.0 23.7 2.2 6.3 14.9
Singler 115.8 23.6 1.6 5.1 15.6
Johnson 128.9 20.5 1.5 5.8 18.3

(A full statsheet comparison of the three players can be found on this page.)

Next three: 12/12 vs. Coppin State, 12/19 at Cleveland State, 12/23 vs. Ole Miss
 
5Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: 4
The Boilers are 8-0 for the first time since 1993-94, when their scoring star was junior Glenn Robinson, who was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft after that season. Reading through a '94 feature on the Big Dog in the SI Vault, I was reminded of a now-defunct player label that was prominent in the '90s: Prop 48. SI's Bruce Newman wrote then:

Robinson has been stung by aspersions cast on his academic ability. During the Feb. 19 Indiana game, the Hoosier student hooting section greeted Robinson's brilliant performance by chanting "S-A-T" at him. This was a not terribly subtle reference to the fact that Robinson had to sit out his freshman year as a Proposition 48 student because of his low test scores. Robinson has characterized his year on the sidelines as a welcome opportunity to adjust to college life, but friends say he was embarrassed by the stigmatizing effect of Prop 48. "I think it was harder on him than he'll ever admit," says Purdue guard Matt Waddell.

Robinson was perhaps the last great Prop 48 star, as the NCAA put even stricter academic standards -- called Proposition 16 -- into effect in 1995, and usage of the term dwindled. Players at risk of being non-qualifiers in the modern era tend to head to prep schools for a fifth season, a route that's become so commonplace it carries almost zero stigma. Kentucky's Wall, the star of this young season, spent five years in high school, finishing at Raleigh's Word of God Academy, and it has yet to be held against him.

Next three: 12/12 at Alabama, 12/22 vs. SIU-Edwardsville, 12/29 at Iowa
 
6Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 5
A misconception of the Wildcats' famous four-guard attack in 2005-06, with Kyle Lowery, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi, was that they played fast basketball. That Elite Eight team actually ranked 191st in the country in adjusted tempo, at 66.4 possessions per 40 minutes. But coach Jay Wright's teams have been gradually speeding up since, as the chart below shows:
Season    Poss/40   Nat'l Rk.
05-06 66.4 191
06-07 66.5 172
07-08 69.2 84
08-09 69.2 63
09-10 75.0 18

This season seems to be the culmination of that speed burst, as Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher are running the country's 18th-fastest team in adjusted pace. They certainly have the guard depth to keep it up, but with top recruit Mouphtaou Yarou likely out for the season, will they have enough big men to keep running throughout Big East play?

Next three: 12/12 at Temple, 12/19 vs. Fordham in East Rutherford, N.J., 12/23 vs. Delaware
 
7Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 6
After losing to Division II Le Moyne in an exhibition, the Orange have yet to even play a close game en route to going 8-0. They were a one-point underdog (according to statsheet.com) when they met Cal, and won by 22; they were a half-point underdog when they met North Carolina, and won by 16.

Will we see a similar result tonight, when 'Cuse is a one-point underdog against Florida in the Tampa portion of the SEC-Big East Invitational? I have both teams in my top 10 due to the quality of their wins, but the Orange seem like the ones with more staying power. Their two gunners, Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, are both making more than half their threes, and they lead the nation in effective field-goal percentage, at 63.2. Florida, meanwhile, has a much tougher time scoring, with an eFG% of 52.1.

Next three: 12/10 at Florida, 12/13 St. Francis (N.Y.), 12/19 vs. St. Bonaventure
 
8Florida Gators
Last Week: 7
Syracuse forward Rick Jackson reminisced this week about seeing Florida big man Vernon Macklin at a tournament back in his prep days. "They were calling him 'The Big Ticket' the whole time," Jackson told the Syracuse Post-Standard. "He was really good in high school."

Macklin, a McDonald's All-American out of Portsmouth, Va., went to Georgetown for two years, then transferred to Florida, and while he's hardly lived up to his original nickname, he has become a Nice Big Role Player, averaging 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 23.0 minutes per game. "I'm just helping the team however I can," Macklin said. "I'm running the floor. I'm doing all the small things and I'm rebounding the basketball."

I wonder how much Georgetown misses him, especially on the offensive end. Here's how Macklin compares to Julian Vaughn, the Florida State transfer who took over that spot in the Hoyas' frontcourt:
Player     O-Rating    OR%     DR%     Block%
Macklin 121.5 13.9 17.0 4.6
Vaughn 96.4 11.4 17.9 9.8


Next three: 12/10 vs. Syracuse, 12/19 vs. Richmond in Sunrise, Fla., 12/22 vs. South Alabama
 
9UNLV Runnin' Rebels
Last Week: 11
John Calipari's 2006 Memphis recruiting class -- the one that came right before the Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans classes -- did not produce an elite player for the Tigers. It consisted of these five players (with their Rivals.com rating):

• 1. Willie Kemp, PG, four stars
• 2. Doneal Mack, SG, four stars
• 3. Pierre Niles, PF, three stars
• 4. Tre'Von Willis, SG, three stars
• 5. Hashim Bailey, C, three stars

It did, however, produce a star for another team. Kemp, Mack and Niles have all been role players for Memphis; Bailey transferred to UMass and has played sparingly; but Willis has blossomed into UNLV's leading scorer at 17.0 points per game. The Tigers had enough NBA-ready guards that they didn't need Willis, but he's part of a transfer crew in Vegas (along with ex-Kentucky guard Derrick Jasper and ex-UCLA forward Chase Stanback) that's made the Rebels a legitimate force.

Next three: 12/12 vs. Kansas State, 12/15 at Southern Utah, 12/17 vs. Weber State
 
10Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last Week: 13
While Vols reserve Renaldo Woolridge doesn't have tempo issues -- his new rap track, Tip Off (College Hoops Time), mentions every D-I conference in one 45-second stretch -- coach Bruce Pearl is wondering why his team isn't pushing the pace more. Tennessee ranks 29th in the country in adjusted tempo, at 73.8 possessions per game, but two of its past four contests (against DePaul and East Tennessee State) have been under 65 possessions, causing Pearl to say the tempo has "not been as up as I'd like." They should be able to run wild against Wyoming on Dec. 15; the 4-4 Cowboys rank 11th in the country in tempo and tend to miss plenty of shots.

Next three: 12/11 vs. Middle Tennessee in Nashville, 12/15 vs. Wyoming, 12/19 at USC
 
11Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 15
Our heartfelt condolences go out to Blue Devils freshman guard Andre Dawkins, whose 21-year-old sister, Lacy, died from injuries she suffered in a car accident while traveling from Columbus, Ohio, to Raleigh to attempt to see Duke's win over St. John's on Saturday. Dawkins' mother, Tamara Hill, was reportedly also injured in the wreck. In a statement, coach Mike Krzyzewski said, "We are deeply saddened by the loss ... Andre is a terrific young man and his family is very important to him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Dawkins family during this trying time." Dawkins played 21 minutes in that win over St. John's, and is averaging 9.9 points per game. He has been Duke's most important new addition, shooting 51.3 percent from long range to provide instant offense off the bench.

Next three: 12/15 vs. Gardner-Webb, 12/19 vs. Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden, 12/29 vs. Long Beach State
 
12Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: --
Tuesday's observation file from the Jimmy V Classic covered the Greg Monroe debate. The Hoyas' big man had career highs in points and rebounds in a win over Butler but it seemed to do nothing to help his NBA draft stock. DraftExpress has the former No. 1 overall recruit pegged as the 18th pick in 2010, with seven college post players ahead of him: Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors, Kansas' Aldrich, North Carolina's Ed Davis, Kentucky's Patrick Patterson, Florida State's Solomon Alabi, VCU's Larry Sanders and Baylor's Epke Udoh. It's evidence of how much body type and potential matter to NBA scouts, rather than college production: Monroe may not be a stunning physical specimen, but he's the best passer and shooter of the entire bunch.

Next three: 12/12 vs. Washington, 12/19 vs. Old Dominion, 12/23 vs. Harvard
 
13North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 9
The new, imaginary "no-charge" zone is the most subjective rule in college hoops. Refs this season have been forced to guess the degree to which charge-takers are pulling a Greg Paulus under the basket, and make calls accordingly. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams is not a fan of the undefined zone. Reacting to a play he saw in the Gonzaga-Michigan State game in November, Williams said this to the Raleigh News & Observer: "The Gonzaga kid was standing there [and] his feet were on the lane line, so it was nowhere close to being underneath the basket. He'd already gotten out his iced tea, added the sugar to it, added the extra lemon, got back in his perfect stance and the guy ran over him and the referee comes out and calls it 'block.' ... In my mind, there's no way [the official] wasn't thinking about that stupid imaginary line."

I agree with everything Roy said -- other than the sweet tea part, since he was referring to a Zag. The more appropriate beverage for a player from Spokane would be drive-thru espresso.

Next three: 12/12 at Presbyterian, 12/19 vs. Texas in Arlington, 12/22 vs. Marshall
 
14Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last Week: --
The Red Raiders went 7-1 before finals last season before collapsing to a 14-19 finish, so poll voters have been understandably slow to rank them despite a 9-0 start. But this Tech squad appears to be more legit, ranking 40th in defensive efficiency and 37th in turnover percentage forced, and its overtime win over Washington -- by far the Pac-10's best team -- will be huge in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee. Coach Pat Knight would prefer his players didn't see themselves, ranked, though; as he told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Then they read it and their mom reads it and their dad reads it. That, and their beautiful girlfriends. You've got to worry about all that."

The "beautiful" part was a reference to Raiders football coach Mike Leach, who calls the folks who inflate his players' egos "fat little girlfriends." This Knight has apparently become the kinder major-sport coach in Lubbock.

Next three: 12/19 at Wichita State, 12/22 vs. Stanford, 12/29 at New Mexico
 
15Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: 16
When Charlie Villanueva tweeted from the Milwaukee Bucks' locker room at halftime of a game against the Celtics in March, he created a media frenzy about rules for social networking, and got in hot water with coach Scott Skiles, who told the Twittering forward, "it's nothing we ever want to happen again." You can't get in trouble for Twittering when you're the coach, though, and A&M's Mark Turgeon has been making a habit of sending a halftime tweet. During the Aggies' 75-65 win over North Texas on Monday, Turgeon wrote, "First 4 mins of this half are important! Need to build this thing up. Shared ball well. Must play position defense, too many fouls." A&M took a 17 point lead into the locker room, and maintained it at double-digits for the whole second half, so there was understandably no Twitter-related controversy.

Next three: 12/12 vs. New Mexico in Houston, 12/19 vs. The Citadel, 12/22 at Washington
 
16New Mexico Lobos
Last Week: --
Between BYU, UNLV and the Lobos, the Mountain West should earn three NCAA tournament bids for the second straight season. Steve Alford's bunch is the best team you haven't paid any attention to yet, and senior swingman Roman (don't call me Ramon) Martinez is one of the country's most underrated long-range gunners. He's shooting 53.3 percent from beyond the arc and has made 16 of his past 21 treys. Part of this is attributable to his excellent hoops DNA: His grandfather, Francisco Martinez, played on Mexico's bronze medal-winning team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Roman's father, Eddie, a car salesman in El Paso, told the Albuquerque Journal, "They say talent sometimes skips a generation, and that's what happened to me. It went from my dad to Ro."

Next three: 12/12 vs. Texas A&M in Houston, 12/16 vs. Northern Arizona, 12/19 vs. Creighton


The next 16: 17. Michigan State. 18. UConn. 19. Gonzaga. 20. Ole Miss. 21. Washington. 22. Kansas State. 23. Wisconsin. 24. Illinois. 25. Ohio State. 26. Northwestern. 27. Wake Forest. 28. Memphis. 29. Cincinnati. 30. Missouri State. 31. Seton Hall. 32. Richmond.

(If you'd like to send the Power Rankings a note, I'm here.)

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