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Kentucky edges out Ohio State for top spot in Power Rankings

I considered crowdsourcing the choice of this week's No. 1 team in the same way John Calipari did with the question of Kentucky's non-conference schedule: asking people over Twitter. And then I realized that any Internet vote involving Kentucky is always won by Kentucky's legions of fans who are on the Internet strictly to discuss/troll about matters of Kentucky basketball, so I just stuck with my gut. Which happened to provide the same answer.

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 2
The most glaring difference between the offenses of North Carolina and Kentucky is how they use their five-man. UNC's Tyler Zeller posts up on 58.4 percent of his possessions, while UK's Anthony Davis posts up on just 5.7 percent of his, according to Synergy Sports Technology. While Davis is a major defensive presence, one gets the sense that the Wildcats are still figuring out how best to use him on offense, even though he's shooting 70.9 percent on his two-point attempts.

To give you a visual representation of UNC's "center" role versus UK's, I re-watched the second half of Saturday's thriller and took screengrabs of each instance when Zeller or Davis received the ball in the flow of the offense. Although Davis scored the two times UK got him the ball in or around the lane, 13 of his 15 second-half touches were near the top of the key. He essentially played the "Jorts" role from '10-11, executing dribble-handoffs or (more often) passing to shooters coming off of curls ... and then he didn't touch the ball for the final 3:05 -- or at least until he made the block heard 'round the world on John Henson.



(The Zeller chart is coming up in the North Carolina section.)

Next three: 12/10 at Indiana, 12/17 vs. Chattanooga, 12/20 vs. Samford
 
2Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 1
Jared Sullinger has had to deal with back spasms this season, but he hasn't been bothered by a sophomore slump. His efficiency has improved, as he's shooting 10 percentage points higher on twos (65.7 percent) than he did as a freshman, and 13 percentage points higher on free throws (83.3), and his Buckeyes are undefeated heading into Saturday's battle with Kansas. Sullinger was a shoo-in on the Power Rankings' One-Month All-America teams, which are free from influence of preseason hype:

FIRST TEAM
PG: Tu Holloway, Sr., Xavier
SG: Marcus Denmon, Sr., Missouri
SF: Doug McDermott, Soph., Creighton
PF: Jared Sullinger, Soph., Ohio State
F/C: Anthony Davis, Fr., Kentucky

SECOND TEAM
PG: Damian Lillard, Sr., Weber State
SG: Darius Johnson-Odom, Sr., Marquette
SF/PF: Mike Moser, Soph., UNLV
PF: Thomas Robinson, Jr., Kansas
PF: John Henson, Jr., North Carolina

(Also receiving votes: Harrison Barnes, UNC; Terrence Jones, UK; Jae Crowder, Marquette; Cody Zeller, Indiana; Mike Scott, Virginia; Robbie Hummel, Purdue; Jeremy Lamb, UConn; Scott Machado, Iona.)

Next three: 12/10 at Kansas, 12/14 vs. S.C. Upstate, 12/17 at South Carolina
 
3Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 3
As the Syracuse Post-Standard pointed out this week, the Orange are leading the nation in steals (and more importantly, steal percentage). "I think this year, we've been a little bit more active," coach Jim Boeheim told the paper. "Maybe [it's] just the comfort level of guys being in the defense for a while now. We're covering areas better. I think our zone is better than it's been."

Syracuse is the only team that has two guards with steal percentages higher than five -- Scoop Jardine, at 5.93, and Dion Waiters, at 5.41. Only three other backcourt duos are even above the four-percent mark this season (data from Statsheet.com):

Missouri: Phil Pressey (5.32) / Michael Dixon (4.37)
Ohio St.: Aaron Craft (5.75) / Lenzelle Smith (4.12)
Oregon St.: Jared Cunningham (4.84) / Ahmad Starks (4.15)

Turnover-creation numbers tend to decline as schedules get tougher, but the Orange at least have a shot at being the first team with a five-plus backcourt duo in the past five years. These are the combos that have come closest to that mark (data from kenpom.com):

2010-11
Missouri: Phil Pressey (4.99) / Michael Dixon (4.28)
Lipscomb: Josh Slater (5.50) / Robert Boyd (4.33)

2009-10
Oregon State: Seth Tarver (4.47) / Jared Cunningham (4.38)

2008-09
VMI: Travis Holmes (4.92) / Chavis Holmes (4.90)
Savannah St.: Jovonni Shuler (4.75) / Patrick Hardy 4.50)
Minnesota: Al Nolen (4.52) / Damian Johnson (4.47)
NC Central: Michael Glasker (4.29) / Bryan Ayala (4.08)

2007-08
Robert Morris: Tony Lee (5.34) / Jeremy Chappell (4.31)
Minnesota: Al Nolen (5.21) / Damian Johnson (4.66)
Kent St.: Chris Singletary (5.05) / Haminn Quaintance (4.03)
Kansas: Mario Chalmers (4.81) / Russell Robinson (4.16)

Next three: 12/10 vs. George Washington, 12/17 at NC State, 12/20 vs. Bucknell
 
4North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 4
As was mentioned in the Kentucky section (if you skipped it out of spite or due to a limited attention span, go back and read it), Tyler Zeller is a heavily low-block operator. He had 11 touches in UNC's halfcourt offense in the second half on Saturday, and all of them were either in the lane or within a step of the lane. The Wildcats made it a priority to limit Zeller's offense with big-to-big double-teams; Anthony Davis was almost always the primary defender, but you can see Terrence Jones or Kyle Wiltjer lurking nearby on many of these catches. Again, the screengrabs are taken just after Zeller catches the ball -- and after most of those catches, he was forced to pass back to the perimeter:



(* This one, on the game's final possession, wasn't actually a "pass out" -- it's just that I didn't have a category for "lost control of the ball while pivoting and had it fly right into the hands of John Henson.")

Next three: 12/3 at Kentucky, 12/6 vs. Evansville, 12/10 vs. Long Beach State
 
5Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 5
In Alex Wolff's must-read story on SI's Sportsman (Mike Krzyzewski) and Sportswoman (Pat Summitt) of the Year, Coach K discusses the concept of shot ownership, and how perception of possession might affect results. Wolff wrote:

For someone who doesn't read, Krzyzewski coaches an awful lot like a creative writing instructor. Two weeks ago, before Duke played Kansas in the final of the Maui Invitational, Krzyzewski gave his inexperienced team a kind of grammar to moot the burden of conscientiousness he feared they'd feel. The shots presenting themselves that night, he told them, wouldn't be their shots. "I told them they were my shots, and that I wanted them to take them," he says. "That they should shoot whenever they felt a shot, and I'd live with the result. Young players, if they thought of shots in a big game as theirs, they might hold back.

After reading this, I immediately thought of freshman guard Austin Rivers, who has taken a team-high 28.0 percent of the Blue Devils' shots while he's been on the floor. He had his second-highest ORating of November (111.7) in that game against KU, but he only took 10 shots, compared to 13, 15 and 14 in his previous three contests. Did K's speech have the opposite effect? Rivers' father just signed a $35 million deal to keep coaching the Celtics; perhaps Austin is more liberal when he believes he's spending his own shots, but more efficient when he believes he's spending Coach K's.

Next three: 12/10 vs. Washington (NYC), 12/19 vs. UNC-Greensboro, 12/30 vs. Western Michigan
 
6Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 7
My column from the Jimmy V Classic looked at Missouri's transformation into a structured offensive power under new coach Frank Haith, who's maximized the value of senior star Marcus Denmon by using him in a mostly catch-and-shoot role. I didn't have time to chart film of Tuesday's win over Villanova for a deadline story, but a next-day review had Denmon going 8-of-11 from the field when he didn't dribble before shooting, and 1-of-4 when he did dribble. (And even then, the one shot he did make off the bounce was on a catch-after-curl situation, where he dribbled once just to get more separation from the defender, then pulled up for a jumper.)

I took screengrabs of two strong offensive possessions, the first coming in transition. The Tigers are still fast-breaking with regularity, just as they did under ex-coach Mike Anderson, and here, they have optimal spacing. Three Villanova defenders have sprinted back to protect the basket, but they've left two 50-percent, long-range shooters free on the wings. Point guard Phil Pressey chooses the one to his right, Denmon, who had the hotter hand, and he buries a three.



The second is a variation on Mizzou's basic pick-and-roll set, where Ricardo Ratliffe screens for Pressey, Denmon occupies the near corner/wing, and English is on Pressey's backside. The latter two's defenders can't help on penetration, but Denmon's defender makes the mistake of focusing his eyes on Pressey for a split second -- at which time Denmon breaks for the basket and receives a pass for an easy backdoor layup.



Next three: 12/10 vs. Navy, 12/15 vs. Kennesaw State, 12/18 vs. William & Mary
 
7Marquette Golden Eagles
Last Week: 17
It had to be difficult for Todd Mayo to stay underrated and underexposed, as the younger brother of the arguably the most-covered youth hoops prospect since LeBron James. And yet, coming out of Notre Dame Prep, Todd was just a two- or three-star recruit. He was pegged as someone who might only be a major contributor at a mid-major level, but eight games into his freshman season, Mayo has emerged as a high-value Big East reserve who should be able to step into a starting role as a sophomore, junior and senior. Even more surprising? Although he's playing only about half the minutes that O.J. did as a frosh, Todd is scoring at nearly the same per-minute rate, with higher efficiency and a better assist-to-turnover ratio. You can find a full comparison on StatSheet, but the basics are below:

Mayo  Min%   Poss%  ORtng  Pts/40  A/T
Todd 44.6 23.0 118.2 21.8 1.5
O.J. 91.0 30.5 106.1 22.5 0.9

Next three: 12/10 vs. UW-Green Bay, 12/17 vs. Northern Colorado, 12/19 at LSU
 
8Xavier Musketeers
Last Week: 13
In Wednesday's win at Butler, point guard Tu Holloway attempted 16 free throws, scoring 14 of his 16 points from the stripe. He was one of the country's better whistle-drawers as a junior, ranking fifth in free throw rate (a player's ratio of FTA/FGA) among guards who averaged 30-plus minutes per game:

2010-11 Free Throw Rate Leaders -- Guards
(FTR in parentheses. Source: Kenpom.com)
1. Soloman Bozeman, Arkansas-Little Rock (79.3)
2. Devin Gibson, UT-San Antonio (78.9)
3. Dairese Gary, New Mexico (74.9)
4. Tristan Thompson, North Texas (73.5)
5. Tu Holloway, Xavier (68.1)

Through six games as a senior, Holloway has been on a mission to the free-throw line, elevating his FTR so that it's No. 1 in the nation:

2011-12 Free Throw Rate Leaders -- Guards
(FTR in parentheses. Source: Statsheet.com)
1. Tu Holloway, Xavier (93.5)
2. Jared Cunningham, Oregon State (92.2)
3. Cedrick Lindsay, Richmond (92.1)
4. Michael Hale III, UT-San Antonio (86.6)
5. Anthony Miles, Lamar (84.5)

Next three: 12/10 vs. Cincinnati, 12/18 vs. Oral Roberts, 12/22 vs. Long Beach State (Diamond Head Classic)
 
9Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 10
The Cardinals' defense is so stout that they've managed to remain undefeated (and in the top 10 of the Power Rankings!) despite the fact they routinely struggle to score. As Courier-Journal columnist Rick Bozich wrote of the nation's No. 68 team in adjusted offensive efficiency, "This season [Rick] Pitino is dealing with an issue that rarely has been a problem for his teams: U of L hasn't looked like a team primed to make the scoreboard tilt. Points have been a problem."

From an advanced-stats standpoint, look how far the Cards lag behind fellow, ranked Big East teams in spot-up and post-up efficiency, according to Synergy Sports Technology:

Spot-Up PPP (% of overall offense)
Pitt: 1.241 (21.4%)
Marquette: 1.107 (25.3%)
Georgetown: 1.090 (25.3%)
UConn: 1.065 (20.1%)
Syracuse: 1.025 (21.2%)
Louisville: 0.872 (21.3)

Post-Up PPP (% of overall offense)
Pitt: 1.167 (3.5%)
Syracuse: 1.037 (3.7%)
Marquette: 0.904 (8.3%)
Georgetown: 0.903 (11.7%)
UConn: 0.857 (7.9%)
Louisville: 0.656 (9.8%)

The Cards have been abysmal in the post, despite taking shots from there with more than double the frequency of Pitt or Syracuse. It'll be worth monitoring whether efficiency improves once 6-foot-8 forward Rakeem Buckles, who just returned from an ACL injury, is integrated into the rotation.

Next three: 12/10 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson, 12/17 vs. Memphis 12/20 vs. Charleston
 
10Baylor Bears
Last Week: 15
Burning hoop-style question of the week: If your team opts for the "Half-Opaque Arc" look -- the latest court-style trend, on the heels of giant center-circle logos and forestry patterns -- is it better to leave the lane clear, as Northwestern does at left, or fill the entire thing, as Baylor does at right?



My preference is the NU look, and I suspect it might even be the Baylor players' preference, too: When they visited Evanston on Sunday, they shot 25-of-30 from inside the arc in a 69-41 rout.

Next three: 12/17 at BYU, 12/19 vs. Paul Quinn, 12/22 vs. St. Mary's (Las Vegas Classic)
 
11UConn Huskies
Last Week: 11
It seems that West Virginia will lament recruiting over the top of former commitment Ryan Boatright -- by taking a verbal from Jabarie Hinds, who's also a scoring point guard, in October 2010. Boatright backed away from the Mountaineers shortly thereafter, and his journey to UConn was covered in SI's "Commitment Project" this summer. I interviewed his mother, Tanesha, for that story, and she explained what happened with WVU:

"West Virginia, they pretty much explained to us that they wanted Ryan to come in and be the point guard along with [Truck Bryant] -- that Ryan would be their only point-guard recruit in the class of 2011. Two days after we committed, we found out they took a verbal from Jabarie Hinds. And they didn't even call us and tell us about it -- we found out though a reporter, who called us and asked, 'How do you feel about WVU taking a verbal from Jabarie Hinds?' We were like, WHAT?"

It's not that Hinds has been bad. He's averaging 11.5 points, with decent efficiency. It's just that Boatright, in his two games since coming off an NCAA suspension, has looked like a legitimate star in the making, and should be a huge factor in UConn's run at a Big East title.

Next three: 12/8 vs. Harvard, 12/18 vs. Holy Cross, 12/22 vs. Fairfield
 
12UNLV Rebels
Last Week: 12
Say what you will about college basketball trickling into its season; it's at least nice that on the first college football-free Saturday of the season, we have a killer slate of games. The must-watch games are as follows:

1. Kentucky at Indiana, 5:15 p.m. (First true road game for nation's No. 1 team, and first real barometer of whether the Hoosiers should be taken seriously.)

2. Ohio State at Kansas, 3:15 p.m. (First game outside of Columbus for nation's No. 2 team, and it offers a potentially epic Jared Sullinger vs. Thomas Robinson battle.)

3. UNLV at Wisconsin, 2 p.m. (Can UW slow down the Rebels in the same fashion it did North Carolina? The Badgers have been statistically great but need a quality non-conference win to back it up.)

The Rest:
4. Michigan State at Gonzaga, 9 p.m.
5. Cincinnati at Xavier, 12:30 p.m.
6. Washington vs. Duke at MSG, 12 p.m.
7. Long Beach State at UNC, 7 p.m.

Next three: 12/10 at Wisconsin, 12/14 vs. UTEP, 12/17 vs. Illinois (in Chicago)
 
13Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 16
Tyshawn Taylor is under more scrutiny this year than ever, and after committing 25 turnovers against 14 assists in his past five games, he's enduring plenty of criticism. Last week, coach Bill Self called his guards "probably the poorest ball-handling backcourt of anyone in the country when you talk about assist-to-turnover ratio." There is (reasonable) worry among KU fans that Taylor and teammate Elijah Johnson will allow OSU's Aaron Craft to rev up his Turnometer on Saturday.

But I should not that things are not all bad for Taylor, aside from the carelessness. He's taken on a huge chunk of KU's possessions (27.3, compared to 21.1 last year) and stayed just as efficient as he was as a junior, with career highs in true shooting percentage (60.2), free-throw rate (64.7) and free-throw percentage (80.0). All the turnovers have distracted from the fact that Taylor's scoring game has never been better.

Next three: 12/10 vs. Ohio State, 12/19 vs. Davidson (in Kansas City), 12/22 at USC
 
14Florida Gators
Last Week: 9
The Gators' No. 1 priority, from here on out, needs to not be divvying up backcourt shots effectively, but rather getting Patric Young the ball. The 6-9 power forward almost single-handedly rescued the Gators from a bad home loss to Arizona on Wednesday night, scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds (six offensive) in 38 minutes. Young shot 80 percent from the field (12-of-15) while Florida was bogged down by Erving Walker's 3-of-16 and Kenny Boynton's 2-of-11 outings. It has been said that Young is not an assertive offensive player, but it seems that when he actually gets a good post touch, he's happy to score, and has a decent-enough jump hook to do so when dunking isn't an option. Through eight games he's only the fifth-highest possession user on the team, at 20.7 percent. That should jump to at least 22-23 percent if Florida is going to thrive.

Next three: 12/9 vs. Rider (in Jacksonville), 12/17 vs. Texas A&M (in Sunrise), 12/19 vs. Mississippi Valley State
 
15Harvard Crimson
Last Week: 16
The Crimson rank 311th nationally in adjusted tempo, but don't hold it against Tommy Amaker's crew. Slower-paced teams tend to have it used against them in recruiting (far more so in major conferences than the Ivy League), but slower teams have been significantly better than their speedy counterparts in 2011-12.

I ran averages on the top and bottom 40 in adjusted tempo from kenpom.com, and the plodders -- who include surprise stories St. Louis, Harvard and Virginia -- are 4.7 points per 100 possessions better:

Group       Avg.Rk.   O-Eff   D-Eff   Margin
Bottom40 151.4 100.2 97.4 +2.8
Top40 186.0 99.7 101.6 -1.9

Next three: 12/8 at UConn, 12/10 at Boston, 12/22 vs. Florida Atlantic
 
16Creighton Blue Jays
Last Week: 18
The Bluejays are here because they boast an All-America candidate in McDermott, an undefeated record and the country's best effective field goal percentage (60.9). They're asterisked because while they score like a No. 1 seed, they guard like a No. 15 -- so bad that their defense ranks 182nd in the country in adjusted efficiency. I'm very curious if they can win the Missouri Valley Conference, or any NCAA tournament games, with a defense that porous. Last year, the lowest-ranked defense to win a round-of-64 game was Morehead State, at No. 83. In 2010, it was Cornell, at No. 117. Creighton is well behind those teams at the moment. Will it learn to guard before it's too late?

Next three: 12/10 at St. Joe's, 12/17 vs. Houston Baptist, 12/19 at Tulsa
 

The Next 16: 17. Georgetown,18. Wisconsin,19. Michigan State,20. Pittsburgh,21. Illinois,22. St. Louis,23. Purdue,24. Indiana,25. Gonzaga,26. Michigan,27. Wichita State,28. Memphis,29. Virginia,30. Belmont,31. Mississippi State,32. Alabama

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