North Carolina and Florida rise, while top 11 teams stand pat
Last Week: 1
Ohio State Buckeyes (24-0)Last week's "Who's Feeding Jared?" graphic was so well-received (it even made it on the TV!) that the topic is worth revisiting. Our film study showed that senior Jon Diebler was the Buckeyes' best post-feeder, serving up 44.2 percent of the successful entry passes to freshman star Jared Sullinger. What I didn't mention in the graphic is that more than half of Diebler's feeds (about 55 percent) come from the left wing, and that the Buckeyes' clear, bread-and-butter play for 2010-11 simply involves isolating Diebler and Sullinger in a two-man game on the left side of the floor.
One version of this play comes from the ESPN film of Ohio State's first possession at Northwestern on Jan. 29, which can be seen in the frames below. It's initiated by a "fist" sign (frame 1) from David Lighty at the top of the key, calling for down-screens by big men Dallas Lauderdale (for William Buford, right side) and Sullinger (for Diebler, left side). Lighty then looks to hit a freed-up Diebler on the left wing (2), and Diebler looks to immediately fire the ball into Sullinger (3), who has transitioned from screener to poster. He's able to spin on his left shoulder in one-on-one coverage (4) and easily score.
Consider an opposing team's options once the ball is fed inside:
1) Double-down off of Diebler, who (according to Synergy scouting data) scores at a 1.53 points-per-possession clip in unguarded catch-and-shoot situations.
2) Double-down off of Lighty, who scores 1.26 PPP in unguarded catch-and-shoot situations.
3) Run Lauderdale's man across the lane to seal off Sullinger's left shoulder ... leaving Lauderdale, a 1.70 PPP scorer at point-blank range, wide open.
4) Cover Sullinger one-on-one in the post, where he scores 1.12 PPP.
Unless your defense can recover in time not to leave Sullinger's teammates open after a double-team, the most efficient choice might just be to single-cover him in the post. When that's your best available option, you're not in great shape ... and now you can understand why the Buckeyes have the nation's No. 4-ranked offense.
Next Three: 2/12 at Wisconsin, 2/15 vs. Michigan State, 2/20 at Purdue
Last Week: 2
Texas Longhorns (21-3)A column I wrote earlier this week looked at upwardly trending freshmen, and touched on the steady, positive progress being made by the Longhorns' Canadian duo, forward Tristan Thompson and combo guard Cory Joseph. They've both been major assets as Texas has surged to a 9-0 start in the Big 12, and should play even bigger roles in March. A similarly positive development -- one that has not been getting as much attention nationally -- is the growth of sixth man J'Covan Brown into a more efficient scorer off the bench. His field goal percentages were on a downward-sloping trendline in 2009-10 during the Longhorns' implosion, but he's reversed that trend as a sophomore, displaying progressively smarter shot selection during conference play (according to data from StatSheet.com):
Brown's offensive rating is on an upward trajectory as well, improving at a better rate than it did in his freshman campaign:
The 'Horns already have the Big 12's best defense by a wide margin, and increasingly efficient efforts from Brown could help their offense reach Kansasian levels by NCAA tournament time.
Next Three: 2/12 vs. Baylor, 2/16 vs. Oklahoma State, 2/19 at Nebraska
Last Week: 3
Kansas Jayhawks (23-1)The Wall Street Journal story about KU's brigade of senior citizens who monitor athletes' class attendance has been wrung to dry in the blogosphere this week, but if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend doing so. I particularly enjoyed the 67-year-old who admitted "he has waited for hours outside eerily quiet classrooms only to realize later he was in the wrong building or had confused the days of the week." (It's possible that this was the same man who was allowed to devise Texas Tech's game plan for guarding Marcus Morris.)
Moving on to a different topic: One thing a number of this year's elite teams have is an excellent "Short-Burst Forward" -- a reserve big man who averages between 15-20 minutes per game and exerts max energy around the basket during that time. The Jayhawks' Thomas Robinson might just be the best Short-Burst Forward in the country, because he makes the most of his minutes by dominating the glass and using a huge portion of KU's possessions. My subjective, SBF top five looks like this:
Rk. Player, Team MPG OR% DR% Poss% ORating
It's likely that the SBF list contains a few breakout stars for 2011-12, as long as the talent in front of them moves on to the NBA. So let this serve as your warning.
Next Three: 2/12 vs. Iowa State, 2/14 at Kansas State, 2/19 vs. Colorado
Last Week: 4
Pittsburgh Panthers (22-2)The Panthers' win at West Virginia on Monday was regarded with perhaps a bit too much surprise. Yes, Pitt was missing star guard Ashton Gibbs, but its entire crew of offensive rebounders -- who rank No. 1 in the nation in that category, grabbing 44.6 percent of available O-Rebs -- was still intact. And the Mountaineers happen to rank a miserable 311th nationally in preventing offensive boards, so they were ripe to give up a lot of second-chance points. The Panthers rebounded 47.4 percent of their misses in Morgantown, with monstrous forward Gary McGhee pulling down five on his own.
McGhee is the best offensive-rebounding starter on the country's best offensive rebounding team because he actively hunts those boards. He's not just thinking about grabbing them once the shot is coming off the rim; he's anticipating the mere act of shooting and getting in early position, often while his own defender is still looking away from the basket. From the ESPN telecast of Monday's game, take a look at where McGhee (circled) was in advance of four of his offensive boards:
Next Three: 2/12 at Villanova, 2/16 vs. South Florida, 2/19 at St. John's
Last Week: 5
Duke Blue Devils (22-2)My colleague Stewart Mandel was in Durham on Wednesday and delivered a fine column on Nolan Smith's heart, so I'll take the cold, analytical angle here and show how, exactly, Smith and Seth Curry destroyed North Carolina in the second half. As you'll see from the shot chart below, Duke's two scoring stars did their damage in very different ways during those 20 minutes. Smith only took one three (which he made), but relentlessly attacked the rim in half court (drawing three fouls and scoring on a layup) and transition (two layups, one dunk). Curry was strictly a jump-shooter, although he created four of his looks off the dribble, either using shot fakes and step-ins (in the left corner), or coming off screens (on the right wing) to free up firing space.
Next Three: 2/13 at Miami, 2/16 at Virginia, 2/20 vs. Georgia Tech
Last Week: 6
Brigham Young Cougars (23-2)The Jimmer took over the lead in the latest AnnArbor.com Player of the Year poll, overtaking Sullinger on the same week that Ohio State's Evan Turner overtook Kentucky super-frosh John Wall last season. Ken Pomeroy's kPOY formula is still siding with Sullinger and avoiding Jimmer Worship, which, I guess, makes the kPOY the Player of the Year index most preferred by Michelle Peralta, a BYU student from Apple Valley, Calif. Peralta, in case you've missed Eamonn Brennan's epic ESPN thread on the subject, became Internet-famous this week after writing a letter to the editor about the "Idol Worship" of Fredette -- a letter that included the line, "I'm not blaming Jimmer for all this; was it Nephi's fault in the Book of Mormon when his brothers worshiped him?" Her comments spawned a brilliant chain of Facebook comments with Chuck Norrisims and golden calf references. The commenters weren't mean, though; they just want Peralta to experience the Jimmer Love.
Next Three: 2/12 vs. Utah, 2/19 at TCU, 2/23 vs. Colorado State
Last Week: 7
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (20-4)You won't see a better compliance department PSA than Cool Talk With Joey Brooks, the reserve guard's anti-gambling message to fellow Irish athletes in advance of the Super Bowl. He touches on a number of other unhip subjects, including the unassailable fact that "mock turtlenecks are never cool."
The Notre Dame shooter who's been cool (as in, unflappable) in any situation this season is Ben Hansbrough, who's averaging 1.45 points per possession on guarded catch-and-shoot attempts, according to Synergy scouting data. The Irish's four primary shooters have the following guarded/unguarded efficiency splits:
Player #Guarded/ Guarded Ungrded
(Also: Sorry for the awkward cool/cool segue.)
Next Three: 2/12 at South Florida, 2/19 at West Virginia, 2/23 at Providence
Last Week: 8
San Diego State Aztecs (24-1)At North Carolina, fans are awarded two biscuits for a buck at Bojangles if the Tar Heels score 100 points; this was such a popular promotion during their highest octane days that a mop-up reserve became known as Dewey "Biscuits" Burke for sending several blowouts past the century mark. At San Diego State, they earn free fan-food for defense -- specifically, Jack in the Box curly fries if he Aztecs hold a home opponent under 50 points in a game. (The Jack is a San Diego company whose CEO happens to have her MBA from San Diego State.)
The curly fries have come up in Aztecs stories multiple times this season. After a Dec. 31 rout of Occidental, its coach, Brian Newhall, called his team's narrow avoidance of curly-fry territory "a moral victory." This week, following an 85-53 win over Utah, SDSU forward Brian Carlwell told the San Diego Union-Tribune the fries had been motivation for late-game defense. With the Utes sitting on 43 points, Carlwell told his teammates, "'They can't score these seven points in seven minutes. We got to get [the fans] these fries."
The Aztecs failed, which is unfortunate, because Carlwell regards the fries as a serious matter. "There have been games where teams have had 53," he said, "and I go home and some of my boys call me and they're just mad."
Next Three: 2/12 at UNLV, 2/16 vs. New Mexico, 2/19 at Air Force
Last Week: 9
Georgetown Hoyas (18-6)Mid-February is about the time I start paying serious attention to bracket projections (as should you), and the Big East domination of Andy Glockner's latest field of 68 is stunning. Even prior to the Hoyas' win at Syracuse, Glockner had them as a 2-seed, and one of eight Big East teams in the top 16 of the S-curve. The full Big East seed list breaks down as such:
2s: Georgetown, UConn
3s: Syracuse, Notre Dame, Villanova
4s: Louisville, West Virginia
9s: St. John's
10s: Marquette, Cincinnati
As someone who's been following efficiency numbers all season, it's curious how little the Big East efficiency margins match up with the seeds. In John Gasaway's latest conference efficiency margin smorgasbord on Basketball Prospectus, the 2-seeds check in at the 8-9 slots, barely in the positive category, while Marquette is in third. Five of the BP entries are sampled below; for the whole thing, head to their site.
Rk. Team OPPP DPPP EM
Next Three: 2/13 vs. Marquette, 2/16 at UConn, 2/19 at South Florida
Last Week: 10
Connecticut Huskies (18-4)The most common complaint I get about these rankings -- for those overly concerned about the order of the teams -- is that Texas is ahead of Pitt (which beat the 'Horns on a neutral floor) and UConn (which beat team in Austin). But we can't let head-to-head results, especially those from November, have too much bearing on our opinion of a team in February. There's plenty of evidence, visually and in old stats and new, that Texas is the nation's hottest team in conference play, including the "Last 10 Games" feature on TeamRankings.com, which has the 'Horns even ahead of Ohio State:
Rk. Team Rec. Rating*
UConn checks in at 11, while the No. 3 team is somewhat of a surprise: George Mason, which is off to a 10-0 start in the Colonial Athletic Association and is beginning to look like a dangerous NCAA tournament team. Huskies fans know all too well about Mason being scary in the dance; their '06 squad that was shocked by the Patriots in Washington D.C. had enough talent to knock off eventual national champ Florida if they'd met in the Final Four.
Next Three: 2/10 at St. John's, 2/13 vs. Providence, 2/16 vs. Georgetown
Last Week: 11
Wisconsin Badgers (18-5)I'll get accused of blaspheming The Jimmer for suggesting this ... but Jordan Taylor's 30-point game against Michigan State on Feb. 6 should be regarded as almost as amazing as Fredette's 47-point game against Utah on Jan. 11. The argument:
The Badgers-Spartans game was played at a pace of 54 possessions, while the BYU-Utah game was played at 80.
Taylor was on the floor for 46 possessions during his tour de force, while Fredette was on the floor for 69 possessions.
Taylor averaged 0.652 points per possession played (as opposed to the normal possession used). Fredette averaged 0.681 PPP. Multiply Taylor's efficiency/usage level over 69 possessions ... and he'd have 45 points -- only two short of The Jimmer's mark. Basically, scoring 30 for Wisconsin is like scoring 45 for BYU.
Next Three: 2/12 vs. Ohio State, 2/16 at Purdue, 2/20 vs. Penn State
Last Week: 15
North Carolina Tar Heels (17-6)Prior to the Duke game, I conducted a Hoopism-inspired experiment on the Tar Heels' assist data that I ran on the Blue Devils' much earlier in the year. Departed point guard Larry Drew II (we can now call him Larry WithDrew II Pursue His NBA Fantasy Elsewhere) wasn't regarded as much of an assist man, but he did dish out 82 of them before leaving, and I wondered, who would be hurt the most? After reviewing play-by-play sheets for all 23 UNC games, it was revealed that the bulk of his assists (27, or 32.9 percent) were to big man Tyler Zeller, while Dexter Strickland and Harrison Barnes were the next-highest recipients at 13 apiece. Drew's replacement, Kendall Marshall, had 110 assists but they were more evenly distributed, with six players receiving 14 or more, and only Strickland (just three) being snubbed.
The animation of the Drew/Marshall assist change is below, with the connector-line weight formula simply being 3.5 pixels multiplied by the number of assists:
Next Three: 2/12 at Clemson, 2/15 vs. Wake Forest, 2/19 vs. Boston College
Last Week: 17
Florida Gators (19-5)Have any players been as good over their past three games as Gators forward Chandler Parsons, whose high-efficiency, glass-dominating efforts have keyed wins over Vanderbilt, Kentucky and South Carolina? Compare his production over that stretch to his season averages (data from StatSheet):
ORating Pts Rebs A/T
Parsons' rebounding numbers are impressive for a relatively thin, 6-foot-9 wing player -- and perhaps aided by his starting position on the outside. "For a guy like Chandler, who is on the perimeter, it is a lot easier to see flights of balls and run in," Florida coach Billy Donovan told GatorSports.com. "And the tendency when someone is on the perimeter a lot of times is not to block them out, to lose sight, to be caught in a rotation, and a lot of times that gives him a free run to go in there. And a lot of times it helps him when he defensive rebounds, because of his size he can start the break and we can run quickly without having to outlet the ball."
Next Three: 2/12 vs. Tennessee, 2/20 at LSU, 2/24 vs. Georgia
Last Week: 12
Villanova Wildcats (19-5)The most horrific thing I saw all week -- other than the bloodied head of Butler's Matt Howard, that is -- was the ending of Villanova-Rutgers at the RAC on Wednesday. Jonathan Mitchell's game-winning, four-point play must've been glorious for Scarlet Knights fans, but for a proponent of the fouling-up-three strategy, what the Wildcats did was hard to stomach. (For a primer on why it's mathematically smart to foul when you're up three with less than seven seconds left, take a break, read this story, then come back to the rankings.)
You can view the video of the 'Nova-Rutgers ending here; essentially, what happened was, the Wildcats took a 76-73 lead with 6.3 seconds left, against a team that had been unconscious from beyond the arc during a mad comeback. It was a perfect opportunity to press up and foul in the backcourt ... yet 'Nova sagged back and let Mitchell launch a three. It swished, Corey Fisher was whistled for a foul after barely challenging the shot, and Mitchell made the free throw for a 77-76 win. It was the ultimate disaster scenario, and you have to wonder if it'll change Jay Wright's late-game philosophy in the future.
Next Three: 2/12 vs. Pitt, 2/15 at Seton Hall, 2/19 at DePaul
Last Week: 13
Kentucky Wildcats (17-6)The inaugural Power Rankings Zoomed-In Visual Quiz (won on Twitter by @EmeryJordan1) featured shooters' hands, and last week's (won by @JonEzekowitz) featured coaches' suits and ties. This week, I'm testing you with what I call the Greyscale Shorts Grid: Nine close-ups of graphical elements on team shorts, sans the easily identifiable team colors. A few hints: Eight of the nine teams featured are from BCS conferences, the angular striping in "H" is yellow, and UK does make an appearance. I'm writing this on a plane, so this week's prize, aside from the major fame you'll acquire on Twitter, is TBD. Like normal, the first person to tweet all nine correct answers in order to @lukewinn will be named the winner.
Next Three: 2/12 at Vanderbilt, 2/15 vs. Mississippi State, 2/19 vs. South Carolina
Last Week: 16
Louisville Cardinals (18-6)What if we evaluated Coach of the Year candidates with a formula, like the kPOY, rather than subjectively choosing the guy whose team has most outperformed what the conventional wisdom about it was in the preseason? Ideally this would be more complex, but I took an initial stab at it by looking at whose team has made the biggest jump from Basketball Prospectus' preseason efficiency projections to the present. I focused only on teams in the current kenpom Top 25 -- it seemed unrealistic to give COY to someone whose team would be unranked -- and came out with this top five:
1. Jim Larranaga, George Mason (+60 jump, from 84-24)
2. Mike Brey, Notre Dame (+46 jump, from 68-22)
3. Jim Calhoun, UConn (+32 jump, from 49-17)
4. Sean Miller, Arizona (+26 jump, from 44-18)
5. Rick Pitino, Louisville (+16 jump, from 36-20)
While Pitino cracked the list, Larranaga and Brey are in a class by themselves at the top. The next three coaches, if you're curious, were San Diego State's Steve Fisher (+15), Texas' Rick Barnes (+14) and BYU's Dave Rose (+13).
Next Three: 2/12 vs. Syracuse, 2/16 at Cincinnati, 2/18 vs. UConn
Checked In: Florida
Dropped Out: Washington
The Next 10: 17) Arizona, 18) Texas A&M, 19) Purdue, 20) Syracuse, 21) George Mason, 22) Missouri, 23) Vanderbilt, 24) Wichita State, 25) Temple, 26) St. Mary's.
(If you have an idea for a future Power Rankings topic, drop me a line here.)