Georgetown, Kentucky, UConn and Minnesota storm top 10; Duke at 1
At some point in this week's Power Rankings, you'll come across an ex-player quoting an ex-coach saying, "Basketball fights last two punches. Make sure you throw both of them." That coach -- you'll have to read on to reveal his identity -- was referring to actual fistfights, which occurred more often when his empire was at its height. But last night I felt as if I watched a two-punch basketball fight in Kansas City: Duke slugged Kansas State early, and its star, Jacob Pullen, stumbled around in a daze for the rest of the rout. The beatdown served as an affirmation that Duke is the right No. 1 -- and an invitation to overhaul some of the top 10, from which the Wildcats have disappeared.
Last Week: 1
Duke Blue Devils (5-0)If there's no other way to stage a No. 1-vs.-No. 4 game on Thanksgiving week ... then I guess I can deal with it being played on a Corporate Surface©. But damn, that was a lot of logos, right? Twelve? Possibly a new college basketball record?
My preference, though, if we're already going to have Kyrie Irving slipping on the Reese's logo in the first half, would just be to go FULL-NASCAR MODE with the court. When someone drives the lane, make them feel as if they're playing on Jimmie Johnson's hood; and when someone takes an elbow jumper, distract them with the thought of processed beef sticks:
Next Three: 11/27 vs. Oregon, 12/1 vs. Michigan State, 12/4 vs. Butler in East Rutherford, N.J.
Last Week: 4
Kansas Jayhawks (4-0)The Dec. 18 Kansas-USC game became mandatory viewing once the NCAA ruled that Jayhawks freshman Josh Selby would be eligible to make his debut then, pending the payback of $5,757.58 in impermissible benefits. A few Selby thoughts in the meantime:
This Thomas Robinson proclamation, from Topeka Capital-Journal beat writer Tully Corcoran's blog, is priceless:
"[Selby]'s definitely better than what people rate him as," Robinson said.
Selby was rated No. 1 in the nation [by Rivals.com].
Hyperbole aside, Selby will make Kansas a lot better. The Jayhawks have everything other than a guy who can create offense at any time off the dribble -- and Selby is athletic and physical enough to get off shots whenever he pleases.
While I'm excited for his debut, it's hard to celebrate it, given the circumstances: He took benefits from a former business manager of Carmelo Anthony -- and those benefits will be paid back out of Selby's scholarship check. So the school is essentially donating money to charity to cover the cash its freshman star took from an NBA-affiliated businessman. This is different from the Enes Kanter situation at Kentucky -- he was paid by a team, which more clearly makes him a pro -- but I'm not convinced that Selby should be eligible, either.
Next Three: 11/26 vs. Ohio (in Las Vegas), 11/27 vs. Arizona (in Las Vegas), 12/2 vs. UCLA
Last Week: 5
Pittsburgh Panthers (6-0)Does anyone else find it eerie how similar the stat lines of the identical Wanamaker twins were through five games? Brad averaged 15.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds for 5-0 Pitt; Brian averaged 15.8 points, 4.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds for 5-0 Texas Wesleyan, an NAIA team in Fort Worth. It's almost as if a metaphysical twin-bond exists that makes them produce at the same rate, despite playing in hugely different basketball environs.
The brothers' only minute differences are that Brad is 71 minutes older, (listed as) one inch taller and may be more prone to be "Wolfin'." That's a term I was introduced to on Twitter last week, when one of his friends wrote, "My youngbul @phillybul_22 always wolfin (need a cut)." If you haven't been to the barber recently enough, you're wolfin'. Can anyone explain if this is a Teen Wolf-related term, or just a general wolf-appearance reference?
Next Three: 11/27 vs. Penn, 12/1 at Duquesne, 12/4 vs. Rider
Last Week: 6
Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0)I'm not sure how much current players care about the "bragging rights" aspect of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which has been won 11 of 12 times by the ACC. But I do know that the Big Ten's futility in this event damaged its rep outside the Midwest for most of the previous decade. And so 2010 should be viewed as an opportunity for the conference, because the Big Ten is the most loaded league in the country, while the ACC, aside from Duke, looks as weak as it's ever been. My forecast for next week's Challenge includes a win for the Buckeyes, and 7-4 final advantage for their league:
1. Virginia at Minnesota -- Winner: Big Ten
2. Iowa at Wake Forest -- Big Ten
3. Georgia Tech at Northwestern -- Big Ten
4. Ohio State at Florida State -- Big Ten
5. Michigan at Clemson -- ACC
6. North Carolina at Illinois -- Big Ten
7. Indiana at Boston College -- ACC
8. N.C. State at Wisconsin -- Big Ten
9. Purdue at Virginia Tech -- Big Ten
10. Maryland at Penn State -- ACC
11. Michigan State at Duke -- ACC
Next Three: 11/26 vs. Miami (Ohio), 11/30 at Florida State, 12/9 IUPUI
Last Week: 17
Georgetown Hoyas (5-0)The Hoyas are the first of what I imagine many of you will find "questionable" inclusions in the top 10, but since it's boring to waste too much time explaining rankings, I'll just say this: Their win at Old Dominion is the second-best true road victory of the year (after Ohio State at Florida), and they just cruised through decent competition in the Charleston Classic. Now we can move on to more interesting material:
The early leader for Most Enlightening Non-MSM Blog Series of the Season comes from Casual Hoya, as part of a discussion on the differences between coaches John Thompson Jr. and John Thompson III. Poster "sleepyhoya" wrote a nice piece about how JTIII's system favors "mobility, movement and judgment" above all, whereas his father relied on "power, speed, physicality and, most of all, intimidation." This post inspired a former John Thompson Jr. player to author an anonymous response that included two amazing anecdotes. The first was about JTII's defensive diversity:
"[JTII's] real breakthrough was his defensive scheme. He could change the defense every time down the court by yelling (or having the point guard yell a single number). That is also why the team always huddled at every foul shot. Numbers in the 50s were man to man, the 30s were zone. So 55 was full court pressure on the inbound, 54 was full court, 53 was three quarters court, 52, half and 51 fall back to pick up man. 35-31 with the zones. If you look at films from the seventies almost no one pressured so long so often. Now it is routine. Also, back then opposing coaches were used to dealing with defensive changes once every 8 minutes or so. When confronted with a team that changed every time down the court and could go from zone to man-to-man in the process, it blew up almost every offensive scheme."
The second was about intimidation:
"I do remember one of the great things JT II said to me once during a scrimmage: "Basketball fights last 2 punches, make sure you throw both of them."
When I take over my first youth basketball team, that's going to be quoted in the opening week of practice.
Next Three: 11/27 vs. UNC-Asheville, 11/30 vs. Missouri (in Kansas City), 12/4 vs. Utah State
Last Week: 13
Kentucky Wildcats (4-0)So ... in hindsight, that Terrence Jones saga from May? It was worth following more than just as a recruiting drama -- because the kid might just turn out to be the most productive freshman in the country. He destroyed Washington, the team he spurned, in the Maui Invitational, with a 16-point, 17-rebound game on Tuesday. Here's how he stacks up against the RSCI's top three, 6-foot-8-or-taller prospects from the Class of 2010 thus far:
Player, Team Poss% ORating OReb% DReb%
Next Three: 11/24 vs. UConn (in Maui), 11/30 vs. Boston University, 12/4 at North Carolina
Last Week: --
Connecticut Huskies (4-0)If there was any doubt that Kemba Walker was this season's early MVP, he erased in on Tuesday in the Huskies' upset of No. 2-ranked Michigan State, scoring 30 points to Kalin Lucas' 10 and making huge plays down the stretch. Walker is now averaging a national-best 30.2 points per game, and he's by far the most efficient, super-high-usage player in the country. Of the eight players I could find (from BCS conferences, plus the A-10 and Mountain West) who eat up more than 30 percent of their school's possessions, Walker had the highest usage rate and offensive rating:
Player, Team Poss% ORating
(That data shows, by that way, that Indiana would be wise to fix its Verdell Jones problem before Big Ten play begins.)
Next Three: 11/24 vs. Washington/Kentucky, 11/30 vs. New Hampshire, 12/3 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County
Last Week: --
Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-0)The Gophers were the revelation of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, knocking off Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia in succession to win the tournament and announce themselves as a Big Ten contender. I already lauded their frontcourt in a Sunday column, so I'll address more speculative matters here -- like San Juan's candidacy to host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games sometime this decade. The Coliseo de Puerto Rico is a nice, new-ish arena that meets NCAA standards; hotels (with casinos!) are plentiful; and off-days on the beach would hopefully draw more fans to the early rounds than normal, despite the lack of a local team. I Tweeted it to March Madness don Greg Shaheen from the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, and while he didn't say yes, he did say, "We'll take it under advisement." So that's a start.
(For context, the 2011 first-round sites are: Washington, D.C.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Denver; Tucson, Ariz.; Charlotte, N.C.; Cleveland; Chicago; and Tulsa, Okla. Wouldn't you pick San Juan over at least a few of those?)
Next Three: 11/24 vs. North Dakota State, 11/29 vs. Virginia, 12/4 vs. Cornell
Last Week: 8
Villanova Wildcats (4-0)Two Corey Fisher nuggets of note: He has 16 assists and two turnovers through four games, which is impressive for a guy who had A:T ratios of 1.4, 1.4 and 1.9 in his previous three seasons. But he also isn't playing much true point guard for the Wildcats, who use sophomore Maalik Wayns in that role instead. A normal 'Nova half-court possession (seen in the image at right, against Lafayette's zone) features Fisher on the wing; he only brings the ball up in the 9-10 minutes Wayns isn't on the floor. Fisher still has total freedom to push the ball in transition or in secondary-break situations before defenses are set. Because he has a tendency to almost always force the issue, though -- he's fast, and he knows he's good at getting to the free-throw line -- it does seem advantageous for the Wildcats to use Wayns as the primary point. He's better at keeping the game at a controlled pace and mixing up 'Nova's frenetic basket attacks with some more deliberate half-court execution.
Next Three: 11/24 vs. UCLA (at Madison Square Garden), 11/26 vs. Tennessee/VCU (at Madison Square Garden), 12/3 vs. St. Joe's
Last Week: 9
Baylor Bears (4-0)This LaceDarius Dunn situation is uncomfortable. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram described Bears' fans response to Dunn's '10-11 debut as a "love fest," which goes to show that otherwise-sane people can have their judgment blinded by a barrage of three-pointers. Dunn was 7-for-11 from long range, scoring 24 points in a win over Lipscomb. He had served a three-game suspension after being hit with a felonious domestic assault charge for allegedly breaking his girlfriend's jaw in October. The girlfriend wants the charges dropped, but the local district attorney has yet to do so -- and given that, doesn't a three-game ban seem embarrassingly light? It's hard to resist the temptation of playing a kid who's arguably the nation's best all-around scorer, but in a case as sensitive as this one ... it would've been wise to do so.
Next Three: 11/29 vs. Prairie View, 12/2 vs. Arizona State, 12/15 vs. Bethune-Cookman
Last Week: --
San Diego State Aztecs (5-0)Would you have rather seen the Aztecs in Kansas City for the CBE Classic than the team they beat on the road, Gonzaga? SDSU probably would have been more competitive with Kansas State than the Zags were in Monday's semifinals, given that the oversized quartet of Kawhi Leonard (6-7), Billy White (6-8), Malcolm Thomas (6-9) and Brian Carlwell (6-11) would've been able to battle with the Wildcats' powerful front line. The Aztecs were a late entry into the event, though -- coach Steve Fisher said he had initially planned to participate in a tournament in Las Vegas that was canceled in June, leaving them scrambling to find an exempt event. The CBE came calling with the option to play in Spokane, but not Kansas City -- "They felt we would add some sizzle to it," Fisher said -- and he accepted. Had he passed, and the Gonzaga upset never happened, the Aztecs' national profile would be much lower right now, and much fewer people would know about White, who exploded for 30 points and nine rebounds (seven offensive) in that game.
Next Three: 11/26 vs. San Diego Christian, 12/1 vs. St. Mary's, 12/4 vs. Wichita State
Last Week: 10
Brigham Young Cougars (4-0)There's no team I feel sorrier for than the Cougars' most recent opponent, Mississippi Valley State. The Delta Devils don't play their first home game until Jan. 8. They're in the midst of a 13-game road trip that's taken them to Georgia, Indiana, St. Mary's, BYU, and then this weekend -- rather than going home for Thanksgiving -- to the South Padre Island (Texas) Invitational. After a reprieve for finals, they hit the road again to face Butler, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Kentucky and Marquette in one 11-day span. The figure Mississippi Valley State cares about isn't their margin of defeat to BYU (50 points) or how many they held Jimmer Fredette to (16 points), but rather $700,000 -- that's how much money the Devils are earning in appearance fees by playing this hellacious/ridiculous schedule. Their coach, Sean Woods, told The Dagger earlier this year that the road games were financially necessary, saying, "I know what we need to survive as a program."
Next Three: 11/26 vs. South Florida (in South Padre Island, Texas), 11/27 vs. St. Mary's/Texas Tech (in South Padre Island), 12/2 at Creighton
Last Week: 3
Kansas State Wildcats (4-1)SI's preview issue featured a collaboration between myself and DC Comics, with two-page strips on Villanova's Corey Fisher, BYU's Jimmer Fredette and K-State's Jacob Pullen. Pullen's spread was the lone "superhero" comic, done by artist Drew Johnson, who's worked on Wonder Woman and The Authority. The main frame was intended as a reference to the cover of the first Incredible Hulk (at right). Pullen's offseason quote about his beard -- "as the games get tougher, it'll get tougher" -- reminded me Dr. Banner's line, "the madder Hulk gets, the stronger he gets."
Apparently Pullen couldn't muster the adrenaline needed to trigger his Beardman transformation inside the Sprint Center, because he was very unheroic against Duke's Kyrie Irving, shooting 1-of-12 from the field with four turnovers against one assist. I have a feeling, though, that this is the least-Beardmanlike performance Pullen will deliver all season.
Next Three: 11/26 vs. Texas Southern, 11/29 vs. Emporia State, 12/3 at Washington State
Last Week: 16
Purdue Boilermakers (4-0)The big early-season storyline was about the Boilers losing a player -- Robbie Hummel, heard of him? -- but after four games, they're proving to have a solid amount of depth. Coach Matt Painter has been using an 11-man rotation, and getting quality production from his bench. On Sunday against Oakland, he started his "big/veteran" lineup of Lewis Jackson, E'Twaun Moore, Ryne Smith, Patrick Bade and JaJuan Johnson -- and proceeded to get 37.8 percent of the team's scoring from reserves D.J. Byrd (six points), Kelsey Barlow (four), Terone Johnson (10) and John Hart (11). On Tuesday against Austin Peay, Painter swapped Byrd and Johnson into the starting five, and then received 35.6 percent of the team's offense from reserves Smith (11 points), Hart (five), Barlow (nine), Bade (three) and Bubba Day (three). At Purdue, if you're not named JaJuan or E'Twaun, it seems that your scoring odds increase when you come off the bench.
Next Three: 11/26 vs. Southern Illinois (in Hoffman Estates, Ill.), 11/27 vs. Richmond/Wright State (in Hoffman Estates, Ill.), 12/1 at Virginia Tech
Last Week: 31
Texas Longhorns (4-1)In an attempt to put Jordan Hamilton's "takeover" of Texas' offense in perspective, I looked up the profiles of the Longhorns' go-to-guys from the past five seasons, and found something surprising: Hamilton's usage-and-efficiency numbers thus far are not only surpassing those of Damion James of D.J. Augustin, they're better than Kevin Durant's. Kevin Durant! The chart don't lie:
Season Go-To Guy Poss% ORating
It should be noted that Durant put up a 116.5 Offensive Rating through an entire season of high usage, and Hamilton has only played five games at this level ... but still, there's reason to be impressed.
Next Three: 11/27 vs. Rice, 12/1 vs. Lamar, 12/5 at USC
Last Week: 18
Temple Owls (2-0)The Owls are giving up their Thanksgiving to play in an extended commercial for Old Spice, which begins with an opening-round matchup against Cal in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. I was initially intrigued by this tournament because of its big-man matchups, particularly the chance for Temple's Lavoy Allen to improve his NBA stock by battling against Georgia's Trey Thompkins in the second round. But as Thompkins remains doubtful for the Deodorant Cup due to a high-ankle sprain, a new challenger for Allen has emerged: Cal's Harper Kamp, who sat out all of last season recovering from knee surgery. The 6-foot-8 junior has averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds through two games, emerging as one of the Pac-10's biggest early surprises. Will he key an upset and ruin my dream of a Temple-Wisconsin defensive grudge match in the Old Spice final?
Next Three: 11/25 vs. Cal, 11/26 vs. Georgia/Notre Dame, 11/28 vs. TBD (all in Old Spice Classic, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.)
Dropped Out: Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Butler, Michigan State, Syracuse.
The Next 16: 17. Michigan State (in purgatory for the Chaminade scare and UConn loss back-to-back). 18. Syracuse. 19. Florida. 20. UNLV. 21. Memphis. 22. Missouri. 23. West Virginia. 24. Wisconsin. 25. Washington. 26. Old Dominion. 27. Tennessee. 28. Louisville. 29. Butler. 30. Illinois. 31. Arizona. 32. Vanderbilt.
(If you'd like to send the Power Rankings a note, I'm here.)