Last Week: 8
|Tough decision this week: Put the Blue Devils in the top spot, or keep Indiana, since it has yet to lose? It came down to the fact that Duke has assembled a November resume for the ages, beating three potential No. 1 seeds (Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State) and two other potentially dangerous tourney teams (VCU and Minnesota). That gives the Blue Devils the third-toughest NCSOS rating in the country, according to kenpom.com's Pythagorean formula. Only Mississippi Valley State (0-4) and Southeastern Louisiana (1-4) -- two teams shamelessly cashing guarantee-game checks -- have played tougher schedules than Duke's. |
This NCSOS-strength chart should help justify my new No. 1:
Next three: 12/1 vs. Delaware, 12/8 vs. Temple (East Rutherford, N.J.), 12/19 vs. Cornell
Last Week: 1
|The transition exhibition Cody Zeller staged against North Carolina on Tuesday inspired me to debut a new feature: the GaZeller Watch. It's a Power Rankings-original stat that combines Synergy possession-logging with playing-time data to assess how many points per 40 minutes the nation's elite centers* score in transition. |
Zeller is the runaway leader. Against the Tar Heels, he had 15 offensive possessions, and five of them were in transition, generating 10 points -- a very high degree of efficiency. Had Zeller been healthy the previous week against Georgia and Georgetown, and thus running like he did against Carolina, I imagine the gap between him and the rest of this crew would be even larger.
(*By elite centers, I mean guys 6-foot-11 or taller who are legit first-round NBA prospects. There are 11 such players on major-conference teams, and they're all in the chart.)
Next three: 12/1 vs. Coppin State, 12/8 vs. Central Connecticut, 12/15 vs. Butler (neutral court)
Last Week: 4
|Trey Burke gave this pick-and-roll-related quote to ESPN after the Wolverines beat N.C. State: |
"Last year, the offense would be stagnant and you guys would be used to seeing a pick-and-roll to a three or a pick-and-roll to the basket. Guys like Nik [Stauskas] and Glenn [Robinson III] that can catch alley-oops and on the perimeter can hit threes, it's a different kind of feel this year."
In 2011-12, Michigan relied heavily on Burke creating pick-and-roll offense -- mostly his own offense, since there were far fewer auxiliary scorers than he has now. These are the Wolverines' three most telling P&R stats:
1. Overall, their percentage of P&R possessions has dropped from 18.0 to 14.5, according to Synergy.
2. P&Rs still make up a big portion of Burke's game, but when he does them, he's passing 55.6 percent of the time, as compared to 44.9 last year. His pass/shoot ratio out of P&Rs is the opposite of what it was in '11-12.
3. His derived offense from all P&R possessions is 1.127 PPP -- way up from 0.978 PPP last season. He has to force fewer shots, and he has better passing options on the perimeter.
Next three: 12/1 at Bradley, 12/4 vs. Western Michigan, 12/8 vs. Arkansas
Last Week: 3
|Tuesday's column looked at James Michael McAdoo's massive role change in North Carolina's offense, from bit player as a freshman to go-to-guy as a sophomore. Gators junior power forward Patric Young grew into a featured role more gradually. |
First, what held him back was a glut of big men. As a freshman backup, his usage rate was just 11.3 percent (the average is 20), because he always shared the floor with at least one other higher-profile forward -- Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus or Chandler Parsons.
Then came a trio of shot-happy guards. As a sophomore starter, Young's usage rate was 19.9 -- right about average -- while Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Brad Beal dominated the ball on the perimeter.
Finally, there was an opening: As a junior, Young's usage rate is a team-high 25.0, in part because there's only one volume shooter on the perimeter (Boynton) and the Gators' other starting post player (Erik Murphy) relies heavily on pick-and-pops to get his looks.
Next three: 12/5 at Florida State, 12/15 at Arizona, 12/19 vs. Southeastern Louisiana
Last Week: 2
|How severely will Gorgui Dieng's injury -- he's out at least four weeks with a broken left wrist -- impact the Cardinals' defense? He was the 6-11 anchor of their 2-3 zone, and the back-line-center position he played tends to engage in an outsized portion of possessions. A study I did on Syracuse's 2-3 last season illustrated how its center, Fab Melo, impacted twice as many possessions as either of the Orange's back-line wings. Dieng, like Melo, is a skilled shot-blocker, and Louisville lacks a backup with a decent swat rate, which means its guards may have to take fewer gambles on the perimeter in his absence. They're far less likely to get bailed out by a block in a Dieng-less zone. |
Where the Cardinals should survive is on the boards. They still have sophomore Chane Behanan, their best rebounder; his DR/OR percentage splits (16.1/22.2) are better than Dieng's on both ends. Freshman backup Montrezl Harrell is a capable rebounder, too, and sophomore Wayne Blackshear has already been extra-helpful on the defensive glass (a DR% of 18.9). They'll need him to chip in even more until Dieng heals.
Next three: 12/1 vs. Illinois State, 12/4 at Charleston, 12/8 vs. UMKC
Last Week: 5
|Buckeyes forward Deshaun Thomas has made a three-year conversion from novelty-chucker to National Player of the Year candidate. This year's POY race is so wide-open that Thomas has a legitimate shot due to his incredibly good high-usage, high-efficiency profile -- a 136.6 ORating with a 27.5-percent usage rate. How wild would it be if he, and not current Boston Celtic Jared Sullinger, were the member of the Buckeyes' 2010 recruiting class to win a Naismith/Wooden Award? |
My current POY top five has Thomas at No. 3:
1. Mason Plumlee, Duke
2. Trey Burke, Michigan
3. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
4. Cody Zeller, Indiana
5. Elias Harris, Gonzaga
(If anyone here slips, South Dakota State's Nate Wolters will jump in, sparking outrage amongst the leaders of the Flat Earth Society.)
Next three: 12/1 vs. Northern Kentucky, 12/8 vs. Long Beach State, 12/12 vs. Savannah State
Last Week: 10
|One of the reasons behind Elias Harris' senior-season surge into the POY discussion: He has rediscovered the ability to generate free-throw attempts, getting to the line 8.5 times per 40 minutes. Harris was decent at it as a freshman, but struggled to draw whistles in his previous two seasons. Here's the breakdown:|
Next three: 12/1 vs. Pacific, 12/5 at Washington State, 12/8 vs. Illinois
Last Week: 7
|The Orange seem to have a personnel dilemma in their 2-3 zone this season. By the eye test and the stats (a 13.0 block percentage), 6-9 sophomore Rakeem Christmas is Syracuse's best shot-swatter. Of his 10 blocks this season, seven have occurred while playing the "center" spot of the 2-3; that's where Fab Melo recorded all his blocks last season, and it's the primary blocking position in the Orange's defense. |
The issue is that 6-9 freshman DaJuan Coleman and 6-10 junior Baye Keita are likely to play about 30 minutes combined -- and the only spot they can play is the center, because they're not athletic enough to range out and challenge threes on the wing. Christmas has enough athleticism to play either spot, so he starts as a back-line wing, even though he's the best option in the middle. I have to imagine that although Coleman starts and Keita spells him, the 'Cuse will keep those two on the bench in crunch time and opt for a back line of Christmas at center and James Southerland and C.J. Fair on the wings.
Next three: 11/30 at Arkansas, 12/3 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/6 vs. Long Beach State
Last Week: 13
|The ability to block shots without fouling is quite valuable, and no one has been better at it this season than KU 7-footer Jeff Withey. TeamRankings.com helpfully keeps blocks-per-foul stats, and last season, Withey ranked sixth in the nation: |
The Jayhawks' center is swatting shots at such a crazy (and unsustainable) pace this season that he's second in the country in block percentage (at 23.02) and by far first in blocks-per-foul:
Next three: 11/30 vs. Oregon State (in Kansas City), 12/8 vs. Colorado, 12/15 vs. Belmont
Last Week: 12
|The 20-20 club -- whose members post rebounding percentages of at least 20 percent on the offensive and defensive glass -- may be the most exclusive club in college basketball. In the previous five seasons, only four players (with a minimum of 40 percent minutes played) have pulled it off: |
2011-12:Alan Williams, UC-Santa Barbara (OR%: 22.5 / DR%: 20.7)
Brian Zoubek, Duke (21.4 / 24.8)
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh: (23.6 / 27.8)
Kenneth Faried, Morehead State (20.2 / 31.0)*
And as we near the end of November, just two players are above the 20-20 line this season:
Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (22.3 / 22.3)
Charles Mitchell, Maryland (20.3 / 24.0)
While Mitchell is a backup who barely makes the playing-tie cut, Cooley is rebounding at those rates as a 29.0-minute-per-game starter. If he keeps it up, he should get serious All-America consideration. In the meantime, he's getting makeout sessions amid post-Kentucky court-stormings:
(* Faried also came within a tenth of a percent of doing it in 2010-11.)
Next three: 12/8 vs. Brown, 12/15 vs. Purdue (in Indianapolis), 12/17 vs. IPFW
Last Week: NA
|RealGM's Dan Hanner conducted a must-read study on how certain coaches tend to excel in certain segments of the season. Hanner created three periods (November/December, January/February and March/April) and identified some revealing splits in coaches' Pythagorean winning percentages over those periods. Coach K, for example, owns November, whereas Roy Williams and John Calipari are at their best in March. Georgetown's John Thompson III tends to have his strongest teams from Nov.-Feb., then drop off precipitously in March. Using Hanner's data, I charted Thompson III's splits along with the four other Big East coaches in the Power Rankings: |
Next three: 11/30 vs. Tennessee, 12/4 vs. Texas (NYC), 12/8 vs. Towson
Last Week: NA
|The key to the Cowboys' revival isn't just that freshman point guard Marcus Smart is now running their offense. They've also figured out how to defend on the interior, holding opponents to just 36.3 percent on two-point attempts this season -- the sixth-lowest percentage in the nation. Last season their D allowed 47.9 percent shooting from inside the arc, which ranked 173rd. Smart, at just 6-4, has proven to be a stellar all-around defender; he's tied for the team lead in blocks (seven) and alone in the lead in steals (12). |
Next three: 12/1 at Virginia Tech, 12/5 vs. South Florida, 12/8 vs. Missouri State
Last Week: NA
|Gophers sophomore point guard Andre Hollins is living up to my breakout pick, and although most of the attention on him has been for scoring -- particularly his 41-point explosion in a Nov. 23 win over Memphis -- his biggest progress has been in the assist department. After posting a 0.8 assist/turnover ratio as a freshman, he's gone well into the black this year, and his assist percentage (the amount of teammates' field goals he assists) has nearly doubled to a respectable 30 percent. Here's the breakdown: |
Next three: 12/1 vs. North Florida, 12/4 vs. South Dakota State, 12/8 at USC
Last Week: NA
|Are the Bearcats speeding up, or is this just a November anomaly?|
Last season, just seven of their 37 games reached at least 70 possessions in regulation. This season, they've played at least 70 possessions in every game. Part of it is due to scheduling fast-paced teams, but they're also running more with their guard-dominated offense, and their adjusted tempo (68.3 poss./game, ranking 106th) is still significantly higher than it was in 2011-12 (64.0, ranking 273rd).
Mick Cronin used to push the pace in his days at Murray State -- his 2004 NCAA tournament team had an adjusted tempo of 69.8 -- but he's been in grinder mode for the past eight seasons. This could be the year he finally lets the Bearcats loose.
Next three: 12/1 vs. Alabama, 12/6 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, 12/8 vs. Maryland Eastern Shore
Last Week: NA
|My leaders in the national POY race are in the Ohio State blurb; here, I present my student-section sign of the year (SSSOY) rankings: |
1. This kid's Breaking Bad sign:
2. Everyone else's signs
Hugh-senberg is Aussie sophomore guard Hugh Greenwood, who in real life looks far more like Teen Wolf than he does Walter White. But Hugh plays in Albuquerque, now, and the Heisenberg-riff sign, which briefly flashed on TV during the Lobos' season-opening win against Davidson, was phenomenal. Now we need a sign for New Mexico's two best guards, Kendall Williams and Tony Snell, who have keyed their 7-0 start. Los Lobos Hermanos, anyone?
(Photo credit: TheLoboLair.com.)
Next three: 12/1 at Indiana State, 12/5 vs. USC, 12/8 vs. Valparaiso
Last Week: NA
|Pretty amazing, under-the-radar feat being pulled off by Gregg Marshall: After losing the top five guys in his rotation from last season's Missouri Valley regular-season championship team, the Shockers are 7-0, including a win at VCU, and they're essentially even with Creighton in kenpom.com's efficiency rankings. (The Shockers are No. 34, Bluejays are 32.)|
The biggest reason why has been 6-8 juco transfer Cleanthony Early, whom Marshall -- back in November 2011 -- called "the most complete offensive player I have recruited in my tenure at Wichita State". Early has backed that up by posting a nearly identical usage/efficiency profile to the Valley's most famous player, Creighton's Doug McDermott, albeit in fewer minutes:
Next three: 12/2 at Air Force, 12/8 vs. Northern Colorado, 12/13 at Tennessee