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Battle-tested Orange crash top three, while KU holds No. 1 spot

Doing Power Rankings in a dead week gives us time to contemplate things, such as: Even five years ago, could coaches have imagined that a troubled, elite freshman would use a 10-minute YouTube -- complete with music and slow-strolling scenes! -- to announce, "I gotta leave college basketball because I'm just ridding people of the burden." That came from Minnesota's Royce White today, and news of it is just starting to spread. Had either of the star rookies from the 1-2 punch sitting atop these rankings done such a thing, it would've melted down the Internet.

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 1
One indication that it's been a slow hoops week: The most memorable thing I've seen on ESPN is the clip of Kermit the Frog promoting Saturday's environmentally friendly "Green Game" between Michigan and Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Disney bought the Muppets from Jim Henson in 1994, so it seems that ESPN, a Disney subsidiary, would have free reign to integrate other Muppets into its college basketball programming. The network should do this immediately. First plan of action: Seat Statler and Waldorf a couple of rows behind North Carolina's bench during an ACC game, mic them up, and see how long it takes before Roy Williams tries to have them ejected. Second plan: Replace ESPNU halftime shows with Sam The Eagle's Interventions, a series in which he sits down with various AAU operatives, agency runners, and coaches who've committed recruiting violations, and lectures them on how to fix their moral compass. Each segment will end with Sam saying, "Someone must work for integrity and decency. Someone must do this. And I shall continue to speak out, knowing that someday I will get my just deserts." This would be gold.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Michigan, 12/22 vs. Cal, 12/29 vs. Belmont
 
2Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 2
John Wall Mania is reaching such a fever pitch that if he proposed the idea of, say, holding a Christian Laettner Night at Rupp Arena, Big Blue Nation would at least consider it instead of instantly revolting. But is there John Wall Backlash elsewhere in the country? I received quite a few angry emails after calling him the game's biggest star (which I think he is) and the frontrunner in the national player of the year race (which I also think he is) after last week's win over UConn in New York. And there's been plenty of talk about whether the country's other great freshman, Kansas' Xavier Henry, might be having just as good of a season.

Wall and Henry, not surprisingly, were the most popular head-to-head statistical comparison by users of statsheet.com this week, and the numbers show Henry is more efficient (his offensive rating is 131.3 to Wall's 117.2) as well as a more accurate three-point shooter (hitting 53.3 percent to Wall's 36.8). An otherwise-glowing DraftExpress breakdown of Wall pointed out a few more flaws, including his high turnover rate, his low efficiency in half-court situations, and the fact that he chooses to drive to the left an alarming 71 percent of the time.

But I still think Wall has done more, because the onus is on him to create: He ranks fifth in the nation in assists per game (7.1) and generates the bulk of his offense on drives and in transition. Whereas, according to DraftExpress' Synergy data, 72 percent of Henry's offense has come on jump shots, and he's driven on his man in isolation situations just five times all season compared to Wall's 24. Bottom line: They're both great players, but Henry is having more of his scoring opportunities created for him than Wall is, and any comparisons should take that into consideration.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Austin Peay, 12/21 vs. Drexel, 12/23 vs. Long Beach State
 
3Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 7
Any reasonable NCAA tournament bracket projection (if it's reasonable to do bracket projections at this point) should have the Orange as a No. 1 seed. They're undefeated, they have three solid, neutral-court wins over teams that should contend for conference titles (Cal, North Carolina and Florida), and Bobby Knight really likes them. Those are good credentials. Wouldn't this be the year, then, that the Carrier Dome was being used as the site of the NCAA tournament's East Regional (meaning that Syracuse mandatorily must play in another region)? Assuming that Kansas has the St. Louis (Midwest) site on lockdown, and Texas has the inside track on Houston (South), that means the Orange could be shipped all the way to Salt Lake City after playing opening rounds in Buffalo. Their 2003 title run stayed in the Northeast (Boston and Albany) for the first two weekends before heading to New Orleans. No. 1-seed logistical issues are a good kind of problem, though; in October, all Syracuse fans had to complain about was being left out of the AP's first top 25.

Next three: 12/19 vs. St. Bonaventure, 12/22 vs. Oakland, 12/29 at Seton Hall
 
4Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 3
In this week's Hoops Q&A, Longhorns forward Dexter Pittman expounded on his love for Wal-Mart: "If I could live in Wal-Mart, I'd live there," he said. "Do you know that movie Where The Heart Is? It's the one where the lady has a baby in Wal-Mart, and stays in Wal-Mart. That's one of my favorite movies because of that scene." I later learned that parts of the Natalie Portman/Ashley Judd flick were filmed at a Wal-Mart in Lockhart, Texas, 30 miles south of Austin, but didn't get to ask Dex about it. Texas has bigger questions to answer this weekend, anyway, when North Carolina rolls into Arlington to give the 'Horns their first real test of the season. In most of their games they've been overwhelming opponents with their quality depth; coach Rick Barnes has given 41.7 percent of available minutes to subs. Those fresh waves of replacements have helped make Texas the nation's No. 1 team in defensive efficiency, but will that energy advantage be as apparent against a team like the Tar Heels, which has a deep bench of its own, and is intent on playing an up-tempo game?

Next three: 12/19 vs. North Carolina (in Arlington, Texas), 12/22 vs. Michigan State, 12/29 vs. Gardner-Webb
 
5Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: 5
The Boilermakers' rally from a 16-point deficit with 17 minutes to go at Alabama on Saturday might have been the comeback of the season, and it spoiled the Heisman after party at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. Any quality road win -- much less one in thrilling fashion -- is rare in the season's first two months. Herewith, a mini-Power Rankings of the eight most impressive true road wins thus far:

1. Wake Forest at Gonzaga, Dec. 5
2. Illinois at Clemson, Dec. 2
3. William & Mary at Wake Forest, Nov. 28
4. St. Mary's at Utah State, Dec. 5
5. Butler at Northwestern, Nov. 18
6. St. John's at Temple, Nov. 28
t7. Purdue at Alabama, Dec. 12
t7. Cornell at Alabama, Nov. 14

Why is Wake's win No. 1? Well, Gonzaga was ranked No. 17 at the time, and was 65-3 in its home building prior to that loss. The McCarthey Athletic Center is notoriously inhospitable to visitors.

Next three: 12/22 vs. SIU-Edwardsville, 12/29 at Iowa, 1/1 vs. West Virginia
 
6West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Week: 4
The Mountaineers are third in the Pomeroy Ratings, with the nation's 21st-ranked offense and fifth-ranked defense, despite having received next-to-no contributions from their biggest NBA prospect, Devin Ebanks. He's played in just three games, sitting out in November due to personal issues, and from Saturday's win over Coppin State due to a hand contusion. A different sophomore forward has been having a breakout season in Ebanks' absence: Kevin Jones had career highs in points (22) and rebounds (11) on Saturday, and he's been the unsung hero of West Virginia's young season. The Mountaineers rank 10th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, at 43.1, mostly because Jones is grabbing 4.6 offensive boards per game, the 10th-best average in the country. Offensive rebounding percentage is an overlooked stat, but it was no fluke that three of last year's Final Four teams (Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn) all finished ranked in the top 25 in that category.

Next three: 12/19 at Cleveland State, 12/23 vs. Ole Miss, 12/26 at Seton Hall
 
7Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: 12
Ex-Hoyas center Roy Hibbert recently gave an interview to the Washington Examiner in which he said that, despite being in his second season with the Indiana Pacers, he still has nightsweats about making the right moves in Georgetown coach John Thompson III's hybrid-Princeton offense. "I seriously wake up in cold sweats still remembering the plays," Hibbert said. Will current Hoyas big man Greg Monroe suffer the same fate when he's in the league? I think he might be willing to deal with bad dreams if he, like Hibbert, gets to play in a Final Four, be taken in the first round, and start for an NBA team by Year 2.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Old Dominion, 12/23 vs. Harvard, 12/31 vs. St. John's
 
8Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: 10
Now that Terrence Williams has moved on to the NBA, it's nice to see Vols senior Tyler Smith stepping up as the king of college point forwards. Smith, who's 6-foot-7 and technically starts at the four spot, leads the Vols in assists at 4.1 per game. He's also putting up a 4.1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio that's tops amongst SEC players; and although teammate J.P. Prince is a decent point forward in his own right, when Smith isn't on the floor, the Vols' flex offense doesn't have the same flow. (Louisville, meanwhile, has found life without T-Will to be rough, losing back-to-back home games to Charlotte and Western Carolina last week. And the only thing they've had to laugh about -- a photo from a T-Will autograph signing in which he allegedly added the inscription "John Wall sucks" -- was mysteriously scrubbed from the Web.)

Next three: 12/19 at USC, 12/31 at Memphis, 1/6 vs. Charlotte
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