Thursday December 23rd, 2010

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 1
This has been the Year of K: The Blue Devils' coach and overlord of the U.S. men's national team won an NCAA championship and a FIBA world championship, tied (and will soon pass) Dean Smith on the all-time wins list and currently has the top-ranked squad in college basketball (as well as a hit satellite radio show). He had to get some amusement this month from reading about some of his prominent NCAA peers taking (or considering) lesser Olympic gigs to challenge him in 2012: Rick Pitino agreeing to coach an American commonwealth and rumors surfacing about John Calipari taking over the Dominican Republic team. (I always thought Calipari's destiny was to make like Del Harris and run the Chinese national team, given that exchange program Cal developed at Memphis back in 2007.)

It was pointed out (quite convincingly, by Jeff Goodman) that Pitino-to-Puerto Rico was motivated by recruiting; during Olympic qualifying this next offseason, he'd get access to Puerto Rican players including Ricky Ledo, the top-ranked shooting guard in the entire class of 2012. Calipari could get a similar "in" with Dominican players, although he already employs the most prominent assistant coach of Dominican descent, Orlando Antigua.

Hypothetically, if a coach were to target taking over a foreign program to help his recruiting, the best option would be the Canadian junior and cadet squads. The Canadian entry in this past summer's FIBA Americas Under-18 tourney featured then-uncommitted, elite post prospects Kyle Wiltjer and Khem Birch as well as five-star point guard Myck Kabongo, who was wavering on his pledge to Texas. Wiltjer later chose Kentucky, Birch picked Pitt and Kabongo stuck with Texas, but a college coach who landed all three of them together for 2011 would've had a Final Four-caliber nucleus. That probably wouldn't have been enough to impress Coach K, though: Duke commitment Austin Rivers -- the best all-around guard in the Class of 2011 -- scored 35 points in a rout of the Canadians in that FIBA tournament.

(For a sense of how good Rivers is going to be for the Blue Devils next year, I advise you watch this YouTube from a recent City of Palms Classic game.)

Next Three: 12/29 at UNC-Greensboro, 1/2 vs. Miami, 1/5 vs. UAB
2Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 2
As impressive as Josh Selby was in his debut for the Jayhawks (hitting a game-winner against USC on Dec. 18), he was better in the first half against Cal on Wednesday, scoring 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and going 3-of-3 from long range. He finished with 18 points and, despite being billed as more of a slasher, has established himself thus far as a guy who'll take as many three-point attempts (12) as twos (12). This is what his shot charts looked like against USC and Cal (key: filled-in circles are makes or converted FTs; JS means jump shot, DF means drew foul, FL means floater, LU means layup, lines with arrows are dribble drives):

One thing I noticed from watching tape: Selby has an excellent sense of how to react off teammates' drives, move without the ball and position himself for open threes. Most of his early scoring opportunities are developing that way. One would imagine, though, that coach Bill Self would like Selby to be more efficient driving to the rim. Selby didn't start attacking the basket with any frequency until the second half against Cal -- and that was somewhat of a disaster, with him missing four of the five shots he took in the lane.

Next Three: 12/29 vs. Texas-Arlington, 1/2 vs. Miami (Ohio), 1/5 vs. UMKC
3Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 3
Thoughts from an opposing (anonymous) assistant who scouted the Buckeyes this season:

"The biggest thing about them is that they know who they are -- everyone in their rotation has bought into his role and is so efficient at it. They aren't going to beat themselves. ... Their focus is getting the ball inside and playing off of [Jared] Sullinger, and all their guys are committed to it. He does a great job of getting position down low, but he doesn't finish over guys all that well. We wanted our guys to get their hands up and stay tall when he caught it, but -- as you know -- that doesn't always mean you're going to stop him. ... For them to finally lose, I think it would be to a team with some physical guys inside who can bang with Sullinger for 40 minutes and try to wear him down. Or a team that can pressure them for 40 minutes, because they're really only played seven guys right now, although those are all special guys. ... They create a lot of turnovers but they don't really pressure you -- their perimeter guys are just so long that they take up a lot of space and get their hands on a lot of passes."

Next Three: 12/23 vs. Oakland, 12/27 vs. Tennessee-Martin, 12/31 at Indiana
4Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: 4
The annual Early Warnings column dropped this week, with the Huskies as the most prominent team on the red-flag list. As good as they've been thus far -- undefeated with quality wins over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky -- they haven't played elite-level defense, ranking 65th nationally in efficiency through nine games. To play Devil's Advocate against myself, there are some positive things about UConn's D: Led by Alex Oriakhi, they've controlled the interior, ranking second nationally in two-point field-goal defense (at 36.4 percent). They also rank third nationally in defensive free throw rate (22.7 percent). And they've added size to their front line with the addition of German 7-footer Enosch Wolf, who debuted against Coppin State on Dec. 20. Their problem has been guarding on the perimeter, as they've been allowing opponents to shoot 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks 301st nationally. If UConn's guards can start putting more pressure on opposing shooters, the Huskies may be able to contend in the Big East.

Next Three: 12/27 at Pitt, 12/31 vs. South Florida, 1/4 at Notre Dame
5Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 9
Thoughts from an opposing (anonymous) assistant who scouted the Orange this season:

"Their zone will be better when Fab Melo is healthy. He has the tools to be a decent player -- I've seen him play well in the summer -- and the best Syracuse teams have had a 7-footer like that in the middle of the 2-3. But right now, you can tell Melo's hurt, and he's not very good. ... [Rick] Jackson has completely changed his body. He's in great shape now, and he chases everything on the backboard and around the basket. He's just relentless. His motor has improved. ... They haven't been shooting it well from distance, but Brandon Triche is a better shooter than his numbers have indicated -- he could be a high 30s, low 40s guy, and that will really help them. James Southerland is a guy who can make shots, and Dion Waiters can too; those secondary guys need to start making threes in order to take pressure off the post. If they don't, teams in the Big East will just sit in zones against them all day and make it harder for Jackson to score."

Next Three: 12/28 vs. Providence, 1/1 vs. Notre Dame, 1/8 at Seton Hall
6San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 6
Thoughts from an opposing (anonymous) assistant who scouted the Aztecs this season:

"[Kawhi] Leonard is so versatile and a really tough matchup; he can shoot the three, but we felt that his strength was around the rim and pulling up for shorter jumpers. They like to have him do a lot of attacking from the high post. ... Billy White is more of a finesse guy who's really skilled, and will find ways to get his shot off. He's content to face up with you from 15-17 feet. The rap on him is that he's inconsistent. If he's engaged in the game, he's really good; if not, he can kind of just fade out. ... [Malcolm] Thomas plays above the rim and does most of his work right around the basket. If you can push him out to 10 feet he's not nearly as effective. ... They're way better on the ball defensively this year -- they just got way more aggressive -- and they have so much length and athleticism in the post to change your shots if you do get inside."

A different topic, not from our anonymous scout: Did anyone take note of where SDSU's last two games -- wins over USF and IUPUI -- were played in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic? At none other than the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center, which the Union-Tribune described as having fuzzy lighting, cowboy billboards, buzzing flies, trailers for locker rooms, Port-a-Pottys for player bathrooms and a shooting backdrop that said "Ride like a champion today." Thomas, in particular, was bothered by some venue-specific, junk defenses:

Malcolm Thomas

Next Three: 12/31 vs. Occidental, 1/5 at TCU, 1/8 at Utah
7Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: 7
Resident bracketologist Andy Glockner released his first field-of-68 projections on Monday, with the Hoyas as a No. 2 seed in the Southwest. It's December, so this may be far too early to speculate, but if Georgetown is in the running for the fourth No. 1 seed (after Duke, Kansas and Ohio State) in March, I suspect the selection committee will be kinder to the Hoyas than other Big East teams. The reason: Georgetown is the rare powerhouse that took the NCAA's tough-scheduling recommendations to heart, playing true road games (at Old Dominion, Temple and Memphis) and strong opponents at home (Utah State) and semi-neutral sites (Missouri in Kansas City). Fellow Big East contenders Syracuse and Pitt have solid nonconference slates, but neither was willing to play a true road game outside the league, and Villanova wasn't willing to play a road game outside the Big Five.

Next Three: 12/23 at Memphis, 12/29 at Notre Dame, 1/1 vs. DePaul
8Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 8
Commentator Jimmy Dykes called Brad Wanamaker a "CEO" during every ESPN2 highlight break on Wednesday night, and that's a decent assessment of what Wanamaker does: run the Panthers. But I wonder, how many CEOs have a track record of improvement as impressive as Wanamaker's? He's in no need of a bailout, as his stats in nearly every important category have been trending upward since his freshman year:

Yr. Mins/G Pts/G ORating A/T Ratio Steal%
Fr. 11.0 2.2 81.2 +1.5 2.1
So. 19.1 5.8 104.7 +1.3 2.4
Jr. 32.5 12.3 106.6 +1.7 2.3
Sr. 27.3 12.9 123.3 +2.5 3.9

Next Three: 12/18 vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore, 12/22 vs. American, 12/27 vs. UConn

9Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 26
Tristan Thompson, the star of Wednesday's road win over Michigan State, is the No. 1 player in the Big 12 at getting to the free throw line, posting a free-throw rate of 88.7 percent -- a ratio of 87 free-throw attempts to 98 field-goal attempts. If he could make free throws at a reasonable rate, and not the 48.3 percent he's currently shooting, he'd be considered one of the country's best all-around freshmen. His ability to draw fouls puts him in some select company nationally, as these are the top 10 ratios of FTA/FGA by forwards/centers (min. eight games played) according to

Rk. Player Team FTA/FGA1 Arsalan Kazemi Rice 111.6
2 Wes Witherspoon Memphis 110.2
3 Trevor Mbakwe Minnesota 100.0
4 Peter Sullivan Brown 96.2
5 DeAntre Jefferson Chattanooga 95.0
6 Travis Franklin Colorado St. 94.9
7 Festus Ezeli Vanderbilt 94.8
8 Derrick Williams Arizona 93.2
9 Julyan Stone UTEP 89.1
10 Tristan Thompson Texas 88.8

Next Three: 12/31 vs. Coppin State, 1/4 vs. Arkansas, 1/8 vs. UConn

10Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 13
Thoughts from an opposing (anonymous) assistant who scouted the Tigers this season:

"Their interior passing, from big-to-big between Laurence Bowers and [Ricardo] Ratliffe, is really good. They'll take Bowers -- who I think is their most important player -- and flash him up to the high post, and he can shoot the jumper from there, or look for a high-low action between him and Ratliffe. The guards will also try to reverse the ball and set up a situation where [Marcus] Denmon -- their best three-point shooter -- and Ratliffe are on the same side of the floor, because you can't help off of Denmon. Then you get stuck having to try to front Ratliffe to keep him from getting it one-on-one in the post, where he's good at finding little angles to get his shot off. ... To use a football analogy, when you watch tape of their press, it's almost like there are five defensive backs running around. Sometimes you can break it and score early, but it's almost like fool's good, because they're going to keep on pressing, and break you down, and turn you over."

Next Three: 12/27 vs. Northern Illinois, 12/30 vs. Old Dominion, 1/5 vs. North Alabama
11Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 14
Thoughts from an opposing (anonymous) assistant who scouted the Wildcats this season:

"They're best off playing their four-guard lineup, with [Maalik] Wayns, [Corey] Fisher, [Corey] Stokes and [Dominic] Cheek. I just don't think they're as good when they use the two big men, [Antonio] Pena and [Mouphtaou] Yarou, together, because it doesn't give their guards as much freedom to operate. It just kind of clogs up the middle. ... Fisher and Wayns aren't shooting well on threes; they're attack guards, so you want to force them to shoot jumpers, and you want to do the opposite with Stokes and Cheek. ... Their guards are some of the strongest, bulked-up kids I've encountered; their strength guy must do a spectacular job. Even Wayns looks jacked this year. ... When their guards get in the lane, they're either going to score or get to the line, so the best thing you can do is try to build a wall when you're defending their ball-screens. Make sure they're seeing two guys when they come off the screen, and try to angle them toward the sideline rather than let them get to the paint."

Next Three: 12/30 vs. Temple, 1/2 vs. Rutgers, 1/6 at South Florida
12Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: 17
Three interesting things about the Ags, who have the quality wins (over Temple and Washington) to deserve a spot in the Power Rankings and are emerging as a legit Big 12 dark horse:

• For the first time in Mark Turgeon's tenure there, they've become a dominant rebounding team on both ends of the floor. A&M ranks fourth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (43.1) and 19th in defensive rebounding percentage (73.0) thanks to a group effort from forwards David Loubeau, Nathan Walkup, Kourtney Roberson and Ray Turner.

• Khris Middleton was a bit player as a freshman, using only 19.0 percent of the team's possessions, but he's blossomed into one of the better high-usage (27.8 percent), high-efficiency (116.3 offensive rating) players in the country as a sophomore. That's something that rookie role players rarely do.

• The Ags' offense is held back, though, by giving Dash Harris 26-plus minutes per game in the backcourt. He's one of the lowest-efficiency guards on any major-conference team, shooting just 22.8 percent from the field with a turnover rate of 33.7 percent.

Next Three: 12/31 vs. McNeese State, 1/3 vs. Nicholls State
13Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: 19
It was recently pointed out to me on Twitter that the Boilermakers' offense has shown little drop-off from last season to this date, when Robbie Hummel was still in the fold, and Purdue blog Hammer and Rails posted an enlightening examination of how, exactly, the team has made up for the loss of its most efficient player. (The answer, dumbed down: Stars JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have both stepped up their games, and the improvements of role players D.J. Byrd, Ryne Smith and John Hart have covered the rest of the gap.)

Stacking up the offensive Four Factors of the 2009-10s against the 2010-11s, there aren't many big changes:

Season Eff EFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA
09-10 108.3 49.1 16.3 29.6 38.6
10-11 109.5 51.1 17.3 34.6 34.5

The only difference, really, is that the Boilers have stepped up their offensive rebounding to compensate for the drop in free-throw rate that occurred after losing Hummel (who had a 41.2 rate last season) and Chris Kramer (whose rate was 51.0).

Next Three: 12/28 at Michigan, 12/31 vs. Northwestern, 1/5 at Penn State

14Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 16
It seems that any conversation about the Wildcats this year is as likely to involve a player not suiting up as it is one on the court ... and that's the case again this week, with Enes Kanter's father telling the Sporting News that he "guarantees" Enes will play for UK in 2011-12 -- rather than entering the NBA Draft -- if the NCAA hands down a one-year suspension and not a lifetime ban. A ruling from the NCAA could come as early as today, if rumors out of Lexington are to be believed. While we wait for that to happen, we may as well discuss an intriguing NCAA loophole that only tangentially involves Kentucky.

The University of New Orleans' hoops team, whose plight I wrote about in August, can accept transfers and have them play immediately -- without passing the NCAA clearinghouse -- due to the fact that the school is in a transition process from D-I to D-III. In the offseason, this meant that coach Joe Pasternack could lure in lower-profile transfers, such as ex-LSU forward Zach Kinsley, but as the first semester of 2010-11 came to a close, UNO landed two (formerly) huge prospects. The first was Luke Cothron, who failed to gain admission at Auburn and UMass, and was the No. 45 overall player in Rivals' Class of 2010 rankings. He appeared in one game for UNO, against Tulane, but has temporarily disappeared from its roster. The second is K.C. Ross-Miller, a former Kentucky commitment and LSU signee who couldn't get eligible in Baton Rouge. He was the No. 147 player in Rivals' 2010 rankings, and played six minutes in a win over Huntingdon on Wednesday. UNO doesn't have any games left against D-I opponents, but it now has multiple D-I transfer prospects who can be eligible right away in '11-12.

Next Three: 12/28 vs. Coppin State, 12/31 at Louisville, 1/3 vs. Penn
15UCF Knights
Last Week: 28
I put the Golden Knights here in part because they've earned it -- they're undefeated with neutral-court wins over Florida and Miami -- and in part because it was high time for some Keith Clanton Appreciation. Marcus Jordan has been getting most of the UCF attention due to his pedigree and the fact that he takes the most shots (29.0 percent), but Clanton is the team's clear MVP and has emerged as an All-America candidate. His numbers stack up favorably against a who's-who list of low-post stars:

Player, Team ORating %Poss OR% DR% Block%
Keith Clanton, UCF 122.1 26.7 11.2 23.6 5.7
Jared Sullinger, OSU 126.8 27.7 13.9 26.8 2.0
Markieff Morris, KU 115.7 25.9 12.5 30.5 4.8
JaJuan Johnson, Purdue 113.6 26.3 8.5 16.4 7.1
Jon Leuer, Wisconsin 128.6 28.0 6.9 22.1 6.6

Next Three: 12/29 vs. Furman, 1/5 vs. Marshall, 1/8 at Houston

16Brigham Young Cougars
Last Week: 10
The Cougars lost to UCLA last weekend, giving the Bruins their first quality regular-season win outside the Pac-10 since Dec. 8, 2007, when they beat Davidson in the Wooden Classic. (Check UCLA's old schedules -- it really has been that long.) But BYU did gain something from the Bruins: one of their backup point guards, freshman Matt Carlino, who decided to leave the school after the first semester. The Cougars will be losing their starting backcourt of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery -- both of whom are seniors -- after this season, and point guard Michael Loyd Jr. left the program this offseason. That means Carlino, a former three-star recruit, will have a chance to see immediate playing time in 2011-12.

Next Three: 12/23 vs. UTEP, 12/30 at Buffalo, 1/1 vs. Fresno Pacific

Checked In: Texas A&M, Purdue, Texas, Central Florida

Dropped Out: Tennessee, Kansas State, Illinois, Baylor

The Next 19: 17) Baylor, 18) Louisville, 19) Wisconsin, 20) Notre Dame, 21) Minnesota, 22) Washington State, 23) Temple, 24) Vanderbilt, 25) Illinois, 26) Washington, 27) UNLV, 28) Memphis, 29) USC, 30) Old Dominion, 31) Boston College, 32) North Carolina, 33) Temple, 34) Kansas State, 35) Tennessee

(The Power Rankings will return on Jan. 6. If you'd like to send an e-mail -- but preferably not about the order of the teams, because that's a dull topic -- I'm here.)

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