Tennessee and UNLV vault into top eight, while Minnesota drops out
Last Week: 1
Duke Blue Devils (7-0)Big Wednesday night for the Blue Devils. We could talk about Kyrie Irving, who was spectacular against Michigan State, but Mr. Davis has that covered. Or talk about Duke going undefeated ... but that's a bit premature. So let's discuss a guy who played only seven minutes in the win over Sparty, but may be a factor in big games down the road: Seth Curry.
Curry was Duke's most mysterious weapon coming into this season, because there was no way for him to replicate the freshman-year role he had at Liberty before transferring. He was the Flames' centerpiece then, playing 88.3 percent of available minutes and taking 33.0 percent of their shots, the 30th-highest percentage in the country. He attempted a ton of threes -- 294, compared to 289 two-point attempts -- but was only an average long-range shooter (at 34.7 percent) due to all the defensive attention he received.
For the loaded Blue Devils, Curry has been repurposed as a one-dimensional role player, getting off the bench to play 45.3 percent of available minutes, and taking 20.0 percent of their shots during that time. He's 10-of-21 on threes, most of them against overstretched defenses, but just 3-of-19 from anywhere else on the floor. His three-point and free-throw accuracy (90.0 percent) and low turnover rate still make him one of the more efficient bench assets in the nation -- that is, other than his fellow reserve Andre Dawkins, who earns slightly more playing time and makes 53.1 percent of his treys. Duke's offensive depth is just unfair.
Next Three: 12/4 vs. Butler in East Rutherford, N.J., 12/8 vs. Bradley, 12/11 vs. St. Louis
Last Week: 2
Kansas Jayhawks (6-0)Headline in Thursday's Kansas City Star: "Self wants his post players to attack the rim more often." Bill Self's public admonishment of the Jayhawks' talented forwards was a reference to Saturday's 87-79 win over Arizona, in which Wildcats forward Derrick Williams put on an Attacking Big Man Clinic, scoring 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting. "What he did," Self told the Star, "which was so good -- and Marcus and Markieff [Morris] should be great at this -- he faced them off the block. And when he faced them, he didn't bail them out by shooting a 15-foot jumper. He either shot a three uncontested or he got to the paint. And he did a great job of driving and forcing our big guys, forcing contact."
I went to the tape to create a visual representation of how KU's posts (the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson) generated their offense vs. how Williams did, and the differences were stunning. (Key: makes are filled-in circles, misses are Xs, blocked shots are Bs, pre-shot drives are arrows)
The Morrises and Robinson settled for two mid-range jumpers apiece, and each player only had one short basket-attack drive. Meanwhile, Williams' only shots outside the lane were threes ... and he drove to the rim seven times, all from the right side. Arizona's signature play, it seems, is isolating Williams against opposing bigs on the right wing, and letting him go to work. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Next Three: 12/2 vs. UCLA, 12/7 vs. Memphis (Jimmy V, in New York), 12/11 vs. Colorado State
Last Week: 3
Pittsburgh Panthers (8-0)Panthers coach Jamie Dixon -- known as TCU's miracle man in 1986 -- apparently instigated the Horned Frogs' jump to the Big East. In a press conference to announce the move on Monday, TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said the idea came from a discussion between him and Dixon at a TCU-Baylor football game in September -- "and from there it was a dream that became a reality."
Dixon confirmed it later on Monday, saying, "We tossed things around, and I said, 'Hey, why don't you join the Big East conference?' [Del Conte] looked at me like I'm crazy at first. But that's kind of how it got started, people reaching out to different people."
(Of course, it also mattered that TCU had football team worthy of an at-large BCS bid, and the Big East was desperate for more football teams, especially one sitting in the nation's No. 5 TV market. But the Dixon story is nice, and the first time the Panthers and Horned Frogs meet in basketball, we'll hopefully be treated with a higher-res version of his famed '86 postgame interview -- probably to distract us from a 20-point rout.
Next Three: 12/4 vs. Rider, 12/8 vs. Delaware State, 12/11 vs. Tennessee
Last Week: 4
Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0)Based on Player Efficiency Rating -- the all-encompassing stat developed by my former CNN/SI officemate, John Hollinger -- the Buckeyes' best freshman isn't power forward Jared Sullinger, who's been their early star. It's actually reserve Deshaun Thomas, who ranks first in the Big Ten and 12th nationally in PER among players averaging 15-plus minutes per game. Thomas only gets 17.2 minutes of playing time, during which he's a possession hog, taking 37.0 percent of the team's shots with a 124.0 offensive rating, compared to 22.9%/109.6 splits for Sullinger. Thomas' offensive-rebounding percentage (17.2) blows away Sullinger's (13.7) as well, but these numbers should be accompanied by an asterisk: Most of Thomas' work has been done in blowout time against the Buckeyes' lesser opponents (North Carolina A&T, UNC-Wilmington, Morehead State, Miami of Ohio), whereas Sullinger has earned his rep with double-doubles against Florida and Florida State.
Next Three: 12/9 vs. IUPUI, 12/12 vs. Western Carolina, 12/15 vs. Florida Gulf Coast
Last Week: 5
Georgetown Hoyas (7-0)The Hoyas' overtime win over Missouri on Tuesday in Kansas City has been widely hailed as the Game of the Year So Far, and I agree. The final few seconds of regulation, in which Jason Clark flips from genius-mode (grabbing the loose ball, having the presence of mind to kick to Chris Wright for the tying three) to total insanity (inexplicably trying to foul on the inbounds pass, but luckily failing) are well worth reviewing on YouTube. The game was played at the relatively fast pace of 74 possessions, serving as a reminder that the Hoyas' offense can thrive in uptempo conditions, even if their default speed is in the mid-60s.
After not playing a single game at 74 possessions or higher in '06-07, '07-08 or '08-09, they've played eight of them in the past two seasons, and gone 7-1:
Game Date Opponent Pace OffEff. Result
Last Week: 7
Connecticut Huskies (6-0)According to kenpom.com's Pythagorean nonconference strength-of-schedule formula, the following major-conference teams played the toughest November schedules (Team, Overall Schedule Rank, Key Opponents):
1. Cal (10): Temple, Notre Dame, Boston College
2. Kentucky (12): Washington, UConn
3. Seton Hall (19): Temple, Clemson
4. Minnesota (21): North Carolina, West Virginia
5. North Carolina (22): Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Illinois
6. UConn (25): Michigan State, Kentucky
7. West Virginia (29): Vanderbilt, Minnesota
8. Tennessee (32): Villanova, VCU
Without looking at the numbers, my impression had been that the Huskies -- after running through Wichita State, then Michigan State and Kentucky in Maui -- had the toughest slate, but Notre Dame's surprising start pushed Cal to the top after the Old Spice Classic.
Next Three: 12/3 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County, 12/8 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson, 12/20 vs. Coppin State
Last Week: 27
Tennessee Volunteers (6-0)There may be no better team in the country at creating its own massive, off-court problems, and then acting completely unaffected by them on the court, than the Vols. Remember last season, when four Vols were arrested on New Year's Day (including a gun charge against star Tyler Smith, who was soon dismissed from the squad). With a depleted roster, they proceeded to win five straight games, including an improbable upset of No. 1-ranked Kansas on Jan. 10 in Knoxville. And that Smith-less team came within one shot of reaching the Final Four, too, losing 70-69 to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. This season, with the Bruce Pearl recruiting scandal -- and potential NCAA sanctions -- hanging over the team, they've gone unbeaten through six games. It was announced on Nov. 19 that Pearl would be suspended for the first eight SEC games ... and the next week, the Vols rolled through VCU and Villanova in New York to win the NIT Season Tip-Off title. As strange as it'll be to not have Pearl on the sideline until league games in February, don't be shocked if his team succeeds in acting like everything's normal during that stretch.
Next Three: 12/11 at Pitt, 12/14 vs. Oakland, 12/17 at Charlotte
Last Week: 20
UNLV Runnin' Rebels (7-0)The Rebels soft-launched their new, black jerseys in a non-televised road game at Illinois State on Wednesday and had zero glitches, delivering an 82-51 rout. Apparently they'd been lobbying for the jerseys for a few seasons -- and after wins over Wisconsin, Tulsa, Murray State and Virginia Tech, had earned the right to wear them. "The couple of years, even before I came here and would just come and watch games and be in the locker room, they talked about wanting black uniforms, and we finally got them," guard Anthony Marshall told the Las Vegas Sun. "If we would have lost tonight, we probably wouldn't have worn them again."
Now that the jerseys are part of UNLV's regular wardrobe, the Mountain West becomes the best blackshirted league in the country, right? Unless Duke puts its Darth Vader gear back into heavy rotation, and Maryland improves, no one can contend with the 1-2 punch of UNLV and San Diego State.
Next Three: 12/4 at Nevada, 12/8 vs. Boise State, 12/11 at Louisville
Last Week: 10
Baylor Bears (5-0)I mentioned in the Ohio State blurb that freshman power forward Deshaun Thomas had the highest PER (36.9) of anyone in the Big Ten. He's also tied with Kentucky's Terrence Jones for highest PER of any freshman in the country. Baylor rookie Perry Jones, who was a top-five prospect out of high school, has lagged behind some of his peers in PER, although his 16-point, 13-rebound double-double this week against Prairie View A&M was promising. He currently ranks 18th in PER among true freshmen in DraftExpress' database. The entire top 10, through Tuesday's games, is below:
Rk. Freshman Team PER
Last Week: 11
San Diego State Aztecs (7-0)If the Aztecs, UNLV and BYU continue their strong play, the Mountain West can claim to have a better top three teams than the Pac-10 (which drops off after Arizona and Washington), ACC (drops off after Duke) and A-10 (Richmond, Temple and Xavier). But will the Mountain West be more than a three-bid league come NCAA tournament time? The non-conference prowess of its top three teams should help raise the league's RPI, but New Mexico, the logical candidate for a fourth bid, is no lock to get into the dance. The Lobos have a decent non-league win over Arizona State, but lost to Cal, and they don't have a game left against a surefire tourney team outside the Mountain West. New Mexico's offense, which ranked 27th nationally in efficiency in '09-10 and carried it to a regular-season title, is currently 58th, which means it may have a tougher time pulling off the upsets it needs to win over the selection committee. (That is, unless the addition of UCLA transfer Drew Gordon -- who's eligible this month -- makes a major difference. He was the Bruins' best per-minute offensive rebounder in '08-09 and a short portion of '09-10.)
Next Three: 12/4 vs. Wichita State, 12/8 at Cal, 12/11 vs. San Diego
Last Week: 12
Brigham Young Cougars (6-0)At Creighton on Wednesday, a member of the student section taunted Jimmer Fredette with a strange, "Jimmer is a Bro Hater" sign, according to the Salt Lake Tribune's blog. The presence of said sign confused at least one BYU message-boarder, and there is no clear answer as to what the sign was referencing, since Jimmer and his brother, T.J., are actually quite close (with a song to prove it!).
A "bro-hater," according to Urban Dictionary, an ironclad authority on such things, is, "A person that hates on bros. A bro hater can be female or male. Bro haters hate on bros for no apparent reason other than being ... jealous." A national, bro-centric site makes a claim that the world's No. 1 bro-hater is comedian/actress Janeane Garofalo, and not Jimmer, so if he's serious about bro-hating, he'll need to step up his game to be recognized outside mid-majordom.
(Last thing: If you're the guy with the sign, and want to explain it, send us an e-mail through the form at the end of the Rankings.)
Next Three: 12/2 at Creighton, 12/4 vs. Hawaii, 12/8 vs. Vermont (in Glens Falls, N.Y.)
Last Week: 13
Kansas State Wildcats (6-1)I was curious if transfer Freddy Asprilla, who averaged 13.7 points and 9.2 rebounds as a promising freshman at Florida International in '08-09, was ever going to make an impact for the Wildcats this season. The 6-foot-10 Colombian's best scoring performance prior to Wednesday had been six points, but he exploded for 17 points (and eight boards) against D-II Emporia State -- a game in which K-State's Nos. 1 and 2 forwards, Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels, combined for just 14 points. Star guard Jacob Pullen was so wowed by Asprilla's breakout that he said Freddy "has the feel of a young Shaq." If that's true, then Pullen has the feel of a young D-Wade, Kelly has the feel of a young Chris Webber, and Rodney McGruder has the feel of a young Reggie Miller.
Next Three: 12/3 at Washington State, 12/6 vs. Alcorn State, 12/11 at Loyola (Ill.)
Last Week: 9
Villanova Wildcats (5-1)What will be done with the Big East logo (and name) once TCU becomes a member in 2012-13? Nothing, probably, but that hasn't stopped the blogosphere from making suggestions. Pitt Blather wants to call the league "The Big Sprawl," which I like; the Horned Frogs' Monday press-conference should've been soundtracked by Arcade Fire's Sprawl II, for good measure. Storming the Floor wants to call the conference the Amorphous Blob, which may be hard to market despite the potential for a cute mascot. I'm suggesting more subtle changes in the logo at right, wedging in the state of Texas and altering the "S" to reflect the reason for expansion.
Whether the logo needs further changes is up to Villanova, which is deciding whether to elevate its football program to the FBS level. The Big East wants to get to 10 teams in football, and the Wildcats aren't yet considered a lock to make the move. If they decline, another new, football-playing member could be added, which would mean 18 teams for basketball. Rather than play a full round-robin format, I imagine the league would split into divisions to maintain vital home-and-home rivalries -- and possibly explore re-altering the Big East tournament, because 18 teams couldn't be accommodated in New York. A school like Memphis, which desperately wants to jump to a BCS conference, is rooting hard for 'Nova to pass.
Next Three: 12/3 vs. St. Joe's, 12/8 at Penn, 12/12 at La Salle
Last Week: 15
Texas Longhorns (6-1)You're forgiven if you weren't paying attention to the Longhorns' past two games, which were somewhat sloppy wins over Rice and Lamar. What you missed was freshman combo guard Cory Joseph finally hitting the three-point-shooting groove I assumed he was capable of coming out of high school, where he was regarded as one of the smoother gunners in the Class of 2010. After going 2-of-13 from long range in Texas' first five games, Joseph made 7-of-12 from distance against Rice and Lamar. If he can settle in as a 40 percent three-point shooter, that'll be huge for the 'Horns' offense, which ranks 213th nationally in that category. As long as Rick Barnes insists on playing defender extraordinaire Dogus Balbay -- who couldn't make a three to save his life -- for extended minutes at the point, Texas needs to have a long-range threat at the other guard position to truly become an elite, diverse offense. It can't rely on Jordan Hamilton to take more than 30 percent of its shots in Big 12 play.
Next Three: 12/5 at USC, 12/11 vs. Texas State, 12/14 vs. North Florida
Last Week: 17
Michigan State Spartans (6-2)Had the Spartans lost to Chaminade in the Maui Invitational -- they were tied at halftime, and it got a little scary -- it might've been designated a "Stendhal." That term is the current leader in the Mid-Majority poll to name a non-D-I over D-I high-major upset; such a shocker would cross both the red (mid-major) and black (D-I) lines, and Stendhal was the author of the 1830 novel Le Rouge et le Noir. We've seen one Stendhal this season -- D-III Colorado College over Air Force -- and a total of 54 red-line upsets through Wednesday, some of them with only single-digit odds of happening. According to kenpom.com's projections, these were the four most improbable mid-major victories thus far in '10-11:
Date Score Win Odds
Last Week: 6
Kentucky Wildcats (5-1)While Enes Kanter kills time getting pedicures and we await the final Turkish Freakout over the NCAA's decision on his eligibility (or, most likely, lack thereof), let's take a moment to appreciate the value of one Josh Harrellson. While the Wildcats would certainly be better with a Lottery Pick starting at center rather than a Dude Named Jorts, Harrellson has been the main reason why their offensive rebounding hasn't dropped off precipitously after losing DeMarcus Cousins, who was the nation's second-best offensive glass-cleaner in '09-10. Kentucky grabbed 40.5 percent of available offensive boards last season, and is corralling 38.6 percent of them this season, with Harrellson leading the charge. It's his only real way of generating offense, since he's invisible in their sets, using just 10.3 percent of possessions. He earns his 23-plus minutes of playing time by putting up far better rebounding percentages than Patrick Patterson did in '09-10:
Player (Season) OR% DR%Harrellson (10-11) 17.5 22.7
Checked In: Tennessee, UNLV, Michigan State.
Dropped Out: Minnesota, Purdue, Temple.
The Next 16: 17) Syracuse; 18) Old Dominion; 19) Notre Dame; 20) Minnesota; 21) Memphis; 22) Illinois; 23) West Virginia; 24) Missouri; 25) Northwestern; 26) Washington; 27) Louisville; 28) Purdue; 29) Arizona; 30) Vanderbilt; 31) Central Florida; 32) Gonzaga.
(If you'd like to send the Power Rankings a note, I'm here.)