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San Diego State cracks top five, while St. Mary's joins the fray

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 1
Senior forward Dallas Lauderdale has become a "token" starter for the Buckeyes, averaging just 14.2 minutes per game in Big Ten play while freshman Aaron Craft plays 31.2 minutes off the bench. They need Craft on the floor because he's their lone true point guard. He plays excellent D -- his steal percentage of 3.4 is actually higher than David Lighty's -- but more importantly, he changes the complexion of their offense.

Lauderdale's role in the offense is limited to screening, rebounding and occasionally dunking a dump-off pass, as he shoots on just 11.7 percent of possessions. (The only starter I could find on a Big Ten team who shoots less frequently is Wisconsin's Tim Jarmusz, at 10.7 percent.) In the opening stretch of Saturday's game against Penn State, the Nittany Lions opted for a 2-3 zone while Lauderdale was on the floor, and he made minor contributions by screening the back line to free up open threes (see frame 1) and staying out of the way once Jared Sullinger received the ball on the opposite side (frame 2):

Dallas Lauderdale screen

When Craft enters the game -- as he did on Saturday after the first media timeout -- Ohio State generally switches to a "four-out, one-in" or "spread" offense. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch on Jan. 9 as being in favor of this look. "They're much better small," he said. "They're harder to guard. That's no disrespect to Lauderdale -- I love Lauderdale -- but when you go four around one with [Sullinger] and you've got four scorers and four drivers and four playmakers, it spreads you out in a way that makes it very difficult to defend that team because of the way they pass and the way they share the ball."

Penn State countered immediately with a man-to-man, assigning Craft's defender to double Sullinger in the post. The first time this happened, Sullinger simply kicked to ball back to Craft, a 43.6 percent long-range shooter, for an open three (which he made):

Aaron Craft 3

Against this spread, the Nittany Lions soon began using Craft's defender to attempt to deny entry passes to Sullinger (frame 1). When the ball was rotated to Craft at the top of the key, he had a wide-open lane between him and the rim (frame 2). His defender was slow to recover off of Sullinger to cut off the drive, and the other strongside defenders couldn't leave Buford or Diebler open for threes:

Aaron Craft drive

Craft missed the layup, but that's beside the point. Ohio State's offense is more dangerous with him on the floor.

Next Three: 1/22 at Illinois, 1/25 vs. Purdue, 1/29 at Northwestern
 
2Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 2
After watching Monday's road rout of Baylor, we can conclude with certainty that both Morris twins are killing it on offense. Marcus' line: 10-of-14 shooting, 25 points. Markieff's: 9-of-10 shooting, 19 points. It's difficult, at times, to discern which brother is better. Markieff has been more statistically productive according to the kPOY formula, but Marcus is still preferred by NBA scouts. In a few conversations on the topic, scouts are insistent that Marcus is a far superior offensive player, and I'm starting to understand why.

The stat that most differentiates the Morrii is their respective abilities to score in post-up situations. Per-possession scouting data shows that they've had nearly equal opportunities to post up, getting about 3.5 chances there per game. Markieff is just a mediocre player in this department, scoring 0.836 points per possession. Marcus, on the other hand, is brilliant, scoring 1.333 points per possession, an entire half-point ahead his brother. Marcus is not only the best player on Kansas' roster in this area, he's the best player in the country. Of players with 50 or more post-up scoring chances this season, these are the top five in points per possession (PPP):

Rk. Player, Team               P-Up Poss.  PPP
1 Marcus Morris, Kansas 63 1.333
2 Jared Mintz, Lafayette 96 1.292
3 Chris Otule, Marquette 57 1.175
4 Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt 102 1.167
5 Harper Kamp, Cal 64 1.156

Next Three: 1/22 vs. Texas, 1/25 at Colorado, 1/29 vs. Kansas State
 
3Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 3
More news on the Kyrie Irving toe front this week, with Fox Sports' Jeff Goodman reporting (via Irving's father) that the cast is coming off on Feb. 4, surgery is unlikely, and Kyrie won't return to the Blue Devils unless he's 100 percent healthy. So there's a chance (albeit slim) that he'll return by March and force the NCAA tournament selection committee to make a judgment call on Duke's actual strength versus its resume.

It's a relevant hypothetical to discuss because, this week, the Blue Devils dropped off the No. 1-seed line for the first time in Andy Glockner's mock bracket. They aren't going to lose many ACC games, but if they were to drop three more on the road (at Maryland, Virginia Tech or North Carolina), it could open up a debate between Duke, a second Big East team and San Diego State for the fourth No. 1. The fact that the Blue Devils were the best team in the country when Irving was present would help their case. (As should the fact that the committee loves Duke, but that's a different debate.)

Glockner's current No. 1-2-3 lines:
1s: Kansas, Ohio State, Pitt, Syracuse
2s: San Diego State, Kentucky, Duke, UConn
3s: Missouri, BYU, Texas A&M, Villanova

My predictions for Selection Sunday:
1s: Kansas, Ohio State, Pitt, Duke
2s: Syracuse, San Diego State, UConn, Kentucky
3s: Villanova, Washington, Texas, BYU

Next Three: 1/22 at Wake Forest, 1/27 vs. Boston College, 1/30 at St. John's
 
4Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 5
Pitt excels at dissecting Syracuse's 2-3 zone -- that much was clear in the game I covered on Monday night -- but how, exactly, do the Panthers do it? Part of the equation is personnel, particularly the fact that Nasir Robinson is a near-perfect zone-buster from the high post. But Pitt's zone offense as a whole includes three notable movements:

1. The flash/dive action of its 4-5 men. Gary McGhee described how he and Robinson are instructed to alternate flashing to the elbows and diving to the short corner while the ball is being rotated around the perimeter. Below is a three-frame example of the Panthers' backup bigs, Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna, exchanging positions as the ball moves from left to right:

zone flash and dive

2. Ball screens from the high-post men. When the Orange's zone started sagging to take away the entry pass to the high post, the Panthers countered by using the high-post man to free up drives and mid-range shots for the guards. In the frame below, Robinson screens for Gilbert Brown, who would drive left into the lane and hit a pull-up jumper.

zone screener

3. Looping the guards. Rather than staying in fixed positions around the perimeter, Brown, Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker would pass the ball, then go on runs through the back line of the defense. They never looked to receive passes in the lane -- I don't think I once saw a guard catch a ball in the early portion of a cut -- but they did garner attention from the 2-3's back line that might have otherwise been paid to the posts. And this meant that the Panthers never fell into a stagnant, stand-around offense, like many of Syracuse's opponents this season. (In the frame below, Gibbs brings up the ball, passes the right wing, then runs a loop past Robinson and McGhee, along the baseline, and out to the left wing.)

zone cutter

Next Three: 1/22 at DePaul, 1/14 vs. Notre Dame, 1/29 at Rutgers
 
5San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 8
Need more context on the strength of San Diego State? These numbers should help. The Aztecs haven't played a truly marquee game in their 20-0 run, but they have played the same opponents as some of the nation's elites, which allows us to compare efficiency margins. Five mini case-studies:

1. Gonzaga fell to both the Aztecs (in Spokane) and Illinois (in Seattle), but the Illini were more than a tenth of a point per possession better on defense, which is significant.

At Gonzaga
Team Date Result OffEff DefEff Margin
SDSU 11/16 W, 79-76 116.7 112.2 +4.5
Illinois 12/4 W, 73-61 120.5 100.7 +19.8

2. When comparing home/neutral games against St. Mary's, SDSU's defense looks superior to BYU's (by two-tenths of a point per possession).

Vs. St. Mary's
Team Date Result OffEff DefEff Margin
SDSU 12/1 W, 69-55 104.9 83.6 +21.3
BYU 11/27 W, 74-73 105.0 103.6 +1.4

3. In home/neutral games against Wichita State, the Aztecs outperformed UConn on both ends of the floor.

Vs. Wichita State
Team Date Result OffEff DefEff Margin
SDSU 12/4 W, 83-69 118.6 98.6 +20.0
UConn 11/22 W, 83-79 112.5 107.1 +5.4

4. SDSU has the best efficiency margin of the elite teams who've won at Cal, with an offensive performance superior to Kansas' and a defensive performance superior to Washington's.

At Cal
Team Date Result OffEff DefEff Margin
SDSU 12/8 W, 77-57 115.9 85.8 +30.1
Kansas 12/22 W, 78-63 105.3 85.0 +20.3
Washington 1/16 W, 92-71 122.8 94.8 +28.0

5. SDSU played the best D of any elite team that's faced UNLV in home/semi-home situations, but Louisville had a slightly better efficiency margin.

Vs. UNLV
Team Date Result OffEff DefEff Margin
SDSU 1/12 W, 55-49 84.4 75.2 +9.2
Kansas St. 12/21 L, 63-59 81.8 87.3 -5.5
Louisville 12/11 W, 77-69 112.3 100.6 +11.7

Next Three: 1/26 at BYU, 1/29 vs. Wyoming, 2/2 at Colorado State
 
6Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: 10
Is Kemba Walker once again the front-runner in the national player of the year race? Plenty of writers/voters were particularly moved by Walker's clutch performance against Villanova on Monday, in which he scored the Huskies' final seven points, including the game-winning shot in the final seconds. Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Rick Bozich posted a blog following that game that was headlined, "Give Walker Wooden Award -- Now." As Walker's resume, the post listed his clutchness in the Maui Invitational and his other high-profile game-winners, against Michigan State and Texas. No one has hit more big shots this season than Kemba.

But a couple of days earlier, efficiency overlord Ken Pomeroy posted the latest standings of his kPOY formula, which weighs player production and overall team quality ... and Walker was in seventh, just behind Wisconsin's Jon Leuer. BYU's Jimmer Fredette is in first, followed by Purdue's JaJuan Johnson. The clutch-blind formula can't get past the fact that the Huskies rank 24th nationally in efficiency (whereas BYU is 12th and Purdue is sixth).

At the moment -- despite being a major proponent of tempo-free stats -- I'm siding with Walker ahead of Jimmer and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. The Huskies' efficiency issues have yet to catch up with them in the W-L column, as they have as strong a resume of victories (neutral over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky, road over Texas, home over Villanova) as anyone in the country, and one can confidently say that none of them would've happened without clutch play from Kemba. It's difficult not to let human emotion factor into the race, and Kemba's game-winners just resonate more than Jimmer's crooked numbers (47 points against Utah, 39 at UNLV).

Next Three: 1/22 vs. Tennessee, 1/25 at Marquette, 1/29 vs. Louisville
 
7Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 4
Statsheet.com fun with Monday's Syracuse-Pitt duel: I had in my running notes, in the event I had to write a column about the Orange, a reminder to check the plus-minus figures for their perimeter players in the first half. It had seemed that without backups C.J. Fair (who finished with 16 points) and Dion Waiters (nine points) coming to the rescue after that 19-0 run, they never would have made it interesting. Statsheet's plus-minus splits show just how important the two freshmen were in countering the Panthers' start ... and just how bad of a night it was for Scoop Jardine:

Player               +/-1H    +/-2H    Total
Scoop Jardine -12 -6 -18
Brandon Triche -7 +3 -4
C.J. Fair +9 -4 +5
Dion Waiters +11 -5 +6
James Southerland 0 -4 -4

The game also featured an unlikely technical on Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who was whistled for (according to Brad Wanamaker) pointing at an 8-3 foul differential on the scoreboard during the second half. The guy who T'd up Dixon, James Breeding, is among the NCAA's most whistle-happy refs. According to Statsheet, Breeding's crew average of 40.9 fouls per game leads the nation among officials who've worked at least 30 contests in 2010-11. He ranks fifth in the nation in crew technicals at 20, and is just one of four refs who've had a tech called in at least half of their appearances.

Next Three: 1/22 vs. Villanova, 1/25 vs. Seton Hall, 1/29 at Marquette
 
8Brigham Young Cougars
Last Week: 9
Nickname proposal for TCU guard Ronnie "Tuffy" Moss: The Jimmer-Stopper.

TCU did some serious work on Tuesday to hold The Jimmer to 21 points, his lowest scoring total in a game in which he's played 30-plus minutes this season. For parts of the game the Horned Frogs used a box-and-one type defense, with Moss instructed to glue himself to Jimmer -- and not even pay much attention to the ball if it was elsewhere -- while the other four defenders were in a scrambling zone. It often looked like this on The Mtn. (with Jimmer and Moss circled):

Jimmer Defense

Moss was written about in game stories for scoring 27 points, but a review of the tape revealed just how impressive of a job he did at guarding Jimmer. Fredette's 10 first half points came on:

• A three-pointer in a scramble after an offensive rebound
• A transition layup
• A turnaround jumper while he was being guarded by backup Greg Hill, with Moss taking a two-minute breather
• This 30-foot three, which was insane:

Jimmer Three

Aside from that three, Fredette was 0-of-8 while being guarded by Moss in the first half. Moss only allowed him one reasonable, open look (a missed runner) in a half-court set after getting caught behind a high ball screen.

Jimmer then scored 11 points in the second half -- on seven free throws and two field goals. Moss' lone transgression was a drive-and-foul he gave up with 13:53 left in the second half. Hill was responsible for the other field goal and the other six made free throws, fouling Fredette twice and picking up a technical.

All of which means: Moss guarded Fredette for approximately 30 minutes and gave up one legitimate layup-plus-foul ... and that absurd moon-shot three-pointer. We may not see a better individual defensive performance against Jimmer all season.

Next Three: 1/22 at Colorado State, 1/26 vs. San Diego State, 1/29 at New Mexico
 
9Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 12
In August, I wrote a column identifying five breakout sophomores for 2010-11, the formula for which was players who'd played less than 50 percent of their team's minutes as freshmen, but been efficient, high-usage contributors when they were on the floor. Four of the five are panning out thus far. Jordan Hamilton has emerged as Texas' go-to-guy, averaging 19.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. At Villanova, Maalik Wayns may not be shooting well, but he's effectively running the show, averaging 5.3 assists per game for a top-10 team. Giant forward Reggie Johnson is now Miami's most efficient offensive player and the third-best offensive rebounder in the nation. At UCLA, Reeves Nelson is leading the team in scoring and is second in rebounding, and has established himself as one of the Pac-10's more productive forwards.

The fifth player -- the guy who headlined the column -- was none other than Christian Standhardinger, whom I thought had serious breakout potential at Nebraska. He essentially took over the Huskers' offense, and was reasonably efficient at it, in his short spurts of playing time as a freshman. But he clashed too much with coach Doc Sadler ("Me and the philosophy of Doc didn't fit," he said), didn't put in enough effort on defense, and ended up leaving the Nebraska team in mid-December to pursue a transfer. Standhardinger's destination was supposed to be La Salle ... until he popped up in the news again on Wednesday -- after being ticketed for "public indecency" for engaging in a sex act with a girl in a Lincoln park "a few hours before dawn" on Sunday. (When it was 15 degrees outside, we must note.) So while Standhardinger never broke out in the sense that my column predicted, he has -- in a matter of a month -- broken out of Nebraska's roster, and broken out of his pants in a public park.

Next Three: 1/22 at Kansas, 1/26 at Oklahoma State, 1/29 vs. Missouri
 
10Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 6
A wild Corey Stokes stat: The Wildcats have only lost once in his entire career when he hits at least four threes in a game. (The exception was a defeat at the hands of Marquette in last season's Big East tournament, when Stokes had six treys but Scottie Reynolds was largely absent, scoring just 10 points.) Stokes was 0-of-6 from long range against UConn on Monday ... and 'Nova lost by two points to the Kembas.

Stokes went on one stretch this season, from Dec. 22 to Jan. 6, in which he shot 19-of-31 (or 61.3 percent) on threes. Here's what his three-point shot chart looked like during that four-game span:

Corey Stokes

What it reveals: Stokes is most likely to shoot (and make) treys from the left corner and left wing (which is the right side of this chart). And even when he's hot, he's strangely unable to connect on what's usually a gimme shot for gunners -- directly from the top of the key.

Next Three: 1/22 at Syracuse, 1/26 at Providence, 1/29 vs. Georgetown
 
11Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: 11
One blowout loss to Texas isn't reason to jump entirely off the Ags' bandwagon, but what Wednesday's game did was expose the extreme limitations of A&M's backcourt, which I worry could be too ineffective to take them on a reasonable NCAA tournament run. Two-guard B.J. Holmes is a decent long-range shooter who, at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds (a generous listing), has trouble doing much in the paint, as he's shooting just 39.2 percent inside the arc. Point guard Dash Harris is actually worse on twos (37.2 percent), lacks the ability to hit threes and shoots so infrequently (just 12.9 percent of the time) that defenses sag off of him.

Holmes was 2-of-6 for six points against the Longhorns, and Harris was 1-of-4 for three points. They combined for a grand total of zero trips to the free-throw line. With that level of production, the fact that they combined to commit zero turnovers was immaterial. Texas can get away with limited points from its 1-2 spots because it has scorers at the 3-4-5 positions (Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson and Tristan Thompson), but the Ags only have one truly dynamic offensive player in Khris Middleton, who isn't yet a "takeover" type of guy. He needs their role players to contribute at a reasonable level ... otherwise things can get ugly.

Next Three: 1/22 vs. Kansas State, 1/29 at Nebraska, 1/31 vs. Texas
 
12Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 13
Seth Davis has been doing an excellent job this week filling us in on the Tony Mitchell situation at Mizzou. As Davis noted, the Mitchell situation has been incredibly under-covered compared to the eligibility cases of Enes Kanter and Josh Selby, despite the fact that Mitchell is an elite player with NBA potential. He has yet to be cleared by the NCAA to play, or even enroll at Missouri -- and if he doesn't do so by next Tuesday (Jan. 25), he can't join the Tigers this season. Here's what Seth wrote on Monday:

"To cut to the chase: This thing doesn't look good. Mitchell finished his senior year at Pinkston High under some very questionable circumstances, reportedly earning nine course credits in a matter of days shortly before he was supposed to graduate. Complicating matters further is the fact that Mitchell spent his junior year at a Florida prep school that was not accredited. All this has left him well short of the NCAA's requirements regarding core courses. So this was a long shot from the beginning."

A decision on Mitchell is expected by the end of the week -- or however long it takes for the NCAA to review the latest transcript information that Missouri has provided. Seth touched on the situation again in his Mailbag, placing blame on the adults who steered Mitchell to the shady Florida prep school. I was able to see Mitchell play for the U.S. 18-and-under team this summer, and am certain he would've been an impact player as a freshman. It's sad to recall that told me then, of his grades, "Everybody is worried about it, but I'm good."

Next Three: 1/22 vs. Iowa State, 1/29 at Texas, 2/2 at Oklahoma State
 
13Washington Huskies
Last Week: 14
Isaiah Thomas enters tonight's showdown with Washington on a tear, having scored 27 points and dished out 13 assists (both season-highs) in a win at Cal on Sunday. One reason Thomas has thrived as the Huskies' primary point guard following Abdul Gaddy's season-ending injury: Thomas is a hyper-efficient player in pick-and-rolls, and he's averaging around five of those situations per game, according to scouting data. Thomas' total offense in pick-and-rolls (his scoring plus teammates' scoring off of his passes) is 1.19 points per possession, which puts him in elite company nationally. Of major-conference (plus Mountain West, A-10, WCC and C-USA) players who've been in 50 or more pick-and-roll sets this season, these are the top five in efficiency:

Rk.  Player, Team                     P&R Poss.   PPP
1 Mickey McConnell, St. Mary's 147 1.30
2 Corey Fisher, Villanova 88 1.20
3 Angelo Johnson, Southern Miss 51 1.20
4 Isaiah Thomas, Washington 84 1.19
5 Klay Thompson Washington St. 53 1.19

Next Three: 1/20 vs. Arizona, 1/22 vs. Arizona State, 1/30 at Washington State
 
14Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 16
There's a feature in this week's SI(by your Power Ranker) on Morehead State's Kenneth Faried, who's not only the best rebounder in the state of Kentucky, but also the best rebounder in the nation. He ranks third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage at 20.9, and second in defensive rebounding percentage at 30.2.

David Hess, who writes the Audacity of Hoops blog, noted this week that more than a few of the wide loads atop the national offensive rebounding standings (notably UCLA's Josh Smith and Miami's Reggie Johnson) are so foul-happy that they don't log monster minutes. So Hess invented a new stat called OReb+. It attempts to factor in playing time/foul avoidance to determine "the number of offensive rebounds the player gains you per game, over an average big man." Faried, who's on the floor 83.1 percent of the time, jumps to first in both categories by a wide margin, only further enhancing his reputation. Another player whose rep is boosted: None other than the Wildcats' Josh Harrellson, who would rank seventh nationally in OReb+. So, Kentucky fans, the value of your Jorts is exactly 1.7 offensive rebounds over replacement.

(To see the full OReb+ and DReb+ top 10, visit Hess' blog.)

Next Three: 1/22 at South Carolina, 1/29 vs. Georgia, 2/1 at Ole Miss
 
15Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 22
Senior forward Keaton Nankivil is quietly becoming one of the country's most dangerous perimeter scorers. In five Big Ten games, he's 16-of-28 (57.1 percent) from long range ... which is strange, considering that he attempted just 24 treys (making 10) in the entire, 12-game nonconference season. His shooting keyed the Badgers' second-half surge in a big home win over Illinois on Saturday.

Pick-and-pop sets between point guard Jordan Taylor and Nankivil are a staple of UW's swing offense, but the Badgers have, of late, been running shooting-guard-like plays for Nankivil out of the paint to free him up for threes.

His second trey of the Illini game (he hit three in the second half) was set up by a top-of-the-key feed to Jared Berggren (frame 1) and a cut down from the right elbow toward a baseline screen by Leuer (frame 2). Nankivil then a cut off the screen to the right wing (frame 3), and his man, Mike Tisdale, barely even makes it out of the lane (frames 3 and 4) as the wide-open three is developing. Few opposing big men are used to chasing their marks off screens and being forced to challenge long jumpers.

Wisconsin Screens

Next Three: 1/20 vs. Indiana, 1/23 at Northwestern, 1/29 at Penn State
 
16Saint Mary's Gaels
Last Week: 25
Judging from the table in the Washington blurb above, Mickey McConnell, the Gaels' senior point guard, has to be considered the college game's king of the pick-and-roll. He does it more than anyone -- more than seven times a game -- and he's more efficient than anyone, averaging 1.3 points per possession. Another indication that he's one of the headier scoring floor generals in the nation: He barely ever attempts a long two. Scouting data shows that 81.3 percent of his jumpers are from long range, 13.1 percent are from close range, and just 5.6 percent are between 17 feet and the arc.

Compare, for a moment, the jump-shooting efficiency of McConnell and a far more famous point guard, Michigan State's Kalin Lucas, who's a huge culprit of taking long twos (the percentages here are for shot distribution, not shooting percentage):

Player      %Short   PPP    &Long2s  PPP    %3s    PPP
McConnell 13.1 1.43 5.6 0.33 81.3 1.52
Lucas 16.5 1.22 34.9 0.84 48.6 1.19

It's no surprise that McConnell's offensive rating is a stunning 136.3 while Lucas' is a more pedestrian 104.3.

Next Three: 1/22 at Vanderbilt, 1/27 at Gonzaga, 1/29 at Portland

Checked In: Wisconsin, Saint Mary's

Dropped Out: Purdue, Notre Dame

The Next 16: 17) Illinois, 18) Notre Dame, 19) Minnesota, 20) Michigan State, 21) Purdue, 22) Tennessee, 23) Louisville, 24) Arizona, 25) Vanderbilt, 26) West Virginia, 27) Gonzaga, 28) Cincinnati, 29) Utah State, 30) Belmont, 31) North Carolina, 32) Georgetown.

(If you'd like to send the Power Rankings a note -- but preferably not about the order of the teams, because that's a profoundly dull topic you shouldn't waste your energy on -- I'm here.)

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