Kentucky and 'Cuse vault into top two spots; Ohio State joins the fray
What would you donate for a private charity dinner with the Power Rankings' author? I'm guessing it would be a good deal less than $16,350 per plate. Ranking Kentucky No. 1 doesn't have the same cachet as coaching Kentucky to No. 1 ...
Last Week: 2
Kentucky Wildcats (18-0)On Wednesday night, while watching the Georgetown-Pitt and Baylor-Kansas games, I kept a few Web-browser windows open to follow the eBay charity auctions for UK's amazing "Hoops For Haiti" fundraiser, which had already brought in more than $1 million in donations from a Sunday telethon. "How much do you think someone in Kentucky would donate for a private dinner for six at John Calipari's house, with Cal and Ashley Judd?" I asked a friend. "Ten grand?" was the answer. I laughed. The bidding was already at $37,500 by tipoff of Hoyas-Panthers. It was up to $80,000 by the time the Jayhawks were on TV, and at around 9:30 p.m., it closed at an unbelievable $98,100 -- yet another measure of the current star power of the Cal/Judd combo.* Judd's personal chef is preparing the meal, but at that price, they should consider flying in the staff of Aragawa.
(*One of the other items offered was a trip -- by private plane -- to a Cavaliers playoff game and a chance to "meet Coach Calipari's friend and NBA MVP, LeBron James." This went for $10,099 -- just one-tenth of the price of the dinner, and only 2.5 times the price of a framed photo from UK's win over North Carolina, signed by Calipari.)
We should talk some actual hoops here, given that the Wildcats are No. 1 for the first time this season, so here goes: I came across this article in which Eric Bledsoe's high school coach said he initially hadn't believed that Bledsoe and John Wall could coexist in UK's backcourt. Plenty of people had questioned Bledsoe's sanity for committing to UK in the same class as Wall, rather than choosing a team he could run on his own -- but Bledsoe has flourished playing off of next year's No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and has averaged 16.7 points in three SEC games.
I took some freeze-frames from UK's win over Auburn on Saturday that show two simple ways Wall and Bledsoe attack defenses in tandem: In the first set, Wall drives from right to left across the top (1), drawing both his and Bledsoe's defenders (shown in halos), while Bledsoe rotates behind him to the weak side (2), receives the kick-out on the right wing (3), and blows by the help defender's close-out for a layup (4).
In the second set, Wall starts up top while Bledsoe drives toward the free-throw line from the left wing, drawing both defenders (1). Wall curls behind Bledsoe at a high speed, receives a drop-off pass (2), and then charges toward the basket (3), with the option to score (4) or kick the ball out to a shooter in the left corner, depending on how the defense reacts.
It's basic stuff, but it doesn't work without two strong, penetrating guards on the floor at the same time.
Next three: 1/23 vs. Arkansas, 1/26 at South Carolina, 1/30 vs. Vanderbilt
Last Week: 4
Syracuse Orange (18-1)While watching Orange two-guard Andy Rautins destroy Notre Dame from three-point land on Monday, I had the thought that Rautins rarely appears to be bothered by road rims. He finished Syracuse's three-game road trip 11-for-26 (42.3 percent) from long range, right in line with his season percentage, and acted as if he'd been shooting at the Irish's Joyce Center for his whole life. I was curious to see how his home/road+neutral shooting splits stacked up against other gunners, so I made a chart comparing Rautins to the volume three-point shooters from teams in this week's Power Rankings:
Player, Team Home 3s(%) Road/Ntl 3s(%) Diff.
Rautins, it turns out, falls right in the middle, with a 4.6-percentage drop in games away from home. Kansas State's Jacob Pullen is the country's most dangerous road gunner, while Ohio State's John Diebler has been ice-cold outside of Columbus. We'll call that minus-21.7-percent split the Diebler Effect.
Next three: 1/23 vs. Marquette, 1/25 vs. Georgetown, 1/30 at DePaul
Last Week: 3
Kansas Jayhawks (16-1)My dream college hoops scenario would be a Kansas-Villanova game* that goes into the final three minutes tied, and then Sherron Collins and Scottie Reynolds try to match each other's clutch buckets up until the buzzer. I got to watch Reynolds work his magic on Sunday against Georgetown, and then saw Collins (on ESPN) singlehandedly take down Baylor in the second half on Wednesday, scoring 21 of his 28 points. Both players are already famous for clutch NCAA tournament plays (Reynolds' layup against Pitt last season, and Collins' late steal and assist in the '08 national title game), and their offensive numbers this year have been remarkably similar: This Statsheet.com comparison has Collins' efficiency rating at 124.4 and Reynolds' at 122.1. There are only two major real differences between the star guards:
• Collins is better at creating and protecting the ball; his assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.2-to-1 compared to Reynolds' 1.2-to-1.
• Reynolds gets to the free-throw line far more often, with 114 free-throw attempts against 207 field-goal attempts in 18 games. Collins has 64 free-throw attempts against 210 field-goal attempts in 18 games.
(* I know they met in the '08 Sweet 16, but Collins was a bench player at the time, and 'Nova was so overmatched that it lost by 15, so there weren't any real clutch opportunities.)
Next three: 1/23 at Iowa State, 1/25 vs. Missouri, 1/30 at Kansas State
Last Week: 1
Texas Longhorns (17-1)Will someone please bring the old Dexter Pittman back? Sexy Dexy was among the most dominant players of the nonconference season, averaging 14.6 points in just 19.9 minutes and shooting 74.1 percent from the field (mostly because he was a dunking machine). His Big 12 averages after four games, however, aren't sexy at all: 5.0 points in 20.3 minutes, on 35.0 percent shooting. Pittman told the Austin American-Statesman that the problem has been packed-in defenses. "It's very clogged up down there [in the paint]," he said. "I don't have any room to work."
I made light of one Iowa State defensive lapse against Pittman in last week's Power Rankings, but should've noted that the Cyclones limited him to just 2-of-4 shooting in 26 minutes; three days after that, Texas A&M's bruisers held him to 0-of-5 shooting in 28 minutes. The Statesman story also pointed out that in addition to the lane-clogging, defenders have been heavily shading Pittman's left-shoulder and bothering his go-to non-dunk move, the right-handed baby hook. Until he develops an adequate counter, that's how he'll be guarded on nearly every post feed.
Next three: 1/23 at UConn, 1/27 vs. Texas Tech, 1/30 vs. Baylor
Last Week: 5
Villanova Wildcats (17-1)Freshman Maalik Wayns looks like the heir-apparent to the Wildcats backcourt throne. We were all talking about Reynolds' 27-point game against Georgetown on Sunday, but an interesting side-plot was just how confident coach Jay Wright was in leaving Wayns on the floor late in a tight game. It's not as if Villanova is short on guards who can shoot, but in the final 15 seconds of a three-point game, the 'Cats twice inbounded the ball to Wayns in press-break situations where he'd be fouled and go to the free-throw line. The kid knocked down four straight from the stripe and showed no jitters. He told me Reynolds had given him advice about clutch situations. "He just said that nothing changes," Wayns explained. "Be confident -- that's the biggest thing."
Wayns, a McDonald's All-American from Philly, said he'd come to 'Nova with the idea of being mentored by its elder guards, and that the practice battles he has against Reynolds and Corey Fisher are sometimes more difficult than game situations. "Going against them," he said, "is like going against the best of the Big East."
Next three: 1/23 at St. John's, 1/27 vs. Notre Dame, 2/2 vs. Seton Hall
Last Week: 13
Kansas State Wildcats (16-2)There were so many goodies from the Manhattan postgame scene after Monday's win (not upset!) over top-ranked Texas, I don't know where to start. I guess seeing Frank Martin don a Pullen/Lincoln beard* (from the team's Beard-Out promotion) for his radio recap was the most visually shocking, given that he'd been so intense during the game that his eyeballs had nearly popped out of his head on 10-15 occasions. That the guy manages to make so many quality coaching decisions while in that state always amazes me. ... Next, we have a random iPhone ringing on the K-State players' press conference table ... and it turns out to be ESPN color man Bobby Knight's. Had that happened during one of Knight's classic pressers at IU, would he have smashed it? ... Then there's Knight stopping Martin in the tunnel not to congratulate him, but instead to tell him, "We need to get you to run a better offense." The General, who did ESPN's color analysis, was killing the Wildcats for their lack of motion; they tend to put up a lot of jumpers and then attack the offensive glass, which isn't always pretty, but it works because they're the best offensive rebounding team in the nation. ... Oh, and Martin's car also went missing in the Bramlage Coliseum parking lot after the game -- someone had towed it all the way across the lot. Maybe he was parked in Knight's space?
Next three: 1/23 vs. Oklahoma State, 1/26 at Baylor, 1/30 vs. Kansas
Last Week: 14
Tennessee Volunteers (15-2)The Vols have done more than just survive after the suspension (and subsequent dismissal) of senior star Tyler Smith -- they've thrived, going 5-0 with an upset of No. 1 Kansas and an overtime home win over a ranked Ole Miss team. Now that we know Tennessee is legit, should we peg them as the team most likely to end Kentucky's undefeated season? Kenpom.com only gives the Wildcats a 0.70 percent chance of running the table in the regular season, because they rank 14th overall in efficiency despite being first in the Power Rankings. The Vols get their first crack at the Wildcats in Lexington on Feb. 13, but UK's three games with the lowest win probabilities are:
Feb. 16 at Mississippi State: 48%
Feb. 20 at Vanderbilt: 41%
Feb. 27 at Tennessee: 33%
So while the Vols are the team statistically most likely to beat the Wildcats, the odds of UK surviving back-to-back road games in Starkville and Nashville are thin. I'd expect John Wall & Co. to arrive in Knoxville with a record of 27-1, not 28-0.
Next three: 1/23 at Georgia, 1/27 vs. Vanderbilt, 1/31 vs. Florida
Last Week: 9
Michigan State Spartans (16-3)On Wednesday, the Spartans received a home scare from Iowa -- alarming given that the Hawkeyes are projected to finish 2-14 or 3-15 in the Big Ten, and don't have a single player who could crack State's starting lineup. I guess the visitors weren't bothered enough by the Izzone's resident Green Man, who was profiled in the Kalamazoo Gazette this week. Jack Cogswell, the student who wears the skin-tight, neon-green suit, bought it in '08 as an It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia-themed Halloween costume, and then started making regular appearances with it at the Breslin Center. He took it to China during a study abroad program and wore it to clubs, where the patrons, he said, "were all pretty freaked out." Cogswell also apparently puts "Green Man" on his resume under extracurricular activities. The article did not say whether or not he does job interviews in the suit.
Next three: 1/23 at Minnesota, 1/26 at Michigan, 1/30 vs. Northwestern
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