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Syracuse fights its way to the top of this week's Power Rankings

Wearing "We Are #1" shirts to commemorate ascending to the top of an Associated Press poll in December is not a recommended activity. There's the whole jinx factor, and the possibility that the Power Rankings' voting academy will disqualify you from being No. 1 simply for being so gauche about it. That was close to happening. There was serious debate.

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 3
Sophomore sixth man Dion Waiters is college basketball's King of Thieves, averaging a nation-high 6.4 steals per 100 possessions. As he ascended to No. 1, my question was not, "Will they make a T-shirt for this?" but rather, how is Waiters getting his steals?

The grid below is a photo representation of every valid Waiters steal from this season, labeled by opponent and color-coded by situation. Some of the images are regrettably low-grade -- not all the film was high quality -- but this should give you an idea of where and how the Orange's most menacing top-of-the-zone defender in years creates his turnovers. The "HC Dribble" label, for example, means Waiters divested a dribbling player of the ball in a half-court setting; "HC Intercept" means he intercepted a pass in the half court, and the rest should be self-explanatory. Slightly more than 50 percent (13/23) of Waiters' steals are of the "HC Dribble" variety.



Next three: 12/17 at NC State, 12/20 vs. Bucknell, 12/22 vs. Tulane
 
2Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 2
Waiters may be Mr. Steal, but Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft remains the country's foremost* all-around turnover creator. In the three games since the Craft Turnometer last appeared in the Power Rankings, Craft created 14.5 turnovers, raising his season rate to an astounding 9.03 per 100 possessions. Against USC-Upstate on Wednesday night, Craft had five box-score steals and one forced travel, harried a guard into throwing away a pass (0.5 credit), and had the key knock away in a loose-ball scramble (0.5 credit). Behold the updated Turnometer:



* Unofficially. We can't chart tape of every team.

Next three: 12/17 at South Carolina, 12/20 vs. Lamar, 12/22 vs. Miami (Oh.)
 
3Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 1
Anthony Davis could very well be an All-American due to his defense. Jonathon Leverenz, who's been doing Defensive Score Sheet charting of the Wildcats over at A Sea Of Blue -- using the same methodology as SI's preview issue study -- shared his latest figures with us, and he has Davis with the best DRating (79.5) and engagement rate (25.7 percent of possessions) of any UK starter:

Player Min/G DRtg Poss% Stop% DFG% FTO% FTR
Vargas 8.4 77.9 22.8 72.7 22.9 13.1 41.7
Davis 27.1 79.5 25.7 68.7 27.8 21.3 25.8
Gilchrist 30.3 82.8 17.3 63.4 40.7 20.1 45.5
Miller 24.4 83.4 13.5 61.5 35.3 22.5 18.2
Lamb 31.0 83.5 10.6 61.1 50.7 24.4 36.1
Teague 30.2 83.5 14.6 61.4 49.8 33.2 44.1
Jones 30.3 84.2 21.8 59.9 43.0 21.9 28.1
Wiltjer 13.6 84.6 21.2 59.0 35.5 14.3 26.6


Yet, for how effective Davis is, his backup at the five-spot, Eloy Vargas, has been even better defensively in his limited playing time (8.4 mpg). This may help to explain a strange phenomenon that I encountered when doing a possession-by-possession, efficiency plus-minus study of the Wildcats' defense when Davis is on or off the floor. I figured UK would be better at D with Davis; that was the case in the loss to Indiana, when the Wildcats were 0.431 PPP stingier while he was playing.

But over the course of the season, the Wildcats have been slightly better with Davis on the bench (allowing 0.822 PPP in 202 possessions) than they have with him on the floor (allowing 0.825 PPP in 440 possessions). Who expected that to be the case? This chart has the Davis +/- breakdown:

UK's Defense: With / Without Anthony Davis
TEAMS Poss-IN Poss-Out DEff-IN DEff-OUT Margin
Marist 42 33 0.976 0.515 -0.461
Kansas 64 10 0.797 1.400 0.603
PennSt 39 28 0.897 0.429 -0.469
ODU 38 28 0.737 0.857 0.120
Radford 45 29 0.444 0.690 0.245
Portland 52 20 0.808 1.050 0.242
StJohns 59 19 0.746 0.789 0.044
UNC 56 10 1.107 1.000 -0.107
Indiana 45 25 0.889 1.320 0.431
Total 440 202 0.825 0.822 -0.003


It is worth noting, as @FreeportKid pointed on out Twitter, that in Kentucky's three games against top-25 competition, it has allowed 0.874 PPP with Davis on the floor, and 1.267 PPP with him off of it, for a margin of +0.394. In the biggest games, Davis has made the biggest impact.

Next three: 12/17 vs. Chattanooga, 12/20 vs. Samford, 12/22 vs. Loyola (Md.)
 
4North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 4
Adrian Atkinson dropped some extensive defensive-charting data on the Tar Heels' first 10 games over at Tobacco Road Blues, and as someone who watched hours upon hours of UNC tape over the offseason, I was eager to get a defensive status report. According to Atkinson, John Henson is even more dominant than he was as a sophomore, limiting opponents to just 24.3 percent shooting (down from 28.7 percent last year) and creating just 1.05 free-throw attempts for every 10 field goals he defends. The two biggest revelations had to do with ...

1. Sophomore shooting guard Reggie Bullock, whose injury-limited '10-11 numbers we left out of the magazine study due to small-sample concerns, has emerged as a fabulous perimeter defender. He has a team-high stop percentage of 71.8; for context, the highest stop percentage in SI's preview study belonged to Florida State's Bernard James, at 64.6. Bullock is allowing opponents to shoot just 16.1 percent on three-point attempts, and Atkinson also calls him the best ball-denial defender on the team.

2. Sophomore small forward Harrison Barnes, who was a middle-of-the-pack defender last season, has regressed to the point that he has the worst stop percentage of any rotation player (50.6). He's allowing opponents to shoot 49.0 percent on three-point attempts, and his defensive rebounding percentage has dropped from 12.6 as a freshman to a non-factor-level 7.4. Barnes needs to be a more engaged defender if he plans on leading UNC to a national championship.

Next three: 12/17 vs. Appalachian State, 12/19 vs. Nicholls State, 12/21 vs. Texas
 
5Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 5
We usually save the strength-of-schedule debate for the preseason and bracket-selection time, but as non-conference play winds down, it's worthwhile to look back at which teams actually played the toughest slates. Of the 16 teams that appear in this week's Power Rankings, Duke has faced the most difficult schedule according to kenpom.com's Pythagorean ratings, which have Blue Devils opponents Belmont, Michigan State, Michigan, Kansas, Ohio State and Washington all in its top 40. (That's something to remember when you're comparing Austin Rivers' acclimation to college hoops against, say, that of fellow super-frosh Quincy Miller, whose Baylor squad has played the worst schedule of any Power Ranked team to date.) Here are the full standings:

Team             Nat'l                 SchedRk.
1. Duke 7
2. UNC 14
3. Kansas 16
4. Kentucky 94
5. Xavier 104
6. Wisconsin 142
7. Connecticut 163
8. Marquette 164
9. Florida 169
10. Syracuse 237
11. Georgetown 251
12. Indiana 253
13. Ohio St. 277
14. Louisville 281
15. Missouri 319
16. Baylor 341

Next three: 12/19 vs. UNC-Greensboro, 12/30 vs. Western Michigan, 1/1 vs Penn
 
6Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 6
Because it's finals week, and few teams are even playing games, permit me to use this space (and Marquette's) for tangential subject matter. While writing this Wednesday night I had Chris Paul on the brain, his trade to the Clippers just having gone down, and wondered what had happened to Miguel Paul, the former Mizzou guard who claimed Chris Paul was his cousin and called himself "MP3," a derivative of Chris' "CP3." When it was later revealed that Chris had never heard of Miguel, MP3 had to do some awkward backtracking. He never caught on at Mizzou, and transferred after the '09-10 season to East Carolina, where he's now redeeming himself by posting surprisingly CP3-like averages of 16.1 points and 5.6 assists per game.

Further tangent-ing made me curious which (if any) current guards had stat lines that truly stack up with CP3's final year at Wake Forest, in '04-05. After some searching, these were the five closest comps (all data from Statsheet.com):

Player                    ORtg    Poss%   A/T   FTR    Stl%
Chris Paul, WF 04-05 122.9 23.1 2.4 58.9 3.9

Kerron Johnson, Belmont 124.3 27.3 2.3 70.0 3.8
Miguel Paul, ECU 114.0 27.5 2.4 52.0 4.9
Tu Holloway, Xavier 119.2 24.1 1.8 88.8 3.8
Scott Machado, Iona 119.2 24.7 3.0 34.2 2.6
Pierre Jackson, Baylor 127.1 24.2 1.7 57.1 4.0

Next three: 12/15 vs. Kennesaw State, 12/18 vs. William & Mary, 12/22 vs. Illinois (in St. Louis)
 
7Marquette Golden Eagles
Last Week: 7
There's no more proven way to anger a fanbase than to put their team in the Power Rankings, then use the space to write about something unrelated. That's what's gonna happen here, in order for me to indulge in an end-of-year music post.

This week, my friends (and frequent blog collaborators) at Gorilla vs. Bear dropped their top 100 song list for 2011, which is a must-visit for any readers who aspire to have indie cred. My (superior) top five is as follows:

1. The Besnard Lakes: We're Here For A Good Time, which is a cover of a (much different-sounding) 1977 song by the Vancouver rock band Trooper. Canadians covering Canadians.
2. Kurt Vile: Baby's Arms. No Philly teams in the Power Rankings, but at least Kurt is representing. This is his best song yet.
3. Real Estate: Green Aisles. Days is the year's best album.
4. Girls: Honey Bunny. "I've been messing with so many girls who could give a damn about who I am." I can totally sympathize.
5. Sandro Perri: Changes. A 7.5-minute, slow-builder with an excellent ambient section, from a guy who hails from the same city (Toronto) as Marquette point guard Junior Cadougan. There's your basketball context!

Next three: 12/17 vs. Northern Colorado, 12/19 at LSU, 12/22 vs. Milwaukee
 
8Xavier Musketeers
Last Week: 8
SI's Kelli Anderson was in Cincy for the Crosstown Shootout and has a story on the embarrassing events in this week's magazine, and makes the point that while Tu Holloway's early-season heroics validated him as a Player-of-the-Year candidate, "there's no doubt [his] immature instigation of the brawl -- and the comments he made later, including, "We've got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room, not thugs but tough guys on the court" -- will tarnish what has otherwise been a great college basketball success story." In a year where there isn't one clearly dominant player, the incident may hurt Holloway's case for the Wooden or Naismith Awards.

When Anderson referred to a "success story," she was reminding us that Holloway has persevered after attending five high schools in four states, and then decommitting from Indiana after Kelvin Sampson's resignation. Holloway seemed to fit perfectly at Xavier, and up until Saturday -- when the Hoosiers had a storybook court-storming after beating Kentucky, and the Musketeers had an inexcusable ending to their rout of the Bearcats -- Cincy had been a far superior basketball setting than Bloomington.

Next three: 12/18 vs. Oral Roberts, 12/22 vs. Long Beach State (Diamond Head Classic), 12/23 TBD (Diamond Head Classic)
 
9Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 9
It still amazes me that the Cardinals are undefeated despite the fact that their top three possession users on offense have sub-100 ORatings: Peyton Siva (98.7 ORtg, 24.2 percent of possessions); Chane Behanan (99.6 ORtng, 21.6 percent) and Russ Smith (90.9 ORtng, 26.1 percent in limited action). I suppose it could be worse; there are nine teams, by my count, who are letting a player with an ORtng of 90 or lower use more than 30 percent of their possessions:

Team            Player           Poss%   ORtg
Maryland-BC Chase Plummer 35.8 81.4
Washington Tony Wroten 35.7 90.3
Bryant Alex Francis 33.1 90.5
Northern Ill. Abdel Nader 32.2 70.0
Ok. State LeBryan Nash 31.9 88.8
Missouri St. Kyle Weems 31.1 85.6
San Jose St. James Kinney 30.5 90.4
William&Mary Marcus Thornton 30.4 78.4
Maryland-ES Hillary Haley 30.3 76.3

Next three: 12/17 vs. Memphis, 12/20 vs. Charleston, 12/23 vs. Western Kentucky
 
10UConn Huskies
Last Week: 11
The Alex Oriakhi Mystery continues. Regressing into a bit player for the Huskies has been hard on him ("I won't lie to you -- this hasn't been easy," he told CBS' Jeff Goodman last week), but there is no concrete explanation other than that he no longer "fits" in the Huskies' offense now that Andre Drummond is on the floor. In UConn's impressive 67-53 win over Harvard last week, Drummond played 25 minutes with a plus-minus of 8, Tyler Olander played 27 minutes with a plus-minus of 21, and Oriakhi played 22 minutes with a plus-minus of 3 -- the lowest of any rotation player. The positive thing for Huskies fans is that they're 8-1 and a top-10 team despite coming nowhere near reaching their potential in the frontcourt (even Drummond has a ways to go), and only beginning to integrate the talented Ryan Boatright into their guard rotation.

Next three: 12/18 vs. Holy Cross, 12/22 vs. Fairfield, 12/28 at South Florida
 
11Indiana Hoosiers
Last Week: 24
At some point -- perhaps after a game when Cody Zeller gets far more touches than he did against Kentucky -- the Rankings will have a breakdown of the nation's top freshman. For now, the Hoosier space will be used for an appreciation of my favorite YouTube highlight in many years: The Watford Shot, synced up with the theme from Jimmy Chitwood's game-winner against South Bend Central.



The Tom Crean Face that followed Watford's shot is far superior to Norman Dale's reaction in the original scene. All Dale does is sort of laugh, like he knew Chitwood had it all along, whereas Crean's expression gave you have genuine concern that he might go into shock:



Next three: 12/17 vs. Notre Dame (in Indianapolis), 12/19 vs. Howard, 12/22 vs. UMBC
 
12Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 13
John Hollinger's college Player Efficiency Rating leader board has such a low playing-time filter that Jayhawks reserve forward Kevin Young, who averages just 9.1 minutes per game, makes the cut ? and manages to rank No. 6 nationally, right behind Wooden/Naismith frontrunner Jared Sullinger, and well ahead of KU's All-America-candidate power forward, Thomas Robinson. Which begs the question: Why doesn't Young play more often? The transfer from Loyola Marymount didn't even get on the floor in KU's loss to Duke on Nov. 23, but he looked great against the Buckeyes, playing a season-high 24 minutes -- more than he received in the previous four games combined -- and going 6-of-8 from the field for 14 points. Young is a frail 6-foot-8 (at 185 pounds), and still learning Bill Self's system, but he has potential to be an immensely valuable bench asset.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Davidson (in Kansas City), 12/22 at USC, 12/29 vs. Howard
 
13Baylor Bears
Last Week: 10
Saturday's game at BYU is worth monitoring not just because it's the Bears' first meeting with a top-20 kenpom opponent this season, and an underrated, post-Jimmer BYU team could pull off an upset. It also marks the Baylor debut of sophomore guard Gary Franklin, who transferred from Cal midway through last season. I'm very curious to see how he fits into the backcourt rotation, given that juco transfer Pierre Jackson is playing quite well, and Franklin was, to put it bluntly, not very good in his freshman year in Berkeley. He had an ORating of 76.8 in limited minutes, and although 82 of his 118 shots were 3s, he made just 29.3 percent of them, and struggled to finish around the rim. As a former elite recruit, he has the potential to help Baylor -- but only if can make significant efficiency games from 2010.

Next three: 12/17 at BYU, 12/19 vs. Paul Quinn, 12/22 vs. St. Mary's (Las Vegas Classic)
 
14Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 18
Wisconsin is No. 1 in the national adjusted defensive efficiency standings this year, after ranking a very un-Bo Ryan-like 56th last season, when its offense was so insanely efficient that little else mattered. The reason for this leap isn't, as some would have you believe, because opposing offenses are frustrated by the overall game pace (which hasn't changed since last year), or because the Badgers recruit physical players (all of their big men since Greg Stiemsma have arrived skinny).

UW's defensive dominance is due to a Duke-like focus on locking down the perimeter, as the Badgers are barely even letting opponents attempt 3s this year, much less make them; and key personnel changes at the 3-4-5 spots in the starting lineup. What they lost in offensive production from Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz, they've more than made up for on D by swapping in Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren. Examine the two trios' defensive profiles, and the difference is clear:

2010-11       DReb%   Blk%   Stl%
3-Jarmusz 7.7 0.1 1.9
4-Nankivil 11.7 5.2 1.1
5-Leuer 22.5 3.1 1.0

2011-12 DReb% Blk% Stl%
3-Evans 21.5 5.8 3.0
4-Bruesewitz 15.1 0.4 1.0
5-Berggren 16.6 5.5 4.0

Syracuse's Dion Waiters is receiving plenty of attention for his steals, but Evans and Berggren have quietly been the country's biggest defensive-breakout players.

Next three: 12/15 vs. Savannah State, 12/23 vs. Mississippi Valley State, 12/27 at Nebraska
 
15Florida Gators
Last Week: 16
The Gators' Saturday meeting with Texas A&M went from "marginally interesting" to must-see now that 6-7 forward Khris Middleton has returned from the knee injury he suffered in the Aggies' season opener. Middleton looked like a star in his first game back, scoring 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. He has the potential to be one of the country's better scorers, and the logical Florida player to guard him is five-star freshman Brad Beal, whose draft stock is significantly higher than Middleton's. It's a matchup that should have NBA scouts very intrigued. (And when the Gators have the ball, the Feed Patric Young campaign should be on in full force, because A&M is one of the nation's best teams at perimeter D. If Florida's guards get content to take too many contested threes, they'll be playing right into the Aggies' hands.)

Next three: 12/17 vs. Texas A&M, 12/19 vs. Mississippi Valley State, 12/22 vs. Florida State
 
16Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: 17
Center Henry Sims was named to my Senior Breakout squad this week for his very unexpected gains in efficiency and assist rate; out of nowhere, he's become one of the better playmaking big men in the country. Before this, his major achievement had been a failed run for campus vice president that featured an excellent Social Network-spoofing campaign video:


(As Ballin' is a Habit noted last season, teammate Nate Lubick curiously chose to support a different ticket by starring in a Dos Equis-esque ad.)

Next three: 12/17 vs. American, 12/22 vs. Memphis, 12/28 at Louisville
 

The Next 16: 17. Michigan State,18. Pittsburgh,19. Illinois,20. St. Louis,21. UNLV,22. Murray State,23. Purdue,24. Harvard,25. Virginia,26. Mississippi State,27. Wichita State,28. Michigan,29. Creighton,30. Texas A&M,31. Stanford,32. Iona

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