By Luke Winn
December 19, 2012

Duke stays No. 1, but more importantly, closes in on a crown ...

College Hoops Power Rankings
1 Duke <a href=Blue Devils" title="Duke Blue Devils">
Last Week: 1
... and what crown is that, you ask? It's the award (well, a completely made-up-by-the-Power Rankings trophy) for running the table against the strongest non-conference schedule of the past 10 years, according to the RPI's NCSOS formula. It may be flawed, but it's what the NCAA selection committee uses, so it's the most relevant metric. And the Blue Devils, by my projections, could have just enough NCSOS-power to edge out 2004-05 Kansas for the top spot.

This chart shows the Blue Devils' projection, along with the five strongest non-conference schedules from 2003-on:

Kansas achieved that result in '04-05 not by playing a ton of marquee teams -- its highest-RPI foe was No. 11 Kentucky -- but by playing all 11 of its non-con games against top-100 opponents. There was no fluff.

Duke, on the other hand, will have faced six teams outside the RPI's top 100 ... but also played five in the top 50 (Minnesota, Louisville, Ohio State, Florida Gulf Coast, Delaware).

Next three: 12/19 vs. Cornell, 12/20 vs. Elon, 12/29 vs. Santa Clara
2 Louisville <a href=Cardinals" title="Louisville-Cardinals">
Last Week: 5

First thing: My Russ Smith feature ran in this week's Sports Illustrated. Go get it, and be sure to sugar your grits.

Second thing: I didn't get this in the story, because stats are not its focus, but Smith has made an incredible leap in free-throw production over the Cardinals' past four games, averaging an amazing 14.5 attempts from the stripe per 40 minutes:

(Photo credit: Luke Winn/SI)

Next three: 12/19 vs. Florida International, 12/22 vs. Western Kentucky, 12/29 vs. Kentucky
3 Michigan <a href=Wolverines" title="Michigan Wolverines">
Last Week: 4
Does the Big Ten have a new king of not fouling? For the past two seasons, Thad Matta's Buckeyes excelled at whistle avoidance and held that crown, but Michigan has taken the lead by a wide margin heading into 2012-13 conference play:

By cutting down on free-throws allowed, both the Wolverines and Indiana -- who had suspect defenses last season -- have made significant strides in defensive efficiency.

Next three: 12/20 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/29 vs. Central Michigan, 1/3 vs. Northwestern
4 Indiana <a href=Hoosiers" title="Indiana Hoosiers">
Last Week: 2
Heading into the IU-Butler game, I did a breakdown of Jordan Hulls' much-improved shot distribution; basically, he became an elite offensive role player by shifting 3/4 of his shots to beyond the arc, where he was connecting at a 50 percent rate:

So what did Brad Stevens do on Saturday? He had his Butler players -- primarily Rotnei Clarke -- force Hulls into a totally opposite, inefficient distribution. His stats were:

4-of-9 from inside the arc
0-of-2 from long range

Clarke pressed out on Hulls, was in his face right after any perimeter catches (the image at left is Hulls' first touch), and never helped off of him. The Bulldogs also pushed Hulls off the line on pick-and-rolls, by hedging hard and fighting over the top of screens (see image at right).

It was Hulls' first game without a three all season; the last time he went three-less was Feb. 19, 2012, in an upset loss to Iowa. Butler's success isn't all magic; most of it is smart game-planning.

(Screengrab credits: CBS)

Next three: 12/19 vs. Mount St. Mary's, 12/21 vs. Florida Atlantic, 12/28 vs. Jacksonville
5 Arizona <a href=Wildcats" title="Arizona Wildcats">
Last Week: 9
Forgive me for loving a Goodman line, but his linking of Mark Lyons' point-guard mentality to Russell Westbrook's was spot-on. Lyons is a point guard whose value lies in creating his own offense. As you can see in this matrix of the floor generals from my top eight teams, Lyons' profile is unique. He has a very low ratio of assists/FGA, and uses a bigger chunk of possessions than anyone other than Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams (who's an outlier in his own right) and Michigan's Trey Burke:

(Other PGs featured: Duke's Quinn Cook, Louisville's Peyton Siva, Indiana's Yogi Ferrell, Florida's Scottie Wilbekin, Ohio State's Aaron Craft)

Next three: 12/22 vs. East Tennessee State, 1/3 vs. Colorado, 1/5 vs. Utah
6 Florida <a href=Gators" title="Florida Gators">
Last Week: 3
The Gators' 65-64 loss at Arizona on Saturday sparked some quality, KenPom-led Twitter debate over how polls should assess home-court advantage. Pomeroy's argument, essentially, is that a one-point loss in Tuscon means the Gators would likely win on a neutral court, given that he makes 3-5 point adjustments for home/road locations. Those who disagree with him -- and every AP poll voter but one put Arizona ahead of Florida -- believe the win matters most. At this point I view the teams as essentially equals, but am concerned with the Gators' penchant for late fades in big games, and believe the Wildcats will keep getting better as their freshmen get more comfortable, so I'm putting them one spot ahead.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Southeastern Louisiana, 12/22 vs. Kansas State (in Kansas City), 12/29 vs. Air Force (in Sunrise, Fla.)
7 Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 6
My Player of the Year Ballot, if someone were to demand it (not that any official body has, but if other sites are doing it, I feel compelled to weigh in):

1. Mason Plumlee, Duke. Best player, best team. Simple.
2. Trey Burke, Michigan. Best all-around point guard.
3. Russ Smith, Louisville. Offensive go-to-guy and lead turnover-creator for nation's No. 1 defense. That matters.
4. Doug McDermott, Creighton. Nation's most versatile scorer.
5. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State. Takes on similar shooting load as Smith, but like McDermott, doesn't add as much on D.

Cody Zeller is still within striking distance, but his POY stock took a hit on Saturday. Lehigh's C.J. McCollum and Murray State's Isaiah Canaan, who were both preseason first-teamers by the AP, are strong candidates to step in if anyone in the top five stumbles.

Next three: 12/22 vs. Kansas, 12/29 vs. Chicago State, 1/2 vs. Nebraska
8 Syracuse <a href=Orange" title="Syracuse Orange">
Last Week: 7
Thank you, Jim Boeheim, for using the pulpit of your 900th-win press conference to do something meaningful -- speak out against gun culture in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre:

"This will probably offend some people," Boeheim said. "If we in this country as Americans cannot get the people that represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society. I'm a hunter. I've hunted. I'm not talking about rifles. That's fine. If one person in this world; the NRA president, anybody, can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots in the thing. This is our fault. This is my fault and your fault. All of your faults if we don't get out and do something about this."

Thank you, retired UConn coach Jim Calhoun, for using your own pulpit to speak out about gun control:

"I don't think there's any politics about gun control," Calhoun said. "In my opinion, nobody should have an automatic weapon unless they're ... protecting the country. The idea that children would be faced with that, or teachers that were trying to help them ... there are other things in my lifetime that I can explain -- a distraught kid, a fired employee. But this is so nonsensical."

Thank you, Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey, for using the pulpit of your biggest postgame presser of the year, at Ohio State, to speak out about, well, at least doing something:

"I know this country's got issues. Is it a gun issue? Is it a mental illness issue? Or is it a society that has lost the fact, the understanding, that decent human values are important? And our leaders -- I didn't vote for President Obama. But you know what? He's my president now. He's my leader. I need him to step up. Mr. Boehner, the Speaker of the House, he's a Xavier guy, he's a Cincinnati guy, OK, he needs to step up. Parents, teachers, rabbis, priests, coaches, everybody needs to step up. This has to be a time for change. ... I'm proud to grow up American. I'm proud to say I'm part of the greatest country ever. And that's got to stay that way. And it'll stay that way if we change. But we gotta change."

These comments generated nearly 300,000 stories in Google, thousands of Tweets, and tons of TV/radio airtime for a vital cause. Keep speaking out, coaches. Your words have weight. Don't let anyone tell you to stick to sports.

Next three: 12/22 vs. Temple (NYC), 12/29 vs. Alcorn State, 12/31 vs. Central Connecticut
9 Kansas <a href=Jayhawks" title="Kansas Jayhawks">
Last Week: 8
Jeff Withey still leads the nation by a wide margin in blocks per foul, but where do the Jayhawks rank as a whole?

I used the block percentage and defensive free-throw rate rankings from to identify the teams with the highest ranking in both categories:

All the teams ahead of the Jayhawks are two-trick wonders; they don't defend actual shots well enough to have an elite defense. KU and Virginia, on the other hand, lock up the interior incredibly well, also ranking in the top 10 in two-point field-goal percentage defense.

Next three: 12/22 at Ohio State, 12/29 vs. American, 1/6 vs. Temple
10 Illinois <a href=Fighting Illini" title="Illinois Fighting Illini">
Last Week: 10
Breakout seniors are among the rarest things in college hoops, but not only does Illinois have a surprise fourth-year star in guard Brandon Paul, it also has a breakout role player in forward Tyler Griffey. He's benefitting from increased playing time in the wake of Meyers Leonard's jump to the NBA draft, but Griffey is also being helped by a change in his shot distribution: In John Groce's new offense, Griffey is taking a career high 6.0 three-point attempts per 40 minutes, and they seem to be good looks, too. He's hitting at a 42.9 percent rate, which, if it keeps up, could make him a valuable weapon for drawing opposing Big Ten big men out of the lane.

Next three: 12/22 vs. Missouri (in St. Louis), 12/29 vs. Auburn (in Chicago), 1/2 at Purdue
11 Cincinnati <a href=Bearcats" title="Cincinnati Bearcats">
Last Week: 12
In Seth Davis' Fast Break column this week, Cincy coach Mick Cronin called Cashmere Wright "one of the best shooting point guards in the country." That's a true statement, even though you don't typically hear Wright's name mentioned in the conversation with elite-shooting floor generals. Names that tend to come up first are Butler's Rotnei Clarke, St. Mary's Matthew Dellavedova and Murray State's Isaiah Canaan. But Wright's numbers stack up very well against that trio:

Kind of surprising to see that Wright takes (and makes) more threes per 40 minutes than Canaan, isn't it?

Next three: 12/19 vs. Xavier (neutral court), 12/22 vs. Wright State, 12/27 vs. New Mexico
12 Notre Dame <a href=Fighting Irish" title="Notre Dame Fighting Irish">
Last Week: 11
An update on Club Cooley, which allows in only players whose offensive and defensive rebounding percentages are 20 percent or higher:

Jack Cooley (23.2 OR%/20.7 DR%) is the only patron in the club. He's lonely. He can't drink all the Cristal by himself.

The bouncer is sizing up the following candidates for entry, but keeping them behind the velvet rope:

* Pittsburgh's Steven Adams (19.9%/17.6%)
* Colorado State's Pierce Hornung (17.5%/21.3%)
* Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe (17.7%/21.0%)
* UC-Santa Barbara's Alan Williams (17.6%/23.4%)

Next three: 12/19 vs. Kennesaw State, 12/21 vs. Niagara, 1/5 vs. Seton Hall
13 Minnesota <a href=Golden Gophers" title="Minnesota Golden Gophers">
Last Week: 13
How long will Gophers senior forward Trevor Mbakwe -- who, as the previous blurb indicates, is one of the country's elite rebounders -- remain a sub-20-minute guy who comes off the bench? Minnesota coach Tubby Smith has been slow-playing Mbakwe's return from an ACL injury, trying to keep him healthy for the Big Ten season, but the coach hasn't indicated when or if his rotation will change. ("I really haven't had to push it at this point, which is fine because I don't want to push it," Smith told the Minneapolis Star Tribune earlier this month.)

While the Gophers' record looks great, with the only blemish a neutral-court loss to Duke, they do have a big flaw on defense: they're getting killed on the defensive glass, ranking 285th nationally in DR%, according to That's by far the worst ranking among Big Ten teams, and the obvious way to change it is to give more playing time to your best defensive rebounder. That would be Mbakwe, by a wide margin. I suspect that by the time they hit the Big Ten grinder -- facing Illinois, Indiana and Michigan back-to-back-to-back in mid-January -- he'll be logging starter minutes.

Next three: 12/22 vs. Lafayette, 12/31 vs. Michigan State, 1/6 vs. Northwestern
14 Gonzaga <a href=Bulldogs" title="Gonzaga Bulldogs">
Last Week: 7
May Zags freshman Rem Bakamus be an inspiration to all walk-ons, for his enthusiasm, lack of self-consciousness during a nationally-televised game, and most of all, the creativity to trump the horribly played-out three-goggles celebration with something more rockin':

He calls it the #3Tar. The world needs more #3Tar, less goggles.

(I'm disappointed that Mark Titus never did this to celebrate Jon Diebler threes while he was at Ohio State, but happy the former walk-on got to honor it over at Grantland. )

Next three: 12/19 vs. Campbell, 12/28 vs. Baylor, 12/31 at Oklahoma State
15 Creighton <a href=Bluejays" title="Creighton Bluejays">
Last Week: 15
The Bluejays defense, in terms of adjusted efficiency, is greatly improved from 2011-12, jumping from 178th to 41st nationally. For some context, last season, the four most similar NCAA tournament defenses to Creighton's belonged to Colorado State (an 11-seed), Iona (a 14), Norfolk State (a 15) and UNC-Asheville (a 16). That's why the Jays weren't considered a dangerous tourney team.

But this season? The four most similar likely NCAA tournament defenses are Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Miami, all teams I expect to see in the 4-9 range. That's promising. What I worry about is if their defensive improvement is sustainable, given that it's based mostly on a huge swing in 3-point percentage allowed -- the element of D that kenpom has proven is most-based on luck. Should Creighton's 3-point D regress back toward 2011-12 levels, it could be in trouble once again.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Tulsa, 12/29 vs. Evansville, 1/2 at Illinois State
16 Butler Bulldogs
Last Week: NR
The Bulldogs' excellent scheming against Indiana wasn't limited to just keeping Jordan Hulls from attempting any threes. A second facet to Brad Stevens' game plan was taking away Cody Zeller's patented rim-runs, which had been generating him five-plus points per 40 minutes, according to the early versions of our GaZeller Watch. On Saturday, Zeller played 37 minutes ... and had just one point in transition, when he was fouled on a run-out (at right) after a Victor Oladipo steal. In that instance it was tough for Butler to prevent, since Zeller was already high on the court for the steal (at left), and the Bulldogs were caught off-guard by the turnover:

For the rest of the game, Butler managed to get at least one defender back into the paint to prevent easy Zeller catches for layups. Between the loss of Zeller's transition points and the absence of Hulls' threes, it's surprising that the game was even that close.

(Screengrab credit: CBS)

Next three: 12/22 vs. Evansville, 12/29 vs. Vanderbilt, 1/2 vs. Penn

The Next 16: 17. New Mexico, 18. Georgetown, 19. Pittsburgh, 20. UNLV, 21. San Diego State, 22. Missouri, 23. Michigan State, 24. NC State, 25. VCU, 26. Wyoming, 26. Wichita State, 27. Oregon, 28. North Carolina, 29. Oklahoma State, 30. Miami, 31. Kentucky, 32. Virginia

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