By Luke Winn
November 16, 2012

As the Power Rankings make their 2012-13 regular-season debut, it's too early to be attempting any deep data dives. This is the First Impressions/Small Samples edition, with three impressive Big Ten teams in the top five:

College Hoops Power Rankings
1 Indiana <a href=Hoosiers" title="Indiana Hoosiers">
Before watching tape of the Hoosiers' Thursday-night win over Sam Houston State, I went back and re-read the opening section of Seth Davis' Cody Zeller feature in the SI preview issue. Seth sits in on a film session entitled "#40 CODY ZELLER: HOW HE SCORES," and describes the three primary half-court options: the sit-'n'-spin in the post, where he sits low to get leverage before attempting a move; the face and space, where he faces up and drives or shoots; and the slip, where he slips, rolls or pops after setting a ball screen. I figured I'd have to watch at least 10 minutes of film to see them all ... and was amused when IU ran through all three options on its first trip down the floor. It's diagrammed below (green lines are passes, blue lines are cuts without the ball, and purple squiggles are dribbles):

Explanation: The Hoosiers run a five-out set with Zeller starting in the left corner (frame 1). Point guard Yogi Ferrell cuts the left block to set a screen for Zeller to cut across the lane (2), where he can receive a post feed from Jordan Hulls (3), and attempt the sit-and-spin move. After two defenders converge on him, and another lurks in the middle of the paint (4), Zeller wisely opts for a kick-out.

IU then smoothly transitions into the next Zeller option -- the face-and-space on the right baseline, where he's isolated against a vulnerable opposing center (1):

Zeller drives left, but Will Sheehey's man sags into the lane (2), and that's when the Hoosiers transition into yet another Zeller option: the pick-and-pop. He screens for Sheehey and pops to the top of the key (3), where Zeller receives the kick-out pass and attempts a three -- something he didn't do once as a freshman. He misses this one, but has worked hard on becoming a real threat from beyond the arc. I suspect that at least a few treys will make their way into this season's "HOW HE SCORES" reel.

Photo Credit: The Big Ten Network

Next three: 11/19 vs. Georgia (Legends Classic), 11/20 vs. Georgetown or UCLA (Legends), 11/25 vs. Ball State
2 Louisville <a href=Cardinals" title="Louisville-Cardinals">
From the stuff-I'm-monitoring-with-a-degree-of-skepticism file: Junior guard Russ Smith -- whose Russ-diculousness became legend in last season's NCAA tournament -- is vowing to play more under control on offense, with smarter shot selection. The two-guard who shot 35.6 percent from the field as a sophomore told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he'd still like to be called Russ-diculous -- "It's a pretty popular name, so I wouldn't want to lose that" -- but he doesn't want to play Russdiculously anymore.

In the Cardinals' season-opening win over Manhattan, he scored 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting with just two turnovers. In game No. 2 against Samford, he scored 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting, with three turnovers. His field-goal percentage is 46.9 thus far. If Smith can find a way to be Louisville's go-to-guy while scoring more than 1.1 points per possession (he's at 1.19), its offense will be in good shape. "When Russ is playing well and under control," teammate Luke Hancock told the Courier-Journal, "he's probably the best two guard in the country."

Next three: 11/18 vs. Miami (Ohio), 11/22 vs. Northern Iowa (Battle 4 Atlantis), 11/23 TBD (B4A)
3 Florida <a href=Gators" title="Florida Gators">
Perfect Erik Murphy (10-of-10 shooting!) and the Gators put on a clinic against a Wisconsin defense that is not used to attending clinics. Florida scored 1.17 points per possession in a 74-56 rout, and that was without the services of pass-first point guard Scottie Wilbekin.

Bo Ryan's D only allowed 1.17 or more PPP three times last season:

* 1.17 PPP to Michigan State on Feb. 16 (loss)
* 1.17 PPP to Indiana on March 9 (win)
* 1.21 PPP to Syracuse on March 22 (loss)

All three of those teams ranked in the top 15 in scoring efficiency; it requires a very elite offense to pick apart the Badgers' defense. The fact that the Gators did it even without Wilbekin -- who in theory would create more open looks for veteran stars Kenny Boynton and Patric Young -- is promising. Florida, and not Missouri or Kentucky, may have the SEC's best offense.

Next three: 11/18 vs. Middle Tennessee (Tampa, Fla.), 11/20 vs. Savannah State, 11/23 vs. Central Florida
4 Michigan <a href=Wolverines" title="Michigan Wolverines">
Has the Wolverines' offense changed much from 2011-12? There was speculation in the preseason that the presence of three big men in the rotation (Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Jon Horford) might necessitate alterations to John Beilein's long-range dependent attack, which relied on a four-guard lineup last season. In October, Beilein said it was a "puzzle" he was still trying to solve.

Three games in, the early evidence suggests that Michigan is a very good team, but not one that's undergone a stylistic overhaul.

* The Wolverines are still starting four perimeter players, but the fact that the fourth one is 6-8 Glenn Robinson III has given a boost to their rebounding and defense.

* They're still not fond of feeding the post: 2.6 percent of their possessions last season were post-ups, and just 3.5 percent of their possessions this season fall into that category, according to Synergy Sports Technology.

* The change that's worth monitoring is that their three-point attempts have gone down, from 44.2 percent of overall shots last season to 39.5 percent this season. This could be a big deal, because the last time a Beilein team took fewer than 40 percent of its shots from three-point range was all the way back in 2003.

But before I declare it an important development, I'd like to see what that rate looks like after they face tough-to-slash Big Ten defenses, against whom it's easy to settle for treys.

Next three: 11/21 vs. Pittsburgh (NIT Season Tip-Off), 11/23 TBD (NIT), 11/27 vs. NC State (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
5 Ohio State <a href=Buckeyes" title="Ohio State Buckeyes">
The Buckeyes' version of the Carrier Classic -- a Nov. 9 opener against Marquette on the USS Yorktown -- suffered a rare condensation cancelation. This was unfortunate because it robbed us of a chance to assess them against a quality opponent in their first post-Sullinger game ... and it prevented two Style Archive-worthy footwear elements from seeing the court. The first, at left, is the custom O-with-Chevron logo on the Nike Special Forces Boots that Ohio State's coaches were supposed to wear; the second, at right, are the camouflage laces and edging on the Buckeyes' Nike Zoom Soldier IV's:

Ohio State at least wore its camo home gear on Veteran's Day against Albany, and DeShaun Thomas put up 19 points wearing a matching camo arm-sleeve:

In the post-camo portion of the Buckeyes' schedule, pay attention to who scores more efficiently -- Thomas (who went 7-of-17 vs. Albany) or the backcourt combo of Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith (who were 14-of-20 shooting, including 7-of-9 on threes, in that game). If the guards really are that good, there's no need for Thomas to be chucking up 20 shots every night.

(Photo credits: Jason Mowry/Icon SMI; Instagram)

Next three: 11/17 vs. Rhode Island (Hall of Fame Tip-Off), 11/18 vs. Washington or Seton Hall, 11/23 vs. Missouri-Kansas City
6 NC State <a href=Wolfpack" title="NC State Wolfpack">
In order to generate money for "family planning," Wolfpack legend David Thompson is auctioning off his personal memorabilia collection. The big-ticket items include his '72-73 ACC championship ring (starting bid: $750) and his '74 national championship ring (starting bid: $5,000). If you're financially challenged but still want in on the action, Thompson's "Cleveland County Outstanding Citizen Award" plaque starts at only $100.

It's sad that the NCAA's harsh '70s rulebook robbed the college hoops world from seeing Thompson dunk (it wasn't allowed!) for his entire career, or even play varsity games as a freshman (his was the last banned class). In the three years he was eligible for primetime, he scored so prolifically (averaging 24.7, 26.0 and 29.9 points per game) that one suspects he could have put up 20 with ease as a frosh. The 'Pack are grateful that they get to play their elite freshmen in 2012, but the best scorer of the bunch, two-guard Rodney Purvis, probably has a ceiling of 14-15 points per game. In his debut against Miami of Ohio, he had 16, and he scored 12 against Penn State on Thursday.

Next three: 11/16 vs. Penn State (Puerto Rico Tip-Off), 11/17 & 18 TBD (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
7 Syracuse <a href=Orange" title="Syracuse Orange">
This could be the first season of the tempo-free era where an elite Orange team has a better defense than offense. They're not going to be able to hold opponents to 27.0 percent shooting every game, as they did in Sunday's wind-and-sun-affected suffocation of San Diego State on the USS Midway. But Syracuse's lineup seems more defense-first after losing Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, and freshman Michael Carter-Williams should be able to fill the turnover-creation void left by Dion Waiters' early jump to the NBA.

In his limited minutes as a freshman, Carter-Williams had nearly the same steal percentage (4.5) as Waiters (4.6), and Carter-Williams also had five steals in 32 minutes against the Aztecs -- a very strong start. At 6-6 with a huge wingspan and enough bulk to no longer get pushed around by physical Big East guards, he should be a valuable weapon at the top of the 2-3 zone.

Next three: 11/18 vs. Wagner, 11/21 vs. Princeton, 11/25 vs. Colgate
8 Duke <a href=Blue Devils" title="Duke Blue Devils">
I'd like to let this Lil Wayne / Rasheed Sulaimon beef develop a bit more before addressing it -- right now it's just a 'Sheed-said thing, and we're going to need Wayne's reaction.

In the meantime, Seth Curry is a worthy topic. He was the unquestioned star of the Blue Devils' 75-68 win over Kentucky on Tuesday in Atlanta, scoring 23 points and serving as the clutch scorer they hoped he'd develop into when he transferred from Liberty back in 2009. Seth had to wait his turn before inheriting a go-to-guy role. In 2010-11, he was a catch-and-shoot role player, and the possession usage of Duke's top three guards broke down like this:

Nolan Smith 30.9%, Kyrie Irving 27.2% (partial season), Curry 16.0%

In 2011-12, the arrival of one-and-doner Austin Rivers kept Curry in a complementary role, with this usage breakdown:

Rivers 24.1%, Curry 21.9%, Quinn Cook 21.0%

Although the bulk of Duke's possessions are running through the post this season (Mason Plumlee has a 26.9 percent usage rate), there is a clear, new backcourt hierarchy with Curry at the top:

Curry 23.0%, Sulaimon 17.5%, Tyler Thornton 16.0%

If the Blue Devils can count on efficient offense from Curry and Plumlee at those rates, they can dedicate the other two guard spots to defense, shoring up last season's biggest issue -- and allowing them to give NC State serious competition for the ACC title.

Next three: 11/18 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 11/22 vs. Minnesota (Battle 4 Atlantis), 11/23 TBD (B4A)
9 Kentucky-<a href=Wildcats" title="Kentucky-Wildcats">
Better freshman-debut head-shave: Kentucky's Nerlens Noel with the under-the-hightop "UK" ... or UNLV's Katin Reinhardt with the Vanilla Ice mohawk?

The answer is rather obvious. So here's a better freshman question: Who's the better shot-blocker on UK's roster, Nerlens Noel or Willie Cauley-Stein? Noel came in billed as an other-worldly swatter, but so far he has six blocks in 64 minutes, for a block percentage of 7.8 -- a rate that's only about half as good as "He To Whom Nerlens Shall Not Be Compared" posted as a freshman. Noel has only faced good teams -- Maryland and Duke are tough intros for a freshman -- but as Seth Curry showed in crunch time on Tuesday night, UK's new center is rather susceptible to shot-fakes. Noel's reach is extensive, but his blocking instincts aren't exactly Unibrow-like.

(Photo Credits: US Presswire; Instagram)

Next three: 11/16 vs. Lafayette, 11/21 vs. Morehead State, 11/23 vs. Long Island
10 Gonzaga <a href=Bulldogs" title="Gonzaga Bulldogs">
Burning question for Zags fans: Refer to 7-foot-1 freshman center Przemek Karnowski as the "Polish Hammer" -- which the Kennel kids chanted while he scored 22 points in 20 minutes of a season-opening rout of Southern Utah -- or figure out something else, given that the nickname is already owned by the Suns' Marcin Gortat (and before that, the WWF's Ivan Putski)?

As part of a Karnowski/Gortat/Other Polish Dudes Twitter conversation, in which Gortat learned about the Karnowski chant, the elder center proposed a variation: The Big Polish Cannon.

Other suggestions that emerged in Karnowski's postgame tweet-a-thon were "Polish Deer" and "Big Kar." ESPN's Fran Fraschilla has proposed "Mount Poland". Before any final decisions are made, I'd like to see Floyd Mayweather weigh in; he's enough of a Zags fan that he bet $150,000 on their first-half line against West Virginia on Tuesday ... and won $142,000.

Karnowski not only RT'd Floyd's betting slip; the Hammer/Cannon/Deer/Kar also politely Tweeted back, "you are welcome Floyd!"

Next three: 11/18 vs. South Dakota, 11/22 vs. Clemson (Old Spice Classic), 11/23 TBD (Old Spice)
11 Michigan State <a href=Spartans" title="Michigan State Spartans">
Longtime Power Rankings readers are probably sick of hearing how good the Spartans are at rebounding ... but it does seem like they'll be good at rebounding again this year. In four-factor analysis (eFG%, TO%, OReb%, FTRate) the biggest advantage they held over Kansas in Tuesday's victory was on the boards -- State grabbed 35.7 percent of offensive rebounds while KU grabbed just 25.0 percent.

What is even more noteworthy are the offensive/defensive splits among the Spartans' four primary glass-cleaners. How improbable is it that their best two defensive rebounders, Adreian Payne and Denzel Valentine, have yet to grab a single offensive board? These are their percentages after two games:

Player               OReb%      DReb%
Branden Dawson 17.0 8.2
Derrick Nix 23.6 16.6
Denzel Valentine 0.0 25.8
Adreian Payne 0.0 43.1

It's almost as if Tom Izzo has designated duos for offensive and defensive rebounding.

Next three: 11/18 vs. Texas Southern, 11/20 vs. Boise State, 11/23 vs. Oakland
12 Missouri <a href=Tigers" title="Missouri Tigers">
Laurence Bowers is extending his range. The 6-8 senior forward, who missed all of coach Frank Haith's debut season while redshirting with a torn ACL, had been an interior operator during the Mike Anderson regime. Just 8.6 percent of Bowers' sophomore-year points came on threes (he was 10-of-25), and he didn't make a single three as a junior (while attempting eight).

But with the Tigers now playing plenty of four-out offense -- with Alex Oriakhi as the lone post -- against man-to-man D, Bowers figures to spend a good deal of time on the perimeter. Against Alcorn State on Tuesday, four of his 10 shots came from beyond the arc, and he made three of them, looking comfortable as a jump-shooter. He's still excellent at executing well-timed cuts to the rim without the ball, as well as running the floor in transition, but this face-up element could make him a truly multi-dimensional scorer.

Next three: 11/16 vs. Nicholls State, 11/22 vs. Stanford (Battle 4 Atlantis), 11/23 TBD (B4A)
13 Kansas <a href=Jayhawks" title="Kansas Jayhawks">
In October, Jayhawks coach Bill Self found a way to heap praise on Ben McLemore while also cautioning fans on what to expect from the 6-5 freshman wing:

"Well, I do think we are talented and I think our young kids are going to be good. I believe that the most heralded one is Ben [McLemore], without question, because we have not seen Ben play and he is talented, but he just has to learn how to plug himself in the game and be aggressive at all times. But just from an athlete, shooting, length, slide, rebounding -- he can do about as many things as we have had here. He reminds me a lot of Brandon [Rush] in that regard, but we struggled with Brandon being aggressive if you guys remember. So that is one thing that Ben is going to have to be good at."

The Brandon Rush comparison seemed accurate in games 1 and 2: McLemore's ability was evident but he took only eight shots against Southeast Missouri State and seven against Michigan State. He had the highest offensive rating of any Jayhawks starter (129.6) but the lowest usage rate (17.9%).

The Please-Take-Over message got through to McLemore by game 3, however. On Thursday against Chattanooga, he went 8-of-18 from the field and 7-of-10 from the free-throw line, scoring 25 points while turning the ball over just once. He behaved like an offensive centerpiece without suffering any drop in his efficiency. Rush was a better long-range shooter, but I think McLemore, who can generate offense off the bounce -- and create for others -- without committing many turnovers, could be the better all-around player.

Next three: 11/19 vs. Washington State (CBE Classic), 11/20 vs. Texas A&M or St. Louis (CBE), 11/26 vs. San Jose State  
14 North Carolina <a href=Tar Heels" title="North Carolina Tar Heels">
How rare is it for an elite team to play a voluntary November road game? Friday's visit by the Tar Heels to Long Beach State -- in a stopover game en route to the Maui Invitational -- is the only voluntary, true road game for any team in my top 16. Syracuse's aircraft-carrier visit to San Diego (to play SDSU) is the next-closest thing.

The other six road games being played by Power-Ranked teams were all forced upon their schedules by inter-conference challenges:

Nov. 27: North Carolina at Indiana (ACC/Big Ten)
Nov. 27: NC State at Michigan (ACC/Big Ten)
Nov. 28: Ohio State at Duke (ACC/Big Ten)
Nov. 28: Michigan State at Miami (ACC/Big Ten)
Nov. 29: Kentucky at Notre Dame (Big East/SEC)
Nov. 30: Syracuse at Arkansas (Big East/SEC)

Next three: 11/16 at Long Beach State, 11/19 vs. Mississippi State (Maui Invitational), 11/20 TBD (Maui)  
15 Notre Dame <a href=Fighting Irish" title="Notre Dame Fighting Irish">
I have pace on the brain after writing a preview story on the 1990 LSU-Loyola Marymount epic that featured 129 possessions per team and a final score of 148-141. It was intended as a lament for the lass of fast hoops, after 2011-12 went down as the slowest and lowest-scoring season of the three-point era. Will 2012-13 only get worse? If Fresno State and UC-Riverside have anything to say about it, yes: On Wednesday, the Bulldogs beat UC-Riverside 39-30 in an utter debacle of a game that had 56 possessions per team, but such poor shooting that the score was held in the 30s.

I mention this because the "burn" offense occasionally employed by Irish coach Mike Brey has actually produced five games slower than Fresno State-UCR over the past two seasons, but with more efficient offense:

Feb. 27, 2012 vs. Georgetown (41-59, 53 possessions)
Feb. 22, 2012 vs. West Virginia (71-44, 54 possessions)
Feb. 8, 2012 vs. West Virginia (55-51, 51 possessions)
Jan. 29, 2012 vs. UConn (50-48, 53 possessions)
Jan. 24, 2011 vs. Pitt (56-51, 49 possessions)

The Irish's first few games of '12-13 have been reasonably paced (65 and 72 possessions), but the burn has typically made its appearances later in the season.

Next three: 11/16 vs. St. Joe's (Coaches vs. Cancer), 11/17 TBD (CvC), 11/21 vs. George Washington  
16 UNLV Runnin' <a href=Rebels" title="UNLV Runnin' Rebels">
When I wrote about Anthony Bennett's Rebels debut on Monday -- 22 points, seven boards against Northern Arizona -- I was so focused on the super-frosh that I didn't get to address the adjusted role of junior forward Mike Moser. Last season he averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds, and was looked at as an All-America candidate ... but he had just two points in UNLV's opener. It seems as if he could accept a lesser scoring role with Bennett and USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones (who had 15 vs. NAU) serving as go-to options.

That doesn't mean Moser has less value, though; Rebels coach Dave Rice said he thought Moser was the key to their success in a 92-54 rout. "Mike has made sacrifices," Rice said. "When you have a good team and you want to become a very good team, it takes a guy like Mike Moser who scores two points and doesn't care, because he goes and gets 11 rebounds, four assists and no turnovers."

Once Pitt transfer Khem Birch becomes eligible in December, he and Bennett are likely to man the frontcourt while Moser sees more time at small forward, necessitating even further adjustments (or sacrifices) in the name of becoming a very good team.

Next three: 11/17 vs. Jacksonville State, 11/23 vs. Oregon, 11/28 vs. UC-Irvine  

The Next 16: 17. Arizona,18. Creighton,19. Baylor,20. Memphis,21. Pittsburgh,22. UCLA,23. UConn,24. Minnesota,25. Kansas State,26. Georgetown,27. Wisconsin,28. New Mexico,29. San Diego State,30. Cincinnati,31. Davidson,32. Bucknell

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