Power Rankings: Kentucky's pressure, the debut of Tank Shots, more

Tuesday November 25th, 2014

The Power Rankings makes its 2014-15 debut with Frank The Tank-charting, Wildcat pressing and a Thanksgiving-week Vine buffet ...

College basketball power rankings
Volume I
  • 1
    1Kentucky Wildcats
    record: 5-0
    My hope is to avoid using a certain p-word as much as possible when analyzing Kentucky. At the moment I'm more interested in pressing than that other thing. Even though the Wildcats have routed opponents by an average of 34.6 points per game, they've applied full-court pressure on 20.4 percent of defensive possessions -- a striking departure from the rest of the John Calipari era, in which his teams pressed 4.5 percent of the time, on average.
    Kentucky's current pressure level falls just below that of an "all-out" pressing team such as VCU, which pressed 33.7 percent of the time last season -- after nearly all made shots and dead-ball situations. The Wildcats' press frequency puts them more in line with a team they'd rather not be compared to: Louisville. And that makes this topic all the more fun.
    In the Wildcats' first four games, they showed (by my count) four different press looks, all of which were man-to-man: Token pressure where the ballhander is picked up fullcourt by a single defender; an immediate trap (by the inbounder's man) of whoever receives the inbounds pass; a delayed trap (by the inbounder's man) off the ballhandler closer to midcourt; and finally, a look where the inbounder's man faceguards the opposing point guard, forcing them to inbound to a lesser ballhandler. This video edit should serve as a primer:
    (Chart data source: Synergy Sports Technology)
    Next up: 11/25 vs. UT-Arlington, 11/30 vs. Providence, 12/5 vs. Texas

  • 2
    2Wisconsin Badgers
    record: 4-0
    Badgers center Frank Kaminsky opened the season as the Naismith-and-Wooden frontrunner and has since put some distance between himself and the rest of the field. The Tank is averaging 19.3 points per game and an absurd 1.425 points per possession by adhering to a plan that would make the Rockets proud: He either posts up, drives into the paint (preferring spin-back moves to his right hand), or shoots threes. He's only taken one mid-range jumper through four games, sticking to his sweet spots in the right half of the paint and just to the right of the top of the key, where he tends to pop after setting screens.
    The inaugural version of Tank Shots™, hand-charted from Badgers film, allows you to visualize those shot clusters:
    Next up: Battle 4 Atlantis, starting 11/26 vs. UAB

  • 3
    3Duke Blue Devils
    record: 5-0
    Blue Devils center Jahlil Okafor opened the season as the projected No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft, and was dominating until this past weekend's Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, when Temple and Stanford held him to 11-of-30 shooting inside the arc. Although Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said that "There's really not anything that Jah should not be able to do eventually," what Okafor may lack at the moment is the ability to insulate himself from rough shooting stretches by reliably drawing fouls. Through five games he's drawing 4.1 fouls per 40 minutes and is generating just 0.217 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt.
    Compare those rates to freshman-year stats of post-oriented bigs who were recently selected in the top-10 of the NBA draft, and you'll see that Okafor's early numbers lag behind. The best center from last season, Joel Embiid, drew 6.3 fouls per 40 minutes and generated 0.836 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt. It is obviously still early, but consider this a Thing Worth Monitoring:
    (Chart data source: kenpom.com)
    Next up: 11/26 vs. Furman, 11/30 vs. Army, 12/3 at Wisconsin

  • 4
    4Arizona Wildcats
    record: 4-0
    I appreciated how Sean Miller got Brandon Ashley back into the offensive groove in 2014-15, after the power forward's previous season was cut short by a foot injury. The Wildcats succeeded in running the same misdirection/back-screen/cut/corner-entry play for Ashley three times in their opener against Mount St. Mary's on Nov. 14, with opposing defenders looking equally (and somewhat inexplicably) baffled on each occasion. The buckets aren't going to get much easier than this:
    Next up: Maui Invitational (concludes Weds.)

  • 5
    5Louisville Cardinals
    record: 4-0
    The Cardinals beat Savannah State 87-26 last night, but Rick Pitino wanted everyone to know that he wasn't trying to run up the score. "I don't like to see any team struggle like that, I really don't," he said. "I tried everything. We played four white guys and an Egyptian. I mean, we tried everything."

    Meanwhile, a 6-foot-10 freshman who is neither Caucasian nor Egyptian has been Louisville's biggest early surprise. Chinanu Onuaku was the No. 64-ranked recruit in the Class of 2014, and although it's rare for big men outside the top 20-30 to be instant-impact players, he could be the exception, having forced his way into the Cardinals' starting lineup by serving as an incredibly productive role player. Onuaku has rebounded at Alan Williams-as-a-freshman-levels (he's grabbing 22.9 percent of available offensive boards!) and blocked eight shots in just 67 minutes. I need to see him against better competition to deem him fully legit, but I like what I've witnessed thus far. And so does Pitino, who said of Onuaku, "I think we've got ourselves a real jewel."
    Next up: 11/26 vs. Cleveland State, 12/2 vs. Ohio State, 12/5 vs. Florida International

  • 6
    6Gonzaga Bulldogs
    record: 4-0
    Forgive me for recording a Vine off of my laptop screen, but I needed a way to share what could go down as the Foul of the Year, from the Zags' win over SMU on Nov. 17. Nic Moore, a 5-9 point guard, quite literally drives the ball into the ass of Przemek Karnowski, a 7-1 center -- and the referee deems Karnowski at fault for getting intentionally rear-ended:

    Next up: NIT Season Tip-Off, starting 11/26 vs. Georgia

  • 7
    7Texas Longhorns
    record: 4-0
    After voting for a preseason All-America first team that had two point guards (North Carolina's Marcus Paige and Wichita State's Fred VanVleet) and three power forward/centers (Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, Duke's Jahlil Okafor and Louisville's Montrezl Harrell), I'm realizing that this is a better year for small forwards than I initially expected. Case A is Texas senior Jonathan Holmes, who carried the Longhorns to the 2K Sports Classic title last week after they lost star guard Isaiah Taylor to a broken wrist.
    Holmes is averaging 16.0 points in just 24.8 minutes per game, scoring at an incredible rate of efficiency (1.477 PPP!). He's also giving Texas more rebounding production from the wing (8.2 per game) than any other team in the country, and he's the only player to have been name-checked by Q-Tip*. All of which puts Holmes atop my Early Small Forward Rankings Within Rankings:

    1. Jonathan Holmes, Texas
    2. LaDontae Henton, Providence
    3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
    4. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
    5. Justin Anderson, Virginia

    (* possibly a different John Holmes, but still.)
    Next up: 11/25 vs. St. Francis (PA), 11/30 at UConn, 12/2 vs. UT-Arlington

  • 8
    8Villanova Wildcats
    record: 4-0
    From the 2011-12 season to the present -- when VCU has been at its turnover-creating, pressing peak under Shaka Smart -- only five Rams opponents have turned the ball over on fewer than 15 percent of their possessions. One of those five is Villanova, which in Monday's Legends Classic had a TO% of just 14.8 and not surprisingly beat VCU 77-53.

    The Wildcats' two primary playmakers, point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and wing guard Darrun Hilliard, combined for 13 assists against one turnover in that game. For a duo that committed a combined 10 turnovers in Villanova's season-ending loss to UConn in the 2014 NCAA tournament, this was a promising development.

    (Chart data source: kenpom.com)

    Next up: Legends Classic, 11/25 vs. Michigan, 11/30 vs. Delaware, 12/3 at La Salle

  • 9
    9Virginia Cavaliers
    record: 4-0
    The aforementioned Justin Anderson just might be a breakout scoring star. Through four games the 6-6 small forward is averaging 16.0 points while stepping into the high-efficiency, moderately high-usage offensive role vacated by Joe Harris, who's now with the Cavs. Anderson neither opened nor closed last season in quality fashion -- he averaged just 3.3 points in the Cavaliers' final four contests of 2013-14 -- so this, too, is a promising development.

    Next up: 11/25 vs. Tennessee State, Barclays Center Classic, starting 11/28 vs. La Salle

  • 10
    10North Carolina Tar Heels
    record: 3-0

    A status check on three of my Breakout Sophomore Formula picks for 2014-15:

    * Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: An absolute monster, averaging 16.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in just 21.7 minutes per game. Leave him on the floor for 27ish minutes, and he might be a first-team All-America. Brice Johnson and Meeks look like the most efficient 4-5 duo not named Kaminsky and ...

    * Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: The Big Ten's sixth man of the year from last season found two ways to get even better: by doubling his rebounding percentages on both ends of the floor and adding a reliable three-point shot. He's now averaging 15.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, and looks like a legit co-star alongside the Tank and Sam Dekker.

    * Deonte Burton, Marquette: Still glaringly underused -- as in, not even starting, and averaging just 7.5 ppg -- on a team that lost to Nebraska-Omaha and nearly suffered the mother of all upsets to NJIT. #FREEBANE

    Next up: Battle 4 Atlantis, starting 11/26 vs. Butler

  • 11
    11Iowa State Cyclones
    record: 4-0

    That moment when you realize pressing Monte Morris was a disastrous idea:

    Twelve assists, zero turnovers vs. Alabama on Monday night, and I doubt this is the last time I'll be referencing a stunning Morris stat line. A MonteMeter may well be in the works. Stay tuned.

    Next up: CBE Hall of Fame Classic, 11/25 vs. Maryland, 12/2 vs. Lamar, 12/4 vs. Arkansas

  • 12
    record: 4-0

    Aztecs Facts In Increasing Order of Improbability:

    1. That Steve Fisher has had a top-25 defense (in efficiency) at San Diego State for five of the past eight years, and is very much on track to make it six of nine

    2. That this travel wasn't called on Aqeel Quinn in the final minute of the first overtime in Monday's win over BYU:

    3. That Fisher's team has now won 124 straight games when it hits the 5-minute mark of the second half with a lead. San Diego is the home of closers -- Trevor Hoffman and Aztecs hoops.

    Next up: Maui Invitational (concludes Weds.)

  • 13
    13Wichita State Shockers
    record: 3-0

    Wild early development in Shocker-land: Power forward Darius Carter, who was their sixth or seventh man last season, and had their fourth-highest shot%, has been going on a sort of field-goal attempt bender. In 48 minutes over three games, Carter has taken 33 shots, or 43.0 percent of Wichita State's shots while he's been on the floor. This means that, according to Statsheet.com, Darius Carter is taking a higher percentage of his team's shots THAN ANY PLAYER IN THE NATION, and he's taking all twos, and making just 48.5 percent of them. I imagine this will not continue.

    Next up: 11/29 vs. Tulsa, 12/3 at Utah, 12/6 vs. St. Louis

  • 14
    14UCLA Bruins
    record: 4-0

    A topic open for discussion: Should the Power Rankings, going forward, focus its passer-charting efforts on the assists-without-turnovers wizardry of Monte Morris (27 assists/2 TOs) and Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos (28 assists/zero TOs) ... or the brewing assist-leader race between UCLA's Bryce Alford (39 assists/4 games) and Ohio State's Shannon Scott (41 assists/3 games)? Alford's emergence as a high-quality, pass-first point guard is what has me intrigued by the Bruins, who just might have the best offense in the Pac-12.

    Next up: Battle 4 Atlantis, starting 11/26 vs. Oklahoma

  • 15
    15West Virginia mountaineers
    record: 5-0

    Mountaineers Facts in Ascending Order of Surprisingness:

    1. They didn't work on their press much in the preseason. “Honestly, we kind of put the press in two days before our first game, but we have the right personnel to make it work,” senior guard Juwan Staten told MetroNews.

    2. They pressed the bejesus out of UConn in the title game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and forced 19 turnovers in a 78-68 upset.

    3. According to Synergy, West Virginia has been pressing more than any team in the nation thus far -- 40.2 percent of the time. The Mountaineers, due to an 11th-hour installation, are now a more pressure-happy team than even VCU.

    Next up: 11/25 vs. VMI, 11/29 vs. Charleston, 12/4 vs. LSU

  • 16
    16Kansas Jayhawks
    record: 2-1
    There are two reasons the Jayhawks get to remain in the rankings despite losing by 32 to Kentucky: I have a hard time fathoming a scenario where KU, with 4-5 future NBA players and a coach who always finds a way to win the Big 12 title, is not one of the best 16 teams in the country ...  and so I have an excuse to alert everyone that UC-Santa Barbara's ALAN WILLIAMS, who went for 22 and 13 against the Jayhawks in the season opener despite being left off the Wooden Award's preseason watch list, has been featurized in this week's Sports Illustrated. Behold, or if you're Ken Pomeroy, weep with joy:

    (Pick up the issue -- with the Packers' Jordy Nelson on the cover -- on newsstands later this week.)

    Next up: Orlando Classic, starting 11/27 vs. Rhode Island

The next 16

17. Miami
18. Michigan
19. Ohio State
20. Michigan State
21. Florida
22. Providence
23. VCU
24. Stanford
25. UConn
26. Xavier
27. Georgetown
28. Maryland
29. Creighton
30. Oklahoma
31. Syracuse
32. Notre Dame

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