Power Rankings: Kentucky stays on top while Duke moves up to No. 2
Volume II of 2014-15, in which comparisons get out of control: Tyler Ulis as Aaron Craft? Tyus Jones as Kyrie Irving? Chris Jones as Bad Kobe? Jakob Poeltl as the Austrian Alan Williams? It's all here ...
Longtime Power Rankings readers know that a lot of Aaron Craft film -- probably too much Aaron Craft film -- was reviewed around these parts from 2011-14. His departure to the D-League created a void ... and I'm beginning to think that Tyler Ulis was created to fill that void. Kentucky's freshman backup point guard is smaller than Craft (5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, compared to his 6-2 and 195) and more of a gnat that darts everywhere, but Ulis has been exhibiting a Craft-ian ability to annoy the absolute hell out of opposing ballhandlers by giving them zero personal space.
Through seven games, Ulis' defense has already been mixtape-worthy. Volume I shows off his "jamming" skills; he's been fearless in this regard, in part because Kentucky's giant back line can erase any mistakes he makes due to over-aggressiveness:
Volume II focuses on Ulis' slipperiness against screens, whether he's fighting over or sliding under:
Volume III showcases his value as a help defender. Ulis' lateral quickness makes him a strong stunt-and-recover guy, too:
Next up: 12/5 vs. Texas, 12/7 vs. Eastern Kentucky
You don't need me to tell you how unflappable Duke freshman point guard Tyus Jones was in Wednesday's win over Wisconsin; our Brian Hamilton already has that covered in his file from Madison. The last time the Blue Devils had a freshman point guard this good was late in 2010, when Kyrie Irving looked like a possible national player of the year frontrunner through eight games ... and then injured a ligament in his right big toe that kept him out all the way until the NCAA tournament.
Seeing that Jones has now played the same amount of November-and-December games as Irving did, let's take a look at how their performances stack up:
Both are stunningly efficient for their usage level. Irving profiled as a scoring guard, while Jones profiles as a pure point -- an auxiliary scorer with an assist-turnover ratio that puts Irving's to shame.
Next week I'll be examining how mass consumption of sausage impacts point-guard performance:
We were given huge box of Polish sausage outside gym before game to bring home. Bomb-sniffing dogs on duty were very intrigued by this.— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) December 4, 2014
Next up: 12/15 vs. Elon, 12/18 vs. UConn in East Rutherford, N.J.
The Wildcats are No. 3 in the polls but No. 1 in loud footwear.
Exhibit 3: Brandon Ashley's Kevin Durant V Elite "EYBL"'s, from the UC-Irvine game
(Photo sources: Instagram & Getty Images for Ex. 1; AP for Ex. 2; Getty for Ex. 3.)
The Cardinals have the nation's best defense, but on offense, they need an intervention. Senior guard Chris Jones is using 27.0 percent of their possessions with an abysmal field-goal percentage of 28.6 and an Offensive Rating of 92.9. This is far from an ideal arrangement on a team that has efficient options in Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear. I went through last season's database and could only find 18 teams that allowed a player to use 27 or more percent of their possessions with a sub-100 ORating. It was a sorry bunch: 16 of the 18 had sub-.500 records, and 17 of 18 missed the NCAA tournament. Cardinals, you don't want to end up like this.
As well as Tyus Jones is playing, there's no better all-around point guard than the Zags' Kevin Pangos, who ranks among the nation's best shooters and might be its most sure-handed distributor. In last week's NIT Season Tip-Off, Pangos thrived in pick-and-roll sets, running either short-roll versions on the wing with Kyle Wiltjer, or more traditional straight-downhill versions with Domantas Sabonis. This is my attempt to diagram how Pangos' six pick-and-roll assists developed against Georgia and St. John's ("KW" is Wiltjer, "DS" is Sabonis):
Next up: 12/6 at Arizona, 12/10 vs. Washington State
If Wisconsin should be agonizing over anything on the morning after its 80-70 loss to Duke, it's failing to capitalize on Frank Kaminsky mismatches. The Blue Devils' switching of ballscreens and guard/big inversions threw the Badgers uncharacteristically out of whack on a number of offensive possessions -- but it also presented opportunities for the 7-foot Kaminsky to work in the post against the 6-1 Jones and 6-2 Quinn Cook. Here were four occasions where Kaminsky had a clear advantage yet never received the ball:
Do a better job of feeding Frank -- and Nigel Hayes, too, on the instances where he had Rasheed Sulaimon isolated on the block but couldn't get a touch -- and it might have been a one- or two-possession game.
Is freshman center Myles Turner a legitimate star, or is he just beating up on bad teams? In the Longhorns' four games against mediocre-to-bad competition, he's averaged 17.0 points and 8.3 rebounds. In their three games against legitimate opponents (Iowa, Cal, UConn), he's averaged 5.7 points and 5.7 boards, with little-to-no difference in his playing time. Turner's advanced stats are amazing -- he has a 132.1 ORating while using 26 percent of Texas' possessions, and he's blocking 16 percent of opponents' inside-the-arc shots -- but he needs to deliver in a big game before I'm ready to put him in the same elite-freshman-post conversation as Duke's Jahlil Okafor. The Longhorns' meeting with Kentucky, on Friday, would be an ideal place to do it ...
Next up: 12/5 at Kentucky, 12/13 vs. Texas State
There's been no bigger breakout star in the Big East than Wildcats guard Dylan Ennis. He had such an abysmal finish to '13-14 that I had no expectations for him as a junior. In 'Nova's third-round loss to UConn in the NCAA tournament, Enis played just six minutes, committing three fouls and scoring once. His shot was so cryonic that he went 1-for-19 from long range from Feb. 18 until the end of the season. Yet somehow Ennis is now shooting 45.7 percent (16 of 35) on threes, averaging 12.9 points per game and making the Wildcats look like they're gonna run away with the conference title. They very well may not lose for the rest of 2014, as their toughest opponents left are Illinois (on a neutral court at Madison Square Garden) and Syracuse.
Next up: 12/6 vs. St. Joe's, 12/9 vs. Illinois in New York
The Virginia-Maryland portion of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge was your classic coaching-change ripple-effect game. On March 17, 2011, five-star, D.C.-area small forward Justin Anderson committed to Gary Williams' Terps. When Williams retired, Mark Turgeon was hired and the assistant who recruited Anderson, Rob Ehsan, wasn't a part of the new staff. Anderson had second thoughts -- and on May 26, 2011, he switched his commitment to what had previously been his second choice: Virginia.
He seems fine with that decision. On Sept. 23, 2013, Anderson tweeted the following:
On Dec. 3, 2014, when Anderson played against Maryland, he scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in a 76-65 victory. The Terps aren't exactly dying for a small forward -- they have the capable Dez Wells, he's just hurt -- but had Anderson stuck with them, they might be top-20 team this season.
Next up: 12/6 at VCU, 12/18 vs. Cleveland State
In the Rankings' inaugural and possibly last-ever version of Who Wore It Better?, the question is whether San Diego State or New Mexico did a better job pulling off their alternate, turquoise-infused jerseys, which were part of Nike's N7 initiative to promote sport in Native American and Aboriginal communities:
My vote is with the Lobos, on the basis of the side-of-shorts pattern and the overall, vaguely Vancouver Grizzlies-like feel. San Diego State rolled with too tiny of a font, but the Aztecs can take solace in being a far superior team -- and the clear class of the Mountain West.
(Photos source: Getty Images)
Next up: 12/4 vs. San Diego, 12/7 at Washington
That Miami is undefeated as of Dec. 4 is surprising but not mind-blowing, given that their best two games were against shorthanded Florida (lacking Dorian Finney-Smith and Chris Walker) and decent-but-not-great Illinois. What's truly wild is that the Hurricanes have the country's FIFTH-BEST offense, according to adjusted efficiency -- an offense that thus far has been just as good as the one that earned them a No. 2 seed and ACC regular-season title in 2012-13. Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan and Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez are, as our projection system forecasted, providing the bulk of the scoring, but Belgian guard Manu Lecomte has emerged as a new deep threat, making 20 of his 40 long-range attempts.
Next up: 12/6 vs. Green Bay, 12/8 vs. Savannah State
The fact that a 17-year-old Ukrainian is starting in Kansas' backcourt -- ahead of a projected preseason top-five pick from the U.S. -- is one of the more amazing stories of this early season. As we try to get a handle on how young, 6-8 Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk helps the Jayhawks, it's worth questioning whether the notion that he's a lights-out shooter -- as I've heard multiple announcers suggest -- is correct. His college sample of just 24 treys is too small, but thanks to data collected by DraftExpress.com, we can look at Mykhailiuk's long-range shooting in 66 games over the past three years, at various levels of competition. His percentage is a far-from-deadeye 31.8, and the sample is 258 attempts.
Next up: 12/5 vs. Florida, 12/10 at Georgetown
The top freshman import this season is not Mykhailiuk or even Gonzaga's Domas Sabonis, although he's been an animal: It's Utah's Austrian 7-footer, Jakob Poeltl, whose name has the awesome pronunciation of Yakk-ob Purr-tul. Poeltl is leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 23.8 percent of available offensive boards -- a number that makes him the second coming of Freshman Alan Williams, who was tops in the country with a 22.5 OR% in 2011-12. Poeltl's early success is the big reason why the Utes look like the clear No. 2 team in the Pac-12 -- and he's been so effective as not just a rebounder, but an efficient scorer and volume shot-blocker, that he may be a Lottery Pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
Next up: 12/10 at BYU, 12/13 vs. Kansas (in Kansas City)
The always-excellent UMHoops.com beat me to this in the a.m., and goes more in-depth on it than I can here, but: Ricky Doyle is the out-of-nowhere big man who could have a major impact on the Big Ten race. The 6-9 freshman was under-hyped and, like a few other of John Beilein's gems, under-aged (he just turned 18 in May) on the recruiting circuit, and barely got off the bench in the Wolverines' first three games. Since then he's broken out as the offensive rebounder (19.6 OR%!) and simple finisher (70.4 FG%!) they need to complement the talented perimeter trio of Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin. If Doyle can consistently produce at that level, the Wolverines are Wisconsin's prime challenger for the Big Ten title.
Next up: 12/6 vs. NJIT, 12/9 vs. Eastern Michigan
There are some Da'Sean Butler fans who'll disagree, but this might be the most fun West Virginia team to watch since the surgical, three-point happy 2006 Gansey-Pittsnogle-Beilein unit. The appeal of the 2014-15 Mountaineers is that they create total chaos -- they're pressing non-stop, leading the country in turnovers-forced percentage, and playing at a pace never before seen by a Bob Huggins team. The past 13 Huggy teams are in kenpom.com's database, from Cincinnati to Kansas State to West Virginia, and not one of them -- until now -- has cracked the 70-possession-per-game mark. The Mountaineers are at 70.2, and although pace typically drops during conference play, if they keep applying constant pressure, they may be able to dictate game tempo enough to maintain their present speed.
Next up: 12/4 vs. LSU, 12/7 at Northern Kentucky
Late Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, Utah handed the Shockers their first regular-season since March 2, 2013, and in the process took away our best shot -- aside from Kentucky -- at witnessing another long, undefeated run. The Shockers have taken a slight step back after losing Cleanthony Early to the Knicks, but they were still better than every remaining team on their schedule, with the toughest opponents being Seton Hall at home, (likely) Nebraska in the Diamond Head Classic, and a home-and-away against Northern Iowa, the only other NCAA tournament bid-contender in the Missouri Valley Conference. It's not wild to think the Shockers can run the table again in the Valley, and it wasn't preposterous to speculate -- until Utah struck -- about them arriving at Arch Madness 30-0.
Next up: 12/6 vs. St. Louis, 12/9 vs. Seton Hall
The next 16
17. Ohio State
18. Notre Dame
20. Iowa State
26. Oklahoma State
28. North Carolina
30. Northern Iowa
32. Michigan State