Kentucky Wildcats, Duke Blue Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Wisconsin Badgers and Louisville Cardinals lead SI's college basketball power rankings.
Volume IV of the Power Rankings marvels at breadth of Georges Niang's assists, digs deep into Jahlil Okafor's free-throw history, closes the books on Kentucky's platoons, and reveals the Songs of the Year:
A final word on Kentucky's platoons, now that Alex Poythress' ACL injury has unfortunately moved the Wildcats into the Nine-Man Rotation Era:
The "Blue"/"White" 5/5 platoon arrangement lasted for 10 games, with each unit playing approximately 140 possessions together on offense and defense. It's not a huge sample, but it's not insignificant, and GroupStats' Sean Lawless, a friend-o'-the-Rankings, hooked us up with the lineup-efficiency data. Given Kentucky's fairly equal playing-time distribution in all 10 games, I feel OK with presenting a comparison of the platoons' performance. Plus/minus stats are far from perfect, but in this case, the platoons appeared in similar situations and faced similar competition.
During that 10-game stretch, Kentucky's raw efficiency margin was an amazing +0.46 PPP. The Blue platoon -- Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress, Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein -- had a margin of +0.24 PPP. The White platoon -- Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson -- was significantly better, at +0.54 PPP.
On offense, the white platoon was +0.23 PPP better, for two reasons: It rebounded a staggering 59.0 percent of its misses, with Johnson and Lee doing the bulk of that work, and its effective field goal percentage was 14.5 percentage points higher than the blue's.
On defense, the platoons were similar; the white, once again, was much better at controlling the glass, but blue closed the gap by bothering more shots and fouling less often:
Next up: 12/20 vs. UCLA (in Chicago), 12/27 at Louisville
Jahlil Okafor has been so good around the basket, making 65.5 percent of his twos and shooting 74.3 percent on layups and dunks, that teams with deep frontcourts should at least consider hacking him on point-blank shot attempts.
He's a 50 percent free-throw shooter over 36 attempts this season, which isn't enough to truly judge him, but thanks to data from DraftExpress.com, the IHSA, and MaxPreps, we can get a sample of 598 Okafor FTAs since Spring 2012:
Compare the expected value of Okafor's layups/dunks with the expected value of his free throws -- either using his 2014-15 percentage or his percentage from the past two years -- and you'll see that hacking, especially in the single bonus, is a reasonable option if a team has a big man with fouls to spare.
Next up: 12/18 vs. UConn (in East Rutherford, N.J.), 12/29 vs. Toledo
Arizona's starters at the 3 and 4 spots, Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley, are its two best offensive weapons -- and score in completely different ways. Ashley gets the bulk of his points within the structure of the Wildcats' offense, either on set-play cuts, or out of T.J. McConnell-led pick-and-rolls. Johnson, who led them with 18 points against Oakland on Tuesday, creates most of his own offense on free-lanced basket attacks, where he seeks out (and finishes through) contact. This "Stanley <3s Contact" compilation should serve as a good introduction:
Next up: 12/19 at UTEP, 12/23 at UNLV
Sticking with the topic of Stanley Johnson, who recently had a pleasant Twitter exchange with Francis Stanley Kaminsky III, and is in the running, along with Wisconsin's Sam Dekker and Duke's Justise Winslow, to be the first wing off the board in the 2015 NBA Draft ...
Johnson, more than Winslow or Dekker or, really, any elite college wing who's being considered a potential first-round pick, has the ability to generate points from the free-throw line. He's creating 8.1 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes (pace-adjusted) and 0.611 FTAs per FGA:
Next up: 12/22 at Cal, 12/28 vs. Buffalo
This GIF really has it all: The ref sliding in right before the flop; the absence of any aggressive contact prior to the flop, a momentarily confused Harrell after his defender vanishes or has possibly been vaporized; Gettys reaching up from the floor in vain as Harrell steps over him; and finally, No. 4 on UNC-Wilmington looking on in disgust. This rivals the Karnowski butt foul for Play of the Year.
(GIF source: ESPNU)
Next up: 12/20 at Western Kentucky, 12/23 vs. Cal State Northridge
Kyle Wiltjer's transfer to Gonzaga has worked out quite well. The former Kentucky reserve is averaging 17.5 points per game as the top possession-user in the nation's second-most efficient offense. Wiltjer has become a more efficient scorer than he was in his Wildcat days, showing huge gains in PPP as a catch-and-shoot option and as a roll/pop man in ballscreen situations, according to Synergy Sports Technology:
I don't think this happened because Wiltjer is a hugely changed player. He had most of these skills at Kentucky. This happened because he swapped out Ryan Harrow and Jarrod Polson as his shot-creators, and swapped in Kevin Pangos.
Next up: 12/20 vs. Cal Poly (in Seattle), 12/27 at BYU
Justin Anderson is the guy I most regret leaving off my Naismith Award preseason watch list (of 50), but who knew he was going to be this good, averaging 15.8 points on 58.8 percent long-range shooting? He's played his way into All-America consideration. My rough-draft first and second teams as of mid-December:
C: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
C/F: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
F: Willie-Cauley Stein, Kentucky
Point Forward: Georges Niang, Iowa State
PG: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
PF: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville (would be first-team if not for the glut of frontcourt stars)
SF: Justin Anderson, Virginia
Point Forward: Wesley Saunders, Harvard
SG: Ron Baker, Wichita State
PG: Delon Wright, Utah
Next up: 12/18 vs. Cleveland State, 12/21 vs. Harvard
Of the Power Ranked teams that have great offenses -- Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Iowa State and Villanova -- 'Nova is the most balanced. Its Nos. 1-6 rotation players all have usage rates between 23.5 and 18.3 percent. Compare that with Duke, which has the best offense but follows more a star/co-star model with Okafor/Winslow, and then has a supporting cast:
Next up: 12/20 vs. Syracuse, 12/23 vs. NJIT
This was the week that Bill Self blamed mock NBA drafts for creating outsized expectations around reserve small forward Kelly Oubre Jr., and in the same Bleacher Report column, an anonymous NBA scout called mock drafts grossly irresponsible and "kind of a joke."
College coaches want mock drafts to go away because it would be easier to coach -- and deal with the media -- in a hype-less vacuum, where Oubre arrives in Lawrence as just another player, and not someone with a future-first-rounder label. I get that. But in a little more than six months, NBA teams will be making first-round draft picks with total guaranteed contract values of an estimated $113,787,300 -- and that goes up to $259,925,543 if the third- and fourth-year options are picked up. Not only is there a media market for projecting and evaluating these players, there are folks -- namely DraftExpress' analysts and Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton at ESPN -- who do it responsibly and intelligently, and are most definitely not cycling through, as Self said, "120 players that are going to go in the first round." There's far more misguided hype on the recruiting scene, warping players' minds at 14, 15 and 16 years old, than there is in mock drafts.
As for NBA scouts who mock mock-drafters ... this is advantageous for them because it helps perpetuate the notion that their draft-prospect evaluations are on a higher intellectual level than the respected mock-drafters'. In truth, if you published the private evaluations of a random sample of 30 NBA scouts, you would likely find their groupthink -- and how much it jibes with what's in respected mock drafts -- to be "kind of a joke."
Next up: 12/20 vs. Lafayette, 12/22 at Temple
If there's a better passing big man in college hoops than Georges Niang, I have yet to find him. Although Monte Morris is an excellent pass-first point guard who averages more assists (5.8 per game) than Niang does (4.4), Niang is the more interesting distributor due to his wider repertoire. I charted all of his assists that were available on film, and the breadth of them is remarkable. He does everything from expertly pass out of double-teams in the post, to dissect 2-3 zones from the elbows, to hit cutters for lobs -- just look at the spread:
Next up: 12/20 vs. Drake (in Des Moines), 12/31 vs. Mississippi Valley State
The black jersey movement in college hoops has produced nothing of value. We had Texas ditching the classic burnt orange for tops with the "Texas" blacked out:
We had Penn State, a school with little basketball tradition to uphold, using that freedom to go totally off-template:
We had Oakland, a school whose normal Jordan-brand jerseys are not bad, going for a near-total blackout (and losing by 26 to Michigan State in the process):
(Photo sources: Getty Images, Penn State Athletics)
Next up: 12/20 vs. Long Beach State, 12/23 vs. Stanford
Has the Utes' defense, which ranks 31st in adjusted efficiency, been unlucky? They've excelled at the aspect of defense teams have the most control over, ranking sixth nationally in two-point FG percentage allowed, at 36.8. But they've been sub-par at defending the three, which tends to involve more luck than close-range defense, ranking 230th in 3PFG% allowed; and they've been killed at the free-throw line, which they can't control at all, ranking 311th in FT% allowed. When Kansas faced Utah on Saturday, the Jayhawks made 21 of 23 free throws ... and won by three points.
Next up: 12/20 at UNLV, 12/23 vs. South Dakota State
If you missed Wichita State's comeback that stunned Alabama on Tuesday, you can relive all the excitement with this possession-by-possession win-probability chart! After they committed a turnover with 5:30 left, the Shockers trailed by 11 and had just an 8 percent chance of winning ... yet they made such a run that, for the final 1:48, the odds were in their favor.
(Win-probability data source: kenpom.com)
Next up: 12/22 vs. Loyola Marymount in Diamond Head Classic
Ryan Spangler's emergence as a pick-and-pop weapon is a positive development for Oklahoma's pedestrian offense. After attempting just 11 threes (and making three) in his first two seasons of college hoops, Spangler is 7-of-12 as a junior, and looks like someone who deserves a few more three-point opportunities per game. Defenses are leaving the burly, 6-foot-8 power forward open when he pops, but his guards aren't always delivering the ball. Check the tape:
Next up: 12/20 vs. Washington (in Las Vegas), 12/22 vs. Weber State
I vow to do some Robert Upshaw charting if the Huskies become regulars in the rankings. The 6-11 sophomore center, who was brutal on the court for Fresno State as a freshman in 2012-13 and then was kicked out of the program, has re-emerged at Washington as an absolute shot-blocking machine. He's swatted 21.1 percent of opponents' two-point attempts, and if that sounds like a lot to you, I can assure you it is -- it's the highest block rate in the country, and 7.3 percentage points higher than Anthony Davis' block rate as a Kentucky freshman in 2011-12. It's a seemingly unsustainable pace for Upshaw, but even if he drops off some in Pac-12 play, he'll still be a huge defensive asset for a team that now looks like a darkhorse conference-title contender.
Next up: 12/20 vs. Oklahoma (in Las Vegas), 12/22 vs. Tulane
The Hurricanes haven't played a game since Dec. 8; therefore, nothing new can be said about them; therefore, their blurb can be sacrificed in favor of my Songs of the Year. My pals at Gorilla vs. Bear dropped their top 100 last week, and this is my abridged counter. The Power Rankings' 11 most-played tracks from 2014 are listed in alphabetical order -- a cop-out, but I had no clear favorite song this year, just a shortlist of good ones:
• Amen Dunes :: Lonely Richard
• Bob Dylan & The Band :: Folsom Prison Blues (from the Complete Basement Tapes)
• Eno - Hyde :: Return
• Kikagaku Moyo :: Kodama
• Leon Bridges :: Coming Home
• Parquet Courts :: Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth
• Perfume Genius :: Fool
• SALES :: Getting It On
• Spoon :: Inside Out
• Tobias Jesso Jr. :: True Love
• The War on Drugs :: Under The Pressure
Next up: 12/19 vs. Eastern Kentucky, 12/22 vs. Providence
The Next 16
17. Notre Dame
18. St. John's
19. Ohio State
20. West Virginia
21. Colorado State
26. Seton Hall
28. San Diego State
30. Northern Iowa