SI's college basketball power rankings lead with undefeated Kentucky and Virginia, with Arizona, Gonzaga and Duke rounding out the top five.
Volume VIII of the Power Rankings looks at Kentucky shooting guards, Duke's Jah Providers, Wisconsin's shoulda-been-perfect game, and much more:
Devin Booker is making a case for being Kentucky's best freshman shooting guard of this millennium. Aaron Harrison will go down as the most cold-blooded, due to his 2014 NCAA tournament heroics, but Booker has been the 2014-15 Wildcats' most valuable scorer, shooting 50.0 percent on threes and posting an offensive rating of 135.1, which means he's the 10th-most efficient player in the nation. "I can't think of a last bad shot that [Booker]'s taken," assistant coach John Robic recently said -- and I can't think of a Kentucky shooting guard whose debut season was better:
Doron Lamb, who helped take the Wildcats to the 2011 Final Four, is Booker's closest comp, but Lamb's higher turnover rate held back his efficiency. As for Harrison, Jodie Meeks and James Young, their long-range accuracy wasn't in the same arena as Booker's is in '14-15.
(Chart data source: kenpom.com.)
Virginia's Justin Anderson is one of the few major-conference players who's more dangerous from long range than Booker is. Like Booker, Anderson does the majority of his damage as a catch-and-shoot sniper; unlike Booker, Anderson is still relatively effective while shooting off the dribble. Here's how their halfcourt-offense numbers stack up:
If you didn't notice it yet, check out the massive -- as in more-than-one-point-per-possession -- drop-off from Booker's catch-and-shoot efficiency to his dribble-jumper efficiency. He stops being superhuman when he puts it on the deck and steps inside the arc. Good thing (for Kentucky) that he doesn't do it too frequently.
(Chart data adapted from Synergy Sports Technology's logs.)
Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell has never been known as much of a shooter; some defenders last season opted to pretty much ignore him when he stepped outside the arc. But McConnell has developed a few sweet spots, namely from the right elbow and the short corners, where he can connect on his unorthodox, forward-leaning jumpers. He's been putting up points from those spots during the early part of Pac-12 play as a senior:
(Graphic created using ShotAnalytics.com data.)
Next up: 1/22 at Stanford, 1/24 at Cal
With the way he's been scoring -- and his low likelihood of entering the NBA draft this summer -- Kyle Wiltjer has a shot at having two All-American seasons for Gonzaga. That would make the former Kentucky power forward one of the most remarkable transfer success stories ever -- and my guess is that it would make the Zags bigger players on the star-transfer market in the future. Iowa State keeps having success with elite Midwesterners looking for second acts in large part because it can offer examples; Royce White (ex-Minnesota) was a star there in coach Fred Hoiberg's second season, and that opened the transfer pipeline to Ames. Now that Gonzaga has a big-time example of its own -- and another mid-level example in Byron Wesley (ex-USC) -- could it become a destination for transfers who played high-school ball on the West Coast?
It's time for the second edition of Who Provides Jah?™. Every Jahlil Okafor scoring play that's available on film -- that's 176 in all, including shooting fouls drawn -- has been charted and plugged into this handy graphic, which shows just how strong of a connection the Wooden/Naismith awards candidate has with his package-deal point guard, fellow freshman Tyus Jones. Jones has accounted for 33.6 percent of the successful feeds to Okafor, the overwhelming majority of which are post feeds within Duke's halfcourt offense.
Controversy galore on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center! The biggest topic was whether Iowa center Adam Woodbury was, as ESPN's Dan Dakich put it, a "coward" for poking not one, but two Badgers in the eye in separate iso-defense situations:
Power Rankings Hot Take I: Those were intentional, cowardly, suspension-worthy moves. Power Rankings Hot Take II: That wasn't even the game's real controversy. The one I care about far more is the erroneous turnover that was credited to the Badgers -- by their home scorekeeper! -- on their first possession of the second half:
Why does one turnover by the winning team in a 32-point rout matter? Because it prevented Wisconsin from throwing a perfect game -- as in, playing 40 minutes of Big Ten basketball without committing a single turnover. As SBNation's Ricky O'Donnell points out, the NCAA rulebook states that the play in question -- an airball by Sam Dekker in which the ball falls into Josh Gasser's hands as the shot clock expires -- should be ruled a missed field goal and a deadball rebound for Iowa, rather than a turnover. The tape don't lie:(Video clip source: ESPN.)
Next up: 1/24 at Michigan, 1/31 at Iowa
Ryan Arcidiacono has been making noticeable progress as a pass-first point guard. His assist-turnover ratio trended downward -- into the 1:1 range -- during the backstretch of last season, which concluded with an upset loss to UConn in the third round exit of the NCAAs. Arcidiacono has improved his assist volume and lowered his turnover rate as a junior, and that combination has him trending in the 5:1 range over the past few weeks:
My four ways of deducing if a team truly has one of the nation's most up-tempo offenses:
1. Watch their games, and see if they push the ball on nearly every advantageous fast-break opportunity (duh).
2. Check where they rank on kenpom.com in average offensive possession length.
3. Check where they rank on Synergy in percentage of offensive possessions spent in transition.
4. Check where they rank on Hoop-Math.com in percentage of field-goal attempts in transition.
The eye test says Iowa State is uptempo, and Iowa State is one of just two major-conference teams to rank in the top five in all three of the aforementioned metrics. The Cyclones are certifiably fast.
Freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. had his best Big 12 game yet in the Jayhawks' home win over Oklahoma Monday, scoring 19 points, grabbing nine rebounds and recording two steals. His splits from Kansas' first nine games -- when he was mostly in coach Bill Self's doghouse -- versus the most recent nine -- when he's been a key part of the rotation -- are vastly different. Oubre's minutes have tripled, he's become far more efficient by cutting out turnovers, and his steal rate has doubled:
Next up: 1/24 at Texas, 1/28 at TCU
I think this is more of a credit to the ACC's smart offenses than it is a knock on its defenses: ACC games have featured the lowest turnover rate (15.9 percent) of any conference in the nation, thanks in large part to the ball-control of Miami, Virginia, Pitt and Notre Dame, who've posted turnover rates of 13 percent or less. In season-wide turnover rate, the Irish rank second nationally, behind only Wisconsin. The closest the Irish have come to a Badger-like perfect game was against Michigan State on Dec. 3, when they coughed the ball up just four times in 64 possessions.
Next up: 1/22 at Virginia Tech, 1/25 at NC State
This week, my colleague David Gardner called Terps guard Melo Trimble the best freshman not named Jahlil Okafor, and I tend to agree. Ohio State leans on D'Angelo Russell more than the Terps do on Trimble, but Trimble has been the key to Maryland's surprise run at the Big Ten title, and he's already one of the nation's best foul-drawing guards. Trimble is generating 8.8 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes -- the highest volume of any major-conference point guard who plays at least 20 minutes per game.
NBA scouts' primary knock on Delon Wright is that he can't make threes. He's shot just 25.6 percent from long range in a season-and-a-half as the Utes' point guard, but is that percentage representative of his true shooting talent level? I tracked down his stats from his two seasons at City College of San Francisco, and found that he was a 43.6 percent three-point shooter in juco, which would make him a 35.7 percent shooter over his entire college career:
Defenses are no doubt better at the D-I level, but when Wright's shooting sample size increases, so does his percentage.
Justin Jackson's unpaid labor for UNC now goes beyond basketball: According to the terms of a deal put in place by Carolina assistant coach Hubert Davis, if Jackson, a 6-8 freshman forward, doesn't pull down at least five rebounds in each ACC game, he has to babysit Davis' kids. The deal is a result of Jackson's rebounding rates -- single-digit percentages on both ends of the floor -- being abysmal for a player of his length. He hit the goal (with seven boards) in Sunday's win over Virginia Tech, but fell short on Wednesday (with three) against Wake Forest.
Fred VanVleet is really starting to carve up Missouri Valley defenses. He's on a 35:4 assist-turnover ratio run over his past five games, helping the Shockers get off to the conference's best offensive start, at 1.146 points scored per possession. Their chances of running the table in the MoValley (14.8 percent, according to kenpom), though, are still below Gonzaga's chances of running the table in the WCC (41.9 percent), Kentucky's chances of doing it in the SEC (34.8 percent) or Virginia's of doing it in the ACC (25.0 percent).
Next up: 1/25 vs. Drake, 1/28 vs. Loyola-Chicago
Not all pressing teams are alike. Whereas West Virginia's helter-skelter press translates creates turnovers and results in the nation's shortest average defensive possession length (14.7 seconds), VCU's HAVOC creates turnovers but doesn't completely speed up the game. The Rams rank 177th in defensive possession length (at 18.2 seconds -- exactly the national average) because they don't press off of missed baskets, and they also can transition from their press, once it's broken, into a traditional, grind-it-out halfcourt defense.
Next up: 1/23 at St. Louis, 1/27 vs. George Washington
The Hoyas' defense, which got lit up by Wisconsin in its marquee non-conference game in November, has been making serious progress. On Monday Georgetown held Villanova to its second-worst scoring output (0.883 PPP) of the season, and forced the Wildcats into their highest turnover percentage (25.9) of the season. The Hoyas now have the Big East's second-best D in conference play (after Marquette), and if they can cut down on fouling, which they still do far too often, they have a shot at becoming No. 1.
Next up: 1/24 at Marquette, 1/27 vs. Xavier
The Next 16
18. Northern Iowa
19. West Virginia
23. San Diego State
24. Seton Hall
26. Oklahoma State
28. Ohio State