The Duke Blue Devils climb to No. 2 in our college basketball power rankings, trailing only the unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats.
Volume XI of the Power Rankings, in which Duke climbs to No. 2 after winning a classic over North Carolina (but really, more because the Blue Devils have beaten Virginia and Wisconsin on the road, and are undefeated in the post-Sulaimon phase of their season):
Traditional box scores fail to measure true defensive impact, especially for ball-pressuring guards like Kentucky's Tyler Ulis. In the Wildcats' win at Tennessee on Tuesday, Ulis was credited with one steal—and it was a nice steal, in a press situation, that was almost instantly converted into a Willie Cauley-Stein dunk. But if one were to defensively chart that game ("one," in this case, being the defense nerd writing these Rankings), Ulis would get credit for creating 4.5 Tennessee turnovers.
One was the steal. Another turnover came as result of Ulis' air-tight, fullcourt pressure; to attempt to detach him from his man, the Vols tried to screen Ulis near halfcourt—but he drew an offensive foul on the (slightly moving) screener. He drew another offensive foul by allowing so little breathing room on a drive that the Tennessee ballhandler had to push off to create space. Ulis also harried his man into throwing an out-of-control pass out of bounds, and earned partial credit for stunting at a transition driver, forcing him to pick up his dribble at an inopportune time and throw the ball away. The full suite of turnovers didn't show up in the box score, but they're all in this film edit:
Next up: 2/21 vs. Auburn, 2/25 at Mississippi State
As good as Ulis has been for Kentucky, Tyus Jones is the freshman point guard I'd most want running my team. How often is an 18-year-old playing his first Duke-UNC game—as Jones was in Wednesday's epic—the most composed player on the court in crunch time? He finished with 22 points, seven boards and eight assists in 43 minutes, continuing a hot streak that began after the Blue Devils dismissed backup guard Rasheed Sulaimon, shortening their big-game rotation to just six players. Here are Jones' statistical splits in ACC games:
Jones also remains the primary feeder of Jahlil Okafor, accounting for 34.7% of the points-generating passes to the star freshman center. The Rankings' season-long tracking of Duke's Jah Providers has been updated through the UNC game:
Next up: 2/21 vs. Clemson, 2/25 at Virginia Tech
My apologies for this being the third straight week the Virginia section is devoted to discussion of the SAME 2-3 ZONE PLAY. The topic just refuses to die. It all started when I posted this GIF of a nifty set I call the Stack-n-Smother, in which a cutting-to-the-corner Justin Anderson stretched Duke's zone, while top player in a two-man post stack smothered the center defender to set up a clear post look (hover to play):
It continued when Kentucky ran a mirror-image version of the set at LSU (see last week's Rankings for the GIF), and then college-hoopnik Twitter began discussing the play's provenance. Ben Asher, a graduate assistant at N.C. State and Xs-and-Os Tweeter, pointed me toward an instance of Kansas using it against Rider in November (hover to play):
Former North Carolina point guard Bobby Frasor, now an assistant at UAB, said the set has long been used by Roy Williams, who may have learned it from Dean Smith, and that it's a widely used quick-hitter against the 2-3. Here are the Tar Heels employing it against Syracuse on Jan. 26:
Asher then went the extra mile and found super-pixelated footage of Frasor and Tyler Hansbrough running it in the 2006 ACC tournament ... against Virginia. You can watch it here.
When the 2015 Cavaliers reprised the Stack-n-Smother against Pitt this week, not only did two Virginia fans alert me (thanks, @EmbracePaceUVA and @DavidAStorm!), but their opponent was prepared. Panthers forward Derrick Randall, the smotheree, responded by "relocating" the smotherer, Darion Atkins, into the post-feed recipient, Mike Tobey, and blowing up the whole thing (hover to play):
We have come full-circle. The topic is now closed.
Next up: 2/22 vs. Florida State, 2/25 at Wake Forest
The other topic that wouldn't die? The Ongoing Tipoff Antics of Iowa's Adam Woodbury. Last week, I ran footage of the 7-foot-1 Woodbury tugging down on his adversaries' arms, including this example from Purdue (hover to play; it's intentionally in slow motion):
But the story had more layers. A Twitter tip came in that Woodbury has been Woodburying tip-off foes in various ways since high school. Here's footage of him chopping down on some horribly overmatched kid in Sioux City, Iowa, on Feb. 16, 2012 (hover to play, and feel free to laugh):
With Big Ten teams getting wise to arm-grabbing, Woodbury unveiled his best move yet against Minnesota on Feb. 12. I call it "Displacement":
In Iowa's following game, against Northwestern on Feb. 15, Wildcats center Alex Olah devised a killer counter move on the overtime tip. I call it "Pulling out the chair", and it was glorious, even if the only result was a re-do:
The final layer of the tipoff saga—and the reason all of this is appearing in a Wisconsin blurb—is that the Badgers were doing this move long before Woodbury ever suited up for Iowa. The Columbus Dispatch's Bob Baptist, who covers Ohio State, passed along a photo from 2010-11 that shows Jon Leuer arm-grabbing the Buckeyes' Dallas Lauderdale:
Back in 2011, Ohio State's coaching staff sent film of this to the Big Ten office and warned referees, and Wisconsin eventually ceased the activity. Buckeyes coach Thad Matta has been a behind-the-scenes advocate of tipoff-rule reform, and OSU has been onto Woodbury's tricks for a while, even attempting—to no avail—to alert referees to it this season. Because refs are loath to call fouls on the tip, Matta wants the NCAA to implement a rule in which illegal contact results in the ball and the possession arrow being awarded to the other team, but no foul. NCAA, please make the Leuer-Woodbury Rule a thing.
Next up: 2/21 vs. Minnesota, 2/24 at Maryland
The Zags have a good problem on offense: Their point guard, Kevin Pangos, happens to be one of the country's best catch-and-shoot options—averaging 1.495 PPP in those situations, which ranks 10th nationally*—and thus a more efficient scorer when he's playing off the ball. They have some simple actions to free Pangos for catch-and-shoot looks, and the best ones involve him and All-America candidate Kyle Wiltjer, who's a deadly shooter in his own right.
In this first example, the Zags trick Pepperdine's defenders into thinking some slow, motion offense business is about to begin. Pangos makes a casual perimeter pass, takes a few slow steps toward the blocks and then—BAM!—Wiltjer sets a quick downscreen, Pangos cuts back to the top of the key, and hits a three-pointer just seven seconds into the shot clock (hover to play):
In this second set, Pangos feeds the post against St. Mary's, then makes a show of setting a cross-screen for Wiltjer. It's really a decoy; once Pangos dupes his defender into thinking he's a screener, Pangos pops to the top of the key for another open trey. Too easy:
* (According to Synergy Sports Technology's logs, among players with 60 or more attempts on the season.)
Next up: 2/19 at Pacific, 2/21 at St. Mary's
The Wildcats are assisting on an amazing (and Big East-best) 66.3% of their field goals during conference play, partly because they're a heavy jump-shooting team, and partly because everyone their rotation seems to pass well. Daniel Ochefu, their 6'11" center, is one of the best passing five-men in the country; he's developed a knack for making smart, points-producing passes out of double-teams, like this one from their win over Butler on Feb. 14. A lesser center would've committed a turnover due to that baseline trap, but Ochefu throws a nifty bounce pass to the corner, earning a hockey assist when point guard Ryan Arcidiacono dishes to Darrun Hilliard for a three (hover to play):
Next up: 2/21 at Marquette, 2/24 vs. Providence
Arizona is the anti-Villanova. Sean Miller's Wildcats have assisted on just 44.3% of their field goals in Pac-12 play, the lowest rate in the conference. Part of this is due to their high volume of offensive-rebound putbacks and Stanley Johnson basket-attacks, neither of which require assists, and part of this is because they only have one passing-minded starter, point guard T.J. McConnell. He has 68 assists in conference games and the other four starters—Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski—have 47 assists combined. Villanova's point guard, Arcidiacono, has 46 assists in Big East play while his four other starters have 110 assists combined.
Next up: 2/19 vs. USC, 2/21 vs. UCLA
In its loss to West Virginia on Monday, Kansas made only six three-pointers ... because it only attempted 11. One reason Bill Self should be open to the Jayhawks attempting more treys (other than the obvious reason, which is that this year's team is exceptionally good at making threes): This is his worst post-up team in recent memory. A look at Synergy's post-up data on Kansas from this season vs. the previous five reveals some stark differences:
Self has dialed back the post-up usage—this season marks the first time in the six-year span that post-ups have accounted for less than 10% of KU's offense—but the current efficiency level (0.824 PPP) makes it an unappealing option when three 40%-plus long-range shooters are on the floor.
Next up: 2/21 vs. TCU, 2/23 at Kansas State
I call this edit The Essence of Utah Defense, in One Possession:
When the Utes are locked in like that—playing every ballscreen perfectly, and shutting down would-be penetrators—their D is as good as any team not named Kentucky.
Next up: 2/19 at Oregon State, 2/22 at Oregon
For a guard who never wants to see the bench, there's no better place to star than Notre Dame. Jerian Grant has played all 40 minutes in each of Notre Dame's past two games, wins over Clemson and Wake Forest, and he's been on the floor for 95.1% of all available minutes in ACC games. This has been a signature of Mike Brey teams for years; Eric Atkins played 90+ percent minutes his final two seasons, and Tory Jackson, Kyle McAlarney and Chris Quinn all played 90+ percent minutes as seniors. Brey does not like taking his lead guards out of the game—ever—and Grant may be the best one he's ever had in South Bend.
Next up: 2/21 at Boston College, 2/24 vs. Syracuse
The Sooners have done many impressive things this season. Isaiah Cousins' attempt to intentionally miss a free throw in the final seconds of their loss to Kansas State is not one of them. (Hover!)
Next up: 2/21 at Texas Tech, 2/28 vs. TCU
High-energy juco transfer Jameel McKay has been thriving since joining the Cyclones starting lineup four games ago. The 6'9" power forward generated a staggering 18 free-throw attempts in just 41 possessions played in Wednesday's win over Oklahoma State, and is now the Big 12's top foul-drawer in conference games, averaging 6.7 whistles per 40 minutes, according to kenpom.com. In 13 conference games he's generated 75 free-throw attempts, while ISU's top offensive option, Georges Niang, has just 37 FTAs despite playing more minutes than McKay.
Next up: 2/21 at Texas, 2/25 vs. Baylor
Panthers star Seth Tuttle was shown some serious respect in SI's All-Star Draft, an exercise in which our David Gardner and Chris Johnson selected ultimate college-hoops squads, and I rendered a verdict on the winner. Gardner took Tuttle in the fifth round, while big men Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyle Wiltjer and Rakeem Christmas were still on the board—a decision that might seem crazy until you look deeper at Tuttle's numbers. Pundits have been heaping praise on Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky all season for being a versatile, oversized offensive weapon; Tuttle brings a similar combination of inside-outside scoring while also serving as the Panthers' best distributor. He's a unique point-center who deserves All-America consideration in the tier immediately after Kaminsky and Okafor.
Next up: 2/21 vs. Bradley, 2/25 vs. Evansville
Time for this week's Visual Quiz! It's the weirdest one yet: Coaching Foreheads. ID these nine coaches in a Tweet to @lukewinn and you'll earn Twitter glory, plus a name-check in the Rankings. Your clues: These are all D-I head coaches. Some of their teams are not ranked. None of them coaches Wichita State. Have at it:
(Photos source: Getty Images)
Next up: 2/14 at Illinois State, 2/17 at Southern Illinois
Earlier, you watched a GIF (or at least I hope you did) of Oklahoma's Isaiah Cousins completely botching an intentional free-throw miss with the game on the line. What North Carolina did with 3.5 seconds left in overtime against Duke was the opposite: a perfectly executed missed free throw that was foiled only by a Justise Winslow (non-whistled) foul. The Tar Heels had lefty shooter Nate Britt miss short and left, and—this is the key part—had Marcus Paige positioned as a glass-crasher from the left wing. He had an unobstructed path to the ball, and a nice angle for a putback off the glass ... until Winslow intervened. This is my new favorite intentional-miss strategy.
Next up: 2/21 vs. Georgia Tech, 2/24 vs. NC State
The Aztecs fell out of the rankings discussion after they lost to Washington, Cincinnati and Fresno State in December and January, but I think they need to be re-considered as an NCAA tourney sleeper. This is, statistically, the best defensive team Steve Fisher has ever had at San Diego State—even better than the Kawhi Leonard-led squad from 2010-11. And the late emergence of five-star freshman Malik Pope, whose season was started slowly while recovering from an injury, could give the Aztecs a much-needed infusion of offense. The 6'10" forward can score on the interior but might also be the team's best long-range shooter. Pope's minutes have been trending upward—into the 20s—in February, and he scored an efficient 16 points in Tuesday's rout of New Mexico.
Next up: 2/21 at San Jose State, 2/29 vs. Boise State
The Next 16
20. West Virginia
24. Michigan State
25. Ohio State
28. Oklahoma State
31. Murray State