Which title contenders have the best offenses? Kentucky, Duke and Virginia lead our college basketball power rankings.
Volume XIII of the Power Rankings grades the scoring attacks of the prime national title contenders, digging into their strengths and weaknesses, and naming a Most Valuable Offensive Player. (If it's defense you care about, check out last week's edition.)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Rank on kenpom.com: 6
Strengths: Even though no Wildcat averages more than 11.3 points per game, calling them a balanced scoring team misses the mark. They're more of a team that has the luxury, on any given night, of gauging which 1-2, or 2-3 players in their nine-man rotation has the hot hand or a favorable matchup, and riding that to a victory. This graphic of Kentucky's scoring game-by-game basis—with the Nos. 1 and 2 scorers in green and blue, respectively—gives you a sense of how varied their point distribution has been:
Karl Anthony-Towns is emerging as a post-up force with a reliable/unblockable jump hook. ... The Wildcats have compensated for their lack of great long-range shooting (Devin Booker is their only true sniper) by offensive rebounding 40.4% of their misses and converting those boards into put-back points at a high rate. Towns, Dakari Johnson and Trey Lyles excel in that regard. ... I find myself wishing UK would play at an even faster pace, because they've been devastatingly good in transition, scoring 1.189 PPP compared to 0.912 in the halfcourt. Booker is amazing in these situations, both at running the wings to find open threes and finishing at the rim, and Willie Cauley-Stein loves to make rim-runs for lobs. ... Attack-mode Andrew Harrison will be a major asset in the NCAA tournament, because when UK's offense breaks down, he's one of the nation's best point guards at drawing fouls off the bounce.
Weaknesses: They're a mediocre pick-and-roll scoring team, in that neither Andrew Harrison (33.8% on twos in SEC play) nor Tyler Ulis (35.0%) has been able to finish well on the interior. .. Cauley-Stein is a turnover machine when he puts the ball on the floor, and defenses know to swarm him when this happens. ... Although it's assumed that Aaron Harrison will be capable of daggers in the NCAAs, he's shot just 29.7% from deep this season and had to rely more on basket-attacks.
Most Valuable Offensive Players: Towns and Booker
A.O.E. Ranking: 29
Strengths: The Cavaliers have been slogging through ACC games since sharpshooting wing Justin Anderson broke a finger on his left (shooting) hand in early February. Anderson could return as soon as this weekend, and if he shoots as well as he did before the injury, their ultra-patient motion offense should return to a level that makes a national title a possibility. I consider Anderson and Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos to be the country's most dangerous catch-and-shoot options, and Virginia does a fantastic job of screening away from the ball for Anderson, who's deadly accurate from the right corner or top of the key:
Put-backs have been an under-discussed, but important source of points for the Cavs, which just a few seasons ago were sacrificing most offensive-rebound opportunities in order to stop transition. Now, Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey are among the nation's best offensive-boarders. When tempo adjustments are applied to Synergy Sports Technology's putback data, Virginia leads the nation with a pace-adjusted 8.7 points per game:
Weaknesses: The Cavs take an alarming number of efficiency-killing Long Twos. According to Synergy, 22.5% of Virginia's jumpers come from between 17 feet and the three-point line—the 12th-highest rate of any major-conference team. ... They don't draw many fouls, ranking 11th in the ACC in ratio of free-throw attempts to field goal attempts (.318), and point guard London Perrantes draws an extremely low number of whistles. He's had nine ACC games where he hasn't scored a single point from the free-throw line.
A.O.E. Rank: 2
Strengths: The Blue Devils are best when they're on the attack. They have the most efficient, high-volume transition offense in the country, and this is where senior guard Quinn Cook really thrives, finding plenty of opportunities for catch-and-shoot threes. ... Cook (due to his shooting) and Tyus Jones (due to his drive-and-dish and post-feeding skills) are perfect guards to pair with freshman center Jahlil Okafor, who draws an overwhelming amount of defensive attention. ... Okafor makes 66.5% of his twos and shows great patience against double-teams. Duke has multiple offensive looks for its inside-out offense that's centered around Okafor: a version where power forward Amile Jefferson dives to the rim when Okafor is doubled in the mid-post area, and a four-out, one-in version in which he's surrounded by four long-range shooters in Cook, Winslow, and Tyus and Matt Jones. ... The Blue Devils are smart about not messing with long twos; they know that their best shots are either threes, or Okafor within five feet of the rim.
Weaknesses: They're dynamic on the break but don't always have great motion around Okafor when he's posting up; occasionally they just sit back and watch him work. ... Okafor's free-throw shooting (he's at 52.7%) could burn them in the NCAA tournament, when there could be heightened awareness about the payoff of fouling him in 1-and-1 situations. ... Tyus Jones, despite being a strong pick-and-roll player, has had trouble finishing on the interior; he's shooting just 39.6% inside the arc in ACC games. ... Running Duke off the three-point line pays dividends, as its drop-off between catch-and-shoot and dribble jumpers is immense: from 1.157 PPP to just 0.703, according to Synergy.
A.O.E. Rank: 11
Strengths: Arizona is the opposite of Virginia in that the Wildcats turn games into whistle-fests. They're scoring a pace-adjusted 17.1 free-throw points per game, the highest of any major-conference team. And it's not just one player getting to the stripe, either: Stanley Johnson, who loves to drive from the wings and seek out contact, has 158 free-throw attempts, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has 156, Brandon Ashley has 118 and Kaleb Tarczewski has 100. ... They rely heavily on high screen-and-rolls for point guard T.J. McConnell. Although he's not a great scorer in those situations, his patience and court vision make him one of the nation's best P&R passers. ... Arizona excels at short pull-up twos. It's an inefficient option for most teams, but McConnell (from the short corners and elbows) and Johnson are accurate enough to cause problems for opposing defenses.
Weaknesses: Ashley isn't the multi-faceted offensive weapon he was last season prior to his foot injury. Their floor-spacing suffers from the fact that he and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson struggle to make (and are reluctant to take) threes. ... The Wildcats are a mediocre long-range shooting team overall. They get the lowest percentage of their points on threes (16.7) of any Pac-12 team in conference play. ... Tarczewski hasn't been efficient enough on post-ups to make those a great offensive option.
A.O.E. Rank: 4
Strengths: They have no reservations about raining threes. In Big East play, 46.9% of their shots have been from beyond the arc, and of their six legitimate shooting options, point guard Ryan Arcidiacono has been the hottest of late. After making just 23.1% of his treys in non-conference games, he's hit 45.6% of them in Big East games. ... 'Nova is the best team I've seen this season at cutting without the ball, whether it be on designed backdoor plays, or instinctual reactions to the defense. The Wildcats are especially good at cutting off of center Daniel Ochefu's post-ups, as he's one of the nation's best passing bigs:
They've scored an amazing 1.463 PPP on Ochefu passes out of the post. He's also great at finding shooters left open by sagging (or snoozing) helpside defense:
'Nova also has the most balanced possession usage of the elite teams. Their closest thing to a go-to offensive option, Darrun Hilliard, is using just 22.9% of their possessions.
Weaknesses: Power forward JayVaughn Pinkston has been making an alarmingly low percentage of shots (45.2) on the interior. ... Aside from Ochefu, they don't have any great offensive rebounders. ... Their three-point dependency, although a key part of their identity, gives them longer odds of winning six games in a row in the NCAAs. ... Even with their abundance of shooters, they're less effective against zones than you'd expect; on the season they've been slightly more efficient when facing man to man D.
MVOP: Ochefu (but you could just as easily go with Hilliard or Arcidiacono)
A.O.E. Rank: 1
Strengths: An almost unfathomable level of turnover-avoidance. The Badgers only give the ball away on 11.2% of their possessions in Big Ten games, and only get 6.2% of their shots blocked. Those two stats, combined with their Bo Ryan-instilled understanding of what is and isn't a high-percentage look, mean they're constantly getting up good shots. ... Star center Frank Kaminsky's personal turnover rate (10.6%) is remarkable given how much he drives from the perimeter; Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein might commit 10 turnovers per game if he dribbled as much as Kaminsky. ... Kaminsky has an efficient offensive plan of either taking thees (mostly on pick-and-pops to the top of the key or the right wing) or trying to get to the rim, and his shot chart bears this out:
Sophomore Bronson Koenig has filled in quite well for the injured Traevon Jackson at the point. Koenig has learned to love the long two a bit less (it used to be his favorite shot) and focus more on the three, and he's emerged as their most accurate long-range shooter in Big Ten play. ... Nigel Hayes is an underrated post-up scorer who can be deployed in small doses when the ball isn't running through Kaminsky
Weaknesses: They don't have a true pass-first point guard, as Koenig and Jackson are more scoring-minded, but Kaminsky has picked up the slack by finding open shooters out of double-teams in the post. ... The drop-off from the efficiency of their starting lineup to their reserves is pretty staggering, which is partly why they operate with such a short rotation. ... Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser haven't been lights-out three-point shooters in Big Ten play—and that might be the only thing keeping their offense from being not just great for this season, but the most efficient of college hoops' entire three-point era.
MVOP: Kaminsky (duh)
A.O.E. Rank: 5
Strengths: The Zags are Duke-like in their combination of killer outside shooting and efficient post-up play. Point guard Kevin Pangos and power forward Kyle Wiltjer are two of the nation's best spot-up shooters, and big men Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis both shoot 60-plus percent around the rim. … They run more offense through the blocks than any other team in the nation, with 24.2 percent of their possessions coming on post-ups or passes out of the post:
Gonzaga's big men are all dangerous in the pick-and-roll; they're the best team in the country at using their bigs in this capacity. Karnowski and Sabonis love to roll hard to the rim and catch high passes from Pangos that can converted quickly into point-blank buckets off the glass. Wiltjer, meanwhile, is a killer on pick-and-pops, whether they be called plays or just random developments between him and Pangos:
Weaknesses: A mediocre free-throw shooting team other than Pangos and Wiltjer. … Pangos is an amazing catch-and-shoot three option, but they don't have a second point guard to allow him to play more off the ball. … Pangos and Byron Wesley aren't efficient scorers out of the pick-and-roll. …
A.O.E. Rank: 19
Strengths: Junior forward Perry Ellis is one of the country's most efficient, high-volume post scorers, especially from the right block. Ellis is undersized but crafty, and when he sticks to posting up and taking threes, and avoids mid- and short-range jumpers and isolations -- where he's much less efficient—he's a real weapon. ... ... Their perimeter players, particularly Frank Mason, Devonte Graham and Kelly Oubre Jr., are better in isolation than they are in the pick-and-roll.
Weaknesses: KU's non-Ellis big men (Cliff Alexander, Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor) struggle to score on the blocks and thus only work as garbagemen around the bucket. ... This is a bad pick-and-roll team all around, with guards who struggle to finish in those settings, and big men who aren't adept at rolling or popping. ... Even when they're hot from three, they're reluctant to take too many of them, because coach Bill Self prioritizes the post.
The Next 24
9. Wichita State
10. Northern Iowa
13. Iowa State
16. Notre Dame
17. West Virginia
20. North Carolina
21. Ohio State
22. Michigan State
24. Boise State
25. San Diego State
32. Murray State