Oklahoma rises to the top of the Power Rankings thanks in large part to Buddy Hield's historically great season (so far). North Carolina, Iowa, Villanova and Xavier round out the top five.
Sooners star Buddy Hield is on pace to join the ultra-exclusive 50/50/90 club, for players who’ve finished a season shooting at least 50% on twos, 50% on threes and 90% from the free-throw line. This probably isn’t the first place you’ve heard about the club—NCAA.com mentioned it this week, and 50/50/90 Tweets abound—but I wanted to take a deeper look at its membership and who barely missed the cut.
Using sports-reference.com data that goes back to 1995–96, and setting minimums of 20 games played and 8.0 field-goal attempts per game, I found two club members—and six players who qualified in two categories, but fell less than 5.0 percentage points short in a third:
The two other players gunning for the club in 2015–16, Saint Mary’s guard Emmett Naar and Michigan swingman Duncan Robinson, aren’t being talked about as much as Hield is. What sets Hield apart is that he’s making the 50/50/90 cut with such a high shot volume, taking 5.5 more attempts per game than the only major-conference member, Arizona’s Salim Stoudamire, who joined in 2004–05.
Three weeks ago, I mentioned the wild stat that Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson was shooting 94.6% “at the rim” this season—meaning shots that are logged in game records as layups or dunk attempts. Johnson is still shooting a ridiculous 93.2% at the rim according to hoop-math.com, but what about his percentage on all short-range attempts, not just layups and dunks?
Using shotanalytics.com’s charting data, I divided Johnson’s shots into four regions: all close-range shots in the paint; the rest of the lane out to the top of the key; and the two-point zones to the left and right of the lane. Johnson has taken 61.9% of his attempts in that close-range zone, and has made them at an 80.0% clip—or 1.60 points per shot, even higher than the value of a Hield three-point attempt.
(Photo: Getty Images)
These Hawkeyes are great offensive film-study subjects. They push the ball aggressively in transition, and in the halfcourt they do some interesting stuff—often using 7-footer Adam Woodbury as a crushing screen-setter—to free Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff for catch-and-shoots.
In the final five minutes of their win over Michigan on Jan. 17, the Hawkeyes ran the same misdirection play for Uthoff twice, but disguised it using different formations. In this YouTube edit, you’ll see the first one come out of an alignment with four players spread out flat, even with the blocks, and the second come out of a two-by-two stacks setup:
Here’s the latest in the Power Rankings’ periodic check-ins of how the elite teams from 2014–15 compare to the elite teams from 2015–16, according to kenpom.com's adjusted efficiency ratings:
The top six teams from last season were all more efficient than the current No. 1 team, Oklahoma. It was similar in December and early January, and I’d expect it to hold up over the course of the season.
The Musketeers were a heavily man-to-man team last season, only playing zone 12.9% of the time. They began this season using their 1-3-1 zone as an effective change-up, but it’s worked so well that it’s become their dominant defensive alignment in three of their past four Big East games. In the chart below, I used Synergy Sports Technology’s logs of halfcourt sets to estimate what percentage of time Xavier has played zone in Big East games, and came up with 46.2%:
Next up: 1/30 at DePaul, 2/3 vs. St. John's
The Terrapins have plenty of combos they can deploy at the 4-5 spots—they have two respectable backup bigs and can also go small with Jake Layman at the 4 if the matchups are advantageous. But hooplens.com's lineup-efficiency data from Big Ten games shows that the Terps are world-beaters when Robert Carter and Diamond Stone are on the floor together ... and not very scary in other situations:
If you need that chart interpreted, it shows that Maryland’s Big Ten efficiency margin is plus-40.0 points per 100 possessions when using Carter & Stone together, and minus-0.9 P/100P using all other lineups.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Next up: 1/28 vs. Iowa, 1/31 at Ohio State
Behold! Visual evidence of a Tony Bennett team playing ZONE!
The most entertaining part of Virginia-Wake Forest, which I’m sure you’ve seen by now, was the Cavaliers scoring 18 points in the final 1:23, including a banked-in Darius Thompson three at the buzzer, to pull off a 72–71 win. The part that most intrigued Virginia Defense Nerds, a community to which I belong, is that for six possessions in the second half, Bennett switched the Cavaliers into something resembling a 1-2-2 zone.
As unexpected as this was—according to Synergy, the last time Virginia had played a possession of zone was Feb. 18, 2014, at Virginia Tech, and the last time Virginia used zone for multiple possessions in a game was Jan. 28, 2014, at Notre Dame—the zone still adhered to Bennett defensive principles. They fronted the post, and the off-ball defenders mostly stayed inside the arc, so that if you paused the tape at times, it resembled the Pack-Line:
(Screengrab source: ESPN3)
Next up: 1/30 at Louisville, 2/3 vs. Boston College
If I may borrow the in-conference efficiency-margin lens from Mr. Gasaway for a moment, it’s worth pointing out that as of Wednesday evening, the team with the best margin in Big 12 play is not Oklahoma but rather the Mountaineers, at plus-8.3 points per 100 possessions. Their defense is the class of the league:
(Chart data source: kenpom.com.)
Aggies co-point guard Alex Caruso is one of the best perimeter defenders I’ve had a chance to study this season. His contributions go well beyond turnover-creation, but the best part of his game is when he acts as a crafty defensive back, baiting passers into interceptions. Caruso often anticipates an opponent’s next pass early on in a play, and rather than jumping the lane, Caruso will lurk just outside of the passer’s line of vision, waiting for him to commit, and then: interception. Play the video below to see three prime examples:
Next up: 1/30 vs. Iowa State, 2/4 at Vanderbilt
I hereby propose that any time a player ...
• plays 100% of the minutes in a victory and
• scores at least 20 points and
• dishes out at least 5 assists and
• commits zero turnovers
... it be called a “Monte.” What Cyclones point guard Monte Morris did in Monday’s win over Kansas—21 points, nine assists, zero turnovers in 40 minutes—was brilliant, and it’s only been accomplished by four other players since 2010–11, according to Sports-Reference.com:
Next up: 1/30 at Texas A&M, 2/2 vs. West Virginia
If you like to pick teams with great offensive/defensive balance to make the Final Four, Miami needs to be under consideration come March. As of Wednesday evening, there were only four teams that ranked in the top 20 of both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on kenpom.com:
• Oklahoma (6th offensively/13th defensively)
• Iowa (8/15)
• Villanova (14/9)
• Miami (19/19)
Next up: 1/30 at NC State, 2/3 vs. Notre Dame
When you’ve lost three of your past five games and fallen from No. 1 to No. 12, your punishment is getting your blurb stolen for the season’s first Visual Trivia. The topic is cursive-font jerseys worn in either ‘14–15 or ‘15–16—and the images are in black and white to raise the degree of difficulty.
First person to Tweet the correct answers (with their corresponding numbers) to @lukewinn receives the glory of being recognized on Twitter and in an update to the Power Rankings.
(Photos: Getty Images/AP)
Is it too soon to say the Spartans are back, or at least sorta-back? They looked good enough in Jan. 23’s win over Maryland to warrant a spot back in the top 16. After a rough stretch of defense in losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska, they held the Terrapins to their lowest effective field goal percentage (45.6%) of the season, and their fifth-lowest offensive-rebound rate (23.7%). And while it’s going to be hard to overtake Hield in the national player of the year race, a few more 19-14-and-8 games from Denzel Valentine (as he had against Maryland) will at least get him back in the mix.
Next up: 1/28 at Northwestern, 1/31 vs. Rutgers
It’s been tough to see the Friars’ two potential froncourt defense-stretchers—6'7" sophomore forward Jalen Lindsey and 6'8" freshman forward Ryan Fazekas—go so cold from long range in Big East play. They’re shooting just 8-for-52 combined from deep, which works out to 15.4%, and that’s the reason why Providence is last in the conference in three-point percentage. If Lindsey can regress to the 30% shooter he is on his career, and Fazekas can recapture some semblance of the form that had him shooting 47% in the non-conference season, the Friars will be a much tougher out in the NCAA tournament.
Next up: 1/30 at Georgetown, 2/2 at DePaul
Next up: 1/30 vs. Nebraska, 2/6 at Maryland
This Saturday, Jan. 30, is shaping up to be one of my favorite days of the season. No other day has had four must-must-must watch games with such minimal TV overlap:
• Virginia at Louisville, 1 p.m., CBS: This is the Cardinals’ chance finally to beat someone of merit. Their inclusion in the Power Rankings is based mostly on faith that the excellent efficiency numbers they’ve been putting up against mediocre competition mean more than just that they’re able to beat up on mediocre competition. Louisville, of late, looks like a team that can actually challenge North Carolina for the ACC title.
• Iowa State at Texas A&M, 2 p.m., ESPN: This will be the best defense the Cyclones have faced yet this season, and the Caruso-guarding-Morris matchup should be particularly good.
• Oklahoma at LSU, 5 p.m., ESPN: Were you aware this game has GREEN ROOM GUYS? Expect the network to make a small effort to let you know. Ben Simmons, whose SI profile went online this week, should find himself in some interesting matchups against a team whose big men may not be best-suited to guarding on the perimeter.
• Kentucky at Kansas, 7 p.m., ESPN: After a rough stretch, this is the perfect stage for the Jayhawks to remind people they’re a prime title contender ... or to let Kentucky get back into that conversation, at least as a dark horse.
Next up: 1/30 vs. Virginia, 2/1 vs. North Carolina
The Next 16
19. Wichita State
24. St. Mary's
28. Notre Dame
30. South Carolina