Power Rankings: Villanova reclaims No. 1, FSU cracks top 10

Thursday January 12th, 2017

In the latest Power Rankings, the defending champs retake the top spot after Baylor’s one-week stand, Kansas rises to the No. 1-in-waiting slot, and Florida State improbably cracks the top 10:

1
1Villanova Wildcats
last week: 2
record: 16–1

A midseason check-in on 2016 tournament hero Kris Jenkins, the man who believes every shot is going in. . . .

Over the first few months of Jenkins’s senior season, he was greeted with some aggressive closeouts on the perimeter—a natural result of the reputation he’d gained from hitting in the biggest dagger in NCAA tournament history. He responded with more shot-fake-and-drive moves than usual, such as this clutch bucket against Notre Dame:

Now that Jenkins is in Big East games, defenses seem to be respecting the possibility of drives, and that’s resulted in him taking mostly threes—this being an example from Villanova’s win over Xavier:

The evidence of this goes beyond anecdotal video. Last season, Jenkins’s three-point rate—his ratio of threes to overall field-goal attempts—dropped slightly from nonconference play (when it was 68.4%) to Big East play (64.0%). This season has been the reverse for Jenkins, with plenty of twos early on, and then 85.5% threes against Big East foes:

Next up: 1/14 at St. John’s, 1/16 vs. Seton Hall

2
2Kansas Jayhawks
last week: 4
record: 15–1

Last week’s SI—and now, SI.com!—has our feature on Kansas’s dual point guards, Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, which I encourage you to read as a non-analytical counterbalance to the Power Rankings. One footnote to that piece, which includes a section headed “#BIFM”:

Even though the ridiculous YouTube rap track “Frank Mason”—in which the primary line is “B---- I’m Frank Mason”—became a big Internet deal in 2015, and has turned into a hashtag that surfaces every time Mason makes a big play, and gets written on the inside of Mason’s Kansas gear, Jayhawks coach Bill Self told me he had yet to listen to the song. He was, however, moderately interested in hearing it once, and so I can report that I played it for him on my iPhone while reporting the story. We did not make it all the way through to hear each of the 28 recitations of BIFM, but Self was amused enough to offer a one-sentence review. “I think,” he said, “I could learn all the words to that pretty quickly.”

Next up: 1/14 vs. Oklahoma State, 1/16 at Iowa State

3
3UCLA Bruins
last week: 3
record: 16–1

UCLA’s offense is eminently watchable both for its overall quality and its nonsensical quirks. One being that freshman point guard Lonzo Ball is completely unfazed by numerical disadvantages on fastbreaks, and often succeeds in creating buckets out of situations where most teams would put on the brakes. Another is that, despite having two or three guys around him who can handle point-guard duties, freshman power forward T.J. Leaf will occasionally grab a rebound and choose to lead the break himself. Sometimes this radical modernism works, and sometimes it doesn’t. . . .

Next up: 1/12 at Colorado, 1/14 at Utah

4
4Baylor Bears
last week: 1
record: 15–1

While I have you on the subject of offensive quirks, here’s one of Baylor’s. When the Bears have their starting 3-4-5 trio of Ish Wainright, Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil on the floor, they’ll run a set—once or twice per game, as far as I can tell—that they hope results in a non-traditional post feed. They get the ball to Wainright, their best passer, on the left wing, keep their point guard up high, and run their two-guard to the left corner. They then overload the ballside—and fully clear out the weakside—by running Lual-Acuil diagonally toward Wainright, as if to set a ballscreen. It’s at this point that Motley post-pins his man—and watch this edit to see what happens next:

Next up: 1/14 at Kansas State, 1/17 vs. Texas

5
5Gonzaga Bulldogs
last week: 5
record: 15–0

The Power Rankings Play of the Week comes from the Zags, who ran a dizzying series of screens on this sideline out-of-bounds set at San Francisco, freeing point guard Nigel Williams-Goss for the first three of his career-high 36 points. I call it the Seven-Screen SLOB:

Next up: 1/12 vs. Loyola Marymount, 1/14 vs. Saint Mary’s

6
6Kentucky Wildcats
last week: 6
record: 14–2

The Wildcats went into a brief style lull in the season after beloved trendsetter Willie Cauley-Stein left town, but they’ve re-emerged in 2016–17 with a backcourt that is among the highest profile in the shorter-shorts movement. Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe (left) has gone shorter to show off his thigh tats, which while unusual, are more tasteful than calf-tats. And freshman De’Aaron Fox (right) has been generating major airtime for thigh-armor spandex, which apparently do not slow you down in transition.

(Photos from Getty Images)

Next up: 1/14 vs. Auburn, 1/17 at Mississippi State

7
7West Virginia Mountaineers
last week: 13
record: 14–2

After so much (justifiable) emphasis was put on the Mountaineers forcing 28* turnovers in Monday’s win over No. 1-ranked Baylor, I wanted to take a deeper look at where those turnovers occurred. Using game film, I charted the location of every Baylor turnover—for an errant or intercepted pass, the location is the passer, not the terminus—and whether it happened in transition or within the halfcourt offense:

As you’d expect, a majority of the turnovers (19 of 28) occurred during the transition chaos that West Virginia creates. What might be a bit surprising is that even though the Mountaineers apply extreme pressure in the backcourt, a majority of the Bears’ turnovers (17 of 28) happened in the frontcourt, after the initial press was broken.

(* The official box score says 29 turnovers, but upon film review it should be 28, as one was a tapped-out-of-bounds loose ball where Baylor never had possession.)

Next up: 1/14 at Texas, 1/18 vs. Oklahoma

8
8Creighton Bluejays
last week: 10
record: 16–1

Elsewhere on the turnover front. . . .

It’s a testament to Creighton’s shot selection that, against Butler on Wednesday, the Bluejays could turn the ball over on 26.2% of their possessions—their highest TO% of the season, and one that typically does not result a victory—and still score 1.16 PPP and win the game.

In big-six conference play this year, according to the sortable data on barttorvik.com, just four teams have won games with TO%s higher than 26. They are: Arizona (26.1% vs. Stanford on Jan. 1), Purdue (27.8% vs. Wisconsin on Jan. 8), South Carolina (30.0% at Tennessee on Jan. 11), and Creighton.

Next up: 1/14 vs. Truman State, 1/16 at Xavier

9
9Oregon Ducks
last week: 9
record: 15–2

Chris Boucher scored 29 points in the Ducks’ rout of Washington State on Saturday, but my favorite play of his came on defense. Can any other big men in college hoops pull off what he did in this ballscreen D situation? Cougars point guard Malachi Flynn came into this game shooting 48.1% from long range, and Boucher, a 6' 10" power forward, switches onto him as he drives left off the pick. Boucher goes into what looks like full sag-mode, dropping into the paint, inviting Flynn to attempt a pull-up three. Flynn obliges . . . and Boucher closes the gap and blocks the shot.

Next up: 1/14 vs. Oregon State, 1/19 vs. California

10
10Florida State Seminoles
last week: 12
record: 16–1

In Leonard Hamilton’s long career at FSU prior to this season, he had produced six defenses and one offense that ranked in the top 25 in adjusted efficiency. But 2016–17 is the first time Hamilton has had a team rank in the top 25 in offensive (they’re 20th) and defensive (24th) efficiency at the same time, which means it’s not a stretch to call this his strongest team ever in Tallahassee. And Tuesday against Duke, the Seminoles showed they could survive an off-night from their star, Dwayne Bacon, against a high-quality opponent and still win. He scored just 13 points and committed seven turnovers, while Xavier Rathan-Mayes (an efficient 21 points) picked up the slack.

Next up: 1/14 at North Carolina, 1/18 vs. Notre Dame

11
11Butler Bulldogs
last week: 7
record: 14–3

The Bulldogs’ minor penalty for losing by double-digits, at Creighton, after I ranked them ahead of Creighton last week, is that their blurb gets hijacked for the season’s first VISUAL TRIVIA.

The theme here is “short shorts and the men brave enough to wear them.” College basketball is entering a new era of knees and thighs; can you identify its early adopters? The first person to correctly Tweet all nine player last names, in order, to me @lukewinn will receive the glory of Twitter recognition as a short-shorts expert.

(Grid photos from Getty Images)

Next up: 1/14 vs. Xavier, 1/16 vs. Marquette

12
12Louisville Cardinals
last week: 14
record: 14–3

Junior point guard Quentin Snider seems to be coming alive in ACC in play. Aside from a big game against Kentucky on Dec. 21, Snider did not have a nonconference season to remember, shooting 36.0% from inside the arc and 32.8% from three, and posting an O.K. but not spectacular 2.6-to-1 assist/turnover ratio. Through four ACC games, Snider’s two-point issues haven’t disappeared (he’s up to 40%), but he’s hitting 56.2% of his threes and passing at a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. This team defends well enough to get by on decent offense, and with Snider’s stat lines trending into highly efficient territory, the Cardinals remain worthy of a top-16 ranking.

Next up: 1/14 vs. Duke, 1/19 vs. Clemson

13
13North Carolina Tar Heels
last week: 15
record: 15–3

Observations from 5Dimes’ latest college basketball national championship odds:

• Kentucky (6-to-1), Duke (6.5) and UCLA (7) are the top tier
• North Carolina (10-to-1) is in the second tier with the same odds as my Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the Power Rankings, Villanova and Kansas

You can’t get a futures bargain on Carolina right now because everyone seems to agree that the team has yet to hit its ceiling. Difference-maker Theo Pinson is just finding his way back into the rotation and still has yet to play like he did as a promising sophomore. The offense as a whole isn’t shooting as well inside the arc as projections expected. There’s also this data from the always-excellent Adrian Atkinson, which he published this week at The Secondary Break. Atkinson examined efficiency results vs. expectations from the entire Roy Williams era to show that the Heels have historically:

• Underperformed efficiency expectations the first half of ACC season
• Outperformed them in the second half of the ACC
• Underperformed in the ACC tournament
• Outperformed in the NCAA tournament

It’s interesting stuff. Read it here.

Next up: 1/14 vs. Florida State, 1/16 vs. Syracuse

14
14Purdue Boilermakers
last week: 22
record: 14–3

The Boilermakers are ripe for lineup-efficiency analysis because they have three, distinct frontcourt looks: Playing 6' 9" Caleb Swanigan and 7' 2" Isaac Haas together as a giant 4-5 duo, playing Swanigan as the lone big, and playing Haas as the lone big.

Full-season data for 2016–17, mined from hooplens.com, shows that deploying Swanigan and Haas together has been the best option. But in Purdue’s games against major-conference competition only, playing Swanigan as the lone big—due to that lineup’s offensive upside—has been just as effective as the duo. Meanwhile, playing Haas as the lone big has resulted in a negative efficiency margin:

Next up: 1/12 at Iowa, 1/17 vs. Illinois

15
15Notre Dame Fighting Irish
last week: 16
record: 14–2

A big reason I still see upside in the Irish, even though they already rank eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency: Senior wing VJ Beachem, whom SI projected to lead the team in scoring—and do so efficiently—has yet to consistently play at the level he did last season. His 22-point breakout against Clemson on Jan. 7, which included 6-of-10 shooting from long range, could be a sign that he’s returning to form. If that happens, Notre Dame has a shot to surpass Duke as the ACC’s top offense.

Next up: 1/12 at Miami, 1/14 at Virginia Tech

16
16Arizona Wildcats
last week: 17
record: 15–2

The Wildcats’ defense seems to be trending in the direction of typical, Sean Miller stinginess, and that gives them as much of a chance as UCLA or Oregon to win the Pac-12. Through four league games—at Cal and Stanford, at home against Utah and Colorado—Arizona has allowed just 0.89 PPP, best in the conference. They’re the odd team that hardly blocks any shots yet thrives on D, mostly by forcing opponents to settle for contested threes.

Next up: 1/12 vs. Arizona State, 1/19 at USC

The Next 16

17. Duke
18. Virginia
19. Wisconsin
20. Florida
21. Cincinnati
22. Xavier
23. St. Mary’s
24. Texas Tech
25. Minnesota
26. Clemson
27. Maryland
28. South Carolina
29. USC
30. Iowa State
31. Virginia Tech
32. Michigan State

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