Power Rankings: Gonzaga's odds of completing the perfect season
The latest Power Rankings dabble in Gonzaga perfection odds, dig deeper into Villanova’s shot-fakery and Kansas’ pressing success, and move Duke back into the top 10:
What are the odds of the Zags becoming the first undefeated team to win a national championship since Indiana in 1976? Using kenpom.com’s data, I ran the win-probability numbers on a couple of hypothetical, 13-game paths to a perfect season.
The first scenario is if Gonzaga played the toughest possible West Coast Conference tournament slate, based on projected seeding (No. 8 San Diego, No. 4 San Francisco, No. 2 Saint Mary’s), and then the toughest path through Michael Beller’s most recent mock NCAA tournament bracket on SI.com:
Against the toughest road (by bracket seeding), there’s a 69.8% chance of finishing the regular season 33–0 and a 11.2% chance of running the table through the NCAAs.
If I swap in ESPN.com’s most recent mock NCAA tournament bracket, and give the Zags the hardest road (again, by seeding), their perfect-season odds jump to 15.1%:
The odds are that they won’t play the most difficult bracket, either; swap out a third meeting with Saint Mary’s for one with BYU, and replace one of the difficult Final Four teams with a lesser foe, and Gonzaga’s perfect-title odds rise above 20%.
Next up: 2/16 vs. San Francisco, 2/18 vs. Pacific
Last week’s Power Rankings included an exercise in charting Villanova’s rampant shot-fakery—over the course of one game against Georgetown—and its impact on efficiency. In the interest of broadening the sample, I’ve since also charted the Wildcats’ Feb. 11 win at Xavier*, which included a few, multiple-fake possessions, this being one of them:
Villanova’s rate of shot fakes per possession (SFPP) stayed in the 0.4 range, with a two-game average of 0.42, but the efficiency situation was reversed at Xavier, with shot-fake possessions being significantly more valuable:
(* Analysis doesn’t include the final few possessions of the game, due to Xavier going into insta-foul mode while trailing.)
Next up: 2/18 at Seton Hall, 2/22 vs. Butler
The first time the Jayhawks played West Virginia this season, in Morgantown on Jan. 24, the Mountaineers pressed on 36 of 67 defensive possessions—53.7% of the time—and forced five press turnovers, while Kansas barely pressed at all. Here’s my charting of the press volume and press-possession outcomes from that game, which shows that Kansas had considerable offensive success when it was pressed (scoring 1.14 PPP, compared to 0.90 PPP in all other situations):
My pressing chart from the second Kansas-West Virginia game, in Lawrence on Feb. 13, looked much different. The Mountaineers only pressed on 20 of 86 possessions—23.2% of the time—and only forced one press turnover. Kansas, meanwhile, aided its insane, second-half comeback with eight press possessions that yielded three turnovers:
Next up: 2/19 at Baylor, 2/22 vs. TCU
The most talked-about defense in the Big 12 is West Virginia’s, due to its anomalous pressing and astronomic turnover volume. The strongest Big 12 D over the past decade has been Kansas’s, as Bill Self is one of the nation’s most consistent producers of elite defense. But the best Big 12 defense this season is Baylor’s, both according to full-season, adjusted efficiency (ranking No. 6 nationally) and in-conference points per possession allowed (the only Big 12 team under 1, at 0.995). The Bears play conservatively, forcing the lowest volume of turnovers of anyone in the league, but lock down the interior, both by protecting the rim and limiting opponents to single-shot-and-done possessions.
Next up: 2/18 vs. Kansas, 2/21 vs. Oklahoma
Sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey has been a dangerous, long-range shooter of late, making 12 of 21 three-point attempts over the Ducks’ past three games. He gets a lot of his catch-and-shoot looks in transition, where his role is to sprint the sideline and set up for corner treys, but Oregon has been sending him off more screens in the halfcourt as he’s gotten hotter from deep.
Here, at USC on Feb. 11, Dorsey takes a handoff, reverses the ball, and then receives a backscreen/downscreen combo from the center cog of the Ducks’ spread offense, Jordan Bell, who’s at the free-throw line:
Later in that USC game, Oregon runs its version of the Spurs’ Hammer play (with Payton Pritchard as the baseline driver, and Chris Boucher as the screener) to set up a left-corner three . . . that’s foiled by an incredible defensive play by the Trojans’ Elijah Stewart:
Next up: 2/16 vs. Utah, 2/18 vs. Colorado
Point guard Quentin Snider is back in Louisville’s starting lineup following a six-game absence with a sore hip flexor. Although the Cardinals are 2–0 since his return, they were a more efficient team in ACC play—especially on offense—without him. Here are the updated splits, adjusted for competition and location:
Next up: 2/18 vs. Virginia Tech, 2/22 at North Carolina
Staying on the topic of efficiency splits, I used HoopLens.com data to look at Arizona since sophomore shooting guard Allonzo Trier’s ’16–17 debut on Jan. 21. Although the Wildcats’ offense has been better (as expected) with him on the floor, they’ve been a superior defensive team—and a superior team overall—when he’s on the bench:
Next up: 2/16 at Washington State, 2/18 at Washington
Even as the Bruins’ defense continues its descent into the trouble zone, they remain must-watch on offense, and one of their most lethal options is senior guard Bryce Alford running off screens for catch-and-shoots. When people say UCLA is doing Warriors-y stuff, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about: running Alford on almost an “S” curve off a downscreen, then through a surprise elevator screen to the top of the key for a three:
As effective as Alford’s cuts are, the most entertaining part of the play is Lonzo Ball in the left corner, confident in his knowledge that he won’t be touching the ball, and giving us his unique interpretation of the “decoy” role:
Next up: 2/18 vs. USC, 2/23 at Arizona State
From a film-nerd standpoint, the evolution of Duke’s “elbow series” that frequently sets up Luke Kennard buckets has been entertaining. What started fairly simple—with the Blue Devils aligning in an “A” formation with two bigs at the elbows, and Kennard in one corner, rising up to get a one-dribble handoff—has grown into a look with many, successful variations. Here are a few clips—the first two from November, the last two from last week—of the Kennard/elbow sets:
Next up: 2/18 vs. Wake Forest, 2/22 at Syracuse
Plenty of teams—rival Duke being one of them—have had more tumultuous seasons than North Carolina’s, but still: Wednesday’s 97–73 rout of NC State was the first time the Tar Heels started the five guys we projected to start in the preseason: Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks. That, at least according to SI’s projections, was their optimal lineup, but it had only played 14 possessions together prior to Wednesday, having been derailed due to Pinson’s preseason foot injury that kept him out until Jan. 8. A possible season-ending knee injury to fellow two-guard Kenny Williams cleared the way for Pinson to join the starting five, and that crew scored 12 points in their first seven possessions together to open the NC State game.
Next up: 2/19 vs. Virginia, 2/22 vs. Louisville
The final minute of the Badgers’ overtime win at Nebraska on Feb. 9 had some great substitution chess that’s worth revisiting.
• Because star center Ethan Happ is such a poor free-throw shooter, at 50.5% on the season, coach Greg Gard has been subbing him out in certain endgame offensive situations to avoid Hack-a-Happ.
• Trailing 69–67 with 43.8 seconds left in OT and Happ in the game, Wisconsin rebounded a missed Nebraska free throw, ran some unsuccessful offense at the other end, and UW called a timeout with 25.8 seconds left to reset.
• Gard put Happ on the bench coming out of the timeout, fearing a Hack-a-Happ that would yield an expected value of one point. Nigel Hayes subsequently hit a clutch three to put Wisconsin ahead, 70–69, with 18.4 seconds left.
• Gard opted to save his final timeout, rather than call it during this dead-ball to sub in Happ.
• This was where Huskers coach Tim Miles faced a critical decision: Call his one remaining timeout to plan a final play, or signal something from the bench, so the Badgers wouldn’t have an opportunity to sub?
• Miles called timeout with 17.8 seconds left. He did not make any lineup adjustments, but Gard made one: He put in Happ, a leading candidate for national defensive player of the year.
• With the clock ticking down, Nebraska’s offense was in a two-man game on the left side with Tai Webster and Ed Morrow, the latter of whom was being guarded by Happ. Webster drove, Happ helped, and . . .
. . . yup: Happ blocked the shot, kept the ball, and called timeout with 3.3 seconds left before the Huskers could foul him. It was a heady, game-saving play that Nebraska made possible by giving him an opportunity to get off the bench.
Next up: 2/16 at Michigan, 2/19 vs. Maryland
A small sign that Kentucky’s defense—the defense that was driving John Calipari mad during the latter half of January and early February—is improving:
In the Wildcats’ loss at Knoxville on Jan. 24, they allowed Tennessee to score 1.03 points per possession, but in the Vols’ visit to Lexington on Valentine’s Day, they managed just 0.82 PPP. That disparity wasn’t all due to the venue change; UK did a much better job with its perimeter D, both pressuring the ball and challenging three-point attempts.
Next up: 2/18 at Georgia, 2/21 at Missouri
A footnote from the WVU-Kansas press charting in the Jayhawks’ blurb:
The Feb. 13 loss to Kansas was just the fourth time all season that the Mountaineers forced a lower turnover rate than their opponent. (KU’s was 24.6%, WVU’s was 17.6%).
The other three times that happened were Jan. 3, at Texas Tech; Jan. 18, vs. Oklahoma; and Jan. 21, at Kansas State.
West Virginia lost all of those games, too. The Mountaineers are 0–4 in games in which they lose the TO% battle, and 20–2 when they win it.
Next up: 2/18 vs. Texas Tech, 2/20 vs. Texas
My magazine story on Boilers star Biggie Swanigan (shameless link plug!) delves into plenty of things, but his impact on Purdue’s three-point shooting is not one of them. Swanigan has been their second-most accurate long-range shooter in Big Ten play, at 44.7%, and the Boilers experience a serious drop-off in three-point quality as a team when he’s on the bench.
According to HoopLens data, Purdue’s three-point splits with Swanigan on and off the court are striking:
• Overall: 42.7% w/ Biggie, 35.4% without
• Big Ten: 42.7% w/ Biggie, 32.6% without
Next up: 2/18 vs. Michigan State, 2/21 at Penn State
The Gators’ season debut in the Power Rankings is a tad bittersweet, as one of the key players in them having a top-10 defense nationally—6' 11" center John Egbunu—suffered a torn ACL in Tuesday night’s win over Auburn and will miss the rest of the season. Egbunu had the highest defensive rebounding and block percentages of any Florida starter, and the only upside here is that his backup, sophomore Kevarrius Hayes, while extremely foul-prone, has been an even better shot-blocker in short bursts of playing time.
Next up: 2/18 at Mississippi State, 2/21 vs. South Carolina
Wednesday’s win over South Florida served as a reminder of the defensive value of junior forward Gary Clark. In just 25 minutes, he had nine defensive boards, four blocks and two steals, while committing only two fouls. Clark doesn’t block shots at the volume of a Tacko Fall, who might be his main competition for AAC defensive POY, but Clark’s all-around value for an elite defensive team should give him an edge in that race.
Next up: 2/18 vs. Tulsa, 2/23 vs. Memphis
The Next 16
17. Notre Dame
20. Florida State
22. St. Mary's
23. Oklahoma State
24. Wichita State
28. South Carolina
29. Iowa State