Longhorns' Bradley steps out of Wall's shadow; Pitt road warriors

Thursday January 14th, 2010

I'll leave it to the readers to decide which college hoops feat is most impressive this week: Kansas hitting four half-courters in a row, Mark Titus hitting two stationary-bike treys, Cornell's Eitan Chemerinski solving a Rubik's Cube in under three minutes ... or Texas being simultaneously ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, Coaches' poll and Power Rankings for the first time in history.

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1 Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 2
A double-dose of Texas blurbage, in honor of its ascension to the top spot:

• In the first two months of this season, when John Wall Mania was in full effect, it was awkward for ESPN announcers to have to keep saying that Longhorns freshman Avery Bradley was the No. 1 prospect in their proprietary rankings for the recruiting class of 2009. Anyone who watched Wall in the non-conference season had a hard time not saying he was better -- especially since he established himself as the front-runner in the national Player of the Year race and a lock to go No. 1 overall in the next NBA draft. But Bradley's past two performances -- 29 points (on 12-of-14 shooting) and nine boards against Colorado and 24 points (on 10-of-14 shooting), six boards and six assists at Iowa State -- are better than any two-game stretch Wall has had this year. Texas' rookie two-guard came in with a strong defensive rep but suddenly looks fearless on the offensive end, and has been the breakout star of January.

• I've seen a lot of teams play sagging man-to-man defenses against the 'Horns when guards Dogus Balbay (a 10 percent 3-point shooter) and Justin Mason (an 11 percent 3-point shooter) are on the floor together. The concept makes sense: Dexter Pittman is scary in the paint, and you might as well collapse on him when he has the ball -- as long as your help defenders are actually going to play D, that is. The two video stills below show a possession from early in Wednesday's win over Iowa State. In frame 1, Balbay has just fed Pittman on the right block, and all five Cyclones defenders have collapsed to the paint area. So what does Pittman do in frame 2? He spins around his original man and scores while all five ISU players watch. Huge defensive fail.

Next three: 1/16 vs. Texas A&M, 1/18 at Kansas State, 1/23 at UConn
2 Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 3
Last week we talked NBA Jam in this space. The classic SEGA game* is being re-released for the Wii this year, and I said that if it were extended to college hoops, Kentucky's Wall and Patrick Patterson would be the most unstoppable duo (followed by Texas' Damion James and Jordan Hamilton). The conversation spilled over to Twitter, where writer Jonah Keri extended it to all-time college duos, and we learned that people really like tweeting about fantasy college basketball video game pairings, perhaps even more than they like tweeting about actual college basketball.

I promised to include a ranking of the top five all-time college duos, and I'm hijacking the Wildcats' space** to do that:

1. Chris Jackson/Shaquille O'Neal, LSU '89-90: Best gunner/monster combo in NCAA history (and, you get Stanley Roberts off the bench).
2. Clyde Drexler/Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston '82-83: I'd like to actually call our game Phi Slama Jama rather than NCAA jam, if we can get the rights.
3. Vince Carter/Antawn Jamison, North Carolina, 1997-98: VC's college reel might as well be out of a video game.
4. Stacey Augmon/Larry Johnson, UNLV 1989-90: Can anyone score me one of these T-shirts?
5. Bo Kimble/Hank Gathers, Loyola Marymount 1989-90: I'd have them play in these Roxbury necklaces, too.

(*One reader also pointed out there was actually a SEGA game called College Slam, released in 1996, although like all college games, it included no names. ** I'm not sure who's going to send more e-mail: People reacting to the all-time ranking ... or UK fans irate that there's an LSU photo in their team's spot.)

Next three: 1/16 at Auburn, 1/23 vs. Arkansas, 1/26 at South Carolina
3 Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 1
After all the hand-wringing over Cole Aldrich only getting five shot attempts in the Jayhawks' loss at Tennessee on Sunday, it was nice to see him get fed the ball on their first offensive possession at Nebraska on Wednesday. Sherron Collins threw a high-arching pass into the low post, and although Aldrich's move wasn't graceful, he flailed into a double-team to draw a trip to the free-throw line. But because of early foul trouble and more double-teams, Aldrich attempted just four shots to finish with six points. The preseason All-America is still a rebounding, shot-blocking force on D, but he's suffering through a strange offensive malaise, and KU doesn't look like a national title team when he's in this state. The savior on Wednesday was Marcus Morris, who responded to being benched for his own poor play by scoring 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Had a second scorer (to go along with Collins) not emerged in Lincoln, the Jayhawks would have been looking at their second straight loss.

Next three: 1/16 vs. Texas Tech, 1/20 vs. Baylor, 1/23 at Iowa State
4 Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 6
In response to a comment I made last week about it being unwise to zone Kansas, Basketball Prospectus' John Gasaway used Syracuse's Big East defensive numbers from the past three seasons to study the impact of the 2-3 on 3-point field-goal attempts. What he found was that, on average, a 'Cuse opponent attempts four additional threes per 40 minutes -- a decent number but not a huge one. He made the strong point that how a team defends twos is still what matters most, so if you're looking for another reason to like Syracuse in '09-10, it should be that the Orange are a much better defensive team inside the arc than they were last season. In '08-09 they allowed opponents to made 48.1 percent of their twos, ranking 168th nationally; so far this season, opponents have made just 42.4 percent of twos, which ranks 29th.

Next three: 1/16 at West Virginia, 1/18 at Notre Dame, 1/23 vs. Marquette
5 Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 8
After going 7-of-8 from long range in his past two games, Scottie Reynolds' three-point percentage is way up from previous seasons, at 43.4 percent compared to 34.9 as a junior, and 38.3 as a sophomore. Should we expect him to finish the season in the 40s? I used to look at his week-by-week three-point percentages from the past three seasons, which (as you might expect) show a rise in the first two months, and then a slight decline into the 35-38 range once he's faced a long stretch of Big East defenses. It's interesting to note that as of Dec. 19 this season, he was well behind his past two campaigns, at 30.9 percent -- and then went on a serious tear to get where he is now.

Next three: 1/17 vs. Georgetown, 1/20 at Rutgers, 1/23 at St. John's
6 Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 13
Here's the reason why I'm way more bullish on Pitt than AP poll voters have been:

Quality road wins* by AP top 25 teams not named Pitt: Eight

Quality road wins by Pitt: Three

(* I'm defining a quality road win as one against a top-60 team in the Pomeroy Ratings, in that team's home gym.)

The value of road wins, like the ones the Panthers have pulled off in January against Syracuse, Cincinnati and UConn, cannot be understated. The other 24 teams in the AP poll have just eight between them, which means Pitt has 10 times the road clout of your average ranked team. Jamie Dixon's team needs to be considered a real contender for the Big East title.

Next three: 1/16 vs. Louisville, 1/20 vs. Georgetown, 1/24 at Seton Hall
7 Brigham Young Cougars
Last Week: 10
I like the Cougars far more than your average pollster, too, for a few reasons:

• They're one of only six teams in the country that rank in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, along with Duke, Kansas, Syracuse, Texas and Wisconsin.

• They have a top-10 offense despite the fact that three-point gunner Jonathan Tavernari has yet to heat up; he's shooting only 33.7 percent from long range, a good 4-5 percent below his normal clip.

• When their All-America-candidate point guard, Jimmer Fredette, was out with mono last week, they went on to UTEP -- hardly an easy place to play -- and didn't miss a beat, picking up a quality road win.

Next three: 1/16 vs. Colorado State, 1/20 vs. Wyoming, 1/23 at San Diego State
8 Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 5
A Duke student newspaper column from Wednesday suggested that it was time for coach Mike Krzyzewski to bench Kyle Singler, who's been having a less-than-spectacular junior campaign after being named a preseason All-America. Singler scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Boston College the same night, and Coach K reacted to the column by saying this: "I thought Kyle played really well. There were some suggestions in our student newspaper that we shouldn't start him tonight. The first day back [from winter break] and we read the student newspaper and he's benching our guy. It's welcome back, I guess. Unbelievable."

Although benching Singler, in my mind, would make Duke much worse, the column made a few legitimate points -- that Singler's 2-of-13 shooting performance against Georgia Tech was the main reason Duke lost on Saturday, and that he's looked uncomfortable playing the small-forward position this season. The three was supposed to be Singler's natural position, and it's where he'll try to play in the NBA -- but given his slumping numbers as a junior, it seems reasonable to say that Singler's best position in college might actually be at power forward, where he's a mismatch for most four-men on the perimeter, and is still scrappy enough to grab double-digit rebounds. It wouldn't be smart for Duke to move Singler back there, though -- this season's oversized lineups have been the key to their success defending two-point field goals.

Next three: 1/17 vs. Wake Forest, 1/20 at NC State, 1/23 at Clemson
1 - 8 9 - 16
SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.