By Luke Winn
January 19, 2012

What happened to you, Big East? Three seasons ago, you produced three No. 1 seeds; this season, do you even have a team capable of upsetting Syracuse?

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1 Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 1
Now that the Orange are 20-0, and selling totally justified and not-at-all obnoxious shirts that commemorate the milestone, I guess it's permissible to indulge in the Undefeated Conversation. Here's how Syracuse's bid for regular-season perfection stacks up against Murray State's, using data:

                             Syracuse       Murray St.
Chance of Going Undefeated 13.1% 43.1%
Home/Away Games Left 5/6 4/5
Toughest Opp (%chance) @UConn (69) @TennTech (77)
2nd-Toughest Opp (%chance) @Cincy (74) @Tenn St. (86)
3rd-Toughest Opp (%chance) @Lville (74) @SEMO St. (88)

Even though the kenpom numbers like UConn more than Cincinnati, Syracuse's toughest remaining game may really be on Monday against the Bearcats. Murray State's situation doesn't get real until the Feb. 25 visit to Tennessee Tech. Kenpom gives the Racers victory odds of 96, 96, 96, 96 and 95 percent in their next five games, so this topic isn't likely to die anytime soon.

Next three: 1/21 at Notre Dame, 1/23 at Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia
2 Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 2
I imagine that extended reels of Anthony Davis' blocks are not shown in Kentucky opponents' scouting sessions for fear that a flinching epidemic might spread among their shooters. There is, however, a considerable amount of entertainment value in watching an 81-clip* edit of Davis' blocks, as I did for the purposes of the chart below. I had been curious about the extent of his blocking range, how often they come as the help or primary defender, and how often the Wildcats take possession of the ball afterward. Now we have the answers:

(* I'm aware that Davis has 87 on the season. Only 81 of them were available in Synergy, though, so I had to make do.)

Next three: 1/21 vs. Alabama, 1/24 at Georgia, 1/28 at LSU
3 Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 10
A shocking stat: Jayhawks center Jeff Withey actually blocks a higher percentage of opponents' shots (15.44) than does Kentucky's Davis (14.61). But compare the Withey block chart below to the Davis chart, and you'll see how Davis is a menace all over the court, whereas Withey is strictly a basket protector. Not that that's a bad thing: His shot-altering skills and Thomas Robinson's dominant defensive rebounding are the main reason KU is ranked this high.

Next three: 1/21 at Texas, 1/23 vs. Texas A&M, 1/28 at Iowa State
4 Baylor Bears
Last Week: 6
I moved Bears up because their resume of wins -- at home over San Diego State, on neutral courts over St. Mary's, West Virginia and Mississippi State, and at Northwestern, BYU and Kansas State -- justifies them being in the top four, despite that flop at Allen Fieldhouse. What Baylor still needs, though, is a signature victory, and it only has three more chances to do so: On Saturday at home against Missouri, on Feb. 8 at home against Kansas, and on Feb. 11 at Mizzou. It may be cliche to say that the "turnover battle" matters when they host the Tigers, but in this game, it really could be the deciding factor. Missouri is an elite offense in large part because it never turns the ball over, ranking second in the nation in turnover percentage at 15.2. Baylor is an elite defense in part because it's adept at forcing takeaways, ranking 36th nationally in turnover percentage at 24.1. Something will have to give.

Next three: 1/21 vs. Missouri, 1/24 at Oklahoma, 1/28 vs. Texas
5 Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 7
William Buford is in a slump. Buckeyes beat writer Bob Baptist blogged about coach Thad Matta's radio-show reaction to a caller questioning the senior shooting guard: "We've got to get some things shored up with him," Matta said, "because we do want the ball in his hands and we do want him making better decisions." Matta made the point that Buford is receiving much more defensive attention this season, but still, the drop-off in his efficiency has been significant. Here's a comparison of Buford's Big Ten numbers only from the past two seasons, over which the percentage of team shots he's taking has stayed pretty much the same (25.5 last year, 26.0 this year):

Season   ORtng   3PT%   TO%
10-11 123.6 52.1 13.7
11-12 99.2 34.6 25.0

The huge jump in turnover percentage is alarming. While Buford is averaging a career-high 3.3 assists in conference play this year, he's committing 3.5 turnovers per game.

Next three: 1/21 at Nebraska, 1/25 vs. Penn State, 1/29 vs. Michigan
6 Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 9
Frank Haith's Tigers are by no means a downtempo team -- they rank 117th on kenpom's adjust pace-meter, at 68.2 possessions per game -- but they have slowed down from last season, when Mike Anderson was still pushing the 40 Minutes of Hell. The table below looks at the most significant, negative pace changes made by major-conference teams from last season to now:

Team           2010-11   Current   Change
Utah 68.3 61.6 -6.7
So. Carolina 68.3 62.1 -6.2
Wyoming 68.1 62.2 -5.9
Providence 72.7 67.3 -5.4
Maryland 71.6 66.6 -5.0
Missouri 72.0 68.2 -3.8

Other than South Carolina, every slowdown on that list can be attributed to a coaching change.

Next three: 1/21 at Baylor, 1/25 at Oklahoma State, 1/28 vs. Texas Tech
7 North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 3
In an SI tournament preview story from 2001, Alex Wolff introduced the "blowout rule," which pointed out that only one team in the previous quarter-century -- North Carolina in 1993 -- had lost a game by more than 25 points and gone on to win a national title. The rule has held up through the 11 NCAA tournaments since Wolff's story, but should we trust it when filling out this year's brackets?

I ask because the Tar Heels, my preseason pick to win it all, were slaughtered by 33 points at Florida State last Saturday. They should still win the ACC and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, but is that loss to FSU a sign that UNC lacks the toughness to win it all ... I guess if anyone is going to break the blowout rule, it would be the team that last defied it, 19 years ago ? but for now, I'm more inclined to pick Kentucky as the 2012 champ.

Next three: 1/19 at Virginia Tech, 1/26 vs. NC State, 1/29 vs. Georgia Tech
8 Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 8
Andre Dawkins, despite his shooting prowess, was not an asset for Duke during ACC games his freshman and sophomore years, posting sub-100 offensive ratings. Might that change this season? We are only three games into the ACC slate, so it's far too early to make any real conclusions ... but at the very least, the junior two-guard is off to a strong start. His season-by-season ACC-performance breakdown is as follows:

Season  Gms   MPG   ORtng   3PT%
09-10 14 9.8 90.5 26.1
10-11 16 19.4 94.1 31.5
11-12 3 25.7 140.9 40.0

If Dawkins stays hot and new starting point guard Quinn Cook continues to thrive -- both big ifs -- then Duke has a real shot at knocking off Carolina for the league title.

Next three: 1/19 vs. Wake Forest, 1/21 vs. Florida State, 1/25 vs. Maryland
9 Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: NR
This ranking might seem high for the Bearcats, whose resume includes home losses to Presbyterian, Marshall and St. John's, but I'm taking momentum into account. Cincy is 10-1 since the Xavier brawl, and in the past 11 days has pulled off road upsets of Georgetown and UConn, whom I thought were the best teams in the Big East after Syracuse. Through six conference games, the Bearcats have made a convincing case that they're the second-best Big East team, in large part because they're suddenly scary on offense, with the second-highest efficiency (1.068 PPP) of anyone in the league. Sophomore Sean Kilpatrick, one of my Breakout Formula picks from August, is leading the charge with his long-range shooting.

Next three: 1/21 at West Virginia, 1/23 vs. Syracuse, 1/28 at Rutgers
10 Michigan St. Spartans
Last Week: 4
Can you make any sense of the Big Ten this year? Every week, road losses make the hierarchy murkier. Reordering team depends on which metric you trust to choose the best two:

• By W-L record: Illinois (4-1), Michigan (5-2).
• By overall kenpom rank: Ohio State (1), Wisconsin (3).
• By LRMC rating: Ohio State (1), Wisconsin (7).
• By Big Ten efficiency margin: Ohio State, Michigan State.

Ohio State's advanced-stats prowess is the reason they remain first among Big Ten teams in the PRs, and should emerge with the league title. After that, I honestly have no clue.

Next three: 1/21 vs. Purdue, 1/25 vs. Minnesota, 1/31 at Illinois
11 Virginia Cavaliers
Last Week: 13
Over at Basketball Prospectus, Drew Cannon did some tweaking to the concept of Value Add, which I played around with on a slow week over the summer, after seeing it on the Marquette blog Cracked Sidewalks. Cannon added a sliding usage scale to the concept of "replacement value" and removed the minutes-played component of John Pudner's original formula. The new metric identifies these six players as having the most offensive value-over-replacement in 2011-12:

1. Damian Lillard, Weber State
2. Doug McDermott, Creighton
3. Kenny Boynton, Florida
4. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
5. Reggie Hamilton, Oakland
6. Mike Scott, Virginia

Major-conference players -- the Jared Sullingers and Kevin Joneses of the world -- are likely to move up the list by season's end, because it adjusts for strength-of-defense faced. It's not an end-all metric, but at the moment it claims that Scott is the most valuable go-to guy in the ACC.

Next three: 1/19 at Georgia Tech, 1/22 vs. Virginia Tech, 1/26 vs. Boston College
12 Michigan Wolverines
Last Week: 19
To continue from the Virginia blurb: While I like Cannon's revamped Value Add, I think it might be worthwhile to re-introduce minutes-played percentage to the formula, perhaps on a sliding scale. Cannon removed it because he believed there's too much noise that affects playing time, but if we're trying to come up with the best-possible assessor of player value, it's hard to argue that there isn't a lot of value in a star who can stay healthy, stay on the floor and remain efficient for longer stretches than his peers. A guy like that -- say, a Trey Burke, who plays 85.6% of Michigan's minutes; or a Kevin Jones, who plays 90.4 percent of West Virginia's minutes -- enhances his value by keeping the replacement players off the floor.

Next three: 1/21 at Arkansas, 1/24 at Purdue, 1/29 at Ohio State
13 Creighton Bluejays
Last Week: 22
In the Missouri blurb, I ran a chart of the teams that have slowed their tempo the most from 2010-11 to now. Here's the flip side of that -- the teams from multi-bid leagues who've sped up the most (by possessions per game) from last season:

Team           2010-11   Current   Change
UMass 68.1 74.7 +8.6
Penn State 60.4 65.8 +5.4
Arkansas 67.3 72.5 +5.2
DePaul 69.7 74.6 +4.9
San Diego St. 63.8 68.1 +4.3
West Virginia 63.8 67.7 +3.9
Bradley 66.7 70.6 +3.9
Creighton 64.9 68.8 +3.9

The Bluejays' offensive breakthrough -- they're now one of the nation's top 10 most efficient teams -- coincided with a jump in tempo in coach Greg McDermott's second season. What's curious is that when he left the Missouri Valley in 2006, his last team at Northern Iowa was one of the nation's slowest, at 60.9 possessions per game -- almost the stylistic opposite of his current Creighton squad.

Next three: 1/21 vs. Indiana State, 1/25 at Drake, 1/28 vs. Bradley
14 San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: NR
I suspect I'll never live down my assessment of the Aztecs from last week's Power Rankings, which wrote SDSU off as a non-contender in the Mountain West. Steve Fisher's team then went out and beat the two teams I did have ranked from that league, UNLV and New Mexico, in very impressive fashion. As you can see from the chart in the Creighton blurb, Fisher has shrewdly adapted to major personnel changes from '10-11 to '11-12. With rangy forwards Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White last season, the Aztecs were a slower-paced team that focused on locking down the paint. Now that they rely on a quartet of perimeter players -- including breakout sophomores Jamaal Franklin and Xavier Thames -- they're playing faster and attacking the basket with more frequency. Kenpom's index doesn't love the Aztecs yet, but they have the West Coast's best portfolio of wins. Consider this ranking my mea culpa.

Next three: 1/21 vs. Air Force, 1/24 at Wyoming, 1/28 at Colorado State
15 Murray State Racers
Last Week: 15
The Racers are a small-town Kentucky team that's growing into a great national story. Seems like only a matter of time before the desperate-for-good-P.R. coal industry tries to attach itself, as it's done to the mining region's higher-profile programs. At Kentucky, a coal-baron alum and his associates gave $7 million for a basketball dorm that will be called the Wildcat Coal Lodge and have a "coal tribute" in the lobby. It was not unanimously well-received. Wednesday night's West Virginia-Marshall game in Charleston, W.V. featured an atrociously busy "Friends of Coal" logo at halfcourt:

When news broke that the coal lobby had purchased the court for $82,000, controversy ensued. Murray State: No matter what you get offered -- a court, a dorm, a charter plane for the rest of your undefeated tour -- don't sell out to the special interests!

Next three: 1/21 at SIU Edwardsville, 1/28 vs. Eastern Illinois, 2/2 vs. SE Missouri St.
16 UNLV Rebels
Last Week: 11
To stay on the increase-in-pace topic: The Rebels' jump in tempo under new coach Dave Rice has been +3.8 possessions, from 67.8 to 71.6, which makes them the nation's 21st-fastest team. If "21st-fastest team" isn't a marketable enough label for the return to Runnin', they can claim to be the speediest team in the Mountain West, averaging 75.9 possessions in two conference games. If you're going to soundly beat the Rebels, it would be wise to slow them down: Their worst defensive performance of the year came in their slowest game (60 possessions, 1.478 PPP allowed at Wichita State). Their four worst defensive performances, in fact, all happened in sub-65-possession games.

Next three: 1/21 vs. New Mexico, 1/25 at Boise State, 1/28 at Air Force

The Next 16: 17. Georgetown,18. Florida,19. St. Mary's,20. Illinois,21. Wichita State,22. West Virginia,23. UConn,24. Indiana,25. Vanderbilt,26. Marquette,27. Seton Hall,28. Wisconsin,29. New Mexico,30. Xavier,31. Temple,32. Alabama

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