Kansas, Michigan State are 1-2 in first Power Rankings of 2009-10

Thursday October 15th, 2009

October is traditionally this sport's month of a million lists and zero games, but for the good of everyone, it might be better to go ahead and start the season already. Players have been fighting in Lawrence and (near) Louisville -- it's clear they need something constructive to do! The entire Kentucky fan base is frothing over the thought of Friday night's sold-out practice, so starved are they for quality basketball. And Kalin Lucas, one of my favorite point guards, just unveiled a right-arm tattoo that reads, "Attack or be Killed"; once you put something like that on your arm, it has to be difficult to wait three weeks to do any "live" attacking.

I hope, in the meantime, Lucas can appreciate the all-out informational assault that is my first 2009-10 Power Rankings:

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: --
Is there room for wing Xavier Henry -- the No. 8 overall player in the Class of '09 -- to make a massive scoring impact for the Jayhawks? His name appeared on half of the Naismith Board of Selectors' preseason top 50 ballots, but not mine. Why? Consider this breakdown of personal possession usage by the Jayhawks starters while they were on the floor in '08-09 (from kenpom.com):

PG Sherron Collins 28.0%
PF Marcus Morris 23.3%
C Cole Aldrich 21.5%
SG Tyshawn Taylor 19.9%
SF Brady Morningstar 11.7%
Collins won't have to be such a high-usage point guard this season, but I'd expect Taylor and Aldrich -- both of whom are emerging stars -- to increase their usage. Marcus Morris is a surprisingly involved player for someone who doesn't get much publicity, and the guy whom Henry is replacing in that starting five, Morningstar, was an offensive non-entity other than taking the occasional three-pointer. The point: there isn't a mathematical opening for Henry to be a mid-20s-usage player, which means his likely ceiling is probably the 12-13-point range -- great figures for KU's offensive balance, but not Naismith-worthy.

This situation reminds me of North Carolina in '05, when elite freshman Marvin Williams joined an experienced lineup (as the sixth man) for a national-title run. The Heels' possession usage broke down like this:

PF Sean May 28.0%
SG Rashad McCants 24.3%
PG Raymond Felton 22.2%
PF Jawad Williams 20.5%
SF Jackie Manuel 14.0%
6M Marvin Williams 20.7%The May-McCants-Felton trio (nearly identical to KU's Aldrich-Taylor-Collins) remained dominant, while Marvin Williams played 22.7 minutes per game, averaged 11.3 points, and his NBA stock was just fine: He was the No. 2 overall pick in '05 as a one-and-done entry. That should be some solace to Henry's father, Carl, who told the Kansas City Star in June, "If [Xavier] didn't have to go to college, he wouldn't do it."

2Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: --
Tom Izzo thinks I should take a drug test. He didn't mention me by name, but at an Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan meeting on Monday, when Izzo was asked about SI naming the Spartans the super-early preseason No. 1 for '09-10 (in our post-title-game issue), said, "somebody should have done some drug testing on whoever wrote that." To explain: It was April 6, and Kansas had yet to add Xavier Henry, nor was it 100 percent certain that Aldrich or Collins were coming back to school. Michigan State had what seemed like the best 1-4 in the country locked in -- Lucas, Durrell Summers, Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe -- and was the best available option.

Izzo added, in that speech, that he doesn't even think the Spartans are a top-five team (due to the leadership void created by Travis Walton and Goran Suton's departures) or the Big Ten favorites (due to the quality of Purdue). Perhaps it's the dope, but I'm only willing to downgrade State to No. 2. Everyone's got problems, and State's don't seem as bad as those of the other teams I considered for this spot. Kentucky still needs to prove it can mesh, UConn's leading scorer is coming off an ACL tear, UConn and Villanova have all new frontcourts, Texas doesn't have a proven point guard, and on, and on ...
3Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: --
Crazy fact about Huskies forward Stanley Robinson that you might not know: He had been playing basketball with a broken nose -- and a deviated septum that limited him to only 20 percent of his breathing capacity -- for the past seven years, according to UConn assistant coach Patrick Sellers. Robinson had surgery in September to repair the issue, and has since been cleared to practice with the team.

I'm curious about the potential of a nose-breathing Robinson. The mouth-breathing version of him got off to a slow start last season after spending the first semester working with sheet metal, but there were times in March (especially at the Final Four) where he looked like one of the best players in the country. "We think we're getting the last-10-games Stanley Robinson this year," Sellers said, which would be nice: Robinson averaged 14.0 points and 9.0 rebounds during that stretch, compared to 9.0 points and 6.2 boards on the season. If he's hit his basketball groove, plus added 80 percent more breathing ability, he could be quite dangerous.
4Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: --
Scout.com recruiting guru Dave Telep told me last week that his "sleeper" freshman star was Wildcats forward/center Mouphtaou Yarou, who's ranked just below the Wall-Bradley-Henry-Sidney-Stephenson crowd, at No. 9 overall in the Class of '09. Yarou may be the top "need-filling" recruit in the country, in that 'Nova desperately needed a productive big man to pair with its backcourt six-pack (Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Reggie Redding, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek). Yarou has a chance to be the school's most important post player since Curtis Sumpter, and if that happens, the trip coach Jay Wright and assistant Pat Chambers made to Benin in September '08 -- during which they received Yarou's parents' blessing to coach him -- will have been well worth it.
5Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: --
In six seasons covering college hoops, I don't think I've seen a more obsessed-over Midnight Madness than Kentucky's in 2009. Even the build-up has been news, from the 200-tent camp-out, to the 45-minute sell-out, to Josh Harrellson

" target="_blank">delivering apple juice and Patrick Patterson serving biscuits in tents. Big Blue Madness is like the ultimate Preseason Hype Storm, a combination of: rabid fans with realistically urgent Final Four expectations, the unveiling of a messianic new coach (John Calipari), the unveiling of nation's No. 1 recruiting class, and the hosting of four top-10 recruiting targets.

My favorite window into Kentucky mania has nothing to do with hoops: It involves speculation over Friday's "special guest," which is thought to be Canadian rapper Drake. (Calipari Tweeted about Drake in June.) Given that plenty of old-school Kentuckians would probably prefer Kige to Kanye, there's been some message-board griping about Drake's appearance in Lexington. In one of the many threads on the topic, a Rupp's Rafters poster named "rustyWILDCAT" wrote:

"A lot of [people] dont like Drake or Snake or whoever the heck he is. We dont. Period. ... And for those of you that say its for the recruits. Shut it. i didnt see them campin out. Its for us. As I stated before, bring in a country superstar or Rock Star. Not some rapper who is talking abot degrading women and drugs. I dont want that representing my team. ... If you want recruits, just point to the rafters and look at them banners" (sic)

And these are selections from a reply by "7over2":

"This is the reason we're known as hicks nationally. ... Some people missed work/unemployment benefits to camp out for tickets to a practice. Those people surely deserve a Congressional Medal of Honor. ... recruits, as much as it pains me to say it, could give a ish less about who was the national champion in 1949. ... What's the best way to kill an event that doesn't include race cars or monster trucks? Play country music. ... Impressing top 40 recruits soooooo much trumps impressing fans it's not even funny. Can [58-year-old wheelchair-bound UK superfan] Wally Clark dunk? Didn't think so." (sic)

Proof, folks, that there are sane -- or at least semi-sane, darkly humorous -- Kentucky fans. (And perhaps there's someone out there who could re-track the John Wall/Jay-Z mixtape with some Brooks & Dunn, to appease rustyWILDCAT?)

6Texas Longhorns
Last Week: --
Here's how many good players -- and by good, I mean, capable of starting on a major-conference team -- Texas has at its 1-3 positions:

Points: Dogus Balbay, J'Covan Brown, Jai Lucas
Combos: Avery Bradley, Justin Mason, Varez Ward
Wings: Jordan Hamilton, Damion James

That's eight guys for three spots. Eight! No other team is even close to this deep on the perimeter. James wants to be an NBA small forward, but he'll likely have to play a perimeter four role this year to alleviate some of the Longhorns' logjam. And my prediction is that Brown and Bradley will eventually entrench themselves as the starting 1-2 combo; everyone knows about Bradley, but Texas coaches have been very high on Brown, who's somewhat of a forgotten man nationally after sitting out last season (at home in Houston) due to academic issues.

"[Brown] may be the most talented of the point guards we have," assistant Chris Ogden said. "There's going be an adjustment for him, defensively, but he's a very cerebral player who really sees the floor. He's not going to blind you with quickness, but he's got great pacing, and plays a veteran NBA point guard's style."

7Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: --
Wednesday was John Wooden's 99th birthday, and in honor of it, the Los Angeles Times ran a list of 99 things about the legendary coach. Number 11 on the list is that, while playing Purdue in the 1930s, Wooden was "nicknamed 'the Indiana Rubber Man' for his dives on the hardcourt." (That "elastic" moniker was seemingly based on the term India-Rubber Men, which was a label given to old-timey carnival contortionists. It also may have had connotations of thievery: A popular 1929 mystery by Edgar Wallace [the co-creator of King Kong] called The India Rubber-Men featured a gang of robbers wearing rubber masks, gloves and shoes who terrorize a river district in London.)

In Wooden's 99th year, his alma mater has a much better shot at the Final Four than UCLA does, but do the Boilers have any good nicknames? Combo guard E'Twaun Moore's grandmother called him "Smooge," which stuck, but apparently has no real meaning. Suspended point guard Lewis Jackson is the winner, I guess, with LewJack, which lends itself well to New Jack City/New Jack Hustler references, but would be infinitely cooler if Ice-T's career hadn't downwardly arced to Law & Order: SVU.
8West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Week: --
These were the 10 unluckiest major-conference teams in college basketball last year (according to kenpom.com's "Luck" formula, which is the deviation in winning percentage between a team's actual record, and the record expected by its efficiency):

Rk. Team Dev. Record
340 Georgia Tech -.116 (12-19)
339 Georgetown -.113 (16-15)
335 Colorado -.107 (9-22)
325 Florida -.085 (25-11)
324 Wash. State -.084 (17-16)
323 Rutgers -.083 (11-21)
319 Kentucky -.081 (22-14)
313 Virginia -.076 (10-18)
311 West Va. -.075 (23-12)
306 S. Florida -.066 (9-22)The Mountaineers were the only NCAA tournament team on that list, cracking the field of 64 despite being 2-3 wins below their efficiency level. If their luck swings in the other way, scorers Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks continue to improve, and young frontliners Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli make a big impact, this is a team that could go from 23 wins in '08-09 to 30 in '09-10.

9North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: --
Shameless plug: SI's commemorative North Carolina 100th Anniversary issue comes out later this month, and has a museum section that includes a few Style Archive-worthy items: Red-stitched jerseys from the 1950s; Russian nesting dolls of the '05 title team, from Roy Williams' office; and stirrup socks -- with numbers! -- from the 1970s.

It seems likely that the Ed Davis-led Heels will don that '50s throwback this season, since a Jordan version of it is on sale in their store, but I wonder what it would take to bring back the stirrup socks. If mega-recruit Harrison Barnes, Scout.com's No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2010, were to express interest in wearing them, they'd probably get fast-tracked into production: The Carolina-Duke duel for his Letter of Intent has direct implications on the 2010-11 national title race. Barnes, who's already visited both schools (and blogged about it), is spending Midnight Madness at Kansas, even though most insiders think his college choice will be between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils. Roy Williams, it goes without saying, would love to put Barnes' face on a new set of Russian nesting dolls.
10Butler Bulldogs
Last Week: --
While working on Arizona column last week, I spoke with IMG Academy's Vince Walden, the high-school coach of 6-foot-11 Wildcats freshman Kyryl Natyazhko, whom I'd been told had decent shooting range for a big man. When Walden told me Natyazhko shot 61 percent from three-point land last season -- making around 80 threes -- I was stunned. If he comes even close to that production as an Arizona freshman, he could contend for the title of best-shooting big man in the country. The current holder of that title (and you were patiently waiting for the Butler angle here, I presume) is the Bulldogs' Gordon Hayward, who at 6-8 has a smoother shooting stroke than 99 percent of the country's shooting guards. These are my top five gunners 6-8 and taller (with stats from '08-09):

1. Hayward, Butler, 6-8, 69 threes, 44.8%
2. Kyle Singer, Duke, 6-8, 69 threes, 38.3%
3. Robbie Hummel, Purdue, 6-8, 59 threes, 38.1%
4. Luke Babbitt, Nevada, 6-9, 33 threes, 42.9%
5. A.J. Tyler, UCF, 6-9, 21 threes, 45.7%
11Washington Huskies
Last Week: --
Huskies combo guard Isaiah Thomas, with whom I had an extensive conversation about strawberry Pop-Tarts and fro-hawks last week, mentioned at the team's media day (according to the Seattle Times) that he might consider trying out for the UW football squad. He hadn't actually talked to coaches Steve Sarkisian or Lorenzo Romar about it yet, but I'm sure this will go over swimmingly with Romar, who'd probably prefer that Thomas' Nate Robinson emulation only go so far. (Robinson played cornerback for the Huskies as a freshman.) Besides, if the hoops team did need to serve up a d-back for Sarkisian, the better option would be Venoy Overton, who's a relentlessly annoying defender.
12Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: --
The Blue Devils would be in an uncomfortable backcourt situation had they not gotten shooting guard Andre Dawkins -- who had initially planned to play for Hargrave Military Academy this season - qualified as a college freshman. Assistant coach Chris Collins said that what Dawkins provides is "firepower off the bench, because he can really shoot the three-pointer well," and he's also their only real line of relief behind starters Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. With Elliott Williams having transferred to Memphis, and Seth Curry sitting out a year after exiting Liberty, the only other guards on Duke's roster are walk-ons Jordan Davidson and Casey Peters. The ACC is down enough this year that the Blue Devils can contend for the league title despite those depth issues, but next season is when they can truly return to power. If Duke can land Barnes and No. 2-ranked point guard Kyrie Irving, who's heavily leaning their way, plus convince Kyle Singler to stay a fourth season, it could trot out this starting lineup:

PG: Kyrie Irving; SG: Seth Curry/Nolan Smith; SF: Harrison Barnes; PF: Kyle Singler; C: Mason Plumlee

... and that, folks, would be your preseason No. 1 team in 2010.
13Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: --
The best image from recruiting season appeared on the Maryland blog Testudo Times, under the headline, "Tobias Harris Tennessee Visit Update - They Painted A Rock." Harris is the No. 2-ranked power forward in the Class of 2010, and the guy Bruce Pearl dearly wants to put in his frontcourt once Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism leave following this season. And so, when Harris visited Knoxville last week, someone painted a giant rock on campus with an image of him in a Vols jersey, under the words "The Future." Harris liked it enough to pose for pictures next to it, causing the Maryland blogger to write, "We gotta find a way to top this [for Harris' visit to College Park]. I mean, we can organize the Scheyer-face ordeal, I'm pretty sure we can top a painted rock, no matter how amazing it looks."

(When I went to Northwestern, we had a rock on campus that was painted every day, and then guarded, by various student groups and Greek organizations, but no one ever thought to use it as an advertisement for a basketball recruit. Which is probably Reason No. 24,394 why the 'Cats have never made the NCAA tournament.)
14California Golden Bears
Last Week: --
Cal players Jamal Boykin, Jerome Randle and Omondi Amoke were among those who had their domain names -- jamalboykin.com, jeromerandle.com, omondiamoke.com -- rescued by Chris Bosh this week. The Toronto Raptors forward won a court case against a cyber-squatter who owned chrisbosh.com as well as the domains associated with of hundreds of other basketball players, and Bosh accepted all of the squatter's 800 URLs as a levy against the $120,000 damages he collected in the case. Bosh, in an incredibly cool move, is now offering all the domains back to the ballers for free; the full list of URLs and contact instructions is in this PDF.

Cal's Mike Montgomery is not on the list, and he'll probably never own his own domain, since a different (and disco-loving) Mike Montgomery got to it first. Maybe the Bears coach will settle for owning wemakethrees.com, which is available; he returns the best long-range shooting team in the country.
15Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: --
DraftExpress' 2010 first-round mock has just one Big Ten player in it: Buckeyes' do-everything guard Evan Turner, who's slotted at No. 7 overall. I consider the Big Ten to be the nation's deepest conference -- I put four of its teams in my top 16, and have Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin as potential tourney teams, too -- but it can't be called the most talented. Not when the ACC has nine projected first-rounders, the Big 12 has seven, the SEC has five, and even the mid-major ranks have two (Tulsa's Jerome Jordan and VCU's Larry Sanders). Only the Pac-10 is in a bigger talent drought; it, too, has just one projected first-rounder, UCLA guard Malcolm Lee, who's slotted four spots below Turner.
16Michigan Wolverines
Last Week: --
Cerebral hoops blog Big Ten Geeks has a Michigan preview that looks at the statistical trajectory of John Beilein teams in years 1-3, and makes a strong case that these Wolverines could blow up like West Virginia did in 2005, when it Pittsnogled its way to the Elite Eight. The Geeks have a few nice graphs that show the similarity of Michigan's first two Beilein years to West Virginia's first two, if you're into graphs. (If you'd rather just look at pictures of Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims in bright yellow polo shirts, you can do that elsewhere.)

I like this Michigan team almost as much as the Geeks do; my only hesitation is that they don't have the same caliber of shooters that the Mountaineers did in '05, when Pittsnogle hit 42.6 percent of his treys, and five others hit 34.5 percent or higher (Mike Gansey, Joe Herber, J.D. Collins, Tyrone Sally and Patrick Beilein). The Wolverines don't have a single returning player who shot higher than 34.4 percent.

The next 16 (*edited to include Gonzaga): 17. Clemson, 18. Georgetown, 19. Dayton, 20. Siena, 21. Mississippi State, 22. South Carolina, 23. Georgia Tech, 24. Oklahoma, 25. Gonzaga, 26. Minnesota, 27. Illinois, 28. Louisville, 29. Florida, 30. UCLA, 31. Xavier, 32. Tulsa

Also considered: BYU, Syracuse, Maryland, Nevada, Northern Iowa, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Florida State, Ole Miss, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, Western Kentucky, Wisconsin, Oregon State

(If you'd like to send the Power Rankings a note, I'm here.)

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