By Luke Winn
October 15, 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
1 Kansas 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
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."
2 Michigan 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 ...
3 Connecticut 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.
4 Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: -- 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.
5 Kentucky 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

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16 Michigan 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

I'm here

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