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Posted: Thursday December 3, 2009 2:05PM; Updated: Thursday December 3, 2009 3:14PM
Luke Winn
Luke Winn>COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

Surprising starts by Gators, 'Cuse force Power Rankings shuffle

Story Highlights

Led by Sherron Collins, Kansas holds the top spot with a 6-0 record

Texas and West Virginia come in at Nos. 2 and 3 with 5-0 records

Trevon Hughes' big night against Duke helped Wisconsin earn the No. 14 spot

In her new book, Going Rogue, Sarah Palin dips into the college hoops world for wisdom, using a quote from legendary UCLA coach John Wooden:

"Our land is everything to us ... I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it -- with their lives."

If that sounds un-Wooden-like, it's because it's one of the most hilarious cases of misattribution in literary history. It's actually a line written in a 1960 essay by Native American activist John Wooden Legs.

I couldn't find any Wooden Legs quotes applicable to the first 2009-10 edition of the Power Rankings, so I'm resorting to authentic Wooden instead. If you're a player or fan reading these, either taking pleasure in the fact that your team made this most prestigious top 16, or fretting that you've been omitted, heed the Wizard's advice: "You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one."

Kansas, my No. 1 since the summer, will have to stay strong in the face of this praise:

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 1
It's never advisable to heckle Sherron Collins from an opposing bench, and even less so when you're on the staff on an 0-9 SWAC team playing its 10th straight road game. Yet, Collins claims (in the Lawrence Journal-World) that an Alcorn State assistant did just that on Wednesday. Two and a half minutes into the game, Collins was being pulled up off the floor by a Braves player when the coach allegedly yelled, "Don't help him up!" Collins told the paper:


"I didn't go over there [to confront the unnamed coach]; I just told him, 'This is our house.' Then I shot a shot from the sideline and heard him say, 'You got nothin'.' I looked back and said, 'All right, it's time.'"

Time to go on a 36-0 run and deliver one of the more merciless beatings of the year, 98-31. Good thing for Alcorn State that its $75,000 guarantee check wasn't contingent on keeping the game interesting.

In the bigger picture, what I've found most interesting about KU through six games is that freshman Xavier Henry has been allowed to be their most significant offensive player. Coach Bill Self told me in the preseason that Henry was a "volume shooter," but I was skeptical that there was enough room for Henry to get shots. As this breakdown of KU's four stars shows, Henry has made room for himself:

Player %Poss. ORtng. Pts./40m.
X. Henry 23.0 133.0 26.5
S. Collins 18.0 141.2 20.4
C. Aldrich 20.3 125.1 18.2
T. Taylor 20.2 95.3 11.8
Next three: 12/6 at UCLA, 12/9 vs. Radford, 12/12 vs. La Salle
 
2Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 6
On April 1, Longhorns senior center Dexter Pittman held a press conference to announce he was keeping his name out of the NBA Draft. I recall there being some snickering about this among writers and a few NBA scouts; Big Dex, you see, had no guarantee of being drafted in either round, and thus this wasn't exactly press-conference worthy news -- such as, say, Cole Aldrich's decision to come back to Kansas.


One of Pittman's quotes at the time was, "This is not about me being scared, it's about me being smart." Snickering aside, it was a smart decision, because the kid who arrived at Texas in '06 pushing 400 pounds, and is now safely under 300, looks like he has a pro future. Pittman is averaging 15.2 points and 6.2 boards in 20.8 minutes, and leading the nation in field goal percentage, at 81.6. There have been stretches of games -- particularly against UC-Irvine and Rice -- where he's looked like an unstoppable force. Like Pitt's DeJuan Blair last season, Pittman's game is a combination of brute force and incredible hands: His giant suction-cups allow him to rip down rebounds in traffic, and dunk nearly every good feed he receives in the post.


Next three: 12/3 vs. USC, 12/7 vs. Long Beach State, 12/12 vs. Texas State

 
3West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Week: 8
The Devin Ebanks problem, or personal issue, or whatever it was, has been solved for the time being. The Mountaineers' sophomore forward, who was mysteriously held out of his team's first three games, returned to their lineup for end of their 76 Classic championship run, averaging 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in wins over Texas A&M and Portland. When Ebanks hits his groove and begins to match fellow forward Da'Sean Butler's output, I'm confident that West Virginia will emerge as the class of the Big East.


One issue that would be nice to solve in the meantime: The case of teammate John Flowers' stolen Cars (the cartoon, now the New Wave band) backpack. This was apparently Flowers' signature accessory, much like the Barbie bag Terrence Williams wore in high school. The Daily Mail's Mike Casazza reports that the Cars bag, which contained textbooks on white-collar crime and criminal justice, as well as Flowers' wallet, was lifted from his car in November and has yet to be returned. Flowers has acquired a new, Spiderman bag for his books, but the strange theft is still a hot topic.


"I've been trying to figure this out," freshman forward Dan Jennings told the paper. "It's so weird. We're in West Virginia and there's really no crime out here. It's crazy someone would just steal John's backpack. Who wants a backpack with a little racecar on it? Who stole that? A little kid?"

Next three: 12/9 vs. Duquesne, 12/12 vs. Coppin State, 12/19 at Cleveland State

 
4Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: 7
The Paradise Jam is one of the few elite early-season tournaments not on ESPN, the gorilla that televises the bulk of the college basketball season and controls much of the hype machine. Syracuse earned a huge amount of buzz for winning the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic in primetime on ESPN; Duke was the center of attention on Thanksgiving weekend after winning the NIT Season Tip-Off on ESPN; Gonzaga thrust itself back into the national discussion by winning a Maui Invitational championship on ESPN; but did the Boilers get proper due for their thrilling, 73-72, title-game win over Tennessee in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 23?


It was the most impressive neutral-court victory by any team this season, even eclipsing the Orange's upset of UNC. The Vols were a fellow top-10 club with all five starters back, and the Boilers beat them without their point guard, Lewis Jackson, who suffered a season-ending foot injury the previous week. Yet the hype wasn't there: I was watching the game from Wisconsin -- in Big Ten country -- and Fox Sports Net put it on late-night tape delay so it could show a live Bucks game instead. Brandon Jennings is a far more entertaining floor general than Bobby Maze or Kelsey Barlow, but Purdue-Tennessee was a classic game, and it deserved to be shown live.

Next three: 12/5 vs. Ball State, 12/9 vs. Valparaiso, 12/12 at Alabama

 
5Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 4
There's no player I feel worse for than Wildcats freshman Mouphtaou Yarou, whom I met in late October while working on SI's preview issue. The Big Beninois (my proposed nickname for Yarou, a francophone who hails from Benin) was distraught after practice that day, because he hadn't understood one of coach Jay Wright's instructions during a drill, and caused his whole team to be assigned sprints as a result. It wasn't all that big of a deal -- and several assistant coaches walked over to tell him that -- but such is Yarou's personality that he felt horrible.


If only that had been the biggest of his freshman-year problems. On Nov. 10, confusion arose when a Sporting News report indicated he might be 25 rather than 19, and 'Nova needed to re-affirm his birth records to ensure he'd be eligible for their opener. Then he was sent home from the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with an undisclosed "virus" ... which earlier this week was revealed to be Hepatitis-B that will likely sideline him for the entire season. "I'm kind of lost," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer about the news. "I feel like I don't really know what is going on."


Senior forward Antonio Pena has been fantastic in Yarou's absence, averaging 13.4 points and 10.3 rebounds, but Wright called Yarou 'Nova's "x-factor" for a reason. It's hard to see the Wildcats winning a national championship with only one true big man in their starting lineup.


Next three: 12/6 vs. Maryland in Washington, 12/9 vs. St. Joe's, 12/12 at Temple

 
6Syracuse Orange
Last Week: --
'Tis the season for Weses, with Syracuse's Wes Johnson having thrust himself into the national player of the year race (and 2010 draft lottery) and Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox grossing in the top 10 at the box office. But we'll use this space to talk about the Orange's Zoolander lookalike, Andy Rautins, instead. He's Syracuse's unsung hero, averaging 10.1 points, shooting 51.5 percent on threes, putting up a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and -- the most surprising part -- is second in the nation in steals at 4.0 per game. Rautins was always a solid role guy, but now, it's almost as if he's been brainwashed into becoming the Ultimate Zone Player. Has anyone considered that the new rap track by Orange assistant Rob Murphy, Shut It Down, which has become the team's theme song, might have been commissioned by Jim Boeheim as Rautins' personal version of Relax?

Next three: 12/5 vs. Maine, 12/10 at Florida, 12/13 St. Francis (N.Y.)

 
7Florida Gators
Last Week: 29
Coming into the season, the Florida-Syracuse game on Dec. 10 in Tampa wasn't regarded as a big deal. The Gators were an afterthought in the SEC behind Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi State; and even though Jim Boeheim said of the Orange, "If you didn't think we were going to be good, you don't know basketball," there were no guarantees that they would thrive in the post-Flynn-and-Devo era. Now the Dec. 10 tilt -- 'Cuse's only trip outside of New York in the non-conference season, and its closest thing to a true road game -- is on par with Kentucky-UConn as a co-headliner of the Big East/SEC Challenge.


It seems that, like Boehiem, Florida coach Billy Donovan, had early feelings that his team might be better off despite losing a focal point of his offense. The day before Midnight Madness, I read (and saved, for future reappraisal) a Miami Herald blog post in which he was asked if the Gators would struggle to fill ex-point guard Nick Calathes' leadership void. Donovan said: "I don't know if I necessarily looked at Nick as a leader. I think the ball was in his hands a lot. I think Nick made a lot of plays for us in games. But, you know what, if you look at the end of the year, you know, Erving Walker was in a lot at the end of games last year because of his free-throw shooting and his ability to make shots."


It was a surprising comment at the time, but there's no doubt that the Gators' chemistry has been better this season. Five-star freshman Kenny Boynton has suppressed his gunner mentality, and although he's their leading scorer at 13.7 points per game, they have four others in double-figures (Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Walker, their leader). They already have two high-quality wins, over Michigan State (in Atlantic City, N.J.) and Florida State (at home), and look like an SEC contender.


Next three: 12/4 at Jacksonville, 12/10 vs. Syracuse, 12/19 vs. Richmond in Sunrise, Fla.

 
8Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 5
When we did SI's college dream team draft on the week of the preview issue, I was thrilled to get the Wildcats' John Wall (in round 1, with the second overall pick) and Patrick Patterson (Round 3, 10th overall) on my roster, which also included Kansas' Sherron Collins, Michigan's Manny Harris and Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado. Not a single player from Texas, Purdue, Syracuse or Florida was selected, so judging from the draft, it would seem blasphemous to have Kentucky ranked behind any of those schools ... but thus far, as a team, the 'Cats have yet to fire on all cylinders, getting scared by Miami of Ohio and needing overtime in Cancun to beat a Stanford club that's giving off NIT/CBI vibes. No. 8 seems like the right place for UK now, but its ceiling is much, much higher.


Big Blue does rank No. 1 in something, though: Generating floor-related news. In Cancun there was much amusement over the court setup at Moon Palace Resort, which slapped down a substandard surface inside a ballroom decorated with chandeliers. (Said Patterson, ""There are cracks in the floor, spaces missing, parts in the floor where it dips in and makes a 'V' shape all the way down the floor. ... A couple teammates tripped on the court 'cause of the cracks.") Then while practicing at Louisville's Freedom Hall on Sunday (for a neutral game against UNC-Asheville on Monday), Kentucky players gained attention for stomping on the rival Cardinals' logo in what was called a "semi-choreographed routine." I'm more inclined to call it foreshadowing, but whatever.


Next three: 12/5 vs. North Carolina, 12/9 vs. UConn at Madison Square Garden, 12/12 at Indiana

 
9North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 9
This week I did a study on freshman production in the Age-Limit era, creating a database of the top-100 ranked players (according to the RSCI) from the recruiting classes of 2006, 2007 and 2008 and plotting their first-year statistics against their recruiting ranking. This yielded some interesting stuff, including a suggestion that fans should use the '06 version of Washington's Spencer Hawes (and not Texas' Kevin Durant or Ohio State's Greg Oden) as a baseline against which to realistically compare top-10 recruits.


Three of the four top-10 RSCI recruits UNC has had from that period -- Brandan Wright, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington -- had offensive ratings higher than Hawes as freshman, and the fourth, Ed Davis, was just a few tenths of a point below Hawes, so it's reasonable to say that Tar Heels rookies from '06-08 met or exceeded expectations. I think that '09 rookie John Henson may fall well short; he's supremely talented, but he's a beanpole playing at an abnormal position (as a 6-10 small forward) and still struggling to take quality shots. His breakthrough is likely to come next season, by which time he'll have added bulk, and Davis and Deon Thompson will have moved on to the NBA.


Next three: 12/5 at Kentucky, 12/12 at Presbyterian, 12/19 vs. Texas in Arlington

 
10Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last Week: 25
A mini Power Rankings of teams whose reputations got the biggest boosts from early-season tournament performances:


1a. Syracuse (2K Sports Classic): Went from question mark to the top 10 in a two-day span by beating Cal and Carolina, and unveiling West Johnson.
1b. Gonzaga (Maui Invitational): Matt Bouldin is the star, but German import Elias Harris and rehabilitated 7-footer Robert Sacre (who sat out most of last season) have been revelations on the interior, giving the Zags a formidable frontcourt.
3. Marquette (Old Spice Classic): Most pundits (including me) had left the Golden Eagles for dead, but they look like a 8-10-seeded NCAA tournament team, and Lazar Hayward looks like an All-Big East-level player.
4. Portland (76 Classic): Made the West Coast Conference look like a two-bid conference (at least) by thrashing UCLA and upsetting Minnesota. Gonzaga's still the class of the league, but they'll get a serious title challenge from the Pilots.


Next three: 12/5 vs. Wake Forest, 12/9 vs. Augustana, 12/12 vs. Davidson in Seattle

 
11UNLV Runnin' Rebels
Last Week: --
There are only five players in Division 1 whose first names are Trevon or Tre'Von:


Trevon Charles, Sam Houston State
Trevon Flores, James Madison
Trevon Harmon, Cleveland State
Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin
Tre'Von Willis, UNLV


Three of them played on Wednesday. Flores, a freshman center, had 11 points and seven rebounds in a win over Norfolk State. The other two were the biggest stars of the evening -- among players with any first names. Hughes had a career night for the Badgers, scoring 26 points in an upset of Duke that helped the ACC-Big Ten Challenge go the Midwest's way for the first time it its 10-year history. Willis, a transfer from Memphis, went off at Arizona, scoring 23 points in the second half and the two overtimes to knock off the Wildcats and further enhance the Rebels' national rep. Dec. 2, 2009: A bad day to be a Tiger, a great day to be a Trevon/Tre'Von.


Next three: 12/5 at Santa Clara, 12/12 vs. Kansas State, 12/15 at Southern Utah

 
12Washington Huskies
Last Week: 11
The Huskies, who play at an adjusted tempo of 74.3 possessions per game, aren't the fastest team in Seattle: Former UW assistant Cameron Dollar took over Seattle U's fledgling D-I program this year has them running at an adjusted pace of 80.5 -- second in the nation only to VMI, which operates at the insane speed of 90.5. But Washington will surely be the fastest team in the Pac-10, which, as John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus pointed out last week, is on its way to beating the Big Ten for the title of nation's slowest conference. New USC coach Kevin O'Neill is doing his part to further a down-tempo movement that was started by Ben Howland at UCLA and Tony Bennett at Washington State, and assisted by Herb Sendek at Arizona State; the Trojans are currently playing at the 337th (out of 347) slowest pace in college hoops. They've become the anti-Washington.


Next three: 12/3 at Texas Tech, 12/6 vs. Cal State Northridge, 12/12 vs. Georgetown in Anaheim, Calif.

 
13Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: 13
Take note of one highly important statistical turnaround: Last season, the Vols ranked 286th in the country in three-point shooting, at 31.5 percent, and had just one player shoot better than 35 percent (freshman Scotty Hopson, at 35.7). Through seven games this season, they're shooting 43.8 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks 16th nationally. The main parties responsible for this are Hopson (at 54.3 percent) and Cameron Tatum (at 52.6). Meanwhile, senior star Tyler Smith, who took 96 three-point attempts last season but made only 28 (a 29.2 percent clip), has just stopped shooting from long distance altogether. He's tried just one three all season (and missed it). That's a curious development, given that he told me, in an offseason Q&A, that "shooting has been a big point of emphasis for me in the offseason." He was said to be hitting 75 percent of his uncontested treys in practice, and was hoping to hit 40 percent in games.


Next three: 12/11 vs. Middle Tennessee in Nashville, 12/15 vs. Wyoming, 12/19 at USC

 
14Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: --
I already lauded Trevon Hughes in the UNLV section, and will take the opportunity here to apologize for making the mistake of calling the Badgers only the seventh-best Big Ten team coming into the season. After that Duke game -- and a win over Maryland in Maui -- they don't look like a team destined to be sweating on Selection Sunday, or playing in the NIT. Other people make mistakes, too, though, like ESPN's Bob Knight, who bungled the broadcast with 4.9 seconds left in a nail-biting contest. Hughes had just hit a free throw to put UW up 71-69, at which point Knight said:


"Wisconsin for sure is in overtime, now no matter what happens. Now, they have to decide whether they want to make it or miss it. And I think what I would do is make it and call timeout right away."

As the bloggers at Rush the Court said today, Time and score! It's possible that the General, who's never wrong, has ESP and knew that Hughes would hit the next free throw (which he did), but I don't buy that angle. An equally upsetting remark came right after the buzzer, when Wisconsin's students rushed the court -- one of those great college basketball moments, and one of the biggest wins of the Bo Ryan era -- and Knight threw a wet blanket on the whole thing by saying, "Now! There's more chance of a player getting hurt in this mess than there was during the game!"


While I acknowledge there are safety concerns involving court-stormings, that's not the time to voice them. It was one of the few instances where I would've preferred a completely non-sensical, screaming outro from Dick Vitale.

Next three: 12/5 vs. Grambling State, 12/9 at Wisconsin-Green Bay, 12/12 vs. Marquette

 
15Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 12
One has to be careful about reading too much into individual statistics this early in the season, given the small sample sizes and wide variance in quality of opponents. How much stock, then, should we put in the national leaderboard for Offensive Rebounding percentage -- a stat that, in my mind, best measures who's making the biggest impact on the glass? Pitt's DeJuan Blair dominated this category last season en route to becoming a second-round steal in the NBA draft, and your leader through Tuesday's games was none other than ... Duke's Brian Zoubek, who was previously best-known for his Borat cameo in the Jon Scheyer in 75 seconds YouTube. Zoubek was pulling down an absurd 32.3 percent of available offensive boards in the 16.8 minutes he was playing per game. (Blair's percentage last year was 23.6).


The top five on statsheet.com were:

Rank OR% Player Team
1. 32.2 Brian Zoubek Duke
2. 24.5 DeMarcus Cousins Kentucky
3. 22.4 Tony Easley Murray State
4. 22.2 Papa Dia Southern Methodist
5. 22.0 Storm Warren LSU
Then, on Wednesday against Wisconsin, Zoubek grabbed just one offensive board in nine minutes, while committing four fouls. It was the Year of Brian Zoubek, and then all of a sudden, it wasn't.


Next three: 12/5 vs. St. John's, 12/15 vs. Gardner-Webb, 12/19 vs. Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden

 
16Texas A&M Aggies
Last Week: --
Aggies assistant Pooh Williamson told me in October that this would be a big year for senior guard Donald Sloan, and I regrettably failed to use that information in print. It would have made me (or Williamson) look good, because Sloan was on the verge of a breakthrough season: He's averaging a team-high 15.3 points through seven games, and his field-goal percentage (48.6) and three-point percentage (45.5) are both up roughly 10 percent from last year's figures. Texas A&M's showing at the 76 Classic -- where it beat Clemson and Minnesota and had a respectable game against West Virginia -- is only bolstering the Big 12's claim to being the nation's best conference, just ahead of the Big East.


Next three: 12/4 vs. Akron, 12/7 vs. North Texas, 12/12 vs. New Mexico in Houston


The next 16: 17. Ohio State, 18. Connecticut, 19. Miami, 20. Ole Miss, 21. Georgetown, 22. Michigan State, 23. New Mexico, 24. Northwestern, 25. Cincinnati, 26. Memphis, 27. Florida State, 28. Marquette, 29. Richmond, 30. Vanderbilt, 31. Louisville, 32. Missouri State

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

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