SI.com Home
Get SI's Duke Championship Package Free  Subscribe to SI Give the Gift of SI
Posted: Wednesday December 23, 2009 2:53PM; Updated: Wednesday December 23, 2009 2:53PM
Luke Winn
Luke Winn>COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

Kansas, Texas, Kentucky round out top three, but all can improve

Story Highlights

Kansas is the best team in the country, but needs more offense from Aldrich

Better long-range and free-throw shooting could make Texas' PG truly elite

UAB joins the rankings after knocking off Cincy by 17 and Butler by 10

College hoops is about to go on Christmas break, during which one of its stars will make a cameo in the Nutcracker (complete with Maurice Sendak sets!), and nearly everyone else will try to spend a few days at home. The Power Rankings won't return 'til January, so with that in mind, here's what I'd like to see out of each of the top 16 teams in the New Year:

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 1
Cole-A-Slingin: Jayhawks center Cole Aldrich has the most distinct shooting form in the game -- a slingshot motion that involves bringing the ball all the way behind his crew-cutted head before sending it hoopward. Aldrich hasn't been shooting nearly as much this year, though; he's averaging 7.3 field-goal attempts as a junior compared to 9.5 in 2008-09. While I think Kansas, in its present form, is the best team in the country, it can become even better by running more of its offense through its toothless big man. A few factors have affected Aldrich this season: The arrival of high-scoring freshman Xavier Henry and the breakout of sophomore Marcus Morris have eaten into Aldrich's offensive role; he's apparently been fatigued due to bronchitis, or as he calls it, "some crap in my throat;" and he's been fretting over the health of his grandmother, Ann Aldrich, who has terminal lung cancer. Cole will be visiting her in Minnesota over the holidays. "The combination of things has kept him from being as good as he can be," coach Bill Self said this week. "It's a matter of time before he bounces out of it and has some big games."

Next three: 12/29 vs. Belmont, 1/2 at Temple, 1/6 vs. Cornell
 
2Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 4
Take The Lid Off: I'm a charter member of the Dogus Balbay Appreciation Society. The Longhorns' Turkish point guard should be considered the frontrunner for Glue Guy of the Year (Seth, I hope you're reading this) due to his contributions to the nation's stingiest D. He locked down Michigan State's Kalin Lucas on Tuesday, holding him to 3-of-11 shooting from the field and forcing him to commit six turnovers against just two assists. But Balbay is such a woeful shooter (11.1 percent on three-pointers, 44.4 percent on free throws) that Texas coach Rick Barnes had to remove Balbay from an offensive possession in the final two minutes after Tom Izzo decided to employ a hack-a-Dogus strategy to try to eat away at the Longhorns' lead. If Balbay were merely competent from long-range and the stripe, he could be one of the country's most valuable point guards.

(Semi-related side note: When I first encountered Balbay, two years ago in the preseason, Barnes' main use for him seemed to be amusement. The coach would make Balbay recite English tongue-twisters in the training room, and then listen as Balbay struggled mightily. He has, obviously, taken on a much more valuable role since then.)

Next three: 12/29 vs. Gardner-Webb, 1/2 vs. Texas A&M Corpus-Christi
 
3Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 2
A Tidier Wall (and Bledsoe): The first couple months of this season have felt like one long John Wall highlight reel, but break down a full Wildcats game and you'll witness plenty of freshman mistakes at the point guard position. Wall ranks fourth in the nation in assists per game (7.0) but also ninth in turnovers (4.5), for a ratio of 1.6-to-1. His backup, Eric Bledsoe, has been even less sure-handed, producing a ratio of 0.8-to-1. This may be nitpicking, but the Wildcats themselves have been talking about an undefeated season, so it's worth pointing out: They currently rank 18th in offensive efficiency, and the only thing holding them back from a top five offense is turnovers. UK is tops in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, 16th in effective field-goal percentage, 14th in three-point shooting ... but 277th in turnover percentage. Wall & Co. are giving the ball away on 23.3 percent of their possessions, which is far too high for a team with hopes of going 40-0.

Next three: 12/23 vs. Long Beach State, 12/29 vs. Hartford, 1/2 vs. Louisville
 
4Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 3
Increased Charitable Contributions: Gary Boren's instructional DVD should be a mandatory stocking-stuffer for Orange players this week. They've been one of the country's most dominant teams, yet rank 322nd in free-throw percentage at 61.6. There's precedent for great teams being terrible from the stripe; Memphis made the national title game two years ago while shooting 61.4 percent on the season. But the Orange are a more curious case, in that, unlike the '08 Tigers, their roster actually contains plenty of shooting talent. Andy Rautins makes 43.3 percent of his treys ... but just 56.3 of his free throws. Wes Johnson makes 52.4 percent of his threes ... but just 67.6 percent of his free throws. Brandon Triche makes 50.0 percent of his threes ... but just 65.7 percent of his free throws. There's something seriously wrong with those splits.

Next three: 12/29 at Seton Hall, 1/2 vs. Pitt, 1/6 vs. Memphis
 
5Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: 5
A True Showcase: The Boilers -- who are a treat to watch, and probably the best defensive team not named Texas -- keep playing their marquee games under less-than-optimal circumstances. Their first meeting with a ranked opponent this season, the title game of the Paradise Jam against Tennessee, wasn't even shown live in some of Fox Sports Net's regions. Their second meeting with a ranked team, when they host West Virginia on Jan. 1, will start about the same time as the second-half kickoffs of the Gator and Capital One Bowls. I'll be watching hoops that day, but the Gator is Bobby Bowden's last game at Florida State, and the Cap One is Penn State-LSU, so there are bound to be limited eyeballs on what should be a killer showdown between the Boilers and Mountaineers. The third time Purdue faces a ranked team, Jan. 9 at Wisconsin, happens on the first day of the NFL playoffs, but tip-off is likely to be a few hours before the first Wild Card broadcast. Hopefully that afternoon is when the country can focus on a big Purdue game ... at least those who get Big Ten Network.

Next three: 12/29 at Iowa, 1/1 vs. West Virginia, 1/5 vs. Minnesota
 
6Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 10
The Interior To Hold: Duke's success this year isn't all because of point guard Jon Scheyer, even though I called him the frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year following Saturday's rout of Gonzaga. As a team the Blue Devils are playing their best interior defense since 2004-05, which was Shelden Williams' junior season. Their two-point field-goal percentage D dropped off considerably in the two Josh McRoberts years and two small-ball years that followed, as the chart below shows:

Season    2pt% D   Nat'l Rank
03-04 43.5 15
04-05 41.2 5
05-06 46.4 102
06-07 45.7 70
07-08 47.0 108
08-09 46.8 111
09-10 41.0 20
The fact that the Dukies have four players 6-foot-10 or above on their front line (Brian Zoubek, Ryan Kelly and Miles and Mason Plumlee) has helped, but they've also yet to play a truly great interior team. Are those defensive numbers an aberration, or will they hold up against frontcourts like the ones at Georgia Tech, Florida State, Georgetown and North Carolina?

Next three: 12/29 vs. Long Beach State, 12/31 vs. Penn, 1/3 vs. Clemson
 
7West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Week: 6
An At Least Partially Satisfied Huggs: Most of the undefeated teams in these rankings have coaches who are content -- still making adjustments and pushing their players, but content to have a zero in the loss column. Not West Virginia. A headline in this week's Charleston Gazette read, simply, "Huggins Not Happy." His Mountaineers are 8-0 heading into a killer stretch of four games against Ole Miss, Seton Hall, Marquette and Purdue, and Huggins is making it seem as if they're due for multiple days of reckoning. "We just think things are easy," Huggins said. "We can't get five guys to play hard." I worry most about juco transfer Casey Mitchell, who's sat out the past two games while reportedly nursing a knee injury, but had gone 0-for-12 from long range in the three contests prior to that, and entered Huggins' doghouse. Mitchell was supposed to be the three-point gunner West Virginia needed after losing Alex Ruoff, but hasn't developed into a real offensive threat.

Next three: 12/23 vs. Ole Miss, 12/26 at Seton Hall, 12/29 vs. Marquette
 
8Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 9
Non-Devious Children ... and a Redding Surge: This young Nova fan seemingly had it all -- a good seat to Saturday's game against Fordham, nachos and ice cream, and yet he still felt the need to give the 'ol Philly salute to the camera. The blogosphere has ensured that this kid's finger will be the more enduring image from 'Nova's rout of the Rams, but the game was also newsworthy for the return of guard Reggie Redding, who'd been suspended for the first semester after a marijuana charge. Redding's debut was spectacular, as he scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and had nine rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. His biggest impact should be felt on the defensive end, where the Wildcats had been suffering regular lapses. Redding is their best lockdown defender, and had he been available for their lone loss to Temple, I doubt Juan Fernandez would've been allowed to go on such a three-point bonanza.

Next three: 12/23 vs. Delaware, 1/2 at Marquette, 1/6 vs. DePaul
1 - 8 9 - 16

ADVERTISEMENT
YES, I WILL TAKE THE SURVEY

MAYBE LATER

NO THANKS
SI.com
Hot Topics: Sammy Watkins NFL Draft Rick Adelman NFL Questions Aaron Hernandez Donald Trump
TM & © 2013 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint