Posted: Thursday February 17, 2011 1:18PM ; Updated: Thursday February 17, 2011 2:36PM
Luke Winn
Luke Winn>COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

Texas leapfrogs Ohio State into top spot on strength of stifling D

Story Highlights

The Jimmer vs. The Norris: Comparing this season's two best performances

Contest: Can you identify these nine current players who wear the number zero?

A Spittergate investigation: Did a Wisconsin fan launch a loogie at Jared Sullinger?

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 2
You won't find all of the nation's best rebounders atop the raw-rebounds-per game leaderboard. Take Texas' Tristan Thompson, for example: Longhorns coaches told me the Canadian freshman would be a double-digit guy if he were freed up to work the defensive glass -- but he only averages 7.5 boards per game, because he has explicit defensive orders to contest/block any shot in or around the lane, which takes him out of solid rebounding position. (His teammates -- specifically Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson and Dogus Balbay -- are instructed to clean up the misses.) Thompson is a huge asset to the nation's No. 1-ranked defense, despite his offensive rebounding percentage (of 13.7) actually being higher than his defensive percentage (13.1).

Thompson's case made me consider the concept of "Deflated/Underrated Rebounders," which I'll define as players who rank in the top 100 nationally in the ultimate hard-work stat -- offensive rebounding percentage -- yet have low defensive-board percentages because they're focusing on blocking shots. Thompson is a top-five guy in this category, but the ultimate major-conference example is Vandy's Festus Ezeli, who's in the top 50 nationally in offensive rebounding and block percentage, but averages just 6.2 boards per game:

Player, Team                  RPG    OR% (NR)    DR% (NR)    Blk% (NR)
Rhamel Brown, Manhattan 7.8 16.3 (14) 14.3 (950) 8.6 (59)
Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt 6.2 15.3 (29) 15.5 (641) 9.3 (45)
Tarik Black, Memphis 5.0 15.1 (32) 10.3 (-) 8.1 (73)
JaMychal Green, Alabama 7.5 14.5 (49) 16.4 (541) 8.9 (54)
Tristan Thompson, Texas 7.5 13.7 (74) 13.1 (-) 6.8 (123)
Terrence Jennings, L'ville 5.5 12.8 (110) 13.5 (-) 8.8 (53)

Next Three: 2/19 at Nebraska, 2/22 vs. Iowa State, 2/26 at Colorado
 
2Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 1
The Buckeyes recovered from their loss at Wisconsin with a 71-61 home win over Michigan State on Tuesday, but the game was notable for the fact that the Spartans held Wooden/Naismith Award candidate Jared Sullinger to a Big Ten-low 11 points on just eight shots. Part of Sullinger's problem was early foul trouble -- he was limited to just 27 minutes -- but Michigan State's big men put in serious work to keep him out of the lane. "They were just playing physical," Sullinger told the Columbus Dispatch. "They pushed me off the block and made me catch it five feet from Jon [Diebler], so it was a hard post pass for Jon to throw."

Below are a couple of screen-grabs from the ESPN telecast showing where Sullinger was often forced to receive entry passes -- a good 2-3 steps out of the lane:

Jared Sullinger

My unofficial count, from watching the tape of the Michigan State game, is that Sullinger was only able to receive five passes while standing in or on the edge of the lane, and those resulted in one basket and one indirect assist. I reviewed Ohio State's previous home game, against Michigan on Feb. 3, and credited Sullinger with 14 first touches in or on the edge of the lane. Of the four he received in the first half, two turned into baskets and two into assists. Of the 10 he received in the second half, six turned into points and two into baskets for teammates. In the Wisconsin game, the Badgers limited Sullinger to seven in-paint touches, six of which resulted in points. Keaton Nankivil essentially sat on Sullinger's high hip -- see the image below -- and when he did catch it, he was smothered so quickly that he didn't have room to create good looks for teammates. While he managed to score 19 points, he didn't record a single assist.

Jared 

Sullinger

Next Three: 2/20 at Purdue, 2/22 vs. Illinois, 2/27 vs. Indiana
 
3Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 4
The Panthers' formerly No. 1-ranked offense has been surpassed by Wisconsin (and Ohio State and Kansas) in the adjusted-efficiency department during the time Ashton Gibbs has been sidelined with a partially torn left MCL. That was to be expected; Gibbs is too good a three-point shooter not to be noticeably missed over that three-game stretch. What has been impressive, though, is how Pitt's offense has adapted to beat West Virginia, Villanova and South Florida. Against the Wildcats last Saturday, the Panthers made just one long-range shot, pulling off a 57-54 victory largely on the strength of aggressive basket attacks.

No one was more responsible for that than junior forward Nasir Robinson, who scored 15 points (well above his 8.7 average) and earned 14 free-throw attempts. His shot chart from that game reveals that he didn't take a single attempt from outside the lane area (key: DF = drew foul, JS = jump shot, LU = layup, OR = offensive rebound):

Nasir Robinson shot 

chart

Next Three: 2/19 at St. John's, 2/24 vs. West Virginia, 2/27 at Louisville
 
4Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 5
There really is no debating that the Blue Devils are the best uptempo team in the country. Synergy Sports Technology scouting stats allow us to break down team efficiency in transition (TEff. on the chart below) and half-court (HEff.) situations, and of the 10 fastest-paced teams from multi-bid leagues, Duke is tops in both splits:

Rk. Team                   APace   TEff.  HEff.
1. Washington (Pac-10) 73.9 1.01 0.96
2. North Carolina (ACC) 73.2 1.02 0.86
3. Providence (Big East) 73.0 1.06 0.85
4. Missouri (Big 12) 72.7 1.19 0.92
5. BYU (Mountain West) 72.2 1.09 0.95
6. Duquesne (A-10) 71.7 1.22 0.88
7. Maryland (ACC) 71.5 1.14 0.87
8. Iowa State (Big 12) 71.3 1.01 0.89
9. Duke (ACC) 71.3 1.28 0.96
10. Texas Tech (Big 12) 70.8 1.06 0.87

Here are those transition/half-court numbers plotted on an aerial:

Speed Aerial

One interesting thing to note: While Duke is the best overall team in that grid, the team that actually gains the most when it gets out and runs is Duquesne, which is +0.34 points-per-possession better on the break than in half court. The Dukes are smart to play the fastest 40 minutes in the Atlantic 10.

Next Three: 2/20 vs. Georgia Tech, 2/23 vs. Temple, 2/26 at Virginia Tech
 
5Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 3
How bothered were you by Kansas' 16-point loss at Kansas State on Monday? Tully Corcoran, the Jayhawks beat writer for the Topeka Capital-Journal, called it an "ominous" beatdown, and wrote, "I've got to think there haven't been a lot of teams who got beat like that, this late in the year, and went on to win the national title."

To judge just how ominous KU's loss was, I went through the kenpom.com archives to find each of the past eight champion's worst February or March loss prior to the NCAA tournament. And it turns out Corcoran's guess was right: None of them had a loss as bad as the Jayhawks' most recent one, in terms of point margin (-16) or efficiency margin (-22.7). The closest was the '03 Syracuse team, which suffered a 14-point (and -20.1 EM) loss at UConn on Feb. 10 of that season:

Yr.    Champ     Worst Late Loss    OppRk  PtMgn   EffMgn/100P
10-11 Kansas? 2/14 @ Kansas St. 37 -16 -22.7
09-10 Duke 3/3 @ Maryland 11 -7 -10.3
08-09 UNC 3/14 vs. FSU 36 -3 -4.7
07-08 Kansas 2/11 @ Texas 9 -3 -4.8
06-07 Florida 2/17 @ Vanderbilt 35 -13 -18.8
05-06 Florida 2/26 @ Alabama 43 -5 -7.5
04-05 UNC 3/12 vs. Ga. Tech 19 -3 -4.3
03-04 UConn 3/7 @ Syracuse 28 -11 -18.9
02-03 Syracuse 2/10 @ UConn 21 -14 -20.1

Next Three: 2/19 vs. Colorado, 2/21 vs. Oklahoma State, 2/26 at Oklahoma
 
6Brigham Young Cougars
Last Week: 6
The Jimmer's 47-point outburst against Utah on Jan. 11 still ranks as the season's best single-game scoring effort against a D-I opponent. But Cleveland State's Norris Cole actually trumped The Jimmer in the overall performance department on Saturday, posting a 41-20-9 (points-rebounds-assists) line in a win over Youngstown State. Like Fredette, Cole is a scoring point guard, but with better hair:

Jimmer vs. Norris

And while Jimmer's shot chart from that Utah game was heavy on right-side jumpers ...

Jimmer 

vs. Norris

... Norris prefers to shoot from the top of the key and the left wing, while also making fierce dribble-attacks at the rim in transition and on the secondary break, even when his team doesn't have a numbers advantage:

Jimmer vs. Norris

Next Three: 2/19 at TCU, 2/23 vs. Colorado State, 2/26 at San Diego State
 
7Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last Week: 7
Last week's visual quiz was won on Twitter by @AndyHutchins, an editor at SB Nation. He should be considered the nation's foremost expert on college basketball shorts graphics after identifying nine zoomed-in, grayscale images on his first try. This week's quiz is Grayscale Zeros. Can you ID these colorless images of nine current players who wear the number zero? The winner is the first person who tweets the players' last names, in order, to me at @lukewinn.

Gray Zeros

(The fact that this is running in the Irish section should give you one contextual hint. Here's another: Three of the zeros are from non-BCS-conference schools.)

Next Three: 2/19 at West Virginia, 2/23 at Providence, 2/26 vs. Seton Hall
 
8San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 8
All Aztecs fans should be Vegas Watch fans, because the blog just made a strong case for SDSU as a No. 1 seed. VW took an innovative approach to evaluating the strength of No. 1-seed candidates by running one "baseline" bubble team through each of their schedules and then measuring the gap between the candidates' performance and the baseline's expected performance. The baseline team was Richmond, and the teams with the best performance in relation to the Spiders were: 1) Ohio State, 2) Pittsburgh, 3) San Diego State and 4) Kansas -- making this the only rating system that has the Aztecs ahead of both KU and Texas.

VW then ran his simulation a second time, replacing Richmond with an elite team, Pittsburgh. The top four remained the same. In the real world, though, SDSU probably needs to beat BYU at home and then at least make the final of the Mountain West tournament to be in the running for a No. 1.

Next Three: 2/19 at Air Force, 2/26 vs. BYU, 3/1 at Wyoming
 
9Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 11
While covering Ohio State-Wisconsin on Saturday, I think I set a personal record for iPhone photos/video taken at a game. There was so much good material: Star Wars kids, Gumby, justified court-storming, and Style Archive member Mike Bruesewitz showing up for postgame interviews wearing a Bill Walton Blazers jersey and black Cons:

Mike Bruesewitz

When I asked Bruesewitz why he picked that jersey, this was his answer: "Redheads, man! Redheads have to support redheads. ... And I wore this when we played Green Bay, and I had 18 against Green Bay, so I thought I'd break it back out for this game." He played, arguably, his most impressive game of the season against the Buckeyes, with 12 points (on 4-of-5 shooting) in 22 minutes.

I also had 21 seconds of video from the court-storm, during which Ohio State's Jared Sullinger alleged that he was spit on by a UW student. The Badgers reviewed Kohl Center security footage and couldn't find evidence of it -- coach Bo Ryan went as far as to say OSU should accept the loss and "deal with it" -- and what's interesting from this selection of my stills is that Sullinger completely avoids the mob of students. In frame 1, he's circled in green, on the opposite side of the court from the rush; in frame 2, he's well off to the side, heading into the handshake line; in frame 3, he's shaking hands with Ryan, protected behind a security rope; and in frame 4, he's making his way off the court behind the rope. To hit Sullinger, a spitter would've had to break away from the center-court pack and launch a loogie a few feet over the rope.

Spit Tape

There's no way to conclude, from this, that it did or didn't happen -- just that it would've required a high degree of difficulty.

Next Three: 2/20 vs. Penn State, 2/23 at Michigan, 2/27 vs. Northwestern
 
10Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: 19
NCAA tournament selection committee chair Gene Smith held a conference call with reporters on Wednesday and made a few comments that caught my attention. One was about evaluating teams, and he said -- in addition to the fact that the quality of wins and losses matters most -- that he takes his own viewing impressions into account. "I watch a lot of games on TV," he said. "Sometimes I watch whole games; sometimes I watch half a game." Parts of the selection process are subjective, and it's scary to think that random snippets of teams' seasons -- the ones seen by committee members who have day jobs running multi-million dollar athletic departments -- can have an impact on seeding and selection. As Ken Pomeroy wrote in his blog after sitting next to a committee member at the San Diego State-BYU game last month, "At selection time, we'll again hear about how the committee is seeing more games. However, I won't get a warm and fuzzy feeling because I'm not sure it makes a difference in terms of the quality of the bracket that's produced."

I was reminded of that post because of another thing Smith said, on the subject of the Pomeroy-led tempo-free statistics movement: "Some of us look at those ratings and some don't, but we never really discuss them in the room." This is even more troubling, because -- as ESPN's Eamonn Brennan wrote this week -- the efficiency numbers are "entirely more enlightening" than the RPI, which is the NCAA's main source of supplementary/comparative data. Adjusted points per possession is the single best way to evaluate teams across different leagues and different schedules ... and yet we're not talking about it in the committee room. There's something wrong with that.

(If you're wondering why I used the Purdue blurb to address this, well ... it's because the Boilers would be among the teams most likely to get a boost from tempo-free data: They'd be a No. 2 seed in kenpom seeding, but they're only a No. 4 in our latest mock bracket.)

Next Three: 2/20 vs. Ohio State, 2/23 at Indiana, 2/26 at Michigan State
 
11Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: 10
Kemba Walker is one of the country's most productive guards from the free-throw line, drawing an average of 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes (through Tuesday) and converting 78.7 percent of his tries from the stripe. Only seven backcourt players from multi-bid leagues are more productive in this category, which I measure by multiplying fouls drawn per 40 times free-throw percent, to yield an individual "FT+" stat:

Rk. Guard, Team                  FD/40   FT%      FT+
1. Alec Burks, Colorado 7.2 84.5 6.08
2. Tu Holloway, Xavier 6.9 86.5 5.97
3. Jimmer Fredette, BYU 6.2 89.7 5.56
4. Nolan Smith, Duke 6.3 82.6 5.20
5. Jared Cunningham, Oregon St. 6.5 78.8 5.12
6. Charles Jenkins, Hofstra 6.0 83.5 5.01
7. Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech 6.0 81.8 4.91
8. Kemba Walker, UConn 6.1 78.7 4.80
9. Carl Jones, St. Joe's 6.4 75.0 4.80
10. Isaiah Thomas, Washington 6.3 75.9 4.78

Next Three: 2/18 at Louisville, 2/24 vs. Marquette, 2/27 at Cincinnati
 
12Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: 9
To return to the "Deflated/Underrated Rebounder" topic from the Texas section, I should note that there are, actually, a handful of big men who manage to post high percentages in offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding and blocks ... and one of them is the Hoyas' Julian Vaughn, who deserves more national attention. Morehead State's Kenneth Faried leads that list with the off-the-charts numbers he's posting in the Ohio Valley Conference, but two Big East bigs make my top five (NR = national rank):

Player, Team                  RPG    OR% (NR)    DR% (NR)    Blk% (NR)
Kenneth Faried, Morehead St. 14.2 20.2 (2) 31.7 (1) 7.7 (89)
Javon McCrea, Buffalo 6.2 17.1 (7) 19.9 (223) 8.4 (62)
Julian Vaughn, Georgetown 6.5 14.0 (65) 19.1 (268) 8.4 (64)
Gary McGhee, Pittsburgh 8.0 14.4 (52) 25.8 (23) 7.1 (107)
Frank Hassell, Old Dominion 9.5 14.7 (43) 23.7 (55) 5.9 (161)

Next Three: 2/19 at South Florida, 2/23 vs. Cincinnati, 2/26 vs. Syracuse
 
13North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 12
John Gasaway's Tuesday Truths gets linked here on a consistent basis because it's consistently revelatory ... and this week's most notable stat is that Virginia Tech -- and not Carolina or Florida State, who are 2-3 in the ACC standings -- is second in the conference in efficiency margin, at +0.11. The Hokies are on much less safe NCAA tournament footing than the Tar Heels, but a 3-2 finish in the league and at least one ACC tourney win should finally get Tech into the dance. I wonder if Malcolm Delaney will be exhausted by then, though -- he's played 93.8 percent of available minutes, the fourth-most of any player in the nation. By contrast, UNC doesn't have a single player who's even been on the floor 70 percent of the time. Its top three in percentage of minutes played are Harrison Barnes at 68.2 percent, Tyler Zeller at 67.4 and Dexter Strickland at 62.9.

Next Three: 2/19 vs. Boston College, 2/23 at N.C. State, 2/27 vs. Maryland
 
14Florida Gators
Last Week: 13
The SEC is a strange, strange league this season, in that ranking teams by three different criteria yields wildly different results.

If we go by projected seed from Andy Glockner's latest bracket, the order is: 1) Florida, 2) Kentucky/Vanderbilt, 4) Tennessee, 5) Georgia, 6) Alabama -- with the Tide sitting just outside the field of 68.

If we go by conference record, the order is: 1) Florida, 2) Alabama, 3) Vanderbilt, 4) Kentucky/Tennessee/Georgia.

If we go by conference efficiency margin, from Gasaway, it's: 1) Alabama, 2) Kentucky, 3) Florida, 4) Georgia, 5) Tennessee, 6) Vanderbilt.

That's right: The No. 1 team in league efficiency may not even make the NCAA tournament. How does that happen?

Next Three: 2/20 at LSU, 2/24 vs. Georgia, 2/26 at Kentucky
 
15Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 14
The Wildcats are fourth in the Big East in offensive efficiency, yet they rank 11th in offensive-turnover percentage, giving the ball away 19.6 percent of the time. They have the biggest gap in the league between those two categories, suggesting that if the key turnover culprits -- Maalik Wayns (with 41 in Big East games), Corey Fisher (34) and Antonio Pena (25) -- were to be a bit more careful with the ball, 'Nova would be an elite scoring team with a shot at making a deep NCAA tournament run.

Big East Rankings
Team TO% OffEff. Diff.
Villanova 11 4 +7
Pittsburgh 7 1 +6
Louisville 12 8 +4
Syracuse 10 6 +4
Notre Dame 5 3 +2
West Va. 8 7 +1
Marquette 2 2 0
Cincinnati 6 11 -5
UConn 1 9 -8

Next Three: 2/19 at DePaul, 2/21 vs. Syracuse, 2/26 vs. St. John's
 
16Arizona Wildcats
Last Week: 17
Seth Davis delivered a monster scout's take column on Monday, with his composite "Finch" character commenting on 56 college stars. I guess I was surprised that Finch wasn't more bullish on the Wildcats' Derrick Williams, saying:

"He's not a great athlete, but he's physical, he has a high basketball IQ, and he's a winner. He's a little undersized, but he's pretty effective and his numbers are crazy. I love his patience. He's a four-three combo at the next level. What he's really developed this year is his outside shot. I question his motor a little, but he's definitely a lottery pick."

I'm a huge Derrick Williams fan. I'm obviously not an NBA GM, but Williams, to me, is the most surefire pro who'll potentially be in the 2011 draft pool other than Duke's Kyrie Irving. I'd take Williams ahead of all the other freshmen -- Sullinger, Baylor's Perry Jones and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes. Williams is a perfect hybrid forward for the pros, in that he's incredibly efficient (he leads the nation in effective field-goal percentage) and already has strong isolation skills; he scores at a 1.20 points-per-possession clip on iso plays, according to Synergy data, which ranks him No. 1 among college forwards. He's on an upward trajectory, having made huge gains between years 1 and 2 at Arizona, and should continue to blossom in his first few years as a pro. Pass on him at your own risk.

Next Three: 2/17 vs. Washington State, 2/19 vs. Washington, 2/24 at USC

Checked In: Purdue, Arizona

Dropped Out: Kentucky, Louisville

The Next 10: 17) Louisville, 18) Vanderbilt, 19) Texas A&M, 20) Syracuse, 21) George Mason, 22) Kentucky, 23) Missouri, 24) Wichita State, 25) Xavier, 26) Utah State.

(If you have an idea for a future Power Rankings topic, drop me a line here.)

 
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