Posted: Thursday January 5, 2012 3:22PM ; Updated: Thursday January 5, 2012 5:50PM
Luke Winn
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Power Rankings: On foul front, which big men have best timing?

Story Highlights

Syracuse's Fab Melo has improved defensively, but still averages a quick first foul

No need to fear, Anthony Davis' numbers do show his defensive impact at UK

Aaron Craft has created up to 66 turnovers in about 801 possessions played

The Power Rankings are in foul trouble. Ever since watching the New Year's Eve whistle-fest between Indiana and Ohio State, I've been wondering about the foul habits of important big men. Fouls-per-game or fouls-per-minute stats don't tell enough of the story. Exactly when fouls one, two and three occur is often what matters most. The earlier the whistles, the more likely fouls are to change the course of the game. Below, you'll find a few investigations using a half-season's worth of play-by-play data.

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 1
As a freshman, Fab Melo was laughably foul-prone. He drew 7.3 whistles per 40 minutes played, while blocking a pedestrian (at least for a 7-footer) 8.8 percent of opponents' shot attempts. But no one is laughing at Melo this year. The Orange's Brazilian-born center is making a noticeable defensive impact, and the gap between his fouls per 40 (4.6) and his block percentage (15.5, which ranks second nationally) is immense.

That doesn't mean he can't improve, though. When his fouling habits are plotted alongside those of elite shot-blockers from other ranked teams -- Kentucky's Anthony Davis, Louisville's Gorgui Dieng and North Carolina's John Henson -- we see that Melo averages the quickest first foul, at around 28:40 left in the game.


Dieng has bigger problems, as he's the quickest to foul Nos. 2 and 3. While Davis can be prone to a quick first foul, he's adept at delaying Nos. 2 and 3. And Henson is a master of whistle-avoidance; his average time of foul No. 2 is later than Melo and Dieng's No. 3.

Next three: 1/7 vs. Marquette, 1/11 at Villanova, 1/14 vs. Providence
 
2Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 3
It's flattering that the charting of Kentucky's defensive efficiency with and without Anthony Davis in this space inspired not one but two (!) full-length reaction pieces on Basketball Prospectus over the holidays. I had no intention of making this a running feature/lightning rod in the Power Rankings, but there now seems no choice but to continue.

(To recap: A chart was presented showing that backup center Eloy Vargas was a good defender in limited minutes, followed by another chart that showed that UK was slightly -- very slightly -- more efficient at defense when Davis was off the floor, which flew in the face of the "eye test" that suggests Davis is one of the greatest college defenders we've seen in years. This left the whole thing open to a non-stathead misinterpretation of "Eloy Vargas > Anthony Davis," and among the statheads, generated some thoughtful finger-wagging and Venn-diagramming about the contextual use of plus-minus stats in player evaluation. Many valid points were made. Perhaps the Power Rankings should come with a disclaimer that, given the available blurb-space -- which I already tend to stretch to such silly heights that whatever good-design intentions SI had with HTML are destroyed -- there is not going to be room to fully explore all sides of every issue. Interesting things are presented as launching-off points. In the case of the now infamous Davis Chart, it seemed worthwhile to present the fact that when he was on the bench, UK was still holding its own. It was presented as a "strange phenomenon" ... and it sparked a worthwhile enough discussion that it might as well keep going.)

The updated defensive-efficiency +/- numbers have UK allowing 0.818 PPP with Davis on the floor, and 0.861 PPP with him off, for a small benefit of 0.043 PPP. The big-game numbers, though -- against Kansas, UNC, Indiana and Louisville -- are really starting to line up with the Oh-My-God-Davis-Is-Some-Super-Alien-Version-of-Marcus-Camby eye test. That should be a relief to everyone. In those four games, the Wildcats have allowed 0.884 PPP with Davis, and 1.139 PPP when he's on the bench. That's a massive gap of 0.255 PPP, or 17.6 points over the course of a normal-tempo UK game with/wihout Davis. Pretty stunning to consider -- but remember to consider it in context, and with caution.

UK's Defense: With / Without Anthony Davis
Opp. Poss-IN Poss-OUT DEff-IN DEff-OUT Margin
Marist 42 33 0.976 0.515 -0.461
Kansas 64 10 0.797 1.400 0.603
PennSt 39 28 0.897 0.429 -0.469
ODU 38 28 0.737 0.857 0.120
Radford 45 29 0.444 0.690 0.245
Portland 52 20 0.808 1.050 0.242
StJohns 59 19 0.746 0.789 0.044
UNC 56 10 1.107 1.000 -0.107
Indiana 45 25 0.889 1.320 0.431
Chatt 53 22 0.660 1.227 0.567
Samford 45 17 0.844 0.706 -0.139
Loyola 57 10 0.965 0.800 -0.165
Lamar 65 10 0.831 1.000 0.169
L'ville 50 27 0.740 0.926 0.186
UALR 58 6 0.793 0.833 0.040
Total 768 294 0.818 0.861 0.043

Next three: 1/7 vs. South Carolina, 1/11 at Auburn, 1/14 at Tennessee
 
3North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 4
Who would you rather have anchoring your defense -- Anthony Davis or John Henson? As was pointed out in the Syracuse-section graphic, Davis blocks a higher percentage of shots, but fouls slightly more often. Davis also has a higher defensive rebounding percentage (25.8 to Henson's 24.1) and a bit more quickness and range. The last time defensive charting on UK was available (through nine games, from Jonathon Leverenz), opponents were shooting 27.8 percent against Davis, and 68.7 percent of the possessions he engaged in ended in stops. The wizard of UNC charting, Adrian Atkinson (@FreeportKid), sent over up-to-date data* on Carolina this week, and has opponents shooting just 24.2 percent against Henson, with 70.4 percent of his defensive possessions ending in stops. Each player has metrics in his favor, and each player is an All-America candidate due to his defense. I suspect if it came down to a head-to-head choice between Davis and Henson for national defensive player of the year, the swing voters might decide based on one blocked shot in particular.

Next three: 1/7 vs. Boston College, 1/10 vs. Miami, 1/14 at Florida State
 
4Indiana Hoosiers
Last Week: 8
Tom Crean told me this week that cutting down on fouling "was our No. 1 defensive priority" coming into this season, and the Hoosiers' ratio of free throw attempts allowed to field goal attempts allowed (FTA/FGA) has dropped significantly, from .502 last season to .366 this year. It's a big part of why IU's defense went from mediocre to elite.

Freshman star Cody Zeller has been an excellent whistle-avoider, as the foul-timing chart below illustrates. He's plotted alongside fellow centerpieces Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), Davis (Kentucky) and Thomas Robinson (Kansas), and you'll see that Zeller, on average, picks up foul Nos. 1 and 2 later than everyone else. Sullinger, whose foul trouble changed the course of the Buckeyes' loss in Bloomington, is the quickest to receive the dreaded second foul, although he has yet to foul out of a game this season.


Next three: 1/5 vs. Michigan, 1/8 at Penn State, 1/12 vs. Minnesota
 
5Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 2
Our last Craft Turnometer® reading came on Dec. 15, when the Buckeyes' point guard had a turnover-creation rate of 9.03 per 100 possessions. My (unofficial) film review of the six OSU games since has him up to 66 turnovers created* in an estimated 801 possessions played, for a new turnover percentage of 8.24:



* While it shouldn't take away from the excellent defensive season Craft is having, it's worth noting that he's only drawn one moving-screen offensive foul -- a staple move from last year -- since the Duke game on Nov. 29, and his last drawn charge came against Jackson State on Nov. 18. Screeners may be getting more aware of Craft's tricks, and ballhandlers may be getting more wary of lowering their shoulder into him on drives.

Next three: 1/7 at Iowa, 1/10 at Illinois, 1/15 vs. Indiana
 
6Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 6
The Cousy Award, which I heckled in the last Power Rankings for its comical watch list of 65 point guards, many of whom were undeserving and a number of whom were not actually point guards, tried to make things right by releasing a list of 20 finalists this week. Mizzou's Phil Pressey, who was excluded from the watch list, miraculously made it onto the finalists list, and should get serious consideration to win it. He and Iona's Scott Machado are certainly the breakout point guards of the year, if not the two best. South Dakota State's Nate Wolters, who really is one of the country's top 10 point guards, was not so lucky. He was left off the watch list and the finalists list, while Pitt's Ashton Gibbs, who only plays point guard while Travon Woodall is hurt, made the cut. I imagine CBSSports' Matt Norlander, president of the "Naters Gonna Nate" fanclub, is planning to picket the Cousy offices, right after he finishes picketing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame over its snubbing Rush.

Next three: 1/7 at Kansas State, 1/11 at Iowa State, 1/14 vs. Texas
 
7Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: 14
On Tuesday, bracketman Andy Glocker dropped his first seedings and Bubble Watch of the New Year. If you had a crystal ball or a Madame Larue that conjured up a vision of this bracket in October, what would have been more surprising -- that Georgetown was a No. 3 seed, or that Pittsburgh was out of the bracket altogether? The fact that the Panthers (RPI of 79, no quality wins, no defense) are in serious danger of missing the tournament is stunning. The city of Pittsburgh is hosting second-and-third-round games, and at this rate, the Panthers will be available to work concessions.

Meanwhile, it wouldn't be unreasonable to see the Hoyas move up to a No. 2 seed in the next bracket projection. Their resume is robust, with road wins over Alabama and Louisville, home wins over Marquette and Memphis (plus another win over the Tigers in Maui), and the lone loss coming on a neutral court to Kansas. Alas, it'll be difficult for Georgetown to earn a spot in the Boston-based East Regional, even at this pace; the committee wouldn't make Syracuse-Georgetown a region's 1-2 combo. St. Louis, Phoenix and Atlanta are the other options.

Next three: 1/7 at West Virginia, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati, 1/15 at St. John's
 
8Baylor Bears
Last Week: 10
The top four players on jucorecruiting.com's top 100 list for the Class of 2011 were point guards -- College of Southern Idaho's Pierre Jackson (now at Baylor), Redlands Community College's Nurideen Lindsey (St. John's), Chipola College's Sam Grooms (Oklahoma) and City College of San Francisco's De'End Parker (UCLA). Juco-transfer point guards don't have a long history of stardom -- historically, the big men have offered more immediate value -- but the Bears landed one who could help. Here's how the foursome has fared this season:

• Jackson: Playing 25.4 minutes off the bench for Baylor, averaging 11.5 ppg, making 47.7 percent of his threes, and posting a 1.2 assist-turnover ratio.

• Lindsey: Left St. John's after nine games, planning to transfer, but may never get academically eligible again in college. An epic bust for the Red Storm.

• Grooms: Has started all 13 games at point for Oklahoma, averaing 7.0 points and 5.5 assists with a 2.6 assist-turnover ratio. The best distributor of the bunch, by far.

• Parker: Has only appeared in two games for UCLA, due to tendinitis in his knee. He'll probably play more wing for the Bruins than point, but his grade so far is incomplete.

Next three: 1/7 at Texas Tech, 1/10 at Kansas State, 1/14 vs. Oklahoma State
 
9Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 5
It's all too predictable to sound the alarm bells on a team after an upset loss, such as the one Duke suffered at Temple on Wednesday, but I'm going to do that to a degree. (Sorry!) The Blue Devils are still the second-best team in the ACC and should be a top-two seed in the NCAAs. But so far, they're responsible for the worst defensive-efficiency ranking of any Duke team in the kenpom era (2003-present), having dropped from fourth in '09-10 and eighth in '10-11 to 32nd this season. That's not bad for most teams, but it's well below the Duke standard. Losing Nolan Smith and Kyle Singer has hurt, as has the fact that their three primary guards, Seth Curry, Austin Rivers and Andre Dawkins, are not exactly defensive-minded. My dig through Synergy Sports Technology's stats yielded two noticeable ways in which the Blue Devils are struggling to contain opponents:

• Their transition defense has dropped from 0.835 PPP (which put them in the 95th percentile last year) to 1.000 PPP (in the 64th percentile).

• They've struggled to contain pick-and-roll ballhandlers, too, going from 0.638 PPP (90th percentile) to 0.822 PPP (28th percentile).

Next three: 1/7 at Georgia Tech, 1/12 vs. Virginia, 1/15 at Clemson
 
10Michigan St. Spartans
Last Week: 15
The always-alert @bubbaprog came through with a screengrab of the Kohl Center clock fail at the end of regulation on Tuesday, in which the backboard clock expired while the ball was still in Ryan Evans' hand, but the house clock did not, and his banked-in (and later disallowed) three led to mass confusion.



I guess the obvious joke here is that the Badgers have played such slow basketball this season (59.0 possessions per game, 345th in the nation) that they've briefly lulled some of their timing systems to sleep. The Spartans, who are playing their fastest tempo of the kenpom era (68.1 possessions/game, 138th nationally), still can't keep the Big Ten from being the nation's most slow-paced conference. The differences in league-average paces only vary by a couple of possessions, but there's a clear tortoise:

Ranking of major-ish conferences by average adjusted tempo:
1. Atlantic 10: 67.8
2. Big 12: 67.8
3. SEC: 67.3
4. ACC: 67.1
5. Missouri Valley: 66.9
6t. Big East: 66.7
6t. Mountain West: 66.7
8. Pac-10: 66.7
9. Big Ten: 65.6

Next three: 1/10 vs. Iowa, 1/14 at Northwestern, 1/17 at Michigan
 
11UNLV Rebels
Last Week: 16
Permit me to gloss over the current Rebels, who haven't played this week, in order to present images of everyone's favorite UNLV teams, from '89-90 and '90-91. I finally watched HBO's Runnin' Rebels of UNLV documentary this week -- it came out last March, when I was kind of busy -- and the sheer abundance of Style Archive-worthy material made me go screengrab-crazy. Anderson Hunt was a style All-American, with his absurdly thick "Hunt" chain, Rebel fisherman's hat and classic Richie's Room cap that kept popping up in photos:



Pre-Grandmama Larry Johnson wears the "Just Did It" hat (UNLV was then a flagship Nike school) and "the Bad Boys Won" shirt after the '90 title game:



Current coach Dave Rice, then a reserve player, had the Matt Howard bloody-mug well before Howard did it, and Greg Anthony donned a hockey helmet to protect his broken jaw:



Finally, suspended Rebels rocked pastels and plaid pants on the sideline during games, while pro-Tark campaign tees popped up while the university was trying to boot him:



Next three: 1/14 at San Diego State, 1/18 vs. TCU, 1/21 vs. New Mexico
 
12Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 14
While we're on the throwback front: 38-year-old former Jayhawk Greg Ostertag is trying to make a comeback in the D-League with the Texas Legends, and the screengrab of him posted on Ridiculous Upside does not look good. Nor did his debut stat line of two points and four fouls in 17 minutes. (He did have 11 boards, though!)

Moving on to more fit, current Jayhawks, power forward Thomas Robinson was excluded from my last top five list for National Player of the Year, and a few KU fans wondered why. I guess I made the list shortly after the Davidson loss, and was down on KU in general ... but after T-Rob's last two games -- 30-and-21 against North Dakota and 15-and-14 against Kansas State -- I'm well aware that he needs to be in any top five. My new POY shortlist:

1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
2. Thomas Robinson, Kansas
3. Anthony Davis, Kentucky
4. Doug McDermott, Creighton
5. Marcus Denmon, Missouri

(Weber State's Damian Lillard, Virginia's Mike Scott, North Carolina's John Henson, Seton Hall's Herb Pope and Michigan State's Draymond Green were also under close consideration.)

Next three: 1/7 at Oklahoma, 1/11 at Texas Tech, 1/14 vs. Iowa State
 
13Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 7
Russ Smith is currently pulling off a dual top-10 that I've never before seen: He ranks 10th nationally in percentage of team shots taken (36.2!) and second nationally in steal percentage (7.1). Plenty of his shots are ill-advised, and he also gets whistled for fouls at the highest rate of any Louisville player, but you have to appreciate his hustle. When he comes off the bench to get his 25ish minutes per game for a team that desperately needs points, and thrives off of forcing turnovers, he's almost always making something happen. If he just figures out a way to take fewer low-percentage twos, many of which are coming on reckless drives, Smith could grow into an all-Big East player by his senior year. If he keeps shooting 38.4 percent (38-of-99) from inside the arc, though, it's not going to happen.

Next three: 1/7 vs. Notre Dame, 1/10 at Providence, 1/14 vs. DePaul
 
14Seton Hall Pirates
Last Week: NR
We've been conditioned not to take the Pirates seriously -- that's what happens when you haven't been to an NCAA tournament since 2006 -- but that needs to change. The Hall is putting together a strong resume for the selection committee, and would have to take a nosedive to miss out on the NCAAs this season. Kevin Willard's senior-powered team is No. 3 in the RPI (it's a silly formula, but it continues to matter), with wins over potential tourney teams VCU, St. Joe's, West Virginia and UConn, and a respectable neutral-court loss to Northwestern. The second half of the Pirates' Big East schedule is considerably tougher, but they're on track to be a 22- or 23-win team in the farewell year for Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore. Those two seem to be on a mission to avoid having NCAA-tourney-free college careers.

Next three: 1/7 at Providence, 1/10 vs. DePaul, 1/13 at South Florida
 
15UConn Huskies
Last Week: 9
Kemba Walker says UConn is more talented without him, which is a reasonable statement on a player-by-player level, but as a team they are not better. The Huskies are missing his perimeter defense, as their defensive efficiency ranking has slipped from 14th last season to 80th this year, in part because they're letting opponents shoot 35.8 percent from long range, which ranks 232nd nationally. They successfully used their length to bother shooters in '10-11, and while their interior defense and block percentage is better this year due to the presence of Andre Drummond, they've taken a big step back on the perimeter. Unless they ramp up their effort level -- and that's something Kemba taught them how to do at the end of last season -- they won't be giving Syracuse a real challenge in the Big East.

Next three: 1/7 at Rutgers, 1/9 vs. West Virginia, 1/14 at Notre Dame
 
16Florida Gators
Last Week: 17
Khem Birch reportedly visited Florida's campus on Tuesday, and although the Canadian big man has taken plenty of (deserved) flak for bailing on Pitt after just a few months, there's a reason Gators fans should want him to come aboard: In the limited minutes the 6-foot-9 Birch did get to play at Pitt, his numbers were promising. He may not have gelled with teammates, but when he was on the floor, he produced, blocking 14.1 percent of opponents' shots, grabbing 17.1 percent of offensive rebounds and shooting 57.1 percent from the field. If Patric Young bolts for the NBA Draft, Florida will be in dire need of another athletic big man. The Gators will only have Erik Murphy (who's 6-10, but more of a shooter) and Will Yeguete (who's only 6-7) returning to the frontcourt rotation, and their 2012 recruiting class consists only of guards.

Florida's dream scenario would be for Young to stick around one more year -- the 2013 draft is so weak on big men, compared to 2012's likely entrants -- as well as to add the five-star power forward recruit Anthony Bennett, a Canadian who's playing at Nevada's Findlay Prep. If the Gators keep Young or add Bennett, Birch isn't all that necessary.

Next three: 1/7 at Tennessee, 1/10 vs. Georgia, 1/14 at South Carolina
 

The Next 16: 17. Virginia, 18. Murray State, 19. Gonzaga, 20. Mississippi State, 21. St. Mary's, 22. Marquette, 23. Michigan, 24. Wisconsin, 25. New Mexico, 26. Purdue, 27. Creighton, 28. St. Louis, 29. Cal, 30. Temple, 31. Wichita State, 32. Kansas State

 
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