Posted: Thursday January 12, 2012 4:26PM ; Updated: Thursday January 12, 2012 10:08PM
Luke Winn
Luke Winn>COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

Syracuse's curious lineup continues to excel, more Rankings

Story Highlights

Rakeem Christmas plays fewer minutes than any other starter in the nation

Harrison Barnes is getting to the free throw line for UNC more often this season

Michigan St.'s offensive-rebounding dominance has boosted it to top of the Big Ten

While the can-Syracuse-go-undefeated speculation isn't unreasonable, if we take up that conversation on Jan. 12, it'll get old fast. Better to wait until the end is nearer ... and in the meantime, keep picking apart the Orange's curious-yet-extremely-successful lineup construction, which happens to be more interesting than their unblemished record.

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 1
Starting, at Syracuse, is mostly a ceremonial thing. The Orange have two subs (C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters) who play more minutes than two starters (Rakeem Christmas and Scoop Jardine). Christmas, a freshman power forward, occupies a particularly strange role: While he's started all 17 games, he averages just 12.4 minutes per game. I combed through the rotations of all 32 teams that appear in this week's Power Rankings to see if any players who've started 100 percent of the time average fewer minutes than Christmas ... and none existed. From Power Ranked teams, these are the 10 full-time starters with the least PT:

Fewest Mins by Full-time Starters (Min. 15 games)

Rk. Player, Team Min/G G/GS Fouls/40
1. Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse 12.4 17/17 7.0
2. Keaton Miles, West Virginia 13.7 17/17 5.7
3. Brice Massamba, UNLV 16.8 17/17 5.9
4. Michael Hart, Gonzaga 18.1 15/15 5.6
5. Nate Lubick, Georgetown 19.3 16/16 4.4
6. A.J. Walton, Baylor 20.4 16/16 4.8
7. Branden Dawson, Mich. State 21.0 17/17 2.2
8. Jeff Withey, Kansas 21.2 15/15 5.0
9. Assane Sene, Virginia 21.3 15/15 5.6
10. Scoop Jardine, Syracuse 21.7 17/17 1.3

The fouls-per-40-minutes column in the above chart shows how massively foul prone Christmas is, but it's unlikely that he'd play many more minutes if he were better at avoiding whistles. It almost seems that, by playing Christmas in the opening minutes (and often the opening minutes of the second half, too), Orange coach Jim Boeheim is deploying the freshman as a sort of "foul sponge" who soaks up early whistles. That way, the forwards Boeheim wants on the floor at the end of games aren't unavailable due to foul trouble.

Next three: 1/14 vs. Providence, 1/16 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/21 at Notre Dame
 
2Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 2
The mentalities of the point guards running the nation's top teams vary widely. North Carolina's Kendall Marshall is so pass-first that he dishes out 2.2 assists for every field goal he attempts, whereas Kentucky's Marquis Teague and Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor take more than two field-goal attempts for every assist. (The Jayhawks need a certain amount of scoring from Taylor, but I imagine that in the Wildcats' case, given their abundance of offensive weapons, they'd like to see Teague creating more shots for his teammates.) In the graphic below, Marshall, Teague, Taylor, Ohio State's Aaron Craft, Missouri's Phil Pressey, Syracuse's Scoop Jardine and Baylor's Pierre Jackson are plotted on a matrix* with the Y axis being their assist-to-FGA ratio, and the X axis being their possession usage -- with higher usage suggesting a greater scoring role:



(* Each player's nose marks his statistical position on the grid. Also: Should I start calling this the Marshall/Taylor Matrix? They couldn't be more opposite point guards.)

Next three: 1/14 at Tennessee, 1/17 vs. Arkansas, 1/21 vs. Alabama
 
3North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 3
On a conference call this week, UNC coach Roy Williams was asked, if Harrison Barnes had been settling for too many jump shots early in the season. Roy did not agree, saying:

"I don't think that was valid at all. Because for us, I want him to take the open shot. And we talked in the preseason, and last ... spring about what we wanted him to work on over the summer, and that was to get to the free throw line more. I think he was passing up open shots to penetrate and take more contested shots."

Barnes' numbers tell us a few things:

1. He has, indeed, been getting to the free throw line more this season, increasing his FT Rate (ratio of FTAs per 100 FGAs) from an anemic 24.9 as a freshman to 35.5 as a sophomore. A player with Barnes' combination of size and athleticism should probably have an even higher FT Rate, but his is at least improving, rather than regressing.

2. Barnes is settling for fewer threes. Last season, 195 of his 497 shot attempts (39.2 percent) were from beyond the arc; this season, just 48 of his 216 attempts (22.2 percent) have been threes.

3. He is, however, settling for a few too many mid-range shots. Adrian Atkinson's charting data shows that the bulk of Barnes' shots (35.3 percent) are now coming from the 10-20 foot range, where he shoots just 31.3 percent. If Barnes starts getting to the rim with more regularity -- where he's shooting 76.4 percent on layup and dunk attempts -- he'll be an even more effective scorer.

Next three: 1/14 at Florida State, 1/19 at Virginia Tech, 1/26 vs. NC State
 
4Michigan St. Spartans
Last Week: 10
After underrating the Spartans last week, I've come to my senses and have them as the highest-ranked team from the Big Ten. Their surprise surge to first place in the nation's best league has coincided with their return to offensive-rebounding dominance. When Michigan State went to the 2009 national title game, it ranked sixth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, at 40.7. When State reached the 2010 Final Four, it ranked 10th nationally in OR%, at 39.7. Last season, the Spartans ranked 70th, at 35.3, and flopped all the way from a preseason top-five spot in the polls to a No. 10 seed in the NCAAs, where they lost their opening game.

This season, Michigan State ranks 18th in OR%, at 39.1, boasting this four-headed, glass-crashing monster:

Player            Min%    OR%
Derrick Nix 45.7 13.3
Branden Dawson 52.1 12.0
Adreian Payne 43.9 11.1
Draymond Green 80.4 9.1

Next three: 1/14 at Northwestern, 1/17 at Michigan, 1/21 vs. Purdue
 
5Indiana Hoosiers
Last Week: 4
As the dynamics of the Big Ten have changed greatly from '10-11 to this season, foul rates have played a major role. Last season, Ohio State was the best team in the country -- by a wide margin -- at avoiding fouls, while Indiana was the 13th-worst team, giving opponents just over one free-throw attempt per every two field-goal attempts. The first graphic below shows the massive disparity between the '10-11 Buckeyes and Hoosiers -- and how they were both outliers in context with the rest of the Big Ten. The second graphic shows how Ohio State is now fouling at a more human rate (whistles have played big roles in all three of its losses), while the Hoosiers have become more responsible defenders. While IU still ranks second-to-last in the league in free-throw rate, its fouling is no longer crippling its defense on a regular basis.



Next three: 1/12 vs. Minnesota, 1/15 at Ohio State, 1/18 at Nebraska
 
6Baylor Bears
Last Week: 8
The Bears have a better backcourt than they did last season, but the various guards' roles can be confusing to casual fans. Junior juco transfer Pierre Jackson is their assist leader and a Cousy Award finalist, but he's not actually their starting point guard -- fellow junior A.J. Walton is, even though he plays fewer minutes. Transfers Gary Franklin (from Cal) and Brady Heslip (from Boston College) were referred to in some season-preview stories as potential point guard solutions, but their statistical profiles are as very-infrequent shooting guards. Using the same concept from the Kentucky blurb, here's how Baylor's backcourt fits on the Mentality Matrix*, which should explain why Walton remains an important asset:



(* Once again, each player's nose is positioned at his spot on the grid.)

Next three: 1/14 vs. Oklahoma State, 1/16 at Kansas, 1/21 vs. Missouri
 
7Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 5
The Brandon Paul Game -- in which Illinois' star guard scored 43 points on Tuesday night and dropped the Buckeyes to 3-2 in the Big Ten -- was something to behold. Below is a handy, and hopefully decipherable, grid of where Paul either made or missed shots, or created successful free-throw attempts. I omitted the intentional-foul situations at the end of the game, which netted Paul an additional five points on six free-throw attempts, so what you see is how he scored his first 38:



Two interesting points:

• Four of Paul's open looks (squares Nos. 3, 9, 10 and 17 on the grid) were created by screens from Meyers Leonard. On all of those screens, Jared Sullinger was guarding Leonard. Seemingly because Sullinger wanted to protect against a roll situation, he never stepped up to help Paul ... and Paul made all four shots.

• As amazing as this game was for Paul, I wonder if it'll hurt the Illini in the long run, as it'll embolden their least-efficient starter to take an even higher percentage of their shots (he already takes a team-high 26.3 percent). It's something worth monitoring ... but for now, just enjoy the Paul highlight reel:



Next three: 1/15 vs. Indiana, 1/21 at Nebraska, 1/25 vs. Penn State
 
8Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 9
More Matrices! I left Duke off the first guard grid because it's hard to be certain who's running the Blue Devils. Seth Curry began the year as the starting point guard, but Tyler Thornton has made six starts in that role, and on Saturday at Georgia Tech, freshman Quinn Cook made his first start at the point. He did rather well, dishing out five assists against just one turnover in 27 minutes, and might be the best long-term solution. He's been the only Duke guard able to dish out at least one assist per two shots and take a decent role in the offense. Here's how the five guards in Duke's rotation fall on the matrix:



Next three: 1/12 vs. Virginia, 1/15 at Clemson, 1/19 vs. Wake Forest
 
9Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 6
Only two teams in the nation have three players with Offensive Ratings over 120 and usage rates over 20 percent. Not surprisingly, those two teams are a combined 33-1 (all data from kenpom.com's offensive rating rankings):

• Missouri: Marcus Denmon (137.1 / 22.5%), Ricardo Ratliffe (134.2, 21.3%) and Kim English (123.3 / 20.3%)

• Syracuse: Kris Joseph (121.4 / 21.2%), Dion Waiters (120.9 / 25.5%) and Brandon Triche (120.4 / 23.7%)

Only six other teams have two players who meet that 120/20% standard (it's too bad the last four teams have atrocious defenses):

• Ohio State: Jared Sullinger (126.3 / 25.3%) and Deshaun Thomas (121.5 / 22.4%)

• Marquette: Jae Crowder (123.5 / 22.0%) and Davante Gardner (120.5 / 20.8%)

• Florida: Kenny Boynton (132.8 / 23.2%) and Patric Young (121.5 / 20.5%)

• Notre Dame: Jack Cooley (121.0 / 22.6%) and Jerian Grant (120.9 / 20.1%)

• Boise State: Kenny Buckner (121.9 / 23.0%) and Anthony Drmic (120.2 / 23.3%)

• North Dakota St.: Marshall Bjorklund (124.9 / 20.6%) and Taylor Braun (120.6 / 24.1%)

Next three: 1/14 vs. Texas, 1/16 vs. Texas A&M, 1/21 at Baylor
 
10Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 12
I wish Thomas Robinson would've played his normal 30 minutes in Wednesday's 81-46 rout of Texas Tech, if only to see if he could've surpassed his 30-and-21 line from the Jayhawks' win over North Dakota on Dec. 31. In just 19 minutes against Texas Tech, Robinson scored 19 points (against a constant double-team) and grabbed 12 rebounds, making me feel confident about SI.com picking him as our Midseason Player of the Year. T-Rob can't match Jared Sullinger's efficiency -- the Ohio State big man is shooting 60.5 percent from the field compared to Robinson's 54.5 -- but he's facing more defensive attention, and carrying a team with fewer offensive weapons. His biggest competition for POY, I suspect, will be Creighton's Doug McDermott, who could surge into first with a few more Jimmer-level scoring nights in the Mo Valley.

Next three: 1/14 vs. Iowa State, 1/16 vs. Baylor, 1/21 at Texas
 
11UNLV Rebels
Last Week: 11
I'm confused with the way AP poll voters are evaluating the Mountain West. They have it right with UNLV at 12, but San Diego State -- which on Tuesday was tied at halftime with 0-16 Chicago State, one of the worst five teams in Division I -- hardly seems worthy of a No. 22 ranking. The Aztecs project to be a .500-ish team in their conference, and are about even with a very underrated Wyoming team in kenpom's Pythagorean rankings. Meanwhile, New Mexico, which is currently in the "others receiving votes" section, is one of the country's biggest sleeper teams, and could very well surpass UNLV for the Mountain West title. If a second MWC team is going to be ranked, it should be the Lobos.

Of course, by writing this, I'm pretty much ensuring that the Rebels will lose at San Diego State on Saturday, generating torrents of angry email from Aztec fans who are already miffed that their team isn't in my top 32.

Next three: 1/14 at San Diego State, 1/18 vs. TCU, 1/21 vs. New Mexico
 
12Seton Hall Pirates
Last Week: 14
While doing research for SI.com's Midseason Coaches of the Year file, I ran a comparison of kenpom's preseason projections versus his current Pythagorean ratings, to see which teams had made the most significant gains. The coaches responsible for the top six BCS-conference leaps* are:

1. Trent Johnson, LSU (153rd to 72nd)
2. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State (123rd to 51st)
3. Tony Bennett, Virginia (88th to 28th)
4. Craig Robinson, Oregon State (124th to 62nd)
5. Tom Crean, Indiana (50th to 9th)
6. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall (75th to 30th)

The notion that Johnson has lifted up LSU more than Crean has lifted up Indiana seems crazy, but the Tigers were projected to be awful this season, whereas Indiana wasn't supposed to be all that bad, according to kenpom. Obviously, though, what Crean, Bennett and Willard have done means a lot more. It's easier to go from bad to mediocre than it is from mediocre to good.

Next three: 1/13 at South Florida, 1/18 at Villanova, 1/25 vs. Notre Dame
 
13Virginia Cavaliers
Last Week: 17
Don't let Mike Scott's pace-deflated, per-game stats (16.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg) fool you into thinking he's not the ACC's most valuable player -- ahead of North Carolina's Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes or John Henson -- at midseason. The only players Scott ranks behind in PER are Weber State's Damian Lillard (the nation's leading scorer), Sullinger, McDermott and Kentucky's Anthony Davis.

In terms of derived offense from the post (on shots and passes), Scott ranks sixth nationally among players with at least 80 possessions logged in Synergy Sports Technology's database:

Rk. Player, Team                 PostPoss    PPP
1. Noah Hartsock, BYU 106 1.292
2. Meyers Leonard, Illinois 102 1.245
3. Jared Sullinger, Ohio St. 121 1.223
4. John Karhoff, Neb.-Omaha 85 1.153
5. Jarrod Jones, Ball State 84 1.119
6. Mike Scott, Virginia 87 1.115

(Two side notes: Hartsock has to be the nation's least-talked about, dominant post guy ? and Illinois needs to get Meyers Leonard the ball more often. Even if it's at the risk of Brandon Paul not having any more 40-point games.)

Next three: 1/12 at Duke, 1/19 at Georgia Tech, 1/22 vs. Virginia Tech
 
14UConn Huskies
Last Week: 15
Andre Drummond may be the best center prospect in college basketball, but doesn't play like a classic, back-to-basket center in the way that say, fellow super-frosh Cody Zeller does at Indiana, where 33.1 percent of his possessions are post-ups.

According to Synergy, Drummond has scored 54 points on cuts to the basket (24.1 percent of his possessions) as opposed to 31 points on post-ups (22.8 percent of his possessions). In Drummond's 20-point performance on Monday against West Virginia, just three of his baskets came on post plays, the others being generated on cuts (which include drive-and-dish dunks created by guards) and pick-and-rolls.

Next three: 1/14 at Notre Dame, 1/18 vs. Cincinnati, 1/21 at Tennessee
 
15Murray State Racers
Last Week: 18
The only reason I left Racers coach Steve Prohm off of SI.com's top five for Midseason Coach of the Year is because he inherited the team from Billy Kennedy, rather than built it. But Prohm deserves credit for taking Murray State to the next level, as its experienced the 12th-biggest leap between kenpom's preseason projections and the current Pythagorean rankings. He inherited a good team and made it elite.

1. Larry Shyatt, Wyoming (273rd to 67th)
2. Jim Molinari, Western Illinois (332nd to 132nd)
3. Dr. John Giannini, La Salle (217th to 61st)
4. Bob Hoffman, Mercer (247th to 104th)
5. Ron Hunter, Georgia State (182nd to 54th)
6. Danny Hurley, Wagner (206th to 76th)
7. Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee State (178th to 55th)
8. Pat Knight, Lamar (214th to 110th)
9. Scott Cross, UT-Arlington (188th to 77th)
10. Joe Callero, Cal Poly (192nd to 100th)
11. Tim Jankovich, Illinois State (181st to 73rd)
12. Steve Prohm, Murray State (110th to 31st)

Next three: 1/12 vs. Jacksonville State, 1/14 vs. Tennessee Tech, 1/18 at Morehead State
 
16Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: 7
Of Power Ranked teams, Syracuse has the full-time starter who averages the least minutes per game. (You saw that chart in blurb No. 1.) Rival Georgetown, it turns out, has the bench player who averages the most minutes per game. As much as Dion Waiters is regarded as the nation's super-sub, Hoyas sixth man Otto Porter gets five more minutes per game, and like Waiters, adds plenty of value on both ends of the floor. From ranked teams, these are the 10 guys who get the most PT but have never started a game:

Most Mins by 100% Non-Starters (Min. 15 games)
Rk. Player, Team Min/G G/GS PPG
1. Otto Porter, Georgetown 27.4 16/0 8.1
2. Ben Brust, Wisconsin 26.9 17/0 9.9
3. Pierre Jackson, Baylor 26.6 16/0 11.9
4. Mike Dixon Jr., Missouri 25.9 15/0 12.8
5. C.J. Fair, Syracuse 25.3 17/0 8.6
6. Gary Browne, West Virginia 23.3 17/0 6.4
7. Dion Waiters, Syracuse 22.1 17/0 12.5
8. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia 20.9 15/0 6.8
9. Sam Dower, Gonzaga 19.1 15/0 9.5
10. Travis Trice, Michigan St. 18.8 17/0 5.7

Next three: 1/15 at St. John's, 1/17 vs. DePaul, 1/21 vs. Rutgers
 

The Next 16: 17. Gonzaga, 18. Florida, 19. Michigan, 20. St. Mary's, 21. New Mexico, 22. Creighton, 23. Kansas State, 24. Alabama, 25. Wichita State, 26. Marquette, 27. Wisconsin, 28. Dayton, 29. St. Louis, 30. Vanderbilt, 31. Louisville, 32. George Mason

 
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