Posted: Thu January 2, 2014 2:25PM; Updated: Thu January 2, 2014 2:25PM
Luke Winn
Luke Winn>COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

Arizona, Syracuse stride into 2014 as top teams

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The first Power Rankings of 2014 have everything from BLOBs to ballscreens to barracuda neckwear:

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Arizona Wildcats
Last Week: 1
The No. 1 team in the Power Rankings may also be its most balanced. Arizona opened 2013-14 with its scoring attack largely in the hands of junior two-guard Nick Johnson, but the following chart -- with five-game running averages of possession usage by their main rotation players -- shows how the Wildcats evolved to a hyper-balanced model in December:

Johnson's decline in possession usage coincided with a steady, deserved rise for sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, who's emerged as an efficient scorer in isolation and pick-and-pop situations. Point guard T.J. McConnell keeps playing a valuable, low-usage role, with four legitimate scoring options around him at all times.

(Chart data: kenpom.com.)

Next three: 1/2 vs. Washington State, 1/4 vs. Washington, 1/9 at UCLA

 
2Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 2
When Syracuse's offensive stats go into the same chart, the Orange don't look nearly as balanced:

Senior forward C.J. Fair has remained the Orange's very-high-usage guy all season. They've evolved into an offense with one A option (Fair), two B options (sophomore sixth man Jerami Grant and freshman point guard Tyler Ennis) and two C options (sophomore two-guard Trevor Cooney and, surprisingly, junior center Rakeem Christmas).

Next three: 1/4 vs. Miami, 1/7 at Virginia Tech, 1/11 at North Carolina

 
3Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 3
Bo Ryan has been putting on a baseline out-of-bounds play clinic this season. According to Synergy Sports Technology, only one major-conference team, Arizona State, has been more efficient than Wisconsin on BLOBs. This one, from the Badgers' rout of Milwaukee on Dec. 11, is nice because it creates two high-value looks -- a three for Ben Brust, and a short basket attack for Sam Dekker -- and it re-involves the inbounder:

Next three: 1/2 at Northwestern, 1/5 vs. Iowa, 1/8 vs. Illinois

 
4Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 4
Proposed clips to include in future Aaron Craft instructional video, on how to defend the same 1-on-1 transition situation in two very different ways, both resulting in a turnover:

(The charge, I should note, is no longer a big part of Craft's turnover-creation arsenal. In my charting of the Buckeyes' first 11 games, he had taken just one. The olé-and-strip has been a more attractive option under the new rules interpretations.)

Next three: 1/4 vs. Nebraska, 1/7 at Michigan State, 1/12 vs. Iowa

 
5Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: 6
The Spartans are my "buy" team in the top 10, for a few reasons. Their offense should take a leap forward when shooting guard Gary Harris fully recovers from his ankle injury and can play 30-plus minutes at a high level. Swingman Denzel Valentine seems to have made a post-Christmas breakthrough as a smarter, selective shooter and distributor, with 12 assists against just three turnovers in his past two games. And their veteran big men are starting to click: Branden Dawson had his best offensive game of the season in the Big Ten opener against Penn State (20 points on 8-of-14 shooting), and Adreian Payne was dominant against Texas on Dec. 21 (scoring 33 points on 8-of-8 shooting). Bovada's futures odds have Arizona as the national-title favorite (at 11/2), with Michigan State, Kansas and Kentucky just behind (at 13/2), but I would not be surprised to see Sparty enter the NCAA tournament as Vegas' favorite.

Next three: 1/4 at Indiana, 1/7 vs. Ohio State, 1/11 vs. Minnesota

 
6Iowa State Cyclones
Last Week: 8
A tempo- and hype-free comparison of two shot-happy floor generals, for your consideration:

Player A dominates the ball with decent efficiency, a 1.4-to-1 assist/turnover ratio, and makes a big defensive impact. He's a big star. Player B is more efficient, with slightly less usage, has a 2.8-to-1 A/T ratio, and makes bigger contributions on the glass than does Player A. Player B is not a household name, even though he's in the same conference as Player A.

Player A is Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, a preseason first-team All-American. Player B is Iowa State's DeAndre Kane, a graduate-year transfer from Marshall whom Fred Hoiberg has molded into a very good point guard. If Kane keeps this up, he needs to be in the Big 12 Player of the Year discussion.

Next three: 1/4 at Texas Tech, 1/7 vs. Baylor, 1/11 at Oklahoma

 
7Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 5
I've mentioned previously that the biggest change in Villanova's offense from last season to 2013-14 is its heavy reliance on the three. The Wildcats take 45.7 percent of their attempts from long range, the eighth-highest rate in the nation, and as the chart below shows, they've had an advantage in three-point attempts in 10 of their 13 games:

Next three: 1/5 vs. Providence, 1/8 at Seton Hall, 1/11 at St. John's

 
8Wichita State Shockers
Last Week: 11
A challenge for readers, as well as the most hard-hitting Wichita State question I'll ask all season: Is there any team other than the Shockers that can trot out an entire lineup that wears either arm sleeves or wrist tape?

(Photos source: Getty Images.)

Next three: 1/2 at Southern Illinois, 1/5 vs. Northern Iowa, 1/8 vs. Illinois State

 
9Florida Gators
Last Week: 9
For Florida's offense to make the leap from pretty good (it ranks 23rd in adjusted efficiency) to elite, sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier needs to be more involved. He's hit 48 percent of his career threes, but only averaged 3.8 attempts per game in December. Here's a near-perfect action the Gators used in November against Florida State to get Frazier a clean look, with point guard Scottie Wilbekin driving off of two ball-screens in succession. Frazier doesn't run off of many screens in Florida's offense -- he's mostly asked to drift into open space when his teammates penetrate and be available as a kick-out option:

Next three: 1/4 vs. Richmond, 1/8 vs. South Carolina, 1/11 at Arkansas

 
10Oklahoma State Sooners
Last Week: 10
The loss of starting center Michael Cobbins to a torn Achilles tendon could have a serious effect on Oklahoma State's defense. The Cowboys rank 17th in adjusted efficiency heading into Big 12 play, and their strength has been rim protection. They've been allowing opponents to shoot just 41.5 percent on twos, which is the 11th-lowest percentage in the nation ... and as coach Travis Ford told the Tulsa World, "[Cobbins] brought us an incredible presence around the rim. Shot-blocking, one of the top shot blockers in the country. Rebounding. But more than anything, he understood every single thing that I wanted and what we do and it all flowed for him."

Sophomore backup Kamari Murphy is likely to move into the starting lineup. He doesn't rim-protect as well as Cobbins, but Murphy is a more productive rebounder and a better finisher on offense, so he will add some value.

Next three: 1/4 at Kansas State, 1/8 vs. Texas, 1/11 at West Virginia

 
11Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 17
Sharpshooter Andre Dawkins has gone off for Duke in its past two games, hitting 6-of-10 threes against Eastern Michigan and 5-of-7 against Elon, giving what was already one of the nation's best offenses another bump in efficiency. The question going forward is whether Dawkins will actually be deployed against the Blue Devils' bigger ACC opponents.

Since he got healthy on Nov. 15, Duke has played four kenpom top-100 opponents, and these are Dawkins' stats in those games:

  • Nov. 27 vs. Alabama: 8 minutes, 0-2 on threes
  • Nov. 29 vs. Arizona: 4 minutes, 1-1 on threes
  • Dec. 3 vs. Michigan: 10 minutes, 2-2 on threes
  • Dec. 19 vs. UCLA: 7 minutes, 1-5 on threes

His role is much different when Duke plays opponents outside of the kenpom top 100: In the seven games against those lesser teams, Dawkins averaged 19.3 minutes and 7 three-point attempts.

Next three: 1/4 at Notre Dame, 1/7 vs. Georgia Tech, 1/11 at Clemson

 
12Baylor Bears
Last Week: 12
Avoiding turnovers can be easy when you're a designated catch-and-shoot guy like Baylor's Brady Heslip, but he's taking it to another level this season. Heslip hasn't committed a turnover in his past 182 minutes played, with the last one coming on Nov. 20 in a win over Charleston Southern. He's committed just two turnovers all season in 262 minutes, which makes him a nice counterbalance on a team that isn't all that careful with the ball. The Bears rank 267th in offensive turnover percentage, giving it away on 20.4 percent of their possessions.

Next three: 1/3 vs. Savannah State, 1/7 at Iowa State, 1/11 vs. TCU

 
13San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 15
As the San Diego Union-Tribune pointed out, Steve Fisher's one-game suspension of Winston Shepard on Dec. 18 (for undisclosed reasons) seems to have kick-started his season. In the three games since his return, Shepard has averaged 17.3 points on 68 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds, and has seven assists against one turnover. He's now playing like a legitimate co-star to senior Xavier Thames, and the timing couldn't be better heading into their Sunday visit to Kansas. A win there would likely push the Aztecs into the top 10.

Next three: 1/5 at Kansas, 1/8 vs. Boise State, 1/12 at Air Force

 
14North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 16
Apologies for not seeking to write a North Carolina blurb this week, but something I discovered while visiting my parents for Christmas needed to run at No. 14 instead. Featuring a fish tie, a Miller Lite polo, tube socks and a stupid No. 14 t-shirt, I present this photo of myself, my little brother Nathan and former Bucks coach Don Nelson, posing at a local fair in Wisconsin in the mid-'80s:

#tbt
#throwbackthursday

Next three: 1/5 at Wake Forest, 1/8 vs. Miami, 1/11 at Syracuse

 
15Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 16
Now that the Wildcats have earned their way back into the rankings, we can re-check on the defensive progress of sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Kentucky's past two rim protectors. He's been blocking shots at exactly the same rate as Anthony Davis, which is remarkable, and the 'Cats have been keeping more of them, too:

Next three: 12/21 vs. Florida State (in Sunrise, Fla.), 12/28 vs. Providence, 1/4 vs. Miami (Ohio)

 
16Oregon Ducks
Last Week: 8
Fifth-year Detroit transfer Jason Calliste has an odd statistical profile that I doubt he can maintain through Pac-12 play: He's one of just four major-conference players who've attempted more free throws than field goals. It's a weird-but-very-effective model for a guy who shoots 92.6 percent from the stripe.

Next three: 1/2 at Utah, 1/5 at Colorado, 1/9 vs. Cal

 

The Next 16: 17. Kansas 18. Creighton 19. Louisville 20. Iowa 21. UMass 22. Memphis 23. Colorado 24. Harvard 25. UConn 26. Kansas State 27. UCLA 28. Cincinnati 29. Pittsburgh 30. St. Louis 31. Illinois 32. Missouri

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