Posted: Thu January 30, 2014 1:31PM; Updated: Thu January 30, 2014 10:12PM
Luke Winn

Praising passers, dissecting screens and examining Big Ten tiers

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The Assists-and-Buttscreens edition of the Power Rankings:

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Arizona Wildcats
Last Week: 1
Wildcats point guard T.J. McConnell is an equal-opportunity distributor. My charting of his 119 assists -- everything up until Wednesday's scare at Stanford -- has McConnell hooking up every rotation player with double-digit dimes. The "ppa" figure means points per assist, indicating that McConnell has helped produce 70 points for Nick Johnson (29 assisted buckets X 2.41 ppa), or 52 points for Gabe York (18 assisted buckets X 2.89 ppa).

Next three: 2/1 at Cal, 2/6 vs. Oregon, 2/9 vs. Oregon State

2Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 2
As good as McConnell's been at piloting an undefeated team, Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis has been even better. My preferred method of conveying this is to isolate Ennis' numbers against top-100 opponents. Against mediocre competition (outside the top 100), he's a mildly impressive point guard who only makes 31.8 percent of his twos and 47.8 percent of his free throws. Against good teams, he plays like the best point guard in the country, excelling in pretty much every statistical category:

Next three: 2/1 vs. Duke, 2/3 vs. Notre Dame, 2/9 vs. Clemson

3Wichita State Shockers
Last Week: 6
Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser is well-versed in kenpom's 3PA/FGA data. In the lead-up to Tuesday's loss to the Shockers, Moser pointed out that they force opponents to take nearly 40 percent of their shots from three-point land. The exact figure is 38.6 percent, and it's a noteworthy stat: Through Tuesday's games, that was the 27th-highest rate of forced threes in the nation. The only Power-Ranked team with a higher rate is Syracuse, at 43.8, which (as you know) employs a 2-3 zone. How does Wichita force a similar volume of threes while playing man defense?

The answer is that Gregg Marshall's gapping defense is so focused on pre-help, making it impossible to get into the lane off the dribble, and so committed to disrupting cutters into the paint, that the only shot available against Wichita is often a three. It only took a few minutes of watching the Loyola game to get a representative screengrab of the Shockers walling off the paint and an opposing guard settling for a contested trey:

(Screengrab source: ESPN3)

Next three: 2/1 vs. Evansville, 2/5 at Indiana State, 2/8 at Northern Iowa 

4Florida Gators
Last Week: 5
While senior Casey Prather is now entrenched as the focal point of the Gators' offense, sophomore Michael Frazier, a 45.6 percent three-point shooter, is still their most efficient option. And as Florida has made its run to 6-0 in the SEC, it's been getting more and more long-range looks for Frazier. This chart shows his five-game running averages for long-range attempts (per 40 minutes played, pace-adjusted, to prove that it's not just a matter of him playing more minutes):

Next three: 1/30 at Mississippi State, 2/1 vs. Texas A&M, 2/4 vs. Missouri

5San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 7
T.J. McConnell has to be No. 1 on any list of the nation's most-important transfers, given that Arizona would be S.O.L. at the point-guard spot without him, but where would San Diego State be without Tulane transfer Josh Davis? When Jamaal Franklin entered the NBA Draft after his junior season, he left a huge defensive rebounding void, as he was grabbing 30.7 percent of the Aztecs' overall defensive boards. That void has been filled almost exactly by Davis, playing power forward.

Next three: 2/1 vs. Colorado State, 2/5 at Boise State, 2/8 vs. Nevada

6Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 4
It's wild how the Jayhawks have the most efficient offense in Big 12 play, at 1.214 points per possession ... yet have the league's worst turnover percentage, at 21.1 percent. They can still get much, much better, because as Bill Self said last week, KU is "wasting way too many possessions." Freshman center Joel Embiid, whose role continues to expand, is one of the main culprits, turning the ball over on 23.8 percent of his possessions.

Because it seemed like a good way to spend part of my Wednesday while waiting for the Iowa State-KU game to start, I watched as many of Embiid's 48 turnovers as I could find on film, which turned out to be 42, and charted them to see what could be gleaned. The two main things:

  • Passing is his biggest liability, as a third (14) of his turnovers have occurred on interceptions or throwaways. 

  • Throwing double-teams at him has been effective, as a third (14) of his turnovers were the result of being swarmed by defenders.   

Embiid is already scary good, but if he can become a confident passer out of the post by the end of the season -- and given his rapid improvement in other aspects of the game, I think it's possible -- the Jayhawks' offense will be title-worthy. 

Next three: 2/1 at Texas, 2/4 at Baylor, 2/8 vs. West Virginia

7Michigan Wolverines
Last Week: 9
Tiers are starting to develop in the Big Ten race. Borrowing a concept from John Gasaway's Tuesday Truths, here are the efficiency margins in league play through Wednesday's games:

Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State have separated themselves from the rest of the league, although the Hawkeyes' margin is skewed a bit by two routs of Northwestern. The Wolverines' offense is the class of the conference, a full seven points per 100 possessions better than Wisconsin, which has the second-best scoring attack but has defended so poorly that it's slipped into a middling tier along with Ohio State. 

Next three: 1/30 vs. Purdue, 2/2 at Indiana, 2/5 vs. Nebraska

8Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: 3
The Spartans' resume doesn't warrant them dropping this many spots, but they're so short-handed right now, and I needed to bump up Michigan ... and Kansas ... and Wichita State ... and Florida, so they'll have to settle for No. 8 and some praise. What Michigan State did at Iowa on Tuesday -- beating a top-10 kenpom team on the road, without Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne -- was nuts. Going by rankings, it was the second-biggest true road win of the entire season, behind Memphis' upset of Louisville on Jan. 9. Here's the entire top 10, in which the Breslin Center makes two appearances:

Next three: 2/1 vs. Georgetown (in New York), 2/6 vs. Penn State, 2/9 at Wisconsin

9Creighton Bluejays
Last Week: 8
Is this the Year of the Buttscreen? Two of the season's most memorable shots -- Shabazz Napier's four-point play against Florida on Dec. 2, and Doug McDermott's game-winner against St. John's on Jan. 28 -- were made possible by buttscreens. This video is as much a tribute to UConn's Niels Giffey and Creighton's Isaiah Zierden as it is the clutch shooters:

Next three: 2/7 vs. DePaul, 2/9 at St. John's, 2/13 at Butler

10Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 10
Sophomore center Daniel Ochefu, the only player taller than 6-foot-8 (he's 6-11) on Villanova's roster, has been making big offensive strides in January. He was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field (and 2-of-2 from the stripe) at Georgetown on Monday, and in his past five games, he's shooting 18-of-21 on twos. Ochefu was barely present in the Wildcats' wins over Iowa and Kansas in the Bahamas in November, averaging just 8.5 minutes and 1.0 points in those games, but he's become a reliable force in the paint in the Big East. Seeing that he's also 'Nova's highest-volume rebounder (on both ends) and only legitimate shot-blocker, having him playing significant minutes down the stretch will be a positive.

Next three: 2/1 at Temple, 2/3 vs. Xavier, 2/7 vs. Seton Hall

11Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 18
Jabari Parker highlight reels tend to be heavy on his graceful drives/dunks/threes, but he also needs to be recognized for his work in the post, where he operates at the same efficiency level as likely Wooden winner Doug McDermott. Of major-conference players with at least 50 post possessions, Parker ranks 10th in PPP, according to Synergy Sports Technology:

Parker, it should be pointed out, is the most diversified offensive player on that list. Post-work only accounts for 15.4 percent of his offense, compared to 26.6 percent for McBuckets.

Next three: 2/1 at Syracuse, 2/4 vs. Wake Forest, 2/8 at Boston College

12Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: 11
Mick Cronin isn't going to mess with his starting lineup during a 12-game win streak, but the Bearcats' backup point guard, freshman Troy Caupain, has been playing starter-level minutes off the bench, and may be their best option for running the offense. Starting floor general Ge'Lawn Guyn scored just three points and had two assists in 22 minutes against Temple on Sunday, while Caupain had a big, high-efficiency game in relief, scoring eight points on five shots and dishing out nine assists against two turnovers. 

(If you've never heard of Caupain, he was a three-star recruit out of Virginia who rebounded in high school like he was Rajon Rondo, pulling down 15.1 boards per game despite being just 6-3. His high this season is six, but if he starts playing 30-ish-minute games as a sophomore, he could be a double- or triple-double threat.)

Next three: 1/30 at Louisville, 2/2 vs. South Florida, 2/6 vs. UConn

13Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 14
While we're on the topic of (former) backup freshman point guards, freshman Terry Rozier is expected to stay in the Cardinals' starting lineup despite junior Chris Jones being healthy enough to play on Thursday vs. Cincinnati. Rozier has been remarkably sure-handed since being promoted due to Jones' injury, dishing out 14 assists against just two turnovers in three games. Rozier's biggest flaw is an inability to finish inside the arc -- he's shooing just 36.2 percent there -- but his positives far outweigh that issue. If he can continue to get the Cardinals' auxiliary players such as Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock involved in the offense, and be the conservative counterbalance to Russ Smith's risk-taking, Rozier deserves to keep starting for the rest of the season.

Next three: 1/30 vs. Cincinnati, 2/1 vs. UCF, 2/5 at Houston

14Saint Louis Billikens
Last Week: 19
The Billikens have the nation's best defense according to's adjusted efficiency rankings, and what sets them apart from other elite Ds is that they do everything well. Whereas Arizona thrives on challenging jumpers and rebounding, Virginia locks down the interior, and Syracuse lives on turnovers and blocks, SLU ranks in the top 30 in turnover percentage, defensive rebounding percentage, two-point percentage, three-point percentage, and rate of three-pointers allowed. I have reservations that the Billikens can score well enough to make a deep tournament run, but they have one of the stingiest, well-rounded defenses I've seen in years.

Next three: 2/1 vs. George Mason, 2/5 at Saint Joseph's, 2/8 at La Salle

15Virginia Cavaliers
Last Week: 20
The Cavaliers are finally looking like the team I thought they'd be in the preseason, surging to a 7-1 start in the ACC ... but the structure of their offense has been a total surprise. Senior swingman Joe Harris, who was looked at as a prime ACC player of the year candidate, missed part of the summer with a stress reaction in his  left foot and started slowly. As a junior he played 32.5 minutes per game and took 28.1 percent of the team's shots; now he averages 27.0 minutes and shoots a more role-player-like 22.9 percent of the team's shots. Sophomores Justin Anderson (24.8 percent) and Mike Tobey (26.8 percent) have emerged as Virginia's most-likely offensive options, and even point guard Malcolm Brogdon (23.7 percent) shoots more frequently than Harris does.

Next three: 2/2 at Pitt, 2/5 vs. Boston College, 2/8 at Georgia Techylor

16Memphis Tigers
Last Week: 26
Teams backed out of the Power Rankings in droves this week. Wisconsin looked dead against Northwestern, Kentucky flopped at LSU, Oklahoma State couldn't hang with Oklahoma, and Iowa State faded in the final minutes at Kansas. That made room for the Tigers, who'd been getting neglected in this space. Their neutral wins over LSU and Oklahoma State, plus that increasingly valuable road win at Louisville, comprise a legit resume, and they're getting more and more production out of Michael Dixon Jr., the Missouri transfer who might just be the best all-around guard on their roster. He's Memphis' only long-range threat other than Chris Crawford and can capably run the point, so he might merit more than the 22.4 minutes per game he's been averaging.

Next three: 2/1 at SMU, 2/4 vs. Rutgers, 2/8 vs. Gonzaga


The Next 16: 17. Iowa, 18. Oklahoma, 19. UConn, 20. Oklahoma State, 21. Wisconsin, 22. Iowa State, 23. Pittsburgh, 24. Texas, 25. George Washington, 26. Kentucky, 27. Gonzaga, 28. VCU, 29. Kansas State, 30. UCLA, 31. Xavier, 32. Minnesota

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