Posted: Thu February 20, 2014 11:28AM; Updated: Thu February 20, 2014 11:28AM
Luke Winn
Luke Winn>COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

After Syracuse falters, Florida and Wichita State jockey for No. 1

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

Identifying the most likely national champ gets more difficult by the week, and after a night where No. 1 Syracuse melted down at home against 7-18 Boston College, No. 2 Florida avoided a home upset only because 12-11 Auburn melted down in the final seconds, and No. 4 Arizona needed overtime to get out of Utah with a W, it didn't get any easier. The debate over which team deserves to be ranked No. 1, though ... that's something I can handle. It's not 28-0 Wichita State, which is romping through the worst Missouri Valley Conference in years. It's Florida, which is on an 18-game winning streak, is dominating a major conference, is 17-0 when it has its full rotation available, and ranks seven spots higher in adjusted efficiency than do the Shockers.

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Florida Gators
Last Week: 4
Patric Young, in addition to thriving in roles as five-man, Adonis, loose-ball-chaser-extraordinaire, and one-armed fridge carrier, is now excelling as a college basketball critic:

Auburn, the team that (Kasey Hill-less) Florida nearly lost to in the O-Dome on Wednesday, also sucks. But my critique of the Gators is going to focus on a longer-running issue.

In Florida's Dec. 10 win over Kansas, power forward Dorian Finney-Smith hit two pick-and-pop threes, and he followed those up with another on Dec. 17 against Memphis. He seemed like a natural:

Florida loved to do this with Erik Murphy in 2012-13, and it looked as if Finney-Smith pick-and-pop threes would be a valuable staple of its offense. But the Gators have played 16 games since beating Memphis, and after reviewing a ton of film, I could find just two instances of made P&P3s since, both by Finney-Smith against Mississippi State on Jan. 30. TWO! That's it! If Florida's going to win a national title, it needs to make slight offensive improvements. One of them is getting Finney-Smith out of his long-range slump, which is currently at 0-of-18, and reviving the P&P3s.

Next three: 2/22 at Ole Miss, 2/25 at Vandy, 3/1 vs. LSU

 
2Wichita State Shockers
Last Week: 3
Since this column has been partially responsible for propping up Syracuse's Tyler Ennis as the nation's best point guard, it's my duty to point out that Ennis has been mortal in his past two games (committing late turnovers, missing key shots vs. NC State and Boston College). Meanwhile, Wichita's Fred VanVleet, who gets far less hype, has played incredible, efficient basketball in road wins at Evansville and Loyola:

Against Loyola on Wednesday, VanVleet was 6-of-6 from the field and 10-of-10 from the stripe, and he had eight rebounds. He played a nearly perfect game. He out-Ennised Ennis.

(Chart data from kenpom.com.)

Next three: 2/22 vs. Drake, 2/25 at Bradley, 3/1 vs. Missouri State

 
3Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 1
The Orange have been operating in some kind of bizarro universe for the past six days. They lost at home to a 7-18 Boston College team that had a 4 percent chance of winning, according to kenpom. Tyler Ennis hasn't been acting like Tyler Ennis. And in Saturday's near-debacle against N.C. State, their improbable leading scorer (with 14 points) was center Rakeem Christmas, who, on the season, takes just 11.2 percent of their shots while he's on the floor. That stat is otherwise known as Shot%, and when I plotted out the five-game running averages of Shot% for every Syracuse starter, the difference between Christmas and the others is stark:

Next three: 2/22 at Duke, 2/24 at Maryland, 3/1 at Virginia

 
4Arizona Wildcats
Last Week: 2
New development for the Wildcats: Sophomore guard Gabe York, who started the first game of the season, then came off the bench for the next 24 before starting at Utah on Wednesday, is going to remain in their first five. The Arizona Daily Star's Bruce Pascoe reports that Sean Miller made the move to ignite York's offensive game, and he responded by being their most efficient scorer (15 points with a 128 ORating) and the only player to make multiple threes (he was 3-of-6 from deep) against the Utes. Miller initially replaced the injured Brandon Ashley in the starting lineup with freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, an excellent defender, but Arizona's offense has been so stagnant -- especially in its Valentine's Day loss to Arizona State -- that it needed to sacrifice defense for shooting ability. 

Next three: 2/22 at Colorado, 2/26 vs. Cal, 3/2 vs. Stanford

 
5San Diego State Aztecs
Last Week: 6
The Aztecs' non-conference wins over Kansas (in Lawrence, no less) and Creighton (in Fullerton, Calif.) keep looking better and better, and their loss at Wyoming is their only slip-up in the Mountain West. They should be perceived, at this point, as a slightly worse version of Arizona: an elite defensive team that scrapes by on offense, ranking 90th in adjusted efficiency. SDSU has scoring issues in part because it has to do so much work in isolation. A comparison of the assisted field goal rates of Power Ranked teams, through Tuesday's games, shows the gap between everyone else and the Aztecs:

(Chart data from kenpom.com.)

Next three: 2/22 at New Mexico, 2/25 vs. San Jose State, 3/1 at Fresno State

 
6Creighton Bluejays
Last Week: 13
In this blurb and the one directly following it, I've compiled visual breakdowns of the best scoring games by the primary candidates for national player of the year. Behold the diversity of Doug McDermott's 39-point outburst against Villanova on Sunday, which included threes, hard cuts, post moves, two lefty shots and four Dirk Nowitzki-style fadeaways:

(Screengrabs source: Fox Sports 1. Photo placeholder for first two threes, which weren't available on tape due to a late cut-in: Getty Images.)

Next three: 2/23 vs. Seton Hall, 3/1 at Xavier, 3/4 at Georgetown

 
7Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 7
Now, here's Jabari Parker's 29-point game against Boston College ... in which all 29 points were generated in the paint, mostly above the rim. Plenty of highlights, but far less diversity than McBuckets:

(Screengrabs source: ESPN.).

Next three: 2/20 at North Carolina, 2/22 vs. Syracuse, 2/25 vs. Virginia Tech

 
8Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 9
A PSA for anyone who's still in the Andrew Wiggins-is-not-living-up-to-something camp:

  • Wiggins is the primary shot-taker for the nation's No. 5 most efficient offense.

  • He's also the leader in minutes and points for the No. 1 team in the conference that's either the toughest or second-toughest in the nation.

  • Ken Pomeroy's kPOY formula rates Wiggins as the most valuable player in the Big 12. 

  • He's still projected to be selected in the first three picks in everyone's mock drafts.

Wiggins isn't having a Kevin Durant-level freshman season, but he's making a major impact on a legitimate national title contender.

Next three: 2/22 vs. Texas, 2/24 vs. Oklahoma, 3/1 at Oklahoma State

 
9Virginia Cavaliers
Last Week: 11
Virginia coach Tony Bennett and Arizona coach Sean Miller both run versions of the Pack-Line Defense, and they are both in their fifth season of their second head-coaching job. Their teams have followed similar defensive trajectories, transforming from mediocre to stingy (like, top-five stingy) in that five-year span: 

(Rankings are adjusted defensive efficiencies from kenpom.com.)

Next three: 2/22 vs. Notre Dame, 2/26 vs. Miami, 3/1 vs. Syracuse

 
10Saint Louis Billikens
Last Week: 12
Love this Rick Majerus quote/image that was widely Tweeted after the Billikens cracked the top 10 of the polls on Monday:

Much like Bennett and Miller did at their respective schools, Majerus took over a mediocre defensive team at SLU in 2008. It ranked 102nd in adjusted defensive efficiency the prior season -- and by 2012, Majerus' final season before he passed away, the Billikens ranked 11th. The upward trend continued as new coach Jim Crews stuck to the same defense, and now they rank second nationally. That, even more than their spot in the polls, is a tribute to Majerus' teachings.

Next three: 2/22 vs. George Washington, 2/27 vs. Duquesne, 3/1 at VCU

 
11Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 5
Villanova's all-five swarm on this lob post entry to Doug McDermott might be the most mesmerizing GIF-moment of the season. 

Wildcats coach Jay Wright said that this was not their defensive plan. They were fronting McDermott with planned help on any lobbed entry passes ... but that help was supposed to come from just one guy. Wright said that at least one of the other players told him they thought the lob was a shot, which explains a bit of the confusion, but either way, it was nice of them to let us see if McDermott could successfully recognize and pass out of a quintuple-team in the post.

(GIF source: Fox Sports 1.)

Next three: 2/22 vs. St. John's, 2/26 vs. Butler, 3/2 vs. Marquette

 
12Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 19
The Badgers seemed to be falling apart in January, but they're starting to re-establish themselves as the best team in the Big Ten. On Sunday they became the only team other than Arizona to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor, and that game was center Frank Kaminsky's best performance since his 43-point explosion against North Dakota in November. Kaminsky only scored 25 against the Wolverines but his efficiency (10-of-14 on twos, 1-of-2 on threes, zero turnovers) was remarkable and he saved his best work for crunch time, taking over the game late in the second half. Wisconsin sits in fourth in the Big Ten at 8-5, but if Kaminsky can remain in his current mode, it has an outside shot at taking a share of the league's regular-season title. 

Next three: 2/22 at Iowa, 2/25 vs. Indiana, 3/2 at Penn State

 
13Michigan Wolverines
Last Week: 8
Are Michigan and Michigan State, which are tied atop the Big Ten at 10-3, the league's best two teams ... or might it be Iowa and Wisconsin, who are Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, in efficiency margin? Sorting out this conference on a week-to-week basis is nearly impossible, as evidenced by this head-to-head matchup of W-L records and in-league efficiency margins, through Tuesday's games:

Next three: 2/23 vs. Michigan State, 2/26 at Purdue, 3/1 vs. Minnesota

 
14Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: 14
Feb. 6's Power Rankings addressed the Great* Cincy Streak of holding opponents to less than 1.00 points per possession at home, which was on the verge of extending a full calendar year if the Bearcats suffocated UConn that night. They succeeded, holding the Huskies to 0.931 PPP ... but then blew the streak in their next home game, allowing Houston to score 1.139 PPP on Saturday. Justin Jackson's foul trouble was the major factor, as their highest-impact defender was stuck on the bench for long stretches. R.I.P, streak. Born, Feb. 12, 2013 vs. Villanova; Died, Feb. 15, 2014 vs. Houston.

(*Great, in the sense that I was really impressed by it but it wasn't covered anywhere other than the Power Rankings.)

Next three: 2/22 vs. Louisville, 3/1 at UConn, 3/6 vs. Memphis

 
15Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 15
A PSA for anyone who's in the Russ Smith-hasn't-improved camp: 

  • He's putting up career highs in three-point percentage (37.8%) and two-point percentage (51.7%) while using possessions at the nearly the same rate he did last season (31.6% as as senior, 32.0% as a junior).

  • He hasn't just survived his conversion to being the Cardinals' primary point guard ... he's upped his efficiency (from an ORating of 108.9 to 112.9) and barely let it affect his turnover rate (dropping from 16.8% to a still-respectable 18.5%). 

  • The kPOY standings rank him as the third-most valuable player in the country, behind only the high-usage phenomenons that are McBuckets and Jabari Parker. 

Next three: 2/22 at Cincinnati, 2/27 vs. Temple, 3/1 at Memphis

 
16Iowa State Cyclones
Last Week: 16
From the "Things Iowa State can do that your team can't" video archive ... this big-to-big handoff/handoff/ballscreen secondary break action between forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, while the Cyclones' three guards are spaced on the opposite side of the floor:

Texas' Jonathan Holmes was so discombobulated by this action that he self-destructed, falling to the ground after the second handoff.

Next three: 2/22 at TCU, 2/26 vs. West Virginia, 3/1 at Kansas State

 

The Next 16:
The "I'm too confused to rank you due to all of these injuries" temporary holding spot: Michigan State.

17. Iowa. 18. UConn, 19. Kentucky. 20. UCLA, 21. Ohio State, 22. Texas, 23. North Carolina, 24. Memphis, 25. SMU, 26. VCU, 27. New Mexico, 28. Kansas State , 29. Pittsburgh, 30. George Washington, 31. Gonzaga, 32. Arizona State

SI Videos
Videos from the Web
 
SI.com
Hot Topics: NBA Playoffs NHL Playoffs NFL schedule LaMarcus Aldridge Michael Pineda Phil Jackson Tiger Woods
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint