Whirling Dervish – Power Rankings January 22nd

Here’s the Whirling Dervish, the Bill Raftery inspired nickname for this site’s Power Rankings. I’ll rank the Top 25 and go a little in-depth on the Top 10, with what I deem interesting information, statistics, and/or trends about each team in that group. Most, if not all of the data, will come from the great site, Kenpom.com. Get a subscription if you don’t have one. Seriously, it’s so worth it.

Without further adieu, let’s serve the Dervish.

1. Arizona – As of writing this, it’s interesting to note that Arizona is the only team in the nation with two players in the Top 10 of Kenpom Player of the Year Standings, with Nick Johnson at 3rd and Aaron Gordon at 9th. Now, this will likely change as Pomeroy has said that the back-end of the Top 10 will constantly be in flux. But, this is one of the many reasons as to why Arizona is #1 in the country and undefeated. Not only do they play absolutely ridiculous defense, have an outstanding coach in Sean Miller, and have great balance among their top seven guys, but two of those guys are really f’in good. Sometimes we forget how important raw talent is, especially when that talent is playing as effectively and efficiently as Johnson and Gordon.

2. SyracuseOne of the biggest misnomers about a 2-3 zone defense is that it creates lazy defenders. Now, that does happen in some cases, but that is a product of the coaching or the individual players, not the concept of the zone itself. Syracuse with Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney fight against this lazy analysis. Ennis and Cooney both rank in the Top 12th nationally in steal rate, which is absurd. Ennis ranks 7th with a Steal% of 5.1%, while Cooney ranks 12th at 4.8%. Those two at the top of the zone and the stretched out 2-3 zone that Boeheim has perfected is a big reason why Syracuse is 2nd nationally forcing their opponents into turnovers on 25.1% of their possessions.

3. Kansas – One of the most interesting developments to me in the Andrew Wiggins over-analysis (bordering on unintelligent at times) are the constant statements on his lack of assertiveness, how he plays “soft”, that he drifts in and out of games, and that he disappears way too much. Against Oklahoma State, yes, he didn’t take any shots for the entire second half and the last half of the first half. But that was one game. Overall, when you look at the actual numbers, I fail to see how Wiggins could be called unassertive or soft. In fact, I would argue he’s been Kansas’ most consistent player on a night-to-night basis.

He leads the Jayhawks in the following categories: % of minutes played, usage rate, % of shots taken while on the floor, free throws made and attempted, and 3-pointers attempted. He ranks in the top 300 nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and free throw rate. Basically, how can a guy who leads his team in free throws attempted and shots attempted be called “not assertive enough”? And how is he soft if he’s constantly getting to the line? I thought soft players avoided contact at all costs? A lot of this is analysts picking him apart to an unfair rate and propping up smaller moments of games while not paying attention to the majority of his playing time. He’s been Kansas’ second best player, and that’s only because Joel Embiid is playing at a level that is preposterous. The Wiggins nonsense is exactly that, nonsense.

4. Michigan State – I’m going to use this space to show the impact of conference play in the Big Ten, for better or worse. Let’s compare Michigan State and Kansas, two teams who were preseason favorites, lost a game(s) in non-conference, are currently undefeated in conference play, and are contenders to win it all in March.

Number of Possessions  

 Offensive Efficiency

Offensive eFG%

 Defensive Efficiency

 Defensive eFG%

 Michigan State (non-conference)

 71.8

116.3 

55% 

 90.9

43.5% 

Michigan State
(conference)

 64.8

 109.4

 51.8%

 90.9

 44.4%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Kansas (non-conference)

 69.1

 112.3

 54%

 98.8

46%

 Kansas (conference)

 70.2

 118.3

 61.3%

 100.9

 46.4%

As you can see, Michigan State’s offense has clearly taken a big dip now they’ve hit Big Ten play (Adreian Payne’s injury also plays a small role in this). The pace of their games has slowed, and their offensive efficiency and eFG% have taken a hit. Interestingly, their defense has held study. Meanwhile, Kansas has flourished once they’ve hit conference play. The pace of their games is a slight tick higher, and their efficiency and eFG% on offense have improved. Their defense is actually giving up 2 more points per 100 possessions in Big 12 play.

Looking at all of this, it makes sense. The Big 12 is one of the best two leagues in the country and its teams are generally better offensive teams. And we all know about the Big Ten, the other conference that could make a claim as best in the nation. It enjoys its reputation as a slow-it-down fight of a conference with physical, defensive basketball. However, the reason I bring all of this up is I think we have to remember this when we project Michigan State’s chances to win it all in March. Their defense is still as steady as it has been all season while their offense has suffered against Big Ten play. When the tournament rolls around, I expect their offense to flourish when they’re no longer going up against Big Ten competition. And if it does, watch out.

5. Wichita State – Fred Van Vleet’s improvement has been talked about quite a bit this season, but it really is quite impressive. Last year as a backup PG off the bench to Malcolm Armstead, he played well, but his play as a starting sophomore has been outstanding. Just a quick rundown of some noticeable jumps:

  ORating   eFG%  TS%  Assist Rate  TO Rate  Fouls Drawn/40  FT Rate
 Freshman  100.4 45.1   48.5  27.3  24.1 2.7   26.1
Sophomore   129.8  53.6 59.8   32.5  11.5 4.0  46.7
6. Florida – Casey Prather and Michael Frazier might have the most impressive shooting metrics for two teammates in the entire country. Prather is 6’6” and is shooting 64% on 2-point shots this season. Frazier has been lights out. He’s shooting 86% from the FT line, 54% on 2’s, and 46% on 3’s. All of this works out to both players being in the Top 20 nationally in TS%.
7. Oklahoma State – One of the biggest reasons the Michael Cobbins injury is such an issue for the Cowboys is because they are not a very good rebounding team at all. Oklahoma State has an Offensive Rebound Rate of just 31.4% (good for 179th nationally) and a Defensive Rebound Rate of 68.2% (good for 192nd nationally). Marcus Smart has averaged 10.5 rebounds over his last 4 games after averaging only 4.4 rebounds over Oklahoma State’s first 14 games. I’ll be interested to see if his RPG average continues to stay above the 6 or 7 per game range.
8. San Diego State – If you want to see a basketball game with a lot of shotmaking from both 3-point range and inside the arc, don’t watch an Aztec game. Look at these numbers. These are the ranks nationally of San Diego State and their opponents in eFG%, 2-Point FG%, and 3-Point FG%. Reminder – there are 351 D1 basketball programs this season.
 eFG%  2P%  3P%
 San Diego State  292nd  326th  82nd
 Opponents  349th  347th  328th

Yeesh, those are some rough numbers. But, that’s also why San Diego State is 16-1 right now. They guard the heck out of the ball.

9. Kentucky – For being such a young team, this Kentucky squad certainly understands what they’re good at, crashing the offensive glass and getting to the foul line. They rank 1st nationally in Offensive Rebound Rate at 44.3% and 2nd nationally in FT Rate at 59%. Julius Randle is the big reason why. Randle ranks 16th nationally among all players with an OR% of 15.8% and 12th nationally at Fouls Drawn/40 Minutes, drawing a whopping 7.8 fouls for every 40 minutes he’s on the court. That’s a trait that I imagine will transition very well to the next level.

10. Creighton – Whew. What to say about Creighton? We should probably talk about that defense right? Just kidding. Creighton’s offense is not of this world. And by this world, I mean it’s not fair to compare them to other offenses of this season. They are 1st in Offensive Efficiency, 1st in eFG%, 1st in 3-Point FG%, 3rd in Assists/FG Made, 9th in 3-Point Rate, 13th in 2-Point FG%, and 16th in FT%. Oh, and they rarely turn the ball over, ranking 19th nationally in TO% at 15%. It’s just an absolute treat to watch this team play offensive basketball, because they shoot the hell out of the ball, they share the hell out of the ball, and they prefer to keep the ball in their hands before using it to set a scorching fire to the net.

I could end this negatively and talk about their rather pedestrian defense, and that it will severely limit their chances to advance past the Sweet 16 or Elite 8, but I don’t want to get into that. I just want to picture that virtuoso performance from Monday night against Villanova in my head over and over again.

And here is the rest of my Top 25:

  • 11. Iowa State
  • 12. Iowa
  • 13. Villanova
  • 14. Pittsburgh
  • 15. Louisville
  • 16. Michigan
  • 17. Wisconsin
  • 18. Cincinnati
  • 19. Oklahoma
  • 20. St. Louis
  • 21. Memphis
  • 22. California
  • 23. Duke
  • 24. Ohio State
  • 25. UMass

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