College Basketball Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 9 Poll
Remember that beast Chane Behanan who manhandled Michigan in the national championship game last season? Where did that dude go?
Louisville would like to know, because the team that was preseason No. 1 in these Power Rankings—with Behanan's return as a major reason why—has not looked the part in games where anyone is paying attention.
The Cardinals look good when they're beating up on their inferior opponents, but it's hard to get impressed when your best win is over Southern Miss. That's one of only two wins Louisville has against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy's top 100 (subscription required) this season—No. 97 Louisiana Lafayette being the other.
Now, the Cards are dropping in these rankings—10 spots this week after Saturday's 73-66 loss at Kentucky—looking vulnerable as they enter their only season in the American Athletic Conference and searching for someone other than Russ Smith and Chris Jones who can make a shot.
O Behanan of April, where art thou?
Teams to Watch: Gonzaga, Pittsburgh, LSU, Toledo
Dropped out of Power Rankings: None
25. Saint Louis
Previous Power Ranking: 23
My colleague Kerry Miller brought it to my attention that not only is Saint Louis not ranked in either of the major polls, but the Billikens aren't even getting any votes.
That makes sense. The Bills are only the fifth-best defense in the nation, according to Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency measure; they only play five seniors who have made back-to-back NCAA tournaments; and they only won the Atlantic 10 last year, a league that sent five teams to the NCAA tournament.
Yep, that's not a team that deserves a vote.
Previous Power Ranking: 25
Missouri played its first true road game on Saturday and rallied to beat North Carolina State. The Wolfpack aren't great this year, but they do have one of the hottest players in the country in T.J. Warren.
A road win was extra significant for the Tigers, considering they won only two road games last season.
Previous Power Ranking: 24
The Minutemen have a nice non-conference resume with solid wins over LSU, New Mexico, Clemson and BYU.
They are sort of limping into the Atlantic 10 season, however, after losing to Florida State and then following that up by needing overtime to get past Providence on Saturday.
They need to get star Chaz Williams back on track. Williams has made only 14 of his last 45 shots.
Previous Power Ranking: 21
Since Iowa took the week off, this is as good a time as any to provide a fun factoid on NIT runner-ups. Remember, Iowa lost to Baylor in the postseason NIT championship in April.
The previous four runner-ups all made the NCAA tournament the following season, and only Alabama failed to win a game in the tournament. Both North Carolina and Baylor made it to the Elite Eight.
Get ready for a fun March, Hawkeyes.
21. San Diego State
Previous Power Ranking: 19
The Aztecs have a couple really nice wins on neutral courts (Creighton and Marquette), and their one loss (a nine-point defeat against Arizona) is nothing to apologize about.
Next Sunday, Steve Fisher's team has a chance to really get noticed when San Diego State travels to Allen Fieldhouse in a game that will be televised on CBS. The Jayhawks have lost only twice at the Fieldhouse over the last seven seasons.
But hey, here's some hope for the Aztecs beyond the fact that KU is still young and vulnerable: one of those losses (against Texas on Jan. 22, 2011) was also on CBS.
Previous Power Ranking: 22
With the rule changes, free throws can play a big factor throughout the season, and the Buffs could benefit. They rank eighth in the country in free-throw rate, per KenPom.com, and their confidence at the line should be soaring after knocking down all 26 attempts on Saturday in a win against Georgia.
That was the 24th time a team has been perfect at the line this season, according to Statsheet.com, and the Buffs hold the record this year for most free throws made in a perfect night at the line. The NCAA record, however, is 34-for-34, held by UC Irvine (Feb. 21, 1981), Samford (Dec. 20, 1990) and Oklahoma (March 2, 2013).
19. North Carolina
Previous Power Ranking: 20
North Carolina hasn't played great in the three games since Leslie McDonald has returned, but his addition should pay off at some point.
McDonald has made 8-of-17 threes in his 78 minutes played so far. Outside of Marcus Paige, the rest of the Tar Heels have made just five threes all season, and they've combined to play 1,929 minutes.
Another way of putting that is: Tar Heels not named Paige or McDonald make a three once every 385.8 minutes they play.
Previous Power Ranking: 15
Connecticut is back to playing Jim Calhoun defense—the kind that swats a ton of shots—after Kevin Ollie's first team was not up to the Calhoun standard.
The big difference (emphasize big) has been freshman seven-footer Amida Brimah, who averages 2.8 blocks in only 13.7 minutes per game.
The Huskies rank ninth nationally in block rate, per KenPom.com, and will likely climb even higher if Brimah gets more minutes. He's started each of the last two games.
Previous Power Ranking: 17
Memphis, not Louisville, is looking like the most complete team in the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers have a ton of depth in the backcourt, but that's not why they should be considered a legitimate contender for the first-ever AAC crown.
Louisville lacks inside scoring, and Memphis has it. Shaq Goodwin has been better than expected—13.5 points per game on 67.9 percent shooting—and Louisville's bigs have underwhelmed, especially in big games.
Previous Power Ranking: 18
In the 25 possessions Kentucky played in the second half without Julius Randle on Saturday, Louisville scored only 16 points.
The Wildcats knew that without Randle, they had to be great defensively to win, but they could not pick and choose when they defend. To be great, defense has to be a priority at all times. What will be interesting to see is if Randle learned anything while watching from the sidelines.
This might not be a popular opinion, but Randle's defensive effort hasn't always been there, probably more so than any other Wildcat. It may not have been a coincidence that UK's defense was best without him.
If Randle and the 'Cats can match that intensity consistently, they could evolve into the dominant team they were expected to be in the preseason. If not, they'll continue to be an up-and-down team.
Previous Power Ranking: 12
Villanova should not feel too bad about its loss on Saturday at Syracuse, even considering the fact that Jay Wright's team got out to a 25-7 lead.
The Wildcats got off to that great start in the same way they've been winning all year: playing great defense and forcing turnovers. The Orange had five giveaways in its first 13 possessions.
But Villanova was facing the best offense in the country and one that takes care of the ball. The Orange had only seven turnovers the rest of the game. It's rare the Wildcats will play a backcourt that can handle their pressure like Syracuse, so again, they shouldn't get too flustered about their first loss.
Previous Power Ranking: 16
The Ducks are the country's highest-scoring team (90.8 points per game), and Houston transfer Joseph Young continues to score at a ridiculously efficient rate for a 6'2" shoot-first guard.
Young scored 24 points on 13 shots in Sunday's win over Morgan State, and he's yet to have a game this season where he's had more shot attempts than points.
Previous Power Ranking: 13
Last year, Baylor played its way out of the NCAA tournament during a stretch in the Big 12 when Scott Drew's team lost eight of 11 games. Seven of those were to NCAA tournament teams.
The Bears should not have any kind of drought like that this year. There are only three other teams in the Big 12 that appear to be locks for the tournament (Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas), and the only time the Bears play any of the three back-to-back is Feb. 1 and Feb. 4 (at Oklahoma State and vs. Kansas).
Texas and Oklahoma have been better than expected and could be tourney teams, but it's hard to see the Bears slip up big time again, especially with impressive wins already over Colorado and Kentucky.
Previous Power Ranking: 2
In Louisville's two losses to North Carolina and Kentucky, guards Russ Smith and Chris Jones have combined to take 75 shots.
That's not a knock on either guy; Louisville's best shot in both games was a shot by one of those guys. They shot 44 percent, and their teammates shot 40 percent.
Last season, Smith often dominated the ball, but Louisville had enough options to keep the defense's attention. However, the struggles of Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell, Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear on Saturday at Kentucky—on a combined 6-of-20 shooting—should be the main concern for Rick Pitino.
Unless the Cardinals can get production from two or three of those guys, they're going to have a tough time against legitimate competition. And Smith and Jones will be forced to keep chucking.
Previous Power Ranking: 14
Bill Self has to like that he has had nine days between games and that the final game before that big layoff was one that his post players dominated. Self is surely hammering home that point, and he should.
In the last two games, Joel Embiid has scored or been fouled on 10 of his 11 post-ups. For the season, Embiid has scored 59 points on 59 chances in the post and has generated another 14 points on passes out of the post, via Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required). Those numbers are only going to get better with the progress Embiid is making.
Perry Ellis has been efficient on post-upsas well (37 points on 34 chances, via Synergy), and even Andrew Wiggins has been effective in limited opportunities from the post, scoring 10 points on eight possessions.
Previous Power Ranking: 10
It'll be rare for Mike Krzyzewski to ever worry about his offense this year, but the defense has been a real concern.
That defense is starting to show some promise, however. In the last two games, the Blue Devils held UCLA to its least-efficient output of the season and Eastern Michigan to its second-worst game in terms of efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
9. Iowa State
Previous Power Ranking: 11
Warning to the Big 12: if you get up early on Iowa State, don't get satisfied.
The Cyclones have trailed by double-digits in four of their 11 wins—including an 18-point deficit to Northern Iowa—and they've trailed by at least eight points in six games.
The most recent example took place last Wednesday in the Diamond Head Classic championship against Boise State. The Broncos led by 11 at one point and were up seven at the half. But the Cyclones are so confident in their offense that they never panic in these situations. They outscored Boise 20-10 in the opening 7:30 of the second half and never trailed again.
8. Wichita State
Previous Power Ranking: 8
Early in the year, if you were trying to find a blemish with Wichita State, interior scoring would have been the first thing to come up. It looked like the Shockers were going to have a tough time replacing Carl Hall in the post.
Darius Carter, who replaced Hall in the lineup, is starting to show some promise. Carter is scoring a team-best 1.023 points per possessions on post-ups, per Synergy, and the Shockers are starting to go to him more. He has averaged 12.8 points per game in the last five games, and he's getting to the line regularly, knocking down 26-of-38 free throws during this recent stretch.
Previous Power Ranking: 9
It's easy to lose to the Gators before even settling in. Florida's defensive pressure and relentlessness can shock an opponent in the opening minutes of a game—just ask Kansas.
Memphis, who trailed 41-38 at half, has been the only Florida opponent all season to score more than 31 points before halftime. The Gators have completely shut down their opponents in the first halves of three of their last four games—holding KU to 21 first-half points, Fresno State to 19 and Savannah State to 11 on Sunday. This stretch of games has also been the first time they've had (almost) all of their core available.
Previous Power Ranking: 7
Wisconsin put up 80 points on Saturday against Prairie View A&M with its top scorer, Sam Dekker, scoring 16 points. Dekker was the only Badger to take double-digit shot attempts (10).
A throwaway stat in a meaningless game? Not exactly.
It speaks to the Badgers' balance. They have four players averaging double figures, and fifth-leading scorer Josh Gasser averages 9.0 points per game.
The Badgers are hard enough to defend because of their patience; it's even harder when any of the five on the court can score at any time.
5. Ohio State
Previous Power Ranking: 6
Thad Matta has probably earned the right for his team to be shown some respect when it goes through the non-conference undefeated, but I'm still a little skeptical when it comes to the Buckeyes.
Their best win is Marquette, a team that could be labeled as a disappointment, ranking 42nd in Pomeroy's ratings and 108th in the RPI.
Matta has had two other teams go undefeated in non-conference play during his time at Ohio State (2005-06 and 2010-11), beating up on schedules that weren't exactly stacked. Those two teams at least had one win apiece against teams that ended up in the top 25 of Pomeroy's rankings, however.
The other two OSU teams, in case you were wondering, ended up losing in the Sweet 16.
4. Michigan State
Previous Power Ranking: 5
The opponent (New Orleans) was not good on Saturday, so there's not a lot to take from Michigan State's blowout win. But it was a good sign for the Spartans that Keith Appling broke out of a mini-slump. It might have even been good timing to play a lesser foe for Appling's confidence.
Appling had averaged six points and three assists in the previous two games, and he went for 27 points and eight assists with just one turnover on Saturday. Since Appling is arguably the most important Spartan, it could not have worked out any better, as the final primer before Big Ten play begins on Tuesday at Penn State.
3. Oklahoma State
Previous Power Ranking: 3
At this point a year ago (12 games in), the Cowboys were averaging 71.8 points per game and 1.08 points per possession. Those numbers this year are 86.4 and 1.20, respectively.
Oklahoma State became relevant last year because of its defense, influenced heavily by Marcus Smart. That defense hasn't gone anywhere—it's still elite—and the offense has caught up. The Cowboys are only one win better at this point compared to last year, but wins and losses doesn't tell the whole story of how much they've improved.
Previous Power Ranking: 4
Syracuse is now the top-rated offense in the country in Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency, and the backcourt has played a huge role in that climb.
Trevor Cooney has been unreal from deep. He's made 50.6 percent of his threes and has made five threes in six of the last eight games. C.J. Fair has also been a consistent scorer. But the MVP for the Orange might just be freshman point guard Tyler Ennis.
Ennis scored 20 points, had two assists and committed no turnovers in the team's win on Saturday against Villanova. He's yet to have more than two turnovers in a game. This is a good time to remind everyone again that HE'S A FRESHMAN.
Ennis' ability to consistently get his team a good shot in the half court by creating off the dribble for himself and others has taken Syracuse's half-court offense from good last year (0.845 points per possession, according to Synergy) to excellent this year (0.964 points per possession).
Previous Power Ranking: 1
Arizona's length—the front line goes 7'0", 6'9" and 6'8"—is so imposing that opponents are wary to even attack the rim. On Monday, Northern Arizona didn't even attempt one shot at the rim, according to play-by-play data.
Not one dunk. Not one layup.
For the season, Arizona's opponents are attempting only 17 percent of their attempts at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com, and Iowa State is the only team in the country limiting opponents to a lower percentage of attempts. It's no coincidence that both of those teams are undefeated. It's hard to score consistently on jumpers alone.
Arizona's perimeter defense deserves some of the credit, but seeing all that size in the paint has to cause some hesitancy.
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