College Basketball

NCAA Basketball Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 15 Poll

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterFebruary 10, 2014

NCAA Basketball Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 15 Poll

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    This past week, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike that college basketball is in the "best place it's ever been" because of the parity in the game. 

    This coming from the coach of the No. 1 team in the country. 

    Boeheim is no fool. Even with an undefeated team, he knows that the Orange are not that far ahead of the pack. 

    If the tournament started today—and that's how we base these power rankings—the Orange would be the title favorite, but not by much. 

    In fact, I'm about ready to lean toward Florida. When I started filling out my ballot this week, I strongly considered going with Florida ahead of Syracuse as my pick to win the title. 

    In the end, I stuck with Syracuse. But to speak to how hard it is to come to a consensus, the Orange at No. 1 was the only slot where all three voters (Jason King, Kerry Miller and myself) agreed.

    Parity is good for the game, especially if you like debate. 

25-21: Pittsburgh-SMU

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    David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

    25. Wisconsin (19-5, 6-5 Big Ten): The Badgers have a chance this week to avenge two of their losses against Minnesota and Michigan. If they can get through their upcoming three-game stretch, which also includes Iowa, with a couple of wins, they'll be in good shape down the stretch as their final four games are all against the Big Ten's bottom half.

    24. Ohio State (19-5, 6-5 Big Ten): It's time to stop picking on the Buckeyes for their midseason slump and applaud the coaching job Thad Matta has done to turn things around. Since losing five of six, the Buckeyes have won three straight, including road wins at Iowa and Wisconsin.

    23. Oklahoma (18-6, 7-4 Big 12): Oklahoma sophomore guard Buddy Hield is averaging 18.4 points and shooting 44.2 percent from beyond the arc in conference play. In a star-heavy Big 12, Hield is the one guy who is often overlooked.

    22. Memphis (18-5, 7-3 AAC): With five minutes and 15 seconds left against Gonzaga on Saturday and trailing by nine, Memphis had an 8.2 percent chance to win, according to Ken Pomeroy's projections (subscription required). That makes the Tigers' six-point win—their third over a ranked opponent this year—all the more impressive.

    21. Connecticut (18-5, 6-4 AAC): The Huskies appear to be one of those teams that takes care of business against the opponents it should beat. Even when the Huskies don't play well, Shabazz Napier has typically bailed them out. 

20-16: SMU-Cincinnati

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    Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

    20. SMU (19-5, 8-3 AAC): My colleague Jason King was at SMU for its signature win over Cincinnati on Saturday. King shared this nugget that should change on Monday: SMU has not been ranked in the Associated Press poll since 1985.

    19. Michigan (17-6, 9-2 Big Ten): Michigan has been a better team since Mitch McGary went out in mid-December, but the big fella was missed on Saturday at Iowa. The Wolverines looked undersized and got big-boyed by the Hawkeyes.

    18. Texas (18-5, 7-3 Big 12): During UT's seven-game winning streak, big man Cameron Ridley averaged 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds. The Longhorns' success is directly tied to Ridley's, proved in Saturday's loss to K-State when Ridley scored just five points on 2-of-7 shooting.

    17. Saint Louis (22-2, 9-0 A-10): Dating back to last season, the Billikens have won 47 of their last 53 games. That's better than any team in the country during that stretch.

    16. Cincinnati (22-3, 11-1 AAC): Cincy fans should not sweat the loss at SMU on Saturday too much. The Bearcats had won 15 straight, were playing their third game in seven days and one of the best defenses in the country wasn't its usual self.

15-11: Michigan State-Virginia

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    Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    15. Michigan State (20-4, 9-2 Big Ten): At full strength, the Spartans are one of three best teams in the country. At their current strength—down starters Keith Appling and Branden Dawson—they're a borderline top-20 team that just didn't have quite enough to win on the road at Wisconsin on Sunday. 

    14. Louisville (19-4, 8-2 AAC): The Cardinals are knocking down 41 percent of their threes since conference play started. This team, much more so than last year's, features a typical Rick Pitino-style offense.

    13. Iowa State (18-4, 6-4 Big 12): In the last three games, Iowa State has been led in scoring by Georges Niang (27 points vs. Oklahoma), DeAndre Kane (26 at Oklahoma State) and Melvin Ejim (48 vs. TCU). Is there a better three-headed monster in the country? I don't think so.

    12. Kentucky (18-5, 8-2 SEC): In certain moments this year, the Wildcats have looked like the elite team everyone expected, but too often (like Saturday against Mississippi State) they sleepwalk. We're getting late enough in the year that they should no longer be able to hide behind the youth excuse.

    11. Virginia (19-5, 10-1 ACC): The Cavaliers are playing the best defense in the country since conference play started. During their current seven-game winning streak, they've held three different opponents to 45 points.

10. Creighton

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 19-4, 9-2 in Big East

    In 2014, Creighton's offense has only been held under 68 twice—both times against St. John's. 

    On Sunday, the Red Storm got payback from 12 days prior when Doug McDermott hit a game-winner in the final seconds. 

    If there's a recipe for slowing down Creighton that St. John's has figured out, it's let McDermott get his and focus on the rest of the Bluejays. In their two games, McDermott has scored exactly half of his team's points. The other Bluejays have combined to shoot 21-of-59. 

9. Iowa

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    Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Spor

    Record: 18-6, 7-4 in Big Ten

    Going into Saturday, Iowa was 1-6 against RPI Top 25 teams. 

    The Hawkeyes are better than that record, but they needed to show it against a good team. They did so against Michigan. 

    "I'd never say a game was a must-win," senior Roy Devyn Marble told me on Saturday. "But this was a game that was very important in our development as a team and going down the stretch and really trying to establish ourselves in the conference and the country."

8. Villanova

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 21-2, 9-1 in Big East

    The Wildcats have recovered nicely since the three-point fest that they fell victim to against Creighton three weeks ago.

    In a strictly Villanova-based world, that game was an anomaly. (It is, however, not shocking considering it was Creighton.) It's extremely rare for the Wildcats to get outscored from the three-point line. In their last 19 games, the Cats have made more threes than their opponents 16 times.

    Villanova gets its rematch next Sunday at Creighton, and you better believe it will be a focus on trying to win the three-point battle. At the very least, it would be a good idea to not let Creighton jack up 35 threes again.

7. Duke

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 19-5, 8-3 in ACC

    Duke has surpassed Creighton as the most efficient offense in the country. That's significant because that means Duke is now performing at the level of the most efficient offense of the kenpom.com era (dating back to 2003-04).

    What the Blue Devils have done over the last five games would make the McDermotts jealous. They have scored 1.36 points per possession over that stretch, and their output in each game has been the highest efficiency against each respective opponent's defense this year.

    It's not like those performances were against scrubtastic defenses either. This five-game stretch started with Florida State, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, traditionally three of the best defenses in the country and all in the top 25 for defensive efficiency this year.

6. San Diego State

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    Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press

    Record: 21-1, 10-0 in Mountain West

    How much of a luxury is it to have a senior point guard like San Diego State's Xavier Thames?

    In three of the last seven games, the Aztecs have had only four turnovers, and once they had just six giveaways.

    When the game slows down in March and half-court offense is at a premium, the team that doesn't waste possessions is usually a successful one.

    Thames doesn't deserve all the credit here—he did recently have a five-turnover game—but I doubt Fisher would trade him for anyone. He scores (20.6 points per game in his last 11 games), and he typically makes sure the Aztecs get up a shot.

5. Kansas

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 18-5, 9-1 in Big 12

    Andrew Wiggins in transition has not disappointed this season.

    Bill Self can pretty much count on getting a couple of buckets per game based off Wiggins' speed. The freshman guard has scored 99 points in 70 transition opportunities.

    Among major-conference players with at least 50 transition possessions, Wiggins is the fifth-most efficient scorer in the country in transition, according to Synergy Sports Technology (subscription needed).

    1. Delon Wright, Utah—1.59 points per possession
    2. Joseph Young, Oregon—1.45
    3. Trevor Releford, Alabama—1.449
    4. Trevor Cooney, Syracuse—1.429
    5. Wiggins, Kansas—1.414

    The common strategy when Wiggins gets in the open court is to simply foul him and hope he misses at the line. He has been fouled 34.3 percent of the time in transition, per Synergy.

4. Wichita State

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    Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    Record: 25-0, 12-0 in Missouri Valley

    When I was in Wichita last weekend to write the story on the Shockers' pursuit of perfection, senior big man Chadrack Lufile told me: "Last year when I watched from the bench, I used to get nervous and hope Coach didn't call my name."

    On Wednesday night in the final minute at Indiana State, Lufile went to the free-throw line with Wichita State ahead by three. And the guy who was scared to see the floor a year ago calmly made both free throws. He would make another two free throws in the final seconds to ice the game.

    Gregg Marshall has a special ability to get his guys to play with supreme confidence. That's one reason why the Shockers have the moxie to finish off this perfect regular season. And after the wins over Indiana State and Northern Iowa this past week, the possibility has gone from somewhat likely to almost a given.

3. Arizona

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Record: 23-1, 10-1 in Pac-12

    If there's one tiny aspect of the Brandon Ashley injury that could benefit the Wildcats—or rather a Wildcat—it's Aaron Gordon's move from small forward to power forward. 

    Gordon hasn't looked that comfortable away from the bucket, and he's struggled with his jumper. Getting Gordon closer to the bucket is not such a bad thing for the Wildcats, and now when he ventures outside, it'll be a mismatch against bigger, slower defenders. 

    It appeared to work on Sunday against Oregon State. Gordon scored 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting starting at the 4-spot. That's the most he has scored since Jan. 4. 

2. Florida

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 21-2, 10-0 in SEC

    Florida has won 15 straight games, and mostly, that's a credit to Billy Donovan's defense. The Gators are elite on that end and while the same cannot be said for their offense, they do deserve some credit for being consistently good in that regard.

    During the 15-game winning streak, the Gators have scored better than a point per possession in every game. To show the difficulty of such a feat, I went through the game-by-game efficiencies of each of the top 10 offenses according to kenpom.com, and only two teams (Kentucky and Toledo) made it through that stretch without at least one game below a point per possession. Even Duke and Creighton—the top two offenses—had one game apiece where they slipped.

    Maybe that's an indictment on SEC defenses, but I look at it more as a reason why the Gators are one of the top title contenders. None of the other consistently good offenses in the country can pair with that a defense as dominant as Florida's.

1. Syracuse

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 23-0, 10-0 in ACC

    Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis had his typical veteran-like line (five assists and one turnover) on Sunday against Clemson. 

    Through 23 games, Ennis has only had more than two turnovers once all season. That's unheard of from a point guard who controls the ball as much as Ennis and takes chances trying to create for himself and others. 

    To put this in perspective, here are the number of games with more than two turnovers for some of the other elite (and older) point guards in the country: 

    • T.J. McConnell, Arizona: 4
    • Scottie Wilbekin, Florida: 6
    • Keith Appling, Michigan State: 5
    • Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: 4
    • Aaron Craft, Ohio State: 11
    • Xavier Thames, San Diego State: 6
    • Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: 12
    • Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: 14

    Hard to believe a freshman is making the more experienced point guards in the country look careless. 

     

    C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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