College Basketball Rankings 2015-16: Bleacher Report's Week 6 Top 25
This past week was a reminder of why it's smart this time of year to vote based on resumes and not as much with the eye test.
Had we used the eye test a week ago, for instance, the No. 1 team in the power rankings probably would have been North Carolina. With Marcus Paige back, the Heels looked dominant in wins over Maryland and Davidson. They still might have the best A-game in college basketball. But a loss to Texas on Saturday was a reminder of what has kept this team from the elite tier for the last few years (defense), and it was also a reminder of why it's better to weigh results over what our eyes see this time of year.
It is also far enough into the season now that the sample size is big enough that results actually mean something. Conference play will dilute some of the crazy early-season numbers, but we can at least start to see some trends developing.
So this is a numbers-driven edition of the power rankings. There's a time to trust our eyes, but for now, the numbers and results should be our guide.
Dropped from last week's rankings: Vanderbilt (14), Utah (22), Oregon (24), Gonzaga (25)
Others receiving votes: South Carolina, Georgetown, Arkansas-Little Rock
25-21: Wake Forest-George Washington
25. Wake Forest
Previous rank: Not ranked
Wake Forest's win over UCLA in Maui is starting to look better, and Danny Manning's team also owns an impressive four wins over power-conference schools.
Previous rank: 23
The Bearcats have lost two of their last three and both losses (Butler and Xavier) would have been good chances to beef up their NCAA resume. They still have two more opportunities for quality wins before conference play—at VCU and a home game against Iowa State.
Previous rank: Not ranked
The Kentucky win washed the bad taste of that season-opening Monmouth loss out of UCLA's mouth, and the win at Gonzaga on Saturday suggested that UK win wasn't just some fluke. The key to the Bruins' turnaround has been getting a number of guys playing with confidence. During their four-game winning streak, they've had four different players lead them in scoring.
22. Texas A&M
Previous rank: Not ranked
The Aggies are deep, so much so that they bring last year's second-leading scorer, Jalen Jones, off the bench. Jones is arguably the best sixth man in college basketball. He has scored more than 20 points in three of his last four games, including a season-high 25 points on Saturday in a win over Kansas State.
21. George Washington
Previous rank: Not ranked
If we were picking a transfer of the year to date, former Wake Forest forward Tyler Cavanaugh would have to be in the discussion. Cavanaugh is leading the Colonials in scoring (16.1 PPG) and rebounding (7.8 RPG). He's been a nice complement to pass-happy big man Kevin Larsen, and that frontcourt is the reason GW should be the favorite to win the Atlantic 10.
20-16: West Virginia-Villanova
20. West Virginia
Previous rank: 15
The Mountaineers can take away two positives from their 16-point loss to Virginia last Tuesday: They controlled the game for a half—leading by six at halftime—and they forced one of the least turnover-prone teams in the country into 19 turnovers. Only three WVU opponent all season (Richmond) has managed to have less than 19 giveaways.
Previous rank: 20
Kris Dunn has been awesome, as expected, but the Friars are where they are because of Ben Bentil and Rodney Bullock. Both have kind of come out of nowhere. Bentil is averaging a team-best 17.5 points per game after averaging just 6.4 points last year, and Bullock, who sat out as a freshman and then missed all of last season with a leg injury, is averaging 13.9 points per game.
17. (tie) Louisville
Previous rank: 16
Louisville is playing a crummy schedule, but we cannot ignore the drubbing Rick Pitino's boys are putting on their competition. The Cards are outscoring opponents by 30.6 points per game, and their close loss at Michigan State offers proof this team is for real.
17. (tie) Arizona
Previous rank: 17
Arizona has had some bad injury luck—Ray Smith (ACL—out for the year), Kaleb Tarczewski (foot injury—missed last five games), Ryan Anderson (ankle—missed one game) and Kadeem Allen (ankle—didn't miss a game)—so it's impressive this team is 9-1. It's a testament to head coach Sean Miller's recruiting that his team has been able to withstand all the injuries.
Previous rank: 5
The Wildcats had a good three-point shooting day on Sunday in a win over La Salle, making 13-of-28 from deep following their 4-of-32 performance in a loss to Oklahoma. It'll be interesting to see if the Wildcats keep jacking so many threes. It's hard to justify a team taking more than half of its shots from beyond the arc, as Nova does, when that team is shooting only 30.4 percent from that range.
Previous rank: 18
Butler's defense is not nearly as stingy as it was a year ago, but the offense is so good that it hasn't mattered much. It's also made the Bulldogs a lot of fun to watch.
They rank second nationally in scoring, at 91.7 points per game, and have topped 80 points in six of their nine games. Even if you were to take away their 144 points in the opener against Citadel—yes, the Bulldogs scored 144! in one game!—they'd still be averaging 85.1 points.
13. (tie) SMU
Previous rank: 21
The Mustangs look like a team that would be capable of making a Final Four run, but they're incapable of that because of a postseason ban that was announced after any players could transfer.
Jordan Tolbert serves as this week's reminder of how much that really blows. Tolbert transferred after three miserable years at Texas Tech. He stuck with the program during and after the Billy Gillispie era, but he decided to transfer after his junior season in search of a program where he could make the NCAA tournament. He thought that's what he was getting at SMU, where he sat out last season.
Tolbert is averaging 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds, and he scored 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting in SMU's most recent win over Michigan. If Tolbert could play in the NCAA tournament, it would be a great story, but...sigh.
13. (tie) Miami
Previous rank: 19
The Hurricanes are deep—eight players average better than six points per game—and they have a legitimate star in Sheldon McClellan.
McClellan is averaging 16.8 points per game, and he has been extremely efficient. He's making 54.8 percent of his threes, 61.5 percent of his twos and 87.8 percent of his free throws. If he keeps this up, he'll be in the All-American conversation and Miami could be a legitimate title contender. The Hurricanes' depth and talent is that good.
Previous rank: 13
My one big question for Baylor is whether Lester Medford can cut it at point guard, and Medford's struggles in an early-season loss to Oregon—he put up a line of two points, one assist and six turnovers—really hurt the Baylor offense in that game.
But Medford has responded by taking great care of the ball since. Since that Oregon game, he has 36 assists and five turnovers. That's coming against mostly crummy competition, but his play against Vanderbilt (15 points, five assists and one turnover) was encouraging.
Keep a close eye on how Medford plays in the first handful of Baylor's Big 12 games. If he keeps his turnovers down, Baylor has the talent to figure into the top tier of the league with Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State.
11. North Carolina
Previous rank: 2
North Carolina's loss at Texas on Saturday was yet another reminder that the one thing that has always held this team back is its defense.
The Longhorns scored 84 points, their second-most points this season and their second-most efficient game as well. A December road loss against a Big 12 team is nothing to freak out about, but at some point the Heels need to figure out that they cannot be elite until they learn to bring it on defense consistently.
Previous rank: 10
Two years ago, Virginia went 9-4 in the nonconference, and there were few signs of what was to come. Since that time, Tony Bennett's team is 59-8 and has had back-to-back 16-2 campaigns in the ACC.
The ACC was supposed to be good this year, but it's probably even better than expected with Miami, Louisville and Syracuse all outplaying expectations. Even Duke is looking better than expected, and North Carolina on some nights looks like the best team in the nation.
But, as has become the norm, Virginia is humming along and had an impressive win over previously unbeaten West Virginia this past week. A three-peat is not going to be easy, but at this point, shouldn't we start expecting it?
Previous rank: 12
Xavier doesn't have quite the same level of quality wins as Michigan State, but you could argue that Xavier is the one team whose resume stacks up to MSU and in some ways surpasses it.
The Musketeers have played four teams ranked in the kenpom.com top 50—same as the Spartans—and they've won those games by an average of 16.3 points. Sparty's average margin of victory in those games is 7.3 points. It's not apples to apples, since none of Xavier's wins compares to Michigan State's win over Kansas. But other than that, the main reason most probably see the two teams differently is preseason ranking.
Had the Musketeers been a Top 15 team in the preseason, as the Spartans were, the Musketeers would probably be ranked in the top three of every single poll this week.
Previous rank: 11
Purdue's inside trio of Isaac Haas, A.J. Hammons and Caleb Swanigan is getting a lot of love this season, and deservedly so. They've been great, averaging a combined 37 points and shooting 55.1 percent from the field.
But head coach Matt Painter's ability to surround them with three-point shooters has allowed them space to operate. The Boilermakers are shooting 37.3 percent from deep and attempting 25.1 threes per game, compared to 32.7 percent on only 17.6 attempts per game last season. The inside-outside balance makes Purdue really hard to guard and is more sustainable than some of the three-happy offenses that lack interior scoring.
Previous rank: 9
I was skeptical of Duke coming into the season, but I'm starting to come around because of the play of veterans Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson. The three have been better than expected this season on the offensive end and are a reflection of the schooling they get under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Plumlee and Jefferson have never been known for their offensive abilities, but they know how to play to their strengths and have been very savvy in their shot selection. Between the three veteran starters, they have an effective field-goal percentage of 61.9 percent, which has taken some of the pressure off star guard Grayson Allen and freshman Brandon Ingram.
Jones has arguably been just as valuable as Allen, because not only is he providing outside shooting, he's also logged a lot of minutes out of position at point guard. Jones has done a solid job getting Duke into its offense, and he has only nine turnovers on the year.
Previous rank: 4
Kentucky needs more out of freshman Skal Labissiere, and it's an eye-opener when a guy who is expected to be a one-and-done lottery pick has a line like Labissiere had Saturday against Arizona State (zero points, zero rebounds and five fouls in 13 minutes).
To help ease the paranoia of UK fans, here are Labissiere's averages compared to another former UK freshman through 10 games:
- Labissiere: 10.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 58.2 percent shooting, 21.6 minutes
- Former 'Cat: 9.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 53.8 percent shooting, 18.8 minutes
Other than rebounding, Labissiere's numbers stack up.
And that former Wildcat is Karl Anthony-Towns.
Last year's squad had more depth and talent and didn't need Towns to be as good as this group needs Labissiere to be, but it took time for Towns to really get cooking, and Labissiere deserves some patience.
4. (tie) Maryland
Previous rank: 6
Melo Trimble dropped 25 points and attempted 15 free throws against UConn this week, and that was in line with his other performances against legit competition this year.
Against opponents ranked in the top 50 of kenpom.com's rankings (Georgetown, Rhode Island, North Carolina and UConn), Trimble has been extremely aggressive, averaging 22.3 points, 5.5 assists and 9.8 free-throw attempts per game.
Against all other opponents, Trimble is averaging 11.5 points, 5.2 assists and 3.2 free-throw attempts per game.
Big Ten teams should have a blast trying to defend an aggressive Trimble.
4. (tie) Iowa State
Previous rank: 8
Iowa State had a ridiculous comeback Thursday night against Iowa, rallying from 20 points down to win on Monte Morris' game-winner in the final seconds.
For anyone who has witnessed Hilton Magic or has even just been paying attention to these Cyclones this calendar year, it wasn't shocking.
Since March, the Cyclones have won six games in which they have trailed by double digits.
- March 2: Trailed Oklahoma 39-18 and ended up winning 77-70.
- March 7: Trailed TCU 28-18 and won 89-76.
- March 12 (Big 12 tournament quarterfinals): Trailed Texas 32-16 and were down 10 with 3:46 left in the game. Won 69-67.
- March 13 (Big 12 semis): Trailed Oklahoma 21-10. Won 67-65.
- March 14 (Big 12 championship): Trailed Kansas 40-23. Won 70-66.
- Thursday: Trailed Iowa 62-42 and trailed by eight with less than two minutes left. Finished game on a 9-0 run to remain undefeated.
Previous rank: 7
A lot of attention was given this week to why the heck the Villanova Wildcats would attempt 32 threes on a night they weren't shooting worth a lick (they made four threes).
What got overlooked was OU's super-hot three-point shooting in that game (14-of-26)—that probably had a lot to do with 'Nova jacking all those threes to just try to keep up. This wasn't an anomaly either. The Sooners lead the country in three-point field-goal percentage (48.7 percent). There's sure to be some regression to the mean, but we're far enough into the season that there is some legitimacy to this number.
Even more impressive than the team percentage is the fact that OU's four starters who have attempted a three are all shooting at least 50 percent or better from deep. Those four starters have combined to make 52.9 percent of their threes, with all four attempting at least 15 shots from deep.
Previous rank: 3
This summer, the biggest reason Kansas won the World University Games was the play of junior guard Wayne Selden, who moved to small forward and averaged 19.3 points per game.
He's also the biggest reason KU could be a legit threat to win the national title this season. The junior is leading KU in scoring at 16.6 points per game and making 60 percent of his threes.
Selden is much more confident this season and smarter in the way he attacks. Age and maturity play a factor, and Bill Self's decision to start two point guards has also helped. The move to small forward has freed Selden from ball-handling responsibilities and set him up for better looks on the perimeter.
1. Michigan State
Previous rank: 1
The Spartans are sharing the ball better than any team in the last 15 seasons. They are assisting on 80.4 percent of their buckets, which is the highest assist rate in Ken Pomeroy's database—the previous high was 72.5 percent by Belmont in 2001-02.
Michigan State's talent doesn't stack up with some of the other top-ranked teams, but playing smart and unselfish basketball can be a great equalizer. It starts with Denzel Valentine. When your best player is unselfish and not hunting shots, that's infectious to the rest of the team.
Making the extra pass has also helped the Spartans get a lot of good looks from the perimeter. They've made 93 threes, and 90 of those baskets have been assisted, per Hoop-Math.com. If the Spartans keep playing like this, they should compete for the Big Ten title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.