Bleacher Report's College Basketball Power Rankings Week 2: The Top 25 Teams
That was the only year the Final Four went chalk, and those four teams were clearly the best four teams in the country all year. They simply had more pros than everyone else.
It's only two weeks in, but watching Tuesday's Champions Classic brought back memories of the 2008 Final Four. Those four teams in Chicago are too talented to fail. With Duke, Kansas and Kentucky, they're so young that we're not even close to seeing their best ball, and Tuesday was pretty darn good.
Add in Louisville and possibly Arizona and you have six teams with elite talent that could separate themselves this year much like the 2008 teams did.
Sorry, mid-majors. It's the year of the blue bloods.
Teams to Watch: BYU, Arizona State, Indiana, Harvard, UCLA, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota
Dropped Out of Power Rankings: Marquette, Tennessee, Virginia
All advanced stats, unless otherwise noted, come from KenPom.com (subscription needed).
25. Boise State
Previous Power Ranking: Not ranked
Boise State has put up 226 points in two games thus far. The opponents have been no one of note, but 226 points is impressive no matter the opponent.
Leon Rice returned his six leading scorers from an NCAA tournament team that shot 38.7 percent from three. The Broncos have knocked down 50 percent of their threes in two games. They're not going to keep shooting like this, but they're going to be a scary team all year because of all those shooters.
Mark your calendars for an upset alert on Dec. 10 when Boise State travels to Kentucky.
24. North Carolina
Previous Power Ranking: 12
After losing on Sunday to Belmont, the Heels are still ranked because of the assumptions that P.J. Hairston will return at some point, the Heels will look like a different team with him and it'll be a long time before they miss 26 free throws in one game again.
Since the 1997-98 season, the Heels have shot worse than their 45.8 percent at the line against Belmont 13 times, according to Statsheet.com's database. But in those 13 games, the most free throws they missed was 15 in a win against Florida Atlantic last year.
Previous Power Ranking: Not ranked
Nothing spectacular to report about how Wisconsin beat Florida and St. John's, two of the better non-conference wins by any team thus far.
The Badgers have benefited from the return of guard Josh Gasser. Gasser was supposed to be the starting point guard last season and missed the year because of an ACL tear in the preseason. He is averaging 10 points per game so far and has been a steadying presence.
Previous Power Ranking: 25
Dana Altman rebuilt his roster this offseason with transfers and it's paying off swimmingly thus far.
Joseph Young (from Houston), Mike Moser (from UNLV), Jason Calliste (from Detroit) and Elgin Cook (from Northwest Florida State) are the team's four leading scorers. Moser and Young could end as one of the best inside-outside duos in the country. The two are averaging 50.5 points per game through two games. Young has benefited from the new rules, making 27 of 28 free throws in his first two games.
21. Saint Louis
Previous Power Ranking: 23
There's nothing overly spectacular about the Billikens. They're simply one of the most experienced teams in the country (four senior starters), they share the ball (five players are averaging more than nine points per game) and they get stops (opponents are averaging 63 points).
That all adds up to a lot of winning. The Billikens have now won 19 of their last 21.
Previous Power Ranking: 22
Connecticut is one of the most difficult teams to defend in the country because of the quickness of guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. The Huskies can spread you out and it's impossible not to help off Napier and Boatright.
Through four games, the byproduct of their penetration has been a hot shooting start. UConn is knocking down an NCAA-best 52.6 percent from deep, and all of the threes that have come from anyone but Napier and Boatright have been assisted, according to Hoop-Math.com's numbers.
Senior Niels Giffey has been the biggest surprise. He's made 12 of 15 from deep, already setting a personal record for threes made in a season.
19. Wichita State
Previous Power Ranking: 21
What's so impressive about Gregg Marshall's program is the consistency no matter what his team returns. Last season's Final Four run came with five new starters.
On paper, one of the most difficult guys to replace this year was point guard Malcolm Armstead. Well, Fred VanVleet has stepped right in and is off to a great start. VanVleet is second on the team in scoring at 12.5 points per game and leads the team in assists (23) and steals (12).
Previous Power Ranking: 20
Business as usual so far for Doug McDermott. He's averaging 25.7 points per game, knocking down 53.3 percent of his threes and 56.6 percent of his twos.
Channeling Jon Gruden voice...
This is a guy whom defenses know is going to get the ball and he just keeps producing.
Dating back to last season, McDermott has scored 20 or more points in 10 of his last 11 games.
Previous Power Ranking: 19
The biggest change from last year's Baylor and this year's Baylor is that Scott Drew added some length on the wing, which has allowed him to play more zone again. Mixing defenses is something the Bears did two years ago when they went to the Elite Eight.
The early results have been positive. Baylor opponents are shooting just 25 percent from distance and 38.2 percent inside the arc. The Bears have also blocked 21 shots.
16. Iowa State
Previous Power Ranking: Not ranked
Fred Hoiberg is as good as it gets at taking advantage of mismatches and putting defenders in an unfamiliar spot.
In Sunday's win over Michigan, Hoiberg had big man Georges Niang bring the ball up on several possessions and also posted up 6'4" point guard DeAndre Kane.
The Cyclones usually depend on making threes, so the fact that they shot just 30 percent from deep in the 77-70 victory over the Wolverines makes the win even more eye-opening.
Previous Power Ranking: 9
You can't really judge Florida until Billy Donovan has all his pieces. Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith played for the first time on Saturday and scored 17 points off the bench in 16 minutes. Next up is getting point guard Scottie Wilbekin back from suspension.
14. New Mexico
Previous Power Ranking: 17
It's early, but if there's an identity of the Craig Neal era thus far, it's pounding the ball inside. The Lobos are taking advantage of one of the better front lines in the country. Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow are averaging a combined 55.5 points per game. Bairstow, who had an impressive summer playing for Australia in international competition, is averaging 25.5 points and shooting 78.3 percent.
Previous Power Ranking: 15
Shaka Smart's "Havoc" has not been ruined by the new rules. The Rams have forced 66 giveaways in three games, including 19 forced turnovers against a Virginia team that has traditionally taken good care of the ball.
Previous Power Ranking: 14
Memphis gets its first real test of the season on Tuesday at Oklahoma State. With the addition of former Missouri guard Michael Dixon, the Tigers are in the conversation for best backcourt in the country. They'll get an opportunity to measure themselves against one of the other top backcourts in Marcus Smart and Markel Brown.
Previous Power Ranking: 13
Mark Few's machine has rolled on so far in the early season. The Zags lost one of the most efficient players in the country when Kelly Olynyk went to the NBA, yet the offense has not suffered thus far. The Zags are knocking down 61.7 percent of their twos and 45.7 percent of their threes.
Previous Power Ranking: 7
No shame in losing on the road Sunday at Iowa State. Michigan had to come away feeling decent about the loss, considering Mitch McGary returned from his ailing back injury and was able to play 22 productive minutes, racking up nine points, six rebounds and four steals.
He wasn't the McGary of March, and that had as much to do with the absence of Trey Burke as it did rustiness.
Freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. has just seven assists in three games. He cannot be Burke, but luckily John Beilein has found another playmaker in Nik Stauskas.
In addition to leading the team in scoring, Stauskas has 13 assists in three games and is playing more with the ball in his hands. Most thought that the role Stauskas is playing would be filled by Glenn Robinson III, but Stauskas appears to be the guy. Walton will get better, and it helps that he has some assistance from Stauskas.
9. Ohio State
Previous Power Ranking: 11
Ohio State got an impressive 52-35 win on the road at Marquette on Saturday, and Thad Matta's defense looked as stingy as ever.
There is reason to worry for the Buckeyes, however, in this new Deshaun Thomas-less era.
When the Buckeyes weren't scoring on the break, they scored just 36 points on 57 possessions, which works out to a measly 0.63 points per possession. They did get 16 fast-break points, and turning defense into quick offense will be a key for the Buckeyes until they figure out how to attack in the half court without Thomas.
8. Oklahoma State
Previous Power Ranking: 9
I'm going to break the rule that anytime you mention Oklahoma State, you have to talk about how great Marcus Smart is. It's time to give some love to his old high school teammate, Phil Forte.
It was clear to anyone who watched Oklahoma State last year that Forte was a great shooter, but his numbers didn't exactly reflect that. He shot just 33.8 percent from deep. Forte is playing his own game of pop-a-shot through Oklahoma State's first three games.
The little gunner has made 14 of 22 threes, he's made all five of his shots inside the arc, and he's also a perfect 11-of-11 from the free-throw line. He's leading the Cowboys in scoring at 21 points per game.
Think Forte got a scholly on the coattails of his buddy Smart? Not with that stroke.
Previous Power Ranking: 8
Syracuse's offense could take some time to find itself with freshman Tyler Ennis taking over for Michael Carter-Williams at point guard, but the zone is already producing like it always produces.
The Orange are averaging 13 steals per game, have forced 57 turnovers and have 13 blocks in three games. They are coming away with a steal on 18.8 percent of possessions, which is best in the country, and they're blocking 21 percent of opponents' two-point attempts, which ranks fifth nationally.
It's early, but the Orange have ranked in the top 10 in both categories each of the last four years.
Previous Power Ranking: 6
Arizona's offense is benefiting so far from playing with a true point guard in T.J. McConnell. McConnell has 20 assists through three games, which is more than former point guard Mark Lyons had in a three-game stretch all of last season.
It's not just the assists, either; it's the type of shots that McConnell is getting his teammates. McConnell has assisted on eight of Arizona's 15 threes, and nine of his assists have led to dunks or layups.
Previous Power Ranking: 5
If we could redo the preseason All-American picks two weeks in, I'm pretty sure everyone would include Jabari Parker.
Duke has some interior defensive issues that Kansas exposed but will still be a Top Five team all year if Parker stays healthy.
Parker is the most complete scorer as a freshman in college basketball since Kevin Durant. Let's compare Parker's first three games to Durant's his freshman year at Texas.
- Parker: 23.3 points per game, 2.0 assists per game, 72.2 effective FG percentage
- Durant: 20.7 points per game, 1.3 assists per game, 51.1 effective FG percentage
Texas was DVR-worthy every game that year. The same rule should apply to Parker.
Previous Power Ranking: 2
It said something that Kentucky nearly knocked off an experienced Michigan State team with eight turnovers from Julius Randle and 60 percent shooting from the free-throw line. The 'Cats showed nerves early against the Spartans, as is to be expected from a bunch of freshmen, but once they settled in, they were right there at the end.
And that's what is scary about these baby 'Cats. Now that they are getting settled in, they're only going to get better and better. And it's doubtful Randle will have many eight-turnover games down the road.
Previous Power Ranking: 4
Bill Self and John Calipari have similar rosters this year. Both coaches are leaning on underclassmen—mostly freshmen—and youth can lead to some headaches early in the year.
Calipari's team lost in Tuesday's Champions Classic because of turnovers (17) and poor free-throw shooting (20-of-36). That's to be expected.
But somehow Self's young guys looked incredibly poised in Chicago. They turned the ball over only 10 times in a fast-paced 75-possession game, and they made 27 of their 35 free throws (77.1 percent).
It was a welcome change from the last time the Jayhawks were on a big stage in March against Michigan. That incredibly experienced team lost a game it controlled because of the late-game meltdown of point guard Elijah Johnson, who had five turnovers.
All the attention is on Andrew Wiggins right now—and rightfully so after his second half against Duke—but keep an eye on freshman backup point guard Frank Mason. The least-heralded recruit in KU's freshman class has yet to turn the ball over in 42 minutes and contributed an unexpected 15 points against Duke.
2. Michigan State
Previous Power Ranking: 3
For one night, Keith Appling played like one of the best point guards in the country on Tuesday against Kentucky. Appling controlled every aspect of the game, and it was reflected in his stats (22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals).
The statistic that has to please Tom Izzo the most was Appling's eight assists. Appling had pretty much forgotten what position he played last year over the last 10 games, when he had just 17 assists and only one game with more than two dimes during that stretch.
Through three games this year, Appling has 18 assists. If he can keep it up, the Spartans will live up to their lofty preseason expectations.
- Would Rick Pitino's full-court press still be effective under the new rules?
- Would Chane Behanan, who was suspended to start the year, ever play this season?
- How long would Final Four MOP Luke Hancock be out with an Achilles injury?
- Could Louisville's offense be as good without the steadying presence of former point guard Peyton Siva.
- The Cardinals are fouling even less. They're averaging two less fouls per game than last season and rank fourth nationally in opponents' free-throw rate.
- In his second game back on Friday against Cornell, Behanan had 13 points and 12 rebounds in 17 minutes.
- Also in his second game back, Hancock scored 12 points in 14 minutes and appeared to be moving just fine.
- New point guard Chris Jones has one turnover in 77 minutes, and Russ Smith is helping out as a creator with 15 assists and four turnover thus far.
Previous Power Ranking: 1
Louisville had four legitimate question marks heading into this season.
Three games in, Pitino has to be pleased with the answers.
The Cardinals are clearly ahead of schedule, and they have some time to get everything right, as their schedule is filled with gimmes until a trip to Kentucky on Dec. 28.
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