Bleacher Report's College Basketball Power Rankings Week 4: The Top 25 Teams
Four days ago, the power rankings were ready to make the middle of the country extremely happy with two Big 12 teams in the top three.
Then the weekend happened.
On Friday, Marcus Smart missed three straight free throws in the final minute and kept the door open for what would have been a major upset by Butler.
Hours later, Andrew Wiggins had a quiet 10 points and four turnovers in an ugly first loss for Kansas. The next day, Wiggins had only six points in another sloppy win.
Then on Sunday, Smart coughed up two costly turnovers in the final minute, and this time Oklahoma State did lose.
Maybe tryptophan is kryptonite for Smart and Wiggins?
Add in back-to-back losses for Creighton, and many in the middle of the country will read these power rankings with a sick stomach.
Teams to Watch: San Diego State, UCLA, Dayton, BYU, Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Illinois, Florida State, Cincinnati
Dropped Out of Power Rankings: Creighton, Saint Louis, North Carolina
All advanced stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of KenPom.com (subscription needed).
Previous Power Ranking: 25
Without Trey Burke, Michigan is leaning heavily on its wings this year and will continue to do so.
Glenn Robinson III and freshman Zak Irvin have both been off to slow starts, but they likely gained some confidence in an 87-45 win over Coppin State on Friday night without leading scorer Nik Stauskas in the lineup because of a sprained ankle.
Irvin scored 24 points, Robinson added 14 points and fellow wing Caris LeVert also had 15 points. John Beilein told MLive.com that he doesn't know if Stauskas will be able to go on Tuesday at Duke. If not, don't look for Mitch McGary to pick up the scoring, look for Michigan's wings to do so.
24. Boise State
Previous Power Ranking: 24
Boise State had its worst shooting game of the season against Portland State on Friday—4-of-16 from distance—and failed to reach 80 points for the first time all season.
So what's a bad night offensively for the Broncos?
They scored 76 points on 65 possessions.
Previous Power Ranking: 22
Iowa opponents are attempting nearly 26 threes a game. Pushing opponents out to the arc finally caught up to the Hawkeyes in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game against Villanova.
The Wildcats rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit and won in overtime by knocking down nine of 22 threes after halftime. For the season, Iowa opponents are shooting 21.8 percent from deep. So on most nights, the Hawkeyes will take their chances with forcing opponents to settle outside the arc.
Previous Power Ranking: 23
UMass has never finished better than tied for fifth place in the Atlantic 10 in Derek Kellogg's first five seasons.
The Minutemen did not play a game this past week, so let's take a look at their chances in the A-10. Preseason favorite VCU has already lost twice, including a blowout loss to Florida State. Last year's champ Saint Louis lost twice this week, but both of those losses (Wisconsin and Wichita State) were to Top 25 teams. La Salle, the other tourney team from a year ago from the A-10, is 3-4.
I'm not sure UMass has earned the right to be labeled the favorite, but Kellogg's team is in the conversation and it should be a fun race between UMass, Saint Louis, VCU and another, Dayton, off to an impressive 6-1 start.
21. New Mexico
Previous Power Ranking: 21
New Mexico is not defending at nearly as high a level as last season, and replacing the defense of Tony Snell on the wing has been an issue. But the Lobos should be able to play with just about anyone because of the offense of Alex Kirk, Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams.
Together, they are averaging 59.6 points per game and Bairstow is the only one of the three with a game in which he did not score in double digits—he had eight points in 24 foul-plagued minutes in the loss to UMass.
Previous Power Ranking: 10
Gonzaga's one loss in Maui—84-79 to Dayton—was in a game that Gonzaga led by 16 late in the first half. The difference in the second half was Dayton made eight of 13 threes after making just one of eight in the first half.
The fact that the Flyers heated up and pulled off the upset probably isn't anything to get too worried about. Only one other opponent (Oakland) has shot better than 40 percent from deep against the Zags.
It is noteworthy, however, that a big reason for Gonzaga's early tourney exit last year was Wichita State knocking down 14 threes. It's something to keep an eye on when Gonzaga plays legit competition.
Previous Power Ranking: 16
Baylor never really threatened Syracuse in the Maui championship game but made a little bit of a run late to make the score respectable.
The Bears made that comeback when they were attacking and getting the ball in the middle of the zone. One way to do that was with 7'1" Isaiah Austin. Austin, who made four of five shots but didn't get enough touches, has not played up to his lottery-pick talent thus far.
Part of the problem is Austin is not asserting himself enough, although Baylor's guards could do a better job of getting him the ball as well. The Bears have the pieces to be good, but they need more from Austin.
Previous Power Ranking: Not ranked
Jay Wright has the rare defense that is forcing a lot of turnovers (16.4 per game) and keeping opponents from shooting a high percentage inside the arc (40.6 percent).
Kansas had made 63.6 percent of its twos going into the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals and made just 19 of 43 against the Wildcats, and that wasn't the worst of it. KU's 0.83 points per possession was the team's second-worst output in the past five years. The only one worst was KU's shocking loss last year at TCU.
Previous Power Ranking: Not ranked
Ken Pomeroy's rankings had Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the country going into Sunday's games. Pomeroy's ratings are still influenced by where he had teams in the preseason, and his system has always been high on Jamie Dixon's teams
As for the rest of us, myself included, most have been hesitant to believe in the Panthers considering they graduated last year's leading scorer Tray Woodall and lost lottery pick Steven Adams.
The Panthers haven't played a great schedule, but their closest wins have been by 19 over Stanford and 17 over Duquesne. That's convincing enough for me to start buying Pittsburgh.
Previous Power Ranking: 20
After three easy blowout wins this weekend at the Global Sports Hardwood Challenge in Eugene—the tourney's name is misleading—Oregon should get tested over the next three weekends. The Ducks make a trip to Ole Miss, then play Illinois in Portland the following weekend and play BYU at home on Dec. 21.
Since the Ducks knocked off Georgetown in their opener, their closest game has been a 15-point win over Utah Valley. If they win those three games and remain undefeated, no one will be able to question their ranking.
Previous Power Ranking: Not ranked
What was the difference between the beating Memphis took at Oklahoma State and Sunday's payback win in the Old Spice Classic Championship?
Mainly, the Tigers competed and didn't let Oklahoma State's runs bother them. And then there was guard play.
In the first meeting, Memphis' four senior guards combined to score 21 points and had 10 turnovers. On Sunday, they combined for 45 points, had only six turnovers and held Marcus Smart to 12 points after he'd lit them up for 39 in the first game.
Previous Power Ranking: 14
I withheld judgment on Florida until Scottie Wilbekin returned, and I'm still holding out to fully judge Billy Donovan's team until freshman point guard Kasey Hill returns from an ankle injury and freshman big man Chris Walker joins the team, both of which could happen in mid-December.
The early returns on the Gators with Wilbekin were good this week. In two games, including a one-point win against Florida State, the senior guard had 15 assists and eight steals.
Previous Power Ranking: 17
One reason Bo Ryan's offense was not its usually highly efficient self last year was poor three-point shooting. The Badgers shot just 33 percent from deep last year and are knocking down 43.6 percent of their threes so far this year.
The improvement from distance is not likely the result of a small sample size or simply an early hot start. Ryan has replaced the minutes used by Jared Berggren (25.3 percent from deep last year) and Mike Bruesewitz (28.3 percent) with Josh Gasser (45 percent) and Frank Kaminsky (48 percent).
12. Wichita State
Previous Power Ranking: 13
What stuck me last week about watching Wichita State in Kansas City was nothing shakes that team. The Shockers, much like during their March run, do not let missed shots or any kind of adversity get to them.
Sunday was another example. Wichita State trailed on the road at Saint Louis by seven with less than seven minutes left and came back to win 70-65. That's a Saint Louis team that returned four starters and was a No. 4 seed in the tourney last year.
As I wrote this past week, I believe the Shockers are better this year than their Final Four team, and they have a star in Ron Baker, who went for 22 points, six rebounds and four steals against the Billikens.
Previous Power Ranking: 11
Connecticut will be either a Top 20 or Top 10 team this year depending on the play of the often-inconsistent DeAndre Daniels.
Daniels scored only 19 points in UConn's first three games, including going scoreless against Yale, but he's looked better as of late, scoring 20 or more points in three of the past four games. That one game where he didn't get 20 (against Indiana) was the toughest opponent in that stretch.
It would be nice to see Daniels produce against a NCAA tournament-caliber team, and he'll have a chance on Monday against Florida.
Previous Power Ranking: 5
In the Arizona slide later on, you'll see how Arizona's length gave Duke issues in the paint and is discouraging teams to get to the rim.
Duke's lack of length inside has had the opposite effect. Arizona took 21 of its 47 field-goal attempts at the rim. On the season, Duke's opponents are attempting 38 percent of their shots at the rim and shooting 63.8 percent there, according to Hoop-Math.com. That field-goal percentage defense at the rim ranks 272nd nationally.
Previous Power Ranking: 19
After an impressive showing in Maui, I realize that I may have overreacted to some close losses against bad teams at home for Syracuse. My reason for concern for the Orange was not enough offense and an over-reliance on C.J. Fair.
Coming into the season, I was high on both Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant—they both made my preseason top 100 players—and their early struggles gave way to my concerns. Look at what Ennis and Grant did pre-Maui and then in Maui, and there's reason now to jump back on that Syracuse bandwagon.
- Pre-Maui Ennis (4 games): 7.8 points per game, made only 23.8 percent of his twos, 3.8 assists per game
- Maui Ennis (3 games): 13.7 points per game, made 45.8 percent percent of his twos (62.5 percent in final two games), 6.0 assists per game
- Pre-Maui Grant (3 games): 11.7 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting
- Maui Grant (3 games): 16.7 points per game on 57.6 percent shooting
8. Iowa State
Previous Power Ranking: 9
Iowa State had an easy week, blowing out UMKC 110-51 in a mostly meaningless game. But it is another opportunity to point out Iowa State's improvement defensively that has been an unexpected strong suit for Fred Hoiberg's team early in the year.
The Cyclones held the Kangaroos to 0.61 points per possession. That was UMKC's worst production since a 77-31 loss to Wisconsin on Nov. 22, 2011.
Previous Power Ranking: 2
Kansas had a lot of issues against Villanova. Wiggins struggled to assert himself and had four turnovers, the Jayhawks had breakdowns defensively and Bill Self's offense didn't have the fluidity it typically has.
Wiggins' struggles will always get the headlines, but one problem that has been a season-long one—and had just as much influence as Wiggins' off night—was keeping big men Tarik Black and Joel Embiid on the floor.
Embiid had a major size advantage against Villanova and scored 10 points, but he only played 12 minutes because he fouled out. Black scored six points in eight minutes and had three fouls.
Per 40 minutes, Black is committing 9.3 fouls and Embiid is committing 7.8 fouls. Again, that's not the only issue right now for the Jayhawks, but the inability to count on either for heavy minutes is affecting the team on both ends.
6. Oklahoma State
Previous Power Ranking: 4
Marcus Smart tried to do too much for much of the night on Sunday against Memphis. Then in the final seconds when he was finally willing to give it up, Smart made a bad pass that resulted in his second straight turnover and his fifth giveaway of the night.
The Oklahoma State star also missed all five of his three-point attempts, most of which felt rushed. Smart, deservedly so, gets a lot of credit for how great a teammate he is and how hard he plays. But for the Cowboys to be great, he's going to need to know when to trust his teammates. They shot 21-of-39 and probably deserved a few more shots.
5. Ohio State
Previous Power Ranking: 8
Let's check in on how LaQuinton Ross is doing as the new Deshaun Thomas for Ohio State. Here's a quote from Thad Matta on Nov. 20 after a win against American, via Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:
I'm a little puzzled. I think Q is a great basketball player and we need him to play well. But you've got to, and not just Q, you've got to respect the game and you've got to respect the opponents. You can't make the same mistake over and over again without saying, 'Wait a minute, this isn't working, let me try something different.'
Going into Friday's game against North Florida, Ross had scored seven points on 2-of-20 shooting in his past three games. His best game had been 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting in the opener against Morgan State.
So things were not going well for the man who was expected to be Ohio State's go-to guy. Ohio State's defense has been so dominant it hasn't mattered, but eventually it'll need some offense from Ross and he finally had something positive happen on Friday. Ross looked like the Ross of March, scoring 17 points and only needing nine shots to get there.
Previous Power Ranking: 7
A key to Louisville's defensive success last season was the rim protection that Gorgui Dieng provided, which allowed Louisville's guards to gamble without worrying about giving up easy baskets.
After a porous defensive effort in the loss to North Carolina, Rick Pitino tried to fix his defense by inserting his best shot-blocker, freshman Mangok Mathiang, into the starting lineup on Friday against previously unbeaten Southern Miss.
It's too soon to say whether Mathiang can be anywhere near as good as Dieng, but for one game, his presence appeared to make a big impact.
In the 32 defensive possessions Mathiang played, Southern Miss scored only nine points on 4-of-23 shooting with 14 turnovers.
Previous Power Ranking: 3
Willie Cauley-Stein earned his starting spot back after three straight double-digit scoring games. Cauley-Stein thanked John Calipari for the promotion by flirting with a triple-double and playing one of the best games of his career against Providence on Sunday.
Cauley-Stein went for 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting, had eight rebounds and a career-high nine blocks.
That all-freshman lineup was a cute story, but the 'Cats at are their best when Cauley-Stein plays. He now has 16 blocks in his past two games and has had at least four blocks in five of Kentucky's eight games.
Previous Power Ranking: 6
Arizona's length gave Duke issues on Friday night, particularly in the second half. The Blue Devils attempted eight shots at the rim in the second half and made only two of those attempts, three of which were blocked.
Credit the Blue Devils for even trying. Most haven't been able to even get there this year. Arizona's opponents are attempting only 21.8 percent of their attempts at the rim, which ranks eighth nationally according to Hoop-Math.com.
That has kept shooting percentages low, as opponents are making only 37.9 percent of their twos, making the Wildcats the second-best two-point field-goal percentage defense in the country.
1. Michigan State
Previous Power Ranking: 1
Keith Appling distributing the ball more this year has been a big plus for Michigan State's offense, but it's not just Appling who is doing the sharing. The Spartans, as a team, ranked third nationally in assist percentage, as 67.8 percent of their buckets have been assisted.
Appling, backup point guard Travis Trice and wing Denzel Valentine all have an assist rate above 22 percent. (Assist rate is the percentage of your teammates' baskets you assist on when you're on the floor.) Last season, Valentine was the only Spartan to top the 22 percent mark.
Follow C.J. on Twitter @cjmoore4.
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