NCAA Basketball Rankings Week 13: Bleacher Report's Top 25

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterJanuary 27, 2014

NCAA Basketball Rankings Week 13: Bleacher Report's Top 25

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    Welcome to the newest version of the Bleacher Report Top 25.

    In celebration of the fact that March is just a hair more than a month away, we decided to change up the format. In the old system, Jason King, Kerry Miller and myself would vote like we were AP voters. I can't speak for my colleagues, but the entire resume mattered.

    With the new system, we're handicapping the field as if the tournament started tomorrow. I imagine my ballot as a draft board. I'm trying to pick the national champ, and my ballot reflects how I would rank each team's chances.

    That's why this week a certain team in the middle of the country has shot up the charts. It's something about a center from Cameroon and a coach with nine straight Big 12 titles.

    John Calipari's Wildcats are also looked upon more favorably, and we all seem to like the Florida Gators under the old format and this one.

    And one other change of note: In an effort to give more attention (and reward) for making the top 10, we'll be giving those teams more ink each week than the others. 

    Just missed the cut in this week's poll: Providence, Oklahoma

    Dropped out: Oklahoma, Ohio State, Kansas State, California

25-21: Massachusetts-Saint Louis

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    25. Massachusetts (17-2 Overall, 4-1 A-10): UMass lost this week (at Richmond) for the first time since December. In the Minutemen's two losses, star point guard Chaz Williams has gone 6-of-25 from the field. 

    24. UCLA (16-4, 5-2 Pac-12): The Bruins are showing signs that they're the second-best team in the Pac-12. With talent like Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, there's no reason they shouldn't be. 

    23. Memphis (15-4, 5-2 AAC): Memphis beat up on Houston and South Florida this past week, winning the two games by a combined 45 points. A big test looms on Saturday at suddenly relevant SMU. 

    22. Texas (16-4, 5-2 Big 12): Rick Barnes is showing how good a coach he can be when he likes his team. Barnes loves this group, which has three straight wins over ranked opponents and could make it four with Kansas coming to Austin on Saturday. 

    21. Saint Louis (18-2, 5-0 A-10): Including last year's Atlantic 10 tournament, the Billikens have won 20 of their last 21 games against A-10 opponents with the only loss coming to Xavier in overtime. Only three of those opponents have topped 70 points during that stretch, and Xavier wouldn't have gotten there without OT.

20-16: Virginia-Cincinnati

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    20. Virginia (15-5, 6-1 ACC): During conference play, Tony Bennett's defense leads the ACC in effective field-goal percentage (42.2 percent) and turnover percentage (22.0 percent), per KenPom.com (subscription required). Hopefully that defense travels, as the Cavaliers have tough back-to-back road games this week at Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. 

    19. Iowa State (15-3, 3-3 Big 12): They love the three-ball in Ames, and that's why Iowa State had lost three straight. The Cyclones went 21-of-83 from deep during the losing streak, which ended on Saturday, thanks to a 9-of-18 effort against K-State. 

    18. Wisconsin (17-3, 4-3 Big Ten): Wisconsin had allowed more than 70 points in five straight games until Saturday's win against Purdue. Until the Badgers get back to playing Bo Ryan defense, they're not going to be much of a threat in the Big Ten race. 

    17. Villanova (17-2, 6-1 Big East): On Feb. 16, Villanova travels to Creighton to try to avenge Monday's 96-68 laugher. The good news for the Wildcats is they have the same number of conference losses as the Bluejays and a chance to save face. 

    16. Cincinnati (19-2, 8-0 AAC): Justin Jackson, the best defender for the Bearcats' elite D, injured his ankle early on Sunday in a win against Temple. The timing is not good with the a trip to Louisville coming up on Thursday.

15-11: Pittsburgh-Duke

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    15. Pittsburgh (18-2, 6-1 ACC): The Panthers have been respectable in their only two meetings with teams that are currently ranked (Cincinnati and Syracuse), but they lost both. This week Pitt has a chance to get that quality win with home games against Duke and Virginia. 

    14. Oklahoma State (16-3, 4-2 Big 12): Marcus Smart had as many baskets (one) as kicked chairs on Saturday against West Virginia. Luckily for Smart, he has a couple of buddies who are pretty good—Le'Bryan Nash and Markel Brown combined for 44 points and zero kicked chairs. 

    13. Louisville (17-3, 6-1 AAC): If you judged Louisville after losses to North Carolina and Kentucky (raising hand), that probably was a bit premature. The Cards are looking better now that Luke Hancock (15.9 points per game since UK loss) is scoring the ball again.

    12. Iowa (16-4, 5-2 Big Ten): The Hawkeyes lead the country in quality losses. They've lost to Villanova in overtime at a neutral site and lost on the road at Iowa State, Wisconsin and Michigan—all by single digits.

    11. Duke (16-4, 5-2 ACC): The Blue Devils are back to playing at an elite level on the offensive end now that Rasheed Sulaimon has joined the party. Sulaimon is averaging 13.5 points off the bench during Duke's current four-game winning streak.

10. Creighton

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    Record: 17-3 (7-1 Big East)

    The picture above is Ethan Wragge's deepest three against Villanova, and the red dots are where he made his other eight treys. (It was actually hard to tell which shot was the deepest.)

    In defense of the Wildcats, who would expect a dude to pull up from those distances? 

    The Creighton offense is a pill to guard, and the Bearded Bomber makes it essential that you do not help off of him under any circumstances, even if Doug McDermott has the ball. 

    Villanova can take some solace in this fact. If the season were to end today, Creighton's efficiency numbers would be the best of the Ken Pomeroy era (subscription required), which dates back to the 2002-03 season. The Bluejays' adjusted offensive efficiency is 127.2 (3.2 points better than current record holder Wake Forest in 2004-05), and their raw efficiency is 122.8 (two points better than Mizzou in 2011-12).

9. Kentucky

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    Record: 15-4 (5-1 SEC)

    In mid-October, my colleague Jason King shared that John Calipari predicted seven UK players would score 25 points in a game at least once this season.

    I questioned whether a team had ever had even four or five guys pull this off in one year.

    I still think Calipari's prediction was crazy, but the Wildcats are up to four: Julius Randle (season-high 29), James Young (season-high 26), Andrew Harrison (season-high 26) and Aaron Harrison (season-high 28).

    With Alex Poythress coming back to life—he's scored in double figures in four of UK's last six games—it's possible the 'Cats get to five. It's also possible that Calipari's vision for opponents having nightmares trying to figure out how to prepare for all those weapons is starting to come to fruition.

8. Michigan

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    Record: 15-4 (7-0 Big Ten)

    Last week, I took a look at how Michigan has gone undefeated without Mitch McGary. The Wolverines are now 9-0 without the big fella.

    One aspect of John Beilein's success the last two years is easy to figure out. Last year, Beilein leaned heavily on the Wooden Award winner, Trey Burke. This year he's leaning hard on a guy who somehow got snubbed by the midseason Wooden Award list, Nik Stauskas.

    Dear committee members, check out these numbers:

    Stauskas is making 46.2 percent of his threes on 106 attempts, and he's shooting 54.4 percent inside the arc on 90 attempts. 

    There are only three other players* in college basketball who can say they're shooting better than 45 percent from deep (with at least 100 attempts) and making more than 50 percent of their twos (with at least 90 attempts). 

    It's not just Stauskas who has the Wolverines thriving. Michigan's supporting cast is arguably playing at a higher level than last season's group, but it would be hard for those guys to shine if Stauskas had not emerged as a reliable go-to scorer. 

    *In case you're wondering, the others are Karvel Anderson for Robert Morris, Billy Baron for Canisius and Jabari Brown from Mizzou.

7. San Diego State

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    Record: 18-1 (7-0 Mountain West)

    Steve Fisher has spent years proving folks wrong. For starters, he's won consistently at San Diego State. 

    Fisher does things his way, and this year he's defeating the logic that you cannot be both a great offensive rebounding team and have a great transition defense team. Many coaches will sacrifice the first by falling back as soon as a shot goes up to make sure they're not giving up easy buckets . 

    The Aztecs are rebounding 37.2 percent of their misses, which ranks 30th nationally, per KenPom.com (subscription required). And yet their opponents are scoring only 0.78 points per possession in transition, which ranks second only to Florida, according to Synergy Sports Technology's numbers (subscription required). 

    That means that when the other team is on a fast break, San Diego State's transition D is better than 320 teams' half-court defenses.

6. Michigan State

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    Record: 18-2 (7-1 Big Ten)

    Michigan State was the youth-hater's pick to win the national championship in the preseason, and Tom Izzo's team will likely still be a good pick in another month.

    But considering the luck the Spartans have had this year, it would be easy to question their fate. The latest injury bug bit in the film room when Branden Dawson took his displeasure out on a table and ended up with a broken hand.

    Without Dawson and Adreian Payne, Sparty still put up a valiant effort in Saturday's 80-75 loss to Michigan. No team in the country down two starters should be able to knock off Michigan right now. Fingers crossed, we get to see how dangerous Michigan State can be in March at full strength.

5. Wichita State

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    Record: 21-0 (8-0 MVC)

    Since its one real scare in the Missouri Valley—overcoming a 19-point deficit to win at Missouri State—Wichita State has been steamrolling through its conference.

    The Shockers are outscoring their conference opponents by 24.9 points per 100 possessions—29.2 since the Missouri State game—and Pomeroy has the odds of a perfect regular season at 40 percent (subscription required). If you go game to game, it seems a lot more likely.

    According to Pomeroy's projections, the team most likely to knock off Wichita State is Indiana State. You could say the Sycamores have a puncher's chance if that puncher was using his weak hand—Pomeroy puts the odds of an upset in Terre Haute at 29 percent.

4. Florida

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    Record: 17-2 (6-0 SEC)

    Florida has played only nine games this season—only four in the SEC—with its seven top rotation players.

    The Gators are undefeated in those games and were really only tested by Kansas (six-point win) and Memphis (two-point win).

    Billy Donovan has such an experienced team that it's hard to see, even if more injuries pop up, that the Gators will lose another game until they travel to Lexington on Feb. 15.

    If they win at Kentucky, an undefeated season in the SEC could become a real possibility. Either way, the Gators appear headed for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, which would be quite the feat considering the injuries and suspensions they've had to weather.

3. Syracuse

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    Record: 19-0 (6-0 ACC)

    Syracuse has not had the most stylistic wins throughout this undefeated season, but no team finishes better.

    The Orange have trailed in the late stages against St. Francis Brooklyn, St. John's, Miami (twice), Boston College and Pittsburgh.

    Here's how each game finished:

    • St. Francis Brooklyn, Nov. 18: Down four, Syracuse finishes on a 10-0 run.
    • St. John's, Dec. 15: Down two, Syracuse finishes on a 10-3 run.
    • Miami, Jan. 4: Down five, Syracuse finishes on a 14-4 run.
    • Boston College, Jan. 13: Down five, Syracuse finishes on a 23-8 run.
    • Pittsburgh, Jan. 18: Down three, Syracuse finishes on a 10-2 run.
    • Miami, Jan. 25: Down one, Syracuse finishes on a 17-6 run.

    So in the most pressure-packed times of the season, Syracuse has outscored its opponents 84-23.

2. Kansas

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    Record: 15-4 (6-0 Big 12)

    The rest of the country would be best off if the NCAA tournament would hurry up and get here for Kansas.

    Bill Self's team—in particular freshmen Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden—are improving at such a rapid pace that the Baby Jayhawks have turned into the best offense in the country outside of the three-point bombers at Creighton.

    Since conference play has started, KU's offense only trails Creighton in efficiency among the major conferences, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).

    Here are the efficiency numbers in conference play for the best offense in each of the seven major leagues.

    1. Creighton: 123.3
    2. Kansas: 121.3
    3. Michigan: 119.2
    4. Duke: 118.5
    5. Louisville: 115.4
    6. Kentucky: 113.3
    7. Arizona: 111.5 

    If you take away Creighton's three-point raid at Villanova, the Jayhawks would be No. 1.

1. Arizona

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    Record: 20-0 (7-0 Pac-12)

    Remember when the new rules were going to make it really tough to play great defense? 

    Sean Miller found the formula to negate such hypotheses. Get a bunch of athletic dudes with length and scare everyone away from the paint. 

    Just like Creighton is on track to rewrite the Pomeroy record book, the Wildcats are doing the same. Arizona's effective field-goal percentage defense (41.3 percent) would be a Pomeroy-era record (subscription required). 

    Scoring numbers are up. Just not in Tucson. 

     

    C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @cjmoore4.