Posted: Thursday November 17, 2011 1:51PM ; Updated: Thursday November 17, 2011 4:36PM
Luke Winn
Luke Winn>COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

Tar Heels take the top spot, but the Wildcats aren't far behind

Story Highlights

UNC's John Henson has utilized his 7-4 wingspan to block a range of shots

UK freshman Anthony Davis blocked a higher percentage of shots than Henson

Shabazz Napier has used a higher percentage of poessessions than Jeremy Lamb

After spending more than 100 hours studying defense for SI's preview issue, it's hard to get it off the brain. The first Power Rankings of the 2011-12 regular season are heavy on D, with the debut of the Turnometer®, a detailed look at the No. 1 defender on the No. 1 team ... and the No. 1 defender on the No. 2 team ... and the No. 1 defender on the No. 3 team.

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 1
John Henson, Carolina's most valuable defender, shoots jumpers right-handed but prefers to block them left-handed. "Most shooters are righties, so my left hand matches up well against them," the 6-foot-10 forward told me in October. "And for some reason, I believe I'm quicker with my left hand -- and that I can get more extension with it. I don't know if I think that or know that, but if a guy comes at me for a right-handed layup, I have a better chance of blocking it left-handed."

I charted Henson's career-high nine blocks from the Carrier Classic to try to understand three things that don't appear in the box score: Just how left-hand dominant he is as a defender, how far he ranges to affect shots, and how often the Tar Heels keep the ball after he gets a hand on it. In the graphic below, there's a "JH" circle marking his starting position on each block, and an "x" marking the shooter's starting position. The arrow in between is red for a lefty block, or yellow for a righty (eight of nine were lefty, it turned out). The arrow heading away from each "x" is the post-block path of the ball; it's light blue if UNC secured possession, or green if Michigan State did (the Tar Heels got it five of nine times).



Henson, who boasts a 7-4 wingspan, has quite a bit of range: On three occasions, he started with at least one foot in the lane, but leapt to swat shots hoisted from well outside the painted area.

Next three: 11/20 vs. Mississippi Valley State, 11/22 vs. Tennessee State, 11/25 vs. South Carolina (Las Vegas Invitational)
 
2Kentucky Wildcats
Last Week: 2
As amazing as Henson is, could Wildcats freshman Anthony Davis -- who's the same height with the same wingspan but has even more speed -- end up blocking a higher percentage of shots? After two games apiece, Henson's block percentage was 16.3 and Davis' was 19.2.

I charted the seven swats Davis had against Kansas in the Champions Classic, and identified a few differences between him and Henson. All of Davis' blocks were right-handed. Davis' mode of attack is mostly to shadow drivers and then swoop in to block them from behind, whereas five of Henson's blocks were due to him lunging out at shooters. A Davis block was more likely to end a defensive possession, as UK recovered five of the seven. And aside from one tipped three-pointer, Davis did most of his work around the rim:



Next three: 11/19 vs. Penn State, 11/20 vs. Old Dominion/South Florida (Hall of Fame Tip-Off), 11/23 vs. Radford
 
3Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: 3
Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft was by far the best turnover creator in SI's defensive study, generating a takeaway on 6.59 percent of the possessions he was on the floor for as a freshman. (That may seem like a low number, but believe me -- it's an incredibly high rate.)

Because so many things Craft does aren't credited in box scores, I created the "Turnometer" to monitor his overall turnover impact as a sophomore. It will appear periodically in this season's Power Rankings, in the form of the graphic below. "Steals credited" are his deserved* steals from the official stat sheet; "charges taken" is self-explanatory; "moving screens" are the offensive fouls he draws by running hard through screens; and "TOs uncredited" is a catch-all for his outside-the-box-score production. For example, in the first half of the opener against Wright State, Craft stripped the ball from a driver, only to have a teammate corral it, and he also forced a shot-clock violation by suffocating two different guards over the final 10 seconds of the possession.

Through two games, Craft has created 11 turnovers, or one on 9.69 percent of his possessions:



* I actually had to take one steal away, as the box score on Ohio State's website gave Craft a first-half steal against Florida that should have gone to William Buford.

Next three: 11/18 vs. Jackson State, 11/21 vs. North Florida, 11/23 vs. VMI
 
4Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 5
In the preview edition of the Power Rankings, I wrote that sophomore guard Dion Waiters "might just be the Orange's best volume scorer, but it would be a radical move to rearrange the offensive pecking order of a veteran team to accommodate him." With the three biggest possession-users from the Orange's 2010-11 starting lineup (Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph) back, it seemed like there might not be room for Waiters to have a monster, breakout season. But in his first three games as a "microwave" sixth man, Waiters has asserted himself quite well as the Orange's best high-usage/high-efficiency scorer. Joseph and Jardine have lower usage rates, and the possession-gobbling Triche has been much less effective. Using Statsheet.com data, here's the breakdown of Syracuse four leading perimeter players:

Player             Usage%    Min/G     ORating
Brandon Triche     28.4      19.7      99.7
Dion Waiters       23.0      20.3      143.0
Kris Joseph        21.6      25.0      132.5
Scoop Jardine      19.8      16.3      92.4


Next three: 11/19 vs. Colgate, 11/23 and 25 in NIT Season Tipoff
 
5UConn Huskies
Last Week: 6
The lockout has lent pros plenty of free time to build up their Hipster Cred, and former Huskies center Hasheem Thabeet made huge gains when the SNY telecast of UConn-Wagner showed him shooting Polaroids from the stands:



(Because I'm sure you care: My friends at Gorilla vs. Bear, the leaders of the Polaroid Movement, have identified the Thabeet model as a Fuji Instax 210, a "fairly credible [and expensive] instant camera.")

Oh -- were you here for basketball analysis? To continue on the new-usage-order theme from the Syracuse blurb, were you aware that Shabazz Napier is actually using a higher percentage of possessions than Jeremy Lamb through two games? This is how UConn's starting lineup (plus Andre Drummond) breaks down:
Player             Usage%     Min/G     ORating
Shabazz Napier     27.1       39.0      125.6
Jeremy Lamb        26.9       35.5      128.9
Andre Drummond     24.0       15.0       85.6
Alex Oriakhi       19.0       20.5       89.9
Tyler Olander      15.6       34.5       96.0
Roscoe Smith       11.7       23.0       99.4


Next three: 11/17 vs. Maine, 11/20 vs. Coppin State, 11/24 vs. UNC-Asheville
 
6Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 4
For the sake of throwing out a non-#903K topic: Ryan Kelly rivals Waiters as the nation's best sixth man, but how long will Kelly remain out of Duke's starting lineup? Coach K has opted for the Double-Plumlee frontcourt thus far, because Miles excelled in preseason practices and the Blue Devils needed defense and toughness to complement their offensive-minded trio of guards. Miles has been the team's best rebounder thus far, grabbing 26.9 percent of defensive boards and 19.3 percent of offensive boards. But Kelly has been such an efficient scorer (with a team-high 138.4 ORating) and a sparkplug for Duke rallies (he had the highest plus-minus, at +7, in the one-point win over Belmont) that it's clear Duke's best lineup includes him at power forward. By the time Kelly's beard fills in, will he be promoted?

Next three: 11/18 vs. Davidson, 11/21 vs. Tennessee, 11/22 TBD in Maui Invitational
 
7Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 15
If you've been lamenting the lack of storylines in which NASCAR and college basketball converge -- and really, who hasn't? -- then Ben Brust is your savior. The Badgers' sophomore shooting guard, who's 8-of-16 from long range since stepping into the "White Guy Who Pretty Much Only Launches Threes" role vacated by Tim Jarmusz, is a very uncloseted fan of NASCAR, and Kevin Harvick in particular. So much so that Brust staged his own mock-Harvick pit crew video this past Fourth of July and posted it on YouTube. Ben Brust, Real American, is on front-tire duty:



(On a side note: I like what Jordan Taylor has been doing in the Badgers' first two games. Rather than pad his scoring stats by lighting up Kennesaw State and Colgate -- whom he most certainly was capable of scoring on -- he's been averaging 10 points per game and ceding shots to the rest of UW's rotation, which is still taking shape. Brust is actually using more possessions than Taylor thus far, while Taylor has an 11-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.)

Next three: 11/19 vs. Wofford, 11/22 vs. UMKC, 11/25 vs. Bradley (Chicago Challenge)
 
8Florida Gators
Last Week: 10
I didn't penalize the Gators for their loss at Ohio State. It was a seven-point defeat in a true road game against the nation's No. 3 team, and Florida's frontcourt came out looking even better than expected. Patric Young went head-to-head with Jared Sullinger and had 14-and-12 to Sullinger's 16-and-6, and showed a more developed post game than I saw this summer at the FIBA U19s in Latvia. Erik Murphy, meanwhile, was a killer in pick-and-pop sets, going 4-of-4 from long range for 14 points in 24 minutes. Watching clips of him, my first thought was, this is a Wisconsin Swing Offense big man in a Gators jersey. Will Florida's guards be unselfish enough to keep hooking him up with open looks for threes, a la Jordan Taylor to Keaton Nankivil last season?

Next three: 11/17 vs. North Florida, 11/21 vs. Wright State (in Tampa), 11/25 vs. Jacksonville
 
9Memphis Tigers
The two biggest things to like about the Tigers from their home win over Belmont? First, their 1972-73 retro jerseys, which made for the nation's best sartorial debut. Long live skinny cursive. (Old images from Memphis intro video, Chris Crawford pic from US Presswire.)



Second, that Memphis, which ranked an abysmal 269th in turnover percentage last season (giving the ball away on 21.9 percent of possessions), made a huge stride in that department. Facing Belmont, which ranked second in turnovers-forced percentage last year (at 27.5 percent), the Tigers gave up the ball just 11.3 percent of the time. Sophomore point guard Joe Jackson had one of the best games of his young career, with just two turnovers against seven assists (and 20 points, too).

Next three: 11/21 vs. Michigan, 11/22 vs. Tennessee/Duke, 11/23 vs. TBD in Maui Invitational
 
10Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 12
A brief appreciation of Jeff Withey, the Jayhawks' underrated 7-footer: Did you know that, for all the ooohing over Anthony Davis' blocks in Kentucky's Champions Classic win over Kansas, Withey had nearly the same block percentage (17.7, to Davis' 19.2)? Or that Withey offensive rebounded at a much higher rate (12.0 percent, to Davis' 3.6)? Or that Withey was the only Jayhawk with a plus-minus rating above one (his was six)? This is not to say that NBA scouts should be reconsidering their evaluations of Davis as next year's No. 1 pick, or that I'd trade Davis for Withey ... it's just to point out that Withey is a very integral part of KU's success, and it can't afford to have him in foul trouble. He's the only player for which Bill Self has absolutely no backup.

Next three: 11/21 vs. Georgetown, 11/22 vs. UCLA/Chaminade, vs. TBD in Maui Invitational
 
11Baylor Bears
Last Week: 13
The Bears are clearly loaded with talent at forward -- and freshman Quincy Miller could end up with better numbers than Perry Jones -- but I'm hesitant to put them ahead of Kansas until they solve their turnover issues. Against two low-low-majors (Texas Southern and Jackson State) and a rebuilding San Diego State team, Baylor has given the ball away 23.3 percent of the time. That's only one-tenth of a percent better than the rate they finished with last season, when they ranked 322nd in turnover percentage. Among the point guards, former JUCO player of the year Pierre Jackson has been the biggest culprit, with a personal TO rate of 29.6. Jackson is entertaining, at 5-9ish with a huge vertical and a high-risk, high-reward game, but what Baylor needs most is a conservative, calming influence at the point.

Next three: 11/22 vs. South Carolina St., 11/23 vs. Texas-Arlington, 11/29 vs. Prairie View A&M
 
12Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 16
The Maui Invitational pulled in the best field of any early-season tournament, with the potential for a Duke-Memphis or Duke-Michigan second-round matchup, and a final pitting of Kansas against one of those three teams. (There's also the added intrigue of whether Chaminade can send UCLA to 0-3; an upset is within reason, given how bad the Bruins have been.) The under-the-radar great tournament this year, however, is the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which is more of an ESPNU/ESPN2 affair, but could have six NCAA tournament teams. The first-round Purdue-Iona game is a must-watch, as are potential Alabama-Wichita State and Purdue-Temple semifinals. Between the Tide, Boilers and Owls, three of the country's best defensive teams should be represented in the semis. If Alabama wins this tourney -- and it should be considered the favorite -- it will have a strong case to be ranked in the top 10.

Next three: 11/17 vs. Maryland, 11/18 vs. Wichita State/Colorado, 11/20 TBD in Puerto Rico Tip-Off
 
13Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 7
When it comes to defensive specialist-vs.-electric point-guard matchups, Butler's Ronald Nored vs. Louisville's Peyton Siva would have been hard to beat. As good as, if not better than Ohio State's Aaron Craft vs. Florida's Erving Walker (a battle that Craft won handily). But ... in the latest Unfortunate Event to befall the Cardinals' program, Siva has a bum ankle and isn't likely to play. Lousiville lost reserve forward Mike Marra for the season with an ACL injury, big-time recruit Wayne Blackshear for months due to shoulder surgery, and forwards Stephan Van Treese and Rakeem Buckles to lesser ailments. What did Rick Pitino do to deserve this? It's not as if he made a very regrettable realignment/relationship analogy at Big East media day, or failed to comply with the "Bring Chicken to the Bucket" campaign. It's unclear why the gods would have any reason to be angry.

Next three: 11/19 at Butler, 11/22 vs. Arkansas State, 11/25 vs. Ohio
 
14Long Beach State 49ers
Casper Ware would like to counter Ben Brust's NASCAR YouTube ... with one of Ware as a Bubble Boy:



That was from last preseason, a good 10 months before Ware went on to be named the Drew League MVP, earning cred on the L.A. summer scene -- and 13 months before he would lead The Beach to the first huge upset of '11-12, a 10-point win at Pittsburgh. He scored 28 points, with six assists and one turnover in the victory, and as colleague Pablo Torre tweeted, Ware no longer really needs "ranked as the fourth-best mid-major point guard in the country by Bleacher Report" on his bio page. The dude has gone national. And he'll have many more chances to show up prominent guards, as the 49ers have assembled what's by far the nation's toughest schedule.

Next three: 11/19 at San Diego State, 11/22 vs. Boise State, 11/26 at Montana
 
15Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: 11
Yancy Gates may not have a well-developed back-to-basket or face-up game, but he's a killer on the offensive glass. According to Synergy Sports Technology data, among players who had 40 or more "putback" possessions last season, Gates ranked seventh in efficiency.

Rk. Player, Team                % of Off.   Poss.     PPP 
1.  Perry Jones, Baylor         12.3        49        1.51
2.  Ricardo Ratliffe, Mizzou    15.9        55        1.49
3.  Lavoy Allen, Temple         10.4        43        1.49
4.  M. Sanders-Frison, Cal      13.2        41        1.46
5.  JaJuan Johnson, Purdue       7.4        47        1.45
6.  Alex Young, IUPUI            7.5        48        1.44
7.  Yancy Gates, Cincinnati     13.0        53        1.43

I watched the bulk of Gates' putback scores, and it's no fluke that he's efficient in this area. On point-blank boards, he always goes back up strong, with an intent to dunk. His underrated skill is as a tipper: He's great at lurking behind the defenders who challenge a driver's shot, watching the first bounce off the rim, and then getting a quick, one-handed tip-in -- even if he doesn't initially have a positional advantage for the board.

Next three: 11/15 vs. Jacksonville State, 11/19 vs. Presbyterian, 11/21 vs. Northwestern State
 
16Xavier Musketeers
Last Week: 14
Since Xavier has only played one game with Tu Holloway, and it was against IPFW -- and therefore somewhat inconclusive -- I'm going to use this space for a tangent. Something curious is happening at IPFW through two games. Frank Gaines, a junior guard, is taking 45.8 percent of the team's shots while he's on the floor -- hoisting 22 attempts in each contest. If he stays even near that pace, he can out-Jimmer The Jimmer, who led the nation in shot percentage last season by taking 38.1 percent of BYU's attempts. (Gaines' ORating is just 99.7, so this model isn't ideal for IPFW, but let's not discourage him from the chase.)

Meanwhile, at Alabama State, there's actually a guy who's playing 17.0 minutes per game, taking 52.2 percent of the team's shots, and has a two-first-names first name: Kenderek Washington. The Gaines/Washington battle for supreme over-usage should be just as exciting as the Barnes-Sullinger battle for national player of the year.

Next three: 11/18 vs. Miami (Ohio), 11/25 vs. Georgia, 11/28 at Vanderbilt
 

The Next 16: 17. Marquette, 18. UNLV, 19. Florida State, 20. Temple, 21. Purdue, 22. Cal, 23. Cleveland State, 24. Pittsburgh, 25. Vanderbilt, 26. Missouri, 27. Belmont, 28. Michigan, 29. Michigan St., 30. Gonzaga, 31. Wichita State, 32. Texas A&M

 
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