2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Nine

Posted by Walker Carey on January 16th, 2017

Another action-packed week of college basketball is in the books and with it came a change at the top of this week’s RTC25. Previously top-ranked Baylor relinquished its ranking after suffering its first setback of the season in a 89-68 blowout loss at #7 West Virginia. The Bears rebounded from that loss over the weekend with a solid 77-68 victory at Kansas State. That allowed #1 Villanova to regain the top spot after a week in which the Wildcats dominated #22 Xavier in a 25-point home victory and earned a 70-57 road victory against St. John’s. Jay Wright’s team has a couple of winnable home games this week as it hosts Seton Hall on Monday and Providence on Saturday, but you should know by now that it is not very wise in college basketball to view any conference game as a sure thing. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Pac-12 Weekly Power Rankings: Vol. 2

Posted by Pac-12 Team on January 11th, 2017

Ivan Rabb thwarted away last weekend’s final shot, cementing his Player of the Week title and lending us little clarity on the Pac’s mid-section. The second volume of our Pac-12 Power Rankings saw minimal movement as home favorites mostly held court, road warriors fought and Oregon State got rolled (-22.9 conference efficiency margin). Last week’s ranking in parenthesis.

The Ducks Are Coming (USA Today Images)

1. Oregon (1) – After toppling the two southern California undefeated teams last week, Oregon continued its conference domination again in beating the Washington schools by a total of 41 points. What’s most impressive is that the Ducks did this with star Dillon Brooks playing only 25 combined minutes. Oregon’s depth was on full display as Tyler Dorsey picked up the slack against Washington (a career-high 28 points, including eight threes) and Chris Boucher did the same against Washington State (a career-high 29 points, including six threes).

2. UCLA (2) – Depth has become a minor concern for UCLA as Steve Alford has stuck to a very tight rotation. UCLA ranks just 343rd nationally in bench minutes and it is clear that Alford does not yet trust big men Ike Anigbogu or Gyorgy Goloman. It has not been an issue to this point, of course, but it will be something to keep an eye on as conference play progresses.

3. Arizona (3) – The Wildcats still can’t leap over the Ducks and Bruins despite a 4-0 conference start, but two storylines are emerging in Tucson that could very well vault Arizona to the top of the rankings. First, the Wildcats continue to defend very well, surrendering fewer than 70 points in 16 of its last 17 games (Colorado) and producing a conference-leading Defensive Rating of 88.3. Secondly, the Dusan Ristic Experience is real. In Pac-12 play, Ristic carries an effective field goal rate of 64.4% and an Offensive Rating of 126.7. He has provided good post play on both ends, taking some of the pressure from Lauri Markannen while also at times stepping into the spotlight himself. Sean Miller‘s team appears to be rounding into a team with deep March prospects.

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Weekly Pac-5: Freshman Efficiency

Posted by RJ Abeytia on January 9th, 2017

It’s very much a Year of the Freshman in college basketball and the Pac-12 has followed suit. As we now find ourselves through two weeks of conference play, it’s a good time to check in on the headlining freshmen in the Conference of Champions. Washington’s Markelle Fultz is the Pac-12’s leading scorer and the front-runner as the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but there are a number of other high-scoring freshmen in the league. In fact, we could probably just list the top five scorers in the Pac, slap the top five freshmen label on them, and call it a day. Here’s what the list would look like if we did just that.

Markelle Fultz is the Presumptive #1 Pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (USA Today Images)

  1. Markelle Fultz, Washington – 22.1 PPG
  2. TJ Leaf, UCLA – 17.4 PPG
  3. Lauri Markannen, Arizona – 15.9 PPG
  4. Charlie Moore, California – 15.2 PPG
  5. Lonzo Ball, UCLA – 14.7 PPG

Pretty good, right?  Those are your top five freshmen by scoring average. They’ve all played enough minutes for us to trust in the validity of their averages, but what happens when you rank these five players based on offensive efficiency?  Here’s where things start to get interesting.

Player ORtg
TJ Leaf, UCLA 134.3
Lauri Markannen, Arizona 132.3
Lonzo Ball, UCLA 131.0
Markelle Fultz, Washington 119.4
Rawle Alkins, Arizona 107.7

 


Well then.  First, we see that Markannen, whose shooting splits are insane, vaults to the top of the group. California’s Moore gets voted off the island altogether; Arizona’s Rawle Alkins jumps into the picture; and Fultz slides down to fourth in our rankings. This is why efficiency is important to consider when judging players. Does Offensive Rating make Markannen a better player than the others? No, but it does clearly identify him as the most
efficient offensive player regardless of draft potential. That’s all well and good, but what about defense? For that we turn to defensive efficiency, an admittedly noisy statistic compared with individual Offensive Rating, but still a useful and informative metric. Limited strictly to defense, here’s how the top five freshmen scorers in the conference.

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Pac-12 Weekly Power Rankings: Vol. I

Posted by Pac-12 Team on January 4th, 2017

If you think one week into the conference schedule is an odd time to release our inaugural Pac-12 Power Rankings, you might have a decent case. However, we would argue that now is the best time to release our power rankings because the first weekend of conference play taught us a lot about a number of teams. For example, we now know that USC isn’t quite as good as its record and that Utah is likely better than its non-conference performance suggested. We will be updating this list weekly.

Dillon Brooks Daggered UCLA Last Week to Open Conference Play (USA Today Images)

Dillon Brooks Daggered UCLA Last Week to Open Conference Play (USA Today Images)

1. Oregon: Lost amid the start of the Dillon Brooks Revival Tour was the emergence of freshman Payton Pritchard as a legitimate playmaker. The precocious guard amassed 16 assists in his first two Pac-12 games and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Ducks’ offense looked more potent as a result. If he can continue to distribute the ball so effectively, it should alleviate some of the team’s offensive concerns moving forward.

2. UCLA: Let’s not focus on losing to a Dillon Brooks leaner. Process above results and UCLA was mostly UCLA during its recent trip to Oregon. You know who wasn’t? Isaac Hamilton. The Bruins’ guard shot 1-of-16 for the weekend — is this an anomaly or a trend? Most likely the former as Isaac is a career 45 percent shooter. He’ll recover, but the Bruins’ first road trip in conference play was a staunch reminder that the core of this team was 15-17 one season ago and still plays very little defense.

3. Arizona: While Oregon was stealing headlines at the front end of opening week, the Wildcats were quietly completing an impressive road sweep in the Bay Area. The best development for Arizona may be the arrival of its frontcourt as a legitimate offensive complement to the backcourt. Over the weekend, Lauri Markkanen, Chance Comanche, and Dusan Ristic shot 29-of-39 from the field and combined for 76 points. Arizona is already a great defensive team (81.7 DRtg after two conference games), but if they find consistently balanced scoring, look out.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 3rd, 2017

The first full weekend of conference play was quite a doozy. From several head-scratching results (e.g., #22 Indiana falling in Bloomington to what was supposed to be an overmatched Nebraska team) to last second heroics (e.g., #11 Oregon beating #4 UCLA on a Dillon Brooks three-pointer), the start of conference play reminded us why college basketball is great theater. No conference that had a more dramatic opening weekend than the ACC, a fact that was driven home on New Year’s Eve when league stalwarts #6 Duke, #13 Virginia and #14 North Carolina were stunned by #21 Virginia Tech, #15 Florida State and Georgia Tech, respectively. While it is probably unreasonable to expect each subsequent week to provide as much drama, it is fair to assume that we will see flashes of this unexpectedness throughout the remainder of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Grading the Pac-12 Non-Conference Performances, Part II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 28th, 2016

The non-conference portion of the schedule is now over for the entire group of Pac-12 teams and, aside from UCLA running roughshod over every team it faced, it was a relatively uneventful non-conference season. Some teams scored important wins and other teams showed their weaknesses, but none of the 12 at-large resumes really stand out at this point in the season. To prove it to ourselves, let’s run through where each team stands heading into the 18-game Pac-12 schedule.

Ed. Note: the other half of the league’s report cards published yesterday.

UCLA – A+

Lonzo Ball (USA Today Images)

Lonzo Ball Has Turned UCLA into a National Title Contender (USA Today Images)

  • Good wins: Kentucky, Texas A&M, Michigan, Ohio State
  • Bad losses: None
  • Synopsis: When you breeze through the non-conference portion of your schedule with several quality wins (including a road victory at Kentucky), you probably deserve a perfect grade. UCLA has perhaps the most efficient offense in the country, multiple All-America candidates and enviable depth and size at every position. The Bruins’ defense is a non-negligible concern but head coach Steve Alford has his team firing on all cylinders and headed toward a No. 1 seed in March.

Stanford – C+

  • Good wins: Seton Hall
  • Bad losses: None
  • Synopsis: The Cardinal’s performance to this point won’t blow anyone away but they have quietly been a solid team under first-year head coach Jerod Haase. A win over Seton Hall in Florida was a nice starting point while losses to the likes of Kansas, St. Mary’s, Miami and SMU were to be expected. Plus, there is something to be said for taking care of business against lesser opponents. Stanford probably won’t force its way on to the right side of the bubble with this schedule, but Haase has at least served notice that the program is on solid footing.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Five

Posted by Walker Carey on December 19th, 2016

As we approach the end of the non-conference portion of the regular season, three RTC25 teams over the weekend earned noteworthy resume-enhancing wins over three other RTC25 teams. First, #14 Purdue used great interior play from sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan to overcome a 14-point halftime deficit in an 86-81 victory over #22 Notre Dame. In the follow-up game at the Crossroads Classic, #13 Butler used a dynamic performance from junior Kelan Martin to beat #14 Indiana by five points. In Saturday’s – and likely the season’s – best game, #6 Kentucky rode freshman guard Malik Monk’s insane 47-point game to a hard fought 103-100 triumph over #8 North Carolina. Conference play is just around the corner, but there is still a little time for some teams to notch a few more non-conference wins that will matter on Selection Sunday. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Can Kentucky Shoot Well Enough to Win It All?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on December 16th, 2016

What does it all mean?

Whether we want to admit it or not, that’s the question we ask all season long in college basketball, where meaning is defined by crystal clear implication. We watch these games because we want to know before the rest of the sports world puts college basketball up on the biggest and brightest stage. Which of these teams can really win six straight in the NCAA Tournament? We’re inclined to believe that a number of teams can win, and they usually comprise the usual suspects. Take a look at the KenPom top 10 and who do we see? Duke, Villanova, Kentucky, Kansas, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Baylor. UCLA is just on the fringe at #11. That’s a pretty comprehensive list of blue-bloods, and blue is the color of focus here. Kentucky sits at #3 despite a loss to UCLA in Lexington. Nobody questions the roster John Calipari has once again constructed. It’s another one-year baby full of basketball talent, as it has been annually since he took the throne in Lexington.

Kentucky Has No Problem Finishing... (USA Today Images)

Kentucky Has No Problem Finishing… But What About Shooting? (USA Today Images)

Four seasons have passed since Kentucky won the National Championship. Two years ago, the Wildcats won 38 straight games before falling to Wisconsin in the Final Four. In that game, the Wildcats went only 3-of-5 from behind the three-point line and ended up ceding a net of 12 points to Wisconsin from behind the arc. This ultimately provided the margin and then some in a game most pundits expected to be a Kentucky appetizer before a main course dinner two nights later against Duke, itself full of one-and-done talent. Last year Kentucky was stopped well short of the Final Four by Indiana in large part because the Wildcats’ 4-of-16 performance from three-point range. Against Wisconsin, Kentucky knew it couldn’t hit outside shots and therefore simply refused to take them. Last year, they accepted Indiana’s dare and couldn’t hit the shots. The net of six points that went the Hoosiers’ way ended up as the final margin.

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In Hoops We Trust: Blue-Blooded Season

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on December 15th, 2016

One of the biggest changes in college hoops over the last 10 years has been the rise of several consistently strong mid-major programs to the status of legitimate national title contenders. George Mason first crashed the Final Four party in 2006 with a gutsy, emotional Elite Eight win over #1 seed Connecticut. That paved the way for the rise of Butler (2010, 2011), VCU (2011), and Wichita State (2013), each of which were led by dynamic young coaches building winning programs. Throw in the likes of Gonzaga, San Diego State and Xavier, and the growing parity brought with it added competitiveness and a widening of the NCAA hoops pie. But this year is all about the blue-bloods. Kentucky, Duke, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA are all in the AP top 10 for the first time since 1994. While some of those schools have maintained relevance over the intervening seasons, the simultaneous rise of the Hoosiers and Bruins augurs a shift back to the traditional power programs.

College Basketball Benefits When the Elite Programs Are Elite (USA Today Images)

College Basketball Benefits When the Elite Programs Are Elite (USA Today Images)

The “why” for this trend could very well be recruiting. Kentucky’s John Calipari was the first coach to truly embrace the one-and-done model of recruiting. The theory is basically that if you can gather the most talented players in the country — regardless whether all of them will be headed to the NBA after just one season — you should. Yes, there are challenges with youth, inexperience and with program continuity, but he proved with the 2012 National Championship and four Final Fours in five years that if you recruit the best players, challenge them in practice, and preach selflessness and defense, you can win. Mike Krzyzewski noticed and Duke jumped on board. Roy Williams also has a slew of McDonald’s All-Americans, and Bill Self has never shied away from recruiting one-year talents regardless of whether he plays them. UCLA this season joined the party with a pair of freshman All-Americans in Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. So far, Steve Alford‘s accumulation of talent has helped transform a formerly teetering program into the current #2 team in the country.

Conventional wisdom once held that experience trumps talent in the NCAA Tournament. This was the rationale for the VCUs, Butlers and Wichita States of the game. But as major programs blend experienced returnees with those talented NBA prospects, they often overwhelm their less athletic, overachieving rivals. So, does this early trend hold? That remains to be seen. Perhaps those talented freshmen will revert to traditional norms or hit the rookie wall as the long season works its way into spring. Or perhaps injuries will take a toll. Or maybe some of those power programs in smaller conferences will again crash the party. It wouldn’t be a shock. But so far this season, it’s been a feast for the rich. How fat they get we shall know in good time.

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Pac-12 Freshman Ladder: Early December Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 7th, 2016

I don’t know how long Scott Howard-Cooper has been writing his Rookie Ladder column for NBA.com but it has long been one of the more underrated features in basketball writing. There is nothing complex about its structure as a traditional weekly power ranking of NBA rookies. Yet basketball fans are always drawn to the new, which is why the Rookie Ladder column exists. The appeal of rookie coverage is true in college basketball as well. You don’t see the Pac-12 handing out a “Second-Year Player of the Year” award, do you? The season is now old enough that sample sizes are starting to become meaningful. Also, I am nothing if not a ruthless (but self-aware) copycat. So here is our best imitation of Cooper’s excellent feature – the inaugural Pac-12 Freshman Ladder.

Lonzo Ball (USA Today Images)

Lonzo Ball Leads the Pac-12 Freshman Ladder (USA Today Images)

  1. Lonzo Ball, UCLA. In our top-secret algorithm that determines these rankings, winning matters, if only a little. UCLA is undefeated and that is why Ball edges past Markelle Fultz on this list for now. Bolstered by a surprising ability to knock down threes (43.5% 3FG), Ball has been one of the most efficient offensive players in college basketball (67.5% eFG) while also affecting every possession without having to score. He has turned the ball over 12 times in the last three games, but the Bruins are so lethal offensively with the freshman running the show that UCLA will live with those mistakes.
  2. Markelle Fultz, Washington. Fultz is playing a different role at Washington than Ball is at UCLA but his playmaking skills are just as advanced. Fultz’s assist rate (37.0%) and turnover rate (17.6%) compare favorably with Ball and his shot-making responsibilities and usage rate mean that he is scoring more as well. His defensive numbers (4.1% block rate and 3.4% steal rate) are also superior to his southern California counterpart. One could reasonably argue that if Fultz were running point in Westwood and the Bruins were still undefeated, he would be the clear alpha dog on this list. Read the rest of this entry »
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