College Basketball Nation: Kansas Jayhawks
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) measures how well each team performs based on game result, margin, pace of game, location, opponent strength and the absence of any key players.
Using BPI, we are able to project the chances for each team to win its major conference tournament. The probabilities take into account the matchups in each bracket based on each team’s BPI. The team with the best BPI isn’t necessarily always the favorite if that team has much tougher matchups than other teams in the tournament.
According to BPI, the Arizona Wildcats have the best chance of any team in one of the seven major conferences (American, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) to win its tournament. They have a 63 percent chance of winning the Pac-12 tournament.
Arizona has more than a six times better chance of winning the Pac-12 tournament than any other team. The UCLA Bruins have the second-best chance at 10 percent.
Pac-12 best chances: Arizona 63 percent, UCLA 10 percent, Oregon 10 percent, Arizona State 5 percent, Stanford 4 percent
The Florida Gators are the prohibitive favorites in the SEC tournament with a 57 percent chance to win it. The Kentucky Wildcats (25 percent) are the only other SEC team with better than a 7 percent chance. The No. 9 seed Missouri Tigers have a slightly better chance to win the SEC tournament than the No. 3 seed Georgia Bulldogs.
SEC best chances: Florida 57 percent, Kentucky 25 percent, Tennessee 7 percent, Arkansas 3 percent, Missouri 2 percent
American & Big East
The Louisville Cardinals (American) and Villanova Wildcats (Big East) are both close to 50 percent in terms of their chances of winning their respective conference tournaments.
The Memphis Tigers have an edge playing on their home court in the American Tournament, but they still have a significantly worse chance than Louisville and Cincinnati. Memphis does, however, have a greater probability of winning the tournament than higher-seeded teams Southern Methodist and Connecticut. With its home-court advantage, Memphis would be a favorite against any team in the tournament other than Louisville.
American best chances: Louisville 49 percent, Cincinnati 18 percent, Memphis 14 percent, SMU 12 percent, Connecticut 8 percent
No team other than Villanova or Creighton has better than a 6 percent chance to win the Big East tournament. There’s a 44 percent chance that Villanova and Creighton meet in the Big East championship game.
Big East best chances: Villanova 48 percent, Creighton 31 percent, Xavier 6 percent, St. John’s 6 percent, Providence 4 percent
Perhaps the most interesting conference tournament is the ACC, where the No. 3 seed Duke Blue Devils are the favorites at 27 percent. The No. 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers (25 percent) and No. 2 Syracuse Orange (23 percent) are close behind.
ACC best chances: Duke 27 percent, Virginia 25 percent, Syracuse 23 percent, Pittsburgh 12 percent, North Carolina 7 percent
Another interesting conference tournament is the Big Ten, where four teams have between a 17 percent and a 26 percent chance of winning the tournament. The No. 2 seed Wisconsin Badgers are the favorites at 26 percent, while the No. 1 seed Michigan Wolverines are only the third favorites.
Big Ten best chances: Wisconsin 26 percent, Ohio State 19 percent, Michigan 19 percent, Michigan State 17 percent, Iowa 11 percent
The Kansas Jayhawks have a 37 percent chance to win the Big 12 tournament, but their path isn’t easy. They could face the teams with the fourth- and second-best chances of winning the tournament in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
The No. 8 seed Oklahoma State Cowboys, with a 10 percent chance of winning it, could face Kansas in the quarterfinals. The No. 4 seed Iowa State Cyclones, with an 18 percent chance, could face Kansas in the semifinals. Both teams have a 35 percent chance of beating Kansas, according to BPI.
Big 12 best chances: Kansas 37 percent, Iowa State 18 percent, Oklahoma 16 percent, Oklahoma State 10 percent, Baylor 6 percent
BPI No. 1 Arizona fell 64-57 at Oregon on Saturday and lost 0.7 in its BPI rating. But the Wildcats had enough of a cushion over No. 2 Florida that they maintained the hold on the top spot. Similarly, No. 9 Wisconsin, which lost at Nebraska on Sunday, maintained its ranking despite a 1.0 drop in BPI.
Kansas falls after Shockers’ victory
A 92-86 loss at West Virginia brought Kansas’ BPI rating down 0.7, and the Jayhawks kept their No. 3 BPI ranking after Saturday’s games.
After Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game Sunday, the Shockers got a bump of 0.2 in their BPI – a small bump, but large enough for Wichita State to move from No. 4 to No. 3 in the rankings, leapfrogging Kansas. The Jayhawks, who have the toughest schedule among BPI Top 15 teams, are No. 3 in the NCAA’s RPI rankings but fell from eighth to 10th in the weekly Associated Press poll.
Of the BPI Top 10 teams that lost, only Virginia (a 75-69 overtime loser at Maryland on Sunday) dropped in the rankings immediately after the defeat, from No. 7 to No. 8.
Pac-12 climber and faller
Oregon, in its BPI rating, gained less than Arizona lost after their game Saturday but climbed four spots in the rankings Sunday to No. 16. The Ducks have won seven games in a row (earning a BPI Game Score of at least 90 in five of them) and exceeded a 90 Game Score in its loss at Arizona on Feb. 6. The NCAA’s RPI has Oregon at No. 25, and the Ducks have the third-most votes among teams finishing out of the top 25 in the AP poll.
The biggest faller in BPI rankings among the Top 50 was UCLA. The Bruins lost 73-55 at No. 175 Washington State on Saturday and fell from 11th to 21st. UCLA earned a Game Score of 10.6 against Washington State, 10 points lower than any other game score for a team currently ranked in the BPI Top 25.
In the eye of the beholder
BPI and other team ranking systems weigh different factors, which explains why teams such as Michigan and Louisville can be regarded so differently.
Michigan is eighth in the AP poll, ninth in RPI and a No. 2 seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. In BPI, however, Michigan is 22nd. Of the Wolverines’ seven losses, four have been by at least 10 points; of their wins, seven have been by five points or fewer. Also, Michigan is 8-1 with an 88.7 BPI against opponents missing at least one of their top five players (in terms of minutes per game), and BPI de-weights those games.
Louisville rose from 11th to fifth in the AP poll, but the Cardinals are a projected No. 4 seed in Bracketology and are 22nd in RPI. BPI ranks the Cardinals fifth. All five of Louisville’s losses have been to BPI Top 50 teams and have been by an average of six points, whereas its five wins against Top-50 opponents have come by an average of 13.4 points.
After handling Miami (FL) on Wednesday, the Cavaliers defeated Syracuse 75-56 in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. Virginia averaged 1.32 points per possession, the greatest offensive efficiency achieved against Syracuse in the last three seasons. By BPI Game Score (a 0-to-100 scale), the Cavaliers earned a 99.7, their best this season and the third-best among all teams.
Not all losses are created equal
It wasn’t just that Saint Louis lost, but where the Billikens lost, and to whom.
On Thursday, Saint Louis fell 71-64 at home to Duquesne, the 142nd-ranked team in BPI. That earned Saint Louis a Game Score of 25.7 – the Billikens’ worst of the season by a margin of more than 25 – and cost the team 2.0 in BPI’s 0-to-100 scale.
On Saturday, Saint Louis lost 67-56 at BPI No. 21 Virginia Commonwealth. That resulted in a drop in BPI of 0.9.
Once the week was over, Saint Louis had fallen from No. 19 in the BPI rankings to No. 30, the biggest drop in BPI ranking this week among Top 75 teams.
In The Associated Press’ weekly Top 25 released Monday, Saint Louis fell from 10 to 17. In the NCAA’s RPI rankings, the Billikens rose one spot to 17.
Falling in place
Kansas’ 72-65 loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday had an effect on the Jayhawks’ BPI rating, but not on their BPI ranking.
The Jayhawks’ BPI dropped 0.7 after they lost to the BPI No. 20 Cowboys. Kansas earned a Game Score of 73.2, its third-worst this season, with the performance in Stillwater, Okla.
Kansas maintained its spot at No. 3 in the rankings, however. The Jayhawks had enough of a cushion over the remainder of the teams that the decrease in BPI didn’t drop them in the rankings. (They did fall from fifth in eight in the AP poll and from No. 1 to No. 2 in RPI.)
Last week, the teams that BPI ranked fourth through eighth were separated by 0.1 in the BPI. There is less congestion this week, although No. 6 Louisville, No. 7 Virginia and No. 8 Villanova are separated by 0.2.
Syracuse is No. 1 in the AP Poll, but that is based on the subjective votes of media members.
Arizona is No. 1 in BPI and Kansas is No. 1 in RPI. But those metrics are based on formulas that factor in a team’s performance through the entire season.
The more insightful question is: Which team is the best with the roster we think each team will have in the NCAA Tournament?
For most teams, that's their current roster, but there are a few exceptions.
To evaluate that, we'll use each team's BPI with all of its key players. Those key players are defined as the five players who average the most minutes per game among players who have played at least half of the team's games. Games in which a key player played less than 10 minutes due to injury or foul trouble or any other reason are not included.
Florida reigns supreme
Based on this metric, the Florida Gators are the best team in college basketball.
With their current roster -- with Scott Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II, Patric Young and Dorian Finney-Smith in the lineup together -- they are 17-1, with their only loss coming by one point to UConn on a buzzer-beater by Shabazz Napier.
Undefeated Syracuse comes in at No. 2, followed by Kansas at No. 3.
A healthy Michigan State is dangerous
Michigan State is expected to have Branden Dawson back for the NCAA Tournament. Based on Dawson’s returning, the Spartans would rank fourth with their full squad.
That's a significant jump from their overall No. 15 BPI rank. They've lost four of seven games since Dawson went out.
In their two games with all of their key players except Dawson, the Spartans have a 61.1 BPI (win against New Orleans, loss to Nebraska), which would rank well below any team expected to get an at-large bid. That’s how important a healthy Dawson could be to their chances of going deep in the NCAA Tournament.
Is Iowa a top-5 team?
Based on this metric, the Iowa Hawkeyes are No. 5. They're 18-4 with their full squad.
Jarrod Uthoff has played at least 10 minutes in all but two games (at Michigan and against Ohio State). Iowa lost both.
Arizona isn't top 10 without Brandon Ashley
The Arizona Wildcats have been a much different team without Brandon Ashley, who is expected to miss the rest of the season.
Based on this metric, the Wildcats are No. 13. They're 2-2 without Ashley. That includes losses at California and at Arizona State and a two-point home win against Oregon.
Arizona has the No. 1 BPI with Ashley in the lineup, but it's a different story without him. Ashley could be the difference between Arizona being the National Championship favorite and not even contending for a Final Four berth.
What about Oklahoma State and North Carolina?
Although Michael Cobbins isn't among the top-five Oklahoma State players in minutes per game, the Cowboys are a much different team without him. Their BPI without Cobbins but with Marcus Smart ranks 33rd in this metric among teams currently in the BPI top 40.
Oklahoma State is 4-6 without Cobbins and with Smart, with two wins against West Virginia and home wins against Texas and TCU.
North Carolina's current roster includes Leslie McDonald, who was ruled eligible Dec. 18 after he missed the first nine games of the season. Since then, the Tar Heels' current roster has the worst BPI of any team currently in the BPI top 40.
The Tar Heels are ranked No. 32 overall in BPI, but their three best wins of the season -- against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky -- came without McDonald.
Since McDonald returned, they have losses to Wake Forest and Miami (FL) and didn't have a BPI top-50 win before Saturday's victory against Pittsburgh.
Whatever the context, Kansas State’s thorough demolition of the Longhorns changes the stakes for Monday night’s home game against in-state rival Kansas (9 p.m. ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). Actually, that’s not quite accurate: This is Kansas State hosting Kansas in The Octagon of Doom, so the stakes are a constant. But K-State's win over Texas does change the outlook. After a few weeks of mostly mediocre output, the Wildcats suddenly look more than capable of downing the Jayhawks.
Foster is unlikely to have quite as easy a time against the Jayhawks, and not just because it’s impossible to replicate a 34-points-on-16-shots tour de force like the one he just submitted. Kansas is, probably even as you read this, spending a great deal of its time focusing on how to play Foster with one and sometimes two defenders, to deny the ball on Bruce Weber’s motion screens, and to force the action into the hands of Kansas State’s supporting players. It’s likewise safe to assume Wiggins will draw the Foster assignment for whole swaths of the game, and Wiggins -- who is as quick as any guard but is 6-foot-7 and scary-athletic -- is a nightmare matchup for an undersized perimeter.
So that’s an interesting thing to watch. But more likely, the game will turn in the paint, where both teams truly excel.
When you score 1.17 points per trip in conference play, as Kansas has, you’re usually doing a lot of things right. The Jayhawks are. They lead the league in 2-point field goal percentage (55.6) and, somewhat surprisingly, in 3-point accuracy (41.8). But that latter figure is mostly a product of shot selection. The Jayhawks don’t shoot many 3s -- just 27.9 percent of their field goals come from beyond the arc -- so the shots they do take come with a special level of consideration. The only thing Kansas doesn’t do particularly well is handle the ball: The Jayhawks are still turning it over on 20.2 percent of their possessions in league play. But when Kansas doesn’t turn it over, and especially when it gets the ball near the rim, it typically scores.
The lone exception? An 81-69 loss at Texas on Feb. 1, when the Jayhawks scored just a point per trip and had 12 of their shots blocked by the Longhorns.
Kansas State’s defense, meanwhile, is the best in the Big 12 to date. It is holding opponents to the lowest combined field-goal percentage, and the lowest 2-point field-goal percentage. In half-court sets, according to Hoop-Math.com, Kansas State opponents attempt just 30.7 percent of their shots at the rim. More frequently -- nearly 40 percent of the time -- K-State opponents have to settle for shots in the sub-optimal midrange, where they shoot just 30.3 percent. Good perimeter defense starts the process, while rotations by Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson help seal off the paint. Good shots rarely result.
The Foster-Wiggins-Embiid freshman wow factor might dominate discussion of this game, and that’s fine: Foster deserves that attention. But the Jayhawks’ trip to Bramlage Monday night is most likely to be won or lost based on if and how Kansas gets the ball to the front of the rim. Kansas State’s defense may just have a surprise in store.
One of the main stories in college basketball this season has been the performance of the freshman phenoms. All six of the freshmen who have been included in ESPN's Freshman Focus will be in action Saturday. It's one of three remaining days in the regular season that they will all play on the same day.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse Orange
Although not the most-hyped freshman entering the season, no Division I freshman has more win shares, according to College Basketball Reference. At 3.8, Ennis trails only Pittsburgh’s Lamar Patterson for the top spot among all ACC players.
Ennis has shined with his clutch play. Syracuse has been tied or behind at the five-minute mark in the second half in five games this season, including in each of its last two. The Orange outscored their opponents by 37 points the rest of the way in those eventual wins.
Jabari Parker, Duke Blue Devils
Parker and Duke will go head-to-head with Ennis and Syracuse this Saturday. Parker has shined for Duke this season, with 12 20-point games, already tied for sixth-most all-time among ACC freshmen.
Entering Friday, Parker is one of just seven players in all of Division I this season to average at least 18 points and eight rebounds per game. He’s also improving as the season’s going on, averaging 18.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in his last four ACC games (10.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG in first four ACC games).
Julius Randle, Kentucky Wildcats
No school has had more highly-regarded freshmen recently than Kentucky, but as the chart on the right shows, Randle's offense is exceeding what Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis did to start their freshman years.
Randle leads all Division I freshman with 11 double-doubles this season, three more than Noah Vonleh of Indiana.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona Wildcats
Gordon has played a key role in Arizona's start, which also happens to be the longest win streak in school history.
Although he’s struggled shooting the last few games, he remains one of the best rebounders in the freshman class, leading all Pac-12 freshmen in offensive and defensive rebounds per game.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Jayhawks
Wiggins is coming off a big night in Kansas’ win Wednesday over the 16th-ranked Iowa State Cyclones. He scored a career-high 29 points, the second straight game he set a career high in scoring.
Wiggins' ability to get easier shots up close to the hoop is his strong point. He leads the Big 12 (and is third in the nation) in transition points per play, and has shot nearly 73 percent from the paint in his last two games, well above his average over the first 18 games (55.8%).
Joel Embiid, Kansas Jayhawks
Unlike his teammate Wiggins, Embiid started the season under the radar among the freshman class, but has put his name among the best in the class with his improvement during the season.
In November and December, Embiid averaged 10.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. In January, those numbers are up to 12.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.
Game Plan is our Monday morning primer, designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.
Do Michigan State’s injuries matter? In the words of Orlando Jones’ magazine salesman in “Office Space”: that all depends.
On Saturday, when the Spartans fell at home to hated rival Michigan -- a hard-fought and thrilling game that included a “Just-in Bei-ber” chant, Mitch McGary’s brilliant coaching advice (“win the game”) and a loving Nik Stauskas farewell -- they did so without forwards Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne. Payne, foot be-booted, missed his fifth straight game. Dawson, who broke his hand in a self-inflicted outburst during an apparently intense Thursday film session, missed his first, with many more to come. Tom Izzo found himself plunging deep into his frontcourt reserves: Alex Gauna and Gavin Schilling made appearances. Matt Costello’s 28 minutes were a season high. Russell Byrd, who hadn’t played more than five minutes in any non-guaranteed blowout all season, ran for 13.
It was tempting, then, to attach an asterisk to the entire affair, a temptation ESPN’s Chantel Jennings discussed -- and convincingly dismissed -- Saturday night. The Wolverines were missing McGary, after all, and the adjustments they’ve made since December have been stunning. Besides, Izzo wouldn’t hear of it.
The real question is how these injuries will affect Michigan State in the long run. For starters, there is the Big Ten race, where the Spartans are now staring down a one-game deficit and a much more difficult remaining schedule than John Beilein’s team. But the most interesting fallout could be in the NCAA tournament seeding.
The selection committee weighs a team’s performance during and after injury, and does its best to take the “true” measure of a team based on the gulf between the two. If Michigan State doesn’t slide too far in Dawson’s (and Payne’s) absences, and then looks brilliant upon their various returns, they’ll be seeded accordingly. But if the Spartans nosedive for the next two weeks? Or the next month? The committee can apply only so many asterisks. It’s unlikely, but what happens then?
On Tuesday, Michigan State faces Iowa’s offensive onslaught in Iowa City. On Saturday, they play an even-more-hobbled Georgetown. How the Spartans look next time this week should tell us a lot about just how important their injuries will look in March.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
Arizona shrugs off Utah, moves to 20-0. Just after the Wildcats finished their 65-56 brush-off of Utah Sunday night, the Fox Sports 1 crew placed the rosters of the greatest Arizona teams of all time next to Sean Miller’s team -- Steve Kerr, Kenny Lofton, Miles Simon, Richard Jefferson and all the rest. It was a sobering comparison: On paper, this Arizona team now ranks above the greatest Wildcats teams of all time. On the floor, it’s hard to argue otherwise, something the dominant final few minutes of an otherwise so-so performance showed. (It was also, for what it’s worth, a pretty impressive performance from Utah, which continues to look miles removed from the six-win disaster of 2011-12.)
Cincinnati keeps winning. Sshh. You can look at Cincinnati’s 80-76 win at Temple Sunday night one of two ways. You could note that the Bearcats were outscored 29-15 in the final 10 minutes against a bad team. Or, you could note that Cincinnati was outscored 29-15 in the final 10 minutes and went ahead and won anyway. You should also note that the Bearcats have ever so quietly jumped out to an 8-0 AAC record, are 19-2 overall, suffered their last loss Dec. 14 against Xavier, beat Pitt three days later, rebound 40 percent of their own misses and have one of the stingiest per-trip defenses in the country.
North Carolina avoided ignominy. Given North Carolina’s horrendous January -- which included a road loss to Wake Forest, a home loss to Miami, a 45-point effort at Syracuse and a throttling at Virginia -- and Clemson’s surprisingly capable defense, you could practically hear people getting ready to laugh at UNC when it inevitably lost its first-ever game to the Tigers at home. Giant clouds of schadenfreude were gathered on the horizon. It was going to be a thing! And then Roy Williams had to go and reminded his team it beat Louisville and Michigan State. North Carolina scored 80 points in 61 possessions Sunday, and the storm broke apart in the atmosphere.
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
(For two more in-depth previews of big games week to come, check back for Monday morning’s “Planning for Success” series.)
Michigan State at Iowa, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: How’s this for a quick Saturday-Tuesday turnaround? As we discussed above, Michigan State’s road trip week starts in Iowa City and ends vs. Georgetown in Madison Square Garden, and the first fixture is the more challenging by a factor of 10. The Hawkeyes, who rank with the nation’s best by every meaningful statistical measure, drilled Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., after Wednesday’s loss in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Iowa State at Kansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: For most of the season, Iowa State’s offense ranked among the nation’s best; it was certainly, in all its shape-shifting uptempo glory, one of the most entertaining. Since the start of Big 12 play -- and roughly coinciding with DeAndre Kane’s sprained ankle at Oklahoma -- the Cyclones’ offense is scoring just 1.06 points per trip, ninth best in the Big 12. What better time for a trip to Lawrence?!
Cincinnati at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: For all its travails this season -- the bad nonconference slate, the loss at rival Kentucky, the departure of Chane Behanan -- the Louisville Cardinals have, for the most part, played pretty excellent basketball. (The latest? A 41-point win at South Florida Saturday.) Cincinnati can identify with the whole “good basketball going largely unnoticed” thing. Thursday’s winner should get everyone’s attention.
Arizona at Cal, 10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network: Before we get all crazy: Arizona still has to play at Stanford on Wednesday. It still has a back-to-back road trip to Arizona State and Utah in mid-February. It still has two dates against Oregon. And now, with those important caveats out of the way, if the Wildcats win at Cal on Saturday, it is conceivable -- not likely, not probably, barely possible, but conceivable -- they could run the regular-season table. Gird loins accordingly.
Duke at Syracuse, 6 :30 p.m. ET, ESPN: Two weeks ago, this game would have been a harder sell, because two weeks ago the Blue Devils were coming off back-to-back losses against Notre Dame and Clemson, and freshman star Jabari Parker looked like his face had become intimately acquainted with the notorious freshman “wall.” No more: Duke has won four straight, the latest, a 78-56 rout of Florida State (in 63 possessions) its most complete performance of the season. OK, so it’s Duke-Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. It was never actually a hard sell. But now the Orange don’t look quite so likely to dominate.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
There’s been some talk about Wiggins falling short of his lofty expectations thus far. Some draft experts believe Duke’s Jabari Parker may have surpassed Wiggins as the projected No. 1 pick.
But Wiggins reminded scouts of his potential on Saturday, when he scored 13 straight Kansas points in the second half of the Jayhawks’ win against Kansas State. On Monday, he posted a career-high 19 rebounds to go along with 17 points in a win at Iowa State.
Despite his inconsistencies, Wiggins has played his best against his toughest competition.
Against ranked teams this season –- Duke, Florida, San Diego State, Kansas State and Iowa State –- Wiggins is averaging 20.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Against unranked opponents, he’s averaging 13.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Wiggins has been more efficient and is shooting better from inside the arc and 3-point range against ranked opponents.
Comparing the top three freshmen (based on 2013 ESPN 100 rankings) -- Wiggins, Parker and Julius Randle –- Wiggins is the most efficient offensively against ranked opponents.
Why hasn’t Wiggins taken over games as often as Parker and Randle?
Wiggins has not been featured in the Kansas offense the way the other freshmen have. Most of his offensive production has come within the flow of the offense.
Combining isolations, post-ups and plays in which he is the pick-and-roll ball-handler, Wiggins is averaging about two fewer 1-on-1 plays per game than both Parker and Randle. Wiggins has been more efficient than Randle on those plays despite Randle averaging nearly two-and-a-half more 1-on-1 plays per game.
Where Wiggins really has the edge over Parker and Randle –- and over almost any player -– is in transition.
Wiggins ranks eighth in the country in transition points per play (1.45) among players with at least 45 such plays this season.
While Wiggins may have a long way to go before becoming the next LeBron James, the numbers show he still might be the best prospect in this freshman class.
Each of KU's three losses are against teams ranked in the BPI top 20 – Villanova, Florida and Colorado. Each of those losses were by six points or fewer away from home. Kansas is 1-3 against top-20 teams (defeated Duke) and 8-0 against teams outside the top 20.
The Jayhawks have faced eight top-100 teams, including five teams in the top 50. Each of their 12 opponents are ranked in the BPI top 160.
Kansas has taken care of business against teams ranked outside the BPI top 25. The Jayhawks have the best BPI against teams outside the top 25.
Syracuse gets crucial win vs Villanova
Syracuse is coming off an impressive win against Villanova on Saturday in which the Orange trailed by 18 points in the first half but outscored the Wildcats by 34 over the final 31 minutes of the game. It was Syracuse's best performance of the season. In fact, it was the second-best performance by any team this season according to BPI game score.
The win against Villanova improved Syracuse's BPI rank from No. 12 to No. 10 (now No. 11), but it still differs greatly with its No. 2 ranking in RPI and No. 2 ranking in the AP Poll.
But the Orange also have three wins that hurt their BPI. They have three BPI game scores less than 75 -- against No. 349 Cornell (the only remaining winless D-I team), No. 340 Binghamton, and a six-point win against No. 194 Saint Francis (NY).
The Orange had five solid wins against top-100 teams entering Saturday, but the win against Villanova was their first win against a top-35 team. The Orange now have the best BPI against top-100 teams.
Louisville lacks signature win
The Louisville Cardinals missed their opportunity for a signature non-conference win against Kentucky on Saturday.
The Cardinals lost to both of their BPI top-50 opponents this season -- Kentucky and North Carolina -- and have just one top-100 win (Southern Miss). The Cardinals have the 12th-best BPI against teams ranked outside the top 50.
Louisville has faced seven teams ranked outside the BPI top 200, which doesn't fare well for its non-conference résumé. To Louisville's credit, it has defeated those seven teams by an average margin of 29.3 points per game. Despite the weak schedule, defeating those lackluster opponents by such a large margin doesn't hurt the Cardinals' BPI as much as it could.
Louisville's schedule strength is ranked No. 156 according to BPI. That's the lowest-ranked schedule of any team ranked in the BPI top 50.
Playing a weak schedule and not defeating any highly-ranked opponents is certainly a large factor -- just like it is with RPI. But unlike RPI, BPI takes into account that Louisville has pummeled all 11 of its opponents ranked outside the BPI top 50 by an average margin of 29.2 points per game.
That's the primary reason why Louisville is ranked No. 17 in BPI despite being No. 45 in RPI.
Iowa State is consistent
Iowa State, ranked No. 5 in BPI, is the most consistent team in the country in terms of variation in BPI game score from game to game.
The Cyclones are 4-0 against top-60 teams with wins against Iowa, Michigan, Boise State and BYU. All four of those wins are by seven points or fewer.
Iowa State's seven wins against teams outside the top 100 are by an average of 27.9 points per game.
- Andrew Wiggins’ winter break is already better than yours, in the following ways: 1. He saw the “Yeezus” show in Toronto Sunday night, and 2. He met Kanye West backstage after the show -- and posed for a photo with the man himself so good it might have to become my new iPhone wallpaper. It’s the stuff Tumblrs are made of. It’s that awesome.
- The 2012-13 season was a profoundly weird one in Tallahassee, and not just because the Seminoles were so mediocre. No, it was the way in which FSU was mediocre, how after years of singular defensive dominance Leonard Hamilton’s team was suddenly more permissive than NJIT. (No offense to NJIT … but that’s insane.) That aberrant FSU edition is gone in 2013-14; as Rush the Court details Monday, the Seminoles (ranked No. 7 in AdjD to date) are back to their old defensive ways.
- This week’s new AP top 25 is a rather tepid affair: The top eight teams held the same spots as last week. (Rightfully so.)
- A Sea of Blue charts Kentucky’s defensive performance against Belmont and finds a UK team that is still playing just meh basketball on its own end. The best solution I can see is to keep scoring 1.29 points per possession ever game. It’s just that easy!
- Whatever’s ailing the Maryland Terrapins on the court -- the subject of this morning’s Game Plan, in case you missed it -- bears no relation to their holiday cheer off it. Via College Basketball Talk and CSN Baltimore’s Dan Martin comes a rather excellent holiday greeting card the Terrapins recorded in the form of a horribly butchered, collectively “sung” edition of “Jingle Bell Rock.” The outtakes, which begin after 90 seconds of what can best be described as pained wailing, are the best part. In other words: This is the “Rush Hour 2” of Christmas Jumbotron videos. Merry Christmas.
O'Donnell, a Republican from Wichita, introduced a bill that would force both Kansas and Kansas State to schedule Wichita State at least once a season. Initially, O'Donnell proposed making state funding contingent on satisfactory scheduling; he later removed that provision, saying, as the Lawrence Journal-World related, that he "didn’t want his proposal to be confrontational."
The law failed, which surprised nobody -- but neither were many surprised by its introduction in the first place. There's a reason why a politician from Wichita might think it expedient to introduce such a bill: Shockers fans want nothing more than a regular-season shot at Kansas.
A few weeks after O'Donnell introduced his bill, Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz wrote that the Kansas game — or the idea of it — was the "one topic I hear about more than any other."
Shocker basketball fans love their team, no doubt about it. But they can become obsessed with KU. I don’t really get it, but it’s real. Perhaps it’s all the success the Jayhawks have had over the years. Perhaps it’s a perception that KU fans think they’re a little better than the rest. Perhaps there is some class envy here.
I think Wichita State-Kansas could develop into one of the finest basketball rivalries in the country if the two schools ever decided to give it a chance. It’s KU, of course, that does the most to hold it back. And by “the most,” I mean the Jayhawks virtually ignore the fact that Wichita State even exists.
On Monday, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall expressed that program-wide desire, telling Fox Sports Kansas City that he hoped the game would happen, and that he had offered Kansas a three-game home-and-home series, but that he wasn't "going to be bought … I'm not going to go to Allen Fieldhouse for a check."
Which, yeah, them's fighting words, and on Wednesday Bill Self responded:
Read more here:
“This isn’t knocking Wichita State,” Self told The Star on Tuesday. “But if it was best for our program, I would reach out to them about scheduling them. But it’s not. I’ve heard a lot of talk about them wanting to play us so bad; Gregg Marshall’s never contacted me about playing.”
Hold on, though, there's more. Self related his experience as coach at Tulsa, when he couldn't get Oklahoma or Oklahoma State to schedule his team.
“And they wouldn’t play,” Self said. “But I didn’t blame them. And I didn’t make a big deal of it.”
This, of course, is surely the attitude that drives Wichita State fans bonkers -- and the attitude that gives Kansas fans that extra taste of hegemonic joy: We're Kansas and you're Wichita State. Know your place, please. Don't make a fuss. We're not going to play you, because what do we stand to gain? Pipe down. Extra-maddening, no doubt, is that they're right. Even Wichita State fans, who can do no more than turn Marshall's old use of the term "chickenhawks" into a message board/school yard insult, would have to agree with such an obvious dynamic.
But college basketball schedules need not always be about sheer strategic or monetary gain. You can be pragmatic, and live in the real world, and still remember why the whole regional sports fandom thing kicked off in the first place: because it's fun.
Look how hot the Kansas-Wichita State rivalry is sans actual basketball. Maybe O'Donnell's law is a good idea after all.
A year later, Colorado finally got the reversal it deserved. The buzzer-beater it was owed finally, officially counted. The upset it earned was finally recorded as a win.
OK, so it has been more like 11 months. And, OK, the officials didn't have anything to do with it. Colorado's Jan. 3 loss to Arizona -- when Buffaloes guard Sabatino Chen banked in a last-millisecond 3-pointer that looked like it should have counted, but was stunningly reversed -- didn't, say, get an official review from the NCAA that passed just this week. Horrifyingly plausible though that scenario might seem.
No, Colorado's lost upset was remitted karmically. The funds hit the account in Boulder, Colo., on Saturday afternoon just before 5:30 p.m. ET, and boy did they make a splash.
"It felt really good," Booker said just afterward, as he was swarmed by fans, teammates and the ESPN broadcast crew.
He was talking about the release of the shot, not its result, but the phrase surely applies to both. Insane as the final play was, it was preceded by 39 minutes, 57 seconds of efficient, tidy, advantage-seeking basketball from the Buffaloes. Colorado scored 1.17 points per possession, avoiding turnovers on all but 12.5 percent of their offensive trips. They were balanced, too: Four starters finished with either 14 (Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott) or 15 (Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie) points apiece.
Which is not to say they were always pretty. Colorado shot only 41 percent, 31 percent from 3. How, then, did Tad Boyle's manage its efficiency? Not from fluidity, but assertion. Kansas' main defensive weakness to date -- really, its chief weakness as a team -- is its tendency to foul. The Jayhawks were whistled for 26 fouls on Saturday, 13 in each half. One late, key stretch was dominated by fouls: Dinwiddie blew by a Kansas defender and muscled his way to the rim, earning a foul and knocking down two free throws. With 1:44 left, his drive sent Kansas center Joel Embiid to the sideline. The Buffaloes shot 37 free throws. They made only 22, but they were enough.
Kansas' collection of young talent showed plenty of flaws. The Jayhawks are struggling from beyond the arc: They entered Saturday averaging 30.7 percent from 3, and their 5-of-20 night in Boulder won't raise that tally. Kansas' outside shooting woes have helped opposing teams take away its chief strength -- namely, its insane one-on-one talent.
Andrew Wiggins had one of his best games on Saturday. He is the rare player whose games can seem both impressive and oddly quiet at the same time. He finished with 22 points and five rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting.
But it was only occasionally -- as in his late half-court-length drive that ended in an effortlessly improvised left-handed finish. Maybe three players in the country could conceive of putting that play together, and you watch Kansas waiting for more. But because the Jayhawks can't stretch the floor and force teams to guard them man-to-man, Wiggins' lithe frame is often wasted on the perimeter. He floats.
Beyond that? The Jayhawks foul to their own detriment far too often; their high-screen defense was wildly suspect, both at the point of attack and in rotation; and, despite their physical advantages, they were outrebounded on both ends on Saturday. This is Bill Self's youngest team. It shows, subtly and not.
And yet Self, once he has processed the sting of the loss, can probably walk away from Boulder feeling pretty good. Last Saturday, after a limp trip to the Bahamas, Self was openly disappointed in his team's energy, its effort, his coaching, the whole nine. A few days later, his young team executed well down the stretch in an environment far more hostile than the Atlantis casino floor. The game was tied, after all, thanks to his clever play-calling out of a timeout and forward Perry Ellis' decisive finish with 5 seconds remaining. Colorado is a good and well-coached team. The Buffaloes are experienced; Dinwiddie and Booker are excellent. True road games are brutal. And so on.
Self gave his young group the toughest schedule in the country this season for a reason: He'll happily trade a loss or two for learning. He can say as much about Saturday's trip to Boulder, and while he'll hope for a different outcome Tuesday in Gainesville, Fla., against Billy Donovan's Gators, he might acquiesce to the same trade there.
After all, sometimes the game you claw into overtime doesn't get there. Sometimes, some basketball god somewhere owes your opponent a year-old debt, and sometimes that debt is repaid at your expense.
The game owed Colorado a buzzer-beating upset. Saturday, finally, the Buffs got what they deserved.
Not enough for a player who could have been the No. 1 pick in last summer’s NBA draft. The No. 1 recruit in America can’t be ordinary.
Between the Villanova loss and Saturday's victory over UTEP, (Wiggins had 17 points against Wake Forest on Thursday, I know), the freshman standout went 5-of-17 from the field, committed 5 turnovers, registered a 5-for-11 clip from the charity stripe, scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Jayhawks’ struggles cannot be assigned to Wiggins alone and yes, even the best have bad nights. Kansas was outhustled, outplayed and outworked in three of four halves in its last two games in the Bahamas.
But Wiggins never grabbed his cape.
Jabari Parker doesn’t have that problem. Duke’s superstar is not flawless. He’s not as athletic as Wiggins. And most NBA general mangers would probably admit that Wiggins has a higher ceiling. But Parker is the better player right now. And it has nothing to do with talent.
They’re both talented. But Parker is more assertive, especially on offense.
He knows exactly who he is every time he steps onto the court. Parker assumes that wins and losses rest on his shoulders. That’s not true, but stars think that way.
They accept the reality that they’ll be accused of playing “hero ball” when those instincts emerge and they fumble in clutch situations. They’re just called heroes when those tactics work.
Even in Duke’s losses, Parker (23.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG and 1.8 blocks per game) was relentless. He should be the No. 1 pick right now on the mock draft boards of smart NBA executives.
But that discussion can wait.
I just wonder if Wiggins knows how good he can be if he just turns those flashes of greatness -- see Wiggins splitting the UTEP defense on Saturday with ridiculous agility and explosiveness on one of the prettiest plays of the evening -- into sustained bursts of brilliance. The kind we all expected when he switched graduating classes and topped Parker to become the unanimous No. 1 recruit in 2013.
Kansas won’t reach its potential if Wiggins falls short of his. And so far, he has.
He’s not the player that he could be.
And a lot of that has to do with the adjustment that every freshman must make from high school to college. Wiggins has to figure out his new teammates. He has to learn their tendencies. He has to gain a better understanding of Kansas coach Bill Self’s system.
And it’s not easy to do that -- even for veterans -- a month into the season.
But there’s no excuse for the imbalanced offensive aggression.
To transition into one of those takeover moments.
It never happened.
Self continues to preach Wiggins’ value to his team and the freshman’s ability to make his teammates better. And he’s right. Wiggins’ sheer fluidity and versatility make life easier on the rest of the Jayhawks.
He draws double-teams and frees up space for Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid. Wiggins can handle the ball, which always makes it difficult for opposing coaches to find defenders who can stay in front of him.
He makes an impact. Just not a constant impact.
Kansas wants to win its 10th consecutive Big 12 crown and a national title. But it won’t get there unless Wiggins plays more like Parker.
The critics will ask for mercy on the youngster. They’ll plead for patience as Wiggins matures. He deserves that. All freshmen do. And he’s off to a good start.
No one, however, faces a higher standard.
Wiggins is a very skilled athlete. He has more potential than any player in the country. And he must prove that consistently in the coming months.
That has nothing to do with the race to be the No. 1 draft pick next summer. The NBA will figure that out.
Wiggins has to be more effective and deliberate, because that’s the only way that the Jayhawks will earn a trip to Arlington, Texas, in April and compete for the ultimate crown. It’s that simple.
Happy holidays, and happy early Wooden Watch. This Tuesday edition of what will for the rest of the season be a Thursday update is brought to you by pumpkin pie, stuffing and the rest of our quirky turkey traditions. You'll be eating and watching football Thursday. So will I, if the weather cooperates. So let's check in on the running Wooden list a couple of days early.
What's changed in five days? Honestly ... not a whole lot. That goes for last week's disclaimer, too: Since we're just now rounding the corner into December, the order of the list below is not really of primary concern. This is a window to the landscape, not a definitive hierarchy, for at least the next few weeks. And with that said:
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: If the season ended today, Marcus Smart would be my 2013-14 national player of the year. You likely saw what he did to Memphis last week; you've no doubt heard the ever-more-impressive stories about his leadership and work ethic. But my favorite Smart moment may have come Monday night at South Florida, when he and the Cowboys utterly eviscerated the Bulls with a gusto typically reserved for games against Kansas. Smart scored 25 points with four assists and four steals. He finished inverse post alley-oops, set up Cowboys wings for thundering finishes and even splashed down a 65-foot-or-so buzzer-beater at halftime. It looked like someone in the South Florida crowd had said something to Smart along the way: He was unusually talkative, and even threw up a "shush" sign. And, well, a word to wise fans on the Cowboys' road schedule: Don't do that.
Doug McDermott, Creighton: Another week, another chapter in my book, "Doug McDermott is hilariously efficient," available at all reputable bookstores (note: not really). McDermott has posted a 124.1 offensive rating on 31.9 percent usage and a 37.9 shot rate, the second highest in the country. He's hitting 50 percent from 3, drawing fouls at the usual rate and rebounding the defensive glass as steadily as ever. (Oh, and last week's catch-shoot winner at St. Joe's, which I criminally failed to mention Thursday, is worth watching over and over and over.)
Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle had his first "off" night against Cleveland State on Monday night, but he still finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds, and his passing out of the block was key to the last-ditch 3-point flurry that helped the Wildcats escape with a win. Good teams will double and triple Randle until UK proves it can knock down 3s consistently, but even if that never happens, he is as dominant a force as any in the game.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State: Save Marcus Smart, no guard has had a better start to the season than Carson, who followed up last week's 40-point effort in a win at UNLV with Monday's 23-point, five-assist performance in ASU's thrilling win against Marquette. There might be two or three defenders in the country capable of keeping Carson out of the lane. If that.
Jabari Parker, Duke: The order of this list isn't a big deal right now, remember, but I went ahead and downgraded Parker a bit this week anyway. But why? Isn't he still pouring in points? Yes. And thrillingly so. But Parker and Rodney Hood's issues on the defensive end for Duke have contributed to the Blue Devils' No. 176-ranked efficiency defense, and Duke gave up 90 points in 65 possessions to Vermont at home Sunday. Russ Smith, Louisville: Louisville took a tough and totally surprising loss to North Carolina on Sunday afternoon; the Tar Heels, especially guard Marcus Paige, looked better than anyone could have expected. But it's hardly time to panic on Smith. He was great individually Sunday, and he'll be great in the weeks to come, too.
Keith Appling, Michigan State: Gary Harris' spot last week is now occupied by Appling, and that says far more about Appling's performance than it does Harris'. The Michigan State point guard has done everything right as a senior thus far: He's shooting far less, and more accurately (57.1 percent from 3, 55.3 percent from 2); he's assisting teammates on nearly 30 percent of his possessions; and he isn't turning it over -- or suffering the long, disengaged stretches of a season ago. What a start.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona: Arizona's team is so balanced, and playing so much more unselfishly on the perimeter with the addition of T.J. McConnell, that it's tempting to give some love to one of the other Wildcats -- McConnell himself, perhaps, or peerless senior shooting guard Nick Johnson. But Gordon remains the focal point on offense, and his athleticism is just flabbergasting.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Early in his fourth season at UConn, Napier officially has every tool in the tool box. Tom Crean talked about this at length after Indiana's close loss to UConn in New York last weekend, and it's totally true: Napier is lights-out on the perimeter whether catching and shooting or off the dribble; he puts defenders in blenders with his ball-handling and versatility; and he keeps the ball moving and his teammates involved. Oh, and he's a blast to watch. A+++ -- would DVR again.
Early honorable mentions: C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Joseph Young (Oregon), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Anthony Drmic (Boise State), Chaz Williams (UMass), Yogi Ferrell, (Indiana), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Tim Frazier (Penn State), Jordan Adams (UCLA), Roberto Nelson (Oregon State), Kendall Williams (New Mexico), Caris LeVert (Michigan), Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), Marcus Paige (North Carolina) and Casey Prather (Florida)