Men’s college basketball rankings: Kansas up to No. 3, and South Carolina debuts – The Athletic

By CJ MooreFeb 5, 2024

Usually, this space is reserved for just the teams that are ranked. But let’s talk about Kentucky.

The Wildcats are out this week. They’ve lost three of four, and it’s hard to justify ranking them anymore when you study their resume. Their neutral-floor win over North Carolina is their only win over a top-30 KenPom team. They’ve fallen out of the top 25 at KenPom (27), Bart Torvik’s rankings (26) and the NET (26). They now have a sub-100 defense at KenPom, and over the last three weeks using the sorting tool at Torvik, Kentucky’s defense ranks 195.

Advertisement

Kentucky is not just running into a few teams who got hot from 3. The communication is terrible, the Cats constantly get hung up on screens and the effort isn’t great.

Kentucky’s offense is still awesome, but until John Calipari figures out a way to at least be average defensively, it’s going to be hard to beat legitimate opponents.

In this week’s rankings, Matt Painter schemes open Zach Edey, UConn’s Cam Spencer shows his versatility, Kansas’s offense is elite with Johnny Furphy, North Carolina wins a chess match against Duke and the South Carolina disrespect finally ends.

Your weekly friendly reminder: The setup of this season’s Top 25 is that I’ll give nuggets on an unspecified number of teams each week. So if a team appears in the table but not the text below, that’s why.

CJ Moore’s Top 25 for Monday, Feb. 5

Rank Team Last week
1 Purdue 1
2 Connecticut 2
3 Kansas 9
4 North Carolina 3
5 Tennessee 4
6 Houston 5
7 Marquette 8
8 Arizona 11
9 Wisconsin 6
10 Iowa State 7
11 Auburn 12
12 Illinois 13
13 Alabama 17
14 South Carolina NR
15 Duke 15
16 Baylor 22
17 Indiana State 19
18 Dayton 20
19 Florida Atlantic 23
20 BYU 24
21 Utah State 18
22 Saint Mary’s NR
23 Creighton 16
24 Colorado State NR
25 San Diego State NR

Purdue

It felt like Zach Edey had an off game on Sunday at Wisconsin, and he still ended up with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Matt Painter always steals him a couple of baskets, and he got a big one on a play that he used to run a lot for Edey his first couple seasons. Before I show it, here’s why it works. Point guard Braden Smith will often run down the middle of the floor and set a screen for Edey to get him the ball near the free-throw line, which sets up a dribble handoff play.

Since this happens multiple times a game, defenders are anticipating that Edey will run up the floor, so Painter runs a smart counter where Edey fakes like he’s going off the screen and Purdue throws the lob.

A lot of credit goes to Fletcher Loyer. That’s not an easy pass to throw, but he puts it on the money.

Connecticut

If UConn repeats, the decision of Cam Spencer to go into the transfer portal late and then commit to Dan Hurley will be what made it possible. Spencer is so important to so many things that the Huskies do. If you watch him away from the ball, he’s often directing traffic. He can play point guard and is tremendous off the ball running off screens. And with Alex Karaban out on Saturday at St. John’s, Spencer took over some of his duties as a ball screener and popper.

Spencer was either the handler or the screener on nine plays in the game, and the Huskies scored 18 points in those situations. It’s an offense that feasts on indecision, and no one is better at seeing those slip-ups in real-time.

Spencer is also just a few made shots away from putting up the rare 50/40/90 shooting splits. He’s 48.2 percent from the field, 44.8 from 3 and 90.3 at the line. He’s also second on the team in scoring and assists and one of the more underappreciated stars in the college game.

Kansas

Since Johnny Furphy joined the starting lineup on Jan. 13 against Oklahoma, Kansas has the second-best offense in college basketball, per Torvik’s sorting tool. Before that point, KU’s offense was the 47th-best in college hoops. (H/T @kevbo9)

It’s not just Furphy making shots; it’s the floor spacing he provides. His presence made it possible to execute a game plan built around spacing against Houston on Saturday, and since joining the lineup, it’s really helped Kansas shoot better inside the arc and cut down on turnovers.

2FG% 3FG% TO%
With Furphy starting 60.2 36.2 14.7
Pre-Furphy starting 55.5 37.8 18.1

Better spacing just makes it easier to run offense. There are still some concerns about the Jayhawks’ bench, but Elmarko Jackson has been better in a sixth-man role, and Kansas is crushing with the current starters on the floor. That lineup is plus-97 in 306 possessions this season, per CBB Analytics, and it’s only getting better.

Advertisement

North Carolina

Hubert Davis, Armando Bacot and Elliot Cadeau won the chess match on Saturday against Duke.

Duke decided it was going to double-team Bacot in the post using Cadeau’s man, and North Carolina was very smart in how it attacked. After Cadeau missed an open 3 early, he decided to start driving once Bacot would kick it out. Twice he got to the rim, drew help and missed, but Bacot got the putback. Bacot had five assists, but he probably should have had at least eight, as Cadeau missed those two layups and Seth Trimble also missed a bunny after Bacot found him cutting when it was his man charged with doubling. Then UNC threw another wrinkle in its post-trap attack, using Cadeau to screen for RJ Davis whenever his man went to double:

After this 3, Duke decided to quit doubling, and Bacot scored five points on his next two post-ups. Then when Duke doubled again late, Cadeau set another screen for Davis, who nailed the dagger 3. Cadeau struggles shooting the ball (16 percent from 3), but he knows his strengths and is one of the smartest freshmen in the country. And Bacot, who had been held to single digits in three straight games, went for 25 points on only 13 shots, proving he can still be one of the most dominant post players in college hoops.

GO DEEPER

Harrison Ingram, Armando Bacot impress, but full team effort sees UNC topple Duke

Houston

Houston remains at the top of all the computer rankings and is still in prime position to win the Big 12, which would likely earn it a No. 1 seed. That’s because the Cougars have played the two hardest road games in the Big 12 already — at Iowa State and at Kansas — and are still tied for the Big 12 lead with KU. That March 9 rematch against Kansas in Houston could decide the league title. It’ll be interesting to see Kelvin Sampson’s adjustments. Kansas shot 68.9 percent from the field on Saturday, which was the highest FG percentage the Coogs have allowed under Sampson.

Marquette

The Golden Eagles made 24 3-pointers in two games last week and are starting to heat up from deep, shooting better than 44 percent from distance in each of their last four games. Marquette is now 20-3 over the last two seasons when making double-digit 3s. When defenses get extended against Marquette, that’s when Tyler Kolek, Kam Jones and Oso Ighodaro are dangerous attacking the paint.

Advertisement

Auburn

It seems like an oversimplification, but Auburn is another team that needs to make 3s. After a two-game losing streak, the Tigers got back on track by making 22 3s in their two wins last week. In four losses, they’re making an average of 5.8 3s and shooting 24.2 percent from deep. In their 18 wins, which have all come by double digits, they’re making an average of 8.6 3s at a 35.6 percent clip.

Alabama

Now that Alabama is in first place in the SEC and moving up the rankings, it’s time to start the campaign for Mark Sears as a first-team All-American. Sears, who is averaging 20.1 points per game, is also close to the 50/40/90 shooting splits. He’s only short at the free-throw line, where he’s making 85.3 percent. His efficiency numbers could put him in rare company. Sears is one of three players this season with an offensive rating above 130 and a usage rate above 24 percent. He has a 130.6 offensive rating on a 26.5 usage rate. The other two players — San Francisco’s Jonathan Mogbo and High Point’s Duke Miles — play at the mid-major level. KenPom’s player tracking goes back to 2004, and since then, only five players have finished the season with a 130-plus offensive rating using at least 24 percent of its team’s possessions; Iowa’s Keegan Murray is the only player to do it in a high-major conference.

South Carolina

With a win at Tennessee last week, the Gamecocks became the only team this season to win a road game against a top-six team in these rankings and against any of the top eight at KenPom. South Carolina’s nonconference strength of schedule (333 at KenPom) was the main reason it took me so long to come around, but now with wins over Kentucky and Tennessee and sitting in a tie with Auburn for second place in the SEC, it’s time to rank the Gamecocks. Lamont Paris, a former Wisconsin assistant, is winning Wisconsin-like, playing slow and keeping the ball in front defensively. Not one team has hit 80 on the Gamecocks this season. They’re big, physical and hard to penetrate against. They do as good as job as anyone at keeping their chests in front of the ball.

South Carolina’s defensive plan is simple: limit 3s, force opponents to shoot mid-range jumpers and make it tough to score at the rim. Opponents are shooting only 51.6 percent at the rim, per Synergy. Tennessee made only 8-of-22 at the rim and was held to a season-low 59 points.

GO DEEPER

Tucker: Lamont Paris keeps pushing all the right buttons in South Carolina’s rebuild

Baylor

Scott Drew was ejected for the first time in his career midway through the second half against Iowa State for hilariously trying to toe the coaches’ box line — see his back foot — and getting popped for leaving the box by Jeb Hartness, who wasn’t even the official who Drew was trying to talk to.

Moments before this, you could see Drew trying to get official Chris Merlo to come closer to him because he couldn’t hear him. Then Hartness saw Drew just barely out of the box and gave him his second technical of the game. Usually, officials will give coaches some leeway when it comes to the coaches box, and a coach rarely gets his second technical for something so insignificant. Drew said after, “I’ve got to do better. We’ll send in the tape and see if the officials have to do better.” Drew earned his first technical, but this second one is one of the tamer techs I’ve ever seen. Officiating is a hard job, but this would have been an awful way to lose a game. (Baylor survived, thanks to what would have been a game-winning banked 3 from Milan Momcilovic leaving his fingertips just a tick late.)

Indiana State

Robbie Avila hit the game-deciding 3 on a pick-and-pop play in Indiana State’s 75-67 win over Drake, as the Sycamores avenged their only loss in Missouri Valley play. Avila is such a weapon because how else is anyone supposed to defend a ball screen like this along the sideline?

Switching isn’t a great option, because Ryan Conwell is dangerous with a live dribble, especially against a big man. Avila is shooting 44 percent from 3 and has now made 19-of-41 pick-and-pop 3s, per Synergy. Drake became the first team to hold Indiana State under a point per possession all season, but in the closing minutes, the Sycamores played through Avila and got back-to-back buckets that decided the game. The Sycamores are 20-2 with Avila in the lineup — he missed the Alabama loss — and in the other two losses he played limited minutes because of foul trouble.

Advertisement

Saint Mary’s

Saint Mary’s is 6-0 on the road and beat Gonzaga on Saturday night to stay undefeated in the WCC. The Gaels are outscoring WCC opponents by 28.3 points per 100 possessions, which is in the league of dominant Gonzaga teams of the past. Mark Few, in his 25th season as head coach, has had four teams with a better efficiency margin than Saint Mary’s current margin; four of those teams were No. 1 seeds and two made the national championship game.

Colorado State

I recently visited Fort Collins for a story on the Rams and Niko Medved. After I booked my travel, the Rams lost two straight. Then after visiting for a win against UNLV, the Rams lost another two straight, including blowing an 11-point lead in the final minute at Wyoming. Since the story ran, they’ve won two straight, including a big win last Tuesday against San Diego State. So to recap, Colorado State was 13-1 before I booked the travel and are 2-0 since the story ran and were 2-4 in between. The sportswriter curse lives on.

I’m not superstitious, but I think I probably owe an apology to Medved and his crew.

San Diego State

Brian Dutcher decided to change his starting lineup for the Utah State game on Saturday, inserting Jay Pal and Darrion Trammell. Both scored in double figures in the 81-67 win. Pal, who made his first start, came in averaging 4.9 points per game. He’s at his fourth school in five seasons. But Dutcher, who is one of the best at finding some portal hidden gems, may have something in the wiry super senior who previously was at Campbell and Jacksonville State. Pal scored a season-high 16 points to go along with seven boards, two blocks and a steal, keeping the Aztecs in the hunt for a Mountain West title.

Dropped out: Kentucky, Texas Tech, TCU, New Mexico

Keeping an eye on: Boise State, Nebraska

(Photo of Lance Jones: John Fisher / Getty Images)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.

Start Free Trial

C.J. Moore, a staff writer for The Athletic, has been on the college basketball beat since 2011. He has worked at Bleacher Report as the site’s national college basketball writer and also covered the sport for CBSSports.com and Basketball Prospectus. He is the coauthor of “Beyond the Streak,” a behind-the-scenes look at Kansas basketball’s record-setting Big 12 title run. Follow CJ on Twitter @cjmoorehoops

Source

×