Men’s college basketball rankings: UConn towers above the field – The Athletic

By CJ Moore5h ago

I was considering moving Connecticut ahead of Purdue to No. 1 on Sunday morning after watching the Huskies annihilate Marquette in person on Saturday. Connecticut has been so dominant recently, and the resumes were getting closer. My only hesitation was that Purdue has five wins over my current top 10 compared to just two for UConn. Well, Purdue made it easy for me by losing on Sunday afternoon at Ohio State.

Yet no one should drop the Boilermakers too far, because they still have the best collection of wins in college hoops.

In this week’s Top 25: UConn’s two styles; put some respect on Houston point guard Jamal Shead’s name; Iowa State’s offense is trending up; Alabama is scoring at a historic rate; and teams led by former San Francisco coaches (and numbers-lovers) Kyle Smith and Todd Golden make their rankings debut.

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. 19

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

Connecticut

One of the most impressive traits of UConn is the ability to play two different styles depending on which center is in. On Saturday, I wrote about the value of Donovan Clingan’s defense, especially in pick-and-roll coverage when he’s in a drop. Opposing players fear trying to score on him in the paint, so they rarely even try. When Samson Johnson is in, UConn gets more aggressive with its ball-screen coverage and hedges. And it’s pretty awesome at that too:

Johnson is also more of a rim roller offensively, while Clingan can play facilitator on the perimeter, can post up and can roll. Johnson is a great changeup to UConn’s fastball, and the ability of others around to adapt to whomever is in is impressive.

Purdue

Purdue’s 73-69 loss to Ohio State may convince Matt Painter to reconsider his two-foul participation strategy. Zach Edey got his second personal with 4:30 left in the first half and sat until intermission. Ohio State scored on its next five possessions, including eight points in the paint. The 10-2 run gave the Buckeyes a five-point lead. Purdue was outscored by 14 points for the game with Edey on the bench. The big fella finished with just two fouls. He has committed only 2.5 fouls per 40 minutes this season. If Painter faces a similar scenario in the NCAA Tournament, it’ll be interesting to see if he goes back to Edey with two fouls. That’s probably the analytical play.

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Houston

ESPN’s “College GameDay” held an exercise on Saturday where they picked an all-star team in college basketball. Houston’s Jamal Shead wasn’t on there. Probably because he doesn’t average enough points. But Shead might be the best leader in college basketball and one of those guys whose numbers do not capture his value. But here are some numbers that should get people’s attention: Shead went for 16 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, six steals and two blocks in Saturday’s win over Texas.

Here’s the list of players (per Sports Reference) who have hit those numbers in one game since 2010-11: Shead and former Florida State 6-foot-9 forward Chris Singleton. Singleton’s came against UNC Greensboro. Shead is listed at 6-foot-1. I’m not sure he’s actually 6-foot-1. But he is 22nd in block rate in the Big 12 in conference games. He does things at his size no one else in college basketball can do. Put that man on every list of the best players in the sport.

Marquette

Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro form one of the most dangerous duos in two-man action in the country, which makes what UConn did on Saturday even more impressive. Earlier in the week, the creativity of how Marquette gets to those actions was on display when Kolek and Ighodaro closed out a win at Butler. Marquette stretched its lead from three to six with a dribble handoff for Kolek set up by a perfectly timed cut by Stevie Mitchell, who was like a receiver in football executing a pick play. His cut created indecision for Butler and opened up a wide open 3 for Kolek:

Next possession: Marquette set up the same action, except instead of Kolek coming off the DHO, he diverts his path and sets a ball screen for Ighodaro, clearing a path for him:

That’s beautiful, smart basketball. On Saturday, it was like the Huskies took away Kolek and Ighodaro’s powers. But over the last few weeks, this team has looked like one of the best in college hoops. This is still a team capable of going on a deep March run, and it’ll be interesting to see the adjustments when Marquette gets its rematch against UConn at home on March 6. And for those expecting a bigger drop in the rankings, it’s hard to penalize a team for losing at UConn.

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Iowa State

T.J. Otzelberger has had a top-10 defense in each of his three seasons in Ames, but this is his first time with a top-100 offense. The Cyclones are up to 41st and are trending upward. They’ve had 10 straight games with an efficiency of at least 1.03 points per possession. The run will be put to the test on Monday when Iowa State travels to Houston in a matchup of two of the best three defenses in the sport. The Cougars and Cyclones are tied atop the Big 12 standings. Iowa State has the easier schedule beyond that game. If the ’Clones can somehow sweep the Cougars, they could win the Big 12 for the first time since 2001.

Alabama

The Crimson Tide are on a six-game run where they’ve averaged 97.2 points. Over that stretch, Alabama’s adjusted offensive efficiency is 133.3. Second is Arizona at 130.0, per Bart Torvik’s sorting tool. If the season were to end today, Alabama, with a 127.1 adjusted offensive efficiency, would finish with the fourth-best offense in the KenPom era dating back to 1999, finishing behind 2015 Wisconsin (129.0), 2018 Villanova (127.8) and 1999 Duke (127.7). Those other three teams all made the national title game. Those teams also had a lot of continuity returning. Alabama returned just one of its top seven from last season and lost all three of its assistants.

Illinois

For anyone worried about Illinois not having a true point guard, I give you Exhibit A why that should not be a concern:

Marcus Domask can handle pressure, and he’s a pretty good decision-maker too. When Maryland made the mysterious decision not to foul down four in the final minute on Saturday, Domask calmly waited for the clock to tick away, then saw the floor imbalanced and made the right pass to seal the game. Exhibit B:

Illinois has the fifth-best offense in college hoops, and its defense has probably underachieved. Brad Underwood puts five guys on the floor who can pass and handle.

Duke

Duke freshman Jared McCain made nine 3s on Saturday against Florida State, and his ability to make unscripted 3s is a weapon that could win Duke a game in the NCAA Tournament if he gets hot. McCain has made 15-of-35 (42.9) on 3s off the bounce, per Synergy. And he’s one of the few guys who can do something like this:

San Diego State

San Diego State’s defense has not reached the levels of last year’s national runner-up team, but it’s getting close. The Aztecs ranked fourth in adjusted defense last year and are up to seventh this year. It’s built into the SDSU culture. If the Aztecs finish in the top 10 defensively, it’ll be the fourth time in the last five seasons. Through that stretch, there might not be a better 20-minute segment than last week’s come-from-behind win over Colorado State. The Rams led by 14 at half; the Aztecs held them to a ridiculous 11 points on 35 possessions in the second half.

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Kentucky

Kentucky’s defensive intensity this past week has been a total transformation from the way the Wildcats had been playing. The Cats are applying ball pressure, which helps them fight over ball screens when they’re going over. When it makes sense to go under, they’re going under. Off the ball, they’re way more attentive. Breakdowns were frequent; now they’re fewer and farther between. The effort when a shot goes up to box out has gone from nonexistent to Kentucky turning it into a fight when the ball is in the air. Let’s see if the Cats can keep it up, but it sounds like this story was read to them and for one week at least they proved they’re capable.

GO DEEPER

John Calipari and Kentucky flex with big win at Auburn

Texas Tech

Texas Tech is 18-5 with Warren Washington in the lineup, including the 29-point beat down of Kansas earlier this week, and 0-2 when he’s out. The Red Raiders are also plus-8.6 per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-5.6 per 100 possessions with his backup Robert Jennings on the floor, per CBB Analytics. Washington missed Saturday’s loss at Iowa State with a foot injury. The Red Raiders, who are already thin up front with Devan Cambridge out for the season, need to get Washington back quickly. They have a manageable schedule left, but it’s not unfathomable they’ll become bubble-bound if they struggle down the stretch.

Washington State

Washington State is one of the best stories in the country, told last week by my guy Brian Bennett. Kyle Smith had his four leading scorer from last season leave, with two hitting the portal and two going pro. The Cougars were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12, and now they’ve won seven straight and are just a half-game back of Arizona in the standings. Smith built the tallest roster in the country, and it has worked masterfully defensively. Washington State is holding opponents to 44.9 percent shooting inside the arc (15th-best nationally). The Cougars are also elite at keeping teams out of transition, allowing the sixth-fewest points per game in transition in the country, per Synergy.

Florida

Todd Golden, a former Kyle Smith assistant who succeeded him at San Francisco, follows the numbers just like Smith. Golden’s teams have never been great on the offensive glass, but he’s leaning into one of his team’s strengths this year. The Gators have gone from ranked 320th in offensive rebounding rate a year ago to second this season, getting back 40.1 percent of its misses. The Gators have the fourth-best offense in the scoring-happy SEC despite being the 10th-best shooting team in conference games. Golden is following the Houston model: get back a lot your misses and limit turnovers.

Dropped out: Indiana State, Virginia, Oklahoma, BYU

Keeping an eye on: TCU, Michigan State, Utah State

(Top photo of UConn’s Donovan Clingan: David Butler II / USA Today)

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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

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