Now that conference play has started, the upsets are coming fast and furious. A week after nine of the top 16 teams in the country lost, seven more ranked teams went down. It got me thinking.
This regular season was supposed to be a formality for blue bloods like Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas. But it’s very apparent that each team has definite weaknesses. We’ll take a look at those concerns in this week’s rankings. Creighton returns and Florida State debuts, replacing Louisville and West Virginia. Let’s get into it (Note: all statistics are as of Monday night).
10. Florida State (Last Week: Not Ranked)
Reason for Concern: 77th in Luck Rating (+.058)
Other than a surprising (especially in retrospect) loss to Temple, the Seminoles are perfect on the year, with wins over Minnesota, Florida, Virginia Tech, and at Virginia. The problem is, Florida State is winning games at an unsustainable pace. To be fair, calling it “luck” is a bit of a misnomer–it’s just the difference between a team’s actual performance and its expected performance. Florida State is extremely talented but is punching a little above its weight at the moment.
9. Creighton (Last Week: Not Ranked)
Reason for Concern: 253rd in rebound margin (-1.3/game), 227th in FT shooting (67.9%)
I’ve spent a lot of time bemoaning Creighton’s defense and that’s definitely still an issue. But more concerning is the fact that such a good offensive team is so bad at free throws and rebounding. Cole Huff is shooting 89 percent from the line, and has only missed three freebies all year. But Justin Patton (49 percent) and Maurice Watson Jr. (69 percent, nice) would no doubt be targeted by opponents in late game situations. And I understand when a team is very good offensively there won’t be too many missed shots, but only two players on Creighton are pulling down four or more rebounds per game. If Patton gets in foul trouble the Jays are at a huge disadvantage on the glass. Creighton has a big game against Butler this week, and for some reason also plays Truman State.
8. Oregon (Last Week: 10)
Reason for Concern: 116th in turnovers (12.7/game), 179th in 3P% (35.2%)
I’m higher on Oregon than most, just because I know they’re a wildly different team with a fully healthy Dillon Brooks. But the Ducks can struggle to both take care of the ball and consistently knock down jumpers. Starters Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher, and Tyler Dorsey each have even or negative assist/turnover ratios, and no one has been a consistent perimeter threat so far besides Dorsey. The Ducks only have to face Oregon State this week, quite possibly the worst Power 6 team.
7. UCLA (Last Week: 8)
Reason for Concern: 76th in AdjD (0.997 points per possession)
Every team on this list deserves to be ranked in the top 10, so naturally each is pretty efficient on both sides of the ball. UCLA’s defense is by far the worst unit. The Bruins give up nearly a full point per possession, a terrible mark for an elite team. Steve Alford’s club has been able to overcome its Achilles heel with a dynamic offense that leads the country in assists and is 2nd in three point shooting and Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. But when the shots stop falling–something that will definitely happen away from home–it’s unlikely that the Bruins will be able to rely on their defense to win games. UCLA will hit the road for the first time in conference play this week with trips to Colorado and Utah.
6. Duke (Last Week: 7)
Reason for Concern: Off the court issues
Nothing concerns me about Duke from a basketball standpoint. The Blue Devils are far and away the most talented team in the country, which is why I absolutely lose it every time I hear some talking head mention Duke’s “short bench”. Yeah, the bench full of McDonald’s All-Americans is really holding the team back.
Realistically, the only thing holding/that can hold Duke back is various off the court distractions. Grayson Allen hasn’t proven that he has matured at all, and that will definitely hurt Duke if he can’t hold it together against quality opponents. I would also say that having Jeff Capel running the show instead of Coach K is a disadvantage, but the committee has already said they will take that absence into account when determining Duke’s seed. Because Duke needs all the help it can get.
5. Kentucky (Last Week: 5)
Reason for Concern: 190th in 3P% (34.9%), 184th in FT shooting (69.4%)
Malik Monk is good at shooting. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much help. The only other “good” outside shooters on Kentucky are Mychal Mulder (someone who only plays 11.5 minutes per game) and Isaiah Briscoe (who has taken just 23 threes on the season). You would think that Derek Willis would emerge as an outside threat but he has been struggling so far. Monk’s performance against UNC is the exception rather than the rule, and if the shots aren’t falling for him (ie the Louisville game) it remains to be seen if anyone else can pick up the slack. Combine that with the fact that both of Kentucky’s primary big men (Bam Adebayo and Isaac Humphries) convert fewer than 60 percent of their free throws, and opposing defenses should feel comfortable clogging the lane and forcing someone other than Monk to beat them from the outside.
4. Villanova (Last Week: 1)
Reason for Concern: 86th in Luck Rating (+.054)
Villanova’s season has consisted of narrow wins over Purdue, Notre Dame, DePaul, and Creighton, and looking back it’s incredible that the Wildcats were able to win all of those games. The team is going to have a decided perimeter advantage against just about anyone, but that can sometimes hurt Villanova when the Wildcats insist on settling for jump shots (as they did against DePaul). A huge matchup with Xavier looms.
3. Baylor (Last Week: 4)
Reason for Concern: 80th in Luck Rating (+.056)
Just in the last week Baylor has beaten Iowa State and Oklahoma State by a combined six points. The Big 12 is once again going to be an absolute grind, and I would be shocked in the Bears get through road games at West Virginia and Kansas State unscathed.
2. Gonzaga (Last Week: 3)
If you think I’m going to trash Gonzaga, you don’t know me very well.
1. Kansas (Last Week: 2)
Reason for Concern: 108th in turnovers (12.6/game), 268th in fouls (20.3 per game)
West Virginia under Bob Huggins is known for playing an aggressive, trapping defense that can rack up fouls in a hurry. Even so, the Mountaineers don’t foul as much as Kansas does. The Jayhawks accumulate fouls at an alarming rate, ensuring that their opponents reach the double bonus nearly every half. That can be problematic especially in March, when Kansas runs into a phenomenal free throw shooting underdog. Despite his improvement over the course of the season, Josh Jackson still struggles with coughing the ball up, as does just about every Kansas frontcourt player–something that I’m sure Huggins has noticed. Kansas plays both Oklahoma teams this week.