NCAA Power Rankings 1: The Best At the End of 2012
The 2012 part of the 2012-2013 NCAA season is comparatively meaningless. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter though. Half the Final Four teams of the last 5 years were ranked in the top 5 in the final December poll, 65% were ranked in the top 10, and 90% were ranked. Every national champion was ranked in the top 7 at the year end poll (I’m looking at you Duke, Michigan, Arizona, Louisville, Indiana, Kansas, and Syracuse!). And I’m confident if I looked at statistical power rankings, they’d do even better than the polls.
Rather than use subjective influence in my top ten, at least this time, I’m gonna use each team’s adjusted net rating to rank them. Adjusted Net Rating is each team’s point differential per 100 possessions adjusted for strength of schedule. If I decide it’s less fun this way, I might switch it up in the future, but for now this is what you get.
1. Indiana Hoosiers
- +40 Adjusted Net Rating (+24 offense, +16 defense)
- Key Players: Cody Zeller (+13), Victor Oladipo (+13), Christian Watford (+9)
Indiana may have fallen in the polls due to its overtime loss to Butler, but the numbers are still on the Hoosiers’ side. This team has crushed nearly every team it has played, and it embarrassed North Carolina with a 24 point rout. Indiana has the best offense in the nation – and when you look at what they do it’s not hard to see: their efficiency from the field is the nation’s best, and they’re unselfish play is reflected in their high assist numbers. Combine that offense with the nation’s 11th ranked defense and you got a pretty good team. We’ll give them a pass for the Butler loss for now – this is a team of guys that aren’t used to being number 1 and having every team give them its best shot every night. The real question is whether the “others” will be able to play well under pressure. Cody Zeller, who would have been a lottery pick had he declared for the draft after last season, has obviously been the focus of opposing defenses, but it hasn’t slowed him one bit. The guy is a do-everything monster. Victor Oladipo has stepped up big time and emerged as the other star on this Indiana team. But he’s not just some “other” star – right now I have Oladipo as the third best player in the nation. The rest of the team has been quite good, but the question that remains is whether they can continue play at that level when faced with adversity. That question may be the difference between a national championship and an early tournament exit.
2. Florida Gators
- +40 Adjusted Net Rating (+23 offense, +17 defense)
- Key Players: Patric Young (+13), Erik Murphy (+11), Scottie Wilbekin (+9)
This Florida team’s stock is going down faster than a fat kid on a seesaw with a couple of close losses, but the numbers are still in its favor. This is a talented, experienced team – its core is made up exclusively of juniors and seniors, and we know (with apologies to ’12 UK) that experience is often a huge factor come tournament time. Patric Young has been particularly productive in the early season, anchoring the defense and scoring with hyper-efficiency on offense, but the whole team has been impressive. If they can learn to deal with adversity (a big if), they can be a serious postseason threat.
3. Duke Blue Devils
- +40 Adjusted Net Rating: (+24 offense, +16 defense)
- Key Players: Mason Plumlee (+13), Ryan Kelly (+9), Quinn Cook (+8)
Duke is pretty much the consensus #1 right now because they’ve beat some pretty good teams and, more importantly, they haven’t lost yet. That and their adjusted net rating is right there with Indiana and Florida. Put all these together and Duke is the team to beat right now in the NCAA. But are they really the best? Duke doesn’t have its own Oladipo to go along with Mason Plumlee, but it has a bunch of guys who make the team better. And this formula has bred success so far – Duke has the nation’s most impressive wins: it beat Kentucky (#3 at the time), VCU, Louisville (#2 at the time, but without Dieng), and Ohio State (#4 at the time). But Duke is always a good regular season team, the question is whether this team is more like 2012 Duke (who lost in the first round) or 2011 Duke (who won the national title). It’s hard to say at this point, but it at least seems like this Duke team’s best players are getting the most minutes, which is not true of last year’s iteration.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
- +38 Adjusted Net Rating (+20 offense, +18 defense)
- Key Players: Jeff Withey (+15), Ben McLemore (+9), Travis Releford (+9)
Led by returning stars Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, and big time freshman guard Ben McLemore, this Kansas team has a little bit of everything. And aside from a little bump in the road early against Michigan State, the Jayhawks have demolished nearly every team in their path, a win streak that culminated at then-number-7 Ohio State December 22. What’s been particularly amazing on the individual level is the production Kansas has been getting from Withey. I had him as the second most impactful player in the entire NCAA (after Anthony Davis) last season, and he’s currently #1 this season. The guy is a defensive animal with a potent offensive game – the Jayhawks will likely go as far as he carries them.
5. Pittsburgh Panthers
- +38 Adjusted Net Rating (+24 offense, +14 defense)
- Key Players: Steven Adams (+14), Talib Zanna (+13), Travon Wodall (+7)
Well this is bizarre. 12-1 Pittsburgh is only ranked #24 despite blowing out nearly all its opponents and only losing to #4-at-the-time Michigan. Sure, Pitt hasn’t beat anybody, and sure, it’s Pitt (that means they will underwhelm in the tournament), but the margin of victory has been super impressive. The Talib Zanna – Steven Adams frontcourt is the best in the country, and while most believe winning in the NCAA starts with the guards, I’ll point you to 2006 (and 2007) Florida. Speaking of Steven Adams, how about this dude? He’s a freshman and I have him among the most impactful players in the nation. Draft Express currently has him as the #19 draft prospect, but if he keeps playing like this, his stock could rise fast.
6. Louisville Cardinals
- +38 Adjusted Net Rating (+17 offense, +21 defense)
- Key Players: Russ Smith (+9), Peyton Siva (+9), Gorgui Dieng* (+15)
This Louisville team is downright scary. Why? Because it has managed to be one of the best teams in the country without its best player, Gorgui Deng, who went down with a wrist injury and fixes to come back soon. But even more scary is that this is the best defensive team in the nation and it has played seven games without Dieng, who is arguably the best defensive player in the land. This core led Louisville to a Final Four last year; the sky’s the limit this year.
7. Michigan Wolverines
- +35 Adjusted Net Rating (+24 offense, +11 defense)
- Key Players: Trey Burke (+10), Glenn Robinson (+9), Nik Stauskas (+7)
When you cross one of the nation’s best point guards with two sons of former NBA stars, you’re bound to have a pretty good team. That’s exactly what you got with this year’s Wolverines. Though Tim Hardaway 2 hasn’t been particularly great, Glenn Robinson III has been pretty damn good. And with Trey Burke running the point and freshman Nik Stauskas rounding out one of the nation’s best offenses with his ridiculous three point shooting, this is a tough Michigan team.
8. Ohio State Buckeyes
- +32 Adjusted Net Rating (+19 offense, +13 defense)
- Key Players: Shannon Scott (+10), Deshaun Thomas (+7), Aaron Craft (+7)
As much of a big deal the media makes out of the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry, this year’s basketball rivalry is probably better. The Bucks return some big time players like Aaron Craft (who hasn’t been playing up to his standards this year, but has lots of time to step it up) and Deshaun Thomas, and with Shannon Scott and Amir Williams making the most of their boosts in minutes, the Bucks remain a contender. Business as usual.
9. Syracuse Orange
- +31 Adjusted Net Rating (+13 offense, +18 defense)
- Key Players: Michael Carter-Williams (+10), Rakeem Christmas (+7), Baye Moussa Keita (+11)
Speaking of business as usual, Jim Boeheim notched his 900th win, joining some pretty elite company. The world’s best two-three zone continues to shut down opposing offenses, and this year so far Syracuse has the nation’s fifth best defense. And with do-it-all guard Michael Carter-Williams running the offense, this is a well rounded team.
10. Arizona Wildcats
- +31 Adjusted Net Rating (+17 offense, +14 defense)
- Key Players: Solomon Hill (+9), Nick Johnson (+8), Kevin Perrom (+8)
For all the talk in recent years about Arizona being back, it finally seems to be a reality. This team seems to have pieces at every stage – good players representing every class. Ok, except juniors. Solomon Hill and Kevin Perrom hold it down for the seniors – these guys are like textbook college basketball players who came in as freshmen expected to play big minutes, improved a little bit each year, and now lead one of the nation’s best teams. The sophomore class is led by Nick Johnson, who I called one of the five Pac-12 players to watch this season. And freshmen Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are exceeding even the big expectations they came in with.