After 21+ games into the basketball season, the metrics for ranking and evaluating teams finally starts making some sense. Polls are mostly purged of teams who started the year overvalued -- we'll see Michigan State again as soon as they win one significant game in the Big 10 -- and the RPI and Strength of Schedule starts rounding into something tangible but not complete.
This year's fun revelation: There are no real dominating teams. (I know, I know: Duh.) In these series of articles starting on the 1st of February, I break down each AP Top-25 teams' weaknesses. This section focuses on the programs in the current top-5, who have looked equal parts incredible and perplexing through the start of conference play.
Note: Most stats taken from StatSheet.com, unless otherwise specified. Stats were current as of the start of January 31st, 2011.
#1 Ohio State (Overall: 22-0, Conf.: 9-0, RPI: #3, SOS: #47)
In nine conference games, Ohio State's has barely out-rebounded opponents (OSU 266, Opp 265). Ohio State has allowed more offensive rebounds than they've accumulated (OSU 77, Opp. 86). For the season, the Buckeyes have been forcing an average of 16.5 turnovers a game. Since hitting conference play, they've forcing just 13.3 turnovers/game while allowing 11.1 turnovers/game. (Conference stats from OSU's website.)
All teams see a drop in statistics entering conference play, especially in a stronger conference like the B1GT3N. But in the 6 games in which Ohio State won by single-digits (@Iowa, Minn, @Mich, PSU, @Ill, @NU), Ohio State has been out-rebounded 187-160. Ohio State won those games thanks to forcing turnovers and either high 3-pointer scoring or lots of made free throws (or both).
They also are one of the worst in the nation concerning rhythm, pitch and vocal control.
#2 Kansas (Overall: 20-1, Conf.: 5-1, RPI: #2, SOS: #15)
The Jayhawks are 229th in the country in Free Throw Percentage made (66.9%). Both of the Morris brothers shoot under 68% and Tyrel Reed, the Jayhawks' best free throw shooter, has only 43 attempts. The 2007-08 Memphis Tigers wishes that now was then.
Kansas also has a moderately-concerning 14 turnovers-per-game. The Jayhawks play at a robust pace since just 19.6% of their offensive possessions results in a turnover. The extra turnovers are offset by Kansas having more possessions a game to utilize their nation-leading field-goal percentage (51.9%).
Helping their cause, Kansas also leads the nation in the crucial "women with Allen Fieldhouse tattoos that cause national columnists to drool" statistic.
#3 Texas (Overall: 18-3, Conf.: 6-0, RPI: #11, SOS: #22)
Like their Big 12 rivals, Texas is also an awful free-throw shooting team (65%). Texas freshman forward Tristan Thompson can do just about anything except shoot free throws (49.7%); senior forward Gary Johnson is significantly better (67.3%) but not what you'd prefer for a post player. Opponents with a deep frontcourt could employ an effective Hack-A-Steer defense to negate Texas' post power.
Texas doesn't dig the long ball: Only 22.3% of Texas' points come from 3-pointers. They don't shoot very many 3-pointers (314 attempts is 302nd most in the nation) but they make threes at a good clip (38.2% three-point FG% is 41st best in the nation). It could be interesting if the Longhorn's great defense fails them and they are forced to jack more than 15 three-pointer attempts.
By the way: When Rick Barnes raises his eyebrows, his forehead wrinkles so definitely you could swear you were looking at a Klingon. Qapla'!
#4 Pittsburgh (Overall: 20-2, Conf.: 8-1, RPI: #8, SOS: #25)
The Panthers are yet another team top-ranked team with a crappy free throw percentage (66.8%, 234th best in nation). Junior Guard Brad Wanamaker leads Pittsburgh in free-throw attempts (107) and makes a reasonable 73%; teammate (and also guard) Ashton Gibbs makes 88.7% of his free throws but has only gotten to the line 62 times. Senior Center Gary McGhee only shoots 47.9% and has the 2nd-most free-throw attempts on the team (73).
The Panthers' have a good-but-not-great 3-point defense. They've allowed opponents 32% on three-point field goal shooting for conference games (34.1% for all games). Also, Pittsburgh depends on on defensive rebounding to help control pace-of-play (as Pitt averages a nation-best 1.2 points per possession). When Notre Dame made 9 3-pointers, kept Pittsburgh's rebounding margin respectable and slowed the pace-of-play way below their 65.1 possession per game average, Pitt got burned with a loss.
The Panthers still have to face a Big East gauntlet in long, athletic teams that could dictate pace-of-play: West Virginia (twice), Villanova (twice) and Louisville. Losing one or two games in that schedule should still give Pitt the crown for best Big East team (and probably a guaranteed #1 seed).
#5 Duke (Overall: 19-2, Conf.: 6-1, RPI: #13, SOS: #72)
Yes, yes. The loss of Kyrie Irving has made Duke vulnerable this year, and the loss at St. John's may have killed Duke's chance at a NCAA #1 seed. But there is a lot that has been hurting the Dukies since the start of conference play (and the end of their not-exactly-tough non-conference schedule).
For their entire schedule -- ACC and non-conference combined -- Duke's 3-point field goal percentage is 39%. In just conference games (and not counting the St. John's loss), Duke's 3-point FG is 33.1%. They've averaged 8 made three-pointers on roughly 24 attempts in their ACC game; in their non-conference games, they averaged 9.3 made three-pointers on just 22 attempts. They're trying more 3's because their inside game isn't exactly scary: Sophomore Forward Mason Plumlee averages nearly 8.7 rebounds a game yet scores 6.4 points per game on 52% FG shooting. Senior Forward Kyle Singler scores in the paint from drives and cuts, not power-post moves. The lack of offensive post threat might explain the disappointingly-average Free Throw rate (getting to the line only 38.7% of all field-goal attempts) for a team with such great free-throw shooters (75.9% team average, 15th best in nation).
Due to this lack of a post presence, Coach K has increased the rebounding capabilities of his team. The cost of Singler and others to help team rebound is just average 3-point defense: The Blue Devils allowed all their opponents to shoot 34.4% on three-pointers (176th nationally).
With Kyrie, Duke would probably just out-shoot and out-penetrate their opponents. Without Kyrie, Duke is not turning the ball over more or having less assists (thanks to the inspired play of Nolan Smith). Duke ironically needs more post play without their star freshmen guard.
Perhaps Shane Battier can get some advice from Texas Coach Rick Barnes to help Duke repeat as National Champions.
MOAR Weaknesses Yet To Discover
In the upcoming Part Dos: #6-#15 of the AP Top 25. Again, thanks to StatSheet.com for populating my nonsense with numbers.