Men’s college basketball rankings: Iowa State and TCU make big moves up


The transfer portal plays a big part in college basketball now, but it has mostly been the teams not overly reliant on the portal that just plug a few holes that end up competing for championships. There are exceptions — Texas Tech and Utah State are the big outliers this year, both having new coaches who retooled through the portal — but this week’s Top 10 is an example of the ideal setup. Among those 10, eight have one new starter from the portal, one (Marquette) added no one out of the portal and one (North Carolina) added two starters.

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, Jan. 29

Purdue

Last week against Michigan, Braden Smith scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 at the free-throw line to go along with 10 assists. That made him the first player all season and only 11th since 2010-11 to go perfect from the field, perfect from the free-throw line, score in double figures and record double-digit assists. Against Michigan, Smith generated 20 points in pick-and-roll plays and followed that up with another 17 generated in Sunday’s win against Rutgers. Smith is running the eighth-most pick-and-roll plays (16.4 per game) in college hoops, per Synergy. As I wrote about recently, because of his pull-up game and ability to finish at the rim, the best play is usually getting the ball out of his hands. But five of Smith’s 10 assists against Michigan were out of ball screens, and he almost always makes the right read and can deliver passes in tight windows:

Smith is getting more daring with his dimes, and his teammates, especially Zach Edey, are benefitting.

Connecticut

Connecticut’s 99-56 win over Xavier set all kinds of records:

• UConn’s 17 3s tied a program record and were most ever given up by Xavier;

• It was UConn’s second-largest margin of victory in a Big East game in program history;

• Sean Miller has coached 635 games, and it was the third-highest offensive efficiency (137.6) that a Miller defense has ever allowed.

The Huskies are now outscoring Big East teams by 17.3 points per 100 possessions. Last year’s title team was only plus-10.8 per 100 possessions in conference.

North Carolina

North Carolina star RJ Davis is averaging nearly five more points per game than last season, and one big reason why is the looks others are generating for him. Davis has made 60 3s, only three shy of last season’s total. Last year he got 1.8 catch-and-shoot 3s per game. This season he’s nearly doubled that at 3.5 per game, and he’s shooting a blistering 52.2 percent on those attempts, per Synergy.

I watched every one of Davis’ made 3s to see who is generating them, and 89.4 percent of his made 3s have been assisted by newcomers.

Hubert Davis was smart in targeting portal players who fit with Davis and Armando Bacot.

Dalton Knecht continued his heater and had another huge road game on Saturday, finishing with 32 points on 13-of-21 shooting in a win at Vanderbilt. Knecht is now averaging 31.4 points in five road games. He’s scored 25-plus in five straight SEC games. He’s taking 36.6 percent of Tennessee’s shots when he’s on the floor during conference games and has the highest offensive rating (133.9). That kind of usage rate and efficiency is ridiculous, especially for a perimeter player. The Knecht effect has Tennessee as the most efficient offense in conference play and scoring nearly 10 points more per 100 possessions in SEC games than a year ago.

Houston is proving that its defensive dominance in the past was not just a product of playing in the American. The Cougars are holding opponents to 89.8 points per 100 possessions in Big 12 play through seven games, per KenPom. Last season through seven games in AAC play, the Cougars were holding opponents to 91.7 points per 100 possessions. Last year’s offense was 16.3 points per 100 possessions better during that stretch. It’s not like Houston is struggling on that end; its offense ranks third in efficiency in Big 12 games. While Houston is in second place, it is clearly the best team on a per-possession basis. Cincinnati has been the league’s second-best defense, and it’s not even close to Houston, giving up 97.8 points per 100 possessions.

Wisconsin senior Steven Crowl is one of the hardest players in the country to defend in the post because he can score over either shoulder and is also a gifted passer. The Badgers are scoring 1.226 on Crowl’s post-ups when he either finishes or passes out, per Synergy. The ability to shoot with his off hand is a real weapon. He made two lefty shots on post-ups in the win on Friday against Michigan State and scored four of five times when the Spartans didn’t bring a double team.

The Spartans brought extra help twice late, and Crowl made them pay; Wisconsin scored both times, including this dime once again going to his right shoulder:

On 33 post-ups finishes going over his right shoulder, Crowl has scored 43 points and is shooting 63.3 percent on those attempts. And worth mentioning: Wisconsin’s offense is now up to fourth in adjusted efficiency and has surpassed Purdue as the best offense in Big Ten play.

Iowa State may have found a new go-to action in its win against Kansas. The Cyclones created some separation at the end of the first half with a pick-and-pop for freshman Milan Momcilovic, who set a ghost screen for Keshon Gilbert and buried a 3.

Momcilovic, a 40.8 percent 3-point shooter, has made all four of his pick-and-pop 3s this season. TJ Otzelberger set up the same scenario when Iowa State led by just two in the final minute. This time Kansas switched to not let Momcilovic have a clean look, but that was advantageous for Iowa State, which had been hunting KU freshman Johnny Furphy. And Gilbert buried the dagger over Furphy.

Momcilovic has been one of the best freshman in the country, averaging 13.1 points per game. His game has some shades of Georges Niang, another mismatch big Iowa State used to punish teams with in similar actions.

GO DEEPER

Midseason all-freshman team: Kentucky’s super subs, Baylor’s sniper and more

Marquette

Marquette is on a four-game winning streak and big man Oso Ighodaro is averaging 18.8 points and 4.3 assists per game during that stretch. The Golden Eagles have played through Ighodaro plenty the last two years but never more than they are right now. He’s initiating more actions and gone Point Oso mode. Marquette is finding its mojo again, and Ighodaro’s confidence is soaring, so much so he’s throwing passes like this one:

Kansas

The Jayhawks are only 3-2 since freshman Johnny Furphy joined the starting lineup, but it feels like they’re about to turn a corner. Furphy has suddenly given them a real offensive threat in that fifth spot — plus some rebounding (31 boards in his last four games). Elmarko Jackson started the first 15 games and scored 81 points in those games; Furphy has nearly matched that production in just five starts, scoring 73 points over that stretch. The current starting lineup is outscoring opponents by 30 points per 100 possessions and has a 126.0 offensive rating for the season, per CBB Analytics.

Kansas is struggling on the defensive end in Big 12 play, and it could be some bad 3-point luck. Big 12 opponents are shooting 37.1 percent from deep. Both West Virginia (12 of 21 from 3) and Iowa State (14 of 30 from 3) had season-high 3s made against KU, and WVU shot its best percentage. The Cyclones were led by Tre King, who made 4-of-7 3s against Kansas. King’s 3-point shooting the rest of the season: 3-of-16. This 4-3 start is the worst for Bill Self in Lawrence, but if Furphy keeps playing well and the opponent 3-point shooting regresses to the mean, it’s possible we start to see the Jayhawks we’re used to seeing.

Reed Sheppard leads the country in 3-point percentage (55.3), and if the season ended today, Sheppard would finish with the highest 3-point percentage since the line moved back in 2019-20. His 3-point percentage would also rank 14th-best for a single season in NCAA history and the best a freshman has ever shot. Usually shooting percentages drop in league play, but Sheppard has just barely — he’s 14-of-26 from 3 in league play.

It seems like it’s as hard to win as ever on the road this season, but Arizona has taken its home/road splits to a new extreme. The Wildcats have played six home games against high-major opponents and six road games against high-major opponents. In those home games, the Wildcats have a plus-155 scoring margin and are 6-0; in the road games, they’re plus-9 with a 3-3 record.

Texas Tech

Texas Tech is alone in first place in the Big 12 because it has gone 2-1 in conference road games — making it the only team in the league with a winning record in Big 12 road games. The Red Raiders also got their two wins against teams (Oklahoma and Texas) that are in the NCAA Tournament mix. When you take out road wins against the bottom three (UCF, West Virginia and Oklahoma State), the rest of the league has combined for just eight road wins. If the Red Raiders can remain undefeated at home and only win their road games left against the bottom three, they’d finish 14-4 in the league. That’d likely win the league, meaning Texas Tech would go from worst to first. Still a long way to go, but Texas Tech is so far the winner of the coaching carousal this past year. Grant McCasland has to be one of the early favorites for National Coach of the Year.

Purdue took over the top spot in adjusted offensive efficiency earlier this week from Alabama at KenPom. But the Crimson Tide regained the top spot after beating LSU 109-88 on Saturday. The Crimson Tide made 25 3s in two games this week, and it appears the move to insert Latrell Wightsell Jr. in the starting lineup could work out for Nate Oats. Wrightsell replaced Rylan Griffen against Auburn and then Griffen, who went for 17 against Auburn, was re-inserted as a starter and replaced Nick Pringle. Alabama’s current starters have played only 72 possessions together, per CBB Analytics, but they’re scoring 134.9 points per 100 possessions together. 

The Sycamores shoot the fewest number of mid-range jumpers in the country — only 28 all season, per Synergy — and they’re one of the most accurate teams at the rim, shooting 64.3 percent. They get it done with elite spacing that sets up cuts and by never settling off the bounce, continuing to drive until a lane develops. Their guards also have awesome footwork as they’re driving downhill. Let Julian Larry demonstrate: 

Indiana State’s 95-86 overtime win over Bradley on Saturday was one of the most entertaining games of the season. Back and forth unreal shotmaking. There’s not a team more fun to watch in college hoops than the Sycamores, who will be favorites in their 10 remaining games. The toughest one left is this Saturday against Drake, which gave Indiana State its lone loss in conference play. 

Dropped out: Oklahoma, Colorado State

Keeping an eye on: Northwestern, South Carolina, San Diego State, Saint Mary’s, Oklahoma, Florida

(Top photo of Milan Momcilovic: Matthew Putney / AP)





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