Posted: Wednesday May 11, 2011 5:34PM ; Updated: Thursday May 12, 2011 1:38PM
Luke Winn
Luke Winn>COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

North Carolina, Kentucky top list following final NBA draft decisions

Story Highlights

How does this spring's draft-skipping phenomenon compare to the past four years?

The returning player whose role I'm most curious about: OSU's Deshaun Thomas

Defending champ UConn sits at No. 13, thanks largely to the King of the Runner

Each offseason, two sets of Power Rankings appear on SI.com: The version on the morning after the national title game, which requires plenty of speculation about draft decisions and is written mainly as a conversation-starter ... and this version, which appears in the days following the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA Draft.

We now know Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller are staying at North Carolina, which makes the Tar Heels an easy No. 1. We know that Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb are staying at Kentucky, while Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins are leaving, which makes the Wildcats an easy No. 2. We know that Sean Miller isn't leaving Arizona, and the Wildcats' roster and recruiting class is staying intact, which makes them an easy Pac-10 favorite. Filling out everything else was more difficult. The only other thing I'm certain of is that if your team appears higher here than on competing writers' lists, my rankings will be gospel. And if your team is lower here than it is anywhere else, my rankings will be a joke.

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Ranking: 1
Some context on the draft-skipping phenomenon that's the biggest story of this offseason: In the four drafts that have included one-and-done players, the list of guys who've stayed in school despite assured first-round status is only 10 deep. (Maybe 12 deep if you include D.J. Augustin and Kemba Walker, but I don't recall them being first-round locks in the years they passed on the NBA.) And the list only includes three players who were surefire lottery picks; I've marked them with asterisks:

Passed on '07, drafted in '08:
Brook Lopez, Stanford
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown
(Borderline: D.J. Augustin, Texas)

Passed in '08, drafted in '09:
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma*
Hasheem Thabeet, UConn
James Harden, Arizona State
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

Passed in '09, drafted in '10:
Greg Monroe, Georgetown*
Cole Aldrich, Kansas*
Evan Turner, Ohio State

Passed in '10, likely to be drafted in '11:
Kyle Singler, Duke
(Borderline: Kemba Walker, UConn)

With the lockout looming, three top-10 picks passed on the draft:

Harrison Barnes, North Carolina*
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State*
Perry Jones, Baylor*

Five more players who would've gone later in the first round passed as well:

John Henson, North Carolina
Terrence Jones, Kentucky
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
Thomas Robinson, Kansas
Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt

This crew should have as much -- if not more -- impact on next season as the foursome who stayed in school in '08-09 did. And that's saying a lot: Griffin was the Naismith and Wooden Award winner, Thabeet anchored UConn's Final Four team, Harden was an All-American, and Hansbrough led Carolina to the national title.
 
2Kentucky Wildcats
Last Ranking: 5
The simple explanation for why Brandon Knight left Kentucky and Terrence Jones stayed is that Knight was guaranteed to go in the lottery, and Jones was not. A more detailed look at their season-long offensive roles -- through percentage of team shots taken -- shows how important Knight became in March, while Jones' role was diminishing since early February:

UK Shot Distribution


Knight's March performance was essentially a springboard into the top 10. Jones' March let him with the feeling that he still had much to prove in college.
 
3Duke Blue Devils
Last Ranking: 3
The recruitniks never reached a consensus on the best player in the freshman Class of 2011: Scout.com and ESPN.com chose Kentucky-bound forward Anthony Davis, while Rivals.com picked Duke-bound guard Austin Rivers. In a long-term sense, Davis is the better prospect; many NBA scouts think he has a chance to overtake Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones in the race to be drafted No. 1 overall next June. For the 2011-12 college season, I'll be surprised if any freshman produces more than Rivers. When I saw him last summer in the FIBA Americas U-18 tournament -- coming off his junior year of high school -- he was already polished enough to be a 20-point scorer in college, with a more expansive shooting range than his backcourtmate on the U.S. team, Kyrie Irving. And when Irving was healthy as a Blue Devils freshman, he played like a first-team All-American. It's not a stretch to suggest Rivers could perform at that level, too.
 
4Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Ranking: 2
The returning player whose role I'm most curious about -- on any team, anywhere -- is Deshaun Thomas. After averaging 14.0 minutes per game as a freshman reserve, he's likely to step into the starting lineup alongside Sullinger in the Buckeyes' frontcourt. Thomas' M.O. last season was to come off the bench and shoot nearly every time he got his hands on the ball, to the extent that he was taking a team-high 30.5 percent of OSU's attempts when he was on the floor. Sullinger only took 25.2 percent, and shooting guard William Buford, who's also back, took 26.8 percent. One assumes that coach Thad Matta will want Sullinger and Buford to be offensive options 1 and 1A, with Thomas as a complementary piece. The question is, can he tone down his shooting enough to make that arrangement work?
 
5Syracuse Orange
Last Ranking: 4
The Orange are hoping that this year's prized freshman big man, Philadelphian Rakeem Christmas, provides them with more production in the post than Brazilian Fab Melo did as a rookie in '10-11, averaging 2.3 points and 1.9 rebounds. I would caution against expecting too much from Christmas, though; while he's rated as the top freshman center on Scout.com, that designation doesn't mean as much as it has in past years. It's more of an indication that the Class of 2011 lacks a truly elite center. The five No. 1-ranked centers that preceded Christmas were also in the top three overall in their class, whereas he's 19th:

2006: Greg Oden, Ohio State (1)
2007: Kevin Love, UCLA (3)
2008: B.J. Mullens, Ohio State (3)
2009: Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech (1)
2010: Enes Kanter, Kentucky Coaching Staff (3)
2011: Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse (19)
 
6Louisville Cardinals
Last Ranking: 11
While we're on the topic of centers: This will be a big year for Gorgui Dieng. The 6-foot-11 Senegalese sophomore became one of the country's biggest X-factors once junior Terrence Jennings decided (ill-advisedly) to stay in the NBA draft. The Cardinals' success is built on elite defense, and last season they were excellent on the interior, ranking 22nd in two-point field-goal percentage allowed and 20th in block percentage. Jennings was an elite shot-swatter, blocking 9.0 percent of opponents' attempts, but Dieng's blocking ability was off the charts in limited action: His block rate was 13.7 percent, which would've put him in the top five nationally if he'd played more minutes. (For context, North Carolina's John Henson, who seems to reject plenty of shots, has a block rate of 11.6 percent.) If Dieng can play 20-plus minutes and be a huge presence on D, Louisville is a top-two team in the Big East. If not, the Cards could be overtaken by the next two schools ...
 
7Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Ranking: 9
Mike Prada, the editor of SBNation's Bullets Forever blog, tweeted this nugget during Monday's Thunder-Grizzlies playoff epic:

"Average age of OKC's top 4 in minutes this yr: 21.5. Average age of Pitt's top 4 in minutes this yr: 21.75. Perspective"

I apologize if you've seen it already -- it was retweeted 98 times -- but how insane is that stat? For Thunder fans, it offers some consolation if their team loses this series to Memphis. Durant & Co. will be chasing titles for years. For Pitt fans, it might be a painful reminder of how the Panthers had the right blend of experience and talent in a down year for college hoops ... and still missed out on the Final Four. (Can you tell I'm still smarting from picking the Panthers to reach Houston?)

Or, if Pitt folks prefer to stay optimistic, it's promising that the average age of their projected 2011-12 starting lineup is still 21.75. Ashton Gibbs will be that age at the start of his senior season, and Travon Woodall and Nasir Robinson will both be 22.5. They'll have another old, good team -- just not as good as the one they had last season.
 
8Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Ranking: 12
Hoops nation was highly skeptical of the Bearcats last season when they started 14-0 without beating a single NCAA tournament team. When they fell to 18-5 in February, they were written off as a non-factor in the Big East, and a late surge to 26-9 only earned them the No. 25 spot in the final AP poll. But Cincy's résumé, in retrospect, offered a lot of promise for a strong 2011-12: Mick Cronin's team finished 18th in the nation in defensive efficiency, had road wins at St. John's, Georgetown and Marquette, and routed A-10 champ Xavier by 20 at home. The Bearcats handily beat Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and return the core of that team, including power forward Yancy Gates and promising freshman guard Sean Kilpatrick. They're my dark horse pick to win the Big East title.
 
9Vanderbilt Commodores
Last Ranking: 17
The Commodores have some of the best, most recognizable stars returning in all of college basketball -- a killer scorer in two-guard John Jenkins, an ultra-versatile wing in Jeffery Taylor, and a breakout post presence in center Festus Ezeli. On talent alone, it would be reasonable to rank them as high as fifth, but they're here because of one glaring issue: They ranked 88th in the nation and 10th in the SEC in per-possession defense last season. The gap between their defense and Kentucky's in a normal, 66-possession game would be nearly five points, which is a significant margin. Unless its returnees commit to defending at a higher level than they did in '10-11, Vandy will just be a fun team to watch, and probably a 25-plus-game winner, but not a serious contender for a national title.
 
10Kansas Jayhawks
Last Ranking: 6
Tenth might be generous for a team that lost its most valuable offensive player (Marcus Morris) and its most valuable defender (his brother Markieff), but it's not wise to bet against Bill Self winning the Big 12 title. A recent study by Basketball Prospectus' John Gasaway showed just how much Self's teams have dominated over the past five years despite roster turnover, and KU still has a budding frontcourt star to build around in Thomas Robinson, who could've been a first-round pick if he wanted to enter the draft. Instead, he chose to see what he could accomplish as a first-time starter, which I suspect will be a double-double average. (Robinson also chose to dance in a fake afro, but that appears to be a one-night-only engagement.) Fellow breakout candidates Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford will finally have room to blossom in the backcourt now that Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed are gone.
 
11Florida Gators
Last Ranking: 7
I really like the Gators' collection of guards ... other than the fact that none of them is a pure point guard. Departed forward Chandler Parsons was the team's best distributor last season; Erving Walker was technically the point guard, but he had a 1.44-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and attempted 205 threes. Kenny Boynton has attempted 487 threes in the past two seasons. Mike Rosario, the talented transfer from Rutgers, had a Boynton-esque role there, taking 239 threes in 2009-10. And incoming freshman shooting guard Brad Beal is the team's best NBA prospect, with a very polished offensive game, so he'll warrant instant playing time. It'll be up to Billy Donovan to find the right backcourt mix while keeping enough size on the floor to battle with fellow SEC contenders Kentucky and Vandy, who'll have formidable frontcourts.
 
12Wisconsin Badgers
Last Ranking: 10
A curious point-guard situation I noticed while scanning old drafts and mock drafts for the North Carolina section: In DraftExpress.com's 2012 mock, there are just two point guards projected for the first round. Those two -- Texas' Myck Kabongo and Kentucky's Marquis Teague -- have yet to play a college game, so their stock could change significantly once they're scouted as freshmen. But the suggestion is that there isn't a returning point guard in college hoops who's first-round material, which is a bit worrisome, even in a year with a huge amount of talent. The guy who should be the preseason first-team All-American at the point, the Badgers' Jordan Taylor, is a projected second-rounder. He'll have less to work with offensively this year, and if he can carry UW into Big Ten title contention, I wonder if some NBA folks might be enamored enough with Taylor's decision-making skills to give him a first-round look.
 
13Connecticut Huskies
Last Ranking: 15
The Huskies' Jeremy Lamb is not related to Kentucky's Doron Lamb, but they're both among the best in the NCAA at the lost art of the "runner." Synergy Sports' game logs track efficiency on runners, and with a filter set to a minimum of 25 runners made on the season, these were the top five players:

1. Jeremy Lamb, UConn: 32 runners, 1.22 PPP
2. Durand Scott, Miami: 49 runners, 1.04 PPP
3. Will Barton, Memphis: 25 runners, 1.00 PPP
4. Alec Burks, Colorado: 29 runners, 1.00 PPP
5. Doron Lamb, Kentucky: 26 runners, 1.00 PPP

While Scott hit more shots than anyone else on the list, UConn's Lamb was far and away the leader in efficiency. Until further notice, he shall be considered the King of the Runner.
 
14Arizona Wildcats
Last Ranking: 14
Sean Miller could've gone to Maryland and done well. He could have gone to N.C. State and done well -- he's that good of a coach and recruiter. But he wasn't going to overtake Duke or North Carolina, whereas in the Pac-10, he is setting up Arizona for a dominant run. Derrick Williams is gone, but the Wildcats have underrated forwards Kevin Parrom and Jesse Perry back, and they're bringing in Rivals.com's No. 4 recruiting class, which includes the phenomenal backcourt duo of Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson. No one in the Pac-10 is recruiting at a similar level: Oregon and Washington are on the fringes of Rivals' top 25, and UCLA has stagnated since its days of landing the Kevin Loves and Russell Westbrooks of the West Coast. It's Arizona's league at the moment.
 
15Temple Owls
Last Ranking: 22
The Owls have plenty of good things to build on after nearly knocking off San Diego State in the second round of the NCAAs. Juan Fernandez didn't have a monster junior season, but showed in the first round of the tournament against Penn State that he can be a big-stage scorer -- something that should boost his confidence heading into his final campaign. Temple was able to take SDSU to two overtimes without Scootie Randall, its most efficient guard, at full health; he, Fernandez and Ramone Moore will make up a scary senior trio in the backcourt. Khalif Wyatt emerged as a strong defensive stopper (especially against Talor Battle) and will be one of the country's more valuable sixth men. As long as center Michael Eric can make a full return from the patella injury that ended his junior season and be a defensive presence in the paint, the Owls will be the class of the A-10.
 
16Belmont Bruins
Last Ranking: 16
The Bruins were the hyped-up Cinderella that flopped in the NCAA tournament, but that was mostly because they were paired with Wisconsin, a heavily underseeded, ball-control team that was their worst possible type of opponent. Belmont was still a more efficient mid-major, on the season, than any of those that did thrive in the dance -- among them Butler, VCU, Richmond and Morehead State. And the Bruins return all but two players from their deep rotation, including sophomores Ian Clark (42.9 percent on threes) and Kerron Johnson (the national leader in steal percentage). Perhaps we were a year too soon on the Belmont upset picks.

The Next 18: 17) Memphis, 18) Baylor, 19) Purdue, 20) Missouri, 21) Wichita State, 22) Marquette, 23) Alabama, 24) Texas A&M, 25) Xavier, 26) West Virginia, 27) Gonzaga, 28) Villanova, 29) Florida State, 30) George Mason, 31) UCLA, 32) UNLV, 33) Michigan State, 34) Michigan.

 
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