Every week of the college basketball season, USCFootball.com writer Marshall Cherrington comes out with updated rankings of his top 25 teams in the nation. In addition to the rankings, he writes about the week that was in the land of USC basketball.
What a tumultuous week to start off the season for Andy Enfield and company. You saw the flashes at times and caught short glimpses of what the future could be like, but then your hopes came crashing down and it was just another USC turnover. The Trojans turned the ball over 65 times in their first week of play, good for 25th most in the nation. The sure sign of a young team is turnovers, proving to us that the Trojans are who we thought they were.
Over the course of the week, you saw the Trojans switch between two defenses, man-to-man and a 2-3 zone. The zone defense was hit and miss where the man defense was more consistent and never a complete disaster. Sure, the rotation was often very slow in both defenses, but out of the two, the 2-3 zone forced more turnovers. However, with great reward comes great risk and the Trojans weren’t able to rebound well out of their 2-3 zone. USC tended to not pressure the ball in the 2-3 zone, resulting in a barrage of three point shots, especially against Akron, a team that shoots well from behind the arc. But if the on-ball pressure is there in a 2-3 zone, watch out because the turnovers are contagious. Man-to-man may be the safe bet, but when USC needs to force turnovers, expect Enfield to call a full court 1-2-2 trapping press and to fall back into the 2-3.
Speaking of the full court 1-2-2 press, USC used this along with its full court man press throughout the week. The full court man press gives the inbound man's defender lots of freedom and puts him in a centerfield type role where he can trap wherever he wants to pick off a long pass. Darion Clark found himself in this role throughout the week and we think he’s the perfect guy for it. Clark has long arms and is big, but not big enough to where he can’t move fast enough to trap an advancing guard. This is the role Malik Marquetti will find himself in at times, as long as he can find himself out on the court first.
The player of the week goes to Strahinja Gavrilovic, not a typical player of the week pick, but he added a ton of energy off the bench. Gavrilovic recorded a double-double in Sunday’s loss and he’s been the best big man on the roster so far. Nikola Jovanovic has been disappointing, but Gavrilovic has stepped up when needed. He really has it all as he can drive to the basket under control, finish under pressure and is an above average passer for a big man. On the defensive side of things, he always seems to be in the right place (although he did miss a charge Sunday) and is a tough, tough rebounder. So, big shoutout to the junior for his exceptional opening week.
Top 25 Rankings
1. Kentucky (LW: 1)
What can be said that people don’t already know? The ‘Cats are the best team in the land and it’s not close. We all know that. Don’t expect them to drop from this position at all.
2. Duke (LW: 4)
Besides Kentucky, Duke was the most impressive team in week one. Jahlil Okafor lived up to his Preseason Player of the Year hype, Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones worked out fine in the back court and Justise Winslow is sweeping the nation up one high flying dunk at a time. Honestly though, the rangy freshman should be a top 5-10 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. No doubt about it. Quinn Cook has been playing exceptionally well under the radar and leads the team in scoring. He’s been hot from the field and hasn’t missed a free throw yet. Coach K has these guys clicking early, something that should scare the ACC and the rest of the college basketball world.
3. Arizona (LW: 2)
The ‘other’ Wildcats were scared literally and figuratively by the 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye and the UC Irvine Anteaters this week as the ‘Eaters were up at half. No worries though as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and co. proceeded to throw down a nasty dunk on Ndiaye and go home with the victory. Parker Jackson-Cartwright, a true freshman, was probably the most fun player to watch on this team. He always seems to be in the right position, is a great defender and is able to create so well off the dribble. He’s about 5-foot-10, maybe shorter so he’s able to be crafty with his dribble. Might be the most underrated freshman in the Pac-12.
4. Wisconsin (LW: 3)
5. Gonzaga (LW: 6)
What a first week performance by the Zags. So deep, so talented and so well coached. Mark Few gets a lot of undeserved criticism while he’s probably one of the best coaches in the nation. Top 15 or so. Domantas Sabonis had a stellar debut week and he’s a future first round pick. Everybody talks about how good his dad was, but by the end of his career, we all may be talking about Domantas. The true freshmen leads Gonzaga in scoring with 14 points per game.
6. North Carolina (LW: 7)
7. Louisville (LW: 8)
Jahlil Okafor’s biggest competition for Player of the Year will come from Montreal Harrell. Now that big man has extended his range to the three point line, watch out. He christened this young basketball season with an excellent 30 point showing in the Armed Forces Classic against Minnesota and it really looked like nobody could stop him. Terry Rozier drove to the hoop very well adjacent Minnesota and is one of the nation’s best on ball defenders. Rick Pitino’s squad has it all this year. Duke at Louisville, January 17th. Save the date. Harrell versus Okafor.
8. Kansas (LW: 5)
It was a disappointing effort from the Jayhawks against Kentucky, but it was more of a Kentucky win than a Kansas loss. Cliff Alexander looked solid against the big front court and those long arms will help him bring down rebounds all year. Frank Mason is a bulldog. Although it didn’t show against Kentucky, he should be able to penetrate well this year and contribute a ton on the defensive side of the ball. One thing Kansas did well against Kentucky at times was extend its defense. The Jayhawks prevented Kentucky from getting in some of their sets and if it wasn’t for the severe height disadvantage, the pressure on defense would have forced some turnovers. Big 12 teams are on the lookout.
9. Texas (LW: 9)
Texas is not one of those teams on the lookout, as the Longhorns won’t be intimidated, but will only intimidate with their insane size. Rick Barnes has five quality big men on the roster and Isaiah Taylor is one of the best guards in the nation. It was tough to see Taylor injure his wrist this past weekend against Iowa though as it sounds like he may be out for four weeks or so. Javan Felix should be able to handle the extended workload. Also, Jonathan Holmes is one of the best players in the Big 12. So versatile.
10. Wichita State (LW: 12)
11. Virginia (LW: 10)
12. Villanova (LW: 13)
‘Nova has more depth than I thought the team had. The Wildcats are a solid seven players deep and with the emergence of Dylan Ennis, yes Tyler’s older brother, boast one of the best starting fives in the nation. The Big Eats performed very well in the opening week and might be a better conference than a lot of us thought it would be.
13. Iowa State (LW: 14)
Another team that’s very deep. Bryce Decean-Jones was a perfect add for Fred Hoiberg’s crew and the Cyclones can shoot the ball very well. Monte Morris had a good start to the season and is one of the most underrated point guards in the land. Then of course you have Georges Niang, who is already averaging a double-double this season. Georgia State seemed to defend him well, but Oakland had no chance against him.
14. San Diego State (LW: 15)
The Aztecs are going to win games by playing stout defense this year, surprising nobody in doing so. They had a tough time scoring against Utah and scored even less against CSU Bakersfield, proving that defense will be the key. J.J. O’Brien had a nice opening week and he’s already averaging about 11 points and 7 rebounds. Once freshman Malik Pope recovers from his injury, which should be soon, a deep team will get even deeper.
15. VCU (LW: 17)
16. Ohio State (LW: 19)
D’Angelo Russell is lighting up the scoreboard and although he was contained to only 6 points against Marquette, expect him to step it up against better competition soon. He’s a deadly threat from three point range and is only a true freshman. He has a ton of room to grow and definitely will. Sam Thompson is turning into the true point guard this team needs as he averaged over 12 assists in week one.
17. Michigan (LW: 25)
Underrated this team to begin with. Zak Irvin showed off his scoring ability this week and combined with Caris LeVert, creates one of the best backcourts in the nation. Oh, don’t forget about Final Four hero Spike Albrecht as well. He's still on the team and just drained a three on you.
18. Miami (LW: NR)
Angel Rodriguez. You better watch out for him. That’s all that needs to be said.
19. Michigan State (LW: 20)
20. Oklahoma (LW: 16)
Not dropping Oklahoma very far because they lost in a very tough environment in Omaha this week and the team is still getting adjusted to having TaShawn Thomas back. But Buddy Hield proved to us what we already know: he can shoot three pointers with the best of them.
21. Florida (LW: 11)
Injuries have riddled this young Gators season as Dorian Finney-Smith was sidelined with a hand injury and Eli Carter went down with a recent injury. The good news is that Chris Walker returned to the court, but can he stay there? He only scored 4 points in his debut.
22. UConn (LW: 18)
23. UCLA (LW: NR)
24. Providence (LW: NR)
Not sure if the Friars deserve a spot in the top 25 just yet, but their win against Notre Dame on Sunday impressed me. They found a way to contain Jerian Grant and beat the Irish. Most Underrated Player of the Year, so far, goes to LaDontae Henton though as he averaged 19.8 points this week and 7.8 rebounds. The lefty is craft and deceiving and can stroke it from anywhere on the court. Kris Dunn has matured since his freshman year and Ed Cooley is an underrated head man as well. What out for the Friars.
25. Stanford (LW: NR)