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.
Beating New Mexico in The Pit? That qualifies as a very good win, no matter what kind of team suits up for the Lobos. Sure, Cullen Neal, the coach’s son and New Mexico’s best player, was out with an injured left ankle, but the Trojans entered a hostile atmosphere and came out with the victory.
New Mexico was USC’s toughest non-conference game this season and they passed the early test. Katie Reinhardt didn’t play very well on the offensive end as he didn’t score a single point, but as usual he contributed great on-ball defense. Nikola Jovanovic and Darion Clark continued their strong weeks as both players recorded a double double and solid defensive play.
The key to the win wasn’t about individual performances though. Like it will be all season, it was about the turnovers. The Trojans only turned the ball over 9 times against New Mexico. Low turnover numbers will result in wins for this young team and this was also true against Cal State Fullerton earlier in the week. USC is now averaging 13 turnovers a game and has recorded 91 turnovers all season, good for 71st most in the nation. That may look bad, but as noted last week, USC was 25th in turnovers after 5 games played.
One interesting stat uncovered this week was that the Trojans have attempted 249 two-point attempts this year, good for 52nd in the nation. What this tells us is that USC is getting out into transition and running a ton. They get the board on the defensive end, leak out and get a good look within the three point arc on the other side of the floor. The Trojans aren’t converting a ton inside the arc (301st best two-point FG percentage in the nation), but at least they are getting high percentage looks at the basket.
Player of the week goes to Nikola Jovanovic, who totaled 23 points and 27 rebounds over the course of two games. He had a rough first week to start the season, but he looks like he’s slowly warming up to the new players around him and getting comfortable within the offense. Jovanovic wasn’t rebounding well throughout the first week, but he clearly did this week as he averaged 13.5 boards per game. The Serbian is one of USC’s most important players and Trojan fans should be happy to see his recent success.
Top 25 Rankings
1. Kentucky (LW: 1)
Kentucky will win a National Championship this year with its defense, not offense. The Wildcats are the best defensive team in the nation and matchup well against any team. Big men in the middle? Check. Good on-ball defender? Tyler Ulis says hello. A guy who can stop slashing wings? The Harrison twins are right there waiting for you.
2. Duke (LW: 2)
3. Arizona (LW: 3)
The Wildcats came to Maui, they saw and conquered every team in their path. Given, Kansas State and San Diego State provided Arizona with a few scares, but Sean Miller’s team eventually won out in the end, like we all thought they would. Gabe York is a guy who has really impressed over the first two weeks of the season. He still is weak driving the lane and will most likely never be a very good slasher, but his shot has improved and Sean Miller is trusting him a lot this year. Brandon Ashley looks like he’s extended his range as he took a ton of mid range jumpers against Kansas State. He didn’t have a ton of success with those shots, but his confidence is still coming back after his injury last year. Kaleb Tarczewski might be the best defensive big man in college basketball and he abused a short Kansas State team, something he’ll do a lot of in the Pac-12. One thing that would be nice to see is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson creating his own shots, but that’s not his role right now on the team. NBA executives might want to see that sooner rather than later though. The Wildcats look as good as ever as their matchup against Gonzaga quickly approaches.
4. Wisconsin (LW: 4)
5. Gonzaga (LW: 5)
Getting your jaw wired shut is never fun and unfortunately, Josh Perkins has to experience that feeling for an extended amount of time. It was a freak accident and looked horrible when it happened, but it didn’t look intentional at all. Just a bang-bang play. St. Johns played the Bulldogs pretty well in the NIT Season Tipoff Championship as Chris Obekpa was a force on the defensive end for the Red Storm. Domantas Sabonis looked very good again though as he finished through contact well and showed some good footwork inside. It’s scary when he palms the ball and prepares to back you down and with him posting up on the inside, it just allows Kevin Pangos to spot up behind the arc and prepare for a catch and shoot three. Silas Melson was planning to redshirt this year, but with the Perkins injury, he’s been forced on to the court and early signs indicate he’s here to stay. Melson has a nice jump shot and could be Gonzaga’s best NBA prospect, according to Mark Few.
6. Louisville (LW: 7)
7. Kansas (LW: 8)
8. Texas (LW: 9)
No Isaiah Taylor? No problem. Jonathan Holmes is the best player in the nation who’s not a household name (yet) and he proved that against UConn as he calmly drained a corner three to beat the Huskies on Sunday. Rick Barnes drew up a nice play as Holmes’ defender got back picked, creating a wide open shot for the Longhorns’ second leading scorer. This week will tell us a ton about Texas as the Longhorns travel to Lexington to take on the mighty Kentucky Wildcats. Texas is the one team in the nation who has a good shot at beating Kentucky because of their height, but the loss of Taylor may prove to be too much. It should be a fun one on Friday.
9. Villanova (LW: 12)
It doesn’t matter how you win, just get the win. That’s exactly what Villanova went through this past week as its matchup against Michigan came down to the wire. With his team inbounding underneath its own hoop, John Beilein drew up an excellent baseline out of bounds play and it worked, but Zak Irvin’s dunk attempt got absolutely obliterated by Jayvaughn Pinkston, who also sealed the game with his layup. Villanova is a scary squad and the Wildcats could move up in the top ten in no time.
10. Wichita State (LW: 10)
11. Virginia (LW: 11)
12. San Diego State (LW: 14)
The Aztecs played Arizona closely, but just couldn’t get over the hump, much to the tune of their recent contests against the Wildcats. Malik Pope made his season debut this week and looked like a guy who will contribute right away. He had a big swat in one of the Aztecs’ game in Maui and once he gets comfortable, his offensive game should improve. Fellow true freshman Trey Kell was excellent in Maui. He’s not an outstanding athlete, but he just gets the job done. He’s a poor man’s Tyler Ennis, but might be a little stronger than the former Syracuse guard. San Diego State’s matchup with Washington on Sunday should be interesting to watch as it will be hard for the Aztecs to deal with Robert Upshaw’s size. Skyler Spencer and Angelo Chol definitely need to have big games.
13. Ohio State (LW: 16)
14. Miami (LW: 18)
15. Michigan (LW: 17)
The fact that Michigan played Villanova close until the final buzzer says a lot about this team. Villanova should win a tougher-than-previously-thought Big East conference this year and might have the best starting five in America. Caris LeVert had a solid game against the Wildcats, but as a team, Michigan just could not connect from deep as the Wolverines shot 28.6% from behind the three point line. One player that will be exciting to watch develop is true freshman Kameron Chatman. He played a season high 29 minutes against Nicholls State on Saturday and recorded 11 points and 8 rebounds. He’s a lengthy guard that could make a big impact down the road.
16. Michigan State (LW: 19)
Michigan State suffered a tough loss at the hands of Kansas on Sunday, but the Spartans have nothing to hang their heads about, besides their poor shooting of course. They only shot 32.2% from the floor against the Jayhawks and your not going to beat a good team like Kansas with that kind of performance. When Branden Dawson and Travis Trice shoot as bad as they did today, the Spartans won’t win a ton of games, but they only lost by five points to a top ten team while doing so. That has to tell you something.
17. Oklahoma (LW: 20)
Beating UCLA and Butler both qualify as good wins. The loss to Wisconsin qualifies as a good loss. So overall, the Sooners had a positive week in the Bahamas. It’s really hard not to have a good week in the Bahamas. UCLA might know a little bit about that though…
18. West Virginia (LW: NR)
West Virginia ended last week with a very good win against UConn and pulled off two easy victories this week. Everybody talks about Juwan Staten when it comes to the Mountaineers, but two guys who don’t get enough credit are Jonathan Holton and Devin Williams. Both guys are close to averaging a double-double and provide very good rebounders for Staten.
19. Arkansas (LW: NR)
20. Butler (LW: NR)
21. North Carolina (LW: 6)
UNC has the talent and depth, but the Tar Heels just need to put it all together. They lost a tough one to a good Butler squad, but then responded with a good win against UCLA and a victory against a depleted Florida squad. Ranking the Tar Heels this low is probably not a good move as they’ll likely slide up with wins against Iowa and ECU this week, but they have to go behind Butler since they lost the head-to-head matchup with the Bulldogs. The Tar Heels will be scary come March though…
22. Providence (LW: 24)
23. Maryland (LW: NR)
If Dez Wells wasn’t hurt, the Terps would be ranked even higher. Evan Smotrycz made his return to the court this week and although he only scored 4 points, he will be a big piece for the Terps moving forward. Melo Trimble is off to a fast start as he’s already averaging over 16 points a game and played pretty well in Maryland’s big win over Iowa State this past week. Losing Wells is big though and it’ll be interesting to see how the Terps play without him.
24. Iowa State (LW: 13)
25. Notre Dame (LW: NR)
Jerian Grant is one of the best playmakers in the nation. If Notre Dame gets him the ball, he’ll lead the Irish to victory. He has plenty of good three-point shooters around him so he can really drive and kick whenever he wants. The Irish lost a tough one to Providence last week and face a good Michigan State squad this Wednesday.
Dropped: UConn, Stanford, UCLA, Florida, VCU
Added: Maryland, Butler, West Virginia, Arkansas, Notre Dame