College Basketball Handicapping: Kentucky Not Worthy of No. 1 Ranking
by Robert Ferringo - 1/26/2010
Right now Kentucky reminds me of a little kid trying on his dad’s clothes and shoes as kind of a joke.
As of Monday the Wildcats were the No. 1 team in the country in college basketball. I have been banging against the Kentucky bandwagon all season long and I’m hear to tell you once again that they aren’t the best team in the country. Not even close. They are good. They are better than I thought they would be. But they are not the best team in college hoops right now.
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That distinction belongs – or should belong – to the Syracuse Orange.
Don’t believe me? How about we do a little taste test. Let’s look at the resumes and decide who really deserves to be atop the college hoops mountain:
ATS Record: 9-8
Strength of Schedule: No. 84
RPI: No. 7
P-Rankin: No. 9
Conference Ranking: No. 4
Wins vs. Top 50: 2
Wins vs. Top 100: 5
Best Wins: UNC (by 2), Connecticut (by 3), Louisville (by 9)
Road/Neutral Record: 7-0
ATS Record: 12-4
Strength of Schedule: No. 6
RPI: No. 1
P-Ranking: No. 3
Conference Ranking: No. 1
Wins vs. Top 50: 4
Wins vs. Top 100: 10
Best Wins: Cal (by 22), UNC (by 16), Memphis (by 17), at West Virginia (by 1)
Road/Neutral Record: 7-0
Looking purely at the numbers it’s not even close. Syracuse has played much better against a much tougher schedule. They have twice as many wins against the Top 50 and the Top 100. And as the season wears on the luster is starting to wear off Kentucky’s close wins (two of which were at home) over North Carolina, Connecticut and Louisville. Syracuse has been better against the spread – which is a good measure of performance vs. expectations – and has been better according to any measurable or statistical matrix.
Further, the Orange have better numbers in just about every facet of the game over the Wildcats. Offensively, the Orange are ranked higher in scoring (No. 5 vs. No. 8), shooting (No. 1 vs. No. 5), and three-point shooting (No. 30 vs. No. 47). Defensively, the 2-3 zone of the Orange has helped them to better ranks in scoring (No. 98 vs. No. 109), defensive field goal percentage (No. 5 vs. No. 15) and three-point defense (No. 50 vs. No. 229). Kentucky has been better rebounding (No. 4 vs. No. 36) and in free throw shooting (No. 176 vs. No. 283) but that’s it. And when you again consider that the Orange have played a significantly better schedule and still put up better numbers that gives further weight to the fact that the Orange are better than Kentucky right now.
However, Kentucky has had more hype. Whether it be the ridiculous notion that John Wall is the best player in the country (he’s not even the best player in the SEC and may not be the best player on his own team) or the notion that the Wildcats are a threat to win the national title (they won’t make it out of the Round of 16, I guarantee it) the Wildcats have been overhyped and overrated throughout the season. And as a result they are the undeserving No. 1 at the moment almost solely based on the Hype and their unblemished mark against a soft slate.
But the Orange are still, quite obviously, undervalued. This team is the most complete basketball team in the land. When it comes to evaluating all of the components that I think make a championship team I cannot see anywhere in which the Orange are lacking.
First, they have quality point guard play with two capable leaders in Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine. Next, they have one of the best shooters in the country and a potential pro in Andy Rautins at the two-guard. After that they have perhaps the best player in the country, Wesley Johnson, who is a legit Top 5 NBA talent. Further, the brutish frontcourt duo of Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku. And finally, there is a spark off the bench with Kris Joseph.
There is no style of basketball that the Orange cannot play. If teams want to run the Orange have the horses to get up and down the court. If teams are frontcourt-heavy the orange can matchup well with four forwards that are 6-7 or taller in their top seven. They’ve taken down athletic teams like West Virginia and North Carolina, guard-heavy teams like Marquette and Cal, and excellent executing teams like Georgetown and Cornell. Basically, Syracuse overpowers smaller teams with their size and skill underneath and they have enough guard talent to go toe-to-toe with any opponents’ ball handlers.
In my opinion the biggest difference between the Orange and the Wildcats is that while both teams are extremely talented Syracuse is infinitely more experienced. Kentucky is a team that leans on freshmen and sophomores. In fact, seven of Kentucky’s top eight scorers are underclassmen and the Wildcats do not have a single player that has scored a single point in an NCAA Tournament game. (Only Ramon Harris, who played 22 minutes with zero points in Kentucky’s last tourney game in 2008, has played a single minute in The Big Dance.) Essentially, the Wildcats are relying on a bunch of guys that are just seven months removed from smoking blunts before going into their prom.
Syracuse, on the hand, is a team comprised of men. Johnson is a fourth-year junior. Rautins is a fifth-year senior. Onuaku is a fifth-year senior. Jackson is a junior. Jardine is a third-year sophomore. Only two players in the Orange’s regular seven-man rotation (freshman Triche and sophomore Joseph) are not upperclassmen. And the trio of Rautins, Onuaku, and Jackson were stars on a team that was playing in the Sweet 16 last March.
So Syracuse’s team is, in my mind, the more proven commodity. Whether it’s the overall age and experience in big games or it’s just flat out their more impressive performance this season against more capable competition there is no doubting that right now the Orange deserve to be the top-ranked team in the country. And in this capper’s opinion if Syracuse played Kentucky on a neutral court tomorrow the Orange would throw a double-digit pasting on the Wildcats.
So I’ll let Kentucky think it’s the best. And I’ll side with the Orange and know that they are the best.
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