Picking college basketball’s best team tough in wild year


By Aaron Beard - AP Sports Writer



FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff (20) tries to drive around Iowa State guard Naz Mitrou-Long, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Ames, Iowa. The eighth-ranked Hawkeyes 1-2 punch of Uthoff (18.8 points) and Peter Jok (16.3) leads an offense ranked 11th in KenPoms adjusted efficiency ratings (118 points per 100 possessions). (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)


FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2015, file photo, Virginia guard Malcom Brogdon, left, drives the lane as Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in South Bend, Ind. Led by two-way star Brogdon, the Cavaliers are 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.3) and sixth defensively (92). (AP Photo/Joe Raymond,File)


FILE - Oklahoma's Buddy Hield (24) drives past Michigan State's Marvin Clark Jr., left, and Matt Costello during the first half of a regional semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Syracuse, N.Y. The third-ranked Sooners have a strong case behind star guard Hield. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Good luck sorting out who is college basketball’s best team this season.

Six teams have held the No. 1 spot in the Top 25, one shy of the record during the 1982-83 season. But there is still time to tie the mark. With less than three weeks to go before Selection Sunday, there is a crowd of good, but not great teams that includes Kansas, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Villanova.

But one team stands out when reviewing advanced stats and other indicators: Virginia, one of the nation’s most efficient teams at both ends of the court.

Here is a closer look at nine contenders, with stats through Sunday’s games:

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IOWA

The Hawkeyes’ 1-2 punch of Jarrod Uthoff (18.8 points) and Peter Jok (16.3) leads an offense ranked 11th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings (118 points per 100 possessions). No. 8 Iowa also ranks fifth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio, according to STATS.

The Hawkeyes rank lowest among this group at 37th in adjusted defensive efficiency (95.9), but they’ve beaten Michigan State twice.

“I think what you’re seeing is a team that understands how you have to compete, how you have to prepare, how you have to stay together and continue to believe in each other,” coach Fran McCaffery said last month.

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KANSAS

There is plenty to like about the second-ranked Jayhawks.

Led by senior Perry Ellis, Kansas ranks sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency (118.8) and 21st in defense (94.5) against KenPom’s fifth-toughest schedule. And the Jayhawks rank fourth in 3-point shooting (42 percent).

They’ve also beaten Oklahoma (twice), West Virginia and Kentucky, one of this year’s No. 1s.

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MARYLAND

Sophomore Melo Trimble leads five double-figure scorers for the 10th-ranked Terrapins, who rank 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency (93.6) and 12th in free-throw shooting (76 percent).

But they lack high-end wins outside of beating Iowa in KenPom’s 49th-toughest schedule. They also lost last week to a Minnesota team that was 0-13 in the Big Ten.

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MICHIGAN STATE

The Spartans stumbled from No. 1 as Denzel Valentine recovered from a knee injury, but they’re rolling now.

They’re tied with North Carolina for fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency (119.4), lead the country in rebounding margin (plus-11.6), rank second in assist-to-turnover ratio and third in 3-point shooting (42 percent).

The sixth-ranked Spartans have beaten Kansas, Louisville and Maryland, though their overall schedule strength ranks a group-low 53rd.

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NORTH CAROLINA

The preseason No. 1 team scores, takes care of the basketball (third in assist-to-turnover ratio) and hits the glass (17th in rebounding margin) with possibly the nation’s deepest roster. But are the seventh-ranked Tar Heels tough enough to defend and finish?

Their five losses have come by 17 points. That includes last week’s home loss to undermanned Duke, though they routed then-No. 11 Miami days later.

“It’s a veteran team that I keep thinking, ‘We’re going to get it, we’re going to get it a little bit better,’” coach Roy Williams said this month. “You never know with kids.”

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OKLAHOMA

The third-ranked Sooners have a strong case behind star guard Buddy Hield.

Facing KenPom’s second-toughest schedule, they’re 12th in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.9) and 17th defensively (94) while shooting a national-best 43.1 percent from 3-point range.

Oklahoma blew out Villanova in December but fell twice to Kansas and recently lost three of four before beating West Virginia last weekend.

“Oklahoma is probably the hardest personnel to guard, I think, because all of them can go get their own,” Kansas coach Bill Self said this month.

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VILLANOVA

Current No. 1 Villanova and Virginia are the only teams in the top 15 of both of KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings. The Wildcats rank 15th offensively (116.5) and fourth defensively (91), while their guard-led lineup makes a national-best 78.1 percent of free throws.

The blemish? They lost measuring-stick nonconference games with Oklahoma and Virginia by double figures in KenPom’s No. 33-ranked schedule.

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VIRGINIA

Tied for third in this week’s AP Top 25, the Cavaliers separate themselves by doing a lot of things well.

Led by two-way star Malcom Brogdon, they’re 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.3) and sixth defensively (92). They’re the only team from this group in the top 20 of those categories along with 3-point shooting (41 percent), free-throw shooting (75 percent) and assist-to-turnover ratio, too.

The Cavs also beat Villanova and West Virginia in KenPom’s 11th-toughest schedule. Their only losses in the past month have come at Duke and Monday at Miami by a combined four points.

“Every single game we want to take a step forward because we know it’s getting closer to March . and we want to start playing our best ball,” junior London Perrantes said last week. “And I feel like we’re starting to get into that stride.”

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XAVIER

Fifth-ranked Xavier ranks in the top 25 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive (114.3) and defensive (94.1) efficiency rankings. The Musketeers are also 14th in rebounding margin.

But they’ve played KenPom’s 48th-toughest schedule. They have one win against an RPI Top 25 team to tie Villanova for fewest in this group — and the Wildcats’ win came by 31 against the Musketeers. Their rematch is Wednesday.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

FILE – In this Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff (20) tries to drive around Iowa State guard Naz Mitrou-Long, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Ames, Iowa. The eighth-ranked Hawkeyes 1-2 punch of Uthoff (18.8 points) and Peter Jok (16.3) leads an offense ranked 11th in KenPoms adjusted efficiency ratings (118 points per 100 possessions). (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
http://wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_108850385-617c8c24b8f446e682a198e13259b3f2.jpgFILE – In this Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff (20) tries to drive around Iowa State guard Naz Mitrou-Long, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Ames, Iowa. The eighth-ranked Hawkeyes 1-2 punch of Uthoff (18.8 points) and Peter Jok (16.3) leads an offense ranked 11th in KenPoms adjusted efficiency ratings (118 points per 100 possessions). (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

FILE – In this Jan. 10, 2015, file photo, Virginia guard Malcom Brogdon, left, drives the lane as Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in South Bend, Ind. Led by two-way star Brogdon, the Cavaliers are 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.3) and sixth defensively (92). (AP Photo/Joe Raymond,File)
http://wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_108850385-7e9a59c0ba114d4fa6b9b2998c811572.jpgFILE – In this Jan. 10, 2015, file photo, Virginia guard Malcom Brogdon, left, drives the lane as Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in South Bend, Ind. Led by two-way star Brogdon, the Cavaliers are 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.3) and sixth defensively (92). (AP Photo/Joe Raymond,File)

FILE – Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (24) drives past Michigan State’s Marvin Clark Jr., left, and Matt Costello during the first half of a regional semifinal in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Syracuse, N.Y. The third-ranked Sooners have a strong case behind star guard Hield. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
http://wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_108850385-6d39aacfa2c24fc99f67a59824f6a7c9.jpgFILE – Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (24) drives past Michigan State’s Marvin Clark Jr., left, and Matt Costello during the first half of a regional semifinal in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Syracuse, N.Y. The third-ranked Sooners have a strong case behind star guard Hield. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

By Aaron Beard

AP Sports Writer

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