A weekly (or so) ranking of college basketball teams on the basis of watchability and with very little regard to how good they might be.
1. Michigan: Trey Burke's best skill is his ability to maneuver through traffic, maintaining his dribble until a defender helps off his man and creates a hole through which Burke can thread a pass. (His second-best skill is his step-back jumper, which is why God invented the DVR.) To take advantage of this on offense, John Beilein made a smart strategic change on defense: His Wolverines would no longer rely on the 1-3-1 zone but rather a man defense that capitalizes on Michigan's extreme athleticism. As soon as an opponent releases a shot, both Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary crash the glass with the hurried purpose of two guys trying to catch the last train out of Dogpatch. Morgan may be the strongest player in the Big Ten, and McGary's a leaper with intimidating upper-body strength—he once shattered a backboard in a high school game. Together their defensive rebounding has become the foundation of Michigan's transition offense, led by Burke and his yo-yoing dribble.
Next game: Tuesday vs. Ohio State
2. Belmont: Belmont is now running the Ohio Valley Conference's most efficient offense, and a lot of that has to do with the play of Ian Clark: Through 10 OVC games, the senior guard is converting 66 percent of his twos and an insane 59 percent of his threes. He has a quick first step, and he can shoot from anywhere with that low fling of his. Those talents combine to make him especially fun in a pick-and-roll, where he has come to dominate that small moment after the screen the way a big man might dominate the low block.
Next game: Thursday vs. Murray State
3. North Carolina State: Richard Howell isn't built like a bruiser, but the forward's core strength allows him to clear out a significant chunk of interior space. He has superior footwork, and he can outjump would-be defensive rebounders, all of which make him a box-out nightmare for opposing bigs (not to mention a vital part of the Wolfpack's 1987-never-happened offense). Only four other high-major programs attempt fewer threes than the Wolfpack. When he isn't converting those rebounds—Howell's 1.28 points per put-back is fourth among D1 bigs—his team benefits from the additional possessions.
Next game: Thursday at Duke
4. Kansas: Ben McLemore's jump shot isn't labored, and he doesn't require much time getting into his motion, which is really no more than a quick knee bend and a flick of the wrist. The whole thing is pretty as hell. McLemore attempts roughly a fourth of KU's shots, but he's not an initiator: He has to rely on Elijah Johnson's and Naadir Tharpe's ability to drive the lane and soak up defenders to find his shots. McLemore does his part by moving expertly off the ball: nearly 60 percent of his spot-up attempts are the result of defenders helping off their man, and McLemore scores 1.6 points per possession, one of the nation's top rates. Kansas' ball-reversal is designed to create mismatches and missed assignments, and McLemore thrives in Bill Self's system. It's a wonder to watch him move around the halfcourt.
Next game: Wednesday at TCU
5. St. John's: Steve Lavin's team sits in third in the Big East, an impressive showing for a bunch of guys who couldn't find the bucket in the offensive halfcourt if you spotted them Bernard King and a fleet of homing pigeons. Credit goes to the Red Storm's amorphous match-up zone that gives Chris Obekpa the freedom to roam from baseline to the perimeter. Obekpa's block rate—17 percent—is tops in Division I, and he's rarely caught out of position. Not prone to pump fakes, Obekpa has committed only 2.6 fouls per 40 minutes during Big East play, and he avoids body contact by using both hands to block a shot, volleyballishly.
Next game: Wednesday vs. UConn
6. Kentucky: Nerlens Noel is likewise a gifted defender, using his wingspan both to harass ballhandlers and reject every shot save an Eephus-type floater. Opponents rarely get by him, and even when they do—as Texas A&M frosh Alex Caruso in Kentucky's big 72-68 win on Saturday—Noel covers ground quickly enough to bother the shot. Against the Wildcats, teams are hitting an anemic 41 percent of their shots in the paint.
Next game: Tuesday vs. South Carolina