The 15 Or So Most Watchable Teams In College Basketball: An Occasional Ranking

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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. Miami. The Hurricanes are watchable for the sole reason that they render their opponents utterly unwatchable. In the first seven minutes of Miami's 26-point win over North Carolina, UNC scored only five points. The Hurricanes, under second-year coach Jim Larranaga, rely on man defense that encourages switching and requires bigs to show on screens. The goal is to keep opponents from penetrating the lane, so even if a Miami guard is late going over a screen, the big—whether it's Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble, or Reggie Johnson—shows hard or flat hedges to ensure a dark green jersey blocks a view of the basket. And if they keep driving, they'll likely get blocked. This team, so far, has no defensive weak spots—they shuffle so smoothly on D that just two opponents have scored 70 or more points this season. (Pre-game speeches like this help, too.) Another upside: When you're getting steals, you're getting fast breaks, and sophomore guard Shane Larkin makes for pretty results on the other end of the court.
Next game: Today vs. Wake Forest


2. Indiana. My Victor Oladipo moment? Indiana-Michigan State. Oladipo is inbounding the ball with five seconds left in the first half. Oladipo, seeing all four Hoosiers were well covered, throws the ball off the back of Matt Costello, catches it on the bounce, and slams home a two-handed dunk. He's a show unto himself.
Next game: Tuesday at Minnesota


3. Belmont. When Ian Clark begins his shooting motion, the ball is almost directly in front of his head. It's almost as if the guard is shoving the ball at the basket, using his cartoonishly long arms to impart some type of spin. You watch him, and you wonder how that shot doesn't get sent into the loge seats every time. And yet it almost never happens. He's tall enough, at 6-foot-3, to shoot over anyone shorter, and quick enough to get his shot off over anyone taller. He's got an unconventional form, but it's effective as hell: He's shooting 48 percent from three this season; only six other DI players are more accurate in catch-and-shoot situations.
Next game: Today vs. Ohio

4. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are here because of Markel Brown's hops and Marcus Smart's eyes, which might be the most enjoyable pairing in all of college basketball. Brown, a wing who was already one of the most exciting dunkers in the land, is always in motion in the halfcourt, v-cutting his opponents into screens and slipping backdoor for alley-oops, and now he has a point guard who can find him the moment he shakes free of his defender.
Next game: Today vs. West Virginia

5. Stony Brook. Jameel Warney is trouble in the post, despite the fact that he doesn't have anything in the way of a polished post game. The freshman gets around defenders with his speed and doesn't so much shoot the ball as will it in the direction of the hoop, where, more often than not, it goes in. If Stony Brook makes the tournament, keep an eye out for Warney. You can't miss him. He's 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds, and he looks like something that might've been hauled out of a rock quarry.
Next game: Sunday at Maine

6. Michigan. Even if he is in the midst of a small slump, Tim Hardaway Jr. is a sublime complement to Trey Burke, whose praises we've already sung in this space. Dad says he needs to show "a little more Chicago," but it's hard to criticize a player converting 41 percent from deep and generally filling in what few cracks show up in Michigan's attack. There were times in 2012 when Hardaway shied away from hijacking the offense, and while he's no ballhog now, he no longer plays like a guy in perpetual fear that he's about to get yanked back to the bench.
Next game. Sunday vs. Illinois


7. St. John's. Freshman Jakarr Sampson's game resides entirely within the arc; he's attempted just five three-pointers this season and made none. That's fine because he's exceptional at finding creases in an opposing defense, often with the help of a gigantic Euro-hop. He's a great dunker, too. He cocks the ball and throws down hard and rattles all the wine glasses at Dante's.
Next game: Sunday vs. Pitt


8. LIU. Jason Brickman is what you get when you don't worry too much about a point guard's turnovers. He turns the ball over on 32 percent of his possessions, but in context that number isn't so bad. He's not reckless; he simply has adapted himself to his team's philosophy, which requires him to throw defenses off balance by getting into the lane and drawing help defenders. Why worry if passes occasionally sail into the bleachers when they're also frequently finding teammates for easy buckets?
Next game: Sunday vs. Wagner

9. Illinois. Tyler Griffey is having a great February after chucking the ball all over the Midwest in January. Not only did the senior make a perfect cut in the waning seconds versus No. 1 Indiana and bank in the game-winning layup, but he finally snapped his streak of eight consecutive Big Ten games without a made three (aside from two three-pointers made against Purdue, Griffey went 0-for-January). Griffey is a pure stretch 4. He plays like a much smaller man around the basket, and might be the only 6-foot-9 guy in basketball who regularly throws up floaters near the hoop. But on the perimeter, he's dangerous with that hay-baler shot of his.
Next game: Sunday vs. Michigan


10. Cal. Because California is slogging through Pac-12 play, there hasn't been much national attention paid to Allen Crabbe, but the junior wing is in the midst of an outstanding season. He's shooting 55 and 36 percent from two and three-point range, respectively, and he can seemingly score at will. Every now and then, he'll disappear for several minutes and then explode out of nowhere, and you'll look up and see he's got 15 more points.
Next game: Today at Oregon State


11. Air Force. Air Force runs a modified Princeton offense, which is always fun to watch, all the more so when it's run by experienced hands who can shoot well enough to keep the passing angles open. It's a complicated system, predicated on constant movement and precision passing. When it all comes together—as it did against UNLV or San Diego State—it's the best version of the Princeton offense you'll see played this year.
Next game: Tuesday vs. Wyoming


12. Kansas. We'll keep them on the list on the strength of Naadir Tharpe's first step alone.
Next game: Today vs. TCU

13. Wisconsin. Bo Ryan hardly ever plays his freshmen, which makes Sam Dekker something of a Wisconsin anomaly, even if he is a white guy from Sheboygan who shoots threes. The 6-foot-7 Dekker averages over 20 minutes per game, and he has become an essential component of the Badgers offense, taking 22 percent of his team's shots when he's on the floor. This is the first season in the Ken Pom era (since 2002-03) that Wisconsin has scored under one point per possession in Big Ten play, and without Dekker—the Badgers' only consistent perimeter shooter—that PPP number would be a lot worse.
Next game: Tuesday vs. Nebraska


14. Bryant. Three Bulldog starters have attempted more threes than twos in 2013, the result of Tim O'Shea's probably wise decision, with no one on the roster taller than 6-foot-6, to push the tempo a little and mostly abdicate the lane.
Next game: Today vs. Quinnipiac

15. Stanford. Coach Johnny Dawkins shook up Stanford's offense a little after a lopsided loss to Colorado, and the result is a more rounded and better-spaced attack based on downscreens by the bigs. Josh Huestis in particular has thrived in Stanford's reconstituted offense. He isn't a traditional big man, and the offense now gives him more freedom to use his shooting touch and his handle to create matchup problems for other Pac-12 forwards.
Next game: Today at Oregon


347. New Mexico: The Lobos are a good team that goes about being good in the very worst way possible. They have the worst two-point field-goal percentage of any team ranked in Joe Lunardi's most recent Bracketology filing. Only two Lobos convert more than 50 percent of their twos, and one of them—Alex Kirk—is a big man who hangs out near the basket. How has New Mexico won 22 games? By shooting a ton of free throws. The Lobos are great at creating contact with defenders, a tactic that slows everything down and puts the game in the hands of the refs. God, it's like a vintage Big Ten game out there whenever New Mexico plays.

Matt Giles is a reporter for New York Magazine and has contributed to College Baskeball Prospectus 2012-13, as well as ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider, BuzzFeed, and Salon. Follow him on Twitter, @hudsongiles.


Tempo-free statistics courtesy