Chemistry, confidence overshadow stats for Syracuse and Wichita State in UPS Index Print
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Monday, 10 February 2014 07:51
NCAAB Headline News


 Syracuse and Wichita State may still have a ways to go to reach the top of the UPS Performance Index, but both continue to reinforce their case for being the last team standing come April.
Riding solid balance and overall cohesive play, the nation's only remaining undefeated teams made some modest progress on top-rated Arizona within the Index while in the midst of their respective historic seasons.
In conjunction with STATS LLC, UPS has created a proprietary algorithm that gauges data covering the spectrum of a team's on-court performance. Highlighted statistics include effective field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage against, rebounding percentage, ball-handling efficiency and miscues.
After being combined with winning percentage and strength-of-schedule metrics, the numbers are normalized and an overall index is created for all 345 NCAA Division I teams. The scores are not meant to reflect a traditional power poll, per se, but measure a broad range of excellence and overall balance.
Not since Indiana went 32-0 over the course of the 1975-76 season has a Division I team finished undefeated. In fact, only 24 schools have taken a perfect record into the first AP Poll of February since that memorable run by coach Bob Knight's group.
For the first time since St. Joseph's and Stanford in 2003-04, two teams entered the first full week of February without a loss. Top-ranked Syracuse (23-0) and No. 4 Wichita State (25-0) have accomplished that feat in part by maintaining their focus more on the moment and less on the precedent.
"It's all about going to the next game," Orange forward C.J. Fair said after scoring 19 points in Sunday's 57-44 win over Clemson.
Off to the best start in school history, Syracuse equaled the program's mark for consecutive victories set during the 1916-17 season and matched one year later. Up one position to eighth in the Index, the Orange shoot 46.0 percent and are allowing 58.4 points per contest, yet still sit outside the top 100 offensively and defensively in ratings.
However, they have four players averaging at least 11.8 points per game and rank among the national leaders with a 1.39 assist-to-turnover ratio. That type of balance, discipline and unselfishness have them on track for a top seed come March.
"They have very good pieces that fit together," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "Everybody has a role. They embrace their role. They're very unselfish. There doesn't look to be any jealousy."
A surprise national semifinalist last season, Wichita State also moved up one position, remaining one spot ahead of Syracuse in the Index at seventh. The Shockers have drowned out talk of a weak schedule and an underachieving conference - the Missouri Valley lost a quality member in AP No. 18 Creighton over the offseason - to become the first team since the Derrick Rose-led Memphis squad of 2007-08 to win its first 25 games.
"I would say (their success) is a combination of a couple of things," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said after his team's 82-73 home loss to Wichita State on Saturday. "One, the confidence they gained this year, and certainly the confidence from last year and what they accomplished.
"You have to have really good players, and they have that. And you have to be well coached, and they are that."
Though Wichita State also ranks outside the top 140 offensively in the Index, three players average at least 12.0 points. Meanwhile, it's among the top 40 defensively and ninth in rebounding, thanks to a 39.6 average per game.
Like Syracuse, the Shockers are able to consistently take care of the ball, posting a 1.30 assist-to-turnover mark.
Wichita State is 9.09 points behind Index-leader and second-ranked Arizona (23-1), which bounced back nicely from a 60-58 loss at California on Feb. 1. The Wildcats pulled out a two-point win over Oregon then routed Oregon State 76-54 last week, moving on from the loss of starting forward Brandon Ashley to a foot injury.
The Wildcats shot 50.0 percent Sunday against the Beavers after shooting 37.0 percent in the previous four games.
"We gained confidence," said Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose team ranks among the national leaders in scoring defense (57.0 points per game) and effective defensive field-goal percentage (41.9).
The Wildcats hold a 5.52-point advantage over second-place Florida (21-2), which has won 15 in a row and also boasts one of the nation's top defenses, allowing just 57.9 points per contest and 39.0 percent shooting.
On Saturday, the Gators showed they can also win with their offense, overcoming 55.0 percent shooting from Alabama by making a season-high 62.0 percent of their own shots in a 78-69 victory that extended their home winning streak to 29 games.
"If you play defense the way we did (Saturday), you're not going to win," said coach Billy Donovan, whose team recorded a season-high 22 assists and scored 27 points off turnovers. "Thank God we had some offense that helped us."
Kansas (18-5) moved up one spot to third in the Index with Villanova (21-2) and Louisville (19-4) rounding out the top five. After falling 60-58 at Wisconsin on Sunday for its third defeat in five games, Michigan State (20-4) suffered the biggest slide within the top 10, three spots to sixth. The Badgers (19-5), meanwhile, improved three positions to ninth.
Duke (19-5) remained 10th.
After extending its season-high winning streak to four games with a 74-67 win at rival Harvard on Saturday, Yale made the biggest leap within the Index, 49 spots to 155. Consecutive road losses for IPFW dropped the Mastodons 35 places to 150.

 

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