Welcome to Volume I of The Bilas Index, the most reliable measure of basketball excellence on this tiny, little planet. Since the first ball was dribbled in practice this season, data has been input into the ginormous hunkin’ brain inside of The Bilastrator’s massive cranium. The Bilas Index has farsightedness, trustworthiness and uncanny accuracy that are mind-boggling. It is a constant. It is a national treasure. And it is the only measure the Selection Committee should use.
We asked our coaches to tell us about the technical fouls they remember best. Guess which coach got his 14 seconds into his first game?
Duke won, Virginia and Michigan lost, Tennessee won but wasn’t impressive. Here’s what’s real and what’s fake after a confusing college hoops weekend.
The Wildcats won their fifth consecutive game Tuesday and seem to be heading in the right direction at just the right time.
The Bilas Index is not a ranking or poll voted upon at the whim of the uninformed. It is an ordered listing of the best teams in college basketball. It is not a “snapshot” or the flavor of the week. It is based upon actual data and the vast reservoir of hoops knowledge of The Bilastrator. The Bilas Index does not rely upon any one metric, such as the NET or RPI. The Bilas Index inputs every reliable piece of basketball data and sorts it all for you in an easily digestible package. It cannot be gamed because The Bilastrator’s gigantic brain is the most reliable tool for judging, evaluating and separating teams and players. Imagine the brains of Hawking, Galileo, Einstein and Edison having been applied only to basketball, and then multiply that by 10 — you’d have The Bilastrator’s brain. Subtract from that the distraction of sitting next to Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams every Saturday, and you still have the most powerful basketball evaluation tool ever invented.
It must be pointed out annually that even though The Bilas Index is available to the Selection Committee, it cannot keep that group of well-intentioned people from making a mess of selections and seeding. Nothing, including Zion Williamson in midair, is that imposing. That said, enjoy The Bilas Index. As always, you’re welcome.
Remember, The Bilas Index is not a poll that bends to the prevailing wind of each result. If Tiger Woods in his prime hit a tee shot out of bounds, that wouldn’t make him less than the best golfer. Similarly, a road loss at Duke hardly disqualifies Virginia as the No. 1 team. Everybody has lost and will lose again. That’s basketball. Virginia has better offensive weaponry than it had with last year’s overall No. 1 seed. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome make up one of the best backcourts in the country, and De’Andre Hunter is a legit lottery pick. Virginia isn’t going anywhere.
The thing that gets lost in Zion-mania is the value of Tre Jones. This kid is a “next-level” defender. Watch film of him. He is a savant on and off the ball. He is also a very good finisher. With Jones, Duke is as formidable a defensive team as there is in America. Free throw shooting and perimeter shooting could be issues down the stretch; Duke needs to improve in both areas. But Zion and Barrett are good enough to carry the offense. Wow.
The Vols are legit and have two SEC Player of the Year candidates in Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Williams is nearly unstoppable in the middle of the floor, and he brings it every game. But Tennessee is not going to overwhelm teams with talent alone. When the Vols guard people “five as one,” Tennessee can beat anyone. When the Vols are casual on the defensive end, any good team can give them a tussle. Grit is this team’s calling card.
Don’t be surprised if Tom Izzo’s team cuts down the nets in Minneapolis this year. The Spartans have experience, toughness and the best overall offensive point guard among Power 5 teams in Cassius Winston (sorry, Cassius, you play in the age of Ja Morant of Murray State). The Spartans have won 20 straight Big Ten games, a streak that just doesn’t happen in today’s game.
The Wolverines’ poor performance at Wisconsin was an aberration. Michigan might not have a juggernaut on the offensive end, but it has a great defensive team. The lack of a “go-to” scorer is a concern, but there are precious few teams that will feel comfortable playing Michigan on a neutral floor. Ignas Brazdeikis will continue to improve as a lead performer, and he will not have another bagel. It was a great win by Wisconsin, but not one I would expect to come often at Michigan’s expense.
With Killian Tillie back and getting into game shape again, the Zags add an NBA first-rounder to the rotation. Tillie is the Zags’ best shooter and shot-blocker, and he provides another dimension to an already terrific team. Is this Zags team better than its 2016 version? No. But this team is good enough to beat anyone. Sadly, we won’t really get to see that until March.
Give John Calipari credit. This dude does not surrender to the excuses of youth, and he just keeps coaching up the young guys. And they respond. Like last season with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, freshman point guard Ashton Hagans has broken out to become a team-changing star. We often refer to a player breaking out due to offensive performance. Yet Hagans broke out with his defense, his harassing pressure on the ball, his steals and his resulting offensive improvement. Plus, Tyler Herro has blossomed into a reliable scorer and defender. The next step is for Nick Richards to play more minutes. His rim protection is the one thing Kentucky lacks.
The Heels are a bit of a puzzle, and the missing piece is defense. When North Carolina plays defense with intensity, passion and pride, this team is really good. When the Heels play to just “outscore” or “out-offense” an opponent, they are just OK. And to Roy Williams, OK is not OK. Carolina is not big inside and has nobody to throw it to for an easy post score, but Nassir Little is starting to get comfortable out on the floor. He is a difference-maker.
This team is legit. With top scorer and shooter CJ Massinburg, lefty wing Jeremy Harris and super-sub Nick Perkins, the Bulls can beat anyone. Until they tripped at Northern Illinois on Tuesday, the only loss for Buffalo was at Marquette, when Markus Howard turned into a video game. The Bulls might not lose again until the postseason. If there is a non-Power 5 (or Gonzaga) that can reach the Final Four, look no further than Buffalo.
10. Nevada Wolf Pack
The Wolf Pack started 18-1, with the only stumble coming at New Mexico in a bizarre blowout. Jordan Caroline has been the consistent horse, and he is a double-double machine. The areas of concern are rebounding and consistent shooting from the perimeter. Caleb Martin is a good shooter who has not shot the ball well, and Jazz Johnson is a microwave shooter, but will Nevada have enough over three weeks in March?
11. Kansas Jayhawks
If Kansas wins yet another Big 12 title, this will be Bill Self’s most improbable title. Kansas has every reason to give up the title to the field this year because the Jayhawks are smaller inside without Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa and because the Jayhawks’ guards are so darn young. Yet Dedric Lawson has been so consistently productive and the “good Lagerald Vick” has shown up so often that Kansas has been able to overcome its deficiencies. Buckle up, KU fans. There will be a lot of close games this year, but it will be fun.
Markus Howard is simply ridiculous. Sam Hauser is a pro and will play in the NBA for a long, long time. Marquette has fiber and fights down to the last minute. There is not a more fun team to watch in all of college hoops than Wojo’s Warriors. They will shoot from anywhere and make it, and they don’t give up.
The Red Raiders are listed this high due to amazingly tight and tough defense. Texas Tech defends as well as any team in the country, but the Red Raiders simply cannot score efficiently. Jarrett Culver is a great player who will be a first-round pick, but what other Red Raiders player can score at the end of a clock? This is not a top-50 offensive team, and most of the analytics suggest that this is not a top-100 offensive team. Defense will get Texas Tech to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. You have to score to get beyond that.
14. Auburn Tigers
The Tigers have great guards in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown, but without Austin Wiley in the lineup, Auburn did not have enough inside or on the glass to beat Kentucky at home last Saturday. Auburn can force turnovers and be disruptive, but the Tigers need to rebound the ball better at the defensive end.
15. Houston Cougars
Kelvin Sampson isn’t a good coach. He is a great coach. It is amazing what he has done with a Houston program that was more of an archaeological dig than a good hoops job. Houston defends well and has a great guard in Corey Davis Jr., who can shoot it from anywhere and (almost) never misses a free throw. The Cougars are not 1983 vintage, but they are damn good.
The Terps are back. Anthony Cowan Jr. is one of the best guards in the country, yet he is still under the radar. He has elite quickness, and he has been incredibly efficient and selfless with a young group. The key for Maryland has been Bruno Fernando, who has emerged as a star. Fernando commands a double team with his near 70 percent shooting from the floor, yet he is a good passer out of that situation. As the young guys get more comfortable and consistent, Maryland should get better. The Big Ten will present a challenge to the freshmen’s confidence.
The Wildcats have adapted to a new style. They cannot play offensively the same way they did the past few years. There are more isolations and “backdowns” to get the ball into the right hands, but Phil Booth has been excellent. What a selfless player and winner. Villanova got caught short with Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman going pro early, but this “bridge year” will be important for the future. Villanova still has the best culture in college basketball.
This is a fantastic offensive team, and it is a pleasure to watch the Hokies move the ball and shoot it. The only things standing in the way of Virginia Tech contending for the ACC title and a Final Four are defense and rim protection. The Hokies can be a good defensive team and have improved, but opposing teams can get the ball into the paint too easily, and Kerry Blackshear (who had 19 points and 17 rebounds at North Carolina) cannot protect the paint and the rim all by himself. But remember, Loyola-Chicago reached the Final Four by shooting the stuffing out of the ball. Virginia Tech can do that.
The Cyclones are now healthy and have a full complement of players. Marial Shayok is now a conference-leading scorer after being a role player at Virginia (which should give you an indication of how good Virginia is and has been), and five players on the roster can hit multiple 3s in any given game. Iowa State does not have a ton of size, but Talen Horton-Tucker provides a wonderful matchup problem for any opponent. Give this team another month, and the Cyclones will be the best team in the Big 12 not named Kansas.
Without Dean Wade, Kansas State was average. With Dean Wade, Kansas State is very good. Wade is an NBA player, and he provides a go-to scorer and passer alongside Barry Brown. The Wildcats are a rough, tough defensive team, but with Wade, Kansas State can be a respectable offensive team as well. Without Wade? Not so much.
Chris Mack has brought a new system, new identity and new feel into The ‘Ville, and the team and community are responding. The Bilastrator thinks it is the hair, but reasonable minds might disagree on that. Jordan Nwora is one of the best players in the ACC, and Steven Enoch is an NBA-caliber athlete with a terrific shooting touch. The keys have been togetherness and Christen Cunningham, one of the prime examples of why transfers should not be discouraged. Cunningham was a grad transfer from Samford, where he would have played in obscurity. Yet he transferred to Louisville and is respected nationally for his game and his character. Can only coaches aspire to move?
Tim Miles has done a great job in Lincoln, and the Nebraska brass has stuck with him rather than stay on the “fire the coach, don’t give adequate time, fire the next coach” carousel. Miles has veteran guards in James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr., along with outstanding wings in Isaac Copeland Jr. (the Georgetown transfer) and Isaiah Roby. If Nebraska can rebound the ball better, this is a potential second-weekend team.
23. TCU Horned Frogs
On the list of “Coaches Who Have Done A Great Job,” the name Jamie Dixon would be near the top. Think of the difference Dixon, Rick Barnes, Kermit Davis, Ben Howland, Kevin Keatts and Chris Mack, to name a few, have made at their current programs. TCU lost a good guard in Jaylen Fisher but has a really good guard in Alex Robinson, one of the best passers in the country. Keep an eye on Kevin Samuel. He is an elite prospect as a big man in the Big 12. When he starts knocking down free throws, look out. He already shoots better than 70 percent from the floor.
24. Iowa Hawkeyes
Winner of 10 of 11 games heading into the Thursday battle at home with Michigan State, Iowa has been a very good offensive team and has been coming along on the defensive end. The Hawkeyes do a great job of balancing the offense and getting to the foul line.
The analytics will tell you that Purdue is a top-10 team, but The Bilas Index factors in the inconsistency and defensive issues to put the Boilermakers at a solid top-25 slot. Carsen Edwards‘ brilliance means Purdue can beat almost anyone on a given night, but Purdue is not quite there. In Mackey, Purdue packs a much better punch.
26. Syracuse Orange
If Syracuse makes shots, the Orange are very good. If Syracuse is clanking rims … yikes. Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett seemed to find something in the Big Monday game at Duke, and ‘Cuse followed that with a solid win against Pittsburgh. The Orange should continue to get better, but they need consistent production from Howard to win in the ACC.
27. LSU Tigers
The Tigers have talent. Tremont Waters, Naz Reid and Skylar Mays are all very good, and LSU has size and athleticism. If LSU can cut down on turnovers and mental errors (while trying to do good things), this team can take off. The schedule favors LSU to have a nice run into mid-February.
Kevin Keatts has done a masterful job in building the NC State program. With Markell Johnson out of the lineup for a few games, the Pack were a little shaky, and the schedule does not favor NC State the next couple of weeks, but this is a solid team that will hurt some feelings going forward.
29. Ole Miss Rebels
The Rebels have good guards in Terence Davis, Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler, and their home win over Auburn and road win at Mississippi State have made believers of many. Ole Miss can score. Blake Hinson can stretch the defense, and Dominik Olejniczak can protect the rim pretty well. Ole Miss is not a pushover and should be an NCAA tournament team. The Rebels play Tennessee and Kentucky only once each, both at home.
Shamorie Ponds is having a spectacular season and is putting up crazy numbers. Ponds is averaging almost 21 points and six assists per game, and he has shot more than 100 free throws this season. Five Johnnies average double figures, and Chris Mullin has one of the most talented teams in the Big East. If St. John’s can defend and rebound at a higher level, the scoring can take the Johnnies places. No rebounds, no rings, though.
Put Mike Hopkins on the list of coaches who have done a fantastic job of turning around a program. The Huskies are Syracuse West, with a formidable zone defense to go with some good guards. Jaylen Nowell is an NBA player, and Matisse Thybulle is one of the very best defenders in the nation. At 6-foot-5, Thybulle is among the nation’s leaders in steals and blocks. If Washington played man-to-man, more people would know what a great defender Thybulle is.
The Badgers have a bona fide player of the year candidate in Ethan Happ and should continue to rack up quality wins to add to last week’s Michigan victory. One possible issue for Greg Gard’s crew: the 66.5 free throw percentage that ranks perilously close to 300th in Division I.
Ben Howland has three experienced SEC vets in Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman and Lamar Peters, all of whom can score, hit 3s and get to the foul line. With a solid offense, Mississippi State is an NCAA tournament team.
The Bearcats are good but not quite as good on the glass or the defensive end as Mick Cronin’s past teams. But this Cincinnati squad scores a bit more easily. Jarron Cumberland is the go-to scorer, especially from deep (more than 40 3-point field goals made). Justin Jenifer is the only other Bearcat with as many as 20.
Talent and size are not issues for Florida State. The Seminoles are huge, athletic and talented. Yet after a tough loss to Duke in which the ‘Noles were one play away from a “storm the court” win, Florida State turned one loss into three, with uninspired performances against Pitt and Boston College. Disappointing. The truth is, Florida State hasn’t beaten anybody formidable. Home wins against Florida, Purdue and Miami look good, but Florida State has not performed to its talent … yet.
The Buckeyes play solid defense and play hard. But scoring has been inconsistent, and the Big Ten has knocked the Buckeyes around out of the gate. C.J. Jackson has been the primary perimeter shooting threat, but no other Buckeye has more than 30 3-point field goals made.
37. Texas Longhorns
The Longhorns have been up and down, but they are always right there to win. The only thing standing in the way of a better record has been consistent perimeter shooting. Keep your eye on Jaxson Hayes. That dude can play, and he is getting better by the day.
The Pirates have taken on water a bit since those wins over Kentucky and Maryland in the nonconference, but I still believe in guard Myles Powell. Powell has 56 3s this season, more than double that of anyone else on Kevin Willard’s squad.
Johnny Dawkins has his best team at UCF, largely due to the return of his son, Michigan transfer Aubrey Dawkins. The combo of Dawkins and B.J. Taylor presents one of the better guard tandems in the country. Taylor leads the Knights in scoring and gets to the foul line as often as any player in the country, while Dawkins is a complete offensive player. UCF gave one away on the road against Missouri, but the Knights have otherwise been solid.
40. Oklahoma Sooners
How do you lose Trae Young and get better? Oklahoma is far better defensively, and Christian James has emerged as a reliable leading scorer. The Sooners still need to be more efficient with the ball and cut down on turnovers.
Luguentz Dort has cooled off a bit, which is understandable for a freshman garnering so much defensive attention. Take a look at Zylan Cheatham, a 6-foot-8 wing with a triple-double this season. The San Diego State transfer averages just under 10 rebounds per game, and he plays really hard at both ends of the floor.
That heartbreaker against Marquette has proven tough to recover from, but the Bluejays have some important things going for them. Nobody in the country shoots the ball better (59.5 effective field goal percentage), and that includes a 41.9 percent clip from 3.
43. Clemson Tigers
The Tigers are going to have plenty of opportunities to knock out quality wins in the coming weeks, but getting there is going to require them to shoot it better from the perimeter. Clemson makes just 31.2 percent from 3 and 29.9 percent in ACC play.
44. Butler Bulldogs
Kamar Baldwin is the Big East Player of the Year candidate you haven’t heard enough about, the junior guard has put the Bulldogs on his back at times. He has freed up perimeter threats Sean McDermott (53 made 3s, 43.8 percent) and Paul Jorgensen (44 made 3s, 40.4 percent) for open looks.
If you haven’t seen Ja Morant outside of SportsCenter, watch this dude play. He is Russell Westbrook and C.J. McCollum wrapped into a 6-foot-3, dynamic package. He leads the nation in assists, and he scores at will in transition and off the bounce. His athletic tools are amazing, and he has legit skills. When his defense reaches the level of his offense — and it will because he is very good on the ball — Morant will be the third player selected this June. And his teammates Shaq Buchanan and Tevin Brown are both outstanding players. Murray State is very good, with only close losses to Alabama and Auburn on the road.
46. Indiana Hoosiers
The Hoosiers’ struggles during their five-game losing streak aren’t particularly hard to pinpoint. They’re shooting 26.8 percent from distance during the Big Ten portion of the schedule. Romeo Langford is talented, but he’s 0-for-10 from beyond the arc in his past three outings.
47. Arizona Wildcats
The Wildcats play really hard and do a great job of defending the paint, but they cannot score enough points to beat the very best teams with any consistency. Chase Jeter has been solid with 13 points and seven rebounds per game. Brandon Randolph and Brandon Williams have carried the scoring load, with some help from Samford transfer Justin Coleman (another example of why transfers should not be discouraged). Coleman has had some really good moments for Arizona and has stabilized the point guard position.
48. Florida Gators
The advanced algorithms love the Gators, who have seven losses on their ledger, none of them embarrassing. But Mike White’s team needs to start blending those with some quality wins, and senior guard KeVaughn Allen will lead that effort.
49. Baylor Bears
The Bears are going to miss Tristan Clark (knee) for the remainder of this season, but there’s still much to recommend them. Yale transfer Makai Mason can really score, and Scott Drew’s group gets after it on the offensive glass (fifth nationally in offensive rebound percentage).
Point guard Frankie Ferrari is among the best point guards in the country. A good shooter and fantastic passer, especially passing ahead on the break, Ferrari can score, dish and win. San Francisco has lost only to Buffalo and Gonzaga in addition to an away squeaker at UCSB.
Facing Duke and Virginia in a three-day span presents a challenge and an opportunity for the Fighting Irish. They’ll need to be better around the basket. The Irish are making just 43.6 percent of 2s, which ranks 14th in the ACC.
52. Temple Owls
The Owls handed Houston its only loss of the season, and it was no fluke — Fran Dunphy’s group can play. Shizz Alston Jr. is a conference player of the year candidate in the American. He has bombed 56 3s and is shooting better than 90 percent from the line.
The Aggies are going to slow you down (18.7 seconds per possession is one of the highest in the country) and hit the glass (top-30 in both grabbing offensive rebounds and preventing them), and that’s why NMSU has a great chance at its seventh NCAA appearance in the past eight years.
The Tide have some good pieces and a chance to take a big step this season. Having been competitive in every game, Alabama has a 17-year-old point guard in Kira Lewis Jr., who is legit. There is not a big guy in the country who plays harder than Donta Hall. If John Petty can be more consistent at a high level, Alabama can move up in The Bilas Index and become an NCAA tournament team.
Credit to Jeff Capel for scoring strong ACC wins over Florida State and Louisville, with a team that is one of the youngest in the country. As freshman (and Pitt points and assists leader) Xavier Johnson continues to mature, watch out.
56. VCU Rams
The Atlantic 10 might get only one NCAA bid this year, and there’s a great chance it will go to the Rams. Junior guard Marcus Evans, a Rice transfer, can both score and distribute for Mike Rhoades’ team.
Richard Pitino’s Gophers have been tough to figure: getting blown out by Illinois and Boston College, beating Wisconsin and Nebraska, and pushing Michigan to the limit. More consistent perimeter shooting for a team shooting just 30.5 percent from 3 in Big Ten play would help.
Seniors Vic Law and Dererk Pardon form one of the best frontline combos in the league. The duo is pulling down more than 30 points and 14 rebounds combined, and Pardon — 65.8 percent from the floor — is particularly good around the rim.
The Catamounts are one of the consistent winners in college basketball and could end up a very tough out come tournament time. Much of that has to do with the work of 20-plus-per-game point scorer Anthony Lamb, who could play anywhere.
The Bulldogs look like a contender in the Mountain West, and their perimeter work has a lot to do with that. Justin Hutson’s group both shoots it well from 3 (38 percent) and defends the 3 (28.3 percent) better than just about anyone in the country.
A couple early season losses might have caused you to dismiss the Jackets, but this team handled Syracuse on the road and will go into Duke on Saturday looking to inflict similar damage. If Tech is going to take the next step, it has to take better care of the basketball (last in ACC turnover percentage) and make its free throws (ACC-worst 65.7 percent in conference games).
62. Lipscomb Bisons
The Atlantic Sun has fielded some quality teams this season, and the cream of the crop might be the Bisons, thanks to their senior-driven roster. Both Garrison Mathews and Rob Marberry can score and rebound for a team that likes to push the pace (12th in adjusted tempo, per KenPom).
Junior guard Jordan Ford is averaging more than 22 points per game and is on the list for best players in the country you’re not hearing enough about. The Gaels have been effective by playing a halfcourt style (near the bottom of the country in possession length) and getting it to Ford near the end of the shot clock.
Mike Daum is again among the best and most productive players in the nation, averaging more than 24 points and 11 rebounds per game. His sharpshooting teammate, David Jenkins, has hit more than 60 3-point field goals and is averaging just a shade under 20 points per game. Right now, Duke’s Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett are the only teammates averaging more than 20 points. Add Skyler Flatten, who has hit more than 50 3-point field goals, and South Dakota State has a terrific offensive team.
65. Toledo Rockets
Buffalo has been the story in the MAC this season, but the league has a bunch of teams that could ruin someone’s day in the second half of March. Toledo is one of those teams. You don’t want to be down late to a team that shoots 78.8 percent from the free throw line.
66. Wofford Terriers
The Terriers got some December attention for knocking off South Carolina and are fresh off a win over early season darling Furman. This is another team that might enter March with a long win streak. Senior forward Cameron Jackson (15 points and close to eight boards per game) might be this talented team’s most productive player.
The Aggies have a good scorer in junior guard Sam Merrill (more than 18 points per game) but are at their most menacing around the basket. They allow opponents to make just 40.7 percent of 2s (second-lowest in the nation), and only Loyola-Chicago allows offensive rebounds at a lower rate.
Steve Forbes has done a tremendous job with a team that lost almost all of its key players from a year ago, with newcomers such as budding double-double machine Jeromy Rodriguez (he has done it 12 times already this season) helping this group contend right away.