Virginia wins ACC title, jumps inside UPS Index's top five
While there were no changes among the top three teams in the men's basketball UPS Performance Index, a historic season has helped Virginia surge up the ratings.
With their first outright ACC regular-season title in 33 years, the Cavaliers jumped inside those rankings' top five and, more importantly, announced themselves as a legitimate contender come tournament time.
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 quality-of-opponent 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.
For the first time since 1981 -- when a lanky sophomore named Ralph Sampson roamed the halls of Charlottesville -- Virginia (25-5) has the ACC regular-season championship all to itself following a resounding 75-56 home win over then-No. 4 Syracuse on Saturday.
"You could do nothing but smile at that point, when you beat a good team like that and you're having success like we're having," said leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon, who finished with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists. "It's surreal when you think about it."
The victory helped the Cavaliers improve seven places to No. 5 in the AP poll and five spots to fourth in the Index. Virginia joins ninth-place Duke, which moved up one position, as the only schools in the top 10 to improve their Index position from a week ago.
The nation's top defensive team allowing 54.8 points per game, the Cavaliers held the Orange to 35.7 percent shooting -- including just 5 of 22 from 3-point range. They complemented that typical defensive effort by shooting 50 percent (27 of 54) from the field and beyond the arc (8 of 16) to win their 13th straight game overall and 18th in a row at home in ACC play.
"For us to go out this way with an ACC crown is unreal," senior guard Joe Harris said. "I can't even describe it. But at the same time, we still have a lot of basketball left."
While the Cavaliers rank 12th in both the Index's defensive and rebounding categories, and are among the national leaders with an effective defensive field-goal percentage of 43.6, their surge up those ratings has been recently aided by their sixth-place standing in quality of opponent. Virginia has won two straight versus Top 25 teams after dropping their first three against such foes this season, giving it confidence as the calendar turns to March.
A lack of quality opponents -- at least in terms of the national rankings -- is something that has likely kept Wichita State (31-0) from leading the Index or sitting atop the AP poll. The Shockers are the first team since St. Joseph's in 2004 to enter their conference tournament undefeated, but are just 78th in the Index's quality-of-opponent category.
The obvious class of a Missouri Valley Conference that no longer boasts perennial power Creighton, Wichita State has yet to face a ranked opponent this season and won't during its upcoming league tournament. Second in the AP Poll, the Shockers are third in the Index behind first-place Arizona (27-2) and top-ranked Florida (27-2), both of which have played a top 10 schedule.
Yet the Shockers should have little trouble earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if all goes according to plan after successfully building on last season's improbable run to the national semifinals.
"It seems like the season started about three weeks ago as opposed to months ago," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "It's been incredible. They've met every challenge."
The Shockers are closing in on the 1990-91 UNLV team that went 34-0 before losing in the national semifinals to Duke. They're also off to the best start in the MVC since Larry Bird-led Indiana State won its first 33 contests before losing to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the 1979 championship game.
Indiana's 32-0 team from 1975-76 remains Division I's last squad to go an entire season without a loss.
"There was a moment before the season, looking at the schedule, saying, 'Man, I don't think we'll lose any of these games,'" Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet said. "But we still have more games to play. And we won't celebrate how we should until we play our last, final game."
Wichita State is a mere .89 behind Florida in the Index for No. 2. Despite a 21-game winning streak, the Gators are 4.22 points back of Arizona and its 136.16 efficiency rating.
Louisville remained fifth, while Kansas dropped two spots to sixth after losing 72-65 at unranked Oklahoma State on Saturday. Villanova kept hold of the seventh position and is one spot ahead of Wisconsin, which fell two places despite riding a seven-game winning streak.
Creighton, which fell 75-69 at Xavier on Saturday, slipped two spots to round out the top 10.
A winner of three in a row, Montana made the biggest leap in the Index, 30 spots to 215. Alabama State is tied for second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but dropped both games last week to fall an Index-worst 38 positions to 258.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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