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That NCAA tournament bubble’s getting awfully crowded

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We’ve slowly started to weed through some bubble teams.  Not that we won’t have any more surprises.  It’s been challenging to pare teams down and provide some separation.  As we head into March, Kansas State, UCLA, and George Mason move off the bubble as teams that should be in the Field of 68. 

Fortunately, we added Colorado back to the bubble before the CU’s victory over Texas.   Maryland missed a chance to join the conversation by falling at North Carolina on Sunday.  Washington State picked up a road win at Washington Sunday night and now owns a sweep of the Huskies.  Both remain on the bubble with two games left before the Pac-10 tournament.  Teams falling off the bubble at this point: Wichita State and Minnesota

Expect a few more teams to leave the bubble as we head into Championship Week.  We may not have a clear picture about the bottom of the bracket until the Friday or Saturday before the bracket is released. 

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble. If a team isn’t listed, they aren’t a bubble team at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to CollegeRPI.com.

UPDATED: Monday, February 28

Automatic Bids (31): None decided | Total Spots (68): Number of total teams in the Field.

  • Projected Locks (22): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (9): These teams are teams in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (28): Teams projected to be at or near the cutline for being selected as at-large candidates.
  • Spots available (12): Number of projected available openings for the bracket.
  • Leaving the Bubble: Kansas State (SBI), UCLA (SBI), George Mason (SBI), Wichita State (off), Minnesota (off)
  • Joining the Bubble: None
  • Notes: RPI and SOS data are through 10 p.m. ET (Feb. 27) | Washington/Washington State were updated Feb. 28.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Xavier, Temple | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Richmond
  • Richmond (22-7 | 11-3) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 138 | – Not much has changed for the Spiders. Their win Saturday at Charlotte holds them steady. The win over Purdue continues to be a major helping point, and wins at Dayton and over VCU are okay, too. Richmond can’t afford a loss at St. Joseph’s before a final home date with Duquesne. It may still take a run to the A-10 tournament final depending on what happens around them.
ACC
Locks: Duke, North Carolina | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech
  • Boston College (17-11 | 7-7) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 18 | – The Eagles won at Virginia to avoid an untimely bad loss. Next up is a trip to Virginia Tech – which just upset Duke. BC has still lost 6 of 9 and remains just 1-5 vs. Top 50 RPI teams (Texas AM). The Eagles need to beat Tech and then take care of Wake to improve their standing heading into the ACC Tournament. A loss in either will put some added pressure on the Eagles to win a couple of games in the league tourney.
  • Clemson (19-9 | 8-6) | RPI:69 | SOS: 97 | – After taking care of Wake Forest, it’s off to Duke before a home date with Virginia Tech. Both are critical games, and you have to figure the Blue Devils are going to be feisty after losing at Virginia Tech on Saturday. That said, beating Duke is Clemson’s last chance for a marquis victory. Other than a home win over Florida State, the resume is very average. Clemson has non-league losses to Old Dominion, Michigan, and South Carolina.
  • Florida State (20-8 | 10-4) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 88 | – Overall, Florida State remains in pretty good position given its strong ACC record. A weak non-conferense SOS (no. 227), could still be concerning if FSU stumbles down the stretch. The Seminoles are just 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams, but they do have a home win over Duke. They also beat Baylor in Hawaii. Finishing third in the ACC standings will likely be enough. At this point, that looks promising. FSU closes with North Carolina at home and NC State on the Road.
  • Virginia Tech (19-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 85 | – Beating Duke gives the Hokies the type of marquis victory they missed last season. It’s not enough to take VT off the bubble, but their tournament odds certainly improved Saturday night. The Hokies are 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams to go along with three sub-100 RPI losses. Next up, BC arrives before a trip to Clemson. Both have their own spots on the bubble. Winning both would make the ACC Tournament a whole lot easier. A split means that Va. Tech would need to avoid a first-round upset in the league tournament.
BIG EAST
Locks: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville, St. John’s | Should Be In: West Virginia | Bubble: Cincinnati, Marquette
  • Cincinnati (22-7 | 9-7) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 81 | – The win at Georgetown gave UC’s profile a huge boost. It also guaranteed the Bearcats at least a 9-9 finish in the Big East. That’s why Sunday’s loss at home to Connecticut isn’t cause for alarm – provided the Bearcats don’t begin a free-fall that ends in a first-round exit in the Big East Tournament. UC is 4-6 vs. Top 50 RPI teams (Xavier, St. John’s, Louisville, G’town) – a pretty solid mark. While the albatross of a horrible non-conference schedule (No. 281) still lingers, the Bearcats have done enough within the Big East to lessen its impact. One more win should be enough for UC to secure a spot and move off the bubble.
  • Marquette (18-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 30 | – After a huge win at Connecticut on Thursday, Marquette kept it rolling with a strong home victory over Providence on Sunday. That’s three straight for MU. The Golden Eagles are 4-10 vs. Top 25 RPI teams – an amazing number of high-level games. A schedule like that helps – if you can find enough victories. Up next is a visit from Cincinnati before a closing contest at Seton Hall. Winning both should be enough to move the Golden Eagles off the bubble. A split wouldn’t be horrible, but it would create some urgency to win at least one game in New York.
BIG 10
Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State
  • Illinois (18-11 | 8-8) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 17 | – Illinois avoided major problems by taking care of Iowa at home Saturday. Up next is a trip to Purdue – a very difficult challenge. Then, it’s home to Indiana. As long as the Illini take care of the Hoosiers at home, their propsects are favorable heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A loss would put a lot of pressure on Illinois to win a couple of games in Indy. Good wins include N. Carolina, at Gonzaga, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. If it’s a close call among Big Ten teams, the Illini beat both Michigan and Minnesota – teams they played only once in the Big Ten rotation. The loss at UIC is a major sore point.
  • Michigan State (15-12 | 8-8) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 5 | The Spartans were dominated at home Sunday by Purdue after winning two straight. That makes the last two games (Iowa, at Michigan) very important. Michigan State is now just 3-9 vs. Top 50 teams – thanks to Minnesota’s free-fall. Can MSU get to 10 league wins? That might be what it takes to have a chance heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A strong schedule will help, but MSU is squarely on the cutline as we move into March.
  • Michigan (17-12 | 8-9) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 20 | Winning at Minnesota wasn’t a great win, but it knocked the Gophers off the bubble and keeps the Wolverines in the conversation. While there’s not a lot to love about the Wolverine’s profile (2-8 vs. Top 50 teams), they have won 7 of 10 and were a last-second banked-in three pointer at the buzzer from beating Wisconsin. Michigan closes at home against Michigan State. A weak bubble continues to help. Much like Marquette, Michigan has several close losses and a solid strength of schedule. On another note, Michigan lost to Illinois in its only matchup with the Illini; just something to keep in mind. On the flip side, the Wolverines swept Penn State.
  • Penn State (15-12 | 8-8) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 9 | Surprisingly, Penn State gained some bubble ground with its win at Northwestern. For one, it was the Lions’ second road win. It also moved them back to .500 in league play. Penn State has three solid victories at home (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State). That’s more than some other teams at the cutline. The flip side is that PSU was swept by Michigan and is still just 2-8 in road games. Up next is a visit from Ohio State, followed by a trip to Minnesota. A split would keep PSU in the conversation heading to the Big 10 Tournament. A pair of losses probably ends the Lions’ run.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Texas | Should Be In: Missouri, Texas AM, Kansas State | Bubble: Baylor, Colorado
  • Baylor (17-10 | 7-7) | RPI: 72 | SOS: 48 | – Baylor has been a hard team to figure out. Major talent with very average results. Last week the Bears lost a home game to Texas Tech and were blown out at Missouri. Then on Saturday, Baylor took care of Texas AM at home, giving the Bears a season sweep of the Aggies. Most likely, that’s a match-up issue. Either way, Baylor is just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams – both of those the wins over Texas AM. Against the Top 100, the Bears are 5-7 – a lower win total than some other bubble teams. Out of conference, the Bears failed to win a Top 100 RPI game and their non-league SOS ranks No. 209. Now, it’s off to Oklahoma State before a closing game at home with Texas. Winning both would be huge. A split will require the Bears to do some work at the Big 12 Tournament. Two losses would be a major blow.
  • Colorado (17-11 | 7-7) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 73 | – Home wins don’t get much bigger than beating a potential No. 1 seed – ask Virginia Tech. The Buffs certainly improved their at-large hopes with a win over Texas on Saturday. It gives Colorado a 5-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams – a pretty solid total – especially compared to a team like Baylor. Elswhere, however, CU has struggled as a 9-11 mark vs. Top 200 teams suggests. The problem is a horrific non-conference SOS (No. 322). That could give the Selection Committee a reason to leave the Buffaloes at home. Up next is a trip to Iowa State before a home date with Nebraska. Winning both would be advised. A split will keep CU in the at-large picture. Among Colorado’s achievements is a sweep of Kansas State.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: BYU, San Diego State | Should Be In: UNLV | Bubble: Colorado State
  • Colorado State (17-10 | 8-6) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 38 | – The Rams’ at-large hopes took a major hit after the loss at Air Force on Saturday. CSU’s best wins are UNLV and Southern Miss and the Rams’ once strong Mountain West record has fallen a bit. It’ll likely take a win at San Diego State on March 5 to stay in the at-large picture. A loss to Utah in between would be devastating. CSU is 2-5 vs. the Top 50 and 4-7 vs. the Top 100. Early losses to Sam Houston and Hampton remain obstacles.
PAC 10
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: Arizona, UCLA | Bubble: Washington, Washington State
  • Washington (19-9 | 10-6) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 64 | – The loss to Washington State at home could put the Huskies on a dangerous path. UW has now been swept by the Cougars and other than a couple more league wins, their profiles are starting to become very similar. Once a solid tournament team, the Huskies are just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 6-7 vs. the Top 100. Remaining home games with Southern Cal and UCLA are very important now. Winning both might be enough, a split would mean there’s work to do at the Pac-10 Tournament to secure a spot.
  • Washington State (18-10 | 8-8) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 93 | – After pulling an upset in Washington Sunday night, the Cougars now own a season sweep of the Huskies. It also keeps WSU in the at-large discussion. With a weak bubble, who knows. Overall, WSU is still just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams (both Washington) and 6-7 vs. Top 100 teams. Other notable wins are Gonzaga and Baylor. UCLA and Southern Cal visit to close the season. WCU might need both. A split would keep them in the at-large conversation heading into the Pac-10 Tournament.
SEC
Locks: Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt | Should Be In: Tennessee | Bubble: Georgia, Alabama
  • Georgia (19-9 | 8-6) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 29 | – The Bulldogs’ win at Tennessee last week added another Top 50 win to a resume in need of quality wins. After a loss at Florida, Georgia rebounded to beat South Carolina at home – a key victory. Up next is LSU before a road trip to Alabama. A loss to LSU would be problematic. A split would keep Georgia on the right side of the cutline, but might require win or two at the SEC Tournament. Winning out would put Georgia in good position.
  • Alabama (19-9 | 11-3) | RPI: 89 | SOS: 139 | – Losing at Ole Miss Saturday wasn’t a killer, but it does lessen the Tide’s margin down the stretch. How much wiggle room Alabama has depends largely on how the Committee views an overall dominant performance in the SEC West. The Tide’s closing games are at Florida and home to Georgia. Winning both would be best, a split would be testy, and losing both would mean the need for a long run at the SEC Tournament. Whether the Committee will overlook the Tide’s poor start (losses to St. Peter’s, Iowa, Seton Hall) largely depends on how the Tide finish.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: George Mason | Bubble: Butler, Cleveland State, Missouri State, Old Dominion, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Utah State
  • Butler (20-9 | 13-5) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 79 | – Butler finished its regular season with 7 straight wins to earn the 2-seed and double bye in the Horizon League Tournament. A win over Florida State in Hawaii could still help, but the victory over Washington State isn’t what it once was – although the Cougars could rally. It’s the five league losses – including a sweep by Milwaukee – that’s holding Butler back. Getting to the Horizon League final would put BU right on the cutline.
  • Cleveland State (22-7 | 13-5) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 107 | – Vikings have to reach the Horizon League Tournament final to stay on the bubble.
  • Missouri State (23-7 | 15-3) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 126 | – Missouri State wrapped up the Missouri Valley title by beating Wichita State a second time on Saturday. That helps. However, the Bears’ best non-conference win is Pacific, and they have only two Top 100 RPI wins (both Wichita State). MSU has to reach the MVC Tournament final. After that, we’ll see.
  • Memphis (21-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 40 | – A lopsided loss at UTEP after being upset by Rice has knocked the Tigers’ profile down a few pegs. Memphis was also blown out in their prime-time matchups with Kansas, Georgetown and Tennessee. Even with a sweep of both UAB and Southern Miss, the Tigers can’t afford another C-USA loss before the conference tournament. The win at Gonzaga may help, but the Tigers have lost a lot of momentum.
  • UAB (20-7 | 10-4) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 71 | – Thanks to UAB and Memphis losing – and a win at Houston on Saturday – UAB finds itself back on top of Conference USA. An outright title might be necessary to be a solid at-large candidate on Selection Sunday. UAB is 0-5 vs. Top 50 teams but 7-6 vs. the Top 100. Their only bad loss is at Arizona State in November – so that’s somewhat a plus. UAB closes at Southern Miss and hosts East Carolina this week.
  • Southern Mississippi (18-7 | 9-5) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 87 | – After winning 6 of 7, Southern Miss lost at Central Florida to fall out of the C-USA lead. Finding a way to win the outright C-USA title remains USM’s best hope for at-large consideration. The Eagles have a win at California and beat UAB in their first meeting. Southern Miss hosts UAB this week in what could be an elimination game. USM is still just 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams and 6-6 vs. the Top 100. Losses to Colorado State and Mississippi won’t help; neither will a non-conference SOS ranked No. 240.
  • Old Dominion (24-6 | 14-4) | RPI: 27 | SOS: 74 | – ODU ended its regular season by beating William & Mary. The Monarchs finished tied for second in a good Colonial conference. While ODU is in good shape, we’ll leave them here until they win a game or two in the CAA Tournament. Good wins include Xavier, George Mason and Cleveland State. ODU played the No. 15 non-conference schedule and came within 3-points of beating Georetown.
  • VCU (21-10 | 12-6) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 108 | – After losing 4 of 5 down the stretch, VCU is barely holding onto a bubble spot.  Any loss before an appearance in the CAA final will end the Rams’ hopes.
  • Gonzaga (20-9 | 11-3) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 94 | – Gonzaga has won 8 of 9 and moved above the immediate cutline after winning at St. Mary’s in OT on Thursday. The ‘Zags followed it up with an easy win over San Diego on Saturday. They have wins over Xavier, Marquette, and Baylor. The Zags’ home loss to Memphis could still hamper the Bulldogs’ at-large chances, but a strong non-conference strength of schedule bodes well. A 2-6 mark vs. Top 50 RPI teams is somewhat concerning, but a 7-7 mark vs. the Top 100 helps.
  • St. Mary’s (21-7 | 11-3) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 113 | – The Gaels are a perfect example of why we don’t rush to move teams off the bubble. St. Mary’s lost three straight before beating Portland on Saturday. That leaves SMU in a tie with Gonzaga atop the West Coast Conference. An early win over St. John’s helps, and St. Mary’s split with Gonzaga. But the rest of the resume is light (1-4 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-6 vs. the Top 100). In the at-large discussion, the Gaels would currently fall behind Gonzaga.
  • Utah State (25-3 | 13-1) | RPI: 19 | SOS: 102 | – The Aggies have two remaining WAC road games. Win both and it could be hard to leave the Aggies out unless they trip up early in the WAC Tournament. What’s holding USU back is a very light 2-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams – and one of those is Long Beach State (No. 92 on Sunday). That’s why the BracketBuster win at St. Mary’s was huge. Even so, we can’t put USU in the Field of 68 right now.

VIDEO: Kentucky fan makes a hype video

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 11:  Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates in the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the quarterfinals of the SEC Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 11, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day weekend is typically a slow time for sports news, so over the weekend, the CBT crew has been discussing fan videos and songs.

If you’re not familiar, a lot of programs have fans that are so passionate, that they create something as tribute for their programs. This stuff tends to happen in the offseason.

Take this 12-minute video a Kentucky fan made that was posted by Kentucky Sports Radio’s Drew Franklin yesterday as an example:

Twelve minutes is a staggering amount for a video like this, but it captures multiple seasons and even goes into the future.

Not bad.

But it definitely doesn’t beat this Villanova song released by MRG after the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament run.

So now that we’ve seen the baseline for videos and songs, do any other fanbases have anything better in them this summer? There’s still a lot of time until college hoops begins next season and there are plenty of fans who can jump in with a submission.

Throughout the summer, we’ll post the best fan submissions on CBT (as long as they’re clean and original) and see which group of fans has the best at the end of it all.

Canisius finds a new head coach following Jim Baron’s retirement

Canisius head coach Jim Baron talks with players during college basketball practice in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, March 5, 2013. One year after Baron was fired at Rhode Island, the coach and his point guard son, Billy, have teamed up at Canisius to breath new life into a struggling program. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
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Canisius has found a new head coach following the retirement of Jim Baron, as the Griffins have hired former Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, according to a report from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.

The 55-year-old Witherspoon was formerly the head coach at Buffalo from December 1999 until after the 2012-13 season and was recently an assistant coach at Alabama and Chattanooga the past two seasons.

During his time at Buffalo, Witherspoon went 197-225 while making four postseason appearances. He takes over a Canisius program that went 14-19 and 8-12 in the MAAC last season.

As a Buffalo native who has coached in the area as a high school, junior college and Division I head coach, Witherspoon should be familiar with the landscape of being a basketball coach in that city. It’s hard to say if Witherspoon can lead Canisius to prominence at this stage in his career, but he’ll certainly know the area enough to hit the ground running.

UNC’s Roy Williams recovering from knee replacement surgery

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 19:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts on the bench against the Harvard Crimson during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on March 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Roy Williams is recovering from knee replacement surgery.

In an email Friday, athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner says Williams is “resting comfortably” after the procedure on his right knee performed by Dr. Walt Beaver in Charlotte. Kirschner says there’s no exact recovery timetable but Williams is expected to be on the road for July recruiting “as usual.”

The 65-year-old Williams had procedures on both knees last year but experienced discomfort during the season as the Tar Heels won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before losing in the NCAA title game on a last-second shot to Villanova.

A week later, Williams said he was considering surgery options for a “bone-on-bone” condition and noted: “I’ve got to be able to move around.”

Utah to play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 2: Nate Austin #33 of the Brigham Young Cougars and Jakob Poeltl #42 of the Utah Utes try for the ball in the second half of the Utes 83-75 win at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on December 2, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah will play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017 in a game that will end a “cooling off period” Utah demanded due to events at recent games.

Utah said in a news release Thursday that the two schools have agreed to play in 2017 at BYU. The school’s athletic directors are talking about scheduling future games.

The decision to cancel the rivalry upset BYU and ignited a controversy that lit up sports talk radio and triggered legislators to order a state audit of Utah athletics. The game had been played every year since 1909 except for during World War II.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said in January that the rivalry had become a “venomous and toxic environment.” BYU guard Nick Emery was ejected from December’s game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor.

Looking Forward: Defense will help Arizona sort out loaded rotation

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind let’s take a look at Arizona, an elite program that reloads with designs on erasing the bad memories of last year’s first round NCAA tournament exit. 

After going on a two-year run in which they went 67-9, won two Pac-12 regular season titles and made two Elite Eight appearances, Arizona took a step back in 2015-16. Sean Miller’s Wildcats saw their grip on the Pac-12 loosen, with Oregon taking advantage, and their NCAA tournament stay was a short one thanks to a tough Wichita State team. Many programs would sign up for a season that included 25 wins despite injuries to freshmen Ray Smith (torn ACL) and Allonzo Trier (broken hand).

But Arizona isn’t your “run of the mill” program, which is a testament not only to what the retired Lute Olson accomplished during his time in Tucson but to what Sean Miller’s managed to do as well. Since his arrival Miller’s pumped new life into the program, with Arizona racking up highly regarded recruiting classes and the wins to match.

All that’s missing from his time at Arizona is a trip to the Final Four, an accomplishment Arizona hasn’t been able to boast since 2001. And after last year’s disappointing finish, Arizona’s work on the recruiting trail in the spring has them in a position where they can get that done. There’s talent, depth and versatility on the roster heading into the 2016-17 season, with some key returnees being joined by one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.

And with that will come an important question for the Wildcats: how will they sort everything out from a rotation standpoint?

Competition within the ranks is hardly a bad thing; “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The same can be said for versatility, which will be another positive trait for Arizona in 2016-17. At first glance the roster has just two players seemingly locked into one specific position: Parker Jackson-Cartwright at point guard and Dusan Ristic at center. Outside of that, Arizona boasts a host of players capable of filling multiple spots based upon the desires of their head coach and the flow of the game.

The front court includes a mobile 7-footer in sophomore Chance Comanche, who managed to earn more consistent appearances down the stretch thanks to his activity on the defensive end of the floor. Newcomers in Lauri Markkanen and Keanu Pinder who can fill multiple roles in the front court, with Markannen’s ability to step out and hit perimeter shots being especially key, and the same can be said of the talented Smith provided there are no lingering effects from his second ACL tear in as many years.

With the injury and the time away from live action Smith will likely have some rust to shake off, but this is something Arizona can work through given their depth. There’s role versatility and this sets up to be a more mobile group defensively as well, which can only help the Wildcats moving forward.

The bigger area for Arizona from an options standpoint is on the perimeter, as they’re loaded with established returnees and high-caliber newcomers. And with the players available, how everything shakes out with regards to roles and minutes that come with them will be very interesting to watch. Trier’s back after a successful freshman season in which he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field, and with his ability to attack defenses off the dribble he’ll figure prominently in the Arizona rotation again in 2016-17.

Also returning are Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who shared the point guard duties with Allen getting the starting nod thanks in large part to his ability on the defensive end of the floor. Losing Gabe York, who was second on the team in scoring and Arizona’s best three-point shooter a season ago, can’t be overlooked. But with the additions to the program, Arizona can more than account for the production lost there.

Last year Trier was the Wildcat best capable of attacking defenses off the bounce, but even with the relative “lack” of such options Arizona still managed to average 80 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field. Things will be a bit different in 2016-17, thanks to factors such as the loss of York and Ryan Anderson and the fact that they’ll have more players capable of breaking down opponents off the dribble. Freshmen Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins and Terrance Ferguson can all create shots via dribble penetration, with Ferguson also being one of the top shooters in the class of 2016.

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 30: Terrance Ferguson #6 of the East  team goes up for a dunk against the West team during the 2016 McDonalds's All American Game on March 30, 2016 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Terrance Ferguson (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

But could this turn out to be a case of having too much of a good thing? While considered a point guard, Simmons proved to be better at getting himself looks than doing so for others, and Alkins was also considered to be a “ball dominant” guard at the high school level. How will that change at the college level, and how will the pieces fit together within Arizona’s rotation?

These are important questions to address, and how Arizona can do that is on the defensive end of the floor.

After two straight seasons of producing defenses that ranked in the top three in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (first in 2014, third in 2015), Arizona was ranked 41st in that category last season. After two consecutive seasons of limiting teams to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, Arizona allowed teams to shoot 41.3 percent in 2015-16. Also of concern was the turnover department, with teams committing an average of just 11.4 per game against the Wildcats last season.

By comparison, those two Elite Eight teams managed to force an average of 13.8 turnovers per game in 2013-14 and 12.4 per contest in 2014-15. The pack line defense isn’t one that people would necessarily categorize as a “pressure” system, but one of the strengths for Arizona during those two Elite Eight runs was having athletic options on the wings who can make life difficult for passers and the players looking to receive those passes. That wasn’t the case last season, but it may not be a problem in 2016-17 thanks to the roster additions.

Ferguson’s athleticism is noted above, and he’s also a long-armed player who more than holds his own defensively. Alkins also has the physical tools needed to cause trouble on the wing, which will give Arizona a good shot at playing defense at the level we grew accustomed to seeing them reach.

Physical tools aside, there’s always the “carrot” of playing time to dangle in front of the players. When discussing the adjustment process for freshmen many rush to the offensive end, and that’s understandable to a certain extent. But the biggest adjustment comes on the other end of the floor, and being able to prove that you can defend your position and carry out the team’s defensive game plan.

Arizona will certainly have offensive talent across the board next season. But the reason why they can rebound from last season and possibly reach the Final Four is the fact that some of that talent will make a difference defensively as well.