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A viewer’s guide to the 24-hour hoops marathon

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Here’s to hoping that all of you college hoopheads out there were able to get a good night’s sleep on Sunday, because Monday night brings with it the now-annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.

What that means is that for a full 24 hours — actually, its closer to 30 if you’re like me and willing to start the “marathon” with Monday’s 7:00 pm tips — starting when the calendar changes from Monday until Tuesday, there will be a college basketball game on TV. For me, this is the precipice of heaven. I’ll be up all night watching, pounding Monster’s (Red Bull is just too weak these days) and, in all likelihood, putting down an extra large pizza by myself.

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

For the majority of the sane world, however, I realize that life does not revolve around college basketball and the chance to stay up all night, drinking caffeine and eating pizza (all of a sudden, this sounds like a sixth grade slumber party). So I decided to break down the marathon for you. Hopefully, this helps you select which games to watch, which games to ignore and when to fire up the TiVO:

Only miss these games to see the birth of your FIRST child:

1. 8:00 pm: Florida @ Ohio State: You remember what happened last year, right? The Gators hung with Ohio State for the first 25 minutes or so before Jared Sullinger took over and carried the Buckeyes to a resounding, 93-75 win. And that happened when the Gators had a big front line. This season, all of the weight of battling in the paint will fall on the shoulders of Patric Young. Part of what makes that matchup in the post so intriguing is that Young and Sullinger are both potential lottery picks, but they are nearly polar opposites in terms of ability. Sullinger is a big, physical, fairly-unathletic kid with a variety of post moves and an innate understanding of positioning and how to use his hindquarters. Young, on the other hand, still has a way to go in terms of learning how to play the game and developing his post arsenal, but he’s a freak athlete.

The matchup in the back court carries some intrigue as well. Florida’s potent back court has been well-publicized. Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal and Mike Rosario are as talented as any perimeter attack in the country. But the Buckeyes have a couple of all-league caliber guards on their roster as well. Aaron Craft will lock down whoever Thad Matta decides to put him on while William Buford will be a difficult matchup for any of the Billy Donovan’s defenders. The x-factor may be Lenzelle Smith. The sophomore looked like a promising defensive player in Ohio State’s first game of the year vs. Wright State. Now is a chance to prove it.

2. 7:00 pm: Duke vs. Michigan State (Madison Square Garden): First and foremost, the interest in this game has less to do in the action on the court than what the result of a Duke win means off the court. You couldn’t have written the story any better. Coach K is in line to win his 903rd game at the Garden on national television in an event called the Champion’s Classic. What is the significance of the number 903? Its one more than the number of wins current record-holder Bobby Knight had in his career. There is no doubt that Duke fans will be scrounging for these ticket stubs should the Blue Devils pull out the win.

There is no guarantee that Duke wins this game, however. The Blue Devils resemble North Carolina to me in a few ways. They have a point guard that can’t defend his own shadow and tall, athletic posts that can be pushed around by more physical defenders. In the Carrier Classic last Friday, the Spartans abused Carolina on the offensive glass. They forced their fair share of turnovers as well. If Michigan State hadn’t shot an abysmal 30.6% from the floor, they would have had a chance to win that game. If Draymond Green, Derrick Nix and Branden Dawson were able to push around John Henson and Tyler Zeller, what happens when they go up against the Plumlees.

3. 12:00 pm: Belmont @ Memphis: This is the most intriguing game of the entire marathon for me. This is the Tiger’s first real game of the season, and while we are all expecting Josh Pastner’s terrific sophomore class to show a marked improvement, there is no guarantee that will happen. Belmont is not an easy team to play in the first game of the season. Just ask Duke, who needed a late three from Andre Dawkins to finally take control against the Bruins.

Belmont is deep, they are experienced and they love to press and are excellent at forcing turnovers. The Memphis back court of Joe Jackson, Charles Carmouche and Antonio Barton is not going to have an easy task trying to protect the ball. The other thing Belmont does well is shoot the ball. They have a tendency to live and die by the three, but they get hot as a team; when a couple go down, the Bruins are capable of catching fire and hitting five or six in a row. But what makes Belmont an ideal upset candidate is that they have a couple big bodies inside in Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders. Folks in Memphis have been raving about Tarik Black, the Tiger’s sophomore center, and having two capable post players to throw at him is important.

You can miss these for a hot date, but they have to be at least a nine and NOT already your significant other:

4. 9:30 pm: Kentucky vs. Kansas (Madison Square Garden): I have to be honest — I don’t think Kansas is going to be able to hang with the Wildcats. I love Thomas Robinson as much as anyone in the country this side of Jeff Goodman and I think that Bill Self is a terrific coach, but the Jayhawks are not deep and they are not overly experienced, meaning that most of their players are taking on (much) more expanded roles this year. I’m not convinced that Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor are the answer at the point, either. As for Kentucky, the Wildcats are once again incorporating a loaded recruiting class, but this year they add that crop of youngsters to a couple of talented sophomores in Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. I have a bad feeling this game could end up looking something like the Carrier Classic.

5. 2:00 am: Northern Iowa @ St. Mary’s: Northern Iowa was supposed to be going through a bit of a rebuilding season this year, as they deal with replacing Lucas O’Rear and Kwadzo Ahelegbe. I, personally, had them in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley. (Well, sixth, but six out of ten in the bottom half.) That’s why I was the first to get in line congratulating the Panthers for their 17 points road win against an Old Dominion team that had Kent Bazemore in the lineup. This will be a real test for UNI, however. St. Mary’s may have lost Mickey McConnell, but they brought back Matthew Dellavedova to anchor a back court with a couple of talented sophomores. The Gaels also return their entire front line, meaning that Jake Koch is going to have his hands full. This would be a big win for both teams and both leagues. The MVC has had a good early showing (Missouri State won at Nevada) while Loyola Marymount’s win over UCLA was negated by their loss to Middle Tennessee State and San Francisco’s loss to North Dakota State.

6. 12:00 am: Washington State @ Gonzaga: Elias Harris looks like he is all-but back to his freshman year form, as he soared for a couple of big throwdowns in the Zags opening day win against Eastern Washington. Harris finished with 16 points and eight boards, but he wasn’t even the best big man on the team, as Robert Sacre went for 22 points and 10 boards. But Gonzaga’s back court struggled on both ends of the floor, allowing EWU to shoot 13-29 from three. The Cougars have a couple of talented guards in Reggie Moore and Faisal Aden. Will the Bulldogs be able to stop them?

You can play bridge with your Grandmother, just make sure you have the game on in the back ground:

7. 2:00 pm: San Diego State @ Baylor: San Diego State will be playing their fourth game in five days on Tuesday (by the end of the week, it will be six games in nine days), with their tip in Waco coming barely 40 hours after the final whistle of the Aztec’s 89-74 win over UC-Davis. SDSU is 3-0 heading into the game, getting some terrific play out of their back court of Chase Tapley, Jamaal Franklin and Xavier Thames. The issue, however, is that Baylor’s front line is loaded even with Perry Jones sitting out, while SDSU relies on a guy that struggled to get minutes on LSU last season. Its too bad this game couldn’t have been played with last year’s SDSU team.

8. 4:00 pm: Rhode Island @ Texas: For the first time in what feels like forever, the Longhorns are going to be rebuilding this season. They have a couple of pieces in their back court — Myck Kabongo has been compared to Chris Paul too many times to court, while J’Covan Brown had 28 points and eight assists in his first game — but Rhody is no pushover. They got 38 points from Jamil Wilson as they took George Mason to overtime at the Patriot Center on Friday. Can they give Texas a similar run?

9. 10:00 am: Kent State @ West Virginia: Kent State might as well be the same team as Oral Roberts. Both are veteran-laden teams with a history of success in the program and a potential conference Player of the Year at the forward spot. Oral Roberts lost to WVU 78-71 on Friday night, and the Golden Eagles shot themselves in the foot down the stretch, making a couple of mental mistakes and missing two wide-open threes. Justin Greene is the guy to keep an eye on for Kent State. But if that’s not enough, you should watch to get a glimpse of Deniz Kilicli, who is doing his best to try and look like the Mountaineer mascot.

10. 10:00 pm: Austin Peay @ California: The Governors have a star in Tyshawn Edmundson, a St. John’s transfer that can put up points in a hurry. That said, Cal has been one of the most impressive teams in the country early in the season (and the only impressive team in the Pac-12). It will be worth it to watch Jorge Gutierrez try and slow down Edmundson.

11. 6:00 am: Drexel @ Rider: I know this game looks boring on paper, but there is some intrigue here. Drexel is a favorite to win the CAA this season. Bruiser Flint’s team is, essentially, a mid-major model of Pitt. They preach defensive discipline and attack the glass with reckless abandon. This Rider team just lost to Pitt by a score of 86-78 on Sunday, and the game was much closer than the final. It took an Ashton Gibbs three with a minute left to finally open up a six point cushion. What else are you going to watch, anyway? Good Morning America?

You know what? Go ahead. Get some sleep. I won’t even be mad:

12. 8:00 am: Morehead State @ College of Charleston: It will be fun to see two mid-major superstars go head-to-head in Kenneth Faried and Andrew Goudelock. Wait, what? They graduated? Oh. Well, then.

13. South Alabama @ Hawaii: If you stay up through this game, you’ve reached true junkie status by allowing your addiction to affect your work. There is no way you’ll be able to function normally the rest of the week. I can tell you this, though: Troy will be up for this game. He loves the Rainbows.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Maryland lands commitment from four-star forward

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon instructs his team during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Hawaii in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash., Sunday, March 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
(AP Photo/Young Kwak)
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No coach in the country has had a better 24 hours than Mark Turgeon of Maryland.

The morning after Melo Trimble announced that he will be returning to College Park for his junior season, Turgeon landed a commitment from Justin Jackson, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward from Las Vegas by way of Canada. Jackson is a top 50 player in the class of 2016.

Jackson should immediately help the Terps replenish a front court that was decimated by early entry. A versatile athlete with a ridiculous wingspan and a still-developing perimeter game, Jackson will likely spend his freshman season playing a power forward role, maybe even as a small-ball five.

This fits perfectly with the roster that Maryland has for next season. Not only will Trimble be flanked by freshman Anthony Cowan, a now-healthy Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens, the Terps add freshman wings Kevin Heurter and Micah Thomas as well as Duquesne transfer L.G. Gill. They needed depth up front, particularly at the four.

And remember, when Maryland had their most success with Trimble — his freshman year — they went small and spread the floor with Jake Layman at the four. Jackson may not have quite the impact that Layman did that season, but he can play that role for the Terps.

Alec Peters withdraws from NBA Draft, will he transfer?

Alec Peters, Valparaiso (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
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Valparaiso forward Alec Peters became the final player to announce that he has withdrawn from the NBA Draft on Thursday, waiting until the day after the deadline to make it official.

The 6-foot-9 Peters was one of the best mid-major players in the country this past season, averaging 18.5 points and 8.0 boards while shooting 44.0 percent from three for the Horizon League champs, a team many considered to be the best mid-major team in the sport.

Here’s why Peters’ decision is interesting: He’s a junior that will be eligible as a graduate transfer, meaning that if he leaves Valpo — like Bryce Drew, the coach that recruited him, who left for Vanderbilt — he will be able to play elsewhere in 2016-17.

How many top 25 programs could use a 6-foot-9 forward that can score in the post and posted shooting splits of 50.5/44.0/85.0? Hint: The answer is all of them.

Will he leave school?

Looking Forward: Here’s what the Pac-12 has in store for 2016-17

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 20:  Lamarr Kimble #0 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks drives against Dillon Brooks #24 and Tyler Dorsey #5 of the Oregon Ducks in the second half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 20, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/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 what has happened — and what will happen — in the Pac-12 over the next six months.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. The returns of Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey make Oregon the early favorites: Losing two quality contributors in Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin will have an impact on Dana Altman’s Ducks, but by no means will Oregon fall off after winning the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles and earning the program’s first-ever one seed last season. With Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey withdrawing from the NBA Draft, the Ducks have the depth and talent needed to repeat (or even exceed) last year’s achievements. Brooks will be an early favorite for Pac-12 Player of the Year, and options such as Dorsey, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell and Casey Benson will be heard from as well. Add in a recruiting class that includes Kavell Bigby-Williams, Payton Pritchard and M.J. Cage, and Oregon has enough to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1939.

2. Arizona reloads…and is absolutely loaded on the perimeter: There were some who wondered just how good of a class Arizona would be able to put together, as they landed just one commitment during the early signing period. But Sean Miller never panicked, and we all saw why in the spring. The Wildcats reeled in three high-level guards in Kobi Simmons, Terrance Ferguson and Rawle Alkins, and they also grabbed juco transfer Keanu Pinder and four-year transfers Talbott Denny (Lipscomb; eligible immediately) and Dylan Smith (UNC Asheville; will sit out next season). That early signee (Lauri Markannen) is a highly regarded prospect in his own right, and the return of Allonzo Trier provides a boost as well. With the amount of talent on this roster, Arizona can win a third Pac-12 regular season title in the last four seasons.

3. Needing to bounce back, UCLA welcomes a highly regarded freshman class: UCLA also cleaned up on the recruiting trail, but unlike Arizona the Bruins are looking to bounce back from a year in which they finished below .500. That won’t fly in Westwood, where the only banners that hang are those of the national title variety (and they have 11 of those), so the pressure’s on Steve Alford and company to make things right. What helps is that point guard Lonzo Ball and stretch forward T.J. Leaf can both be immediate impact players, and Ike Anigbogu can help them defensively in the post. UCLA’s returnees, most notably Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Thomas Welsh, should benefit from these additions.

4. Oregon State, USC look to build on last season’s success: Of the seven Pac-12 team to reach the NCAA tournament, the Beavers (since 1990) and Trojans (since 2011) had gone the longest without an NCAA appearance. Neither stayed long, but getting to the Big Dance represented an important step forward for the two programs. The question facing both Wayne Tinkle and Andy Enfield: how do they ensure that their programs continue to make positive strides? Oregon State has to account for the loss of do-everything guard Gary Payton II, but their personnel losses pale in comparison to a USC team that bids farewell to both Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic. There’s still talent for Enfield to work with, but the task became a little tougher thanks to those two NBA decisions.

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Not to overlook Ike Anigbogu and Kobe Paras, but Ball and Leaf are the marquee names in UCLA’s 2016 recruiting class. Ball is one of the nation’s best point guards (and players, period), and his arrival should make things easier for the Bruins offensively. As for Leaf, he’s a skilled forward who can score from just about anywhere on the court.
  • Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz’s recruiting story is one that’s been told many times over, as through hard work the DeMatha Catholic guard went from a member of the JV team to a McDonald’s All-American in two years. With the Huskies losing Andrew Andrews and Dejounte Murray from their perimeter rotation, Fultz will have to have an immediate impact if the Huskies are to move up the Pac-12 standings.
  • Arizona’s loaded freshman class: Of Arizona’s seven newcomers four are freshmen, with three (Rawle Alkins, Terrance Ferguson and Kobi Simmons) being five-star perimeter prospects. And power forward Lauri Markannen is also a highly regarded prospect. The additions should make for an interesting (and talented) mix, and how Sean Miller allocates minutes on the perimeter will be fun to observe as well.
  • Kavell Bigby-Williams, Oregon: Last year it was Chris Boucher who arrived in Eugene as a highly regarded junior college transfer, and he had a major impact on a team that won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. This time around it’s Bigby-Williams who arrives via junior college, giving Oregon additional front court depth alongside Boucher, Jordan Bell and freshman M.J. Cage. And after blocking nearly six shots per game last season, Bigby-Williams can make scoring around the basket on the Ducks even tougher than it was a season ago.
  • JaQuori McLaughlin, Oregon State: McLaughlin is expected to be an impact addition for Oregon State this season, as the Beavers look to account for the loss of Gary Payton II. What changes things is the transfer of Derrick Bruce, who appeared to be in line for a noticeable increase in minutes after serving as the sixth man as a freshman. His departure puts even more on the shoulders of McLaughlin, who along with senior Malcolm Duvivier appear to be the answers at the point for Oregon State.
  • Shannon Evans and Sam Cunliffe, Arizona State: Landing Romello White gave Arizona State a nice late recruiting boost, as he joins a class that was already good thanks to the presence of Cunliffe. A top 40 recruit according to Rivals.com, the Washington native has the skills needed to make an immediate impact in Tempe. Add in Evans, who was a standout on head coach Bobby Hurley’s NCAA tournament team at Buffalo in 2014-15, and the Sun Devils have two perimeter newcomers who can make some waves in the Pac-12 next year.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic, USC: Had these two decided to return for their senior seasons, the Trojans had the skill and experience needed to possibly contend in the Pac-12. But with both leaving for the professional ranks, Andy Enfield and his staff have two noticeable holes in the starting lineup to fill. The cupboard certainly isn’t bare, thanks to the combination of remaining pieces and newcomers, but these losses definitely hurt.
  • Derrick Bruce, Oregon State: As noted above Bruce was in line to earn a greater role in 2016-17 due to Gary Payton II’s departure, so his decision to transfer caught some by surprise. The loss of Bruce means that the aforementioned tandem of JaQuori McLaughlin and Malcolm Duvivier will likely be the guys Wayne Tinkle looks to at the point.
  • Brekkott Chapman, Utah: With the departures of Jordan Loveridge and Jakob Poeltl, Chapman was expected to play a key role for the Runnin’ Utes in 2016-17. Well, he decided that a change of scenery was needed, leaving Larry Krystkowiak with another hole in his front court rotation to fill. Utah did pick up a couple late front court commitments, and rising junior Kyle Kuzma is back as well, so this is a decision they should be able to manage.
  • Dejounte Murray, Washington: Murray was one of two Washington freshmen to make the move to the NBA, with forward Marquese Chriss being the other. But while Chriss’ draft prospects have improved throughout the spring, Murray’s possibilities haven’t been as easy to pinpoint. His departure leaves Lorenzo Romar with another backcourt contributor to replace, joining the graduated Andrew Andrews, but Markelle Fultz will help mitigate the impact of Murray’s departure.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Jerod Haase, Stanford: There was only one head coaching change in the Pac-12 this offseason, with Jerod Haase replacing Johnny Dawkins on The Farm. Haase racked up 80 wins in four seasons at UAB, with his third season including a win over Iowa State in the NCAA tournament, before deciding to return to the state he grew up in. The cupboard isn’t bare in Palo Alto either, with Marcus Allen, Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis among the players returning. The key for the Cardinal: stay healthy. Stanford was hit hard by injuries last season, including expected starting point guard Robert Cartwright being lost to a broken arm before the season began, which did them no favors in the Pac-12. This was a good hire for Stanford, and the resources are there for Haase to get the Cardinal back to the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

F Dillon Brooks, Oregon (Player of the Year)
G Lonzo Ball, UCLA
G Terrance Ferguson, Arizona
G Allonzo Trier, Arizona
F Ivan Rabb, California

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

1. Oregon: The Ducks lost Cook and Benjamin, but with Brooks and Boucher leading a deeper roster they can be even better in ’16 – ’17.
2. Arizona: Sean Miller won’t lack for talented options on the perimeter, so expect the Wildcats to bounce back.
3. UCLA: The Bruins will be good, but how good they are will ultimately depend on their commitment on defense.
4. California: Rabb’s return helps, and with their perimeter options Cal could be more fluid offensively next year.
5. USC: The Trojans return some key pieces, led by Jordan McLaughlin, but losing Jacobs and Jovanovic hurts.
6. Colorado: The Josh Scott era comes to an end, but George King and Xavier Johnson will help with the adjustment.
7. Utah: The loss of Poeltl and some key seniors hurts, but Kuzma, Bonam and Jayce Johnson are all on board.
8. Oregon State: OSU can make a 2nd straight tourney trip, but the point guard spot is an early concern.
9. Washington: With the arrival of Markelle Fultz and last year’s group a year older, this spot could prove low.
10. Arizona State: The Sun Devils brought in some talented newcomers, but they may be a year away in the Pac-12.
11. Stanford: Back to full strength after an injury-riddled ’15 -’16, but no Rosco Allen hurts offensively.
12. Washington State: They’ll have an all-conference caliber player in Josh Hawkinson, but it’ll be a struggle.

Looking Forward: Kentucky’s success and the victims it’s made them

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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 Kentucky and why “expectations” can be a fickle beast.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jeff Borzello of ESPN.com turned himself into persona non grata in the Bluegrass State as he penned a column that ranked Kentucky as college basketball’s biggest underachiever over the course of the last four seasons.

Full disclosure: He has text messages from me telling him to rank Kentucky first on that list. Part of that is because I enjoy seeing Borzello’s mentions get bombarded with hate from Big Blue Nation. There’s nothing I love more than being able to quote poet laureate DJ Khaled when talking with him: “Congratulations! You played yourself.”

But … I also kind of think that he’s got a point. At the very least, I can put together a pretty convincing argument saying as much.

Look at it from a year-by-year perspective:

  • In 2013, the Wildcats were the reigning national champions having landed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class headlined by the nation’s No. 1 recruit, Nerlens Noel. There are a myriad of reasons why the season went the way it did — Ryan Harrow was a headcase, Noel tore his ACL, the pieces were never going to fit together — but the Wildcats ended up in the NIT. There’s no way around it: that season was an utter disappointment.
  • The following year was the first time that the “Kentucky 40-0” train kicked into motion. The Wildcats landed five five-stars recruits — Julius Randle, the Harrison twins, etc. — and proceeded to flop their way all the way to 10 regular season losses and an eight-seed in the NCAA tournament. They got hot in the tournament and played their way to the national title game, but I’d we have to consider that season “underachieving”. The regular season still matters, doesn’t it?
  • In 2015, they won their first 38 games. They were the best team I’ve seen since I’ve been in this business. But they lost in the Final Four to Wisconsin. If you’re one of the people that says 2014’s postseason run wipes away their regular season struggles, shouldn’t you consider 2015 a failure because an undefeated team didn’t, you know, stay undefeated? For the sake of this argument, you can’t have it both ways. Either the regular season matters or NCAA tournament results are the be-all and end-all.
  • This past season, the Wildcats were a preseason top five team and ended the year as a No. 4 seed that couldn’t get out of the first weekend of the tournament. Again, there are reasons for it — Skal Labissiere’s struggles being the main culprit — but based on all of our preseason expectations, Kentucky underachieved.
  • In total, they’ve won one SEC regular season title outright, a share of another SEC regular season title, two SEC tournament titles and reached two Final Fours while missing one tournament outright.

Now, reasonable minds can disagree here, and trust me, I understand the absurdity in labeling a team that’s put together that résumé as an underachiever, but I just cannot see how anyone makes the argument that they have lived up to expectations since winning the 2012 national title.

Because the key word there is “expectations”.

Success in sports — hell, success in life in general — is all relative. Chris Beard got two different high major jobs this spring because he made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament in his first year at Arkansas-Little Rock. There are people that think Bill Self is overrated as a head coach because he’s only been able to get to two Final Fours and win one national title while spending the last dozen years as the reigning Big 12 regular season champion.

And what John Calipari did with that 2012 title is turn his program into college basketball’s ultimate pressure cooker.

That title changed the way that college basketball works at the highest level. Once Coach Cal proved that it was possible to win a ring by starting over with a new crop of freshmen every year, the idea that he needed time to work through the kinks of building a team around a bunch of 19-year-olds became obsolete. If he could do it with that group, what’s stopping him from doing it this year?

The fact that the title came in the middle of a five-year run where the Wildcats reached four Final Fours set a baseline standard for what is expected out of his Kentucky teams. Anything short of playing during the season’s final weekend is a disappointment in the eyes of the media and anything short of inching closer to UCLA’s record 11 national titles means that the season was a wash in the eyes of many Kentucky fans.

When greatness is the baseline, anything short of that feels like an underachievement, even if “underachieving” is now making it to the Final Four as an eight-seed or winning a share of the SEC title while exiting in the first weekend of the tournament.

And that, 750 words later, brings me to my larger point: Might we be setting ourselves up for something similar with this iteration of the Wildcats?

Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox (Jon Lopez/Nike)

To be clear, we have Kentucky sitting at No. 2 in our Preseason Top 25, in front of Kansas, reigning champions Villanova and an Oregon team who essentially brings back everyone from a top-five, Pac-12 champ. And keep in mind that the SEC should be — how can I say this diplomatically? — rebuilding next year. Even if Kentucky is overrated, their record come March is going to look good.

But it’s still pretty easy to look at this roster and see where the flaws lie.

For starters, their back court, while talented, essentially features three guys who want the ball in their hands in De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe. Furthermore, Briscoe’s perimeter shooting was a major liability during his freshman season, and Fox likely won’t be all that much better. Monk, the only one of these three that can really be considered an off-guard, is a wildly entertaining player whose strength is slashing to the rim and playing in transition. As a shooter, he’s quite inconsistent. He might hit six threes in a row. He might then make four of his next 30. That’s not an exaggeration.

The problem, then, is that those are the only three guards on the roster that should see any playing time. Mychal Mulder has the reputation of being a shooter, but if he’s playing 20 minutes a game for the Wildcats next season that’s a red flag.

The key to last year’s Kentucky team ended up being the emergence of Derek Willis, who came out of nowhere midway through SEC play to shooting 44.2 percent from three. But he did that playing primarily at the four, which worked because Kentucky’s front court was not as talented last season as it will be this season and because Jamal Murray was in the lineup. That gave Kentucky two shooters to spread the floor for Tyler Ulis — and, at times, Briscoe — to penetrate.

What happens next season? Will Willis see minutes at the four over the likes of Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones? Is he quick enough to play major minutes at the three?

And that leads me to my next point: Just how good is Kentucky’s front court? They have a lot of bodies — they have six scholarship big men even with Marcus Lee transferring — but how many of them are impact players? Bam Adebayo certainly is, but if he’s on the floor, can Kentucky play Tai Wynyard or Isaac Humphries, two Land Warriors whose usefulness disappears when they’re more than eight feet from the rim? Gabriel and Killeya-Jones are both promising prospects, but at this point, are they more prospect than player? Killeya-Jones is. Gabriel will likely have a bigger impact as a freshman, but he’s also a 210 pound power forward that is capable of making threes as opposed to being a shooter with three point range; there’s a big difference.

Kentucky is loaded with talent and has a roster full of kids with tremendous long-term potential, but that doesn’t guarantee that all of those pieces are going to fit together perfectly in their one year in Lexington.

That’s something that Kentucky’s 2012 team and Duke’s 2015 team have made us forget.

Sometimes, stockpiling freshmen creates super-teams that can dominate all year long and win a national title. Sometimes, even with Hall of Fame head coaches leading the way, the team as a whole isn’t a good as the sum of the parts.

Whether or not those teams are successful depends totally on context and expectations, and when the expectation is for a team to be the best in the country, league titles and Sweet 16 trips are disappointing. It’s a natural by-product of preseason prognostication, and it’s something that the Wildcats could end up falling victim to again this season.

Just keep this in mind: The fact that Kentucky’s most recent four-year run can be called an underachievement tells you more about the state of that program than anything else will.

Bam Adebayo (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
Bam Adebayo (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)

Looking Forward: The new names to know for the 2016-17 season

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
(AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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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 the new names you need to know entering college basketball in 2016-17. This is one of the strongest and deepest recruiting classes of the last decade, so this should be a fun group to track.

Harry Giles, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden and Jayson Tatum, Duke – Just like we’ve seen so many times over the past few years, Duke and Kentucky own the top two recruiting classes entering the 2016-17 season. The Blue Devils’ latest haul is led by four, five-star prospects, headlined by the 6-foot-10 Giles, who could be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft if he’s fully healthy and shows the explosiveness he had as a double-double machine in high school. But he is coming off of an ACL injury that cost him his senior season and Giles never got through two consecutive seasons of high school basketball. Health is his key.

The 6-foot-8 Tatum is a smooth wing who is immensely skilled in the mid-range and polished in many facets of the game. He’s the next in a long line of recent Duke wings who left for the NBA after a year in Durham. The 6-foot-3 Jackson will be asked to handle point guard responsibilities after the departure of Derryck Thornton Jr., so he might be the most important player in this class for next season. The Lone Peak High School product is an athletic two-way guard who can also space the floor and should be ready from the get-go. The late addition of the 6-foot-10 Bolden gives the Blue Devils another rim protector and a classic back-to-the-basket scorer who can operate on both blocks with both hands. This class is ridiculous — potentially the best Coach K has ever had — and given the return of veterans like Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard, Duke is the easy choice for preseason No. 1.

De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo and Wenyen Gabriel, Kentucky

Duke’s group only slightly outclasses John Calipari’s latest group and the Wildcats boast arguably the best backcourt in the country in a pair of freshmen. The 6-foot-3 Fox is the best two-way guard in the class as he’s a menace on defense and an athletic freak who is impossible to stop in transition. The lefty is a consistent perimeter jumper away from being a major force. SEC football fans might remember former Arkansas wide receiver Marcus Monk and his little brother, Malik Monk, will slide in as a starting guard in Lexington next season. The 6-foot-4 Malik is an explosive scorer who can play well above the rim or extend the floor with deep range on his jumper. He’s a streaky player at times, but he’s capable of huge scoring nights.

The 6-foot-9 Adebayo is a powerful presence around the basket who looks to tear down the rim on dunks and gobbles up rebounds on the glass. His raw power and physical presence should be a big help for Kentucky on the interior. The 6-foot-9 Gabriel might be the key for next season’s success for this team. Gabriel told NBCSports.com at the Nike Hoop Summit that Calipari wants him to play on the wing next season, which is an interesting development since Gabriel was a post player throughout high school. Gabriel’s transition to the wing is possible — he’s a quick defender who can also extend his range — but he’s still never played the position before.

Josh Jackson, Kansas: The Jayhawks might not have the depth that Duke and Kentucky have, but the might have landed the ultimate prize in the 6-foot-7 Jackson. An ultra-athletic and competitive wing, Jackson is a well-rounded player who can score, defend, rebound, handle and pass. Like Giles and Tatum, Jackson has already won multiple gold medals with USA Basketball in international competitions and he’s a seasoned vet compared to your typical college freshmen. Throwing him into a Kansas lineup that returns a lot of talent and experience puts the Jayhawks firmly back in the driver’s seat in the Big 12 race.

Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Do yourself a favor and stay up late to watch this 6-foot-5 point guard play as much as you can this season because Ball has a special basketball IQ and court presence. Possessing outrageous vision and a great all-around feel for the game, Ball can find teammates for easy buckets and is perhaps the best outlet passer that’s joined college hoops in the last few seasons. Also a good rebounder at guard, Ball has a funky-looking release on his jumper, but it’s been going down during his whole career to this point. The big thing to watch is how Ball co-exists with Bryce Alford and UCLA’s other returning backcourt pieces.

Markelle Fultz, Washington: It’s crazy to think that the 6-foot-5 Fultz might be better than all of the players already mentioned on this list. After a monster spring on the high school all-star circuit, Fultz is the No. 2 prospect in the Draft Express 2017 mock draft — and for good reason. A wizard handling the ball, Fultz has shown killer instincts as a scorer and he’s also started to show some D’Angelo Russell-like vision when it comes to making passes that thread the needle. The Huskies are going to need Fultz to come in and be very productive after losing Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, but he’s capable of having a huge year.

Dennis Smith and Omer Yurtseven, N.C. State: This could be the best inside-outside duo of freshmen in the country as the explosive 6-foot-3 Smith will run a lot of high ball screens with the Turkish 7-footer. Although he’s coming off of a torn ACL that prevented him from playing last season, Smith has already spent the spring semester at school rehabbing and getting to know the team. A great athlete who is good in ball screen situations, Smith will be a very tough cover for ACC point guards. Yurtseven hasn’t played the American game yet, but he’s a skilled center who projects as a potential one-and-done first-round pick. A skilled scorer who can also rebound, Yurtseven would have been a top-15 prospect in this loaded Class of 2016 had he played his high school ball in America.

Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: The latest jumbo wing to keep an eye on is the 6-foot-10 Isaac. Because of his size on the perimeter, Isaac can shoot over the top of smaller defenders with his smooth jumper or attack the basket with his improving handle. Isaac can also rebound in traffic at rim level and is a capable defender of multiple spots on the floor thanks to his length and athleticism. Florida State had a lot of perimeter talent that didn’t fit well together last season, but Isaac doesn’t need the ball in his hands at all times to impact a game.  He could be a better fit for the Seminoles than Malik Beasley was. The question becomes whether Florida State puts Isaac at the three with a huge lineup, or opts to put more speed and skill on the floor with Isaac as a four.

Miles Bridges, Michigan State: Tom Izzo has one of his best recruiting classes ever at Michigan State and it’s headlined by the 6-foot-6 Bridges. Already at 225 pounds, Bridges is a big and strong wing who can play multiple spots on the floor. Because he can rebound, play on the perimeter or also score inside, Bridges could play a number of different positions in East Lansing next season as he could be a matchup nightmare in the Big Ten.

Terrance Ferguson, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

This will be the most fascinating freshman class to watch play together because of the perimeter talent displayed by this group. The 6-foot-6 Ferguson is a smooth perimeter shooter who is also one of the best dunkers to enter college hoops in the last few years. The 6-foot-4 Alkins brings his rugged New York toughness to the Pac-12 as he’s tough to check attacking the basket and is also getting better as a distributor. A blur in the open floor, the 6-foot-5 Simmons is one of the fastest players in the country, but he’s also very wild at times. Markkanen, the Finnish 6-foot-10 big man, might be the most talented player in this group, but he hasn’t played against American competition very much and it remains to be seen how he’ll translate. The big key for this group will be sharing the ball. Alkins and Simmons can both get tunnel vision when it comes to attacking the basket and there isn’t a natural distributor among this group.

Omari Spellman, Villanova: The defending champs lost Daniel Ochefu in the middle, but they return most of the rest of the team (minus Ryan Arcidiacono) and gain this skilled five-star big man. The 6-foot-9 Spellman is a ton to handle on the inside around 280 pounds and he’s skilled as a scorer and rebounder. If Spellman can step in and produce, Villanova will be a major contender again next season.

Mustapha Heron, Auburn: Bruce Pearl has landed some solid recruits during his Auburn tenure, but the 6-foot-5 Heron is his signature signee. A powerful wing who is very tough to stop on the drive, Heron is the type of scorer who can come in and produce right away.

Andrew Jones, Texas: Texas landed itself a late-blooming guard in Jones, as he’s a talented scorer who can also play a little bit on the ball. With the Longhorns losing so many players to graduation this offseason, Jones is going to be asked to come in and play right away and he’ll be fun to watch with returning players like Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis.

Zach Collins, Gonzaga: The Zags might have one of the best rotation of big men in the country next season with the addition of this McDonald’s All-American. The 6-foot-11 Collins is a tough interior presence who should be able to immediately make an impact in the WCC next season.

Jarrett Allen, ???: We’re not sure where he’ll end up yet, but keep an eye out for the decision of 6-foot-10 big man Jarrett Allen. The native of Texas is still considering Houston, Kansas and Texas and many believe the Longhorns are the favorite. Regardless of where he ends up, Allen is an impact big man and potential one-and-done prospect who can defend the rim or score inside.