Previewing your college hoops weekend

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Game of the Weekend: Sat. Noon: No. 5 North Carolina @ No. 1 Kentucky

It is still tough for me to grasp my head around the fact that this game will be happening tomorrow. I’m sure I am not alone when I say that this date and this time slot has been circled on my calendar for a long time. Some of the luster disappeared when North Carolina lost to UNLV on Saturday, but that certainly doesn’t diminish my anticipation level. Simply put — there is just so much about this game that is intriguing on so many different levels. Kentucky vs. Carolina. Half a dozen lottery picks. The two favorites to win the national title. The styles they play. The individual matchups. Its almost too much.

Instead of waxing poetic about this matchup for six or seven more paragraphs, I’m simply going to give you what I believe are the three keys to this game:

Marquis Teague: Its no secret that Kendall Marshall is, at best, a crummy defender. And with Doron Lamb joining Teague in the back court, it means that Marshall will have no choice but to guard him; Lamb is a much more dangerous scorer than Teague, capable of going for 30 if he gets rolling. Like most freshman point guards, Teague has a tendency to get out of control at times. He was the sole reason that Kansas was able to hang with Kentucky for a half as he turned the ball over six times against the Jayhawks. If he does that against the Heels, I can promise you that the score won’t be tied at the break. UNC is too good at capitalizing. Teague is going to have to be aggressive attacking the basket, but he cannot be overaggressive. It sounds simple, but the execution of that idea is more difficult that it sounds. Marshall won’t be able to keep Teague out of the paint, but picking the right times to attack — and making the right decisions when he beats his man — will be the key. He needs to limit turnovers and forced shots.

Front court matchups: One of the areas that UNC has struggled this season is against tough, physical front lines. Michigan State pounded them on the offensive glass. UNLV got their fair share as well. Kentucky? They have a duo in the front court that can attack the offensive glass as well as anyone in the country. The difference? Neither Terrence Jones nor Anthony Davis are known for being able to push people around. Anthony Davis is John Henson with perimeter skills. Terrence Jones has beefed up, but at times he plays like that added muscle was for the beach, not the court. Oddly enough, I’d say that UNC matches up better with Kentucky’s front court than they do with the front court of most other elite teams. Jones will be the difference maker here. Is he going to decide to play like the guy that can be an impossible. Since its technically the front court, I think a lot of scouts will be looking to see how Miller/Lamb matchup with Harrison Barnes.

Pace: Where both Wisconsin and UNLV had success against UNC by controlling the tempo of the game, Kentucky is not the type of team that likes to play slowly. They want to run just as badly as UNC does, and that could end up being a huge advantage for the Heels. With the ability of Marshall to pass ahead and how potent that makes the Heel’s transition game, a faster pace may not be ideal Kentucky.

Five more games you cannot miss

Fri. 7 p.m.: No. 9 Florida @ No. 3 Syracuse: The back courts in this game are going to balance each other out. Both teams have a ton of firepower on the perimeter. That is indisputable. Where the game is going to be decided is in the front court. Syracuse is deep, talented and athletic. Florida, outside of Patric Young, not so much. And the Gators will be without their starting power forward Erik Murphy. Can Will Yeguete step up and continue his early season efforts off the bench on a bigger stage against a more talented team? And is there anyone on the Florida roster that is going to be able to matchup with Kris Joseph’s size and perimeter ability?

Fri. 9 p.m.: No. 19 Vanderbilt @ No. 6 Louisville: Both Vanderbilt and Louisville have been struck hard by the injury bug this season, but the Cardinals, thanks to their depth, have handled it better. Vandy has already been knocked off twice this year, with both coming to teams with tough and physical back courts. Louisville has that as well, and will do everything they can to pressure the Commodores and make life hell for John Jenkins and Brad Tinsley. Peyton Siva will be borderline unguardable in this game, but the same can probably be said for Jeff Taylor

Sat. 3 p.m.: Purdue @ No. 11 Xavier: Purdue has been impressive this season, and its not just the return of Robbie Hummel to being an elite level player. Lewis Jackson is playing as well as he ever has. Ryne Smith is knocking down threes. Anthony Johnson, Terone Johnson and Kelsey Barlow are all producing on both ends. But Xavier, with all do respect to Alabama, is the best team that the Boilermakers have faced this season, and they’ll be taking them on at the Cintas Center, which is not an easy place to play. We all know about Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, but the keep for Purdue will be handling Xavier’s front line, which isn’t immensely talented but it big and deep.

Sat. 4:30 p.m.: No. 16 Marquette @ No. 7 Wisconsin: There are some great games on the tube this weekend, but I’m looking forward to this matchup as much as any of them. The Badgers have ascended quickly in the rankings thanks to their staunch defense, and that spot in the top ten appears to have been validated by a three point loss at UNC in a game they struggled. Marquette, however, is still a bit of an unknown quantity. They have names we all know — Jae Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue — but it will be interesting to see just how those pieces are fitting together this season. Is Marquette really top 20 team?

Sun. 4 p.m.: No. 20 UNLV @ Wichita State: I think it will be safe to say that by Monday, UNLV will have been thoroughly tested in this young season. After knocking off then-No. 1 North Carolina in Vegas on Saturday night, the Rebels went to UC-Santa Barbara and hung on to win a double overtime barnburner. They follow that road trip up with another, this time to take on Wichita State, who is one of the best teams in the MVC and has a tremendous home court advantage. The question mark here — which Shocker will get the unenviable task of trying to slow down the hottest player in the country in Mike Moser.

Who’s getting upset? Sat. 3:15 p.m.: No. 18 Gonzaga @ Illinois

Five more teams on upset alert?

Sat. 5:15 p.m.: No. 17 Pitt @ Tennessee: Last year when this matchup took place, Pitt was also the favorite and Tennessee was the scrappy underdog that had surprised some people early in the season. The Vols won that game, and it was in Pittsburgh. This year, its the same story. Pitt has been disappointing early in the year, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, but they still have Ashton Gibbs, and there is a reason that his name showed up on all-american lists. Tennessee may not have the same amount of talent on the roster that they did last year, but they play hard and finally look like they are getting some coaching. Trae Golden and Jeronne Maymon, who will be matched up with Nasir Robinson, are good enough to carry the Vols at times. The x-factor may end up being whether or not Pitt’s big front line finally decides to start playing like a Panther front line.

Sat. 9 p.m.: West Virginia @ No. 24 Mississippi State: The front court matchup here will be quite entertaining. Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie, for all of the effort and conditioning issues that are present, are as big and as talented as anyone in the country. But West Virginia has their own pair of quality big men in Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli. The rebounding battle is going to be important, but it will be interesting to see how West Virginia’s freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds will handle Mississippi State’s Dee Bost.

Sat. 7 p.m.: Penn @ Villanova: Villanova is really making me look bad this season. I went all-in on the Wildcats in the preseason, touting how much I liked this team’s make up and how much they reminded me of the 2009 Final Four team. And while that may be true in the media guide, on the court is a different story. The Wildcats look lost offensively and have gotten inconsistent performances out of the three guys they need to be stars — Maalik Wayns, Mouphtaou Yarou and Dominic Cheek. Penn may play in the Ivy, but this group has some solid pieces, led by point guard Zac Rosen, who has been terrific this year.

Sun. 4 p.m.: No. 8 Baylor @ Nortwestern: In terms of styles, this may be the most interesting matchup of the weekend. Baylor is massive up front and obscenely athletic, with all the natural talent in the world but nary an effective point guard on their roster. Northwestern loves to play small ball and spread the floor, playing a crafty, Princeton-esque system and raining threes. That three-point line may end up being the difference, as the Wildcats have dangerous shooters at every spot on the floor while the Bears are one of the worst in the country at defending the three ball.

Sun. 5 p.m.: No. 23 Cal @ SDSU: This will be a good test for both teams. Cal got utterly embarrassed in their only test this season, while SDSU has lost twice two teams currently ranked in the top 25. The perimeter attack of both teams is strong, with Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe matching up with Chase Tapley, Xavier Thams, Jamaal Franklin and James Rahon. The key may end up being Harper Kamp, a big man for Cal that doesn’t really have someone to matchup opposite him.

Mid-major matchup of the weekend: Sat. 10 p.m.: Boise State @ Indiana State

With Creighton and San Diego State having had their battle on Wednesday night, the game between the Broncos and the Sycamores becomes the most interesting of the weekend in the challenge between the Missouri Valley and the Mountain West. Why? Because both teams have had success early in the season, but neither of them has really proven anything. Indiana State is a bit undersized up front, but they have one of the most underrated point guards in the country in Jake Odum. The key to slowing down the Broncos will be preventing sharpshooting Aussie Anthony Drmic from getting any looks on the perimeter.

Five more mid-major matchups to watch

Sat. 2 p.m.: Valparaiso @ Butler: So will Butler end up being Butler again this season? They certainly have the talent to do so, but the Bulldogs still have a long way to go before they reach the level that they have been at the past two seasons. Valpo may be without Brandon Wood this year, but the Crusaders are 5-2 and have beaten Akron and Duquesne already this year.

Sat. 2 p.m.: Cleveland State @ Detroit: Detroit was thought to be the team that would be a favorite to win the Horizon in the preseason, but the Titans aren’t much more than Ray McCallum this season, and he isn’t good enough to carry this program. Cleveland State is a physical defense team that has some offensive pieces that were overshadowed by Norris Cole last year.

Sat. 2:30 p.m.: Colorado State @ Northern Iowa: The Panthers have been perhaps the most surprising team in the Valley this year, with their road loss to St. Mary’s getting out weighed by road wins against Old Dominion and Iowa State. The Rams are coming off of a tough, overtime win against Colorado and have a star in Wes Elkmeier.

Sat. 4 p.m.: Bucknell @ La Salle: La Salle has been a bit of a surprise early on in the season, headlined by the play of their star point guard, Tyreek Duren. The Bison are the favorite to win the Patriot League this season, but they have missed on a couple of chances to build up their non-conference resume. La Salle may not qualify as a marquee win, but any win on the road will help come March.

Sat. 10 p.m.: Missouri State @ New Mexico: New Mexico has been one of the most disappointing team in the country. They don’t know how to get the ball to Drew Gordon and Kendell Williams is not playing up to the level that was expected coming into the season. Hugh Greenwood could be the answer at the point (he has 16 assists and no turnovers the past four games), but its taking time to figure out how to play together. Missouri State has actually been better than expected, but they’ve done it with Kyle Weems struggling. What happens when he finally starts playing like the kid that was MVC player of the year last season.

The rest of the top 25:

Friday

7 p.m.: Northwestern State @ No. 13 Missouri: The Tigers have been one of the most surprising dominant teams early in the season, thanks to a talented perimeter attack and the kind of team unity that this group had been missing under Mike Anderson. This is a group that finally appears to be playing without the fear of making a mistake, and that is the only way to be successful as a basketball team.

Saturday

Noon: UT-Pan American @ No. 2 Ohio State: Ohio State is coming off of their demolition of Duke. If they play like that against UT-Pan American, things could get very, very ugly.

3:15 p.m.: Arkansas @ No. 10 UConn: The Huskies have some major question marks. When will Alex Oriakhi show up? Is Andre Drummond ever going to become consistent? Will Shabazz Napier or Jeremy Lamb ever take the reins of this team? How good is Ryan Boatright? UConn has much more talent than Arkansas, but they also had much more talent than Central Florida.

5:15 p.m.: South Florida @ No. 14 Kansas: Thomas Robinson is certainly living up to the expectations he had coming into the season. In the five games that Kansas has played this season, he’s notched a double-double in every single game. The problem? He’s still getting by off of effort and god-given ability than skill level.

Noon: Iowa State @ No. 15 Michigan: Iowa State is like a freight train without a conductor. This is a group with talented transfers up and down their roster, but without the point guard or the cohesiveness to really take advantage of that. And against a team like Michigan — one that runs a complicated zone and a tricky offensive system — that cohesiveness is important.

8:30 p.m.: Austin Peay @ No. 21 Memphis: The Tigers look like the exact same team as they were last season. Immensely talented but without a clue. Austin Peay has been dreadful this season, but this group has had a tendency to play down to the level of their opponent. If Tyshawn Edmundson gets hot and Memphis doesn’t show up ready to play? Well, wouldn’t that be embarrassing.

10 p.m.: No. 25 St. Louis @ Portland: So who are the Billikens? Are they the team that pounded Washington and rolled through the 76 Classic, or are they the team that got dropped by Loyola Marymount? Rick Majerus has taken this group on a fairly extensive west coast road trip, and Portland has some guys that can shoot. If you like threes, tune in to this game.

Sunday

5:05 p.m.: No. 22 Creighton @ Nebraska: The Bluejays are coming off of a very impressive, come-from-behind win over San Diego State in the Viejas Center. With a powerful offense the driving force of this team, its tough to imagine Nebraska, a team that could only manage 53 points against Wake Forest, being able to hang with them.

Top storylines

Fri. 11 p.m.: Washington @ Nevada: There is going to be quite a bit of talent on the court when these two teams square off. The problem is that both programs, in recent years, have a tendency to play below their talent level. I can’t be the only one curious to see how this plays out.

Sat. 4:30 p.m.: Texas @ UCLA: The Longhorns are a different team than they have been in recent years, powered by a talented back court and the enigmatic J’Covan Brown. But UCLA’s entire roster is enigmatic as Ben Howland continues to try and get control of this team. Its amazing to think that a matchup between these two programs features no ranked teams.

Sat. 5 p.m.: Oregon @ BYU: The Ducks have already lost two members of their vaunted recruiting class to a transfer, including their most talented player in Jabari Brown. BYU will be their first real test since the defections. The Cougars aren’t the same team that they were last year, but with Brandon Davies back in the mix, this is still a team that is going to be able to hang with the big boys. Is Oregon one of the big boys?

Sat. 6:35 p.m.: Eastern Washington @ Washington State: Washington State has been struggling this season, highlighted by their loss to UC-Riverside. EWU has some talent, specifically Collin Chiverton and Cliff Colimon. They hung with Gonzaga and have an offense that is capable of putting up a lot of points. Wazzu better come to play.

Sat. 7 p.m.: St. Bonaventure @ Buffalo: Buffalo is 5-1 and fresh off of a 29 point beat down of Dayton on the road. The Bonnies? They’ve had a tough start to the season, losing three of their first five as Andrew Nicholson has struggled to find the rhythm he had the last two years. It should be fun to watch super sophomore Javon McCrea go up against St. Bonnie’s big front line.

Sun. 2 p.m.: Dayton @ Murray State: Dayton is one of the biggest enigmas of the young season. They won the Old Spice Classic, then lost by 29 at home to Buffalo. Murray State, on the other hand, is sitting at 8-0 after winning the Great Alaska Shootout. Are the Racers for real?

Sun. 2:30 p.m.: VCU @ George Washington: This is a matchup that I will be keeping a close eye on. VCU is a young team, but coming off of a trip to the Final Four, a lot was expected of this team. The Commodores lost to Georgia Tech and Seton Hall in fairly ugly fashion, but they threw a couple of haymakers at Alabama in a close loss. GW has some talent on their roster, but they head into this game with losses against the two good teams they have played this season.

Sun. 4 p.m.: NC State @ Stanford: NC State is finally playing like the team that we expected last year when they landed a loaded recruiting class. CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are well on their way to becoming stars in the ACC. But Stanford has been impressive early in the season, with quality back court play and a couple of big bodies inside. Can they handle NC State’s athleticism?

Sun. 5:30 p.m.: Kansas State @ Virginia Tech: This game could end up having major bubble implications come March. Virginia Tech was thought to be a sleeper in the ACC, but they just dropped a roadie to a Minnesota team that didn’t have Trevor Mbakwe or Ralph Sampson. They need this win against a solid Kansas State team that has yet to really hit their stride.

Other notable tips

Friday

– 7 p.m.: Cincinnati @ Georgia
– 7 p.m.: Iona @ Canisius
– 8 p.m.: Mississippi Valley State @ Northwestern
– 9 p.m.: Auburn @ Seton Hall
– 10 p.m.: Columbia @ Loyola Marymount

Saturday

– 1 p.m.: NJIT @ Georgetown
– 1 p.m.: Old Dominion @ Northeastern
– 1 p.m.: Richmond @ Wake Forest
– 1 p.m.: Longwood @ Virginia
– 1 p.m.: UMass @ Miami
– 2:15 p.m.: USC @ Minnesota
– 4 p.m.: Drexel @ Delaware
– 4 p.m.: Arizona State @ Tulsa
– 4 p.m.: Central Michigan @ Temple
– 4 p.m.: James Madison @ Hofstra
– 5:15 p.m.: Mercer @ Belmont
– 6:30 p.m.: Northern Arizona @ Arizona
– 7:30 p.m.: George Mason @ Towson
– 8 p.m.: Stephen F. Austin @ Texas A&M
– 9:30 p.m.: Weber State @ San Jose State
– 10 p.m.: St. Mary’s @ Cal Poly
– 10:05 p.m.: Utah State @ Pacific

Sunday

– 2: p.m.: Seattle @ Harvard
– 2: p.m.: Iona @ Niagara
– 2 p.m.: Akron @ Middle Tennessee State
– 2 p.m.: New Mexico State @ Southern Miss
– 3:30 p.m.: South Carolina @ Clemson
– 4:30 p.m.: Stetson @ Indiana
– 4:45 p.m.: Notre Dame @ Maryland
– 6 p.m.: Ole Miss @ Penn State
– 8 p.m.: St. Joseph’s @ American
– 8 p.m.: Montana @ Oregon State

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

College Hoops Contender Series: Can Michigan State’s sophomore class carry them to a title?

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers and talked about six different Final Four contenders – Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova, Wichita State, USC and Miami – that are just flawed enough that we can’t call them contenders.

There is a pretty clear-cut delineation between the four or five best teams, the clear national title challengers, and the rest of the country this season.

This week, we will be taking a deeper dive into five of those teams.

What makes them good enough to win a national title?

But why won’t they win a national title?

After looking at Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona, we’re on to my pick to win the national title: The Michigan State Spartans.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Miles Bridges (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WILL WIN

We should start with Miles Bridges here, shouldn’t we?

Bridges is the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year. He averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 boards, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 38.9 percent from three on more than five threes per game as a freshman. He was a top ten pick in last year’s loaded NBA Draft and he made the decision to return to school. That doesn’t happen all that often, so it should come as no surprise that Bridges will enter the year as a potential top five pick and the star of a team everyone believes will be in the top five. ‘Who has the best player in college basketball?’ is a great starting point for trying to figure out who are the best teams in college basketball, and Bridges, on paper, is a good bet to be the best player in college basketball.

But there is more to this than the simple fact that Tom Izzo more or less lucked his way into not only having the local five-star prospect pick the Spartans over the likes of Kentucky, but then opt to stay with the Spartans over heading to the NBA Draft.

Bridges is so perfect for what the way that Izzo wants to play.

He’s arguably the best athlete is all of college basketball. He can guards threes and fours. He can protect the rim. He attacks the glass, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, and he can get out and run in transition. Defense, rebounding and the transition game are staples of the teams Izzo wants at his disposal, and Bridges can do all three things well.

Then throw in the rest of the Michigan State front court. Nick Ward is a throwback. He’s a 6-foot-8, 260 pound left-handed behemoth that is impossible to stop one-on-one on the block. He averaged 13.9 points in less than 20 minutes as a freshman. Freshmen aren’t supposed to do that. Sophomores aren’t, either. Ward will be paired up front with Jaren Jackson, who couldn’t be a more perfect compliment to Ward and Bridges. He’s a 6-foot-11 power forward with all the skills you expect out of a modern power forward: He protects the rim, he rebounds and he can space the floor offensively with his three-point shot. He may not have the hype of some of the other big men in the 2017 recruiting class, but he projects as a one-and-done lottery pick all the same.

I still haven’t even mentioned Xavier Tillman, another land-warrior freshman in the front court. He may surprise some people this season. Throw in Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling and Kenny Goins, and there may not be a more talented and deep front line in the country.

The back court is where the issues lie — we’ll get to that in a second — but there are some things to like about this group. For starters, both Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford were top 30 recruits in the Class of 2016. Neither were all that impressive during their first year in East Lansing, but the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. Langford shot 41.6 percent from three last year and Winston averaged 5.2 assists in just over 20 minutes. They are talented and they should continue to improve.

Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. is back for his senior season, and his ability to push the ball in transition has made him a favorite of Izzo, while Matt McQuaid is somehow only a junior. Assuming that both Winston and Langford take a fairly significant step forward, Nairn and McQuaid will be rotation players off the bench, and if that is the case, this Spartan roster looks as strong as any roster in the country.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Atlantic 10 PreviewMountain West Preview

Nick Ward (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WON’T WIN

There are two real concerns that I have with this Michigan State team heading into next season.

The first, believe it or not, is with Bridges. I don’t see anyway that you can question his ability. He’s a monster. But part of what made him just so effective as a freshman was because he is the prototype for what you look for in a college four in modern — read: small-ball — basketball. He’s big enough to guard power forwards defensively. He rebounds the ball, he protects the rim, he can switch onto anyone defensively and he just so happens to be a perimeter player on the other end of the floor. In other words, he can guard college power forwards but they cannot guard him.

That is an incredibly valuable weapon for a team like Michigan State to have.

And as a sophomore, he won’t be taking advantage of that versatility in the same way. He’ll likely end up playing the majority of his minutes at the three. Jaren Jackson is too good to keep on the floor, particularly when it would mean playing Matt McQuaid of Tum Tum Nairn over him, but Jackson is a full-blown power forward.

It begs the question: Just how effective is Bridges going to be if he is playing at the three? Will it be easier for college small forwards to cover him? Will he be able to take them into the paint if Ward is already occupying space down there? And what about his three-point shot? He made 38.9 percent as a freshman, but how many of those were a result of getting clean looks at the rim because the power forwards guarding him didn’t know how to guard a player like that on the perimeter?

I don’t think this will end up being an issue — hell, we have Bridges as the Preseason National Player of the Year — but it will definitely be something to monitor moving forward.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Cassius Winston (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The bigger question mark, however, will likely end up being Winston, and to a lesser degree Langford.

I love Tum Tum. I wrote a story on him when he was still in high school. His name is awesome. He’s a terrific personality with the kind of back story that makes you want to root for him. But he’s just not good enough to be the starting point guard for a team with national title aspirations. Last season, Nairn started 30 games at the point. Winston started five, and while Izzo had found ways to manufacture minutes for the duo to play to together later in the season, this much was clear: there was something that the Hall of Fame head coach didn’t quite trust about Winston.

Maybe it was his 23 percent turnover rate. Maybe it was Winston’s issues on the defensive end of the floor, or the fact that he didn’t lead the way that Izzo wanted his point guards to. Most likely it was all of the above, and as a sophomore, those are issues that Winston will have to fix.

And I think that he will.

Again, Michigan State is a consensus top three team for a reason. They’re my pick to win the national title this season.

But I can certainly tell myself a story where the Spartans don’t quite come together, and it starts with Winston’s issues at the point.

Langford I am less worried about. He will mostly be fine. Yes, he needs to be more aggressive as a scorer, and we saw some of that late in the season. But mostly he needs to be a guy that can knock down open shots, provide a consistent defensive threat and be a threat in transition, whether he’s spotting up for a three or finishing at the rim. He will be, at best, the third option for these Spartans offensively, and I don’t think it will be that hard for him to fill that role.


Miles Bridges (J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

PREDICTION

Michigan State is my pick to win the national title.

I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say that between now and the start of the season.

And as good as Tom Izzo is, it’s worth noting that when he has had a team projected as a title contender, the season usually ends up being disappointing. Since the Spartans won the title in 1999, there have been four seasons where they were considered to be a favorite to win the title at some point during the season. In 2009-10, they were No. 2 in the preseason top 25 and limped their way to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament; they would eventually get to the Final Four in Detroit that year. In 2010-11, they were again the preseason No. 2 team in the country and finished the year 19-15 with a loss to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

In 2013-14, they were the preseason No. 2 team yet again, living up to the hype for most of the year until a wrist injury suffered by point guard Keith Appling derailed their season; Sparty still found a way to win the Big Ten tournament and get to the Elite 8. Then in 2015-16, the Spartans quickly emerged as one of the nation’s best team before losing to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed.

Will this be the year that bucks that trend?

Five-star point guard decommits from Arizona

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The scope and ramifications of the investigation by the FBI into corruption in college basketball remains an unknown.Who will be ensnared, what programs will be impacted and how the sport as a whole will cope are all pressing questions that will likely unfold over weeks, months and maybe years.

In the short-term, though, the fallout is already being felt.

Arizona lost the commitment Thursday of five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, he announced via social media.

“After careful consideration, my family and I have determined it is in my best interest to retract my verbal commitment to The University of Arizona,”  Quinerly posted to Twitter. “I’d like to thank my extended family and fans for your continued love and support. Your positivity and kindness never goes unnoticed.”

While Quinerly didn’t address the investigation, it’s easy to draw a line from the arrest and eventual firing of Arizona assistant Book Richardson and Quinerly’s decision. Quinerly is believed to be the player referenced in federal court documents that was on the receiving end of money Richardson took from agents, according to the Arizona Republic.

What’s next for Quinerly will certainly be worth watching. How seriously will other schools pursue him? Will he opt to just go overseas and bypass the NCAA – and any investigations it may launch – all together?

Quinerly is not the first recruit to alter his plans in the wake of the investigation. USC, which also had an assistant coach (Tony Bland) arrested, lost the commitment of J’Raan Brooks last weekend.

The dominos of this investigation are sure to continue to fall. Just how many remains one of the many questions that will only be answered in time.

Illinois adds five-star guard

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The first commit for Illinois in 2018 is a significant in state addition.

Ayo Dosunmu, a top-30 guard from Chicago, announced Thursday that he’s staying in the Land of Lincoln and joining Brad Underwood’s Illini program.

“We know that I could only attend one school. After great thought and consideration,” Dosunmu wrote before posting a picture of him in an Illini jersey.

The 6-foot-4 Dosunmu averaged more than 23 points per game in the EYBL last summer for the Mac Irvin Fire while shooting 47.8 percent from the field. His decision to stay home and attend Illinois is a huge win for Underwood ahead of his first season in Champaign. Chicago is no easy place to recruit, but if Underwood can establish that pipeline, it would go a long way in bringing the Illini back to the top of the Big 10.

“I can come in and play in front of my home state,” Dosunmu told Rivals. “I want to do it for my home state and become the first five-star recruit to play for my state in a long time. I just want to start a new trend.“I know somebody would have to eventually do it.

“A team is never bad for so long. Just look at the Chicago Cubs; they were bad for 100 years but eventually they won the World Series. I just want to help start something new.”

Duke is No. 1 in the Preseason Coaches Poll once again

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The first Coaches Poll of the season was released on Thursday as Duke is the No. 1 team for the second consecutive season. Despite overhauling the roster with new freshmen talent, the Blue Devils received 20 first-place votes while Michigan State, Arizona and Florida also drew first-place consideration.

The top five isn’t too much of a surprise, although Florida getting a No. 1 vote while finishing at No. 7 in the poll is a bit puzzling. For a mid-major team, Oakland also received a considerable amount of votes just outside of the top 25.

  1. Duke (20 first place votes)
  2. Michigan State (9)
  3. Kansas
  4. Kentucky
  5. Arizona (2)
  6. Villanova
  7. Florida (1)
  8. Wichita State
  9. North Carolina
  10. West Virginia
  11. USC
  12. Miami
  13. Cincinnati
  14. Notre Dame
  15. Minnesota
  16. Louisville
  17. Xavier
  18. UCLA
  19. Gonzaga
  20. Northwestern
  21. Purdue
  22. St. Mary’s
  23. Seton Hall
  24. Baylor
  25. Alabama

Others receiving votes: Texas A&M 76; Virginia 57; Butler 43; Missouri 35; TCU 32; Rhode Island 31; Providence 21; Wisconsin 21; Maryland 20; Oakland 19; Oklahoma 19; Michigan 13; Texas 13; Virginia Tech 12; Oregon 12; Southern Methodist 6; Creighton 6; Georgia 3; Georgia Tech 3; Harvard 2; Arkansas 2; Florida State 1; South Carolina 1; Nevada 1.

SoCon Preview: Can Furman take over an unpredictable league?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SoCon.

The SoCon has been one of the most unpredictable conferences in college hoops over the last several years. Last season saw a three-way tie for first place in the regular season and the conference saw its third unique NCAA tournament representative in three years. This season should be wild as well as the SoCon has many of the nation’s elite three-point shooters returning.

Furman has a new head coach as Bob Richey was promoted to take over for Niko Medved (Drake) as he inherits a strong roster that won 23 games and tied for first last season. Four starters return for the Paladins, including senior guard and reigning SoCon Player of the Year Devin Sibley along with double-figure scorer Daniel Fowler. If Furman can get more interior help for its guard-heavy team then they could be the team to beat.

Returning the top seven scorers from a 20-win team, Samford has a lot of positive momentum in head coach Scott Padgett’s third season. Senior Demetrius Denzel-Dyson is one of the league’s most versatile talents as he’s joined by three more returning double-figure scorers. UNC Greensboro loses some firepower from a 25-win NIT team but junior sharpshooter Francis Alonso returns along with a good amount of interior depth. Replacing point guard Diante Baldwin could be key.

Five senior starters are back for Mercer including the dynamic backcourt duo of Ria’n Holland and Jordan Strawberry. Small forward Demetre Rivers also returns along with the frontcourt of Desmond Ringer and Stephon Jelks. The Bears have a lot of size but they need to improve defensively. East Tennessee State was the league’s autobid last season but the Buccaneers lose six dynamic seniors from that group. Guard Desonta Bradford is the team’s only returning double-figure scorer while junior college transfer forward Jeromy Rodriguez has a lot of hype as a scorer.

Wofford could be an intriguing team to watch as junior scorer Fletcher Magee leads the backcourt. Junior forward Cameron Jackson also returns as the Terriers have the personnel to either play a perimeter-oriented attack or more of a traditional lineup. Good news for Western Carolina as all five starters are back from last season’s team. But the Catamounts struggled to a 9-win season as the offense only shot 39 percent from the floor. Haboubacar Mutombo, nephew of Dikembe Mutombo, headlines the returning core.

The Citadel should continue to play fast as double-figure scorers like junior forward Zane Najdawi and sophomore gunner Preston Parks return.  New head coach Lamont Paris comes from Wisconsin to Chattanooga, and he doesn’t have any starters coming back from a 19-win team. Junior big man Makinde London showed promise as a role player last season for the Mocs. VMI lost its top three scorers from a young roster. Senior forward Armani Branch is the team’s only returning starter.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SOCON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Devin Sibley, Furman

The reigning SoCon Player of the Year, the 6-foot-2 Sibley was a big-time scorer for Furman last season. Putting up 17.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, Sibley’s efficiency stood out. Shooting 52 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three-point range, Sibley rarely takes a bad shot.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SOCON TEAM

  • Ria’n Holland, Mercer: With 11 20-point games last season, this 6-foot, 152-pound senior is small but he packs a powerful scoring punch.
  • Francis Alonso, UNC Greensboro: A lethal perimeter shooter, the 6-foot-3 junior hit 102 triples at a 46 percent clip last season while putting up 14.9 points per game.
  • Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, Samford: Capable of playing multiple spots, the 6-foot-5 senior averaged 16.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from three-point.
  • Fletcher Magee, Wofford: The 6-foot-4 junior averaged 18.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season while shooting 42 percent from three-point range and 89 percent from the free-throw line.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SoConSports

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. Furman
  2. Samford
  3. UNC Greensboro
  4. Mercer
  5. ETSU
  6. Wofford
  7. Western Carolina
  8. Chattanooga
  9. The Citadel
  10. VMI