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Bubble Banter: UConn, Miss. St., Northwestern badly need wins

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The NCAA tournament bubble isn’t necessarily any weaker, but it certainly isn’t shrinking.  Games this weekend should help clear up a few spots – although it hasn’t happened yet.  Right now, there are 25 teams listed as projected locks, with another seven teams in strong position to claim a bid (Should Be In).  When you add in the 31 automatic qualifers, that leaves us with about 16 spots.  Some of the bubble teams are in stronger position than others.

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.comRPI data is for games played through Thursday, March 1. Records reflect games through Friday, March 2.

A few quick thoughts about the weekend:

source: AP

  • Connecticut and Mississippi State are the two BCS teams currently in our bracket that most need victories this weekend. Connecticut hosts Pittsburgh and Mississippi State hosts Arkansas.
  • Cincinnati should punch its ticket by winning at Villanova.  A loss would make the Bearcats’ Big East tournament opener more important.
  • Northwestern needs to win its game at Iowa, but that won’t be easy. The Hawkeyes have been a tough out at home.
  • Washington can wrap up a Pac-12 title by winning at UCLA.  That won’t guarantee the Huskies a spot, but it would certainly help.
  • Virginia travels to Maryland with a two-game losing streak.  A loss would drop the Cavaliers to 8-8 in the ACC and make UVA’s opening round ACC tournament game much more intense.

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

  • Projected Locks (25): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (7): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (33): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (16): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games on Thursday, March 1
  • Teams Leaving the Bubble: Southern Mississippi (Should Be In), Colorado, LSU (Dropping Off)
  • Teams Joining the Bubble: Virginia, Tennessee
Atlantic 10
Locks: Temple | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Louis, Dayton, St. Joe’s, Xavier
  • Dayton (18-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 73 | SOS: 58 | – The Flyers have eight Top 100 RPI wins, including victories over Temple, Alabama, and Xavier. The Flyers have also beaten Ole Miss and Minnesota. But after Wednesday’s loss at Richmond, the number of questionable losses is concerning – particularly defeats to both Miami-OH and Rhode Island. Dayton has to beat George Washington before heading to the A10 tournament. Another sub-100 loss could very well end the Flyers’ at-large chances.
  • St. Joe’s (19-12 | 9-7) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 44 | – After beating Temple the Hawks fell in double-overtime to St. Bonaventure. It’s not a horrible loss, but St. Joe’s margin for error is thin because of a 2-5 mark against Top 50 teams, a few questionable losses (American and Charlotte in particular), and an overall growing number of defeats . Beating Creighton continues to help, even though the win was in December. SJU also has a win over Drexel. Next up: the A10 tournament. The Hawks will need a couple of wins at minimum.
  • St. Louis (22-6 | 11-4) | RPI: 30 | SOS: 97 | – The Billkens put together an impressive second-half run to oust Xavier on Tuesday. An 0-2 mark vs. Top 50 teams isn’t something to take lightly, but SLU’s wins over St. Joe’s, Washington, and Xavier are close to that RPI mark. SLU closes with a trip to Duquesne. Taking care of the Dukes and avoiding a bad loss in the A10 opener should be enough.
  • Xavier (18-11 | 9-6) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 43 | – Non-conference wins over Vanderbilt, Purdue, and Cincinnati continue to help the Muskies. After leading at halftime, XU fell apart on the road at St. Louis and now face a critical game at home against Charlotte on Saturday. The Musketeers are just 6-10 vs. Top 100 teams and 12-11 vs. the Top 200. A losing mark against the Top 200 has traditionally spelled trouble. Xavier has a history of playing well in the A10 tournament; the Muskies need a similar effort this year.
ACC
Locks: Duke, North Carolina, Florida State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Miami-FL, NC State, Virginia
  • Miami-FL (17-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 32 | – Miami’s loss to NC State Wednesday dropped the Canes to 3-10 vs. Top 100 teams and gave the Wolfpack a season sweep. What Miami has to offer is a huge win at Duke and a home victory over Florida State. Another plus, the Canes don’t have a bad loss, their worst was a close game at Maryland. Miami closes with Boston College at home.
  • NC State (19-11 | 8-7) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 23 | – The Wolfpack are still alive after beating Miami Wednesday, and NC State now owns a season sweep of the Canes. That won’t push them into the NCAAs, but it keeps them in the picture. NC State also has a win over Texas, which could still help. An 0-8 mark vs. Top 50 teams, however, is troubling, and a 5-8 mark vs. the Top 100 is okay at best. If the Wolfpack can win at Virginia Tech this weekend, they’ll be in the discussion entering the ACC tournament.
  • Virginia (21-8 | 8-7) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 83 | – Thursday’s loss to Florida State knocks the Cavaliers onto the bubble. It wasn’t a bad loss (other than losing a lead late), but rather it was a missed opportunity to add a resume-building win. Virginia is only 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams, so the Cavs’ resume isn’t quite as strong as it appears. Wins over Miami-Fla and NC State help, and the Cavs also beat Drexel and LSU. Virginia will probably be okay if it beats Maryland on Sunday. But a loss could make the ACC opener surpringly important.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Louisville, Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Seton Hall, South Florida, West Virginia
  • Cincinnati (21-9 | 11-6) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 98 | – The Bearcats posted a huge win over Marquette on Wednesday and may now have done enough to reach the NCAAs. UC just needs to avoid a letdown at Villanova and an opening-round loss at the Big East tournament.
  • Connecticut (17-12 | 7-10) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 2 | – Coming off a loss to Providence, the Huskies are inching closer to the wrong side of the bubble. Uconn is 5-7 vs. the Top 50 and 7-10 vs. the Top 100 but has been very inconsistent. Key non-conference victories include Florida State and Harvard. Inside the Big East, UConn has beaten Notre Dame, Seton Hall, West Virginia, and South Florida. UConn closes with Pittsburgh at home. They need to beat the Panthers and then try to win a couple of games in New York.
  • Seton Hall (19-10 | 8-9) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 42 | – The Pirates made their bubble life more difficult by losing a home game to Rutgers last weekend. While SHU is 3-7 vs. the Top 50, they are 8-8 vs. the Top 100. Notable non-conference wins include Dayton, St. Joe’s, and VCU – other teams on the bubble. If SHU loses at DePaul, the Pirates’ may need a couple of wins in New York to breathe easy. Within the league, SHU has beaten UConn, Georgetown and West Virginia.
  • South Florida (18-11 | 12-5) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 19 | – Wednesday’s victory at Louisville was the Bulls’ first marquee-type win and first notable win away from home. USF is just 2-7 vs. the Top 50 (the other win is Seton Hall). Yes, South Florida’s Big East win total is impressive, but the majority of those wins have come against the league’s weaker teams. USF closes with West Virginia at home. Another good win or two would certainly help solidify the Bulls position.
  • West Virginia (18-12 | 8-9) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 13 | – The Mountaineers breezed past DePaul on Tuesday, but have still lost have lost 6 of 9 games. Important victories include Georgetown, Cincinnati, and Kansas State – along with Miami(Fla) and Oral Roberts. Several close losses and a Top 10 schedule will help. The Mountaineers are 8-11 vs. Top 100 teams and nine losses have come to teams in the Top 35 of the RPI. WVU closes at surging South Florida. That could end up being an important game for both teams.
BIG 10
Locks: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Purdue | Bubble: Northwestern
  • Northwestern (17-12 | 7-10) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 10 | – The Wildcats have to be wondering if they’ll ever make the NCAA tournament. Few teams have lost more close games to good teams. Wednesday, Jared Sullinger hit a layup with 3 seconds to go to lift OSU past the Wildcats in Evanston. The problem for NW is that close losses only carry you so far. The Wildcats wind up the Big Ten season at Iowa, which is no easy task. They need that one and probably a couple in the Big Ten tournament to make the Field.
BIG 12
Locks: Baylor, Kansas, Missouri | Should Be In: Kansas State | Bubble: Iowa State, Texas
  • Iowa State (21-9 | 11-6) | RPI: 32 | SOS: 49 | – Iowa State has a season sweep of Kansas State and home wins over Kansas and Texas. Will that be enough? Outside the Big 12, ISU’s best win is probably Iowa. Wednesday’s loss at Missouri was expected, but it still leaves the door open for some concern. The Cyclones host Baylor on Saturday. Win and things look good. A loss would add some pressure to ISU’s Big 12 opener. A 4-7 mark vs. the Top 100 right now isn’t exactly overwhelming.
  • Texas (19-11 | 9-8) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 31 | – The Longhorns pulled off their second escape act in a week by holding off Oklahoma on Wednesday. That sets up a showdown with Kansas this weekend. Texas hasn’t beaten a Top 100 team on the road, so a win doesn’t look promising – which means the Longhorns will likely have to win a couple of Big 12 tournament games to feel good about their chances. Texas is 3-8 vs. Top 50 teams – beating Temple, Iowa State, and Kansas State. Bad losses are to Oklahoma State and Oregon State. They are just 12-11 vs. the Top 200.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis, Southern Mississippi | Bubble: Central Florida
  • Central Florida (18-9 | 9-6) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 94 | – Memphis ran over the Knights on Tuesday, leaving UCF on life support. They are just 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 3-6 vs. the Top 100. The Knights are also just 3-7 on the road. A win over Connecticut isn’t helping that much anymore. UCF finishes with UAB and likely needs a run to the C-USA title game to stay alive for at-large consideration.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: Wichita State | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: None
  • Right now the Missouri Valley looks to be a two-bid league with Creighton and Wichita State firmly in the Field of 68. Arch Madness is always unpredictable, so a third bid is certainly possible.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Colorado State
  • Colorado State (16-10 | 6-6) | RPI: 20 | SOS: 4 | – Beating UNLV at home on Wednesday gives CSU wins over the top three Mountain West teams (UNLV, SDSU, New Mexico). That’s good, because while the Rams have played a good schedule, they didn’t post a non-conference NCAA-level win. CSU’s best non-conference wins are Colorado and Montana/Denver. An overall 8-8 mark against the Top 100 is okay, but a 2-9 road record is cause for concern. CSU’s best road win is UTEP (RPI No. 148). They also have losses at Stanford and Boise St. The Rams finish up with a winnable game at Air Force before heading to the MTW tournament.
PAC 12
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington
  • Arizona (21-9 | 12-5) | RPI: 69 | SOS: 101 | – Arizona has won 7 of 8 games and remains in the hunt despite some very questionable power numbers (RPI and SOS). Other than a victory at California, the Wildcats have no wins over projected at-large teams right now. Are wins over New Mexico State, Colorado and Valparaiso (Top 100) going to push Arizona into the NCAAs? Probably not. Plus, UA was swept by Washington. Arizona closes with Arizona State. That’s a must win heading into the Pac-12 tournament.
  • California (23-7 | 13-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 96 | – While Cal is 6-5 vs. Top 100 teams, they are 0-3 in the Top 50. Cal’s best non-conference win is Weber State or Denver. Blemishes are losses at Oregon State and Washington State. The Bears close at Stanford this weekend. A loss to the Cardinal would put another blemish on the Bears’ resume.
  • Oregon (21-8 | 12-5) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 77 | – The Ducks have won 5 of 6 games after beating Colorado on Thursday. That’s the good news. The issue remains a 1-6 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a paultry 3-7 record against the Top 100. A victory at Nebraska is all the Ducks have outside of conference play. Oregon closes with Utah. A horrible loss to the Utes could knock the Ducks into automatic qualifier status.
  • Washington (21-8 | 14-3) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 85 | – The Huskies’ have won 10 of 12 games and own the outright Pac-12 lead. Washington pounded USC on Thursday and can wrap up a Pac-12 regular season title with a win at UCLA this weekend. UW’s best wins are Arizona (twice) and Oregon at home – both fellow bubble teams. The Huskies are 3-8 against the Top 100 and just 1-6 vs the Top 50. Will a Pac-12 crown be enough for an at-large bid? It might depend on how far the Huskies advance in the Pac-12 tournament.
SEC
Locks: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Alabama, Mississippi State, Tennessee
  • Alabama (20-9 | 9-6) | RPI: 28 | SOS: 16 | – Four straight wins have changed the Tide’s outlook considerably. They close out SEC play with a trip to Ole Miss. Early wins over Wichita State, Purdue and VCU help. The only real downer is a two-point defeat at South Carolina. If there’s a concern, it’s a 2-5 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a 7-8 mark vs. Top 100 teams. Neither record is particularly impressive.
  • Mississippi State (20-10 | 7-8) | RPI: 61 | SOS: 67 | – The Bulldogs survived in OT at South Carolina, but that still leaves MSU with 5 losses in 6 games and in desperate need of a late run. The Bulldogs host Arkansas in a critical game on Saturday. A win probably keeps MSU on the right side of the bubble. A loss, probably not. MSU is 2-4 vs. Top 50 teams and 7-7 vs. the top 100. Both are average at best. The Bulldogs are helped by a win at Vanderbilt, along with wins over Alabama, West Virginia, and Arizona. Questionable losses are to Georgia and Auburn.
  • Tennessee (16-13 | 9-6) | RPI: 80 | SOS: 34 | – Given a 9-6 mark in the SEC, we’ll add Tennessee to the bubble. But the Vols have some significant work to do with 13 losses, including four to sub-100 RPI teams. UT swept Florida and has a win over Connecticut. Those are the highlights. They are just 12-13 vs. the Top 200. The Vols host Vanderbilt on Saturday. They need to win that game to stay in the conversation.
WEST COAST
Locks: St. Mary’s, Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: BYU
  • BYU (23-7 | 12-4) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 103 | – BYU opened WCC tournament play against San Diego, but it didn’t help or hurt the Cougars. They are 3-5 against the Top 50 – largely due to late surges that pushed Oregon and Nevada into that category. The issue is that BYU went 1-3 vs. St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, beating Gonzaga at home. It could take another win over the Zags to feel safe. To do that, they need to reach the WCC finals.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: Murray State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Drexel, Harvard, Iona, Long Beach State, Middle Tennessee State, Nevada, Oral Roberts, VCU
  • Drexel (25-5 | 16-2) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 235 |The Dragons have an outright CAA regular-season title. How much that helps remains to be seen. Drexel is 0-1 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-2 against the Top 100. The non-conference wins in that category are Cleveland State and Princeton. Also, 14 of Drexels’ wins are against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI. Losses to Virginia and St. Joseph’s weren’t particularly close. Drexel needs to reach the CAA title game. It’s hard to believe anything else would be enough.
  • Harvard (24-4 | 11-2) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 171 | – A victory over Columbia on Friday puts the Crimson in the driver’s seat for the Ivy’s automatic bid. Harvard’s last game is at Cornell. If the Crimson were to lose that one, and a playoff, Harvard would have to hope early wins over Florida State, St. Joseph’s, and UCF are enough.
  • Iona (24-6 | 15-3) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 148 | – Beating Nevada in the BracketBusters helped the Gaels’ profile, along with a win over St. Joseph’s. Still, Iona is just 1-1 vs. against the Top 50. A 5-3 mark vs. the Top 100 in pretty good but none are against guaranteed NCAA teams. Losses to Siena and Hofstra – both sub 200 teams – are concerning given the lack of high-level wins. If Iona reaches the MAAC title game, they’ll be in the at-large discussion. An early tourney loss would make it much more questionable.
  • Long Beach State (20-7 | 15-0) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 111 | – The 49ers will try to complete a perfect Big West season Saturday at CS-Fullerton. LBSU’s top-rated non-conference schedule is well documented, and the 49ers’ worst loss is at Montana (RPI No. 83) in November. The issues are an 0-6 mark vs the Top 50 and a 2-7 mark vs. the Top 100. Those sort of stand out in the wrong way. With 12 of LBSU’s wins against teams ranked 200-plus in the RPI, they are just 8-7 vs. the Top 200. A BracketBusters loss to Creighton could still be a huge miss.
  • Middle Tennesse State (24-5 | 14-2) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 173 | – The Blue Raiders’ profile took a major hit with the loss at Western Kentucky. While MTSU won the outright Sun Belt title, the Blue Raiders’ best non-conference wins are Ole Miss, Belmont, and Akron. Good wins, but not the kind that carry a team into the NCAAs. A loss to anyone other than Denver in the Sun Belt tourney will likely relegate MTSU to the NIT.
  • Nevada (22-5 | 12-1) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 147 | – Nevada is rooting for Washington to win the Pac-12 as the Wolfpack’s victory over the Huskies is their only potential NCAA-level win. Nevada beat New Mexico State Thursday to sweep the Aggies. The Wolfpack also lost a competitive BracketBusters game at Iona. But it’s a loss that could still sting. Overall, Nevada is 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams and 4-3 vs. the Top 100. The Wolfpack have 14 wins against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI.
  • Oral Roberts (26-5 | 17-1) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 174 | – ORU beat Xavier, Missouri State, and Akron (BracketBusters) in non-conference play, but XU was without several players. Understandable losses are to Gonzaga, West Virginia, and South Dakota State on the road. When you consider that 14 of ORU’s wins are against teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI, the margin for error remains small. Reaching the Summit title game will be important.
  • VCU (25-6 | 15-3) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 179 | – The Rams have been helped by some other bubble teams fading away. VCU has also been helped by South Florida’s surge. It’s the Rams’ lone Top 50 win. VCU is 4-4 vs. Top 100 teams but has 13 wins over teams ranked 200 or higher in the RPI. Other notable wins are at Akron (OT) and over Northern Iowa. VCU lost games to Alabama and Seton Hall and it’s only matchup with Drexel. The Rams are 11-1 in their past 12 games, but may need a rematch with Drexel to stay on the right side of the bubble.

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)
(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)
(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.

Looking Forward: The Way-Too-Early 2016-17 Preseason All-American Team

Duke’s Grayson Allen, center, handles the ball as Long Beach State’s Nick Faust, left, and Long Beach State’s Noah Blackwell (3) defend during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C. Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. Duke won 103-81. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
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With the NBA Draft’s Early Entry process coming to a close on Wednesday evening, we finally have a concrete idea of what college basketball is going to look like in 2016-17.

That’s why we were able to give you an early Preseason Top 25.

And that’s why we were able to go through and breakdown each of the seven major conferences for you.

     RELATED: Big Ten | AAC | SEC | Pac 12

Now?

Here’s an early look at what a Preseason All-American team will look like:

     RELATED: Big 12 | ACC | A-10 | Big East

FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICANS

  • Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: If the Cyclones have any chance of making it back to the NCAA tournament, it’ll be on the shoulders of Morris. The point guard crop this year is loaded. Half-a-dozen guys could be in this spot, but Morris is our pick to be the best of the bunch.
  • Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen’s role may reduced a bit with Duke’s talented roster, but we’re betting that he’ll still end up being the No. 1 option on the offensive end of the floor.
  • Josh Hart, Villanova: The best player and leading scorer for the reigning national champ returned to school. The least we could do was show him some love.
  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: Jackson should match and may better Andrew Wiggins’ numbers (17.1 points) on a Kansas team that is preseason top three, and he’ll do it without the same kind of expectations.
  • Ivan Rabb, Cal: Rabb was the best NBA prospect to return to school. With Jaylen Brown and Ty Wallace gone, the offense will run through him. Expect a huge season.

SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICANS

  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble’s sophomore season was derailed by a case of the yips and a team that didn’t fit together all that well. We’re betting on him turning that around.
  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA: UCLA could be a top five team this year. They could also miss the tournament. Who knows. But if they end up being the former, it will be because Ball had a ridiculous freshman season.
  • Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks is the best player and the leading returning scorer on a preseason top five team. He may not be the best NBA prospect in the country, but he’s a damn good college player.
  • Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: Picking an all-american from Kentucky this season is tough. We’re going to go with Bam, who is the safe pick and could end up averaging a double-double for the Wildcats.
  • Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Bryant is in essentially the same spot as Rabb. Potential first round pick returns to school, becomes a bigger part of the offense, shines. If he takes a step forward defensively as well he’ll be a first-teamer come March.
Oregon forward Elgin Cook, from left, forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyler Dorsey react after a play against Washington during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Las Vegas. Oregon won 83-77. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Oregon forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyler Dorsey (AP Photo/John Locher)

THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICANS

  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 assists as a sophomore with Washington and spent a year sitting out at a school that turned Kelly Olynyk and Kyle Wiltjer into all-americans during a redshirt year.
  • Mo Watson, Creighton: Watson was criminally underrated last season and now he’ll be paired in a back court with Marcus Foster. The ‘Jays are sneaky-good.
  • Jayson Tatum, Duke: We took Tatum over Giles because we think Duke will have two all-americans and because we are concerned about the status of Giles’ knees.
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett was the leading scorer for Xavier last season and will be back in school after testing the draft waters.
  • Austin Nichols, Virginia: Nichols is a perfect fit for Virginia’s front court. He’ll be better than Anthony Gill was last season, and Gill was really, really good.
East forward Jayson Tatum, from Chaminade in St. Louis dunks against the West team during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. The West won 114-107. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Jayson Tatum (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

NEW PODCAST: NBA Draft deadline winners and losers

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
AP Photo/Matt Hazlett
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With the change to the NCAA deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA Draft moving from mid-April to May 25, college programs and fan bases across the country anxiously awaited Wednesday night’s deadline for news on players still going through the decision-making process.

With the dust having settled Thursday morning, the NBC Sports College Basketball Talk crew (Rob Dauster, Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips) got together to discuss the winners and losers. Among those discussed are Oregon, four Big Ten teams (Indiana, Maryland, Purdue and Wisconsin), and USC. It should be noted that Maryland was discussed before news of Justin Jackson’s commitment broke, so their front court looks a little different due to that.

We also touched on our updates to the Top 25, with the Boilermakers making a move up in the rankings, and Marcus Lee’s decision to transfer from Kentucky. As always, you can either click “play” in the Soundcloud player below or listen via iTunes or the Stitcher app. Thanks for listening!