It’s going to be a long wait for Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee. The Gaels lost to Gonzaga for a third time Monday night, and the Blue Raiders fell in the semifinals of the Sun Belt. Which leaves both in agonizing limbo until the NCAA Selection Show this Sunday. An already tough job for members of the NCAA Selection Committee in Indianapolis just became that much tougher.
Overall, the bubble remains very fluid with only a few days to go. At the very least we have five or six spots up for grabs. Right now, it looks like as many as 11 spots have yet to be confirmed. Some teams in those spots are better positioned than others. Conference tournament results are going to matter, probably more than usual.
Pending results in the Pac-12 and Mountain West tournaments are particularly intriguing. While California and Oregon remains as teams that “Should Be In” today, neither can be considered locks. Colorado opens with Oregon State, a team that just beat the Buffaloes. Another loss to the Beavers could make things a bit more interesting. Not that Colorado won’t make it, but there would certainly be a few anxious moments ahead. In the Mountain West, Boise State and San Diego State square off in the quarterfinals. And while it’s probable that both make the Field of 68 regardless, the loser won’t be quite as certain – especially if we have an upset winner or two elsewhere.
By this weekend, the bubble picture will likely become a bit more clear. Until then, enjoy the Madness.
Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble, teams that have locked up spot in the Field of 68, and teams that Should Be In but are not “locks” at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to InsideRPI at ESPN.
RPI data is for games played through Monday, March 11.
Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.
Automatic Bids(31): Liberty (Big South), Harvard (Ivy), Creighton (MVC), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Belmont (OVC), Davidson (Southern), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), James Madison (Colonial), Gonzaga (West Coast), Iona (MAAC) …
Projected Locks (22): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Should Be In (11): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
Bubble: (28): Teams remaining who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
Spots Available (13): 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 completed on Monday, March 11.
Locks: Butler, Saint Louis | Should Be In: VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Massachusetts, Xavier
La Salle (21-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 88 | – The Explorers avoided a miscue down the stretch but lost in somewhat ugly fashion at Saint Louis to close the season. Now they await the winner of Butler and Dayton to open the A10 tournament. Can they beat Butler on a neutral court? La Salle edged BU at home on a last-second layup in January. If it’s Dayton, the Explorers may have to take out top seeded Saint Louis to feel more secure. Besides Butler, La Salle has a victory at VCU and a home win over Villanova. The only blemish is an early loss to Central Connecticut State.
Massachusetts (19-10 | 9-7) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 83 | – A bubbly profile took a hit when the Minutemen lost at home to Butler earlier this month. While they have eight Top 100 wins, the only NCAA-level win against a potential at-large team is a victory at La Salle. First up at the A10 tourney is George Washington. Win that and UMass earns a date with Temple. A victory over the Owls would keep the Minutemen in the conversation.
Temple (23-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 59 | – The Owls took care of business by beating VCU last weekend and are likely a win over UMass or George Washington away ending any lingering doubts. Even with a loss, they appear to be in pretty good shape at this point. An early win over Syracuse continues to help, as do wins over Saint Louis and Villanova. While we can’t quite remove the Owls from the bubble, it would take a bad loss and some odd events for them to miss. The remaining doubts are the result of three bad home losses – most notably Duquesne.
Xavier (17-13 | 9-7) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 54 | – While it will take some recovery work in Brooklyn, the Musketeers have a solid top-end profile. Victories include Butler, Temple, Saint Louis and Memphis. The problem? Inconsistent play and five sub-100 RPI losses – the worst of which was Wofford at home. They open with Saint Joseph’s before a date with VCU. Win both of those and the Committee will have to take a closer look at how XU stacks up to other bubble contenders heading into the weekend.
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: North Carolina, NC State | Bubble: Virginia, Maryland
Maryland (20-11 | 8-10) | RPI: 83 | SOS: 116 | – Following Sunday’s loss to Virginia, it looks like the Terrapins probably have to win the ACC tournament. Two solid wins can’t make up for a bad non-conference SOS, a 3-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams, and 16 (of 20) wins against teams below 150 in the RPI.
Virginia (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 132 | – The Cavaliers escaped Maryland and escaped even more trouble on the NCAA bubble. They get the winner of NC State and Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals. After that, it figures to be a matchup with Miami. Opportunity awaits – which is what the Cavs need. Beyond the well-documented bad losses (7 to teams rated 100 or lower in the RPI), UVA also has a non-conference SOS ranked around No. 300.
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Pittsburgh | Should Be In: Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Villanova
Cincinnati (21-10 | 9-9) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 26| – The Bearcats managed to avoid a bad loss (with bad timing) against South Florida. Next up is Providence in the early game Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. A loss could create some anxious moments, depending on what happens around them. The good news is that outside the conference, UC has noticeable wins over Iowa State, Alabama, and Oregon. It’s hard to see the Bearcats missing completely, but one more win would certainly make life easier down the stretch.
Villanova (18-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 18 | – Beating Georgetown may have sealed a bid for the Wildcats. Their list of wins also includes Louisville, Syracuse, and Marquette. If there’s an issue with the Wildcats’ resume it’s that they accomplished very little outside the conference. They also lost to Columbia. It’s hard to know for sure how much emphasis the Committee will place on the pre-conference slate. First up at the Big East tourney is St. John’s. It might be a good idea for ‘Nova to win that one. An 18-13 mark and mid-50’s RPI (with an SJU loss) would hardly qualify for lock status.
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
Iowa (20-11 | 9-9) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 127 | – The Hawkeyes held serve at home against Illinois and Nebraska. The real issues here are a 2-8 record in true road games and a non-conference SOS ranked at 300-plus. While victories over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois at home are nice, they don’t hold the same weight as beating the league’s true heavyweights. In fairness, Iowa is probably better than its profile suggests. But it will likely take at least a couple of wins in Chicago to help the two match up. The Hawkeyes probably have to beat Northwestern and Michigan State. Accomplish that, and we’ll see how the landscape looks.
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
Baylor (17-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 21 | – The Bears’ profile would look a lot better had it not been for a couple of last-second losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Ironically, they open Big 12 tournament play against the Cowboys. Win that, and a likely matchup with K-State awaits. Coming off a huge win over Kansas, can Baylor sustain some momentum? There’s no lack of talent on the roster. Inconsistent play has been the issue – as a 5-10 record vs. Top 100 teams suggests. While an early win at Kentucky helps, the rest of Baylor’s non-conference performance was less than ideal – including losses to Charleston and Northwestern at home. There’s also a mounting loss total. Could an 18-14 team earn an at-large bid?
Iowa State (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 64 | – The Cyclones closed out the regular season by beating Oklahoma State at home and avoiding a bad loss at West Virginia. The issues are a 3-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a non-conference performance that produced wins over BYU and Florida Gulf Coast. There was also the ugly loss at Texas Tech. A third matchup with Oklahoma awaits to open B12 tournament play. Each team won on its home court. Could the rubber match decide an NCAA berth? Maybe, maybe not. The hard-to-take loss against Kansas could turn out to be huge if the Cyclones exit the B12 tournament early.
Oklahoma (20-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 17 | – So the Sooners decided to make life more interesting by losing at TCU. Much like the other teams on the B12 bubble, Oklahoma didn’t accomplish a lot outside the conference. What OU does have are victories over Kansas and Oklahoma State – and a split with Iowa State. Despite some strong computer numbers, a sweep of Baylor, and some decent mid-range wins, the Sooners may not be in as good a shape as some might think. They open with the Cyclones at the B12 tourney. As noted above, the loser could have some anxious moments leading up to Selection Sunday.
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
Southern Miss (21-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 79 | – Other than some decent computer numbers Southern Miss doesn’t have much too offer. They better plan on winning the C-USA tournament.
Locks: Creighton | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Wichita State
Wichita State (26-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 96 | – While the Shockers are not a lock, they should be in pretty good shape at this point. They reached the MVC title game and split the regular season with Creighton. They also won at VCU and Air Force and beat Iowa on a neutral court outside league play. With eight Top 100 wins, the odds are in their favor.
Locks: New Mexico, UNLV | Should Be In: Colorado State | Bubble: San Diego State, Boise State
Boise State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 69 | – By winning two of its final three games, the Broncos have put themselves in good position. If you take away the losses to Utah and Nevada, BSU’s resume is very similar to that of San Diego State (but we can’t take those away). Which brings us to the MTW quarterfinals. The Broncos open with the Aztecs. The loser may still be fine, but the winner will certainly feel even more confident come Sunday evening.
San Diego State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 33 | – The two edges SDSU has on Boise in terms of profile are a win over New Mexico and no sub-100 RPI losses. Of course, the Aztecs don’t have a signature road win (such as Boise’s at Creighton). Which, as noted above, makes the two team’s MWC matchup intriguing. Both will probably make it, but the loser might be a little nervous on Sunday if the bubble is squeezed.
Locks: Arizona, UCLA | Should Be In: Oregon, California | Bubble: Colorado, Stanford
Colorado (20-10 | 10-8) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 16 | – Just in time for the P12 tourney, the Buffaloes laid an egg at home against Oregon State. Interestingly enough, Colorado opens conference tourney play against OSU. A second-straight loss to the Beavers might leave an ugly impression, and would give CU three sub-150 RPI losses. Is that going to undo an overall resume that includes non-conference wins over Colorado State, Baylor, and Air Force? Probably not. But it would certainly leave the Buffaloes a bit less secure heading into the weekend.
Stanford (18-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 40 | – It’s a long shot for the Cardinal but they enter the P12 tourney with an outside chance, so here they are. Wins of note include California (twice), Oregon, and a road victory at Arizona State. Outside the league, there isn’t much – wins over Denver and Northern Iowa. It’ll probably take a run to the title game for any legitimate shot. Stanford opens with Arizona State.
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
Tennessee (19-11 | 11-7) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 38 | – Depending on who you ask, the Volunteers are ahead or behind Kentucky in terms of the SEC power curve. While UT is far from secure, they have nine Top 100 wins (9-9 overall) – which includes victories over Florida and Missouri in SEC, and Wichita State, Massachusetts, and Xavier outside league play. Granted, losing two games to Georgia doesn’t help, but most other bubble teams have similar issues. There are also some road concerns, as most of their quality wins (other than UMass – neutral court) came in Knoxville. The Vols get the winner of South Carolina/Mississippi State to open the SEC tourney. After that, they would matchup with fellow bubble-dweller Alabama.
Alabama (19-11 | 12-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 91 | – Other than a pile of SEC wins, the Crimson Tide’s profile lacks much punch. They have a home wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, and a non-conference victory over Villanova. While solid, none of those wins is a headliner. They are also saddled with three suspect losses – Mercer and Tulane at home and Auburn on the road. Most likely, the Tide will face Tennessee in the SEC tourney opener. That’s a must win. Then, it should be Florida. Beating the Gators might be what ‘Bama needs.
Arkansas (19-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 78 | SOS: 82 | – There’s no real surprise here: the Razorbacks are pretty good at home and not very good elsewhere. We can’t just discount victories over Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri and Kentucky, but the 1-9 mark in road games is definitely an eyesore. The Razorbacks open with Vandy. A win puts them up against Kentucky. Win those two and we’ll see how the final field is unfolding.
Kentucky (21-10 | 12-6) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 65 | – The current Wildcat roster features wins over Missouri and Florida, and a drubbing at Tennessee. None of us know exactly how Selection Committee members will view the Cats’ profile. Which means their work isn’t finished. Normally, a 12-win SEC season would be enough, but this isn’t a normal year. UK gets the Arkansas-Vandy winner on Friday. That could be a must-win. Then, it would be Ole Miss or Missouri. In many ways, the bracket sets up well for the Wildcats. Reaching the SEC title game would probably lock it up.
Mississippi (23-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 153 | – No team suffered more damaging losses down the stretch than Ole Miss (South Carolina and Mississippi State). The Rebels re-grouped to beat Alabama and LSU, and a road win always helps. Ole Miss lacks swept Tennessee and beat Missouri at home. Neither of which qualifies as a signature win. Given a weak non-conference SOS (No. 290), it takes some extra work within the league. Ole Miss opens the SEC tourney Friday – most likely against Missouri. That figures to be a must-win. Then it would be Kentucky. Depending on how things break, that could be a decisive matchup for both schools.
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s
Saint Mary’s (26-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 104 | – Let’s just say its’ going to be a long, agonizing wait until the NCAA Selection Show. The Gaels lost for a third time to Gonzaga Monday night – and the game was never in doubt. Which basically leaves SMC with one win against an NCAA team – Creighton at home. Other than that, the Gaels’ only non-conference wins are Utah State and Harvard. Within the WCC, the Gaels swept BYU. Since this will be a topic of discussion for Middle Tennessee State, it’s worth noting 17 of SMC’s wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: Belmont | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
Akron (23-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 141 | – It’s been a bad two weeks for the Zips. They lost games to Ohio and Kent State and had a starter suspended due to off-the-court issues. So the Zips have to be re-evaluated. The result: it’s probably a MAC title or bust.
Bucknell (26-5 | 12-2) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 223 | – The Bison can win the Patriot League title tonight and end the debate. That’s probably a good idea. It’s hard to imagine them being ahead of Middle Tennessee or Saint Mary’s – should all three end up in the at-large pool. What the Bison do offer are wins over La Salle, New Mexico State, and Purdue.
Louisiana Tech (25-5 | 16-2) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 214 | – Nothing like closing the season with back-to-back (and largely non-competitive) losses at New Mexico State and Denver. You have to think an at-large bid at this point is remote. But we’ll see if they can reach the WAC title game.
Middle Tennessee (28-5 | 19-1) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 135 | – A solid RPI and strong non-conference SOS ranked No. 8 in the nation are the real highlights for the Blue Raiders. Credit MTSU for a good effort. But … in its “up” games, MTSU went 2-3 (and we’re considering Vanderbilt and “up” game). They beat Ole Miss, but lost handily to Florida and Belmont. The loss at Akron was close – no shame there. Can one notable win (Ole Miss) carry the Blue Raiders? They have looked the part. At the same time, 21 of their wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.
Patriot League Preview: Can anyone challenge Bucknell?
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 Patriot League.
The 2016-17 season in the Patriot League was one dominated by the Bucknell Bison, with Nathan Davis’ team winning the regular season title for the sixth time in the last seven years. Led by Patriot League Player and Defensive Player of the Year Nana Foulland, the Bison were the best team in the league with regards to both offensive and defensive efficiency and won the regular season title by three games. After winning 26 games and reaching the NCAA tournament as a 13-seed, the question for Bucknell entering the 2017-18 season is what can this group do for an encore.
The good news for Bucknell is that all four double-digit scorers from last season, led by Foulland and forward Zach Thomas, are back on campus. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season, with the versatile Thomas leading the Bison in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per contest. Add in guards Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie, and Bucknell has a rotation that won’t lack for talent or experience.
Given Bucknell’s recent track record and their returning contributors, there’s a simple question for the rest of the Patriot League: which team is best equipped to make a run at the Bison? One could argue that up to four teams are in the conversation, with there not being much to separate them on paper.
Despite losing an outstanding front court presence in Tim Kempton and another productive senior on guard Austin Price, Lehigh is one of those teams. Head coach Dr. Brett Reed will call upon an experienced backcourt to lead the way, with junior Kyle Leufroy averaging nearly 12 points per game last season and senior Kahron Ross leading the league in assists last season. The Mountain Hawks also add one of the Patriot League’s top newcomers in guard Lance Tejada, who sat out last season as a transfer after playing the first two seasons of his college career at East Carolina. With regard to the front court, the progression of sophomore forward Pat Andree will be key if Lehigh is to threaten Bucknell.
Also in the mix is Colgate, with head coach Matt Langel welcoming back six players who made at least 14 starts a season ago. At the top of that list are sophomore forward Will Rayman and senior guard Sean O’Brien, with Rayman being the Patriot League’s top freshman last season. In Rayman, O’Brien and Jordan Swopshire the Raiders return three double-digit scorers, and if Colgate can become a more efficient team on both ends of the floor look out.
Navy and Boston University should also be heard from in the Patriot League conversation, with the Midshipmen being led by senior guard Shawn Anderson. Ed DeChellis’ team won’t lack for depth, with the team’s top five scorers from a season ago back in Annapolis. As for the Terriers, Boston University has to account for the loss of two of the Patriot League’s best players in Eric Fanning and Justin Alston but the cupboard isn’t bare. Guards Cedric Hankerson and Cheddi Mosely return, as does all-rookie team forward Tyler Scanlon, which should make for a good foundation on which to build a possible contender.
Loyola (MD), Lafayette and Army West Point will look to fight their way into the upper half of the Patriot League standings, with the Greyhounds returning one of the Patriot League’s best guards in senior Andre Walker. Lafayette returns three of its top four scorers, led by the Patriot League’s top returning scorer in senior forward Matt Klinewski. And in his second season as the head coach at Army West Point, Jimmy Allen will look to make strides with a team that won 13 games in 2016-17. Guard Jordan Fox is back for his junior season, and in total five of Army’s top six scorers are back.
American, which won just eight games last season, returns its top two scorers in sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini. However, the Eagles do have to account for the loss of one of the top defenders in the Patriot League in wing Charlie Jones. Holy Cross, which won 15 games last season, will have to account for the loss of its top two scorers in Robert Champion and Malachi Alexander. Head coach Bill Carmody will look to juniors Karl Charles and Pat Benzan to step forward, but with no seniors on this season’s roster it will take the Crusaders some time to develop into a Patriot League contender.
PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nana Foulland, Bucknell
Not only was Foulland the Patriot League’s best player in 2016-17, but he was also its best defender. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a junior, shooting 63.0 percent from the field.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM
Kahron Ross, Lehigh: Ross led the Patriot League in assists (5.3 apg) last season while also scoring nearly ten points per game. With Tim Kempton gone, Ross will have more opportunities to score within the Lehigh offense.
Andre Walker, Loyola (MD): Walker averaged 14.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per night for the Greyhounds last season, and he also shot 38.0 percent from three.
Shawn Anderson, Navy: The 6-foot-4 senior guard saw his field goal percentage dip as a junior (41.8 percent after shooting nearly 50 percent as a sophomore), but he still averaged 12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per night.
Zach Thomas, Bucknell: Thomas led the Bison in scoring (15.9 ppg) last season, while also averaging 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. His ability to score both inside and out will be key for Bucknell.
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.
The first is relatively simple. Arizona has three things that, alone, would make them relevant in the Pac-12 title and Final Four discussion:
They have a junior that will be a Preseason All-American, in the mix for National Player of the Year and could end up leading all of high-major basketball in scoring this season. His name is Allonzo Trier.
They have the potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and his name is not Allonzo Trier. It’s Deandre Ayton, who has a shot at earning those same accolades that Trier will be in the mix for.
Those two will be coached by Sean Miller, who is the best coach in the country to never reach a Final Four and may be the best coach in the country, period.
But, and this may actually be more important than any of those three things individually, Arizona also has the perfect blend of ridiculous incoming freshmen talent and talented returning veterans that can provide the kind of leadership and experience that you don’t see from 18 and 19-year olds.
The Wildcats will likely start just one freshmen this season. Three of their starters — Trier, a junior, and seniors Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Carterwright — are upper-classmen. Sophomore Rawle Alkins should also slide into the starting lineup.
The best teams during the one-and-done era — Kentucky’s title-winning team in 2012, Duke’s title-winning team in 2015, Kentucky’s Final Four team in 2015 — have all had that blend.
It’s why Arizona will be in the top three of every preseason top 25 you see coming out this month.
Before we get into the off-the-court stuff, let’s talk on-the-court.
The way that I see it, there are four things to be worried about with this Arizona team. Let’s walk through each one of them, in order of the most concerning to the least concerning:
1. Point guard play: There are two point guards on Arizona’s roster as of today. One of them is a freshman named Alex Barcello, a borderline top 100 prospect that, in an ideal world, won’t be playing major minutes for a national title-contending team, at least not as a freshman. The other is Parker Jackson-Cartwright, a senior and former four-star recruit that has spent his entire Arizona career has the second option at the point.
The last two years, he played behind Kadeem Allen, a converted scoring guard and tenacious defender that turned himself into the kind of a player that piqued the interest of the Boston Celtics in last year’s NBA Draft. He was a physically imposing, 6-foot-3 menace that also happened to be a 43 percent three-point shooter. Before that, Jackson-Cartwright slotted in behind T.J. McConnell, another savvy, defensive menace that has carved out an NBA career for himself.
That is not the kind of point guard that Jackson-Cartwright is. He has some of the same skills offensively that McConnell had, and his ability to facilitate at the point without needing shots to be happy will be valuable on a roster that has enough guys that want to score, but can he have an impact defensively? Is he a leader the way that past Arizona point guards have been? The answer to both of those questions may be ‘yes’, but if they are ‘no’, will some combination of Barcello, Allonzo Trier and Emmanuel Akot rotating through those lead guard minutes be enough for Arizona to win a title?
We’ve seen what happens when title favorites — ahem, Duke — have question marks at the point, and until Jackson-Cartwright proves otherwise, he falls into that category.
2. Which Deandre Ayton are we going to see this year?: There has never been a question about the amount of talent that Ayton has. He’s 7-foot with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. He’s athletic, he’s fluid, he’s mobile and he has a back to the basket game and three-point range. He, quite literally, is the prototype for a big man in this modern era of basketball.
But he doesn’t always play like it.
The knock on him has always been his motor. When he decides to show up, like he did at Peach Jam during the summer of 2016, he dominates anyone that gets in his way — Wendell Carter, Mitchell Robinson, Marvin Bagley III — but we’ve yet to see Ayton consistently churn out those kind of performances. His detractors will say it is because he is lazy, or he isn’t competitive, or he doesn’t love basketball; you know the clichés. Others will tell you that it is because he was never challenged at the high school level and that when he was, he showed up to play. That idea is supported by the reports coming out of Tucson, that Ayton has been terrific to date.
The truth is that we won’t know which Ayton we are going to see until we actually see him. He might end up being the best player in college hoops. He also might end up being Perry Jones.
3. Are there enough shots to go around?: Allonzo Trier is going to be Arizona’s go-to guy. He may end up being the best scorer in college basketball this season. He’s going to get his shots. Then there’s Rawle Alkins, a former five-star prospect that averaged double-figures as a freshman and opted to return to school to try and boost his NBA stock. He’s going to need shots, too. Ayton is going to need shots. Dusan Ristic is going to need post touches.
The bottom line is this: the hardest thing to do at this level of college basketball is to convince players to buy into a role. John Calipari is the best at it, but he doesn’t even have a perfect track record. In a perfect world, the No. 1 pick might end up being Arizona’s third option offensively this season. Is everyone going to be OK with that?
4. Who plays the four?: Like the point guard spot, the four is going to be something of a question mark for Arizona this season.
Ayton will likely end up starting there, because Ristic is a senior and because he is much more skilled on the perimeter than the 7-foot Serbian. But I still think that Ayton’s best position at the college level is as a small-ball five, and if he is playing at the five, who does Miller line up at the four? Keanu Pinder might be the answer, but he’s a JuCo transfer that played all of 12 minutes per game last season. It might be Ira Lee, but an all-freshmen front court isn’t always the easiest answer. Maybe Miller plays Akot there and fully dives into the small-ball era?
I don’t know.
And frankly, I’m less concerned about this than I am intrigued. I think Arizona has enough talent and enough different pieces that it should be fine however Miller decides it will come together.
Assuming the season goes as planned, which brings us to …
5. … Arizona’s involvement with the FBI investigation: Arizona is all over the FBI complaints that came down last month. Book Richardson, an assistant coach that had been with Sean Miller for 11 years, was arrested. Richardson allegedly took bribes to influence where players on the roster would invest their money and accepted a $15,000 payment that was earmarked for a Class of 2018 prospect named Jahvon Quinerly. Two players currently on the Arizona roster were mentioned by Richardson during the commission of the alleged crimes, although the FBI did not release their names, and another assistant coach, who was with the program as of last spring, was also involved in a dinner with the uncle of one of Arizona’s top recruits.
And we don’t know if that’s all that the FBI has. All we know is what they have released.
Are there going to be more Arizona players or coaches involved in this scandal? Will Arizona get wind of any potential arrests or players that may be deemed ineligible? Is this a situation where the Wildcats will try to fall on their own sword?
Barring some kind of craziness – and craziness enveloping this Arizona season certainly has a greater-than-zero possibility – Arizona is going to end up winning the Pac-12 regular season title. That became a safe bet after the Pac-12 decided that the Wildcats will only be playing UCLA and USC once, and that both of those games will be played in Tucson.
But Arizona fans probably don’t care all that much about Pac-12 titles at this point.
They’ve been there.
What they want is a Final Four, which is more or less the only thing that Sean Miller doesn’t have on his coaching résumé at this point. The 48-year old currently holds the title of ‘best coach to never make a Final Four,’ something he inherited from Mark Few, who inherited it from Bill Self, who inherited it from Jim Calhoun.
Point being, sooner or later, Miller is going to make that run to the final weekend of the college basketball season.
And with the amount of talent, depth, experience and versatility he has with this group, I fully expect that this will be the year he gets it done.
If, you know, nothing crazy happens.
Five-star recruit Emmitt Williams arrested, charged with sexual battery
Five-star recruit Emmitt Williams, 19, was arrested and charged with felony sexual battery and false imprisonment early Wednesday morning.
Williams, who is a top 25 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, was booked at 12:40 a.m. by the Orlando police department and held on $3,500 bond. He is a senior at Oak Ridge High School in Orlando. He is scheduled to make an appearance in court this afternoon.
Williams visited LSU last weekend and was scheduled to visit Florida this weekend.
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 Big 12 conference.
There’s plenty to know about this year’s Big 12, but the headline remains the same as it’s been for over a dozen years: Kansas is probably going to win the league.
The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the conference title for 13-straight years. This year, they’re not only a Big 12 favorite, but a national title contender.
They aren’t, though, the only storyline in a conference that consistently fields one of the strongest groups in the country. West Virginia looks like a contender again. Texas is relevant again (probably), as is Baylor (I think) and Oklahoma (maybe). Even the perennial bottom-feeders – TCU and Texas Tech – look like they’ll be in the mix for an NCAA tournament.
1. Kansas has the most talent, but the fit is odd: The Jayhawks have a first-team All-American Devonte Graham, a McDonald’s All-American in Billy Preston, a former McDonald’s All-American in Malik Newman and plenty of other talented pieces, but the Jayhawks are thin inside and don’t have an abundance of shooting. The roster construction isn’t perfect – that’s what happens when you’ve got sit-out transfers like the Lawson brothers – but Self usually figures out how to get the most out of his teams. Weird isn’t necessarily bad, but it does present a challenge.
The other pressing question is how Graham adjusts to moving back to a more traditional point guard role. Graham and last year’s national player of the year Frank Mason shared duties the previous three years, but Mason more often than not had the ball in his hands. That led to plenty of spot-up 3-point opportunities that may have to go elsewhere this season for the Jayhawks, likely to Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk. Graham could also be asked to be involved a lot more pick-and-roll situations, something that he is capable of but that Mason excelled at.
2. Havoc in Austin, Year 3: The second season of Shaka Smart’s tenure at Texas was an abject failure. The Longhorns went 11-22, lost their final seven regular season games and finished last in the Big 12. The problem was largely offensive, with the Longhorns delivering the least-efficient season a Smart team has ever had. Three-point shooting was in no small way a culprit as Texas couldn’t even crack 30 percent as a team. Not great.
Reinforcements are on the way, though, as Smart signed five top-100 recruits in the 2017, most notably center Mo Bamba and point guard Matt Coleman. Bamba is a potential program-changer as a potential No. 1 draft pick and the type of kid who attended the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference. Bamba is the kind of defensive presence that Havoc needs to anchor around. He’s an elite rim protector at 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-9 wingspan, and his ability to erase shots at the rim when gambling perimeter defenders get beaten will make it that much easier for those guards to fly around and force turnovers. So the defense should be better, and the combination of a natural point guard in Coleman plus the return of Andrew Jones should mean the Longhorns are more effective offensively.
Bringing in this type of recruiting class to join a solid core (albeit one without Jarrett Allen after he decided to go pro) puts Texas in a spot to excel. It should also be a pretty good indication of what type of teams Smart is going to have and build in Austin as he’s unlikely to have many teams with a ton more talent than the one that will take the floor this winter.
3. Will TCU see return on investment?: The first four seasons in the Big 12 for TCU were a disaster. The Horned Frogs proved completely overmatched in their new league, winning just eight over those four seasons. After that, it appears the school decided to get serious about hoops. They fired Trent Johnson and hired alum Jamie Dixon, reportedly to a salary of more than $3 million a year. There was also the $72 million arena renovation. TCU is investing seriously in making their basketball program something worthwhile.
This could be the first season it truly pays off.
TCU looked to be tournament-bound last year when they were 17-7 overall and 6-5 in the Big 12 before a seven-game losing streak scuttled their chances. Nearly everyone is back, including all-Big 12 center Vladimir Brodziansky, promising point guard Jaylen Fisher and talented wing Kenrich Williams. TCU was solid if unspectacular on both ends of the floor last year, which means the standard growth you’d expect with a returning roster under a second-year coach (especially one as accomplished as Dixon) means TCU should see its NCAA tournament drought end at 20 years. They very well could find themselves in the upper echelon of the league, no small feat for a program that is yet to finish better than second-to-last in their new conference.
4. Cyclone rebuild: The Iowa State program didn’t fold up shop when superstar alum and program savior Fred Hoiberg left his hometown to take the head job with the Chicago Bulls in 2015. The Cyclones continued to flourish with Steve Prohm at the helm, making the Sweet 16 in his first year and winning a Big 12 tournament championship while making a program-best sixth-straight NCAA tournament last season. Those two successful seasons, though, were built with Hoiberg players like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Monte Morris.
This season marks the unofficial start to Prohm’s tenure as the roster has completely turned over with four starters, all of whom were all-Big 12 players, gone and eight newcomers among the ranks. Competing at the top of the league and advancing to a seventh NCAA tournament in a row seems unlikely for ISU, but the young talent – both on the roster and committed in 2018 – is plenty of reason for optimism in Ames. This year’s group will be led by Lindell Wigginton, a top-25 recruit who picked the Cyclones over the likes Oregon and Arizona State. The 6-foot-1 point guard is athletic and skilled, putting him on track to be the fourth point guard in a row that Prohm has had drafted (Morris, Cam Payne and Isaiah Canaan).
Under both Hoiberg and Prohm, ISU has been an elite offensive team, but this team has plenty of question marks on that end, especially in the shooting department. The Cyclones are due to take a step back this season, but if they can show promise, a quick return to prominence could be in the offing.
5. Press on: It’s now Year 4 of Press Virginia in Morgantown, and Bob Huggins has had enough success with the scheme to think that the roster matters less than the system at this point. Thing is, though, that Huggs has a pretty dang good roster this season.
Jevon Carter may be the Big 12 player of the year when all is said and done, and he’s the engine powering the Mountaineers. He’s one of the best defenders in the country and a turnover-generating machine, with a steal rate of over 4 percent. West Virginia’s defense is built to create chaos, and Carter is an agent of chaos.
Esa Ahmad will miss the first half of the season due to academic issues, but Huggins has all the depth he needs to keep rolling out fresh bodies, a critical component of their pressing style. What has evaded West Virginia in recent years has been consistent offense when it can’t just get transition buckets. That’s probably going to be an issue again this year as shooting probably won’t be a strength. If the Mountaineers can find some reliable deep threats, that can change their ceiling dramatically.
PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
Taking the reins for Frank Mason is a big job in Lawrence, but Graham looks to be more than equipped to do it. He’ll be quarterbacking the conference’s best team back at his natural position. A monster year is in order for Graham, who is already a potential first round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. This season will be the one where he proves himself.
Jeffrey Carroll, Oklahoma State: The 6-foot-6 wing has taken himself from three-star recruit to NBA prospect
Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU: A force inside, on the boards and on defense, Brodziansky is the league’s best returning big man
Jevon Carter, West Virginia: Just a prototypical Bob Huggins player with grit and production.
Mo Bamba, Texas: The league’s best freshman will be in a spot to put up big numbers.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
Trae Young, Oklahoma
Zach Smith, Texas Tech
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas
Malik Newman, Kansas
Manu Lecomte, Baylor
BREAKOUT STAR: Malik Newman, Kansas
A disappointing freshman year at Mississippi State and a year sitting out in Lawrence has many forgetting that Malik Newman was one of the top players in the 2015 class. Kansas is the conference’s most talented team, but there’s a spot for a big role for Newman.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Bruce Weber, Kansas State
Bruce Weber got a two-year extension after Kansas State snuck into the NCAA tournament, but the Manhattan faithful are still not sold on Weber’s future there. This may not be a make-or-break year, but it’ll certainly be setting up one if Kansas State struggles.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
Kansas, West Virginia and Texas will all have chances at deep runs.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT
The freshman of the year race between Mo Bamba and Trae Young.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
1. Kansas: Jayhawks have won 13 league titles in a row, and this isn’t the season the streak comes to an end.
2. West Virginia: The style isn’t always pretty, but the results are for Bob Huggins’ crew.
3. Texas: The Longhorns add serious pieces to an already talented core that should make it the best year of Shaka Smart’s short tenure.
4. TCU: Jamie Dixon’s has a dynamic group at his alma mater, which likely means the first NCAA tournament in Fort Worth since 1998.
5. Baylor: Johnathan Motley left a year early for the NBA, but Scott Drew’s cupboard isn’t bare.
6. Texas Tech: Chris Beard nearly got the Red Raiders into the dance in his first season, but the second won’t likely end short of it.
7. Oklahoma: A lot of the Sooners’ season will rest on how quickly freshman phenom Trae Young adjusts to the college game.
8. Kansas State: Without Wesley Iwundu, who will get buckets for the Wildcats?
9. Iowa State: Eight newcomers means the Cyclones will go through plenty of growing pains.
10. Oklahoma State: Jeffrey Carroll is a pro, but how much talent is around him remains to be seen – as does how much the FBI corruption investigation impacts the program.
Last September, Wisconsin landed a pledge from a highly regarded 2018 prospect as shooting guard Tyler Herro announced that he would remain in state and play for Greg Gard. Tuesday evening Herro, considered to be a Top 50 prospect by many of the major recruiting services, announced that he has decided to reopen his recruitment.
“After a lot of conversations with my family and prayer I have decided to reopen my recruitment and explore all of my options,” Herro said in a statement released via Twitter. “The past year since I committed I have grown not only as a basketball player, but as a person. My drive to become the best on all levels has been the fuel that drove this decision.”
With Herro’s change of heart, Wisconsin is now without a verbal commitment in the Class of 2018. The 6-foot-4 Milwaukee native picked Wisconsin over Arizona, Florida, Indiana, DePaul and Marquette, and given his talent Herro’s recruitment should not take long to pick up following his decision to open things back up.
The Badgers added three scholarship freshmen to the program this summer, with two being perimeter players in Brad Davison and Kobe King. Wisconsin currently does not have a senior in its perimeter rotation, which helps from a numbers standpoint when it comes to 2018. But to lose a recruit of Herro’s caliber, and an in-state prospect at that, is a major hit for the Wisconsin program to absorb.