Updated Preseason Top 25, post Andrew Wiggins

13 Comments

1. KENTUCKY
Record: 21-12, lost in 1st round of NIT
Who do they lose?: Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays, Ryan Harrow
Who comes back?: Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer, Willie Cauley-Stein
Newcomers?: Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee
Outlook: Even with Andrew Wiggins is heading to Kansas, Kentucky’s recruiting class is still one of the best recruiting classes of all time. They also return two future lottery picks in Poythress and Cauley-Stein. I have some doubts about this group, but it won’t change the fact that they are the favorite to win it all as of today.

2. LOUISVILLE
Record: 35-5, won the title
Who do they lose?: Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva
Who comes back?: Russ Smith, Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell, Kevin Ware
Newcomers?: Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Akoy Agau, Anton Gill
Outlook: With Smith changing his mind and deciding to return to school, Louisville looks like they are going to have a real chance to repeat as national champions. Smith won KenPom’s National Player of the Year award in large part because of the havoc that he wreaks on the defensive end of the floor, which makes him the perfect guard for the Cardinals. The key for this team is going to be the development of Harrell. He needs to develop into a guy that can dominate the paint on both ends of the floor.

3. MICHIGAN STATE
Record: 27-9, lost in the Sweet 16
Who do they lose?: Derrick Nix
Who comes back?: Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice
Newcomers?: Gavin Schilling, Alvin Ellis
Outlook: With both Payne and Harris returning to school, Michigan State is once again loaded. Harris, with a full summer to rehab his shoulder, should have a fantastic sophomore campaign. But getting Payne back was the key, as he’ll be the only real presence that the Spartans have in the paint next season. If he can continue to improve, he’s got the tools to be a first round pick next season.

4. ARIZONA
Record: 27-8, lost in the Sweet 16
Who do they lose?: Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Grant Jerrett
Who comes back?: Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski
Newcomers?: TJ McConnell, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Jefferson
Outlook: I had concerns about the makeup of Arizona’s roster, but the loss of Jerrett actually may be a blessing in disguise. There is no longer such a bottleneck on minutes in the front court. Instead, there are five guys that can rotate between three positions, all of whom are incredibly talented — Gordon, Tarczewski, Ashely, Chol, Jeffereson. The addition of McConnell at the point will be huge, and I think Johnson is primed for a big year on the wing.

5. KANSAS
Record: 31-6, lost in the Sweet 16
Who do they lose?: Ben McLemore, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Kevin Young
Who comes back?: Naadir Tharpe, Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor
Newcomers?: Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, Connor Frankamp, Frank Mason, Brannen Greene
Outlook: The Jayhawks lost their entire starting lineup from a team that spent the majority of the season in the top ten and won the Big 12 conference, and they are going to be better next year despite the fact that college basketball, as a whole, is going to be loaded at the top next season? That’s the power of Andrew Wiggins. His addition gives Bill Self a go-to guy and allows the loaded recruiting class he brings in to spend a season as role players. The Jayhawks are once again the Big 12 favorites and a national title contender.

6. DUKE
Record: 30-6, lost in the Elite 8
Who do they lose?: Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly
Who comes back?: Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy, Marshall Plumlee
Newcomers?: Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye
Outlook: It feels weird ranking a team that loses their top three scorers this high, but it’s very much deserved. Parker is going to be a star, which is a good thing when you consider that either Sulaimon or Mississippi State transfer Hood will end up being the third option for this team. Cook is a good-but-not-great point guard, and someone from the trio of Jefferson, Murphy and Plumlee is going to have to have a breakout season up front. The Blue Devils could actually really use the infusion of size that Memphis transfer Tarik Black would provide. But there’s enough talent here to be considered a title contender.

7. FLORIDA
Record: 29-8, lost in the Elite 8
Who do they lose?: Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy
Who comes back?: Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier, Will Yeguete
Newcomers?: Chris Walker, Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith, Damontre Harris
Outlook: The Gators lose their top three scorers, but they could end up being even better next season thanks to the infusion of talent they have in their front court. Not only is Young coming back to school, but they add a McDonald’s all-american in Walker and two high-major transfers in Finney-Smith and Harris. Hill is one of the best point guards in the Class of 2013. The key is going to end up being how the rest of Florida’s perimeter attack — Prather, Frazier, Wilbekin — ends up developing.

8. SYRACUSE
Record: 30-10, lost in the Final Four
Who do they lose?: Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland, Brandon Triche,
Who comes back?: CJ Fair, Jerami Grant, DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney
Newcomers?: Tyler Ennis, Ron Patterson, Tyler Roberson, BJ Johnson, Chinonso Obokoh, Michael Gbinije
Outlook: The Orange lose quite a bit this offseason, but with what they bring back and what they bring in, I think that Jim Boeheim will have a successful first season in the ACC. Fair is one of the most underrated players in the country and a key to the Cuse offensive attack with his perimeter ability. I think that both Grant and Cooney will end up having big years for the Orange. But with Ennis and Patterson joining them in the back court, along with two more freshmen wings in Roberson and Johnson that are perfectly built for the Cuse zone, the Orange have a bright future.

9. MICHIGAN
Record: 31-8, lost in the title game
Who do they lose?: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Who comes back?: Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert
Newcomers?: Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Mark Donnall
Outlook: The Wolverines got some huge news when McGary and Robinson announced that they would be returning to school for their sophomore seasons. Throw in the return of Stauskas, LaVert and Albrecht and the addition of another good freshman class, and there is plenty to like about Michigan. The key is going to end up being Walton. How good is he going to be at the point guard spot?

10. OKLAHOMA STATE
Record: 24-9, lost in the Round of 64
Who do they lose?: Philip Jurick
Who comes back?: Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash, Markel Brown, Brian Williams, Phil Forte, Michael Cobbins
Newcomers?: Stevie Clark, Detrick Mostella, Leyton Hammonds, Gary Gaskins, Jeffrey Carroll
Outlook: Oklahoma State vaulted Kansas to become the favorite to win the Big 12 when Smart announced to the world that he would be returning to school for his sophomore season, but that changed when Andrew Wiggins decided to head to Lawrence. With Nash, Brown, Williams and Forte also returning, and a talented recruiting class headlined by back court studs Clark and Mostella, the Pokes are going to be a really fun team to watch next season. The key? Cobbins and Murphy inside. Expect a lot of up-and-down basketball out of this group.

11. North Carolina
12. Ohio State
13. Colorado
14. Marquette
15. Indiana
16. UCLA
17. Wichita State
18. VCU
19. Wisconsin
20. Gonzaga
21. Harvard
22. Virginia
23. Memphis
24. New Mexico
25. Boise State

Also considered: Tennessee, UConn

Gregg Marshall: Wichita State, Michigan should play non-con game called ‘2013 national title game’

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Leave a comment

Now that Louisville’s 2013 national title is officially no longer in existence, the teams that the Cardinals beat on their way to the top are trying to figure out just what they can do to, possibly, pick up that award.

At a press conference this week, Gregg Marshall — who coached the Wichita State team that Louisville dispatched in the Final Four — brought up the idea of potentially playing a game against John Beilein’s Michigan team, who lost in the title game to the Cardinals.

“I was with Coach Beilein in Maui and he and I had a conversation and I jokingly brought up that we should play a game and dub in the 2013 national title game,” Marshall said.

That would be fun!

But it doesn’t sound like Beilein would actually be open to it.

“We didn’t win it all. We lost to a great team. If someone else wants to come and say ‘hey, you won it all, you’re the champion.’ We’ll take it,” Beilein said Tuesday. “But I’m not going to declare that. I’m declaring that we played our tail off that entire year and got every bit out of what was, remember, a really young team. Freshmen and sophomores all over the place.

“That was a great basketball team.”

Womp womp.

Desi Rodriguez to miss Seton Hall-Providence replay with injury suffered on wet floor

Corey Perrine/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Providence and Seton Hall postponed the final 13:03 of a pivotal Big East bubble battle on Wednesday night due to the condition of the court being too treacherous to continue play.

There was something of a heat wave in the northeast this week, with temperatures in New England reaching into the 70s. In February.

That’s unheard of, which is why it was so difficult for the Dunkin Donuts Center to control the temperature in their building. The result? The warmer than expected arena created condensation on the court due to the ice underneath; the building is also home to a minor league hockey team. When a basketball court gets slippery, it gets dangerous, and the Pirates suffered a casualty as a result.

Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall’s leading scorer this season, slipped on the wet court in the first half and fell in a way that caused him to suffer a minor sprain of his left ankle. It’s far from a disastrous injury — he’s listed as day-to-day, so it could have been worse — but Rodriguez will not play when the game is resumed at noon on Thursday. And he may miss out when Seton Hall plays at St. John’s on Saturday.

That’s relevant because winning at Providence and at St. John’s would give the Pirates two more Quadrant 1 wins. That would assuredly help them with seeding in the NCAA tournament. They’re not exactly in danger of missing the NCAA tournament at this point, but with an 18-9 record and a 7-7 mark in the Big East, stumbling through these two road games with a Wednesday date with Villanova still on the books, suddenly the prospect of a three-game losing streak in the last weeks of the regular season is staring them straight in the face.

That would be an unfortunate way for their regular season to come to a close.

Wednesday’s Three Things to Know: Duke blows out Louisville, Texas Tech falls to Oklahoma State

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

1. DUKE PICKED UP ITS FOURTH STRAIGHT WIN IN IMPRESSIVE FASHION (DESPITE MISSING MARVIN BAGLEY III ONCE AGAIN).

Duke was, once again, missing freshman star Marvin Bagley III with a knee injury, but it didn’t seem to matter too much as the Blue Devils ran past Louisville for an 82-56 win. Grayson Allen had 28 points to pace the Duke offense while Wendell Carter Jr. continued to look strong on the interior without Bagley.

CBT’s Rob Dauster explores Duke’s recent stretch without Bagley and wonders if the team might have a better defense without the All-American big man.

2. OKLAHOMA STATE UPSET NO. 6 TEXAS TECH AS KANSAS NOW HAS A ONE-GAME BIG 12 LEAD.

The Cowboys dropped the Red Raiders in Stillwater to earn a Big 12 upset win in this one. But the bigger story is Kansas assuming sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with another Texas Tech loss. The two Big 12 leaders are still scheduled to meet in Lubbock on Saturday as the Red Raiders will get a chance to even things up with the Jayhawks in the conference race.

First, Texas Tech has to get senior guard Keenan Evans healthy again. Hampered by a toe injury the past two games, Evans didn’t look close to 100 percent on Wednesday night. An unhealthy Evans is a big reason for Texas Tech dropping a few games.

3. VIRGINIA TECH GETS THE NIGHT’S BIGGEST BUBBLE WIN

On a busy Wednesday night for bubble teams, no team did more for its case than Virginia Tech. The Hokies took advantage of a depleted No. 15 Clemson in picking up an ACC home win.

While Virginia Tech has looked like a safe bet to make the field thanks to some big wins, the win on Wednesday gives the Hokies a fifth Quadrant 1 win — a huge safety net for a team trying to get in the field.

CBT’s Rob Dauster has more on Virginia Tech’s NCAA tournament hopes while he also breaks down the rest of Wednesday’s bubble action in Bubble Banter.

No. 5 Duke’s defense turns up again as Blue Devils look like title favorite

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Duke is back!

After drubbing Louisville 82-56 in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night, the Blue Devils have now won four straight games despite the fact that they have been playing without Marvin Bagley III during this stretch.

Grayson Allen is back, too. He finished with 28 points on Wednesday night, making six threes and handing out threes assists. He entered Wednesday night averaging 22.3 points and 5.3 assists in his last three games, the first time all season long that he has scored more than 19 points in three consecutive games. He’s shooting the ball with confidence. He’s been moved into more of a playmaking, lead guard role in the half court offense as Coach K has transitioned back to being the focal point on that end, the first time he’s been in that role since his sophomore season.

Wendell Carter’s been on fire, too. He missed his fourth-straight double-double by a single rebound on Wednesday, but he did finish with 18 points, six assists and three blocks. In four games without Bagley, he’s now averaging 16.3 points, 10.5 boards, 3.0 blocks and 3.0 assists.

But that’s not why Duke is winning these games.

It’s not why I’m sitting here saying that Duke is back.

The reason why I’m warming up to the idea of Duke finding a way to be a Final Four team again is because they’ve figured out a way not only to just get stops, but to be damn good on the defensive end of the floor.

During this four-game stretch, Duke has not allowed a team to break 1.0 points-per-possession against while holding three of their four opponents to 57 points or less. In those four games, they’ve allowed 0.883 PPP. If they did that over the course of an entire season, the Blue Devils would be third-nationally defensive efficiency* behind only Virginia and Cincinnati. In the process, they’ve managed to climb from 79th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric to 27th, which is precisely the kind of drastic defensive improvement that the 2015 team made. They were in the 60s and 70s in adjusted defensive efficiency for much of the season. They were 37th before the tournament started. They were 11th when they cut down the nets.

And it begs the question: Is Duke better without Marvin Bagley III?

Lol.

No.

Don’t be stupid.

Marvin Bagley III is an alien. He makes every single team that he is on a better one.

What will be interesting to see is how Duke integrates him back into the team when he finally does return to the floor. There are two things that have allowed Duke to improve the way that they’ve improved over the course of the last two weeks, and both of them involve Bagley in a pretty significant way:

  1. The ball doesn’t stick as much offensively as it did when he was on the court. That’s why Allen’s been able to play the way that he’s played of late. The middle of the floor has also opened up because Duke’s gone away from trying to run high-low actions as much as they did before. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better to run offense this way, but you cannot convince that it’s a bad thing that Allen is back into a rhythm.
  2. Much more importantly, however, is that Duke has turned into a very good defensive team in this zone, and the biggest reason for that is the activity of Javin DeLaurier. Bagley is a terrific athlete, but he’s more of a five at this level than a four and he’s also a guy that is not an instinctual or, frankly, energetic defender. DeLaurier is more mobile and, since he’s not really a threat offensively, he can burn off of his energy on that end.

Bagley wasn’t the lone culprit for Duke’s defensive problems.

The bigger issue may have been simply that the Blue Devils vacillated between playing man and zone until these last four games, and Coach K fully embracing being a zone team has allowed them to figure it out. As one high-major coach put it to me, it’s better to be great at one defense than it is to be good at seven of them. Duke is doing that now.

But there is valid reason to be concerned about playing Bagley and Carter together simply because playing them together has been an issue defensively before.

Maybe that means that, instead of seeming them on the court together for 30 minutes a night, they’ll each play 10 minutes with DeLaurier at the four and play together for 20 minutes. Maybe it means that instead of being awesome defensively Duke is simply good enough, and maybe good enough is all they need to make a run in March this season.

And maybe the answer is that Bagley returns and is ready to defend the way that he needs to defend.

We’ve seen that happen, too. Remember the Miami game?

Whatever the case may be will play out over the course of the next six weeks. The one thing that is clear, however, is that these Blue Devils are suddenly a whole lot more intriguing than they were two weeks ago when they lost at North Carolina.

*(For those looking at KenPom, raw points-per-possession and KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric are two different numbers. The latter is the former adjusted for strength of opponent.)

Williams helps No. 19 Tennessee beat Florida 62-57

(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Grant Williams bounced back from one of his worst performances of the season to score 23 points and No. 19 Tennessee beat Florida 62-57 on Wednesday night to hand the Gators their third consecutive loss.

Williams had a season-low five points Saturday in a 73-62 loss at Georgia. The Tennessee scoring leader responded Wednesday by shooting 8 of 13 from the floor and 7 of 8 from the foul line.

Florida trailed nearly the whole way, but threatened in the final minute.

Chris Chiozza made a basket to cut Tennessee’s lead to 60-57 with 24.5 seconds left, and he got fouled by Williams in the process. But Chiozza missed the ensuing free throw and couldn’t get Florida any closer.

Jordan Bowden made a pair of clinching free throws with 14 seconds left.

Admiral Schofield had 16 points and eight rebounds for Tennessee (20-7, 10-5 Southeastern Conference).

Jalen Hudson had 13 points for Florida (17-11, 8-7), and Chiozza and Keith Stone each added 11. Chiozza also had nine assists and six rebounds.

Florida was seeking a quality road win that could boost its NCAA Tournament credentials.

The Gators entered the night 65th in the RPI and have a demanding schedule the rest of the way. Florida hosts No. 12 Auburn, visits Alabama and hosts Kentucky in its final three regular-season games.

The offensive struggles that have hindered Florida lately carried over. Florida had more turnovers (eight) than baskets (seven) during a first half in which it shot 26.9 percent overall and 1 of 10 from 3-point range.

Tennessee closed the first half on an 11-1 run to go into the locker room with a 27-18 advantage.

The Vols extended the lead to 10 early in the second half, but Florida crept back into the game while Williams was on the bench with three fouls.

Florida was trailing by just one point when it had two chances midway through the second half to regain the lead, but Deaundrae Ballard missed a 3-pointer on one possession and Dontay Bassett missed a baseline jumper the net time the Gators had the ball.

Tennessee then created some distance by going on a 7-0 run that included a Jordan Bowden dunk and five points from Schofield.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators continually misfired from 3-point range for most of the night. They missed 15 of their first 17 3-point attempts before making four of their last seven. By the time they finally started to heat up, they already had dug themselves too deep a hole.

Tennessee: The Vols got big efforts from their two top players — Williams and Schofield — and didn’t back down when Florida finally started making its shots down the stretch. Tennessee preserved its lead by going 13 of 15 from the foul line, including 9 of 11 in the second half.

UP NEXT

Florida: Hosts No. 12 Auburn on Saturday.

Tennessee: At Mississippi on Saturday.