Indiana v Syracuse

2013-14 Season Preview: The Nation’s Best Frontcourts

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

While the argument can certainly be made that college basketball is a guard’s game, especially in the season’s stretch run (March to early-April), the fact of the matter is that more times than not the national champion also possesses one or more elite big men. So which teams have the front court rotations capable of propelling their school to the Final Four? Here’s a look at the ten best front courts in the country.

1. Kentucky: The Wildcats are certainly young inside, but they don’t lack for talent either. Nerlens Noel (NBA) and Kyle Wiltjer (transfer) are gone but both Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress return, and they’ve been joined by the nation’s best recruiting class. Inside that means Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis, with the first three all being McDonald’s All-Americans and Randle being one of the most talented players in the country.

2. Arizona: Like Kentucky, Arizona has a young rotation that talent-wise merits mention as one of the nation’s best. McDonald’s All-Americans Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are both incredibly athletic, and they join sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. Matt Korcheck redshirted last season and he can be a bit of an “enforcer” for this group, and it remains to be seen whether or not Kansas transfer Zach Peters can provide the Wildcats with even more depth.

3. Syracuse: Senior C.J. Fair should be one of the preseason favorites for ACC Player of the Year, and fellow forward Jerami Grant could be in line for a breakout campaign. Add in Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman, Baye Keita and freshmen Tyler Roberson and Chinoso Okoboh and the Orange won’t lack for options on the back line of their 2-3 zone.

(MORE: Top 15 Perimeter Attacks)

4. Baylor: Could this ranking end up being too low by the time we reach March? With Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson leading the way that could very well be the case. Also back is sophomore Rico Gathers, and a newcomer to keep an eye on is Denver transfer Royce O’Neale (11.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.5 apg last season). Freshmen Johnathan Motley and Ishmail Wainright and sophomore Taurean Prince could also factor into the rotation.

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5. Florida: The Gators lost Erik Murphy from last season’s Elite Eight squad but Patric Young returns for his senior campaign. Florida adds transfers Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and Damontre Harris (South Carolina), but there’s also a big question mark entering the season: the health of senior Will Yeguete. When Yeguete’s healthy the Gators are an entirely different team defensively, so that will be something to keep an eye on.

6. Tennessee: Jarnell Stokes is back for his junior season, and he’ll have a lot more help in the post in 2013-14. Senior Jeronne Maymon is back and healthy after missing all of last season with a knee injury, and junior college transfer Rawane Ndiaye gives the Vols some extra size in the paint. Josh Richardson, who started all 33 games last season, is also back for head coach Cuonzo Martin.

7. Michigan: Michigan’s biggest personnel losses from last season’s national runner-up team came on the perimeter. In the front court the Wolverines have both talent and experience, with Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson II, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford all back in Ann Arbor. And they also add freshmen Zak Irvin and Mark Donnal, both of whom could crack the rotation.

8. Michigan State: Upperclassmen Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson will be asked to lead the way for the Spartans, the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten. Sophomores Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine (he can play multiple positions) will also factor into the rotation, and freshmen Kenny Kaminsky (redshirt) and Gavin Schilling will compete for minutes as well.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks are hopeful that Memphis transfer Tarik Black can be a factor, with sophomores Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor being members of the rotation last season. Add in a promising freshman center in Joel Embiid and Kansas has the interior depth needed to both remain atop the Big 12 and be a national contender.

10. North Carolina: There were some who wondered whether or not James Michael McAdoo would leave for the professional ranks after last season, but he’s back to lead the way for a front court rotation that’s added both size and skill. Freshmen Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks have joined the program, and there’s been a lot of chatter regarding sophomore Brice Johnson. Add in sophomore Joel James and junior Desmond Hubert, and North Carolina will have a number of options in the paint this season.

11. Marquette: Jameel McKay’s transfer came at an inopportune time but the Golden Eagles have depth and experience, led by forward Jamil Wilson and centers Davante Gardner and Chris Otule.

12. New Mexico: Alex Kirk should be in the running for Mountain West POY honors and he’ll be joined by Cameron Bairstow, who helped lead Australia to a silver medal in the World University Games this summer.

13. Colorado: Andre Roberson may be gone but Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott return, with redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon and true freshman Dustin Thomas both having the skill needed to be immediate contributors.

14. Duke: The Blue Devils may have a question to answer at center but they don’t lack for options at other areas in the front court. Jabari Parker and Semi Ojeleye will be impact freshmen, with returnees Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy and redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee also factoring into the equation.

15. UCLA: The Wear twins are back for one more season, but the biggest news may be the fact that sophomore Tony Parker is in much better physical condition. The Bruins could be even better if Wanaah Bail (knee) is back to full strength in the near future.

Note: The uncertain status of junior forward Chane Behanan led to Louisville being left off the list, with their interior depth now even more of a concern. 

NEW PODCAST: Indiana, Cal, troublesome trends and a weekend preview

California's Jabari Bird celebrates a score against Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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The gang is back together again for another episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk Podcast, with Rob Dauster hosting and Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joining him. Today’s episode touched on big wins picked up Thursday night by California and Indiana, discussing the performances of those teams and also touching on their prospects down the line.

Also discussed were the recent performances of Iowa State, Providence and Texas A&M (which are you more worried about?), and some of the top games on this weekend’s schedule headlined by Kansas visiting Oklahoma. And if you’re a fan of seafood, you may take umbrage with some of Rob’s comments at the beginning of the podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key contests in Atlantic 10, Pac-12

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
The Bruins and Wildcats have already met once this season, with a Bryce Alford three-pointer giving UCLA an 87-84 win. But UCLA has continued to struggle with consistency since then, and the chance at payback should serve as a motivating factor for Arizona. Sean Miller’s team welcomed back Allonzo Trier in Saturday’s win at Washington, and in forward Ryan Anderson they have one of the conference’s best players. The “rivalry” aspect of this game should make it a good one, as UCLA tends to show up for big-name opponents, but it could also be another major blow to the Bruins’ fleeting hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, 7:00 p.m.
The Rams have struggled with injuries all season, most recently dealing with Jarvis Garrett’s broken jaw and Kuran Iverson’s concussion. Garrett’s back on the floor, playing with a face mask that appears to be inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and it’s that team toughness that makes URI a serious threat to first-place Dayton at the Ryan Center (Iverson’s been medically cleared but remains a game-time decision). Charles Cooke has been outstanding for the Flyers this season, and Dayton’s depth makes them a tough matchup for any team much less one as banged up as URI.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. As a result of No. 11 Oregon’s loss at Cal last night, No. 23 USC finds itself tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings heading into their game at Arizona State (8:00 p.m.). Outside of keeping opponents off the offensive glass the Sun Devils have had issues defensively in conference play, and with the Trojans’ many scoring options led by guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs this will be a tough matchup for the home team.

2. Monmouth looks to maintain its lead atop the MAAC standings, as they visit Rider (9:00 p.m.). The Broncs haven’t been the conference contender many envisioned them being when the season began but they’re still dangerous, with players such as guard Teddy Okereafor capable of giving opponents fits. Justin Robinson, who’s been excellent at the point all season long, leads the way for a Monmouth team that still has hopes of earning an at-large bid should they need it.

3. Having lost to Yale last weekend, Columbia’s in a position where they need to hold serve ahead of the rematch in New York City March 5. That makes games like tonight’s against Penn (7:00 p.m.) that much more important for Kyle Smith’s Lions, who have done a good job of turning opponents over in league play (22.8 TO%). Penn’s had issues taking care of the basketball, and that combined with Columbia’s tandem of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg could prove to be the difference at Levien Gym.

4. Two teams looking to make a push in the MAC East race meet in Buffalo, as the Bulls host Ohio (7:00 p.m.). Nate Oats’ team had its four-game win streak snapped by Toledo, with the Rockets beating Buffalo by two Wednesday night. They’ll look to rebound with a defense that has been the best in the MAC in conference play (tops in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), but they have to take care of the basketball in order to do so.

5. Grand Canyon, which can’t play in the NCAA tournament as they’re still in the Division I transition process, looks to remain a game behind New Mexico State in the WAC standings. Dan Majerle’s Antelopes visit Seattle (10:00 p.m.), which handed GCU its first conference loss 13 days ago. GCU shot just 6-for-23 from three in that game, which they led by ten late in the first half. If Seattle is to win they’ll need to slow down the tandem of sophomore Joshua Braun and senior Grandy Glaze, who combine to average 31.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.