CBT Weekly Roundtable: Who are the top five teams as of today?

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In a new series here on College Basketball Talk, every Friday we’re going to have a discussion about some of the hot topics in college basketball. The inaugural installment focuses on the ACC, the now 15-team conference that some stated was the greatest conference ever assembled before a game had been played. Now that we’ve seen the teams in action, who’s the favorite to win the regular season crown? And who else can make a run at challenging for the title? 

Rob Dauster: Rankings are a tricky thing this early in the season. Are you ranking based on how good you think the team will be in the future? How good you think they are right now? How strong their resume of wins is? It’s an inexact science, especially when you’re dealing with some people that haven’t seen every team play.

That’s why Raph and I are here. We watch way too much hoops, and I know I can speak for both of us when I say that we both have a good feel for just about every team that deserves a spot in or around the top 25.

So, Raph, as of this very moment, these are who I believe are the top five teams in the country, in order: Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Louisville, and Florida. Tell me why I’m wrong.

Raphielle Johnson: I’d be happy to tell you why you’re wrong, and it starts with the fact that you don’t have Ohio State on this list. Now the Buckeyes may not have a “signature” win at this point in time, but how can you ignore their balance and work on the defensive end of the floor? While LaQuinton Ross still needs to show that he can consistently provide scoring for this group, the fact of the matter is that they have multiple options capable of leading the team in scoring on any particular night. There’s Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott right now, and they’ve received a nice boost off the bench from Amedeo Della Valle and Marc Loving at various points of the season.

And I don’t think we can overlook the strides that Amir Williams has made either. He’s no world-beater by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s played much better basketball of late than at any point in his Ohio State career to date. Since your question stated “at this very moment” I’d take Ohio State over Florida, even with the Gators’s showing against Kansas and the fact that they’re some Shabazz Napier heroics away from being undefeated. Until they get Chris Walker (if that happens) Florida’s about as “complete” as they’ll be this season, and they’re going to be very good. But I’d take Ohio State over them at this point in time.

RD: No one over here is overlooking Ohio State. Trust me on that. I know how good they can be defensively.

source: Getty ImagesThat said, I need you to keep something in mind: the team you’re talking touting is going to be relying on LaQuinton Ross to be their difference maker. Ross has played the last couple of weeks. He played well during the NCAA tournament, too. But you’re really rolling with a team that is going to have to trust LaQuinton Ross to be a consistent offensive weapon over a team that just put a 29-4 run on Kansas?

Bottom line is this: Ohio State might be the best defensive team in the country. But Florida, given their length, athleticism and versatility, ain’t all that far behind, mainly because they can give a number of different looks on that end of the floor. That extended 1-3-1 looked pretty damn impressive. The difference, in my opinion, comes offensively. Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier and new and improved Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith is quite formidable.

Here’s my question: Would you rank Ohio State over Wisconsin?

RJ: In regards to Florida, I’d like to see a little more from them as the group is “currently” constituted. They looked phenomenal at times against Kansas the other night, but once again their time on the floor as a unit has been limited. With that being the case, we could very well be back here at some point wondering if they’re the best team in the country. That wouldn’t surprise me one bit. But you asked who I’d take right now, and that would be Ohio State.

As for whether I’d take the Buckeyes over Wisconsin, that answer would be “no.” A big reason why: who guards Frank Kaminsky? That’s a question many teams will struggle with given Kaminsky’s performance to this point in the season, as he’s very comfortable stepping out beyond the arc and firing away (connecting at a good rate to boot). It’s one thing to defend a big on the block, because that’s where they’re “supposed” to be in theory. But when faced with a big who can score inside and out, the task becomes all the more difficult. And there’s also the Josh Gasser factor, as his return has given the Badgers a piece they really needed last season. If they need scoring he’ll give them that, and the same goes for defense, distributing the ball to open teammates and leadership. Right now I’m taking Wisconsin, who may be sold short by those who simply say “oh, they’ll finish top four in the Big Ten again because that’s what Bo Ryan does.”

This group’s better than that, and they’re capable of accomplishing more. Where do you stand on the Ohio State/Wisconsin question?

RD: #TeamWisky. I don’t know what it is about this group, but they look like so much more than just another good Wisconsin team. Is it Sam Dekker? He’s been awesome this season. Is it the three-guard look they’ve been using? Is it the emergence of Kaminsky?

I’ll tell you what it’s not: Wisconsin becoming some uptempo, fast-breaking team. I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here, so forgive me. Wisconsin is still the same old Wisconsin on the overwhelming majority of their possessions. They didn’t turn into Loyola Marymount in the Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble days, not even close, and I really wish people would stop saying that. According to Synergy, 8.7% of Wisconsin’s possessions come in transition, up from 6.4% last season. By comparison, 28.4% of BYU’s possessions come in transition. They are a fast-breaking team. Wisconsin, who ranks 312th in tempo and 346th in average length of offensive possession, is unequivocally not. One or two more fast breaks per game is not a shift in identity.

So let’s just go ahead and put that theory to bed.

This is the same old Wisconsin doing the same old Wisconsin things, only they’re doing them better now.

So you’re good with Arizona and Syracuse as the nation’s two best teams right now?

RJ: Agree completely on your Wisconsin point. Trotting a little more often doesn’t mean that you’re a running team, and you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. They do what’s best for them, and it works.
Now on to your question. Right now I’d say that Arizona and Syracuse are the two best teams in the country. And the good thing for both is that there’s still room for improvement. Arizona can still use a shooter, and whether that comes from a source safely within the rotation or one whose spot seems to fluctuate (Gabe York played just six minutes vs. UNLV) remains to be seen. But they have the length and athleticism to be an elite defensive team, and there’s plenty of skill at Sean Miller’s disposal.

As for the Orange, I see a team that may only get better (barring injury, of course) with Tyler Ennis gaining experience and Trevor Cooney adjusting to a far more prominent role than the one he had last season. Add in the consistent C.J. Fair and a reserve in Jerami Grant who may be on the “Dion Waiters Plan” (from 6th man to the draft lottery) and you’ve got a very good quartet to start with. Add in the big men and Mike Gbinije and Syracuse has the look of a team capable of winning it all.

Your thoughts?

RD: The question that we all had with Syracuse heading into the season had to do with their back court. Were their guards actually going to be good enough to lead them to the top of the ACC?

Well … that question looks dumb at this point, because I think that there is a valid argument to make that Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney have been the best back court in the country this season. With Cooney draining threes like he’s the second-coming of Gerry McNamara and Ennis notching these kind of numbers — 11.2 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.0 t/o’s, 42.9% 3PT — the Orange look scary-good.

Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner declares for NBA Draft

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Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner has declared for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent.

“First let me start by saying these three years at Xavier have been the best of my life,” Sumner said in a statement. “I have certainly been presented with some ups and downs but they have only served to make me a stronger person. This decision was very hard for me because of the love I have for X. After weighing my options with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I want to thank Coach Mack and the rest of the staff for believing in me and giving me a chance when no one did! I’ll always be grateful for that. Xavier Nation I will always love you!”

Sumner, a 6-foot-6 point guard with dynamic athleticism and first round potential that averaged 15.0 points, but he is coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in January. He’s likely to be a second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

This is a big loss for the Musketeers, but it’s one that they planned for. After his eruption last season, most expected him to put his name in the draft this season.

Duke freshman Harry Giles III declares for NBA Draft

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Harry Giles III has declared for the NBA Draft after playing just one season at Duke.

“Playing in the NBA has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and I’m so excited to take the next step in that journey,” Giles said. “My time at Duke has been a dream come true. I’ve built so many strong relationships here and I have so many people to thank, from my teammates and coaches to our medical staff and strength coach. I can’t understate how proud I am to be part of the Duke Basketball program forever.”

Giles played in 26 games for the Blue Devils. He started six games and averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Giles. At one point considered to be the best player in the loaded Class of 2016, Giles has dealt with a pair of devastating knee injuries already. He underwent a third surgery right before the start of the season and never seemed like he was fully able to get back to being the player he was when he was in high school.

This is the right decision for Giles to make, as there is still some uncertainty regarding the health of his knees. Were his struggles due to the fact that he was tossed right into the middle of a college basketball season after having sat out for 14 straight months, or was this simply a result of knees that no longer allow him to be the player that he used to be?

He might still end up being a first round pick this year. At the very least, he’s make some guaranteed money if he can get into a camp. Maybe returning to school could have helped vault him into the lottery in 2018, but another year like this year would’ve firebombed his draft stock.

“With his uplifting personality and love for the game, Harry Giles has been a joy to coach,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He is only beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be on the basketball court. Harry has an exciting NBA future ahead of him and we are here to fully support him as a member of our brotherhood.”

I know I’m not alone when I say I hope that Giles gets healthy and succeeds in the NBA.

Frank Mason III, Lonzo Ball headline AP All-American teams

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Frank Mason III was a last-minute recruit for Kansas. He turned into the Jayhawks’ latest All-American.

The senior guard was the only unanimous selection to the 2016-17 AP All-America team Tuesday, receiving all first-team votes from the same 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly AP Top 25.

“I love the kid and I think he knows how I feel about him, but I’ve never been more proud — not that he’s won a postseason award — but he’s done everything that he’s supposed to do,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He’s been a great teammate, he’s been tough as nails, he’s worked his butt off, he’s loved by everyone in the academic departments, graduated, and to see him reap these benefits after putting in so much time is an unbelievable honor.”

The rest of the All-America team includes guards Josh Hart of Villanova and Lonzo Ball of UCLA, plus forwards Caleb Swanigan of Purdue and Justin Jackson of North Carolina. Votes were based on the regular season and conference tournaments.

Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 48.7 percent from 3-point range.

“My goals were always just to be successful as a team, do whatever I can do to make sure we’re successful and really change it at the defensive end and get after it,” Mason said. “Yeah, that’s pretty cool to see my name alongside those great KU players, it means a lot to me, but nothing would be possible without my teammates and coaching staff.”

Mason is the first All-American from Kansas since Thomas Robinson in 2012.

Hart, a senior who was key to Villanova’s 2016 national championship, averaged 18.9 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Wildcats. He received 62 first-team votes.

“It was definitely a goal,” Hart said of the All-America recognition. “Now that it happened, it’s humbling. A great honor. I’ve got to thank everyone that voted for me.”

Coach Jay Wright called Hart “the perfect combination of talent, hard work, intelligence and humility.”

“He never let any single year’s accomplishment deter him from getting better,” Wright said. “I think he’s one of the most complete basketball players in the country.”

The sophomore Swanigan led the nation with 26 double-doubles and was the only player in Division I to average 18 points (18.5) and 12 rebounds (12.6) while shooting 53.4 percent, 43.1 percent on 3s.

“He’s a very knowledgeable guy, now he’s been through it in terms of experience, understanding scouting reports and those types of things,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “He really gets it. I think he really separated himself from a lot of people with the consistent play.”

Ball, who has already declared for the NBA draft, took the country by storm as a freshman. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.9 assists while putting UCLA back on the national map in a hurry. He received 54 first-team votes.

Coach Steve Alford called Ball “very deserving of the recognition.”

“He’s been special for us all year,” Alford said. “He’s been an incredible teammate, and everything that he’s done has been contagious throughout our team.”

The last All-American from UCLA was freshman Kevin Love in 2008.

Jackson, who received 24 first-team votes, helped lead the Tar Heels to a second straight Final Four. The junior averaged 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds this season.

“He’s a better player overall,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “He’s better defensively, better rebounder, he can score the basket and he’s just had a year for us.

“He’s been the leader of our team on the court, on the stat sheet. I couldn’t be happier for him because he’s really got it the old-fashioned way,” Williams said. “He’s worked, he’s put in the sweat.”

Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga led the second team and was joined by fellow juniors Dillon Brooks of Oregon and Johnathan Motley of Baylor, sophomore Luke Kennard of Duke and freshman Malik Monk of Kentucky.

The third team included freshmen Josh Jackson of Kansas, Markelle Fultz of Washington and Lauri Markkanen of Arizona, junior Bonzie Colson of Notre Dame and sophomore Ethan Happ of Wisconsin.

There has been at least one unanimous All-America pick the last four seasons.

First Team

· Frank Mason III, Kansas, 5-11, 190, senior: 20.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.1 apg, 48.7 3-pt fg pct, 36.2 minutes (65 first-place votes, 325 points).

· Josh Hart, Villanova, 6-5½, 215, senior: 18.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 50.8 fg pct, 40.7 3-pt fg pct, 1.6 steals (62, 319).

· Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, 6-9, 250, sophomore: 18.5 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 53.4 fg pct, 43.1 3-pt fg pct (61, 308).

· Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6-6, 190, freshman: 14.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 7.9 apg, 54.4 fg pct, 41.0 3-pt fg pct, 2.0 steals (54, 296).

· Justin Jackson, North Carolina, 6-8, 210, junior: 18.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.7 apg (24, 223).

Second Team

· Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, 6-3, 195, junior: 16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, 52.1 fg pct, 91.0 ft pct, 1.8 steals (13, 191).

· Luke Kennard, Duke, 6-6, 202, sophomore: 20.1 ppg, 5.3 pg, 2.5 apg, 44.3 3-pt fg pct, 84.9 ft pct (10, 189).

· Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6-3, 200, freshman: 20.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 40.3 3-pt fg pct (7, 165).

· Dillon Brooks, Oregon, 6-7, 225, junior: 16.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.7 apg, 51.3 fg pct, 41.4 3-pt fg pct, 1.2 steals, 24.0 minutes (15, 152).

· Johnathan Motley, Baylor, 6-10, 230, junior: 17.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 51.7 fg pct (4, 143).

Third Team

· Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6-8, 207, freshman: 16.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 51.1 fg pct, 1.1 blocks, 1.7 steals (1, 96).

· Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6-4, 195, freshman: 23.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.9 apg, 41.3 3-pt fg pct, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks, 35.7 minutes (3, 74).

· Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame, 6-5, 225, junior: 17.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 52.3 fg pct, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals (1, 70).

· Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, 6-10, 232, sophomore: 13.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 58.2 fg pct, 1.1 blocks, 1.9 steals (1, 66).

· Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7-0, 230, freshman: 15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 43.2 3-pt fg pct, 82.4 ft pct (1, 50).

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order)

Ian Baker, New Mexico State; Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont; Evan Bradds, Belmont; Gian Clavell, Colorado State; T.J. Cline, Richmond; Patrick Cole, N.C. Central; Mike Daum, South Dakota State; Angel Delgado, Seton Hall; Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State; Nana Foulland, Bucknell; De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky; Jerome Frink, LIU Brooklyn; Kevin Hervey, Texas-Arlington; Isaiah Johnson, Akron; Keon Johnson, Winthrop; Peter Jok, Iowa; Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga; Marcus Keene, Central Michigan; Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s; TJ Leaf, UCLA; Paris Lee, Illinois State; Zach Lofton, Texas Southern; Donovan Mitchell, Louisville; Dallas Moore, North Florida; Monte Morris, Iowa State; Luke Nelson, UC Irvine; Semi Ojeleye, SMU; Alec Peters, Valparaiso; Justin Robinson, Monmouth; Devin Sibley, Furman; Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State; Erik Thomas, New Orleans; Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina; Melo Trimble, Maryland; Spencer Weisz, Princeton; Jacob Wiley, Eastern Washington; JaCorey Williams, Middle Tennessee; T.J. Williams, Northeastern.

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft

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Dennis Smith Jr. announced on Tuesday that he will be declaring for the NBA Draft.

“I would like to announce my decision to declare for the 2017 NBA Draft,” said Smith on ESPN’s SportsCenter telecast Tuesday morning. “I believed I had a good chance (to turn pro) when I entered college. It was definitely an attainable dream for me and I knew I would chase it with all of my might. It meant a lot for me (to play at NC State). I’ve been a State fan my entire life, as well as my family, so it was definitely a dream come true to play in the red and white. I have the utmost respect for everybody I was there with. I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Smith averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 boards as a freshman this season.

This decision is not a surprise, as Smith was considered a potential top five pick in the NBA Draft.

2017 Final Four: Rankings the players left in the NCAA Tournament

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Today, we’re going to rank the top 20 players left in the NCAA tournament.

But instead of ranking them solely based on who the best players are we’re going to rank them based on the likelihood that they end up being the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. 

I’m sure this won’t cause any arguments:

1. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: For my money, Berry is the most important player on North Carolina. Justin Jackson deservedly was named ACC Player of the Year, and if anyone from UNC finds their way onto an all-american team, it’s going to be him. But UNC goes as Berry goes. When he is at his best, the Tar Heels are at their best, and the Tar Heels are going to need to be at their best if they are going to run through Oregon and whoever comes out of the left side of the bracket. I know he’s got a bum ankle right now, but I fully expect him to be ready to play come Saturday.

2. Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga: When Gonzaga played West Virginia last week, the Zags had to run their offense through Karnowski because the pressure on their back court was too much for the guards to handle. While South Carolina doesn’t play the same kind of pressing defense that West Virginia does, the goal is the same: They want to overplay everything and take you out of what you want to do offensively. What that means is that there should be some space in the lane for Karnowski to operate.

3. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson is UNC’s all-american, and he’s played like it through the first two weekends, averaging 19.8 points and 4.3 assists through four games. He was also tasked with chasing around Malik Monk during Sunday’s showdown with Kentucky, and did a good job with it. Will he draw the assignment of slowing down Tyler Dorsey?

4. Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks, believe it or not, has been the third-best player on Oregon through the tournament. Jordan Bell has turned into Ben Wallace and I’m not sure that Tyler Dorsey has actually missed a shot yet, but I’m going with Brooks here because I think that if the Ducks are going to win a title, it’s going to be him that is the star. North Carolina, Gonzaga and South Carolina all use lineups that feature two bigs while Brooks plays a small-ball four role for the Ducks. If Oregon is going to win the national title, it’s going to be because Brooks forces whoever Oregon is playing to go small to matchup with him.

5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss is the all-american for the Zags, but he played what may have been his worst game as a collegian against West Virginia in the Sweet 16. He was 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and a pair of offensive fouls. South Carolina, like West Virginia, plays a defense that dares guards to make plays against them, and I just don’t think that Williams-Goss is athletic enough to make plays against them. Can he be the Final Four MOP if he doesn’t play well in Gonzaga’s first game?

6. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: No one has shot the ball better than Dorsey during the month of March. He’s yet to score fewer than 20 points in a game since the start of the Pac-12 tournament and has a game-winner and countless daggers during that time frame. How long will this run last? He has to miss eventually, right?

7. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has been the best player in the tournament over the course of the last two weeks, averaging 25.7 points, which leads all scorers, and playing stout defense. South Carolina would not be anywhere near the Final Four if it wasn’t for Thornwell and they have almost no chance of winning the National Title if he doesn’t play well. That said, I have him seventh on this list for one, simple reason: South Carolina is the ‘Cinderella’ in this Final Four. They have to win it for Thornwell to be named MOP.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

8. Johnathan Williams III, Gonzaga: Williams has probably been Gonzaga’s best player in the tournament. At the very least, he’s been their most consistent.

9. Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: Hicks is going to have a chance to be a game-changer for North Carolina against Oregon, as he’ll likely go head to head with a smaller Oregon defender. Meeks was terrific for UNC against Kentucky, grabbing 17 rebounds. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Bell on Saturday.

10. Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell was absolutely dominant on the defensive end of the floor against Kansas and Landen Lucas. If he can do the same thing to North Carolina’s front line, he’ll be in the mix for Final Four MOP.

11. Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga: Mathews has turned into Gonzaga’s big shot maker turning this tournament. He hit a number of big threes, including the game-winner, against West Virginia.

12. Theo Pinson, North Carolina: Pinson is UNC’s secondary playmaker and their best perimeter defender. He’s going to be called into action quite a bit with the likes of Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks, Sindarius Thornwell and Nigel Williams-Goss in this Final Four.

13. Luke Maye, North Carolina: He was the South Regional MOP. He deserves mention here as much as anyone else on UNC even if he does come off the bench.

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

14. Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: If Williams-Goss struggles against South Carolina the way he did against West Virgina, Perkins is going to be asked to play a bigger role as a secondary ball-handler.

15. Dylan Ennis, Oregon
16. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: Both Ennis and Pritchard have had big games for Oregon this season, and if defenses can slow down Brooks and Dorsey, there are the guys that are going to be asked to carry the load for the Ducks.

17-20. P.J. Dozier, Chris Silva, Maik Kotsar and Duane Notice, South Carolina: This is not a shot at these four kids. All four were terrific in the regional. Dozier and Silva made huge plays in the second half against Florida, Kotsar made the game-clinching jumper and Notice has played sensational on-ball defense all tournament long.

But this isn’t a ranking of the best players. It’s a ranking of the most likely to win Final Four MOP. That gets given to the best player on the team that wins the national title, and I just don’t see any feasible way that South Carolina can win a national title without Thornwell doing what he’s been doing for the last two weeks.