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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.

Report: Dillon Brooks to return to Oregon

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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Dillon Brooks will be returning to Oregon for his junior season.

Brooks, a 6-foot-6 forward that averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 boards and 3.1 assists as a sophomore, went through the NBA Draft process without hiring an agent. He did not receive an invitation to the NBA Draft combine, however, and that is as good of a sign as any that he was not likely to get drafted.

According to a report from ESPN, he has heeded the advice he received and will be returning to Eugene.

Brooks is a versatile player whose role for the Ducks is similar to what Draymond Green plays for the Warriors, but he’s not the athlete that Green is. Returning to school, tightening up his shooting stroke and getting into better shape could help him play his way into a spot where he can get a guaranteed contract after next season.

The Ducks are still awaiting word on whether or not rising sophomore Tyler Dorsey will return to school as well. With both players back in the fold, Oregon is a potential top five team next season.

Malik Newman to return to school, considering transfer

Mississippi State guard Malik Newman (14) dribbles past a Northern Colorado player during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/15712769/mississippi-state-malik-newman-withdraw-draft-transfer
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Malik Newman will withdraw his name from consideration and return to school for his sophomore season.

Newman was a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2015, a high-scoring combo-guard that opted to stay home and play for Mississippi State instead of enroll at one of the blue bloods that was recruiting him. He averaged 11.3 points as a freshman, but it was a largely disappointing season as he spent the year off of the national radar playing inefficient basketball.

Put another way, the fourth-leading scorer on a 14-17 SEC team isn’t exactly a lock for the lottery.

But here’s the catch: he may not be returning to Mississippi State, as Newman is considering a transfer, according to a report from ESPN. That report quotes a source close to the situation saying “unhappy with his role and how he was utilized.”

It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Newman would have to sit out a year if he transferred to another Division I program, and for a kid that thought he was destined to be a one-and-done star, locking himself into a three-year college career would be an odd move.

Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft.

Whitehead announced his intention to stay in the draft last night on his Twitter account.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

brimah
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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.