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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.

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. fully recovered, ready to go

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dennis Smith Jr. sure looks ready.

North Carolina State’s prized freshman point guard is pushing through a workout in the practice gym on a hot July afternoon, and there’s no sign of the knee injury that defined his past year.

He’s sprinting along the baseline to bury a catch-and-shoot corner 3-pointer. He’s dribbling between chairs and stutter-stepping his way to a pull-up jumper. He’s launching himself at the rim for a dunk off the dribble.

“I don’t expect to be rusty at all,” Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I was feeling kind of nervous at one point, but I went in and did a workout and then I was thinking, `I’m putting in all this work so all the nervousness should be out of my mind.’ I had no reason to be timid.

“I just have to go out there and perform, no excuses.”

A lot has happened for Smith in 12 months. The Fayetteville native suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in a game during the Adidas Nations event featuring top prospects. He had surgery, picked N.C. State, graduated from high school early and enrolled in college in January to rehab and learn the Wolfpack’s system before his debut later this year.

Tuesday marks one year since the injury for the 6-foot-3 Smith, ranked by ESPN as the nation’s No. 1 point guard when he signed last fall.

“We’ve tried to be real conservative with him as far as not letting him do too much too fast,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “At his age, he can’t wait. He’s dying to play every day.”

Smith started earning his leadership role as soon as he arrived in Raleigh, pointing out instructions to teammates or calling them to the gym for extra work even though he couldn’t play. He figures that time observing from the sideline has prepared him to replace high-scoring floor leader Anthony “Cat” Barber.

“I feel like I’ve gotten smarter, definitely,” Smith said. “I see the game totally different now. I read pick-and-roll easier. I feel like I’ve gotten more sound on defense because I understand angles better.”

The physical work to get back has been tougher.

Roughly a year ago, Smith was lying in a bed after surgery trying to stay positive. He asked trainer Ja-Rell Bailey to bring him some free weights for upper-body exercises even if he couldn’t do much else, an example of why Bailey described Smith as “a man determined.”

Smith’s father said the rehab emphasized building leg strength to protect and stabilize the injured knee, something his son said he will keep doing in both legs for years to come. Smith’s work has helped him go from 180 pounds to a college-ready 192-pound frame.

“He’s got his bounce back, so he can dunk and everything,” Dennis Smith Sr. said. “But what Junior has got, God gave it to him. . A lot of times you run into kids who are built off of hype because they do a fancy move or have a good game. Junior ain’t hype. He’s the real deal.”

Regardless, Gottfried expects Smith to have “a learning curve.”

“For me,” he said, “I think what you see in November is going to be much different than what you see in January.”

The Wolfpack will look much different, too, after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons. N.C. State welcomes Scout.com’s No. 6-ranked recruiting class that includes five-star Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven. Senior guard Terry Henderson returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him 7 minutes into last season. Charlotte transfer and former Conference USA freshman of the year Torin Dorn Jr. will play after sitting out last year.

Still, Smith is the guy stirring the most buzz for Wolfpack fans – something he has no trouble embracing.

“I really don’t feel that pressure though,” Smith said. “I feel like if you come in and you expect to play well, then you should have those expectations of people talking. It’s just playing basketball to me. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Washington lands commitment from Mamoudou Diarra

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For the second time this summer, Washington has landed a commitment from a forward in the Class of 2017.

On Friday, it was Mamoudou Diarra that pledged his future to Lorenzo Romar. Diarra is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward that is currently unranked by Rivals but was targeted by a number high major program.

Washington landed a commitment from Michael Porter Jr. earlier this summer, and given Porter’s standing as the potential No. 1 player in the class, the Huskies will be in the mix for the best crop of freshmen in the country in 2017-18. Romar has also landed commitments from four-star guard Jaylen Nowell and three-star guard Blake Harris.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Diarra played his high school basketball in St. Louis.

Xavier lands second top 100 commitment in 2017

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Xavier landed a key commitment on Friday morning in Naji Marshall, one of the Musketeers’ top targets in the Class of 2017.

Marshall is a la 6-foot-5 wing from Washington D.C. that is currently ranked 62nd in the 2017 class by Rivals. He’s a scorer that has shown off a versatile offensive game, averaging better than three assists on the Under Armour Association circuit.

This is the third commitment from head coach Chris Mack in the class and the second top 100 player to pledge to the Musketeers. Marshall picked Xavier over Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia Tech, among other.

Four-star 2018 guard Coby White commits to North Carolina

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, center, reacts with his team behind him after a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament against Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Washington. North Carolina won 88-71. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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With guards Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek having committed in their 2017 recruiting class, North Carolina received a commitment from one of the better guards in the Class of 2018 Thursday night. Four-star guard Coby White, who’s ranked 61st in his class by Rivals.com, made his pledge to Roy Williams’ program. News of White’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.

The 6-foot-4 White is a native of Wilson, North Carolina, where he attends Greenfield HS, and he played his grassroots basketball for the CP3 16U basketball program this summer. His commitment to UNC comes just a couple days after the ACC school offered him a scholarship.

White took an unofficial visit to UNC in June, and his play in July ultimately led to the program making the aforementioned scholarship offer. By the time White enrolls in Chapel Hill, current veterans such as Joel Berry II and Nate Britt will be out of eligibility. Among the perimeter would could potentially be on campus in 2018 are freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson, and sophomore Kenny Williams.

White is the second commit in the 2018 class for the Tar Heels, with 6-foot-7 guard Rechon Black being the first.

Point guard Small to transfer from Oregon

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18:  Kendall Small #21 of the Oregon Ducks shoots over Derek Mountain #40 of the Holy Cross Crusaders in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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After navigating a lack of depth at the point to win the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles and earn the program’s first-ever one seed in the NCAA tournament, Oregon will have no such issues in 2016-17. Dylan Ennis, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is back for another season as is returning starter Casey Benson. Add in freshman Payton Pritchard, whose shooting ability can help a team that struggled from three a season ago, and Dana Altman has multiple players to call upon at that spot.

That left Kendall Small, who played just under eight minutes per game as a freshman, in a spot where it would have been tough to earn more playing time as a sophomore. As a result he’s decided to transfer, with the news first being reported by Scout.com.

In addition to the three guards mentioned above, sophomore Tyler Dorsey also has the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Small will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at whichever school he chooses to transfer to, and he’ll have to sit out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules.

A 6-foot guard from Anaheim, Small’s best outing came in Oregon’s 77-59 win over Savannah State on November 23. In that game Small accounted for nine points, four assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action. But he played double-digit minutes in just four games after the Ducks began Pac-12 play in early January, the last of which being Oregon’s win over Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAA tournament.