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CBT Roundtable: Final Four Picks!

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February is right around the corner, which means that we’ve officially hit the stretch run of the college hoops season. 

With a little more than a month left in the college basketball regular season, we figured today would be as good as any to take a look at stretch-run Final Four picks:

Raphielle Johnson:

  • Arizona: The foul shooting is a bit of a concern but I think the Wildcats will be able to properly navigate that when the time comes. Their defensive versatility, with multiple players have the ability to defend multiple positions, is what stands out to me.
  • Syracuse: They need Trevor Cooney to get back to the form he displayed earlier in the season, and they can’t afford another interior injury with DaJuan Coleman out. However with Tyler Ennis & C.J. Fair leading the way I won’t bet against the Orange.
  • Kansas: Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden…and now Naadir Tharpe’s raising his level of play at the point. Deep, with a nice mix of youth and experience.
  • Michigan State: My preseason pick to win it all, I can’t bet against them even with Dawson and Payne currently out. They get healthy, the Spartans will get to Arlington.

Scott Phillips:

  • Arizona: The No. 1 team in the country is just so big, athletic and balanced. It’s hard for me to see a team knocking them off before the Final Four, especially if they stay out West like they should.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks have a chance to be scary good if Embiid and Wiggins keep improving — and stay consistent — and Tharpe stays steady with the ball. Kansas has played the most difficult schedule in the country; they’ll be prepared for all comers.
  • Florida: Billy Donovan has done it before and with the way this Gator group has persevered through close games, injuries and suspensions, they’ve been tested as much as anyone in the country when it comes to getting through adversity.
  • Michigan State: Much like Florida, the Spartans have dealt with injuries or illness to nearly all of their starting five while also playing a very tough schedule. As long as Michigan State stays healthy enough — which I believe they will — they are the best team in the country and I don’t see how they miss the Final Four.

Terrence Payne:

  • Kansas: The Jayhawks played a tough schedule early in the season, but within the last month the talent on that roster has really developed into a serious national title contender.
  • Syracuse: I like was the Orange have to offer, with plenty of holdovers from last season’s Final Four team and the addition of point guard Tyler Ennis. I’d be more confident in this pick if Trevor Cooney finds his shot again.
  • Florida: Chris Walker is set to join the Florida lineup in the coming weeks, adding another big body to that talented frontline. The Gators have dealt with injuries and Walker’s absence, and have been just fine so far. They can be dangerous with the whole team together.
  • Wichita State: Like Cuse, the Shockers have guys back that helped lead last year’s Final Four run. Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, an Cleanthony Early have the toughness and talent to bring them back in 2014.

Kevin Doyle:

  • Arizona: They are so tough defensively, and Nick Johnson is playing like a legitimate NPOY. Top to bottom, Arizona has all of the pieces to cut down the nets in April.
  • Florida: I still believe we haven’t seen the best that Florida has to offer. How Chris Walker transitions into the rotation will largely depend on whether the Gators firmly supplant themselves as a true national title contender.
  • Michigan: A trendy pick right now, but has there been a more impressive team during conference play? With freshman point guard Derrick Walton nicely filling the void Trey Burke left, Michigan is as lethal as they come on the offensive end.
  • Syracuse: The Orange made the Final Four a season ago, and they are better this season. C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis, and Jerami Grant is a trio that matches up with anyone out there.

Rob Dauster:

  • Arizona: The NCAA tournament is all about matchups. Arizona will never be on the wrong end of a mismatch, not with their size up front, the versatility of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and the defensive ability of T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson.
  • Kansas: Joel Embiid came into his own earlier this month. Andrew Wiggins has scored 56 points in the last two games. Naadir Tharpe is playing great basketball. If the Jayhawks hit their stride, if everything clicks, this is the most talented team in the country. Oh, and Bill Self.
  • Michigan State: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Tom Izzo. They’re not healthy right now. When they are, do you really want to bet against them?
  • Florida: The Gators are elite defensively. Ask Tennessee. That’s before they brought in Chris Walker. They have some issues on the offensive end, but if anyone can iron out those kinks, it’s Billy Donovan.

CBT’s 2016-17 College Basketball Season Preview Schedule

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Believe it or not, but college basketball season technically begins this week, as programs around the country are allowed to start practicing as early as September 30th, this Friday.

With that in mind, it’s time for us to kick off the process of previewing the 2016-17 season, getting you ready for everything that will happen in our beloved sport for the next five months with a series of predictions that, hopefully, won’t prove to be totally and completely wrong by the end of the year.

Here is a complete schedule of everything you can expect to see from us over the next six weeks.

And be sure to bookmark this page, as we will be updating the schedule with links as each story gets posted. That way, if you miss anything — which is unlikely if you follow @CBTonNBC on twitter and like the College Basketball Talk page on FaceBook — you can go back and find it quite easily.

AWARDS

Sep. 27: NBCSports.com All-American Team
Sep. 27: Expert Picks and Predictions
Oct. 31-Nov. 4: Preseason Top 25 Countdown
Oct. 31: Mid-Major All-Americans
Oct. 31: Mid-Major Power Rankings

RANKINGS

Oct. 24-28: Top 100 Players Countdown
Oct. 25: Top Back Courts
Oct. 25: Top Front courts
Oct. 26: Top Lead Guards
Oct. 26: Top Off-Guards
Oct. 27: Top Wings
Oct. 27: Top Big Men

CONTENDERS SERIES

Oct. 3: Final Four Sleepers
Oct. 10: Final Four Favorites, part 1
Oct. 14: Final Four Favorites, part 2
Oct. 17-21: Title Contenders

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS

Sep. 29: WCC
Oct. 4: ACC
Oct. 5: Mountain West
Oct. 6: Atlantic 10
Oct. 7: American
Oct. 11: Big Ten
Oct. 18: Big 12
Oct. 25: Pac-12
Nov. 1: SEC
Nov. 8: Big East

Sep. 29: America East
Sep. 30: Atlantic Sun
Oct. 3: Big Sky
Oct. 4: Big South
Oct. 5: Big West
Oct. 6: CAA
Oct. 7: Conference USA
Oct. 10: Horizon
Oct. 11: Ivy
Oct. 12: MAAC
Oct. 12: MAC
Oct. 13: MEAC
Oct. 14: Missouri Valley
Oct. 17: NEC
Oct. 18: Ohio Valley
Oct. 19: Patriot
Oct. 20: SoCon
Oct. 21: Southland
Oct. 24: SWAC
Oct. 26: Summit
Oct. 27: Sun Belt
Oct. 28: WAC

LISTS

Sep. 26: Best Non-Conference Games
Sep. 28: Programs on the Rise and Decline
Sep. 28: Impact Transfers
Sep. 30: All-‘Yup, He’s Still In School’ Team
Nov. 1: Top Dunkers
Nov. 2: Coaches on the Hot Seat
Nov. 2: Key Assistant Coaching Hires
Nov. 2: Best, Worst Head Coaching Changes
Nov. 3: Impact Freshmen
Nov. 3: Breakout Stars
Nov. 7: Under-the-Radar Stars
Nov. 8: X-Factors
Nov. 9: Potential Cinderellas
Nov. 9: Most Important Players
Nov. 10: 68 Things To Watch For

Illinois PG expected to be ready for practice

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Illinois point guards and injuries have been an unfortunate trend over the past two seasons with Tracy Abrams, who missed the past two seasons with a torn ACL followed by a torn Achilles the next year.

On Sunday, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported some good news for an incoming Fighting Illini floor general. Te’Jon Lucas, a three-star prospect from the Class of 2016, will be fully cleared for the start of practice, according to Rothstein. In February, Lucas had broke his fibula in his right leg in two places during a game.

Lucas had committed to Illinois the previous September.

Abrams received a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in June, and he decided to remain in Champaign for his final season. If healthy, he’ll be the starter. Jaylon Tate is also back for another season. But they are both seniors, which makes Sunday’s report important for John Groce’s program. Lucas will be on the floor Day 1 of practice, being molded for the future by two experienced guards.

The 5-foot-11 Lucas is the only true freshman on the roster.

Illinois begins the 2016-17 season on November 11, hosting Southeast Missouri State.

Xavier adds to class with three-star center

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Xavier added a fourth piece to its 2017 recruiting class on Sunday morning.

Kentravious Jones, a 6-foot-11, three-star recruit, committed to the Musketeers. He announced the decision via Twitter.

Chris Mack’s current recruiting class is headlined by four-star swingman Naji Marshall. The incoming quartet also includes guard Elias Harden and forward Jared Ridder. But Jones’ commitment fits an area that needs to be addressed for the Musketeers moving forward. Xavier isn’t particularly deep when it comes to big men. That frontcourt only gets thinner once RaShid Gaston, a graduate transfer from Norfolk State, exhausts his eligibility after this season.

Jones, along with current freshman forward Tyrique Jones, gives Xavier a young foundation for the future. Jones is an old-school, big-bodied center. He’s got a nice back-to-the-basket game, and had his best stretch of the summer during the UAA Finals. In three games with the Atlanta Xpress, he averaged 15.3 points, shot 59 percent from the field, and grabbed nine boards per game.

Conditioning will be the emphasis for him over the course of the next year. However, we have seen Xavier work well with a big, skilled centers in the past (see: Stainbrook, Matt). According to Shannon Russell of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Jones has dropped 30 pounds.

Sunday morning’s news may not even be Xavier’s last score on the recruiting trail. The Musketeers have one scholarship remaining (two, or three if Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett enter the NBA Draft this spring), and are in play for several coveted prospects like point guards Paul Scruggs, Quade Green and Matt Coleman, as well as forward Kris Wilkes.

Minnesota center to miss a month

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 7: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Illinois State Redbirds and Fred VanVleet #23 of the Wichita State Shockers fight for control of a loose ball during the MVC Basketball Tournament Semifinals at the Scottrade Center on March 7, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Minnesota’s projected starting center is sidelined, but is expected to be ready for the season opener.

Reggie Lynch, the Illinois State transfer, had surgery on his left knee, the program announced on Friday night. According to Marcus R. Fuller of the Star-Tribune, the Golden Gophers are anticipating that Lynch is available for the season opener on Nov. 11 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

The 6-foot-10 Lynch has been in the news this offseason prior to his impending debut with Minnesota. In May, he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. On August 1, the Hennepin County attorney’s office was announced he would not face charges, citing insufficient evidence.

Lynch spent two seasons at Illinois State, averaging 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Redbirds as a sophomore. He sat out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Minnesota is coming off a second-to-last place finish in the Big Ten with an 8-23 (2-16 Big Ten) record.

Women’s hoops coaches boycotting recruiting events

DENVER, CO - MARCH 31:  Head coach Muffet McGraw of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish directs her team during practice prior to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Final Four at Pepsi Center on March 31, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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For some high-major women’s basketball programs, the final evaluation period of 2016 is being used as a vacation from the recruiting trail.

According to a report from Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated, are not attending events during this weekend’s recruiting period for a host of reasons.

First, many are fed up with the price of tournament packets, booklets of rosters that college coaches receive upon paying their entry fee. Packets are supposed to be chock-full of contact information for the prospects, but sometimes aren’t accurate or up-to-date. (This has become a well-documented issue on the men’s side of college hoops. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish wrote on it this summer.) Furthermore, there are so many events now that college coaches are often forced to pay obscene amounts of money to watch just one player at a single event, and play recruiting hopscotch around the country, criss-crossing the nation to see so many events and spend thousands of dollars. One Power Five coach said her staff crunched the numbers, and found that in just two years, they’ve spent more than $4,000 more than they did in 2014 on packets alone. Another coach told a story of sending an assistant across the country for one day, to one event, to watch one team. When the assistant arrived, the team had left early for its next event. No refund was available for the college that had paid what turned out to be a useless entry fee. The head coach called it “exasperating.”

Jeff Borzello of ESPN, who spoke to Notre Dame head coach and eventual Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw for his report, estimated that the cost for one of the coaches packets — the ones that include player contact information, rosters, etc. — can cost each school an average of $600 per event.

This era of grassroots basketball has taken off in recent years with Nike, Under Armour and adidas all creating their own sponsored leagues. All three run exceptional events from the staff to the facilities, all the way to the three, free meals a day for coaches. Organizers of these events will argue that there’s a cost to running such high-end events. These packets, some of which are so in-depth they include players’ GPAs, help fund these tournaments (events, paying a staff, etc.).

Coaches, mostly mid to low-major coaches, will argue that these packets aren’t worth the cost, considering that every coach (head and assistant) must purchase them in order to gain entrance. And you will find packets where the information inside is either inaccurate, or missing or both. For elite programs, this isn’t an issue. You show up, you’re seen, you leave, you go to the next event, repeat. For mid to low-major coaches, this really puts a dent in their budget, especially when they have to travel to multiple events (buying packets at each one) because you have to land that “steal,” you have to find that player who is overlooked.

This protest, or boycott (or whatever you want to call it) will hurt those these events are intended to help the most: the players. If coaches continue to avoid these tournaments, that late-bloomer may miss out on a scholarship, or that player with mid-major offers won’t get the chance to play in front of high-major coaches.

According to Schnell, there is a proposal, voted on in April, to eliminate a live recruiting period in April and September. But many coaches in women’s basketball have made it clear this weekend how they feel about the issue.