Final Four Previews: Why each team can, or can’t, win a national title

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KENTUCKY (Midwest)

  • Why they can win: The Wildcats are the most talented team in the country. That’s really all you need to know. There’s a reason that they were the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason, and we’re finding that out in this tournament. What makes them so tough is that they are impossible to prepare over because of the size and athleticism that they have along their front line. You simply cannot replicate Julius Randle in practice. You can’t copy the size of Dakari Johnson, and if he’s healthy, Willie Cauley-Stein. And it’s that size and athleticism that allows them to attack the offensive glass with reckless abandon.
  • But why they won’t win: If Kentucky plays the way that they have over the course of the last three games, they’re going to beat Wisconsin and give Florida (or UConn) all they can handle in the title game. Even the most cynical Louisville fan in the world will admit that. But the biggest difference between the Kentucky that’s shown up the last three games and the Kentucky that showed up for the three months before that is the shooting of the Harrisons and James Young. On the season, those three combined to make around 35% of their threes. In the tournament, they’re shooting 44.9% from beyond the arc and have hit the game-winning jumper from beyond the arc in all three games. An off night could stop their season in its tracks.

UCONN (East)

  • Why they can win: Shabazz Napier. It’s that simple. Napier is going to be the best player on the floor every single time he steps on the court in Dallas, and the team with the best player on the floor is going to win a lot of games. Napier can take over a game on the offensive end of the floor. He controls everything UConn does. Watch him on Saturday. He moves players around in their sets. He calls for ball-screens to come out. He waves off plays and call new ones. It’s impressive, and it’s also before you consider just how incredible he is at making big shots. Being ‘clutch’ simply means you have the confidence to take big chances and make big plays in crunch time, and no one is better at capitalizing on the moment than Napier.
  • But why they won’t win: That’s not to say that UConn can win if he’s a one-man show, because they can’t. Kemba Walker led UConn to the 2011 National Title, but he wouldn’t have been able to do that if Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi and … Shabazz Napier hadn’t stepped up and played well in March. DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright and Amida Brimah need to have their March moments as well.

FLORIDA (South)

  • Why they can win: The Florida defense is just so tough. We’ve been over this time and time again. They have a ton of size and versatility and they can give so many different looks. Multiple zone looks, multiple different man-to-man defenses, full court presses, half court traps. It’s a nightmare to prepare for, and it makes them blowout-proof. They’re going to be in the game down the stretch, and that’s when Scottie Wilbekin takes over.
  • But why they won’t win: Here’s why Florida is going to be so tough to beat: because finding a flaw on this team that will be exploitable by one of the other three teams in this Final Four is a difficult thing to do. Their biggest issue is probably a lack of consistent three-point shooters. Michael Frazier is lights-out and Wilbekin can stroke it, but beyond that, the rest of the roster are non-shooters with the exception of Dorian Finney-Smith, who is as streaky as they come.

WISCONSIN (West)

  • Why they can win: The Badgers have the single biggest matchup problem in the Final Four in Frank Kaminsky. How do you guard him? Put a center on him and he’ll step out to the perimeter, where seven-footers are not used to having to chase someone off the three-point line. Put a forward on him and he’ll overpower them in the post. He single-handedly tore apart the best defense in college basketball against Arizona, there’s no reason he can’t do the same to Kentucky.
  • But why they won’t win: The biggest issue for Wisconsin is their last of size. They are a fundamentally sound group — they all box out and their guards are willing to crash the defensive glass — but that doesn’t change the fact that Kentucky’s front line can flat out overpower them. Sam Dekker is going to start out guarding Julius Randle. Wisconsin’s little guards are going to match up with Kentucky’s 6-foot-6 guards. Josh Gasser will spend a lot of time guarding Alex Poythress. Kentucky can flat out overwhelm you with their size, which is what Wisconsin is the most susceptible to.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley to remain NBA Draft

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For the first time in a decade and just the third time in 14 seasons as UNC’s head coach, Roy Williams has a one-and-done player.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley will sign with an agent and remain in the NBA Draft.

Bradley had an impressive freshman season, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 boards in less than 15 minutes per game as the sixth-man for the national title-winning Tar Heels. He initially declared for the draft without signing with an agent, testing the waters, and the feedback was positive: He’ll likely be a late first round or early second round pick.

As the process dragged on, it became fairly evident that Bradley would keep his name in the draft, and that is a massive blow for a UNC team that is already losing Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, not to mention Justin Jackson.

As it stands, Roy Williams will likely start the following lineup next season: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson on the perimeter with Luke Maye and either Brandon Huffman or Garrison Brooks, both freshmen, alongside him. Williams is one of the few coaches left in the sport that still relies on playing two bigs and utilizing an overwhelming front court to win games, and that is not going to be an easy thing to do with that group of bigs.

UNC’s perimeter is strong. Berry will likely be a preseason all-american while Pinson and Williams are both above average role players on the wings.

But without that hoss in the paint — Bradley, like Berry, would have popped up on preseason all-american teams — the Tar Heels are going to have a tough time making a run at an ACC title, let alone a third straight trip to the national title game.

North Carolina is currently ranked 18th in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

2017-18 College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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It’s about that time to release the 2017-18 preseason top 25.

A couple of notes here:

  • Final decisions on NBA Draft decisions won’t be made for more than a month. We’re making educated (some more than others) guesses on who will be doing what.
  • We also make some educated guesses on where some of the remaining uncommitted kids will end up going to school.
  • If there is a * next to a player’s name, it means we’re still waiting for official word on what his status will be next season.

Next season’s top 25 is awful uninspiring. There also isn’t anything close to a clear-cut No. 1 team, not with how much is still left to be determined through NBA Draft decisions, transfers and elite recruits picking a school.

Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.

Here is the top 25:

1. Michigan State

  • Who’s gone: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis III
  • Who do they add: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman
  • Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward
  • I like this Michigan State team a lot. Nick Ward was a beast last year and Jaren Jackson is the perfect sidekick. Cassius Winston and Josh Langford will both take a step forward. The key, however, is that a potential Player of the Year in Miles Bridges opted to return to school.

2. Arizona

  • Who’s gone: Lauri Markkanen, Kadeem Allen, Kobi Simmons, Chance Comanche
  • Who do they add: Deandre Ayton, Emmanuel Akot*, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee, Alex Barcello, Dylan Smith
  • Projected starting lineup: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic
  • The Wildcats add the most talented big man in the class in Deandre Ayton, as well as Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. The reason they’re a top five team, however is the return of Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins.

3. Kansas

  • Who’s gone: Frank Mason II, Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas
  • Who do they add: Malik Newman, Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe
  • Projected starting lineup: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk*, Billy Preston, Udoka Azuibuike
  • The Jayhawks are going to have a lot to replace, but they do have some players coming in. With Devonte’ Graham back, I think he’ll be a star and all-Big 12 player at the point, and he’ll be joined by a former top 10 prospect in Malik Newman and a current top ten prospect in Billy Preston.

4. Kentucky

  • Who’s gone: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Mychal Mulder, Dominique Hawkins
  • Who do they add: Hamidou Diallo*, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker
  • Projected starting lineup: Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo*, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, Nick Richards
  • Kentucky is a tough team to peg for next season. They should be really good defensively — Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt are elite defenders — and insanely athletic, but it’s going to be another year where we don’t know who shoots it for Kentucky. Adding Knox is big.

5. Duke

  • Who’s gone: Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III, Luke Kennard, Frank Jackson
  • Who do they add: Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Alex O’Connell, Trevon Duval, Jordan Tucker
  • Projected starting lineup: Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Marques Bolden
  • Getting Grayson Allen back for his senior year is huge because Duke lost a lot of talent early to the draft, and that doesn’t include missing out on five-star forward Kevin Knox, but landing Trevon Duval is the difference-maker for them. They finally have a point guard to replace Tyus Jones.

6. Miami

  • Who’s gone: Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy
  • Who do they add: Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes, Deng Gak, Sam Waardenburg
  • Projected starting lineup: Ja’Quan Newton, Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker, Anthony Lawrence, Dewan Huell
  • Losing Reed and Murphy will hurt, but Bruce Brown was one of the best-kept secrets last year, Lonnie Walker is a big-time scorer and Dewan Huell is a former top 30 prospect in line for a big bump in minutes this year. Jim Larrañaga is exactly the coach to take advantage of this guard-heavy lineup, too.

7. Florida

  • Who’s gone: Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry, Justin Leon, Devin Robinson
  • Who do they add: Isaiah Stokes, Egor Koulechov, Chase Johnson, DeAundre Ballard, Michael Okauru, Jalen Hudson, Dontay Bassett
  • Projected starting lineup: Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Egor Koulechov, Kevarrius Hayes, John Egbunu
  • Coming off of a trip to the Elite 8, the Gators bring back most of their key pieces while adding a talented recruiting class and two players that redshirted last season. Two keys to this team’s ceiling: The health of John Egbunu, who missed the second half of last season, and the development of KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza.

8. Louisville

  • Who’s gone: Mangok Mathiang, David Levitch, Tony Hicks, Jaylen Johnson, Donovan Mitchell
  • Who do they add: Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Lance Thomas
  • Projected starting lineup: Quentin Snider, VJ King, Deng Adel, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud
  • Louisville has a chance to be very, very good next season, particularly now that Deng Adel is back in the mix. If guys like VJ King, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud take a step forward, the Cardinals might compete for an ACC title. That says a lot this year.

9. Villanova

  • Who’s gone: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds
  • Who do they add: Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillispie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Omari Spellman
  • Projected starting lineup: Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman
  • The Wildcats are going to take a major hit with Josh Hart finally graduating, but the good news is that Jay Wright is still around, as is Jalen Brunson. Omari Spellman getting eligible will help, and I know I’m not the only one that thinks Donte DiVincenzo has a chance to develop into an all-Big East player.

10. Wichita State

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Samajae Haynes-jones, Asbjorn Midtgaard
  • Projected starting lineup: Landry Shamet, Connor Frankamp, Zach Brown, Markis McDuffie, Shaq Morris
  • The Shockers finished the season ranked in the top ten at KenPom, but ended up with a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament because they struggled to get used to each other early on in the season. With everyone returning from last year’s team, don’t be surprised to see Gregg Marshall’s team as a Final Four contender.

11. West Virginia

  • Who’s gone: Tarik Phillip, Nathan Adrian, Teyvon Myers, Brandon Watkins
  • Who do they add: Derek Culver, Brandon Knapper, D’Angelo Hunter, Teddy Allen, Wesley Harris
  • Projected starting lineup: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, Sagaba Konate
  • At this point, I’m just going to assume that Bobby Huggins is going to put a good team on the floor regardless of the situation. The names don’t even matter, although Jevon Carter is back for what feels like his 17th season in college hoops while Esa Ahmad seems primed for a monster year.

12. USC

  • Who’s gone: Charles Buggs
  • Who do they add: Derryck Thornton, Charles O’Bannon, Jordan Usher
  • Projected starting lineup: Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Elijah Stewart, Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu
  • There is a lot of talent on the USC roster for now, especially now that Metu, Stewart and Boatwright are all returning. The Trojans will push Arizona for the Pac-12 title if they decide to defend.

13. Minnesota

  • Who’s gone: Akeem Springs
  • Who do they add: Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris, Davonte Fitzgerald
  • Projected starting lineup: Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch
  • The Golden Gophers bring everyone back from last season, a year where they were one of the most surprising teams in the country. Minnesota could win the Big Ten.

14. UCLA

  • Who’s gone: Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton
  • Who do they add: LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, Chris Smith
  • Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Aaron Holiday, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Thomas Welsh
  • It’s going to be interesting to see how the Bruins move on from the Lonzo Ball era. It will also be interesting to see how LaVar Ball handles the fact that LiAngelo Ball isn’t Lonzo. Jaylen Hands and Aaron Holiday will be an elite back court.

15. Cincinnati

  • Who’s gone: Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson
  • Who do they add: Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, Eliel Nsoseme, Cane Broome
  • Projected starting lineup: Cane Broome, Jarron Cumberland, Jacob Evans, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington
  • The Bearcats return a lot of important pieces from a team that won 30 games last season. Broome averaged 23 points for Sacred Heart as a sophomore.

16. Seton Hall

  • Who’s gone: Madison Jones
  • Who do they add: Myles Cale, Darnell Brodie
  • Projected starting lineup: Khadeen Carrington, Myles Powell, Desi Rodriguez, Ishmael Sanogo, Angel Delgado
  • This is the team that I’m going to probably overhype all offseason. I love this group.

17. Xavier

  • Who’s gone: Malcolm Bernard, RaShid Gaston
  • Who do they add: Kerem Kanter, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Elias Harden, Jared Ridder, Kentrevious Jones
  • Projected starting lineup: Quentin Goodin, J.P. Macura, Trevon Bluiett, Kaiser Gates, Sean O’Mara
  • The Musketeers were thrust back into the top 25 and the Big East title conversation when Trevon Bluiett opted to return to school.

18. North Carolina

  • Who’s gone: Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt
  • Who do they add: Jaleek Felton, Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman, Andrew Platek, Garrison Brooks
  • Projected starting lineup: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, Garrison Brooks
  • The Tar Heels are coming off of back-to-back national title game appearances, but they lose three key seniors from that team as well as Justin Jackson and Tony Bradley. Berry will be a National Player of the Year contender and Luke Maye will move into the starting lineup.

19. Gonzaga

  • Who’s gone: Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, Zach Collins
  • Who do they add: Jacob Larsen, Zach Norvell, Corey Kispert, Jesse Wade
  • Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams III*, Killian Tillie
  • With Nigel Williams-Goss gone, the key to Gonzaga’s season will be the development of Josh Perkins. Can he play the point full-time and do it successfully?

20. Northwestern

  • Who’s gone: Sanjay Lumpkin, Nathan Taphorn
  • Who do they add: Anthony Gaines, Aaron Falzon, Rapolas Ivanauskas
  • Projected starting lineup: Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, Aaron Falzon, Dererk Pardon
  • The Wildcats, a year removed from their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, bring back essentially everyone from last season and get Aaron Falzon healthy. Bryant McIntosh will contend for Big Ten Player of the Year.

21. Alabama

  • Who’s gone: Nick King, Jimmie Taylor, Shannon Hale, Corban Collins
  • Who do they add: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Daniel Giddens
  • Projected starting lineup: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key, Daniel Giddens
  • The Crimson Tide bring back a talented young core and add two five-star guards, including Collin Sexton, who could lead the conference in scoring.

22. Notre Dame

  • Who’s gone: Steve Vasturia, VJ Beachem
  • Who do they add: DJ Harvey, Nikola Djogo
  • Projected starting lineup: Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, Bonzie Colson, Martinas Geben
  • At this point, I’m fine betting on Brey to have Notre Dame in the mix every year. They’re going to need Rex Pfleuger and Temple Gibbs to take a step forward, but Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell can carry the Irish.

23. Virginia Tech

  • Who’s gone: Seth Allen, Zach LeDay
  • Who do they add: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede
  • Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs, Chris Clarke, Khadim Sy
  • The Hokies return all five starters from last season despite the fact that the team graduates their top two scorers. A healthy Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear will help.

24. Saint Mary’s

  • Who’s gone: Joe Rahon, Dane Pineau
  • Who do they add: Angus Glover, Cullen Neal
  • Projected starting lineup: Jordan Ford, Emmett Naar, Calvin Hermanson, Evan Fitzner, Jock Landale
  • Losing Rahon will hurt, but with Naar and Landale coming back, the Gaels are going to push Gonzaga in the WCC race once again.

25. Baylor

  • Who’s gone: Ishmail Wainright, Johnathan Motley
  • Who do they add: Mark Vital, Tyson Jolly, Tristan Clark
  • Projected starting lineup: Manu Lecomte, Jake Lindsey, King McClure, Terry Maston, Jo Lual-Acuil
  • Losing Johnathan Motley is a massive blow for the Bears, but there should be enough experience on the roster to keep them in the top 25.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.