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College Basketball Talk’s Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25

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Our way-too-early preseason top 25 is going to be a little bit different than other top 25s: we’re making predictions based on what we think will happen. For example: we’re assuming that Jabari Parker is going to leave Duke and Chris Walker is going to return to Florida. We have Nick Johnson leaving Arizona for the professional level but we’re listing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as returning to school. We have Myles Turner headed to Texas. Call it a hunch, call it an educated guess, whatever, but we are ranking these teams based on what we think is going to happen with their personnel:

1. Arizona: In all likelihood, the Wildcats are going to lose Aaron Gordon, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Nick Johnson leave as well. But as long as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski return, and assuming Brandon Ashley doesn’t go pro, Sean Miller will have another loaded roster at his disposal. They bring in Stanley Johnson, who will be an immediate difference-maker, while Craig Victor and Kadeem Allen will contribute as well.

2. Duke: Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are, in all likelihood, going to be playing for pay next season. But with Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen joining a team that will return Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson, Duke will once again be elite.

3. Wisconsin: Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker said that they would be returning to school on Saturday night, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t believe them at this point. Assuming they do, the Badgers are going to be loaded once again, as the only starter the lose is Ben Brust. That’s survivable, particularly when they have Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes waiting for more playing time.

4. Kansas: It must be nice to be Bill Self. He loses two guys that could be the top two picks in the draft and he’ll return a team that looks like a title contender. Again. Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis return and will be joined by Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander. Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson will be a nice addition while Brannen Greene, Frank Mason and Connor Frankamp had promising moments during their freshmen seasons. The key? Naadir Tharpe, as usual.

5. Kentucky: Working under the assumption that Julius Randle, James Young, Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrisons head to the NBA, we’re looking at a situation where Kentucky has a front line that includes Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, Karl Towns, Trey Lyles and Derek Willis. That’s loaded. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker only need to be facilitators, jump-shooters and post-feeders.

6. North Carolina: James Michael McAdoo is gone, but Marcus Paige is returning to school, which is good news. The Tar Heels essentially return the rest of their roster, including a talented and underrated front line, while adding three top 20 recruits in Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry.

7. Virginia: Coming off of a season where the Cavs won dual-ACC titles, they’ll lose Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. But with the rest of their roster returning, including Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill, Virginia should compete for the top spot in the ACC once again.

8. Texas: Texas returns everyone. Literally. Every single player from this year’s team is expected to return next season, and considering how young some of their key players — Cameron Ridley and Javan Felix are sophomores, Isaiah Taylor is a freshman — there should be some improvement as well. Most seem to think that Texas is the leader for Myles Turner as well, although he is very much in the air at this point.

9. San Diego State: Losing Xavier Thames is going to hurt a lot, but the Aztecs will once again be a terrific defensive team next season. Scoring will be an issue, but with the improvements Dwayne Polee made late in the season combined with the promising, but still young, talent Steve Fisher has brought in the last two seasons — Dakarai Allen, Trey Kell, Zylan Cheatam — they should be able to compete.

10. SMU: The Mustangs were the first team left out of the NCAA tournament due to the fact that they didn’t play anyone in the non-conference. But they return a majority of their roster, including Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, while adding the nation’s No. 2 recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to the mix.

11. Oklahoma
12. Wichita State
13. Harvard
14. Florida
15. Oregon
16. Gonzaga
17. VCU
18. Villanova
19. Iowa
20. Michigan
21. UConn
22. Syracuse
23. Michigan State
24. UNLV
25. Baylor

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.