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23-year-old Jimmy Gavin earns Division I scholarship having never played a varsity sport

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On Monday, 23-year-old Jimmy Gavin committed to Winthrop University after two all-conference seasons at the Division II level.

His transfer won’t be met with any kind of Twitter buzz from college basketball types, but Gavin’s journey to becoming a first-time Division I scholarship basketball player was anything but typical.

As a sophomore in high school, Gavin was 5-foot-4 and 90 pounds. He was never able to play a varsity sport in high school as he was dealing with Crohn’s disease, which made him progressively weaker. Three years after last playing organized basketball, the tragic death of his younger brother brought Gavin back to Chicago from Mississippi State.

This spring he heard from nearly 50 Division I schools during the recruiting process. Now he’s earned his chance to play college basketball at the Division I level in his final season. A far cry from a player who became winded after four possessions of a game during his later years of high school.

“There’s a difference in people wanting you to succeed and people believing that you actually can,” Gavin said. “And I think a lot of people doubted me.”

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Jimmy Gavin was a promising but scrawny and undersized starting point guard on the freshman team at Prospect High School during the 2006-07 season. Hailing from Arlington Heights, a middle-class suburb northwest of Chicago, Gavin was coached on the freshman team by John Camardella, a young and energetic former Division III player at Illinois Wesleyan. Camardella would soon be promoted to the varsity head job at Prospect by the summer of 2007.

Gavin and Camardella never had the chance to re-unite on the varsity level.

In his second year of high school, Gavin made the sophomore basketball team, but he had became noticeably slower. He was reluctant to share the struggle that he was going through.

“I had kind of started to get sick my freshman year. By sophomore year, it was kind of at its worst,” Gavin said. “I was about 90 pounds; about 5-foot-4.

“Sophomore year, I was on the team and I was getting sick non-stop. But I did finish out the season. I definitely missed time, but I was still a member of the team.”

During the winter of his sophomore year, Gavin was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a bowel ailment that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract.

Crohn’s can cause abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. The malnutrition and constant struggle to retain nutrients leaves many Crohn’s patients weak and makes them lose weight. The disease can be painful; at times debilitating. Life-threatening complications can arise. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but medical treatment options and lifestyle changes can help prevent issues from regularly recurring.

Gavin tried different combinations of medications to help with Crohn’s but each one came with unique side effects. Things started to get better once Gavin found the proper combination of medication and diet to reduce the inflammation caused by the Crohn’s. Gavin had to get rid of things like bread, soda, foods with seeds and fried foods from his diet, but it helped to limit the effects of Crohn’s.

By his junior year of high school, competitive basketball really wasn’t an option. As a senior, the 5-foot-11 Gavin admitted he “halfheartedly” tried out for the Prospect varsity team but he wasn’t physically ready to compete at such a level. He ended up playing in a local park league and spent some time in intramurals. Gavin never played a minute of high school varsity basketball or any other varsity sport at Prospect. His body, and his battle with Crohn’s disease, wouldn’t let him. Gavin came up near his normal weight by the end of high school, but it was already too late.

“I was kind of a stubborn kid, so I never really told anyone what was going on,” Gavin said. “It had to get so bad where it was physically obvious that I needed some help. I just felt that basketball would kind of pass me by.”

“He just wasn’t himself,” Camardella said. “He just wasn’t and you could tell. He was giving everything he’s got.”

As Gavin graduated from Prospect, he moved on to college as a student at Mississippi State. He had no ambitions of attempting to play competitive basketball even though he still had a love for the game.

“I would still go play pick-up sometimes. But it was hard for me to watch basketball and even sometimes play,” Gavin said. “I still knew how to play, it was just hard to be connected to the game because I knew how much I loved it. It was tough. There was definitely a period where I wouldn’t watch basketball at all.”

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Everything changed for Jimmy Gavin on March 24th, 2011, a month before the end of his freshman year at Mississippi State.

Sitting in the passenger seat as his friend drove, Jimmy’s younger brother, John “Jack” Gavin, was killed in a one-car accident. Jack Gavin was 16 years old, just a sophomore at the same high school Jimmy had gone to.

Jimmy had an urge to be there for his family during a time of need. He felt like he needed to be at home, so during the fall of his sophomore year, he opted to withdraw from Mississippi State and returned home to Arlington Heights.

“Everything kind of came to a halt for me. It was a lot of pain that I had to go through,” Gavin said. “Nothing can prepare you for a pain like that.”

At home in Arlington Heights, Gavin began attending community college in the spring semester. As a way to keep his mind occupied in his free time, a healthier Gavin, who had grown to over 6-feet tall, decided to start playing basketball again. By learning to get plenty of rest, eating a proper diet and balancing medication, Gavin was able to reduce the effects of Crohn’s disease enough to consistently be on the court near full strength.

The promising ability Gavin showed early in high school started to return. Finally showing signs of returning to full health, Gavin began playing basketball again on a regular basis by working out on his own.

“There’s definitely a lot of motivation to succeed just to kind of honor [my brother] — and my whole family,” Gavin said. “I kind of wanted to play just to put a smile on my family’s face, for one thing.”

A taste of success, every improvement, added fuel to Gavin’s fire. Camardella said Gavin would show up any time basketball was being played at Prospect just to get some time in at the gym. When that wasn’t enough, Gavin would travel all over the Chicagoland area to get a run in. Getting better, playing whenever possible, it became an obsession, not just because he was trying to cope with the loss of his brother, but because Gavin, quite literally, was never able to play before.

“Jimmy was everywhere when it comes to hoops,” Camardella said. “He was at Prospect, then all the sudden he’d be in the city, then he’d be going somewhere else for an open gym. And someone would be like, ‘Hey, I saw your guy Jimmy at this place.’ He was non-stop.”

During the summers, Gavin played in open gyms with high school players and ran summer-league games in Chicago with NBA players like Patrick Beverley and Shawn Marion. His goal was to soak up every bit of knowledge that he could. Former college basketball stars like Jerome Randle and Jeremy Pargo played against Gavin. Whenever he played with talented players of any background, Gavin would pick their brain to see how he could add moves or learn about operating a certain play.

By chance, while running pick-up ball at a local XSport Fitness health club, Gavin ran into Kyle Miklasz, a guard at local NAIA Roosevelt University. The duo grew up in Arlington Heights and played in youth leagues together as kids. Miklasz was soon calling his trainer and former AAU coach at Full Package, Steve Pratt, asking if he could bring Gavin with him to workouts.

Pratt was initially hesitant to work with the now 6-foot-2 Gavin. As the trainer of professional, college and competitive high school basketball players, Pratt didn’t know how a player with no varsity basketball experience would acclimate to high-intensity basketball training.

“Kyle brought him to the gym; had [Jimmy] come to the gym. We started training,” Pratt said. “Jimmy’s a freak athlete — and really slippery. But he was really raw, like a pick-up player. And we worked on tightening up his handle and really working on his shooting mechanics to help him become a great shooter.”

“When I was working out that summer, I was trying my hardest to create opportunities for myself,” Gavin said. “But they’re hard to come by because the basketball world is small. I was pretty much an unknown commodity with zero resumé or experience. So I ended up working out with Full Package’s gym.”

Working out with Pratt nearly every day, Gavin showed athleticism that nobody back at Prospect ever believed he would have. The full-time workouts and being in better shape transformed Gavin into a completely new athlete and basketball player just a few years after he couldn’t physically compete in a high school varsity game.

“I remember when [Jimmy] came down he jokingly said, ‘Hey, I can dunk now.’ And I said, ‘No you can’t, no you can’t, no you can’t.’ And he goes up and just hammers one,” Camardella said. “That’s the number one thing that just blows me away. The speed, the strength, the athleticism out of a kid that, back in high school, couldn’t get up and down the court three times without looking winded. And now you’ve got a kid who is able to windmill dunk.”

After taking the year to be home with family, Jimmy looked to enroll back in school with a chance at playing college basketball. Gavin went to a few local coaches, including Pratt, asking for potential opportunities at a college basketball program. Pratt recently had a guard from Full Package’s AAU program, Ka’Darryl Bell, go to in-state Bradley in Peoria. Braves head coach Geno Ford agreed to let Gavin play in an open gym with his players.

“I explained to Geno, the kid has never played varsity basketball and he’s sick,” Pratt said. “And I go, ‘But he’s really good…'”

All Gavin needed was a chance to prove himself. Ford was shocked by the results.

“[Geno] calls me up and goes, ‘I can’t believe what I’m watching. It’s like the movie ‘The Natural,'” Pratt said. “‘[Gavin] just went, like 15-of-20 3s scrimmaging with our guys. What’s his story? Who is this guy?’ And we were just laughing.”

Ford offered Gavin a chance to walk on at Bradley. Gavin accepted and returned to college full time in central Illinois. After dealing with illness and family tragedy, Gavin would finally have a chance to re-start his basketball career as a Division I walk-on.

It was a great first step for Gavin but he still had dreams of ascending as high as he could within college basketball. It was about continuing to build confidence as he looked to reach his professional basketball dreams.

“It’s all about rebuilding that confidence in yourself. Because at one point, I don’t know that anybody probably believed I could do it besides myself,” Gavin said.

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Starting anew at Bradley, Jimmy Gavin joined the Braves for the 2012-13 season as a 6-foot-2, 180-pound walk-on guard. His first season of competitive basketball since his sophomore season in 2007-08 when he began to miss time with Crohn’s. With the Braves, he began lifting weights while attempting to get into proper basketball shape for the first time.

Gavin had completed a year of coursework at Mississippi State and some classes at a local community college for a semester and was a considered a sophomore at Bradley with four years of eligibility remaining.

At the Missouri Valley program, Gavin made 10 appearances during the 2012-13 season and averaged 1.8 points per game. His season ended after having an intestinal resection procedure to help with his Crohn’s disease. The intestinal resection removed the Crohn’s-affected section of Gavin’s intestinal tract and his healthy intestines were attached back together.

He hasn’t had any problems with Crohn’s since the operation.

Having a potentially limited basketball career due to Crohn’s made Gavin seek out more playing time than his situation at Bradley. He sought out scholarship opportunities in hopes of getting a chance to prove himself with consistent minutes. Wisconsin-Parkside, fresh off an NCAA tournament appearance at the Division II level, was the only school to offer Gavin a full basketball scholarship. He was a risk; Gavin hadn’t completed a full season of basketball since his freshman season in high school.

“You could see the ability,” UW-Parkside coach Luke Reigel said. “When we signed him we didn’t know if we could even get a full year of basketball out of him. With everything he had battled from Crohn’s, we really rolled the dice and hoped that he could stay healthy. Because from an ability standpoint, we saw the potential was there to be an all-conference type of player. We didn’t know if three games in, 15 games in, if he’d be done playing.”

UW-Parkside was returning experienced wings in a three-guard offense. The Rangers needed an offensive spark off the bench and it quickly became apparent that Gavin could more than hold his own playing at one of the better Division II programs in the country. Reigel compared Gavin to noted former Detroit Pistons sixth man Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. Now at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Gavin played 30 games and started four in his first season at UW-Parkside, averaging 16 points per game while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.

In his first full-and-healthy season since the 2006-07 campaign, Gavin was a second-team all-conference selection for the Rangers during the 2013-14 season.

“There were multiple times early on where he’d have four or six points in the first half and was just trying to get a feel for the game,” Reigel said. “Then he’d have times where it was 16, 18, 20 points in the second half of games. And it was scoring every way possible. Getting to the rim, he was knocking down threes, scoring in transition. That’s when we knew he was at a little bit different level than maybe some other guys around the league.”

The Rangers once again made the NCAA tournament in Gavin’s first year with the team. Being the new guy in a college program was a tough enough transition, but Gavin still needed to pick up nuances to the game like help defense and the lingo that comes with playing in a basketball program. For as talented as he was, he was still a bit unpolished at the college level. After his first season at UW-Parkside, Gavin got in the gym again and wanted to improve his defense and using his right hand.

source:
(Kevin Poirier/Kenosha News)

To start his junior season, UW-Parkside made Gavin a starter in his second season with the team. Starting every game for a team that won 26 games, Gavin led the Rangers in points (17.4 ppg) and assists (3.0). He was a first-team all-conference selection and UW-Parkside once again made the NCAA tournament. He scored in double-figures in 28 of 30 games on the season.

“This year we asked him to guard the other team’s best player, get better on help defense and making plays away from the ball — which we talk about all the time. And he took a huge step forward this year,” Reigel said. “From his first year to his second year, he got much better defensively.”

He also put together a number of highlight-reel performances. There was the two-handed alley-oop that Gavin threw down. The 40-point performance on the road at Illinois-Springfield. Gavin also had some big performances in the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament. Playing an aggressive, attacking style on offense, Gavin wasn’t afraid to pull-up and shoot 3-pointers from anywhere within NBA range with his smooth left-handed jumper.

After two all-conference seasons in a row at UW-Parkside, the graduating Gavin faced a difficult decision with one year of college eligibility remaining. Would he leave behind a successful UW-Parkside program that gave him his shot at playing time? Or ascend to Division I immediately as a graduate transfer and do everything possible to play basketball at the highest level?

“For me, I know what I want. I know what my ultimate goals are,” Gavin said. “I want to become a professional. I want to do different things with it. I’ve been trying to make sure the situation [I’m going to] is good.”

After fielding calls from mid-major programs all over the country, Gavin officially visited Pepperdine and Winthrop this spring before opting to play in the Big South. Playing time was an important factor for Gavin and he wanted a good fit for his style of play. He’s also happy to pursue a Master’s degree in the liberal arts program as another fallback option for life after basketball. Gavin might be moving on to Division I but he’s thankful of the opportunity he had to play at UW-Parkside and play for Reigel when no other school would offer him a full scholarship.

“It’s been great,” Gavin said. “I’m really appreciative for the opportunities that Coach Reigel gave me. He took a chance on me when he didn’t have to. I’ve been fortunate to play with some talented players.”

The goal now for Gavin is to make an impact at Winthrop and, maybe, make some money playing professional basketball when he’s done. It sounds crazy, but Gavin doesn’t care.

“People have doubted him his whole life with regards to his disease and moving forward,” Camardella said. “He doesn’t really listen to the outside world telling him what he can and can’t do.”

“I’ve had to fight for every opportunity that I’ve had, and it just kind of puts this chip on my shoulder,” Gavin said. “It’s just… Why not? There’s nothing that someone can put in front of me that I can’t overcome.”

Arizona State rising fast beyond the desert

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State has taken college basketball by devilish hurricane, running and gunning its way into the national consciousness while igniting an often-blase local fan base.

Even the Sun Devils’ rivals down south have taken notice.

“Bobby Hurley, he’s en route right now to be one of the coaches talked about for national coach of the year because of what he’s done with their program,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the coach of his biggest rival. “He’s played a tough nonconference schedule. It shows some guts to play who they play. Their results speak really clearly. They might be underrated where they’re at right now.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, at least not yet.

The Sun Devils were expected to be better in Hurley’s third season in the desert. They returned three senior guards and finally got them some front-court help with the addition of Romello White and De’Quon Lake.

Kodi Justice, ASU’s 6-foot-5 guard, would no longer have to guard 7-footers. Arizona State would be better defensively and on the glass. The guards would not have to carry the entire load.

Even so, the Sun Devils were projected to be at the middle of the Pac-12, picked to finish sixth.

The big jump was supposed to be next season, when a trio of transfers will be eligible and could possibly lead the Sun Devils to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

This breakneck band of Devils spun the narrative forward a year early.

Playing with a confidence bordering on cocky and with an offensive freedom afforded them by their coach, the Sun Devils have pushed their way into the national spotlight.

They made a blip by beating Xavier, No. 15 at the time but now No. 10 in the AP Top 25 . Blew the Musketeers away, actually, turning a 15-point first-half deficit into a 102-86 rout with an onslaught of fast breaks and 3-pointers.

Arizona State next moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008-09, coming in at No. 20 after the win over Xavier. The Sun Devils climbed four spots the next week.

The catapult launched last Sunday: Arizona State 95, No. 2 Kansas 85. At Allen Fieldhouse.

One of the biggest wins in program history led to another bit of history: A No. 5 ranking this week, ASU’s highest since reaching No. 3 in 1980-81. The Sun Devils even garnered the first No. 1 votes as a program. Five of ’em, actually.

Now Arizona State is 9-0 and being mentioned as a possible national-title contender. Yeah, really.

“I knew the success was going to be better, but you don’t expect necessarily when you look at a schedule to run the table up to this point, and beat the type of teams we’ve beaten,” Hurley said. “So you just appreciate it and then you kind of move on and get ready for the next battle.”

Arizona State’s success starts with its quartet of fearless guards, turning Arizona State into “Guard U.”

With carte blanche from Hurley to shoot from anywhere at almost any time, they’ve gone from carrying the load last season to ferrying the Sun Devils closer to college basketball’s upper echelon.

Tra Holder has transformed himself from steady freshman to unquestioned, sometimes nasty senior floor leader. He scored 40 points against Xavier and leads Arizona State with 21.2 points per game. He also grabs 5.6 rebounds, dishes out 5.2 assists and won consecutive Pac-12 player of the week honors, a first by a Sun Devil since James Harden in 2008.

Shannon Evans II followed Hurley from Buffalo, had to sit out a season as a transfer and was solid as a junior, averaging 15 points per game. The 6-1 guard had become go-to guy 1-A this season, second on the team with 19 points while matching Holder in assists. Big shots? He’s go those, too, including a clutch 3 to kill a Kansas rally in one of the loudest atmospheres in the game.

Justice plays with Pete Maravichian flair, has a range that seems to extend to the opposing team’s free-throw line.

Then there’s Remy Martin. The freshman guard is more spiced rum than cognac, playing with a confidence and intensity well beyond his years.

Martin treats irritation by the opposing team’s point guard as the highest honor, often nodding his bouncy hair in approval when he officially finds his way under their skin. He was the spark off the bench against Kansas, finishing with 21 points and five steals.

“They are now freed up to be who they are more,” Hurley said. “I think they would have shown that on a more regular basis last year if I had done my job a little better and sooner and gotten them some help.”

That help is here and the Sun Devils are running and gunning with it.

Follow John Marshall on Twitter @jmarshallap

Oklahoma State dismisses two players

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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State has dismissed junior Davon Dillard and freshman Zack Dawson from the team for failing to meet unspecified standards set by the program.

Coach Mike Boynton says he could not “make compromises in our core values when it comes to individual players.” Dillard and Dawson were suspended before the season for reasons the school has not disclosed. Dawson missed one game and Dillard missed the first five.

Oklahoma State (7-2) faces No. 19 Florida State (9-0) in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday.

UCLA basketball moving on past Ball family era

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Ball family was one and done at UCLA. However, the ramifications of doing business with Lonzo, LiAngelo, LaMelo and father LaVar could have a lasting impact on the program.

LiAngelo Ball — the younger brother of Lakers rookie guard Lonzo Ball — was pulled out of school by LaVar months after the shoplifting scandal in China and signed with the professional team Vytautas Prienai in Lithuania. LaMelo Ball, the youngest of the three brothers still in high school, signed with the same team thus giving up his eligibility to play in college.

LaMelo had committed to play for UCLA as did his two older brothers. Lonzo is the only one who played in a UCLA uniform and he was an All-America as a freshman.

“Well, I really had one,” coach Steve Alford said of the Ball era. “Lonzo, obviously, was terrific. The time I coached Lonzo was incredible. Very respectful young man. Somebody that didn’t miss class. On court, off court was incredible. Became a good leader by the time it was over with. Knew what you’d get out of him. Made people better. Knew he was one-and-done the day he stepped on campus and never acted that way. You didn’t see entitlement that sometimes you see in kids like that. He was a complete joy to coach.”

No one knew the Ball family impact in Pauley would be so short-lived. LiAngelo Ball worked out with his teammates in the summer and for five weeks of practice but never played in a game because of the indefinite suspension over the shoplifting that caused an international incident that went all the way to President Trump.

LaVar pulled him out of UCLA recently because he wanted him to play basketball. LiAngelo and his teammates — Jalen Hill and Cody Riley — were all serving indefinite suspensions. Alford believes that could be resolved soon, whether Hill and Riley could rejoin the team this season or not.

“It’s not done, but we’ve heard the process is nearing an end,” Alford said Thursday. “My hope is we’ll hear something if not the end of this week by early next week.”

The UCLA Office of Student Conduct has done the review and deciphering that code will determine the players’ fates. Alford said he wasn’t involved in the interview process as part of that review and didn’t have input on what decision is made. Once the decision is relayed, he’ll have input in how things are handled moving forward.

“It’s just one more of those distractions we get behind us,” Alford said. “The guys in the locker room have had nothing to do with any of it … This young team has had to deal with a lot and yet they’re 7-2 and playing well.”

Because of NCAA recruiting rules, Alford wasn’t able to talk about LaMelo Ball and the fact he no longer will play for the Bruins.

“It’s just the way it is,” Alford said. “It’s something that happened. It’s the 2019-2020 class. There’s all kinds of time. Right now, all of our attention is finishing the ’18 class. … Even trying to project what the 2019 class is going to look like is hard for a lot of reasons. One, the one-and-done. And two, on the table and looks like something is going to pass relatively soon, eliminate one-and-dones. … The 2019 class is two years out from playing here, so that gives us plenty of time.”

LiAngelo wasn’t at UCLA long enough to have an impact or even show up in career statistics.

“When Gelo was here, he was terrific,” Alford said. “Through the summer, through his academics and through coaching him on the court. He was tremendous. He was late one time, and he came in in frantic, apologizing and took his responsibility of it. Those are things you appreciate as a coach. I have no issues that way. Obviously, with Gelo and Melo, just wishing them the very best of luck. I hope things really work out well for them. Just like Lonzo, I hope they have terrific careers.”

Asked what he knew about the Baltic League, Alford said: “I have no idea about the Baltic League or where that city is or anything about it.”

GG Goloman of the Bruins, who is from Hungary and played on its national team over the summer, knows a thing or two about professional basketball overseas.

“It’s a little bit similar,” Goloman said of Hungary. “It’s a good league. I’m not sure about the team they went to. They should be OK. I’m not sure what the team is like, though.”

Hill and Riley are already finished with their finals, but some UCLA players won’t be done until Friday. The Bruins host No. 25 Cincinnati on Saturday in a nationally televised game. They could have more depth by the time Pac-12 Conference play starts in January. Or they could continue with a short bench.

“It would be nice to know,” Goloman said. “The past couple of months have been up in the air. We don’t really know what’s going on. It will definitely be nice to know when they’ll be back.”

But what’s known is none of the Ball brothers will be back.

CBT Podcast: Creighton’s Greg McDermott, plus a preview of the weekend

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Rob Dauster was joined on Thursday by Creighton head coach Greg McDermott to discuss, among other things, how his philosophy as a head coach has changed since he made it to Omaha from Northern Iowa as well as what it’s like being an NBA dad with a program of his own to run. We also attempted to re-cast White Men Can’t Jump. The second half of the podcast, Rob is joined by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic and the Game Theory Podcast to roll through the weekend’s games and betting lines.

College Basketball Futures Watch Part III: Syracuse through Xavier

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Over the course of the next three days, we at College Basketball Talk will be cruising through the best, the most surprising and the most disappointing teams in college basketball.

As of today, how should we view the 45 most interesting teams in the country based on preseason expectation? 

Are we more confident in them? Less confident? Still unsure?

We used five different labels here to help define how we feel about each of the 45 teams mentioned:

  • Bet The Mortgage
  • Raise
  • Check
  • Fold
  • Get Your Stuff And Go Home

Today, we go through everyone from Syracuse to Xavier.

Let’s get into it.

SYRACUSE: Check

I thought Syracuse was going to be awful this year. They are decidedly not awful … but I’m not quite sure if they are good, at least not yet anyway. Matthew Moyer has been a pleasant surprise, as has Oshae Brissett, but are we sure their centers are any good? Can Tyus Battle actually make his teammates better? I’m not sure. So I’m saying let’s wait and see what happens. (Rob Dauster)

TCU: Raise

The Horned Frogs are barreling toward conference play with an undefeated record and a juggernaut offense. Jamie Dixon has transformed his alma mater into a Big 12 contender in just year two on the strength of an offense that makes 43.7 percent of its threes and 58.9 percent of its twos. The defense isn’t elite, but it may be good enough to make TCU a true threat to Kansas in the Big 12. (Travis Hines)

TENNESSEE: Check

I was high on this Tennessee team entering the year, and they’ve made me look smart for saying they could push for an NCAA tournament berth. Grant Williams is a problem, but the rest of the guys on this roster are talented try-hards. Put another way, I think that the Vols are punching above their weight right now, and while I think the way they play works for them – they are going to out-effort and out-tough just about everyone – the reality is that they’re at something of a talent deficit. They’re a good team, but at No. 20 in the AP Poll, they’re right at their ceiling. (RD)

TEXAS: Check

The loss to Michigan at home last night was bad, but that loss also came without Andrew Jones on the floor. He’s their most important piece offensively. Until he’s back in the lineup, it’s really hard to get a full sense of what this team is moving forward. I was very high on them at the start of the year, but Mo Bamba has not quite had the impact I expected him to have defensively. We’ll see. (RD)

Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

TEXAS A&M: Raise

The Aggies slipped up against a wounded Arizona team last week, but there’s a lot to like with Billy Kennedy’s team. The defense is among the best in the country with Robert Williams and Tyler Davis patrolling the paint, and the offense is steady as well. (TH)

TEXAS TECH: Fold

Texas Tech blasted Northwestern last month by 36 points, but lost to Seton Hall and needed OT to beat a solid Nevada team at home. Chris Beard has his team playing a lot of defense, but they’re not making a lot of shots. The defense should translate against a tougher schedule, but getting more buckets seems unlikely. (TH)

UCLA: Check

I certainly wouldn’t say that UCLA won’t be an NCAA tournament team; they should be. But this season was thrown for a loop from the start thanks to some “sticky fingers” in China, and that may have upset the Bruins’ routine during the first month. Now that a personnel move has been made, maybe Steve Alford’s team can use this time to refocus as they prepare for conference play. There’s some good young talent, most notably Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, and Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh are two experienced options who can earn all-conference honors at season’s end. This isn’t a “fold” or “run away before you blow your mortgage payment” situation, but it’s isn’t one where you throw more money into the pot or go all-in, either. (RJ)

UCONN: Get Your Stuff And Go Home

This is rough to say as someone that grew up a UConn fan, but at this point there are no more excuses for Kevin Ollie and the Connecticut program. They’re just not good enough. If the 35-point blowout against Arkansas wasn’t enough of a sign, it was struggling to overtime wins against 1-10 Columbia and Monmouth at home. It’s hard to think that less than four years ago, the Huskies were in the process of winning their second national title in four years. (RD)

USC: Check, but I’m ready to fold

The reason why I’d check when it comes to the Trojans is the sheer amount of talent on the roster. Jordan McLaughlin, Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright, Elijah Stewart, etc. Andy Enfield has a host of options who can get the job done offensively, making USC a tough team for opponents to defend. That being said, if anything we’ve learned just how important DeAnthony Melton is. On a roster filled with guys who seemingly fill one particular role, Melton was the guy who served as the “mixing agent” on both ends. He can play with or without the ball in his hands on offense, and defensively he can take on a variety of assignments as well. When (or if) he returns USC becomes a better team immediately, but with there being no set time frame who knows if Melton will suit up. And if he were to be ruled out for the rest of the season as the school looks to stay in the NCAA’s good graces, that would be the time to get out. (RJ)

VILLANOVA: Bet The Mortgage

They’re the best team in the country, particularly is Mikal Bridges is going to continue to be a go-to scorer for them. If he’s a guy that can get Jay Wright 17-19 points a night, Villanova is scary. The one place where I think they can be taken advantage of is up front. I’m not totally sold on Omari Spellman as a defender yet, and I don’t think that they’ve been fully-tested with the schedule they’ve played. (RD)

VIRGINIA: Raise

I’ll take the L on this one. I did not see a way for the Cavaliers to be able to continue to be as good as they’ve been defensively with the number of young guys on this roster, and I did not think that Kyle Guy was ready to be a go-to scorer in the ACC just yet. I was wrong. KenPom, who has them ranked 3rd nationally, is way too high on this group – I think Virginia is the new Wisconsin, where there’s something weird about the formula that makes them pop in his metric – but they might be better than where they are sitting in both polls (16th). Wa-Hoo-Wa. (RD)

Kyle Guy (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

VIRGINIA TECH: Check

It’s hard to tell if Virginia Tech is legitimate since their schedule has been so weak. Sporting the No. 340 non-conference strength of schedule in the country, the Hokies have only played one true road game, an unimpressive OT win over Ole Miss. This team might be good, but it’s hard to tell since the schedule is so bad. (SP)

WEST VIRGINIA: Raise

The Mountaineers have come a long way since getting worked by Texas A&M in their season opener. West Virginia has won nine-straight since that drubbing, including a victory over Virginia. Press Virginia has been as good as ever with a 27.9 percent defensive turnover percentage. The question will be if the offense can shoot it well enough to not depend solely on those takeaways. (TH)

WICHITA STATE: Bet The Mortgage

The Shockers are really, really good. A one-point loss to Notre Dame is the only thing keeping them from a clean sheet, and they look to have a team as capable as any Gregg Marshall has fielded in Wichita. Now in the AAC, the Shockers are going to be more battle-tested then ever and should be in line for a high seed, making them a threat to return to the Final Four – and maybe even win the whole thing. (TH)

WISCONSIN: Fold

I just don’t think it’s going to happen for the Badgers this year. They have too many young guards and not enough reliable shooting or playmaking around Ethan Happ. The biggest issue that the Badgers now face is that they did not do anything in the non-conference and now enter the Big Ten season, where the conference as a whole is down. Forget finishing top four in the league, will they be able to rally like they did in 2016 and make the NCAA tournament? (RD)

XAVIER: Bet The Mortgage

Besides for a loss against red-hot Arizona State, the Musketeers are 9-0 with night double-digit wins this season. With a star in senior Trevon Bluiett and a rotation that goes nine deep, Xavier has capable players at every position and a ton of March experience from last season’s Elite Eight run. (SP)