UPDATED: 2015-2016 College Basketball Way-Too-Early Preseason Rankings

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PLEASE NOTE: Fred Hoiberg is off to the NBA, his replacement is on campus, Jamal Murray has committed to Kentucky and Thon Maker is officially staying in high school for another year. I think — I hope? — we’ve reached a point where we can say we know what next season’s rosters will look like.

And with that comes our latest — and final? — installment of the Preseason Top 25. There aren’t a ton of changes, but the top five looks different now than it did before.

1. North Carolina

  • Who’s back: Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Joel Berry, Nate Britt
  • Who’s gone: J.P. Tokoto, Desmond Hubert.
  • Who they’re getting: Luke Maye
  • Why they’re here: Marcus Paige is going to be healthy, the Tar Heels return their entire front line and Joel Berry and Justin Jackson will have a full offseason to turn into the complimentary players they showed flashes of being at the end of the season.

2. Maryland

  • Who’s back: Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Michal Cevosky
  • Who’s gone: Dez Wells, Richaud Pack
  • Who they’re getting: Robert Carter, Diamond Stone, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jaylen Brantley
  • Why they’re here: Getting Trimble to announce that he will be coming back to school is huge, as is the return of Layman, because the Terps are going to have plenty of firepower up front. Georgia Tech transfer Carter and top ten recruit Stone will headline one of the better front lines in the Big Ten, and adding Sulaimon gives the Terps talent at every position.

3. Kentucky

  • Who’s back: Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress
  • Who’s gone: Karl Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Dakari Johnson
  • Who they’re getting: Skal Labissiere*, Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe, Charles Matthews, Mychal Mulder
  • Why they’re here: The Wildcats get bumped up to No. 3 in our updated rankings. I still have some questions about how this group will end up coming together, but there’s no questioning the talent level. If Lee develops the way many expect him too and if the back court of Ulis, Briscoe and Murray can find a way to coexist, you’re looking at a group that is capable of winning the national title. Not bad for a “down year” on the recruiting trail.

4. Kansas

  • Who’s back: Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene, Svi Mykhailiuk, Landen Lucas
  • Who’s gone: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander
  • Who they’re getting: Carlton Bragg, Cheick Diallo, LeGerald Vick
  • Why they’re here: Kansas has gotten quite a bit of good news this spring. In addition to finding out Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden are returning to school, the Jayhawks will be adding top five big man Diallo to the mix. He’ll had some much-needed toughness and energy to the Jayhawk front line. The x-factor for this team now becomes whether or not Mykhailiuk can live up to the hype he had when he signed with Kansas last summer.

5. Iowa State

  • Who’s back: Georges Niang, Monte’ Morris, Naz Long, Jameel McKay, Matt Thomas
  • Who’s gone: Fred Hoiberg, Bryce Dejean-Jones
  • Who they’re getting: Steve Prohm, Hallice Cooke, Deonte Burton
  • Why they’re here: The talent is still there — Niang and Morris are potential all-americans, and the Cyclones will have plenty of veteran role players available — but the man that brought them all together is not. The Cyclones were never really a good defensive team under former coach Fred Hoiberg, but they were an offensive juggernaut. Can Steve Prohm continue the program’s winning ways, or was Iowa State’s success a result of Hoiberg’s brilliance?

6. Virginia

  • Who’s back: Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, London Perrantes, Marial Shayok
  • Who’s gone: Darion Atkins, Justin Anderson
  • Who they’re getting: Jarred Reuter
  • Why they’re here: The Cavs return essentially their entire roster from the 2015-2016 team with the notable exception of Anderson. Without him, they really struggled to score at times. The key for this group will be the development of Shayok as a potential replacement for Anderson.
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7. Duke

  • Who’s back: Matt Jones, Grayson Allen, Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson
  • Who’s gone: Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow
  • Who they’re getting: Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton, Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter, Sean Obi
  • Why they’re here: We’re assuming they get Ingram, which would be a major addition, but the bigger news is that Duke has now landed their point guard for 2015-16: Derryck Thornton. He’s not Tyus Jones, and he’s not going to replace Quinn Cook’s leadership, but he is a five-star point guard recruit.

8. Villanova

  • Who’s back: Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu, Kris Jenkins, Phil Booth
  • Who’s gone: JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard
  • Who they’re getting: Jalen Brunson, Tim Delaney, Donte Divincenczo
  • Why they’re here: Losing Hilliard and Pinkston is really going to hurt, but there are two things that make be feel really good about this Villanova team: Hart is going to be an all-Big East player this season, and Brunson is the real deal.

9. Baylor

  • Who’s back: Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince, Jonathan Motley, Lester Medford
  • Who’s gone: Kenny Chery, Royce O’Neale
  • Who they’re getting: King McClure, Jake Lindsey, Wendell Mitchell, Joseph Acuil
  • Why they’re here: With Gathers and Prince returning, the Bears will have one of the best front lines in the country. The big issue for them is going to be their ball-handling. Can Lester Medford handle full time point guard duties?

10. Arizona

  • Who’s back: Kaleb Tarczewski, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Elliott Pitts, Dusan Ristic, Gabe York
  • Who’s gone: Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, T.J. McConnell
  • Who they’re getting: Justin Simon, Ray Smith, Chance Comanche, Allonzo Trier, Ryan Anderson, Kadeem Allen
  • Why they’re here: Sean Miller is once again bringing in a loaded class, which he’ll need as the Wildcats will likely lose four of their five starters from last season. That said, Anderson was a nightly double-double threat at Boston College and the trio of Simon, Smith and Trier will all be instant impact guys on the perimeter.

11. Cal

  • Who’s back: Ty Wallace, Jabari Bird, Jordan Mathews, Kameron Rooks
  • Who’s gone: David Kravish
  • Who they’re getting: Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Stephen Domingo, Tyson Jolly, Davon Dillard
  • Why they’re here: It was important for Cuonzo Martin to get Wallace and Bird back for another year, as his perimeter attack with Rabb in the middle has the chance to be really dangerous. Adding Brown late only sweetens the deal for the serious Pac-12 contenders.

12. Michigan State

  • Who’s back: Denzel Valentine, Lourawls Nairn, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling
  • Who’s gone: Travis Trice, Branden Dawson
  • Who they’re getting: Eron Harris, Deyonta Davis, Matt McQuaid
  • Why they’re here: West Virginia transfer Harris is going to have a chance to be a very, very good player in this back court. They need Nairn to take a significant step forward, particularly offensively, but Valentine may end up being the Big Ten Player of the Year. Adding Davis will help inside, but this group would be even more potent had they managed to hang onto Caleb Swanigan.

13. Wichita State

  • Who’s back: Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Gregg Marshall, Evan Wessel, Rashard Kelly, Shaquille Morris
  • Who’s gone: Darius Carter, Tekele Cotton, Ria’n Holland, Tevin Glass
  • Who they’re getting: Conner Frankamp, Markus McDuffie, Landry Shamet, Eric Hamilton, Tyrone Taylor, Anton Grady
  • Why they’re here: Losing Cotton and Carter is going to hurt, but with the Big Three — VanVleet, Baker and Marshall — all back, the Shockers will once again be in good shape. Also key for the Shockers is the addition of graduate transfer Anton Grady, who’s just the player they needed with Darius Carter out of eligibility.

14. Georgetown

  • Who’s back: Isaac Copeland, L.J. Peak, Tre Campbell, Paul White, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera
  • Who’s gone: Josh Smith, Mikael Hopkins, Jabril Trawick
  • Who they’re getting: Marcus Derrickson, Jessie Govan, Kaleb Johnson
  • Why they’re here: Getting Smith-Rivera back is huge, as he’ll be the senior leader for a team that had a terrific 2014 recruiting class. Will the Hoyas have enough talent and size on the interior?

15. Oklahoma

  • Who’s back: Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler, Jordan Woodard
  • Who’s gone: Frank Booker, TaShawn Thomas
  • Who they’re getting: Christian James, Akolda Manyang, Rashard Odomes
  • Why they’re here: The return of Hield (and four starters overall) makes the Sooners a threat in the Big 12 along with Kansas and Iowa State. But there is the depth question, and how they account for the loss of Thomas is the biggest key for OU.

16. Indiana

  • Who’s back: Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams, Robert Johnson, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Nick Zeisloft
  • Who’s gone: Max Hoetzel, Stanford Robinson
  • Who they’re getting: Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan
  • Why they’re here: The four things that Tom Crean needed to have happen did: He landed a commitment from Bryant, a shot-blocking and rebounding presence around the rim, while getting Ferrell, Blackmon and Williams back for another year.
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17. Michigan

  • Who’s back: Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Kameron Chatman, Ricky Doyle, Spike Albrecht, Aubrey Dawkins
  • Who’s gone: Max Biefieldt
  • Who they’re getting: Moritz Wagner, Duncan Robinson
  • Why they’re here: The Wolverines struggled last season while dealing with injuries, but they return everyone that matters from last season, have a front line with a year of experience under their belt and John Beilein. I’ll bet on that.

18. Xavier

  • Who’s back: Trevon Bluiett, Jalen Reynolds, Myles Davis, Remy Abell, J.P. Macura, James Farr
  • Who’s gone: Dee Davis, Matt Stainbrook
  • Who they’re getting: Kaiser Gates, Edmund Sumner
  • Why they’re here: We’re expecting Bluiett, Reynolds and Macura to take big steps forward.

19. Wisconsin

  • Who’s back: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig
  • Who’s gone: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, Duje Dukan
  • Who they’re getting: Brevin Pritzl, Charlie Thomas, Alex Illikainen, Jahlil Iverson
  • Why they’re here: You’re going to be the guy to bet against Bo Ryan turning this into a top 25 team? We’re not.

20. Louisville

  • Who’s back: Quentin Snider, Mangok Mathiang, Anas Mahmoud
  • Who’s gone: Terry Rozier, Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear, Shaqquan Aaron
  • Who they’re getting: Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, Donovan Mitchell, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel
  • Why they’re here: Part of it is loving their freshmen class and part of it is faith in Rick Pitino.

21. Gonzaga

  • Who’s back: Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski, Domas Sabonis, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Kyle Draginis
  • Who’s gone: Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, Byron Wesley
  • Who they’re getting: None as of right now (Jesse Wade will be on his LDS mission)
  • Why they’re here: Their front line will be awesome once again. But how will they overcome losing Pangos and Bell in the back court?

22. UCLA

  • Who’s back: Bryce Alford, Tony Parker, Isaac Hamilton, Thomas Welsh
  • Who’s gone: Kevon Looney, Norman Powell
  • Who they’re getting: Jonah Bolden, Prince Ali, Aaron Holiday, Alex Olesinki
  • Why they’re here: There’s a ton of talent on this roster, the question is what Steve Alford is going to be able to get out of it.

23. Marquette

  • Who’s back: Duane Wilson, Sandy Cohen, Jajuan Johnson, Luke Fischer
  • Who’s gone: Juan Anderson, Matt Carlino, Derrick Wilson
  • Who they’re getting: Henry Ellenson, Matt Heldt, Traci Carter, Haanif Cheatham, Sacar Anim
  • Why they’re here: The combination of Luke Fischer and Henry Ellenson with all those talented guards around them is quite promising.

24. Notre Dame

  • Who’s back: Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia, Bonzie Colson
  • Who’s gone: Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton
  • Who they’re getting: Rex Pflueger, Elijah Burns, Matt Ryan
  • Why they’re here: Demetrius Jackson has a chance to be an all-american next season.

25. Vanderbilt

  • Who’s back: Damian Jones, Riley LaChance, Wade Baldwin
  • Who’s gone: James Siakam
  • Who they’re getting: Camron Justice, D’jery Baptiste, Samir Sehic, Joseph Toye
  • Why they’re here: One of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch, the Commodores bring back nearly every key piece and add a solid recruiting class to the mix. Damian Jones will be a first team all-SEC caliber player.

THE NEXT FIVE: Utah, SMU, Purdue, LSU, Texas A&M

ALSO CONSIDERED: Butler, Cincinnati, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, N.C. State, Oregon, San Diego State, UConn

Vanderbilt lands five-star forward Simi Shittu

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Vanderbilt continues to build a monster recruiting class under head coach Bryce Drew as five-star 2018 forward Simi Shittu pledged to the Commodores on Wednesday.

The second five-star commitment for Vanderbilt in the Class of 2018, Shittu joins top point guard prospect Darius Garland to form one of the best freshman combinations in the country for next season. The Commodores also have a top-150 forward in Aaron Nesmith.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Shittu is coming off of a monster summer in which he became a major problem and top-ten recruit. The No. 8 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 recruiting rankings, Shittu is a huge get and an instant starter for Vanderbilt next season.

By landing prospects like Garland and Shittu, Drew is also becoming a major player in a short amount of time as a high-major coach. Always a noted recruiter at the mid-major level at Valparaiso, now Vanderbilt is seeing Drew’s hiring workout as he’s bringing top talent to the program.

If Drew can continue to recruit like this then Vanderbilt could be in position to be in the top half of the SEC as the league has seen some of its rebuilds go poorly over the last few years.

Kansas still without freshman Billy Preston

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Kansas freshman Billy Preston has yet to make his debut for the Jayhawks and it appears he’ll have to wait a bit longer before that happens.

Head coach Bill Self met with media earlier this week to discuss the Preston situation, saying that nothing has changed about his status quite yet. Preston was previously suspended for violating a team rule when he missed the game against Tennessee State. Before Preston was set to debut against Kentucky in the Champions Classic he was also withheld from the contest after the revelation that Preston had been in a single-vehicle accident the previous weekend.

“I have actually been out, until I just pulled back in, so as of this morning, there was no movement. The last time you guys asked me was Friday and so you don’t work on Saturday or Sunday, so there is nothing new on that situation,” Self said.

“Sure, I’m worried,” Self also added. “I’m concerned and I do think that it can work itself, based on what I’ve been told. I also think that it obviously hadn’t happened yet.”

It’s uncertain when the next step in any of this will play out but Self doesn’t appear to be too concerned over it. Kansas has won without Preston so far but they could definitely use his size, scoring punch and overall depth to a team that isn’t very deep right now.

A matchup nightmare, Preston could help the Jayhawk offense while also giving Udoka Azubuike additional help on the glass and protecting the rim.

(H/t: Jesse Newell, Kansas City Star)

Brian Bowen not allowed to play at Louisville

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Louisville announced on Wednesday that freshman wing Brian Bowen will not be allowed to play at the school. The former McDonald’s All-American will be allowed to remain on scholarship but he can’t participate in any team activities.

Bowen was tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball this fall as an adidas company executive is alleged to have been part of a scheme to deliver $100,000 to Bowen’s family, according to court documents.

Bowen hired attorney Jason Setchen to fight the case and seek reinstatement as Setchen had experience dealing with college basketball scandals before. When DeQuan Jones was suspended from Miami after the Nevin Shapiro case in 2011, Setchen helped Jones re-gain his eligibility as Miami.

With this case, Bowen was not allowed back at Louisville as the school has fired head coach Rick Pitino and most of his previous staff. Athletic Director Tom Jurich also lost his job, so the Cardinals are definitely cleaning house and trying to detach themselves from anyone involved.

It will be interesting to see what Bowen opts to do in light of this news. He’s talented enough that other schools could want him, if he’s eligible, but he’s also a former five-star prospect who could have pro aspirations. But since Bowen won’t be playing this season, he also hasn’t had a chance to spotlight his game to potential pro suitors.

 

President Trump fires back at LaVar Ball on Twitter

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The never-ending war of words between President Donald Trump and LaVar Ball escalated to another level on Wednesday morning.

Starting his early-morning tweets with some messages aimed at Ball, President Trump continued to double down on his insistence that he helped play a role in the safe return of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s middle son, was one of the three players involved in the international incident as fellow Bruins Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were also arrested. The trio returned to the United States last week after UCLA left China without them following a win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game.

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LaVar has drawn the ire of President Trump for downplaying the President’s role in the return of the UCLA trio as Ball maintains that others had more to do with the release. All three UCLA players publicly thanked President Trump and the United States government during their return press conference on Nov. 15. The three players remain suspended indefinitely from all activities with the men’s basketball team.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, LaVar was critical of Trump’s role in the whole ordeal while also questioning why the President would spend so much time bothering for a thank you from the father of one of those arrested.

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

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It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.