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20 Bold Predictions for the 2016-17 College Basketball Season

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Here are our 20 bold predictions for the 2016-17 college basketball season.

Wisconsin won’t make the NCAA tournament’s second weekend: The Badgers return all five starters from a team that made the Sweet 16 last season, but the Big Ten is weaker this season and the rest of college basketball is stronger. Wisconsin won’t be as battle-tested heading into the postseason. (Scott Phillips)

Villanova becomes the first repeat national champion since the Florida Gators from a decade ago: Sure Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu are huge loses, not just from a production standpoint but a leadership one. However, Jay Wright has Josh Hart, a national player of the year candidate, and a versatile lineup that can bring home a second straight title. (Terrence Payne)

Creighton wins the Big East: Villanova has to deal with the pressure of wearing the crown and Xavier drops a game or two they shouldn’t, clearing the path for Creighton and their huge home court advantage to leapfrog both. (Travis Hines)

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Maryland wins at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title: I’m not enamored with any of the four teams most have pegged at the top of the Big Ten: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin. I’m not necessarily enamored with Maryland, either, but I do think that Melo Trimble is going to be a problem this year. He averages 20 points and six dimes and the Terps shine. (Rob Dauster)

Texas Tech will finish second in the Big 12: The Red Raiders were a surprising NCAA tournament team last season and they return most of last season’s core. With the rest of the Big 12 outside of Kansas having a significant amount of question marks, Texas Tech has a chance to make a major move. (SP)

AMES, IA - JANUARY 18: Monte Morris #11 of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrates after scoring a three point basket in the second half of play against the Oklahoma Sooners at Hilton Coliseum on January 18, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 82-77 over the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
Monte Morris (David Purdy/Getty Images)

Monte’ Morris becomes the national player of the year: Not much of a bold prediction considering that he’s the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and an All-American candidate, but I think he could be the best player in college hoops this year. He doesn’t turn the ball over, we know that. But like Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne, two former Steve Prohm point guards, I think we’ll see a big increase in his points per game. (TP)

The Big Ten will be contested by three or more teams heading into the final week: Wisconsin and Michigan State are the prohibitive favorites but Purdue and Ohio State will be right there going into the league tournament. (TH)

N.C. State reaches the Elite 8: When it comes to the talent on the roster, I’m not sure that are ten teams better on paper than the Wolfpack. Dennis Smith Jr. will be a star and Omer Yurtseven will be a first round pick. The shooters on the perimeter makes shots and Abdul-Malik Abu plays his role, this team matches up with anyone. Can Mark Gottfried get them that far? (RD)

Mustapha Heron will be one of the five most productive freshmen in college basketball: The Auburn freshman wasn’t selected to any of the major spring high school all-star games, but with a starting role in a weaker power conference, Heron could put up big numbers. (SP)

Both Chattanooga and UT Arlington, not only make the tournament, but pull off upsets: We’re bound for upsets this March. We know that. But I think the Mocs and the Mavericks will be two of this year’s Cinderellas. Kevin Hervey and UT Arlington was 13-2 and had defeated Ohio State and Memphis. Then he tore his ACL. Little Rock went onto win the Sun Belt and upset Purdue. UT Arlington brings back everyone from a 24-win team. Chattanooga, a tournament team from a season ago, will have its hands full with EasteTennessee State, but I still give the Mocs the edge. They bring back four starters and Casey Jones, the 2015 SoCon Player of the Year, who missed all of last year. (TP)

Austin Nichols will be ACC Player of the Year: There are more talented players in the conference, but Nichols is positioned perfectly to put up big numbers for a good team. (TH)

Virginia Athletics
Austin Nichols, courtesy Virginia Athletics

By March, we’ll be talking about Duke as the best team in the one-and-done era: Harry Giles III comes back healthy to contribute 20 minutes a night, Grayson Allen adjusts to more of a lead guard role and Jayson Tatum ends up being a better version than Brandon Ingram was last season. (RD)

Florida will become a consistent top 25 team: Things were up-and-down in Mike White’s first year but Kasey Hill was great at the end of the last season and Devin Robinson, KeVaughn Allen and John Egbunu give the Gators enough talent to once again be a major threat. (SP)

Whoever loses the February 11th game between Georgia Tech and Boston College will go winless in the ACC: Boston College went 0-18 in league. ACC is absolutely brutal this year. Twelve teams have a realistic shot to make the NCAA Tournament, which only limits the amount of wins for the Yellow Jackets and Eagles. (TP)

Kansas will go 18-0 in Big 12 play: The Jayhawks have a near-impenetrable homecourt advantage and the rest of the league will be down significantly, making their 13th-straight title their most definitive. (TH)

Malik Monk will be a top five pick: Come March, it will be evident that Monk is the best player on Kentucky. His shot selection will improve on a more talented team, he’ll consistently make jumpers and his athleticism will have teams salivating over finding the “Next Russell Westbrook”. (RD)

Conference USA will have more NCAA tourney contenders than the Mountain West: After sending only one team to the NCAA tournament in 2016, things don’t look much better for the Mountain West in 2017. Conference USA has UAB and Middle Tennessee returning a lot while Western Kentucky could be intriguing. (SP)

Virginia Tech wins at least a share of the ACC regular season title: I’m high on the Hokies, and you should be too. They bring back essentially everyone (Kerry Blackshear may be out for the year with an injury) and could really surprise people in the ACC standings. Duke has some injury concerns, Virginia lost Malcolm Brogdon (18.2 points per game is a lot in that offense) and while Louisville has a high ceiling, it’s dependent on sophomores making big jumps. (TP)

St. Mary’s makes it to February undefeated: The Gaels will have to get by Dayton on the road in November and Gonzaga in January, but they’ve got the personnel and experience to get it done. (TH)

All four No. 1 seeds get to the Final Four: Just like in 2015, there is a clear delineation between the best teams and the rest of the country, and one of those top teams – Oregon – will be dealing with an all-american that has a foot issue. (RD)

Malik Monk (Kentucky Athletics)
Malik Monk (Kentucky Athletics)

Point man: Can Nick Weiler-Babb’s move to PG put Iowa State back in the tourney?

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AMES, Ia. — It was clear Iowa State needed a change. The Cyclones stood 0-2 with an 18-point home loss to Milwaukee already on the resume. It was clear they were due for a reboot this season after losing four starters – including All-American point guard Monte Morris – but getting trounced at Hilton Coliseum by a team picked to finish eighth in the Horizon League constitutes an emergency.

The Cyclones didn’t panic, though. They adjusted. 

After that disastrous start to the season, coach Steve Prohm moved Nick Weiler-Babb from small forward to point guard while slotting the two players who had been manning the point –  sharpshooter Donovan Jackson and five-star freshman Lindell Wigginton – off the ball.

All Iowa State done since is win.

The Cyclones have rattled off seven-straight with Weiler-Babb flirting with triple-doubles, Jackson shooting 41.6 percent from deep and Wigginton looking like a future star.

“Good we moved him over there,” Prohm said.

It certainly has been good for the Cyclones. Iowa State was 9 of 34 (26.5 percent) from 3-point range, shot 38.8 percent overall and failed to reach 60 points in its opening two losses. In the seven games since, they’re converting at a 46.4 percent clip overall, 39.4 percent from distance and averaging 83.6 points per game. They’ve seemingly become a different team with Weiler-Babb at the helm.

“It’s taking a whole new role,” Weiler-Babb said. “Coach just told me whatever I have to do to win, I have to do it. That’s what I’ve tried to do. Take the ball out of the guys’ hands and give it to the scorers.”

The 6-foot-5 junior is averaging 7.9 assists along with 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He’s become indispensable for the Cyclones a year after being a bit player on the Big 12 tournament championship team.

“He went through some tough times last year,” Prohm said. “But that’s what everybody’s got to understand. Freshmen, sophomore, you’ve got to put your time in a little bit to have success and earn success. He’s doing that.”

The immediate returns have been spectacular for Iowa State, but a question still lingers as they eye Big 12 play later this month.

Is it real?

Or, rather, will it be real against an unforgiving Big 12 schedule? Given Iowa State’s non-conference slate, whether it is or not will determine the postseason fate of a team sitting on a program-best six-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

As good as Weiler-Babb and the Cyclones have been during their seven-game winning streak, the competition can’t be ignored. Iowa State’s best win during this stretch is either Boise State, which only got 8 minutes from Chandler Hutchison after a head injury, or Iowa, which is 5-6 with losses to Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State. The wins haven’t all come easy for Iowa State, either. They narrowly defeated Appalachian State and Tulsa while initially struggling against Northern Illinois and Alcorn State before pulling away.

Things have been good for the Cyclones, but they haven’t been perfect.

Iowa State is a mediocre shooting team overall and could have serious spacing issues going forward given the roster forces Prohm to play two non-shooting bigs together for major minutes. Wigginton has been excellent, scoring 20-plus in three of the last four games, but his level of athleticism is something the likes of Western Illinois can’t counter. Texas, Kansas and West Virginia can. Big swaths of the roster, which features eight newcomers, haven’t faced Big 12 caliber competition ever in their careers. Weiler-Babb’s size and skill at the point guard position makes him a major problem for mid-majors, but can he keep up this pace when he faces length and physicality similar to his own?

Those questions, though, have to be welcomed by the Cyclones. If there were answers to them for a team with so much youth and so many unproven players in new positions in mid-December, it probably would register in the negative.

That they’re unknown means there is possibility, opportunity and promise. That exists in no small part because Prohm made Weiler-Babb a point guard.

“The challenge is, what do we really want to be?” Prohm said. “But he spearheads everything we do.”

Texas’ Jones out with a broken wrist

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Texas may be without its leading scorer heading into conference play.

Longhorns coach Shaka Smart announced Monday that sophomore Andrew Jones suffered a hairline fracture in his right wrist and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

“Fortunately it’s not one of those injuries where he should be out for an extended long period of time,” Smart said at his news conference Monday, “but he’s going to miss at least the next few games before Christmas. They decided not to put it in a cast, which is good news.”

Jones suffered the injury last week against VCU when he took a number of tumbles to the floor. He’s averaging 15.3 points while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from 3-point range.

“It’s a tough injury for us because he’s our leading scorer and has done a phenomenal job for us this year,” Smart said. “We’re going to need everyone on our team, not just guards, but everyone on our team to step up and take a little more responsibility.

“Your margin for error is a little smaller.”

The Longhorns, who are 6-2 with losses to Duke and Gonzaga, face Michigan on Tuesday, Louisiana Tech on Saturday and Alabama next week. Jones is certainly out for those games, and his availability for Texas’ first Big 12 games – Dec. 29 vs. Kansas and Jan. 1 at Iowa State – would seem to be in question.

“We don’t have an exact timeframe,” Smart said. “It’s really good news they didn’t put it in a cast.

“We’re hopeful that we can get him back in three, four weeks, but that’s not a set timetable.”

 

Coaches Poll: Villanova climbs to the No. 1 spot

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The new top 25 coaches poll is out, and the No. 1 team in college basketball is now Villanova.

Michigan State, who received 10 of a possible 32 first-place votes, came in at No. 2 while Duke, last week’s No. 1 team, fell to No. 4 with a loss to Boston College.

After winning at Kansas this week, Arizona State vaulted up to the No. 6 spot, while the Jayhawks fell to No. 12.

Here is the full coaches poll.

1. Villanova (22 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (10)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Kentucky
6. Arizona State
7. North Carolina
8. Miami
9. Xavier
10. Texas A&M
11. West Virginia
12. Kansas
13. Gonzaga
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Oklahoma
25. Creighton

Villanova hops over Michigan State for No. 1 in AP Top 25

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Villanova’s unbeaten start now includes a No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 , while Arizona State is making a rapid rise into the top 10 under third-year coach Bobby Hurley.

After a tumultuous week in which unanimous No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Kansas lost, the Wildcats (10-0) earned 41 of 65 first-place votes to hop over Michigan State and reach the top for the third straight season.

Villanova and Michigan State were the favorites to take over at the top after the Blue Devils’ weekend loss at Boston College, though there was far less certainty for voters about who was now the nation’s top team. The Spartans (9-1) earned 19 first-place votes to climb from third to second, while the other five first-place votes went to the Sun Devils — who leapt 11 spots to No. 5 after Sunday’s win at Kansas.

Arizona State (9-0) is off to its best start since the 1974-75 season. Now the Sun Devils — who also have a win against Xavier this season — have their highest ranking since reaching third during the 1980-81 season.

Wichita State climbed three spots to No. 3, followed by Duke and Arizona State. Unbeaten Miami climbed four spots to No. 6, followed by North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Xavier to round out the top 10.

Villanova helped itself with an impressive win against No. 12 Gonzaga last week in New York, though the Wildcats had to fight to the final minute Sunday to close out a La Salle team that entered at 5-5.

“It’s always an honor to be ranked No. 1,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “It’s great for the Nova Nation and we appreciate the respect of the writers. We know it’s early, though, and we need to get a lot better.”

KANSAS’ FALL

The Jayhawks (7-2) slid 11 spots to No. 13 after two losses last week, the first coming against Washington in Kansas City, Missouri, before losing to the Sun Devils in Allen Fieldhouse.

SHUFFLE UP

Only two teams — No. 8 Kentucky and No. 12 Gonzaga — stayed in the same spot. Thirteen teams rose in the poll, while four of the seven teams that fell slid at least eight spots.

TOP RISERS

Arizona State’s leap was the biggest, though No. 11 West Virginia (9-1) moved up seven spots after beating then-No. 15 Virginia. No. 14 TCU (10-0) climbed six spots after a win against a then-ranked Nevada team.

Miami, UNC, No. 15 Seton Hall, No. 17 Purdue and No. 20 Tennessee all climbed four spots.

LONGEST SLIDES

While Kansas’ losses stood out, No. 22 Florida had the biggest fall of the week.

The Gators (6-3) slid 17 spots after home losses to Florida State and to Loyola Chicago — a game in which they led for all of 93 seconds. Florida salvaged a win against Cincinnati in the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, New Jersey, to avoid a four-game skid.

No. 18 Notre Dame (8-2) fell nine spots after an upset loss to Ball State, while the No. 25 Bearcats (7-2) slid eight spots.

NEWCOMERS

There were three newcomers to this week’s poll, though one is more of a welcome back.

The list included No. 19 Florida State (9-0) and No. 24 Texas Tech (7-1), while Arizona returned to the rankings at No. 23.

Arizona’s 0-3 showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas made the Wildcats the first team in three decades to go from No. 2 in the AP Top 25 to unranked in a week. But four straight wins have the preseason Final Four favorite back in the poll.

SLIDING OUT

Minnesota (No. 14 last week), Nevada (No. 22) and Southern California (No. 25) all fell out of the poll.

1. Villanova (41 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Arizona State (5)
6. Miami
7. North Carolina
8. Kentucky
9. Texas A&M
10. Xavier
11. West Virginia
12. Gonzaga
13. Kansas
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Texas Tech
25. Cincinnati

Expelled Yale captain has enrolled at Belmont University

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Former Yale basketball captain Jack Montague, who was expelled from the Ivy League school in 2016 for sexual misconduct, has enrolled at Belmont University in Tennessee.

Montague, who is still suing to be readmitted to Yale, complained in a court deposition last spring that he was unable to apply to other schools. He said Yale would not release his transcript until he paid a disputed tuition bill.

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for Montague, says Yale later released the transcript, allowing Montague to enroll at Belmont this fall. She says not all of his credits transferred and he will need two semesters to graduate.

He exhausted his basketball eligibility at Yale.

Montague denies the sexual misconduct allegations. No criminal charges were ever sought.

Yale’s attorneys have said the school and its officials acted appropriately.

The lawsuit, which also seeks monetary damages, is expected to go to trial next year.