2016-17 Major Previews

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Big East Preview: Can Villanova repeat as national champs?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big East Conference.

The Big East Conference, in its third season of a relaunch, finally achieved nationwide validation it had been seeking when Kris Jenkins sunk a buzzer-beating three to lift Villanova over North Carolina, 77-74, in one of the greatest national championship games of all time.

In 2016-17, the 10-team league has a chance to build on that momentum, and once again it starts with Jay Wright’s Wildcats.

Xavier, coming off a historic season that saw the Musketeers climb to their highest ranking ever, stands as Villanova’s top threat again, while Creighton is poised to make a jump into the contender conversation.

The Big East, on average, has sent half the league to the NCAA Tournament over the past three years. Expect that to be the same in 2017.

LEAGUE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten | | SECMid-Majors

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FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Villanova won the national championship: In an instant classic, Villanova won the program’s second national championship, ending the criticism surrounding Jay Wright in March (despite him having a Final Four appearance on his résumé).

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

Even with the graduation Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, and those are big losses for Villanova, the Wildcats have the best chance to repeat as national champions since the Florida Gators during 2006-07 season. Josh Hart, a national player of the year candidate, and Kris Jenkins are back, while Jalen Brunson could be in for a big sophomore season as the primary ball handler. Mikal Bridges figures to be the next Villanova player to come through the system and become a breakout star. Eric Paschall, a Fordham transfer, adds another versatile wing. The Wildcats won’t have Omari Spellman, their top incoming recruit who was ruled a partial-qualifier, but Darryl Reynolds, who has played sparingly over his first three seasons, showed glimpses when he started last year while Ochefu was out with a concussion.

NBC Sports has Villanova ranked as the No. 2 in the nation this preseason.

2. Some stars left for the pros: Kris Dunn, the Big East Player of the Year, and Henry Ellenson, the Big East Freshman of the Year, left for the NBA as expected and became top-20 picks. Some players, like Ben Bentil and Isaiah Whitehead, weren’t guaranteed to bolt after their sophomore seasons, but both wound up being selected in the second round.

3. … and some stars returned: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Trevon Bluiett and Maurice Watson Jr., three of whom are listed below as Big East first teamers, all took advantage of the new NBA Draft rules and declared. All four elected to return to their respective schools. This made Villanova a favorite to return to the Final Four, meant Xavier is a top-10 caliber team and gave Creighton the backcourt that can guide the program back to the NCAA Tournament.

4. Creighton’s new era: Speaking of Creighton, many people are bullish on the Bluejays, as Marcus Foster looks to replicate the success Watson had in his first season after sitting out a transfer year. Greg McDermott had four 20-win seasons to begin his tenure at Creighton, which had a lot to do with having one of the most prolific scorers in NCAA history, his son, Doug. After plummeting to ninth in the conference following Doug’s graduation, Creighton rebounded with a 20-15 record last season. This Creighton team has the potential to do what Dougie McBuckets’ led teams never did: make a deep NCAA Tournament run.

5. NCAA Tournament: One of the interesting aspects of the Big East reboot is that, on average, half the league gets into the NCAA Tournament. That’s one of the benefits of an 18-game, round-robin conference schedule. But in only three seasons, five different teams have appeared in the Big East Conference championship game, resulting in three different winners. Only two of the 10 teams — DePaul and Marquette — have failed to qualify for the Big Dance since its rebirth in 2013. That’s all a long-winded way of saying that this league has depth and balance.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats dunks the ball in the first half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Villanova’s Josh Hart (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Josh Hart, Villanova

Josh Hart’s rise has been a continuous one during his time at Villanova. He was a role player as a freshman and the Big East Sixth Man of the Year as a sophomore before cracking the starting lineup as a junior, which resulted in first-team all-league honors. The preseason All-American really does it all for the Wildcats. He’s the top returning scorer at 15.5 points per game, while shooting 36 percent from three. At 6-foot-6, he’s the best rebounding guard in the nation, corralling 6.8 boards a contest. And he’s a versatile defender, a key reason why Villanova ranked among the best defenses in the country last year.

THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM:

  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: A returning first-team all-Big East selection, Bluiett tested the NBA waters before returning to Cincinnati. The 6-foot-5 junior, who averaged 15.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, is obviously an important piece for the Musketeers. His versatility allows them to space the floor on offense given his 3-point touch, and his strength helps him defend opposing fours.
  • Kris Jenkins, Villanova: The hero of the 2016 national championship game, averaged 15.5 points per game, shooting 49 percent from three during the NCAA Tournament. While he’ll be known for that shot, Jenkins is a quality rebounder and defender, something he put an emphasis on during the course of last season.
  • Kelan Martin, Butler: Despite starting in only 14 of 33 games last season, Martin is the conference’s top returning scorer at 15.7 points per game. With Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones gone after impressive careers, Martin will be the focal point of a talented, yet thin roster. One would imagine that he’d have to assume some of the responsibilities left behind by Jones (i.e. ball-handling, defense, and most importantly, leadership) and not just replace the scoring production of Dunham.
  • Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton: Many questioned Watson’s move from Boston University to Creighton, but those naysayers were silenced when he finished his debut season in the Big East, averaging 14.1 points, 6.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. With plenty of shooters surrounding him, Watson should be a nightmare for defenses when he gets involved in pick-and-rolls situations and gets into the lane.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Isaac Copeland, Georgetown
  • Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
  • Marcus Foster, Creighton
  • Billy Garrett Jr., DePaul
  • Edmond Sumner, Xavier

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03: Edmond Sumner #4 of the Xavier Musketeers dunks the ball during the game against the St. John's Red Storm at Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Xavier’s Edmond Sumner (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR: Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall

You could go a bunch of different ways with this pick: Marcus Derrickson at Georgetown, Xavier’s J.P. Macura, the reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year, or Marquette’s Haanif Cheatham, but I’m going with the Seton Hall lead guard.

For starters, Khadeen Carrington averaged an extremely quiet 14.1 points per game. That’s understandable when the majority of the attention was focused on Isaiah Whitehead. With Whitehead now in the NBA, Carrington has a chance to improve on those numbers. Carrington showed promising strides from his freshman to sophomore year, becoming one of the best two-way guards in the league. The big test for him is how quickly he can adjust to running the team.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: John Thompson III, Georgetown

In no way am I saying John Thompson III is in jeopardy of losing his job. He’s been to eight NCAA Tournaments in 12 years, reaching a Final Four in 2007. On top of that 264–133 record, his father, who built the program into a national powerhouse, is still very much part of the university. The school recently opened a brand-new, state of the art athletic center, named after him.

But Georgetown is coming off a disappointing year. Pegged to finish second in the league, the Hoyas staggered to a 15-18 (7-11 Big East) record, missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons. Georgetown is 3-6 — with three first-round exits — in the NCAA Tournament since the Final Four run in 2007.

Despite graduating D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, JT3 has a team that looks good on paper: Isaac Copeland, L.J. Peak, Marcus Derrickson, Jessie Govan and Rodney Pryor. Hoyas certainly have the talent of top-25 caliber team, and they’ll get plenty of opportunities to prove so against a non-conference slate that includes Maryland, Oregon (and the rest of the Maui Invitational field), Syracuse and UConn.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : At least half the league is in the field of 68 once again

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Villanova’s title defense

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • November 15, Creighton vs. Wisconsin
  • November 15, Georgetown vs. Maryland
  • December 10, Villanova vs. Notre Dame (Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey)
  • December 17, Butler vs. Indiana (BankersLife Arena, Indianapolis, Indiana)
  • January 26, Xavier vs. Cincinnati

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigEastMBB

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Jay Wright of the Villanova Wildcats shakes hands with head coach Chris Mack of the Xavier Musketeers after a game at the Pavilion on the campus of Villanova University on December 31, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Villanova’s Jay Wright and Xavier’s Chris Mack (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Villanova: The Wildcats are the unanimous favorite to win the Big East for a fourth straight season. While they won’t have freshman big man Omari Spellman, they have the defensive versatility, length and knockdown shooting to throw out this lineup at times: Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Eric Paschall, Kris Jenkins and Mikal Bridges. Do you wanna guard that five?
2. Xavier: Rebounding and depth may not be as good as last year’s team, but Xavier will push Villanova once again. Trevon Bluiett is back. Edmond Sumner could skyrocket as a player this year. J.P. Macura is a breakout candidate. But RaShid Gaston is undoubtedly the x-factor the Xavier. He nearly averaged a double-double in his final season at Norfolk State. But there’s a slight difference in competition between the MEAC and Big East. The new-look frontline is key for the Musketeers. The reason why the 1-3-1 zone defense (aside from its length) was so effective was because James Farr controlled the glass. Myles Davis’ status is still uncertain, but Xavier has the weapons and personnel to match with Villanova (and its hypothetical “Death Lineup” listed above).
3. Creighton: Maurice Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster make up one of the best backcourts in the country. A lot needs to go right for the Bluejays: Isaiah Zierden staying healthy, Khyri Thomas emerging as a third option, Justin Patton, Cole Huff and Toby Hegner stabilizing the frontcourt following the graduation of Geoffrey Groselle, 3-point shooting, etc. If this all comes together, I wouldn’t want to see this team come March.
4. Seton Hall: We’d be talking much differently about the Pirates had Isaiah Whitehead returned. Still, Kevin Willard, now off the hot seat, could lead Seton Hall to another NCAA Tournament run. Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado: take your pick. Any of those guys could emerge as the team’s best player. Defense will be their calling card, especially with a group of guys who love to get out and run.
5. Georgetown: A rebound year is in order at The Hilltop. Like mentioned above, the Hoyas bring back talent. They should be good. Tre Campbell, the presumptive starting point guard, showed flashes (i.e. 21 points of five 3-pointers against Xavier last season), but can he do it all year long? JT3 doesn’t shy away from non-conference opponents, and Georgetown will be tested early (vs. Maryland on Nov. 15; vs. Oregon on Nov. 21 in the Maui Invitational).
6. Butler: The return of Kelan Martin and arrival of Kethan Savage help offset the departures of Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones. Tyler Lewis need to take command of the point guard role with no Jones to play off of like last year. Butler’s depth is a concern again this season, but it’s realistic to view this as an NCAA Tournament team.
7. Marquette: Henry Ellenson, as expected, bolted for the NBA after one season. Luke Fischer is back on the frontline, but it surely isn’t a deep one. The Golden Eagles have a deep perimeter with Duane Wilson, Jujuan Johnson, Traci Carter, Sandy Cohen III and Haanif Cheatham being joined by Andrew Rowsey, Katin Reinhardt and Markus Howard. Ellenson leaving leaves a void in the rebounding department, and I’m not sure the new additions fix the turnover problems.
8. Providence: It’s tough to lose both Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. But Ed Cooley is a good coach, and I think Kyron Cartwright is capable of being a quality point guard in the Big East. My real concern is whether both Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey can become consistent scorers for the Friars. Newcomers also need to make instant contributions.
9. St. John’s: Chris Mullin’s second year at his alma mater should see slight strides. The Johnnies have one of the best frontlines in the league with two shot-blockers in Yankuba Sima and Kassoum Yakwe, as well as highly-touted JUCO forward Bashir Ahmed. Marcus LoVett Jr., who sat out last season, assumes the point guard role, while Shamorie Ponds, the Brooklyn native, will provide offensive firepower alongside shooter Federico Mussini.
10. DePaul: Billy Garrett Jr. will win the Blue Demons a few games in conference play, but I expect DePaul to continue this rebuild in Dave Leitao’s second season back. The new arena, opening in 2017, offers the program and its fans optimism.

SEC Preview: It’s Kentucky’s world, everyone else is living in it

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SEC.

For the last two or three years, all we’ve heard about the SEC is how the conference is on the way up.

It wasn’t just going to be simply be football and Kentucky anymore. Bruce Pearl was going to turn around Auburn. Ben Howland and Rick Barnes would do the same for Mississippi State and Tennessee. Billy Kennedy had himself a pipeline at Texas A&M, while Johnny Jones was landing No. 1 draft picks at LSU.

And yet, here we are in 2016-17, and the preseason AP poll has Kentucky ranked No. 2 … and nary another SEC program to be found.

I guess it’s going to be football and Kentucky for at least one more season.

LEAGUE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten | Mid-Majors

De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky Athletics
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Athletics

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kentucky is loaded with talent once again: Are you really surprised that, in a year where the freshman class is as good as we’ve ever seen it be, that Kentucky has a roster stocked with future first round draft picks? It starts with Bam Adebayo, a top ten prospect and the most athletic big man in the SEC, and continues with another pair of potential lottery picks in back court mates De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Isaiah Briscoe was a five-star prospect last season, Wenyen Gabriel could end up being the best defender on this team and there are some NBA people that think Sacha Killeya-Jones might end up being the best long-term prospect on the roster.

And I haven’t even mentioned Derek Willis or Isaac Humphries yet. Kentucky is certainly loaded with talent …

2. … but there are legitimate questions about fit: Specifically, just how well does this roster fit together? The way I see it, there are two legitimate concerns, the first of which is UK’s perimeter shooting. Fox and Briscoe have yet to prove themselves as three-point threats while Monk has been anything-but consistent as a perimeter shooter in his young career. Willis was the difference-maker last season when he was thrust into the squad, but when he is on the floor, issues emerge for the Wildcats defensively. Does he guard threes or fours? Can you play him over Gabriel, who isn’t the same shooter but who is a potential stopper defensively? Can Humphries act as a rim protector? Can he play with Adebayo on a team that is just about locked into perimeter shooting issues?

To read more on this, I went in-depth on the Wildcats here. It takes more than a paragraph to fully flesh out that thought process.

3. Florida has a team that can get to the tournament: For my money, Florida is the second-best team in the SEC on paper, and I’m not sure it is all that close. Kasey Hill is a former five-star recruit who finally, after nearly three seasons of inconsistency, looked like a McDonald’s All-American down the stretch. KeVaughn Allen had flashes of brilliance in a promising freshman year. Devin Robinson has the kind of physical tools that should allow him to thrive in Mike White’s uptempo style of play, and Chris Chiozza offers a nice counter-balance to the insanity as a heady playmaker. Throw in Canyon Barry – Rick’s last son – and powerhouse big man John Egbunu, not to mention a slew of solid role players coming off the bench, and this team has the pieces to crack the top 25. Can White unlock their potential?

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

ANNAPOLIS, MD - NOVEMBER 13: KeVaughn Allen #4 of the Florida Gators puts up a shot in front of Jace Hogan #44 of the Navy Midshipmen in the first half during the Veterans Classic at Alumni Hall on November 13, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
KeVaughn Allen (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

4. Beyond that, who can you trust in the SEC?: I’m legitimately asking you, because I don’t know that there is a team here you can. Georgia has J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten and nary another proven contributor. Ole Miss is going to be relying on a pair of transfers in Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett. I’m not sure Arkansas has the talent around Moses Kingsley to be worth paying attention to. Texas A&M lost so many veteran pieces from a season ago. Vanderbilt made a needed change at head coach, but losing two first rounders for a First Four program is not easy to over come. This feels like it is South Carolina’s year, but what have they done to prove that they’re something more than a middle-of-the-pack SEC program?

5. Auburn, Mississippi State and Tennessee really are on the right track: It really should not be a surprise to anyone that Ben Howland, Bruce Pearl and Rick Barnes are able to recruit, because they’ve been able to recruit at every stop they’ve landed during their coaching careers. And while all three programs are still at least a year away, they’re heading in the right direction. Pearl finally has a roster of 13 scholarship players whom he recruited, headlined by a five-star prospect in Mustapha Heron with a top five recruiting class coming next season. Howland has a potential star in Quinndary Weatherspoon and six four-star freshmen entering his program. Barnes has more work to do still, but the Vols are not devoid of talent, just size. The results are coming … eventually.

PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Moses Kingsley, Arkansas

Unless you are from the state of Arkansas, you may not realize just how good Kingsley was as a junior last season. The 6-foot-10 center averaged 15.9 points, 9.3 boards and 2.4 blocks despite playing for a Razorback team that didn’t have too many other threats.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 13: Moses Kingsley #33 of the Arkansas Razorbacks dunks against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the second round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Georgia Dome on March 13, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Moses Kingsley (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

THE REST OF THE ALL-SEC FIRST TEAM:

  • De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox could very well end up being the best perimeter defender in college basketball this season.
  • J.J. Frazier, Georgia: Frazier is so underrated. he averaged 16.9 points, 4.5 boards and 4.4 assists last season.
  • Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: If a Kentucky player is destined to win the SEC Player of the Year award, I think that it will end up being Bam.
  • Malik Monk, Kentucky: There isn’t a more exciting player in college basketball this season than Monk. The question is whether or not he is going to be consistent enough to garner postseason awards.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State
  • KeVaughn Allen, Florida
  • Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
  • Tyler Davis, Texas A&M
  • Yante Maten, Georgia

BREAKOUT STAR: Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Last year, playing on a team that was dominated by perimeter talent, a freshman like Davis was never really going to be a guy that was featured … and yet he still managed to average 11.3 points in just over 22 minutes. With guys like Danuel House, Alex Caruso and Jalen Jones gone, it’s going to be the Davis show for Billy Kennedy.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Johnny Jones, LSU

When you have the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft on your team posting stat lines of 19 points, 12 boards and five assists every single night, and you cannot get that team to care enough to get into the NCAA tournament, it’s not an easy task to justify your salary to your bosses. Jones did that. We’ll see if it’s still the case if the Tigers have a disastrous 2016-17 season.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Man, the SEC was lucky to get more than two teams into the Big Dance this year.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing how John Calipari puts all the pieces on his roster together.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • 11/15, Kentucky vs. Michigan State
  • 12/3, Kentucky vs. UCLA
  • 12/6, Florida vs. Duke
  • 12/17, Kentucky vs. North Carolina
  • 1/28, Kentucky vs. Kansas

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @kysportsradio

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky Athletics
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Athletics

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kentucky: Duh.
2. Florida: I just love the talent on this roster. I do think that, out of the rest of the teams in this league, the Gators have the highest ceiling, but don’t go betting your mortgage on Mike White being able to tap into that talent until he proves he can win at this level.
3. Georgia: The Bulldogs have the best 1-2 punch in the SEC this season with J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten. If you know who is going to step up to support those two, please drop us a line and let us know. But that duo should be enough to get the Bulldogs into the NCAA tournament conversation.
4. Ole Miss: Andy Kennedy is the longest-tenured coach in the SEC and has done a pretty good job running a program that you may forget has a basketball team. Transfers Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett should thrive in Kennedy’s offense – think of Neal as Marshall Henderson minus the crazy – while Sebastian Saiz is one of the more underrated bigs nationally.
5. Texas A&M: I think the Aggies are still probably a year away, but with Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg and J.J. Caldwell playing around Tyler Davis, I think Billy Kennedy has enough pieces to make a run at the top four in the league and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
6. South Carolina: It’s hard to know what to make of the Gamecocks. I think Frank Martin has the pieces he needs to play the way he wants to play, but it’s hard to ignore that they lost three starters or how their season ended in 2016. Let’s see if P.J. Dozier is the real deal.
7. Vanderbilt: Vandy lost two first round picks and their head coach, which is a lot to overcome. But Bryce Drew may actually be an upgrade and there is probably more talent in this program than you may realize: Matthew Fisher-Davis, Camron Justice, Luke Kornet, Jeff Roberson. The big question: Can Riley LaChance handle the point guard duties full-time?
8. Arkansas: Moses Kingsley is an animal and Dusty Hannahs has game good enough to back up one of the best names in college hoops, but I’m not yet convinced that a team coached by Mike Anderson can out-perform expectations.
9. Mississippi State: Quinndary Weatherspoon is one of the best players you haven’t heard of, and his ability is one of the reasons that no one is really talking about Malik Newman leaving the Bulldog program. Given their youth, this team is a year away, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Howland find a way to get them to around .500 in league play come March.
10. Alabama: There are some pieces here – namely Dazon Ingram, Riley Norris and Memphis transfer Nick King – but we’d be having a very different conversation about the Tide is Terrence Ferguson hadn’t decommitted.
11. Auburn: I have a feeling that Mustapha Heron is going to be better than some people realize, but the talent on the Tiger roster is just a bit too raw at this point to expect them to really compete for the postseason.
12. Tennessee: The Vols are going to be fun to watch this year because they’ll spread the floor and get up and down the court, but when you play high-major basketball and have just three players taller than 6-foot-6, you’re in trouble.
13. LSU: Johnny Jones couldn’t win with the most talented player in college basketball last season, which should we expect him to win with essentially the same team and no Ben Simmons?
14. Missouri: Head coach Kim Anderson climbed out of a coffin at Midnight Madness. That wasn’t the kind of symbolism the Tigers intended, I’m sure.

Beyond McBuckets: Creighton, Greg McDermott continue to work out of Doug’s shadow

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OMAHA — Creighton basketball is still here.

It’s understandable if you haven’t thought about them for the last two years, but the Bluejays are ready to make you remember them again. They never actually left, but they’re intent on being back.

When a place is home to one of the greatest careers in a generation, it’s hard not to see it as empty once that career is gone.

It’s going to be difficult, maybe even impossible, to separate Creighton basketball from Doug McDermott any time soon. And Creighton doesn’t really want to be separated from him, of course. He captured the attention of a nation and electrified the sport during his time in this city better known for college baseball than hoops.

Creighton, though, wants to be more than just Doug McDermott. The Bluejays have spent the first two years of the post-McBuckets era in a sort of purgatory. Forgotten by most, but building back toward relevance.

Now, as the Bluejays open the season as a top-25 team with one of the country’s best backcourts, they’re ready to reemerge.

“Putting Creighton back on the map,” senior point guard Maurice Watson told NBCSports.com. “I think it’s going to lead us in the future. I think this is going to turn into a basketball factory with the top talent we get here in the gym and the resources we have.

“To kind of start that off, start the rebuild back up, I think it’s going to be a lot for our legacies leaving college.”

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The legacy McDermott left at Creighton is undeniable. He scored 3,150 points. He shot 55 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from 3-point range. A three-time All-American, McDermott was the consensus National Player of the Year in 2014. He led the Bluejays to wins in three-consecutive NCAA tournaments, a program first.

That type of player leaving town after graduation would be tough enough for any program, let alone one just a year into its transition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the revamped Big East. It added another layer of complication, though, given McDermott’s dad, Greg, is Creighton’s coach.

“Obviously it was a thrill to be able to coach him,” coach McDermott told NBCSports.com. “As much fun and enjoyable as it was then, the further you get removed from it, the more special it becomes, I think for both Doug and I.

“I’m watching his (NBA) career from afar and trying to keep pace with what he’s doing with his career, but my focus is on this program and trying to get us back to the NCAA tournament.”

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: Head coach Greg McDermott talks to his son Doug McDermott #3 of the Creighton Bluejays in the second half against the Xavier Musketeers during the Semifinals of the 2014 Men's Big East Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 14, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Creighton coach Greg McDermott talks to his son, Doug (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

Usually, it’s the son that needs to escape a father’s shadow, but it’s fair to wonder if that’s the reverse for the McDermotts. Greg’s first try at a high-major program featured four sub-.500 seasons in which his Iowa State teams never finished higher than eighth in the Big 12. His first season without Doug at Creighton, the Bluejays went 14-19.

“You’re going to have adversity wherever you’re at, whatever job you have,” Doug McDermott said to NBCSports.com. “We had it going there for awhile. You kind of expect a little bit of a fallback. I think he realized that.”

Doug wasn’t the only loss from that team as three other senior starters departed. That left an inexperienced group, some of whom were recruited with the idea they’d be challenging the likes of Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State for conference titles, not Villanova, Xavier and Georgetown.

“We moved to the Big East Doug’s senior year and that senior class we could have gone to any league in the country and been fine,” Greg said, “because of the experience we had on that team. That was a positive.

“The negative was all those guys who played behind those four seniors didn’t play a lot, and all of sudden they’re thrown into a role as seniors in the Big East the next year and they hadn’t really played a prominent starting role in our program. That was asking a lot.”

Creighton finished last that year in the Big East as the Bluejays transitioned to a Doug-less reality.

“We obviously knew when Doug left we needed to work harder,” senior Isaiah Zierden, who was a freshman during McDermott’s senior year, said “and figure out a way to fill that pretty big void.”

That 2014-15 season was a struggle, but appears to be a one-year blip. Instead going into a tailspin, Creighton steered out of the skid last year, missing the NCAA tournament but going 20-15 with four starters set to return and one enigmatic but talented incoming transfer ready to become eligible.


Marcus Foster wasn’t a particularly heralded recruit when he signed with Kansas State. He was judged as the country’s 40th-best shooting guard prospect by Rivals in 2013. He was a three-star recruit coming to a Big 12 that was welcoming the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.

After averaging 15.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and shooting 39.5 percent from distance as a freshman, however, he found himself as a bonafide NBA prospect and a first-team preseason all-conference pick in 2014-15.

And things couldn’t have really have gone much worse from there.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

Marcus Foster (Creighton Athletics)
Marcus Foster (Creighton Athletics)

Foster was benched and later suspended by coach Bruce Weber, saw his numbers tumble and was ultimately dismissed from the program.

“I just had my mind on other things,” Foster told NBCSports.com. “I was worried about trying to get to the NBA, trying to impress scouts, not coming to practice and working hard every day.”

Creighton is offering him a chance to reclaim not only his professional prospects but his public perception.

“That’s what we talked about when we recruited him,” McDermott said “We have to rebuild his reputation because he’s made some mistakes in the past and people are going to watch him with a real close eye.”

The 19-year-old who got the boot from Manhattan isn’t the 21-year-old who now resides three hours to the north, those around Foster at Creighton say. He’s someone with something to prove, beyond just that the season he put up as a freshman was no mirage.

“You have people around the world thinking something about you that’s not really true,” Watson said, “and thinking you are the person you aren’t. You’re a good person and people think you’re bad and that you’re a knucklehead when that really isn’t the case.

“When you’re on a stage like this, it’s all under a magnifying glass. That’s something he had to understand and I think he’s learned that now with a second chance.”

Foster spent a “humbling” year away from the game. Redshirting under NCAA transfer rules, he toiled in obscurity while his reputation remained in many minds tarnished.

“I’m glad it happened,” Foster said.” I feel like everybody in life has to face adversity, and I feel like that was my adversity I have to face. I learned a whole bunch from that experience my sophomore year which is going to make me a better person this year.

“I think more people want to see what I’m going to do. Am I going to turn it around? Am I going to stay the same?”

Now comes his reintroduction to college basketball, with a pint-sized running mate hell bent on finding super-sized success.

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“If you’re told you can’t do something long enough,” McDermott said, “you develop a chip on your shoulder.”

If there’s a chip on Maurice Watson’s shoulder, it very well may have been filled by now with heaps of bravado. A 5-foot-10 point guard who went to Boston University out of high school before transferring to Creighton, Watson does not lack for confidence.

“That’s who Maurice is,” McDermott said. “He’s been told all his life he’s not good enough, not tall enough, not quick enough, can’t finish in the Big East.

“And he’s constantly proved people wrong.”

He did it at Boston, ranking third in the country with 7.1 assists per game as a sophomore. He did it as a junior in the Big East, averaging 14.1 points and 6.5 assists per game last year for Creighton.

“Never in my life have I played with someone like Maurice,” Foster said. “He can get to the hole, he can shoot a pull up and he shoots threes now, and he can get his teammates open whenever he wants to.

“One of the best guards in the Big East.”

Watson’s confidence isn’t limited to his own exploits.

“We really want to go to the Final Four,” Watson said. “It’s a goal that’s realistic if you put the work in. You challenge your team to do something and you see everybody responding by being in the gym and having better practices.

“We’re going to shoot for the stars here. This is my last season so I want to go out with a bang. I haven’t made the (NCAA) tournament yet, and I think that’s going to change this year so why not make a run when that happens.”

If that run comes together, it figures to do so largely on the strength of the Watson-Foster backcourt, which is among the highest-regarded in the country.

“I think we can be the best one,” Watson said.

Watson is the floor general, Foster his second in command.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

OMAHA, NE - FEBRUARY 9: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays drives to the basket past Edmond Sumner #4 of the Xavier Musketeers during their game at CenturyLink Center on February 9, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. Creighton defeated Xavier 70-56. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Maurice Watson Jr. (Eric Francis/Getty Images)

“He knows I’m going to be the leader of the team still,” Watson said, “get everybody shots, and I tell him I’ll make it easier for him as well. He’s kind of still not trying to do too much, still trying to let me run the team.

“He hasn’t done a lot with the ball. He’s been cutting and curling and popping and kind of letting me find him and learning how to play off me, which is good for him because I’ve already played and he has to come in and get his swag back.”

Said Foster, “We’re like best friends. We hang out all the time. When you see him, you’re going to see me. The connection’s already there on the court because we have it off the court.”

Both are capable – and prefer – playing at a breakneck speed, which will undoubtedly put pressure on Big East defenses.

“Maurice is one of the better passers I’ve ever coached,” McDermott said. “He’s able to find Marcus wherever he is on the floor. It’s a very good combination.”

It’s a dangerous combo in the halfcourt, too.

“We complement each other a lot because he can get (into the teeth of the defense),” Foster said, “and I can catch-and-shoot and knock down threes. It’s going to be hard for my defender, he’s either going to help and give up a three or not help and give up a layup from him.

“That’s why we’re going to be so hard to guard.”


Creighton’s strength may be in that backcourt duo, but the reason they’re a preseason top-25 team and a darkhorse to challenge Villanova and Xavier in the Big East is the rest of their depth. While they’re battling some injury issues, Creighton has starters Zierden, Cole Huff and Khyri Thomas back along with Watson and Foster. Top-50 recruit Justin Patton, a 7-footer from Omaha, is ready to contribute after redshirting last year.

“We had a rough year a few years ago,” McDermott said, “and we wanted to try and recover and rebound from that as fast as we possibly could.”

Creighton’s recruiting, as seen by Patton and four-star 2017 commit Mitchell Ballock, has quickly adapted to the Big East. Watson and Foster are the first wave of transfer reinforcements, and Kaleb Joseph, who will sit out this year after coming over from Syracuse, is the next.

Simply, it looks like Creighton is once again a program the nation can’t ignore.

“Creighton is used to winning and that’s just how it is,” Watson said. “They’re used to winning. That’s the tradition. That’s what you want to keep going.”

Even as Creighton’s success has dipped the last two years, they’ve routinely filled the 17,000-seat CenturyLink Center near capacity. The appetite for a winner could very well be met this year.

“(Fans) are so hungry for that,” Foster said. “I feel like they’re even hungrier this year because we have a team that’s going to be considered one of the best teams to ever play here. I think they’re definitely itching.”

Even with all the success Doug McDermott’s teams had and Kyle Korver’s before him and Paul Silas’ before him, the Bluejays have not played in an NCAA tournament Sweet 16.

“That’s our goal,” McDermott said, “not only get in the tournament, but have success in the tournament and go somewhere no Creighton team has ever gone.”

Even if the Bluejays don’t have a transcendent player, that goal seems in play as the season is set to open.

“They’re very talented,” Doug McDermott said, “and very capable of making a run. I think (Greg McDermott) has done a great job and continuing to recruit well. I think the future is really bright.”

Late last week the Bluejays took to their $13-million practice facility, opened months after Doug’s graduation, for practice. On the far side of the gym, is a massive banner featuring Doug’s likeness in a Chicago Bulls uniform, larger than life, suspended above the floor.

The Bluejays went through drills, competed against each other and ran sprints with spirited vigor, an effort to elevate themselves back to that level.

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Travis Hines

Pac-12 Season Preview: Can Oregon or Arizona break the league’s Final Four drought?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Pac-12 conference.

The Pac-12 hasn’t had a Final Four team since UCLA made three straight from 2006-2008, and the conference has had a long stretch without an elite program.

Oregon is hoping to change that this season, as the Ducks return most of last season’s team that had a breakthrough year. Arizona and UCLA also have talented teams, and the Pac-12 has a lot of intriguing newcomers to keep an eye on this season, including the potential No. 1 pick in the draft in an unlikely spot.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Oregon remains a major threat: For a No. 1 seed with nearly everyone returning, the Ducks aren’t getting a lot of preseason hype. That shouldn’t be the case. Oregon brings back lethal scorers in Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey and Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell are back to protect the rim. Senior Dylan Ennis and freshman Payton Pritchard add guard depth to a team with Final Four aspirations.

2. Arizona reloads with some talented freshmen: The Wildcats lost plenty of talented seniors but Sean Miller reloaded with a strong recruiting class with some talented returning pieces. The Wildcats have a proven scorer in Allonzo Trier and they’ve added five-star freshmen Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons. Five-star big man Lauri Markkanen could also make an impact and Dusan Ristic returns up front, as does former top 10 recruit Ray Smith, who is coming off of his second ACL tear.

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17: Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Arizona’s Sean Miller (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

3. Arizona’s freshmen aren’t even the best freshmen entering the league: Arizona is bringing in three five-star prospects but the most exciting freshmen to watch will be Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball. Fultz is getting buzz as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft while Ball is an exceptional passer with a high IQ and skill level.

4. UCLA has a lot to prove: Speaking of the Bruins, they’re in for an intriguing season after a disappointing 15-17 record. They return most of the core from last year with Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday all returning and Lonzo Ball is coming in. This Bruins offense should be tough to stop. But defense is the huge question mark and they have to learn to get stops.

5. Ivan Rabb returned to lead Cal: The former five-star center had a very good freshman season, averaging 12.8 points and 8.6 boards per game in only 28 minutes — and limited touches. But he opted to return for his sophomore season and now the Golden Bears are his team. Rabb has a serious chance to be an All-American and a lottery pick with a good season.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

PRESEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Markelle Fultz, Washington

Potentially the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Fultz is an immensely talented guard who can play on or off the ball and scores in a number of ways. Also a skilled passer with good vision, it will be interesting to see how Fultz plays this season and if he’s able to carry Washington to the NCAA tournament with a relatively young roster.

THE REST OF THE PAC-12 FIRST TEAM:

  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC: Efficient and talented, the junior point guard should get full point-guard duties with Julian Jacobs leaving.
  • Kyle Kuzma, Utah: Kuzma was impressive in spurts as a sophomore, but with the amount of talent the Utes lose, he should put up monster numbers this season.
  • Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Health will be a factor for Brooks, but he’s a matchup nightmare with confidence in big games.
  • Ivan Rabb, Cal: If Rabb can protest the rim and add to his 1.2 blocks per game, he could be the best two-way big man in college hoops.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA
  • Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
  • Tres Tinkle, Oregon State

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 10: Kyle Kuzma #35 of the Utah Utes gestures after a three-point play in the second half of Utah's 90-82 win over the Washington Huskies at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on February 10, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
Kyle Kuzma of the Utah Utes (Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR: Utah junior forward Kyle Kuzma has the look of potential star and with the Utes losing Jakob Poeltl and so many key players it could be his chance to shine. The 6-foot-9 forward can attack off the dribble or knock down jumpers, but he has to be more consistent.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar is bringing in NBA-caliber talent the last few recruiting classes, but he has to start winning games and making consistent runs to the NCAA tournament. The Huskies haven’t made the NCAA tournament in

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : There are some intriguing teams here with future pros, but the conference needs to prove it can make a run to the Final Four to quiet the doubters.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The Pac-12 might be the most exciting league in the country this season when it comes to freshman guards. Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons are all headliners, but players like Charlie Moore, JaQuori McLaughlin and Payton Pritchard could also have key roles.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 11, Arizona at Michigan State
  • Nov. 15, Oregon at Baylor
  • Dec. 3, UCLA at Kentucky
  • Dec. 7, Washington at Gonzaga
  • Dec. 21, California vs. Virginia

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @pac12

California's Ivan Rabb encourages the crowd to cheer in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Saint Mary's Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
California’s Ivan Rabb (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Oregon: This team has scoring, solid guard play and a nice mixture of post defenders to make another deep tournament run. If Dillon Brooks is healthy and others around him step up, Oregon has a serious chance to make a Final Four run.
2. Arizona: Watching how the new five-star pieces will mesh will be fascinating but this team undoubtedly has a lot of talented players. If former five-star freshman Ray Smith can return from multiple knee injuries then Arizona has a real shot at the league title.
3. UCLA: Defense is going to be the huge question for UCLA since we already know their offense is going to be tough to stop. If Lonzo Ball can help rally together this talented group of returnees, the Bruins could easily make a deep run in March — or have another chaotic season and miss the tournament.
4. Cal: This Cal team will look dramatically different from last season as this is clearly Ivan Rabb’s team. The sophomore big man should get more post touches and he has some decent players coming back like Jabari Bird, Kameron Rooks and Sam Singer.
5. Colorado: The Buffaloes have quietly been to four of the last five NCAA tournaments and have George King and Josh Fortune back this season. This team can really knock down perimeter shots and its gives them a huge boost on offense.
6. USC: The Trojans lost plenty of pieces from the rotation but they also have a lot of talent coming back. Point guard Jordan McLaughlin is efficient and forwards Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu have the talent to make a leap.
7. Washington: This will be Markelle Fultz’s team but a lot of the role players from last season return. Noah Dickerson and Matisse Thybulle both started as freshmen and shot blocker Malik Dime returns as well.
8. Oregon State: The Beavers lost Gary Payton II but return most of their young core and add four-star point guard JaQuori McLaughlin. Sophomores Tres Tinkle, Stephen Thompson Jr. and Drew Eubanks give Oregon State a bright future.
9. Utah: With so many talented players leaving, there will be a lot of question marks for the Utes as Kyle Kuzma and Lorenzo Bonam lead. Transfers like David Collette (Utah State) and Sedrick Barefield (SMU) need to make an impact.
10. Arizona State: This team should have a lot of talented guards but the frontcourt remains a question mark. Tra Holder and Kodi Justice are back and they get Buffalo transfer Shannon Evans and Sam Cunliffe in the rotation.
11. Stanford: New coach Jerod Haase gets 10 of the team’s top 11 scorers back and the return of injured players like Robert Cartwright and Reid Travis will help. Marcus Allen, Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey are all returning double-figure scorers.
12. Washington State: The Cougars lost 17 straight to end last season as they’re in rebuilding mode. Seniors Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu should put up numbers but they need more help.

Bryce and Steve Alford, Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Bryce and Steve Alford, Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Big 12 Conference Preview: It’s Kansas and everybody else. Again.

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big 12 conference.

The Big 12 is in a bit of a year of transition, but one things remains the same as it ever has: Kansas is the class of the conference. The Jayhawks have won at least a piece of 12 straight league titles and are the heavy favorite to claim a 13th this season. In many years, there’s a clear contender to the crown, but this season there’s not a lot of separation between programs after Kansas. Texas, West Virginia and Iowa State all have arguments as the league’s preseason No. 2 while Baylor and Oklahoma are tricky to predict as well.

At the end of the day, though, they’re all looking up at Kansas.

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | ACC Pod | Big Ten | Big Ten Pod

Kansas' Frank Mason III (0), Landen Lucas (33), Devonte' Graham (4), Wayne Selden Jr. (1) and Perry Ellis (34) gather during the second half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. Kansas won 73-61. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Kansas’ Frank Mason III (0), Landen Lucas (33), Devonte’ Graham (4) (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. A league in flux: The Big 12 is going to have a different look to it this year. Not a single player from the all-Big 12 first team returns this season and just four from the three all-conference teams are back. The days of Buddy Hield, Georges Niang and Perry Ellis as the faces of the league are over. There’s still some familiar names like Frank Mason III, Monte’ Morris, Johnathan Motley and Wesley Iwundu, but the Big 12 is otherwise rolling over to a new generation.

2. Freshman infusion: The league, despite its losses, isn’t without some top-line talent, specifically in its freshman class. The Class of 2016’s consensus top player, Josh Jackson, committed to the Jayhawks and is already garnering Andrew Wiggins comparisons. He could be in the discussion as the top pick in June’s NBA draft. He’ll be teammates with a fellow McDonald’s All-American in Udoka Azubuike while Texas has a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans as well in Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones. Oklahoma’s Kameron McGusty is also a top-50 recruit, not to mention a serious all-name team candidate.

3. Who’s No. 2?: With Kansas in the fold, there’s not much discussion about who the league’s best team is. When it comes to the runner-up, there’s not much consensus. West Virginia was the conference coaches’ choice, but only 12 points separated them from fifth-place Baylor in the preseason poll. The Mountaineers lost Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams, but it’s hard to bet against Bob Huggins. Iowa State has preseason All-American Monte’ Morris along with senior starters Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas to boast one of the country’s best backcourts, but there are questions up front. Texas has tons of talent, but it’s young and they lost Isaiah Taylor somewhat unexpectedly to the pros. Johnathan Motley is one of the conference’s best pro prospects, but does Baylor have enough around him?

4. Kruger’s kids: The league’s makeover may not have hit any program harder than it did Oklahoma with the loss not only of National Player of the Year and everybody’s favorite always-smarting sharpshooter, Buddy Hield, but the Sooners also are without program stalwarts Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins. Can Jordan Woodard step into the void? What about sophomore Christian James, who looked to breakout as a serious threat in March? Forward Khadeem Lattin will also be asked to take on a much bigger workload. Lon Kruger is one of the sport’s most underrated coaches, which makes the Sooners’ new group super intriguing.

5. TCU rising: The Horned Frogs have eight Big 12 wins in four years since joining the conference in 2012-13. They’ve finished anything but last in the league just once in that time. Yet, there’s now belief the program could quickly jet up the standings. First, TCU invested more than $70 million to update its basketball facilities, then it acted aggressively in dismissing coach Trent Johnson and nabbing Jamie Dixon, an alum of the school who had major success at Pitt but found himself on the outs with a fanbase feeling stagnant. TCU is already recruiting at a higher level and should be playing at one soon enough as well.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

TCU guard Michael Williams (2) defends as Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) leaps to the basket for a shot in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. Morris had 18 points and six assists and No. 19 Iowa State followed a win over top-ranked Oklahoma with a 73-60 victory over TCU on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Iowa State guard Monte Morris (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State

He’s not the league best pro prospect, but Morris is the top returning scorer and assist man in the conference and he’ll be taking on a huge role in a post-Georges Niang world in Ames. A preseason All-American, Morris shown flashes of the capability to score in bunches, something ISU will be asking him to do full-time this season. He’s got a legitimate shot at leading the Big 12 in scoring and assists.

THE REST OF THE BIG 12 FIRST TEAM:

  • Frank Mason III, Kansas: Josh Jackson may be Kansas’ most talented player, but Mason will be its leader.
  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: The freshman phenom should instantly be one of the league’s top players.
  • Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The 6-foot-10 junior’s task this season is to turn pro potential into college production.
  • Jarrett Allen, Texas: With few dominant big men in the league, Allen has a chance to make a major impact immediately.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Devonte Graham, Kansas
  • Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
  • Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
  • Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State

BREAKOUT STAR: Baylor’s Manu Lecomte shot 45.6 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore at Miami before transferring to Waco, where he’ll likely on the Brady Heslip Plan that should give him tons of opportunities to fire away.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: More than a few Kansas State fans wanted the Wildcats to dump Bruce Weber at season’s end for a run at alum Brad Underwood, who ended up in the conference at Oklahoma State. Weber and Kansas State have steadily trended downward since sharing a conference title in his first season four years ago. This may be the last year he has to reverse the slide.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : For the first time in some time, the Big 12 wasn’t the country’s best conference. They certainly won’t get seven bids like last season and it’s conceivable they only get four or five.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: As lame as it is, the race for second, as it seems unlikely anyone will challenge the Jayhawks but there could be a ton of competition behind them.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • November 15, Kansas vs. Duke
  • December 3, West Virginia vs. Virginia
  • November 11, Kansas vs. Indiana
  • December 1, Iowa State vs. Cincinnati
  • November 15, Baylor vs. Oregon

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @Big12Refs

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Josh Jackson (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kansas: The question isn’t if Kansas can win the Big 12, it’s whether or not they can capture another national title.
2. Iowa State: Georges Niang is gone along with two other starters, but Monte Morris headlines an elite backcourt that should keep the Cyclones near the top of the league.
3. Texas: The somewhat surprising departure of Isaiah Taylor hurts, but Shaka Smart still has oodles of talent to work with.
4. West Virginia: This is a bet on Bob Huggins making it work with a roster without much wow-factor, but certainly some intriguing players.
5. Baylor: Johnathan Motley has to be big, but Ish Wainright and Al Freeman, along with Manu Lecomte, will have to be major contributors, too.
6. Oklahoma: It wouldn’t shock to see Lon Kruger maneuver this team further up the standings, but the roster doesn’t suggest a top-half of the league finish.
7. Texas Tech: Tubby Smith got this group to overachieve last year, and first-year coach Chris Beard will be hard-pressed to repeat that feat.
8. Oklahoma State: The cupboard isn’t fully stocked for first-year coach Brad Underwood, but with Jawun Evans and Phil Forte in the fold, they’ll pull off some upsets this season.
9. TCU: Jamie Dixon looks to be building something in Fort Worth, but he’s starting at the foundation and has a way to go before the Horned Frogs are ready to compete for an NCAA tournament spot.
10. Kansas State: If the Wildcats are going to finish closer to the middle of the conference – and keep Bruce Weber employed in Manhattan – some relatively average Big 12 players are going to have to show major improvement.

Big Ten Conference Preview: Michigan State and Wisconsin fight for the top spot

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big Ten conference.

The Big Ten will look much different this season but it will still have many of the same teams near the top of the standings. Wisconsin returns pretty much their whole Sweet 16 team while Michigan State will try to counter with a lot of talented freshmen. Purdue and Indiana will also be firmly in the Big Ten picture and Maryland gets Melo Trimble back.

It should be an interesting year of turnover in the league that could leave it wide open.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The league lost a ton of talent and experience: A lot of familiar players left the Big Ten from last year including Denzel Valentine, Caris LeVert, A.J. Hammons, Yogi Ferrell, four starters at Maryland and Jarrod Uthoff. So the conference will have a lot of new faces leading the charge this year and it could be a rare season in the Big Ten in which it’s the underclassmen that shine the brightest.

2. Wisconsin returns an entire team that went to the Sweet 16: The Badgers shook off a rough start and then-interim coach Greg Gard rallied a tough and experienced roster to the Sweet 16. The entire roster is back as seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are joined by redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ and a slew of quality role players. Now with Gard as a stable coach and a confident, experienced roster, the Badgers are hoping for a Big Ten title and tourney run.

3. Michigan State will rely on potential one-and-done freshmen: Many of Tom Izzo’s best teams at Michigan State have relied on experienced upperclassmen leading the way. That likely won’t be the case in 2016-17. Although the Spartans are still a major contender for the Big Ten title, they’ll rely a lot on five-star freshmen like Miles Bridges and Josh Langford. Four-star point guard Cassius Winston and four-star forward Nick Ward could be key pieces as well.

4. Melo Trimble has a new lineup to work with at Maryland: Junior point guard Melo Trimble will be dealing with an entirely new lineup again this season as Maryland will have four new starters with the amount of talent that departed last spring. Senior center Damonte Dodd is a former starter, so he should fit right in, but the Terps need more from juniors Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens. A talented freshmen class could be a key difference.

5. Indiana’s roster will have a lot of changes, namely no Yogi: Things are going to look a little different in Bloomington next season now that senior point guard Yogi Ferrell has exhausted his eligibility. Troy Williams is also gone, along with valuable reserves Max Bielfeldt and Nick Zeisloft. It leaves Indiana with a number of question marks. At point guard, Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk will get minutes, but he wasn’t a spotlight player for the Panthers and is coming off of a knee surgery. James Blackmon Jr. also has to improve defensively and dealt with his own knee issues last season.

PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Thomas Bryant, Indiana

The sophomore big man could have easily been a first-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but he’s back to work on his shooting, defense and consistency. Leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage at 68 percent last season, Bryant is a load to handle on the interior. He can also knock down threes and he plays as hard as anyone in the country, but Bryant needs to be more impactful on the defensive end. If he figures out how to help defend high ball screens, Indiana could ride him a long way.

THE REST OF THE BIG TEN FIRST TEAM:

  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble’s play dipped as a sophomore, but he’s still a potential All-American who isn’t afraid to take and make the big shot.
  • Peter Jok, Iowa: The senior guard should take a ton of shots and put up crazy numbers this season after averaging 16.1 points and 3.5 rebounds as a junior.
  • Malcolm Hill, Illinois: Hill put up numbers all over the board as a junior as he averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He’s one of the most under-appreciated players nationally.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have a higher profile, but Happ is a potential double-double machine and very good defender. Wisconsin always had good bigs.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State
  • Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
  • James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
  • Vince Edwards, Purdue
  • Derrick Walton, Michigan

BREAKOUT STAR: Indiana wing O.G. Anunoby has a chance to be a major contributor this season and he might be one of the best pro prospects in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-8 sophomore will see a lot of minutes in replacing Troy Williams as he can defend multiple spots on the floor.  If Anunoby shoots it anywhere near 44 percent from three-point range like he did as a freshman, he could be a major contributor on both ends.

Indiana's OG Anunoby (3) dunks in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Michigan in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 72-69. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana’s OG Anunoby (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Things haven’t gone very well for Richard Pitino at Minnesota since a promising first season. Transfers, off-the-court issues and a 2-16 record last season has the Golden Gophers fanbase getting restless. If things don’t turn around this season, Pitino could be searching for a new job.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Big Ten wasn’t deep with NCAA tournament teams and doesn’t have the firepower to produce a serious title contender.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing how good Wisconsin can be with a full Sweet 16 roster returning and their coach in place for the entire season.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 14, Purdue vs. Villanova
  • Nov. 15, Michigan State vs. Kentucky
  • Nov. 29, Wisconsin vs. Syracuse
  • Nov. 29, Michigan State at Duke
  • Nov. 30, North Carolina vs. Indiana

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @B1GMBBall

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Michigan State: This isn’t the typical senior-laden Tom Izzo team but he has perhaps the most talented freshman class he’s ever had. Eron Harris returns and could be a big scorer while five-star freshmen like Miles Bridges and Josh Langford take over.
2. Wisconsin: The Badgers return everyone from a Sweet 16 as they’re loaded with toughness and experience. Considering Nigel Hayes was very inefficient last season, Wisconsin could have room to grow as they add some redshirts like guard Brevin Pritzl and stretch forward Andy Van Vliet.
3. Purdue: Losing A.J. Hammons in the middle is going to be hard to replace, but the Boilers still have a loaded frontcourt that returns Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards and Basil Smotherman. Point guard play and perimeter shooting will once again be a huge key. Is Spike Albrecht healthy enough to provide anything in either category?
4. Indiana: Replacing Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams and some key rotation players will be tough, but the Hoosiers bring back Thomas Bryant and O.G. Anunoby and have a lot of firepower on the perimeter with James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. The key will be point guard play.
5. Michigan: Battling injuries the past few seasons, Michigan is relying on seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin to lead again. The development of junior forward Duncan Robinson and the team’s role players is key to another NCAA tournament run.
6. Maryland: Things will look very different from last season but point guard Melo Trimble does have talent around him. Big men Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky are experienced and Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley should help. The talented freshmen class could be the difference.
7. Ohio State: Transfers dominated the headlines for the Buckeyes in the offseason headlines by lots of talent is back. Marc Loving, Jae’Sean Tate, JaQuan Lyle and Keita Bates-Diop are all capable of breakout seasons.
8. Illinois: Illinois is hoping to stay healthy and make a run that could save head coach John Groce’s job. Point guard Tracy Abrams gives leadership while Malcolm Hill gets help from guard Jalen Coleman-Lands and center Mike Thorne Jr.
9. Northwestern: The Wildcats continue trying to build towards the NCAA tournament as point guard Bryant McIntosh has some talent around him. Sophomore Vic Law returns from injury along with forwards Aaron Falzon and Derek Pardon.
10. Penn State: Exciting times could be ahead for the Nittany Lions as they return the talented backcourt of juniors Shep Garner and Payton Banks and get a great recruiting class. Watch out for UConn transfer guard Terrence Samuel.
11. Iowa: The Hawkeyes will mostly be rebuilding and ride senior Peter Jok as far as they can. Nobody else returning to the team averaged more than six points per game as Iowa needs to find new impact players.
12. Minnesota: Transfers and freshmen are the key to a Golden Gophers team that needs to show progress. Center Reggie Lynch, forward Davonte Fitzgerald and guard Akeem Springs will all help, as will in-state wing Amir Coffey.
13. Nebraska: Losing Andrew White hurt as the Huskers need to find a new go-to scorer. Tim Miles could be on the hot seat with another bad season as senior guard Tai Webster needs help.
14. Rutgers: New coach Steve Pikiell has some talented guards in sophomore Corey Sanders and junior Mike Williams. If junior forward Deshawn Freeman returns well from injury, this team might be way better.

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes (10) drives on Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Madison, Wis. Hayes had a team-high 21 points in Wisconsin's 79-68 win. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes drives on Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate (AP Photo/Andy Manis)