Tag: Top 25 Countdown

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Top 25 Countdown: No. 2 Arizona Wildcats

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Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tries to dunk on Gonzaga (Getty Images)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 2 Arizona.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: Sean Miller

Last Season: 33-5, 15-3 Pac-12 (1st), lost to Wisconsin in the Elite 8

Key Losses: Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon

Newcomers: Stanley Johnson, Kadeem Allen, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Craig Victor

Projected Lineup

G: T.J. McConnell, Sr.
F: Stanley Johnson, Fr.
F: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, So.
F: Brandon Ashley, Jr.
C: Kaleb Tarczewski, Jr.
Bench: Gabe York, Jr.; Kadeem Allen, Jr.; Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Fr.; Dusan Ristic, Fr.; Craig Victor, Fr.

They’ll be good because … : Finding a way to consistently score against this team is going to be an absolute nightmare, which is crazy to think about considering that the Wildcats lost two of the nation’s best individual defenders in Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. That should tell you a thing or two about the way that Sean Miller has been able to recruit in recent years, but it also should give you an idea of just how strong the program is that he’s building. What I love about this group, particularly on the defensive end, is the pair of wings that they have — Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. I’d be comfortable having either of those guys matched with any player in the country save for maybe the five or ten best big men in the country. That’s how tough and versatile they are on that end of the floor.

source: AP
Sean Miller (AP Photo)

What that does is allow Miller to tinker around with his lineups. If he wants to go big, he can play Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski together along the front line, allowing Arizona to match up with the massive front lines of Kentucky and Texas. But if they want to spread the floor, they can bring on Gabe York or Kadeem Allen alongside T.J. McConnell in the back court, lining Ashley up with Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson up front.

To put it simply, Miller will be able to matchup with any team in the country — whether they play three bigs or four guards — and still have a size advantage and, in all likelihood, more talent without taking a hit defensively. That’s nice.

But they might disappoint because … : If there’s a concern about this Arizona team, it’s going to be their perimeter shooting. It was an issue last season as well, and that was with Nick Johnson, who was the team’s best and most clutch perimeter shooter. McConnell can knock down a three with time and space, and getting Ashley back from the torn ligament in his foot will be huge because of his ability to spread the floor.

But here’s the concern: Johnson is a good, not great, perimeter shooter and Hollis-Jefferson was the kind of guy you didn’t bother guarding beyond 10 feet. York can be a lights-out shooter from deep, but he’s streaky and a concern on the defensive end of the floor. Allen, a JuCo transfer, has a reputation for being a big time scorer, but he’s more of a slasher than a spot-up shooter.

One other thing that might become an issue: Arizona doesn’t really have a go-to guy offensively. I think Johnson is terrific, and he’s certainly a better offensive player than Aaron Gordon was, but I’ll be curious to see how he transitions on that end of the floor to the college level. What makes Johnson so special is his versatility and the fact that there really isn’t anything on the basketball court that he struggles with. I’m not convinced he’s a great one-on-one scorer.

Outlook: It would be a shock to me if anyone other than Arizona won the Pac-12 this season. That’s how good this Arizona team is when compared to the rest of the teams in the conference. They’ll drop a couple of games here and there in league play, but I would not be surprised to see the Wildcats win the conference by four games when it is all said and done.

On paper, Kentucky is the best team in the country. They’re deep, they’re talented and they have a ton of guys that will be playing for NBA paychecks in the not-so-distant future. It’s correct to say that Kentucky is the odds-on favorite to win the national title, but Arizona is not all that far behind them. If we know anything about a team coached by Miller, it’s that they are going to be tough as nails, particularly on the defensive end, and they are going to execute offensively.

Assuming everyone stays healthy, Miller should get this team to the Final Four this season.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 8 Texas Longhorns

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 8 Texas.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Rick Barnes and Javan Felix (AP Photo)

Head Coach: Rick Barnes

Last Season: 24-11, 11-7 Big 12 (t-3rd)

Key Losses: Martez Walker

Newcomers: Myles Turner, Jordan Barnett

Projected Lineup

G: Isaiah Taylor, So.
G: Demarcus Holland, Jr.
F: Jonathan Holmes, Sr.
F: Connor Lammert, Jr.
C: Cameron Ridley, Jr.
Bench: Myles Turner, Fr.; Javan Felix, Jr.; Kendal Yancy, So.; Demarcus Croaker, So.; Jordan Barnett, Fr.; Prince Ibeh

They’ll be good because … : The Longhorns will pair one of the country’s most underrated point guards with a big, powerful, deep front line. Let’s start in the back court with sophomore Isaiah Taylor, who you may not realize is coming off of a season where he averaged 12.7 points and 4.0 assists. He’s quick with the ball in his hands and he’s got the best floater in college basketball. If he can find a way to extend his range this season — he shot just 26.3% from three — and cut down a bit on the 2.4 turnovers he averaged, there’s a chance he ends up being the best point guard in the Big 12.

And that would be huge considering that he’ll be playing on quite possibly the only team in the country that can go big-for-big with Kentucky. Junior Cameron Ridley finally looked like a top ten recruit during his sophomore season while Jonathan Holmes somewhat surprisingly developed into a dangerous combo-forward that can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot. Connor Lammert reportedly got a start at the four during a secret scrimmage with Davidson, while Prince Ibeh blocked 1.7 shots per game despite playing just over 13 minutes last season as well.

The x-factor is going to be top ten recruit Myles Turner. Turner is a really bright kid with size, length and athleticism, but he’s still raw at this point in his development. His back to the basket game leaves something to be desired, and he has a tendency to float out on the perimeter, looking for catch-and-shoot threes. He’s got the talent to be a lottery pick, however, and if he plays like it, Texas will be scary.

source: Getty Images
Isaiah Taylor (Getty Images)

But they might disappoint because … : There are two concerns that I have with this Texas group. First and foremost, the defensive end of the floor. When the Longhorns put their best five players on the floor, they will have a lineup where Holmes is playing the three. The 6-foot-7 senior has some perimeter skills and is a threat at the three-point line, but he’s still more of a college four than anything else. Can he defend someone like Kelly Oubre or Bryce Dejean-Jones? Those are the types of players that will be playing the three in the Big 12. And if he can’t, can Texas effectively play a 2-3 zone with their three bigs across the baseline?

The other concern is three-point shooting. When you have a lineup that is loaded with big men, it is imperative that there are players that can knock down perimeter jumpers to keep the floor spread. If there aren’t, than defenses can collapse on anyone that is posting up knowing that they aren’t going to consistently get hurt leaving shooters wide open at the three point line. Taylor shot 26.3% from three last season. Javan Felix shot 34.3%. Kendal Yancy shot 35.3%, but only took 17 threes. Damarcus Croaker shot 29.7%. Demarcus Holland shot 29.2%. Even Holmes shot a measly 33.3% from three. Who stretches the floor for Texas?

Outlook: Texas has the talent to once again play like the Texas teams that we grew accustomed to under head coach Rick Barnes. It was one of the best stories of the 2013-2014 season, as Barnes had all-but been fired by … well … everyone. Instead, this team built itself around defense and rebounding and got just enough offense from guys like Taylor and Holmes to finish third in the Big 12 and make the NCAA tournament.

The question now is whether or not the Longhorns will be able to grow this season. They essentially return the exact same team this season, only with the addition of a top five recruit and future lottery pick in Turner. Will Barnes find a way to take advantage of this team’s strengths while minimizing some of their (glaring?) weaknesses? That remains to be seen.

The Big 12 is tough this season, particularly at the top of the conference. I like the Longhorns’ chances of making a run at a regular season title.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 10 Louisville Cardinals

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 10 Louisville.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

source: AP
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Head Coach: Rick Pitino

Last Season: 31-6, 15-3 American (t-1st), lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16

Key Losses: Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Chane Behanan, Kevin Ware

Newcomers: Quentin Snider, Shaqquan Aaron, Chinanu Onuaku, Jaylen Johnson, Matz Stockman, Anas Osama Mahmoud

Projected Lineup

G: Chris Jones, Sr.
G: Terry Rozier, So.
G: Wayne Blackshear, Sr.
F: Montrezl Harrell, Jr.
C: Mongok Mathiang, So.
Bench: Quentin Snider, Fr.; Anton Gill, So.; Shaqquan Aaron, Fr.; Chinanu Onuaku, Fr., Jaylen Johnson, Fr.; Akoy Agau, So.

They’ll be good because … : Rick Pitino should have one of the best guards and one of the best big men in the country. By now, everyone should know about Montrezl Harrell. He’s a powerful front court presence, the kind of power forward that seems to have passed the game by. There’s nothing pretty about what Harrell does on a basketball court. He’s attacks the glass, he runs the floor hard, he assaults the rim when he dunks. Everything is strength and power with him. Oh, and he may have added a jumper this season. There’s a reason he’s going to be on a lot of Preseason All-American teams.

Terry Rozier is a different story, as he’s not quite as well-known as Harrell. Rozier was originally a member of the Class of 2012, but he was forced to spend a season prepping at Hargrave Military Academy for a year before enrolling with the Cardinals. An athletic, 6-foot-2 combo-guard, Rozier is going to be the focal point of this season’s perimeter attack after what was a promising freshman season backing up Russ Smith. He’s got the ability to be a star at this level and, eventually, a lottery pick.

RELATED: Terry Rozier headlines our list of Breakout Stars

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But they might disappoint because … : Once you get past Rozier and Harrell, there is quite a bit of unknown on this Louisville roster. Two seniors find themselves in the starting lineup this season, but both have been more enigmatic than consistent during their time with the Cardinals. Wayne Blackshear seemed poised to have a breakout season after an impressive performance in the NCAA tournament as a freshman, but due to injuries and inconsistency, he’s never lived up to those expectations.

Senior point guard Chris Jones had some promising moments last season after transferring into the program as the reigning Junior College Player of the Year, but he didn’t have the kind of season that Louisville fans were hoping for. He shot the ball too much (and at just a 39.5% clip) and, for much of the year, he wasn’t the point guard that Pitino needed alongside Russ Smith.

The emergence of those two will be key, but even more important will be Louisville’s youngsters. Every other player in Louisville’s rotation will either be a freshman or a sophomore that didn’t play much. Anton Gill, Quentin Snider and Shaqquan Aaron make up the perimeter depth, while Mangok Mathiang will likely start with a slew of big bodies backing him up.

Outlook: Louisville is a tough team to read this season because so much of their roster is a question mark. We know how good Harrell is going to be, but will Rozier live up to the vaunted expectations that have been set for him? There have been rumblings that he was the best pro prospect on the roster since this time last season. Will Jones and Blackshear be able to provide the senior leadership and veteran presence on the floor that guys like Luke Hancock and Peyton Siva have in the past?

That becomes all-the-more critical when the inexperience on the rest of Louisville’s roster gets factored in. The Cardinals will have a number of options on their bench, particularly in the front court, but how many of those options are going to be ready to play in a loaded ACC this season? And that is another major question mark for the Cards. How will they adjust to playing in a new conference with new refs and new arenas and some of the nation’s best talent and coaching?

Personally, I think that depth is overrated and that it’s hard to bet against any team with two potential all-americans and Rick Pitino coaching them. But it’s not crazy to suggest that Louisville is closer to a fringe top 25 team than a top ten team.