Top 25 Countdown

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Top 25 Countdown: No. 2 Arizona Wildcats

1 Comment
source: Getty Images
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 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

Isaiah Taylor (Getty Images)
Leave a comment

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 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

montrezl harrell
1 Comment

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 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
AP Photo

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

Getty Images

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.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 12 Wichita State

Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)
Leave a comment
The Shockers (AP Photo)

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 college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 12 Wichita State.

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

Head Coach: Gregg Marshall

Last Season: 35-1, 18-0 Missouri Valley (1st), lost in the Round of 32 to Kentucky

Key Losses: Cleanthony Early, Kadeem Coleby, Nick Wiggins

Newcomers: Rashard Kelly, Bush Wamukota, Zach Brown, Tevin Glass, Corey Henderson, Rauno Nurger

Projected Lineup

G: Fred Van Vleet, Jr.
G: Ron Baker, Jr.
G: Tekele Cotton, Sr.
F: Rashard Kelly, Fr.
F: Darius Carter, Sr.
Bench: Ria’n Holland, Fr.; Evan Wessel, Jr.; Shaq Morris, Fr.; Tevin Glass, Jr.; Bush Wamukota, Jr.

MORE: How does Wichita State build on the two best seasons in school history?

They’ll be good because … : The Shockers return the starting perimeter, including a pair of all-americans, from a team that went undefeated throughout the regular season in 2013-2014. Say what you will about how good Wichita State was last season, the bottom-line is that Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton can match up with any perimeter attack in the country in terms of talent and experience. Remember, all three played significant roles in Wichita State’s run to the 2013 Final Four as well.

Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)

To be honest, I don’t know if the NBA is in the future for any of those three kids. I do know, however, that there isn’t a point guard in college basketball that is better at running a team than Van Vleet is. Baker is probably the best NBA prospect on Wichita State’s roster right now, a 6-foot-3 combo-guard that can shoot, defend and run the point like a natural. Throw in Tekele Cotton — a senior off-guard that is one of the best defenders in the country, a scintillating athlete and a 37.1% three-point shooter — and Gregg Marshall has himself an ideal three-guard lineup.

With those three on the floor, the Shockers are going to win a lot of games.

But they might disappoint because … : Wichita State’s front court is as inexperienced as their back court is talented. The only big man on the Shockers that saw action last season was Darius Carter, a 6-foot-7 senior that averaged 7.9 points and 4.5 boards in a complimentary role. He’ll be the x-factor to the Shocker season, as Marshall is going to need him to be a presence inside, as a rebounder, rim-protector and a low-post scoring threat. He was great at times last year. Can he build on that?

Beyond Carter, there are a ton of question marks for the Shockers. But there are also plenty of options as well. The favorite to start at the four spot seems to be freshman Rashard Kelly, a Virginia native that spent last season at prep school. He’s a tough kid and a good athlete, and while he’s a bit undersized at the four, he is physical while being mobile enough to play some on the perimeter. He’ll likely split minutes with JuCo transfer Tevin Glass and freshman Zach Brown. Backing up Carter in the middle will be Bush Wamukota, a raw, seven-foot JuCo kid with a ton of potential, and freshman Rauno Nurger.

Outlook: Don’t expect Wichita State to make another run at an undefeated season, and it’s not just because they will be trying to replace the go-to scoring ability of Cleanthony Early. The biggest knock on the Shockers last season was that their record was built on the fact that their schedule was bad, a fair critique that was built up to unfair levels. This year, that should not be the case, as Wichita State plays New Mexico State, Memphis, Tulsa, Utah, Saint Louis, Seton Hall and Alabama while also traveling to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic.

They’ll be tested, and they’ll lose some games.

But that won’t change the fact that the Shockers should be considered a favorite to earn a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament and make a trip to the Sweet 16 this year. There are two reasons for that: 1. You can bet against that back court at your own risk, and 2. if there is anything that we’ve learned about Gregg Marshall over the years it’s that his teams are going to defend hard and they’re going to execute offensively, and when you do that, you’re going to win a lot of games.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 14 Florida Gators

Leave a comment
source: AP
AP Photo

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 college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 14 Florida.

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

Head Coach: Billy Donovan

Last Season: 36-3, 18-0 SEC (1st), lost in the Final Four to UConn

Key Losses: Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather

Newcomers: Chris Chiozza, Devin Robinson, Alex Murphy (transfer), Zach Hodskins, John Egbunu (transfer*)

Projected Lineup

G: Kasey Hill, So.
G: Michael Frazier, Jr.
F: Dorian Finney-Smith, Sr.
F: Jon Horford, Sr.
C: Chris Walker, So.
Bench: Eli Carter, Jr.; Alex Murphy, Jr.; Devin Robinson, Fr.; Chris Chiozza, Fr.

They’ll be good because … : The Gators can trot out as much talent on a nightly basis as anyone in the country this side of Kentucky. Four players on the Gator roster are former five-star recruits, headlined by a pair of sophomores that were top ten players in the Class of 2013 in Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. That list also includes former Duke forward Alex Murphy and incoming freshman Devin Robinson, who may just be the best prospect on the roster.

Michael Frazier (AP Photo)

That’s not the only reason to like the Gators, however, as their young talent is surrounded by a solid group of veteran role players. Michael Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country. Dorian Finney-Smith is a combo-forward that can act as a floor-spacer when his jumper is working. Eli Carter was a big-time scorer at Rutgers and Murphy spent two and a half seasons at Duke before leaving that program.

But they might disappoint because …: Outside of Frazier, there really aren’t many proven commodities on Florida. Walker’s name is near the top of most draft boards thanks to his height and athleticism, but he’s a rail-thin post player that has yet to prove that he can do anything on a basketball court other than run, jump and get suspended from games. Potential does not always equal production.

The same thing can be said about Hill, who has the physical gifts to be an excellent point guard at the college level. But being able to beat a defense end-to-end and being effective if Billy Donovan’s offense, which is loaded with ball-screens, is an entirely different story. Horford played limited minutes at Michigan. Carter was a gun-slinger on bad Rutgers teams and has spent the past 18 months trying to recover from a grizzly broken leg. Murphy couldn’t get off the bench at Duke. Devin Robinson and Chris Chiozza are highly-regarded freshmen, but freshmen nonetheless. South Florida transfer John Egbunu has not yet been given a waiver to play immediately by the NCAA.

In simpler terms, outside of Frazier, it’s hard to say definitively what Donovan and his staff can expect out of anyone on this roster.

Outlook: Billy Donovan is one of the best in the game. There’s a reason that he’s always being linked with NBA coaching vacancies. He’s been to three Elite 8s and a Final Four in the last four years. He won back-to-back titles. He knows what he’s doing, which is why Florida will get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the question marks associated with this group.

And, as I mentioned, there are plenty of question marks surrounding this group entering the 2014-2015 season. If everything breaks the right way — if Walker and Hill live up to their potential, if Devin Robinson is as good as advertised, if Murphy can recapture that ability that made Coach K recruit him — I think you’re looking at a team that can legitimately compete with Florida for the SEC regular season title. There’s that much talent on this roster and Donovan is that good of a head coach.

That said, I think Florida also has some flameout potential. I think the Gators are all-but a lock to make it back to the NCAA tournament, but I don’t think it’s out of the question for them to end up losing 10 games, bouncing in and out of the top 25, and entering the dance as a No. 7 seed.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes

Fran McCaffery
Leave a comment

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 college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 21 Iowa.

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

source: Getty Images
Fran McCaffery (Getty Images)

Last Season: 20-13, 9-9 Big Ten (t-5th), lost to Tennessee in the play-in game

Head Coach: Fran McCaffery

Key Losses: Roy Devyn Marble, Melsahn Besabe

Newcomers: Dominique Uhl, Trey Dickerson, Brady Ellingson

Projected Lineup

G: Mike Gesell, Jr.
G: Josh Oglesby, Sr.
F: Jarrod Uthoff, Jr.
F: Aaron White, Sr.
C: Adam Woodbury, Jr.
Bench: Gabriel Olaseni, Sr.; Peter Jok, So.; Anthony Clemons, Jr.; Trey Dickerson, So.; Dominique Uhl, Fr.; Brady Ellingson, Fr.

They’ll be good because … : Once again, Iowa is going to be one of the deepest, most experienced teams in the country this season. Despite losing two starters from last year’s team, Fran McCaffery will still be starting five upperclassmen with a bench that will go at least six players deep.

The star of this year’s team will be Aaron White, a 6-foot-8 forward that has been a modicum of consistency throughout his career. In three seasons at Iowa, he’s never averaged more than 12.8 points or less than 11.1 points. He’s perennially one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten, but he’s going to have to take a step forward and embrace being the star of this group if the Hawkeyes are going to be a factor atop the conference. White will be joined on the front line by a trio of talented veterans. Jarrod Uthoff is the floor-spacing shooting, Adam Woodbury is the low-post scoring threat and Gabe Olaseni is the energy guy, one of the nation’s best offensive rebounders.

There are a few more question marks on Iowa’s perimeter. Losing Roy Devyn Marble will hurt, but McCaffery has options to replace his scoring pop. Josh Oglesby was arguably Iowa’s best shooter last season, while sophomore Peter Jok had promising moments in his first year in the program. Mike Gesell, a former top 50 recruit, will resume point guard duties, but if he struggles, Anthony Clemons and Trey Dickerson will both be looking to take over his role.

Aaron White (AP Photo)

But they might disappoint because … : Having depth is a good thing in college basketball. If protects a team against a season-ending injury, it creates competition for playing time and it makes practice a battle as players go head-to-head trying to earn their spot in the rotation. But it’s overrated in the sense that having 11 good players is not as valuable as having two great players and five really good players in a sport where only five guys can take the floor at one time.

That’s where Iowa’s issue may end up being this season. Without Marble in the lineup, Iowa doesn’t really have anyone that will make opposing defenses fret. White is a really good basketball player, but Tom Izzo isn’t going to lose sleep at night trying to scheme a way to slow him down. There’s no star power on this roster, and outside of White, there isn’t anyone on Iowa that could be called a top five player at their position in the conference. There’s even an argument to make that White isn’t a top five player at his position.

Think about it like this: Iowa’s down by one with 20 seconds left on the road at Nebraska. Who does McCaffery draw a play up for?

Outlook: At one point last season, Iowa was thought to be a top ten team, a serious threat to win the Big Ten and a legitimate Final Four contender, which is crazy when you think about the fact that they finished the season 20-13 and in 6th in the Big Ten. There were two things that eventually did Iowa’s season in:

– They couldn’t close out any games. The Hawkeyes lost three big games in the first half of the season — Villanova, at Iowa State, at Wisconsin — in which they held double-digit leads. They were 4-12 in games that were decided by single digits or that went to overtime. The only one of their 13 losses that didn’t end in overtime or come by single digits was a 10 point loss at Michigan State where Iowa led at the half.

– They completely lost the ability to defend, finishing the season as the nation’s 120th most efficient team defensively, according to

Finding away to replace Marble’s offensive production will be key, but it’s important to note that Marble was also a ball-stopper on that end of the floor. The offense stopped when the ball got into his hands. Iowa’s sets should be more free-flowing this season, which is a good thing given the fact that they don’t have a true go-to- guy.

But that’s not what is going to change the outlook on the season for Iowa. Win close games and avoid defensive meltdowns, and the Hawkeyes should be able to exceed expectations this season.