What do we make of this Arizona team?: The Wildcats are 14-0 this season. They jumped out to a 2-0 start in league play with wins over Colorado and Utah this weekend. They have beaten Florida, San Diego State and Miami in non-conference play. They are currently ranked No. 3 in the country. And they are likely to continue to get better as their trio of freshmen big men continue to adjust to playing basketball at the collegiate level.
But when you take some of those wins into context, the picture gets a bit murkier. Florida, quite literally, gave the game away when they visited the McKale Center last month. After allowing an 8-0 spurt to end the first half, the Gators committed two turnovers and missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to blow a six-point lead in the final minute of regulation. Against Colorado, the refs stole a victory from the Buffaloes after Colorado blew a 10 point lead in the final four minutes of regulation. San Diego State was up double-figures in the second half and had their upset bid thwarted by a sensational defensive play by Nick Johnson. And Miami didn’t have Reggie Johnson when they played ‘Zona.
From a ranking standpoint, the only thing that matters is wins and losses. Arizona has won all their games. That’s significant. But there is plenty of room to analyze just how good the Wildcats truly are. I’ll slide on over to Kenpom, who ranks Arizona as the 14th best team in the country. And frankly, that sounds about right to me. Five of Arizona’s next seven games are Pac-12 road games. Let’s see where they stand in three week.
Big Ten road wins: The road is not a friendly place to be in league play, regardless of what conference you reside in. But for teams in the Big Ten, traveling is going to be especially difficult given just how many really good teams populate the top of the league standings. So when you get excited about things like Minnesota beating Michigan State at home or Illinois losing to Purdue on the road and beating Ohio State at home, keep in mind: that is what’s supposed to happen. Good teams defend their home court against conference rivals. There are a lot of good teams in the Big Ten, which means that a lot of good teams are going to be losing games on the road in the Big Ten.
The only time an outcome should truly get you excited is when the game isn’t close (like, for example, the mollywhopping Illinois put on Ohio State) or when someone wins on the road.
CJ McCollum’s injury: If Lehigh proved anything to us on Saturday, it’s that they are still going to be competitive in the Patriot League without CJ McCollum, who will miss about two months after breaking his foot. The Mountainhawks not only erased a 10 point deficit with McCollum on the bench with crutches, they played with the Rams the entire second half and nearly knocked them off.
The Patriot League should serve notice. This team can still finish second in the conference. The shame in McCollum’s injury, however, is that the most exciting part about the conference was going to be their league race with Bucknell, who nearly knocked off Missouri in Columbia on Saturday. That would have been a terrific race. Hopefully, if the basketball gods are looking out for us, McCollum will be back healthy by the time the league tournament begins.
Referee blunders: There were two critical mistakes that changed the outcome of games this week. Refs at the Marquette-UConn game blew a call that should have given the Huskies a bucket in overtime. And the refs in Colorado-Arizona were a complete embarrassment during the final two minutes. I don’t know how to fix this problem. But how often we talk about major officiating blunders that change the outcome of games is an embarrassment and a stain on college hoops.
D’angelo Harrison: The 6-foot-3 St. John’s sophomore may be the nation’s best kept secret. He’s averaging 21.4 points for the Johnnies after this week, when he went for 36 in an overtime loss at Villanova and followed that up with 15 points — including two huge baskets, one of which was the game-winner, down the stretch — as St. John’s went into Cincinnati and knocked off the Bearcats.
Carsen Edwards went through the NBA draft combine and multiple workouts before deciding to return for his junior season at Purdue.
The Boilermakers are sure happy he did after losing four seniors and most of their scoring.
The prolific guard was the leading vote getter in The Associated Press preseason men’s All-America team released on Tuesday, appearing on 63 of 65 ballots from a national media panel. Edwards was joined by North Carolina forward Luke Maye, Duke freshman R.J. Barrett, Kansas big man Dedric Lawson, Nevada’s Caleb Martin and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ.
The 6-foot-1 Edwards was a third-team All-American last season after averaging 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He’s expected to play a bigger role as the leader and go-to player on a young team.
Edwards is Purdue’s first preseason AP All-American since JaJuan Johnson in 2010-11.
“He’s a very dynamic player. He’s unique from a physical standpoint,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “He’s kind of got the body and the explosiveness like a Saquon Barkley. He plays through his offense. I think for guys like that, as you get older, you get more experience, more responsibility, but you don’t change who you are.”
Like Edwards, Maye was a third-team All-American who entered his name into the draft before withdrawing. Last season, the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 43 percent from 3-point range.
Maye hit the shot that beat Kentucky to send the Tar Heels to the Final Four as a sophomore during their 2017 title run.
“I don’t know how much more we can ask of him,” North Carolina teammate Kenny Williams said. “I mean, 17 and 10, that’s hard to do, especially in the ACC.”
Barrett arrived at Duke as the marquee player in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s latest stellar recruiting class. An athletic 6-7 forward from Canada, he was widely regarded as the top recruit in the 2018 class and has been projected as the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“Besides his ability, he has a passion to compete,” Krzyzewski said. “This young man has it. I love him and I’m glad I’m going to have the opportunity to spend some time with him.”
Lawson averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in two seasons at Memphis before opting to transfer to Kansas. The 6-8 swingman is expected to have a huge impact on the Jayhawks after sitting out last season, both in leadership and multiple roles on the floor.
“He needs to be able to play everywhere for us,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “There’s times where he can be our best point guard. I think there are times he could be our best low-post scorer, so we’ve got to move him around and come up with some creative ways to do that.”
Martin and Happ are the first players to tie for the fifth spot on the AP All-America team since 2012-13.
Martin became Nevada’s first preseason All-American after testing the NBA draft waters with his twin brother, Cody, during the offseason. The 6-7 senior averaged 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists while leading the Wolf Pack to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Nevada has its highest preseason ranking in program history at No. 7 entering this season.
Happ was another player who withdrew from the NBA draft after going through the evaluation process. The 6-10 senior averaged 17.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 52.8 percent.
The Associated Press 2018-19 preseason All-America team, with school, height, year and votes from a 65-member national media panel (key 2017-18 statistics in parentheses):
The college basketball season will finally be here in two weeks, meaning that the time for previewing the year is just about over.
But we’re not there yet.
So before things officially kick off, let’s take a closer look at the 12 things will could end up deciding how the season plays out.
Final Four trips.
Even the national title.
You can call them story lines, you can call them positional battles, you can call them whatever you like.
Here are the x-factors to monitor as we enter the 2018-19 college basketball season.
ARE WE READY TO TRUST JOSH PERKINS?
I love everything about Gonzaga’s frontcourt.
I’m all-in on the Rui Hachimura bandwagon. I think it’s only a matter of time before he is a college basketball star, and he already is the biggest name in basketball in his native Japan. Killian Tillie proved his merit during the WCC tournament last March, and Brandon Clarke is the guy that no one is talking about enough. Those three together are as good as any frontcourt trio in college hoops this season.
I also have little doubt that Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert will take a step forward this season. Norvell is one of the most dangerous shooters in the sport, while Kispert is a former four-star recruit that is going to see a bump in minutes this season. Throw in Geno Crandall’s arrival from North Dakota, and there should be an issue with scoring on the perimeter.
The question mark, for me, is Perkins.
In a vacuum, he’s fine. He’ll lead Gonzaga to a WCC title. They’ll end up as a high seed in the NCAA tournament. They’ll win 25 or 30 games. But at this point, is that enough for the Zags? They’ve been to a national title game. They’ve been a No. 1 seed. Anything short of a Final Four this year will probably be looked at as a disappointment, and to get to a Final Four, Gonzaga is going to have to beat the best teams in the country.
And my issue is whether or not Perkins, who averaged 12.3 points and 5.1 assists as a redshirt junior, can be as effective as he needs to be against the best teams in the country. Can he create against the best point guards in the sport? Is he improved as a decision-maker? Is he the leader on the floor that, say, Nigel Williams-Goss was?
If he is, then the Zags are a good bet to get back to the national title game.
IS COBY WHITE THE POINT GUARD THAT NORTH CAROLINA NEEDS?
The thing that we always talk about with North Carolina is that Roy Williams is one of the few coaches in the country that would still prefer to play with two physically-imposing big men at the same time. His coaching philosophy centers around dominating the glass — the more rebounds he gets, the more shots his team takes and the fewer shots his opponents take.
This year’s North Carolina team will look nothing like that. They are going full small-ball, with a lineup that could feature Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Luke Maye as their starting frontcourt. That is already going to place a priority on being more efficient offensively, and that’s before we consider the fact that UNC lost the guy that was their point guard by title — Joel Berry II — and the guy that was actually their point guard — Theo Pinson.
This is a concern for two reasons:
Roy Williams’ best teams have always had an elite point guard. Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall, Marcus Paige and Berry.
UNC’s point guard this season will likely be Coby White, a low-end five-star prospect that is known as one of the best scorers in the class.
There is going to be a lot of responsibility put onto his plate this season. Can he handle what is going to be asked of him?
Gonzaga and North Carolina aren’t the only schools with point guard concerns:
KANSAS: The Jayhawks may have the most interesting point guard battle this season. Charlie Moore is the redshirt freshman that transferred in from Cal and spent last season learning the system and Bill Self’s offense. Devon Dotson, a top 20 recruit, is the best pure point guard on the roster, but he’s also a freshman. So is Quentin Grimes, a combo-guard that might end up being a top ten pick. I’m sure someone from that group is going to turn out to be really good for the Jayhawks, I’m just not quite sure who it is going to be or how long it is going to take for that position to get settled.
FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles saw their starting point guard transfer out of the program this offseason, meaning that the preseason top 15 team is going to have two guys battling it out for the job: Junior Trent Forrest, who is more of a combo than a pure point guard, and David Nichols, a grad transfer that spent the last three seasons at Albany.
UCLA: With Aaron Holiday off to the NBA, Jaylen Hands looks like he is going to be taking over the point guard duties. As a former five-star prospect, Hands is, on paper, someone that should thrive in this role. But there are plenty of red flags. He’s not a good defender, he can be selfish at times and there are real concerns about whether or not he’s a point guard or a scorer that likes to dribble the ball up the floor. Combine that with Tyger Campbell, a steadying presence on the ball, tearing his ACL, and Steve Alford is going to have is work cut out for him.
WHO IS KENTUCKY’S GO-TO GUY?
The biggest concern I have with this Kentucky team isn’t really a concern, it’s more of a question: Do they actually have a star?
We know that they have enough good basketball players to absolutely steam-roll some pretty good competition during their trip to the Bahamas, and anyone with the ability to google “college basketball recruiting rankings” will know that the talent on this team isn’t lacking. There are multiple NBA players on this team, and they go two-deep at just about every position on the floor.
I wonder about how their rotation is going to pan out, but I’m not really all that concerned about it. John Calipari has proven over and over again that he is as good as anyone in college basketball at getting his guys to buy into playing the role he needs them to play. I also wonder about whether or not Kentucky will actually be able to find a lineup that can be elite offensively and defensively — they need shooting on the floor, but their best defenders can’t shoot and their best shooters can’t defend — but Cal has enough pieces that he should be able to mix-and-match based on opponent and matchup.
Those aren’t red flags as much as they are a natural progression for a team.
The red flag for me is that I’m not sure there is a go-to guy on this roster. Who is getting the rock at the end of a clock? Who is Cal calling plays for in crunch time? I’m not sure it’s Reid Travis; he can be double-teamed too easily on a team that doesn’t have great shooting. I don’t know if P.J. Washington or Quade Green is ready to handle that load. Kentucky’s freshmen point guards are both talented and will play in the NBA, but neither, at this point, is necessarily known for what they can do with the ball in their hands. The same can be said about Keldon Johnson.
Frankly, Tyler Herro is the guy that would make the most sense. He led the team is scoring in the four games in the Bahamas and he thrives running off screens the same way that Jamal Murray and Malik Monk did before him, but he also might be the fifth-best perimeter player Kentucky has.
There are going to be some big games that are decided by whether or not Kentucky can score on critical possessions, and finding a guy Cal can trust will be so important.
CAN DUKE SHOOT WELL ENOUGH TO GO FULL SMALL-BALL?
Duke is going to spend this season trying to run out their version of the death lineup.
Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are all going to start. I’d assume one of Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden will join them, and I fully expect those four to spend a lot of time on the floor together with Alex O’Connell, which would be a thrilling way to get Zion some minutes at the five.
That would look an awful lot like the lineup Golden State has made so popular, the one with Draymond Green at the five.
But what makes that Warriors five — what made last year’s Villanova starting five — so dangerous was that everyone on the floor was a good-to-great three-point shooter. No one could be left open lest you want to give a 40+ percent three-point shooter an open, rhythm jumper.
This Duke team, as talented as they are, just does not have the guys that can shoot it like that. In fact, each of the four freshmen on this team are at their best when they have the ball in their hands; it’s a roster that, in a way, is made up of a point guard, two point forwards and Zion, who has made a name for himself by being a grab-and-go big. Individually, I love the pieces on this roster, but I do have questions about how well this roster actually fits together.
IS ‘THE VILLANOVA WAY’ STRONG ENOUGH TO OVERCOME THE LOSS OF FOUR NBA PLAYERS?
Villanova had four players get picked in the top 33 picks of the 2018 NBA Draft. That is an unbelievable amount of talent for ay program to try and replace, particularly one like the Wildcats, which isn’t exactly known for churning out one-and-done five-star talent on an annual basis.
What Villanova is known for is their ability to develop players and ensure that their ‘next-man-up’ is always ready for the role he is going to be asked to play.
Well, they are going to have a team full of guys being asked to do just that. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth should be up for the challenge. They are both redshirt seniors that have been with this program through two national title runs. They’ll be fine. It’s the sophomore class — Collin Gillispie, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree — and the incoming freshmen — specifically Cole Swider and Jahvon Quinerly — that are going to be rushed along.
If Jay Wright can fast-track them to being able to handle a major role right away, the Wildcats should once again be a national title favorite come March.
HOW DOES VIRGINIA HANDLE WHAT MAY BE THE WORST LOSS IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY?
This one is really, really simple: Virginia entered the 2017-18 season as a team with a reputation for choking in March.
Fair or not, the truth is that Virginia had been a No. 1 seed twice and a No. 2 seed once in the four years before the start of last season, and those tournament trips resulted in a loss in the Sweet 16, a loss in the second round and, in 2015-16, a loss in the Elite 8 where the Wahoos blew a 15-point lead in the final ten minutes to No. 10-seed Syracuse.
That’s the kind of thing that can get in the head of a player, and I don’t think I’m being presumptive when I say that it probably played a role in Virginia suffering what might be the most embarrassing loss in the history of college basketball. UVA not only became the first No. 1-seed to ever lose to a No. 16-seed, they were run out of the gym, losing 74-54.
There are myriad Hall of Fame coaches that could never win the big one until they won the big one — Jim Calhoun, Bill Self, Lute Olson, even Jay Wright was thought to be a choke artist before winning two out of three NCAA tournaments — but they never had to deal with the weight of trying to get their team to forget something that history will never, ever forget.
IS BOL BOL AWESOME? OR IS HE OVERRATED?
This will be the question that determines who wins the Pac-12 this season. Bol Bol is unique. He is a 7-foot-3 center that can be as dominant of a shot-blocker as his father, Manute, was. He also shot 46 percent from three on more than four attempts per game on the EYBL circuit in 2017.
The issue with Bol Bol is that his motor runs far too hot and cold. When he wants to be, he is absolutely dominant in the paint, something of a forcefield around the rim. But he has yet to prove that he wants to be great every time he steps on the floor.
Then there is the Kenny Wooten factor. A few years back, Chris Boucher became something of a sensation for the Ducks, as he was a shot-blocking, three-point shooting center. But as it turns out, Oregon was actually a better basketball team when Jordan Bell took over at center full-time, as evidenced by their run to the Final Four in 2017 after Boucher tore his ACL.
Wooten, like Bell, is active and switchable at the five. Bol Bol is not. Will this saga play out like that one?
DOES AUBURN’S TEAM-BUILDING GET BROKEN DOWN BY THE RETURN OF AUSTIN WILEY AND DANJEL PURIFOY?
Auburn is coming off of a season where they won a share of the SEC regular season title despite losing two starters and an assistant coach prior to the first game as fallout from the FBI’s investigation.
That surprise run to a league title happened because everything that Auburn did worked in concert. They were able to play small and play fast, they had guys that bought into the system and the style of play, Bruce Pearl was able to get his kids playing with a chip the size of Alabama on their shoulder.
This year, the Tigers will be getting back Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, the two players that were suspended for last season, and it’s worth questioning whether their addition is going to help or hurt matters. Will team chemistry still be there? Can Wiley — a lumbering, 6-foot-11 center — play at the pace Auburn wants to play at? Can Purifoy accept where he fits into the team’s rotation?
The collective was better than the sum of the parts for Auburn last season, and that’s a delicate balance to maintain.
IS THIS THE YEAR MICHIGAN STATE’S JUNIORS BECOME STARS?
Michigan State enters this season as the No. 10 team in the preseason AP Poll.
If they are going to live up to that hype, they are going to need their trio of juniors — Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford — to live up to the hype they had entering their freshmen year.
Winston should be ready. He was already one of the best point guards in the country last season, a slick passer and uber-efficient playmaker that shoots the cover off the ball. Ward and Langford, however, are bigger question marks. Ward has yet to find a way to stay on the floor for extended minutes while playing for Izzo, while Langford has turned into something of a mid-range jump-shooter, which is the antithesis of efficiency.
CAN MICHIGAN OR SYRACUSE SCORE?
Again, this one is really simple.
Syracuse returns everyone from a team that reached the Sweet 16 and finished as the nation’s fifth-best defensive team, according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. They also finished 135th in adjusted offensive efficiency. That’s not good.
Michigan reached the national title game last season as a top three defense nationally, but they struggled to score for long stretches last season and lost their top three offensive weapons — Mo Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson.
Both teams will enter the season in the top 25, but they may not stay there for long if they can’t figure out a way to score.
CAN PURDUE SCORE IF CARSEN EDWARDS ISN’T THE ONE SHOOTING?
Purdue lost four starters off of last year’s team, and while they return Carsen Edwards — a preseason all-american that might just end up leading the nation in scoring — that’s really the only guy they bring back that is a proven threat to score.
Ryan Cline, Nojel Eastern, Matt Haarms. Will any of these guys be able to take some of the weight off of Edwards’ shoulders?
CAN WEST VIRGINIA BE PRESS VIRGINIA WITHOUT JEVON CARTER AND DAXTER MILES?
I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Press Virginia became a thing when Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles were freshmen, or that Bob Huggins was able to have success with it over the course of the last four years with those two playing heavy backcourt minutes.
They were perfectly designed to play basketball that way.
So what happens to West Virginia and this style when they are gone? Can Beetle Bolden and Brandon Knapper continue to apply pressure the way that their backcourt predecessors did?
N.C State guard Braxton Beverly out with broken hand
Kevin Keatts has some decisions to make this season at point guard with a bevy of attractive options with Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Missouri transfer Blake Harris all after minutes this season for N.C. State.
One of those options, though, just got taken off the table for the immediate future.
Beverly, who started 26 games and was second on the Wolfpack in 3s last year, broke a bone in his left hand, the school announced Monday. The sophomore will undergo surgery Tuesday and will be out indefinitely.
The 6-foot guard from Hazard, Ky. averaged 32.4 minutes per game last season, putting up 9.5 points and 3.9 assists against just 1.2 turnovers. He shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range.
The Wolfpack will now lean on Johnson and Harris. Johnson averaged 8.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Harris is a former four-star recruit who left Missouri midway through last year, but received a waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility.
N.C. State, which made the tournament last season in Keatts’ first year in Raleigh, opens the season Nov. 6 against Mount St. Mary’s
Jury deliberates fate of 3 men in college basketball scandal
NEW YORK (AP) — A jury quietly deliberated for five hours Monday on its first day considering the merits of claims by the government that three men conspired to cheat major college basketball programs by paying young athletes to sign with schools sponsored by Adidas.
Attorneys for the defendants contend their clients broke NCAA rules but no laws.
Deliberations began midday Monday after U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan instructed the jury. Five hours later, jurors went home without sending any notes. They resume work Tuesday morning.
Federal prosecutors have portrayed universities with some of the nation’s best college basketball programs as victims of a group of individuals who arranged to pay the families of top recruits tens of thousands of dollars so young athletes would go to Adidas-sponsored schools.
Prosecutors say the men tricked the schools into giving scholarships to players who should have been ineligible.
The defendants are Adidas sports marketing manager James “Jim” Gatto, aspiring sports agent Christopher Dawkins and Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant.
Their attorneys told jurors over several weeks the government was overreaching when it brought the case against the three men and several others who are awaiting trial, including four former assistant coaches.
They say their clients were trying to help the schools build championship-caliber teams by steering the nation’s best high school athletes their way.
The lawyers argued that financially aiding struggling families of the athletes along the way was part of a process that involved big-brand shoe makers supporting the schools they sponsored in any way they could.
The scandal led to the firing of Coach Rick Pitino at Louisville and attracted scrutiny to other major college basketball programs. Pitino was not charged.
Virginia announced on Monday that forward Alabama transfer Braxton Key will be eligible to play for the Cavaliers this season.
Key is a 6-foot-8 junior that spent the first two years of his college career playing for the Crimson Tide. As a freshman, he averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 boards, but he managed just 7.0 points and 5.3 boards in limited time last season after missing the first ten games following knee surgery.
His addition is critical for the Wahoos, as it will allow them to move De’Andre Hunter, a potential all-american, to the position that he is best-suited to playing: The four. It also adds perimeter depth to a roster that frankly did not have all that much. Prior to Key getting his waiver, Virginia’s perimeter depth behind Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome consisted of a sophomore that played in 13 games last season (Marco Anthony), a redshirt freshman and a pair of true freshmen that are anything-but five-star prospects.
Key has his warts as a player. He’s turnover prone, he’s probably not quite as good of a perimeter shooter as he thinks he is and, like Hunter, he’s more of a combo-forward than he is a natural wing or a true four. But A) he can score, B) the fact that he’s a combo-forward is certainly not a killer given he’d spend time paired with Hunter, and C) there shouldn’t be an adjustment for him defensively. In the two seasons that Key was at Alabama, they finished in the top 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric both years.