Bubble Banter: Illinois, Oklahoma this week’s big winners

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With just over a month until Selection Sunday, it’s time to take a look at the current NCAA bubble.  It’s a bit crazy – especially with teams like Kentucky and North Carolina missing from “lock” status.  We also have teams like Virginia – whose resume features quality wins, head-scratching losses, and a weak strength of schedule.  How will the Selection Committee view the Cavaliers?  Those are just three of many challenges within the current landscape of college hoops.

For what it’s worth, the Atlantic 10, Pac-12, SEC, and Mountain West have a variety of bubble teams.  It’ll be interesting to see how things play out.

Bubble Banter will ebb and flow over the next month.  Teams will be added and teams will fall away.  Others will move off the bubble and confirm their place in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.  While we could stretch the bubble even further, we’ve limited teams to those with realistic at-large hopes at this point in time.  Ask Villanova how quickly things can change, however.  Beating Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games can do that.

It’s going to be a fun ride.  Here’s to some great hoops and a stronger-than-usual bubble down the stretch.  This edition of Bubble Banter includes results through games played on Sunday, February 10.  RPI and SOS data is credited to InsiderRPI at ESPN.

UPDATED: Monday, February 11

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

Automatic Bids (31): None at this time

  • Projected Locks (14): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (18): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (40): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (14): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games completed on Sunday, February 10.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler | Should Be In: Saint Louis, VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Charlotte, Massachusetts, Xavier
  • Charlotte (17-6 | 5-4) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 125 | – Wins over La Salle, UMass and Xavier are the 49ers’ calling cards. That probably won’t be enough. And Charlotte fell further behind the league leaders are falling at home to VCU on Saturday. A weak non-conference schedule (No. 221) means Charlotte has to right the ship and finish strong in the A-10.
  • La Salle (16-6 | 6-3) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 48 | – A home win over Butler and a road victory at VCU highlight the Explorers’ resume. They also have a win over fellow-bubble dweller Villanova. Overall, La Salle is 4-5 vs. Top 100 teams, but only two of those are likely NCAA squads. The only real blemish is a November loss at CCSU. The Explorers need to keep winning because other than Temple and Saint Louis, there are no NCAA-level games left on the docket until the A-10 tournament.
  • Massachusetts (16-6 | 6-3) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 88 | – Outside the A-10, the Minutemen’s best win is Harvard. That could be a problem. UMass did win at La Salle, which is a solid victory. And while the Minutemen are 5-4 vs. the Top 100, they are just 1-2 vs. Top 50 teams. With games left against VCU, Temple, and Butler, there’s still time. A couple of wins in those games would really help.
  • Temple (16-7 | 5-4) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 45 | – A win over Syracuse continues to help the Owls. They also have a victory at Villanova. Within the A-10, highlights are wins over Saint Louis and Charlotte. Temple also battled Kansas to a close loss in Lawrence. So why the bubble? Until a stretch of three wins in four games, the Owls were well off the conference pace. At 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams, Temple still needs some wins.
  • Xavier (13-9 | 6-3) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 85 | – Wins over Butler, La Salle, and Temple (all Top 50 RPI teams) are what’s keeping the Musketeers on the at-large list, but it’s a long shot given XU’s power numbers. Xavier has five sub-100 losses, including Wofford (No. 248). Xavier closes with five potential NCAA opponents, one of which is Memphis. It’ll take a late surge for the Musketeers to have at-large hopes in March.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: NC State | Bubble: North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Florida State
  • Florida State (13-10 | 5-5) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 20 | – The Seminoles are 0-5 vs. Top 50 RPI teams and dropped their fourth sub-100 game by falling to Wake Forest on Saturday. The plus side: FSU is 5-6 vs. the Top 100 including wins over BYU, Charlotte, and a sweep of fellow bubble-dweller Maryland. The SOS numbers are there, but the Seminoles have work to do down the stretch to overcome a suspect resume.
  • Maryland (17-7 | 5-6) | RPI: 70 | SOS: 116 | – The albatross for Maryland is a non-conference schedule (No. 299) that gets noticed in the wrong way. While the Terrapins have no “bad” losses, they lack quality wins. Only a home victory over NC State is NCAA-worthy. Sunday’s loss to Virginia doesn’t help, as it knocks the Terps further down the s-curve. They did win at Northwestern outside the ACC, but the Wildcats aren’t likely headed to the NCAAs. All but three wins have come against teams ranked 100 or lower in the RPI.
  • North Carolina (15-7 | 6-4) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 35 | – Carolina has a solid home win over UNLV. After that, UNC’s resume is somewhat light. The Tar Heels’ other “notable” wins are Florida State and Maryland. With no “bad” losses and solid RPI and SOS numbers, UNC may sneak in, but it’s no sure thing. Carolina has two games left with Duke. They may need one of those. UNC was hammered Saturday in its only meeting with league-leader Miami.
  • Virginia (17-6 | 7-3) | RPI: 75 | SOS: 176 | – There has been much debate about UVA’s resume. And while Sunday’s win at Maryland helps, questions remain. Wins over UNC, NC State and Wisconsin (on the road) stand out. But there are six sub-100 losses, including a real head-scratcher against Old Dominion. A horrible SOS number includes a No. 323 mark in non-conference. What’s it’s all mean? Despite some good wins, Virginia has given the Committee plenty of reasons to leave them home. It’s up to UVA to erase doubts down the stretch.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville | Should Be In: Cincinnati, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Notre Dame | Bubble: Villanova, St. John’s
  • St. John’s (15-9 | 7-5) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 14 | – Even with Sunday’s loss at Syracuse, St. John’s has quietly compiled a resume worth of NCAA consideration. The Red Storm have a win at Cincinnati, a victory over Notre Dame, and are 7-6 vs. the Top 100 of the RPI. Outside the Big East, however, SJU’s best win is probably Detroit, so there’s not a lot to fall back on. Strength of schedule will help St. John’s, and overall the schedule is favorable down the stretch. Besides a growing loss total, the only blemishes are early losses to San Francisco and UNC-Asheville.
  • Villanova (14-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 49 | – Back-to-back wins over Louisville and Syracuse do wonders for an at-large resume. That said, ‘Nova is 0-5 against other Top 50 competition and Saint Joseph’s is the Wildcats’ best non-league victory. A loss to Columbia is certainly noticeable, as is being swept by Providence. The rest of Villanova’s resume is very average. Can two wins carry ‘Nova to the NCAAs? Four of the Wildcats’ final seven games are away from home. A .500 finish will likely put Villanova squarely on the bubble.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State | Should Be In: Minnesota, Wisconsin | Bubble: Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa
  • Illinois (16-8 | 4-7) | RPI: 26 | SOS: 5 | – No bubble team had a better week than the Illini – who upset Indiana in Champaign and backed it up with a win at Minnesota. That’s two Top 15 RPI wins in a week and gives the Illini five Top 25 RPI wins on the season. If it weren’t for a 4-7 mark in the Big Ten – largely due to a home loss to Northwestern – Illinois probably wouldn’t even be on the bubble. The schedule is favorable if the Illini can avoid a let down in their next three – Purdue, at Northwestern, and Penn State. Quality non-conference wins include Butler (Maui) and at Gonzaga.
  • Iowa (15-9 | 4-7) | RPI: 91 | SOS: 106 | – The Hawkeyes’ may be better than their numbers suggest. But a No. 325 non-conference SOS is something that will hurt Iowa on Selection Sunday. Why so bad? A 10-1 mark vs. teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI. A non-conference win over Iowa State is noteworthy as is a home win over Wisconsin. But Iowa is just 2-7 vs. Top 50 teams. Against the RPI Top 150, Iowa is 5-8. That leaves the Hawkeyes with work to do over the next month.
  • Northwestern (13-11 | 4-7) | RPI: 96 | SOS: 56 | – It’s going to be a long, uphill climb for Northwestern which has lost four of six games. They are 2-5 vs. the Top 50, and just 3-10 vs. the Top 100. The Wildcats may be in for a short stay on the bubble. What Northwestern does have: road wins at Illinois and Baylor and a home victory over Minnesota. Their only questionable loss is to UIC.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas | Should Be In: Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (14-8 | 6-4) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 23 | – The Bears have lost three of four games and are 2-6 vs. Top 50 teams. An early win at Kentucky helps as does a victory over Oklahoma State. Wins over Lehigh, St. John’s, and BYU will be noticed, but won’t necessarily carry Baylor into the NCAAs. To feel somewhat safe, the Bears need a couple more NCAA-level wins between now and Selection Sunday.
  • Iowa State (16-7 | 6-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 50 | – While the power numbers look good for the Cyclones, a 2-5 mark vs. Top 50 teams suggests there work to do. ISU has Big 12 wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma at home. But a 2-6 road mark is somewhat concerning. ISU’s best non-conference win is probably BYU – which isn’t an NCAA team at this point. Iowa State lost to Iowa, and also has a “bad” loss to Texas Tech.
  • Oklahoma (15-7 | 6-4) | RPI: 19 | SOS: 6 | – Strong SOS numbers are boosting the Sooners’ power profile, but you have to look a little deeper. Beating Kansas at home Saturday was a major boost. Beyond that, OU is 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams. The Sooners’ best non-conference win is Texas AM, which is a fringe bubble team at this point. Odds are in Oklahoma’s favor – given the RPI numbers. But the Sooners can’t fall off the pace in the Big 12 race.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Memphis, Southern Miss
  • Memphis (20-3 | 9-0) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 102 | – Once again, Memphis is in a tough spot (especially for seeding). The Tigers missed early chances against VCU, Minnesota, and Louisville. Now, after beating Southern Miss, they have a two-game lead in C-USA – and an outright title by multiple games would probably be enough to lock up an at-large. But UM’s overall resume remains light – with the win over So. Miss being the Tigers’ only Top 50 win (1-3 overall). Non-conference wins are Harvard, Tennessee, and Ohio. The positive: there are no “bad” losses on the slate.
  • Southern Miss (16-6 | 7-2) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 99 | – It was a bad week for So. Miss. The Golden Eagles dropped games to UCF and Memphis, falling two games behind the Tigers in the C-USA race. With an 0-6 mark vs. the Top 100, USM is at risk of leaving the bubble all together. Outside of a trip to Memphis, there’s little opportunity left for the Golden Eagles to make an NCAA-level statement. Right now, USM’s best win is at Denver.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: None | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: Indiana State, Wichita State
  • Indiana State (15-8 | 9-4) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 53 | – The Sycamores are in the thick of the MVC title chase and have non-conference wins over Ole Miss and Miami-FL. The latter is especially impressive (although the ‘Canes weren’t at full strength in Hawaii). ISU also won at Wichita State and handled Creighton at home. Four sub-100 losses – especially to Morehead State and So. Illinois – are keeping the Sycamores on the bubble. Avoiding any more “bad” losses should be enough to earn an NCAA bid. But that might be easier said than done.
  • Wichita State (20-5 | 9-4) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 129 | – An early win at VCU is helping the Shockers, as is a home win over Creighton. But WSU has lost three of four, including one at Southern Illinois. Other non-conference wins of note include Iowa and at Air Force. All-in-all, it could be a short stay on the bubble, especially with a 3-1 mark vs. Top 50 teams and 5-2 mark vs. the Top 100. But the recent skid is cause for momentary concern, and the Shockers do have three sub-100 losses. Upcoming trips to Illinois State and Indiana State could be very important.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico | Should Be In: San Diego State, UNLV | Bubble: Colorado State, Boise State, Air Force
  • Air Force (12-8 | 5-4) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 87 | – The Falcons’ at-large hopes took a hit with the loss to Nevada on Saturday. But it’s certainly not over. The next three games – UNLV, Colorado State, and at Boise State will be telling. A non-conference SOS ranked 250-plus won’t help AF and the Falcons’ best non-conference RPI win is Arkansas Pine-Bluff (No. 210). Which means the Falcons have to excel in the Mountain West. An average showing won’t be enough.
  • Boise State (14-7 | 4-5) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 75 | – Like Air Force, a non-conference SOS in the mid-200’s won’t help. But unlike the Falcons, BSU has a non-conference victory at Creighton. They also lost a close contest at Michigan State. Inside the MTW, however, Boise has managed only a win over UNLV at home, and a sweep of now-struggling Wyoming. Combined with losses to Nevada and Utah, the Broncos need a strong finish.
  • Colorado State (17-4 | 6-2) | RPI: 15 | SOS: 55 | – Colorado State has a strong computer profile and a very solid mark in MTW play. At the same time, only a home win over UNLV is an NCAA-level win at this point. The win over Boise State helps, but the Broncos have work to do, too. The Rams do have a non-conference win over Washington (and Montana), which help some. An early-loss to Illinois-Chicago isn’t a huge concern. The next four games (SDSU, @Air Force, @UNLV, New Mexico) will be huge for CSU’s profile. An even split would be nice.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona | Should Be In: Oregon, UCLA | Bubble: Arizona State, Washington, Stanford, California
  • Arizona State (18-6 | 7-4) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 104 | – The Sun Devils have Pac-12 wins over Colorado and UCLA. Their best non-conference win is Arkansas. They are 2-3 vs. The Top 50 and 4-5 vs. the Top 100. The only “bad” loss is to DePaul in early December. But … ASU is 13-1 vs. sub-150 RPI teams and has a non-conference SOS ranked in No. 267. That will be a big hurdle to overcome. The home loss to Stanford is somewhat troubling – especially with five of the Sun Devils’ final seven Pac-12 games on the road.
  • California (14-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 38 | – Just when the Bears needed something big on their resume, they got a huge road win at Arizona on Sunday night. Before that, Cal was a woeful 1-9 vs. the Top 100 and 1-5 vs. the Top 50. Those aren’t NCAA numbers. Now, one victory over Arizona doesn’t an NCAA profile make. But it keeps the Bears on the radar. Outside league play, Cal’s best win is probably Georgia Tech. With five of seven games at home to close, the Bears need to pile up wins.
  • Stanford (15-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 37 | – The Cardinal have won four of five games, including a road victory at Arizona State this weekend. Even so, Stanford is a discouraging 1-7 vs. Top 50 teams, so work remains. They are 4-8 vs. the Top 100. The best of those is a home victory over Oregon. An early win at Northwestern isn’t quite once it once was. The schedule is favorable down the stretch, and Stanford needs every win it can get as its quality wins are lacking.
  • Washington (13-11 | 5-6) | RPI: 78 | SOS: 33 | – Much like the other Pac-12 bubble teams, the Huskies lack a high-profile non-conference victory – their best is over Saint Louis. UW is 1-6 vs. Top 50 teams – but does have solid road wins at Cal and Stanford. Four sub-100 losses are also something UW has to overcome – including an early loss to Albany. Closing games with Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona will be critical. The Huskies may have to win all of those to be in the picture next month. Sunday’s loss at USC doesn’t help.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas
  • Alabama (14-8 | 7-3) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 58 | – While Alabama’s profile has plenty of holes (and suspect losses), the Crimson Tide played without Andrew Steele in some of those games. The Selection Committee will take that under consideration. That said, an ugly low-scoring loss at Auburn last week counts. ‘Bama is 1-3 vs. the Top 50 (beating Kentucky at home) and 6-4 vs. Top 100 teams. Outside the league, the Tide have wins over South Dakota State and Villanova. Inside the league, they have wins over Tennessee, Texas AM, and Arkansas at home. But those won’t carry the Tide into the NCAAs. Closing games at Florida and Ole Miss will be telling if ‘Bama can keep winning until then.
  • Arkansas (14-9 | 5-5) | RPI: 92 | SOS: 81 | – Arkansas has yet to win a true road game, so the Razorbacks are probably looking at a short stay on the bubble. They arrive, however, with a 2-4 mark vs. Top 50 teams, including a home victory over Florida. They also beat Oklahoma outside the conference. But at 3-7 vs. Top 100 teams, it doesn’t look promising. The lopsided loss at South Carolina was ugly.
  • Kentucky (17-6 | 8-2) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 72 | – The Wildcats are inching their way toward “Should Be In.” But with a 1-3 mark vs. Top 50 teams (4-6 vs. the Top 100), it’s hard to consider UK a for-sure NCAA team at this point. The SEC is down – especially at the bottom, making quality wins harder to find. Beating Ole Miss on the road was a solid step. But other than a win over Maryland, UK’s non-conference resume is light (11-0 vs. sub-150 opponents). With trips to Florida and Tennessee up next, it’s a big week for the Wildcats.
  • Mississippi (18-5 | 7-3) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 119 | – With a non-conference SOS ranked 250-plus, Ole Miss has to maintain a strong profile in the SEC. The Rebels’ best non-conference victory is Rutgers, so yes, work remains. Inside the SEC, Ole Miss has a win over Missouri at home but lost to the Tigers over the weekend in Columbia. That leaves the Rebels at 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams – which is hardly lock status. On the plus side, Ole Miss has not had any “bad” losses, and, in fact, has not lost to anyone ranked outside the RPI Top 50. The bad news? Ole Miss doesn’t play any remaining SEC opponents that are certain NCAA teams.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s, BYU
  • BYU (17-8 | 8-4) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 89 | – The Cougars’ at-large NCAA hopes took a serious hit after back-to-back losses to San Francisco and San Diego. It drops BYU well off the WCC pace with just five games to play. Overall, BYU is 0-3 vs. Top 50 teams and just 2-6 vs. the Top 100. And both of those are victories are over Santa Clara. The Cougars have to beat both St. Mary’s and Gonzaga down the stretch to have any realistic at-large hopes.
  • St. Mary’s (20-4 | 10-1) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 183 | – A weak overall schedule is hampering the Gaels. SMU has played just one Top 50 opponent (0-1 overall) and only four Top 100 teams (3-1). The Gaels best non-conference win is Harvard. That said, they can still tie Gonzaga for the WCC if they beat the ‘Zags at home this week. It might take a tie for St. Mary’s to grab an at-large spot. It’ll be interesting to see how the Committee weighs a volume of decent wins vs. a lack of quality wins. History would suggest that quality wins tend to be more important.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Belmont, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech, Lehigh
  • Akron (18-4 | 10-0) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 158 | – The Zips have not lost since December 15 (at Detroit). That said, Akron’s only Top 100 win during that stretch is Ohio at home. An early win over Middle Tennessee State helps, giving Akron a 2-3 mark vs. the Top 100. The other problem? The Zips are 15-1 vs. sub-150 teams – meaning all but three wins are against the lower half of Division I. Akron has to win an outright MAC title and probably reach the conference tourney final to have a realistic shot at this point.
  • Belmont (18-5 | 11-1) | RPI: 23 | SOS: 61 | – Good scheduling and a 5-4 mark vs. Top 100 teams has put the Bruins on the radar for at-large consideration. A win over Middle Tennessee State is the Bruins’ best RPI win, although a victory at Stanford might be equally important. There are no “ugly” losses on the Bruins’ resume. A loss last week to Murray State keeps the Racers only a game back in the OVC. Belmont has to win the league outright. After that, the Bruins’ at-large hopes depend on the overall landscape come March.
  • Bucknell (19-4 | 7-1) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 186 | – A victory over La Salle highlights a resume that shows a lot of wins but not a lot of high-quality W’s. Bucknell has beaten New Mexico St and won at Purdue. Unfortunately, the latter hasn’t help up quite as much as expected. Could the Bison win a game if they reach the NCAAs? Sure. But getting there won’t be easy. The negatives are losses at Penn State and Princeton.
  • Lehigh (16-5 | 7-1) | RPI: 77 | SOS: 210 | – Other than a win over league foe Bucknell, the Mountain Hawks resume is suspect (1-3 vs. Top 100) teams. They also have home losses to Bryant and Lafayette. At this point, an at-large bid is a long shot. But we’ll keep Lehigh here as they are tied with Bucknell atop the Patriot League standings.
  • Louisiana Tech (21-3 | 12-0) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 242 | – La Tech’s strength of schedule is a major hurdle to overcome – reflected by 16 games (15-1 record) against sub-150 opponents. The Bulldogs’ best win is over bubble-dweller Southern Miss. There’s also an ugly loss at McNeese State. Despite a high volume of wins, an at-large bid is unlikely.
  • Middle Tennessee (22-4 | 14-1) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 111 | – An early win over Ole Miss helps but the Blue Raiders’ only other Top 100 win is Central Florida. Like some others on this list, a 15-1 mark vs. sub-150 teams is a drag on the schedule. Middle Tennessee also has losses to fellow bubble-dwellers Belmont and Akron – although both were on the road.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.

Big East Conference Reset: Perennial powers must reload

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone, and there are a dozen or so truly impactful decisions that are left to be made.

Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season.

The coaching carousel has come to a close.

The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2018-19 season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big East over the next six months.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

REMAINING DECISIONS: Most of the decisions have been made and have been for some time, but there are a number of outstanding calls to be made by some underclassmen mulling a pro future or a return to school. Some are big enough to factor in significantly on what 2018-19 looks like in the Big East.

With Donte Divincenzo likely gone, Omari Spellman’s stay-or-go quandry is probably the biggest among them, not just because the 6-foot-9 center averaged 10.9 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, but because the defending national champs are already getting hit hard by early entries. Spellman returning could be an important anchor as Villanova looks to bridge eras. He’s the connecting piece for this Villanova program.

Spellman isn’t the only one waiting out the NBA’s May 30 deadline, however, as St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds, DePaul wing Max Strus and Georgetown center Jessie Govan remain testing the waters as major pieces to both their respective teams should they elect to return to campus.

HOW DOES VILLANOVA RELOAD?: Villanova is slated to lose at least two (potentially three) starters, one of whom was the national player of the year and another a likely lottery pick, plus the guy that scored 31 points off the bench in the national title game. That’s enough for most programs to hit the reset button without shame – two titles in three years is pretty good, after all. Villanova, though? Not Villanova.

If Spellman returns, he’ll be joined by two other national-title game starters in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, back for the Wildcats along with a highly-regarded recruiting class highlighted by five-star guard Jahvon Quinerly and sniper Cole Swider. Villanova might not start the season as high as we initially tabbed them (No. 2) with DiVencenzo expected to stay in the draft, but they’re still going to have plenty of talent – and experience – on the roster.

HOMECOMINGS GONE AWRY: The homecoming for Chris Mullin to his alma mater St. John’s hasn’t gone exactly according to plan. The Red Storm have posted three-straight losing seasons and are 12-42 in Big East play. There have been signs of life, namely wins over Duke and Villanova last year, but the big picture results just haven’t been the improvement that was envisioned when Mullin returned to Queens in 2015. Given his legend status, Mullin has some leeway in which to operate, but the production is going to have to have to show some upward trajectory.

Dave Leitao’s second stint at DePaul has been an uninspiring one. Leitao, who left DePaul for Virginia before returning in 2015, has posted three-straight losing seasons in which getting to 11 wins last year actually signified an improvement. The team was young a year ago, but the talent level doesn’t suggest the Blue Demons are going to rocket up the Big East standings.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE?

  • JALEN BRUNSON, MIKAL BRIDGES and DONTE DIVENCENZO, Villanova: After winning its second national title in three years, Villanova was prepared to lose Brunson and Bridges, but DiVencenzo’s expected decision to stay in the draft wasn’t as predictable. Those are three huge pieces for the Wildcats, who are still awaiting the draft decision of Omari Spellman. Jay Wright may have things rolling in Philly, but that’s a massive trio – or potentially quartet – to lose and not miss too many steps.
  • MARCUS FOSTER and KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton: Marcus Foster was the better-known half of Creighton’s dynamic duo, but Thomas was just as important to the Bluejays success. The 6-foot-3 junior elected to forego his final season of eligibility after averaging 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists while becoming a lock-down defender. His departure makes is a significant blow to the Bluejays.
  • SETON HALL’S SENIORS: Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Ishmael Sanogo were the core of a Seton Hall team that was the best we’ve seen from Kevin Willard to date.
  • ANDREW ROWSEY, Marquette: The 5-foot-9 dynamo was one of the most entertaining scorers in the conference last season.
  • KAISER GATES, Xavier: The Musketeers were hit hard this offseason. Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Chris Mack are all gone. But they also lose Gates, a junior who averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game who was expected to play a much bigger role this season.
  • MARCUS DERRICKSON, Georgetown: The Hoyas’ 6-foot-7 forward elected to go pro following a junior season in which he averaged 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
  • KASSOUM YAKWE, St. John’s: After a promising freshman season, Yakwe’s production dipped in each of the last two years before he decided to transfer to UConn this offseason.
(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

WHO’S BACK?

  • MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette: A second-team all-Big East selection, Howard returns to Milwaukee for his junior season as a potential player of the year in the conference. He put up 20.4 points per game on 46.4 percent shooting from the floor and 40.4 percent from 3-point range
  • KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler: The Bulldogs guard will carry a heavy load this season, but after averaging 15.7 points per game as a sophomore, he’s proven he can fill it up with the best of them in the conference.
  • MITCHELL BALLOCK, Creighton: After having a reserve role as a freshman, Ballock figures to move into a much more significant spot for a new-look Bluejays team. He averaged just 7.3 points per game, but the 22 points he put on UCLA in November suggests he could be a big-time scorer.
  • MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: The 6-foot-2 guard is coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged 15.5. He’ll be asked to do even more this season with Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado no longer on the roster. If he can be a little more efficient, he’s looking like a potential all-conference performer.
  • ALPHA DIALLO and EMMITT HOLT, Providence: Diallo had a breakout sophomore campaign in which he went from a five-point scorer to a 13-point scorer. He shot 46.6 percent from the floor and also grabbed 6.6 rebounds per game. Holt, meanwhile, missed the 2017-18 season due to injury. He averaged 12.5 points as a sophomore after transferring from Indiana.

WHO’S COMING?

  • JAHVON QUINERLY, COLE SWIDER and BRANDON SLATE, Villanova: The Wildcats may have suffered some significant losses to the pro ranks, but they’ll benefit from a highly-regarded group of incoming freshman. Quinerly is the headliner as a top-30 prospect Jay Wright undoubtedly looks at as the future of the point guard position for his program. Swider and Slate are both top-50 prospects with big futures ahead of them.
  • DAVID DUKE and A.J. REEVES, Providence: Ed Cooley has taken the Friars to five-straight NCAA tournaments and looks to have the talent to keep Providence viable in the top half of the Big East for the foreseeable future with Duke and Reeves, a pair of top-50 guards, coming into the program.
  • JAMES AKINJO, Georgetown: Previously a UConn pledge, Akinjo flipped to Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas after Kevin Ollie’s ouster. He gives Georgetown the gem of a solid four-man recruiting class
  • KYLE CASTLIN, Xavier: The Columbia graduate transfer averaged 10.5 points whiles hooting 49.6 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from distance. He gives Travis Steele talent and experience when both will be paramount in his first season at the helm in Cincinnati.
  • JOSEPH CHARTOUNY, Marquette: The 6-foot-3 guard averaged double figures in scoring in each of his three seasons with Fordham before deciding to grad transfer to the Golden Eagles.
  • QUINCY MCKNIGHT, Seton Hall: The Sacred Heart transfer sat out last season as a transfer, but he provides the Pirates with firepower. He averaged 18.9 points as a sophomore.

COACHING CHANGES

  • TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier: When Chris Mack left his alma mater to take the reins at Louisville, Steele was the natural successor. He was initially hired at X by Sean Miller and then spent nine years on Mack’s staff, going to NCAA tournaments and making a name for himself as one of the country’s top recruiters. Xavier has turned into a Midwestern power in no small part because it’s made smart hiring decisions, and Steele looks to be cut from the same cloth that made Miller and Mack prolific winners.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG EAST TEAM

MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette (POY)
SHAMORIE PONDS*, St. John’s
OMARI SPELLMAN*, Villanova
JESSIE GOVAN*, Georgetown
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

AP Photo/John Minchillo

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. VILLANOVA: The losses the Wildcats sustained were more than just significant, but the talent and culture remains intact in Philadelphia. Omari Spellman’s decision looms large, but a strong recruiting class – plus Jay Wright – keeps ‘Nova on top.

2. XAVIER: Another bet on culture, Xavier is another program that lost a ton, but by keeping some level of continuity by promoting Travis Steele, the Musketeers may not slip as far as you’d normally expect considering their losses. Steele has his work cut out for him, but the pieces are there to be competitive.

3. PROVIDENCE: Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock are two huge names to lose, but Alpha Diallo and Emmitt Holt should be enough to carry the offensive load.

4. CREIGHTON: Greg McDermott reinvented his program the last few years, going from being among the country’s slowest-paced teams to one of the quickest. WIth the losses of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, this will likely be the third chapter of his time in Omaha following this back-to-back NCAA tournaments and the Dougie McBuckets era before that.

5. SETON HALL: The Pirates will hang their hats on getting a lot of production from Myles Powell and Quincy McKnight to overcome the losses of Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez.

6. GEORGETOWN: Jessie Govan’s decision to stay or go will have a big impact on the Hoyas’ future, but Patrick Ewing’s return to to D.C. looks to be headed in the right direction.

7. BUTLER: How Kamar Baldwin goes, the Bulldogs are likely to follow. He’s going to have a ton of offensive responsibility if Butler is going to get back to the NCAA tournament in LaVall Jordan’s second season.

8. MARQUETTE: The Golden Eagles are 1-for-4 in NCAA tournament seasons under Steve Wojciechowski, and his fifth season looks to be an uphill battle to improve that percentage.

9. ST. JOHN’S: If Shamorie Ponds returns, it’s not hard to see the Red Storm outperforming this prediction. If he doesn’t, it could be another difficult year for Mullin and Co.

10. DEPAUL: The Blue Demons have three-straight losing seasons in Dave Leitao’s second go-round, and it looks as though a fourth is likely.

College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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The college basketball season has come and gone, meaning that it is officially time for us to start looking forward to next year. 

And what better way is there to do that than by publishing a Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25!

DISCLAIMER: We don’t know about all of the NBA Draft decisions yet. Not even close. So if you see a * next to player’s name, it is because we are taking a guess — some more educated than others — on what he is going to be doing this spring.

Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.

Here is the top 25:

1. KANSAS JAYHAWKS

  • Who’s gone: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman
  • Who do they add: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack
  • Projected starting lineup: Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, Udoka Azubuike*

Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Charlie Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties – if that role isn’t taken over by Devon Dotson – while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. There is still going to be some turbulence with this roster. Do they hold onto Udoka Azubuike? Will anyone else get run out of town? But the bottom line is that they are talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster.

2. GONZAGA BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
  • Who do they add: Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
  • Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr., Corey Kispert, Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie

I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer addition of Clarke and a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.

3. VILLANOVA WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo*
  • Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo
  • Projected starting lineup: Collin Gillispie, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman*

This ranking really does depend on what happens with DiVincenzo and Spellman. DiVincenzo was the MOP of the Final Four. Spellman, as we noted here, is the piece that brings it all together for the Wildcats. Both would be borderline first round picks if they remain in the 2018 draft. At this point, Spellman is probably 50-50 over whether he stays in the draft. Barring something drastic, DiVincenzo appears to be a lock to head to the NBA.

4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS

  • Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
  • Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Joey Baker
  • Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier

The Blue Devils are a team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter are all following Allen out the door, and it appears as if Bolden will be back for another season. I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore. The big question with this group is going to be how well the pieces gel together and whether or not there is enough shooting (and willing defenders) to allow this group to play the way teams like Villanova, Golden State and Boston play. I explain that line of thinking more here.

5. KENTUCKY WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt*, Wenyen Gabriel*, Sacha Killeya-Jones
  • Who do they add: Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans*
  • Projected starting lineup: Immanuel Quickly, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, E.J. Montgomery, P.J. Washington*

As always, there are so many moving parts with this Kentucky team’s roster and who will end up leaving school. At this point, I’m going to set the over-under for the number of players that leave for the draft at four: Knox, Gilgeous-Alexander, Diallo and … either Gabriel or Vanderbilt? Maybe both? Sacha Killeya-Jones already transferred out as well. We’ll see how that all plays out, but regardless of what happens, I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch. The question is going to be whether or not these freshmen can all come together, because there are going to be far fewer veterans on the roster than we initially expected.

6. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

  • Who’s gone: James Daniel III
  • Who do they add: No one
  • Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams

Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable pieces at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.

(Eric Espada/Getty Images)

7. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

  • Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
  • Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro
  • Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt

I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.

8. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Shaun Williams
  • Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown*, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade

This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player is a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

9. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

  • Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
  • Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
  • Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye*

Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball next season that is better than Luke Maye?

10. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

  • Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
  • Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
  • Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear

The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.

11. AUBURN TIGERS

  • Who’s gone: Davion Mitchell, Mustapha Heron*, Austin Wiley*, DeSean Murray
  • Who do they add: Samir Doughty
  • Projected starting lineup: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown*, Danjel Purifoy, Chuma Okeke, Anfernee McLemore

Assuming that Purifoy and Wiley don’t enter the NBA Draft, Auburn would return everyone from a team that shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke, especially if Wiley keeps his name in the draft.

12. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

  • Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
  • Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
  • Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward*, Xavier Tillman

I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together.

13. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

  • Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
  • Who do they add: Devin Vassell
  • Projected starting lineup: Trent Forrest, M.J. Walker, Terance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele, Phil Cofer*

I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning would be key, as would finding another point guard on the transfer market to replace C.J. Walker, who left the program.

14. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
  • Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Abdul Ado

I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.

15. OREGON DUCKS

  • Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
  • Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
  • Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol

For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and Ihe’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect.

16. MARYLAND TERRAPINS

  • Who’s gone: Justin Jackson, Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky, Sean Obi, Dion Wiley
  • Who do they add: Schnider Herard, Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala
  • Projected starting lineup: Anthony Cowan, Darryl Morsell, Kevin Huerter*, Jalen Smith, Bruno Fernando*

Losing Justin Jackson was a major blow, but there are some pieces for Mark Turgeon to work with here. Cowan and Huerter could be all-Big Ten players as juniors, Morsell and Fernando had promising freshman years and Turgeon does bring in four solid pieces. They’ve got a chance in a weak Big Ten, but the problem is that there is no guarantee Huerter and Fernando are back. Fernando’s guardian is the one that is caught up in the FBI investigation with Silvio De Sousa, and Huerter really impressed at the NBA combine this weekend. Someone needs to keep an eye on Scott Van Pelt between now and the deadline to withdraw from the draft. I think both will be back, but I don’t feel very confident saying that.

17. NEVADA WOLF PACK

  • Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke, Caleb Martin*, Cody Martin*
  • Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Ehab Amin
  • Projected starting lineup: Ehab Amin, Lindsay Drew, Nisre Zouzoua, Jordan Caroline*, Jordan Brown

This one is a bit tougher to project, as the Martin twins and Caroline are all going to be fifth-year seniors and it’s always difficult to predict what they are going to do. If they already have their degree, does it make sense to return to school for another season? Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem. But this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season. If the Martins do end up returning to school, I think Nevada will be a top ten team.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

18. UCLA BRUINS

  • Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman
  • Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
  • Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands*, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes*, Cody Riley, Moses Brown

This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. Odds seem pretty good that he’ll have every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes will be on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12.

19. TCU HORNED FROGS

  • Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
  • Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
  • Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel

Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch.

20. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

  • Who’s gone: Anas Mahmoud, Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel
  • Who do they add: Chris Mack, Steve Enoch, Christian Cunningham
  • Projected starting lineup: Darius Perry, Dwayne Sutton, V.J. King, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams

How good of a coach do you think that Mack is? Because that is what this really comes down to. Even though the Cardinals lose Adel along with Spalding to the draft, there is enough talent on this roster to make an NCAA tournament — I think the evidence of that is that if the Cardinals hadn’t lost a fluke game to Virginia they would have been in the tournament last season. And all due respect to David Padgett, Mack is a better coach than he is right now.

21. WEST VIRGINIA

  • Who’s gone: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, D’Angelo Hunter
  • Who do they add: Jordan McCabe, Derek Culver, Trey Doomes, Andrew Gordon
  • Projected starting lineup: Beetle Bolden, Brandon Knapper, Lamont West, Esa Ahmad*, Sagaba Konate*

West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, I’m trusting that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.

22. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK

  • Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
  • Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels, Blake Harris, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
  • Projected starting lineup: Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson, Torin Dorn, C.J. Bryce, Derek Funderburk

Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

23. LSU Tigers

  • Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
  • Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
  • Projected starting lineup: Tremont Waters, Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams

LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the incoming trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.

24. CLEMSON TIGERS

  • Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
  • Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison, Javan White
  • Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell*, Marcquise Reed*, AJ Oliver, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas

Obviously, the calculus here changes if Mitchell and Reed end up staying in the NBA Draft, but at this point, I think that they’ll come back. With those two in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.

25. XAVIER MUSKETEERS

  • Who’s gone: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Chris Mack, Kerem Kanter, Sean O’Mara, Kaiser Gates
  • Who do they add: Dontarius James, Jake Walker, Kyle Castlin, Zach Hankins, Ryan Welage
  • Projected starting lineup: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Ryan Welage, Tyrique Jones

So just how good is Travis Steele? We’ll find out right away. This roster has some dudes. They are also quite young with a first-year head coach.

THE FIVE THAT JUST MISSED:

26. Michigan
27. Indiana
28. Purdue
29. Syracuse
30. Cincinnati