The X-Factors of the 2013-2014 College Basketball Season

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists,click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Duke’s big men: With Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon on the roster, Duke’s perimeter attack is so loaded that it will be tough to find minutes for guys like Matt Jones, Andre Dawkins and Alex Murphy. The issue for the Blue Devils will be in the paint. With Mason Plumlee having graduated, the Blue Devils will have a couple of options: using redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee, consistently out-talented Josh Hairston or playing an undersized youngster like Amile Jefferson or Semi Ojeleye out of position. The Blue Devils will be able to spread the floor and create matchup problems, but will they defend the rim and rebound the ball?

Keith Appling, Michigan State: It seems like Appling has been the x-factor for the Spartans for the better part of a decade, and this season is no different. Appling has never been a pure point guard, and it’s taken him time to learn to be a playmaker first and foremost. It will be all the more essential this season, as the Spartans plan to play in transition more often this season. There’s enough talent on this roster to win a national title if Appling can lead them there.

Aaron Gordon’s position: If Aaron Gordon can embrace the idea of playing the four, than he has a chance to be a first-team All-American and Arizona should be considered a legitimate title contender. But if he forces his way into being a wing, it creates problems for the Wildcats. I wrote about this extensively here, so I’ll keep this section brief.

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: There are so many question marks about the Indiana program heading into this season, but if there is anything that we do know about the Hoosiers, it’s that Ferrell will be the guy running the point. The only guy running the point, as a matter of fact. Indiana doesn’t really have a back-up. He’ll also be asked to be Tom Crean’s go-to guy offensively as well, which is a lot of pressure to put on one player. If he can handle it, Indiana should end up near the top of the Big Ten.

Chris Jones, Louisville: I’m not sure that people truly understand just how valuable Peyton Siva was to Louisville last season. He was the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of a clock, he was their leader and play maker, and he was a perfect fit for what Rick Pitino wanted defensively. More importantly, Siva was a calming influence alongside Russdiculous. Those are mighty big shoes for Jones, a one-time Tennessee commit and the best JuCo player in the country a year ago, to fill.

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Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Ennis is really the only point guard on the Syracuse roster, which means that Jim Boeheim will be turning over the reigns of his team to a player that has never set foot on a collegiate court before the season. The Orange are once again talented enough to be considered a top ten team and a title contender heading into the season, but if this group is to make a return to the Final Four, they’ll need Ennis to have a big freshman year.

Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State: Travis Ford will have more guards at his disposal than he will know what to do with next season. In addition to all-league performers Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, the Pokes have Phil Forte, Brian Williams and Stevie Clark on the roster. Throw in Le’Bryan Nash, and Oklahoma State has the pieces to be able to spread the floor quite effectively. To make that happen, however, Ford will need to find a presence in the paint, and Cobbins, a 6-foot-8 redshirt junior that averaged 6.9 points and 6.1 boards a year ago, is the guy that will be called upon.

Joel Embiid, Kansas: You know about Andrew Wiggins and how good he should end up being. You’ve probably heard about Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis and how they can compliment Wiggins offensively. But with a team as young as Kansas is with as many question marks as the Jayhawks have at the point guard spot, consistency on the offensive end will be hard to come by. As always, Kansas will be a team that wins because they are elite defensively, and Embiid, like Jeff Withey was the past two seasons, will be the anchor of that defense.

Derrick Walton, Michigan: Replacing Trey Burke is not going to be an easy thing for Michigan to do, as it was his ability to come off of screens and create that made the Wolverines so dangerous. That’s why Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III got so many open threes throughout the year, and that’s part of the reason that Mitch McGary blew up in the postseason. Burke made everyone that much better with his ability to create. Walton, and to a lesser extent Spike Albrecht, is the hear apparent to the point guard spot at Michigan. No pressure, he just have to replace the National Player of the Year.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: The Irish have a terrific perimeter attack this season, but losing Jack Cooley is going to hurt. He was a double-double machine that got Mike Brey’s club so many second-chance points. Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman are known quantities, big bodies that will play hard, use their five fouls and reward you with a couple of buckets and a couple boards. Auguste is more talented than that. He’s good enough to be a real replacement for Cooley, and a real post presence on this team is a difference-maker.

Josh Smith, Georgetown: If Josh Smith can get into shape, he’s an all-american caliber talent. His size, his quick feet, his touch around the rim. He could really be effective for the Hoyas considering how good some of their guards are. The problem? Not only has Smith never been in shape in his career, but he’s still waiting for word from the NCAA when he can suit up this season. If he joins the team in December, will he be as effective?

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Here are 12 more X-Factors:

  • Shaq Goodwin and David Pellom, Memphis: The Tigers are loaded on the perimeter, but they’ll need Goodwin and Pellom to be a presence in the paint to compete for the AAC title.
  • Kenny Chery, Baylor: The JuCo transfer will have first crack at replacing Pierre Jackson at the point.
  • Kris Dunn, Providence: Finally healthy, Dunn is a dynamic point guard that should thrive in Ed Cooley’s uptempo system.
  • Cullen Neal and Deshawn Delaney, New Mexico: Replacing Tony Snell’s defense and perimeter shooting will be the key to New Mexico’s season.
  • Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida: With Will Yeguete banged up and Chris Walker ineligible for at least the fall, the versatile Finney-Smith will see plenty of minutes.
  • Xavier Johnson, Colorado: Johnson was awesome in flashes last season and will fill the role Andre Roberson left vacant.
  • Robert Hubbs, Tennessee: The Vols need someone to help Jordan McRae keep the floor spread for their big men.
  • Tony Parker, UCLA: If reports are true and Parker has gotten into shape this offseason, he could be the paint presence Steve Alford needs.
  • Deandre Kane, Iowa State: Kane put up huge numbers at Marshall but wasn’t the easiest player to deal with in the locker room.
  • Deandre Daniels, UConn: With more guards than Kevin Ollie can handle, Daniels will need to help Tyler Olander up front.
  • Alex Dragicevich, Boston College: Can the Notre Dame transfer help take the pressure off of Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlon?
  • Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa: We will finally get to see the Wisconsin transfer in action after two straight redshirt seasons.

Walter McCarty dismissed as Evansville head coach

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Walter McCarty was fired as Evansville’s head coach on Tuesday night.

The school officially announced the decision after additional reports of alleged misconduct. On administrative leave since Dec. 26, McCarty was under investigation for Title IX violations.

Bennie Seltzer will remain interim head coach.

“While the investigation of potential Title IX violations will continue under University policies, UE has decided that, based on the facts uncovered thus far, it is necessary to terminate Mr. McCarty’s employment immediately,” the release said.

“There is no place at UE for any behavior by any University employee or student that jeopardizes the safety and security of others,”

The statement also said McCarty received “warnings last year regarding inappropriate off-court behavior with members of the campus community.”

The 45-year-old McCarty was in his second season with the Purple Aces. After an 11-21 finish in the first season, Evansville had a promising 9-4 start. Evansville made national news when the beat No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena earlier this season.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Powell vs. Pritchard vs. Howard vs. Toppin

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At this point, I do feel like we have reached a point where there is finally a top tier in the College Basketball Player of the Year race.

Myles Powell. Payton Pritchard. Markus Howard. Obi Toppin. That’s the order that I have it in, but there is a strong and legitimate argument for all four to be No. 1 on this list. I wouldn’t call any of them wrong.

This doesn’t mean that the players from outside those ranks cannot win the award — it is so wide open this year, anyone with a couple of big weeks will be in the mix — but as of this moment in time, those are the likely favorites.

Anyway, here is the definitive Player of the Year power rankings:

1. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

Stats: 22.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 34.9 3PT%

Powell had his best week of the season last week, averaging 29.0 points — including 21.0 points in the second half — as he led the Pirates to a pair of come-from-behind wins at Butler and at Saint John’s. It took Powell a while to get to this point, as he dealt with an ankle injury and a concussion, but there is no questioning the fact that he is the leader and the go-to guy for a Seton Hall team that is currently sitting at No. 10 in the AP poll and in sole possession of first place in the Big East.

And here’s the ironic part in all of this: It took a Powell injury for Seton Hall to really find themselves as a team. They made their leap on Dec. 19th, when the Pirates beat Maryland at home without Powell in the lineup. That’s when the supporting cast found their confidence. That’s when Seton Hall became a team, not just a bunch of guys playing next to Myles Powell.

2. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

Stats: 19.5 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.4 rpg, 41.2 3PT%

No one in college basketball has had more, or bigger, moments this season. He scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half and overtime, including 15 in the final five minutes, in a win at Michigan. He had 16 points and six assists in a come-from-behind win against Seton Hall in the Battle 4 Atlantis. He hit a number of big shots late as Oregon knocked off Memphis in November, the only game against a quality opponent that James Wiseman played. Then there was Saturday’s game at Washington, when Pritchard hit a 30-footer to tie the game and force overtime then made a pair of big shots in the extra frame, including this ridiculous game-winner:

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Payton Pritchard called game!!!!!!

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He has carried the Ducks this season. He’s the reason this team is a top ten team.

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Stats: 28.2 ppg, 2.9 apg, 43.1% 3PT, 9.8 3PAs

The numbers themselves are ridiculous.

Howard is leading the nation in scoring at 28.2 points. He’s shooting better than 43 percent from three on nearly 10 threes attempted per game. He’s doing it while posting a significantly higher offensive rating than Myles Powell and a significantly higher usage rate than Payton Pritchard.

To put his season into context, there is one other high-major player since 1992 that has made better than 42 percent of his threes while shooting more than nine threes per game: J.J. Redick during his college basketball Player of the Year season in 2005-06. Stephen Curry did the same during the 2007-08 season, when he led Davidson to within one shot of the Final Four.

Markus Howard has been the most lethal offensive weapon in college basketball, and if Marquette was a title contender this season, he’s easily be No. 1 on this list.

4. OBI TOPPIN, Dayton

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 35.3% 3PT

What Obi Toppin provides for Dayton cannot be overstated. He’s putting up massive numbers this season, and he’s doing it while being the piece that makes everything Anthony Grant wants to run work so well. The breakdown below explains it all:

The thing that’s tough about placing Toppin on this list is that he is not the go-to guy for Dayton. Jalen Crutcher is going to be the player that takes and makes all of the big shots. See: Kansas, when he forced overtime, and Saint Louis, when he won the game in overtime.

But the reason Dayton is in a position to do things like take Kansas to overtime, get ranked in the top ten and have a shot at winning a national title is because of what Toppin opens up for them every possession other than the final one.

He may not have the moments we all remember, but Dayton is as good as they because of him. That matters.

5. LUKA GARZA, Iowa

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg

Garza has been relentless this season, and he is absolutely one of the most improved players in the country. The reason that he’s just outside the top four, for me, is because of the defensive side of the ball. I talk through that more in this piece.

6. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Stats: 18.1 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2.4 rpg

Winston has been really, really good this year. He has not been quite as good as expected — he was the consensus preseason college basketball player of the year — and neither has Michigan State, which hurts him a bit. I think he’ll be back in the mix by the time the season ends, particularly if the Spartans play their way back into being one of the nation’s elite teams.

7. JARED BUTLER, Baylor

Stats: 16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 38.1% 3PT

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the sophomore point guard is the best player on the best team in college basketball. That’s worth something in the Player of the Year race.

8. JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 42.7% 3PT

On the plus side, Louisville once again looks like a team that can win the ACC, get to a Final Four and win a national title now that David Johnson has taken the point guard reins, and Nwora is unquestionably the best player on the roster. On the down side, he really hasn’t shown up in Louisville’s biggest games. That’s a delicate balance.

9. VERNON CAREY, Duke

Stats: 17.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg

Carey looked like a much bigger player in this race before Duke lost two games last week in large part due to the ability to Miami and Louisville to expose Carey on the defensive end of the floor. Coach K has fixed issues like this before. We’ll see what he has up his sleeve this year.

10. MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State

Stats: 16.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.6 rpg, 40.4% 3PT

Malachi Flynn is the best player, the leader, of the only team in college basketball that remains undefeated. And the reason they are still undefeated is because of him: It was his three that allowed the Aztecs to avoid defeat at the hands of San Jose State back in December.

Three Things To Know: Shaka’s seat heats up, Baylor survives, Virginia doesn’t

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It was a slow night for college hoops on Monday, but there is still plenty to talk about after some weird results.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. SHAKA’S SEAT IS HEATING UP

The Shaka Smart era at Texas feels like it has hit an inflection point.

On Monday night, the Longhorns went into Morgantown, W.V., and found themselves wishing Country Roads would take them home before the first half came to a close. No. 14 West Virginia, coming off of blowout loss at Kansas State on Saturday, used a 28-2 run over a 10 minute stretch in the first half to turn a 15-13 lead into a 43-15 blowout. They would go on to win 97-59.

The loss dropped Texas to 12-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big 12. The Longhorns certainly are not out of it just yet — three of their four Big 12 losses came against teams that currently rank in the top six at KenPom — but it’s getting harder and harder to defend the situation that’s brewing in Austin. Texas has now lost four of their last six and five of their last eight. They are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and for the third time in four years.

But perhaps the biggest concern is that the Longhorns just don’t seem to be growing as a program. Last year, while Texas ended up missing the tournament, they finished as a top 25 team on KenPom and made a run all the way to the NIT title. It’s worth noting that before the tournament started, they were already a top 30 team on KenPom; their ranking wasn’t skewed by getting hot for three weeks in a tournament no one cares about.

The problem this season is that there has been no progression. Texas has been a program under Shaka that has hung their hat on defense, but this is the worst defensive team he has had in his tenure. That becomes even more of an issue when you factor in that they cannot score. They’re 111th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is what happens when your offense is, essentially, a spread ball-screen into a contested three.

KenPom has Texas favored to win just three more games the rest of the season. They’re projected to finish 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12.

That’s not good.

2. NO. 1 BAYLOR SURVIVES

It looked like Baylor was going to cruise to a pretty easy win at home against Oklahoma, but the Sooners had other ideas. They hung around long enough in the second half to make things interesting late. Oklahoma hit back-to-back threes in a 40 second span to cut a 59-51 lead to 59-57 with 41 seconds left, and after Baylor couldn’t find a way to score on their next possession, Austin Reaves cut off a 3-on-1 break to flare to the corner and fire up a wide-open, go-ahead three with less than five seconds left.

He missed.

Baylor won.

And No. 1 lived to fight another day.

3. VIRGINIA LOSES AGAIN

The reigning national champions lost for the fourth time in their last five games on Monday night, this time falling at home against N.C. State, 53-51.

Like Oklahoma, Virginia had a shot to win the game at the buzzer, as N.C. State fouled up three and then missed free throws of their own at the other end. But Virginia is the 346th-best three-point shooting team in the country for a reason, and Casey Morsell missed the game-winner as time expired.

At this point, it’s getting harder to see how Virginia is going to find a way to play their way into the NCAA tournament.

Chris Mack: David Johnson’s shoulder ‘is fine’

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The biggest concern coming out of Louisville’s win at Duke on Saturday evening was the status of David Johnson’s shoulder.

Johnson was the best player on the floor for Louisville, finishing with 19 points, seven assists, four boards, three steals and two blocks as the Cardinals landed a much-needed win in Cameron. But with three minutes left in the game, he landed on his surgically-repaired left shoulder and had to leave the game. He returned to the bench, but he did not return to the game.

Head coach Chris Mack did not seem overly concerned about the injury after the game, and he confirmed as much in a conference call on Monday.

“The shoulder is fine,” Mack said. “He’s just a little sore, but he’ll practice the next couple of days and we fully expect him to play on Wednesday.”

Bracketology: Welcome to the top line, San Diego State

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Welcome to the top line, San Diego State.  The Aztecs join Baylor, Gonzaga, and Kansas as No. 1 seeds in our latest bracket update.  SDSU remains the only unbeaten team in college hoops, buoyed by wins over tournament teams Iowa, Creighton and BYU.

The West-leaning geographical slate of top seeds means someone has to go East.  As SDSU is the fourth overall seed, that adventure belongs to them.  Several additional power conference teams are pushing for the top line, too – including Florida State, Michigan State and surging Seton Hall.  And let’s not forget about Louisville, a preseason top seed.  The Cardinals put together an impressive road win at Duke on Saturday.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 20, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Virginia Tech vs. Georgetown
WEST REGION NC State vs. VCU
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. ST. FRANCIS (PA)

SOUTH Houston                           WEST – Los Angeles
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST 16) MONMOUTH / ST. FRANCIS (PA)
8) Arkansas 8) Illinois
9) Memphis 9) HOUSTON
Tampa Sacramento
5) Colorado 5) Arizona
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NC State / VCU
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
St. Louis Greensboro
6) Marquette 6) Michigan
11) NORTHERN IOWA 11) Saint Mary’s
3) LOUISVILLE 3) Duke
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany Spokane
7) Wisconsin 7) LSU
10) USC 10) Oklahoma
2) SETON HALL 2) Oregon
15) WILLIAM-MARY 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) RADFORD 16) MONTANA
8) Rutgers 8) Indiana
9) STANFORD 9) Florida
Albany Cleveland
5) Kentucky 5) Creighton
12) LIBERTY 12) YALE
4) Villanova 4) DAYTON
13) AKRON 13) VERMONT
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Penn State 6) Auburn
11) Virginia Tech / Georgetown 11) BYU
3) West Virginia 3) Butler
14) COLGATE 14) WRIGHT STATE
Tampa Cleveland
7) Ohio State 7) Wichita State
10) DePaul 10) Texas Tech
2) Florida State 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) NORTH DAKOTA ST

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
USC Virginia Tech Purdue Washington
DePaul NC State Minnesota Saint Louis
Saint Mary’s Georgetown Arizona State St. John’s
BYU VCU Xavier Richmond

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)