CBT Roundtable: Who are the National Title favorites?

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ROB DAUSTER: I don’t gamble, because when I do gamble, I always end up, ahem, making a donation. But we’re going to be doing a little betting today. I’m going to pick the five teams I think are most likely to win the national title, and you’re going to tell me why you’d take those five teams or take the rest of the field.

My five teams: Arizona, Michigan State, Syracuse, Kansas and Florida.

RAPHIELLE JOHNSON: I’ll take the field. While that’s certainly a quality list you have there, has there really been a team (or teams) who have shown themselves to be near unbeatable? I know what you (and readers) will say: Arizona and Syracuse are both undefeated still. However I can’t say that this season has struck me as one in which we can make a list of five teams in mid-January and say “that’s it.” Personally I believe Wisconsin has the goods to win it all (and even with their consecutive losses I think Ohio State will be heard from as well). And there’s also Kentucky, who may not look like a threat right now but with their talent why can’t they run off six straight in March/April?

RD: I hear you Raph, but if we’re looking at a “young team gelling to become dominant” team, that has to be Kansas the way I see it. Andrew Wiggins is starting to round the corner a bit, aided on by the emergence of Wayne Selden and the dominance of Joel Embiid.

And did you just say Ohio State? That defense, and Aaron Craft, is appealing, but if you want to rely on LaQuinton Ross, go right ahead. Fourth best team in the Big Ten. Yeah, I said it.

RJ: Ohio State has plenty of time to right the ship, and that includes accounting for Ross’ glaring deficiencies on the defensive end. Remember, they had to do the same for Deshaun Thomas last season and reached the Elite 8.

source: Getty ImagesAs for Kentucky, yeah they haven’t lived up the preseason hype. But why can’t they get going at some point in SEC play and ride that momentum into the NCAA tournament? I will say this: of the two young teams I would take Kansas as well. I just believe that this isn’t a season in which we hitch our wagon to five teams right now.

RD: I can get behind that theory, and full disclosure: Kentucky was the hardest team to leave off that list.

That said, I do believe we have a dominant team this season: Arizona. And I think they are easily the title favorite. The tournament is all about matchups. As the saying goes, style wins the fight. Arizona will never be in a situation where they’re on the wrong end of a mismatch thanks to the versatility of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. If needed, Arizona can go small because those two can play the 4/5. They can also play the 2/3 if Arizona needs to play big with Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley on the floor.

Oh, and should I mention T.J. McConnell’s three-point stroke finally showed up?

RJ: Fair points made there, especially about Arizona’s matchup versatility. And yeah, your three-point stroke is going to reappear when a team practically watches you shoot the ball as USC did McConnell on Sunday night (seriously, what in the world were they doing?). My question is this: outside of his 12-point outing against UCLA Gabe York’s done his best work against overmatched opponents. While that would be great for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament is that good enough for the second and third weekends? I’m a big fan of their rotation and execution, but I really think they’ll need York at some point. But in all fairness, if that’s my big question regarding Arizona the Wildcats are in pretty good shape.

However, they call it gambling for a reason. I’ll take the longer odds if that’s the case.

SCOTT PHILLIPS: I’m going with the field as well, and as close as I am to picking Arizona, I’m still not sold on any one team yet this season.

I don’t trust any of these teams to beat three of the top dozenish teams in the country for their final three games to be a guaranteed title winner. It’ll all depend so much on matchups and the uncertainty of elite young players — many of them freshmen — stepping up big in the tournament every single game.

Just too much of a crapshoot.

I do really like Arizona and I really like also Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team. Wisconsin can win in the 50s or reach triple digits and they’re a matchup nightmare on a quick turnaround because they can defend and create from multiple positions on the offensive end this season.

And if Florida gets healthy and Chris Walker gets to play, they could be very dangerous as well. The Gators have faced a lot of adversity this season and had different players step up in close games at different times. The Gators will be prepared for anything in March.

RD: I like this Wisconsin team a lot, and I’ve been asked this question a couple of times on the radio in recent weeks: I don’t think I’d put money on Wisconsin winning a national title. It’s been proven, time and time again, that if you don’t have NBA caliber talent on your roster, you don’t win national titles. Find me a team that won a national title without three players on their roster that were either A) Drafted by the NBA or B) Played in the NBA. Carmelo Anthony’s 2003 Syracuse team with Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara is one. UConn in 2011 with Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb is two, although that will change once Shabazz Napier gets drafted. Name another.

Who on Wisconsin is an NBA caliber talent?

RJ: I think Sam Dekker can be an NBA guys once his college career ends, and I agree with your noting that characteristic of national champions over the years. But, I think if anyone’s equipped to get over that “hump” it’s this Wisconsin team. They’ve shown the ability to play multiple styles without getting out of character, although their defending dribble penetration left something to be desired on Tuesday night.

SP: Sam Dekker already rates highly on Chad Ford’s Big Board and they have experienced and talented players at all five positions. Facing an elite interior scoring team concerns me with Wisconsin.

One team that we’ve failed to talk about is Wichita State. Can the Shockers get back to the Final Four and can they maybe win the whole thing?

I think much of that depends on the consistent play of Cleanthony Early, but sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet has filled in admirably.

Where do the Shockers rank among contenders and how far will they make it?

RD: Wichita State’s back court is one of the best in the country. Seriously. I can’t think of five teams who wouldn’t trade their guards for Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton. Cleanthony Early is a bit inconsistent, but Chadrack Lufile’s play inside has been a difference maker the last couple of weeks. I don’t know if they can win it all, but they will not be an easy out. Ever.

CBT Podcast: So are we going to have a college basketball season?

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to talk through … well, to talk about whether or not the Coronavirus pandemic is going to cause us to lose out on a college basketball season. Depressing, I know.

Patriot League punts on fall football as SEC leaders meet

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The Patriot League joined the Ivy League on Monday, punting on football and other fall sports because of the pandemic while holding out hope games can be made up.

The Patriot League said its 10 Division I schools will not compete in any fall sports, which include football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and field hockey. The council of presidents said the league will consider making up those seasons in the winter and spring if possible.

The conference is mostly comprised of private schools located in the Northeast that offer limited athletic scholarships. Pennsylvania rivals Lehigh and Lafayette have played 155 times, more than any two opponents in college football history.

Army and Navy are also Patriot League members, but not in football.

The Patriot League competes in Division I’s second tier of college football (FCS) like the Ivy League, which announced a similar decision last week. Unlike the Ivy League, the Patriot League participates in the FCS playoffs.

Meanwhile, at the top of college sports, Southeastern Conference athletic directors met in person in Birmingham, Alabama, to discuss how the SEC can have a football season as COVID-19 cases spike throughout much of the South.

No final decisions were expected to be announced, but the meeting comes just days after the Big Ten and Pac-12 said they would play conference-only schedules this fall in football and a number of other sports.

SEC football media days, the unofficial start of the season for many fans, had been scheduled to begin this week, but the coronavirus pandemic forced all FBS conferences to hold those events online this year. Even some of those – for the SEC and ACC – are now on hold.

Some programs are taking steps toward playing in and even starting their football seasons on time. Monday was the first day the NCAA allowed football players to take part in mandatory team activities with coaches, including unpadded walk-through practices.

Florida State posted a video on social media of its team hitting the field with players and coaches wearing face coverings and shields to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Pac-12 football teams will have to wait. Last week, conference presidents delayed mandatory team activities for Pac-12 athletes, acknowledging it would likely delay the start of the fall sports seasons.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard in a letter to fans posted online said the school is trying to balance the health and safety of athletes with the drastic financial repercussions of not having a football season.

“If we are unable to play sports this fall, the athletics department would incur approximately $40M in unfunded expenses in the next six months,” Pollard wrote.

College football season was scheduled to start with a handful of nonconference games – three involving Pac-12 teams – on Aug. 29, before a full slate around Labor Day weekend from Sept. 3-7.

The Patriot League has seven schools that play football: Bucknell, Colgate, Lehigh, Lafayette, Holy Cross and affiliate members Georgetown and Fordham.

Lehigh and Lafayette, located 17 miles apart in Eastern Pennsylvania, started playing in 1884, sometimes as many as three times in a season. Only in 1896 was the rivalry not played since it began.

Army and Navy play in college football’s highest tier of Division I and were exempt from the Patriot League’s decision regarding other fall sports. The Patriot League council said the service academies will be allowed to pursue competition in those sports in which they usually compete within the conference, including soccer and volleyball, as the schools’ leaders see fit.

Northwestern’s Phillips to chair NCAA men’s hoops committee

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INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern vice president Jim Phillips was chosen Monday to chair the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee for the 2021-22 season, succeeding Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

Phillips, who is in his fourth year on the committee, will spend the upcoming season as vice chair.

Phillips was the first active athletic director to serve on the Board of Directors and Board of Governors, and he was elected first chair of the NCAA Division I Council in 2015. He also sits on the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors and is vice chair of LEAD 1, an organization made up of athletic directors from all 130 schools that participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The rest of the Division I Men’s Basketball committee includes Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson; Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett; Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade; Bradley athletic director Chris Reynolds; Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien; SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland; Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard; and North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

The current chairman, Duke athletic director Kevin White, will rotate off the committee on Sept. 1.

Longtime coach, executive Craig Robinson hired to lead NABC

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Longtime basketball coach Craig Robinson, who has spent time in both the college and professional ranks, was hired Monday as executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Robinson will take over for Jim Haney, who has held the influential position for the past 29 years.

The brother of former first lady Michelle Obama, Robinson has been the vice president of player development for the New York Knicks for the past three years. That job included the title of general manager of the G League’s Westchester Knicks.

Robinson also had a similar role with the Milwaukee Bucks after spending eight years as a Division I coach, first at Brown in the Ivy League and then during six seasons with Oregon State, where he led the Beavers to four postseason appearances.

Robinson was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton. He also has worked in the private sector in finance.

James Wiseman is the new blueprint for evaluating bluechip prospects

JAMES WISEMAN 2020 NBA DRAFT
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The closest thing one will find to a consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft is James Wiseman.

In a year where every top prospect has warts, Wiseman’s athleticism given his size and his measureables makes it easy to not only envision his role early on in his NBA career but also a path to being a perennial All-Star. This is a draft class where the trendy No. 1 pick in mock drafts can’t shoot or play defense. Risk averse GMs will love a 7-footer with a 7-foot-5 wingspan that can move his feet.

But what makes me so interested in Wiseman has less to do with who he is as a player than what he signifies as a prospect.

James Wiseman is the blueprint for what evaluating blue-chip prospects will look like if the G League’s Pathway Program manages to attract a significant number of elite players in the coming seasons.

For those unaware of Wiseman’s path to this point, in the hours leading up to the start of Memphis’ first game of the season, news broke that Wiseman was not only considered ineligible by the NCAA, but he had gone to a courthouse to file an emergency injunction to maintain his eligibility and get on the court. The program kept up this charade for three games before finally realizing that playing chicken with the NCAA over amateurism bylaws was not in their best interest. Wiseman sat out, applied for reinstatement and was given a 12-game suspension. Midway through that suspension, he quit the team.

After playing just those three games.

All told, Wiseman logged 69 minutes of college basketball, with just one of the three games that he played coming against competition worth evaluating him against. The last time we saw him on a basketball court was on November 12th of 2019. By the time the 2020 NBA Draft actually happens, James Wiseman will be more than 11 months removed from playing in a competitive basketball environment and nearly 18 months removed from the last real opportunity NBA front office types had to evaluate him in extended, competitive settings.

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He’s hardly an unknown, mind you. He played in the McDonald’s All-American game, the Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit. More importantly, at least for evaluation purposes, he participated in the typically-intense practices for those events. All of his games from the Nike EYBL heading into his senior season in high school can be found on Synergy. He’s been involved with USA Basketball dating as far back as the U-16s.

But part of the reason that the NBA instituted the one-and-done rule in the first place was because you can only get so much out of evaluating elite prospects against high school competition. While college basketball and the NBA are very different, there is value in seeing how these players pick up concepts, how they work within a structured offense and defense, how they adjust to the way defenses play them as their strengths and weaknesses show up on film, whether or not they can accept the role they are being asked to play, how they handle the pressure of competition that comes with high major college basketball.

That’s not the only reason — letting schools pick up the tab for a year of development is certainly a major part of it, as is having control over a player’s age 28 season instead of their age 18 season — but if NBA teams didn’t find value in scouting players in these settings they wouldn’t shuttle scouts and front office types all across the country to see them play live.

They didn’t get any of that with Wiseman, just like they likely won’t get any of that with Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix or anyone else that plans on taking that route. And that’s significant. Wiseman turned 19 years old on March 31st. This year of development that NBA teams are in the dark about is one of the most important periods of development for any prospect. The COVID-19 era has created a lot of unknown and uncertainty when it comes to the 2020 NBA Draft, and for my money no one will have been as impacted as James Wiseman.

As far as the actual basketball is concerned, what makes Wiseman so intriguing is his agility, mobility and athleticism given his 7-foot, 250 pound frame and 7-foot-5 wingspan. He is an elite lob target and rim runner that consistently beats defenders down the floor in transition. There aren’t many people on the planet that will be able to contest him at the rim, and when Wiseman opts to go full bully-ball, he’s dominant.

2020 NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILE

The problem, however, is that Wiseman does not always go full bully-ball. One of the knocks on him is that he has a tendency to drift in and out of games, that he doesn’t always utilize the physical gifts he has. Despite the very limited minutes that he played this past season for Memphis, it is still pretty easy to find clips of Wiseman opting for fadeaway jumpers instead of powering through opponents that are half-a-foot shorter than him. One of the prevailing thoughts on Wiseman is that he envisions himself as someone in the mold of Giannis, or Pascal Siakim, or even a Bam Adebayo; that he wants to be a perimeter-oriented, ball-handling big.

And to be frank, there is some skill there. He can make shots out to about 15 feet, and that was before the 11 month layoff he’s had to improve his game. He’s a good post scorer with the ability to play facing-up. He can handle the ball a little bit and create for himself. But there is a significant difference between being capable of something and being good enough that an NBA organization is going to build a game-plan, let alone a franchise, around it.

I think the key to Wiseman’s career is going to depend on what he envisions himself to be and the way that he carries himself as a professional. I’ll start with the latter. Scouts have had questions about his competitive drive and how much he loves the game for years. He has a tendency to coast through games, playing like he’s in cruise control for stretches. The fact that he left Memphis midway through the season helped reinforce this belief to doubters.

But leaving was also completely understandable given the context of his suspension and the way the school handled it. And if you remember, Deandre Ayton had some of these same concerns coming out of high school. No one is asking those questions after he became the first player in NBA history under 22 years old not named Shaq to average 19 points, 12 boards and 1.5 blocks.

Sometimes, big men aren’t entirely motivated to play when the competition physically cannot compare.

The other part of it is something that I already mentioned. Wiseman, for years, has been intent on showcasing what he can do playing on the perimeter, and while he is certainly skilled for a 19-year old 7-footer, he is not what you would consider skilled for a basketball player. He doesn’t have a great feel away from the basket, his shooting stroke is a little wonky and he’s not a great passer.

Where he should thrive is as a defender. All the physical tools are there for Wiseman to develop into one of the best defensive centers in the NBA, and while he found himself out of position at times as a freshman, that is hardly uncommon for freshmen big men early in the season. He’ll get better on that end as he gets coached up, and his ability as a lob target means that there already is a role he can play in an NBA offense.

Put another way, if he decides that he is going to follow in the mold of Myles Turner, I think he’ll be a very, very good pro. Turner is in his fifth season in the league, has been a starter on playoff teams since midway through his rookie season, is one of the best defensive players in the league and is averaging 12.7 points, 6.7 boards and 2.1 blocks for his career.

If he embraces the defensive side of the ball and buys into being a rim runner, a lob target and a guy that punishes switches while occasionally taking opposing bigs away from the basket, I think Myles Turner is his floor. In that scenario, in the 2020 NBA Draft James Wiseman has the highest floor and ceiling combination.

But that’s a big ‘if,’ and a question only James Wiseman can give us an answer to.