College Basketball Talk’s staff Final Four picks

Kentucky is the choice of many to win it all (AP Photo)

Six weeks after the start of practices the moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here, with Friday marking the start of the 2014-15 regular season. There have been no shortage of opinions on how this season will shake out, with No. 1 Kentucky seen by many as the favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis. However that doesn’t mean every fan or pundit will subscribe to the thinking that John Calipari’s team will coast to the storied program’s ninth national title.

Below are the College Basketball Talk staff’s picks for the Final Four and national champion, with each writer providing reasons for their selections as well.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Rob Dauster (@RobDauster)

Final Four: Arizona, Kentucky, Gonzaga and Oklahoma
National champion: Arizona

I think Arizona and Kentucky are easily the two most talented teams in the country this season, and when it comes to NCAA tournament success, talent is a pretty good indicator of who will advance. No one should argue with picking either of those two teams to reach Indy. As far as Gonzaga is concerned, I think this is the year that they make the jump (finally!). A healthy Kevin Pangos combined with the additions of Kyle Wiltjer, Byron Wesley and Domantas Sabonis will make this group unstoppable offensively.

Oklahoma is the final pick for me, and I’m basing this on the assumption that Tashawn Thomas will eventually get a waiver to be eligible to play this season. Jordan Woodard and Buddy Hield make up the nation’s most underrated back court, Ryan Spangler is a hoss in the paint and Thomas provides the athleticism and versatility that they lacked from a true four last year.

Raphielle Johnson (@raphiellej)

Final Four: Kentucky, Arizona, North Carolina and VCU
National champion: Kentucky

Unlike last season I have a hard time picking against Kentucky, not only because of their talent but also the mix of freshmen and returnees who experienced last year’s run to the national title game and all of the publicity that preceded it (remember the 40-0 talk?). I think the experiences of Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, the Harrison twins and the other returning players helps Kentucky as they deal with the hype, and all involved will benefit. As for their biggest threat, I’ll take Arizona because Sean Miller has a group that certainly doesn’t lack for talent or experience. The one question mark for Arizona: consistent perimeter shooting. If Stanley Johnson, Gabe York and T.J. McConnell can provide that help, things open up for Brandon Ashley (who was arguably their best perimeter shooter before hurting his foot) and Kaleb Tarczewski in the front court. They’re going to be really good defensively; if the offense takes a step forward they’ll be in Indianapolis.

As for North Carolina, the Tar Heels have something they didn’t have a season ago: more help for Marcus Paige. The three freshman, especially Justin Jackson, will help him offensively as will an improved J.P. Tokoto. And in the paint both Brice Johnson (who’s gained weight) and Kennedy Meeks (who’s lost weight) enter the season with transformed bodies, which will mean even better seasons for them. Lastly, I really like VCU. They lost Juvonte Reddic but they’re deeper in the front court than they were a season ago, and Treveon Graham and Briante Weber will lead the way on the perimeter. Look for their loss to Stephen F. Austin to serve as fuel for Shaka Smart’s Rams, and do not gloss over the return of Melvin Johnson when assessing their chances. He wasn’t available late last season due to a knee injury, and that’s a big deal given his ability to provide an offensive spark off the bench.

Scott Phillips (@phillipshoops)

Final Four: Arizona, Kentucky, Texas and Wichita State
National champion: Arizona

Arizona is the biggest national championship contender to enter the 2014-15 season, but by a slim margin. Sean Miller’s team isn’t even the most talented group of Wildcats in the country — more on them in a second — but the West Coast version of the Wildcats play a more selfless brand of ball. Without the injury to Brandon Ashley last season, Arizona could have very easily entered this season as the defending champions. Now that they’re healthy, Stanley Johnson is a better lineup fit for Arizona than Aaron Gordon was last season and this Arizona team has more depth than last season. Kentucky is my close runner-up, as John Calipari’s ballclub once again features an absurd amount of talent (and egos) that have to come together for a common goal. If Calipari can get those egos to mesh together, they’ll assuredly win the national championship, but Kentucky has only earned one national championship in five years under Calipari and the Harrison twins need to grow as players — and leaders — in order for Kentucky to win.

As for Texas, the Longhorns only lose Martez Walker from last season — who was, truthfully, a distraction — and gain McDonald’s All-American big man Myles Turner to a team that exceeded expectations in an incredibly difficult Big 12 last season. Point guard Isaiah Taylor is more experienced, Texas has the bodies inside to match up with any team in the country and they have a lot of depth. Lastly, things are way too quiet in Wichita, Kansas this preseason. I watched Wichita State lose to Kentucky in the Round of 32 last season and that was a Final Four-caliber matchup in the first weekend. The Shockers return all three members of its backcourt from the past two seasons of ridiculous success and new starting front court member Darius Carter had some solid games last year as a first-year Division I player. The Shockers could also have more depth this season — depending on the contributions of their newcomers — and as Shabazz Napier proved last March, great guard play wins in the NCAA Tournament and Wichita State has the most tournament-experienced group of guards in the country.

Terrence Payne (@terrence_payne)

Final Four: Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin and Villanova
National champions: Kentucky

Kentucky is the preseason favorite, and we’ve seen these Wildcats perform on the court in multiple nationally-televised games already. Platoon system will likely have its ups and downs, but Kentucky’s depth will wear down opponents. Arizona has the most talent in the country outside of UK, and that’s saying something given the departures of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon. Sean Miller was somewhat critical of his team last week, but this roster is loaded enough to get him to his first Final Four. 

Bo Ryan waited 13 years for last season’s Final Four trip, but shouldn’t have to wait that long for his second. He’s got a team of veterans with All American candidates Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker on the frontline with seniors Trae Jackson and Josh Gasser in the back court. For my final team, I’ll go with Villanova. A 29-win season was overshadowed by early exits in the Big East and NCAA tournament, but Jay Wright brings back essentially the same team. The Wildcats should breeze through the Big East, and early on last season they proved they were a top-10 after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

billy packer
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
1 Comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

brevin galloway
John Byrum/Getty Images

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

purdue basketball

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”


The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.


Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.


The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.


Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.


Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.


The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.


Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.


Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.


Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.


Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.