The Blue Ribbon Yearbook is annually one of the best college basketball preview publications on the market (full disclosure: I contributed about 18,000 words to this year’s edition). On Wednesday morning, Blue Ribbon announced their preseason top 25.
And the team at the top is one that you’ve become accustomed to seeing there: the Kentucky Wildcats.
Like has happened so many times in the past, Kentucky reloaded late in the recruiting cycle, bringing on Jamal Murray and Isaac Humphries when it seemed like their roster was set. With Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in 2016, also in the fold, it’s hard to quibble with the Wildcats being ranked there.
Maryland checks in at No. 2 with North Carolina slotting in at No. 4. The Tar Heels are a spot lower than expected as Blue Ribbon moved Virginia, the back-to-back ACC champs, up to No. 3. That is slightly surprising, as the Cavs lose Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins from a team that really struggled in Anderson’s absence last year.
Kansas rounds out Blue Ribbon’s top 25, and the only other real surprise in their preseason ranks is that Dayton slots in at No. 25. Beyond that, it’s hard to argue with them.
I am going to be fascinated to see where the line for this game opens up, because neither of these teams are playing all that well right now, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Virginia was blown out by unranked Purdue on the road, 69-40, while North Carolina is coming off of a drubbing at the hands of Ohio State in their own building, 74-49.
My initial lean here is going to be the Virginia side, depending on how much they are laying, but I do think that the best bet would likely be the under assuming the line opens at or around 116. The logic is relatively simple, really. Virginia has still been one of college basketball’s most intimidating defenses this season despite what happened against Purdue. While nice, 69 points doesn’t sound like a lot, but the 1.19 points-per-possession the Boilermakers did post was one of just four times in the last two-plus years that a team has done that against Virginia.
Purdue has done it twice.
That’s because the Boilermakers run the precise kind of action you need to run to beat the Pack-Line. There is a ton of motion, guys running off of screens every which way and action happening simultaneously on both sides of the floor. This is not what North Carolina does, and when combined with the fact that – as shown in the video embedded below – the Tar Heels have basically one option offensively right now, leads me to believe that the Wahoos will control tempo, overwhelm UNC defensively and keep this game in the 50s.
Think about it like this. Ohio State-UNC finished at 123 total points. Virginia is the only defense in the country ranked higher on KenPom that Ohio State, and Virginia is a full 100 spots lower offensively.
PICKS: I like Virginia -5 and below, and I like the under for everything 115 and above.
There are a couple of things to take into account here.
For starters, this game is being played in Waco, but there are some real questions about just how much of a home court advantage the Bears are going to have here. The football team is in the Big 12 title game, which will be played at the same time. I have a feeling that is going to take priority for the majority of the Baylor fanbase. Baylor has resorted to giving away free tickets to make sure the stands are filled.
That said, I think that Baylor has the matchup advantage here. The Bears haven’t been playing as much zone this year but it’s still something they can fall back into, which will be tricky for an Arizona team built around three freshmen. I also think the size Baylor has inside is less than ideal for a team that relies on Zeke Nnaji quite a bit. Then throw in the fact that this is Arizona’s first true road game and first game outside of the western time zone, and I like the spot for Baylor.
PICKS: I’m refraining from betting on this. I don’t have a great feel.
No. 9 GONZAGA at No. 22 WASHINGTON, Sun. 7:00 p.m.
A rivalry game, one where I expect Gonzaga to be favored on the road. I think I like Washington here. I don’t fully trust Gonzaga’s guard play at this point in the season, and if anyone remembers the way that the Washington-Baylor game ended the first week of the season, Isaiah Stewart completely dominated Baylor’s frontline down the stretch. I can see that happening again, considering just how much Gonzaga relies on running offense through their posts.
PICKS: I think Washington will win, so getting the Huskies on the money line at +125 would be nice.
We’ve been betting Butler this season because the Bulldogs have been undervalued by the market all year. But now that they have that number next to their name and coming off of a really impressive win at Ole Miss, I think our chance to be all in on this team may have come to an end.
I also think that six points is a lot in this matchup, which I expect to be really low-scoring. The Gators can defend, are good at running teams off of the three-point line and can’t make threes themselves. They have a number of guards they can throw at Kamar Baldwin and have shown no desire to play fast at all this season. Butler is 348th in average possession length offensively.
PICKS: Let’s see where the total opens, but if it’s in the low-to-mid 120s, I think the under is the play in this game.
I am definitely looking forward to this game because I feel like I haven’t had a chance to really watch Colorado yet this season. I saw a little bit of their game against Arizona State in the opener, but that’s it. So keep that in mind as I proceed to tout the Buffaloes. Here’s the logic: The Jayhawks want to run their offense through Udoka Azubuike in the post, and Colorado is top ten nationally in defensive two-point field goal percentage. They have big bodies, they have strong posts and they can make life tough for Azubuike inside.
PICKS: I think this line will open up higher than Colorado (+8). Getting the Buffaloes (+10.5) would make all of my wildest dreams come true.
No. 19 DAYTON vs. SAINT MARY’S, Sun. 4:00 p.m. (Phoenix)
I’ll be on Dayton here. What makes Saint Mary’s dangerous is their ability to spread teams out with their shooting and create mismatches all over the court. Dayton does the same thing, only they have Player of the Year candidate Obi Toppin creating mismatches, who should, in theory, be able to limit Malik Fitts’ advantage at the four. Playing this game at a neutral site is a bonus as well.
PICKS: I like Dayton up to (-4.5), and I would think about the under as well. Both of these teams are built on shooting, and neutral sites environments can be tough to shoot in. Saint Mary’s wanting to play at a slow pace will help as well.
My take on Cincinnati is that the Bearcats are overvalued right now. The biggest reason for that is that there seems to still be some tension between new head coach John Brannen and star guard Jarron Cumberland. I also think that Xavier is one of the teams that is being undervalued at this point. I know they struggle shooting the rock, but they are tough, they are athletic and they have a couple of game-changers in Naji Marshall, Tyrique Jones and Paul Scruggs. If Kyky Tandy can provide a bit of shooting and Quentin Goodin is truly out of his funk, the Musketeers are a top 20 team.
The only concern I have: This is a rivalry game. If Jarron Cumberland is ever going to play like a National Player of the Year candidate, this is the game he’ll do it.
PICKS: I will probably be staying away at Xavier (-6).
CBT Podcast: Georgetown’s problems, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a weekend preview
Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan from the Fundamentally Sound podcast go through everything that happened in a wild week of basketball, from the four – yes, four! – blowouts of in the marquee games of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge as well as the rise of DePaul and the enigma that is Indiana. Rob also discusses the situation at Georgetown at the top, and the podcast ends with a preview of what should be a lively weekend of college hoops.
North Carolina’s Armando Bacot to be ‘out a while’
North Carolina’s freshman center Armando Bacot suffered a left ankle injury in the first half of Wednesday night’s game against Ohio State and did not return.
Bacot, who came down on a defender’s foot and had to be helped off of the floor, immediately when back to the locker.
“It was swollen by the time he got to the locker room,” coach Roy Williams said. “My guess is he’ll be out a while.”
The 6-foot-10 Bacot was averaging 11.7 points and 9.6 boards and was coming off of his best game of the season, when he posted 23 points, 12 boards and six blocks while playing a season-high 30 minutes against Oregon.
Michigan, Kentucky schedule basketball game in London
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan and Kentucky have agreed to play a basketball game in London next season as part of a three-year deal that also includes a home-and-home series between the two programs.
Michigan announced the deal Thursday. The teams will play at O2 Arena in London in December 2020. The teams will meet at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor in 2021 and at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena in 2022.
“When the idea of playing Kentucky came up, we knew it would be an exciting opportunity, not only for ourselves, but for our fans as well,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “What a unique three-game series. First, we get to showcase collegiate basketball overseas in London before playing that traditional home-and-home series in front of two of the nation’s best basketball environments.”
The teams have met seven times previously, with Kentucky holding a 5-2 edge. The Wildcats beat Michigan in a 2014 Elite Eight game in their most recent contest. When Howard was a player at Michigan, his Wolverines beat Kentucky in a 1993 national semifinal.
Film Room: How Ohio State handed North Carolina their worst loss in nearly two decades
At this point, no one should be surprised when Chris Holtmann does something smart as a head coach, and I certainly was not surprised to see him find a way to smother North Carolina on the defensive side of the ball on Wednesday night.
In a 74-49 win in the Dean Dome, the worst home loss the Tar Heels have taken since 2002, when Matt Doherty was in charge, the Buckeyes held North Carolina to just 27.8 percent shooting from the floor. They shot 25.6 percent on two-point field goal attempts, the lowest number of the Roy Williams era. And I think so much of it had to do with what Holtmann did defensively on Cole Anthony.
The game-plan was, frankly, pretty simple. When Anthony had the ball, Ohio State climbed up in him, they hedged hard on all ball-screens and they sent bodies at him whenever he put the ball on the floor to drive. They made a conscious decision to force Anthony into either playing 1-on-2 and 1-on-3 or giving the ball up to a teammate. As soon as he gave the ball up, they face-guarded him. Full denial, even if it meant playing 4-on-4 for the rest of that possession.
And it worked.
Starting point guard C.J. Walker did the heavy lifting on Anthony, but he was hardly the only one. Luther Muhammad started out on Anthony before getting into foul trouble and playing just nine minutes. D.J. Carton, Andre Wesson and Duane Washington all took a shot at UNC’s freshman stud as well. That’s a lot of bodies, all of whom have some size, some length and some athleticism, and happen to be good individual defenders. Anthony got tired before they did.
This method was effective mainly due to the fact that Ohio State is one of the nation’s elite defenses. Combining all those athletic wings with a center in Kaleb Wesson that dropped the baby fat this summer is a luxury for Holtmann.
But it wasn’t all Ohio State.
Because what became painfully obvious for those that had not yet recognized it is that North Carolina has a startling lack of offensive weaponry. It’s almost like losing five NBA players to the draft is tough to deal with.
No matter who is on the floor with him, defenses are going to dedicate the majority of their attention to Anthony. He’s a game-changing talent. We saw him blow the game wide open against Notre Dame in the opener. He’s going to be the most dangerous player on the floor in just about every game he plays this season. But with a limited supporting cast to rely on, this is the decision Ohio State forced Roy Williams into:
1. Allow Anthony to go full iso-ball and try to win this game on his own by taking deep, contested threes off the dribble or driving into two or three defenders;
2. Run offense for the other guys on the roster even if the shots they are getting are tough shots for them. To put this into context, watch the clip below:
North Carolina ran that first play for Cam Johnson, the No. 11 pick in the draft, last season. This year it’s Brandon Robinson. In past seasons, the guy getting the post touch in the second clip was Kennedy Meeks, or Luke Maye, or Brice Johnson. Last night, it was Brandon Huffman. When they’re running pick-and-pop action like the third clip, it’s Garrison Brooks, not Maye, that is taking those jumpers.
If you’re coaching against North Carolina, I think you’re just fine with Brooks shooting 17-footers. That’s the shot you live with.
Now, to be clear, Robinson is not a bad player. In fact, he’s significantly better than I realized coming into the season. And the x-factor here is that Armando Bacot played just seven minutes before spraining his ankle. He may “be out for a while,” as Roy Williams put it after the game, and even then, he’s been much better as a guy that cleans up misses than as a go-to scorer in the post. According to Synergy, he’s scored just .769 points-per-possession on post-ups, which is in the 42nd percentile nationally. You just saw all four of the post-up buckets he’s scored against high-major foes this season if you watched that clip above.
Bacot is a monster on the offensive glass, and his return will help keep defenses honest because of that. Sell out on a Cole Anthony drive, and Bacot is putting that miss back with a tip-dunk.
But that only mitigates the issue North Carolina has this season.
They don’t have enough talent around Cole Anthony.