Marcus Paige (Getty Images)

ACC Preview: Are you riding with UNC, UVA or Duke?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the ACC.

The ACC is going to be really, really tough this year. There are three title contenders at the top of the conference, a half-dozen more programs that can make a run to the tournament and two or three really dangerous programs that will finish in the bottom-third of the conference.

Let’s get to it.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Marcus Paige is healthy which makes UNC is a title contender: Entering the season with a mountain of hype, Marcus Paige spent the majority of the year trying to work his way through ankle and foot injuries that led to offseason arthroscopic surgery. He’s healthy now, meaning he’s no longer limping while walking to class or spending his practice time on a stationary bike, and that’s huge for the Tar Heels. Throw in that sophomores Joel Berry, a point guard that should be able to move Paige off the ball, and Justin Jackson, a talented wing scorer, should rightfully be expected to take a step forward and that UNC’s massive front line returns intact, and Roy Williams has all the pieces to make a run at a national title.

2. Duke should contend despite losing four starters : Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor are all in the NBA. Quinn Cook graduated after what felt like a seven-year career. Only four players with game experience return, but the Blue Devils will be just fine. That’s what happens when you bring in a recruiting class that includes potential top five pick Brandon Ingram and fellow five-star recruits Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton. Coach K will have a ton of talent on the wings, meaning that you should expect the Blue Devils to play uptempo basketball that features Ingram, a small forward by trade, at the four quite often. While the development of guys like Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Sean Obi will be key, Duke’s success this season will likely be determined by two things: Thornton’s adjustment to playing point guard at the highest level a year early and whether or not Marshall Plumlee can have a senior season on par with Brian Zoubek’s in 2010.

3. You can’t count Tony Bennett out at this point: There are some legitimate reasons to be concerned about Virginia this season. They weren’t the same team after Justin Anderson’s injury last season, and Anderson went to the NBA. They’re built around their defense, and not only do they lose Anderson, but they lose Darion Atkins, who was one of the best defensive big men in the country. Those are concerns, but with their back court of London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon intact, depth up front and Bennett’s Pack-Line defense still running things, the ‘Hoos will be just fine. And if Marial Shayok and Isaiah Wilkins develop, they’ll have a real shot at winning their third straight ACC regular season title.

4. The name Demetrius Jackson: Notre Dame has some serious pieces to replace this season, as Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton have both graduated. But luckily for Mike Brey, he still has Demetrius Jackson in the fold. Jackson, a 5-foot-11 point guard that played off the ball last season, should thrive in Brey’s pick-and-roll heavy offense. Brey is going to make sure that the ball is in his hands and he’s going to allow Jackson to make decisions, because that’s the way that Brey likes to coach. With Zach Auguste back and promising youngsters like Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson back — not to mention newcomers Rex Pfleuger and Matt Ryan — Jackson will have plenty of space to operate. I think he becomes a lottery pick this season.

5-foot-11 Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo)
5-foot-11 Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo)

5. The second-tier in the ACC is a mess, but in a good way: There’s a clear-cut top three in the conference this season: North Carolina, Duke and Virginia, in some order. But after that, there are about six teams that can all finish somewhere between fourth and ninth in the league standings: Notre Dame, Florida State, N.C. State, Syracuse, Miami, Pitt, Louisville. I’d even argue that Wake Forest has a chance to make some noise in league play, assuming that point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre can get healthy. Where in past seasons, the middle of the conference has been on the weaker end of the spectrum, the ACC looks like they could get eight or nine teams into the NCAA tournament this season.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “UVA and UNC are neck and neck. UVA loses key parts [in Anderson and Atkins], but they run such a good system and get some key guys back. They’re so well-coached. Carolina is starting live up to their talent. From a personnel standpoint, they’re really experienced and more of a quintessential Carolina: big wings that can shoot, a slew of big men that can control the paint.”
  • Sleeper:
    • “I’d say Miami or FSU. If people don’t give them credit, maybe Louisville with the unknowns.”
    • “Miami or FSU. With Miami, everybody is back from a team that won 25 games and no one is talking about them like that. For FSU, they’ll be really good if the young guys turn out to be as good as they’re supposed to be.”
  • Best player: “Malcolm Brogdon has to be right there from an accomplishment standpoint. He’s an MF’er, man. In every way.”
  • Most underrated player:
    • “Most probably wouldn’t think he’s underrated, but I’m going to say Grayson Allen. He’s really good, obviously. They make their run because of them I don’t know if he’s looked upon as a guy like that.
    • “Miami’s Sheldon McClellan. Look at his percentages and then tell me he is just an honorable mention all-league player on a team that went 10-8 in the league.”

PRESEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Marcus Paige, North Carolina

I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it, too. Paige was considered by many to be the Preseason National Player of the Year entering the 2014-15 season, and he followed that up by seeing his scoring numbers drop from 17.1 points as a sophomore to 14.5 points as a junior. Part of that was due to the fact that the Tar Heels were better and more balanced, meaning that Paige didn’t need to carry the load as much as he had in previous years. They also lacked a true point guard, as neither Joel Berry nor Nate Britt truly embraced the role, forcing Paige to play the position. But more than anything, it was his health that led to his limited production. Those nagging injuries are gone now, meaning we’re going to see the real Marcus Paige this season.

THE REST OF THE ACC FIRST TEAM:

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Brogdon is one of those dudes that does everything well. He can create off the bounce, he can shoot threes, and he’s one of Tony Bennett’s best defenders. He’s the prototype off-guard for Virginia.
  • Brandon Ingram, Duke: Ingram is the best pro prospect in the ACC, and he’s not that far behind Ben Simmons and Skal Labissiere when it comes to being the potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. He’s also put on 20 pounds of muscle since arriving at Duke. His biggest issue now: assertiveness. Will he be willing to take over games?
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State: XRM is the most underrated player in the conference. He needs to get more consistent and efficient — he averaged 3.4 turnovers and shot 28.1 percent from three — but that should be helped with the addition of FSU’s recruiting class. He went for 30-plus three times last season, including when he scored 30 in 4:35 against Miami. Seriously.
  • Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: I’m not sure what else I can say here. I think Jackson is going to have a huge season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson, North Carolina
  • Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
  • Grayson Allen, Duke
  • Cat Barber, N.C. State
  • Shelden McClellan, Miami
AP Photo
AP Photo

BREAKOUT STAR: Grayson Allen, Duke

Demetrius Jackson would have been the pick here, but seeing as we’ve already written plenty on him, we’re going to go with Allen. A former McDonald’s All-American dunk contest champion, Allen exploded into the national consciousness with a terrific performance in the Final Four last season. With more playing time available this season, and with Duke expected to play a system that fits Allen’s skill-set much better this season, don’t be surprised to see him develop into an all-ACC caliber player.

RELATED: Grayson Allen’s recruitment to Duke started with a duct-taped shoe

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Roy Williams, North Carolina

Roy Williams is not on the hot seat, not unless the NCAA comes heavy-handed when they hand out their punishments. But Williams is under more pressure than his brethren at other blue blood programs because this may be the last time for a while that he truly has a national title contender on his hands. UNC’s recruiting has been hurt by the potential sanctions that could be handed down. They’re expected to miss out on all of the elite talents coming out of their state for the second straight recruiting class, meaning he doesn’t exactly have replacements in line for the talent that could leave Chapel Hill after this season. Ole Roy is 65 years old. He doesn’t have too many years left, does he?

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Duke has a real chance to repeat, but North Carolina and Virginia are both more likely to cut down the nets in Houston.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : League play is going to be awesome, and those Duke-North Carolina games will be as testy as ever, but how about this two-night stretch in the Triangle: Maryland at North Carolina followed by Indiana at Duke. That will be fun.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • 11/17, Duke vs. Kentucky
  • 12/1, Maryland at North Carolina
  • 12/2, Indiana at Duke
  • 12/19, Villanova at Virginia
  • 12/22, Cal at Virginia

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @accsports

PREDICTED FINISH

1. North Carolina: UNC will win the ACC if Paige is healthy, Berry takes over the point guard role and Jackson develops into a consistent scorer and deep threat.
2. Virginia: The ‘Hoos will win the league if Marial Shayok can replace Anderson’s production and if Isaiah Wilkins can provide quality bench production behind Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill.
3. Duke: Duke will win the conference if Thornton proves to be ready to handle the rigors of the point in the ACC, Plumlee develops into a dominant shot-blocker and rebounder, and if Ingram can find be a dominant force on both ends of the floor.
4. Notre Dame: You already know how we feel about Jackson, but the key to the season for the Irish is going to end up being how well they can replace Connaughton. He was a sharpshooter that could hold his own defensively and on the glass in the paint despite being a natural two-guard. Those aren’t easy to find.
5. Florida State: The Seminoles are the most intriguing team in the conference. Rathan-Mayes is the name everyone will know, but they also add a trio of talented freshmen wings — led by five-star scorer Dwayne Bacon — to go along with the likes of Montay Brandon and Devon Bookert. Leonard Hamilton also has plenty of size on his roster, including three players listed at 7-foot-1 or taller. If FSU misses out on the NCAA tournament this season, it won’t be because they lacked the pieces on their roster.
6. Miami: The Hurricanes are a bit thin in the front court, but they have quite a bit of talent in the back court. Sheldon McClellan is underrated nationally and sophomore Ja’Quan Newton should be primed for a big season. The key will be Angel Rodriguez. He’s a top 15 point guard nationally when he’s playing well, but he’s wildly inconsistent.
7. N.C. State: The Wolfpack have developed a reputation of being a team that underwhelms during the regular season before turning things on during the NCAA tournament. I could see them finished fourth in the league and I can see them finishing tenth, but I think that with a roster anchored by Cat Barber and Abdul Malik-Abu, Mark Gottfried should be able to get this group to the tournament.
8. Louisville: I love their freshman class — Donovan Mitchell is going to be a star — but with the scandal swirling around the program and the lack of an entrenched, veteran presence on the roster, Rick Pitino could be in for a long year. I’m not convinced grad transfers Damion Lee (Drexel) and Trey Lewis (Cleveland State) can lead them to glory.
9. Pitt: Forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis are good and Chris Jones could be in line for a breakout season, but what on this roster is going to scare opposing coaches? The Panthers could end up being an NCAA tournament team, but I’m not sure their ceiling is much more than that.
10. Syracuse: Fresh off of a postseason ban, the Orange look like a team with a shot of getting to the Big Dance this season. Michael Gbinije could end up being a first-team all-ACC player, but there are too many other question marks to feel confident with this group. Is Trevor Cooney ever going to be consistent shooting the ball? Can Kaleb Joseph handle the point guard spot this year? Are the bigs any good? Can Tyler Lydon or Malachi Richardson have an immediate impact?
11. Clemson: The Tigers are evidence of why it’s so difficult to coach at a place like Clemson. They return quite a bit of talent from a team that went 8-10 in the league last season, but given the quality of the programs ahead of them, it’s hard to see Brad Brownell’s club climbing significantly in the standings.
12. Wake Forest: Danny Manning has landed a couple of quality recruiting classes in a row and sophomore Konstantinos Mitoglou looks like he has a really bright future, but Codi Miller-McIntyre’s foot injury really put a damper on this team’s expectations heading into the season.
13. Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams has brought in some quality young pieces and will replace the departed Adam Smith with Maryland transfer Seth Allen. I think the Hokies are still a year away from really competing, but they’re what I like to call an upside-team. The future is bright.
14. Georgia Tech: Brian Gregory was lucky to hang onto his job after last season, and there wasn’t a major roster overhaul that would leave me to believe the Yellow Jackets will make a jump in the standings. Adding Adam Smith from Virginia Tech will help, however.
15. Boston College: Losing Olivier Hanlan to the NBA means that things are probably going to get worse before they get better for BC head coach Jim Christian.

The fatal flaw for every team in the top ten

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So much of college basketball’s preseason content centers around talking about what teams do well.

Well, what if we do the opposite?

Let’s talk about what the best teams in college basketball are bad at.

Today, we will be looking at every team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 and working through their fatal flaw, a ‘Why Your Team Sucks’ preview, if you will.

This is why your favorite team will be bad this season. You can find teams 11-25 here

1. MICHIGAN STATE

TOM IZZO’S WILLINGNESS TO PLAY SMALL

Two seasons ago, when the Spartans had a pair of lottery picks on their roster in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State was in a position where they had the absolute best frontcourt possible to go full small ball. Jackson was everything that you could ask for out of a small-ball five, a 6-foot-11 shot-blocker with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and three-point range. Bridges was the uber-athletic forward that was big and strong enough to play the four while also being a nightmare for opposing bigs to deal with.

We spent, quite literally, wishing that Izzo would find a way to get those two on the floor together at the four and the five and it never really happened.

I bring that up because this Michigan State team has all the makings of a group that should be very good playing small. Other than Xavier Tillman, there isn’t really a big man on the roster that has proven himself. Getting another spacer on the floor at the four will create just that much more room for Winston to operate, and the more room you can create for Winston, the easier your life is going to be. Throw in the fact that Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Kyle Aherns all make sense as guys that can play bigger than what they are listed at, and we have another Michigan State team that looks like a perfect fit to play small. Will Izzo agree?

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. KENTUCKY

SCORING IN THE HALFCOURT

The Wildcats are going to be an interesting team to track over the course of the season. They’re young again, obviously, and they don’t really have a clear-cut star on their roster. Can you, unequivocally, tell me who is going to be the best player on their roster? (No. You cannot.)

And that puts the Cats in a weird position, similar to the one they were in last year. I’m just not sure how they are going to play this season. Cal has tended towards playing a slower brand of basketball, one that relied on overwhelming opponents in the paint, unless he has an absolute jet – John Wall or De’Aaron Fox, specifically – at the point. He has three guys that can play the point guard role this year, and none of Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey or Immanuel Quickley are as good as Wall or Fox. But he also doesn’t have an overpowering presence in the paint. There have been some rumblings from people that the best big on Kentucky’s roster early on has been Nate Sestina, the Bucknell transfer. He’s not exactly Karl Anthony-Towns.

So I’d think that in an ideal world, Kentucky would play as more of a pressing team, allowing them to get out into transition and let their athletes do athletic things.

But when they are forced to play slower, where is their offense coming from?

Put another way, if you are an SEC coach game-planning to stop them in the halfcourt, who are you worried about? Hagans can’t shoot. Johnny Juzang has gotten some buzz, but can he really be better than Tyler Herro was last year? Is E.J. Montgomery going to actually take a step forward? Maxey is fine, but he’s also not the caliber of Kentucky’s past star guards.

It will be very interesting to see how Kentucky evolves this season.

3. KANSAS

THE FOUR

The power forward spot has traditionally been the most important spot on the floor for the Jayhawks, and last year was no different. Before Udoka Azubuike’s injury, Kansas was playing like one of the best teams in the country because it was borderline impossible to stop Dedric Lawson and Azubuike in high-low action. And while Azubuike is back this season, Lawson is off to the professional ranks, and there is no clear answer for who will step into that four-man role for the Jayhawks.

One option is Silvio De Sousa, but he would make Kansas a liability defensively and is not a floor-spacer. The same can be said about David McCormick. Mitch Lightfoot doesn’t appear to be the answer, and we saw last season just how much of an issue Marcus Garrett’s lack of shooting can cause when he’s slotted into that role. Will one of the freshmen, Jalen Wilson or Tristan Enaruna, step up?

I honestly don’t know.

And, as I mentioned in the video below, I’m not actually all that worried, either.

4. LOUISVILLE

THE POINT

Louisville has just about everything that you need in a college basketball program. They have the All-American in Jordan Nwora. They have all-league talent on their roster in Dwayne Sutton and Samuell Williamson. They have a talented freshmen class to pair with depth up and down their roster, which is why the Cardinals are a top five team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

The concern, however, is at the point guard spot, just as it was last season. With all due respect to Christen Cunningham, he was more of a guy that kept Louisville from losing games as opposed to being the kind of talent that wins games, if that makes sense. Louisville replaced him with two guys. The first is Fresh Kimble, a grad transfer from St. Joseph’s that put up good scoring numbers last season. The problem, however, is that Kimble was always more of a scorer than a pure point guard that made people around him better. I think the latter is what this Louisville team needs more than the former, and while incoming freshman David Johnson was impressive in early practices, he’s also going to be out until around the start of ACC play with a shoulder injury.

There is enough talent on this roster to be able to win big even if their point guard play isn’t great, but I do think that great point guard play is the most important thing for college basketball teams.

5. VILLANOVA

SO WHO’S MAKING SHOTS THIS YEAR?

The modus operandi for this Villanova program during this six-year dynasty has been simple: Target the most talented players that fit the program’s cultural values and style of play, develop them within the program over the course of two-or-three years, hang banners with a roster that’s older than the competition, ship those players off to a job in the NBA. Even without Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo last season, the Wildcats still were able to play through Eric Paschall and Phil Booth en route to their fifth Big East regular season title and fourth Big East tournament title in the last six seasons.

This year, however, is the year when that gets tested. Because there is a lot of unproven talent on this Villanova roster. Is this the year Jermaine Samuels makes the jump to stardom? Are Collin Gillispie and Dhamir Cosby-Rountree truly good enough to be cornerstones for a team that is competing for league titles and Final Fours? Just how good will Cole Swider and Saddiq Bey be with a year of seasoning on the Main Line? Can Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore and – when he gets healthy – Bryan Antoine be able to step in and play right away as freshmen?

The talent is there on paper. Will it show up in wins?

6. DUKE

CAN THEY BE GOOD DEFENSIVELY AND OFFENSIVELY

I’ve talked about written about this extensively already, so I’ll keep it short and sweet here: The roster makeup for this team is weird. There are a lot of players that are good and that can do a job in a role, but I’m not sure just how many players they have that are going to be good on both ends of the floor. Put another way, can Duke put a team on the floor that will be able to score and be able to defend?

7. FLORIDA

THE BURDEN OF EXPECTATION

Let me get this out of the way before I start: I’m in on Florida. I have them at the No. 7 team in the country. I invested my own hard-earned money on a ticket for Florida winning the national title. So I totally get the upside here.

But I’m also well aware of the fact that we are taking a leap of faith, one centered around the idea that a number of players on this roster are taking a significant step forward. Can Andrew Nembhard play his way into being on an all-SEC team? Will Noah Locke emerge as a secondary scorer with Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen gone? How will Kerry Blackshear Jr. mesh within this roster? Perhaps most importantly, will the freshmen that Mike White has coming to campus – Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, in particular – be a net positive over the inefficiency gunners that are graduating?

Remember, this team was a No. 10 seed last season that couldn’t shoot and lost 16 games. Asking them to go from that to a team that will be among the best in the country is a big ask.

8. GONZAGA

DO THEY HAVE A POINT GUARD?

It shouldn’t really be up for debate at this point, but if you still weren’t buying into the idea that Gonzaga is one of the 8-10 best college basketball programs in America, all you have to do is look at the fact that they’ve continually lost talent to the professional ranks earlier than expected and have not skipped a beat. That was true when they lost Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the pros and remained among the top ten teams in the country the last two seasons. And that’s even more true this year, when Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell all bounced with eligibility remaining, and the Zags will still enter the year as a preseason top ten team.

The concern, however, is that they have been forced to try and figure things out on the fly at the point guard spot. Josh Perkins graduated, and since Joel Ayayi has not earned the starting job and Brock Ravet is apparently not ready to take things over, Mark Few had to go to the grad transfer route again. He brought in Admon Gilder from Texas Tech and Ryan Woolridge from North Texas to paper mache over the gaps.

With a roster that’s pretty loaded up front, will that be enough for the Zags to compete at the level we’ve come to expect?

9. MARYLAND

THEY’RE MARYLAND

That’s harsh, I know, but the truth is that during Mark Turgeon’s tenure, the Terps have had a tendency to flop when they enter a season with a certain level of expectation. Take, for example, the 2015-16 season. The Terps were loaded – Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Diamond Stone and Robert Carter – and entered the year as the preseason No. 1 team in the country, yet they stumbled to a 27-9 record, a third-place finish in the Big Ten and got bounced out of the tournament in the Sweet 16.

Some people will tell you that Turgeon isn’t a great coach, that that’s the problem. Others will point to the fact that players tend to stagnate in College Park. Melo Trimble was awesome as a freshman but never really took the leap to the next level. Anthony Cowan seems to be trending in that same direction.

Do you trust this program to be able to find a way to be among the nation’s elite?

10. VIRGINIA

CAN TONY BENNETT TRUST THEIR GUARD PLAY?

I love Virginia’s frontcourt. Mamadi Diakite is going to be arguably the best defensive big man in the country. Jay Huff is the protoype pick-and-roll big and should be in line for a monster junior season. Braxton Key should do well playing an expanded offensive role.

The question is going to be their backcourt. Kihei Clark was really good in a role last season, but with Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome off to the NBA, he’s going to be asked to be the guy this year. Is he up to the task? Can Casey Morsell be a contributor as a freshman? What about Tomas Woldetensae?

I went more in depth on Virginia below.

Kentucky lands commitment from five-star guard Askew

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Kentucky landed a commitment from five-star guard Devin Askew on Thursday night.

Askew is a top ten prospect in the Class of 2021, but the expectation is that he will reclassify and enroll at Kentucky next summer. Assuming he does, Askew will join a recruiting class that already includes Terrence Clarke, B.J. Boston, Lance Ware and Cam’Ron Fletcher.

Askew picked the Wildcats over Louisville, Arizona, Memphis and Kansas.

Where things get interesting here will be with Cade Cunningham, the top point guard in the Class of 2020 and arguably the top prospect in the class. Many believed that Cade would end up going to Oklahoma State, where Mike Boynton hired his brother, Cannen, as an assistant coach. But Cade has made it clear that he wants to be recruited, and after taking an official visit to Kentucky over the weekend, it looks as if the Wildcats have a real shot at landing him.

But will he be willing to share lead guard duties with Askew?

We shall see.

The fatal flaw for every team in the back half of the top 25

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So much of college basketball’s preseason content centers around talking about what teams do well.

Well, what if we do the opposite?

Let’s talk about what the best teams in college basketball are bad at.

Today, we will be looking at every team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 and working through their fatal flaw, a ‘Why Your Team Sucks’ preview, if you will.

This is why your favorite team will be bad this season. You can find the top ten teams here

11. TEXAS TECH

PLAYMAKING

We know how good the Texas Tech defense is going to be because the Texas Tech defense is always good. It’s something Chris Beard and Mark Adams preach more than anything else, and while losing guys like Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens are big losses, the truth is that this defense is as much about the system as it is the players and guys like Chris Clarke and Jahmius Ramsey should be pretty good defensive pieces in their own right.

The bigger issue is on the other end of the floor. The last two seasons, when Texas Tech has been the best team in the conference, has come when there has been a big, talented lead guard to run offense through when things get bogged down – Keenan Evans and Jarrett Culver. I believe it’s going to be Ramsey this season that takes over that role, but he is also a freshman. Is he going to be ready the moment he steps onto campus to carry the load offensively for a team that we expect to be competing for a Big 12 title?

12. OREGON

JUST HOW GOOD ARE THESE BIGS?

As good as Arizona and Washington are this season, I think that there is a valid argument to make that Oregon is not just the best team in the Pac-12 this season, but the most talented team. They have the best point guard in the conference in Payton Pritchard, a guy that is a proven winner and should make his way into the All-American conversation by the end of the year. Anthony Mathis and Shakur Juiston arrive as grad transfers and should play major roles immediately. Will Richardson should be ready for a bigger role, and the likes of Chris Duarte, C.J. Walker and Chandler Lawson should be able to contribute immediately. There may be a lot of turnover here, but Dana Altman has dealt with it before.

The question, however, is going to be in the frontcourt. Oregon’s best teams in recent seasons have had a hyper-athletic, elite defensive presence in the middle. Read: Bell, Jordan; or Wooten, Kenny. It’s not a coincidence that Oregon played their best basketball after Bol Bol got hurt. Who can play that role this season? I’m not sold that N’Faly Dante will be that guy when he finally does get eligible. Francis Okoro has been good in flashes but has never been asked to play a major role. Chandler Lawson and Juiston profile more as fours than elite defensive fives.

13. SETON HALL

DOES OLDER ALWAYS MEAN BETTER?

I love Seton Hall this season. I love Myles Powell forever and always. But the truth is that this Seton Hall team last season was already pretty old, turnover prone and inconsistent from beyond the arc. They won a bunch of games because Powell is good enough to win a bunch of games by himself, but if Seton Hall is going to live up to these lofty expectations, they’re going to need the likes of Myles Cale (consistency), Quincy McKnight (turnovers, three-point shooting) and Sandro Mamukelashvili (ability to control the paint) to take steps forward.

But just how much better will they actually be this year? These guys are already upperclassmen, and just because a good-not-great team returns everyone they have on their roster doesn’t mean that they are going to be great the next season. Put another way, just because they had room to grow doesn’t mean they grew.

14. NORTH CAROLINA

EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE IS NEW

The Tar Heels lost basically everything from last season. Coby White, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye, Nassir Little, Kenny Williams. Their leading returning scorer is a big guy who averaged 7.9 points. That’s a lot to replace, and it means there are going to be a lot of new faces asked to play in a system they haven’t played in before and old faces asked to play much bigger roles.

The talent is there. I think we can all agree. Cole Anthony is going to be awesome. I love Armando Bacot. The grad transfers are going to be super-valuable. But this much turnover in any program is not easy to navigate, and it’s not something that Roy Williams has a had a ton of experience dealing with.

15. UTAH STATE

ARE WE SURE THEY’RE ACTUALLY GOOD?

Before Aggie fans jump all over me for this, remember: I have you ranked 15th nationally.

But also remember: We’re ranking this team 15th a year after they put together a season where their best wins came against Saint Mary’s, UC Irvine and Nevada. They lost by 17 points in the NCAA tournament to a Washington team that lost by 22 points to a North Carolina team that lost by 17 points to an Auburn team that lost Chuma Okeke during the game. They finished the season 38th in KenPom.

I’m buying in on them, but that’s because I believe in the coaching staff and the talent. Not because we’ve seen them perform at this level before.

16. ARIZONA

DO YOU TRUST THEIR BIGS?

We know how good Arizona’s guards are going to be. Nico Mannion and Josh Green are five-star prospects with the chance to get picked in the lottery come June. Even with the injury to Brandon Williams, the addition of Max Hazzard gives the Wildcats one of the better backcourts in the country, particularly if Jemarl Baker gets a waiver.

The questions that I have are with their big guys. Their best frontcourt player is … Chase Jeter? Ira Lee? Stone Gettings, who was the second-best player player on a sub-.500 Ivy League team? Zeke Nnaji and Christian Koloko have had some buzz in the summer and fall, but can Arizona get to a Final Four if one of those two freshmen are forced to start and play 25 minutes a night?

17. SAINT MARY’S

IS JORDAN FORD GOOD ENOUGH TO SHOULDER THE LOAD?

So here’s a weird stat that I came across: Saint Mary’s had the lowest assist rate in all of college basketball last season. They literally finished 353rd nationally in the percentage of their made field goals that were assisted, a number that becomes all the more stark when you considered there were just five teams in college basketball that played at a slower pace. The Gaels averaged just 10.1 assists per game last season. In 2017-18, Emmett Naar averaged 7.9 assists himself.

The reason for this is that Randy Bennett runs a ball-screen heavy offense, but last season, the guy that was put in those ball-screens was Jordan Ford. Unlike past SMC point guards – Naar, Matthew Dellavedova, Mickey McConnell – Ford is a score-first player. He’s not coming off of those ball-screens looking to do anything other than find a way to get a bucket, and he’s really good at that.

But is he good enough at it to get the Gaels into the mix for the WCC title? Can Saint Mary’s make a run in March if their offense is, essentially, let’s see if Jordan Ford gets hot today?

18. XAVIER

ARE THEY THE TEAM THAT WON SIX OF THEIR LAST SEVEN, OR THE ONE THAT STARTED 3-8 IN THE BIG EAST?

The thing that is difficult about projecting teams that finished the regular season hot is that they may have made their leap during the season.

Put another way, is Xavier a team that still has room to grow after they figured some things out late in the year, or is this a group that made their jump down the stretch of the season?

I ask, because a team whose ceiling is an 11 game stretch where they go 8-3 against a mediocre Big East and NIT competition is one thing. But if Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin actually get better from beyond the arc, if this group learns how not to turn the ball over, if they show some improvement in being able to run opponents off of the three-point line, then they have a chance to truly compete for a Big East title and make a run at getting a top four seed.

19. LSU

AT SOME POINT, THE NCAA PAYS A VISIT, RIGHT?

As much as any other team in college basketball this season, I think that there is a chance that the bottom falls out for LSU. The talent they have is undeniable. They are the reigning SEC regular season champs, and they bring back everyone except Tremont Waters and Naz Reid. Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart are as good as any guard duo in the league. Marlon Taylor and Emmitt Williams are two of the most exciting athletes in the sport. Trendon Watford is a five-star freshman. This team is loaded.

But their head coach had to sit out last year’s postseason run because of wiretaps that were played in federal court that appeared to show him trying to cut a deal for a player that is still on the roster. The NCAA is investigating. They are going to get hit with something. The when and the who are the big questions, as is the possibility that the program will fall on their sword and self-impose a punishment.

20. BAYLOR

WILL THEY STOP FOULING?

This Baylor team is weird. They look like they might be good enough to finish second in the Big 12 this season, but I’m not sure there is an NBA player on the roster. I’m sure most Big 12 fans know who Tristan Clark is, but he missed the second half of last season with a knee injury. There aren’t many college basketball players that are national names, and Baylor certainly does not have one. Hell, I’m not sure how many casual Big 12 fans that can name someone on the roster.

But there’s more to it than that. Baylor plays a zone, but not only did they lead the Big 12 in defensive rebounding percentage during league play, they also found a way to foul more than West Virginia did last season.

I’m in on this Baylor team. They are balanced, they are well-coached and they have some guys that can really play. But when you don’t have the high-end NBA-caliber talent, you’re winning on the margins, so to speak. You’re winning because you can dominate the glass on both ends, because you extend possessions with second-chance points better than anyone while ending possessions after missed shots at an elite level. Fouling at a rate that

21. MEMPHIS

FRESHMEN DO FRESHMEN THINGS

As the saying goes, the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. Memphis is on track to start five freshmen and play seven freshmen in their rotation. I expand on all that below.

22. AUBURN

WHERE ARE THE SHOT CREATORS?

Losing Jared Harper was a major blow for the Tigers, because he did so much for them when their offense got bogged down in the halfcourt. Chuma Okeke was another option, because he was such a matchup problem for opposing defenses. Even Bryce Brown was able to just shoot over any and all defenses when he got hot. Can J’Von McCormick, Isaac Okoro and Samir Doughty replace that?

23. TENNESSEE

DO THEY HAVE ANYONE TO PLAY THE FIVE?

The Vols lost a lot in their frontcourt. Kyle Alexander is gone. Admiral Schofield is gone. Grant Williams is gone. That is a lot of production to replace, and I’m not sure who they have that can do it. Their guards are going to be fine. Lamonte’ Turner is ready for a bigger role, Jordan Bowden is talented-if-inconsistent and five-star Josiah James should be able to provide scoring and shot creation. Hell, even using Yves Pons at the four is doable. But can Tennessee win if they need to rely on John Fulkerson and Zach Kent?

24. VCU

THEY CANNOT SCORE

We spent the entirety of last season burying Duke because they were such a bad shooting team. The Blue Devils actually shot better from three than VCU did last year, and the Rams don’t have guys like Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. That’s why they finished last year ranked 177th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric.

25. OHIO STATE

HOW GOOD ARE THEIR GUARDS?

The Buckeyes lost their starting backcourt from last season, and while we all know how good Kaleb Wesson is, there is a legitimate concern as to whether or not they have guys that can get him the ball this year. C.J. Walker is a transfer from Florida State who was fine in the ACC, so that helps with the experience, and D.J. Carton is a guy with an incredibly high ceiling, but he’s a ways away from that ceiling at this point.

Michigan lands commitment from five-star forward Todd

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Juwan Howard has landed his first five-star prospect as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines.

On Thursday night, Isaiah Todd, a top ten prospect from Word Of God Christian Academy in North Carolina, announced that he will be playing his college ball in Ann Arbor. Todd picked Michigan over Kansas, having cut both Kentucky and North Carolina from his list earlier this month.

Part of the intrigue for Todd in committing to Michigan and Howard is that the two are similar as players. Todd is a skilled and mobile four that runs well, can finish above the rim and play out on the perimeter. Motor and consistent effort is the key for him. When he’s dialed in, he’s dangerous.

Todd joins top 100 shooting guard Zeb Jackson in Howard’s first recruiting class, and this is where the intrigue really begins. Michigan is also involved with a number of highly-touted prospects – five-stars Josh Christopher, Jaden Springer and Nimari Burnett as well as four-stars Moses Moody, Mark Williams and Hunter Dickinson.

CBT Podcast: Penny Hardaway and the Big Ten Preview

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Rob Dauster was joined by Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway for the latest episode of the College Basketball Talk podcast. Afterwards, Scott Phillips jumped onto the pod to walk through a full breakdown of every team in the Big Ten. Does Michigan State have the NBA-level talent to win a title? Can Maryland live up to their lofty expectations? There are new eras at Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin to discuss. Who is best set up for success? Ohio State and Illinois are trending up, Iowa and Minnesota are trending down, and the Mayor is back!

Here is the full rundown:

OPEN: Penny Hardaway

15:45: Big Ten overview

20:05: Illinois

26:55: Indiana

31:30: Iowa

35:45: Maryland

40:25: Michigan

45:30: Michigan State

51:35: Minnesota

54:40: Nebraska

57:15: Northwestern

59:20: Ohio State

1:03:30: Penn State

1:07:45: Purdue

1:13:45: Rutgers

1:17:00: Wisconsin