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NBC Sports College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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It’s officially time for the NBC Sports College Basketball Preseason Top 25 to be revealed.

A couple of quick notes about how these rankings were put together: Travis Hines, Scott Phillips, Raphielle Johnson and myself all filled out our own individual top 25 poll.

Those polls were combined and voila, the NBC Sports top 25 came to be.

The five teams that received votes but didn’t make their way into the actual top 25 were Providence, Oregon, Rhode Island, Michigan and Virginia Tech.

Drop us a line in the comments or @CBTonNBC if you disagree with any of the rankings.

So let’s get into it.

Here is the top 25:


1. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

  • Who’s gone: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis III
  • Who do they add: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman
  • Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward
MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | Contender Series: Michigan State | Big Ten Preview

WHAT WE LIKE: We can’t talk about Michigan State without first mentioning Miles Bridges, who was named the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year after making the decision to put the NBA Draft off for a year and return to school. A freak athlete with perimeter skill and positional versatility, he is the most valuable player in college basketball this season when you factor in his skill on the offensive end of the floor and the versatility he provides defensively.

But he’s far from the only weapon that Tom Izzo will have at his disposal. There is Nick Ward, who averaged 13.9 points and 6.5 boards in just under 20 minutes last season. There is Jaren Jackson, a five-star prospect and the perfect fit at the four alongside Ward and Bridges. But perhaps more than anything, the best thing you can say about Michigan State is that last year’s promising freshmen class are all now sophomores.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: Michigan State’s guards concern me. Cassius Winston is a slick passer that was awful turnover prone last year, Tum Tum Nairn is a speedster that doesn’t really do much else and Josh Langford is talented and made perimeter jumpers last year but he must improve on his consistency. Throw in Matt McQuaid and this group is far from bad, but if there is a weakness that can be attacked on my pick to win the national title, this is it.

I’m also curious about how Bridges is going to be used this season. He played as a small-ball four a year ago. This year, he’ll be at the three full-time. He’s good enough that it shouldn’t make much of a difference, but, as we touched on in this story, it’s something to monitor.


2. DUKE BLUE DEVILS

  • Who’s gone: Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III, Luke Kennard, Frank Jackson
  • Who do they add: Marvin Bagley III, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Alex O’Connell, Trevon Duval, Jordan Tucker
  • Projected starting lineup: Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter
RELATED: ACC Season Preview | Contender Series: Duke

Grayson Allen (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: Coach K has the most talented starting five in college basketball at his disposal. Think about it: Duke has the Class of 2017’s top power forward who doubles as the best player in the class and a potential No. 1 pick in 2018 in Marvin Bagley III. They have 2017’s top point guard recruit in Trevon Duval, the second-best center in Wendell Carter and a fourth five-star in Gary Trent Jr. that some rank as 2017’s best shooting guard.

All of that is before you factor in senior and a former second team all-american and last year’s Preseason National Player of the Year Grayson Allen. Coach K has told us that Allen is finally healthy after getting surgery on a bum ankle. They’re still flawed — we’ll get to that — but to me they’re the most talented team in the country.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: I am not convinced that Duval is the point guard that this group needs. He’s a terrific talent, but he’s not necessarily a guy that makes teammates better and he’s yet to spend any time as a facilitator at any level. Think about it like this: Duval could end up being the fifth-best offensive weapon that the Blue Devils will have at their disposal. His job will be to run the offense and distribute the ball, not to shoot 15 times a night.

And speaking of shooting, Duval has yet to prove that he is the kind of floor-spacer Duke will need. Ever since Tyus Jones left, Duke has had issues at that spot, and I’m far from convinced that won’t continue this season.


3. ARIZONA WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Lauri Markkanen, Kadeem Allen, Kobi Simmons, Chance Comanche
  • Who do they add: Deandre Ayton, Emmanuel Akot, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee, Alex Barcello, Dylan Smith
  • Projected starting lineup: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic
RELATED: Pac 12 Preview | Contender Series: Arizona

Allonzo Trier (Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: The amount of talent that Arizona has on their roster is impressive. The Wildcats will not only roster a preseason first-team all-american and a guy that could potentially lead all of high-major basketball in scoring in Allonzo Trier, they will pair him with freshman big man Deandre Ayton, who just so happens to be the potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Rawle Alkins is back – battling a foot injury, but still back – and Emmanuel Akot, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee and Alex Barcello round out a very good recruiting class.

But there’s more than just talent here. Arizona will likely be starting a senior at the point in Parker Jackson-Cartwright and a senior at center in Dusan Ristic. More than any other team near the top of the polls, Arizona can blend elite talent, experience, depth and coaching.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: There are three major concerns with this group. The first is Alkins’ foot injury. He’s a scorer and a high-volume shooter, meaning that implementing him into the team isn’t going to be easy once rotations and roles have been defined. Then there is the question about whether or not Jackson-Cartwright is the answer at the point. Sean Miller has had two tough-minded, defense-oriented leaders running his program the last four years, and PJC has yet to prove that he falls into that category.

The biggest issue, however, is the looming FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Assistant coach Book Richardson has already been fired, another former assistant appears to be implicated as well as two current players on the roster, although they are unnamed. Keep an eye on that.


4. KANSAS JAYHAWKS

  • Who’s gone: Frank Mason II, Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg
  • Who do they add: Malik Newman, Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe
  • Projected starting lineup: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Billy Preston, Udoka Azuibuike
RELATED: Big 12 Preview | Contender SeriesKansas 

Devonte’ Graham (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: I don’t just like, I love the Kansas backcourt. Devonte’ Graham is finally going to have a chance to handle the point guard role full-time, and it should come as no shock to anyone if he ends up being an all-american come season’s end. He’ll be joined by a former five-star recruit in Malik Newman, who looks like the odds-on favorite to end up as the leading scorer for the Jayhawks this year. Svi Mykhailiuk and LaGerald Vick are both back while Marcus Garrett and Sam Cunliffe, who will be eligible in December, join the fray.

This group is deep and talented and, if Kansas is going to go as far as the Final Four this year, will need to be the backbone that anchors this team.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: This is a weird roster construction. I’m not sure how else to put it. For a program that has thrived using two-big lineups and running a high-low offense, the Jayhawks, just like last season, has a total lack of depth on the front court. Udoka Azubuike is healthy after breaking his wrist last season, Billy Preston is a five-star freshman that should have an immediate impact on the front line and Mitch Lightfoot is a four-year guy that will be asked to play a role he may or may not be suited for.

That’s it.

The problem is that unlike last year, Kansas doesn’t have a Josh Jackson, a guy they can plug-and-play as a small-ball four. I’m not sure what, exactly, Bill Self is going to do with this group, but he’s going to have to find a way to fill that hole at the four-spot.


5. VILLANOVA WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds
  • Who do they add: Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillispie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Omari Spellman
  • Projected starting lineup: Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman
MORENBC Sports Preseason All-American Team | Contender Series: Villanova

Jalen Brunson (Eric Francis/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: Everything about the program? At this point, I’m not sure what else there is to say about Villanova. Their point guard, Jalen Brunson, turned into one of the nation’s best by the end of last season, and there’s no reason to think that he can’t build off of a strong finish to Big East play. There isn’t anyone in the country better to lead a team than Brunson, particularly a program like Villanova.

What I mean by that is that egos are prevalent on this roster. Recruits know that they may not play the second they arrive on campus, but as long as they put in the work and keep getting better, they will be able to fill a role when their time comes. That’s why, despite the loss of Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, no one is predicting a drop-off. Because Donte DiVincenzo is ready for a bigger role and Omari Spellman is improved after a redshirt year. Phil Booth is back, as is Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall.

As long as Jay Wright is on the sidelines, Villanova’s name will show up at or near the top of every preseason top 25.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The biggest concern with Villanova is probably a lack of high-end talent and playmakers outside of Brunson. We know they’re going to be tough to defend. We know they’re gong to execute offensively. We know Brunson is going to be awesome. But on the nights where Brunson is taken away and the Wildcats are struggling to find a rhythm offensively, who can step up and get 18-22 points? Put another way, rare will be the night where Villanova’s Plan A gets slowed down, but when it does, who do they go to?


6. WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Samajae Haynes-Jones, Asbjorn Midtgaard
  • Projected starting lineup: Landry Shamet, Connor Frankamp, Zach Brown, Markis McDuffie, Shaq Morris
RELATED: American Preview | Contender Series:  Wichita State

WHAT WE LIKE: The thinking with Wichita State is pretty simple, really.

This is a program coming off of a 31-win season that earned them the No. 8 spot in the final KenPom rankings, the kind of advanced metrics that spawned dozens of columns about how, as a No. 10 seed, Wichita State was the most mis-seeded team in NCAA tournament history. And that team is, with the exception of a back-up point guard that averaged less than 15 minutes last season, entirely intact.

Landry Shamet is back. Markis McDuffie is back. Darral Willis and Shaq Morris and Conner Frankamp are back. Perhaps most importantly, Gregg Marshall is back.

The only difference …

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: … is that the Shockers are now a member of the American instead of the Missouri Valley. And frankly, I’m not all that worried about the bump-up in league – the Valley is never easy – but I am worried about the difference in travel. Instead of having to go from Wichita to Missouri or Iowa or Illinois for league games, the Shockers will now be traveling to places like Storrs, CT, and Florida. It’s not just the distance, either. Now, instead of getting 3-4 days in between league games, Wichita State will be at the mercy of the American’s TV deals. A Thursday road trip leading into a Saturday afternoon game is not ideal.

But that’s the second-biggest issue currently facing this team.

As it stands, the two best players on Wichita State are still recovering from foot injuries. Shamet should be ready to go by the time the season start, but McDuffie could be out for a month of the season. Maybe more. Put another way, Wichita State is ranked where they are based on the idea that they’ll be back to full strength when it matters.


7. FLORIDA GATORS

  • Who’s gone: Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry, Justin Leon, Devin Robinson
  • Who do they add: Isaiah Stokes, Egor Koulechov, Chase Johnson, DeAundre Ballard, Michael Okauru, Jalen Hudson, Dontay Bassett
  • Projected starting lineup: Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Egor Koulechov, Kevarrius Hayes, John Egbunu
Top 100 Players | Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts 

KeVaughn Allen (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: Coming off of a trip to last year’s Elite 8, the Gators lost three of their top four scorers. Their starting center, John Egbunu, is still dealing with the recovery from a torn ACL. The good news is that the guy they did bring back is KeVaughn Allen, last year’s leading scorer and one of the most dangerous and explosive scorers in the country.

The Gators also add some quality newcomers to the mix. Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson are talented transfers that will be eligible this season and provide some perimeter depth, and Mike White did bring in a solid recruiting class.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: Mike White has always been a guy that has played smaller lineups that pressure the ball, force turnovers and just make life an all-around nightmare for opponents. He did that with this group last season, and much of the cause of that success was due to the ability of Justin Leon and Devon Robinson on that end. They were long, lanky, athletic defenders that were switchable and could make plays on that end. They’re gone, and I’m not quite sure who is ready to fill that role.

I’m also concerned about Chris Chiozza at the point. He’s not the defender that Kasey Hill was, and if Florida’s defense, which was second in the country last season, according to KenPom, is going to take a step back this season, that means they are going to need to make strides on the offensive end of the floor. Can Chiozza lead the way offensively?


8. KENTUCKY WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Mychal Mulder, Dominique Hawkins
  • Who do they add: Hamidou Diallo, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker
  • Projected starting lineup: Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, Nick Richards
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky 

John Calipari (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: There’s not denying the talent on Kentucky’s roster. They have eight former five-star recruits on their roster, three of whom spent last season with the program. They have size, they have length and they have athleticism. Even without Jarred Vanderbilt, who is dealing with an injury that could keep him out until January, there is enough potential on the defensive end of the floor to consider this group an SEC title contender and a threat to get to the Final Four.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: Defense isn’t going to be Kentucky’s issue.

Scoring the ball is.

Part of it is going to be perimeter shooting. Simply put, Kentucky just does not have that many guys that can consistently knock down threes. If you’re team cannot consistently knock down threes, you cannot space the floor. It’s that simple.

But beyond that, the Wildcats don’t exactly have a go-to guy. There is no one on this roster that is going to scare opposing coaches offensively. They don’t have a Malik Monk or a De’Aaron Fox or a Karl Towns. They don’t have anyone that is going to be impossible to stop 1-on-1, and it’s going to make them easier to guard. The bigger issue is that they don’t exactly have someone that makes offense easy in critical possessions. When there are 12 seconds left and Kentucky is down by one, who do you actually want getting a shot? That’s something Coach Cal is going to have to figure out. If you’re interested, we went deep on the Wildcats earlier this month.


9. CINCINNATI BEARCATS

  • Who’s gone: Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson
  • Who do they add: Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, Eliel Nsoseme, Cane Broome
  • Projected starting lineup: Cane Broome, Jarron Cumberland, Jacob Evans, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington
RELATED: American Preview | Contender Series:  Wichita State

Jacob Evans (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: Cincinnati’s front court is absolutely loaded. Gary Clark is one of the nation’s most underrated bigs while Kyle Washington developed into a nice complimentary piece alongside him. Throw in last year’s leading scorer Jacob Evans, and that is going to be tough for anyone opponent to matchup with.

And that’s before you factor in the talent on the perimeter. Jarron Cumberland was super-productive in limited minutes as a freshman, and Cane Broome averaged 23 points in the NEC before transferring to Cincinnati. It’s a step up, and he won’t put up those same numbers, but Broome can clearly play at that level.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The big question I have is at the point guard spot. Losing Troy Caupain is going to hurt. He was a veteran, he was a leader and he was a point guard. Broome might be able to play that role, but he was a scorer first and foremost at his previous stop. Justin Jenifer hasn’t proven to be a guy that can play major minutes yet, so who steps up for Mick Cronin?

Beyond that, there isn’t much I don’t like here. They don’t have the higher-end talent and that caps their ceiling somewhat, but overall this is just a good, tough, veteran basketball team that is going to be a tough out for anyone.


10. USC TROJANS

  • Who’s gone: Charles Buggs
  • Who do they add: Derryck Thornton, Charles O’Bannon, Jordan Usher
  • Projected starting lineup: Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Elijah Stewart, Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu
  • There is a lot of talent on the USC roster for now, especially now that Metu, Stewart and Boatwright are all returning. The Trojans will push Arizona for the Pac-12 title if they decide to defend.
RELATED: Pac 12 Preview | Contender Series: USC

Chimezie Metu (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: There is a ton of talent on this USC roster, so much so that their second five might be able to go .500 in the Pac-12 this season. They’re deep, they’re long, they’re athletic and they’re built precisely the way you would expect an Andy Enfield team to be built. The star is … well, I’m not really sure. It might be Jordan McLaughlin, the senior point guard that is criminally underrated nationally. It might be Chimezie Metu, although he might not actually be USC’s best big man. That title may belong to Bennie Boatwright.

Then there is De’Anthony Melton, a potential NBA Draft pick, and Elijah Stewart, a double-figure scorer that could end up in the league himself, and all of that ignores that there just so happens to be a former five-star point guard that is eligible to play this season in Derryck Thornton.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The biggest issue on the court for USC is going to be on the defensive end of the floor. They have yet to finish in the top 80 in defensive efficiency under Andy Enfield, and I’m not sure that changes this season. But perhaps more concerning is their part in the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Tony Bland, an assistant coach on Enfield’s staff for four years, has been arrested and two unnamed players currently on the roster were linked to payments made by a financial advisor. Keep an eye out there.


11. MIAMI HURRICANES

  • Who’s gone: Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy
  • Who do they add: Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes, Deng Gak, Sam Waardenburg
  • Projected starting lineup: Ja’Quan Newton, Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker, Anthony Lawrence, Dewan Huell
RELATED: ACC Season Preview | Contender Series: Miami

Bruce Brown (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: The guards on this roster are just so talented. Everyone in the ACC should know Ja’Quan Newton by now. He may not end up being an all-american, but he is a very good college player. Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, however, could end up being all-americans as well as lottery picks. Brown is the more intriguing of the two, as we’ve already seen him have success at the college level and we know that he can play on-the-ball and operate in ball-screens. If Miami wins the ACC – which I believe they can do – he’ll play a major role.

Walker is, by some accounts, the best shooting guard in the 2017 recruiting class, a big-time athlete and scorer that ended up picking Miami over programs like Villanova and Arizona. He could end up being a 15-point scorer. Dewan Huell is the name to watch here, as he is a former five-star recruit and the most likely player to take over a starring role in Miami’s front court.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The loss of Davon Reed cannot be understated. He was a 6-foot-6 wing with a 7-foot wingspan that was strong enough to hold his own in the paint, athletic enough to defender guards, shot 40 percent from three and could pop off for 20 points on any given night. He was a floor-spacer, Miami’s best perimeter defender and the player that gave them lineup versatility. He let them play big or small. Can Anthony Lawrence – or anyone? – fill that role?


12. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

  • Who’s gone: Rick Pitino, Brian Bowen, Mangok Mathiang, David Levitch, Tony Hicks, Jaylen Johnson, Donovan Mitchell
  • Who do they add: Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Lance Thomas
  • Projected starting lineup: Quentin Snider, V.J. King, Deng Adel, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud
RELATED: ACC Season Preview | Contender Series: Louisville


WHAT WE LIKE: Rick Pitino was fired. David Padgett is the interim. Brian Bowen will not play for this team.

We’ve known that for more than a month now. So let’s talk about what this group actually has at their disposal, and there are a lot of quality pieces available. Deng Adel, Quentin Snider, V.J. King, Ray Spalding, Malik Williams, Anas Mahmoud. These are all good ACC players, many of then veterans, that fit in well with the way that Louisville teams have played in recent years. On paper, the Cardinals should be near the top of the ACC.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: Well, for starters they have a head coach that has never been a head coach before. So that’s concerning, as is the fact that this is a group that has to be utterly exhausted with playing through scandal at this point in their career. And that’s before we get to the fact that someone is going to have to take a major step forward this season. Louisville needs a star. Will it be Snider? King? Adel? Someone needs to fill that role.


13. WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

  • Who’s gone: Tarik Phillip, Nathan Adrian, Teyvon Myers, Brandon Watkins
  • Who do they add: Derek Culver, Brandon Knapper, D’Angelo Hunter, Teddy Allen, Wesley Harris
  • Projected starting lineup: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, Sagaba Konate
RELATED: Big 12 Preview | Contender SeriesKansas 

Jevon Carter (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: At this point, I’m just going to assume that Bobby Huggins is going to put a good team on the floor regardless of the situation. The names don’t even matter. It’s the system and the coach, and Huggs is going to get the players he needs onto his roster and figure it out from there. That said, Jevon Carter is back for what feels like his 17th season in college hoops and he just may be the best all-around player in the Big 12. Esa Ahmad seems primed for a monster year, but he’ll miss the first half of the season as he tries to get eligible again.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: I’m not convinced that a pressing team has all that high of a ceiling. They rely on forcing opponents to make mistakes, and the one thing that good teams all have in common is that they have good guards and good guards tend to make fewer mistakes than bad guards.


14. NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

  • Who’s gone: Steve Vasturia, VJ Beachem
  • Who do they add: DJ Harvey, Nikola Djogo
  • Projected starting lineup: Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, Bonzie Colson, Martinas Geben
RELATED: ACC Season Preview | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team


WHAT WE LIKE: At this point, I’m fine thinking of Notre Dame as the new Wisconsin. It doesn’t really matter who is on the roster, we can just assume that the two or three years they’ve spent in the Notre Dame program has allowed them to develop enough that they will be able to carry the torch when it is their time. Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson proved as much last season, and now it is time for Temple Gibbs and Rex Pflueger to do the same.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The biggest issue with this team is size up front. There are going to be times where Colson plays the five for the Irish, and he is all of 6-foot-5, although his 7-foot-2 wingspan and lack of a neck mean that he plays much, much bigger than that. But someone is going to have to be able to provide minutes, toughness, fouls and simply just eat some space in the paint for them. Is Martinas Geben ready to be the guy?


15. XAVIER MUSKETEERS

  • Who’s gone: Edmond Sumner, Malcolm Bernard, RaShid Gaston
  • Who do they add: Kerem Kanter, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Elias Harden
  • Projected starting lineup: Quentin Goodin, J.P. Macura, Trevon Bluiett, Kaiser Gates, Sean O’Mara
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

Trevon Bluiett (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: Trevon Bluiett is back! A potential first-team all-american and Jalen Brunson’s biggest contender for Big East Player of the Year honors, Bluiett was the best player in the NCAA tournament for three weeks last season. Hell, if he hadn’t sprained his ankle midway through league play, he might have won the Big East’s top honor last season. There are other pieces on this roster to be excited about – J.P. Macura, Quentin Goodin, Kerem Kanter, Xavier’s freshmen – but if Bluiett had not returned, the narrative about this group would be much different. Right now, they have Final Four upside.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The point guard spot is going to be a concern for this team. Quentin Goodin is coming off of a foot injury and is still learning how to play the position at the college level. He was pretty good in replacing Edmond Sumner last season, but he looked like a freshman that was thrust into the starting lineup unexpectedly midway through the season. Eventually, I do think that he will thrive in that role, but will that happen by league play or by his junior season?


16. SETON HALL PIRATES

  • Who’s gone: Madison Jones
  • Who do they add: Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Jordan Walker
  • Projected starting lineup: Khadeen Carrington, Myles Powell, Desi Rodriguez, Ishmael Sanogo, Angel Delgado
Top Lead GuardsTop Off Guards | Top Wings | Top Big Men

Angel Delgado (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: I love the combination of youth and experience on this roster. The core of this team is a group of four seniors that have been building to this for three years. Angel Delgado is so much better than people realize – as in first-team all-american good – while Khadeen Carrington is a potential first-team all-Big East player. Desi Rodriguez can be inconsistent, but when he’s on he’s as dangerous as anyone in the league. That trio with high-level role players like Ishmael Sanogo, Myles Cale and Myles Powell makes for a really dangerous basketball team.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I am somewhat concerned about Khadeen Carrington’s transition to the point guard spot. He’s spent his college career as a guy that is going to attack and try to score, and now he is being asked to change his mindset to be a facilitator, to be the guy that sets the rest of this team up. That’s not easy to do. Carrington is talented, but being a point guard is a mindset as much as it is a skill. His adjustment will be critical to whether or not the Pirates will actually push Villanova in the Big East race.


17. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

  • Who’s gone: Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt
  • Who do they add: Jaleek Felton, Cameron Johnson, Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman, Andrew Platek, Garrison Brooks
  • Projected starting lineup: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, Garrison Brooks
RELATED: ACC Season Preview | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team


WHAT WE LIKE: The Tar Heels are coming off of back-to-back national title game appearances, but they lose three key seniors from that team as well as Justin Jackson and Tony Bradley. Berry will be a National Player of the Year contender when he gets healthy, and I could make the argument that the experience the rest of this roster gets while he’s out with a broken hand will make UNC better in the long run. Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods will be an interesting battle for playing time.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: This front line is not going to look like the front line of a typical North Carolina team. The best, most experienced player on the front line is Luke Maye, who had a couple of explosive performances last season but who is nothing like a typical, bully-on-the-block big that we’re used to seeing from Roy Williams.

As much as any coach in the country, Williams wants to play with two big men. Will he actually be able to do that this year? His front line consists of Maye and a handful of freshmen that aren’t exactly one-and-done candidates. That said, Cam Johnson and Theo Pinson are, in theory, good forwards for a small-ball lineup. Can this old dog learn a new trick?


18. UCLA BRUINS

  • Who’s gone: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton
  • Who do they add: Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, Chris Smith
  • Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Aaron Holiday, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Thomas Welsh
RELATED: Pac 12 Preview 


WHAT WE LIKE: Even after losing Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, the Bruins have a loaded back court, one as talented as any out west. Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes are the prized freshman in that group – and deservedly so, they’re both quite talented – but the star of this show appears to be Aaron Holiday. The sixth-man last season, Holiday is a talented playmaker and the kind of defender that UCLA desperately needs more of. He has a chance to be an all-american this season.

That’s not it, either. Thomas Welsh is a veteran presence up front. Cody Riley and Chris Smith are both four-star recruits that should have an impact immediately, and Prince Ali is a former five-star prospect that is now healthy. There is no talent deficit in Westwood. That said …

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: … the issue that Steve Alford has had since he arrived at UCLA has been on the defensive side of the ball, and I’m not convinced those issues are going to be solved this season. It really is that simply. If UCLA guards, they have a chance to be really, really good.


19. TEXAS A&M AGGIES

  • Who’s gone: J.C. Hampton, Javario Miller
  • Who do they add: Duane Wilson, J.J. Caldwell, Jay Jay Chandler, T.J. Starks
  • Projected starting lineup: Duane Wilson, Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg, Robert Williams, Tyler Davis
RELATED: Robert Williams on his decision to return to school

Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: This Texas A&M front line is so much better than you probably realize. It starts with Robert Williams, who would have been a top ten pick in the 2017 NBA Draft had he wanted to be a one-and-done player. Williams may not actually be the best player on that Aggie front line, either, as the newly-slimmed down Tyler Davis might be the strongest player in college basketball. Throw in Tony Trocha-Morelos and D.J. Hogg as floor-spacers, and suddenly you have a group that an compete with anyone.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: I’m still not convinced that Billy Kennedy has found an answer at the point guard spot. He currently has two on his roster – freshman Jay Jay Chandler and redshirt freshman J.J. Caldwell – and neither of them started when the Aggies played Texas in an exhibition; Duane Wilson, a graduate transfer from Marquette, did. As good as that front line is, how much of an impact will they have if there aren’t any guards on the floor that can get them the ball?


20. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

  • Who’s gone: Akeem Springs
  • Who do they add: Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris, Davonte Fitzgerald
  • Projected starting lineup: Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch
MOREBig Ten Preview | Contender Series: Minnesota

Amir Coffey (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: Minnesota was the most surprising team in college basketball last season, as Richard Pitino went from the hottest hot seat to putting together a team that earn a No. 5 seed. This group is built around terrific guard play, specifically Nate Mason, a tough and talented lead guard that has been perennially underrated nationally. Dupree McBrayer is more than capable, and Reggie Lynch is one of the nation’s premier rim protectors, but the guy to watch here is Amir Coffey. He’s that versatile, do-it-all big wing that is en vogue in basketball right now. He’s a potential first round pick if he can boost that three-point percentage.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: How is Minnesota going to handle being the hunted this year? It’s one thing to put together a tournament season that no one expected. It’s an entirely different story to do so when everyone in the conference knows that you’re a top three team and a major résumé-boosting win.


21. NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Sanjay Lumpkin, Nathan Taphorn
  • Who do they add: Anthony Gaines, Aaron Falzon, Rapolas Ivanauskas
  • Projected starting lineup: Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, Aaron Falzon, Dererk Pardon
MOREBig Ten Preview

Bryant McIntosh (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: The Wildcats, a year removed from their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, bring back essentially everyone from last season. Bryant McIntosh will contend for Big Ten Player of the Year, while the pairing of Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law alongside him is an underrated perimeter. On paper, the Wildcats look like Michigan State’s biggest threat in the Big Ten.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: I’m not completely sold on Northwestern’s front line. Dererk Pardon is good at what he does – getting some boards, blocking some shots, finishing around the rim – but beyond that, there isn’t all that much to discuss. The key may end up being the health of Aaron Falzon, who started 32 games as a freshman and who can space the floor with his shooting, but replacing Sanjay Lumpkin will not be that easy.


22. SAINT MARY’S GAELS

  • Who’s gone: Joe Rahon, Dane Pineau
  • Who do they add: Kristers Zoriks, Malik Fitts, Cullen Neal
  • Projected starting lineup: Cullen Neal, Emmett Naar, Calvin Hermanson, Evan Fitzner, Jock Landale
RELATED: WCC Preview

Jock Landale (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: The Gaels are just so efficient on the offensive end of the floor. They’ve had a top 20 offensive with a top three effective field goal percentage in each of the last two years, years in which this core has been together. They have shooters everywhere on the floor, one of the best big men in the country in Jock Landale and a point guard – and coach – who make ball-screens look simple. They should be the best team in the WCC this season.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: There is a lack of athleticism on the roster, which is part of the reason they have been up-and-down on the defensive end of the floor. There is also something of a concern with the addition of Cullen Neal, who has a reputation for being something of a gunner. But that concerns me less than this: I need to see this Saint Mary’s group prove it before I buy into them as something more than a first weekend tournament team.


23. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

  • Who’s gone: Nick King, Jimmie Taylor, Shannon Hale, Corban Collins
  • Who do they add: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Daniel Giddens
  • Projected starting lineup: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key, Daniel Giddens
Making A Five-Star: How Collin Sexton went from unheralded to unstoppable

Collin Sexton (David Banks/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: Alabama was the No. 10 defense in all of college basketball last season, according to KenPom, and they not only return the majority of that team, but they add Collin Sexton, who is the best scorer in the freshman class. Sexton isn’t the only newcomer, either, as Avery Johnson brought in a loaded crop of newbies. John Petty should contribute major minutes, as should Ohio State transfer Daniel Giddens, but it’s also worth noting that Braxton Key returned for his sophomore season.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: There are a lot of way that I can see this Alabama season going off the rails, and they all seem to involve Collin Sexton. He is a terrific scorer, but what if he doesn’t perform on the defensive end of the floor the way that Alabama did last year? What if, as Alabama’s point guard, he becomes just a little bit too shot happy? And what happens if a shot-happy Sexton doesn’t get the calls that he got at the high school level?

Perhaps the biggest question mark is in regards to his eligibility. A man that appears to be Sexton’s father attended a dinner with a financial advisor and a member of the Alabama staff, who was paid $10,000 to set the meeting and has since been fired.


24. GONZAGA BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, Zach Collins
  • Who do they add: Jacob Larsen, Zach Norvell, Corey Kispert, Jesse Wade
  • Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams III, Killian Tillie
RELATED: WCC Preview

Johnathan Williams (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: There is actually a fair amount of talent on this Gonzaga roster. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Johnathan Williams III are all veteran that have played, and won, a lot of games. Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura are young bigs with NBA upside. Zach Norvell, Jesse Wade and Corey Kispert look like they’re the core for Gonzaga’s next generation.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The problem is that we don’t really know if any of these guys are up for the roles they’re going to be asked to play. Melson has never been the starting two-guard. Perkins has been a starting point guard before, but he’s never been the guy. Williams has, but that was on a bad Missouri team. Tillie and Hachimura are prospects more than products and the three freshmen are, well, freshmen.

The future is bright for Gonzaga. There’s a lot of unknown in the present.


25. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

  • Who’s gone: Caleb Swanigan, Basil Smotherman, Spike Albrecht
  • Who do they add: Nojel Eastern, Sasha Stefanovic, Aaron Wheeler, Matt Haarms
  • Projected starting lineup: P.J. Thompson, Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathis, Vince Edwards, Isaac Hass
Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview

Carsen Edwards ( Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

WHAT WE LIKE: Losing Caleb Swanigan would be a major blow for anyone, but the reigning Big Ten regular season champs should have enough left over to weather the storm. It starts with Vince Edwards, who was everything we wanted O.G. Anunoby to be last season. He’s an underrated talent that provides valuable lineup versatility.

Isaac Hass will hopefully be capable of playing more minutes this season, but the guy to be excited about is Carsen Edwards. He was a double-figure scorer as a freshman and played well for Team USA in the U-19 World Cup as well as for Purdue in the World University Games.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The depth up front is going to be a real issue for Purdue, as the only bigs on the roster are a pair of slow-footed 7-foot-2 players and a redshirt junior that has played in all of 18 games in his career. But what you may not have realized about this group is that they were far less reliant on post play than you may realize last year. They were seventh nationally in three-point percentage and second in assist rate. Some of that was because defenses had to swarm Swanigan, but this wasn’t just a one-man show.

No. 4 Duke: Loaded with talent once again, can the Blue Devils avoid another disappointing season?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 4 Duke.


Duke, once again, is going to enter a college basketball season with the best recruiting class in the sport.

The difference this year is that not only will the Blue Devils bring in the best crop of freshmen, they bring in the best freshmen — four of the top 15 prospects in 247 Sports’ composite rankings will suit up for Coach K this season, including three of the top five and the No. 1 and 2 players in the nation. There are some outlets that rank R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish as the three best recruits in the class, and there’s a chance that those three could end up being the top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Let’s ignore the how for now.

(The FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball has told us that everyone breaks NCAA rules, but the best players in the country turn down hundreds of thousands of dollars and jobs for family members of the prestige of spending nine months on Duke’s campus?)

The issue here has been the product on the court.

Duke has been a disappointment relative to expectation more or less every year since Coach K made the decision to go all-in on one-and-done prospects. The obvious exception was in 2015, when the Blue Devils figured out how to defend in late February and wound up winning the national title. The same happened last season, but Duke was bounced in the Elite 8 when a Grayson Allen floater spent six seconds on the rim before falling off.

It hasn’t been a total disaster, but it is clear that Duke is nowhere near as consistently dominant now as they have been in the past. The Blue Devils haven’t won an ACC regular season title since 2010. They’ve won just one ACC tournament title since 2011. They’ve reached the second weekend of the tournament just three times in the last eight years.

The biggest issue has been on the defensive end of the floor. It got to the point last season where Duke had no choice but to play zone full-time.

I don’t think that will be the issue this year. Duke, on paper, looks like a team that should be able to guard.

But this team still has some warts that Coach K is going to have to work out.

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

MOREMid-Major Power Rankings The Hot Seat | Perry Ellis All-Stars

DUKE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

The amount of talent on this roster makes it nearly impossible for the Blue Devils to fail.

Let’s start with R.J. Barrett. The 6-foot-7 point forward is the overwhelming favorite at this point in the calendar to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and rightfully so. He needs to continue to develop his jumpshot, but he has everything that you’re looking for in an NBA player in the modern NBA. He’s athletic, he’s big enough to be defensively versatile, he’s skilled enough to operate in ball-screens, he can get a bucket, he has impressive court-vision. As far as I’m concerned, all you need to know about Barrett is that, as a 17-year old, he put up 38 points, 13 boards and six assists for Canada in an upset of the United States — who were coached by John Calipari — en route to a gold medal in the U19 World Cup.

I don’t think Barrett is quite as good of a prospect as some of the elite prospects in past seasons, but I do think that it is clear he is the best player in this class.

R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

I said ‘player’ and not ‘prospect’ because there are some people that believe Reddish, and not Barrett, actually has a higher ceiling. At 6-foot-8, Reddish is more of a scorer at this point in his development, although he has played as a ball-handler at the high school and AAU level. He’s probably the best shooter out of Duke’s freshmen as well, and has the tools to be a really good defender.

I haven’t even gotten to Zion Williamson yet. The most famous player in college basketball in years, Williamson became a social media sensation thanks to his otherworldly athleticism. He is 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, yet he dunks from the free throw line like a normal human being claps backboard on a layup and he set Duke’s school record for vertical leap. He’s quick, he’s fast, he has impressive footwork and he’s skilled enough — he’ll be the most dangerous grab-and-go big in the history of college basketball — to be able to handle the ball. He’s even a better shooter and a (much) better passer than he gets credit for.

Throw in Tre Jones, the younger brother of Tyus and the first true point guard Duke has had since the elder Jones finished cutting down the net in Indianapolis in 2015, and we don’t need to discuss anyone else on the roster to justify ranking the Blue Devils in the top five.

RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games

BUT DUKE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

While I love all of the pieces in this freshmen class in a vacuum, I think there is reason to be concerned about how they all fit together.

Duke is going to try and play small this season. That’s not exactly breaking news here. Not only has Duke done this time and again in the past — Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum all played the for four the Blue Devils — but this group has three guys that can fill that role. In fact, this roster is the best-suited to playing that style. The ideal roster build for any team in this era of pace and space is having a point guard, a mobile five-man and three wings that can defend more than one position. That’s precisely what we see here.

It gets even more interesting when we start to think about the possibility of Zion Williamson playing the five a la Draymond Green.

The issue is the ability for the players on Duke to impact a game when they don’t have the ball in their hands.

What makes Golden State special in the NBA and what made Villanova so damn good in the college ranks last season is the same thing: The ability to shoot at every spot on the floor. Jalen Brunson was able to post-up and operate in ball-screens and beat a man one-on-one, but he was also a lethal catch-and-shoot guy. The same can be said for all of his teammates that played meaningful minutes, including center Omari Spellman, who scored 17 points and made four threes for the Atlanta Hawks this weekend.

Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

The same thing is true with Golden State. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are the glue-guys on that team, but both of them cannot be left open from the three-point line. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are two of the best isolation players in the NBA, but if you leave them open you will pay. Klay Thompson is one of the best three-point shooters in the history of the game.

Duke?

They have four freshmen that are all super-talented but that need to ball in their hands to be effective. Neither Zion nor Barrett are good enough from beyond the arc to force a defender to close out long on them. Reddish can make threes, but he’s known more as a scorer than a shooter at this point in his development than anything else. Jones is fine, but he’s more of a driver and playmaker than he is a shooter.

Without guys to space the floor, without someone willing to accept a role, running offense that doesn’t devolve into players going one-on-one into a crowded lane is difficult.

THE X-FACTOR

For me, the key here is going to be Reddish.

He has something of a reputation from the high school and AAU ranks as a talented kid that played on teams that lost far more games than they should have lost. He’s also going to be the guy that will likely end up having to make the most sacrifices for the good of the team.

Think about it like this: Jones is going to be the natural point guard on this team, and Barrett is going to be the guy that handles secondary ball-handling duties. Zion will be a grab-and-go threat and could lead the country in fast break buckets. In the halfcourt, his role will be pretty clearly defined — he’s going to be the guy attacking the glass and the player that gets isolated against slower and/or smaller defenders.

Reddish is the odd man out.

For a player that has spent his entire life as a lead guard, how will he take to being asked to play on a wing as something of a 3-and-D specialist?

2018-19 OUTLOOK

Duke’s outlook this season is no different than their outlook for the past four or five years.

They have as much raw talent as anyone in the sport of college basketball. They will enter the season as a consensus top four team that some folks are going to rank No. 1 overall. They are going to be the odds-on favorite to win the ACC regular season title, a favorite to get to the Final Four and one of the few true national title contenders in college basketball.

And there enough question marks about the talent, the youth, how the pieces fit and whether or not the pieces truly fit and how well Coach K is going to handle dealing with this much roster turnover to keep us from going all in on the Blue Devils.

Anything short of the Final Four will be yet another disappointment from this group.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 5 Villanova
No. 6 Nevada
No. 7 Tennessee
No. 8 Virginia
No. 9 North Carolina
No. 10 Auburn
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Purdue’s Edwards headlines preseason AP All-America team

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Carsen Edwards went through the NBA draft combine and multiple workouts before deciding to return for his junior season at Purdue.

The Boilermakers are sure happy he did after losing four seniors and most of their scoring.

The prolific guard was the leading vote getter in The Associated Press preseason men’s All-America team released on Tuesday, appearing on 63 of 65 ballots from a national media panel. Edwards was joined by North Carolina forward Luke Maye, Duke freshman R.J. Barrett, Kansas big man Dedric Lawson, Nevada’s Caleb Martin and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ.

The 6-foot-1 Edwards was a third-team All-American last season after averaging 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He’s expected to play a bigger role as the leader and go-to player on a young team.

RELATED: Here are the NBC Sports All-American team

Edwards is Purdue’s first preseason AP All-American since JaJuan Johnson in 2010-11.

“He’s a very dynamic player. He’s unique from a physical standpoint,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “He’s kind of got the body and the explosiveness like a Saquon Barkley. He plays through his offense. I think for guys like that, as you get older, you get more experience, more responsibility, but you don’t change who you are.”

Like Edwards, Maye was a third-team All-American who entered his name into the draft before withdrawing. Last season, the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 43 percent from 3-point range.

Maye hit the shot that beat Kentucky to send the Tar Heels to the Final Four as a sophomore during their 2017 title run.

“I don’t know how much more we can ask of him,” North Carolina teammate Kenny Williams said. “I mean, 17 and 10, that’s hard to do, especially in the ACC.”

Barrett arrived at Duke as the marquee player in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s latest stellar recruiting class. An athletic 6-7 forward from Canada, he was widely regarded as the top recruit in the 2018 class and has been projected as the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA draft.

“Besides his ability, he has a passion to compete,” Krzyzewski said. “This young man has it. I love him and I’m glad I’m going to have the opportunity to spend some time with him.”

Lawson averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in two seasons at Memphis before opting to transfer to Kansas. The 6-8 swingman is expected to have a huge impact on the Jayhawks after sitting out last season, both in leadership and multiple roles on the floor.

“He needs to be able to play everywhere for us,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “There’s times where he can be our best point guard. I think there are times he could be our best low-post scorer, so we’ve got to move him around and come up with some creative ways to do that.”

Martin and Happ are the first players to tie for the fifth spot on the AP All-America team since 2012-13.

Martin became Nevada’s first preseason All-American after testing the NBA draft waters with his twin brother, Cody, during the offseason. The 6-7 senior averaged 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists while leading the Wolf Pack to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Nevada has its highest preseason ranking in program history at No. 7 entering this season.

Happ was another player who withdrew from the NBA draft after going through the evaluation process. The 6-10 senior averaged 17.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 52.8 percent.

___

The Associated Press 2018-19 preseason All-America team, with school, height, year and votes from a 65-member national media panel (key 2017-18 statistics in parentheses):

Carsen Edwards, Purdue, 6-1, 200, sophomore, 63 votes (18.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 40.6 3pt fg pct, 1.1 steals)

Luke Maye, North Carolina, 6-8, 240, senior, 52 (16.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.4 apg, 43.1 3pt fg pct, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks)

R.J. Barrett, Duke, 6-7, 202, freshman, 50 (high school: 28.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.5 apg)

Dedric Lawson, Kansas, 6-9, 235, junior, 30 (Memphis 2016-17: 19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.1 blocks, 1.3 steals)

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, 6-10, 237, senior, 23 (17.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 52.8 fg pct, 1.5 steals)

Caleb Martin, Nevada, 6-7, 205, senior, 23 (18.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 40.3 3pt fg pct, 1.3 steals)

Other receiving votes: Grant Williams, Tennessee, 18; Tyus Battle, Syracuse, 11; Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga, 10; Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s, 10; Kyle Guy, Virginia, 8; Mike Daum, South Dakota State, 6; Markus Howard, Marquette, 5; Reid Travis, Kentucky, 5; Zion Williamson, Duke, 3; Tremont Waters, LSU, 2; Cassius Winston, Michigan State, 2; Sagaba Konate, West Virginia, 1; Romeo Langford, Indiana, 1; Eric Paschall, Villanova, 1; Jontay Porter, Missouri, 1.

College Basketball’s X-Factors: 12 storylines that will determine the national title

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The college basketball season will finally be here in two weeks, meaning that the time for previewing the year is just about over. 

But we’re not there yet.

So before things officially kick off, let’s take a closer look at the 12 things will could end up deciding how the season plays out.

League titles.

Final Four trips.

Even the national title.

You can call them story lines, you can call them positional battles, you can call them whatever you like.

Here are the x-factors to monitor as we enter the 2018-19 college basketball season. 



ARE WE READY TO TRUST JOSH PERKINS?

I love everything about Gonzaga’s frontcourt.

I’m all-in on the Rui Hachimura bandwagon. I think it’s only a matter of time before he is a college basketball star, and he already is the biggest name in basketball in his native Japan. Killian Tillie proved his merit during the WCC tournament last March, and Brandon Clarke is the guy that no one is talking about enough. Those three together are as good as any frontcourt trio in college hoops this season.

I also have little doubt that Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert will take a step forward this season. Norvell is one of the most dangerous shooters in the sport, while Kispert is a former four-star recruit that is going to see a bump in minutes this season. Throw in Geno Crandall’s arrival from North Dakota, and there should be an issue with scoring on the perimeter.

The question mark, for me, is Perkins.

In a vacuum, he’s fine. He’ll lead Gonzaga to a WCC title. They’ll end up as a high seed in the NCAA tournament. They’ll win 25 or 30 games. But at this point, is that enough for the Zags? They’ve been to a national title game. They’ve been a No. 1 seed. Anything short of a Final Four this year will probably be looked at as a disappointment, and to get to a Final Four, Gonzaga is going to have to beat the best teams in the country.

And my issue is whether or not Perkins, who averaged 12.3 points and 5.1 assists as a redshirt junior, can be as effective as he needs to be against the best teams in the country. Can he create against the best point guards in the sport? Is he improved as a decision-maker? Is he the leader on the floor that, say, Nigel Williams-Goss was?

If he is, then the Zags are a good bet to get back to the national title game.

Coby White (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

IS COBY WHITE THE POINT GUARD THAT NORTH CAROLINA NEEDS?

The thing that we always talk about with North Carolina is that Roy Williams is one of the few coaches in the country that would still prefer to play with two physically-imposing big men at the same time. His coaching philosophy centers around dominating the glass — the more rebounds he gets, the more shots his team takes and the fewer shots his opponents take.

This year’s North Carolina team will look nothing like that. They are going full small-ball, with a lineup that could feature Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Luke Maye as their starting frontcourt. That is already going to place a priority on being more efficient offensively, and that’s before we consider the fact that UNC lost the guy that was their point guard by title — Joel Berry II — and the guy that was actually their point guard — Theo Pinson.

This is a concern for two reasons:

  1. Roy Williams’ best teams have always had an elite point guard. Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall, Marcus Paige and Berry.
  2. UNC’s point guard this season will likely be Coby White, a low-end five-star prospect that is known as one of the best scorers in the class.

There is going to be a lot of responsibility put onto his plate this season. Can he handle what is going to be asked of him?

Gonzaga and North Carolina aren’t the only schools with point guard concerns:

  • KANSAS: The Jayhawks may have the most interesting point guard battle this season. Charlie Moore is the redshirt freshman that transferred in from Cal and spent last season learning the system and Bill Self’s offense. Devon Dotson, a top 20 recruit, is the best pure point guard on the roster, but he’s also a freshman. So is Quentin Grimes, a combo-guard that might end up being a top ten pick. I’m sure someone from that group is going to turn out to be really good for the Jayhawks, I’m just not quite sure who it is going to be or how long it is going to take for that position to get settled.
  • FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles saw their starting point guard transfer out of the program this offseason, meaning that the preseason top 15 team is going to have two guys battling it out for the job: Junior Trent Forrest, who is more of a combo than a pure point guard, and David Nichols, a grad transfer that spent the last three seasons at Albany.
  • UCLA: With Aaron Holiday off to the NBA, Jaylen Hands looks like he is going to be taking over the point guard duties. As a former five-star prospect, Hands is, on paper, someone that should thrive in this role. But there are plenty of red flags. He’s not a good defender, he can be selfish at times and there are real concerns about whether or not he’s a point guard or a scorer that likes to dribble the ball up the floor. Combine that with Tyger Campbell, a steadying presence on the ball, tearing his ACL, and Steve Alford is going to have is work cut out for him.
Tyler Herro; Chet White/UK Athletics

WHO IS KENTUCKY’S GO-TO GUY?

The biggest concern I have with this Kentucky team isn’t really a concern, it’s more of a question: Do they actually have a star?

We know that they have enough good basketball players to absolutely steam-roll some pretty good competition during their trip to the Bahamas, and anyone with the ability to google “college basketball recruiting rankings” will know that the talent on this team isn’t lacking. There are multiple NBA players on this team, and they go two-deep at just about every position on the floor.

I wonder about how their rotation is going to pan out, but I’m not really all that concerned about it. John Calipari has proven over and over again that he is as good as anyone in college basketball at getting his guys to buy into playing the role he needs them to play. I also wonder about whether or not Kentucky will actually be able to find a lineup that can be elite offensively and defensively — they need shooting on the floor, but their best defenders can’t shoot and their best shooters can’t defend — but Cal has enough pieces that he should be able to mix-and-match based on opponent and matchup.

Those aren’t red flags as much as they are a natural progression for a team.

The red flag for me is that I’m not sure there is a go-to guy on this roster. Who is getting the rock at the end of a clock? Who is Cal calling plays for in crunch time? I’m not sure it’s Reid Travis; he can be double-teamed too easily on a team that doesn’t have great shooting. I don’t know if P.J. Washington or Quade Green is ready to handle that load. Kentucky’s freshmen point guards are both talented and will play in the NBA, but neither, at this point, is necessarily known for what they can do with the ball in their hands. The same can be said about Keldon Johnson.

Frankly, Tyler Herro is the guy that would make the most sense. He led the team is scoring in the four games in the Bahamas and he thrives running off screens the same way that Jamal Murray and Malik Monk did before him, but he also might be the fifth-best perimeter player Kentucky has.

There are going to be some big games that are decided by whether or not Kentucky can score on critical possessions, and finding a guy Cal can trust will be so important.

Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

CAN DUKE SHOOT WELL ENOUGH TO GO FULL SMALL-BALL?

Duke is going to spend this season trying to run out their version of the death lineup.

Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are all going to start. I’d assume one of Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden will join them, and I fully expect those four to spend a lot of time on the floor together with Alex O’Connell, which would be a thrilling way to get Zion some minutes at the five.

That would look an awful lot like the lineup Golden State has made so popular, the one with Draymond Green at the five.

But what makes that Warriors five — what made last year’s Villanova starting five — so dangerous was that everyone on the floor was a good-to-great three-point shooter. No one could be left open lest you want to give a 40+ percent three-point shooter an open, rhythm jumper.

This Duke team, as talented as they are, just does not have the guys that can shoot it like that. In fact, each of the four freshmen on this team are at their best when they have the ball in their hands; it’s a roster that, in a way, is made up of a point guard, two point forwards and Zion, who has made a name for himself by being a grab-and-go big. Individually, I love the pieces on this roster, but I do have questions about how well this roster actually fits together.

IS ‘THE VILLANOVA WAY’ STRONG ENOUGH TO OVERCOME THE LOSS OF FOUR NBA PLAYERS?

Villanova had four players get picked in the top 33 picks of the 2018 NBA Draft. That is an unbelievable amount of talent for ay program to try and replace, particularly one like the Wildcats, which isn’t exactly known for churning out one-and-done five-star talent on an annual basis.

What Villanova is known for is their ability to develop players and ensure that their ‘next-man-up’ is always ready for the role he is going to be asked to play.

Well, they are going to have a team full of guys being asked to do just that. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth should be up for the challenge. They are both redshirt seniors that have been with this program through two national title runs. They’ll be fine. It’s the sophomore class — Collin Gillispie, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree — and the incoming freshmen — specifically Cole Swider and Jahvon Quinerly — that are going to be rushed along.

If Jay Wright can fast-track them to being able to handle a major role right away, the Wildcats should once again be a national title favorite come March.

Kyle Guy (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

HOW DOES VIRGINIA HANDLE WHAT MAY BE THE WORST LOSS IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY?

This one is really, really simple: Virginia entered the 2017-18 season as a team with a reputation for choking in March.

Fair or not, the truth is that Virginia had been a No. 1 seed twice and a No. 2 seed once in the four years before the start of last season, and those tournament trips resulted in a loss in the Sweet 16, a loss in the second round and, in 2015-16, a loss in the Elite 8 where the Wahoos blew a 15-point lead in the final ten minutes to No. 10-seed Syracuse.

That’s the kind of thing that can get in the head of a player, and I don’t think I’m being presumptive when I say that it probably played a role in Virginia suffering what might be the most embarrassing loss in the history of college basketball. UVA not only became the first No. 1-seed to ever lose to a No. 16-seed, they were run out of the gym, losing 74-54.

There are myriad Hall of Fame coaches that could never win the big one until they won the big one — Jim Calhoun, Bill Self, Lute Olson, even Jay Wright was thought to be a choke artist before winning two out of three NCAA tournaments — but they never had to deal with the weight of trying to get their team to forget something that history will never, ever forget.

IS BOL BOL AWESOME? OR IS HE OVERRATED?

This will be the question that determines who wins the Pac-12 this season. Bol Bol is unique. He is a 7-foot-3 center that can be as dominant of a shot-blocker as his father, Manute, was. He also shot 46 percent from three on more than four attempts per game on the EYBL circuit in 2017.

The issue with Bol Bol is that his motor runs far too hot and cold. When he wants to be, he is absolutely dominant in the paint, something of a forcefield around the rim. But he has yet to prove that he wants to be great every time he steps on the floor.

Then there is the Kenny Wooten factor. A few years back, Chris Boucher became something of a sensation for the Ducks, as he was a shot-blocking, three-point shooting center. But as it turns out, Oregon was actually a better basketball team when Jordan Bell took over at center full-time, as evidenced by their run to the Final Four in 2017 after Boucher tore his ACL.

Wooten, like Bell, is active and switchable at the five. Bol Bol is not. Will this saga play out like that one?

Bruce Pearl (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

DOES AUBURN’S TEAM-BUILDING GET BROKEN DOWN BY THE RETURN OF AUSTIN WILEY AND DANJEL PURIFOY?

Auburn is coming off of a season where they won a share of the SEC regular season title despite losing two starters and an assistant coach prior to the first game as fallout from the FBI’s investigation.

That surprise run to a league title happened because everything that Auburn did worked in concert. They were able to play small and play fast, they had guys that bought into the system and the style of play, Bruce Pearl was able to get his kids playing with a chip the size of Alabama on their shoulder.

This year, the Tigers will be getting back Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, the two players that were suspended for last season, and it’s worth questioning whether their addition is going to help or hurt matters. Will team chemistry still be there? Can Wiley — a lumbering, 6-foot-11 center — play at the pace Auburn wants to play at? Can Purifoy accept where he fits into the team’s rotation?

The collective was better than the sum of the parts for Auburn last season, and that’s a delicate balance to maintain.

IS THIS THE YEAR MICHIGAN STATE’S JUNIORS BECOME STARS?

Michigan State enters this season as the No. 10 team in the preseason AP Poll.

If they are going to live up to that hype, they are going to need their trio of juniors — Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford — to live up to the hype they had entering their freshmen year.

Winston should be ready. He was already one of the best point guards in the country last season, a slick passer and uber-efficient playmaker that shoots the cover off the ball. Ward and Langford, however, are bigger question marks. Ward has yet to find a way to stay on the floor for extended minutes while playing for Izzo, while Langford has turned into something of a mid-range jump-shooter, which is the antithesis of efficiency.

CAN MICHIGAN OR SYRACUSE SCORE?

Again, this one is really simple.

Syracuse returns everyone from a team that reached the Sweet 16 and finished as the nation’s fifth-best defensive team, according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. They also finished 135th in adjusted offensive efficiency. That’s not good.

Michigan reached the national title game last season as a top three defense nationally, but they struggled to score for long stretches last season and lost their top three offensive weapons — Mo Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson.

Both teams will enter the season in the top 25, but they may not stay there for long if they can’t figure out a way to score.

CAN PURDUE SCORE IF CARSEN EDWARDS ISN’T THE ONE SHOOTING?

Purdue lost four starters off of last year’s team, and while they return Carsen Edwards — a preseason all-american that might just end up leading the nation in scoring — that’s really the only guy they bring back that is a proven threat to score.

Ryan Cline, Nojel Eastern, Matt Haarms. Will any of these guys be able to take some of the weight off of Edwards’ shoulders?

CAN WEST VIRGINIA BE PRESS VIRGINIA WITHOUT JEVON CARTER AND DAXTER MILES?

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Press Virginia became a thing when Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles were freshmen, or that Bob Huggins was able to have success with it over the course of the last four years with those two playing heavy backcourt minutes.

They were perfectly designed to play basketball that way.

So what happens to West Virginia and this style when they are gone? Can Beetle Bolden and Brandon Knapper continue to apply pressure the way that their backcourt predecessors did?

N.C State guard Braxton Beverly out with broken hand

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Kevin Keatts has some decisions to make this season at point guard with a bevy of attractive options with Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Missouri transfer Blake Harris all after minutes this season for N.C. State.

One of those options, though, just got taken off the table for the immediate future.

Beverly, who started 26 games and was second on the Wolfpack in 3s last year, broke a bone in his left hand, the school announced Monday. The sophomore will undergo surgery Tuesday and will be out indefinitely.

The 6-foot guard from Hazard, Ky. averaged 32.4 minutes per game last season, putting up 9.5 points and 3.9 assists against just 1.2 turnovers. He shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range.

The Wolfpack will now lean on Johnson and Harris. Johnson averaged 8.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Harris is a former four-star recruit who left Missouri midway through last year, but received a waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility.

N.C. State, which made the tournament last season in Keatts’ first year in Raleigh, opens the season Nov. 6 against Mount St. Mary’s

 

Jury deliberates fate of 3 men in college basketball scandal

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NEW YORK (AP) — A jury quietly deliberated for five hours Monday on its first day considering the merits of claims by the government that three men conspired to cheat major college basketball programs by paying young athletes to sign with schools sponsored by Adidas.

Attorneys for the defendants contend their clients broke NCAA rules but no laws.

Deliberations began midday Monday after U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan instructed the jury. Five hours later, jurors went home without sending any notes. They resume work Tuesday morning.

Federal prosecutors have portrayed universities with some of the nation’s best college basketball programs as victims of a group of individuals who arranged to pay the families of top recruits tens of thousands of dollars so young athletes would go to Adidas-sponsored schools.

Prosecutors say the men tricked the schools into giving scholarships to players who should have been ineligible.

The defendants are Adidas sports marketing manager James “Jim” Gatto, aspiring sports agent Christopher Dawkins and Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant.

Their attorneys told jurors over several weeks the government was overreaching when it brought the case against the three men and several others who are awaiting trial, including four former assistant coaches.

They say their clients were trying to help the schools build championship-caliber teams by steering the nation’s best high school athletes their way.

The lawyers argued that financially aiding struggling families of the athletes along the way was part of a process that involved big-brand shoe makers supporting the schools they sponsored in any way they could.

The scandal led to the firing of Coach Rick Pitino at Louisville and attracted scrutiny to other major college basketball programs. Pitino was not charged.