College Basketball Top 25: The pressing question for every team in our preseason rankings

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
1 Comment

As we get ready for the Fourth of July holiday, we at College Basketball Talk will be rolling through the pressing questions for every team in the top 25.

Today, we take a look at the teams ranked 11-25. 

On Tuesday, we will dive into the top ten teams in the country. 

What is the question that we will need answered for the best teams in college basketball next season?

(Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)

11. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

  • DO THE HOKIES HAVE THE HORSES TO CRACK THE TOP OF THE ACC?

The very top of the ACC is riddled with the usual suspects. Duke looks to be the favorite, North Carolina should be excellent once again and Virginia is going to be Virginia regardless of how many times they lose to a No. 16 seed. The Hokies, on paper, look like a team good enough to make a run at the top three. They bring back seven of their top eight players, including a potential star in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, but simply returning everyone from a team that was a No. 9 seed doesn’t necessarily mean Tech will go from being a tournament team to a challenger for a top three seed.

12. AUBURN TIGERS

  • HOW DOES AUBURN RESPOND TO THEIR ROSTER TURNOVER?

Last season, Auburn’s surprising level of success — a share of the SEC regular season title — was in large part due to the collective: Everyone bought in, everyone played their role and thrived in it. How will that dynamic work with Mustapha Heron, who led the team in scoring last season, being replaced by Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley? Not only are there concerns about how well those two will fit into the team dynamic, they don’t exactly fit all that well in the uptempo style that Bruce Pearl introduced last season.

13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

  • WILL SPARTY’S JUNIORS BECOME STARS?

The biggest issue that Michigan State had last season was that the way their roster was constructed didn’t make it conducive to playing their best players in an ideal position. Tom Izzo had a half-dozen big men on his roster and questionable backcourt talent, which forced Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson to play at the 3 and the 4 instead of their ideal 4 and 5. That’s why a team as talented as Michigan State underachieved so much. It wasn’t a lack of good basketball players. I say all that to say this: There are still quite a few talented players in East Lansing, but this ranking will seem too high if what’s left of the junior class — Cassius Winston, Josh Langford and Nick Ward — does not play up to their ability.

(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

  • DOES FLORIDA STATE HAVE A POINT GUARD?

I actually think Florida State has a relatively high floor heading into next season. They bring back almost all of their important pieces from last season’s team that reached the Elite 8, and their position-less, versatility-heavy roster and pressing style will make them a team that is annoying to play against. Their ability to make threes will be important, as will the development of Mfiondu Kabengele and M.J. Walker, but for my money, their ceiling will be determined by their point guard play. Just how good will junior Trent Forrest and Albany grad-transfer David Nichols be?

15. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

  • WILL THE BULLDOGS MAKE THREES?

Ben Howland essentially brings everyone back from a team that won 25 games and reached the NIT quarterfinals. Both Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon pulled their names out of the NBA draft, while Lamar Peters also returns and will be joined by five-star prospect Reggie Perry. Throw in a handful of veteran bigs that are former four-star recruits, and it’s all there. The problem? Well, Mississippi State returns everyone from a team that was 329th nationally in three-point shooting last season. The only starter that shot better than 29.9 percent from three was power forward Aric Holman. That’s not exactly ideal.

16. OREGON DUCKS

  • IS BOL BOL AWESOME OR OVERRATED?

This is a question that will be discussed ad nauseum between now and the start of the season, and probably beyond; this might end up being one of the key storylines heading into the 2019 NBA Draft. On paper, Bol is the kind of prospect that never comes along. He’s 7-foot-3 and an elite rim-protector (when he wants to be) that is a very good three-point shooter. The problem? He doesn’t seem to be all that interested in playing the physical brand of defense that he needs to play, and he seems to believe that, offensively, he should be J.J. Redick. In theory, Bol should be a better version of Chris Boucher, but that all depends on whether or not Bol wants to be and ignores one, simple fact: Oregon became a Final Four-caliber team in 2017 when Boucher got injured and Jordan Bell was moved to center.

(Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

17. UCLA BRUINS

  • WILL UCLA EVER PLAY DEFENSE?

If five seasons as the head coach in Westwood, Steve Alford has had just one team finishing in the top 65 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. That was his first team, when he had a roster full of Ben Howland’s players. The issue has never been on the offensive side of the ball, not with the parade of high school all-americans and future NBA players that have come through his program. This year should be no different. Not only does he have another loaded recruiting class coming in, but Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands are back. There are no excuses this year.

18. TCU HORNED FROGS

  • CAN JAYLEN FISHER AND ALEX ROBINSON CO-EXIST IN THE BACKCOURT?

Looking at the way that TCU’s roster comes together, it seems as if Jamie Dixon’s best five will include a pair of point guards. Fisher is the more well-rounded of the two, but Robinson is an elite passer even if there are some questions about the rest of his game. They’ll need big seasons out of Desmond Bane and Kouat Noi, but for my money, making things work with two point guards is how they reach their ceiling.

19. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

  • SO IS THIS CHRIS MACK GUY THE REAL DEAL?

For the Cardinals to finish the season ranked this high, he’ll have to be. Louisville, coming off one of the most trying three-year periods in college basketball history, will be officially replacing an all-time great head coach after losing their starting point guard and a pair of stars — Deng Adel and Ray Spalding — to early entry. There is still talent on this roster. What can Mack do with it?

20. WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

  • CAN THE MOUNTAINEERS SURVIVE AFTER LOSING THEIR BACKCOURT?

We’ve seen West Virginia overcome the loss of key program players in recent years and not miss a beat, but they did that while keeping the two guys that define the Press Virginia era: Daxter Miles and, more importantly, Jevon Carter. Those two set the tone for this program for the last four seasons. They will not be easily replaced, but that is the task that Bob Huggins has in front of him.

(Justin Berl/Getty Images)

21. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK

  • JUST HOW GOOD WILL THESE GUARDS BE?

Losing Omer Yurtseven hurts N.C. State because this team now has a massive hole where their frontcourt used to be. That doesn’t concern me all that much for two reasons: There is a massive amount of perimeter talent on this roster, from point guards Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly to transfers C.J. Bryce and Devon Daniels to freshman Jericole Hellems. Keatts’ best teams at UNC Wilmington had deep, talented backcourts that allowed his pressing style to thrive. Wolfpack fans are hoping that will be the case for this group.

22. LSU TIGERS

  • HOW GOOD IS TREMONT WATERS’ SUPPORTING CAST?

Will Wade has made one thing clear in his 15 months in Baton Rouge: He is going to be able to get players with a lot of stars in their recruiting ranking to come to campus. The question is whether or not those players are going to be able to find a way to fit together. We know how good Tremont Waters was, and how good he will likely be this season, but unless the likes of Javonte Smart, Emmitt Williams and Naz Reid live up to their reputations, the Tigers are probably looking at being somewhere between the back-end of the bubble teams and the top of the NIT bracket.

23. CLEMSON TIGERS

  • HOW WILL CLEMSON HANDLE BEING THE HUNTED?

One of the most under-discussed storylines from last season was the disaster that was Northwestern basketball. They went from making their first NCAA tournament to being everyone’s preseason darling to losing by 36 points to Texas Tech and reminding everyone why they are Northwestern. They are the posterchild for the dangers in becoming satisfied. Clemson was very good last season, a top five seed that reached the Sweet 16, and they return quite a few key pieces. Will the hunger to win still be there after they’ve tasted success?

24. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

  • WHO IS GOING TO SCORE?

The Wolverines went through long bouts of brick-laying last season, even as they made a run through the Big Ten tournament and to the national title game. They were not a typical John Beilein team, as they won a staunch defense and relied on Mo Wagner and company to do just enough scoring to win. The problem? Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, by far the two best offensive players on their roster last season, are gone. Will Charles Matthews take the next step to go-to scorer? Will Zavier Simpson? Is Jordan Poole going to be the guy? Michigan’s defense gives them a floor. I’m not sure who gives them a ceiling.

25. SYRACUSE ORANGE

  • WILL TYUS BATTLE BE THEIR ONLY CREATIVE OFFENSIVE THREAT AGAIN?

Syracuse was not a very good basketball team last season, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, but Jim Boeheim is just so damn good at making his zone impenetrable that the Orange were able to win games in the 50s thanks to Tyus Battle finding a way to carry a massive burden offensively. If that’s who they are again next season, the Orange faithful should expect more of the same: ugly games, a low NCAA tournament seed and a shot to win a few games because, oh boy, are they a nightmare to play against. But this team has a chance to be much more if, say, O’Shae Brissett takes the next step or Buddy Boeheim proves to be capable of Gerry McNamara-esque shooting feats.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

tennessee basketball
Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan St snaps 2-game skid

michigan state basketball
Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats BC 73-58

virginia tech basketball
Erica Denhoff/Getty Images
1 Comment

BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
Getty Images
1 Comment

ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.