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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“I trust the SEC office will do the right thing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes says after bump from official

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Tennessee 63-58 loss to Texas A&M wasn’t without some controversy.

In the final seconds of the game, official Mike Nance appeared to bump into Vols coach Rick Barnes, who was standing stationary on the sideline, and the two exchanged words.

“I really have a lot of confidence in the SEC office that they are going to look at that,” Barnes said after the game about the incident, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I believe they will look at this game and take it apart. I just think they will do that. That shouldn’t happen in any way shape or form. I would like to say what I want to say, but I won’t because I trust the SEC office will do the right thing.”

Nance was headed to the monitor to review a call when the bump occurred, and Nance appeared to ask Barnes if the coach initiated the contact.

“Coach (Bob) Knight told me a long time ago that in a game officials are going to miss seven to nine or 10, 11, 12 calls,” Barnes said. “He kept going up every year. He said, ‘You just hope things aren’t egregious at any point in time.'”

Coach K screams at Duke fans, defending Jeff Capel

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In one of the stranger things that we’ve seen in college basketball this season, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went off on the Cameron Crazies for what he believed was a shot they were taking at former Duke player Jeff Capel.

The crazies were chanting, “Jeff Capel sit with us.” Coach K thought he heard something else.

Check out the video:

After the game, Coach K acknowledged that he misheard what the fans said, adding that he will apologize for the mishap.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “But I’d rather make a mistake for the protection of my guy.

“I love Jeff. I erred on that side. I just hope the ACC doesn’t fine me like they did [Mike] Brey.”

He ended the back and forth with this: “Jeff can sit with me anytime.”

 

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Villanova gears up for big stretch, Auburn wins ugly in 2OT and Rutgers keeps rolling

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The headliner of Tuesday night was Virginia regaining an NCAA tournament pulse with a win over No. 5 Florida State, but there were plenty of other developments on the bubble across the country.  Here’s what else you need to know:

1. Villanova runs streak to seven ahead of grueling stretch

Jay Wright’s team had little trouble winning its seventh-straight Tuesday with a 79-59 victory at Madison Square Garden over St. John’s. Saddiq Bey was brilliant, scoring 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting, including 5 of 9 from deep. Collin Gillespie was equally great, going for 17 points, 13 boards and six assists while Jeremiah Robinson-Early had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Cole Swider and Justin Moore both had 11 to put all five Wildcat starters in double-figures to help offset the absence of the injured Jermaine Samuels.

The victory, while unremarkable given St. John’s mediocrity, keeps momentum for Villanova heading into a huge stretch that very well could decide the Big East. They’ve got Creighton at home Saturday before a trip to No. 16 Butler and then back-to-back home games against No. 10 Seton Hall and Marquette, which handed the ‘Cats their lone conference loss this season.

How Villanova emerges from this four-game stretch – and subsequently what the Big East landscape looks like – will likely be determined by a couple of things. If the ‘Cats are going to make it through in the conference driver’s seat, it’ll probably because Villanova’s defense proves for real. The Cats’ defense this season on the whole has been fine, ranking 60th nationally on KenPom, but it’s been the best in the Big East during conference play. They’ve been stingier both inside and outside the arc while improving on the glass. They’ve kept opponents from launching a lot of 3s and have mostly kept them off the line.

Wright’s team is going to be fine offensively, even if they haven’t been elite in Big East play yet. If the defense holds up, the ‘Cats are going to be sitting pretty come March.

2. No. 17 Auburn comes from behind to win in 2OT

Things were looking pretty dire for Auburn. The Tigers narrowly avoided a third loss in four games over the weekend when they blew a big lead to a sub-.500 Iowa State team, and then they fell behind by 19 in the second half Tuesday at Ole Miss.

It turned out to be nothing to be worried about, unless you were on your couch hoping to watch good overtime basketball.

The Tigers narrowly escaped, 83-82, against the Rebels, overcoming a huge deficit and mistakes of their own making that could have negated their comeback but instead will be footnotes.

Auburn shot 56 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range in the second half to mount its comeback while Ole Miss shot just 33 percent. They nearly gave the game away, though, after taking a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime. The Tigers missed a jumper that would have put them up four with 25 seconds left, but the shot missed and they inexplicably fouled on the rebound to allow Ole Miss to tie the game with 22 seconds left on free throws. After a missed 3 in a tie game by Danjel Purifoy, Ole Miss gave Auburn a gift it just wouldn’t accept. Devontae Shuler’s inbounds pass under the basket with 2 seconds left went astray and was headed out of bounds, which would have resulted in no time coming off the clock and Auburn getting the ball on the baseline, but Isaac Okoro, for some reason, grabbed the ball, waited a second and called timeout. Samir Doughty’s forthcoming 3 out of the huddle as time expired miss to send things to 2OT.

Ole Miss led by as many as four in overtime, but Auburn took the lead with 1:41 left. The two teams traded missed opportunities for the remainder of the game, leaving the Tigers with a win.

College basketball: Not always pretty, but rarely boring.

3. Rutgers continues to build its case

It’s been 29 years since Rutgers last made the NCAA tournament. It’s been 13 since the Scarlet Knights even finished above .500 in a season. Both those streaks seem incredibly likely to fall in just a handful of weeks.

Rutgers ran its overall record to 16-5 and its Big Ten mark to 7-3 with a 70-63 victory Tuesday at home against Purdue.

Steve Pikiell’s team is building a bulletproof resume after losses to St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh in the first month of the season made it seem as the status quo would be very much in place in Piscataway this winter. Since then, the only three losses Rutgers have taken have all been on the road to high-quality opponents, with Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa the only teams able to get the best of them.

Rutgers is doing it o the strength of a top-10 defense that overcomes an offense that can be clunky at times, especially at the 3-point line. Defense as stout as the Scarlet Knights are playing, though, makes up for a lot of deficiencies on the other end.

Bubble Banter: Virginia, Mississippi State the biggest winners of the night

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It was a wild night on the bubble on Tuesday night, as 12 teams with their NCAA tournament hopes still up in the air were in action.

A full bubble watch breakdown can be found here. Here are tonight’s winners and losers:

WINNERS

VIRGINIA (NET: 58, NBC: Off the bubble): It is impossible to overstate just how big a win over Florida State (15) for a Virginia team that entered the night without a top 50 win to their name. They had one Quad 1 win on their resume — at Syracuse (64) — to go along with wins over Virginia Tech (50) at home and Arizona State (56) on a neutral floor. That’s it. When combined with a pair of Quad 3 losses — South Carolina (89) at home and at Boston College (153) — there’s a reason that the Wahoos were completely out of the NCAA tournament picture entering the day.

And to be honest, I’m not sure that a win over a top 20 team at home is really going to change all that much. But with just three more games against the top of the ACC left on their schedule, this was an opportunity that could not slip through their fingers.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): The Bulldogs added a critical road win on Tuesday night, going into Gainesville and knocking off Florida (37). It’s the second Quad 1 win in six days for Mississippi State, who needs to add some pop to the top of a resume that includes a pair of Quad 3 losses. This will help.

MICHIGAN (NET: 35, NBC: 10): Michigan entered Tuesday night having lost four games in a row and five of their last six and were playing without Isaiah Livers and Zavier Simpson at Nebraska (158). They could not lost this game. They did not.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 47, NBC: First four out): Rhode Island is in a spot where they probably cannot afford to take a loss to anyone other than Dayton (5), who they play twice, the rest of the season. On Tuesday night, the Rams beat George Mason. Next up: VCU (39) on Friday night.

LOSERS

TENNESSEE (NET: 55, NBC: Next four out): The Vols took a loss that they just could not afford to take on Tuesday, falling to a bad Texas A&M (149) at home. It’s their first Quad 3 loss, meaning that now half of their eight losses are outside the Quad 1 level. With just two Quad 1 wins, neither of which came against a top 35 opponent, Tennessee is backing themselves into a corner. The good news? They still play eight Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Florida at home. The Vols can survive this if they get hot.

SYRACUSE (NET: 64, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange saw their five game winning streak come to an end on Tuesday as they fell at Clemson (81). This is not a terrible loss, but for a team that is already trying to make up ground on the field, these are the kind of losses that really hurt.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): Tuesday’s visit to the Siegel Center was Richmond’s last shot at getting a Quad 1 win dueing the regular season. They lost to VCU (39) by 17 points. For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are more or less dead.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 67, NBC: 10): The Johnnies lost for the seventh time in their last nine games when Villanova (14) waltzed into MSG and beat the Red Storm by 20. That’s not ideal. St. John’s is still in the mix because of wins over West Virginia (7) and Arizona (10), the latter of which came on a neutral court. But with road games left against Villanova, Seton Hall (12) and Butler (9), Mike Anderson’s club has backed themselves into a corner.

LEFT TO PLAY

PURDUE (NET: 36, NBC: Next four out)

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 50, NBC: First four out)

GEORGETOWN (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out)

UTAH STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Off the bubble)

Virginia upends No. 5 Florida State, 61-56

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Remember back to the season’s opening night? Nearly three months ago? That was when Virginia embarrassed Syracuse in a 48-34 win. That game foretold a lot of the season up to this point for the Cavaliers. Their title-defending team would have the defense that’s defined Tony Bennett’s program while the offense, well, that would be a bit of a struggle. What it did not predict was more Quad 1 wins, as the Cavaliers, despite a dominating defense, failed to rack up another such victory after that season-opener.

Until Tuesday.

Virginia injected some life into its NCAA tournament hopes with a 61-56 win over fifth-ranked Florida State in Charlottesville to pick up a critical victory in an ACC that offers far fewer marquee opportunities than in years past.

The victory was exactly what Bennett’s team needed to help buoy that resume before the start of February. January was extremely rough on them with a 3-4 mark before the win over the Seminoles put them at .500 for the month. With only four chances left against the ACC’s best of FSU, Duke and Louisville, beating the Seminoles at home may not have been an absolute-must for the Cavs, but it sure makes it a lot easier to chart a path to the tournament now, even if it’s still a rocky road, than if they had dropped the game.

Point guard Kihei Clark scored 11 of his 15 points after halftime, changing the game offensively for the Cavaliers with his dribble penetration into the middle of the Florida State defense. He wasn’t wildly efficient, but his ability to get into the teeth of the defense – creating some buckets and free throws for himself and chances for his teammates – provided just enough lift for the offensively-challenged team. His beautiful reverse layup with a minute left gave Virginia a lead it would not relinquish as it closed the game on an 8-0 run.

Mamadi Diakite had 19 points and nine boards for Virginia while Braxton Key had 13 points and nine rebounds.

The loss stops a 10-game winning streak for the ‘Noles, who led for most of the game but could not ever find any meaningful separation. Devin Vassell had 17 points to lead Florida State, which had two shots to tie the game in the final seconds but missed both 3-point attempts horribly. If Virginia can surge a little in the season’s final month, this win won’t be much more than a missed opportunity for the Seminoles, but if it proves to just be a blip on the radar for Virginia, Florida State may have done some damage to its seed line Tuesday.