Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

College Basketball Preseason Top 25: The X-Factor for every ranked team

Leave a comment

I love a good x-factor.

You know, the guys that are not a team’s star that will determine just how good said team is going to be.

So we’re going to talk through them.

For each and every team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Because that’s how you #PreviewSZN properly.



1. MICHIGAN STATE: Joshua Langford

This one is easy.

We know what Michigan State can be without Joshua Langford. They played 26 games without him last season. They won 21 of them. They won the Big Ten regular season title without Langford. They won the Big Ten tournament without him. They made it to the Final Four without him. And while Matt McQuaid and Nick Ward are gone, this is more or less the same team that did all of those things.

So we know how good Michigan State is without Langford.

But what we don’t know – and what we will hopefully find out in January – is just how good the Spartans can be when they get their former McDonald’s All-American, a guy that averaged 15 points before hurting his ankle last year, back.

2. KENTUCKY: E.J. Montgomery

Kentucky has a ton of talent in their backcourt and plenty of bodies on the wing. Where they are going to lack depth – and, frankly, ability – is going to be up front. Nate Sestina is fine. He’s big, he’s strong, he can make threes, he’s not going to beat himself. He’s a solid player. Nick Richards is … Nick Richards. He’s big and he’s athletic and he is good at being both big and athletic.

But we know what both of those guys are and aren’t. Put another way, we know that neither of them are going to come in and be all-SEC players. Montgomery, on the other hand, at least has the talent to be. He’s 6-foot-10 with some perimeter skills and impressive physical tools. If it all comes together for him, he’s the guy that can let Kentucky play small, either as a small-ball five or a mismatch four.

3. KANSAS: Ochai Agbaji

The key to this entire Kansas season is going to be figuring out what to do at the four. I don’t think Silvio De Sousa is the answer, because De Sousa is a big, physical post player that will do nothing to create space for Udoka Azubuike. I don’t think Mitch Lightfoot is good enough to play that role, and I don’t know if Bill Self is going to be ready to trust a freshman like Jalen Wilson or Tristan Enaruna to play there full-time. That leaves Agbaji, who has the size and athleticism to guard fours with the perimeter ability to cause all kinds of problems for teams that try to play big. At the very least, he can do what LaGerald Vick did during the Kansas run to the 2018 Final Four.

4. LOUISVILLE: Fresh Kimble

The Cardinals have a point guard problem, and the truth is that the x-factor for that group is going to be whoever actually wins the job. But here’s the thing: Darius Perry isn’t winning that job, and David Johnson is out for a while with a shoulder injury. That leaves Fresh Kimble, the grad transfer from St. Joe’s, with the weight on his shoulders. He averaged 15 points in the Atlantic 10 last season, so he has some scoring ability, but playing on a Cardinals team that is this good means that he is going to be asked to do a lot more than just score.

5. VILLANOVA: Bryan Antoine

This is another one that is really quite easy. Antoine is arguably the best recruit that Jay Wright has landed during this run that the program has been on. He’s a 6-foot-4 combo-guard that can defend and provide the kind of versatility that the Wildcats have been known for. He’s a potential one-and-done player. He’s also a freshman at a program where freshman tend to have a muted impact, and he has been out of action all summer after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Villanova will be fine either way, but if they are going to reach their ceiling, it will be because Antoine shows up in league and plays like a five-star prospect.

6. DUKE: Tre Jones

Jones is the single-biggest x-factor in all of college basketball this season. I wrote all about it here.

7. FLORIDA: Tre Mann

Florida is going to be a very, very good team this season. The addition of Kerry Blackshear Jr. was a game-changer, and I fully expect that Andrew Nembhard will take a major step forward as a sophomore. Let’s not forget Scottie Lewis and the impact that he will have.

But if they are missing something, it’s perimeter firepower. Kevaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson were flawed basketball players, but they were unequivocally bucket-getters, guys that could make threes and create offense out of nothing. I think Tre Mann is going to be that guy for Florida this year, and I’m not sure how many players on this roster are capable of doing what he can do.

8. GONZAGA: Admon Gilder

This one is simple, really. Gonzaga lost basically everything from their backcourt. Their bigs are loaded once again, and Corey Kispert has All-WCC potential on the wing, but Mark Few needs a playmaker and some scoring pop in his backcourt. Gilder is the guy that’s most capable of providing that.

9. MARYLAND: Eric Ayala

The biggest question mark with the Terps is Anthony Cowan. I love the sophomore class that Mark Turgeon has on his hands, but I love them as guys that can play a role alongside Cowan. And while Cowan has had great games during his three seasons in College Park, consistency has not been his strong suit. That’s where Ayala comes into play. He can handle point guard and playmaking duties in a pinch, and on the nights when Bad Cowan shows up, Ayala can carry the water.

Put another way, we know how good Maryland will be when Cowan plays well. If Maryland can win games at a high level even when he doesn’t, that’s when they become a real title contender.

10. VIRGINIA: Braxton Key

We know more or less what Mamadi Diakite is going to be this season. We have a pretty good idea of how Virginia is going to use Jay Huff. We know that Kihei Clark looks like the next in line to develop into a good ACC guard. And we know that we shouldn’t expect too much from the rest of that UVA backcourt.

What we don’t know is how Braxton Key is going to respond to being asked to play a bigger role. Key can do all of the things that De’Andre Hunter was able to do, he can play that same role, he just isn’t quite as good at it. If he can play near the level he was at as a freshman at Alabama, then Virginia will have a difference-maker.

11. TEXAS TECH: Chris Clarke

Chris Beard has proven himself capable of turning over a roster in one season and then getting the absolute most out of what he has left. He did it in each of the last two years. He did it in his one season at Little Rock. This is how Beard operates. But the key to the entire process is getting buy-in from his team, and that’s where I think they are going to be some issues this season. There are just three guys on this Texas Tech roster that are upperclassmen. The best player on the roster, the guy that is going to be asked to be Keenan Evans and Jarrett Culver, is top 35 freshman Jahmius Ramsey. He’s the highest-rated recruit that Beard has ever landed, and he’s good enough to do what Tech needs him to do … if he buys in.

And that’s where Clarke comes into play. There are already some rumblings that Ramsey’s ego may be a problem for this team. The Red Raiders need a strong, veteran presence on the roster to help keep the myriad freshmen and sophomores in that locker room heading in the right direction and on the same page. Clarke, and to a lesser extent Davide Moretti, is the guy I’m looking to.

12. OREGON: Francis Okoro

Oregon’s best teams under Dana Altman have featured someone at the five that is capable of protecting the rim, controlling the defensive glass and switching out onto smaller guards when necessary. N’Faly Dante might be a five-star recruit, but he’s not that guy. If there is anyone on the roster than can fill that Jordan Bell-Kenny Wooten role, it’s probably Okoro.

13. SETON HALL: Myles Cale

Here’s the dirty little secret about Seton Hall – they brought basically everything back from last season, but the Pirates weren’t much more than a bubble team last season. They won games when Myles Powell went nuts. They also got swept by DePaul. They need to have Powell’s supporting cast be better, and Cale is the guy with the highest ceiling. He’s a smooth wing with three-point range, some sneaky athleticism and the the ability to get 15-20 points on any given night. If we see that ability on a consistent basis this season, if Cale plays his way onto an All-Big East team by the end of the season, then the Pirates will be able to live up to their preseason ranking. If he doesn’t, this looks like a roster that is going to live and die with Myles Powell’s heat checks.

14. NORTH CAROLINA: Justin Pierce

Cole Anthony is going to be awesome, and I think Garrison Brooks is good enough that Armando Bacot can be brought along at his own pace without having issues in their frontcourt. And I believe that Christian Keeling will be good enough to play at the two this season; he was a big time scorer and shooter for Charleston Southern and should be just fine spacing the floor for Anthony, et al. Pierce is the x-factor to me because: A) I’m not convinced that Leaky Black and Brandon Robinson are good (or healthy) enough to start at the three, and B) I’m not convinced that Pierce is actually a three and not more of a combo-forward.

15. UTAH STATE: Neemias Queta

Just how healthy is Queta? The 7-foot-1 Portuguese sophomore injured his knee playing in the U-20 Euros over the summer, and while he didn’t tear anything significant, Utah State had played a little coy on the actual nature of the injury. Even without Queta, the Aggies are the favorite to win the Mountain West by a landslide. With him, they are a legit top 15 team with some Final Four upside.

16. ARIZONA: Zeke Nnaji

Arizona has plenty of talent in their backcourt. Nico Mannion and Josh Green are five-star freshmen and potential first round picks. Max Hazzard proved himself as an experienced, veteran point guard while leading UC Irvine to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. There’s still a chance that they can get Jemarl Baker, the Kentucky transfer, eligible as well. The questions come in the frontcourt. Maybe I’m just jaded, but I do not think that Chase Jeter, Ira Lee and Stone Gettings will be enough for the Wildcats to beat out the likes of Oregon, Washington and Colorado for a Pac-12 title. Zeke Nnaji, however, is a freshman that has created some buzz during the preseason. Is he the difference-maker Sean Miller needs?

17. SAINT MARY’S: Aaron Menzies

There are two things that Randy Bennett’s best teams in Moraga have had in common: 1. A dynamic, NBA-level lead guard. 2. An All-American big man – think Jock Landale, or Brad Waldow, or the GOAT Omar Samhan. We know that Jordan Ford is going to be awesome at the point. We also know that the 7-foot-3 Menzies was a double-digit scorer at Seattle. Can he provide that same production for the Gaels?

18. XAVIER: KyKy Tandy

Xavier’s Big Four is very well known at this point. Naji Marshall, Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs and Tyrique Jones are all upperclassmen that have established themselves as good Big East players at this point. But what that quartet lacks is perimeter shooting, and freshman KyKy Tandy is a guy that can shoot. He brings a different dynamic to their perimeter, and he shoot be ready to contribute as a freshman.

19. LSU: Trendon Watford

We know that LSU has a pair of really good guards in Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart. We also know that Emmitt Williams and Marlon Taylor provide the kind of elite athleticism that will let Will Wade do some pressing, crash the glass and have defensive versatility. Watford is the guy that compliments those athletes well, because he’s more of a finesse player, a four-man with a reputation for being something of a face-up scorer. If he can provide 12-14 points and create a little bit of space in the paint, it will raise the ceiling of a team that has a starting five that can match anyone in the SEC.

20. BAYLOR: Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague

Baylor is toughest team to figure out because it feels like every player on their roster is something of an “x-factor.” Is Tristan Clark going to be healthy? Can Baylor continue to survive on 6-foot-5 Mark Vital’s ability on the glass? Can Devonte Bandoo or Jared Butler do what they did last season now that they are known entities? To me, I think that the real answer is going to be Mitchell and Teague, and that’s because we more or less know what everyone else on the roster is capable of. Mitchell is a talented Alabama transfer and Teague had success at UNC Asheville, but how they adjust to the Big 12 will be something to monitor.

21. MEMPHIS: Lester Quinones

This one is simple: Memphis doesn’t have all that much shooting on their roster. Lester Quinones is a big-time shooter and, unlike Tyler Harris, he’s 6-foot-5. Not 5-foot-9.

22. AUBURN: Isaac Okoro

The key to Auburn last season, what made them so difficult to guard and so tough to score on, was Chuma Okeke. He was that versatile defensive weapon. He was the four-man that could pull bigs away from the rim and bury smalls in the paint. He made Auburn matchup proof, and while he’s gone, people that know Okoro’s game best think that he is going to be able to fill that role. The question, however, is whether or not the four-star prospect is going to be able to do so at the highest level as a freshman.

23. TENNESSEE: John Fulkerson

Tennessee has some very, very good guards on their roster. Josiah-Jordan James is a five-star prospect. Lamonte Turner is underrated. Jordan Bowden has talented. Hell, even Yves Pons has a roll as a small-ball four on this roster. When they are missing is a bully in the post, which is a problem for a team that got more than 55 percent of their offense off of two-point field goals last season; that was in the 92nd percentile nationally. Fulkerson seems to be the guy that will start at the five. Will he be ready for it?

24. VCU: Marcus Santos-Silva

Santos-Silva is coming off of a season where he averaged 10.0 points, 7.4 boards and 1.1 blocks as the anchor for the Rams. Most people are going to think of Marcus Evans and De’Riante Jenkins when they think of the Rams, and justifiably so, but Santos-Silva is the guy who that staff thinks is in for a monster junior season. If he plays like one of, if not the best big man in the Atlantic 10, then VCU has a chance to be a second weekend NCAA tournament team.

25. OHIO STATE: D.J. Carton

The big question mark on this Ohio State team is in their backcourt. They graduated both of their starting guards, and while they add C.J. Walker, a transfer from Florida State, they also bring in Carton, an uber-talented, four-star lead guard. The kid is an elite athlete, but he’s also raw. If he’s ready to be a starter as a freshman and not just starting because there isn’t anyone else, Ohio State’s ceiling grows.

Saturday’s Things To Know: Kentucky survives, Ayo Dosunmu’s on a tear, Roy and Huggs reach milestones

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was actually a relatively slow day for a Saturday in late-January in college hoops, but there is still plenty to discuss. Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. No. 15 KENTUCKY KNOCKED OFF No. 18 TEXAS TECH

Nick Richards went for 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks and Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points of his own as Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off the Red Raiders in overtime. A full breakdown of that game can be found here.

2. TEXAS TECH IS IN REAL BUBBLE TROUBLE

I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

3. AYO DOSUNMU CONTINUED HIS TEAR

In case you haven’t noticed, No. 21 Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten, sitting all alone in first-place in the conference standings and Ayo Dosunmu — who scored 27 points and hit the game-winner at Michigan today — has been the best player in the Big Ten this month. More on the Illini and their star here.

4. ROY WILLIAMS PASSED DEAN SMITH ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

It’s ironic when you think about it: North Carolina was in the midst of their first five-game losing streak since 2003, and it just so happened to come after Williams had tied Smith on the all-time wins list. He finally broke the streak on Saturday, blowing out Miami, 94-71, to win his 880th game as a head coach. It is, quite literally, the first win for the Tar Heels in 2020.

5. BOB HUGGINS PASSED ADOLPH RUPP ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

No. 14 West Virginia blew out Missouri in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to give Huggy Bear is 876th career win, good for seventh on the all-time list, one better than Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky head coach.

6. No. 1 BAYLOR UPSET UNRANKED FLORIDA

This might sound ridiculous, but if you subscribe to the theory that any underdog that wins a game is an upset happening, then No. 1 Baylor going into the O-Dome and knocking off Florida is, technically, an upset. The Gators entered the game as 2.5 point favorites, jumped out to a big league and then proceeded to watch as the nation’s best team proved that they are, in fact, the nation’s best team.

We have spent the majority of this season explaining away the reasons why there isn’t an elite team in college basketball, but I’m beginning to think that there’s a chance Baylor could be that team. They’re never going to be the darlings of the metrics and they don’t have much NBA talent, but they are so balanced, so effective in crunch time and elite on the defensive end of the floor.

7. MEMPHIS BLEW AN 11-POINT LEAD IN THE FINAL SIX MINUTES

This one was hard to do.

The Tigers were up 70-59 with less than six minutes remaining in the game and then never scored again. They would give up a 15-0 run in that stretch and go on to lose, 74-70, at home to an SMU team that is not very good. Penny Hardaway’s team has found themselves in a bad, bad spot this season.

8. ARIZONA BLEW A 22-POINT LEAD

The No. 22 Wildcats led Arizona State in Tempe by 22 points in the first half. With 1:40 left before the break, they were ahead 43-24. At halftime, they were up 43-30. With 16:30 left on the clock, the Sun Devils had cut that lead to 43-40, and after Alonzo Verge scored with 10 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils had a 66-65 lead and went on to win by that score.

The importance of this win for Bobby Hurley’s club cannot be overstated.

9. SAN FRANCISCO WORKED THEIR FOULING MAGIC AGAIN

Last weekend, San Francisco fouled a ball-handler at the end of the first half in order to get the ball back. It was a sneaky bit of math that gave the Dons an extra two points on their lead heading into the break.

On Saturday against BYU, Todd Golden drew up something similar. With 22 seconds left in the game and the Dons clinging to a 79-77 lead, he had his team intentionally foul Yoeli Childs, BYU’s star center who just so happens to be a 60 percent free throw shooter and coming off of a broken finger. The reasoning was simple: Since BYU was in the one-and-one, Childs shooting free throws meant that A) BYU’s xPPP for that possessions was 0.96, lower than the average possession for a team that had scored 77 points in 39 minutes and shot 15-for-27 from three on the night. If he made both, USF had a chance to win on the final possession. If he missed one, BYU’s best rebounder was shooting the free throws. Turns out, he missed the first, and USF hung on to win, 83-82.

10. SAMUELL WILLIAMSON MAY HAVE HAD HIS BREAKOUT GAME

Last weekend, it was freshman David Johnson that had his breakout game for No. 6 Louisville. He went for 19 points and seven boards as the Cardinals went into Cameron and beat Duke. This weekend, it was fellow freshman Williamson, who scored 14 points for the Cards as they blew out Clemson in the Yum! Center. Is this the start of his star turn?

No. 1 Baylor smothers Florida 72-61, 16th straight win

AP Photo
Leave a comment

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo scored 16 points apiece and No. 1 Baylor extended its winning steak to 16 with a 72-61 victory over Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday night.

The Bears improved to 6-1 in the annual inter-conference series – the best record of any team in either conference – and themselves another week atop The Associated Press poll.

Baylor also gave the Big 12 an even split (5-5) in the daylong series.

The Bears (17-1) overcame an eight-point deficit early and led by 19 points in the second half before Florida mounted a minor rally. The Gators (12-7) had a chance to make it a single-digit game with a little more than 7 minutes to play, but they missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones. Kerry Blackshear Jr. misfired twice on back-to-back possessions and then Noah Locke did the same seconds later.

What could have been an eight-point game was still a comfortable lead for the Bears.

Florida eventually managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 on Andrew Nembhard’s driving layup with 2:40 remaining. But the Bears answered on the other end thanks to their 13th offensive rebound, which led to two free throws for Bandoo.

Davion Mitchell finished with 11 points and six assists for Baylor, which was a slight underdog entering the game. Jared Butler chipped in 10 points.

Baylor’s length, athleticism and defensive prowess posed problems all night for Florida, which shot 44% from the field and 23.5% from 3-point range.

The Gators fell to 2-17 against the No. 1 team, including 10 consecutive losses.

Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 20 points. Nembhard added 16 points and eight assists, but he missed more shots (8) than he made (6), including all four 3-pointers. The Gators missed 13 of 17 from behind the arc.

Baylor took control of the game with a 13-2 run to close the first half, turning a tie game into a double-digit lead. The Bears hit six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes – twice as many as Florida – and had seven offensive rebounds.

They got help from an unlikely source. Bandoo, who averages 7.5 points off the benched, scored 11 in the opening half on 4 of 6 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears matched their best 18-game start in school history. They also started 17-1 in 2011-12 and 2016-17. They landed No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament after those regular seasons and were eliminated both times by SEC teams (Kentucky in ’12, South Carolina in `17).

Florida: The Gators appeared to be taking strides while beating then-No. 4 Auburn last Saturday and nearly stunning LSU on the road earlier this week. But the team’s offensive woes returned against Baylor – no surprise given the Bears are one of the best defenses in the nation.

STILL HOBBLING

Florida forward Dontay Bassett missed his second consecutive game with a calf injury. Bassett averages 1.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor: Returns to Big 12 action and plays at Iowa State on Wednesday night. The Bears have won three of the last four in the series, but lost to the Cyclones in the conference tournament last March.

Florida: Returns to SEC play and hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The Gators lost to the Bulldogs last year to end an eight-game winning streak in the series.

Richards, Quickley lead No. 15 Kentucky to OT win at No. 18 Texas Tech

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nick Richards hit two free throws with 10 seconds left on the clock and Ashton Hagans managed to strip Davide Moretti on the ensuing possession as No. 15 Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off No. 18 Texas Tech, 76-74, in a thrilling overtime battle.

Richards finished the night with 25 pints, 14 boards and four blocks while shooting 7-for-10 from the floor and 11-for-14 from three. Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points for the Wildcats, who shot 7-for-15 from three and won despite 15 combined turnovers from their three starting guards.

Kyler Edwards led the way for Texas Tech with 18 points and seven boards, but the Red Raiders shot just 3-for-19 from beyond the arc and never could figure out an answer to Richards’ in the paint.

Here are the three things that we can take away from this game:

1. KENTUCKY WON WITHOUT TYRESE MAXEY AND ASHTON HAGANS

Maxey and Hagans did, technically, play on Saturday night, but neither of them were any good. Maxey finished 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and four fouls. Hagans finished with seven assists and three steals, but he shot just 2-for-6 from the floor and had four turnovers of his own. Combined, they scored 13 points, which is 14 points below their season average.

The reason this is relevant is that Kentucky has been, for much of the season, a four-man show. We’ve spent the majority of the season trying to figure out who they can plug into a lineup with those four to get an optimal performance out of the Wildcats. When half of that group is struggling, it’s not exactly a recipe for success.

But that didn’t matter on Saturday.

Kentucky still found a way to get a win against a top 20 team on the road.

And the reason for it was the play of Richards. This is notable, because if you look at Kentucky’s biggest wins of the season to date, they all happened to be a result of one of Hagans or Maxey going absolutely nuts. Maxey had 27 in the win over Michigan State. He had 26  against Louisville. Hagans went for 21 points, seven boards and seven assists against Georgia Tech. He had 13 points, six boards and six assists at Arkansas and 15 points, nine boards and nine assists against Alabama.

Point being, this is the first time that Richards has definitively been the best player on the floor while carrying Kentucky to a win like this on the road.

I also get it: He completely overwhelmed Texas Tech’s frontline — which, frankly, is not a new occurrence, if you have seen the Red Raiders play this season. But we’ve seen Richards play against frontlines he should dominate and, well, not dominate.

And Kentucky got themselves a win as a result.

2. KENTUCKY ISN’T LONG FOR MARCH IF THEY CANNOT GET THEIR LATE-GAME EXECUTION FIGURED OUT

As impressive as this win was for the Wildcats, we cannot talk about it without mentioning that Kentucky did get a little bit lucky. Davide Moretti is a 92 percent free throw shooter and missed one with 18 seconds left that gave Kentucky one more possession with the game tied.

Truthfully, it never should have gotten to that point. For the third time in four games, Kentucky blew a double-digit second half lead. They were up 14 in the second half at South Carolina in a game that they lost, 81-78. They were up by 11 in the second half at Arkansas and, after allowing the Razorbacks to get up by three, rallied after John Calipari was ejected from the game. And on Saturday, they were leading the Red Raiders by as many as 10 points. Texas Tech never once held the lead in the second half.

To put this into context, Kentucky scored six points in the final 9:30 of regulation. They made one field goal, and that came with 6:31 left on the clock. They went to the foul line four times and shot 1-for-2 on every trip. Now, part of that is due to Tech’s defense — spoiler alert, they’re really good — but this is becoming something of a trend for the Wildcats.

3. KYLER EDWARDS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER ON TEXAS TECH

Jahmi’us Ramsey is Texas Tech’s leading scorer, their most talented player and probably the best NBA prospect on the roster. Chris Clarke is the x-factor that Chris Beard likes to use to take advantage of mismatches. T.J. Holyfield is the guy that the Red Raiders need to play out of his mind because of their lacking interior depth.

But for my money, the most important player on Texas Tech is Kyler Edwards.

More than anyone else on this roster, including Ramsey, Edwards is the guy that can fill the role that was played by Keenan Evans and Jarrett Culver the last two seasons. He’s the big combo-guard that can be more than just a shooter. He’s the guy that can create for himself while also being capable of finding assists or creating shots for his teammates.

And this season, he’s averaging just 11.8 points and shooting 30 percent from three.

Now, he’s been better of late. He averaged 23 points in wins over Iowa State and Kansas State last week. And, yes, he had 18 points against Kentucky on Saturday.

The reason he’s so important is simple: Texas Tech is really limited offensively, particularly when it comes to guys that can create on their own. It’s why Moretti’s efficiency is down this year. It’s why they are so reliant on Chris Clarke trying to take advantage of mismatches. It’s why Ramsey turning into something of a three-point shooter is a bad sign longterm.

Tech needs Edwards to be awesome if they can to be able to make a run in March.

Dotson, Azubuike lead No. 3 Kansas past Tennessee 74-68

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Devon Dotson scored 22 points, Udoka Azubuike added 18 and No. 3 Kansas beat Tennessee 74-68 Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Azubuike was the lone big man for the Jayhawks (16-3) after Silvio De Sousa was suspended 12 games and David McCormack banned five for their roles in a brawl Tuesday against Kansas State.

After Azubuike went to the bench with two fouls early, Yves Pons hit consecutive 3-pointers to put the Volunteers (12-7) on a 14-2 run for a 20-13 lead. Kansas answered when Azubuike checked back in, stringing together a 12-0 run en route to a 37-30 lead at halftime.

Azubuike finished with 11 rebounds and four blocks.

Pons led the Volunteers with 24 points, and Jordan Bowden came alive early in the second half, knocking down three 3-pointers and finishing with 19 points after a scoreless first half.

Tennessee pulled within three late in the second half, but Azubuike had a block and hit four free throws late to keep the Volunteers in check.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The pressure will stay on Azubuike, whose early foul trouble stalled Kansas’ offense and allowed for a substantial Volunteer run.

Tennessee: Only three Volunteers – Pons, Santiago Vescovi and John Fulkerson – scored in the first half, and Tennessee turned the ball over 15 times. Despite the offensive struggles, the Volunteers were able to stay within arms’ length.

UP NEXT

Kansas: The Jayhawks head to Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Monday to take on Oklahoma State.

Tennessee: The Vols host Texas A&M on Tuesday.

Bubble Banter: It’s that time of year again!

Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s getting to be that time of year.

Bubble Banter is back, baby!

Over the course of the next three days, we are going to be diving headlong into bubble chatter right here, breaking down every single team that is on or near the bubble for the NCAA tournament Field of 68. This, of course, is according to our Dave Ommen, who sent me a list of all the bubble teams. Our cut-off, at least for this conversation, is teams that currently sit as a No. 9 seed or better in the most recent bracket that we released.

Why?

Because — with the notable exception of Ohio State — it is difficult to see how any of those teams can end up out of the NCAA tournament before our next bracket projection gets published on Monday.

So, you know, they’re not currently on the bubble.

Anyway, come back throughout the weekend to see who the winners and the losers are and what it means for their standing in regards to the cut line.

WINNERS

PURDUE (NET: 37, NBC: Off the bubble): Purdue’s schizophrenic January continued on Friday with a blowout win over Wisconsin (30) at home. The Boilermakers have lost four of their last six, and the two wins were utterly dominant wins over the Badgers and Michigan State (10). Their 11-9 (4-5) record isn’t pretty, but three Quad 1 wins and just one Quad 3 loss — at Nebraska (165) — is enough to keep them in the mix.

NORTH CAROLINA (NET: 113, NBC: Off the bubble): The Tar Heels are still in the mix for the NCAA tournament for one, simple fact: All of their worst losses have come without Cole Anthony, and it appears that Anthony will be returning to the team at some point. After beating Miami, UNC is now 3-7 without him and 6-3 with him on the floor. They’ve beaten Alabama (38) on a neutral court, they’ve beaten Oregon (17) on a neutral court and all three of their losses with Anthony are Quad 1 losses. Remember, they still play four top ten teams during the regular season. They’ll have chances, and if they can get hot with Anthony back, they’ve got a shot.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 62, NBC: Next four out): The Sun Devils landed just an enormous win on Saturday night, coming back from 22 points down to beat Arizona (9) at home in their last chance to take on the Wildcats during the regular season. Believe it or not, that is the first Quad 1 win for the Sun Devils, and given that they only have one Quad 2 loss — Virginia (64) on a neutral court — I think it’s pretty clear that this group is not all that far away from getting a bid. They just needed a couple big wins. Knocking off Arizona certainly qualifies.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 47, NBC: Play-in game): The Sooners have put themselves in a pretty good spot after knocking off Mississippi State (52) on Saturday. They’re 13-6 overall and all six of their losses are of the Quad 1 variety. Throw in a pair of Quad 1 wins — Minnesota (39) on a neutral and Texas (67) on the road — and five Quad 2 wins, and this is a good start. With six games left against Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia and Texas Tech, there are plenty of resume-boosting wins available.

SYRACUSE (NET: 66, NBC: Off the bubble): The Orange are starting to play like a top five team in the ACC this season. On Saturday, they knocked off Pitt in the Carrier Dome, pushing them to 6-3 in the league and 13-7 overall. They do have a questionable home loss to Notre Dame (79, Quad 3) but they’ve won four true road games in league play, two of which are Quad 1 wins. A 5-6 record in Quad 1 and 2 games is enough to keep them in and around the bubble for now.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 81, NBC: Off the bubble): Since beating Arizona in California on Dec. 21st, St. John’s has now lost six of their last eight games. The only team that they have beaten in that stretch is DePaul, who they swept on Saturday with a road win. That’s the third Quad 1 win for this group, but with eight losses on the season — including a loss at home against Vermont (101) — the Red Storm have work to do.

ALABAMA (NET: 38, NBC: Next four out): The biggest problem that Alabama has right now is their losses. They dropped a home game to Penn (181) on the opening night of the season. They lost a game to North Carolina (113) in the Bahamas. They also lost to Iowa State (70) in the Bahamas. Those do not look good right now. The Tide have turned their season around — beating Kansas State (89) on Saturday was their fourth straight win and their seventh win in the last nine games — but they have just one win over a top 50 team. They get LSU (24) on the road on Wednesday and, in February, play at Auburn (18) and LSU again. I think winning two of those three games will be critical.

SAINT MARY’S (NET: 40, NBC: Last four byes): The Gaels hung on against Loyola Marymount on the road on Saturday, meaning that they avoided one of the landmines left on their schedule. They Gaels own wins over BYU (27) and Wisconsin (30) and while they have lost to Santa Clara (103) and Winthrop (137) at home, the Gaels are 6-2 against the top two Quads and still get BYU on the road and two shots at Gonzaga (4).

VCU (NET: 41, NBC: Play-in game): The Rams avoided one of the landmines on their schedule as they went into Philly and knocked off La Salle. VCU is now 15-5 overall with a Quad 1 (LSU, 24) and Quad 2 (at Charleston, 124) win. The Rams have a ton of work left to do, but the fact that their worst loss is against Tennessee (59) on a neutral court and that there are a number of potential Quad 1 wins left on their league schedule will help quite a bit.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 53, NBC: First four out): The Rams avoided one of the landmines left on their schedule, winning at St. Bonaventure on Saturday, but they are not in a great spot at the moment. URI is on the wrong side of the bubble right now, and while every team in the power conferences are playing one or two Quad 1 games a week, URI has just two left on their schedule — their two games against Dayton (5).

UTAH (NET: 77, NBC: Off the bubble): The Utes are in the mix because they have a pair of Quad 1 wins on their resume — Kentucky (23) and BYU (27) on neutral courts. And if you ignore their trip to Myrtle Beach, where they lost to Coastal Carolina (185) and Tulane (126). On Saturday, they avoided another such loss by knocking off Washington State (102).

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 49, NBC: 12): The Buccaneers are in a pretty good spot right now thanks to a win at LSU (24) in December. They’re 17-3 overall with a pair of Quad 1 wins, but they do have one bad loss — at North Dakota State (159) — which means that they cannot take step on another landmine during league play. Winning out in the regular season is the only option here.

YALE (NET: 60, NBC: 12): The Elis are in this conversation because they don’t really have a bad loss to speak of. Their “worst” loss was a road game at San Francisco (!00), and if North Carolina gets Cole Anthony back, then that loss is not going to look nearly as bad by Selection Sunday. Their problem is a lack of quality wins. They won at Clemson (75), which is barely a Quad 1 win. That’s their only win that didn’t come against Quad 3 or 4 opponents. That’s not going to change in the Ivy. I think they need to win out and lose to Harvard in the Ivy title game to have a real at-large chance.

LOSERS

MEMPHIS (NET: 42, NBC: 10): Oh, Memphis. Two days after losing by 40 at Tulsa (65), the Tigers turn around and blow an 11-point lead in the final five minutes at home against SMU (68). They aren’t in real trouble yet, but it is worth noting that they have not beaten a single team in the top 45 in the NET and that their three best wins — N.C. State (45), Tennessee (59) and Cincinnati (56) — are teams that may not make the NCAA tournament.

TEXAS TECH (NET: 32, NBC: Play-in game): I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

PITT (NET: 74, NBC: Off the bubble): On the one hand, the Panthers have a couple of really nice home wins — Florida State (12) and Rutgers (19). On the other hand, they have a couple of really ugly losses — Wake Forest (104) and Nicholls (180), both at home. If Cole Anthony returns and North Carolina wakes up it could end up being a game-changer for the Panthers, who have swept the Tar Heels.

TEXAS (NET: 67, NBC: Off the bubble): Texas rallied, and ultimately lost, at home against LSU (24) on Saturday, which is a tough blow for the Longhorns. LSU is a Quad 1 opponent, and the Longhorns have some ground they need to make up. They’ve now lost three in a row and five of their last seven games, and a November win at Purdue (37) does not look quite as good now as it did at the time.

VIRGINIA TECH (NET: 44, NBC: Last four byes): The Hokies may go down as the biggest loser of the weekend. Playing at Boston College (164), Virginia Tech suffered their first Quad 3 loss of the season despite the fact that the Eagles shot just 11-for-27 from the free throw line. That’s just brutal. Bubble teams need to avoid these landmines, and Mike Young’s team couldn’t. The good news? They have three Quad 1 wins — including Michigan State (10) on a neutral — and they all came away from home. It’s not all bad.

LIBERTY (NET: 50, NBC: 12): The Flames just killed their hope of getting an at-large. The Flames are 0-1 in Quad 1 games, 1-0 in Quad 2 games (Akron on a neutral) and 2-1 in Quad 3 games. They have 14 wins over Quad 4 opponents and just lost to Stetson (309). They’re frauds.

TENNESSEE (NET: 59, NBC: Next four out): Tennessee missed on a great chance to add a marquee win to their resume when they lost at Kansas (3) on Saturday. The Vols had won four of their last five prior to that game, and it looks like they’ve gotten their season turned around. They are 12-7 overall but just 3-7 against the top two quadrants and they have yet to beat a top 40 team. They still play seven Quad 1 games, and that doesn’t include Arkansas or Florida at home. The Vols are in a good spot if they can get hot.

BYU (NET: 27, NBC: 10): The Cougars have really good computer numbers, and they do have some quality wins to their name — at Houston (36), Virginia Tech (44) and Utah State (73) on neutrals — but after losing at San Francisco on Saturday, BYU now has three Quad 2 losses and a 4-7 record against the top two Quads. With games remaining against Saint Mary’s (40) and Gonzaga (4) at home, BYU should be OK if they can get one of those and avoid the landmines.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 52, NBC: Next four out): There’s not a lot to like about Mississippi State’s resume right now. They have one win over a top 75 team this season — Arkansas (34) at home — and their only road win came at Coastal Carolina. They’s lost to Louisiana Tech (91) at home and New Mexico State (109) on a neutral floor. What am I supposed to be impressed with?

N.C. STATE (NET: 45, NBC: Last four byes): The Wolfpack have a 14-6 record to go along with solid computer numbers and three Quad 1 wins, two of which came on the road. The issue with their resume, outside of a lack of elite wins, is a pair of losses to Georgia Tech (93). Today’s came on the road. N.C. State has four games left against top ten teams, including three at home. They’ll have their chances to add to this profile.

WASHINGTON (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble): Washington lost at Colorado (20) on Saturday, meaning they have now lost three in a row, five of their last six and seven of their last nine games. They’re 12-9 overall with a pair of Quad 3 losses, a 1-5 mark against Quad 1 and a 2-7 record against the top two Quads. But here’s the thing: They beat Baylor (2) on a neutral, and that will go down as arguably the best win in college basketball this season. With two more games against Arizona (9) and another shot against Stanford (16) at home, the Huskies are far from dead.

DEPAUL (NET: 57, NBC: Last four byes): Saturday’s home loss to St. John’s (81) is not going to do any favorites for DePaul, who now has as many Quad 3 losses (three) as they have Quad 1 wins. It doesn’t help matters that four of their next five are on the road, starting with a visit to Seton Hall (13) on Wednesday. The Blue Demons have lost six of their last seven games. The next two weeks will determine where they play in March.

RICHMOND (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): The Spiders lost to Dayton (5) on Saturday at home, a critical loss because it’s really the only game-changing opponent that they had left on their schedule. They do play VCU (41) twice, and picking them off in Richmond will be a Quad 1 win, but that’s not going to be enough to get them to leapfrog any high-major teams that play a dozen Quad 1 games in league play. Richmond is in a bad spot.

LEFT TO PLAY

SUNDAY

VIRGINIA at Wake Forest, 12:00 p.m.
No. 11 Michigan State at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.
Fordham at SAINT LOUIS, 3:00 p.m.
XAVIER at Creighton, 4:00 p.m.
Loyola-Chicago at NORTHERN IOWA, 4:00 p.m.
OHIO STATE at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m.