Sterling Gibbs

Kris Dunn (AP)

Ranking the best lead guards in college basketball

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We kick off our position-by-position rankings with the lead guards.

What is a lead guard, you ask? 

It’s a loose definition, I know, but it’s the guy that we think is going to be the team’s primary ball-handler and/or playmaker. True point guards, combo-guards, shooting guards that operate best with the ball in their hands. They all count.

Definitive, right?

Anyway, here are our rankings.

What did we get wrong?:

[MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts]

1. Kris Dunn, Providence

Dunn was an easy pick here just as he was an easy pick for No. 1 in our top 100 players countdown. As a sophomore last season, Dunn averaged 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 boards and 2.7 steals. With LaDontae Henton graduating during the offseason and Ed Cooley’s preference to play uptempo basketball, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those stats on the uptick this year. Dunn does, however, have two major flaws in his game: he turns the ball over too much and he needs to become a more consistent and confident jump-shooter. He’s been putting in the work to improve, but we have to wait and see if it manifests in production on the court.

2. Marcus Paige, North Carolina

We had Paige pegged as the Preseason National Player of the Year last season, and that turned out to be wrong. It wasn’t necessarily because Paige wasn’t good enough. The 6-foot-3 senior spent much of last season battling foot and ankle injuries and was forced into a situation where he had to primarily play as a point guard. Well, Paige is healthy now, and with Joel Berry expected to take over the point guard role for the Tar Heels, Paige should be freed up to be in more of an attacking role.

3. Melo Trimble, Maryland

Trimble’s numbers as a freshman were impressive: 16.2 points, 3.0 assists, 41.2% 3PT, 86.3% FT. As good as those numbers were, perhaps Trimble’s true value came in his late-game demeanor. He was, for lack of a better term, one of the most clutch players in the sport, a major reason that the Terps were able to win so many close games. Losing Dez Wells is going to hurt, but with more talent around him this season, Trimble should be asked to do less offensively as a sophomore. But he’ll still have the ball in his hands late in games, which is why Maryland is a considered a favorite to win the national title.

4. Jamal Murray, Kentucky

At this point, it’s hard to imagine Murray living up to the hype he has entering the season. Anything short of Steph Curry or Jimmer Fredette will almost feel like a disappointment. That’s not to say Murray can’t play. He can. He’s the odds-on favorite to lead Kentucky in scoring and will likely be the primary handler in ball-screen actions. The key for Murray: efficiency and consistency. He has a habit of being a bit of a streaky shooter.

RELATED: Top 100 players | Top off-guards | Top Wings | Top Bigs

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

5. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

If this list was my own, and not a collaboration with the rest of the CBT team, Jackson would be higher. I think he’s going to have a huge year, good enough to be a second- or third-team all-american. Mike Brey loves to force-feed his lead guards, putting them in ball-screen after ball-screen and allowing them to carry the load offensively, as a scorer and a creator. Jackson has the talent to follow in those footsteps. He may not be as good as Jerian Grant, but he’s got lottery pick written all over him.

6. Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State

Fred Van Vleet is a senior. He reached the Final Four as a freshman, he led Wichita State to a 35-0 record and a No. 1 seed as a sophomore and, as a junior, he helped get the Shockers to the Sweet 16 by beating Kansas in the NCAA tournament. He’s a winner in every sense of the word, and it doesn’t hurt that he averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 assists.

7. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Ferrell is the engine that makes Indiana’s high-octane offense go. As a junior, Yogi’s numbers were quite impressive: 16.9 points, 4.9 assists, 1.9 turnovers and 41.2 percent shooting from three. But the reason that the Hoosiers lost 14 games last season was that they were ranked 214th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. That wasn’t all on Yogi, but he didn’t exactly solve the issue of Indiana’s sieve-like perimeter defense. I will say this: You may not find a more entertaining point guard to watch this season.

8. Monte Morris, Iowa State

Morris is a junior. He’s also the two-time national leader in assist-to-turnover ratio. Starting at the point on a team that has ranked 16th and 17th nationally in pace the last two years, Morris has a grand total of 66 turnovers. For comparison’s sake, Kris Dunn had 138 turnovers last year alone. The biggest question with Morris, like Iowa State as a whole, is how well he will adjust to Steve Prohm’s offense. Worth noting: Prohm turned Isaiah Canaan into an all-american and an early second round pick while helping Cameron Payne develop into a lottery pick.

9. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Murray is the guy that is likely going to put up the impressive numbers for Kentucky this season, but don’t let that blind you to just how good Ulis is. He’s everything that a coach looks for in a point guard: he’s a tough defender, he’s a leader, he’s unselfish, he protects the ball, he creates for his teammates, he can shoot it.

10. Malik Newman, Mississippi State

Newman is a tough guy to rank. On the one hand, the kid is one of the more talented scorers in the country, a combo-guard that can get hot and hit threes from deep. He’s a good bet to lead the entire SEC in scoring. But he’s also on a team that isn’t going to have that many other weapons, meaning that there are going to be times where a bad shot from Newman is a good shot for the Bulldogs. In other words, he’ll be a high-usage, high-scoring, low-efficiency player. How much do you value those offensive ratings?

  • 11. Tyrone Wallace, Cal: Wallace is a guy that I think should be getting more attention nationally. His shooting issues are a red flag, but he’s going to be the lead guard for what should be a Pac-12 contender embracing the small-ball revolution.
  • 12. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State: Consistency and efficiency. He went for 30-plus three times last season, but he scored in the single digits eight times, shot 28.1 percent from three and averaged 3.4 turnovers. Hopefully, the influx in talent in Tallahassee means he won’t have to do so much.
  • 13. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Arguably the most underrated player in the Big East. His decision to return to school instead of declare for the NBA Draft is the reason Georgetown is a Big East contender.
  • 14. Nic Moore, SMU: Moore’s three postseasons at SMU: snubbed as a sophomore, goaltended as a junior and banned as a senior. It’s a shame, because he’s really, really good.
  • 15. Frank Mason, Kansas: Mason turned into the heart and soul of last year’s Kansas team. He’s tough, he sets a tone defensively and he makes some big shots. The most popular man in Lawrence not named Bill Self.
  • 16. Jalen Brunson, Villanova: How good is Brunson? He may end up moving the reigning co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono off the ball this season.
  • 17. Isaiah Taylor, Texas: Taylor never really seemed to get into a rhythm after injuring his wrist last November, but he should be a perfect fit at the point for new head coach Shaka Smart.
  • 18. Cat Barber, N.C. State: The former five-star recruit should finally round into form as a junior. He’s had some big moments helping the Wolfpack reach back-to-back Sweet 16s.
  • 19. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Koenig took over for the injured Traevon Jackson midway through last season, keeping his starting spot even when Jackson returned to health. He’ll have a lot on his plate this year as the Badgers replace five of their top seven from last season.
  • 20. Sterling Gibbs, UConn: Gibbs was impressive last season despite Seton Hall’s late season collapse. He’s a stop-gap for UConn at the lead guard spot as they wait for Jalen Adams to be ready to run the shot.

Others considered: Shaq Harrison (Tulsa) Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova), London Perrantes (Virginia), Maodo Lo (Columbia), Bryce Alford (UCLA), Jalan West (Northwestern State)

Ranking College Basketball’s Top Back Courts

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We’re labeling this as the nation’s top back courts, but truthfully, it’s the nation’s top perimeters. That’s why you’ll see guys like Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, small forwards that will play the four a lot this season, listed here. 

One thing we realized making this list: There are an inordinate number of talented guards in college basketball this season, especially those that will get labeled as lead guards. So many, in fact, that the likes of Miami, Iowa State and Texas A&M didn’t even crack the top 15.

Here is our list. What did we get wrong?

1. Kentucky (Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe, Charles Matthews, Mychal Mulder)

They don’t rebuild in Lexington they reload, and John Calipari has quite the perimeter rotation at his disposal despite losing three of his top four guards from a season ago. The returnee is 5-foot-9 sophomore Tyler Ulis, who has emerged as this team’s leader. But he isn’t the only guard in the group who operates will with the ball in his hands, as both Briscoe and Murray will also have ample opportunities to create offensively. The 6-foot-4 Murray was one of the standouts at the Pan-American Games in Canada this summer, as he went off to lead the hosts past the United States in the semifinals. Matthews and Mulder aren’t slouches either, giving Kentucky additional talent and depth with their presence.

2. Wichita State (Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Conner Frankamp, Landry Shamet, Evan Wessel)

Baker and VanVleet are two of the nation’s best at their respective positions and they’re going to appear on multiple preseason (and end of season, for that matter) All-America teams as a result. Wessel gives this group added toughness, and Kanas transfer Conner Frankamp will give Wichita State another capable shooter when he becomes eligible in December. The 6-foot-4 Shamet is a Top 100 recruit who will fight for minutes now and be a key figure for the Shockers in the years to come.

3. Indiana (James Blackmon Jr., Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson, Nick Zeisloft)

This group is one of the reasons why the Hoosiers will enter the 2015-16 season ranked, with senior point guard Yogi Ferrell leading the way. Ferrell led the Hoosiers in scoring and assists a season ago, and he also led the team in made three-pointers. Blackmon should be better as a sophomore after tailing off somewhat down the stretch last year and the same goes for classmate Johnson, with Zeisloft coming off of a year in which he shot 45 percent from beyond the arc.

4. North Carolina (Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams)

Paige enters his senior season as one of the the best guards in the country, as he’s comfortable as either a scorer or a distributor for the Tar Heels. Jackson, who was a key contributor for North Carolina as a freshman, looks poised for a breakout year as he moves into the starting spot left vacant by J.P. Tokoto, and classmate Pinson is healthy after dealing with injuries last season. Both Berry and Britt are capable contributors but they have to get better as playmakers, thus relieving some of the pressure on Paige. The one thing this group was missing a season ago was another shooter to go with Paige, and if called upon Williams has the ability to be that guy.

5. Michigan (Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Spike Albrecht, Kameron Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins, Duncan Robinson)

Irvin is working his way back to 100 percent after undergoing back surgery in early September, and his return will make Michigan’s perimeter attack one of the deepest and most talented groups in the country. LeVert was projected by some to be an All-America caliber player prior to last season, and Walton and Irvin are also players capable of earning postseason honors. Albrecht will also be a factor, with Abdur-Rahkman, Chatman and Dawkins gaining valuable experience as freshmen due to the injuries that sidelined LeVert and Walton. The “wild card” is Robinson, who sat out last season after averaging 17.1 points per game as a freshman at Division III Williams College in 2013-14.

RELATED: Top front courts in college basketball | Top 100 Players

Buddy Hield (AP Photo)
Buddy Hield (AP Photo)

6. Oklahoma (Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard, Chrisyian James, Rashard Odomes, Dinjiyl Walker)

Lon Kruger’s perimeter rotation won’t lack for experience as reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Hield and Cousins are both seniors and Woodard will be a junior. Walker played 10.6 minutes per game as a junior last season and figures to be in a similar reserve role. As for the freshmen, both James and Odomes are players who will look to earn minutes but ultimately benefit down the line from competing with (and against, in practice) the veteran guards.

7. Villanova (Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo)

Big East Co-Player of the Year Arcidiacono is back for his senior season, with Big East tournament MOP Josh Hart appearing poised to take a significant step forward as a junior. And then there are the freshmen, most notably a lead guard in Brunson who enters college as one of the best at his position. DiVincenzo and Bridges, with the latter having redshirted last season, give Villanova additional skill and athleticism on the wing and Booth gives Wright another point guard to call upon.

8. Duke (Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, Derryck Thornton Jr.)

Allen, who stepped forward in a big way in the national title game, returns for his sophomore season and Jones gives Duke an experienced wing option who’s a solid defender and capable perimeter shooter. Given the personnel losses the three freshmen will be especially important this year, with Thornton being asked to take over at the point and Ingram being a slender wing who can score from anywhere on the court. As for Kennard, he’s good enough to see time at both guard spots, and given Duke’s numbers he’ll likely have to do just that.

9. Maryland (Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Rasheed Sulaimon, Dion Wiley, Jaylen Brantley)

The Terrapins did lose leader Dez Wells from last season’s NCAA tournament team, but most of the perimeter rotation returns led by preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Melo Trimble. Trimble’s a handful with the ball in his hands, making sound decisions in ball screen situations and getting to the foul line at a very high rate. Layman, who took a step forward as a junior, has the potential to be even better as a senior with Nickens and Wiley looking to earn more minutes as sophomores. And the newcomers, Brantley and Sulaimon, will also contribute with the latter giving Maryland another quality perimeter shooter (and he’s a good defender too).

10. California (Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Jabari Bird, Stephen Domingo, Jordan Mathews, Sam Singer)

Depth, which was an issue all over the court for the Golden Bears a season ago, won’t be a problem in 2015-16. Wallace, one of the nation’s top point guards, leads the way with a trio of juniors (Bird, Mathews and Singer) also having a wealth of experience. Add in two talented newcomers in Brown, who could see time at the four in smaller lineups, and Georgetown transfer Domingo and head coach Cuonzo Martin has a host of options at his disposal.

Tyrone Wallace (AP Photo)
Tyrone Wallace (AP Photo)

11. Virginia (Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Marial Shayok, Devon Hall, Evan Nolte, Darius Thompson)

The Cavaliers have to account for the departure of Justin Anderson on the perimeter, but it certainly helps to have veterans Brogdon and Perrantes back on campus. Brodgon was a first team All-ACC selection a season ago, and his skill on both ends of the floor merits All-America mention this season. Perrantes is a solid floor general who can do even more from a scoring standpoint. Nolte and Shayok were rotation players last season, and Hall and Thompson (who redshirted after transferring in from Tennessee) will also compete for minutes.

12. Michigan State (Denzel Valentine, Eron Harris, Tum Tum Nairn, Bryn Forbes, Matt McQuaid, Kyle Ahrens, Alvin Ellis)

This group is led by one of the nation’s most versatile players in Valentine, who can play anywhere from the one to the three depending on match-ups. Forbes should be more consistent in his second season with the program, and Nairn looks poised to step forward as the next in a long line of high-level point guards to play for Izzo. Harris is a transfer from West Virginia who many expect to hit the ground running, and Ellis will also look to solidify his spot in the rotation. As for the freshmen, they’ll look to carve out roles in what is a deep rotation.

13. Connecticut (Daniel Hamilton, Sterling Gibbs, Rodney Purvis, Jalen Adams, Omar Calhoun, Sam Cassell Jr.)

Ryan Boatright’s moved on, but UConn’s perimeter rotation is more balanced (and deeper) than it was a season ago. Part of that is due to their additions, with the explosive Adams and experienced Gibbs joining the ranks. As for holdovers, head coach Kevin Ollie has those as well with Calhoun being a senior, Cassell and Purvis (who put together some solid outings down the stretch last season) being juniors and the versatile Hamilton (AAC Rookie of the Year) being a sophomore.

14. Kansas (Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason III, Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonté Graham, Brannen Greene, LaGerald Vick)

This ranking could prove to be low at season’s end, depending upon (in part) the progress made by Selden. The junior played very well at the World University Games in South Korea this summer, and if he can build on that play the Jayhawks will undoubtedly have one of the top guards in the country. Mason gives them an absolute pitbull at the point, with Graham being another player capable of running the point. And in Green, Mykhailiuk and Vick, Kansas won’t lack for depth on the wings either.

15. Florida State (Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon, Terance Mann, Malik Beasley, Benji Bell, Robbie Berwick)

While he’ll once again be one of the top guards in the ACC, Rathan-Mayes will have some much-needed help on the perimeter. Bookert and Brandon give Florida State two experienced seniors, Berwick saw solid minutes as a freshman, and their newcomers arrive on campus amidst much fanfare. Bacon may be the marquee freshman, but Beasley and Mann will also compete for minutes with junior college transfer Bell looking to do the same.

Also Considered: Miami, Iowa State, UCLA, Notre Dame, LSU, Louisville, Providence, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M

AAC Preview: Can SMU win the league without a postseason?

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

Today, we are previewing the American Athletic Conference.

The AAC is in for an awkward season as the league’s best team — SMU — will likely be spending the majority of the season trying to win a yet-to-be-filed appeal with the NCAA that will allow them to participate in the NCAA tournament this season.

Then again, the AAC is one of those leagues whose existence still feels a bit awkward. The football-playing leftovers of the Old Big East, the AAC pairs some of the nation’s top basketball programs — UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati, Temple — with some programs that make you wonder if you need to redefine if the AAC is truly a high-major conference — East Carolina, Tulane, UCF.

In recent years, there’s been a clear-cut difference between the top of the conference and the bottom of the league. This year, with Houston and South Florida improving, that line may get a bit blurrier, but there is still a decided difference between the three or four real contenders — SMU, Tulsa, UConn and Cincinnati — and everyone else.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. SMU could win the league but may not be postseason eligible: If you read this site than you’re probably already aware of how I feel about the postseason ban the NCAA handed SMU. I hate it. I think it’s morally wrong simply because the people that pay the ultimate price — seniors Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert — are the ones that are actually hurt here. Because this SMU roster, which also includes Keith Frazier (who earned them that ban), Ben Moore and Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye, is good enough to not only win the AAC regular season title, but they have the pieces — and the head coach — to make a Final Four run.

Here’s to hoping that the appeal process takes six months. I want to see this team have a chance to play in March.

(UPDATE: Since this preview was published, SMU has announced that they will not appeal their postseason ban.)

2. This is the year for Tulsa to make their run: Frank Haith will never have a better chance than this to win the AAC. Looking beyond the fact that his backcourt of Shaq Harrison and James Woodard is as good as any in the league and that they are coming off of a season where they won 14 league games, the Golden Hurricane are about as old as you can get at the college level. They return their top seven scorers from last season — their first in the American and their first under Haith — and all seven of them are seniors. Tulsa’s roster is stacked with enough talent to win the league, but it will also lose enough talent to ensure that Haith will have a significant rebuild on his hands beginning in 2016-17.

3. UConn’s fifth-year seniors make the difference: Kevin Ollie has talent. There’s no question about that. Daniel Hamilton has a shot at being the AAC Player of the Year. Rodney Purvis was a top 15 recruit. Amida Brimah is one of the nation’s best shot-blockers. Jalen Adams is a stud. But the keys to this Husky team are going to be the fifth-year additions, Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs and Cornell transfer Shonn Miller. Gibbs is exactly the kind of lead guard that has carried UConn in recent years, while Miller is exactly the kind of do-it-all four-man that the Huskies were missing last year.

AP Photo
AP Photo

4. Memphis lost their best player: Josh Pastner really cannot catch a break. In July of this year, the Tiger head coach found out that Austin Nichols, who would have had a decent argument for being the Preseason Player of the Year, was leaving the program. The Tigers do add Dedric and K.J. Lawson, and Ricky Tarrant should theoretically help stabilize things at the point guard spot, but unless Kedren Johnson has magically turned into the guy he was three years ago at Vanderbilt or Shaq Goodwin has taken a giant step forward, the Tigers are probably the fifth-best team in the AAC, and that’s being optimistic. Another year without a trip to the NCAA tournament could mean that Pastner’s tenure in Memphis is over.

5. Don’t forget about Cincinnati with Mick Cronin back: Cincinnati’s fiery head coach Mick Cronin missed the majority of last season as he dealt with an unruptured aneurysm in his brain. He’s back now, and he should have the pieces to make an NCAA tournament run. Troy Caupain is back to captain the squad, while the likes of Octavious Ellis and Gary Clark return inside. In fact, Cincinnati essentially returns everyone that matters from last year, but the x-factor this season could end up being the addition of Justin Jenifer, a pint-sized point guard that could fill a role Cincy was missing a year ago.

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

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “SMU. They are as good as anyone in the country, even with the ban. Nic Moore, the Player of the Year, is coming back, and they still have a guy like Markus Kennedy, who crushed us. When we played them we had control of the game until he went totally bonkers. We couldn’t handle him.”
  • Sleeper: “Houston. I think they will make a jump in what they were last year to this year. Kelvin Sampson is a really good coach and they add some kids (Ronnie Johnson, Damyean Dotson). They already had some players, too.”
  • Best player: “This may be surprising, but I think Daniel Hamilton at UConn is a terrific, terrific player. He’s one of the better players in the country and I think he’s going to be in line to have a breakout year.”
  • Most underrated player: “James Woodard at Tulsa. I’m sure people in the league realize he’s a good player, but I think that he’s one of the premier guards in the league. And I know how good some of the guards in the league are.”

PRESEASON AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU

Moore, the reigning AAC Player of the Year, has been sensational in his first two seasons with the Mustangs after transferring into the program from Illinois State. As a junior, he averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 assists and 2.3 boards while shooting 41.6 percent from three. He’s the best guard in a league that’s stocked with talented perimeter players, and it’s a shame that his career looks like it’s going to be remembered by a postseason ban and a game-losing goaltend.

THE REST OF THE AMERICAN FIRST TEAM:

  • Daniel Hamilton, UConn: Hamilton averaged 10.9 points as a freshman despite, at times, showing questionable shot selection and decision-making. Entering school with the rep of being a pure scorer, he also produced 7.2 boards and 3.7 assists a night.
  • Sterling Gibbs, UConn: Gibbs is a perfect piece for Kevin Ollie. A talented, veteran lead guard capable of taking over games and with the intestinal fortitude to take and make big shots. Hopefully, UConn fans forgive him for being related to Ashton.
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard’s reputation is that of being a spot-up shooter, but he could very well end up being the best player on a team that will once again challenge for the regular season title.
  • Markus Kennedy, SMU: Kennedy’s numbers as a junior were impacted after he was ineligible for the first semester last season. He’s the best low-post player in the conference and a piece that can take over a game when he needs to.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa
  • Amida Brimah, UConn
  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati
  • Louis Dabney, Tulane
  • Quentin DeCosey, Temple

BREAKOUT STAR: Gary Clark, Cincinnati

Clark is a prototype Cincinnati front court player: long and athletic with a motor that doesn’t stop running, and on a team that’s built around toughness, defense and outworking their opponents, Clark is a perfect fit. The 6-foot-8 sophomore isn’t going to put up huge numbers — he averaged 7.8 points, 7.2 boards and 1.3 blocks on a team that didn’t have a double-figure scorer last season — but he’s going to be an integral piece if the Bearcats make a run at a league title.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Josh Pastner, Memphis

This one is obvious. It feels like Pastner’s job has been on the line since he took over for John Calipari. While the success he’s had with the Tigers has been in line with just about every coach in the program’s history, he had the misfortune of following in Cal’s footsteps. The standards he has to live up to are overwhelming, and, needless to say, Pastner has not lived up to them. With Austin Nichols, arguably the best big man in the league last season, transferring out of the program this summer, Pastner is staring down the barrel of another season without an NCAA tournament trip. He better hope those Lawsons are the real deal.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : SMU should not be sitting out of the NCAA tournament. They could have made the Final Four.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The perimeter battles at the top of the league. Nic Moore and Keith Frazier vs. Sterling Gibbs and Daniel Hamilton vs. Jordan Woodard and Shaq Harrison.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Feb. 13, Gonzaga at SMU
  • Nov. 25, UConn vs. Michigan
  • Dec. 8, UConn vs. Maryland
  • Nov. 17, Wichita State at Tulsa
  • Dec. 12, Cincinnati vs. Xavier

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @NoEscalators

PREDICTED FINISH

1. SMU: The best coach, the best point guard and the best big man. Whether or not they are eligible for the postseason, the Mustangs are the best team in the conference.
2.UConn: Landing Gibbs, Miller and Adams was key, but it will be the development of Hamilton, Purvis and Brimah that determines just how good the Huskies are this season.
3. Tulsa: A senior-laden squad, a talented backcourt and a year under their belt in a new league with a new coach. This is the season for the Golden Hurricane to make their run.
4. Cincinnati: It feels weird calling Cincinnati a sleeper, but that’s what the Bearcats are this year. Nothing they do is going to be glamorous, but there are few coaches that thrive are better blue collar coaches than the now-healthy Mick Cronin.
5. Houston: The Cougars are the most intriguing team in the AAC this year. They have a roster stocked with big names and a coach in Kelvin Sampson that has already proven how good he is. But they also had quite a bit of talent on the roster last season and they finished 4-14 in the league. Ronnie Johnson, L.J. Rose, Damyean Dotson, Devonta Pollard and Chicken Knowles. That roster should be relevant.
6. Temple: Losing Will Cummings will hurt, Jaylen Bond and Quentin DeCosey should be able to anchor a roster that returns some promising young talent.
7. Memphis: Losing Austin Nichols was a brutal blow, but if either Johnson or Tarrant solidifies the point guard spot, the Tigers should have enough on their roster to make an NCAA tournament push.
8. South Florida: Corey Perry Jr. graduated, but Roddy Peters, a former top 25 recruit, should be able to replace that production.
9. Tulane: The Green Wave return Louis Dabney and add Washington transfer Jernard Jerreau to help bolster their front court.
10. East Carolina: B.J. Tyson has a chance to put up some impressive numbers this season. ‘Wins’ may not be one of those numbers.
11. UCF: Am I the only one hoping that Donnie Jones pairs 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall and 6-foot-9, 330 pound Justin McBride in his front court?