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

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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.

Pac-12 Season Preview: Power Rankings, Preseason Awards and the return of the Quack?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-20 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Pac-12 Conference.



The Pac-12 is going to be one of the mot interesting conference races this year.

There are four teams that can win the league, and unlike past seasons, there looks to be at least five or six teams that are going to be good enough to earn an at-large bid.

There are also a number of teams with real question marks surrounding their talent.

How will it all play out?

Here is the Pac-12 preview:

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Oregon reloaded, and they’re the favorites to win the league

The Ducks started out the 2018-19 season in sloppy fashion. In late February, they were sitting at 15-12 overall with a 6-8 record in the Pac-12. But after winning four straight to close out the regular season, Oregon not only won the Pac-12 tournament but they took down Wisconsin and UC Irvine in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament to advance to the Sweet 16, where they came within a couple possessions of knocking off Virginia. Put another way, Oregon was playing like a top 10 team by the time that March rolled around.

And it looked like the Ducks had something to build off of moving forward, but this offseason, Altman lost Bol Bol, Louis King and Kenny Wooten to early entry. Throw in the guys that transferred and the players that graduated, and Dana Altman suddenly had a rebuilding job on his hands with just three rotation players coming back.

Well, he rebuilt. In addition to landing a pair of talented grad transfers – sharpshooting guard Anthony Mathis from New Mexico and talented four-man Shakur Juiston from UNLV – he brings in a talented recruiting class that is headlined by C.J. Walker and N’Faly Dante and includes a handful of impact players, including JuCo transfer Chris Duarte. All told, there are eight new bodies coming into the program, and when combined with the return of Payton Pritchard, it gives Altman a roster that looks to be the favorite to win the league.

They have the perfect combination of experience and young talent. They have the best point guard in the league and pair him with arguably the best head coach in the league. That’s how you win conference titles.

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

2. Arizona is back to normal

The thing that craters a college basketball program, what torpedoes recruiting more than actual violations and sanctions, is the uncertainty that surrounds an NCAA investigation. That’s what happened to Arizona two years ago, when they lost what felt like an entire recruiting class because of the FBI investigation into corruption in college hoops.

This year, however, there is stability and certainly. It’s pretty clear that Arizona is not going to fire Sean Miller, which is why the Wildcats were able to land a pair of five-star prospects in Nico Mannion and Josh Green. It’s why transfers like Jemarl Baker and Jordan Brown enrolled at the school. It’s how they solidified their backcourt with the addition of UC Irvine grad transfers Maz Hazzard.

There are some question marks, however, namely the fact that none of Arizona’s big men are all that impressive. I don’t think anyone will feel all that comfortable with the likes of Chase Jeter, Stone Gettings and Ira Lee. That said, there are a couple of promising freshmen in the mix, and they may just be good enough for Arizona to win the Pac-12.

3. Colorado brings back everyone that matters

Colorado quietly finished last season with a 23-13 record, a 10-8 mark in the Pac-12 and on a run where they won 12 of the 16 games that they played in February and March. Perhaps the most important part of that run is that the Buffaloes bring back everyone. McKinley Wright IV, a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year, returns for his junior season as one of the nation’s most underrated point guards. Tyler Bey, who is coming off of an all-conference season, is back as well. Evan Battey will be a sophomore. D’Shawn Schwartz, Shane Gatling and Lucas Siewert will be upperclassmen.

This team is talented, they are experienced and they have earned the right to be considered a favorite to win the conference this season.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

4. Mick Cronin is taking over at UCLA

UCLA might be the most fascinating team in the Pac-12 this season.

On the one hand, they are losing their three most talented players off of last year’s team – Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Moses Brown. That’s not good. On the other hand, the Bruins finally cut ties with Steve Alford, they went out and hired Mick Cronin and they managed to keep the rest of their roster more or less intact. What that means is that the man that got Cincinnati to nine straight NCAA tournaments will take over a UCLA team that has more than enough talent on the roster to get to the Big Dance.

The question is going to be how that roster adjusts to the new regime. Mick Cronin wants to play a certain way. He wants to defend. He wants to rebound. He wants to control tempo. His Bearcat program more or less ran itself over the course of the last decade, but his style of play would not exactly remind you of the Showtime Lakers.

UCLA has talent. Prince Ali, Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, David Singleton, Jules Bernand, Chris Smith, Jaime Jaquez, Alex Olesinski. These are players that had plenty of offers coming out of high school. These are guys that were four- and five-star recruits during their high school days. They have the horses to make some noise this season.

5. Keep an eye on the freshmen at USC and Washington

Arizona isn’t the only program that brought in a pair of five-star guys this offseason.

Washington’s duo is more notable. Isaiah Stewart is a top five prospect in the class and a guy who could every well end up being the most productive player in the league. He will more than replace what Washington loses in Noah Dickerson. The more interesting freshman is Jaden McDaniels, a 6-foot-11 perimeter weapon that has immense skill for someone his size. How well will they acclimate to the college ranks?

Then there are the guys at USC. The biggest name is Onyeka Okongwu, a five-star center and a former teammate of the Ball family. He’s joined on the Trojan roster by Isaiah Mobley, the son of a USC assistant and the older brother of Evan Mobley, arguably the top player in the 2020 class.

PRESEASON PAC -12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

Pritchard is just such a good basketball player. He’s not flashy and he’s not going to draw NBA scouts into the arena, but he just knows how to play. He’s coming off of a season where he averaged 12.9 points, 4.6 assists and 3.9 boards while leading Oregon to the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed, and that came after he averaged 14.5 points and 4.4 assists while leading the Ducks to the Final Four as a No. 3 seed.

His experience is going to be so much more important this season as well. Oregon is going to be very new. They will have just three returning players in the mix and a large class of freshmen, JuCo transfers and grad transfers. Pritchard’s reliability will be more important than ever this year.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

THE REST OF THE ALL-PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

  • MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado: One of the most under-appreciated players in the country. Wright is right there with Pritchard as the favorite to win Player fo the Year in the Pac-12. He’s also the main reason that the Buffaloes are, on paper, an NCAA tournament team.
  • NICO MANNION, Arizona: The crown jewel of Arizona’s recruiting class, Mannion is a future lottery pick that will be the engine for this Arizona team.
  • TRES TINKLE, Oregon State: Playing for your father has to be a thrill for most college athletes, but it is a shame that Tinkle hasn’t been at a bigger program. He’s a terrific player that deserves more exposure.
  • ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: Stewart could end up being the most productive big man in the conference – and maybe the most productive freshman in college basketball – even if fellow five-star freshman Jaden McDaniels has the higher ceiling long term.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • REMY MARTIN, Arizona State
  • JOSH GREEN, Arizona
  • TYLER BEY, Colorado
  • JADEN MCDANIELS, Washington
  • ONYEKA OKONGWU, USC

BREAKOUT STAR: McKinley Wright, Colorado

Wright doesn’t technically qualify as a breakout star because he was so good last season, but I’m listing him here because I think that he is the guy that makes the leap from popular amongst Pac-12 nerds to being a bonafide star in the collegiate ranks. With an experienced roster coming back, the Buffaloes are a very real threat to win the league, and the biggest reason for that is Wright.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Jerod Haase, Stanford

This may be a year early on Haase, but this is his fourth season in Palo Alto, and the Caridnal have not really improved despite the fact that he has had improved talent coming through the ranks. He has finished under-.500 in two of his first three season, has a 25-29 record in a weak era for Pac-12 basketball and has yet to finish a season with fewer than 16 losses.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

It’s been a while since we saw six Pac-12 teams in the NCAA tournament, but they got it done this year.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Seeing veteran laden teams like Colorado and Oregon push around one-and-done factories Washington and Arizona.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 11/12, Memphis at Oregon
  • 11/16, Tennessee vs. Washington (Toronto)
  • 12/7, Arizona at Baylor
  • 12/8, Gonzaga at Washington
  • 12/14, Gonzaga at Arizona
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. OREGON: The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Ducks are the clear favorite to win the Pac-12. They have the best player in Payton Pritchard. They have arguably the most talent in the league. They have added high-level freshmen talent (C.J. Walker, Chandler Lawson, N’Faly Dante) and impact veteran transfers (Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, Chris Duarte). Perhaps most importantly, they have a head coach that has proven he has the ability to get a roster of new faces to buy in and play together.

2. ARIZONA: I love the backcourt talent on Arizona’s roster. I don’t think anyone is questioning how good Nico Mannion and Josh Green can be. The issue is whether or not the big guys are going to step up and be good enough, and if guys like Max Hazzard can provide enough experience to carry the freshmen through the tough moments.

3. COLORADO: The Buffaloes are far and away the most experienced team in the Pac-12. They essentially bring back everyone from last season’s rotation, two of whom – McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey – were all-conference players last year. This looks like it will be Tad Boyle’s best team in Boulder, and they have the horses to make a run at the league title.

4. WASHINGTON: I can see the Huskies finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the conference and I would not be surprised. Just how good is Jaden McDaniels going to be in his one season on campus? Will Quade Green get eligible immediately? Can the likes of Naz Carter and Hameir Wright fill the void left by Matisse Thybulle? There is talent on this roster. There are question marks as well.

5. USC: In theory I really like this USC team. Their frontcourt is absolutely loaded, they have a couple of very good freshmen in the mix and they added experience and shooting in the grad transfer market. What I’m not convinced of is whether or not this group actually has the point guard play they are going to need to crack the top four in the Pac-12.

6. ARIZONA STATE: There are things to like about this Arizona State program. Their starting backcourt of Rob Edwards and Remy Martin is talented and old, which is the perfect combination in the college ranks, Romello White is back up front and Bobby Hurley has brought in enough new pieces to help fill in the gaps on the roster. The key to the Sun Devils approaching their ceiling will center around Taeshon Cherry and Kimani Lawrence. If they play up to their ability, this should be a tournament team.

7. UCLA: I tend to err on the side of success when it comes to Mick Cronin, and the truth is that there is talent on his roster with the Bruins. The key is going to be the buy-in, and while everyone said all the right things when I wrote this piece, it’s hard to know exactly what is going on in that locker room or how the players will react when Mick goes full Mick.

8. OREGON STATE: It’s not crazy to say that Tres Tinkle is the best player in the Pac-12 right now. He’s a big-time scorer that can space the floor, play in the paint and create offense for his teammates. The problem is that outside of Tinkle, Ethan Thompson and maye Kylor Kelley or Payton Dastrup, there just isn’t all that much talent on the roster.

9. STANFORD: My general apathy towards the Stanford program is more or less explained in the Coach Under Pressure section, but at the very least we can say the Cardinal have a roster that looks stronger than the bottom of the Pac-12. Daejon Davis, Bryce Wills, Kodye Pugh, Oscar Da Silva, Jaiden Delaire. There are some good pieces here, but struggling with good pieces more or less sums up Stanford basketball this decade.

10. UTAH: Larry Krystkowiak is a good coach that can get the most out of the players on his roster, but the Utes have just one player on their team that is an upperclassmen and that’s junior JuCo transfer Alfonso Plummer.

11. CAL: Mark Fox takes over for Wyking Jones at Cal after Jones went 8-23 last season and won just three Pac-12 games. It’s not pretty in Berkeley, but there are two things that give me confidence about the Golden Bears. On the one hand, Matt Bradley will be back for his sophomore season and I think he’s a guy with all-conference potential. I also tend to trust Mark Fox, who has had some success at the high-major level, to find a way to be more competitive than Cal was last season. That’s about all the nice things I have to say.

12. WASHINGTON STATE: Kyle Smith takes over a Washington State program that is not exactly in a great spot right now. In five years in Pullman, Ernie Kent has never won more than 13 games, and he leaves Smith with a roster that went 4-14 in the conference last year and lost its best player, Robert Franks. That’s less than ideal.

After Texas Tech, what is the next program to go from off-the-map to powerhouse?

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Perhaps the most interesting part of the 2019 NCAA Tournament was the fact that the two teams that eventually played for the national title are not known as powerhouses in the sport, at least not traditionally.

Virginia has grown into arguably the healthiest and most sustainable program in the country given the way they identify recruits, develop players within their program and win at a high level year after year. Texas Tech, on the other hand, has grown into being a juggernaut in the Big 12 on the strength of their ability to get players to buy-in from the moment they set foot on campus.

The result is that today, as we enter the dog days of the 2019 summer, both the Cavaliers and the Red Raiders are sitting pretty as two of the top 10-15 programs in the sport.

So who’s next?

Which programs are on the verge of making a similar leap?

To put together a list, we eliminated every team that has either made a Final Four or won a regular season title in one of the top nine conferences in the last five years. Here is what we came up with.

Chris Mack (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

THE FLUKES

There are four teams that meet the criteria for eligibility on this list that really should not be in this discussion.

LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals are one of the top ten programs in the sport. They won the 2013 national title, their third national title in the last 40 years, and, I’d argue, the biggest reason they don’t currently have a regular season title of Final Four to their name in the last five years has as much to do with strippers, Adidas and a conference that includes Duke, UNC and Virginia as anything. Put another way, it only took Chris Mack one year to get the Cardinals to the point where they are entering the season as a top ten team.

FLORIDA: In 2014, Florida was the best team in college basketball, winning the SEC outright, the SEC tournament and getting to the Final Four. They won back-to-back titles less than 15 years ago and Mike White has them heading into this season as a preseason top ten team. Arbitrary cut-off dates are the only reason they qualify.

MEMPHIS: Near the end of John Calipari’s tenure with the Tigers, they were one of the most powerful programs in the sport. Remember, if he doesn’t leave for Kentucky before the 2009-10 season, then John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry and maybe even Eric Bledsoe would have suited up for the Tigers that year. That would have been arguably the greatest recruiting class of all-time to this day. We’re now ten years removed from that, however, and while Memphis hasn’t reached those heights since, they have put a man in charge that may be capable of getting them there. Penny Hardaway is already making waves on the recruiting trail and it shouldn’t be long before they are hanging banners again.

OHIO STATE: I’m not sure if people realize this, but during Thad Matta’s heydey, from 2005-06 through 2012-13, the Buckeyes were probably the best program in the Big Ten. In those eight years, they won five Big Ten regular season titles, four Big Ten tournament titles, reach seven NCAA tournament, got to the Sweet 16 five times, made it to a pair of Final Fours and came one Joakim Noah away from winning a national title with Greg Oden and Mike Conley on their roster. And it’s not like that success came out of nowhere. The Buckeyes won four Big Ten titles between 1991 and 2002 and reached the Final Four in 1999. The fact that they are eligible for this list has more to do with Thad Matta’s health than anything else. Chris Holtmann will get them to the promised land sooner rather than later.

Dan Hurley (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

CHASING PAST GREATNESS

UCONN: UConn has won four of the last 20 national titles. When Jim Calhoun retired, they were a top ten program in the sport. But then Kevin Ollie took over as the Big East split up and the Huskies were relegated to the American. Ollie drove the program into the ground as the fanbase got frustrated with a lack of relevant rivals, and as a result, new head coach Dan Hurley led UConn to their third straight season below .500 in his first season at the helm. He’s still a year or two away from really getting the program back on track, but with a return to the Big East coming in 2020-21, things are trending in the right direction.

MARYLAND: The Terps have yet to really get back to where they were during the height of the Gary Williams era, when they were going blow-for-blow with Duke in the ACC. Remember, won a national title in 2002. Since Mark Turgeon has taken over, he’s done a lot of the right things. He’s recruiting well, he’s winning games and he’s building rosters that look good on paper. The problem is that we haven’t quite seen the results on the floor. For example, in 2015-16, the Terps entered the season ranked No. 1 by a handful of projections only to finish the years 27-9 overall with a 12-6 mark in the Big Ten and a No. 5 seed. This year, Maryland once again looks to be a preseason top ten team with the likes of Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith and a loaded sophomore class. All Turgeon is missing at this point is the actual on-court production.

UCLA: The Mick Cronin era is going to be a fascinating one to follow. He’s spent the past 13 years running one of the most successful programs in Cincinnati, but he did so playing a style that was all about physicality, toughness and defense. If Cincinnati won the fight, so to speak, they were going to win the game. UCLA has not exactly been known as a program built on toughness, or defense, or physicality, or, in recent years, winning. There is talent on their roster right now. How will those players adjust to a new regime is yet to be seen, and it will be one of the most fascinating subplots for the next few years.

Scott Drew (John Weast/Getty Images)

SO WHO IS ACTUALLY PRIMED FOR A LEAP TO GREATNESS?

BAYLOR: The perception of Scott Drew has done a complete 180 in the last half-decade. For a while, the running joke was that he is a recruiter that cannot coach. In recent seasons, the exact opposite has been true. Drew has developed players within his program while at the same time managing to be one of the best in the business at identifying prospects that will fit into the way he wants to play. Last year was the perfect example. Baylor entered the season with exactly zero expectation, and despite dealing with a ton of injuries – including a season-ending injury to his best player, Tristan Clark – the Bears managed to win 20 games and get to the NCAA tournament. They will enter this season as a top 15 team.

USC: Andy Enfield has proven that he knows how to get it done on the recruiting trail. He has two five-stars enrolling at his program this season. He has the top player in the Class of 2020, Evan Mobley, enrolling next season. The issue with USC is that the Trojans have not been able to have the success on the floor match what their potential is on paper. We’ll see if that changes this season.

ALABAMA: Alabama’s decision to hire Nate Oats was a bit of a weird choice. Oats had a ton of success at Buffalo, but he is a guy that spent his entire basketball life in Wisconsin, Michigan and Upstate New York. Now he’s running a program in the deep south. He’s going to have to find a way to recruit the region to compete with the teams at the top of the league (Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn), but the early returns are promising. Oats managed to keep his most important pieces, Kira Lewis and John Petty, in town.

N.C. STATE: I’m a big Kevin Keatts fan and I fully believe that he is going to find a way to get that program somewhere near where N.C. State fans want it to be. The big question, however, is going to be what kind of hit is the program going to take as a result of the NCAA charging them based on violations that were committed by Mark Gottfriend and Orlando Early and that turned up as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption.

Patrick Ewing (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

GEORGETOWN: I’m bullish on the Hoyas. I know they were a laughing stock in recent seasons because of their non-conference scheduling, but there was a method to the madness. Patrick Ewing was trying to get some talent into the program and build a base level of confidence with what he actually had on his roster. It has seemed to work, as Georgetown entered the 2019 Big East tournament with a real chance to play their way into an at-large bid. It didn’t work out that way, but with a promising pair of sophomore guards and some success recruiting local talent, I think Georgetown has a chance to reclaim past glory.

SETON HALL: If the Pirates are going to have that major breakthrough, this might be the year for it to happen. They return everyone from a 20-win team, including an All-American in Myles Powell and a trio of terrific role players in Quincy McKnight, Myles Cale and Sandro Mamukelashvili. Villanova is more talented, but Seton Hall has more experience and a very real chance to do what Xavier did in 2018 and win the Big East regular season title. My one concern is that this may be what the ceiling is for the Pirates, but if they live up to my expectations – as a top ten team – that’s a pretty high ceiling.

PROVIDENCE: Eventually, Ed Cooley is going to breakthrough. He is a terrific, well-respected coach – there’s a reason that he almost got the Michigan job despite having only one year in his coaching career with single-digit losses – that had been to five straight NCAA tournaments at a middling job. He also has an influx of young talent in his program, namely David Duke and AJ Reeves, and sooner or later the Friars are going to have a season that is reminiscent of Seton Hall this year, Marquette last year or Xavier two years ago.

THIS IS THE LIST OF TEAMS THAT WERE ELIMINATED FROM THIS DISCUSSION

Arizona, Auburn, Cincinnati, Davidson, Duke, Gonzaga, Houston, Indiana, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Loyola IL, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Purdue, South Carolina, SMU, Syracuse, Temple, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Utah State, VCU, Villanova, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Xavier

Bubble Banter: What is going on with Indiana?

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January has nearly come to a close, which means that it is officially time for Bubble Banter to make its glorious return. 

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • I’ll update them best that I can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something I missed, if you have an issue with a team I left out or if you want to congratulate me on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit me up here: @RobDauster.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below.
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: NEBRASKA, AUBURN, SYRACUSE, MISSISSIPPI STATE, ST. JOHN’S, TCU, WASHINGTON and CINCINNATI
  • Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

CREIGHTON (NET: 61, SOS: 10): The Bluejays have a weird resume. They’re 11-8 on the season, but they don’t have a single bad loss on the season. Seven of their eight losses are to Q1 opponents, and their only Q2 loss came at home against Ohio State, which was a Q1 loss before the Buckeyes recent losing streak. The problem? Creighton doesn’t have any good wins. They beat Butler at home, Clemson on a neutral and Providence on the road. The latter is their only Q1 win, and who knows how long that lasts — the Friars are currently 73rd in the NET, and that becomes a Q2 win if they fall outside the top 75. The other issue is Creighton already lost to both Villanova and Marquette at home, meaning there are no chances for them to get Q1 wins at home the rest of the season. How costly does this blown call look now?

OHIO STATE (NET: 45, SOS: 41): The Buckeyes entered Saturday as one of the teams right on the edge of the bubble’s cut-line thanks to a five-game losing streak, and they did as much as anyone to change their fortunes as anyone — winning at Nebraska. That’s a top 25 road win for the Buckeyes to go along with wins at Cincinnati and at Creighton. The loss at Rutgers is ugly, but as long as the Scarlet Knights remain somewhat respectable, that will be a Q2 loss, more or less equivalent to losing to Syracuse at home.

BAYLOR (NET: 50, SOS: 70): The Bears won their fourth straight on Saturday, knocking off Alabama at home. The Bears have some nice wins on the season — Texas Tech and Iowa State at home and Arizona in Tucson are all Q1 wins — but they are going to have their work cur out for them making the committee forget about home losses to Texas Southern (215) and Stephen F. Austin (270). The added bonus here is that Alabama is one of the teams that Baylor will be going up against for a bid, and this win keeps the Tide for picking up a Q1, non-conference road win.

VCU (NET: 59, SOS: 31): The Rams picked up a win at Duquesne on Saturday which is going to be great for their chase of the Atlantic 10 regular season title, but it doesn’t help their NCAA tournament profile all that much — it’s a Q3 win. VCU’s win at Texas should hold up as a Q1 win come Selection Sunday, but given how weak the Atlantic 10 is, it’s hard to see how they can end up building on their resume too much. Frankly, I’m not sure they can withstand another loss and keep pace with the bubble teams in the Big 12, the Big Ten or the ACC.

HOFSTRA (NET: 47, SOS: 233): Not only does Hofstra lack any Q1 or Q2 wins, they have not even beaten a team that cracks the top 100 in NET. They are 18-3, they have now won 15 straight games against Division I opponents and Justin Wright-Foreman deserves a chance to play on a bigger stage, but I don’t know how they are going to build a profile good enough to get an at-large bid in the CAA.

WOFFORD (NET: 32, SOS: 106): The Terriers improved to 14-4 on the season with their ninth-straight win on Saturday. Wofford actually does have a couple solid wins to their name — they won at UNC Greensboro, they beat Furman and they knocked off South Carolina on the road by 20 points — and probably have the best argument to be an at-large of all the mid-major teams on this list. To make that a reality, they will probably need to win out, but unlike other mid-major leagues, losses at East Tennessee State (79), at Furman (62) or against UNCG (53) won’t be season-enders.

BELMONT (NET: 77, SOS: 125): The Bruins landed a couple of really nice wins this week, adding a second Q1 win to their resume by beating Murray State on the road and following that up with a win at Austin Peay, their third Q2 win. The big issue for Belmont at this point is that they have three losses to Q3 opponents — Jacksonville State twice and at Green Bay. It’s going to be tough to get an at-large, but it’s not an impossibility, especially if UCLA finds a way to become a top 75 team.

MURRAY STATE (NET: 44, SOS: 289): The Racers caught a bad break this week when their star point guard, Ja Morant, sprained his ankle early in their home loss to Belmont. As weird as it sounds, that Belmont team is Murray’s worst loss of the season and a Q3 loss. The biggest issue with this resume is that they are going to end the season having played just two Q1 games — losses at Auburn and at Alabama — and no Q2 games. Their best win is at Southern Illinois, who is 152nd in the NET.

MINNESOTA (NET: 58, SOS: 63): The Gophers picked up a nice Q1 win on Sunday, picking off Iowa in The Barn to move to 15-5 on the season. They are now 4-3 in Q1 games with a win at Wisconsin. There are a pair of Q2 losses on Minnesota’s resume — at Illinois and at Boston College — but this is a tournament worthy profile as of today.

LIPSCOMB (NET: 41, SOS: 180): Lipscomb beat one of the worst teams in Division I on Sunday, taking down Stetson. So that’s a good thing. Even better, however, is just how much carnage there was on the bubble this weekend. San Francisco, Texas, Fresno State, Nebraska, Arizona, Pitt, Florida, Butler, Seton Hall, UCF, Temple — all of these teams taking on water is good for the the mid-majors that are in mix, especially one like Lipscomb, who has won at TCU and at SMU with just four losses, the worst of which is a Q2 loss to Belmont at home.

LOSERS

INDIANA (NET: 36, SOS: 31): Indiana lost their sixth straight game on Friday night, getting blown out by No. 5 Michigan in Assembly Hall. In a vacuum, the Hoosiers are not in a terrible spot just yet. They have four Q1 wins to their name — Marquette, Louisville, Butler (neutral), at Penn State — and all eight of their losses are Q1 games. They still have seven Q1 games left on their schedule. There will be plenty of chances for them to get the good wins they need to stay on the right side of the bubble, and given the strength of the Big Ten, 8-12 might actually be good enough to get them in.

The more interesting question seems to be the Hoosiers themselves, and I’m going to use this space to give you my take on the situation: Beating Marquette the way that he did (96-73) was the worst thing that could have happened to Archie Miller this season because, when combined when Romeo-mania coming into the program, it set expectations much higher than they should have been. The truth is that this is a team that starts two freshmen and two sophomores alongside Juwan Morgan. One of those freshmen is Indiana’s starting point guard, and he wasn’t a top 100 prospect. They are shooting 25 percent from three in Big Ten play and are 13-for-75 from three the last four games.

The truth is that this team is and always was going to be closer to what they’ve been the last month than what they were against Marquette.

And frankly, it’s not quite disaster territory just yet. Those six losses were: at Michigan, at Maryland, Nebraska, at Purdue, at Northwestern, Michigan.

That’s brutal for anyone, let alone a young team that has totally and completely lost any semblance of confidence they had in November.

Yes, Indiana lacks leadership. Yes, Romeo has looked like a freshman far too often. No, Archie Miller has not done a good job with this team. But can we stop pretending like this is the 2008 team going into the tank? Indiana wasn’t ranked in the preseason top 25 for a reason, and you’re seeing it now.

BUTLER (NET: 52, SOS: 24): Butler missed on a chance to land a Q1 on Friday night, falling 75-61 at Creighton. This comes on the heels of whiffing on their shot at Villanova in Hinkle on Tuesday night. As of today, the Bulldogs are 1-6 against Q1 — their win over Ole Miss fell to Q2 with the Rebels dropping outside the top 30 in the NET — with a 12-9 record and a pair of Q3 losses. They’re comfortably on the wrong side of the bubble today.

FLORIDA (NET: 37, SOS: 44): The Gators fell to 11-8 on the season on Saturday after they lost at TCU, 55-50, in another uninspiring performance offensively. The metrics love the Gators — they’ve played a lot of good teams close and have an elite defense — but that hasn’t amounted to many wins. They won at Arkansas — a Q1 win so long as Arkansas doesn’t drop from 70 to outside the top 75 in NET — and they beat Butler at home, but that doesn’t totally make up for the loss to South Carolina in Gainesville.

ALABAMA (NET: 43, SOS: 21): Losing at Baylor was a missed opportunity, but the Tide aren’t in a terrible spot yet. That win over Kentucky is going to continue to look better and better, and they still have six Q1 games left on their schedule as of today. They’ll need to win half of those, however, because three Q3 losses to Northeastern, Texas A&M and Georgia State — the latter two at home — are less than ideal.

PITT (NET: 60, SOS: 57): After a great start to ACC play, the Panthers lost their third straight game on Saturday, falling at Louisville at they led at the half. Jeff Capel has Pitt in a good spot as of today. They’ve beaten Louisville and Florida State and have just one bad loss to their name, but that bad loss is an awful loss — Niagara (301) at home. They’ll get chances, and they’ll need to take advantage of those chances.

TEXAS (NET: 41, SOS: 2): The Longhorns are benefitting from the fact that they have played the second-toughest schedule in college basketball. They’ve already amassed eight Q1 games with four wins, including North Carolina on a neutral, Purdue at home and Kansas State on the road. They do have four Q2 losses — as well as a Q3 loss to Radford at home — but losing at Georgia is hardly a backbreaker, not when they still play at least seven Q1 games during the regular season.

SAINT LOUIS (NET: 75, SOS: 122): The Billikens missed on a terrific chance to land one of the rare Q2 wins they are going to be able to pick up in Atlantic 10 play in excruciating fashion: Jordan Goodwin was fouled with 0.4 seconds left and Saint Louis down one, and he missed them both. The Billlikens have wins over Butler and Oregon State at home as well as a win at Seton Hall, but with two Q3 losses to their name, that’s probably not going to be enough.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 63, SOS: 56): The Pac-12’s dreams of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament took another hit on Saturday, as Arizona State lost at USC on Saturday night. The Sun Devils do have some good wins — Kansas, Mississippi State are all Q1 wins — and they have four Q2 wins as well, but the Sun Devils lost to Utah and Princeton at home. It doesn’t help matters that the only chance for Q1 wins the rest of the season will be in their last three games: at Oregon, at Oregon State and at Arizona.

ARIZONA (NET: 64, SOS: 73): Saturday was not a good day for the Wildcats, either. They went into Pauley Pavilion and got dropped by UCLA, meaning that they were swept by the LA schooled and have now lost three of their last four games. Their win over Iowa State is going to carry some weight in March, that’s the only Q1 win for Arizona, who only has three more chances to land Q1 wins the rest of the year, and all three of those chances will come on the road against teams outside the top 60 in NET.

FRESNO STATE (NET: 65, SOS: 149): Fresno State suffered their worst loss of the season on Saturday, falling at Colorado State (228). That’s their third Q3 loss of the year, and with no Q2 wins and just a pair of Q1 wins (at Utah State, Northwestern), their chances of earning an at-large big probably hinge on whether or not they can win at Nevada in February.

SAN FRANCISCO (NET: 40, SOS: 178): The Dons suffered a loss at San Diego on Saturday night, which actually isn’t as bad as it sounds — San Diego (107) on the road is a Q2 game. That’s excusable. The problem is that the Dons need every good win that they can get. They are 0-2 in Q1 games and just 1-1 against Q2.

TEMPLE (NET: 56, SOS: 40): The only reason that Temple is currently in the discussion for an at-large bid is that they managed to beat Houston (8) at home. That’s a big win. Beyond that, the Owls are 0-3 against Q1 opponents, they’ve already lost at UCF and against Cincinnati at home and also have a Q3 loss to Penn at home. The biggest game of their season comes on Thursday when they play at Houston.

SETON HALL (NET: 56, SOS: 23): The Hall’s losing streak extended to four on Sunday after they were absolutely pummeled by Villanova in Philly. The Wildcats won by 28 points just eight days after Seton Hall lost at home to DePaul. A win over Kentucky on a neutral and at Maryland will look very god on Selection Sunday, but a pair of Q3 home losses is a lot to overcome. The good news: Seton Hall still gets shots at Marquette and Villanova at home.

UCF (NET: 34, SOS: 107): The Knights lost by 20 on Sunday at Memphis, which, to date, is the only Q1 game that UCF has played. They are 3-2 in Q2 games and also took on a loss at home against Florida Atlantic (175), a Q4 loss. With two games left against both Houston and Cincinnati plus a trip to Temple, there are five Q1 games left on their schedule. They’ll need them.

What’s Wrong With Kansas?: After losing back-to-back games, are the Jayhawks still contenders?

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Kansas entered 2017-18 as a preseason top four team, the consensus favorite to win their 14th straight Big 12 regular season title and a contender to make a return to the Final Four and win Bill Self his second national title.

It made sense.

The Jayhawks had an All-American running the show at the point in Devonte’ Graham. They had a former McDonald’s All-American slotted to start alongside him, while two top 20 recruits – sophomore Udoka Azubuike and freshman Billy Preston – anchored a front line that was not deep but that did provide some quality size. There were some easily identifiable issues, but what team didn’t have easily identifiable issues?

In short, there was no real reason to think that Kansas would not be able to do what they always seem to do.

And yet here we are, on Dec. 12th, and the Jayhawks are coming off of back-to-back losses for the first time in four years. That was the year that the Jayhawks lost at Colorado and at Florida with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid on the roster. You have to go back all the way to Nov. 2005 to find the last time that the Jayhawks lost consecutive games that were not on the road. That year, they lost their first two games in the Maui Invitational, and after dispatching Chaminade in the seventh-place game, came back to Lawrence to lose at home to Nevada.

What happened here?

How is it that we all thought would be so good, that looked so dominant for stretches early on this season, lost back-to-back games in the manner that they did?

1. KANSAS DOES NOT HAVE NEARLY ENOUGH BODIES

You cannot talk about Kansas without first mentioning that the Jayhawks are playing with seven scholarship players right now. We’ve been through this over and over again, so I won’t spend too much time on it, but ignoring this problem would be like blaming Goodyear for your flat tire while ignoring that you drove your car directly into a pothole.

As it currently stands, the only players that Bill Self has available to him off the bench are sophomore Mitch Lightfoot and freshman Marcus Garrett. Lightfoot is a stretchy four that should be playing sparingly at this point in his development; he’s being asked to provide 15 minutes a night as the only big man on the roster other than Azubuike. Garrett is a top 50 recruit that has a chance to be a good player and a valuable contributor down the road, but right now he’s not quite ready to provide quality minutes playing, at times, the small-ball four role Josh Jackson played last season.

This is a problem that could get solved by the end of the month. Sam Cunliffe, a transfer from Arizona State that averaged 9.5 points last season, will be eligible for the second semester. At the very least, he’ll provide another shooter, another athlete and five more fouls on the perimeter. The issue is whether or not Preston or high school senior Silvio De Sousa will get eligible. Preston is still sitting out as Kansas and the NCAA work through who paid for the car Preston crashed last month. De Sousa needs to get a high enough test score to graduate and be eligible to enroll early.

Preston should help provide offensively – more on that in a second – while De Sousa would essentially be another big, physical body that can give the Jayhawks rebounding, rim protection and five more fouls.

Both are necessary.

Devonte’ Graham (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

2. KANSAS NEVER REPLACED THE TOUGHNESS THEY LOST WITH JOSH JACKSON AND FRANK MASON III

I discussed this with Jeff Goodman on the most recent episode of the College Basketball Talk podcast. (See below.)

There has never been a player better suited to being a small-ball four in college than Josh Jackson. Let’s for get, for a second, that he was a 6-foot-8 two-guard that could block shots, rebound the ball, make threes and create off the bounce as well as most college point guards. He was also a winner, competitive as all hell and unafraid of the contact and physicality that comes with playing in the paint in the Big 12.

The same can be said for Frank Mason III, who was a pitbull of a point guard. He, too, was uber-competitive and unafraid of a fight, figuratively speaking.

The Jayhawks not only had two alphas on last year’s roster, both of those alphas were all-americans-turned-NBA players. Jackson was the No. 4 pick in the draft while Mason, a second-rounder, looks to be the best rookie point guard in an organization that also drafted De’Aaron Fox.

Who does Bill Self turn to to find that kind of mental and physical toughness?

Devonte’ Graham is a leader in his own way, but he’s not Mason and he doesn’t lead by example the way either of those two did. Svi Mykhailiuk is not tough enough to handle playing the four the way Jackson did. He was barely tough enough to handle the on-ball pressure Arizona State put on him on Sunday. Lagerald Vick is tough, but he’s also a role player and a spot-up shooter that stands all of 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds. He’s not replacing Jackson at the four. Malik Newman isn’t the answer. Mitch Lightfoot certainly isn’t the answer.

There isn’t an answer, far as I can tell.

(Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

“This is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here,” Self told reporters on Monday.

There are two places where that lack of toughness has manifested itself.

It starts on the defensive end of the floor, where Kansas arguably lost their two-best perimeter defenders in Jackson and Mason. Graham and Vick are plus-defenders, but Graham has, in the past, been at his best when he’s chasing an off-guard around screens and denying him the ball, and Vick needs to guards wings; he’s just not big enough to defend in the paint.

Svi is not a good defender. Period. Newman is somewhere between average and not good himself. Combine that lack of perimeter defense with the fact that Azubuike has to limit how aggressive he is as a shot-blocker because of foul issues, and you get a team that can absolutely be exploited by opponents that can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Arizona State – with their trio of dynamic playmakers in Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Remy Martin – will make some of the nation’s best defensive teams look silly. Washington also has some better-than-you-think slashers on their roster.

It’s a major problem.

“I’m not ready to accept that that’s the best we’ve got, but it’s pretty embarrassing to keep looking at the tape afterward and say this is what we don’t have,” Self said. “We’ve been saying it now the entire year, at least from a defensive and competitive standpoint. Maybe we need to do something to shorten the game. Maybe we need to do something to figure out a matchup zone to play or something like that.”

The other place the toughness issue arises is in the ability of the Jayhawks to protect the ball. They gave up roughly a dozen points against Arizona State with pick-six turnovers, and most of those were simply an issue of getting their pocket-picked by an aggressive perimeter defender.

That leads to a bigger discussion, because …

Malik Newman (Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

3. KANSAS ONLY HAS ONE PLAYER THAT CAN CREATE A SHOT

That’s Devonte’ Graham.

He is, legitimately, a top ten player in college basketball and a top four point guard in the sport, depending on what you think of Jalen Brunson, Joel Berry II and Trae Young.

But he’s also the only guy that you can trust to make a play for himself, or to make a teammate better by creating a shot for him. Svi is a spot-up shooter that can, upon occasion, attack a close-out. Vick is also a spot-up shooter than can attack a close-out. Azubuike can finish a lob and score off of an offensive rebound, but for the most part he is a catch-and-dunk big man. Put another way, you’re not giving him the ball on the block and expecting him to be able to draw a foul or score. Lightfoot isn’t really an offensive threat, and Garrett isn’t really ready.

That leaves Newman, and he was supposed to be the guy that made the difference this season. Except … he’s not the guy we thought he was in high school. In four games against high-major competition, Newman is averaging 8.8 points, shooting 37.5 percent from inside the arc, 29.2 percent from three and attempting 60 percent of his field goals from beyond the arc. The most damning stat, however, is that in 129 minutes of action in those four games, Newman has attempted two free throws.

Two!

And he’s not the only one at fault in that regard.

There are just two teams in college basketball that, based on free throw rate (FTA/FGA), get to the free throw line less than Kansas does: Jackson State and Sam Houston State, and they don’t even have the benefit of playing buy games where they are all-but guaranteed to get a friendly whistle in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

There are a few things that lead to that stat:

  • Kansas does not have penetrators that look to put the ball on the floor and get fouled.
  • Kansas does not have post presence that can draw fouls.
  • When Kansas does get the ball into the paint, it quite often ends up being some form of a lob for a dunk, which is not the easiest way to draw fouls.
  • The perimeter players on the Kansas roster all want to be shooters.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Svi shoots 46.2 percent from three. Vick shoots it at 45 percent. Newman is knocking down 40.5 percent of his threes while Graham is hitting 40 percent of his attempts.

The problem is what happens when teams chase them off the three-point line.

Washington did it. They did everything they could to keep Kansas from getting open three-point looks, to the point that, in their 2-3 zone, they Vick – at the high post – to play 2-on-1 with Azubuike against their middle defender. Vick scored 28 points and had seven assists, and – it’s going to sound crazy – when I say this, but he was exposed in that game:

Svi was exposed in the same way against Arizona State, who dogged him with smaller, quicker defends and forced him into a 3-for-14 shooting night while turning the ball over four times:

 

This is something that I think Billy Preston can help solve. He is a bucket-getter. He’s not exactly Perry Ellis, but he is a guy that can ably fill that hybrid-four role that Self loves to use. He’s the guy that can get a post touch, force a double, draw a foul, get a defense moving. He’s the guy that can be the pressure release for guards that are getting swarmed. He’s the guy that can make a team pay if they don’t want to guard him at the high-post of a 2-3 zone.

And who knows when, or if, he’ll actually play this season.

I’m officially worried about this Kansas team, more so than I am with Duke or Arizona.

It’s too early to make any predictions regarding the Big 12 title streak, but if Kansas does not get the reinforcements that they so desperately need, it will soon be time to have a serious conversation about whether or not the Jayhawks are the best team in the Big 12.

Chase for 180: Corey Hawkins turns UC Davis into a Big West contender

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The “Chase for 180″ is back for a second year, and for those who may not be familiar with the project it’s our attempt to identify some of the best shooters in America. But what makes one an “elite shooter?” For some it’s merely the ability to knock down perimeter shots at a high rate, but that isn’t the case for all players. High-level shooting requires proficiency from three, the field overall, and from the foul line. 

“180” refers to the resulting number when adding a player’s field goal, three-point and free throw percentages, with the best shooters either approaching or surpassing that mark. 50 percent or better from the field overall, 40 percent or better from three and 90 percent or better from the foul line. This achievement has occurred more often in college basketball than it has in the NBA, where just six players (Steve Nash did it in four different seasons) have done it in the history of the league. 

We’ll update this list throughout the season, with players also needing to qualify to be ranked by the NCAA in each of the three percentage categories in order to be considered. In order to qualify to be ranked a player needs to have played in at least 75 percent of his team’s games and have averaged: 

  • five or more field goal attempts per game;
  • two or more three-point attempts per game;
  • 2.5 or more free throw attempts per game.

To read prior installments of the Chase for 180, click here

While UC Davis senior guard Corey Hawkins was a preseason all-conference selection back in October, his team was picked to finish seventh in the Big West by the league’s media. However to this point in the season Jim Les’ team has exceeded those expectations, as they’re 16-4 overall and part of a three-way tie for first in the Big West with a 6-1 record. And as expected Hawkins has been a big reason why the Aggies have been so successful, as he’s averaging 21.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.

Hawkins has been a prolific scorer in each of his three seasons at UC Davis after transferring in from Arizona State, but the difference now is that he’s a more efficient player. Hawkins averaged 18.0 points per game in 2013-14, which is a good number, but he did so shooting 44.4% from the field and 32.2% from beyond the arc. Through 20 games this season Hawkins’ shooting percentages are 51.2% (field) and 52.6% (three-pointers), and he’s also shooting 80.6% from the foul line.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers Hawkins’ offensive rating is up to 122.2 this season after finishing the 2013-14 campaign with a rating of 108.3, and that jump is one reason why UC Davis has improved significantly on the offensive end of the floor. UC Davis is ranked third nationally in effective field goal percentage (59.1%), fourth in field goal percentage (50.1%) and first in three-point percentage (45.4%), and they’re ranked 25th in offensive efficiency (not adjusted) after ranking 23oth in that category a season ago.

With Josh Ritchart (12.4 ppg) being the only other Aggie averaging double figures and Josh Fox at 9.4 ppg, a lot is asked of Hawkins (who also leads the team in rebounding and assists) on that end of the floor. Yet even with the attention that opposing teams pay him, Hawkins has flourished for a team that has a realistic shot at its first NCAA tournament berth as a member of the Big West.

In wins over UCSB and Cal Poly last week Hawkins averaged 25.0 points per game, shooting 53.1% from the field and 64.3% from beyond the arc while also averaging 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per. UC Davis’ schedule down the stretch will be tougher, beginning with a road game at UC Irvine Thursday night and remaining games against Long Beach State, Hawaii (which gave them their lone conference loss) and a rematch with UC Irvine.

But if Hawkins can continue to play as he has to this point in the season, Jim Les’ team will be a factor in the Big West title race. And given his ability to shoot the basketball, Hawkins is the kind of player who can carry a team through a conference tournament.

50-40-90 Players

Jack Gibbs (Davidson)
51.7% FG, 41.4% 3PT, 90.8% FT = 183.9

Gibbs remains sidelined due to a slight tear of the meniscus in his knee.

He’s Close to 50-40-90 Status

Derrick Marks (Boise State)
52.7%, 54.7%, 83.8% = 191.2

Marks (23 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field) was too much for Utah State on Tuesday, helping to propel Boise State to its first-ever win in Logan after losing their last 18 games there.

Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington) 
50.5%, 47.6%, 86.1% = 184.2

Harvey shot just 4-for-13 from the field in the Eagles’ win over Idaho on Saturday, and he’ll need a better performance Thursday night at Montana.

Seven More “180” Players

Corey Hawkins (UC Davis)
51.2%, 52.6%, 80.6% = 184.4

Jacob Parker (Stephen F. Austin)
55.6%, 44.9%, 81.8% = 182.3

The Lumberjacks still haven’t lost since late November, and Parker’s shot 50 percent or better from the field in each of the last six games.

Marc Loving (Ohio State)
49.1%, 53.2%, 79.7% = 182.0

Loving didn’t make the trip with the team Wednesday night, and the Buckeyes could have used his shooting as they lost by two at Purdue.

Alec Peters (Valparaiso) 
50.5%, 46.3%, 84.8% = 181.6

In the Crusaders’ three-game win streak Peters has shot 22-for-36 (61.1%) from the field and 7-for-15 (46.7%) from three.

Tim Huskisson (Northern Colorado) 
50.8%, 45.0%, 77.3% = 180.3

Huskisson shot 5-for-11 in a 2-0 week for the Bears, which included a win over Weber State on Saturday.

Justin Anderson (Virginia)
49.7%, 50.0%, 80.6% = 180.3

Anderson bounced back from his showing in the Cavaliers’ loss to No. 4 Duke, shooting 6-for-10 from the field (3-for-5 3PT) in a win at No. 12 North Carolina Monday night.

Rayvonte Rice (Illinois)
51.5%, 48.3%, 80.3% = 180.1

Rice was expected to return to the court against Rutgers, but he and teammate Aaron Cosby were suspended by head coach John Groce.