Ranking the best college basketball teams of the decade

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More college basketball all-decade content here.

The 2010s are coming to an end, which should make you feel incredibly old.

We’ve now gone a full decade with John Calipari in charge of the Kentucky Wildcats. We’re more than a decade removed from the existence of Psycho T on a college basketball campus. In the last ten years, we’ve seen Kentucky and Duke win titles by playing as young as possible, Virginia win by playing as slow as possible, Villanova win by shooting as many threes as possible and UConn win a pair of titles by hoping a star point guard can carry them through a six-game tournament.

We’ve experienced Jimmermania. We survived Zion Williamson’s Shoegate. We watched Louisville win a national title and then had the NCAA erase it from our collective memory because an assistant coach liked to turn dorm rooms into the Champagne Room.

It’s been a wild ride.

And over the course of the next two weeks, we will be taking a look back at some of the best parts of the decade.

Today, we are giving you the ten best college basketball all-decade teams of the last ten seasons.


North Carolina after defeating Gonzaga in the 2017 national title game (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The criteria for ranking the best teams in college basketball over the last decade was pretty simple: We’re not ranking how good the players on these rosters ended up being once they reached the NBA, or how good those teams looked on paper, or even basing it strictly on whether or not they won the national title. Take, for example, 2015. Duke won the national title that season, but I think everyone will agree that the Kentucky team that started the season off at 38-0 was the best team in college basketball that year.

And, for clarity’s sake, we are including the 2009-2010 season in this discussion. We did consider this season as well, but since everyone in college basketball stinks this year, our life was made easier.

So without further ado, these are the definitive, unquestioned best teams that set foot on a college basketball court in the last decade.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

2010 DUKE: Mike Krzyzewski’s first national title of the decade. It might go overlooked among Coach K’s best teams because there were no eventual superstars on the roster, but that team won a share of the ACC regular season title, the ACC tournament title and, of course, the national title with a team that had six NBA players on it. That number doesn’t include Jon Scheyer, who was a senior All-American that probably would have made a roster somewhere if he hadn’t injured his eye.

2014 WICHITA STATE: This was the best team that Gregg Marshall had at Wichita State. The Shockers won their first 35 games of the season, with Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker running the backcourt, but the best player on the roster that year was actually Cleanthony Early, who was eventually picked in the second round of that June’s draft.

2016 VILLANOVA: This season’s version of the Wildcats won the national title and rid Jay Wright of the stigma of being unable to get out of the first weekend of the tournament. I think that the 2018 iteration of the Wildcats was significantly better, but this group had to be considered because A) they won the national title, and B) there were six NBA players on the roster, including three (Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson) in the starting lineup.

2017 NORTH CAROLINA: I was such a big fan of this group. With Joel Berry, Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks leading the way, the Tar Heels won the outright ACC regular season title before making a run to win the national title, redeeming themselves for a loss in the same game the previous season.

2019 DUKE: This Duke team had as much, if not more, talent on their roster than any team that we’ve seen the last decade. R.J. Barrett became the first player to average 22 points, seven boards and four assists at a high-major since Penny Hardaway in 1993, and he was the second-best player on that team. Remember Zion? The Blue Devils finished third in the ACC regular season standings, but they won the ACC tournament and entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed before flaming out in the Elite Eight.


Definitive proof Louisville won the 2013 national title (Mark Cornelison/Getty Images)

10. 2013 LOUISVILLE

RECORD: 35-5 (14-4 Big East)
WHAT THEY WON: Big East regular season title, Big East tournament title, national title
WHO WERE THE STARS?: Russ Smith, Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell

Before we get into it, I need to clarify something: I know you remember this team. I know that you watched them win the national title, and that we all remember Russdiculous doing Russdiculous things and Luke Hancock hitting four straight threes in the title game. But none of that happened. The NCAA erased it all from the history books when they punished Louisville.

So just remember that, as we discuss this group, you are legally barred from actually remembering them. It’s the NCAA’s rule, my hands are tied.

In all seriousness, this was one of my favorite college basketball teams of the decade. It was the last great team from the old Big East, winning a share of the regular season title before taking home the Big East tournament title. They finished the season with the second-best rating in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric in his database, and they did it all with one of the most entertaining players we’ve ever seen in Russ Smith. They played fast, they forced turnovers and they were the crowning achievement for Rick Pitino, who went from building the best team of the 1990s at Kentucky to one of the best teams of the 2010s at Louisville.

Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger and the rest of Ohio State’s 2011 team (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

9. 2011 OHIO STATE

RECORD: 34-3 (16-2 Big Ten)
WHAT THEY WON: Big Ten regular season title, Big Ten tournament title, lost in the Sweet 16
WHO WERE THE STARS?: Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, David Lighty, William Buford, Jon Diebler

For my money, this was the best team that Thad Matta ever had at Ohio State. I know he had the one year with Greg Oden and I know they reached the Final Four in 2012, but to be honest, this was his best. I just don’t know how you thought you were going to be able to guard them. Sullinger was a first-team All-American low-post scorer and he was surrounded with three big, long wings (Lighty, Buford, Diebler) who all shot at least 43 percent from three. Diebler shot better than 50 percent from beyond the arc while taking more than six threes per game. Craft was the guy that tied it all together.

The Buckeyes were clearly the best team in the country in 2011. They were No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings, and gap between them and the team sitting at No. 2 was the biggest of any season this decade. They just happened to get a 2-for-16 shooting performance from Buford on the wrong night, as the dropped out of the tournament in the Sweet 16.

Wisconsin after defeating Kentucky in the 2015 Final Four (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

8. 2015 WISCONSIN

RECORD: 36-4 (16-2 Big Ten)
WHAT THEY WON: Big Ten regular season title, Big Ten tournament title, lost in the national title game
WHO WERE THE STARS?: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Josh Gasser

The 2014-15 version of the Wisconsin Badgers was the consummate Bo Ryan basketball team. It was built around a 7-foot center in Frank Kaminsky that entered the program as an unknown three-star prospect that spent two seasons as a seldom-used sub before exploding into an All-American as a junior. He was paired on the front line with Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker, the former a future All-American and the latter a first round pick, to give Ryan three players that were impossible to guard because they could post-up, play on the perimeter and shoot the three.

The result was arguably the best offense that we’ve seen this decade. The Badgers posted the highest adjusted offensive efficiency in the KenPom era, and while there is a lot of noise in that number, there are two things that make me believe there is some truth to that statement: A) There are only two teams in KenPom’s database that had a higher raw points-per-possession, and B) This was posted in what was the best season of the decade. Seven teams finished the year with four or fewer losses, the only time that’s happened since the turn of the century.

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Duke won the 2015 national title, Coach K’s fifth (Lance King/Getty Images)

7. 2015 DUKE

RECORD: 35-4 (15-3 ACC)
WHAT THEY WON: National title
WHO WERE THE STARS?: Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Quinn Cook, Grayson Allen

The interesting thing about this Duke team is that, for much of the season, they didn’t even look like the best team in the ACC. There was a point in mid-January where it looked like this thing could end up spinning off the rails. They had lost to N.C. State on the road, their first loss of the season, and they had gotten run out of Cameron Indoor Stadium by a pretty regular Miami team just two days later. They fell out of the top 60 in adjusted defensive efficiency and it looked like the idea of pairing a slow-footed center with a point guard that’s not exactly known for his physicality and toughness would come back to bite them.

Hell, they didn’t win the ACC regular season or tournament title.

But when it mattered, in the NCAA tournament, it all came together. Duke was awesome defensively throughout their run. The only team to score more than 1.0 points-per-possession against them was Wisconsin in the national title game, who had 63 points on 60 possessions. The Blue Devils ended up sweeping the Badgers – they had won by 10 in Madison in December – en route to Coach K’s second title of the decade.

North Carolina in 2012 before Kendall Marshall got hurt (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

6. 2012 NORTH CAROLINA

RECORD: 32-6 (14-2 ACC)
WHAT THEY WON: ACC regular season title, lost in the Elite Eight
WHO WERE THE STARS?: Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson, Reggie Bullock, James Michael-McAdoo, P.J. Hairston

From a neutral’s perspective, I don’t think that there was a more disappointing injury to take place during this decade than when Kendall Marshall fractured a bone in his wrist during the second round of the NCAA tournament against Creighton.

The Tar Heels were absolutely loaded. Every member of their starting lineup ended up being a first round pick, with four of the five getting selected in the top 17 picks of the 2012 NBA Draft. They had played Kentucky to a stalemate in Rupp Arena that December, losing when Anthony Davis blocked a John Henson shot at the buzzer to seal a one-point win. Kentucky was considered far and away the favorite to win the national title that season, but North Carolina was right there with them and on the opposite side of the bracket.

Everyone wanted the rematch.

And thanks to one, single scaphoid fracture, that never happened.

That should not change how we view the 2012 North Carolina team. They were, as you can see, absolutely loaded.

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Kentucky had a lot of talent in 2010 (Mark Cornelison/Getty Images)

5. 2010 KENTUCKY

RECORD: 35-3 (14-2 SEC)
WHAT THEY WON: SEC regular season title, SEC tournament title, lost in the Elite Eight
WHO WERE THE STARS?: John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller

John Calipari’s first season with the Wildcats really set the tone for what we would get from him during his tenure.

For starters, Cal brought in an absolutely electric recruiting class, headlined by John Wall and Demarcus Cousins, arguably the two best recruits that season. Throw in Eric Bledsoe and add a sprinkle of the veteran presence that came from Patrick Patterson and Darius Miller, and suddenly Cal had a roster that included five NBA players – including two top five picks and four lottery picks in total. That team would go on to win both SEC titles before falling short of the Final Four when they went 4-for-32 from three in the Elite Eight against West Virginia.

That’s not the last time we’ve see a Coach Cal team loaded with talent lose because they couldn’t shoot it all that well.

But what made that season truly notable came during the draft. Five Kentucky players were selected in the first round, and Cal said that it was the greatest moment in the history of the program, something that rankled the feathers of Kentucky’s old guard. But it was also a prescient statement on the future of the program he wanted to build: He was going to turn Kentucky into the prime spot where you go to do your eight months before jumping to the NBA. Getting someone like Daniel Orton picked in the first round despite averaging three points was evidence that you didn’t need to thrive at Kentucky to make it to the next level. You just needed to be there.

And in the decade since, he’s had as much success as any coach in the country, even if there is only one title to show for it.

Virginia after their 2019 redemption (Matt Marriott/Getty Images)

4. 2019 VIRGINIA

RECORD: 35-3 (16-2 ACC)
WHAT THEY WON: ACC regular season title, national title
WHO WERE THE STARS?: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Mamadi Diakite, Kihei Clark

We all know about just how good Virginia is on the defensive side of the ball, and this roster was no different. Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite were both plus-defenders, among the best that you are going to find in college basketball at their position. There’s an argument to be made that De’Andre Hunter is the best defensive player that we saw in college basketball this decade. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.

But what set this version of the Cavaliers apart was just how efficient and lethal they were offensively. Kyle Guy was an NBA draft pick because of how well he can shoot. Ty Jerome was a first round draft pick because of his ability to operate in ball-screens. And Hunter was simply bigger and more athletic than anyone that tried to defend him.

When you give a Tony Bennett team three NBA players who excel on the offensive end of the floor, you are going to be very, very difficult to beat.

John Calipari’s only national title came in 2012 (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

3. 2012 KENTUCKY

RECORD: 38-2 (16-0 SEC)
WHAT THEY WON: SEC regular season title, national title
WHO WERE THE STARS?: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, Darius Miller

We always hear about just how close the 2015 Kentucky team came to going undefeated on the season. We don’t hear all that much about how close this Kentucky team, the first team to win 38 Division I basketball games in a single season, came to finishing out the year unblemished. If it wasn’t for a buzzer-beating Christian Watford three at Indiana and an SEC title game loss to a Vanderbilt team that had three pros, we might remember this group differently.

As it stands, Kentucky had the consensus National Player of the Year, Anthony Davis, surrounded by a perfect compliment of young talent (Teague, Kidd-Gilchrist) and wily veterans (Lamb, Jones, Miller). They finished the season as one of the nation’s elite offenses, and defensively, Davis took them to another level. Fun fact: Kentucky finished the 2012 season with the highest block rate of the decade. The only teams in the KenPom era that bettered them were a couple of the UConn teams in the mid-00s.

This group also changed college basketball in a pretty significant way. This proved that national titles could be won with rosters built around the best freshmen in the sport. The one-and-done era was already in full swing, but this win turned each and every recruiting class into an arms race. Arizona jumped in the mix. Kansas jumped in the mix. Even schools like LSU, or Missouri, or Cal tried to replicate what Kentucky did in 2012.

I think there’s an argument to be made that this team was the most influential team of the decade.

Kentucky was two games away from 40-0 in 2015 (Mark Cornelison/Getty Images)

2. 2015 KENTUCKY

RECORD: 38-1 (18-0 SEC)
WHAT THEY WON: SEC regular season title, SEC tournament title, lost in the Final Four
WHO WERE THE STARS?: Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis

I think there’s a very strong case to make that this Kentucky team is the best team in college basketball history that didn’t win the national title. There was so much talent on the roster that, if you remember, Coach Cal had to talk about ‘platoons’ as much as possible to try and keep everyone happy. They legitimately went 10 deep. Devin Booker, who is one of the top five young scorers in the NBA, came off the bench. That is an embarrassment of riches for one roster.

And what made this team so good is that they were unquestionably the best team in the country on the defensive side of the ball that season. The only two teams that have posted better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers in KenPom’s database were Texas Tech in 2019 and Louisville in 2013. When you have a team with that much game-changing talent – remember what Karl-Anthony Towns did to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight? – that is willing to sacrifice minutes, accept roles and defend the way they defended, it’s the Coach Cal masterpiece.

It’s unfortunate that they didn’t win the title.

Because if any team deserved a 40-0 record, it was this group.

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The best of the decade (Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

1. 2018 VILLANOVA

RECORD: 36-4 (14-4 Big East)
WHAT THEY WON: Big East tournament title, national title
WHO WERE THE STARS?: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall, Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth

This team was Jay Wright’s Mona Lisa. They were old, they were positionless, they shot a ton of threes and they were loaded with soon-to-be NBA players.

Let’s start with the basketball side first. This team finished as the second-best offense in the KenPom era, according to his adjusted offensive efficiency metric, but no one since 2002 has posted a higher raw points-per-possession than this Villanova team. They shot better than 40 percent from three while firing up nearly half of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. What made them so difficult to defend was that their point guard, Jalen Brunson, the National Player of the Year, was a lethal post scorer while Omari Spellman, their center, shot 43.3 percent from three and averaged two blocks per game. Throw in myriad versatile, sharp-shooting wings that would go on to play in the NBA, and there was just no way to stop this group. They only lost two games at full strength all season long – at Butler when Butler shot 15-for-22 from three, and at Creighton in overtime when Creighton shot 12-for-29 from three.

But the other side of it is that this roster was quintessential Jay Wright. Brunson was a McDonald’s All-American, but he needed three years in college because the NBA doesn’t recognize talent when it doesn’t come in freak physical packages. Bridges was a redshirt junior because he needed to add weight in college and accepted playing behind Josh Hart as a sophomore. Paschall was a redshirt junior after transferring into the program from Fordham. Booth (redshirt junior), DiVincenzo (redshirt sophomore) and Spellman (redshirt freshman) all missed a season due to injury or, in Spellman’s case, academics.

Booth is the only one of those five that hasn’t found success in the NBA, and I think he’ll get there eventually.

When you combine next-level talent and elite shooting on an unselfish, old roster, this is what happens.

You get the Team Of The Decade.

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New charges for former North Carolina basketball player

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Police have filed charges against former NBA and University of North Carolina basketball player P.J. Hairston, the latest in legal problems dating back to his college career.

The News & Record of Greensboro reports Guilford County Chief Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann said Friday the 25-year-old Hairston is charged with assault on a female, interfering with emergency communication and injury to personal property. Details aren’t available because arrest warrants haven’t been served.

In 2013, Hairston received a speeding ticket and a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. Both times, officers stopped him as he drove rental vehicles linked to a Durham felon and party promoter.

Hairston played two seasons at North Carolina. He was drafted by the Miami Heat in 2014, and played for Charlotte and Memphis and was most recently with Houston’s G-League affiliate.

Title game to feature a Battle Of The Bigs we don’t often see in college basketball anymore

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Pace and space. Stretch fours. Small-ball fives.

In an era of basketball where the power forward has been Stephen Curry’d out of the game, where big wings with a shooting guard’s skill-set — Josh Jackson, Dillon Brooks, Jayson Tatum, Josh Hart — have made the Charles Oakleys of the world obsolete, it’s fitting that Monday night’s national title game will feature two teams that almost exclusively play two big men together.

That’s who Roy Williams has been his entire career, and it’s somewhat ironic. Williams is affectionately known as ‘Ole Roy’, a hillbilly from western North Carolina that somehow lucked his way into coaching the flagship program in his home state and his alma mater. The ‘aw, shucks’ schtick is one that he’s not afraid to play up, and, in turn, it’s helped play into this perception of Williams as a guy that does nothing but roll the ball out and let his talent takeover.

There may be something to that — this is a topic that I’m going to dive into later on today — but it’s worth noting that there are few coaches in college hoops that have bought into the mantra of extra possessions quite like Williams has, particularly when it comes to the offensive glass. Only once, in the 14 seasons that Williams has been the head coach of the Tar Heels, have they finished outside the top 30 in offensive rebounding percentage, and that just so happened to be the year that they went 25-11, entering the tournament as a No. 8 seed and exiting in the second round to Williams’ former school, Kansas.

That also happened to be the one year since he took over Carolina that Williams was forced to play a way that he didn’t want to play. With the mass exodus that came after UNC’s terrific 2012, a year where a broken bone in Kendall Marshall’s wrist was likely the only thing standing between those Tar Heels squaring off with Anthony Davis’ Kentucky Wildcats for a national title, Williams had one big man on his roster that could handle the rigors of the college game, and that was James Michael McAdoo. P.J. Hairston played the four that year.

(Photo by Chris Steppig – Pool/Getty Images)

This season, Williams is riding the size of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Make, who have combined to make the Tar Heels the best offensive rebounding team in the country. It won them a Final Four game on Saturday; UNC had 19 second-chance points off of 17 offensive rebounds, the final two of which came on missed free throws in the final 5.2 seconds of a 77-76 win. They pound the ball into the paint, they try to corral every missed shot and they dare you to play small against them. Oregon tried it. It didn’t work.

Gonzaga is one of the few teams in the country that won’t have to worry about the size of North Carolina’s front line because, frankly, they have more of it.

“I’m bigger than 99.9 percent of basketball players,” 7-foot-1, 300-pound Przemek Karnowski said earlier this week, failing to note that basketball players are bigger than 99.9 percent of people. Karnowski is joined on Gonzaga’s front-line by Johnathan Williams III, a 6-foot-10 power forward and former top 50 recruit that started his career at Missouri, and spent much of Saturday’s win over South Carolina playing alongside Zach Collins, a 7-foot McDonald’s All-American whose 14 points, 13 boards and six blocks in the game may have cemented his status as Mark Few’s first one-and-done player.

Those are the two guys that the Gonzaga offense runs through.

They’re also the guys that are going to be tasked with keeping North Carolina’s bigs from getting to the offensive glass.

That won’t be an easy ask, not when the Tar Heels are now just one win away from redemption, from masking the pain of last year’s heart-breaking loss in the national title with a ring of their own.

But it will be a battle that isn’t all that common amongst college basketball’s elite these days.

Re-ranking Recruiting Classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2011?

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July’s live recruiting period is right around the corner, meaning that the Class of 2016 will have a chance to truly prove themselves to the recruiters and the recruitniks around the country. Scholarships will be earned and rankings will be justified over the course of those three weekends in July.

But scholarship offers and rankings don’t always tell us who the best players in a given class will end up being. Ask Steph Curry. Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be re-ranking eight recruiting classes, from 2004-2011, based on what they have done throughout their post-high school career. 

Here are the 25 best players from the Class of 2011, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

source:
Anthony Davis (AP Photo)

READ MOREThe complete Re-ranking the Classes series

1. Anthony Davis (2): This is an easy choice. Davis was the Most Outstanding Player on Kentucky’s national title team in 2012 and then picked first overall by New Orleans in the 2012 NBA Draft. He hasn’t slowed down either, emerging as one of the top players in the NBA and leading the Pelicans to the playoffs this past season.

2. Bradley Beal (4): Like Davis, Beal spent one season playing in the SEC as he was part of a Florida team that reached the Elite Eight. From there it was off to Washington, where he’s combined with John Wall to form the Wizards’ backcourt of the present and future.

3. Elfrid Payton (UR): Payton arrived at Louisiana-Lafayette to little national fanfare, but after spending his freshman season in a reserve role he took a step forward as a sophomore. Payton turned that year into a spot on the United States’ U19 team, and after a standout junior campaign he was taken in the 2014 NBA Draft lottery by the Magic. Payton was a first team NBA All-Rookie Team selection this past season.

4. Andre Drummond (UR): Drummond moved back into the 2011 class from 2012, joining the UConn program for one season. From there he was a lottery pick of the Pistons in the 2012 NBA Draft, where he’s averaged 12.1 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in three seasons.

5. Trey Burke (142): Burke spent two seasons at Michigan, the second of which included a National Player of the Year award and a run to the national title game where the Wolverines fell to Louisville. Burke was selected 9th overall by the Jazz in the 2013 NBA Draft, and he’s averaged 12.8 points and 5.0 assists per game game in two seasons.

6. Michael Carter-Williams (29): Carter-Williams was a backup at the point during his freshman season at Syracuse, and as a sophomore he helped lead the Orange to the Final Four in 2013. Picked in the 2013 NBA Draft lottery by Philadelphia, Carter-Williams was an NBA Rookie of the Year in 2014. Traded to Milwaukee during the 2014-15 season, he averaged 14.6 points and 6.7 assists per game.

7. Ben McLemore (34): McLemore’s college career was delayed by a season, as he was ruled academically ineligible for the 2011-12 campaign by the NCAA. In his lone season of play at Kansas, McLemore averaged 15.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest. Picked seventh overall by the Kings in the 2013 NBA Draft, McLemore’s averaging 10.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game as a pro.

source:
Bradley Beal (AP Photo)

8. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (3): Kidd-Gilchrist teamed up with Davis on a loaded Kentucky team to win a national title in 2012, then moved on to the NBA where he was the second overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Always a good defender, Kidd-Gilchrist has worked to improve his abilities as a shooter since entering the NBA and wound up averaging 10.9 points per game last season.

9. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (12): Caldwell-Pope took a major leap forward in his second season as a pro, averaging 12.7 points per game for the Pistons in 2014-15 (5.9 ppg as a rookie). Prior to that KCP played two seasons at Georgia, where he was SEC Player of the Year in 2013 after averaging 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

10. Austin Rivers (1): Rivers averaged 15.5 points per game in his lone season at Duke, which included a memorable game-winning three at North Carolina. As a pro the road hasn’t been as smooth, with his best run of play coming as a reserve with the Clippers (where his dad’s the head coach and president) following a trade from New Orleans this season.

11. Otto Porter (37): Like McLemore, Porter was a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft as he was taken third overall by the Wizards. Unlike McLemore, Porter played two seasons of college ball (and Georgetown) and was named Big East Player of the Year and a first team All-American in 2013. With Paul Pierce moving on to L.A., 2015-16 could be a breakthrough campaign for Porter.

12. Cody Zeller (15): Zeller played two seasons at Indiana, where as a sophomore he was a first team All-Big Ten and second team All-America selection. Picked in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft by Charlotte, Zeller’s averaged 6.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in two seasons as a pro.

RELATED: Re-ranking the classes 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010

13. Shane Larkin (72): Larkin, originally a DePaul commit, wound up at Miami where he helped lead the program to heights it had never visited as a member of the ACC. Larkin ran the point for a team that won the program’s first ACC title and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000, sharing ACC Player of the Year honors in 2013. Larkin didn’t play much in Dallas as a rookie, but he saw more time in 2014-15 with the Knicks (6.2 ppg, 3.0 apg).

14. Jabari Brown (19): Brown didn’t last all that long at Oregon, transferring to Missouri after playing just two games in Eugene. Once at Mizzou the shooting guard became of the SEC’s top perimeter players as a junior in 2014 (first team All-SEC; 19.9 ppg). After spending time in the NBA D-League Brown’s now with the Lakers, where he averaged 11.9 points per game this season.

15. Tony Wroten (14): Wroten played just one season at Washington, averaging 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in 2011-12. A first round pick of the Grizzlies in the 2012 NBA Draft, Wroten’s averaged 11.2 points per game in three season for two franchises (Philadelphia being the other). Wroten suffered a torn ACL in January.

16. Maurice Harkless (41): Harkless played one season at St. John’s before being drafted by Philadelphia in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. The Sixers traded Harkless to Orlando, where he’s averaged 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in three seasons as a professional.

17. Nick Johnson (18): Johnson played three seasons at Arizona, where he was a mainstay for Sean Miller’s program. Not only was he Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2014, but Johnson was also a first team All-American. Drafted in the second round by the Rockets in 2014, Johnson’s bounced between the NBA and NBA D-League the last two seasons.

18. P.J. Hairston (13): To say that the sharpshooter’s college career was a tumultuous one would be an understatement, as NCAA issues ended his time in Chapel Hill before the 2013-14 season began. Hairston lit up the NBA D-League for a season before being taken in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft by Miami, which traded him to Charlotte on draft night.

19. Rodney Hood (16): Hood was an SEC All-Rookie Team selection at Mississippi State before transferring to Duke, where he played one season under Mike Krzyzewski. A first round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by Utah, Hood averaged 8.7 points per game as a rookie.

20. Frank Kaminsky (UR): Kaminsky went from being a three-star prospect to the National Player of the Year in his four season at Wisconsin, which included two Final Four appearances and Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. He was picked in the lottery by Charlotte last month. (Mistakenly left off this list.)

source: Getty Images
Trey Burke helped lead Michigan to the ’13 title game (Getty Images)

21. Kyle Wiltjer (22): Wiltjer still has another season left to play in college, but he’s put together a solid resume at that level. As a freshman he was part of a national champion squad at Kentucky, following that up with SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors as a sophomore. He transferred following the 2012-13 season, and after sitting out a year Wiltjer was both WCC Newcomer of the Year and a second team All-American at Gonzaga in 2014-15.

22. Spencer Dinwiddie (146): Dinwiddie put together a very good run at Colorado before suffering a torn ACL in a road game at Washington during his junior campaign. That would be the last time he’d play in a CU uniform, as he moved on to the NBA where he was taken in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Pistons. Dinwiddie saw time as the team’s backup point guard once Brandon Jennings went down with a ruptured Achilles.

23. Quincy Miller (7): Miller played just one season at Baylor, averaging 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest in 2011-12. Picked in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft by Denver, Miller played two seasons with the Nuggets before splitting time with the Kings and Pistons in 2014-15.

24. Johnny O’Bryant III (46): O’Bryant played three seasons at LSU, where he was a first team All-SEC choice in both 2013 and 2014. A second-round pick of the Bucks in the 2014 NBA Draft, O’Bryant played 10.8 minutes per game (34 games played) as a rookie on a team that reached the playoffs.

25. Ryan Boatright (42): Boatright wasn’t selected in last month’s NBA Draft (playing with the Nets in Summer League), but his four-year career at UConn was a highly productive one. Boatright, who won a national title in 2014, left Storrs as one of just two players in the history of the program to be ranked in the Top 10 of the school’s scoring and assists lists (Shabazz Napier being the other).

Notables:

Marquis Teague (5)
James Michael McAdoo (8)
Khem Birch (9)
DeAndre Daniels (10)
Josiah Turner (11)
Tony Wroten (14)
Branden Dawson (20)
Chane Behanan (21)
Jahii Carson (33)
Quinn Cook (38)
Sir’Dominic Pointer (44)
Amir Garrett (68)
Norman Powell (69)
Dez Wells (76)
Chasson Randle (78)
Wesley Saunders (88)
Malcolm Brogdon (104)
Josh Richardson (124)
Pat Connaughton (128)
DaVonte Lacy (138)
Marcus Thornton (UR)
Darrun Hilliard (UR)
Ron Baker (UR)
Alex Len (UR)

Film Session: What’s plaguing Marcus Paige?

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Marcus Paige (Getty Images)

Marcus Paige was supposed to turn into a star this year. He was the Preseason ACC Player of the Year. He was an NBCSports.com Preseason All-American, and that was far from the only All-American team he was named to. He was supposed to be the focal point offensively for a North Carolina team that was going to compete with Duke and Virginia and Louisville for an ACC title.

But here we are, more than a month into the season, and North Carolina is only in the Top 25 because there really aren’t 25 teams deserving of being ranked. They’re 7-3 overall with losses to Butler, Iowa (at home) and Kentucky. Those wins against Davidson, Florida and UCLA are solid — and will likely look better as the season progresses — but you can watch this team play and realize they’re not the North Carolina we expected them to be.

Paige isn’t the Marcus Paige we expected him to be, either. He’s averaging just 13.5 points, down from 17.1 last season, and shooting 34.8 percent from the floor and 35.4 percent from three.

To get to the bottom of what’s ailing the Heels, you first have to understand what they want to do.

North Carolina, as always, wants to run off of misses and off of makes. They’re 12th nationally in tempo, according to Kenpom.com, and that’s not by accident. And while it may seem unorganized at times, there really is a method to the madness. It works like this: the point guard is supposed to receive the outlet pass on the right side of the floor at or above the free throw line. As he’s receiving the ball, the two is streaking up the right side of the floor and the three is streaking up the left side of the court while the four-man is sprinting to the block:

source:
Screengrab via CBS Broadcast

Ideally, the one will hit ahead to one of those three, getting an easy look at the rim … :

Or an open three or driving lane on the wing:

If nothing is there, North Carolina can pull the ball out and run their secondary break, which is essentially a four-out, one-in system that has a number of different reads, set plays and quick-hitters:

source:
Screengrab via CBS Broadcast

Now the problem with this is that Paige is, by far, the best offensive weapon that North Carolina has on their perimeter. In an ideal world, he’s not the guy making the pass-ahead, he’s the guy spotting up on the wing. He’s the guy looking to finish in transition, not the guy sparking the fast break. He’s not bad at it, per se, but J.P. Tokoto and is not Rashad McCants. Justin Jackson is not P.J. Hairston. Theo Pinson is not Wayne Ellington.

In other words, the guys that Paige is putting into a position to score in transition aren’t your typical, high-scoring Carolina wings.

The other problem is that Roy Williams doesn’t appear to trust the other two point guards on UNC’s roster — sophomore Nate Britt and freshman Joel Berry — with the reins offensively quite yet, meaning that Paige is, in a sense, being asked to play out of position. He’s a scorer at heart, not a facilitator. Kendall Marshall he is not.

That limits their effectiveness in transition, which is only half of the problem right now.

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Justin Jackson (Getty Images)

North Carolina just does not have any weapons on their perimeter outside of Paige, and all you have to do is look at their three-point shooting to understand that. On the season, the Tar Heels have hit 44 three-pointers. Paige has 23 of them. No one else has more than six, and that number belongs to Nate Britt, who is shooting 28.6 percent from three on the season and actually had to change which hand he shot with during the offseason because he’s struggled so much. He’s right-handed this year. Last season, he was a lefty.

That not only allows teams to focus their defense on Paige beyond the arc, it allows them to sag off of the other non-shooters, crowding the paint for North Carolina’s big men, namely Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson. That front court in UNC’s strength this season, which means that lack of shooting not only limits Carolina’s ability in transition, it hurts them when they can’t get easy buckets off the break.

All of this leads me to believe that, more than anything, we overrated North Carolina in the preseason.

You see, the two players that made the biggest improvements during the summer were Meeks and Johnson, but having those two get better without adding any perimeter firepower didn’t really solve any of the major issues that last season’s No. 6 seed had. Justin Jackson was supposed to be the guy that would provide some perimeter scoring pop, be he’s 4-for-22 from beyond the arc this year and doing most of his damage as a slasher, scoring in the mid-range and around the rim.

And unless Jackson makes a notable improvement once we hit ACC play, it looks that is going to be an issue for the Heels all year long.

Now, the Tar Heels do have some problem areas where they can improve. They are abysmal of the defensive glass right now, allowing opponents to collect 35.6 percent of the available offensive rebounds. And to be frank, Paige is missing a lot of clean looks from the perimeter, shots that he’s going to make far more often than he misses. Those will eventually start going down, and at some point, you have to think a team with this big of a front line and this many athletes on the wing will get better on the defensive glass.

In other words, the trio of Paige, Meeks and Johnson will be enough to keep Carolina in the top 25 and ensure them a spot in the NCAA tournament. The sky isn’t falling just yet.

But unless one of the young point guards becomes a viable option to play starter’s minutes, and unless Williams can find some kind of consistent production from his wings, the Tar Heels look much more like a No. 6 seed again than they do a legitimate ACC title contender.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels

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Marcus Paige (Getty Images)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 7 North Carolina.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: Roy Williams

Last Season: 24-10, 13-5 ACC (t-3rd), lost in the Round of 32 to Iowa State

Key Losses: James Michael McAdoo, Leslie McDonald

Newcomers: Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, Joel Berry

Projected Lineup

G: Marcus Paige, Jr.
G: J.P. Tokoto, Jr.
F: Justin Jackson, Fr.
F: Brice Johnson, Jr.
C: Kennedy Meeks, So.
Bench: Nate Britt, So.; Joel Berry, Fr.; Isaiah Hicks, So.; Theo Pinson, Fr.; Joel James, Jr.;

They’ll be good because … : I’m not convinced that there is a team in the country with markedly more talent on the roster than North Carolina. Kentucky, Duke, Arizona and Kansas are all loaded as well, but there’s a fairly easy argument to make that the Tar Heels are anything-but outclassed by the schools ranked above them.

But, honestly, that’s neither here nor there, as there are essentially three reasons why I think the Tar Heels can win a national title this season:

  • 1. Marcus Paige is awesome. I’m not sure he’s ever going to be the prototypical Roy Williams point guard — he’s not fast like Ty Lawson or Ray Felton, and he’s not the passer that Kendall Marshall is — but he’s a big-time scorer that play with the ball in his hands and has a proven track record of being able to take over late in games. Paige has a very real chance of being the National Player of the Year.
  • 2. The slimmer Kennedy Meeks should be a dominant low-post presence. Everyone loves to talk about how much Ol’ Roy’s teams like to run, but when they are at their best, they have a hoss on the block that commands double-teams. Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyler Zeller. Meeks has lost somewhere around 60 pounds, meaning he’ll be able to run the floor faster and play at a peak level for longer stretches. He was really good at times last season.
  • 3. Justin Jackson is going to give UNC the scoring pop from the wing that they have been missing. The 6-foot-8 small forward is getting no where near enough attention this season. He’s as pure-bred as scorers can be, and his mid-range game is lethal.
source: AP
Kennedy Meeks (AP Photo)

But they might disappoint because … : There are more than enough distractions floating around that program right now. Between the academic scandal, the Wainstein Report and the P.J. Hairston saga, the Tar Heels have been in the news for off-the-court stuff that is happening far more than for what they’ve accomplished on the floor. That’s obvious and, considering the fact that most of the guys on this roster are completely uninvolved with any of those issues, somewhat unfortunate.

But that’s not my only concern with this group. Front court depth is an issue if some of Meeks’ counterparts don’t take a step forward. I’m expecting a big season from lanky junior Brice Johnson, and Isaiah Hicks and Joel James are both talented enough that they should be able to provide more production than last season. That said, there are a lot of question marks with UNC’s big men, and that does include Meeks.

The point guard spot seems iffy as well. Does Paige play there full time, or does he get moved off the ball, allowing Nate Britt and Joel Berry to run the offense? If Paige plays the two, what happens on the wing, where Jackson will be competing for minutes with J.P. Tokoto and Theo Pinson?

Outlook: I really like this North Carolina team. As I wrote earlier, I think the trio of Paige, Jackson and Meeks will be very, very good for the Tar Heels.

But outside of Paige, there’s not a lot that we know for sure about this group. Will Jackson be able to have the impact offensively I think he is capable of, or will he need a year to add strength before playing a major role on this team? Can Britt and Berry handle point guard duties, or will Paige need the ball in his hands as much as he did last season? What can we expect out of Johnson and Meeks — who combined for 17.9 points and 12.2 boards in 36 minutes last year — this season?

And how will the cloud of scandal hanging over the program affect everyone?

All that said, it will be a disappointing year if North Carolina doesn’t compete for an ACC title and isn’t in the conversation for a national title come March.