Burning Questions

Burning Questions: Coach of the Year picks, and biggest surprises and disappointments

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Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon (AP Photo)

Following up on the first round of questions, we’re now delving into the topics of national Coach of the Year and the biggest surprises and disappointments in college basketball to this point in the season. Included are two undefeated head coaches and a program that’s hit the ground running in its first season as a member of the Big Ten.

1. Who would be your choice for national Coach of the Year? 

Rob Dauster: At this point, I think I’d lean towards Coach Cal for National Coach of the Year. Regardless of whether or not you believe he’s actually using platoons, he’s convinced a team full of future first round picks to buy into this idea that no one plays more than 20-25 minutes a night. He was expected to have a team that could go undefeated this season and he’s managed to outperform expectations. That’s not easy to do.

Raphielle Johnson: I like both Calipari and Turgeon as possibilities, but I have to go with Virginia’s Tony Bennett here. He lost two key starters in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, and the Cavaliers haven’t missed a beat. London Perrantes remains solid at the point, and with Malcolm Brodgon and Justin Anderson on the wings they have two talented players capable of giving opponents fits on both ends of the floor. Add in the front court, anchored by Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey, and Virginia’s picked up right where they left off in 2013-14.

Scott Phillips: Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was at the top of my Coaches on the Hot Seat list this preseason and he’s navigated a young Terrapin team to near the top 10 in the polls and the top of the Big Ten. Turgeon deserves a ton of credit for having his team play so well after the litany of transfers they faced in the offseason all while joining a new conference and dealing with the pressure to win now.

Terrence Payne: Last season, Gregg Marshall won AP Coach of the Year honors after leading Wichita State to a perfect regular season. With that precedent, you’d expect John Calipari and Tony Bennett to be the two prime candidates if their seasons end in similar fashion. But Mark Turgeon, like Rick Barnes did last season, has gone from hot seat to coach of the year candidate after an offseason of turnover. More importantly he did so with injuries to Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz.

2. Which team has been the biggest surprise?

RD: I’m going with Virginia. I thought that losing Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell would have a much bigger impact on this group than it has. Credit the likes of Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill for taking giant steps forward this season.

RJ: I’ll take Maryland for biggest surprise. I was cautiously optimistic about this team, hesitant to label them a lock NCAA tournament team given the fact that they’ve missed out in each of the last four seasons. But not only are they a lock, they’re also firmly entrenched in the “who’s the best team in the Big Ten” conversation right there with preseason favorite Wisconsin.

SP: For me, it’s Seton Hall. The Pirates have exceeded my expectations from the preseason, the middle of the season and now look like a NCAA Tournament team even without freshman McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead for the last few weeks. Sterling Gibbs has matured into a really good scoring guard and Kevin Willard has a hard-playing team with a lot of young pieces like Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington that are stepping up.

TP: I’ll go with West Virginia despite losing two of three. Bobby Huggins lost two of his three top scorers to transfer this offseason, but the Mountaineers have found a place right in the heart of a loaded Big 12 title race with a host of other ranked teams.

3. Which team has been the biggest disappointment? 

RD: I’ll say Michigan, even though their issues are not entirely this team’s fault. Their front line is just simply too young to be ready to compete at this level, and that, in turn, put too much pressure on guys like Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin to be as good as Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke. And now with Caris LeVert’s broken foot, they looked destined for the NIT, at best.

RJ: I’ll take another Big Ten team and pick Nebraska. Coming off of last season’s NCAA tournament appearance the Huskers were expected to factor into the Big Ten race behind Wisconsin, and they haven’t been that team to this point. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields are guys they can look to for scoring night in and night out, but a consistent third option hasn’t stepped forward. The return of Leslee Smith should help them in the post, but there are still questions to be answered at the point. Nebraska has a lot of work to do if they’re to return to the NCAA tournament.

SP: The most disappointing team has to be Florida. The Gators had high preseason aspirations and they’ve started off 10-7 including getting swept by Miami and Florida State and not beating any legitimate teams this season. Kasey Hill and Chris Walker have both been really mediocre in their sophomore seasons and this team should be way better than their current record.

TP: UConn. The loss of DeAndre Daniels, Neils Giffey and most importantly Shabazz Napier can’t be stated enough. But the cupboard wasn’t particularly bare for the defending national champion entering this season. UConn returned Ryan Boatright, who has battled an injury this year, while adding transfer Rodney Purvis and star recruit Daniel Hamilton.

Burning Questions: Most intriguing storylines, best conference races and Kentucky’s biggest threat

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AP Photo

With there being just one more football game of high importance left on the schedule (sorry, Pro Bowl fans), casual observers are beginning to pay a little more attention to college basketball. With that in mind, the College Basketball Talk staff has decided to answer a few burning questions beginning with what they view as the most intriguing storyline in college basketball to this point in the season.

1. What has been the most intriguing storyline to date in college basketball?

Rob Dauster: Just how good is Duke this season? They have the best player in the country and they’re supposed to be the only team that is actually good enough to knock off Kentucky — winning at Louisville and Wisconsin in the same season just doesn’t happen — but they also have such massive defensive issues they’ve had to make the switch to a zone defense.

Raphielle Johnson: I’d have to say Kentucky’s rotation. Even with the loss of Alex Poythress, John Calipari still has nine players who many project to get drafted at some point in their respective careers. I’m not going to write the word that was overused like a pop music hit (you know, the “P-word”), but having the number of options that Kentucky has helps them adjust to whatever opponents throw at them. But will there be any changes moving forward, especially in the backcourt? Will there need to be any changes? Right now, they look fine.

Scott Phillips: The number of All-American candidates and teams in and out of the top 25 from week-to-week has been really interesting to keep track of. So many for both. I feel like with so many quality players and teams having similar resumes, it’s going to be a really difficult NCAA Tournament to predict.

Terrence Payne: Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection. No team has gone undefeated since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers. The Wildcats are one of two remaining teams without a loss, and kenpom.com gives Kentucky a 36.6 percent chance to run the table heading into postseason play. The SEC is still a weak conference, but just like Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the Wildcats are going to get everyone’s best shot as they continue to rack up the wins.

2. Which conference will have the best race heading into March? 

RD: The Big 12, and it’s not going to be all that close. That league could end up sending eight of the ten teams to the NCAA tournament, and while Kansas is always going to be the favorite to win the conference until they leave the conference, this is the year to pick them off. A lack of true rim protecter and the issues that Self has had with Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander has made this group vulnerable. Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas will all make a run at the title.

RJ: The answer here has to be the Big 12, for historical reasons. Kansas has won at least a share of the last ten regular season titles, which is an incredibly impressive run put together by Bill Self’s program. I wouldn’t say that the Jayhawks are “vulnerable” this season, so much as it would be a case of their challengers having both the talent and belief needed to break through. As Rob noted Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas will all have their say, and I would include West Virginia in that mix as well. Can K-State, Baylor and/or Oklahoma State get involved too? It wouldn’t shock me if those teams did just that.

SP: The Big 12 is just so good and so deep. With the true home-and-home conference schedule it means that nobody is hiding from anyone. Kansas having won the league for a decade straight makes for an enticing storyline as so many try to unseat the Jayhawks.

TP: The Big East. In the fall, we were wondering if Villanova could go unbeaten, now look at mess. DePaul in the top half of the conference, St. John’s in ninth place. Who would have predicted that? At the moment, 70 percent of the league is separated by less than two games, and that’s not including a talented St. John’s team.

3. Who is Kentucky’s biggest challenger nationally?

RD: I thought it was Duke, but then Duke decided they weren’t going to be able to get stops while playing man-to-man. I think that at this point, the team that matchups up with Kentucky the best is Virginia. They won’t get rattled by UK’s defensive pressure, they won’t get overwhelmed on the glass and they’ll make Kentucky beat them with threes over the top of the pack-line.

RJ: While the names have changed to a certain extent (first Arizona, then Duke) the Wildcats have remained in their perch. I think there will be multiple teams capable of beating them in the NCAA tournament, but I’ll take Virginia. This is one of the most efficient teams in the country on both ends of the floor, and they’ve got one of the most improved players in America in Justin Anderson. With options such as Anderson, Malcolm Brodgon and Anthony Gill, the Cavaliers have the pieces needed to win a national title.

SP: Besides themselves, Kentucky’s biggest outside challenger is Duke. Recent poor play aside, the Blue Devils have the size to match up with Kentucky on the interior and Jahlil Okafor is the rare inside presence who could give the Wildcats problems. With nine McDonald’s All-Americans on each roster, this would be a heck of a title game or Final Four matchup.

TP: Despite its recent slump, I’ll still say it’ll be Duke come March. They’ll have the national player of the year inside to battle Kentucky’s deep frontline and are equipped with shooters

Burning Questions: If you could change one on-court rule in college basketball, what would it be?

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images


If you were put in charge of college basketball, what’s one on-court rule that you would change/add and why?

MORE: Read through all the Burning Questions here

Rob Dauster: Man, where do I even start? First of all, let’s make it a 30-second shot clock. There’s no reason that men’s college basketball should be different from every other level of the sport. That’s foolish. Next, I’d move the charge circle out farther from the rim and go back to the rules that we had last season. Allowing a defender to slide underneath a player that’s in the air to take a charge is a scourge on our game. The next thing I’d do is limit the TV timeouts. There are NINE TV timeouts during a college basketball game, which is about five too many. It destroys the flow of games. We’re approaching the NFL’s extra point-commercial-kickoff-commercial ridiculousness.

That whole you can pump fake and jump into a player that’s already in the air to draw a foul move? Gone. Flagrant fouls for unintentional elbows? Gone. (I understand the need to protect players, but if you don’t want to get bowed in the face, don’t stick your face into a defender’s chest.) Extended reviews for anything? No. I’d also prevent coaches from being able to gather their team during reviews. No huddles.

Raphielle Johnson: Give me a 30-second shot clock, and that isn’t about the thought that such a move would automatically speed up the game either because that’s not a given. Women’s college basketball uses the 30-second clock, and FIBA amateur competitions use a 24-second clock. College basketball can’t just shave off five seconds? I find it to be a joke personally, so drop down to 30 seconds across the board. And I’m not buying the excuse that it will be “difficult” for players to adjust either. They, and the coaches entrusted with the task of teaching them, will adjust.

Scott Phillips: Too many timeouts. It’s one of the biggest complaints I hear about college basketball. During televised games we now have to sit through eight TV timeouts and each team also has five timeouts of their own. The first team timeout in the second half also turns into a fifth TV timeout in the second half. Great, more commercials…

That means a ridiculous 18 potential stoppages per game for coaches to draw up plays in a 40-minute period. That’s way too much.

I understand the need to generate revenue and it’s silly to ask for a change with that, but why not reduce the number of timeouts that coaches can use so that we speed up games and reduce stoppages?

Make coaches prepare their players more before games or have them figure out another way to convey things with them, but let’s eliminate so many stoppages that are killing the flow of the game.

Terrence Payne: I was originally going to go with changing the 35-second shot clock. To me it makes no sense why it’s the longest in organized basketball (even longer than states that use shot clocks in high school), but seeing as it’s been touched on above, let’s go with the “hanging on the rim” technical. Look I get it, those plays happen in real time and officials instinctually blow the whistle and asses the technical. But in most cases players are racing down the floor with their weight carrying them forward. Holding onto the rim is a protective measure from what could be a serious injury. Need a reference on this: watch Kendall Pollard’s technical in the first half of the Dayton-UConn game Friday afternoon.

Burning Questions: Who’s poised to surprise (or disappoint) people in the Big Ten?

Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. (AP Photo)

Outside of Wisconsin, the Big Ten is impossible to differentiate. Six teams could finish second and two more could make the tournament. Who in that league shocks us, and who is the biggest disappointment?

MORE: Read through all the Burning Questions here

Rob Dauster: Well, I would have had Iowa as the team that would shock us before they got drubbed by Texas. Now, not so much, so I’m riding with Indiana. I entered the season thinking there’s no way this team makes the tournament. I’ve softened on that opinion, however, as I think that IU’s trio of guards (Ferrell, Blackmon, Johnson) will not only be exciting to watch but will get the Hoosiers enough wins that they end up dancing.

As far as a disappointment is concerned, I’ll take Michigan State. This is a team that was supposed to be a top five seed in the NCAA tournament based on where they were ranked entering the season, but based on what I’ve seen from them, I think that will be tough to do. I’m not sure the Spartans are a Top 25 team.

Raphielle Johnson: For a surprise, I’ll take Minnesota. Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu are solid leaders on the perimeter, and adding Nate Mason and Carlos Morris to the fold gives Richard Pitino additional depth at the guard spots to work with. And I think think Joey King takes a step forward this season. He averaged just over seven points per game last season, starting 15 of the 37 games in which he played, and with more minutes I think he’ll become a double-digit scorer for this group. Add in their pressure defense and the experience of the Postseason NIT title run, and I think the Golden Gophers are better than where they’ve been picked.

As for a disappointment, I’ll take Iowa. They’re still skilled offensively, with forwards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff being the guys who stand out in my view. But I’m still not convinced that the Hawkeyes are capable of stringing together stops. They may be able to get away with that in the majority of their non-conference games, but as we saw last year you can’t do that in the Big Ten.

Scott Phillips: I think Illinois has a chance to surprise some people in the Big Ten despite the loss of starting point guard Tracy Abrams before the season. Replacing Abrams at guard are transfers Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks, who each have multiple seasons of college experience, a redshirt year and are better perimeter shooters. Illinois is thin in the front court, but they have to like the improved three-point shooting so far during its first two games of the season, which they struggled with last season.

As for a team that could disappoint, I’ll say Michigan. I still believe John Beilein’s team could make the NCAA Tournament, I just don’t believe they’re a Top 25 team like the preseason polls indicated. The freshmen have come along slowly and aren’t playing many minutes right now and Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr.’s production will slow down as the Wolverines play better teams. Their inside play is still a big question mark against experienced big men as well.

Terrence Payne: After last night, I think you have to put some stock into Indiana. It’s not just Tom Crean that has taken the heat, it’s the players themselves, getting called out by former IU greats, and having to publicly apologize to an entire fanbase. It seems like a wakeup call for a lot of those guys in the program, and last night’s win over No. 22 SMU was an impressive way to respond. I’m not sure it’s enough to put them as a top six team in the league, where five teams will battle to finish second behind Wisconsin, but IU is back on the tournament radar.

It seems unwise to go against Tom Izzo, but I don’t see Michigan State will finish second, where the Spartans were slotted in the preseason poll. It’s a long way to go, but I still would have Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan rounding out the top-4 in the Big Ten standings with Wisconsin.

Burning Questions: Who gets the last shot?


You have one possession to win a title down by one point. Who gets the ball?

MORE: Read through all the Burning Questions here

Raphielle Johnson: Remember last year when Kentucky wanted Fred Van Vleet to have the ball in his hands on that final possession? That won’t be happening this time around. I’ll take Van Vleet, because not only is he a better shooter than a year ago but you’re also going to be well-positioned to get a good shot from anywhere on the floor. Question doesn’t say that he has to shoot the ball, and while I’m fine with Van Vleet taking the shot I’m even more comfortable with the likelihood that he’ll know how to find another quality option (Ron Baker or Tekele Cotton) should that opportunity arise.

Scott Phillips: Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison proved to be college basketball’s best clutch shooter after his NCAA Tournament full of daggers last season, but I’m putting the ball in the hands of a creator who can get his own look or find someone else with a pass.

I think North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige best fits the bill for my criteria and his ability to make tough shots going left or right or being able to find another option as a passer makes him a tough out.

Final plays can easily get thwarted by good scouting (like Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State’s third option on the play, shooting the final shot against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last season) and you need someone who can make it happen for multiple guys if the play breaks down. Paige is my guy for that job.

Terrence Payne: With the game on the line I’ll go with Marcus Paige. While he’s slow getting out of the gate this season (11.5 points and 2.5 assists per game) in North Carolina’s two wins, that’s a small sample size for the preseason All American pick. Paige, as we saw time and time again last season, could catch fire in the second half. With more offensive options alongside him this season, Paige with the ball in his hands could take the shot, or create for someone else.

Rob Dauster: There are two clear-cut choices here, in my opinion. These guys are in love with Marcus Paige, but he’s not even the best option in the ACC. That title would belong to Jahlil Okafor, who is the best low-post scorer in the country. He’ll force you to double-team him and is talented enough to pick out the right pass if he does draw extra defenders. He may not be the one to score, but getting him a touch almost guarantees a good look at the rim.

The other pick is Kevin Pangos from Gonzaga. He’s a sniper from three, he’s as good as any point guard in the country in the pick and roll, he’s finally healthy after a banged up junior year and he has major Sam Cassells.

Burning Questions: Will we get another surprise Final Four team this year?


Are we due for another surprise Final Four team this season? Who best fits that profile?

MORE: Read through all the Burning Questions here

Rob Dauster: We probably are going to get another Final Four sleeper making a run to Indy this season. It happens nearly every season these days, and the craziest part is that there really isn’t a profile that all of those teams fit. Please, tell me what 2014 UConn, 2014 Kentucky and 2013 Wichita State have in common? I’ll wait.

If I had to pick a team to come out of nowhere and make it that far, I’d probably pick someone like Notre Dame (Jerian Grant going all Shabazz Napier) or Ohio State (they really, really defend). But more than anything, I think ‘we’re due’ for a Final Four with nothing but elite teams. At this point, I think there is a clear-cut top five teams in the country: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Gonzaga and Arizona, in that order. I’d love to see four of those five playing for the national title come the first weekend in April.

Terrence Payne: A season ago we saw a No. 7 seed beat a No. 8 seed in the national championship, so why wouldn’t we see another surprise Final Four team this March in Indianapolis. Entering the season, we’ve seen a host of teams labeled as darkhorse Final Four teams. Last week, I went with Villanova as my Final Four given the experience it brings back from a 29-win season, overshadowed by early exits in March. While I still believe Villanova can be there in April, I’m also buying stocking VCU early in this season. Treveon Graham is one of the toughest forwards to matchup with. Briante Weber can effect the game in so many ways as he did in his season debut against a good Toledo team on Tuesday. The return of Melvin Johnson has been huge, averaging 22.5 points per game (8-of-19 from three).

Scott Phillips: I picked Wichita State to actually make it back to the Final Four this season, but they’re hardly a surprise at this point after already doing so and then last season’s 35-0 start.

As for the question, I do believe that we could see another surprise Final Four team this season and I’m going to go out on a limb and say Iowa. If we do see a power conference team sneak up on people, I expect them to get beat up a bit in conference play and then figure things out late in the season. With tremendous depth and a lot of veteran leadership and outside shooting, I think Iowa has a chance.

Raphielle Johnson: I’m not sure if we’re “due” another surprise Final Four team, but given the format of the tournament I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened. And I’m going to go off the radar for this one: George Washington. They’ve got an experienced backcourt led by Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage, and forwards Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen are very good at their respective roles. And I’d keep an eye on freshman Yuta Watanabe, as I think he’s only going to get better as he becomes more comfortable with the way Mike Lonergan and his staff want things done. We’ll learn more about the Colonials Friday night when they take on No. 9 Virginia, but I like the group they have.