Jamie Squire/Getty Images

College Basketball Top 25: The pressing question for every team in our preseason rankings

1 Comment

As we get ready for the Fourth of July holiday, we at College Basketball Talk will be rolling through the pressing questions for every team in the top 25.

Today, we take a look at the teams ranked 11-25. 

On Tuesday, we will dive into the top ten teams in the country. 

What is the question that we will need answered for the best teams in college basketball next season?

(Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)

11. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

  • DO THE HOKIES HAVE THE HORSES TO CRACK THE TOP OF THE ACC?

The very top of the ACC is riddled with the usual suspects. Duke looks to be the favorite, North Carolina should be excellent once again and Virginia is going to be Virginia regardless of how many times they lose to a No. 16 seed. The Hokies, on paper, look like a team good enough to make a run at the top three. They bring back seven of their top eight players, including a potential star in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, but simply returning everyone from a team that was a No. 9 seed doesn’t necessarily mean Tech will go from being a tournament team to a challenger for a top three seed.

12. AUBURN TIGERS

  • HOW DOES AUBURN RESPOND TO THEIR ROSTER TURNOVER?

Last season, Auburn’s surprising level of success — a share of the SEC regular season title — was in large part due to the collective: Everyone bought in, everyone played their role and thrived in it. How will that dynamic work with Mustapha Heron, who led the team in scoring last season, being replaced by Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley? Not only are there concerns about how well those two will fit into the team dynamic, they don’t exactly fit all that well in the uptempo style that Bruce Pearl introduced last season.

13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

  • WILL SPARTY’S JUNIORS BECOME STARS?

The biggest issue that Michigan State had last season was that the way their roster was constructed didn’t make it conducive to playing their best players in an ideal position. Tom Izzo had a half-dozen big men on his roster and questionable backcourt talent, which forced Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson to play at the 3 and the 4 instead of their ideal 4 and 5. That’s why a team as talented as Michigan State underachieved so much. It wasn’t a lack of good basketball players. I say all that to say this: There are still quite a few talented players in East Lansing, but this ranking will seem too high if what’s left of the junior class — Cassius Winston, Josh Langford and Nick Ward — does not play up to their ability.

(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

  • DOES FLORIDA STATE HAVE A POINT GUARD?

I actually think Florida State has a relatively high floor heading into next season. They bring back almost all of their important pieces from last season’s team that reached the Elite 8, and their position-less, versatility-heavy roster and pressing style will make them a team that is annoying to play against. Their ability to make threes will be important, as will the development of Mfiondu Kabengele and M.J. Walker, but for my money, their ceiling will be determined by their point guard play. Just how good will junior Trent Forrest and Albany grad-transfer David Nichols be?

15. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

  • WILL THE BULLDOGS MAKE THREES?

Ben Howland essentially brings everyone back from a team that won 25 games and reached the NIT quarterfinals. Both Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon pulled their names out of the NBA draft, while Lamar Peters also returns and will be joined by five-star prospect Reggie Perry. Throw in a handful of veteran bigs that are former four-star recruits, and it’s all there. The problem? Well, Mississippi State returns everyone from a team that was 329th nationally in three-point shooting last season. The only starter that shot better than 29.9 percent from three was power forward Aric Holman. That’s not exactly ideal.

16. OREGON DUCKS

  • IS BOL BOL AWESOME OR OVERRATED?

This is a question that will be discussed ad nauseum between now and the start of the season, and probably beyond; this might end up being one of the key storylines heading into the 2019 NBA Draft. On paper, Bol is the kind of prospect that never comes along. He’s 7-foot-3 and an elite rim-protector (when he wants to be) that is a very good three-point shooter. The problem? He doesn’t seem to be all that interested in playing the physical brand of defense that he needs to play, and he seems to believe that, offensively, he should be J.J. Redick. In theory, Bol should be a better version of Chris Boucher, but that all depends on whether or not Bol wants to be and ignores one, simple fact: Oregon became a Final Four-caliber team in 2017 when Boucher got injured and Jordan Bell was moved to center.

(Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

17. UCLA BRUINS

  • WILL UCLA EVER PLAY DEFENSE?

If five seasons as the head coach in Westwood, Steve Alford has had just one team finishing in the top 65 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. That was his first team, when he had a roster full of Ben Howland’s players. The issue has never been on the offensive side of the ball, not with the parade of high school all-americans and future NBA players that have come through his program. This year should be no different. Not only does he have another loaded recruiting class coming in, but Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands are back. There are no excuses this year.

18. TCU HORNED FROGS

  • CAN JAYLEN FISHER AND ALEX ROBINSON CO-EXIST IN THE BACKCOURT?

Looking at the way that TCU’s roster comes together, it seems as if Jamie Dixon’s best five will include a pair of point guards. Fisher is the more well-rounded of the two, but Robinson is an elite passer even if there are some questions about the rest of his game. They’ll need big seasons out of Desmond Bane and Kouat Noi, but for my money, making things work with two point guards is how they reach their ceiling.

19. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

  • SO IS THIS CHRIS MACK GUY THE REAL DEAL?

For the Cardinals to finish the season ranked this high, he’ll have to be. Louisville, coming off one of the most trying three-year periods in college basketball history, will be officially replacing an all-time great head coach after losing their starting point guard and a pair of stars — Deng Adel and Ray Spalding — to early entry. There is still talent on this roster. What can Mack do with it?

20. WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

  • CAN THE MOUNTAINEERS SURVIVE AFTER LOSING THEIR BACKCOURT?

We’ve seen West Virginia overcome the loss of key program players in recent years and not miss a beat, but they did that while keeping the two guys that define the Press Virginia era: Daxter Miles and, more importantly, Jevon Carter. Those two set the tone for this program for the last four seasons. They will not be easily replaced, but that is the task that Bob Huggins has in front of him.

(Justin Berl/Getty Images)

21. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK

  • JUST HOW GOOD WILL THESE GUARDS BE?

Losing Omer Yurtseven hurts N.C. State because this team now has a massive hole where their frontcourt used to be. That doesn’t concern me all that much for two reasons: There is a massive amount of perimeter talent on this roster, from point guards Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly to transfers C.J. Bryce and Devon Daniels to freshman Jericole Hellems. Keatts’ best teams at UNC Wilmington had deep, talented backcourts that allowed his pressing style to thrive. Wolfpack fans are hoping that will be the case for this group.

22. LSU TIGERS

  • HOW GOOD IS TREMONT WATERS’ SUPPORTING CAST?

Will Wade has made one thing clear in his 15 months in Baton Rouge: He is going to be able to get players with a lot of stars in their recruiting ranking to come to campus. The question is whether or not those players are going to be able to find a way to fit together. We know how good Tremont Waters was, and how good he will likely be this season, but unless the likes of Javonte Smart, Emmitt Williams and Naz Reid live up to their reputations, the Tigers are probably looking at being somewhere between the back-end of the bubble teams and the top of the NIT bracket.

23. CLEMSON TIGERS

  • HOW WILL CLEMSON HANDLE BEING THE HUNTED?

One of the most under-discussed storylines from last season was the disaster that was Northwestern basketball. They went from making their first NCAA tournament to being everyone’s preseason darling to losing by 36 points to Texas Tech and reminding everyone why they are Northwestern. They are the posterchild for the dangers in becoming satisfied. Clemson was very good last season, a top five seed that reached the Sweet 16, and they return quite a few key pieces. Will the hunger to win still be there after they’ve tasted success?

24. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

  • WHO IS GOING TO SCORE?

The Wolverines went through long bouts of brick-laying last season, even as they made a run through the Big Ten tournament and to the national title game. They were not a typical John Beilein team, as they won a staunch defense and relied on Mo Wagner and company to do just enough scoring to win. The problem? Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, by far the two best offensive players on their roster last season, are gone. Will Charles Matthews take the next step to go-to scorer? Will Zavier Simpson? Is Jordan Poole going to be the guy? Michigan’s defense gives them a floor. I’m not sure who gives them a ceiling.

25. SYRACUSE ORANGE

  • WILL TYUS BATTLE BE THEIR ONLY CREATIVE OFFENSIVE THREAT AGAIN?

Syracuse was not a very good basketball team last season, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, but Jim Boeheim is just so damn good at making his zone impenetrable that the Orange were able to win games in the 50s thanks to Tyus Battle finding a way to carry a massive burden offensively. If that’s who they are again next season, the Orange faithful should expect more of the same: ugly games, a low NCAA tournament seed and a shot to win a few games because, oh boy, are they a nightmare to play against. But this team has a chance to be much more if, say, O’Shae Brissett takes the next step or Buddy Boeheim proves to be capable of Gerry McNamara-esque shooting feats.

Who will follow Donte DiVincenzo’s breakout path to the NBA next?

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was little surprise Thursday night Donte DiVincenzo get drafted 17th overall at the NBA draft by the MIlwaukee Bucks.

The 6-foot-5 guard has been a staple of mock drafts since he declared for the draft after earning Most Outstanding Player honors as Villanova won its second national championship in three years.

A few months ago, though, something like that would have seemed an extreme long shot after an unremarkable freshman season by the Delaware product who redshirted after a foot injury in 2015-16. A lot can change in a single season.

So who is the next player to go from fringe prospect to first-round selection? Here’s the DiVincenzo Watch List:

JORDAN POOLE, Michigan: You might remember the Michigan freshman for his game-winner against Houston to help the Wolverines on their way to the national title game, but the former top-100 recruit averaged just 12.2 minutes per game for John Beilein last year. This season, he’s in line for a lot more PT and a chance to shine for more than one moment.

NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech: The 6-foot-5 guard can really fill it up, but battled mightily with inconsistency last season. There were nights he’d go for 15-plus and follow it up with a succession of single-digit performances. His offensive game – his ability to make plays and quarterback pick-and-roll – will make him an intriguing NBA prospect. Being able to do it night-in and night-out could make him a first-rounder.

JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech: Zhaire Smith got all the NBA attention last year while Keenan Evans got the attention of Big 12 defenses, but Culver is a bona fide prospect in his own right. The Red Raiders will be his team next season, and if he shoots it a little better (converted at 38.2 percent from 3 as a freshman), it’s not inconceivable it’s his last in Lubbock.

O’SHAE BRISSETT, Syracuse: The 6-foot-8 forward quietly had a very productive freshman season, averaging  14.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Orange. He needs to be more efficient, but if he can start making shots with more regularity (he’s plenty comfortable shooting from the outside), he’ll rocket up draft boards.

AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota: Coffey looked like a blue chip recruit before an ACL tear in high school set him back, and shoulder surgery cut a promising sophomore season short. If he can get past the injuries, Coffey is an intriguing wing prospect at 6-foot-8 with plus-athleticism. His shooting has improved since getting on campus with the Gophers and if that trend continues, NBA teams will take serious notice.

ALEX O’CONNELL, Duke: A top-75 recruit in 2017, O’Connell got limited run last year for the Blue Devils, but shot 48.9 percent on 45 attempts from 3-point range. He should move up the pecking order this season for Duke and could be an impact player off the bench.

LINDELL WIGGINTON, Iowa State: The Cyclones’ leading scorer flirted with going pro after a freshman season in which he averaged 16.7 points and shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range before ultimately returning to Ames. The 6-foot-3 guard is one of the most explosive leapers in college basketball, but needs to improve his decision-making and ballhandling. If he makes even moderate gains in those areas, his physical tools and ability to score the ball could have Adam Silver announcing his name next June.

JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State: The 6-foot-10 forward averaged  10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds as a freshman and waited until the final hours before the deadline before announcing his decision to return to the Aztecs. He’s got a ton of upside but some concerns are a meager block rate (2.5 percent) and non-existent game at the arc (4 of 18 from 3 last year). Both of those are issues for big men in the modern NBA. He needs to improve one or both of those areas while continuing to be an above-average rebounder to explode onto the draft scene next summer.

College Basketball Preseason Top 25

Getty Images
12 Comments

The college basketball season has come and gone, meaning that it is officially time for us to start looking forward to next year. 

And what better way is there to do that than by publishing a Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25!

DISCLAIMER: We don’t know about all of the NBA Draft decisions yet. Not even close. So if you see a * next to player’s name, it is because we are taking a guess — some more educated than others — on what he is going to be doing this spring.

Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.

Here is the top 25:

1. KANSAS JAYHAWKS

  • Who’s gone: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman
  • Who do they add: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack
  • Projected starting lineup: Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, Udoka Azubuike

Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Charlie Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties – if that role isn’t taken over by Devon Dotson – while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. This team is talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster. There is a lot to like about the Jayhawks heading into next year.

2. GONZAGA BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
  • Who do they add: Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
  • Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr., Corey Kispert, Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie

I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer addition of Clarke and a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.

3. KENTUCKY WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones
  • Who do they add: Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans
  • Projected starting lineup: Immanuel Quickly, Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson, P.J. Washington, Reid Travis

As always, there is quite a bit of turnover on the Kentucky roster. Six key pieces from last year are gone, while the Wildcats bring in yet another loaded recruiting class. I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch, even if they aren’t going to be able to shoot for another year. The question is going to be whether or not these freshmen can all come together, because there is only one player on the roster that has more than one year of college experience.

4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS

  • Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
  • Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Joey Baker
  • Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier

The Blue Devils are a team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter are all following Allen out the door, and it appears as if Bolden will be back for another season. I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore. The big question with this group is going to be how well the pieces gel together and whether or not there is enough shooting (and willing defenders) to allow this group to play the way teams like Villanova, Golden State and Boston play. I explain that line of thinking more here.

5. VILLANOVA WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman
  • Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo
  • Projected starting lineup: Jahvon Quinerly, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Cole Swider

Villanova did not fair well at the NBA early entry deadline, losing a pair of potential first round picks in DiVincenzo, who was the MOP of the Final Four and Spellman. As we noted here, Spellman is the piece that brings it all together for the Wildcats. I’m still willing to ride with the Wildcats, as I think they are more experienced than they will get credit for and because Jay Wright’s teams always have people ready to step in and contribute immediately. Expect a breakout year from Jermaine Samuels.

6. NEVADA WOLF PACK

  • Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke
  • Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Ehab Amin, Jordan Brown
  • Projected starting lineup: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown

Getting the Martin twins back is massive. Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem. But this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season. This is the best Nevada team since Kawhi and Jimmer were running roughshod over the league.

7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

  • Who’s gone: James Daniel III
  • Who do they add: No one
  • Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams

Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable pieces at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.

(Eric Espada/Getty Images)

8. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

  • Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
  • Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro
  • Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt

I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.

9. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Shaun Williams
  • Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade

This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player might actually be a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

10. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

  • Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
  • Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
  • Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye

Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball next season that is better than Luke Maye?

11. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

  • Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
  • Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
  • Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear

The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.

12. AUBURN TIGERS

  • Who’s gone: Davion Mitchell, Mustapha Heron, DeSean Murray
  • Who do they add: Samir Doughty
  • Projected starting lineup: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley

Auburn will lose Heron, who might have been their best player last season, but return everyone else from a team that won the SEC. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke. But we saw what Pearl could do with these pieces last season, and that was with the FBI investigation hanging over their head.

13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

  • Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
  • Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
  • Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman

I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together. That said, who is better?

14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

  • Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
  • Who do they add: Devin Vassell
  • Projected starting lineup: Trent Forrest, M.J. Walker, Terance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele, Phil Cofer

I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning would be key, as would finding another point guard on the transfer market to replace C.J. Walker, who left the program. Getting Cofer back for a fifth-year is enormous.

15. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
  • Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Abdul Ado

I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.

16. OREGON DUCKS

  • Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
  • Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
  • Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol

For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and Ihe’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

17. UCLA BRUINS

  • Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman
  • Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
  • Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Moses Brown

This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. Odds seem pretty good that he’ll have every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes will be on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12.

18. TCU HORNED FROGS

  • Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
  • Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
  • Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel

Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch.

19. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

  • Who’s gone: Anas Mahmoud, Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel
  • Who do they add: Chris Mack, Steve Enoch, Christian Cunningham
  • Projected starting lineup: Darius Perry, Dwayne Sutton, V.J. King, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams

How good of a coach do you think that Mack is? Because that is what this really comes down to. Even though the Cardinals lose Adel along with Spalding to the draft, there is enough talent on this roster to make an NCAA tournament — I think the evidence of that is that if the Cardinals hadn’t lost a fluke game to Virginia they would have been in the tournament last season. And all due respect to David Padgett, Mack is a better coach than he is right now.

20. WEST VIRGINIA

  • Who’s gone: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, D’Angelo Hunter
  • Who do they add: Jordan McCabe, Derek Culver, Trey Doomes, Andrew Gordon
  • Projected starting lineup: Beetle Bolden, Brandon Knapper, Lamont West, Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate

West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, I’m trusting that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.

21. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK

  • Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
  • Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels, Blake Harris, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
  • Projected starting lineup: Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson, Torin Dorn, C.J. Bryce, Derek Funderburk

Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

22. LSU Tigers

  • Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
  • Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
  • Projected starting lineup: Tremont Waters, Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams

LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the incoming trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.

23. CLEMSON TIGERS

  • Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
  • Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison, Javan White
  • Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, AJ Oliver, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas

With Mitchell and Reed back in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.

24. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

  • Who’s gone: Moe Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, Jaaron Simmons
  • Who do they add: Ignas Brazdeikis, David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez, Colin Castleton
  • Projected starting lineup: Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske

Losing Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman, the program’s two best offensive weapons, are major blows for a team that struggled to score a season ago. Matthews’ decision to return is key and they will really be able to guard again, but one of their three big wings is going to need to take a major step forward for them offensively.

25. SYRACUSE ORANGE

  • Who’s gone: Matthew Moyer
  • Who do they add: Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, Robert Braswell, Eli Hughes
  • Projected starting lineup: Tyus Battle, Franklin Howard, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu

The Orange have no depth and very little perimeter shooting this side of Buddy Boeheim, but with Tyus Battle back in the fold, I think this Orange team will be able to scrape together enough ugly, grind-it-out wins to be in and around the top 25 all season.

THE FIVE THAT JUST MISSED:

26. Xavier
27. Maryland
28. Indiana
29. Purdue
30. Florida

ACC Conference Reset: Get caught up on everything that’s happened this offseason

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone, and there are a dozen or so truly impactful decisions that are left to be made.

Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season.

The coaching carousel has come to a close.

The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2018-19 season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the ACC over the next six months.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

HOW WILL THESE DUKE FRESHMEN FIT TOGETHER?: To me, this is probably the most important storyline of college basketball’s offseason that does not involve the FBI or an NBA draft decision. On paper, this Duke team is going to be as talented as any team that we’ve seen in college basketball in recent memory. They have three of the consensus top five prospects — including the top two — coming into the program as well as the top point guard in the class. Those players they are adding (R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson, Tre Jones, Joey Baker) combined with some of the pieces already on the roster (Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell) give the Blue Devils a roster that looks an awful lot like some of the NBA teams that are thriving in these playoffs. They finally have a steady point guard to replace Tyus Jones, and they surround him with big wings that are skilled and multi-positional defenders.

Put another way, this Duke team is built in a mold that is more similar to the Boston Celtics, the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors that anyone has been willing to mention. Hell, you can connect a lot of dots between the way that Villanova has been built in recent years and the way that Duke can, in theory, play this season.

That does not, however, mean that this experiment is going to work. For starters, the tie that binds all of those teams together is elite-level three-point shooting, and that’s not something that this Duke roster is going to have in abundance. The other part of it is on the defensive end of the floor. Just because players are switchable doesn’t guarantee that they are going to understand defensive concepts, be able to read where they are supposed to rotate to defensively or even be able to guard. There are plenty of great athletes that just don’t care about defending well.

Duke has had back-to-back ridiculous recruiting classes, and in those two seasons they’ve lost 12 ACC games and haven’t made it past the Elite Eight. Is this the year it all comes together?

JUST HOW GOOD IS NASSIR LITTLE?: At this point, I’m assuming that Luke Maye is not only coming back to school but that he will be the most accomplished returnee in the country. If you think that’s a weird think to say, imagine writing it. (More on Maye below.) But I’m not sure that Maye is going to be the best player on the Tar Heels next season, and that’s mostly because Nassir Little just won’t stop getting better.

Little had something of a tumultuous path to North Carolina. He was thought to be a heavy Arizona lean before the FBI’s investigation tied him to a deal that a Miami coach was allegedly working on to funnel his family $150,000 from Adidas in exchange for a commitment. He committed to North Carolina as a top 15ish prospect that did not have the greatest motor, jump shot or reputation for working hard. That’s changed. His was sensational during his senior season and on the all-star circuit, and suddenly he’s being talked about as a potential top three pick in the 2019 draft. A 6-foot-7 wing with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and the tools to guard bigger and smaller players, he’s turned into a star in a role that is becoming increasingly more valuable in modern basketball.

If he lives up to the hype, the Tar Heels are going to be in the mix for an ACC title.

CHRIS MACK SETTLING IN AT LOUISVILLE: Louisville made the hire of the offseason, reaching into Cincinnati and pulling Mack out of his alma mater, Xavier. Mack is a top ten coach in the sport, but given what Louisville has lost — Deng Adel, Ray Spalding, Rick Pitino, the 2013 title banner, their pride, their dignity, their recruiting class — the rebuilding (reloading?) job that Mack has in front of him is going to be large.

A big reason for that is due to the looming NCAA investigation into everything that happened with Brian Bowen and Rick Pitino. Who knows how long that is going to take to play out and whether or not the possibility of a postseason ban or the stink of a scandal that involved hookers on recruiting visits is going to limit who the Cardinals can get involved with on the trail. Mack will be hitting the road in July for his first summer with the Cards. It will be very interesting to see who he targets in the Class of 2019, and which targets are willing to hear him out.

Getty Images

IS TYUS BATTLE COMING BACK TO SCHOOL?: Of all the stay-or-go decisions that are left to be made in the ACC, Battle’s is going to be the most important. The 6-foot-6 Syracuse guard averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore last season despite playing on a team that didn’t have another source of offense and played a pace that rivaled that of Virginia’s as the slowest in the league. Jim Boeheim really needs him back, and if he returns, there’s an argument to be made that the Orange are a top 25 team. O’Shae Brissett would be back in the fold and there is size, athleticism and wingspan at every position on the court the Orange zone might be impenetrable.

But all of that is assuming Battle is back.

Because if he’s gone, then Syracuse might struggle to crack 60 points per game next season.

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LEAGUE: There are seemingly a half-dozen teams that are not ACC title contenders but sure do look like they can be top 25 teams: Florida State, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Clemson, Syracuse and Louisville. Who gets what back and adds which transfers? We’ll get into all that below.

WHO’S GONE?

  • ALL FIVE STARTERS, Duke: Duke will, once again, look entirely different next year. Their four star freshmen all declared for the draft and signed with an agent while Grayson Allen, the lone senior on last year’s roster, has graduated.
  • JOEL BERRY II, North Carolina: Berry had a long and illustrious career with the Tar Heels, winning a national title, making another national title game and playing a starring role for what felt like the better part of a decade. It’s going to be weird seeing UNC play without his hair bouncing around, bringing the ball up the floor.
  • MATT FARRELL and BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame: It really is a shame how last season played out for the Fighting Irish, because these two — specifically Colson — deserved better than a senior season that ended in an injury-plagued trip to the NIT.
  • DENG ADEL and RAY SPALDING, Louisville: What separates these two from anyone else on this list is that they are not a) likely to get drafted or b) a senior. It would have ben nice for new Louisville head coach Chris Mack to have a pair of talented, all-ACC caliber seniors leading his roster next season. That is not going to be the case.
(Getty Images)

WHO’S BACK?

  • LUKE MAYE, North Carolina: Maye averaged 16.9 points, 10.1 boards and 2.4 assists while shooting 43 percent from three on 116 attempts, finishing his junior season as an all-american one year after winning a national title in a tournament where he hit the shot that sent his team to the Final Four. That’s not bad, and it’s the reason that he is going to enter the 2018-19 season as a candidate for National Player of the Year and arguably the best returning player in college basketball.
  • DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia: For my money, the single-most important decision that has been made in regards to the NBA draft was Hunter’s decision to return to school for his redshirt sophomore season. There’s a chance that, as more of a focal point of Virginia’s offense, he could end up becoming a top ten pick in the draft. That’s a good thing for him. But he’s also the connecting piece to Virginia’s defense that allows them to match up with teams that go small. I fleshed that thought out more here, but suffice to say, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he was out of the lineup when the Cavaliers lost to UMBC as a No. 1 seed.
  • EVERYONE, Virginia Tech: The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players from last season, including Justin Robinson, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear. But the key for this team’s ceiling is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three — specifically Alexander-Walker — take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.
  • ALMOST EVERYONE, Florida State: The Seminoles are coming off of a run to the Elite Eight as a No. 9 seed in which they upset No. 1 seed Xavier and played a brand of basketball that involved a lot of pressing, a lot of defensive versatility and enough perimeter firepower that they should enter this season as a top 20 team.

WHO’S COMING?

  • A NEW STARTING FIVE, Duke: paragraph
  • NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina:
  • JAYLEN HOARD, Wake Forest:

COACHING CHANGES

  • CHRIS MACK, Louisville: For my money, Mack is one of the ten best coaches in college basketball. He’s young, he’s a high-level recruiter, he understands how to run a program in that part of the country, he’s dealt with a passionate fanbase at a basketball school. This was the hire, and Louisville got it done.
  • JEFF CAPEL, Pittsburgh: I think Capel is a good coach and a very good recruiter who doesn’t get enough credit for the job he did at VCU or at Oklahoma before everything blew up in his face post-Blake Griffin. He was overdue to get another shot at a high-major gig, and Pitt was able to land him. But I also think that Capel is going to have a nightmare of a time trying to rebuild this program, if, for no other reason, than the simple fact that Pitt is not what they once were. They’ve been to seven Sweet 16s in program history, and five of them came in a seven-year period from 2002-09. That was when the Panthers, who have no recruiting base to speak of, were pulling kids out of New York City with the pitch of being able to play in the Big East. Now? They’re in the ACC. That sale isn’t going to work, which means that Capel has to find a way to convince players to join a program that went 0-18 in the ACC last season.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-ACC TEAM

DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia (POY)
R.J. BARRETT, Duke
CAM REDDISH, Duke
LUKE MAYE, UNC
NASSIR LITTLE, UNC

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. DUKE: As I wrote earlier, I have no idea whether or not it is all going to come together for Duke this season. What I do believe, however, is that this is the most talented team in the conference, and with the league’s other contenders losing key pieces, Duke should be the favorite to win their first regular season title since 2010.

2. VIRGINIA: I’m not worried about what happened in the NCAA tournament last year, but I am worried about how that is going to affect this group. An embarrassing loss like that is the kind of thing that can damage confidence and hang in the back of someone’s mind for a long time. Getting De’Andre Hunter back is incredibly important, and Tony Bennett’s teams are always going to defend, but it will be interesting to see just how bad the hangover ends up being.

3. NORTH CAROLINA: The key to the Tar Heel season is going to end up being their incoming freshman. Is Nassir Little as good as advertised? Can Coby White handle point guard duties? I think that there is going to be a sophomore big on their roster than can handle the big man duties, and Luke Maye is going to be awesome again. It’s those connecting pieces that I’m worried about.

4. VIRGINIA TECH: This is when it starts getting interesting in the ACC standings. I’m very high on this Virginia Tech team — I have them 11th nationally right now — but part of me is concerned over whether or not the pieces they are bringing back have maxed out on their talent. Does bringing back seven of your top eight from a borderline top 25 team make you an ACC title contender?

5. FLORIDA STATE: I was not sold on Florida State at all heading into the NCAA tournament. Now I have them 14th in my preseason top 25. I’m not really sure what to make of this group, but they have a nice combination of returning talent and players that can take a big step forward — M.J. Walker, Mfiondu Kabengele.

6. N.C. STATE: The Wolfpack lost a couple of valuable front court pieces, but they are going to be loaded with talented guards while playing for a coach that thrived running a pressing system at UNC Wilmington. They should be fun to watch.

7. CLEMSON: It’s tough to know precisely what to make of the Tigers without knowing where Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed are going to be playing next season.

8. LOUISVILLE: Losing Deng Adel and Ray Spalding is going to be brutal. There is some young talent on this roster, and the Chris Mack factor will help, but the more I think about this group the less confident I am that they are going to be a top 25 team.

9. NOTRE DAME: Losing two four-year seniors like Farrell and Colson is a nightmare, although I do think that Temple Gibbs, D.J. Harvey and Juwan Durham is a solid core to build around. That said, this happens every year, and I’m going to regret this ranking, I know.

10. SYRACUSE: If Tyus Battle returns, the Orange might be closer to top seven. If he doesn’t, they might end up in the bottom four. This seems like a happy medium.

11. MIAMI: I’m not quite sure what to make of the Hurricanes right now. Losing the talent that they lost is not going to be easy to replace, but they’ve added a few transfers and they still have Chris Lykes and Dewan Huell. Having them 11th here doesn’t mean I can’t see them making an NCAA tournament.

12. WAKE FOREST: I know they have some talent coming into the program and that there is some talent leftover on the roster from last season, but I bought into Wake last season and that burned me. I’ll believe it when I see it.

13. GEORGIA TECH: Losing Ben Lammers hurts. Losing Josh Okogie would hurt even more.

14. BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles had a chance to make some noise if they had gotten Jerome Robinson back. Now that he’s gone? I don’t know.

15. PITT: Good luck, Coach Capel.

Virginia Tech picks up most important win of the season over No. 10 North Carolina

(Photo by Lauren Rakes/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Virginia Tech picked up its most important win of the season on Monday night as the Hokies earned an 80-69 ACC home win over No. 10 North Carolina.

While the Hokies have been competitive against some good teams, they’ve never been able to get over the hump against a team as good as the Tar Heels this season. Virginia Tech had high hopes entering the year as a potential ACC dark horse and dangerous team in March. So far, they’ve largely fallen short of those expectations.

During Monday’s win over North Carolina, the Hokies ramped up the defensive intensity and looked like a team that could still be dangerous the rest of the season.

Playing better defense than they’ve shown for much of the season, Virginia Tech also knocked down enough big shots as they made plays on both ends of the floor against the Tar Heels. Neutralizing everyone on the North Carolina offense outside of Luke Maye and Joel Berry (23 points each), the Hokies had a balanced defensive effort that helped to shut down other options for North Carolina’s offense. The Tar Heels only shot 32 percent from three-point range as Virginia Tech’s perimeter defense looked more consistent than in other games during the season.

Virginia Tech has a top-35 offense (according to KenPom) this season. Scoring points and having enough weapons on that end has never been the issue. Virginia Tech knocked down 12 three-pointers, shooting 40 percent from distance as seven different players made threes for the Hokies. Even on a night where Justin Bibbs and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (eight points each) both struggled to consistently knock down shots, Virginia Tech had plenty of offense. Justin Robinson led the way with 19 points while Ahmed Hill (18 points) and Kerry Blackshear Jr. (16 points) both contributed plenty of offense as well.

The defense for the Hokies hasn’t been able to hold up against some of the elite teams on the schedule. With wins only over Pitt and Wake Forest before Monday night, the Hokies hadn’t picked up a win over a good ACC team thus far this season. And after allowing over 90 points in losses to Florida State, Louisville and Kentucky, Virginia Tech’s defense had a tendency to disappear against the best teams they faced on the schedule.

The North Carolina win was not only the signature victory that Virginia Tech could use at this point in the season. It was also a huge defensive improvement from what the Hokies have shown so far this season. Over the next month, Virginia Tech’s schedule remains difficult. They also don’t play any ranked teams until back-to-back road games on Feb. 10 and 14 against Virginia and Duke.

If Virginia Tech can put together a solid streak and continue to improve its defense, we can get a glimpse into how they could look during that important conference stretch in a few weeks. The Hokies looked like a NCAA tournament caliber team with its win over Monday night. Now can they put together a stretch to back that up and actually get in?

The North Carolina win also makes you wonder if this was a flash in the pan from an overrated team or a glimmer of hope in a turnaround effort.

Virginia Tech’s Khadim Sy leaves program

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Virginia Tech lost a piece to its frontline on Thursday, as the program announced that sophomore forward Khadim Sy had left the program.

“We are genuinely grateful for the fifteen months Khadim was part of our program, and all he contributed on and off the floor,” Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams said in a statement. “I will be watching the rest of his career unfold, and wish him only great things.”

Originally considered a three-star prospect by Rivals, the 6-foot-10 Sy picked the Hokies over Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Miami, and Purdue. In his lone season in Blacksburg, he started in 28 of 32 games, averaging 4.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per game.

Sy’s departure leaves Virginia Tech’s front court in an even more precarious situation entering the 2017-18 season. Zach LeDay, the team’s top scorer and rebounder from a season ago, has graduated. Chris Clarke is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in February. Ty Outlaw suffered an ACL tear of his own less than two months ago. Kerry Blackshear Jr. returns after missing all of this past season in order to recover from a foot injury.

The only other forwards on Virginia Tech’s roster are freshman P.J. Horne and 6-foot-10 Nick Fullard, who sat out last season after transferring from a Division II program.

Since late July, Buzz Williams has lost two returning starters. The Hokies still have a strong backcourt led by the veteran trio of Ahmed Hill, Justin Robinson, and Justin Bibbs. Even with a healthy Clarke and a healthy Blackshear, depth up front is a serious concern for the Hokies

Virginia Tech opens its season on Nov. 10 against Detroit Mercy.