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American Athletic Conference Offseason Reset: What does all the turnover mean for the league?

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking the American.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

SO UCONN IS LEAVING. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE CONFERENCE?: This is not only the biggest storyline in the American, it is one of the biggest and most intriguing storylines in all of college basketball. UConn is a storied program. It has won four of the last 20 national titles. It is a national brand that has churned out as many pros as any school in the country. It has fallen on hard times as Kevin Ollie drove the program straight into the ground. They are leaving the American and returning to the Big East, the conference that they helped launch 40 years ago.

This is a great thing for UConn, but this isn’t really about UConn. It’s about the American and what it means for a league that has been trying to prove they belong in the same conversation as the rest of the high-majors since it split from the Big East six years ago. And the truth is that they’ll be just fine. The Huskies have finished under .500 the last three years. They’ve missed four of the last five NCAA tournaments. The year they did go dancing, it was as the American’s automatic bid, a run that required a four-OT win over Cincinnati – which included this miracle 60-footer – in the quarters of the AAC tournament to avoid spending Selection Sunday on the bubble.

UConn is thought to be a borderline NCAA tournament team this season, which means that the Huskies will leave the league next summer having been more or less irrelevant for the better part of a decade. The American has still sent at least two teams to the Big Dance in each of their six seasons, with four teams earning a bid in three of those six years. Penny Hardaway has Memphis rolling. Kelvin Sampson has Houston rolling. Mick Cronin left Cincinnati, but John Brannen is a good coach and the Bearcats have talent. Wichita State will, eventually, be back in the thick of the NCAA tournament race.

Losing UConn is a blow for what the American’s ceiling can be. But with UCF, Temple, Tulsa and SMU all having proven capable of playing their way into an at-large bid, the conference will effectively be what it was with UConn there – a safe-bet to get three bids with four programs at the top that are annually in the at-large mix.

It’s not the ACC and it will never be, but it’s not the Mountain West, either.

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

CAN PENNY WIN WITH ALL THE TALENT HE HAS IN MEMPHIS?: When it comes to the conversation on the court, just how good Memphis will be is the most interesting question that we are going to have answered this year. There is no question that they are talented. James Wiseman is the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2019 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. Precious Achiuwa is top ten and top ten. The Memphis recruiting class is ranked as the No. 1 recruiting class in college basketball, higher than Duke and Kentucky and Kansas and everyone else.

But there is also plenty of reason to be skeptical of them. For starters, we’ve seen Penny coach one season of college basketball. They probably exceeded expectations during that one season, but one year is not exactly a large sample size. I actually think Penny is going to be a good college coach. My biggest concern with this group is that they are going to be very young. Seven of their top ten players are going to be freshmen, and only two of those seven freshmen are five-star, instant impact, potential first round picks. And two of their returnees are tiny lead guards that are going to be playing behind one of those freshman – Boogie Ellis – at the point.

I understand why Memphis fans are going to go nuts and why Memphis will be a preseason top ten team. Personally, I have them ranked at No. 20 entering the season.

WHAT WILL CINCINNATI BE POST-CRONIN?: Mick Cronin spent 13 seasons as the head coach fo the Bearcats, and in each of the last nine seasons that he was in Cincinnati, he led the program to the NCAA tournament. There are only five other schools that can make that claim – Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Gonzaga and North Carolina – and only three other programs that can say they’ve been to six straight NCAA tournaments – Villanova, Kentucky and Virginia.

Think about that for a second.

Those are massive shoes for John Brannen to be stepping in. He’s had success at Northern Kentucky, he’s a local guy with local ties and the return of Jarron Cumberland should make his life just that much easier. But don’t gloss over what Cronin did at Cincinnati. The level of consistency that he reached at that school was remarkable.

CAN HOUSTON FIND A WAY TO GET QUENTIN GRIMES ELIGIBLE?: Houston got hit with a dagger on the last day that underclassmen could return to school without losing eligibility – Armoni Brooks opted to stay in the draft instead of coming back for his senior year. The Cougars were already losing Galen Robinson and Corey Davis. They needed Brooks back to offset that loss, particularly once Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes committed to the program. Now, Houston has to try to find a way to get Grimes, a Houston native, eligible for this season. The former five-star prospect would likely be the most talented guard in the American – and the difference between being a borderline top 25 team and a borderline tournament team – if he’s eligible to play.

HOW LONG WILL IT BE BEFORE WICHITA STATE IS BACK?: Gregg Marshall is one of the best coaches in all of college basketball, and the fact that he took last year’s roster and got them to 10-8 in the AAC and into the NIT should be proof of that. But the Shockers are losing Markis McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones, their two leading scorers from last season, and dismissed Teddy Allen, who was supposed to be the leading scorer this year, last month.

Wichita State went 14-4 in the final two months of the 2018-19 season, including a stretch where they won 11 of 13 games against AAC opponents. They’ll win because Marshall is really good at his job. But as more time passes, it gets harder and harder to ignore the fact that in his last five years in the Missouri Valley, Marshall coached four NBA players – Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • MICK CRONIN, Cincinnati: This is a massive blow to the Cincinnati program, as Cronin had become one of the most consistently successful coaches in college basketball.
  • COREY DAVIS, ARMONI BROOKS and GALEN ROBINSON, Houston: The Cougars are going to have to totally rebuild their perimeter attack, and while there are some pieces there – DeJon Jarreau, Nate Hinton, Quentin Grimes – it is not going to be easy to replicate what they lost.
  • TEDDY ALLEN, Wichita State: For my money, Allen getting dismissed is a bigger loss either McDuffie or Haynes-Jones. Marshall planned to lose his seniors, and part of that plan was having Allen’s scoring pop to replace them.
  • EVERYONE, UCF: The Knights came within one bucket of beating Duke to get to the Sweet 16 last season, but they are going to have their work cut out for them this season with Tacko Fall, B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins all gone.
  • SHIZZ ALSTON, Temple: Alston was one of the best guards in the conference, and he will be following Fran Dunphy out the door.

WHO’S BACK

  • JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati: James Wiseman is the best prospect in the conference, but for my money, Cumberland is going to be the best player in the AAC this season. There is a new coaching regime, and Cumberland’s presence should help ease the transition period.
  • EVERYONE, South Florida: South Florida is South Florida, so I’m hardly the only one that is going to need to see it to fully believe it, but the Bulls bring back everyone from a team that won 24 games last year. They have a really, really good backcourt. We’ll see.
  • KELVIN SAMPSON, Houston: Keeping Sampson despite overtures coming from a handful of schools, namely Arkansas, was the most important thing Houston could do this offseason. I fully believe that he is one of the 10-15 best pure basketball coaches in college hoops right now.
  • ALTERIQUE GILBERT, UConn: UConn loses Jalen Adams, but it shouldn’t matter if Gilbert can find a way to be healthy for four months this winter. That, however, is never a guarantee.

WHO’S COMING

  • JAMES WISEMAN and PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis: These two are the reason that the Tigers are going to enter the season in the top ten of both polls. We more or less know what they are going to be. The big question with Memphis, the key to the Tigers reaching their ceiling, centers on the rest of their newcomers.
  • QUENTIN GRIMES, Houston?: If Grimes, a former top ten recruit and Kansas transfer, can find a way to get eligible for this season the Cougars won’t have to worry all that much about losing Armoni Brooks.
  • AKOK AKOK, UConn: Everyone knows about the guards that UConn is bringing in, but the key to the Huskies getting to the NCAA tournament this season is going to be Akok’s impact in his first season as a Husky. Once considered a five-star prospect, Akok enrolled at UConn at the semester break and will play the 2019-20 season as a redshirt freshman.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-AAC TEAM

JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati (Preseason Player of the Year)
DEJON JARREAU, Houston
QUINTON ROSE, Temple
PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. MEMPHIS: We talked more in-depth about the Tigers earlier, but I will say this: They are far and away the most talented team in the league, and they are also far and away the youngest relevant team in the league. How that translates into wins in a conference where the rest of their title competition have more experience and/or are built on toughness and physicality is going to be interesting to watch.

2. HOUSTON: I trust Kelvin Sampson as much as I trust any coach in college basketball to be able to find a way to make his pieces work. Losing Armoni Brooks hurts, but with Nate Hinton and DeJon Jarreau in the backcourt, there is some talent. There’s a possibility Quentin Grimes may find his way into playing this season, too. Throw in some size and depth in the frontcourt, and the Cougars look like they are going to be heading back to the tournament.

3. CINCINNATI: The Bearcats have the guy that very well could end up being the best player in the league on their roster in Jarron Cumberland. He looks like a linebacker, but he managed to put up 18.8 points, 4.4 boards and 3.6 assists while shooting 39 percent from three last season. He can hoop. Cincinnati also returns Keith Williams and Tre Scott while adding Jaevin Cumberland, Jarron’s cousin, a grad transfer from Oakland. The big question with this group is going to be how the adjust to new head coach John Brannen. With Mick Cronin back, I would probably slot Cincinnati second.

4. WICHITA STATE: For my money, the Shockers are the most interesting team in this conference. Yes, they lost their top two scorers from last season – not to mention the guy they thought was going to be their top scorer this season – but this was a deep team last season that really came on strong down the stretch. They won 11 out of 13 down the stretch of the AAC season, and then proceeded to beat Furman, Clemson and Indiana on the road in the NIT to get to that tournament’s Final Four. Jaime Echenique is one of the best bigs in the league while Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson look ready for big sophomore seasons. They’re tough, they’re battle-tested and they have arguably the best coach in the league. We’ll see.

5. TEMPLE: The Aaron McKie era at Temple will begin with a team capable of getting back to the NCAA tournament if things break right. Shizz Alston is gone, and that hurts, but the Owls will bring back both Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis. That will be enough to keep them in the top half of the league.

6. UCONN: Losing Jalen Adams is going to hurt, but beyond that, the Huskies bring back a lot of important pieces from last season. They should have plenty of perimeter depth even if Alterique Gilbert’s health struggles continue, as they add James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney to a rotation that already includes Christian Vital. Josh Carlton and Tyler Polley will provide some continuity in the frontcourt, but I think Danny Hurley’s second season in Storrs is going to come down to how well Sidney Wilson and Akok Akok perform in their second year on campus.

7. UCF: The Knights are a tough team to project this season. On the one hand, they lost all of their dudes – B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall graduated while Aubrey Dawkins turned pro. On the other hand, they have a number of really good transfers getting eligible this year (Dazon Ingram, Matt Milon, Yuat Alok, Ibrahim Doumbia) while Collin Smith looks like he’ll be ready for a big year. They’ve got a chance to sneak up on some people.

8. SOUTH FLORIDA: The Bulls are the sleeper in the American, and they have a chance to be really, really good. David Collins and LaQuincy Rideau give them one of the best backcourts in the league, and they return basically everyone from last season, when they finished 24-14 overall and 8-10 in the league. I’m not sure they have the ceiling to crack the top three in the league, but if you were to tell me that they can finish above Wichita State, Temple, UConn and UCF, I wouldn’t call you crazy.

9. TULSA: Losing DaQuan Jeffries, Sterling Taplin and Curran Scott will hurt, but Frank Haith will have some bodies coming back. Martins Igabnu and Jeriah Horne. The young Tulsa guards are going to need to step up.

10. SMU: The Larry Brown era seems so long ago. The Mustangs are now losing their two best guards off of a team that went just 3-15 in the AAC last season.

11. EAST CAROLINA: The good news is that ECU brings back Jayden Gardner, who averaged 16.3 points and 8.5 boards as a freshman. The bad news is that he is the only one of their top seven scorers to return.

12. TULANE: Tulane won four games last season and lost their top three players. new head coach Ron Hunter has some talent and transfers coming into the program, but they have a long way to go.

College Basketball 2019-2020 Preseason Top 25

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There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.

But we’re doing it anyway!

A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them. 

So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.

1. MICHIGAN STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
  • WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry, Xavier Tillman

2. KENTUCKY

  • WHO’S GONE: P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Reid Travis
  • WHO’S BACK: E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickly, Nick Richards
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, E.J. Montgomery

3. DUKE

  • WHO’S GONE: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden
  • WHO’S BACK: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Vernon Carey

4. KANSAS

  • WHO’S GONE: Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson, Quintin Grimes, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Mitch Lightfoot, David McCormack
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna, Isaac McBride, Christian Braun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji, Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike

5. VILLANOVA

  • WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
  • WHO’S BACK: Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree, Brandon Slater
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Bryan Antoine, Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

6. LOUISVILLE

  • WHO’S GONE: Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams, Darius Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Samuell Williamson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry, Fresh Kimble, David Johnson, Aidan Igiehom, Quinn Slazinski
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Fresh Kimble, Samuell Williamson, Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora, Malik Williams

7. MARYLAND

  • WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
  • WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Darryl Morsell
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Chol Marial, Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell, Donta Scott
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Jalen Smith

8. VIRGINIA

  • WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
  • WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kadin Shedrick, Justin McKoy
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff

9. TEXAS TECH

  • WHO’S GONE: Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, Brandone Francis, Norense Odiase, Khavon Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Chris Beard, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew, Andrei Savrasov
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jahmius Ramsey, Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield, Kevin McCullar, Russel Tchewa, Terrence Shannon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jahmius Ramsey, Davide Moretti, Deshawn Corprew, T.J. Holyfield, Chris Clarke

10. FLORIDA

  • WHO’S GONE: KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, DeAundre Ballard
  • WHO’S BACK: Noah Locke, Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson, Dontay Bassett, Isaiah Stokes
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kerry Blackshear Jr., Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne, Jason Jitoboh
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, Kerry Blackshear Jr.

11. GONZAGA

  • WHO’S GONE: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall, Jeremy Jones
  • WHO’S BACK: Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Admon Gilder, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo, Ryan Woolridge, Brock Ravet, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zahkarov
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Ryan Woolridge, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev

12. SETON HALL

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Nzei
  • WHO’S BACK: Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Tyrese Samuel
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quincy McKnight, Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu

13. NORTH CAROLINA

  • WHO’S GONE: Coby White, Nassir Little, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Robinson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cole Anthony, Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

14. ARIZONA

  • WHO’S GONE: Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther, Brandon Randolph
  • WHO’S BACK: Dylan Smith, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams, Alex Barcello, Ira Lee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Terry Armstrong, Christian Koloko, Zeke Nnaji, Stone Gettings
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Max Hazzard, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Ira Lee, Chase Jeter

15. UTAH STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Quinn Taylor
  • WHO’S BACK: Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta, Diogo Brito, Brock Miller, Abel Porter
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alphonso Anderson, Liam McChesney, Sean Bairstow
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Diogo Brito, Abel Porter, Sam Merrill, Brock Miller, Neemias Queta

16. SAINT MARY’S

  • WHO’S GONE: Jordan Hunter
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Dan Fotu, Jock Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alex Ducas, Kyle Bowen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Malik Fitts, Jock Perry

17. XAVIER

  • WHO’S GONE: Ryan Welage, Zach Hankins, Kyle Castlin, Elias Harden
  • WHO’S BACK: Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kyky Tandy, Dahmir Bishop, Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, Daniel Ramsey, Dieonte Miles
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Jason Carter, Tyrique Jones

18. LSU

  • WHO’S GONE: Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Kavell-Bigby Williams
  • WHO’S BACK: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor, Darius Days
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Trendon Watford, James Bishop
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Trendon Watford, Emmitt Williams

19. BAYLOR

  • WHO’S GONE: King McClure, Makai Mason, Jake Lindsey
  • WHO’S BACK: Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler, Jared Butler, Devonte Bandoo, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillespie, Matthew Mayer
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jordan Turner, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, Mark Vital, Mario Kegler, Tristan Clark

20. MEMPHIS

  • WHO’S GONE: Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks Jr., Raynere Thornton, Kareem Brewton, Antwann Jones Jr.
  • WHO’S BACK: Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
  • WHO’S COMING IN: James Wiseman, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge, Damian Baugh, Lance Thomas, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyler Harris, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Precious Achiuwa, James Wiseman

21. AUBURN

  • WHO’S GONE: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer, Chuma Okeke
  • WHO’S BACK: Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola, Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy, Isaac Okoro, Anfernee McLemore

22. TENNESSEE

  • WHO’S GONE: Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone, Grant Williams
  • WHO’S BACK: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons, Derrick Walker Jr., John Fulkerson, D.J. Burns, Jalen Johnson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Josiah James, Drew Pember, Olivier Nkamoua, Davonte Gaines
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Josiah James, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

23. CREIGHTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Froling, Kaleb Joseph, Connor Cashaw
  • WHO’S BACK: Davion Mintz, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson, Damien Jefferson, Marcus Zegarowski
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Shereef Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mintz, Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson

24. VCU

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Gilmore
  • WHO’S BACK: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Vince Williams, Mike’L Simms, P.J. Byrd, Malik Crawford
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jarren McAlister
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Vince Williams, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva

t25. OHIO STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington, Kyle Young, Justin Aherns, Musa Jallow, Jaedon LeDee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, EJ Liddel, Ibrahima Diallo, CJ Walker
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson

t25. DAVIDSON

  • WHO’S GONE: Nathan Ekwu, Dusan Kovacevic
  • WHO’S BACK: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luka Brajkovic, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Carter Collins, David Czerapowicz, Bates Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Hyunjung Lee, David Kristensen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Luka Brajkovic

2019 NCAA Tournament: Which NBA draft prospects helped themselves the most?

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MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State

It’s frustrating watching Kabengele coming off the bench, because he has been such a valuable weapon for the Seminoles when he is on the floor.

At 6-foot-10, he has the length and athleticism to project as a five in the NBA. He can block shots, he can move his feet on the perimeter and his ability to switch is one of the biggest reasons that Florida State is able to switch 1-through-5 on the defensive end of the floor. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kabengele as a prospect is that he is a really, really good shooter that can knockdown threes in pick-and-pop actions as well as showing an ability to step into a shot in transition.

He doesn’t start for the Seminoles, but I’m starting to believe that he will be worth a late first round pick come June’s draft.

LOUIS KING, Oregon

King has really come on down the stretch of the season. He’s up to 12.9 ppg on the season and is shooting 37.9 percent from three as a 6-foot-9 forward with the physical tools to play the wing in the NBA. Over the course of the last five games, he’s averaging 17.2 points, and he was really, really good in Oregon’s two games in the first weekend of the tournament.

And on Thursday night in the Sweet 16, he will draw a matchup with De’Andre Hunter, the best defender at that position in all of college basketball. King is trending towards early second round, late first round territory, and a big performance against the Wahoos could end up being the difference-maker.

JA MORANT, Murray State

Morant was terrific in the two games that he played in the NCAA tournament. He passing ability and high IQ approached to the game was fully on display against Marquette, while he knocked down his first five threes against Florida State in the second round.

Morant is already a guy that will be a top three pick in this year’s draft, but after what he did this first weekend, there has been some hype for him to be the No. 1 overall pick. That’s silly. On the one hand, what he did against Marquette was not all that different from what he has been doing all season long. It was one of his best performances of the season, don’t get me wrong, but anyone that had been watching Morant play and not simply watching the highlights knew he could pass like that.

Then there was the shooting display from the second round. While I do believe that Morant is getting better as a shooter, overreacting to one game where he hit five in a row is not a great idea. That was just the second time in 65 career games that Morant made five or more threes and the fourth time he’s hit four threes in a game. We know he can make that shot — it’s one of the biggest reasons he’s gone from being a guy projected in the top 10 to someone that could go No. 2 — but we also know he’s streaky.

NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

With 39 points in the first two games of the NCAA tournament, Nassir Little put together the best back-to-back performances of his freshman season on the biggest stage. He was aggressive, he found himself in the right spots on the floor and his physical tools and motor were on full display. The problem, if there is one, is that these games were played against teams where Little’s skill-set will always thrive.

Iona was one of the worst defensive teams in the field. Their uptempo brand of basketball combined with the fact that they just didn’t have the size or athleticism to deal with Little let him flourish. The success he had against Washington was similarly matchup-based, as that 2-3 zone was ripe for the picking; the Huskies had no answer for anyone in the paint, not just little.

I’m not sure how much there is to takeaway either way from the first weekend, but Friday’s matchup with Auburn will be an interesting one for NBA scouts. Auburn plays five-out offensively, using modern, perimeter-oriented bigs in Chuma Okeke and Anfernee McLemore at the four and the five. That will put little into a situation where he is being asked to defend NBA-caliber fours in a role that is similar to the one he projects to play in the NBA.

JALEN SMITH, Maryland

There were two plays in the tournament that really stood out for Smith. The first was the murder he committed against Belmont’s Dylan Windler:

The second was the corner three that he buried to tie the game up with LSU in the final seconds:

Smith hasn’t had the most consistent season. He’s shown a good motor on the offensive glass, he’s blocked some shots and we all know he likes to shoot threes, but he’s done all of those things in flashes. These are the kinds of plays that entice NBA scouts with potential Overall, those plays were too few and far between during Smith’s freshman season, but seeing him make them in this moment might be enough to convince him he should leave.

DYLAN WINDLER, Belmont

Windler finally had a blow-up game against one of the high-major teams that Belmont plays. He disappeared against Purdue, UCLA, Murray State in the OVC title game and both matchups with Lipscomb this season. The reason for that is that Windler is essentially built to be a role player, he just has the physical tools to be able to do that in the NBA. He’s 6-foot-7, he’s athletic, he gets to the glass, he can guard, he’s a knockdown shooter that takes shots within the flow of an offense.

All of that stuff would make him a very useful piece in the NBA, and the fact that he is bigger and more athletic than most of the people he faced at Belmont made him really tough to stop. The question was whether or not he could get all that done when the competition stepped up. Against a Maryland team with some bigger wings, he did, popping off for 35 points and seven threes as he lit up Maryland’s defense running off of off-ball screens.

AUBREY DAWKINS, UCF

Aubrey Dawkins will turn 24 years old in May, which is probably the most limiting factor in his potential at the next level. But what is clear right now is that the redshirt junior has NBA athleticism as a two-guard, he stands 6-foot-6 and he just put together the game of his life against one of college basketball’s best defensive teams. He cooked R.J. Barrett as he buried threes, mid-range pullups and finished at the rim.

His decision may depend on where his dad is coaching next season, but I don’t think it’s crazy to say that the younger Dawkins played his way into getting drafted with that game against Duke.

Heartbreak for UCF dad, son as Dawkins’ game-winner rolls out

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The coach’s son was having the game of his life in the biggest game of his dad’s life. Down 1, UCF’s Aubrey Dawkins pushed a miss back up with his right hand with 2.5 seconds left. The ball bounced once, twice and then rolled off the rim.

Overall No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed Duke survived to reach the Sweet 16. Dawkins, the son of UCF coach Johnny Dawkins who shot hoops with his dad on the Blue Devils home court when Johnny was a Duke assistant, hung his head as his teammates hit the floor.

“Heartbreak. That’s the only way to sum it up.” Aubrey Dawkins quietly recalled 20 minutes later to reporters.

Nothing left to do but console his teammates, sprawled across the floor after the 77-76 loss where UCF led 76-73 with 14 seconds left when Duke’s Zion Williamson drove right at UCF’s 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall. The superstar Williamson hit the layup while drawing the big man’s fifth and final foul. R.J. Barrett put back Williamson’s miss for the winning basket.

B.J. Taylor drove on UCF’s last chance, but the short jumper came off the glass just a little too hard. Dawkins swooped in and…

“It was up there forever, I felt like, in slow motion. Once I saw it go past the midpoint and roll out, it was, at that point, nothing left to do,” he said.

Dawkins was the only reason UCF had a chance at the end. He scored 32 points — matching Williamson — on 12 of 18 shooting, including 5 of 7 on 3-pointers. He also had four assists and two offensive rebounds, including the putback he rolled off the rim. After the miss, he sank to his knees next to the frame supporting the basket.

“Aubrey was the best player on the court today. He was magnificent,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who told reporters he was close to tears, heartbroken for the opposing coach who helped build Duke into a powerhouse in the mid-1980s and the boy he watched grow up in shooting sessions after practice with his dad in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Johnny Dawkins, who addressed his sobbing players in an emotional locker room speech after the loss, was the point guard for Krzyzewski’s first Final Four team.

“Proud of you man, proud of you,” Johnny Dawkins said, hugging his son. “I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard.”

Aubrey Dawkins wanted to go to Stanford and play for his dad, but the school didn’t admit him, saying he didn’t meet their academic standards.

Johnny Dawkins said Saturday that may have been a blessing in disguise. He loved his son, but wasn’t sure he could coach him after spending so much time with him on the court through the boy’s childhood.

Aubrey Dawkins spent his first two seasons at Michigan, but after his dad left Stanford for the Knights, the son decided to join him at UCF. Just before the 2017-18 season started, Aubrey Dawkins suffered a season-ending injury.

He came back and averaged 15 points this season, but maybe more importantly, Aubrey Dawkins said he got to play for his dad.

“Having the chance to be around him at this stage in my life and my career in basketball has just been priceless. That’s what I love most, just going every day next to him and learning from him and us getting closer as a father and son and also as a player and coach,” Dawkins said.

And the father said his son playing like he did in the most important game of their lives meant a lot to him, too.

“Aubrey was terrific. He’s capable of having moments like that, and he had one tonight on one of the biggest stages you could have it on,” Johnny Dawkins said. “He couldn’t have picked a better time for that.”

Monday Overreactions: Recapping first weekend; looking ahead to Final Four

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FIRST WEEKEND MVP: Payton Pritchard, Oregon

Oregon’s point guard was the best player on the floor for the Ducks in both of their games as the Pac-12 tournament champions became the only team seeded lower than fifth to get to the second weekend of the tournament. In wins over Wisconsin and UC Irvine, Pritchard averaged 18.5 points, 7.5 assists and 4.5 boards while also sparking late runs that turned close games into blowouts.

And frankly, Pritchard has been terrific for a month at this point. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 7.0 assists over his last five games and has looked like one of the best point guards in all of college basketball as Oregon has reeled off a ten game winning streak, eight of which have come on the road or on neutral courts.

ALL-FIRST WEEKEND TEAM

CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: After putting up 26 points for the Boilermakers in the first round of the tournament, Edwards followed that up with 42 point explosion against Villanova in the second round, the most points scored in an NCAA tournament game since 2004. In total, Purdue has scored 148 points in two games in this even, and Edwards and 68 of them.

NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina: Little averaged 19.5 points in the first two games of his first (and only?) NCAA tournament. We wrote a column yesterday on why that is so important for the Tar Heels.

ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke: Williamson was, as you might expect, the best player for Duke over the course of the first weekend. He finished with 25 points and three boards in the opening round win over North Dakota State and followed that up with 32 points, 11 boards and four assists in the win over UCF.

BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga: Clarke didn’t do much in Gonzaga’s first round win over Fairleigh Dickinson because he didn’t need to do much. But in a second round date with a Baylor team that actually showed up and gave the Zags a fight, Clarke put together one of the best performances in the tournament this season: 36 points, eight boards, five blocks, three assists and two steals.

MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State: How many teams can say that their best player comes off of the bench? That’s the case for Florida State and Kabengele, who was simply terrific in two wins this weekend. He had 21 points and 10 boards against UVM and followed that up with 22 points, seven boards and three blocks in a blowout win over Ja Morant and Murray State.

MOST IMPRESSIVE TEAM: Texas Tech

Every one of the top two seeds got pushed at some point in the first weekend of the tournament. Virginia and North Carolina trailed at the half of their first round games. Duke came a couple of inches away from losing to UCF. Gonzaga was pushed by Baylor in the second round. Tennessee nearly blew not one, but two huge leads. Kentucky was in a dogfight with Wofford. Michigan State nearly lost to Bradley while Florida made it difficult for Michigan to get to the Sweet 16.

Texas Tech, however, didn’t really have those problems. Northern Kentucky kept it close for 15 minutes before Jarrett Culver went nuts and the Red Raiders ran away with it. Buffalo had one run late in the first half that seemed like it was going to make the most intriguing matchup of Sunday’s second round action worth watching, but that only last about five minutes.

This Texas Tech team has a real shot to make a run through Anaheim to get to Minneapolis. They are the nation’s best defensive team, but with the way they have been shooting the rock of late, they are also a threat to put up 90 points on any given opponent. On a weekend where every other title contender was pushed, Tech cruised, and that should tell you something.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The Big East

So it turns out the Big East was pretty bad after all.

Their run in the NCAA tournament ended on Saturday evening, with Carsen Edwards dropping 42 points in a rout that saw Purdue lead 59-24 at one point. It was an embarrassment, really, but one that we all probably should have seen coming.

Villanova won the Big East regular season title, but it never felt like they actually were trying to win. They lost five of their last eight regular season games and only managed to take home the league title because Marquette, the only other team in the league that we thought was any good, lost their last four games. That same Marquette team was run out of the first round by Murray State, who looked every bit the part of a mid-major in their loss to Florida State on Saturday.

There’s more.

Villanova beat Seton Hall in the Big East tournament title game, and the Pirates got drubbed by 16 points by Wofford in the first round. The only other Big East team to get into the tournament was St. John’s, and they got smoked in a play-in game by an Arizona State team that proceeded to lose to Buffalo by 17.

The league should be better with the amount of talent that they have coming back.

And they’re going to need to be.

Because this was not the kind of season that the conference will want to be known for.

FIVE OVERREACTIONS MOVING FORWARD

1. A DISMAL FIRST WEEKEND SETS US UP FOR THE PERFECT FINISH TO THE TOURNAMENT

That first weekend sucked.

We got a thriller with Duke and UCF on Sunday, Maryland played a couple of barn-burners against Belmont and LSU and Tennessee’s inability to protect a lead made for a couple of interesting games, but there wasn’t a true buzzer-beater in the first 52 games of the NCAA tournament. All of the Cinderellas have seen their carriages turn into pumpkins unless, of course, you consider No. 12-seed Oregon — who was a top 15 team in the preseason, reached the 2017 Final Four and is currently in their third Sweet 16 in the last four years — a Cinderella.

What we have right now is a tournament that still features all four No. 1 seeds, all four No. 2 seeds and all four No. 3 seeds. One of the two No. 4 seeds that was knocked out get sent home by a No. 5 seed. This has only happened once before in the NCAA tournament, in 2009, and that was the year that Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina cruised to the national title.

So yeah, the first weekend of the tournament sucked.

But what that means is that the final 15 games of this event are set up to be absolutely magical.

Think about it like this: The only two teams in the Sweet 16 that weren’t considered top 16 teams by the selection committee on Selection Sunday were both preseason top 15 teams. If you were going to build the perfect 16 team tournament from scratch, the only change that anyone would make is dropping Oregon for someone, but I’m not sure that the Ducks, given the way that they have been playing of late, aren’t actually a top 16 team in college basketball right now.

I’ve always said the ideal NCAA tournament has upsets early and chalk late. We didn’t have the upsets this year, but we do have the chalk.

So be ready. Every game from here on out is going to be a heavy-weight fight.

2. THE UCF PERFORMANCE SAID MORE ABOUT THE MATCHUP THEN IT DID DUKE

I tried to warn you guys on Sunday morning.

UCF was the perfect matchup for this Duke team. They are traditionally a really good defensive team that has big, athletic wings to guard Duke’s lottery picks and one of the world’s 40 largest humans to stand at the rim and make it difficult for R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson to finish. They also have a bunch of shot-makers on their perimeter, and all they needed to do to keep this thing close was for one of Aubrey Dawkins or B.J. Taylor to get into a rhythm while Tacko Fall stayed out of foul trouble.

Dawkins went off.

Fall stayed out of foul trouble for the most part.

And the end result was that Duke should have been knocked out of the NCAA tournament.

They are incredibly lucky to still be alive in this event, and I don’t think that they are going to face a team that will be able to challenge them the way that UCF did until the Final Four.

Look, we’ve known what the key to beating Duke is all season long. You need to pack in your defense, you need size at the rim and you need to be willing to let Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire shoot as many threes as they want to shoot. There aren’t many team that actually have the players to execute that game-plan as well as UCF did.

Duke certainly isn’t unbeatable, but this was the bullet they needed to dodge.

And they did.

3. THE BEST SPOT TO BE NEXT WEEKEND IS …

  1. KANSAS CITY: The North Carolina-Auburn matchup has a chance to be one of the most entertaining games in the history of college basketball — if you like run-and-gun hoops, this is for you — while a Sunday evening matchup between UNC and Kentucky is very much in the cards.
  2. ANAHEIM: This is the most unpredictable region left in the field. Texas Tech and Michigan might be the two best defensive teams left in the tournament, and they will be battling it out for a spot in the Elite 8 in what might as well be a street fight. On the other side of the bracket, we get a rematch from last year’s Sweet 16, when Florida State upset Gonzaga. Is this the revenge game?
  3. WASHINGTON D.C.: I have a sneaking suspicion that Duke is going to have a pretty easy time making their way through this region, but remember: Virginia Tech has already beaten the Blue Devils this season, and they did it without Justin Robinson. On the other side of the bracket, LSU has somehow morphed into a team of destiny, and they will face off with Michigan State in a battle between two of the best point guards in the country in Cassius Winston and Tremont Waters.
  4. LOUISVILLE: Virginia-Oregon is a battle between two really good teams, but there’s a real chance that game goes under the total of 118.5. On the other side of the bracket is Purdue-Tennessee, and as good as both of those teams are, that matchup just doesn’t have the pop of some of the others. That said, should this turn into a Virginia-Tennessee Elite 8 matchup, there’s a chance that ends up being the weekend’s best game.

The fact that Louisville is fourth on this list should tell you all you need to know about just how good the games are this weekend.

4. AN ALL-ACC FINAL FOUR CAN STILL HAPPEN

We’ll dive into this more during the week, but the chance of getting a Final Four that features Duke (or Virginia Tech), Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State is a very real possibility. The biggest reason for that is that three of the No. 1 seeds are from the conference. They’re obviously, then, the favorites to get to the final weekend out of their region.

But the other part of this is that Florida State seems like a good bet to knock off Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.

I’ll have a full breakdown on why later in the week.

5. AND YOUR FINAL FOUR IS …

My Final Four is still alive! Duke vs. Texas Tech and Virginia vs. North Carolina.

Sunday’s NCAA tournament recap: Duke, Tennessee survive; chalk thrives

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Zion Williamson, Duke

On a night where Duke looked like they were ready to see their season come to an end, Zion Williamson made just enough plays to keep the Blue Devils close enough to get lucky at the end.

The big fella finished with 32 points, 11 boards and four assists in the 77-76 Sunday evening win, scoring the and-one with 14 seconds left that led to the offensive rebound that R.J. Barrett’s game-winning put-back. This was anything-but a quintessential Duke performance. It was actually precisely the kind of game that Duke should have lost, but I’ll get to that at the bottom of this column.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Oregon Ducks

Payton Pritchard finished with 18 points and seven assists, the Ducks made 13 threes and, over the course of the final 12 minutes of the game, outscored UC Irvine 38-17 en route to a 73-54 win and a spot in the Sweet 16. The Ducks are the only team to make it to the second weekend of the tournament as anything other than a top five seed, but there’s an argument to make that they are actually a top 16 team at this point in the season. They’ve now won 10 straight games, and the last eight of them have come on the road or on neutral courts. It’s been a wild ride, and it’s not done yet.

GAME OF THE DAY: Duke 77, UCF 76

It was a thriller in Columbia, S.C., on Sunday night, one that we wrote about here and here (and down at the bottom of this column) and that ended like this:

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Grant Williams, Tennessee

Tennessee was getting ready to make history on Sunday, and not in a good way. The Volunteers blew a 25 point first half lead to Iowa, getting to overtime where Williams absolutely took over. Tennessee used a 9-2 run to take control in the extra frame, and Williams was responsible for all nine points. He scored three straight buckets and found Jordan Bone for a three in the mix, too.

I guess there’s a reason he’s an all-american.

WTF OF THE DAY: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee

During that overtime period, Admiral Schofield was on the bench. He was on the bench at the end of regulation, too. He didn’t foul out. Rick Barnes wasn’t drunk. Schofield knew that the Vols needed Kyle Alexander on the floor, and so did his teammates. So Alexander stayed on the floor and Schofield stayed on the bench and, as a result, Tennessee stayed in the NCAA tournament.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech

Buzz Williams must be happy to have his point guard back. Justin Robinson finished with 13 points and four assists off the bench, but 10 of those 13 points and all four of those assists came after No. 12-seed Liberty had taken a 26-18 lead on Virginia Tech late in the first half of the second round tilt in San Jose. He sparked an 18-6 surge that spanned both halves and had a pair of assists in another 11-3 run early in the second half as the Hokies landed a come-from-behind, 67-58 win over the upset-minded Flames.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Buffalo Bulls

The game that I was most excited about heading into Sunday was Texas Tech vs. Buffalo, and that’s because I thought that the Bulls would at least put up a fight. They didn’t. After staying within striking distance for more of the first half, the Red Raiders buried Buffalo down the stretch.

ONE MORE THING TO KNOW

This was the one.

This was the game that Duke was supposed to lose in this tournament.

This matchup had all the elements necessary to make it happen.

For starters, UCF has the roster makeup to be able to hang with Duke. They have size, they have depth, they have athleticism and they have the one guy in college basketball that can make Zion Williamson an inefficient finisher around the basket in Tacko Fall. They played precisely the way that you need to play to be able to beat these Blue Devils, by packing everyone in the paint, daring Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire to beat you from the perimeter and parking a shot-blocker directly in front of the rim. And they did all that while one of their shot-making wings went bonkers. Aubrey Dawkins finished with 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting, making tough shot after tough shot to give the Knights a shot to win this thing in the final minutes.

Throw in the good fortune from the basketball gods — specifically, a couple of no-calls on Fall and the shot clock violation that wasn’t in the final minutes — and it was all coming together.

Duke was going to lose.

And then that shot happened, this didn’t fall and UCF was heading home:

One of the things that I kept seeing after the end of this game is that this is evidence that Duke is not invincible, which I just don’t understand.

This is something that we have known all season long. Duke struggles to shoot the ball, particularly at the point and the five, and good teams are capable of exploiting that. They pack in the paint, they do their damnedest to avoid turnovers that allow Duke to get out in transition and they hope that all of this happens on a night when their star plays like a star.

That’s how you beat Duke.

That’s the blueprint.

UCF had all the tools they needed, and luck just didn’t break their way.

It’s not different than the end of last year’s Elite 8 game, when Duke was on the other end of the luck spectrum.

That’s when Grayson Allen’s game-winner rolled off the rim, just like Dawkins’ did on Sunday night:

Just how different would the narratives be for these two Duke teams had both of these shots fallen?