Friday, April 24, 2015

Morning News: Kris Dunn Returning, Christian Wood Gone, Damion Lee To Lousiville, And Much More

Kris Dunn will torment Big East opponents for at least one more season.

Kris Dunn Returning For His Junior Season As a potential first round draft pick, Dunn had been on the NBA Draft fence. Dunn was the engine that made everything go for Providence this past season. He was incredibly explosive offensively, leading the nation with an absurd 50.0% assist rate, but his high turnover rate also cost Providence quite a few games. But if he had gone pro, Providence would have lost four of five starters and been due for a rebuilding season. With him back, Providence has an excellent chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Christian Wood To The NBA Draft UNLV had great news a week ago when they picked up 7'0" McDonald's All-American Stephen Zimmerman, but that good feeling didn't last long as Wood will join Rashad Vaughn in the NBA Draft. Even without Wood, UNLV does still have plenty of front court depth, with 6'10" defensive monster Goodluck Okonoboh joining Zimmerman and 6'8" Oregon transfer Ben Carter, among others. But Wood was the one proven frontcourt scorer, and UNLV doesn't have much of a backcourt to speak of right now. Unless they can add another significant backcourt contributor, UNLV is looking most likely at an NIT bid next season.

Louisville Adds Damion Lee We knew that Louisville's roster was headed to significant turnover, with almost every player from their regular rotation leaving, but Damion Lee was arguably the most sought after player on the transfer market. The 6'6" wing was easily the best player on Drexel this past season and will be eligible to play immediately, with one year of eligibility remaining. Along with Trey Lewis and a deep recruiting class, Louisville is going to have a talented team next season, but it's going to be difficult in the offseason to project just how well all of the pieces will work together.

Derryck Thornton Reclassifies, Will Join Duke Derryck Thornton had been considered one of the top prospects in the 2016 recruiting class, but he has reclassified to 2015 and will be joining Duke. This will help very much in replacing Tyus Jones, and giving Duke a legitimately strong starting point guard next season. With North Carolina and Virginia both losing a legitimate player to the NBA Draft in the past week or so, Duke is inching closer to seriously contending for the ACC title next season.

VCU Adds Korey Billbury VCU's roster is in flux after the loss of Shaka Smart, and they suffered decommits from their entire 2015 recruiting class, but this is a significant pickup for new head coach Will Wade. Billbury was an explosive scorer for Oral Roberts this past season, averaging 14.4 points per game. He was a bit of a volume scorer, so he might not average those numbers next season in the Atlantic Ten, but he will be eligible immediately and could be the difference if VCU is able to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Pittsburgh Adds Sterling Smith  Sterling Smith is yet another "graduate transfer", a successful player from a smaller school looking to have one final year at a big program. Smith scored 13.9 points per game this past season for Coppin State, and he will provide much needed backcourt depth. His defensive skills will also buoy a Pitt defense that was a tire fire this past season. He's far from guaranteed an NCAA Tournament berth at Pitt, but the Panthers should at least be in the bubble hunt.

Eric Paschall Joining Villanova Paschall will have to sit out the 2015-16 season, but he was the 2014-15 Atlantic Ten Freshman of the Year, so this is a significant addition for Villanova. The year of seasoning will probably be a benefit anyway, as Paschall was talented but raw as a true freshman. He has the potential to turn into one of the better Big East players by the time he graduates.

George Washington Adds Jaren Sina And Alex Mitola Mike Lonergan added two significant transfers on the same day, though one of them will have to sit out next season. Sina, a starter for Seton Hall who fit into the stereotypical "glue guy" mold will have to sit out next season but will then have two years of eligibility. Mitola, who led Dartmouth in scoring this past season with 12.4 points per game, has one year of eligibility and will play right away. Mitola will fit in nicely on a roster that returns its top four scorers and also adds Tyler Cavanaugh from Wake Forest, and which needed backcourt depth more than anything else. They should definitely be in the tourney bubble mix next season.

Ricky Tarrant To Memphis Tarrant was Alabama's second-leading scorer (13.1 per game), so this is a significant pickup for Memphis as Josh Pastner tries to save his job by getting back to the NCAA Tournament. With Tarrant joining the Lawson brothers onto a team that returns almost all of its key players, Memphis should certainly be improved next season. But considering the lack of respect the AAC got this past season, I'm not sure Memphis can possibly be confident on the bubble.

Shannon Evans Leaving Buffalo With Bobby Hurley gone, the exodus of players from Buffalo has begun with Shannon Evans, their best perimeter player. With Justin Moss still set to return, Buffalo has to still be considered a significant threat to win the MAC, but at this point I've got to back off my preseason projection of Buffalo as MAC favorite. For now, I think Central Michigan is the new favorite. As for the next destination for Shannon Evans, it would be hard to bet against Arizona State.

Anton Grady Leaving Cleveland State It seems like Cleveland State gets hit hard by graduate transfers every year, and Anton Grady is the latest.  They had already lost Trey Lewis to Louisville, and now star big man Anton Grady is gone as well, though he hasn't yet decided on a destination. Certainly these two defections will seem to end any realistic chance of Cleveland State challenging for the Horizon League title next season.

Nigel Johnson Transfers To Rutgers Nigel Johnson was perhaps the best player off the Kansas State bench this past season (he also started seven games), so he'll immediately become one of the best players on Rutgers. He won't be eligible for the 2015-16 season, but Rutgers is going to stink this coming season anyway. With relatively strong 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes, Rutgers does appear to slowly be upgrading its talent level under Eddie Jordan, but there's still no sign that they're going to be seriously competitive in the Big Ten anytime soon.

Manu Lecomte To Baylor The Miami transfer didn't wait long to make his decision, going with Baylor. He'll have to sit out the 2015-16 season, but he'll provide Baylor with the type of shooting threat that Scott Drew loves to surround his big guys with. Lecomte hit 46% of his shots from behind the arc this past season.

Chris Walker Leaves Florida The former McDonald's All-American has been a massive disappointment for Florida, never being a significant contributor off the bench in two seasons. And next season he'll be at another school. Walker is still a talented kid, and so he'll have plenty of Division I suitors, but it's hard to expect too much of him with how little he's developed at the Division I level.

Evan Payne Joins Long Beach State Payne averaged 18.0 points per game for Loyola-Marymount this past season, so this is a significant addition for their conference rivals. That said, Payne will have to sit out the 2015-16 season, so he won't be able to help Long Beach State challenge UC-Irvine for the 2016 Big West title.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Morning News: Jakob Poeltl Returning, Justin Anderson Gone, Bobby Portis Goes Pro, NC State Hit Hard, Illinois Lands Thorne, And More

The Utah big man will return next season.

Jakob Poeltl Returning To Utah This is huge news for a Utah team that was looking at something of a rebuilding season, and it's also surprising news considering the fact that Poeltl was considered a borderline lottery pick and is unlikely to improve on that very much with another season in college basketball. With Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski gone, Utah seemed most likely to be a bubble quality team next season, but Poeltl makes them a likely NCAA Tournament team. For them to actually contend with Arizona again, however, Poeltl will need to take a significant step forward offensively and some of the younger players on the roster will need significant offseason improvements.

Justin Anderson Off To The NBA Draft We saw this past season how the Virginia offense tailed off when Justin Anderson was hurt. The offense was still very good and significantly underrated by the media, but it was not anything like the top five offense in the nation that it was with a healthy Anderson. But they won't have Anderson at all next season. That said, while this drop's Virginia from being the #1 team in my projected bracket, they are still an ACC title contender and a very strong squad. The media will continue to be pacist and will underrate this Virginia team preseason. But sleep on them at your own peril.

Bobby Portis And Michael Qualls To The NBA Draft Portis is a borderline lottery pick, so he was expected to leave, but Qualls is more of a prospect, and is likely heading off to the D-League in the fall. But the loss of both stars puts the next Arkansas season in serious doubt. They were a nearly certain NCAA Tournament team with both of them while I projected them as an 11 seed assuming that Qualls would be back. With both gone, they are likely looking at a preseason NIT projection.

Trevor Lacey And Kyle Washington Leave NC State North Carolina State was ready for quite a bit of preseason media hype, but the loss of Trevor Lacey to the NBA Draft and Kyle Washington to transfer will change that. Still, this should be a Tournament quality team. The Lacey loss is significantly more important, and not just because he's the better player. The fact is that NC State was going to be loaded in the front court, led by Beejay Anya, Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman. But in the backcourt, the Wolfpack don't really have a bench right now behind Anthony Barber and Terry Henderson, the transfer from West Virginia. Mark Gottfried is going to have to get a backcourt player or two this summer.

Illinois Lands Mike Thorne The 6'11" big man from Charlotte was one of the most coveted transfers in the nation, and he'll be eligible right away for Illinois, where he'll have just one year of eligibility remaining. Thorne is a perfect fit for an Illini team with a clear Tournament-quality backcourt of Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and a couple nice 2015 recruits. But this looked like a bubble team because of a front court that didn't return a single player over 6'7" who averaged double digit minutes per game this past season. Illinois was just narrowly out of my preseason projected bracket, but at this point I'd lean toward moving them into my next projected bracket.

UConn Lands Shonn Miller Illinois wasn't the only potential bubble team to land a big graduate transfer in the past few days, as UConn picked up First Team All-Ivy forward Shonn Miller. UConn already had plenty of big bodies for next season, but they lacked offensive creativity, which is what Miller provides. Miller can play on the perimeter and be one of UConn's top scoring options, if not their leading scorer.

Olivier Hanlan To The Draft Hanlan's impressive raw counting stats were driven by a high usage rate (a 32.1 shot%), and so his First Team All-ACC selection this past season was unjustified, but he was still far and away the best player on Boston College. Considering the fact that they were in the mix for last place in the ACC even with Hanlan, it's going to be a long season on Chestnut Hill.

California Picks Up Ivan Rabb The 6'11" McDonald's All-American is the biggest recruit that California has landed in a long time, and gives significant hope to Bears fans after a frustrating season. Depending on where you look, this is a borderline Top 15 recruiting class that Cuonzo Martin has in place.

UNLV Lands Stephen Zimmerman Zimmerman, a 7'0" McDonald's All-American, chose to stay with his hometown UNLV Runnin' Rebs. UNLV still waits on another hyped big man, however. 6'10" Christian Wood is still reportedly on the NBA Draft fence. If Wood comes back, this UNLV team probably projects to be an NCAA Tournament team. If Wood chooses to leave then UNLV's 2015-16 fate will likely come down to how much Stephen Zimmerman is able to live up to the hype as a true freshman.

VCU's Entire Recruiting Class Is Gone Shaka Smart had a very nice 2015 recruiting class lined up at VCU, but with Shaka off to Texas that entire class has now decommitted. That's not to say that VCU fans need to panic. This sort of player movement is typical during a coaching transition. New head coach Will Wade will need to add some good pieces this summer to get the team back to the 2016 NCAA Tournament, but he'll really be judged on his 2016 recruiting class. If he can get that in place and keep positive momentum for the program then the future should still be bright for the Rams.

Marcus Foster To Creighton Foster will have to sit out this coming season, and there were behavioral reasons that he was booted from Kansas State, but he's a huge talent if Greg McDermott can figure out a good way to use him. Foster was one of the most talented freshmen in the nation in 2013-14 before struggling a bit this past season.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Morning News: Kentucky Loses Seven To The Draft, Nigel Williams-Goss Leaves Washington, Bobby Hurley To Arizona St, And Much More


I will have Morning News posts periodically throughout the offseason, with this being the first one. Each time I'll cover important stories that have broken since my last post. For now, I'm only going to talk about stories that relate to my bracket projection (here is the one I released on Tuesday). So, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow declaring to go pro are not stories... we all knew that was coming, and that was already taken into account in Duke's projected seed.

Kentucky Loses Seven To The Draft Well, we knew Karl Towns, Trey Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein were gone,  but the other guys were question marks. Now it turns out that the Harrison twins are gone, along with Dakari Johnson and Devin Booker. This means that Tyler Ullis, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, Dominique Hawkins and Derrek Willis are the only returning scholarship players. And it means John Calipari is going to be very aggressive on the recruiting trail. He already has Skal Labissiere, Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews signed, but that won't be enough if they're going to be a national title contender again next season. Expect at least one or two more signings.

Nigel Williams-Goss Leaves Washington This is a really bad blow to Washington. The Huskies were unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament next season anyway, but Williams-Goss was their do-everything playmaker and all around best player. If things go south next season, Lorenzo Romar might find himself fired a year from now.

Bobby Hurley To Arizona State This is, in my opinion, a better hire than Jeff Capel, who was the first guy that Arizona State went after. It's going to be a rebuilding season for Arizona State unless Hurley can pull a miracle this summer, but this does give Sun Devils fans hope for the future. For Buffalo, the question is who the next coach is and whether he can hold the roster together. I rated Buffalo as the MAC preseason favorite, but that status will change if the roster starts losing key pieces.

Miami Loses Manu Lecomte And Deandre Burnett To Transfer Lecomte started 23 games last season and Burnett scored 7.0 points per game off the bench, so these are two significant young players on the way out. And if there were thoughts about Miami contending for an ACC title, this might end that, but this is still a Hurricanes team that should be improved and back to the NCAA Tournament. The Miami backcourt, despite these two losses, still returns Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan (two returning starters) along with James Palmer off the bench and star 2014 recruit Ja'Quan Newton. If you want to include Davon Reed as a "shooting guard" also, it's easy to think that too much competition was a significant reason both Lecomte and Brunett left.

JP Tokoto To The Draft This was a surprise to many, but it's a significant loss for a North Carolina team that many were projecting to be #1 preseason (though I had them narrowly behind Virginia). That said, Tokoto was far from North Carolina's most important player, and the Tar Heels remain a national title contender.

Michigan State Picks Up Caleb Swanigan Swanigan joins Deyonta Davis to give Michigan State not one, but two McDonald's All-Americans in their 2015 recruiting class. And if you were wondering what would come of Michigan State's front line with the loss of Branden Dawson, they now have two of the best big man recruits in the nation. With Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello returning, the Spartans will have plenty of size. They were already my Big Ten favorite, but with Swanigan they have a potential to move up to a 1 seed in my next projected bracket.

Darien Williams To St. John's The 6'8" Juco wing was originally slated to go to Iowa State, but after decommitting he is the first big piece that Chris Mullin has added to his 2015-16 roster. Assuming that Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa do return (which at this point seems likely), the Johnnies should at least be competitive next season. But without a blue chip high school recruit yet signed (they had one signed in Brandon Sampson, but he decommitted when Steve Lavin was fired), the Johnnies are still a good player or two away from being in serious at-large contention.

Shelton Mitchell Transferring Out Of Vanderbilt Mitchell made 11 starts and played 20 minutes per game as a true freshman. That 2014 Vanderbilt recruiting class had an incredibly successful true freshman season, with all five players earning at least 19 minutes per game, and setting the Commodores up to be projected as a borderline Top 25 team next season. The loss of Mitchell also makes it a serious question who will be Vanderbilt's backup point guard next season (assuming that Wade Baldwin, another one of those 2014 recruits) is the starter. Riley LaChance (yet another 2014 recruit) is listed as a point guard, but as a freshman he was much more of a spot-up shooter than an offensive creator.

Shaqquan Aaron Leaving Louisville A lot of people are going to tune into a Louisville game early next season and wonder who all of the players are. There might still be another transfer also. Though that doesn't mean Louisville won't be a tourney team next season. Trey Lewis is coming on board and Rick Pitino has a strong recruiting class already signed up.

Vince Hunter Going Pro UTEP's chances of contending for a Conference USA title are probably over with 6'8" star Vince Hunter leaving for the NBA. I don't know whether UTEP's official twitter account criticizing his NBA potential helped shove him out the door, but it probably didn't help.

Jaron Hopkins Leaving Colorado Hopkins, a wing more known for his defense than his offense, started 17 games for Colorado this past season. He's far from the most important player on the roster, but the margin of error for Colorado is thin if they're going to earn an at-large bid next season. This certainly is not helpful.

Ricky Tarrant Transferring Out Of Alabama Player movement after a coaching change is always expected, though this is a significant loss. Tarrant was second on the team with 13.1 points per game this past season. That said, the reality is that Alabama was unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament next season regardless, and that was going to be Tarrant's last season of eligibility. In the end, Avery Johnson will be judged on his first recruiting class and what new core he is able to build. Nobody expects him to have much success next season.

Hawaii Hires Eran Ganot This seems like an odd hiring move considering what an incredible job Benjy Taylor did as interim head coach, taking a team that was a dumpster fire to the brink of making the NCAA Tournament. But that doesn't mean that Ganot, an assistant coach at St. Mary's, won't do a good job. It would be nice to see Benjy Taylor get his own Division I program to run soon, however.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Preseason BP68

The title game finished fewer than 21 hours ago, which makes this the quickest I've ever gotten out a preseason bracket projection (also the quickest I've been able to go into my post-conference previews hibernation)

Speaking of conference previews, they are all here. If you are wondering why I have a team where I have them, and which player transfers I am assuming (and which players I am assuming will be off to the NBA), all of those details are in the relative conference previews.

The next bracket projection will be posted in early July, the week of the NBA Draft. In between then and now I'll post occasionally Morning News posts (they won't be daily.... maybe once every week or two). These will have updates on coaching hires, NBA defections, transfers, et cetera. When the new bracket projection is posted in July, I will take all of that new information into account. But for now, the bracket below is my starting projection.

I have two more things to note to help clear up potential confusion. First of all, remember that I am basing these projections on advanced metrics in addition to player transfers. Whenever anybody is doing preseason projections, they start with a rating for each team and then move that team up or down based on who is coming and going and staying. But so if you believe Maryland was a top ten team this past season then you will probably have them in your top five preseason (as the media will). But if you believe Maryland was actually more like the 30th best team in the nation, as I do, then you will have the Terps a bit lower (though still improved over this past season, certainly). Examples of teams with bad luck in close games this past season that I will have rated higher than most preseason projections you'll see in the media are Vanderbilt and Florida.

Second, if you're new to my website or you were confused by this in the past, the teams listed outside the Field of 68 are listed alphabetically, first by conference and then within each conference. So each ACC team is listed before each Big East team, etc. Doing it alphabetically makes it easier to find teams, and it's also pretty pointless to debate whether Creighton or California is the 33rd team out of the field. Nobody cares. I separate the teams instead into larger groups, so you can tell which teams I think are legitimate bubble teams and which are much longer shots.

Without further ado, here is my projected bracket for Selection Sunday, 2016:

1. VIRGINIA (ACC)
1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. North Carolina
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. MICHIGAN STATE (BIG TEN)
2. ARIZONA (PAC-12)
2. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
2. Oklahoma

3. Maryland
3. GONZAGA (WCC)
3. Iowa State
3. SMU (AAC)

4. Miami-Florida
4. Indiana
4. Texas
4. Duke

5. Purdue
5. UCLA
5. Xavier
5. NC State

6. DAVIDSON (ATLANTIC TEN)
6. Wisconsin
6. Baylor
6. WICHITA STATE (MVC)

7. Cincinnati
7. Texas A&M
7. Oregon
7. Dayton

8. Vanderbilt
8. Michigan
8. Georgetown
8. Notre Dame

9. LSU
9. SAN DIEGO STATE (MOUNTAIN WEST)
9. West Virginia
9. Ohio State

10. BYU
10. Louisville
10. Rhode Island
10. Butler

11. Illinois State
11. TCU
11. Florida
11. Arkansas
11. Temple

12. Syracuse
12. Boise State
12. BUFFALO (MAC)
12. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (SOUTHLAND)
12. VALPARAISO (HORIZON)

13. UAB (CONFERENCE USA)
13. IONA (MAAC)
13. BELMONT (OVC)
13. UC-IRVINE (BIG WEST)

14. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (SUMMIT)
14. GEORGIA STATE (SUN BELT)
14. HOFSTRA (COLONIAL)
14. HARVARD (IVY LEAGUE)

15. STONY BROOK (AMERICA EAST)
15. WINTHROP (BIG SOUTH)
15. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)
15. MONTANA (BIG SKY)

16. NORTH FLORIDA (ATLANTIC SUN)
16. CHATTANOOGA (SOUTHERN)
16. LEHIGH (PATRIOT)
16. ROBERT MORRIS (NEC)
16. NORFOLK STATE (MEAC)
16. SOUTHERN (SWAC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Tulsa, Florida State, Pittsburgh, George Washington, Richmond, VCU, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Old Dominion, Central Michigan, Northern Iowa, UNLV, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford, Utah, Georgia, South Carolina, Pepperdine

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Connecticut, Memphis, Clemson, Georgia Tech, St. Bonaventure, Creighton, St. John's, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, UTEP, Akron, Kent State, Evansville, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State, California, Washington, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Saint Mary's

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Vermont, Houston, Boston College, Virginia Tech, La Salle, UMass, St. Joseph's, DePaul, Nebraska, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Hawaii, Northeastern, William & Mary, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Cleveland State, Oakland, Princeton, Monmouth, Siena, Western Michigan, Loyola-Chicago, Fresno State, Wyoming, Murray State, North Dakota State, Arizona State, USC, Washington State, Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri, Portland, Santa Clara

2015-16 Preview: ACC

Atlantic Coast Conference


I've talked in the Big 12 and Big East previews about why the ACC was overrated this past season. The fact that the bottom half of the league was so bad does have to matter as long as the top teams play Boston College and Georgia Tech as often as they play Virginia and Duke. But that said, the ACC certainly did have the strongest top of the league of any conference. That the league's second best team won a national title is a testament to that, as well as Notre Dame and Louisville both coming so close to a Final Four themselves.

In addition, the ACC should expect to be stronger and deeper next season. Particularly if you look at the teams at the bottom of the league which dragged down the ACC's computer ratings, most of them were fighting through rebuilding seasons and expect to be significantly better next season.

We have to start with a Duke team that was basically constructed like a John Calipari team, getting the vast majority of its production from freshmen, nearly all of whom will be one-and-done. Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow are certainly gone, and for the sake of this preview I'm going to assume Tyus Jones goes as well. With Quinn Cook graduating, that leaves as returners Matt Jones, Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee. In addition, Coach K has already signed Chase Jeter (Scout: 7 C, Rivals: 9) and Luke Kennard (Scout: 6 SG, Rivals: 25). They also add 6'9" Sean Obi, who averaged 11.4 ppg and 9.3 rpg as a freshman at Rice in 2013-14. It's certainly a very talented roster yet again, but I don't know if any of those players will have the star power or dominance of Okafor or Winslow, and Duke might not be quite as good overall next season.

The best team in the ACC during the regular season was Virginia, though the Justin Anderson injury really sapped the life out of their season. The dumb media criticism of Virginia (just as it was of Wisconsin before last season and of any other team that plays a slow tempo) is that they played great defense but couldn't score. Yet the day Anderson was injured (February 7th), Pomeroy rated Virginia the 5th best offense in the nation. The offense wasn't the same without him, though, and slid to 24th by the end of the season. Still, Anderson was starting to get healthy in the NCAA Tournament, and Virginia could have gone far if not for brutal three-point shooting luck against Michigan State (the Spartans shot 6-for-12 while Virginia shot 2-for-17 in a game decided by six points).

That all makes Justin Anderson's NBA Draft decision crucial. But he's considered a borderline first round pick at best, so for the sake of this preview I'm going to assume he returns. And if he does, that means Virginia will return every scholarship player other than Darion Atkins and the lightly used bench player BJ Stith. Atkins is a fabulous defender and "glue guy", but that would put Virginia in great shape with Anderson, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte returning to the front court, and with London Perrantes, Malcolm Brogdon and Marial Shayot in the backcourt. If there's one young player who didn't contribute much this past season but could do so next season it's probably 6'7" Isaiah Wilkins, a 2014 recruit. In addition, they'd add 6'4" Darius Thompson, who averaged 2.5 ppg and 2.4 apg as a freshman at Tennessee in 2013-14, as well as Jarred Reuter (Scout: 30 C, Rivals: 141). It's certainly a roster built to make another run for a national title.

Notre Dame was the biggest positive surprise in the ACC this past season. They were undersized and not particularly good defensively, but they had the second rated offense in the nation according to Pomeroy and came within a single possession of knocking off Kentucky and making a Final Four. They lose two crucial starters to graduation in Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, and also wait on the NBA decision of Demetrius Jackson. For the sake of this preview I'm going to assume Jackson returns, which will be crucial to the Irish having success next season. Steve Vasturia is going to be a very good player, but he's not a point guard, and the only other guard on the roster (Matt Ferrell) barely played as a freshman, though they also add 6'4" Rex Pflueger (Rivals: 99). Notre Dame's front court is more certain, returning Zach Auguste, VJ Beachem and Bonzie Colson. Colson, in particular, really exploded late in the season and has Irish fans very excited for the future.

North Carolina fans are very excited for next season for an obvious reason: every player from their ten man regular rotation is set to return. An NBA defection is still possible, from one of a few different players, but for the sake of this preview I'm going to assume that they all return. Their top returners are the same as their best players this past season: Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, JP Tokoto, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, etc. If there's one young player on the bench to get significantly better next season, I'd bet on 6'6" Theo Pinson, a talented 2014 recruit. What about additions? Roy Williams has only added 6'8" Luke Maye so far, but he still has one more scholarship to give out.

There were five elite teams in the ACC this past season, and Louisville was the fifth, but the Cardinals are going to have a very different roster next season. Wayne Blackshear is the only graduation, but Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier are off to the NBA while Anton Gill has left via transfer. Rick Pitino has suggested publicly that another player or two might leave transfer as well, though at the time this post is going live none have been announced. The three returners (for now) who played significant minutes this past season are Mangok Mathiang, Quentin Snider and Chinanu Onuaku. Shaqquan Aaron and 7''0" Anas Mahmoud were two other players further down the bench who will return. That said, Louisville has a number of big additions. They add 6'2" Trey Lewis, who averaged 15.8 ppg this past season with Cleveland State and will be eligible to play right away. They also add Donovan Mitchell (Scout: 4 SG, Rivals: 32), Raymond Spalding (Scout: 7 PF, Rivals: 40) and Deng Adel (Scout: 6 SF, Rivals: 51).

The sixth and final NCAA Tournament team out of the ACC was NC State, perhaps the most inconsistent team in the nation. They beat Duke, Villanova, Louisville and North Carolina (with only the Duke game coming at home), but also lost to Wake Forest, Clemson, Wofford and Boston College. But they head into next season losing just Ralston Turner from their regular rotation. The front court will be loaded with Abdul-Malik Abu, Beejay Anya, Lennard Freeman, Kyle Washington and Caleb Martin, all of whom played well this past season. The backcourt has an excellent pair of starters in Trevor Lacey and Anthony Barber, and they also add 6'4" Terry Henderson, who averaged 11.7 ppg as a sophomore at West Virginia in 2013-14. They have no 2015 recruits signed yet, but have what I believe are three scholarships still to give. I wouldn't be surprised if Mark Gottfried goes out shopping for more backcourt depth.

Miami failed to make the NCAA Tournament, but they took the NIT seriously and made it all the way to the title game. And they head into next season returning their top ten minute earners, led by point guard Angel Rodriguez and big man Tonye Jekiri, along with wing scorer Sheldon McClellan. If there's one young player on the bench expected to do more next season it's point guard Ja'Quan Newton, a highly touted 2014 recruit who didn't do much as a true freshman.Their biggest addition is 6'8" Kamari Murphy, who averaged 6.1 ppg and 6.3 rpg as a sophomore at Oklahoma State in 2013-14.

Syracuse is in a really tough situation with the impending scholarship reductions, which won't hit next season but could begin the season after that. Next season's team should be fine, but long term it's incredibly difficult to win when you have to hit on basically every scholarship, and particularly when everybody knows that Jim Boeheim will be retiring sooner rather than later. For next season, they are losing Rakeem Christmas, Chris McCullough, BJ Johnson and Ron Patterson, though they will be getting back DaJuan Coleman (4.3 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 2013-14), who missed the 2014-15 season with injury. They'll return Kaleb Joseph and Trevor Cooney in the backcourt along with Tyler Roberson and Michael Gbinije in the front court. Yet while scholarship restrictions are coming soon, Syracuse already had a big 2015 recruiting class coming on board: Malachi Richardson (Scout: 7 SF, Rivals: 31), Tyler Lydon (Scout: 13 PF, Rivals: 66), Moustapha Diagne (Scout: 12 PF, Rivals: 69) and Franklin Howard (Scout: 23 SG, Rivals: 82). Syracuse actually should be better and deeper next season, but it'll probably be the best team Jim Boeheim coaches the rest of his career.

There are quite a few teams from the bottom of the ACC that have a reasonable chance to make the NCAA Tournament next season. For the sake of a pinch of brevity, I'll stick to just Florida State and Pitt. Florida State was a young team that improved as the season went along. They saw flashes of brilliance was the talented freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes (who just needs an outside jump shot to become of the best players in the ACC). From the nine man rotation that they finished the season with, only Kiel Turpin graduates. Devon Bookert and Robbie Berwick join Rathan-Mayes in the backcourt while the massive front line of Michael Ojo. Boris Bojanovsky, Jarquez Smith, Montay Brandon and Phil Cofer showed significant improvement, but should be better defensively and on the glass than they are. They could use more backcourt/wing depth and athleticism, and will get it from a deep 2015 recruiting class led by Dwayne Bacon (Scout: 5 SF, Rivals: 23), Malik Beasley (Scout: 20 SG, Rivals: 45) and Terance Mann (Scout: 19 SF, Rivals: 95).

Pittsburgh heads into next season losing just Cameron Wright from their regular rotation. Their entire front court of Michael Young, Jamel Artis, Chris Jones and Sheldon Jeter is back, along with Durand Johnson (who scored 8.8 ppg as a junior in 2013-14 but was suspended for 2014-15), but it's a front court that was awful defensively. Pitt's defense was rated 202nd in the nation by Pomeroy (compared to an offense rated 30th). The only front court addition so far is 6'11" Juco transfer Rozelle Nix, but Jamie Dixon has scholarships available and he's in the mix for several possible bigs. Pitt's backcourt has a pair of nice returners in James Robinson and Josh Newkirk, but needs some depth. They add Damon Wilson (Scout: 8 PG, Rivals: 94).

Finally, if there's one deep sleeper for next season in the ACC, I think it's got to be Wake Forest. They lose just Darius Leonard off of what was a very young regular rotation. They have one of the better inside-outside combinations in the ACC with Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas, and they got big contributions out of 2014 recruits Mitch Wilbekin and Kostas Mitoglou. Throw in a couple of big time recruits in Doral Moore (Scout: 19 C, Rivals: 50) and Bryant Crawford (Scout: 10 PG, Rivals: 80), and this is a team that could surprise a lot of people next season.

In the end, here's how I see the ACC playing out:

1. Virginia - Before Justin Anderson got hurt, Virginia was a clear #2 team in the country in the computers behind only Kentucky. The fact that they should be even better next season should scare a lot of opposing teams.
2. North Carolina - The Tar Heels will likely be a consensus top five team in the nation in the preseason human polls. The ACC certainly will be in the mix for multiple 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament yet again.
3. Miami - The Hurricanes return everybody from their regular rotation and also add Kamari Murphy off a team that finished in the Top 50 in the computers. With Jim Larranaga at the helm, they should be Top 25 next season.
4. Duke - Duke could easily slide up this ranking if they add more recruits, but for now they have some holes and they lack a top end offensive creator/scorer.
5. NC State - This team will be stronger next season, but they have to play more consistently to be one of the top three or four teams in the ACC.
6. Notre Dame - Assuming Demetrius Jackson comes back, the Irish should get back to the NCAA Tournament, though they probably won't be quite as strong as they were this past season.
7. Louisville - Rick Pitino has enough talent to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but it's tough to project a roster that will be so completely different next season.
8. Syracuse - The Orange have a chance to be improved next season, but next season might also be their best chance to make the NCAA Tournament for a while.
9. Pittsburgh - Pitt should be improved next season, but their front line has to play defense better for them to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
10. Florida State - With the size they have, these Florida State teams appear at first glance like the dominant Leonard Hamilton defensive teams from a few years back, but that's certainly not how they play. Still, they have a great chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
11. Wake Forest - The Demon Deacons might still be one more year away from the NCAA Tournament, but they're trending in the right direction.
12. Georgia Tech - The Yellow Jackets had horrible luck in close games (0-13 in games decided by seven points or fewer against ACC opponents), but they also lose a pair of starters. They have a couple of decent transfers (Nick Jacobs from Alabama the most interesting), so there's reason to think that they can be as good next season as they were this past season. If some of that bad luck evens out, they could be more successful overall.
13. Clemson - This program feels like it's sitting in neutral. They play hard defense, but are never able to score efficiently enough to win consistently. If they get to the NCAA Tournament bubble next season, it'll likely be because Jaron Blossomgame took the next step as a scorer and became a borderline All-ACC player.
14. Boston College - This team was basically cobbled together with transfers this past season, and they lose four key players to graduation. So even assuming Olivier Hanlon doesn't go pro and comes back for another season, I don't see why this team should be any better than they were this past season.
15. Virginia Tech - Buzz Williams has a pretty good recruiting class coming in, along with a couple of transfers, but he's basically starting this roster over from scratch. Adam Smith was probably their best player, and he's leaving via transfer. Buzz gave a lot of minutes to a deep 2014 recruiting class that mostly struggled as true freshman. Perhaps as sophomores they will give this team the lift to get out of the ACC basement.

2015-16 Preview: Big East

Big East Conference


A few years ago, the old Big East was the media darling. I've talked about this many times before, but the media loves big, top-heavy conferences. Those are the leagues with the most Top 25 teams, the most Sweet 16 teams, and the most national title contenders. The fact that Creighton finished in last place in the Big East but would have been favored on a neutral court against almost half of the ACC is not relevant to any public "which is the best conference?" discussions, even though the schedules are balanced. Duke and Virginia get to inflate their conference records playing Boston College and Virginia Tech, while every game in the Big East (except maybe against DePaul) is a battle.

The biggest loser in this perception is Villanova. They unfortunately had an atrocious shooting performance that knocked them out against NC State (their 38.5 eFG% was their second lowest of the entire season), causing all the usual "I told you Villanova sucked all along" nonsense. Of course, the fact that Xavier finished 6th out of 10 teams in the Big East and still pushed Arizona to the final minute with the Elite 8 on the line didn't come up. When you have a narrative, you will pick and choose the anecdotes you want to use to promote it. The fact is, the Big East is going to need some Elite 8 teams and a Final Four team or two over the next few years in order to shift the narrative.

Can Villanova be a national title contender again next season? It's possible, but doesn't seem particularly likely. They lose three starters, with star Darrun Hilliard and big man JayVaughn Pinkston graduating, and with combo guard Dylan Ennis transferring. The inside-outside combo of Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu will be back, as well sharpshooters Phil Booth, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Booth, in particular, is going to be expected to take the next step in his development to replace a lot of Ennis and Hilliard's minutes. They should add 6'7" wing Mikal Bridges, a 2014 recruit who took a redshirt season. So far they have just one blue chip recruit signed in Jalen Brunson (Scout: 1 PG, Rivals: 16), but Jay Wright has scholarships to work with if he wants to add more depth.

Xavier was the most successful Big East team in the NCAA Tournament, making the Sweet 16 and pushing Arizona to the final minute there. Fan favorite Matt Stainbrook graduates, as does point guard Dee Davis. Myles Davis and Remy Abell both return, but neither is really a point guard. A lot will be expected of Edmond Sumner, a hyped 2014 point guard recruit who had to miss the entire 2014-15 season with an injury. Larry Austin, another 2014 recruit, also plays point guard, but he could barely get off the bench as a true freshman. The front court returns Trevon Bluiett and 6'10" Jalen Reynolds, with James Farr off the bench. 6'9" 2014 recruit Makinde London took a redshirt season and could be a productive bench piece next season. They also add Kaiser Gates (Scout: 27 PF, Rivals: 124). So Xavier has enough raw talent to repeat this season next year, but it's going to require a lot of contributions from young, untested players.

Georgetown managed to escape the popular upset pick of Eastern Washington in the Round of 64, but a loss in the Round of 32 is still an unfulfilling season for a program that hasn't reached the Sweet 16 since 2007. They are hit hard by graduation, too, losing four of five starters, including leading scorer D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera to the NBA Draft. Their starting front line of Josh Smith and Mikael Hopkins are gone, too. Georgetown returns four players that earned regular minutes this past season, and all of them were true freshmen, meaning it's going to be a talented but young starting lineup. LJ Peak has shown flashes of being a star, while Isaac Copeland is already an effective big man. Shooting guard Tre Campbell and 6'8" Paul White are the other two bench returners. JTIII also has two blue chip recruits coming: Jessie Govan (Scout: 15 C, Rivals: 46) and Marcus Derrickson (Scout: 16 PF, Rivals: 91). They will also have the midseason addition of 6'8" Akoy Agau, who played sparingly in 1.5 seasons at Louisville. It's certainly a thin roster, but it's going to be talented in the starting lineup, and JTIII still has a couple of scholarships left to hand out this summer.

Butler fans certainly enjoyed the first half-season of Chris Holtmann at the helm, and he signed a nice extension that should keep him at the school long term. And next year's team should have a good chance to get right back to the NCAA Tournament. They lose Kam Woods and Alex Barlow from the starting lineup, but return every other key contributor. On the wings they return Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham for one more season, as well as Austin Etherington. The point guard role will be filled by Tyler Lewis, who averaged 4.4 ppg and 3.8 apg as a sophomore at North Carolina State in 2013-14. They will also add 6'3" Jordan Gathers (who averaged 8.2 ppg as a junior at St. Bonaventure in 2013-14) as well. The front court is more unproven, with Andrew Chrabascz and Tyler Wideman the top returners. 6'8" 2014 recruit Jackson Davis hasn't played much, but could see a much larger role next season. 6'9" Nate Fowler (Scout: 35 C) is Butler's top recruit. But considering how important rebounding was to Butler this past season (they led the Big East in both OR% and DR%), the loss of Woods is a really serious problem, as good as Butler's backcourt is likely to be.

Providence is hit pretty hard by losses. LaDontae Henton and Carson Desrosiers graduate while Tyler Harris will transfer out. If Kris Dunn leaves for the NBA Draft, and for the sake of this preview I believe he will, then that means the Friars will lose four of five starters. They do return a nice crop of rising-sophomores in point guard Kyron Cartwright, 6'7" wing Jalen Lindsay, 6'8" Ben Bentil and 7'2" Paschal Chukwu. The Friars have a big 2015 recruiting class, but with no true blue chippers. The highest rated recruit is probably Alex Owens (Scout: 29 C, Rivals: 110). So assuming Dunn goes pro, this looks very much like a rebuilding season for a very young Providence squad.

Personally, I'm unimpressed by the Chris Mullin hire at St. John's. Steve Lavin isn't the greatest coach on Earth, but he has a history of success, while Mullin has never coached anywhere before. And if you weren't sure it was a bad hire, you just have to see how much the NYC media was tripping over itself to declare how much Mullin won the opening press conference. You never, ever want to hire a coach based on "winning" the opening press conference, whatever that means. The Johnnies are heading into a rebuilding season either way. D'Angelo Harrison, Sir'Dominic Pointer, Phil Greene and Jamal Branch all graduate. Meanwhile, Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa are both rumored to possibly want to leave to go pro, or to transfer. And their one blue chip recruit, 6'4" shooting guard Brandon Sampson, has now decommited. Mullin has plenty of scholarships to work with, so he'll presumably sign some more recruits this summer, but he'll have to work miracles to get this team back to the NCAA Tournament in year one.

If there's a dark horse to make a run from the crop of non-NCAA Tournament teams this past season, it's got to be Marquette. They lose three starters (Matt Carlino, Derrick Wilson and Juan Anderson), but Steve Wojciechowski is remaking this roster with recruits anyway. 6'11" Luke Fischer, the former Indiana transfer, is a big talent, while combo guard Duane Wilson was effective as a freshman. 6'7" Steve Taylor is probably their best overall returner. But the future at Marquette is going to be built around Wojo's 2015 recruiting class, his first full class as head of Marquette. It's headed by blue chippers Henry Ellenson (Scout: 2 PF, Rivals: 18), Haanif Cheatham (Scout: 27 SG, Rivals: 70) and Matt Heldt (Scout: 16 C). Ellenson's brother, 6'6" Wally Ellenson (1.9 ppg and 1.3 rpg over two seasons at Minnesota) also joins the squad.

In the end, here's how I see the Big East playing out:

1. Villanova - Villanova won't dominate the Big East the way they have done the past two seasons, but they're still the favorites, in my opinion.
2. Xavier - The Musketeers have a lot of raw, unproven talent, but Chris Mack has enough on this roster to legitimately challenge for a Big East title. He needs to figure out who his primary playmaker and/or point guard will be, for one.
3. Georgetown - This will be a very young, but also very talented team. It will be interesting to see how JTIII handles this roster, and if he perhaps loosens up on what can be a complicated offensive system for freshmen.
4. Butler - Butler has depended on rebounding so much over the last decade, and they are going to need to find some rebounders on this roster to try to replace Kam Woods.
5. Marquette - Wojo put together a good first recruiting class. Now we get to see if he can put this roster together in a way that works.
6. Seton Hall - Sterling Gibbs says he is going to stay for another season, and if he does then this Seton Hall team will have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament. Of course, they had enough talent to make the tourney this past season as well. Isaiah Whitehead either needs to be more efficient, needs to shoot less, or needs to figure out how to get along with Gibbs.
7. Providence - Unless Kris Dunn comes back, this will be a rebuilding season for the Friars.
8. St. John's - Even if both Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa come back, this Johnnies roster is going to need multiple quality additions this summer to have any chance of getting back to the tourney bubble.
9. Creighton -The Bluejays lose five players from a ten man rotation, but add two big transfers (Maurice Watson from Boston University and Cole Huff from Nevada), also get back 2014 recruit Ronnie Harrell from a redshirt, and also have a big, deep 2015 recruiting class coming in. So this will be a very different roster next season, but a potentially pretty talented one. It's not inconceivable that they could be significantly improved next season.
10. DePaul - Nobody is excited about rehiring Dave Leitao, are they? Step number one will be upgrading this roster, which just doesn't have many players who would be good enough to earn minutes on teams in the top half of the Big East.

2015-16 Preview: Big Ten

Big Ten Conference


The story of the Big Ten this past season, of course, was a dominant Wisconsin team. Bo Ryan has always been great at developing under-recruited talent, but he finally had multiple future NBA players with experience at the same time, and took his team past Kentucky and into an excruciating loss in the national title game. And yes, Duke got at least a half dozen terrible referee calls in their favor in the second half, but Wisconsin had a chance to take the game out of the reach of the refs and just couldn't hit their shots. Once a game is that close, a missed shot here or a missed block/charge call there can determine the title.

But of course, after Wisconsin there was a significant drop off in the Big Ten. Michigan State had a miraculous Final Four run driven by lucky three-point shooting differentials, but realistically the Big Ten didn't have a second top ten quality teams like the ACC or Big 12 (which both had around four teams that were better than the Big Ten's second best best). But there are a lot of reasons to believe that the Big Ten will be deeper and stronger next season. Other than Wisconsin and Iowa, every team in the Big Ten has reason to believe they'll be better next season. They won't all end up actually being better in the end, but I do think as a whole the league will be stronger.

Wisconsin's magical 2014-15 season is going to lead into something of a rebuilding 2015-16 season, though Bo Ryan teams are always competitive near the top of the league even in rebuilding. Frank Kaminsky, the best player in the nation, graduates, as do Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes are both potential NBA defections, and for the sake of this preview I'm going to assume Dekker leaves but Hayes stays. If so, the Badgers would return an excellent inside-outside combo in point guard Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, but not much else. In the backcourt, they'd return Zak Showalter, a former walk-on who came on strong late in the season. Their next best returner is probably Jordan Hill, who played sparingly as a true freshman in 2013-14 and took a redshirt season for development in 2014-15. They also add a very nice backcourt piece in Brevin Pritzl (Scout: 14 SG, Rivals: 79). In the front court, the only returner who got non-garbage minutes was 6'8" Vitto Brown. They also add 6'9" Ethan Happ, a hyped 2014 recruit who took a redshirt season in 2014-15. They also add 6'9" Alex Illikainen (Scout: 26 PF, Rivals: 132) and 6'8" power forward Charlie Thomas.

Wisconsin is going to be a tough team to project for next season. They lose (assuming Sam Dekker goes pro) five key players from what was a seven man rotation for much of the season. But at the same time, a guy like Ethan Happ would have played significant minutes if Wisconsin's front line wasn't absurdly good this past season. Throw in the "Bo Ryan always figures it out" logic (he's never finished worse than tied for fourth place in the Big Ten in 14 seasons), and you have to believe that with a talented and deep incoming recruiting class that Wisconsin will be back as something like a borderline Top 25 team again. And with no seniors, and assuming Nigel Hayes comes back for his senior season, they could be awfully good yet again in 2016-17.

Michigan State had yet another magical run to the Final Four under Tom Izzo. This was a team that didn't have much talent at the start of the season, but saw big improvements from Travis Trice as well as significant contributions from newcomers Bryn Forbes and Lourawls Nairn, particularly late in the season. The Spartans lose a couple of starters to graduation in Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, but return the rest of their regular rotation. The backcourt will feature both Nairn and Forbes, as well as Eron Harris (17.2 ppg as a sophomore at West Virginia in 2013-14) and Matt McQuaid (Scout: 24 SG, Rivals: 73). On the wing they return Denzel Valentine and Marvin Clark, another freshman who came on strong late in the second. The front court was undersized and loses its best rebounder, but they do return Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling, as well as Deyonta Davis (Scout: 5 PF, Rivals: 24). On paper, it's a more talented team than this past season. They will be heavily dependent on a big contribution from the true freshman Davis, though. They have one scholarship available, in case Izzo wants to go after one more big this summer.

Maryland was #TeamGoodLuck this past season, going 12-1 in games decided by six points or fewer. It's why they finished the season rated in the 30s in the computers while being considered a top ten team by most of the media. And it's also why they'll be overrated to start next season. They should be very good... I'm just saying that they probably won't be quite as good as projected preseason. So who leaves? Dez Wells is the key loss, along with Richaud Pack and two bench pieces. They should be particularly loaded in the front court next season, where Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Damonte Dodd, Michael Cekovsky and Jon Graham return after providing significant minutes this past season. They also have two significant additions: 6'9" Robert Carter (11.4 ppg and 8.4 rpg as a sophomore at Georgia Tech in 2013-14) and 6'10" Diamond Stone (Scout: 2 C, Rivals: 6), who is a potential one-and-done player. The backcourt is a little more uncertain, though getting Melo Trimble back for another season means they'll have at least one premier playmaker. Dion Wiley played well off the bench as a true freshman and could start next season. Jaylen Brantley (a Juco transfer) is the other scholarship backcourt player. You have to believe that Mark Turgeon will go out and get at least one more perimeter player this summer.

For much of the season, Ohio State was the second highest rated team in the Big Ten in the computers, though they faded a little bit down the stretch and ran into Arizona playing at their absolute best in the Round of 32. D'Angelo Russell is assumed to be a one-and-done, though, and Ohio State also loses Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, and Trey McDonald to graduation. Aside from Marc Loving, the other Buckeyes returners were all freshmen this past season. Of the bunch, shooting guards Jae'Sean Tate and Kam Williams, along with 6'7" Keita Bates-Diop, all showed significant promise. They also add 6'9" David Bell, a 2014 recruit who took a redshirt season. A more significant addition is 6'11" Trevor Thompson, who averaged 5.0 ppg and 4.7 rpg as a freshman at Virginia Tech in 2013-14. 6'5" JaQuan Lyle, a former blue chip recruit at Oregon who failed to qualify academically there, is another key addition. Thad Matta also has another big time recruiting class coming on board, headed by Austin Grandstaff (Scout: 13 SG, Rivals: 42), Daniel Giddens (Scout: 14 C, Rivals: 44), Mickey Mitchell (Scout: 20 SF, Rivals: 93) and AJ Harris (Scout: 9 PG, Rivals: 104). So this Ohio State team will be very different and very young, but also very talented. The question is how long it takes Matta to figure out his lineups and to get the team to work well together.

Indiana fans continue to not enjoy the Tom Crean experience. The sideline antics and constant recruit over-signing would be more palatable if he was winning, but in seven seasons he's won just four NCAA Tournament games. But this Indiana team had no seniors on it, and while Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams will both consider the NBA Draft, I think they'll both come back next season. With a solid recruiting class, Indiana should be significantly better next season. Their one blue chip recruit incoming is Thomas Bryant (Scout: 9 C, Rivals: 37). So far, Stanford Robinson and Max Hoetzel have announced they'll leave via transfer, and at least one more player has to go. Assuming Ferrell and Williams return, that gives Indiana two proven stars. James Blackmon was inconsistent as a freshman, but he's a massive talent. Nick Zeisloft and Collin Hartman both are sharpshooters as well. Their one glaring gap this past season was interior size, and Thomas Bryant will plug that hole. So this will be a very talented Indiana team, if Crean can keep all of his top players on board.

Iowa is hit hard by graduations, losing Aaron White, Josh Oglesby and Gabriel Olaseni. The Hawkeyes do return four starters: point guard Mike Gesell, shooting guard Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff and 7'1" Adam Woodbury, as well as Anthony Clemens off the bench. But as for depth, that's hard to find. Fran McCaffery already has five players signed for next season, but none is particularly highly rated. It will be interesting to see how many of those players are productive as true freshmen.

Purdue is the seventh and final NCAA Tournament team that I need to discuss in the Big Ten. Jon Octeus is the only graduating regular, though Bryson Scott is leaving via transfer and AJ Hammons is considering the NBA Draft. Hammons is a 50/50 decision on the draft at the time of this post, and his decision will be crucial for Purdue next season. For the sake of this preview I will assume that he stays, which means that if he does decide to leave that Purdue will slide down my next bracket projection. But with Hammons back, they'd return eight of their top nine minute earners, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Raphael Davis, shooting guard Kendall Stephens and the very talented 6'7" Vince Edwards. 7-footer Isaac Haas also showed flashes of being a good prospect as a true freshman off the bench. Their top rated incoming recruit is shooting guard Ryan Cline (Rivals: 149), but their one big need for next season is point guard. PJ Thompson was not particularly effective there as a true freshman, but he might be the best option. 2015 recruit Grant Weatherford is also possible.

The one Big Ten team to end up in the NIT was Illinois. The Illini season started with promise (they were in the Top 25 polls in early December), but it fell apart in Big Ten play. Things ended ugly, with an 18 point loss in the Big Ten tourney opener and then a 21 point loss to Alabama in the NIT. They lose a trio of starters to graduation: Rayvonte Rice, Ahmad Starks and Nnanna Egwu. That said, they should get back Tracy Abrams, who averaged 10.7 ppg and 3.2 apg as a junior in 2013-14 but missed the 2014-15 season with an injury. They also return shooting guard Kendrick Nunn and wing Malcolm Hill, along with a solid backup point guard in Jaylon Tate. Throw in the additions of Jalen Coleman-Lands (Scout: 11 SG, Rivals: 39) and 6'4" Aaron Jordan (Scout: 22 SF, Rivals: 86) and Illinois should have a talented backcourt. The front court will be unproven, though. Star 2014 recruit Leron Black showed promise off the bench this past season, as did Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert, but none played more than 15 minutes per game this past season. A starter next season might be 6'8" Darius Paul, who averaged 10.4 ppg and 5.7 rpg as a freshman at Western Michigan in 2012-13 and then went the Juco route before transferring back to Illinois. 6'7" DJ Williams (Scout: 10 SF, Rivals: 63) is their one front court high school recruit.

If there's a Big Ten team that missed the NCAA Tournament this past season but is likely to get back it's a Michigan team that had brutal luck this past season with both Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton being lost for the season with injuries in mid-January. But late in the season, this young Michigan team did show a lot of progress, and they should return their entire starting lineup. LeVert will consider the NBA Draft, but I think he'll choose to return for his senior season. With LeVert and Walton back, the Michigan backcourt suddenly becomes very strong and deep, as they also return Spike Albrecht with the talented freshman duo of Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The front court returns the established Zak Irvin and Ricky Doyle, and also got good minutes off the bench this past season from freshman Mark Donnal. 6'7" Kameron Chatman struggled as a true freshman, but is a good prospect for the future. They will also get back 6'8" 2014 recruit DJ Wilson, who took a redshirt season, and add 6'9" 2015 recruit Moritz Wagner.

That covers every team with a reasonable chance to make the NCAA Tournament next season, so let's break down the full Big Ten from top to bottom:

1. Michigan State - Eron Harris provides Michigan State with a big perimeter scoring threat, and the development of Lourawls Nairn gives the Spartans a lot of hope for the future of their point guard position. The front court is a little thin, but Tom Izzo tends to always figure out a way to have a physical and good rebuilding front line.
2. Maryland - The Terps have a ridiculous amount of size, but loss of Dez Wells puts a ton of pressure on Melo Trimble to carry the team by himself on the perimeter. Maryland should be improved next season, but not dramatically enough to justify the Top 5 rankings they're going to get in the human polls preseason.
3. Indiana - Thomas Bryant fills a massive hole for an Indiana team that desperately needed interior defense and rebounding. They should again be one of the most explosive offenses in the country.
4. Purdue - Assuming AJ Hammons returns, Purdue has a chance to challenge for the Big Ten title next season.
5. Wisconsin - I can't drop the Badgers any lower than this, particularly since they should have at least two guys with a chance for first team All-Big Ten in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. This will be a very young team by Bo Ryan standards, however.
6. Michigan - Assuming Caris LeVert returns, the Wolverines should be back to the NCAA Tournament.
7. Ohio State - The Buckeyes are the Big Ten team with the highest variance for next season. They return very little production, but have a ridiculous recruiting class coming on board. Depending on how those recruits turn out, they could contend for a Big Ten title or end up struggling to reach the NIT.
8. Illinois - If Tracy Abrams is back to where he was before his injury, the Illini have a real chance to be improved next season.
9. Iowa - The Hawkeyes should have a talented starting lineup, but seem likely to have almost zero roster depth.
10. Northwestern - Returning their entire starting lineup, Northwestern should definitely be improved next season. But they need another front court player to step up aside from Alex Olah to handle some of the massive front lines in the Big Ten.
11. Minnesota - Richard Pitino has a deep recruiting class coming in, but no stars to replace three key losses (Deandre Mathieu, Mo Walker and Andre Hollins)
12. Penn State - Pat Chambers has what is probably his strongest recruiting class at Penn State, led by Mike Watkins (Scout: 24 C, Rivals: 120) and Josh Reaves (Scout: 21 SF, Rivals: 130). But DJ Newbill was their do-everything player and he's gone, so it's hard to see how the Nittany Lions could be significantly improved next season.
13. Nebraska - This past season was an absolute mess for Nebraska, and while David Rivers is their only key graduation they are going to lose Walter Pitchford and Tarin Smith, and could lose Terran Petteway to the draft as well. They do add 6'7" Andrew White from Kansas and have a deep recruiting class, so this Cornhuskers team is going to look very different next season, which could be good news for Nebraska fans.
14. Rutgers - With Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack and Junior Etou leaving, it's actually possible Rutgers will be even worse next season, though they have a solid recruiting class and a couple of spots left available. They seem almost a lock for last place again.

Monday, April 06, 2015

2015-16 Preview: Big 12

Big-12 Conference

The Big 12 had a disappointing NCAA Tournament but, as I preach every single season, it's stupid to judge conferences on NCAA Tournament performance. Iowa State and Baylor happened to suffer staggering Round of 64 upsets. This happens every year to some top teams - it's a fluke, but those things happen in single-elimination tournaments. Kansas was given the Path Of Death, and as the weakest 2 seed they were going to need to play out of their minds to even get to the Elite 8. That left West Virginia, who ran into Kentucky in the Sweet 16, and Oklahoma, who lost a tough Sweet 16 game to Michigan State.

The media always has a bias toward leagues that are larger and that are top heavy, since they produce more title contenders and Sweet 16 teams, so this inevitably led them to drive a pro-ACC narrative and an anti-Big East/Big 12 narrative. The fact is that nobody cared that a team went 4-14 in the Big 12 while being borderline Top 50 in the computers while the bottom of the ACC was a morass of teams like Boston College, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. But if you want to figure out which conference is best, you have to consider every team in that conference.

To break down the Big 12, we have to start with the team that has won at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title for an absurd 11 straight seasons: Kansas. The Jayhawks won the Big 12 without any senior on scholarship, though they're going to face NBA defections. Cliff Alexander was ineligible to play down the stretch, and it's believed he's very likely to go pro. Kelly Oubre will go to the NBA Draft as well, though I think Wayne Selden stays. They should return their best player, Perry Ellis, for one more season, along with front court mate Jamari Traylor. Landen Lucas is the only other returning big, but they have already added 6'9" Carlton Bragg (Scout: 3 PF, Rivals: 15) and are in the mix for a couple other blue chip big men. On the perimeter, point guard Frank Mason become a much steadier player as a sophomore, and the highly touted Devonte' Graham should player a larger role next season as a sophomore. 6'7" Brannen Greene is already a sharpshooter, while 6'8" Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk will hope to play a larger role next season as well. They could use more backcourt depth, but assuming that some players leave early then it will open more scholarships.

Iowa State was the Big 12 tournament champion, but their Round of 64 upset against UAB was the biggest upset of the NCAA Tournament. They lose two key players to graduation in Dustin Hogue and Bryce Dejean-Jones, but also gain a pair of key transfers in 6'3" Hallice Cooke (8.2 ppg and 2.5 apg as a freshman at Oregon State in 2013-14) and 6'4" Deonte Burton (6.8 ppg with a 44.4 3P% over 1.5 seasons at Marquette), though Burton won't be eligible until the end of the fall semester. A third addition is 6'7" Juco transfer Darien Williams. Monte Morris was one of the most efficient point guards in the nation, which means that he, with Naz Long, Matt Thomas, Hallice Cooke and Deonte Burton should provide the Cyclones with plenty of depth and athleticism in the backcourt. Abdel Nader returns on the wing, while Georges Niang and Jameel McKay will play with Darien Williams in the front court. That's already a deep team, and they still have three more scholarships left to give out, and we all know that Fred Hoiberg will be an aggressive shopper over the summer. Their biggest need, in my opinion, is a perimeter defender to help them improve the third least efficient defense in the Big 12.

Interestingly, both Sagarin and Pomeroy rated Oklahoma as the best team in the Big 12 on Selection Sunday (as well as at the end of the season, since they had the best postseason run). Kansas did narrowly lead the Big 12 in efficiency margin in conference play, though (+0.11 PPP vs +0.08 PPP for the Sooners). The Sooners lose just big man TaShawn Thomas to graduation, but all eyes are on the NBA Draft decision of Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield. He's considered a borderline first round pick at this point. For the sake of this preview, I'm going to assume he returns. And if he does, Oklahoma will have his scoring burst to go with what will again be an excellent defense. Their backcourt is deep, with Jordan Woodard at the point and Isaiah Cousins as a sharpshooting perimeter player (45.0 3P%). Frank Booker will again provide depth off the bench. In the front court, the defensive presence of TaShawn Thomas will be very difficult to replace. Ryan Spangler will be back, but Khadeem Lattin is the only other proven front court returner. If 7-footer Akolda Manyan, a Juco transfer, is able to play significant minutes, then he would provide that dominating defensive force inside. 6'7" Dante Buford, a highly touted 2014 recruit who had to miss the season over academic issues, should also return. Their top rated 2015 recruit is 6'4" Christian James (Rivals: 139).

The big surprise in the Big 12 this past season was Baylor. Many people (if not most) expected them to be an NIT team preseason, but they earned their way to a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Fans tend to judge seasons by the NCAA Tournament, and so the season ended in a disappointing way, but the full season of success was much more meaningful than a single 40 minute long upset. Baylor loses primary playmaker Kenny Cherry and sharpshooter Royce O'Neale, but they return leading scorer Taurean Prince and the incredibly physical big man Rico Gathers. 6'9" Johnathan Motley, who was effective in limited minutes off the bench, should play a bigger role next season. 6'8" Deng Deng is another bench player who could see more time next season. The backcourt loses its best player in Kenny Cherry, but Scott Drew has all sorts of reinforcements coming in to plug that gap. Lester Munford is a capable point guard, while both Allerik Freeman and Ish Wainwright played well off the bench. In addition, their top 2015 recruits are King McClure (Scout: 29 SG, Rivals: 77) and Jake Lindsay (Scout: 24 PG).

West Virginia did tremendously well this season considering how little elite Big 12 talent was on this roster. Even when Juwan Staten and Gary Browne missed time, the team really didn't miss a beat. They just crashed the glass and forced turnovers, and that was enough. Staten and Browne graduate now, but everybody else should be back. Their top returners are probably Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton, who led the offensive glass attack. They also got good play in the backcourt out of Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter, both of whom were true freshmen this past season. If they're going to challenge for a Big 12 title, though, they need to be significantly more efficient offensively. That means better ball handling and, in particular, better shooting. They were 282nd in the nation in 3P% and 292nd in the nation in eFG%. 5'11" 2015 recruit James Bolden is considered a pretty good shooter, though he's not West Virginia's top recruit. That would be Esa Ahmad (Scout: 9 PF, Rivals: 71).

Texas was one of the most under-performing teams we've ever seen in college basketball, though horrible luck in close games played a role in it. They were considered a national title contender preseason, but slipped to around the 20th best team in the nation according to Pomeroy and Sagarin, which combined with a 2-6 record in games decided by seven points or fewer against Big 12 opponents to set them up with a brutal 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament against Butler. It's easy to say that firing Rick Barnes will fix things, but the reality is that Barnes was never the terrible coach he was made out to be. It's easy to say "Just get all the best kids in Texas and you'll win", but no coach can ever do that. The fact is that Rick Barnes is the most successful head coach Texas has ever had. He took them to their only Final Four since 1947, as well as three of their four Elite 8 appearance since 1947. Texas finished the season in the Top 25 of either the AP or Coaches poll in 10 of the 17 seasons Barnes coached, something they had done in just 9 of the 50 seasons before Barnes was hired.

Of course, Shaka Smart is on the way, and it will be interesting to see how he adapts his style to the roster he's being handed. They lose just Jonathan Holmes to graduation, though Myles Turner will be going pro as well. Assuming he doesn't go pro and can stay healthy all season, Isaiah Taylor could potentially be the best point guard in the Big 12 next season. Javan Felix, Kendal Yancey and Demarcus Holland will be backcourt returners as well. The front court will lose two of its key players, but will still return Cameron Ridley and Connor Lammert, with Prince Ibeh as a talented defensive backup. They also add 6'8" Shaq Cleare, who averaged 3.4 ppg and 2.6 rpg over two seasons at Maryland. 6'6" Jordan Barnett didn't do much as a true freshman, but is still a talented prospect for the future. Texas is also set to add Kerwin Roach (Scout: 28 SG, Rivals: 36) and Eric Davis (Scout: 12 SG, Rivals: 54). This roster, as it's constructed, simply can't play Smart's true #havoc style. Time will tell whether he changes his style or whether he makes quick moves to remake this roster.

Oklahoma State is hit hard by graduation, losing Le'Bryan Nash, Michael Cobbins and Anthony Hickey, and their only key addition is Jawun Evans (Scout: 3 PG, Rivals: 28), so it's hard to see how they don't take a step back next season. TCU also loses three key players in Kyan Anderson, Trey Zeigler and Amric Fields, but they return almost everybody from a surprisingly athletic front court, led by 6'8" Chris Washburn and 6'10" Karviar Shephard. Their top recruit is also a big - 6'8" Jalon Miller (Scout: 28 PF). The reality is that while TCU's Top 25 ranking early in the season was obviously fraudulent (their 13-0 non-conference record was run against the single softest non-conference SOS in the nation, with the only Pomeroy Top 150 opponent being Ole Miss), the fact is that TCU ended up being a much better team than most people realized. They were borderline Top 50 in both Sagarin and Pomeroy. That said, to take the next step they need better shooting (their 28.7 3P% in conference play was dead last in the Big 12), and they need a point guard to replace Kyan Anderson. Their best point guard option might be Chauncey Collins, a 2014 recruit who didn't play much as a true freshman. They don't have an obvious replacement among their recruits.

In the end, here's how I see the Big 12 playing out:

1. Kansas -You have to assume that Kansas is going to win the Big 12 until they don't. Next year's squad should be better than this year's anyway, particularly the squad as it was after Cliff Alexander was declared ineligible.
2. Oklahoma - I'm assuming Buddy Hield returns. If not, they'll drop. But if he does, this should be one of the ten best teams in the nation.
3. Iowa State - Iowa State has a good chance to be Top Ten in the national preseason polls, but I've still got them third if Buddy Hield returns. The top of the Big 12 will be stacked yet again.
4. Texas - Don't expect to see #HAVOC from this roster next season. But Shaka is a smart coach, and he knows he has one of the ten or twenty most talented rosters in the nation and could have a really good team immediately.
5. Baylor - Baylor has a lot of young talent, but they have to replace key players (most notably point guard Kenny Cherry) with unproven prospects, and that always creates question marks.
6. West Virginia - Don't be surprised if they're ranked in the Top 25 preseason, but I think this team wasn't quite as good as their resume (they were outscored by 0.03 PPP in Big 12 play) and they lose their only proven scorers. At some point you have to be able to generate offense to win a Big 12 title.
7. TCU - This is a sleeper team in the Big 12, but the question is whether they have the top end talent to go head-to-head with the NBA players on the top five teams in the conference.
8. Oklahoma State - The Cowboys are hit hard by graduations off a team that disappointed. Travis Ford is definitely feeling his seat start to get warm in Stillwater.
9. Kansas State - Bruce Weber is a much better coach than he's given credit for, but he's never been a good recruiter, and the talent continues to dry up in Manhattan. Between graduations, transfers and a dismissal, he's already losing four of his five starters.
10. Texas Tech - With four of five starters returning, Tubby Smith should have this team better next season, but they don't have a single player who could start on a team in the top half of the league. The talent level has to be upgraded.

2015-16 Preview: Pac-12

Pacific-12 Conference


Sean Miller has done a fabulous job at Arizona, but he just can't get his program over the hump. They hit Selection Sunday ranked 2nd in Pomeroy and 3rd in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but for the second straight season they came up short of the Final Four in excruciating fashion against Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 featured maybe the most underrated top level team in America in Utah, who were an awfully strong 5 seed that came up just short against Duke in the Sweet 16 despite 4-for-16 three-point shooting and terrible foul trouble for Delon Wright. Oregon played to their seed as an 8 seed, but UCLA as an 11 seed was (rightfully) the most controversial at-large bid. And no, they shouldn't have gotten in. Their Committee's reasoning was flawed (they were "gaining steam" despite not improving in the computer ratings or beating a Pomeroy Top 100 opponent in the month prior to the Selection Sunday). And no, NCAA Tournament performance cannot justify a seeding decision, unless you also think UAB's win over Iowa State is proof UAB should have been seeded higher than Iowa State.

Let's start with that Arizona team, which is going to see significant amounts of turnover. TJ McConnell finally graduates, but the NBA Draft will be the real killer. Nobody has officially announced as of the time of this post going live, but Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson are as good as gone (Johnson should be a Top Ten pick). Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski both have decisions to make as well, and for the sake of this preview I'm going to assume Ashley leaves while Zeus stays. Parker Jackson-Cartwright will definitely return and be a capable point guard, along with sharpshooter Gabe York, wing Elliott Pitts and 7-footer Dusan Ristic. They add 6'9" Ryan Anderson, who averaged 14.3 ppg and 7.2 rpg as a junior at Boston College. In no surprise to anybody, Sean Miller has four blue chip recruits on the way: Ray Smith (Scout: 4 SF, Rivals: 12), Allonzo Trier (Scout: 2 SG, Rivals: 13), Justin Simon (Scout: 2 PG, Rivals: 22) and Chance Comanche (Scout: 13 C, Rivals: 33). So this Arizona team will look very different next season, but they'll still contend for a Pac-12 title.

Utah is heading into a transition season as well. Despite Joseph Young winning Pac-12 Player of the Year (a vote pretty much decided by him leading the league in ppg), Delon Wright was pretty clearly the best player in the Pac-12 this past season and he graduates. They also lose 7-footer Dallin Bachynski to graduation, while Jakob Poeltl could go to the NBA Draft. For the sake of this preview, I'm going to assume Poeltl leaves, since he's got a good chance to be a lottery pick. They do return point guard Brandon Taylor along with Dakarai Tucker and Jordan Loveridge on the wing. Isaiah Wright, a true freshman in 2014-15, will provide backcourt depth. Their front court will lose its starters, but they have a pair of good prospects in Brekkot Chapman and Kyle Kuzma, their top two 2014 recruits. Their top 2015 recruit is another big: 6'9" Makol Mawien (Rivals: 142).

Oregon managed to overcome a brutal offseason of rape cases, dismissals, suspensions and injuries to put together a team that was comfortably in the Field of 68 on Selection Sunday. Whether Joseph Young deserved Pac-12 Player of the Year or not (he didn't), he was still easily Oregon's best player and he graduates. Jalil Abdul-Bassit also graduates. Next year's Oregon backcourt with have talent, but not a lot of experience. Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie were both effective off the bench as true freshmen in 2014-15, and the Ducks also add Tyler Dorsey (Scout: 8 SG, Rivals: 20) and Kendall Small (Scout: 20 PG, Rivals: 83). The front court returns pretty much as it was, though it was one of the smallest and least effective in the Pac-12. Star 2014 recruit Dillon Brooks is listed as a forward, though he's just 6'5". Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Jordan Bell were all effective players, but none are over 6'7". 6'9" Trevor Manuel (Scout: 18 PF, Rivals: 117) is added as a 2015 recruit.

Despite the fact that UCLA really didn't deserve that at-large bid by resume, they were certainly a Tournament-quality team. They were 41st in Pomeroy on Selection Sunday, and after their Sweet 16 run they moved up close to 30th. Norman Powell is their only graduation also, though Kevon Looney is expected to go pro. Their three returning starters will be point guard Bryce Alford, shooting guard Isaac Hamilton and big man Tony Parker. The Bruins also return plenty of size off the bench, including 7'0" Thomas Welch and 6'10" Gyorgy Goloman. They also get 6'8" Jonah Bolden, a hyped 2014 recruit who took a redshirt season. They return basically no backcourt depth, though, and will rely on significant minutes from 2015 recruits Prince Ali (Scout: 9 SG, Rivals: 30) and Aaron Holiday (Scout: 4 PG, Rivals: 59).

The team that finished third in the Pac-12 in efficiency margin was not UCLA or Oregon, but Stanford, and the Cardinal went ahead and won the NIT as well. It's their second NIT title in the last four seasons, but Johnny Dawkins still has only a single NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons. And they suffer heavy losses this offseason, losing Chasson Randle, Stefan Nastic and Anthony Brown from their starting lineup. The front court should still be fine, as they return Reid Travis, Rosco Allen and Michael Humphrey, and should also get back 6'9" Grant Verhoeven, who missed most of the season with an injury. They also add 7'0" Josh Sharma (Scout: 25 C, Rivals: 84), 6'7" Cameron Walker (Scout: 23 SF, Rivals: 72) and 6'5" Marcus Sheffield (Scout: 17 SF, Rivals: 103). The backcourt has more question marks, though they do return Marcus Allen and Robert Cartwright. They also will return point guard Malcolm Allen, who didn't play much as a freshman in 2013-14 but missed the 2014-15 season with an injury. But without any significant backcourt recruits yet signed, expect to see a lot of big Stanford lineups next season.

Aside from maybe Oregon, Oregon State was the biggest surprise in the Pac-12 this past season under first year head coach Wayne Tinkle (Tinkle was coming off a very successful run at Montana, so it's not a huge shocker that he's had success at a higher level). They won with an aggressive defense rated 15th in the nation by Pomeroy, and which led the Pac-12 in turnover, steal and block rates, and which was led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton II. They head into next season returning everybody, led by Payton, combo guard Malcolm Duvivier and 6'10" Olaf Schaftenaar. To contend for a Pac-12 title they're going to need to score more efficiently. Victor Robbins, who was averaging 10.3 ppg, should come back after being suspended for the second half of the season. They also add a deep 2015 recruiting class, led by Stephen Thompson (Scout: 22 SG, Rivals: 76), Tres Tinkle (Scout: 14 PF, Rivals: 90), Derrick Bruce (Scout: 23 PG, Rivals: 125) and Drew Eubanks (Scout: 20 C, Rivals: 135).

Arizona State went 9-9 this past season, but it wasn't enough to save Herb Sendek's job. Without an exciting head coach likely coming in (Jeff Capel seems the favorite, if you believe media reports), next season might be a step back. They lose Jonathan Gilling, Shaq McKissic and Bo Barnes to graduation. Top returners are probably big men Eric Jacobsen and Savon Goodman. Point guard Tra Holder, a true freshman this past season, is a good prospect for the future.

Of the bottom five teams in the league, several have a chance to be better next season. If I had to pick one to be the best, I'd go with Colorado. They lose leading scorer Askia Booker, and also Dustin Thomas off the bench, but return everybody else. Their strength next season will be in the front court, where they return Wesley Gordon, Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson and Tre'Shaun Fletcher. They also get back George King, who took a redshirt season in 2014-15. The backcourt has more question marks. Xavier Talton and Dominique Collier are the top returners, though neither is a pure point guard or good shooter. A key addition is 6'5" Josh Fortune, who averaged 8.4 ppg and 2.1 apg for Providence. Their top 2015 recruit is a point guard: Dominique Collier

In the end, here's how I see the Pac-12 playing out:

1. Arizona - It's going to be a very different Arizona team next season, and a much younger one, but also still likely the most talented in the Pac-12.
2. UCLA - If Prince Ali and Aaron Holiday live up to the hype, UCLA will have the depth that they need to contend for a Pac-12 title.
3. Oregon - The Ducks have to find somebody who can be a go-to scorer, but as a whole Dana Altman is going to have a significantly more talented and deeper roster next season.
4. Colorado - The loss of Askia Booker is overrated. He scored 17.2 ppg, but it came on a 44.9 eFG%. This past season was a very frustrating one for Tad Boyle's squad, but next year they should be back in contention for an at-large bid.
5. Oregon State - The defense should be fantastic next season, but the Beavers scored just 0.90 PPP in Pac-12 this past season. They're going to have to get that way up to win consistently next season.
6. Stanford - The Cardinal are going to be one of the biggest teams in the nation, but perimeter playmaking is going to be a problem.
7. Utah - Assuming Jakob Poeltl leaves, we're going to find out next season whether Utah's success the last couple of seasons was due to Larry Krystkowiak or due to a short fluky run of great recruits, because the core of this team will be gone.
8. California - Stephen Domingo is a nice pickup for Cuonzo Martin, and he has a few more scholarships to work with. He has to add more pieces for the Bears to go Dancing.
9. Washington - Things went to hell pretty quickly after they Robert Upshaw was booted from the team, but Lorenzo Romar has nine lives and a big time recruiting class will give his team a chance to be better next season. But at some point they've got to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
10. USC - Eventually Andy Enfield has to get USC out of last place, and he should do it next season with another nice recruiting class coming in. But if they don't make a serious run at an at-large bid, his seat is going to start warming up.
11. Arizona State - Next season has the feeling of a rebuilding season. And make fun of Herb Sendek all you want, but he was probably the second most successful coach in Arizona State history. If they add another unexciting coach, Sendek might hold that status for a while longer, too.
12. Washington State - Ernie Kent is good at getting his kids to play hard and hustle, but he hasn't been able to recruit to Washington State. They simply don't have NCAA Tournament caliber talent.