Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Morning News: Jordan Adams And Chane Behanan Go Pro, Missouri Hires Kim Anderson, And More

How many college basketball fans know who this guy is?
With the NBA Draft declaration deadline passed, it's time for a discussion of the final player decisions, as well as some other college basketball news from the last few days:

Jordan Adams Goes Pro Adams had announced a week ago that he was staying at UCLA, but... yeah. UCLA now loses Adams in addition to Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine to the Draft. Steve Alford has three blue chippers coming in and gets Isaac Hamilton back, but that's going to be a very young team without much experience returning. I previous had UCLA projected as a 6 seed, but they're going to have to drop several lines now.

Missouri Hires Kim Anderson Taking the pulse of the average fan, this seems to be a pretty underwhelming hire. Kansas fans, in particular, are making a lot of fun of it. Kim Anderson is basically a total unknown. That said, you never know here... Bo Ryan is an example of an in-state non-Division I head coach who made the step up to the big leagues and had a ton of success (although Ryan did coach two seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee between his DIII job and Wisconsin).

Considering the fact that it's not exactly like Missouri's previous coach was John Wooden, we might as well give this new guy a chance. The key test will be to see if he can add any players over the summer. Without an infusion of talent, it's hard to see an NCAA Tournament trip in season #1.

Chane Behanan Goes Pro This was basically leaked a couple of weeks ago, but Behanan finally made it official on Monday. He was due to join Colorado State after transferring from Louisville. The thing is, he has continued to have off-the-court problems, and was very likely going to face a hefty suspension. As a guy who is at best 50/50 to be drafted (and I'd argue his odds are actually worse than that), this is probably more a case of a guy just going pro because he doesn't think he's going to be eligible to play college ball this coming season. He'll likely be on his way to the D-League or Europe.

But this is still a blow for a Colorado State team that I think is likely to be right on the bubble. Behanan would have given them a real rebounding threat.

Jon Horford Transfers To Florida This was rumored as soon as he announced he was leaving Michigan. With Mitch McGary going pro, Horford would have been in line to start at Michigan, but it seems as if there were some personal reasons where he either didn't get along with his teammates or John Beilein.

With Horford eligible to play right away, do not sleep on Florida to win the SEC title. Yes, Kentucky is likely going to start the season the #1 team in the country, but... we've seen this movie before. And I already had Florida as a 3 seed prior to adding Horford (who will be eligible to play right away). So if Kentucky stumbles a little bit, Florida will be right there waiting for them.

Nimrod Hilliard To NC Central This isn't any news that is going to impact the bubble, but this is a big pickup for NC Central. With Lamar banned from postseason play next season over APR issues, all of their players can transfer without sitting for a season, and Hilliard was their best player - a point guard who also could score efficiently. In my 2014-15 MEAC preview I said that NC Central was my narrow favorite because I figured they'd find a point guard. They've now got that point guard, and are the fairly clear MEAC favorite.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Morning News: Kentucky Super Team?, Mitch McGary, Northwestern Vote, And Much More

A tearful goodbye to Khem Kong
I was going to wait until Monday to do another Morning News post, but way too much stuff happened yesterday for me not to compile the news of the last few days:

Kentucky To Return Harrison Twins, Dakari Johnson And Alex Poythress We already knew Willie Cauley-Stein was coming back as well. And this creates a fascinating situation for a number of reasons. Right now, Kentucky returns six players from last season's rotation as well as Marcus Lee, a former Top 20 recruit who sat most of the year as a true freshman but had a couple of big games in the NCAA Tournament. They have four more blue chippers coming in, giving Calipari an astounding nine McDonald's All-Americans and 11 guys expecting regular minutes.

The immediate concern is that roster crunch. How does Calipari keep one or more of those players from leaving? And if he gets them all to stay, how does he get them all to buy in and to stay happy? He can probably talk Tyler Ulis or Devin Booker to sit on the end of the bench like Marcus Lee this past season, but Karl Towns and Trey Lyles almost certainly won't (both are expected to be "one-and-done" guys). Assuming Lee won't sit on the end of the bench two years in a row, that gives them six front court guys who will need extended minutes. That's going to be a heck of a problem for Calipari to figure out. But if he can, and if he can avoid any transfers, he now has the deepest, most talented NCAA basketball team perhaps ever assembled, and they'll be the unanimous #1 to start next season. Ready for dumb "40-and-0" hype to start all over again?

One side note that a couple of people who follow me on twitter brought up is an interesting one: the impact on future Kentucky recruiting. Announcers always talk about how good teams would be "if nobody left pro early" under the false assumption that all of the same recruits would have shown up. It doesn't work that way. Recruits come with playing time expectations in mind, and Calipari spends a lot of time reassuring recruits that certain players will go pro to open up playing time. Surely at least one of the recruits who signed up this year is now upset at all of these returning players, and that's the kind of thing that can ripple down to future recruits who might not believe Calipari when he says that certain players are going to leave. Although history says that Calipari will still find a way to bring in four or five blue chippers every single season.

Mitch McGary Going Pro On a busy day of news, this story managed to somehow have the most #HOTSPROTSTAKES. Those aside, this is a very important basketball problem for Michigan,  which now returns exactly zero regulars from their front court. The Jon Horford transfer out is now magnified in a significant way.

If McGary came back, Michigan would have been the clear top contender to Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Now, Wisconsin will likely enter next season the unanimous media pick to win the conference. One could go several ways in picking the second best team in the conference, but my pick will be an Ohio State team that I think is going to be significantly underrated. Michigan will have a lot to prove with an extremely young front court.

Union Appears To Lose Northwestern Vote We won't get the official numbers for several years (if ever), but it appears that as expected the Northwestern union vote lost heavily. This isn't a big surprise, as there was no evidence that this union effort ever really had significant support from Northwestern players. The school is being sued by the Steelworkers Union - Kain Colter was always just a spokesman to give the union a more appealing public relations face.

It seemed pretty clear that the union was a bad path for the players. Reforms like guaranteed scholarships and a stipend for players to fill in scholarship gaps are ideas I'd likely support, and there is a lot of support at the NCAA for both ideas as well, but those reforms can happen outside a union. Unionizing the players haphazardly at some schools but not others would be a legal mess which would benefit only lawyers and tax accountants. Any reform needs to apply to all athletes at all schools.

Don't expect this to go away. Lawyers are swarming the NCAA and there will be all sorts of new lawsuits, and don't be surprised if another school tries its hand at a unionization vote. Basically, there is too much money involved in the NCAA for a lot of other powerful interests to not want a cut.

The problem, as I see it, is that 98% of the people getting a benefit from NCAA sports are not a factor in these discussions. Nobody hears from the Division II baseball player or the woman's volleyball player, or any of the other 150,000+ kids getting scholarships from the money that the NCAA generates. Nobody knows their names, so nobody is advocating on their behalf.

Spencer Dinwiddie To The NBA This was always considered likely. As I wrote in my Pac-12 preview, though, Colorado should still expect to be significantly better next season. Remember, Dinwiddie missed almost all of last season's Pac-12 season as well. And while Colorado wasn't nearly as good as their final record (arguably the second worst at-large team in the entire NCAA Tournament), they return everybody from their end-of-season rotation. They should get back to the tourney, and I currently have them as a 7 seed.

Tennessee Hires Donnie Tyndall Donnie Tyndall was at Southern Miss the last two seasons, and previously was at Morehead State. To me, this is a fairly uninspiring hire for Tennessee. There were a whole lot of media reports that Tennessee was in on Louisiana Tech's Michael White first, but White didn't like the contract offer and turned them down. White is certainly the hotter "up and coming" coach.

Tyndall had success at Morehead State after Kenneth Faried showed up, and used that success to get the Southern Miss job, where he spent two seasons using a lot of Larry Eustachy's players, unable to get them back to the NCAA Tournament. So Tyndall's only NCAA experience in eight seasons came when he had a 1st round NBA Draft pick in the Ohio Valley Conference. Maybe he'll be a good coach, but Tennessee could have done better if they were willing to open up their wallet more.

DeAndre Daniels Is Going Pro This wasn't a certainty, but most insiders expected Daniels to leave. I assumed he would leave when I put together my 2014-15 AAC preview a few weeks ago. This Huskies team still has a lot of talent, but the question without Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels will be finding a second scoring option aside from Ryan Boatright. If they can do that, they should get back to the NCAA Tournament, though SMU will remain the fairly clear AAC favorite.

Khem Birch Going Pro It's sad that this is the last we'll see of Khem Kong. Also, with Roscoe Smith gone as well, UNLV will now be down their one elite interior defensive presence and (by far) their two best rebounders. 6'10" Christian Smith played well in very limited minutes as a freshman, and if he improves a lot then UNLV will still have one quality option down low, but this UNLV roster is going to be much younger and with much more turnover than they thought they were going to have a couple months ago. Dave Rice has a really nice recruiting class coming in, but UNLV will now drop from the 10 seed I had them at in my preseason bracket projection.

Matt Carlino Transfers To Marquette With everything else going on yesterday, this news basically got lost in the shuffle. But it's a big pickup for a Marquette team desperate for some early positive momentum under their new head coach. So far, the only news had been recruits decommitting. Carlino isn't enough to get Marquette back to the Tournament bubble, but it's a good sign for the direction of the program. As I've said a few times before, if Marquette can improve throughout the season as a basketball team and Wojo can put together a strong 2015 recruiting class, that will be a successful season for Marquette in and of itself.

Jeremy Hollowell To Georgia State Ron Hunter has turned Georgia State into a transfer hotbed. And right on the heels of landing Louisville's Kevin Ware, he now has former Indiana player Jeremy Hollowell. Keep in mind that Hollowell won't be eligible next season, so he'll be unable to take part in Ryan Harrow's final season with the program, but Kevin Ware is appealing for a waiver to play right away, so we'll have to keep an eye on that.

Jerian Grant Back To Notre Dame Jerian Grant, if you recall, was suspended with an academic issue right around Christmas and missed the entire ACC season. Garrick Sherman was Notre Dame's most important all around player this past season, but Grant was probably their best offensive weapon, and his return is essential for the Irish to get back to the NCAA Tournament. In my most recent bracket projection I assumed Grant would be back and still had Notre Dame missing the Field of 68, but they're in the first group out. They were one of the first teams out of the field, and could easily work their way back into my projected bracket before next season even tips off.

Sim Bhullar Going Pro This news has been something of a stop-and-start variety, as there were rumors of him going pro nearly a month ago that were quashed. But now it's official. And while you can't blame the guy for wanting to go pro, it would have been fun to see him play with his 7'3" brother, who is joining New Mexico State next season. That team was already the tallest in the nation, and might have been the tallest ever next season. New Mexico State will remain the WAC favorite, but the gap between them and the rest of the league will shrink, and their odds of winning a game in next year's NCAA Tournament are obviously significantly lower as well.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Morning News: Frank Haith To Tulsa, Jabari Parker To The NBA, And Much More

Wassup, Tulsa.

Frank Haith To Tulsa This was a stunner when the news first broke... but in retrospect, I think the stunner is that Tulsa would want Haith and would give him the type of contract (7 years at $1.85 Million per year) that even most SEC coaches don't have. Haith had a lot of success in his first year at Missouri coaching Mike Anderson's players, but the team had been in decline ever since and was due to be even weaker next season with the loss Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson. Haith was going to be at risk of being fired after next season, honestly. You'd think Tulsa would want a young up-and-comer rather than a retread who has shown no signs of brilliance so far. They have a roster built to make a good run at an at-large bid next season, but will it just be a repeat of Missouri?

Missouri fans are mostly excited by this news. After all, Haith did this once before when he left Miami for Missouri just before his seat got too warm, and Miami fell backwards into Jim Larranaga. Honestly, I doubt Missouri gets a coach of the quality of Larranaga here, and I don't understand why the media trolls teams like Missouri by floating coaches like Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart that obviously aren't coming, but there's no reason Missouri shouldn't think they can get a coaching upgrade here.

Jabari Parker To The NBA Well, I guess we all got fooled a bit. A month ago it was a no-brainer that Parker, like Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle, would be a one-and-done player. But he seemed to convince all of us over the last couple of weeks that he was actually really considering coming back for another season. Parker might not be the best NBA prospect, but he's the most NBA ready player now. And I'll talk about this when I do my NBA Draft preview, but Parker is just a wildly underrated player, particularly by the Duke fans that ragged on him all year while he utterly carried that team on both ends of the floor (yes, he was the team's best defensive player, too).

If Parker came back, Duke would have been a clear preseason #1. Even without him, they're still probably the narrow ACC favorite, though I wouldn't be surprised to see North Carolina end up earning the preseason favorite nod from the media. Both teams should be in the mix for 1 seeds next season.

USC's Byron Wesley Will Transfer A bleak year is looking even bleaker for USC as their far-and-away best player is going to leave via transfer. Andy Enfield's miracle Sweet 16 run with Florida Gulf Coast earned him a total honeymoon with the fans and the media in his first season at USC. But another season going something like 3-15 in conference play, which is what it looks like we're heading toward, will start putting the pressure on him.

St. John's Gets Chris Obekpa Back St. John's, coming off a rough season, looked to be getting fairly decimated by NBA and transfer defections. Chris Obekpa ended up being buried on the bench late in the season despite being one of the best shot blockers in the nation. But after announcing his transfer, he's decided to come back. This alone doesn't get St. John's back to being a likely bubble team next season, but it at least buoys the ship for a little while and changes the momentum of the program.

AJ Hammons Chooses Not To Go Pro Yet This is a good move all around. Purdue needed Hammons back to have any realistic shot of earning an at-large bid next season, while the reality was that Hammons isn't ready for the NBA yet. Even if he got drafted, he'd be a second rounder sent immediately down to the D-League. He's just not NBA ready yet. He's got the talent to get there with another year or two of seasoning at Purdue, though.

Boston College Gets Back Oliver Hanlan One of the reasons why Steve Donahue was pushed out the door at Boston College was because Oliver Hanlan and several others players were threatening to  leave. Ryan Anderson will still transfer, but Hanlan is the gem of the bunch. He's a fantastic playmaker and scorer who will likely end up in the NBA eventually. Boston College's defense needs to be significantly improved to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but Hanlan's return means that BC's offense should again be fairly good.

Ahmed Hill Decommits From Marquette Of the four player class that Buzz Williams originally signed at Marquette, only one (Sandy Cohen) is currently saying that he'll stay. Ahmed Hill was the highest rated of Marquette's recruits, and he's now off to Virginia Tech, along with Satchel Pierce, another Marquette recruit. For a Marquette team that was going to struggle to make the NCAA Tournament even if Buzz Williams had stayed, this portends a rough season. But the task for Steve Wojciechowski will be to have a first season that shows positive momentum. If he puts together a nice 2015 recruiting class and plays solid basketball in year one then it will be seen as a success, even if they don't go Dancing.

Butler Loses Elijah Brown And Three Others Four players have decided to transfer out of Butler in the last few months, with Brown being the most important. That said, I don't think there's reason for panic at Butler. All four players were freshmen or sophomores, and it's not uncommon for young players to want to leave after a coaching transition - seniors are more likely to prefer to just stick it out at the place they've spent years at. Also, besides Brown, the other three were not significant contributors this past season.

And Brandon Miller has two quality transfers coming back, in Indiana's Austin Etherington and NC State's Tyler Lewis. And while Lewis won't be eligible next season, he's a significantly better player than any of these transfers out. Throw in Roosevelt Jones coming back after missing this past season with injury and Butler still looks to have a bright future.

Arizona State Gets Another Year of Shaquielle McKissic The NCAA has given McKissic another year of eligibility, which was considered likely but was not a given. This is good news for an Arizona State roster that otherwise wasn't going to return much. They had a mediocre offense even with Jahii Carson, who is off to the NBA, running things. McKissic is a quietly efficient scorer, though, with a 53.1 eFG% and a high free throw rate. But Herb Sendek still has work left to do to make this a plausible at-large team.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Morning News: Cuonzo Martin To California, Plus A Slew Of Draft Decisions

Thompson-Boling has at times been less-than-friendly for Cuonzo Martin

During the offseason, I'll have occasional Morning News posts. Unlike the regular season, these won't be daily. I'll post them whenever a few interesting pieces of news pile up. Follow me on twitter, or click on the bottom right of the page to follow the blog. Either will let you know when new posts are up.

Cuonzo Martin To California In a sense, this came out of nowhere. California seems like a lateral move from Tennessee. But really, it's because the fans and administration were not supportive of Martin as coach. For a while this season, even as his team was borderline Top 15-20 in the computers, there were continued calls for his firing, including a huge petition to bring back Bruce Pearl. These tweets from his former players say it all. Is Cuonzo Martin a brilliant coach? Probably not. But a fan base that doesn't support its coach is going to find itself in a situation like this, and they're going to find it hard to hire their next coach.

It will take some time to settle out the direct effects on next season. We have to see who Tennessee hires, how many Tennessee recruits decommit, and whether Cuonzo Martin can hold the entire California roster together. But California is a team that is really just one more solid player away from earning an at-large bid next season, while Tennessee was going to be right on the bubble even with Cuonzo. Assuming a few decommits, I'm likely going to drop Tennessee from my next bracket projection.

Willie Cauley-Stein Returns To Kentucky This is big news for a Kentucky team that looks to again be in serious contention for a 1 seed. As always with Kentucky, it's wise to wait until we have a roster that is more firmed up. We still need to figure out the draft status for the Harrison twins and Dakari Johnson, for example, and John Calipari is still in the mix for another recruit or two. But if nothing else, this Kentucky team will not lack for height and length on the front line next season.

Jerami Grant To The NBA Draft This is a significant loss for a Syracuse team already losing Tyler Ennis and CJ Fair. Trevor Cooney is the only returning Syracuse player to be any kind of offensive threat this past season. A year ago we were all wondering where Syracuse would find some offense, and then Tyler Ennis happened. This season, Kaleb Joseph will have even less to work with (at least Ennis had Grant and Fair returning). Unless Joseph turns into Ennis, it could be a long season offensively for the Orange.

Michigan Loses Stauskas And GRII, Still Waiting On McGary Honestly, there's not a whole lot here quite yet. We all knew Stauskas was going pro. Glenn Robinson III is a significant loss, but only because the Jon Horford transfer now makes the Mitch McGary decision a huge one. If McGary goes pro, Michigan will not return a single front court player who got even 100 minutes this past season. If he leaves, Michigan will plummet down my bracket projection.

Montrezl Harrell Returning This is big, fairly surprising news for Louisville. Most analysts expected Harrell to leave. Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear give Louisville proven backcourt options to fill Russ Smith's loss fairly well. Harrell's return gives Louisville a proven front court offensive threat, and will substantially reduce the pressure on Rick Pitino's big 2014 recruiting class.

Bryce Dejean-Jones To Iowa State This isn't a surprising transfer pickup. I actually talked about it in my 2014-15 Big 12 preview. This has become the Fred Hoiberg modus operandi at this point. Is Dejean-Jones the next DeAndre Kane? Probably not. But Hoiberg was going to need a transfer or two to get his team back to the Top 25, and this is a big one.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Preseason BP68

The thing about putting a bracket together just four days after the national title game is that the rosters are still going to change a lot. We still have guys deciding on the draft, we still have transfers in and out, we still have recruits to sign, etc.

But this bracket serves as a starting point. You can click on my conference previews, where I go through all 32 conferences and tell you who I think is coming in and leaving, and why I have teams where I have them.

From here on out, we'll see what happens with certain players. For example, at this point I'm assuming Jabari Parker and Mitch McGary stay. If either one chooses to go pro, their team will drop in the next bracket. But we need to start somewhere, so let's start here.

As for the next bracket, it will be posted around the NBA Draft. After that I'll have a bracket around Midnight Madness. After that will be the "W-17 BP68", 17 weeks from Selection Sunday.

For now, here's how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday 2015:


2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. North Carolina
2. Michigan

3. Texas
3. Florida
3. Virginia

4. Oklahoma
4. SMU (AAC)

5. Utah
5. Ohio State
5. Louisville
5. Iowa

6. West Virginia
6. Dayton

7. UConn
7. Pittsburgh
7. Illinois
7. Colorado

8. Iowa State
8. Stanford
8. Maryland
8. Syracuse

9. Xavier
9. Nebraska
9. Georgetown
9. Cincinnati

10. UNLV
10. Miami-Florida
10. Oregon
10. Northern Iowa

11. BYU
11. Richmond
11. Michigan State

12. Arkansas
12. Oklahoma State
12. Butler
12. Tennessee





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Tulsa, Clemson, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Providence, Minnesota, Purdue, Baylor, Kansas State, Illinois State, Colorado State, California, Georgia, Texas A&M

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Temple, Florida State, NC State, George Washington, UMass, Creighton, Marquette, Seton Hall, Indiana, Northwestern, UC-Irvine, Northeastern, Louisiana Tech, Green Bay, Iona, Western Michigan, Missouri State, Fresno State, New Mexico, Arizona State, Washington, Alabama, LSU, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, San Francisco

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Houston, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Duquesne, St. John's, Penn State, Texas Tech, Delaware, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Columbia, Princeton, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Southern Illinois, Boise State, Wyoming, Oregon State, USC, Washington State, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Portland, Saint Mary's, San Diego

2014-15 Preview: ACC

Atlantic Coast Conference

With the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and the impending addition of Louisville, there was a lot of hype about the ACC becoming the new basketball power. And it didn't quite work out in year one, though it would be silly to be too down on the ACC. After all, the league had three legitimate contenders for a 1 seed, landing one in the end with Virginia. But still, most of the league ended on a disappointing note. Virginia ended up going down in the Sweet 16, Duke went down to Mercer, Syracuse faded badly... But so it goes. Adding the team that was arguably the best in the nation this past season means that the ACC is primed to be even stronger next season. And maybe they'll get back to being the nation's strongest conference.

Let's start with the Virginia team that earned the outright ACC regular season title. I've been a big Tony Bennett fan for years, and it was nice to see him finally break through and win a conference title, and to finally begin shedding the stereotypes that his teams can't score or don't have enough talent to compete at the highest levels. Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell graduate, but everybody else should be back. Malcolm Brogdon was the team's leading scorer, and he'll start in the backcourt again with point guard London Perrantes, who had a really nice freshman season. They need more backcourt depth, but could get it from 2013 recruit Devon Hall or BJ Stith (Scout: 16 SF, Rivals: 48). The front court is a bit more of a concern. Mike Tobey, Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson are all good players, but none is much of a scorer. Of the three, Gill was the most efficient scorer this past season, finishing with a 58.7 eFG%. The Cavaliers also add 6'8" Isaiah Wilkins (Rivals: 107).

Duke is a tough team to figure out because it really does seem like Jabari Parker is on the fence about entering the NBA Draft. Rodney Hood is likely going pro, and the team loses Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston to graduation, but if Parker returns they'll very likely be the #1 team in the country preseason. Aside from Parker, who are the key returners? The backcourt will again be strong, returning Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, and likely getting a lot more from 6'4" Matt Jones, who struggled at times as a true freshman. Coach K adds Tyus Jones (Scout: 2 PG, Rivals: 5) and Grayson Allen (Scout: 7 SG, Rivals: 34). The front court will be a bigger question mark if Parker leaves, as he really was the only productive true front court player (Rodney Hood was basically a 6'8" shooting guard). Marshall Plumlee could be more of a factor next season, though he's still not much of an offensive player. 6'6" Semi Ojeleye didn't play much as a true freshman, but he was a blue chip 2013 recruit. And the team adds 6'10" Jahlil Okafor (Scout: 1 C, Rivals: 1) and Justise Winslow (Scout: 4 SF, Rivals: 9). Parker was forced to play center all season because the team didn't have any other real bigs, but if he somehow comes back and can shift to power forward with Okafor at center, he will suddenly look a lot better defensively and make this Duke team just filthy deep and talented.

Syracuse had a crazy string of luck, winning their first eight games decided by six points or less before losing five of their final six. We were deluded with the insane stats that Tyler Ennis had in the clutch (like this), but then Ennis made several key mistakes and missed several key shots late in close games late in the season. It's just the zillionth example of "clutch stats are random and should not be treated like a repeatable skill". But this Syracuse team was, if anything, a little underrated by the end of the season. They have several key losses, though. CJ Fair graduates and Tyler Ennis is off to the NBA. Jerami Grant is 50/50 on going to the Draft, but for the sake of this preview I'm going to assume he stays. The key returner is Trevor Cooney, who shot out of his mind earlier in the season before regressing to the mean later on, so it's not totally clear what type of player he'll be next season. They also return Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije, and also get back DaJuan Coleman, who missed most of the season with injury. Also look for 6'7" Tyler Roberson and 6'7" BJ Johnson, both 2013 recruits who played sparingly as true freshmen, to contribute more next season. They also add Chris McCullough (Scout: 3 PF, Rivals: 16). But while the Orange will have a ton of size and likely a good defense again, the question comes back to offense. They magically found offense early in the season with the emergence of Tyler Ennis as a star point guard and playmaker. Next year they'll be back (likely) to another freshman point guard: Kaleb Joseph (Scout: 16 PG, Rivals: 55). If he doesn't play really well right off the bat, Syracuse could be in big trouble scoring the ball.

Louisville is the ACC newcomer, coming off two seasons of arguably being the best team in the nation with arguably the best player in the nation (Russ Smith). But this is perhaps the end of an era for Louisville, with the loss of Russ Smith. Luke Hancock also graduates, as does Stephen Van Treese, and most people think that Montrezl Harrell will go pro. That would leave only Chris Jones back from the starting lineup. Off the bench, Louisville returns combo guard Terry Rozier, shooting guard Wayne Blackshear and 6'10" Mangok Mathiang. Of the three, Rozier is the one most likely to develop into a star player next season. Shooting guard Anton Gill, a 2013 recruit, is another player expected to take a step forward next season. But Louisville's success next season will come down to the play of a gigantic 2014 recruiting class, led by Shaqquan Aaron (Scout: 11 SF, Rivals: 27), Quentin Snider (Scout: 7 PG, Rivals: 31), Jaylen Johnson (Scout: 14 PF, Rivals: 56) and Chinanu Onuaku (Scout: 9 C, Rivals: 65).

North Carolina is a team that finished the season very strong, including that late 12 game winning streak, and they should be even better next season. James Michael McAdoo is going pro, and with his physical size and strength he should be an okay pro, but I don't think it's a huge loss for North Carolina. It was a running joke that almost every North Carolina game I saw the announcers would bemoan that McAdoo was having a tough game... if that's the case every game, maybe it's just that everybody's expectations for him were too high. The real superstar for North Carolina this past season was Marcus Paige, and he says he'll back, along with Brice Johnson. The one graduation is Leslie McDonald. Kennedy Meeks will be back, and he along with Brice Johnson both look like really special players who could be an awfully good starting front court next season. Look for 6'8" Isaiah Hicks, a highly touted 2013 recruit, to be a much bigger part next season with McAdoo gone. Roy Williams has two blue chippers coming on board in the front court, too: Justin Jackson (Scout: 3 SF, Rivals: 10) and Theo Pinson (Scout: 10 SF, Rivals: 19). In the backcourt, starters Paige and JP Tokoto return. Nate Britt is the one returner off the bench, and they add Joel Berry (Scout: 3 PG, Rivals: 25). If Jabari Parker goes pro, expect a lot of people to project UNC as the ACC favorite.

Pitt was an underrated team all season long, finishing with a nearly identical efficiency margin in conference play (+0.05 PPP) to North Carolina (+0.07), and deservedly being a big Vegas favorite in their 8/9 game. They lose do-everything star Lamar Patterson, along with Talib Zanna. They have a couple of good offensive creators in James Robinson and Josh Newkirk, so I wouldn't expect their offense to fall off a cliff. Their front court will be anchored by Michael Young, and they also get back 6'6" Durand Johnson, who was lost for the season with a knee injury in early January. Off the bench, 6'7" Jamel Artis seems like the best sleeper to take the next step to being a quality ACC player next season. Jamie Dixon's 2014 recruiting class is deep, but without any blue chippers. The most talented of the bunch, 6'11" Shaquille Doorson, is considered a project. So I'm not sure I'd bet on Pitt getting back to the Top 25, but they have to at least be in that discussion.

The final NCAA Tournament team out of the ACC this past season was NC State... for some reason. They were far and away the oddest at-large team chosen. Though whether it's motivation from being trashed all week or what, that last team in always seems to do well, and NC State won their play-in game and would have taken out St. Louis if not for a brutal collapse late in that Round of 64 game. They lose Jordan Vandenberg to graduation, star TJ Warren to the NBA, and Tyler Lewis to transfer. The backcourt returns Anthony Barber, Ralston Turner and Desmond Lee from the regular rotation, and they add Trevor Lacey (11.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg and 3.2 apg as a sophomore at Alabama). Twins Caleb Martin (Scout: 13 SF, Rivals: 59) and Cody Martin (Scout: 26 SF, Rivals: 106) could play in the backcourt as well. The front court is going to be very young next season, as all of the top returners were freshmen this past season, led by 6'8" Leonard Freeman. Their highest rated 2014 recruit is 6'8" Abdul-Malik Abu (Scout: 12 PF, Rivals: 50). The concern for the team is definitely going to be offensive playmaking, though. Trevor Lacey is going to have to be a star for this team to be better.

Florida State went through a fun four year run from 2008-09 to 2011-12 where they were arguably the best defense in the nation every year, featuring probably the most imposing front line in the nation. Then everybody graduated and the defense was pretty bad in 2012-13. But now, Leonard Hamilton has a new bunch of impressive defensive bigs, and while the overall team defense wasn't great this past season, you can see the pieces of a potentially strong defense next season, led by Boris Bojanovsky, Michael Ojo and Jacquez Smith. And they should get back 7-footer Kiel Turpin, who missed the season with injury, and would give Florida State three 7+ foot players in their regular rotation. That said, Okaro White graduates, as does point guard Ian Miller. Devon Bookert and Aaron Thomas are the top two backcourt returners, but I don't think they really going to scare anybody in the ACC. A big need will be shooting guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, their top 2013 recruit, who was academically ineligible to play this past season. 6'7" Montay Brandon, a wing player, also looked a lot better late in the season and should be improved next season.

Clemson was a team that played in a whole lot of ugly games. Their defense was strong, but their offense was brutal, particularly shooting the ball. They were dead last in the ACC in 3P% and 2nd to last in eFG%. And the one guy on the team who could score consistently, KJ McDaniels, looks like he's more likely than not leaving for the NBA Draft. But with everybody else back, the defense should still be strong. Rod Hall and Damarcus Harrison are a solid backcourt, with Landry Nooko anchoring the paint defensively. 6'7" Jaron Blossomgame is a freshman who came on strong late in the season and should be better next season. They will get back shooting guard Patrick Rooks, a 2013 recruit who took a redshirt. Also look for a lot of playing time for 6'8" Donte Grantham (Scout: 21 SF, Rivals: 66), who should immediately be one of the best offensive players on the roster.

While you can't quibble too much with Tony Bennett getting an ACC Coach of the Year award, I believe that the team which outperformed its roster the most this past season was Miami. They lost everybody from their 2012-13 team other than Rion Brown. That said, they got Garrius Adams back and added Donnavan Kirk as a transfer, and those three all started this past season and now all graduate. So Miami is losing three starters again. They also lose Erik Swoope off the bench. But Jim Larranaga has some good young returning talent, and is again bringing in some transfers. The top returners are 5'9" Manu Lecomte, 6'7" James Kelly and 7-footer Tonye Jekiri. They should get back shooting guard Deandre Burnett, a 2013 recruit who missed the season with injury. The transfers are Angel Rodriguez (11.4 ppg and 5.2 apg as a sophomore at Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (13.5 ppg and 3.9 rpg as a sophomore at Texas). The 2014 recruiting class is led by Ja'Quan Newton (Scout: 10 SG, Rivals: 35). They'll definitely have more offensive weapons next season, but the question is where the big man depth and talent will come from.

Danny Manning absolutely could not have walked into a better situation than Wake Forest. I actually perfectly predicted the Jeff Bzdelik tenure at Wake Forest four years ago. Bzdelik is a fairly good coach, but he's not a quick-fixer-upper. Coming into a totally screwed up situation where the few good players had to be jettisoned for bad behavior, it was always going to take him four or five years to get the team back to the NCAA Tournament. Throw that in with his slow style of basketball and I figured Wake Forest fans and the media were going to hate him too much to let him complete his rebuild. Which is exactly what happened. This Wake Forest team actually was fairly decent this past season, finishing just outside the Top 100 in the computers. With everybody by Coron Williams and Travis McKie coming back, this Wake Forest team is primed to make a run at an at-large bid next season. And now Manning walks in with tons of media love after winning an at-large bid with Tulsa. He has to be the preseason pick for ACC Coach of the Year. Their star is Codi Miller-McIntyre, and he'll be back along with 6'9" Devin Thomas. They should get back 6'6" Greg McClinton, their top 2013 recruit who missed the season with a torn ACL. Their top 2014 recruit is 6'3" Shelton Mitchell (Scout: 15 PG, Rivals: 67). Expectations are going to be incredibly low for this team next season, but expect them to be exceeded. Is Manning a better head coach than Bzdelik? I don't think we can know that yet, as Manning has only coached for two seasons. But the visceral hatred the entire campus had for Bzdelik will give Manning a nice several-year honeymoon in Winston Salem.

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

1. Duke - If Jabari Parker comes back, Duke will be the preseason #1. Even without him, they'll contend for the ACC title.
2. North Carolina - If Parker goes pro, I wouldn't be surprised to see North Carolina the preseason ACC favorite. I really like Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson to be stars next year.
3. Virginia - This team was a lot more than Joe Harris. They'll again be great defensively, and have a likely first team All-ACC player in Malcolm Brogdon.
4. Louisville - It's hard to figure out where to put this Louisville team. They'll have blue chip recruits out to their 8th and 9th men, but so much of next year's projection is just potential. They lose a ton.
5. Pittsburgh - They lose Lamar Patterson, but Pittsburgh's offense is always good (even if they never get credit for it because their tempo is too slow). I'm concerned about their depth, though.
6. Syracuse - This Syracuse team feels a whole lot like last year's team. If Kaleb Joseph turns into Tyler Ennis, this is a borderline Top Ten team. But if he isn't particularly good, the Syracuse offense will be just awful.
7. Miami - I'm not sure any team in the country is landing two transfers as skilled as Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellon. Rodriguez could end up first or second team All-ACC.
8. Notre Dame - Assuming Jerian Grant comes back, the Irish should be improved next season. It can't be overstated how important Garrick Sherman was to this team, though. He'll be very missed.
9. Wake Forest - This team probably needs one more player to make the NCAA Tournament, but they have to be in the discussion. Danny Manning is a huge unknown after only two seasons. This hire could end up blowing up in their face, but it could be brilliant. We can't know for a few years.
10. Clemson - Assuming KJ McDaniels is gone, it's going to be another year of ugly, low scoring games for Clemson.
11. Florida State -  I might be too low on the Seminoles here, but I'm concerned about their lack of depth and playmaking ability.
12. NC State - This is a team full of highly rated recruits, but Mark Gottfried isn't exactly known for getting the most out of talented recruits. The loss of Tyler Lewis is quietly a really brutal one, as he would have been their primary playmaker after the loss of TJ Warren.
13. Boston College - I kind of have to assume that Jim Christian will retain this roster. After all, a big reason Steve Donahue was fired was because of the players threatening to leave. If Christian can hold this roster together, it actually has some really talented offensive players on it. They just need to get (a whole lot) better defensively.
14. Georgia Tech - The Yellow Jackets lose three of their top four players off a team that wasn't good to begin with, and don't really have the top level talent to compete with the top half of the league.
15. Virginia Tech - I'm sure Buzz Williams will upgrade the talent level, but it's going to take time to get new players in here. And in the short term, as is often the case in coaching transitions, he's actually starting to lose players. Trevor Thompson has already announced that he's leaving via transfer.

2014-15 Preview: Big East

Big East Conference

How was year one of the New Big East? Meh, I guess. The Big East was certainly underrated, I think. People on twitter would get apoplectic when I'd point out that every computer rating I was aware of had the Big East rated higher than the AAC. But that's the nature of conference ratings. Most fans look at the top four or five teams, where the Big East was certainly weaker than the AAC. But the computers see that the second-to-worst Big East team (Butler) was inside the Top 100 in the computers, and thus well ahead of the 6th best AAC team. The Big East was a deep league, even if it was soft in the upper half. Villanova's 16-2 record was still awfully impressive.

But there are some cracks in the facade with players leaving and rumors of maybe another coach or two leaving. Buzz Williams leaving Marquette to get paid less at Virginia Tech next year is a big blow. I feel like we need to give the Big East a few years to find an equilibrium. How does Creighton do in the post-Doug McDermott world? Can Butler still thrive in the post-Brad Stevens world? What happens to Marquette now? What is going on at St. John's? There is a lot in flux with the Big East right now, as one would expect with a new conference. And the poor NCAA Tournament performance was not a good start.

Let's begin with Villanova. Was this team really underrated or really overrated? I feel like I'm leaning toward the former, but I can see the argument for the latter. Their season was just so bizarre. Getting crushed by Creighton twice but going 16-0 against the rest of the Big East is just the start of it. And this team should be stronger next season, losing just James Bell from the starting rotation and Tony Chennault off the bench. Ryan Arcidiacono will be back to run the point, and their backcourt will be boosted by the return of Dylan Ennis, along with Phil Booth (Scout: 12 SG, Rivals: 85). Their strength is going to be on the wings, where Darrun Hilliard (who technically played shooting guard for the team) will be back, and they have two very good up-and-comers in 2013 recruits Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Mikal Bridges (Scout: 22 SF, Rivals: 84) also joins the team. All of the bigs from this past season will be back, led by JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu. Because of their poor NCAA Tournament performance, Villanova won't get a lot of respect in the preseason polls, but this is a team that should be awfully good next season. If there's one thing that keeps them from being a 1 seed it will be Ryan Arcidiacono. He has already started getting some of the Aaron Craft gritty, hustling white guy hype, but he just committed far too many turnovers for the number of assists he gets. That needs to get better.

A whole lot of people had the same thought about Creighton over the last few weeks: "Let's see how Greg McDermott does without Doug McDermott." In a sense that's unfair, as he won at Northern Iowa, and this past year's Creighton team was about a whole lot more than Doug McDermott, but the roster also loses a lot more than just Doug McDermott. Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat all graduate as well, making Austin Chatman the only returning starter. Who else returns from the regular rotation? Backup point guard Devin Brooks, 6'11" Will Artino and 6'6" Avery Dingman. Brooks is probably the strongest player of the three. They also get back Isaiah Zierden, who was lost for the season with injury on March 1st, and might end up the starting shooting guard next season. They do get back some redshirts from the 2013 recruiting class, including power forward Tony Hegner and 6'6" Darian Harris, but neither of them is a blue chip recruit. The 2014 recruiting class is led by 6'7" Leon Gilmore (Rivals: 121). It's hard not to see Creighton taking a big step back next season.

Xavier was set to just lose Isaiah Philmore from their starting lineup, but star playmaker Semaj Christon is off to the NBA, The three returning starters of Dee Davis, Justin Martin and big man Matt Stainbrook are all good (Davis will be the primary playmaker, presumably), but a lot of next season's success will come down to a very strong and deep (but young) core. Shooting guard Myles Davis and big men James Farr and Jalen Reynolds all played well in limited minutes this past season. Top 2013 recruit Brandon Reynolds, a point guard, didn't get on the court much as a true freshman, but could be a big part of next season. They add 6'4" Remy Abell (4.0 ppg and 1.5 rpg as a sophomore at Indiana) as well. And Chris Mack has a huge 2014 recruiting class signed: Trevon Bluiett (Scout: 12 SF, Rivals: 45), Makinde London (Scout: 17 PF, Rivals: 79), J.P. Macura (Scout: 20 SG, Rivals: 104), Edmond Summer (Scout: 27 SG, Rivals: 133) and Sean O'Mara (Scout: 25 C). So if that young talent pans out, Xavier should be better next season. But if it doesn't, or if Chris Mack leaves to take another job (he's been rumored for a couple already this offseason), then all bets are off.

The last NCAA Tournament team out of the Big East was Providence, but going one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament meant that Bryce Cotton didn't get the national attention that he deserved. He played a staggering 41.3 minutes per game in Big East play and 39.9 minutes per game on the season, which seems almost impossible. And he ran Providence's entire offense, made all their big plays, and did it all in an efficient way. He'll be missed big time, and Kadeem Batts graduates as well. As the team played a six man rotation, that means that they return four guys who got regular minutes, led by Josh Fortune and LaDontae Henton on the wings. They do have some key additions, as well as some question marks. Kris Dunn, the once highly touted recruit who has struggled badly with injuries and missed almost the entire 2013-14 season should be back, though obviously it would be a mistake at this point to expect too much of him. The 2013 recruiting class of Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, both wings, ended up involved in a sexual assault incident and were suspended for the entire season. Austin has since transferred out, but Bullock in theory will be back next season. The team also adds 6'5" Junior Lomomba, who averaged 5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game as a freshman at Cleveland State in 2012-13. Ed Cooley has a big recruiting class coming in also, led by 7'1" Paschal Chukwu (Scout: 8 C, Rivals: 60) and Jalen Lindsey (Scout: 19 SF, Rivals: 68). Depending on the production from Kris Dunn and the freshmen, and whether Bullock comes back, there's a large variance when trying to project Providence for next season.

St. John's was a very talented team that just didn't seem to fit together, and after a disappointing miss of the NCAA Tournament followed by a loss in the opening round of the NIT to NIT Giant Killer Robert Morris, the Johnnies are in trouble for next season. Orlando Sanchez and God'sgift Achiuwa graduate, Jakarr Sampson is off to the NBA, and Chris Obekpa and Max Hooper are going to transfer. And there are rumors floating around about both D'Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan transferring, but at this time both are still saying that they're staying. So who do we actually know will be on the roster next season? Phil Greene, Sir'Dominic Pointer and Jamal Branch, none of whom is taller than 6'5". 6'4" Felix Balamou played sparingly this past season and 6'7" Christian Jones took a redshirt, so those two players could potentially contribute next season. And they now have a big man as they recently inked 6'10" Adonis DeLaRosa. It's a start, but realistically Steve Lavin needs to avoid any more transfers and needs to add another big man or two (perhaps Juco transfers) this summer to have any chance of getting back to the Tourney bubble.

Georgetown had one of the more disappointing seasons in the entire nation, including quite a few heartbreaking losses. Next season, though, this roster will look very, very different. They lose a lot, but also bring in a real blue chip recruiting class. First, they lose Markel Starks, Nate Lubick and Moses Ayegba. The front court should be okay, even with all of those losses, with Joshua Smith expected back from his academic suspension and Mikael Hopkins turning into a really nice player defensively (though he needs an offensive game). 6'7" Reggie Cameron, a 2013 recruit who struggled as a true freshman, should be a significantly more important player next season, and they also add Isaac Copeland (Scout: 10 PF, Rivals: 37) and Paul White (Scout: 11 PF, Rivals: 54). On the wings, Jabril Trawick and Aaron Bowen both return, with Trawick potentially shifting down to be the starting shooting guard next season. The backcourt is the one place that Georgetown might have an issue. They return D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and add LJ Peak (Scout: 15 SG, Rivals: 76) and Tre Campbell (Scout: 19 PG, Rivals: 115). That's a quality starting backcourt, but not a lot of depth. I'd expect Georgetown to play much of the time without a traditional point guard, using Smith-Rivera as the de facto PG but running a lot of the offense through Trawick and Josh Smith. It's a team that should be better, if JTII can make this roster construction work.

Butler was a team that suffered more than its share of bad luck this past season, and I'm not even including the loss of Brad Stevens in that. Even before the season started they lost their primary playmaker, Roosevelt Jones, to injury. Then, they proceeded to go 5-8 in games decided by six points or less or in overtime, including a crazy stretch around the start of the season where three out of four games were overtime losses. But despite going 4-14 in a disrespected league, they were still a borderline Top 100 team and will get back Roosevelt Jones. That said, I believe transfer Tyler Lewis will have to sit out the next season, and they lose Khyle Marshall and Erik Fromm. The trio of Jones, Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow gives them three strong offensive players, with Kam Woods and Andrew Chrabascz anchoring the paint. If there's a sleeper for next season it's 6'4" Elijah Brown, a 2013 recruit who struggled to shoot as a true freshman. Their 2014 recruiting class is led by 6'6" Kelan Martin (Rivals: 143).

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

1. Villanova - This is an easy pick. Villanova is going to start the season ranked in the 10-15 range in the national polls, but I think they'll be underrated. This is a team that can make a run at a 1 seed.
2. Xavier - This spot is entirely predicated on Chris Mack staying and keeping this roster together. But if he does, Xavier should be improved.
3. Georgetown - Because of their reliance on young players, Georgetown could miss the tourney again, but they could also get back to being a borderline Top 25 team. They definitely have depth and talent. A full season of Josh Smith is key.
4. Butler - Kellen Dunham looked like a superstar at times, but he was awfully inconsistent. If he can pull his game together, this could be a really good Butler squad.
5. Providence - Can Kris Dunn actually play a full season and live up to the hype he got out of high school? If he can, this can be a tourney team again.
6. Creighton - Welp. It's a cliche, but let's see what Greg McDermott does without Doug McDermott.
7. Marquette - Buzz Williams put together a nice recruiting class before jumping ship. The first job for Steve Wojciechowski is holding that class together, particularly with the graduation of four of their top six minute earners. At last count, he was already down Marial Shayok, and Sandy Cohen might go as well.
8. Seton Hall - Kevin Willard is on the hot seat, but he has a nice recruiting class coming in, led by blue chipper Isaiah Whitehead (Scout: 1 SG, Rivals: 14). Replacing Big East Defensive Player of the Year Fuquan Edwin is the biggest concern.
9. St. John's - Things are getting to be a mess with the Johnnies. Don't be surprised if this is Steve Lavin's last season coming up.
10. DePaul - No, I don't know why Oliver Purnell wasn't fired. If anything, DePaul will be worse next season. They lose a lot to graduation and have nobody of note coming in their recruiting class.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

2014-15 Preview: Big Ten

Big Ten Conference

Was the Big Ten the best conference in the nation? I argued all season long that I felt it was, though you could certainly argue for the Big 12. Those two were clearly a step ahead of every other league. The Big Ten came within a single day of matching the all-time record with three teams in the Final Four, but in the end only Wisconsin got there, and the Big Ten's title drought continues. Next year the league is going to be very different, though. My argument for the Big Ten over the Big 12 consisted of, basically, "The Big 12 has TCU and the Big Ten doesn't", which of course led to the point that from TCU's perspective, the Big 12 was probably the nation's toughest conference. Fair enough. But the Big Ten is now getting its own TCU in Rutgers.

Now, let's not forget that Nebraska basketball was basically Rutgers for most of the last 20 years, and Rutgers should get a boost from being in the Big Ten. And that's all true, but there are two big differences that suggest Rutgers fans shouldn't prepare for an at-large bid in two seasons. First, Nebraska has Tim Miles and Rutgers doesn't. Second, Nebraska invested heavily in facilities, which made it easier to upgrade their talent. Maybe the new Big Ten Network money will lead Rutgers to invest more heavily in basketball, but it hasn't happened yet.

Anyway, that's enough talking about Rutgers. Let's talk about the Big Ten's Final Four team: Wisconsin. Both Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky are saying that they'll return next season, which immediately puts Wisconsin in the discussion for the best team in the nation. The only player that they lose from their regular rotation is Ben Brust. And people who don't pay attention to college basketball before March might have just discovered Frank Kaminsky in the Elite 8, the reality is that he was great all season long. The Pomeroy ratings had him the Big Ten Player of the Year even before the tourney tipped off. With him back, along with Dekker, Nigel Hayes and Duje Dukan, along with 2013 recruit Vitto Brown and 6'7" Ethan Happ (Rivals: 140), the Wisconsin front court can only be better next season. Losing Brust means that they lose a backcourt starter, but they still return three very strong players (Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig), all of whom can play the point. The fourth guard will either be 2013 recruit Riley Dearring or Zak Showalter, who played off the bench as a freshman in 2012-13 season and took a redshirt this past season. Assuming Dekker and Kaminsky do indeed return, Wisconsin will likely be the preseason Big Ten favorite and a Top 5 team in the nation.

Michigan was the Big Ten's regular season champion, though they were a bit lucky to get there, going 5-0 in Big Ten regular season games decided by six points or less. Their efficiency margin in conference play (+0.10 PPP) was the same was Wisconsin and not much better than Iowa (+0.07 PPP). But they did it without Mitch McGary, which was extremely impressive, getting within a single play of the Final Four in the end. But for next year, they're awfully hard to project. Most people assume Nik Stauskas will go pro, even if it's not official yet. Mitch McGary and Glen Robinson III are on the draft bubble, though, as both are expected to be late first or early second round picks if they choose to come out. What about the rest of the rotation? Jordan Morgan graduates and Jon Horford announced earlier today his intent to transfer, which means that if McGary goes then there won't be a single proven big man returner. They will get back 6'8" 2013 recruit Mark Donnal, who took a redshirt season, and add Kameron Chatman (Scout: 8 SF, Rivals: 29), 6'8" DJ Wilson (Rivals: 135) and 6'7" Ricky Doyle. They don't have any backcourt players coming in, but will have both Derrick Walton and Spike Albrecht, who can both handle the point. Caris LeVert was always a good defender, but improved a ton offensively as a sophomore, and could be the team's top scoring option next season. Zak Irvin will fill a lot of the Stauskas role next season as well. If Michigan can bring back McGary and Robinson, they will have the top-to-bottom talent to challenge Wisconsin. If those two players leave, though, the Wolverines will plummet down the standings.

Michigan State had perhaps a slightly unsatisfying season, as they were beat up with injuries all season long. They got the full roster back for the Big Ten tournament, and looked awfully impressive winning the title, but then had a clunker in the Elite 8 against UConn. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling graduate, while Gary Harris and Branden Dawson are both weighing whether to go pro. For the sake of this preview, I'm going to assume Harris goes and Dawson stays. The proven returners aside from (potentially) Dawson are Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine, who will likely be the starting backcourt next season. In the front court, they'll return Kenny Kaminski and Matt Costello off the bench. Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd could also return, but both are graduating with a year of eligibility left, and there are rumors about both players leaving to use their final year of eligibility at a school where they can play more. Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis were the 2013 recruiting class, and neither played much as a true freshman, but Schilling in particular should be due significantly more minutes as a sophomore. Tom Izzo's 2014 recruiting class is led by Lourawls Nairn (Scout: 24 PG, Rivals: 61).

Ohio State's season started out really well, but they faded a bit late. Still, they were better than their resume, and were a strong 6 seed that just ran into the buzzsaw of Dayton and lost on the final play of the game in the Round of 64. A tough end to the lightning rod career of Aaron Craft. Lenzelle Smith graduates as well, and LaQuinton Ross is going to the NBA. Amadeo Della Valle is leaving to go pro in Europe. Ohio State's front court should be improved next season, returning Sam Thompson and Amir Williams as likely starters, with the talented Marc Loving returning as well, along with the addition of 6'9" Anthony Lee (13.6 ppg and 8.6 rpg as a junior at Temple this past season), Keita Bates-Diop (Scout: 6 SF, Rivals: 24) and 6'9" David Bell. The backcourt returns a very talented defender in Shannon Scott (honestly, he was arguably better than Craft was), but he's not much of an offensive player. Shooting guard Kam Williams, a 2013 recruit, took a redshirt season and will likely feature prominently next season. They also add D'Angelo Russell (Scout: 3 SG, Rivals: 21) and Jae'Sean Tate (Scout: 14 SF, Rivals: 75), who was a small forward in high school but at 6'5", 200 pounds will likely be a shooting guard in the Big Ten. This is definitely where the concern is. I'm not sure who Ohio State's offensive creator is, and they might have another year of great defense with mediocre offense.

The final NCAA Tournament team from the Big Ten was Nebraska, with their amazing late season run, taking 10 of their final 12 regular season games to sneak in as an 11 seed. And with only Ray Gallegos graduating from their regular rotation, the question is whether Terran Petteway goes pro. The smart move would be to stay, and if he does then it would be hard for Nebraska not to be improved. Their top returners aside from Petteway are probably 6'7" wing Shavon Shields and 6'10" Walter Pitchford. But before we put Nebraska into Big Ten title contention, or even the Top 25, the concern has to be raised about the level of raw talent at Nebraska. Tim Miles did a fantastic job squeezing what he could out of this roster with a really solid defense (their 0.98 PPP allowed in conference play were second only to Ohio State), but the defense was not explosive (they didn't force a lot of turnovers or block a lot of shots) and their offense was pretty mediocre. They just don't have blue chip talent, and don't have any of it coming in next season either. The best up-and-comer from the 2013 recruits is point guard Tai Webster, and their 2014 recruiting class is headed by 6'8" Jacob Hammond.

Iowa was probably the most underrated team in the nation this past season, due to horrifically bad luck in close games (2-9 in games decided by six points or less or in overtime, including 0-6 against Big Ten opponents). It's fitting that even in an NCAA Tournament play-in game they somehow ended up stuck playing one of the 20 best teams in the country... and then losing in overtime. It basically summed up their entire season. Yet despite having the toughest Big Ten SOS of any team in the top half of the league, their efficiency margin in conference play (+0.07 PPP) wasn't significantly behind regular season champion Michigan (+0.10 PPP). So we can play the guessing game what the narrative will be when next season, like Florida this past season, Iowa's luck in close games regresses to the mean. What about next season's roster? They lose star Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe, along with Zach McCabe off the bench. The front court should be fine, returning Aaron White, Gabriel Olaseni, Adam Woodbury and Jarrod Uthoff. On the wing they should look for increased production from Peter Jok, and also return Josh Oglesby. The question is going to be ball handling with the loss of Marble. Mike Gesell is going to have to take the next step as a player, because there aren't other obviously good options. Juco transfer Trey Dickerson might be the next man up.

Maryland has spent the last two seasons finishing up just on the wrong side of the bubble. Now that they're joining the Big Ten, can Mark Turgeon finally get this team Dancing? Well, they didn't have a single senior in their regular rotation, but Mark Turgeon signed a massive 2014 recruiting class, leading them to be way oversigned. The result was that three players are transferring out, and all three were from the regular rotation: Nick Faust, Shaq Cleare and Roddy Peters. Star Dez Wells and wing Evan Smotrycz will both be seniors next season, and the team also returns big man Charles Mitchell. But the front court is a concern with the transfers out, without much in the way of proven returners. 6'9" 2013 recruit Damonte Dodd didn't do much as a true freshman, but could see much more playing time if he can improve over the offseason. The 2014 recruiting class includes a pair of 7-footers: 7'1" Trayvon Reed (Scout: 12 C, Rivals: 96) and 7'0" Michal Cekovsky. The backcourt should be strong, with Seth Allen running the point and Dez Wells alongside. They also add a pair of blue chippers in Romelo Trimble (Scout: 8 PG, Rivals: 36) and Dion Wiley (Scout: 4 SG, Rivals: 49).

Indiana continues to have massive roster turnover every year under Tom Crean. Yogi Ferrell improved significantly from his freshman season, and he will anchor next season's team, but after him there are going to be a lot of changes. Will Sheehey and Evan Gordon graduate, Noah Vonleh is off to the NBA, and Jeremy Hollowell and Austin Etherington are leaving via transfer (not to mention Luke Fischer who left via transfer midseason). This means that the only really proven players returning alongside Ferrell are Stanford Robinson, who struggled mightily as a true freshman, and wing Troy Williams. Bigs Devin Davis and Hanner Mosquera-Perea played sparingly this past season, but could see more time simply because somebody has to be on the floor. Tom Crean has a pair of blue chippers coming in: James Blackmon (Scout: 6 SG, Rivals: 23) and Robert Johnson (Scout: 9 SG, Rivals: 42).

Minnesota had a solid first season under Richard Pitino, winning the NIT. Austin Hollins graduates, but the Gophers should be fine in the backcourt, returning Andre Hollins and point guard Deandre Mathieu, while adding Juco transfer Carlos Morris, but they might need a little more depth. Minnesota will probably have a bigger lineup next season, returning 6'11" Elliott Eliason while having more minutes available for 6'10" Maurice Walker, 6'9" Joey King and 6'8" Oto Osenieks.

It feels like a million years ago, but Illinois was ranked in the Top 25 when Big Ten play tipped off this season. They didn't deserve to be ranked, sitting in the mid-40s in the computers, but if not for a brutal 8 game losing streak from January into early February, they actually would have had a pretty successful season. They still managed to get to 7-11 in Big Ten play, and were starting to get into the bubble discussion before falling short against Michigan by 1 point in the Big Ten tournament. They should be significantly stronger next season, losing only Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey and adding three transfers: Aaron Cosby (12.6 ppg and 3.0 apg as a sophomore at Seton Hall), Ahmad Starks (10.4 ppg and 2.3 apg as a junior at Oregon State) and Darius Paul (10.4 ppg and 5.7 rpg as a freshman at Western Michigan). With Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams and NNanna Egwu all seniors next season, Illinois has a nice mix of experienced quality players and up-and-coming raw talent. Look for more production out of shooting guard Kendrick Nunn and wing Malcolm Hill, both of whom are wing players. John Groce has a 2014 recruiting class highlighted by Leron Black (Scout: 9 PF, Rivals: 41).

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

1. Wisconsin - It's going to be hard to find a weakness for this Wisconsin team. They needed more size and rebounding this past season, but Vitto Brown and Ethan Happ should help. Also, considering the natural progression of big men at Wisconsin, Nigel Hayes could be scary good next season.
2. Michigan - This is the one Big Ten team that you can argue as a Big Ten favorite over Wisconsin, assuming they get back Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. But you can make a good case that there isn't a single NBA Draft "bubble" candidate who will mean more to his team by coming back than McGary. There simply isn't another proven big man on the roster.
3. Ohio State - A lot of people are down on Ohio State next season, but they actually should be a similar team. They're still going to be viciously good defensively. The question is offense, but it's not like their offense was good this past season either.
4. Iowa - The Hawkeyes might take a little step back next season, but they should still be a borderline Top 25 team at worst. Backcourt depth is their biggest concern.
5. Illinois - This is going to be the most talented Illinois team in years, but to be a real contender for second or third place in the Big Ten they're going to need a second scorer beyond Rayvonte Rice. That scorer might have to be one of the transfers.
6. Maryland - The Terps definitely seemed on pace to be a Top 25 team next season, but the three players who chose to clear up scholarships are a bad sign. Nick Faust, in particular, is a tough loss.
7. Nebraska - The Huskers should get back to the NCAA Tournament if Terran Petteway is back, but the offense is going to need to get a lot better for them to reach the Top 25.
8. Michigan State - Even assuming Branden Dawson is back, I still need to drop the Spartans here. Their offense is going to struggle in a big way without Appling, Harris or Payne.
9. Minnesota - The Gophers have a good chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but backcourt depth is a problem if Carlos Morris doesn't live up the hopes that Minnesota fans have for him.
10. Purdue - The Boilermakers need AJ Hammons to skip the NBA Draft to have a real chance at an at-large bid, but they still have some young talent to build around. Kendall Stephens and Basil Smotherman both had very strong freshman seasons, and their 2014 recruiting class is led by 7'1" Isaac Haas.
11. Indiana - Unless Tom Crean finds some quality additions before next season tips off, his seat might actually start getting a bit warm.
12. Northwestern - With Drew Crawford leaving, Northwestern could take a small step back next season, but it seems like Chris Collins is upgrading the level of talent in Evanston with a really nice recruiting class (by Northwestern standards), led by Vic Law (Scout: 17 SF, Rivals: 86).
13. Penn State - Tim Frazier graduates, which means that the team turns over to DJ Newbill. But who else do they have who can create their own shot?
14. Rutgers - I wasn't a big fan of the Eddie Jordan hire, and there's no sign right now that he's putting together a program that can compete seriously in the Big Ten. It could be a very long season in Piscataway.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

2014-15 Preview: Big 12

Big 12 Conference 

Kansas won the Big 12, which was the least stunning news in college basketball this past season. Bill Self always wins the Big 12. But in the end, despite the fact that some computer ratings had the Big 12 the best conference in the nation (the Big Ten and Big 12 were clearly the top two leagues, in some order), the league fell relatively flat in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas was stunned in the Round of 32 by Stanford. Oklahoma was stunned by North Dakota State in the Round of 64. Oklahoma State fell apart due to injuries and foul trouble and was playing walk-ons in crunch time in a Round of 64 loss to Gonzaga (cult hero Mason Cox played ten minutes). The only two Big 12 teams to make the Sweet 16 were Baylor and Iowa State, and both lost, with Baylor going down in an embarrassing rout (Iowa State, to be fair, was missing perhaps their second best player). But as I always say, you should never draw conclusions about players, coaches or conferences by the results of a single elimination tournament. The Big 12 was still unquestionably one of the two best leagues in the nation.

Let's start with that Kansas team. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid are off to the NBA, but everybody else from the regular rotation other than Tarik Black will be back. Expect Frank Mason to take over more of the ball handling from the talented but inconsistent Naadir Tharpe. Wayne Seldon will return on the wing, along with Perry Ellis, who looks like he's 40 years old but improved a whole lot between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Jamari Taylor is the other proven front court returner, and the team also adds 6'10" Hunter Mickelson, who averaged 5.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game over two seasons at Arkansas. Look for Conner Frankamp to see more of a regular role next season, along with 6'6" Brannen Greene. Bill Self's 2014 recruiting class had two more blue chippers in Cliff Alexander (Scout: 3 C, Rivals: 4) and Kelly Oubre (Scout: 1 SF, Rivals: 12). And Kansas is still in the mix for Myles Turner. In other words, don't expect them to give up that Big 12 title streak easily next season.

Iowa State won the Big 12 tournament title and had all sorts of hype before the NCAA Tournament before it got derailed by the Georges Niang injury. That said, it's worth noting that they were 6-1 in games decided by 6 points or less against Big 12 opponents, and that their efficiency margin in conference play (+0.01 PPP) was barely better than West Virginia (-0.00 PPP). They simply weren't as good as their resume. Melvin Ejim somehow won the Big 12 Player of the Year despite (in my opinion) being only the third best player on his own team, but the best player on his team (DeAndre Kane) also graduates. Niang should be back with Dustin Hogue, and starting point guard Monte Morris was only a true freshman. Matt Thomas and Naz Long are two wings who should be strong players next season. They don't have any highly touted 2014 recruits signed yet, but the question with Iowa State is always transfers. They add former Marquette recruit Jameel McKay, who is 6'9", along with 6'7" Abdel Nader, who averaged 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for Northern Illinois in 2012-13. They're also in the mix for Bryce DeJean-Jones of UNLV, though that is still undecided.

Oklahoma State had a wildly frustrating season. They were super talented, and clearly a top ten team in the computers prior to losing Michael Cobbins to injury and Stevie Clark to team dismissal. Even with all the losses (Marcus Smart's three game suspension nearly cost the team an at-large bid) the team still finished third in the league in efficiency margin (+0.06 PPP), which was better than Iowa State. But by the end of the season the team was so beat up with bumps and bruises that Travis Ford either had to play limping players or walk-ons (hello, Mason Cox) late in competitive games. And so a season that had national title aspirations early on ended up in a Round of 64 loss. Marcus Smart is off to the NBA, while Le'Bryan Nash is supposedly 50/50 for the draft. For the sake of this preview, I'm going to assume Nash is gone as well. Markel Brown graduates, which would make Cobbins, Phil Forte, Kamari Murphy and Brian Williams the only returners from the regular rotation. There's still a small chance that Stevie Clark will return to the school next season, but if not then the most promising member of that 2013 recruiting class is 6'7" Leyton Hammonds, who showed some sparks late in the season when his playing time was increased due to the other absences. Ford does have a deep 2014 recruiting class lined up, headed by Jared Terrell (Scout: 16 SG, Rivals: 63), Mitch Solomon (Scout: 11 C, Rivals: 72) and Joe Burton (Scout: 18 SF, Rivals: 89).

Oklahoma was the quiet, solid team in the Big 12 all season long, working their to second place in the Big 12 and a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But North Dakota State was a tough draw and took them down in the Round of 64, dealing a sour end to the season. But they lose only Cameron Clark from their regular rotation. In fact, their other four starters were all freshmen and sophomores, led by leading-scorer Buddy Hield and big man Ryan Spangler. Wing players Je'lon Hornbeak and Frank Booker are two other young players who should be better in increased playing time next season. The biggest need for Oklahoma is a back-to-the-basket post scorer, and they will hope to have that in a 2014 recruiting class led by Khadeem Lattin (Scout: 16 C, Rivals: 124) and Dante Buford (Scout: 28 PF, Rivals: 128).

The biggest positive surprise in the Big 12 this past season was Texas, powered by a stud freshman (point guard Isaiah Taylor) and a vastly improved front court (led by Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert) that dominated the glass. 5'11" Javan Felix was also a freshman, and the team also had several key bench pieces who were freshmen and sophomores, including 6'10" Prince Ibeh and 6'3" Kendal Yancy. In fact, they didn't have a single senior on the roster. They've also signed Jordan Barnett (Scout: 28 SF, Rivals: 101), and are in the mix for another blue chip recruit or two. They'll enter next season as one of the top challengers to Kansas.

Baylor made at least the Sweet 16 in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Of course, they missed the NCAA Tournament altogether in 2009, 2011 and 2013. So if the pattern holds, next year it's back to the NIT. Will it hold? Well, a lot will depend on Isaiah Austin, who would likely be a first round pick if he decides to leave. Cory Jefferson, Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin graduate as well. They will return point guard Kenny Cherry and explosive big men Rico Gathers and Royce O'Neale, but after that? 6'7" Taurean Prince is the only other returner from the regular rotation. Two 2013 recruits who you didn't see much of but could contribute a lot next season are 6'6" Ish Wainright and shooting guard Allerik Freeman. Scott Drew's 2014 recruiting class doesn't have any big names signed yet (6'5" Kobe Eubanks is the highest rated thus far), but he's in the mix for a couple of blue chippers. He'll need one, though, or else Baylor will take a significant step back.

The last NCAA Tournament team from the Big 12 was Kansas State, and at this point we know the Bruce Weber routine. He's great at building a smart, high-IQ basketball team that plays solid defense and minimizes mistakes, but he can't recruit. So give him Frank Martin's team and he'll win you a share of the Big 12 title. But the talent level declined significantly in year two, and it's likely going to decline even more in year three. Shane Southwell and Will Spradling graduate, as does Omari Lawrence off the bench. They do have the tremendously talented Marcus Foster, who might have been the most underrated freshman in the nation, along with Thomas Gipson on the inside, but not much else. 6'7" Wesley Iwundu and 6'5" Nino Williams are the next two top returners. There's not much of a 2014 recruiting class (6'11" Juco transfer Stephen Hurt seems the best), but Bruce Weber does add a pair of solid transfers in Justin Edwards (15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game over two seasons at Maine) and 6'11" Brandon Bolden, who played sparingly as a freshman at Georgetown in 2012-13. Kansas State will remain a competitive team, but it's hard to see them not taking at least a small step back next season.

The one bubblish team in the Big 12 to miss the NCAA Tournament was West Virginia. They got great news with  Juwan Staten choosing to come back for his senior season. If Eron Harris wasn't leaving via transfer, the entire roster would be back. The loss of Harris means they might need another scoring guard to step up, but they should be really strong in the front court, led by Devin Williams and Nathan Adrian, who were both true freshmen this past season. They also have a slew of newcomers, led by power forwards Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton, both 2013 recruits who were declared academically ineligible and missed the season. They also add 5'11" James Long, who played sparingly at Wofford as a freshman, and a recruiting class led by point guard Daxter Miles. They'll definitely be improved.

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

1. Kansas - I mean, I kind of have to. Though they need one more blue chipper if they're going to get back to a 1 seed, I think.
2. Texas - To win a Big 12 title, Texas is going to have to be more than a dominant offensive rebounding team. They'll need to find a second scoring option beyond Isaiah Taylor.
3. Oklahoma - I'm not sure Oklahoma has the top end talent to challenge Kansas, but it's hard to see them not being a Top 25 next season.
4. West Virginia - Juwan Staten could be the Big 12 Player of the Year next season. The Mountaineers should get back to the NCAA Tournament.
5. Iowa State - I can't drop Iowa State further than this, but Fred Hoiberg is going to need another transfer or two over the summer to get back to the Top 25. Don't put it past him, though. Bryce DeJean-Jones has already come to campus for a visit.
6. Oklahoma State - I'm not sure Oklahoma State fans totally appreciated just how good Marcus Smart was this past season. He was significantly improved from his freshman season, despite media coverage to the contrary. That's a huge roster hole to fill.
7. Kansas State - Bruce Weber's teams will always be tough to beat, and they'll never be out of the bubble hunt, but I don't think they'll be quite as good next season as they were this past season.
8. Baylor - The Bears definitely have a chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but only if Scott Drew can land at least one more quality recruit.
9. Texas Tech - If Coach of the Year awards made any sense, Tubby Smith would have won in the Big 12. The job he did with a roster completely bereft of talent was incredible this past season. The problem is, I don't see any reason they're going to be any more talented next season. Tubby needs a big recruit to change momentum.
10. TCU - The Horned Frogs should be a little bit better next season. Which is nice.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

2014-15 Preview: Pac-12

Pacific-12 Conference

The Pac-12 is a league that has been improving the last two seasons, and was highlighted by an awfully good Arizona team this past season. Arizona was probably the best team in the nation prior to the Brandon Ashley injury, and it was extremely impressive how they didn't even really drop off much after that injury. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, I had them as one of the three best teams in the nation (with Florida and Louisville), in spite of the Ashley injury. And there were plenty of other good teams. It felt like the rest of the league was on the bubble, and that was basically true. UCLA got in safely, but the next six teams in the standings were all fighting for the last few at-large spots. Interestingly, the team Pomeroy rated best of that bunch was Utah, a team that did not get in (more on that in my Utah preview below). Colorado did well to go Dancing despite the Spencer Dinwiddie injury. Oregon seemed the most dangerous of the bunch heading into the Tournament, but lost a classic to Wisconsin in the Round of 32. In the end it was Stanford that went furthest of the non-Arizona/UCLA squads, making it to the Sweet 16.

Let's start with that Arizona team that lost a heartbreaking Elite 8 game by a single point in overtime. This has become a theme for Sean Miller, who is now 0-3 in Elite 8 games in his first ten seasons as a head coach. But remember, narratives built around three game sample sizes are absurd. Going 0-3 in Elite 8 games in your first ten seasons is damn impressive - most coaches don't get to three Elite 8 games in their career. It's only a matter of time until Miller breaks through to a Final Four. Will it be next season? Well, Arizona was actually one of the youngest teams in the nation. None of their top eight minute earners were seniors, and they should get Brandon Ashley back. The question is, what happens with the Draft, where Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski are all questionable to enter or stay. For the sake of this preview, I'm guessing that Gordon and Johnson leave, while Hollis-Jefferson and Tarczewski return.

If that happens, Arizona will still return three proven front court players, along with Stanley Johnson (Scout; 2 SF, Rivals: 3) and Craig Victor (Scout: 4 PF, Rivals: 28). The question mark will be the backcourt. TJ McConnell will likely be the best point guard in the Pac-12, but neither of their other returners (Gabe York and Elliott Pitts) lit the world on fire this past season. They do add a blue chip backcourt recruit in Parker Jackson-Cartwright (Scout: 12 PG, Rivals: 57). Losing their two best players would be a blow, but Arizona would remain one of the best teams in the nation.

UCLA was the clear second best team in the Pac-12. Unfortunately, they ran into Florida in the Sweet 16, and the Gators have now knocked them out of four of the last nine NCAA Tournaments. They lose the Wear twins, who played so long that I believe they were originally recruited by Bill Guthridge, but the real concern is the NBA Draft, which has already claimed Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine, and could take Jordan Adams as well. If Adams goes, UCLA gets awfully thin in terms of returners. They'll have Norman Powell back, as well as big man Tony Parker and combo guard Bryce Alford, but that still leaves them in need of a point guard, a post scorer, and depth. They will get back shooting guard Isaac Hamilton, a highly touted 2013 recruit who took a redshirt season. They have a strong 2014 recruiting class, highlighted by Kevon Looney (Scout: 2 PF, Rivals; 13), Thomas Welch (Scout: 6 C, Rivals: 52) and Jonah Bolden (Scout: 6 PF, Rivals: 62). Their big need is definitely point guard.

Stanford might have saved the job of Johnny Dawkins with a strong Pac-12 tournament performance that earned them an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. And they followed that up by upsetting New Mexico and Kansas en route to the Sweet 16. They lose two starters, as well as their top two bench players. That includes leading rebounder Josh Huestis and leading assist man Dwight Powell. Aaron Bright is also transferring out, though he missed most of this past season with injury anyway. They will get back 6'9" Rosco Allen and 6'4" Christian Sanders, who both were on the edge of the rotation in 2012-13 but missed the 2013-14 season with injury (Allen played in one game while Sanders played in none). If Stanford is going to get back to the NCAA Tournament, however, they're going to need significant contributions from a deep and strong 2014 recruiting class consisting of Reid Travis (Scout: 7 PF, Rivals: 40), Michael Humphrey (Scout: 10 C, Rivals: 74), Robert Cartwright (Scout: 13 PG, Rivals: 78) and Dorian Pickens (Rivals: 126).

Oregon had an interesting season, though it was more a funny change in luck in close games than anything else. They started the season 13-0, lost 8 of their next 10, and then won their final 7 games. A lot of #narrative was written about that, but the dominant factor was luck in close games: they were 6-0 in games decided by 7 or less during that 13-0 start, then 0-5 during their losing streak, and 4-0 during their final winning streak. That's why the Pomeroy ratings had them 22nd when they were 13-0, 32nd after their losing streak, and 25th at the end of the regular season. In other words, they were basically a borderline Top 25 team all season long that just had wild drifts in dumb luck. But this was certainly a dangerous Oregon team that only went down in an absolute classic in the Round of 32 against Wisconsin (one of the two or three best games in the entire Tournament). What about next season? They lose three starters, and a pair of key bench pieces, led by Mike Moser, Johnathan Loyd and Jason Calliste. They return Joseph Young, Dominic Artis and Damyeon Dotson on the perimeter, but not much on the interior. 6'8" Ben Carter is probably their best returning big man. Their stud 2014 recruit is JaQuan Lyle (Scout: 4 PG, Rivals: 22).

Colorado was both very lucky and unlucky this past season. Unlucky in losing star Spencer Dinwiddie to injury midway through the season. But lucky in going 10-2 in games decided by six points or less. That's why they earned their 8 seed, but were a massive Vegas underdog against 9 seeded Pittsburgh. In fact, the computers generally had them as the second weakest at-large team in the entire field, ahead of only NC State. So what about next season? It seems like Dinwiddie is likely off to the NBA, but everybody else should be back, led by point guard Askia Booker and big man Josh Scott. And the most talented returner might be 6'9" Wesley Gordon, who led the team in offensive rebounding percentage as a redshirt freshman. One bench player to keep an eye on for next season is 6'7" Tre'Shaun Fletcher, Colorado's highest rated 2013 recruit. Their 2014 recruiting class is highlighted by Dominique Collier (Scout: 21 PG, Rivals: 94). Even if Dinwiddie leaves, Colorado should be significantly improved next season.

The final NCAA Tournament team from the Pac-12 was Arizona State. They are going to lose Jahii Carson to the NBA Draft, as well as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Bachynski to graduation, along with Jermaine Marshall. Jonathan Gilling leads the returners, and Shaquielle McKissic could be back as well, though he needs to get approval from the NCAA for one more year of eligibility. But without much else, Herb Sendek is going to be leaning heavily on a big 2014 recruiting class, led by Connor MacDougall (Scout: 17 C, Rivals: 91) and Tra Holder (Scout: 20 PG, Rivals: 109).

I talked above about how good Utah's computer numbers were, yet they weren't even really on the bubble on Selection Sunday, ending up as a 5 seed in the NIT. How was that possible? An awfully unlucky 3-8 record in games decided by six points or less. The good news for the Utes is that their entire starting rotation is back, led by primary playmaker Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge. One player to look for next season from the bench is 7-footer Dallin Bachynski. Larry Krystkowiak has a strong 2014 recruiting class, led by Brekkott Chapman (Scout: 18 PF, Rivals: 53) and Kyle Kuzma (Scout: 26 PF). Barring any offseason roster losses, Utah should be a Top 25 team next season.

The other Pac-12 bubble team to end up in the NIT was California, who ended up a 2 seed, losing to SMU in the quarterfinals. They're in a bit of flux, though, with Mike Montgomery retiring and the graduations of Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon. They return a strong core of David Kravish, Jordan Mathews and Tyrone Wallace, as well as an up-and-comer in Jabari Bird, their top 2013 recruit, but you never know during these coaching transitions if some players will choose to leave. A solid 2014 recruiting class will also need to be held onto.

Of the four teams at the bottom of the conference, which are the most dangerous for next season? I think it has to be Washington, more than anything because they weren't that bad this past season to begin with, finishing with the same efficiency margin in conference play (-0.02 PPP) as Colorado. They lose CJ Wilcox and leading-rebounder Perris Blackwell to graduation (and lose bench piece Desmond Simmons via transfer), but they return a nice young backcourt duo of Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews. They add 6'11" Robert Upshaw, who averaged 4.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg and 1.8 bpg as a freshman at Fresno State, though there are some off-court issues that mean it's not a certainty that he'll take the floor for the Huskies next season. Their 2014 recruiting class is highlighted by Donaven Dorsey (Scout: 24 SF, Rivals: 112).

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

1. Arizona - Assuming that Arizona just loses Gordon and Johnson, they should be fairly heavy favorite to win the Pac-12 again, though they might not be quite as good of a team.
2. Utah - The Utes were arguably the strongest Pac-12 team not named Arizona or UCLA, and they return their entire starting rotation with a strong recruiting class. The media probably won't vote them Top 25 preseason, but I expect them to get there eventually.
3. UCLA - The Bruins need some playmakers, and they aren't going to have a lot of depth, but they probably have more raw talent than any Pac-12 team other than Arizona.
4. Colorado - Even assuming that Dinwiddie leaves for the NBA, Colorado should be significantly stronger next season.
5. Stanford - The Cardinal have a real chance to be improved next season from a team that made the Sweet 16. Don't sleep on them.
6. Oregon - Can't drop the Ducks any lower than this, though there is going to be a lot of pressure on JaQuan Lyle to produce right off the bat.
7. California - If the new coach loses players over the summer, I'll drop the Bears, but if they can keep the full roster together there's no reason they can't make another run at the bubble.
8. Washington - The Huskies definitely need Robert Upshaw to get on the court next season if they're going to make a run at an at-large bid. If they don't, you have to wonder if the seat is going to start getting hot under Lorenzo Romar.
9. Arizona State - There just isn't a lot coming back for Herb Sendek next season, even if Shaquielle McKissic gains another year of eligibility.
10. USC - Andy Enfield has a strong recruiting class coming in, led by Jordan McLaughlin (Scout: 9 PG, Rivals: 43), but he doesn't return much beyond Byron Wesley. At some point, Enfield has to start winning games or the media love is going to fade.
11. Oregon State - I honestly thought Craig Robinson was going to get fired this offseason. There is just no sense of positive momentum for this program.
12. Washington State - It might be a long season for the Cougars, but I like the hire of Ernie Kent. I wouldn't be stunned if they are a feisty team to play at home next season and if they steal a quality win or two.