Previewing Friday’s Sweet Sixteen games

What a difference Thursday and Friday is. Thursday? A rather unpredictable slate of games of teams that weren’t necessarily the experts picks to have moved on. Friday is exactly what most people assumed. Both the one seeds play on Friday and only Syracuse falls in the outlier category when on thursday more than half of the teams are seeded 7th or higher.

With a trip to the Elite Eight on the line Fridays slate of Sweet Sixteen games will be intense battles between historic coaches. Coach K, Bill Self and Jay Wright all headline an impressive friday slate. Who will make it to the Elite Eight and who will get their dreams crushed? Lets take our shot at predicting the unpredictable.

Kansas and Clemson:

Clemson is recently coming off a very strong win against the SEC regular season champions in Auburn. They face a Kansas team under Bill Self that has come on strong as of late and is getting a minutes restriction lift off of Udoka Azubuike. The difference is this game is just that.

While Clemson scores well and is balanced throughout their team, they lack a big man. With Udoka Azubuike on the floor, as well as the emergence of freshman Silvio De Sousa, the Clemson Tigers will have a tough time locking down the paint. As soon as they struggle with that, the lethal shooters on Kansas will get going.

Kansas will win this game 71-62 due to their ability to control the paint as well as the backboards.

West Virginia and Villanova:

Two of the very best college basketball coaches square off in this one. Jay Wright is leading a Villanova team that is looking very good in the NCAA tournament so far and West Virginia is coming off a dominant win against Marshall on Sunday. West Virginia or “Press” Virginia is a difficult team to prep for for some. Marshall had just two days to prep for them and it ended up costing them 18 turnovers which is a season high for them.

The Wildcats are different though. They have two guards in Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVencenzo who have been fantastic all season. They refuse to turn it over or speed up their games. This will be a game that questions if West Virginia can score in bunches offensively to keep up with the number one scoring offense in Villanova.

The best matchup in this game will be Jevon Carter drawing Jalen Brunson. Carter is nothing but productive and seems to make the game go however he and the press dictate. Jalen Brunson is exactly the same type of leader for Villanova. He never gets outside of himself and never does things to hurt their teams chances of winning the game.

Whoever wins that matchup will probably be on the winning side at the end of the 40 minutes. I think Nova takes this one 74-67 due to their tremendous offense and tremendous guards.

Duke and Syracuse:

Mens College basketball

Syracuse and Duke matching up.

Ah the battle of the zones. Duke has been much better offensively throughout this tournament. Instead of letting mediocre teams hang around they are taking big leads early and not looking back.

Syracuse is coming off an upset victory against Michigan State that has people thinking their zone just throws teams all out of sorts. Syracuse has the potential to be a zone killer because well one they practice against it every single day, and two because they have a guy in Marek Dolezaj who makes great decisions at the high post. Syracuse is not a particularly spectacular shooting team and needs Frank Howard and Tyus Battle to step up their scoring.

On the otherside we have a team that could potentially struggle against a good zone. Syracuse is a long zone and could make things tough for Duke. Duke has two tremendous three point shooters in Gary Trent jr and Grayson Allen. After that they don’t shoot it particularly great. Duke will struggle offensively and in turn we will see just how good their defense is.

Duke will win a very close one here. I have Duke winning this one 68-63 in a game that is close almost the whole time. If Syracuse can score well enough, they could even sneak out a huge upset win.

Texas Tech and Purdue:

I can’t imagine Isaac Haas playing in this game which could be a huge loss for the Boilermakers. The Red Raiders have dominated the defensive end all season. The stifle your offense and make you grind out long defensive possessions on the other end. They are effectively exactly what Virgina does. Keenan Evans has been very good scoring the basketball and will need to be in this game.

Purdue will struggle from the outside even though they have 4-5 guys that shoot it well and Texas tech will win this game 67-60 and absolutely shut down the Boliermakers’ offense.

 

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2018 Sweet 16 thoughts

Thoughts on the 2018 Sweet 16

The 2018 NCAA Tournament has certainly lived up to its billing as March Madness. We have seen No. 16 UMBC stun Virginia, the top seeded team in the tournament. The defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels got steamrolled by No. 7 Texas A&M, who appears to be peaking at the right time. Syracuse also shut down trendy national champion pick Michigan State to continue its unlikely run.

We have witnessed history numerous times this tournament, and it is safe to assume the upsets will not stop. Let’s dive in and take a look at how the chips have fallen in each region and what fans should expect moving forward.

Is No. 5 Kentucky a Final Four Lock?

When the bracket was revealed, it appeared that Kentucky would potentially have to get through Arizona, Virginia and Cincinnati to reach the Final Four. Thanks to the chaos that subsumed the South Region, Kentucky, a No. 5 seed, is the highest ranked team to reach the Sweet 16. Now coach John Calipari needs to defeat No. 9 Kansas State and either No. 7 Nevada or No. 11 Loyola-Chicago to reach San Antonio.

That being said, is Kentucky a lock to make the Final Four?

While they are certainly the heavy favorite, Kentucky is by no means a sure thing to reach San Antonio. However, this Kentucky team is clicking at the right time. In a 95-75 Round of 32 victory over Buffalo, four players scored double-digits. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander anchors the Kentucky offense, having dominated both games in the tournament. In Kentucky’s 78-73 win over Davidson, Gilgeous-Alexander scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out seven assists and recorded five steals.

2018 Sweet 16 thoughts

Kevin Knox needs to maintain consistency if Kentucky is to advance. (Photo by Chris Humphrey, SB Nation)

The key for Kentucky to continue its march to San Antonio is the play of both Kevin Knox and Wenyen Gabriel. Knox willed Kentucky past Davidson with 25 points on 50 percent shooting, but only mustered eight points against Buffalo. Meanwhile, Gabriel was a non-factor against Davidson, only scoring one point. But against Buffalo, Gabriel torched the Bulls by scoring 16 points and hauling in 12 rebounds.

Calipari needs these two players to show up on the same day moving forward. Gabriel’s ability to stretch the floor was dearly missed against Davidson, as the Wildcats did not record a single 3-point shot. This will create more space for Knox to work in the middle of the defense. Knox’s specialties are his mid-range shot and ability to get to the free-throw line (he shot 11 free throws against Davidson).

With all of this being said, the remaining three teams in the South all pose unique challenges to Kentucky. Kansas State ranks 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Barry Brown has buoyed Kansas State’s offense in the tournament thus far, scoring 18 points against both Creighton and UMBC.

Kansas State wants to slow down the pace of play and disrupt their opponent’s offensive rhythm. They are a tenacious on-ball defensive squad that is battle-tested thanks to a difficult Big 12 schedule this season. State’s defense held Creighton and UMBC to 33.8 and 29.8 percent shooting from the field respectively. The problem for Kansas State is on the other end of the court. Outside of Brown, State does not have any consistent offensive threats.

Loyola-Chicago and Nevada have each shown that they are unafraid of the spotlight in the tournament. The Ramblers relied on two game-winning shots with under five seconds to play. The Ramblers attack their opponents with a balanced offensive style. No player has scored over 16 points per game thus far in the tournament. Their defense leads into their offense.

Nevada is an explosive offensive team that can get up and down the court quickly. All five of their starters are capable of scoring double-digits. The Achilles heel of the Wolfpack could be their short bench or tendency to come out of the gate sluggish. Nevada needed two big comebacks to defeat both Texas and Cincinnati.

In short, Kentucky needs to play their best basketball moving forward if Calipari wants a chance to raise his second title banner at Kentucky.

Does Defense Win Championships?

The East Regional Sweet 16 features a tantalizing matchup between Villanova and West Virginia. Villanova features a high-flying offensive style that emphasizes the three ball. Meanwhile, West Virginia plays a pressure-oriented defense that is capable of dictating the pace of play.

Villanova has arguably been the most dominant team in the tournament. Mikal Bridges has been nothing short of dominant in both games. In Villanova’s 81-58 demolition of Alabama, Bridges poured in 23 points while shooting 62.5 percent from three.

2018 Sweet 16 thoughts

Donte DiVincenzo may be the key to Villanova’s Final Four chances. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The X-factor for Villanova is the offensive production of Donte DiVincenzo. DiVincenzo scored 18 points and dished out five assists against Alabama. When DiVincenzo’s shot is falling, Jay Wright’s squad becomes nearly unstoppable.

West Virginia comes into the this game after crushing Murray State and Marshall, two vastly overmatched teams. Everyone knew West Virginia’s defense could disrupt any team, but the question was whether they could muster up enough offense to make a run to the Final Four. Luckily for Bob Huggins, his team has averaged 89.5 points per game in the tournament.

Senior point guard Jevon Carter has anchored West Virginia so far, averaging 24.5 points per game. But the reemergence of Teddy Allen (16 points against Murray State), Lamont West (18 points against Marshall) and Esa Ahmad (12 and 10 points respectively) have added another dimension to this Mountaineer team.

Regardless, this showdown will be decided by whether Press Virginia can slow down Villanova’s 3-point offense. West Virginia’s defense wears opposing teams down and completely throws them off balance. West Virginia forced 16 and 18 turnovers against Murray State and Marshall respectively. Granted, there is a large step up in guard play from those two teams to Villanova.

Villanova’s versatile lineup is equipped to handle the relentless West Virginia pressure. Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, DiVincenzo and Bridges can all handle the ball and push it up the court. The key for teams playing against West Virginia is to not just beat the press, but attack it. Villanova is built similarly to Kansas, a team that beat West Virginia three times this season by attacking the press to score.

The key for West Virginia will be to avoid any prolonged scoring droughts. Even a great defensive team cannot entirely contain an offensive juggernaut like Villanova the whole game. West Virginia does a great job of jumping on teams with their intensity and pressure, but their inability to consistently implement their pressure after scoring tends to be their Achilles heel. Huggins needs Dexter Miles to rediscover his shot from the Big 12 Tournament if West Virginia wants a chance to take down Villanova.

Wild, Wild West

2018 Sweet 16 thoughts

Gonzaga should be the favorite to reach the title game on the left side of the bracket. (Photo by Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

The West Region saw the two top seeds, Xavier and North Carolina, fall hard in the Round of 32. Florida State avenged last season’s Round of 32 demolition at the hands of Xavier with a late-game comeback that catapulted them into the Sweet 16. Texas A&M destroyed the defending national champs from start to finish in a game that was not remotely competitive.

The intriguing aspect of this region is that all four remaining teams have a legitimate shot to make the Final Four. Gonzaga and Michigan, with all their talent, have looked shaky at times throughout the tournament. Texas A&M seems to have rediscovered their form from earlier in the season, and Florida State showed the grit and toughness necessary for a deep tournament run.

Texas A&M showcases a lineup that is long and dangerous offensively. Tyler Davis is a 6-foot-10, 266 pound behemoth who creates mismatches by simply walking onto the court. Davis controls the paint in most games and his efficiency is key for the Aggies.

However, the team that is the most equipped to escape the West, and reach the championship game, is Gonzaga. Gonzaga’s versatility matches up with every team on the left side of the bracket. Zach Norvell has torched teams from behind the arc and Johnathan Williams has bullied opponents in the paint. Josh Perkins brings experience at the point guard position, and we are still waiting for Killian Tillie to erupt from three.

 

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West Virginia blows another second half lead

No. 15 West Virginia entered its highly anticipated showdown against Kentucky desperately needing a victory. Head Coach Bob Huggins went back to what the Mountaineers do best: apply pressure defense.

In the first half, West Virginia jumped all over a sluggish Kentucky team. The Mountaineers forced 11 turnovers and shot approximately 58 percent from three point range. Kentucky did not appear to belong on the same floor as West Virginia.

Then the second half came and Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats saved their season. Kentucky rode freshman forward Kevin Knox’s season high 34 points to an impressive 83-76 comeback win on the road. Kentucky outscored West Virginia by 22 points in the second half in a stunning turnaround that saw Huggins’s crew blow yet another second half lead.

West Virginia is now stuck in a brutal stretch which has seen them lose four of their last five games, squandering double-digit leads in three of those games.

Inconsistent Half-Court Offense

Freshman Teddy Allen has endured an up-and-down debut season for the Mountaineers (Photo by Kevin Kinder/BlueGoldNews.com).

Every coach knows how West Virginia wants to play each game. Huggins is going to implement his aggressive full-court press and force opposing teams to turn the ball over at a high rate. This allows guards Jevon Carter and Dexter Miles to utilize the fast break to score easy baskets and avoid the half court offense.

However, in order to successfully apply this pressure, West Virginia needs to score. This has proven problematic in their recent stretch as Huggins’s offense has been prone to lengthy cold streaks. West Virginia only shot 32.4 percent from the field in the second half against Kentucky and, as a result, was only able to press four times. This allowed Kentucky to set up its half court defense and force WVU into uncomfortable offensive situations

Press Virginia

 The staple of any Bob Huggins coached team is his press defense, predicated on hard traps, communication and rotational timing. Obviously, as stated above, the primary goal of this aggressive defensive style is to force turnovers.

This playing style allows Carter and Miles to dictate the pace of play. West Virginia’s dynamic defense wears its opponents down physically and mentally. It is especially difficult for freshmen-dominated teams such as Kentucky to survive a team such as WVU, as breaking this pressure requires composure and communication. However, strong on-ball defense and rebounding will prevent West Virginia from obtaining desired open looks from three and second chance opportunities it thrives on.

Paging Teddy Allen

Freshman forward Teddy Allen has been a pleasant surprise for Huggins, providing a critical offensive spark early in the season. Allen proved he could play at this level with a breakout game in West Virginia’s 89-76 win over Oklahoma, scoring 20 points shooting 81.8 percent from the field.

However, Allen quickly fell out of favor with Huggins due to issues with his attitude. Huggins did not cite any off-court incidents, but simply said Allen needed to mature. Huggins has taken on the reputation of a no-nonsense head coach who will not play to a single player’s wants and desires over what is best for the team. However, with the Mountaineers mired in their recent slump offensively, it might be time for Huggins to give Allen a second chance.

Verdict

A simple solution for the struggling Mountaineers is to increase offensive efficiency. That is easier said than done, of course. The Mountaineers have the talent to not only win the Big 12 Tournament, but also make a Final Four run. But until Huggins can solve West Virginia’s offensive issues, fans should not trust “Press Virginia” as a legitimate title contender come postseason play.

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College basketball All-Star roster

Creating college basketball All-Star starting lineups

As the NBA, NHL and NFL All-Star weekends are all upon us, we look to fill a college basketball roster of Division I players deserving of falling under an “All-Star” title.

Steph Curry and LeBron James had an NBA All-Star draft, so now it’s our turn. Time to break down the best college basketball players as of Jan. 29.

Team Trae

College basketball All-Star roster

Trae Young (Photo from Sports Inquirer)

The captain of this team and starting point guard has to be Oklahoma’s Trae Young. Young is leading all of college basketball with 29.6 points and 9.6 assists per game. He may be the most exciting player in college basketball and has taken the league by storm.

Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: Trae Young’s biggest assets are people who can score around the rim. Who better to have on his team than a walking double-double?

Delgado is averaging 13.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. He dominates the paint and seemingly grabs every miss on the defensive end. His rebounding ranks fourth in Division I basketball.

Allonzo Trier, Arizona: Trier has been one of the most consistent guards in the country this season. He is averaging 19.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Trier has benefited from having Deandre Ayton on his team, but he is scoring at a high rate and has been extremely important to the Arizona Wildcats’ success.

Devonte’ Graham, Kansas: Team Trae needed a strong off-guard, and Graham is exactly that. Graham is shooting over 41 percent from three and is averaging 17.3 points and 7.3 assists. Obviously Graham is more of a point guard, but he seems to shoot it better off the catch while Young shoots it better off the dribble. Graham is the leader of this nationally ranked Jayhawks team and has been the go-to scorer when they need it most.

Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: The final member of Team Trae is Jock Landale, who has been unbelievably consistent. He is averaging 22.1 points per game and grabbing 10.4 rebounds as well. He is shooting over 65 percent from the field and has helped the Gaels get off to a 21-2 start this season. Landale is a big reason why the Gaels are nationally ranked and has 15 games with at least 20 points this season.

Team Marvin

College basketball All-Star roster

Marvin Bagley III (Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki)

At this point, you have to stay with the trend. Marvin Bagley III of the Duke Blue Devils will be the captain of the other team. Bagley is quite possibly the future No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. He has a ton of athleticism and has the numbers to back that up. He is averaging a double-double like many others on these rosters.

Bagley is averaging 22.0 points per game this season along with 11.6 rebounds. He is shooting over 61 percent from the field and over 33 percent from three. Bagley is impressing and therefore is deserving of this captain position.

Deandre Ayton, Arizona: We obviously couldn’t put Ayton and Trier on the same team, that wouldn’t be right.

Deandre Ayton is another one of those athletic freaks at 7-foot-1 with a 44-inch vertical. Him and Bagley in the same frontcourt would be something we all would like to see. Ayton is averaging 19.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He is also averaging just under two assists and two blocks as well. Ayton shoots nearly 62 percent from the field and over 34 percent from three.

Jevon Carter, West Virginia: Jevon Carter is the leader of West Virginia. He scores 17.3 points, dishes out 6.5 assists and grabs 5.1 rebounds per game. He is a guard that does just about everything for a very good Mountaineer team. Carter is a senior and has shown his experience throughout this season.

Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett has been one of the more exciting players to watch throughout his career. His ability to hit contested shots and be a streaky and consistent shooter put him on this All-Star roster. Bluiett averages 18.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He is shooting a scorching 43 percent from three and 46.2 percent from the field overall.

Collin Sexton, Alabama: Sexton is a freshman who would go against Trae Young. He is averaging 18.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He shoots almost 36 percent from three and has turned Alabama into an SEC contender. Sexton is a tremendous ball handler who has the ball on a string, can finish in traffic and shoot both off the dribble and spotting up.

These are 10 of the best college basketball players so far this season. They all have performed at a high level, which earned them all a spot on these All-Star roster.

 

Featured image from PickandRoll.com

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The Hottest Team in College Basketball

College basketball has been impossible to predict as of late. Duke lost by 11 to a 10-5 North Carolina State team. Michigan State got steam rolled at Ohio State and then followed that up by barely beating Rutgers at home in overtime.

Last week every team in the top 10 lost besides two. The inconsistency of teams has fans grasping for some sort of certainty as we hit the middle of the college basketball season.

The number two ranked Mountaineers:

The West Virginia Mountaineers are now 15-1 this season. They are 3-0 in conference play and have rattled off 15 in a row after their opening night loss to Texas A&M. They are 2-1 against the top 25 and 2-0 against the top 15. The Mountaineers outscore teams by an average of 18 points a game.

As of January 13th they will be getting their second leading scorer from last season back. Esa Ahmad has been cleared by the NCAA to play. He had eligibility problems that cost him the first half of the 2017-2018 season, however he will make a return for the Mountaineers. Ahmad averaged just over 11 points a game last season and can help contribute to an already solid offense.

Press Virginia:

College Basketball

Jevon Carter, (Fansided.com).

Many teams struggle with West Virginia due to their grind it out press. The team presses every single defensive possession and gives no easy baskets. Opposing teams have to work for every single point they score, and that wears on a team. They give up the eighth most two point field goals in the country. Which if it wasn’t already obvious, nothing comes easy against this terrific defense.

The Mountaineers press forces nearly 22 turnovers a game which is good for 4th in the country. They themselves turn it over just 13 times a game which is 58th in the country on the other side. One of their major strengths is the way they dictate the pace. West Virginia doesn’t get tired when they play teams.

The backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles not only pick you up full court, but they also push the pace on offense. The team is eighth in the country in steals (10.9 per) and 10th in the country in offensive rebounds (14.7 per).

These two statistics in particular show just how well the backcourt dictates pace. Due to the speed of the guards the offensive rebounds are high, because the guards push it they create lots of space in the lane to crash the offensive boards.

When playing the number one ranked defense in college basketball the Mountaineers not only won the game but also won the defensive battle. They out shot the Virginia Cavaliers from the free throw line as well as from the three point line. They out rebounded the Cavaliers, and turned them over at a clip of 14 to the Mountaineers 10. The Cavaliers are one of the best teams in the country in protecting the ball, and the Mountaineers got a big win against a tough defense.

Jevon Carter:

It seems like Jevon Carter has been at West Virginia for forever. Well in today’s college basketball, he has been. He’s a four year senior who has increased his scoring every season he has been at West Virginia.

Carter is averaging 16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds as well as 3.6 steals a game. He is the teams best defender and their leader. He does a little bit of everything for the Mountaineers but what he truly brings is both experience and structure.

Jevon is the go to guy for this West Virginia team. When they need a big basket, he’s the one to take it. When they need a defensive stop, he seems to be in the right spot at the right time. He contributes time and time again to making winning plays that keep this team afloat.

The Big 12:

West Virginia is leading the way in the best conference in college basketball. The Big 12 has more then half their teams inside the top 20. They have four teams in the top 12 and three in the top nine. A conference that used to be dominated by Kansas has now been the deepest and most competitive in college basketball.

With all the unpredictability in college basketball this season West Virginia has quietly sat back and executed. It hasn’t always been pretty or high scoring, but the Mountaineers have rattled off a fifteen game winning streak.

Experience in the backcourt, good coaching and great defense is always a good combination come both conference play and NCAA tournament play. Look for the Mountaineers to make a deep run and make people remember just how tough the “Press” Virginia defense is.

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College basketball preseason top 25: 10-6

It is the end of October so that means college basketball is right around the corner. What teams should be looked at as the best of the best? This is the fourth installment in the top 25 rundown. For teams 15-11, click here.

10. USC Trojans

College basketball preseason top 25

Bennie Boatwright (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Andy Enfield has built a team that constantly improves year to year at USC. Last season they made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before getting knocked out. With NBA-level talent returning to L.A., the Trojans should be able to take another step forward this season.

Bennie Boatwright is one such player that could have gone pro after last season. Boatwright can do a little big of everything at 6’10” tall, from stretching the floor to getting to the basket. The other NBA-level talent who decided to stay a Trojan for another year is Chimezie Metu. Metu plays above the rim with his dunks and blocks. He also specializes in rebounds. With these two in the game together, there may not be too many better frontcourts in the country. Nick Rakocevic got some playing time last year and will come off the bench once again. For more depth USC will need some other players to fill in.

Jordan McLaughin is back to run the offense at the point. He sets up his teammates well and can also score on his own. He is the Trojans’ best three point shooter out of players who normally shoot them. Elijah Stewart is back for his senior season as well and provides a good athlete and a decent, yet inconsistent shooter. There will be plenty of players vying for whatever minutes are left over. Shaqquan Aaron, Jonah Matthews and De’Anthony Melton all return after playing over 20 minutes per game last season. Joining the backcourt is Charles O’Bannon Jr. and Jordan Usher as freshman. Former Duke point guard Derryck Thornton also joins the team and will be a good player off of the bench.

The Trojans have grown each year and didn’t lose any key pieces from last year’s team. Sweet 16 should be the expectation, but the Trojans can do even better than that if they live up to their potential.

9. North Carolina Tar heels

College basketball preseason top 25

Joel Berry (Photo by ncaa.com)

The reigning national champions should be competitive yet again. Roy Williams put together a good recruiting class and has enough returning talent to make another run in March.

The frontcourt will need the most work to make this team successful. Luke Maye returns after being a hero in the NCAA Tournament against Kentucky. He can rebound and shoot well, but needs to defend better. Garrison Brooks, a freshman, is regarded as a solid inside player that will likely start for UNC. Outside of these two the Tar Heels have other freshman who need time to get better. Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley both have potential and will need to fill key minutes for UNC.

Joel Berry II is back for his senior season, which is the main reason why UNC is ranked this highly. He can shoot, drive and dish to teammates extremely well. He will need to be a leader on this young Tar Heel team. Unfortunately he is out for about a month after losing in a video game to Theo Pinson. Pinson is back to provide great defense and athleticism, but should rely on getting to the basket on offense. Kenny Williams and Seventh Woods return and will need to play well in Berry’s absence. Cameron Johnson transfers in from Pitt and will shoot lights out. Jalek Felton, Raymond Felton’s nephew, will also join the fold this season.

The Tar Heels have a lot to prove without Berry in the first month of the season, but it could help the development of the other players who need to step up. With Berry UNC can play with anybody.

8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

College basketball preseason top 25

Bonzie Colson (Photo by indystar.com)

Notre Dame did lose Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachum, but have had to deal with losing key players before and they still produce. Mike Brey has a lot of talent coming back, including one of college basketball’s best players. If his players can improve year to year like they usually do, Notre Dame will be one of the best teams in basketball.

Bonzie Colson is a double-double machine, who is one of the best in basketball despite his size of 6’5″. He attacks the glass with ferocity to get rebounds and has clever moves to get his shot up over taller defenders. Colson can even step out and knock down shots from the perimeter, making him a tough matchup. The Fighting Irish run a four out, one in system, so Colson will eat up a lot of minutes on the inside. To give him breathers, Elijah Burns, Martinas Geben, John Mooney and Austin Torres will have to fight among themselves for the minutes.

Matt Farrell was one of the most improved players in the country last season and runs the Fighting Irish offense perfectly. He is a threat to score, but feeds the post and shooters well. With him and Colson as a one-two punch the Fighting Irish are sitting pretty. In addition to those two, Rex Pflueger can knock down perimeter shots and defend well. T.J. Gibbs, whose brothers starred in college basketball, will also be asked to step up. Gibbs is the best athlete on the perimeter for Notre Dame. Nickola Djogo and D.J. Harvey, who are both freshman, are going to need to take up some minutes and be productive.

If Farrell and Colson can get some support, this team is capable of going deep into March Madness.

7. Wichita State Shockers

College basketball preseason top 25

Markis McDuffie (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Wichita State is joining the American Athletic Conference this year to see an increase in competition. The Shockers are the best team in the conference and have all of the key parts from a young team that made the second round of the NCAA Tournament back for another year.

Shaq Morris is productive down low and effective when he is on the court. He is the Shockers’ best post player. Markis McDuffie thought about going to the NBA, but returned for his junior season. McDufie does a lot for the Shockers, from being the leading scorer to defending well to being the leading rebounder on the team. He is a star and will improve again this season. Darral Willis Jr., Rauno Nurger and Zach Brown all return after logging at least 10 minutes per game last season. They are good role players that will complement the stars on the team.

Landry Shamet proved to be a good point guard in his freshman season and will be even better once he returns from foot surgery. He has great length for defending and can knock down three point shots. Another three point shooter returns in Connor Frankamp. Frankamp is a three point specialist who knocked down 44% of his three point shots last season. Austin Reeves is the only backup who logged more than 10 minutes per game from the guard position last season. He, C.J. Keyser and JUCO transfer Samajae Haynes-Jones are going to need to step up to provide good depth.

The Shockers are in store for a big season. Not only should they win their new conference, but they should also be competitors on the national level.

6. West Virginia Mountaineers

College basketball preseason top 25

Jevon Carter (Photo by zimbio.com)

West Virginia made the Sweet 16 last season and have a few key players that should be able to lead them beyond this mark this season. Bob Huggins is a Hall of Fame coach who can lean on his returning players to make it far in the NCAA Tournament this year, and maybe beat out Kansas in the Big 12.

Esa Ahmad is a good wing player that can shoot and has great length, which is perfect for West Virginia’s press. He averaged 11.3 points per game last season and should see an expanded scoring role. Sagaba Konate is in store for an increased role, but he will be more of an inside presence focused on rebounding and blocking shots. The offense will come, but with a main focus on those two traits, it will fit West Virginia nicely. Lamont West got significant playing time as a freshman and can shoot from the perimeter, but needs to help in the rebounding department more. Maciej Bender saw less minutes than West, but is a similar player. Wes Harris is a JUCO transfer that will make his way into the rotation early with his athleticism.

The two stars of the team are Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. The seniors lead one of, if not the best backcourts in the country. Carter runs the point, scores and plays stifling defense. He is the leading returning scorer with 13.5 points per game. Daxter Miles has averaged just 8.5 points throughout his career at West Virginia, but has a bigger impact than that. He is very athletic and is also a great defender in West Virginia’s press. Depth is a question, but James Bolden, D’Angelo Hunter or Brandon Knapper should be able to step in for the few minutes that Miles and Carter leave behind.

West Virginia lost five players who averaged at least four points a game, but return some stars who will be aided by newcomers. Their press will once again be strong and the Mountaineers are looking at a great chance to make an elite eight.

 

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Way-Too-Early Top 10 For the 2017-18 Season

The 2016-17 season is officially over after what turned out to be a different season from what most people thought. However, isn’t that always the case?

We expected Duke to rein supreme yet again last year with one of the most talented rosters we had ever seen. They were ESPN’s number one ranked team in the way-too-early top 25 without question. College basketball proved for the millionth time that what is expected to happen never happens.

With seven months until the start of the 2017-18 season, we take a swipe at the way-too-early top 10 for next season.

1. Kentucky Wildcats 

You know the drill. We’ve seen this before. Kentucky’s freshmen stars are going off to the NBA (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo) and being replaced with another bunch of talented studs. The Wildcats have the number one ranked recruiting class in the country yet again, bringing in five ESPN top 100 recruits. They also will have redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo.

Even if these new guys don’t turn out to have the same star power as the players they’re replacing, Kentucky has players like Isaiah Briscoe (if he returns), Wenyen Gabriel and Isaac Humphries who could only step into bigger roles.

There’s no reason coach John Calipari and the Wildcats won’t be national title contender with a stacked incoming class and key returning players.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels 

College Basketball

UNC guard Joel Berry II drives in a game earlier this year (Photo/ Google images)

The Tar Heels are losing a significant amount of players, but hold on for a second. They are losing Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt and most likely ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. However, they’re still UNC.

Many believe Joel Berry II will come back as well as forward Tony Bradley, who is one of the best rebounders in the country. If that’s the case, the Tar Heels would be poised for another late tournament run.

They will also have Elite Eight hero Luke Maye and freshman five-star shooting guard Jalek Felton. Both could have a significant impact on their success.

There are a lot of ifs, but as we’ve seen, Roy Williams can do magical things with ifs.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers

Besides losing seniors Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, press Virginia is back. Guard Jevon Carter will take another offensive leading role, while forcing steals on defense. Forwards Esa Ahmad and Elijah Macon will be crashing the boards and running the floor both defensively and offensively.

With a Kansas team that will lose a lot of key players, could this be the year Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers take the regular season Big 12 title away from Kansas? It could be.

4. Louisville Cardinals

College Basketball

Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson celebrates their victory over Kentucky earlier this year (Photo/ Adam Creech)

Don’t be fooled by the Cardinals short stay in both the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament. They are a prime defensive team and will gain three incoming freshmen from the ESPN top 100 and maintain almost the entire previous group.

 

With the exception of Mangok Mathiang, who is a senior, and Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, who could leave for the NBA, Louisville is still poised to have another great season in 2017-18. If Mitchell and Adel stay, Louisville will be in a good place.

5. Gonzaga Bulldogs 

Enough is enough, Gonzaga is for real. The nation’s top defensive team will look to replace fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski. The Bulldogs will hopefully look no further than Zach Collins, who could potentially leave for the NBA.

If Collins does return along with Wooden Award finalist Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga will be extremely good. Josh Perkins, Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie and Silas Melson also all return to make a dangerous Bulldog team out for redemption.

6. Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers finished 31-5 and managed to jump all the way up to 15th in the BPI. It looks like they’re just getting started.

After they were given a 10 seed in the tournament, which many believed was highway robbery, the Shockers lost to Kentucky by one bucket in the round of 32. Don’t let that fool you.

Landry Shamet, who could possibly be the most underrated point guard in the country, along side sharp shooter Conner Frankamp, could take the team on another tournament run. This time they won’t be considered a Cinderella.

7. Florida Gators

College Basketball

Florida guard Chris Chiozza hits a game winning shot in Florida’s Sweet 16 victory over Wisconsin (Photo/ Courtney Culbreath)

The Gators are returning one of the best, if not the best, backcourt in the country in KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. They will look to top their Elite Eight appearance from this year.

Most of the core crew is still intact. They will add a top 10 recruiting class as well as two transfers.

The Gators are dangerous. This could have already been one of the nation’s best teams. With the addition of the incoming freshmen and transfers, they are only getting better. Third-year head coach Mike White doesn’t seem too fazed after following Billy Donovan and the greatest era in Florida basketball.

8. Villanova Wildcats 

Villanova will wave goodbye to a class that helped lift the Wildcats out of their slump in the 2010s, including Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Granted, these two are of major importance and have been throughout their years at Villanova.

However, the Wildcats have an ongoing star guard in Jalen Brunson. They also have Donte DiVincenzo, who improved his numbers immensely from his previous year, and looks to improve them next year as well.

Jay Wright’s team is resilient. What many might believe to be somewhat of a rebuilding year could be another year in the limelight.

9. Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks will lose a lot of players, including national player of the year Frank Mason III and potential top five pick Josh Jackson. That gives room for guard Devonte’ Graham to flourish in an even bigger role.

The Jayhawks return sharp shooter Sviatoslav Mykhailuik on the wing and add top prospects Billy Preston and Udoka Azubuike. They will also add Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who was one of the top point guards in his class two years ago. Whatever happens, we all know one thing: Kansas will be good. They’re always good.

10. Duke Blue Devils

College Basketball

Duke big man Marques Bolden looks to be the new face of the Blue Devils down low after losing Harry Giles and Amile Jefferson (Photo/ Streeter Lecka)

It won’t be all doom and gloom for the Blue Devils next season. They’re still Duke. However, the Blue Devils are going to lose a lot of players starting with Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, who were their two top prospects from last year. They will also lose senior captains Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, who have been a source of stability over the past four years.

The Blue Devils do have some top prospects coming in, including Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. There also rests the possibility of both Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard coming back for another year.

If they both chose to leave, the Blue Devils’ starting line up will most likely have no one older than a sophomore. Either way, don’t ever count out the Blue Devils.

 

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