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Iowa lost to Texas and Syracuse, two teams ranked in the preseason Top 25. Losing those types of games doesn’t make Iowa a bad team. But based on the Hawkeyes frontcourt strength, I thought they would have a chance for at least one victory. Unfortunately for Iowa, their guards were ice cold in the two games in New York:

Player

FGM

FGA

Anthony Clemmons

2

11

Mike Gesell

3

15

Josh Oglesby

3

12

Peter Jok

1

4

Trey Dickerson

1

6

Mike Gesell is certainly one of the bigger culprits. As a former Top 100 recruit, a junior like Gesell is supposed to emerge as one of the team’s leaders. Instead his ORtg has plummeted from 106 to 82 in the early going. Oglesby is also ice-cold, as the 40% shooter last year hasn’t been hitting. But Oglesby has always been a bit of a streaky shooter.

The big surprise to me is that Anthony Clemmons is getting so much playing time. Based on his recruiting ranking out of high school, Clemmons has the least upside of Iowa’s guards. And I’m rather shocked that Jok and Dickerson aren’t getting more playing time.

Dickerson was one of the main reasons my model had Iowa so high in the preseason. JucoRecruiting.com had Dickerson in its JUCO Top 10, and I thought he might be an impact player for the Hawkeyes. So far that hasn’t happened. It’s way too early to draw any real conclusions, but so far most of Jucorecruiting.com’s top prospects have been a bit disappointing:

Leading that list is Arizona’s Kadeem Allen. Instead of becoming a major scorer, Allen is redshirting. Meanwhile Baylor’s Deng Deng, New Mexico’s Jordan Goodman, and Kansas St.’s Stephen Hurt have played relatively sparingly, particularly in their team’s biggest games.

LSU’s Josh Gray was supposed to be the super-scorer, but in his first big matchup against Old Dominion he was no match for ODU’s Trey Freeman. Sam Cassell Jr. seems to be UConn’s 4th guard, and after a 2 for 9, foul-filled performance in the Puerto Rico TipOff title game, he isn’t moving ahead in the rotation.

Oregon’s Dwayne Benjamin is shooting a pedestrian 6 of 18 on his 2’s so far, which isn’t good for a big man. But in fairness, Oregon needs his size more than anything, and Benjamin has avoided trouble while grabbing a fair share of rebounds. Memphis’ Trahson Burrell has only played one game, though he did look good. Oddly Memphis doesn’t play its second game until Monday.

The one elite JUCO player that has lived up to the hype is Auburn’s Cinmeon Bowers. Bowers is averaging 16 PPG and 14 RPG so far. That is a bit aided by Auburn’s tempo, but even the tempo free stats look solid. Bowers has an ORtg of 106 while using 29% of his team’s possessions, and an offensive and defensive rebounding rate of 18 and 35 respectively.

Coaches vs Cancer

Duke has participated in a holiday tournament for 10 straight years, won eight of those tournaments, and finished second twice. I could run the table again that shows how Mike Krzyzewski is the best coach in the world before January 1st, but you’ve seen it before. Right now, the Blue Devils have looked nearly invincible. Let’s see where they stand after the trip to Wisconsin in early December.

Hall of Fame Tipoff

Notre Dame vs Providence might have been my favorite game of the season so far. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Providence’s LaDontae Henton aren’t on too many NBA watch lists. They were both three star prospects out of high school. But they’ve become college stars, and on Sunday both players played like they deserve a larger spotlight.

Grant showed an unbelievable ability to both drive to the basket and pull-up with a soft touch. And Grant’s step-back three pointer with the shot-clock winding down with 2 minutes left felt like a dagger. But Henton, on his way to a career high 38 points, would not be denied. Henton posted up, he hit floaters, he hit threes. And with time running down, Henton got to the line and sank the game-winning free throws.

Winning this tournament was huge for Providence. A year ago, the Friars had to win the Big East tournament to feel safely in the NCAA field. This year, with two early wins over likely bubble teams, they’ve already done a ton to build their resume.

The flip side of that is Florida St. which went 0-2 in this event. With Florida St. losing to both UMass and Providence, two teams projected on the bubble teams in the A10 and Big East, Florida St. can’t afford to simply finish 9-9 in the ACC. The good news is that the Seminoles will have a lot more chances against quality teams in ACC play. The better news is that freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes had a breakout game on Sunday in his first start. But those losses to bubble teams are going to sting all year.

Puerto Rico Tipoff

Texas A&M has to be very frustrated that Danuel House wasn’t cleared sooner. The Houston transfer played for the first time on Sunday and dominated New Mexico. A&M lost by just two to Dayton on Thursday, and if House had been available, I wonder whether A&M would have won this whole event.

But A&M still has some chemistry issues to work through. I’m starting to wonder if House’s arrival might be the end for Davonte Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald who shot just 29% on his threes last season, is shooting 24% from the floor this season. But it isn’t the shooting percentage that bothers me, it is the shot-selection. Fitzgerald makes a basket and then thinks he can just jack up a random three on the next possession. Now that they have a number of talented scorers, head coach Billy Kennedy needs his players to work together to make sure the team doesn’t waste any more possessions. Last year Texas A&M had the 267th ranked offense in the nation. A&M had some talent limitations, but they shouldn’t have been that awful. Now that A&M has upgraded its overall talent level, Billy Kennedy’s job is to find the right rotation and make sure the right players are taking the majority of the team’s shots.

Meanwhile, UConn rolled out its four-guard lineup as expected in this event. By my unofficial math, Daniel Hamilton played 16 minutes at the 4-spot in the championship game. But his 8 turnovers (among the team’s 19) and the team’s inability to make threes doomed the Huskies. The purpose of the four guard attack should be to spread the floor and attack the basket, but we didn’t see enough of that for UConn to win.

And that was a very good sign for Bob Huggins and his West Virginia team. Huggins has traditionally been an elite defensive coach, but West Virginia couldn’t stop anyone last year. Shutting down the defending national champions shows his defense may be back.

Charleston Classic

We saw in this tournament exactly why Big Ten teams are going to hate their trips to Happy Valley this year. If the Nittany Lions are down eight with four minutes left, they actually like their chances of winning the game. Penn St. was in this situation a lot last year, and with a veteran squad they completely believe they can out-execute in the late-game situation. They nailed the comeback against Charlotte but lost in double OT. They nailed the comeback against Cornell and won. And they even survived against USC (though the comeback happened earlier in that game).

Penn St. probably isn’t very good. A good team would fend off Charlotte, Cornell, and USC a little earlier. But the Nittany Lions won’t be down 15 at home very often. And if the score is close, it doesn’t hurt to give DJ Newbill the ball and hope.

Miami FL rolled and won this tournament easily, crushing Drexel, Akron, and Charlotte.

Was this Really an Upset?

One of the problems with tracking college basketball closely is that lots of “surprising” outcomes no longer feel like major upsets. Case in point: Last Monday, Daniel Leroux and I recorded a podcast and I noted that without Alex Murphy (who will be eligible in December), Chris Walker (who was still suspended) and Dorian Finney-Smith (who was injured), Florida was going to struggle at home against a Miami FL. It might have been a Top 10 upset according to the ticker, but it really wasn’t that monumental when you looked at the rosters.

Had Florida lost at home to Louisiana Monroe, that would have been a lot more epic. But again, Florida was without three players. While Walker dressed, Eli Carter was out with injury. Florida just isn’t a Top 10 team right now. Perhaps when the roster is all together, they will live up to preseason expectations. But few teams could play without three key rotation players and still perform at the highest level.

The more disturbing trend for Florida might not be those game scores, it might be that Kasey Hill hasn’t taken a step forward since last season. Despite being the #11 recruit last season, Hill posted an ORtg of just 99 last season. That was largely driven by his poor eFG% of just 43%. But this year, he’s started off even slower. He’s just 3 of 24 on the season, without a made three.

Are These Upsets Truly Surprises?

Creighton, Indiana and Rhode Island may not be locks for the NCAA tournament, but I had them all in the Top 100 this spring. And it is always hard to win on the road against a Top 100 squad.  Oklahoma, SMU, and Nebraska may have lost on the road to these teams, but we shouldn’t blow these close games out of proportion. In January, these types of upsets, where upper-tier NIT teams upset ranked teams will happen every day.

In March we tend to focus on wins over Top 50 squads, but the committee puts a lot of stock on wins over teams ranked 51-100 too. Ken Pomeroy has argued that the emphasis should really be on road wins over these teams, and that’s probably fair. Indiana is going to be a completely different team at home and on the road. At home, you’ll see outcomes like the SMU game where the Hoosiers are knocking down threes at a high clip, and where the crowd feeds the team’s defensive intensity and causes a lot of turnovers. But Indiana won’t be the same team on the road, particularly if the threes aren’t falling. Road games against Top 100 teams are brutal.

Notes

-Even if those outcomes didn’t cause my jaw to drop, Marquette’s home loss to Omaha did. New head coach Steve Wojciechowski is learning that it is hard to teach a team to play fast and play quality defense at the same time. And certainly, Marquette lacks size in the paint. But the Golden Eagles can’t give up 1.28 points per possession at home to a low-level D1 team.

-Georgetown’s Joshua Smith had 12 and 11 rebounds in his last two games. It’s pretty sad when you feel the need to praise a player for his performance against Texas A&M CC and Robert Morris.  But after Smith’s defensive rebounding rate was a paltry 9% last year, even this effort is noteworthy.

-Maryland Terrapin Watch: We haven’t seen enough of Melo Trimble to know if he’ll star at PG this year, but it is worth noting that through 3 games, transfer Richaud Pack has a 21% assist rate. Pack wasn’t necessarily known as a passer prior to Maryland, so this development is worth watching.

10 Thoughts On College Basketball's Opening Weekend

1. Some of our preseason predictions will be right.

Luke Winn and I identified George Mason’s Patrick Holloway as one of this year’s breakout scorers. In fact, we had him as the 46th highest scorer in the country. Through two games he is averaging 20.5 PPG.

One of the predictions that I was the most nervous about was on our Top 50 freshmen scorers’ list. Our model had Montaque Gill-Caeser as the #19 freshman scorer because Missouri needed a shot-taker. But since Gill-Caeser re-classified (meaning he was not originally going to play college basketball this year), I was very nervous whether he was ready to play a big role immediately. Through two games, the prediction is looking good. Gill-Caeser took a team-leading 23 shots and scored 21 points in the opener. And he took a team-leading 13 shots and scored 9 points on Sunday. Missouri also lost the opener in embarrassing fashion to UMKC, and that seems par for the course for a team we pegged near the bottom of the SEC. When a freshman outside the Top 20 is leading your team, this is a rebuilding season.

We also had Rashad Vaughn near the top of the freshmen scoring list and he is averaging 22 PPG through two games. But with Running Rebels winning their opening two games by a combined 3 points, Vaughn is going to need a lot more help.

2. Many of our preseason projections are going to be wrong and I love it.

Of course, the more you project, the more opportunities you have to be wrong. But the beauty of college basketball is the unpredictability, and I love when players surprise us.

Georgetown’s LJ Peak went 9 for 9 from the floor and scored 23 in the opener for the Hoyas. Our preseason projections were based on recruiting data from ESPN, Scout, and Rivals. And based on the recruiting rankings, we liked Georgetown’s Isaac Copeland to be the Hoyas breakout freshman. But Georgetown observers who watched summer league games said that LJ Peak had blown up over the summer, and at least in the opener Peak put on a dominant performance. Perhaps someday summer league stats will be more readily available and we can see how much predictive power they have. But in the meantime, players like Peak remain hidden gems to everyone except the true team insiders.

3. The most important thing in the early games is the surprise roster news.

Jamie Dixon surprised us by announcing that Durand Johnson would not play this year for Pittsburgh. Cameron Wright (injured) and Durand Johnson (suspended) were projected to be Pittsburgh’s top two scorers in August, and the narrow home win against Samford may be a sign that eventually player losses add up, even for a coach as brilliant as Jamie Dixon.

Oklahoma got great news with TaShawn Thomas’s surprise eligibility. I see their offense being about 1.6 points better and their defense being about 1.5 points better with Thomas in the fold, which makes them neck and neck with Wichita St. in my preseason rankings. I’m not quite willing to endorse them as a Top 10 squad because of the defensive concerns. (Not only was Oklahoma terrible defensively last year, but Thomas was only an average defender on a Houston team that struggled to get stops.) But there is no question that having Thomas upgrades Oklahoma’s frontline tremendously.

4. The next most important thing is rotation patterns.

If you can learn something from watching Duke blowout mismatched opponents, then you are a better observer than me. The main thing I watch for in mismatch games is rotation patterns. It looks like North Carolina will play lineups with four forwards (with Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, or J.P Tokoto at the off-guard slot). That makes a lot of sense because it gets the Tar Heels best players on the floor, but if spacing was a problem last year, the lack of a three point-gunner besides Marcus Paige could hurt the North Carolina offense again.

5. But don’t draw huge conclusions from early games.

Even if I like to study rotation patterns, I don’t want to get too carried away. Kansas’ Kelly Oubre played only 4 minutes in the opening night win. Does that mean the Top 10 recruit is one of the biggest busts in the country? Seton Hall super-freshman Isaiah Whitehead opened the year with a 1-10 night. Was he over-hyped? I’d like to see a lot more games before I draw these types of conclusions.

6. Early games can confirm your suspicions.

Askia Booker has been a high scorer for Colorado, but his lack of efficiency has been a liability. And his 2 of 14 shooting night to open this season looks like more of the same.

If you had concerns about Nebraska’s PGs after last year, it probably wasn’t comforting that Tai Webster and Benny Parker went a combined 3 of 14 in the opener.

Harvard’s guard depth is going to be an issue and they are going to have to play three guards at times this season because of matchups. But Harvard had to stick with Corbin Miller (2 of 8 from the floor), and Siyani Chambers (an uncharacteristic 9 turnovers) in the loss to Holy Cross, because they just don’t have a lot of choices on the perimeter right now.

Meanwhile, St. Joseph’s home loss to Fairleigh Dickinson should not have been a shock. While the preseason polls claimed St. Joe’s would finish in the middle of the A10, that was largely a courtesy vote based on last year. Based on their current roster, I expect this to be a rebuilding year for the Hawks.

(The more interesting story to me is that FDU pulled the upset. FDU has been near the bottom of the Pomeroy rankings the last two years and they won only ten games last year. And yet over the last two years they’ve beaten Seton Hall, Rutgers, and now St. Joe’s. FDU is starting to be the team that no power conference team should schedule.)

Meanwhile, USC, East Carolina, Rutgers, and Boston College may play in major conferences, but we all knew they had flawed rosters. Their early losses weren’t huge surprises.

7. Give teams time to build chemistry.

The big surprise was Ole Miss losing at home to Charleston Southern. I’m willing to give Ole Miss the benefit of the doubt for now. Ole Miss has a number of transfers and they obviously don’t have perfect chemistry yet. If LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love need some time to build chemistry in the NBA, I’m willing to give a bunch of college transfers some time. But the selection committee might not feel the same way. And for a likely bubble team like Ole Miss, the opening loss to a non-Top 100 squad could be costly.

But the Ole Miss situation also illustrates why Houston’s opening win was so impressive. Despite playing with a number of new transfers, despite playing under a new head coach with a new system, and despite playing without lead-guard LJ Rose who is injured and out until at least December, Houston won on the road at a very good Murray St. team. Kelvin Sampson still knows how to coach.

8. Early in the year, things often go wrong.

The start of the college basketball season is relatively quiet, but maybe there is a reason these games are not in the spotlight. I’m guessing Temple (who won 40-37 against American) is happy that not many people watched their opening game. Temple had more turnovers 15 than field goals made 11.

But the players aren’t alone in failing to execute early. In Villanova’s closer than expected win against Lehigh, the possession arrow wasn’t working. The official at the scorers’ table solved the problem by drawing an arrow on a piece of paper. Watching the official manually flip the piece of paper over when the possession arrow changed was priceless.

The shot-clock was also broken early in the VCU/Tennessee game. But as the announcers correctly noted, when VCU is running its HAVOC defense, do you really need a shot clock?

9. Hype doesn’t guarantee a good game.

The Champions Classic may live up to the hype, but the joy of college basketball is the sheer number of games, not the heavily hyped-matchups.

ESPN heavily hyped Richard Pitino vs Rick Pitino, son vs father, in order to promote the Minnesota vs Louisville game on opening night. But what we saw was a painful, whistle-filled game. That’s not to say there weren’t amusing aspects to the game. I’m a huge fan of Minnesota PG Deandre Mathieu, and I was stunned by how well Terry Rozier and Chris Jones’ on-ball pressure shut him down. Louisville’s defense is going to be dominant again. It seemed somehow appropriate that Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear followed up his dominant exhibition performances with a quiet foul-prone game. That’s the story of Blackshear’s career at this point. The recruiting rankings and efficiency stats keep pointing to Blackshear becoming a dominant player, but it is never seems to happen in real games. On the other hand Montrezl Harrell complimented his explosive dunking with a newfound outside shot and looked fantastic. And it is always fun whenever a walk-on gets to play real minutes, as Louisville’s David Levitch did thanks to Shaqquan Aaron’s temporary ineligibility and Louisville’s foul trouble. But while these type of minor nuances can keep me amused during almost any game, I have to assume for any casual fan, Minnesota vs Louisville was just painful.

10. Maryland Terrapins Watch

Last year I thought Harvard was the most interesting story in college basketball so I tried to write about them each weak. This year my plan is to write about Maryland each week. The Terrapins will be playing in a new league, they have a coach on the hot seat, they have some talented veterans, and they have a roster full of talented young freshmen whose development is intriguing. Their journey should be fascinating.

Maryland won their opening game easily and I don’t like to comment on mismatches, but there is something I want to discuss. What does it mean that Charles Mitchell, who transferred from Maryland to Georgia Tech this off-season, had 20 points and 9 rebounds in his opener for his new team? Mitchell dominated a Georgia team that many expect to be on the NCAA tournament bubble. When Mitchell transferred, I was willing to believe it might not be critical, as Mitchell had never been an efficient player. Mitchell had an ORtg of 94 and 95 the last two years and was basically a role player for the Terrapins. But if Mitchell becomes a star at Georgia Tech, that adds more fuel to the critics of head coach Mark Turgeon.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: ACC

If you are looking for my traditional projections for offense and defense, those will be available near the start of the college basketball season. But since we still have many weeks to go until November, I thought I would dig a little deeper and write some team previews for next year. (I also wrote a few more words on some of the potential Top 25 squads in early April and late April.)

ACC Favorite

Duke: Duke’s season will hinge on the play of Top 10 recruits forward Jahlil Okafor and point-guard Tyus Jones. And I think they will live up to the hype. But the player some fans may be overlooking is Rasheed Sulaimon. Some feel that Sulaimon had a bad year last year, but that’s not the case at all. On a per-possession basis he improved from his freshman to sophomore seasons. The problem was that Rodney Hood’s presence really dug into Sulaimon’s playing time. With Hood out of the picture, Sulaimon should bounce-back and become a lethal scorer once again.

Challengers

Louisville: While they will miss the all-around dominance and wins that Russ Smith brought to the table, Terry Rozier and Chris Jones have to be licking their chops now that Russ Smith is gone. Rozier and Jones were elite PGs who spent a lot of last season playing off-the-ball. Now they get to run the show, and the best part is that they still have Montrezl Harrell to throw the ball to in the paint. Louisville has another three Top 100 recruits coming in, led by Shaqquan Aaron. Wayne Blackshear is back and he significantly improved his outside shooting last year. And thanks to the success of Gorgui Dieng, Rick Pitino has seemingly fallen in love with a host of foreign centers with hard to pronounce names. That seems like a nice formula, but this is Rozier and Jones show.

Of course the PGs aren’t the only players who may be itching to get out from underneath someone else’s shadow. Blackshear was a Top 30 recruit and McDonald’s All-American, he’s started a bunch of games, he’s been very efficient, and he contributed to a national championship. And yet he’s never played more than 20 minutes a game, never felt like he has a natural position, and often spent the end of games glued to the bench thanks to Luke Hancock. If Blackshear had a different personality (or if Louisville hadn’t been winning so much), Blackshear might have transferred. But I am very curious to see whether Blackshear has the mentality to become a star now that Luke Hancock has graduated.

North Carolina: PG Nate Britt and SF JP Tokoto are likely to see their playing time cut thanks to the additions of Top 30 recruits PG Joel Berry, and SFs Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson. That may make for an awkward locker-room, but it should also mean an upgrade in efficiency. Marcus Paige may be playing out of position at SG for stretches of game time, but he thrived at that position last year. Meanwhile in the frontcourt, James McAdoo will be gone but shockingly Brice Johnson was better than McAdoo in almost every statistical category except free throw rate. And as long as the efficient Kennedy Meeks gets more playing time at the other front-court slot, North Carolina’s offense should be substantially better than last season.

Virginia:  Virginia’s junior class is special. Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte, Malcolm Brogdon, and Anthony Gill were all quality prospects out of high school. (While they are all juniors, Brogdon started a year earlier but had to red-shirt due to injury, and Gill was a transfer from South Carolina.) None of these players were instant impact superstars as freshmen. But they matured together, and as sophomores they helped Virginia make the leap to an ACC title. We tend to fall in love with the Top 10 recruits and future NBA draft prospects. But Virginia’s core shows the true value of low-end Top 100 recruits. They are efficient, hard-working, and they look like they will probably stick around for two more years and graduate. Throw in London Perrantes, a sophomore PG, and you have the ideal core of a winning team.

Hoping for the Top 25

Pittsburgh: PG James Robinson has played a ton of minutes the last two years. He’s not aggressive enough to be a star, but he is more than capable of running an offense that wins a bunch of games. Cameron Wright is your typical Jamie Dixon starter, a solid senior who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Durand Johnson was playing well last year until a knee injury derailed his season. Josh Newkirk, Michael Young, and Jamel Artis were three freshmen who were very effective last year and who should be ready to make the sophomore leap. Pitt also adds Vanderbilt transfer Shelton Jeter and JUCO Top 100 recruit Tyrone Haughton in the front-court. Former elite forward recruit Joseph Uchebo should finally be healthy.

This lineup perfectly fits the stereotype for Pitt basketball. There are no sexy choices in the lineup. But everyone has experience. And Jamie Dixon remains among the best at developing players.

The easiest way to see this is with my player projections model. I project what we should have expected for every player over the past five years based on their high school recruiting rank and previous NCAA stats. Then I compare those expectations to how those players performed. Only Mike Brey has been better at developing the offense of his players than Jamie Dixon. No, Pittsburgh doesn’t have 9 or 10 former elite recruits like Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina. But with Dixon developing players at an above average rate, Pitt is always a title contender.

Team

Coach

Player ORtg Relative to Expectations

Notre Dame

Mike Brey

1.034

Pittsburgh

Jamie Dixon

1.031

Louisville

Rick Pitino

1.022

Syracuse

Jim Boeheim

1.020

Miami FL

Jim Larranaga

1.020

Boston College

Jim Christian

1.019

Duke

Mike Krzyzewski

1.017

Virginia Tech

Buzz Williams

1.013

Wake Forest

Danny Manning

1.013

NC State

Mark Gottfried

1.009

Virginia

Tony Bennett

1.005

North Carolina

Roy Williams

1.000

Clemson

Brad Brownell

0.997

Florida St.

Leonard Hamilton

0.991

Georgia Tech

Brian Gregory

0.976

Most major conference coaches tend to exceed expectations when developing players. That is why they have jobs in a major conference. But while Brad Brownell and Leonard Hamilton have struggled to develop offensive talent, they are elite defensive coaches.

Roy Williams is probably the baseline. He has recruited at a high level and his players have tended to perform about where you would expect for elite recruits. Rick Pitino’s players have exceeded expectations on offense in recent seasons. And  when a coach recruits well and develops players, that’s the formula for a national title.

Syracuse: Even with major losses, you can never count Syracuse out. Their zone defense will still be very hard to score against. Trevor Cooney became a star SG last year. Forward Chris McCullough is the type of highly ranked recruit who should make an impact from Day 1. Obviously, for the second year in a row, the season will come down to the play of a freshman PG. This year his name is Kaleb Joseph. No PG can be expected to replace Tyler Ennis. Ennis’ low turnover rate was not just special for a Syracuse PG, it was basically unprecedented for a college freshman.

But I think the differences in opinion for Syracuse come down to how you evaluate the rest of the Syracuse roster. Is DaJuan Coleman a player that is still injured, a career disappointment, and never going to be a star? Or is he an explosive former Top 25 recruit who will provide a key punch late in the season once he finally gets back to 100%? Is Rakeem Christmas a passive offensive player who lacks the killer instinct to ever be anything other than a role player? Or is Christmas a player who improved on defense last year, a player who deferred to CJ Fair and Jerami Grant, but another former Top 25 recruit who can still be a late bloomer and star now that he’ll get more touches on offense? Is Tyler Roberson the freshman who posted an 89 ORtg last year, and couldn’t even finish simple baskets? Or is he the former Top 40 recruit who never got to show his stuff last year because of the depth chart, and who should mature as a sophomore into a true star? The reality is that we don’t know. And that is why we want to watch.

But my biggest concern for Syracuse is the overall lack of depth. There are just 10 scholarship players on the roster right now, and right now they are not all healthy. That lack of depth is going to force Syracuse to play slower than they want again this season, and open them up to losses to some inferior teams.

Notre Dame: Jerian Grant was injured in the middle of last year and Notre Dame fell apart. You probably expect me to write some story about how you can’t blame a team’s collapse on just one player. But when you look at the numbers, I think you can. The splits show that Notre Dame was brutal after Grant went down. And Grant’s stats last year were unbelievable. His ORtg was 132, he was making 58% of his threes, 40% of his twos, and averaging 19 points per game. And he was making his teammates better. His assist rate was 36. He was even contributing on defense. His steal rate was 3.5%. Now, a lot of that came against a weaker non-conference schedule. But even so, Grant was posting the kind of numbers where you would have had to include him in the conversation for ACC player-of-the-year. With Grant back, Notre Dame will look like a traditional Mike Brey team. The Fighting Irish will be an elite offensive team, that plays passive zone defense, hangs around the edges of the Top 25, and lacks the defensive toughness for a deep NCAA tournament run.

Hoping for the NCAA Tournament

Florida St.: Florida St.’s defense bounced back last season behind a bruising front-line and the soft hands of steal artist Aaron Thomas. There are still some flaws. How does 7’3” Boris Bojanovsky grab so few defensive rebounds? But Leonard Hamilton has proven to be a strong defensive coach at this point.

The bad news is that the lethal inside-outside combination of Ian Miller and Okaro White has graduated and their star power will be hard to replace on offense. Xavier Rathan-Mayes was an elite recruit who was academically ineligible last year, but his shooting should help tremendously. The return of center Kiel Turpin should also help. Turpin was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing last year with a leg injury and he was much more efficient than Michael Ojo.  Add Top 100 JUCO guards like Dayshawn Watkins and Kedar Edwards, and replacing Miller and White seems a little more plausible.

But the Florida St. offense is mostly limited by Hamilton’s system. For six straight years Hamilton’s teams have been among the nation’s most turnover prone teams. That’s a flaw Hamilton needs to fix if his team is ever going to reach the next level.

Clemson: I’ll understand if you view the loss of KJ McDaniels as a sign of the apocalypse. Clemson wasn’t a good offensive team last year and now their best player is headed to the NBA. Worse yet, while the program brings in prized recruit Donte Grantham, he’s ranked low enough that there is no guarantee he will be a star this year. And there are no other Top 100 recruits on the roster.

But I’m optimistic about Clemson for two reasons. First, Brad Brownell’s formula isn’t going to be recruiting or dynamic offense. When his teams win, they are going to win with defense. And most of the roster is back from a quality defensive team last year.

Second, Clemson has two highly underrated upperclassman who may be able to step into a larger roles. Demarcus Harrison and Jordan Roper both used a high volume of possessions and were very efficient with the basketball last year. A long time ago, Ken Pomeroy emphasized the importance of free throw shooting as a predictor of future offensive performance. And Harrison and Roper were both excellent free throw shooters last year. If they get the playing time, they should be able to produce some points to replace what McDaniels took to the NBA.

Miami FL: I really don’t understand the roster Jim Larranaga put together last year. It felt like before the season started the coaching staff decided that trying to make the NCAA tournament wasn’t that important. Last year Miami went into the year with such a short bench, and so few scholarship players, that winning was virtually impossible. But then a funny thing happened. Because the Miami coaching staff are really good at their jobs, they focused on their team’s strengths, and actually got the Hurricane roster to play competitive basketball with just about everyone in the ACC.

This year, Miami has done the right things to make sure they have the depth to be competitive. Additions like Niagara graduate transfer Joe Thomas and Top 100 recruit Ivan Uceda don’t project to be stars. But they are the kind of veteran role players you need if you want to compete for an NCAA tournament bid. The star power will have to come from Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan, Kansas St. transfer Angel Rodriguez, and Top 50 high school recruit Ja’Quan Newton. And that might not be enough to compete at the highest level in the ACC. But unlike last year, Miami at least enters this year with the kind of roster that could make the NCAA tournament if things work out right.

NC State: Only Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina can top NC State’s eight players who were RSCI Top 100 recruits out of high school. And Desmond Lee was a Top 10 JUCO recruit last year, meaning that at some point in time, the scouts were raving about just about everyone on NC State’s roster. And yet for the second year in a row, I find myself saying that NC State is a year away. With TJ Warren and Tyler Lewis leaving with eligibility left, the Wolfpack again has a roster of almost all sophomores and freshmen.

The frontcourt is the biggest question mark, but the simulation model thinks that because NC State has so many options, the team will find an answer.  No player has a great projection individually, but Beejay Anja, Kyle Washington, Abdul-Malik Abu, Cody Martin, and Caleb Martin are all former Top 100 recruits, and Lennard Freeman was an effective, if reluctant scorer. The top 3 or 4 of those players should be able to compliment a quality backcourt that adds Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey.

Occasionally my projection system will reveal some under-the-radar roster trend that seems somewhat controversial. For NC State, while Kyle Washington played more than Beejay Anja last year, the model likes Anja to pass Washington in the rotation this year. The reason is somewhat simple. Anja was more highly ranked out of high school, and while Washington was a more consistent player last year, Anja’s higher block rate is a reflection of Anja’s greater athleticism. Additionally, while Anja rarely shot, Washington’s efficiency was extremely low. I’m not sure it means anything, but it does line up a little bit with roster utilization last year. While Washington’s minutes decreased as the season progressed, Anja’s playing time increased. Whether Anja actually passes Washington in the rotation remains to be seen, but that is what the model predicts.

Hoping for the NIT

Boston College: Returning minutes don’t mean everything. Exhibit A might be last year’s Boston College squad. Despite returning the team’s top six rotation players, BC fell from 96th in margin-of-victory to 138th and it cost head coach Steve Donahue his job. The drop-off was all on the defensive side of the ball. Part of it was an injury that kept center Dennis Clifford out of action. And part of it was that Boston College went from being a team that almost never fouled to a team that fouled a lot. (Was it the new defensive foul rules?)

This year BC can put together a rotation without any freshmen. And with an offensive superstar like Olivier Hanlon, that’s a formula for a solid offense. But for new head coach Jim Christian to succeed, he needs to somehow upgrade the defense while using many of the same players.

Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams has never believed he has had a lot of job security. He’s always had to fight to earn his place in the coaching profession, and he’s never had the luxury of putting a freshmen team on the floor and letting them work through their issues with a patient fan-base. But this year’s Virginia Tech roster might break that mold. Given the current Virginia Tech options, it is hard to envision a scenario where Top 100 freshmen like Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs won’t get their chance.

JUCO Shane Henry seems like the classic Buzz Williams player. A Top 10 JUCO recruit, he should slide into the lineup and be a focal point on offense. And Adam Smith, injured for much of last season, looks like he might be the ideal late bloomer. But overall, there are not enough skilled players to field a solid offense.

Wake Forest: I hope the Wake Forest fans are still enjoying watching Tim Duncan win titles in the NBA. Because I don’t see how Danny Manning has signed up for anything other than a long rebuilding project. In the short-run, Wake Forest’s three most efficient offensive players have graduated. The team adds Campbell transfer Darius Leonard, but he doesn’t have the pedigree to carry an ACC team. This year’s recruiting class is not great (although perhaps last year’s recruit Greg McClinton can be the answer if he ever gets healthy). And Wake only projects to have two scholarships available for next year, so Manning will have to force several players to transfer if he wants to bring in a big recruiting class next year. It is going to take some time to get this program back in order.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets should have been competitive last year. Trae Golden, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Kam Holsey, Robert Carter, and Daniel Miller were all very good players. And while Carter’s injury was not timely, there is no reason that a starting rotation with that caliber of talent should not have been competitive for an NCAA tournament bid. They won at Syracuse late in the year, and given their rotation, that type of success should not have been so rare. But the individual talents never seemed to click, the bench was terrible, and head coach Brian Gregory continued a trend that was apparent at Dayton. Even when he had talented players at Dayton, his teams could never put it all together.

Of the team’s five best players listed above, only Georges-Hunt returns. Ole Miss transfer Demarco Cox, East Carolina transfer Robert Sampson, and freshmen prospect Tadric Jackson will help. (I’m not sure South Florida transfer Josh Heath will help given that Heath couldn’t shoot at all last year.) But on paper, those four don’t replace what Georgia Tech loses. Basically if Brian Gregory could only get Georgia Tech to a 6-12 ACC record with last year’s roster, he could be headed to the cellar with this year’s roster.

Will Duke Or Kansas Have A Better Defense In 14-15?

Both teams bring in multiple impact freshmen, but based on the entire roster, Duke has more offensive weapons. The more interesting question is whether Kansas or Duke will have the better defense in 14-15.

NCAA Top 25 Projections (Post NBA Draft Declaration Deadline)

I explore the stats that make my model more skeptical of Texas, SMU, San Diego St., and Oklahoma, and I show that Syracuse, Ohio St., and UCLA still have plenty of elite high school talent.

Way Too Early Top 25 Projections

I break out my lineup-based projections model to predict the 2014-15 season.

All Stars Must Pass

If Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker arenít scoring, they have a hard time impacting the game. While they were eliminated, Julius Randle is in the Sweet 16 thanks to his career-high six assists against Wichita State.

NCAA Tournament Day 2

Baylor's late season surge continues, why this year's UCLA team is not last year's UCLA team, and other Day 2 observations.

Major Conference Tournaments Underway

How good would Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, and Arizona be if their freshmen stuck around? I also check in on some seniors and the first day of the major conference tournaments.

The Top 100 Recruits After Two Months, Part 1

Wayne Selden, Tyler Ennis, Josh Hart, and a full look at how the Top 100 freshmen have performed to date.

Feast Week Wrap

By almost any metric, the winner of Feast Week was the ACC. Also, notes on Scott Drew and Baylor, the turkeys of the week, Duke's defense, Harvard Watch and more.

Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

Over the past few days, Dan Hanner has presented his updated projection model, his season projections on ESPN Insider, Q&A's with Eamonn Brennon and John Templon, along with replying to questions on Twitter. Here are a few additional thoughts that didn't make the cut.

Welcome Back, Part 2

Returning minutes are sometimes deceiving. Thatís because a number of teams will welcome back players who missed all or nearly all of last season. Letís take a look at some of those players such as Andre Dawkins, Anthony Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Drew Crawford.

Freshmen Playing Time Part 2

Given a sophomore and freshmen with equivalent stats, how much less will the freshmen play for each major conference coach?

ACC Basketball Early Projection

I use my lineup-based model to project the 2013-2014 ACC standings. Find out why Virginia is a sleeper cotender and Syracuse's offense may still be a weakness.

2013-2014 Preseason Top 25

A lineup-based statistical model projects the 2013-2014 season.

The Stretch 4 Era

Just like in the NBA, floor spacing has become the name of the game at the top of the NCAA. Nine of the top 12 seeds start a three-point shooter in their frontcourt. Get as much shooting on the floor as possible without compromising your defense and rebounding.

Injury Splits, March Edition: Is Duke Now The Favorite?

Oregon, North Dakota St., Florida and Duke all got key players back recently and given how these teams performed without these players, the returns could not have come at a better time.

Weaknesses of Title Contenders

In this edition, we take the teams in the Top 16 of the Pomeroy Rankings and figure out how often they look beatable on the basketball court.

NCAA Power Poll For February

While there are certainly no elite college teams this season, there are a host of teams that can reach the Final Four. In this edition, we outline the various tiers.

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