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College Basketball Preview 14-15: Big 12 Conference

My numeric projections will be available near the start of the season, but today I want to write a few words about each Big 12 team’s outlook.

Earlier Previews: ACC Preview, MWC Preview, SEC Preview, WCC Preview, A10 Preview, Big East Preview, American Preview, Pac-12 Preview, MVC Preview

Big 12 Favorite

Kansas: Some people are worried about the Jayhawks’ point guard situation, but I think that concern is overstated. Throughout the last four seasons the Jayhawks’ PG position has been in flux, and Kansas has had no trouble extending their Big 12 regular season title streak.

Devonte Graham’s consensus recruiting ranking was 65th according to RSCI. And even if Graham is not ready, Kansas has other options. Frank Mason was better last year than most people appreciate, and as the #89 RSCI recruit he still hasn’t reached his ceiling. Conner Frankamp played more off the ball last year, but the former #40 recruit also has some PG skills. With Mason and Frankamp likely to benefit from the sophomore leap, Kansas has options.

Syracuse is another team with PG questions, and I would argue unambiguously that Kansas is in better shape, even if Kaleb Joseph was ranked slightly higher than Graham in this year’s recruiting class. Joseph is going to play almost every minute (because Syracuse doesn’t have other options), so his stats might be better. But Syracuse simply has no options if Joseph suffers a minor injury or falls into a slump. Kansas on the other hand, will use the competition to be the starting PG to keep Graham and Mason sharp in practice, and ultimately the better player will be finishing key games at the end of the year.

Surprisingly, my bigger question for Kansas is on defense. Bill Self has been the top defensive coach in the nation in the tempo-free era, but last year was his worst defensive team. Evidence suggests that the change in the way fouls were called may have hurt Bill Self more than other coaches. Typically opposing teams earn 31 to 35 free throws per 100 shots against a Bill Self coached team. But last year Self’s team allowed 45 free throws per 100 shots. The NCAA average increased by about 4 free throw attempts per 100 shots, so this was a larger than expected increase. Bill Self’s teams have been known for their physical aggressive defense, and there is a real question whether the new foul rules hurt Kansas more because Kansas players don’t shy away from contact.

If not the foul rules, another explanation for Kansas’ proclivity to foul last year may have been the team’s extreme youth. This year Kansas will be young again with super-recruits Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, and Graham all expected to play major minutes. But Kansas was unbelievably young last year with six freshmen in their ten man rotation. With an addition like transfer Hunter Mickelson complimenting veterans Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden, Kansas is unlikely to make quite as many freshmen mistakes on defense as they did last year.

The Top Challengers

Texas: I know a lot of people view Texas as a clear Top 10 team. After all, they return 100% of their rotation from last year and they add a Top 10 recruit in the post in Myles Turner. The problem is that unlike the other teams in the Top 10, Texas appears to have a weakness at the off-guard position. Demarcus Holland has played a bunch of minutes the last two years, but he is not an elite shooter. And that lack of an outside shot has allowed teams to sag off him defensively which has made him turnover prone. I thought Holland might play less this year, but with Martez Walker recently suspended for some off-court incidents, there is no guarantee. Kendal Yancy will probably see some time, but other than an odd 3-3 game against Baylor, Yancy didn’t make a three in Big 12 play either. And Damarcus Croaker was the least efficient player on the team last year.

The best Texas lineup might actually be one without a true off-guard. PGs Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix can play together, and Jonathan Holmes has enough of a perimeter game that he can play some at the wing.

The Texas frontcourt is almost too stacked, but I think the players will complement each other well. Cameron Ridley is a pure inside threat, while Myles Turner is a more skilled player who can knock down jump shots. And Connor Lammert does a little bit of everything. Lammert and Prince Ibeh might be the best back-up big men in the nation this season.

Iowa St: Fred Hoiberg is the king of the transfers. The next table shows the coaches whose debuting Division 1 transfers have produced the most points from 2011-2014. Points Produced (PP) is the numerator of the ORtg formula which gives credit to assists and offensive rebounds that create points, as well as the buckets. I also list the three debuting D1 transfers with the most points produced for each coach.

 

Coach

Teams

PP

Most Prolific

 

 

1

Fred Hoiberg

Iowa St.

2908

DeAndre Kane

Royce White

Will Clyburn

 

 

2

Dana Altman

Oregon

2721

Joseph Young

Devoe Joseph

Mike Moser

 

 

3

Tod Kowalczyk

Toledo

2320

Rian Pearson

Justin Drummond

Dominique Buckley

 

 

4

LeVelle Moton

NC Central

2318

Dominique Sutton

Landon Clement

Ray Willis

 

 

5

Dave Rice

UNLV

2237

Mike Moser

Bryce Dejean-Jones

Roscoe Smith

 

 

6

Frank Haith

Missouri

2117

Jordan Clarkson

Alex Oriakhi

Earnest Ross

 

 

7

Larry Eustachy

Colorado St.

Southern Miss

2112

JJ Avila

Colton Iverson

Neil Watson

 

 

8

Rod Barnes

CS Bakersfield

Georgia St.

2068

Issiah Grayson

Brandon Barnes

Javonte Maynor

 

 

9

Gib Arnold

Hawaii

1995

Christian Standhardinger

Zen Johnson

Keith Shamburger

 


10

Anthony Evans

FIU

Norfolk St.

1935

Rakeem Buckles

Dennis Mavin

Malcolm Hawkins

Bryce Dejean-Jones has already been an impact transfer at UNLV under Dave Rice and he hopes to do it a second time after joining Iowa St. this offseason. But he wouldn’t be the first player to be a productive transfer for two teams. Mike Moser did the same thing at UNLV and Oregon.

There is some concern whether Dejean-Jones great stats actually mask the fact that he is not a great team player. Despite being surrounded with Top 100 athletes at UNLV, the PG somehow seemed to fill his own box score, while not really running a crisp or coherent offense. But Hoiberg’s done a great job integrating misunderstood players, from Royce White to DeAndre Kane. And I think he gets the benefit of the doubt with Dejean-Jones.

It would seem that Hoiberg has the winning formula down. Find talented athletes, give them freedom offensively, and use a tight rotation that allows everyone to have great chemistry. On that last point, Hoiberg’s biggest problem this year may be that the team is actually too deep. How does Clayton Custer, a freshman PG that Rivals deemed to be a 4-star recruit, fit in with PGs Dejean-Jones and Monte Morris already on the roster. A year after Iowa St. thrived with its three forwards playing major minutes, can Hoiberg really find time for Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue, and incoming transfers Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader? When your biggest question mark heading into a season is whether you have too many talented players, you know your program has arrived.

The Debate

Kansas St and Oklahoma: My model has Oklahoma lower than just about every preseason poll. But let me explain why I think Kansas St., a team that finished two games behind Oklahoma in the Big 12 standings, may be the better team in 2014-15.

Roster Changes: Kansas St. loses Will Spradling who was a quality three point gunner for four seasons. But Kansas St. can replace Spradling with Maine transfer Justin Edwards. The “smart” fans immediate reaction may be that this is a downgrade because Edwards was far less efficient than Spradling. But that ignores the importance of shot volume. Edwards played on a bad Maine team and had to take a ton of shots. He used 32% of his team’s possessions when on the floor. Edwards will get to be much more selective at Kansas St. and that will help his efficiency tremendously. Spradling used just 14% of the possessions for Kansas St. and Edwards diverse offensive skillset will not be a downgrade.

Kansas St. also loses Shane Southwell. But the team adds Top 10 JUCO recruit Stephen Hurt, who was the freshman of the year in the A-Sun a couple of year ago. Hurt is more of a center (more on this in a moment), but if Kansas St. needs traditional wing players, Nino Williams was very efficient reserve last season. Kansas St. also adds forwards Malek Harris and Branden Bolden. Harris isn’t ranked in the Top 100, so he is not a guarantee, but Rivals and Scout were particularly fond of his game. Bolden is a transfer from Georgetown who did little with his former team, but perhaps the change of scenery will benefit him.

Because of Edwards and Hurt, my model does not see a downgrade for Kansas St.’s lineup.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma loses reserve guard Je’lon Hornbeak. The Cowboys add JUCO Dinjiyl Walker as a replacement. Walker is a bit of a risk, since JUCO players at his level don’t always translate, but it isn’t a stretch to think he can replace Hornbeak as a reserve. Even if he cannot, Frank Booker can easily expand his role from last season.

The bigger question will be Oklahoma’s forward rotation. Last year Cameron Clark played major minutes at the 4-slot. Clark was not only one of Oklahoma’s most efficient players, he was also Oklahoma’s most aggressive offensive player. That means other players will have to shoot more now that Clark is gone, which could hurt their efficiency. Oklahoma also loses forward Tyler Neal.

Oklahoma’s replacements at this point are Dante Buford and Khadeem Lattin. ESPN liked them both (though Rivals and Scout were not as high on them), but again neither was a Top 100 recruit. The downgrade from Cam Clark to these freshmen is significant and meaningful.

Advantage: Kansas St.

Growth potential: Both teams appear to downgrade their perimeter shooting with these changes, which may hurt their overall floor spacing. Additionally, while most of the teams in the Top 25 are filled with Top 100 recruits, (an average of five and a half per Top 25 team), Kansas St. and Oklahoma have zero players who were consensus Top 100 recruits out of high school.

What that means for projection purposes is that the incumbent players may not have a ton of room to grow. Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins was a 2.7 star recruit who saw his ORtg leap from 72 to 112 last year. He was phenomenal, but there is a lot of statistical evidence that Cousins has reached his ceiling. The same can be said of Kansas St.’s senior Thomas Gibson.

The biggest place to expect improvement is with the freshmen. Kansas St. gave major minutes to Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Nigel Johnson, and Jevon Thomas, while Oklahoma gave major minutes to Jordan Woodard and Frank Booker. The sophomore leap should benefit all these players, but since Kansas St.’s freshmen played more, they should get a bigger boost from player development.

Advantage: Kansas St.

Defensively, both teams should be better. While Oklahoma’s Cameron Clark played admirably and rebounded extremely well, he was a big guard playing out of position. Meanwhile Kansas St. did not have a single rotation player over 6’7” last season. Height at the center position is a huge factor in a team’s 2 PT FG% defense, and the addition of 6’11” Stephen Hurt should pay huge dividends for the Wildcats.

Advantage: Draw

Overall, my model likes Kansas St. to improve on offense and defense, while Oklahoma should be slightly worse on offense but better on defense. A lot of people will have both teams in their Top 25 this year. And that’s a very defensible position, particularly if you thought Oklahoma was a Top 25 team last year. Since the margin-of-victory numbers suggest Oklahoma was really only the 33rd best team in the nation last year, my model has the Sooners just outside the Top 25.

The Sooners do have one ace in the hole that could turn the tide. Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas joined the team this summer. Thomas has filed a waiver and applied for immediate eligibility. If Thomas becomes available as a replacement for Clark, Oklahoma is inarguably a Top 25 team.

But I am not crediting this because I have yet to hear a good reason why Thomas’ wavier would be approved. Thomas is not a graduate transfer. He is not moving closer to home for an ill relative. His former school is not banned from the NCAA tournament. His former coach was not accused of misconduct. His former coach did resign, but I don’t see the precedent for that kind of waiver approval, and I think the odds are against Thomas suiting up in 2014-15.

Hoping for the NCAA Tournament

The top five teams in the Big 12 are likely to be so dominant that the rest of the teams in the league may all finish below .500 in conference play. There are advantages to this kind of strength at the top. Everyone will have plenty of chances to pick up resume building quality wins. But it can be hard to break out of a losing streak when you are playing elite opponents game-after-game.

Oklahoma St.: Your gut instinct may be that Oklahoma St. is going to fall off the map now that Marcus Smart is gone. But keep in mind that Oklahoma St. was a much better team than their 8-10 conference record last year. An untimely suspension to Marcus Smart and limited depth in the front-court hurt the Cowboy’s win-loss record, but that doesn’t prove that Travis Ford is an incompetent coach.

Oklahoma St. retains a couple of quality players. LeBryan Nash is the rare Top 10 recruit to spend four years in college. But thanks to his improved shot selection, he finally became an efficient player last season. Meanwhile, Phil Forte is one of the best three point shooters in the country.

Oklahoma St. also adds one of the biggest impact transfers in the nation in PG Anthony Hickey. Hickey was a quality shooter and passer which made him one of the most efficient players in the nation at LSU. Top 100 JUCO Jeff Newberry also adds to the teams’ perimeter depth.

And if Oklahoma St. was lacking for big bodies last season, that isn’t the case anymore. The team adds Top 100 freshmen Joe Burton, near Top 100 recruit Mitch Solomon, and Top 100 JUCO prospect Anthony Allen, to compliment a now healthy Michael Cobbins.

Baylor: Baylor is in similar shape with a nice core, and some new pieces that might be able to step up and play well enough for a return tournament trip. Kenny Chery is the returning superstar PG. And Royce O’Neale and Taurean Prince are quality wing players. People are worried about their post depth, but Ricardo Gathers and Top 10 JUCO prospect Deng Deng are not scrubs.

People seem to be down on Gathers at this point, as the once #32 RSCI recruit has been stuck in a reserve role. But Gathers is a tremendous rebounder. If Oklahoma could make the tournament with Ryan Spangler in the middle last year, I don’t see why Baylor cannot have a quality team anchored by Gathers.

I think the season really comes down to Ish Wainwright and Allerik Freeman. Wainwright and Freeman were ranked 58th and 62nd nationally out of high school. I think people sometimes misunderstand the Top 100. Only players in the Top 10 are locks to be instant impact players. And only player in the Top 30 are frequently instant impact players. For most players in the Top 100, they settle into a role as a star as a sophomore or junior. While Wainwright played poorly last year, and while Freeman was injured, that doesn’t mean they both don’t have high potential. How quickly Baylor’s younger players develop is the mystery of their season.

West Virginia: When Bob Huggins joined the Big 12 and saw the first media poll he laughed. To paraphrase, “If you think we’re in the bottom half of the Big 12, this must be one hell of a conference.” But that’s where this team is projected once again.

Given that Terry Henderson and Eron Harris decided to transfer this off-season, it is tempting to conclude that WVU is headed in the wrong direction. But keep in mind that there were no senior graduations for the Mountaineers this off-season. The transfer of those two players does not mean WVU is starting over, it just means WVU has a couple of rotation spots to fill. That’s normal for power conference teams. WVU’s solution to this roster vacancy is to add three Top 100 JUCO transfer guards, Tarik Phillip, BillyDee Williams, and Jaysean Paige. (The team will also finally get to use Jonathan Holton, the former Top 100 JUCO and former Rhode Island forward, who was denied a waiver last year and had to sit out.)

I’ve said on many occasions that JUCO recruits of this type are lottery tickets. But Bob Huggins made his career at Cincinnati with JUCO players, and if anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt using this approach, it is him.

Still at the Bottom

Texas Tech: In his first year, Tubby Smith managed to double Texas Tech’s conference win total. The problem Smith faces, (exacerbated by Texas Tech’s current basketball reputation), is that he is no longer an elite recruiter. When his team loses a star like Jaye Crockett to graduation, when his team loses quality players like Jordan Tolbert and Dusty Hannahs to transfer, it is very hard to replace them with recruits ranked three stars or lower.

TCU: Even though I think TCU might be the worst team in the Big 12 again, I see the team improving substantially this season. First, the team adds Pitt transfer Trey Zeigler. Zeigler’s bounced around at this point, and he isn’t a clear star. But the former RSCI #29 recruit clearly has talent. And after TCU struggled with Christian Gore, Hudson Price, Thomas Montigel, and Michale Williams last season, Zeigler is a clear upgrade. PG Kyan Anderson is the real deal. And with Amric Fields and Devonte Abron returning after being injured last season, Karviar Shepherd will finally have some help in the front court. This team won’t go winless in the Big 12 again. Three of four conference wins is far more likely.

College Basketball Greatness Is Always Fleeting

Sriram Hathwar was a co-winner of the National Spelling Bee last week. This is more remarkable when you consider that this was his fifth appearance, and he continued to improve with each appearance at nationals:

Sriram Hathwar

Finish

1st Appearance

91st

2nd Appearance

37th

3rd Appearance

6th

4th Appearance

3rd

5th Appearance

1st

Everyone loves the story of a student who keeps working hard and gets better every year. But if they gave you a movie script with that kind of improvement trajectory, it would probably be rejected as unrealistic.

The movie even has the perfect climax. Hathwar actually got a word wrong. But it came when there were just two spellers left. And in the Spelling Bee, when the last two spellers make a mistake, they both stay in the competition. Hathwar faced the agony of defeat for the fifth time, but he received a last chance for redemption, and he made the most of it.

Unfortunately in sports, things often don’t have this same perfect ending. When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook started winning in Oklahoma City, it sure seemed like it was only a matter of time until the Thunder won an NBA title. But after making it to The Finals in 2012, they haven’t been able to take that next step. If the Thunder never win a title, they won’t be the first team to get better but fall short of the ultimate goal.

College rosters face this issue too. A few years ago, the remarkable story was how Mick Cronin had improved the fate of Cincinnati every season. Here is the Bearcats margin-of-victory rank in his first five seasons.

Cincinnati

MOV

2007

144th

2008

92nd

2009

90th

2010

73rd

2011

21st

But since that time Cincinnati has never broken into the Top 20 in terms of margin-of-victory. Sometimes, no matter how much progress you make, reaching that next level of success remains elusive. Right now only three NCAA teams have improved their margin-of-victory five years in a row:

Year

NC Central

Southern Miss

Fordham

2009

343rd

154th

323rd

2010

338th

98th

305th

2011

316th

77th

292nd

2012

204th

72nd

253rd

2013

168th

66th

244th

2014

81st

56th

204th

NC Central is the perfect story of improvement right now. They joined D1 as an independent in 2008 and after a couple of painful seasons, LeVelle Moton has guided the team all the way to the NCAA tournament. Many of the recent entrants to D1 would dream to have an improvement trajectory like that.

Southern Miss has also been interesting. Larry Eustachy took the team to the tournament in 2012 (when they probably were not that good), but Donnie Tyndall has taken over and continued the upper momentum. Unfortunately Southern Miss loses four senior starters, and last year’s shared CUSA title may have been the pinnacle.

Finally, it is amusing to find Fordham on this list as the Rams finished just 2-14 in the A10 last year. They are still far from being competitive in their league, but when you look at the underlying performance, head coach Tom Pecora has made a difference. And if one of the highest scoring freshmen in the nation, Jon Severe, sticks around and fulfills hs promise, the future may be even brighter.

In the major conferences, no team has improved more than three years in a row right now. Iowa St., Oklahoma, Houston, Wake Forest, and Virginia have all made improvements for three straight years.

Of course, for every winner there is a loser. Temple and Virginia Tech are among four teams that have posted worse margin-of-victory numbers for four years in a row. Temple has fallen from 15th nationally in margin-of-victory in 2010 to 159th last year, while Virginia Tech fell from 43rd all the way down to 192nd. And the Citadel has gotten worse for five straight years. Ed Conroy had the team at 20-13 and 171st nationally in margin-of-victory, but since he left the Citadel has slowly fallen to 346th last year.

Realistically, in the college world, players don’t stick around long enough for teams to build around them and slowly get better over time. And perhaps that is both the curse and the blessing of college athletics. You don’t have to worry about your team being “blocked” from a title by LeBron James or Michael Jordan. But when you must constantly re-stock the cabinet with new players and new recruits, it can be hard to consistently get better.

Way Too Early Top 25 Projections

I am once again breaking out my lineup-based projection model to predict the 2014-15 season. A lot can still change. ESPN’s #2 Recruit Myles Turner has yet to make his college choice. There are a number of intriguing players available who have graduated and are eligible immediately. And there are also several Top 10 JUCO recruits who have yet to commit. Last year, I had Kansas as a borderline Top 25 squad in my first projection, and then they added Andrew Wiggins and Tarik Black and became an obvious Top 10 squad.

Somewhat unusually, I think we have a pretty good idea who is leaving in the draft this year. When a player’s decision is an open question, I list that in my discussion below. For the record, I’m projecting that Julius Randle, Will Cauley-Stein, James Young, and both Harrison twins leave Kentucky, but that everyone else returns. And I’m assuming that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams leave UCLA based on the CBS Sports notes that suggest they will leave.

One final technical note: The results I am presenting are based on the mean projection for each player. I am saving the simulation portion of the model for later this year. The idea of the simulation is to show what happens if players fall above or below expectations and show the best and worst case scenario for each team. But the real purpose of the simulation model is to evaluate each team’s depth. And right now a number of quality teams would look pretty bad based on limited depth. That will be corrected with the addition of a late signing, eligible transfer, or JUCO recruit. Because the bottom of each team’s roster is in such flux, I don’t think it makes sense to show the simulation results at this point in the year.

Pred Pyth = Predicted Pythagorean Winning Percentage, the winning percentage against an average D1 team on a neutral floor.

Pred Off = Predicted Offense, Points Scored per 100 Possessions

Pred Def = Predicted Defense, Points Allowed per 100 Possessions

2014 Off = 2013-14 Offense

2014 Def = 2013-14 Defense

RMin = Projected Returning Minutes

T100 = Projected Players on Roster who were once Top 100 recruits

Rnk

Team

Conf

Pred Pyth

Pred Off

Pred Def

2014 Off

2014 Def

RMin

T100

1

Arizona

P12

0.963

119.8

90.1

114.7

88.5

82%

8

2

Kansas

B12

0.952

120.0

92.5

116.8

96.3

68%

10

3

Duke

ACC

0.943

122.0

95.5

123.5

102.3

47%

10

4

Wisconsin

B10

0.934

121.9

96.7

120.8

97.6

82%

3

5

Florida

SEC

0.920

116.3

94.0

115.3

89.2

47%

7

6

Michigan

B10

0.919

121.8

98.6

124.1

102.1

73%

5

7

Kentucky

SEC

0.916

118.9

96.6

118.4

97.1

21%

7

8

N. Carolina

ACC

0.914

116.4

94.7

111.7

95.4

74%

10

9

Connecticut

AAC

0.910

113.8

93.1

112.5

92.5

55%

6

10

Virginia

ACC

0.909

112.7

92.3

114.4

90.1

72%

4

11

Villanova

BE

0.909

116.6

95.5

113.8

94.4

78%

7

12

Wichita St.

MVC

0.908

116.9

95.8

118.1

93.3

64%

0

13

VCU

A10

0.907

109.6

89.9

107.9

90.2

70%

4

14

Louisville

ACC

0.899

113.6

93.9

116.6

90.0

41%

8

15

Syracuse

ACC

0.899

113.2

93.6

112.3

93.6

41%

7

16

Ohio St.

B10

0.898

113.4

93.9

106.5

89.6

54%

8

17

SMU

AAC

0.895

113.3

94.1

110.1

94.7

75%

3

18

Colorado

P12

0.878

114.2

96.2

105.1

96.9

99%

4

19

Baylor

B12

0.877

117.6

99.2

117.8

100.0

61%

4

20

Texas

B12

0.876

115.8

97.7

111.0

98.4

100%

6

21

Maryland

B10

0.873

112.1

94.8

107.6

95.5

99%

9

22

Iowa

B10

0.873

118.9

100.6

119.8

102.7

69%

2

23

UCLA

P12

0.872

114.0

96.5

117.0

97.3

35%

6

24

Gonzaga

WCC

0.872

116.3

98.4

111.4

94.4

64%

4

25

Utah

P12

0.861

112.2

95.8

108.7

96.5

94%

2

I see three teams that missed the NCAA tournament jumping into the Top 25:

SMU: The Mustangs had the 30th best margin-of-victory in the nation, and Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy are back. The team also adds elite PG recruit Emmanuel Mudiay.

Maryland: The Terrapins finished with the 41st best margin-of-victory in the nation in 2014. With virtually everyone on the roster back, and four four-star prospects joining the roster, there are no more excuses for losses. If Mark Turgeon cannot turn Maryland into a winner now, he is not going to keep his job.

Utah: The Utes had the 42nd best margin-of-victory in the nation last year and they bring basically everyone back. By simply upgrading the non-conference schedule, the Utes will be in the NCAA tournament hunt.

Focusing on the rest of the Top 25:

Arizona: Aaron Gordon was the least efficient offensive player in Arizona’s primary rotation, but he was also the heart of Arizona's defense. Thus as Arizona seeks to replace Aaron Gordon with elite recruit Stanley Johnson, I project that as helping the offense but hurting the defense. But the real reason I expect a big jump in Arizona's offense is the return of Brandon Ashley. Arizona's offense was four points better with Ashley in the lineup. If you don't like Arizona near the top of the rankings, you must think Nick Johnson is going to declare for the draft (which seems like a mistake) or that the defense is going to fall apart without Gordon. Given the athleticism Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed this year, I think Arizona's defense will still be championship caliber.

Kansas: Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins should enjoy life in the NBA next year, but don't cry for Bill Self. With elite recruits Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre joining fold, he has already found replacements. Also, don’t forget about Arkansas transfer and former elite recruit Hunter Mickelson who is joining the team. Finally, Kansas gave a lot of minutes to freshmen besides Embiid or Wiggins, and you can expect a big sophomore leap for many of those players, including Wayne Selden.

Duke: Even without Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, Duke has a loaded recruiting class, and I think a lot of people will be tempted to slot them #1 overall. I agree that the offense will be great and project Duke's offense as the best in the nation. The overall ranking depends on how high you project Duke's defense relative to last year. Jahlil Okafor and a more mature Marshall Plumlee will help, but Mike Krzyzewski's defensive prowess has faded in recent years. Can he really depend on a freshman to anchor the defense when the scouting reports say Okafor is good but not great on D?

Wisconsin: Only Ben Brust departs from a Badger team that was one shot away from the national title game.

Florida: The Gators front-court is graduating and the defense will take a hit. But I'm projecting Chris Walker to return, and along with Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Michael Frazier the Gators should still have a dominant lineup. Also, don't overlook the importance of a healthy Eli Carter and elite recruit Devin Robinson.

Michigan: I'm assuming Nik Stauskas leaves and Mitch McGary comes back. If both come back, Michigan will have a real chance at a national title.

Kentucky: James Young got a huge steal late in the national semifinal against Wisconsin. But he had only 29 steals on the full season before that. And despite NBA size, Young and the Harrison Twins were not elite defensive players on the full season. Having a player with the quickness of elite recruit Tyler Ulis will certainly help the perimeter defense next season, and even without Will Cauley-Stein, Kentucky should still have enough elite athletes to best this year's defensive effort. Offensively, Kentucky has reached another level in the NCAA tournament, and I don't expect next year's club to match that. But with a few more non-freshmen on the team, they might be able to avoid some of the mid-season struggles, and I see a slightly better offense on the whole year.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels found a rotation late in the year that really worked. Replacing James McAdoo should be doable with incoming elite wing Justin Jackson, who lit up the McDonald’s All-American game, and returning big man Brice Johnson. The real question is perimeter depth, but the team will have three elite passing PGs. And as Connecticut and Florida showed this year, that's a formula that can work.

Connecticut: Replacing Shabazz Napier's defense might be harder than replacing his offense. Napier was an elite defensive rebounder for a guard, and he was fantastic at getting steals. The combination of NC State transfer Rodney Purvis and elite recruit Leonard Hamilton should fill in for the loss of Napier's offense, especially with Ryan Boatright easily taking over the PG role.

Virginia: A year ago I would have said Virginia would fall off a cliff when Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell graduated. But with the emergence of Malcolm Brogdon and a strong core back, Virginia should have another extremely strong season.

Villanova: Every critical player but James Bell should be back from a team that dominated the Big East.

Wichita St.: I feel like my model is under-valuing the contributions of Cleanthonly Early. But Wichita St. has four super-efficient rotation players returning (Fred Van Vleet, Darius Carter, Tekele Cotton, and Ron Baker).  And while they'll need to pick up some frontcourt size from the JUCO ranks again, that plan has worked well in recent years. Overall, Gregg Marshall is on such a role developing less heralded players, there is no reason to expect that to stop next season.

VCU: PG Briante Weber, a healthy three point shooter Melvin Johnson, and leader Treveon Graham will be back. But the best news is that Shaka Smart has finally broken into the elite recruiting game with three Top 100 freshmen coming in this year. That formula doesn't always work. Sometimes managing elite prospects is more difficult than it sounds. But on paper, this is the most athletic team Shaka Smart has ever assembled.

Louisville: Losing Russ Smith will be devastating to the offense, but you cannot under-state Smith's impact on defense too. Right now the team has enough elite recruits and returning players that the perimeter offense will be solid. But most of the young forwards are a year away from dominating at the D1 level. Thus Montrezl Harrell's NBA decision might be the most critical of any player in the country. If Harrell comes back, Louisville is a real Final Four threat. Here I project Louisville without Harrell in the lineup. Either way, I think Louisville is a team that will benefit from the simulation model when I break that out later this summer, as they have significant quality depth.

Syracuse: Based on where he is showing up in mock drafts, I'm assuming Jerami Grant declares for the draft. Even without Grant, CJ Fair, and Tyler Ennis, Syracuse still has talent. Rakeem Christmas became a better defender last year. (Jim Boeheim no longer had to give him the hook for Baye Keita nearly as often.) Chris McCullough is a quality big man recruit. And DaJuan Coleman still has the recruiting profile to say he will be a dominant player if he ever stays healthy. Michael Gbinije is a natural wing. Trevor Cooney slumped at times, but he can be a dominant shooter. And thus you can see why Jim Boeheim is so frustrated that Tyler Ennis declared for the draft. For Syracuse to stay at an elite level, they need an elite PG. Kaleb Joseph had a lower recruiting rank than Ennis, and the reality is that freshmen PGs are a big risk.

Ohio St.: Ohio St. loses the three most important offensive players from a team that was not that great offensively last season. They are easy to write off. But they have a veteran PG in Shannon Scott, they gained a huge boost with the addition of Temple transfer Anthony Lee who is eligible immediately. They add three Top 30 recruits who should boost the offense. And they get back Kam Williams, a great SG prospect who was injured and forced to red-shirt this year. Ohio St. isn't going to be the same elite defensive team, but the talent is there for the offense to make a meaningful jump.

Colorado: Colorado finished the year with the 77th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation. Thus they make the biggest jump of anyone in my projections. There are two key reasons. First, they gave a ton of minutes to freshmen, who should take a big jump forward. Second, PG Spencer Dinwiddie should return from his injury and substantially improve the team’s offensive execution.

Baylor: Kenny Chery was a brilliant PG last year. Ish Wainwright and Allerik Freeman (an injury redshirt) won't match Bradly Heslip's shooting, but the former elite recruits should improve on his defense. Royce O'Neale is a dominant wing who should take on a larger role. Rico Gathers is a dominant rebounder. And if Austin comes back, Baylor is clearly a Top 25 team. Isaiah Austin says he hasn't made up his mind about going pro. And given that he is projected as a 2nd round pick in most mock drafts, I’m projecting that he returns here.

Texas: The Longhorns made the Round of 32 and everyone is back. They should be in everyone's Top 25.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes lose three seniors, but given how many players the team used last year, those losses are not devastating. The addition of elite JUCO PG Trey Dickerson should also help the team to find the right scorers in more situations. But the real reason this team fell apart down the stretch was because the defense collapsed. Head coach Fran McCaffery has had mixed success on defense in his career. He's had some good defensive teams and some bad ones. With just a little defensive improvement, Iowa should be back in the Top 25.

UCLA: Bryce Alford, Norman Powell, and a now-eligible Isaac Hamilton will man the perimeter. Meanwhile elite recruits Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh will join Tony Parker in the paint. That's a pretty good core, but the lack of depth is a concern. On paper, UCLA is not that much better than Stanford, but the model has more faith in head coach Steve Alford than Johnny Dawkins over the long grind of the regular season.

Gonzaga: Transfer big man Kyle Witjer was a very good shooter at Kentucky, but his defense was suspect.

And a few notes on teams that surprised me by missing the cut:

Iowa St: If Bryce Dejean-Jones makes the jump from UNLV, that should bump the Cyclones into the Top 25. I’m making projections based on current commitments, but given Fred Hoiberg’s track record in closing the deal with transfers, I don’t have a problem with anyone assuming he will get that commitment. And I don’t have a problem with anyone putting Iowa St. in their Top 25 right now.

Oregon:  Super-scorer Joseph Young, Dominic Artis, elite PG recruit JaQuan Lyle,  elite transfer recruit Brandon Austin (eligible in December), Elgin Cook (who broke out against BYU in the tournament), elite recruit Jordan Bell (a late qualifier and red-shirt), and Top 10 JUCO forward Michael Chandler are all reasons to love this team. But I think Oregon had more talent last year, and they still finished 29th nationally. Right now this team has limited depth in the paint, but with one more transfer addition in the front-court, they can easily jump into the Top 25.

San Diego St: It cannot be over-stated how vital Xavier Thames was to the Aztecs offense and how important Josh Davis' rebounding was to the team's defense. San Diego St. has a great recruiting class filled with players who should be stars in 2016. And Angelo Chol is a transfer who could put the team over the top. But without Thames and Davis, the team falls just outside the Top 25.

Stanford: I really feel like Stanford should be in the Top 25. With Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, Stefan Nastic, and three elite recruits, this is a team that can build on the Sweet Sixteen run. But even with the Sweet Sixteen run, Stanford's margin-of-victory on the season was only 36th nationally. And that continued a trend where Johnny Dawkins has failed to develop teams that perform on a per possession basis. Dawkins saved his job this year by making the tournament, but the long-run stats say he hasn't been great at developing players. Perhaps he will prove the model wrong by turning Reid Travis into a star this year, but right now the model isn’t convinced.

Dayton: The Flyers will show up in many people's Top 25 rankings because they played a deep lineup and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. But they lose their two most important offensive players (Devin Oliver and Vee Sanford), and don't have anyone coming in to replace them. For a team that finished 38th nationally in margin-of-victory, that isn't the formula to move up into the Top 25. But if you are looking for a reason these projections are wrong, consider that Dayton played much better basketball after February 1st.

And now a note on a few other teams that might spend some time in the Top 25 next year:

Michigan St.: The Spartans lose three critical offensive players in Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling and they don’t have anyone coming in who projects to make an immediate impact. The return of key role players like Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine will keep them near the edges of the Top 25, but the Spartans take a big step back this year.

Pittsburgh: The return of Durand Johnson from injury should help offset the loss of two key seniors.

Bottom Line: Even though Michigan St. and Pittsburgh are not in my top 25, never bet against Tom Izzo and Jamie Dixon. These teams will still be very dangerous.

Georgetown, Seton Hall, UNLV: Great recruiting classes, but each team needs to improve in a number of areas to be a Top 25 team.

LSU: Another team with elite talent, that isn’t quite there yet.

Memphis: The Tigers have enough elite talent to finish in the Top 25. But they had Top 25 talent last season, and they finished with the 37th best margin-of-victory numbers. Realistically, with zero seniors in 2014-15, Memphis projects to peak in 2015-16.

Tennessee:  The Volunteers lose a ton of production, but if Jarnell Stokes comes back, they will be in the hunt.

Illinois: Jon Groce’s team finished with the 49th best margin-of-victory in the nation last year, and the team adds three quality transfers, plus incoming Top 100 recruit Leron Black in the paint. They still don’t have many star scorers besides Rayvonte Rice, but given the upgrade at PG and PF, Illinois is intriguing.

Nebraska: Tim Miles is very close and brings almost everyone back. But considering that Nebraska still has zero Top 100 recruits, if Tim Miles can get the team to jump from 44th to 30th nationally, that would still be a huge accomplishment.

Cincinnati: The offense was bad with Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson in the fold. They deserve respect as the defending American Conference champs, but it is hard to see this team defending that title.

Sweet Sixteen Day 2

A comeback, classic announcers, Michigan St.'s new closer, and Alex Poythress highlight Day 2 of the Sweet Sixteen.

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.

Big 12 Basketball Early Projection

With Andrew Wiggins joining Kansas, the Jayhawks should stay at the Top of the Big 12. But the projection for West Virginia, Kansas St., and Oklahoma is entirely different from last season.

Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, And A Quick Look At How The Top 80 Recruits Have Fared

On Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, Kyle Anderson and the rest of the freshman class as they play such prominent roles to begin the 12-13 NCAA season.

NCAA Tournament Day 1

Which players have contributed to Purdue's offensive resurgence, the storylines from Day 1 of the NCAA tournament, and an explanation why various teams tournament expecations are changing.

Initial Bracket Thoughts

A few preliminary thoughts on matchups and which teams will advance deep in the tournament.

The Many Facets & Unpredictability Of March Madness

While personnel determine scheme in the NBA, college basketball coaches recruit players that fit their schemes.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead To Tournament Week

Examining the final regular season weekend of the Big Ten, ACC and SEC, along with everything you really need to know to enjoy Tournament Week.

YABC Column For Feb. 6th (Iowa St., Florida St., Robbie Hummel & More)

On Florida State with and without Ian Miller, Miami's upset of Duke, Missouri as a No. 1 seed, Iowa State, Robbie Hummel as a spot-up shooter and more.

BCS Basketball Power Poll January 2012

Separating the BCS schools into tiers named after John Wooden, Dean Smith, Gene Keady, Rollie Massimino, John Chaney, Kelvin Sampson, Tim Welsh, Pat Knight and Sidney Lowe, how does everyone stand?

Colleges On NBA Rosters

Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, UConn, Florida and Arizona each begin the 11-12 NBA season with 10 or more players on NBA rosters.

Yet Another College Basketball Column, November 14

Belmont's outstanding defense in their narrow loss to Duke, why the UCLA loss to LMU isn't as bad as it looks on paper, Renardo Sidney, Royce White and more.

The Anti-Recruiting Tool

There are many ways to build a winning program. John Calipariís focus on younger players may be the best way to get elite recruits, but it isnít the only way to build a winning program.

Why Transfers Matter, Plus Big 12 And MWC Notes

The value of transfers to BCS schools, plus why Baylor could have a top-10 team (if Bill Self was their coach instead of Scott Drew).

How The Big 12 Looks Like A Typical Little League Team

The Big 12 is like a Little League team. Texas is the star shortstop, and Oklahoma is the best pitcher. Texas A&M is a quality hitting second baseman. And Baylor is the kid who got cut after the first few practices.

Do NCAA Football Rivalries Translate To Basketball?

In honor of the beginning of the 2011 college football season, here is a look at some of their biggest rivalries and whether they translate to the basketball court.

College Coaching Series Part 6

In this edition, we look at pace for all BCS coaches, with the Big 12 and SEC expected to play at the fastest rate in the nation.

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