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

After I presented my early Top 25 last week, Kansas PG Naadir Tharpe left the team for personal reasons, and PG recruit Devonte Graham committed to the Jayhawks. I’m not going to fully re-run the projections again until after the Spring signing period, but based on the early numbers, my model seems to be a tad higher on Kansas than most experts. My model’s confidence is based on Bill Self’s per-possession track record (as reflected in 10 straight conference titles.) In particular, the model expects Kansas’ defense to bounce back substantially this year. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was plenty of nuance to the defensive projection.

Before I get to the defensive discussion, let me say that there is a high probability that Duke will have a better offense than Kansas next year. Duke’s returning players (Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson) were more efficient than Kansas’ returning players. Perry Ellis was very efficient, but Wayne Selden was not a natural scorer last year, and the Kansas PG situation is still a little unsettled. 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.

Unfortunately, our current methods for predicting defense are not great. Individual defense is extremely poorly measured with current statistics. I can tell you that Duke’s Matt Jones had a higher steal rate than Rodney Hood. But that doesn’t mean Jones was a better defender. Hood’s size might have altered more shots. We also don’t know who Jones was matched-up against defensively. We don’t have a statistical measure of whether Jones took more chances and gave up more drives to get those steals. And we don’t know if Jones got a few more deflections because he played sparingly and didn’t need to conserve his energy for the offensive end of the floor. Perhaps if Jones played starters’ minutes, his defense wouldn’t be nearly as good.

Team defense is also astonishingly unpredictable. North Dakota St. brought everyone back last season, and yet NDSU’s defense fell from 59th to 131st. NDSU’s offense was good enough that Saul Phillips’ squad won the Summit League and defeated Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament. But even for teams with little roster turnover, the small sample of college basketball games in a season means we do not always have a true barometer of a team’s defense.

The larger sample of games for each coach may be more reliable, and that’s why my model includes coach effects on defense. The next table shows the national rank of Bill Self and Mike Krzyzewski’s defense in each season over the last 10 years, measured on a per-possession basis, adjusting for opponent and venue.  The table makes a pretty compelling case that Bill Self has been a better defensive coach over the last 10 years, and that Kansas will have a better defense in 14-15.

Def Rank

Bill Self

Mike Krzyzewski

2013-14

31st

116th

2012-13

5th

31st

2011-12

3rd

81st

2010-11

11th

21st

2009-10

9th

8th

2008-09

9th

36th

2007-08

1st

8th

2006-07

1st

7th

2005-06

3rd

18th

2004-05

25th

3rd 

But the personnel situation for Duke makes it a little less certain. Duke’s biggest problem on defense last year was that they did not play a true low post defender. Duke essentially played Jabari Parker out of position at the center spot for much of the season, rather than give Marshall Plumlee a chance to develop in the paint. Mike Krzyzewski clearly thought he had a better chance to outscore teams with that small lineup, but the defense was bad all year. This year with Jahlil Okafor in the paint, and a more mature Marshall Plumlee playing more minutes, Duke will almost certainly improve its interior defense. An argument can be made that Okafor is a uniquely talented center, and Duke’s defense will look more like it did in 2010, when Duke had Brian Zoubek in the middle. Meanwhile Kansas, which has often featured 7 foot shot blockers in the middle, may end up playing a slightly smaller front line of Cliff Alexander and Perry Ellis next year.

The above table also raises another issue. 13-14 was the worst defensive season for both Bill Self and Mike Krzyzewski since Ken Pomeroy began tracking the per-possession stats. And there was something else that changed in 2013-14 besides each team’s personnel. The NCAA also changed its rules about hand-checking perimeter players and drawing charges. And as the next table shows, Bill Self and Mike Krzyzewski’s teams both struggled with sending players to the free throw line after this change. Bill Self’s team particularly struggled in this area. While the average NCAA team sent players to the line 4 to 5 more times per 100 shots, Kansas sent players to the line 13 more times per 100 shots last year.

And this may not have been the only impact of the rule changes. If Duke’s defenders could no longer step in front and draw charges as they did in previous seasons, that may be more of a permanent concern for Krzyzewski’s team. Both teams were worse at creating turnovers in 2013-14, but both showed similar drops to the national average.

Def Free Throw Rate

Bill Self

Mike Krzyzewski

Bo Ryan

National Average

2013-14

45

41

27

41

2012-13

32

33

26

36

2011-12

33

33

30

37

2010-11

32

30

33

38

2009-10

31

34

36

38

2008-09

35

31

34

37

2007-08

31

32

25

37

2006-07

34

30

28

37

2005-06

32

28

31

36

2004-05

38

32

28

37 

It is obviously too soon to tell whether the rule changes have a unique effect on these two coaches. A strong argument can be made that the primary reason Kansas fouled so much last year was because of the team’s excessive youth. 2013-14 was the youngest team of Bill Self’s career.

But it is worth asking whether coaches that are particularly good at teaching their teams to play defense without fouling (Bo Ryan), coaches that play zone defense (Jim Boeheim), or coaches that play pack-line defense (Tony Bennett) will be better prepared to play elite defense going forward. Bill Self is clearly one of the best teachers of physical man-to-man defense in the nation, but it is harder to bank on his historic track record in an environment where the rules have changed.

Overall, I remain optimistic about both team’s defense next year. If you have watched any of Duke or Kansas’ recruits play, or read the scouting reports, it is clear they have the type of athletes coming in to be a real threat defensively.

Paul Biancardi says Duke’s Justise Winslow might be the best defensive player in the country. Duke’s Tyus Jones has such an impressive ability to drive and create using his low-center of gravity, I will be shocked if he doesn’t have the ability to keep opposing guards out of the lane. Kansas’ Cliff Alexander is an aggressive defensive rebounder. And Kansas’s Kelly Oubre has an impressive wingspan, the kind of arms that should cause a lot of deflections this year. Certainly, the incoming personnel are capable of playing elite defense.

But the changes in the rules make me nervous about including defensive coach effects in my model. An unusual number of great defensive coaches had mediocre defensive seasons in 13-14. In next fall’s projections, I may need to lower the impact of coach effects on the predictions. I’m projecting Duke’s offense to be better than Kansas’ offense, and I’m quite confident in that prediction. I’m also projecting Kansas’ defense to be better than Duke’s defense, but that is far from guaranteed.

NCAA Top 25 Projections (Post NBA Draft Declaration Deadline)

Before I share the projections, I want to comment on a few places where my rankings disagree with some other experts. I explain the statistical reasons why my model is more skeptical of Texas, SMU, San Diego St., and Oklahoma. But I also do not completely agree with what the model is currently suggesting. The lineup-based statistical projection seems to be falling in love with teams with a lot of unproven high school talent.

Where My Model Disagrees with Other Experts

Texas (Too High Elsewhere): Texas returns 100% of their minutes from last year, they have super-recruit Myles Turner joining the front-court, and they made the round of 32 last year. But I think it is important to emphasize that Texas finished with the 6th best margin-of-victory in the Big 12, and the 39th best margin-of-victory nationally. In terms of NCAA at-large teams without major injuries, Texas was the luckiest team in the nation last year, winning a ton of close games. Heck, even their NCAA win came by the slimmest of margins on a last-second buzzer beater. If you start from the premise that Texas was a Top 25 team, you could justify a Top 5 ranking. But based on how they really played, and how inconsistently their lineup performed individually, I have them just behind the other elite teams in 9th.

SMU (Too High Elsewhere): A lot of SMU’s players had huge jumps in efficiency last year.  Marcus Kennedy had an ORtg of 88 at Villanova and an ORtg of 106 at SMU last season. Nic Moore had an ORtg of 106 at Illinois St. and an ORtg of 118 at SMU last season. But big leaps in efficiency are usually followed by players slipping back some. AAC coaches are studying film of Kennedy and Moore’s game this off-season and figuring out ways to slow them down. The addition of Emmanuel Mudiay is why I have SMU improving its margin of victory from 30th to 16th, but without Myles Turner, I think it is premature to put them in the Top 10.

San Diego St.  (Too High Elsewhere): Most people account for Xavier Thames impact on the offense, but not enough people are recognizing how special it was to have an elite defensive rebounder like Josh Davis. Remember what happened to Oregon’s defense after Arsalan Kazemi graduated? Oregon fell from 10th to 88th on defense.

Oregon (Too High Elsewhere): Speaking of Oregon, I love the backcourt, but for a team that was horrible on defense last year, the lack of clear defenders in the paint is a red flag. Perhaps the highly regarded JUCO recruits will make a difference, but the front-court weakness is what is keeping Oregon out of my Top 25.

Oklahoma  (Too High Elsewhere): Oklahoma finished 2nd in the Big 12 last year, but the Sooners only had the  5th best margin-of-victory in the conference, and nationally their margin-of-victory was only 33rd. That said, Oklahoma’s potential starting lineup is impressive:

-Ryan Spangler, a dominant rebounder, who rarely touched the ball, but had an ORtg of 125

-Dante Buford, the nation’s #72 recruit and a needed piece at forward

-Jordan Woodard, who had a 28% assist rate as a freshmen, and an ORtg of 108

-Isaiah Cousins, a 40% three point shooter with an ORtg of 112

-And Buddy Hield, a high volume shooter who made 90/233 or 39% of his threes last season

On paper, that should lead to a very good offense. But my model is skeptical that it will be better than last year’s offense. Oklahoma loses a player that took 30% of the shots last year, and was extremely efficient, in Cam Clark. The most likely scenario next season is that Oklahoma will replace Clark with some of its less skilled big men. Either veteran DJ Bennett, or one of the three freshmen bigs (of which Buford is the most highly ranked) will take Clark’s minutes. The increased size will improve the defense, but it will also hurt Oklahoma’s offense. While Buford is a Top 100 recruit, based on where he is ranked, we can’t expect him to be a consistent offensive player immediately.

What could overcome the loss of Clark is if Hield, Cousins, or Woodard took a significant step forward. But what you have to remember is that none of these guys was a Top 100 recruit out of high school. Realistically, they are all playing pretty close to their ceiling. Woodard has the biggest chance to improve, as the sophomore leap is typically the biggest, but he didn’t make a ton of mistakes as a freshman, so he doesn’t have as much room to grow.

As I’ve shown on many occasions, to win at the highest levels, having elite high school talent is important. It isn’t completely necessary, but the stats show that on average, a high school recruiting rank is an important predictor of career development. And Oklahoma has only one former Top 100 recruit on its roster.

That emphasis on the potential of Top 100 recruits, particularly former Top 30 recruits, is why my model likes the next three teams that many experts are skeptical about. Essentially, if you have 7-8 players with solid recruiting backgrounds, and a coach that has been highly successful in recent seasons, my model tends to project great things. Let’s take a quick look at the elite prospects on three rosters:

Syracuse (Too High in My Projections):

#50 recruit, 6’3” PG Kaleb Joseph

#79 recruit, 6’4” SG Trevor Cooney, ORtg 122, 90/240 or 38% of threes last year

#28 recruit, 6’7” G/F Michael Gbinje, ORtg 111, passable 15.6% assist rate as backup PG

#37 recruit, 6’8” F Tyler Roberson, ORtg 89, best DR% on team last year

#24 recruit, 6’10” F Chris McCullough

#18 recruit, 6’9” C DaJuan Coleman, ORtg 109, almost always injured, but good per-minute rebounder

#21 recruit, 6’9” C Rakeem Christmas, ORtg 126 but far too passive with 11% of shots last year, best shot-blocker on team last year

Ohio St. (Too High in My Projections):

#32 recruit, 6’1” PG Shannon Scott, ORtg 101, 25.5% assist rate last year

#13 recruit, 6’5” SG D'Angelo Russell

#76 recruit, 6’3” SG Kam Williams, great shooter who red-shirted last year

#28 recruit, 6’5” SF Jae'Sean Tate

#46 recruit, 6’7” SF Sam Thompson, decent scorer, ORtg 105, but terrible rebounder

#22 recruit, 6’7” F Keita Bates-Diop

#66 recruit, 6’7” F Marc Loving, ORtg 101, aggressive scorer, possible break-out candidate as a sophomore

Temple Transfer, 6’9” F Anthony Lee, ORtg 107 on bad team, great offensive and defensive rebounder

#50 recruit, 6’11” C Amir Williams, ORtg 110, great offensive rebounder

UCLA (Too High in My Projections):

Unranked, 6’3” PG Bryce Alford, ORtg 110, 19% assist rate last year as backup PG

#53 recruit, 6’4” SG Norman Powell, ORtg 120, high steal rate last year

#19 recruit, 6’5” SF Isaac Hamilton, red-shirted after he could not get out of NLI

#12 recruit, 6’8”  F Kevon Looney

#36 recruit, 6’8” F Thomas Welsh

#69 recruit, 6’11” C Jonah Bolden

#24 recruit, 6’9” C Tony Parker, ORtg 108, strong rebounder last year

That’s a ton of players that were elite prospects coming out of high school. Given how well Jim Boeheim’s defense has performed in recent seasons, Syracuse should be ranked, no matter how much talent they lose. And Thad Matta might be the most under-rated coach in the nation. In the 12 years, Ken Pomeroy has been keeping track of the stats, Matta’s teams have never finished worse than 33rd in margin-of-victory. Steve Alford has also done a brilliant job developing players over the last several years. For example, Kyle Anderson became a star under Alford, after struggling to find a college role under Ben Howland. Talent + Great Coaching = Teams that should be ranked.

But a word of caution is warranted. This version of my model is based on the mean projection for every player. Later this summer, when teams fully fill out their depth chart, I will run my full simulation and project scenarios where players are allowed to have good or bad seasons. When I allow for the possibility that one or more of these recruits are busts, teams like Syracuse and UCLA are going to have a very worrisome downside. For example, if Syracuse PG Kaleb Joseph isn’t ready to play major minutes, Syracuse’s season could be a disaster.  The whole point of the above exercise is simply to point out that as much as these teams lose, their primary rotation has the athletes to be competitive with anyone.

Of course, you might also ask why teams like Stanford, UNLV, and Memphis are not ranked because they are also filled with elite recruits. Personally, I’m particularly high on Stanford based on their returning players and recruiting class. But my statistical model basically says this: If you look at the last several years on a per-possession basis, Jim Boeheim, Thad Matta, and Steve Alford, have been great at molding their players into efficient contributors. Meanwhile, despite occasional flashes of brilliance, Johnny Dawkins, Dave Rice, and Josh Pastner have been a lot less effective. Even in making the Sweet Sixteen last season, Dawkins team was only 36th in the nation in margin-of-victory.

Someone has to fill out the Top 25, and arguments can be made against all these teams. But that is always the case outside the Top 10-12 teams. For a description of the headings in the table, and a deeper run-down on some of the teams, click here.

Rnk

Team

Conf

Pred Pyth

Pred Off

Pred Def

LastOff

LastDef

Rmin

T100

1

Kentucky

SEC

0.959

123.0

93.5

117.6

96.9

65%

10

2

Duke

ACC

0.950

122.0

94.5

123.5

102.3

47%

10

3

Kansas

B12

0.950

120.0

93.0

116.8

96.3

68%

10

4

Arizona

P12

0.935

117.0

92.8

114.7

88.5

65%

7

5

Wisconsin

B10

0.934

121.9

96.7

120.8

97.6

82%

3

6

Louisville

ACC

0.926

116.4

93.5

116.7

90.0

56%

9

7

Florida

SEC

0.920

116.3

94.0

115.3

89.2

47%

8

8

N. Carolina

ACC

0.914

116.4

94.7

111.7

95.4

74%

10

9

Texas

B12

0.912

117.8

96.1

111.0

98.4

100%

7

10

Villanova

BE

0.909

116.6

95.5

113.8

94.4

78%

7

11

Wichita St.

MVC

0.908

116.9

95.8

118.1

93.3

64%

0

12

Virginia

ACC

0.907

112.5

92.3

114.4

90.1

70%

4

13

VCU

A10

0.907

109.6

89.9

107.9

90.2

70%

4

14

Syracuse

ACC

0.899

113.2

93.6

112.3

93.6

41%

7

15

Ohio St.

B10

0.898

113.4

93.9

106.5

89.6

54%

8

16

SMU

AAC

0.895

113.3

94.1

110.1

94.7

74%

3

17

Iowa St.

B12

0.888

118.0

98.6

118.4

99.9

65%

3

18

Iowa

B10

0.873

118.9

100.6

119.8

102.7

67%

2

19

UCLA

P12

0.872

114

96.5

117

97.3

35%

6

20

Gonzaga

WCC

0.872

116.3

98.4

111.4

94.4

64%

4

21

Connecticut

AAC

0.867

109.7

93.2

112.2

91.8

42%

5

22

Oklahoma

B12

0.861

114.3

97.6

116.3

100.6

70%

1

23

Michigan St.

B10

0.860

113.6

97.0

117.2

96.1

59%

6

24

San Diego St.

MWC

0.856

108.8

93.2

109.5

91.6

67%

7

25

Pittsburgh

ACC

0.851

113.1

97.2

114.8

96.2

69%

4

Moving Up Since Early April

Team – Players That I Did Not Expect to Stay: Analysis

Kentucky – Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein:  Kentucky now has eight players who were former Top 20 recruits out of high school. And the other two, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Tyler Ulis, might end up being the most important players on the team next year. Cauley-Stein is an elite rim-protector. And Ulis is a true PG who will be a better defensive match-up against speedy perimeter players, as well as a true facilitator. With experience to go along with all its talent, Kentucky is the clear favorite. 

Louisville - Montrezl Harrell:  Russ Smith and Luke Hancock were high volume efficient shooters who will be hard to replace. But keep in mind how many minutes Stephen Van Treese played last year, and he basically never shot. In net, you have a team with elite high school recruits at every position, depth at every position, and thanks to the return of Montrezl Harrell, you have a clear offensive star. The offense should be fine. As I've said before, the thing that will be harder to replace is Russ Smith's ability to create steals. 

Dropping

Team – Players That I Did Not Expect to Leave: Analysis

Arizona – Nick Johnson (pro): Nick Johnson is not a consensus first round pick, so in my first set of predictions, I assumed he would return to school. But even if the NBA doesn't value him as a first round pick, that was how he played. Johnson was the most efficient of Arizona's starters, and he used the highest shot volume last year. Arizona has a stacked recruiting class, and has talent across the board. But the model no longer predicts the same big offensive jump now that the top offensive producer from last year is gone. The defense should still be elite, but keep in mind that Johnson was also better at grabbing steals and blocking shots than Gabe York and Elliott Pitts. His loss does hurt. 

Connecticut -DeAndre Daniels (pro): Daniels was a unique forward who could spread the floor, but who also had an uncanny ability to block shots. Lineups with Phil Nolan and Amida Brimah might be dominant defensively, but they won't have nearly the same great spacing on offense.

Minor note: Virginia lost Teven Jones to transfer. His playing time fell off last year, so this was not a huge surprise, but he did play 500 minutes in his career, and he was expected to be a backup guard next season. His departure makes a miniscule change in Virginia’s projection. This caused Virginia to fall below Villanova and Wichita St.

Dropping Out of My Top 25

Michigan – Mitch McGary (pro), Glenn Robinson (pro), Jon Horford (transfer): I thought Michigan could be a Top 10 team even without Nik Stauskas, but after losing basically the entire front-court, Michigan will have to deal with somewhat of a rebuilding process, at least early in the season. You are going to start hearing a lot about red-shirt freshman forward Mark Donnal in the coming weeks. Donnal was not a consensus Top 100 recruit, but he was a 4-star prospect, and he is the type of player that should have an impact offensively. But keep in mind that Donnal did not burn his red-shirt when Mitch McGary went down last year. The fact that he didn't says we shouldn't expect Donnal to be a superstar. If Michigan adds a JUCO forward, that would likely move the Wolverines back into my Top 25, but right now the front-court depth is lacking and Michigan sits at 26th in my projections. 

Colorado – Spencer Dinwiddie (pro): Because of the sophomore leap, I expect a number of Colorado’s players to get better this year. But there is no way they can be ranked without Spencer Dinwiddie. Colorado’s margin-of-victory fell to 77th late in the season with Dinwiddie out. Saying that Askia Booker's experience can make up for Dinwiddie’s departure is a joke. Dinwiddie had an ORtg of 129 last year, while Booker's ORtg was 99. Top 100 recruit and PG Dominique Collier will help a lot, but given where he is ranked, he is probably about a year away from dominating at the college level.

Maryland – Nick Faust (transfer), Shaq Cleare (transfer), Roddy Peters (transfer): Maryland was my sleeper team, but they fall a little bit due to these departures. Maryland was still incredibly unlucky last season. By just winning a few more close games, they should be in the NCAA tournament hunt. And they bring in a great recruiting class. But without Faust, they no longer project as a Top 25 team.

Baylor – Isiah Austin (pro): I thought after Austin’s stats fell off in every area and after he was no longer projected as a first round pick that Austin might spend another year in college. I was wrong. I don't hate the Bears roster. Kenny Chery, Royce O'Neale, and Rico Gathers are all talented players. But they are not quite a Top 25 squad anymore.

Utah – Princeton Onwas (transfer):  Onwas departure knocks Utah out of my Top 25, but they are close, and this should still be the year that Utah returns to the NCAA tournament. (Utah also added an international center, but he hasn’t been fully scouted by the US scouting services, and it is hard to project a big impact for him this year.)

Moving into My Top 25

Iowa St.: Bryce Dejean-Jones committed to Iowa St. this month, and his addition moves the Cyclones from 27th to 17th. Dejean-Jones was a high volume scorer and efficient passer for UNLV.

Oklahoma: While Je’lon Hornbeak wasn’t terrible by any means, he was the least efficient player on Oklahoma last year, and swapping him for a JUCO PG didn’t drop the Sooners. Oklahoma basically moved into the Top 25 because some of the above teams fell out.

Michigan St., San Diego St., Pittsburgh: Gary Harris’ departure was not a surprise, so these teams did not add or lose any key pieces since my initial rankings. But with the above teams losing key pieces, the Spartans, Aztecs, and Panthers moved into the Top 25.

Next week: I will have a few more comments on the defensive projection for Duke and Kansas.

Draft Report: Joel Embiid Of Kansas

Ever since a back injury prematurely ended his freshman season, Kansas center Joel Embiid has been out of sight, out of mind when it comes to NBA draft discussions. Embiid, who declared for the draft on Wednesday, is far from a finished product, but he would dramatically improve every team in the lottery. There’s no one else on the draft who can replicate his impact on both sides of the ball. Embiid is the No. 1 prospect in 2014 and it isn’t really close.

Embiid had good statistics for a freshman - 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.5 assists and one steal a game - but they don’t fully capture how dominant he was. His biggest problem was foul trouble, which is what you would expect for a guy who started playing basketball three years ago. His per-40 minute numbers were outrageous - 19 points, 14 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 4.5 blocks and six fouls on 63 percent shooting. He’s a 19-year-old center with a 28.2 PER.

When Embiid was in the line-up, Kansas looked like one of the best teams in the country. Without him, they looked like a team that was replacing four senior starters and a lottery pick (Ben McLemore). Their tailspin at the end of the season coincided with Embiid’s absence. They went 3-3 in their last six games, including a loss to an NIT team (West Virginia), struggling with a 15-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tourney and losing to a 10-seed in the second.

Andrew Wiggins, his more celebrated teammate, had 41 points in the game against the Mountaineers, but he wasn’t making his teammates better. Without Embiid, Kansas couldn’t control the tempo of the game or protect the rim, allowing West Virginia to get the game going up-and-down and race out to a 50-38 halftime lead. Wiggins took 18 shots in that game, but he had only two assists on four turnovers. That’s not the ratio you want from your best player.

It’s much harder for a big man to rack up assists than a perimeter player, yet Embiid and Wiggins both averaged the same number on the season. When Wiggins gets the ball on the wing, he’s putting his head down and making a straight-line drive at the rim. When Embiid gets the ball in the post, he’s collapsing the defense and moving it back out. Even though he’s far less experienced, Embiid showed more court awareness than Wiggins this season.

For all the talk of Wiggins’ athletic ability on the defensive end, Embiid averaged only 0.3 fewer steals a game, despite spending most of his time in the paint. A great interior defender, as the second line of defense, is far more valuable than a great defender on the perimeter. Just by standing in the middle of the lane, Embiid covered up a lot of mistakes on the defensive end and made everyone better. There’s no way for a guard to replicate that kind of impact.

When people talk about the draft, everyone brings up Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan and Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. At the same time, you don’t hear many people talking about taking Evan Turner over Derrick Favors or all the teams that passed on Andre Drummond. The media would like you to believe that basketball games are won and lost by which team’s perimeter players can hoist more shots and “impose their will” on a game, but that isn’t the case.

If you make a list of the best centers in the NBA, you will start to notice a trend - they all play on really good teams. Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Tim Duncan, Roy Hibbert and Andrew Bogut are all centerpieces of good teams. The only good center on a bad team (DeMarcus Cousins) is the exception that proves the rule - he’s the rare center who doesn’t play much defense. If you paired him with Embiid, it would be a serious problem.

It’s no coincidence that Gasol, Noah, Duncan, Hibbert and Bogut all made the second round of the playoffs last season. The other three centers? Tyson Chandler, Chris Bosh and Kendrick Perkins. Unless you have LeBron James or Kevin Durant, you had better have a good center. In case you were wondering, there aren’t any 6’11 235 SG’s with a 7’4 wingspan or 6’9 270 point centers in this draft. Embiid is the one guy who brings instant credibility to the team that drafts him.

Embiid makes his teammates better on both sides of the ball. He’s the rare 7’0 who has a chance to be an elite defensive player and an elite offensive player. He has the physical ability to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and the skill-set to be indefensible in the low post. In terms of his ceiling, Embiid is more fluid offensively than Howard, more athletic than Gasol, more skilled than Hibbert and Bogut and much bigger than Noah. His ceiling is Tim Duncan.

There are a lot of parallels between Duncan and Embiid. Both picked up the game later in life - Duncan was an elite swimmer in the Virgin Islands, Embiid grew up playing volleyball and soccer. As a result, neither picked up the bad habits that plague modern big men. They aren’t trying to play point guard or shoot a bunch of 3’s - when you are bigger, faster and more coordinated than everyone you face, you don’t want make the game any more complicated than it has to be.

That’s the most intriguing thing about Embiid - he’s a 19-year-old still growing into his body, yet he’s already bigger and faster than most NBA centers. He won’t come in and dominate his competition as a 20-year-old, but he will be able to hold his own. Even if I had a center on my team, I would draft Embiid and make him a PF, just like Duncan. He’s fast enough to play on the perimeter and he shoots 69 percent from the free-throw line - he’s capable of playing out of the high post.

Andrew Wiggins is a great prospect, but there are super-athletic wings who can’t pass the ball in every draft. If Embiid never gets better, he is a more offensive-minded Tyson Chandler. An NBA team doesn’t get a chance to draft a 7’0 with his ability very often - there aren’t many drafts where Embiid wouldn’t be the No. 1 prospect. He’s the only player in this draft I would seriously consider tanking for. If the doctors clear him medically, you take Embiid without thinking twice.

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 aren’t 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.

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.

In Season Improvement, Part 1

What Arizona, Wisconsin, and Syracuse have that Kansas does not have, hope for Michigan fans, and the Top 10 coaches at improving their teams in-season.

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.

Star Ratings (In Depth)

Sometimes we see enough players fail to develop and wonder if the recruiting rankings really matter. And while a players potential is far from the only thing that matters, there is no question that a players work ethic and athleticism is on display at the high school level. Recruiting rankings matter, and not just for the Top 100.

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?

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.

2013-2014 Preseason Top 25 Part 2

A lineup-based statistical projection of the 2013-2014 season.

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.

Who Have You Played?

On the legitimacy of Arizona and Florida as national championship contenders, who has quality wins already and more.

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.

Mike Krzyzewski Owns November

Duke may not be #1 in the polls, but in terms of accomplishments, no one has more quality wins than the Blue Devils at this point. They’ve beaten two preseason Top-5 teams and two more probable tournament teams.

Early Season Tournaments: Brackets, Observations, And Odds: Part 2

The Legends Classic might be the most highly anticipated early season tournament because of the potential finals matchup between Indiana and UCLA. We also look at the CBE Classic, Maui Invitational, Cancun Challenge, Great Alaska Shootout, Battle 4 Atlantis and the Old Spice Classic.

Beating Kentucky

Kentucky has multiple defensive answers for the top players on Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas. On the other end of the floor, none of those teams have defensive answers for all of Kentucky’s weapons.

Player Performance In The NCAA Tournament

What star player in the Final Four has the worst efficiency rating in this year's NCAA tournament? And which players have raised their efficiency from the regular season?

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