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College Basketball Preview 14-15: American Athletic Conference

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

Earlier Previews: ACC Preview, MWC Preview, SEC Preview, WCC Preview, A10 Preview, Big East Preview

American Conference Co-Favorites

SMU: Even though Emmanuel Mudiay decided to skip college, SMU still deserves to be in the preseason Top 25. SMU had the 30th best margin-of-victory in the nation last year, they don’t have any freshman on the roster (who might waste possessions), and they return 74% of their minutes. With stars Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy returning, this team has Top 25 level talent.

But the reasons for optimism go beyond those basic stats. The reality is that several bench players are prepared to break out and take on larger roles. Keith Frazier was a Top 30 guard prospect last year, and as a rising sophomore, there is a strong chance he becomes a star this year. Former Top 10 JUCO recruit Yanick Moreira was injured last year, but when fully healthy he was dominant. All Moreira needs to be a major scorer at the D1 level is more minutes. And even if Ben Moore and Cannen Cunningham were not ranked quite as high out of high school, they were efficient last season and they could thrive with a larger role too.

The team also adds one of the best transfers in the nation in Xavier’s Justin Martin. Without Mudiay, this might not be a Top 10 team, but this team still has the depth and strength to win the league.

Connecticut: The next table shows UConn’s offensive and defensive performance in the regular season and in their six game NCAA tournament run:

Connecticut

Adj Off

Adj Def

Pyth.

Rank

First 34 Games

109.5

92.8

0.8688

25th

NCAA Tournament

120.5

89.1

0.9698

1st

Many believe the NCAA tournament is about luck. Unlike the NBA’s best of seven series, the one and done format is not about finding the best team. But even if you don’t believe Connecticut was the best team in college basketball over five months, you have to give the Huskies a lot of credit for how they played in that closing stretch. In those six games, the Huskies really were playing like the best team in the nation.

And as I said at the time, I think this national title is a huge boon for the long-run strength and stability of the program. A year ago teams recruiting against Connecticut could claim that the level of competition in the American Conference was not going to be good enough to prepare UConn for the NCAA tournament. A year ago teams recruiting against Connecticut could claim that while Kevin Ollie was a nice guy, he was no Jim Calhoun. But last year’s run erases those arguments.

Basically any guard that dreams of leading his team to NCAA glory has to believe that those goals can be achieved at UConn. From Khalid El-Amin to Kemba Walker to Shabazz Napier, Connecticut is a program where guards leave a permanent legacy. Thus perhaps it is not a surprise that Connecticut has ridiculous guard depth this year. Ryan Boatright is a star. NC State transfer Rodney Purvis was a Top 20 recruit a few years ago. Daniel Hamilton is a Top 20 recruit this year. Sam Cassell Jr is a Top 10 JUCO addition. Terrence Samuel played a vital role for the Huskies late in the season. And even if he fell off the map last year, Omar Calhoun still has talent; he just needs to find a way to channel it.

Despite that guard depth, the hardest player for UConn to replace may be DeAndre Daniels. I wonder if Daniel Hamilton might be the answer in certain situations. Coaches like to have their four best players on the floor. And at 6’6” or 6’7”, if Hamilton can hold his own defending certain types of opposing big men, Kevin Ollie might be able to unleash a lethal 4-guard attack at times this season.

Hoping for the NCAA Tournament

Memphis: When you hear about player commitments in August, it rarely sinks in. Who really cares about Indiana offering a 13th scholarship to some player that re-classified from 2015 to 2014? But as someone who has studied the rosters extensively this summer, I can tell you that almost every one of these August commitments has occurred because of a very strong need that a team had for depth or strength at a particular position.

First, Oregon has a talented starting lineup, but the team had only nine scholarship players. If you look at what happened to Temple last year when the Owls didn’t have enough scholarship players, you realize that teams vitally need depth. And thus Dillon Brooks re-classified from 2015 to 2014 to join the Oregon recruiting class.

A few weeks ago I wrote how Auburn had upgraded its talent level, but how the Tigers were not quite an NCAA tournament team yet. I said the Tigers lacked the talented big men to complement their talented backcourt in 2014-15. And so Bruce Pearl went out and made an offer to former Maryland commit Trayvon Reed. Reed won’t be eligible until at least December, and his recent arrest makes him a risk. But given that Auburn still needed quality players in the front-court, Reed was a natural choice.

When St. John’s forward JaKarr Sampson declared for the NBA draft, Steve Lavin said all the right things. But when he said, “We have a lot of confidence in Christian Jones” that was clearly coach-speak. Jones was a 2-star forward, who wasn’t a great finisher as a freshman. St. John’s needed more frontcourt depth. And Lavin did the only thing he could do late in the game, adding international forward Amar Alibegovic.

Two of the critical August roster changes involved the Memphis Tigers. At the start of August, Memphis simply had too much frontcourt depth. Incumbents and former Top 40 recruits Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols need minutes, transfer Calvin Godfrey is too good to ride the pine, and former Top 40 recruit Kuran Iverson seems poised to breakout. It simply wasn’t clear how elite big man prospect Dominic Woodson was going to get on the court. And suddenly, Woodson left Memphis and enrolled at a Tennessee program with one of the weakest frontcourts in the SEC.

Meanwhile, Memphis’ guard depth was not great. While Rashawn Powell and Markel Crawford can step in after sitting out last year, while Avery Woodson was a Top 100 JUCO guard, and while Dominic McGee is a Top 100 freshman, none of those players had played meaningful minutes against power conference competition. Thus Memphis added Vanderbilt guard Kedren Johnson. Johnson was a high volume scorer who had played over 1500 minutes in the SEC. Memphis lost a quality big man and added a quality guard, but what really happened in August is that the Tigers re-shuffled their lineup to get better roster balance.

And with great depth at the wing, where Nick King seems prepared for a breakout season and where Trahson Burrell was a Top 10 JUCO, the Tigers currently have incredible depth at forward, guard, and wing.

The real question for Memphis is not talent. The question is whether Josh Pastner’s sideline execution can begin to match his impeccable recruiting. While Pastner’s teams are almost always overwhelmingly stocked with blue chip recruits, he has only had a Top 25 margin-of-victory once in his career. Last year was pretty typical. Despite being ranked 13th in the AP preseason poll, the Tigers finished 37th in margin-of-victory. Memphis is recruiting at a level where they could compete for the American Conference Title every year. But until they start executing at that level, Pastner will never be viewed as an elite coach.

Tulsa: Two years ago Tulsa played an unusually high number of freshmen and lost a lot of games. Last year Tulsa rode the sophomore leap to an NCAA tournament bid. This year Tulsa is hoping to catch lighting in a bottle with Frank Haith.

When Haith took over at Missouri, he led a veteran team to 30 wins, a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament, and a Big 12 tournament title. Tulsa is hoping Haith can take over a veteran Tulsa squad and lead the Golden Hurricanes to similar success in a power conference.

That Missouri squad went with a tight seven-player rotation of veteran players. Something similar is possible here as James Woodard, Shaquille Harrison, Rashad Ray, Steve Repichowski, Rashad Smith, Brandon Swannegan, and D’Andre Wright are all back.

Cincinnati: A lot of words will be written about how an offensively challenged Cincinnati team will struggle to replace Sean Kilpatrick’s scoring. But I think we need to be equally aware that Cincinnati loses three extremely talented defenders. Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles, and Justin Jackson were all among the nation’s best at getting steals. Justin Jackson was an elite shot-blocker, and Rubles was a good shot-blocker for his size. And Jackson and Rubles were the Bearcats two best defensive rebounders. In terms of measured defensive stats, Cincinnati loses as much production as almost any team in the nation this off-season.

Cincinnati was also fairly fortunate on defense last year. Teams made just 32% of their threes and only 68% of their free throws against the Bearcats last year. (In the American Conference, Memphis was actually more fortunate, with teams making just 31% of their threes and 65% of their free throws against the Tigers.) But to put it simply, all indicators suggest the Cincinnati defense will take a significant step back.

The good news is that the offense is probably not as bad as it sounds. True, there are no clear stars at this point, but there are lots of quality pieces. Troy Caupain looks like he can be a quality PG. He was very good at getting steals, a quality passer, and very efficient in limited minutes as a freshman. Elite JUCO transfers like Octavious Ellis and Coreontae DeBerry should supplement the frontcourt nicely. And even if Shaquille Thomas is the only former Top 100 recruit on the roster, Cincinnati has a number of 3 and 4 star prospects that continue to have promise.

Hoping for the NIT

Houston: Kelvin Sampson, dismissed at Indiana for recruiting violations, is getting a second chance to be a college basketball head coach at Houston. And his starting lineup may include four former Top 100 recruits who are also looking for redemption. Former RSCI #22 Devonta Pollard went through an incredible kidnapping saga because of his mother, and he joins the team after transferring from Alabama. He joins former RSCI #64 Chicken Knowles in the front-court. Knowles received a lot of hype out of high school, had eligibility issues, and finally has a chance to start after being under-utilized last year. The team also adds former RSCI #72 Torian Graham. Due to academic issues Graham had to spend a couple of years playing junior college ball, but now he has his chance in a major conference. Finally, former RSCI #66 L.J. Rose blossomed after transferring from Baylor last year. The PG cut down on his turnovers significantly, but he still has to prove that he can lead a winning team in a power league.

Those four will likely be joined by the always efficient and effective Jherrod Stiggers in the starting lineup. The team also adds three Top 100 JUCO recruits in Eric Weary, Cavon Baker, and Betrand Nkali. Weary and Baker played at the D1 level at New Mexico St. and Florida Atlantic two years ago.

That sounds like a strong lineup on paper, but whether Sampson’s team is in the NCAA tournament hunt really depends on how quickly he changes the defensive culture at Houston. Houston had a great offense last year, but they never forced any steals or forced missed shots. While the roster turnover this off-season hurt the offense, it may actually help Sampson to more quickly implement a better defensive mentality. More importantly, these eight players all have two years of eligibility remaining. Even if the team needs a year to build chemistry with one another, there’s no reason this same core can’t have an even better shot at the tournament in 2015-16.

Temple: Last year I nailed the Temple collapse. While most experts had Temple in their Top 5 in the conference in the preseason, I pointed out that the Owls had very little depth and I pegged the Owls to be among the worst teams in the conference. Injuries certainly contributed to making that happen. At one point last season, Temple was down to six healthy scholarship players.

In 2014-15, I remain a little concerned about the Owl’s depth. A year after injuries derailed the season, I’m a little surprised Fran Dunphy once again has scholarships that are not being used. But there is no question that the Owls are going to be better. Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey are quality scorers and they are back. Texas transfer Jaylen Bond will be a huge upgrade as will Clemson transfer Devin Coleman once he becomes eligible in December. ESPN also views big man Obi Enechionyia as a 4-star recruit, the type that should make a difference from the beginning. And with more health to players like Daniel Dingle, Temple will not be among the worst teams in the American Conference again. Fran Dunphy is a quality coach and last year was clearly an outlier.

Dragging Down UConn’s RPI

The bottom of this league is light years from the top of the league. There is a very good chance that the only wins these four squads get in conference play are against one another.

East Carolina and Tulane: At least you can say the two teams entering the league have veteran squads. East Carolina returns 70% of its minutes from last year and Tulane returns 86% of its minutes. East Carolina also adds Florida St. transfer and three-point gunner Terry Whisnant. I project both teams (particularly both offenses) to be significantly improved from last year, but that won’t be enough to make them competitive with the top of the league.

UCF: I will now spend more time debating the quality of UCF’s roster than you will read anywhere else: On the one hand, Kasey Wilson and Matt Williams were very efficient players for UCF last year, and their return is reason for optimism. On the other hand, the team used to have Isaiah Sykes and Calvin Newell using a high volume of possessions. Their departure means Wilson and Williams will have to increase their shot volume, essentially take more contested shots, and their efficiency could take a hit. On the other hand, Newell was actually a fairly dreadful offensive player last year. He made just 25% of his threes, 44% of his twos, and turned the ball over a bunch. And Sykes also had a down year in some respects. Despite being one of the best in the nation at getting to the line, Sykes made just 54% of his 192 free throws. Their loss is probably not as bad as it sounds. On the other hand, UCF doesn’t have a lot of elite prospects. On the other hand, Top 100 JUCO Shaheed Davis and Adonys Henriquez (who ESPN viewed as a 4 star prospect) are two players who might make an immediate impact, and none of the returning players except the PGs were inefficient last year. On the other hand, UCF’s returning PGs were not very good. On the other hand, freshman PG Barry Taylor is a three star prospect, and he might be able to play right away.

South Florida: I am very curious to see whether former Kentucky assistant and new head coach Orlando Antigua can boost USF’s recruiting going forward and make this team relevant in future seasons. In the short run, the team will rely heavily on forward Chris Perry, whose quality should shine through now that Victor Rudd and John Egbunu are gone. But the reality is that Antigua needs to turn this team over to a bunch of three star freshmen and hope it doesn’t get too ugly before they develop.

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.

Counting Down To Four

#8 Kentucky defeated #2 Michigan

No head coach has embraced one-and-done recruiting quite like John Calipari. And many folks have viewed this season as a referendum on that approach. This season was proof that it takes teamwork, continuity, and experience to reach the highest levels of performance. Kentucky played mediocre basketball for much of the year and limped to an 8-seed in the NCAA tournament.

But a funny thing happened once the tournament was underway. It turned out that you could win big games with talented freshmen.

-It turned out that next-level size mattered. Even with a big athletic guard, Caris Levert, perfectly positioned to contest the shot, Kentucky's Aaron Harrison got off the game-winner.

-It turned out that next-level skill mattered. With all due respect to the all-around skill of Frank Kaminsky, no one in this tournament can catch the ball in the paint, and score with such ease as Kentucky's Julius Randle. He truly is the most talented back-to-the-basket player left in the tournament.

-And it turned out that even for your bench, it didn’t hurt to recruit next-level athletes. A lot of people had asked whether Kentucky would be better off with some less-skilled, multi-year players on the bench. But former Top 20 recruit Marcus Lee was more than happy to be the equalizer in this game. His four put-back dunks were special. But Lee also showed the importance of athleticism on defense with a tremendous block on a three point shot.

That three-point defense, was also the most interesting strategy in the game. John Calipari challenged his team to hug three point shooters in this game. At times, that seemed to back-fire. With the floor spread, Michigan was smart enough to attack off the dribble for easy inside baskets. (Kentucky’s season-long problem with pick-and-roll defense was also evident.) But against a Michigan team that lives with the three, forcing contested inside baskets was clearly the best strategy. And in a game where both teams grabbed a crazy number of offensive rebounds, the Wildcats prevailed.

Like it or not, the referendum against young talent has failed. Kansas may have bowed out early, but Joel Embiid was injured. Duke may have bowed out early, but Duke lacked the interior defenders for a long tournament run. Arizona may have lost to Wisconsin, but Wisconsin played brilliant basketball and Arizona lost a heart-breaker in OT. The era of one-and-done players dominating college basketball is not over.

#2 Wisconsin defeated #1 Arizona

Bo Ryan no longer has to hear that phrase, “Best Coach never to make the Final Four.”

But why did he have that reputation? People have different reasons for that statement, but the following table is how I made the argument. For all active coaches, this table shows their per possession performance in the 12 years Ken Pomeroy has been tracking the stats. In that time frame, Bo Ryan has been the fourth most dominant coach. And for the first time on Saturday, he made the Final Four.

NT = National Titles in Last 12 Years

FF = Final Fours in Last 12 Years

Rnk

Coach

Current Team

Avg Off

Avg Def

Avg Pyth

NT

FF

1

Bill Self

Kansas

113.6

90.2

0.930

1

1

2

Mike Krzyzewski

Duke

116.2

92.8

0.926

1

2

3

Roy Williams

N. Carolina

114.9

92.6

0.911

2

4

4

Bo Ryan

Wisconsin

112.5

92.2

0.903

0

1

5

Rick Pitino

Louisville

111.1

90.7

0.902

1

3

6

Thad Matta

Ohio St.

113.3

92.5

0.901

0

2

7

John Calipari

Kentucky

112.7

91.8

0.896

1

3

8

Billy Donovan

Florida

115.1

94.5

0.894

2

3

9

Jamie Dixon

Pittsburgh

113.8

93.9

0.892

0

0

10

Tom Izzo

Michigan St.

112.6

93.2

0.891

0

3

11

Jim Boeheim

Syracuse

112.5

93.7

0.884

1

2

12

Rick Barnes

Texas

113.1

95.4

0.863

0

1

Note: By taking the average, this type of calculation does not reward coaches who started the decade at smaller schools. Scroll to the bottom of this post for a list of the top per possession coaches over the last 5 years.

Having said all that, I do think this table is a little misleading. Bo Ryan’s biggest strength is that his teams are consistently good. But he has never been able to put together that one super-elite team that dominated college basketball. The next table shows the peak Pythagorean Rating for active coaches in the last 12 years.

Bo Ryan’s best team by this measure was the 2008 squad that went 16-2 in the Big Ten. But that was a largely defense-oriented team. And when they ran into Steph Curry in the NCAA tournament, they simply lacked the offense to keep up.

Based on this measure of peak performance, Sean Miller is now the one who should complain. Despite having a dominant team this season, he still has no Final Four trip to show for it.

Rnk

Coach

Current Team

Best Pyth

Year

1

Bill Self

Kansas

0.976

2008

2

Rick Pitino

Louisville

0.971

2013

3

John Calipari

Kentucky

0.969

2012

4

Bruce Weber

Kansas St.

0.968

2005

5

M. Krzyzewski

Duke

0.967

2010

6

Thad Matta

Ohio St.

0.966

2011

7

Roy Williams

N. Carolina

0.964

2005

8

Billy Donovan

Florida

0.958

2007

9

Sean Miller

Arizona

0.952

2014

10

Tubby Smith

Texas Tech

0.952

2003

11

Jamie Dixon

Pittsburgh

0.949

2004

12

Tom Izzo

Michigan St.

0.948

2012

13

John Thompson

Georgetown

0.948

2007

14

Tom Crean

Indiana

0.943

2013

15

Tony Bennett

Virginia

0.943

2014

16

Phil Martelli

St. Joseph's

0.943

2004

17

John Beilein

Michigan

0.943

2013

18

Bo Ryan

Wisconsin

0.942

2008

19

Mark Few

Gonzaga

0.941

2013

20

Gregg Marshall

Wichita St.

0.938

2014

21

Jim Boeheim

Syracuse

0.936

2012

22

Bob McKillop

Davidson

0.936

2008

23

Rick Barnes

Texas

0.932

2011

24

Frank Martin

S. Carolina

0.932

2010

25

Scott Drew

Baylor

0.930

2010

For my detailed take on Wisconsin's win over Arizona, click here. I scouted Aaron Gordon from the opening tip to the closing horn. But while I focus on Gordon, Wisconsin deserves all the credit for making Gordon look like a bad defensive player. This was truly a game where outstanding offense beat outstanding defense. One possession was probably symbolic of the whole game. From 11:16 to 10:08 in the first half, Arizona played incredible defense. And the Badgers still scored.

#7 Connecticut defeated #4 Michigan St.

In November, the Spartans were a heavy favorite to go to the Final Four. A string of injuries appeared to derail those plans. But after an impressive run in the Big Ten tournament, most people anointed Michigan St. as the heavy-favorite again.

But if you followed the the Spartans all year, there were signs that this type of loss could happen. This Spartans squad was explosive in transition, but beatable in the half-court. You saw the first signs of concern in the Champions Classic. Michigan St. blitzed Kentucky by getting behind the young Kentucky back-court for lay-ups. But when Kentucky made it a half-court game, the Spartans struggled.

Then the Spartans went 5-6 down the stretch in the Big Ten. This included a tough home loss to Nebraska. Most people assumed you could not learn anything from those games, because Michigan St. had so many injuries. But even on the night Branden Dawson returned from his injury and Michigan St. was at full strength for the first time, the Spartans lost at home to a struggling Illinois squad. In that game, the Spartans lost because they could not score in the half-court. In fact, Michigan St. had so little success scoring in the half-court against Illinois, that they basically gave up fouling with 30 seconds left.

Flash forward to Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Michigan St. was dynamic at the end of the first half because they were able to get out and run and take shots before the defense was set. But in the second half, Connecticut took that away, and the game flipped.

Give Bill Raftery credit. At some point when Michigan St. still had the lead, he commented that the Spartans were not getting any inside touches. And that was a season-long issue. Michigan was 10th in Big Ten games in free throw rate, and 316th in all games nationally. This was not a team that could consistently get easy paint touches in the half-court.

(Consistently is the key word. They could do this at times, but they also would have puzzling droughts.)

And then there were the turnovers. This has been a career long problem for Tom Izzo’s squads. They tend to take a lot of chances. But in 2014, that area was significantly cleaned up. Heading into Sunday, Tom Izzo’s club ranked 89th nationally in turnovers which was the best rating of Izzo’s whole career. And yet this game was full of dumb plays. There was Gary Harris with a totally unnecessary travel beyond the three point line. There was Adreian Payne inbounding the ball to Keith Appling with zero pressure, and Appling not even paying attention as the ball ricocheted off him and went out of bounds. And of course, Denzel Valentine, the one Spartan who Izzo continued to yell at game after game for making two or three bad decisions, had a completely unnecessary travel with 12:58 left in the game.

When turnovers happen in the process of trying to get an easier basket, they hurt. But when you make the kind of unforced mental errors the Spartans were making on Sunday, it is inexcusable.

And given the opportunity, Shabazz Napier did what he has done all season. In a close game, he made the decisions his team needed to win. Despite a bloodied nose from an accidental arm slap across the face, Napier was nearly perfect down the stretch.

They call UCLA’s Kyle Anderson “slo-mo” because he is so deliberate. But for Napier, when the pressure is on, the other team moves in slow motion. He gets to his spots, and he executes with precision. I hate the Kemba Walker comparison’s because I don’t think Napier has nearly the same athleticism. But he makes all his free throws. He knows exactly where he can get on the floor. And he knows exactly what is the right shot.

(Napier may not have Walker’s athleticism, but at 6:55 of the first half, he had a drive around three Spartans which was truly jaw-dropping.)

And because the Huskies were able to keep Branden Dawson from getting any post-touches, (Amida Brimah had one of the most impactful nights you can have with a club trillion stat-line), the Huskies prevailed. Despite an off-shooting night by several players, UConn is headed to the Final Four.

But I don’t want to hear any revisionist history that we should have seen this coming. Connecticut had more than their fair share of head-scratching losses this season. And the Huskies nearly lost to St. Joseph’s in the opener of the tournament. They caught a break when they faced an Iowa St. team without Georges Niang. And they played in a familiar building. This was not an obvious path to the Final Four. But the Huskies players over-achieved to get here and made it happen.

And for the trainloads of fans who made the trip down into the city, they had reason to celebrate. The Kevin Ollie era has made its first mark, proving that the UConn tradition is alive and well even without Jim Calhoun on the sideline.

#1 Florida defeated #11 Dayton

Florida’s win was not without drama. It was a joy to see Patric Young make the Final Four for the first time after three straight losses in the Elite Eight. I was also enthralled with the sequence after Dayton cut the lead to 58-50. Florida held the ball for over a minute thanks to a flurry of offensive rebounds, and that possession crushed the Flyer’s momentum.

But with the game becoming a blowout late in the first half, I spent more time thinking how wise the Turner channels are to use the multi-channel simulcast approach at the Final Four next weekend. When ESPN rolled it out for college football’s national title game, it was fabulous to be able to hear the different voices and opinions call the game. And I think we need as many channels as possible in these single game situations.

I wanted a full channel dedicated to those fans sitting in Dayton, Ohio and watching the game on a big screen in an auditorium. Early on they cheered when Scoochie Smith hit a rare three. Later they were shown holding their arms up in free throw position when Matt Kavanaugh went to the line. When the game was beyond double digits, I would have rather watched that fanbase cringe at every moment then watch Dayton continue to fail to get the ball inside against the Florida defense.

Top PPP Coaches Last 5 Years, Minimum 3 Seasons

Coach

Current Team

Avg Off

Rank

Avg Def

Rank

Avg Pyth

Rank

Bill Self

Kansas

114.7

4th

90.4

2nd

0.936

1st

Thad Matta

Ohio St.

115.2

2nd

90.9

3rd

0.932

2nd

M. Krzyzewski

Duke

118.5

1st

94.9

24th

0.921

3rd

Jim Boeheim

Syracuse

113.2

13th

91.7

4th

0.916

4th

Bo Ryan

Wisconsin

113.8

8th

92.5

8th

0.915

5th

Rick Pitino

Louisville

111.7

21st

89.8

1st

0.911

6th

Billy Donovan

Florida

114.7

3rd

93.3

13th

0.905

7th

John Calipari

Kentucky

114.7

5th

93.0

10th

0.897

8th

Tom Izzo

Michigan St.

111.6

22nd

91.8

5th

0.896

9th

Gregg Marshall

Wichita St.

112.3

19th

94.2

16th

0.871

10th

Jamie Dixon

Pittsburgh

113.1

14th

94.8

21st

0.871

11th

Mark Few

Gonzaga

112.4

18th

94.8

22nd

0.868

12th

Roy Williams

N. Carolina

110.4

29th

93.2

12th

0.867

13th

John Beilein

Michigan

114.4

6th

96.3

38th

0.866

14th

Steve Alford

UCLA

111.3

24th

95.1

28th

0.857

15th

John Thompson

Georgetown

110.6

28th

94.1

15th

0.856

16th

Steve Fisher

S. Diego St.

107.9

58th

92.1

7th

0.850

17th

Scott Drew

Baylor

113.8

9th

96.9

49th

0.846

18th

Shaka Smart

VCU

109.7

36th

94.6

20th

0.843

19th

Buzz Williams

V. Tech

110.7

26th

95.4

32nd

0.840

20th

Sean Miller

Arizona

111.3

23rd

94.9

25th

0.838

21st

Mick Cronin

Cincinnati

106.3

73rd

92.1

6th

0.834

22nd

Jay Wright

Villanova

110.4

30th

95.9

36th

0.824

23rd

Rick Barnes

Texas

109.8

35th

95.0

26th

0.823

24th

Dave Rose

BYU

110.9

25th

96.3

40th

0.822

25th

Fred Hoiberg

Iowa St.

113.1

15th

98.4

78th

0.818

26th

Frank Haith

Missouri

114.2

7th

99.6

99th

0.816

27th

Mike Brey

Notre Dame

113.7

11th

99.1

93rd

0.815

28th

Matt Painter

Purdue

109.6

37th

95.4

30th

0.813

29th

Bruce Weber

Kansas St.

107.5

60th

94.3

17th

0.811

30th

This last table speaks for itself, but I want to point to one fact that might be missed. Look at the gap in average offense between Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the coaches! He is not only the top offensive coach of the last five years, he is the top offensive coach by a wide margin.

Sweet Sixteen Day 2

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Opening Weekend Thoughts

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Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

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American Conference Basketball Early Projection

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2013-2014 Preseason Top 25 Part 2

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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.

Early Season Tournaments: Brackets, Observations, And Odds: Part 1

Sorting through the odds of the NIT, 2K Sports Classic, Charleston Classic, Puerto Rico Tipoff, Coaches Vs. Cancer, Paradise Jam and Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

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.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 1: The Big East Tip-Off

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YABC Column For Feb. 27th (POY Races, Improbabilities & More)

As Draymond Green locked up the Big Ten POY award and Kansas battled Missouri for a likely No. 1 seed, Saturday afternoon encapsulated everything that is great about the NCAA regular season.

Recruiting And Player Development, 2012 Edition

The best way to examine the value of specific college coaches is to examine how well they recruit and subsequently develop their talent. Let's examine the top 49 coaches from the Power 6 conferences.

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.

YACB Column, Jan. 30th (On The Weaknesses Of The Top-25 & More)

Many have called this a down year for college basketball and though that argument can be made about elite teams, there are still plenty of reasons why it's a fallacy.

Conference Play Means Scouting Reports

On the first full weekend of conference play, there were 35 match-ups between BCS conference teams, which means the team that takes their information and executes better usually wins.

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.

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