yardbarker
RealGM Basketball

Louisville Cardinals ArticlesLouisville Cardinals Articles

10 Thoughts On College Basketball's Opening Weekend

1. Some of our preseason predictions will be right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The next most important thing is rotation patterns.

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

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

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

6. Early games can confirm your suspicions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Give teams time to build chemistry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Hype doesn’t guarantee a good game.

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

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

10. Maryland Terrapins Watch

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

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

Players In NCAA With Biggest Jumps In Points Per Game

In today’s column, I examine college basketball players who saw the biggest jumps in PPG production in 2013-14. I’m going to exclude seniors. A number of seniors, like Temple’s Dalton Pepper (who improved his PPG from 2.9 to 17.5 last year) probably deserve more acknowledgment. But today I want to focus on players who still have college eligibility remaining. I’m also going to exclude players who saw big jumps in PPG production because they changed teams, since it is not that unusual for a player to score at a higher rate after transferring. In the tables below, I list players with jumps of five or more PPG last season while playing for the same team.

I’m going to focus on players that were rated as a 3-star recruits or higher by at least two scouting services, since these players tend to be more interesting to most readers. Nonetheless, as my last table shows, these are not the only players who broke out last year. Finally, I am going to drop players that only played a few games due to an injury or other issues, since very small samples can skew the PPG production.

PPG LY = Points Per Game Last Year in 2013-14

Increase in PPG = Increase in PPG from 2012-13 to 2013-14

ORtg Diff = Change in ORtg, points scored per 100 possessions

Pct Poss Diff = Change in aggressiveness, percentage of possessions used

Pct Min Diff = Change in playing time on full season. In a few cases due to injuries or other factors, players saw a decrease in playing time on the full season but saw their minutes per game increase. When the numbers don’t seem to add up, this is usually the explanation.

Pace Diff = Change in raw pace. I show raw pace instead of opponent-adjusted pace since PPG is based on the raw number of possessions in a game.

I said I was going to focus on players with eligibility remaining, but I wanted to discuss another group in the first table. This table lists players with huge jumps in PPG production who either declared for the NBA draft or who have elected to transfer this off-season. Sometimes when a player breaks out, he also decides to move on.

Player

Last Year’s Team

PPG

LY

Increase in PPG

ORtg Diff

Pct Poss Diff

Pct Min Diff

Pace Diff

T.J. Warren

NC State

24.9

12.8

-11.4

15%

18%

-3.7

Jabari Brown

Missouri

19.9

6.2

6.2

6%

32%

-2.4

Byron Wesley

USC

17.8

7.6

10.5

6%

2%

3.5

Nik Stauskas

Michigan

17.5

6.5

1.4

8%

10%

-1.5

Eron Harris

West Virginia

17.2

7.4

6.8

3%

25%

3

K.J. McDaniels

Clemson

17.1

6.2

9.3

6%

20%

-2.3

LaQuinton Ross

Ohio St.

15.2

6.9

6.5

1%

30%

0.8

Seth Allen

Maryland

13.4

5.6

15.0

1%

-6%

0.4

Jerami Grant

Syracuse

12.1

8.2

12.2

5%

38%

-4.7 

Everyone in the first table declared for the NBA draft except for

-Byron Wesley who announced he was transferring to Gonzaga and who should be eligible next season

-Seth Allen who announced he was transferring to Virginia Tech and who will sit out next year

-Eron Harris who should make his transfer decision soon

Sometimes players see their PPG improve despite a drop in their ORtg. TJ Warren in the last table, and Kellen Dunham in the next table, saw their efficiency plummet as they took a much larger number of shots. In neither case were they being selfish; both teams lost a lot of scoring and needed someone to fill the void. But it is worth emphasizing that while Warren and Dunham scored a lot more, they also missed a lot more shots last year.

Player

Team

PPG LY

Increase in PPG

ORtg Diff

Pct Poss Diff

Pct Min Diff

Pace Diff

Daniel Bejarano

Colorado St.

16.3

10

-1.4

11%

29%

1.2

Cameron Wright

Pittsburgh

10.5

6.2

-3.5

3%

42%

2.2

Kellen Dunham

Butler

16.4

6.9

-12.4

7%

23%

-0.8

On the flip side, a few players saw their PPG scoring jump despite becoming less aggressive on the court. In these cases, their jump in PPG production was almost entirely driven by an increase in playing time, but the improved shot selection also increased their efficiency.

Player

Team

PPG LY

Increase in PPG

ORtg Diff

Pct Poss Diff

Pct Min Diff

Pace Diff

Alex Hamilton

Louis. Tech

14.5

6.7

7.4

-1%

26%

1.8

Maurice Walker

Minnesota

7.8

5.6

14.9

-1%

24%

0.9

Perry Ellis

Kansas

13.5

7.7

9.6

-1%

36%

0.8

Landry Nnoko

Clemson

6.5

5.5

31.9

-1%

50%

-2.3

Kenny Gaines

Georgia

13

9.3

22.4

-1%

42%

2.7

J.P. Tokoto

N. Carolina

9.3

6.7

14.8

-2%

50%

-1.5

Stefan Nastic

Stanford

7.4

5.4

32.7

-5%

37%

-1.2

Most of the players in the next table played substantially better last year.  Still, I’m pulling this next group out to emphasize something. All of the teams in the next table saw substantial decreases in the quality of defense they faced on the full season. For example, the MWC was much worse last year, and San Diego St. faced far fewer great defenses than the year before. While the AAC had some great teams at the top, Louisville and Rutgers clearly had an easier schedule than the previous season. A few teams on this list are a surprise. I was frankly a little surprised to see that Syracuse’s opponents defenses plummeted from 8th in 2013 to 84th in 2014.

That said, when you improve your ORtg by double digits or increase your aggressiveness by 5% or more, that’s extremely impressive even if the defenses you faced were a little worse. I was particularly pleased to see Rutgers’ Kadeem Jack finally play to his potential. He enrolled early at Rutgers, struggled with some injuries, but responded well to new head coach Eddie Jordan.

Player

Team

PPG LY

Increase in PPG

ORtg Diff

Pct Poss Diff

Pct Min Diff

Pace Diff

Yogi Ferrell

Indiana

17.3

9.7

9.4

7%

14%

1.5

Winston Shepard

San Diego St.

11.7

6

11.2

7%

18%

-3.2

Dwayne Polee II

San Diego St.

8.5

5.7

18.5

5%

23%

-3.2

Kadeem Jack

Rutgers

14.3

8.6

8.3

6%

26%

4.3

Fred Van Vleet

Wichita St.

11.6

7.3

31.0

1%

39%

-0.6

Anton Wilson

Detroit

7

5.2

17.9

0%

38%

-2

Trevor Cooney

Syracuse

12.1

8.7

25.4

0%

53%

-4.7

Montrezl Harrell

Louisville

14

8.3

2.6

5%

33%

2.5

Rashawn Rembert

E. Tenn. St.

16.8

7.9

23.9

1%

23%

4.9

Todd Mayo

Marquette

11.3

6

6.5

3%

31%

2.9 

Many players who saw their PPG production jump benefitted from the fact that their teams played at a faster pace last year. This includes many of the players listed above, as well as the players in the next table. But keep in mind the extra possessions are not a big contributor to production. Even though Oklahoma had about 5 more possessions per game, given his role in the offense and playing time, that only translated to about 1 more PPG for Buddy Hield.

Player

Team

PPG LY

Increase in PPG

ORtg Diff

Pct Poss Diff

Pct Min Diff

Pace Diff

D. Smith-Rivera

Georgetown

17.6

8.7

16.4

4%

26%

2.6

Jonathan Holmes

Texas

12.8

6.4

20.7

5%

13%

2.7

Cameron Ridley

Texas

11.2

7.1

34.1

2%

25%

2.7

Charles Mann

Georgia

13.9

7.2

10.5

3%

18%

2.7

Juwan Staten

West Virginia

18.1

10.5

17.2

7%

26%

3

Marvelle Harris

Fresno St.

14.3

6.9

9.9

2%

25%

4.2

Kyan Anderson

TCU

17

5

14.3

3%

2%

4.9

Buddy Hield

Oklahoma

16.5

8.7

16.7

3%

27%

5

Isaiah Cousins

Oklahoma

11

8.3

39.9

2%

34%

5

Defenses got worse across the board last year (thanks to the rule changes), so we saw more than our normal share of big jumps in PPG production. But I still think it is important to emphasize that sometimes even playing against relatively strong defenses again, with little help from pace, players simply improved in every area.

It’s easy to look at the summer as a chance to earn money, play video games, and catch your breath. But for a select few players every year, the time they put into the gym results in huge gains in every measurable category.

I was frankly shocked last year that Michigan’s Caris Levert shot 6% more than the year before, saw his ORtg jump 18.4 points, and his percentage of minutes jump 62%.  But that’s the kind of development that can substantially improve the outlook for any team.

Player

Team

PPG LY

Increase in PPG

ORtg Diff

Pct Poss Diff

Pct Min Diff

Pace Diff

Q. DeCosey

Temple

15.4

13.4

17.0

3%

75%

0.8

Will Cummings

Temple

16.8

11

18.2

9%

21%

0.8

Caris LeVert

Michigan

12.9

10.6

18.4

6%

62%

-1.5

Frank Kaminsky

Wisconsin

13.9

9.7

1.9

4%

44%

1.9

Marcus Paige

North Carolina

17.5

9.3

23.9

3%

18%

-1.5

DaVonté Lacy

Washington St.

19.4

8.9

7.9

7%

6%

0.6

Aaron Thomas

Florida St.

14.5

8.5

16.4

3%

32%

-0.2

Ky Madden

Arkansas

12.7

8.5

7.9

8%

23%

1.8

Jarvis Summers

Mississippi

17.3

8.2

12.6

7%

13%

-1.2

Michael Qualls

Arkansas

11.6

7

12.0

6%

22%

1.8

Michael Frazier

Florida

12.4

6.8

4.1

2%

33%

-0.2

Jake Layman

Maryland

11.7

6.2

7.5

3%

29%

0.4

Anthony Beane

S. Illinois

14.7

5.6

18.6

2%

13%

0.2

Anthony Perez

Mississippi

7.1

5.4

7.8

2%

34%

-1.2

Norman Powell

UCLA

11.4

5.3

23.3

5%

9%

0.5

Chasson Randle

Stanford

18.8

5.2

9.9

1%

10%

-1.2

Toddrick Gotcher

Texas Tech

7.3

5.1

23.9

3%

35%

-4.6

Kevin Bailey

Portland

16.5

5.1

16.5

1%

0%

1.9 

While everyone listed above was rated relatively high by at least two of the scouting services, that’s not a requirement for a breakout year. Here were a few lower ranked players with huge jumps in PPG production last year.

Detroit’s Juwan Howard, Jr. maintained his ORtg despite using 10% more possessions last season. Eastern Washington’s Tyler Harvey started his career as a walk-on, and yet he became one of the highest scoring players in the nation last year. Air Force’s Tre’ Coggins and Youngstown St.’s Ryan Weber are transferring. Weber has landed at Ball St. Finally, Tulane head coach Ed Conroy was just given an extension, and his ability to develop multiple quality pieces at a time is surely one reason why.

Player

Team

PPG LY

Increase in PPG

ORtg Diff

Pct Poss Diff

Pct Min Diff

Pace Diff

D.J. Balentine

Evansville

22.8

14.7

13.9

10%

38%

1.3

Tyler Harvey

E. Wash.

21.8

14.7

9.1

1%

69%

1.3

Tre' Coggins

Air Force

16

13.6

11.5

6%

55%

0.9

Craig Bradshaw

Belmont

15.7

13.5

1.1

12%

52%

1.4

Louis Dabney

Tulane

15.2

13

6.6

5%

63%

-1.8

Jay Hook

Tulane

13.9

12

31.3

2%

66%

-1.8

Spencer Parker

B. Green

12.5

10.9

9.9

-3%

80%

2.5

J. Howard, Jr.

Detroit

18.3

10.7

4.0

10%

24%

-2

Max Yon

Air Force

13

10.3

2.7

4%

68%

0.9

Ryan Weber

Youngst. St.

12.2

10.2

20.5

3%

56%

0.9

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.

The College Basketball Week in Review

Kentucky may have won, but Louisville will always have that dunk. I also examine what it means for FTs to cost a team a game, and I update the weekly Harvard watch feature.

Early Surprises And The Start Of Feast Week, Page 1

Can Michigan St. keep up its fast pace? And what teams have been playing better or worse than expected early in the year?

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.

Predicting The Future: Adding A Simulation To The Lineup-Based Model

How do you take a lineup-based predictions model and make it even better? By adding a simulation and better evaluations of lower rated players.

Top College Basketball Conferences In 13-14

The ACC is eventually going to take over as the top basketball conference by just about every possible metric. If that doesnít happen this season with the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, it should happen next year with the addition of Louisville.

American Conference Basketball Early Projection

Why Temple and Cincinnati might be worse than some experts think, and why Rutgers could have a competitive starting lineup if everything works out right.

JUCO Expectations

Chris Jones is the Top Juco recruit in the country. Is that a reason to elevate Louisville in next year's preseason rankings?

2013-2014 Preseason Top 25

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

What Makes Louisville Special

Louisville is more vulnerable than Kentucky was last year, especially without Kevin Ware, but a lot of things will have to go wrong for them to lose. There isnít a team in Atlanta that can match their speed and athleticism at all five positions, a testament to the program Pitino has built.

The NCAA's Unpleasant Realities In Light Of Kevin Ware

Stripped of its pomp and pageantry, the business model of the NCAA is rather ugly: inner-city kids putting their bodies on the line in order to fund scholarships for suburban teenagers to play country club sports.

And Then There Were Four

How every player in the Final Four has done in the first four games of the tournament...

The Right Way To Measure The Hottest Teams

Want a Margin-of-Victory based stat that doesn't put Florida so close to the top? Click here to see the details.

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.

Losing Streaks And Injury Splits, Part 1

On why not all losing streaks are alike and how injuries/suspensions skew our evaluation of certain 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.

Older Articles »

 

Basketball Wiretap Headlines

    NBA Wiretap Headlines

      NCAA Wiretap Headlines

        MLB Wiretap Headlines

          NFL Wiretap Headlines

            NHL Wiretap Headlines

              Soccer Wiretap Headlines