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College Basketball Preview Summary And Updates

Over the past 12 weeks, I have released a number of conference previews for the upcoming 14-15 college basketball season. Today, I want to provide a few updates on some of the things I wrote.

Pac-12 Preview: Since I wrote my Pac-12 preview, Jonathan Octeus and Jonah Bolden were declared ineligible at UCLA. That knocked the Bruins out of my Top 25 and it puts the Bruins in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. The problem for the Bruins is that they really only have six quality players on the roster. In the backcourt the team has Normal Powell, Bryce Alford, and Isaac Hamilton (who sat out last year due to a letter of intent issue.) In the frontcourt the team has RSCI #11 recruit Kevin Looney, Tony Parker, and RSCI #33 Thomas Welsh. But the other three scholarship players really should not be playing major minutes for a team as good as the Bruins. When Noah Allen, Wanaah Bail, and Gyorgy Goloman enter the game, the quality of play is going to decrease substantially. That likely means the Bruins are going to have to play at a much slower pace than last season. (Bill Walton will not be pleased.) And an injury to one of the top six players could cause the season to completely fall apart.

In my opinion, the biggest thing the Bruins will miss without Octeus is not his passing, but his outside shooting. Powell has shot under 30% from three the last two years and the lack of outside shooters could really hurt UCLA’s spacing this year and cause their offense to be stagnant.

Since I wrote the Pac-12 preview it also became official that JaQuan Lyle will not be competing for Oregon this year. You can’t count the Ducks out completely. Any team with a player as good as Joseph Young and a coach as good as Dana Altman is always a threat to reach the tournament. But the Ducks NCAA tournament odds are getting much longer.

Big Ten Preview: Unable to enroll at UCLA, Jonathan Octeus has enrolled at Purdue. When a scorer like Octeus enrolls at the last minute, it feels like it should substantially change a team’s outlook. But while Purdue moves up a little in my rankings, I still don’t see them as a likely tournament team. Purdue’s biggest weakness was a lack of a natural PG on the roster, and Octeus certainly helps. But remember that Octeus was not a prolific passer at Colorado St. His assist rate the last two years was 11.8% and 13.5%. (I have similar feelings about Tennessee’s transfer PG Ian Chiles. Both have shown a nice scoring touch, but it isn’t clear to me that either player has the passing skills to lead a team to the NCAA tournament.)

Unfortunately, Purdue’s Bryson Scott isn’t a natural PG either. Because I’m not sure about Octeus and Scott’s ability to lead a team, I still think freshman PG PJ Thompson is going to get a good share of minutes. In other words, I fear that Purdue may still look a bit like the team did the last few seasons, where players each had certain strengths and weaknesses, but it was hard to find a lineup that was strong in all dimensions. Having another outstanding outside shooter improves Purdue’s outlook, but I’m skeptical that this upgrades Purdue enough to really be in the tournament hunt.

SEC Preview: In my projections Cameron Biedscheid was projected as Missouri’s leading scorer this year. His departure is a major problem for the Tigers. Jonathan Williams looks like the top choice for the team’s new leader, but Williams also recently suffered a minor knee injury. That could hamper his production. Transfer Keith Shamburger can score, but if he is focused on scoring and not setting up his teammates, Missouri is in trouble.

And I’m not sold on the other veterans. Center Ryan Rosburg was very passive last year. It will take a major change in his game to make him a big time scorer. And veterans Deuce Bello and Wes Clark have been very inefficient at the college level.

Freshman Jakeenan Gant might be good, but he will probably not be the team’s breakout player because he will likely be playing behind Williams and Rosburg. Thus as crazy as it sounds, my best guess is that Montaque Gill-Ceaser and Namon Wright will end up scoring at a much higher clip than is typical for freshman with their recruiting rank. Gill-Ceaser re-classified, but he would have been about the 40th ranked recruit. His youth is a huge red flag, but he also has some real offensive skill both inside and outside the arc. And Namon Wright was only ranked 93rd nationally by RSCI. But on this team he’s going to have every opportunity to score buckets. With Biedschied out, don’t be surprised if one of these two freshmen steps up and fills the void.

That said, when you are talking about going from a veteran transfer to a shaky freshman as one of the team’s primary scorers, that is a huge downgrade. In my projections, Missouri has fallen off the NCAA bubble.

On the flip side, Texas A&M got fantastic news when the NCAA ruled that Jalen Jones could start in November instead of at the mid-semester break. Often when a player joins the lineup after the first semester they don’t have a chance to build chemistry with their teammates. Despite having immense talent, Florida’s Chris Walker couldn’t even crack the rotation for the Gators last year because of his late start. Texas A&M was a bad offensive team last season, and it makes a big difference that the team will get to reconstruct its offense around a natural scorer like Jalen Jones from the start of the season.

Finally, after I wrote my SEC preview I got some better JUCO recruiting data that elevated the projection for LSU’s Josh Gray. Thus I have LSU a little higher. But I think the Tigers are still closer to the middle of the SEC than to Kentucky and Florida.

MWC Preview: Since I wrote my initial MWC preview, Colorado St. added Grambling St. transfer Antwan Scott. We spend a lot of time talking about how Kentucky’s players are sacrificing their own offensive production to be part of a winning team. But it happens at other levels of basketball as well. I’m fascinated to see how Colorado St.’s roster fits together this year. JJ Avila and Daniel Bejarano are clearly stars. And the super-efficient Joseph DeCiman is back. But the team adds four transfers with significant D1 experience, John Gillon, Dantiel Daniels, Stanton Kidd, and the aforementioned Scott. All four could be major scorers, but someone is going to have to sacrifice shots on this team. The dynamic of who plays and who gets shots will be fascinating, but with so many efficient scorers, I’m confident that Colorado St.’s offense is going to be dominant.

Unfortunately, Colorado St. also received some bad news as Top 100 JUCO transfer Daniel Mulamba did not make it through the NCAA clearinghouse. I remain worried that a front-court of Stanton Kidd, JJ Avila, and Dantiel Daniels may be under-sized. And given that the team was poor defensively last season, I am very afraid that the defense is going to hold this team back from reaching its full potential.

A10 Preview: Dayton’s freshman center Steve McElvene was declared ineligible. That isn’t the end of the world, but it means there are only two players over 6’6” on the roster, and both had ORtgs of 93 and 96 last year. I’m not saying that McElvene was going to be a game-changer, his loss only costs Dayton three spots in my rankings, but Archie Miller would have much preferred to have McElvene as an option in his rotation.

American Preview: I had already forecast that Kedren Johnson would become eligible for Memphis, so my preview is unchanged.

Big 12 Preview: We’re still waiting for the TaShawn Thomas ruling for Oklahoma. Suffice to say I see it as a game-changer. I have Oklahoma 10 spots higher in my rankings if he becomes eligible.

Big East Preview: I don’t have anything new to add except to say that I’m a little surprised how low Villanova is in most preseason polls that I have seen. The Wildcats only lose James Bell, and they had three very good bench players (Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Dylan Ennis) who were very efficient last year and who are ready for more minutes. I understand that Villanova was blown out by Connecticut in the NCAA tournament last year, and they didn’t add any Top 10 immediate impact recruits. But when I compare Villanova to a team like Texas, a team with a big hole at off-guard, I don’t understand why Villanova is the inferior team.

ACC Preview: I wrote this preview first, before I had processed the rosters for all the conferences, and before I had run 10,000 simulations of the season. I’m now a little more pessimistic about Clemson than in my preliminary look. Pitt lost Cameron Wright for two months due to an injury, and they are now a little lower in my projections.

Georgia Tech’s Charles Mitchell became eligible, and while he helps, I still have Georgia Tech in last in the ACC. Mitchell was not efficient last year, and Brian Gregory still remains the worst coach in the ACC according to all my advanced metrics.

Other Previews: WCC Preview, MVC Preview, The Rest of the Conferences

Zach LaVine: Everything's Contextual

- The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for just $3.99.

The other little part came from the one time out of two hundred when you would walk into the ballpark, find a seat on the aluminum plank in the fourth row directly behind the catcher, and see something no one else had seen - at least no one who knew the meaning of it. "If you see it once, it's there," says Erik. "There's always been that belief in scouting."

- Moneyball

Zach LaVine did not have an incredibly productive season as a freshman. There was no real reason he needed to declare for the draft - he was the second guard off the bench for UCLA and he averaged nine points a game. The Bruins lost in the Sweet 16 and his playing time decreased as the season went on. He’s the Platonic ideal of the one-and-done mentality, a guy who viewed college basketball as a pit stop to the NBA and became a pro as soon as he possibly could. 

Season

G

MP

FG

FGA

FG%

3P

3PA

3P%

FT

FTA

FT%

RB

AS

ST

BK

TO

PF

PTS

2013-14

37

24.4

3.4

7.8

.441

2.1

5.7

.375

2.1

3.1

.691

4.2

1.8

0.9

0.2

1.1

1.9

9.4

If you caught him on the wrong night, when he played only 10-15 minutes and spent most of his time spotting up off the ball, you would have wondered what the big deal was. He didn’t have a very consistent role in the UCLA offense. He was the fourth or fifth option and he didn’t have the chance to play with the ball in his hands  often. LaVine took more than 10 shots only 8 times all season, but if you caught him on some of those nights, he was doing some wild stuff.

I’ll never forget a game they played against Arizona State in early January, when he absolutely went off. He had 15 points in a 10-minute stretch in the first half - it was one of the most incredible stretches of basketball I’ve seen in a long time. He was effortlessly stroking step-back 3’s, doing windmills on the break like it was nothing and going wherever he wanted to go on the court. After a season’s worth of highlights in one half, he took one shot in the second.

That’s how it went for LaVine this season. He was backing up Jordan Adams, a high-level NBA prospect in his own right. When he was on the floor, he was usually playing with Kyle Anderson, another first-round pick in this year’s draft and Bryce Alford, a fellow freshman who scored 31 points in a game. Norman Powell, the Wear Twins and Tony Parker all got shots too. It was Anderson and Adams team and LaVine was one of many players in their supporting cast.

The only other game where he was given a chance to be a primary option came against Oregon, when Adams and Anderson were serving a one-game suspension. LaVine had 17 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in a 2OT loss - the only time all season where he played more than 30 minutes in a game. With Adams and Anderson gone, he would have played a ton as a sophomore, but he chose to go pro anyway, to the consternation of the college basketball media.

The assumption is that a guy with such a limited role as a college player is a long way from helping an NBA team, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Everything is contextual - a player can only be as good as the minutes and the role he’s given on a team. Not every freshman gets to walk into a situation like Kentucky and play 30-35 minutes a night. Some guys end up in situations where they can only get a certain amount of minutes, regardless of their talent.

From a tools perspective, LaVine is one of the most talented guards to come into the league in a long time. He’s not as big as Andrew Wiggins, but he’s every bit as athletic and he’s far more skilled. This is why I don’t trust high school recruiting rankings - I don’t understand how you could watch LaVine and think he is the No. 50 player in his class. He’s 6’5 180 with a 6’8 wingspan, he can jump out of the gym, shoot from anywhere and handle and pass like a PG.

He ran point for his high school team and that’s the position he might end up playing at the next level. He’s not nearly as thick as Russell Westbrook, but he’s a better shooter who can have a similar impact on the game. He would be bigger and faster than nearly everyone else at the position, which makes your life as a player pretty easy. LaVine may not be a pure PG, but he had a 1.81 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, a sign he makes good decisions with the ball.

He will need to gain some weight if he stays at SG, but he will be in the top 1% of athletes in the league regardless. While I doubt he will be given a starting spot right away, I think he’s much closer to helping an NBA team than his college stats suggest. His ceiling is Goran Dragic with Gerald Green’s athletic ability - I really don’t think there’s a limit to how good he can be. In my opinion, he has stardom written all over him. I’ve seen it once, so I know it’s there.

- This was an excerpt from Jonathan Tjarks' e-book about the NBA Draft that can be purchased for $3.99.

Blue Blood Schools Again Taking Country's Best Talent

The McDonald’s All-American Game is no longer the only big event on the all-star circuit, but it is still the most prestigious. If you look through the game’s rosters over the last decade, you will recognize most of the names. Even the guys who didn’t make the NBA usually had great NCAA careers. The programs who reel in multiple players from the McDonald’s game are the sport’s blue bloods - not every elite player from the class of 2014 was in Chicago, but most were.

You can see that in the distribution of this year’s crop. There were 13 schools represented at the game, but only five with multiple recruits - Duke and Kentucky with 4, UNC with 3, Kansas and UCLA with 2. In college basketball, the ability to consistently attract elite recruits is what separates good jobs from the great. If any of those jobs came open, every coach in the country would at least listen. There’s no substitute for talent and those schools always have it.

For a school like Seton Hall, securing the commitment of even one McDonald’s All-American can be a program altering move. Isaiah Whitehead is the first player from the McDonald’s game to go there in 14 years. Getting the first is always the hardest - elite players want to play with other elite players, whether it’s in college or the NBA. Whitehead, the only player in this year’s game headed to the new Big East, will be a marked man for the next four seasons.

Kentucky, in contrast, has so many McDonald’s All-Americans they don’t even know what to do with them. There will be more elite recruits coming off their bench next season than there will be in the entire Big East conference. John Calipari is the only coach in the country who can run off a kid from this game and not think twice - Kyle Wiltjer (2011) averaged 17 minutes a game in two years in Lexington before deciding to transfer to Gonzaga this season.

His recruiting class last season was considered one of the best of all-time and you can make the argument that this year’s bunch is even better. Karl Towns and Trey Lyles aren’t as big as Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, but they are more skilled and more comfortable playing on the perimeter. It’s the same story in the backcourt - Tyler Ulis and Devon Booker project as better shooters than the Harrisons, who shot 42 percent and 37 percent from the field as freshmen.

In five seasons at Kentucky, Calipari has made an Elite Eight and three Final Fours. No matter who decides to go pro in 2014, he shouldn’t miss a beat in 2015. Towns has a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick while Lyles and Booker both have first-round measurables. Even without the five projected first-rounders from this year’s team - Randle, Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, James Young and Andrew Harrison - the Wildcats have a McDonald’s All-American at every position.

Duke could lose two lottery picks - Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood - and be a better team next season. Jahlil Okafor, the consensus top player in the class of 2014, gives the Blue Devils a legitimate post presence at the center position, something they have not had in many years. Okafor means Marshall Plumlee, a McDonald’s All-American in 2011, will spend another year on the bench after averaging six minutes per game in his first two seasons in Durham.

On the perimeter, the three other McDonald’s kids from this year’s class - Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow - will be competing for minutes with one from 2011 (Quinn Cook) and 2012 (Rasheed Sulaimon). For the most part, everyone on Duke can shoot 3’s, which will allow Okafor to play in a tremendous amount of space around the rim. If there’s a weakness on next year’s roster, it’s at PF, where they might have to get by with a four-star recruit.

Even with the addition of Louisville, things should be back to normal in the ACC, with Duke and UNC fighting for the crown. The Tar Heels never recovered from losing PJ Hairston to eligibility issues and they struggled to space the floor and score from the wings all season. Next year, they are bringing in two McDonald’s All-Americans on the wings (Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson) to complement the one they have at PG and the four they have in the frontcourt.

Kentucky might be the only team in the country with the size to bang with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Joel James. NBA scouts will learn more from watching the UNC big men in practice than they will from watching them against most of the ACC. The Tar Heels didn’t have enough perimeter shooting to exploit their size this season, but next year’s group, with Marcus Paige running the show, should blow most teams off the floor.

Kansas has a chance to be better without Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. Bill Self runs the most consistent program in the country because he doesn’t need his McDonald’s All-Americans to dominate as freshmen. Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre won’t have to carry the Jayhawks - they will be playing off Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. With no other Big 12 team represented in Chicago, Kansas will be favored to win their 11th consecutive league title.

UCLA’s lack of size was exploited by Florida in the Sweet 16, but that should change in the coming years with the additions of Kevon Looney (6’9 210) and Thomas Welsh (7’0 230). With Brice Alford, Jordan Adams and Norman Powell still in the fold, the Bruins will just need their young big men to catch and finish around the rim next season. When Looney and Welsh start putting on weight, they are going to be way too big and skilled for the vast majority of the Pac-12.

When a coach can throw multiple McDonald’s All-Americans at every hole on his roster, it makes his life pretty easy. And when you are bringing in 2-3 a year, you aren’t held hostage to every recruiting mistake or off-court incident. Imagine the Miami Heat getting a lottery pick in every draft and you can see why there isn’t much parity in college basketball. A single-elimination tournament gives every team a chance, but some teams get more chances than others.

The blue-bloods were a little down this year, which opened up room for a team from the Missouri Valley Conference to get a 1 seed and made the NCAA Tournament more wide open than usual. However, with so much of the elite talent in the class of 2014 concentrated in so few schools, 2015 could look a lot more like 2012, when Kentucky and UNC dominated the sport. In college basketball, the rich don’t stay down for too long. They just get richer.

Balance Remains Key To Winning In March

While UCLA could only beat you with offense and San Diego State could only beat you with defense, Arizona and Florida could beat you with both. An elite team can beat you in multiple ways.

NCAA Tournament Day 2

The joy and pain of the upset, playing with reckless abandon, Muhammad's eligibility, Friday's crazy runs, and the coach who concerned me the most on Friday.

March Madness Through The NBA Lens (Round Of 64)

While the NCAA Tournament has cachet all its own, one way of looking at the Tournament from the perspective of NBA talent evaluators. Here are the games and prospects most worthy of your attention for the round of 64.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 4

Bill Walton quotes, the fate of early college enrollees, is Ryan Harrow a curse, angry coaches, and the end of the Georgetown vs Syracuse rivalry.

Freshman Prospects Before New Year's: Shabazz Muhammad

Shabazz Muhammad projects as a high energy slasher with a developing mid and long range game. As the season progresses, look for him to improve considerably and become one of the nationís most un-guardable weapons, not to mention a surefire top-5 NBA draft pick.

Is Youth An Excuse?

If you want your team to have a great season, it isnít enough to simply get better. You have to get better at a faster rate than your rivals. One thing I have said in the past is that teams that play a lot of freshmen have the potential to improve the most.

Schools Primed For Offensive Improvement

UCLA, Utah, USC, Arkansas and Butler are five teams that have added enough pieces to project a substantial improvement in their offensive efficiency for the 12-13 college basketball season.

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12ís slump over? Is the Big Tenís boom about to come to an end?

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

Notes On The 2012 Jordan Brand Classic

Anthony Davis wanted to wear Michael Jordanís number in this game last year. This year no one chose to wear #23. Maybe people are right when they say this yearís class of high school seniors is missing a larger than life star.

2012 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Washington won the regular season championship, but were ranked fifth statistically in a conference that was bunched together in the top half.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 2: Big East, Pac-12

How important is it to have Jim Calhoun on the sideline, Oklahoma's late game gamble, and other observations from Wednesday of Championship Week.

Who Is Hot, Who Is Not

When it comes to February in college basketball, some teams get better, the rest get left in the rear view mirror. Here are the teams that are surging and falling over their past 10 games.

Top NCAA Coaches Of Past Five Years

There are a lot of complicated ways to evaluate college coaches, but in this edition we look at the coaches with the best per possession numbers over the last five years.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

College Continuity

The average BCS team loses 38% of its minutes each offseason. Teams that have more returners also have more continuity and more early season wins. Here is how they rank.

Pac-12 Prospect Watch List

The Pac-10 may have morphed into the Pac-12 this offseason, but the extra 24 players hasn't resulted in any surefire lottery players even though there are several sneaky good prospects.

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