Commitment of Cheick Diallo Shores Up Kansas’ Frontcourt

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 28th, 2015

The biggest weakness of last season’s Kansas team was its season-long struggle to consistently protect the rim. Perry Ellis has never been known for his defense and probably never will be, but a frontcourt of he, Jamari Traylor, Cliff Alexander and Landen Lucas swatted only 12.3 percent of opponents’ shot attempts on the season, the team’s second-worst mark since 2005. Kansas’ results on the defensive glass were similarly uncharacteristic (and galling). The Jayhawks rebounded just 68.4 percent of opponents’ misses in 2015, their lowest rate in five years and a mark among the bottom half nationally (205th) for the first time in the Bill Self era. While Kansas didn’t really miss a beat offensively in winning an impressive 11th straight Big 12 title, the Jayhawks clearly weren’t the same team we had grown accustomed to on the other end. Thanks to Tuesday’s commitment from one of the nation’s top big man prep standouts, however, that deficiency could be addressed as soon as next season.

With Cheick Diallo in the fold, Kansas is on its way to restoring its reputation as a defensive stalwart.

With Cheick Diallo in the fold, Kansas is on its way to restoring its reputation as a defensive stalwart.

After an NCAA eligibility issue effectively ended Cliff Alexander’s college career, the Jayhawks needed an immediate influx of size and defense to shore up their frontcourt. Self got busy on the recruiting trail and ultimately beat out Kentucky and St. John’s for forward Cheick Diallo, a 6’9″, 225-pound athletic wonder. While he lacks offensive polish, Diallo’s shot-blocking prowess, rebounding ability and motor renews the hope that Kansas’ front line will return its typically intimidating defensive force.

The native Malian (he arrived in the United States in 2012) will arrive in Lawrence this summer with as many accolades as imaginable. He’s a consensus five-star recruit who played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic, capturing MVP honors in the former as one of the few players who showed great energy in the showcase event. He also suited up for the World team in the Nike Hoop Summit earlier this month, where he went for 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 16 minutes of action.

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SEC Way-Too-Early 2015-16 Power Rankings

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 23rd, 2015

The SEC coaching carousel’s dust appears to have settled with Avery Johnson, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland having moved into their new offices at Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi State, respectively. Kentucky’s John Calipari is making the recruiting rounds with a new pitch after seven more of his players declared for this summer’s NBA Draft. Anthony Grant is getting re-acclimated to the assistant’s chair next to Billy Donovan at Florida that has worked out so well for both of them in the past. There’s still more to be determined about how the SEC will look heading into next season, but here are some way too early predictions on the season to come.

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season (AP Photo)

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season. (AP Photo)

Coach of the Year

  • John Calipari, Kentucky

Player of the Year

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Freshman/Newcomer of the Year

  • Ben Simmons, LSU

All-SEC First Team

  • Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky
  • Stefan Moody, SG, Ole Miss
  • Danuel House, SF, Texas A&M
  • Ben Simmons, SF, LSU
  • Skal Labissiere, C, Kentucky

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ACC 2015-16 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 21st, 2015

Now that most of the NBA Draft entry decisions involving ACC players have been made, we can now make some reasonable preliminary guesses about how next season’s ACC standings will look. More roster changes will inevitably occur with a few prominent recruiting targets still on the board (e.g., Brandon Ingram) and some unanticipated transfers, but we can already get a sense as to the overall strength of next year’s league even this far out. The table below that shows the 15 players of this year’s all-ACC teams reveals just how dramatically different the conference will look next year.

All-ACC

Attrition From the All-ACC Teams Show that Virginia and North Carolina Look to Lead the Conference Next Season

Overall, the league doesn’t appear to have as many elite teams next season – Duke and Louisville both lost their top four players while Notre Dame said goodbye to its top two. That leaves North Carolina and Virginia as the only remaining ACC teams that appear to return enough talent to become national title contenders. The good news is that next year’s middle of the pack looks to be much deeper, meaning that the league will have an opportunity to earn as many as eight or nine NCAA bids next March. Here are our 2015-16 ACC Way-Too-Early Power Rankings.

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Big Ten Storylines Heading Into Next Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 17th, 2015

There are still some dominoes to fall in terms of Big Ten roster turnover in coming weeks but we already have a pretty good idea of how the league will look next year. Here are a few things to ponder as Big Ten fans brace themselves for seven months without any games with which to occupy their time.

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble could be a first team All-American next season for Maryland. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

  • Return to Multiple Conference Championship Contenders: Wisconsin essentially went wire-to-wire this season, going from the unanimous preseason favorite to winning both the conference regular season and postseason titles. Next season should be a bit more like the 2013-14 campaign with several teams with a realistic shot to win the league. Maryland is rightfully getting a good deal of love in the preseason “way-to-early” top 25 lists. The Terps will return two of their top three players in Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and will add a bruiser down low in freshman Diamond Stone. Indiana (assuming both Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. return to Bloomington), and Michigan State could also very well start the season in the top 15 nationally. Thomas Bryant will give the Hoosiers someone to keep defenses honest inside, while Sparty adds Eron Harris, Devonta Davis, and Caleb Swanigan to a nucleus of eight players who were contributors on a Final Four squad. These three should all challenge for the top spot in Big Ten play next season.
  • Wisconsin Rebuild: It will be fun to observe how Bo Ryan replaces the multiple talented pieces that he is losing from a group that went to back-to-back Final Fours. He has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt so as to figure that players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will break out with more playing time next season. Getting key starters Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig back is also a pretty decent starting point. How far will the Badgers actually fall, and how long will it take for the newcomers to make an impact?

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2014-15: ACC Year in Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 17th, 2015

The 2014-15 season will go down as one of the most successful campaigns in the ACC’s long and illustrious history. It was the kind of year that commissioner John Swofford must have envisioned when the conference completed its last round of expansion. It was also important for the league to have this kind of performance after an extremely disappointing run last season, its first as a giant 15- team group featuring some of the biggest names in the sport. Before we put a bow on the season, let’s take a quick look at how the season played out with a review of some of the highlights and lowlights.

Highlights

Notre Dame celebrates its first ever conference tournament championship. (Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame celebrates its first ever conference tournament championship.
(Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports)

Regular Season Excellence. The ACC began the year with four schools ranked in the preseason AP top 10 and the league maintained a strong presence at the top of the rankings all season long, finishing with five of the final poll’s top 17 teams. In addition to Duke’s fine year – which included Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th career win, Virginia was also a mainstay at the top of the rankings, getting off to a 19-0 start on the way to the Cavaliers’ second straight ACC regular season title. Perhaps the Cavaliers would have joined Duke in Indianapolis at the Final Four if not for an untimely late season injury to Justin Anderson. The ACC’s surprise team was clearly Notre Dame, as Mike Brey’s program won its first conference tournament in school history in only its second year as an ACC member. The Irish’s near-upset of undefeated Kentucky in the Elite Eight may have been the best game of the entire NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wrapping Up the Pac-12 and Looking Ahead to 2015-16

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2015

The National Championship game is now more than a week behind us and the Final Four is almost two weeks back. Stanford’s “magical” NIT run ended 14 days ago and Arizona’s loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, capping off the last meaningful Pac-12 action of the season, is nearly three weeks ago. With Arizona State’s coaching vacancy filled and early-entry and transfer season fully in swing, that means it is well past time to put a bow on the season and begin to think about what comes next. Below, we’ll review each Pac-12 team and offer up grades on each team’s season. We’ll also take a look at what could be around the bend the next time college basketball rolls around.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Despite Regular Season and Conference Tournament Titles, The 2014-15 Wildcats Came Up Shy Of Their Grandest Goals. (AP)

Arizona (A-)

The goal all year long was a Final Four. Wrapping up some unfinished business and all. Well, that goal was left incomplete. Business is still pending. Still, you’re not going to see me come down too hard on the Wildcats. While their three regular seasons losses were all suspicious in nature, their Elite Eight loss to national runner-up Wisconsin was just one of those things that happens between great teams. Sean Miller’s postgame press conference after the Badgers shot a 105.0 percent eFG in the second half was one long extended verbal shrug, a “what can you do?”, a “sh– happens.” Arizona ended its season playing its best basketball, some of the best basketball being played by any team in the nation. The Wildcats just happened to lose to one of maybe two or three other teams that were capable of playing better. We have to tack a “minus” onto that well-deserved “A” simply because I would guess Miller and T.J. McConnell and Stanley Johnson and all the rest would agree that the overall result of the season was tinged with some disappointment. Without a doubt, though, the Wildcats were the best team in the Pac-12. And were it not for Buzzsaw Badger, they might still be celebrating in Tucson.

What’s next: McConnell is out of eligibility. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley have said they’re forgoing their remaining eligibility to pursue NBA careers, a decision Johnson is likely to make as well. But this is Arizona. And this is Sean Miller. The ‘Cats will be fine. Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York will return and take on bigger roles. Sophomores Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic will be relied upon to take big steps forward. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson and junior college transfer (and 2014-15 redshirt Kadeem Allen) will jump right in. And then there’s a recruiting class featuring Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Justin Simon and Chance Comanche (ESPN top-100 recruits, all) that may not even be finished yet. Yeah, don’t cry for Miller and his Wildcats; they’ll be back. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Final Look at Wisconsin’s Two-Year Run

Posted by Alex Moscoso on April 16th, 2015

It’s been more than a week since the final buzzer went off at Lucas Oil Stadium, signaling the end of the National Championship game, another Duke national title, and the last moments of an incredible two-year run from the unlikeliest of powerhouses, Wisconsin. This year’s squad of goofy and affable but supremely talented Badgers had come up just a little short in the biggest game of their lives. With a nine-point lead, 13:23 left on the clock, and two of Duke’s best players, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, on the bench due to foul trouble, Wisconsin was certainly as close as any Big Ten team has been in 15 years to winning the crown. But there would be no story book ending. Instead, things played out as they usually do in college basketball, as the team with more talent eventually took control and won the game. Even if not on this night, Bo Ryan’s program throughout his 14 seasons in Madison has consistently bucked that trend, winning a bunch more games than what his roster suggested was possible.

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Wisconsin has accomplished much in the last two years, including a change in the perception of its program and coach. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

This group of Badgers was no different. Sure, they boasted the National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky, but the senior was a shining example of expectations exceeded — going from an unheralded high school recruit to the shiniest of college basketball stars. But in the end, the Blue Devils surged on the back of a little-used but nevertheless talented freshman, Grayson Allen. The bouncy guard effectively ended the narrative many casual fans hoped would win the day — that of a pristine basketball environment of yesteryear with in-state kids playing all four years for their home university, versus the more itinerant one-and-done culture of today. This thinking vastly oversimplifies the makeup of both these teams and programs, of course, but it is a common sentiment in college basketball and it is one of the reasons the Badgers attracted so many new fans in their run to the Final Four.

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O26 Never-Too-Early Top Five (and More)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 15th, 2015

Don’t look now, but college basketball season is only seven months away! Okay, so that may seem a bit far off, but it’s never too early to gin up a little excitement for the sport we love. Let’s examine a few O26 teams that are sure to make some noise in 2015-16.

Top Five

Wichita State will be right back at it in 2015-16. (Photo : Getty Images Sport)

Wichita State will be right back at it in 2015-16. (Getty Images Sport)

  1. Wichita State. Fred VanVleet is back. Ron Baker is back. As is Gregg Marshall, much wealthier after a sizable pay raise. With one of the country’s top backcourts and most sought-after coaches rejoining the fold, it almost goes without saying that Wichita State – on the heels of three-straight program-defining seasons – should be very good again next season. Of course, the Shockers will have to adjust to life without guard Tekele Cotton (9.8 PPG) and big man Darius Carter (11.4 PPG), but the late-season development of Evan Wessel (12 points against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament) along with forward Shaq Morris (4.7 PPG) should help mitigate those departures. So too should the addition of Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp and a solid recruiting class. Expect another year of big things from Wichita State next season.
  2. Gonzaga. Gone are WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos, guard Gary Bell Jr. and wing Byron Wesley (10.6 PPG). Still, barring an early leap to the NBA, Kyle Wiltjer (16.7 PPG), Domantas Sabonis (9.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and center Przemek Karnowski (10.9 PPG) are each returning for what should be one of the top frontcourts in America. Sophomores Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, both former prized recruits, bring plenty of talent (if youth) to the backcourt, where senior Kyle Dranginis will likely help both guys blossom. Throw in very good depth – like 6’8” Angel Nunez, who was granted another year of eligibility – and you quickly see why the Bulldogs could be top-15-worthy next season. Oh, and did I mention that the Zags are in contention for Drexel transfer Damion Lee (21.4 PPG), the nation’s fifth-leading scorer? Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 15th, 2015

Depending on how you judge such things, the Big 12 either had a great year in sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament and finishing first in all the relevant computer rankings, or a miserable one, propelling just two teams to the Sweet Sixteen and missing out on the Elite Eight and beyond entirely for the third straight season. As we’ve said for some time now, it’s silly to let NCAA Tournament results determine your assessment, but the hive mind will continue to pick at the conference’s March shortcomings until the Big 12 breaks through. The good news for the league, though, is that the top teams appear to be retaining most of their best players, and Kansas, Iowa State, Texas and Baylor are still in the running for some of the nation’s top prep talents as well as a handful of graduate transfers who could step in and make immediate impacts. Add it all up and the league should be poised to take a step forward in 2015-16. Here’s how we see things shaking out next season.

1. Kansas

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

Al jokes aside, the Big 12’s postseason prospects have to start with Bill Self (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

  • Key Departures: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander
  • Key Returnees: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Landen Lucas, Brannen Greene, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
  • New Arrivals: Carlton Bragg
  • Summer Storyline: The Jayhawks in a down year still won the Big 12, but last year illuminated how vulnerable they are when they don’t have an elite rim-protector inside. To that end, Kansas could really use the services of 6’10” Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne, a physical, productive post threat on both ends of the floor. Bill Self’s program also remains in the running for highly-touted recruits Cheick Diallo, Malik Newman and Jaylen Brown.

2. Iowa State

  • Key Departures: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Dustin Hogue
  • Key Returnees: Georges Niang, Monte’ Morris, Naz Long, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader
  • New Arrivals: Hallice Cooke, Deonte Burton (transfer)
  • Summer Storyline: Between the annual rumors of Fred Hoiberg leaving for the NBA and Iowa State’s presence on the transfer market, the summer is always a busy time but this offseason has already been more dramatic than usual. St. John’s poaching of top Iowa State assistant Matt Abdelmassih could hurt the Cyclones more than many seem to be noticing. He already flipped former JuCo signee Darien Williams to the Red Storm, and Iowa State’s chances of landing Cheick Diallo, for whom Abdelmassih was the lead recruiter, also took a serious hit. Despite those recruiting challenges, the Cyclones will return most of their offensively gifted core, but questions will remain on defense. Read the rest of this entry »
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Even With Two F4 Teams, Was the Big Ten a Disappointment?

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 14th, 2015

Coming off of the high of putting three teams into the Elite Eight and one of those into the Final Four a year ago, the Big Ten slipped back to the pack in terms of conference superiority this season. Despite winning the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and advancing two more teams to the sport’s final weekend, the Big 12 and the Big East put together better regular seasons by most reasonable metrics. The question coming out of this season is whether the 2014-15 campaign actually was a disappointment or did Wisconsin and Michigan State’s runs to the Final Four erase the league’s previous sins?

Did the tournament runs by Wisconsin and Michigan State help make up for the non-conference losses in the B1G?

Did the NCAA Tournament runs by Wisconsin and Michigan State make up for the Big Ten’s non-conference performance?

  • Reasons for Disappointment: The league took a hit in terms of its early credibility with some really bad non-conference losses. Some of those opponents — like Eastern Washington and Texas Southern — eventually went on to make the NCAA Tournament, but a 136-44 record with 16 losses to non-power conference foes led to the writing of the league’s epitaph before conference play had even started. Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska weren’t Top 25 teams for very long after rough starts. Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana blew multiple chances for marquee wins. And while the addition of Maryland made the league stronger at the top, Rutgers’ 8-5 non-conference record was fool’s gold on its way to a 2-16 Big Ten campaign. It’s an open question whether Illinois and Minnesota underachieved with experienced lineups that were unable to notch NCAA Tournament berths this season.

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O26 NCAA Tourney Reflections: What Went Right & What Went Wrong

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 13th, 2015

Now that we’ve all had some time to decompress, let’s look back on a few of the successes, failures, and shining moments for O26 squads this March.

What Went Right

Ron Hunter provided one of the iconic moments of March. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Ron Hunter provided one of the iconic moments of March. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • The #14 seeds Came to Play. The NCAA Tournament wasted no time producing its madness, thanks largely to a trio of plucky #14 seeds. In a span of roughly three hours on the first Thursday afternoon, two #3 seeds were toppled and another narrowly avoided defeat – immediately satisfying our expectations of chaos. First, UAB – the youngest team in the Dance – overcame an early 12-2 deficit against Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State, stormed back, and knocked off the Cyclones by one, 60-59. Shortly thereafter, Georgia State, trailing Baylor by 10 points with under two minutes left, staged an improbable upset of its own, punctuated by R.J. Hunter’s game-winning three-pointer and his father’s subsequent antics. Even Northeastern had a shot to beat Notre Dame with 30 seconds to play. “They took the bullet, not us,” Irish coach Mike Brey said afterward, referring to all the #14-on-#3 crime elsewhere around the country. Before most of America had time to leave the office, a few of the month’s most exciting and improbable results had already played out. And it was pretty awesome.
  • Ron Hunter’s One Shining Moment. After tearing his Achilles in the Sun Belt championship game just a few days earlier, Georgia State coach Ron Hunter provided the signature moment of opening weekend in the Panthers’ upset win over Baylor. The fifth-year head man literally fell off his rolling chair following his son’s (R.J. Hunter) go-ahead three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left, then – completely overwhelmed by joy – bent over and placed his head in his hands as the clock expired. The emotional father/son press conference afterward further added to the drama: “It was a great game, but I’m not going to coach, I’m going to be Dad right now… This is my son. Proud of him.” Not only was it among the biggest victories in Georgia State program history, but it earned Ron Hunter a TBS guest analyst spot during the following weekend.

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On the Big 12’s Poor Tournament Performance and Best Conference Proclamations

Posted by Chris Stone on April 10th, 2015

The Big 12’s season ended in disappointing fashion in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. No team from the conference made the Elite Eight, and only two, Oklahoma and West Virginia, earned a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. The league lost a pair of its highest-seeded teams, Baylor and Iowa State, to massive upsets in the Round of 64 while regular season champion Kansas fell to intrastate foe Wichita State shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, this type of performance has become a somewhat common occurrence for the league. The Big 12 hasn’t produced a single Elite Eight team since 2012, and Kansas was the last Big 12 team to make the Final Four. Even more disturbing, the Jayhawks are also the only program in the league to make the Final Four since 2004 when Oklahoma State pushed through to the final weekend.

Daxter Miles Jr. became the face of the Big 12's failure after his guarantee to beat Kentucky. (Getty)

Daxter Miles Jr. became the face of the Big 12’s failure after his guarantee to beat Kentucky. (Getty)

The string of failures has become a key talking point among the media. Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star called this season “a colossal failure,” while noting that, “if [the Big 12] happens to be first or second or even third in the RPI rankings next year it will be greeted with more mockery than respect.” Meanwhile, David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest argued, “the Big 12 can say goodbye to its reputation as college basketball’s best league this season.” This is the problem college basketball runs into when using March Madness to determine its champion. The ACC opened the NCAA Tournament with an 11-1 record during the first weekend, but it was just a few possessions away from losing two of its top teams, North Carolina and Notre Dame, in the Round of 64. There is a lot of randomness to the tourney — which is what makes the spectacle so exciting — but it also makes it difficult to draw broad season-long conclusions about who the best teams (and leagues) in the country actually are.

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