The 2019-20 RTC16: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 4th, 2019

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we once again find our favorite teams playing college basketball. It is a glorious time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games set to commence on Tuesday evening, we are ready to officially unveil our 2019-20 preseason RTC Top 16. This initial poll will hold for the next two weeks, but you can expect our weekly RTC16 to release on every subsequent Monday morning starting November 18. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives more deeply into trends that the poll reveals. To see how we did last year, check out our 2018-19 preseason poll – sure, we nailed a few (Virginia; Duke; Gonzaga; North Carolina), and missed on some others (Kansas at #1; Syracuse; Texas Tech not even receiving a vote), but we promise to do better this time around. Here is our preseason poll. Enjoy opening week!

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • Michigan State checks in as the preseason #1 team. Fresh off its first Final Four appearance since 2015, Tom Izzo’s squad begins the 2019-20 season in the #1 spot of the RTC16. Reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston is back at point guard — and having a dynamic veteran talent like him as your floor general is a luxury few teams will ever experience. Junior forward Xavier Tillman also returns and appears primed to improve on a sophomore campaign where he averaged 10 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 60.5 percent from the field. Sophomores Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry showed flashes as freshmen and figure to be important pieces in their second seasons in East Lansing. In addition to the returning production, the Spartans enroll guard Rocket Watts and forward Malik Hall, both of whom enter college as elite prospects with decorated prep résumés. The only noticeable concerns for Michigan State are the departures of key role players Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins, and senior guard Joshua Langford‘s injury status. Langford, who was limited to just 13 games last season with a foot injury, suffered a setback in his recovery and will remain sidelined until at least January this season. Even with Langford’s uncertain availability, the Spartans are strong contenders to both bring home another Big Ten title and cut down the nets in Atlanta in April.
  • Defending national champion Virginia begins the season at #9. The Cavaliers are going to look significantly different than the group that fatefully responded to the UMBC debacle in the 2018 NCAA Tournament by capturing the National Championship this past April. Gone is the star-studded trio of Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter — replacing those three would be a daunting task for any team, but Virginia has maintained enough program stability over the last several seasons to make Tony Bennett‘s task much more manageable. Sophomore Kihei Clark, junior Jay Huff, and seniors Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite each served as role players of varying degrees last season and they will all see their responsibilities increase this season. Freshman guard Casey Morsell is the new name in Charlottesville to learn. He joins Virginia — and is expected to start at shooting guard — after a highly successful prep career that culminated in the 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year award for Washington, DC. It would not be surprising to see the Cavaliers undergo some growing pains at the beginning of this season, but considering Bennett’s recent track record of developing ACC contenders, it would also not be surprising if this new-look group of Cavaliers becomes an important factor in the league race.
  • All eyes will be on #14 Memphis. When Penny Hardaway took over at Memphis prior to the 2018-19 season, it was only a matter of time before the native son used his AAU ties in both the city and beyond to stock the Tigers’ roster with elite talent. Entering just his second season on the sideline, Hardaway has enrolled the top-ranked recruiting class in the country and has brought a national interest back to the program that has been missing since John Calipari was running the program more than a decade ago. The crown jewel of that class is consensus #1 recruit, James Wiseman. The athletic seven-footer spurned Kentucky to stay home and play for his hometown Tigers. Fellow freshmen Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge and Damion Baugh were all at least four-star recruits and also project to make an early impact for what will be a young Memphis squad. Success is never a sure thing for a team that will rely so heavily on freshmen, but the talent alone will make Memphis a team to track for the entire season.

Poll Defenses.

  • Louisville returns preseason ACC Player of the Year Jordan Nwora, a wing in Dwayne Sutton who averaged 10 points per game and just under seven rebounds per game. Throw in seniors Ryan McMahon, Steven Enoch and Saint Joseph’s transfer Lamarr Kimble, and I believe Louisville enters the season with few question marks. Unlike Louisville, I have too many question marks for many of the other highly regarded teams in the preseason. Florida adds Blackshear, but losses three of its four leading scorers. I have question marks with Kansas and Azubuike. North Carolina and Duke each have tons of talent, but have to replace way too much from last year’s squads for me to give them the second spot. At the end of the day, I gave Louisville the #2 preseason ranking based off of what is coming back and a bump up in year two of Chris Mack.” – RTC pollster Matt Eisenberg on his decision to rank Louisville #2, the highest of any of the pollsters.
  • “It feels like Maryland has real potential to make a leap from a first weekend, 23-win team into a legitimate Final Four contender. The improvement en masse starts individually with senior point guard Anthony Cowan, who has been on the precipice of stardom for what feels like the better part of a year and a half. If he puts it all together in his final collegiate campaign, presumptive lottery pick Jalen Smith gives the Terps a viable second star. Sophomore Aaron Wiggins has all the makings of a player who takes a significant step forward in year two, after showing signs in spurts as a freshman — combine that with a dynamic and versatile incoming crop of talent, and Mark Turgeon has a roster with the balance and upside that is capable of making a run to Atlanta.” – RTC pollster Matt Auerbach on going out on a limb and tabbing Maryland as his preseason #3.

    Game of the Week. #1 Michigan State vs. #2 Kentucky. The top two top teams in the preseason RTC16 will meet Tuesday night at the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden. This will be a heavyweight battle between two Hall of Fame coaches with loaded rosters that could reasonably see each other again in Atlanta next April. The individual match-up to keep an eye on here will be Spartans point guard Cassius Winston going up against Wildcats point guard Ashton Hagans. Winston is as steady as they come and his calm demeanor coupled with his elite playmaking skills is a major key to Michigan State’s success. Hagans is a hounding defender who made a name for himself as a freshman with his ability to make opposing point guards uncomfortable. Which point guard is able to get the best of the other should play a major role in determining who departs New York with a benchmark early-season victory.

    Keep Tabs On. #3 Kansas vs. #6 Duke; #7 North Carolina vs. Notre Dame; #13 Ohio State vs. Cincinnati; #9 Virginia vs. Syracuse; #5 Florida vs. Florida State; #14 Memphis vs. #16 Oregon; #11 Villanova vs. #13 Ohio State; #1 Michigan State vs. #15 Seton Hall.

    Conference Call. ACC (4), Big Ten (3), SEC (2), Big 12 (2), Big East (2), WCC (1), AAC (1), Pac-12 (1).
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2018-19 RTC16: Week Fifteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 4th, 2019

The final week of the regular season always presents a great deal of intrigue when it comes to crowning regular season conference champions. This year, races in the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC are all still up in the air, and the action this week will determine which teams will finish atop each league. The ACC has #2 Virginia, #3 Duke, and #4 North Carolina fighting for the top spot. Marquette and Villanova are battling it out in the Big East. The Big 12 race consists of #7 Texas Tech and Kansas State trying to hold off #14 Kansas, as the Jayhawks look to take home a share of their 15th consecutive league title. The Big Ten will see #11 Purdue trying to survive road games at Minnesota and Northwestern to fend off #8 Michigan and #9 Michigan State. The fight for the SEC crown has #6 Kentucky looking to catch both #5 Tennessee and #9 LSU. It is going to be an incredibly intriguing week of college basketball because there is action each night that will play an important role in establishing which teams will become the top dog of their conference. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 25th, 2019

It is never a good thing to have your season flash before your eyes because of a key injury, but it is especially troubling when the scare occurs during the stretch run. #3 Duke was presented with that possibility last Wednesday night when freshman phenom Zion Williamson exited the court less than a minute into its home rivalry showdown with #5 North Carolina. Suddenly, it did not matter all that much that the Tar Heels went on to dominate the Blue Devils throughout an 88-72 victory. What really mattered was Williamson’s prognosis — because while Duke has plenty of talent, it would be an incredibly tall task for it to reach Minneapolis without the services of the nation’s top player. Luckily for the Blue Devils, the high-flying freshman only suffered a sprained knee and he is expected back in action soon, even though he did not play in Saturday’s 75-65 win at Syracuse and has been ruled out of this Tuesday’s game at Virginia Tech. Duke showed over the weekend that, even without Williamson, it still has the necessary firepower available to beat a likely NCAA Tournament team on the road, so it would be unwise to write off the team’s chances in Blacksburg. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Twelve

Posted by Walker Carey on February 11th, 2019

Throughout a majority of the conference season, it has felt like #12 Marquette and #13 Villanova were the only two Big East teams with a legitimate shot at the regular season title. As the league race hits its home stretch, that feeling has borne itself out. Even though the Golden Eagles had been tripped up by St. John’s earlier last week — their second loss to Chris Mullin’s squad this season — Marquette rode a 38-point performance from star guard Markus Howard to a thrilling 66-65 victory to cut Villanova’s lead to just one game in the Big East standings. The Wildcats will have an opportunity to avenge the defeat when they welcome Marquette to Philadelphia for the rematch on February 27. Wide-open conference races are always enjoyable, but this season’s Big East race has shown two-team races can be just as fine. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2018-19 RTC 16: Week Eleven

Posted by Walker Carey on February 4th, 2019

The calendar has turned to February and several conference races have
heated up, the most intriguing of which might be the Big Ten, where a pair of surprising weekend results have changed the league standings. The action began Friday evening at Iowa when #5 Michigan was unable to overcome early foul trouble to big men Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers en route to a 74-59 defeat. While the Wolverines are still in very good shape at 20-2 overall and 9-2 in conference play, it should be noted that they have shown some vulnerability on the road with two straight losses. #9 Michigan State appeared likely to grab sole possession of first place in the league with a home win over spiraling Indiana on Saturday night, but the Hoosiers rode a strong three-point shooting night to an overtime upset victory. The result is even more befuddling when you consider that Archie Miller’s team was without star senior forward Juwan Morgan for the entire second half after leaving the game with a shoulder injury. Losses are bound to happen in conference play, but you have to think Michigan State is shaking its head about its brutal 8-of-22 performance from the free throw line. Those two upsets set the stage for #15 Purdue to join the Wolverines and Spartans atop the league standings if they were able to notch a home victory over Minnesota on Sunday afternoon. For a portion of the game, it appeared as if the Boilermakers were also going to fall victim to an upset. They trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half before putting together a 19-2 run to grab control to cruise to a 73-63 win and a share of the Big Ten lead. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Ten

Posted by Walker Carey on January 28th, 2019

We have reached the point in the college basketball season where the legitimate Final Four contenders have started to separate from the pack. A team that somewhat unexpectedly fits that mold is #7 Kentucky. The Wildcats infamously started their season by getting blown out against Duke in the Champions Classic, but a December loss to an average Seton Hall team followed by an SEC-opening loss at Alabama was cause for concern. Luckily for Big Blue Nation, things have turned on a dime. Since that setback to the Crimson Tide, Kentucky has rifled off six straight victories — the most recent of which came in Saturday’s 71-63 comeback win over #11 Kansas. In the victory, Kentucky showcased the many elements that has led to its vast improvement. Senior forward Reid Travis and sophomore forward P.J. Washington took advantage of Kansas’ lack of interior size with a pair of double-doubles. Freshman guard Ashton Hagans continued his steady play on the offensive end too, contributing 12 points and eight assists while playing stifling defense. While it is certainly possible Kentucky could revert back to its inconsistent early season form, it has shown nothing during its current hot streak to suggest that will become a reality. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Nine

Posted by Walker Carey on January 21st, 2019

Last week began with many observers wondering when college basketball’s last two undefeated teams — #2 Virginia and #6 Michigan — would fall from the ranks of the unbeaten. Wonder no more, as both the Cavaliers and Wolverines went into hostile road environments on Saturday and failed to leave with a victory. Michigan suffered through an uncharacteristically sloppy performance in a 64-54 loss at Wisconsin, as the Wolverines entered the game averaging just 9.5 turnovers per contest but suffered 16 miscues en route to defeat. Michigan’s offensive woes were fueled by star freshman Ignas Brazdeikis being held scoreless in 23 minutes of action, and senior swingman Charles Matthews producing only five points on a head-scratching five field goal attempts. Virginia’s trip to #3 Duke on Saturday evening appeared less daunting as the week wore on. The Blue Devils had been stunned at home by unranked Syracuse on Monday — and to make matters worse, freshman point guard Tre Jones was lost to a shoulder injury for an unspecified period of time. Duke, however, did just enough to eke out a 72-70 win over the Cavaliers, as Virginia had no answer for a pair of freshmen phenoms in R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson who combined to score 57 points. The sky is not falling for either Michigan or Virginia, of course, but Saturday showed that they have weaknesses too. It will be intriguing to see how each team responds as conference play continues in full force. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Eight

Posted by Walker Carey on January 14th, 2019

The early portion of conference play often comes with observations about how new coaches are working out in their programs. Those quick-hit observations can often be misguided because of a small sample size, but there are times where such declarations can clearly be taken as a sign of positive things to come. For example, take a look at what Kermit Davis is doing in his first season at #13 Ole Miss. The Rebels went just 12-20 last season and were picked to finish dead last in the SEC preseason media poll, but a 13-2 start featuring a resounding 82-67 home win over #11 Auburn on Wednesday and a comeback victory over archrival Mississippi State on Saturday have gotten everyone’s attention. It will be interesting to see how Davis’ squad handles the role of the hunted now that it has earned a national ranking. That said, the Rebels have not experienced defeat since the week of Thanksgiving and figure to be home favorites this week in games against LSU and Arkansas. The regular season is far from over, but Davis has already shown in his first year that he is ready to make Ole Miss a contender in a very competitive SEC race. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 7th, 2019

Winning conference road games is difficult — it always has been and always will be. #8 Kansas and #11 Nevada were reintroduced to that notion on Saturday, with both top-10 teams falling hard in hostile road environments. The Jayhawks’ loss at Hilton Coliseum to a strong #15 Iowa State squad was not necessarily surprising — the Cyclones closed as a two-point favorite — but it was the way in which Bill Self‘s group faltered that raised some eyebrows around the country. Kansas finished the 77-60 defeat with an astounding 24 turnovers while also hitting just six of their 20 three-point attempts, while usual standout performers Lagerald Vick and Dedric Lawson combined for just 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting. The weekend went from bad to worse for Kansas on Sunday when Self announced that big man Udoka Azubuike — who was sidelined in Saturday’s loss — will miss the remainder of the season with a hand injury. Nevada’s loss was more unexpected, as the Wolf Pack dropped an 85-58 laugher to a New Mexico team that entered the contest with a paltry 7-6 record. Eric Musselman‘s team suffered through an uncharacteristically poor offensive outing — shooting just 33 percent from the field — and it let a 12-point halftime deficit balloon to the final margin with a no-show second half. Standout forward Caleb Martin had a particularly brutal evening, finishing with just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting. It was a rough weekend for these two teams, but knowing college basketball, a majority of the other top squads will also stumble on the road at some point over the balance of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Five

Posted by Walker Carey on December 26th, 2018

Winning close game after close game is a trend that we know eventually catches up to a team. The most recent example of such a thing took place Saturday night in Tempe when previously unbeaten #5 Kansas blew an eight-point halftime lead in an 80-76 upset loss to Arizona State. The Jayhawks entered the game at an uncomfortable 10-0, with six of the 10 wins coming by single digits and two in overtime. Bill Self‘s group had been playing with fire all season, and the winning plays down the stretch that had previously bailed his team out never arrived. A single loss will certainly not derail any of Kansas’ hopes for the rest of the season, but it should serve as a bit of a wake-up call. Yes, Udoka Azubuike is still sidelined with a knee injury, but with Big 12 play rapidly approaching, it would be wise for the Jayhawks to put forth more consistent full game efforts if they do not want the losses to become more frequent. This week’s Quick N’Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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