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College Hoops Mailbag: Duke's Defense, AAC Tournament Teams, Kentucky Winning the SEC


We’re a couple of games into conference play – unless you’re the Big 10 and have that dumb schedule – so we’re starting to get a feel for what’s happening. Frankly, it’s been weird. Teams in the Big 12 can’t win at home, going 1-9 in the first 10 games. The ACC has some questions in the middle of the conference and just how strong that is. The SEC is all over the place and the Big East has a damn strong top 3. We missed last week with the holiday, so these questions will be from last week and this week. Let’s get into it.

To be quite frank, absolutely not. This is a team that needs to run zone. Part of the problem is K’s defensive scheme and the importance of taking away the 3-point line. Throw in the fact teams are shooting more threes than ever and spreading the floor that’s bringing one of the bigs away from the rim. After that they simply can’t guard the high pick and roll. Teams are going to absolutely murder them bringing out Bagley and/or Carter in that set. This team just needs to commit the 2-3 zone the rest of the year and hope they can extend it enough to still take away the 3-point line as much as they are used to. They should have a little bit more help protecting the rim that way since Carter would be in the middle of the 2-3 and is one of the best shot blockers in the country.

I screamed it whenever I first started seeing people say this is a 5-bid league. It’s not. Temple was the classic team who won an early season tournament only to be vastly overvalued and are now sitting at 7-7 with 3 sub-100 losses. They aren’t a good team. Houston is an up and down team and the one team I think that could sit on the bubble and get this conference to a fourth bid. UCF has battled injuries, derailing what was a year full of expectations. While UCF doesn’t have a bad loss they have 1 decent win and that was a home win over Alabama. They simply won’t have the resume to get in due to wins. The conference as a whole is slightly better, but it’s still struggling in the middle. Teams like UConn, Temple and Tulane aren’t exactly resume type wins. SMU has three strong nonconferenec wins with Arizona (the committee factors in missing players for losses only, so this is something helping SMU),  Boise State and USC. They will make the NCAA Tournament barring a collapse even with losses to UNI, WKU and Tulane.

As for who I trust? I trust Wichita State more than Cincinnati simply because Wichita State has a legit point guard and its offense isn’t atrocious. Cincinnati has an absolutely awesome defense, but that offense is putrid right now. Save me the Cane Broome being out for the last 2.5 games, it wasn’t exactly humming with him in there. They have taken a step back offensively from last year and early season expectations and luckily the defense has been able to carry them. They’ll still likely be a second weekend team or at least a top-5/6 seed, but that offense is hard to trust. For me, I trust teams with point guards. Wichita has one of the best in the country in Landry Shamet and we’re starting to see them get to full strength, something we haven’t seen all year.

Yes. Absolutely yes they are the second best team in the ACC, especially with the injuries to Notre Dame and Miami trying to figure out what it is offensively. Virginia’s backcourt trio of Guy/Hall/Jerome is shooting 45% from the 3-point line on 190 attempts – not exactly a small sample size. They are set up this year to attack offensively more than years past, where they’d just try to get the ball to Brogdon or a Justin Anderson late in the clock to go get them a bucket. This year when teams press them they can attack and have three guys to really stretch the floor. I still would like to see them have a little more threat in the post, but this team is a top-10 team in the country. I mean to say they’ll make the deepest run means they’d make a Final Four since Virginia has played in an Elite Eight game. Are they capable of it? Sure. But as I always say it’s pointless to say they have a Final Four ceiling without seeing matchups.

I have them third, but in same tier as Xavier and just slightly above Creighton. I’ve been high on this team since the preseason when I had them at No. 11 in my preseason rankings and the offense is what I’ve been impressed with. Teams have taken away Angel Delgado by throwing double teams on him in the post and the entire team has adapted. Desi Rodriguez has been more aggressive, driving to the basket, where he’s damn near impossible to stop when he’s going left. Myles Powell has taken that sophomore jump and is shooting 43% from the 3-point line. Khadeen Carrington is starting to really figure out the point guard spot as he moves over from an off ball spot. They have a bunch of different ways to beat you and are still flying under the radar a little bit despite wins at Louisville, semi-home against Texas Tech and home vs Creighton. Kevin Willard has a special group here.

Can I say TBD on this? I think if they get the win at Tennessee and start the year at 3-0 with 2 road wins they are in the drivers seat. They are projected to finish 12-6 with Auburn and Florida. Looking at Kentucky’s schedule it’s not exactly ideal for them. They have Florida twice, A&M twice, at Tennessee, at Arkansas and at Auburn. They are going to have to win road games in order to win the conference. So if they beat Tennessee, they can afford splits with A&M and Florida and still win this thing. I talked about it yesterday but the improvement of the bench and the emergence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the best player for this team has given them a completely different look than expected.

Assuming everyone stays I like this team as a possible preseason top-25 team next year. They have a good core with David Crisp, Jaylen Nowell and Noah Dickerson. They are going to be up and down all year simply because of that, but more importantly they are competing under Mike Hopkins. That’s how they went out and got wins against Kansas and USC but get blown out by UCLA. I like that they are protecting the rim and really getting after teams defensively trying to force turnovers, but it’s more due to trying to make up talent wise. Again, this team is a year away, but it wouldn’t shock me if they catch one of the better teams in the Pac-12 again.

I don’t think it’ll necessarily hurt them a lot, but it’s not going to help them. More importantly is the fact they only get Michigan State once. If you lose that you have to bank on other teams vastly improving to keep getting those wins as other teams in the country will get these top-50 wins that Purdue has. Remember one of the top-50 wins right now is Maryland due to the early Big 10 schedule which is one that could easily fall out of the top-50 with the Justin Jackson injury. I think you see Purdue as a top-4, maybe top-5 seed and in the Sweet 16. I still have questions about this team, granted I was wrong about them not being in the top-25, I don’t think they are a top-10 team as many are starting to talk about them as. They are somewhere in between there. The other thing to remember with Purdue and the rest of the Big 10 is Minnesota is likely about to lose Reggie Lynch. That’s another serious loss for a team that many think are the 3rd best team in the conference. Do they fall out of the top-50? But as for my outlook, a top-4 seed and a Sweet 16 trip feels right for this team.

Obviously the big thing here now is the injury to Justin Jackson, who was supposed to be one of the breakout stars in the conference this year. This Maryland team still has talent, especially when you look at Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, but in terms of big wins? I don’t know how many there are. They lost to Michigan State last night by 30 and that was with Maryland playing a phenomenal 15 minutes to start the game. They already lost to Purdue in College Park. Luckily they get both of those teams again and Michigan twice. But, what other big wins are out there?

No. Even with Billy Preston cleared, this team has some serious work to do to get back up to a No. 1 seed. Right now they are behind Xavier, Arizona State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Virginia for sure. They may even behind some other teams for a No. 1 seed. Billy Preston will be a huge difference maker whenever he gets cleared and starts to play for Kansas. He’s exactly what they need right now to try and help with their biggest problems, but with how loaded the Big 12 is, Kansas is going to lose some games. I think you see them as either a No. 2 or No. 3 seed whether Preston plays or not.

Yeah, this is a stretch. Listen, Georgetown is better than expected and can compete but in what world do you think they are getting 9 wins? They are sitting at 1-2 right now – and even though the question was posed last week I’d still say in what world do you see 9 wins? They likely are getting swept by Xavier and Villanova. Most likely getting swept by Creighton and Seton Hall. Right there gives you 10 losses. This team can compete for a NCAA Tournament bid next year, but this year it’s all about playing close games and just trying to get wins where you can – like on the road at DePaul.