Which college hoops contenders are primed to assert themselves this season? Insider Jon Rothstein saw 30-plus teams practice this fall and provides a college basketball preview of key teams, diving into the angles that can help you profit throughout the season leading up to March Madness.
College Basketball Preview: Q&A With Rothstein
Big 12 Evaluation: Defending National Champs
EH: When do you expect Baylor to truly assert itself after losing its top-three players?
JR: Baylor’s gonna be better late than they are early. I think the one thing that I noticed from Baylor versus other teams, like Kansas and Texas that I’ve seen live in the Big 12, is that their freshmen Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan look like they’re gonna have a much bigger impact. There’s still enough on the perimeter with James Akinjo, Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer to be super competitive.
So Baylor doesn’t have what it had, but it has enough to compete for a Big 12 regular season title and a high-seed in the NCAA tournament.
How Quickly Will Texas Flex?
EH: When do you expect the Longhorns’ roster to fully come together with Chris Beard lacking a full season to implement his defense?
JR: You’re going to see a scenario where they have incredible depth, experience and shot-making, but they don’t have incredible vintage Texas athleticism upfront. They’re more of a cerebral team right now.
There’s no Jaxson Hayes, Jericho Sims or Kai Jones on this team. And that’s why guys like Tre Mitchell (UMass), Vanderbilt transfer Dylan Disu, those are guys who are going to be critical for rim protection and give them a little more balance.
EH: With the Longhorns’ offense presenting so much iso scoring, could there be an issue with their overall structure?
JR: They’ll have the ability to play four and five-out and go over the top of defenses. You have to remember, there are guys who are seasoned veterans, like Timmy Allen (Utah) and a guy in Christian Bishop (Creighton), who produced for winning programs at a high level.
You have pieces that have been featured scorers and who have high usage, and they’re going to be in a scenario where they’re going to have to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. It’ll be interesting to see how that works itself out.
Will Juwan Howard Repeat Success?
EH: How quickly will Michigan adapt without Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner and Mike Smith — three integral parts of the Wolverines’ attack last season?
JR: They need to have offensive consistency out of Brandon Johns. I think they’ve got two All-American candidates in (five-star) Caleb’s Houston and (sophomore) Hunter Dickinson. But the thing we need to look at is Michigan is still a team that’s incorporating new pieces — one being at the most important position on the floor in Devante Jones, who’s taking over for Mike Smith.
I expect Michigan to be in the mix for a Big Ten regular season title, but after seeing all these teams live, I would say Purdue and Illinois are ahead of Michigan to start the year.
EH: You mentioned Devante Jones, who transferred over from Coastal Carolina. How quickly do you expect his offense to evolve from mid-major to a power-five program?
JR: Very rarely does offense translate like it does when you’re at the mid-major level. That’s a big, big thing. But I think the difference with Jones versus Smith is defensively he’s going to be able to get underneath opposing point guards. Michigan is going to have a different look at point guard than it did a year ago and the year before that with Zavier Simpson.
Can Michigan St. Develop Into A Second Weekend Contender?
EH: Since Tom Izzo has a true point guard after it took some time to replace Cassius Winston, how quickly will his new-look offense become a true threat?
JR: Tyson (Walker) should allow players to get higher percentage shots because Michigan State didn’t have a certain point guard last year. Michigan State knows that this isn’t a vintage Kansas team (in the Champions Classic) with an Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid. Kansas is going to come back with major personnel, but this Michigan State team looks more prideful (from what I saw).
Villanova’s Championship Odds Too Short?
EH: How can Jay Wright’s team be dethroned in the Big East despite its offensive potential?
JR: UConn has by far and away the most physically imposing frontcourt that I’ve seen with my two eyes this preseason. Are they going to be offensively good enough to be an elite team? That’s the million dollar question. But UConn right now is well-positioned to have the best frontcourt in college basketball (and challenge Villanova with its size).