Duke, led by preseason player of the year Grayson Allen, is our No. 1 team heading into 2016–17, but the Blue Devils will have to battle the likes of Kansas, Kentucky, Villanova and Oregon to cut down the nets in April.

By SI.com Staff
November 02, 2016

Now in its third season, SI's College Basketball Projections System has produced the most accurate preseason poll for the past two years. We don't rely on human voters, but instead build team by team projections from the players up. On offense, we begin by projecting every player's efficiency and shot volume, incorporating his past performance, recruiting rankings, development curves for similar Division I players, the quality of his teammates and his coach's ability to maximize talent. Those stats are weighted based on the team's rotation—including human intel on who’s expected to earn minutes—then used to produce each team’s offensive efficiency projection.

Our defensive forecasts are based on a blend of returnees' advanced stats (rebound, steal and block percentages), roster turnover (if churn is low, then 2014–15 performances in areas such as two-point field goal percentage are given a lot of weight; if high, then a coach’s historical defensive résumé matters more), experience (veterans have fewer lapses), height (taller frontcourts make for stingier defense) and depth of talent.

We simulate the season 10,000 times to account for variance in individual performances as well as injury scenarios, and the final product are these projections. To read are full rankings of every team in Division I, from 351–1, click here. Below, we offer a scouting report, player projections, conference projections, a coach's take and an X-factor for each team in our top 20. Scroll through the page to read each report, or click on the links below to find your favorite team:


• 1–5: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova

• 6–10: 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona 

• 11–15: 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse 15. Indiana 

• 16–20: 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn


 

Lance King/Getty

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

Grayson Allen had one priority this off-season: reduce his sugar intake. Duke’s leading scorer admits that eliminating the sweet drinks he loves was a huge challenge, but doing it helped him drop 10 pounds. “I feel quicker,” the 6' 5", 202-pound junior says. “I’m not walking into the gym feeling sluggish. That’s going to be big—if I’m able to stay fresh game to game.”

The player of the year candidate’s load will be lighter in more ways than one. Four of the Blue Devils’ top five scorers are back, and they’re joined by four of the country’s top 13 freshmen, according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. A deep rotation and a diversified offense make it less crucial for Allen to match his 2015–16 average of 21.6 points, which he racked up over a bone-wearying 1,317 minutes (seventh most in Division I).

A leaner frame has also led to a quicker first step. That, plus Allen’s improved ballhandling, can make him “more creative off the bounce,” says associate head coach Jeff Capel. Meanwhile Duke has managed Allen’s practice reps to make sure he can maintain ample energy to move without the ball and attack defensive closeouts.

With added help and fewer pounds, one of the country’s most potent scorers can vary his angles and force fewer shots. “The way I look at it, I should be more efficient than I was last year,” Allen says. Expect that to weigh heavily on the rest of D-I.

College Basketball
ACC preview: Duke's depth & talent put it at top of conference

X-Factor: Freshman forward Harry Giles

After three knee surgeries in the last three years, including an Oct. 3 procedure to clean up scar tissue, Harry Giles remains a 6' 10" question mark. If healthy, he’s talented enough to be the NBA’s top draft pick.

Coach’s Take: Jeff Capel, associate head coach

“I think we can be more versatile than we were last year offensively. Really, our offense last season was dictated by two guys—Grayson and Brandon [Ingram]. We’ll have more scoring options. Having Amile [Jefferson] back out there, he gives us something we didn’t have from the time he got hurt—he’s a great offensive rebounder. For us that’s another way to get points. Jayson [Tatum] is a really talented offensive player and can do it in a variety of ways. We have the depth, we have the athleticism, we have the size and length to be a really good defensive team. That has to be a point of emphasis for us. We’d like to be able to pressure, full-court, to get after people, get in passing lanes. We have versatility where we can do some different things with how we switch stuff and keep fresh bodies in. To be honest, I think that’s an area where we can hang our hat.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Grayson Allen Jr PG/SG 20.1 4.7 3.1 128.7 25% 85%
Jayson Tatum Fr SF 16.8 3.3 1.8 117.7 25% 79%
Harry Giles Fr PF 12.0 4.8 1.0 120.7 22% 63%
Luke Kennard So PG/SG 9.7 3.3 1.4 123.2 19% 55%
Amile Jefferson Sr PF 8.7 8.4 1.4 126.2 16% 68%
Matt Jones Sr SG 8.6 2.9 1.7 123.0 15% 65%
Frank Jackson Fr PG/SG 6.5 2.8 2.5 114.8 17% 48%

Projected ACC Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Duke 15–3 11–7
2 North Carolina 13–5 14–4
3 Virginia 13–5 13–5
4 Louisville 11–7 12–6
5 Syracuse 11–7 9–9
6 NC State 10–8 5–13
7 Miami 9–9 13–5
8 Clemson 9–9 10–8
9 Virginia Tech 9–9 10–8
10 Notre Dame 9–9 11–7
11 Florida State 8–10 8–10
12 Pittsburgh 8–10 9–9
13 Wake Forest 6–12 2–16
14 Georgia Tech 2–16 8–10
15 Boston College 2–16 0–18

More scouting reports: 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

Kevin C. Cox/Getty

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

During practice, Bill Self prefers to pit his starting guards against each other. But when he needs Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason III on the same team, he calls for “the two littles.” And Graham always responds, “Do you mean the two bigs?”

Graham, a 6' 2" junior, and Mason, a 5' 11" senior, are far from the Jayhawks’ tallest players, but they have the largest presence and will make up one of the nation’s best backcourts. Flanking them on the wings will be Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, the sharpshooter who spent the summer competing for his native Ukraine at the FIBA Europe Under-20 championship; Lagerald Vick, whom Self calls the team’s most improved player “by far”; and Josh Jackson, the No. 1 player in the high school class of 2016. Projected as a top five pick in the ’17 NBA draft, Jackson has added nearly 20 pounds of muscle to his 207-pound frame since arriving in Lawrence in June.

Mason’s main focus for this season is filling the leadership void left behind by departed senior Perry Ellis. For the first official practice of the year, in September, Mason showed up 45 minutes early. The next day, half of the team joined him for the early start. Graham, for his part, sank 250 NBA-length three-pointers every day of the off-season.

“Sometimes we’ve had only one playmaking guard in the game, but this year we’ll go five deep on our perimeter with really, really good players,” Self says. “And with Frank and Devonte’, we’ll look incredibly crisp in everything we do. Those guys wake up thinking they’re 7-feet tall every day, and that’s how important they are to us.”

X-Factor: Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg Jr.

Last year Carlton Bragg Jr. averaged just 8.9 minutes behind All–Big 12 forward Perry Ellis. Now the boisterous forward will be the focal point of KU’s frontcourt attack and increase his scoring by almost nine points per game.

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Big 12 preview: Kansas looks like a lock for 13th straight title

Coach’s Take: Bill Self

“The thing about it is that all my very best teams, we played two point guards. You go back and look at it over time, whether it was last year with Frank and Devonte out there, or when we won the national championship in 2008 with Sherron [Collins] and Russell [Robinson] and Mario Chalmers all playing some point guard. At Illinois, we had Dee [Brown], Deron [Williams] and Luther [Head] on the court at the same time. Who’s your point guard? I think this team can be as good as those teams. I’m expecting this team to challenge nationally. I’m expecting this team to be in the game when March rolls around. I love our experience. I love our depth. And I think our young kids could be our most talented. There’s no reason not to be optimistic.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Josh Jackson Fr SF 15.7 6.8 1.7 119.0 23% 79%
Frank Mason Sr PG 14.0 3.6 4.8 120.1 21% 86%
Devonte' Graham Jr PG 12.4 3.3 3.9 123.2 18% 81%
Carlton Bragg So PF 12.3 6.9 1.3 113.8 22% 69%
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk Jr SG 8.8 2.8 1.5 114.7 20% 51%
Landen Lucas Sr C 7.4 7.5 0.8 121.5 17% 57%
Udoka Azubuike Fr C 5.1 2.8 0.4 109.5 18% 35%

Projected Big 12 Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Kansas 15–3 15–3
2 West Virginia 10–8 13–5
3 Baylor 10–8 10–8
4 Texas 10–8 11–7
5 Iowa State 9–9 10–8
6 Oklahoma 9–9 12–6
7 Texas Tech 9–9 9–9
8 Oklahoma State 6–12 3–15
9 Kansas State 6–12 5–13
10 TCU 6–12 2–16

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

James Crisp/AP

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

No coach in America recruits and reloads better than John Calipari, but even by his standards this freshman class is sublime. After losing five of its top seven scorers, Kentucky has brought in a quintet of stars—including four McDonald’s All-Americans—who are good enough to return the team to the Final Four. The only questions are how well they fit together and how quickly they grow up.

Start in the backcourt, where Calipari has said that the speed of point guard De’Aaron Fox and the strength of combo guard Malik Monk remind him of John Wall and Derrick Rose, respectively. (No pressure, kids!) The lack of a dependable post presence hastened the Wildcats’ exit from the 2016 NCAA tournament, but this year they will deploy a genuine wide body in 6' 10", 255-pound Edrice Adebayo, whose nickname, Bam, reflects the explosiveness of his legs and strength of his hands. The other two newcomers, forwards Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel, have been filling Calipari’s head with visions of junk zone defenses that take advantage of their length, versatility and agility.

“It’s a process we go through every year. It just takes time,” Calipari says of his inexperienced roster. “We might start four or five freshmen at times. So you understand that you are going to lose some games early and then try to right the ship by the end of the year. When late February and March rolls around, we expect to be at our best.”

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SEC preview: Malik Monk should lead Kentucky to another league title

X-Factor: Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe 

Pigeonholed as a defensive specialist because of his shooting woes (13.5% from three), Isaiah Briscoe has worked hard to improve his accuracy since arriving in Lexington in 2015 and is prepared to be a leader this year.

Coach’s Take: John Calipari

“We’re going to be a mauling, helping, rotating, shot-blocking team. We’re going to push the ball up the court because we can. On offense, we’re going to try to score within three seconds, and if not, we’re going to attack the rim or throw it to the post. I’m going to be disappointed if by February this isn’t the best defensive team I’ve had. Isaiah’s shot has really improved. We’re teaching him how to lead off the court just like we did with Tyler [Ulis]. Last year, I thought we were playing our best, but we just needed one guy near the goal that we could throw the ball to to get easy baskets. There are some zone defenses we could play. Not the traditional 2–3, but we could play those three big guards out with two bigs, or go 6' 11", 6' 10" at the top of the key. We're going to go with a three-guard lineup a lot of the time. So there’s all kinds of ways we can play with this group.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Malik Monk Fr SG 16.0 2.1 2.5 117.1 25% 77%
De'Aaron Fox Fr PG 12.9 1.7 3.9 117.6 21% 77%
Bam Adebayo Fr C 12.5 6.9 0.8 116.3 24% 63%
Derek Willis Sr PF 11.1 6.3 0.7 125.6 16% 68%
Isaiah Briscoe So PG 10.9 5.1 3.3 109.1 20% 80%
Wenyen Gabriel Fr PF 7.2 4.7 0.6 110.3 20% 45%
Isaac Humphries So C 5.0 5.4 0.4 109.9 15% 50%

Projected SEC Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Kentucky 16–2 13–5
2 Florida 11–7 9–9
3 Texas A&M 11–7 13–5
4 Vanderbilt 10–8 11–7
5 Georgia 9–9 10–8
6 Arkansas 9–9 9–9
7 Ole Miss 9–9 10–8
8 Mississippi State 9–9 7–11
9 South Carolina 8–10 11–7
10 Auburn 8–10 5–13
11 Alabama 8–10 8–10
12 Tennessee 7–11 6–12
13 LSU 7–11 11–7
14 Missouri 4–14 3–15

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

Lance King/Getty

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

Dylan Ennis seemed like the unluckiest player in college basketball last season. After the 6' 2" guard transferred from Villanova to Oregon in the summer of 2015, he suffered a broken left foot that limited his senior year to just two games—and then watched as his former team won a national championship. But on June 30, Ennis finally caught a break: The NCAA granted him a medical redshirt, allowing him to play one more season for the Ducks, who’ve amassed enough veteran talent to be even more of a title contender than they were in 2015–16, when they reached the Elite Eight.

Ennis left Villanova because he wanted a full-time point guard gig, but he has warmed to the idea of being a backcourt Swiss Army knife in Eugene—sharing floor-general duties with 6' 3" junior incumbent Casey Benson (who is projected to score 5.7 points and dish out 2.7 assists) as well as assuming off-ball roles. “[Ennis] is our most versatile guard,” says coach Dana Altman. “When we go small, he’s physical enough to guard bigger guys, and on offense, we plan on putting him in a lot of different situations. He can shoot the three, get to the rim, get involved in some pick-and-roll situations [and do] more ballhandling.”

It wasn’t until the Ducks’ exhibition tour of Spain, in August, that Ennis felt as if he were finally back from his injury. On the second possession of their opening game, in Madrid, he drove off of a ball screen, and, he recalls, “everything just slowed down.” Ennis pulled up and sank a three-pointer. The shot “was the first time where I scored at 100% in an Oregon jersey,” he says. “I was like, O.K., I’m actually playing.”   

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Pac-12 preview: Oregon, Arizona could be Final Four contenders

X-Factor: Junior forward Dillon Brooks

At full strength Dillon Brooks, who led the Ducks in scoring (16.7 ppg) and assists (3.1) last season, is a Wooden Award candidate, but he has yet to be cleared after surgery in July on his left foot.

Coach’s Take: Dana Altman

“We run a two-guard front, and there’s going to be some competition for who handles the ball. I have no idea who will be the starters and which roles they’ll fill. Tyler Dorsey handled it some last year, Casey Benson handled it a lot, and now [we add] Payton Pritchard and Dylan [Ennis]. Last year we didn’t have any depth at the guard spots. . . . We usually go between two or three different presses, but last year we kind of just stayed in one. We weren’t as diversified as I’d like to be. I’d like to change it up a little bit more this season. . . . [In the halfcourt], the zone we played last year did keep our shot blockers around the basket. In Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell we have two really good shot-blockers returning, and now with [6' 11" junior-college transfer] Kavell Bibgy-Williams, we’re adding a third.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Dillon Brooks Jr SF 17.2 5.7 2.9 117.0 26% 82%
Tyler Dorsey So SG 12.9 3.9 1.9 117.6 21% 70%
Chris Boucher Sr PF 12.5 7.0 0.6 129.1 20% 66%
Dylan Ennis Sr PG 9.8 3.0 2.7 113.6 21% 65%
Jordan Bell Jr PF 8.3 5.8 1.4 114.1 19% 57%
Kavell Bigby-Williams Jr PF 6.9 4.3 0.5 107.6 20% 43%
Casey Benson Jr PG 5.7 2.2 2.7 126.1 12% 60%

Projected Pac-12 Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Oregon 14–4 14–4
2 Arizona 13–5 12–6
3 UCLA 11–7 6–12
4 California 11–7 12–6
5 USC 9–9 9–9
6 Utah 9–9 13–5
7 Colorado 8–10 10–8
8 Washington 8–10 9–9
9 Oregon State 7–11 9–9
10 Stanford 7–11 8–10
11 Arizona State 7–11 5–13
12 Washington State 4–14 1–17

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

Matt Rourke/AP

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

Those who decry the pervasive tendency of the mock-draft industrial complex to reduce every college player to his position on an NBA wish list have an ally on the Villanova bench. Last month coach Jay Wright was dismayed to hear senior Josh Hart label himself a “three‑and-D” specialist. “Don’t limit yourself,” Wright told the Big East’s preseason player of the year. “Do everything, and be great at everything.”

It is indeed more than long shots and lockdowns that the Wildcats expect from the versatile 6' 5" wing who led last year’s national champions in scoring (15.5 points) while using a team-high 24.3% of possessions. “He’s running pick-and-roll now, he’s bringing the ball up,” says Wright. “He can shoot threes, he’s posting up, he’s driving. [He’s] become a complete player.”

Hart says he most enjoys maneuvering into the lane and either attack-ing the basket himself (according to Synergy Sports, he averaged 1.339 points per possession around the rim last season, which ranked in the top 15% among D‑I players) or distributing to teammates like title-game hero Kris Jenkins (38.6% from three) on the outside. And on a team without a starter or returnee taller than 6' 8", Hart’s strong work on the boards—both his offensive and defensive rebounding rates (7.7% and 18.6%, respectively, in conference play) ranked in the Big East’s top 20—is particularly valuable. That ability took on added importance when 6' 9" freshman Omari Spellman, a five-star recruit, was ruled an academic redshirt by the NCAA in September. The Wildcats need Hart to play bigger than ever in their quest to repeat.

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Big East preview: Villanova appears poised to repeat

X-Factor

Last season Jalen Brunson (9.6 ppg) deferred to the veterans a great deal. With Ryan Arcidiacono gone, “the ball’s gonna be in [Brunson’s] hands,” says coach Jay Wright. “It’s a lot more natural for him.”

Coach’s Take: Jay Wright

“Darryl was playing in practice against him everyday all year. Part of Daniel’s development was because of Darryl. I think Darryl’s ready to step into that role. I think he can be a rim-protector like Daniel. Daniel is such an elite passer, has such elite basketball IQ, I don’t think anybody’s gonna be like that at that position for us for a long time. But rim-protection, rebounding, scoring and low-post ability—I think Darryl can get there this year. Darryl’s offensive low-post play has really improved every year. He’s really effective and making good decisions out of that.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Pos. Class PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Josh Hart Sr SG/SF 16.0 6.5 2.0 124.2 23% 79%
Kris Jenkins Sr SF/PF 14.6 4.3 2.2 124.3 21% 75%
Jalen Brunson So PG 14.2 3.0 3.5 115.0 22% 82%
Eric Paschall So SF 9.8 4.4 0.9 104.9 23% 54%
Phil Booth Jr PG/SG 8.9 2.7 2.5 115.2 20% 60%
Mikal Bridges So SF/PF 8.0 4.0 1.1 124.1 16% 57%
Darryl Reynolds Sr PF 5.4 5.7 0.7 118.4 13% 56%

Projected Big East Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Villanova 14–4 16–2
2 Xavier 12–6 14–4
3 Creighton 10–8 9–9
4 Butler 10–8 10–8
5 Seton Hall 10–8 12–6
6 Georgetown 10–8 7–11
7 Marquette 9–9 8–10
8 Providence 7–11 10–8
9 St. John's 5–13 1–17
10 DePaul 3–15 3–15

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

Grant Halverson/Getty

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

It seems unfathomable that junior Justin Jackson has hit just 29.7% of his threes. At a Tar Heels practice in late October, he didn’t appear to have any quirks in his mechanics. His release is effortless, and he fluidly transitions from the dribble into his shot at all spots. “He’s been here two years,” coach Roy Williams says, “and every time he shoots the ball I think it’s going in.”

The 2015–16 Tar Heels ranked 268th nationally in three-point shooting (32.7%) and still won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, then reached the NCAA final before losing to Villanova. No one in Chapel Hill thinks that formula will work again. “For us to make a run, we have to hit outside shots,” Jackson says, so the search is on for deadeye marksmen. Junior point guard Joel Berry II is one candidate. He connected on a respectable 38.2% of his threes last year and, after one February practice, he hoisted 251 before missing two in a row.

But if Jackson, who averaged 12.2 points as a sophomore, can improve his long-range efficiency, he will instantly become North Carolina’s most complete scoring threat. He made 300 to 400 shots daily during the summer, taking care to repeat his motion and to put more arc on his attempts. He also ate six meals a day and says he went from 193 pounds at the NBA draft combine in May to 210 by the first practice in October. The added heft should help Jackson withstand contact, get to the foul line more often and discourage defenders from crowding him at the three-point stripe. “A lot of it is confidence,” Jackson says. “It’s just stepping into it and shooting it.”

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ACC preview: Duke's depth & talent put it at top of conference

X-factor: Senior forward Isaiah Hicks

Isaiah Hicks averaged 19.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per 40 minutes last season, but he also committed 121 fouls in the 723 minutes he played—or 6.7 per 40. If he can stay on the court he’ll be a double double machine.

Coach’s Take: Roy Williams

“Joel and Justin particularly, Kennedy [Meeks] at certain stages, Isaiah at certain stages, have proven they can be big-time players in big-time games. But can they make that next step to be able to do it when that’s who [opponents] are trying to stop? The experience we have will be really beneficial on the defensive end of the court, just really understanding what we want to do. We’ll miss [Brice Johnson’s] shot-blocking ability. But the other guys will be able to step up and do what he was able to do in the post defensively. My biggest message after the [national championship] game and through the course of the off-season was to use that as fuel, to motivate them to work harder. That’s where I think it’s the biggest factor.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Justin Jackson Jr SF 13.9 4.7 2.9 125.1 22% 74%
Joel Berry Jr PG 13.5 3.2 3.9 123.1 20% 78%
Kennedy Meeks Sr PF/C 11.8 8.0 1.4 116.7 23% 62%
Isaiah Hicks Sr PF 11.7 5.8 0.9 120.7 22% 59%
Tony Bradley Fr C 7.6 5.3 0.7 118.4 16% 55%
Nate Britt Sr PG 7.2 1.8 2.2 111.1 20% 48%
Theo Pinson Jr SF 6.1 4.2 3.2 114.5 18% 55%

Projected Conference Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Duke 15–3 11–7
2 North Carolina 13–5 14–4
3 Virginia 13–5 13–5
4 Louisville 11–7 12–6
5 Syracuse 11–7 9–9
6 NC State 10–8 5–13
7 Miami 9–9 13–5
8 Clemson 9–9 10–8
9 Virginia Tech 9–9 10–8
10 Notre Dame 9–9 11–7
11 Florida State 8–10 8–10
12 Pittsburgh 8–10 9–9
13 Wake Forest 6–12 2–16
14 Georgia Tech 2–16 8–10
15 Boston College 2–16 0–18

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

Streeter Lecka/Getty

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

Austin Nichols’s first experience with coach Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers came in the 2014 NCAA tournament, when the 6' 9" forward was a freshman at Memphis. Over the course of the Tigers’ 78–60 loss, Nichols battled the smothering post traps typical of their Pack-Line defense. “People are everywhere,” Nichols says now. “If you’re gonna make a move, you’ve gotta do it quick.”

Nichols made his own move, transferring to Charlottesville in 2015. After a year of learning his role in Bennett’s demanding, communication-heavy system (“I’ve played in some good defenses, but not as complex or as good as the Pack-Line,” Nichols says), the former All-AAC first-teamer joins the frontline as a smooth, capable scorer working to sharpen his midrange jumper (37.5% in ’14–15). “He’s very skilled and complete offensively—right hand, left hand,” says Bennett. “Just knows how to play the game.”

The work of Nichols in the defensive post, where he blocked 12.5% of two-point attempts as a sophomore (eighth best in the country, according to kenpom.com), will be crucial. He’ll also need to help fill the sizable rebounding void left by the graduation of Anthony Gill (18.2% defensive rebound rate) and Mike Tobey (23.2%). Having become enamored with Virginia’s success and playing style, Nichols is hoping to prevent any drop-off. “I just wanted to come here and fit in,” he says. The Cavaliers are hoping he can do it quickly.

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ACC preview: Duke's depth & talent put it at top of conference

X-factor: Redshirt freshman forward Mamadi Diakite

Described by coach Tony Bennett as a “lively jumper,” 6' 9", 214-pound redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite, who is from Conakry, Guinea, has packed on 19 pounds of muscle and will be a valuable rim protector.

Coach’s Take: Tony Bennett

“Each year [London Perrantes] has gotten a little more aggressive. It’s not like he’s like, ‘O.K., now it’s my turn to shoot every time.’ You can’t force people into something that they’re not. I just want incremental improvements. Sometimes we’ll have other guys bring up the ball, let him work a little more off the ball because we do want him to look more. But I never want to take him out of his game and his personality because that’s greatest strength—his feel for the game. Yes, we’ll need him to make shots and be assertive, but if it’s a little incremental improvement, I’ll take that. For me to say, ‘You’re gonna become someone different’—we obviously want him to do a little more, but not outside the realm of his comfort level.”​

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Austin Nichols Jr PF 13.8 6.1 1.0 107.7 25% 71%
London Perrantes Sr PG 11.8 3.0 4.4 116.9 21% 79%
Isaiah Wilkins Jr PF 6.9 5.7 1.7 112.7 18% 65%
Kyle Guy Fr SG 6.1 1.9 1.1 102.9 21% 41%
Marial Shayok Jr SF 6.0 2.3 1.3 108.1 20% 43%
Darius Thompson Jr PG 5.6 1.8 1.8 113.1 17% 47%
Ty Jerome Fr PG 5.1 0.6 2.0 109.9 19% 40%

Projected ACC Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Duke 15–3 11–7
2 North Carolina 13–5 14–4
3 Virginia 13–5 13–5
4 Louisville 11–7 12–6
5 Syracuse 11–7 9–9
6 NC State 10–8 5–13
7 Miami 9–9 13–5
8 Clemson 9–9 10–8
9 Virginia Tech 9–9 10–8
10 Notre Dame 9–9 11–7
11 Florida State 8–10 8–10
12 Pittsburgh 8–10 9–9
13 Wake Forest 6–12 2–16
14 Georgia Tech 2–16 8–10
15 Boston College 2–16 0–18

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

Charlie Neibergall/AP

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

Ethan Happ’s redshirt freshman season at Wisconsin, in 2014–15, was a punishing apprenticeship. He was 6' 9", a few growth spurts removed from being a high school point guard, and his assignment on most days was to defend 7‑foot senior Frank Kaminsky, that season’s Wooden Award winner. “Frank did not take it easy on Ethan,” says coach Greg Gard, an assistant at the time—nor did Ethan take it easy on Frank, who was often annoyed by the freshman’s aggression. “For me, scout team was my game,” says Happ. “I played like I was in front of 40,000 people.”

When Happ did get in front of the public, as a starter in 2015–16, he emerged as a remarkably high-impact defender. He led the Big Ten in steal percentage (4.0)—a rare accomplishment for someone who guards post players—and was fourth in defensive-rebounding percentage (23.8) as Wisconsin finished 13th nationally in defensive efficiency. Now 6' 10", Happ is a big reason why SI projects the Badgers as the -nation’s top defense despite their lack of a true rim protector or perimeter lockdown artist.

Wisconsin should also benefit from continuity: Returning players accounted for 99% of the minutes on last season’s Sweet 16 team. Gard took over after Bo Ryan resigned in December, and the Badgers clicked by reverting to a swing offense and by executing their team-defense tenets of limiting fast breaks, three-point tries and driving lanes. “They started to grasp the whole picture instead of just worrying about their man,” Gard says. “Everybody talks about offensive synergy, but defensive synergy is just as important.”

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Big Ten preview: Wisconsin's stable of returners makes it a favorite

X-factor: Senior forward Nigel Hayes

If Nigel Hayes rediscovers the three-point shot that deserted him between his sophomore season (39.6%) and his junior year (29.3%), he should earn All-America honors and reach his third Final Four.

Coach’​s Take: Greg Gard

“​The types of shots Nigel Hayes got last season, when he moved to small forward, completely changed from what he got as a power forward the previous two years. The thing that will help him is that there's more experience around him now.

“​His teammates will be better at finding him in the right spots, and I think he'll be better at finding guys that are more advanced in terms of their instincts. . . . The better and more efficient we were offensively last season, the better our defense got because we took care of the ball more. Our turnover numbers went down. Our free throw rate went up in attempts per game. Our field goal percentage went up. Our field goal percentage defense went down, so some of it was correlated. Our improvement offensively helped our defense because we weren't giving up as many live ball turnovers. We were taking better shots. We were getting to the free throw line more. All those things help your transition defense. The more we can set our defense and have opponents have to play five versus five, obviously, it's anybody's strength is in numbers. We were able to do that a little bit more effectively, and a little bit more consistently, and that helped overall for us defensively.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Nigel Hayes Sr SF 15.9 5.9 2.8 113.3 27% 85%
Bronson Koenig Sr PG 13.4 2.9 2.6 119.1 20% 84%
Ethan Happ So PF 12.5 7.1 1.2 108.8 25% 70%
Vitto Brown Sr PF 9.5 5.2 0.9 110.0 20% 63%
Zak Showalter Sr SG 7.6 3.3 2.0 117.9 15% 70%
Alex Illikainen So PF 3.4 2.7 0.6 108.8 15% 35%
Jordan Hill Jr PG 2.8 1.3 0.9 101.8 14% 32%

Projected Big Ten Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Wisconsin 14–4 12–6
2 Purdue 12–6 12–6
3 Indiana 12–6 15–3
4 Michigan 10–8 10–8
5 Michigan State 10–8 13–5
6 Maryland 10–8 12–6
7 Ohio State 10–8 11–7
8 Northwestern 9–9 8–10
9 Illinois 8–10 5–13
10 Iowa 8–10 12–6
11 Penn State 7–11 7–11
12 Nebraska 7–11 6–12
13 Minnesota 6–12 2–16
14 Rutgers 3–15 1–17

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

Sean M. Haffey/Getty

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

Last year the Zags longed for depth. This season they’re so loaded with scoring threats, finding enough shots for everyone will be tough.

Coach Mark Few welcomes one of the best freshman classes in his 17-year tenure, plus a trio of talented transfers who will contribute immediately. Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (second-team All-Pac-12 at Washington in 2014–15), off-guard Jordan Mathews (Cal’s third-leading scorer in ’15–16) and power forward Johnathan Williams (Missouri’s leading scorer in ’14–15) will all contend for starting positions. In keeping with Gonzaga’s tradition of importing talented big men, the freshman crop includes 6' 10" forward Killian Tillie (France) and 6' 8" forward Rui Hachimura (Japan).

But it’s 7-foot, 230-pound freshman Zach Collins, out of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, who will draw comparisons with a beloved former Zag. “He’s going to be a really good player, along the lines of [Domantas] Sabonis,” Few says. “He’s that forward-center who moves well, loves physicality and whose skill package is improving by the day.”

Minutes will be hard-earned in Spokane. “There were times in practice last year that we got down to six or seven healthy bodies,” Few says. “Now, it’s a luxury to practice really hard. The competition has been so good each day. We don’t just have depth, but balance.”

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X-Factor: Senior forward Przemek Karnowski

The Zags got an unexpected gift with the return of Przemek Karnowski, a 300-pound behemoth who can score, pass and protect the rim. He missed most of last season with a back injury, then flirted with the NBA draft.

Coach’s Take: Mark Few

“I’m hoping the transfers buy into the Zag way. The reason they came here, across the board, was to win, and advance deep in the tourney. They want to develop, not just score 20 points a game and their experience in college basketball is huge. One kid flying under the radar is Williams. I think he’ll be a do-everything guy around the hoop. Karnowski is such a good dude, we’re all just rooting for him to stay healthy. Jordan, he’s an excellent shooter, that’s what he does. He can come off screens, spot up, shoot it deep. And he’s really confident. He’s made a lot of baskets at the D-I level. We really needed one more consistent perimeter shooter, and he’s pretty darn good at that. Our schedule, that’s just the way we do it up here. We’re going to play good, tough teams in the preseason to show the committee we’re not only interested in getting to the tourney, but in being a high seed.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Nigel Williams-Goss PG 12.3 4.5 3.4 118.0 22.5% 74%
Jordan Mathews SG 12.3 3.8 1.3 117.7 18.7% 72%
Przemek Karnowski C 11.9 6.5 0.9 111.2 24.0% 62%
Johnathan Williams PF 11.6 7.6 0.8 111.9 22.7% 65%
Josh Perkins PG 10.1 3.5 3.6 116.8 19.6% 72%
Silas Melson SG 8.0 3.1 1.1 114.3 15.4% 62%
Zach Collins C 7.8 5.4 0.7 111.7 18.0% 54%

Projected WCC Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Gonzaga 16–2 15–3
2 Saint Mary's 14–4 15–3
3 BYU 14–4 13–5
4 Santa Clara 8–10 7–11
5 Pacific 8–10 6–12
6 Pepperdine 8–10 10–8
7 Loyola Marymount 7–11 6–12
8 Portland 6–12 6–12
9 San Francisco 5–13 8–10
10 San Diego 4–14 4–14

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

Christian Petersen/Getty

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

Pekka Markkanen was a glorified grunt in his one season as a Kansas starter (1989–90), setting screens and grabbing rebounds. His 19-year-old son, however, will be much more than a spare part in Tucson. A 7-foot freshman from Jyväskylä, Finland, Lauri Markkanen not only plays above the rim but also stretches the floor. Draft Express projects him as the Pac-12’s No. 3 NBA prospect, behind Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and Cal power forward Ivan Rabb. Arizona coach Sean Miller points out that one of Lauri’s two brothers, Eero, plays for the Finnish national soccer team. Plodders, they are not.

Last year’s low-post tandem of Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski couldn’t step out to stretch defenses, and the Wildcats played slow, ranking No. 150 in possession length (17.1 seconds). Markkanen’s speed and three-point shooting should inject new life into the attack, which will include five-star guard Rawle Alkins and McDonald’s All-American point guard Kobi Simmons. “Lauri has great range,” Miller says, “and we tend to play a little faster when the floor is spaced.”

That should be a huge benefit to wing Allonzo Trier, who averaged 14.8 points in 2015–16 and surprised Miller by returning for his sophomore year. (There are rumors that Trier may be facing a suspension. Arizona has declined to comment.) Trier is among the Pac-12’s most gifted scorers, an eclectic slasher whose slippery hips allow him to wiggle into the lane and draw contact. Combine his skill with Markkanen’s versatility, and a new look for Arizona is no stretch.

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X-Factor

Sidelined for the past two seasons with ACL tears in each knee, redshirt freshman Ray Smith, a former five‑star recruit, can be a beast on the offensive glass, but “every time he lands, you worry,” says coach Sean Miller.

Coach’s Take: Sean Miller

“I think some of the things that you’ve come to expect from our program will remain a constant. The pillars of our program are man-to-man defense and a lot of movement on offense. We’re going to have a lot of depth at guard, which is going to help us play faster. Allonzo had 31 assists last year for the entire season. He missed seven games with a broken hand, but 31 assists. That’s not something he does intentionally. It’s how he’s been wired. When he jumps up levels and has to play with other good players, it will help him if he can beat them with the pass. He needs to become more than a guy who just scores.

“We lost nearly 20 rebounds per game with Kaleb and Ryan gone. Not a lot of teams in the country can say that. Both were big guys who were physically strong. Traditionally, we’ve been a very good defensive rebounding team. We’ve been in the Top 15 in defensive rebounding in KenPom the past four years. It will be interesting to see how we figure out how to rebound this year without all that size.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Allonzo Trier So SG 17.3 4.4 1.6 116.6 23% 80%
Lauri Markkanen Fr PF 9.8 6.0 0.8 109.8 21% 60%
Dusan Ristic Jr C 9.6 5.6 0.9 113.3 21% 55%
Rawle Alkins Fr GF 8.5 3.8 1.2 105.5 19% 58%
Kadeem Allen Sr PG 7.8 3.0 3.1 106.8 20% 58%
Ray Smith Fr SF 7.1 3.4 0.9 110.5 20% 44%
Parker Jackson-Cartwright Jr PG 6.2 2.0 3.6 116.2 17% 54%

Projected Pac-12 Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Oregon 14–4 14–4
2 Arizona 13–5 12–6
3 UCLA 11–7 6–12
4 California 11–7 12–6
5 USC 9–9 9–9
6 Utah 9–9 13–5
7 Colorado 8–10 10–8
8 Washington 8–10 9–9
9 Oregon State 7–11 9–9
10 Stanford 7–11 8–10
11 Arizona State 7–11 5–13
12 Washington State 4–14 1–17

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

Michael Hickey/Getty

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

During the Boilermakers’ summer tour of Spain, Caleb Swanigan went up for a dunk and cracked the backboard. It was yet another example of how the 6' 9", 250-pound sophomore makes the remarkable look routine. “I didn’t know that happened,” coach Matt Painter says with a laugh. “It was just a regular dunk.”

Last season Swanigan became just the second Purdue freshman (after Robbie Hummel in 2007–08) to have 300 points, 200 rebounds and 50 assists. With the departure of center A.J. Hammons, the ’15–16 Big Ten defensive player of the year, Swanigan will swing between two positions on a front line that will be among the nation’s best.

In one lineup Swanigan will be the four while 7' 2", 290-pound junior Isaac Haas plays the five. As a backup last year Haas led the conference in points per 40 minutes with 27.4. In another configuration, 6' 8" junior Vincent Edwards (11.3 points per game) will play power forward, and Swanigan will man the pivot, his natural position. “We can be one of the biggest front lines and cause people lots of problems with our size,” says Painter, “and then be able to move things around because Swanigan can shoot on the perimeter and drive and post.”

With guards P.J. Thompson (who had just 23 turnovers last season) and graduate transfer Spike Albrecht (3.9 assists in 2014–15 with Michigan), the Boilermakers should be able to win their first NCAA tournament game since 2012. With Swanigan, breakthroughs are always a distinct possibility.

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X-Factor: Dakota Mathias

He got lost when Purdue used a 10-man rotation early last season, but Dakota Mathias finished shooting 41.5% from beyond the arc in conference play. “He’s just a really smart basketball player,” says coach Matt Painter.

Coach’s Take: Matt Painter

“It’s too early to tell for anybody. Our guys are on edge. We put ourselves in position the last two years in the tournament, in a position to win games [and] we lose games in overtime. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Our guys are hungry to fight, get back and do better in conference play. We’ve gotten third in our league the past couple years. You’d like to have a couple games back where you’re in that last weekend of the season to win a Big 10 title. We got to be a little bit better. [But] I like our team. We have a very intelligent, skilled team. We have good size, have some combo forwards. We have guys that can shoot. We have a high basketball IQ. We’re excited, but we understand it’s a very competitive world. We know we’re going to have a non conference schedule that’s going to prepare us for Big 10 play.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
Vince Edwards Jr SF 13.6 6.4 3.1 116.8 24% 74%
Caleb Swanigan So PF 13.5 10.0 1.7 106.5 26% 72%
Isaac Haas Jr C 13.4 6.2 0.7 120.0 27% 52%
P.J. Thompson Jr PG 8.6 2.6 3.4 128.8 15% 75%
Dakota Mathias Jr SG 8.1 3.4 2.8 121.4 16% 63%
Ryan Cline So SG 6.9 2.6 1.8 119.1 17% 50%
Carson Edwards Fr PG 5.8 1.8 1.9 102.5 19% 45%

Projected Big Ten Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Wisconsin 14–4 12–6
2 Purdue 12–6 12–6
3 Indiana 12–6 15–3
4 Michigan 10–8 10–8
5 Michigan State 10–8 13–5
6 Maryland 10–8 12–6
7 Ohio State 10–8 11–7
8 Northwestern 9–9 8–10
9 Illinois 8–10 5–13
10 Iowa 8–10 12–6
11 Penn State 7–11 7–11
12 Nebraska 7–11 6–12
13 Minnesota 6–12 2–16
14 Rutgers 3–15 1–17

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 15. Indiana | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn