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College Basketball Mailbag: Why Are We So Bullish on Texas?

Plus, taking questions on the placements of Dayton, Oregon State and more in SI’s 1–358 rankings.

Welcome to Sports Illustrated’s new weekly college hoops mailbag with Kevin Sweeney. Here, Kevin will field questions submitted via Twitter and email about a variety of topics in the sport. Have a question you’d like answered in a future mailbag? Send it to @CBB_Central on Twitter or (questions around either men’s or women’s basketball are welcome!). Without further ado, let’s get to your questions ...

In this week’s mailbag, I touch on the response to SI’s 1–358 men’s basketball rankings published earlier this week, attempting to answer some questions people had about specific teams and how the list came to be.

Questions have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

From Eric (@Efawcett7): Can you walk us through your process of taking on such a daunting task?

It certainly did feel daunting when I took it on! I first dived into it in early September and didn’t really know where to start. So here’s what I did, step-by-step:

  1. Built out standings projections for every conference.
  2. I created “buckets” of 50 teams and, after each conference, I’d eyeball which bucket (1–50, 51–100 … 301–358) its teams belonged in.
  3. Once I had every conference done and every team assigned a bucket, I counted how many teams I had sorted into each bucket. As I had hoped, I was pretty accurate in not overstacking certain buckets! Only one bucket was more than five teams off in one direction or another.
  4. I cleaned up the buckets to get them to the right number of teams (50 in each, with the exception of 301–358) and ranked the teams in each bucket.
  5. Once that was done, I had a 1–358 ranking! I spent a lot of time checking and tweaking it based on injuries, new data (preseason KenPom) and some back-end work I did to ensure conferences were power-rated properly.
  6. Finally, I teamed up with Molly Geary to write all the team blurbs!

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how everything turned out. Are there some teams that I’d like to move a few spots here and there after getting more feedback? Sure, but that’s inevitable. Given how huge a task this is (especially in a year with so many new faces around the sport and coming off the oddities of the 2020–21 season), I think it went as well as it could have.

Texas coach Chris Beard

From John (@John_Langer): I don't think you're an idiot. I get Texas did well in bringing in transfers, but with ranking a team No. 2 and saying we'll see how it fits ... tell me more about that?

Well, first off, glad I’m not an idiot. As for Texas, the Longhorns and Memphis were probably the two hardest teams for me to rank. The roster Chris Beard has assembled will serve as a fascinating experiment in team-building to track in the transfer portal age: Rather than grab one-and-dones, he’s chunked together a group of fringe NBA prospects who are proven college stars. Beard and his staff have been open about the fact that it will take time for everything to fit together right—an inevitability when you only have one player who has played in Beard’s system before (and that player is a former Texas Tech walk-on in Avery Benson, who’s not expected to play significant minutes at UT).

I guess the best way I’d answer this question is that I don’t think that Texas will be the second-best team in the country in the first week of the season, and it probably won’t be in the first month. But I’m too in love with the talent here to not believe the Longhorns will be rolling come March. Marcus Carr has earned rave reviews for his work ethic in his senior season, while much-maligned Kentucky transfer Devin Askew has reinvented himself as a defensive spark plug in Beard’s high-intensity system. Shaka Smart holdovers Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones provide shotmaking. Utah transfer Timmy Allen can be a big-time scorer, too, while Vandy import Dylan Disu will be a high-level stretch big when healthy. The two-headed center monster of Tre Mitchell and Christian Bishop is a matchup nightmare. Beard has so many different ways he can deploy this roster. And not even Gonzaga has the amount of talent this Texas team has.

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From K (@Kalup_James): Oregon State won the Pac-12 tourney and then ran to the Elite Eight after being picked to finish 12th in conference. It returns six of eight rotation pieces and three starters this season and a few intriguing transfers. [To land] 90-something and ninth in the Pac-12 though?

For as remarkable as Oregon State’s run was a season ago, we should acknowledge the flukiness involved in it. According to T-Rank, before last year’s Pac-12 tournament Oregon State was the 89th-best team in the country. And that was with Ethan Thompson, who was clearly the Beavers’ best player. OSU certainly figured some things out down the stretch: It played with great chemistry, made tough shots and used a variety of defensive looks to baffle teams. But this isn’t your typical ‘Elite Eight team runs it back’ story.

As far as the newcomers go, I think the Beavers didn’t shoot high enough in the transfer portal. I absolutely love juco import Dashawn Davis, who should be one of the best newcomers in the Pac-12 and fill in nicely at point guard for Thompson. Dexter Akanno (Marquette), Chol Marial (Maryland) and Ahmad Rand (Memphis) barely got off the bench at their previous homes. Tre’ Williams (Minnesota) provides some scoring pop but has a history of inefficiency. None of these transfers look like needle-movers to me.

A Davis/Jarod Lucas backcourt has some juice, and I love what Warith Alatishe brings on the defensive end. But I’m not buying that the Beavs of March come back for more in November.

From @pfeiffjd: I think Dayton at No. 67 is pretty fair with what we know right now. It’s been listed as high as low-50’s and as low as 100-plus on preseason lists. What’s the upper limit for it?

I’m pretty bullish on the Flyers in 2021–22. The biggest thing holding me back from having them as an NCAA tournament team in the preseason is the youth. In a year that sees so much of college basketball being older than normal, Dayton is one of the nation’s youngest teams. It has just two upperclassmen: transfers Elijah Weaver (USC) and Toumani Camara (Georgia).

But this group is just so talented. Camara’s skill and athleticism as a small-ball big makes him an outstanding fit in Anthony Grant’s offense. Another transfer, Kobe Elvis from DePaul, has earned praise inside the program for his ability to create offense both on and off the ball. Add in an elite freshman in DaRon Holmes II and a promising young core thrown into the fire a season ago, and this group has major, major potential. So while I think it will take time for the Flyers to truly click, I think their ceiling could be the highest in the A-10.

From Tristan (@hoopsnut351): Which team ranked No. 300 or lower could come out of nowhere to potentially win their respective conference?

This is tough, particularly because for the most part, if there was a team that I felt like had sneaky riser potential, I almost always found a way to get it out of the 301–358 range. My best bet here would probably be McNeese State in the Southland. I think Nicholls State is a pretty clear favorite, but beyond the Colonels the league is wide open. The departures of Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian, Lamar and Sam Houston State have significantly weakened the conference, and McNeese coach John Aiken brings in a ton of transfer portal talent that could keep them in the mix. Veterans Brendan Medley-Bacon (VCU), Kellon Taylor (Albany) and Myles Lewis (VMI) should form a strong frontcourt, while South Carolina transfer TJ Moss looks the part of an impact addition in the backcourt. 

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