1. Arizona is a heavier Pac-12 favorite than many realize
You’ve got to love how conference schedules work.
The Wildcats — who are currently ranked third in the FanRag Sports Preseason Top 25 — were clearly expected to be the team to beat in the Pac-12 entering next season, but due to the league’s scheduling cycle, Arizona will not have to travel to Los Angeles to play either UCLA or USC.
This is all part of the Pac-12’s rotation of conference schedules, and while it’s all selected prior to knowing which teams are going to be better than others, this dynamic undoubtedly will hurt the conference’s potential national interest at some point next season.
There’s absolutely no legitimate reason why Arizona and UCLA — the Pac-12’s two best brands and biggest rivals — don’t play twice a year, but it’s also a real unfortunate circumstance that the Wildcats also won’t pay a visit to the Galen Center to face USC.
The Trojans — who are currently ranked eighth in the FanRag Sports Top 25 — have as deep of a roster as there is in college basketball, and have all the requisites to be a team that advances to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in 2018.
UCLA and USC are both clearly the second- and third-best teams in the Pac-12 on paper behind Arizona entering next season, and with Oregon in a rebuilding season following the loss of four starters, it’s hard not to see the Wildcats winning this league by a decisive margin, given the way their schedule aligns and the fact that this could be Sean Miller’s best team yet.
The Pac-12 really dropped the ball on this one.
2. The ACC did Florida State no favors with its early slate
Since we’re on a rant about league schedules, we didn’t want to limit this space to the West Coast.
The ACC released its conference slate last week and it ensured one thing: Leonard Hamilton is going to have one awful Christmas.
The Florida State Seminoles — who lost four starters from last year’s team that was a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament — will open league play on Dec. 30th at Duke before returning home to play defending national champion North Carolina in Tallahassee with no students on campus.
Florida State will then travel to Miami — another team ranked in the FanRag Sports Top 25 — before returning home to play Louisville.
That’s four games in 12 days against four consensus Top-20 teams, with four new starters.
There’s only four words to describe that stretch — the epitome of brutality.
3. Michael Porter Jr. will have more returning pieces to work with than Ben Simmons did
The million dollar question surrounding Porter’s arrival at Missouri is whether or not he can do what the past two top picks in the NBA Draft — Simmons and Markelle Fultz — couldn’t do; lead a team to the NCAA Tournament.
It’s worth noting that on paper, he’ll play with better returning talent than Simmons did during his one season at LSU.
Despite only finishing 2-16 last season in SEC play, the Tigers will still return three double-figure scorers — Jordan Barnett, Kevin Puryear and Terrence Phillips.
It’s also worth noting that Simmons only played with two double-figure scorers from the previous year during the 2015-16 season at LSU, and one of them — Keith Hornsby — only appeared in 20 of the Tigers’ 33 games due to injury when Simmons was a part of the Tigers’ program.
What does it all mean?
One-and-done-caliber players get a lot of attention in the world of college basketball, but returning players are ultimately what define a program when it comes to winning.
Porter is the main reason why there’s so much buzz surrounding Missouri’s program, and his commitment led to commitments from fellow freshmen Jeremiah Tilmon and Blake Harris, as well as Cansius graduate transfer Kassius Robertson. Then Jontay Porter — the young brother of Michael Porter Jr. — reclassified into the Class of 2017.
No one knows how those pieces will mesh under Cuonzo Martin or how this group will deal with an SEC that’s significantly deeper than the past few years, but we do know this: Porter is going to have more proven returnees around him than Simmons did.
Time will tell if that leads to a different legacy following what is expected to be his only season in college basketball.
This and That:
– How dominant has Villanova been since this new rendition of the Big East began prior to the 2013-14 season? The Wildcats have won 71 conference games over the past four years, with 51 of them coming by double-figures.
– Wichita State’s Landry Shamet (foot) still isn’t expected to return to action until early November, Gregg Marshall told FanRag Sports last week. With Shamet likely to experience some rust early in the season, look for JUCO transfer Samajae Haynes-Jones to potentially play a big role for the Shockers in the back court.
– UNLV grad transfer Dwayne Morgan will visit St. John’s at the end of September, a source told FanRag Sports. The 6-foot-8 forward will be eligible in December and has one-and-a-half years of eligibility remaining. Morgan averaged 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in 23.0 minutes last season prior to injury.
– Michigan, South Carolina, Providence and George Washington will headline the 2018 Hall of Fame Classic at Mohegan Sun, multiple sources told FanRag Sports. Official matchups have yet to be determined.
– The biggest surprise this writer saw after watching Saint Joseph’s workout last week was 6-10 freshman Anthony Longpre. Think an Atlantic 10 version of Kevin Pittsnogle. Don’t be shocked if Longpre finds his way into Phil Martelli’s starting lineup.
Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.