1. Syracuse has a chance to be elite defensively
Jim Boeheim told FanRag Sports last Tuesday during a team practice that this is the best he’s felt about a squad in the last four-to-five years, and one of the reasons why is because of how lethal this team could be defensively.
Only one of the Orange’s projected rotation players — John Gillon — stands shorter than 6-4, which means this team is regularly going to have two players at the front of the vaunted 2-3 zone that stand between 6-4 and 6-7.
In addition, Providence transfer Paschal Chukwu should give Syracuse a new dimension defensively thanks to his ability to alter and block shots. The 7-2 Chukwu could very well be the Orange’s version of Martin Brodeur and make it nearly impossible for teams to get clean looks in the high post area when he’s in the game.
It’s going to be awfully difficult to execute against this team in the half court when games become slower and more methodical during conference play.
There are a lot of reasons to like the Orange this season, but the biggest reason after seeing them in person is the size and length they possess defensively.
If opponents can’t get points in transition against Syracuse this season then it’s going to be awfully tough for them to win.
2. Michigan State may borrow a page from Duke
The program that’s always been known for toughness and relentlessness on the glass is now all of a sudden short on size.
With UNLV transfer Ben Carter out for an extended period of time following another knee injury, Michigan State now only boasts two players — Gavin Schilling and Nick Ward — on its roster that stand taller than 6-8.
What does that mean for the Spartans moving forward?
More potential time for 6-7 freshman Miles Bridges at the four.
For the past two seasons, Mike Krzyzewski has opted to go smaller at Duke and use both Justise Winslow and Brandon Ingram at power forward in an effort to be quicker and more skilled.
Don’t be shocked if Tom Izzo does something similar with Bridges, a five-star prospect that oozes talent.
Michigan State has a plethora of capable perimeter players at its disposal in Tum Tum Nairn, Eron Harris, and Matt McQuaid as well as freshmen Cassius Winston and Josh Langford, but make no mistake about it — this team is lacking size.
The best way to counter that may be to take a page from Duke — especially at crunch time — and put Bridges in spots on the floor where he would be an absolute nuisance to guard for an opposing power forward.
3. Akoy Agau may eventually be Georgetown’s best option at center
John Thompson III has regularly said that he’s going to play faster this season and that should directly correlate to Agau stepping in at the five.
The Louisville transfer missed last year due to injury, but could very well be the Hoyas’ best option to protect the front of the rim if they attempt to press and regularly speed up the game.
During Friday’s practice in Washington D.C., Agau displayed his mobility and knack for covering ground at a different pace than the other big men on Georgetown’s roster.
This isn’t a space-eating big man like Bradley Hayes or Jessie Govan; this is something new for a program that has been synonymous with elite post players.
If this team is truly going to use its depth and attempt to manufacture as many possessions as possible then the 6-8 Agau may very well wind up giving the Hoyas a different type of center than they’ve enjoyed in the past.
This and That:
– The unsung presence in Villanova’s program is redshirt sophomore Donte DiVincenzo. The 6-5 guard missed most of last season due to a foot injury, but could quietly play a significant role for the Wildcats off the bench. The Wildcats’ staff has raved about DiVincenzo’s ability to keep possessions alive off the offensive glass and his growth could give Villanova another guard to pair with Phil Booth, Jalen Brunson, and Josh Hart.
– I’m hearing that Parker Jackson-Cartwright has been rock solid out of the gate for Arizona in preseason practice. There’s no substitute for collegiate experience and the 5-10 point guard is in his third year of college basketball. Despite the addition of five-star recruit Kobi Simmons, don’t be shocked if Jackson-Cartwright and Kadeem Allen wind up starting next to Allonzo Trier on the perimeter when the Wildcats’ season begins on Nov. 11th.
– Several Big 12 coaches believe that Texas Tech is as good as any team in the conference other than Kansas. The Red Raiders are the oldest team in the country and return several key pieces from last year’s team that reached the NCAA Tournament under Tubby Smith. Chris Beard has a real chance to get off to a strong start in his first season in Lubbock.
– South Carolina is counting on a breakout sophomore season from Chris Silva. The 6-9 big man averaged 5.4 points and 4.5 rebounds last year as a freshman and should be the Gamecocks’ top interior threat in 16-17. Frank Martin’s top two big men from a year ago — Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas — have graduated.
– Maryland fans are going to quickly fall in love with 6-6 freshman Kevin Huerter. The game never gets too fast for this Albany native, who should be the Terps’ starting small forward during the upcoming season. Think a young version of former UConn forward Niels Giffey.
– Looking for a mid-major that’s under-the-radar? Try Illinois State. Dan Muller returns three double-figure scorers from last year’s team that won 18 games in Paris Lee, Deontae Hawkins, and MiKyle McIntosh. If everyone is healthy, then the Redbirds — not Wichita State — may very well have the best roster in the Missouri Valley Conference.
– Don’t be surprised if Jared Harper winds up as Auburn’s starting point guard by SEC play. The 5-10 freshman is undersized, but has the courage to take and make big shots when things are on the line. Bruce Pearl has always coached with a chip on his shoulder and Harper would be a true extension of that on the floor.
– Six of Butler’s 11 scholarship players have yet to play a single minute in the Big East. The Bulldogs are quietly transitioning in 16-17 after losing both Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones.
– If Illinois is going to have a chance to return to the NCAA Tournament then it has to get significantly better defensively. The Illini surrendered an average of 74.8 points last season, the most since the 1992-93 season under Lou Henson.
– Who is the second best team in the SEC after Kentucky? I have no idea either.
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.