The first full day of college basketball games (that actually count) is upon us, with one of the feature games being Marquette versus No. 4 Ohio State in the Carrier Classic at 7 p.m. EST on the NBC Sports Network. The two teams will get down to business aboard the flight deck of the USS Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
Ohio State enters the seasons with very few holes. Maybe none. Gone is Jared Sullinger, but DeShaun Thomas could’ve easily been an NBA draft pick, but he and his 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game returned for his junior season. The nation’s best on-ball defender in Aaron Craft comes back to terrorize any guard he mans up on. He’s probably going to be assigned to make Junior Cadougan and Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett’s nights a living hell.
Marquette has to replace two of the toughest players in the Big East last season, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. The aforementioned Lockett (13 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists with the Sun Devils last season) and Cadougan (5.4 assists per game in 2011-12) will anchor the backcourt, with Vander Blue in the mix. Chris Otule anchors an the front line.
It’s going to be tough-against-tough in this one. Thad Matta’s bunch pride themselves on a half-court attack offensively, where they work the ball from inside-out. Defensively, it’s all about swarming defense that starts with Craft on the perimeter and his 2.5 steals per game. LaQuinton Ross (6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and 6-11 Amir Williams (29 games played in 2011-12) will do their best to fill the void left by Sullinger. Buzz Williams always has a bunch that’s not shy about being in the opponent’s face, leading the Big East last season by giving up only 65.9 points per game.
Also, watch how the outdoor conditions alter the playing style of both teams. The coastal winds will affect how much these team shoot and if that’s the case, the Buckeyes have the edge over the Golden Eagles with the size of Williams, Ross, Thomas and Co. This game is more about honoring our military — Williams has previously said this is “one of the top five things I’ve ever done in my life” — so a crowd of around 5,000 won’t affect the game much.
This should be a lot better than last season, organizationally, being that last season’s game between Michigan State and North Carolina had its kinks. We should all enjoy this one. After all, it’s time to start the season, what’s there to be upset about?
For much of the last three weeks, the nation’s best high school players have been jet-setting across the country — and the world — as they showcased what they can do in front of college coaches everywhere from North Augusta, S.C., to Las Vegas.
In a close call, I’m going with the future Washington Husky, Michael Porter Jr.
After an unstoppable Peach Jam in which he helped MoKan Elite win the event by completely dominating, Porter was one of the key players in helping the USA U18 team win the FIBA Americas as the team’s leading scorer.
Some have questioned Porter’s toughness, but he’s been a tenacious rebounder from the wing all spring and summer and he’s nearly impossible to contain off the bounce. When his perimeter jumper is going, Porter is an advanced three-level scorer who can make getting buckets look easy on some very difficult moves. In three bracket games at Peach Jam, Porter averaged 29.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while shooting insane splits (68% FG, 93% FT, 56% 3PT).
Part of the reason that Porter was so good during Peach Jam is that he had Trae Young beside him on MoKan. A 6-foot-1 guard with deep shooting range on pull-ups, Young is underrated as a setup guy as his aggressive scoring capabilities open up a lot of offense for his teammates. Also a member of the USA U18 team that won gold with Porter, if Young shoots it that efficiently from three-point range in the future, he’ll be in the discussion among the best guards in the class.
They were good, too
Trevon Duval: The point guard with the most potential in 2017, Duval had a tough time finishing at the rim but still showed incredible athleticism and a warrior’s mentality.
Collin Sexton: After winning MVP of the FIBA U17 World Championships and a gold medal with USA Basketball, Sexton tore up the circuit and showed incredible intensity and scoring capabilities.
When Gary Trent Jr. takes the court, he wants to completely destroy you. No five-star player went as consistently hard as Trent did during the month of July and that is coming after Trent spent a month away from home winning gold with USA Basketball in Spain at the FIBA U17 World Championships. There were times in Vegas that opposing coaches and teams knew what moves were coming and Trent would still score on them. He’s a cold-blooded scorer who always brings intensity.
They were good, too
Hamidou Diallo: The high-flying guard can get a lot done on both ends of the floor and his upside might be among highest in the class.
Brian Bowen: Scoring the ball well and rebounding from the wing was the 6-foot-7 wing from Michigan, who looked unstoppable at times during July.
If anyone beats Porter as the best player of July it is Ayton. The 7-footer was incredible during certain moments of Peach Jam in helping lead California Supreme to the final four as he beat Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter and Mitchell Robinson in consecutive games.
With soft touch, a workable jumper and the kind of quick hops that get rim easy dunks and rebounds, Ayton is the best long-term prospect in this class because of how well he moves for his size while also owning a good skill level. Ayton has a desire to play in college and hopefully he’ll get the chance because he has a shot to be one of the best big men college basketball has seen in the last decade.
They were good, too
Wendell Carter: The 6-foot-10 center was good at Peach Jam and closed out strong by helping Team CP3 win The Eight in Las Vegas.
Mitchell Robinson: This 7-footer changes directions and runs like a guard and is the best shot blocker in the country. I haven’t seen one guy block this many three-pointers since Anthony Davis.
BIGGEST STOCK RISER: Malik Williams
Indiana native Malik Williams is an interesting story because he was the only top 40 Class of 2017 player who didn’t play in a shoe-company league this spring. After a July in which the 6-foot-11 Williams made perimeter moves, blocked shots and rebounded his entire area, he looked like a five-star lock who should be in serious consideration for the All-American games. Williams is undoubtedly talented enough for those distinctions, but he also needs to prove himself more against the elite big men of the Class of 2017 before we know how good he can really be.
Some of the best college basketball programs in the country like Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State and Purdue — among many others — are making Williams a priority recruit.
They impressed, too
Chuma Okeke: Auburn just snagged this top-60 wing forward on Monday and he’s coming off a monster July. A versatile wing who can handle and score, Okeke can also rebound well from the wing.
Nick Weatherspoon: The younger brother of Mississippi State freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon is making a name for himself as a 6-foot-1 playmaking guard who can really score.
FOUR NON-ELITE NAMES WITH NBA POTENTIAL
Derek Culver: The 6-foot-10 native of Ohio is an intriguing talent because of his size, athleticism and passing ability.
Brandon Randolph: A smooth scorer with good size at 6-foot-6, Randolph hit 40 percent of his threes at Peach Jam and can fill it up from deep.
Chaundee Brown: One of the most efficient scorers at Peach Jam, the 6-foot-5 guard can also pull down rebounds with the best of them.
Jordan Goodwin: Undoubtedly one of the toughest dudes in the country, this Marcus Smart-type guard is improving his jumper but he’s a warrior with everything else.
Cody Riley has cut his list to five schools, according to Scout.com.
A four-star four man, Riley is now considering just UConn, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC.
Ranked the No. 29 player in the Class of 2017 by Rivals, Riley is an undersized-but-powerful forward. His bread and butter is on the block, where his strength and low center of gravity make him a nightmare to deal with, but he’s also skilled enough to do damage as a face-up four.
Riley is from California and will be playing his senior season alongside Marvin Bagley III, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2018, at Sierra Canyon.
Auburn continues to stockpile talent, adds top 50 prospect in 2017
Auburn’s hire of Bruce Pearl was almost universally lauded as the first step towards the return of relevance for the Tiger basketball program.
And while the results have yet to shine through on the floor, Pearl is unequivocally stockpiling the kind of talent that will allow him to push for trips to the NCAA tournament and maybe one day contend for a league crown with Kentucky.
The latest step came on Sunday, when Pearl landed a commitment from Chuma Okeke, a top 50 wing prospect out of Georgia.
“He is a versatile wing who can handle and score,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “Coming off of a big July, Okeke could move up the national rankings and Auburn pounced on him right away.”
Okeke joins big man Austin Wiley, a top ten player in the class, and Davion Mitchell, who is likely one of the five best point guards in the country, in what is currently the nation’s best recruiting class in 2017. That’s before you consider that Pearl already has Mustapha Heron, a top 25 prospect, joining the mix this season.
“This group has the makings of a monster recruiting class for Auburn,” Phillips said.
Okeke picked the Tigers over Florida State, Georgia and a number of other programs across the southeast.
VIDEO: Watch Virginia freshman Jay Huff dunk from the free throw line
After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.
The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.
A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.
Had an amazing basketball career but it's time for a change…I will now work to become a San Francisco Firefighter! pic.twitter.com/pIk1yfNWhG
“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”
While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.
Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.