CBT Monthly Awards: Duke is Team of the Month, UCLA disappoints

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With November in the books, we have a pretty good sample size to make snap judgments about what we’ve seen. The College Basketball Talk staff got together to share their thoughts on the first month of the college hoops season.

Enjoy.

 

Team of the Month:

David Harten: Duke – You can’t argue with a team that’s beaten THREE top-5 teams in a row. Just can’t. Doesn’t matter if it’s obvious.

Rob Dauster: Duke – There really is no argument here. They’ve beaten three top five teams, plus Minnesota and VCU.

Dan Martin: Duke – As everyone else has said, the Blue Devils came into the month with some doubters, and you can bet most of those have now become believers. Three wins over Top-5 wins are impressive on an NCAA Tournament resume, but to do it in the first month is unmatched.

Raphielle Johnson: Duke – I still think Indiana’s the best team currently but it’s the Blue Devils who have the best resume. They win as a result of that.

Eric Angevine: Indiana – Four years ago, the notion of Indiana being a #1 team again was absurd. Even the preseason No. 1 ranking felt a bit premature this season. But Tom Crean and his team — not just Cody Zeller, but the team — have taken all of the pressure on, played some tough games and made it through November unscathed.

 

Player of the Month:

Terrence Payne: Mason Plumlee, Duke – Plumlee No. 2 showed he can be the headlining act for a national contender. Whether it be he’s aggression on the boards or his improvement from the free throw line, Plumlee has his name in player of the year contention

Rob Dauster: Mason Plumlee, Duke – . He finally went from prospect to player. The most dominant big man in the country is the early player of the year favorite after averaging 20 and 11 through the first month.

Raphielle Johnson: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – Mason Plumlee will get a lot of love in this category and rightfully so, but McCollum deserves some as well. Nation’s leading scorer and also became the all-time leading scorer in Patriot League history last month.

Dan Martin: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – For variety’s sake, if it’s not Mason Plumlee, take a look at what McCollum has done: 26.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He is showing that he made the right choice in coming back to school and has Lehigh off to a 5-2 start.

David Harten: Jeff Withey, Kansas – The Jayhawks’ 7-footer is averaging 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and leading the nation at 6.2 blocks per game in 28.8 minutes per. Not to mention he’s rattled off the second triple-double in program history in a win over San Jose State with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks.

Eric Angevine: Jack Cooley, Notre Dame – Jeff Withey certainly had a stellar month, but for night-in, night-out production, I’m going with Cooley. The Irish always thrive with a spiky-headed brawler in the paint, and Cooley is that guy. One thing I really, really like about Cooley is that he hits his free throws, which is crucial for someone who lives around the basket.

Troy Machir: Jack Taylor, Grinnell College – Think about this: It took Mason Plumlee seven games to score as many points as Jack Taylor scored in one game. Taylor scored 138 points in ONE GAME? This isn’t even a discussion. November belonged to Jack Taylor.

 

Freshman of the Month:

Eric Angevine: Ben McLemore, Kansas – He’s the Jayhawks’ second leading scorer (13.8 ppg), and he may overtake Jeff Withey (14.2) in that department sooner rather than later. He’s also averaging 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and a steal and a block per game. That’s heady stuff for a freshman in Bill Self’s system.

Troy Machir: Ben McLemore, Kansas – Nothing about this kid’s play has been “freshman-like”. Through a month of play, there aren’t many Big-XII players, freshman or not, who are playing better than him.

Terrence Payne: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – Ask to take a big role with injuries, hasn’t disappointed for the Cowboys.

Rob Dauster: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – He’s got Oklahoma State ranked despite the fact the lost two players to season ending injuries. Impressive.

Raphielle Johnson: Jahii Carson, Arizona State – Herb Sendek said the Sun Devils would play faster and they have, with Carson being the biggest reason why they’ve been successful. He’ll only get better as the season wears on too.

David Harten: Anthony Bennett, UNLV – He’s averaged 19.5 points and 7.8 rebounds and anchored the front line for the Runnin’ Rebels in the early part of the season. His rise to prominence in college basketball took less time than his announcement ceremony.

Dan Martin: Isaiah Austin, Baylor – Austin is a versatile forward who, even in his first game of the season, showed he can play. He had 22 points in 17 minutes against Lehigh before spraining his ankle and is averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

 

Game of the Month:

Troy Machir: Indiana 82, Georgetown 72 OT – The best team in the country was pushed to the brink by a then un-ranked team with no seniors on the roster. The ebbs and flows of the game is what made it so special. The final score doesn’t properly reflect the quality of basketball we were treated too.

Eric Angevine: Duke 76, Louisville 71 – The Indiana-Georgetown OT tilt was also on my radar, but Duke vs. Louisville had too many story lines and too much drama to ignore. Imagine how much better it would have been if Dieng had been there to counter Plumlee. Nonetheless, it was the biggest chance at a statement game in the top five that we’ve seen so far, and Duke made the statement, which was”Yeah, we’re still Duke.”

David Harten: New Mexico 86, Davidson 81 – The Lobos survived 86-81 after Wildcats went up early on a bevy of threes — up 25-11 at one point and 45-31 at half — before Tony Snell, who went for 25, went ham and brought them back late in the second half and The Pit was rocking super hard for Marathon Madness.

 

Most Surprising Team:

David Harten: Colorado – Look at the Buffs! A 6-0 start with wins over Baylor and Murray State. Andre Roberson is clocking 10.8 points and 11 rebounds per and they’ve gotten production from Askia Booker (team leader at 16.8 ppg, 3.0 apg), Spencer Dinwiddie (14.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Josh Scott (14.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

Raphielle Johnson: SMU – Honestly I thought this team would be on the receiving end of beatings on a regular basis, Larry Brown or not. They’re 7-1, and regardless of what some may say of the opposition that’s a major improvement from last season.

Eric Angevine: Oklahoma State – While we were all waiting around to see if Baylor, West Virginia or some other team was going to rise up and challenge Kansas in the Big 12, it turned out that the Smart money was on the Cowboys.

Rob Dauster: Michigan – We knew the Wolverines were going to be good, but did anyone think they could put together an argument for being the best team in the country? For my money, Trey Burke has been the best point guard in the country.

Dan Martin: Illinois – The Illini were chosen to finish ninth in the Big Ten in the preseason media poll, but new head coach John Groce has his team 8-0 and ranked 22nd in the country. Their first real test, though, comes Dec. 8 against Gonzaga.

 

Least Surprising Team:

Eric Angevine: UCLA – Why did we expect them to be any different? For the past few years, this once-proud program has been on the rocks due to an apparent lack of discipline and a failure to retain top players. Nothing has changed, yet, but I’d be surprised if we see the same head coach in Bruin Blue next season.

Raphielle Johnson: UCLA – Talented but when you’re mixing skilled rookies with vets and no proven leader, things can get interesting. 5-2 isn’t a bad record, but I’m not buying this group as a bonafide contender right now.

Terrence Payne: UCLA – Bruins had potential through the roof entering the season. Without Shabazz Muhammad for the majority of the summer and fall and relying on a core of freshmen, it’s not surprising the Bruins and Ben Howland are off to a rocky start.

David Harten: UCLA – There was so little margin for error that you figured one thing going wrong would deflate the whole thing. Then the nail-biter over James Madison, the UC-Irvine loss and Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb left the team. That margin has been reached.

Dan Martin: Kansas – It never seems to matter what pieces Bill Self has in Kansas. They still end up competing. Even after losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor to the pros, Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore lead the Jayhawk attack in 2012-13.

Troy Machir: Indiana – They were the best team in the country before the season began, and after the month, nothing has changed. They are still the best team in the country. I’m not surprised at all.

 

Bandwagon you are jumping on:

Dan Martin: Michigan – The Wolverines won the NIT Tip Off in New York over a solid Pittsburgh team and pesky Kansas State squad, then beat No. 18 NC State. I really like Michigan’s trio of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Glenn Robinson III. Hardaway, Jr.’s transformation into a full player is key for coach John Beilein’s team.

Terrence Payne: Michigan – Very talented team, led by a stellar backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke is making a strong case to be the best floor general in the county, while Hardaway showing huge confidence in his game.

Rob Dauster: Georgetown – That zone is going to be a nightmare for everyone, and Markel Starks gives them a veteran back court leader.

Raphielle Johnson: Arizona – Wildcats go ten deep without much of a drop off (if any). Sean Miller’s got his best team since arriving in the Old Pueblo, and that includes the Elite 8 team in his second season.

Troy Machir: Cincinnati – Sean Kilpatrick has got to be somewhere near the top of the Wooden Award watch list after a month of play. Bearcats lead the country in rebounding and are seventh in points per game. They’ve also played much better non-conference opposition than in years past.

David Harten: Minnesota – I expected the Golden Gophers to be good, but they’ve been solid without much out of Trevor Mbakwe, who is making his way back from a torn ACL. Besides a loss to (my team of the month) Duke, they’ve rattled off wins over Memphis, Stanford and Florida State and earned a Top 25 ranking.

 

Bandwagon you are jumping off:

Raphielle Johnson: Drexel – Bruiser Flint’s team is tough but not particularly deep. And after losing Chris Fouch for the season it’s difficult to see the Dragons winning the CAA.

Eric Angevine: North Carolina – I know, I just bought them cheap for Cyber Monday, but it wouldn’t be the first time I pulled something disappointing out of the discount bin (I’m looking at you, DVD of Neverending Story 3). Rob’s right – there’s no distributor in Chapel Hill, and you can’t run the system without one.

Rob Dauster: St. Mary’s – Matthew Dellavedova is a stud, but he doesn’t have enough support around him.

David Harten: Baylor – Tons of talent, not a ton of discipline. A loss to Colorado wasn’t too bad, but the loss to College of Charleston was. They could turn it around, but they’ll have to do it in games against Kentucky, Northwestern and BYU.

Dan Martin: Memphis – Many thought this was going to be “The Season” for Memphis, but perhaps they’ll need to iron out some more wrinkles before everything comes together in Tennessee. A disappointing Battle 4 Atlantis now has the Tigers at 4-2 and averaging 14 turnovers per game.

Terrence Payne: Memphis – Tigers were suppose to be a factor this season, hasn’t shown it thus far. Josh Pastner still trying to get it all together, but in the mean time can sell the fans on a highly-touted recruiting class coming in.

 

Stat of the Month:

Raphielle Johnson: Mason Plumlee is now Duke’s all-time leader in dunks with 149. Robert Brickey was the previous record holder with 147.

Terrence Payne: Mason Plumlee is just under 80 percent from the free throw line to start the year. Compare that to 53 percent last year, 44 percent as a sophomore, and 54 percent as a freshman.

David Harten: Siena’s O.D. Anosike averaging almost as many rebounds as points. The 6-8 senior lead the nation in the stat at 12.5 per game last season, but he’s taken it to new heights this year. The Saints’ big man is averaging 14.4 points and 14.1 rebounds through five games.

Eric Angevine: Cal State Fullerton is shooting the lights out. 54.4% from inside the arc, 79.6% from the stripe, and a stunning 50% from deep. If the Titans manage to locate some defense over the next few weeks, they could actually be dangerous.

Dan Martin: Larry Drew II is averaging 8.1 assists and just 1.3 turnovers per game this season for UCLA. With so many bashing coach Ben Howland for announcing Drew II as his point guard, the former UNC guard is producing.

 

Final Four Picks after one month:

Eric Angevine: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Florida
Rob Dauster: Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Missouri
David Harten: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Michigan
Raphielle Johnson: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Gonzaga
Troy Machir: Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Gonzaga
Dan Martin: Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Michigan
Terrence Payne Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Gonzaga

Troy Machir is the Managing Editor of Ballin’ is a Habit and can be found on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Southland Preview: Can Stephen F. Austin regain the throne?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Southland.

The Southland finally saw Stephen F. Austin‘s dominant run end last season as New Orleans claimed the regular season title and NCAA tournament autobid. Although the Lumberjacks finished in second place in head coach Kyle Keller’s first season, expectations are in place for another potential conference title in 2017-18. Stephen F. Austin returns eight of their top nine producers from last season including Player of the Year candidate T.J. Holyfield on the interior. If Stephen F. Austin’s offense can get a boost then they could be in for another dangerous season.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has to replace the scoring punch of forward Rashawn Thomas but do-it-all senior Ehab Amin is back to lead the charge. Amin led the nation in steals last season while filling up the box score in many other ways as he’s flanked by guards Kareem South and Joseph Kilgore. Lamar made a leap last season as they won 19 games and made a CIT appearance. Senior forward Colton Weisbrod is a throwback undersized frontcourt presence while the backcourt of point guard Joey Frenchwood and shooter Nick Garth is among the league’s stronger returning duos.

Returning most of last season’s contributors, Abilene Christian is hoping to make a major leap up the Southland standings. Sophomore big man Jalone Friday is a promising player to build around while junior guards Jaren Lewis and Jaylen Franklin both put up double-figures in the scoring column last season. Incarnate Word is going to put up points but the Cardinals will need to figure things out on the defensive end. Jalin Hart, Simi Socks and Shawn Johnson are all returning upperclassmen who averaged at least 14 points per game each last season.

Southeastern Louisiana has a chance to make noise as junior point guard Marlain Veal and junior forward Moses Greenwood are a solid 1-2 punch. With a deep bench returning, the Lions have a lot of upperclass experience and could be a surprise team. The return of Jalan West for a seventh season is a major story for Northwestern State. The former Player of the Year candidate has to stay healthy but he’s joined by junior big man Ishmael Lane and senior guard Devonte Hall to form a solid nucleus.

Losing four starters will be tough for Sam Houston State but junior point guard John Dewey III is back to lead the team’s offense. Senior big man Chris Galbreath has a chance to be a breakout player. Central Arkansas has the Southland’s returning leading scorer in senior guard Jordan Howard but the Bears have to make major strides on the defensive end and controlling turnovers.

New Orleans has a lot of new pieces after last year’s run to the Big Dance as the Privateers need to replace three starters. Senior forward Travin Thibodeaux and senior big man Makur Puou are back along with a lot of question marks. After a CIT appearance, Houston Baptist loses five seniors and multiple transfers but senior center Josh Ibarra is an all-league threat.  

Nicholls lost seven seniors and needs to rebuild as senior point guard Jahvaughn Powell has a chance to have a big year. McNeese finished in last place a season ago but most of that group is back. Sophomore guard Kalob Ledoux has a chance to be one of the league’s better guards.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SOUTHLAND PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ehab Amin, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

College basketball’s leader with 124 total steals last season (3.4 per game), this 6-foot-4 senior guard can also put up numbers all over the stat sheet. The Egyptian averaged 16.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season while shooting 46 percent from the floor. If Amin improves his 28 percent three-point shooting then he could be in for a monster season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON SOUTHLAND TEAM

  • Colton Weisbrod, Lamar: Undersized at 6-foot-5 but great in the paint, this senior averaged 15.1 points and 8.1 boards per contest. Weisbrod shot 52 percent from the floor but only 16 percent from three-point range.
  • T.J. Holyfield, Stephen F. Austin: Versatile junior forward averaged 11.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor.
  • Jordan Howard, Central Arkansas: The senior has a chance to reach 2,000 career points after dropping 19.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season. Howard could stand to improve his shooting efficiency.
  • Jalone Friday, Abilene Christian: Intriguing sophomore big man had tremendous splits (52% FG, 45% 3PT, 82% FT) and put up 13.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season in only 21.7 minutes per contest.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SouthlandSports

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. Stephen F. Austin
  2. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
  3. Lamar
  4. Abliene Christian
  5. Incarnate Word
  6. Southeastern Louisiana
  7. Northwestern State
  8. Sam Houston State
  9. Central Arkansas
  10. New Orleans
  11. Houston Baptist
  12. Nicholls
  13. McNeese

‘Border War’ exhibition to be streamed

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The 19,000 fans who secured tickets to the Sprint Center for the charity-inspired reignition of the Border War won’t be the only ones to be able to watch Kansas and Missouri play Sunday.

The exhibition game, whose proceeds will be used for hurricane relief, will be streamed live for those willing to spend $40, the schools announced Friday.

“Our first objective was to sell out Sprint Center,” the two schools said jointly in a release. “Once we achieved the sellout so quickly, our fans who could not get tickets expressed tremendous interest in having the game televised. We wanted to make sure that the charities we’ve identified would be the only entities to derive revenue from this game.  SIDEARM Sports has provided the platform to allow us to create a second stream of revenue via this telecast.”

The broadcast will feature Leif Lisec doing play-by-play and ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla and Holly Rowe as the analyst and sideline reporter, respectively. The trio are donating their time for the broadcast.

The Jayhawks and Tigers haven’t played since 2012, when Missouri bolted the Big 12 for the SEC. There certainly has been resentment from the move, which has kept the two from scheduling a non-conference tilt. Now, though, they’re hoping the layoff has built enough anticipation to raise upward of $1 million for the Houston Harvey Relief Fund, the Rebuild Texas Fund, the Florida Disaster Fund, Juntos y Unidos Por Puerto Rico and the Fund for the U.S. Virgin Islands after a devastating hurricane season in the United States.

The game will pit the perennial powerhouse Jayhawks, expected to be a top-five preseason team and strong favorite to win the Big 12, against an ascendant Missouri, which has the potential 2018 No. 1 NBA draft pick Michael Porter, Jr. headlining the roster reboot under first-year coach Cuonzo Martin.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for two schools to do something together for the better of the masses,” Kansas coach Bill Self said last week, “and be able to send a significant amount of money to people that are suffering right now. So that is going to come to fruition, and we’re real happy about it.”

College Hoops Contender Series: Can Michigan State’s sophomore class carry them to a title?

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers and talked about six different Final Four contenders – Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova, Wichita State, USC and Miami – that are just flawed enough that we can’t call them contenders.

There is a pretty clear-cut delineation between the four or five best teams, the clear national title challengers, and the rest of the country this season.

This week, we will be taking a deeper dive into five of those teams.

What makes them good enough to win a national title?

But why won’t they win a national title?

After looking at Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona, we’re on to my pick to win the national title: The Michigan State Spartans.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Miles Bridges (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WILL WIN

We should start with Miles Bridges here, shouldn’t we?

Bridges is the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year. He averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 boards, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 38.9 percent from three on more than five threes per game as a freshman. He was a top ten pick in last year’s loaded NBA Draft and he made the decision to return to school. That doesn’t happen all that often, so it should come as no surprise that Bridges will enter the year as a potential top five pick and the star of a team everyone believes will be in the top five. ‘Who has the best player in college basketball?’ is a great starting point for trying to figure out who are the best teams in college basketball, and Bridges, on paper, is a good bet to be the best player in college basketball.

But there is more to this than the simple fact that Tom Izzo more or less lucked his way into not only having the local five-star prospect pick the Spartans over the likes of Kentucky, but then opt to stay with the Spartans over heading to the NBA Draft.

Bridges is so perfect for what the way that Izzo wants to play.

He’s arguably the best athlete is all of college basketball. He can guards threes and fours. He can protect the rim. He attacks the glass, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, and he can get out and run in transition. Defense, rebounding and the transition game are staples of the teams Izzo wants at his disposal, and Bridges can do all three things well.

Then throw in the rest of the Michigan State front court. Nick Ward is a throwback. He’s a 6-foot-8, 260 pound left-handed behemoth that is impossible to stop one-on-one on the block. He averaged 13.9 points in less than 20 minutes as a freshman. Freshmen aren’t supposed to do that. Sophomores aren’t, either. Ward will be paired up front with Jaren Jackson, who couldn’t be a more perfect compliment to Ward and Bridges. He’s a 6-foot-11 power forward with all the skills you expect out of a modern power forward: He protects the rim, he rebounds and he can space the floor offensively with his three-point shot. He may not have the hype of some of the other big men in the 2017 recruiting class, but he projects as a one-and-done lottery pick all the same.

I still haven’t even mentioned Xavier Tillman, another land-warrior freshman in the front court. He may surprise some people this season. Throw in Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling and Kenny Goins, and there may not be a more talented and deep front line in the country.

The back court is where the issues lie — we’ll get to that in a second — but there are some things to like about this group. For starters, both Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford were top 30 recruits in the Class of 2016. Neither were all that impressive during their first year in East Lansing, but the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. Langford shot 41.6 percent from three last year and Winston averaged 5.2 assists in just over 20 minutes. They are talented and they should continue to improve.

Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. is back for his senior season, and his ability to push the ball in transition has made him a favorite of Izzo, while Matt McQuaid is somehow only a junior. Assuming that both Winston and Langford take a fairly significant step forward, Nairn and McQuaid will be rotation players off the bench, and if that is the case, this Spartan roster looks as strong as any roster in the country.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Atlantic 10 PreviewMountain West Preview

Nick Ward (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WON’T WIN

There are two real concerns that I have with this Michigan State team heading into next season.

The first, believe it or not, is with Bridges. I don’t see anyway that you can question his ability. He’s a monster. But part of what made him just so effective as a freshman was because he is the prototype for what you look for in a college four in modern — read: small-ball — basketball. He’s big enough to guard power forwards defensively. He rebounds the ball, he protects the rim, he can switch onto anyone defensively and he just so happens to be a perimeter player on the other end of the floor. In other words, he can guard college power forwards but they cannot guard him.

That is an incredibly valuable weapon for a team like Michigan State to have.

And as a sophomore, he won’t be taking advantage of that versatility in the same way. He’ll likely end up playing the majority of his minutes at the three. Jaren Jackson is too good to keep on the floor, particularly when it would mean playing Matt McQuaid of Tum Tum Nairn over him, but Jackson is a full-blown power forward.

It begs the question: Just how effective is Bridges going to be if he is playing at the three? Will it be easier for college small forwards to cover him? Will he be able to take them into the paint if Ward is already occupying space down there? And what about his three-point shot? He made 38.9 percent as a freshman, but how many of those were a result of getting clean looks at the rim because the power forwards guarding him didn’t know how to guard a player like that on the perimeter?

I don’t think this will end up being an issue — hell, we have Bridges as the Preseason National Player of the Year — but it will definitely be something to monitor moving forward.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Cassius Winston (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The bigger question mark, however, will likely end up being Winston, and to a lesser degree Langford.

I love Tum Tum. I wrote a story on him when he was still in high school. His name is awesome. He’s a terrific personality with the kind of back story that makes you want to root for him. But he’s just not good enough to be the starting point guard for a team with national title aspirations. Last season, Nairn started 30 games at the point. Winston started five, and while Izzo had found ways to manufacture minutes for the duo to play to together later in the season, this much was clear: there was something that the Hall of Fame head coach didn’t quite trust about Winston.

Maybe it was his 23 percent turnover rate. Maybe it was Winston’s issues on the defensive end of the floor, or the fact that he didn’t lead the way that Izzo wanted his point guards to. Most likely it was all of the above, and as a sophomore, those are issues that Winston will have to fix.

And I think that he will.

Again, Michigan State is a consensus top three team for a reason. They’re my pick to win the national title this season.

But I can certainly tell myself a story where the Spartans don’t quite come together, and it starts with Winston’s issues at the point.

Langford I am less worried about. He will mostly be fine. Yes, he needs to be more aggressive as a scorer, and we saw some of that late in the season. But mostly he needs to be a guy that can knock down open shots, provide a consistent defensive threat and be a threat in transition, whether he’s spotting up for a three or finishing at the rim. He will be, at best, the third option for these Spartans offensively, and I don’t think it will be that hard for him to fill that role.


Miles Bridges (J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

PREDICTION

Michigan State is my pick to win the national title.

I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say that between now and the start of the season.

And as good as Tom Izzo is, it’s worth noting that when he has had a team projected as a title contender, the season usually ends up being disappointing. Since the Spartans won the title in 1999, there have been four seasons where they were considered to be a favorite to win the title at some point during the season. In 2009-10, they were No. 2 in the preseason top 25 and limped their way to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament; they would eventually get to the Final Four in Detroit that year. In 2010-11, they were again the preseason No. 2 team in the country and finished the year 19-15 with a loss to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

In 2013-14, they were the preseason No. 2 team yet again, living up to the hype for most of the year until a wrist injury suffered by point guard Keith Appling derailed their season; Sparty still found a way to win the Big Ten tournament and get to the Elite 8. Then in 2015-16, the Spartans quickly emerged as one of the nation’s best team before losing to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed.

Will this be the year that bucks that trend?

Five-star point guard decommits from Arizona

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The scope and ramifications of the investigation by the FBI into corruption in college basketball remains an unknown.Who will be ensnared, what programs will be impacted and how the sport as a whole will cope are all pressing questions that will likely unfold over weeks, months and maybe years.

In the short-term, though, the fallout is already being felt.

Arizona lost the commitment Thursday of five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, he announced via social media.

“After careful consideration, my family and I have determined it is in my best interest to retract my verbal commitment to The University of Arizona,”  Quinerly posted to Twitter. “I’d like to thank my extended family and fans for your continued love and support. Your positivity and kindness never goes unnoticed.”

While Quinerly didn’t address the investigation, it’s easy to draw a line from the arrest and eventual firing of Arizona assistant Book Richardson and Quinerly’s decision. Quinerly is believed to be the player referenced in federal court documents that was on the receiving end of money Richardson took from agents, according to the Arizona Republic.

What’s next for Quinerly will certainly be worth watching. How seriously will other schools pursue him? Will he opt to just go overseas and bypass the NCAA – and any investigations it may launch – all together?

Quinerly is not the first recruit to alter his plans in the wake of the investigation. USC, which also had an assistant coach (Tony Bland) arrested, lost the commitment of J’Raan Brooks last weekend.

The dominos of this investigation are sure to continue to fall. Just how many remains one of the many questions that will only be answered in time.

Illinois adds five-star guard

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The first commit for Illinois in 2018 is a significant in state addition.

Ayo Dosunmu, a top-30 guard from Chicago, announced Thursday that he’s staying in the Land of Lincoln and joining Brad Underwood’s Illini program.

“We know that I could only attend one school. After great thought and consideration,” Dosunmu wrote before posting a picture of him in an Illini jersey.

The 6-foot-4 Dosunmu averaged more than 23 points per game in the EYBL last summer for the Mac Irvin Fire while shooting 47.8 percent from the field. His decision to stay home and attend Illinois is a huge win for Underwood ahead of his first season in Champaign. Chicago is no easy place to recruit, but if Underwood can establish that pipeline, it would go a long way in bringing the Illini back to the top of the Big 10.

“I can come in and play in front of my home state,” Dosunmu told Rivals. “I want to do it for my home state and become the first five-star recruit to play for my state in a long time. I just want to start a new trend.“I know somebody would have to eventually do it.

“A team is never bad for so long. Just look at the Chicago Cubs; they were bad for 100 years but eventually they won the World Series. I just want to help start something new.”