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SEC Reset: Get caught up on all of the league’s offseason wheelings and dealings

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close. The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2017-18 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the SEC over the next six months.

OFFSEASON STORYLINES 

1. This is the youngest Kentucky team that John Calipari has ever had: Eight of the top nine scorers from Kentucky’s 2-16-17 team are gone, either off to the professional ranks or via graduation, meaning that there are really only two sources of experience on this team: Wenyen Gabriel, who averaged fewer than five points in 18 minutes as a freshman last season, and Hamidou Diallo, who is a redshirt freshman that enrolled at the school in the middle of last year and very nearly made the choice to enter the NBA Draft.

Put another way, Kentucky lost 80.8 points per game off of last year’s team, and there were all of 26 teams in college basketball that averaged more points than that last season. The last time he dealt with something like this was in 2013, when his most senior returnee was Kyle Wiltjer. That incoming recruiting class, however, was not what this class is. He has five five-star prospects enrolling — Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green — along with a pair of four-star recruits as well as Diallo, who is technically still a freshman.

It’s not a secret that the best teams have a combination of one-and-done stars alongside talented veterans. Can Cal buck that trend?

2. So where does Kentucky actually get offense from this year?: The most concerning thing about Kentucky isn’t necessarily their age, it’s the fact that they don’t have a difference-maker offensively. The best players on their team next season are all great athletes with physical tools and a chance to be terrific defenders, but where are they going to get points from? Can a team with this much youth consistently win games in the 50s and 60s? Who is going to make a perimeter shot?

3. How does Florida bounce back after their Final Four run?: A year after getting back to the Final Four for the first time in the post-Billy Donovan era, the Gators look like they have another top ten team this season. Mike White lost a handful of key pieces off last year’s team, but with KeVaughn Allen back in the fold, Chris Chiozza at the point and a handful of quality transfers and freshmen entering the fray, it’s not crazy to think that Florida and not Kentucky is best built for a run at the SEC title.

Mike White (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

4. Alabama is the latest SEC also-ran to land a monster recruiting class. Can they turn that into wins?: It’s not a secret that the SEC has programs that have been able to land impressive recruiting classes in the past. We’ve seen LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn and Mississippi State all land five-star prospects and impressive classes in recent years, but that influx of talent has yet to manifest itself in wins on the floor. The Crimson Tide are the latest in that group, as Avery Johnson brought in a pair of five-star recruits in Collin Sexton and John Petty; Sexton is a top ten prospect. They may be in a better position than anyone team before them, as the Tide bring back essentially everyone from a team that won 10 SEC games and had everything except offensive firepower.

Will that recruiting finally pay off?

5. What happens with Jontay Porter?: That’s the big question with Missouri at this point. Michael Jr.’s younger brother has sprouted into a 6-foot-10 monster, a five-star prospect in the Class of 2018 that should be able to have an immediate impact on the program whenever he does arrive on campus. The question is whether or not he wants to fast-forward the timeline, enrolling in school this fall and playing with his brother during his only season on campus. That addition would be mammoth for Cuonzo Martin, because he still has a talent deficient roster that desperately needs bodies.

6. Texas A&M has long had the pieces, but do they finally come together?: The Aggies look like a team destined to make noise this year. Robert Williams, a potential lottery pick, returned to school, as did Tyler Davis, D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder. They’ve added Duane Wilson as well as a pair of point guards. This is the year for them to make a run, which is more or less what we’ve been saying about Billy Kennedy’s program for the last three years. At what point does it finally all come together?

Collin Sexton, Jon Lopez/Nike

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS

  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: What else is there to say about Michael Porter Jr. at this point? He might be the best prospect not currently in the NBA. He’s a 6-foot-9 wing with absurd athleticism and the ability to step out and knock down a three. The big question is if his presence alone is going to be enough to get Missouri back into the NCAA tournament conversation.
  • Collin Sexton, Alabama: There is so much to like about Sexton. As a player, he’s as good of a scorer as you’ll find coming in as a freshman. He’s a sneaky bet to lead the SEC in scoring and, along with John Petty, should be able to provide Avery Johnson with the scoring pop he lacked last season. As a person, Sexton is a maniac during games. He talks to himself, he talks to opponents, he plays with his heart on his sleeve. It’s quite entertaining. Hopefully Alabama fans will show out to see this kid. He may not be there long.
  • Kentucky’s team: The whole thing is going to be new. The most experienced player on the roster is Wenyen Gabriel, who averaged 4.6 points in 18 minutes last season. Starting over with a bunch of teenagers has always been the MO for the Wildcats, but having a total lack of veterans is something new and, frankly, something that is somewhat concerning.
  • J.J. and Jay Jay, Texas A&M: The Aggies had a team last season that looked like it would be able to make some noise in the SEC, and for the most part, that roster has remained intact for this year. The big difference, however, is that they might finally have a point guard after struggling to find someone to fill that role last year. J.J. Caldwell, a redshirt freshman, and Jay Jay Chandler, a true freshman, will battle it out for minutes. Their success might determine A&M’s ceiling.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Will Wade, LSU: Johnny Jones didn’t do any favors for his successor, as the roster was gutted before Will Wade walked in the door from VCU. The good news for Wade? He landed a four-star point guard prospect in Tremont Waters, but that’s not going to change the fact that he has quite a bit of work to do before the Tigers are back in the mix in the SEC.
  • Cuonzo Martin, Missouri: On the surface, it looked like the situation that Martin was taking over in Columbia was going to be an ugly one. Kim Anderson left the cupboard bare. And then Martin went out and hired Michael Porter Sr., earning him commitments from both of his five-star sons, while adding a couple more talented prospects. The big name is Michael Jr. He might end up being the best player in college basketball next season, and that’s a nice luxury to have in the midst of a rebuild.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Michael Porter Jr., Missouri (Player of the Year)
Collin Sexton, Alabama
KeVaughn Allen, Florida
Yante Maten, Georgia
Robert Williams, Texas A&M

Michael Porter, Jr. (Photo by Jon Lopez)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

  1. Kentucky: John Calipari is going to have his work cut out for him, and it’s rarely going to be pretty basketball that his team plays this season, but winning games in the 50s and 60s is still winning games. It will be interesting to see how Coach Cal handles coaching a team where the elder statesmen are a sophomore that averaged 4.6 points and a redshirt freshman.
  2. Florida: The Gators are a year removed from a trip to the Final Four, and while they will enter this season without Kasey Hill and Devin Robinson, there are still enough pieces in play for them to have a shot at winning the SEC. The key is going to be John Egbunu’s health. How does he recover from last year’s torn ACL?
  3. Alabama: Last year, Alabama played a slow, stifling defensive style and couldn’t score. This year, they added a pair of five-star freshmen, one of whom — Collin Sexton — will be in the mix as the SEC’s leading scorer. I think they’re a top 20 team nationally.
  4. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the talent to be a top 25 team this season. That much is clear. The question is whether the two J.J.’s will be good enough at the point guard spot that Billy Kennedy can get this group back to the NCAA tournament.
  5. Missouri: Michael Porter Jr. That’s really all you need to know at this point. He’s probably going to be the best player in the conference this season — there are NBA front office people that would take him No. 1 in this draft if they could. The question is going to be whether or not Cuonzo Martin can find a way to make it work with him and if his supporting cast will be good enough.
  6. Arkansas: The Hogs lost Moses Kingsley after last season, but there is some young talent on this roster. The question is whether or not Mike Anderson is actually going to be able to have sustained success with that talent.
  7. Georgia: Mark Fox is a criminally underrated basketball coach that will have arguably the best player in the SEC on his roster in Yante Maten. I’m not quite sure how he gets it done, but I think he keeps the Bulldogs relevant in the conference.
  8. Ole Miss: Andy Kennedy always seems to find a way to get the Rebels somewhere around 20 wins and a .500 or better record in the SEC. He loses Sebastian Saiz, but with Deandre Burnett back, Ole Miss should be able to make some noise.
  9. Vanderbilt: Bryce Drew somehow got Vanderbilt into the NCAA tournament last season and will return a number of key pieces from that team.
  10. Mississippi State: Is this the year that Ben Howland’s talent stockpile finally pays off in the form of wins? Quinndary Weatherspoon is a first-team all-SEC talent that leads a roster loaded with former four-star recruits.
  11. Auburn: Like Mississippi State, the Tigers have some talent on their roster. Mustapha Heron is back, and Danjel Purifoy should take a step forward. The midseason addition of Austin Wiley will likely payoff more this season. I can see Auburn making the NCAA tournament and I can see them finishing the year at .500.
  12. South Carolina: Not only did South Carolina graduate Sindarius Thornwell, they lost P.J. Dozier to the NBA. We’ll see if Hassani Gravett and Delaware transfer Kory Holden can fill those holes.
  13. Tennessee: The Vols are in a tough spot. They lost a couple of key pieces off of last year’s team while the rest of the bottom of the league looks like it is going to take a step forward. That said, if the pieces fall right, I can see Rick Barnes finishing the year in the top half of the league; 6-13 in this league is a toss-up. Keep an eye on the duo of Grant Williams and John Fulkerson.
  14. LSU: Yes, the Tigers brought in Will Wade, and yes, they landed a commitment from Tremont Waters, but this is still a team with quite a bit of work to do before they are relevant again.

Saturday College Basketball Recap: No. 7 Wichita State, No. 8 Texas Tech lose

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

It’s hard to argue with the performance that J.P. Macura had on Saturday. No. 11 Xavier went into Newark and knocked off No. 19 Seton Hall, 73-64, behind 27 points, five boards and three assists from Macura.

This win was particularly important for Xavier, who remain just a game out of first place in the Big East and in great position to make a run at getting a top three seed, which would mean they likely won’t have to play Villanova until the Big East title game. The loss is the second in a row for Seton Hall and the their third loss in four games.

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards finished with 22 points, eight assists, two steals and no turnovers as the No. 3 Boilermakers blew out Iowa on the road.
  • MALIK NEWMAN, Kansas: Newman finished with 24 points and seven boards, including a personal 7-0 run with three minutes left to help No. 10 Kansas remain in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a 70-67 win over Baylor.
  • BRYCE BROWN, Auburn: Brown finished with 28 points as Auburn erased a 14-point halftime deficit to knock off Georgia 79-65 and remain within a game of first-place in the SEC.
  • DEAN WADE, Kansas State: In a win over No. 24 Kansas State, TCU’s second-straight win over a ranked team, Wade went for 20 pints, six boards, six assists, two blocks and two steals.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Houston landed themselves their first marquee win of the season as they pounded No. 7 Wichita State in Houston, 73-59. Rob Gray led the way with 24 points and four assists, putting the Cougars in a position where earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is feasible. There is still plenty of work left to do, but this is the start they needed.

The bigger question mark, however, is Wichita State, who also lost at home to SMU this week. The Shockers are nowhere near as good as many expected them to be. Their offense isn’t good enough to make up for the fact that they aren’t guarding anyone.

GAME OF THE DAY

Trae Young went for 48 points, 34 of which came after halftime as the Sooners erased a 19-point deficit, but thanks to a Kendall Smith three at the end of regulation, this game went into overtime. Young had shots at the buzzer in regulation and in overtime to win the game and missed both, as the Pokes escaped with an 83-81 win.

Young needed 39 shots to get those 48 points. We went through whether or not that is too many shots for him here.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

Iowa State, who can’t guard anyone and is probably the worst team in the Big 12 this season, knocked off No. 8 Texas Tech, 70-52. The Red Raiders have now lost three of their last four games – all of which came on the road – after winning at Kansas. Texas Tech is also now just 1-3 in the four games since Zach Smith broke his foot, but they also beat Baylor by 24 points and won at Kansas when Smith played 10 total minutes.

So you explain Texas Tech to me. Because I don’t get it.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

The Florida Gators moved into sole possession of first place in the SEC thanks to a 66-64 win at No. 18 Kentucky on Saturday. It was hardly a pretty game – Florida shot 33 percent from the floor and 6-for-30 from three – but the Gators were able to hang on thanks to a questionable no-call in the final seconds.

No. 20 Clemson held on to beat Notre Dame at home on Saturday, 67-58, but missing out on a commitment from Zion Williamson wasn’t the only bad news of the day. Star forward Donte Grantham went down with a knee injury midway through the second half. He averages 14.3 points and 7.1 boards. Losing him would be disastrous for the Tigers.

No. 14 Arizona had to rally down the stretch, but the Wildcats did. Trailing by as many as 11 points late in the second half at Stanford, the Wildcats survived as Dorian Pickens missed a three at the buzzer. The win puts Arizona all alone in first place in the Pac-12.

Jalen Brunson scored 23 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points off the bench as No. 1 Villanova blew out UConn in Hartford, 81-61.

No. 13 Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s both won, meaning that the Gaels still hold a one game lead over the Zags in the WCC. Nevada knocked off Boise State, giving the Wolf Pack a two-game lead in the Mountain West.

At this point, Pitt barely counts as ACC competition. But they are and No. 5 Duke beat them 81-54 tonight.

Jevon Carter went for 22 points and eight assists as No. 6 West Virginia knocked off Texas, 86-51. The game was closer than the final score indicates, as the Mountaineers pulled away late.

The star of the day for No. 12 Cincinnati was Gary Clark, who finished with 14 points, 14 boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks, in an 86-60 win over East Carolina.

Luke Maye went for 17 points and 11 boards to lead four players in double figures as No. 15 North Carolina held on to beat Josh Pastner and Georgia Tech, 80-66.

It ended up not being much of a game when the Big Ten invaded Madison Square Garden as No. 22 Ohio State put a beating on Minnesota, 67-49. Minnesota lost Jordan Murphy to an ankle injury in the game as well.

You Make The Call: Did Kentucky’s P.J. Washington get fouled?

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There was a controversial finish to Florida’s 66-64 win over No. 18 Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday night.

Florida had taken a 45-37 lead on the Wildcats before Kentucky fought back, eventually pulling ahead before the Gators surged back in front. A pair of threes and a missed front-end set up a situation where the Wildcats had the ball, down 66-64, on the final possession of the game, leading to this play:

P.J. Washington drives to the rim and appears to get hit in the head by Jalen Hudson. Hudson initially gets his hand on top of the ball, but as Washington’s momentum carries him, Hudson rakes Washington across the face and pushes his head back with his elbow.

It’s not intentional, but the contact is clearly there.

Did the referees blow this call?

If they did, the call could end up determining the SEC regular season champion. Entering Saturday, both Kentucky and Florida were tied for the league lead at 5-1 in the conference. They play again on the season’s final weekend in Gainesville.

Norvell helps No. 13 Gonzaga bounce back to beat Santa Clara

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and No. 13 Gonzaga bounced back from its first conference loss of the season to beat Santa Clara 75-60 on Saturday night.

Josh Perkins added 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, Rui Hachimura scored 16 points and Killian Tillie had 12. Johnathan Williams had nine points and eight boards for Gonzaga (17-4, 7-1 West Coast Conference), including his 400th career rebound.

Two days after a 74-71 home loss to Saint Mary’s that ended Gonzaga’s six-game winning streak, the Bulldogs had trouble shaking the pesky Broncos (7-13, 4-4) until Norvell found his stroke after halftime.

Norvell made pair of 3s, a short jumper and a layup in the first 7 ½ minutes of the second half, scored on an offensive rebound as part of a 12-0 run, and then made a fast-break one-handed dunk to put the Bulldogs up 75-41.

It was Gonzaga’s 17th consecutive win over the Broncos and improved coach Mark Few’s record to 40-4 against Santa Clara.

KJ Feagin scored 21 points for the Broncos.

Unlike the first game between the teams this season, when Gonzaga built 27-point lead by halftime on the way to a win in Spokane, Santa Clara kept it close early despite struggling from beyond the arc.

The Broncos missed eight of their first nine 3-point attempts but were tied with 8 ½ minutes left in the first half following Josip Vrankic’s driving layup that had the crowd at Leavey Center roaring.

Part of the problem for Gonzaga was the Bulldogs’ inability to keep Feagin from getting to the basket. He had 12 points in the first 20 minutes, made three layups and tipped in his own miss to help Santa Clara close within seven at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have not lost back-to-back games this season and looked good after a somewhat slow start. Norvell provided a huge boost but the Zags also got another big game from Hachimura, who has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games.

Santa Clara: Coming off a win at San Francisco, the Broncos made a splash in the first half at home to keep things interesting. They never had the Bulldogs on their heels, but it was a much better effort than their first meeting.

No. 10 Kansas rallies late to beat Baylor, 70-67

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self has relied on a four-guard lineup all season, one that is designed to attack the basket aggressively, draw fouls and get to the free throw line.

He was fortunate one of those four guards stepped up Saturday night.

Malik Newman scored seven of his game-high 24 points in the final minutes, bailing out the rest of his sluggish teammates, and Baylor turned the ball over on the last inbounds play as the No. 10 Jayhawks escaped with a 70-67 victory that kept them atop the Big 12.

“We were lucky,” Self said, “to have one guy out there putting defense on its heels.”

The Jayhawks (16-3, 6-1 Big 12) trailed 67-61 with 2:05 to go before Newman went on his scoring binge, giving them the slimmest of leads again. The Bears (12-7, 2-5) had a couple of chances after that, but Manu Lecomte missed a 3-pointer and a layup attempt high off the glass with three seconds left.

Devonte Graham added a pair of free throws before Baylor squandered a chance at the final shot.

“(Newman) put us on his back and all we needed was to get those stops,” Graham said, “and we did.”

It was the Jayhawks’ 11th consecutive win over the Bears, who have never won in 16 tries in Lawrence. It was also the closest Baylor has come during any of those games.

Graham finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Udoka Azubuike had 14 points and seven boards, but he was just 4 of 11 from the foul line and missed two crucial ones late.

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. had 14 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out for Baylor. Nuni Omot added 14 points and Lecomte had 10, though he was 3 of 12 from the floor and 1 of 8 from the 3-point arc.

“Very frustrating. We’re as good a team as them. We know we can beat them,” Lecomte said. “They’re a really good team. They never give up. Next time we have to make sure we keep that lead.”

Allen Fieldhouse has been Baylor coach Scott Drew’s personal house of horrors — the closest he had come to winning had been the Bears’ 73-68 loss last season. And when the Jayhawks opened the game by making their first seven shots and taking an 18-5 lead, it looked as if this one would be no different.

It took Drew burning through nearly all his timeouts to settle Baylor down.

Shots eventually stopped falling for Kansas as the Bears picked up their defensive pressure, and their deficit dwindled to 32-26 before a late flurry left them in a 38-27 halftime hole.

Kansas began the second half determined to get Azubuike the ball in the paint, and he made good on his first couple of chances. But when he failed to execute a few times in a row, Self greeted him during a timeout with, “Are you kidding me?” — spiced up with an extra word.

The Jayhawks still led 52-47 midway through the second half when Baylor went on a 16-4 run.

Omot started it with a bucket in the paint, but it was seven free throws by the senior forward that did the real damage. Lual-Acuil’s basket with 4:39 left gave Baylor a 61-56 advantage.

The Bears scored on nine consecutive possessions down the stretch.

Newman finally turned the momentum, though. He converted a three-point play and a nifty drive on a run-out, then knocked down another basket to give Kansas a 68-67 lead with a minute left.

“When the game is on the line, Coach always says that players make plays,” he said. “I was just trying to be aggressive and we came out with a win.”

HONORING JO JO

Kansas honored two-time All-American Jo Jo White with a video tribute before tipoff. The seven-time NBA All-Star, whose jersey hangs from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters, died Tuesday at the age of 71.

BYE, BYE BILLY

Kansas freshman Billy Preston signed with a pro team in Bosnia on Friday, ending any chance the five-star prospect will play for the Jayhawks. Preston had been held out all season while the school looked into the finances of the car he was driving during a November accident.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor has lost its last five games to the Jayhawks by a combined 20 points, no doubt adding to Drew’s frustration. Six of the Bears’ seven losses this season have come against ranked teams.

Kansas has won five straight to grab ahold of the Big 12 race, though none of them have been very comfortable. The Jayhawks’ winning streak has been by a combined 18 points.

Zion Williamson’s commitment gives Duke perhaps its best recruiting class ever

Bob Blanchard, Basketball Hall of Fame
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Zion Williamson ended his recruitment and committed to Duke during a ceremony in his high school on Saturday night. The five-star forward from Spartanburg, SC is the most popular high school basketball player since LeBron James, drawing tens of millions of YouTube views and sellout crowds around the country to watch him play.

Landing a top-five prospect and a 6-foot-6, 275-pound forward like Williamson is a huge get for the Blue Devils. It’s also a bit of a shocker to see Duke win this recruiting battle for Williamson as in-state Clemson was considered by many to be the favorite to keep the local star at home. Williamson became a legend in South Carolina, playing to giant crowds, winning multiple state titles and constantly getting recognized in public.

The local stardom turned national and eventually international. Drake got a customized Williamson jersey at one point. When Williamson went to Italy for the Adidas Eurocamp he was recognized there on the street. Millions of people witnessed Williamson’s Las Vegas showdown with LaVar and LaMelo Ball at the Adidas Summer Championships.

And although Williamson is a top-five talent who should help make Duke a better team in the ACC, he gives them perhaps their best recruiting class of all time. Williamson joins R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Tre Jones in the Class of 2018 recruiting haul. Many scouting services have some combination of Barrett, Reddish and Williamson as the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 prospects in the country. Jones isn’t far behind and still in the top ten.

Watching Barrett, Williamson, Reddish and Jones play together is going to be absolutely fascinating on so many levels. It’s four playmakers who are all talented with the ball in their hands and Barrett, Reddish and Williamson are all potential multi-positional players.

The basketball community has plenty of debates about how Williamson’s NBA stock will play out and how his intriguing skill level will be used at the college level. Watching Williamson live is like seeing a Pro Bowl defensive lineman who explodes off the ground for violent dunks. He’s been compared to throwback players like Larry Johnson and Charles Barkley.

What position will Williamson play? Will Williamson be at his best with the ball in his hands on offense? How will Williamson’s inconsistent perimeter jumper look? Will that perimeter jumper allow Williamson to play on the wing? Can Williamson power through bigger players at the college level? A man among boys at the high school level, Williamson will face legitimately-sized competition at every turn next season.

Duke is going to be riveting to watch no matter where Williamson plays. Williamson could wind up being a star at the college level who has legitimate NBA question marks. The Blue Devils have a potential all-conference player on their hands. We won’t know how Williamson truly looks until he’s fully in-shape and running with an offense that has been suited to help him succeed. Since Williamson has been battling injuries for his senior season, he hasn’t been at his best basketball shape all season. But once Williamson gets healthy and dialed in, he could be one of college basketball’s most fascinating case studies in recent memory.

The Blue Devils have a shocking amount of talent once again next season. It could be their best recruiting class ever — which is really saying something for a Coach K team in the one-and-done era. Now how will it all come together?