On Monday morning, Alabama freshman Collin Sexton was announced as one of 32 players on the preseason watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy for the national player of the year.
Later Monday, the school announced the point guard will not be on the floor to start the season as he has yet to be declared eligible by the NCAA due to details in court records stemming from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball.
“The NCAA informed us late this afternoon that Colin Sexton has not had his eligibility reinstated by the NCAA,” Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said in a statement. “We don’t have any further information at this time, but we will continue to cooperate with the NCAA and work toward a resolution that results in Colin’s timely reinstatement.
“While we are disappointed, the right decision was to err on the side of caution for tonight’s exhibition game.”
After Monday’s exhibition against Alabama-Huntsville, the Tide play Memphis on Friday in their season-opener. Sexton’s absence will certainly be a huge blow to Avery Johnson’s program if it extends far into the year. The 6-foot-3 Georgia native was a consensus top-10 player in the 2017 class.
Alabama basketball administrator Kobie Baker resigned earlier this fall as part of the scandal. Baker is reportedly “Staff Member 1” in federal court records, and is alleged to have accepted money from a cooperating witness in the investigation in return for introducing the FBI informant to the father of a highly-rated recruit, who is believed to be Sexton.
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.
First up: Final Four Sleepers
It takes a certain amount of talent to be able to win a national title in college basketball, even if that talent doesn’t always show up every night.
Winning four games in two weeks to get to the season’s final weekend can be done by a team with a handful of future pros and 10 losses on the season. We see it all the time.
Here are seven teams that have the tools to make a run to the Final Four even if they don’t have a great chance of winning their conference and look likely to enter the NCAA tournament outside the top four seeds.
If you’re not the kind of program that is going to be landing five-star, soon-to-be lottery pick freshmen by the car-load each and every fall, the best way to win basketball games is to get old and stay old. No one quite embodies that ethos this season like Seton Hall does.
Head coach Kevin Willard entered the 2015-16 season on the hot seat after his loaded 2014 recruiting class sparked a 13-3 start to the 2014-15 season before the team fell off a cliff, losing 12 of their last 15 games and missing out on the postseason entirely. Following that season, the Pirates jettisoned some of their baggage and returned a core of sophomores that would eventually lead the program to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances despite losing Isaiah Whitehead to the 2016 NBA Draft.
And now, four members of that 2014 recruiting class — guards Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, big men Angel Delgado and Ishmael Sanogo — are now seniors leading what may be the best Seton Hall team since the P.J. Carlesimo days. Delgado’s name is the one you need to know. The 6-foot-9 Dominican power forward is one of the toughest and most physical bigs in the country. It’s not a mistake that he averaged 15.2 points and 13.1 boards last season, numbers that jumped to 16.4 points and 14.5 boards in Big East play.
He’s Seton Hall’s All-American. He was also the team’s third-leading scorer last year, behind Carrington and Rodriguez, who are both tough, physical New York City guards; Carrington is more of a combo while Rodriguez is a wing. Sanogo Michael Nzei are tough, athletic, defensive-minded front court players, and you’re starting to see the trend here, right?
Playing Seton Hall is not going to be fun this season, and while they may not be the most talented team in the country this year, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that plays harder.
There are going to be two things that determine Seton Hall’s ceiling:
Does Seton Hall have a point guard? Freshman Jordan Walker is the only true point that will be eligible this season, and the Pirates ran into some problems that came with a lack of playmakers last season. Asking a freshman to handle those responsibilities will be tough, but it helps that Carrington can handle the ball and that everyone else on the floor will be a veteran.
What does Myles Powell turn into? He had some promising moments as a freshman, including 26-point outbursts at Iowa and at Xavier. If he become a more consistent shooter, that opens up a lot more space for Delgado inside.
Last year, Alabama finished the season as one of the top ten defensive teams in college basketball, according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric.
Not only do the Crimson Tide return essentially everyone from that team, they also add one of the nation’s best recruiting classes to the mix. More importantly, that recruiting class features players that are able to get buckets in a hurry, and if you any Alabama basketball a year ago, you know that was a major issue; they were 153rd in adjusted offensive efficiency and, in February, played a four-overtime game against South Carolina where they managed all of 90 points in 60 minutes of basketball.
The name that you’re going to want to be familiar with is Collin Sexton, a top ten prospect in the class and the pound-for-pound best freshman scorer in the country. Assuming he’s eligible – which is no guarantee given the fact that he appears to be linked to the college basketball bribery scandal that erupted last week – it’s going to be interesting to see how he adjusts to the college level — in high school, the 6-foot-2 guard’s game was centered around getting into the lane, throwing his body into people and getting to the foul line — but he should immediately help relieve some of those scoring issues, as will five-star off-guard John Petty. Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram are both back in the mix as well, while former four-star big man Daniel Giddens will be eligible after transferring in from Ohio State.
I’m still very-much taking a wait-and-see approach with the Tide this year, but the combination of last year’s defense combined with the influx of scoring talent Avery Johnson will see in his back court this year gets the Tide a ceiling that is as high as anyone’s in the SEC this side of Kentucky and Florida.
It’s going to be easy for people to write off this UCLA team.
Lonzo Ball is gone, as is T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford. Instead, the Bruins will enroll Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and the one that may end up igniting LaVar’s ire if he does not play the kind of minutes and get the kind of shots he envisions.
Frankly, I’m not even going to bother trying to convince you otherwise. There are major, major question marks surrounding this team.
But let’s pretend, for a second, that LaVar Ball did not exist.
The Bruins may have the best point guard in the Pac-12 in Aaron Holiday, who is one of the nation’s most underrated players. They have Thomas Welsh, a senior big man that can space the floor, and G.G. Goloman, another veteran front court presence. Prince Ali is coming off of an injury but he was a five-star prospect coming out of high school. Then there is the recruiting class: Jaylen Hands might be the reason that Holiday isn’t the best point guard on UCLA this year, and wing Kris Wilkes may actually have the biggest impact as a freshman. Throw in four-star recruits Chris Smith, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, and there is talent, depth and experience up and down this lineup.
They’ve got a shot to make some noise.
You want a sneaky sleeper pick for National Player of the Year that no one seems to be talking about?
The 6-foot-6 wing was an absolute killer when he wasn’t dealing with an ankle injury last season, and through the first three rounds of last year’s NCAA tournament, he was the best player in the event. He’ll be back, potentially as a Preseason First-Team All-American, to anchor a roster that is probably more talented and athletic than you realize.
Senior wing J.P. Macura is back, as is sophomore Quentin Goodin, a former four-star recruit that has some promising moments as in an up-and-down freshman season filling in for the injured Edmond Sumner. Throw in a trio of four-star perimeter recruits, an experienced and versatile frontline and The Return of the (Chris) Mack, who was a target during Indiana’s coaching search, and there is a lot to like about this team.
But it’s Bluiett that is the centerpiece. As much as anyone in college basketball, he can put this group on his back and carry them to four straight wins in March, and with this supporting cast and coaching staff, that make Xavier a dangerous team.
The Golden Gophers were one of college basketball’s biggest surprises a season ago. Richard Pitino entered the season on the hot seat before winning 12 of their first 13 games only to lose five straight midway through Big Ten play. They would regroup, however, winning eight straight down the stretch, finishing the year with 24 wins and, somehow, turning into the obvious first round NCAA tournament upset as a No. 5 seed.
It was a roller coaster, but given the youth that was on that roster and the fact that Akeem Springs is the only contributor that won’t be returning to school, it was a nice starting point for what could turn into an extended run of Big Ten success.
Nate Mason is back for his senior year while junior Dupree McBrayer and freshman Isaiah Washington give Pitino plenty of back court options. Amir Coffey, a former five-star recruit, had a terrific freshman campaign as a versatile wing while the front court options are plentiful — Reggie Lynch and Bakary Konate return, and Davante Fitzgerald’s return to health should help mitigate the loss of Eric Curry.
All told, that means a Pitino-coached team has a talented, experienced perimeter attack with a bevy of big bodies on the front line. If Coffey can grow into an all-Big Ten talent, Minnesota will have the horses to give Michigan State a run for their money atop the league.
To me, the Fighting Irish have reached the point in their program development that they are to the ACC what Wisconsin was to the Big Ten under Bo Ryan. Instead of trying to figure out who is going to play what role, just assume that the pieces Mike Brey has matriculating through his program will find a way to figure it out.
There is no better example of this than last year, when the Irish lost Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste from a team that went 24-12 and somehow managed to win more games with a better ACC record despite using 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson as their small-ball center for much of the year.
And never has there been a player more perfectly-suited to a role than Colson is to playing in Mike Brey’s system. He’s borderline unstoppable one-on-one, and when the Irish plant knockdown shooters everywhere around him, they become a nightmare to defend.
Matt Farrell, who was one of the most pleasant surprises in college basketball last season, will return as well, but the key for this group is going to be three-fold:
Will Temple Gibbs and Rex Pflueger, two wings that entered Notre Dame with expectations and a high rankings by recruiting services, take advantage of the minutes made available by the graduation of Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem?
Will D.J. Harvey, a talented forward that was once a top ten player in the Class of 2017, have an immediate impact as the big wing that the Irish currently lack?
Does Martinas Geben become a player that can anchor a front line when needed?
If all three of those things happen, Notre Dame will once again be a top 20 team that can beat anyone on any given night.
Second SEC team falls to Canadian powerhouse Carleton
For the second time in a five-day span, an SEC program has fallen to the dominant Canadian powerhouse, Carleton University.
On Monday evening, the Ravens defeated Vanderbilt, 61-56, in the Paradise Jam Tournament held at the U.V.I. Sports & Fitness Center in St. Thomas.
Eddie Ekiyor, originally a Xavier forward, led the Ravens with 17 points to go along with his five rebounds. Matthew Fisher-Davis matched Ekiyor’s point total with 17 of his own to lead the Commodores.
The Ravens have won 13 of the last 15 national titles, including seven in a row.
Last week, Carleton took down Alabama, a team pegged in the top-25 for next season, 84-71, in the 2017 Can-Am Shootout. The victories over the two SEC teams mark the 29th and 30th victory Carleton has landed over NCAA Division I programs.
This is the second loss in as many days for Vanderbilt, falling to the U.S. Virgin Island national team, 81-78, in the first exhibition game of the team’s summer foreign tour.
The Commodores are back in action on Wednesday against Brock University (Canada). They take on Carleton again the following day.
Carleton has two more opportunities to upset NCAA Division I opponents, bookending the rematch with Vandy with exhibition contests against Northern Colorado and James Madison.
Alabama loses exhibition game to Canadian powerhouse Carleton
The Ravens, winners of seven straight Canadian titles, defeated Alabama, 84-71, on Wednesday night in the 2017 Can-Am Shootout.
Yasin Joseph led all scorers with 19 points off the bench for Carleton. Eddie Ekiyor, a former Xavier forward, posted a double-double of 16 points and 11 boards.
Alabama was led by the freshman backcourt of John Petty and Collin Sexton, who scored 16 and 15 points, respectively.
“This was one of the games that we, as a coaching staff, had circled on the schedule because this team has historically done really well against some of the most high-level American universities that have come over here to play,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said in a statement released by the school following the loss.
“We knew they were going to play physical, rebound the basketball and shoot threes, and they did all of those things. This is strictly an evaluation trip. We had the chance to play six or seven different lineups, play a lot of different guys and look at a lot of different matchups. We didn’t do as good of a job on both ends of the floor that we are capable of, but this was a great learning experience for our team.”
The Crimson Tide are projected as a top-25 entering this season. But this shouldn’t worry those in Tuscaloosa. Aside from dominating the Canadian college scene, winning 13 of the last 15 national titles, the Ravens have made a habit of defeating some of college basketball’s best programs. It’s also worth noting that the game is played on Canadian soil, meaning the game was played under international rules such as 10-minute quarters and a shortened shot clock.
Wednesday night was Carleton’s 28th victory over an NCAA Division I program.
Last summer, Wichita State fell to Carleton. The Shockers went on to finish the 2016-17 season ranked in the top-10, according to kenpom.com In 2013, Wisconsin was upended by the Ravens. Seven months later, the Badgers appeared in the first of two straight Final Four. If you’re the Crimson Tide, a loss to Carleton is hardly an omen for how this season will unfold.
Alabama concludes its tour of Canada on Thursday against the University of Ottawa. Carleton, which previously lost to Towson, has another chance at a Division I upset, taking on Vanderbilt on August 14 in the Bahamas.
Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.
“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.
“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”
The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.
Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance.
TUSCALOSSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama point guard Dazon Ingram will miss the rest of the season with a broken foot.
Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson says the freshman fractured his left foot in practice on Tuesday.
Ingram is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday morning. He has helped lead the Tide to a 5-2 start that included winning back-to-back games over Top 25 teams for the first time in nearly a decade.
Ingram has started every game and leads the team with 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while averaging 7.7 points. Johnson says Retin Obasohan, Justin Coleman and Lawson Schaffer will have to step up in Ingram’s absence.
Ingram was Alabama’s Mr. Basketball last season at Theodore High School.