Wednesday afternoon the Atlanta Tipoff Club released its early season watch list for the Naismith Trophy, which is annually given to the nation’s top college basketball player. Fifty players are on the initial list, and a player being left off does not prevent them from appearing on lists that will be released later this season or winning the award at season’s end.
Seven freshmen made the initial list, including LSU’s Ben Simmons and Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray. Labissiere and Murray are joined on the list by teammate Tyler Ulis, making Kentucky one of two schools that can boast three players. The other school with three players on the initial watch list is Kansas, with guards Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr., and forward Perry Ellis making the cut.
There are a number of programs with two players on the list, including Duke (Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram), Gonzaga (Domas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer), Iowa State (Monté Morris, Georges Niang) and Wichita State (Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet). Below is the full list, with the midseason watch list (30 players) scheduled to be released in February.
Sophomore SG Grayson Allen (Duke)
Senior PF Ryan Anderson (Arizona)
Senior PG Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova)
Senior SG Ron Baker (Wichita State)
Junior SF DeAndre Bembry (Saint Joseph’s)
Senior SG Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia)
Freshman SF Jaylen Brown (California)
Senior G Kyle Collinsworth (BYU)
Senior SG Kellen Dunham (Butler)
Junior PG Kris Dunn (Providence)
Senior SG A.J. English (Iona)
Senior PG Yogi Ferrell (Indiana)
Senior PF Rico Gathers Sr. (Baylor)
Senior G Michael Gbinije (Syracuse)
Junior SG Jack Gibbs (Davidson)
Senior C A.J. Hammons (Purdue)
Senior SG Shaquille Harrison (Tulsa)
Junior F Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin)
Senior SG Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)
Senior SG Danuel House (Texas A&M)
Freshman G/F Brandon Ingram (Duke)
Junior PG Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame)
Sophomore SF Justin Jackson (North Carolina)
Junior C Damian Jones (Vanderbilt)
Freshman PF Skal Labissiere (Kentucky)
Senior SG Damion Lee (Louisville)
Senior SG Caris LeVert (Michigan)
Junior PG Frank Mason III (Kansas)
Senior SG Sheldon McClellan (Miami)
Senior PG Nic Moore (SMU)
Junior PG Monté Morris (Iowa State)
Freshman SG Jamal Murray (Kentucky)
Freshman SG Malik Newman (Mississippi State)
Senior PF Georges Niang (Iowa State)
Senior PG Marcus Paige (North Carolina)
Senior G Gary Payton II (Oregon State)
Sophomore F/C Jakob Poeltl (Utah)
Sophomore PF Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga)
Junior G/F Wayne Selden Jr. (Kansas)
Freshman F Ben Simmons (LSU)
Senior PG D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown)
Freshman PF Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)
Junior PG Isaiah Taylor (Texas)
Sophomore PG Melo Trimble (Maryland)
Sophomore PG Tyler Ulis (Kentucky)
Senior G Denzel Valentine (Michigan State)
Senior PG Fred VanVleet (Wichita State)
Senior PG Tyrone Wallace (California)
Senior PF Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga)
As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best
Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.
And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.
With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.
Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.
The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.
The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.
The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.
There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.
But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.
PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Kris Dunn vs. Denzel Valentine; Two 6-0 teams from Ohio battle in Orlando
GAME OF THE DAY: No. 3 Michigan State vs. Providence, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Two Player of the Year candidates lock horns on Sunday night as Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine battles Providence’s Kris Dunn. Both players are strong threats to record a triple-double each time they take the floor and both are key reasons why their teams are 6-0. The Friars could probably use this game a bit more than Michigan State since they enter this game unranked and could use another confidence-boosting win for a team filled with newer players. As for the Spartans, winning the Wooden Legacy would mean another great accomplishment before December even started for a team that has national title aspirations.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 23 Xavier vs. Dayton, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
These two 6-0 teams from Ohio will meet in Orlando in the championship game of the AdvoCare Invitational. The Musketeers have six different players averaging at least 9.7 points per game this season as they’ve received great balance on the offensive end. As for Dayton, Charles Cooke as emerged as a go-to player early this season while guard Scoochie Smith has also been outstanding. This will be the first time these two schools have played since Feb. 16, 2013.
SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR
One of the fun teams to watch this week has been Monmouth and their amusing end-of-bench antics. On the floor, the Hawks knocked off Notre Dame and gave Dayton a scare and they’ll face USC for the second time this season to close out the AdvoCare Invitational. The Trojans won the first one 101-90, but this is a 12:30 p.m. EST tip, so that could benefit Monmouth the second time around.
Wisconsin visiting No. 7 Oklahoma is an intriguing Sunday matchup. The Badgers could certainly use a true road win here as they’re off to a 4-2 start. The Sooners get more of a real test after only playing Memphis as a notable opponent their first three games.
Also going on in the AdvoCare Invitational is No. 20 Wichita State facing Iowa and No. 17 Notre Dame battling Alabama. The Shockers are going without senior starters Fred Van Vleet and Anton Grady as they try to escape Orlando with a win. Notre Dame is hoping to close out the event strong after its surprising upset to Monmouth.
Action also continues in Anaheim at the Wooden Legacy as No. 11 Arizona will take on Boise State, while Boston College plays Santa Clara and UC Irvine faces Evansville. Arizona will look to get back on the right track after the close loss to Providence in the semifinals.
No. 6 Duke gets an afternoon tilt with Utah State at home before they face Indiana during the week. It’ll be interesting to see if Blue Devil freshman wing Brandon Ingram keeps his strong play going from earlier in the week.
UCLA returns home and could badly use a win against Cal State Northridge. The Bruins went a disappointing 1-2 in the Maui Invitational and need to get back on the right track before the face No. 1 Kentucky next week.
TOP 25 GAMES
Brown vs. No. 25 SMU, 2:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
OTHER NOTABLE GAMES
Jackson State at Marquette, 12:30 p.m.
Rider at Rhode Island, 1:00 p.m.
Savannah State at South Florida, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
South Carolina State at Kansas State, 2:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Northern Colorado at Colorado, 2:00 p.m. (PAC12)
UC Santa Barbara at Arizona State, 4:00 p.m. (PAC12)
Kris Dunn just misses triple-double as Providence tops NJIT
Providence used a huge night from Player of the Year candidate Kris Dunn as the Friars outlasted NJIT, 83-76.
While the rest of the country seems to be automatically giving LSU freshman forward Ben Simmons the title as the best college basketball player in the country, Dunn put up 22 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals as the Friars moved to 4-0 on the season.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the junior guard’s night was that Dunn only had one turnover, and he also went 9-for-9 from the free-throw line.
Very quietly, Dunn has led a Providence team with a lot of new pieces to a strong start as Ben Bentil added 21 points and Rodney Bullock had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Friars.
Damon Lynn paced NJIT with 24 points as the Highlanders went to 3-2 on the season.
Big East Preview: Is there a real challenger to Villanova?
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big East Conference.
The Big East Conference landed six teams in the NCAA tournament last season. The Big East might not replicate that number come Selection Sunday, but the 10-league members should make for another unpredictable season.
Villanova should be the unanimous preseason pick, given what the Wildcats have accomplished over the past two years (two regular season titles and the 2015 Big East Tournament championship) and the key pieces they bring back, inclduding Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart. Georgetown, Butler and Xavier should all pose as Villanova’s biggest competition, though the order in which they finish is up for debate.
The same could be said for the rest of the conference. St. John’s is likely out of the mix following a massive roster overhaul, but Nos. 5-9 could end up in a variety of ways.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Kris Dunn spurned NBA: Kris Dunn could have been a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, but choose to return to Providence for his junior season. This is a gamble on Dunn’s part, given the recurring shoulder injury that plagued his first two seasons. But with the return of Dunn, arguably the top player in college basketball, the Friars eye an NCAA tournament for the third time in as many seasons, instead of focusing on a rebuilding year.
2. Villanova postseason cut short again: In 2014, Villanova, a No. 2 seed, was upset by eventual champion UConn in the Round 0f 32. This past March, the Wildcats validated critics who believed that they were unworthy of a No. 1 seed, exiting the tournament in the Round of 32 again, this time at the hands of No. 8 N.C. State. Jay Wright led the Wildcats to the Final Four in 2009. In five tournament appearances since, Villanova hasn’t gotten out of the first weekend. Villanova can prove its among the top programs in the country with non-conference matchups against Oklahoma and Virginia, but it won’t matter unless NCAA tournament success follows.
3. Chris Mullin returns: After five seasons, St. John’s and Steve Lavin decided to part ways. This paved the way for a Chris Mullin homecoming. The Brooklyn native led the Johnnies to the 1985 Final Four before enjoying a Hall of Fame career as a player. Since retiring, he’s worked as both a broadcaster and in NBA front office’s but he returns to his alma mater with zero coaching experience. He inherits a team that lost its entire rotation, but Mullin has made tremendous strides in his first few months as a head coach, surrounding himself with talented recruiters, who have overhauled the roster and helped land a pair of four-star recruits.
4. Impact freshmen: The two highest-rated recruits entering the league is Marquette’s Henry Ellenson and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson. Both five-star prospects are expected to make immediate impact. This summer offered a glimpse of what to expect this season, with Ellenson putting up big numbers on Marquette’s European tour and Brunson leading USA Basketball to a gold medal in the FIBA U19 World Championships in Greece. Brunson averaged 14.0 points and 5.6 assists per game, earning MVP honors.
5. NBA Draft: For the first time in Big East history (dating back to 1979, not 2013), no player was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. In all likelihood, that will change this June, as Kris Dunn and Henry Ellenson are both projected as lottery picks.
Favorite: “I’d say Villanova. They’ve dominated our league. They’ve been the standard the last two years. They have a lot of guys back, a lot of experience, very, very good guard play. They can all shoot and drive. They’re all very good defensively, too.”
Sleeper: “I think Marquette has a chance to be a sleeper. I think Woj has done a really good job of upgrading the talent in the last year. They return just enough guys and I think he has some really good freshmen to help elevate them to the upper part of the league.”
“You obviously have to start with Kris Dunn … Ryan Arcidiacono as well. Those two guys headline our league. [Dunn] impacts the game on both ends of the floor. He’s a two-way player. He’s a phenomenal defender. At the other end, he’s just really hard to keep out of the lane. Arcidiacono stays more within himself. He can really shoot the ball, makes the right play, tough guy. He does a great job.”
“I think Arcidiacono is the best player … He’s truly a quarterback in that system. He makes average players very, very good and he pulls that team together. He’s an extension of Jay [Wright]. I’m probably a rare guy, but I think Arch is the best player.”
Most underrated player
“I think Daniel Ochefu is very undervalued. Obviously, he’s 6-foot-11, but he’s so mobile and he’s an extremely good defender around the rim and in ball-screen defense. Then he can score on the other end.”
“Roosevelt Jones. I think people talk about him, but I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. For not being able to shoot the ball, he’s extremely talented. He understands his role. He’s one of those guys that makes a team click.”
PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kris Dunn, Providence
Dunn is a candidate for Preseason National Player of the Year honors, so it’s no surprise that he should be the runaway selection to repeat as Big East Player of the Year after he shared the honors last season. The 6-foot-3 Dunn, in his first full season, posted posted 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game as a redshirt sophomore. As opposing coaches mentioned above, he impacts the game on both ends of the floor, probably more so than anyone else in the country.
THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM:
RyanArcidiacono, Villanova: The experienced lead guard who shared Big East co-Player of the Year honors with Dunn last season, anchors the conference’s top perimeter attack, which includes Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth. Arcidiacono averaged 10.1 points and 3.5 assists per game and shot a career-best 37 percent from three.
Henry Ellenson, Marquette: The five-star recruit, rated No. 11 player in the class by Rivals, is the highest-rated prospect entering the Big East. The projected lottery pick will make up one of the top front courts playing alongside Luke Fischer.
Roosevelt Jones, Butler: His old-school game helped the Bulldogs turnaround the program’s first losing season in nine years. The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior, who missed the 2013-14 season due to a wrist injury, led the team in assists at 3.7 per game and added another scoring option, putting up points using his arsenal of unorthodox runners.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: The key piece on a team loaded with talented underclassmen, the 6-foot-3 Smith-Rivera did it all for the Hoyas last season. The first-team all-conference selection averaged 16.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Kellen Dunham, Butler
Billy Garrett Jr., DePaul
Daniel Ochefu, Villanova
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
BREAKOUT STAR: Jalen Reynolds, Xavier
There are several players that could fit this category (Georgetown’s Isaac Copleand or Providence’s Ben Bentil ), but Jalen Reynolds has the ability to put up an all-Big East caliber season for the Musketeers. The 6-foot-10 forward, who plays with the attitude that he can dunk everything, may be the most athletically gifted player in the conference. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 boards per game as a sophomore and had two strong showings in Xavier’s Sweet 16 run.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
In five seasons, Willard is 30-60 in conference, taking the Pirates to only one postseason appearance (2012 NIT). Willard is also coming off a season of highs and lows. The highs being back-to-back wins over Villanova and St. John’s to propel the Pirates in to the top-25 rankings. The lows: a 1-9 finish and the departures of starters Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Can someone make run in March?
Through the first two years of the Big East relaunch, only one team has made it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. That was Xavier this past March, reaching the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 14 Georgia State.
Questions of the league’s strength will continue as long as postseason struggles do.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The Gavitt Tipoff Games
Named in honor of the Big East founder, Dave Gavitt, the Big East and Big Ten will play eight games throughout the first week of the season. Kicking off slate of non-conference matchups is Georgetown traveling College Park to take on Maryland. The two teams haven’t played locally since 1993. The Terrapins host the Hoyas on Nov. 17.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. Villanova: The conference’s most efficient offense and defense, returns a core of last year’s team. With deep guard play and a big man in the middle, Jay Wright’s team should expect to be back to the top spot in the Big East standings.
2. Georgetown: John Thompson III will rely on up to seven freshmen and sophomores. Isaac Copeland, L.J. Peak, Paul White and Tre Campbell were all part of the rotation as freshmen. First-year big men Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson both had impressive outings in the Hoyas’ summer trip. The return of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will Georgetown as the underclassmen develop over the course of the season.
3. Butler: It seems odd: a former McDonald’s All-American needing to fill the shoes left behind by a walk-on. But that’s the position Tyler Lewis finds himself in, replacing beloved Alex Barlow. The N.C. State transfer joins the veteran perimeter of sharpshooter Kellen Dunham and wing Roosevelt Jones. Like Villanova, Butler lacks depth up front, but third-year starter Andrew Chrabascz is a solid piece to have on the interior.
4. Xavier: Trevon Blueitt and Jalen Reynolds are poised for breakout years, but the Musketeers must combat the loss of both point guards, Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook (yes, 6-foot-10 Matt Stainbrook). That point guard duties will fall on the committee of Larry Austin Jr., Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner, a 6-foot-5 freshman who sat out last season. There is still enough talent on the roster for another NCAA tournament appearance for Chris Mack.
5. Providence: Kris Dunn’s return is what keeps the Friars in the top half of the league to begin the season, but players like Ben Bentil and Jalen Lindsey will need to take major steps forward in their sophomore seasons in order for PC to still be there in February/March.
6. Marquette: The trendy pick as the dark horse in the Big East, the Golden Eagles could be in for a big turnaround in the Wojo’s second year. Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer make for a good tandem on the frontline, while Traci Carter and Haanif Cheatham are other freshman to watch, playing alongside Duane Wilson in the back court.
7. Seton Hall: The Pirates are a dangerous team despite a dismal end to last season. Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington all gained valuable experience as freshmen. Seton Hall will need contributions from players like Desi Rodriguez, another sophomore, and graduate transfers Braeden Anderson and Derrick Gordon if it wants to do more than pull off a few upsets.
8. Creighton: Seven of Creighton’s 14 conference losses came by five points or less, helping contribute to a last-place finish a season ago. Transfers Maurice Watson Jr. and Cole Huff should make an immediate impact alongside cast of returnees that includes James Milliken, Toby Hegner and Geoffrey Groselle. The Bluejays certainly got better, but is it enough to climb into the middle of the pack?
9. DePaul: Although the Blue Demons are slotted second from the bottom, this could be the team to surprise many this season. They return Billy Garrett Jr., Myke Henry and Tommy Hamilton IV, three double-digit scorers from last season.
10. St. John’s: Chris Mullin has covered a lot of ground since March, but the loss of last year’s entire rotation puts the Red Storm in the cellar for Year 1.
With current point guard Kris Dunn projected to be both one of the top players in college basketball this season and a first round pick in next June’s NBA Draft, Providence was in need of a player capable of helping out in that role once Dunn leaves. Sunday night Ed Cooley and his staff received a verbal commitment from a recruit talented enough to fill that role.
Maliek White, a 6-foot-2 point guard from Richmond, Virginia, announced via Twitter that he’s committed to the Big East program. White is Providence’s first verbal commitment in the class, and he’s an important addition given the eventual departure of Dunn. Also eligible to play next season is Isaiah Jackson, who’s sitting out this season after transferring in from George Mason.
White took an official visit to Providence this weekend, one week after visiting Pittsburgh and he also had a trip to Georgia Tech scheduled for mid-October. Currently attending George Wythe High School, White played for the River City Reign grassroots program this summer.
White, who can play some off the ball if need be, won’t be the only player competing for minutes at the point when he arrives on campus next year assuming that Dunn will have moved on. Sophomore Kyron Cartwright, who made eight starts a season ago, averaged 3.5 points and 2.6 assists in just under 19 minutes of action per game.