2011-2012 Big East Preview: The league is loaded again

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AWARDS

Player of the Year: Ashton Gibbs, Sr., Pitt

Gibbs deserves all the love he is going to get this preseason, as he is quite possibly the best all-around shooter in the country. What makes him so dangerous is his incredible ability to get open by using screens off-the-ball. He’s Pitt’s go-to player and really the only guy on the team that can create their own shot, but he does it in such a unique way. There are few guards in the country that are better at reading a defender and using a screen to get space for himself. Gibbs is the model of efficiency, but there is room for improvement in his game. As defenses continue to key on his jump shot, developing his mid-range game and his ability to attack a close-out will help. Regardless, Gibbs is a big time shot-maker that is a huge reason Pitt will once again be a top ten team and compete for the Big East title.

And a close second goes to…: Darius Johnson-Odom, Sr., Marquette

Admittedly, I’m a little biased on this pick, as DJO is one of my favorite players in the country to watch. A 6’2″ lefty, DJO is an explosive athlete and one of the best perimeter scorers in the conference. He’s at his best when he is slashing to the basket, where he is a crafty finisher with the ability to throw down monster dunks upon occasion. He’s good at drawing fouls and doesn’t turn the ball over. The most interesting aspect of DJO’s game is how much his jump shot fell off last season. He went from being a 47.4% three-point shooter as a sophomore to a 36.3% shooter as a junior, while also struggling in the mid-range. Despite that, he still managed to up his scoring from 13.0 ppg to 15.8 ppg. He’s the clear-cut go-to guy on the offensive end for a Marquette that is expected to finish in the top six in the Big East this season.

Breakout Star: Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou, Jrs, Villanova

The obvious pick here is Jeremy Lamb of UConn. The trendy pick is Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati. So in order to buck that trend, I’ll go with Villanova’s two elder statesmen. The Wildcats have almost no hype heading into this season. Having flamed out in the postseason the past two years and losing four key pieces from that team, you wouldn’t be wrong to ignore Villanova heading into the year. But I like the makeup of this team. I think they have similar pieces at the two, three and four to the group that made the Final Four run in 2009, but I also think that with the opportunity to take over the role of the star, both Wayns and Yarou will shine. Both players are impressive talents that were forced to play third and fourth fiddle to the two Coreys last season. If Wayns has gotten his jumper more consistent and Yarou has become a better low-post scorer, I think those two will carry a Villanova team that will rely more heavily on the defensive end of the floor than we are used to.

All-Conference First-Team:

POY: Ashton Gibbs, Sr., Pitt
G: Scoop Jardine, Sr., Syracuse
G: Darius Johnson-Odom, Sr., Marquette
F: Jeremy Lamb, So., UConn
F: Tim Abromaitis, Sr., Notre Dame
C: Yancy Gates, Sr., Cincinnati

All-Conference Second-Team:

G: Peyton Siva, Jr., Louisville
G: Jason Clark, Sr., Georgetown
F: Kris Joseph, Sr., Syraucse
F: Kevin Jones, Sr., West Virginia
C: Alex Oriakhi, Jr., UConn

Newcomer of the Year: Andre Drummond, UConn

There shouldn’t be much argument when I say that Drummond is the most talented freshman in the Big East, because its quite possible that he is the most talented freshman in the country. Drummond is, simply put, a physical specimen. He’s 6-11 and 270 lb with the ability to score in the post and while facing up, he’s got the mobility and the handle to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, he’s a high IQ player, a terrific passer and has a 41-inch vertical. The issue with Drummond in high school was getting him to display his ability every time he stepped onto the court. Against the competition in the Big East, if he doesn’t have the desire to give 100 percent effort, Jim Calhoun won’t be playing him.

All-Freshmen Team:

G: Myles Mack, Rutgers
G: Jabarie Hinds, West Virginia
F: Sir’Dominic Pointer, St. John’s
F: Moe Harkless, St. John’s
C: Andre Drummond, UConn

Five summer storylines

– Conference realignment: The tragedy and instability of conference realignment began as an issue that the Big 12 had to deal with, but with the decision of two members schools to hop to the ACC, the Big East became the league sitting squarely on the chopping block. Pitt and Syracuse, two of the best programs in the Big East when it comes to both football and basketball, accepted offers from the ACC to become members. Making matters worse was UConn all but begging the ACC to allow them to join along with, well, any other team the ACC wanted. That seems unlikely, however, as Boston College, who is still pissed about UConn’s comments when they left for the ACC six years ago, is prepared to squash any attempt the Huskies make at switching leagues.

The most recent move was the Big 12’s decision to add TCU, which not only made their league much sturdier, it kicked out one of the legs the Big East was standing on. Once Pitt and Syracuse leave, the Big East will be left with just six football teams, which is not enough to earn an automatic BCS bid.

– Andre Drummond heads to UConn: Andre Drummond did a terrific job of keeping his intentions out of earshot of the media. After officially graduating high school and putting himself in a position to enter the collegiate ranks back in May, Drummond — who had been a member of the Class of 2012 — kept the recruiting world at bay throughout the summer as he consider his intentions for next season. Eventually, he announced that he would be attending Wilbraham & Monson along with his good friend Kris Dunn, the top point guard in the Class of 2012. But after Dunn announced he was committing to Providence and returning to New London High School, Drummond shocked everyone at 7:30 pm on a Friday night when he suddenly announced his decision to become a Husky, immediately making UConn a favorite to win the national title.

– Fab Melo’s run-ins with the law: Melo was the most disappointing freshman in the country in 2010-2011. The seven-footer was out of shape, didn’t give consistent effort throughout the year and was extremely uncoachable. It all amounted to an embarrassing season in which Melo would start only to be pulled from the game two minutes in, never to return to the court again. He was also suspended during the year, which became an issue after Melo was arrested over the summer as the result of an ugly altercation with his girlfriend. This apparently wasn’t the first time something like this happened, as there were reports over the summer that a similar incident was the reason for Melo’s midseason suspension.

– The Georgetown Brawl: During a trip to China to play a series of exhibitions, the Hoyas found themselves in an incredibly scary situation. Late in the second half of a physical contest, Jason Clark of Georgetown gets jumped by four Chinese players, setting off one of the most insane in-game brawls I’ve ever seen. Punches are thrown, chair are swung and bottles come flying at the Hoyas from the crowd. Luckily, no one was hurt in the incident. I’d even go so far as to argue that the fight was a good thing for Georgetown. There has been a disconnect somewhere within this program the past three or four years. Part of it was a lack of cohesion within the team. This is a new, younger group. What better way to bring this team together than to have them go through a potentially dangerous situation like this?

– Steve Lavin has prostate cancer: The St. John’s head coach was diagnosed over the summer. He had surgery earlier this month, and while it may cost him some exhibition games, the surgery was deemed a success.

Five storylines to follow this season

– Even more realignment talk: While the Big 12 was able to add TCU to replace Texas A&M, they are still in danger of losing Missouri to the SEC, a move that looks more and more likely by the day. If they do, most people expect the Big 12 to look east, bringing in Louisville, West Virginia or both, a move that could essentially kill the Big East as we know it. In an effort to replace the teams that they lost, the Big East will be reeling in powerhouses like SMU, Houston and Central Florida. That’s less than ideal for the basketball side of things.

So is this the last Big East Tournament? There’s a very good chance that this season will end up being the last Big East Tournament as we know it and love it. Syracuse and Pitt cannot leave the conference until 2014 unless the Big East opts to allow them out. If they are allowed out early and the Big East adds who they have been rumored to be courting, this conference could end up with as many as 18 teams in it, fewer than half of which probably should be playing in the Big East. Everything changes in college sports with team. The Big East Tournament, as amazing as it was and still is, is a requirement for every college hoops fan.

– Can UConn repeat?: There is no question that the Huskies have the talent to do so. With stars-in-the-making like Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier in the back court and a front court with some absurd size and athleticism, it would be disingenuous to say this group doesn’t have the tools to win the whole thing.

– Will Syracuse and Pitt handle playing the role of the villain?: Regardless of who you root for in the Big East, the villain this season will be Syracuse and Pitt. Why? Because they are the programs that set the fate of the Big East in motion. Not that their move wasn’t understandable — if they didn’t take the offer, someone else would have given the relative stability of the ACC — but it was a preemptive strike. Both the Orange and the Panthers have a number of veterans on their roster, especially in the back court, and should be impervious to the taunts of rival fan bases. Its nothing they haven’t heard before.

– Louisville-first: That’s the motto of Rick Pitino’s program this season, and its the team’s biggest ex-factor heading into the year. You see, the Cardinals legitimately have 16 players on their roster capable of playing in any rotation in the Big East; 16 guys that could make a case to start this season at Louisville. The team unity is so impressive that two of the club’s starters opted to take redshirts heading into the season — Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith — while a third — Elisha Justice — didn’t exactly have a decision to make. Will that level of unselfishness carry throughout the year, or will some of the players that aren’t getting minutes or touches create chemistry issues?

– How many teams make the tournament this season?: Last year, the Big East sent 11, which seems virtually impossible to repeat this season. Why? Because there are six Big East teams that are currently in — or still in? — full-blown rebuilding mode. The top ten, however, all have a very real chance at earning an at-large bid. I’ll set the over-under at eight. Whaddya you got?

Power Rankings

1. UConn: Everyone in the country knows the story about UConn last season. Predicted to finish 10th in the Big East in the preseason, the Huskies were carried by Kemba Walker throughout the regular season, finishing an up and down year right about were they were predicted — 9th in the league standings. But something clicked in March, as UConn went on a sensational five-day run through the Big East Tournament before carrying that momentum into the NCAA Tournament. When it was all said and done, Kemba was the most popular person in the state of Connecticut and Jim Calhoun had his third title in the past 12 years.

Believe it or not, the reigning national champs will actually be a better team, as they will be significantly more balanced than last year. All those freshmen that developed into consistent contributors during March? They will be starters and, potentially, stars this year. We’ll start with the back court, where sophomores Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb will start. The lanky, 6’6″ Lamb is going to be a guy that shows up on a lot of breakout players lists. He really came on in March, playing the sidekick that made it impossible for teams to double Kemba. Lamb, whose at his best when he’s a slasher that scores in the mid-range, should become a star this year. Napier didn’t start as a freshman, but he played starters minutes, running the team while allowing Kemba to work off-the-ball as a scorer. He’s a solid creator with three-point range that can get out in transition, but he’s a bit too aggressive at times and has a tendency to make some bad decisions. Freshman Ryan Boatright will push for minutes at the point as well. If UConn does have a weakness this season, it is their perimeter depth and their outside shooting. The Huskies don’t really have a sniper, and Lamb is essentially their only shooting guard.

UConn’s front court will look like the Huskies of old. They are big, they are long and they are athletic. It starts with Alex Oriakhi, who is the anchor of the Husky interior. A burly, 6-9 power forward, Oriakhi blocks a lot of shots and is a terror to try and box out. His back-to-the-basket game was improved last year and he should be to the point that he can be a threat on the block. He’ll be joined by freshman phenom Andre Drummond, who is biding his time in Storrs before he heads off to the NBA Draft’s lottery. Drummond has the total package — he’s a 6’11”, 270 lb post with a face-up game, the ability to handle the ball on the perimeter and a 41-inch vertical. The question with Drummond is simply how good does he want to be? Roscoe Smith, an athletic combo-forward, and Tyler Olander, a Storrs-native that plays a blue-collar style, will provide depth. The small forward spot will be handled by DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey. I’d expect Daniels, a talented-but-enigmatic freshman who had a wild recruitment, to start, but Giffey is an athlete and a defender that can hit threes. UConn was a top ten team before Drummond committed. With him in the fold, the Huskies will be a favorite to win the Big East and make a run to the Final Four.
2. Syracuse: The 2010-2011 season was a bit of a disappointment for Syracuse fans. After winning their first 18 games of the season and climbing as high as No. 3 in the rankings, the Orange lost four straight and six of eight, ending the year tied for third in the league standings. And while that is far from what you would consider a bad season, considering the amount of talent of the Syracuse roster, a second round exit in the NCAA Tournament is not what the die hards of upstate New York were hoping for. The good news, however, is that Syracuse returns the majority of their roster, giving Jim Boeheim what is arguably his most talented team since the group that won the 2003 national title.

Much will be expected out of this Syracuse team, who will likely be the Big East favorites along with UConn. What they lack in star power, the Orange make up for in depth and balance. Their back court will be as experienced as any in the country. Scoop Jardine will be a popular pick for first team all-conference. Jardine is a big-time playmaker that finished second in the conference in assists last season. The knock on Jardine is consistency and decision-making, but when he plays well he is one of the best point guards in the country. He’ll be joined by junior Brandon Triche, who can be a steadying influence in the back court. Triche is more of a natural point guard than an off-guard, giving Boeheim two playmakers in his back court. Kris Joseph will once again start at the small forward spot. An ultra-athletic, 6’7″ wing, much was expected out of Joseph last season, to the point that his junior season — 14.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.5 spg — was a bit of a disappointment. The bench may actually be more talented than the Cuse starters. Sophomore Dion Waiters was thought to be destined to transfer this season, but he opted to return to school and should provide a big-time scoring boost off the bench. Freshmen Michael Carter-Williams is another talented scorer coming off the bench. He became more of a playmaker throughout his high school career. Trevor Cooney will also see minutes as a sharp-shooter off the bench.

Up front, the key for Syracuse will be finding a way to replace the toughness, the rebounding and the shot-blocking of Rick Jackson. The guy that everyone will have their eye on is Fab Melo. Melo was one of the premiere recruits nationally last season, but he struggled with his focus and his conditioning. While he started a majority of the time, far too often he would head to the bench and never make it back into the game. Melo will be pushed for the starting center spot by Rakeem Christmas, another lauded freshman that is known for his ability to block shots and rebound the ball. The x-factor up front will be CJ Fair. Fair was the least touted of the Syracuse freshmen last season, but he had the biggest impact. He came on strong late in the season, and the athletic combo-forward will push for the starting power forward spot this year. James Southerland, who had a couple of big games in the middle of the year, is a perfect fit for Boeheim’s system given his size, length and ability to shoot the ball. All the pieces are in place for the Orange to have a big year in 2011-2012. They’ll have a very real shot at not only winning the Big East title, but making a run to the Final Four as well.

3. Louisville: There might not be a program in the country that is more team-oriented than Louisville. The Cardinals barely have a star on their roster, unless you consider Peyton Siva a star. Two of their senior starters — Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith — are walk-ons by choice. Rick Pitino’s team is one of the few in the nation that can legitimately claim that every single player in the program is talented enough to be a rotation player. The key lies in the recruiting for Pitino — he brings in players that he knows will fit his system. That system? Defensively, they run pressuring, aggressive 2-3 zone designed to force turnovers. Louisville loves to push the ball in transition, spreading the floor and looking to locate a mismatch on the perimeter, allowing the ability of the team’s perimeter players to shine through. It worked last season, as Louisville surprised everyone and finished third in the Big East standings.

We’ll start in the back court with Louisville, where Pitino won’t even feel the loss of the ineligible Kevin Ware. Peyton Siva will get to start at the point. Siva is one of the most explosive players in the country, a lightening bolt from end-to-end that can finish well-above the rim despite being 5’11”. He’s by far the best shot-creator on the Cardinals and was a huge reason for their surprise finish last year. He’s joined by Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith in the back court. Kuric is the better shooter while Smith is better creating off the dribble, but as a duo they compliment Siva very well on the perimeter. It will be important for one of them to step up and become the kind of on-ball defender Preston Knowles was last season. Talented freshman Wayne Blackshear will be an x-factor for this group, as he can really fill it up when he’s healthy. Russ Smith and Elisha Justice will provide depth at the point, while Mike Marra, Mark Jackson Jr. and Angel Nunez will fill out the rotation on the perimeter.

Terrence Jennings decision to leave school early will leave Louisville with a lack of experience up front, but the Cardinals will certainly be loaded with talent. Gorgui Dieng is a guy to keep an eye on at the center position. The 6’11” native of Senegal is an excellent shot-blocker that had some impressive performances as a freshman. At the power forward spot, both Jared Swopshire and Rakeem Buckles are coming off of seasons where they were banged up. Swopshire battled through a potentially career-ending injury where the groin muscle pulled away from his bone while Buckles dealt with a severely broken finger and a torn acl. Both should be healthy this year. Sophomore Stephen Van Treese started 10 games last season, but his minutes may be cut into by talented freshmen Zach Price and Chane Behanan. Louisville is the deepest team in the Big East, and they needed that depth last season as they fought through a rash of injuries. The biggest key for Pitino this season will be managing egos. Will a guy like Wayne Blackshear have a problem with being the third guard off the bench?

4. Pitt: The Panthers are the Big East’s standard-bearer when it comes to running a successful basketball program. Because under Jamie Dixon they are, quite literally, a program. Every year that Dixon has been the head coach of the Panthers, they have won 20 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. In eight seasons he was won three Big East titles (two regular season, one conference tournament) and the only time his team has finished worse than second in the Big East the past five years, they won the Big East Tournament. And Dixon has accomplished all of that without ending a player to the first round of the NBA Draft. Its incredible the job he has done with the Panthers. Pitt will once again head into the year with the target on their backs, not only because they are the reigning Big East champs, but because they made the decision to jump to the ACC alongside Syracuse. The Panthers should be equipped to handle it, however.

It starts with Ashton Gibbs, one of the favorites to win the Big East player of the year award. Gibbs is quite possibly the best all-around shooter in the country. He’s sensational coming off of screens, to the point that Pitt uses him as their go-to guy through off-the-ball screening. Gibbs is the best in the country at what he does. He’ll be joined in the back court by Travon Woodall, a talented playmaker that was second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio last season. Woodall will be taking over full-time for Brad Wanamaker, and while he’s not as big or as good of an all-around player, he should be able to provide more defensive pressure and a more dangerous penetrator. Beyond Woodall and Gibbs, however, Pitt is going to have an inexperienced back court. Three freshmen — Cameron Wright, Isaiah Epps, and John Johnson — will provide the depth. It will be interesting to see who ends up replacing Gilbert Brown and starting at the small forward spot for Pitt as there are a number of candidates. The most likely seems to be Lamar Patterson, a versatile, 6’5″ sophomore that can play any position, shooting guard to power forward. He’s the best defender of the group, although he’s not nearly the athlete or the shooter that Brown was. Freshman Durand Johnson, a 6’6″ native of Baltimore, is, but he’s also a freshman, which makes it seems unlikely that he’ll start immediately. JJ Moore, another sophomore small forward, will also see time at that position.

Up front, Pitt is once again going to be loaded. Other than Gibbs, the only other starter that returns is Nasir Robinson, an undersized power forward that does all the little things for the Panthers. He’ll be out early in the season as he deals with a minor knee surgery, opening the door for the rest of the Panther bigs to earn some playing time. I expect Dante Taylor to start at center, filling in admirably for the graduated Gary McGhee. Taylor was a top 20 recruit when he left high school and should finally begin to live up to that hype this season. In Robinson’s absence, expect sophomore Talib Zanna to get minutes as a starter. Zanna started when Robinson was injured last season and did an excellent job. Freshman Khem Birch, who is one of the top ten recruits in the country, and Malcolm Gilbert will also see quite a bit of time. For Pitt, their front court is less about the name on the back of the jersey as it is about the fact that there are four or five 6’10” players capable of attacking the glass and blocking shots. The performance as a unit is the reason the Panthers are consistently in the top five in offensive rebounding percentage.

5. Cincinnati: Its safe to say that Mick Cronin has finally gotten the Cincinnati program to return to national relevancy after leading this group to a six seed in the NCAA Tournament last season, their first trip since 2005, and taking them to the second round. It took a while for the masses to be convinced, however. The Bearcats played one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the country, and while they did manage to head into Big East play undefeated, the only win that had more sustenance than Fluffernutter was a 20 point shellacking of Crosstown Shootout rival Xavier. There were many doubters, and those doubters remained pretty much up until Cincinnati won five of their last six games, which included wins over Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown twice.

The biggest catalyst for change on Cincinnati’s team was Yancy Gates, who responded well to a mid-season benching. After being kept home from a trip to Pittsburgh stemming from a verbal altercation with a coach in practice, Gates completely changed his attitude and his effort level. He averaged 15.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 1.3 bpg over the final 10 games of the season, and that renewed effort he showed late in the year has continued into the offseason. He’s lost 20 pounds, he’s taken conditioning and weightlifting workouts seriously, and by all accounts Gates finally appears to have matured enough mentally to be able to reach his full potential as a player. With his size, strength, athleticism and skill set, Gates is the most influential player in the Big East this season. If he lives up to his potential, Cincinnati is going to be a top six team in the Big East. Part of the reason Gates is so important is that the rest of the Bearcat front line is young and unproven. JuCo transfer Cheikh Mbodj is expected to start along side Gates. Sophomore Justin Jackson, a blue-collar energy guy that will rebound and defend, will likely be the first guy off the bench while freshmen Kelvin Gaines and Octavius Ellis will provide depth.

The perimeter will be strong for Cronin next season. Cashmere Wright, a junior point guard, has proven to be a capable playmaker and a solid facilitator. Dion Dixon will join Wright in the back court. Dixon is a do-it-all senior, a guy that can get you 15-20 points when you need it but is also the team’s best defender. The x-factor will be sophomore Sean Kilpatrick, a guy most people are predicting to have a big season. Playing the role of sparkplug off the bench, Kilpatrick was the team’s third-leading scorer, a high-volume/high-efficiency guard that was able to put up points in a hurry. He shoots the ball well from deep, he doesn’t turn it over and he can get to the foul line, all the qualities that will make a player adored by the stat-heads. It will be interesting to see how he handles becoming a go-to guy this year. Cronin will be counting on junior JaQuan Parker to regain his confidence. After a solid freshman year, Parker shot a dreadful 18.4% from the floor and losing his spot in the rotation by the time Big East play rolled around. Freshmen Jeremiah Davis, Ge’Lawn Guyn and Jermaine Sanders round out the rotation. The Bearcats have some question marks and players assuming new roles this year, but if Gates and Kilpatrick both develop the way folks are predicting they will, Cincinnati has a chance at competing for the top four in the Big East.

6. Marquette: The Big East sent 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, but only two made it past the first weekend. One was UConn, who went on to win the national title. The other? Marquette. And while the Golden Eagles saw their season end in demoralizing fashion when North Carolina obliterated them in the Sweet 16, the tournament success masked what was a very up-and-down season. Marquette lost a number of close games throughout the year — most notably, when they blew an 18-point lead to Louisville in the final 6:15 — and needed two wins in the Big East Tournament just to get themselves an at-large bid despite the bubble being as weak as it has been in recent memory.

The biggest victory of the year for the Golden Eagles didn’t come until after their season had ended, when Marquette was able to convince their head coach Buzz Williams to resign with their program instead of jumping to one of the Big 12 jobs that opened up during the spring. And Williams will, once again, have a roster that is capable of winning a couple games in the NCAA Tournament. It starts with Darius Johnson-Odom, an athletic left-handed scoring guard that will likely end up as a first team all-Big East performer. DJO is a very capable perimeter shooter, but he is at his best when he uses his ability to slash to the basket to set up that jumper. He’ll be joined in the back court by Junior Cadougan, a talented playmaker at the point. He’s not as good of a shooter as Dwight Buycks, who graduated, but he protects the ball better. Sophomore Vander Blue should be able to contribute on the perimeter, especially if his offensive game comes around this season. He’ll be competing for a starting spot with Oregon transfer Jamil Wilson. Expect freshman Derrick Wilson to back-up Cadougan at the point and Todd Mayo (OJ’s little brother) to contribute on the perimeter as well.

What’s interesting about this Marquette team is that they actually have some solid threats in their front court. Jae Crowder, who is one of the most underrated players in the country, is the next in the line of talented combo-forwards for the Golden Eagles. Crowder should, theoretically, be able to thrive next season simply because he does some many things well. He defends, he attacks the glass, he’ll knock down a three if you give him space, he’ll put the ball on the floor if you crowd him and he doesn’t turn the ball over. Juan Anderson and Jamail Jones will also see minutes at forward. Marquette also has a couple of legitimate low-post threats this year. Chris Otule started last season and appears to finally be healthy heading into his junior year. Otule, who was born with one eye, has trouble catching quick, dump-off passes, but that’s really the only issue he has with his vision. He’s a bid-body inside that takes up space and will block a couple of shots. Davante Garnder will end up being an x-factor for Marquette. The 6’9″ sophomore has some terrific moves around the rim, which is why he was so productive last season in the limited minutes that he played. It appears he has bought into the idea of getting into shape — he was pushing 300 lb last year — and being a 20 mpg player, which should finally give Buzz Williams a low-post threat. The Golden Eagles should have their most balanced attack to date. Expect them to compete for a top four finish in the league.

7. Villanova: Villanova is slowly becoming synonymous with late-season collapses, and 2010-2011 was no different. After starting out the year 18-1 and 4-0 in the Big East, the Wildcats lost 11 of their last 16 games, including their final six. If it wasn’t for a three point win over South Florida and an overtime win over DePaul, Nova would have lost their final 10 games. They were knocked out in the first round of the Big East Tournament by USF and lost to George Mason in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Making matters worse (or better, depending on your view of the leadership provided by the two Coreys) is that Villanova will lose three of their starters from last season’s team. With Isaiah Armwood making the decision to transfer to George Washington, the Wildcats will be left with exactly half of their rotation from a year ago.

This Villanova team will be young and, hopefully, intact for two full seasons as there isn’t a scholarship senior anywhere on the roster. Maalik Wayns will likely be the guy that carries the torch as the standout in the Villanova back court. A talented penetrator and creator, Wayns made strides with his ability as a passer last season, but there is still room for him to cut down on his turnovers. Villanova will need a go-to scorer this year, and Wayns should be primed to take over that role. His effectiveness will end up being determined by how well he improved his shooting; he can finish in the lane well for someone his size, but defense don’t exactly make it a priority to take away his jump shot. Joining Wayns on the perimeter this year will be Dominic Cheek, an athletic wing who will finally have a chance to start after two years of coming off the bench. Cheek was a highly-touted kid coming out of high school, but he has yet to find any consistency at the college level. Beyond that, there are plenty of minutes available on the perimeter. Sophomore James Bell will probably get first crack at the shooting guard spot, but freshmen Tyrone Johnson, Achraf Yacoubou and Darrun Hilliard will all make a push for playing time.

The front court will be anchored by Mouphtaou Yarou, a physical center that has already made a mark as a rebounder and a defender in the lane. It will be interesting to see if Yarou can develop as a scorer on the block. He has had a fairly significant amount of hype heading into this, his junior, year and it will be interesting to see if he can live up to it. Maurice Sutton, a 6’11” center, will have a shot to play significant minutes this year, but he’ll need to prove that he is deserving of those minutes. Freshman JayVaughn Pinkston, who sat out last season due to legal issues, should be able to make an impact as a combo-forward. He’s a burly, 6’6″ kid that has an impressive face-up game. Another freshman, Markus Kennedy, should see time as well. This Villanova team is intriguing. What made the 2009 Wildcats, their Final Four team, so good is the versatility they had defensively with players like Shane Clark, Dwayne Anderson and Reggie Redding. Can Pinkston, Bell and Cheek embrace those roles? If so, having them bookended with talents like Wayns and Yarou could make the Wildcats a sleeper in the Big East.

8. Notre Dame: The Fighting surprised a lot of people last season. After losing Luke Harangody to graduation, Notre Dame got better. Ben Hansbrough turned into a certified star, Carleton Scott and Scott Martin became dangerous weapons at the forward spot, and the Irish won 10 of their last 11 conference games to finished 14-4 in league play, which put them all alone in second place in the conference. But the Irish are going to have quite a bit to replace this year. They lose three starters from a team that only went seven deep last season, and that includes the graduation of Hansbrough, who won the Big East player of the year award over Kemba Walker last season.

The good news for the Irish is that they return Big East player of the year candidate Tim Abromaitis. Abro is a lights-out shooter who, at 6’8″, is able to play multiple positions. The fifth-year senior, who will have to sit out for the first four games of the year stemming from a couple of exhibitions games he played during his redshirt season, has become more than just a jump-shooter during his time in South Bend. He’s able to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim when defenders close out too hard, and he’s also become a solid rebounder on the defensive end of the floor. Abro will be joined by Scott Martin, who is a similar player. Martin is more a front-court player than Abro, but he also is a dangerous three-point shooter with the ability to create off the dribble. Throw in Jack Cooley, a big, 6’10” center that is tough on the glass and has a soft-touch around the basket, and the Irish have a solid front line. Junior Tom Knight, who saw limited minutes last season, will have to boost his production this year, particularly if Eric Katenda is unable to play due to the eye injury he suffered over the summer.

The back court will be anchored by sophomore point guard Eric Atkins. Atkins has a chance to be a breakout performer as the primary ball-handler on the roster this season. In a complimentary and facilitatory role as a freshman, Atkins still managed to average 3.2 apg and lead the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio. He’ll be one of, if not the only player on the Irish capable of creating his own shot. The off-guard spot will be a battle between redshirt-freshman Jerian Grant and true freshman Pat Connaughton. Connaughton is a knock-down shooter that is able to create off the dribble. He’s just 6’4″, but his length (6’10”) and sneaky athleticism make him an ideal candidate to play alongside Abro and Atkins. Grant is more of an athletic slasher who will likely be the best defender on the Notre Dame perimeter. Joey Brooks and Alex Dragicevich will also see time on the perimeter for Notre Dame. The Irish should have no problem scoring the basketball next season, their issue is going to be defensive and rebounding the basketball. This is not a team with an over-abundance of toughness and physicality. They’ll likely finish somewhere in the middle of the league, but an NCAA Tournament berth is not out of the question.

9. Georgetown: Austin Freeman and Chris Wright will graduate Georgetown as two of the greatest guards to set foot on the DC campus. But as impressive as the numbers were that they put up, the lasting legacy of their recruiting class will be the inability to get the Hoyas past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Under the leadership of Freeman and Wright, Georgetown seemingly was never quite able to put it all together. Whether that was the result of running into Stephen Curry, Chris Wright’s broken hand or the inability to compete in a top-heavy Big East, the Hoyas always seemed to be missing something come March. 2010-2011 was no different, as Georgetown lost four of their last five Big East games before being bounced in the first round of both the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

This year’s Hoya team is going to look quite different, as there will be a changing of the guard in the back court. With Wright and Freeman gone, look for Markel Starks to step into the starting lineup and Jason Clark to take on a much more significant role as a scorer. Starks will officially be the point guard — Clark is much better suited to being a score-first player — but they are both going to have to carry the burden of running the Hoyas offense. When Georgetown struggled last season, it was because they lost their threat to create at the end of a clock (Wright’s injury). The Hoyas will get their open shots and they back door cuts running JT III’s system, but the ability of Starks and Clark to create when the offense stagnates will be critical. Junior Hollis Thompson will also be forced into a much bigger role this year. He was forced to play out of position at times last season, but he’s a dangerous shooter with impressive length and athleticism that can really get to the glass. I’m expecting him to have a big year. Two freshmen — Jabril Trawick and Aaron Bowen — will provide the perimeter depth.

Up front, the Hoyas are going to be quite young, but also quite talented. Henry Sims will be the veteran leader for this group. Sims was a joke amongst Big East fans for the first two years of his career, but he slowly became a relevant factor as a passer at the high post for the Hoyas last season. This year, he’ll need to take on some of the rebounding and interior defense Georgetown loses with Julian Vaughn’s graduation. After that, the Hoyas will have loads of unproved and youthful talent. Nate Lubick moved into the starting lineup by the end of last season, but he’ll need to develop more as a rebounder and a scorer. Georgetown’s quartet of freshmen bigs will be counted on to make an impact as well. 6’9″ combo-forward Otto Porter is the most-hyped of the group, but Mikael Hopkins, Tyler Adams and Greg Whittington are going to be counted on to produce as well. I think Georgetown could end up being a sleeper in the league this season, particularly if they are able to come together based on what happened in China this summer. Worst case scenario is that this group is a year away, but the future is promising.

10. West Virginia: Bob Huggins had a trying year in 2010-2011. Between the inconsistency of Casey Mitchell, the issues with his players learning his sets and the disappearance of their freshmen class, West Virginia went through numerous starting lineups and different rotations. As a testament to the program he is running at West Virginia, that group was still able to make the NCAA Tournament and win a game. This year promises to be more difficult for Huggy Bear, as he graduates threes starters and a key bench player while also losing two important pieces to transfer.

The strength of this year’s team will be on their front line. It starts with Kevin Jones, a senior that had a bit of a disappointing junior season after playing such an important role as a sophomore. Jones thrived as Da’Sean Butler’s sidekick, but when he was asked to play more of a central role in the offense, he struggled. Jones couldn’t find the same consistency with his perimeter stroke. His rebounding numbers remained fairly consistent, however, and that’s where his strength is. Jones needs to build off the end of the season, as he played his best basketball of the year down the stretch. He’ll be joined up front by Deniz Kilicli, a burly, 6’9″ Turk with a surprisingly soft touch in the lane. When Kilicli gets into a rhythm, his lefty jump hook is unstoppable, but he needs to improve his rebounding. There has been talk that Jones could end up starting at the three this season, making room for redshirt freshman Kevin Noreen to slide into the starting lineup. Noreen played seven games last year before being sidelined with a knee injury. He’s another big man with a nice outside touch, but he’ll be asked to get more physical in the paint. Four newcomers — freshmen Tommie McCune, Pat Forsythe and Keaton Miles and JuCo transfer Dominic Rutledge — will provide depth.

The back court will be anchored by Truck Bryant, who will likely spend the majority of his time playing off the ball this season. Bryant is a four-year starter in the program and will be the team’s best perimeter shooter. He’s at his best when he is able to set his feet and be a spot-up shooter, and by moving him to the off-guard Huggins hopes to get him to improve on that 32.3% three point shooting. Bryant gets into trouble when he puts the ball on the floor and forces the issue. With Bryant, you want to see selective aggressiveness. He needs to know when to pick his spots. The point guard spot will be a battle between freshmen Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne. Hinds is probably the most highly-regarded member of this recruiting class. Another freshman, Aaron Brown, should also see time on the perimeter. West Virginia does have some talented pieces, but it is never easy to rely heavily on freshmen, especially in the Big East. The Mountaineers should be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth, but a lot of that will depend on how well this team can hit the defensive glass and what kind of play they get out of the point guard spot.

11. Seton Hall: Last season was supposed to be a big year for new head coach Kevin Willard, but due to a pair of life-threatening issues beyond his control — Jeremy Hazell was shot was while recovering from a broken hand and Herb Pope nearly died last summer when his heart stopped after a workout — SHU battled through yet another disappointing season. They finished the year 13-18 overall and 7-11 in the Big East, bowing out of the conference tournament in the first round to in-state rival Rutgers. Making matters more difficult, Seton Hall loses six players from last season’s rotation, including their two best scorers in Hazell and Jeremy Robinson.

This year’s team will be based around the front court, as Willard has a number of pieces at his disposal. It starts with Herb Pope, 6’8″ boulder of a power forward. Pope struggled last season as he fought to get back into shape after having his heart stop during a workout the previous summer. By the end of the year, he was starting to round back into form. It will be interesting to see what Pope can produce this season, as he averaged a double-double as a sophomore and will be asked to anchor a front line with a couple of talented youngsters on it. Freshman Kevin Johnson, a California native, is expected to compete for a spot in the starting lineup if he is cleared by the NCAA, although that is looking less and less likely. If he’s not, sophomore Patrick Auda showed some promise last season, as did classmate Aaron Geramipoor. Freshman Brandon Mobley will get minutes as well.

The back court will be headlined by Jordan Theodore, who has been one of the most underrated point guards in the conference throughout his career. Theodore is at his best when he is penetrating and creating, which will be all the more important for the Pirates this season. Seton Hall is a very good defensive team, but they struggled to score the ball last season and, as we mentioned, will be losing their top two scorers from that team. Theodore will have to become the go-to guy this season. Sophomore Fuquan Edwin will likely get to start in the back court again. He’s a solid defender with some size that will slot in nicely at the small forward spot. The rest of the perimeter rotation will be stocked with freshmen. Aaron Cosby and Haralds Karlis seem to have the upper hand in terms of earning the last starting spot on the perimeter. Both players were on campus all summer long. Freddie Wilson and Sean Grennan will also see time. Seton Hall has a young group supporting Pope and Theodore. This will be a rebuilding year for them, but Willard has a solid base for which to build on.

12. Rutgers: Mike Rice certainly has the Scarlet Knights pointed in the right direction. After Fred Hill’s ugly tenure came to a conclusion at the end of the 2009-2010, Rutgers opted to hire the fiery Robert Morris head coach, and it paid off. Rutgers, despite having a roster with a number of seniors on it, completely changed the feel of their program. While they were on the short-end of the talent stick seemingly every night in league play, this group competed. They defended, they battled on the glass and they earned quite a bit of respect from a number of folks around the league. It paid off in small doses as well, as RU took Syracuse to overtime on the road, knocked off Villanova on one of the most memorable plays of the season and then went on to beat rival Seton Hall in the first round of the Big East Tournament before losing to St. John’s in semi-controversial fashion.

Rutgers does graduate three starters from last year’s team, however, which will make the rebuilding process take just that much longer. The good news? Both Dane Miller and Gil Biruta are back. Biruta is a tough, physical 6’8″ post presence that can score and get on the glass. He was named newcomer of the year in the Big East last season and is the perfect player for a Mike Rice-coached team. The only issue he has is foul trouble. He was limited to just 22 mpg last season because he couldn’t stay on the floor. If he can solve those fouling issues, expect a big year from the Lithuanian. Miller should have won the Big East newcomer of the year award in 2010. He struggled a bit on the offensive end of the floor as a sophomore, but that Miller’s best attribute is his ability to defend. The 6’6″ small forward can make things happen defensively. Junior Austin Johnson is another big body that Rice can trot out there, but his front court depth took a major hit when Kadeem Jack, a freshman that was expected to start this season, broke his foot. He should be back by the middle of Big East play. A couple of other freshmen — Derrick Randall and Greg Lewis will provide Rice with front court depth.

The back court will be a bit more of an issue for Rutgers. Sophomores Mike Poole and Austin Carroll are the only two players that saw significant playing time that return. Carroll is one of the best perimeter shooters that Rice will have at his disposal while Poole, like Miller, is a small forward known more for his ability to defend than his ability to score. Rice does have quite a bit of talent entering the program, however. It starts with Myles Mack, a 5’9″ point guard out of St. Patrick’s that will have a chance to start immediately. He’s not the only newcomer that Rice will have in the back court, either, as freshmen Jerome Seagears, Malick Kone and Eli Carter both enter the program along with Texas Tech transfer Tyree Graham. The Scarlet Knights are on their way up as a program, but they are a couple of years away from truly competing in the league.

13. St. John’s: It didn’t take long for Steve Lavin to get the Johnnies back to the NCAA Tournament. Coaching a team that was made up of virtually all seniors, Lavin’s team put together one of the most impressive runs in the Big East last year. After a couple of embarrassing non-conference losses — to St. Bonaventure and Fordham — and a 1-5 stretch at the start Big East play, St. John’s used a blowout win over Duke at the Garden to spark a seven game Big East winning streak. It was enough to earn the Johnnies an at-large bid to the tournament. They lost their opening game, but that was partly due to DJ Kennedy blowing out his knee in the Big East Tournament.

The problem? St. John’s literally loses their entire team. Nine seniors graduated from last year’s team and Dwayne Polee transferred out of the program and into San Diego State. And while Lavin brought in one of the deepest and most talented recruiting classes in the country, he lost three of those freshmen — Amir Garrett, JaKarr Sampson, and Norvel Pelle — when they couldn’t get through the NCAA’s Clearinghouse. What that means is that St. John’s is left with a roster that consists of just eight scholarship players, only one of whom was a member of last season’s team.

There is some talent on the roster, however. Junior returner Malik Stith will team with high-scoring JuCo transfer Nurideen Lindsay to share the ball-handling duties while D’Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene will share minutes at the shooting guard spot. Sir’Dominic Pointer and Moe Harkless, who are probably the two most talented recruits that Lavin brought in, will man the forward spots while God’s Gift Achiuwa will be the team’s interior presence. With that much inexperience on the roster, its difficult to expect much out of St. John’s this year. But how much could we have expected out of this group if all nine newcomers were eligible? This was going to be a rebuilding year for St. John’s regardless of who is on the roster. The guys that did get cleared will be gaining experience while Lavin continues to flex his muscles on the recruiting trail. The future is still bright in Queens even if the chances of making noise this season are significantly slimmer.

14. South Florida: Once again, South Florida struggled to a disappointing finish in the Big East. Coming off of a year where the Bulls finished .500 in the league and made a run at earning an at-large bid, USF won just 10 games last season and went 3-15 in Big East play. They lost to Florida Atlantic and James Madison in non-conference play. Their only Big East wins? Against DePaul and Providence. Any progress that Stan Heath’s club made in 2010 completely went out the window last season.

This season, if the Bulls have any chance at competing in the Big East, its going to be the result of their front line playing well. Gus Gilchrist is one of the most talented big men in the league with the talent to be a major force in the league, the issue is whether or not he buys into the team concept. He was suspended for portions of last season due to “philosophical differences” with Heath. He won’t be alone on the front line, either. Kansas State transfer Ron Anderson, Arizona State transfer Victor Rudd and junior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick will all see minutes up front. There is also some talent on the perimeter. Shaun Noriega is one of the better shooters in the conference when he gets hot, Hugh Robertson had a couple big games last season and should fill in well until Jawanza Poland, the uber-athletic junior scoring guard, returns from a back injury that will keep him sidelined until December. The point guard spot will be a major question mark, however, as Juco transfer Blake Nash and freshman Anthony Collins will be competing for the starting spot. USF has some pieces this season, but they are the same pieces that struggled all year a season ago. If Gilchrist doesn’t correct his attitude and Poland doesn’t get back to 100%, it will be another long year in Tampa.

15. Providence: Keno Davis has a disastrous tenure with the Friars. On the court, his product stunk. His team scored points by the bucketful, but they couldn’t stop anyone defensively. When you’re playing in the powerhouse Big East, you have to be able to get stops when you need them. Off the court, the Friars may have been even worse. Davis couldn’t keep his players out of the police blotter, and the boosters and athletic department quickly soured on Davis. Just three years after being the hottest young coach in america, Davis lost his job at Providence. In steps Ed Cooley, who spent the last five years running the Fairfield program. Cooley, a Providence native, is tasked with rebuilding a school that doesn’t have 1-A football into the powerhouse they were during his high school days in the late 80’s.

That won’t be an easy, or a quick, task. Cooley will be completely remodeling a team that went 4-14 last season and loses a first round pick to the NBA Draft. There are some pieces at his disposal, however. Vincent Council can hang with any point guard in the conference, and his back-up — freshman Kiwi Gardner — is tiny but will be one of the most exciting players in the league. Sophomores Gerald Coleman and Bryce Cotton both had promising freshman campaigns, as did big man Kadeem Betts. He’ll join junior Bilal Dixon on the Friar frontline. This is an extremely young group — two junior, seven sophomores, three freshmen — that will have to learn a completely different system this year. Davis preached the run-and-gun; Cooley loves defense stalwarts. It will take a while for him to ingrain that mindset into a team that finished 150th in defensive efficiency last year. But with the youth on the roster, and with a loaded recruiting class on the way in 2012, the future is bright in Rhode Island. But that future may come at the expense of success this year.

16. DePaul: The Blue Demons struggled mightily during the 2010-2011 season, but that is no different than what we have come to expect out of the once-powerful DePaul program. The Blue Demons struggled mightily under head coach Jerry Wainwright, so its no surprise that those struggles continued under new head coach Oliver Purnell. Playing Purnell’s typical, full court style, DePaul showed some flashes of potential, battling with some of the better teams in the Big East — taking Villanova to overtime, losing by four at Louisville, losing by two to West Virginia. But its clear that Purnell’s team still has a way to go.

The good news is that he has built the foundation for a promising future. Sophomore Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, both Baltimore natives, led the team in scoring and were named to the league’s all-freshmen team. With point guard Jeremiah Kelly and big man Krys Faber both returning as well, there was reason for optimism heading into this season. But that was until DePaul started losing players by the handful. First, Shane Larkin decided not to enroll at DePaul and instead headed to Miami. Then freshman Macari Brooks was ruled ineligible for this season because he couldn’t get through the NCAA’s Clearinghouse. He’ll be available next year and have four seasons of eligibility. Tony Freeland, who started at small forward last year, will miss the year after undergoing surgery on his balky right shoulder and Montray Clemons suffered a patella injury while warming up for Midnight Madness. Purnell now will struggle to have enough bodies to go 5-on-5 in practice. Miami transfer Donnavan Kirk will provide a boost when he gets eligible in December, and freshmen Charles McKinney and Derrell Robertson will have an impact, but its going to be another long year for the Blue Demons. The good news? There was hope. And there still is for the future. Its just not happening this year.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Former Kentucky, Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton dies at 84

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Eddie Sutton was the first coach to take four different Division I schools to the NCAA tournament. He won more than 800 games in his illustrious head coaching career. He took two different programs to the Final Four, and in April, he was finally voted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

On Saturday, Sutton died in his home in South Tulsa, surrounded by his family.

He was 84 years.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft

Sutton is best known for the success he had at his alma mater, Oklahoma State. He spent 16 seasons with the Cowboys, going to 13 NCAA tournaments, six Sweet 16s and the Final Four in 1995 and 2004. The court in Gallagher-Iba Arena is named after him.

Sutton retired in 2006 following a car accident in which he was cited for driving under the influence. He had battled alcoholism.

“People today in our country know a lot more about alcoholism, but there’s still people that don’t know what the disease is, how it affects someone as a person,” Sutton said at a news conference when he retired. “It’s really slow suicide if you drink.”

His coaching career began in 1967, when he helped found the basketball program at the College of Southern Idaho. After five seasons at Creighton and 11 years at Arkansas — including a trip to the Final Four in 1978 — Sutton took over at Kentucky. But his tenure in the Bluegrass lasted just four years. He resigned after a report in the Los Angeles Daily News that a package shipped from former Kentucky assistant Dwane Casey to the father of Kentucky recruit Chris Mills contained $1,000.

Sutton always maintained his innocence, telling the Kansas City Star in 2011 that “it was a set-up,” but the scandal was a major reason it took him until this spring to get voted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

He will be inducted posthumously in August, along with Kobe Bryant.

Maryland man charged with attempted murder of Rhode Island commit

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ACCOKEEK, Md. — A high school football player designated as a star recruit for colleges by ESPN is accused of trying to kill his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend.

Luke Hill, 18, faces charges including attempted first-degree murder after allegedly firing gunshots that struck a home in Accokeek, Maryland, on Monday night, according to charging documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Hill, a defensive back who graduated from St. Frances Academy in Baltimore after withdrawing from St. John’s College High during his junior year, had committed to play at the University of Oregon, but Coach Mario Cristobal told The Oregonian that he was cut from their program this spring.

Prince George’s County Police redacted the name of the target, but ESPN reported that it was Ishmael Leggett, Hill’s former classmate at St. John’s. Leggett, a 6-foot-4 guard who has committed to play basketball this fall at the University of Rhode Island, wouldn’t comment to the Post, but his next coach expressed relief that the gunshots missed.

“I am aware of the situation with Ishmael Leggett and have been in contact with him and his family,” University of Rhode Island Basketball Coach David Cox told the Providence Journal. “Thankfully, he was not harmed, as his well-being is my primary concern.”

Responding police officers said the target told them he was playing basketball outside his house when someone inside a white car began shooting at him. The mother of the target told officers she heard gunshots and saw the white car as she was pulling into her driveway.

The target told officers that his girlfriend had gotten threatening calls from Hill about her current relationship, and that Hill was upset about a photo she posted on social media. Investigators questioned Hill and then obtained a search warrant for his house in Temple Hills, Maryland, where they found a handgun matching the caliber of a casing at the shooting scene, charging documents said.

2020 NBA Mock Draft 2.0: Where will Obi Toppin get picked?

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Here is an updated 2020 NBA mock draft. Who are the best 2020 NBA Draft prospects?

One thing that needs to be mentioned before we get into the meat of this 2020 NBA mock draft is that the only thing certain about the draft is that, eventually, it is going to happen.

When will the 2020 NBA Draft happen? Right now it is scheduled for June 25th, but that seems likely to change at some point. We can’t hold the draft until we have a draft order, and we won’t have a draft order until the NBA season finishes. If you haven’t noticed, it seems pretty unlikely that the NBA will start again until at least May.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft 1.0

There are also questions about the way the pre-draft process will play out. Prospects will not be flying around the country to participate in workouts. They will not be going from team-to-team to conduct interviews. It seems unlikely that there is going to be a combine in mid-May, if at all. There is a real feeling amongst NBA teams that they have scouted these prospects in person for the last time.

What does that mean for the players that have declared, or will declare in the coming days and weeks?

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Well, they won’t be able to convince teams that they were capable of doing things that they weren’t allowed to do within the confines of their college team. They won’t be able to spend eight weeks doing nothing but perfecting a three-point shot to look good at the combine or during workouts. They won’t be able to show out during the NCAA tournament and turn themselves into a first round pick.

This is all new and unprecedented.

So with that in mind, a couple programming notes:

First and foremost, I am not projecting which teams will be picking in specific slots. There are just far too many question marks about right now, particularly when you consider that the NBA changed the way their lottery works this season. So for now, this is just a ranking of who I believe are the best available players.

Secondly, I don’t know that I’m actually an expert on anything, but I’m certainly not an expert on European hoops. So for now, this is less a 2020 NBA Mock Draft and more a power ranking of the best prospects in the NCAA with LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton sprinkled in. I’m sure Deni Avdija is awesome. Until he plays in the EYBL, I won’t have any feel for what he can do beyond watching the same YouTube videos you watch.

Hey, at least I’m being honest about it.

So without further ado, here is the NBC Sports 2020 NBA Mock Draft.



2020 NBA MOCK DRAFT

1. ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia, SG

Details: 18 years old, 6-foot-4, 225 lbs
Key Stats: 19.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 40% FG, 29% 3PT

Edwards is the best scorer in this 2020 NBA Mock Draft. At 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and explosive athleticism, he’s proven himself to be a dangerous three-level bucket-getter that can get hot and do things like score 33 points in a half. Ask Michigan State. He also has the physical profile of a guard that can defend two or three different positions in the NBA. It’s all there.

But Edwards is still learning how to play and how to be consistent. Far too often he settled for deep, contested threes. They looked great when he hit a couple in a row, but he shot 29 percent from three as a freshman. That speaks for itself, although part of that inefficiency absolutely stems from the load he was asked to carry. Edwards was not getting too many easy looks created for him.

There are also too many stretches where he looks disengaged in the game, whether it’s due to his lack of focus on the defensive end of his passivity offensively. He’s developed a reputation dating all the way back to his high school days for being a guy that starts slow and puts up huge second half numbers in a losing effort.

2. LAMELO BALL, Australia

Details: 18 years old, 6-foot-7, 180 lbs
Key Stats: 17 ppg, 7 apg, 7.5 rpg

I know what you’re going to think when you hear LaMelo Ball’s name. The reaction is going to be you thinking back to the little 5-foot-11 kid with braces and a blonde mohawk launching shots from halfcourt and cherry-picking against overmatched competition to try and get to 100 points in a game. You’re going to immediately think of all the things you hated about Lavar Ball, and I get it.

But Melo grew up. He’s not just the baby brother anymore. He’s now a 6-foot-7 lead guard that has all of the tools that would lead you to believe that he can be a star feature guard in the NBA. He’s a terrific passer that can make every read you want a point guard to make out of ball-screens with either hand, and he has the size to see those passes over the defense. His feel for the game and basketball IQ are elite. He’s been an inconsistent and inefficient shooter throughout his career, but he’s always been a good free throw shooter and while he certainly needs to tweak his mechanics, some of those low percentages can be explained away by the degree of difficulty of the shots he is taking.

Which leads me to what may be the most important point here: Not only is Melo one of the youngest players in this draft, he is also a late-bloomer. He’s still growing into his frame, and while I doubt he’s ever be on par with someone like Russell Westbrook, he’s definitely going to get stronger and more athletic as he matures physically and gets into an NBA strength training program. When that happens, it should help his explosiveness and ability to handle physicality. There are risks here, but I don’t think it’s crazy to say he has the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft class.

The bigger issue is the off-the-court stuff. He has a reputation, fairly or unfairly, of being a lazy defender with a lacking work ethic. Teams picking at the top of the draft will have to do their due diligence. He may have a high ceiling, but there’s also some bust potential at play. If it all works out, he could end up being the second-coming of Luka Doncic.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft 1.0

3. JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis

Details: 19 years old, 7-foot-1, 240 pounds
Key Stats: 19.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.0 bpg

Wiseman has all the physical tools that you want out of a five in the modern NBA. He’s 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, an exceptional athlete that can really get up and down the floor and finish above the rim. He has all the tools to be a rim protector that can guard in ball-screens and switch on the perimeter if needed. He’s not Dirk Nowitzki but he’s not Clint Capela, either — he’s shown some flashes of being capable on the perimeter.

The red flags with Wiseman are two-fold. For starters, his competitiveness has been questioned throughout his career. He hasn’t always controlled games the way someone his size should be able to. He isn’t as tough or as physical as some would like, and he seems to have a habit of trying to prove that he can play away from the basket instead of overpowering anyone that gets between him and the rim. None of these concerns were helped by his decision to quit on his Memphis team in December, halfway through a suspension for break (admittedly silly) NCAA rules.

My gut feeling on Wiseman is that if he decided he wanted to be, say, the next Myles Turner, he could end up one of the eight-to-ten best centers in the NBA. If he decides that he wants to be the next Giannis, I don’t think it will go as well.

4. OBI TOPPIN, Dayton

Details: 22 years old, 6-foot-9, 220 lbs
Key Stats: 20.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 bpg, 1.0 bpg, 63% FG, 39% 3PT

Toppin is one of three guys in this draft that, if I were an NBA GM, I would want to definitively be higher than the field on, and the reason for that is two-fold: On the one hand, Toppin is one of just a handful of players in this 2020 NBA Mock Draft that I believe can make a significant impact in the NBA as a rookie, and given that the top of this draft class is made up of players that are going to be drafted on their potential without having the upside of being a franchise-changing talent, I think there is value in drafting a guy with a rock-solid floor.

The reason that Toppin’s floor is so high is because of how well he fits as a role player at the next level. Anthony Grant’s offense at Dayton was as close to a modern NBA scheme as you are going to find in the college game, and the reason he is able to play that way has everything to do with Toppin’s skill set. At 6-foot-9, he’s an explosive leaper that is versatile offensively — he can hit a three, he can score off the bounce, he has a pretty good feel for the game, he’s a capable and willing passer. He also has the size and physical tools where it is conceivable that he can play the four or the five in small-ball lineups, although he’ll need some development here; he has high hips and a slender waist which casts some doubt on how well he’ll be able to put on weight and how well he can sit in a stance and guard on the perimeter. And while there is some value in being capable of guarding fours or fives, there are some valid questions about whether or not he’ll be above average guarding either.

I do think that will come with time spent in the right NBA strength and conditioning program, and the fact that he’s a late-bloomer that was just 6-foot-2 as a high school junior is relevant here as well.

I broke down why Toppin is such a good fit for Dayton’s offense last month, and all of that applies to why he’ll be such a good fit at the next level as well:

5. ONYEKA OKONGWU, USC

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-9, 245 lbs
Key Stats: 16.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 1.2 spg, 72% FT

For me, the intrigue with Okongwu is pretty simple. He is a 6-foot-9 five that is an explosive athlete with an already-sturdy frame. He produced at the college level, both as a scorer, a rebounder and a rim protector, and has shown some pretty solid post moves for a 19-year old. He can defend the rim. He’s athletic enough that being a switchable five seems like his floor. He has a soft touch around the basket, and while he’s shooting just 15-for-35 on jumpers this season, according to Synergy, he’s 9-for-19 on jumpers inside 17 feet and shooting 72 percent from the free throw line on 143 free throws.

Worst-case scenario, Okongwu turns into an off-the-bench big that provides energy, rebounding and defense. If the jumper — and, especially, the passing — comes along, he can be much more than that.

6. ISAAC OKORO, Auburn

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-6, 225 lbs
Key Stats: 12.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, 29% 3PT

Okoro is another guy that I would want to be higher than consensus on, because I think he has a chance to be a really good starter on an NBA team for the next 12 years. I’m not sure there is anything more valuable in the modern NBA than a wing that is a multi-positional defender, that can guard in space and that is capable of creating against a close out or in isolation, but I am sure that there is no one in this 2020 NBA Mock Draft that better fits that role than Okoro.

I don’t think it’s crazy to say that Okoro was the best perimeter defender in college basketball this season. He can guard up, he can guard down, he can move his feet, he’s already built like a pro, he’s shown the ability to block shots as a help-side defender. It’s what he hangs his hat on. But he’s also proven to be particularly adept off the dribble, where he’s a nightmare to stop once he gets a step. He can finish above the rim, but perhaps his most underrated skill is his ability to read defenses and pass the ball. He definitely is a capable and willing playmaker.

The one question mark is the shooting, but in conversations I’ve had with people that know Isaac, both at the collegiate and high school levels, the consensus is that he’s a worker. He’ll put in the hours that he needs to in order to make himself a threat from three.

Here’s a breakdown from January:

7. TYRESE HALIBURTON, Iowa State

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-5, 175 lbs
Key Stats: 15.2 ppg, 6.5 apg, 5.9 rpg, 41.9% 3PT

Haliburton’s numbers jump off the page. At 6-foot-5, he’s a lead guard with terrific vision that can throw every pass a point guard is going to be asked to make. He’s an excellent three-point shooter that has positional size and has shown himself to be, at the very least, adequate as an on- and off-ball defender. He was the best player on the floor for Team USA at the U-19 World Championships over the summer. All of that adds up.

If there is a concern with Haliburton, it’s his physical tools. He’s not an explosive athlete and, at 175 pounds, there are valid concerns about how well he is going to handle the rigors of getting to the rim in the NBA. He also has a slow, funky release on his jumper — think Shawn Marion. Will he be able to get that shot off at the next level?

I’m high on Haliburton because, after seeing the way that elite passers like Luka Doncic, Ja Morant and Trae Young have thrived early in their NBA career, I’m willing to take the risk on a 6-foot-5 point guard that can make those passes in a year where the opportunity of rolling the dice at the top is relatively low.

8. COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-3, 190 lbs
Key Stats: 18.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.0 apg, 35% 3PT

I’m torn on Cole as a prospect. On the one hand, I love everything about the way he is wired. He’s tough, confident and competitive, the ultimate alpha. He’s a worker that will put in the hours in the gym. Given the way he grew up, he’s not going to be intimidated by anything. In an era where draft prospects are quitting their teams, what they call “shutting it down”, midseason once they’ve earned a spot near the top of the lottery, Cole fought back from a knee injury that required surgery to get back on the court and fight with his team despite the fact that they really don’t have much left to play for during the season.

I respect that. If I’m an NBA GM, I want players wired that way.

The problem with Cole is the way that he plays. He’s tough and athletic, but given his average height and length, he’s more or less going to have to guard point guards at the next level. I’m not sure he’s quite good enough to be the guy in the NBA that he has been throughout his career. He plays like Russell Westbrook, a hyper-kinetic athlete that is a streaky, sometimes inefficient shooter with a limited passing range that has a habit of dribbling the air out of the ball and shooting his team out of games on off nights. He’ll be 20 years old by the time he’s drafted. How much more room is there for him to change?

What I will say is this: Anthony did become a better passer later in the season, as he gained more confidence in his teammates and after he went through a stretch where he was shooting the Tar Heels out of games. That’s a good sign, but I still have my doubts.

NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES

9. TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-3, 198 pounds
Key Stats: 14.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 29% 3PT

Taking a risk on Maxey this high in the 2020 NBA Mock Draft means betting on the fact that his 29 percent three-point shooting as a freshman has more to do with adjusting to the college level than it does his actual shooting ability. Coming through high school, Maxey had the reputation for being a big-time scorer because of his ability to make deep jumpers off the bounce and because of the way that he can finish around the rim with a variety of floaters and layups.

And while he would show flashes of being the dominant scorer Kentucky needed him to be, the Wildcats late-season surge was a direct result of Immanuel Quickley’s improvement, not Maxey finding consistency. We spent the entire season saying “just wait until Maxey finds his stroke” and he never really did. He needs to be able to make that shot because the rest of his game is somewhat limited. He’s not a natural creator, he’s wired to score more than anything else, and he certainly isn’t an elite athlete by NBA combo-guard standards, although he is a pretty good on-ball defender. He’s also a worker, and by all accounts a great kid and competitor. I think there’s a real chance his ceiling is as a second-unit scorer, but if it all comes together I can see him putting together a career on par with Lou Williams.

10. SADDIQ BEY, Villanova

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-8, 216 lbs
Key Stats: 16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.4 apg, 45% 3PT
Full Scouting Report

Saddiq Bey is the third guy that I would want to be higher than anyone on, because I think that he has a chance to be one of the best players to come out of this 2020 NBA Mock Draft. Bey is something of a late-bloomer. He’s was a 6-foot-1 guard when he was a sophomore, and according to the Villanova coaching staff, he has actually grown an inch or two since he arrived on campus. He’s listed at 6-foot-8 and may be closer to 6-foot-9 by the time it’s all said and done.

Bey’s shooting ability speaks for itself. He hit 45 percent of his threes while shooting more than five per game, and he finished in the 98th percentile nationally in spot-up shooting, according to Synergy. He has shown some playmaking ability, and while he’s not much of an off-the-dribble shooter at this point in his development, he is capable of playing as the handler in ball-screen actions. Most importantly, as we have seen with the wings that have come out of the Villanova program of late, they just know how to play. You won’t see the floor there if you don’t, and given the fact that Bey was asked to be the do-it-all point guard on his high school team, he has experience being more than just a scorer.

But the thing that has really stood out about Bey since he arrived on the Main Line is his ability to defend. He’s the best defender in the program, and while Villanova has not always been known for how they guard, they were the second-best defensive team in the Big East behind Seton Hall, who was a top-eight defense nationally. They’ve put him on lightening quick point guards like Devon Dotson and Kamar Baldwin, and Villanova’s tendency to switch means that Bey has spent plenty of time guarding bigs as well.

So what we have here is a multi-positional defender that shoots the cover off the ball and can be a playmaker off the bounce. I think he’s just as good of a prospect as Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Josh Hart, and all four of those guys have turned into players that will last in the NBA for a while. Bey is next in line.

11. R.J. HAMPTON, Australia

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-5, 188 lbs
Key Stats: 9.5 ppg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 spg, 31.7% 3PT

Hampton is a kid that has quite a bit of potential, but he’ll need time to develop at the next level. He’s a 6-foot-5 guard that can play on or off the ball, but needs to continue to develop his ball-handling and his perimeter jumper to be able to do either at the NBA level. He has the length, quickness and athleticism to be able to defend either backcourt spot in time, but he is something of a late-bloomer that needs to put on some weight and strength. He’ll try defensively, too, but he needs to be coached up. Again, that will come with time.

The biggest concern I have with Hampton — who played this past season in Australia — is that I’m not sure if he has an elite skill yet.

12. DEVIN VASSELL, Florida State

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-6, 180 lbs
Key Stats: 12.7 ppg, 1.4 spg, 1.0 bpg, 42% 3PT

Vassell was one of the breakout stars of the ACC, leading a good Florida State team in scoring and doubles as their best three-point shooter. He’s got the size and the length to be a good defender at the NBA level, and he’s proven to be a playmaker on that end of the floor — he averaged 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks. Playing for Leonard Hamilton, you can be sure he got plenty of reps switching defensively and guarding bigger and smaller players. He’s not much of a playmaker on the offensive end, and at 180 pounds, he definitely needs to add some weight to his frame. But he’s precisely what you look for as a 3-and-D wing. In a 2020 NBA Mock Draft where it’s hard to find sure things, Vassell, on paper, seems to be as close to a known quantity as you are going to get in this range.

13. PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-9, 225 lbs
Key Stats: 15.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 1.1 spg, 33% 3PT

The biggest question mark for me when it comes to Achiuwa is whether or not he is going embrace what he actually is. For my money, he’s something of a poor man’s Bam Adebayo, a big man that can be used at the four and, ideally, as a small-ball five. He plays hard, he has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and he’s proven himself as a rebounder. He also has some perimeter skill, and he did make some threes this season. There’s a market for that in the NBA, and it’s a role Achiuwa should be able to thrive in.

But is that what he wants to be? Or does he think that he’s a three? The potential is there for Achiuwa to be effective as a face-up forward against bigger, slower centers. I’m not sure the same can be said for him as a three. Remember, Achiuwa will turn 21 years old before he plays in his first NBA game. He was a freshman this season and he is just two months younger than Kaleb Wesson, who was a junior. If Achiuwa embraces who he is, he has a long and profitable basketball career in front of him.

14. NICO MANNION, Arizona

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-3, 190 lbs
Key Stats: 14.0 ppg, 5.3 apg, 33% 3PT

I’m not sure whether or not Mannion will actually get drafted this high, but I’m willing to rank him this high because of what his floor is in a draft where there are a number of prospects that could end up being total busts. To me, Mannion has the same kind of prospect profile as the likes of Jalen Brunson, or Fred VanVleet, or T.J. McConnell, or Ryan Arcidiacono. He’s a guy that, at worst, will spend a decade playing in the NBA as a backup point guard because of his basketball IQ, his ability to makes shots and the fact that he can operate in a pick-and-roll.

My concern with drafting him this high is that he doesn’t really have an NBA skill. He’s a good athlete but not a great athlete, and that isn’t helped by the fact that his wingspan is reportedly 6-foot-2.5. He’s not great at beating defenders off the dribble in the halfcourt, which is a problem for an NBA point guard. He’s a good shooter but he’s not a great shooter. He’s a high-level passer but he’s not Trae Young or Luka Doncic. He tries defensively but he just doesn’t have the physical tools to be a lockdown defender. I’m just not sure what he does that truly sets him apart, and the fact that he was the leader of an Arizona team that kept losing games they shouldn’t lose is concerning.

15. AARON NESMITH, Vanderbilt

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-6, 213 lbs
Key Stats: 23 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 52.2% 3PT, 8.2 3PAs

Again, this one is pretty simple for me. Nesmith is a 6-foot-6 wing with a 6-foot-10 wingspan that was shooting a ridiculous 52.2% from three while taking more than eight threes per game before suffering a foot injury that ended his season. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he was one of the most improved players in the country before he got hurt. I’m willing to take a bet on a guard with those measureables when he’s a hard enough worker to go from 33.7 percent shooting as a freshman to this. That’s the kind of leap that Buddy Hield made heading into his senior season. Nesmith is just a sophomore.

That said, Hield won at a significantly higher clip than Nesmith did, and Hield did it against Big 12 competition. Nesmith’s season was cut short before he really got into the teeth of SEC play. But I’d be willing to roll the dice on his shooting carrying him to a role in the league.

16. ISAIAH STEWART, Washington

Details: 18 years old, 6-foot-9, 250 lbs
Key Stats: 17.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 77% FT

What you see is what you get with Stewart. He’s a tireless rebounder that, at 250 pounds of solid muscle, is ready to compete in the paint against NBA bigs right now. He’s a good post scorer that has shown some glimpses of being able to make threes — the Washington staff will tell you he’s lights out in practice. That’s the good. The bad is that he is an undersized center at 6-foot-9 that doesn’t have the length or explosiveness to be able to protect the rim at the NBA level, and while he’ll put in the effort to guard on the perimeter, he has never really shown that ability. Playing in that Washington zone hasn’t helped quell those concerns, either. He’s tough, he has a motor, he’s really good at the things that he does well, but if he’s not going to protect the rim or guard on the perimeter, where does he fit in the modern NBA?

I also think Stewart is the kind of guy that will be hurt by the fact that there won’t be any workouts. He’s an impressive interview that could show off his shooting and, at least in theory, prove what he can do defensively.

17. PATRICK WILLIAMS, Florida State

Details: 18 years old, 6-foot-8, 225 lbs
Key Stats: 9.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 32% 3PT

The numbers look fairly pedestrian, admittedly, but putting them in context is important: Williams was coming off the bench for a Florida State team that goes 11 deep and gives everyone pretty equal minutes. No one ever puts up huge numbers in a Leonard Hamilton program. What they do is incubate players that project as role guys in the league. At 6-foot-8, Williams is a terrific athlete and a burgeoning defender and that can protect the rim and guard out on the perimeter when needed. And while the shooting stroke was somewhat inconsistent this past season, the potential is there — he did shoot 84 percent from three this year.

18. JADEN MCDANIELS, Washington

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-10, 200 lbs
Key Stats: 13.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.4 bpg, 34% 3PT

On the one hand, it is very easy to see why McDaniels is such a tantalizing prospect. Players with his size and his length aren’t supposed to be able to do the things that he does on the perimeter. He has impressive handle, he can knock down tough perimeter jumpers and every once in a while he will do something during a game that will make it to the House of Highlights page. His ‘wow’ moments pop.

On the other hand, McDaniels is 200 pounds soaking wet with slender shoulders and skinny legs. He hasn’t handled contact all that well this season, and he is not all that explosive of an athlete. And during Pac-12 play, all of the red flags came to the forefront. Emotional outbursts led to far too many technical fouls. He led the Pac-12 in fouls and turnovers. He averaged just 11 points during conference play. He was benched for the last ten games, and Washington wasn’t definitively better with him on the floor.

He’s a lottery ticket in this 2020 NBA mock draft.

19. JALEN SMITH, Maryland

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-10, 225 lbs
Key Stats: 15.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 37 3PT%

Stix Smith was one of the best players in college basketball over the course of the last month. He’s a pogo-stick athletically that stsrted to make threes on a consistent basis. I’m worried about his frame — he checks in at 225 pounds, but looks like he’s closer to 200 pounds — and I’m not sure how much of a weapon he is offensively beyond being a spot-up shooter. Defensively, he can protect the rim, but will that translate to the NBA, where every five he goes up against will have 20 pounds on him? And while he is a terrific athlete, he plays stiff and upright. I’m not sure how well he will use that athleticism without a runway for takeoff.

All that said, over the course of the last eight weeks of the season, Smith’s potential turned into production. It was the biggest reason Maryland looked like one of the best teams in the country down the stretch. I’m willing to bet on him at the back end of the first round.

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20. TRE JONES, Duke

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-3, 185 lbs
Key Stats: 16.2 ppg, 6.4 apg, 1.8 spg, 36.1% 3PT

Jones is a really good passer, a terrific defender and the kind of point guard that checks all the cliche boxes about being a winner, a leader and a facilitator. He was the ACC Player of the Year and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. His box score numbers were impressive, and his impact on basketball games goes well beyond the box score.

But more importantly, his jump shot showed real, tangible improvement. Jones made 36 percent of his threes and shot four of them per night. In catch-and-shoot situations, he made 40 percent of his jumpers and hit them at a 1.18 points-per-possession clip (or a 59% eFG, which was in the 82nd percentile nationally). His pull-up game isn’t there yet, but if he went from being a guy that teams flat-out did not guard beyond 12 feet as a freshman to a 36 percent shooter as a sophomore, whose to say his pull-up game won’t be next?

If Jones never gets any better, if this is who he is for the rest of his basketball career, he’s a backup point guard in the league until he doesn’t want to play anymore. If he continues to develop his shot, however, he could end up being a starting point guard. I find it hard to believe this kid isn’t going to keep getting better. In a draft like this, that’s great value this late.

21. JAHMI’US RAMSEY, Texas Tech

Details: 18 years old, 6-foot-4, 195 lbs
Key Stats: 15.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 43% 3PT

I’ve gone through stages with Ramsey. I loved him in high school. I was frustrated by him early on in his college career, as Texas Tech worked through figuring out what the best way to use him is. What they’ve settled on is as a scorer and an elite shot-maker. The big red flag for me is that I expected Ramsey to play the Jarrett Culver-Keenan Evans role for Texas Tech, but he’s not that guy because he is not on their level at creating out of ball-screens or as a passer. Since he is only 6-foot-4, that’s something to monitor in the longterm.

But he’s a bouncy athlete that can play in transition, shoots the cover off of the ball and should be able to attack closeouts. The two major question marks are on the defensive end of the floor and shooting off of the dribble, but those are things that can be improved with time. He’s not the player that I thought he would be, but he’s still good enough that using a top 25 pick on him makes sense.

22. KIRA LEWIS Jr., Alabama

Details: 18 years old, 6-foot-3, 165 lbs
Key Stats: 18.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 4.8 rpg, 1.7 spg, 37% 3PT

Lewis checks a lot of boxes. He’s young for a sophomore — he enrolled at Alabama as a 17-year old and won’t turn 19 until April — and he put up huge numbers for an Alabama team that is built to run, run, run and shoot nothing but threes and layups. He also shot 37 percent from three for the second consecutive season. He’s slender, he’s turnover prone and part of the reason he produced as much as he did this season was because of the pace that Alabama played at. He’s worth a first round pick, especially considering his age.

23. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Details: 22 years old, 6-foot-1, 185 lbs
Key Stats: 18.6 ppg, 5.9 apg, 43% 3PT

Winston did not have the season many of us expected him to have as a senior — understandably, given the death of his brother in November — but he still put up All-American numbers for a team that won a share of the Big Ten regular season title. He was playing his best basketball down the stretch, and he still have the highest basketball IQ of anyone in this 2020 NBA mock draft. He’s an elite passer and shooter that thrives in ball-screens. Yes, the defense and athleticism are concerns, but we said the same thing about numerous point guards that have made careers out of being backup point guards. Winston is the next in that pipeline.

24. JOSH GREEN, Arizona

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-6, 210 lbs
Key Stats: 12.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 36% 3PT

Green is a consistent jumper away from being a guy that can stick in the league as a role player for a decade. He’s really athletic, he’s terrific in transition and he’s a willing defender that gives effort. He can be coached up on that end. But he was limited as a scorer in the half court — 1.19 PPP in transition vs. 0.825 in the half court — and part of that is due to the fact that he shot just 33.3 percent on jumpers in half court offense.

25. VERNON CAREY, Duke

Details: 18 years old, 6-foot-10, 250 lbs
Key Stats: 17.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 38% 3PT

Carey has proven himself as a terrific low-post scorer and has actually shown off a nice touch from the perimeter. He is left-hand dominant, but that’s something that can be worked on. To be frank, I’m not really all that concerned about the offensive side of the ball with Carey. The biggest issue for Carey is that he is not all that explosive and he is not all that quick, even with the weight he shed during the offseason. He’s struggled in ball-screen coverages and he does not profile as a rim protector at the NBA level. If you can’t guard the rim and you can’t guard ball-screens, where do you fit defensively in the NBA?

26. XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State

Details: 21 years old, 6-foot-8, 245 lbs
Key Stats: 13.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.1 bpg, 1.2 spg

I may be out on a limb here, but I truly believe that Tillman is worth a first round pick, especially in this year’s draft class. There’s really two reasons for this: For starters, he is a terrific passer. No one in college basketball is better than making the right play in a 4-on-3 scenario when the defense traps a pick-and-roll ball-handler than Tillman. But he is also an excellent defender that can really read the game. Talk to people around the Michigan State program and they’ll tell you he ran everything defensively. It was his voice that teammates heard. Now, the major question mark is his size. At just 6-foot-8, can he defend fives? Is he quick enough to play the four? If we knew for a fact that the answer to both of those questions would be ‘yes, and he can do it very well,’ I would have him slotted as a top 20 pick.

27. DANIEL OTURU, Minnesota

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-10, 240 lbs
Key Stats: 20.1 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 2.5 bpg, 37% 3PT

In a league where seemingly every team had a dominant interior player, Daniel Oturu has been arguably the best two-way center in the Big Ten. The numbers that he put up speak for themselves. He was one of the most improved players in the country. He doesn’t have the greatest feel for the game, and he’s something of a blackhole when he does get the ball in his hands, but he has shown off a bit of three-point range and is actually able to put the ball on the floor and make things happen off the bounce. I think his fit as a five in the NBA is better than some of the bigs slotted in front of him.

28. ZEKE NNAJI, Arizona

Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-11, 240 lbs
Key Stats: 16.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 0.9 bpg

Nnaji is the most explosive big in this 2020 NBA mock draft class. He’s really, really athletic, and his second jump is something to behold. His production speaks for itself, even if some of it has to due with Arizona’s pace and the play of Nico Mannion. That said, I’m down on Nnaji compared to the rest of the field because I think that he’s somewhat limited defensively. He has a tendency for getting lost guarding ball-screens and he is not a very good rim protector. Can those things be coached up enough to make him worth being picked over the likes of Daniel Oturu, Isaiah Stewart or Jalen Smith?

29. DEVON DOTSON, Kansas

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-1, 185 lbs
Key Stats: 18.1 ppg, 4.0 apg, 4.1 rpg, 2.3 spg, 31% 3PT

At some point it just becomes impossible to ignore the production. Dotson averaged 18-4-4 for the best team in college basketball, showcasing the ability to get to the rim almost at will while playing tough, aggressive on-ball defense for the best defensive team in the sport. There are some concerns — he’s very right hand-dominant, he shot 31 percent from three, he’s not physically imposing — but he’s worth a flier in this draft class.

30. UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

Details: 20 years old, 7-foot, 250 lbs
Key Stats:13.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 75% FG, 44% FT

I don’t think that it’s crazy to say that Doke helped his professional outlook more than any player in college basketball this season. He was the most dominant defensive force in the sport. His ability to control the paint was unmatched, but he shed enough weight and improved his footspeed enough that he was able to shutdown pick-and-roll actions playing drop coverage, something we are seeing more of in the NBA.

The big question is if he is quick enough to be able to do that at the professional level as well, because he is never going to be a threat to do anything offensively more than four feet away from the rim and he’ll always be a Hack-a-Doke risk given his free throw shooting.

But a year ago, I would have said there was no chance that Azubuike could play in the NBA. None. And now I think that he’ll be an effective piece for a team that is creative in the way they use him in certain matchups.

31. CASSIUS STANLEY, Duke

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-6, 193 lbs
Key Stats: 12.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 36% 3PT

Stanley is one of the most explosive athletes in this draft class. He’s a guy that projects as a plus-defender as a result. If you assume that his 36 percent three-point shooting is for real, he’s a solid 3-and-D wing prospect that could find a way onto a roster. His shooting mechanics are a little funky, and he was flat-out bad shooting off the dribble, but he was in the 87th percentile nationally on all jump shots at 1.099 PPP and the 93rd percentile nationally on catch-and-shoot jumpers at 1.312 PPP, according to Synergy.

32. YVES PONS, Tennessee

Details: 21 years old, 6-foot-6, 215 lbs
Key Stats: 10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 35% 3PT

Pons is the best athlete and the best defender in this entire 2020 NBA mock draft class. You often hear things like “he can guard all five positions” which tends to be an exaggeration. Not for Pons. He can, quite literally, guard any point guard, any center and anyone in between. He can play the four, and at times even the five, in small-ball lineups in the NBA to great effect. What makes him even more intriguing is that he shot 42 percent on unguarded catch-and-shoot threes. I think this is the most important number when it comes to his three-point shooting, because these are the face-up, step-in threes that he’ll be shooting at the next level.

The thing about Pons is that he played the three as a sophomore. As a junior, he was Tennessee’s four, which meant that instead of coming off of screens to get a shot, he was stepping into them as a trailing big or catching and shooting as a floor-spacer. This is the role he would play in the league.

Put it all together, and I’ll buy on a player that has an elite NBA skill with the potential to fill out his game to be effective in a role.

33. PAUL REED, DePaul

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-9, 220 lbs
Key Stats: 15.1 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 1.9 spg

Here’s what you need to know about Paul Reed right now: Since Shane Battier left school in 2001, there have been two high-major players that have averaged at least 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals in the same season: Matisse Thybulle and Nerlens Noel. Noel is the only other high-major player to average 1.9 steals and 2,5 blocks. While Reed is shooting just 16-for-52 from three this season, he shot 40.5 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore and has been a 75 percent free throw shooter the last two years. Size, length, athleticism, defensive playmaking, defensive versatility and a shot at being a shooter, too? I’m in, even with DePaul’s late-season swoon.

34. AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-5, 185 lbs
Key Stats: 16.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 30% 3PT

Dosunmu is a tough player to project. On the one hand, he has all the physical tools to be a capable combo-guard in the NBA, and he proved himself as a slasher and clutch-shot maker as a sophomore. On the other hand, in a year where he was trying to prove to NBA scouts that he can be a consistent three-point shooter, his numbers dipped from 35 percent to under 30 percent. He has a reputation for being a worker and a good locker room guy, and given his ability to defend both backcourt positions, I certainly think it’s reasonable to bet on him getting better as a shooter in the second round.

35. MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State

Details: 21 years old, 6-foot-1, 185 lbs
Key Stats: 17.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.5 rpg, 37% 3PT

Flynn is in a tough spot. On the one hand, he just finished his fourth season in college by having an All-American campaign while leading the Aztecs to a 30-2 record and the brink of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. He turns 22 in May. It makes sense for him to leave now, striking while the iron is hot.

But just how hot is that iron, so to speak? Flynn is a plus-shooter that shines in ball-screens and thrived in an offense that was built entirely around his ability to do those two things. But he’s 6-foot-1, somewhat limited physically and looking at being a preseason first-team All-American if he returns to school.

At this point, I think that he is what he is as a player — a career NBA backup with a chance to get a couple of contracts in the NBA doing just that.

36. JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

Details: 21 years old, 6-foot-7, 225 lbs
Key Stats: 18.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 40.2% 3PT

Nwora has the size, the length and the shooting ability to make it as a wing in the NBA. He’s a better leaper than he gets credit for because of his reputation for being a subpar athlete, but where that lacking athleticism is seen functionally is in his ability to defend. He’s not that quick laterally, and that’s a concern for a guy that will theoretically be twos and threes in the NBA.

37. GRANT RILLER, Charleston

Details: 23 years old, 6-foot-3, 190 lbs
Key Stats: 21.9 ppg, 3.9 apg, 36% 3PT

Riller is just a bucket-getter. He’s crafty off the bounce, he can finish around the basket and he is a capable three-point shooter. He also has positional size to play lead guard in the NBA. What’s the downside of drafting him in the second round and seeing what he develops into?

38. MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

Details: 23 years old, 6-foot-9, 224 lbs
Key Stats: 13.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 36.4% 3PT

Diakite is 23 years old, he’s not overly physical, he has never been a great rebounder and he’s a better rim protector in theory than in practice, so I get it. But also understand that he has been Virginia’s best three-point shooter this season, the guy that was used in actions that Tony Bennett ran for Kyle Guy last year, and he’s a 6-foot-9 switchable four. I’ll forever be on the Mamadi bandwagon.

39. KALEB WESSON, Ohio State

Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-9, 250 lbs
Key Stats: 14.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.9 apg, 42.5% 3PT

Wesson is the guy that was helped the most by testing the waters of the NBA draft last year. He shed some weight, he’s gotten much better as a defender in ball-screen actions and he’s still a bully on the block that can really pass and knockdown threes. He’s got a shot to stick.

40. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

Details: 22 years old, 6-foot-1, 195 lbs
Key Stats: 21.0 ppg, 2.9 apg, 30.6% 3PT

Powell’s efficiency numbers were way down this year, but he has dealt with some injuries. I’m mostly buying on him the way I bought on Carsen Edwards — whose efficiency suffered before exploding in the NCAA tournament — last season. He’s tough as nails, he can shoot off the dribble or off the catch, and he’ll put in the effort defensively.

College Basketball Preseason Top 25

college basketball preseason top 25
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Today, we are unveiling the NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25.

As always, there are plenty of caveats here.

For starters, we are still in the process of figuring out who will and will not be returning to school and where the myriad transfers are going to end up this year.

Given the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the way recruiting and the predraft process will work, it is hard to know how and where these guys will end up, which is why every college basketball preseason top 25 published right now is going to have plenty of assumptions, projections and moving parts.

So with that in mind, here is the current iteration of NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25:

college basketball preseason top 25
(Getty Images)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL PRESEASON TOP 25

1. VILLANOVA

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
  • WAIT AND SEE: Saddiq Bey
  • NEW FACES: Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Bryan Antoine, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

There’s a chance, albeit a fairly slim one, that Villanova can return everyone from a team that won a share of the Big East regular season title last season while adding Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels (16.9 ppg) and a healthy Bryan Antoine. There is enough talent on this roster that I think they are the clear No. 1 team in the country if everyone returns. And while Saddiq Bey is their best player, I think he is not only more likely to declare for the draft than Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, but I also think that he will be easier to replace. Villanova has a roster full of talented wings and perimeter weapons. Bey is the best of the bunch, but having to force Caleb Daniels or Bryan Antoine over him is a better option than having to play Dhamir Cosby-Rountree or Eric Dixon instead of JRE. Luckily for Villanova, JRE announced in April that he will be returning to school.

RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25 (link)

2. GONZAGA

  • GONE: Admon Gilder, Ryan Wooldridge, Killian Tillie
  • COMING BACK: Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zakharov
  • WAIT AND SEE: Filip Petrusev, Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi
  • NEW FACES: Oumar Ballo, Aaron Cook, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Filip Petrusev

The Zags should once again be a powerhouse next season, but they are in the unique position of waiting on a freshman to decide if he is going to go pro. The player in question is Jalen Suggs, who would be a perfect fit next to Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert on Gonzaga’s perimeter. As much as I like Ayayi as a player, I’m not sure he’s the guy to be a full-time point guard on a team competing for a national title. That spot is really the only question mark if Suggs opts to skip college and play overseas, because Gonzaga’s frontcourt is going to be absolutely loaded, especially if Filip Petrusev returns, because Drew Timme and Oumar Ballo both have WCC Player of the Year upside.

Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

3. BAYLOR

  • GONE: Freddie Gillespie, Devonte Bandoo
  • COMING BACK: Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark, Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Flo Thamba
  • WAIT AND SEE: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague
  • NEW FACES: Adam Flagler, L.J. Cryer, Dain Dainja, Zach Loveday, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark

The Bears should get all three of their guards back, assuming Jared Butler does not go pro, and with Mark Vital slated to return, they’ll once again have two of the best defenders in college basketball on the roster (Davion Mitchell). They’re coming off of a 26-4 season, and there are plenty of bench options at Scott Drew’s disposal — Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Adam Flagler — but the big question is going to be at the five. Which Tristan Clark are we going to get next season?

4. VIRGINIA

  • GONE: Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key
  • COMING BACK: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kody Stattman, Justin McCoy
  • WAIT AND SEE: Jay Huff
  • NEW FACES: Sam Hauser, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Carson McCorkle, Reece Beekman
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff

The Cavaliers should be much better offensively with Sam Hauser replacing Mamadi Diakite in the starting lineup, and while Diakite is a significantly better defender than Hauser, it’s hard to imagine Virginia ever being a bad defensive team, especially when Hauser has had a year to learn the system. Kihei Clark and Jay Huff are both back, and I would expect Casey Morsell to take a step forward this season. Throw in a strong freshman class, and UVA should be competing for an ACC title once again.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft

5. MICHIGAN STATE

  • GONE: Cassius Winston
  • COMING BACK: Rocket Watts, Aaren Henry, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham, Julius Marble, Thomas Kithier, Foster Loyer
  • WAIT AND SEE: Xavier Tillman, Josh Langford
  • NEW FACES: Joey Hauser, Madi Sissoko, A.J. Hoggard
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Rocket Watts, Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, Joey Hauser, Xavier Tillman

Rocket Watts showed down the stretch of last season that he was ready to take over the reins offensively, and with Joey Hauser getting eligible, he should have a second scoring threat on the floor with him. That will allow Aaron Henry to play his jack-of-all-trades role, and with Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham all, in theory, taking a step forward, there’s plenty of weaponry. The key, however, is going to be Xavier Tillman. I think he’s a first round pick, and considering that he’s a married man with two kids already, he certainly could use the income. He’s the piece that brings it all together.

6. KANSAS

  • GONE: Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss
  • COMING BACK: Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, Mitch Lightfoot, DaJuan Harris, Silvio De Sousa
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Bryce Thompson, Tyon Grant-Foster, Gethro Muscadin, Latrell Jossell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Tristan Enaruna, David McCormack

When it comes to the amount of talent on the Kansas roster, there are certainly enough weapons here. They are incredibly loaded on the wing — Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Tyon Grant-Foster, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, sheesh — and David McCormack showed enough flashes last season that I expect him to be able to do an adequate job replacing Udoka Azubuike. Assuming Self (correctly) plays small-ball again, they should be really, really good. The problem? Other than Garrett, there is not a point guard on the roster that has played a second of college basketball. The best Jayhawk teams have had a killer at that position, and I’m not sure Garrett qualifies as such.

7. TEXAS TECH

  • GONE: Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield, Russel Tchewa
  • COMING BACK: Kyler Edwards, Terrance Shannon Jr., Davide Moretti, Kevin McCullar, Avery Benson
  • WAIT AND SEE: Jahmi’us Ramsey, Jamarius Burton
  • NEW FACES: Nimari Burnett, Micah Peavy, Marcus Santos-Silva, Joel Ntambwe, Chibuzo Agbo, Esahia Nzyiwe
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kyler Edwards, Davide Moretti, Nimari Burnett, Terrance Shannon,  Marcus Santos-Silva

The Red Raiders should have a roster that is a much better fit for the way that Chris Beard wants to play. Kyler Edwards and Nimari Burnett are both build in the mold of a classic Texas Tech lead guard, while Terrance Shannon will be on quite a few of the breakout sophomore lists you’ll find. The two major questions with this group is whether or not Davide Moretti (or Edwards) can takeover full-time point guard duties, and if VCU transfer Marcus Santos-Silva or Joel Ntambwe can handle the five spot better than T.J. Holyfield did this past season. There are enough talented perimeter weapons for me to buy-in, but without an anchor at the five a la Tariq Owens, their ceiling is somewhat limited.

NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES

RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25

8. DUKE

  • GONE: Tre Jones, Vernon Carey Jr., Cassius Stanley, Jack White, Alex O’Connell, Javin DeLaurier
  • COMING BACK: Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Mark Williams, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman, Patrick Tape
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Wendell Moore, Jalen Johnson, Mark Williams

The Blue Devils lose quite a bit of talent off of last season’s roster if, as expected, Tre Jones, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all head to the pros. But with six top 50 prospects coming into the program — headlined by a potential lottery pick in Jalen Johnson as well as point guard Jeremy Roach and scoring guard D.J. Steward — there will be quite a bit of talent on display. A starting lineup that includes those three freshmen and Wendell Moore will be fun. Duke is going to be very young, however, and a frontline that includes a bunch of freshmen and a grad transfer from Columbia is less than ideal.

9. IOWA

  • GONE: Bakari Evelyn, Ryan Kreiner, Cordell Pemsl
  • COMING BACK: C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Joe Toussaint, Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery, Jack Nunge
  • WAIT AND SEE: Luka Garza
  • NEW FACES: Tony Perkins, Ahron Ulis, Patrick McCaffery
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Joe Toussaint, C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Jack Nunge, Luka Garza

I’m assuming Luka Garza will be back for his senior season, which is a helluva way for Fran McCaffery to anchor a roster that looks as good as anyone in the Big Ten, but that’s no guarantee. I think Joe Toussaint has a chance to be one of the breakout stars in college basketball next year, which is a pretty good sign for a team that also returns the preseason Player of the Year along with talents like Joe Weiskamp and C.J. Frederick.

10. TENNESSEE

  • GONE: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden
  • COMING BACK: John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pemper
  • WAIT AND SEE: Yves Pons
  • NEW FACES: Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Corey Walker, Victor Bailey, E.J. Anosike
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Keon Johnson, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

Last season, one of the biggest issues with Tennessee was a lack of firepower on their perimeter. This year, they will be adding five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer to Josiah Jordan-James and Santiago Vescovi. They’ll have weapons, and that’s before you add in John Fulkerson, who was one of the best bigs in the SEC down the stretch of the season. Yves Pons will be the best defender in college basketball. If Vescovi can handle full-time point guard duties better with an offseason under his belt, the Vols are going to compete for an SEC title.

11. HOUSTON

  • GONE: Nate Hinton, Chris Harris
  • COMING BACK: Quentin Grimes, Caleb Mills, Marcus Sasser, Fabian White, Justin Forham, Brison Gresham, Cedrick Alley
  • WAIT AND SEE: DeJon Jarreau
  • NEW FACES: Tramon Mark, Jamal Shead, Kiyron Powell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Sasser, Caleb Mills, Quentin Grimes, Brison Gresham, Fabian White

We all know that Kelvin Sampson can coach, and he will be bringing back a roster where his top six scorers were all underclassmen from a team that finished top 15 on KenPom. They are going to be loaded in the backcourt — Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes might end up being their third or fourth best guard — and there will be some veterans in their frontcourt. The Cougars look to be the favorite in the American.

12. NORTH CAROLINA

  • GONE: Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Jeremiah Francis
  • COMING BACK: Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Andrew Platek, Anthony Harris
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Caleb Love, Walker Kessler, R.J. Davis, Day’Ron Sharpe, Puff Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Caleb Love, Anthony Harris, Leaky Black, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

The Tar Heels will lost Cole Anthony, but with Caleb Love entering the program, they will once again be led by a five-star lead guard perfectly suited to running Roy Williams’ system. The Tar Heels will also have arguably the best frontline in college basketball, as Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot will be joined by five-stars Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. The key to this team is going to be on the wings, where Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson, R.J. Davis and Andrew Platek will be asked to carry the load. If I had more confidence in that group the Tar Heels would be ranked in my top eight.

RELATED: Coaching Carousel

13. FLORIDA STATE

  • GONE: Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams, Dominik Olejniczak
  • COMING BACK: M.J. Walker, Balsa Koprivica, Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne, Raiquan Gray, Wyatt Wilkes, Nathanael Jack
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Scottie Barnes, Sardaar Calhoun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Polite, M.J. Walker, Scottie Barnes, Devin Vassell/Patrick Williams, Balsa Koprivica

Florida State is a tough one to project because it’s hard to know exactly what is going to happen with Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell gone to the draft. Both are projected to go somewhere in the first round. With Scottie Barnes coming in and M.J. Walker returning, Florida State still has some dangerous weapons. The Seminoles are a machine at this point, and I think the system will continue to work even if both remain in the draft. And even if both came back, it doesn’t answer the most pressing question of Leonard Hamilton’s team: How do they replace Trent Forrest?

college basketball preseason top 25
(Getty Images)

14. WISCONSIN

  • GONE: Brevin Pritzl
  • COMING BACK: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter, Aleem Ford, Tyler Wahl, Trevor Anderson
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Ben Carlson, Lorne Bowman, Johnny Davis, Jordan Davis, Steve Crowl
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter

After winning a share of last year’s Big Ten regular season title, the Badgers are on track to essentially return everyone of note. Their frontline of Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter will be as good as anyone in the Big Ten, D’Mitrik Trice has developed into a solid shot-maker and Tyler Wahl is waiting in the wings as a super-sub. Throw in Brad Davison, and the Badgers will compete for the league title once again.

15. KENTUCKY

  • GONE: Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards, Ashton Hagans, Johnny Juzang
  • COMING BACK: Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen
  • WAIT AND SEE: Olivier Sarr, E.J. Montgomery
  • NEW FACES: B.J. Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Cam’Ron Fletcher, Davion Mintz
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devin Askew, Terrence Clarke, B.J. Boston, Keion Brooks, Isaiah Jackson

Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards are all heading to the NBA. E.J. Montgomery declared as well. Nate Sestina graduated. Johnny Juzang is transferring. What that leaves is another loaded recruiting class and Keion Brooks. I love the combination of Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston on the wings, and Devin Askew should be able to step in and handle point guard duties along with Davion Mintz. This will be another season for the Wildcats where they have talent but not necessarily a great fit on their roster. The key to their season is going to be whether or not they can get Olivier Sarr a waiver to be eligible immediately.

16. WEST VIRGINIA

  • GONE: Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler
  • COMING BACK: Oscar Tshiebwe, Derek Culver, Miles McBride, Emmitt Matthews, Gabe Osabuohien, Jalen Bridges, Sean McNeil
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Isaiah Cottrell, Taj Thweatt, Kedrian Johnson , Jalen Bridges
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Miles McBride, Kedrian Johnson, Emmitt Matthews, Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe

The Mountaineers are going to be exactly what they were last season: Big, physical, overpowering defensively and on the glass and able to win games when Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews are able to made enough shots to keep defenses from collapsing.

17. CREIGHTON

  • GONE:  Ty-Shon Alexander, Kelvin Jones, Davion Mintz
  • COMING BACK: Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop, Denzel Mahoney, Jacob Epperson
  • WAIT AND SEE: Damien Jefferson, Denzel Mahoney
  • NEW FACES: Antwaan Jones, Ryan Kalkbrenner
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Zegarowski, Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Denzel Mahoney, Christian Bishop

Creighton’s ranking depended on what their talented backcourt of Ty-Shon Alexander and Marcus Zegarowski decided to do. With both of them back, I had the Bluejays as a top four team. Without Alexander, they’re more of a back-end top 25 team. The other question is going to be what happens at the five spot. Christian Bishop was adequate in his minutes last season, and with four-star recruit Ryan Kalkbrenner and a (hopefully) healthy Jacob Epperson in the mix, there will be options to answer that question.

18. ARIZONA STATE

  • GONE: Rob Edwards, Romello White, Mickey Mitchell
  • COMING BACK: Kimani Lawrence, Taeshon Cherry, Jaelen House, Khalid Thomas, Jalen Graham
  • WAIT AND SEE: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge
  • NEW FACES:  Josh Christopher, Marcus Bagley, Holland Woods
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, Josh Christopher, Taeshon Cherry, Jalen Graham

This ranking is dependent on Remy Martin and Romello White making the decision to return to school for the 2020-21 season, but if they do, the Sun Devils have a chance to be really, really good. Alonzo Verge had a breakout season, and they added Josh Christopher, a five-star prospect from California.

19. RUTGERS

  • GONE: Akwasi Yeboah, Shaq Carter
  • COMING BACK: Geo Baker, Ron Harper, Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Jacob Young, Mamadou Doucoure, Paul Mulcahy
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Cliff Omoruyi, Dean Reiber, Oskar Palmquist, Mawot Mag
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson

The Scarlet Knights return basically everyone from a team that would have made the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1991. In total, eight of their top nine players are returning, and only Akwasi Yeboah (9.8 ppg) is gone.

20. MICHIGAN

  • GONE: Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske
  • COMING BACK: Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez
  • WAIT AND SEE: Isaiah Livers, Chaundee Brown, Nojel Eastern
  • NEW FACES: Hunter Dickinson, Mike Smith Terrance Williams, Zeb Jackson, Jace Howard
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Mike Smith, Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, Hunter Dickinson

The Wolverines are going to have one of the better frontlines in college basketball in 2020-21, as they seem likely to return Isaiah Livers in addition to Franz Wagner. Throw in a recruiting class that includes Hunter Dickinson, and the Wolverines will be loaded. Their guards are old, but there are some questions about the upside of Columbia grad transfer Mike Smith and Eli Brooks. Can transfers Chaundee Brown or Nojel Eastern get eligible?

21. TEXAS

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Kai Jones, Jericho Sims, Jase Febres, Kamaka Hepa, Royce Hamm, Donovan Williams, Gerald Lidell, Will Baker
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Greg Brown
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Greg Brown, Jericho Sims

The Longhorns bring back all 12 players from last year’s team, including 11 of whom started at least one game last season. Plus, they add top ten recruit Greg Brown to a team that won five of their last six regular season games. That’s a good thing! Keeping everyone happy on a roster this deep when there are 13 guys available for just five spots on the floor and 200 combined minutes a night? That’s not going to be easy to deal with.

22. LOUISVILLE

  • GONE: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Steve Enoch, Fresh Kimble, Ryan McMahon, Darius Perry
  • COMING BACK: David Johnson, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams, Josh Nickelberry, Aidan Ighiehon, Jaelyn Withers
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Carlik Jones, Charles Minlend, D’Andre Davis, J.J. Traynor
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Carlik Jones, David Johnson, Charles Minlend, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams

The Cardinals are going to build around sophomores David Johnson and Samuell Williamson as well as senior Malik Williams this season. The addition of Radford grad transfer Carlik Jones should help out quite a bit as well. Johnson and Williamson have both shown flashes of having star potential. The addition of San Francisco grad transfer Charles Minlend should help add some depth on the perimeter.

23. UCLA

  • GONE: Daishen Nix,Prince Ali, Alex Olesinski
  • COMING BACK: Chris Smith, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, Jake Kyman, Jules Bernard, David Singleton
  • WAIT AND SEE: Johnny Juzang
  • NEW FACES: Daishen Nix, Jaylen Clark
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyger Campbell, David Singleton, Chris Smith, Jaime Jaquez, Jalen Hill

After turning their season around and finishing second in the Pac-12 regular season standings, UCLA returns everyone that played a major role in their rotation down the stretch of the season, but they will be without Daishen Nix, a five-star point guard that is heading to the G League. A number of Cronin’s young pieces — Jaime Jaquez, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, David Singleton — really played well down the stretch. The biggest question mark: will Chris Smith return to school?

24. RICHMOND

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Andre Gustavson, Jake Wojcik, Tyler Burton
  • WAIT AND SEE: Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Blake Francis
  • NEW FACES: Isaiah Wilson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jacob Gilyard, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Grant Golden

Chris Mooney did not have a senior on the roster of a team that finished 24-7 overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic 10. With Obi Toppin gone, the Spiders will likely be the class of the conference heading into next season. Jacob Gilyard has a chance to be Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.

25. STANFORD

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Daejon Davis, Bryce Wills, Spencer Jones, Lukas Kisunas, Jaiden Delaire, James Keefe
  • WAIT AND SEE: Tyrell Terry, Oscar da Silva
  • NEW FACES: Ziaire Williams, Noah Taitz, Max Murrell, Brandon Angel
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrell Terry, Daejon Davis, Bryce Wills, Ziaire Williams, Oscar da Silva

Getting Ziaire Williams was huge, as this group will return at least five of their top six guys from a top 45 team on KenPom. But their ceiling will be determined by Tyrell Terry’s decision. If he returns to school, Stanford will have a shot to win the Pac-12.

FIVE THAT JUST MISSED THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL PRESEASON TOP 25

OREGON

  • GONE: Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston
  • COMING BACK: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, C.J. Walker, Francis Okoro, Chandler Lawson, Addison Patterson, N’Faly Dante
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Amauri Hardy, Jalen Terry, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi, C.J. Walker

OHIO STATE

  • GONE: Kaleb Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Andrew Wesson, D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney
  • COMING BACK: Duane Washington, Luther Muhammad, C.J. Walker, Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell, Justin Ahrens, Alonzo Gaffney, Ibrahima Diallo
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Seth Towns, Eugene Brown, Zed Kay, Justice Suenig, Abel Porter
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington, Seth Towns, E.J. Liddell, Kyle Young

INDIANA

  • GONE: De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green
  • COMING BACK: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk, Justin Smith, Al Durham, Rob Phinisee, Jerome Hunter, Race Thompson
  • WAIT AND SEE: Justin Smith
  • NEW FACES: Khristian Lander, Trey Galloway, Jordan Geronimo, Anthony Leal
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Rob Phinisee, Al Durham, Justin Smith, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk

UCONN

  • GONE: Christian Vital, Alterique Gilbert, Sid Wilson
  • COMING BACK: James Bouknight, Josh Carlton, Akok Akok, Jalen Gaffney, Tyler Polley, Brendan Adams, Isaiah Whaley
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: R.J. Cole, Andre Jackson, Javonte Brown-Ferguson, Richie Springs, Adama Sanogo
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: R.J. Cole, James Bouknight, Andre Jackson, Akok Akok, Josh Carlton

LSU

  • GONE: Emmitt Williams, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor
  • COMING BACK: Charles Manning Jr., James Bishop
  • WAIT AND SEE: Trendon Watford, Darius Days, Javonte Smart
  • NEW FACES: Cam Thomas, Josh Leblanc, Jalen Cook, Shareef O’Neal, Mwani Wilkinson, Bradley Ezewiro
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Cam Thomas, Charles Manning, Emmitt Williams, Darius Days

Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing tests positive for COVID-19

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Georgetown announced on Friday evening that head coach Patrick Ewing has tested positive for COVID-19.

“I want to share that I have tested positive for COVID-19,” Ewing said in a statement released by the university. “This virus is serious and should not be taken lightly. I want to encourage everyone to stay safe and take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Now more than ever, I want to thank the healthcare workers and everyone on the front lines. I’ll be fine and we will all get through this.”

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Ewing, who is 57 years old, is currently under care and isolated at a local hospital.

As of this time, Patrick Ewing is the only member of the Georgetown basketball program that has tested positive for COVID-19.

This news comes on the heels of the NCAA announcing that, as of June 1st, all sports will be allowed to bring their athletes back to campus to participate in voluntary summer workouts as long as those workouts follow local, state and federal laws regarding distancing and lockdown procedures.

The major question with the return of athletics has been, and always will be, what happens when a member of a team tests positive. Luckily for Georgetown, Ewing contracted the virus while he was apart from the rest of his team and his coaching staff.