A former head coach at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana, Sampson, 58, was serving a five-year show-cause from the NCAA for recruiting violations stemming from impermissible phone calls during his time as Indiana’s head coach. Sampson spent the past five seasons as an assistant coach in the NBA.
Sampson has a 425-227 career record as a Division I head coach in 21 seasons.
Before resigning in February of 2008 as the head coach at Indiana, Sampson had made the NCAA Tournament in 13 of his last 14 seasons as a head coach between Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana. The year Sampson missed the Tournament at Oklahoma in 2003-04, they made the NIT.
Sampson spent two seasons as a Milwaukee Bucks assistant before spending the last three seasons with the Houston Rockets. Having been in Houston since 2011, it is unclear how familiar Sampson is with the Cougars program or the local current crop of high school players, but Sampson has plenty of clout on the recruiting trail and could get Houston involved with some major local prospects.
The college basketball season will finally be here in two weeks, meaning that the time for previewing the year is just about over.
But we’re not there yet.
So before things officially kick off, let’s take a closer look at the 12 things will could end up deciding how the season plays out.
Final Four trips.
Even the national title.
You can call them story lines, you can call them positional battles, you can call them whatever you like.
Here are the x-factors to monitor as we enter the 2018-19 college basketball season.
ARE WE READY TO TRUST JOSH PERKINS?
I love everything about Gonzaga’s frontcourt.
I’m all-in on the Rui Hachimura bandwagon. I think it’s only a matter of time before he is a college basketball star, and he already is the biggest name in basketball in his native Japan. Killian Tillie proved his merit during the WCC tournament last March, and Brandon Clarke is the guy that no one is talking about enough. Those three together are as good as any frontcourt trio in college hoops this season.
I also have little doubt that Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert will take a step forward this season. Norvell is one of the most dangerous shooters in the sport, while Kispert is a former four-star recruit that is going to see a bump in minutes this season. Throw in Geno Crandall’s arrival from North Dakota, and there should be an issue with scoring on the perimeter.
The question mark, for me, is Perkins.
In a vacuum, he’s fine. He’ll lead Gonzaga to a WCC title. They’ll end up as a high seed in the NCAA tournament. They’ll win 25 or 30 games. But at this point, is that enough for the Zags? They’ve been to a national title game. They’ve been a No. 1 seed. Anything short of a Final Four this year will probably be looked at as a disappointment, and to get to a Final Four, Gonzaga is going to have to beat the best teams in the country.
And my issue is whether or not Perkins, who averaged 12.3 points and 5.1 assists as a redshirt junior, can be as effective as he needs to be against the best teams in the country. Can he create against the best point guards in the sport? Is he improved as a decision-maker? Is he the leader on the floor that, say, Nigel Williams-Goss was?
If he is, then the Zags are a good bet to get back to the national title game.
IS COBY WHITE THE POINT GUARD THAT NORTH CAROLINA NEEDS?
The thing that we always talk about with North Carolina is that Roy Williams is one of the few coaches in the country that would still prefer to play with two physically-imposing big men at the same time. His coaching philosophy centers around dominating the glass — the more rebounds he gets, the more shots his team takes and the fewer shots his opponents take.
This year’s North Carolina team will look nothing like that. They are going full small-ball, with a lineup that could feature Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Luke Maye as their starting frontcourt. That is already going to place a priority on being more efficient offensively, and that’s before we consider the fact that UNC lost the guy that was their point guard by title — Joel Berry II — and the guy that was actually their point guard — Theo Pinson.
This is a concern for two reasons:
Roy Williams’ best teams have always had an elite point guard. Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall, Marcus Paige and Berry.
UNC’s point guard this season will likely be Coby White, a low-end five-star prospect that is known as one of the best scorers in the class.
There is going to be a lot of responsibility put onto his plate this season. Can he handle what is going to be asked of him?
Gonzaga and North Carolina aren’t the only schools with point guard concerns:
KANSAS: The Jayhawks may have the most interesting point guard battle this season. Charlie Moore is the redshirt freshman that transferred in from Cal and spent last season learning the system and Bill Self’s offense. Devon Dotson, a top 20 recruit, is the best pure point guard on the roster, but he’s also a freshman. So is Quentin Grimes, a combo-guard that might end up being a top ten pick. I’m sure someone from that group is going to turn out to be really good for the Jayhawks, I’m just not quite sure who it is going to be or how long it is going to take for that position to get settled.
FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles saw their starting point guard transfer out of the program this offseason, meaning that the preseason top 15 team is going to have two guys battling it out for the job: Junior Trent Forrest, who is more of a combo than a pure point guard, and David Nichols, a grad transfer that spent the last three seasons at Albany.
UCLA: With Aaron Holiday off to the NBA, Jaylen Hands looks like he is going to be taking over the point guard duties. As a former five-star prospect, Hands is, on paper, someone that should thrive in this role. But there are plenty of red flags. He’s not a good defender, he can be selfish at times and there are real concerns about whether or not he’s a point guard or a scorer that likes to dribble the ball up the floor. Combine that with Tyger Campbell, a steadying presence on the ball, tearing his ACL, and Steve Alford is going to have is work cut out for him.
WHO IS KENTUCKY’S GO-TO GUY?
The biggest concern I have with this Kentucky team isn’t really a concern, it’s more of a question: Do they actually have a star?
We know that they have enough good basketball players to absolutely steam-roll some pretty good competition during their trip to the Bahamas, and anyone with the ability to google “college basketball recruiting rankings” will know that the talent on this team isn’t lacking. There are multiple NBA players on this team, and they go two-deep at just about every position on the floor.
I wonder about how their rotation is going to pan out, but I’m not really all that concerned about it. John Calipari has proven over and over again that he is as good as anyone in college basketball at getting his guys to buy into playing the role he needs them to play. I also wonder about whether or not Kentucky will actually be able to find a lineup that can be elite offensively and defensively — they need shooting on the floor, but their best defenders can’t shoot and their best shooters can’t defend — but Cal has enough pieces that he should be able to mix-and-match based on opponent and matchup.
Those aren’t red flags as much as they are a natural progression for a team.
The red flag for me is that I’m not sure there is a go-to guy on this roster. Who is getting the rock at the end of a clock? Who is Cal calling plays for in crunch time? I’m not sure it’s Reid Travis; he can be double-teamed too easily on a team that doesn’t have great shooting. I don’t know if P.J. Washington or Quade Green is ready to handle that load. Kentucky’s freshmen point guards are both talented and will play in the NBA, but neither, at this point, is necessarily known for what they can do with the ball in their hands. The same can be said about Keldon Johnson.
Frankly, Tyler Herro is the guy that would make the most sense. He led the team is scoring in the four games in the Bahamas and he thrives running off screens the same way that Jamal Murray and Malik Monk did before him, but he also might be the fifth-best perimeter player Kentucky has.
There are going to be some big games that are decided by whether or not Kentucky can score on critical possessions, and finding a guy Cal can trust will be so important.
CAN DUKE SHOOT WELL ENOUGH TO GO FULL SMALL-BALL?
Duke is going to spend this season trying to run out their version of the death lineup.
Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are all going to start. I’d assume one of Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden will join them, and I fully expect those four to spend a lot of time on the floor together with Alex O’Connell, which would be a thrilling way to get Zion some minutes at the five.
That would look an awful lot like the lineup Golden State has made so popular, the one with Draymond Green at the five.
But what makes that Warriors five — what made last year’s Villanova starting five — so dangerous was that everyone on the floor was a good-to-great three-point shooter. No one could be left open lest you want to give a 40+ percent three-point shooter an open, rhythm jumper.
This Duke team, as talented as they are, just does not have the guys that can shoot it like that. In fact, each of the four freshmen on this team are at their best when they have the ball in their hands; it’s a roster that, in a way, is made up of a point guard, two point forwards and Zion, who has made a name for himself by being a grab-and-go big. Individually, I love the pieces on this roster, but I do have questions about how well this roster actually fits together.
IS ‘THE VILLANOVA WAY’ STRONG ENOUGH TO OVERCOME THE LOSS OF FOUR NBA PLAYERS?
Villanova had four players get picked in the top 33 picks of the 2018 NBA Draft. That is an unbelievable amount of talent for ay program to try and replace, particularly one like the Wildcats, which isn’t exactly known for churning out one-and-done five-star talent on an annual basis.
What Villanova is known for is their ability to develop players and ensure that their ‘next-man-up’ is always ready for the role he is going to be asked to play.
Well, they are going to have a team full of guys being asked to do just that. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth should be up for the challenge. They are both redshirt seniors that have been with this program through two national title runs. They’ll be fine. It’s the sophomore class — Collin Gillispie, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree — and the incoming freshmen — specifically Cole Swider and Jahvon Quinerly — that are going to be rushed along.
If Jay Wright can fast-track them to being able to handle a major role right away, the Wildcats should once again be a national title favorite come March.
HOW DOES VIRGINIA HANDLE WHAT MAY BE THE WORST LOSS IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY?
This one is really, really simple: Virginia entered the 2017-18 season as a team with a reputation for choking in March.
Fair or not, the truth is that Virginia had been a No. 1 seed twice and a No. 2 seed once in the four years before the start of last season, and those tournament trips resulted in a loss in the Sweet 16, a loss in the second round and, in 2015-16, a loss in the Elite 8 where the Wahoos blew a 15-point lead in the final ten minutes to No. 10-seed Syracuse.
That’s the kind of thing that can get in the head of a player, and I don’t think I’m being presumptive when I say that it probably played a role in Virginia suffering what might be the most embarrassing loss in the history of college basketball. UVA not only became the first No. 1-seed to ever lose to a No. 16-seed, they were run out of the gym, losing 74-54.
There are myriad Hall of Fame coaches that could never win the big one until they won the big one — Jim Calhoun, Bill Self, Lute Olson, even Jay Wright was thought to be a choke artist before winning two out of three NCAA tournaments — but they never had to deal with the weight of trying to get their team to forget something that history will never, ever forget.
IS BOL BOL AWESOME? OR IS HE OVERRATED?
This will be the question that determines who wins the Pac-12 this season. Bol Bol is unique. He is a 7-foot-3 center that can be as dominant of a shot-blocker as his father, Manute, was. He also shot 46 percent from three on more than four attempts per game on the EYBL circuit in 2017.
The issue with Bol Bol is that his motor runs far too hot and cold. When he wants to be, he is absolutely dominant in the paint, something of a forcefield around the rim. But he has yet to prove that he wants to be great every time he steps on the floor.
Then there is the Kenny Wooten factor. A few years back, Chris Boucher became something of a sensation for the Ducks, as he was a shot-blocking, three-point shooting center. But as it turns out, Oregon was actually a better basketball team when Jordan Bell took over at center full-time, as evidenced by their run to the Final Four in 2017 after Boucher tore his ACL.
Wooten, like Bell, is active and switchable at the five. Bol Bol is not. Will this saga play out like that one?
DOES AUBURN’S TEAM-BUILDING GET BROKEN DOWN BY THE RETURN OF AUSTIN WILEY AND DANJEL PURIFOY?
Auburn is coming off of a season where they won a share of the SEC regular season title despite losing two starters and an assistant coach prior to the first game as fallout from the FBI’s investigation.
That surprise run to a league title happened because everything that Auburn did worked in concert. They were able to play small and play fast, they had guys that bought into the system and the style of play, Bruce Pearl was able to get his kids playing with a chip the size of Alabama on their shoulder.
This year, the Tigers will be getting back Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, the two players that were suspended for last season, and it’s worth questioning whether their addition is going to help or hurt matters. Will team chemistry still be there? Can Wiley — a lumbering, 6-foot-11 center — play at the pace Auburn wants to play at? Can Purifoy accept where he fits into the team’s rotation?
The collective was better than the sum of the parts for Auburn last season, and that’s a delicate balance to maintain.
IS THIS THE YEAR MICHIGAN STATE’S JUNIORS BECOME STARS?
Michigan State enters this season as the No. 10 team in the preseason AP Poll.
If they are going to live up to that hype, they are going to need their trio of juniors — Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford — to live up to the hype they had entering their freshmen year.
Winston should be ready. He was already one of the best point guards in the country last season, a slick passer and uber-efficient playmaker that shoots the cover off the ball. Ward and Langford, however, are bigger question marks. Ward has yet to find a way to stay on the floor for extended minutes while playing for Izzo, while Langford has turned into something of a mid-range jump-shooter, which is the antithesis of efficiency.
CAN MICHIGAN OR SYRACUSE SCORE?
Again, this one is really simple.
Syracuse returns everyone from a team that reached the Sweet 16 and finished as the nation’s fifth-best defensive team, according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. They also finished 135th in adjusted offensive efficiency. That’s not good.
Michigan reached the national title game last season as a top three defense nationally, but they struggled to score for long stretches last season and lost their top three offensive weapons — Mo Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson.
Both teams will enter the season in the top 25, but they may not stay there for long if they can’t figure out a way to score.
CAN PURDUE SCORE IF CARSEN EDWARDS ISN’T THE ONE SHOOTING?
Purdue lost four starters off of last year’s team, and while they return Carsen Edwards — a preseason all-american that might just end up leading the nation in scoring — that’s really the only guy they bring back that is a proven threat to score.
Ryan Cline, Nojel Eastern, Matt Haarms. Will any of these guys be able to take some of the weight off of Edwards’ shoulders?
CAN WEST VIRGINIA BE PRESS VIRGINIA WITHOUT JEVON CARTER AND DAXTER MILES?
I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Press Virginia became a thing when Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles were freshmen, or that Bob Huggins was able to have success with it over the course of the last four years with those two playing heavy backcourt minutes.
They were perfectly designed to play basketball that way.
So what happens to West Virginia and this style when they are gone? Can Beetle Bolden and Brandon Knapper continue to apply pressure the way that their backcourt predecessors did?
N.C State guard Braxton Beverly out with broken hand
Kevin Keatts has some decisions to make this season at point guard with a bevy of attractive options with Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Missouri transfer Blake Harris all after minutes this season for N.C. State.
One of those options, though, just got taken off the table for the immediate future.
Beverly, who started 26 games and was second on the Wolfpack in 3s last year, broke a bone in his left hand, the school announced Monday. The sophomore will undergo surgery Tuesday and will be out indefinitely.
The 6-foot guard from Hazard, Ky. averaged 32.4 minutes per game last season, putting up 9.5 points and 3.9 assists against just 1.2 turnovers. He shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range.
The Wolfpack will now lean on Johnson and Harris. Johnson averaged 8.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Harris is a former four-star recruit who left Missouri midway through last year, but received a waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility.
N.C. State, which made the tournament last season in Keatts’ first year in Raleigh, opens the season Nov. 6 against Mount St. Mary’s
Jury deliberates fate of 3 men in college basketball scandal
NEW YORK (AP) — A jury quietly deliberated for five hours Monday on its first day considering the merits of claims by the government that three men conspired to cheat major college basketball programs by paying young athletes to sign with schools sponsored by Adidas.
Attorneys for the defendants contend their clients broke NCAA rules but no laws.
Deliberations began midday Monday after U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan instructed the jury. Five hours later, jurors went home without sending any notes. They resume work Tuesday morning.
Federal prosecutors have portrayed universities with some of the nation’s best college basketball programs as victims of a group of individuals who arranged to pay the families of top recruits tens of thousands of dollars so young athletes would go to Adidas-sponsored schools.
Prosecutors say the men tricked the schools into giving scholarships to players who should have been ineligible.
The defendants are Adidas sports marketing manager James “Jim” Gatto, aspiring sports agent Christopher Dawkins and Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant.
Their attorneys told jurors over several weeks the government was overreaching when it brought the case against the three men and several others who are awaiting trial, including four former assistant coaches.
They say their clients were trying to help the schools build championship-caliber teams by steering the nation’s best high school athletes their way.
The lawyers argued that financially aiding struggling families of the athletes along the way was part of a process that involved big-brand shoe makers supporting the schools they sponsored in any way they could.
The scandal led to the firing of Coach Rick Pitino at Louisville and attracted scrutiny to other major college basketball programs. Pitino was not charged.
Virginia announced on Monday that forward Alabama transfer Braxton Key will be eligible to play for the Cavaliers this season.
Key is a 6-foot-8 junior that spent the first two years of his college career playing for the Crimson Tide. As a freshman, he averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 boards, but he managed just 7.0 points and 5.3 boards in limited time last season after missing the first ten games following knee surgery.
His addition is critical for the Wahoos, as it will allow them to move De’Andre Hunter, a potential all-american, to the position that he is best-suited to playing: The four. It also adds perimeter depth to a roster that frankly did not have all that much. Prior to Key getting his waiver, Virginia’s perimeter depth behind Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome consisted of a sophomore that played in 13 games last season (Marco Anthony), a redshirt freshman and a pair of true freshmen that are anything-but five-star prospects.
Key has his warts as a player. He’s turnover prone, he’s probably not quite as good of a perimeter shooter as he thinks he is and, like Hunter, he’s more of a combo-forward than he is a natural wing or a true four. But A) he can score, B) the fact that he’s a combo-forward is certainly not a killer given he’d spend time paired with Hunter, and C) there shouldn’t be an adjustment for him defensively. In the two seasons that Key was at Alabama, they finished in the top 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric both years.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Kansas coach Bill Self sees big holes when he looks at his roster after losing three starters, including Associated Press All-American Devonte’ Graham.
The voters in the AP Top 25 poll see something different: a roster restocked so well that Jayhawks will start the season as the nation’s top team.
Kansas checked in at No. 1 in the preseason poll released Monday, earning the top spot to start a season for the third time in program history, all under Self. The Jayhawks topped the ballot for 37 of 65 voters, nearly double that of No. 2 Kentucky.
“Obviously we lost a lot off last year’s team with Devonte’, Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Malik (Newman), so I’m a little surprised that the writers put us there this preseason,” Self said in a statement to the AP. “It’s definitely a spot we welcome and certainly know the goal is to be playing to that ranking by when it counts the most.
“With the young players, we know it’s going to take some time before we’re anywhere close to where we’re going to be, but I do like this team and I think we have a chance to be very good.”
The Jayhawks return veteran starters in junior 7-footer Udoka Azubuike and senior Lagerald Vick from a team that reached its first Final Four since 2012. They’re also adding transfer help from Memphis twins Dedric and K.J. Lawson as well as California’s Charlie Moore — all double-digit scorers on their previous teams.
And yet, the previous two times the Jayhawks started at No. 1 didn’t end well. The 2004-05 squad lost to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And the 2009-10 team that held the top spot for 15 of 19 weeks overall and won 33 games lost to Northern Iowa in the second round.
The ranking comes as the program finds itself entangled in the federal corruption case tied to payments used to steer recruits to certain schools. Testimony during the recent first trials included references to Self and sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa , though Self isn’t charged with wrongdoing and it’s unclear if De Sousa’s status will be affected.
Voters established a clear top tier: Kansas, Kentucky, No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 4 Duke. Those four teams appeared in some combination at the top of nearly half the ballots (32 of 65).
John Calipari’s latest group of touted recruits helped the Wildcats earn 19 first-place votes to open as a top-5 team for the eighth straight season.
Gonzaga’s ranking is the program’s highest in a preseason AP poll, though the Zags have reached No. 1 during the regular season before. As for Duke, the Blue Devils had started No. 1 in each of the past two preseason AP polls.
The points gap between the Jayhawks and the Blue Devils (129 points) at fourth was slimmer than between Duke and fellow Atlantic Coast Conference program Virginia (166 points) at No. 5.
Speaking of Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers, one of the biggest things to watch will be how well the Virginia responds to the most historic of tournament losses.
The Cavaliers ended the regular season as the unanimous AP No. 1-ranked team and the No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed, yet somehow became the first 1-seed to lose to a No. 16 against UMBC. Bennett said all the right things about learning from that moment. And his team returns Kyle Guy (14.1 points), Ty Jerome (10.6 points) and its best NBA prospect in sophomore De’Andre Hunter.
Virginia has its highest preseason AP ranking since Ralph Sampson’s final team opened at No. 1 in 1982-83.
The Martin twins are back along with Jordan Caroline, and that has Nevada starting the year with the program’s highest ever AP poll ranking at No. 7 after last year’s NCAA Sweet 16 run .
CHAMPS AT 9
No Jalen Brunson, no Mikal Bridges, no Final Four most outstanding player Donte DiVincenzo. And yet reigning national champion Villanova checks in at No. 9.
The Wildcats still have Eric Paschall and Phil Booth back while adding Albany graduate transfer Joe Cremo. There’s also a bit of respect built into this ranking, both for the stature of program Jay Wright has developed (two national championships in three seasons) and for the Wildcats’ dominating romp through the postseason.
The ACC had the most teams ranked of any conference: Duke, Virginia, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 15 Virginia Tech (its highest spot since the 1995-96 season), No. 16 Syracuse, No. 17 Florida State and No. 22 Clemson.
The Southeastern Conference was next up with five teams: Kentucky, No. 6 Tennessee, No. 11 Auburn (the program’s highest ranking since 2000), No. 18 Mississippi State and No. 23 LSU.
The Big 12 had four (Kansas, No. 12 Kansas State, No. 13 West Virginia and No. 20 TCU), while the Big Ten and Pac-12 each had three, led by No. 10 Michigan State and No. 14 Oregon, respectively.
THE WATCH LIST
Hello again to Porter Moser, Sister Jean and Loyola (Chicago), last year’s Final Four surprise . The Ramblers were only three points behind No. 25 Washington, putting them just outside the poll.
Marquette was next with high-scoring junior Markus Howard back, while Archie Miller’s second year at Indiana has the Hoosiers lurking nearby as well.
Several power-conference teams like Florida, Nebraska, Maryland and Wisconsin could find their way into the poll with a few early wins.
Here is the full poll:
1. Kansas (37 first-place votes)
2. Kentucky (19)
3. Gonzaga (1)
4. Duke (4)
5. Virginia (2)
6. Tennessee (1)
8. North Carolina
10. Michigan State
12. Kansas State
13. West Virginia
15. Virginia Tech
17. Florida State
18. Mississippi State
Others receiving votes: Loyola of Chicago 162, Marquette 124, Indiana 98, Florida 71, Nebraska 35, Maryland 28, Wisconsin 24, Notre Dame 22, Cincinnati 21, UCF 15, Alabama 15, Arizona 14, Buffalo 14, Louisville 11, Miami 10, San Diego St. 9, Texas Tech 6, Southern Cal 6, Butler 6, Texas 5, St. John’s 3, Arizona St 3, Providence 2, Xavier 2, Davidson 1, Missouri 1, Marshall 1, NC State 1.