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College Hoops Contender Series: Here Are Six Final Four Sleepers

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

First up: Final Four Sleepers

It takes a certain amount of talent to be able to win a national title in college basketball, even if that talent doesn’t always show up every night.

Winning four games in two weeks to get to the season’s final weekend can be done by a team with a handful of future pros and 10 losses on the season. We see it all the time.

Here are seven teams that have the tools to make a run to the Final Four even if they don’t have a great chance of winning their conference and look likely to enter the NCAA tournament outside the top four seeds.

Angel Delgado, Seton Hall (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

SETON HALL

If you’re not the kind of program that is going to be landing five-star, soon-to-be lottery pick freshmen by the car-load each and every fall, the best way to win basketball games is to get old and stay old. No one quite embodies that ethos this season like Seton Hall does.

Head coach Kevin Willard entered the 2015-16 season on the hot seat after his loaded 2014 recruiting class sparked a 13-3 start to the 2014-15 season before the team fell off a cliff, losing 12 of their last 15 games and missing out on the postseason entirely. Following that season, the Pirates jettisoned some of their baggage and returned a core of sophomores that would eventually lead the program to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances despite losing Isaiah Whitehead to the 2016 NBA Draft.

And now, four members of that 2014 recruiting class — guards Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, big men Angel Delgado and Ishmael Sanogo — are now seniors leading what may be the best Seton Hall team since the P.J. Carlesimo days. Delgado’s name is the one you need to know. The 6-foot-9 Dominican power forward is one of the toughest and most physical bigs in the country. It’s not a mistake that he averaged 15.2 points and 13.1 boards last season, numbers that jumped to 16.4 points and 14.5 boards in Big East play.

He’s Seton Hall’s All-American. He was also the team’s third-leading scorer last year, behind Carrington and Rodriguez, who are both tough, physical New York City guards; Carrington is more of a combo while Rodriguez is a wing. Sanogo Michael Nzei are tough, athletic, defensive-minded front court players, and you’re starting to see the trend here, right?

Playing Seton Hall is not going to be fun this season, and while they may not be the most talented team in the country this year, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that plays harder.

There are going to be two things that determine Seton Hall’s ceiling:

  • Does Seton Hall have a point guard? Freshman Jordan Walker is the only true point that will be eligible this season, and the Pirates ran into some problems that came with a lack of playmakers last season. Asking a freshman to handle those responsibilities will be tough, but it helps that Carrington can handle the ball and that everyone else on the floor will be a veteran.
  • What does Myles Powell turn into? He had some promising moments as a freshman, including 26-point outbursts at Iowa and at Xavier. If he become a more consistent shooter, that opens up a lot more space for Delgado inside.
Collin Sexton (David Banks/Getty Images)

ALABAMA

Last year, Alabama finished the season as one of the top ten defensive teams in college basketball, according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric.

Not only do the Crimson Tide return essentially everyone from that team, they also add one of the nation’s best recruiting classes to the mix. More importantly, that recruiting class features players that are able to get buckets in a hurry, and if you any Alabama basketball a year ago, you know that was a major issue; they were 153rd in adjusted offensive efficiency and, in February, played a four-overtime game against South Carolina where they managed all of 90 points in 60 minutes of basketball.

The name that you’re going to want to be familiar with is Collin Sexton, a top ten prospect in the class and the pound-for-pound best freshman scorer in the country. Assuming he’s eligible – which is no guarantee given the fact that he appears to be linked to the college basketball bribery scandal that erupted last week – it’s going to be interesting to see how he adjusts to the college level — in high school, the 6-foot-2 guard’s game was centered around getting into the lane, throwing his body into people and getting to the foul line — but he should immediately help relieve some of those scoring issues, as will five-star off-guard John Petty. Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram are both back in the mix as well, while former four-star big man Daniel Giddens will be eligible after transferring in from Ohio State.

I’m still very-much taking a wait-and-see approach with the Tide this year, but the combination of last year’s defense combined with the influx of scoring talent Avery Johnson will see in his back court this year gets the Tide a ceiling that is as high as anyone’s in the SEC this side of Kentucky and Florida.

UCLA

It’s going to be easy for people to write off this UCLA team.

Lonzo Ball is gone, as is T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford. Instead, the Bruins will enroll Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and the one that may end up igniting LaVar’s ire if he does not play the kind of minutes and get the kind of shots he envisions.

Frankly, I’m not even going to bother trying to convince you otherwise. There are major, major question marks surrounding this team.

But let’s pretend, for a second, that LaVar Ball did not exist.

The Bruins may have the best point guard in the Pac-12 in Aaron Holiday, who is one of the nation’s most underrated players. They have Thomas Welsh, a senior big man that can space the floor, and G.G. Goloman, another veteran front court presence. Prince Ali is coming off of an injury but he was a five-star prospect coming out of high school. Then there is the recruiting class: Jaylen Hands might be the reason that Holiday isn’t the best point guard on UCLA this year, and wing Kris Wilkes may actually have the biggest impact as a freshman. Throw in four-star recruits Chris Smith, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, and there is talent, depth and experience up and down this lineup.

They’ve got a shot to make some noise.

J.P. Macura, Trevon Bluiett (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

XAVIER

You want a sneaky sleeper pick for National Player of the Year that no one seems to be talking about?

Trevon Bluiett.

The 6-foot-6 wing was an absolute killer when he wasn’t dealing with an ankle injury last season, and through the first three rounds of last year’s NCAA tournament, he was the best player in the event. He’ll be back, potentially as a Preseason First-Team All-American, to anchor a roster that is probably more talented and athletic than you realize.

Senior wing J.P. Macura is back, as is sophomore Quentin Goodin, a former four-star recruit that has some promising moments as in an up-and-down freshman season filling in for the injured Edmond Sumner. Throw in a trio of four-star perimeter recruits, an experienced and versatile frontline and The Return of the (Chris) Mack, who was a target during Indiana’s coaching search, and there is a lot to like about this team.

But it’s Bluiett that is the centerpiece. As much as anyone in college basketball, he can put this group on his back and carry them to four straight wins in March, and with this supporting cast and coaching staff, that make Xavier a dangerous team.

MINNESOTA

The Golden Gophers were one of college basketball’s biggest surprises a season ago. Richard Pitino entered the season on the hot seat before winning 12 of their first 13 games only to lose five straight midway through Big Ten play. They would regroup, however, winning eight straight down the stretch, finishing the year with 24 wins and, somehow, turning into the obvious first round NCAA tournament upset as a No. 5 seed.

It was a roller coaster, but given the youth that was on that roster and the fact that Akeem Springs is the only contributor that won’t be returning to school, it was a nice starting point for what could turn into an extended run of Big Ten success.

Nate Mason is back for his senior year while junior Dupree McBrayer and freshman Isaiah Washington give Pitino plenty of back court options. Amir Coffey, a former five-star recruit, had a terrific freshman campaign as a versatile wing while the front court options are plentiful — Reggie Lynch and Bakary Konate return, and Davante Fitzgerald’s return to health should help mitigate the loss of Eric Curry.

All told, that means a Pitino-coached team has a talented, experienced perimeter attack with a bevy of big bodies on the front line. If Coffey can grow into an all-Big Ten talent, Minnesota will have the horses to give Michigan State a run for their money atop the league.

Matt Farrell, Bonzie Colson (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

NOTRE DAME

To me, the Fighting Irish have reached the point in their program development that they are to the ACC what Wisconsin was to the Big Ten under Bo Ryan. Instead of trying to figure out who is going to play what role, just assume that the pieces Mike Brey has matriculating through his program will find a way to figure it out.

There is no better example of this than last year, when the Irish lost Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste from a team that went 24-12 and somehow managed to win more games with a better ACC record despite using 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson as their small-ball center for much of the year.

And never has there been a player more perfectly-suited to a role than Colson is to playing in Mike Brey’s system. He’s borderline unstoppable one-on-one, and when the Irish plant knockdown shooters everywhere around him, they become a nightmare to defend.

Matt Farrell, who was one of the most pleasant surprises in college basketball last season, will return as well, but the key for this group is going to be three-fold:

  1. Will Temple Gibbs and Rex Pflueger, two wings that entered Notre Dame with expectations and a high rankings by recruiting services, take advantage of the minutes made available by the graduation of Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem?
  2. Will D.J. Harvey, a talented forward that was once a top ten player in the Class of 2017, have an immediate impact as the big wing that the Irish currently lack?
  3. Does Martinas Geben become a player that can anchor a front line when needed?

If all three of those things happen, Notre Dame will once again be a top 20 team that can beat anyone on any given night.

VIDEO: Former Michigan athletes Austin Hatch and Abby Cole tie the knot

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The life of former Michigan basketball player Austin Hatch has not been without its challenges, as during his pre-college years he survived two separate plane crashes that took the lives of his parents, a stepmother and two siblings.

Hatch’s scholarship offer to Michigan was honored by head coach John Beilein despite the impact that the crashes had on Hatch physically, and Hatch would go on to earn his degree and land a job at the corporate office for Domino’s. This past spring, Hatch was honored during the team’s Senior Day festivities.

By that point Hatch was already engaged to Abby Cole, who played volleyball at Michigan from 2013 to 2016. And over the weekend, the two tied the knot in what was a highly emotional day for all involved. Below is a video of their wedding day, which was chronicled by Derek Postma.

Congratulations and best wishes to Abby and Austin on their marriage.

Arizona lands Cornell forward Stone Gettings for 2019-20 season

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Arizona landed its first addition for the 2019-20 season on Monday, as an Ivy League power forward revealed his intention to join Sean Miller’s program as a graduate student.

6-foot-9 forward Stone Gettings, who averaged 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game at Cornell last season, picked Arizona over Stanford and Vanderbilt according to Evan Daniels of 247Sports.com. A second team All-Ivy selection, Gettings is on course to graduate from Cornell in December. Instead of using his final season of eligibility at Cornell, Gettings will sit out this season before playing at Arizona.

Gettings does have a connection to the Arizona program, as one of his high school teammates was former point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright. The addition of Gettings will give Arizona a front court player who can score around the basket and from the perimeter, as he shot nearly 37 percent from beyond the arc last season.

Gettings isn’t the first Ivy League player to make his decision regarding a new school well in advance of his being able to move as a grad transfer, as former Yale point guard Makai Mason took a similar approach. Mason, who missed the entire 2016-17 season with a torn ACL, announced prior to last season that he be joining the Baylor program as a grad transfer for the 2018-19 campaign.

Not counting Gettings, Arizona has four scholarship front court players on its current roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019-20, in current junior Chase Jeter, sophomores Emmanuel Akot and Ira Lee and freshman Omar Thielemans.

Bill Self: Silvio De Sousa’s eligibility not in jeopardy ‘at this stage’

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One of the biggest question marks heading into the 2018-19 season for the Kansas Jayhawks is the eligibility status of Silvio De Sousa.

If you’ve forgotten, a player that is believed to be De Sousa was referenced in a second round of indictments handed by the FBI. In those documents, De Sousa’s guardian is alleged to have asked an Adidas rep for at least $20,000 to repay a rival apparel company for a payment that was made to secure De Sousa’s commitment to another school. Prior to a surprise commitment to Kansas, De Sousa was long considered a Maryland lean. His AAU program and high school team were both sponsored by Under Armour, whose flagship program is Maryland.

According to Kansas head coach Bill Self, at this point De Sousa is still eligible.

“Nobody at this stage has given us any information that he could be in jeopardy at this stage,” Self said.

This is not surprising.

The way that I would expect this to play out is similar to the way it played out for players that were referenced in the indictments that came down last fall. Kansas is going to string this thing along until we get to a point in time close to the start of the season, when they will announce that De Sousa is being held out of competition. It is better for Kansas to bite the bullet and play without De Sousa than it would be for them to risk knowingly suiting up a player that can be retroactively ruled ineligible.

That sucks for De Sousa.

The good news for Kansas, however, is that Udoka Azubuike is back, as is Mitch Lightfoot, while both Dedric and K.J. Lawson will be eligible as they add freshman David McCormack. There is more than enough frontcourt depth to withstand the loss of De Sousa.

VIDEO: The #ShiggyChallenge has reached college hoops with Loyola’s coach showing his skills

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New Loyola-Maryland head coach Tavaras Hardy became the first college basketball head coach to get in on the Shiggy Challenge, as he posted this video to twitter on Tuesday morning:

What is the #ShiggyChallenge?

It’s the latest viral dance, which started just two weeks ago when an online personality named Shiggy posted himself dancing to Drake’s “In My Feelings” on Instagram:

#Mood : KEKE Do You Love Me ? 😂😂😂 @champagnepapi #DoTheShiggy #InMyFeelings

A post shared by Shoker🃏 (@theshiggyshow) on

From there, it took off, with everyone from Odell Beckham Jr. to James Harden trying to prove themselves capable of taking down the #ShiggyChallenge.

And now Tavaras Hardy is doing it.

The end.

Takeaways from the UAA Challenge: Nico Mannion and Josh Green are must-see, Anthony Edwards tops 2020

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EMERSON, Ga. — Although the Peach Jam was huge focal point of the first evaluation period, Under Armour had themselves a solid event with the UAA Challenge just north of Atlanta. With plenty of signature matchups and five-star talents, there were a lot of things to watch during a brief stop there during the first live evaluation period.

Here are some things to watch with the UAA, when they’ll be the focal point during the third live evaluation week as they host the UAA Finals in Las Vegas next week.

NICO MANNION AND JOSH GREEN aRE THE BEST 1-2 PUNCH IN THE UAA

Over the last few years, the duo of Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis have built a big reputation in the UAA. Deservedly so. But, over the next few weeks, the West Coast Elite duo of point guard Nico Mannion and Josh Green will be more fun to watch.

While the duo of Antoine and Lewis could end up being better long-term prospects (that’s a debate for another time), the duo of Mannion and Green have a unique chemistry playing with each other that Antoine and Lewis can lack at times since they play such similar positions.

Both Mannion and Green made major waves this weekend in the UAA Challenge.

Confirming to NBCSports.com that he intends to reclassify into the Class of 2019 from the Class of 2020, Mannion looked like he was ready to make the leap into college hoops. Second in the event in assists per game, Mannion had 38 of them over a six-game span (6.3 per game) and only had four turnovers in 164 minutes of action.

Also shooting 59 percent from the field and 83 percent from the free-throw line on his way to 15.8 points per contest, Mannion was incredibly efficient. He showed court savvy, athleticism and a solid perimeter jumper. Mannion has Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Marquette, Oregon and USC hard after him as he will be an intriguing point guard to watch during July.

Green, a 6-foot-6 two-way wing, was also incredibly efficient as he shot 71 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range on his way to 18.0 points, 3.1 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game. With four or more assists in four games, Green has natural floor vision and passing ability to go along with his scoring prowess. After showcasing a shaky perimeter jumper at times in the past, Green has worked with a trainer the past few months to become more consistent from deep. Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA, USC and Villanova are some of the schools that Green mentioned to NBCSports.com as being in the mix.

Both Green and Mannion are already five-star prospects. It’ll just be interesting to see them close out the live period the next two weeks because they have a chance to make some major noise.

ANTHONY EDWARDS HAS A CHANCE TO BE 2020’S BEST

The Class of 2019 doesn’t have a lot of star power in terms of No. 1 quality players — my colleague Rob Dauster went over that yesterday — but there seem to be a few worthy contenders in the Class of 2020.

Among them includes 6-foot-5 shooting guard Anthony Edwards. The Atlanta native was one of the must-see players of the first evaluation period. Playing in a high-profile matchup against five-star 2020 guard Jaden Springer, Edwards displayed a natural scoring ability thanks to his ridiculous athleticism and acumen for putting the ball in the basket; he’s what hoopheads will call a “bucket-getter”.

Although his jumper wasn’t falling from three-point range (5-for-22), Edwards still shot 57 percent from the field while putting up 22.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during the weekend.

Displaying more vision and passing ability with his Atlanta Xpress team than in the camp setting, Edwards looked like a more complete guard at the UAA Challenge. He also defended to the tune of an event-leading 2.4 steals per game as Edwards has long arms and a quick first step to jump into passing lanes.

There is plenty of competition for the top spot in 2020, but Edwards is going to be among the major contenders with his summer play.

JEREMIAH EARL-ROBINSON IS AS PRODUCTIVE AS ANYONE IN THE CLASS

This summer has seen Jeremiah Robinson-Earl produce everywhere he has played. The 6-foot-8 Class of 2019 forward helped the USA U18 team win a gold medal while also leading the UAA Challenge in rebounds the first week of July.

A double-double machine who is improving his perimeter skill, Robinson-Earl is a hard-playing and intriguing combo forward who should join a high-level college rotation immediately. He has great secondary leaping ability that enables him to be a menace on the offensive glass as he’s particularly adept at putbacks.

If Robinson-Early can show an improved perimeter jumper and an ability to attack off the dribble, then he’ll have a chance to be a top-ten player in the class. He has the motor and production to rise if he fixes his flaws and he’ll have plenty of time to be a showcase player at IMG Academy next season.

Kansas is a perceived favorite with Robinson-Earl, as Bill Self coached him on the U18 team over the past several weeks before the live period. North Carolina and Arizona are among some other schools also trying to stay in the mix for Robinson-Earl as they try to pry him away from the Midwest.