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Re-ranking the 2010 recruiting class

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July’s live recruiting period, the last of its kind, just finished up, meaning that the Class of 2019 have fully had a chance to prove themselves to the recruiters and the recruitniks around the country.

Scholarships were earned and rankings were justified over the course of those three weekends, but scholarship offers and rankings don’t always tell us who the best players in a given class will end up being.

Ask Steph Curry.

Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be re-ranking eight recruiting classes, from 2007-2014, based on what they have done throughout their post-high school career. 

Here are the 25 best players from the Class of 2010, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

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1. Kyrie Irving (4)

Just like it was in college, injuries have been an issue for Irving in the pros, but still by the age of 26 he’s got one NBA title, five All-Star appearances and one All-NBA team appearance. Given all that, he deserves the top spot here despite playing more than 60 games in a regular season just three times thus far in his career. Now out of Cleveland and without LeBron James, Irving has a chance to enhance his legacy with perhaps the league’s premier young team.

2. Doug McDermott (UR)

The criteria here is “post-high school career” so McDermott lands here less because he was a lottery pick and has been a solid rotation player throughout his four-year NBA career, but because he was an absolute monster in four years at Creighton. He is fifth all-time in NCAA career scoring and owns the record for double-digit scoring games with 135 while winning National Player of the Year as a senior. Not bad for a kid who played in Harrison Barnes’ shadow in high school and was slated to attend Northern Iowa before his dad left Iowa State for the Bluejays right before his collegiate career started.

3. Victor Oladipo (144)

After putting up good numbers for a bad team in Orlando, Oladipo suddenly becoming the centerpiece of a trade that sent him and Domantis Sabonis from Oklahoma City to Indiana, where Oladipo had a breakthrough season last year. He was first-team all-defense and a third-team All-NBA selection – while making north of $21 million. Cody Zeller may have been the headliner when they were both in Bloomington, but Oladipo has blossomed into perhaps best player from Tom Crean’s Indiana teams.

4. Enes Kanter (3)

Kanter never got to play for Kentucky thanks to an NCAA eligibility ruling, but the Turkish big man has backed up his recruiting ranking as a durable and productive big man at multiple stops across the league. In seven seasons he’s averaged 11.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and has twice averaged a double-double for a season. He’s made about $73 million over his career as well.

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5. Tristan Thompson (17)

Thompson is the second player on this list who owes a great deal of his professional success to LeBron James, but is the first to be connected to a Kardashian sister. The 6-foot-9 center has spent his entire career in Cleveland and was a big part – as much as one can be with Kyrie and LeBron on the team – of the Cavs’ 2016 title. Thompson’s career numbers aren’t huge – 9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game – but he’s been a major contributor on four-straight Finals team.

6. Harrison Barnes (2)

Barnes is often maligned for what he can’t do, which might have a little bit to do with the fact he came up with one of the best teams to ever be assembled. He was often the focal point of criticism on a team that won a title and then 73 regular-season games before he was tossed overboard to make room for Kevin Durant. The lifeboat, however, was a nearly $100 million contract with Dallas. He’s averaged 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists over his career.

7. Tobias Harris (7)

It took Harris until his fourth season to establish himself, but the 6-foot-9 small forward has turned into a reliable scorer with six-straight seasons of averaging at least 14.6 points. The Tennessee product is yet to find himself in a winning situation in his NBA career, but as his 3-point shooting has improved, he’s proved to be a difference-maker.

8. Gorgui Dieng (44)

After winning the 2013 NCAA national championship at Louisville (despite what the NCAA history books say), Dieng was drafted 21st overall in the draft that summer. He became a full-time starter for the Timberwolves before coming off the bench last season. He’s averaged 8.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for his career and has three years left on the $64 million deal he signed with the Wolves in 2016.

9. Brandon Knight (6)

Knight had a breakthrough season in 2015-16 when he averaged nearly 20 points per game after Phoenix gave him a $70 million contract, but struggled in 2016-17 before a torn ACL cost him last season. He’s averaged 15.2 points per game for his career and will enter this season as the Suns’ starter at point guard.

10. Terrence Ross (48)

The 6-foot-7 Washington forward established himself as a big part of Toronto’s ascendency in the Eastern Conference before being shipped to Orlando in the Serge Ibaka trade. A broken leg derailed his season with the Magic last year, but the 27-year-old former top-10 draft pick has proven himself as both a capable starter and rotation player.

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11. Shabazz Napier (98)

After averaging 18 points per game and leading UConn to the 2014 national title, Napier won the distinction of LeBron James’ “favorite player” that led the Heat to trade up to take him in the first round of the draft. LeBron returned to Cleveland a month later. But still, Napier has a national title on his resume and found himself a growing part of the Portland rotation a year ago.

12. Will Barton (11)

Barton left Memphis after just two seasons and was a second-round pick in 2012, but has found a spot for himself in Denver, where he just signed a four-year deal worth more than $50 million. Barton struggled to get much run in Portland in his first two-plus seasons in the league, but has since become a strong rotational guy for the Nuggets, averaging 15.7 points per gmae last season.

13. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (UR)

It’s a bit amazing the son of the Killer Crossover was unranked on his way to Michigan, where he starred for three years and played in a national championship game, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting together a strong pro career. He’s averaged double-figures in four of his five NBA seasons and looks to be a part of the Knicks’ core for the next few seasons.

14. Tony Snell (UR)

After three years at New Mexico, Snell was the 20th overall pick by the Bulls in the 2013 draft. He was a part-time starter for Chicago for three years before being traded up Interstate 94 to Milwaukee, where he’s started 139 games over two seasons. He’ll make about $34 million over the next three seasons with the Bucks.

15. Dion Waiters (29)

As much as it is to laugh at a guy who has a listed nickname of “Kobe Wade” on Basketball Reference, while never averaging more than 16 points per game or shot better than 43 percent from the floor in a season, Waiters has produced – to varying degrees – over seven seasons. A broken ankle ended his season with the Heat last year after he started in the team’s first 30 games.

16. Cory Joseph (8)

The Toronto native and University of Texas product has turned into something of an iron man the last few years, playing in in 79 games or more in the last four seasons, including all 82 last year for the Raptors. He’s not a star, but as a solid defensive rebounder, Joseph has found his place in the NBA.

17. Jeremy Lamb (76)

The UConn product had a breakout year last season, averaging a career-best 12.9 points while shooting a career-high 37 percent from 3-point range. He’ll open the season with the Hornets, his fourth in Charlotte, before becoming a free agent after the year.

18. Jared Sullinger (5)

The former Ohio State big man hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2016-17 season, but he had a nice three-year run with the Celtics in which he averaged double figures in scoring and at least 7.6 rebounds per game. Sullinger, a two-time first-team All-American with the Buckeyes, was one of the NBA’s top rebounders in 2013-14, but conditioning issues, along with injuries, knocked him out of the league.

19. Allen Crabbe (69)

Crabbe was a full-time starter last season for the first time in his career, and the former Cal Bear averaged career-highs of 13.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He’s an $18.5 million player the next two season for the Nets.

20. Meyers Leonard (31)

Leonard left Illinois after a stellar sophomore season in Champaign, and has spent his six NBA seasons as a role player in Portland, where he’s under contract for one more season. The 7-foot-1 center’s best season came in 2015-16 when he put up 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in 21.9 minutes per game, all career bests.

21. Andre Roberson (UR)

The 6-foot-7 wing has never put up much in the way of offensive production – he’s a career 25.7 percent 3-point shooter and has averaged 4.6 points in per game in 295 carer games – but he was a critical defensive player for some really good Oklahoma City teams over the years and was one blown 3-1 lead in 2016 away from maybe getting a ring.

22. Reggie Bullock (10)

Bullock has spent the bulk of his career trying to crack rotations in Phoenix, L.A. and Detroit, but finally found success last year with the Pistons. He averaged 27.9 minutes per game last season, averaging 11.3 points per game while shooting 44.5 percent from 3-point range.

23. Tarik Black (54)

Black transfered to Kansas for his senior season after three years in Memphis, and was a role player for the Jayhawks. Since, he stuck around in the NBA for five seasons, including last year with the Western Conference’s top seed, Houston.

24. Joe Harris (119)

Harris has stuck in the NBA the hard way with years in the NBDL before finally catching on with Cleveland and later Brooklyn. The former Virginia Cavalier put up 10.8 points per game last season for the Nets.

25. Jerian Grant (105)

The former Notre Dame standout found a spot for himself with Chicago during its rebuild of the last two years, averaging 22.8 minutes per game last season. He was traded to Orlando this offseaseason.

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FIVE NOTABLES THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE TOP 25

Josh Selby (1)

After an unspectacular freshman season with Kansas, Selby declared for the draft and went 49th overall. He played in 38 career games over two season – both with Memphis before washing out of the league. His overseas career has taken him to China, Israel, Turkey and Croatia. He’s often cited as a victim of the one-and-done era.

Perry Jones (9)

Jones could have been a lottery pick had he left Baylor after his freshman season, but slid to 28th after a lackluster sophomore season. He last played in the NBA in 2014-15 after three years as a bench player for Memphis.

Aaron Craft (111)

Most recently spotted with the Ohio State alumni team in TBT, Craft became one of college basketball’s most high profile players in his four years with the Buckeyes, but never appeared in an NBA game.

Josh Huestis (UR)

The Stanford grad found his niche in the NBA with Oklahoma City, where he started a handful of games last season after being relegated to the DLeague and bench in his first two years.

Russ Smith (UR)

Russdiculous won the 2013 national championship with Louisville, but only managed two seasons in the NBA in which he played sparingly. He spent the last two years playing in China.

N.C State guard Braxton Beverly out with broken hand

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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

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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.

Key transfer ruled eligible to play for Virginia

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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.

Preseason AP Top 25 poll released

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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.

CLEAR CHOICES

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.

FRESH START

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.

LOFTY START

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.

CONFERENCE WATCH

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)
7. Nevada
8. North Carolina
9. Villanova
10. Michigan State
11. Auburn
12. Kansas State
13. West Virginia
14. Oregon
15. Virginia Tech
16. Syracuse
17. Florida State
18. Mississippi State
19. Michigan
20. TCU
21. UCLA
22. Clemson
23. LSU
24. Purdue
25. Washington

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.

No. 5 Villanova: Reigning national champs lose four players to NBA

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 5 Villanova.


By now, I think everyone on the planet has figured out that last season’s Villanova team was no fluke.

Villanova finished the 2017-18 offense as the most efficient that we have seen in the KenPom era in college hoops. They may just be the best college basketball team in the one-and-done era.

The only loss they took when they were at full strength last season came when Butler beat them in Hinkle Fieldhouse, and even then Villanova lost by eight despite the fact that the Bulldogs shot 15-for-22 from three.

Villanova had four players taken in the first 33 picks of the 2018 NBA Draft. Three went in the first round, and that did not include the 2018 National Player of the Year, Jalen Brunson, who was their lone second round pick.

It also did not include Eric Paschall, who could very well hear his name called in the first round come this June.

And that is where the discussion for this upcoming season starts.

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VILLANOVA WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

The narrative surrounding Villanova this season is that the Wildcats are too young to compete at the level that we have become accustomed to.

That’s what happens when a team we are used to seeing roll out a lineup that is entirely made up of upper-classmen is staring at a roster that has a majority of freshmen and sophomores.

But what that line of thinking ignores is just how good — and old — the veterans on this team are going to be.

Let’s start with Eric Paschall, a fifth-year senior that many are projecting to put up All-American numbers this year. A potential first round pick, Paschall is a 6-foot-8 athletic freak that shot 46.1 percent from three after a dreadful, 1-for-25 start from distance last season. He scored 24 points in the national semifinals against Kansas and finished the year averaging 10.6 points despite playing on a team with four draft picks on it. He’s won a title, he was a redshirt the year Villanova won the title in 2016 and, as a freshman at Fordham, he averaged 15.9 points.

Long story short: He’s a beast, and he’s ready for his breakout season.

As is Phil Booth, another fifth-year senior for the Wildcats. Booth is a talented combo-guard that has been a critical piece for the Wildcats for half-a-decade. He scored 20 points in the 2016 national title game against North Carolina. He started last season over DiVincenzo. Just this past weekend he put up 41 points on those same Tar Heels in an intrasquad scrimmage between the two programs that have won the last three national titles.

Again, he’s a beast that is ready be the star of this program.

Phil Booth (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

There aren’t two players in the country that are better-suited to provide leadership than those two, and they are doing so in a program that has the best ‘culture’ in all of college basketball. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that Villanova is going to be too young when those two players are on the roster while Duke — who will start four freshmen — and Kentucky — who is “old” because they landed Reid Travis as a transfer — are consensus top four teams.

At some point, I should probably mention Joe Cremo as well. A grad transfer from Albany, Cremo has won a lot of basketball games in his career and should be a perfect fit for the way Villanova wants to play: He’s a shooter with positional versatility to can make read-and-react plays offensively and attack a closeout.

And while the argument that those other programs are more talented than Villanova do hold some validity, that’s ignoring the fact that the Wildcats are talented in their own right. Jahvon Quinerly is a five-star point guard that should push Collin Gillispie for starters’ minutes. Gillispie himself is a point guard that impressed in his limited minutes as a freshman. Cole Swider, at 6-foot-9, is the best shooter in the 2018 freshmen class and a perfect fit for the way that Villanova wants to play. Both Brandon Slater and Saddiq Bey have the kind of size and versatility that Jay Wright loves; Bey scored 23 points and hit five threes in that scrimmage with UNC.

Then there is Jermaine Samuels, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

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BUT VILLANOVA IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

While I fully believe that this Villanova team is going to outperform expectation, the truth is that there is some guesswork involved here.

We’ve seen Booth and Paschall shine in supporting roles in the past, and we’ve seen Villanova players go from being pieces to stars without a problem in the past, but we won’t know how Paschall and Booth are going to perform as the focal point of an offense until we actually see it.

The same can be said about everyone else in this program.

I think that Gillispie is going to be an impact player as a sophomore, but he was also a three-star recruit coming out of high school that is going to be asked to carry a much, much bigger load this season. Quinerly has all the talent in the world, but he’s also a point guard that is best known for making “Jelly-fam” a movement in New York City. Is he less Jalen Brunson than Skip To My Lou at this point in his career? We won’t know until we see him running Villanova’s offense.

Slater and Bey are promising and precisely the kind of projects that take two or three years to develop until Jay Wright. Swider’s shooting is going to get him on the floor immediately, but will he provide the defensive presence that Villanova is going to demand from? Can Dhamir Cosby-Rountree do what Darryl Reynolds did in 2016-17? How will Cremo adjust to playing in the Big East after starting his career in the America East?

Personally, under Jay Wright’s tutelage, I am just going to assume all of these questions are answered with the best-case scenario, or close to it.

But there certainly is a scenario where the players on this roster just are not yet ready to play the roles they are going to be asked to play.

Eric Paschall (Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

The one guy that I haven’t really delved into yet is Jermaine Samuels.

A former top 50 prospect that picked Villanova over Duke, Kansas and Indiana, Samuels is an athletic, 6-foot-6 wing that can guard-up or guard-down, make a three-pointer and attack a closeout. He checks all the boxes for the kind of prospect that Wright has turned into an NBA player — from Dante Cunningham and James Bell to Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges and Darrun Hilliard.

I fully expect Samuels to take that leap … at some point, but I do wonder if it is going to come this season. It sounds like Samuels is destined to be more of a role player than he is a star this year, and just how big of a role he is capable of playing is something that can change the way we view this group.

The biggest concern I have for Villanova is going to be on the defensive end of the floor. This group was somewhere between good and really good defensive for much of last year, but they lose some critical pieces from that group. We don’t know how well these freshmen are going to end up being defensively. Gillispie and Cosby-Rountree don’t exactly profile as elite defensive pieces, and while Booth and Paschall should be fine, the strength of Villanova on that end is more due to the collective than it is any brilliant individual defending. If the collective is a group of average or below-average defensive pieces, that’s an issue.

Which is where Samuels comes in.

Outside of Paschall, he probably has the best tools when it comes to playing the multi-positional, versatility-driven style of defense that Wright has thrived with. If he’s capable of giving 20-25 really good minutes this season, it will make Villanova better defensively. If he starts to look like he’s ready to ‘make the leap’, suddenly Villanova is much more dangerous.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

At the very least, Villanova once again looks like the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East again after their four-year reign of terror over the conference was snapped last season by Xavier.

But that said more about the Big East than it does about the Wildcats.

What it all comes down to for Villanova is how quickly the underclassmen reach a point where they can play like upperclassmen. How steep is Quinerly’s learning curve at the point? Will Gillispie truly be the new Ryan Arcidiacono? Will Paschall and Booth take the step forward and play like they deserve placement on first-team all-Big East?

I think Villanova has Final Four upset, and I just invested some money in Villanova (+3,000) to win the national title. That’s how bullish I am on them.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 6 Nevada
No. 7 Tennessee
No. 8 Virginia
No. 9 North Carolina
No. 10 Auburn
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette