Just like Kentucky did two weeks ago, the Duke Blue Devils spent last week traveling abroad to play in exhibition games that were televised.
Kentucky went south, heading to the Bahamas.
Duke made the trip up north so that Canadian R.J. Barrett would have a chance to play in front of his home crowd.
And while it was a little bit easier to see what Kentucky will have a chance to be this season — we’ll get into why that is later — we did get our first chance to see what Duke could look like.
Here are the four things that we learned:
R.J. BARRETT IS THE TRUTH, BUT ZION WILLIAMSON SHOULD LIVE UP TO THE HYPE
At this point, everyone should know more or less what R.J. Barrett is.
He was the consensus No. 1 player in the Class of 2018 despite the fact that he reclassified last summer. (He turned 18 this summer, meaning that he is enrolling in college in what would be considered the normal year.) There is a long way to go still, but he is thought to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field when it comes to the race for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Last summer, he put 38 points, 13 boards and six assists on the USA team at the U-19 World Cup, which became first time since 2011 that USA Basketball was not the reigning champion at any age group in international competition.
Put another way, seeing Barrett steamroll a bunch of Canadian college basketball players should not be surprising if you know what he did against a team that included the likes of Carsen Edwards, Kevin Huerter, P.J. Washington and Romeo Langford, not to mention Barrett’s current Duke teammate, Cam Reddish. In three games, he averaged 30.7 points, 8.0 boards and 5.0 assists.
What was more eye-opening was the way that Zion Williamson played.
Williamson is college basketball’s first superstar of the internet age. His other-worldly athleticism has turned him into a social media machine. He has 1.7 million followers on Instagram. There are YouTube channels that have sprung to life simply because they were able to post his high school dunk. When he was a junior in high school, Drake wore his jersey. Every teenage basketball fan knows who he is.
The question about Williamson has long been whether or not he is more than just an athlete. He never left his local South Carolina high school, which is why those viral videos of him dunking often looked like he was playing against, well, me. He played on the Adidas circuit in high school, which is good but is not at the same level as the EYBL. I’m not sure there is a person on the planet that can match his explosiveness and quickness while checking in at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, as Duke lists him, but the question about his potential as a pro has always been what will happen when he is not longer on another planet athletically.
And at the risk of overreacting to three exhibition games against overmatched competition, I am much more bullish on him as a prospect today than I was a week ago.
There are three reasons for that:
Williamson has a higher basketball IQ and is a better passer than I realized. It’s the little moments that give it away: finding a shooter after an offensive rebound, seeing a backdoor cut even if the pass he threw was not good enough to get the assist, the outlet passes he would throw to streaking guards before he even landed after grabbing a defensive rebound. He reads the game.
He’s underrated as a ball-handler. He’s also hardly a finished product there, but he has good enough handle that he can be a sensation as a grab-and-go big in transition and will be able to beat bigger (well, slower, he’s pretty big) defenders off the bounce. That’s key because his shooting still needs work.
He just plays so damn hard. When someone his size with his leaping ability decides that they want to go and get a rebound, how are you going to stop him? And while things like handle or shooting or defensive positioning can be taught, ‘motor’ cannot.
Williamson probably could stand to lose 20 or 25 pounds*, which will likely also help with him improving on his conditioning; he seemed to tire for stretches in these exhibitions, which is understandable considering the load he and Barrett carried and the fact that, you know, he is 285 pounds. And that jumper needs some consistency.
But those are fairly easy problems to fix, all things considered.
Which is why I think Williamson is going to come much closer to living up to the hype than I did before this trip.
*(The “Zion is fine at 285” crowd annoys me. Yes, he’ll be just fine playing at 285 pounds or whatever he is. But if he’s able to do all of this while carrying baby weight around, imagine what he’ll do once he streamlines his body.)
DUKE’S DEPTH IS GOING TO BE AN ISSUE
Duke had a bunch of injuries on this trip.
Cam Reddish didn’t play. Tre Jones didn’t play. Alex O’Connell lasted all of three minutes in the first game before fracturing a bone in his face. That’s three of Duke’s top six players heading into next season.
Without those three, Duke was forced to start the likes of Jack White, Antonio Vrankovic and Jordan Goldwire in lineups that included both Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden. I expect White will play a larger role this season because, if nothing else, he’s going to be one of the best shooters on the roster and can play a forward spot. Goldwire is fine as a point guard off the bench, I guess, and Vrankovic is big enough and serviceable enough to play emergency minutes.
Those guys are fine for the end of the bench, but the problem that will arise is that “the end of Duke’s bench” looks like it is going to start with the eighth man.
And that’s assuming that Marques Bolden becomes a trusted part of Coach K’s rotation. In the three exhibitions in Canada, Bolden played a total of just 39 minutes, missing all three of his shot attempts without taking a single free throw while grabbing all of nine rebounds.
Duke plays the majority of this season with a six-man rotation, using O’Connell off the bench to spell whoever needs a rest and allowing Williamson to play the five when Javin DeLaurier needs a blow.
Depth is something that I think is overrated in college basketball given how many TV timeouts there are during a game. Villanova has won two of the last three national titles despite using rotations that end at seven guys. Syracuse routinely makes runs in March with teams that have just five or six guys that see minutes. It’s great to have 13 players on scholarship that can contribute, but only five of them can see the floor at a time. When your best players are going to get 30-35 minutes a night, having too many guys that deserve to play can lead to discontentment.
So I’m not sure this is going to cripple Duke’s season.
But in a sport where titles are won in one-game knockout tournaments, a poorly-timed sprained ankle or some simple foul trouble can be a killer.
THIS TEAM IS GOING TO BE SO MUCH FUN TO WATCH
If there is one thing that we can learn from the way that Duke played in Canada, it’s that this team is likely going to play fast, fast, fast.
I’m not sure there will be any player in the college basketball this year that can grab-and-go the way that Barrett and Williamson can, and that’s before you even factor in that Reddish — a silky 6-foot-8 wing — will be able to do the same thing, and that Tre Jones will actually be the point guard on this roster.
Imagine being an opposing point guard and seeing Barrett or Williamson come at you with a full head of steam in transition. That’s nightmare fuel.
This group is also switchable defensively, and I’ve been told that they have already been tinkering with lineups that allow Williamson to play the five, a la the ‘Death Lineup’ that the Golden State Warriors roll out with Draymond Green playing center.
There is a lot to like about this group, but that leads me to my single-biggest concern about this team …
… DUKE IS GOING TO HAVE TO FIND SHOOTING SOMEWHERE
Part of the reason I think Duke is going to be a transition-heavy team is that they have the players to thrive in that kind of a system.
But I also think that it will partly be by necessity, as Duke has a roster that is loaded with perimeter talent without having all that much perimeter shooting.
Put another way, Villanova made small-ball work for them last season because every single player in their top six was a lethal three-point shooter. Golden State makes it work because they have three of the greatest shooters in the history of the sport on the roster.
Barrett? The biggest knock on him as a prospect is that he is an inconsistent shooter, and that was backed up by a 6-for-21 (28%) performance in Canada. The same thing can be said about Williamson, who shot 3-for-9 (33%) from three on the trip, and one of his three makes was a ball that bricked off the back of the rim, hit the backboard and happened to drop in. Reddish and Jones are both guys that can make threes, but they are probably better described as scorers more than shooters.
Throw in someone like a DeLaurier or a Bolden, and suddenly the paint gets awfully clogged.
I currently have Duke sitting at No. 4 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 — behind Kansas, Gonzaga and Kentucky — because of those question marks from beyond the arc.
This trip did nothing to alleviate those concerns.
John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season
McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.
The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.
“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.
Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.
“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”
The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.
He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.
“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”
Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.
“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”
Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.
NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”
Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.
Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.
With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.
Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.
Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.
And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.
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:
With the exception of Saddiq Bey, Villanova returns 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 right now. And while Bey was their best player, I don’t think that they will have much trouble replacing him. Villanova has a roster full of talented wings and perimeter weapons. Bey was the best of the bunch, but Antoine’s healthy, Daniels is really good and the likes of Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels and Cole Swider return as well. Throw in Jeremiah Robinsin-Earl and this roster is loaded.
RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25 (link)
GONE: Freddie Gillespie, Devonte Bandoo
COMING BACK: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark, Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Flo Thamba
WAIT AND SEE: None
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 get all three of their guards back now that Jared Butler has opted to return to school, and with Mark Vital returning, 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?
GONE: Filip Petrusev, Admon Gilder, Ryan Wooldridge, Killian Tillie
COMING BACK: Joel Ayayi, Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zakharov
WAIT AND SEE: Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert
NEW FACES: Oumar Ballo, Aaron Cook, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris
The Zags should once again be a powerhouse next season, but they are still waiting on a couple of draft decisions. Their star freshman guard is Jalen Suggs, who would be a perfect fit next to Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert on Gonzaga’s perimeter if both return to school. As much as I like Ayayi as a player, I’m not sure he’s going to be drafted this year. Kispert doesn’t have much else that he can prove at the college level and has a real chance to be a early-to-mid second round pick. Gonzaga’s frontcourt is going to be absolutely loaded even without Filip Petrusev because Drew Timme and Oumar Ballo both have WCC Player of the Year upside. Throw in a healthy Anton Watson, and the Zags should be loaded again.
COMING BACK: Kihei Clark, Jay Huff, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kody Stattman, Justin McCoy
WAIT AND SEE: None
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.
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.
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 Tre Jones, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all headed 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.
GONE: Bakari Evelyn, Ryan Kreiner, Cordell Pemsl
COMING BACK: Luka Garza, C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Joe Toussaint, Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery, Jack Nunge
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Tony Perkins, Ahron Ulis, Patrick McCaffery
PROJECTED STARTERS: Joe Toussaint, C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Jack Nunge, Luka Garza
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. 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 — yes, I’m taking the liberty of locking Luka into that award — along with talents like Joe Weiskamp and C.J. Frederick.
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, Malachi Wideman
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 he pulls out of the draft. If Vescovi can handle full-time point guard duties better with an offseason under his belt, the Vols are going to be the favorite to win the SEC.
Illinois has a chance to be very, very good this coming season. The big news came with just days left before the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the draft, when Ayo Dosunmu announced that he would be returning to school for his junior season. Dosunmu is one of the best big-shot makers in the sport and will likely see his name on a preseason All-American team. With Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili coming back and a couple of talented freshmen guards — Andrew Curbelo, Adam Miller — enrolling, Brad Underwood has a terrific core. With Kofi Cockburn also deciding to return, the Illini will have a real shot at winning the Big Ten title and getting to a Final Four.
10. TEXAS TECH
GONE: Jahmi’us Ramsey, Chris Clarke, Davide Moretti, T.J. Holyfield, Russel Tchewa
NEW FACES: Nimari Burnett, Micah Peavy, Marcus Santos-Silva, Joel Ntambwe, Chibuzo Agbo, Esahia Nzyiwe
PROJECTED STARTERS: Kyler Edwards, Nimari Burnett, Terrance Shannon, Joel Ntambwe, 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 built 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 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.
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 despite the fact that Nate Hinton left school a year earlier than expected.
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.
13. 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
The Tar Heels 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 much higher.
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’m betting thatwsc the system will continue to work. And even if both Vassell and Williams had decided to come back, it doesn’t answer the most pressing question of Leonard Hamilton’s team: How do they replace Trent Forrest at the point?
15. 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: Josh Langford
NEW FACES: Joey Hauser, Mady Sissoko, A.J. Hoggard
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, even if a number of those pieces are young and unproven. Losing Xavier Tillman, an anchor and a leader, is a massive blow.
GONE: Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards, Ashton Hagans, Johnny Juzang, E.J. Montgomery
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 transferredwest. 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.
17. 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.
COMING BACK: Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop, Denzel Mahoney, Jacob Epperson, Shereef Mitchell
WAIT AND SEE: None
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.
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.
GONE: Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske
COMING BACK: Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez
WAIT AND SEE: Chaundee Brown
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 Wake Forest transfer Chaundee Brown get eligible?
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.
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.
This ranking is dependent on Remy Martin 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. Losing Romello White is going to hurt, but Alonzo Verge had a breakout season, and they added Josh Christopher, a five-star prospect from California.
COMING BACK: Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Andre Gustavson, Jake Wojcik, Tyler Burton
WAIT AND SEE: None
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.
GONE: James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa, Tyler Harris
COMING BACK: D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Boogie Ellis, Damian Baugh, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.
“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”
A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.
Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.
Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.