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No. 20 LSU Tigers: Just how good is Tremont Waters going to be?

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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. 20 LSU.


Will Wade is heading into his second season as the head coach of the LSU Tigers and the sixth season of his head coaching career, and this past season was simultaneously the worst of his career and incredibly promising if you are a fan of the Bayou Bengals.

Prior to moving to Baton Rouge, Wade had coached two seasons at VCU and two seasons at Chattanooga, never finishing lower than second in his league standings and, in 2015-16, doing the one thing that Shaka Smart never did as head coach of the Rams: Win a conference regular season title.

Last year, the Tigers finished the season just 18-15 overall, their 8-10 mark in a strong SEC enough to get them into the bubble conversation but not into the NCAA tournament, but when you consider what Wade was walking into, those numbers are better than you realize. In Johnny Jones’ final season at LSU he went 10-21 overall with a 2-16 mark in the SEC as one of the single-worst defensive teams in the country before losing his two best players.

Wade was walking into a rebuild, and it didn’t take him long to get it kickstarted.

And much of that was thanks to a freshman from New Haven, Conn., named Tremont Waters, a four-star prospect and one of the most exciting players in college hoops last season.

He’s back for his sophomore campaign, and Wade has bolstered his roster with a handful of talented recruits from the Class of 2018.

Will that be enough to get LSU back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four seasons?

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LSU WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

LSU is going to look very different than they did a season ago. That’s what happens you lose three of your top five scorers and four players that started double-digit games.

But where there will be consistency for the Tigers is at the point, as Waters returns after a freshman campaign that saw him average 15.9 points, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals while thrilling fans with an array of deep threes and no-look passes. He’s Trae Young-lite, if you will, and the fact that he is back for another season cannot be overstated.

The reason that LSU was even in the conversation when it came to the NCAA tournament was because of the fact that they could score. They finished the year 33rd in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, more than 100 spots above where they finished defensively, and Waters was easily their highest-usage player. He’s a ball-screen savvy point guard playing in a system that puts significant value on ball-screens. More than 35 percent of LSU’s halfcourt possessions last season were ball-screen actions, according to Synergy Sports. Just under 50 percent of Waters’ halfcourt possessions were ball-screen actions, and the Tigers averaged 1.022 PPP on those possessions.

For the season, LSU averaged 0.859 PPP on halfcourt possessions. That tells you all you need to know.

In a year where the crop of guards around college basketball is not all that exciting, Waters has a chance to finish the season as a first-team All-American. He’s that good.

The question I have is about his supporting cast.

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Skylar Mays (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

BUT LSU IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

We really don’t know all that much about LSU’s supporting cast, do we?

We know who all these guys are on paper. Ja’vonte Smart is a top 35 prospect and a talented, athletic combo-guard with some size to him. Emmitt Williams is as powerfully athletic as anyone in this recruiting class, and he plays with the motor of an F150. He won’t stop. Naz Reid has all the tools to fill the role vacated by the underrated Duop Reath, a stretchy big man with size to hang with all of the SEC’s big boys. Skylar Mays is a good program guy, as is Kavell Bigby-Williams. The same can be said about the likes of Daryl Edwards, and Marlon Taylor is the kind of athlete that will have a dunk or two go viral before his time in college is over.

But this group is also going to be entirely new. There will likely only be three or four players in the LSU rotation that played a game for the Tigers last season. They could end up starting three freshmen with a fourth coming off of the bench, which is not an easy thing to do when those freshmen are among the best players in the country. Every year it feels like we are talking about it is going to take a while for Duke and Kentucky to come together, and with all due respect to Reid, Williams, Smart and Darius Days, we’re not exactly talking about guys that are surefire lottery picks.

And that’s before we even mention that the 2018 recruiting class as a whole is not as good at the top as previous recruiting classes.

To be frank, it makes it very difficult to analyze.

This group is going to be totally different than last year’s group.

Stylistically and schematically, the dots connect. Wade has a point guard — or three — that excel in ball-screens, and he runs an offense that is ball-screen heavy. His two teams at VCU had talented guards and a bevy of athletic, hard-playing big men — remember Mo Alie-Cox? — and this LSU team has the same. Those VCU teams did their damnedest to continue on the ‘Havoc’ era, and this LSU team does have players that can fly around defensively.

I think Wade will find a way to make it work, and having a player as good as Waters stick around for a second season is certainly going to help, but this LSU team is not going to be a finished product by the start of SEC play.

That could be a good thing or a bad thing.

Naz Reid (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

For my money, the guy on this roster that can take LSU from being a borderline top 25 team to a team that has a real shot at finishing the year as a top three seed with Final Four potential is Naz Reid.

Reid has all the makings of a future pro. He’s 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds. He’s not Robert Williams, but he’s athletic enough. He’s not Dirk Nowitzki, but he shot 34.6 percent from three on the UAA circuit prior to his senior season. He’s not Tim Duncan, but he can do some things around the bucket.

He’s a five-star prospect that is 18th in 247 Sports Composite rankings, a good enough player that NBA teams are going to have to send their scouts to Baton Rouge to get a look at Reid throughout the season. More importantly, at least in this discussion, is that he’s a guy with the ability to have a major impact on the SEC …

… if he decides he wants to.

The knock on Reid throughout his high school career was that his motor never ran high enough. He DGAF-ed for too long in front of too many people, and that is never a good reputation to have. Is that how he is going to play at LSU? Tiger fans know all too well about superstar players that have no interest in being on campus (see: Simmons, Ben), and that is certainly a concern for Reid.

We know what we’re going to get from other guys on this roster. Mays is going to be a good role player, a valuable veteran on a roster with a lot of youth. Smart has a bright future and will have the luxury of being able to let Waters and Mays lead the way in the backcourt. Williams isn’t all that skilled, but you know he’s always going to play his tail off.

Reid?

He can put up 20 and 10 any given night.

He’s just as likely not to show up for a game.

That’s pretty much the definition of an x-factor.

Will Wade (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

2018-19 OUTLOOK

I know this is going to sound weird, but it’s probably the truth: The SEC is as good as any conference in college basketball, including the ACC.

Kentucky might be the best team in the country. Tennessee won a share of the league’s regular season title a year ago and returns literally everyone from that roster. Auburn brings back the most of the team that shared that league title with Tennessee. Mississippi State looks like they will be a top 20 team this year. You are going to see some people rank Arkansas and some people rank Florida. Missouri has a shot of getting back to the NCAA tournament, as does Alabama. Even Vanderbilt looks like they could be a tournament team with the recruiting class that Bryce Drew brought in.

And that, as much as anything else, is what will probably be the culprit if LSU doesn’t end up getting into the NCAA tournament.

Their non-conference schedule is … fine, I guess. They play Memphis. They play Houston. They play Saint Mary’s. They play in the Advocare Invitational (Florida State, Villanova if they win). I’m not sure how many tournament teams or quality wins you’ll find there. They are going to have plenty of work to do in league play, and, on paper, they should have the pieces to be able to get it done.

We’ll see if those pieces come together the way Tiger fans hope they will.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Iowa basketball coach admits to sexually exploiting 400 boys

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A prominent Iowa youth basketball coach faces potentially decades in prison after admitting to a yearslong pattern of sexually exploiting and abusing at least 400 boys, including former players, their friends and other young athletes.

Greg Stephen, 42, posed as girls on social media to trick the boys into making live videos masturbating. He secretly recorded them showering during trips to tournaments. In some cases he recorded himself fondling nude players as they slept.

The massive scope of Stephen’s abuse was revealed in a plea agreement filed Thursday after the former Iowa Barnstormers coach pleaded guilty to seven charges, including sexually exploiting minors and possessing and transporting child pornography, in federal court in Cedar Rapids.

Stephen’s arrest in March shocked the basketball community in Iowa, where he for years was a coach and co-director of the Adidas-sponsored traveling program for the state’s top youth players. The case has played out amid heightened awareness of sexual abuse in sports triggered by the arrest of disgraced gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is serving decades in prison after hundreds of women and girls accused him of sexually assaulting them under the guise of medical treatment.

Stephen acknowledged that he had a hard drive containing folders named for 400 different boys, each containing explicit photos and videos that he had amassed over the years through his involvement in the program for children ages 9 to 17. Many former Barnstormers have gone on to play college basketball at Division 1 programs.

Some images were of boys undressing and showering, captured by recording devices that Stephen secretly placed in hotel bathrooms. Devices designed to look like a bath towel hook and a smoke detector were used at his home in Monticello, Iowa, and his lake cabin in nearby Delhi.

Stephen also took photos and videos of sleeping boys with their pants pulled down, including recordings of himself touching their genitals with his hands and, in at least one case, his mouth.

One such recording involved a boy who was 11 or 12 and had been given medication by Stephen that made him drowsy beforehand. Stephen would share beds with players during trips in which players competed in American Athletic Union tournaments or attended NBA games.

When they weren’t traveling together, Stephen often posed as teenage girls on Facebook and Snapchat and used those profiles to trick boys into giving him explicit images. He would offer to exchange nude videos and photos, telling the boys the types of images to produce. He used software to record live transmissions of the boys without their knowledge, and saved those images as well as their chats.

Prosecutors said the victims’ folders included at least one explicit video or photo of each, with some containing many different types. The plea agreement says that Stephen “committed sexual acts and sexual contact” on an unspecified number of boys.

The conduct occurred in 2018 and in “past seasons going back several years,” according to the plea agreement, which notes Stephen had been involved with the Barnstormers since 2008.

Stephen had initially offered an innocent explanation of the videos of boys showering, telling investigators they were intended to monitor their physical development and were not sexual in nature.

Stephen’s conduct was exposed after his former brother-in-law, Vaughn Ellison, discovered a recording device while remodeling Stephen’s home in February. Ellison gave the device to police after seeing that it contained several videos of boys showering in hotels in Lombard, Illinois, and Ankeny, Iowa. Investigators obtained warrants to search Stephen’s homes , where they found the hard drive and other devices.

Stephen’s attorneys have argued that the evidence should be suppressed because it was based on Ellison’s unlawful seizure of a device. A judge rejected that argument earlier this month . The plea agreement allows Stephen to appeal that decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

If his conviction stands on appeal, Stephen will face a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 180 at sentencing, which hasn’t been scheduled. He has been in custody since his arrest and will remain jailed pending sentencing.

The agreement notes that the potential sentence he faces will be lengthened due to the number and age of victims, the fact that he engaged in sexual acts and contact with multiple boys, and that he had supervisory control over them.

NCAA denies Oregon State forward’s request for immediate eligibility

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While Virginia received good news on Monday regarding its immediate eligibility appeal on behalf of Alabama transfer Braxton Key, Oregon State was not as fortunate.

Tuesday afternoon it was announced that the school’s appeal of the NCAA’s initial refusal to grant power forward Payton Dastrup immediate eligibility has also been denied. As a result Dastrup, who began his collegiate career at BYU, will have to sit out the 2018-19 season and Oregon State will be short a big as it looks to account for the early departure of Drew Eubanks.

Dastrup will have two seasons of eligibility at Oregon State, beginning with the 2019-20 campaign, and he will be able to practice with the team this season.

Senior Gligorije Rakocevic and junior Ben Koné are Oregon State’s most experienced interior players, with the former having averaged 2.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game in 2017-18. Koné was limited to just 16 games as a sophomore, as he underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee last October.

Junior Kylor Kelley and freshmen Warren Washington and Jack Wilson will also factor into the Beavers’ post rotation, with the 7-foot tall Kelley having averaged 9.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game at Lane (Oregon) CC last season.

Duquesne’s A.J. Palumbo Center getting $45 million makeover

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Duquesne is giving the A.J. Palumbo Center a major makeover after the upcoming basketball season.

The school announced Tuesday that the reimagined 30-year-old arena will be named UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse after former Duquesne basketball player Chuck Cooper. Cooper played for the Dukes from 1947-1950 before becoming the first African-American to be drafted by an NBA team. The Boston Celtics selected Cooper in the second round.

The renovation is expected to begin in March and cost an estimated $45 million. It is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2020-21 season. The school did not say where the Dukes would play in the meantime.

The Palumbo Center opened in 1988 and serves as the home for the Duquesne men’s and women’s basketball teams. While the updated arena will have wider concourses, a new video board and upgrades to premium seats, capacity is expected to stay around 4,400.

Former Cincinnati assistant charged with misdemeanor assault

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Former Cincinnati associate head coach Larry Davis, who abruptly announced his retirement after more than 30 years in college coaching, is now facing a federal misdemeanor assault charge in connection with an incident that occurred on an airplane in September 2017.

According to FOX 19 Cincinnati, Davis is alleged to have groped a female passenger during a flight from Milwaukee to Charlotte on September 12, 2017. The victim filed a report with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department that day. The charge is of the federal variety due to the fact that the alleged incident occurred on an airplane.

Davis served a 12-day, paid suspension as a result of the incident, with the punishment beginning on September 15, 2017, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn released a statement regarding the matter Tuesday, saying that the school had begun “the process for separation” shortly before Davis tendered his resignation last month.

“In Fall 2017, we learned of allegations against former employee Larry Davis regarding an off-campus incident which did not involve any member of the campus community. We immediately took proactive measures and suspended him from his duties while we took additional steps to ascertain more information. We could not substantiate the allegations at that time.

“We recently learned that the allegations may have additional support. Consistent with our guiding principles, we immediately commenced the process for separation.”

Davis, who had been a member of Mick Cronin’s coaching staff since 2006, was the head coach at Furman from 1997 to 2006. While Cronin was away from the team due to a health issue during the 2014-15 season, Davis served as interim head coach.

No. 4 Duke: Can Blue Devils avoid another disappointing season?

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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. 4 Duke.


Duke, once again, is going to enter a college basketball season with the best recruiting class in the sport.

The difference this year is that not only will the Blue Devils bring in the best crop of freshmen, they bring in the best freshmen — four of the top 15 prospects in 247 Sports’ composite rankings will suit up for Coach K this season, including three of the top five and the No. 1 and 2 players in the nation. There are some outlets that rank R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish as the three best recruits in the class, and there’s a chance that those three could end up being the top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Let’s ignore the how for now.

(The FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball has told us that everyone breaks NCAA rules, but the best players in the country turn down hundreds of thousands of dollars and jobs for family members of the prestige of spending nine months on Duke’s campus?)

The issue here has been the product on the court.

Duke has been a disappointment relative to expectation more or less every year since Coach K made the decision to go all-in on one-and-done prospects. The obvious exception was in 2015, when the Blue Devils figured out how to defend in late February and wound up winning the national title. The same happened last season, but Duke was bounced in the Elite 8 when a Grayson Allen floater spent six seconds on the rim before falling off.

It hasn’t been a total disaster, but it is clear that Duke is nowhere near as consistently dominant now as they have been in the past. The Blue Devils haven’t won an ACC regular season title since 2010. They’ve won just one ACC tournament title since 2011. They’ve reached the second weekend of the tournament just three times in the last eight years.

The biggest issue has been on the defensive end of the floor. It got to the point last season where Duke had no choice but to play zone full-time.

I don’t think that will be the issue this year. Duke, on paper, looks like a team that should be able to guard.

But this team still has some warts that Coach K is going to have to work out.

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DUKE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

The amount of talent on this roster makes it nearly impossible for the Blue Devils to fail.

Let’s start with R.J. Barrett. The 6-foot-7 point forward is the overwhelming favorite at this point in the calendar to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and rightfully so. He needs to continue to develop his jumpshot, but he has everything that you’re looking for in an NBA player in the modern NBA. He’s athletic, he’s big enough to be defensively versatile, he’s skilled enough to operate in ball-screens, he can get a bucket, he has impressive court-vision. As far as I’m concerned, all you need to know about Barrett is that, as a 17-year old, he put up 38 points, 13 boards and six assists for Canada in an upset of the United States — who were coached by John Calipari — en route to a gold medal in the U19 World Cup.

I don’t think Barrett is quite as good of a prospect as some of the elite prospects in past seasons, but I do think that it is clear he is the best player in this class.

R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

I said ‘player’ and not ‘prospect’ because there are some people that believe Reddish, and not Barrett, actually has a higher ceiling. At 6-foot-8, Reddish is more of a scorer at this point in his development, although he has played as a ball-handler at the high school and AAU level. He’s probably the best shooter out of Duke’s freshmen as well, and has the tools to be a really good defender.

I haven’t even gotten to Zion Williamson yet. The most famous player in college basketball in years, Williamson became a social media sensation thanks to his otherworldly athleticism. He is 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds, yet he dunks from the free throw line like a normal human being claps backboard on a layup and he set Duke’s school record for vertical leap. He’s quick, he’s fast, he has impressive footwork and he’s skilled enough — he’ll be the most dangerous grab-and-go big in the history of college basketball — to be able to handle the ball. He’s even a better shooter and a (much) better passer than he gets credit for.

Throw in Tre Jones, the younger brother of Tyus and the first true point guard Duke has had since the elder Jones finished cutting down the net in Indianapolis in 2015, and we don’t need to discuss anyone else on the roster to justify ranking the Blue Devils in the top five.

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BUT DUKE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

While I love all of the pieces in this freshmen class in a vacuum, I think there is reason to be concerned about how they all fit together.

Duke is going to try and play small this season. That’s not exactly breaking news here. Not only has Duke done this time and again in the past — Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum all played the for four the Blue Devils — but this group has three guys that can fill that role. In fact, this roster is the best-suited to playing that style. The ideal roster build for any team in this era of pace and space is having a point guard, a mobile five-man and three wings that can defend more than one position. That’s precisely what we see here.

It gets even more interesting when we start to think about the possibility of Zion Williamson playing the five a la Draymond Green.

The issue is the ability for the players on Duke to impact a game when they don’t have the ball in their hands.

What makes Golden State special in the NBA and what made Villanova so damn good in the college ranks last season is the same thing: The ability to shoot at every spot on the floor. Jalen Brunson was able to post-up and operate in ball-screens and beat a man one-on-one, but he was also a lethal catch-and-shoot guy. The same can be said for all of his teammates that played meaningful minutes, including center Omari Spellman, who scored 17 points and made four threes for the Atlanta Hawks this weekend.

Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

The same thing is true with Golden State. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are the glue-guys on that team, but both of them cannot be left open from the three-point line. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are two of the best isolation players in the NBA, but if you leave them open you will pay. Klay Thompson is one of the best three-point shooters in the history of the game.

Duke?

They have four freshmen that are all super-talented but that need to ball in their hands to be effective. Neither Zion nor Barrett are good enough from beyond the arc to force a defender to close out long on them. Reddish can make threes, but he’s known more as a scorer than a shooter at this point in his development than anything else. Jones is fine, but he’s more of a driver and playmaker than he is a shooter.

Without guys to space the floor, without someone willing to accept a role, running offense that doesn’t devolve into players going one-on-one into a crowded lane is difficult.

THE X-FACTOR

For me, the key here is going to be Reddish.

He has something of a reputation from the high school and AAU ranks as a talented kid that played on teams that lost far more games than they should have lost. He’s also going to be the guy that will likely end up having to make the most sacrifices for the good of the team.

Think about it like this: Jones is going to be the natural point guard on this team, and Barrett is going to be the guy that handles secondary ball-handling duties. Zion will be a grab-and-go threat and could lead the country in fast break buckets. In the halfcourt, his role will be pretty clearly defined — he’s going to be the guy attacking the glass and the player that gets isolated against slower and/or smaller defenders.

Reddish is the odd man out.

For a player that has spent his entire life as a lead guard, how will he take to being asked to play on a wing as something of a 3-and-D specialist?

2018-19 OUTLOOK

Duke’s outlook this season is no different than their outlook for the past four or five years.

They have as much raw talent as anyone in the sport of college basketball. They will enter the season as a consensus top four team that some folks are going to rank No. 1 overall. They are going to be the odds-on favorite to win the ACC regular season title, a favorite to get to the Final Four and one of the few true national title contenders in college basketball.

And there enough question marks about the talent, the youth, how the pieces fit and whether or not the pieces truly fit and how well Coach K is going to handle dealing with this much roster turnover to keep us from going all in on the Blue Devils.

Anything short of the Final Four will be yet another disappointment from this group.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 5 Villanova
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