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Monday Overreactions: Josh Langford arrives, Gonzaga’s great, Virginia’s better?

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Joshua Langford, Michigan State

It took a couple of years for us to get here, but we all finally saw what made Joshua Langford a five-star prospect coming out of high school.

The 6-foot-4 off-guard has developed a reputation for being underwhelming in East Lansing. He hasn’t taken over games since he arrived on campus even though the only played ranked higher than him in the loaded Class of 2016 that is still in college is Marques Bolden. He’s not quite athletic enough to get all the way to the rim. He settles for too many long twos, playing as a pull-up jump-shooter when he hasn’t been all that great at jump-shooting. He’s fine, I guess, which is how many view this Michigan State team as a whole.

The Spartans are considered by some to be overrated as a borderline top ten team. Who, they’ll ask you, are the good players on the Spartans? Who scares you if you’re an opposing coach? This is precisely the conversation I had with one scout in the press room at Barclays on Friday prior to the start of the Kansas-Tennessee game.

At that point, the score was Texas 25, Michigan State 6, and I don’t think it is too much of an overreaction to say that this was something of a crossroads in Michigan State’s season. They were getting run out of the gym by a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team, which is not a good sign when in-state rival Michigan is mowing down any and everyone in their path while the Big Ten continues to dominate during the non-conference.

And to their credit, Michigan State turned that thing around, and Langford played a pivotal role. He scored all 29 of his points in the final 29:35 of a 78-68 Michigan State win. He scored 22 of those 29 points in the second half, including 11 points in a 14-2 run to open the period. He buried a three to give Michigan State their first lead of the game at 50-49. He hit another jumper with 13 minutes left to push the lead to 55-51, and the Longhorns never again got within a single possession.

Langford is now Michigan State’s leading scorer and best three-point shooter on the season.

This is who we thought Langford was when he arrived on campus, and if this is who he continues to be, the ceiling for Michigan State’s preseason expectations are in reach.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Is there really another option?

Playing without Killian Tillie, Gonzaga headed to the Maui Invitational and showed the nation why they have been considered to be a peer of Duke and Kansas at the top of the polls since the preseason. The Zags survived a challenge from Illinois and Trent Frazier before outscoring Arizona by 30 points in the second half, which led them to the Maui title game where the Zags put to rest all of that premature talk about Duke’s 40-0 season.

Rui Hachimura was dominant. Brandon Clarke Was a defensive menace. Zach Norvell Jr. continued to show why he may have the biggest stones of any shooter in college basketball. Corey Kispert got the attention of everyone as one of college basketball’s best role players. And Josh Perkins, the guy we were all worried about heading into the season, settled some of those concerns. I’m not yet convinced he is the answer Gonzaga needs at the point, but it is quite evident that he is not going to torpedo this season.

There is a reason that the Zags are the new No. 1 in the NBC Sports top 25, and — Are you ready for this scorching hot take? — now have a better chance to go 40-0 this season than Duke ever did. The Bulldogs should cruise through league play, where the WCC is easier than the ACC, which means that if they can get past Creighton, Washington, No. 5 Tennessee and No. 7 North Carolina, they could enter the NCAA tournament without a loss fairly easily.

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MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. VIRGINIA BELONGS IN THE CONVERSATION WITH DUKE, KANSAS AND GONZAGA FOR BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

Remember when we all thought that Virginia was going to be in for a down year?

LOL.

The Wahoos have been as good as ever through the first two weeks of the season. Ty Jerome was playing at an all-american level before he came back down to earn in wins over Dayton and No. 25 Wisconsin. De’Andre Hunter, on the other hand, has looked every bit the part of a top ten pick, as he’s averaging 16.8 points while shooting 46.7 percent from three. Kihei Clark has proven to be an effective piece that gives Virginia backcourt depth and some lineup versatility; he’s a role player, but he is really effective in his role, pestering ball-handlers and operating as a point guard to give Ty Jerome some possessions off the ball.

All of this is happening as Kyle Guy is still working his way into a rhythm this season and Braxton Key is trying to find his role within this offense.

“The teams [with Malcolm Brogdon] were better overall defensively,” said a coach that has scouted Virginia in recent seasons, noting that the trade-off is that this group is harder to guard. “They’ve small-balled it more with Key and Hunter. They’re more versatile. Still tough and talented [defensively].”

I said it before the season and I’ll say it again now: Virginia is Villanova before the titles. If you remember back then, the narrative was that the Wildcats weren’t talented enough to do more than run through the new Big East, that a team that relies on the three-ball cannot win the national title.

Well, the narrative with Virginia is that they are not talented enough to win it all, and that a team that relies on their defense cannot win a national title.

This may be the year they finally buck that narrative.

2. TEXAS TECH IS THE SECOND-BEST TEAM IN THE BIG 12

Chris Beard is a freakin’ wizard.

Here we are just eight months removed from the Red Raiders losing their top two players and their most versatile defender from what seemed like a once-in-a-generation team for the Red Raiders, and they already appear to be back in the mix for a run at the top of the Big 12.

Jarrett Culver made the leap. Through six games, he is averaging 18.8 points, 5.2 boards and 4.3 assists — which includes the 44 points, 15 boards and seven assists he had in come-from-behind wins over USC and Nebraska last week — all while shooting 50 percent from three. He’s turned into a go-to scorer that is a threat from beyond the arc and can put it on the floor and create.

Throw in South Dakota transfer Matt Mooney and St. John’s transfer Tariq Owens, and Beard has once again managed to fit a bunch of pieces together and make them into a force to be reckoned with.

Here’s to hoping he stays in Lubbock for a long, long time.

Jarrett Culver (Elsa/Getty Images)

3. THE BIG 12 WILL LOOK REALLY GOOD ONCE THEY GET OVER THE INJURY BUG

The Big 12 once again looks like it is going to be a gauntlet.

We know about Kansas and Kansas State at this point, and while West Virginia hasn’t looked like the team we all thought they would be entering the season, they are really the only program in the conference that is underperforming right now. Texas Tech, as we mentioned, looks like they are back in the mix at the top of the league. Oklahoma just went 2-1 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, beating Florida and losing to No. 25 Wisconsin. Oklahoma State blew out Memphis and then beat No. 19 LSU by 13 points on Sunday; if it wasn’t for one of the worst calls in the history of college basketball, the Cowboys would have just a single loss on the season — to Villanova. Texas just beat No. 7 North Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational, and this looks like it could be the best team that Shaka Smart has had in Austin.

And then there is Iowa State, who is currently sitting at 5-1 on the season with blowout wins over Missouri, Illinois and San Diego State despite the fact that they are playing without four key rotation pieces, including their most talented guard (Lindell Wigginton) and their best big man (Cameron Lard). Talen Horton-Tucker and Nick Weiler-Babb have proven that you can have a hyphen in your name and still dominate.

When the Cyclones get healthy, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with, especially if they continue to defend at this level. Even TCU, who has been the most disappointing team in the league, has reasons for their struggles: They are still waiting for a pair of starters — Jaylen Fisher and Kouat Noi — to get fully healthy.

Should I mention that Kansas is currently sitting at 5-0 with wins over Tennessee, Michigan State and Marquette, and they still don’t look like they are close to hitting their stride?

This league is going to get wild.

4. I GUESS VILLANOVA ISN’T DEAD YET

The Wildcats suffered back-to-back losses and dropped from No. 4 to outside the top 25 before proceeding to head down to Orlando for the AdvoCare Invitational where they ripped the heads off of Canisius, Oklahoma State and No. 14 Florida State.

Villanova is going to go through some growing pains, but they should probably come out of this just fine.  The main reason I say that is that on Sunday, they managed to beat a good Florida State team while shooting just 3-for-14 from three. They won a game based on their ability to be tough defensively and the fact that they decided to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim when their shots weren’t dropping. Collin Gillespie played very well, as did Dhamir Cosby-Rountree.

We’ll see how long this lasts, but this was a message to the rest of the Big East: “The league is still ours.”

5. THREE TEAMS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

There are a trio of teams that I did not expect all that much from this season that have proven to be better than expected: Minnesota, Maryland and Arizona State.

Just how good are they?

I’m not quite sure.

Arizona State knocked off No. 15 Mississippi State in impressive fashion in the opener of the Las Vegas Invitational last week before trucking Utah State in the title game. Luguentz Dort was terrific — as he has been all season long — while Kimani Lawrence has provided a scoring boost as well. I’m going to hold off having a strong take until I see them against Nevada.

Minnesota is another team that had some buzz entering the season, and they’ve gone 5-0 to start the year, including wins over Utah, Texas &M and Washington. They’ll start Big Ten play next week with a trip to Ohio State and a home date with Nebraska. We’ll know then.

Maryland is 6-0. They play Virginia in College Park on Wednesday. Buena suerte.

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

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Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

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Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.