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2019 Mock NBA Draft: Who are the 30 best prospects in college basketball?

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Periodically, over the course of the coming seven months, we will be posting an updated mock draft here on College Basketball Talk.

This will be different than other mocks, mind you. We’re not as much projecting who is going to be picked where — that is impossible to do right now, as the NBA season is six weeks old and the NBA changed their lottery rules to flatten out the odds of who gets the first pick — as much as take a look at where, in a vacuum, a player should be picked. 

With that in mind, one of the objectives of this mock will be to take a deeper dive into a handful of the most intriguing prospects in the mock each and every week. This isn’t meant to be just a place to rank prospects, the goal is to open up the floor for some discussion about the players that need the most discussing. 

Oh, and one other note: We’re only talking about the college kids here. I could sit here and pretend like I know something about Sekou Doumbouya beyond what I Googled and found on YouTube, but the truth is I don’t know a damn thing about him.

I’ll stick to what I know for now.

And that is these prospects:

1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

I’ll take the L on Zion. Prior to the start of the season, I had Zion ranked as a mid-to-late lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. I didn’t know how the athleticism would translate, and I didn’t know just how good of a feel he had for the game. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s a better shooter than people gave him credit for, even if that is still the weakness in his game. He’s got some handle. He blows by defenders on the perimeter like they’re cops with a radar gun.

Oh, and the athleticism?

It translates. The rebounding, the shot-blocking, the ability to grab-and-go in transition. He’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the NBA, an amalgam of Julius Randle and Draymond Green, only wildly marketable and already a star with a massive brand.

The only concern that I have taking him No. 1 is the weight, and it’s not because I’m all that concerned about whether or not, at 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, he can move around the court the way that he needs to. As long as his wind and conditioning are where they need to be, he should be fine.

My issue is the wear and tear that will come with that added weight. His vertical is somewhere in the neighborhood of four feet, give or take an inch or three. Go jump off of something that is four feet tall and see if you feel it in your knees and your ankles. Now imagine doing that over and over and over again — hundreds or thousands of times per week — with 272 pounds landing on those joints.

That’s where the concern lies for Zion. Wipe that away, and to me, he is the clear-cut No. 1 pick in this draft.

2. CAM REDDISH, Duke

3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

This may be a bit of a controversial take, as Barrett has been the go-to guy for Duke through the first three weeks of the season while Reddish has been forced into a complimentary role. It’s something of an odd dynamic. Reddish has spent the majority of his basketball playing life as a lead ballhandler, and now he is being asked to play as the floor-spacing jump-shooter on a team with three other stud freshmen that can operate as lead ballhandlers.

What sets Reddish above Barrett for me is that I think Reddish fits seamlessly into the NBA while Barrett projects more as a guy that might have a tough time finding a position. Reddish, at 6-foot-9, is bigger with better physical tools. He’s a much better shooter and scorer in isolation — as the saying goes, he’s got some sh** to his game — and, as I mentioned, he’s played as a primary ball-handler. I can picture exactly what role he’ll play at the next level.

With Barrett, I’m not so sure. He’s not the shooter that Reddish is. He’s “only” 6-foot-7. The intrigue with him is the idea that he can play as a secondary point guard, if not a primary point guard, but he hasn’t shown any consistency with his ability to make reads and correct passes. Barrett is nearly a full year younger than Reddish, and he’s been dominant at every level of basketball to date. I don’t think you can go wrong either way, but I’d rather have the guy I know can shoot, all things considered.

4. KEVIN PORTER JR, USC

Porter is a guy that I will likely be higher on than most, and the reason for that is pretty simple: I think that he is going to end up averaging 20 points in the NBA, if not more. I don’t think that it is a stretch to say that he is the best offensive weapon in this draft. He’s got it all in his bag. He’s 6-foot-6, he’s an explosive athlete, he has the frame to be able to handle the weight that comes with an NBA strength and conditioning program and he knows how to use that strength already:

That’s all well and good, but what sets him apart from other guys in this class is his ability to create on his own. There is not a player in this draft class that is as good as Porter when it comes to getting his own shot. He’s got it all. The amount of space that he can create in isolation is ridiculous. His balance, his footwork, his handle. It’s all at an elite level right now.

I mean, just watch this:

There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to be a weapon as a scorer in the league.

The question with Porter has more to do with maturity, both on the floor and off it. The latter really depends on where he ends up and the support he gets from his organization. The former, however, manifests itself in how he operates in a team setting offensively and defensively. I think the truth of it is this simple: He’s never really been coached on how to do that stuff. In high school and AAU, he was always a ball-dominant lead guard. He didn’t need to know how to work off the ball. Defensively, he wasn’t being asked to make defensive rotations or drilled on how to help off the ball the way he will be in the NBA.

Put another way, in the right situation, those flaws can be coached out of him.

And given what his ceiling is with that scoring ability and athleticism, it’s worth the risk to reach and take him.

5. NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

Little is an interesting case. The 6-foot-7 wing has yet to play his way into the starting lineup for the Tar Heels, averaging just 19.5 minutes per game. He’s been productive in those minutes — 11.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg — but he has not yet been able to join fellow frosh Coby White in the starting five. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • He’s playing behind a pair of potential All-Americans at the forward spot in Luke Maye and Cam Johnson.
  • Roy Williams has, to date, steadfastly refused to go all-in on the small-ball movement, meaning that Garrison Brooks remains a starter.
  • And, most importantly, Little is still working through how to be a team defender and learning what Williams wants out of him on the offensive end — more to the rim, less settling for deep threes.

I’m not too worried. North Carolina was torched at Michigan on Wednesday night after losing to Texas last week, and part of the reason is their inability to guard teams that spread them out. I don’t believe the issue is Williams insistence on not playing freshman — look at the leash he’s given White — as much as it is Little’s learning curve being steeper at a position where there are veterans in front of him.

6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

I love De’Andre Hunter. I’m probably higher on him than anyone else that will put out a mock draft. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He can play the three, the four or even work as a small-ball five if you’re feeling frisky. You know he can guard since he played for Tony Bennett. He’s a career 39.7 percent three-point shooter and hits 76 percent of his free throws. He may not have the ceiling of younger guys that will get drafted over him, but he’ll start in the NBA for a decade and be ready to contribute the day you draft him.

7. KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky

I don’t see Johnson becoming a star in the NBA, but I think his floor as a role player at the next level is really, really high. He reminds me a bit of Miles Bridges in the sense that he is a perfect complimentary piece. He’s a versatile defender, he’s athletic, he can make a jumper, he can attack a closeout, he can play a role on a team. I don’t know if you want him being your best player or your go-to guy offensively, which isn’t good for Kentucky but helps to make him a better fit in the NBA.

8. JA MORANT, Murray State

Morant is the latest lottery point guard to come through the mid-major ranks. At 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, he’s is a high-flying athlete that has been unbelievably productive through four games as a sophomore: 27.8 ppg, 9.0 apg, 7.5 rpg and 2.0 spg. The last two games that he has played have been ridiculous. He had 29 points, 13 boards and 12 assists against Missouri State before following that up with 38 points, nine boards and five assists (plus ten turnovers) in a six-point loss at Alabama with seemingly the entire NBA in attendance.

Barring a run to the NCAA tournament, that was one of just two games that Murray State will play against high-major competition this season; they’re at Auburn in December. He fared well. The turnovers are not a major concern, as he is carrying an unbelievable load offensively for a team that doesn’t have all that much talent, and a handful of them came in the final minutes, as the Racers were rushing to try and comeback late.

What pops about Morant initially is his athleticism. He has the quicks to get into the paint just about whenever he wants, he’s really good at reading ball-screens and he’s an explosive finisher off of two feet. His body control is impressive, and he’s shown a knack for being capable of finishing around (and sometimes over) the big bodies in the lane:

I’ve also been really impressed with his passing ability. He does have a habit of trying to get too flashy, but he can make those highlight reel plays along with making the right reads in ball-screen actions. He could have had 12 assists against Alabama if his teammates were able to finish at the rim.

There are still concerns about his jumper. He made 6-of-12 3s against Missouri State. He’s made two other 3s this season and has just 35 made in his college career. I also wonder about what he’ll be defensively in the NBA. He’s athletic and does have impressive anticipation in passing lanes, but he needs to get stronger and has some bad tendencies when it comes to losing track of his man off the ball and dying on screens.

Some of that can be coached out of him, and some of it will be fixed when he gets stronger and is no longer asked to expend so much energy offensively. He’ll be viewed as something of a boom-or-bust prospect, given what happened with Cam Payne coming out of Murray State after his sophomore season.

9. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana

Langford has mostly lived up to the hype for Indiana, becoming one of the best scorers in the Big Ten, but it’s worrisome that his jumper has not yet gotten more consistent and that he struggled as much as he did against the athletes of Duke. He has also gotten lost defensively more often than would be ideal, but freshmen will be freshmen. The big concern is the jump shot. The rest of his game is limited enough that if he’s not an efficient scorer and shooter, there isn’t much appeal.

10. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt

I really feel for Garland. After a promising start to his freshman campaign, he saw any hope of trying to play his way into the being the first point guard drafted go up in smoke after tearing the meniscus in his left knee and undergoing season-ending surgery. That’s tough. But Garland was impressive in flashes — particularly in the first half of Vandy’s win at USC — and not only should he be healthy by the time NBA teams can start bringing players in for workouts, meniscus tears are not considered to be career-altering injuries.

11. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Culver is a guy that has stood out to me as much as anyone early on this season. A 6-foot-5, 195 pound guard, Culver was not ranked among the top 300 in the Class of 2017, according to 247 Sports. As a freshman, he averaged 11.2 points, but that number has jumped to 18.8 points through six games this season.

What’s more notable, however, is that Culver has developed into a guy that can play the point for the Red Raiders. The expectation heading into the season was that he would replace the role vacated by Zhaire Smith. That hasn’t been the case. He’s the new Keenan Evans. He is the guy that Chris Beard runs his offense through. As a sophomore, nearly 25 percent of his offense is coming through ball-screens, according to Synergy, and that number bumps up to 32 percent when passes are factored in. When he was a freshman, those numbers were 9.8 percent and 14.5 percent, respectively. He’s currently in the 95th percentile in points-per-possession in ball-screen actions.

So let’s put it all together.

We have a 6-foot-5 guard that can play on the ball and operate in ball-screens. He’s shooting 39.6 percent from three on more than 160 attempts through two seasons, meaning he can play off the ball. He’s coming from a program that preaches toughness and defense, and he is a late-bloomer that is still growing into his frame.

To me, Culver is a guy that is going to continue to climb up draft boards as people realize just how good Texas Tech is this season and just how influential he is in that success.

12. DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas

Gafford has all the tools that a player needs to really thrive as a five-man in the modern NBA. He’s a rim-protector defensively that is athletic enough where becoming a switchable defender is a real possibility. He’s a vertical-spacer offensively that will be a lob target both in transition and as the roller in ball-screen actions. He can rebound. He’s even knocking down the occasional jumper this year.

13. BOL BOL, Oregon

For my money, the son of the late Manute Bol is going to be the most difficult player to project in this draft. He is a unicorn in the sense that he is a super-skilled, 7-foot-2 center (with a 7-foot-8 wingspan) that was, quite literally, the best three-point shooter in the EYBL during his final year on the circuit. Seeing him block a shot, go coast-to-coast and knockdown a pull-up 15-footer is just not something we see people his size do. He’s also an elite shot-blocker when he is engaged, the kind of athlete that is going to be able to chase smaller defenders off of the 3-point line.

He is what I like to call a layup line scout. You don’t have to do any more than watch him during warmups to see what his potential is and what his potential can be.

The problem is that there are some very real concerns about whether or not Bol actually likes playing basketball, and if he has the toughness — or, given his slight frame and incredibly high hips, the strength — to ever be something more than an interesting physical specimen and complimentary piece.

He also has a habit of being a statue defensively. For a player that, when engaged, is one of the best shotblockers I’ve ever seen in the high school ranks, he is a horrid defender:

Bol is going to make a lot of money playing basketball. If he ever reaches his ceiling, he will be an incredible weapon. The question that teams drafting him are going to have to ask is whether or not the risk of Bol ending up being a total bust is worth the reward of the lottery ticket being a winner.

For me, the risk would be worth it at the back-end of the lottery, and if I am an NBA GM, I let someone else take that shot.

14. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been a sleeper in NBA draft circles since his senior season in high school ended. He’s an ambidextrous, 6-foot-5 combo-guard that shoots it at nearly 40 percent from three. The cousin of current Clippers point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil has all the tools to be a really effective complimentary piece in an NBA backcourt.

The physical tools are there to guard wings. He’s up to 205 pounds, according to Virginia Tech’s official site, and reportedly has a wingspan of 6-foot-9. He can play off the ball, as evidenced by the fact that, you know, he plays off the ball for the Hokies and is a career 39.3 percent 3-point shooter on more than 175 attempts.

The difference this season, and the reason that he is starting to intrigue NBA teams, is that he’s fulfilling his potential as a lead guard. Last season, less than 10 percent of his offense came in pick-and-rolls, and he averaged all of 0.657 points-per-possession in those actions.

This year, 36.4 percent of his offense has come in ball-screens — a number that jumps to over 44 percent when you factor in passes, according to Synergy — and he checks in at the 96th percentile with 1.278 PPP. He’s averaging 4.2 assists this year, up from 1.5 a season ago.

We’ll need to monitor this as Virginia Tech starts to play better competition, but the early returns are very promising for Alexander-Walker longterm.

15. QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas

Grimes scored 21 points in his first college game, hitting six of his first seven threes, notching four assists and becoming the star of Kansas’ season-opening win over Michigan State. Since then, he’s shot 3-for-12 from three, scored a total of 24 points and got benched against Tennessee for K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore. I think this is as much about Grimes figuring out what his role is with Kansas as much as anything, but we haven’t seen him look confident as a shooter, driver or penetrator since, really, the first half of his first game. I think he’ll get there.

16. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

Rui has been one of the breakout stars of college basketball this season, averaging 21.9 points for what is now the No. 1 team in the country. He was awesome in the win over Duke, going for 20 points, seven boards, five assists and three blocks. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but there are two reasons I’m concerned about Rui at the next level: He struggles to defend in isolation and, in three years at Gonzaga, he’s 14-for-50 (28%) from 3. Those are two very important skills to have at the position we project Hachimura to play in the NBA, and it’s why I lean heavily toward Hunter over him.

17. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova

I’m still on the Eric Paschall bandwagon even if he hasn’t been as effective as he was last season. He’s shooting just 28.6 percent from 3 this season and six of the ten made 3s he has came in one game. But he’s also being asked to play a role that will be much different from the one he’ll be asked to play in the NBA. He’s Villanova’s All-American go-to guy this season, and that’s not what he does best. He’s a complimentary piece, and athletic and versatile defender that makes threes, attacks close-outs and understands where he fits in a system. You’re drafting him to be O.G. Anunoby, not James Harden, and he can do that.

18. JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State

Jalen isn’t even the best prospect in his family — his younger brother, Jaden, might end up being the No. 1 pick in 2020 — but he has developed into a player with quite a bit of potential. There’s still some work to do on his body, as he’s 6-foot-10 and just 190 pounds, but he has perimeter skills and some longterm upside. He’s a risk, but he’s a home run if it pays off.

19. LUGUENTZ DORT, Arizona State

Dort might be the biggest surprise for people that haven’t been paying attention. Arizona State’s Canadian freshman is off to a rollicking start, averaging 22.3 points, 7.3 boards, 2.7 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting 34.5 percent from three on nearly five 3s attempted per game. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he’s drawing comparisons to Marcus Smart due to his competitiveness and build. The Sun Devils host Nevada and Kansas in December. We’ll have a better feel then.

20. JALEN SMITH, Maryland

Smith is off to a productive start as a freshman, scoring, rebounding and creating at a respectable level — 12.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.1 apg. He needs to get stronger (although it was impressive to seem him big boy Virginia’s bigs) but the key to his future lies in his ability to become a floor spacer and rim protector. He’s 1-for-9 from three with just five blocks in seven games.

21. JAYLEN HOARD, Wake Forest

Hoard is a 6-foot-8 forward with impressive mobility that profiles as the kind of athletic wing that NBA teams are looking for. He’s putting up impressive counting stats for a bad Wake Forest team, so it will be interesting to see how his efficiency holds up. Can he ever become a threat from the perimeter? Whoever gets convinced that he’ll be able to make NBA 3s will likely be the team that ends up taking him.

22. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

Clarke is just such an exceptional athlete that it is getting hard to ignore. He’s proven himself as a rim protector, blocking 4.1 shots per game for the Zags after being known as a rim protector while as San Jose State. He’s a finisher around the basket as well, shooting 78 percent from the floor on the season while averaging 15.9 points and 7.4 boards. I could see him end up doing what Jordan Bell is doing in the league.

23. TRE JONES, Duke

Jones is never going to get the attention that he deserves this season because of his vaunted teammates, but I think he’s fine with that and I also don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing when projecting his future in the NBA. He’s not going to be Chris Paul. He’s going to be piece, and as long as he continues to defend, avoid turnovers (41 assists to eight turnovers), knockdown threes (46.2 percent) and make his floaters, he should have success.

24. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue

For me, the end of the first round should be a place where good teams can pick up players that will be contributors and thrive in a role on the cheap. That’s precisely what Edwards can and will do. He’s a bowling ball of a lead guard, a 6-foot-1 lightening bolt that is averaging 25.1 points and 4.1 assists this season. I think he’s a great fit as a spark plug off the bench and can operate as a microwave scorer against NBA second teams.

25. TALEN HORTON-TUCKER, Iowa State

With Lindell Wigginton on the mend, Horton-Tucker has been the Cyclone who has stood out early on this season. The weight is a bit of a concern — he’s 238 pounds at just 6-foot-4 — but he has an awkward game that might just be unique enough to work in the league. He has a 7-foot wingspan. He can play as a creator or off the ball, although it would be nice to see his shooting percentages come up. He’s tough, and he’s very young; his 18th birthday was Nov. 25th. The 26 points, 14 boards, six assists and three blocks he had against Illinois in Maui put him on the map.

26. JONTAY PORTER, Missouri

Porter tore his ACL and MCL in October, which means we won’t have a chance to see what he can be as a sophomore. What we do know is this: He’s young for his grade, he can make threes, he’s a good passer and his has the kind of high hips and slow feet that make people wonder what he’ll be defensively. Here’s to hoping he gets healthy.

27. TY JEROME, Virginia

Jerome is, to me, a guy that will play point guard for 10 years in the NBA. He has the IQ, the toughness, the competitiveness, the leadership. He’s a career 39.5 percent three-point shooter on more than 250 attempts. There are, of course, question marks when it comes to Jerome’s athleticism at the next level. He’s capable of creating space with step-backs, and he’s shown flashes of being able to get to the rim, but mostly I’m not overly concerned. Tony Bennett teaches his guys to guard, Jerome has positional size and he can play off the ball. Fred VanVleet had some of these same question marks, and he’s doing fine as a backup point guard.

28. KILLIAN TILLIE, Gonzaga

The concern with Tillie is that he is currently battling a stress fracture. The upside with Tillie is that he is a 6-foot-10 former volleyball player (read: bouncy) that shoots it at 48 percent from three. Let’s see how the ankle holds up this season.

29. IGGY BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan

Brazdeikis is just so tough. At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, he’s built in the mold of a player that can guard up in the NBA with the perimeter skills to be able to take advantage of slower defenders. He’s a dog. I’m not totally sold on the jumper yet, but he’s making 38.9 percent of his threes and 78.6 percent of his free throws, and if he’s going to be Julius Randle lite at the next level, he’ll need to get a bit stronger. Is he a four that can guards fives or a three that can guard fours?

30. JAXSON HAYES, Texas

This pick would be entirely based on upside, but given his size, athleticism, length, hands and the simple fact that he’s a late-blooming blank canvas, he’s got a chance.

Report: Michigan to ‘host’ Rutgers at Madison Square Garden

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The Big Ten has long coveted New York and Madison Square Garden. The league brought in Rutgers in expansion largely to access the New York market, and it rearranged its entire schedule to get its conference tournament at MSG in 2018.

Now Michigan is apparently willing to give up a home date to play that “New York” school in order to return to one of the crown jewels of the sport.

The Wolverines are expected to be the home team this winter at Madison Square Garden when they play Rutgers, according to a report from NJ Advance Media, which cited four unnamed sources with knowledge of the situation.

The game will be part of a doubleheader with a Michigan-Rutgers wrestling dual, according to the report.

Aside from however this effects the bottom line for Michigan – which certainly isn’t hurting in the revenue department – this would appear to be a great move for both schools and the Big Ten at large. Normally, I’m against moving games off-campus to sterile and identity-less NBA arenas, but obviously Madison Square Garden is a unique venue and opportunity for all parties.

If you can get a conference game at MSG, you do it, even if you’ve got to give up a date at Crisler Center. It’s weird that it’s not just a Rutgers home date, but with the B1G’s wonky scheduling with 20-league games in a 14-team league, weird stuff is going to happen, especially when outside-the-box opportunities like this arise.

American Athletic Conference Offseason Reset: What does all the turnover mean for the league?

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking the American.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

SO UCONN IS LEAVING. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE CONFERENCE?: This is not only the biggest storyline in the American, it is one of the biggest and most intriguing storylines in all of college basketball. UConn is a storied program. It has won four of the last 20 national titles. It is a national brand that has churned out as many pros as any school in the country. It has fallen on hard times as Kevin Ollie drove the program straight into the ground. They are leaving the American and returning to the Big East, the conference that they helped launch 40 years ago.

This is a great thing for UConn, but this isn’t really about UConn. It’s about the American and what it means for a league that has been trying to prove they belong in the same conversation as the rest of the high-majors since it split from the Big East six years ago. And the truth is that they’ll be just fine. The Huskies have finished under .500 the last three years. They’ve missed four of the last five NCAA tournaments. The year they did go dancing, it was as the American’s automatic bid, a run that required a four-OT win over Cincinnati – which included this miracle 60-footer – in the quarters of the AAC tournament to avoid spending Selection Sunday on the bubble.

UConn is thought to be a borderline NCAA tournament team this season, which means that the Huskies will leave the league next summer having been more or less irrelevant for the better part of a decade. The American has still sent at least two teams to the Big Dance in each of their six seasons, with four teams earning a bid in three of those six years. Penny Hardaway has Memphis rolling. Kelvin Sampson has Houston rolling. Mick Cronin left Cincinnati, but John Brannen is a good coach and the Bearcats have talent. Wichita State will, eventually, be back in the thick of the NCAA tournament race.

Losing UConn is a blow for what the American’s ceiling can be. But with UCF, Temple, Tulsa and SMU all having proven capable of playing their way into an at-large bid, the conference will effectively be what it was with UConn there – a safe-bet to get three bids with four programs at the top that are annually in the at-large mix.

It’s not the ACC and it will never be, but it’s not the Mountain West, either.

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CAN PENNY WIN WITH ALL THE TALENT HE HAS IN MEMPHIS?: When it comes to the conversation on the court, just how good Memphis will be is the most interesting question that we are going to have answered this year. There is no question that they are talented. James Wiseman is the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2019 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. Precious Achiuwa is top ten and top ten. The Memphis recruiting class is ranked as the No. 1 recruiting class in college basketball, higher than Duke and Kentucky and Kansas and everyone else.

But there is also plenty of reason to be skeptical of them. For starters, we’ve seen Penny coach one season of college basketball. They probably exceeded expectations during that one season, but one year is not exactly a large sample size. I actually think Penny is going to be a good college coach. My biggest concern with this group is that they are going to be very young. Seven of their top ten players are going to be freshmen, and only two of those seven freshmen are five-star, instant impact, potential first round picks. And two of their returnees are tiny lead guards that are going to be playing behind one of those freshman – Boogie Ellis – at the point.

I understand why Memphis fans are going to go nuts and why Memphis will be a preseason top ten team. Personally, I have them ranked at No. 20 entering the season.

WHAT WILL CINCINNATI BE POST-CRONIN?: Mick Cronin spent 13 seasons as the head coach fo the Bearcats, and in each of the last nine seasons that he was in Cincinnati, he led the program to the NCAA tournament. There are only five other schools that can make that claim – Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Gonzaga and North Carolina – and only three other programs that can say they’ve been to six straight NCAA tournaments – Villanova, Kentucky and Virginia.

Think about that for a second.

Those are massive shoes for John Brannen to be stepping in. He’s had success at Northern Kentucky, he’s a local guy with local ties and the return of Jarron Cumberland should make his life just that much easier. But don’t gloss over what Cronin did at Cincinnati. The level of consistency that he reached at that school was remarkable.

CAN HOUSTON FIND A WAY TO GET QUENTIN GRIMES ELIGIBLE?: Houston got hit with a dagger on the last day that underclassmen could return to school without losing eligibility – Armoni Brooks opted to stay in the draft instead of coming back for his senior year. The Cougars were already losing Galen Robinson and Corey Davis. They needed Brooks back to offset that loss, particularly once Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes committed to the program. Now, Houston has to try to find a way to get Grimes, a Houston native, eligible for this season. The former five-star prospect would likely be the most talented guard in the American – and the difference between being a borderline top 25 team and a borderline tournament team – if he’s eligible to play.

HOW LONG WILL IT BE BEFORE WICHITA STATE IS BACK?: Gregg Marshall is one of the best coaches in all of college basketball, and the fact that he took last year’s roster and got them to 10-8 in the AAC and into the NIT should be proof of that. But the Shockers are losing Markis McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones, their two leading scorers from last season, and dismissed Teddy Allen, who was supposed to be the leading scorer this year, last month.

Wichita State went 14-4 in the final two months of the 2018-19 season, including a stretch where they won 11 of 13 games against AAC opponents. They’ll win because Marshall is really good at his job. But as more time passes, it gets harder and harder to ignore the fact that in his last five years in the Missouri Valley, Marshall coached four NBA players – Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • MICK CRONIN, Cincinnati: This is a massive blow to the Cincinnati program, as Cronin had become one of the most consistently successful coaches in college basketball.
  • COREY DAVIS, ARMONI BROOKS and GALEN ROBINSON, Houston: The Cougars are going to have to totally rebuild their perimeter attack, and while there are some pieces there – DeJon Jarreau, Nate Hinton, Quentin Grimes – it is not going to be easy to replicate what they lost.
  • TEDDY ALLEN, Wichita State: For my money, Allen getting dismissed is a bigger loss either McDuffie or Haynes-Jones. Marshall planned to lose his seniors, and part of that plan was having Allen’s scoring pop to replace them.
  • EVERYONE, UCF: The Knights came within one bucket of beating Duke to get to the Sweet 16 last season, but they are going to have their work cut out for them this season with Tacko Fall, B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins all gone.
  • SHIZZ ALSTON, Temple: Alston was one of the best guards in the conference, and he will be following Fran Dunphy out the door.

WHO’S BACK

  • JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati: James Wiseman is the best prospect in the conference, but for my money, Cumberland is going to be the best player in the AAC this season. There is a new coaching regime, and Cumberland’s presence should help ease the transition period.
  • EVERYONE, South Florida: South Florida is South Florida, so I’m hardly the only one that is going to need to see it to fully believe it, but the Bulls bring back everyone from a team that won 24 games last year. They have a really, really good backcourt. We’ll see.
  • KELVIN SAMPSON, Houston: Keeping Sampson despite overtures coming from a handful of schools, namely Arkansas, was the most important thing Houston could do this offseason. I fully believe that he is one of the 10-15 best pure basketball coaches in college hoops right now.
  • ALTERIQUE GILBERT, UConn: UConn loses Jalen Adams, but it shouldn’t matter if Gilbert can find a way to be healthy for four months this winter. That, however, is never a guarantee.

WHO’S COMING

  • JAMES WISEMAN and PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis: These two are the reason that the Tigers are going to enter the season in the top ten of both polls. We more or less know what they are going to be. The big question with Memphis, the key to the Tigers reaching their ceiling, centers on the rest of their newcomers.
  • QUENTIN GRIMES, Houston?: If Grimes, a former top ten recruit and Kansas transfer, can find a way to get eligible for this season the Cougars won’t have to worry all that much about losing Armoni Brooks.
  • AKOK AKOK, UConn: Everyone knows about the guards that UConn is bringing in, but the key to the Huskies getting to the NCAA tournament this season is going to be Akok’s impact in his first season as a Husky. Once considered a five-star prospect, Akok enrolled at UConn at the semester break and will play the 2019-20 season as a redshirt freshman.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-AAC TEAM

JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati (Preseason Player of the Year)
DEJON JARREAU, Houston
QUINTON ROSE, Temple
PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. MEMPHIS: We talked more in-depth about the Tigers earlier, but I will say this: They are far and away the most talented team in the league, and they are also far and away the youngest relevant team in the league. How that translates into wins in a conference where the rest of their title competition have more experience and/or are built on toughness and physicality is going to be interesting to watch.

2. HOUSTON: I trust Kelvin Sampson as much as I trust any coach in college basketball to be able to find a way to make his pieces work. Losing Armoni Brooks hurts, but with Nate Hinton and DeJon Jarreau in the backcourt, there is some talent. There’s a possibility Quentin Grimes may find his way into playing this season, too. Throw in some size and depth in the frontcourt, and the Cougars look like they are going to be heading back to the tournament.

3. CINCINNATI: The Bearcats have the guy that very well could end up being the best player in the league on their roster in Jarron Cumberland. He looks like a linebacker, but he managed to put up 18.8 points, 4.4 boards and 3.6 assists while shooting 39 percent from three last season. He can hoop. Cincinnati also returns Keith Williams and Tre Scott while adding Jaevin Cumberland, Jarron’s cousin, a grad transfer from Oakland. The big question with this group is going to be how the adjust to new head coach John Brannen. With Mick Cronin back, I would probably slot Cincinnati second.

4. WICHITA STATE: For my money, the Shockers are the most interesting team in this conference. Yes, they lost their top two scorers from last season – not to mention the guy they thought was going to be their top scorer this season – but this was a deep team last season that really came on strong down the stretch. They won 11 out of 13 down the stretch of the AAC season, and then proceeded to beat Furman, Clemson and Indiana on the road in the NIT to get to that tournament’s Final Four. Jaime Echenique is one of the best bigs in the league while Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson look ready for big sophomore seasons. They’re tough, they’re battle-tested and they have arguably the best coach in the league. We’ll see.

5. TEMPLE: The Aaron McKie era at Temple will begin with a team capable of getting back to the NCAA tournament if things break right. Shizz Alston is gone, and that hurts, but the Owls will bring back both Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis. That will be enough to keep them in the top half of the league.

6. UCONN: Losing Jalen Adams is going to hurt, but beyond that, the Huskies bring back a lot of important pieces from last season. They should have plenty of perimeter depth even if Alterique Gilbert’s health struggles continue, as they add James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney to a rotation that already includes Christian Vital. Josh Carlton and Tyler Polley will provide some continuity in the frontcourt, but I think Danny Hurley’s second season in Storrs is going to come down to how well Sidney Wilson and Akok Akok perform in their second year on campus.

7. UCF: The Knights are a tough team to project this season. On the one hand, they lost all of their dudes – B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall graduated while Aubrey Dawkins turned pro. On the other hand, they have a number of really good transfers getting eligible this year (Dazon Ingram, Matt Milon, Yuat Alok, Ibrahim Doumbia) while Collin Smith looks like he’ll be ready for a big year. They’ve got a chance to sneak up on some people.

8. SOUTH FLORIDA: The Bulls are the sleeper in the American, and they have a chance to be really, really good. David Collins and LaQuincy Rideau give them one of the best backcourts in the league, and they return basically everyone from last season, when they finished 24-14 overall and 8-10 in the league. I’m not sure they have the ceiling to crack the top three in the league, but if you were to tell me that they can finish above Wichita State, Temple, UConn and UCF, I wouldn’t call you crazy.

9. TULSA: Losing DaQuan Jeffries, Sterling Taplin and Curran Scott will hurt, but Frank Haith will have some bodies coming back. Martins Igabnu and Jeriah Horne. The young Tulsa guards are going to need to step up.

10. SMU: The Larry Brown era seems so long ago. The Mustangs are now losing their two best guards off of a team that went just 3-15 in the AAC last season.

11. EAST CAROLINA: The good news is that ECU brings back Jayden Gardner, who averaged 16.3 points and 8.5 boards as a freshman. The bad news is that he is the only one of their top seven scorers to return.

12. TULANE: Tulane won four games last season and lost their top three players. new head coach Ron Hunter has some talent and transfers coming into the program, but they have a long way to go.

Auburn lands 2019 commitment from three-star wing

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Auburn landed a late commitment for the 2019-20 season on Wednesday night as three-star athletic wing Devan Cambridge pledged to the Tigers.

A 6-foot-6, 215-pound wing, Cambridge had a very strong showing at the Nike Peach Jam last week as he averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game during pool play at the event. A big-time athlete who easily gets off the floor, Cambridge fits Auburn’s athletic, up-and-down style as he’s accustomed to playing fast and making plays with his game-changing athleticism.

Cambridge joins a seven-man mega class for the Tigers as he’s a versatile athlete who should play a number of different spots. Cambridge is still working to become more of a consistent perimeter shooting presence, but Auburn has landed a solid late commitment because there aren’t many better pure athletes in the class. If the Tigers can develop Cambridge and take their time with his development then he could turn into a very useful player.

Person avoids prison in college bribery sentencing

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NEW YORK — Former Auburn assistant basketball coach Chuck Person has avoided prison in a bribery scandal that has touched some of the biggest schools in college basketball.

Person was sentenced on Wednesday to 200 hours of community service during the two years the Probation Department will supervise him. Judge Loretta A. Preska said “no purpose would be served by incarceration.”

Sentencing guidelines called for two years in prison, though three other coaches who pleaded guilty to the same charge also received lenient sentences.

Person, who was in financial trouble at the time, accepted $91,500 in bribes to parlay his relationships with top players to steer them to a financial adviser, federal prosecutors said. The adviser, however, was working as a government cooperator.

Preska defended her decision by saying she disagreed “vehemently” with the prosecution’s claim that Person was motivated by “insatiable greed.”

“He is charitable literally to a fault,” the judge said.

She noted that after signing his first NBA contract, he sent most of the money to family members and bought his mother a house. She described how he bought homes and cars for family and friends and made continuous donations. Then, he turned down lucrative jobs in the NBA to make less money as a college coach.

Person wiped tears from his face several times during the sentencing.

Of his crime, he said: “I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.”

Person’s guilty plea in March to a bribery conspiracy charge came nearly two decades after he was a regular presence on NBA courts, where he played for five NBA teams over 13 seasons after being drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1986. In 2010, he earned a championship ring as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lawyers wrote that Person’s previous financial troubles intensified almost as soon as his NBA career ended, when he was paying $30,000 monthly to his ex-wife while he was earning $18,000 annually in his first non-playing role with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Chuck’s singular focus on basketball, his failure to plan for his financial future, and his unbounded generosity ultimately had catastrophic consequences,” they wrote.

The lawyers said he knew he was violating NCAA rules and was betraying his players and their families and Auburn University.

By 2016, when he was an assistant coach at Auburn, where he had set a record as the school’s all-time leading scorer in the 1980s, he was deeply in debt with bank loans, including one to finance a community center in his hometown, and several private loans, the lawyers wrote. One financial institution had obtained a default judgment that garnished 25% of his wages at Auburn, they added.

“Creditors were growing impatient, and Chuck was becoming desperate. Chuck could have turned to his many friends for help, but he was embarrassed and ashamed,” they wrote.

Instead, the man who overcame racism and extreme poverty growing up in rural Alabama got swept up in the college basketball scandal when his search for a new loan earned him an introduction to the government cooperator, the lawyers said.

His lawyers’ submission included letters from Charles Sonny Smith, who coached at Auburn for 11 seasons through the 1980s, and Sam Perkins, another former NBA player who met Person when both competed to be on the U.S. Olympic team in 1984.

Smith called Person “my favorite player ever.” Perkins said Person was “still a good friend.”

Kansas lands 2019 guard Dajuan Harris

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Kansas landed another piece for the upcoming season on Tuesday night as guard Dajuan Harris pledged to the Jayhawks on Twitter.

Previously a member of the Class of 2020, Harris will reclassify and join Kansas for next season. The 6-foot-1 point guard is coming off of a strong Nike Peach Jam in which he helped MoKan Elite to the event’s title with a big week. A recent Kansas offer right before the July Live Evaluation Period, Harris averaged 7.1 assists per game while playing great defense throughout the event.

The Jayhawks adding Harris to the Class of 2019 means they have five members in the group — headlined by four-star prospects Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna while three-star recruits Christian Braun and Isaac McBride are also involved. While Kansas struggled to land its usual five-star talents in this recruiting class, they’ve rebounded nicely with three commitments this spring to help fill out a veteran roster that is hoping to recapture Big 12 glory.

Kansas has plenty young players to build with the next few seasons as it’ll be interesting to see how this new five-man class shapes up. Wilson and Enaruna are expected to contribute, but the rest of the group, including Harris, is a bit of a wild card in terms of producing right away.