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Recapping college basketball season to date

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Fantasy football season is officially in the books and we are still a week away from actually seeing the college football playoff happen.

Just about every meaningful non-conference games has been played, conference play is right around the corner and the most interesting part of the NBA right now is whether or not Lebron will actually be able to get Anthony Davis to Los Angeles.

There couldn’t be a more perfect time to catch everyone up on what is happening in a fun, crazy and wide open college basketball season.

So here we go …

ALL THOSE DUKE FRESHMEN ARE ACTUALLY AMAZING

It’s an annual tradition at this point. Duke enrolls a recruiting class that is stuffed to the gills with future lottery picks and players with endless amounts of hype. The Blue Devils get ranked at the top of the polls in the preseason, and then once the games are actually played, the product doesn’t match the hype.

That’s not the case this year.

Zion Williamson is must-see TV, an absolutely dominant force at the college level that has gone from being looked at as nothing but a dunker to being the clear-cut No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. R.J. Barrett is the second-best player on the Duke roster, and he’s averaging 24 points, seven boards and four assists. Duke is so good that Cam Reddish, himself a top five pick, can barely find a role in this offense while Tre Jones has been turned into Patrick Beverly.

Who knows if this Duke team will actually win the national title — weird things happen in March — but I will say this: They are going to be the favorite to win it all as long as they stay healthy for the next three months.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

BUT THEY ARE NOT GOING TO GO UNDEFEATED

That ship sailed less than three weeks into the season thanks to a Gonzaga team that is loaded in their own right.

I know we say this a lot, but this might be the best Gonzaga team that we have ever seen. Rui Hachimura is a sensation with an incredible back story — he is to Japanese basketball what Yao Ming was to Chinese hoops. Brandon Clarke has become the best defensive player in college hoops. Zach Norvell Jr. has stones that bigger than Sam Cassell’s.

Should I mention that Gonzaga has been playing without Killian Tillie this year?

ZAGS GOT TRIPPED UP BY TENNESSEE

But even that Gonzaga team found themselves getting picked off twice before WCC play even started. Losing at North Carolina is one thing, but the Zags took an L playing against Tennessee on a neutral court in a game that proved to just about everyone that the Vols are probably the best team in the SEC this season.

I didn’t see it happening, not with what Kentucky was supposed to be this year and not with a roster that already seemed to max out its talent. But what do I know. Admiral Schofield has turned into an NBA player, Grant Williams expanded his shooting range and ability to pass and the Tennessee guards have been terrific even though they are playing without Lamonte Turner right now.

I hope you got your futures odds in on Tennessee early.

I did.

(Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

KENTUCKY, HOWEVER, IS GOOD AGAIN

The Wildcats were utterly humiliated by Duke on the opening night of the season, getting beaten by 34 points in a game that wasn’t even that close. John Calipari’s club then proceeded to look unimpressive in a bunch of wins over mid-major opponents on their home floor before falling to Seton Hall in MSG.

But when Kentucky took the floor against North Carolina in Chicago over the weekend, they looked like the team that we all saw play in the Bahamas in August. And while Keldon Johnson and P.J. Washington and Ashton Hagans finally played like the players we expected to see all season long, the truth is that the reason to buy into Kentucky right now is that they are (finally) playing defense at a level we expect.

When they do that, we know Kentucky is good.

WE DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW IF KANSAS IS GOOD

The Jayhawks have the best resume in college basketball. They have wins over Michigan State, Villanova, Marquette and Tennessee. They have five more wins over top 150 teams on KenPom. Their only loss on the season came by four points on the road against an Arizona State team that is the best team in the Pac-12. That’s impressive.

What’s less impressive is the fact that Kansas has not looked all that good in each individual game. They trailed Vermont in the second half. They trailed Louisiana by 12. They were down big at the half against Marquette. They needed overtime to beat Stanford at home. They beat New Mexico State by three. They are playing without Udoka Azubuike right now, and they might as well be playing without Quentin Grimes.

Right now, the Jayhawks are Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson and a bunch of guys. I think they’ll figure it out eventually, but right now, this is not Kansas at their best.

WE DON’T KNOW IF THE BIG EAST IS GOOD

Villanova certainly isn’t, at least not by their standards. They are 9-4 on the season with a home loss to Furman and a 27 point home loss to Michigan to their name. St. John’s is undefeated, but they literally don’t have a single win that I care about. Butler, Creighton and Seton Hall have looked good, but they are a combined 26-10 on the season. Providence is young and banged up. Xavier is young and not all that good.

At this point, Marquette is carrying the flag in the league, but a major reason for that is Markus Howard going absolutely bonkers twice in the last three weeks. They’ve won seven straight, with wins over Louisville, Kansas State, Wisconsin and Buffalo thrown in the mix.

(AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

WE DO KNOW THAT THE PAC-12 IS BAD

The league is just not good.

Outside of Arizona State, no one in the league finished non-conference play in a way that would make them feel good about getting an at-large bid to the tournament. And Arizona State? They blew a 12 point lead in a loss to Nevada, they lost by 16 at Vanderbilt despite the fact that Vanderbilt’s best player is done for the season and they needed a miracle rally to erase an 18 point deficit at Georgia.

If they didn’t get that win over Kansas on Saturday, we might be sitting here talking about whether or not this is a one-bid league.

AND WE DO KNOW THAT THE BIG TEN IS LOADED

The Big Ten, however, could end up getting ten teams into the NCAA tournament. That has as much to do with the fact that there are a lot of bad leagues around the country right now that will struggle to produce at-large candidates, but the Big Ten does have 11 teams in KenPom’s top 50 and 12 teams in the top 60.

Michigan is the headliner you need to know about. They are, once again, one of college basketball’s very best defensive teams, but the development of Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews as well as the addition of Ignas Brazdeikis has turned the Wolverines into a juggernaut. Wisconsin is loaded again, mainly because Ethan Happ is a certified beast. Michigan State is really good. Indiana is getting wins despite being young and banged up. Ohio State is apparently going to be a top 20 team regardless of who is on their roster for as long as Chris Holtmann is head coach. Nebraska is the real deal.

This league is going to be an absolute nightmare on a nightly basis, and that is going to be a good thing for the teams that finished 8-10 in the league. They’ll still have a shot at a bid.

AND, AS SHOCKING AS THIS IS, VIRGINIA MIGHT BE BETTER THIS YEAR THAN LAST

They really might be. De’Andre Hunter has taken a step forward, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are one of the best guard tandems in the country and this freshman Kihei Clark is everything you could possibly want out of a Tony Bennett point guard.

I think the Cavaliers are Villanova circa 2015. At that point in time, we all knew Jay Wright was a handsome man that happened to be a terrific basketball coach, he just had a reputation for choking in March. That’s exactly how people feel about Bennett and Virginia right now, but you can’t win the Big One until, you know, you do.

Is this the year Virginia finally breaks through and gets to the Final Four?

I think it is.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

FIVE TEAMS I DIDN’T MENTION YOU NEED TO KNOW

NEVADA: We knew about Nevada heading into the season. With the Martin twins and Jordan Carolina back, they are old, talented and dangerous. They are also going to be the team that makes a run at an undefeated season.

TEXAS TECH: Chris Beard did it again. The Red Raiders are the nation’s best defensive team, Jarrett Culver is a certified star and Tech will be the favorite to unseat Kansas in the Big 12 this season.

ARIZONA STATE: This is the only team in the Pac-12 you need to pay attention to at this point. The Hurley brothers have a way of staying relevant.

BUFFALO: Coming off of a year where they upset No. 4 seed Arizona in the NCAA tournament, the Bulls are primed for another tournament run. This is the best mid-major team in college hoops by a good stretch.

OKLAHOMA: Trae Young is gone, but the Sooners might actually be better this year. I’ll let you guys argue about whether or not that is a result of Young leaving the program or everyone else on the roster being one year older.

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.