Getty Images

Recapping college basketball season to date

1 Comment

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.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

Getty Images
3 Comments

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

Getty Images
3 Comments

McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

jared butler baylor
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

Getty Images
3 Comments

TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

xavier tillman nba draft
Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.