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Ranking every starter left in Sweet 16

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With the Sweet 16 starting, I decided that it was officially time to rank the players left in the NCAA tournament field.

The criteria was simple: If the starters for every team in the tournament got thrown into a pot and 16 of us were asked to draft teams to win four games and cut down the nets in Minneapolis, this would be my big board.

1. Zion Williamson, Duke: He’s the best and most unstoppable player in college basketball. Who else would I put at No. 1?

2. De’Andre Hunter, Virginia: He may not be the best prospect in the tournament, but for my money he is the second-best player in all of college basketball right now. He’s the best defender in the sport and a 44.6% three-point shooter that doubles as UVA’s leading scorer.

3. R.J. Barrett, Duke: Barrett is currently averaging 22.8 points, 7.7 boards and 4.1 assists for Duke. The only other player to put up 22-7-4 for a high-major team since 1992 was Anfernee Hardaway, and that was when Memphis was in the Great Midwest Conference. Barrett did this in the ACC.

4. Grant Williams, Tennessee: Williams has made a habit of absolutely taking games over in crunch time. He did it in Tennessee’s win over Kentucky in the SEC tournament. He did it in the final minutes and in overtime against Iowa. He did it against Vanderbilt in another overtime win. And that’s just off the top of my head. He may be the guy you want with the ball in all of the Sweet 16.

5. Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: Culver is one of the most improved players in college basketball this season, embracing the role of the go-to offensive weapon for a Red Raider team that is one of the most dangerous left in this tournament. He’ll be a top ten pick in June.

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6. Cassius Winston, Michigan State: No one in college basketball carries a bigger load offensively than Winston does for Michigan State. Look at the Michigan State, roster and think about this: They won a share of the Big Ten regular season title, they beat Michigan three times and they won the Big Ten tournament title. He’s unbelievable.

7. Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga: Clarke is the best player on Gonzaga, and I hope people are starting to realize it. He’s been their best defender since day one, but after a 36 point explosion in the second round, he’s averaging 17.0 points and shooting 69.9 percent from the floor. His PER would set a collegiate record if Zion Williamson didn’t exist.

8. P.J. Washington, Kentucky: When he’s healthy and playing well, he can be one of the five best players in college basketball. We don’t know if he’s healthy, and he’s had more games this season where he wasn’t playing well than when he was.

9. Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga: Gonzaga’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, Rui is a monster than can take games over. If he was as good defensively as Clarke is, he’d be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

10. Ty Jerome, Virginia: As weird as this sounds given the way that Virginia has flamed out of the tournament over the years, I trust Jerome to make big shots in big moments more than just about any other lead guard left.

11. Coby White, North Carolina
12. Cam Johnson, North Carolina: While Johnson has been North Carolina’s most consistent and, arguably, their best player throughout the season, White is the guy that is the most dangerous player on the roster playing the position that is the least replaceable for the Heels.

13. Carsen Edwards, Purdue: Edwards can be unbelievable when he gets into a rhythm. Just ask Villanova, who caught 42 points from him on Sunday. But prior to that outburst, he had spent the last six weeks being a high-volume, low-efficiency gunner.

14. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech
15. Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech: I’d personally make the argument that Alexander-Walker is the better player of the two, but I think that Robinson is probably more valuable because his presence allows Alexander-Walker to play off the ball, where he has been more effective.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

16. Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State: I know he doesn’t actually start, but he’s far and away the best and most talented player on Florida State’s roster. He leads them in scoring at 13.4 points and averages 5.4 boards and 1.5 blocks while shooting 38% from three as a 6-foot-11 center. He’s a monster.

17. Zavier Simpson, Michigan: If we’re talking about winners, we’re talking about Zavier Simpson, who will take away anyone’s best perimeter scorer while finishing the game with a line of, say, nine points, nine boards, nine assists and a pair of running sky-hooks across the lane. He’s a different dude.

18. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: Pritchard has been terrific over the course of the last month, and he’s developed the reputation in basketball circles of being a winner. He also leads Oregon is scoring and assists.

19. Tremont Waters, LSU: It’s hard not to love what Waters has been this season, sharing the offensive load with a roster that has plenty of talent on it. He’s a ball-screen maestro that is the biggest reason that the Tigers have been so good in close games.

20. Jared Harper, Auburn: The best point guard that you haven’t seen play this season. He is the engine that makes Auburn’s high-powered transition game operate, and he’s not afraid to dunk on you.

21. Luke Maye, North Carolina: Maye has not had a great season adjusting to a bit of a different role this year, but he’s still averaging 14.9 points, 10.6 boards and 2.3 assists.

22. Terance Mann, Florida State: So underrated. He’s the heart and soul of this Florida State team, an elite perimeter defender that can get out in transition. He is also shooting 41.1% from three this year.

23. Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan: Iggy is Michigan’s leading scorer and one of their best three-point shooters, but mostly he is just an ultra-competitive combo-forward that loves attacking the rim and thrives off opponents and opposing crowds talking junk to him.

24. Cam Reddish, Duke: Reddish is a plus defender on the wing and a streaky scorer that can make threes and, in theory, will be better once he is on a team where he is more of a focal point.

25. Kyle Guy, Virginia: He might just be the best shooter left in the tournament. When he gets it going, he can make six or seven in a game, and he’s a better defender than most realize.

26. Admiral Schofield, Tennessee: A versatile defender that averages 16.4 points and shoots 41.5% from three, Schofield is the guy that lets Tennessee switch between big lineups and small lineups.

27. Charles Matthews, Michigan: Quite possibly the best perimeter defender in college basketball, he has regressed a bit on the offensive end of the floor this season.

28. Tyler Herro, Kentucky: If Washington is out, Herro is going to have to be the guy that steps up against a Houston team that will double team Reid Travis out of the game. He’s more than just a shooter, but he can also be prone to off-nights.

29. Kerry Blackshear, Virginia Tech: Blackshear is one of the most underrated big men in all of college basketball. He averages 14.9 points, 7.3 boards, 2.3 assists and shoots 34.4% from three. He’s the guy that does all the screening in Buzz Williams’ ball-screen heavy offense.

30. Corey Davis, Houston: Davis is a big-time shot-maker and the leading scorer for a Houston team that can really, really play. When he gets hot, he can hit six or seven threes in one night.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

31. Skylar Mays, LSU: Mays has been so underrated this season. He’s LSU’s third-leading scorer, but he’s taken over in multiple big games this season and has had a knack for making big shots all season long.

32. Jon Teske, Michigan: Teske is an elite defensive center than has developed a really nice rapport with Simpson in ball-screen actions.

33. Bryce Brown, Auburn: Brown may not be the ‘best’ shooter left in the tournament, but I think that he’s the most dangerous. When he gets hot, he can reel off 20 points and five or six straight threes in one half.

34. Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: Perkins’ role offensively is massive, and he really can be one of the best ball-screen point guards in the country. But Perkins also has some games where he forgets how to play, and it’s cost Gonzaga in March in recent years.

35. Naz Reid, LSU: Reid is a 6-foot-10 monster that crushes teams on the glass and bangs home threes, but he’s inconsistent and has tried to play defense on roughly 27 possessions this season.

36. Kenny Wooten, Oregon: The second-coming of Jordan Bell. I told you in October that Oregon will be better with Wooten at the five, and that’s come to fruition after Bol Bol’s injury.

37. Chuma Okeke, Auburn: Okeke is a 6-foot-8, 230 pound combo-forward that averages 11.8 points, 6.7 boards, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 38% from three. He’s a perfect fit in modern basketball, and one of the reasons that Auburn’s style of play works.

38. Mamadi Diakite, Virginia: Diakite is an absolute monster on the defensive end that has seen his effectiveness offensively start to tick up during this tournament. It’s gotta be the hair.

39. Zach Norvell, Gonzaga: Norvell is a streaky shooter, but when he’s hot, he might be the most dangerous shooter in all of college hoops. He is the ultimate heat check.

40. Matt Mooney, Texas Tech: Mooney is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he’s slowly developed into a real threat on the offensive end. He’s Tech’s second most creative player after Culver, and his improvement late in the year took the pressure of their star.

41. Matt McQuaid, Michigan Starte: McQuaid has actually developed into a really good role player for the Spartans. He’s become their best perimeter defender, he’s their secondary ball-handler and he’s shooting 43.3% from three.

42. Jordan Bone, Tennessee: He’s a bit frustrating. When he’s good, he can win a game all by himself. When he’s not playing well, he’ll pass the ball to the other team four times in one half. Just ask Iowa.

43. Keldon Johnson, Kentucky: Johnson carried Kentucky early on in the season, but as teams started to figure out what he can do offensively, it got more difficult for him. He’s still dangerous, and like Herro, he will need to be if Kentucky is going to advance.

44. Ryan Cline, Purdue: Cline has had an underrated season. He is Purdue’s second-leading scorer and is shooting 40.6% from three on better than seven threes per game.

45. Tariq Owens, Texas Tech: Owens is everything that you want out of a five in modern basketball. He’s an elite rim-protector and lob-catcher than can move his feet a bit on the perimeter and makes a jumper now and again. His value doesn’t lie in his numbers.

46. Armoni Brooks, Houston: Brooks is the second-leading scorer for the Cougars, the guy that Kelvin Sampson loves to run off screens and get open for threes.

47. Louis King, Oregon: King is a former five-star recruit that missed six games at the start of the season through injury, but he’s starting to show just what made him such a valued recruit. He’s averaging 12.9 points this season and shooting 37.1% from three.

48. Jordan Poole, Michigan: Poole can shoot Michigan into any game. He can also shoot them out of any game, and he is a total liability defensively.

49. Kenny Goins, Michigan State: Goins averaging 8.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.3 apg and 1.4 bpg. I don’t understand how he’s as good as he is, but he’s really, really good.

50. Kavell Bigby-Williams, LSU: Bigby-Williams is a massive, massive human being that does well protecting the rim and overpowers people on the offensive glass.

51. Kenny Williams, North Carolina: He is UNC’s best perimeter defender and a guy that plays a 3-and-D role even if he’s not really shooting the ball all that well right now.

52. Reid Travis, Kentucky: Travis is such a good rebounder and he can be a really effective scorer in the post, but he learned pretty quickly that like in the Pac-12 is different than life in the SEC.

53. Davide Moretti, Texas Tech: Moretti is just a lights-out shooter, shooting 45.4% from three on the season and finishing the year as Tech’s second-leading scorer.

54. Nojel Eastern, Purdue: Eastern is not much on the offensive end of the floor, but he is an absolute lockdown defender.

55. Tre Jones, Duke: He’s quite possibly the best on-ball defender in college basketball right now, and that matters. He’s also a total and complete liability on the offensive end that teams just do not guard.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

56. Ashton Hagans, Kentucky: He is a monster defender at the point of attack that can get lost off the ball defensively and has had his ups and downs offensively throughout the year.

57. Lamonte Turner, Tennessee: Turner has bounced between the bench and the starting lineup for the Vols, but the thing I love about him is that the kid has the stones to take and make big shots. He’s not always great, but even when he’s struggling, you want him on the floor in big moments.

58. Galen Robinson, Houston: Robinson is Houston’s starting point guard and is one of those guys that leaves coaches saying “he played a great floor game.”

59. Anfernee McLemore, Auburn: McLemore is a really important piece for the Tigers, as he is one of their best rim-protectors, but he can also space the floor and thrives as a rim-runner in ball-screens. He’ll catch at least one lob against North Carolina.

60. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga: Kispert is just a solid role player. He can defend, he has some athleticism, he makes threes, he can attack a closeout. I think he has a shot to be WCC Player of the Year in a season or two.

61. Trent Forrest, Florida State: He can’t shoot at all, but he is Florida State’s third-leading scorer, one of their best passers and quite possibly their best perimeter defender. I believe we call those ‘glue guys’.

62. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State: This could also be Nick Ward, who hasn’t been starting after coming back from his hand injury. Ward is the better low-post scorer and rim-runner. Tillman is a better rebounder and defender.

63. Paul White, Oregon: The fifth-year senior is really thriving while playing in the small-ball four role for the Ducks.

64. M.J. Walker, Florida: I want Walker to be better than he has been in his Florida State career, but at this point he’s mostly just an athletic defender that can pop up for a 15 point game now and then.

65. Aaron Henry, Michigan State: Henry has a really, really bright future at Michigan State, but right now he’s a raw freshman that plays really hard and makes soe mistakes.

66. Ahmed Hill, Virginia Tech: A super-athletic, streaky shot-maker that can seemingly go a month without making a shot before ripping off four or five threes in a game.

67. Norense Odiase, Texas Tech: The big fella doesn’t play a ton of minutes, as Tech tends to prefer small-ball late in games, but he’s a bully on the glass, especially on the offensive end.

68. Kyle Alexander, Tennessee: Alexander is a good defensive center that seems to find himself in foul trouble every time Tennessee plays a big game. It’s hard to rank someone too high when they can’t consistently stay on the court.

69. Garrison Brooks, North Carolina: Brooks gets the majority of the minutes at the five for UNC this season, and he’s been fine doing it. He can score around the rim and he’s a pretty effective rebounder.

70. Ty Outlaw, Virginia Tech: The best shooter on the best shooting team left in the tournament.

71. Marlon Taylor, LSU: LSU’s stopper. He’s a highlight reel athlete that doesn’t do much else.

72. Malik Dunbar, Auburn: Dunbar has been starting for Auburn, but their best lineups tend to feature Samir Doughty.

73. Matt Haarms, Purdue: Haarms has been in and out of the starting lineup for Purdue, but when he’s in there he has been effective as a rim-running, rim-protecting five.

74. Breaon Brady, Houston
75. Fabian White, Houston: The Cougars as a four-man frontcourt rotation, and all four of their big uglies are fine. These two start.

76. Javin DeLaurier, Duke: DeLaurier is a good rebounder and a fine shot-blocker, but he is not all that much more than those two things.

77. Kihei Clark, Virginia: I understand why he plays so much (it moves Jerome off the ball) and the kid is a tough defender that has won everywhere he’s been, but he’s also 5-foot-nothin’ and shoots just 32.9% from three.

78. Grady Eifert, Purdue: Eifert is one of the most efficient players in all of college basketball because he doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he’s banging home open threes. He does his job well.

79. Francis Okoro, Oregon: He starts but Oregon is at their best when Ehab Amin and Will Richardson are on the floor.

80. Raiquan Gray, Florida State: Gray is Mr. Irrelevant, but the reason for that is that he is not the usual starter. That would be Phil Cofer, who was battling an injury before his father passed away. Cofer would be somewhere in the 40s on my list.

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.

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

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.

Atlantic 10 Offseason Reset: VCU, Davidson, Dayton headline much improved conference

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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 Atlantic 10

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

THE LEAGUE WILL BE MUCH, MUCH BETTER THIS SEASON: The Atlantic 10 got lucky last season. There was one team in the league worthy of an at-large bid – VCU – and that team lost in the conference tournament. That’s the only reason they ended up as a two-bid league instead of a one-bid league.

This year should be different. VCU and Davidson are both sitting in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. Dayton isn’t all that far behind them. Rhode Island and Richmond both bring back essentially all of the pieces that mattered last season. The top of the league is as strong as it has been in a while, and I think there’s a real chance that we’re talking about the conference getting three or four bids to the NCAA tournament this season.

That, of course, all depends on what happens during non-conference play. Last year it was hideous for the league, and that left them in a position where the computer numbers were ugly and there was no way to add quality wins for the teams that needed quality wins. The bottom of the conference should be just as bad this season, but with three teams at the top worthy of top 25 consideration combined with a much stronger middle, there’s reason to be hopeful.

VCU AND DAVIDSON FIGHTING FOR FIRST PLACE: I think you can go either way when it comes to who is the favorite to win the league, but I don’t think you can pick anyone other than VCU or Davidson. They finished 1-2 in the Atlantic 10 last season and, combined, they lost three players from their rotations. VCU graduated a third-string center and lost a guy who lost his spot in the rotation to a freshman while, hopefully, getting Marcus Evans back to the peak of his powers; more on him later. Davidson brings back their top six, including one of the best backcourts in all of college basketball in Kellan Grady and Jon-Axel Gudmundsson. It will be a fun race between the two programs that couldn’t play more contrasting styles.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

WILL DAYTON’S TALENT COME TOGETHER?: On paper, Dayton is right there with Davidson and VCU. They lose Josh Cunningham, but with the rest of their rotation – including a bonafide pro in Obi Toppin – returning and four sit-out transfers entering the fold, there is more than enough talent, depth and experience on the roster. The reason I have them a notch below the favorites is because I want to see how all the pieces come together. They can certainly win the league, but managing minutes and egos is going to be the toughest part of Anthony Grant’s job this season.

THE BATTLE FOR FOURTH: Best I can tell, there are going to be at least three – if not more – teams fighting for that spot. Rhode Island seems to make the most sense, given just how much they bring back, while Richmond is the sleeper that all the coaches in the conference are talking about. I also think it is worth noting that St. Bonaventure will be better than some believe given that they managed to find a way to keep Mark Schmidt in Olean for another season.

But I also think that it’s possible that a team like La Salle, or George Mason, or Saint Louis can pop up and surprise some people. There’s depth in the conference that wasn’t necessarily there a year ago.

CAN CHRIS MOONEY GO FROM ALMOST-FIRED TO NCAA TOURNAMENT?: Richmond is going to be the most interesting team in the league. There are big-money boosters that have spent the last year or two trying to get Chris Mooney fired. Someone even put up a #FireMooney billboard on I-95 in the city. The irony here is that Mooney may have his best team since the 2011 team that reached the Sweet 16. Grant Golden is arguably the best big man in the league while Jacob Gilyard was a second-team all-Atlantic 10 player last year. Nathan Cayo is back and, perhaps most importantly, Richmond’s best wing scorer Nick Sherod should be healthy again. Throw in Wagner transfer Blake Francis, and there are a lot of pieces on this roster.

We’ll see if Mooney can make it all fit together, but this team is certainly good enough, on paper, to win 12 conference games.

WHO’S GONE

  • PHIL MARTELLI, St. Joseph’s: An Atlantic 10 and Philadelphia institution is gone. After 34 years at the school and 24 seasons as the head coach of the Hawks, Phil Martelli was fired this spring. He landed on his feet – as an assistant coach on Juwan Howard’s staff at Michigan – but St. Joe’s is going to have to completely rebuild. As of right now, there are seven scholarship players on the roster.
  • JAVON BESS, Saint Louis: Bess was the best defender in the Atlantic 10 last season, the anchor for what was the best defense in the league. He also doubled as the best scorer and shooter on the roster of a Billiken team that struggled to score. This is a big, big loss for a team coming off an NCAA tournament trip.
  • JOSH CUNNINGHAM, Dayton: The Flyers will have more than enough talent to replace Cunningham, but losing an all-league senior that was capable of going for 20-10 on any given night is never ideal.
  • COURTNEY STOCKARD, St. Bonaventure: Stockard took a step forward as a senior, helping the Bonnies to remain top four in the league despite losing Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. He was a deserving first-team all-league player last season.
  • OTIS LIVINGSTON, George Mason: The Patriots are going to have to change the way they play this season with Livingston gone. He was one of the best lead guards in the league for the last four years and the guy that allowed Dave Paulsen to run offense without worrying about what happens at the end of a shot clock.
  • ERIC WILLIAMS, Duquesne: The Dukes bring everyone else back, and Keith Dambrot has the respect of every coach in the league, but Williams was their best player. Losing him is a hard way to make up ground in a league where the top five teams all bring everyone back.
Obi Toppin (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

WHO’S BACK

  • EVERYONE, VCU: Well, that’s technically not true. Michael Gilmore, a backup center, graduated and Sean Mobley, who started to lose minutes by the end of the year, transferred. So there are some changes. But all of the truly important pieces – star guard Marcus Evans, De’Riante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Issac Vann, Vince Williams, etc. – are back, and they’re joined by a really good recruiting class. They’re old, they’re experienced, they’re deep, they’re talented and they were a No. 8 seed last season. This is a preseason top 25 team.
  • EVERYONE, Davidson: Last season, Kellan Grady was the guy we all thought would be the best player in the Atlantic 10 after a sterling freshman season got him on the radar of the NBA. Despite being banged up, Grady averaged 17.3 points as a sophomore … and his teammate, Jon-Axel Gudmundsson, won Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Both of them are back, along with the rest of Bob McKillop’s top six from a team that went 24-10 last season.
  • EVERYONE, Rhode Island: The Rams bring back their top four scorers, including Fatts Russell, Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin, and the only player they lose from their rotation averaged just 5.7 points. There is a lot of reason to like this group.
  • OBI TOPPIN, Dayton: One coach told me that Toppin is not only clearly the most talented player in the league, he is the only guy in the conference that is a surefire pro. A late-bloomer, he hasn’t stopped improving throughout his career and should be in line for a major breakout season.
  • NICK SHEROD, Richmond: Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard and Nathan Cayo are the bigger names and they all return, but Sherod is the guy that coaches in the league believe is the difference-maker. He’s a big-time shooter and scorer on the wing that they were missing after he went down with a knee injury.
  • KYLE LOFTON and OSUN OSUNNIYI, St. Bonaventure: Losing Stockard is going to hurt, but sophomores Lofton and Osunniyi are going to be very, very good for a long time in this league. One coach told me he thought Lofton was “the best freshman I’ve seen in the Atlantic 1 in a while, you would never have guessed he was a freshman” based on the way he played and his poised.
  • JORDAN GOODWIN and HASAHN FRENCH, Saint Louis: Goodwin is a do-it-all wing and French might be the best, and certainly is the most powerful, big man in the conference.

WHO’S COMING

  • DAYTON’S TRANSFERS: The Flyers had four players sitting out as transfers last season — Ibi Watson (Michigan), Jordy Tshimanga (Nebraska), Rodney Chatman (Chattanooga) and Chase Johnson (Florida). With Jalen Crutcher and Toppin both returning, the Flyers have as much talent on paper as anyone.
  • SCOTT SPENCER, La Salle: A transfer from Clemson, Spencer should fit perfectly in Ashley Howard’s system and give the Explorers a bit of a scoring pop to help offset the loss of Pookie Powell.
  • BLAKE FRANCIS, Richmond: The transfer from Wagner averaged 17 points before sitting out this past season.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-ATLANTIC 10 TEAM

MARCUS EVANS, VCU (Preseason Player of the Year)
KELLAN GRADY, Davidson
JON-AXEL GUDMUNDSSON, Davidson
OBI TOPPIN, Dayton
GRANT GOLDEN, Richmond

(Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. VCU: We’ve talked plenty about the Rams at this point, but I think their ceiling is still going to be determined by what they get out of Marcus Evans. Their star point guard has suffered an injury to each of his achilles since transferring to VCU from Rice. He rehabbed his entire sit-out season, and then spent last summer rehabbing the second injury. Somehow, he hasn’t lost any of his explosiveness and still managed to average 13.6 points and 3.2 assists last year. I spoke with him back in February, and Evans told me he was excited about this offseason because it was the first time he would have a chance to spend the summer getting better instead of getting healthy. He’s my pick to be the 2020 Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10.

2. DAVIDSON: This Davidson team has a chance to be the best group Bob McKillop has coached since the Stephen Curry days. A healthy Kellan Grady combined with Jon Axel Gudmundsson will give the Wildcats one of the best backcourts in the country. They’re going to be experienced, and Luka Brajkovic and Luke Frampton should both take a significant step forward as sophomores. Brajkovic was one of the best bigs in the league as a freshman. As always, their ceiling will be determined by just how good their defense will be, but on paper this group looks like a tournament team.

3. DAYTON: It’s easier to bet on VCU and Davidson as league champs because we know what they are, but keep in mind that the Flyers return the majority of their rotation from a team that went 21-12 overall and 13-5 in the league last season, and that among the players they return is future draft pick Obi Toppin. Oh, and they also add four sit-out transfers, three of whom came from high-major schools. It’s going to be a fun three-team race.

4. RHODE ISLAND: The Rams certainly have the talent to be relevant in the Atlantic 10 race, but with essentially the same team, they went .500 in the league last season and finished four games behind third-place Dayton. How are they making up all that ground when the teams above them return everyone?

5. RICHMOND: Every coach I’ve spoken to believes that the Spiders are the x-factor in the league race this year. For starters, bringing back Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard gives them one of the best 1-2 combinations in the league. Bringing back Nick Sherod’s size and scoring on the wing will be important, and Nathan Cayo was underrated league-wide. Throw in Wagner transfer Blake Francis, and this should be the most improved team in the conference.

6. ST. BONAVENTURE: Mark Schmidt lost Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley before last season and still managed to churn out an 18-win season and a fourth-place finish in the A-10, so we shouldn’t be all that worried about them after losing four of their top six, including Courtney Stockard. They have one of the best homecourt advantages in the league, Schmidt will find a way to get the best out of his roster and sophomores Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi are ready for bigger roles.

7. LA SALLE: I love this La Salle group. They should have more talent and depth this year, and you know they are always going to play hard. They’ve had a year under Ashley Howard, and what we saw as the season progressed was that this team played together much better than La Salle did under John Giannini. Keep an eye on sophomore Jack Clark.

8. GEORGE MASON: They’re going to have to play differently without Otis Livingston running the show, but Justin Kier is a going to have a chance to become a star in the league. Throw in sophomore Jordan Miller and a healthy Goanar Mar, and there are some pieces for Dave Paulsen here.

9. SAINT LOUIS: The Billikens were built on their defense last season and couldn’t score. They lost their best defender and best scorer in Javon Bess. I like Jordan Goodwin, I love Hasahn French and I think Fred Thatch is in line for a big sophomore season, but I need to see it from this group.

10. DUQUESNE: Coaches in the league have faith that Keith Dambrot will be able to find a way to make it work this year, and there are some pieces returning – notably Sincere Carey – but losing Eric Williams is big. He was their best player.

11. UMASS: The Minutemen have some talent and they bring in a good recruiting class, but I am going to need to see Matt McCall win there before I buy in. Keep an eye on freshman Tre Mitchell.

12. GEORGE WASHINGTON: Jamion Christian should be able to get the most out of this roster, and they’ll play a fun style that will see them bombing away from three, but it will take him a few years to get the kind of talent in the program he needs to make a run at the top of the league.

13. FORDHAM: Fordham won three Atlantic 10 games last season and lose their best player, Nick Honor.

14. ST. JOSEPH’S: Best I can tell, St. Joe’s currently has seven scholarship players on the roster, one of whom is a former walk-on. The post-Martelli era is going to have a rough start.