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NBA Mock Draft 5.0: What changes now that the lottery order is set?

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The NBA Draft Lottery came and went last night with the New Orleans Pelicans finding a way to win the Zion Williamson sweepstakes in one of the greatest trolls in the history of professional sports.

The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks both found a way to climb into the top four of this year’s draft, but all of the conspiracy theorists were proven wrong as the Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies wound up with the top two picks in this year’s draft.

Now that we have the actual draft order completely worked out, we can fully dive into picks based on fit.

So without further ado, here is the NBC Sports Mock Draft 5.0:

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1. NEW ORLEANS: Zion Williamson, Duke

There really is no argument to make for taking anyone other than Zion with the No. 1 overall pick this year, regardless of who ends up winning the lottery.

Let’s start with this: He averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 boards, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 68 percent from the field this season. That hasn’t happened since at least the 1992-93 season, and that’s the cut off because that is as far back as Basketball Reference’s database will go. His PER of 40.8 obliterated the previous record of 36.9, which was set by a guy that played at High Point, not a player in the ACC. Perhaps the most important thing to note here is that Zion ended up shooting 33.8 percent from three. That was on just 71 attempts, but he got better from distance throughout the season.

Strictly as a player, I think he’s the best prospect to enter the NBA since Anthony Davis largely due to the fact that I think the NBA game — with the space the deeper three-point line and teammates that can actually make shots creates — will make Zion nearly impossible to guard off the dribble.

But you’re not just drafting the player. You’re drafting the brand. He’ll sell tickets. He’ll sell jerseys. He’ll boost the organization’s social media following. There’s a generation of humans all over the globe that will become a fan of the team that drafts him simply because of his presence the same way that you see kids in New Jersey wearing PSG kits because Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on in the squad.

You don’t pass on that if you’re not trying to get fired.

2. MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Murray State

Morant’s dynamic athleticism combined with his lethal passing ability is what makes him such an intriguing player in this day and age in the NBA. He’ll be able to get up and down the floor as fast as anyone. He can make pinpoint passes off the dribble with either hand. He really reads the floor well. He understands how defenses are going to be playing him. The IQ is there.

The question with Morant, what will determine whether or not he hits his ceiling is two-fold: For starters, he needs to add some strength to his frame. His explosiveness is out of this world, but finishing over defenders in the OVC is different than trying to finish over players in the NBA. He also needs to become a better shooter. He showed some flashes of being able to step behind a screen and make a defender pay for going under it, but he’s not quite doing that at an NBA level yet.

Morant has a chance to end up being one of the top five point guards in the league when it is all said and done. He has that kind of upside, and with Mike Conley heading towards the twilight of his career, this is A) a perfect fit for the organization, and B) a great pairing alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. That is about as good as it gets when it comes to a place to start building a contender.

3. NEW YORK: R.J. Barrett, Duke

I’ve come around on R.J. Barrett as a prospect even though I still think there are some real flaws in his game. I do think he’s a bit too left-hand dominant. His shot selection bordered on selfish, although he did start to make better reads and better passes down the stretch of the season. The jumper was not great this year, and I do wonder if he has the athleticism to be able to play the position he’s going to want to play in the NBA.

But he was also the first high major player to average better than 22 points, seven boards and four assists in 27 years. He did it as a freshman in the ACC. Anfernee Hardaway did it as a sophomore in the GMWC.

The production is there. So is the mindset, and more than anything, that’s what has me back on the Barrett bandwagon. After speaking with people close to the Duke program and close to Barrett, I’m willing to make the bet on the human being finding a way to figure it out. He’ll put in the work. He’ll fix what’s wrong in his game. He’s wired the way that players like Kawhi Leonard and Kobe Bryant are. I’m not saying that he is going to end up being as good as those two, but I do think that he’ll make the absolute most out of his potential.

And remember, back in October, everyone thought that this year’s draft was going to end up being the R.J. Barrett Sweepstakes. All he did between then and now was have one of the most productive seasons in recent memory. Not getting Zion is a bummer, but Barrett is a pretty good consolation prize.

4. LA LAKERS: Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

This all depends on whether or not the Lakers actually decide whether or not to hold on to this pick. If they do, Garland makes the most sense. They are a team that is in need of shot-making and shot-creation, and that’s what Garland does best. He is a very, very good shooter with deep range and the ability to create and makes shots in 1-on-1 situations. There’s some risk here, given that he is coming off of a knee injury, but the fact that the Lakers already have a number of big wings on their roster — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, even Lonzo Ball — and that Garland is represented by Klutch Sports, this makes sense.

But again, it all depends on whether or not the Lakers can put together a package that would be enough to entice the Pelicans to give up Anthony Davis, and if they do, you would have to imagine the pick would be included.

5. CLEVELAND: De’Andre Hunter, Virginia

I am the leader of the De’Andre Hunter bandwagon, and anyone that watched the final 25 minutes of the national title game should be able to fully understand why. For my money, Hunter is the best one-on-one defender in this draft. Tony Bennett would use him to guard an opponent’s best player, regardless of position. In one game against North Carolina, Hunter went from defending Coby White on the perimeter to chasing Cam Johnson around screens to hanging with Luke Maye in the post. He’s just an absolute monster on that end.

I also think that he is a much better offensive weapon than he has shown, because I don’t think he quite realizes how good he is. Yes, he needs to continue to develop his handle and his ability to change directions, but I think that he has the physical tools to make all of that happens. He’s a knockdown shooter already, and with the space created by playing in the NBA game, he should be able to take advantage of his straight-line driving ability more than he could playing for Virginia.

His 3-and-D potential gives him such a high-floor, and the ceiling is there to be more. Putting him into an organization where he can be developed by John Beilein just seems like the absolute perfect fit.

6. PHOENIX: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

I’ve been on the Culver bandwagon for a long time. He has terrific size, he played two seasons in a college program that prioritizes defense above all else and he’s a much-improved passer that, at 6-foot-7, can operate ball-screens. He also just covers so much ground. He’s not super-explosive, but his strides are so long that he’s by you after one dribble.

This risk here is the perimeter shooting. He had a dreadful month of January shooting the ball, but Tech’s entire team did. I’m also concerned that his lack of burst will be a bigger issue in the NBA than it was in college, but I think that is worth the risk at No. 5 when, presumably, the other options are going to be guys coming off of knee injuries or the third-best player at Duke.

Coby White would be interesting here, given that Phoenix is in need of a point guard, but I think Culver has the higher ceiling. I also think that he would be a better fit alongside Devon Booker than White would be. Booker has developed into a high-volume scorer, but he is also a guy that can play as a lead guard and primary ball-handler. Culver makes more sense next to him than White does. That said, if Garland is still available at this point, I think that the Suns would gobble him up without thinking twice about it.

7. CHICAGO: Coby White, North Carolina

Coby White did not enter college basketball as the best freshman at North Carolina, but he certainly left his mark on this college hoops season. There really isn’t any other way to say it: Coby White is Buckets, Personified. He’s 6-foot-5 and unbelievably quick in transition, with the ability to stop on a dime and bury pull-ups out to the three-point line. He will score a lot of points in the NBA, and if he can continue to develop the play-making part of his game, there’s a chance that he could end up being an above-average starter in the league.

The Bulls need to find a long-term answer at the point guard spot, and White would be their best chance to do so at this point in this draft.

8. ATLANTA: Cam Reddish, Duke

Reddish is the most frustrating player in the country for me. From a talent perspective, I’m not sure that there is anyone outside of Zion that has more than him. He’s a 6-foot-8 multi-positional wing that can operate in ball-screens, can make threes and spent his youth playing as the lead guard both in high school and in AAU. He should be much better than he was this year, but between being on the floor with two ball-dominant players on a team that had little-to-no shooting other than him, some of his struggles are contextual.

I’ll still bet on his talent. Players with his skill level, his size and his athleticism don’t show up all that often. Drafting a 6-foot-8 player that shot 35.6 percent from inside the arc this high is never going to make anyone comfortable, but with Trae Young on the floor to carry the load offensively, Reddish should have some time to grow into his ceiling without too much pressure.

9. WASHINGTON: P.J. Washington, Kentucky

The Wizards sent both Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter Jr. packing this season, meaning that they need to find a way to fill a hole in their frontcourt. There are a number of players that can do so in this range in the draft, but I think Washington makes the most sense.

He was one of the most improved players in college basketball this past season, but he was frustratingly inconsistent. He had a six-week stretch where he was the best player in the country not named Zion Williamson, and spent the rest of the season making Kentucky fans wonder just where that superhuman had gone to. I think Washington is better playing in a complimentary role — he seems to thrive as a catch-and-shoot spacer and a post scorer than he does a guy you put into isolations — and I can see him having the kind of career that another Kentucky grad, Patrick Patterson, has had.

With his toughness, defensive versatility and ability to stretch the floor, he seems like a pretty ideal fit next to John Wall, Bradley Beal and Dwight Howard.

10. ATLANTA: Jaxson Hayes, Texas

Hayes has the potential to end up being the prototype center that NBA teams are currently looking for. He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, the mobility and athleticism to defend out on the perimeter and instincts that allow him to be an effective rim protector as well as a rim-running lob target and vertical spacer. He’s a project, and a pick for the longterm, but the improvement that he’s made as he’s continued to grow combined with the fact that he’s not even 19 years old yet — and even younger in basketball years — makes me really intrigued.

After seeing what Atlanta has been able to do with John Collins, it would make a lot of sense for them to draft a guy like Hayes. Just think about how good he can be catching lobs from Trae Young for the next four years.

11. MINNESOTA: Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

Zion Williamson set the record for the best PER in college basketball history this season, but the 37.2 PER that Clarke posted this season would have set the record as well. He might be the best athlete in this draft, and for my money, he was one of the five-best players in all of college basketball this past season. He’s an elite defensive weapon that averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals, and at 6-foot-8, he’s big enough to guard up and mobile enough to guard down at the next level. There is some upside with this pick given that Clarke is still very much a work in progress as a shooter, but he’ll be 23 before he ever plays in an NBA game and is more or less a finished product.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see him drop in the draft simply because I think he’s the kind of player that is better suited to finding a role on a good team than he is the kind of roll-the-dice upside pick the organizations that are perennially in lottery purgatory look for, but there may not be five guys from this draft that are more NBA-ready that Clarke is right now.

That makes him a pretty ideal fit for a Minnesota team that is not all that far away. Slotting him next to Karl Towns in a frontcourt is exactly the kind of situation that Clarke should be best in.

12. CHARLOTTE: Sekou Doumbouya, France

Doumbouya is a high-upside, athletic forward originally from Guinea that is still a few years away from being ready to contribute to an NBA team. But given the state of flux that Charlotte’s roster is currently in — they might lose Kemba, and there really isn’t all that much else to get excited about — they need to take a swing on someone with high-upside.

13. MIAMI: Bol Bol, Oregon

I understand the potential with Bol Bol. He’s 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-8 wingspan, he’s an elite shooter and he’s an elite shot-blocker. But he also has more red flags than Canada. There are very legitimate concerns about his work ethic and whether or not he actually loves basketball. There are very legitimate concerns about his strength and physicality, and whether or not he is actually a defensive liability despite his shot-blocking prowess — Serious question: Who can he guard in the NBA? And all of that was true before he suffered a foot injury this season.

My general advice would be to let someone else deal with that stress, but I think that Miami might be the right organizations for him to slot into. There’s a culture there, one that demands you work hard and you defend, and he will be held accountable for not doing his job. I think that’s what he needs to reach his admittedly-very high ceiling.

14. BOSTON: Romeo Langford, Indiana

The big question with Langford is whether or not you truly believe his dreadful shooting this past season — he finished his freshman year making just 27.2 percent of his threes — was a result of the thumb injury that he underwent surgery to fix. If you do, he’ll likely get picked higher than this because of his size, his length, his ability to defend and just how good he is at finishing around the rim. I’m not 100 percent convinced the shooting struggles were solely the injury.

Langford just feels like the kind of kid that Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge will like, and with the potential for Kyrie and Terry Rozier to move on, I would not be shocked to see him end up here.

And like the Lakers, this pick all depends on whether or not the Celtics can put together a package that is strong enough to land Anthony Davis.

15. DETROIT: Kevin Porter Jr., USC

There is a lot of risk involved with drafting Porter, who is an extremely talented scorer that is a decent bet to end up averaging 20 points at some point in his NBA career. I think where he gets picked will depend on how the interviewing process goes. He has some things that he needs to be able to answer for from his one season at USC — a mysterious leg injury kept him out for nearly half the season, and he was suspended while on a road trip to Oregon — but he is talented enough that someone is going to take a chance on him. He has the upside to be a top five player in this class, and if he ends up in an organization that will provide him with stability and a dose of professionalism, he could thrive.

I am not sure if Detroit would be the ideal fit for Porter, but they certainly do need a boost of perimeter shooting, and I don’t doubt that Porter will be able to find a way to score at the next level.

16. ORLANDO: Tyler Herro, Kentucky

Herro does a lot of things that you want NBA guards to be able to do. He’s a really good shooter (better than the numbers he put up this season), he can play in the pick-and-roll, he can run off of screens and get shots up and he will play hard. He’s also a better defender than he probably gets credit for. You’re not drafting him to be an all-star, you’re drafting him to do a specific job, and he should be able to do that job well. Orlando badly needs someone that can fill that role.

17. BROOKLYN: Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga

Hachimura is super-toolsy, and that is the kind of thing that is going to intrigue NBA teams. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and carries 240 pounds really, really well. He’s an explosive leaper with an impressive first step, which comes in handy because he is not a great shooter yet. He’s also not a great defender yet, although he did get better on that end of the floor as the season went on. He’s more raw that you want to see from a 21-year old, but considering the language barrier he worked through and the fact that he was never really challenged before he got to Gonzaga, it’s understandable.

Brooklyn is an organization with a ton of intriguing perimeter weapons —  D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris — and a couple of interesting fives that could use a combo-forward in the big wing mold. Hachimura is that guy, and he fits the culture of an organization that prides themselves on work ethic, character and player development. This is a place where he can reach his ceiling.

18. INDIANA: Nassir Little, North Carolina

The Pacers need scoring more than anything else, but I think that passing on Little this late in the draft would be foolish. He’s a former top five recruit that fits, in theory, with the modern NBA perfectly.

I still think Little has a chance to be a really good pro because of the gifts that God gave him. He’s athletic and strong while standing 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He is the epitome of the versatility that NBA teams are looking for on the wing. Now all he has to do to learn to shoot and improve his feel for the game. There’s a reason that he looked his best in situations where the game got scattered.

19. SAN ANTONIO: Grant Williams, Tennessee

I love Grant Williams. He’s only 6-foot-6, but he has the strength and the length to guard up. He’s a very good rebounder and a super-smart passer that allowed Tennessee to run their offense through him. He’s also effective in the post and the kind of guy that is going to step up and make big plays in big moments. But I think the most important thing to note here is that his role needs context: He was not really allowed or encouraged to shoot at Tennessee, and I do believe he is going to be better in that area at the next level. I think you’re getting a 10-year pro with the potential to be a starter in the mid-to-late first round, and that is great value in my mind.

He’s precisely the kind of player that would be ideal to get into Gregg Popovich’s organization.

20. BOSTON: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech

I’m still on the Nickeil Alexander-Walker bandwagon. He’s big enough and long enough to guard both backcourt spots, he shot 38.3 percent from three this past season — a number that went down when, midway through the year, he had to slide over and play the point fulltime thanks to Justin Robinson’s mysterious injury — and he is a creative passer that can operate a ball-screen. I think he’s good enough to be a starter in the NBA one day not too far in the future, and with the questions in Boston’s backcourt, he is exactly the kind of player that they need to add.

21. OKLAHOMA CITY: Cam Johnson, North Carolina

Johnson is here because of his ability to shoot at 6-foot-8. His handle is not great, he doesn’t have a great frame and I do wonder who he is going to be able to guard in the NBA. But when you make upwards of 46 percent of your threes while shooting six per game, you are a guy that is going to be able to find someone to pay you NBA dollars. Ask Svi Mykhailiuk.

If Oklahoma City needs anything, it is shooting.

22. BOSTON: Keldon Johnson, Kentucky

Keldon Johnson is one of those guys that is good at a lot of things, but may not necessarily has one NBA skill. He’s not an elite athlete. His shooting dropped off in SEC play. He’s a straight-line driver and will give effort defensively but may not necessarily have the physical tools to shut-down NBA wings. If he can get quicker and become a more consistent shooter from three, there is a chance that he can be a useful role player in the league, but there are definitely some improvements that need to be made.

But he’s tough, he’ll defend and he can make shots. Boston loves guys like that.

23. UTAH: Bruno Fernando, Maryland

Fernando is a big, physical and athletic five-man that has shown that he has more skill than we previously thought. He’s a much better passer this year than he was in the past, and he should be able to provide some rim protection at the NBA level. I don’t know that there is much of a ceiling here, but I do think that he can be a useful role player at the NBA level, especially if he ends up in an organization that will help develop him on the defensive side of the ball.

If Utah ends up losing Derrick Favors, Fernando is the kind of player that can fill that void.

24. PHILADELPHIA: Ty Jerome, Virginia

I think Jerome is a point guard in the Fred VanVleet/Jalen Brunson mold, meaning that what he lacks in high-end athleticism he makes up for in savvy, basketball IQ, leadership and shot-making. He’ll spend a decade as an elite backup point guard in the NBA.

I also think he would be the ideal fit for Philly. He can do all the things that they lost when they traded away Landry Shamet. He can really shoot it from three, he can run off of screens all day long, he can play as a primary ball-hander when needed and he can guard either backcourt spot well enough. It just makes too much sense.

25. PORTLAND: KZ Okpala, Stanford

I get why people really, really like Okpala. He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and the ability to not only knockdown shots from the perimeter but create off the bounce as well. That’s the kind of think you look for in a first round pick. But it’s also worth noting that he dropped off a cliff in the final month of the season. There’s potential there, I’m just not convinced he can come in an impact an NBA game immediately. I don’t think that would be a negative for Portland, because they seem to have an affinity for drafting guys that need a couple of years of seasoning before they are ready to impact a game.

26. CLEVELAND: Goga Bitadze, Montenegro

Bitadze is a 6-foot-11 19-year old that put up impressive scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking numbers for a player his age at the level he competed at in Europe. What makes him an interesting fit in Cleveland is that his perimeter shot is starting to blossom, and anyone that remembers the success that John Beilein had with Kevin Pittsnoggle and Mo Wagner will love the idea of sliding him a center that can shoot it.

27. BROOKLYN: Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State

Horton-Tucker is something of a roll of the dice, but he’s a risk worth taking late in the first round because he’s such an intriguing mix of physical tools, skills and youth. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Horton-Tucker should be able to slide between guarding twos and fours. He needs to get more consistent with his shooting stroke, but he can make jumpers off of the dribble. And he doesn’t turn 19 until November 25th, meaning that he is six months younger than Cole Anthony. He’s a dart throw and a few years away from contributing, but he’s unique enough that I think he can be effective and Brooklyn appears to be the kind of organization that is going to be able to get the best out of the players they bring into the mix.

28. GOLDEN STATE: Dylan Windler, Belmont

I think Windler is super-interesting as a role player in the modern NBA. He can really, really shoot it, and while that’s more or less where his bread is going to be buttered, I do believe that he is better at doing the little things that he gets credit for. He can rebound, he can jump passing lanes, he makes the right reads. He was a superstar for Belmont in the OVC, but at his heart he’s built to be a complimentary. I can see him latching on for a number of years as a role player coming off the bench for a playoff team, and the Warriors have had a lot of success finding college guys that can fill a specific role for them in the late-first and second round.

29. SAN ANTONIO: Eric Paschall, Villanova

Like many Villanova products before him, Paschall seems like he’ll fit seamlessly onto the roster of a playoff and contribute. He’s spent the last four years in a system that preaches positionless offense and switchability on defense, and with his size, athleticism and ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, he’s exactly what NBA teams are currently looking for. He’s almost 23 years old, so he’s more or less a finished product, but he’s good enough right now to play in an NBA rotation. The Spurs have long been a place where guys like this can start their career.

30. MILWAUKEE: Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State

Kabengele has the size, the length, the shot-making ability and the pedigree — he is related to Dikembe Mutumbo — to play as a small-ball center in the NBA. He does foul a bit too much, but I think he’s better at moving on the perimeter than he gets credit for. He was super-productive at Florida State despite being asked by Leonard Hamilton to come off the bench. He’s a sleeper for me in this draft, and Milwaukee will be lucky to land him here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, we are talking the American.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about that for a second.

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

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

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

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

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

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

WHO’S BACK

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

WHO’S COMING

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

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-AAC TEAM

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

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auburn lands 2019 commitment from three-star wing

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

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

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

Person avoids prison in college bribery sentencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas lands 2019 guard Dajuan Harris

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

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

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

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