Andy Lyons/Getty Images

SEC Offseason Reset: Can Florida beat out Kentucky for league title?

Leave a comment

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 SEC.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

KENTUCKY RELOADS: In typical John Calipari fashion, Kentucky lost a lot of great players this offseason only to reload with six more players who could contribute this season. Nearly any team in the country would be cooked if they had to replace three first-round picks and Reid Travis. But the Wildcats under Calipari have turned yearly roster construction into a near-science as they once again have tons of good players entering the rotation.

The five-man freshmen class is headlined by five-stars Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks. Calipari also took quality four-stars in in-state guard Dontaie Allen and reclassified guard Johnny Juzang. And grad transfer forward Nate Sestina (Bucknell) was one of the best available bigs as he averaged 16 and 8 with 38 percent three-point shooting.

Kentucky still has to figure out how all of these new pieces will fit with returning players like Ashton Hagans, E.J. Montgomery, Nick Richards and Immanuel Quickley. But almost any program in the country would love to have a roster with this many five-star talents as Kentucky again looks poised to be in the SEC and national title conversations.

Will Wade (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

LSU SHAKES OFF A DRAMATIC END TO LAST SEASON TO STAY LOADED: Entering the offseason, LSU basketball was in an entirely uncertain place. Head coach Will Wade was suspended as the Tigers made a Sweet 16 run without him. Perhaps most importantly, the talent that took LSU to the sport’s second weekend was virtually all locked into the NBA Draft process.

Point guard Tremont Waters and big man Naz Reid opted to stay pro and leave school. But the Tigers dodged some major bullets when Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor and Emmitt Williams all withdrew from the draft and returned to school. LSU also reloaded with the addition of McDonald’s All-American forward Trendon Watford as he should come in and start right away.

Seemingly overnight, LSU went from potential SEC doormat, looking for a new head coach, to returning many of the players that helped them win the SEC’s regular-season title last season. Smart and Mays have the potential to be All-SEC players while Williams should take a leap now that Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams have moved on. LSU has talent, size, athleticism and some depth. Watching them play with a chip on their shoulder in light of the mess at the end of last season should be interesting.

KERRY BLACKSHEAR’S TRANSFER TO FLORIDA SHOOK UP THE WHOLE SEC: The most important transfer of the offseason returned home to Florida as former Virginia Tech big man Kerry Blackshear will finish his college hoops career with the Gators.

By adding the 6-foot-10 double-double threat into the lineup, Florida vaults into the preseason top-10 as Blackshear gives the Gators much-needed stability and scoring on the interior. Blackshear was one of the few big men in all of college basketball last season where an offense could run through him and thrive. This is a dude who dropped monster double-doubles against Virginia (23 and 13), North Carolina (19 and 17) and Duke (23 and 10 AND 18 and 16) last season.

Perhaps most importantly in Blackshear going to Florida, however, is that the Gators kept the potential All-American away from looming conference threats like Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas A&M. While Texas A&M isn’t a threat to win the SEC, there was a chance Blackshear would follow his former coach, Buzz Williams, to the Lone Star State. The Gators winning Blackshear over the Wildcats and Vols completely changes the landscape of the SEC title race.

Kentucky would have been the league’s runaway favorite with Blackshear in the middle while Tennessee was very effective with talented frontcourt players like Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Instead, Blackshear gives the Gators a go-to scorer as his presence makes Florida one of the nation’s most intriguing teams.

THE SEC LOADED UP IN RECRUITING: Seven McDonald’s All-Americans, and a host of other top-100 prospects, will enter the SEC this season as the league did a great job of reloading through recruiting. And while most people associate Burger Boys and five-star talents with John Calipari and Kentucky, they only brought in three of those seven McDonald’s talents.

With 16 top-100 prospects (according to Rivals) joining the SEC, the league continues to increase its talent levels while also leveling the playing field. What used to be a top-heavy conference dominated by the Wildcats has become a deep and talented league where double-digit teams should be tough outs this season. Kentucky is still the class of the conference when it comes to high-end recruiting. But Anthony Edwards (Georgia) and Scottie Lewis (Florida) are both individually ranked ahead of any single Kentucky recruit as watching all of the talented five-stars clash should be a ton of fun.

FOUR NEW COACHES ENTER THE SEC: The SEC has four new head coaches in the fold this season as the conference has done a great job of holding basketball coaches accountable to create a winning culture that is similar to football. Nate Oats (Buffalo to Alabama), Buzz Williams (Virginia Tech to Texas A&M) and Eric Musselman (Nevada to Arkansas) all have proven track records at the college level as all three coaches are coming off of multiple NCAA tournament appearances.

That trio should also be strong on the recruiting trail. Oats deserves praise for convincing Kira Lewis, John Petty and three four-star prospects to stay with the Crimson Tide while Williams and Musselman have long been dangerous when it comes to landing premier talent.

All three will be fascinating to see at their new schools. Oats finally gets to coach at the highest level of the sport after doing so well in the MAC. Williams returns to his native Texas where he can establish a strong local recruiting pipeline. And Musselman turned Nevada into a consistent top-25 program with resources not nearly as plentiful as he’ll have in the SEC.

The wildcard of the new-coach quartet will be Vanderbilt’s hire of NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse. While the NBA-to-college coaching game has been a dangerous one, Stackhouse brings a unique pedigree thanks to his time as an NBA assistant (Raptors and Grizzlies) and G-League head coach (Raptors 905). Stackhouse has also worked closely with his own AAU program, which produced a McDonald’s All-American and top-five pick in Brandon Ingram. So Stackhouse shouldn’t be coming into the college game completely oblivious about the expectations and work that comes in recruiting.

(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

WHO’S GONE

  • P.J. WASHINGTON, TYLER HERRO and KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky: The three leading scorers for the Wildcats all turned pro and got picked in the first round of the NBA Draft. Kentucky has survived this type of loss before and they’ll survive these losses as well.
  • TREMONT WATERS AND NAZ REID, LSU: Losing an elite point guard and McDonald’s All-American big man will be tough for the Tigers. Waters was an elite creator and scorer while Reid could take over a game when his motor was running high.
  • JARED HARPER, BRYCE BROWN, CHUMA OKEKE, Auburn: Following a surprising Final Four run, the Tigers lose their top three scorers and most versatile defender in Okeke. Auburn has to replace over 43 points of offense per game between these three next season.
  • ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD, GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee: Losing the SEC’s best frontcourt and top three scorers will be tough to replace for the Vols. This is the main core that led Tennessee to an SEC title and Sweet 16 appearance.
  • DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas: Rim-running now for the Chicago Bulls, Gafford was an elite SEC big man the past two seasons. The Razorbacks will miss his rebounding and rim protection in a big way.
  • NICOLAS CLAXTON, Georgia: After leading the Bulldogs in scoring, rebound and blocked shots, Claxton parlayed a strong NBA Draft Combine appearance into being an early second-round pick.
  • DARIUS GARLAND and SIMI SHITTU, Vanderbilt: These two McDonald’s All-Americans were supposed to lead Vandy into the upper echelon of the SEC. Instead, Garland only played five games (knee injury) and became a lottery pick while Shittu didn’t live up to lofty expectations before also turning pro.

WHO’S BACK

  • ASHTON HAGANS and E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky: The sophomore duo both have a chance to increase their production since Kentucky lost their top four scorers from last season. Hagans has to show more offensively while Montgomery won minutes at the end of the season.
  • SKYLAR MAYS and JAVONTE SMART, LSU: Both double-figure scorers and potential all-league players return for the Tigers as Smart and Mays will have the ball in their hands much more with Waters gone. If either of the duo improves on their 31 percent three-point shooting it would be huge.
  • LAMONTE TURNER AND JORDAN BOWDEN, Tennessee: Although the Vols lost four of their main six players from last season, the returning duo of Bowden and Turner should be very good. Both players can take over a game — particularly if the three-ball is going.
  • KIRA LEWIS and JOHN PETTY, Alabama: Both double-figure scorers nearly left before Nate Oats convinced them to stay for another season. With Lewis and Petty back, Alabama has a backcourt that is one of the most talented in the country.
  • A.J. LAWSON, South Carolina: Generating some pro buzz his freshman season, the 6-foot-6 sophomore showed flashes of brilliance last season. Capable of 20-point games on any night, if Lawson improves his efficiency he’ll be an All-SEC player.
  • RAYSHAUN HAMMONDS, Georgia: Making a big leap as a sophomore, the 6-foot-8 forward has all-SEC potential if his game continues to develop. Hammonds put up solid numbers (12.1 pts, 6.1 reb) in only 24 minutes per game.

WHO’S COMING

  • KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Florida: The nation’s top graduate transfer becomes an immediate candidate to win SEC Player of the Year after his transfer from Virginia Tech. The 6-foot-10 Blackshear is a nightly double-double threat who can take over a game.
  • ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia: Some believe this in-state, five-star shooting guard is the best prospect in the country and a future top-five pick. The 6-foot-4 Edwards reclassifying into 2019 gives Georgia a potentially elite scorer with big expectations.
  • SCOTTIE LEWIS and TRE MANN, Florida: This McDonald’s All-American duo should earn major PT right away. The ultra-athletic 6-foot-5 Lewis immediately becomes one of the team’s better defenders while he’s no slouch on offense either. The 6-foot-4 Mann can get buckets in a hurry as he helps Florida’s recent inconsistent perimeter shooting.
  • TYRESE MAXEY, KAHLIL WHITNEY and KEION BROOKS, Kentucky: Among Kentucky’s five-man freshman class, these are the three players who could come in and start right away. Maxey’s penchant for scoring makes him a nice counterpart to Hagans, Whitney’s athleticism should be used on both ends of the floor and Brooks is a productive frontcourt player with upside.
  • TRENDON WATFORD, LSU: Dynamic offensively, the 6-foot-9 Watford should be able to score, rebound and help with his passing right away. Watford is a different type of player than Naz Reid but he could be more of a consistent impact.
  • ISAAC OKORO, Auburn: A five-star prospect who is physically ready right away, the 6-foot-5 Okoro should defend multiple spots, help on the glass and aid the offense in transition. Okoro is a year of skill development away from being a potential monster.
  • JOSIAH JAMES, Tennessee: The McDonald’s All-American will be asked to play big minutes right away as he’s a physical lefty who can finish at the rim and defend multiple spots. The 6-foot-6 James has pro upside if he improves his perimeter jumper.
  • JAMES BOLDEN, Alabama: Helping Alabama on both ends of the floor will be this West Virginia grad transfer guard. “Beetle” was a double-figure scorer last season while he’s also experienced in Press Virginia’s turnover-focused approach on defense.
  • ARKANSAS TRANSFERS: The graduate transfer duo of shooting guard Jimmy Whitt (SMU) and forward Jeantal Cylla (UNC Wilmington) should come in and help right away as both averaged double-figures last season.
  • DRU SMITH, Missouri: The Evansville transfer is expected to come in and make a huge impact in the Tiger backcourt. As a sophomore, Smith put up 13.7 points, 4.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game on ridiculous shooting splits (57% FG, 48% 3PT, 86% FT).

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-SEC TEAM

KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Florida (SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
SKYLAR MAYS, LSU
ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia
KIRA LEWIS, Alabama
JAVONTE SMART, LSU

Ashton Hagans (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. KENTUCKY: Once again the class of the SEC, Kentucky has more top-to-bottom talent than any roster in the country. Figuring out the rotation and how everyone gets along will once again be one of the things to watch with the Wildcats. The fit of returning guard Ashton Hagans and incoming freshman Tyrese Maxey is a good one as Maxey can go on scoring bursts while Hagans can continue to be a lockdown defender and floor leader. Kahlil Whitney showed flashes of brilliance late in his high school career and could thrive in Kentucky’s system. And the group of bigs remains as deep as ever as E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards are joined by Nate Sestina and Keion Brooks. As we’ve seen on some Kentucky super teams in the past, sometimes the pieces just don’t properly fit. But this group seems like they could play well together and do some serious damage.

2. FLORIDA: Things changed dramatically for Florida once Kerry Blackshear committed to the Gators. Without Blackshear, the Gators were a fringe top-25 team with major question marks inside. With Blackshear, Florida adds a go-to scorer and major factor on the interior. Returning guards Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke also gain the benefit of adding two five-star talents in Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann into the rotation while Keyontae Johnson remains a promising wing forward. Perimeter shooting still needs to become more consistent. And Florida is asking a lot out of a young perimeter rotation. But the talent is in place for this team to compete for an SEC title and beyond.

3. LSU: Avoiding potential disaster, LSU still finds itself in the thick of another SEC race after winning last season. The Tigers will try to avoid the drama that surrounded the end of last season as Will Wade is back at the helm and many of last season’s key players return. The perimeter group of Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor is strong and the addition of Trendon Watford means the Tigers have two former five-star prospects in the frontcourt as he joins Emmitt Williams. Shooting is something to watch for with this team as LSU only shot 32 percent from distance last season while losing a key shooter in Tremont Waters. This could be another special season for LSU. Or will the NCAA come down on Wade and change everything?

4. AUBURN: Although the Tigers made the Final Four last season and find themselves in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, it will be a very different outfit for Bruce Pearl this season. Gone are the team’s top three scorers as the Auburn offense will need to find new go-to players. Thankfully, there’s a lot to like with returning role players. Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and Austin Wiley are all experienced upperclass players who averaged double-figure minutes. Five-star guard Isaac Okoro leads a six-man recruiting class that includes three additional top-100 prospects. Auburn needs to find a star but they’re deep, talented, experienced and athletic.

5. TENNESSEE: It will be a transition period in Knoxville as the Vols learn to play without the frontcourt of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander leaving also means Tennessee needs to replace four of their top six. But the backcourt of Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden should excel in new roles while Josiah James is a worthy freshman who should play right away. Tennessee needs more development out of big man John Fulkerson and uber athlete Yves Pons, and perimeter shooting could be a question mark, but there’s still a lot to like about Tennessee returning to the Big Dance.

6. GEORGIA: The addition of Edwards gives the Bulldogs a very intriguing team for next season. A known developer of talent, head coach Tom Crean has to get a leap from veteran forward Rayshaun Hammonds and one of the two senior returning guards in Tyree Crump or Jordan Harris. And besides for Edwards, Georgia recruited four additional four-star prospects. The Bulldogs have talent but can they put it all together?

7. MISSISSIPPI STATE: There’s still a lot to like about the Bulldogs despite losing the top two scorers in Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters. Plenty of talent and scoring potential remains as Tyson Carter, Reggie Perry and Nick Weatherspoon should all step up. Robert Woodard and Abdul Ado give additional length and athleticism as Mississippi State’s entire starting lineup should be former top-150 prospects. If Perry can have a big year then this team might be even better than last season.

8. ALABAMA: The perimeter-oriented Crimson Tide will have to find some inside help if they want to be among the league’s top teams. The backcourt trio of Kira Lewis, John Petty and James “Beetle” Bolden are all known commodities who can score and make plays. Junior wing Herb Jones also has intriguing capabilities. But help has to arrive in an unproven frontcourt that features young or unproductive returning players. If Alabama figures out a four-guard lineup and gets some contributions inside they will be dangerous.

9. OLE MISS: Kermit Davis stunned the nation by taking Ole Miss from worst to NCAA tournament berth in his first season. The Rebels bring back some potential all-league guys and should remain feisty. Breein Tyree is a potential All-SEC first-teamer as he can put up points in bunches while Devontae Shuler is an adequate second option. Rising sophomores Blake Hinson and KJ Buffen also return and should bring more production. Replacing Terence Davis will be tough and Ole Miss needs to shore up a shaky defense.

10. ARKANSAS: New head coach Eric Musselman won with unique rosters at Nevada as he inherits some talent with the Razorbacks. The sophomore core led by Isaiah Joe is promising and junior Mason Jones and graduate transfer Jimmy Whitt (SMU) are proven double-figure scorers. Finding suitable frontcourt players to help offset the loss of Daniel Gafford will be something to watch for early. This team looks like it might be a year away from being a contender.

11. MISSOURI: The Tigers might be the hardest team to peg in this whole conference. They return some solid SEC contributors like big man Jeremiah Tilmon, guard Mark Smith and a host of role players. Transfer guard Dru Smith is expected to make a huge impact right away. It’s still hard to love this team without a go-to player and a struggling offense.

12. SOUTH CAROLINA: Outside of talented sophomore A.J. Lawson and wing Keyshawn Bryant, there isn’t a lot of proven SEC talent on the roster for the Gamecocks. After sitting out a season, George Washington transfer Jair Bolden will help on the perimeter. Senior center Maik Kotsar is one of the SEC’s most experienced players. It’s just hard to say how this roster will look since they’re relying on so many unproven guys.

13. TEXAS A&M: Buzz Williams returns to his native Texas as he hopes to bring the Aggies back to the postseason. The return of Savion Flagg is huge for Texas A&M as he was great to end last season. The Aggies also have some promising returning players around Flagg in Wendell Mitchell, Jay Jay Chandler and TJ Starks. But this group is probably a year away from being a major threat as Williams hopes to build with a positive spring recruiting haul.

14. VANDERBILT: Losing their two most talented players (Garland and Shittu) from an 0-18 team in the SEC means last place is likely inevitable for the Commodores. New head coach Jerry Stackhouse convincing double-figure scorers Saben Lee and Aaron Nesmith to return is positive news for the future while freshman forward Dylan Disu is a young piece to track.

Kansas transfer Grimes receives waiver, eligible immediately at Houston

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Maybe we now know why Houston was picked to win the AAC over Memphis.

On Tuesday, news broke that Quentin Grimes had won his appeal and received a waiver to gain immediate eligibility this season. Grimes was a top ten prospect in the Class of 2018, but after going for 21 points in the season opening Champions Classic, he struggled. In 36 games, Grimes averaged just 8.4 points and 2.0 assists while failing to prove himself a lead guard and struggling with consistency as a shooter.

Part of the reason why Grimes eventually was ruled eligible for this season was that Kansas did not have a scholarship available for him. The Jayhawks supported his eligibility throughout the process.

Grimes will get a chance at starting over with Houston, where Kelvin Sampson has proven to be exceptional at getting the most out of his backcourt. He’ll join DeJon Jarreau, one of this year’s breakout stars, and Nate Hinton in Houston’s perimeter.

With Grimes in the mix, Houston has the making of a top 20 team.

Grimes released the following statement on twitter:

Michigan State’s Langford out until January with ankle injury

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The joy of being named the No. 1 team in the AP preseason poll lasted for a matter of hours for Michigan State.

Because that’s when the Spartans found out that Joshua Langford, who missed the second half of last season, would be out for another three months after suffering a setback in his attempt to return from that ankle injury.

“It breaks my heart,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told reporters on Tuesday. “I love Josh Langford. He’s given me everything on the court, off the court, in the classroom.”

Langford started the first 13 games last season before the ankle injury kept him out, but he was cleared to practice in full in September. But Izzo said on Tuesday that Langford’s ankle had limited him of late and that he did not play when the Spartans scrimmaged Gonzaga in Denver on Saturday.

College Basketball’s Breakout Stars: Who will be this year’s most improved players?

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of my favorite things to do heading into a season is to put together a list of the season’s Breakout Stars. 

Sometimes, the picks are just too obvious – think De’Andre Hunter, or P.J. Washington, or Nickeil Alexander-Walker. 

Sometimes, those obvious picks just don’t pan out – like Herb Jones, or M.J. Walker, or Cane Broome.

Sometimes, a guy needs to be on the list for a couple years before he actually reaches said breakout – hi Jermaine Samuels!

Some people have strictly-defined parameters for putting together a list like this. I do not, beyond the basic principle that the player will be going from playing a role to being a star, whether that means he was a starter that will become an all-american or a bit-player slated to be a key cog on a potential Final Four team matters not.

Anyway, here are the 17 players that will be household names by the end of the year:



JERMAINE SAMUELS, Villanova

There’s an argument to make that Samuels’ breakout already happened.

It happened on February 28th of last season. Samuels popped off for a career-high 29 points, hitting five threes, as Villanova snapped a three-game losing streak by knocking off Marquette at home. During that three-game losing streak, Samuels had gone scoreless while attempting just two shots. Over the final seven games of the season, he averaged 11.0 points, cracked double-figures five times and helped lead the Wildcats to their fifth Big East regular season title and fourth Big East tournament title in the last six years.

And now the Wildcats are entering a season without Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to carry the offense while Bryan Antoine, their five-star freshman guard, is out with a shoulder injury. Someone needs to provide Villanova with some scoring. Samuels is a former top 40 recruit that picked Villanova over Duke and Kansas, that has proven the ability to put up big numbers and is a perfect fit for what Villanova’s offense has been over the course of the last half-decade. He’s a junior now. This is the year that players make the leap on the Main Line, and I’ll be ready for it.

ANDREW NEMBHARD, Florida

Everyone wants to talk about Kerry Blackshear and what his arrival will mean for Florida. What people seem to be forgetting is that Andrew Nembhard is a former five-star recruits that averaged 8.0 points and 5.4 assists as a freshman for the Gators and will be helping to fill the “role” vacated by uber-inefficient gunners Jalen Hudson and Kevaughn Allen. I think Blackshear ends up being the best player on the Gators this season, but Nembhard may end up being their MVP and their leader. On a team that projects to finish in the top ten and contend for SEC titles and the Final Four, that’s going to put him in the All-American conversation. That, to me, counts as a breakout star.

TRE JONES, Duke

This all hinges on what Jones becomes as a shooter this season. We’ve talked about this ad nauseum. I put together an entire video about it. Jones may just be the most influential player in all of college basketball this season.

TYRESE HALIBURTON, Iowa State

I’m torn about having Haliburton on this list because I’m not exactly sure how much better he can play than he did over the first three months of last season. That said, Iowa State is going to be one of the better teams in the Big 12 this season, and after a terrific performance playing for Team USA in the U-19 World Cup, Haliburton returns to Ames to play for an Iowa State team that lost pretty much everyone in front of him in the offensive pecking order.

The thing to note here is that I am not expecting Haliburton to suddenly become a guy that averages 18 points. That’s not who he is or how he plays. But I do think that there is a chance that he puts up a stat line that is somewhere around 12 points, six boards, six assists and two steals while shooting better than 40 percent from three. Put another way, we’re going to know that he is a star without having to look at the counting numbers to confirm it.

JAY HUFF, Virginia

We have talked plenty about Jay Huff and Virginia’s big guys in this space, but I think that he is in line for a massive jump this season. On the one hand, he’s actually going to be playing. Huff was in the same recruiting class as Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. He redshirted his first year in Charlottesville, he played just twelve games as a freshman and managed to see the floor for roughly 10 minutes a night last year. With so much of Virginia’s frontcourt depth gone, he is going to be getting 30-35 minutes a night this year.

But as we talked about in the video below, it’s not just the added minutes that changes things. It’s how good Huff is as the big guy in ball-screen actions and the fact that Virginia ran a more ball-screen heavy offense last season. Huff is a 7-foot-1 rim-running, lob-catching, shot-blocking menace that also shoots threes at a 45 percent clip while being able to put the ball on the floor. He’s going to have a massive year.

ISAIAH LIVERS, Michigan

With Iggy Brazdeikis gone after his one-and-done season, Livers is going to be the guy that steps up for the Wolverines. A hyper-athletic, 6-foot-7 combo-forward, Livers is a good, versatile defensive weapon that shot 42.6 percent from three last year. Someone is going to have to step up and fill the scoring void that has been vacated by the departures, and Livers seems to be the obvious fit. I would not be shocked to see Livers showing up in NBA mock drafts at some point during this season.

DEJON JARREAU, Houston

This one is simple, really. Jarreau played just 18 minutes per game last season and still managed to put up 8.7 points and 3.3 assists despite sharing the backcourt with the likes of Corey Davis, Armoni Brooks and Galen Robinson. This year, those three are gone, which means that Jarreau is going to be the guy that the offense runs through. I think that he is up for the task, and considering Kelvin Sampson’s track record of finding a way to figure things out with his lead guards, all the dots connect.

NOJEL EASTERN, Purdue

Matt Painter has been as good as anyone in the country at finding ways to get his best players into positions where they can succeed, and I think that this year is the year that he figures out how to take advantage of the things that Eastern does well. He’s a skilled passer that has terrific size at the point and has proven the ability to take smaller guards into the post. I think that Aaron Wheeler and Trevion Williams are candidates for this list as well, but I tend to lean towards the veterans when it comes to Painter working his magic.

OCHAI AGBAJI, Kansas

This pick is not actually as easy as it may seem, and that’s because Agbaji’s emergence last season came after Udoka Azubuike went down with his wrist injury. So while Kansas is losing Dedric Lawson, among other, Azubuike is coming back and is going to demand a very large market share of the Jayhawks offense. Throw in Devon Dotson’s continued development, and the added opportunities for Agbaji may not be there. That said, I think that he is clearly the most talented perimeter player on the Jayhawks roster this season, and given his size, athleticism and ability from the perimeter, I think there is a real chance that he ends up playing major minutes as the four in this Kansas system.

Put another way, he’s definitely going to be better than he was when his redshirt was pulled midway through his first season in Lawrence, and he is definitely going to be a useful weapon for Bill Self, I just don’t see him emerging as a guy that scores 15 points per game.

COREY KISPERT and FILIP PETRUSEV, Gonzaga

These decisions somewhat hinge on whether or not Killian Tillie is back and fully healthy this season. If he is, then I think that Kispert is the guy that takes the biggest step forward for the Zags. He’s an underrated talent that has been hidden by the likes of Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura, but he’s a guy that has the potential to be an all-WCC performer if given the opportunity. If Tillie ends up being banged up all season long, than Petrusev is the obvious pick. He’s a really talented big that will carry even more of the load without Tillie’s presence.

REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State

After getting off to a relatively slow start to his freshman season, Perry was absolutely dominant for long stretches of SEC play. He averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 boards during conference play, posting eight double-doubles. After an offseason to develop, he should end up being the focal point of Ben Howland’s offense as a sophomore.

KIRA LEWIS, Alabama

The way that Nate Oats played at Buffalo, he gave his lead guards quite a bit of responsibility. Lewis is going to be his lead guard this season. As a 17-year old in the SEC, he averaged 13.5 points and 2.9 assists. He’s heading into his sophomore season at the same age as the kids in the Class of 2019 heading into their freshmen year.

JOE WIESKAMP, Iowa

As a freshman, Wieskamp was one of the best shooters in the Big Ten, averaging 11.1 points and shooting 42.4 percent from three. Then Iowa lost Tyler Cook to the draft and lost Isaiah Moss to transfer and look like they may have lost Jordan Bohannon for the season. Someone is going to have to score, and Wieskamp is certainly capable of that.

OSUN OSUNNIYI, St. Bonaventure

Osunniyi was one of the best defensive players in all of college basketball last season, averaging 2.7 blocks to go along with his 7.5 points and 7.6 boards. With three of the Bonnies’ top four scorers graduating, he is going to be asked to play a much bigger role this season.

NATE REUVERS, Wisconsin

There is always someone waiting in the wings in Wisconsin’s frontcourt, and this year it is Nate Reuvers. As a sophomore, playing on a team that ran their offense through Ethan Happ, Reuvers averaged 7.9 points, 3.9 boards and 1.8 blocks while shooting 38.1 percent from three. If the Badgers are going to get back to the NCAA tournament, they are going to need Reuvers to have a monster junior season.

JALEN HILL, UCLA

Hill is a bit of a reach, but someone is going to have to step up and be Mick Cronin’s frontcourt anchor, and Hill makes sense. He’s long and athletic, he can rebound and he can block shots, he can do all of the things that Cronin got out of his big men for the last 13 years in Cincinnati. There is more talent in Westwood than people realize. Hill is the perfect example of that.

Michigan’s Franz Wagner out 4-6 weeks with fractured wrist

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan freshman Franz Wagner is expected to miss four to six weeks with a fractured right wrist.

The school said Monday a full recovery is anticipated. The 6-foot-8 Wagner is the younger brother of former Michigan standout Moe Wagner. He’s expected to be a key newcomer in the basketball team’s first season under new coach Juwan Howard.

The Wolverines open Nov. 5 against Appalachian State. They face Creighton on Nov. 12 and Louisville on Dec. 3, and play in a tournament in the Bahamas in late November. Those are all games Wagner could conceivably miss if he ends up on the long end of his recovery timeline.

Michigan opens Big Ten play Dec. 6 against Iowa.

Kansas-Missouri hoops series to resume next season in KC

Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAWRENCE, Kan. — The Border War is returning to college basketball.

The acrimonious rivalry between Kansas and Missouri, once the longest continually played series west of the Mississippi River, will resume next season in Kansas City. The schools have agreed to play six times, with four of those matchups taking place on their respective campuses.

“Having coached a lot of games versus Missouri in my time in Kansas, I could not be more excited to start this series up again,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who had been among the biggest reasons the teams never played, said in a statement announcing the series Monday night.

The series began in 1907 with a pair of wins by Missouri in Lawrence. The schools went on to play 269 times over 105 years. The last meeting was on Feb. 25, 2012, when the No. 4 Jayhawks rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit to beat the No. 3 Tigers in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse.

The reason the series ended can be traced to Missouri’s decision to depart its longtime home in the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. During a period of chaotic conference realignment, the Tigers moved to what they considered a more lucrative league — even though it made far less geographic sense — and in doing so left the Big 12 scrambling for its very survival.

Many coaches and administrators at Kansas not only took umbrage with their decision but held a grudge for years. Among them was Self, who was asked periodically over the years if he could envision playing the Tigers again, and was usually steadfast in his refusal to schedule them.

Tensions finally cooled enough that on Oct. 22, 2017, the schools agreed to play an exhibition game in Kansas City dubbed “The Showdown for Relief” to raise money for hurricane relief efforts.

Kansas won 93-87 in their first meeting in five years.

The thousands of fans who turned up for the game, coupled with the buzz it generated on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border, piqued the interest of new Kansas athletic director Jeff Long. He was not part of the conference realignment mess and harbored no ill will toward Missouri, making him the ideal figure to help patch up relationships and ultimately resume the rivalry.

“One of the best aspects of college athletics is rivalries,” Long said. “We have quietly sought input from fans and supporters on the renewal of this series and we believe the overriding sentiments are that this historic rivalry should resume.”

After the initial game scheduled for Dec. 12, 2020, at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City, the schools will alternate between Allen Fieldhouse and Mizzou Arena for the next four games. The final scheduled matchup will return to Sprint Center, though it’s possible the series continues.

It’s also possible that the basketball matchups are just the beginning.

“Hopefully, this renewal on the hardwood will lead to more opportunities down the road in other sports,” Tigers athletic director Jim Sterk said. “Rivalries make college sports great, and there is no question that when Missouri and Kansas face off in any sport, it’s important to a lot of people.”