Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-20 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big Ten.
The Big Ten had another strong season last year as Michigan State made the Final Four and the league went an outstanding 7-1 in the first round.
With the Spartans falling short of the national title, however, the Big Ten is still seeking its first championship in men’s basketball since Michigan State won in 2000.
Despite the Big Ten’s outstanding depth, coaching and overall talent year to year the league’s lack of a title is a major stain on them as the ACC has multiple champions this past decade and other leagues like the Big East develop juggernauts like Villanova.
But there’s a huge title contender and preseason Player of the Year favorite returning to East Lansing this season to lead another deep year in the Big Ten.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Michigan State is the favorite and Cassius Winston the Preseason Player of the Year
After last season’s Final Four appearance and the return of Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston, the Spartans are being projected by many to win the national championship this season. Michigan State has plenty of help for its senior point guard and Preseason Player of the Year favorite.
Senior shooting guard Joshua Langford returns from injury as a double-figure scorer. Junior big man Xavier Tillman was one of the most improved bigs in the country down the stretch last season. And the sophomore class led by Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Thomas Kithier and Foster Loyer should be ready for larger assignments as well.
Michigan State has perimeter pop and experience to go along with tough and talented big men. This team’s ceiling might be the major question mark entering November. There isn’t really a clear-cut pro on this Michigan State roster and national champions generally require a McDonald’s All-American — something this roster lacks. In a season with not a lot of clear title contenders, however, Michigan State’s previous Final Four run and overall talent makes them a team to really like at the end of the season.
2. Maryland is another major threat to win a league (and national) title
Expectations are massive for Maryland this season as a Round of 32 team returns everyone except for big man Bruno Fernando. The Terps are armed with an all-league floor general in Anthony Cowan Jr., a potential lottery pick in sophomore big man Jalen Smith and talented guards and wings like Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins and Serrel Smith.
But Mark Turgeon teams have had a tough time breaking through in the past when the preseason expectations have been high. And there’s reasons to be cautious about this team when it comes to the overall national picture. Cowan has been the same player the past two seasons. Smith has to help offset Fernando’s massive presence. And Maryland has to improve its shaky perimeter shooting and unproven frontcourt depth.
This is also a program that had a top 31 offense AND defense on KenPom last season and enough balance is in place to offset a bad game from a star player. In a strange season with not a lot of clear-cut favorites, Maryland is a sleeper team to watch in both the Big Ten race and the national landscape.
3. Michigan replaced John Beilein with Juwan Howard
The end of the John Beilein era happened swiftly this offseason with the veteran head coach taking the Cleveland Cavaliers job. Fab Five alum and NBA veteran Juwan Howard takes over the Wolverines after a lengthy playing career and sizable stint as an NBA assistant the last half decade.
While Michigan will have to replace three double-figure scorers in Iggy Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews the program has some familiar faces returning in Howard’s first season. Point guard Zavier Simpson returns along with center Jon Teske and junior Isaiah Livers will be expected to take a major leap in scoring. A talented sophomore class is also something to track with this Wolverines team along with freshman forward Franz Wagner — the little brother of Mo.
Howard is a first-time head coach in his first year at the college level taking over a semi-veteran team trying to find its go-to scoring. It’ll be a strange season at times in Ann Arbor. But as long as Michigan adheres to its strong defensive identity instilled by former assistant coach Luke Yaklich over the past several years, they should have the talent to remain in the top 25 conversation and compete for an NCAA bid. And if things don’t go as planned this season, Michigan fans can at least have some peace knowing that Howard has been very active with top five-star talents on the recruiting trail for the Class of 2020.
4. Depth remains a major strength of the BigTen
Following last season’s massive first-round tournament success, the Big Ten has a lot to live up to. And although a lot of key players return to veteran teams, the league also lost a lot of successful players to graduation and the pros.
Even with all of the losses, the Big Ten should remain one of the deepest conferences in college basketball this season. Michigan State and Maryland look like legitimate preseason top-10 teams while Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan should all make top-25 cases at some point. And the middle of the pack has a lot of fascinating teams including Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana to keep tabs on as the Big Ten once again tries to get eight teams into the field.
The Big Ten might not be as top-to-bottom deep as last season. There is still the chance this league has a lot of teams playing in March though as coaching and talent continues to remain at a solid level.
5. Fred Hoiberg takes over at Nebraska
The only other new coach in the Big Ten this offseason is Nebraska hiring Fred Hoiberg to replace Tim Miles. After a disappointing NBA stint with the Chicago Bulls, Hoiberg’s presence on the sidelines is a major coup for the Huskers.
Hoiberg isn’t expected to make major waves with an entirely new roster of 11 new scholarship players this season. During Hoiberg’s time at Iowa State, however, he took the Cyclones to four NCAA tournament appearances in five seasons as he quickly turned over the roster using transfers and unique recruiting methods.
That could be a perfect recipe for Nebraska as the Huskers have invested a lot into Hoiberg and his previous family connections to the program. The Huskers don’t have a great natural recruiting base but a rabid fanbase at Pinnacle Bank Arena could still get some very good teams if Hoiberg is able to get a few good transfers. In a league filled with good and successful coaches, Nebraska is hoping Hoiberg’s return to the college game will go smoothly.
PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State
The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year is easily the most important individual player in the country. During a terrific junior season, the 6-foot-1 Winston helped lead an injury-depleted Spartans team to the Final Four as he was incredible down the stretch last season.
Averaging 18.8 points, 7.5 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game, Winston shoots efficiently from all over the floor (46% FG, 39.8% 3PT, 84% FT) while also making things much easier on his teammates. Winston seems to have an innate ability of getting everyone else touches as he has look-ahead vision and half-court savvy. Michigan State is banking on its first national title in 20 years as Winston will be the big reason why this team reaches its ultimate ceiling.
THE REST OF THE BIG TEN FIRST TEAM
LAMAR STEVENS, Penn State: The 6-foot-8 Stevens continued to put up prolific numbers (19.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) despite not a lot of help around him last season.
ANTHONY COWAN Jr., Maryland: Senior point guard has tons of experience and puts up steady production across the board (15.6 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.7 rpg).
KALEB WESSON, Ohio State: Conference’s best post scorer (14.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is an underrated passer who could improve as a rim protector this season.
JALEN SMITH, Maryland: Potential first-round pick skipped NBA Draft process to return for sophomore season after showing signs of possible greatness as a freshman (11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
ZAVIER SIMPSON, Michigan
XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State
LUKA GARZA, Iowa
BRAD DAVISON, Wisconsin
BREAKOUT STAR: Joe Wieskamp, Iowa
Wieskamp is going to have a lot fall on his shoulders as a sophomore. With the departures of Tyler Cook (pros) and Isaiah Moss (Kansas) along with the uncertain injury future of Jordan Bohannon this season, Wieskamp is going to be expected to be a secondary ball handler, knock down shots and do more off the dribble. While Iowa’s offense is still going to pound it inside to players like Luka Garza, Wieskamp’s 42 percent three-point shooting and fearless approach to scoring gives him a chance to make a major leap as a sophomore.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Pat Chambers, Penn State
Entering his ninth season at Penn State, Pat Chambers is still looking for his first NCAA tournament appearance. And given the issues facing the Nittany Lions outside of Lamar Stevens this season, making the Big Dance doesn’t appear likely entering the season. Chambers had a window with the Stevens/Tony Carr class when the program won an NIT in 2017. But Carr’s decision to go pro put Penn State back below .500 as they were only 14-18 last season despite a monster junior campaign from Stevens. If the Nittany Lions don’t improve dramatically this season then the program could opt for a new leader.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
The Big Ten isn’t as deep as last year’s ridiculous first-round showing but there will be plenty of damage done to the field among the eight teams that get in.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …
Juwan Howard’s stint on the sidelines in Ann Arbor should bring a lot of excitement to Michigan basketball. I’m anxious to see how the Wolverines play and what Howard is able to do inheriting Beilein’s program.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
Nov. 5, Michigan State vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic)
Dec. 3, Michigan State vs. Duke
Dec. 4, Purdue vs. Virginia
Dec. 19, Maryland at Seton Hall
Dec. 21, Ohio State vs. Kentucky (Las Vegas)
1. MICHIGAN STATE: On the road to a potential title, Michigan State will have a tenacious schedule to grind through. Tests against Duke and Kentucky as well as a road game at Seton Hall and the Maui Invitational highlights the Spartans’ non-conference schedule as the preseason top team will get a lot of tests early. That could play a big factor in Winston, Langford and company gaining a No. 1 seed in March that ultimately gets them to another Final Four. The defending Big Ten champions will see all sorts of challenges in 2019-20 as all eyes will be on them this season.
2. MARYLAND: Maryland should be relatively similar to last season. The perimeter group stays the same while Smith gets most of the touches that previously went inside to Fernando. Frontcourt minutes will be something to watch for with the Terps as they figure out their rotation early this season. Forward Ricky Lindo Jr. could factor in while freshmen Makhi and Makhel Mitchell could also earn minutes. If Maryland knocks down perimeter shots and plays small, they could be a fascinating team.
3. OHIO STATE: Ahead of schedule last season, Chris Holtmann’s crew made it to the Round of 32 behind big man Kaleb Wesson and a solid roster of young players. Andre Wesson returns to play with his brother in the Buckeye frontcourt while sophomores Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington Jr. and Justin Ahrens all return. And Ohio State has the Big Ten’s top freshman class coming in along with Florida State point guard transfer C.J. Walker. Five-star point guard D.J. Carton and Walker should swallow the lead guard minutes while lanky wing Alonzo Gaffney and bouncy forward E.J. Liddell could earn immediate minutes. Wesson should have many more weapons around him this season as Ohio State could take a leap into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.
4. PURDUE: Things will feel very different in West Lafayette this season without Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline. Matt Painter did a great job designing his offense to put those two guards in motion for numerous three-point bombs. Now without those two, Purdue could go back to an interior-based attack like the Caleb Swanigan/Isaac Haas teams. Big men Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams are among the Big Ten’s best interior players while junior guard Nojel Eastern can handle the ball and defend up to four spots. The development of the sophomore group of Aaron Wheeler, Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic will have an impact in how good Purdue is post-Edwards. Painter should switch up how his team plays and they have the pieces to be good defensively. How good the new-look offense is could determine Purdue’s season.
5. MICHIGAN: Finding offensive production to replace Brazdeikis, Poole and Matthews will be the key to Michigan’s ceiling this season. With Simpson, Teske and a team of veteran role guys, the Wolverines’ defense should still be very good. But making sure that the team’s offense finds easy buckets in Howard’s first year will be a subplot to watch. Seeing what kind of offense Howard brings with him will be something else to watch for. Livers should take a step forward and Eli Brooks should help more as well. If one of the sophomores in Brandon Johns Jr., Colin Castleton, Adrien Nunez or David DeJulius can step up it’ll be huge.
6. ILLINOIS: Starving for an NCAA tournament appearance, this could be the year Illinois breaks its streak since 2013. The perimeter of sophomore Ayo Dosunmu and junior Trent Frazier is among the league’s best while promising sophomore forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili gets some help in the form of four-star freshman center Kofi Cockburn. The Illini need to improve their shaky perimeter shooting (34 percent). Getting better overall defensively is another chief concern. Role players like Alan Griffin, Da’Monte Williams and Andres Feliz will need to ideally make some shots as well. But the Illinois backcourt has big-time talent and the frontcourt has multiple scoring options as well. Head coach Brad Underwood finally has some depth and experience after overhauling the roster and should have an intriguing potential tournament team.
7. IOWA: Rotational depth should not be an issue for the Hawkeyes. Figuring out major holes in the lineup will be te thing to watch for when it comes to Iowa. Big man Luka Garza and sophomore shooter Joe Wieskamp are promising double-figure scorers. The Hawkeyes have frontcourt depth (Cordell Pemsl, Ryan Kriener, Jack Nunge) and two McCaffery sons with talented pedigrees. But does this team get enough consistent stops to be a tournament team? How will the point guard play be? This will be a fascinating season at Iowa as the Hawkeyes have some talent and experience but a lot of question marks without Tyler Cook, Isaiah Moss or potentially Jordan Bohannon.
8. WISCONSIN: It will feel strange watching the Badgers play without frontcourt pillar Ethan Happ. One of the Big Ten’s most prolific players of all time moving on means Wisconsin will build its offense around a perimeter-oriented attack more like a traditional Badger version of the Swing offense. D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Brevin Pritzl and Kobe King are all experienced guards who will be counted on to produce offense. There’s also a tendency for the Badgers to develop big men as junior Nate Reuvers is expected to make a leap. The transfer addition of big man Micah Potter after first semester could really help. The Badgers are likely on the borderline of the Big Ten’s top half and will be an intriguing team to watch in terms of the NCAA tournament.
9. INDIANA: Figuring out where Indiana stands is one of the Big Ten’s many questions in the middle of the pack. Archie Miller has a solid core back but lacks star power and end-of-shot-clock shooters with the loss of Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan. Following up on a disappointing season, the Hoosiers have to hope the experienced backcourt of Devonte Green, Rob Phinisee and Al Durham steps up while Justin Smith, Da’Ron Davis and Joey Brunk bring experience to the front court. Indiana Mr. Basketball Trayce Jackson-Davis is another main ingredient to Indiana’s success this season but it seems like the Hoosiers could be destined for the NIT with the lack of go-to player.
10. PENN STATE: The Nittany Lions started Big Ten season 0-10 last year before closing out 7-3. So which team will we see this season with many of the same pieces returning? Senior forward Lamar Stevens is a player to build around but big man Mike Watkins and grad transfer guard Curtis Jones Jr. have been inconsistent. Sophomore Myles Dread is intriguing but not much else about this roster is a sure thing.
11. MINNESOTA: Losing Amir Coffey along with Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer really hurt the Golden Gophers this season as a young roster attempts to find its footing. The development of the sophomore class will be the key to this season’s ceiling as shooter Gabe Kalscheur and big man Daniel Oturu both return along with the addition of transfer guard Marcus Carr. Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis should add additional shooting but not much else is known about a very young rotation. The season-ending injury to forward Eric Curry hurts Minnesota.
12. RUTGERS: Talent and depth continues to improve under Steve Pikiell but the transfer of forward Eugene Omoruyi gutted this team’s outlook. A young perimeter core featuring point guard Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Ron Harper Jr. and transfer guard Jacob Young should compete with most in the Big Ten. Frontcourt depth is a major concern as an unproven group will have to handle many tough assignments. The good news for the Scarlet Knights is that most of the roster is scheduled to return again next season. So an additional step above 14-17 and making the postseason would be a step in the right direction.
13. NORTHWESTERN: Major questions still linger at Northwestern as the program has never found a point guard to follow Bryant McIntosh’s departure two seasons ago. The Wildcats have some enticing shooting options on the wing with A.J. Turner and Miller Kopp along with some young forwards that could develop in Pete Nance and Robbie Beran. Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer becoming a one-year basketball graduate transfer is one of the most fun stories to follow in college hoops this season. But it’s hard to envision Northwestern competing for much in the Big Ten following last season’s last-place finish and losing Vic Law, Dererk Pardon and Ryan Taylor.
14. NEBRASKA: Fred Hoiberg’s tenure begins with only two returning players from last year’s roster (Thorir Thorbjarnarson and transfer Dachon Burke Jr.) and 11 new scholarship players. The Huskers are essentially an entirely new team than the previous Tim Miles era. Hoiberg and his staff deserve credit for getting so many new faces so quickly. French freshman forward Yves Ouedraogo and junior college point guard Cam Mack are two newcomers to watch.
Ohio State’s Seth Towns detained by police at Columbus protest on Friday
One day after he officially graduated from Harvard, Ohio State transfer Seth Towns was detained by police in Columbus during a protest over the death of George Floyd.
A source confirmed to NBC Sports that Towns was taken into custody, but that he was released as of Friday night. Video of the incident was obtained by Eleven Warriors, who broke the news early on Saturday morning.
Columbus police announced that five people were arrested on Friday, the second day protests in the city, but according to the source, Seth Towns was not one of the five arrested. He was protesting peacefully when police asked him to move off the street, and Towns refused. He was handcuffed, moved and released.
“In a span of just 24 hours, I walked across a Harvard virtual graduation stage into the back of police van alongside other peaceful protestors—both of which I am equally proud of,” Towns said in a statement. “To those who are silent, speak up—to those who are hurting, unite; and for those who are fighting with the weapons of love and justice, keep going. I’m right there with you!”
Ohio State AD Gene Smith tweeted, “Proud of you, Seth,” on Saturday, while Tommy Amaker, the head coach at Harvard, released a statement in support of his former player.
Towns, who is the most socially conscious player in the Ohio State program, last played for Harvard during the 2017-18 season, when he was the Ivy League Player of the Year. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 16 points and shot 44.1 percent from three as a sophomore for the Crimson. He is eligible to play this season, and has two years of eligibility remaining.
On Friday morning, before the Towns incident, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann released a statement regarding the protests against racial injustice that have enveloped our country.
2020 NBA Mock Draft 2.0: Where will Obi Toppin get picked?
Here is an updated 2020 NBA mock draft. Who are the best 2020 NBA Draft prospects?
One thing that needs to be mentioned before we get into the meat of this 2020 NBA mock draft is that the only thing certain about the draft is that, eventually, it is going to happen.
When will the 2020 NBA Draft happen? Right now it is scheduled for June 25th, but that seems likely to change at some point. We can’t hold the draft until we have a draft order, and we won’t have a draft order until the NBA season finishes. If you haven’t noticed, it seems pretty unlikely that the NBA will start again until at least May.
There are also questions about the way the pre-draft process will play out. Prospects will not be flying around the country to participate in workouts. They will not be going from team-to-team to conduct interviews. It seems unlikely that there is going to be a combine in mid-May, if at all. There is a real feeling amongst NBA teams that they have scouted these prospects in person for the last time.
What does that mean for the players that have declared, or will declare in the coming days and weeks?
Well, they won’t be able to convince teams that they were capable of doing things that they weren’t allowed to do within the confines of their college team. They won’t be able to spend eight weeks doing nothing but perfecting a three-point shot to look good at the combine or during workouts. They won’t be able to show out during the NCAA tournament and turn themselves into a first round pick.
This is all new and unprecedented.
So with that in mind, a couple programming notes:
First and foremost, I am not projecting which teams will be picking in specific slots. There are just far too many question marks about right now, particularly when you consider that the NBA changed the way their lottery works this season. So for now, this is just a ranking of who I believe are the best available players.
Secondly, I don’t know that I’m actually an expert on anything, but I’m certainly not an expert on European hoops. So for now, this is less a 2020 NBA Mock Draft and more a power ranking of the best prospects in the NCAA with LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton sprinkled in. I’m sure Deni Avdija is awesome. Until he plays in the EYBL, I won’t have any feel for what he can do beyond watching the same YouTube videos you watch.
Hey, at least I’m being honest about it.
So without further ado, here is the NBC Sports 2020 NBA Mock Draft.
Edwards is the best scorer in this 2020 NBA Mock Draft. At 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and explosive athleticism, he’s proven himself to be a dangerous three-level bucket-getter that can get hot and do things like score 33 points in a half. Ask Michigan State. He also has the physical profile of a guard that can defend two or three different positions in the NBA. It’s all there.
But Edwards is still learning how to play and how to be consistent. Far too often he settled for deep, contested threes. They looked great when he hit a couple in a row, but he shot 29 percent from three as a freshman. That speaks for itself, although part of that inefficiency absolutely stems from the load he was asked to carry. Edwards was not getting too many easy looks created for him.
There are also too many stretches where he looks disengaged in the game, whether it’s due to his lack of focus on the defensive end of his passivity offensively. He’s developed a reputation dating all the way back to his high school days for being a guy that starts slow and puts up huge second half numbers in a losing effort.
I know what you’re going to think when you hear LaMelo Ball’s name. The reaction is going to be you thinking back to the little 5-foot-11 kid with braces and a blonde mohawk launching shots from halfcourt and cherry-picking against overmatched competition to try and get to 100 points in a game. You’re going to immediately think of all the things you hated about Lavar Ball, and I get it.
But Melo grew up. He’s not just the baby brother anymore. He’s now a 6-foot-7 lead guard that has all of the tools that would lead you to believe that he can be a star feature guard in the NBA. He’s a terrific passer that can make every read you want a point guard to make out of ball-screens with either hand, and he has the size to see those passes over the defense. His feel for the game and basketball IQ are elite. He’s been an inconsistent and inefficient shooter throughout his career, but he’s always been a good free throw shooter and while he certainly needs to tweak his mechanics, some of those low percentages can be explained away by the degree of difficulty of the shots he is taking.
Which leads me to what may be the most important point here: Not only is Melo one of the youngest players in this draft, he is also a late-bloomer. He’s still growing into his frame, and while I doubt he’s ever be on par with someone like Russell Westbrook, he’s definitely going to get stronger and more athletic as he matures physically and gets into an NBA strength training program. When that happens, it should help his explosiveness and ability to handle physicality. There are risks here, but I don’t think it’s crazy to say he has the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft class.
The bigger issue is the off-the-court stuff. He has a reputation, fairly or unfairly, of being a lazy defender with a lacking work ethic. Teams picking at the top of the draft will have to do their due diligence. He may have a high ceiling, but there’s also some bust potential at play. If it all works out, he could end up being the second-coming of Luka Doncic.
Wiseman has all the physical tools that you want out of a five in the modern NBA. He’s 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, an exceptional athlete that can really get up and down the floor and finish above the rim. He has all the tools to be a rim protector that can guard in ball-screens and switch on the perimeter if needed. He’s not Dirk Nowitzki but he’s not Clint Capela, either — he’s shown some flashes of being capable on the perimeter.
The red flags with Wiseman are two-fold. For starters, his competitiveness has been questioned throughout his career. He hasn’t always controlled games the way someone his size should be able to. He isn’t as tough or as physical as some would like, and he seems to have a habit of trying to prove that he can play away from the basket instead of overpowering anyone that gets between him and the rim. None of these concerns were helped by his decision to quit on his Memphis team in December, halfway through a suspension for break (admittedly silly) NCAA rules.
My gut feeling on Wiseman is that if he decided he wanted to be, say, the next Myles Turner, he could end up one of the eight-to-ten best centers in the NBA. If he decides that he wants to be the next Giannis, I don’t think it will go as well.
Toppin is one of three guys in this draft that, if I were an NBA GM, I would want to definitively be higher than the field on, and the reason for that is two-fold: On the one hand, Toppin is one of just a handful of players in this 2020 NBA Mock Draft that I believe can make a significant impact in the NBA as a rookie, and given that the top of this draft class is made up of players that are going to be drafted on their potential without having the upside of being a franchise-changing talent, I think there is value in drafting a guy with a rock-solid floor.
The reason that Toppin’s floor is so high is because of how well he fits as a role player at the next level. Anthony Grant’s offense at Dayton was as close to a modern NBA scheme as you are going to find in the college game, and the reason he is able to play that way has everything to do with Toppin’s skill set. At 6-foot-9, he’s an explosive leaper that is versatile offensively — he can hit a three, he can score off the bounce, he has a pretty good feel for the game, he’s a capable and willing passer. He also has the size and physical tools where it is conceivable that he can play the four or the five in small-ball lineups, although he’ll need some development here; he has high hips and a slender waist which casts some doubt on how well he’ll be able to put on weight and how well he can sit in a stance and guard on the perimeter. And while there is some value in being capable of guarding fours or fives, there are some valid questions about whether or not he’ll be above average guarding either.
I do think that will come with time spent in the right NBA strength and conditioning program, and the fact that he’s a late-bloomer that was just 6-foot-2 as a high school junior is relevant here as well.
I broke down why Toppin is such a good fit for Dayton’s offense last month, and all of that applies to why he’ll be such a good fit at the next level as well:
Details: 19 years old, 6-foot-9, 245 lbs Key Stats: 16.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 1.2 spg, 72% FT
For me, the intrigue with Okongwu is pretty simple. He is a 6-foot-9 five that is an explosive athlete with an already-sturdy frame. He produced at the college level, both as a scorer, a rebounder and a rim protector, and has shown some pretty solid post moves for a 19-year old. He can defend the rim. He’s athletic enough that being a switchable five seems like his floor. He has a soft touch around the basket, and while he’s shooting just 15-for-35 on jumpers this season, according to Synergy, he’s 9-for-19 on jumpers inside 17 feet and shooting 72 percent from the free throw line on 143 free throws.
Worst-case scenario, Okongwu turns into an off-the-bench big that provides energy, rebounding and defense. If the jumper — and, especially, the passing — comes along, he can be much more than that.
Okoro is another guy that I would want to be higher than consensus on, because I think he has a chance to be a really good starter on an NBA team for the next 12 years. I’m not sure there is anything more valuable in the modern NBA than a wing that is a multi-positional defender, that can guard in space and that is capable of creating against a close out or in isolation, but I am sure that there is no one in this 2020 NBA Mock Draft that better fits that role than Okoro.
I don’t think it’s crazy to say that Okoro was the best perimeter defender in college basketball this season. He can guard up, he can guard down, he can move his feet, he’s already built like a pro, he’s shown the ability to block shots as a help-side defender. It’s what he hangs his hat on. But he’s also proven to be particularly adept off the dribble, where he’s a nightmare to stop once he gets a step. He can finish above the rim, but perhaps his most underrated skill is his ability to read defenses and pass the ball. He definitely is a capable and willing playmaker.
The one question mark is the shooting, but in conversations I’ve had with people that know Isaac, both at the collegiate and high school levels, the consensus is that he’s a worker. He’ll put in the hours that he needs to in order to make himself a threat from three.
Haliburton’s numbers jump off the page. At 6-foot-5, he’s a lead guard with terrific vision that can throw every pass a point guard is going to be asked to make. He’s an excellent three-point shooter that has positional size and has shown himself to be, at the very least, adequate as an on- and off-ball defender. He was the best player on the floor for Team USA at the U-19 World Championships over the summer. All of that adds up.
If there is a concern with Haliburton, it’s his physical tools. He’s not an explosive athlete and, at 175 pounds, there are valid concerns about how well he is going to handle the rigors of getting to the rim in the NBA. He also has a slow, funky release on his jumper — think Shawn Marion. Will he be able to get that shot off at the next level?
I’m high on Haliburton because, after seeing the way that elite passers like Luka Doncic, Ja Morant and Trae Young have thrived early in their NBA career, I’m willing to take the risk on a 6-foot-5 point guard that can make those passes in a year where the opportunity of rolling the dice at the top is relatively low.
I’m torn on Cole as a prospect. On the one hand, I love everything about the way he is wired. He’s tough, confident and competitive, the ultimate alpha. He’s a worker that will put in the hours in the gym. Given the way he grew up, he’s not going to be intimidated by anything. In an era where draft prospects are quitting their teams, what they call “shutting it down”, midseason once they’ve earned a spot near the top of the lottery, Cole fought back from a knee injury that required surgery to get back on the court and fight with his team despite the fact that they really don’t have much left to play for during the season.
I respect that. If I’m an NBA GM, I want players wired that way.
The problem with Cole is the way that he plays. He’s tough and athletic, but given his average height and length, he’s more or less going to have to guard point guards at the next level. I’m not sure he’s quite good enough to be the guy in the NBA that he has been throughout his career. He plays like Russell Westbrook, a hyper-kinetic athlete that is a streaky, sometimes inefficient shooter with a limited passing range that has a habit of dribbling the air out of the ball and shooting his team out of games on off nights. He’ll be 20 years old by the time he’s drafted. How much more room is there for him to change?
What I will say is this: Anthony did become a better passer later in the season, as he gained more confidence in his teammates and after he went through a stretch where he was shooting the Tar Heels out of games. That’s a good sign, but I still have my doubts.
Taking a risk on Maxey this high in the 2020 NBA Mock Draft means betting on the fact that his 29 percent three-point shooting as a freshman has more to do with adjusting to the college level than it does his actual shooting ability. Coming through high school, Maxey had the reputation for being a big-time scorer because of his ability to make deep jumpers off the bounce and because of the way that he can finish around the rim with a variety of floaters and layups.
And while he would show flashes of being the dominant scorer Kentucky needed him to be, the Wildcats late-season surge was a direct result of Immanuel Quickley’s improvement, not Maxey finding consistency. We spent the entire season saying “just wait until Maxey finds his stroke” and he never really did. He needs to be able to make that shot because the rest of his game is somewhat limited. He’s not a natural creator, he’s wired to score more than anything else, and he certainly isn’t an elite athlete by NBA combo-guard standards, although he is a pretty good on-ball defender. He’s also a worker, and by all accounts a great kid and competitor. I think there’s a real chance his ceiling is as a second-unit scorer, but if it all comes together I can see him putting together a career on par with Lou Williams.
Details: 20 years old, 6-foot-8, 216 lbs Key Stats: 16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.4 apg, 45% 3PT Full Scouting Report
Saddiq Bey is the third guy that I would want to be higher than anyone on, because I think that he has a chance to be one of the best players to come out of this 2020 NBA Mock Draft. Bey is something of a late-bloomer. He’s was a 6-foot-1 guard when he was a sophomore, and according to the Villanova coaching staff, he has actually grown an inch or two since he arrived on campus. He’s listed at 6-foot-8 and may be closer to 6-foot-9 by the time it’s all said and done.
Bey’s shooting ability speaks for itself. He hit 45 percent of his threes while shooting more than five per game, and he finished in the 98th percentile nationally in spot-up shooting, according to Synergy. He has shown some playmaking ability, and while he’s not much of an off-the-dribble shooter at this point in his development, he is capable of playing as the handler in ball-screen actions. Most importantly, as we have seen with the wings that have come out of the Villanova program of late, they just know how to play. You won’t see the floor there if you don’t, and given the fact that Bey was asked to be the do-it-all point guard on his high school team, he has experience being more than just a scorer.
But the thing that has really stood out about Bey since he arrived on the Main Line is his ability to defend. He’s the best defender in the program, and while Villanova has not always been known for how they guard, they were the second-best defensive team in the Big East behind Seton Hall, who was a top-eight defense nationally. They’ve put him on lightening quick point guards like Devon Dotson and Kamar Baldwin, and Villanova’s tendency to switch means that Bey has spent plenty of time guarding bigs as well.
So what we have here is a multi-positional defender that shoots the cover off the ball and can be a playmaker off the bounce. I think he’s just as good of a prospect as Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Josh Hart, and all four of those guys have turned into players that will last in the NBA for a while. Bey is next in line.
Hampton is a kid that has quite a bit of potential, but he’ll need time to develop at the next level. He’s a 6-foot-5 guard that can play on or off the ball, but needs to continue to develop his ball-handling and his perimeter jumper to be able to do either at the NBA level. He has the length, quickness and athleticism to be able to defend either backcourt spot in time, but he is something of a late-bloomer that needs to put on some weight and strength. He’ll try defensively, too, but he needs to be coached up. Again, that will come with time.
The biggest concern I have with Hampton — who played this past season in Australia — is that I’m not sure if he has an elite skill yet.
Vassell was one of the breakout stars of the ACC, leading a good Florida State team in scoring and doubles as their best three-point shooter. He’s got the size and the length to be a good defender at the NBA level, and he’s proven to be a playmaker on that end of the floor — he averaged 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks. Playing for Leonard Hamilton, you can be sure he got plenty of reps switching defensively and guarding bigger and smaller players. He’s not much of a playmaker on the offensive end, and at 180 pounds, he definitely needs to add some weight to his frame. But he’s precisely what you look for as a 3-and-D wing. In a 2020 NBA Mock Draft where it’s hard to find sure things, Vassell, on paper, seems to be as close to a known quantity as you are going to get in this range.
The biggest question mark for me when it comes to Achiuwa is whether or not he is going embrace what he actually is. For my money, he’s something of a poor man’s Bam Adebayo, a big man that can be used at the four and, ideally, as a small-ball five. He plays hard, he has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and he’s proven himself as a rebounder. He also has some perimeter skill, and he did make some threes this season. There’s a market for that in the NBA, and it’s a role Achiuwa should be able to thrive in.
But is that what he wants to be? Or does he think that he’s a three? The potential is there for Achiuwa to be effective as a face-up forward against bigger, slower centers. I’m not sure the same can be said for him as a three. Remember, Achiuwa will turn 21 years old before he plays in his first NBA game. He was a freshman this season and he is just two months younger than Kaleb Wesson, who was a junior. If Achiuwa embraces who he is, he has a long and profitable basketball career in front of him.
I’m not sure whether or not Mannion will actually get drafted this high, but I’m willing to rank him this high because of what his floor is in a draft where there are a number of prospects that could end up being total busts. To me, Mannion has the same kind of prospect profile as the likes of Jalen Brunson, or Fred VanVleet, or T.J. McConnell, or Ryan Arcidiacono. He’s a guy that, at worst, will spend a decade playing in the NBA as a backup point guard because of his basketball IQ, his ability to makes shots and the fact that he can operate in a pick-and-roll.
My concern with drafting him this high is that he doesn’t really have an NBA skill. He’s a good athlete but not a great athlete, and that isn’t helped by the fact that his wingspan is reportedly 6-foot-2.5. He’s not great at beating defenders off the dribble in the halfcourt, which is a problem for an NBA point guard. He’s a good shooter but he’s not a great shooter. He’s a high-level passer but he’s not Trae Young or Luka Doncic. He tries defensively but he just doesn’t have the physical tools to be a lockdown defender. I’m just not sure what he does that truly sets him apart, and the fact that he was the leader of an Arizona team that kept losing games they shouldn’t lose is concerning.
Again, this one is pretty simple for me. Nesmith is a 6-foot-6 wing with a 6-foot-10 wingspan that was shooting a ridiculous 52.2% from three while taking more than eight threes per game before suffering a foot injury that ended his season. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he was one of the most improved players in the country before he got hurt. I’m willing to take a bet on a guard with those measureables when he’s a hard enough worker to go from 33.7 percent shooting as a freshman to this. That’s the kind of leap that Buddy Hield made heading into his senior season. Nesmith is just a sophomore.
That said, Hield won at a significantly higher clip than Nesmith did, and Hield did it against Big 12 competition. Nesmith’s season was cut short before he really got into the teeth of SEC play. But I’d be willing to roll the dice on his shooting carrying him to a role in the league.
16. ISAIAH STEWART, Washington
Details: 18 years old, 6-foot-9, 250 lbs Key Stats: 17.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 77% FT
What you see is what you get with Stewart. He’s a tireless rebounder that, at 250 pounds of solid muscle, is ready to compete in the paint against NBA bigs right now. He’s a good post scorer that has shown some glimpses of being able to make threes — the Washington staff will tell you he’s lights out in practice. That’s the good. The bad is that he is an undersized center at 6-foot-9 that doesn’t have the length or explosiveness to be able to protect the rim at the NBA level, and while he’ll put in the effort to guard on the perimeter, he has never really shown that ability. Playing in that Washington zone hasn’t helped quell those concerns, either. He’s tough, he has a motor, he’s really good at the things that he does well, but if he’s not going to protect the rim or guard on the perimeter, where does he fit in the modern NBA?
I also think Stewart is the kind of guy that will be hurt by the fact that there won’t be any workouts. He’s an impressive interview that could show off his shooting and, at least in theory, prove what he can do defensively.
The numbers look fairly pedestrian, admittedly, but putting them in context is important: Williams was coming off the bench for a Florida State team that goes 11 deep and gives everyone pretty equal minutes. No one ever puts up huge numbers in a Leonard Hamilton program. What they do is incubate players that project as role guys in the league. At 6-foot-8, Williams is a terrific athlete and a burgeoning defender and that can protect the rim and guard out on the perimeter when needed. And while the shooting stroke was somewhat inconsistent this past season, the potential is there — he did shoot 84 percent from three this year.
On the one hand, it is very easy to see why McDaniels is such a tantalizing prospect. Players with his size and his length aren’t supposed to be able to do the things that he does on the perimeter. He has impressive handle, he can knock down tough perimeter jumpers and every once in a while he will do something during a game that will make it to the House of Highlights page. His ‘wow’ moments pop.
On the other hand, McDaniels is 200 pounds soaking wet with slender shoulders and skinny legs. He hasn’t handled contact all that well this season, and he is not all that explosive of an athlete. And during Pac-12 play, all of the red flags came to the forefront. Emotional outbursts led to far too many technical fouls. He led the Pac-12 in fouls and turnovers. He averaged just 11 points during conference play. He was benched for the last ten games, and Washington wasn’t definitively better with him on the floor.
He’s a lottery ticket in this 2020 NBA mock draft.
Stix Smith was one of the best players in college basketball over the course of the last month. He’s a pogo-stick athletically that stsrted to make threes on a consistent basis. I’m worried about his frame — he checks in at 225 pounds, but looks like he’s closer to 200 pounds — and I’m not sure how much of a weapon he is offensively beyond being a spot-up shooter. Defensively, he can protect the rim, but will that translate to the NBA, where every five he goes up against will have 20 pounds on him? And while he is a terrific athlete, he plays stiff and upright. I’m not sure how well he will use that athleticism without a runway for takeoff.
All that said, over the course of the last eight weeks of the season, Smith’s potential turned into production. It was the biggest reason Maryland looked like one of the best teams in the country down the stretch. I’m willing to bet on him at the back end of the first round.
Jones is a really good passer, a terrific defender and the kind of point guard that checks all the cliche boxes about being a winner, a leader and a facilitator. He was the ACC Player of the Year and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. His box score numbers were impressive, and his impact on basketball games goes well beyond the box score.
But more importantly, his jump shot showed real, tangible improvement. Jones made 36 percent of his threes and shot four of them per night. In catch-and-shoot situations, he made 40 percent of his jumpers and hit them at a 1.18 points-per-possession clip (or a 59% eFG, which was in the 82nd percentile nationally). His pull-up game isn’t there yet, but if he went from being a guy that teams flat-out did not guard beyond 12 feet as a freshman to a 36 percent shooter as a sophomore, whose to say his pull-up game won’t be next?
If Jones never gets any better, if this is who he is for the rest of his basketball career, he’s a backup point guard in the league until he doesn’t want to play anymore. If he continues to develop his shot, however, he could end up being a starting point guard. I find it hard to believe this kid isn’t going to keep getting better. In a draft like this, that’s great value this late.
I’ve gone through stages with Ramsey. I loved him in high school. I was frustrated by him early on in his college career, as Texas Tech worked through figuring out what the best way to use him is. What they’ve settled on is as a scorer and an elite shot-maker. The big red flag for me is that I expected Ramsey to play the Jarrett Culver-Keenan Evans role for Texas Tech, but he’s not that guy because he is not on their level at creating out of ball-screens or as a passer. Since he is only 6-foot-4, that’s something to monitor in the longterm.
But he’s a bouncy athlete that can play in transition, shoots the cover off of the ball and should be able to attack closeouts. The two major question marks are on the defensive end of the floor and shooting off of the dribble, but those are things that can be improved with time. He’s not the player that I thought he would be, but he’s still good enough that using a top 25 pick on him makes sense.
Lewis checks a lot of boxes. He’s young for a sophomore — he enrolled at Alabama as a 17-year old and won’t turn 19 until April — and he put up huge numbers for an Alabama team that is built to run, run, run and shoot nothing but threes and layups. He also shot 37 percent from three for the second consecutive season. He’s slender, he’s turnover prone and part of the reason he produced as much as he did this season was because of the pace that Alabama played at. He’s worth a first round pick, especially considering his age.
Winston did not have the season many of us expected him to have as a senior — understandably, given the death of his brother in November — but he still put up All-American numbers for a team that won a share of the Big Ten regular season title. He was playing his best basketball down the stretch, and he still have the highest basketball IQ of anyone in this 2020 NBA mock draft. He’s an elite passer and shooter that thrives in ball-screens. Yes, the defense and athleticism are concerns, but we said the same thing about numerous point guards that have made careers out of being backup point guards. Winston is the next in that pipeline.
Green is a consistent jumper away from being a guy that can stick in the league as a role player for a decade. He’s really athletic, he’s terrific in transition and he’s a willing defender that gives effort. He can be coached up on that end. But he was limited as a scorer in the half court — 1.19 PPP in transition vs. 0.825 in the half court — and part of that is due to the fact that he shot just 33.3 percent on jumpers in half court offense.
Carey has proven himself as a terrific low-post scorer and has actually shown off a nice touch from the perimeter. He is left-hand dominant, but that’s something that can be worked on. To be frank, I’m not really all that concerned about the offensive side of the ball with Carey. The biggest issue for Carey is that he is not all that explosive and he is not all that quick, even with the weight he shed during the offseason. He’s struggled in ball-screen coverages and he does not profile as a rim protector at the NBA level. If you can’t guard the rim and you can’t guard ball-screens, where do you fit defensively in the NBA?
I may be out on a limb here, but I truly believe that Tillman is worth a first round pick, especially in this year’s draft class. There’s really two reasons for this: For starters, he is a terrific passer. No one in college basketball is better than making the right play in a 4-on-3 scenario when the defense traps a pick-and-roll ball-handler than Tillman. But he is also an excellent defender that can really read the game. Talk to people around the Michigan State program and they’ll tell you he ran everything defensively. It was his voice that teammates heard. Now, the major question mark is his size. At just 6-foot-8, can he defend fives? Is he quick enough to play the four? If we knew for a fact that the answer to both of those questions would be ‘yes, and he can do it very well,’ I would have him slotted as a top 20 pick.
The first clip here shows how effective he can be as the fulcrum of an offense. The second? Men his size aren’t supposed to be able to avoid a charge like that. pic.twitter.com/5EUGu4EUql
In a league where seemingly every team had a dominant interior player, Daniel Oturu has been arguably the best two-way center in the Big Ten. The numbers that he put up speak for themselves. He was one of the most improved players in the country. He doesn’t have the greatest feel for the game, and he’s something of a blackhole when he does get the ball in his hands, but he has shown off a bit of three-point range and is actually able to put the ball on the floor and make things happen off the bounce. I think his fit as a five in the NBA is better than some of the bigs slotted in front of him.
Nnaji is the most explosive big in this 2020 NBA mock draft class. He’s really, really athletic, and his second jump is something to behold. His production speaks for itself, even if some of it has to due with Arizona’s pace and the play of Nico Mannion. That said, I’m down on Nnaji compared to the rest of the field because I think that he’s somewhat limited defensively. He has a tendency for getting lost guarding ball-screens and he is not a very good rim protector. Can those things be coached up enough to make him worth being picked over the likes of Daniel Oturu, Isaiah Stewart or Jalen Smith?
At some point it just becomes impossible to ignore the production. Dotson averaged 18-4-4 for the best team in college basketball, showcasing the ability to get to the rim almost at will while playing tough, aggressive on-ball defense for the best defensive team in the sport. There are some concerns — he’s very right hand-dominant, he shot 31 percent from three, he’s not physically imposing — but he’s worth a flier in this draft class.
30. UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas
Details: 20 years old, 7-foot, 250 lbs Key Stats:13.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 75% FG, 44% FT
I don’t think that it’s crazy to say that Doke helped his professional outlook more than any player in college basketball this season. He was the most dominant defensive force in the sport. His ability to control the paint was unmatched, but he shed enough weight and improved his footspeed enough that he was able to shutdown pick-and-roll actions playing drop coverage, something we are seeing more of in the NBA.
The big question is if he is quick enough to be able to do that at the professional level as well, because he is never going to be a threat to do anything offensively more than four feet away from the rim and he’ll always be a Hack-a-Doke risk given his free throw shooting.
But a year ago, I would have said there was no chance that Azubuike could play in the NBA. None. And now I think that he’ll be an effective piece for a team that is creative in the way they use him in certain matchups.
Stanley is one of the most explosive athletes in this draft class. He’s a guy that projects as a plus-defender as a result. If you assume that his 36 percent three-point shooting is for real, he’s a solid 3-and-D wing prospect that could find a way onto a roster. His shooting mechanics are a little funky, and he was flat-out bad shooting off the dribble, but he was in the 87th percentile nationally on all jump shots at 1.099 PPP and the 93rd percentile nationally on catch-and-shoot jumpers at 1.312 PPP, according to Synergy.
Pons is the best athlete and the best defender in this entire 2020 NBA mock draft class. You often hear things like “he can guard all five positions” which tends to be an exaggeration. Not for Pons. He can, quite literally, guard any point guard, any center and anyone in between. He can play the four, and at times even the five, in small-ball lineups in the NBA to great effect. What makes him even more intriguing is that he shot 42 percent on unguarded catch-and-shoot threes. I think this is the most important number when it comes to his three-point shooting, because these are the face-up, step-in threes that he’ll be shooting at the next level.
The thing about Pons is that he played the three as a sophomore. As a junior, he was Tennessee’s four, which meant that instead of coming off of screens to get a shot, he was stepping into them as a trailing big or catching and shooting as a floor-spacer. This is the role he would play in the league.
Put it all together, and I’ll buy on a player that has an elite NBA skill with the potential to fill out his game to be effective in a role.
Here’s what you need to know about Paul Reed right now: Since Shane Battier left school in 2001, there have been two high-major players that have averaged at least 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals in the same season: Matisse Thybulle and Nerlens Noel. Noel is the only other high-major player to average 1.9 steals and 2,5 blocks. While Reed is shooting just 16-for-52 from three this season, he shot 40.5 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore and has been a 75 percent free throw shooter the last two years. Size, length, athleticism, defensive playmaking, defensive versatility and a shot at being a shooter, too? I’m in, even with DePaul’s late-season swoon.
Dosunmu is a tough player to project. On the one hand, he has all the physical tools to be a capable combo-guard in the NBA, and he proved himself as a slasher and clutch-shot maker as a sophomore. On the other hand, in a year where he was trying to prove to NBA scouts that he can be a consistent three-point shooter, his numbers dipped from 35 percent to under 30 percent. He has a reputation for being a worker and a good locker room guy, and given his ability to defend both backcourt positions, I certainly think it’s reasonable to bet on him getting better as a shooter in the second round.
Flynn is in a tough spot. On the one hand, he just finished his fourth season in college by having an All-American campaign while leading the Aztecs to a 30-2 record and the brink of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. He turns 22 in May. It makes sense for him to leave now, striking while the iron is hot.
But just how hot is that iron, so to speak? Flynn is a plus-shooter that shines in ball-screens and thrived in an offense that was built entirely around his ability to do those two things. But he’s 6-foot-1, somewhat limited physically and looking at being a preseason first-team All-American if he returns to school.
At this point, I think that he is what he is as a player — a career NBA backup with a chance to get a couple of contracts in the NBA doing just that.
Nwora has the size, the length and the shooting ability to make it as a wing in the NBA. He’s a better leaper than he gets credit for because of his reputation for being a subpar athlete, but where that lacking athleticism is seen functionally is in his ability to defend. He’s not that quick laterally, and that’s a concern for a guy that will theoretically be twos and threes in the NBA.
Riller is just a bucket-getter. He’s crafty off the bounce, he can finish around the basket and he is a capable three-point shooter. He also has positional size to play lead guard in the NBA. What’s the downside of drafting him in the second round and seeing what he develops into?
Diakite is 23 years old, he’s not overly physical, he has never been a great rebounder and he’s a better rim protector in theory than in practice, so I get it. But also understand that he has been Virginia’s best three-point shooter this season, the guy that was used in actions that Tony Bennett ran for Kyle Guy last year, and he’s a 6-foot-9 switchable four. I’ll forever be on the Mamadi bandwagon.
Wesson is the guy that was helped the most by testing the waters of the NBA draft last year. He shed some weight, he’s gotten much better as a defender in ball-screen actions and he’s still a bully on the block that can really pass and knockdown threes. He’s got a shot to stick.
Powell’s efficiency numbers were way down this year, but he has dealt with some injuries. I’m mostly buying on him the way I bought on Carsen Edwards — whose efficiency suffered before exploding in the NCAA tournament — last season. He’s tough as nails, he can shoot off the dribble or off the catch, and he’ll put in the effort defensively.
Today, we are unveiling the NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25.
As always, there are plenty of caveats here.
For starters, we are still in the process of figuring out who will and will not be returning to school and where the myriad transfers are going to end up this year.
Given the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the way recruiting and the predraft process will work, it is hard to know how and where these guys will end up, which is why every college basketball preseason top 25 published right now is going to have plenty of assumptions, projections and moving parts.
So with that in mind, here is the current iteration of NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25:
There’s a chance, albeit a fairly slim one, that Villanova can return everyone from a team that won a share of the Big East regular season title last season while adding Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels (16.9 ppg) and a healthy Bryan Antoine. There is enough talent on this roster that I think they are the clear No. 1 team in the country if everyone returns. And while Saddiq Bey is their best player, I think he is not only more likely to declare for the draft than Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, but I also think that he will be easier to replace. Villanova has a roster full of talented wings and perimeter weapons. Bey is the best of the bunch, but having to force Caleb Daniels or Bryan Antoine over him is a better option than having to play Dhamir Cosby-Rountree or Eric Dixon instead of JRE. Luckily for Villanova, JRE announced in April that he will be returning to school.
RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25 (link)
GONE: Admon Gilder, Ryan Wooldridge, Killian Tillie
COMING BACK: Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zakharov
WAIT AND SEE: Filip Petrusev, Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi
NEW FACES: Oumar Ballo, Aaron Cook, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris
PROJECTED STARTERS: Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Filip Petrusev
The Zags should once again be a powerhouse next season, but they are in the unique position of waiting on a freshman to decide if he is going to go pro. The player in question is Jalen Suggs, who would be a perfect fit next to Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert on Gonzaga’s perimeter. As much as I like Ayayi as a player, I’m not sure he’s the guy to be a full-time point guard on a team competing for a national title. That spot is really the only question mark if Suggs opts to skip college and play overseas, because Gonzaga’s frontcourt is going to be absolutely loaded, especially if Filip Petrusev returns, because Drew Timme and Oumar Ballo both have WCC Player of the Year upside.
COMING BACK: Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark, Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Flo Thamba
WAIT AND SEE: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague
NEW FACES: Adam Flagler, L.J. Cryer, Dain Dainja, Zach Loveday, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua
PROJECTED STARTERS: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark
The Bears should get all three of their guards back, assuming Jared Butler does not go pro, and with Mark Vital slated to return, they’ll once again have two of the best defenders in college basketball on the roster (Davion Mitchell). They’re coming off of a 26-4 season, and there are plenty of bench options at Scott Drew’s disposal — Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Adam Flagler — but the big question is going to be at the five. Which Tristan Clark are we going to get next season?
NEW FACES: Sam Hauser, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Carson McCorkle, Reece Beekman
PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff
The Cavaliers should be much better offensively with Sam Hauser replacing Mamadi Diakite in the starting lineup, and while Diakite is a significantly better defender than Hauser, it’s hard to imagine Virginia ever being a bad defensive team, especially when Hauser has had a year to learn the system. Kihei Clark and Jay Huff are both back, and I would expect Casey Morsell to take a step forward this season. Throw in a strong freshman class, and UVA should be competing for an ACC title once again.
Rocket Watts showed down the stretch of last season that he was ready to take over the reins offensively, and with Joey Hauser getting eligible, he should have a second scoring threat on the floor with him. That will allow Aaron Henry to play his jack-of-all-trades role, and with Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham all, in theory, taking a step forward, there’s plenty of weaponry. The key, however, is going to be Xavier Tillman. I think he’s a first round pick, and considering that he’s a married man with two kids already, he certainly could use the income. He’s the piece that brings it all together.
GONE: Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss
COMING BACK: Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, Mitch Lightfoot, DaJuan Harris, Silvio De Sousa
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Bryce Thompson, Tyon Grant-Foster, Gethro Muscadin, Latrell Jossell
PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Tristan Enaruna, David McCormack
When it comes to the amount of talent on the Kansas roster, there are certainly enough weapons here. They are incredibly loaded on the wing — Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Tyon Grant-Foster, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, sheesh — and David McCormack showed enough flashes last season that I expect him to be able to do an adequate job replacing Udoka Azubuike. Assuming Self (correctly) plays small-ball again, they should be really, really good. The problem? Other than Garrett, there is not a point guard on the roster that has played a second of college basketball. The best Jayhawk teams have had a killer at that position, and I’m not sure Garrett qualifies as such.
GONE: Tre Jones, Vernon Carey Jr., Cassius Stanley, Jack White, Alex O’Connell, Javin DeLaurier
COMING BACK: Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Mark Williams, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman, Patrick Tape
PROJECTED STARTERS: Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Wendell Moore, Jalen Johnson, Mark Williams
The Blue Devils lose quite a bit of talent off of last season’s roster if, as expected, Tre Jones, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all head to the pros. But with six top 50 prospects coming into the program — headlined by a potential lottery pick in Jalen Johnson as well as point guard Jeremy Roach and scoring guard D.J. Steward — there will be quite a bit of talent on display. A starting lineup that includes those three freshmen and Wendell Moore will be fun. Duke is going to be very young, however, and a frontline that includes a bunch of freshmen and a grad transfer from Columbia is less than ideal.
GONE: Bakari Evelyn, Ryan Kreiner, Cordell Pemsl
COMING BACK: C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Joe Toussaint, Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery, Jack Nunge
WAIT AND SEE: Luka Garza
NEW FACES: Tony Perkins, Ahron Ulis, Patrick McCaffery
PROJECTED STARTERS: Joe Toussaint, C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Jack Nunge, Luka Garza
I’m assuming Luka Garza will be back for his senior season, which is a helluva way for Fran McCaffery to anchor a roster that looks as good as anyone in the Big Ten, but that’s no guarantee. I think Joe Toussaint has a chance to be one of the breakout stars in college basketball next year, which is a pretty good sign for a team that also returns the preseason Player of the Year along with talents like Joe Weiskamp and C.J. Frederick.
GONE: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden
COMING BACK: John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pemper
WAIT AND SEE: Yves Pons
NEW FACES: Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Corey Walker, Victor Bailey, E.J. Anosike
PROJECTED STARTERS: Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Keon Johnson, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson
Last season, one of the biggest issues with Tennessee was a lack of firepower on their perimeter. This year, they will be adding five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer to Josiah Jordan-James and Santiago Vescovi. They’ll have weapons, and that’s before you add in John Fulkerson, who was one of the best bigs in the SEC down the stretch of the season. Yves Pons will be the best defender in college basketball. If Vescovi can handle full-time point guard duties better with an offseason under his belt, the Vols are going to compete for an SEC title.
10. TEXAS TECH
GONE: Jahmi’us Ramsey, Chris Clarke, Davide Moretti, T.J. Holyfield, Russel Tchewa
NEW FACES: Nimari Burnett, Micah Peavy, Marcus Santos-Silva, Joel Ntambwe, Chibuzo Agbo, Esahia Nzyiwe
PROJECTED STARTERS: Kyler Edwards, Nimari Burnett, Terrance Shannon, Joel Ntambwe, Marcus Santos-Silva
The Red Raiders should have a roster that is a much better fit for the way that Chris Beard wants to play. Kyler Edwards and Nimari Burnett are both build in the mold of a classic Texas Tech lead guard, while Terrance Shannon will be on quite a few of the breakout sophomore lists you’ll find. The two major questions with this group is whether or not Edwards can takeover full-time point guard duties, and if VCU transfer Marcus Santos-Silva or Joel Ntambwe can handle the five spot better than T.J. Holyfield did this past season. There are enough talented perimeter weapons for me to buy-in, but without an anchor at the five a la Tariq Owens, their ceiling is somewhat limited.
NEW FACES: Tramon Mark, Jamal Shead, Kiyron Powell
PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Sasser, Caleb Mills, Marcus Sasser, Quentin Grimes, Brison Gresham
We all know that Kelvin Sampson can coach, and he will be bringing back a roster where his top six scorers were all underclassmen from a team that finished top 15 on KenPom. They are going to be loaded in the backcourt — Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes might end up being their third or fourth best guard — and there will be some veterans in their frontcourt. The Cougars look to be the favorite in the American.
12. NORTH CAROLINA
GONE: Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Jeremiah Francis
COMING BACK: Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Andrew Platek, Anthony Harris
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Caleb Love, Walker Kessler, R.J. Davis, Day’Ron Sharpe, Puff Johnson
The Tar Heels will lost Cole Anthony, but with Caleb Love entering the program, they will once again be led by a five-star lead guard perfectly suited to running Roy Williams’ system. The Tar Heels will also have arguably the best frontline in college basketball, as Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot will be joined by five-stars Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. The key to this team is going to be on the wings, where Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson, R.J. Davis and Andrew Platek will be asked to carry the load. If I had more confidence in that group the Tar Heels would be ranked in my top eight.
Florida State is a tough one to project because it’s hard to know exactly what is going to happen with Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell gone to the draft. Both are projected to go somewhere in the first round. With Scottie Barnes coming in and M.J. Walker returning, Florida State still has some dangerous weapons. The Seminoles are a machine at this point, and I think the system will continue to work. And even if both Vassell and Williams had decided to come back, it doesn’t answer the most pressing question of Leonard Hamilton’s team: How do they replace Trent Forrest?
After winning a share of last year’s Big Ten regular season title, the Badgers are on track to essentially return everyone of note. Their frontline of Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter will be as good as anyone in the Big Ten, D’Mitrik Trice has developed into a solid shot-maker and Tyler Wahl is waiting in the wings as a super-sub. Throw in Brad Davison, and the Badgers will compete for the league title once again.
GONE: Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards, Ashton Hagans, Johnny Juzang
Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards are all heading to the NBA. E.J. Montgomery declared as well. Nate Sestina graduated. Johnny Juzang is transferring. What that leaves is another loaded recruiting class and Keion Brooks. I love the combination of Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston on the wings, and Devin Askew should be able to step in and handle point guard duties along with Davion Mintz. This will be another season for the Wildcats where they have talent but not necessarily a great fit on their roster. The key to their season is going to be whether or not they can get Olivier Sarr a waiver to be eligible immediately.
16. WEST VIRGINIA
GONE: Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler
COMING BACK: Oscar Tshiebwe, Derek Culver, Miles McBride, Emmitt Matthews, Gabe Osabuohien, Jalen Bridges, Sean McNeil
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Isaiah Cottrell, Taj Thweatt, Kedrian Johnson , Jalen Bridges
PROJECTED STARTERS: Miles McBride, Kedrian Johnson, Emmitt Matthews, Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe
The Mountaineers are going to be exactly what they were last season: Big, physical, overpowering defensively and on the glass and able to win games when Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews are able to made enough shots to keep defenses from collapsing.
COMING BACK: Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop, Denzel Mahoney, Jacob Epperson
WAIT AND SEE: Damien Jefferson, Denzel Mahoney
NEW FACES: Antwaan Jones, Ryan Kalkbrenner
PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Zegarowski, Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Denzel Mahoney, Christian Bishop
Creighton’s ranking depended on what their talented backcourt of Ty-Shon Alexander and Marcus Zegarowski decided to do. With both of them back, I had the Bluejays as a top four team. Without Alexander, they’re more of a back-end top 25 team. The other question is going to be what happens at the five spot. Christian Bishop was adequate in his minutes last season, and with four-star recruit Ryan Kalkbrenner and a (hopefully) healthy Jacob Epperson in the mix, there will be options to answer that question.
This ranking is dependent on Remy Martin making the decision to return to school for the 2020-21 season, but if they do, the Sun Devils have a chance to be really, really good. Losing Romello White is going to hurt, but Alonzo Verge had a breakout season, and they added Josh Christopher, a five-star prospect from California.
GONE: Akwasi Yeboah, Shaq Carter
COMING BACK: Geo Baker, Ron Harper, Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Jacob Young, Mamadou Doucoure, Paul Mulcahy
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Cliff Omoruyi, Dean Reiber, Oskar Palmquist, Mawot Mag
PROJECTED STARTERS: Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson
The Scarlet Knights return basically everyone from a team that would have made the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1991. In total, eight of their top nine players are returning, and only Akwasi Yeboah (9.8 ppg) is gone.
GONE: Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske
COMING BACK: Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez
WAIT AND SEE: Isaiah Livers, Chaundee Brown, Nojel Eastern
NEW FACES: Hunter Dickinson, Mike Smith Terrance Williams, Zeb Jackson, Jace Howard
PROJECTED STARTERS: Mike Smith, Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, Hunter Dickinson
The Wolverines are going to have one of the better frontlines in college basketball in 2020-21, as they seem likely to return Isaiah Livers in addition to Franz Wagner. Throw in a recruiting class that includes Hunter Dickinson, and the Wolverines will be loaded. Their guards are old, but there are some questions about the upside of Columbia grad transfer Mike Smith and Eli Brooks. Can transfers Chaundee Brown or Nojel Eastern get eligible?
COMING BACK: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Kai Jones, Jericho Sims, Jase Febres, Kamaka Hepa, Royce Hamm, Donovan Williams, Gerald Lidell, Will Baker
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Greg Brown
PROJECTED STARTERS: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Greg Brown, Jericho Sims
The Longhorns bring back all 12 players from last year’s team, including 11 of whom started at least one game last season. Plus, they add top ten recruit Greg Brown to a team that won five of their last six regular season games. That’s a good thing! Keeping everyone happy on a roster this deep when there are 13 guys available for just five spots on the floor and 200 combined minutes a night? That’s not going to be easy to deal with.
GONE: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Steve Enoch, Fresh Kimble, Ryan McMahon, Darius Perry
COMING BACK: David Johnson, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams, Josh Nickelberry, Aidan Ighiehon, Jaelyn Withers
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Carlik Jones, Charles Minlend, D’Andre Davis, J.J. Traynor
PROJECTED STARTERS: Carlik Jones, David Johnson, Charles Minlend, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams
The Cardinals are going to build around sophomores David Johnson and Samuell Williamson as well as senior Malik Williams this season. The addition of Radford grad transfer Carlik Jones should help out quite a bit as well. Johnson and Williamson have both shown flashes of having star potential. The addition of San Francisco grad transfer Charles Minlend should help add some depth on the perimeter.
GONE: Daishen Nix, Prince Ali, Alex Olesinski
COMING BACK: Chris Smith, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, Jake Kyman, Jules Bernard, David Singleton
WAIT AND SEE: Johnny Juzang
NEW FACES: Daishen Nix, Jaylen Clark
PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyger Campbell, David Singleton, Chris Smith, Jaime Jaquez, Jalen Hill
After turning their season around and finishing second in the Pac-12 regular season standings, UCLA returns everyone that played a major role in their rotation down the stretch of the season, but they will be without Daishen Nix, a five-star point guard that is heading to the G League. A number of Cronin’s young pieces — Jaime Jaquez, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, David Singleton — really played well down the stretch. The biggest question mark: will Chris Smith return to school?
COMING BACK: Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Andre Gustavson, Jake Wojcik, Tyler Burton
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Isaiah Wilson
PROJECTED STARTERS: Jacob Gilyard, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Grant Golden
Chris Mooney did not have a senior on the roster of a team that finished 24-7 overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic 10. With Obi Toppin gone, the Spiders will likely be the class of the conference heading into next season. Jacob Gilyard has a chance to be Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.
NEW FACES: Ziaire Williams, Noah Taitz, Max Murrell, Brandon Angel
PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrell Terry, Daejon Davis, Bryce Wills, Ziaire Williams, Oscar da Silva
Getting Ziaire Williams was huge, as this group will return at least five of their top six guys from a top 45 team on KenPom. But their ceiling will be determined by Tyrell Terry’s decision. If he returns to school, Stanford will have a shot to win the Pac-12.
FIVE THAT JUST MISSED THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
GONE: Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston
COMING BACK: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, C.J. Walker, Francis Okoro, Chandler Lawson, Addison Patterson, N’Faly Dante
WAIT AND SEE: None
NEW FACES: Amauri Hardy, Jalen Terry, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi
PROJECTED STARTERS: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi, C.J. Walker
LOS ANGELES — Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang can play basketball for UCLA this winter.
The NCAA on Wednesday approved a transfer waiver of the year in residence requirement, which typically forces a transfer to sit out one season before becoming eligible. As a result, Juzang is eligible to play what will be his sophomore season in 2020-21.
“We’ve very excited that Johnny will be able to play for us next season,” coach Mick Cronin said. “Johnny is a talented player who can definitely make an impact for us.”
Juzang started two of 28 games for Kentucky as a freshman. He averaged 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds. At Los Angeles’ Harvard-Westlake as a junior, he averaged 23 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
Juzang joins fellow guard Jaylen Clark from Rancho Cucamonga, California, in next season’s recruiting class. Clark averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a high school senior, leading Etiwanda to a 30-4 record and a berth in the CIF-SS Open Division regional final.
The Bruins recently lost out on guard Daishen Nix from Las Vegas. He had signed a national letter of intent with UCLA in November, but decommitted in April to sign with the G League. He was Cronin’s first signing since being named the Bruins’ coach a year ago.
Bobby Hurley accused Arizona State AD in booster scandal
TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley sent an email to Ray Anderson about a booster scandal last season alleging the Arizona State athletic director minimized sexual harassment allegations by the wives of three athletic staff members in response to allegations made against Bart Wear.
Anderson responded by telling Hurley his email includes false and baseless allegations.
“Your approach here is puzzling,” Anderson wrote.
In a statement released by the program on Wednesday night, Hurley said, “my relationship with Athletic Director Ray Anderson today is strong. We will work together, alongside my outstanding coaching staff, toward the continued success of Sun Devil Men’s Basketball.”
Arizona State previously had an outside investigation conducted into the school’s booster scandal that determined booster Bart Wear subjected the three women to unwelcome comments and physical contact. In February, the school acknowledged to Yahoo that the situation could have been handled more quickly after waiting months to investigate.
The school canceled Wear’s season tickets and warned him security may remove him from the premises if he attends any future Arizona State events.