15. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: Bacon is the reigning McDonald’s All-American dunk champion:
14. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney had one of the best dunks you’ll ever see in grassroots basketball a few years back:
13. Jordan Weethee, VMI: Remember this guy? Easily the best part of the dunk is the reaction of No. 34:
12. Josh Adams, Wyoming: Josh Adams is listed at 6-foot-2. You buy that?
11. Gary Payton II, Oregon State: I feel comfortable calling Payton the best on-ball defender in college basketball, not unlike his dad. But where The Glove threw a lot of these, II catches ’em like Shawn Kemp did:
10. Kerwin Roach, Texas: The video of Roach maxing out the vertical testing machine went viral in September. This is what happens when he actually is able to dunk:
9. Jalen Reynolds, Xavier: Reynolds was on the giving end of what might have been my favorite dunk from the 2015-16 season:
The off-guard spot is the weakest position in college basketball this season. For comparison’s sake, the No. 20 lead guard in the list we released yesterday was UConn’s Sterling Gibbs, who ranked 59th in our top 100 players list.
For off-guards, only 18 were ranked in our top 100, meaning the final two in this list didn’t crack that list. Why is this the case? Is it because the best scoring guards in basketball are trying to mold themselves after the likes of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose as opposed to, say, Kobe? Is it because the emphasis on court spacing has turned the off-guard spot into a spot-up shooters role? Or is this just a random year where the two-guards just aren’t all that good?
As interesting as that discussion would be, it’s a different conversation for a different day. Here are the top 20 off-guards in college basketball:
It feels like Hield has been around forever. Initially considered to be not much more than a lockdown perimeter defender, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year has developed into one of the nation’s most potent wing scorers, averaging 17.4 points last season. His shooting percentages dipped a bit last year, which will be something to keep an eye on this year. Does being the focus of every team’s defense throw him off?
2. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
I’m beating this quote to death, I know, but the ACC coaches that I’ve spoken too rave about Brogdon. One of them told me that “he’s a MFer, man. In every way.” That’s just about the highest compliment that can be given to a basketball player from a coach. What he means is that Brogdon is tough, he’s physical, he’s skilled and he’s got the mental fortitude to execute in big moments. He’s a perfect fit for Tony Bennett’s system.
3. Ron Baker, Wichita State
It’s really difficult to argue with Ron Baker’s results. He made the Final Four as a freshman. He was a star on a team that won their first 35 games as a sophomore. He was an all-american on a team that went to the Sweet 16 and beat in-state rival Kansas — who refuses to play the Shockers — in the tournament. What does he have left to do?
The NBA hype on Baker has subsided a bit, but I still think he’ll find a role somewhere at that level. He can shoot, he can defend, he can handle the ball and he can operate in ball-screen actions.
4. Caris LeVert, Michigan
Ability is not going to be the issue with LeVert. We know how good he can be. The question is going to be his health. He’s broken his left foot twice in the last 18 months, with both injuries requiring surgery. How long does it take him to shake off the roster? And, more importantly, can he remain healthy for an entire season? If he does, Michigan has enough talent to make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and LeVert is good enough to finish his final season as an all-american.
5. Wayne Selden, Kansas
I see all the buzz surrounding Wayne Selden after his performance in the World University Games this summer. I understand why people are so high on him entering the year. The dude has never lacked for ability. Consistency and a left hand? That’s where he’s struggled. He got a slight bump in these rankings because of his play in Korea, but until he proves it night-in and night-out in the Big 12, I’ll have my reservations.
Blackmon is such a dangerous scorer and he’s such a perfect fit for this Indiana offense. He’s a lethal three-point shooter when he gets into a rhythm, which is often, and that ability to shoot is what helps Indiana keep the floor spread offensively, creating acres of space for Yogi Ferrell to penetrate. I’d be surprised if his scoring numbers — he averaged 15.7 points as a freshman — didn’t improve this year. That said, the reason he’s sixth on this list is because he was a sieve defensively last year.
7. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky
Briscoe was another guy that was tough to place in these rankings. For starters, he’s probably more of a natural lead guard than he is an off-guard, but playing in a back court with Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis is an easy way to get pushed off the ball. How does he react to that? Will he be willing to fill a role for UK? Is he a good enough shooter to dominate minutes over guys like Charles Matthews and Mychal Mulder? The ability is there, but it remains to be seen how he will be utilized by John Calipari.
8. Danuel House, Texas A&M
House was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and last season, his first with the Aggies after transferring in from Houston, he looked like it. House averaged 14.8 points, 2.1 assists and shot 40.0 percent from three. The Aggies were one of the last teams left out of the NCAA tournament in March. With House leading the way, and a talented freshman class coming in, the Aggies should be an SEC contender this season.
9. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Matthews, a junior, is probably the best player in the Atlantic 10, having averaged 16.9 points last season. He’s an explosive, albeit at times inefficient, scorer that is a major reason the Rams will enter this season as the favorite to win the Atlantic 10.
10. Eron Harris, Michigan State
As a sophomore at West Virginia in 2013-14, Harris averaged 17.0 points. He’s a big-time wing scorer that can light it up from three when he gets on a role. Like Briscoe, it’s going to be interesting to see how Tom Izzo divvies up minutes on his perimeter. Will Harris start over Bryn Forbes? Will they be on the floor together with Denzel Valentine handling playmaking duties? Who will be the guy whose number gets called in crunch-time?
11. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen was terrific in the Final Four last season, helping to spark Duke’s come-from-behind title game victory. Does his development continue this season? And how does Coach K divide up minutes on Duke’s loaded perimeter?
12. Kellen Dunham, Butler: It feels like Dunham is perennially underrated. He averaged 16.5 points and shot 41.0 percent from three last season on a top 25 team.
13. Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma: Cousins doesn’t get quite as much attention as he should, which is a by-product of sharing a back court with Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard. NBA scouts know how good he is.
14. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin had a nice sophomore season individually, but with Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton getting injured, Michigan missed the NCAA tournament. Irvin is a lights-out spot-up shooter when he gets in a rhythm.
15. A.J. English, Iona: English was the only player in college basketball last season to average 20 points, five boards and five assists.
16. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney is a big-time talent that can score in bunches and throw down some thunderous dunks. But he’s also streaky and playing for a coach that doesn’t always maximize his talent. I expect that he’s going to have an up-and-down season.
17. Sheldon McClellan, Miami: McClellan was the steadying force on a Miami team that won 25 games a season ago. While Angel Rodriguez was up and down, McClellan averaged a cool 14.5 points with 48.4/35.8/82.4 shooting splits.
18. Stefan Moody, Ole Miss: Moody is the SEC’s leading returning scorer. At 5-foot-9 with a 45 inch vert and a penchant for hitting three or four 25-footers in a row, Moody is as entertaining as anyone in the country.
19. Anthony Drmic, Boise State: Drmic missed the second half of last season with an injury. With Derrick Marks gone, Drmic will have to carry a heavier load this season.
20. Juice Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard is the leading scorer on a Tulsa team that is going to contend for the AAC regular season title.
SEC Preview: Kentucky’s favored, but watch for Vandy, Texas A&M
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the SEC.
As has been the case for much of the recent past, the SEC shakes out like this: Kentucky, and then everyone else. Part of that is a result of just how good the Wildcats are and have been. Part of that is due to the fact that the SEC is a football league with the hoops side of things playing catchup. And while the gap is closing, it may be a few years before the impact is truly apparent.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Kentucky is loaded again … obviously: It’s standard at this point. This group is likely not going to be making a run at 40-0 like last year’s group, but they will be making a run at a national title. Skal Labissiere will be the nation’s best big man. Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe will make up the nation’s best back court. Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress will get their shot, finally.
2. But they may not have the best freshman in the league: That title could end up going to LSU’s Ben Simmons, who, along with Skal, is a favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The Tigers are loaded with talent this year. Along with Simmons, they bring in McDonald’s All-American Antonio Blakeney, top 40 recruit Brandon Sampson and Arizona transfer Craig Victor. Throw in returnees like Tim Quarterman, Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby, and LSU, on paper, is a top 15 team. But head coach Johnny Jones has underachieved with talented rosters before. Is this the year they break through?
3. Vanderbilt will be the second-best team in the conference: It’s tough to call them a sleeper at this point because they’re getting plenty of pub, but the Commodores are the odds-on pick to finish second in the conference behind the Wildcats. They’re anchored by Damian James, who may be the most under-appreciated player in college basketball. The 6-foot-10 junior is a legitimate All-American candidate. Throw in talented sophomores Wade Baldwin IV and Riley LaChance, and another promising recruiting class, and head coach Kevin Stallings has more than enough pieces to put together something special in Nashville. Vandy won eight of their last ten regular season games last year after starting SEC play 1-7.
4. Coaching turnover: There has been an impressive influx of coaching talent into the SEC this year, although the league did lose arguably the best coach in the sport.
Billy Donovan left for Oklahoma City, leaving Florida in an interesting spot with new coach Mike White. More on them in a minute.
Former UCLA head coach Ben Howland took over for Rick Ray at Mississippi State and immediately reeled in Malik Newman, a top ten freshman in the class.
Donnie Tyndall was fired due to the scandal he was involved in at Southern Miss, but Tennessee went out and picked up former Texas coach Rick Barnes.
Alabama missed on Gregg Marshall but they did land Avery Johnson.
And don’t forget, in his second season at Auburn, Bruce Pearl has things rolling on the recruiting trail
5. Keep an eye on Texas A&M, too: Billy Kennedy is not a new hire by any stretch of the imagination, but his new assistant coach — Rick Stansbury — is already paying dividends on the recruiting trail. The Aggies have a loaded recruiting class, one that is going to be afforded the luxury of a year’s worth of seasoning as veterans Danuel House, Alex Caruso, Jalen Jones and Alex Robinson lead the way this year. This is a group that can reach the Sweet 16.
Favorite: “Kentucky. For sure. One pro leaves, and any pro comes in. Skal is as good as anyone they’ve had and Jamal Murray can play either guard spot, but Tyler Ulis will make them go. He can lead, and he’s perfect in his role with those other guys around them.
“Mississippi State is under the radar, with Malik Newman and Ben Howland coming in. But they’re starting to get attention, so I’ll go with South Carolina. They have a lot returning. Their ability to shoot is always a question, but [freshman P.J.]Dozier can really open things up.”
“Georgia. They’ve got really good guards and seemingly no one is talking about them.”
Best player: “Skal or Ben Simmons. Simmons versatility and his passing ability — he can use both hands as well as anyone — sets him apart.”
Most underrated player:
“[Mississippi State’s Craig] Sword on the wing. He’s as athletic as can be. His shooting can be streaky at times, he’s kind of hit and miss, but he will be better this year. He’s a really good fit in their system. Also, [Vandy’s Luke] Hornet has grown. He can really shoot it from deep, and with Damian Jones focal point, Luke’s ability to stretch the court will be key.”
“Stefan Moody. Dude is the SEC’s leading returning scorer and can’t even make a preseason watch list.”
PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
I’m still of the belief that Labissiere is the best player on Kentucky and, feasibly, the most talented player in the entire country. He’s a seven-footer with a back-to-the-basket game, perimeter skills and a soft jumper and that shows up when he squares up opponents. The Anthony Davis comparisons are going to flow because the they’re both No. 1 recruits and centers at Kentucky with similar body-types, but Labissiere is much more skilled offensively and much less dominant defensively. Think LaMarcus Aldridge.
THE REST OF THE ALL-SEC FIRST TEAM:
Malik Newman, Mississippi State: Newman is a high-volume scorer that can drop 25 in a half without breaking a sweat. He’ll be playing on a team where he’s going to be asked to take a lot of shots. His efficiency numbers likely won’t be great, but he’s going to score a lot.
Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: For my money, Jones is the single-most underrated player in college basketball this season. He may be the best big man in the country this side of Labissiere.
Jamal Murray, Kentucky: I’m still not sold on Murray being a future NBA star, but based on his performance at the Pan-Am Games this summer, I think he’ll end up being a very good combo-guard in college.
Ben Simmons, LSU: Casual fans are going to love watching Simmons play. He’s a 6-foot-9 point forward that is so talented. He’d be the National Player of the Year if he was in a different program.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Tim Quarterman, LSU
Danuel House, Texas A&M
Stefan Moody, Ole Miss
Wade Baldwin IV, Vanderbilt
BREAKOUT STAR: Yante Maten, Georgia
Wade Baldwin IV of Vanderbilt was an intriguing pick here, but I’m going with Maten. The 6-foot-8, 240 pound big man was somewhat buried on Georgia’s bench as a freshman last season, averaging just 18.2 minutes while watching Marcus Thornton and Nikola Djurisic. But while his playing time was limited, Maten did manage to average 5.0 points, 4.3 boards and 1.4 blocks. He’ll now step into a starting role in Georgia’s front court.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Kim Anderson, Missouri
This is just Anderson’s second season in Columbia, but things have not gone well for him. The Tigers went 9-23 last season, finished just 3-15 in the SEC and lost their top two players — freshman Teki Gill-Cesear and sophomore Johnathan Williams III — to transfer. Does Anderson have what it takes to turn the program around? If the Tigers don’t show signs of improvement this season, he may not get a chance.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Kentucky isn’t the only team from the SEC eyeing a run to the Final Four. Ain’t that right, Vanderbilt?
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Watching those freshmen play. Skal Labissiere — assuming he eventually gets eligible — and Ben Simmons could end up going Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2016 NBA Draft, while Jamal Murray and Malik Newman won’t be all that far behind.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. Kentucky: The Wildcats have a very strong argument to be the No. 1 team in the entire country heading into the season. Of course they’re going to be No. 1 in the SEC power rankings.
2. Vanderbilt: It’s hard not to love what Kevin Stallings brings back this season. One of the best X’s-and-O’s coaches in the sport has one of the nation’s best big men at his disposal and surrounds him with a myriad of talented shooters and scorers on the perimeter. I think this is a Sweet 16 team.
3. Texas A&M: The Aggies are in a great spot this year. Not only are they built for the future thanks to Billy Kennedy’s recruiting class, but they have enough veteran talent on their roster that they can make a run in an SEC that isn’t overly strong at the top. Daneul House and Alex Caruso get slept-on nationally.
4. LSU: From a talent perspective, LSU is second only to Kentucky in this league. But talent hasn’t kept Johnny Jones from underachieving before, so until this group proves that they can compete for an SEC title, I’ll expect them to be a borderline top 25 team that won’t feel comfortable about their NCAA tournament prospects until March.
5. Georgia: Georgia returns their veteran back court but graduates key pieces in their front court. The key to their season could end up being the development of YantTagse Maten. If he turns into an all-SEC caliber player, they should end up being a tournament team.
6. Florida: The Gators are one of the most interesting teams in college hoops this season. They lost Billy Donovan to the NBA after a disappointing year, but they also return plenty of elite talent from a team that was far more competitive than their record shows; no one in the country suffered more heart-breaking losses than the Gators last season, as it felt like they kept inventing new ways to lose basketball games. There’s talent, depth and athleticism on their perimeter (Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza, Devin Robinson, KeVaughn Allen, Brandone Francis) and South Florida transfer John Egbunu will sneak up on some people on the interior. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike White led this group to a top four finish in the league. I can also see them heading to the NIT.
7. Auburn: I think Bruce Pearl is still a year or two away from really making Auburn competitive in the conference. That said, to me, Pearl’s presence on the sideline makes the Tigers two or three games better in league play.
8. Ole Miss: Stefan Moody is back for the Rebels this season, but they lose a ton of talent off of last year’s tournament team. Moody will put up some big numbers, but the Rebels would do well to finish in the top half of the conference this season.
9. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have some sleeper potential this season. They return five of their top six players and add top 30 recruit P.J. Dozier to the mix. But will Dozier be the difference between finishing 6-12 last season and reaching the top half of the league this season?
10. Mississippi State: Ben Howland is a terrific coach and he has a dynamic lead guard in Malik Newman, but it’s going to take more than one year and one player to turn things around in Starkville.
11. Arkansas: Mike Anderson lost the underrated Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls to the NBA and had three players get arrested for using counterfeit bills. It was a rough offseason in Fayetteville.
12. Tennessee: Rick Barnes takes over for Donnie Tyndall in Knoxville. The Vols overachieved last season and lost their best player, Josh Richardson, to graduation. Barnes will build Tennessee back up, but it will take a few years.
13. Alabama: Avery Johnson did a great job landing Terrence Ferguson, a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2016, but he really could use Ferguson this season.
14. Missouri: The Tigers went 9-23 in Kim Anderson’s first season and then proceeded to lose their two best players to transfer during the offseason. It’s going to be a long year in Columbia.
Louisville accuser: Rick Pitino knew ‘about everything’
Katina Powell, the author of a book that alleges the a member Louisville basketball coaching staff hired escorts in an effort to help land recruits, has spoken publicly for the first time since ‘Breaking Cardinal Rules’ was published.
In an interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal, Powell doubled-down on the accuracy of what she wrote and the reasons for why she published this — in a word, money. But she also made very clear that she believes head coach Rick Pitino knew all about what was happening in Billy Minardi Hall.
“How can it be going on for four years, that many people be involved and that many people see what’s going on and Rick Pitino doesn’t know anything about it?” Powell said. “You have players that are very, very loyal to Pitino. And if they thought anything was wrong or anyone was going to get in trouble, I’m pretty sure they would have gone back to report to Pitino. When I would ask Andre, ‘Does Pitino know about this?’ he would laugh and say, ‘Rick knows about everything.'”
Pitino has vehemently denied knowledge of what happened in his program.
Whether or not Pitino truly did know won’t be enough to prevent the NCAA from coming down on him and his program if they’re able to prove that these allegations are true. Coaches are now responsible for everything that happens within their program; too many big names were able to skirt punishment through plausible deniability and pinning the blame on an assistant.
What innocence may do, however, is save Pitino’s job. Because if the NCAA is able to find a way to prove that he knew about, funded or green-lit the hiring of escorts and prostitutes to help recruit, I don’t think he can remain the head coach at Louisville.
The question now becomes whether or not the NCAA is able to prove any of what Powell alleges happened in her book, and I think they have a pretty good chance of making that happen. What they’ll likely do — and what they have probably already begun doing — is to interview players that were recruited by Louisville but that ended up at other schools, threatening ineligibility while offering immunity for the truth.
Five-star LSU freshman Antonio Blakeney was explicitly mentioned in the book, with Powell going into detail about how an escort was sent to the hotel room that he was staying in. Ohio State’s five-star freshman Ja’Quan Lyle was also mentioned. Both players were, at one point, committed to Louisville.