While the field for the 2018 edition of the event has been known for months, it’s strength and depth was on full display Tuesday when the brackets were revealed, pitting NBC Sports Way Too Early top-five teams Duke and Gonzaga on a championship collision course,
Duke will square off against San Diego State in its opening game while Gonzaga takes on Illinois in its opener on the opposite side of the bracket.
Other first round matchups include Auburn (12th in our preseason poll) vs. Xavier (26th) and a game of unknown-but-talented teams in Arizona and Iowa State.
“Each of the eight teams that step on the hardwood at the Lahaina Civic Center is capable of winning the 2018 Maui Jim Maui Invitational,” tournament chairman David Odom said in a statement. “All 12 games in Maui will help shape the course of the 2018-19 college basketball season, and the team that leaves the island with the Wayne Duke Championship Trophy will have incredible momentum to begin the year. The atmosphere is going to be electric, and we’re looking forward to hosting the teams and their fans in November.”
Simply, this tournament is stacked.
Gonzaga and Duke are going to draw the big headlines, but the rest of the tournament is going to be just as intriguing.
Can Auburn back up its SEC title? What does Xavier look like under Travis Steele? Can Brian Dutcher keep momentum with the Aztecs? What kind of team is Sean Miller going to have? Can Iowa State return to relevance after a last-place Big 12 season? Can Brad Underwood rally the Illini?
So while Chaminade isn’t in the field for the first time since the event’s inception in 1984 (the Silver Swords return on a rotating basis in 2019) and there won’t be any chance of a blockbuster upset, Maui is making up for it with an all-time field.
College Basketball Top 25: The pressing question for every team in our preseason rankings
As we get ready for the Fourth of July holiday, we at College Basketball Talk will be rolling through the pressing questions for every team in the top 25.
Today, we take a look at the teams ranked 11-25.
On Tuesday, we will dive into the top ten teams in the country.
What is the question that we will need answered for the best teams in college basketball next season?
11. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
DO THE HOKIES HAVE THE HORSES TO CRACK THE TOP OF THE ACC?
The very top of the ACC is riddled with the usual suspects. Duke looks to be the favorite, North Carolina should be excellent once again and Virginia is going to be Virginia regardless of how many times they lose to a No. 16 seed. The Hokies, on paper, look like a team good enough to make a run at the top three. They bring back seven of their top eight players, including a potential star in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, but simply returning everyone from a team that was a No. 9 seed doesn’t necessarily mean Tech will go from being a tournament team to a challenger for a top three seed.
12. AUBURN TIGERS
HOW DOES AUBURN RESPOND TO THEIR ROSTER TURNOVER?
Last season, Auburn’s surprising level of success — a share of the SEC regular season title — was in large part due to the collective: Everyone bought in, everyone played their role and thrived in it. How will that dynamic work with Mustapha Heron, who led the team in scoring last season, being replaced by Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley? Not only are there concerns about how well those two will fit into the team dynamic, they don’t exactly fit all that well in the uptempo style that Bruce Pearl introduced last season.
13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
WILL SPARTY’S JUNIORS BECOME STARS?
The biggest issue that Michigan State had last season was that the way their roster was constructed didn’t make it conducive to playing their best players in an ideal position. Tom Izzo had a half-dozen big men on his roster and questionable backcourt talent, which forced Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson to play at the 3 and the 4 instead of their ideal 4 and 5. That’s why a team as talented as Michigan State underachieved so much. It wasn’t a lack of good basketball players. I say all that to say this: There are still quite a few talented players in East Lansing, but this ranking will seem too high if what’s left of the junior class — Cassius Winston, Josh Langford and Nick Ward — does not play up to their ability.
14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
DOES FLORIDA STATE HAVE A POINT GUARD?
I actually think Florida State has a relatively high floor heading into next season. They bring back almost all of their important pieces from last season’s team that reached the Elite 8, and their position-less, versatility-heavy roster and pressing style will make them a team that is annoying to play against. Their ability to make threes will be important, as will the development of Mfiondu Kabengele and M.J. Walker, but for my money, their ceiling will be determined by their point guard play. Just how good will junior Trent Forrest and Albany grad-transfer David Nichols be?
15. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
WILL THE BULLDOGS MAKE THREES?
Ben Howland essentially brings everyone back from a team that won 25 games and reached the NIT quarterfinals. Both Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon pulled their names out of the NBA draft, while Lamar Peters also returns and will be joined by five-star prospect Reggie Perry. Throw in a handful of veteran bigs that are former four-star recruits, and it’s all there. The problem? Well, Mississippi State returns everyone from a team that was 329th nationally in three-point shooting last season. The only starter that shot better than 29.9 percent from three was power forward Aric Holman. That’s not exactly ideal.
16. OREGON DUCKS
IS BOL BOL AWESOME OR OVERRATED?
This is a question that will be discussed ad nauseum between now and the start of the season, and probably beyond; this might end up being one of the key storylines heading into the 2019 NBA Draft. On paper, Bol is the kind of prospect that never comes along. He’s 7-foot-3 and an elite rim-protector (when he wants to be) that is a very good three-point shooter. The problem? He doesn’t seem to be all that interested in playing the physical brand of defense that he needs to play, and he seems to believe that, offensively, he should be J.J. Redick. In theory, Bol should be a better version of Chris Boucher, but that all depends on whether or not Bol wants to be and ignores one, simple fact: Oregon became a Final Four-caliber team in 2017 when Boucher got injured and Jordan Bell was moved to center.
17. UCLA BRUINS
WILL UCLA EVER PLAY DEFENSE?
If five seasons as the head coach in Westwood, Steve Alford has had just one team finishing in the top 65 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. That was his first team, when he had a roster full of Ben Howland’s players. The issue has never been on the offensive side of the ball, not with the parade of high school all-americans and future NBA players that have come through his program. This year should be no different. Not only does he have another loaded recruiting class coming in, but Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands are back. There are no excuses this year.
18. TCU HORNED FROGS
CAN JAYLEN FISHER AND ALEX ROBINSON CO-EXIST IN THE BACKCOURT?
Looking at the way that TCU’s roster comes together, it seems as if Jamie Dixon’s best five will include a pair of point guards. Fisher is the more well-rounded of the two, but Robinson is an elite passer even if there are some questions about the rest of his game. They’ll need big seasons out of Desmond Bane and Kouat Noi, but for my money, making things work with two point guards is how they reach their ceiling.
19. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
SO IS THIS CHRIS MACK GUY THE REAL DEAL?
For the Cardinals to finish the season ranked this high, he’ll have to be. Louisville, coming off one of the most trying three-year periods in college basketball history, will be officially replacing an all-time great head coach after losing their starting point guard and a pair of stars — Deng Adel and Ray Spalding — to early entry. There is still talent on this roster. What can Mack do with it?
20. WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
CAN THE MOUNTAINEERS SURVIVE AFTER LOSING THEIR BACKCOURT?
We’ve seen West Virginia overcome the loss of key program players in recent years and not miss a beat, but they did that while keeping the two guys that define the Press Virginia era: Daxter Miles and, more importantly, Jevon Carter. Those two set the tone for this program for the last four seasons. They will not be easily replaced, but that is the task that Bob Huggins has in front of him.
21. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK
JUST HOW GOOD WILL THESE GUARDS BE?
Losing Omer Yurtseven hurts N.C. State because this team now has a massive hole where their frontcourt used to be. That doesn’t concern me all that much for two reasons: There is a massive amount of perimeter talent on this roster, from point guards Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly to transfers C.J. Bryce and Devon Daniels to freshman Jericole Hellems. Keatts’ best teams at UNC Wilmington had deep, talented backcourts that allowed his pressing style to thrive. Wolfpack fans are hoping that will be the case for this group.
22. LSU TIGERS
HOW GOOD IS TREMONT WATERS’ SUPPORTING CAST?
Will Wade has made one thing clear in his 15 months in Baton Rouge: He is going to be able to get players with a lot of stars in their recruiting ranking to come to campus. The question is whether or not those players are going to be able to find a way to fit together. We know how good Tremont Waters was, and how good he will likely be this season, but unless the likes of Javonte Smart, Emmitt Williams and Naz Reid live up to their reputations, the Tigers are probably looking at being somewhere between the back-end of the bubble teams and the top of the NIT bracket.
23. CLEMSON TIGERS
HOW WILL CLEMSON HANDLE BEING THE HUNTED?
One of the most under-discussed storylines from last season was the disaster that was Northwestern basketball. They went from making their first NCAA tournament to being everyone’s preseason darling to losing by 36 points to Texas Tech and reminding everyone why they are Northwestern. They are the posterchild for the dangers in becoming satisfied. Clemson was very good last season, a top five seed that reached the Sweet 16, and they return quite a few key pieces. Will the hunger to win still be there after they’ve tasted success?
24. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
WHO IS GOING TO SCORE?
The Wolverines went through long bouts of brick-laying last season, even as they made a run through the Big Ten tournament and to the national title game. They were not a typical John Beilein team, as they won a staunch defense and relied on Mo Wagner and company to do just enough scoring to win. The problem? Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, by far the two best offensive players on their roster last season, are gone. Will Charles Matthews take the next step to go-to scorer? Will Zavier Simpson? Is Jordan Poole going to be the guy? Michigan’s defense gives them a floor. I’m not sure who gives them a ceiling.
25. SYRACUSE ORANGE
WILL TYUS BATTLE BE THEIR ONLY CREATIVE OFFENSIVE THREAT AGAIN?
Syracuse was not a very good basketball team last season, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, but Jim Boeheim is just so damn good at making his zone impenetrable that the Orange were able to win games in the 50s thanks to Tyus Battle finding a way to carry a massive burden offensively. If that’s who they are again next season, the Orange faithful should expect more of the same: ugly games, a low NCAA tournament seed and a shot to win a few games because, oh boy, are they a nightmare to play against. But this team has a chance to be much more if, say, O’Shae Brissett takes the next step or Buddy Boeheim proves to be capable of Gerry McNamara-esque shooting feats.
The college basketball season has come and gone, meaning that it is officially time for us to start looking forward to next year.
And what better way is there to do that than by publishing a Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25!
DISCLAIMER: We don’t know about all of the NBA Draft decisions yet. Not even close. So if you see a * next to player’s name, it is because we are taking a guess — some more educated than others — on what he is going to be doing this spring.
Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.
Here is the top 25:
1. KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Who’s gone: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman
Who do they add: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack
Projected starting lineup: Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, Udoka Azubuike
Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Charlie Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties – if that role isn’t taken over by Devon Dotson – while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. This team is talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster. There is a lot to like about the Jayhawks heading into next year.
2. GONZAGA BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
Who do they add: Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer addition of Clarke and a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.
As always, there is quite a bit of turnover on the Kentucky roster. Six key pieces from last year are gone, while the Wildcats bring in yet another loaded recruiting class. I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch, even if they aren’t going to be able to shoot for another year. The question is going to be whether or not these freshmen can all come together, because there is only one player on the roster that has more than one year of college experience.
4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Joey Baker
Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier
The Blue Devils are a team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter are all following Allen out the door, and it appears as if Bolden will be back for another season. I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore. The big question with this group is going to be how well the pieces gel together and whether or not there is enough shooting (and willing defenders) to allow this group to play the way teams like Villanova, Golden State and Boston play. I explain that line of thinking more here.
Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo
Projected starting lineup: Jahvon Quinerly, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Cole Swider
Villanova did not fair well at the NBA early entry deadline, losing a pair of potential first round picks in DiVincenzo, who was the MOP of the Final Four and Spellman. As we noted here, Spellman is the piece that brings it all together for the Wildcats. I’m still willing to ride with the Wildcats, as I think they are more experienced than they will get credit for and because Jay Wright’s teams always have people ready to step in and contribute immediately. Expect a breakout year from Jermaine Samuels.
6. NEVADA WOLF PACK
Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke
Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Ehab Amin, Jordan Brown
Projected starting lineup: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown
Getting the Martin twins back is massive. Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem. But this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season. This is the best Nevada team since Kawhi and Jimmer were running roughshod over the league.
7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Who’s gone: James Daniel III
Who do they add: No one
Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams
Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable pieces at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.
8. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro
Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt
I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.
9. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Shaun Williams
Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade
This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player might actually be a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!
10. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye
Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball next season that is better than Luke Maye?
11. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear
The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.
Auburn will lose Heron, who might have been their best player last season, but return everyone else from a team that won the SEC. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke. But we saw what Pearl could do with these pieces last season, and that was with the FBI investigation hanging over their head.
13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman
I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together. That said, who is better?
14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning would be key, as would finding another point guard on the transfer market to replace C.J. Walker, who left the program. Getting Cofer back for a fifth-year is enormous.
15. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Abdul Ado
I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.
16. OREGON DUCKS
Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol
For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and Ihe’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect.
17. UCLA BRUINS
Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman
Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Moses Brown
This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. Odds seem pretty good that he’ll have every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes will be on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12.
18. TCU HORNED FROGS
Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel
Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch.
19. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Who’s gone: Anas Mahmoud, Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel
Who do they add: Chris Mack, Steve Enoch, Christian Cunningham
Projected starting lineup: Darius Perry, Dwayne Sutton, V.J. King, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams
How good of a coach do you think that Mack is? Because that is what this really comes down to. Even though the Cardinals lose Adel along with Spalding to the draft, there is enough talent on this roster to make an NCAA tournament — I think the evidence of that is that if the Cardinals hadn’t lost a fluke game to Virginia they would have been in the tournament last season. And all due respect to David Padgett, Mack is a better coach than he is right now.
West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, I’m trusting that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.
21. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK
Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels, Blake Harris, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.
22. LSU Tigers
Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the incoming trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.
23. CLEMSON TIGERS
Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison, Javan White
Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, AJ Oliver, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas
With Mitchell and Reed back in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.
Who do they add: Ignas Brazdeikis, David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez, Colin Castleton
Projected starting lineup: Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske
Losing Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman, the program’s two best offensive weapons, are major blows for a team that struggled to score a season ago. Matthews’ decision to return is key and they will really be able to guard again, but one of their three big wings is going to need to take a major step forward for them offensively.
25. SYRACUSE ORANGE
Who’s gone: Matthew Moyer
Who do they add: Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, Robert Braswell, Eli Hughes
Projected starting lineup: Tyus Battle, Franklin Howard, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu
The Orange have no depth and very little perimeter shooting this side of Buddy Boeheim, but with Tyus Battle back in the fold, I think this Orange team will be able to scrape together enough ugly, grind-it-out wins to be in and around the top 25 all season.
Coming off of a season in which it won 26 games and a share of the SEC regular season title, the Auburn Tigers have enough talent to once again be a player both within the conference and nationally in 2018-19. However, depth at the point guard position was a bit of a concern even with starter Jared Harper back for his junior season.
Tuesday afternoon the Tigers received a needed boost to its depth, as Lee College (Texas) point guard J’Von McCormick announced that he will be joining the Auburn program. The 5-foot-11 McCormick, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game as a sophomore.
Leading Lee College in both points and assists, McCormick shot 42.8 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three and 64.8 percent from the foul line.
Despite leading scorer Mustapha Heron’s decision to transfer to St. John’s, Auburn will still have two returning starters in the backcourt as both Harper and Bryce Brown are back after entering the NBA draft without hiring an agent. Also factoring into the perimeter rotation will be VCU transfer Samir Doughty, senior Malik Dunbar and junior forward Danjel Purifoy.
Purifoy, along with Austin Wiley, missed all of last season due to the FBI investigation that rocked college basketball and will have to sit out Auburn’s first nine games of the 2018-19 season before regaining eligibility.
Even with those options — Doughty has the versatility needed to fill multiple roles on the perimeter — adding another player who can man the point was something Bruce Pearl and his staff needed to do this summer if possible. Adding McCormick means that Harper, who played 30.6 minutes per game last season, will have additional help in handling the point guard responsibilities.
And given the depth that expected SEC contenders such as Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee boast, Auburn could ill-afford to go into the season with just one bonafide option at the point.
Auburn gives basketball coach Bruce Pearl 5-year extension
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn has given basketball coach Bruce Pearl a five-year contract extension after the program’s best season in years.
Pearl led the Tigers to a share of their first Southeastern Conference regular season title since 1999 last season despite having two top players ineligible. The extension announced Monday runs through the 2022-2023 season.
“It was a historic season for Auburn basketball and one that was matched by excellence in the classroom as well,” athletic director Allen Greene said.
Auburn went 26-8 and snapped a 15-year NCAA Tournament drought, beating College of Charleston in the first round. Only the 1998-99 team won more games.
Pearl is set to make $2.6 million this year with a $100,000 annual raise. The five-year total not counting bonuses will be $14 million.
Pearl faced questions about his job security all season despite the on-court success. Before the season, Auburn fired associate head coach Chuck Person, who is facing federal charges as part of a probe into corruption in college basketball. The NCAA ruled center Austin Wiley and forward Danjel Purifoy ineligible last season after their families allegedly accepted money funneled through Person to steer them toward a financial advisory after they turned pro.
Pearl is poised to have another strong team next season.
Wiley is eligible while Purifoy must sit out part of the season. Wiley and guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown all opted to return after exploring their NBA draft status.
Second-team All-SEC guard Mustapha Heron also withdrew from the draft. But St. John’s announced Monday that Heron is transferring to play for the Red Storm. The school said Heron plans to apply for a hardship waiver to be eligible next season.
SEC Conference Reset: The league gets even stronger in 2018-19
The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone, and there are a dozen or so truly impactful decisions that are left to be made.
Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season.
The coaching carousel has come to a close.
The transfer market is slowly winding down.
In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2018-19 season.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the SEC over the next six months.
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
THE SEC LOOKS TO BUILD ON A GOOD 2017-18 SEASON: Much-maligned in recent years due to the underwhelming non-conference schedules and performances by some programs, the SEC has made strides. Good hires, with regards to both the conference office and schools picking new head coaches, and better scheduling practices paid dividends for the SEC last season as eight teams earned NCAA tournament bids and two others landed in the NIT. The ten combined postseason berths are the most for the SEC since the league expanded to 14 schools in 2013. And here’s the thing: the SEC should be even better in 2018-19.
In Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee the SEC boasts three teams that are in the Top 10 of many early rankings, and Mississippi State and LSU stand to be really good with the majority of their key contributors back. And in the case of LSU, the Tigers add a recruiting class that includes Nazreon Reid, Javonte Smart and Emmitt Williams. The jokes about this conference and its basketball product died down substantially last season, and that should continue to be the case in 2018-19.
AS WE’VE COME TO EXPECT, KENTUCKY RELOADS: Kentucky, which won 26 games and reached the Sweet 16 last season, will have to account for the loss of four of the team’s top six scorers, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and Wenyen Gabriel all made the decision to turn pro. Kentucky also lost Sacha Killeya-Jones, who after two seasons in Lexington transferred to NC State. Those are some key losses, especially Gilgeous-Alexander and Knox, but the expectation at this point is that Kentucky will be even better next season thanks to the combination of who returns and who joins the program.
After testing the NBA draft waters forward PJ Washington is back, as are fellow sophomores Quade Green and Nick Richards. Joining those returnees is one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, with point guard Immanuel Quickley, off-guards Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro and power forward E.J. Montgomery making up that talented quartet. It’s also worth noting that Kentucky is one of the schools reported to be making a run at Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis, a first team all-Pac 12 performer who will be a major addition to whichever program he joins. Lastly, there’s the expectation that 2019 five-star guard Ashton Hagans will reclassify and join the program this summer.
THE NBA DRAFT PROCESS LARGELY WORKED OUT FOR THE SEC: While Kentucky lost some key contributors, as noted above PJ Washington did make the decision to return for his sophomore season. And he wasn’t the only SEC talent of note to do this. Auburn and Mississippi State had multiple key contributors withdraw from the draft, including guard Bryce Brown and center Austin Wiley (Auburn), and guards Nick and Quinndary Weatherspoon (Mississippi State). It wasn’t all rosy for Bruce Pearl’s Tigers however, as leading scorer Mustapha Heron withdrew from the draft and then transferred to St. John’s in order to be closer to his ailing mother.
The loss of Heron aside, Auburn has enough talent to make a run at another SEC title after sharing the top spot in the regular season standings a season ago. And at Mississippi State, Ben Howland has his best team since arriving in Starkville as the top six scorers from a team that reached the Postseason NIT semifinals have all returned. Other programs that benefitted from players withdrawing from the draft include Tennessee (Admiral Schofield), LSU (Tremont Waters), Missouri (Jontay Porter) and Florida (Jalen Hudson). Having those players back in the mix will only make the SEC better in 2018-19.
LSU IS POISED TO MAKE A BIG JUMP NATIONALLY: Will Wade’s first season at LSU was a step in the right direction, as the Tigers finished the year with an 18-15 record (8-10 SEC) and reached the second round of the Postseason NIT. Point guard Tremont Waters was one of the SEC’s best freshmen, fellow guard Skylar Mays took a step forward as a sophomore and forwards Duop Reath and Aaron Epps were both productive options in the front court.
LSU will have to account for the losses of Reath and Epps heading into 2018-19, and all Wade did on that front was land a highly-regarded recruiting class that includes two of the nation’s best front court prospects in Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams. Add in LSU keeping five-star point guard and Baton Rouge native Ja’Vonte Smart home, and this is a team that’s has the talent needed to be a factor in the SEC title race and a player nationally as well. That being said the climb won’t be easy considering the programs ahead of LSU in the SEC pecking order, but the Tigers will be heard from.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, Kentucky : Of the four players to leave Kentucky early for the NBA Gilgeous-Alexander and Knox were the most productive, with Knox being a first team All-SEC performer and the league’s co-Freshman of the Year, and Gilgeous-Alexander being a second team All-SEC selection. Kentucky’s play improved when Gilgeous-Alexander took the reins as starting point guard, with his ability to see over defenses, get into the paint off the dribble and defensive work being the reasons why. As for Knox, while there were moments in which he settled he was Kentucky’s most skilled scorer. Those two won’t be easy to replace, but Kentucky has reloaded with a very good recruiting class. What will also be key: PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green all taking a step forward as sophomores.
Collin Sexton and Braxton Key, Alabama: Sexton shared SEC Freshman of the Year honors with the aforementioned Knox, averaging 19.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. While losing Sexton, a projected lottery pick, hurts it isn’t as if his being a one-and-done player wasn’t expected in Tuscaloosa. To that point the Crimson Tide welcome back the likes of guards John Petty, Herb Jones, Avery Johnson Jr. and Dazon Ingram, and four-star freshman Jared Butler should factor into the team’s plans as well. Avery Johnson will also have to account for the loss of Braxton Key, who transferred to Virginia after going through a sophomore season affected adversely by injury. Had the versatile Key been healthy for the entire season, it’s likely that Alabama would have been better than an 9-seed in the NCAA tournament (and avoided Villanova in the second round).
Robert Williams, Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M: Billy Kennedy has some major holes to fill in the front court, as Williams, Davis and Hogg all decided to turn pro at season’s end. In the case of Williams, the buzz for him was such that he could have left after his freshman season and been a lottery pick as opposed to returning to College Station for the 2017-18 season. While Williams was the best defender and athlete in this trio Davis was the best low-post scoring option, and the 6-foot-9 Hogg was the best perimeter shooter. Texas A&M also lost Tony Trocha-Morelos from its front court rotation, and the personnel losses place even more pressure upon the likes of Isiah Jasey, Josh Nebo and recent addition Christian Mekowulu as the Aggies look to build on last season’s Sweet 16 run.
Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov, Florida: The good news for Mike White is that four of the top six scorers from last year’s team are back, including leading scorer Jalen Hudson. The bad news: he’ll have to account for the loss of starting point guard Chris Chiozza, who averaged 11.1 points and 6.1 assists per game last season. Also gone is Egor Koulechov, who in his lone season at Florida chipped in with 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. While those personnel losses hurt, the return of Hudson, KeVaughn Allen and Keith Stone and the additions of talented prospects such as Andrew Nembhard and Keyontae Johnson will help matters. Also, forward Isaiah Stokes is healthy after missing last season due to a torn ACL. Florida should once again be good, but how good will depend upon the consistency of KeVaughn Allen.
PJ Washington, Kentucky: Washington went through the NBA draft process, but ultimately decided to return to Lexington for his sophomore season. While productive as a freshman, averaging 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, Washington did not have the consistent first-round grade that some players look for when making their draft decisions. His return is undoubtedly a positive for Kentucky, which will be able to pair solid returning contributors with a very good recruiting class. And that has been the formula for Kentucky’s most successful teams during John Calipari’s tenure as head coach.
Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Lamonte Turner, Tennessee: Only one of these three, Schofield, went through the NBA draft process, and with all of them returning the Volunteers are expected to be even better in 2018-19. Williams was named SEC Player of the Year last season after averaging 15.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore, with Schofield and Turner (SEC Co-Sixth Man of the Year) being double-digit scorers as well. In total Tennessee returns its top six scorers from a team that won a share of the SEC regular season title.
Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Austin Wiley, Auburn: Auburn, which shared that SEC title with Tennessee, received needed boosts on two fronts this spring. Brown, Harper and Wiley all decided to return for another season after testing the waters, with Wiley and Danjel Purifoy both being cleared after being sidelined last season due to the FBI investigation that rocked college basketball. Wiley and Purifoy will miss the first nine games of the 2018-19 season, but to have those two back in the rotation is big for Bruce Pearl. Auburn did lose leading scorer Mustapha Heron, who transferred to St. John’s after withdrawing his name from the draft, but they have the talent needed to account for his departure.
Chris Silva, South Carolina: After sharing SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors with Texas A&M’s Robert Williams, Silva tested the NBA draft waters before deciding to return for his senior season. And that’s a huge deal for South Carolina, which will have to account for the losses of Frank Booker and Wesley Myers. While his defensive work is what got Silva an individual honor last season, it’s important to remember that he averaged 14.3 points per game as a junior.
Immanuel Quickley and E.J. Montgomery, Kentucky: Kentucky’s recruiting class was mentioned above and with good reason, as it’s considered to be the second-best crop in the country behind Duke. Quickley and Montgomery are key figures, with the former immediately in the mix on the perimeter as Kentucky looks to account for the departures of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo. As for Montgomery, the 6-foot-10 forward will also see immediate minutes with P.J. Washington being the most noteworthy front court returnee and Nick Richards back as well.
Darius Garland, Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt lost three of its top four scorers from a season ago, but the Commodores should put forth an improved product due to who arrives on campus. Among the newcomers is 6-foot-2 point guard Darius Garland, one of two five-star recruits brought in by Bryce Drew. Garland and sophomore Saben Lee should combine to form a talented and entertaining perimeter duo for the Commodores this season. As for the other five-star prospect, forward Simi Shittu, it remains to be seen how much he’ll be able to contribute early on after a torn ACL ended his senior season in late January.
Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams, LSU: Will Wade hit the jackpot last spring by landing Tremont Waters, and his second recruiting class at LSU ranks among the nation’s best. Wade left the state for two five-star prospects in Reid and Williams, who will be expected to contribute immediately as both Duop Reath and Aaron Epps are out of eligibility. The third five-star prospect in the class in point guard Ja’Vonte Smart, a key recruit in that Wade managed to keep the state’s top talent from leaving.
Andrew Nembhard, Florida: With the graduation of Chris Chiozza, Florida had a major hole to fill at point guard even with reserve Michael Okauru still in the fold. Enter Nembhard, a 6-foot-4 Canadian who finished his high school career at Montverde Academy in Florida. Nembhard’s size gives Florida a different dimension at the point than it had with Chiozza running the show, and his ability to get guys the ball in spots where they’re most effective should result in the freshman working well alongside Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen.
Tom Crean, Georgia: After a nine-year run that produced two NCAA tournament bids the Mark Fox era came to an end in Athens, with Georgia hiring former Marquette and Indiana head coach Tom Crean to replace him. Crean spent last season working as a color commentator and studio analyst at ESPN, and the hope in Athens is that his accomplishments at prior head coaching stops foreshadow similar success at Georgia. Unfortunately for Crean he won’t have either Yante Maten or Juwan Parker to work with as both graduated, but three starters (William Jackson II, Derek Ogbeide and Rayshaun Hammonds) and reserve Tyree Crump are among the returnees.
Kermit Davis, Ole Miss: Ole Miss bid farewell to Andy Kennedy, the program’s all-time wins leader, in mid-February as he announced his resignation. Stepping in to replace Kennedy was Kermit Davis, whose successful 16-year run at Middle Tennessee included 332 wins, six regular season conference titles (three Sun Belt, three Conference USA) and three NCAA tournament appearances. The biggest news for Davis this offseason was Terence Davis, Ole Miss’ leading scorer each of the last two seasons, deciding to withdraw his name from the NBA draft and return for his senior year.
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-SEC TEAM
Grant Williams, Tennessee (POY)
Bryce Brown, Auburn
Tremont Waters, LSU
Chris Silva, South Carolina
PJ Washington, Kentucky
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
1. Tennessee: A season that began with the Volunteers being picked to finish 13th in the SEC ended with 26 wins, a share of the SEC regular season title and the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance in four years. With much of that team back Rick Barnes may have a national contender on his hands, and the disappointing end to last season should motivate this experienced group.
2. Kentucky: The combination of returnees and talented newcomers make the Wildcats a player within the SEC and nationally, as we’ve come to expect. P.J. Washington and Quade Green will need to take on leadership roles while also competing for minutes alongside the likes of Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro and E.J. Montgomery (and likely Ashton Hagans as well). And can Nick Richards take a step forward after struggling with inconsistency last season? Kentucky will need him to.
3. Auburn: From a depth standpoint the Tigers don’t have much room for error, especially with the departure of Mustapha Heron. That being said this is a very good rotation to work with, as Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley will be back on the court after sitting out the first nine games of the 2018-19 season. Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore return, and transfer guards Samir Doughty (VCU) and Jamal Johnson (Memphis) will be eligible after sitting out last season.
4. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return their top six scorers from a season ago, including guards Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon and forward Aric Holman, making this Ben Howland’s best roster since he arrived in Starkville in 2015. As a result, look for the Bulldogs to be an SEC title contender next season.
5. Florida: While the losses of Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov aren’t to be overlooked, the return of Jalen Hudson means that the Gators should once again be a tough out in 2018-19. Adding Andrew Nembhard and Keyontae Johnson to the mix will help with the perimeter depth, and Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes are back in the front court. The key for Florida: KeVaughn Allen playing with aggression consistently.
6. LSU: After a good first season in Baton Rouge, Will Wade is set up for a more successful run in 2018-19. Of course there’s the addition of one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, but Tremont Waters’ decision to return for his sophomore season is huge for LSU.
7. Alabama: Collin Sexton has moved on, but the Crimson Tide don’t lack for promising perimeter talents as Dazon Ingram, Avery Johnson Jr., Herb Jones and John Petty are all back for another season. In the front court Donta Hall and Daniel Giddens are back, with the former being Alabama’s leading returning scorer and rebounder.
8. Missouri: The Tigers lose Michael Porter Jr. and an all-SEC performer in Kassius Robertson, but the return of Jontay Porter means that Cuonzo Martin will have one of the SEC’s best front courts with Porter, Kevin Puryear and Jeremiah Tilmon being the key figures. On the perimeter the Tigers will need freshmen Javon Pickett and Torrence Watson to hit the ground running, as Jordan Geist is their most productive returnee.
9. Vanderbilt: The Commodores did lose a lot of production from last season, but that senior-led group finished the year with an 11-20 record. There’s a renewed sense of optimism due to the recruiting class that Bryce Drew has added, and in sophomore guard Saben Lee he has another young “building block” to work with.
10. Arkansas: Losing Jaylen Barford, Darryl Macon and Anton Beard, three of the top four scorers from a team that won 23 games and reached the NCAA tournament, does hurt. That being said Arkansas does boast one of the SEC’s better big men in rising sophomore Daniel Gafford, who made the decision to not even test the NBA draft waters.
11. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost their top three front court contributors, as Robert Williams, Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg all turned pro. That leaves guards T.J. Starks and Admon Gilder to shoulder much of the load in 2018-19, with transfers Josh Nebo (Saint Francis-PA) and Christian Mekowulu (Tennessee State) joining Isiah Jasey in the front court. Also, Texas A&M will need Jay Jay Chandler and Savion Flagg to take a significant step forward if the team is to exceed this expectation.
12. Ole Miss: Kermit Davis won’t be working with a bare cupboard in his first season at Ole Miss. Terence Davis’ decision to return for his senior season means that the Rebels welcome back four of the team’s top scorers in 2017-18, with guards Devontae Shuler and Breein Tyree and forward Bruce Stevens rounding out that quartet. And the late additions of K.J. Buffen and Blake Hinson improve Ole Miss’ talent and depth in the front court.
13. South Carolina: The return of Chris Silva means that the Gamecocks return one of the SEC’s best defenders and overall players. But there’s still the need to account for the loss of two of the team’s top three scorers in Frank Booker and Wesley Myers. Returnees Justin Minaya and Hassani Gravett, and Georgetown transfer Tre Campbell will be among the other key contributors for Frank Martin in 2018-19.
14. Georgia: As noted above three starters are back from last season’s team as Tom Crean takes over. But with Yante Maten having graduated, who steps forward as Georgia’s top offensive option? They’ll likely have to get it done by committee, and in a league that’s gotten even better than it was last season that could make for some tough nights in Crean’s first season.