Nothing like news in May of a national championship rematch to get you excited about November.
Michigan and Villanova, which battled for the NCAA tournament title in March, headline the Big East and Big Ten matchups of the Gavitt Games, which were announced Tuesday.
‘Nova bested the Wolverines, 79-62, in San Antonio to win its second national championship in three years. The Wildcats will be without Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, both of whom are pursuing NBA careers, but they’re still a national-title contender in 2019 as the No. 2 team in our preseason top 25. Michigan landed just outside at No. 26.
The deadline to declare for the NBA draft has come and gone, which means we’re now waiting for the next deadline: When underclassmen have to pull their name out of the NBA draft if they are testing the waters.
That day is May 30th.
It is two weeks away, after the NBA draft combine and nearly three weeks before the draft itself.
So there is still a ways to go with this process.
But as things stand today, on the even of the combine, here are the players that will have the biggest impact on next season..
To help you parse it all down, here are the most influential Should-I-Stay-Or-Should-I-Go decisions that are going to be made over the course of the next two weeks.
OMARI SPELLMAN and DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova
Villanova already lost a pair of juniors to the NBA draft as both Mikal Bridges, a potential top ten pick, and Jalen Brunson, last year’s reigning National Player of the Year, declared for the draft and signed with an agent.
Eric Paschall and Phil Booth both opted to return to school for their redshirt senior seasons where, along with returnees Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillispie and Dhamir Cosby-Rountree and a recruiting class that is as good as any that Jay Wright had landed in his time on the Main Line, has Villanova’s program in a great place for the future.
And frankly, even with just that group of guys, the Wildcats are likely still going to enter the season as the favorite to win the Big East once again, although that might say more about the Big East than it does about Villanova.
But if they get Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman back, we could be looking at a situation where this is once again the best team in college basketball.
Let’s start with DiVincenzo, since I think he’s the more likely of the two to return. On the one hand, he might end up being a preseason first-team all-american if he makes the choice to play for Jay Wright for another season, and as such, he’ll likely end up taking over the lion’s share of Villanova’s offense as a result. But more importantly, at least when it comes to the draft, is that DiVincenzo still has some things that he can improve on that would make him a more palatable first round pick. As dynamic as he was this season, Divincenzo has always been a streaky scorer, a mixed bag as a decision-maker and a questionable ball-handler. Those are things that can be improved upon and, with a weaker draft coming up in 2019, the kind of thing that might be able to sneak him into the lottery.
One concerning note: Villanova landed a commitment from grad transfer Joe Cremo. That’s not exactly a promising sign for DiVincenzo, as Cremo more or less plays the same position as him, a spot that Villanova does have depth.
Spellman is a different story. He’s something of a finished product in terms of an NBA prospect. There are things that he can improve on — his post game, for one, and his ability to drive left, another — but the weight loss that he went through in his two seasons as a part of the Villanova program is what turned him into an NBA player. Given his size, his ability to shoot from three, the way he attacks close-outs and the fact that he can protect the rim and rebound the ball now that he’s shed 50 pounds, there is likely a spot for him in an NBA rotation somewhere. And while DiVincenzo can improve where he’s picked by coming back, I think Spellman is always going to find himself in that range of being a late first rounder or an early second rounder.
As it stands, Villanova is currently the No. 2 overall team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25. With both players officially back, I’ll have to think long and hard about whether or not they should be No. 1.
CALEB MARTIN, CODY MARTIN and JORDAN CAROLINE, Nevada
Should Nevada get all three of these guys back for another season, the Wolf Pack are going to enter the 2018-19 season as a preseason top ten team.
But are they going to get all three of these guys back?
That, at this point, is a major question mark for one, simple reason: After landing commitments from a pair of grad transfers and top 15 recruit Jordan Brown, Eric Musselman currently has a roster with 15 players set to receive scholarships. That’s two over the limit.
All three of these guys are all staring down the barrel of a redshirt senior season, meaning that it will be the fifth year that the three — all of whom transferred into Nevada — will be in college. If they already have their degree, and they are all turning 23 years old in the next year, is a shot at making the Final Four enough incentive to return to school?
For Caroline it might be. As talented as he is, I’m not sure that he gets drafted if he turns pro. Both Martin twins have an actual chance to end up hearing their name called on draft night — Caleb as one of the best shot-makers in college basketball and Cody as a 3-and-D role player — but it would be as second round picks. As we noted last week, that’s not a deterrent from landing a guaranteed deal, and for kids that are on the wrong side of the development curve, starting to earn money might be an attractive option.
If all three are gone, then I think we’re talking about Nevada as a team that is going to be in the back end of the top 25. With all three, the Wolf Pack will probably be the best Mountain West team we’ve seen since Jimmer and Kawhi were tearing the conference up eight years ago.
KEVIN HUERTER and BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland
There are so many teams in the Big Ten with so much on the line over the course of the next five weeks, but I’m not sure anyone has more at stake than Maryland, who is still waiting to hear what Huerter and Fernando are going to do.
Let’s pretend, for a second, that both return to school. Huerter — a 6-foot-7 wing that averaged 14.6 points and shot 42 percent from three — joins Anthony Cowan and Darryl Morsell to give the Terps one of the better backcourts in college basketball while Fernando, a native of Angola, would be in line for a breakout sophomore campaign. Throw in a recruiting class that includes transfer Schnider Herard and five-star Jalen Smith up front and promising four-star wings like Eric Ayala, Serrel Smith and Aaron Wiggins, and there is something here for Mark Turgeon to work with.
It’s why Maryland is a top 20 team in our preseason rankings.
But Huerter has some second round appeal this season given his size, length and shooting ability while Fernando, who had some impressive moments as a freshman, is tangentially linked to the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption. Fernando and Kansas freshman Silvio De Sousa as childhood friends that both have the same American guardian. That guardian allegedly received a payout of at least $20,000 to get De Sousa out from under payments he already received from a rival apparel company when he committed to Kansas; De Sousa, who played for Under Armour sponsored high school and AAU teams, was considered a near-lock to head to Maryland, who is Under Armour’s flagship program.
Without those two, Anthony Cowan will take on the role of Melo Trimble, trying to carry the load for the Terps, and I’m not sure he’s cut out for it the way that Trimble was.
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
Edwards might end up being the best lead guard in college basketball next season. I would not be surprised to see him end up as a consensus preseason first-team all-american should he end up coming back to school, and if he does, I think Purdue is a borderline top 25 team that will be back in the NCAA tournament. Without him, however, and the Boilermakers will have to replace five starters on a team that really didn’t have much in the way of quality depth. Edwards is the difference between Purdue being a good team and Purdue being in a total rebuild.
ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
Wisconsin just finished the worst season the program has had in two decades, snapping a 19-year NCAA tournament streak and a 16-year run of top four finishes in the Big Ten. And yet, I feel good about where this team is headed. Much of that, as I noted in this column, has to do with the promising crop of youngsters and the way that they finished last season despite being injured and, you know, young. But much more of it had to do with the idea that Happ, an all-american in 2016-17 and a preseason all-american heading into last season, would be back for his senior year. He is the anchor for this group on both ends of the floor.
JAMES PALMER JR. and ISAAC COPELAND, Nebraska
Palmer was one of the best players in the Big Ten last season, quietly putting together an incredible year that not enough people paid attention to. Copeland had his best season as a collegian last year, and the two of them, the two leading scorers for a team that tied for fourth in the Big Ten last year, are the reason why Nebraska looks like they have a shot to be even better next year. They are a borderline top 25 team that should get Tim Miles back to the NCAA tournament. They are also both transfers that might opt to turn professional with a degree in hand, and if that were to happen, the Cornhuskers are going to be heading back into rebuilding mode.
CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan
Michigan is the team that I’ve gotten the most pushback on for leaving out of the NBC Sports preseason top 25. I have them out right now because I’m not convinced that Matthews returns to school and, when combined with losing their two best offensive weapons — Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman — to graduation, would leave Michigan very young and without the kind of offensive firepower that they had this year. Matthews coming back would change that outlook and make the Wolverines more of a finished product than they are without him. Matthews, individually, would be a potential all-american — and top 20 picks — if he were to return and show off an ability to shoot more consistently from three.
MUSTAPHA HERON, BRYCE BROWN, JARED HARPER, and AUSTIN WILEY, Auburn
I’m honestly not sure what to do with Auburn here. It appeared initially that Mustapha Heron would be signing with an agent, but he has told reporters recently that he has not yet signed those papers and is considering returning to school. Without him, it is hard for me to justify to myself ranking the Tigers in the top 15 of the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 even with the success they had last season. When it’s all said and done, they’ll probably be there so long as they get the other three guys back. But if Heron does come back? There would be a case to make for him as a top ten player in the sport next, and the Tigers could legitimately be a preseason top five team and the favorite in an SEC that will include a pair of other top ten teams — Kentucky and Tennessee. And I haven’t even mentioned anything about the FBI yet. There is a lot going on down in Auburn this offseason.
UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas
Azubuike is on this list now because of the fact that Kansas will, more likely than not, be without the services of Silvio De Sousa following the latest reveal in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption. If Azubuike opts to remain in the draft, that means that the five-spot in the Kansas lineup will be manned by Mitch Lightfoot and freshman David McCormack. The reason that Azubuike is so low on this list is that, without him, I would fully expect Kansas to play a smaller, more versatile lineup, and that might actually make them more difficult to matchup with. Put another way, losing Azubuike would have a bigger impact on how Kansas plays instead of how good they actually end up being.
TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse
Battle is a borderline first round pick, a guy that could go anywhere between the 20s and the 40s, depending on which NBA organizations fall in love with him. If he’s back, Syracuse has to be thought of as a potential tournament team because, you know, they were this year without all that much around him. If he’s gone, things could get ugly.
A one-time Rhode Island commit, Harris also had offers from Auburn, Cal and DePaul. He was on campus in Lincoln with the Huskers last week ahead of his commitment. Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, USC and Maryland all were involved in his recruitment following his decommitment from the Rams.
Harris gives Miles a trio of three-star prospects in his ‘18 class with 6-foot-6 wing Karrington Davis and 6-foot-10 Brady Heiman already signed with the Huskers.
The Huskers had a resurgent year last season, posting a 22-11 record, but missed out on the NCAA tournament for the fourth-straight season. Much of the roster is set to return for 2018-19, though both Isaac Copeland, Jr. and James Palmer, Jr. have declared for the NBA draft without an agent.
Advisers aid baseball prospects, might do same in basketball
Evan Skoug had a decision to make his senior year of high school in 2014: go pro or go to college?
He was rated the No. 1 prospect in Illinois for the Major League Baseball draft that year, and he had signed a letter of intent to play catcher at TCU.
Skoug ended up going to TCU, but not before he and his family weighed the pros and cons with and had many conversations with an adviser.
“It was good for me to have someone there to help me through the professional process because nobody in my family has played professionally and nobody knows the industry,” Skoug said this week. “It was nice to have somebody invested in the sports industry, invested in myself, there to help me make the correct informed decision.”
NCAA rules governing baseball and ice hockey allow high school players to hire advisers as long as those advisers are paid their normal fees. Also, baseball and hockey players who are drafted are allowed to retain college eligibility as long as they don’t sign a contract.
Under proposals put forth by the Condoleezza Rice-headed Commission on College Basketball, facets of those baseball-hockey rules would be applied to high school and college basketball players.
One recommendation would have the NCAA create a program for certifying agents and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers. The NCAA already allows players in college to retain advisers.
“I think information and data are power, so to speak,” Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles said. “I think that’s really important — to educate the parents, to educate the players to this whole process.”
Another recommendation would allow high school and college basketball players who declare for the draft and aren’t drafted remain eligible for college unless and until they sign a pro contract. That recommendation assumes the NBA changes its rules and allows high school seniors to be drafted instead of requiring a player be 19 years old or one year removed from high school.
Miles said he favors that proposal as well, but he sees a potential problem. He currently has two rising seniors who have declared for the June 21 draft without signing an agent, and they have until May 30 to pull out of draft consideration and retain their eligibility.
If the recommendation were in place now, and those players stayed in the draft pool but weren’t selected, their status for next season might not be known until well into the summer. That, Miles said, could present a roster-management issue. Typically, a coach has a good idea if any of his underclassmen will be drafted, and he can plan for that. But what if the undrafted player decides not to return to school after the draft and chooses to pursue opportunities in the G League or overseas?
“I think you need a clear conversation with the student-athlete and his family asking ‘What are your intentions?'” Miles said. “Those are things that should be decided earlier than June 21.”
The baseball agent-adviser rule, as it applies to the power-five conferences, changed in 2016. As part of the autonomy movement, high school players who are drafted are permitted to hire an agent for contract negotiations, but the relationship must be severed if the player decides to enroll in college. Conferences outside the power five are allowed to adopt that rule if they choose. Previously, advisers could not perform agent duties such as negotiating a contract whether for a high school player or a player who’s draft-eligible in his third year at a four-year school.
Skoug said he knew he needed help sorting out the MLB draft process as he neared his senior season at Libertyville (Illinois) High. His high school coach recommended a friend, Scott Pucino, who heads the baseball division for Octagon sports and entertainment agency.
Pucino gave Skoug tips on how to word answers on the multitude of questionnaires sent by major league clubs, explained what life would be like in a rookie league if he chose to turn pro and stressed the importance of finding an experienced and trusted wealth manager.
The Skoug family paid a few hundred dollars for Pucino’s services — “inconsequential for what we got,” said Evan’s father, John Skoug.
“We had 28 of the 30 major-league teams march through our living room and asking a bunch of questions. We didn’t know what to really expect,” John said. “You hear stuff from Person X and Person Y, and each of these scouts will tell you, but I’d rather have an independent party telling me what’s going on.”
The most important conversation dealt with setting the minimum amount of money it would take for Evan Skoug to sign. Only he and his family could make that decision, but Pucino had input.
“The question for Evan: life-changing money, what was that going to be?” Pucino said. “The thing I tell these players is if you don’t make it, at least you have three years of college education done. So for (MLB) to buy you out of that college education — even though there’s a scholarship program (through clubs) — it should be a pretty good amount of money. It’s easy to finish a year if you’re drafted as a junior. It’s not the same to be 28 or 29 and now do three or four years of college.”
Evan set his price at $1.5 million — more than any club was willing to pay. He was drafted in the 34th round by the Washington Nationals, what he called a “courtesy pick.”
“The Nationals wanted to follow my career at TCU, so it was nice to hear my name get called and to be drafted,” he said. “But once I heard that the number wasn’t going to be there, my mind was totally set on college.”
At TCU, Skoug started 198 of 199 games, batted .286 with 36 homers and 168 RBIs and was the 2017 Big 12 co-player of the year. His draft stock rose accordingly. He was picked in the seventh round last year by the Chicago White Sox and signed for $300,000. He now plays for the Kannapolis (North Carolina) Intimidators in the Class A South Atlantic League.
Pucino — who represents Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, the New York Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera and the Chicago Cubs’ Ben Zobrist, among others — went from being Skoug’s adviser to agent.
“I would have been very confused and out of the loop as to what was going on throughout the upcoming months of the (2014) draft without Scott,” Evan said. “He did a great job of preparing me and my family for what was coming, so that was a big help to us, because we had no idea.”
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Glynn Watson Jr. was coming off a miserable game, with six points on 2-of-11 shooting in a loss to No. 3 Michigan State. He got back on track Tuesday night.
Watson scored 20 of his 29 points in the second half and Nebraska opened up a 16-point lead early in the second half en route to a 78-68 win over No. 14 Minnesota.
“This is all-conference Glynn, right?,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “He did a great job all night. … He was really determined the whole day and yesterday. I don’t think he felt good watching tape of Michigan State. It wasn’t anything new or different. It was just Glynn.”
Watson scored seven straight points to open the second half, and Duby Okeke’s dunk put Nebraska (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) up 48-32 with 15:35 left.
Minnesota (8-2, 1-1) made two of its first 10 shots in the half and struggled against the Huskers’ switching man-to-man defense.
Minnesota cut the lead to 67-53 after two free throws by Nate Mason with 4:37 left, but James Palmer Jr.’s 3 put Nebraska up by 17.
The Gophers forced a pair of turnovers, hit three 3-pointers in the final three minutes, and Reggie Lynch’s dunk with 1:01 left cut the lead to 72-64. Watson and Isaac Copeland made 6 of 8 free throws in the final minute to seal it.
“They just played better than we did and when we need to get stops, we couldn’t,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “Offensively, obviously, we didn’t have it going. If you don’t have it going offensively, you’ve got to get stops and get out on the break. We did not do that. Credit to them.”
Watson downplayed his scoring, crediting the win to good team play, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
“It felt good,” Watson said. “We just executed our stuff and played good defense. That’s what we need to start doing. We got a good win.”
Using an aggressive, double-teaming defense, the Huskers held Big Ten scoring leader Jordan Murphy to 10 points, 11 below his season average, and held high-scoring Minnesota 21 points below its season average.
“I thought we played really hard tonight, too,” Miles said. “You cannot let them get going inside or they’ll brutalize you. I thought our guys did a really, really good job.”
Mason led Minnesota with 20 points, and Amir Coffey had 17 points.
Copeland finished with 12 points for Nebraska and Palmer had 11 points.
Minnesota missed six shots to open both halves. The Gophers hit just 32 percent of their shots Tuesday. They entered averaging 49 percent shooting.
Nebraska, an up-and-down shooting team, hit 47 percent of its shots, 57 percent in the second half. The Huskers shot just 27 percent in their 86-57 loss at Michigan State on Sunday.
Nebraska travels to Omaha on Saturday to meet intrastate rival Creighton, which dropped out of the AP Top 25 after being ranked for one week.
Minnesota is at Arkansas on Saturday to play its second road contest and third game of the week.
Morrow, a product of Chicago’s Simeon High School (same as Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker), averaged 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season for Tim Miles’ Huskers, but decided to transfer reportedly because of a desire to play more at power forward and on the perimeter. Morrow was born in Lincoln, Neb. and both his parents are former Husker student-athletes.
With the Golden Eagles, Morrow shouldn’t have any issue avoiding the center position. Marquette has plenty of size – both currently on the roster and in its incoming recruiting class – that should allow him to play the positions he’s looking for. Marquette went 19-13 last year with a first-round NCAA tournament exit to eventual Final Four participant South Carolina.
After sitting out this upcoming season, Morrow will have two years of eligibility remaining.