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College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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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. There is still going to be some turbulence with this roster. Do they hold onto Udoka Azubuike? Will anyone else get run out of town? But the bottom line is that they are talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster.

2. VILLANOVA WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo*
  • Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo
  • Projected starting lineup: Collin Gillispie, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman*

This ranking really does depend on what happens with DiVincenzo and Spellman. DiVincenzo was the MOP of the Final Four. Spellman, as we noted here, is the piece that brings it all together for the Wildcats. Both would be borderline first round picks if they remain in the 2018 draft. At this point, Spellman is probably 50-50 over whether he stays in the draft. I think DiVincenzo is more than likely out the door.

3. GONZAGA BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
  • Who do they add: Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
  • Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr., Corey Kispert, Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie

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.

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 another team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter will be 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.

5. KENTUCKY WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt*, Wenyen Gabriel*, Sacha Killeya-Jones
  • Who do they add: Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans*
  • Projected starting lineup: Immanuel Quickly, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, P.J. Washington*, E.J. Montgomery

As always, there are so many moving parts with this Kentucky team’s roster and who will end up leaving school. At this point, I’m going to set the over-under for the number of players that leave for the draft at four: Knox, Gilgeous-Alexander, Diallo and … either Gabriel or Vanderbilt? Maybe both? Sacha Killeya-Jones already transferred out as well. We’ll see how that all plays out, but regardless of what happens, 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.

6. 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.

(Eric Espada/Getty Images)

7. 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.

8. NEVADA WOLF PACK

  • Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke
  • Who do they add: Jordan Brown, Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Ehab Amin
  • Projected starting lineup: Lindsay Drew, Caleb Martin*, Cody Martin*, Jordan Caroline*, Josh Hall

This one is a bit tougher to project, as the Martin twins and Caroline are all going to be fifth-year seniors and it’s always difficult to predict what they are going to do. If they already have their degree, does it make sense to return to school for another season? 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.

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 is a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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.

12. AUBURN TIGERS

  • Who’s gone: Davion Mitchell, Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley*, DeSean Murray
  • Who do they add: Samir Doughty
  • Projected starting lineup: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown*, Danjel Purifoy, Chuma Okeke, Anfernee McLemore

Assuming that Purifoy and Wiley don’t enter the NBA Draft, Auburn would return everyone from a team that shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee. 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, especially if Wiley keeps his name in the draft.

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.

14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

  • Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
  • Who do they add: Devin Vassell
  • Projected starting lineup: Trent Forrest, M.J. Walker, Terance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele, Phil Cofer

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.

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. 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.

17. 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.

18. MARYLAND TERRAPINS

  • Who’s gone: Justin Jackson, Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky, Sean Obi, Dion Wiley
  • Who do they add: Schnider Herard, Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala
  • Projected starting lineup: Anthony Cowan, Darryl Morsell, Kevin Huerter*, Jalen Smith, Bruno Fernando*

Losing Justin Jackson was a major blow, but there are some pieces for Mark Turgeon to work with here. Cowan and Huerter could be all-Big Ten players as juniors, Morsell and Fernando had promising freshman years and Turgeon does bring in four solid pieces. They’ve got a chance in a weak Big Ten.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

19. 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 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.

20. 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.

21. WEST VIRGINIA

  • Who’s gone: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, D’Angelo Hunter
  • Who do they add: Jordan McCabe, Derek Culver, Trey Doomes, Andrew Gordon
  • Projected starting lineup: Beetle Bolden, Brandon Knapper, Lamont West, Esa Ahmad*, Sagaba Konate*

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.

22. 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
  • Projected starting lineup: Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson, Torin Dorn, C.J. Bryce, Derek Funderburk

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.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

23. 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
  • Projected starting lineup: Tremont Waters, Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams

LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the including 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.

24. 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

Obviously, the calculus here changes if Mitchell and Reed end up staying in the NBA Draft, but at this point, I think that they’ll come back. With those two in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.

25. XAVIER MUSKETEERS

  • Who’s gone: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Chris Mack, Kerem Kanter, Sean O’Mara, Kaiser Gates
  • Who do they add: Dontarius James, Jake Walker, Kyle Castlin, Zach Hankins, Ryan Welage
  • Projected starting lineup: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Ryan Welage, Tyrique Jones

So just how good is Travis Steele? We’ll find out right away. This roster has some dudes. They are also quite young with a first-year head coach.

THE FIVE THAT JUST MISSED:

26. Michigan
27. Indiana
28. Purdue
29. Syracuse
30. Cincinnati

ACC Conference Reset: Get caught up on everything that’s happened this offseason

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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 ACC over the next six months.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

HOW WILL THESE DUKE FRESHMEN FIT TOGETHER?: To me, this is probably the most important storyline of college basketball’s offseason that does not involve the FBI or an NBA draft decision. On paper, this Duke team is going to be as talented as any team that we’ve seen in college basketball in recent memory. They have three of the consensus top five prospects — including the top two — coming into the program as well as the top point guard in the class. Those players they are adding (R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson, Tre Jones, Joey Baker) combined with some of the pieces already on the roster (Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell) give the Blue Devils a roster that looks an awful lot like some of the NBA teams that are thriving in these playoffs. They finally have a steady point guard to replace Tyus Jones, and they surround him with big wings that are skilled and multi-positional defenders.

Put another way, this Duke team is built in a mold that is more similar to the Boston Celtics, the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors that anyone has been willing to mention. Hell, you can connect a lot of dots between the way that Villanova has been built in recent years and the way that Duke can, in theory, play this season.

That does not, however, mean that this experiment is going to work. For starters, the tie that binds all of those teams together is elite-level three-point shooting, and that’s not something that this Duke roster is going to have in abundance. The other part of it is on the defensive end of the floor. Just because players are switchable doesn’t guarantee that they are going to understand defensive concepts, be able to read where they are supposed to rotate to defensively or even be able to guard. There are plenty of great athletes that just don’t care about defending well.

Duke has had back-to-back ridiculous recruiting classes, and in those two seasons they’ve lost 12 ACC games and haven’t made it past the Elite Eight. Is this the year it all comes together?

JUST HOW GOOD IS NASSIR LITTLE?: At this point, I’m assuming that Luke Maye is not only coming back to school but that he will be the most accomplished returnee in the country. If you think that’s a weird think to say, imagine writing it. (More on Maye below.) But I’m not sure that Maye is going to be the best player on the Tar Heels next season, and that’s mostly because Nassir Little just won’t stop getting better.

Little had something of a tumultuous path to North Carolina. He was thought to be a heavy Arizona lean before the FBI’s investigation tied him to a deal that a Miami coach was allegedly working on to funnel his family $150,000 from Adidas in exchange for a commitment. He committed to North Carolina as a top 15ish prospect that did not have the greatest motor, jump shot or reputation for working hard. That’s changed. His was sensational during his senior season and on the all-star circuit, and suddenly he’s being talked about as a potential top three pick in the 2019 draft. A 6-foot-7 wing with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and the tools to guard bigger and smaller players, he’s turned into a star in a role that is becoming increasingly more valuable in modern basketball.

If he lives up to the hype, the Tar Heels are going to be in the mix for an ACC title.

CHRIS MACK SETTLING IN AT LOUISVILLE: Louisville made the hire of the offseason, reaching into Cincinnati and pulling Mack out of his alma mater, Xavier. Mack is a top ten coach in the sport, but given what Louisville has lost — Deng Adel, Ray Spalding, Rick Pitino, the 2013 title banner, their pride, their dignity, their recruiting class — the rebuilding (reloading?) job that Mack has in front of him is going to be large.

A big reason for that is due to the looming NCAA investigation into everything that happened with Brian Bowen and Rick Pitino. Who knows how long that is going to take to play out and whether or not the possibility of a postseason ban or the stink of a scandal that involved hookers on recruiting visits is going to limit who the Cardinals can get involved with on the trail. Mack will be hitting the road in July for his first summer with the Cards. It will be very interesting to see who he targets in the Class of 2019, and which targets are willing to hear him out.

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IS TYUS BATTLE COMING BACK TO SCHOOL?: Of all the stay-or-go decisions that are left to be made in the ACC, Battle’s is going to be the most important. The 6-foot-6 Syracuse guard averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore last season despite playing on a team that didn’t have another source of offense and played a pace that rivaled that of Virginia’s as the slowest in the league. Jim Boeheim really needs him back, and if he returns, there’s an argument to be made that the Orange are a top 25 team. O’Shae Brissett would be back in the fold and there is size, athleticism and wingspan at every position on the court the Orange zone might be impenetrable.

But all of that is assuming Battle is back.

Because if he’s gone, then Syracuse might struggle to crack 60 points per game next season.

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LEAGUE: There are seemingly a half-dozen teams that are not ACC title contenders but sure do look like they can be top 25 teams: Florida State, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Clemson, Syracuse and Louisville. Who gets what back and adds which transfers? We’ll get into all that below.

WHO’S GONE?

  • ALL FIVE STARTERS, Duke: Duke will, once again, look entirely different next year. Their four star freshmen all declared for the draft and signed with an agent while Grayson Allen, the lone senior on last year’s roster, has graduated.
  • JOEL BERRY II, North Carolina: Berry had a long and illustrious career with the Tar Heels, winning a national title, making another national title game and playing a starring role for what felt like the better part of a decade. It’s going to be weird seeing UNC play without his hair bouncing around, bringing the ball up the floor.
  • MATT FARRELL and BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame: It really is a shame how last season played out for the Fighting Irish, because these two — specifically Colson — deserved better than a senior season that ended in an injury-plagued trip to the NIT.
  • DENG ADEL and RAY SPALDING, Louisville: What separates these two from anyone else on this list is that they are not a) likely to get drafted or b) a senior. It would have ben nice for new Louisville head coach Chris Mack to have a pair of talented, all-ACC caliber seniors leading his roster next season. That is not going to be the case.
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WHO’S BACK?

  • LUKE MAYE, North Carolina: Maye averaged 16.9 points, 10.1 boards and 2.4 assists while shooting 43 percent from three on 116 attempts, finishing his junior season as an all-american one year after winning a national title in a tournament where he hit the shot that sent his team to the Final Four. That’s not bad, and it’s the reason that he is going to enter the 2018-19 season as a candidate for National Player of the Year and arguably the best returning player in college basketball.
  • DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia: For my money, the single-most important decision that has been made in regards to the NBA draft was Hunter’s decision to return to school for his redshirt sophomore season. There’s a chance that, as more of a focal point of Virginia’s offense, he could end up becoming a top ten pick in the draft. That’s a good thing for him. But he’s also the connecting piece to Virginia’s defense that allows them to match up with teams that go small. I fleshed that thought out more here, but suffice to say, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he was out of the lineup when the Cavaliers lost to UMBC as a No. 1 seed.
  • EVERYONE, Virginia Tech: The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players from last season, including Justin Robinson, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear. But the key for this team’s ceiling is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three — specifically Alexander-Walker — take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.
  • ALMOST EVERYONE, Florida State: The Seminoles are coming off of a run to the Elite Eight as a No. 9 seed in which they upset No. 1 seed Xavier and played a brand of basketball that involved a lot of pressing, a lot of defensive versatility and enough perimeter firepower that they should enter this season as a top 20 team.

WHO’S COMING?

  • A NEW STARTING FIVE, Duke: paragraph
  • NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina:
  • JAYLEN HOARD, Wake Forest:

COACHING CHANGES

  • CHRIS MACK, Louisville: For my money, Mack is one of the ten best coaches in college basketball. He’s young, he’s a high-level recruiter, he understands how to run a program in that part of the country, he’s dealt with a passionate fanbase at a basketball school. This was the hire, and Louisville got it done.
  • JEFF CAPEL, Pittsburgh: I think Capel is a good coach and a very good recruiter who doesn’t get enough credit for the job he did at VCU or at Oklahoma before everything blew up in his face post-Blake Griffin. He was overdue to get another shot at a high-major gig, and Pitt was able to land him. But I also think that Capel is going to have a nightmare of a time trying to rebuild this program, if, for no other reason, than the simple fact that Pitt is not what they once were. They’ve been to seven Sweet 16s in program history, and five of them came in a seven-year period from 2002-09. That was when the Panthers, who have no recruiting base to speak of, were pulling kids out of New York City with the pitch of being able to play in the Big East. Now? They’re in the ACC. That sale isn’t going to work, which means that Capel has to find a way to convince players to join a program that went 0-18 in the ACC last season.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-ACC TEAM

DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia (POY)
R.J. BARRETT, Duke
CAM REDDISH, Duke
LUKE MAYE, UNC
NASSIR LITTLE, UNC

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. DUKE: As I wrote earlier, I have no idea whether or not it is all going to come together for Duke this season. What I do believe, however, is that this is the most talented team in the conference, and with the league’s other contenders losing key pieces, Duke should be the favorite to win their first regular season title since 2010.

2. VIRGINIA: I’m not worried about what happened in the NCAA tournament last year, but I am worried about how that is going to affect this group. An embarrassing loss like that is the kind of thing that can damage confidence and hang in the back of someone’s mind for a long time. Getting De’Andre Hunter back is incredibly important, and Tony Bennett’s teams are always going to defend, but it will be interesting to see just how bad the hangover ends up being.

3. NORTH CAROLINA: The key to the Tar Heel season is going to end up being their incoming freshman. Is Nassir Little as good as advertised? Can Coby White handle point guard duties? I think that there is going to be a sophomore big on their roster than can handle the big man duties, and Luke Maye is going to be awesome again. It’s those connecting pieces that I’m worried about.

4. VIRGINIA TECH: This is when it starts getting interesting in the ACC standings. I’m very high on this Virginia Tech team — I have them 11th nationally right now — but part of me is concerned over whether or not the pieces they are bringing back have maxed out on their talent. Does bringing back seven of your top eight from a borderline top 25 team make you an ACC title contender?

5. FLORIDA STATE: I was not sold on Florida State at all heading into the NCAA tournament. Now I have them 14th in my preseason top 25. I’m not really sure what to make of this group, but they have a nice combination of returning talent and players that can take a big step forward — M.J. Walker, Mfiondu Kabengele.

6. N.C. STATE: The Wolfpack lost a couple of valuable front court pieces, but they are going to be loaded with talented guards while playing for a coach that thrived running a pressing system at UNC Wilmington. They should be fun to watch.

7. CLEMSON: It’s tough to know precisely what to make of the Tigers without knowing where Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed are going to be playing next season.

8. LOUISVILLE: Losing Deng Adel and Ray Spalding is going to be brutal. There is some young talent on this roster, and the Chris Mack factor will help, but the more I think about this group the less confident I am that they are going to be a top 25 team.

9. NOTRE DAME: Losing two four-year seniors like Farrell and Colson is a nightmare, although I do think that Temple Gibbs, D.J. Harvey and Juwan Durham is a solid core to build around. That said, this happens every year, and I’m going to regret this ranking, I know.

10. SYRACUSE: If Tyus Battle returns, the Orange might be closer to top seven. If he doesn’t, they might end up in the bottom four. This seems like a happy medium.

11. MIAMI: I’m not quite sure what to make of the Hurricanes right now. Losing the talent that they lost is not going to be easy to replace, but they’ve added a few transfers and they still have Chris Lykes and Dewan Huell. Having them 11th here doesn’t mean I can’t see them making an NCAA tournament.

12. WAKE FOREST: I know they have some talent coming into the program and that there is some talent leftover on the roster from last season, but I bought into Wake last season and that burned me. I’ll believe it when I see it.

13. GEORGIA TECH: Losing Ben Lammers hurts. Losing Josh Okogie would hurt even more.

14. BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles had a chance to make some noise if they had gotten Jerome Robinson back. Now that he’s gone? I don’t know.

15. PITT: Good luck, Coach Capel.

The 14 players with the most on the line at the NBA Draft Combine

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The NBA Draft Combine begins on Wednesday, and meaning that nearly 70 of the best basketball prospects this side of the NBA will be trying to prove themselves up close and personal with NBA front office personnel. 

Interviews, 5-on-5 hoops, athletic testing, physical measurements. 

This is, essentially, a job fair for NBA prospects, and there are quite a few that will have plenty on the line this week.

This list is made up of 14 players that have quite a bit on the line as this week commences.

A player with a * next to their name has not yet signed with an agent.

THE GUYS THAT WEREN’T SEEN

One thing that was clear with the players that were invited to the Combine is that the NBA prioritized the unknown. College basketball All-Americans like Trevon Bluiett and Joel Berry II, players that every NBA scout has seen play dozens of times, did not get invited while talented underclassmen that missed some or all of last season did make the cut.

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MICHAEL PORTER Jr., Missouri: The big thing for Porter in this draft process is going to be his medical records and who he decides to share them with. He missed essentially the entire season after undergoing back surgery, and no team is going to risk a top five pick on him unless their doctors give the all-clear. That likely will not happen at the Combine. What will happen, though, is that Porter is going to have a chance to interview with some front offices, and that could help assuage some other concerns about him: That his arrogance and cockiness is too much. Does he already think he’s an NBA superstar? Is the work ethic there to capitalize on the potential that he has?

JARRED VANDERBILT, Kentucky*: Vanderbilt is another guy whose season was derailed by injury. He averaged just 17 minutes in 14 games this season, missing the first 17 games of the year with a lower left leg injury, the same thing that kept him out of the lineup for Kentucky’s final six games of the season. Vanderbilt is a big-time athletic with a body that can handle some physicality and the versatility to defend multiple positions. For someone whose career has been marked by injuries, selling a team on taking him early enough that he can get some guaranteed money has more importance for him that it does other players at his level.

DE’ANTHONY MELTON, USC: Melton was in line for what many believed to be a breakout season before getting caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. He didn’t play one possession for USC this year despite putting up impressive per-40 assists, steals and blocks numbers as a freshman. He’s had nearly a full year to train and develop for this year’s draft, and this week will be his chance to show to NBA scouts what he’s now capable of. Proving he has a consistent jumper would be nice.

BRIAN BOWEN, South Carolina*: Bowen, a top 25 prospect coming out of high school, did not play this season after the FBI alleged that a $100,000 payment plan was set up to get him to Louisville. Bowen has since transferred to South Carolina, but there is no guarantee that he’ll ever be eligible to play next season. If he can get himself drafted in a range where he can get a guaranteed deal, that might be his best bet.

BILLY PRESTON, Kansas: After spending the first two months of the college basketball season waiting to get cleared, Preston left to sign a professional contract in Bosnia. He played a few games for KK Igokea, but he didn’t make much of an impact. Preston was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, a 6-foot-10 power forward with plenty of talent and even more question marks. There is a lot on the line for him this week as he tries to prove he is an NBA talent with an NBA outlook.

THE 3-AND-D GUYS THAT NEED TO PROVE THEY CAN 3 OR D

Everyone knows how valuable a 3-and-D wing can be, but that’s not the only thing that NBA teams are looking for. They want multi-positional defenders that can prevent penetration as well as rim protectors, all of whom that can, of course, make threes. Here are four names that could play their way into the first round.

KEVIN HUERTER*, Maryland: The guy that NBA draftniks fell in love with from Maryland was Justin Jackson, their long-armed, 6-foot-7 combo-forward who spent much of this season battling through injury. Jackson has some things to prove in his own right this year, but it may surprise some Terps fans to know that there’s an outside shot of Huerter playing his way into the first round of the draft. Huerter, a lanky, 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 14.8 points on 42 percent three-point shooting last season. The key question with him is going to be whether or not he has the tools to be a multi-positional defenders. The shooting stroke is already there.

SAGABA KONATE*, West Virginia and OMARI SPELLMAN*, Villanova: In an ideal world, an NBA team would be able to draft both Konate and Spellman and then blend Konate’s shot-blocking ability — a block-rate of 15.6, better than Jaren Jackson and Mo Bamba —  with Spellman’s ability to stretch the floor — 43.3 percent three-point shooting — to create the NBA’s ideal 3-and-D center. Unfortunately, this is not yet something that is medically possibly, which means that NBA teams will be evaluating a couple of things during the combine. Just how much more room for improvement is there with Omari Spellman’s body? Can he lose more weight and get more explosive, thus making him a better shot-blocker, without doing himself any physical harm? With Konate, NBA teams will likely be looking at whether or not his 79 percent free throw shooting (on 100 attempts) is the kind of thing that could lead to being a capable three-point shooter at some point in his career?

MELVIN FRAZIER, Tulane: Frazier’s name is probably not one that you’ve heard all that much about, but there is a very real chance that the Louisiana-native hears his name in the first round. An athletic, 6-foot-6 wing, Frazier is well-built with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He also significantly improved his shooting this season, making 38.5 percent of his threes and improving this true-shooting percentage by more than ten points. Defensive-minded, positionally-versatile and three-point range. That has NBA role player all over him. The question that people at the combine will be looking to answer is whether or not this shooting was a fluky season or a legitimate improvement.

(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

THE GUARDS TRYING TO PROVE THEY CAN BE NBA PLAYMAKERS

TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse*: Trying to figure out what to make of Battle as a prospect is difficult. On the one hand, he spent this season as an inefficient, shoot-first lead guard that had more turnovers than assists. On the other hand, he was more or less the only outlet offensively on a Syracuse team that didn’t provide him with much help and asked him to take a large number of bad shots. Did he shoot under 40 percent on the season because he’s a bad shooter or a good shooter that spent the season taking low-percentage shots? That, along with the question of whether or not Battle is going to be a good defender at the NBA level, are the things he will be looking to prove to NBA teams.

DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova*: DiVincenzo is in such a weird spot here. He was very much in the eye of NBA scouts this year, playing on the nation’s best team alongside four more guys that could end up getting to the NBA at some point. But he also spent the year looking like he was an inconsistent, streaky scorer that struggled when handling the ball against pressure. Can he prove he’s more than that?

JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: We all know how good of a defender Jevon Carter is. The question that needs to be answered is whether or not he can be a point guard. One problem he had throughout his college career was shot selection, but like Battle, was that a product of who he is as a player or the way that West Virginia played?

DEVON HALL, Virginia: People don’t seem to realize just how good Virginia’s players are until they get to the NBA. Tony Bennett has done a terrific job of turning his program into a pipeline for role players at the next level, and Hall might be the next in line. A lefty-playmaker, Hall shot 43.2 percent from three and averaged 3.1 assists despite playing at the slowest tempo nationally and not being a point guard. He has good size and, playing for Virginia, is clearly going to be able to defend. This will be his chance to prove himself worthy of a pick that will get him a guaranteed contract.

JAYLEN HANDS, UCLA*: Jaylen Hands didn’t exactly have a great season. He didn’t defend well this season, he made poor decisions, he’s not a great passer, he’s an inconsistent shooter and he he did all that while playing behind one of the best point guards in the country in Aaron Holiday. That last part might be the one that is the most relevant here. Were Hands’ struggles this season a result of simply being forced out of position by a guy having an all-american season, or should there be legitimate concern about Hands’ future as a basketball player?

 

 

Virginia lands Key transfer commitment

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Virginia picked up a commitment from one of the best transfers on the market over the weekend, and in the process they may have landed themselves a replacement for De’Andre Hunter should he opt to head to the NBA next season.

Braxton Key, a sophomore from Alabama, announced on Sunday that he will be enrolling at Virginia, where he will play his final two season after sitting out the 2018-19 season. Key struggled with injury and figuring out his role on a team that included a pair of talented freshman as a sophomore — he averaged just 7.0 points and 5.3 boards after missing the first ten games due to knee surgery — but he did averaging 12.0 points and 5.7 boards as a freshman for the Tide.

A 6-foot-8 forward, Key is the kind of versatile and multi-positional big man that is so important for this Virginia team. He has the size to rebound the ball on the defensive end of the floor, but he also has the versatility to be able to defend on the perimeter if need be. That versatility is what made Hunter so important to Virginia this past season, it’s why he is, on paper, a guy that could end up being a top ten pick in 2019 and it is why a team like UMBC was able to do what they did against Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

We talked about Hunter’s value to Virginia in-depth here, and that same line of thinking applies to Key.

Jevon Carter, Lamont West lead No. 18 West Virginia past No. 15 Virginia

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For the second consecutive season No. 18 West Virginia managed to beat No. 15 Virginia despite having to play at a tempo slower than what they prefer, this time beating the Cavaliers 68-61 in Morgantown. West Virginia (8-1) was led offensively by guards Jevon Carter and Lamont West, who combined to score 45 points with Daxter Miles Jr. adding 12.

Devon Hall scored 19 and Kyle Guy 18 for Virginia (8-1), which suffered its first loss of the season. Here are four takeaways from West Virginia’s eighth win of the season, a result that will look quite good on the Mountaineers’ résumé moving forward.

1. While we know plenty about Jevon Carter, Lamont West’s progression will be critical for the Mountaineers moving forward.

After averaging 5.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game off the bench as a redshirt freshman, West is of far greater importance to the Mountaineer attack this season. The 6-foot-8 wing entered Tuesday’s game averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game, shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from three. West outperformed those numbers in a big way against Virginia, as his 22 points were scored on 7-for-13 shooting from the field (4-for-9 3PT) and a 4-for-4 night from the foul line.

Add in his four rebounds, and West put forth what was arguably the best performance of his WVU career at just the right time. He did tally 22 points and eight boards in a blowout win over Long Beach State last month, but putting up good numbers against a team the caliber of Virginia is an entirely different deal. The key for West now: consistency. That will especially be important on nights in which the Mountaineer defense isn’t forcing a high number of live-ball turnovers.

2. Kyle Guy essentially experienced two different games, and Virginia can’t afford that.

The 6-foot-3 junior finished the game with 18 points, but things did not come easy for Guy with Daxter Miles Jr. pestering him for much of the night. Guy missed all five of his shot attempts in the the first half, and Guy was scoreless until the 13:53 mark of the second half when he made his first three-pointer. That shot was all Guy needed to get going, as he would make his next four three-point attempts and finish the half 6-for-9 from deep.

Virginia had enough offense to hang around throughout, with West Virginia’s combination of shot-making and stout half-court defense making the difference down the stretch. But where would that game have been for Virginia with a more effective Guy in the first half? A three-point halftime deficit could have been flipped, giving the Cavaliers the buffer needed to pick up the win.

Guy’s been excellent throughout this season; many scorers will have a hard time scoring points against West Virginia. Virginia can’t afford for him to be a “streak” scorer, in large part to the lack of consistent offensive options if Guy isn’t knocking down shots.

3. There aren’t many point guards in America I’d take before Jevon Carter.

There may be guards of higher acclaim when it comes to the NBA Draft boards, but there aren’t many who rate higher than Jevon Carter when it comes to the combination of skill, leadership and toughness. Carter’s fingerprints were all over this one, as in addition to scoring a game-high 23 points he also tallied ten rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

Carter played all 40 minutes for the Mountaineers and the effort never waned, and in him Bob Huggins has a senior floor general of high value. While others have stepped forward at various points to help out as West Virginia counts down the days until Esa Ahmad is eligible to return, Carter has been the constant. He’ll be in the conversation for Big 12 Player of the Year honors, and an All-American team nod will be worth discussing as well at this rate.

4. Virginia needs more consistent production from its front court moving forward.

The Cavaliers received good first-half minutes from Mamadi Diakite, who accounted for seven points and three rebounds off the bench. But outside of his 13 first-half minutes Virginia did not receive much in the way of production from its front court. Isaiah Wilkins finished the game with two points, five rebounds and two blocked shots, Jack Salt had more turnovers (three) than rebounds (two) or points (none), and Diakite would finish the game with nine points and five rebounds.

Kyle Guy and Devon Hall are going to lead the way offensively for Virginia, but the Cavaliers do not have much margin for error on that end of the court. Wilkins entered Tuesday averaging 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest, and his struggles Tuesday can also be attributed to the play of West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. But if Virginia is to contend with the expected contenders in the ACC, they’re going to need more consistent production from the bigs.

The Cavaliers won’t need the second coming of Ralph Sampson (that would be nice, though), but they’ll need more than what they received from the front court in Morgantown.

No. 18 Virginia sends Wisconsin to fourth loss in five games

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Putting Virginia and Wisconsin on the same floor means pitting two of the most successful programs in the country over the last few years against each other.

It also means putting very few points on the board.

The 18th-ranked Cavaliers defeated the Badgers, 49-37, in the all-too-predictable slugfest between two of the slowest-paced  and defense-oriented teams in the nation.

Virginia held the Badgers to 31.3 percent shooting from the floor overall with a 3 of 20 (15 percent) mark from 3-point range while also forcing 14 turnovers, a not insignificant sum in the slow-speed contest.

Kyle Guy had 17 points and Devon Hall added 16 as Tony Bennett’s team improved to 7-0 on the season with wins over VCU, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island and Wisconsin now on the resume.

Things are going less well for Wisconsin.

Greg Gard’s team has now dropped four of its last five games and enters December under .500 with a 3-4 record.

The Badgers’ plodding tempo certainly leaves them susceptible to ugly final scores. There’s no volume to hide a poor shooting night. Even the 2015 team that advanced to the national title game scored 49 points in a game…and beat Marquette by 11, which makes my head hurt just thinking about.

So the fact Wisconsin struggled to score against a program that consistently puts one of the best defenses in the country on the floor every year isn’t necessarily worth sounding the alarms or even particularly surprising. It shouldn’t, however, either be waved off as the clunker that Wisconsin sometimes just has.

There are issues worth considering here.

Coming into this game, Ethan Happ was shooting 57.7 percent from the floor while the rest of the Badgers were shooting 44.7 percent as a team, including a pedestrian 35.1 percent from 3-point range.

The Badgers’ struggle to find a consistent and dangerous offensive option alongside Happ was on display against Virginia. The junior big man scored 14 points and was 6 of 10 from the floor. The rest of the team managed 23 points on 9 of 38 (25.7 percent) shooting.

There have been flashes of guys being capable of stepping into that role, namely Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice but both are underclassmen to whom inconsistency is probably going to be expected and Davison appears to have a lingering shoulder injury that’s probably doing him no favors. It’s just going to be hard for the Badgers to get enough offense if it’s Happ And Everybody Else, especially if there’s average 3-point shooting and little playmaking at the other positions.

The Badgers also aren’t getting themselves the extra shots they’re accustomed to as the offensive rebounding as fallen as the roster has shifted guard-heavy without another big consistently playing next to Happ. Without those boards that often lead to easy buckets, Wisconsin’s offense is even more vulnerable to sputtering.

The Badgers’ 16-year run of top-four Big Ten may be facing its realest threat yet. Gard has shown through his short tenure that he can right a ship that’s drifted off course, but the reality is Wisconsin is very young and not overwhelmingly talented. There’s a lot of time to get things figured out, but less than in typical years with league play starting this weekend for the Big Ten as a way to accommodate its money grab week-early tournament in New York. The Badgers have Ohio State and Penn State next on their schedule.

Of course, the Big Ten isn’t looking exactly formidable outside of Michigan State and Minnesota, so the Badgers probably have more wiggle room than in most other years in their top-four streak. Plus, their losses have all come against ranked teams so it’s not like they’re getting beat by scrubs nor were growing pains unexpected given the roster turnover.

Wisconsin could be fine, but heading into December, it’s fair to wonder if they’re not. At least by the standards the program has spent nearly two decades setting.