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.
No. 18 Virginia sends Wisconsin to fourth loss in five games
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 grabweek-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.
Last September, Wisconsin landed a pledge from a highly regarded 2018 prospect as shooting guard Tyler Herro announced that he would remain in state and play for Greg Gard. Tuesday evening Herro, considered to be a Top 50 prospect by many of the major recruiting services, announced that he has decided to reopen his recruitment.
“After a lot of conversations with my family and prayer I have decided to reopen my recruitment and explore all of my options,” Herro said in a statement released via Twitter. “The past year since I committed I have grown not only as a basketball player, but as a person. My drive to become the best on all levels has been the fuel that drove this decision.”
With Herro’s change of heart, Wisconsin is now without a verbal commitment in the Class of 2018. The 6-foot-4 Milwaukee native picked Wisconsin over Arizona, Florida, Indiana, DePaul and Marquette, and given his talent Herro’s recruitment should not take long to pick up following his decision to open things back up.
The Badgers added three scholarship freshmen to the program this summer, with two being perimeter players in Brad Davison and Kobe King. Wisconsin currently does not have a senior in its perimeter rotation, which helps from a numbers standpoint when it comes to 2018. But to lose a recruit of Herro’s caliber, and an in-state prospect at that, is a major hit for the Wisconsin program to absorb.
Wisconsin takes trip Down Under with team in transition
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — At some point on Saturday on a plane flying over the Pacific Ocean, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard will settle into his seat to watch scouting video from a laptop computer.
No better way to help fill the time on a 16-hour flight to New Zealand for the Badgers basketball team.
“I think I got plenty of time to read a handbook, watch videos, do a lot of things,” Gard joked.
The NCAA allows schools to go on foreign exhibition tours every four years, an excursion that gives teams 10 practices to prepare for the summer games. It is precious time for coaches and players to work together on and off the court, tasks that otherwise couldn’t start until October.
The last time the Badgers took an international trip, they had a pretty good season.
The program four summers ago played in Canada at a time when the team was also replacing most of its starting lineup. Less experienced players and future stars like Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, along with then-freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, got their first taste of playing together as a team.
Seven months later, they made a run to their first of back-to-back Final Four appearances.
Then-coach Bo Ryan “always talked about how much that trip helped,” said fifth-year senior Aaron Moesch, who was redshirted in 2013-14. The reserve forward is also the only player who was on the roster for both Final Four teams.
“Correlation doesn’t mean causation,” Moesch added before practice on Wednesday in Madison. “But there’s definitely something to be said about having those extra games, especially with a young team.”
Similarly, this five-game, 12-day tour to New Zealand and Australia comes after the program lost four senior starters in Hayes, Koenig, forward Vitto Brown and guard Zak Showalter. The roster has been replenished with a decorated recruiting class, including freshman guard Kobe King, a unanimous selection as Wisconsin’s state prep player of the year.
Practices so far have been energetic. Returnees will assume new responsibilities, and everyone is feeling out their respective roles.
“That’s what has been nice about this summer — we’ve covered things normally you don’t cover until October and November. Terminology, scheme, philosophy, specifically the defensive end of things,” Gard said. “I’m excited for these guys to put all that knowledge and work they’ve committed to do, to work over there and see what happens.”
Big man Ethan Happ is one of the holdovers on the team whose role will expand this season. The 6-foot-10 junior with the dominating post game might become an even bigger focal point of the offense with Hayes and Koenig gone.
Happ will use the trip to New Zealand and Australia to continue working on skills that he has focused on this offseason, including his outside shot, as well as ball-handling and decreasing turnovers.
“Then as a team basically just see who’s ready and willing to work on the floor,” Happ said. “It’s easy to do in practice, but it’s a lot different when the lights are on. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up.”
Four things we learned from No. 20 Purdue’s win over No. 13 Wisconsin
Caleb Swanigan notched yet another double-double, finishing with 18 points and 13 boards as No. 20 Purdue picked up a critical win in their pursuit of a Big Ten title, knocking off No. 13 Wisconsin, 66-55.
Here are four things that we learned from Sunday’s win:
1. Maybe Wisconsin isn’t the clear favorite in the Big Ten title race: Because that’s the way that it seemed entering the weekend. Indiana had lost three straight games, including a game to Wisconsin in Assembly Hall. Purdue already had a loss on to their name, falling at home against Minnesota. If the Badgers had managed to win in Mackey Arena, they would have a two game lead on the two other ranked teams in the conference which would have included wins on both of their home floors.
But that didn’t happen.
Purdue got the win, which, when combined with Nebraska’s loss to Northwestern on Sunday afternoon, means that the Boilermakers actually sit on top of the conference.
2. But it wasn’t just the fact that Purdue won: Purdue is good. We know that. Mackey Arena is a tough place to win. The Boilermakers were favored. No one should be surprised when Matt Painter’s club protects its home floor.
It was how Purdue won that made a statement. After outplaying the Badgers in the first half, Purdue jumped all over Wisconsin to open the second half, as a 14-2 run pushed their lead to as many as 16 points. The Badgers had looked terrific since they got back from the Maui Invitational, when the adjustment was made to use Nigel Hayes as a point forward. We knew losses were coming at some point in league play, but seeing Purdue beat them so soundly was a good sign.
3. Purdue is more versatile than you think: The Boilermakers have used a few different starting lineups this season, and the most recent features Isaac Haas coming off the bench with Vince Edwards, who is more of a small forward, playing at the four. But Edwards was not all that effective on Sunday, which gave Haas, who finished with 13 points, a chance.
I say all that to say this: Most people think of Purdue as a team with the twin towers, and that’s certainly a look that has been effective for them. But it’s not the only way they can play. They go four-around-one (Swanigan, who has been playing at an all-american level). They can play with two points guards, Carsen Edwards and P.J. Thompson. They shoot, as a team, 40.5 percent from three, which is ninth nationally, and are in the top 100 in pace.
In other words, for a team with a reputation for having such a dominant front line, Purdue certainly isn’t just a one-trick pony.
4. You shouldn’t be worried about Wisconsin: So the Badgers aren’t quite good enough to run away with the Big Ten title, but did you ever really think that they were? Because I didn’t. That supposed gap between the Badgers and the rest of the Big Ten said more about the Big Ten than it did Wisconsin.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like this Wisconsin team. I still think they’re the best team in the conference. I still think they’re somewhere in the top 10-15 teams in America. I still think that they should make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and have a shot at getting to the Final Four.
They’re a good team.
But there is a big difference between being good and being good enough to coast through a conference like the Big Ten.
What Sunday told us was that Purdue will be in the mix – with Wisconsin – when it comes to winning the league title.