TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State was one of college basketball’s biggest surprises during the 2017-18 season, rising to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.
The Sun Devils’ run came a year ahead of their coach’s schedule.
“I looked at it like this was going to be the year,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said Wednesday. “Maybe before last season, I had a pretty good suspicion we would exceed expectations of what people thought, but really deep down this was the year with having the size in the front court and having a high-level recruiting class.”
Led by senior guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice, Arizona State knocked off Kansas and Xavier while putting together the first undefeated non-conference schedule in school history. The Sun Devils had a little more trouble when the Pac-12 season started, but their resume was good enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Syracuse in the first round.
The senior trio is gone to graduation, but there’s plenty left in the cupboard at Arizona State.
Dynamic point guard Remy Martin is back after a stellar freshman season, ready to take the reins of Arizona State’s offense. The big men who complemented the senior guards also return, led by Romello White and De’Quon Lake. The Sun Devils also will have forwards Mickey Mitchell and Kimani Lawrence for the entire season.
Arizona State should get a big boost from transfers Zylan Cheatham (San Diego State) and Rob Edwards (Cleveland State), who know Hurley’s system after practicing with the team while sitting out last season.
Add to it a stellar recruiting class by Hurley, led by five-star forward Taeshon Cherry, and the Sun Devils should be in position for the program’s first consecutive NCAA Tournaments since 1978-80.
“We lose three guys that were critical to what we did, very key players to what we’re building, but we’re replacing them with six guys that are very capable,” Hurley said. “Last year we were under the radar, especially initially … but the secret’s out. We have good players, we had a great season last year and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to do it again.”
Out of necessity, Hurley played a guard-oriented style his first few years in Tempe, often with four guards on the court at the same time. It worked when Holder, Evans and Justice were making shots, but a lack of size inside limited what the Sun Devils could do and led to matchup problems.
The additions of White and Lake last season helped even things up for Arizona State inside, but there were still size issues once the Pac-12 season started.
Next season’s roster will give Hurley more lineup options.
The Sun Devils will be bigger, not just inside, but at the guard spots. Martin is 6-foot, but Edwards and Canadian freshman Luguentz Dort are 6-4, and Finnish freshman Elias Valtonen is 6-6. And Uros Plavsic, an active 7-footer from Serbia, gives Arizona State the type of inside presence it hasn’t had in years.
“The way our roster is constructed and built this year, we’re going to be bigger even at the guard positions,” Hurley said. “We have real good size at the wing positions. We’re just going have more options, more depth.”
With that size may come a change in the way the Sun Devils play.
Holder, Evans, Justice and Martin played a high-energy, sharpshooting game, so Hurley tailored the offense to their skills. Arizona State took 41 percent of its shots from 3-point range, making 36 percent.
Now that the Sun Devils have size inside, Hurley may go to more of an inside-out offense rather than the other way around.
“This year’s roster gives me a ton of options to play a lot of different ways,” Hurley said. “I could see scenarios where there’s five guys 6-7 or bigger, which I’ve never had.”
The Sun Devils will have a new look, but appear to be ready to take another step in Hurley’s rebuilding project.
The college basketball season has come and gone, meaning that it is officially time for us to start looking forward to next year.
And what better way is there to do that than by publishing a Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25!
DISCLAIMER: We don’t know about all of the NBA Draft decisions yet. Not even close. So if you see a * next to player’s name, it is because we are taking a guess — some more educated than others — on what he is going to be doing this spring.
Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.
Here is the top 25:
1. KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Who’s gone: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman
Who do they add: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack
Projected starting lineup: Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, Udoka Azubuike
Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Charlie Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties – if that role isn’t taken over by Devon Dotson – while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. This team is talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster. There is a lot to like about the Jayhawks heading into next year.
2. GONZAGA BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
Who do they add: Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer addition of Clarke and a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.
As always, there is quite a bit of turnover on the Kentucky roster. Six key pieces from last year are gone, while the Wildcats bring in yet another loaded recruiting class. I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch, even if they aren’t going to be able to shoot for another year. The question is going to be whether or not these freshmen can all come together, because there is only one player on the roster that has more than one year of college experience.
4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Joey Baker
Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier
The Blue Devils are a team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter are all following Allen out the door, and it appears as if Bolden will be back for another season. I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore. The big question with this group is going to be how well the pieces gel together and whether or not there is enough shooting (and willing defenders) to allow this group to play the way teams like Villanova, Golden State and Boston play. I explain that line of thinking more here.
Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo
Projected starting lineup: Jahvon Quinerly, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Cole Swider
Villanova did not fair well at the NBA early entry deadline, losing a pair of potential first round picks in DiVincenzo, who was the MOP of the Final Four and Spellman. As we noted here, Spellman is the piece that brings it all together for the Wildcats. I’m still willing to ride with the Wildcats, as I think they are more experienced than they will get credit for and because Jay Wright’s teams always have people ready to step in and contribute immediately. Expect a breakout year from Jermaine Samuels.
6. NEVADA WOLF PACK
Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke
Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Ehab Amin, Jordan Brown
Projected starting lineup: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown
Getting the Martin twins back is massive. Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem. But this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season. This is the best Nevada team since Kawhi and Jimmer were running roughshod over the league.
7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Who’s gone: James Daniel III
Who do they add: No one
Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams
Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable pieces at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.
8. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro
Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt
I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.
9. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Shaun Williams
Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade
This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player might actually be a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!
10. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye
Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball next season that is better than Luke Maye?
11. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear
The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.
Auburn will lose Heron, who might have been their best player last season, but return everyone else from a team that won the SEC. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke. But we saw what Pearl could do with these pieces last season, and that was with the FBI investigation hanging over their head.
13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman
I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together. That said, who is better?
14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning would be key, as would finding another point guard on the transfer market to replace C.J. Walker, who left the program. Getting Cofer back for a fifth-year is enormous.
15. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Abdul Ado
I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.
16. OREGON DUCKS
Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol
For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and Ihe’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect.
17. UCLA BRUINS
Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman
Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Moses Brown
This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. Odds seem pretty good that he’ll have every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes will be on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12.
18. TCU HORNED FROGS
Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel
Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch.
19. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Who’s gone: Anas Mahmoud, Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel
Who do they add: Chris Mack, Steve Enoch, Christian Cunningham
Projected starting lineup: Darius Perry, Dwayne Sutton, V.J. King, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams
How good of a coach do you think that Mack is? Because that is what this really comes down to. Even though the Cardinals lose Adel along with Spalding to the draft, there is enough talent on this roster to make an NCAA tournament — I think the evidence of that is that if the Cardinals hadn’t lost a fluke game to Virginia they would have been in the tournament last season. And all due respect to David Padgett, Mack is a better coach than he is right now.
West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, I’m trusting that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.
21. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK
Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels, Blake Harris, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.
22. LSU Tigers
Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the incoming trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.
23. CLEMSON TIGERS
Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison, Javan White
Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, AJ Oliver, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas
With Mitchell and Reed back in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.
Who do they add: Ignas Brazdeikis, David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez, Colin Castleton
Projected starting lineup: Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske
Losing Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman, the program’s two best offensive weapons, are major blows for a team that struggled to score a season ago. Matthews’ decision to return is key and they will really be able to guard again, but one of their three big wings is going to need to take a major step forward for them offensively.
25. SYRACUSE ORANGE
Who’s gone: Matthew Moyer
Who do they add: Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, Robert Braswell, Eli Hughes
Projected starting lineup: Tyus Battle, Franklin Howard, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu
The Orange have no depth and very little perimeter shooting this side of Buddy Boeheim, but with Tyus Battle back in the fold, I think this Orange team will be able to scrape together enough ugly, grind-it-out wins to be in and around the top 25 all season.
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 Pac-12 over the next six months.
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
THE LEAGUE LOOKS TO REBOUND FROM A BAD 2017-18 SEASON: When the 68-team field for the NCAA tournament was announced the Pac-12 received some bad news, with only three teams getting the call. Two of those three teams, UCLA and Arizona State, were sent to Dayton for the First Four while Arizona drew a Buffalo squad that may have been underestimated due to the way in which the Wildcats ran through the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. All three teams lost their openers, giving the conference a total of three NCAA tournament units.
A season that appeared to have promise, as both Arizona and USC were in the national conversation, took a bad turn in late September thanks to the FBI investigation that saw two former Pac-12 assistants arrested (Tony Bland and Book Richardson) and a player in sophomore De’Anthony Melton declared ineligible. While that case didn’t ensnare the entire Pac-12, there’s no escaping the fact that this is a league that can really use a good run through non-conference play in 2018-19.
While there won’t be a lack of teams that could win the Pac-12 next season, are there any teams that can become fixtures in the national title conversation?
OREGON, UCLA AND ARIZONA STATE BRING IN HIGHLY-REGARDED RECRUITING CLASSES: One way in which a conference can rebound from a bad season is to add quality talent, and that’s what the Pac-12 has managed to do with three programs adding Top 10 recruiting classes (per 247Sports.com). Oregon (third), UCLA (sixth) and Arizona State (tenth) are all bringing in good recruiting classes, with the Ducks’ haul including Bol Bol and Louis King, UCLA’s crop being headlined by McDonald’s All-American Moses Brown and Arizona State boasting a group led by former USC commit Taeshon Cherry.
USC and Arizona, programs impacted by the aforementioned FBI scandal, also bring in quality recruiting classes, and Stanford also did well for itself. In the case of Arizona, the Wildcats also hit the graduate transfer market hard with the additions of Justin Coleman and Ryan Luther. The question now: will the infusion of talent help the Pac-12 take a step forward nationally after falling back last season?
THE NBA DRAFT DEADLINE DELIVERS A SURPRISE: It’s rare to see a player withdraw his name from the NBA draft and then make the decision to transfer, but that’s exactly what former Stanford forward and first team all-conference selection Reid Travis decided to do on the day of the NCAA’s withdrawal deadline. As a grad transfer, and a productive one at that, Travis won’t lack for suitors as he looks for a place to play his final season of college basketball. As for Stanford, the loss of Travis is a tough blow to absorb for a team that doesn’t lack for young talent especially on the perimeter and the wing.
Daejon Davis, Kezie Okpala and Oscar Da Silva are among the returnees who will lead the way for Jerod Haase’s team, with an interior rotation that includes Josh Sharma, Trevor Stanback and freshman Lukas Kisunas needing to step forward. With competition for a spot in the top half of the conference expected to be fierce with there not being much to separate many of those teams, how much Stanford’s front court improves in the aftermath of Travis’ departure will have a big impact on whether or not the Cardinal can make a run at an NCAA tournament bid.
Deandre Ayton, Arizona: Ayton’s departure, along with those of Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, comes as no surprise at all. The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Ayton led Arizona in both scoring and rebounding and helped led the team to Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Ayton’s got a very good chance of being the top overall pick in June’s NBA draft, and whether his departure was expected or not “replacing” a player of Ayton’s caliber is a difficult thing to do. The losses of Ayton and Dusan Ristic will put more pressure on Duke transfer Chase Jeter and rising sophomore Ira Lee to produce immediately inside, making for what should be an interesting season in Tucson.
Aaron Holiday, UCLA: Had Ayton not been the league player of the year it’s likely that Holiday, who led UCLA in scoring, assists and steals, would have been the choice. After averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game, Holiday made the decision to forego his final season of eligibility. As is the case with Ayton this move wasn’t a surprise, and it opens the door for rising sophomore Jaylen Hands to run the show for Steve Alford in 2018-19. Holiday is one of two significant personnel losses the Bruins will have to account for if they’re to contend in the Pac-12, with big man Thomas Welsh being the other.
Jordan McLaughlin, USC: USC, which just missed out on an NCAA tournament berth last season, will have to account for the loss of three starters as they prepare for the 2018-19 season with one being McLaughlin. The four-year starter at the point was an incredibly important figure in Andy Enfield’s program, running the show as USC transitioned from Pac-12 bottom feeder to a program expected to consistently earn postseason bids. Of course the losses of Chimezie Metu and Elijah Stewart hurt as well, but for all that McLaughlin did in his four seasons at USC this is the beginning of a new era at the Galen Center.
Tra Holder, Arizona State: Holder was a key cog in the senior class that led the Sun Devil program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in four years, and he — along with Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice — will be tough to replace. Holder had the look of a Pac-12 POY favorite during a non-conference run in which Arizona State played its way into the Top 5 of the national polls, and he would go on to earn first team all-conference honors at season’s end. With Holder gone a lot of the responsibility at the point falls upon the shoulders of Remy Martin, who as a freshman was Pac-12 Co-Sixth Man of the Year.
Reid Travis, Stanford: While the top four players on this list are all off to pay for play, that isn’t the case for Travis. After entering the NBA draft the first team all-conference forward made the decision to transfer, and he won’t lack for choices as he looks for a new home as a grad transfer. Travis averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season, and without him the Cardinal will need Josh Sharma and Trevor Stanback to take a big step forward if they’re to be an NCAA tournament team in 2019.
Tres Tinkle, Oregon State: After appearing in just six games during the 2016-17 season due to a broken wrist Tinkle appeared in all 32 games for the Beavers last season, averaging 17.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game as he earned first team all-conference honors. Along with the Thompson brothers (Stevie and Ethan), Tinkle will lead the way for an Oregon State team looking to rebound from a season in which the Beavers finished tenth in the Pac-12.
McKinley Wright IV, Colorado: Wright was one of the conference’s best freshmen a season ago, averaging 14.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. He’ll begin the 2018-19 season as one of the best point guards in the Pac-12, and his development will be key for a Colorado team that will look to end the program’s two-year NCAA tournament drought.
Matisse Thybulle, Washington: The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year made the decision early in the offseason that he would be back for his senior year, not even looking to test the NBA draft waters. Thybulle’s defensive abilities are well-known; can he take a step forward offensively on a team that should be a Pac-12 title contender in Mike Hopkins’ second season in charge? If so, Thybulle could find himself in the mix for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Kenny Wooten, Oregon: With Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher both having moved on, the question for the Ducks entering last season was who would serve as the team’s rim protector? Enter Wooten, who as a freshman averaged 2.6 blocks per game despite averaging just under 20 minutes per night. The minutes will increase for Wooten, who will be joined in the front court by fellow returnee Paul White and two highly-regarded freshmen in Bol Bol and Miles Norris. If you’re looking for someone to make a run at the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award currently held by Thybulle, look no further than Wooten.
Jaylen Hands, UCLA: Hands was one of three UCLA freshmen to test the NBA draft waters, with he, Kris Wilkes and Cody Riley (who was suspended for all of last season) all deciding to return to Westwood. Hands’ decision is a critical one, as with Aaron Holiday off to the NBA he’ll be the one entrusted with running the show for Steve Alford’s team. UCLA also adds Tyger Campbell to the mix, but Hands’ development will be key if the Bruins are to make a run at the Pac-12 title.
Bol Bol and Louis King, Oregon: Dana Altman and his staff landed the Pac-12’s best recruiting class, with the son of the late Manute Bol being the crown jewel. The 7-foot-2 Bol, who played at Findlay Prep last season, can be an impact addition on both ends of the floor and getting into a college strength and conditioning program will help him as well. As for the 6-foot-8 King, the Hudson Catholic (New Jersey) product is one of the best wings in the 2018 recruiting class and his arrival gives Oregon another versatile perimeter talent.
Moses Brown, UCLA: Right there with Oregon for the top recruiting class in the Pac-12 is UCLA, which landed a total of six freshmen. One of those players is the 7-foot-1 Brown, an Archbishop Malloy (Queens, New York) product considered to be one of the top centers in the 2018 class. Also in UCLA’s recruiting class are point guard Tyger Campbell, wings Jules Bernard and David Singleton, power forward Shareef O’Neal (the son of Shaquille O’Neal) and center Kenny Nwaba. This group will have the opportunity to earn significant minutes immediately.
Kevin Porter Jr., USC: While USC did lose some key contributors on the perimeter as Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart both graduated, the Trojans will not lack for talent next season. Joining the mix is Seattle native Kevin Porter, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the size and skill needed to compete for minutes immediately. He and fellow 6-foot-5 frosh Elijah Weaver join a rotation that includes Derryck Thornton Jr., Shaqquan Aaron and Charles O’Bannon Jr. and this group is one reason why the Trojans should contend.
Brandon Williams, Arizona: Williams was one of Arizona’s first commits in the 2018 class, and then he made the decision to reopen his recruitment in the aftermath of the FBI scandal. Williams ultimately decided that Tucson is the best place for him, and in Williams the Wildcats add an impact freshman who ranks among the top incoming freshman point guards in the country. Look for Williams and Samford grad transfer Justin Coleman to be key cogs in Arizona’s perimeter attack.
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL PAC-12 TEAM
Matisse Thybulle, Washington (POY)
McKinley Wright IV, Colorado
Payton Pritchard, Oregon
Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
Noah Dickerson, Washington
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
1. Oregon: The Ducks did lose three double-figure scorers, but they welcome back last year’s leading scorer in Payton Pritchard, and forwards Paul White and Kenny Wooten are back as well. Add in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, and Oregon has the look of the early favorite to win the Pac-12.
2. Washington: The Huskies have as good an argument as any team for the top spot, as the team’s top seven scorers return from a team that nearly reached the NCAA tournament in Mike Hopkins’ first season. Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson and the rest of the gang is back in Seattle, and the additions of Bryan Penn-Johnson and Nate Roberts will add depth inside.
3. UCLA: Everyone who tested the NBA draft waters made the decision to return, and that combined with a highly regarded recruiting class gives the Bruins a good shot at both contending in the Pac-12 and playing more than just one game in the NCAA tournament. The key: how Jaylen Hands and Tyger Campbell fare in filling the hole left at the point by Aaron Holiday’s departure.
4. USC: The Trojans lost some key pieces but the cupboard is anything but bare. Derryck Thornton Jr., Jordan McLaughlin’s backup last season, moves into the starting point guard spot, and the additions of Kevin Porter Jr. and Elijah Weaver will add depth and talent on the perimeter. The Trojans will need Bennie Boatwright, whose season ended in mid February due to a knee injury, back at full strength if they’re to be a title contender.
5. Colorado: Even with the graduation of George King, the Buffaloes return McKinley Wright IV and Namon Wright on the perimeter, and Tyler Bey and Lucas Siewert are among the contributors in the front court. Also, Colorado added a junior college All-America to the mix in guard Shane Gatling, and 4-star freshman guard Daylen Kountz should be in the mix for minutes as well.
6. Arizona: Arizona lost its entire starting five from a season ago, and while Sean Miller and his staff managed to put together a good recruiting class there are a lot of new pieces that will need time to jell together. Among those additions are two grad transfers in point guard Justin Coleman and power forward Ryan Luther (Pittsburgh), and Duke transfer Chase Jeter is eligible after sitting out last season.
7. Stanford: With Reid Travis’ decision to transfer the Cardinal will have to account for the loss of three of the team’s top five scorers from last season. That being said there’s some good talent on the roster, including guard Daejon Davis and wings Kezie Okpala and Oscar Da Silva. Stanford’s hopes may hinge on the progress made by Josh Sharma and Trevor Stanback in the front court, with both being on the outskirts of the Stanford rotation last season.
8. Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost some very important seniors at the end of last season, but the return of players such as guard Remy Martin and forwards Romello White, Kimani Lawrence and De’Quon Lake will help Bobby Hurley deal with those losses. San Diego State transfer Zylan Cheatham will be available, and ASU also adds a solid recruiting class headlined by forward Taeshon Cherry.
9. Utah: The Runnin’ Utes lost three of the top four scorers from a team that won 23 games and reached the Postseason NIT title game last season. Sedrick Barefield, who tested the NBA draft waters, is back as are forward Donnie Tillman and center Jayce Johnson and a quality recruiting class enters the fold as well. Obviously there are questions to answer for this group, but keep in mind that Larry Krystkowiak has led the program to five straight 20-win seasons.
10. Oregon State: The Beavers had the appearance of a possible sleeper heading into last season but things did not work out that way, as the lack of a clear answer at the point had an impact on their effectiveness. Losing Drew Eubanks in the post hurts, but with Tres Tinkle and the Thompson brothers back there’s talent at the other spots. The question, once again, is the point. Can either incoming freshman, Jordan Campbell or Antoine Vernon, step forward and be the answer? That will be the key for Wayne Tinkle’s squad.
11. Washington State: The good news for Washington State is that leading scorer Robert Franks made the decision to return for his senior season. The bad news: Malachi Flynn transferred to San Diego State. Franks, Viont’e Daniels and Carter Skaggs are the leading returning scorers, with Ernie Kent adding multiple junior college transfers including point guard Jervae Robinson and forward Isaiah Wade.
12. California: While there were no head coaching moves in the Pac-12 this offseason, Wyking Jones’ addition of David Grace to his coaching staff could be a big move for the Golden Bears. Don Coleman’s decision to transfer left the Golden Bears without their leading scorer from a season ago, but in sophomores Justice Sueing and Darius McNeill they’ve got two promising young talents to build around. And keep an eye on freshmen Matt Bradley and Jacobi Gordon.
2018 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who declared? Who is returning? Who are we waiting on?
The fact of the matter is that for all the pomp and circumstance, the NBA Combine is, essentially, about getting face-to-face interviews with these prospects while also landing definitive results for height, length, athletic testing and medicals.
Those results, when they pop, can help — or hurt — a player’s standing.
That said, there is still plenty that can be taken away from the 5-on-5 games that are played.
For players from smaller schools, it’s a chance to prove themselves against a higher level of competition. Think Larry Nance Jr., who wound up as a first round pick out of Wyoming.
For players that are stuck in a rigid system in college, the combine is a chance to show what they can do when they are no longer reined in. Kyle Kuzma is the perfect example of this.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the players that are still testing the waters and how they performed in Chicago this week.
DONTE DIVINCENZO, So., Villanova: The star of the national title game did not disappoint at the combine, in either the 5-on-5 play or in the athletic testing. Let’s start with the latter, where DiVincenzo registered a 42″ max vertical — tops at this year’s combine — and a 34.5″ standstill vertical to go along with a top five time in the lane agility drill. His size and length (6-foot-4.5 with a 6-foot-6 wingspan) is a bit of a concern, but DiVincenzo’s effort stood out during the games. The competitiveness and toughness is there, as is the shot-making ability. Already trending towards being a late first round pick, DiVincenzo probably solidified his standing at the combine. At this point I would be very surprised if he opted to return to school for his junior year.
KEVIN HUERTER, So., Maryland: We’ve been talking about Huerter as an under-the-radar prospect this spring, and he showcased why at the combine. Posting solid athletic testing numbers (he was top ten is all of the sprint drills and measured out at a 38″ max vert), Huerter proved himself to be a 6-foot-7 shot-making wing with an impressive feel; the 3.4 assists his averaged this season wasn’t a fluke. There’s a real chance that Huerter would be a late-first round pick should be stay in the draft, but there is a growing sentiment in NBA circles that he may want to return to school to try and play his way into the lottery of the weaker 2019 draft. If he adds strengths and proves himself to be an above-average Big Ten defender, that’s not an impossibility.
JOSH OKOGIE, So., Georgia Tech: We didn’t even mention Okogie when discussing which players had the most on the line heading into the combine, and that was clearly a mistake. Okogie may have proven himself worthy of an early-second round pick, if not late-first. The 6-foot-4.5 wing measured out at a 7-foot wingspan and finished with the fastest sprint time and the second-fastest shuttle run. A member of John Calipari’s Team USA U-19 team last summer, Okogie showcased his impressive defensive versatility during the combine games which, when combined with the 38 percent shooting from deep (173 attempts) in his two seasons in Atlanta, makes him an intriguing 3-and-D prospect in a league where defensively versatile wings that can space the floor are in high demand.
*(UPDATE: Okogie signed with an agent on Monday.)
It’s probably worth noting here that Huerter won’t turn 20 until August 27th and Okogie won’t turn 20 until September 1st. DiVincenzo is 19 months older than him. Hell, both of them are younger than Mo Bamba, Deandre Ayton and Michael Porter Jr. That’s a massive amount of time on the development curve.
CODY and CALEB MARTIN, Nevada: For both Martin twins, the combine made it looks like their incredible season with the Wolf Pack had more to do with the Mountain West than their future as NBA players. Caleb — the scorer — could not find a rhythm on that end while Cody — the jack-of-all-trades — didn’t exactly appear to be great at anything. The twins turn 23 in September, just received their degrees and Nevada would have 15 scholarship players if they return. They seem to be out the door, although that does not mean they’re headed for the NBA.
TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse: Physically, Battle tested out well, measuring nearly 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and solid athletic testing numbers. But that was never the worry with Battle. His issue is that he was an inefficient, high-volume scorer that played predominantly with the ball in his hands at Syracuse. He needed to prove that he could a) play off the ball and b) shoot better than what his numbers were with the Orange. He did neither, and while I’m not sure he necessarily hurt himself, he did not play his way into the first round. If he remains in the draft, he’ll likely end up a second round pick.
BRIAN BOWEN, South Carolina: Bowen did not appear to be a draftable player during the games at the combine, which is more or less what we thought of him prior to sitting out the 2017-18 season after he was caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. This is a nightmare scenario for him. He has until May 30th to decide if he should just get started on a pro career, whatever level that ends up being at, or returning to school and hoping the NCAA will clear him.
JARRED VANDERBILT, Kentucky: Vanderbilt pulled out of the combine prior to the start, which might have more to do with his health and controlling the flow of information over his medical testing than anything else. For a player that has had a myriad of lower left leg injuries over the years — he missed the first 17 games and the final six games of his freshman season, as well as much of the summer prior to his senior season in high school — he’s going to have a difficult decision to make in regards to turning pro. He’s not a first rounder, but just how long is his athletic career going to be given these health issues?
THEY ARE WHAT WE THOUGHT THEY WERE
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards was a late addition to the combine as other players dropped out. He’s more of a scorer than he is a point guard at this stage, and some of his struggles offensively at the combine showed that. He could use another year where he’ll be asked to do it all for Purdue offensively.
OMARI SPELLMAN, Villanova: We know what Spellman is. He’s a 6-foot-9 center with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a lethal three-point shooting stroke. We also know that he’s lost nearly 50 pounds since he was in high school. At the combine, Spellman checked in at 253 pounds with 13.75 percent body fat, still managing to post a 35.5″ max vertical at that weight. Put another way, there is still improvement that can be made on his body and, in theory, his athleticism. That keeps teams interested, but he certainly didn’t play his way into being a first rounder.
BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland: Fernando proved himself a very large human (6-foot-9.75, 7-foot-4.25) but beyond that, his instincts as a basketball players were not quite there. In an NBA era where paint-locked big men are becoming useless, Fernando seems to fall into that category. If anything, what may keep him in the draft is his guardian’s connection to Kansas big Silvio De Sousa and the FBI investigation into college basketball.
UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas: His 7-foot-7 wingspan is enough to make NBA GMs salivate, but that may be the only NBA-ready skill that the big fella has. He’s a non-shooter — career 40.6 percent from the free throw line — and his inability to defend on the perimeter was exposed by Villanova in the Final Four. He’s a late-second round pick at best.
SAGABA KONATE, West Virginia: The passion and the energy that Konate played with all season long was on full display at the combine as well. He’s a big, burly 6-foot-7.25 shot-blocker with a 7-foot wingspan and a better-than-you-think shooting stroke, but he didn’t do much to prove himself as more than a second round pick.
P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky: Physically, Washington doesn’t profile all that different that Spellman, who is slightly taller with a slightly longer wingspan and 30 extra pounds of weight he can stand to lose. The difference? Spellman is a very good shooter. The was time we saw Washington, who shot 5-for-21 from three as a freshman, he was missing 12 of his 20 free throws in a 61-58 loss to Kansas State in the Sweet 16. He’s already said he wants a first round guarantee to remain in the draft, and if teams didn’t rate him as a first rounder prior to the combine, I’m not sure anything happened that would change their minds.
JAYLEN HANDS and KRIS WILKES, UCLA: The most notable thing that happed with these two at the combine was that Hands, ironically enough, finished with the smallest hands at the event. He did, however, show some point guard instinct and fight defensively. There’s no guarantee he gets drafted, and the same can be same for Wilkes, who at least fits the profile of a versatile wing. Their decision essentially comes down to whether or not they think playing another year for Steve Alford will actually help their chances of getting into the first round in 2019.
ACC coaches want to expand NCAA tournament to 72 teams
At the ACC spring meetings this week, the conference’s basketball coaches made some recommendations for rule changes that would have a pretty big impact on the way that the game is played at the college level.
Among other things, they suggested moving the three-point line back (yes!), widening the lane (yes!), resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds on an offensive rebound (yes!) and sticking with halves instead of changing to four quarters (booooo).
The recommendation that is going to get the most headlines, however, is the suggestion that the NCAA tournament should expand from 68 to 72 teams, with a pair of regional First Fours because, apparently, a far greater percentage of football teams go to bowl games than basketball teams go to the NCAA tournament.
This is dumb for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the NIT, the CBI and the CIT exist, or that only four college football teams actually go to the tournament that determines a national champion. Ask UCF about that. The rest of bowl season is simply a series of glorified scrimmages that creates revenue for the people that wear suits and that degenerates love to gamble on.
But that idea is also ridiculous because it’s simply coaches riding for coaches. The truth is that these high major guys know that simply getting an invite to the NCAA tournament is the kind of thing that can earn them a contract extension or keep their bosses from firing them a year earlier than they would otherwise, and creating four more at-large bids means that there is the opportunity for four more coaches to get — or keep — themselves paid.
Personally, I am not married to the idea that the NCAA tournament has to remain at 68 teams — but that comes with one, simple caveat: The additions to the tournament field come in the form of regular season champions at the mid-major level, not middling high-major programs that couldn’t quite crack .500 in their league.
Here’s an idea that I’ve been chewing on for a while, one that I think would be great for all levels of the game and put more of an emphasis on the regular season:
Expand the field to 76 teams, give automatic bids to both the regular season and tournament champs for every conference.
Guarantee that teams that win both the regular season and the tournament title for their respective conference is able to avoid having to play in one of the 12 play-in games.
Those 12 play-in games would be played for the right to be a 14, 15 or 16 seed, and they would be held between the 24 teams that weren’t dual-league champs rated the lowest in the Selection Committee’s seed list, whether that means they only won a regular season title, a tournament title or were an at-large bid.
The number of at-large teams in the field would be fluid. With Wichita State out of the Missouri Valley, there are now essentially 22 leagues where the regular season champ isn’t all-but guaranteed to be an at-large bid. In the last four season, an average of 11 of those conference tournaments were won by someone other than the league’s regular season champ, which means that, on average, there would have been 33 mid-major automatic bids to the Big Dance under these rules and 43 bids available to the top ten conferences and, essentially, 33 at-large bids available. That would be down three from what it currently is, meaning that three of the thoroughly mediocre bubble teams that get in every year would miss out, on average.
This would do a couple of things that I think would make the tournament a better product.
For starter’s, it would give us two more days of wall-to-wall tournament games, meaning that the Tuesday and the Wednesday of the first weekend of the tournament feature an endless amount of play-in games on TV. As gambling on sports becomes more popular, this just means that there is more inventory to be able to cash in on.
It would also ensure that the best mid-major teams in the country — the most likely cinderellas — would be in the tournament after steam-rolling their league. As it stands, we miss out on so many great mid-major teams getting their shine in March because someone they beat twice during the regular season gets hot during one four-day stretch. We all lamented how screwed Middle Tennessee State was this year when they didn’t get a bid to the Big Dance. This model gives them that bid.
Then there is the added bonus that Championship Week becomes that much more insane. If your favorite team is on the bubble, you’ll be locked into all of those mid-major tournament games, because every top seed that loses is a bubble that bursts. That would be amazing, like taking the insanity of March and forcing it to shotgun an old Four Loko.
Now, this idea isn’t exactly perfect. Unbalanced scheduling means that the “best” team in a given conference might not end up being the regular season champ. It also creates a clear and obvious incentive for a conference to rig their conference tournament against the league champ; getting two teams into the tournament increases the odds of getting a win-share for the league, as does having those two teams play a play-in game opponent as opposed to, say, a No. 4 or a No. 5 seed.
It also moves us further and further away from the bracket being able to fit on a single, 8 X 11.5 piece of paper. But honestly, when was the last time you filled out a bracket that wasn’t online?
I know that this idea will never gain any real traction because the people in power — the people at the high major level — are the ones that would be hurt the most by this, but I do think this is the best way to make the tournament as interesting and as fair as possible.