Rob Dauster is joined by Travis Hines to breakdown every team, angle and story line in the American this season. Is Memphis really good enough to win a national title? How is Houston going to replace everything that they lost? Is Jarron Cumberland healthy? Will Wichita State, Temple, UConn or South Florida make the leap to tournament team this year?
OPEN: More Kansas vs. the NCAA talk.
23:00 East Carolina
1:02:05: Wichita State
AAC Season Preview: Power rankings, preseason awards, and is Memphis the best team in the league?
Beginning in October and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-20 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the American.
The American is in an interesting spot this season.
On the one hand, there may not have been a more hyped or visible program this offseason than Memphis. On the other hand, it feels like every good team in the league is in something of a rebuilding year while this will be the last season that UConn is a member of the conference.
The basketball gods don’t give with both hands, I guess.
Here is your American Athletic Conference season preview.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. PENNY HAS THAT THING ROLLING IN MEMPHIS
For my money, Memphis is the most interesting story in college basketball this season.
Penny Hardaway, who would have gone down as one of the sport’s all-time greats had he stayed healthy, returns home to the city he grew up in and the school he played for to bring in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and turn the Tigers into a recruiting destination on par with Duke, Kentucky and Kansas. Now, with a potential No. 1 pick in James Wiseman starting at center, he will be coaching a team that is the southern version of the Fab Five. He’s reinvigorated a maniacal fanbase that was left dormant thanks to the stewardship of Josh Pastner and Tubby Smith and, in the process, proclaimed that Memphis will win a national title while picking fights with in-state rival Rick Barnes.
The Tigers are a circus is the best kind of way, and I cannot wait to see the fireworks that come this season.
In terms of the actual product on the court, I’m a little bit more worried than most.
Starting five freshmen is never easy, and while the Tigers do have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, it’s different than the typical No. 1 recruiting class. Memphis landed Wiseman and fellow five-star Precious Achiuwa, but the other five guys in the class project more as two or three year players in college. This isn’t like they are bringing in four top 15 prospects, like Duke has done each of the last two years. And while Memphis does have three players returning from last season, one of those three plays essentially the same position as Wiseman and the other two are 5-foot-9 point guards that are going to be fighting for the minutes that Damian Baugh and Boogie Ellis don’t play.
Put another way, the talent and potential is there for Memphis to be a top five team that makes a deep run in March.
But as we have seen with teams that are as young as this Memphis team, trusting 18 and 19-year olds in their first season of college hoops is never a sure thing.
2. CINCINNATI ENTERS A NEW ERA UNDER JOHN BRANNEN
There are six teams in college basketball that have been to the last nine NCAA tournaments – Duke, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State …
That’s what John Brannen is walking into. That’s what Mick Cronin built at Cincinnati, and remember, when he took over, it wasn’t a smooth transition from Bobby Huggins. He got the job after Huggins had his falling out, and when Cronin took the job, there was one player there. He had to recruit football players just to field a team.
I have respect for what Brannen has been able to do as a coach. He went to two NCAA tournaments in four years with a program that has been Division I for seven seasons. That’s amazing. But replacing Cronin at Cincinnati is not going to be easy, especially when Cronin had built a culture within the program that Brannen may or may not be able to replicate. Cincinnati ran itself, in a sense, under Cronin, and with just five players coming back after a series of transfers in the offseason, it’s not going to be easy.
The good news is that a (hopefully healthy) Jarron Cumberland returns to lead the way, and he is the best player in the conference. Throw in his cousin, Jaevin, and guys like Keith Williams and Tre Scott, and there are pieces for Brannen to work with.
It’s a new era, but it should once again be a successful era for Bearcat basketball.
3. WICHITA STATE AND HOUSTON HAVE NOT ENTERED NEW ERAS, AND THAT IS A GOOD THING
At this point, I’ll bet on Wichita State and Houston because Gregg Marshall and Kelvin Sampson have never given me a reason to do anything else.
We thought the Shockers were going to be dreadful last season. After a slow start with a young team, they won nine of their last 11 and 14 of their last 18 games, including road trips to Furman, Clemson and Indiana in the NIT. Houston lost Rob Gray and then went out and fielded a top 12 team in college basketball. Both lose some incredibly important pieces this offseason, but what matters more than anything is that they kept the guys in charge. Marshall still hasn’t gotten a job offer he’s willing to leave for, and Sampson was given a massive deal by the Cougars to keep him from heading to Arkansas.
Yes, there are players I think are in line for big seasons at both schools. Dexter Dennis, Erik Stevenson and Jaime Echenique are going to make a lot of noise, while DeJon Jarreau is going to be this year’s breakout star in the league.
But none of that would be relevant if the guys calling the plays had left.
4. USF IS GOING TO BE REALLY GOOD, AND THAT IS NOT A JOKE
I am in on the Bulls this season.
After winning 24 games last season, they return eight of their top nine players. There’s an argument to be made that USF has the best backcourt in the conference with LaQuincy Rideau and David Collins. There’s an argument to be made that Alexis Yetna will have a breakout sophomore season. Hell, I can make a pretty strong argument that USF can will the AAC this season.
I don’t think they are going to be quite that good, but I do think they have a very real chance to finish top four, especially if Cincinnati can’t get healthy.
5. THIS IS UCONN’S SWAN SONG IN THE AMERICAN
The Huskies are headed back to the Big East.
Starting with the 2020-21 season, UConn will be back in the conference that it helped launch. That is a good thing for the UConn program – playing Villanova, Georgetown and Providence every year is certainly going to be more appealing to the Husky fan base than playing Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina – but it is not necessarily a good thing for the AAC.
Say what you will about what UConn has become since Jim Calhoun retired, but this is still a basketball program that has national appeal, a coach that has proven he can have success coaching in the Northeast and two national titles to their name in the last eight seasons. That’s a big loss for a league that seems to constantly be fighting for relevance in the national landscape of the sport.
PRESEASON AAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati
This pick had something of a wrench thrown in it when Cincinnati head coach John Brannen came out last week and told reporters that Cumberland has yet to practice this season as he is dealing with a foot injury. He gave no timetable for a return and did not provide any specifics as to what the injury is.
If Cumberland is healthy, he will be the best player in the conference. His ability to score and create on a roster that is going to have a number of new faces this season is going to be incredibly valuable. He will be the rock that Brannen uses to anchor everything that he wants to run offensively.
If he’s healthy.
Here’s to hoping that he’ll be back on the court sooner rather than later.
THE REST OF THE ALL-AAC FIRST TEAM
LAQUINCY RIDEAU, USF: Rideau was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year a season ago, and he’ll be back as the anchor of a Bulls team that is a sneaky bet to finish the year in the top 25.
QUINTON ROSE, Temple: With Shizz Alston gone, Rose is going to step into a much larger role for the Owls in their first season under new head coach Aaron McKie.
DEJON JARREAU, Houston: Jarreau is going to be this year’s breakout star in the AAC. More on him in a minute.
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis: Wiseman is the No. 1 recruit in the country and the kind of talent that should thrive while playing in Penny Hardaway’s uptempo offense.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
ALTERIQUE GILBERT, UConn
DAVID COLLINS, USF
NATE PIERRE-LOUIS, Temple
PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis
JAIME ECHENIQUE, Wichita State
BREAKOUT STAR: DeJon Jarreau, Houston
Jarreau is going to be a name that a lot of people know by come February. One time a top 75 prospect, Jarreau originally enrolled at UMass before transferring to Houston. Last season was his first year as a member of the Cougars, and while he only managed 18 minutes a game while playing in Houston’s loaded backcourt, he was really productive in those limited minutes. Jarreau finished second on the team at 19.3 points-per-40 minutes and led the Cougars with 7.4 assists-per-40 minutes.
This year, he’s going to be stepping into a much bigger role. Corey Davis, Armoni Brooks and Galen Robinson all graduate. Those are the three guards that were above him in the program’s pecking order. He has the talent, he’s shown he can produce and now he will get the opportunity to have things run through him. Even with Quentin Grimes eligible, I think Jarreau will be the guy that we are all talking about with this team.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Tim Jankovich, SMU
When Jankovich got the SMU job, they were coming off of three straight seasons where the program had won more than 25 games under Larry Brown. In his first season as the head coach, the Mustangs went 30-5 with three NBA players on the roster and won the AAC regular season and tournament titles.
This year, SMU is projected to finish 10th in the league. They lost their two best players from a team that went 14-16 overall and lost nine of their last ten in AAC play. It’s doesn’t seem that long ago that SMU was the trendy team in Texas. Now, they aren’t even the trendy team in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
We should have listened to Rob when he said Memphis was going to be a No. 6 seed in the tournament.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …
Seeing how Kelvin Sampson can work his magic and make Houston the best team in the American.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
11/6, Cincinnati at No. 25 Ohio State
11/12, No. 21 Memphis at No. 12 Oregon
11/28, No. 21 Memphis vs. N.C. State
12/7, Cincinnati at No. 18 Xavier
12/14, No. 21 Memphis at No. 23 Tennessee
1. HOUSTON: The Cougars lose their three best perimeter players this offseason, but I’m still in on Kelvin Sampson’s group as the favorite to win the conference. Remember, we had these same questions about the Cougars after they lost Rob Gray, and all that happened was that Sampson put together a top 15 team this past season. The key, other than getting Quentin Grimes eligible, will be how much DeJon Jarreau improves. I’m expecting a big season out of him, so I have Houston winning the conference.
2. MEMPHIS: As I wrote earlier, Memphis has the upside to be a top five team this year. They also have the floor of a team that finishes the year as a No. 6 or 7 seed in the NCAA tournament. Freshmen are freshmen.
3. WICHITA STATE: The Shockers lost their top two scorers to graduation, and the guy that we thought was going to be their top scorer this season – Teddy Allen – was given the boot. I still think that the Shockers are going to be a tournament team this year. I am expecting an impressive year out of backcourt Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson, and I think Jaime Echenique is in line for a big senior year after an efficient junior campaign playing somewhat limited minutes.
4. USF: The Bulls are going to be this year’s version of UCF. They bring back everyone from a team that won 24 games and took down the CBI title, and while I know it’s silly to celebrate something like the CBI, I do think that it matters that this group got that many more practices in together. I love their backcourt – LaQuincy Rideau and David Collins are going to be trouble – and Alexis Yetna is the kind of player that will have a big sophomore season. I’m in on the Bulls as a tournament team this year, which is not something that I ever thought I’d say.
5. CINCINNATI: I had the Bearcats sitting at third in these rankings up until the moment that John Brannen told us that roughly everyone in the Bearcat program is dealing with some kind of injury. Cumberland is the big blow, but Trevor Moore – one of just five players coming back from last season – missing time will hurt as well. Assuming all of these health issues get cleared up by the time the season kicks off, Cincinnati is a top three team in the league. But when the best player in the conference and 40 percent of the returning players on a team with a new head coach are injured four weeks before the first game, it’s a concern.
6. TEMPLE: Outside of USF, Temple brings back more than anyone else in the league. Losing Shizz Alston will hurt, but Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis can pick up the slack. It will be very interesting to see how the Owls respond to a change in leadership, as Aaron McKie takes over for Fran Dunphy.
7. UCONN: The Huskies are, at the very least, interesting this season. They lose Jalen Adams, but Christian Vital is back, Akok Akok is eligible and they bring in a pair of talented freshmen in Jalen Gaffney and James Bouknight. With some veterans back in the frontcourt, namely Josh Carlton, there are some things to like about this group. The key, however, is going to be Alterique Gilbert. The former McDonald’s All-American point guard has shown quite a bit of promise during his three seasons at UConn, but a series of shoulder injuries has limited his playing time. If he stays healthy, he’s a difference-maker.
8. UCF: The Knights lose more than anyone else in the conference lost, and when you have to replace the amount of production that Aubrey Dawkins, B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall provided, it’s never going to be easy. That said, there are some talented transfers getting eligible in Orlando, most notably grad transfers Dazon Ingram (Alabama) and Matt Milon (William & Mary). Throw in Collin Smith and his surefire breakout junior season, and you have a team that is going to be competitive.
9. TULSA: Frank Haith had a tough year in 2019, and that was with Sterling Taplin, Curran Scott and second round NBA draft pick DaQuan Jeffries on the roster. I’m not sure how that production gets replaced this season.
10. SMU: Three years ago, when Tim Jankovich took over for Larry Brown, he went 30-5 and won dual-AAC titles with a roster than had a number of future pros on it – Semi Ojeleye, Sterling Brown, Jarrey Foster, Shake Milton. They’ve won just six conference games in each of the last two seasons, and I have a hard time seeing where they are going to improve this year.
11. TULANE: At the very least, Tulane is going to be more fun this season. That’s because Ron Hunter is as entertaining as any coach in the college basketball ranks. He’s also had quite a bit of success at Georgia State, and while I think he will eventually make Tulane relevant in the AAC, I don’t think it’s happening this year. I will note, however, that the 2017-18 Tulane Green Wave had two NBA players on the roster and a third potential pro transfer to Villanova this offseason. Talent can be had in New Orleans.
12. EAST CAROLINA: The Pirates won three AAC games last season. Two of them came against Tulane, who won zero AAC games last season. Joe Dooley does return two of his top three scorers, but eight players transferred out of the program since the start of the 2018-19 season. There are 11 newcomers on the roster.
2019-20 NBC Sports College Basketball Preseason All-America Teams
2019-20 NBC SPORTS PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA FIRST TEAM
PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State
Winston is coming off of a season where he was a First Team All-American that averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists for a team that won 32 games, the Big Ten regular season title, the Big Ten tournament and reached the Final Four. This is also a team that brings back enough talent to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country in the NBC Sports Top 25.
With respect to the other players on this list, I don’t really think there is much of an argument here. When the best returning player in the sport is on the best team in the sport, you name him Preseason Player of the Year.
MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
On the podcast above, I mentioned that I think that Howard is the guy that is the most likely to go from being in the conversation for First Team All-America in the preseason to out of the mix come March. There are two reasons for that. For starters, I think there is a real chance that the Golden Eagles end up being a team that falls in that 10-12 seed range come Selection Sunday, and the past has taught us that you need to have a truly special season to make a run at Player of the Year on a team that isn’t a title contender. The other reason is that there is a world where Howard’s efficiency goes in the tank. I like some of the other pieces that Wojo has at his disposal, but without the Hauser brothers, this is a different basketball team that is much easier to guard.
Howard’s going to get his, he’s going to have nights where he goes for 50 and he’s going to get on runs where he makes four, five or six threes in a row. He’s awesome. But when everyone in Milwaukee knows that he is getting the ball, how often will those runs come?
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall
I am very high on Seton Hall this year, and the biggest reason why is the return of Powell, who has grown into one of the very best scorers in the country. He’s coming off of a season where he averaged 23.1 points and put on some scoring displays that looked an awful lot like what Howard can do. He’s going to have a monster senior season, the battles between him and Howard are going to be legendary and the Pirates, with essentially everyone back from a season ago, should be good enough to make a run at a Big East title if things go well.
JORDAN NWORA, Louisville
Nwora was one of the breakout stars in college basketball last season, opting to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to school for his junior year. A combo-forward and a big-time shot-maker, Nwora is the perfect fit for Chris Mack’s offense, and his presence is the biggest reason that the Cardinals enter this season as a top five team in the NBC Sports Top 25. The big question with Nwora is going to be where he improved this offseason. If he comes back to school as a more fluid and explosive athlete, someone that can put the ball on the floor and create at a higher level, there’s no doubt that National Player of the Year is within his range of outcomes. He’s that good and Louisville is that good.
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis
I don’t think that Wiseman is going to be the most productive freshman in college basketball this season but I do think that he is going to be the best freshman. His combination of physical tools, athleticism and a system at Memphis that should allow him to show them off is ideal. My big question with Wiseman is how well his skillset translates to the role he is going to be asked to play in college. At the next level, I think that he becomes the next Myles Turner, an elite defensive presence that can space the floor and create matchup problems against bigger defenders. I do not expect that that will be the way he is used at Memphis – nor should it be – and it will be interesting to see just how well he can overwhelm players that aren’t as physically gifted as he is.
2019-20 NBC SPORTS PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA SECOND TEAM
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Anthony is going to have a massive freshman season. I don’t see any way around it. He’s going to slot right into the role that Coby White vacated, he’s going to play at just as fast of a tempo and he is not going to have anywhere near the level of talent around him. I think that he’ll average 20 points and six assists. North Carolina’s ceiling will be determined by whether or not those 20 points come on 15 shots or 25 shots and if those six assists are paired with two turnovers or eight turnovers.
DEVON DOTSON, Kansas: Trying to figure out who to slot in as the All-American on Kansas is tough. I don’t think I can go with Udoka Azubuike after seeing the way Villanova neutralized him in the Final Four two years ago, and while I’m enamored with Ochai Agbaji, I do believe that he is still a year away from truly being in this conversation. That leaves the head of the snake, point guard Devon Dotson. He really came on down the stretch of last season, and as his turnovers went down and efficiency went up, Kansas improved. I think he has a big sophomore season.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR JR., Florida: I really like Blackshear. He is a 6-foot-10, 250 pound big man that averaged 14.9 points, 7.5 boards and 2.4 assists on a slow-paced Virginia Tech team as their third option offensively. He can overpower smaller defenders in the post. He can make threes. He can beat bigger defenders off of the dribble. He is everything that Florida needed at the five this season.
MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia: I’m out on a limb on this one, and frankly, I think there are very valid arguments to make that both of Diakite’s frontcourt mates – Jay Huff and Braxton Key – deserve to be slotted here instead. But I love what Diakite provides defensively, I expect him to build off of a terrific NCAA tournament run and I’ll ride or die with UVA’s starting power forward. We’ll see if it pays off.
ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: If Anthony isn’t the most productive freshman in this class, it very well could end up being Stewart, who is an absolute hoss on the block. He is going to soak up Noah Dickerson’s shots and anchor the zone that they run defensively.
2019-20 NBC SPORTS PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA THIRD TEAM
ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland: I’m torn on Cowan. On the one hand, he’s the best player and the lead guard on a team with top ten talent. That’s good. The problem? Maryland guards seem to stop improving after a while. Melo Trimble never really got better during his three years on campus. Cowan didn’t take the leap we all expected him to take last season. Will he this year?
TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky: I had a very difficult time picking which Kentucky player I think will be their best. I can see the argument for Ashton Hagans and E.J. Montgomery. I can see Kahlil Whitney being the guy. The Johnny Juzang hype train has already gotten rolling. But I’m going to go with Tyrese Maxey. He’s a terrific lead guard and John Calipari tends to do well with terrific lead guards.
JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati: It feels like no one ever mentions Cumberland when discussing the best players in the country, but here is a rising senior that only went out and averaged 18.8 points, 4.4 boards and 3.6 assists while shooting 38.8 percent from three. That’s not bad.
SAM MERRILL, Utah State: Neemias Queta seems to be the name that most people know on Utah State, but Merrill was their best player last season. His return to school is why the Aggies cracked the top 15 in the NBC Sports Top 25.
Michigan State has all the pieces to go out and win a national championship this year. They have shooting. They have size. They have talented veterans in starting roles with promising younger pieces ready to push them for minutes. They have a Hall Of Famer running the show in Tom Izzo. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that they have this kid who just so happens to be the best player in college basketball this season. Cassius Winston, ever heard of him?
If there are concerns here, it’s that the Spartans are a little bit thin up front. Xavier Tillman is ready to take over the five-spot in a full-time role with Nick Ward gone, but the bigs behind him are young. Will Marcus Bingham be ready to play 20 minutes a night? What will be more interesting to see is if Izzo goes full small-ball. With Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown and Malik Hall on the roster, he has the bodies to do it, especially if Marquette transfer Joey Hauser finds a way to get a waiver from the NCAA.
Surprise, surprise: Kentucky is loaded again, especially in the backcourt. Ashton Hagans returns for his sophomore season where he will be joined by Tyrese Maxey in what may end up being the toughest, most competitive and best defensive backcourt in college basketball. Immanuel Quickly, Kahlil Whitney, Johnny Juzang and Keion Brooks will give John Calipari more than enough weapons to keep defenses guessing on the perimeter; those practice battles to earn playing time are going to be fun to watch.
The big question mark is going to be in Kentucky’s frontcourt, where E.J. Montgomery will look to take a P.J. Washington-esque step forward and Nick Richards will, hopefully, live up to his five-star potential. The addition of grad transfer Nate Sestina from Bucknell will provide some depth and experience where the Wildcats really need it. It will be interesting to see if Coach Cal makes the decision to play small this year, because he certainly has the roster to do it.
WHO’S GONE: Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson, Quintin Grimes, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore
WHO’S BACK: Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Mitch Lightfoot, David McCormack
The NCAA investigation into Kansas and the possible ramifications of the Notice of Allegations that the university received last week will hang over the Jayhawks’ head all season long. That’s a given.
And with the understanding that this off-the-court stuff is something that Kansas is going to have to deal with all season long, let’s talk about what is actually happening on the court, because Kansas is going to be fascinating next season. The Jayhawks may have the best center in the country in Udoka Azubuike. At the very least, he’s the best low-post scorer in college hoops. They have one of the best point guards in Devon Dotson. They have one of college basketball’s breakout stars in Ochai Agbaji headlining a plethora of quality wing pieces – Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson. They have more frontcourt depth than just about anyone else, with Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot all fighting for minutes up front.
The big question is going to be what the Jayhawks do at the four. Dedric Lawson is the perfect player to slot in there, but he’s gone. In his stead, they have … well, I’m not really sure. They can play two bigs, but that will obliterate their spacing. The same can be said if Garrett slots in at the four. Agbaji would make some sense, but I’m not sure he’s capable of guarding college fours the way that someone like Josh Jackson was. There is no easy answer, which means that Self will have his work cut out for him.
PROJECTED STARTERS: Fresh Kimble, Samuell Williamson, Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora, Steve Enoch
The big news for Louisville is that they bring back Jordan Nwora, who looks to be the favorite to win the ACC Player of the Year award heading into the season. They also get back Dwayne Sutton, and Malik Williams, and Steve Enoch, and add a recruiting class that is exactly what you would expect someone like Chris Mack to bring into a program like Louisville. They have everything that you would expect out of a top five team …
… except clarity at the point guard spot.
There are options there. Darius Perry returns from last year’s team. Fresh Kimble, a grad transfer from St. Joseph’s, joins the program, as does four-star freshman David Johnson, who is dealing with a shoulder injury that could keep him out at the start of the season. Someone is going to have to win the starting job. Will they be good enough to carry the Cardinals to the top of the ACC?
WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
Maybe I’m overvaluing Villanova again because they’re Villanova, but I am quite bullish on them once again. I think the Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels are both in line for big seasons, and when combined with Bryan Antoine – who will hopefully be healthy by December – give Jay Wright three wings that fit perfectly with the way that he wants to play. Collin Gillispie isn’t Jalen Brunson, but not very many people are Jalen Brunson, so that’s a concern, but I think that he’ll be serviceable in the Big East this season.
And then there is all the young talent on the roster. Cole Swider should take a significant step forward as a sophomore. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a five-star recruit. Brandon Slater should be ready for a bigger role. The big concern here is that this team is still going to be very, very young for a Villanova team. We might still be a year away with this group.
WHO’S GONE: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden
WHO’S BACK: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
WHO’S COMING IN: Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley
PROJECTED STARTERS: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Vernon Carey
This Duke roster is weird. Talented, but weird.
I like a lot of the pieces here. Vernon Carey is going to be a very good college basketball player. Same with Matthew Hurt. Wendell Moore should be able to impact the game on the defensive end of the floor from day one. Javin DeLaurier is a very useful role player, while the likes of Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Joey Baker and Jordan Goldwire will all be a year older this season.
The problem is that Duke doesn’t have very many lineups that they can play that will be good defensively and be able to create enough space for Carey to operate in the lane. That’s where Tre Jones comes into play. We wrote all about Mr. Jones and why his ability to shoot will be the most influential skill for any player in college basketball next season right here.
WHO’S COMING IN: Kerry Blackshear Jr., Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne, Jason Jitoboh
PROJECTED STARTERS: Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, Kerry Blackshear Jr.
The outlook for Florida’s season changed dramatically when they landed a commitment from Kerry Blackshear Jr., the Virginia Tech grad transfer that picked the Gators over Tennessee and Kentucky. He is an All-American talent that will anchor the frontcourt for a team that has all the perimeter depth you would want.
It starts with Andrew Nembhard, who is going to have a big sophomore season and will pair with Tre Mann to handle Florida’s point guard duties. Scottie Lewis is going to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the sport next season, while Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson are back to round out Florida’s rotation.
WHO’S GONE: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall, Jeremy Jones
WHO’S BACK: Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert
WHO’S COMING IN: Admon Gilder, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo, Ryan Woolridge, Brock Ravet, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zahkarov
PROJECTED STARTERS: Ryan Woolridge, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev
Mark Few lost quite a bit off of last season’s roster, and there are more than a few questions about just who this team is going to be able to trust this season, but there is more than enough talent here for the Zags to once again make a run at being a top ten team.
Killian Tillie is back and healthy. Corey Kispert is a talent that has been waiting for more opportunity in Spokane. Filip Petrusev will finally be able to anchor the frontcourt on his own, while the likes of Drew Timme and Oumar Ballo are promising freshman that are going to push for minutes immediately. The big question is going to be in the backcourt, where a pair of grad transfers – Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder – are going to take the reins with a freshman – Brock Ravet – providing depth. All three are new to the program, and it’s never ideal to head into a season with such inexperience at the point guard spot.
WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Darryl Morsell
PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Jalen Smith
There is nothing riskier than going all-in on a team coached by Mark Turgeon, but here we are. Losing Bruno Fernando hurts, but the Terps not only got Jalen Smith back, they also return Anthony Cowan. That could end up being the best 1-2 punch in the Big Ten this side of Michigan State.
What’s more promising is that the Terps have a loaded sophomore class. Smith is the name you know, but Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Ricky Lindo all had promising rookie campaigns, while the likes of Darryl Morsell and the Mitchell twins give Turgeon plenty of depth.
WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
I am a Tony Bennett stan, and I fully believe that the combination of Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff is the kind of malleable, versatile and talented frontcourt that will allow Bennett to flex his X’s-and-O’s muscles and get creative offensively, but I fully admit that putting Virginia in the top ten is likely beyond the top of their range.
They lost De’Andre Hunter. They lost Ty Jerome. They lost Kyle Guy. That’s a lot to lose, especially when Virginia was not planning on losing the latter two for another year. Will Casey Morsell be ready at the start of the season? Is Kihei Clark going to be able to handle the lead guard role in a ball-screen heavy offense? Just how good is Braxton Key going to be as a senior?
I don’t really have answers. But I’m willing to bet on Bennett figuring those answers out.
11. TEXAS TECH
WHO’S GONE: Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, Brandone Francis, Norense Odiase, Khavon Moore
WHO’S BACK: Chris Beard, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Andrei Savrasov
WHO’S COMING IN: Jahmius Ramsey, Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield, Kevin McCullar, Russel Tchewa, Terrence Shannon
PROJECTED STARTERS: Jahmius Ramsey, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, T.J. Holyfield, Chris Clarke
The Red Raiders only return two players from last year’s national runner-up: Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards. But there is no one in college basketball that has proven to be better at finding a way to entirely remake a roster year after year that Chris Beard. Jahmius Ramsey is going to be one of the most productive freshman in all of college basketball this season – he is a perfect fit for Beard’s style of play – and the addition of grad transfers Chris Clarke and T.J. Holyfield will help as well. Like Virginia, I’m not really sure how, exactly, it’s going to happen, but I fully believe that Tech is going to end up being right there in the mix at the top of the Big 12 once again this season.
WHO’S GONE: Paul White, Louis King, Ehab Amin, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol, Victor Bailey
WHO’S BACK: Payton Pritchard, Will Richardson, Francis Okoro
WHO’S COMING IN: N’Faly Dante, C.J. Walker, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, Addison Patterson, Chris Duarte, Lok Wur, Chandler Lawson
PROJECTED STARTERS: Payton Pritchard, Chris Duarte, Anthony Mathis, C.J. Walker, Shakur Juiston
The Ducks are the toughest team for me in these rankings. On the one hand, they lost oh-so-very-much from last season. On the other hand, Payton Pritchard is back, as is Will Richardson, and they will be joined by a rebuilt roster with quite a bit of interesting talent: Freshmen N’Faly Dante, C.J. Walker, Addison Patterson and Chandler Lawson; transfers Shakur Juiston, Anthony Mathis and Chris Duarte. Throw in Francis Okoro, and there are enough pieces here for Dana Altman to have fun figuring things out.
There’s an argument to be made that Seton Hall is going to be the best team in the Big East next season. This is essentially the same roster that Seton Hall had last season, which matters because Myles Powell returns for his senior season. He is one of the most dangerous scorers in all of college hoops. He is going to be an All-American. He’s awesome. He also has a solid supporting cast, with Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight and Sandro Mamukelashvili all back. Their ceiling will likely be determined by how good Jared Rhoden and Ike Obiagu end up being this season.
14. NORTH CAROLINA
WHO’S GONE: Coby White, Nassir Little, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods
Cole Anthony is going to be the most productive freshman in college basketball this season. He’s a terrific athlete, a high-volume scorer and the kind of uber-competitive lead guard that will make North Carolina fans forget about Coby White fairly quickly. The problem for the Heels is that White isn’t the only guy they lost. Luke Maye, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams are all gone as well. I think Armando Bacot is going to be very, very good for UNC in the long term, and adding a pair of grad transfers in Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling will certainly help, but there is going to be a learning curve early on for this group.
15. UTAH STATE
WHO’S GONE: Quinn Taylor
WHO’S BACK: Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta, Diogo Brito, Brock Miller, Abel Porter
WHO’S COMING IN: Alphonso Anderson, Liam McChesney, Sean Bairstow
PROJECTED STARTERS: Diogo Brito, Abel Porter, Sam Merrill, Brock Miller, Neemias Queta
Once we got word that the knee injury suffered by star center Neemias Queta in the FIBA U20 Euros was not serious, we knew that Craig Smith and this Utah State team would be the best in the Mountain West and arguably the best outside the power conferences. Queta is one reason why. Sam Merrill, who might play his way onto All-America teams by the time March roles around, is probably a bigger reason why. All told, the Aggies bring back five of their top six from last season. They are going to be dangerous.
WHO’S GONE: Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther, Brandon Randolph
WHO’S BACK: Dylan Smith, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams, Alex Barcello, Ira Lee
WHO’S COMING IN: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Christian Koloko, Zeke Nnaji, Stone Gettings
PROJECTED STARTERS: Max Hazzard, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Ira Lee, Chase Jeter
With everything going on around the program, it’s hard to believe that this team will be fighting with Oregon and Washington for Pac-12 supremacy. Nico Mannion and Josh Green, a pair of five-star freshman, are the headliners, and their jobs will be all-the-more important with Brandon Williams out due to a knee injury. UC Irvine transfer Max Hazzard should provide some experience and depth, but the key is going to be how Sean Miller handles his frontcourt. Can Chase Jeter be trusted? Is Zeke Nnaji going to live up to the preseason hype? How good is Ira Lee?
17. SAINT MARY’S
WHO’S GONE: Jordan Hunter
WHO’S BACK: Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Dan Fotu, Jock Perry
WHO’S COMING IN: Aaron Menzies, Alex Ducas, Kyle Bowen
PROJECTED STARTERS: Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Malik Fitts, Jock Perry
The Gaels have been to just two of the last six NCAA tournaments, but this looks like a season where they are going to get back. Jordan Ford is going to be this year’s mid-major star to know, while Malik Fitts is the kind of athletic and versatile small-ball four that will allow SMC to matchup with power conference programs. Throw in the return of Tommy Kuhse and Tanner Krebs as well as the addition of 7-foot-3 center Aaron Menzies, Randy Bennett has himself a squad.
WHO’S GONE: Ryan Welage, Zach Hankins, Kyle Castlin, Elias Harden
WHO’S BACK: Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones
WHO’S COMING IN: Kyky Tandy, Dahmir Bishop, Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, Daniel Ramsey, Dieonte Miles
PROJECTED STARTERS: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Jason Carter, Tyrique Jones
The Musketeers are better than people realize. After a strong finish to last season, Travis Steele returns four starters, including potential breakout star Naji Marshall. Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs and Tyrique Jones are all back as well, and with the arrival of recruiting class that includes five four-star players and a pair of immediately eligible transfers, Xavier has the look of a team that is going to make a run at the top of the Big East.
WHO’S GONE: Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Kavell-Bigby Williams
WHO’S BACK: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor, Darius Days
LSU looked like they could be one of the worst teams in the SEC heading into this year. Then the school decided not to fire Will Wade. Then Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams and Marlon Taylor all decided to return to schol. Then Trendon Watford committed. Wade has done more with less. The x-factor is going to be when the NCAA drops their Notice of Allegations.
WHO’S GONE: King McClure, Makai Mason, Jake Lindsey
WHO’S BACK: Tristan Clark, Jared Butler, Devonte Bandoo, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillespie, Matthew Mayer
WHO’S COMING IN: Jordan Turner, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell
PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, Mark Vital, MaCio Teague, Tristan Clark
I’ll be honest: I think I might actually have Baylor too low here. The Bears finished in the top half of the Big 12 last season despite missing Tristan Clark for all of league play. Now he’s back, as is the majority of their key pieces: Mark Vital, Devonte Bandoo. Throw in Davion Mitchell and Macio Teague, a pair of talented transfers, and freshman Jordan Turner, and Scott Drew might have his deepest team in Waco. He finds a way to get it done with guys that don’t really matter. It’s going to be interesting to see what he can do now that he has a roster that’s good enough to give the Bears some level of expectation.
WHO’S GONE: Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks Jr., Raynere Thornton, Kareem Brewton, Antwann Jones Jr.
WHO’S BACK: Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
Losing Chuma Okeke early to the draft hurts, but that was expect. Losing Jared Harper? That hurt more. The good news is J’Von McCormick showed flashes of being ready to take over for Harper, and it looks like Isaac Okoro is going to be able to do some of the things that made Okeke so good for Auburn. There are going to be some growing pains, but there is enough talent here for the Tigers to be relevant in the SEC.
WHO’S GONE: Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone, Grant Williams, Derrick Walker Jr, D.J. Burns
WHO’S BACK: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson, Jalen Johnson
PROJECTED STARTERS: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Josiah James, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson
Missing out on Kerry Blackshear really hurt, because the Vols have everything other than a big man. Lamonte Turner should be able to make Tennessee fans forget Jordan Bone left early. Josiah James should have an immediate and significant impact as a freshman. There’s a lot to like about Jordan Bowden, too. But not having that rock to anchor the offense, a guy to fill the Grant Williams role, is why Tennessee is at the back end of the top 25.
WHO’S GONE: Michael Gilmore
WHO’S BACK: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Vince Williams, Mike’L Simms, P.J. Byrd, Malik Crawford
PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Vince Williams, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva
The Rams being essentially everyone back from a 25-win team that went 16-2 in the Atlantic 10 last season, finished the year ranked seventh in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and adds an impressive recruiting class. Perhaps most important – Marcus Evans has had a full offseason to get himself healthy. Look out for the Rams.
25. OHIO STATE
WHO’S GONE: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
WHO’S BACK: Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington, Kyle Young, Justin Aherns, Musa Jallow, Jaedon LeDee
WHO’S COMING IN: D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, EJ Liddel, Ibrahima Diallo, CJ Walker
PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson
I might be too low on the Buckeyes. Kaleb Wesson returns to school, and he will be joined by Luther Muhammad and Andre Wesson in the frontcourt. There is a lot to like about some of the young talent on OSU’s roster – particularly freshman point guard D.J. Carton – and as always, Chris Holtmann is as good as any coach in the country.
FIVE TEAMS THAT JUST MISSED
WHO’S GONE: Nathan Ekwu, Dusan Kovacevic
WHO’S BACK: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luka Brajkovic, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Carter Collins, David Czerapowicz, Bates Jones
WHO’S COMING IN: Hyunjung Lee, David Kristensen
PROJECTED STARTERS: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Luka Brajkovic
WHO’S GONE: Sam Froling, Kaleb Joseph, Connor Cashaw
WHO’S BACK: Davion Mintz, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson, Damien Jefferson, Marcus Zegarowski
WHO’S COMING IN: Shereef Mitchell
PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mintz, Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson
WHO’S GONE: Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, Dominic Green
WHO’S BACK: Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, Jamal Bey
Unfortunately, there will be no Zion Williamson-level star to be found among this year’s freshman class.
Although the Class of 2019 has some exciting future one-and-done players who should contribute in college basketball this season it is hard to image any newcomer captivating the nation like Zion did last season at Duke.
But there are still plenty of names to keep an eye on.
Memphis could have their very own Fab Five this season as head coach Penny Hardaway looks like he is going to start all freshmen. Duke and Kentucky continued their decade-long recruiting war with two more solid classes filled with McDonald’s All-Americans. Others like North Carolina and Washington reloaded with multiple Burger Boys following last season’s NCAA tournament appearances.
Here’s a look at five of the biggest freshmen stars, five potential Trae Youngs (recruits ranked near the 20s who could explode) and five names ranked near the 50s and below who could emerge nationally this season.
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis: On a team that could start five freshman for head coach Penny Hardaway this season Wiseman will be the one to keep tabs on. The 7-foot-1 lefty brings a rare combination of size, length, athleticism and skill. Some recruiting analysts believe Wiseman is the No. 1 prospect in the freshman class coming out of high school. Having previously played for Hardaway at Memphis East during his junior season of high school, Wiseman will be a rare elite recruit to play for a head coach he’s very familiar with.
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Taking over for Coby White after his outstanding freshman season, the 6-foot-3 Anthony could very well be the most productive freshman – if not the most productive player – in college hoops this season. The son of Greg Anthony, Cole’s unique ability to take over a game stems from his Westbrook-like ability to contribute in every facet of a game. A regular triple-double threat in high school, Anthony is bouncy around the basket and skilled as a scorer as his ability to go off the bounce creates offense for himself or others. On a Tar Heel team that needs Anthony to play heavy minutes, but doesn’t need him to do everything it’ll be fascinating to see how quickly Anthony can lead this team with the ball in his hands. Playing fast as Roy Williams like shouldn’t be a problem for Anthony.
ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia: When Edwards reclassified from the Class of 2020 and committed to Georgia it was a massive coup for Tom Crean. That’s because Edwards might end up being the best long-term player of the Class of 2019. Athletic and strong at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Edwards is a three-level scorer who easily plays above the rim or well behind the three-point line. Effortless as a scorer at times, Edwards can get it rolling as a shooter and he’s destructive off the bounce thanks to his strength and quick first step. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Bulldogs use Edwards this season. The guard could easily stay positioned on the perimeter or Georgia could opt to use Edwards as a forward in some small-ball scenarios.
ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: An absolute terror in the paint, Washington head coach Mike Hopkins deserves a lot of credit for getting the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Stewart in the door. That’s because Stewart has a chance to be an immediate All-American. A potential double-double machine, Stewart is a throwback type of big man who wants to mix it up and hang inside. Although Stewart has an improving skill level that has some placing him in the top five of mock drafts, his physicality will stand out for a freshman — particularly in a league like the Pac-12. Coupled with another McDonald’s All-American in Jaden McDaniels and the Huskies have very high hopes for the freshman class.
TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky: Other freshmen might be better pro prospects but the 6-foot-3 Maxey has a chance to be Kentucky’s leading scorer this season. Likely logging heavy minutes next to Ashton Hagans in the Wildcat backcourt, Maxey was one of the elite scorers in the class as he made it look easy at times in the Nike EYBL. Maxey is capable of also handling the ball and running some offense and his intensity on the defensive end is solid for a noted scorer. Kentucky once again has a lot of talent and a deep recruiting class but Maxey will be the one counted on for the most production right away. Maxey was listed as an NBC Sports Preseason All-American.
TRE MANN, Florida: A scoring guard with deep range and tons of potential, keeping this in-state product home was a big grab for the Gators. The 6-foot-3 Mann should really help Florida from three-point range as they struggled with consistency in that department last season (33 percent as a team). Mann is the type of aggressive heat-check guard who will let them fly. Few in the Class of 2019 could go on scoring runs like he could. With veterans inside like Kerry Blackshear and plenty of long and athletic wings around him, Mann has the ability to make a major impact right away — particularly on the offensive end.
C.J. WALKER, Oregon: Bouncy, shot-blocking forwards have thrived for the Ducks in recent seasons as they hope the 6-foot-8 Walker can follow in the footsteps of players like Jordan Bell and Kenny Wooten. Walker is more of a wing than those two but he still provides rim protection and ability to defend multiple spots on the floor. With an improving jumper, Walker is particularly intriguing because of a high motor and a willingness to do the little things. If Walker can show more on offense than activity plays around the basket then he could have a big impact right away.
ISAAC OKORO, AUBURN: After making a run to last season’s title game, the Tigers are looking to the 6-foot-6 Okoro to earn some key minutes right away. A multi-position athlete who could make a huge impact on the defensive end, Okoro is the type of shutdown defender who can capably lock down four spots. Auburn’s trapping scheme should help Okoro make a lot of plays in transition as he’s one of the best open-floor players in the class as well. Although Okoro isn’t as polished offensively as some on this list, he has a chance to make a huge impact if he shows a steady perimeter jumper.
JAHMIUS RAMSEY, Texas Tech: Guards at Texas Tech have been known to make giant leaps the past few seasons thanks to Zaire Smith and Jarrett Culver both getting picked in the first round. The Red Raiders are hoping the 6-foot-4 Ramsey can be the next in line to make an immediate impact. Staying in Texas for school, Ramsey has a chance to make an impact at both guard spots right away. More inclined to score at the high school level, Ramsey can also set up others as he’s at his best attacking the basket. On a team that will need some newcomers to step up, Ramsey should have the ball in his hands quite a bit as he’ll be asked to do a lot.
DE’VION HARMON, Oklahoma: The Sooners don’t have much experience returning in the backcourt from last season, paving the way for the 6-foot-1 Harmon to come in and play right away. One of the toughest perimeter defenders in the class, the lefty also make an impact on offense where he can run a halfcourt offense or score on his own. With a massive wingspan, Harmon is problematic on the perimeter as he’s drawn favorable comparisons to a recent Big 12 legend in Jevon Carter.
JALEN WILSON, Kansas: Wilson isn’t the typical five-star prospect that Kansas has grown accustomed to over Bill Self’s tenure. But there’s still a big need for the 6-foot-8 wing to potentially join a thin Jayhawk rotation this season as they try to get back on top of the Big 12. A former Michigan recruit who flipped his commitment following John Beilein’s NBA departure, Wilson gives Kansas some floor spacing as his perimeter jumper and ability to score is his calling card. Wilson doesn’t need to have a huge freshmen season for Kansas to be a contender but his emergence could make them that much more dangerous.
CASEY MORSELL, Virginia: It isn’t typical for freshmen to log heavy minutes for Virginia but Tony Bennett might not have a better choice after losing Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy early. The 6-foot-3 Morsell comes with typical prerequisites that are required of a successful Cavaliers guard. Morsell is competitive, tough and willing to defend as the D.C. native is one of the top two-way guards in the class. Although Morsell isn’t going to do anything flashy he can be a steady presence for a Virginia lineup desperately seeking a new identity this season.
KOFI COCKBURN, Illinois: At 7-feet tall and nearly 300 pounds, Cockburn is the highest-ranked Illinois center since Meyers Leonard. Impossible to move out of the paint, Cockburn isn’t the most athletic big man, but his bruising style and soft touch should fit in well in the Big Ten. Cockburn’s addition to the Illini rotation also allows for promising sophomore big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili to play at the four, giving Illinois a premier post offense if the duo shares the floor. Defensively, Cockburn should also help with some rim protection as he’s solid as a positional post defender.
TRE MITCHELL, UMass: A rare top-100 recruit for the Atlantic 10, the 6-foot-9 Mitchell should be one of the league’s better post players as head coach Matt McCall looks to get the program back on track. A gifted offensive weapon who can score in the post or also face up with the jumper, Mitchell will be a major piece for the Minutemen to build with this season. A potential four-year player, Mitchell isn’t an elite athlete. But he should command some double teams and give UMass an immediate credible threat in the post.
ROMEO WEEMS, DePaul: One of the highest-ranked DePaul recruits of the last decade, the 6-foot-7 Weems will have a huge impact on the Blue Demons. A versatile wing forward who can do a bit of everything, Weems should fit in nicely with a DePaul frontcourt that features an underrated talent in Paul Reed. Weems is skilled enough to handle the ball and initiate some offense while remaining rugged enough to defend multiple spots and rebound.
The 33 best non-conference games in college basketball in 2019-2020
We went through the non-conference schedule for every college basketball program in the country and picked out the best 33 games that will be played between the start of the season on November 5th and the beginning of league play around the New Year.
We are doing this a bit differently that we have in the past.
Instead of ranking each of the 33 games, we are going to list them in chronological order. We’re actually doing you a favor. Just bookmark this page and throughout the month of November, periodically come back and check to see when and were the best games to watch that day will be.
11/5: CHAMPIONS CLASSIC (New York City): No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, No. 3 KANSAS vs. No. 6 DUKE
There’s a very real chance that when the AP Preseason Top 25 poll is released that it will feature these four teams as the top four teams in the country.
And on the opening night of the season, we will get all four of them in the same building at the same time.
You cannot write scripts better than this.
Personally, I am much more excited to see Michigan State take on Kentucky. For starters, those are the two best teams in the country, for my money, and both of them have enough returning from last season that this should be a fairly high level basketball game. I’m also salivating thinking about watching the matchup between NBC Sports Preseason Player of the Year Cassius Winston trying to operate against the best defensive player in college basketball in Ashton Hagans.
That means that the opening act will likely end up being the battle of the blue bloods – Kansas vs. Duke. I love Kansas this year. With Udoka Azubuike healthy, Ochai Agbaji ready for a breakout season and Devon Dotson running the show, the Jayhawks have a chance to win the national title in a season where they are going to have the looming NCAA sanctions hanging over their heads. As a fan of the messy drama, I want to see that happen. Duke, on the other hand, is going to look completely different from the team we saw last season, but with Tre Jones leading another crop of talented freshmen, they will be right back in the mix.
In other words … LFGGGGGG!!!!!!!
11/6: CINCINNATI at No. 25 OHIO STATE
I love that Chris Holtmann made it a point to play some of his in-state rivals. I love that we get the Bearcats facing off with the Buckeyes. And I will love it even more if this game ends up being more entertaining that last season’s 64-56 barnburner.
11/8: No. 20 BAYLOR vs. WASHINGTON (Anchorage)
Baylor is one of the more underrated teams in college basketball this season. I have them at No. 20 and that might be one of the lower rankings you’ll see this month. Washington, on the other hand, is one of the favorites to win the Pac-12, pairing two top ten recruits – Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels – with a handful of intriguing returnees.
11/8: No. 22 AUBURN vs. DAVIDSON (Annapolis)
Davidson is a borderline top 25 and will compete with VCU and Dayton for the Atlantic 10 title. Auburn, on the other hand, is going to be very good once again. This game, on the first Friday of the season, will be a great chance for us to get a feel for just how good both of these teams are.
I love Florida this season. They are a very legitimate national title contender with Kerry Blackshear in the fold, and we will get a chance to see them play against a talented and very athletic Florida State team. In-state rivalries in the first week of the season may not be pretty, but it will be intense.
11/12: No. 21 MEMPHIS at No. 12 OREGON
No team in the country has had a better summer and fall than Oregon. They’ve added highly-regarded grad transfers and talented freshmen in the last three months to make Duck fans forget about the fact that they lost so much to the NBA draft. Meanwhile, Memphis is starting five freshmen, including a pair of lottery picks, and has a head coach that has his own line of Nike shoes.
11/13: No. 5 VILLANOVA at No. 25 OHIO STATE
The headline game of the first night of the Gavitt Games. I have them ranked fifth and 25th, but I have a feeling when the AP poll is released later this month that both will be somewhere in the teens. As good as both of these teams will be – and I do think they will be good – the most intriguing part of this matchup will be watching Jay Wright match wits with Chris Holtmann.
11/13: No. 19 LSU at No. 24 VCU
The smartest thing that VCU does is put into their head coach contracts that they require any coach that leaves to return to play them in a home-and-home. This is that game. Will Wade returns home to face his old program. The Rams return everyone from one of the best defenses in college hoops, while LSU should be better than you think after the drama they have dealt with in the past six months.
11/14: No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE at No. 13 SETON HALL
This is one of the games that I have circled on my calender. Seton Hall is going to be better than anyone realizes with Myles Powell back in the fold, while Michigan State is Michigan State. Getting this game in Newark as part of the Gavitt Games is a coup for Kevin Willard’s program.
11/16: No. 23 TENNESSEE vs. WASHINGTON (Toronto)
The Vols lost quite a bit during the offseason, but they do bring back Lamonte Turner and add a talented freshman in Josiah James. This will be another chance for us to see Washington’s star freshmen – Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels – face-off with elite competition before the start of conference play.
11/28: No. 21 MEMPHIS vs. N.C. STATE (Brooklyn)
For all of the people that live in New York City and want to get a chance to see the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft play while he is still in college, this is going to be your chance. James Wiseman, Penny Hardaway and the Tigers are heading to BKNY.
11/29: No. 15 UTAH STATE at No. 17 SAINT MARY’S
These are the two best teams in the mid-major ranks this season and will feature arguably the two best players in the mid-major ranks in Jordan Ford and Sam Merrill. Dear Basketball Gods, please make sure this game is on TV.
12/3: No. 6 DUKE at No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE
The latest iteration of the Baby Blue Devils will be getting their first true road test as they make the trek up to East Lansing to take on the best team in college basketball. Once again, we have an absolutely marquee point guard matchup, as Cassius Winston will be squaring off with Tre Jones.
12/4: No. 10 VIRGINIA at PURDUE
A rematch of what may be the single-best college basketball game in recent memory, last year’s Elite Eight battle between the Cavaliers and the Boilermakers. So many of the relevant players are off to the NBA, but with Matt Painter and Tony Bennett back, this should be just as much fun.
12/4: No. 25 OHIO STATE at No. 14 NORTH CAROLINA
Another terrific matchup in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, as the Buckeyes head to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina. This will be the first real chance for America to get a taste of just how good Cole Anthony is going to be.
12/7: No. 16 ARIZONA at No. 20 BAYLOR
This will be one of the first real chances that we all get to see Arizona play this season. The Wildcats are back among the nation’s elite, as they landed two of the best guards in the country. Baylor is the exact opposite, as they are a veteran roster filled with guys that were overlooked coming out of high school. This should be fun.
12/7: CINCINNATI at No. 18 XAVIER
The Crosstown Shootout, baby! The most underrated rivalry in all of sports. The good news is that both of these teams have a shot to win their respective league titles this season. Jarron Cumberland is one of the most underrated players in the country, point-blank-period.
12/8: No. 8 GONZAGA at WASHINGTON
Another criminally-underrated rivalry. I love that the Zags and U-Dub play annually these days. It is great for the sport, especially when it features one of the most intriguing frontcourt battles that we will see this season. Washington’s star freshmen against the likes of Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev.
12/8: DAYTON vs. No. 17 SAINT MARY’S
Davidson and VCU are the favorites in the Atlantic 10, but the Flyers – with four high-major transfers joining the program – have a chance to win the league. Saint Mary’s is also a threat in the WCC behind the talent of point guard Jordan Ford.
12/10: JIMMY V CLASSIC: No. 4 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 11 TEXAS TECH (New York City)
I’m all in on Louisville this season, assuming that Fresh Kimble and David Johnson, when he gets healthy, will be able to thrive in the point guard role. Texas Tech’s path to greatness is more difficult to predict, but I worship at the altar of Chris Beard and have no doubt that he will find a way to make yet another rebuilt roster work. Last year, it was a trip to New York City and a game against Duke that put the Red Raiders on the map.
12/14: No. 8 GONZAGA at No. 16 ARIZONA
I think you can make the argument that these two teams are the two best programs on the west coast right now. I think that it is great that they are facing off, and I look forward to seeing how Sean Miller deals with Gonzaga’s big men and what Mark Few does to combat Arizona’s guards.
12/14: No. 21 MEMPHIS at No. 23 TENNESSEE
Last year, in the Fed Ex Forum, it got so wild in the stands that a Memphis fan got arrested for taking a dump behind a Dippin’ Dots stand. While I hope that the good people of Knoxville can control their bodily functions, I do expect this to be just as intense of a rivalry game.
12/18: No. 14 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 8 GONZAGA
The return game. The Tar Heels picked off the Zags in Chapel Hill last year, and while the relevant players are going to be very different this season, it will be a chance for Mark Few’s club to exact some revenge.
12/17: No. 7 FLORIDA vs. PROVIDENCE (Brooklyn)
We know how good Florida is going to be this season. Providence is not entering the season with anywhere near the same level of hype, but the Friars have some quality pieces that will keep them relevant in the Big East this season. This will be a good gauge game for them to determine just what “relevant in the Big East” truly means.
12/19: No. 9 MARYLAND at No. 13 SETON HALL
Another marquee matchup for Seton Hall in Newark. Believe it or not, this will be Maryland’s toughest non-conference matchup this season. It will be their chance to prove that they are good enough to make a run at Michigan State atop the Big Ten regular standings.
12/21: No. 2 KENTUCKY vs. No. 25 OHIO STATE (Las Vegas)
There are a couple of intriguing storylines here. For starters, Chris Holtmann’s name is one that people like to mention when discussing eventual successors to John Calipari. So that will be fun. But Ohio State will have a real shot to win this game because Kentucky does not have the size inside to deal with Kaleb Wesson.
12/21: No. 3 KANSAS at No. 5 VILLANOVA
A rematch of the 2018 Final Four game that will feature just seven players that saw minutes on that night in Arizona. We know how good Kansas is. This will be a massive test for the Wildcats, who will be looking to prove that Jay Wright can win with teams that are on the younger side.
12/21: No. 7 FLORIDA vs. No. 15 UTAH STATE (Sunrise, FL)
This will be a critical game for the Aggies is they are going to build a resume that is strong enough to earn an at-large bid. Technically, it will be a neutral site game, but Utah State will be the team flying across the country to play.
12/28: No. 4 LOUISVILLE at No. 2 KENTUCKY
Do I really need to explain this? The most intense rivalry in college sports and both teams are ranked in the top five. Like I said earlier … LFGGGGG!!!!!!
1/25: No. 2 KENTUCKY at No. 11 TEXAS TECH
The reigning national runners-up face off with the team that checks in at No. 2 in the NBC Sports top 25. I would have preferred to see Kentucky and Kansas go up against each other in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge again, but this will do just fine.
1/25: No. 23 TENNESSEE at No. 3 KANSAS
When these two played in the Barclays Center last season, it was a battle of top five teams featuring a pair of All-Americans that went to overtime. Those All-Americans are gone, but the intrigue will still be there if the Vols are as good as advertised.
1/25: No. 20 BAYLOR at No. 7 FLORIDA
An underrated Baylor team heads to Gainesville to play an underrated Florida team in a non-conference battle that’s taking place in the heart of league play. Everyone’s a winner!