We’ve entered the second week of the college basketball season after an eventful first few days. The week didn’t get off to exactly a rousing start, but there were some notable results – and performances – on Monday evening across the country.
1. Buffalo outlasts Southern Illinois
Kentucky isn’t the only team to have a little trouble with the Salukis. Just a weekend removed from its overtime win at West Virginia, 25th-ranked Buffalo could never get great separation from Southern Illinois but claimed a 62-53 win in Carbondale on Monday.
It was a second-straight impressive road win for the Bulls, who won despite shooting just 35.5 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range. They did it with a defense that forced 19 turnovers and held the Salukis to a 3 of 13 mark from distance. CJ Massinburg came back to earth after scoring 43 against the Mountaineers, being held to just seven points on 3 of 9 shooting. Montell McRae and Jeremy Harris both had 11 to lead the Bulls. It may not have been a pretty win for Nate Oats’ team, but against a feisty opponent on the road coming off an emotional victory, it’s undoubtedly a welcome one.
For Southern Illinois, it was a second close-but-no-cigar effort after it pushed Kentucky to the limit in a 12-point loss last week. Kavion Pippen had 18 points to lead the Salukis in scoring. The Bulls and Salukis will have a rematch Dec. 15 in Buffalo.
2. North Carolina stomped Stanford
In what was really the marquee matchup of the night, the Tar Heels had little trouble dispatching Stanford in Chapel Hill, 90-72. Luke Maye had 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Cameron Johnson continued impressive play as the former Pitt transfer put up 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting while also grabbing seven rebounds. The 6-foot-9 senior has scored at least 17 points in all three of UNC’s games this season.
After putting up 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting against Elon on Friday, freshman Nassir Little struggled, making just 4 of 10 shots (0 of 3 from deep), though he did play a season-high 24 minutes off the bench. North Carolina’s start t the season isn’t likely to get much tougher in the near-term with games against Tennessee Tech and St. Francis up next before the Las Vegas Invitational pits them against Texas and then either Michigan State or UCLA before tilts with Michigan (Nov. 28) and Gonzaga (Dec. 15) really test them.
3. Lagerald Vick perfect from distance as Kansas overcomes early troubles
A cascade of 3s put Vermont up early, but an 8 of 8 performance from Lagerald Vick from behind the line helped propel Kansas past the Catamounts. 84-68. Vick finished with a career high 32 points while going 12 of 14 overall from the floor. Pretty good for a guy who wasn’t even going to be a member of the Jayhawks program after three years in Lawrence not too long ago.
An early 18-4 run staked Vermont to an early lead, but the Catamounts couldn’t keep pace as Vick went wild and Udoka Azubuike produced inside to the tune of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman point guard Quentin Grimes had 10 points and 10 assists. The game proved to be a pretty solid encapsulation of the depth and weapons that Bill Self has at his disposal this season as Dedric Lawson, a popular first-team All-American pick, went scoreless with an 0 for 6 night, yet the Jayhawks had two seniors put up monster numbers and a rookie drop 10 dimes. Kansas can beat you in a variety of ways with a variety of players.
Anthony Lamb had 24 points while Ernie Duncan added 17 and Stef Smith 13 for the Catamounts, who face Louisville on Friday.
Report: NCAA given OK to investigate teams mentioned in corruption scandal
With the college basketball regular season getting underway Tuesday night, this was a good time for a rather significant news dump.
Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that the FBI has given the NCAA the OK to begin investigating some of the programs that have been mentioned during the recent cases on corruption and bribes in college basketball recruiting. Among the programs mentioned during the first trial were Louisville, Kansas and NC State.
Tuesday’s development is big because the NCAA will likely have access to information that it may not have been able to procure without the FBI investigation. The NCAA does not have subpoena power, which has a significant impact on investigations that involve former athletes, coaches or individuals who have no connection to an athletic department, as they cannot be forced to speak to NCAA investigators.
Last month former adidas basketball executive James Gatto, former adidas grassroots basketball employee Merl Code Jr. and former runner/aspiring agent Christian Dawkins were found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. While Gatto and Code were found guilty of two counts, Dawkins was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The lawyers for all three plan to appeal the verdicts in the coming months.
There are two more rounds of trials in connection with the FBI investigation that have yet to begin, with those scheduled for February and April. Among the men indicted who have yet to be tried are former Division I assistant coaches Tony Bland (USC), Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State), Chuck Person (Auburn) and Emmanuel “Book” Richardson (Arizona).
Top-ranked Kansas takes care of No. 10 Michigan State
The opening game of the Champions Classic between No. 1 Kansas and No. 10 Michigan State offered up more drama than expected late, but the Jayhawks managed to hang on for the 92-87 victory in the regular season opener for both teams.
While Kansas’ improved depth has been one reason why they’ve been viewed as an early favorite to cut down the nets in April, the Jayhawks’ stars were the difference makers against Michigan State. Freshman guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson performed well on the perimeter, combining to score 37 points (21 for Grimes), with Dedric Lawson adding 20 points and 14 rebounds and Udoka Azubuike scoring 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field.
The Champions Classic tends to be a good early season litmus test for newcomers, as they are being tested against high-level talent in a big-game environment. But while there’s still plenty of work to be done, neither Dotson nor Grimes looked to be bothered by the big stage Tuesday night. Grimes’ smooth shooting stroke produced six three-pointers, four coming in the first stanza, giving Kansas perimeter production during a half in which it managed to score 26 points in the paint.
Michigan State didn’t have much of an answer for Kansas in the first half, and that includes the dynamic between Lawson and Azubuike.
The addition of Lawson, who averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game at Memphis in 2016-17, gives Kansas a player who can not only score on multiple levels but can also be used as another creator off of the dribble. On multiple occasions Kansas was able to run the two-man game with Lawson and Azubuike, a dynamic that last year’s Final Four team lacked.
Lawson didn’t shoot particularly well Tuesday night, finishing 5-for-18 from the field, but he was able to get to the foul line (8-for-10), control the glass and dish out a game-high six assists. Lawson isn’t going to make a habit of shooting that poorly this season, and his entire set of skills make the redshirt junior an incredibly tough matchup to deal with. And his presence opens things up for a 7-footer in Azubuike outplayed Michigan State’s big men Tuesday night.
Azubuike, who led the nation in field goal percentage last season, had little trouble getting to his spots within the Kansas offense. While there were some instances of the junior center having both feet planted in the paint, there were others where he had to do some work after receiving the entry pass. And his strength was too much for Michigan State to deal with, regardless of which big they sent Azubuike’s way.
There may be occasions when he shares the court with a David McCormack or Silvio De Sousa (if he’s cleared), but those pairings may not happen very often given how well Azubuike and Lawson appear to work together. And as the freshman guards continue to mature, Kansas should be an even tougher team to deal with than they were for much of Tuesday’s season opener.
While plenty of our best-of lists are heavily populated by freshmen, this one, highlighting the top frontcourt players in the country, has a decidedly veteran bent.
From four-year stars to seasoned upperclassmen to super sophs and successful transfers, the best players big men in the country this season will be no strangers to college basketball fans.
Here are the 10 best big men heading into the 2018-19 season.
1. LUKE MAYE, North Carolina
By this point, Maye’s story is well known as he went from over-qualified walk-on to a potential National Player of the Year. Still, his rise is remarkable. He went from averaging 5.5 points in 14.4 minutes per game as a sophomore to 16.9 points in 32.2 minutes per game as a junior to establish himself as one of college basketball’s best bigs – and players.
Maye, a 6-foot-8 power forward, has gotten there largely on the strength of his ability to stretch defenses. He shot 43.1 percent from 3-point range last season, including a mark of 46.6 percent in ACC play, which was tops in the league. A rather remarkable feat for a frontcourt player who launched over 100 3s for the season. In a sport often dominated by freshmen, Maye gives North Carolina the valuable weapon of the combination of experience and talent.
2. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga
The 6-foot-8 Japanese standout has been a favorite in basketball circles for awhile, though he’s yet to truly breakthrough in a major way to the broader hoops public. That could very much change this season.
Hachimura averaged 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds as a sophomore for the Bulldogs last year while shooting 60.6 percent inside the arc. It’s been on the international scene, though, where he’s really flashed the potential that has him being looked at as a lottery pick. He averaged 20.6 points and 11 rebounds in the 2017 U19 World Cup and he’s averaging 21.5 points and six rebounds per game in Japan’s World Cup qualifiers this year. WIth Johnathan Williams graduated and Killian Tillie out for two months with injury, Hachimura will take over the Gonzaga frontcourt in a big way.
3. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas
The Kansas roster is loaded with returners off last year’s Final Four squad, a top-flight recruiting class and transfers like K.J Lawson and Charlie Moore, but it’s Dedric Lawson, a transfer from Memphis, that really puts the Jayhawks over the top as the preseason national title favorite.
As a sophomore at Memphis, the 6-foot-9 forward averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He’s an elite defensive rebounder, an underappreciated shot blocker and a willing passer. He can replicate something close to the numbers he put up in the AAC in the Big 12, Lawson will have a spot on the All-American first team.
4. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
Wisconsin was bad last year. The Badgers finished under .500 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in two decades. That famed top-four-in-the-Big-Ten run came to a close, too, obviously. Things were not sweet in Madison. Ethan Happ, though, he was good.
The Badger big man averaged 17.9 points, eight rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game while converting at a 52.8 percent clip from the floor. As an under-the-rim player who doesn’t stretch the floor, Happ doesn’t project particularly well at the next level, but he is unquestionably one of the top players – let alone big men – in the country. Wisconsin should be improved this season, and Happ will once again get his due after sliding off the radar some during the Baders’ dip last season.
5. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
Grant Williams has a chance to do something that no one has done since Corliss Williamson and Shaquille O’Neal did in the early 1990s: Repeat as SEC Player of the Year, as Williamson did in ‘94 and ‘95 and the Shaq Diesel did in ‘91 and ‘92.
The 6-foot-7 junior averaged 15.2 points, six rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season en route to those honors as the Volunteers surprised just about everyone with their move to the top of the SEC standings. Williams, picked as the league’s preseason player of the year this fall, isn’t a high-level finisher, but he draws fouls, gets to the line and frustrates opponents at a rate few others can match.
6. REID TRAVIS, Kentucky
It’ll be interesting to see how Travis fits in at Kentucky after spending four NCAA tournament-less seasons out west at Stanford. Given the monster numbers he put up the last two seasons with the Cardinal, it’s not hard to see the 6-foot-8, 238-pound forward as the linchpin on an otherwise young roster.
Travis put up 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while shooting 52.7 percent from the floor. As a graduate transfer who flirted with the idea of going pro before making his way to Lexington, the bet is here that Travis embraces his role around a group of talented-yet-inexperienced teammates to help make the Wildcats one of the preeminent national title contenders.
7. DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas
Gafford could have easily called it a collegiate career last year after averaging 11.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks while shooting 60.5 percent from the floor. The 6-foot-11 Arkansas native made the decision quickly that he’d return to the Razorbacks after his rookie campaign, and enters this season as one of the premier shot blockers in the country.
8. DEAN WADE, Kansas State
There’s not much flashy about Wade’s game. He’s not overly athletic and he’s not going to be throwing down rim-rattling dunks, but he leads the charge for a Kansas State team that brings back everyone from last year’s surprise Elite Eight team.
He averaged 16.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals (more than he averaged on blocks) as a junior, but it was his 44 percent mark from 3-point range that truly made him an offensive threat and a potential All-American for his senior season.
9. MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State
All Mike Daum has done for three seasons in Brookings is put up huge numbers. He averaged 15 points as a freshman before 25 as a sophomore and 23.9 – while shooting 42.5 percent from deep – last season as a junior. The 6-foot-9 Nebraska native could have been a graduate transfer or gone pro after last season, but instead returned to what will be the overwhelming favorite in the Summit and almost certainly a Cinderella darling come March.
10. P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky
The strangest part of this list is that it has two Kentucky Wildcats and neither are freshmen. How about that?
Washington averaged 10.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists last season as a rookie for John Calipari. He’s back for his sophomore campaign, and it’ll be interesting to see how he’s deployed by Calipari, who will have decisions to make about weighing 3-point shooting, experience and defense with his lineup construction, especially up front.
What defines a big man in college basketball these days?
In the NBA, there are clearly defined types of bigs.
There are stretch-fours, stretch-fives, switchable rim-runners, rim-protecters, skilled fives.
And these days, those bigs come in all shapes and sizes, from Draymond Green to Clint Capela, from Joel Embiid to Giannis Antetokuonmpo.
In college, it’s a little bit different.
Since the Golden State Warriors haven’t broken the sport like they have at the highest level, teams can play different styles and have success. Villanova won the 2018 national title by going all in on spacing, shooting and skill while the 2017 national title was played between North Carolina and Gonzaga, two teams that played with massive frontcourts.
Styles can still make fights at this level, which makes the different frontcourts all that much more interesting this season.
So let’s take a look at them.
Here are the best sets of bigs in college basketball.
Players: Reid Travis, P.J. Washington, Nick Richard, E.J. Montgomery
The Wildcats may not match the numbers that some of the other teams on this list have from a depth standpoint, but they certainly hold their own from a talent standpoint. P.J. Washington and Nick Richards are the lone returnees in this quartet, with the former coming off of a freshman season in which he averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the field. The transition to college basketball was a bit more difficult for Richards, who despite starting all 37 games struggled some from a consistency standpoint and averaged 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
That season of experience should serve both Washington and Richards well, and they’ve got two very talented newcomers to work with in Reid Travis and E.J. Montgomery. Travis is the best grad transfer in college basketball this season, as he’s coming off of a 2017-18 season at Stanford in which he averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game on 52.5 percent shooting. Had Travis, who withdrew his name from the NBA draft in the spring, returned to Stanford he very well could have been the preseason Pac-12 Player of the Year. As for Montgomery, the 6-foot-10 five-star recruit earned McDonald’s All-America honors and was Florida’s Player of the Year after averaging 25.6 points, 13.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as a high school senior.
Players: Jeremy Jones, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Killian Tillie, Corey Kispert, Filip Petrusev
The front court at Mark Few’s disposal this season is a big reason why Gonzaga has the appearance of a national title contender. In junior Rui Hachimura the Bulldogs have an All-America candidate who averaged 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, shooting 56.8 percent from the field. He isn’t the only returnee in the Gonzaga front court either, as second team All-WCC big man Killian Tillie returns after averaging 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. This duo will lead the way in a rotation that will have to account for the departure of leading scorer and rebounder Johnathan Williams, and they’re joined by two talented newcomers in Brandon Clarke and Filip Petrusev.
Clarke, who sat out last season after transferring from San Jose State, averaged 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in 2016-17. At Gonzaga the 6-foot-8 redshirt junior may not score as much due to the talent he’s playing with, but he’ll certainly be an impact addition. As for Petrusev, the 6-foot-11 freshman from Serbia finished his high school career at Montverde Academy in Florida and was a key contributor on teams that won gold at both the 2017 and 2018 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championships. Sophomore Corey Kispert made seven starts last season, averaging 6.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in just over 19 minutes per game, and former walk-on Jeremy Jones will round out this talented rotation.
Players: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio De Sousa*, David McCormack
While Kansas does have some uncertainty to work through at present time due to the status of sophomore power forward Silvo De Sousa, this is still one of college basketball’s most talented front court rotations. A big reason for that is the addition of Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 blocks per game as a sophomore in 2016-17. Also making the move from Memphis was Dedric’s brother K.J., who averaged 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game during that same season. The third newcomer is 6-foot-10 forward David McCormack, who earned McDonald’s All-America honors and helped lead Oak Hill Academy to a 30-4 record as a senior.
That trio joins three returnees led by junior center Udoka Azubuike, who in 2017-18 averaged 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 23.6 minutes per game. Azubuike led the country in field goal percentage, making 77.0 percent of his attempts, and when he gets the ball with two feet in the paint he’s incredibly difficult to stop. Mitch Lightfoot gives Kansas additional depth inside, but the question mark for the Jayhawks is De Sousa.
Joining the program in December, De Sousa averaged 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in 20 appearances as a freshman. He’s in line to take a significant step forward as a sophomore, provided he be cleared to play as the school is currently looking into his eligibility status in the aftermath of the first round of trials in the FBI’s investigation into bribes paid to influence recruits. The Kansas front court will be good regardless of that outcome, but there’s no denying that De Sousa’s presence would only make this group better.
4. NORTH CAROLINA
Players: Luke Maye, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley, Nassir Little
The Tar Heel front court is led by a player in Maye who ranks among the nation’s best. The 6-foot-8 senior is coming off of a season in which he averaged 16.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, earning first team All-ACC honors and the conference’s Most Improved Player award. In addition to the conference honors, Maye was also named a third-team All-American by multiple outlets at season’s end. At minimum he can be a first-team All-American this season, if not a major factor in the national Player of the Year race.
Another reason why the front court is considered to rate among the nation’s best is the arrival of Nassir Little, a 6-foot-6 McDonald’s All-American who can be used at either the three or the four. Given North Carolina’s numbers on the wings, it’s likely that the talented freshman will see more time at the latter spot. And given his athleticism, look for Little to be one of college basketball’s best freshmen. Sophomores Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley will all factor into Roy Williams’ plans as well, with Brooks (4.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) having made 16 starts as a freshman and Manley averaging 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game off the bench.
5. WEST VIRGINIA
Players: Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad, Andrew Gordon, Lamont West, Wesley Harris, Logan Routt, Derek Culver
While “Press Virginia” will have a different look this season due to the departures of guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., Bob Huggins has a front court that lacks neither depth nor experience. West Virginia’s top three returning scorers are all front court players, led by the nation’s best rim protector in 6-foot-8 junior Sagaba Konate. Last season Konate, who entered the NBA draft before deciding to withdraw his name, averaged 10.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game, ranking second in the country in block percentage (15.6; Texas’ Mo Bamba led in that category). Also back from last year’s Sweet 16 team are senior Esa Ahmad, and juniors Wesley Harris and Lamont West.
Ahmad, who missed West Virginia’s first 16 games of the season, made 16 starts and averaged 10.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game as a junior. West, who Ahmad eventually replaced in the starting lineup, made 20 starts and averaged 9.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Harris was one of two Mountaineers, Carter being the other, to start all 37 games in 2017-18 and he chipped in with 5.3 points and 3.6 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game. 6-foot-9 sophomore Andrew Gordon, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, and 6-foot-11 junior Logan Routt give West Virginia additional size inside, and the same can be said of talented 6-foot-10 freshman Derek Culver. Culver was a standout at Brewster Academy last season, earning first team All-NEPSAC Class AAA honors.
Players: Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander, Yves Pons, Derrick Walker Jr., John Fulkerson, D.J. Burns, Zach Kent, Brock Jancek
The Tennessee front court, a big reason why the Volunteers managed to earn a share of the SEC regular season title, is anchored by reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams. As a sophomore Williams averaged 15.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, shooting nearly 48 percent from the field. Also in the rotation is senior Admiral Schofield, who after entering his name into the NBA draft pool decided to return to Knoxville for one last run. The 6-foot-6 Schofield led Tennessee with an average of 6.4 rebounds per game last season while also scoring 13.9 points per game (he shot 39.5 percent from three on 4.6 attempts per game).
Adding depth and experience inside are senior Kyle Alexander and sophomores Yves Pons, John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker Jr., with Alexander (34 starts) having averaged 5.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game. Freshmen D.J. Burns, Brock Jancek and Zach Kent, who played in Tennessee’s first two games before being redshirted last season, will look to crack this experienced rotation. That will be difficult to do, but at the very least competing with the likes of Williams and Schofield should help those three freshmen down the line.
Players: Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier, Marques Bolden, Jack White, Justin Robinson, Antonio Vrankovic
Williamson, one of the nation’s top recruits in the 2018 class, is the headliner for this group. The freshman has a combination of athleticism, raw power and size (6-foot-7, 285 pounds) that has not been seen at this level. Given Williamson’s ability to impact a game, he’s going to be an incredibly difficult matchup for opponents to account for. The remainder of the front court rotation will be asked to provide depth, defense and rebounding in a lineup that projects to be led by four freshmen (Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish on the perimeter with Williamson at the four).
Javin DeLaurier, who averaged 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game as a sophomore, appears to be first in line for that fifth spot in the starting lineup with fellow junior Marques Bolden competing for that designation as well. Junior Jack White appeared in 28 games (5.6 mpg) last season, and Justin Robinson and Antonio Vrankovic will also look to earn increases in playing time in 2018-19.
Players: Jack Salt, Mamadi Diakite, De’Andre Hunter, Jay Huff, Francisco Caffaro
Redshirt sophomore De’Andre Hunter is healthy after his first season on the court came to a premature end due to a thumb injury, and he’s considered by many to be Virginia’s best NBA prospect heading into the 2018-19 campaign. As a redshirt freshman the 6-foot-7 Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, earning ACC Sixth Man of the Year honors. Senior Jack Salt started all 34 games for the Cavaliers, averaging 3.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, and Mamadi Diakite was a valuable reserve with averages of 5.4 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest.
Redshirt sophomore Jay Huff and freshman Francisco Caffaro, a 7-footer who helped lead Argentina to a bronze medal in this summer’s FIBA U18 Americas Championship, will also compete for playing time. Note: We’ve grouped Braxton Key with Virginia’s perimeter players, but he could certainly factor into Tony Bennett’s plans in the front court as well given his size (6-foot-8, 225).
9. KANSAS STATE
Players: Dean Wade, Makol Mawien, Austin Trice, James Love III, Levi Stockard III, Nigel Shadd, Patrick Muldoon
Kansas State managed to reach the Elite Eight last season without Dean Wade, and with the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year healthy the feeling it that the Wildcats can do even more in 2018-19. As a junior Wade led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding with averages of 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while also dishing out 2.7 assists per contest. He’s joined in Kansas State’s interior rotation by fellow senior Makol Mawien, who started all 37 games last season and averaged 6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per night. If Mawien were to become more consistent in his production, Kansas State could really take off.
Levi Stockard and James Love III will both look to earn increased minutes after being on the periphery of the Kansas State rotation last season, and the same goes for redshirt freshman Nigel Shadd who played in just eight games due to a knee injury. Kansas State has added two transfers to the mix, with junior Austin Trice being a third team NJCAA All-American and Wabash Valley CC last season and Patrick Muldoon walking onto the team after averaging 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Eastern Illinois in 2016-17.
While Auburn’s numbers in the front court will be down a bit to start the season as Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy serve the remainder of their NCAA suspensions, the fact that both returned after being sidelined for all of last season is very good news for Bruce Pearl. As a freshman, the 6-foot-11 Wiley averaged 8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 18 minutes per game. As for Purifoy, he made 25 starts in 2016-17 and accounted for 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest. Once those two, who will miss Auburn’s first nine games, are back in the fold Auburn will have a deep rotation that won’t lack for talent.
Returnees Horace Spencer, Anfernee McLemore and Chuma Okeke will also be factors in 2018-19. Okeke was Auburn’s most productive front court reserve, as he averaged 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. Spencer accounted for 4.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game as a key reserve, moving into the starting lineup when Anfernee McLemore went down with a broken leg. McLemore (7.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.7 bpg) was one of the nation’s best shot blockers before the injury, which he suffered in a loss at South Carolina. Getting the 6-foot-7 junior back gives Auburn the rim protector it lacked during last season’s stretch run. Prior to last season Auburn had gone 15 years without an NCAA tournament appearance. This front court is a key reason why the Tigers don’t have to worry about starting a new tournament drought in 2019.
The most important thing that a college basketball team can have is good guard play.
Look at who has won national titles in recent seasons.
In 2013, Louisville started Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. In 2014, UConn’s backcourt consisted of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Quinn Cook joined Tyus Jones for Duke’s 2015 national title while Jalen Brunson teamed with Ryan Arcidiacono in 2016 and Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth to win the title in 2018.
Hell, even in 2017, when North Carolina won the title on the strength of an imposing frontcourt, they had an All-American in Joel Berry running the show.
I say all that to say this: Elite guards and perimeter players can erase a lot of mistakes.
These are the teams that will have the most talent in those roles this season.
Who did we miss?
1. DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Players: Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Alex O’Connell, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker*
While the Blue Devils did lose a considerable amount of backcourt production from last season’s Elite Eight team, with Grayson Allen having graduated and both Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. turning pro, they’ve managed to reload. The nation’s top recruiting class includes three elite perimeter players in point guard Tre Jones and wings R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, with Barrett considered by some to be the best player in college basketball despite having not played an official game.
While Jones is the lead guard, both Barrett and Reddish have been used in playmaking roles during portions of Duke’s two preseason games. That trio will see plenty of playing time, with sophomores Alex O’Connell and Jordan Goldwire supplying the depth. The status of freshman Joey Baker also bears watching, as the 6-foot-7 wing is a good shooter who can potentially give Duke even more depth on the perimeter. The original plan was for Baker, who reclassified to 2018 when he committed to Duke, to redshirt.
2. KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Players: Quade Green, Jemarl Baker, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson
The Wildcats are young on the perimeter, with just one returnee who played valuable minutes in 2017-18. That would be sophomore Quade Green, who made 13 starts and averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game last season. Redshirt freshman Jemarl Baker, who was sidelined by a knee injury for all of 2017-18, was considered to be one of the top perimeter shooters in the 2018 class and can be a contributor this season in that area. And as Kentucky has done throughout John Calipari’s tenure, they’ve got a crop of outstanding freshmen who are ready to make an impact.
Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley will compete for minutes at the lead guard position, and the same can be said of Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson on the wings. With all four freshmen being at least 6-foot-3, they’ve got the size to fill a variety of roles on the perimeter for Kentucky. Herro and Johnson both shot better than 44 percent from three during Kentucky’s summer trip to The Bahamas, while Quickley’s 18-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio during that trip was the team’s best. The competition will be better once the regular season begins, but there’s no doubt that this group is capable of doing some special things.
3. KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Players: LaGerald Vick, Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji
Kansas lost its leader, Devonte’ Graham, and their best three-point shooter in Svi Mhykhailiuk from the perimeter rotation that led the team to the Final Four last season. But even with that being the case, the Jayhawks can boast one of the nation’s top perimeter rotations. Freshmen Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes are ready to be immediate contributors at the point and the two, respectively, and they’ll be competing for minutes with some solid returnees.
LaGerald Vick, who made the decision to enter the NBA draft after averaging 12.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last season, had a change of heart and returned to Lawrence for his senior season. Sophomore point guard Marcus Garrett, who averaged 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game last season, also returns and Cal transfer Charlie Moore is eligible after sitting out last season. Moore was one of the Pac-12’s best freshmen during his lone season in Berkeley, averaging 12.2 points and 3.5 assists per game in 34 starts, and he’ll give Kansas valuable experience and production at the point.
Players: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Lindsey Drew, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Tre’Shawn Thurman
Eric Musselman’s perimeter rotation is absolutely loaded, with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline being the headliners. All three are redshirt seniors who had starring roles on last year’s Sweet 16 squad, with Caleb Martin having won Mountain West Player of the Year after averaging 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and Cody being the conference’s best defender. As for Caroline, all he did in 2017-18 was average 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. With Nevada’s loaded front court, Caroline may see more time at the three this season than he did in 2017-18.
Those three aren’t the only seniors either, as Lindsey Drew makes his return after going down with a ruptured Achilles tendon in February and Omaha transfer Tre’Shawn Thurman is eligible after sitting out last season. Thurman averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a junior at Omaha, earning honorable mention All-Summit League honors. Also eligible to play after sitting out last season are transfers Nisre Zouzoua (20.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg at Bryant in 2016-17), Corey Henson (two-time second team All-NEC selection at Wagner) and Jazz Johnson (15.8 ppg as a sophomore at Portland). The Wolf Pack won’t lack for talented options on the perimeter, one reason why the expectations for this team are so high.
Players: Franklin Howard, Tyus Battle, Howard Washington, Elijah Hughes, Oshae Brissett, Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim
Despite not having much in the way of depth, Syracuse still managed to reach the Sweet 16 last season thanks in large part to the triumvirate of Battle, Brissett and Howard. While it was Howard who served as Syracuse’s starting point guard, and will once again in his senior season, Battle doesn’t lack for opportunities to make plays within the Syracuse offense himself. As a sophomore the 6-foot-6 Battle averaged 19.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, earning second team All-ACC honors.
Brissett, who led the team in rebounding with an average of 8.8 caroms per game, and Howard were also double-digit scorers for the Orange last season. What will help this trio is the addition of some talented newcomers, most notably jet-quick freshman point guard Jalen Carey and off-guard Buddy Boeheim, the head coach’s son who was one of the leaders on a Brewster Academy team that won 26 games last season. And while Elijah Hughes may not have put up great numbers at East Carolina, the season in residency after his transfer to Syracuse should help in that regard. Rounding out the rotation is Howard Washington, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL. Health is a bit of a concern early on with Howard, Washington and Carey all banged up at present time, but when whole Syracuse has one of the best backcourt rotations in the country.
6. MICHIGAN STATE
Players: Matt McQuaid, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Foster Loyer, Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry
Michigan State does have to account for the departures of leading scorer Miles Bridges and team leader Tum Tum Nairn, but there’s no shortage of perimeter talent at Tom Izzo’s disposal. Junior point guard Cassius Winston, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.9 assists per game last season, returns as do senior Matt McQuaid and junior Joshua Langford. Langford was Michigan State’s fourth-leading scorer in 2017-18, starting all 35 games, averaging 11.7 points per game and shooting 40.4 percent from three.
As for McQuaid, he’ll be asked to contribute a bit more after averaging 6.0 points in just over 20 minutes per game. Freshmen will supply much of the additional depth on the perimeter, with four-star wings Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry and three-star point guard Foster Loyer joining the program. Also looking to compete for minutes will be redshirt junior Kyle Ahrens, who missed all of the 2017-18 season due to a foot injury.
Players: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Braxton Key, Marco Anthony, Kihei Clark, Kody Stattmann, Francesco Badocchi
Despite the loss of Devon Hall, the team’s second-leading scorer, Virginia projects to have a very good perimeter rotation to work with in 2018-19. The tandem of Jerome and Guy will lead the way, with the former being the Cavaliers’ assist leader and the latter back after averaging a team-high 14.1 points per game. And Virginia’s perimeter corps received a significant boost earlier this month when the NCAA granted an immediate eligibility waiver to Alabama transfer Braxton Key.
The 6-foot-8 Key, who averaged 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in an injury-shortened 2017-18 campaign, has the ability to serve as a supplementary playmaker on the wing. In theory that could open things up for Virginia’s other offensive options, making the Cavaliers that much tougher to defend. Freshmen Kihei Clark, Kody Stattmann and Francesco Badocchi will all look to work their way into the rotation, and with regard to Badocchi it’s important to note that Tony Bennett and his staff have had success with redshirts during their time in Charlottesville. Sophomore Marco Anthony will also look to earn minutes after appearing in only 13 games last season.
Players: Markus Howard, Joseph Chartouny, Sam Houser, Sacar Anim, Greg Elliott, Jamal Cain, Brendan Bailey
Can a backcourt lose its leading scorer, who averaged 20.5 points and 4.8 assists per game, and be better the following season? That could very well be the case for Marquette, which will look to account for the loss of Andrew Rowsey. Markus Howard, who averaged 20.4 points per game and is one of the nation’s best perimeter shooters, returns for his junior season and the versatile Sam Houser (14.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.9 apg) is back as well. Add in Sacar Anim, Greg Elliott and Jamal Cain, and the Golden Eagles don’t lack for experience on the perimeter.
So why can this group potentially be even better in 2018-19? The newcomers, most notably Fordham grad transfer Joseph Chartouny. Last season the 6-foot-3 Chartouny, who led the Rams in rebounds and assists while also averaging 12.2 points per game, led the nation with an average of 3.3 steals per game. Marquette struggled on the defensive end of the floor last season, and Chartouny has the size and skill needed to make an impact in that area immediately. Add in 6-foot-8 freshman Brendan Bailey, a versatile wing who will also factor into the fight for minutes, and this perimeter rotation is a big reason while Marquette is considered by some to be the team most likely to challenge Villanova in the Big East.
9. ST. JOHN’S
Players: Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon, Marvin Clark II, Mustapha Heron, Mikey Dixon, L.J. Figueroa, Bryan Trimble, Greg Williams Jr.
The Chris Mullin era has yet to produce an NCAA tournament bid, but that could very well change in 2018-19 if his backcourt lives up to the preseason hype. In Shamorie Ponds the Red Storm possess a high-scoring guard who averaged 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, and the preseason Big East Player of the Year is one of three double-digit scoring guards back on campus. Seniors Justin Simon (12.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 5.1 apg), who led the Red Storm in rebounding and assists, and Marvin Clark II (12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) both return as well. While that trio is definitely a good starting point, St. John’s also boasts a really good crop of perimeter newcomers.
Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron received a waiver that makes him eligible to play immediately, and in the 6-foot-5 junior the Red Storm add a player who averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on a team that won a share of the SEC regular season title. Also eligible to play — after sitting out last season — is Quinnipiac transfer Mikey Dixon, who averaged 16.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a freshman. Junior college transfer L.J. Figueroa was a NJCAA All-American at Odessa College who’s already received rave reviews for his work in preseason practices. Freshman Greg Williams Jr., a four-star recruit out of high school, and sophomore Bryan Trimble will also look to earn playing time in what is a stacked backcourt.
Players: Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline, Nojel Eastern, Sasha Stefanovic, Aaron Wheeler, Eric Hunter Jr.
It all starts with Edwards, who in the eyes of many is considered to be the preseason favorite for national Player of the Year honors. As a sophomore, Edwards led Purdue in points with an average of 18.5 points per game while also dishing out 2.8 assists per game. The question heading into 2018-19 for Edwards is how he’ll balance being that attack-minded scoring guard with the need to put his younger teammates in positions where they can be at their best. That wasn’t as much of a concern last season due to the presence of four seniors in the starting lineup. Also back from last season’s perimeter rotation are senior Ryan Cline and sophomore Nojel Eastern, with the latter viewed as a player who could be in line for a breakout season.
Eastern only averaged 2.9 points in 12.6 minutes per game as a freshman, but he has both the size and athleticism needed to join the list of off guards who have experienced success playing for Matt Painter. As for Cline, he was also a reserve and shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc in 2017-18. Redshirt freshmen Sasha Stefanovic and Aaron Weaver will look to turn the lessons learned from last year’s seniors into production in their first season of game action, and true freshman Eric Hunter Jr. is a four-star prospect who averaged 29 points per game as a high school senior. Edwards will be the leader for this group, but Purdue’s perimeter boasts talent beyond the Player of the Year candidate.
Honorable Mention: Clemson, Florida State, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Michigan, Mississippi State, N.C. State, Villanova, Virginia Tech, Washington