INDIANAPOLIS — Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart has been selected to lead the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee.
It was announced Friday that Barnhart would work with committee chairman Kevin White, Duke’s athletic director, during the upcoming season before succeeding him in the 2020-21 season. Barnhart says being asked to serve in the role by his colleagues on the committee is one of the highest honors he has received.
The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee is in charge of selecting, seeding and bracketing schools each year for the NCAA Tournament.
SEC Offseason Reset: Can Florida beat out Kentucky for league title?
The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.
That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.
Today, we are talking SEC.
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
KENTUCKY RELOADS: In typical John Calipari fashion, Kentucky lost a lot of great players this offseason only to reload with six more players who could contribute this season. Nearly any team in the country would be cooked if they had to replace three first-round picks and Reid Travis. But the Wildcats under Calipari have turned yearly roster construction into a near-science as they once again have tons of good players entering the rotation.
The five-man freshmen class is headlined by five-stars Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks. Calipari also took quality four-stars in in-state guard Dontaie Allen and reclassified guard Johnny Juzang. And grad transfer forward Nate Sestina (Bucknell) was one of the best available bigs as he averaged 16 and 8 with 38 percent three-point shooting.
Kentucky still has to figure out how all of these new pieces will fit with returning players like Ashton Hagans, E.J. Montgomery, Nick Richards and Immanuel Quickley. But almost any program in the country would love to have a roster with this many five-star talents as Kentucky again looks poised to be in the SEC and national title conversations.
LSU SHAKES OFF A DRAMATIC END TO LAST SEASON TO STAY LOADED: Entering the offseason, LSU basketball was in an entirely uncertain place. Head coach Will Wade was suspended as the Tigers made a Sweet 16 run without him. Perhaps most importantly, the talent that took LSU to the sport’s second weekend was virtually all locked into the NBA Draft process.
Point guard Tremont Waters and big man Naz Reid opted to stay pro and leave school. But the Tigers dodged some major bullets when Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor and Emmitt Williams all withdrew from the draft and returned to school. LSU also reloaded with the addition of McDonald’s All-American forward Trendon Watford as he should come in and start right away.
Seemingly overnight, LSU went from potential SEC doormat, looking for a new head coach, to returning many of the players that helped them win the SEC’s regular-season title last season. Smart and Mays have the potential to be All-SEC players while Williams should take a leap now that Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams have moved on. LSU has talent, size, athleticism and some depth. Watching them play with a chip on their shoulder in light of the mess at the end of last season should be interesting.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR’S TRANSFER TO FLORIDA SHOOK UP THE WHOLE SEC: The most important transfer of the offseason returned home to Florida as former Virginia Tech big man Kerry Blackshear will finish his college hoops career with the Gators.
By adding the 6-foot-10 double-double threat into the lineup, Florida vaults into the preseason top-10 as Blackshear gives the Gators much-needed stability and scoring on the interior. Blackshear was one of the few big men in all of college basketball last season where an offense could run through him and thrive. This is a dude who dropped monster double-doubles against Virginia (23 and 13), North Carolina (19 and 17) and Duke (23 and 10 AND 18 and 16) last season.
Perhaps most importantly in Blackshear going to Florida, however, is that the Gators kept the potential All-American away from looming conference threats like Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas A&M. While Texas A&M isn’t a threat to win the SEC, there was a chance Blackshear would follow his former coach, Buzz Williams, to the Lone Star State. The Gators winning Blackshear over the Wildcats and Vols completely changes the landscape of the SEC title race.
Kentucky would have been the league’s runaway favorite with Blackshear in the middle while Tennessee was very effective with talented frontcourt players like Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Instead, Blackshear gives the Gators a go-to scorer as his presence makes Florida one of the nation’s most intriguing teams.
THE SEC LOADED UP IN RECRUITING: Seven McDonald’s All-Americans, and a host of other top-100 prospects, will enter the SEC this season as the league did a great job of reloading through recruiting. And while most people associate Burger Boys and five-star talents with John Calipari and Kentucky, they only brought in three of those seven McDonald’s talents.
With 16 top-100 prospects (according to Rivals) joining the SEC, the league continues to increase its talent levels while also leveling the playing field. What used to be a top-heavy conference dominated by the Wildcats has become a deep and talented league where double-digit teams should be tough outs this season. Kentucky is still the class of the conference when it comes to high-end recruiting. But Anthony Edwards (Georgia) and Scottie Lewis (Florida) are both individually ranked ahead of any single Kentucky recruit as watching all of the talented five-stars clash should be a ton of fun.
FOUR NEW COACHES ENTER THE SEC: The SEC has four new head coaches in the fold this season as the conference has done a great job of holding basketball coaches accountable to create a winning culture that is similar to football. Nate Oats (Buffalo to Alabama), Buzz Williams (Virginia Tech to Texas A&M) and Eric Musselman (Nevada to Arkansas) all have proven track records at the college level as all three coaches are coming off of multiple NCAA tournament appearances.
That trio should also be strong on the recruiting trail. Oats deserves praise for convincing Kira Lewis, John Petty and three four-star prospects to stay with the Crimson Tide while Williams and Musselman have long been dangerous when it comes to landing premier talent.
All three will be fascinating to see at their new schools. Oats finally gets to coach at the highest level of the sport after doing so well in the MAC. Williams returns to his native Texas where he can establish a strong local recruiting pipeline. And Musselman turned Nevada into a consistent top-25 program with resources not nearly as plentiful as he’ll have in the SEC.
The wildcard of the new-coach quartet will be Vanderbilt’s hire of NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse. While the NBA-to-college coaching game has been a dangerous one, Stackhouse brings a unique pedigree thanks to his time as an NBA assistant (Raptors and Grizzlies) and G-League head coach (Raptors 905). Stackhouse has also worked closely with his own AAU program, which produced a McDonald’s All-American and top-five pick in Brandon Ingram. So Stackhouse shouldn’t be coming into the college game completely oblivious about the expectations and work that comes in recruiting.
P.J. WASHINGTON, TYLER HERRO and KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky: The three leading scorers for the Wildcats all turned pro and got picked in the first round of the NBA Draft. Kentucky has survived this type of loss before and they’ll survive these losses as well.
TREMONT WATERS AND NAZ REID, LSU: Losing an elite point guard and McDonald’s All-American big man will be tough for the Tigers. Waters was an elite creator and scorer while Reid could take over a game when his motor was running high.
JARED HARPER, BRYCE BROWN, CHUMA OKEKE, Auburn: Following a surprising Final Four run, the Tigers lose their top three scorers and most versatile defender in Okeke. Auburn has to replace over 43 points of offense per game between these three next season.
ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD, GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee: Losing the SEC’s best frontcourt and top three scorers will be tough to replace for the Vols. This is the main core that led Tennessee to an SEC title and Sweet 16 appearance.
DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas: Rim-running now for the Chicago Bulls, Gafford was an elite SEC big man the past two seasons. The Razorbacks will miss his rebounding and rim protection in a big way.
NICOLAS CLAXTON, Georgia: After leading the Bulldogs in scoring, rebound and blocked shots, Claxton parlayed a strong NBA Draft Combine appearance into being an early second-round pick.
DARIUS GARLAND and SIMI SHITTU, Vanderbilt: These two McDonald’s All-Americans were supposed to lead Vandy into the upper echelon of the SEC. Instead, Garland only played five games (knee injury) and became a lottery pick while Shittu didn’t live up to lofty expectations before also turning pro.
ASHTON HAGANS and E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky: The sophomore duo both have a chance to increase their production since Kentucky lost their top four scorers from last season. Hagans has to show more offensively while Montgomery won minutes at the end of the season.
SKYLAR MAYS and JAVONTE SMART, LSU: Both double-figure scorers and potential all-league players return for the Tigers as Smart and Mays will have the ball in their hands much more with Waters gone. If either of the duo improves on their 31 percent three-point shooting it would be huge.
LAMONTE TURNER AND JORDAN BOWDEN, Tennessee: Although the Vols lost four of their main six players from last season, the returning duo of Bowden and Turner should be very good. Both players can take over a game — particularly if the three-ball is going.
KIRA LEWIS and JOHN PETTY, Alabama: Both double-figure scorers nearly left before Nate Oats convinced them to stay for another season. With Lewis and Petty back, Alabama has a backcourt that is one of the most talented in the country.
A.J. LAWSON, South Carolina: Generating some pro buzz his freshman season, the 6-foot-6 sophomore showed flashes of brilliance last season. Capable of 20-point games on any night, if Lawson improves his efficiency he’ll be an All-SEC player.
RAYSHAUN HAMMONDS, Georgia: Making a big leap as a sophomore, the 6-foot-8 forward has all-SEC potential if his game continues to develop. Hammonds put up solid numbers (12.1 pts, 6.1 reb) in only 24 minutes per game.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Florida: The nation’s top graduate transfer becomes an immediate candidate to win SEC Player of the Year after his transfer from Virginia Tech. The 6-foot-10 Blackshear is a nightly double-double threat who can take over a game.
ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia: Some believe this in-state, five-star shooting guard is the best prospect in the country and a future top-five pick. The 6-foot-4 Edwards reclassifying into 2019 gives Georgia a potentially elite scorer with big expectations.
SCOTTIE LEWIS and TRE MANN, Florida: This McDonald’s All-American duo should earn major PT right away. The ultra-athletic 6-foot-5 Lewis immediately becomes one of the team’s better defenders while he’s no slouch on offense either. The 6-foot-4 Mann can get buckets in a hurry as he helps Florida’s recent inconsistent perimeter shooting.
TYRESE MAXEY, KAHLIL WHITNEY and KEION BROOKS, Kentucky: Among Kentucky’s five-man freshman class, these are the three players who could come in and start right away. Maxey’s penchant for scoring makes him a nice counterpart to Hagans, Whitney’s athleticism should be used on both ends of the floor and Brooks is a productive frontcourt player with upside.
TRENDON WATFORD, LSU: Dynamic offensively, the 6-foot-9 Watford should be able to score, rebound and help with his passing right away. Watford is a different type of player than Naz Reid but he could be more of a consistent impact.
ISAAC OKORO, Auburn: A five-star prospect who is physically ready right away, the 6-foot-5 Okoro should defend multiple spots, help on the glass and aid the offense in transition. Okoro is a year of skill development away from being a potential monster.
JOSIAH JAMES, Tennessee: The McDonald’s All-American will be asked to play big minutes right away as he’s a physical lefty who can finish at the rim and defend multiple spots. The 6-foot-6 James has pro upside if he improves his perimeter jumper.
JAMES BOLDEN, Alabama: Helping Alabama on both ends of the floor will be this West Virginia grad transfer guard. “Beetle” was a double-figure scorer last season while he’s also experienced in Press Virginia’s turnover-focused approach on defense.
ARKANSAS TRANSFERS: The graduate transfer duo of shooting guard Jimmy Whitt (SMU) and forward Jeantal Cylla (UNC Wilmington) should come in and help right away as both averaged double-figures last season.
DRU SMITH, Missouri: The Evansville transfer is expected to come in and make a huge impact in the Tiger backcourt. As a sophomore, Smith put up 13.7 points, 4.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game on ridiculous shooting splits (57% FG, 48% 3PT, 86% FT).
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-SEC TEAM
KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Florida (SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
SKYLAR MAYS, LSU
ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia
KIRA LEWIS, Alabama
JAVONTE SMART, LSU
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
1. KENTUCKY: Once again the class of the SEC, Kentucky has more top-to-bottom talent than any roster in the country. Figuring out the rotation and how everyone gets along will once again be one of the things to watch with the Wildcats. The fit of returning guard Ashton Hagans and incoming freshman Tyrese Maxey is a good one as Maxey can go on scoring bursts while Hagans can continue to be a lockdown defender and floor leader. Kahlil Whitney showed flashes of brilliance late in his high school career and could thrive in Kentucky’s system. And the group of bigs remains as deep as ever as E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards are joined by Nate Sestina and Keion Brooks. As we’ve seen on some Kentucky super teams in the past, sometimes the pieces just don’t properly fit. But this group seems like they could play well together and do some serious damage.
2. FLORIDA: Things changed dramatically for Florida once Kerry Blackshear committed to the Gators. Without Blackshear, the Gators were a fringe top-25 team with major question marks inside. With Blackshear, Florida adds a go-to scorer and major factor on the interior. Returning guards Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke also gain the benefit of adding two five-star talents in Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann into the rotation while Keyontae Johnson remains a promising wing forward. Perimeter shooting still needs to become more consistent. And Florida is asking a lot out of a young perimeter rotation. But the talent is in place for this team to compete for an SEC title and beyond.
3. LSU: Avoiding potential disaster, LSU still finds itself in the thick of another SEC race after winning last season. The Tigers will try to avoid the drama that surrounded the end of last season as Will Wade is back at the helm and many of last season’s key players return. The perimeter group of Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor is strong and the addition of Trendon Watford means the Tigers have two former five-star prospects in the frontcourt as he joins Emmitt Williams. Shooting is something to watch for with this team as LSU only shot 32 percent from distance last season while losing a key shooter in Tremont Waters. This could be another special season for LSU. Or will the NCAA come down on Wade and change everything?
4. AUBURN: Although the Tigers made the Final Four last season and find themselves in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, it will be a very different outfit for Bruce Pearl this season. Gone are the team’s top three scorers as the Auburn offense will need to find new go-to players. Thankfully, there’s a lot to like with returning role players. Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and Austin Wiley are all experienced upperclass players who averaged double-figure minutes. Five-star guard Isaac Okoro leads a six-man recruiting class that includes three additional top-100 prospects. Auburn needs to find a star but they’re deep, talented, experienced and athletic.
5. TENNESSEE: It will be a transition period in Knoxville as the Vols learn to play without the frontcourt of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander leaving also means Tennessee needs to replace four of their top six. But the backcourt of Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden should excel in new roles while Josiah James is a worthy freshman who should play right away. Tennessee needs more development out of big man John Fulkerson and uber athlete Yves Pons, and perimeter shooting could be a question mark, but there’s still a lot to like about Tennessee returning to the Big Dance.
6. GEORGIA: The addition of Edwards gives the Bulldogs a very intriguing team for next season. A known developer of talent, head coach Tom Crean has to get a leap from veteran forward Rayshaun Hammonds and one of the two senior returning guards in Tyree Crump or Jordan Harris. And besides for Edwards, Georgia recruited four additional four-star prospects. The Bulldogs have talent but can they put it all together?
7. MISSISSIPPI STATE: There’s still a lot to like about the Bulldogs despite losing the top two scorers in Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters. Plenty of talent and scoring potential remains as Tyson Carter, Reggie Perry and Nick Weatherspoon should all step up. Robert Woodard and Abdul Ado give additional length and athleticism as Mississippi State’s entire starting lineup should be former top-150 prospects. If Perry can have a big year then this team might be even better than last season.
8. ALABAMA: The perimeter-oriented Crimson Tide will have to find some inside help if they want to be among the league’s top teams. The backcourt trio of Kira Lewis, John Petty and James “Beetle” Bolden are all known commodities who can score and make plays. Junior wing Herb Jones also has intriguing capabilities. But help has to arrive in an unproven frontcourt that features young or unproductive returning players. If Alabama figures out a four-guard lineup and gets some contributions inside they will be dangerous.
9. OLE MISS: Kermit Davis stunned the nation by taking Ole Miss from worst to NCAA tournament berth in his first season. The Rebels bring back some potential all-league guys and should remain feisty. Breein Tyree is a potential All-SEC first-teamer as he can put up points in bunches while Devontae Shuler is an adequate second option. Rising sophomores Blake Hinson and KJ Buffen also return and should bring more production. Replacing Terence Davis will be tough and Ole Miss needs to shore up a shaky defense.
10. ARKANSAS: New head coach Eric Musselman won with unique rosters at Nevada as he inherits some talent with the Razorbacks. The sophomore core led by Isaiah Joe is promising and junior Mason Jones and graduate transfer Jimmy Whitt (SMU) are proven double-figure scorers. Finding suitable frontcourt players to help offset the loss of Daniel Gafford will be something to watch for early. This team looks like it might be a year away from being a contender.
11. MISSOURI: The Tigers might be the hardest team to peg in this whole conference. They return some solid SEC contributors like big man Jeremiah Tilmon, guard Mark Smith and a host of role players. Transfer guard Dru Smith is expected to make a huge impact right away. It’s still hard to love this team without a go-to player and a struggling offense.
12. SOUTH CAROLINA: Outside of talented sophomore A.J. Lawson and wing Keyshawn Bryant, there isn’t a lot of proven SEC talent on the roster for the Gamecocks. After sitting out a season, George Washington transfer Jair Bolden will help on the perimeter. Senior center Maik Kotsar is one of the SEC’s most experienced players. It’s just hard to say how this roster will look since they’re relying on so many unproven guys.
13. TEXAS A&M: Buzz Williams returns to his native Texas as he hopes to bring the Aggies back to the postseason. The return of Savion Flagg is huge for Texas A&M as he was great to end last season. The Aggies also have some promising returning players around Flagg in Wendell Mitchell, Jay Jay Chandler and TJ Starks. But this group is probably a year away from being a major threat as Williams hopes to build with a positive spring recruiting haul.
14. VANDERBILT: Losing their two most talented players (Garland and Shittu) from an 0-18 team in the SEC means last place is likely inevitable for the Commodores. New head coach Jerry Stackhouse convincing double-figure scorers Saben Lee and Aaron Nesmith to return is positive news for the future while freshman forward Dylan Disu is a young piece to track.
There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.
But we’re doing it anyway!
A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them.
So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.
1. MICHIGAN STATE
WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.
“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”
Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.
As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.
“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”
With the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to school having come and gone, we can now have a full sense of what the 2019-20 season will look like.
A number of would-be All-American candidates ended up keeping their names in the draft despite the fact that they may not end up getting drafted, but there is still a solid crop of upperclassmen to pair with some talented newcomers that will give us a pretty strong contingent of All-Americans.
So without further ado, here is a first look at what those All-American teams could end up looking like.
PRESEASON FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State: Winston, for my money, will enter this season this season as the Preseason National Player of the Year. He is the lone First-Team All-American returning from last season, and he will be playing for the consensus No. 1 team in the country. It may be hard for him to improve on the 18.8 points and 7.5 assists that he averaged last year, but that is largely because he should have more help this year with Josh Langford healthy and Aaron Henry on the verge of a breakout year.
MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette: Markus Howard averaged 25 points and 3.9 assists last season, and that was when he was playing on a team that still had both of the Hauser brothers on it. This year, they are gone, meaning that there is a real chance that he ends up averaging upwards of 30 points this year. I don’t know how many wins that will lead Marquette to, but it is enough to get him some hype in the preseason.
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: Powell is Howard-lite. He’s not quite as consistent or efficient, but he is just as dangerous when he gets into a rhythm. As a junior, Powell averaged 23.1 points, and I would expect him to be just as dangerous as a senior on a team that returns everyone from last season. Hopefully, we’ll have at least one duel between Seton Hall and Marquette that turns into a shootout between Howard and Powell.
JORDAN NWORA, Louisville: The Cardinals got Nwora back for his junior season after he spent this past year proving himself as one of the most improved players in college hoops. He averaged 17 points and 7.6 boards while shooting 37.4 percent from three, and he should see an uptick in his efficiency this year with Louisville’s talented freshman class providing him with some more help.
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis: Wiseman, to me, has the best chance to end up being a First-Team All-American. The way he plays should fit in well with the style that the Tigers play under Penny, and he is the consensus top player in this recruiting class and projected as the first pick in the 2020 NBA Draft playing on a team that many believe will be a top ten team.
PRESEASON SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: If Wiseman doesn’t end up being the best freshman this season, I think Anthony will. At the very least, he has a chance to put up the most impressive numbers. Think about what Coby White did for North Carolina last year, and Anthony is not only a better fit for North Carolina than White was, he is also probably a better player.
DEVON DOTSON, Kansas: Dotson really came on strong down the stretch of last season and should be the sparkplug that keeps Kansas in the mix for the Big 12 title this year. Think about this: Both Quentin Grimes and R.J. Hampton are playing some where other than Kansas this season at least in part because Dotson will handle the lead guard duties.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR JR., TBD: It is a bit difficult to truly rate Blackshear since we don’t know where he is going to be yet, but I think there is an argument to be made that he will be the best frontcourt player in college basketball next season. The fifth-year senior was terrific playing in Virginia Tech’s system a year ago, and will be an anchor no matter where he ends up this year.
MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia: I’m fine being out on an island on this one, but I think that Diakite is the guy on Virginia’s roster that benefits the most from all the talent they lost this offseason. We already know how good he is defensively, but he has a burgeoning perimeter stroke and proved during run to the national title that he was better offensively that some believed. There is plenty of space left on the bandwagon when you’re ready to join me.
ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: There’s a real chance that Stewart ends up being the most productive of the elite freshmen in this class. He has a terrific motor and is an absolute monster around the rim, checking in as the best rebounder in this class. He’ll soak up Noah Dickerson’s touches offensively and anchor the Syracuse zone defensively.
PRESEASON THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
TRE JONES, Duke: He may end up being the best defender in college basketball next year, and I think that his leadership will be vital for a Duke team that is going to be very young again. If he doesn’t improve his perimeter jumper, however, ranking him here will look silly come March.
ANTHONY COWAN JR., Maryland: Cowan had something of a disappointing junior season, as his efficiency went down. I’m looking at him to bounceback this season and prove himself one of the best point guards in college hoops. I can see him averaging 17 points and six assists for a team that I currently have in the top five nationally, but I can also see a situation where he ends up being the piece that holds Maryland back.
TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky: Once again, it is tough to figure out who, exactly, will be Kentucky’s All-American candidate next season, so we’re going with Maxey because he seems to be the guy that projects as the leading scorer right now.
JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati: Cumberland quietly was awesome this past season, averaging 18.8 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 38.8 percent from three to help keep Cincinnati relevant after they lost so many critical pieces the season before. How will he adjust to John Brannen taking over for Mick Cronin?
SAM MERRILL, Utah State: Merrill has a case as the best player in college basketball outside of the top seven leagues. He’s coming off of a season where he led the Aggies to the Mountain West crown and a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament while averaging 20.9 points and 4.2 assists. USU will enter this season as a preseason top 25 team.
The 6-foot-10 Washington started 10 games as a freshman for Kentucky last season, averaging 15.1 minutes per game while putting up 3.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. He shot 48 percent from the floor.
“EJ improved so much during the season and I know how much he wants to show our fans what he can do with another year,” Kentucky coach John Calipari wrote on Twitter. “I’m thrilled to be able to continue to coach EJ. He has a special skillset and he’s only begun to scratch the surface of his potential.
“EJ knows how hard this is going to be, and I know he’s ready to embrace the grind and do everything he can for this team while continuing to develop into the best version of himself. Looking forward to getting back to work with this group.”