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.
The ACC Preview Podcast: A team by team breakdown of the league
Rob Dauster was joined by Scott Phillips on Monday to talk through every single team in the best league in college basketball: The ACC, but he opened the episode by riffing on what happened at Kansas over the weekend. Spoiler alert: We can laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, but remember that Kansas sent men to prison by playing victim as they troll the NCAA this season.
OPEN: Kansas should be ashamed of themselves
Boston College: 7:03
Florida State: 21:46
Georgia Tech: 26:48
N.C. State: 39:43
Notre Dame: 51:18
Virginia Tech: 1:06:50
Wake Forest: 1:09:13
ACC Season Preview: Power rankings, Preseason Awards and why Louisville will win the league
The single most important thing that happened during the early entry period this past May was that Jordan Nwora made the decision to withdraw from the 2019 NBA Draft and return to Louisville. The 6-foot-7 junior is coming off of a season where he averaged 17.0 points and 7.6 boards and shot 37.6 percent from three. After spending some time during the offseason playing with the Nigerian national team, he is in line for a blow-up season.
Nwora plays a role that has proven to be very productive for Chris Mack in the past. When Trevon Bluiett was at Xavier, he scored 2,261 points in four seasons, the latter of which culminated in Xavier winning the Big East regular season title and entering the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. And like Bluiett, Nwora is a shot-making small forward that has the size to defend at the four spot while needing to add some athleticism and explosiveness to reach his ceiling.
Getting him back is huge, and it means that now the most important spot on the floor for the Cardinals is going to be at the point. In theory, St. Joe’s grad transfer Fresh Kimble should step into the starting role, but during the summer, freshman David Johnson really impressed. The problem? Johnson has a shoulder injury and looks like he is going to end up being out for a while.
There’s no doubting anything else on this roster. They are talented, they are deep, they have a terrific blend of exciting young talent and quality veteran players. As long as the point guard situation sorts itself out by March, there is going to be a very real chance Louisville gets to a Final Four.
2. THE REIGNING CHAMPS ARE GOING TO HAVE A VERY VILLANOVA FEEL
Virginia is going to be dealing with the same things that Villanova dealt with last season. After making a memorable run to a national title, the Wahoos lost some pieces they didn’t necessarily expect to lose. For a program that doesn’t reload with grad transfers and freshmen every year, this is a concern.
Tony Bennett knew that he was going to have to find a way to build without De’Andre Hunter – that’s why Braxton Key was brought in last summer – but he did not expect to lose both Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy as well. Jay Wright found himself in the same boat last season, when the departure of Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo a year earlier than expected meant that freshmen were going to be asked to play a much bigger role.
I’m not too worried about Virginia’s frontcourt. In fact, I think the trio of Key, Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff will be the best part about Virginia’s team this season. Where the concern is lays with Kihei Clark, who is going to be asked to carry a much bigger load this year, and the players that will be asked to fill the minutes vacated by Guy and Jerome.
In the big picture, Virginia is going to be fine. But fine probably means we’re talking about a team that is destined to end up somewhere around a No. 4 or No. 5 seed on Selection Sunday as opposed to a favorite to win the national title.
3. IT’S COLE ANTHONY SZN
You’d be hard-pressed to find a freshman that is a better fit with the way that a program wants to play than Cole Anthony’s fit at North Carolina. For the most part, North Carolina’s best teams have all featured a fast point guard that can put up points in a hurry. Ray Felton, Ty Lawson, Marcus Paige, Joel Berry, Coby White. Anthony fits that mold better than anyone, and it seems like a certified lock that he will end up averaging something along the lines of 20 points and six assists.
He’s going to be terrific, and I think that the rest of the new pieces that Roy Williams will have at his disposal – Armando Bacot, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce, etc. – will be impact players as well.
My concern, however, is that it has been a long time since a high-volume one-and-done lead guard has had a lot of success winning games in the college ranks. Trae Young, Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith Jr., Malik Newman, D’angelo Russell, Austin Rivers. Anthony might end up being better than the rest of those guys, and playing the point at North Carolina is different than playing for Washington, Oklahoma or Mississippi State, but that is still a trend that can be a bit worrying.
4. DUKE RELOADED AGAIN
I know, this is shocking news, but Duke once again has one of the best recruiting classes in the country. They lost their big three, but Tre Jones opted to return to school to play with the likes of Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley.
I have a lot of thoughts on this Duke team. They can be found in this column.
I am all the way in on the Irish as the sleeper in the ACC this year. First and foremost, this is as old as they have been in a long time. John Mooney and Temple Gibbs are seniors, Juwan Durham and Nikola Drogo are redshirt juniors and Rex Pfleuger will be back for his fifth-year after getting a medical redshirt for last season.
More importantly, last year’s freshmen class all returns for their sophomore season. Prentiss Hubb, Dane Goodwin and Nate Laszewski all had promising first years, while Robby Carmody should be healthy this year. Mike Brey is at his best when he can get old, and he has a team that is old and talented this season.
PRESEASON ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JORDAN NWORA, Louisville
I think Louisville is going to end up being the best team in the ACC this season, and the biggest reason for that was Nwora’s decision to return to school after declaring for the the NBA draft. At 6-foot-7, he is precisely the kind of big wing that will thrive playing under Chris Mack – he can handle himself playing the four defensively while being the kind of shooter and scorer that gives opposing head coaches ulcers when they think about how to slow him down with a bigger defender.
Nwora was certainly helped this offseason when he was awarded the chance to play with the Nigerian national team, and if he shows improvement in his explosiveness and mobility on the perimeter, we’ll be talking about him as a first round pick come June.
THE REST OF THE ALL-ACC FIRST TEAM
TRE JONES, Duke: Jones is going to be the leader for this Duke team, and he’s going to be able to provide the kind of defensive intensity that will set a tone for this roster. Can he be a shooter this season?
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Anthony is going to end up being the most productive freshman in the country this season. His efficiency is going to determine just how good the Tar Heels are as a team.
MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia: I think Diakite will have a chance to be one of the most improved players in the country this season. He was terrific during last year’s run to the national title, and he’s not only a defensive anchor but a guy who has more offensive versatility than you might realize.
VERNON CAREY, Duke: The odds-on favorite to lead the Blue Devils in both scoring and rebounding this season. He’s a low-post bruiser that will dominate opponents on the block.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
CHRIS LYKES, Miami
MARKELL JOHNSON, N.C. State
DWAYNE SUTTON, Louisville
VERNON CAREY, Duke
JAY HUFF, Virginia
BREAKOUT STAR: Jay Huff, Virginia
There are a number of guys on this Virginia roster that are going to be in line for more minutes, more shots and, yes, more production after the Wahoos lost De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome to the NBA this offseason. I think Mamadi Diakite has a big year and I think Braxton Key has a big year, but for my money it’s Jay Huff that is going to be the name that everyone starts talking about by the time ACC play gets into full swing.
Here’s the thing about Huff. He’s a solid defensive presence, good enough that he’ll be just fine in Virginia’s defense alongside Diakite, but it’s what he can provide on the offensive end of the floor that is so intriguing. He shot 45.2% from three last season, which makes him a pick-and-pop nightmare, but his length and athleticism at 7-foot-1 means he is as good as anyone in the country when it comes to rolling to the rim. I think he’ll be a first round pick in June.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech
Pastner is not winning with Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have not made an NCAA tournament in three seasons with him at the helm, and their best finish in ACC play came in Pastner’s first year, when they went 8-10 in the league. That’s problematic, but not as problematic as the fact that the program is banned from 2020 NCAA Tournaments and is curently facing recruiting sanctions that are harsh enough that it will be difficult for them to find a way into the event any time in the near future.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
It’s incredible that it only took two seasons for Chris Mack to make Louisville the best team in the ACC.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …
The nerdy side of me is the most excited about seeing how Virginia opts to run their offense this season now that they have lost three NBA players, while the normal side of me cannot wait to see who Cole Anthony dunks on this year.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
11/5, No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 6 Duke (Champions Classic)
12/3, No. 6 Duke at No. 1 Michigan State
12/10, No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 11 Texas Tech (MSG)
12/18, No. 14 North Carolina at No. 8 Gonzaga
12/28, No. 4 Louisville at no. 2 Kentucky
1. LOUISVILLE: Getting Jordan Nwora back from the NBA draft was the single most impactful decision that happened during the early entry period. He’ll be an All-American on a team with a really nice balance of talent, youth, size and and perimeter play. If Fresh Kimble can make the point guard spot his, or if David Johnson can get healthy and take over the position, Louisville is looking like the best national title contender in the conference.
2. DUKE: I’ve talked about this ad nauseum at this point, but I am very concerned about Duke’s roster makeup. I have a hard time seeing how the Blue Devils are going to field lineups that can both space the floor and defend. They have the talent to win a lot of games regardless of what happens, and their ceiling is high if someone like Tre Jones puts it all together, but I’m not as sold on them as I am Louisville.
3. VIRGINIA: Virginia’s bigs are going to be awesome. We have talked about this plenty during the offseason. Where I am concerned is with their guard play. Can Kihei Clark make the leap that we saw London Perrantes and Ty Jerome make as sophomores? Will Casey Morsell be able to step in and play as a freshman? Just how good will Tomas Woldetensae be in his first season on campus?
4. NORTH CAROLINA: I love Cole Anthony, and I fully believe he is going to have a massive freshman season. I am also in on the idea that the grad transfers they are bringing it will make a major difference. But I do think that their reliance on unproven pieces is going to be something that has a bigger impact that people realize. UNC’s floor is the lowest of the top four teams.
5. NOTRE DAME: I think the Fighting Irish will end up being a top 25 team at some point this season. Rex Pfleuger is back and he should be healthy by the start of the season. He’ll be joined by fellow seniors Temple Gibbs and John Mooney, which, when combined with redshirt juniors Juwan Durham Nikola Djogo, give the Irish an old team, which Mike Brey thrives with. Then toss in the fact that last year’s excellent freshmen class is now a year older, and Notre Dame is my bet to be the best team in the ACC outside the big four.
6. N.C. STATE: We were all the way in on N.C. State last season, and it makes sense to be back in on them this year. Kevin Keatts is at his best when he has a roster loaded with backcourt talent, and that will be the case once again this season; basically everyone is back. Markell Johnson, Braxton Beverly, C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels. Now as long as they play someone – anyone – in non-conference play this season, the Pack should be heading to the NCAA tournament.
7. FLORIDA STATE: Losing Terance Mann’s leadership is a blow, and the versatility of what Mfiondu Kabengele brought to the program won’t be easily replaced. There are also some question marks about what is going on at the point guard spot. But I do think that Trent Forrest and M.J. Walker are in for big years, and if that happens, the Seminoles have top 25 upside.
8. MIAMI: The NCAA scandal that was hanging over the program did not help the Hurricanes, and losing three seniors from last year’s roster – not to mention the fact that Dewan Hernandez was forced to turn pro – certainly won’t, either. But Chris Lykes is back and in line for a big season while Kameron McGusty is eligible and Keith Stone is (hopefully) going to be healthy. I am bullish on the ‘Canes.
9. CLEMSON: The Tigers missed their window. They lose Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, Elijah Thomas and David Skara. Tevin Mack and Curran Scott are interesting pieces, and Aamir Simms is, in theory, the kind of player that should thrive under Brad Brownell.
10. SYRACUSE: The Orange just lose so much off of last year’s roster. Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, Oshae Brissett, Paschal Chukwu. The problem they’re dealing with now is that their best defensive lineups won’t have the shot-making of Battle to bail them out and their best offensive lineups, the ones with Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard and the like, won’t be as good defensively. I think that their ceiling will be determined by just how good Eli Hughes and Jalen Carey become.
11. VIRGINIA TECH: It’s a new era in Blacksburg. Mike Young replaces Buzz Williams while Justin Robinsin, Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are all gone. Wabissa Bede is back, Landers Nolley II is eligible and Young can really coach, but there is going to be a learning curve.
12. GEORGIA TECH: In theory, this is a team we should like. They bring back a sneaky 1-2 punch in Jose Alvarado and James Banks, and the sophomore version of Michael Devoe should be a bit better. But they won’t be taking part in this year’s NCAA tournament, and it’s hard to imagine them really getting better without anything to fight for.
13. BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles went 5-13 in ACC play last season, and that was with Ky Bowman in school and Wynston Tabbs on the floor. Now, Bowman is in the professional ranks and Tabbs is out for the year. BC missed their window when both Bowman and Jerome Robinson were on the roster.
14. PITT: Pitt started ACC play last season by beating both Louisville and Florida State in the first two weeks. Then they proceeded to reel off 13 straight losses. At least Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens are interesting players.
15. WAKE FOREST: Danny Manning is in his sixth season at Wake Forest. He’s won more than five ACC games in a season just once, and he is coming off of a year where the Demon Deacons finished 11-20 overall. The only reason he wasn’t listed as the ACC coach under the most pressure is that Josh Pastner got himself on the wrong side of the NCAA.
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.