While the field for the 2018 edition of the event has been known for months, it’s strength and depth was on full display Tuesday when the brackets were revealed, pitting NBC Sports Way Too Early top-five teams Duke and Gonzaga on a championship collision course,
Duke will square off against San Diego State in its opening game while Gonzaga takes on Illinois in its opener on the opposite side of the bracket.
Other first round matchups include Auburn (12th in our preseason poll) vs. Xavier (26th) and a game of unknown-but-talented teams in Arizona and Iowa State.
“Each of the eight teams that step on the hardwood at the Lahaina Civic Center is capable of winning the 2018 Maui Jim Maui Invitational,” tournament chairman David Odom said in a statement. “All 12 games in Maui will help shape the course of the 2018-19 college basketball season, and the team that leaves the island with the Wayne Duke Championship Trophy will have incredible momentum to begin the year. The atmosphere is going to be electric, and we’re looking forward to hosting the teams and their fans in November.”
Simply, this tournament is stacked.
Gonzaga and Duke are going to draw the big headlines, but the rest of the tournament is going to be just as intriguing.
Can Auburn back up its SEC title? What does Xavier look like under Travis Steele? Can Brian Dutcher keep momentum with the Aztecs? What kind of team is Sean Miller going to have? Can Iowa State return to relevance after a last-place Big 12 season? Can Brad Underwood rally the Illini?
So while Chaminade isn’t in the field for the first time since the event’s inception in 1984 (the Silver Swords return on a rotating basis in 2019) and there won’t be any chance of a blockbuster upset, Maui is making up for it with an all-time field.
Who will follow Donte DiVincenzo’s breakout path to the NBA next?
It was little surprise Thursday night Donte DiVincenzo get drafted 17th overall at the NBA draft by the MIlwaukee Bucks.
The 6-foot-5 guard has been a staple of mock drafts since he declared for the draft after earning Most Outstanding Player honors as Villanova won its second national championship in three years.
A few months ago, though, something like that would have seemed an extreme long shot after an unremarkable freshman season by the Delaware product who redshirted after a foot injury in 2015-16. A lot can change in a single season.
So who is the next player to go from fringe prospect to first-round selection? Here’s the DiVincenzo Watch List:
JORDAN POOLE, Michigan: You might remember the Michigan freshman for his game-winner against Houston to help the Wolverines on their way to the national title game, but the former top-100 recruit averaged just 12.2 minutes per game for John Beilein last year. This season, he’s in line for a lot more PT and a chance to shine for more than one moment.
NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech: The 6-foot-5 guard can really fill it up, but battled mightily with inconsistency last season. There were nights he’d go for 15-plus and follow it up with a succession of single-digit performances. His offensive game – his ability to make plays and quarterback pick-and-roll – will make him an intriguing NBA prospect. Being able to do it night-in and night-out could make him a first-rounder.
JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech: Zhaire Smith got all the NBA attention last year while Keenan Evans got the attention of Big 12 defenses, but Culver is a bona fide prospect in his own right. The Red Raiders will be his team next season, and if he shoots it a little better (converted at 38.2 percent from 3 as a freshman), it’s not inconceivable it’s his last in Lubbock.
O’SHAE BRISSETT, Syracuse: The 6-foot-8 forward quietly had a very productive freshman season, averaging 14.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Orange. He needs to be more efficient, but if he can start making shots with more regularity (he’s plenty comfortable shooting from the outside), he’ll rocket up draft boards.
AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota: Coffey looked like a blue chip recruit before an ACL tear in high school set him back, and shoulder surgery cut a promising sophomore season short. If he can get past the injuries, Coffey is an intriguing wing prospect at 6-foot-8 with plus-athleticism. His shooting has improved since getting on campus with the Gophers and if that trend continues, NBA teams will take serious notice.
ALEX O’CONNELL, Duke: A top-75 recruit in 2017, O’Connell got limited run last year for the Blue Devils, but shot 48.9 percent on 45 attempts from 3-point range. He should move up the pecking order this season for Duke and could be an impact player off the bench.
LINDELL WIGGINTON, Iowa State: The Cyclones’ leading scorer flirted with going pro after a freshman season in which he averaged 16.7 points and shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range before ultimately returning to Ames. The 6-foot-3 guard is one of the most explosive leapers in college basketball, but needs to improve his decision-making and ballhandling. If he makes even moderate gains in those areas, his physical tools and ability to score the ball could have Adam Silver announcing his name next June.
JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State: The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds as a freshman and waited until the final hours before the deadline before announcing his decision to return to the Aztecs. He’s got a ton of upside but some concerns are a meager block rate (2.5 percent) and non-existent game at the arc (4 of 18 from 3 last year). Both of those are issues for big men in the modern NBA. He needs to improve one or both of those areas while continuing to be an above-average rebounder to explode onto the draft scene next summer.
Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties – if that role isn’t taken over by Dotson – while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. This team is talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster. There is a lot to like about the Jayhawks heading into the year.
As always, there is quite a bit of turnover on the Kentucky roster. Six key pieces from last year are gone, while the Wildcats bring in yet another loaded recruiting class. I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch, especially when Stanford grad transfer Travis is factored into the mix. The big question for Kentucky is going to be how they can put a team on the floor that can both shoot and play the kind of elite-level defense we all are expecting. Cal has plenty of weapons, and it will be fascinating to see how he decides to deploy them.
3. GONZAGA BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
Who do they add: Geno Crandall, Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer additions of Clarke and Crandall as well as a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.
4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Joey Baker
Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier
The Blue Devils are a team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter are all following Allen out the door to make way for another loaded recruiting class. I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore. There’s a non-zero chance that Barrett, Williamson and Reddish could end up going 1-2-3 in the 2019 NBA Draft. The big question with this group is going to be how well the pieces gel together and whether or not there is enough shooting (and willing defenders) to allow this group to play the way teams like Villanova, Golden State and Boston play. I explain that line of thinking more here.
Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo
Projected starting lineup: Jahvon Quinerly, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Cole Swider
Villanova did not fair well at the NBA early entry deadline, losing four of the top 33 picks in the draft. I’m still willing to ride with the Wildcats, as I think they are more experienced than they will get credit for — Paschall and Booth are fifth-year seniors after all — and because Jay Wright’s teams always have people ready to step in and contribute immediately. Expect a breakout year from Jermaine Samuels, and don’t be surprised when Paschall is an All-American and a first round pick come the end of the season.
6. NEVADA WOLF PACK
Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke, Josh Hall
Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown
Projected starting lineup: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown
Getting the Martin twins back is massive. Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem, but this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player (Caleb Martin) deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season, and they basically bring everyone back. This is the best Mountain West team since Kawhi and Jimmer were running roughshod over the league.
7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Who’s gone: James Daniel III
Who do they add: No one
Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams
Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable players at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.
8. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro
Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt
I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.
9. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye
Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball this season that is better than Maye?
Auburn will lose Heron, who might have been their best player last season, but return everyone else from a team that won the SEC. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke. But we saw what Pearl could do with these pieces last season, and that was with the FBI investigation hanging over their head.
11. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Shaun Williams
Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade
This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player might actually be a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!
12. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear
The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.
13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman
I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together. That said, who is better? What team is without warts?
14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning was key, as is finding a way to get point guard depth now that C.J. Walker left the program. Getting Cofer back for a fifth-year is enormous.
15. TCU HORNED FROGS
Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel
Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch. Will Fisher ever be healthy?
16. UCLA BRUINS
Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman, LiAngelo Ball
Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Moses Brown
This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. With every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes are on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12 … if they decide they want to play defense.
West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, we have to trust that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.
18. OREGON DUCKS
Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol
For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and he’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect. They’re here because of the talent and Dana Altman, and we bought into that.
19. SYRACUSE ORANGE
Who’s gone: Matthew Moyer
Who do they add: Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, Eli Hughes, Robert Braswell
Projected starting lineup: Tyus Battle, Franklin Howard, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu
The Orange had no depth and very little perimeter shooting last season, but it looks like that was addressed in the offseason. With Battle and Brissett back in the fold, this Syracuse team has a chance to match watchable offense with one of college basketball’s very best defenses.
20. LSU Tigers
Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the incoming trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.
21. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Abdul Ado
I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.
22. CLEMSON TIGERS
Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison, Javan White
Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, David Skara, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas
With Mitchell and Reed back in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.
Who do they add: Ignas Brazdeikis, David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez, Colin Castleton
Projected starting lineup: Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske
Losing Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman, the program’s two best offensive weapons, are major blows for a team that struggled to score a season ago. Matthews’ decision to return is key and they will really be able to guard again, but one of their three big wings is going to need to take a major step forward for them offensively.
24. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK
Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels, Blake Harris, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.
25. MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES
Who’s gone: Andrew Rowsey, Haanif Cheatam, Harry Froling
Who do they add: Ed Morrow, Joseph Chartouny, Joey Hauser, Brendan Bailey
Projected starting lineup: Markus Howard, Joseph Chartouny, Sacar Anim, Sam Hauser, Matt Heldt
Marquette will be the second-best team in the Big East if they figure out how to defense. Howard is an all-american, while the Hauser brothers will provide plenty of offensive firepower. Chartouny’s addition is key, as is Morrow’s. Both are tough, veteran defensive presences.
Mark Few will once again have a team that is going to contend for a national title this season, as the Bulldogs returned their two most important pieces in the front court in Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura.
The Zags were going to be good without them, but with that pair in the mix, Gonzaga has a real case to be the No. 1 team in the country heading into the preseason. They also return Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins and Corey Kispert while adding transfer Brandon Clarke. That is a very good core, but the reason they are going to be among the nation’s elite is because of that front court.
Tillie and Rui are both terrific athletes that will create mismatches and space the floor, and Rui has a real chance to develop into a top ten pick next season. This will be Gonzaga’s best team since … well, since they made the national title game in 2017.
The ‘Hoos are coming off an utter embarrassment at the hands of No. 16-seed UMBC in the NCAA tournament, but the good news is that they are going to once again have a team that will be in the mix for an ACC regular season title and a top three seed.
That is because they got De’Andre Hunter back. It’s his versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season. Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.
With Hunter, Virginia has some depth issues but still looks like a top ten team on paper.
The Wolf Pack couldn’t stop adding pieces to their roster during the spring.
Not only did Eric Musselman clean up on the recruiting trail, adding Jordan Brown and a pair of grad transfers, but he managed to get both Caleb and Cody Martin to return to school along with Jordan Caroline. Those could end up being three of the five players on the preseason all-Mountain West team, and with those three back in the fold, Nevada — coming off of a run to the Sweet 16 — has enough talent on their roster to legitimately be considered a threat to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This is the best MWC team since Kawhi and Jimmer were burning that conference to the ground. It’s a good time to live in Reno.
WHOEVER LANDS REID TRAVIS
The Stanford grad transfer immediately became the most important player in the college basketball news cycle when he announced that he will be returning to school but leaving the Cardinal program. A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 boards, he’s a player that has been linked to both Kentucky and Villanova, two programs that got hit hard during the draft process and could use some interior depth. It’s not crazy to think that where he ends up going will become the favorite to win the 2019 national title.
The Orange were a weird team last season. They played a plodding pace and won because they could absolutely lock up defensively and they had Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett to carry them offensively. Brissett announced that he will be returning to school back in April, but Battle waited until just a couple of hours before the deadline to make it official.
And it’s Battle that is the key. Syracuse should have a little more shooting this season that they did last year with Buddy Boeheim in the mix, but this is still a group that is going to rely quite a bit on Battle to create points for them. He is the difference between the back-end of the preseason top 25 and a .500 season.
THE BIG TEN
Other than Maryland, was there a Big Ten team that didn’t get good news when it came time for players that were testing the waters to make their decisions?
Michigan will not be losing their three best scorers now that Charles Matthews is returning to school. They’ll be a preseason top 25 team when the polls are released.
Purdue not only returned Nojel Eastern, but they bring back Carsen Edwards, who could end being a preseason first-team all-american.
Ethan Happ returns to anchor a Wisconsin program that seems to be on the verge of a resurgence.
Indiana not only landed Romeo Langford, but they brought back Juwan Morgan, who is the perfect player for an Archie Miller-coached team.
Nebraska looks like a tournament team with both James Palmer and Isaac Copeland back in the mix.
Iowa brought back both Tyler Cook and Isaiah Moss.
Michigan State lost Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, but they did get Nick Ward back.
I think the Spartans will be the best team in the Big Ten next season, but I’m not all that confident in that. What I do know is that there are going to be six or seven teams that can compete for the league title, and that with all these players coming back, there is going to be much more depth in the conference this season.
The SEC also brought seemingly everyone that was on the fence back, which means that the conference, as a whole, is going to be loaded at the top with plenty of depth. Hell, the SEC might just be the best league in college basketball next season look at this:
Arkansas got perhaps the biggest gift as Daniel Gafford, a potential lottery pick, opted to return for his sophomore season.
Auburn lost Mustapha Heron but brought back Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy and will enter the season as a top 15 team.
Tennessee brings back Admiral Schofield and looks like they might push to be a No. 1 seed.
Missouri lost Michael Porter Jr. but they bring back his brother Jontay.
Tremont Waters is back at LSU, making them a top 25 team.
Mississippi State had four players declare and four players opt to return to school. They will be a top 15 team.
Florida got Jalen Hudson back for his fifth-year.
Even Kentucky, who lost a handful of key pieces, brought back P.J Washington and Quade Green and still might add Reid Travis.
There is a lot to like about the SEC next year.
The deadline couldn’t have gone much better for the Bruins, as they returned all three of the players that declared for the draft not named Aaron Holiday: Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Cody Riley. Steve Alford has a roster that is talented enough that it should win the Pac-12 next season. We’ll see if the Bruins can live up to the expectations.
THE DEADLINE WAS GOOD TO THEM
KANSAS: The Jayhawks were always going to be really good, but getting Udoka Azubuike back means they’ll have arguably the best low-post presence in the country next season.
NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels probably weren’t really in jeopardy of losing Luke Maye to the NBA, but he did declare and he did return to school. UNC will be a top ten team next season.
WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers got both Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate back, meaning that it will be that much easier for them to weather the storm of losing Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles.
CLEMSON: The Tigers are once again going to be a top 25 team with both Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed pulling out of the draft.
WASHINGTON: With Noah Dickerson back, are the Huskies the favorite to win the Pac-12 this season?
SAN DIEGO STATE: Jalen McDaniels came on strong late in the season and should be a star for the Aztecs in 2018-19.
ST. JOHN’S: Getting Shamorie Ponds back was a good thing. Adding Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron for the 2018-19 season would be a great thing.
2018 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who declared? Who is returning? Who are we waiting on?
The fact of the matter is that for all the pomp and circumstance, the NBA Combine is, essentially, about getting face-to-face interviews with these prospects while also landing definitive results for height, length, athletic testing and medicals.
Those results, when they pop, can help — or hurt — a player’s standing.
That said, there is still plenty that can be taken away from the 5-on-5 games that are played.
For players from smaller schools, it’s a chance to prove themselves against a higher level of competition. Think Larry Nance Jr., who wound up as a first round pick out of Wyoming.
For players that are stuck in a rigid system in college, the combine is a chance to show what they can do when they are no longer reined in. Kyle Kuzma is the perfect example of this.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the players that are still testing the waters and how they performed in Chicago this week.
DONTE DIVINCENZO, So., Villanova: The star of the national title game did not disappoint at the combine, in either the 5-on-5 play or in the athletic testing. Let’s start with the latter, where DiVincenzo registered a 42″ max vertical — tops at this year’s combine — and a 34.5″ standstill vertical to go along with a top five time in the lane agility drill. His size and length (6-foot-4.5 with a 6-foot-6 wingspan) is a bit of a concern, but DiVincenzo’s effort stood out during the games. The competitiveness and toughness is there, as is the shot-making ability. Already trending towards being a late first round pick, DiVincenzo probably solidified his standing at the combine. At this point I would be very surprised if he opted to return to school for his junior year.
KEVIN HUERTER, So., Maryland: We’ve been talking about Huerter as an under-the-radar prospect this spring, and he showcased why at the combine. Posting solid athletic testing numbers (he was top ten is all of the sprint drills and measured out at a 38″ max vert), Huerter proved himself to be a 6-foot-7 shot-making wing with an impressive feel; the 3.4 assists his averaged this season wasn’t a fluke. There’s a real chance that Huerter would be a late-first round pick should be stay in the draft, but there is a growing sentiment in NBA circles that he may want to return to school to try and play his way into the lottery of the weaker 2019 draft. If he adds strengths and proves himself to be an above-average Big Ten defender, that’s not an impossibility.
JOSH OKOGIE, So., Georgia Tech: We didn’t even mention Okogie when discussing which players had the most on the line heading into the combine, and that was clearly a mistake. Okogie may have proven himself worthy of an early-second round pick, if not late-first. The 6-foot-4.5 wing measured out at a 7-foot wingspan and finished with the fastest sprint time and the second-fastest shuttle run. A member of John Calipari’s Team USA U-19 team last summer, Okogie showcased his impressive defensive versatility during the combine games which, when combined with the 38 percent shooting from deep (173 attempts) in his two seasons in Atlanta, makes him an intriguing 3-and-D prospect in a league where defensively versatile wings that can space the floor are in high demand.
*(UPDATE: Okogie signed with an agent on Monday.)
It’s probably worth noting here that Huerter won’t turn 20 until August 27th and Okogie won’t turn 20 until September 1st. DiVincenzo is 19 months older than him. Hell, both of them are younger than Mo Bamba, Deandre Ayton and Michael Porter Jr. That’s a massive amount of time on the development curve.
CODY and CALEB MARTIN, Nevada: For both Martin twins, the combine made it looks like their incredible season with the Wolf Pack had more to do with the Mountain West than their future as NBA players. Caleb — the scorer — could not find a rhythm on that end while Cody — the jack-of-all-trades — didn’t exactly appear to be great at anything. The twins turn 23 in September, just received their degrees and Nevada would have 15 scholarship players if they return. They seem to be out the door, although that does not mean they’re headed for the NBA.
TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse: Physically, Battle tested out well, measuring nearly 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and solid athletic testing numbers. But that was never the worry with Battle. His issue is that he was an inefficient, high-volume scorer that played predominantly with the ball in his hands at Syracuse. He needed to prove that he could a) play off the ball and b) shoot better than what his numbers were with the Orange. He did neither, and while I’m not sure he necessarily hurt himself, he did not play his way into the first round. If he remains in the draft, he’ll likely end up a second round pick.
BRIAN BOWEN, South Carolina: Bowen did not appear to be a draftable player during the games at the combine, which is more or less what we thought of him prior to sitting out the 2017-18 season after he was caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. This is a nightmare scenario for him. He has until May 30th to decide if he should just get started on a pro career, whatever level that ends up being at, or returning to school and hoping the NCAA will clear him.
JARRED VANDERBILT, Kentucky: Vanderbilt pulled out of the combine prior to the start, which might have more to do with his health and controlling the flow of information over his medical testing than anything else. For a player that has had a myriad of lower left leg injuries over the years — he missed the first 17 games and the final six games of his freshman season, as well as much of the summer prior to his senior season in high school — he’s going to have a difficult decision to make in regards to turning pro. He’s not a first rounder, but just how long is his athletic career going to be given these health issues?
THEY ARE WHAT WE THOUGHT THEY WERE
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards was a late addition to the combine as other players dropped out. He’s more of a scorer than he is a point guard at this stage, and some of his struggles offensively at the combine showed that. He could use another year where he’ll be asked to do it all for Purdue offensively.
OMARI SPELLMAN, Villanova: We know what Spellman is. He’s a 6-foot-9 center with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a lethal three-point shooting stroke. We also know that he’s lost nearly 50 pounds since he was in high school. At the combine, Spellman checked in at 253 pounds with 13.75 percent body fat, still managing to post a 35.5″ max vertical at that weight. Put another way, there is still improvement that can be made on his body and, in theory, his athleticism. That keeps teams interested, but he certainly didn’t play his way into being a first rounder.
BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland: Fernando proved himself a very large human (6-foot-9.75, 7-foot-4.25) but beyond that, his instincts as a basketball players were not quite there. In an NBA era where paint-locked big men are becoming useless, Fernando seems to fall into that category. If anything, what may keep him in the draft is his guardian’s connection to Kansas big Silvio De Sousa and the FBI investigation into college basketball.
UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas: His 7-foot-7 wingspan is enough to make NBA GMs salivate, but that may be the only NBA-ready skill that the big fella has. He’s a non-shooter — career 40.6 percent from the free throw line — and his inability to defend on the perimeter was exposed by Villanova in the Final Four. He’s a late-second round pick at best.
SAGABA KONATE, West Virginia: The passion and the energy that Konate played with all season long was on full display at the combine as well. He’s a big, burly 6-foot-7.25 shot-blocker with a 7-foot wingspan and a better-than-you-think shooting stroke, but he didn’t do much to prove himself as more than a second round pick.
P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky: Physically, Washington doesn’t profile all that different that Spellman, who is slightly taller with a slightly longer wingspan and 30 extra pounds of weight he can stand to lose. The difference? Spellman is a very good shooter. The was time we saw Washington, who shot 5-for-21 from three as a freshman, he was missing 12 of his 20 free throws in a 61-58 loss to Kansas State in the Sweet 16. He’s already said he wants a first round guarantee to remain in the draft, and if teams didn’t rate him as a first rounder prior to the combine, I’m not sure anything happened that would change their minds.
JAYLEN HANDS and KRIS WILKES, UCLA: The most notable thing that happed with these two at the combine was that Hands, ironically enough, finished with the smallest hands at the event. He did, however, show some point guard instinct and fight defensively. There’s no guarantee he gets drafted, and the same can be same for Wilkes, who at least fits the profile of a versatile wing. Their decision essentially comes down to whether or not they think playing another year for Steve Alford will actually help their chances of getting into the first round in 2019.