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 Hot Seat: Which college basketball coaches are in danger of losing their job?
The wrench that has been thrown into this year’s Hot Seat list is that the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball has not been fully realized just yet.
There are a number of guys at major programs that are stuck waiting to see what kind of punishment the NCAA is going to hand down and whether or not their employers will stick by them when they do.
There are also a handful of coaches that have entered a year where they need to start winning, which puts them on a much more traditional Hot Seat.
So without further ado, your 2019-20 College Basketball Coaching Hot Seat:
WAITING ON THE NCAA
WILL WADE, LSU: Wade is the guy that is in the most trouble here, as he was caught on a wiretap discussing, among other things, “a strong-ass offer” that was made during the recruitment process of current Tiger Javonte Smart. After that wiretap became public, Wade was suspended for a month – including LSU’s NCAA tournament run – before being reinstated a week after the Final Four when he finally met with LSU administrators. At the time, it felt more like a stay of execution rather than a show of faith. Joe Alleva, the LSU AD at the time, said Wade was going to be reinstated “absent actual evidence of wrongdoing.”
BILL SELF, Kansas: Kansas is going to fight tooth and nail against the allegations levied by the NCAA in the Notice of Allegations that was served last month, but that doesn’t change the fact that Self and company were hit with multiple Level I violations. It’s tough for me to envision a scenario where Self is actually fired, but there’s a chance that the two parties could end up parting ways one way or another by the end of the season.
SEAN MILLER, Arizona: Miller was in more trouble last year, when it was unclear what was actually on FBI wiretaps and what would get played in open court. But now that he’s made it through all of the trials, and now that the perceived stability in the program has led five-star prospects back to Tucson, Miller seems relatively safe. If Arizona has stood by him for this long, would they really cut bait when the Notice of Allegations arrives?
BRUCE PEARL, Auburn: This one is tricky. Pearl has a history with the NCAA, we all know this, and that may end up being relevant when the NCAA decides to hand down punishments for what happened in his program. Violations were committed by Chuck Person in Pearl’s program, which means he can be hit with a head coach responsibility charge. The bigger concern, and the weirdest part of this story, is that Auburn may or may not have self-imposed recruiting sanctions that they may or may not have actually adhered to.
ANDY ENFIELD, USC: Enfield has mostly managed to remain out of the headlines during this scandal, and the fact that he is recruiting as well as he ever has at USC should tell you all you need to know about the perceived stability there. That said, there are going to be violations coming because of what former assistant coach Tony Bland plead guilty to, and USC does have a history with the NCAA.
THE OTHER GUYS: Frank Martin of South Carolina and Brad Underwood, currently at Illinois and formerly the head coach at Oklahoma State, both could find themselves dealing with a head coach responsibility charge based on the actions of Lamont Evans. He was on staff at both South Carolina and Oklahoma State during the time that the FBI was investigating. Creighton’s Greg McDermott is also going to have to deal with the NCAA as a result of former assistant Preston Murphy’s association with ex-runner Christian Dawkins.
THE TRADITIONAL HOT SEAT
DANNY MANNING, Wake Forest: It was less than two years ago, after Manning made his first NCAA tournament as the head coach at Wake Forest, that he was given a contract extension through the 2024-25 season. Since then, he’s posted back-to-back seasons with 11 wins and a 4-14 record in the ACC. Overall, he is 65-93 in five seasons in Winston-Salem with a 24-66 record in the league. It’s bad. The problem? Manning’s contract is reportedly fully-guaranteed through 2025, which means that Wake Forest will be on the hook for the roughly $15 million buyout at end of season.
JOSH PASTNER, Georgia Tech: Pastner is heading into his fourth season at Georgia Tech, and he has yet to make an NCAA tournament, posting a 48-53 record. He’s won between six and eight league games each year at the school. He won’t be making the tournament this year either, as his program was banned from postseason play due to violations that were committed on his watch.
Back in 2017, Pastner signed a contract extension through 2022-23. The deal is fully guaranteed if he is fired before the end of the 2020-21 season, meaning that Georgia Tech would be on the hook for almost $7 million if they were to part ways with Pastner.
JIM CHRISTIAN, Boston College: Jim Christian missed his window. After a dreadful start to his BC tenure, Christian entered the 2017-18 season with some promise. But despite the fact that he had Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman on the roster, BC went just 19-16 on the season and 7-11 in the league. After another sub-.500 season this past year, Christian is now 62-100 in five seasons. He signed an extension in 2018 that runs through 2022, and he was retained this offseason when AD Martin Jarmond told reporters that he will look to invest in the basketball program and support his head coach.
SHAKA SMART, Texas: Shaka is the most interesting name on this list because he is the biggest name and Texas is easily the best job. His tenure in Austin has not exactly been great. The Longhorns have been to two NCAA tournaments in four seasons – they also won the 2019 NIT – but his record through those four years is 71-66 over and 31-41 in the Big 12. Some of that Shaka needs to take the blame for. Some of it is bad luck. He lost Isaiah Taylor a year earlier than expected. Jaxson Hayes and Jarrett Allen both ended up being one-and-done. Andrew Jones’ battle with leukemia is something no one could have predicted.
Shaka’s contract runs through 2023, and it is fully guaranteed. If he’s fired by the University, he’ll be owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million. That’s a lot of money, especially if they are going to have to pony up another $6 million to buyout that guy down in Lubbock. That does, however, set up a scenario where Shaka could end up leaving for a soft landing, getting out while there’s a chance for him to land a power conference gig before they run him out of the Erwin Center.
Put another way, I think Shaka ends up being the flash point for this year’s carousel. If he leaves – or if he is asked to leave – then things can get really interesting.
PAT CHAMBERS, Penn State: Chambers is heading into his ninth season as the head coach at Penn State, and he has yet to reach an NCAA tournament. He came close in 2017-18, when his team was one of the last cuts on the bubble and finished the year ranked 19th on KenPom after winning the NIT. His contract runs through 2021-22, but the school has not released the details of his contract. Last season, after losing their first ten Big Ten games, the Nittany Lions finished the season winning seven of their last ten.
TIM JANKOVICH, SMU: When Jankovich signed a five-year deal in 2016 to replace Larry Brown, the Mustangs were the trendy team in Texas. In his first season as the head coach, Jankovich went 30-5 and won the American regular season and tournament titles. But that team had four NBA players on it, guys that were brought in by Brown. The talent level has dropped significantly, SMU has gone 6-12 in the AAC each of the last two years and at this point, the Mustangs aren’t even the trendiest team in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
FRANK HAITH, Tulsa: Haith has been unable to build on the NCAA tournament that he reached in 2015-16 with Tulsa. Last season, the Golden Hurricane finished 18-14 overall and 8-10 in the AAC. He did sign a two-year extension in March through 2022, but it is at a lower salary. Haith needs a big year.
JEROD HAASE, Stanford: This may be a year early on Haase, but this is his fourth season in Palo Alto, and the Caridnal have not really improved despite the fact that he has had improved talent coming through the ranks. He has finished under-.500 in two of his first three season, has a 25-29 record in a weak era for Pac-12 basketball and has yet to finish a season with fewer than 16 losses.
DAVE LEITAO, DePaul: Leitao is coming off of by far his most successful season during this four-year run as the head coach at DePaul. They went 19-17 overall and 7-11 in the Big East, good for a three-way tie for last in the league standings. Things probably won’t get better this season, not with the amount of talent they lost, and the program was put on probation in July. So obviously, DePaul had to … sign him to an extension?
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
The transfer market has never been a more vital component of college basketball, with nearly every contending program in heated battle to secure the most talented available. No longer are these “castoffs,” but rather coveted “free agents.” It’s hard to compete at the highest levels without them unless you’re rolling out five-stars across the board, but now even among the best on the prep recruiting trail – Kentucky, Oregon, North Carolina – are making sure not to overlook this talent pool.
Here are 15 of the most important transfers for the 2019-20 season.
Virginia Tech didn’t just lose Buzz Williams this offseason, the Hokies’ roster lost a ton of talent, too. The 6-foot-10 graduate transfer gives Florida a major boost after he averaged 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds. He’s an All-American candidate that makes the Gators a legit top-10 team with Final Four aspirations.
2. SHAKUR JUISTON, Oregon (UNLV)
The former junior college standout averaged 15 points per game while shooting 63.9 percent from the field as a junior for the Runnin’ Rebels before missing the bulk of last season with knee surgery, which paved the way for him to head northwest to Eugene and the Ducks. That decision bolsters the case that Oregon is the team to beat in the Pac-12.
3. JUSTIN PIERCE, North Carolina (William & Mary)
Roy Williams and the Tar Heels were hit exceedingly hard by departures – Coby White, Nassir Little, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods – so landing Pierce as a graduate transfer was a major pickup. The 6-foot-7 guard averaged nearly 15 points in back-to-back seasons, but he’s not just a scorer. Pierce grabbed more than 8 boards per game as a sophomore and junior and averaged 4 assists last season.
4. ADMON GILDER, Gonzaga (Texas A&M)
Another graduate transfer moving on after a coaching change, Gilder gives the ‘Zags some major reinforcement after getting hammered by departures from last year’s Elite Eight squad. The 6-foot-4 guard is a proven scorer and 3-point shooter, nearly hitting 40 percent from distance a year ago for the Aggies. Mark Few has proven his program can withstand high-level attrition, and being able to add guys like Gilder is a reason why.
The 6-foot-9 graduate transfer burst on to the scene last year, nearly tripling his points-per-game from 6.5 as a redshirt sophomore to 15.8 as a redshirt junior. And on the strength of that performance, he’s following in Reid Travis’ path to Lexington, which has suddenly become one of the hottest destinations for grad transfers. Sestina might not be a starter for the Wildcats, but he gives them a scoring, experienced punch in the frontcourt.
6. CHRISTIAN KEELING, North Carolina (Charleston)
Keeling is just a stone-cold scorer. The Charleston graduate transfer has averaged at least 17 points in all three of his collegiate seasons, including 18.7 last year on 46.5 percent shooting (38 percent from 3). He also pulled down 6.9 rebounds per game. He’s a big part of UNC’s reload.
7. CHRIS CLARKE, Texas Tech (Virginia Tech)
Texas Tech utilized graduate transfers all the way to the national title game last season, and Chris Beard will look to do so again this season with Clarke, who was suspended by Virginia Tech all of last season. He’s a capable scorer and rebounder, who presumably has something to prove on the floor. Beard’s track record here suggests he’ll get the best out of him.
8. KOBY MCEWEN, Marquette (Utah State)
The Golden Eagles lost in a major way on the overall transfer ledger with the Hauser brothers departing after last season, but it wasn’t all bad on the transfer wire for Steve Wojciechowski. McEwen, a 6-foot-4 guard, is eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Utah State. He’ll be tasked with being an alternate to the dynamic Markus Howard in Marquette’s backcourt after he put up 15 points per game in back-to-back seasons with the Aggies.
9. FRESH KIMBLE, Louisville (St. Joseph’s)
The 6-foot St. Joseph’s transfer averaged 15 points per game in his last two full seasons, and he’ll give Chris Mack a dynamic scorer in the backcourt – though his 3-point shot has been historically shaky.
Scott Drew’s Bears have the look of a Big 12 title contender, and the high-scoring Teague is a big reason why. He sat out last season after transferring from UNC-Asheville, where he averaged 16.7 points while shooting 42.5 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.
11. ISAIAH MOSS, Kansas (Iowa)
The 6-foot-5 wing never put up monster numbers in three years at Iowa, but he was a consistent contributor and, perhaps most importantly, increased his 3-point accuracy every season, culminating in a 42.1 mark last year as a junior. He’ll help provide Udoka Azubuike with room to work on offense for the Jayhawks.
12. RASIR BOLTON, Iowa State (Penn State)
Bolton only got clearance from the NCAA last week for immediate eligibility after his transfer from the Nittany Lions, and he’ll immediately not only step into a starting spot for the Cyclones but very well could be their top scoring option following the departure of three players into the NBA from last year’s Big 12 tourney champs who are now looking to make their eighth NCAA tournament in nine years.
13. MARCUS CARR, Minnesota (Pittsburgh)
After leading Pitt in assists and being the Panthers’ third-leading scorer as a freshman, Carr bounced west to Minneapolis, where he’s eligible this season after sitting out last. He averaged 10 points and 4 assists as a freshman in the ACC while shooting 40 percent from the floor.
14. JAMES BOLDEN, Alabama (West Virginia)
Bolden missed the second half of West Virginia’s near-debacle of a season with an injury, and then headed to Tuscaloosa to join first-year Tide coach Nate Oats. Bolden showed some scoring chops with the Mountaineers, and he certainly knows how to defend after three years with Bob Huggins.
15. JAEVIN CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati (Oakland)
Jaevin joins his star cousin Jarron Cumberland in Cincy after averaging 17.2 points last season for Oakland (after never averaging more than 2.7 previously) and shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range.
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.
Kentucky sophomore Hagans works on his offense, leadership
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans showed he was one of the most promising guards in college basketball last year, playing tough on-ball defense and his ability to distribute the basketball.
Now, he needs to be a better scorer and the Wildcats might need his leadership more than anything else.
The Southeastern Conference’s co-defensive player of the year is Kentucky’s top returning scorer — though he averaged just 7.7 points per game. He is the lone starter among four returning veterans.
Kentucky’s eight newcomers include freshmen guards Tyrese Maxey, Johnny Juzang and Dontaie Allen — who is sidelined with knee and shoulder injuries — and junior walk-on transfer Riley Welch. Wildcats coach John Calipari notes that Maxey and Hagans are “going right at each other” during preseason practices, with his veteran point guard enjoying the challenge and the verbal exchanges.
“It’s just being more vocal and showing guys the right way,” said Hagans, who averaged 4.3 assists per contest with 61 steals. “We’ve got four guys back with a leadership role on this team and that’s what we’ll need to be at our best.”
Kentucky lost forward PJ Washington and guards Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson to the NBA draft. That trio combined for 42 points per game, creating a huge offensive void to fill.
Calipari hinted he might play a three-guard alignment with Immanuel Quickley. There’s little question Hagans will have the ball often after he handed out 160 assists and provided stability during Kentucky’s run to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.
The coach believes Hagans is ready and has returned to school more self-assured.
“Every kid that comes in here, their first year there’s anxiety,” Calipari said during Tuesday’s annual media day. “At times there’s (what) I call it a fake swagger. You’re scared to death but you’re acting like you’re not.
“In that second year, if you’re honest with yourself, if you’re not delusional and you know what’s expected and you’re confident that you’re trained to do it and grow like Ashton is right now, I mean he’s got a different way about him. You can just see it.”
Offseason weight training has helped, though the Cartersville, Georgia, native can’t say how much bulk has been added to his 6-foot-3, 198-pound frame. The work seems most obvious in his legs, though his biceps frequently contracted as he situated himself in a chair for interviews.
“I’ve just tried to stay with Rob, get some extra work in if I can,” Hagans said, referring to workouts with strength and conditioning coach Robert Harris. “I just work real hard in the weight room so I can bring that aggressiveness on the court on the defensive end.”
Hagans’ goal is converting all his offseason work into more points.
He shot 47% last season but made just 28% from 3-point range and struggled with inconsistency down the stretch. He has worked this offseason to improve finishing at the basket while showing more confidence in his jumper.
“His game has always been really good, but his jump shot’s improving,” Quickley said. “He’s always been good at getting people involved. He’s found a balance of being selfish and unselfish, and when I say selfish that’s being a good thing because we need him to get buckets as well as pass. He’s done a good job at both.”
Hagans’ steals total tied for the third most by a Wildcats freshman in program history. He also grabbed 96 rebounds while starting the final 29 games and went on to share SEC defensive honors with LSU’s Tremont Waters.
He won’t change his defensive mindset, but makes it clear he aims to take advantage on his chances more often this season.
“It’s just working with a coach daily, listening to them to see what they can do to help and trying to get better,” Hagans said. “A lot of things take time, so I’ve just been trying to get in the gym and keep getting up shots.”