College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Who are the real favorites to win a title?

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
2 Comments

A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

This is the last time this season that you will see rankings in this space.

From here on out, it’s tournament basketball only, the best time of the year.

So in lieu of actually talking about rankings, I want to dive into the teams that I trust the most to be able to win six straight games after Selection Sunday.

And without question, the No. 1 team on that list is the No. 1 team in every ranking and metric that you will find on Monday morning: The Kansas Jayhawks. The reason is actually quite simple. With a new and improved Udoka Azubuike anchoring their frontline, the Jayhawks are the best defensive team in college basketball. Straight up. They are the best in the metrics, they are the best using the eye test and they are matchup proof given their ability to play small the majority of the time, play big when needed and the simple fact that they have two of the five best defenders in the sport in Doke and Marcus Garrett. Throw in Devon Dotson at the point, and there really isn’t anything this team is missing beyond some more reliable three-point shooting.

RELATEDBubble Watch | Bracketology | Conference Tournaments

And here’s the wild part: I think No. 2 on this list might actually be Michigan State. Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman are playing their best basketball of the season, and part of that is due to the fact that Rocket Watts and Aaron Henry are playing their best basketball of the season. The Spartans are no longer a two-man team. We’ve discussed this at length over the last two week, but I think we, the media — and me, specifically — completely underrated just how much the loss of Josh Langford would hurt with Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins graduating. Michigan State had to integrate so many young pieces into their rotation, and doing so while Cassius Winston was dealing with the loss of his brother and Xavier Tillman was dealing with the birth of his second child was a lot for any program to handle.

But they’ve figured it out.

I don’t know that their ceiling is as high as some of the other teams on this list, but I’ve fully come around on the idea that they are more trustworthy than many of the teams that are ranked above them.

Take Gonzaga, for example. The Zags are very good, but there is absolutely no way that you can guarantee that Killian Tillie will be healthy for six straight games when he has to play two games in three days three times to win a national title. He is Gonzaga’s best player.

Then there is Dayton, who is an elite three-point shooting team that gets more layups and dunks than anyone because of it, but they have had their issues on the defensive end of the floor this season and their backcourt is made up of a bunch of small guards. What happens if they draw a team like Florida State, that can roll out an endless number of 6-foot-5 athletes that are elite on-ball defenders?

Baylor struggles too much to score for my liking. San Diego State seems to play great for 15-20 minutes every game, but like they spent too much time at Ballast Point the rest of the game. Creighton is at the mercy of an off-night. Kentucky may or may not have Ashton Hagans locked in. Duke can’t guard teams that spread the floor. Seton Hall’s superstar shot under 30 percent from three in league play. Oregon will go as far as their 6-foot point guard can carry them.

I could go on and on and on.

So I now this will make me sound stubborn and like a homer, but if I was power ranking teams that I thought were the most likely to win the national title without seeing a bracket first, Michigan State would probably be No. 2 for me.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.



NBC SPORTS COLLEGE BASKETBALL TOP 25

1. KANSAS (28-3, Last Week: 1)
2. GONZAGA (29-2, 3)
3. DAYTON (29-2, 5)
4. BAYLOR (26-4, 2)
5. SAN DIEGO STATE (30-2, 4)
6. FLORIDA STATE (26-5, 10)
7. CREIGHTON (24-7, 12)
8. KENTUCKY (25-6, 6)
9. DUKE (25-6, 9)
10. MICHIGAN STATE (22-9, 21)
11. VILLANOVA (24-7, 14)
12. SETON HALL (21-9, 7)
13. OREGON (24-7, 13)
14. MARYLAND (24-7, 8)
15. LOUISVILLE (24-7, 11)
16. WISCONSIN (21-10, 18)
17. BYU (24-7, 17)
18. OHIO STATE (21-10, 15)
19. ILLINOIS (21-10, 19)
20. IOWA (20-11, 16)
21. VIRGINIA (21-7, 23)
22. MICHIGAN (19-12, 20)
23. HOUSTON (23-8, 22)
24. PROVIDENCE (19-12, 25)
25. UCLA (19-12, 24)

‘It’s very disappointing’: The number of black head coaches continues to fall at college hoops’ highest level

Getty Images
0 Comments

He was just months into his first job on a college coaching staff, an assistant Director of Basketball Operations. That’s the bottom of the college coaching ranks, but for a basketball lifer who was trying to find his way after the ball had stopped bouncing, it was a foot in the door.

You don’t say no to that.

One night after a game, the DOBO — then a 20-something, African-American man — was cutting film when his head coach called. He was at a bar down the street and he needed someone to bring him his car. Not unusual. Chauffeuring the head coach around might as well be written into the assistant DOBO job description.

So he parks the car outside the bar and walks in. His head coach, who is white, is sitting at a table with a dozen of his white friends. One of those friends, a booster at the school, says, “Hey Coach, is this your new recruiter?”

“And everyone, including [my head coach], bursts out laughing,” the DOBO said. He did not want to be identified in this piece for fears that it could impact his ability to get hired in the future. “At that moment, I decided I would never be coined as a recruiter.”

That term — recruiter — is a code word in coaching circles, one with a negative connotation. It refers to the young, black assistant on a coaching staff who can relate to the black players a white head coach needs to win basketball games. It’s a label given to guys who walk into urban high schools and the living room of black families, that have the relationships that basketball programs need with high school and AAU coaches that allows them to bring talent onto a college campus.

Recruiting well isn’t the problem. The problem’s the insinuation.

Referring to a coach, particularly a black coach, as a recruiter implies that recruiting is the only reason they are on staff. They’re not there to develop players. They’re not there to scout or game plan. They’re not there to draw up practices plans, or to mentor the athletes on the roster, or raise money for the athletic department, or glad-hand administrators and boosters, or to evaluate which prospects should be offered.

They’re there to get the players they’re told to get.


Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton (Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As of the 2017-18 season, 53.6 percent of Division I men’s basketball players were black, up 0.6 percent from the previous season, according to data collected by Richard Lapchick, the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Those numbers only increase at the higher levels as the players get better. For example, nearly 80 percent scholarship players at major conference schools are black, according to a study done by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Of the 104 players that were named first, second or third-team all-conference in the sport’s seven biggest leagues last season — the ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC — 87 of them were black, or 83.7 percent. Of the 15 players that were named All-Americans last year, 13 — or 86.7 percent — were black.

Those numbers don’t come close to matching up with the number of black head coaches in the college ranks.

There are 353 Division I men’s basketball programs, and just 103 of them — or 29.2 percent — have black head coaches. When HBCUs are taken out of the equation, the number falls to 24.1 percent. In the sport’s Big Seven conferences, that number is 22.9 percent. Half of the head coaches in the Big East and the American are black, so when looking at just the Power Five leagues, the number is a paltry 13.8 percent. The Pac-12 does not have a single black head coach. The only black head coach in the Big Ten is Michigan’s Juwan Howard, who was hired in May after John Beilein left for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“It’s very disappointing that the numbers haven’t moved to a greater number of minority coaches faster,” said Georgetown athletic director Lee Reed.

It wasn’t always this way. In 2000, 25 percent of head coaches in the six major conferences — prior to Big East splitting from the American — were black. In 2010, the number was 24.7 percent. As recently 2005, 32.3 percent (22 of 68) of high major head coaches were black.

What makes these numbers even more jarring is the fact that, in those seven conferences, more than 59 percent of the assistant coaches are black. Every single one of those 87 programs has at least one black assistant coach, but they aren’t the ones that are getting the opportunities to be a head coach.

A number of coaches interviewed by NBC Sports mentioned the increase in how search firms are used during the hiring process as a reason for the decline in recent years. As one coach put it, “white presidents hire white search firms to hire white ADs who hire those same white search firms to hire white head coaches.”

Glenn Sugiyama, who is Asian, of DHR International is the only executive at a relevant search firm that is not white, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, a college basketball insider that has broken the majority of coaching hirings and firings this decade.

“When I first got into coaching, there was no such thing as a search firm,” said Tulane head coach Ron Hunter, a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. “There’s nothing wrong with the existence of search firms. What’s wrong is the process. They take a pool of people out of the mix.”

Hunter’s main quibble with search firms is that he believes they tend to skew away from black candidates, that they favor retreads and coaches that have a better resume than an assistant that has never been given a chance. “I don’t have the data,” Reed said, “but that is definitely a narrative and a conversation that you hear within our industry.”

Tulane’s Ron Hunter (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

What exacerbates the issue, coaches believe, is that ADs are more worried about the business and the bottom line than they are about whether or not they’re making the right hire. Part of the reason for this is that there has been a change in who lands in those leadership positions. In the past, athletic director roles were reserved for coaches that were tired of the coaching grind.

“Now there are more business people running athletic departments,” one high-major head coach said. “So it’s about the guy who speaks the best at a press conference, not necessarily the guy that can connect with the kids, work hard and have longterm success. What will help us look good in the moment.”

ADs often make the safe hire. Safe hires tend to be coaches with head coaching experience, and since the overwhelming majority of head coaches are already white, the retreads at major conference schools end up being those same white coaches, too. Some also feel there’s less leeway than their white counterparts have.

“They fired Tony Barbee in the middle of the night to hire Bruce Pearl with a show-cause,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton said. 

Largely, this is about perception.

“We talk about tournament resumes this time of year. What I would like to see is someone do blind resumes with assistant coaches [during the coaching carousel],” Reed said. “What was it about this resume that made you pick him over a person of color? You’ll find there are going to be a lot of African-American associate and assistant coaches that are as prepared as the guy that gets hired.”

Mike Pegues is the greatest player in the history of the Delaware basketball program. He was the school’s first player to be named first-team all-conference for three straight years. He was the program’s first conference Player of the Year. He still holds the Blue Hens’ career scoring record, and he played in two NCAA tournaments. He’s been on Chris Mack’s staff as an assistant coach at Xavier, one of the best incubators of coaching talent in college basketball, and Louisville since 2011, but when the Delaware job opened in 2016, he couldn’t even get an interview. The school’s final four were all white assistant coaches.

Another talking point: Black coaches must take tougher jobs than their counterparts to prove themselves.

Boynton, Wyking Jones and Maurice Joseph were all promoted from within the program as assistants to the head coaching position in the span of seven months, and it was lauded as a great opportunity for young, black coaches to prove their worth. At the time, however, there was concern that this could set back black men in the coaching profession because none of the three were hired into situations where success would be easy.

Jones was given two years to try and turn around a moribund Cal program. He was not successful. Joseph stepped into an incredibly complicated situation at George Washington. He was gone in three years. Boynton, who is still the lowest-paid head coach in the Big 12 after getting a substantial raise, is the only one left standing.


Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and Lee Reed (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Perhaps the biggest complaint among coaches of color is the lack of diversity in the hiring process.

At Division I schools, just 15.6 percent of ADs are black, a number that drops to 10 percent once HBCUs are factored out, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s study. In the seven major conferences, only 11 of the 87 universities (12.6 percent) have a black AD. Just one of those 87 universities has a black president, Ohio State’s Michael Drake.

“People hire people that look like them,” Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing said. “It’s not necessarily racist. Most of the time you hire a person you can relate to.”

For Boynton, this really hit home when he was an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin. At the end of his first season in Nacogdoches, Texas, the school board invited the team to one of their meetings. Boynton was the only black person in the room who wasn’t a player.

“They thought I was a player,” Boynton said.

Two years later, when then-head coach Brad Underwood got offered the job at Oklahoma State, he asked Boynton if he wanted to takeover at SFA. “I can’t get that job,” Boynton said. He knew he didn’t stand a chance when he saw the candidate pool. Kyle Keller, Matt Figger, Chris Ogden.

“They were all middle-aged white guys from high-major programs. That’s what Brad was. Their profile was set,” he said. “Many times, you have to be so much better [if you’re black] to really get a fair shake at it.”

The goal, according to many of the coaches and administrators that spoke with NBC Sports for this story, is not to put black people in positions to solely hire black people. It’s to ensure that the people in a position of power have a broader understanding of their applicant pool.

“There is a distinct consciousness about remaining polished in a professional setting when you’re black,” said Joseph, now an assistant coach at Fairleigh Dickinson. “It goes beyond dressing appropriately and conducting yourself professionally. It’s changing your accent, tweaking your personality, fitting the standards.

“Almost like you need to put on a show or else you will be perceived poorly.”

Boston College athletic director Martin Jarmond (The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

There are steps being taken to change that. The Big East, a league where five of their 10 men’s basketball coaches are black, is developing a conference-wide plan to maintain a central database for young people that have worked for the conference and its member schools. The goal, according to conference commissioner Val Ackerman, is to create a centralized locale to find candidates for potential openings and for those candidates to learn about job opportunities.

Then there is the John McClendon Minority Scholarship. Named after the first black head coach at a predominantly white university, the McClendon Scholarship develops those pipelines by helping young people of color earn graduate and master’s degrees in athletics administration.

“The issue with minorities in sports is we need more pathways to get into the pipeline,” said Martin Jarmond, Boston College’s AD. A former team captain on UNC Wilmington’s basketball team, Jarmond was the youngest Power Five AD when he was hired by Boston College at 37 years old in 2017. He was the first black AD in school history.

“The more minority assistant and associate athletic directors there are, the more minority athletic directors there will be,” Jarmond said, adding that this cannot solely be an issue that is championed by black people within the industry.

“A lot of [coaches], when they’re looking for a young minority, will call me and ask,” said Providence head coach Ed Cooley. “The fact that you have to? Come on, man. You should know.”

“The bottom line is that too many times we put the impetus on black athletic directors,” Jarmond said. “There are white athletic directors that can do much more than I can to help minorities get opportunities in the pipeline. We’re going to keep talking about this until it’s a concerted effort by everyone. I didn’t get my chance solely because of black athletic directors. Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma has been so influential in my career.

“It needs to take root in more people across the board to invest in minorities.”


Oklahoma State’s Mike Boynton (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

What makes this all the more complicated is the tightrope black coaches are forced to walk.

Recruiting is incredibly important. Evaluating talent, doing the background research on who the players are as people, ensuring that it is the right fit on both sides, all of that matters. But if you cannot actually go out and bring the players you identify into your program, evaluation is relatively meaningless. And it’s also important to have diversity on a coaching staff. The majority of college players are black, and putting together a coaching staff that does not have anyone of color isn’t ideal.

Still …

“We get pigeonholed,” said Tulsa head coach Frank Haith. When Haith landed his first head coaching job at Miami, it was because the AD “wanted to hire the top recruiter in the country.” Haith had just finished putting together a recruiting class at Texas that included LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and Mike Williams, all five-star prospects.

“I knew that was a big part of getting that opportunity,” he said.

The reason why, 16 years and three jobs later, he’s still a head coach is because he was prepared. Rick Barnes, then the head coach at Texas, allowed him to do more. Haith put together scouting reports. He did radio interviews. He did speaking engagements. He learned how to operate.

Every head coach interviewed by NBC Sports has a similar story.

When Boynton was a senior playing for Dave Odom at South Carolina, Odom made him give the opening statement for every postgame press conference. Cooley said he used to follow Skinner around as an assistant at Boston College to soak in how he interacted with reporters, administrators and opponents. Numerous coaches that spoke with NBC Sports said that they have made it a priority to attend as many meetings as possible with administrators, even if it’s just to observe.

“There’s no excuse not to take your career in your hands,” said George Washington head coach Jamion Christian, a 37-year old who is already on his eighth season as a head coach at his third program.

One of the issues that Christian identified was the amount of time that recruiters are asked to be off campus and on the road.

“You’re not at practice three days-a-week, so you’re not learning how to run a practice or how to run a program,” he said. “You’re not learning the ins-and-outs. When you get a [head coaching] job, are you prepared to succeed?”

The answer, Christian says, is to learn on your own. Read about the game. Watch video. Learn a new offense while on a flight. His goal is to one day establish a training center for assistant coaches that get put into this situation, a place where all of this can be drilled into coaches.

George Washington coach Jamion Christian (G Fiume/Getty Images)

“I only worry about perfecting my craft,” Tennessee assistant Kim English said, adding that he’ll use travel time to stay up to date on trends in the NBA and the Euroleague and that he’ll rewatch tape of every single practice “so I know our players inside and out.”

“You’re not going to [become a better coach] by being fake, and the people that you’re around will see it and know it.”

Another part of the problem, according to coaches, is the lack of advocacy and public pressure from outspoken and outsized personalities. John Thompson Jr. isn’t coaching anymore. Nolan Richardson has been out of the game for nearly 20 years. John Chaney is 88 years old. “Those guys carry so much weight in their voices, and we don’t have that in our group anymore,” Haith said.

The fall of the Black Coaches Association has hurt as well. During the 1980s and 90s, the BCA was “a vibrant force,” according to Lapchick, one that un-apologetically campaigned for minorities in the collegiate space. Richardson, Chaney and Thompson were all intimately involved in it.

“I was on the board,” Lapchick said. “Whenever there was an opening we would send a list of qualified candidates to the president and the athletic director with coaches of color that they should take a look at, including a bio and his experience. I don’t think anyone is doing that anymore.”

The other problem lies with the media. As one coach phrased it, “the Luke Yaklich phenomenon.”

Yaklich was an assistant coach hired by Michigan’s John Beilein to turn around their defense. In the two seasons that he was in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines finished second and third nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. The media — including this reporter, who was the first to write on Beilein’s new defensive coordinator — lionized Yaklich, who has since moved on to join Shaka Smart’s staff at Texas.

“What black coach has that ever happened for?” said the coach. “Luke Yaklich is this defensive genius. Then [Texas] goes and gets beat by [29] by Iowa State without Tyrese Haliburton.”



There wasn’t a single coach that spoke with NBC Sports on the record, off the record or on background that suggested that black coaches should be given opportunities simply because of the color of their skin.

“I don’t believe in handouts,” Hunter said. “I go back and forth on how I feel about affirmative action. Nothing should be given. But I believe in opportunity. Don’t lock us out of opportunity.”

Most of the coaches and administrators seemed to be against implementing something akin to the Rooney Rule in college athletics. Forcing people to make a hiring decision they don’t want to make will never be effective.

The answer is finding a way to ensure there is equal representation across the board, that there is a black voice in the room advocating for candidates of color just like there is a female voice in the room advocating for women.

“The NCAA runs a whole host of coach prep academies and leadership programming,” Reed said, “but this is not going to be a program thing. It’s going to be more about increasing awareness of the situation and letting people know the quality of [candidates] out there that could rise to the level of head coach.

“And then it’s going to take people having the courage to make that hire.”

“I don’t think it will ever be a 50-50 split,” said Cooley, “but we have to move the needle to give people that look like me, talk like me and comb their hair like me more chances.”

Best Bets: Previewing Auburn-Davidson, Baylor-Washington, Texas-Purdue

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
0 Comments

As of this publication, the lines for the Friday games were the only ones posted. Games on Saturday and Sunday will be discussed using projections from KenPom.

No. 24 AUBURN vs. DAVIDSON, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • SPREAD: Auburn (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 144.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 73.5, Davidson 71
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, Davidson 72

This has all of the makings of a bet that I love to make in November. Davidson is one of the most well-coached and experienced teams in college basketball, bringing back their top six from last season. That includes Kellan Grady, who is now healthy, and Jon Axel-Gudmundsson. Grady was the Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year last year as a sophomore. Jon-Axel Gudmundsson won the award. This is a top 25 basketball team.

And they’re taking on an Auburn team that lost their three best players on a neutral floor. I’m not sold on J’Von McCormick being the answer to their problems, and I’m not sure that Samir Doughty is going to be able to replace what they lost in Jared Harper or Bryce Brown. I do like Isaac Okoro and I think he’ll give the Wildcats some issues with his athleticism and versatility, but to me this is a pick-em. If you’re telling me I can get points – or a ML that is around +110 – on Davidson, I’m in.

PICK: Davidson (+2.5)

WASHINGTON vs. No. 16 BAYLOR, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • SPREAD: Baylor (-5)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Baylor 71.25, Washington 66.25
  • KENPOM: Baylor 71, Washington 66

Washington lost their top four scorers from a season ago and will replace them with a point guard that transferred in from Kentucky (Quade Green) as well as a pair of five-star freshmen. Isaiah Stewart is a monster, but I’m not sold on Jaden McDaniels stepping in and dominating as a freshman. Those two will be going up against a Baylor team with one of the biggest and toughest frontlines in America.

(You’re going to notice trend here.)

But I’m going to be on Baylor. They bring almost everyone back from last year’s 20-win team that went 10-8 in the Big 12, but in their season-opener on Tuesday afternoon, they started three guys – Tristan Clark, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell – that did not play during Big 12 play last season. Clark was injured and the other two sat out due to transfer rules.

Oh, and should I mention that the Bears were second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last season while Washington plays a zone? With two freshmen on their frontline?

PICK: Baylor (-5)

ARIZONA STATE vs. COLORADO, Fri. 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • SPREAD: Colorado (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Colorado 76, Arizona State 70.5
  • KENPOM: Colorado 78, Arizona State 72

I really do not have any feel for this game, but considering that it is being played in China and that it is the first game of the season for both teams, I think I lean towards the under here. But that’s it. I’m mostly just interested in figuring out what to make of both of these teams. Colorado brings everyone back from a 23-win team, while Arizona State has a roster with some talent that has done nothing but underperform against Pac-12 competition the last two years.

PICK: Under 146.5

TEXAS at No. 23 PURDUE, Sat. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Texas 63

I don’t think that this line is going to open up at Purdue (-9), but if it does, then Texas seems like the easy play. We know they are going to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and getting nine points is a lot of points in a game that I think will be played in the high-50s or low-60s. Throw in the fact that Purdue lost their top two scorers from last season and this feels like the line should be closer to 4.5.

PICK: Texas (+9)

FLORIDA STATE at No. 6 FLORIDA, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Florida 69, Florida State 65

The Seminoles are coming off of a loss at Pitt in their season-opener and will take on a Florida team that most people expect to be an SEC title contender that has a chance of winning a national title. I liked Florida State on the road (-4.5) against Pitt, but I do not like the Seminoles on the road in a rivalry game.

PICK: Florida (-4)

ILLINOIS at No. 21 ARIZONA, Sun. 9:00 p.m. (PAC-12)

  • KENPOM: Arizona 76, Illinois 70

This is going to be a nightmare road trip for the Illini, who are playing at Grand Canyon on Friday night and have to follow that up with a visit to Tucson on Sunday night. The Wildcats looked good their first time out, getting 20 points from Zeke Nnaji in a blowout win over Northern Arizona. Illinois got taken to overtime by Nicholls State at home.

PICK: Arizona (-6)

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

BINGHAMTON at No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE (-35); 141, Sun. 7:00 p.m.

Michigan State will be looking to bounce back after a loss in the Champions Classic. I don’t think that foul trouble will be much of an issue in this one.

EASTERN KENTUCKY at No. 2 KENTUCKY (-29.5); 149.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Let’s see what Part II of the Tyrese Maxey Show has to offer.

UNC GREENSBORO at No. 3 KANSAS (-16); 144.5, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

It sounds like there’s a chance that Isaiah Moss plays in this one, and I fully expect the Jayhawks to bounce back from an ugly loss in a big way. I know UNCG is good, but Kansas I think Kansas is the best bet for a heavy favorite this weekend.

COLORADO STATE at No. 4 DUKE (-24); 146, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Niko Medved is a good coach, Duke is built on their defense and the Baby Blue Devils will be playing their first game in Cameron. Let’s see if Coach K can work through some of these offensive issues against someone that isn’t a title contender.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE at No. 5 LOUISVILLE (-26); 150, Sun. 2:00 p.m.

Jordan Nwora was terrific in the opener. Now that the Cards aren’t playing ACC teams, let’s see if they can find a way to get their point guard play up to snuff.

RHODE ISLAND at No. 7 MARYLAND (-12); 146, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Rhode Island is probably a top five team in the Atlantic 10 this season, and that actually carries some weight this year. The Terps struggled early with Holy Cross. I think the Rams make this a game.

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF at No. 8 GONZAGA (-32); 140, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

Gonzaga is banged up and thin in their backcourt. They should still roll.

No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA (-22.5) at UNC WILMINGTON; 161.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Cole Anthony will take centerstage once again, this time playing his first true road game as a collegian. Credit to Roy Williams, who is not afraid to play in-state mid-major competition in their building.

JAMES MADISON at No. 11 VIRGINIA (-24); 126, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Virginia just gave up 34 points to Syracuse. KenPom has JMU’s team total at 51. I think if I’m going to bet this game, I’ll bet that under.

STONY BROOK at No. 12 SETON HALL (-21); 143, Sat. 2:30 p.m.

The Myles Powell Show heads into game No. 2. Seton Hall rolled in the opener despite not having Kevin Willard on the sideline.

BETHUNE-COOKMAN at No. 13 TEXAS TECH (-28); 146, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

Texas Tech looked better than I expected in the opener for a team that is as young as they are. I’ll be very curious to see what Jahmi’us Ramsey’s progression looks like this season.

UIC at No. 14 MEMPHIS (-20); 156.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

James Wiseman will be back in action after popping off for 28 points in his debut.

BOISE STATE at No. 15 OREGON (-11); 139, Sat. 11:00 p.m.

Payton Pritchard popped off for a monster game in Oregon’s opener against Fresno State. They continue their tour of the Mountain West with a date against Boise State.

UMASS-LOWELL at No. 18 OHIO STATE (-24); 144, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

The Buckeyes went eight minutes without scoring to open up their season at home against Cincinnati. I don’t think they’ll have that issue against UMass-Lowell.

SIENA at No. 19 XAVIER (-20); 143, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

I really like Siena in this game. I have a lot of respect for Carmen Maciariello and his ability to coach, and the truth is that Siena might have the best player on the floor in Jalen Pickett. They’re not getting 20-pieced.

BOWLING GREEN at No. 22 LSU (-13); 156, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

I’m high on this LSU team, and I think that they are undervalued heading into this season. I’ll lay the 13 points.

NORTH TEXAS at No. 25 VCU (-16.5); 134, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

North Texas is bringing back four starters. VCU still can’t shoot and wins with their defense. I think Grant McCasland and the Mean Green can hang in there and keep this respectable.

College Basketball 2019-2020 Preseason Top 25

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
22 Comments

Beginning in September and running up until November 5th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-2020 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are unveiling the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

1. MICHIGAN STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
  • WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble, Joey Hauser*
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry, Xavier Tillman

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.

2. KENTUCKY

  • WHO’S GONE: P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Reid Travis
  • WHO’S BACK: E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickly, Nick Richards
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, E.J. Montgomery

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.

3. KANSAS

  • 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
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna, Christian Braun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji, Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike

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.

4. LOUISVILLE

  • WHO’S GONE: Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams, Darius Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Samuell Williamson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry, Fresh Kimble, David Johnson, Aidan Igiehom, Quinn Slazinski
  • 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?

5. VILLANOVA

  • WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
  • WHO’S BACK: Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree, Brandon Slater
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Bryan Antoine, Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

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.

6. DUKE

  • 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.

7. FLORIDA

  • WHO’S GONE: KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, DeAundre Ballard
  • WHO’S BACK: Noah Locke, Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson, Dontay Bassett, Isaiah Stokes
  • 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.

8. GONZAGA

  • 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.

9. MARYLAND

  • WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
  • WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Darryl Morsell
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Chol Marial, Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell, Donta Scott
  • 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.

10. VIRGINIA

  • WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
  • WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kadin Shedrick, Justin McKoy
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff

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.

12. OREGON

  • 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.

13. SETON HALL

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Nzei
  • WHO’S BACK: Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Tyrese Samuel
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quincy McKnight, Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu

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
  • WHO’S BACK: Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Robinson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cole Anthony, Christian Keeling, Leaky Black, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

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.

16. ARIZONA

  • 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.

18. XAVIER

  • 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.

19. LSU

  • WHO’S GONE: Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Kavell-Bigby Williams
  • WHO’S BACK: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor, Darius Days
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Trendon Watford, James Bishop
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Trendon Watford, Emmitt Williams

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.

20. BAYLOR

  • 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.

21. MEMPHIS

  • 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
  • WHO’S COMING IN: James Wiseman, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge, Damian Baugh, Lance Thomas, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyler Harris, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Precious Achiuwa, James Wiseman

I am lower than consensus on Memphis. I explained why here.

22. AUBURN

  • WHO’S GONE: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer, Chuma Okeke
  • WHO’S BACK: Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola, Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy, Isaac Okoro, Anfernee McLemore

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.

23. TENNESSEE

  • 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
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Josiah James, Drew Pember, Olivier Nkamoua, Davonte Gaines
  • 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.

24. VCU

  • 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
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jarren McAlister, Tre Clark, Hason Ward, Nah’Shon Hyland
  • 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

DAVIDSON

  • 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

CREIGHTON

  • 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

WASHINGTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, Dominic Green
  • WHO’S BACK: Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, Jamal Bey
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels, Quade Green, Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quade Green, Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart

COLORADO

  • WHO’S GONE: Namon Wright
  • WHO’S BACK: McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, D’shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert, Evan Battey, Shane Gatling, Daylen Kountz
  • WHO’S COMING IN: No one
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: McKinley Wright IV, Shane Gatling, Tyler Bey, D’Shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert

MARQUETTE

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Hauser, Joey Hauser, Joseph Chartouny
  • WHO’S BACK: Markus Howard, Theo John, Sacar Anim, Ed Morrow, Jamal Cain
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Koby McEwen, Symir Torrence, Jayce Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Markus Howard, Koby McEwen, Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey, Theo John

College Basketball’s Breakout Stars: Who will be this year’s most improved players?

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
1 Comment

One of my favorite things to do heading into a season is to put together a list of the season’s Breakout Stars. 

Sometimes, the picks are just too obvious – think De’Andre Hunter, or P.J. Washington, or Nickeil Alexander-Walker. 

Sometimes, those obvious picks just don’t pan out – like Herb Jones, or M.J. Walker, or Cane Broome.

Sometimes, a guy needs to be on the list for a couple years before he actually reaches said breakout – hi Jermaine Samuels!

Some people have strictly-defined parameters for putting together a list like this. I do not, beyond the basic principle that the player will be going from playing a role to being a star, whether that means he was a starter that will become an all-american or a bit-player slated to be a key cog on a potential Final Four team matters not.

Anyway, here are the 17 players that will be household names by the end of the year:



JERMAINE SAMUELS, Villanova

There’s an argument to make that Samuels’ breakout already happened.

It happened on February 28th of last season. Samuels popped off for a career-high 29 points, hitting five threes, as Villanova snapped a three-game losing streak by knocking off Marquette at home. During that three-game losing streak, Samuels had gone scoreless while attempting just two shots. Over the final seven games of the season, he averaged 11.0 points, cracked double-figures five times and helped lead the Wildcats to their fifth Big East regular season title and fourth Big East tournament title in the last six years.

And now the Wildcats are entering a season without Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to carry the offense while Bryan Antoine, their five-star freshman guard, is out with a shoulder injury. Someone needs to provide Villanova with some scoring. Samuels is a former top 40 recruit that picked Villanova over Duke and Kansas, that has proven the ability to put up big numbers and is a perfect fit for what Villanova’s offense has been over the course of the last half-decade. He’s a junior now. This is the year that players make the leap on the Main Line, and I’ll be ready for it.

ANDREW NEMBHARD, Florida

Everyone wants to talk about Kerry Blackshear and what his arrival will mean for Florida. What people seem to be forgetting is that Andrew Nembhard is a former five-star recruits that averaged 8.0 points and 5.4 assists as a freshman for the Gators and will be helping to fill the “role” vacated by uber-inefficient gunners Jalen Hudson and Kevaughn Allen. I think Blackshear ends up being the best player on the Gators this season, but Nembhard may end up being their MVP and their leader. On a team that projects to finish in the top ten and contend for SEC titles and the Final Four, that’s going to put him in the All-American conversation. That, to me, counts as a breakout star.

TRE JONES, Duke

This all hinges on what Jones becomes as a shooter this season. We’ve talked about this ad nauseum. I put together an entire video about it. Jones may just be the most influential player in all of college basketball this season.

TYRESE HALIBURTON, Iowa State

I’m torn about having Haliburton on this list because I’m not exactly sure how much better he can play than he did over the first three months of last season. That said, Iowa State is going to be one of the better teams in the Big 12 this season, and after a terrific performance playing for Team USA in the U-19 World Cup, Haliburton returns to Ames to play for an Iowa State team that lost pretty much everyone in front of him in the offensive pecking order.

The thing to note here is that I am not expecting Haliburton to suddenly become a guy that averages 18 points. That’s not who he is or how he plays. But I do think that there is a chance that he puts up a stat line that is somewhere around 12 points, six boards, six assists and two steals while shooting better than 40 percent from three. Put another way, we’re going to know that he is a star without having to look at the counting numbers to confirm it.

JAY HUFF, Virginia

We have talked plenty about Jay Huff and Virginia’s big guys in this space, but I think that he is in line for a massive jump this season. On the one hand, he’s actually going to be playing. Huff was in the same recruiting class as Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. He redshirted his first year in Charlottesville, he played just twelve games as a freshman and managed to see the floor for roughly 10 minutes a night last year. With so much of Virginia’s frontcourt depth gone, he is going to be getting 30-35 minutes a night this year.

But as we talked about in the video below, it’s not just the added minutes that changes things. It’s how good Huff is as the big guy in ball-screen actions and the fact that Virginia ran a more ball-screen heavy offense last season. Huff is a 7-foot-1 rim-running, lob-catching, shot-blocking menace that also shoots threes at a 45 percent clip while being able to put the ball on the floor. He’s going to have a massive year.

ISAIAH LIVERS, Michigan

With Iggy Brazdeikis gone after his one-and-done season, Livers is going to be the guy that steps up for the Wolverines. A hyper-athletic, 6-foot-7 combo-forward, Livers is a good, versatile defensive weapon that shot 42.6 percent from three last year. Someone is going to have to step up and fill the scoring void that has been vacated by the departures, and Livers seems to be the obvious fit. I would not be shocked to see Livers showing up in NBA mock drafts at some point during this season.

DEJON JARREAU, Houston

This one is simple, really. Jarreau played just 18 minutes per game last season and still managed to put up 8.7 points and 3.3 assists despite sharing the backcourt with the likes of Corey Davis, Armoni Brooks and Galen Robinson. This year, those three are gone, which means that Jarreau is going to be the guy that the offense runs through. I think that he is up for the task, and considering Kelvin Sampson’s track record of finding a way to figure things out with his lead guards, all the dots connect.

NOJEL EASTERN, Purdue

Matt Painter has been as good as anyone in the country at finding ways to get his best players into positions where they can succeed, and I think that this year is the year that he figures out how to take advantage of the things that Eastern does well. He’s a skilled passer that has terrific size at the point and has proven the ability to take smaller guards into the post. I think that Aaron Wheeler and Trevion Williams are candidates for this list as well, but I tend to lean towards the veterans when it comes to Painter working his magic.

OCHAI AGBAJI, Kansas

This pick is not actually as easy as it may seem, and that’s because Agbaji’s emergence last season came after Udoka Azubuike went down with his wrist injury. So while Kansas is losing Dedric Lawson, among other, Azubuike is coming back and is going to demand a very large market share of the Jayhawks offense. Throw in Devon Dotson’s continued development, and the added opportunities for Agbaji may not be there. That said, I think that he is clearly the most talented perimeter player on the Jayhawks roster this season, and given his size, athleticism and ability from the perimeter, I think there is a real chance that he ends up playing major minutes as the four in this Kansas system.

Put another way, he’s definitely going to be better than he was when his redshirt was pulled midway through his first season in Lawrence, and he is definitely going to be a useful weapon for Bill Self, I just don’t see him emerging as a guy that scores 15 points per game.

COREY KISPERT and FILIP PETRUSEV, Gonzaga

These decisions somewhat hinge on whether or not Killian Tillie is back and fully healthy this season. If he is, then I think that Kispert is the guy that takes the biggest step forward for the Zags. He’s an underrated talent that has been hidden by the likes of Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura, but he’s a guy that has the potential to be an all-WCC performer if given the opportunity. If Tillie ends up being banged up all season long, than Petrusev is the obvious pick. He’s a really talented big that will carry even more of the load without Tillie’s presence.

REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State

After getting off to a relatively slow start to his freshman season, Perry was absolutely dominant for long stretches of SEC play. He averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 boards during conference play, posting eight double-doubles. After an offseason to develop, he should end up being the focal point of Ben Howland’s offense as a sophomore.

KIRA LEWIS, Alabama

The way that Nate Oats played at Buffalo, he gave his lead guards quite a bit of responsibility. Lewis is going to be his lead guard this season. As a 17-year old in the SEC, he averaged 13.5 points and 2.9 assists. He’s heading into his sophomore season at the same age as the kids in the Class of 2019 heading into their freshmen year.

JOE WIESKAMP, Iowa

As a freshman, Wieskamp was one of the best shooters in the Big Ten, averaging 11.1 points and shooting 42.4 percent from three. Then Iowa lost Tyler Cook to the draft and lost Isaiah Moss to transfer and look like they may have lost Jordan Bohannon for the season. Someone is going to have to score, and Wieskamp is certainly capable of that.

OSUN OSUNNIYI, St. Bonaventure

Osunniyi was one of the best defensive players in all of college basketball last season, averaging 2.7 blocks to go along with his 7.5 points and 7.6 boards. With three of the Bonnies’ top four scorers graduating, he is going to be asked to play a much bigger role this season.

NATE REUVERS, Wisconsin

There is always someone waiting in the wings in Wisconsin’s frontcourt, and this year it is Nate Reuvers. As a sophomore, playing on a team that ran their offense through Ethan Happ, Reuvers averaged 7.9 points, 3.9 boards and 1.8 blocks while shooting 38.1 percent from three. If the Badgers are going to get back to the NCAA tournament, they are going to need Reuvers to have a monster junior season.

JALEN HILL, UCLA

Hill is a bit of a reach, but someone is going to have to step up and be Mick Cronin’s frontcourt anchor, and Hill makes sense. He’s long and athletic, he can rebound and he can block shots, he can do all of the things that Cronin got out of his big men for the last 13 years in Cincinnati. There is more talent in Westwood than people realize. Hill is the perfect example of that.

College Basketball Preseason AP Top 25

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
0 Comments

The preseason AP poll has been officially released.

Full disclosure: I will be voting in the AP poll this year. First time! My ballot can be found here.

1. Michigan St. (60)
2. Kentucky (2)
3. Kansas (3)
4. Duke
5. Louisville
6. Florida
7. Maryland
8. Gonzaga
9. North Carolina
10. Villanova
11. Virginia
12. Seton Hall
13. Texas Tech
14. Memphis
15. Oregon
16. Baylor
17. Utah St.
18. Ohio St.
19. Xavier
20. Saint Mary’s (Cal.)
21. Arizona
22. LSU
23. Purdue
24. Auburn
25. VCU

Others receiving votes: Washington 164, Colorado 152, Tennessee 78, Marquette 68, Florida St. 36, Davidson 34, Harvard 24, Illinois 14, Missouri 13, Mississippi St. 12, Georgetown 11, Houston 11, Cincinnati 8, Notre Dame 7, Creighton 4, N.C. State 3, Syracuse 3, Alabama 2, Liberty 2, Michigan 2, Southern Cal 2, Vermont 2, Colgate 1, Dayton 1, Providence 1.