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Road To Redemption: How Virginia went from losing to 16 seed to winning title

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Over the course of the next month, we will be taking a look at some of the most memorable and important things that happened during the 2018-19 season and what kind of impact those moments are going to have on the 2019-20 season.

We’ll start with the obvious: Those Virginia Cavaliers.

Without question, the single best and most memorable moment from the 2018-19 college basketball season was The Redemption.

Less than 13 months removed from suffering what will go down as the most humiliating and demoralizing defeat in the history of college basketball – if not sports, period – Virginia went out and won the Whole. Damn. Thing.

And oh buddy, was it a roller coaster ride.

In the opening round, in their first game against a No. 16 seed since they became the first team to lose to a No. 16 seed, Virginia dug themselves a 14 point first half hole against Gardner-Webb before pulling their collective heads out of their, ahem, keisters and rolling to a win. The ‘Hoos handled Oklahoma with relative ease in the second round to advance to the second weekend, where that postseason roller coaster ride got an injection of Dominic Toretto’s NoS.

In the Sweet 16 against Oregon, Kihei Clark ended an 18-5 Duck run by burying a three and, two possessions later, finding Ty Jerome for another triple, giving UVA a lead that they would never surrender after they blew a lead they shouldn’t have lost. Virginia’s Elite Eight win will go down as one of the best NCAA tournament games of the decade. UVA survived Carsen Edwards going Super Saiyan while lighting up college basketball’s best defender in De’Andre Hunter for 42 points, and they did so thanks in very large part to one of the best and most instinctual plays you’ll ever see a college kid make:

Again, it was Clark coming to the rescue, as Virginia found a way to not only beat Purdue, but cover a 4.5 point spread in the overtime period.

Not that I’m still bitter or anything.

That brings us to the Final Four, the first of Tony Bennett’s illustrious career, where those Wahoos did their very best to make everyone believe they had not left their inner choke artist behind. Thanks to a couple of bone-headed fouls by Ty Jerome followed Auburn’s Bryce Brown making a pair of critical three-balls, Virginia blew a 57-47 lead in all of 3:16. In the blink of an eye, they found themselves down 61-57 with 17 seconds left after a pair of Anfernee McLemore free throws.

This time, it was Kyle Guy coming to the rescue. He buried a three with nine seconds left to cut the lead to one, and after Jared Harper missed one of two free throws, Guy was – controversially, but correctly – fouled while shooting a three with just 0.6 seconds on the clock. He would step to the line and swish not one, not two, but all three free throws, sending Virginia to the national title game, where they would face off with Texas Tech, a matchup that was billed as the worst national title game of all-time.

And that prediction turned out very, very wrong.

It took a while to get going, but by the time the final ten minutes rolled around, the battle between the two best defenses in all of college basketball was as intense and as physical as any game this year. We knew that was coming. What we didn’t know was that it would be the offenses for both those programs that would take over, as the shot-making and execution in the second half reached a level we rarely see in the college game. That said, Virginia again blew a double-digit second half lead, getting to overtime when Jerome found Hunter in the corner for a game-tying three with 12 seconds left:

Virginia would take the lead in the extra frame on another Hunter three with 2:10 remaining, pulling away to win 85-77 and cut down the nets for the first time in program history.

It was a wild ride, one that ended the opportunity for the dummies out there to criticize Tony Bennett’s coaching acumen because of a couple of fluky, unlucky tournament results.

But for my money, what made the turnaround so memorable – and what truly cemented Bennett’s standing as arguably the best in the game today – has everything to do with how Virginia changed the way they play after UMBC.


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Before we get into the changes that Virginia actually made, I think it is important to put into context what actually happened in that loss to UMBC.

As Hunter has been quick to remind his teammates – over and over again – he did not play in Virginia’s loss to UMBC. He fractured his wrist before the start of the tournament, and the hole that he left in the lineup was drastically bigger than his 6-foot-7 frame. You see, Hunter was the guy that made Virginia matchup proof. He was the best, most versatile defender in all of college basketball as a sophomore. When Virginia won at North Carolina earlier this year, Hunter was, at different points throughout the game, matched up on lottery pick point guard Coby White, lottery pick wing Cameron Johnson and All-American power forward Luke Maye.

That’s who Hunter was as a freshman, too.

He was and is a monster defensively. 

Back to UMBC, the America East champs had a team that, in 2018, played a lineup with four guards and often had five players on the perimeter. It would not have been an issue to throw Hunter on any of them, especially since he was good enough offensively to be able to take complete advantage of that matchup on the other end of the floor. He was, after all, the No. 4 pick in June’s draft. He would have been a mid-first round pick had he left a year earlier.

But without Hunter on the floor, Bennett ran into a problem: He needed to play two bigs because of the offense that he ran, but none of Jack Salt, Isaiah Wilkins or Mamadi Diakite were going to be able to duplicate what Hunter could do. They couldn’t stay with those little UMBC guards, and they weren’t good enough offensively to take advantage of the mismatch on the offensive end. When UVA went small, it just meant that Nigel Johnson had to play more and, well, that was not ideal.

Now, look. Hunter’s absence is not a valid excuse for this loss. Virginia was still a much, much better team even without their best player. They played their worst game on a night where UMBC absolutely caught lightning in a bottle. It got into their heads. Jairus Lyles played the game of his life. UMBC ran away with the win. Weird things happen when college kids play sports. What can I say.

But Hunter’s absence and the slight matchup advantage that gave UMBC over UVA certainly played a major role in how this game played out, and I think it is fair to say that this game would have been much closer, and, in all likelihood, had a different result, with Hunter on the floor.

Here’s the proof.

These two clips are the same play. In the first example, Jerome finds Hunter for a game-tying three in the national title game. In the second example, Jerome finds Wilkins, who is not a shooter and the play results in yet another missed three in Virginia’s loss to UMBC:

“That situation made me take a look at a lot of things,” Bennett told me during last year’s Final Four. “From a basketball standpoint, that was such a pivotal moment.”

As I reported then, what Bennett did was reach out to former Wisconsin Badger Kirk Penney, a man he calls “a little brother to me.” Penney had played in the NBA and all over Europe before finishing out his career in New Zealand, so Bennett asked him, “In all your experiences, did you run any stuff that opens up the court more?”

Turns out, Penney had.

He knew exactly what Bennett needed.

You see, Bennett had spent the majority of his time in Charlottesville running the Blocker-Mover offense that his father created. That offense is fairly simple – there are three perimeter players on the floor, the “movers”, that continuously run off of screens that are set by the two bigs, the “blockers”:

But as effective as Virginia has been running Blocker-Mover in the past, running that offense with his 2018-19 roster makeup didn’t make sense. And again, this was because of De’Andre Hunter.

Hunter was the prototype college four. At 6-foot-7 and a strong 225 pounds, he’s big enough to guards fours while simultaneously taking advantage of them with his ability to shoot and beat slower defenders with straight-line drives. But he was also far and away the most talented player on the Virginia roster, and running Blocker-Mover would put Bennett in a position where he was forced to either play Hunter in a role where he was predominantly a screener or put him in a position where he was going to be defended by college threes doing something – specifically, running off of pindowns and flare screens – that is not his forte.

Enter Penney, who helped Virginia install a Ball-Screen Continuity offense, what Virginia called their “Flow Continuity.”

Again, the concept of this offense is fairly simple. The goal is to get open-side ball-screens, which just means having a big screening for a guard on one side of the floor with three players – preferably shooters – spacing on the opposite side. If nothing comes of the first ball-screen, the offense is designed for the ball to end up in a second ball-screen with the sides of the floor reversed. It’s run until a they get a shot, hence “continuity.”

It’s easier to show it than to explain it:

This is not something that Virginia has ever really run before this season.

Which brings me back to that game-tying three in the national title game.

While it’s not exactly the continuity ball-screen, it is a high-ball screen for Jerome. He did what he does so well: He got into the paint, he drew defenders and he found the guy everyone forgot about.

Now, one of the reasons that this worked so well for Virginia is that they had the players to execute it. Hunter was the best basketball player not named Zion Williamson in college basketball last season. Jerome was as good as anyone as the handler in a ball-screen, and he also happens to be an elite shooter that can run off of screens just as effectively. Guy was one of the very best shooters in the country. Clark is a defensive menace that allowed Jerome to move off the ball when necessary.

That changes next year.

Hunter, Jerome and Guy are all on NBA rosters. They will be replaced by Braxton Key, Tomas Woldetensae, Kody Stattman and Clark. Clark proved himself to be much better than I ever gave him credit for last season, but being effective in last year’s role and taking over full-time point guard duties for an All-American like Jerome are two very different things. Woldetensae and Stattman can both shoot, but they are not the shooters that Guy was. And most important, Key is a good player and can play the same position that Hunter played, but he’s not the player that Hunter was. If Hunter is Kraft Mac and Cheese, Key is whatever brand they carry at Aldi.

That puts Bennett in a tough position this season.

Because he doesn’t really have the guards to run his flow continuity offense as effectively as he did last year, but the guys that project as his starting bigs – Jay Huff and Diakite – fit a ball-screen heavy offense better than they do the Blocker-Mover. Huff is 7-foot-1 with ridiculous length, and he shot 14-for-31 from three this past season. He’s more or less the perfect five for ball-screen actions because he can catch a lob as a roll-man as effectively as he can bury a three when he picks-and-pops. Diakite can make threes as well, and he’s even more effective as a roll-man.

So I really don’t know what Virginia is going to look like next season.

Like Villanova last year, they are not exactly built to withstand that many critical pieces leaving with eligibility remaining.

My best guess? We see a lot of lineups with Key, Diakite and Huff on the floor at the same time as Bennett figures out exactly how he is going to be able to work in a guy like Woldetensae, who has never been asked to defend near the level he will have to defend with Virginia, and how he can effectively use Clark.

But I certainly expect Bennett to figure something out.

That’s just what he does.

The ‘Hoos will have some growing pains, and asking them to compete with Duke, Louisville and even North Carolina in what appears to be a three-horse race for the ACC title is tough, but I’d be shocked if they enter the NCAA tournament as anything other than a top four seed.

College Basketball 2019-2020 Preseason Top 25

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There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.

But we’re doing it anyway!

A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them. 

So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.

1. MICHIGAN STATE

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

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

3. 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

4. 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, Isaac McBride, Christian Braun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji, Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike

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

6. 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, Malik Williams

7. 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

8. 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

9. 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, Deshawn Corprew, 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, Deshawn Corprew, T.J. Holyfield, Chris Clarke

10. 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.

11. 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

12. 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

13. 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, Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

14. 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

15. 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

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, Terry Armstrong, Christian Koloko, Zeke Nnaji, Stone Gettings
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Max Hazzard, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Ira Lee, Chase Jeter

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: Alex Ducas, Kyle Bowen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Malik Fitts, Jock Perry

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

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

20. BAYLOR

  • WHO’S GONE: King McClure, Makai Mason, Jake Lindsey
  • WHO’S BACK: Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler, 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, Mario Kegler, Tristan Clark

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

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

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

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
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Vince Williams, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva

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

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

Who will be next head coach to win first national title?

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Last April, after a decade of proving himself as one of the very best coaches in all of college basketball, Tony Bennett shook the monkey off of his back for good as he led Virginia to the greatest redemption story in the history of sports.

The Cavaliers, if you have somehow forgotten, went from being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in 2018 to the national champs in 2019.

We may never see anything like that ever again.

But there are a handful of coaches that could follow in Bennett’s footsteps by joining the list of people that can put “Won A National Title” as a line item on their resume.

These are the eight coaches that are the most likely to do that in the next five years, with an added bonus of the threes most difficult names to leave off the list.

THE FAVORITE

1. MARK FEW, Gonzaga: This is obvious. Gonzaga is a top ten program nationally, they are just two years removed from a run to the national title game, they are churning out lottery picks at a rate we’ve never seen from a mid-major and their ability to A) tap into the transfer market, and B) identify and bring in overseas talent will ensure that their floor is as a top 25 team every year. Few is going to breakthrough eventually.

THE SECOND TIER

2. CHRIS MACK, Louisville: For my money, Mack is the best coach in college basketball to never reach a Final Four, and if the way his first season at Louisville played out is any indication, he’s going to lose that title pretty soon. Not only is he coming off of a 20 win season and NCAA tournament trip that few expected, he brought back his best player, brought in a loaded six-man recruiting class and has his program sitting pretty as a preseason top seven team.

Now, the major question mark here is the NCAA. What kind of punishment is the program going to face as a result of the recruitment of Brian Bowen? On the one hand, Louisville is not far removed from the fallout from the escort scandal, where they had Final Four and National Title banners taken down as a result of strippers and hookers that were provided to players and recruits by a member of the coaching staff. On the other hand, everyone involved is both of those incidents is long gone – from the AD to the head coach to the players and members of the coaching staff. Is the NCAA going to come down hard on an entirely new regime that, as far as we know, has never been on the wrong side of NCAA rules? Who knows, but that’s the reason why I have Mack a notch below few.

Chris Mack (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

3. CHRIS BEARD, Texas Tech: Beard is a tough one here, because he is the only guy on this list that could end up working somewhere else within the five-year window. Obviously, if he stays at Texas Tech he seems like he would be a decent bet to breakthrough. The Red Raiders, when healthy, were the best team in the Big 12 two years ago, and this past season they ended Kansas’ reign atop the conference before making a run to the national title game. As of today, they are a consensus preseason top ten team. Beard’s ability to rebuild from scratch on a year-by-year basis means that the Red Raiders will likely always be in the mix, and it makes me confident that, wherever he ends up if he does leave Lubbock, his team will have a shot at being very good, very quickly.

4. MATT PAINTER, Purdue: I have the utmost respect for Painter’s coaching ability. In the last four years, he’s managed to play three very distinct ways. It started with all 6-foot-9, 250 pounds of Caleb Swanigan playing the four alongside A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. When Swanigan left, his team got better by putting four shooters on the floor around Haas. When four of the five starters on that team left, he totally rebuilt his offense by allowing Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline to run off as many pindowns and DHOs as they could handle.

Should I mention that, in three of those four seasons, Purdue finished as a top ten team on KenPom, and the fourth season they finished 19th? Painter is a monster.

Mike White (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

THE NEXT BEST

5. MIKE WHITE, Florida: White, at 42 years old, is the youngest coach on this list by a significant margin, and while he has yet to truly live up to the legacy that Billy Donovan left in Gainesville, he’s been to the last three NCAA tournaments, he’s won at least a game in all three – including a run to the 2017 Elite Eight – and he has a preseason top ten team returning this year. I think this is just the start for White, who is arguably the best coach in college hoops under the age of 45.

6. CHRIS HOLTMANN, Ohio State: Holtmann has been a head coach for five seasons since he took over for Brandon Miller in 2013-14, and he’s won at least 20 games in all five seasons, he’s won at least one NCAA tournament game in all five seasons and, I think it’s fair to say, in each one of those five seasons he outperformed expectations. He’s only heading into his third year at Ohio State, which means that the arrow is going to continue to point up.

7. BRUCE PEARL, Auburn: Pearl is another coach that is currently sitting squarely in the NCAA crosshairs, and while he, personally, is only tangentially connected to the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption, Pearl has plenty to worry about. He’s already served a show-cause for lying to NCAA investigators, he was nearly fired 18 months ago because of his refusal to speak to Auburn’s investigators and he will undoubtedly get dinged by the NCAA with failure to monitor and/or head coach responsibility charges because of Chuck Person’s actions while on staff.

That said, Pearl has found a perfect fit for himself at Auburn. He’s coming off of a Final Four run, he’s sending players – hi, Chuma Okeke – to the NBA and he’s been able to recruit their replacements – hi, Isaac Okoro – to maintain the stability of his program thanks in part to his uptempo style. Throw in the fact that he’s turned Auburn Arena into one of the tougher places in the SEC to play, and I think he’s going to continue to succeed.

Penny Hardaway (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

8. PENNY HARDAWAY, Memphis: To be completely honest, I am not quite sure where to put Penny on this list. The fact of the matter is that he has spent one year as a head coach at the college level. We don’t really know what to make of him as a head coach, and given the fact that this Memphis team is being wildly overranked heading into the season, there seems to be a good chance that the narrative on Penny could end up being that he’s a recruiter, not a coach, come the end of the season.

When that happens, remember this warning. And also remember that Penny landed two top ten recruits and seven top 100 players in his first real recruiting class, including a five-star from New York and a top 30 prospect that decommitted from Duke. He’s going to continue to land recruiting classes like this, and with the majority of this year’s No. 1 ranked class being two or three years players, I think everyone is a year early on the Memphis bandwagon.

We’ll see if all of that leads to a chance at winning a national title.

THE THREE TOUGHEST NAMES TO LEAVE OFF

SEAN MILLER, Arizona: “Most likely.” We’re talking about probabilities here, right? That cannot be done without factoring in the chance that A) Sean Miller gets fired, B) Sean Miller gets a show-cause and C) the Arizona program receives some kind of significant punishment for their involvement in the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. In a vacuum, it’s hard to ignore the success, both on the court and on the recruiting trail, that Miller has had, but it is also impossible to ignore what they could be facing in the very near future.

MIKE HOPKINS, Washington: I get why the college basketball community is bullish on Hop. He won 21 games in his first season with Washington, he won 27 games and the Pac-12 regular season title last season and he just landed a pair of top ten prospects in Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. But before I go all-in on him, I want to see how well he does coaching one-and-done talent and what happens when the rest of the Pac-12 is actually worth talking about.

RICK BARNES, Tennessee: Barnes is the oldest guy on this list by seven years, he is coming off of two years where he had the Vols as close to program’s ceiling as you can get and, with Grant Williams, Jordan Bone and Admiral Schofield gone, they are entering something of a rebuilding stretch. I think that he has found a place where he can have sustained success, but he doesn’t crack the top eight on my list. .

Best Bets: National title futures to buy, fade

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We are still more than three months away from the start of the college basketball season, but that doesn’t mean it is too early to start betting on college basketball.

Futures, baby!

There are already plenty of places where you can find lines on next season’s national champions, so we would be in the wrong if we weren’t advising you on who to put your money on considering that now is when you will likely be getting the best odds. 

One thing to note: These odds come from DraftKings Sportsbook, and like a number of the legal Sportsbooks operating in New Jersey, it allows you to cash out futures bets for a profit if the odds get better. So, for example, last year I bet on Marquette at 200/1 odds in September. By late February, their odds had moved to 50/1. When the team lost four in a row late in the year, I was able to cash out that bet to more than triple my investment.

That option plays a significant role in the futures that I am going to be investing in. If you don’t have the ability to cash out, some of your decision-making should be more conservative. A future bet may be a great value, but just because I think Utah State should be 60/1 vs. 150/1 doesn’t change the fact that you won’t get paid unless Utah State wins the title.

So with all that in mind, here is your as-of-today college basketball futures breakdown.

(AP Photo/Jeff Swinger)

THE FAVORITES

  • Kentucky (8/1)
  • Michigan State (8/1)
  • Duke (10/1)
  • Virginia (11/1)
  • Kansas (12/1)

The way I see it, there are four teams that are in the mix as the best team heading into the 2019-2020 season — Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas. As the reigning national champs, it makes sense that Virginia would have their odds in this range as well.

BEST BET: At this point, I think that it is probably KANSAS (12/1) for the simple fact that they have the best odds and there really isn’t all that much of a difference between them and, say, Kentucky or Michigan State. Hell, there are smart basketball people out there that will tell you that the Jayhawks are the best team in college basketball this season. They lost Dedric Lawson and Quentin Grimes with eligibility remaining, but they did bring back Devon Dotson (a potential breakout star next season) and Udoka Azubuike. That wasn’t a guarantee. The addition of Isaiah Moss adds some perimeter shooting while Ochai Agbaji should be in line for a significant jump in minutes and production. Throw in Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Tristan Enaruna and Jalen Wilson, and there is as much versatility on this roster as there is talent.

I do think that KENTUCKY (8/1) and MICHIGAN STATE (8/1) are worth betting as well. That’s decent value. For my money they are the best two teams in the country heading into next season, and the Spartans return my Preseason Player of the Year in Cassius Winston. DUKE (10/1) also seems to be the right price. They don’t have as much talent this year, but the pieces should fit together better. But at 12/1, Kansas is clearly the best value in this tier. 

EASIEST FADE: It’s VIRGINIA (11/1) and it’s not close. I’m actually bullish on the Cavaliers heading into next season. I love Jay Huff and I *love* Mamadi Diakite, and Braxton Key should be able to play the three alongside both of them. But there are real questions that need to be answered about their perimeter play. I don’t know if Casey Morsell is going to be ready as a freshman. Tomas Woldentensae can really, really shoot but the staff has concerns about what he will be defensively. Kody Stattman is supposed to be the guy they rely on to be a defender and a floor-spacer on the wing but he is coming off of a 9-for-41 effort from three in the FIBA U-19 event.

I like Virginia this season more than a lot of people. I do not like Virginia at this price.

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

THE CONTENDERS

  • Gonzaga (18/1)
  • Memphis (18/1)
  • North Carolina (18/1)
  • Florida (20/1)
  • Louisville (20/1)
  • Villanova (20/1)
  • Texas Tech (25/1)

BEST BETS: My two favorite futures heading into the 2019-20 season are in this tier: FLORIDA (20/1) and LOUISVILLE (20/1).

We’ll start with the Gators, who have actually seen their odds change significantly over the course of the last month. When Kerry Blackshear announced that he will be playing his senior season in Gainesville, there were still places where Florida was available at better than (50/1). For a team that is going to enter this season in everyone’s preseason top 10, that was insane value. They are certainly priced better now, but at (20/1), the value is still there. Remember, this is a team that already had an elite perimeter – Andrew Nembhard, Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke, Tre Mann – of versatile defenders capable of thriving in small-ball, and they added an all-american redshirt senior that anchored the frontline for a Virginia Tech team that played the same way last season.

Louisville should be obvious, really. They are misspriced. They return Jordan Nwora (my Preseason ACC Player of the Year), Dwayne Sutton, Steve Enoch and Malik Williams, they add a loaded six-man recruiting class and bring in a grad transfer point guard in Fresh Kimble that averaged 15 points in the Atlantic 10 last season. Throw in the fact that their head coach is one of the very best in the business, and I would buy the Cardinals up until they are priced where Virginia is priced today.

TEXAS TECH (25/1) is also interesting to me because Chris Beard always finds a way to win, but I’m not sure there is much value there; they seem to be priced accurately. I’m intrigued by VILLANOVA (20/1), but I’m not ready to invest too heavily in a Villanova team that is going to have as many as five or six freshmen and sophomores playing in their rotation.

EASIEST FADE: For me, it is MEMPHIS (18/1). I already have a Memphis future. I got them at (50/1) way back in April. That was when they were a sneaky value. With James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa on the roster, they are going to have the talent to play with any one in the country this season. My concern is just how young they are. They have just three players on the roster that are returning, and only two members of a seven-man recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the country are guys that can be slotted as surefire one-and-dones. More than 70 percent of that class are program guys, players that should be on campus for two or three years.

Throw in the fact that two of the three returning players are undersized point guards that likely aren’t going to be the starting point guard, and I think Memphis should be priced closer to (25/1) or (30/1). At (18/1), I’m staying far away.

GONZAGA (18/1) is interesting given who they landed in the grad transfer market, but this is not the team that I am betting on to win the first national title for the Zags. And while I love Cole Anthony, I think that NORTH CAROLINA (18/1) is too expensive for a team that will be replacing so many important pieces.

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

THREE MORE FUTURES I LIKE

Maryland (40/1): This is the one team that I just cannot wrap my head around. Personally, I think that Maryland is a team that will deservedly end up being a top ten team in the preseason. They have an all-league point guard in Anthony Cowan and a big man in Jalen Smith that surprisingly returned for his sophomore season. Beyond that, they are loaded with capable role players on the wing – Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, Serrel Smith – and have a sneaky-good sophomore big in Ricky Lindo. There are going to be some deserved questions about their youth, and I understand anyone that is against betting on a team coached by Mark Turgeon, but (40/1) is absolutely nuts. I think they should be priced alongside the likes of Villanova, Gonzaga and North Carolina.

Seton Hall (50/1): Legal Sportsbooks in New Jersey are not allowed to accept bets on college teams located within the state so there are no odds available for the Pirates, but there are places where you can bet on the Pirates and they are listed at (50/1). Again, this number just doesn’t make sense to me. The Pirates return everyone, including All-American Myles Powell, and look like they could end up being the best team in the Big East. It’s worth a few bucks.

Baylor (80/1): This might actually be the best Baylor team that Scott Drew has had. They are old, they are deep, they are balanced and they are a roster full of dudes with something to prove. There is a chance that this is the best team in the Big 12 not named Kansas or Texas Tech, and (80/1) is a nice price for them right now.

Utah State (150/1): I love the Aggies this year. Assuming that Neemias Queta’s injury is not too serious, they are a top 15 team in my mind. I don’t think they are winning the national title, but if I can get them at 150/1 and cash out at, say, 50/1, that is a nice little win.

THREE LONGSHOTS THAT ARE TOO CHEAP

Xavier (100/1): The Musketeers return their top four from a team that won six of their last seven Big East games a season ago. To me, they are clearly the third-best team in the conference.

Alabama (125/1): Alabama’s loaded with talented guards and wings. Kira Lewis, Herb Jones, Beetle Bolden, John Petty, their three freshmen. If we know anything about Nate, it’s that he knows how to have success with teams that have talented perimeter options. I also really like LSU (120/1) in theory, but I think there’s a non-zero chance that the Tigers end up doing something crazy like self-imposing a postseason ban to try and assuage the NCAA’s enforcement staff.

Davidson (225/1): I think VCU (125/1) is too cheap for a team that won the Atlantic 10 regular season title, reached the NCAA tournament, returns every single member of their top nine that they wanted to bring back and should get their star point guard, Marcus Evans, back to 100 percent. Davidson – who went 14-4 in the A-10 last year, returns their top six and has one of the 10-15 best backcourts in the country – is almost half the price. For me, this is strictly a bet that I will look to cash out before Selection Sunday, but both of these teams are top 25 teams in my mind.

THREE TEAMS TO FADE

Memphis (18/1): We already discussed Memphis, but for me they are easily the easiest fade of the teams in the top two tiers.

Arizona (33/1): I think Arizona is going to be good. I think they are the best team in the Pac-12. I think their recruiting class is loaded. I don’t think that this is a team that is going to be good enough to get to Sean Miller’s first Final Four, let alone win a national title. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that they have this NCAA investigation staring them in the face.

Texas (40/1): The Longhorns are priced as a top 15 team, according to Vegas. I actually think there’s a chance that they will be better than expected – and I can see them getting back to the NCAA tournament this season – but at (40/1), they have worse odds than almost half of my preseason top 25.

Virginia lands four-star 2020 wing Jabri Abdur-Rahim

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Virginia continued its hot recruiting run on Wednesday as the Cavaliers landed a commitment from four-star Class of 2020 wing Jabri Abdur-Rahim.

The son of former NBA all-star Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jabri is regarded as a high-end, four-star prospect as he checks in at No. 41 overall in the Rivals national Class of 2020 rankings.

At 6-foot-6, Jabri was one of the Nike EYBL’s most productive players this spring as he ran with the Playaz Club out of New Jersey. Putting up 25.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game in 13 games this spring, Abdur-Rahim showcased big-time scoring ability while also helping out on the glass. While Abdur-Rahim will have to improve his 39 percent field-goal percentage and 30 percent three-point shooting, he will be forced to take more efficient looks once he’s in the Virginia offense.

Head coach Tony Bennett continues to do a fine job of gathering 2020 commitments as the Cavaliers beat Michigan in the race for Abdur-Rahim. The third pledge for Virginia in 2020, Abdur-Rahim joins four-star guard Reece Beekman and three-star guard Carson McCorkle in the class so far. With three commitments in 2020, Virginia can comb the class for another player or start focusing on younger classes as the program is ahead of many others when it comes to future commitments.

Ty Jerome revenge tour continues at NBA Summer League

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Late on Tuesday evening, a picture of Ty Jerome – the former UVA and current Phoenix Suns point guard – wearing a UMBC t-shirt at NBA Summer League started making the rounds on twitter:

Why would Jerome, the point guard of the only team to ever lose to a No. 16 seed, wear a t-shirt supporting said No. 16 seed?

Well, here’s the answer:

Oh.

That’s why.

I love Ty Jerome. I’m not even going to try to hide it. He’s the kind of dude that never forgets a slight, and he’ll spend the rest of his life reminding you about it when he proves you wrong. Remember when he came for Stephen A. Smith? Or for Mike Francesa? What about Pat Forde?

I imagine Jerome like Steve Buscemi’s character in Billy Madison. He has a list of people that he’s coming for, and he’s crossing them off, one by one. No apologies as he gets every last bit of revenge.

And while we’re here, you should read my story from Minneapolis on how Virginia celebrated becoming the greatest redemption story in the history of sports.