The U-19 World Cup kicked off over the weekend, and there is a decided college basketball flavor to this year’s event, which is taking place in Crete.
The American team is absolutely loaded with college hoops talent as well as the next wave of basketball stars. Jalen Green, Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley are the biggest names in the event, but there are six college players on Team USA that will play a major role on their respective teams next season — Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State; Kira Lewis, Alabama; Isaac Likekele, Oklahoma State; Reggie Perry, Mississippi State; Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova; and Trevion Williams, Purdue.
It will certainly be worthwhile for fans of those teams to track how those guys play, but they are hardly the teams that have the most interesting storylines to follow.
That would be Gonzaga and Virginia.
The Zags are the program with the most players on or committed to their program playing in the U-19s. The names that you’ll likely know are Filip Petrusev and Joel Ayayi. Petrusev is leading the tournament in scoring through the first two games, averaging 23.0 points and 9.0 boards while shooting 17-for-21 from the floor in just 26.5 minutes. That’s impressive, but it did come against China and Puerto Rico, who are not exactly considered favorites in this event.
Ayayi has struggled to find his footing in Gonzaga’s backcourt — it’s never a good sign when a coach feels the need to bring in a pair of grad transfers to start over a redshirt sophomore — but he’s has a pretty impressive tournament to date. Ayayi had 26 points, seven boards (six offensive) and three steals in the opener against Puerto Rico, following that up with a 10-six-five line against China. Serbia and France face off on Tuesday.
There are two future Zags that are competing in this tournament as well. Puerto Rico’s Julian Strawther, a four-star wing from Nevada that is in the class of 2020, is averaging 15.5 points through two games, including a 22 point outburst against Serbia, while Oumar Ballo has finally arrived in Greece after watching his Mali team land wins over Latvia and Canada, one of the favorites in the event. Ballo is a top 30 recruit.
Virginia may not have more on the line, but there are two ‘Hoos that are having some early success in the event. Australia’s Kody Stattmann, who is theoretically in line for some minutes on Virginia’s perimeter, had 21 points in the opener against Canada, while Francisco Caffaro is averaging 13.0 points and 6.0 boards for Argentina through two games.
Among the other names to track in this event — South Carolina’s A.J. Lawson has been the best player for Team Canada through two games while Pitt commit and four-star recruit Karim Coulibaly has more than made up for Ballo’s absence on Mali.
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
Gonzaga has found their point guard after whiffing on Derryck Thornton.
Ryan Woolridge, a grad transfer from North Texas, announced over the weekend that he will play his final season of eligibility for Mark Few and the Zags. He picked Gonzaga over Minnesota, Oklahoma State and Arkansas.
“I just had a list of checkmarks and I wanted to see which school would fill the most checkmarks,” Wooridge told the Spokesman Review. “Gonzaga was the best fit for me in all those categories. I’m so comfortable with the coaches and players. It felt like the right move for me.”
Woolridge, who is 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, had surgery after this past season to repair a stress fracture in his patella, but he still managed to put up 11.7 points, 5.9 boards and 4.8 assists as a junior for UNT.
This will be a solid addition for the Zags. Woolridge is a heady play, the kind of point guard willing to make the right pass and find the open guy. He rebounds, he’s a good defender and he has high-end speed. He’s not going to be a replacement for Josh Perkins – for all the stick I gave Perkins last season, he was a really, really good playmaker and a monster in pick-and-rolls – but he will give the Zags a guy that can initiate offense, set the tone defensively and allow Admon Gilder to play off the ball.
The bottom line is that the Zags needed backcourt depth. The only other point guard on their roster is freshman Brock Ravet. Woolridge isn’t going to be the reason that Gonzaga is a top ten team, but he is a piece that they really needed to add.
USC grad transfer Thornton picks Boston College over Gonzaga
On Monday, multiple reports surfaced that the USC grad transfer and former Duke point guard would be heading to Boston College for his final season of eligibility. Thornton was a five-star prospect as a high school junior, opting to leave school and enroll at Duke a year early. He was a part of the class that also included Brandon Ingram, Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter, but he left the program after one up-and-down year that saw him start just 20 games and averaged 7.1 points and 2.6 assists.
Thornton headed back west to USC, where he averaged 7.7 points and 4.3 assists as a junior.
His return to the ACC is most notable for who he did not pick. Thornton was initially thought to be a Gonzaga lean, as the Bulldogs are in the market for a veteran point guard after losing Josh Perkins. Thornton was one of their main targets, but he instead opted on heading to the program that turned Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman into all-league players and, in Robinson’s case, a lottery pick.
That, in theory, is huge for BC, who could use the injection of talent, but even with Thornton in the fold, this doesn’t exactly look like a tournament team.
It’s far more interesting Gonzaga. As it stands, the starting point guard spot looks like it will be Admon Gilder’s — a grad transfer from Texas A&M that would ideally play off-the-ball — if freshman Brock Ravet can’t handle the job. The remaining crop of point guard grad transfers don’t appear to be the kind of players that will be able to impact a season for a team that is expected to be as good as Gonzaga is.
With the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to school having come and gone, we can now have a full sense of what the 2019-20 season will look like.
A number of would-be All-American candidates ended up keeping their names in the draft despite the fact that they may not end up getting drafted, but there is still a solid crop of upperclassmen to pair with some talented newcomers that will give us a pretty strong contingent of All-Americans.
So without further ado, here is a first look at what those All-American teams could end up looking like.
PRESEASON FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State: Winston, for my money, will enter this season this season as the Preseason National Player of the Year. He is the lone First-Team All-American returning from last season, and he will be playing for the consensus No. 1 team in the country. It may be hard for him to improve on the 18.8 points and 7.5 assists that he averaged last year, but that is largely because he should have more help this year with Josh Langford healthy and Aaron Henry on the verge of a breakout year.
MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette: Markus Howard averaged 25 points and 3.9 assists last season, and that was when he was playing on a team that still had both of the Hauser brothers on it. This year, they are gone, meaning that there is a real chance that he ends up averaging upwards of 30 points this year. I don’t know how many wins that will lead Marquette to, but it is enough to get him some hype in the preseason.
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: Powell is Howard-lite. He’s not quite as consistent or efficient, but he is just as dangerous when he gets into a rhythm. As a junior, Powell averaged 23.1 points, and I would expect him to be just as dangerous as a senior on a team that returns everyone from last season. Hopefully, we’ll have at least one duel between Seton Hall and Marquette that turns into a shootout between Howard and Powell.
JORDAN NWORA, Louisville: The Cardinals got Nwora back for his junior season after he spent this past year proving himself as one of the most improved players in college hoops. He averaged 17 points and 7.6 boards while shooting 37.4 percent from three, and he should see an uptick in his efficiency this year with Louisville’s talented freshman class providing him with some more help.
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis: Wiseman, to me, has the best chance to end up being a First-Team All-American. The way he plays should fit in well with the style that the Tigers play under Penny, and he is the consensus top player in this recruiting class and projected as the first pick in the 2020 NBA Draft playing on a team that many believe will be a top ten team.
PRESEASON SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: If Wiseman doesn’t end up being the best freshman this season, I think Anthony will. At the very least, he has a chance to put up the most impressive numbers. Think about what Coby White did for North Carolina last year, and Anthony is not only a better fit for North Carolina than White was, he is also probably a better player.
DEVON DOTSON, Kansas: Dotson really came on strong down the stretch of last season and should be the sparkplug that keeps Kansas in the mix for the Big 12 title this year. Think about this: Both Quentin Grimes and R.J. Hampton are playing some where other than Kansas this season at least in part because Dotson will handle the lead guard duties.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR JR., TBD: It is a bit difficult to truly rate Blackshear since we don’t know where he is going to be yet, but I think there is an argument to be made that he will be the best frontcourt player in college basketball next season. The fifth-year senior was terrific playing in Virginia Tech’s system a year ago, and will be an anchor no matter where he ends up this year.
MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia: I’m fine being out on an island on this one, but I think that Diakite is the guy on Virginia’s roster that benefits the most from all the talent they lost this offseason. We already know how good he is defensively, but he has a burgeoning perimeter stroke and proved during run to the national title that he was better offensively that some believed. There is plenty of space left on the bandwagon when you’re ready to join me.
ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: There’s a real chance that Stewart ends up being the most productive of the elite freshmen in this class. He has a terrific motor and is an absolute monster around the rim, checking in as the best rebounder in this class. He’ll soak up Noah Dickerson’s touches offensively and anchor the Syracuse zone defensively.
PRESEASON THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
TRE JONES, Duke: He may end up being the best defender in college basketball next year, and I think that his leadership will be vital for a Duke team that is going to be very young again. If he doesn’t improve his perimeter jumper, however, ranking him here will look silly come March.
ANTHONY COWAN JR., Maryland: Cowan had something of a disappointing junior season, as his efficiency went down. I’m looking at him to bounceback this season and prove himself one of the best point guards in college hoops. I can see him averaging 17 points and six assists for a team that I currently have in the top five nationally, but I can also see a situation where he ends up being the piece that holds Maryland back.
TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky: Once again, it is tough to figure out who, exactly, will be Kentucky’s All-American candidate next season, so we’re going with Maxey because he seems to be the guy that projects as the leading scorer right now.
JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati: Cumberland quietly was awesome this past season, averaging 18.8 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 38.8 percent from three to help keep Cincinnati relevant after they lost so many critical pieces the season before. How will he adjust to John Brannen taking over for Mick Cronin?
SAM MERRILL, Utah State: Merrill has a case as the best player in college basketball outside of the top seven leagues. He’s coming off of a season where he led the Aggies to the Mountain West crown and a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament while averaging 20.9 points and 4.2 assists. USU will enter this season as a preseason top 25 team.
Gonzaga is getting back some frontcourt experience for next season as junior forward Killian Tillie is reportedly heading back to school.
According to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, the 6-foot-10 Killie is returning for his senior season following an injury-riddled junior season that only saw him play 15 games. With Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura playing so well during the season, Tillie was relegated to coming off the bench as a role player in limited minutes during the season.
Tillie put up 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in only 16.6 minutes per game, a far cry from a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him average 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
If Tillie is fully healthy, then he’s a potential all-conference player for the Zags as his offensive skill level is high and he’s a solid rebounder. But Tillie hasn’t looked the same while trying to play through the ankle and foot injuries that limited him last season. With Tillie also spraining an ankle during NBA draft workouts and dropping out of the combine, this could be the right decision since he hasn’t been healthy in a year.