#9 Auburn Basketball 2018-2019

Key Departures: Mustapha Heron, DeSean Murray, Davion Mitchell

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Jared Harper (Jr.)

SG: Bryce Brown (Sr.)

SG: Samir Doughty (RS Jr.)

PF: Chuma Okeke (So.)

C: Austin Wiley (RS So.)

Key Reserve Players:

PF: Horace Spencer (Sr.), SG/SF: Malik Dunbar (Sr.), PF: Anfernee McLemore (Jr.), PG: J’Von McCormick (Jr.) SF/PF: Danjel Purifoy (RS Jr.)

Discussion:

Auburn comes off of their first SEC regular season championship since 1999. You have to go back to the 1998-1999 season to find an Auburn team that won at least 26 games. Just like the Vols, the Tigers look to build off of last year’s success in the SEC. Bruce Pearl is establishing quite the basketball program.

The Tigers lose their leading scorer in Mustapha Heron, but they get two key returnees in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. Getting both guys back was huge. Harper was third in scoring last season and led the team with 5.4 assists per game. He only trailed Tremont Waters and Chris Chiozza in assists in the SEC. Harper is the guy that gets the ball rolling on offense. He is a playmaker, and despite his size, he knows how to get into the paint. Brown had his best year at Auburn last season, only trailing Heron in scoring. Brown really improved as a two-way player and has established himself as Auburn’s top perimeter threat.

Samir Doughty will be eligible to play and should fit in nicely with Harper and Brown. Doughty averaged 9.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists for VCU back in 2016-2017. He is a versatile guard, can play on and off ball, and is a guy who really likes to score, especially when driving to the basket.

Chuma Okeke had a very solid freshman season, averaging 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. He even showed us his ability to be a stretch four guy. Okeke will have even more playing time with DeSean Murray no longer at Auburn.

Finally, we will get to see Austin Wiley play again. The former five star big man averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds back in 2016-2017. Wiley tested the NBA draft waters, but ultimately decided to come back to Auburn. He has the chance to have a monster season this year. He will be an absolute force on both ends of the court and will give the Tigers a very skilled/strong big to feed it to in the post. The seasoned, athletic veteran Horace Spencer will give Auburn depth in the frontcourt, along with McLemore. McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury last season against South Carolina, so he missed the last seven games of the season. The two combined for a crazy 4.0 blocks per game, with McLemore leading the way with a crazy 2.7 per contest. Danjel Purifoy will be eligible after the first 30% of the season. It will be interesting to see what role he plays when he returns. Will he play the three or the four? He averaged 11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.4 steals back in 2016-2017.

Malik Dunbar will provide guard minutes off the bench behind Brown and Doughty. J’Von McCormick will relieve Jared Harper and play the role that Davion Mitchell played last season.

The SEC will be a three-headed monster with Kentucky, Tennessee, and Auburn. The Tigers will be fun to watch, and I am especially excited to see Austin Wiley back in action.

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#8 UNC Basketball 2018-2019

Key Departures: Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Coby White (Fr.)

SG: Kenny Williams III (Sr.)

SF: Nassir Little (Fr.)

SF: Cam Johnson (GS.)

PF: Luke Maye (Sr.)

Key Reserve Players:

PG: Seventh Woods (Jr.), SG: Brandon Robinson (Jr.), PF/C: Garrison Brooks (So.), C: Sterling Manley (So.), SF: Rechon Black (Fr.), SG: Andrew Platek (So.), C: Brandon Huffman (So.)

Discussion:

The Tar Heels are going to have to replace the experience and leadership of Theo Pinson and Joel Berry. Easier said then done. The good news is that they return three starters and have a very talented recruiting class coming in.

Coby White is the biggest question mark for me. The McDonald’s All-American has to replace Joel Berry as the starting point guard for Roy Williams. He oozes with talent and scoring ability, but will he be the floor general that UNC needs? White will share the point guard duties with Seventh Woods, who was sidelined for 17 games last season (foot injury). Kenny Williams really improved his overall game last year. He improved as a two-way player, a perimeter threat, and became a big-shot maker.

Coach Williams hasn’t had a one and done player in quite some time. He has just that in Nassir Little. Little keeps on rising and rising up draft boards. He is an elite athlete with a high-level motor, terrific length, and loves to compete on both ends of the court. Little is physically gifted, which helps him power all the way to the rim and helps him on the defensive end of the floor. He has the potential to become a big-time defender with his physical tools. His perimeter jumper is coming along and once that becomes a consistent part of his arsenal, he will be the perfect small ball player in the NBA. Little was extremely impressive when I watched him on TV against Montverde. He was all over the place. He was extremely active defensively, constantly competed for boards, and was a monster in transition. Little was getting all the way to the rim and was hitting some fall-away jumpers in the mid range game. He is an extremely exciting prospect.

Cam Johnson gave UNC a big boost when he got healthy last season. He was third in scoring for the Tar Heels and is the perfect stretch four guy. Luke Maye returns as the ACC’s most improved player last season. What a jump he had from his sophomore year to his junior year. He was a First-team All-ACC member and a Third-team All-American. Maye averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds last year and should continue his double-double numbers in his final season. This year’s team is going to be the perfect small ball lineup. It is going to be really tough for teams to defend Little, Johnson, and Maye in the frontcourt. At the five, Maye is a matchup nightmare. He shot 43.1 percent from downtown last season, but he also isn’t afraid to get dirty on the boards. Maye will contend for ACC Player of the Year.

Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, and Brandon Huffman all have their first year in Chapel Hill under their belts. Brooks started at the beginning of the season, but was replaced by Cam Johnson once he got healthy. Brooks and Manley showed flashes last season and both could be significant contributors off the bench. Huffman only averaged 3.4 minutes per game last season and found himself near the bottom of the rotation. He is going to have to earn his minutes in practice in order to see more action in games.

Rechon Black is the last piece to the 2018 recruiting class and should receive good minutes as a wing option off the bench. He will bring scoring and size on the perimeter. UNC will also have two shooting guards in Brandon Robinson and Andrew Platek returning.

Roy Williams is going to have the ultimate small ball lineup. Point guard play will be something to monitor, but the combination of returning starters and incoming freshmen should give UNC a super talented team.

#7 Virginia Basketball 2018-2019

Key Departures: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Ty Jerome (Jr.)

SG: Kyle Guy (Jr.)

SF: De’Andre Hunter (RS So.)

PF: Mamadi Diakite (RS Jr.)

C: Jack Salt (RS Sr.)

Key Reserve Players:

PF: Jay Huff (RS So.), SG: Marco Anthony (So.), SF: Francesco Badocchi (RS Fr.), C: Francisco Caffaro (Fr.)

Discussion:

Historic seasons are full of great memories that stick with you forever. UVA had one of those seasons lined up perfectly last year. An ACC regular season title, an ACC conference tournament title, the AP National/ACC Coach of the Year, and only two losses before March. Yes, 31-2. Then… that crazy month called March came around and Virginia’s memorable season became part of the history books, but not in the good way. UMBC became the first ever 16 seed to upset a number one seed. No matter how hard they try, the Hoos will be filled with this memory forever. It tarnished an unbelievable season.

Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy return as one of the better backcourts in all of college basketball. Jerome is one of the those poised and mature point guards, makes the right plays, is active on defense, and hits clutch shots. Guy was a a First-team All-ACC member, the ACC Tournament MVP, and a Third-team All-American. Don’t ever leave him open behind the arc. He had a breakout season, and with Devon Hall no longer in Charlottesville, Guy and Jerome will take on an even bigger load.

De’Andre Hunter was out for the UMBC game and there was no doubt that his teammates missed him out there on the court. Hunter primarily played the four last season when Tony Bennett decided to go small. I expect him to play more on the perimeter as a sophomore. Hunter is the prototypical NBA wing prospect. He has the positional size and versatility to defend multiple positions and his offensive game will just keep growing and growing. It will be interesting to see how Coach Bennett uses him in his offensive scheme this upcoming season.

I think Mamadi Diakite will have somewhat of a breakout year this upcoming season because he will finally get ample playing time. There is no Isaiah Wilkins ahead of him anymore. Diakite is a versatile forward on both ends of the floor and should fit nicely in the starting unit. Hunter and Diakite will need to continue the defensive mentality of UVA basketball with Hall and Wilkins gone. Jack Salt will be back for one more season. He isn’t going to give you much offensive production, but he knows his role perfectly, brings his physicality to the court, and does some of the little things for this team.

Now, we get to the bench. There are questions and concerns regarding the depth and inexperience of this bench. Jay Huff will be the most experienced bench player and he only averaged 8.8 minutes in 12 game apperances last season as a redshirt freshman. He will be counted on for his stretch four ability and rim protection (1.2 blocks per game last season). Marco Anthony should see an increased role as well, but again, he doesn’t have a lot of experience. He appeared in 13 games last season. Anthony is a physical guard and will be called upon to give Jerome, Guy, and Hunter a rest. There is no Nigel Johnson this year, so Jerome will be forced to play a lot of minutes, as will Guy and Hunter. This is going to feel like Syracuse because the starters are going to log a ton of minutes and there is going to be a very slim rotation.

Francesco Badocchi could see some minutes off the bench after redshirting this past year and Francisco Caffaro could see some action as well. Caffaro will learn how to develop a big, physical body from Jack Salt. Both guys are wildcards. I think Kihei Clark and Kody Stattmann will redshirt just because it will take them some time to contribute. Clark is only 5’9″, so it will be imperative that he gets stronger in order to play the point guard position in the ACC. Stattmann is a well-known shooter who will need some development as well.

You know that Tony Bennett and UVA can’t wait for this upcoming season to get started. They can’t wait to bounce back. Depth is definitiely a huge concern, but as for a starting five, they will have one of the best lineups in the country.

#6 Tennessee Basketball 2018-2019

Key Departures: James Daniel III, Chris Darrington

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Jordan Bone (Jr.)

SG: Jordan Bowden (Jr.)

SF: Admiral Schofield (Sr.)

PF: Grant Williams (Jr.)

PF: Kyle Alexander (Sr.)

Key Reserve Players:

PG/SG: Lamonte’ Turner (RS Jr.), PF: John Fulkerson (RS So.), C: Zach Kent (RS Fr.), PF/C: D.J. Burns (Fr.), PF: Derrick Walker (So.), SF: Yves Pons (So.)

Discussion:

The Vols return their entire starting unit from last season and their sixth man. Rick Barnes and company come off of an extremely successful season, which included a regular season championship (shared with Auburn) and a #3 seed in the tournament. With all of this experience returning, Tennessee is poised to make a deeper run this upcoming season.

Rick Barnes has a steady backcourt in Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden, and has the SEC 6th man of the year in Lamonte’ Turner (shared with Jontay Porter). This trio of guards is the perfect complement to the loaded frontcourt.

Admiral Schofield decided to return to Knoxville for his senior season, which was huge news for college basketball. Although undersized, Schofield has a big, physical body, and he can hit from the outside. Turner, Bowden, and Schofield all shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range last season. Schofield’s partner in crime, Grant Williams, is also undersized, but again has that strong, physical frame. Williams was the Coaches SEC Player of the year this past season and a First-team All-SEC selection. He operates really well in the paint, has good footwork, and is always a tough matchup for opponents. Williams works really hard and he is hard to move because he gets great position. He forms quite the duo with Schofield.

Kyle Alexander will be the rim protector and defensive anchor for the Vols. He averaged 1.7 blocks per game last season. Alexander has improved his numbers each season and should continue that trend as he heads into his final year.

John Fulkerson, Derrick Walker, Zach Kent, and D.J. Burns will share the frontcourt minutes off the bench. Kent, who only appeared in two games last season (ultimately redshirted), could become a long-term big man option for the Vols as he continues to get playing time. Talk about a big body, D.J. Burns is a huge freshman coming in. Once the lefty big man gets into shape for the college game, he will become a contributor for Tennessee going forward.

One guy that I am really intrigued by is Yves Pons. He only averaged 5.2 minutes in 24 games of action last season, but should see some more playing time as a sophomore. Still a project, Pons brings a lot of athleticism to the table and a lot of versatility on the wing. He can step out and shoot it some too. There is a load of untapped potential there.

Tennessee brought back its core and they are ready to make noise in the SEC again. Rick Barnes is bringing the Vols back to prominence.

#5 Duke Basketball 2018-2019

Key Departures: Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Trevon Duval 

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Tre Jones (Fr.)

SG: Cam Reddish (Fr.)

SF: R.J. Barrett (Fr.)

PF: Zion Williamson (Fr.)

C: Marques Bolden (Jr.)

Key Reserve Players:

PF: Javin DeLaurier (Jr.), SG: Alex O’Connell (So.), PF: Joey Baker (Fr.), SF: Jack White (Jr.), PG: Jordan Goldwire (So.)

Discussion:

Coach K has now brought in the number one recruiting class in the country for three years in a row. This year’s squad is headlined by R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson. The question is, who is going to lead this group? Who is going to be the Grayson Allen?

Tre Jones will take the point guard reigns from Trevon Duval. The brother of 2015 Champ Tyus Jones will run the show for Coach K. Tre will be responsible for facilitating  and playmaking. He has an abundance of talent around him, so he won’t need to worry about scoring as much.

R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish will take on the bulk of the scoring load. They form the most exciting wing tandem in the country. Barrett is a generational talent and can do pretty much everything on the basketball court. Whether it is scoring in the halfcourt, making plays in transition, defending, or playmaking for others, Barrett can really have an impact in all facets of the game. Reddish has a more laid back demeanor, which has led to questions about his motor. I think he will play the robin role to Barrett, but he will get his, there is no question about that. Both guys have ideal size and skill sets, so locking them up on the defensive end is an absolute nightmare. Having Tre Jones to run the point is an added bonus because they already excel in shot creation for themselves.

Zion Williamson is the question mark for me. What kind of role will he have in this Duke offense? We already know about his elite athleticism, but I’m not sure how he will fit alongside Barrett and Reddish. What I do know is that Williamson and Barrett in the transition game is going to be must watch TV. Then, there is Marques Bolden. Bolden has had an injury plagued career in Durham thus far, so we haven’t seen him completely healthy. Last year’s frontcourt minutes were dominated by Bagley and Carter, so that limited his playing time as well. Bolden actually has a nice post game, can finish with both hands, and can be an impact on the defensive end of the floor as a rim protector. This could be a breakout year for him.

Javin DeLaurier will continue to be the energy guy off the bench for Coach K. Hustle plays and defense will be his calling card. I am a big fan of Alex O’Connell and I think he is going to get better and better with more minutes. He has a nice stroke from the perimeter and can give you really good minutes when needed. He knows his role and doesn’t try to do much. Joey Baker reclassified late and adds yet another talented freshman to this roster. He is a skilled forward and could turn into a valuable stretch four guy. O’Connell and Baker will be very good long-term Blue Devils.

Jack White should see some occasional minutes as well, just like he did a season ago. He had his best game against Notre Dame last year, recording five points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes in a win over Notre Dame. He brings hustle and physicality off the bench. Jordan Goldwire should see spot minutes at the point behind Tre Jones, just like he did last season for Trevon Duval.

Duke is young and talented again, there is no question about that. Can this youth succeed without much leadership and experience? Duke lost its entire starting lineup, so this will be quite the transition. This feels like Kentucky.

Last year was dominated by the bigs, this year will be dominated by the wing players, something that Coach knows very well.

 

#4 Kentucky Basketball 2018-2019

Key Departures: Kevin Knox II, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Ashton Hagans (Fr.)

SG: Quade Green (So.)

SF: Keldon Johnson (Fr.)

PF: P.J. Washington (So.)

PF: Reid Travis (GS.)

Key Reserve Players:

PG: Immanuel Quickley (Fr.), SG: Tyler Herro (Fr.), PF: E.J. Montgomery (Fr.), C: Nick Richards (So.), SG: Jemarl Baker Jr. (RS Fr.)

Discussion:

Reload, reload, reload. Every year Coach Cal gets it done on the recruiting trail. He turned a solid recruiting class into a stellar recruiting class by adding E.J. Montgomery and Ashton Hagans late. Oh, and he added the best grad transfer on the market in Reid Travis. At the end of the day, it is the same tune every season. Can Cal get his guys to play together by March time? Will he establish a chemistry in time to make a deep run in the tournament?

I struggled for a while to decide a starting backcourt for the Wildcats. I originally had Quickely and Herro (before Hagans committed), but ultimately decided to go with Hagans and Green. I think Hagans has the potential to grow into a star. With his attack the basket mentality, quickness, unique playmaking ability, and length, Hagans is in line to be the next great point guard at Kentucky. He has a mature game for his age (and a good feel), is a great ball handler, and has the potential to have an impact on both ends of the court. I ultimately chose to pair Green with Hagans in the starting lineup because of his experience last season. Green lost his starting point guard job to Gilgeous-Alexander last year and often found himself in a more shooting guard type of role. I think he will continue this off-guard role with the addtions of Hagans and Quickley. Green will be a leader on this year’s squad, but in terms of a pro prospect, he won’t be the name being talked about. It is tough to be in a crowded guard group, just ask Isaiah Briscoe.

Keldon Johnson has the starting small forward position locked up and will ultimately replace Kevin Knox. The Oak Hill product is wired to score and has an ideal combination of size, athleticism, and build. He has an impressive offensive game and could become a go-to guy for the Wildcats. P.J. Washington decided to come back to Kentucky for his sophomore year after a solid freshman season. Washington has a strong body with good length and he is always ready to battle with anyone in the paint. He can finish around the basket, but also can hit the mid range jumper. He looked very good at the combine. Although I am happy he returned, Washington won’t be utilized optimally at Kentucky. He probably won’t get as many touches as he deserves. Part of the issue is that he is a tweener. Coach Cal was able to add Reid Travis to his young squad, which was one of the biggest pickups in college basketball. Travis averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds for Stanford this past season. Bringing his production to Lexington will be huge, but his leadership and experience will be even more valuable. And hey, he did make 18 3-pointers last season (61 attempts) after only attempting one 3-pointer in his previous three seasons. We will see if he continues to grows his perimeter game.

Immanuel Quickley will definitley be an impact on both ends of the court because that dude just loves to compete. He is not afraid to lock you up defensively. He can score, but also can set up his teammates. Unlike Hagans, Quickley has the perimeter game in his arsenal. Look, Quickley was probably not jumping up and down for joy when Hagans decided to reclassify. At the same time, Quickely is going to compete for that starting job, which could bring out the best in him. Tyler Herro and Jemarl Baker will be the outside snipers for this team. Both guys have sweet strokes and I expect both guys to be important pieces on this team. Baker was sidelined all of last season with a knee injury.

Although Nick Richards did start all 37 games last season, I have him coming off the bench this upcoming year (he only played 14.7 minutes per game last season). Richards is a guy that you can throw lobs to and he will throw them down, that is really it. To be honest, he really wasn’t that impressive last season. For him to have a significant impact this year, he needs to become the defensive anchor in the paint and needs to be an elite rebounder. Offensively, he isn’t going to blow you away in the scoring department. E.J. Montgomery chose Kentucky over Duke after decommitting from Auburn. Montgomery is extremely talented and versatile on the offensive end. His combination of fluidity, mobility, and versatility on offense makes him a very exciting prospect. Coach Cal will have an interesting time managing the minutes of Washington, Travis, and Montgomery.

Kentucky has another talented and youthful roster. I think the addition of Travis cannot be overstated. Adding him to this team might have been the difference maker.

#3 Nevada Basketball 2018-2019

Key Departures: Kendall Stephens, Josh Hall, Hallice Cooke 

Projected Starting Lineup:

SG: Cody Martin (RS Sr.)

SG: Caleb Martin (RS Sr.)

SF: Jordan Caroline (RS Sr.)

PF: Jordan Brown (Fr.)

C: Trey Porter (GS.)

Key Reserve Players:

SF/PF: Tre’shawn Thurman (RS Sr.), PG/SG: Corey Henson (RS Sr.), PG: Jazz Johnson (RS Jr.), SG: Nisre Zouzoua (RS Jr.), PF: K.J. Hymes (Fr.), PG: Lindsey Drew (Sr.)

Discussion:

Eric Musselman and the Wolf Pack come off of a really successful 2017-2018 campaign, including a Sweet 16 appearance. Musselman is building a phenomenal program in Reno, and although a mid-major, Nevada basketball is starting to become nationally recognized. There is so much excitement surrounding the 2018-2019 season.

Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline, and Cody Martin all decided to return for their senior seasons, an early Christmas present for Coach Musselman. These three players were the top three scorers for the Wolf Pack this past year and are all considered the main core of Nevada hoops. Caleb Martin led the team in scoring and was the MWC Player of the Year. Caroline brings a lot of physicality to the table and led the team in rebounding. Cody Martin led the team in assists, steals, and blocks. Talk about a trio. On top of all of this, Nevada added a McDonald’s All-American in Jordan Brown. This gives Nevada a very talented big man to throw it down to in the post. Brown can really finish with both hands, he can hit from mid range, and has good footwork in the paint. Also, he won’t have too much pressure on his plate because he will be surrounded by extremely productive veterans.

Reno has become a home for several transfers. This year’s team will rely heavily on their transfers. Trey Porter, a grad transfer, will play alongside Brown. He averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds for Old Dominion this past season. Porter is an active and explosive big on both ends of the court. He adds athleticism, experience, size, and rim protection for Coach Musselman, and forms a nice duo with Jordan Brown. Nevada has the size that they didn’t have a season ago.

Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, and Tre’shawn Thurman are four transfers who all sat out this past season. Henson and Johnson will take on some of the point guard/facilitating duties with Lindsey Drew uncertain to return in 2018-2019 after rupturing his achilles last season. Drew and Cody Martin were the two primary playmakers for Nevada a season ago. Henson averaged 14.6 points back in 2016-2017 for Wagner and Johnson averaged 15.8 points back in 2016-2017 for Portland. Both guys also made over 60 3-pointers. With Kendall Stephens departing, Caleb Martin will need some outside shooting help. Nisre Zouzoua, a transfer from Bryant, will also be part of the guard rotation off the bench. He averaged 20.3 points for Bryant in 2016-2017 and hit over 90 3-pointers.

Tre’shawn Thurman averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 in 2016-2017 for Omaha. He is a very versatile player who can play both forward spots for Coach Musselman. Freshman K.J. Hymes will add frontcourt depth as well. With some development, Hymes will be a good piece for this program.

Nevada is about to enter their most anticipated season in school history. This team has the potential to win it all. I am very excited to watch this team grow and this program to make its way to the national stage.

 

#2 Gonzaga Basketball 2018-2019

Key Departures: Johnathan Williams III, Silas Melson 

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Josh Perkins (RS Sr.)

SG: Zach Norvell Jr. (RS So.)

SF: Rui Hachimura (Jr.)

PF: Brandon Clarke (RS Jr.)

PF: Killian Tillie (Jr.)

Key Reserve Players:

PG/SG: Geno Crandall (GS.), SF: Corey Kispert (So.), C: Jacob Larsen (RS So.), PF/C: Filip Petrusev (Fr.), SF: Jeremy Jones (RS Sr.), SG: Joel Ayayi (RS Fr.), SG: Greg Foster Jr. (Fr.)

Discussion:

The Zags are loaded and poised for a final four run. I have them ranked right behind the Jayhawks for my preseason rankings.

Gonzaga starts with Josh Perkins at the point. Perkins has plenty of big-game experience under his belt, and now entering his final season in Spokane, he will be a vital piece for their 2018-2019 squad. He averaged a career-high 12.3 points and 5.3 assists per game last season and shot just under 40 percent from downtown. Leadership, consistency, and decision making are three things that I will look out for. Perkins can be completely absent from games, and when he is a non-factor, Gonzaga just isn’t the same team. The Bulldogs are at their best when he makes smart decisions and when his outside shot is going down. Plain and simple, they need Perkins to play at a high level in order to make a deep run. Perkins is joined in the backcourt by Zach Norvell, who had a terrific season last year. Norvell replaced Corey Kispert in the starting lineup after Kispert was sidelined with  an ankle injury. Norvell took full advantage of this opportunity and I expect him to build off of his success this upcoming year. The sweet shooting lefty forms a really nice backcourt with Perkins.

The Zags will arguably have the best frontcourt in all of college basketball. Rui Hachimura is one of the most exciting prospects to keep an eye on. He increased his scoring by nine points from his freshman year to his sophomore year and really became a key piece for Gonzaga basketball. Hachimura has a great frame, length, defensive versatility, and he is an elite athlete. He can really make an impact in transition (on both ends). Offensively, he is still a project and the shot has a long way to go, but with continued growth on that end, he is going to be a really exciting player at the pro level. He joins Brandon Clarke, the transfer from San Jose State, and Killian Tillie. Clarke averaged 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds back in 2016-2017. Pairing him next to Tillie will be a nightmare for opposing teams. There is just so much versatility in this frontcourt. Tillie is a unique prospect as well. He does a lot of things on the court for Coach Few and his perimeter game keeps getting better (45-94 from 3-point range last season).

Gonzaga recently added grad transfer Geno Crandall to their team, which is a huge pickup. Crandall averaged 16.6 points per game last season for North Dakota and is a guy that can play both guard positions. He forms a nice trio with Perkins and Norvell. Corey Kispert will also be a key piece off the bench. He started off last season with five straight double figure scoring games, but did have the ankle injury, which definitley affected his freshman season. He is yet another versatile guy for Coach Few. Jacob Larsen and Filip Petrusev will play big man minutes off the bench. I really like Petrusev and think he is a perfect fit for Gonzaga. He is going to become a solid stretch four guy and will just keep getting better and better. Jeremy Jones will be able to fill in some frontcourt minutes when needed.

If that wasn’t enough, Gonzaga still has Joel Ayayi, who redshirted last season. People are high on him and the potential is definitely there. I am very curious to see how many minutes the Frenchman receives this season. With all of this depth, Greg Foster probably becomes a redshirt candidate, just like Ayayi was last season.

This Gonzaga team is just as good as the team that made it to the 2017 Championship game. The talent and potential might be even higher on this team. The Bulldogs are going to be really damn good and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them in the final four.

#1 Kansas Basketball 2018-2019

Key Departures: Devonte’ GrahamSvi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Devon Dotson (Fr.)

SG: Quentin Grimes (Fr.)

SF: Lagerald Vick (Sr.)

PF: Dedric Lawson (RS Jr.)

C: Udoka Azubuike (Jr.)

Key Reserve Players:

PG: Charlie Moore (RS So.), PG: Marcus Garrett (So.), SF: K.J. Lawson (RS So.), PF/C: David McCormack (Fr.), PF: Silvio De Sousa (So.), PF: Mitch Lightfoot (Jr.), SG: Sam Cunliffe (Jr.)

Discussion:

The 2017-2018 season absolutely flew by, so now we look ahead to the 2018-2019 season with my preseason number one team, the Kansas Jayhawks. Bill Self reached his third final four this past season, and although that is quite the accomplishment, a national title is the only thing on his mind as we approach the upcoming season.

For the second year in a row, Bill Self loses a first-team All-American member. Self has been so fortunate to have guys like Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham to lead his program. Devon Dotson has humongous shoes to fill, but he will have help. The speedy point guard will have fellow McDonald’s All-American, Quentin Grimes, joining him in the backcourt. Grimes is easily one of my favorite freshmen entering 2018-2019. Grimes is an athletic combo guard at 6’5″, who can score at all three levels. Grimes can grab a rebound at one end and then can take it all the way himself in transition, or can make plays for others. I think his playmaking will continue to grow, but at the end of the day, Grimes will get you buckets and will make winning plays. He will be a top 2019 draft prospect without a doubt, and I do see some Jamal Murray in his game. Dotson and Grimes will form the most exciting young backcourt in college basketball. Charlie Moore will also be eligible, after sitting out this past season. Moore had a solid freshman season at Cal, averaging 12.2 points and 3.5 assists per game. Dotson and Moore will form a nice point guard tandem for Bill Self. Marcus Garrett will also be back to take on some of the ball handling duties. Garrett isn’t much of a scorer or shooter, but he is a good rebounding guard, and can give you some good minutes.

Lagerald Vick elected to come back to Lawrence for his senior season. The mystery man had everybody wondering about his decision. Vick will be the lone senior in this rotation, so hopefully he has the right mindset heading into his final year. Off the court issues and motor issues have been associated with Vick, so in order for him to succeed individually and for Kansas to succeed as a team, Vick will need to be the mature veteran. He does have game, he just needs to put all the pieces together and needs to be a consistent, reliable option. Dedric Lawson gives Bill Self and the Jayhawks an entirely new dynamic. The past few seasons (especially this past year), Self’s offense was dominated by perimeter play. Lawson gives Self a legitimate power forward option in the starting unit. He averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Memphis in 2016-2017. Lawson will bring scoring and rebounding in the frontcourt, alongside Udoka Azubuike. Dedric’s brother, K.J., will also be eligible this upcoming season. K.J. averaged 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game for Memphis back in 2016-2017. He is a versatile forward to bring off the bench and if Vick had not returned, I would have him in the starting lineup.

It will be extremely interesting to see how Self manages the minutes between David McCormack, Silvio De Sousa, and Mitch Lightfoot. McCormack, another McDonald’s All-American, is a big, physical workhorse. He will get you buckets around the basket, will block shots, and rebound. Like Azubuike, he is another big body to throw into the paint. De Sousa looked lost at times last season, but gave good minutes at times, especially considering the fact that he was thrown into the fire in the middle of the college basketball season. Transitioning from high school like he did that quickly is a tough task.  I expect him to compete for minutes with Lightfoot, who did show some flashes last year as well, especially on the defensive end, averaging 1.4 blocks per game for the season. Lightfoot still hasn’t put it all together yet, but I think he will keep improving. Bill Self will have one of his deepest teams in recent memory, so I don’t know if Sam Cunliffe will get enough playing time. I like Cunliffe and I think he has a lot of potential, but he could be stuck behind the other guys on the depth chart. He was eligible for the second semester last season and only appeared in 15 games, avergaing less than five minutes per contest. He started in all 10 of his games as a Sun Devil, averaged 9.5 points per game, and shot over 40 percent from behind the arc.

This is a championship or bust year for Kansas. Bill Self has all the talent and depth that he could ever have asked for. This team needs to get it done. He has a mix of returning guys, transfers, and young pieces. I think Kansas is easily the preseason number one program for 2018-2019.