Louisville Basketball 2017-2018

Key Departures: Donovan Mitchell, Mangok Mathiang, Jaylen Johnson, David Levitch, Tony Hicks

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Quentin Snider (Sr.)

SG: V.J. King (So.)

SF: Deng Adel (Jr.)

PF: Ray Spalding (Jr.)

C: Anas Mahmoud (Sr.)

Key Reserve Players: 

SG/SF: Brian Bowen II (Fr.), PF: Malik Williams (Fr.), PG: Darius Perry (Fr.), PF: Jordan Nwora (Fr.), SG: Ryan McMahon (RS So.), SG/SF: Dwayne Sutton (RS So.), PF: Lance Thomas (Fr.), C: Matz Stockman (Sr.), SG: Jay Henderson (RS Jr.)

Discussion:

Donovan Mitchell is definitely a big loss for the Cardinals, but it was his time to head off to the NBA. Much like Luke Kennard of Duke, Mitchell made tremendous improvements from his freshman year to his sophomore year. He more than doubled his scoring, he improved his 3-point shooting, and he continued to wreak havoc on the defensive end, averaging 2.1 steals per game. V.J. King is the player that I think will benefit the most from the departure of Mitchell. The former McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit didn’t play too much during his freshman season, but I expect him to be a huge part of the rotation this year. I expect that his minutes per game (13.5) and points per game (5.5) will both go up significantly. He can get all the way to the basket, and can shoot it as well.

The hometown kid Quentin Snider will be the leader of this team. Now a senior, Snider has loads of experience of playing in Pitino’s offense, and I think he will be one of the best point guards in the nation. I always thought that he was a bit underrated. He isn’t going to wow you with athleticism or crazy scoring every night, but he can hit big shots when needed, and makes smart plays for his teammates. Snider and King will be joined by Deng Adel, who will play at small forward. Deng Adel is one of my favorite players, and I think that he is a star just waiting to happen. Adel is a sneaky good athlete, and even had one of the best dunks in college basketball last year against Michigan in the NCAA tournament. He can shoot it from outside as well. He tested the NBA waters, but decided to come back for his junior year. Deng and King will be key defensive perimeter pieces.

If you want to talk about length and wingspan, the Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud combination fits those two words perfectly. Opposing players are going to have an extremely difficult time finishing in the paint with those two trees protecting the basket. I can’t think of a better rim protecting duo in the nation. The other nice part is that although Pitino loses Mathiang and Johnson, he can slide the experienced Spalding and Mahmoud right into the starting lineup. Both guys have experience starting, so they will fit perfectly together.

Brian Bowen was the huge recruiting shocker for me. At first, I expected him to choose either Arizona or Michigan State, but then other teams came into the picture as well. DePaul, Creighton, and late pushes by both Oregon and Texas made it almost impossible to predict where the 13th ranked player in the 2017 Class would land. Then the Cardinals appeared, and it was almost a giveaway when Bowen started taking Summer courses in Louisville. Even without Bowen, I would have put the Cardinals in my top 10 without hesitation. Bowen adds shooting and scoring on the wing. With King and Adel already in the starting lineup, I am forced to have him coming off the bench, even though he would probably start on most other college teams. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the starting lineup at some point during the season, especially if he shines as a freshman. Malik Williams, another five-star recruit, adds length off the bench as a big. I expect him to play alongside fellow freshman, Jordan Nwora. These guys will add depth behind Spalding and Mahmoud. Darius Perry will come in and be able to play back up point guard minutes to Snider, and will give him a rest when needed.

Pitino also has guys like Ryan McMahon, Dwayne Sutton, Matz Stockman, Lance Thomas, and Jay Henderson. McMahon is a fan favorite, and the crowd goes wild when he starts getting hot from deep. I expect him to see some good minutes here and there. Sutton, the transfer from UNC Asheville (where Dylan Smith also transferred from), has apparently had a very impressive Summer, and I expect Pitino to play him on the wing with Bowen off the bench. Stockman has never been a significant part of the rotation over the course of his first three seasons, although he played the most his sophomore year. The 7-footer adds extra size off the bench in case of any foul trouble. Lance Thomas is a four-star power forward coming in, who again adds insurance in the frontcourt as a big. He has good length, but probably will have to wait his turn when it comes to playing huge minutes off the bench. Jay Henderson has only played 58 minutes in two seasons for the Cardinals, but could see some time as a back up wing player.

The Cardinals will be right there with Duke at the top of the ACC this year. They have a lot of experience on this team, and also have talented recruits coming in. What’s nice about this team is that the freshmen don’t have too much pressure to come in and contribute right away. They can come off the bench and learn from the experienced veterans. They will be one of the best (if not the best) defensive teams in the nation. I have them at number seven in my preseason rankings.

Kentucky Basketball 2017-2018

Key Departures: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Isaac Humphries, Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder

Projected Starting Lineup: 

PG: Quade Green (Fr.)

SG: Hamidou Diallo (RS Fr.)

SF: Kevin Knox (Fr.)

PF: P.J. Washington (Fr.)

C: Nick Richards (Fr.)

Key Reserve Players:

PG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Fr.), PF: Wenyen Gabriel (So.), PF/SF: Jarred Vanderbilt (Fr.), PF: Sacha Killeya-Jones (So.), SG: Jemarl Baker (Fr.), PF: Tai Wynyard (So.)

Discussion: 

The theme is the same every single year for Kentucky Basketball. Reload. This year is no different, and it might be Calipari’s greatest recruiting class to date. If you include Diallo (who showed up to campus for the latter half of last season), there are six five-star prospects coming in. So, if you haven’t been impressed by the Anthony Davis recruiting class, the Julius Randle recruiting class, or the Karl-Anthony Towns recruiting class (which you should be anyway), you better be impressed now. If you notice above, there are only sophomores and freshmen in the projected rotation. No upperclassmen whatsoever. The entire rotation from last year is practically gone. It is asking a lot from these kids to come in right away, and to be mature enough for the college game. However, as we know, Coach Calipari is just the man for the job. It is well-documented that he can get his players drafted, but he also is able to turn young egos into team-oriented players. We saw an extremely emotional De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo after a heart-wrenching loss in the Elite Eight to UNC this past year. They described their unbreakable bond, and that they are brothers for life. It takes time throughout each season, but Coach Calipari has such a unique ability to turn great, young talent into wins and success.

De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo were all expected one and dones, and they ultimately turned into three lottery picks. With De’Aaron Fox now in the NBA, Quade Green steps in to take the reigns. He is the fifth ranked point guard coming in. Green is not quite the athlete or speedster that Fox is, but he can get into the lane and can create for others. He is a smaller point guard, but has the ability to run the offense. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is the ninth ranked point guard in the class, will be in charge of running the offense off the bench. He would probably start for the majority of other teams in the country. At 6’5″, the Canadian adds good size at the point guard position, and makes a nice complement to Green.

Hamidou Diallo, who actually tested the NBA waters without even playing in a single game for Kentucky last year, will be at the shooting guard position. Diallo probably would have been a first round selection in the 2017 NBA Draft because he completely blew away teams with his crazy athleticism, defensive potential on the perimeter, and with his absurd vertical. Instead, he decided to come back to Lexington. He will need to improve on the offensive end, especially with his outside shooting. However, his defensive upside is limitless. Kevin Knox, who I expected to go to Duke, will be playing the three. At 6’9″, Knox has terrific size and length. Comparisons usually get carried away and scare people, but I see a young Kevin Durant in his game. Maybe not quite the sniper, but overall I see some similarities.

Down low in the paint I have P.J. Washington and Nick Richards. Washington has stretch four ability, he can run the floor well, and can finish at the rim. He has good size and can be a versatile big man. Richards is explosive around the rim, and will need to be that necessary paint presence on the defensive end. He will definitely block/alter shots and protect the basket. I also expect him to get plenty of dunks this year, and probably lobs as well.

Jarred Vanderbilt has been described as the ultimate Swiss Army knife type of player. A play-maker, do-it-all type of guy at 6’8″, Vanderbilt oozes with versatility. Again, comparisons are scary, but I can see some Draymond Green in his game. There is not enough room in the starting lineup for him, but he will definitely get his minutes. Wenyen Gabriel, a former five-star recruit, seems almost like an afterthought with all of these talented freshmen coming in. However, he has apparently had a really good Summer, which is good to hear, after an up and down freshman year. Gabriel was inconsistent as a stretch four player last year, and lost his starting job to Derek Willis. Gabriel has a lot of talent and potential that he still needs to put together. Talk about an afterthought, how about Sacha Killeya-Jones. Another five-star recruit, SKJ played a totoal of 96 minutes last season. He just never made his way into the rotation. Perhaps Coach Calipari didn’t think he was ready, but regardless, he never really got much of a chance. He actually has really impressive ball skills as a big, and shooting range too. Hopefully he gets his time this year. Tai Wynyard is yet another big on this roster with talent, but he probably won’t get a ton of minutes on this team.

Jemarl Baker will be counted on tremendously with his shooting range/ability. Yes, this squad is loaded with five-star recruits and athletes all over the place, however, shooting will be an issue on this team. That’s why players like Kevin Knox, P.J. Washington, and others, will need to show some consistency in that department in order for this team to be successful. Shooting is the big question mark. Will Wenyen Gabriel be an improved shooter? The departures of Monk, Willis, and Mulder definitely hurt. Also, how will a young team like Kentucky match up against an experienced team like Wichita State? The talent is there no doubt, but there are big question marks that make me put the Kentucky Wildcats right outside of the top five at number six.

 

 

Duke Basketball 2017-2018

Key Departures: Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson, Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson, Chase Jeter

Projected Starting Lineup: 

PG: Trevon Duval (Fr.)

SG: Grayson Allen (Sr.)

SG: Gary Trent Jr. (Fr.)

PF: Wendell Carter Jr. (Fr.)

C: Marques Bolden (So.)

Key Reserve Players:

PF: Javin DeLaurier (So.), SF: Jordan Tucker (Fr.), C: Antonio Vrankovic (Jr.), SF: Jack White (So.), SG: Alex O’Connell (Fr.)

Discussion: 

The Blue Devils lose their top two scorers from a season ago in Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard. Both had stellar years, which ultimately made them both lottery picks. Tatum was as polished as they come as a freshman, and Luke Kennard made tremendous strides from his freshman year to his sophomore year. Kennard, who was primarily known as a 3-point threat, turned into a terrific overall offensive player. Not only did he improve on his points per game, his field-goal percentage, and 3-point percentage, Kennard also turned into a better ball-handler and distributor. He was able to run the offense, he showed flashes of making plays for others, he increased his assists per game, and his total rebounds per game. Off of a rebound, Kennard could run the transition offense. You can’t blame Kennard for leaving Duke. He left at the right exact time, when his draft stock was at its peak. Duke also loses Harry Giles and Frank Jackson. We never got to see the real Harry Giles at Duke, we never got to see the Oak Hill Harry Giles. The former number one overall recruit has been plagued by multiple knee injuries, and hopefully he will find the health and strength in the NBA as a King. If he ever (huge if) does get back to the player that he was during his high school days, look out. Frank Jackson is one of my favorite players ever. He is the ultimate teammate, worker, and competitor. He doesn’t shy away from the big moment or from a big task. He hit a huge 3-pointer against Kansas this past year. Jackson chose to head off to the NBA, which I understand due to the fact that Duke has a loaded backcourt this year, and playing time could have been an issue. Jackson is athletic, he has bounce in his game, he is a solid defender, and his 3-point shooting will only get better and better. He would have been a star at Duke, but now he is a Pelican. He is more of a combo guard, even though he was asked to play a lot of point guard last year. He has star potential, however, I don’t think he is quite ready for the NBA just yet.

One of the most important pickups for Coach K and his staff is the addition of Trevon Duval, the highest ranked point guard on the ESPN Top 100 Chart. Coach K has not had a pure point guard like Duval since the 2015 season with Tyus Jones. And yes, Duke won it all that year. Duval is an explosive athlete with superb handles at the point guard position, and reminds me of a Dennis Smith Jr. in that regard. Duval will be able to run the offense, something that was a major issue at that position last year. Duke simply didn’t have a pure point guard to run the show. With Duval, Duke will be able to play fast in transition. Duke also has the shooters for Duval to dish it out to on the wings.

You knew eventually Grayson Allen’s name would come up. Allen was surrounded by controversy throughout last year, most of it self-inflicted. He is an emotional and competitive player, and unfortunately, he made very poor decisions. He was even stripped of his captaincy due to the trippings. Now, Allen returns as the lone senior on the Duke roster. It seems just like yesterday that he was the young, unborn star coming off the bench on the 2015 title team. He will be called upon immensely to be a leader for this young Duke team, both on the court and off the court. With Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson gone (the ultimate Duke teammates), Allen will need to be that vocal presence everyday. Allen was also plagued by injuries last year, but Coach K said that he has fully recovered from his ankle surgery. In order for Duke to be a contender, they need the sophomore Grayson Allen, not the junior Grayson Allen. Duke needs the 20+ point scorer, and over 40 percent 3-point shooter. Honestly, he would have been a lottery pick if he had left after his sophomore year. He should have done exactly what Kennard did. People were surprised to see him come back to Durham for his junior year, and many had him as the frontrunner for player of the year honors. Unfortunately, with all the controversy and injury issues, he had an inconsistent and disappointing season. He has a chance to rebound from last year’s underwhelming season, if he can perform like we all know he can for his senior year.

I was torn between Gary Trent Jr. and Jordan Tucker to start at the three, but ultimately picked Trent Jr. This would create and undersized trio of guards in the starting lineup. Trent Jr. is a five-star, and ranked 7th on the ESPN Top 100 Chart. He already has an NBA build, he can score from the perimeter, he can get to the rim, and can finish through contact. He is a natural-born scorer. Tucker would add more size in the starting lineup at 6’7″. Tucker is an outstanding 3-point shooter, but not quite the player that Trent Jr. is. After missing out on Kevin Knox, Duke offered Tucker, and he ultimately picked Duke over Syracuse. I think he will come off the bench and provide scoring in a sixth-man type of role.

For the first time in a few years, Coach K will play two natural bigs down low in the paint. Wendell Carter Jr. and Marques Bolden will be those two guys. Recently, Coach K has had players like Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram, and Jayson Tatum play the four, even though they are natural small forwards (I expected Kevin Knox to be that player this year). Instead, he will roll with two bigs. Carter Jr. has a solid base and foundation on his lower body, he moves well for his size, he has good dribbling skills for a power forward, and can hit outside jump shots. He is a smart player who knows how to score. Bolden has so much talent and potential, but it never came into fruition last year. He was hurt to start off the year, and then he never got into a groove last season, after being talked about as a potential top 20 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. There were even talks about him transferring from Duke after his freshman season. Instead, he returns to Durham. His length/wingspan is outrageous, and his defense potential as a rim-protector oozes right out of him. If he can put everything together, he become extremely good.

Javin DeLaurier didn’t get too much time last year, but I expect him to play a significant role off the bench this year, especially with Chase Jeter heading off to Tucson. He is an athletic freak who adds another dimension off the bench. Antonio Vrankovic played well in his limited minutes last season, and I see him playing some back-up minutes to Bolden. Between Alex O’Connell and Jack White, I expect Coach K to play one of the two in meaningful minutes off the bench. Will he play the lanky freshman, or the more physical Australian? Coach K doesn’t usually play too deep into his bench, so it will be interesting to see how many minutes are handed out to the bench players.

Duke had all the talent in the world last year, and many picked them as the preseason top team and title favorite. However, injuries occurred for the players and even for Coach K, and the Blue Devils lost in the Round of 32. A solid chemistry was never quite developed. This year’s team may not look as good on paper, but they still will be extremely good. Oh, and if Marvin Bagley does happen to reclassify and does happen to choose Duke, that would put them on top as the number one team going into the season. For now, I have them at five.

Wichita State Basketball 2017-2018

Key Departures: Daishon Smith

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Landry Shamet (RS So.)

SG: Conner Frankamp (RS Sr.)

SF: Zach Brown (Sr.)

PF: Markis McDuffie (Jr.)

C: Shaquille Morris (RS Sr.)

Key Reserve Players:

SF: Rashard Kelly (Sr.), PF: Darral Willis Jr. (Sr.), C: Rauno Nurger (Sr.), SG: Austin Reaves (So.)

Discussion:

A young Landry Shamet is the face of the Wichita State Men’s Basketball Program. Shamet showed tremendous maturity as a redshirt freshman, leading the team in minutes and assists, while also finishing second in points per game. He is now the Fred VanVleet for Gregg Marshall. Shamet will form one of the better backcourts in the country with Conner Frankamp, the former Jayhawk. Shamet and the sharpshooter Frankamp shot 43.9 percent and 44.0 percent respectively from 3-point range this past year. I think Shamet is destined for stardom.

The Shockers don’t have the crazy recruits that teams like Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas seem to have every year. However, they are guided by a tremendous coach in Gregg Marshall, and have a rotation filled with experienced seniors. Marshall has won four straight regular season titles in the Missouri Valley Conference, including five titles in the last six years. Now, Wichita State is a member of the American Athletic Conference. This strengthens their in-conference schedule tremendously, pairing them against teams like UConn, Cincinnati, SMU, and Memphis. This should give the Shockers more love when it comes to selection Sunday. After going 31-5 last season, they only received a 10 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Zach Brown and Markis McDuffie return as the forwards for the Shockers, and bring solid experience with them. For his senior season, Brown needs to be a consistent 3-point threat, which will really aid in his overall game. McDuffie was the leader in points and rebounds per game last season, and will continue to bring his versatile game to this team. Shaquille Morris is the beast down low, who has improved on his points and rebounds every single year. If he continues to make these jumps his senior year, he will definitely be a force in the paint for opponents to deal with.

Rashard Kelly will bring his high energy and effort off the bench, as he will play a key role on this team. He is a great teammate to have because he will go out and make the hustle plays. He will go after boards and loose balls in order to create extra possessions. I expect him to be a tremendous asset off the bench this season. Darral Willis Jr. and Rauno Nurger will come in and play big-man minutes off the bench. Willis Jr. is an extremely effective piece off the bench, and is very efficient when on the court. He makes the most out of his minutes. Nurger will play behind Morris, and Nurger has actually shown an improved ability to stretch the floor as a big man. With the transfer of Daishon Smith, Austin Reaves will see an increased role in his guard minutes off the bench as a sophomore.

This Wichita State team is loaded with chemistry, maturity, and experience. For many, it might be shocking to see the Shockers so high on my preseason list. I have them at number four, but I think this is absolutely appropriate. They didn’t lose much, and now they have another offseason to work together. This team will be a joy to watch because they will play together, they will rotate the basketball, and they will flat out win a lot of games.

 

Michigan State Basketball 2017-2018

Key Departures: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis III, Matt Van Dyk

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. (Sr.)

SG: Josh Langford (So.)

SF: Miles Bridges (So.)

PF: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Fr.)

C: Nick Ward (So.)

Key Reserve Players:

PG: Cassius Winston (So.), SG: Matt McQuaid (Jr.), PF/C: Gavin Schilling (RS Sr.), PF/C: Ben Carter (GS.), SG/SF: Kyle Ahrens (Jr.), PF: Xavier Tillman (Fr.), PF: Kenny Goins (RS Jr.)

Discussion:

Two words: Miles Bridges. Who would ever have imagined that he would be returning to East Lansing for his sophomore year? The 2017 Big Ten Freshman of the Year would have been a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Now, he comes into the college basketball season as a top Player of the Year candidate. Bridges averaged just under 17 points and just over eight rebounds for his freshman season as a Spartan. He had to carry the offensive load for a Michigan State team that had a very underwhelming year. Finishing with a 20-15 record and only winning one game in the NCAA tournament, Tom Izzo did not have one of his more successful seasons. Bridges, a natural small forward, played a lot of four during his freshman year, so he was unable to play his natural position. Bridges is extremely talented on the offensive end, and can score in a variety of ways. He can score from 3-point range, he has a mid-range game, and he can get all the way to the basket, even possessing an ability to finish above the rim. You have to give Bridges a lot of credit. He essentially walked away from millions of guaranteed dollars by coming back to college. Bridges wanted to continue to improve his game, and he wasn’t quite ready to leave the college experience just yet. Not many players in his position make this move. Bridges still has some rawness in his game, he needs to limit turnovers/poor shot selection, and needs to work on his defensive ability. If he can refine and fine-tune his overall game, he will be an absolute superstar at Michigan State this upcoming year.

For the second straight year, Tom Izzo brings in the 8th overall recruit on the ESPN Top 100 Chart. Last year was Bridges and this year is Jaren Jackson, a very skilled power forward from the La Lumiere School. Jackson will allow Bridges to slide over to his natural position of small forward, giving the Spartans a completely new dynamic heading into the season. Jackson has stretch-four capability, great length, he can finish in the post with both hands, and has good potential as a shot blocker. As I mentioned earlier, the Spartans did not have the season that everyone had anticipated. Part of this was due to the injuries of both Gavin Schilling, and the UNLV transfer, Ben Carter. This limited Michigan State’s size down low, forcing the former walk-on Kenny Goins to play big minutes, along with freshman Nick Ward. Both Schilling and Carter have been cleared to come back to East Lansing, which will bolster the Spartan frontcourt, and will add much needed leadership as well. I still expect Nick Ward to start, especially since he played so well down the stretch last season. He only played under 20 minutes per game, but he averaged 13.9 points and 6.5 boards, while shooting just under 60 percent from the field. Ward only failed to score in double figures nine times in his freshman season, and had six 20-point games. He barely scratched the surface of his potential on both ends of the court, and I think he will be a walking double-double this season.

I was torn between picking Tum Tum Nairn Jr. or Cassius Winston to start, but ultimately picked Nairn due to his leadership and experience. Izzo loves Winston, and I think Winston is going to be really good. However, another reason why Michigan State struggled last year was because of inexperience and poor decision making from the freshmen. Winston was a big part of this issue (as was Bridges). Winston played just about 20 minutes per game, but averaged 2.2 turnovers. At times, he didn’t seem ready for the pace of the college game. However, Winston was tied for first in assists last year in the Big Ten, at 5.2 per game, which was really impressive. I wouldn’t be surprised if Izzo started Winston right away, but I would ease him into the starting lineup. Josh Langford is a player that I was very disappointed with last season. I expected big things from the former McDonald’s All-American, and thought that he would form a dynamic duo with Bridges. He was inconsistent all year with his scoring and his mentality, only averaging 6.9 points for the season. He only scored in double figures eight times. I expect him to be more prepared for this season with his freshman year now under his belt. He is gifted, especially on the perimeter as a shooter. Hopefully he doesn’t fall into the pattern of Eron Harris (A great shooter and talented scorer who couldn’t put everything together on a consistent game-to-game basis).

Matt McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens will add depth on the perimeter as guards, and they have big-game experience, now coming in as juniors. Matt McQuaid could be in the starting lineup if Langford doesn’t take the leap that I expect him to. McQuaid has solid starter experience. As mentioned earlier, Kenny Goins played a lot more minutes than expected last year, especially at center, even though he is more of a forward. With a deeper and healthier frontcourt this year, I don’t expect Goins to play nearly as much. Xavier Tillman, the four-star power forward, will play here and there, but I don’t think he will have too much of an impact his freshman year.

Tom Izzo has a lot of depth on this roster. He has the ability to mix and match young and old players in the rotation. Izzo typically has a deep bench, so I expect nothing differently this year. If everyone can stay healthy, and the rising sophomores can be the stars that they are capable of being, than the Spartans will be really hard to slow down. I have them as my third team going into the 2017-2018 season.

Kansas Basketball 2017-2018

Key Departures: Josh Jackson, Frank Mason III,  Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg Jr., Dwight Coleby

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Devonte’ Graham (Sr.)

SG: Malik Newman (RS So.)

SF: Svi Mykhailiuk (Sr.)

PF: Billy Preston (Fr.)

C: Udoka Azubuike (So.)

Key Reserve Players:

SG: LaGerald Vick (Jr.), PG: Marcus Garrett (Fr.), PF: Mitch Lightfoot (So.), SG/SF: Sam Cunliffe (So.)

Discussion: 

The face of Kansas Basketball will now be centered around Devonte’ Graham. Graham will be an early favorite in the Player of the Year conversation. He takes the reigns from Frank Mason, who had one of the best seasons in Kansas Basketball history this past year. Not only was he the Big-12 Player of the Year, but he also won National Player of the Year honors and was a first-team All-American. Simply put, Mason was nothing short of sensational. Graham has big shoes to fill, but he has plenty of big-game experience under his belt. Just a couple of years ago, he had a 27-point performance against Buddy Hield and the Sooners, while also having the challenge of guarding Hield for the entire game. Graham is feisty, he loves the big moment, and is a tremendous all-around competitor (just like Mason). The question will be if he can take on the responsibility of facilitating the Jayhawk offense. Last year, he primarily played off-ball and did most of his damage on the perimeter as a 3-point shooter. Now, he will be in charge of running the offense for Bill Self.

Malik Newman joins Graham in the backcourt, forming one of the best guard duos in the country. Newman, who was a McDonald’s All-American and former 10th overall recruit in 2015, sat out this past season after transferring from Mississippi State. Newman didn’t have a great freshman year in Starkville, and became sort of an afterthought. I remember when Newman chose the hometown squad instead of Kentucky, which in my eyes, ended up being a mistake. At Kentucky, he would have had more exposure, a larger spotlight, and he would have been under the wing of Coach Calipari. He very well could be in the NBA by now if he chose the Wildcats. Newman has a chance to revitalize his career at Kansas. I expect him to have a fantastic season, and to bring his name back to prominence. He has way too much talent to not be successful in Lawrence.

After testing the NBA waters, Svi Mykhailiuk is coming back for his senior year. Svi is a young senior. To put it in perspective, he is younger than Josh Jackson. Every year we seem to wait for the season when Svi breaks through and becomes an elite player. He has all the talent. From a scoring perspective, he had his best season this past year. However, the sharpshooter still needs to be a consistent perimeter threat, and needs to be a focal point of the offense. He can’t disappear in games, and needs to be assertive.

Coach Self has another solid recruiting class, with Billy Preston out of Oak Hill Academy on top. Preston has good size, and he actually impressed me with his ability to stretch the floor in this past year’s McDonald’s All-American game. I expect him to play a lot of minutes at the four for Bill Self, and some five as well, when they decide to go small. After only appearing in 11 games for his freshman season, Udoka Azubuike will be a big part of this upcoming Kansas team. A wrist injury sidelined him for the majority of the season, including their NCAA tournament run. Landen Lucas was forced to play a crazy amount of minutes, as Kansas was undersized and undermanned. Lucas had a lot of pressure to own the boards. Azubuike is a bruiser and brings great size when it comes to the rebounding department. If fully healthy, he could have been a serious difference maker for this past year’s team.

LaGerald Vick will be the player coming off the bench with the most experience in a Jayhawk uniform. Vick is sneaky athletic. He has played in big games and in big moments. Marcus Garrett is a four-star point guard who will come in and play back-up minutes for Graham when needed. Garrett has really good size for the point guard position. Mitch Lightfoot, who played sparingly last year, may be called upon to play more minutes off the bench this year. Lightfoot wasn’t really part of the rotation this past year, but with a good offseason, he could play a more significant role in his sophomore year. Sam Cunliffe, the 41st overall recruit in 2016, who transferred from Arizona State, will be available for the second semester (due to transfer rules). The talented guard out of Seattle will eventually be a very good player at Kansas.

I have Kansas right behind Arizona for my preseason rankings. They don’t quite have the depth that Arizona has, but they have arguably the best backcourt in the nation.

Arizona Basketball 2017-2018

Key Departures: Lauri Markkanen, Kadeem Allen, Kobi Simmons, Chance Comanche

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Parker Jackson-Cartwright (Sr.)

SG: Allonzo Trier (Jr.)

SF: Rawle Alkins (So.)

PF: DeAndre Ayton (Fr.)

C: Dusan Ristic (Sr.)

Key Reserve Players: 

SG: Brandon Randolph (Fr.), SF: Emmanuel Akot (Fr.), PF: Ira Lee (Fr.), PF: Keanu Pinder (Sr.), SG: Dylan Smith (RS So.), PG/SG: Alex Barcello (Fr.)

Discussion :

Every year I ask myself, is this the year that Sean Miller finally gets to the Final Four? Sean Miller has come up close, but has yet to be one of the last four teams standing in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats ran into the Badgers two straight years, and were defeated in the Elite Eight both times by a grand total of eight points. This past season, I actually thought it was the year for Sean Miller and company. Unfortunately, they came up short again, this time, losing to Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen.

I am going to do it again. I just have to. I am picking the Wildcats to go to the Final Four. This team has the talent to go the distance. Most importantly, we get a full season of Allonzo Trier, who was suspended last season for the first 19 games after receiving a positive PED test. Trier is one of my favorite players in the country. A natural-born scorer, who can also get hot from distance, Trier is my early pick for the Pac-12 Player of the Year. I expect him to average around 18.0-20.0 points per game, and anticipate that he will lead the Wildcats in scoring for the season. Sean Miller also has a phenomenal recruiting class coming to Tucson, headlined by the number two player on the ESPN Top 100 Chart, DeAndre Ayton. Ayton is a 7-foot physical beast with an incredibly high ceiling. He can score down low, he can finish through contact in the paint, he moves/runs extremely well for his size, and has shown a capability of hitting outside jump shots. His inside-outside game could be lethal. He is intriguing on the defensive end as well. Simply put, he is a very versatile player, while also being powerful/explosive. Most likely a one and done, Ayton will definitely be a top freshman player to watch this season. I see Ayton playing with Dusan Ristic down low, pairing the youngster with the veteran. Ristic has had a solid career as a Wildcat. He has solid post moves and touch around the basket.

Another important piece in the picture is the return of Rawle Alkins. Alkins tested the NBA waters, but took his name out before the final deadline. Alkins, who is built like a linebacker, can become scary good if he continues to add a consistent 3-point shot to his arsenal. The point-guard duties now fall onto Parker Jackson-Cartwright with Kadeem Allen now in the NBA. PJC is undersized, but he has experience in Sean Miller’s system, and will be able to run the offense.

Brandon Randolph, who was the 35th overall recruit, and Dylan Smith, the transfer from UNC-Asheville, will be scoring guards off the bench. I expect Randolph to be a sixth-man, and I believe that he will be a huge part of Sean Miller’s rotation. Alex Barcello, who can play both guard positions, will probably play some back-up minutes to PJC. Emmanuel Akot decided to reclassify from the 2018 class to the 2017 class. Sean Miller has praised his passing instincts/ability along with his defensive potential. He will add wing depth off the bench behind Alkins. Ira Lee and Keanu Pinder will be in charge of playing big-man minutes off the bench. Chance Comanche, who declared for the NBA draft, but went undrafted, is no longer in the picture. Instead of transferring and having to sit out a year, Comanche decided to turn pro, despite the high probability of not being selected. He was most likely worried about his playing time for this upcoming year with the additions of both Ayton and Lee.

Arizona is my preseason number one team in the country for 2017-2018. Sean Miller has a nice blend of youth and experience, and I really think that this will be the year that he silences the haters.