By Hocine Loukkaf on 10/7/2019
As teams like Kentucky, Memphis or Oregon count on some impressive recruits to go far in the tournament, Tom Izzo is lucky enough to lead a solid and talented group of experienced player whose only goal, after last year’s Final Four appearance, is to win it all.
#1 Michigan State
By returning a top three PG in the nation and some rugged players at every position, MSU is the clear favourite to win it all.
Winston may not be an elite prospect for the league but he was already clearly dominant on the statline with 18.8pts 7.5as on 40% from three. He will be joined in the backcourt by Langford, a solid as you can find SG who scored 15pts per game last year on 40% from three. Behind them, freshman Rocket Watts, a top 50 prospect in the nation, will bring scoring from the bench while learning the PG position.
The forward spot will be loaded too with potential first rounder Aaron Henry, who shined during the tournament (10pts 5rbds 3as), and another sophomore, Gabe Brown, who scored 15pts against LSU in the Elite Eight.
Inside, Tillman will keep showing his improvement and prove he can be the man inside while Kithier and above all Bingham Jr will be asked to step up.
With Bill Self caught in the Adidas’ scandal, it’s hard to know whether this Kansas team will be allowed to take part in the NCAA tournament. As long as nothing has been decided, let’s give the Jayhawks a chance. Once again, the roster is stacked with experience and promising young talent.
At PG, Dotson comes back after a surprising freshman year where he has been more impressive than former top 20 prospect Quentin Grimes, leading Kansas to the Big 12 title with 13pts 6as 1to. He will be paired in the backcourt with another sophomore, Ochai Agbaji who could see his draft stock rise if he can be more consistent than what he showed at the end of the season.
Kansas could play a three-guard starting five with Barrett or transfer Moss as the third guard or launch later one of the two SF freshmen, shooting specialist Jalen Wilson or the rawer but more athletic Tristan Enaruna.
The paint will be even scarier with the comebacks of Azubuike (from injury) but above all of Silvio de Sousa. They will have solid teammates to back them up with Lightfoot and McCormack, strong rotation players who could start in many other teams.
With the four best scorers from last year gone (three in the draft’s first round), Calipari will have once again to put the freshmen on the court a lot.
In the backcourt, Hagans and Quickley will have to show more composure and display improved shooting. They will have to compete with Calipari’s top recruit this year, Tyrese Maxey, another combo guard who will bring scoring from everywhere on the court.
On the wing, three freshmen (Whitney, Juzang, Brooks) will fight for playing time with Whitney the one with the best tools to grab the starting job while Brooks could also play the small four.
Inside, Montgomery will have to prove he’s worth his former ranking after a disappointing season. Richards will need to step up too with graduate Sestina (15.8pts 8.5rbds) good enough to grab minutes at both inside spots.
One of my favourite outsiders despite its title holder status, UVA and coach Bennett still have found the good pieces to fill a deep roster with some major returning players.
At PG, Clark will get the key of the team after a very interesting freshman season behind Jerome. His 2.6 a/to ratio speaks for himseld and if can be as efficient in the scoring, he could become a top college PG very soon.
At SG, Coach Bennett has landed a nice recruit with Casey Morsell, a stronger/longer/more athletic version of Kyle Guy who will bring that DMV toughness.
At SF, Braxton Key could start and take Hunter’s minutes. He started a new chapter of his college career at UVA with a championship ring and could end up better by displaying his versatility and hopefully, an improved outside shot.
Virginia’s paint may be the best part of its roster with the return of Diakite, the official rim protector of the champion with an averaged 2.6bl per game in the tournament. After entering the draft, Diakite could use the season to become a solid scorer and improve his range. He will be helped by stretch five Jay Huff, who is expected to step up for his junior season, and Argentinean Caffaro, who had a nice World Cup U19 where he averaged 9rbds per game. As if it wasn’t enough, Bennett landed another top recruit with Kadin Shedrick, an athletic late blooming 6-11 big man who could turn into an NBA prospect within two years.
Used to lead the top recruiting class for some years now, Coach K takes a step back and will have to find the good chemistry between the returning players and the freshmen.
He will be helped by floor general Tre Jones. Despite a good freshman season, Jones’ inability to score consistently from outside makes him the best recruit for Duke. His defense and high level IQ (3.5 a/to ratio) are among the best at the college level the upside is still there.
At SG, O’Connell has the tools to finally step up. He will be in competition with freshman high riser Cassius Stanley who could be more than a gadget as he improved his skills the past two years.
At SF/PF, Jack White will have the same challenge as O’Connell as he displayed the talent to be a solid contributor despite playing less at the end of the season. He will also be in competition with two freshmen, SF Wendell Moore, a top 25 prospect from North Carolina, and combo forward Matthew Hurt, a sharpshooting do-it-all combo and potential first rounder.
The C position will be also solid with versatile top 10 prospect Vernon Carey Jr, a potential one and done who can finish in the paint as much as he can shoot and handle the ball, while DeLaurier is that solid back up who could give some veteran tips to the talented freshman.
Coach Wright returns a solid group of players that will be joined by two top 20 recruits in the nation.
With Booth gone, Gillespie will have the opportunity to step up and prove he’s vastly underrated. He averaged 38% from three and a more than decent 2 a/to ratio. More will be expected from Quinerly, a former 5 star recruit who had a disappointing freshman season. The first top recruit will be at the SG spot with Bryan Antoine, the uber athletic NBA prospect. If he can hit consistently from outside and play within the flow of the game, he and Gillespie could form one of the best backcourts in the country.
At SF, promising forward Saddiq Bey should log major minutes as he’s a nice defender and hit a pretty good 37% from three.
Inside, five-star prospect Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who was impressive at the World U19 with 12.7pts and 6.3rbds, will be part of a solid three-man rotation with juniors Samuels and Cosby-Roundtree.
Like Kentucky, Gonzaga has lost its four best scorers from last year. The main difference is coach Few has brought, besides a top notch recruiting class, some much needed experience and will maybe have his best recruit in last year’s roster.
At guard, transfers Ryan Woolridge (11.7pts 5.9rbds 4.8as) and Admon Gilder (12.3pts 4rbds 2.6as 39% 3pt in 2017-18) will be in competition with sophomore Joel Ayayi, who after a poor season in term of playing time, was voted in the best team of the World U19. In-state Brock Ravet will fight for minutes behind them.
SF Corey Kispert will try to bounce back after his horrible Elite 8 debacle where he had 0pt in 25min against Texas Tech. Freshmen combo forwards Watson and Arlauskas will have minutes behind the junior.
Until recently, the paint was Gonzaga’s strength with quantity, talent and some experience. Unfortunately, Tillie already got i juredPetrusev will start and try to make up for the draft of Hachimura and Clarke. The international scouting went well with Malian Oumar Ballo, a 6-10 260 workhorse with a 7-6 wingspan, who led Mali to the Final at the World U19. Behind them, freshmen Watson, Zakharov and to a lesser extent Timme might get their chance to show what they got.
Despite losing Fernando to the draft, Maryland is a nice outsider with most of its top scorers returning and an interesting group of recruits.
At PG, Cowan needs to step up for his senior year as he hasn’t especially improved his shooting percentages or a/to ratio from his sophomore to his junior year.
At SG, coach Turgeon can count on a nice trio with Ayala/Wiggins/Morsell who could also log minutes in a three-guard backcourt.
Some of the remaining minutes on the wing could be used by freshman Donta Scott, a strong and athletic Philly product with a sweet outside stroke.
In the paint, coach Turgeon has been lucky as potential first rounder Jalen Smith has decided to come back for his sophomore year. He has displayed great things but he must gain strength and more consistency/shooting on offense to gain more buzz from the NBA scouts. He could also play minutes at the C position in a small ball line-up. Freshmen twins Makhel and above all Makhil Mitchell are solid additions in the paint while giant Chol Marial is out for at least three months due to stress fractures on both legs.
Despite having lost three of its players to the draft, including Bol Bol, coach Altman can count on some solid returning players and an incredible crop of recruits.
At PG, Pritchard (12.9pts 4.6as) will come back for a last season with some incredible experience like the 2017 Final Four.
At SG, Richardson (who could also play minutes as Pritchard’s back up) and Bailey will have some incredible competition with three players grinding for solid minutes, Canadian prospect Addison Patterson, Pritchard’s former high school teammate and grad transfer Anthony Mathis (14.4pts 41% 3pt at New Mexico) and last but not least, Juco player of the year Chris Duarte.
On the wing, five-star forward CJ Walker may start over fellow freshmen Chandler Lawson and late blooming Lök Wur, three prospects who bring length, versatility and athleticism at this spot.
The paint is also stacked as sophomore Francis Okoro will fight for minutes with ex-UNLV starter and grad transfer Shaqur Juiston (14.6pts 10rbds in 2017-18) but above all five-star center N’Faly Dante, a potential lottery pick who has turned into the cherry on the cake after reclassifying over the summer.
With five of its six best scorers from last year returning, Louisville has to be ambitious this year despite some holes in its backcourt, starting at the PG position.
Indeed, graduate transfer Lamarr Kimble will be asked to lead the potential contender after a decent albeit unpromising last season at St joes where he averaged only 2.8as and 39% FG (29% 3pt). As if it wasn’t enough, there’s no other pure PG to back him up with SG Perry and McMahon the only returning backcourt players, which could give potential playing time to freshmen Johnson and Nickelberry.
Coach Mack could also take a gamble and play big by starting at the SG his top recruit, top 15 prospect Samuel Williamson, a smooth shooter a la Tatum who could end up in the next draft’s first round. That could allow Nwora (17pts 7.6rbds) to play many minutes at the SF spot and try to get more love from the NBA scouts. Sutton will bring more versatility on defense behind them both.
Inside, Enoch (9.4pts 5.2rbds) and Williams (7.7pts 6.1rbds 1.2bl) bring requisite size to match up with the best bigs in the country
The wild card :
With a former NBA star coach and the best recruiting class in the nation including the potential 2020 NBA draft first pick, Memphis has many assets to bother the top favourites.
At PG, freshman Boogie Ellis is a spectacular scorer who can create for his teammates. He could be paired with explosive freshmen Lester Quinones or Damian Baugh, while sophomores Lomax and Harris had the opportunity to play 20+min a game their freshman season.
On the wing, combo forwards Precious Achiuwa, a top 10 recruit, and the better shooting DJ Jeffries bring size and athleticism even if they have to improve their overall skills.
The jewel of the Hardaway’s recruitment is by far in the paint with James Wiseman. the local product has the requisite length, athleticism and shooting touch to be a top center in the NBA. His motor has often been questioned but he will be in the perfect spot to prove the doubters wrong.