Contributor, College Basketball
November is approaching rapidly and that could only mean one thing. College basketball is on the horizon. The last college game was in March when the North Carolina Tar Heels beat the Gonzaga Bulldogs in a great championship game. However, a lot has happened since then. Rosters lost players to graduation and from going pro, but they also retooled with a very strong 2017 recruiting class. And with so much turnover in the college basketball the only thing we can do is speculate. It’s time to get back to thinking about college basketball, where several teams have had drastic swings in top-25 expectations based on some of those decisions since the 2017 tourney ended. Every week we will be going through the ranking 5 teams at a time. So without further ado here’s 25-21.
- Texas Longhorns
Best returning player: Andrew Jones
Best newcomer: Mohamed Bamba
The Longhorns roster has had a lot of turnover in it. They lost arguably their two best players from last season. They lost Jarrett Allen to the NBA and leading scorer Tevin Mack was dismissed from the team and enrolled at Alabama. So how is a team that lost its two leading scorers and drastically under performed last year a top 25 team? Two words Mohamed Bamba. Now I know it’s not Monday but allow me to introduce my man crush. This man is an absolute freak and there’s no other way to put it. He’s a 7 footer and was ranked #4 (#1 center) in ESPN’s top 100. This kid could be special and currently has NBA scouts drooling over his 7’9 wingspan and no that’s not a typo. Bamba is ridiculous long, but is also incredibly agile for his size. He has very good mobility and can switch and cover multiple positions. Teams are going to have a very difficult time beating Texas up in the paint with Bamba anchoring this defense. His effect on the game will be very similar to how Rudy Gobert impacts the Utah Jazz. His defensive versatility and instinct will be the driving force for this Texas team and teams will have trouble getting any easy baskets with Bamba lurking around the paint. Now this isn’t a one man show as Texas actually has a relatively good supporting cast. Andrew Jones is the only returning player to average double figures and I expect him to continue his growth as a player. His scoring average should rise from 11.4 points and I expect his assist numbers from last (3.5) to rise well above 4 in the upcoming season. He has a lot of burden on his shoulders to be the go to scorer this year but he’s more than capable. He is joined by Kervin Roach (9.9 points) and incoming transfer Dylan Osetkowski (11 ppg, 8 rpg) from Tulane. This team’s remaining recruiting class will fill out its remaining starting lineup and bench with three other players from ESPN’s top 100 joining the team (Matt Coleman #31, Jerricho Sims #67, and Royce Hamm #82). The biggest issue with this team will be consistency especially on offense as this team shot only 29% from 3 last season and was an erratic team on offense all together. There is a lot of uncertainty with this team but there’s no denying the talent this team has and I trust Coach Shaka Smart to put it all together and for Texas to have a nice bounce back year.
Best returning player: Bryant McIntosh
Best newcomer: Anthony Gaines
The last time we saw Northwestern they lost a tight game to Gonzaga 79-73 in which the Wildcats came storming back late and had a real shot to win the game. They were college basketball’s darling last year as they earned their first NCAA tournament bid in school history. Well this year things are a bit different in terms of expectations. The Wildcats return their top 5 scorers from last season including star player Bryant McIntosh who should be a household name at this point. The senior guard averaged 14.8 points to go along with 5.2 assists last year. He didn’t shoot particularly well (40% from the field, 30% from 3) but I expect him to improve those numbers and challenge for Big Ten player of the year. McIntosh is joined by a superb veteran supporting cast. Scottie Lindsay (14 ppg) will help to fill out the backcourt and provide secondary ball handling duties. The player I am most excited about is Vic Law (12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) who already had his breakout season last year. This year I expect another step from the 6’7 wing. Law is an excellent athlete and has a really nice shooting touch from deep as shot just under 40% from 3 last season. His versatility brings another dimension to this team and I expect him to pop up on NBA radars this year because of his size, length, and shooting touch. The team is filled out with Derek Pardon (8.6 ppg, 8 rpg) who is an above average offensive rebounder and rim protector, stretch 4 Aaron Falzon who missed all of last season with an injury, and Isiah Brown the sixth man for the Wildcats who can play both guard positions and could have nice breakout year. This team is incredibly well coached with Chris Collins at the helm. They run their offense very efficiently and you see an influx and cuts and screens throughout offensive possessions. It will be interesting to see how this team deals with high expectations for the first time in program history, but with a very experienced and deep roster we could see Northwestern making some noise in March.
Best returning player: Manu Lecomte
Best newcomer: Tristen Clark
Baylor is no doubt going to miss Jonathon Motley as he helped make them a top 10 team pretty much all last year. If he had returned this team would easily have been in my top 10, but that’s not the case. This team does however have enough talent to make noise in the Big 12 this year. They bring back one of the most exciting guards in the Big 12 in Manu Lecomte. Lecomte was the second leading scorer behind Motely last season and is one of the deadliest shooters in the country. He shot over 40% from 3 last year and has one of the quickest and cleanest releases you will see in college basketball. His development will be paramount to the Bear’s success on the court. Baylor also returns one of the most unique players in college basketball in Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. This 7 footer is the whole package as he is a phenomenal shot blocker (2.5 per game) and has the ability to step out and hit perimeter shots. He is super athletic but agile enough to move freely around the court. I expect him to take off this year and have that production that Baylor has received from its bigs the last couple of years (i.e. Rico Gathers and Jonathon Motley). He’s going to need to work on his free throw shooting (under 50% percent last year) as well as general consistency as there were games where he was everywhere and other games where he would struggle to make an impact. Acuil Jr. will be joined by Terry Maston (7.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg) to form a very formidable front court. The rest of the Bears rotation has a bit of ambiguity to it. They are going to relay on players that are inexperienced and didn’t play a ton of minutes last year. Players such as Jake Lindsey and King McClure are going to have to step up and give Scott Drew some valuable minutes all year. A player to keep an eye on is freshman Tristen Clark who has good size (6’8) and there has been some buzz coming out of Baylor that they absolutely love him and see a very bright future for him. Don’t be surprised if he’s seeing hefty minutes at some point this season. I have a lot of faith in Scott Drew to be very competitive with this roster as it’s a known fact that Drew has an innate ability to get the most out of his players. Drew is also a very good schematic coach and the Bears run that 1-3-1 matchup defense that can cause opponents fits especially with Baylor’s length. If Baylor comes together early and sees development from its supporting cast Baylor will be right in with West Virginia and Kansas for the Big 12 title.
Best returning player: Johnathan Williams
Best newcomer: Corey Kispert
Coming off a trip to National Championship Gonzaga was faced with a tall task with replacing big names such as Nigel William-Gross, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, and Zach Collins. That’s a little less than 50 points and 21 rebounds that they need to replace. It’s definitely going to be a tall task, but I trust Coach Mark Few as much anyone to make it work. Regardless of who Bulldogs are losing they are actually returning a decent supporting cast. Their backcourt is still very strong with two veteran guards in Josh Perkins (8.1 ppg, 3.1 apg) and Silas Melson (7.2 ppg). Perkins is the primary ball handler and a very unrated distributer. Perkins is essentially the coach on the court as you’ll see him initiate all the offensive sets that Gonzaga runs. Melson maybe very well be the best defender in the WCC and should challenge for the defensive player of the year. He has uncanny defensive instincts as well as being the Bulldogs best on ball defender. His value to Gonzaga cannot be overstated. The offense will most likely run through redshirt senior forward Johnathan Williams. This will be Williams’ second season with the Bulldogs after transferring from Missouri. Williams is one of the most efficient post players in the country and should be the focal point of the offense. Gonzaga loves to run heavy post-ups with its bigs and Williams should benefit from his strength and his finishing ability. He even showcased a nice touch from three point range as he shot 40% last season even though it was a small sample size (40 attempts). One player that is flying a bit under the radar is sophomore Rui Hachimura. He played sparingly last season only 5 minutes a game but during the FIBA U-19 World Cup this past summer Hachimura put up an impressive 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. Those numbers are nothing to scoff at and I expect Hachimura to take a sizable role whether it is in the starting lineup or one of the first bodies of the bench. Gonzaga for the past couple of years has had that under the radar big man who has performed effectively in the sixth man role. Hachimura should follow the footsteps of Domantas Sabonis and Zach Collins (both lottery picks) as the next Gonzaga big man to get NBA scouts attention. With a veteran cast accompanied by young promising talent the Bulldogs should challenge for the WCC title with St. Mary’s and should be able to win a couple games in March.
- St. Mary’s
Best returning player: Jock Landale
Best newcomer: Cullen Neal
Coming off a phenomenal year in which they went 29-5 and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament; the Gaels are essentially bringing back the same team for another go around. Last year this team was hitting on all cylinders with their only kryptonite coming from their WCC rival Gonzaga (3 out of 5 losses were to the Zags). The Gaels return 76% of its scoring from last season and return 4 out of 5 members of its starting lineup. The Gaels have one if not the most efficient offense in the country led by center Jock Landale. Landale is an absolute menace in the paint as he averaged 16.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg while shooting an eye-popping 61% from the floor. He can score in a number of ways but he is the most deadly in the pick in roll as well as using an array post moves. The Gaels run a very slow placed offense and like to use as much clock as possible until they get a high percentage shot. Landale is joined by a bevy of very good 3 point shooters. The Gaels were 15th in the country in three-point percentage (39.4%) last year led by one of the deadliest catch and shoot guards in college Calvin Hermanson (43%), stretch 4 Evan Fitzner (42%), and starting point guard Emmett Naar (42%). The loss of guard Joe Rahon will sting, but I expect Naar to make up for the loss as well as incoming graduate transfer Cullen Neal. Neal is also a deadly 3 point shooter (41%) which compliments Randy Bennett’s offense perfectly. St. Mary’s can run a 4 out 1 in system which allows Landale to operate freely in the post. Teams won’t be able to double Landale as much this year, because of the amount of shooters that will be on the floor. Landale should be the favorite for WCC player of the year and will be a shoe in for a preseason All-American spot. This year will be as good as ever for the Gaels to take the reins of WCC title with Gonzaga losing so much from the year before.