Best Thing All CBB Season: Champions Classic

Marvin Bagley shook up the college basketball world Monday night when he announced his commitment to Duke and reclassification to the Class of 2017. Many put Bagley at the top of the Class now as the most prized recruit, over Michael Porter Jr. The move also gave Duke, who is welcoming in three McDonald’s All-Americans, an absolutely loaded ’17 recruiting class. After the Bagley news settled in, my mind jumped right to the Champions Classic; this year is going to be absolutely loaded with college talent.

While an event that features college basketball blue bloods, and four Hall of Fame coaches is sure to always draw attention, this year is different. Let’s take a look at each team as they head into the 2017-18 season.

Kansas

Kansas may have the least hype heading into the season of this quartet, but don’t be fooled, Bill Self’s team is still the favorite to win the Big 12. Self will return a good core from last year’s Elite Eight team. Yes, Frank Mason and Josh Jackson are gone. A returning cast of DeVonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and LeGerald Vick is a solid group to contend. The Jayhawks will also get back Udoka Azubuike, who missed most of last season with a wrist injury.

New to the Jayhawks will be freshman Billy Preston, a 6-10 forward from Oak Hill University, as well as Malik Newman. Newman was a former five-star recruit who will suit up for his first game action at Kansas after transferring from Mississippi State. If KU can pull a rabbit out of a hat and land five-star recruit Mitchell Robinson-and get him eligible- they will join the conversation as National Championship contender. For now, front court depth will remain a question mark for Rock Chalk.

Kentucky

Spoiler alert: John Calipari has another great recruiting class coming into Kentucky. The Wildcats lose a lot of pieces from last year’s team, but bring in a strong class, featuring 5 five-star recruits. Kentucky’s strengths will be at the wing and in the back court, not to say they are weak in the front court by any means. With Kevin Knox and PJ Washington, Kentucky has two elite wings who can get out on the break and finish everything around the rim. With a back court duo of Hamidou Diallo- who practiced with the team during the second half of last season- and Quade Green, Calipari has a team that will love to get up and down in transition and make highlight reel plays above the rim.

Add Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt and a returning Wenyen Gabriel, and Kentucky has a group of bigs that will mainly be asked to protect that paint and own the glass, things each of them have proven capable of doing. Kentucky may have lost a lot, but in typical John Calipari fashion, he brought in a new wave of future Pros to Lexington. SEC favorites once again.

Michigan State

Similar to Kansas, Tom Izzo does not have a recruiting class coming in that compare to Kentucky and Duke’s. Also like Kansas, he has a very talented group returning with a year of experience under their belt, and a hunger for improvement. The Spartans saw a lot of ups and downs last season, with four freshman playing crucial roles. All four return for their sophomore campaigns including Miles Bridges, who was a lock to be a lottery, and likely even a top 10 pick in last Spring’s NBA draft. Also returning are Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn. These two guards will be crucial for any success next season, as they will be leaned on to control the offense.

Despite the tremendous nucleus returning, Izzo still managed to bring in Jaren Jackson, ESPN’s #8 recruit in the Class of 2017. As a 6’11 stretch forward, Jackson brings versatility to a team that is already versatile. He and Bridges, two assumed lottery picks should they declare for the 2018 Draft, can play multiple spots on the floor. Giving a coach like Tom Izzo so many combinations to run is a dangerous thing come March.

Duke

Last but not least, Duke. As mentioned earlier, the Blue Devils changed the game when they landed Marvin Bagley. Coach K had already inked three of ESPN’s top seven recruits. With Bagley, they now have four of the top eight. Bagley, paired with Wendell Carter, gives Duke two Top 10 recruits joining Marques Bolden in the front court in Cameron. While depth is always a concern, all eyes will be on Bagley to carry the load and solidify their preseason #1 ranking.

The Blue Devils also landed the best possible freshman to replace Frank Jackson and Luke Kennard. Coming to Durham this season is top point guard Trevon Duval and top shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. Duval is an explosive point guard; think Dennis Smith-esque. Trent is one of the best scorers in the class. As ESPN called it, he’s a “bucket getter,” and loves the ball in his hands when his team needs to score. With him and Bagley on the floor, Duke should not have any problem finding ways to score the basketball.

This is a brief overview of four of the top teams in college basketball next season. An in-depth look could go on for pages. The Champions Classic is always stacked with NBA lottery pick talent among four high profile college basketball programs. This year however is a bit different; no team is going to be “down” from last year. When it’s all said and done, this year’s Champions Classic could produce the #1 Overall Draft pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, as well as at least 10 first round picks, most of which will be lottery picks. Get excited, college basketball is almost here.

Jim Calhoun Eyes New Coaching Opportunity

Former University of Connecticut coach and basketball great Jim Calhoun has a major case of FOMO.

The legendary basketball coach said he was considering coming out of retirement, just in a roundabout way … and for an unusual coaching position.

News broke Monday when Calhoun told ESPN about a possible return.

“I’ve got a couple of other things in the works, one involving basketball, which I’m intrigued by,” he was quoted.

The 75-year-old Hall of Fame coach said he missed the kids. This is also the guy that became the oldest coach to win a Division I title in 2011 after leading UConn to the school’s third NCAA championship.

But Calhoun retired in 2012 for a reason. He beat cancer not once but three times. He missed a string of games during his last season at UConn because of back issues.

For his health’s sake, a return to coaching may be possible at a less stressful level. Turns out Calhoun isn’t at all eyeing a program under the Division I stage. He told ESPN reporters that he has had some discussions with Bill Cardarelli, the athletic director at St. Joseph.

Wait. Where?

It’s a no-name, Division III school that doesn’t even have a men’s basketball program. The school doesn’t have any men attending, period.

The tides are turning, however, and the school gave a press release in June detailing a future men’s undergrad program in the fall of 2018.

Talk about working from the ground up.

Nobody would doubt that Calhoun doesn’t have the experience in the game. He’s inarguably one of the best coaches of all time. That’s the kind of name you make for yourself if you had a career win percentage of nearly 70 percent, earn three NCAA titles, win four Final Four contests and win the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award. His accomplishments go on for days.

But it makes sense. Coaches go into coaching for many reasons and almost always because of passion. The man misses being a part of that game. As long as he gets the OK from his wife apparently, that could very well be his last hoorah – a low key, starter program at a D-III school.

You can only play the game, or in his case coach, for so long. Once you stamped your legacy, would you want to be remembered as anything else? If you go out, you go out on top. If speculation is true and the HoF legend is successful at building a solid foundation at the no-name program, he’ll have changed the game even more for not only a D III university, but for basketball itself.

Marvin Bagley’s Possible Impact if He Reclassifies

It was reported weeks ago that Marvin Bagley, the top player in the class of 2018, filed paperwork to re-class and enroll in college next season. Last night, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported that Bagley will make his college decision tonight. This move is less about playing college basketball this season, and more about declaring for the NBA Draft this Spring. Bagley is doing everything possible to make himself eligible for a team by this Fall. With his commitment coming tonight, let’s take a look at how Bagley could impact the six schools with the chance of landing him.

Duke

Many perceive Duke to be the favorite to land Bagley tonight. The Blue Devils once again brought in a strong recruiting class. But with Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum going pro, Amile Jefferson graduating and Chase Jeter transferring, there still could be added firepower to the front court in Cameron. The addition of Bagley would deepen Coach K’s roster, something they have struggled with come March. Bagley, who already took an official visit to Duke, could slide right into the line up alongside Wendell Carter and give Coach K a much more solid front court duo to compliment a strong back court ofTrevon Duval and Grayson Allen. Having landed Tre Jones yesterday, it could be quite the two days for the Blue Devils if Bagley chooses Duke.

USC

USC woud love to pick up where they left off last season with a late commitment from Bagley, who has already taken an official visit. The Trojans won a play in game before winning a last second thriller over SMU in the NCAA Tournament this past March. They return key contributors to last year’s NCAA team and are expected to be a top team in the Pac 12 this year. Unlike most teams on this list that could use front court help, the Trojans’ two top returning players are 6’10 Bennie Boatwright and 6’11 Chimezie Metu. While this would be a problem welcomed by head coach Andy Enfield, it could prove to be an issue if the three cannot play together.

UCLA

Steve Alford would love nothing more than to replace two NBA lottery picks with the probable #1 overall pick of whatever draft he enters. After losing Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf to the NBA, Alford has holes to fill. He also lost son, Bryce and fellow senior Isaac Hamilton to graduation. Those four players contributed 60 points per game last year for the Bruins. And while Alford’s incoming group of freshman is another strong group, Bagley would put them over the top and give Arizona a run for its money for Pac 12 champ. Bagley would be paired alongside incoming freshman Cody Riley, and give UCLA as big and strong of a front court as any team in the country.

The three schools above are clear favorites to land Bagley, as he took official visits to all three spots. However, anything can happen in the college basketball world. Arizona, Kentucky and Kansas are all long shots to land Bagley, but with three of the best recruiters in CBB running each team, you can’t call them dead. My guess is Bagley ends up at Duke and there will be a new preseason #1 in College Basketball. Twitter seemed to agree.

Where Will Mitchell Robinson End Up?

Kansas

Mitchell Robinson’s de-commitment from Western Kentucky and his ensuing college recruitment has certainly been an interesting story to watch recently. His commitment to Rick Stansbury’s squad came early in the recruitment process in 2016. A key contributor in Robinson’s commitment was his godfather, Shammond Williams, who was on the coaching staff. As soon as Williams decided to leave Western Kentucky’s staff, Robinson decided to follow him out the door and re-open his recruitment. This came as a shock to Stansbury, who had possibly landed the best recruit in Western Kentucky’s history. As a result, the door is open for college programs around the country to steal the 8th best player in the 2017 class, according to 247 Composite. So where will the 7-footer end up?

Over the past month, Robinson’s recruitment has been perceived by many to be a two way race between Kansas and LSU. In recent days however, LSU has reportedly pulled out of their pursuit of the five star recruit. Likely the driving force behind LSU’s decision are the questions surrounding his eligibility for the upcoming season. These questions stem from his previous enrollment in summer school classes at WKU. Any program who picks him up would have to get approval from the NCAA to play him.

These eligibility concerns to not appear to concern Bill Self, who has reportedly contacted Robinson numerous times since his de-commitment. Assuming Robinson will be eligible to play the 2017-18 season, Kansas seems to make the most sense for the NBA-bound big man. Having graduated their starting Center, Landon Lucas, Robinson would be able to come in and make an immediate impact for the Jayhawks. This would make for a dangerous three-man rotation between Robinson, Udoka Azubuike, and incoming freshman recruit, Billy Preston. Robinson took an unofficial visit to Kansas this weekend and tweeted his pleasure with the trip.

While Kansas now seems to be the only team in contention for Robinson, the other option is a year overseas prior to entering the NBA Draft. Having a 7’4 wingspan and a 9’3 standing reach, Robinson has length that every NBA team drools over. With the concerns of players playing overseas instead of college having died down, this is a very real option for Robinson.

These seem to be the most popular options available to Robinson as of right now. However, the upcoming days should give some insight as to what Robinson will decide to do. Things are beginning to shape out, but your guess is as good as mine as to where the big man will end up.

Cuonzo Martin Creating Excitement In Missouri

In March, Cuonzo Martin stepped down from his coaching duties at the University of California. That same day he took the vacant position at the University of Missouri. From there all Martin has done is get the Mizzou faithful excited for the upcoming basketball season. First he hired Michael Porter Sr. to his staff, which all but insured his son, Michael Porter Jr., would choose Missouri after decommitting from Washington. With Porter on board for one year, Missouri fans could dream of a Michael Beasley scenario – a seemingly bona fide star destined for the NBA dominating the college level and leading his team to the NCAA tournament.

Martin followed up by inking another Top 100 recruit in Jeremiah Tillmon, who decommitted from Illinois after head coach John Groce was fired. Now Martin had two Top 50 recruits in hand. Fans could envision a Greg Oden & Michael Conley situation. A pair of young, one-and-done players leading their team to a National Championship Game.

Now, news broke that Jontay Porter, ESPN’s #11 Player in the Class of 2018, and younger brother of Michael, will reclassify and play with his brother this year in Columbia. This gives Mizzou a three-headed monster they could not have even imagined five months ago. In a weaker SEC conference, the trio alone can keep Missouri towards the bottom of the Top 25, and have them fighting with South Carolina for third place in the conference, behind Kentucky and Florida.

The Missouri ship has done a complete 180 degree turn and is sailing full steam into the college basketball season. Expectations and excitement have no doubt risen, but only time will tell how special this group can be. They do return their top three scorers from last season. But on a team that only managed eight wins last season, there is room for change all around. Only time will tell, but Cuonzo Martin has a special concoction brewing in Columbia right now.