Potential Player Of The Year Candidates

College basketball is less than a month away. Excitement is beginning to grow as practice intensifies and opening season tip-off tournaments are on the horizon. With that, let’s look at five guys who could be talked about as National Player of the Year Candidates.

Miles Bridges – Michigan State

Bridges is considered the favorite by many to win NPOY after a somewhat surprising return for his sophomore season. Bridges put up a complete stat line last year for the Spartans. He averaged 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 blocks a game during his freshman campaign. That is crazy. With the arrival of Jaren Jackson, and a more experienced Michigan State team, Bridges might not have the same stat line this year, but he will undoubtedly be the straw that stirs the drink for Tom Izzo.

Jalen Brunson – Villanova

Brunson is my favorite to win National Player of the Year now that he is the focal point of Villanova’s offense. Brunson’s game expanded last year despite being overshadowed by Josh Hart. However, Brunson still led the team in scoring multiple times last season. He seemed to shine brightest against the top competition in the Big East, scoring 20+ points in games versus Butler (twice), Seton Hall and Creighton. Expect more scoring output from Brunson this season, and a better assist/turnover ratio in his junior year.

Michael Porter Jr – Missouri

Porter is an interesting candidate because he is sure to put up the numbers and is also an expected top two draft pick in next year’s draft. The question mark will be Missouri’s record. Players in years past like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz did not receive as much attention due to their team’s performance. Missouri’s record will better indicate if Porter is closer to Anthony Davis/Kevin Durant or Simmons/Fultz.

Allonzo Trier – Arizona

Trier should be a NPOY candidate with a full junior season under his belt. He was limited to just 18 games due to a suspension in the beginning of the season. Trier showed his best self when Sean Miller inserted him back into the starting line up, averaging just shy of 19 points per game in Arizona’s last 10 regular season games. DeAndre Ayton will receive a lot of publicity as a future lottery pick, but expect Trier to be the centerpiece of the Wildcat’s success.

Devonte’ Graham – Kansas

Kansas has a history of seeing seniors take giant leaps in production. Perry Ellis did it, so did Frank Mason. Expect Devonte’ Graham to be the next in line. Graham averaged 13 points and 4 assists per game last season playing a “third wheel” to Mason and Josh Jackson. Though his percentage was down, Graham was good for over 2.5 three-pointers a contest last year for KU. With Mason and Jackson gone, I expect Graham’s numbers to blow up as the senior leader of Bill Self’s squad.

Honorable Mentions:

Marvin Bagley/Grayson Allen – Each player should have strong seasons for Duke, but they will both take production away from each other in terms of NPOY recognition

Joel Berry – A lot of pieces depart from UNC’s National Championship team. Berry is the key returner who will be enemy number one on every opposing team’s scouting report.

Angel Delgado – Delgado is good for a double-double every time he’s on the court. The Pirates should have a strong year thanks to a great senior nucleus, and Delgado should lead the country in double-doubles. 

The Border War is Back…Kind Of

The Border War is back, sort of. It was announced today that Kansas and Missouri will play in an exhibition game on October 22nd at the Sprint Center. All money raised by the game will go towards supporting hurricane relief efforts. Many college basketball junkies know the rivalry that exists between the Jayhawks and Tigers. While this game’s first priority is to raise money, it will also give fans a taste of one of the best rivalries in college sports.

Kansas and Missouri first played each other on the hardwood back in 1907, but the Border War dates back even further. KU has the advantage, with a record of 172-96 against Mizzou. It’s been six years since the two programs have met however, due to Missouri moving out of the Big 12 Conference. For those that can remember, the last meeting between the two programs was epic. Kansas stormed back from a 19 point deficit at Phog Allen to top Missouri in overtime, 87-86. The outcome resulted in championship caliber celebrations and agony by each side. The win also gave Kansas their 8th straight conference championship.

“Playing Missouri does mean something. It means something to me.” -Kansas Coach, Bill Self

This exhibition game will not have the same allure as previous match-ups. The game does not count towards anyone’s record, and the goal is to raise money and not get anyone hurt before the real season begins. However, it’s tough to peg this as just another exhibition game. You have Kansas and their 13 straight Big 12 Championships. You have Missouri and their talented group of freshman, led by potential #1 pick Michael Porter Jr. And let’s not forget the rivalry and hatred that exists between the two states. Exhibition game or not, this game means something. The Sprint Center will be packed; it will be rowdy. Both fan bases will want a win whether it reflects on record or not.

There is everything to love about this game, and nothing to hate. Pre-Season All-Americans, a rich and storied rivalry, and above all, it’s for a great cause. College basketball may not tip off for another month, but we’re going to get an early look at two teams who have high expectations attached with them for this season. If all goes well, maybe we will see a non-conference, home and home develop out of this. Here’s to hoping.

Avoiding the Sophomore Slump This Season

The sophomore season is an interesting year for players in college basketball. For some freshman, it’s a year to build on what may have been a underwhelming first year. For others, it’s an attempt to avoid a sophomore slump, after breaking onto the scene and dazzling from the very start. The seven players below had very different freshman campaigns, but they all have one thing in common. They must avoid the hyperbole sophomore slump in order to help their respective team win this year.

Payton Pritchard – Oregon

Payton Pritchard is one of the few returning players from the Duck’s Final Four team last season. Playing a limited scoring role last season due to the heavy back court depth, Pritchard finished eighth in assists in the Pac 12 with 3.6 assists a game. Pritchard will take on more of a scoring role this season, but will likely not be Oregon’s go-to scorer. That role will go to incoming freshman Troy Brown. With Brown taking a bulk of the scoring, Pritchard will be in charge of facilitating the offense and being the Duck’s number two scorer. After spending the summer playing on the U19 FIBA World Cup team, I expect Pritchard to be a leader for the Ducks in his second year.

VJ King – Louisville

Everyone knows about the coaching change at Louisville, which will affect the team this season. Also a factor is the suspension of incoming freshman Brian Bowen. Bowen was a heralded recruit, expecting to take over a bulk of the scoring left by Donovan Mitchell. Now with Bowen’s status for the season uncertain, a hole is left on the wing. Enter VJ King. King is expected by many to be the team’s breakout player this year. Starting in seven games, he led the team in free throw and three-point percentage, but his attempts were low. Louisville is notorious for having good front court depth, but often lacks the ability to spread teams out from deep. Incoming freshman Jordan Nwora was brought in to help, but if King can lead the Cards in these shooting categories again, while putting up more volume, he will fill a big hole for Louisville this season.

 

Temple Gibbs – Notre Dame

Gibbs served a modest role last season, rotating in with upperclassmen Matt Farrell, Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem. With Farrell the only one in that group set to return, expect Mike Brey to demand a lot more out of Gibbs this season.  Notre Dame has a reputation of guard development. Matt Farrell and Demetrius Jackson are two of the more recent examples of players who improved vastly year over year at ND. Gibbs looks next in line to follow this lineage. With 27 points per game needing to be accounted for between Beachem and Vasturia, the Irish will need Gibbs to step up and handle a portion of that.

Miles Bridges – Michigan State

This seems like an obvious one seeing as Brides was an assumed one-and-done player. Not many counted on him sticking around, as he was expected to be a lottery pick in this past draft. The freshman wing showed an unmatched athleticism last season, and has a body that is ready for the NBA. After deciding to come back for a sophomore campaign, Bridges’ presence has catapulted Sparty to a Preseason Top 5 team. Last year Michigan State was young and inexperienced; this year they are mature and, talented and deep. Bridges is the key to a Final Four run for Tom Izzo’s club this year.

Andrew Jones – Texas

There was a lot to be excited about in Austin thanks to the recruiting class Shaka Smart brought in. That excitement elevated when Andrew Jones withdrew his name from the NBA Draft. Jones was the Longhorn’s second leading scorer last year, not including Tevin Mack who was suspended after 15 games. He led the team in 3-point percentage and will be a leader on a team that will rely heavily on the contribution of their newly arrived freshman. I expect Jones to raise his scoring efficiency this year and be the center point of the Longhorn’s offense. If not, Texas will fail to see the Big Dance yet again.

Robert Williams – Texas A&M

Williams was another player who some thought would jump to the NBA after one year due to this great play as a freshman. The Louisiana native took home SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, as well as Second Team All-SEC. Williams averaged just shy of 12 points per game last year and led the Aggies with 8 rebounds per contest. His efficiency and defensive prowess will make for a good career at the next level, when the time comes. Williams owns any paint he’s in. His near 2.5 blocks per game to go along with those 8 rebounds prove that. He will need to build on his 55% shooting and continue to be efficient on offense for Texas A&M to succeed. With a non conference schedule that includes West Virgina, USC and Arizona, Williams needs to be big for the Aggies this year.

Amir Coffey – Minnesota

Minnesota enjoyed one of its best seasons in recent years despite a first round NCAA Tournament upset in which many viewed them as the underdog. The Gophers bring back a lot of last year’s team, including senior Nate Mason. While Mason was the team’s leading scorer, Amir Coffey will be a key piece to a second straight tournament appearance. Coffey was the perfect “complimentary” piece next to Mason last year. He finished second on the team in scoring, assists and steals per game. He led the team in scoring on several occasions last season. With Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan all losing big pieces to last year’ teams, there is a chance for Minnesota to finish in the top three of the conference. Coffey will need to repeat, if not increase that production for Minnesota to finish near the top of the Big ten.

Honorable Mentions:

Bruce Brown (Miami) – Brown will be a stud at Miami this season. With the return of Ja’Quan Newton and a (hopefully) healthy Lonnie Walker, he will not be leaned on as heavily as the guys above.

Maceij Bender (WVU) – Bender only played 6 minutes a game last season, but will play a huge role for West Virginia while Esa Ahmad sits the first half of the season due to suspension. 

Ty Jerome (Virginia) – London Perrantes finally graduated (really, he did). Tony Bennett will give the keys to Jerome now to drive the Cavaliers through an always rigorous ACC schedule. 

Rawle Alkins (Arizona) – Alkins will miss the beginning of the season due to a foot injury. His injection into the line up mid year could catapult the Wildcats at the right time, and Sean Miller might finally get into a Final Four. 

Jeff Dowtin (Rhode Island) – Dowtin came on strong down the stretch for coach Danny Hurley and Rhode Island. I expect him to be an even better distributor than he was last year, and Rhode Island to dance again in March. 

Nasir Little’s Commitment Proves Change Coming in College Recruiting


Last evening, Nasir Little, a Top 15 recruit in the Class of 2018, committed to the University of North Carolina. A top recruit committing to a college basketball blue blood is nothing new. However, Little’s commitment holds a little more significance given the cloud hanging over the college basketball world. Little chose North Carolina over numerous schools. Included in this group was Miami and Arizona, two programs who recently grabbed headlines for roles in a NCAA corruption scandal.

By now most everyone knows that former Arizona assistant “Book” Richardson was one of 10 people arrested in the NCAA bribery scandal. Shortly after, Miami was informed they were under investigation for the same potential issues with a certain recruit. The recruit in question was said to be Nasir Little. A report filed stating that a “University-7,” was trying to give $150,000 to an unknown player in the Class of 2018. University-7 was described as a private research university in Florida with approximately 16,000 students and over 2,600 faculty members, The same report also mentioned that a “University-4, was already promising the recruit money. Little was the only player being recruited by both schools.

Nasir Little is not the first, nor the last to be involved in this scandal

Days after the reports surfaced, Little removed both Miami and Arizona from consideration, opening the door for the Tar Heels. While Little is not the only player to be brought up in these allegations, his swing in recruitment symbolizes a trend that is sure to happen in college hoops. Miami and Arizona were the favorites to land Little’s services, in part for the reason above. Amid controversy however, Little removed himself from the picture, hoping to avoid the same mess Brian Bowen finds himself in currently.

The question in recruiting has changed. Views on coaches and programs are going to change based on the reports that surface from this investigation. As more schools step into the limelight, the recruiting landscape broadens. Schools that once competed for the top recruits will now be in the mix for less and less. While Miami expects full exoneration, they already saw multiple recruits withdraw consideration just for association. Louisville has also lost their top recruits in 2018 because of the scandal. This opens the door for those schools dubbed “clean” to bring in top classes.

College basketball recruiting is going to be different. That’s the purpose of this investigation. The programs that lost out on McDonald’s All-Americans for playing by the rules now look like prestige institutions. And while every “dirty” program may not get caught, they will come off cleaner than those that get exposed. Thus far, Miami, Louisville and Arizona have been reported. Assistants from Oklahoma State, Auburn and USC were also arrested initially. Those schools have a little bit more to worry about at the moment than recrutiing, but last night’s commitment marked a change in tide.

Let’s root for basketball season to come sooner.

Must Watch Games in the Big 12

The Big 12 Conference holds its hat on being able to crown “one true champion.” It’s the only conference that every team plays twice to truly see who is number one. Any college basketball fan knows that for the past 13 years, Kansas has been the said true champion in the Big 12, at least in the regular season. But it hasn’t always been predictable. Let’s look at five games that could impact the Big 12 championship.

Kansas at West Virginia – Monday, January 15th

Kansas and West Virginia have provided exciting contests since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12. West Virginia and their press is notorious for giving KU fits. Bob Huggins even gets a bonus every time he beats Kansas. Last year WVU won handily at home, and then lost a heart breaker in Lawrence. The Mountaineers blew a 14 point lead with 4 minutes to play, eventually falling to KU in overtime 84-80. It’s Jevon Carter vs. Devonte Graham. Bill Self vs. Bob Huggins. Kansas vs West Virgina. Will be a great one.

 

Oklahoma at TCU – Saturday December 30th

Welcome to the Big 12, Trae Young. This will be the first conference game for the likely one-and-done from Oklahoma. Young has the potential to put up scoring numbers similar to that of Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley in his one year in Norman. There’s no doubt OU will only go as far as Young takes them. For many talented freshman, it takes some time to adjust to the college game. It will be interesting to see how much Young has been able to adjust by the time conference play rolls around.

Texas at Baylor – Saturday, January 6th

This is a big game for Texas. For the past couple of season, Baylor has been the best team in the state of Texas. The Longhorns have a chance to change that and their first match-up with the Bears will go a long way to changing who runs the Lone Star state. Mo Bamba vs Jo Lual-Acuil (above) will be a highlighted match up in this one. Two of the best big men in the conference going to head-to-head; expect the paint to be well protected on both ends. Expectations are growing in Austin as Shaka Smart continues to rebuild the Longhorns. Bragging rights in the state is a big step in the right direction for a growing program.

Kansas at Texas – Friday December 29th

This is the earliest the Big 12 Conference begins play and it starts out with two of the conference’s premier teams. As mentioned above, Texas is looking to make a leap from last season. They return key pieces from last year’s team, while bringing in a five-star recruit and their point guard of the future. If Texas really is going to become a contender, they’re going to get a chance to prove themselves early against the conference favorite Kansas Jayhawks. What better way to declare yourselves back than to knock off the best?

TCU at Baylor – Tuesday January 2nd

Jamie Dixon might not admit to it, but this is a statement game for TCU as well. The Horned Frogs were one of college basketball’s most improved teams last season. They return a good nucleus of players from an NIT championship team and will look to take a step forward in the Big 12, while eyeing an NCAA Tournament bid. Similar to Texas, the next step is taking down the state’s most dominant team over the past few seasons. TCU lost both match ups to Baylor last season. If this season is going to be different, a win at Baylor will be a nice start.

For a full preview of the Big 12, click here.