What We Learned From the Champions Classic

photo via Chicago Tribune

Last night had a lot of hype to it. It was the highest ranking for all four teams competing in the Champions Classic. All four teams were ranked in the top five in the preseason poll. While all four teams are far from mid-season form, it’s easy to see the potential they all have. Let’s take a look at one thing we learned from each team last night.

Grayson Allen is Duke’s Unquestioned Leader

Marvin Bagley received a lot of attention after Duke’s first two games. It was well warranted when you looked at the freshman’s numbers, but Tuesday night it was all Grayson Allen. Allen erupted for 37 points, shooting 7-11 from three point land. He is now 17-26 from three in the first three games of the year. Don’t expect Allen to shoot that well all season long, but do expect him to have maybe the best shooting numbers of his Duke career. The reason? Trevon Duval. Even Allen acknowledged after the game that many of his looks came off Duval’s creation. With a true point guard alongside him, Allen will get the clutch looks all year long

Depth Won’t Save Michigan State from Turnovers

Michigan State struggled last season to take care of the ball. Cassius Winston was just a green freshman and Tum Tum Nairn wasn’t good enough to keep his job over Winston. This year, Michigan State has a lot of things going in their favor, but the turnover battle can keep them from making a deep run in March. Winston did have 11 assists, but turned the ball over 5 times. Bridges had 5 turnovers as well, and freshman Jaren Jackson had 4. Compare that to Duke’s point guard, Trevon Duval, who only had 3 turnovers and 10 assists. Michigan State won’t cut down the nets if they turn the ball over 17 times a game.

Billy Preston Needs to Get On the Court

Kansas has a strong back court with Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and LeGerald Vick. Up front they are not so strong. To Bill Self’s credit he has adjusted to a four guard line up very well, but Kansas still needs some support down low. Udoka Azubuike looks to be the main man at center, but Mitch Lightfoot doesn’t look ready for major minutes. Freshman Billy Preston was expected to be in that front court rotation, but has missed the first two games for two separate incidents. That left Kansas with just seven scholarship players last night. Preston needs to figure out his off the court issues, because he team needs him on the court if they want to go deep into March.

Kevin Knox will be Kentucky’s Go To Guy

Kentucky has a very talented group of freshman, and I do think Hamidou Diallo will be a big contributor for the Wildcats this year. But I think Kevin Knox will emerge as the player John Calipari goes to when he needs a bucket. You saw it last night on various occasions, and you heard Dickie V scream “Give it to Knox!” numerous times. He was the only Kentucky player to hit a three, scored from all areas of the floor and had his name called late, though his floated rimmed out. Expect his number to be called more as the season progresses.

It’s very early in the season. All four coaches will tell you they have a lot to work on, and are far from a finished product. Then again, I think they would say that at anytime of the year. Regardless of the results, all fours teams showed why they were the favorites to win their respective conferences. Hang on, college basketball has just begun.

In Midst of Recruiting Scandal, Duke Remains Supreme

There hasn’t been a more talked about off-season in college basketball than this year. By now everyone knows about the FBI investigation that flipped multiple programs upside down, and likely isn’t going anywhere for sometime. The investigation has exposed all the flaws and corruption that exist in college recruiting. Despite the negativity surrounding recruiting, one thing remains constant. Duke is number one.

Last night, RJ Barrett, ESPN’s #1 player in the class of 2018 announced his commitment to Duke over Kentucky and Oregon. Barrett solidified himself as the premiere recruit in the 2018 class with his play in the U19 FIBA games this past summer. He led Canada past Team USA, coached by John Calipari, in the semifinals on his way to a gold medal.

With Barrett’s commitment, Duke has now landed the top ranked recruit in four of the last five recruiting classes. In the those five years, Coach K has landed a total of 22 players ranked in ESPN’s Top 100. Barrett gives the Blue Devils three of the top ten next year already.

Five lottery picks in the last three years and countless McDonald’s All-Americans prove that when it comes to recruiting, it is Coach K, along with John Calipari, at the top of the list. And with players like Barrett, Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval, Gary Trent and Cam Reddish waiting for their draft nights, you can expect that lottery number to continue to rise.

A lot of people like to label Coach K a cheater. When top recruits choose Duke, critics like to make pay-for-players jokes. Whatever your personal opinion may be, facts are that coaches all over the country are getting busted for illegal recruiting. None of them have the last name Krzyzewski. The FBI investigation is expected to be around for awhile. Duke may come up, they may not. But until that day comes, you have to admire and respect Coach K’s ability to bring in the best of the best.

Best Match Ups During Opening Week of College Basketball


College Basketball begins tonight, but the first week can often be over-hyped, as it consists of many lopsided affairs. A lot of fans look forward to seeing new talent beat up on lesser opponents, but outside that the excitement begins with the championship games of the more prominent preseason tournaments. Don’t sleep on the first week this year however. There are a lot of good games between teams who should be playing come March. Here are eleven games to check out during week one.

Texas A&M vs West Virginia – Friday, November 10th

The season starts off with a Top 25 match up between the SEC and Big 12. Neither team will be at full strength due to suspensions. A&M will be missing future pro Robert Williams and JJ Caldwell and the Mountaineers will be without Esa Ahmad. West Virginia does have Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter and Bob Huggins’s defense is always fun to watch. For A&M, you will see a lot of Admon Gilder, DJ Hogg and Paul Davis – their top three scorers from last year. Williams and Ahmad will be huge pieces for their teams this season, but there is plenty of talent without them.

Georgia Tech vs UCLA – Friday, November 10th

This game gained a little traction with the news of three UCLA players caught shoplifting while in China. This game would be great if Josh Okogie wasn’t suspended for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets still have All-ACC second team Ben Lammers, who should have another strong year. For UCLA, you will get your first look at new freshman Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. Both players are replacing pretty highly touted freshman in their own right. This is a chance for Georgia Tech to get a resume boosting win on day one.

Yale vs Wisconsin – Sunday, November 12th

Yes, I’m including Yale in a best match up blog. Yale will be talented this year. The Bulldogs were a tournament team just two years ago, and could have been one last year if Makai Mason had not injured his foot early in the year. Yale now returns Mason, and three of their top four scorers from last year. Wisconsin will struggle some, but they still have All-American Ethan Happ. Expect this to be close and don’t be surprised if Yale wins.

Minnesota vs Providence – Monday, November 13th

Two of the most under-appreciated coaches in the country. Ed Cooley and Richard Pitino have built two strong teams. Minnesota, ranked 15th in the country, broke onto the scene last season, and return their two best players, Nate Mason and Amir Coffey. The addition of good recruiting class has the Gopher’s sights set on another NCAA tournament bid. The same can be said for Providence. The Friars return All-Big East player Rodney Bullock and are a seasoned club. Just like Minnesota, they have a very talented freshman to add to a deep team in Makai Ashton-Langford. Expect both these teams to be playing in March.

Butler vs Maryland – Tuesday, November 14th

This is another match up between two teams who will compete in the top half of their respective conferences. Butler returns their best player in Kelan Martin, and will have Kamar Baldwin back as well as supporting cast. The Bulldogs have a nice freshman guard in Aaron Thompson who will get his first real taste of college action against a tough Maryland team. For Maryland, they will experience life without Melo Trimble. Get to know their sophomore trio of Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan. These three will make this team go this year.

Indiana vs Seton Hall – Tuesday, November 14th

The Archie Miller era begins in Indiana this year. It will be a tough first year, as IU loses a lot from last year’s team. Look for Josh Newkirk and Juwan Morgan to become the go to guys this season. I also think Curtis Jones will give the Hoosiers so balance at the point guard position. For Seton Hall, this is a big year. The once heralded recruiting class of Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Kadeen Carrington have not reached senior year. Delgado is one of the best bigs in the country. He’s a double-double machine, plain and simple. The Pirates also have sharpshooter Myles Powell and a nice group of freshman to add to their veteran group. Expectations are high in Jersey.

Xavier vs Wisconsin – Wednesday, November 15th

We talked about Wisconsin earlier. If Yale isn’t a test for them, Xavier definitely will be. The Muskateers have one of the best guards in the country in Trevon Bluiett, and J.P. Macura is back for his senior season. The Big East has been Villanova’s conference to lose, but Xavier will look to have a say about that. New faces like Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall will only add more weapons to a dangerous Big East team.

Virginia Tech vs St. Louis – Thursday, November 16th

This match up would be awesome next year; That’s not taking away from the one we have this year. Both teams have a lot of young talent and will use this year to gain some much needed experience in their conferences. Saint Louis has senior Davell Roby to lead their group of sophomore and freshman. Billiken fans will enjoy watching Jermaine Bishop for an entire season after medically redshirting, and will be introduced to freshman Jordan Goodwin. For Virginia Tech, they welcome freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede. The two will join returning players such as Chris Clarke and Ahmed Hill, who both averaged 11 points a game last year.

Virginia vs VCU – Friday, November 17th

Tipping at 4P EST on Friday, this is the last game before first rounds of many opening tournaments start. Virginia got hit by the transfer bug, while VCU will have some nice transfer pieces eligible this year. You can always count on Tony Bennett’s team to be stout defensively, and a back court of Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will be fun to watch for the Cavaliers. VCU loses a lot of scoring, but Justin Tillman and Jonathan Williams are reliable scorers. Transfers Kris Lane and Isaac  Vann both transferred from smaller programs, but will be contributors for VCU as well this season.

Champions Classic – Tuesday, November 14th

This needs it’s own section. It’s one of, if not the biggest non-conference event of the year. Four of college basketball’s blue bloods and four of the top five teams in the country this year. The 2017 Champions Classic has a little bit of everything.

Duke vs Michigan State – 7PM

Bagley vs Bridges. Krzyzewksi vs Izzo. Duke vs Michigan State. This match up features a deep and primed Spartan team versus a NBA bound Duke club. The Blue Devils are led by highly touted freshman Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter. Oh, and who could forget Grayson Allen. Duke doesn’t have the deepest of teams, but their starting five is as good as it gets. Michigan State is the opposite. The Spartans have depth upon depth. They return a team that went through growing pains and injuries last season. They have future lottery pick Miles Bridges, they have great depth in the post and the have Tom Izzo. These are two teams expected to play deep into March.

Kentucky vs Kansas – 10:30 PM

Game two features Big Blue Nation and Rock Chalk. New year, same script for Kentucky, as they will lean on numerous McDonald All-American freshman to lead them through SEC play and into the NCAA Tournament. Different than most UK teams, John Calipari really doesn’t have an upperclassmen to lead his young team. As a result, don’t be surprised if it takes a little for Kentucky to click. Once they do though, players like Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo will be household names, if they somehow aren’t already. Kansas, like last year, will again rely on their guard play in 17-18. A small ball line up of Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk and LeGerald Vick will be utilized a lot. They have question marks upfront, but KU appears to be the favorite once again in the Big 12.

So there it is, a schedule to get you through week one of the college season. After these games, preseason tournaments will begin and there will be some great championship battles to look forward to. Just don’t look ahead too soon, or you may miss a couple of great games.

ACC Basketball: 17-18 Conference Preview

The ACC is often dubbed the best conference in college basketball. With basketball blue bloods like Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Notre Dame, it’s easy to see why the conference garners the respect it has. This year the ACC has it all: defending champs, potential #1 pick, and additional NBA prospects all over the place. Let’s take a look at how the ACC Conference was voted in the preseason.

Projected Finishes

  1. Duke – No shock. Duke is the Preseason #1, and for good reason. Marvin Bagley is one of the most talented players in the country and Duke has a true point guard in Trevon Duval. Grayson Allen returning to form will be the piece that puts this Duke team over the top.
  2. North Carolina – This will be a different look UNC team, mainly in size. Meeks, Hicks, Bradley and Justin Jackson all leave. Joel Berry is the team’s nucleus but he’s dealing with several injuries to start the year. Pitt grad transfer Cam Johnson will be big in Berry’s absence. Fellow senior Theo Pinson is a crucial piece to the puzzle. He’s Roy Williams’s Swiss Army knife and will use a different role every night.
  3. Notre Dame – Bonzie Colson torched ACC bigs for 18 and 10 a night last year. Mike Brey will need an increased effort from TJ Gibbs for his team to compete with the best of the ACC. Improvement there, plus Colson and Matt Farrell, gives the Irish solid foundation going into the year.
  4. Miami – The Hurricanes have a veteran guard in JaQuan Newton, highly touted freshman Lonnie Walker, and potential breakout player in Bruce Brown. The keys for Miami will be Walker’s health; He had ACL surgery over the summer but has been cleared completely. If he is healthy out the gate, Miami will be a nightmare opponent.
  5. Louisville –  I think Deng Adel will be one of the best players in the conference in his senior year. The biggest piece for Louisville will be replacing Donovan Mitchell. VJ King will get the first crack and if he can do an adequate job, Lousiville can possibly have as smooth a transition a possible.
  6. Virginia – UVA will have an exciting back court with Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Devon Hall. Their issue will be upfront, where they are very thin outside senior Isiah Wilkins. The Cavaliers need to replace their top three scorers in London Perrantes, Austin Nichols and Marial Shayok. Grad transfer Nigel Johnson will help fill some of this loss. A bit of a college journeyman, Johnson averaged 11 points a game last year for Rutgers. He will bring that scoring mentality to Charlottesville, for what will be his third NCAA team.
  7. Virginia Tech – They lose their top 2 two scorers in Seth Allen and Zach LeDay, but they have a solid core returning. Chris Clarke has the ability to lead them in scoring and rebounds. Buzz Williams also has a strong group of guards, including Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill and Top 100 freshman Wabissa Bede and Nikeil Alexander-Walker.
  8. Florida State – Florida State being eight was a bit of a surprise considering they lost two NBA players and one G-League player. FSU rotated a lot of guys last season, so they do return players who experienced ACC play. None will be more crucial than Terrance Mann. Helping in the back court is highly touted freshman MJ Walker. If the Seminoles can get production out of the great size they have on their roster, they could soldif this pick at eight.
  9. Georgia Tech – Georgia Tech enjoyed a nice NIT run before running into a red hot TCU team in the Championship game. The Yellow Jackets have one of the better one-two punches in the conference in Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie, both of whom received preseason All-ACC honors.
  10. Syracuse – Syracuse was a underwhleming team last year to say the least. Not Tyler Lydon or Andrew White leaves them with even less than last year. Tyus Battle will be their best player and they will need junior Frank Howard to be much more consistent than last season. I do think Cuse has a couple of nice freshman that are a year away from really making an impact.
  11. Wake Forest – Bryant Crawford was overshadowed by John Collins at points last year. That will not be the case this year, as he will be shine for the Demon Deacons. Upfront may be somewhat shaky, but strong guard support with Keyshawn Woods, Brandon Childress and Mitchell Wilbekin will lead this team.
  12. NC State – It’s year one under Kevin Keatts and that’s good news for Wolfpack fans. Keatts fortunately starts his tenure with a good veteran presence. Abdul-Malik Abu returns and Baylor grad transfer Al Freeman gets added into the mix. NC State also has a great freshman in Lavar Batts that will turn heads. 
  13. Clemson – Clemson loses their all-conference talent in Jarred Blossomgame, but Tigers fans will see a more balanced offense this year. They return four of their top six scorers, all of which averaged 7-10 points last year.
  14. Boston College – I don’t need to tell BC fans about Ky Bowman and Jerom Robinson. Despite the struggles BC’s had, and may have, these two can score with anyone in the conference. Jordan Chatman also returns as the team’s third leading scorer, though there a big drop off between second and third.
  15. Pittsburgh – It will be a tough year for Pitt fans, as they watch Jamie Dixon and TCU flourish and their team struggle. They lose 65 points a game from a team that was bad last year. This year will be a lot of evaluating young players and see who fits for the future.

Preseason Awards

Player of the Year – Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame)

I mentioned it above, Colson dominated last season in the paint. Crowned an undersized post player, Colson proves you don’t need to tower over opponents to have success. Colson has the ability to beat defenders from inside and out. Add to it the fact that Mike Brey is great at putting Colson in positions to best succeed, and you have trouble if you’re on the opposing sideline. Duke has the diaper dandies, UNC may be the returning National Champs, and Louisville and Miami have better NBA prospects, but Notre Dame has the Player of the Year.

Freshman of the Year – Marvin Bagley (Duke)

Again, this is really not a surprise. Duke has a number of talented freshman, and Miami does have a super talented player in Lonnie Walker, but none of them compare to Bagley. Many have called him the best prospect since Lebron, and his arrival has been long awaited. On a loaded Duke team, Bagley’s numbers won’t reach their maximum potential, but you will see his ability to change the course of a game several times throughout the year.

All ACC Teams

First Team 

Bonzie Colson – Notre Dame

Marvin Bagley – Duke 

Joel Berry – UNC

Grayson Allen – Duke

Ben Lammers – Georgia Tech

Second Team 

Bruce Brown – Miami

Quentin Snider – Lousiville

Deng Adel – Lousiville

Josh Okogie – Georgia Tech

Jerome Robinson – Boston College

Cam Reddish: New Teammates, Same Goal

Duke commit Cameron Reddish was one of the biggest names at the Hoop Group Fall High School Showcase this past weekend. The class of 2018 prospect led The Westtown School to a 3-1 record on the weekend and took a lot away from the talented event.

“Overall, it’s a lot of fun especially with all of the top competition here,” Reddish said. “As a team we are coming together and learning how to play with each other. This has been fun and a good learning experience.”

Westtown has another talented team this year with Reddish, Indiana commit Jake Forrester, Jalen Gaffney, Noah Collier and more. Reddish sees this year’s team being very successful as long as they keep improving.

“We are really versatile and have been really smart with the ball as we have done a good job limiting our turnovers,” he said. “As long as we keep working and pushing our limits as a team we will be fine.”

In early September, Reddish committed to Coach K and Duke. The senior wing can’t wait to take the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium and show what he is can contribute. Reddish broke down the opportunity to suit up for the Blue Devils next year.

“I actually never had a dream school, but after visiting all of the different schools I knew that Duke was my favorite spot,” he said. “It’s such a blessing that I get the opportunity to go there next year.”

He has already accomplished so much, but Reddish still has a couple of goals in mind. One of his personal goals stands out amongst the rest.

“The ultimate goal for me is to get to number one, that’s always been the goal for me,” said Reddish. “From here on out it is to prepare for Duke and like I said to get to number one.”