Top Ten Mid-Major Players at Each Position: Small Forward

By Kevin Sweeney

It’s hump day, and we have reached the halfway point of our mid-major positional rankings. Today, we’ll look at the small forward position, one that is loaded with talent at the mid-major level. The difficult thing in ranking these guys is labeling the small forwards when many spend significant time at multiple positions, whether it be guys on the small side who also see action at shooting guard or “big wings” who are also deployed as small-ball 4’s.

As always, thanks for checking out the rankings, and I’d love to know your thoughts! Be sure to comment below or tweet at me (handle is @CBB_Central). Also, check out the first two installments of our rankings series, I ranked the point guards on Monday and shooting guards on Tuesday.

#1. Chandler Hutchison (Boise State)

Stats: 17.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 37.7% 3-pt FG%

A former highly-touted recruit, Hutchison struggled to live up to the considerable hype in his first two seasons in Boise. However, he finally put it together last year in a standout junior campaign en route to First Team All-MWC honors. His mixture of size, strength, and shooting ability makes him a matchup nightmare in the Mountain West, and he enters his senior campaign as a favorite for conference POY honors.

#2. De’Monte Buckingham (Richmond)

Stats: 10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 35.7% 3-pt FG%

For the record, I’m totally on the Buckingham Bandwagon. Turn on a Richmond game, and the rising sophomore will immediately pop off the screen with his nose for the basketball and energy. Combine that with a fast-developing offensive skillset that will allow him to blossom into a full-blown star, and Buckingham is on the fast track to stardom in the Atlantic 10.

#3. Caleb Martin (Nevada)

Stats (2015-16 at NC State): 11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.4 apg, 36.1% 3-pt FG%

Eric Musselman has dominated the transfer market since arriving in Reno, and Caleb Martin might be the best piece he’s landed yet. A versatile wing scorer who put up strong numbers in his sophomore campaign under Mark Gottfried at NC State, Martin should thrive in Musselman’s up-tempo, free-flowing offensive system.

#4. Myles Stephens (Princeton)

Stats: 12.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 39.5% 3-pt FG%

Stephens’ numbers on paper don’t necessarily demonstrate just how good a player he is. He really came into his own as the season went on last season and was arguably the best player in Ivy League play in the entire conference. He’s a great shooter, good perimeter defender, and is more than capable of getting to the rim. I expect a huge year from Stephens, which is why he’s higher on this list than most might expect.

#5. Justin James (Wyoming)

Stats: 16.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 41.9% 3-pt FG%

James blossomed into a star last season, putting up huge numbers en route to the Cowboys winning a CBI Championship. The long wing is such a versatile piece in this day and age, one who can play 3 positions offensively defend 4 different positions. He’s an efficient scorer who is on track to be a First Team All-MWC performer in his junior campaign.

#6. Calvin Hermanson (St. Mary’s)

Stats: 13.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.9 apg, 43.1% 3-pt FG%

Hermanson is one of (if not the best) pure shooters in the college game today. He connected on over 43% of his 3-point attempts and had a effective field goal percentage (weights 2 and 3-point shots differently) of 63.4%, both incredibly good marks. Hermanson is also an incredibly smart player who knows his role in Randy Bennett’s system, and is a key cog on what I expect to be a top-20 team this season in Moraga.

#7. Dikembe Dixson (UIC)

Stats: 20.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 36.7% 3-pt FG%

Before tearing his ACL in a victory over DePaul last season, Dixson was well on his way to a special sophomore campaign. He’s an incredible talent at the mid-major level, a do-it-all wing who can absolutely fill it up. The big question that looms is his health, but should he come back strong from that ACL injury, he has a chance to be MUCH higher on this list when the season comes to a close.

#8. Jacobi Boykins (Louisiana Tech)

Stats: 14.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 40.8% 3-pt FG%

Boykins wasn’t the star of last season’s LA Tech team, but he still put up strong offensive numbers and made a ton of plays defensively. Now, with Erik McCree graduating, this is fully Boykins’ team, and I expect him to thrive with an increased scoring load offensively. He’s improved his game every season of his collegiate career, and his senior campaign should be a big one.

#9. Ahmad Thomas (UNC-Asheville)

Stats: 18.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 45.7% 3-pt FG%

Thomas is one of my favorite players to watch in college basketball. He plays with such incredible energy and toughness, and is an elite perimeter defender. Not only that, but he has improved his offensive repertoire drastically as well to make him one of the top wings in the Big South and across the country. His improvement from the 3-pt arc a season ago was incredibly impressive and speaks to just how hard a worker Thomas is.

#10. Matt Scott (Niagara)

Stats: 17.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 37.6% 3-pt FG%

I remember watching Scott for the first time in-person at a Siena vs Niagara game in the 2014-15 season. If you had told me then he’d be on this list in a few years, I would have told you that you were crazy. Scott had some skill but was rail-thin and playing for a Purple Eagles team that simply wasn’t any good.

Now, Scott enters his senior year as one of the best players in the MAAC and one of the most underrated players in college basketball. He can truly do it all on the floor, whether it be score, rebound, defend, or distribute. Perhaps more importantly, he’s led the Purple Eagles program from the ground into a team that most are projecting for a top 5 finish in the MAAC this season.

Just Missed the Cut:

  • Yuta Watanabe (George Washington)
  • James Demery (St. Joe’s)
  • Ryan Daly (Delaware)
  • Martez Walker (Oakland)
  • Miye Oni (Yale)
  • Tiwian Kendley (Morgan State)
  • Keith Braxton (St. Francis PA)
  • Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (Samford)
  • Paul Miller (North Dakota State)

Top Ten Mid-Major Players at Each Position: Shooting Guard

By Kevin Sweeney

Yesterday, I began my preseason mid-major positional rankings with the point guards. As I wrote yesterday, I believe that ranking players by position is the most accurate way of ranking players. As always, be sure to comment below or tweet me your thoughts (handle is @CBB_Central) on these rankings!

#1. Kendrick Nunn (Oakland)

Stats (2015-16 at Illinois): 15.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, 39.1% 3-pt FG%

Nunn is the type of talent that rarely, if ever, lands at the mid-major level. A proven dynamic scorer in his 3 years at Illinois, off-the-court issues led to his eventual dismissal from the Illinois program, and he resurfaces this year at Oakland for his final year of eligibility. Nunn should absolutely dominate the Horizon League in his only season, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he winds up with his name on NBA Draft boards after his senior campaign.

#2. EC Matthews (Rhode Island)

Stats: 14.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.5 apg, 33.7% 3-pt FG%

After missing the 2015-16 season due to a torn ACL suffered in the season opener, Matthews returned to action for the 2016-17 season. Overall, he lacked a bit of consistency and explosiveness coming off the injury, but seemed to come into his own as the season wore on. I expect his late-season form to continue into his senior campaign as he tries to lead the A10 favorite Rams to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season.

#3. Shavar Newkirk (St. Joseph’s)

Stats: 20.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 39.6% 3-pt FG%

If not for concerns about his health, I’d probably have Newkirk at #1 on this list. In the 12 games he played in before tearing his ACL in December, Newkirk was nothing short of extraordinary, as you can see from the numbers above. As of late July, Newkirk had resumed some basketball workouts but had yet to be cleared for full basketball activities. If he returns to form, he is nothing short of an unstoppable offensive force. However, as we saw last year with Matthews, he may not be fully himself for much of this season.

#4. Giddy Potts (Middle Tennessee State)

Stats: 15.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 38.4% 3-pt FG%

Potts, who burst onto the national scene in March of 2016 when he helped lead the Blue Raiders to a stunning upset victory over Michigan State, is one of the elite shooting guards in mid-major basketball. He’s a lights-out shooter who actually shot over 50% from 3 in his sophomore season (2015-16), and has improved his all-around scoring ability every season of his career. With a pair of stars in Jacorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw graduating, it is now definitely Potts’ team, as he looks to bring the Blue Raiders to their 3rd straight NCAA Tournament in his senior campaign.

#5. Tyler Hall (Montana State)

Stats: 23.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, 42.9% 3-pt FG%

What’s so remarkable about the numbers Hall put up last season is how efficient he was. To shoot 48% from the field and 43% from downtown despite receiving all the attention from opposing defenses is incredible. Hall has already blown past 1,000 career points for his career and could hit 2,000 at some point this season, further etching himself into the record books at Montana State.

For more on Hall’s story, check out this piece by Ellie Lieberman of SB Nation from last week.

#6. Matt Mobley (St. Bonaventure)

Stats: 18.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 37.9% 3-pt FG%

Often overshadowed by his backcourt mate Jaylen Adams, who came in at #1 in my mid-major PG rankings, Mobley is a terrific player in his own right. Not only did he lead the country in minutes per game last season at over 38 per game, he’s also a terrific scorer capable of creating off the bounce and connecting from outside. He may not get the headlines that Adams gets, but Mobley shouldn’t be forgotten as one of the top guards in mid-major basketball.

#7. Cameron Morse (Youngstown State)

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 31.9% 3-pt FG%

Morse is fourth among all returning players in scoring average from a season ago, and those prolific numbers could go up even more in his senior campaign with a new coach in Jerrod Calhoun.

“Coming into my last year, I’m really excited,” Morse said in a piece published on thejambar.com. “He wants to play an up-tempo style. He sold me when he said that we were going to average 85 points a game. Scoring is what I do, so I’m feeling confident in him.”

Morse needs to regain his 2015-16 3-point shooting form (41% from downtown), but if he does, the sky is the limit for him this season.

#8. Victor Sanders (Idaho)

Stats: 20.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 43.9% 3-pt FG%

Sanders is one of the best pure shooters in the college game. A season ago, he connected on almost 44% of his outside shots despite drawing tons of attention from opposing defenses. He has prototypical size for the position at 6-5, and he’s improved every year of his career in his ability to break his man off the bounce and score at the rim. One of the stars who simply doesn’t get enough attention in college basketball, Sanders & the Vandals should be a top contender in the Big Sky this season.

#9. Ehab Amin (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi)

Stats: 16.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 28.9% 3-pt FG%

While Amin put up excellent offensive numbers, it’s his defense that was the deciding factor in him cracking this list. He led the nation in steals per game at 3.4 per contest, and was the defensive catalyst for a team that won 24 games last season. He’s a bulldog of a guard who isn’t afraid of contact, and is more than willing to go into traffic to rebound the ball. The best way to sum up Amin is that he’s a winning player who every coach would want on their roster.

#10. Joshua Braun (Grand Canyon)

Grand Canyon’s immediate success in their transition to Division 1 has been one of the great stories in college basketball of the past few years, and Braun is a huge reason why the Lopes are where they are today. Braun played second fiddle this past season to superstar PG DeWayne Russell, but it will be his team this year. Look for a WAC Player of the Year-type senior campaign for Braun has he hopes to bring GCU to the NCAA Tournament.

Just Missed the Cut

  • Jairus Lyles (UMBC)
  • Garrison Matthews (Lipscomb)
  • MaCio Teague (UNC-Asheville)
  • Gabe Vincent (UCSB)
  • Justin Wright-Foreman (Hofstra)
  • Omega Harris (UTEP)
  • Jordan Brangers (Western Kentucky)
  • Tyler Nelson (Fairfield)
  • Jaylin Walker (Kent State)
  • Brenton Scott (Indiana State)
  • Prentiss Nixon (Colorado State)
  • Darian Anderson (Fairleigh Dickinson)
  • Devin Sibley (Furman)
  • Ria’n Holland (Mercer)
  • Matt Mooney (South Dakota)
  • Joe Rosga (Denver)
  • Ike Smith (Georgia Southern)
  • Sidy Ndir (NMSU)
  • Josh Perkins (Gonzaga)

Top Ten Mid-Major Players at Each Position: Point Guard

By Kevin Sweeney

One thing I have learned this offseason is that ranking college basketball players is extremely hard to do. Many have given valiant efforts at their top 100 players in college basketball, but between the variances in conference, experience, and perhaps most importantly, position, it’s nearly impossible to make a list that is reasonable. Rather, in my opinion it is best to rank players by position, as it allows for the clearest and most direct comparisons between players.

So, this week I will be releasing my top 10 mid-major players at each position. Monday will be point guards, Tuesday will be shooting guards, Wednesday will be small forwards, Thursday will be power forwards, and Friday will be centers. Feel free to tweet at me (handle is @CBB_Central) or comment below to give me your thoughts on my rankings!

#1. Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)

Stats: 20.6 ppg, 6.5 apg, 35.6% 3-pt FG%

You could make a case for Adams as one of the top point guards in the entire country, let alone the mid-major level. The only player in the country to average at least 20 points and 6 assists per game last season, Adams is an elite playmaker who can score at will and also create for others proficiently. After exploring the NBA Draft process this spring, Adams elected to return to Olean for his senior campaign, a move that certainly makes the Bonnies an Atlantic 10 title contender.

#2. Jonathan Stark (Murray State)

Stats: 21.9 ppg, 5.2 apg, 42.5% 3-pt FG%

Murray State is my early pick to win the Ohio Valley Conference, and Stark is a huge reason why. In his first season with the Racers after 2 years at Tulane, Stark was nothing short of extraordinary, posting outstanding numbers. He’s capable of taking over games with his scoring ability, but he is also an excellent distributor who is more than willing to get his teammates involved.

 

#3 Brandon Goodwin (Florida Gulf Coast)

Stats: 18.5 ppg, 4.1 apg, 35.3% 3-pt FG%

The point guard position is, in my opinion, the most important position in college basketball. They contribute to winning more than any other player on the floor. And few floor generals contribute more to winning than Goodwin. He contributed 6.3 win shares last season for FGCU, the most of any returning mid-major point guard in the country. He was also exceedingly efficient, posting a player efficiency rating of 26.7 that was among the best in the Atlantic Sun this past season.

#4. Devin Watson (San Diego State)

Stats (from 2015-16 at San Francisco): 20.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 34.9% 3-pt FG%

One of 2 transfers who will be in their first season playing with their new team to crack this list, Watson is one of the players I’m most looking forward to watching this season. He adds an entirely new element to a SDSU offense that was ugly at times last season. His elite scoring ability along with being able to create for others makes him an incredible addition to a San Diego State team that hopes to challenge for a Mountain West title this season.

#5. Jon Davis (Charlotte)

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 38% 3-pt FG%

Davis is one of the best mid-major players you’ve likely never heard off. Already nearing 1,000 career points as he enters his junior season, Davis is a prolific scorer from the point guard position. He has prototypical size as well for his pro future, and Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports noted that NBA scouts are already taking notice:

The one area where Davis must look to improve is taking care of the basketball and making better decisions (over 3 turnovers per game last season), but he is already one of the finest point guards in college basketball and is only getting better.

#6. Chris Clemons (Campbell)

Stats: 25.1 ppg, 2.6 apg, 35.5% 3-pt FG%

There is nothing typical about Clemons. He stands just 5-9, and is best classified as a “ball guard” rather than a true point guard. By that, I mean he plays with the ball in his hands almost at all times, but is much more of a shoot-first than pass-first playmaker. While his position might be debated, one thing that can’t be is that he is an unstoppable scorer. He ranked second nationally in points per game last season with over 25 per contest. His performance in the Big South quarterfinals vs UNC-Asheville was a sight to behold:

#7. Thomas Wilder (Western Michigan)

Stats: 19.3 ppg, 3.8 apg, 44.4% 3-pt FG%

Wilder is another guy that simply doesn’t get enough attention for just how good he is. An elite shooter who has improved as a ball-handler and distributor each year of his collegiate career, he enters his senior season in Kalamazoo as one of the top players in the MAC. If he can get enough help around him, he could lead the Broncos to a MAC championship in his senior season.

 

#8. Erick Neal (UT-Arlington)

Stats: 10.6 ppg, 6.6 apg, 35.6% 3-pt FG%

Honestly, I almost feel bad about putting Neal this low. He’s the consummate floor general, an excellent distributor and pass-first point who is also capable of “getting his” when the shot clock runs low. Him and teammate Kevin Hervey (who will crack a list later this week) form one of the most dyamic pairings in mid-major basketball, one that hopes to lift the Mavs to an NCAA Tournament berth in their senior season.

#9. Jordan Johnson (UNLV)

Stats (For Milwaukee in 2015-16): 12.5 ppg, 8.1 apg, 31.6% 3-pt FG%

2 years removed from ranking second nationally in assists per game, Johnson is part of an influx of talent Marvin Menzies brings in at UNLV with the hopes of bringing the Rebels back to prominence in the Mountain West. In many ways, Johnson is the perfect fit for what Menzies is trying to do. He’s an ideal run-and-gun floor general who will get his teammates involved. I expect big things from him in his lone season in Las Vegas.

#10. David Nichols (Albany)

Stats: 17.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 35.4% 3-pt FG%

Nichols’ improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore year was nothing short of extroardinary. He went from averaging just 2.7 points per game as a freshman to 17.9 ppg and all-conference honors as a sophomore. Nichols can flat-out score the ball, and can hurt you from anywhere on the floor. He’s the latest in a line of great point guards to run the offense for Will Brown at Albany, from recent “The Bachelorette” contestant Mike Black to DJ Evans to Evan Singletary, and it would surprise me if he didn’t at some point do what the previous 3 did and lead his team to an NCAA Tournament.

Just Missed the Cut

  • Makai Mason (Yale)
  • Trae Bell-Haynes (Vermont)
  • Otis Livingston (George Mason)
  • Lamarr Kimble (St. Joseph’s)
  • Geno Crandall (North Dakota)
  • Ahmaad Rorie (Montana)
  • Jordan Davis (Northern Colorado)
  • Joe Chealey (College of Charleton)
  • Jon Elmore (Marshall)
  • Lamonte Bearden (Western Kentucky)
  • DaQuan Bracey (Louisiana Tech)
  • Emmett Naar (St. Mary’s)
  • Austin Luke (Belmont)

College Hoops Fan Mailbag: 8/17

By Kevin Sweeney

While there’s always something to talk about in the college basketball landscape, we’ve reached the dog days of the offseason. The vast majority of the big transfer dominoes have fallen, coaching changes have been completed, and teams are in the midst of preparing for the 2017-18 season. So, I decided to open up for questions so you could decided what you wanted me to talk about this week. I picked my favorite questions from all the great submissions, thanks to all who submitted questions!

I got a pair of similar questions regarding the Southern Conference, which looks to me as one of the most wide-open mid-major conferences going into the season. Each contender seemingly has one flaw that would give me pause about picking them to win it all. My early pick is Mercer. The Bears are a veteran club, featuring 5 senior starters looking to finish their careers with an NCAA Tournament bid. Leading that crew is Rian Holland, a SoCon POY candidate who averaged over 17 ppg last season. The other top contenders to are Furman, which loses head coach Niko Medved but brings back 4 starters from a 23 win squad, and Samford, which features an outstanding trio in Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, Wyatt Walker, and Christen Cunningham. ETSU is a dark horse contender as well. While the Buccaneers lose a lot of talent, they have an excellent coach in Steve Forbes who will have his guys competing and they bring in some talented JUCO players as well.

As for Brad’s question regarding where the top team in the conference falls in the national picture, I see them in the 80-120 range in the RPI. I don’t see a team in the SoCon this year that will be as good as Chattanooga from 2015-16 or last year’s ETSU team, but I could see 3-4 of the teams I mentioned finding themselves in that 80-120 range.

As @Boiler_Ray points out, Gonzaga’s position in preseason polls seems to fluctuate a lot among college basketball experts. Coming off a trip to the National Championship game, some (including myself) don’t even have Mark Few’s team in the top 25 entering the season. What makes the Zags so difficult to project is the amount they’ll rely on young players stepping into key roles right away. With 4 of the top 5 scorers from that 37-2 team departing, it will be up to the complimentary pieces from last year, as well as some talented freshmen, to get the job done. Most expect French big man Killian Tillie to take a big jump in his sophomore campaign, while sophomore swingman Rui Hachimura wowed Zags fans with his performance at the FIBA U19 World Cup with Japan. Meanwhile, freshmen Jesse Wade & Zach Norvell should play big roles in the backcourt that will also feature veterans Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. Still, there’s a lot of pressure on guys who haven’t brought much to the table at the D1 level to produce at a high level from day one. Those who have Gonzaga in the preseason top 25 are mostly betting on Few to get the most out of his guys and expect the train to keep on rolling in Spokane. I fully expect Gonzaga to reach the NCAA Tournament again this year, but the preseason question marks are enough for me to leave them on the outside looking in on my preseason top 25.

To me, the answer to this one is simple. The best way for good mid-majors to improve their SOS is to play other good mid-majors. Look at a pair of home & home series that were reported yesterday: Missouri State taking on Western Kentucky & Nevada taking on Rhode Island. All 4 teams have NCAA Tournament aspirations going into the season and should be top 100 (if not top 50) teams in college basketball next year. These are the perfect way to schedule. Mid-majors not only improve their metrics such as RPI and SOS but also get home games against quality opponents and are prepared well for the conference slate by playing teams at a similar level to them.

This is a super fun question from JR. Honestly, what makes teams the most enjoyable to watch for me is ball movement. Obviously, it’s really fun to watch a team that runs and presses like crazy (I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun watching basketball than watching VCU’s HAVOC run to the Final Four), but I enjoy games at any tempo with great passing and getting beyond the stale pick-and-roll every play style of the NBA. I LOVED watching TJ Cline and Richmond play this year. As a big man, Cline’s ability to get others involved for good looks from anywhere on the floor made the Spiders one of my personal favorites to watch. I also enjoy watching Iona’s ability to space the floor with shooters and get the ball inside, especially a few years ago when they had David Laury as their center. His ability to pass out of double-teams in the post was intoxicating to watch.

Oakland has a chance to be one of the best mid-majors in the country. The trio of Martez Walker, Jalen Hayes, and Illinois transfer Kendrick Nunn should be special to watch. However, the recent departure of rim protector Isaiah Brock to focus on his education brings Greg Kampe’s team back to the pack a bit in the Horizon League. They are still the clear favorites, but I could see a couple teams hopping in and giving the Grizzlies a run for their money. One is Northern Kentucky, which claimed the league’s auto-bid last season and bring back 4 starters from last season. However, the team that has the most upside other than Oakland is UIC. The talent that Steve McClain has assembled is impressive, and this could be the year it all comes together. If superstar wing Dikembe Dixson recovers well from a torn ACL he suffered early last season, that team could be flat-out scary. Center Tai Odiase is an outstanding big man who turned heads with his play at the Adidas Nations camp this summer, making the all–tournament team. Rising sophomore guard Tarkus Ferguson stuffed the stat sheet a season ago (one of just 7 players to average at least 11.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 4.8 apg) and could contend for all-conference honors if he cuts down on turnovers. Guard Marcus Ottey also flashed the ability to score in bunches as a freshman. The Flames need to improve defensively, but the talent is there for a special season in Chicago.

Iowa State is an incredibly difficult team to forecast this season. Monte Morris, Deonte Burton, and Naz Mitrou-Long all graduate, leaving Steve Prohm’s Cyclones with a bunch of holes. I don’t think it will be Jackson’s team; to me Jackson is an elite shooter but not the high-level playmaker Prohm needs in his PG role. To me, that guy will be freshman Lindell Wigginton, the highly-touted recruit the Cyclones desperately needed in this class. I think you’ll see a lot of Jackson and Wigginton playing next to each other in the backcourt. Jackson is a bit small for the shooting guard spot but I think they can make it work. On Young, I think he’s a guy with a fair amount of upside. He showed as a freshman the ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor. I’ll be interested to see how he factors into a frontcourt that adds a pair of grad transfers in Jeff Beverly (UTSA) and Hans Brase (Princeton), but I think he has a chance to make a big jump as a sophomore. I think he’s about a 10 ppg, 6 rpg guy this season.

As for Diallo, his draft decision was incredibly fascinating. Being the unknown factor, his stock continued to rise throughout the process because of his incredible physical tools. However, he decided to return to school and play for John Calipari this season at Kentucky. After watching him with Team USA’s U19 team this summer, my opinion that he needs quite a bit of work was cemented. He was able to dominate in some facets with his elite athleticism, but showed the lack of polish and shooting ability that concerned me during the draft process. Honestly, I think he should have stayed in the draft, as I think he wouldn’t have fell past the mid-20’s and might have snuck into the lottery. Those flaws that were exposed in Cairo this summer could be further highlighted with a season of college basketball. So, I’ll put it this way: he badly needs the time in college. However, from a draft position perspective I’m not sure it was the right move.

 

Top Unsigned Grad Transfers That Will Impact the 2017-18 Season

By Kevin Sweeney

It’s August 8th, and many teams have finalized their rosters for the upcoming college basketball season. Summer practices are underway, and we are less than 50 days from the start of full practice in late September. However, the phrase “Never Stop Recruiting” rings true, as there are still plenty of talented players still available as grad transfers who will be immediately eligible for the 2017-18 season. So, let’s take a look at a few guys who are still available who, in the right situation, could be the piece that pushes a team over the top.

Bryan Alberts (Gonzaga)

Alberts’ numbers in his 2 seasons at Gonzaga weren’t impressive. However, that doesn’t mean that the 6-5 combo guard wouldn’t be a a very important add to a roster at this point. Alberts was unable to earn much playing time with the Bulldogs due to their outstanding guard depth, but he is an elite shooter, solid defender, and has NCAA Tournament experience. He had cut his list to 3 schools a few months ago (VCU, LBSU, and Weber State) but there has been little news on his recruitment since. VCU has since filled its final available scholarship, but Alberts could be the guy that makes LBSU or Weber State the favorite in their conference.

Update: Alberts has committed to Long Beach State.

Chuck Ester (Chattanooga)

Ester is the type of player that pretty much any team could use. In the words of Gene Henley of the Times Free Press: “He’s a versatile all-around player who can dribble, pass and shoot and can guard multiple positions”. The 6-7 Ester has the ability to help a team in a wide variety of ways, and that makes him such an intriguing option for teams looking for that final piece for the 2017-18 season. The only concern with Ester is that he’s coming off an ACL tear that caused him to miss this past season for Chattanooga. However, assuming he’s fully healthy, he could be a steal this late in the process.

Deontae Hawkins (Illinois State)

Hawkins is arguably the best player still available at this stage in the game. At 6-8, he can play both inside and out, averaging 14 points and 6.5 rebounds per game for a very good Illinois State team this past season. It has been reported that Hawkins plans to visit (if he hasn’t already) Gonzaga and New Mexico. At New Mexico, he’d immediately step into a starring role for a rebuilding Lobo squad. At Gonzaga, Hawkins would be looked to as the piece to push the Zags past St. Mary’s in the WCC, factoring into a frontcourt that already features Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie, and others. Wherever he lands, Hawkins should make a big impact.

Update: Hawkins has committed to Boston College.

Rashad Muhammad (Miami)

Muhammad is the biggest question mark still available. The 6-6 wing began his career with 2 seasons at San Jose State, where he averaged over 13 points per game. Then, he transferred to Miami, where he was eventually dismissed from the team without ever playing a game for the Canes. Now, he sits 2 years since playing his last collegiate game as a talented but unknown commodity. He took a visit to his hometown UNLV a few months ago, but there is little information about him available. The question is whether a team would risk bringing in a talented kid like Muhammad in given his checkered time in Miami. The talent is certainly there, that’s for sure.

Wes Myers (Maine)

Another guy who can really score the basketball, Myers highlighted his only season in Orono with 3 games of 30+ points. The 6-2 guard has received extensive interest from mid-major and some high-major programs since announcing his intention to transfer. Myers does come with some baggage, stemming from an incident in which he punched a teammate following an off-the-court dispute late last season, but he is very talented and would be a very nice add for a lot of programs at this point in the offseason.

Update: Myers has committed to South Carolina.

J-Mychal Reese (North Texas)

A former top-100 recruit, Reese hasn’t ever quite lived up to the hype he received coming out of high school. Still, he’s a proficient scorer and playmaker who averaged in double figures in each of his 2 seasons with North Texas. Reese could be slotted into a rotation as either a starter or as instant offense off the bench for a mid-major conference title contender in need of some scoring punch. After all, he posted double digit scoring outputs in 43 of his 61 games at UNT.

Terrence Thompson (Marshall)

Thompson recently announced his departure from the Marshall program, and is immediately one of the top big men on the market. The 6-7 forward posted 9.1 ppg and 6.5 rpg this past season for the Thundering Herd. He finishes well around the rim and is a solid rebounder who would fit right in as a rotation big at nearly any level. Thompson has been reportedly looking to go back home to North Carolina and pursue a Master’s degree in Business, which has caused speculation that Wake Forest is a fit for his services. The Demon Deacons are thin up front, are in North Carolina, and have one of the top business schools in the country. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Thompson landed with in the ACC with Wake Forest for his final year of eligibility.

Jack Whitman (William & Mary/Kansas)

After a very solid season at William & Mary in which he averaged over 10 points and 5 rebounds per game, Whitman elected to use the grad transfer rule. He initially chose Kansas over a host of high-major programs, but elected to leave the program before ever playing a game. Now, he’s again one of the better bigs on the market and will have plenty of suitors. It’s unclear what caused him to leave the Jayhawks, but it’s possible that he decided he’d like to have a chance for significant playing time in his final year of college basketball, something Kansas likely wouldn’t be able to offer. If that is the case, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him land at the mid-major level.

 

 

With Mitchell Robinson Gone from WKU, Who is the Favorite in the C-USA?

By Kevin Sweeney

The biggest story in college basketball this week is 5-star center Mitchell Robinson’s decision to transfer from Western Kentucky just a few weeks after arriving on campus in July. The move sent shockwaves throughout the country, and while the story that most national media will cover will be where Robinson will land next, I’ll be focusing on the impact it has on Conference USA. The top of the C-USA is now (if it wasn’t already) one of the most wide-open and exciting races in college basketball for the 2017-18 season, with several talented teams at the top duking it out for the top spot and likely the league’s only NCAA Tournament bid. So, I decided to take a look at the top contenders in the C-USA and make my early pick for conference champion.

The Contenders

Western Kentucky

Key newcomers: Lamonte Bearden (Buffalo), Darius Thompson (Virginia), Dwight Coleby (Kansas), Jordan Brangers (#3 JUCO player), Josh Anderson (4-star 2017 recruit), Moustapha Diagne (4-star JUCO player)

Key departures: Pancake Thomas (graduation), Que Johnson (graduation), Anton Waters (graduation), Junior Lomomba (graduation)

Key returners: Justin Johnson (14.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg)-will join team in January after playing for WKU football team.

It’s almost an entire roster of newcomers for Rick Stansbury’s club, but boy, are the Hilltoppers talented. Even with the devastating departure of Robinson, WKU has the best roster in the conference, whether it be proven D1 commodities like Bearden (13.7 ppg, 4.2 apg at Buffalo), Thompson (6.2 ppg at Virginia), and Coleby (5.6 mpg at Kansas), or highly-touted prospects like Brangers, Diagne, and Anderson who’ve never played D1 basketball. The big question is whether a team with that many new faces can come together and knock off more experienced teams like UAB, MTSU, and Louisiana Tech. The frontcourt minus Robinson is the biggest concern for me, as Johnson and 3-star Robinson Idehen won’t be able to play until January. Johnson’s effectiveness after a full football season is unknown, there isn’t much depth up front as it is. Stansbury will have to get creative with smaller lineups, especially if Johnson struggles to return to his typical form.

The Hilltoppers certainly have the pieces to win this conference, but their inexperience makes them one of the most fascinating teams to watch in all of college basketball this season.

UAB

Key newcomers: Zack Bryant (2-star 2017 recruit), Luis Hurtado (3-star 2017 recruit), Makhtar Gueye (3-star 2017 recruit), Jalen Perry (2-star JUCO prospect)

Key departures: Dirk Williams (graduation), Hakeem Baxter (graduation), Denzel Watts (graduation)

Key returners: William Lee (13.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.4 bpg), Chris Cokley (12.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Nick Norton (8.9 ppg, 5 apg in 2015-16)

Last season for the Blazers was derailed by injury, as a torn ACL for the point guard Norton plagued year 1 of the Robert Ehsan era in Birmingham. However, with Norton back and Bryant, who the UAB staff is incredibly high on, joining the fray, those point guard issues shouldn’t be a problem this season. With that pair of playmakers returning to help compliment one of the best mid-major frontcourts in Lee & Cokley, it seems more than possible that the Blazers could jump from 7th all the way to the top of the C-USA this season.

Middle Tennessee State

Key newcomers: Therren Shelton-Szmidt (2-star 2017 recruit), TJ Massenburg (2-star 2017 recruit), James Hawthorne (2-star JUCO prospect), Nick King (Alabama)

Key departures: Jacorey Williams (graduation), Reggie Upshaw (graduation), Xavier Habersham (graduation)

Key returners: Giddy Potts (15.3 ppg), Tyrik Dixon (5.6 ppg), Brandon Walters (4.9 ppg)

MTSU may not have the talent that UAB or WKU has, but the Blue Raiders bring back C-USA Player of the Year candidate Giddy Potts and a few other good contributors from last season’s championship campaign. Key will be the development of Brandon Walters, a load inside who really came into his own late last year, and Tyrik Dixon, a sure-handed PG coming off an excellent freshman campaign. Still, it won’t be easy to replace Williams and Upshaw, who were almost unstoppable last season. The x-factor for this Blue Raider team is grad transfer Nick King, a former top-50 recruit who never reached his potential in his first 3 collegiate seasons at Memphis and Alabama. If Kermit Davis can tap into that potential, he could be the piece that puts MTSU over the top in the C-USA.

My Pick

Honestly, any of these 3 teams could easily win the conference for the reasons I mentioned. It wouldn’t surprise me if it came down to a tiebreaker to see who gets the #1 seed in the conference tournament. Before the Robinson departure, I was all-in on Western Kentucky. Now, I’m rolling with UAB. Adding a pair of ball-handling guards in Norton and Bryant gives the Blazers a much scarier look offensively. Lee is the best big man in the conference, and his numbers should get a big boost from having guards who can get him better looks.

Who do you think will win Conference USA this season? Comment below or send me a tweet (handle is @CBB_Central). 

Mitchell Robinson Suspended Indefinitely by WKU

By Kevin Sweeney

The Mitchell Robinson saga continues.
Western Kentucky announced today that Robinson has been suspended indefinitely due to a violation of team rules. The move comes following reports this weekend of Robinson leaving the WKU program and cleaning out his dorm room. It's still very much unclear whether Robinson will ever play a game in a WKU uniform.

WKU head coach Rick Stansbury stunned the college basketball world when he landed the commitment of the 5-star center back in November, but that commitment has seemingly wavered multiple times. At one point, Robinson tweeted that he would be recommitting from WKU, but later deleted the tweet and claimed his account was hacked. A few weeks ago, many reported that Robinson was strongly considering other options, including going overseas to play professionally, rather than attend WKU. Shortly thereafter, he arrived on campus for summer practice and the Hilltoppers appeared to be in the clear. This situation can't have been helped by the July departure of assistant coach Shammond Williams, who is Robinson's godfather and played a significant role in the recruitment of Robinson to WKU.

Robinson may choose to wait out this suspension and play this season at WKU, or he could look at a variety of other options. He could look to transfer to another D1 program, in which he would need a release from his scholarship from WKU and a waiver from the NCAA to play this season. Otherwise, he'd have to redshirt, which wouldn't make a ton of sense for a player most consider a likely lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He could also look to turn pro now, with Australia, Europe, or China making sense as potential landing spots for a year of pro basketball.

More to come on this developing story.