FIBA U19 World Cup Primer: All You Need to Know About D1 Players Participating

By Kevin Sweeney

If you are anything like me, the 135 days until the college basketball season (it’s not like I’m counting down or anything) is just too long to wait. I am constantly looking for chances to watch current and the next wave of college basketball stars in action. With the FIBA Under-19 World Cup set to begin Saturday, July 1, we get the opportunity to do just that. The most talented young basketball players in the world from 16 different countries convene in Cairo, Egypt for a 9-day tournament. So, here’s all you need to know about this event from a college basketball perspective.

The Teams

Angola

Current/committed D1 players: None

Other potential collegiate players of note:

  • Silvio de Sousa (2018 4-star at IMG Academy)
  • Rifen Miguel (2018, mid-major offers)

The Scoop:

Angola is growing as a basketball power at a rapid pace, with more and more players from the African nation beginning to get D1 looks. While this team is weakened by not having Maryland signee Bruno Fernandes for this event, look out for Angolan players to begin coming through the D1 ranks in the coming years.

Argentina

Current/committed D1 players: None

Other players of note: None

The Scoop:

The country that produced NBA players such as Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, and Pablo Prigioni, Argentina is no stranger to success on the basketball court. Ranked 7th in the world, this Argentinian team should be very competitive at this event, fielding a team made up of players almost entirely from professional rosters.

Canada

It’s game day! Our U19 Men take on 🇱🇹 in exhibition play this morning at 9 AM EST. Stay tuned for score updates #WeAreTeamCanada

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Current/committed D1 players:

  • Amidou Bamba (Rising sophomore at CCU)
  • Nate Darling (Rising sophomore at UAB)
  • Danilo Djuricic (Harvard signee)
  • Abu Kigab (Oregon signee)
  • Anthony Longpre (St. Joseph’s signee)
  • Prince Oduro (Siena signee)
  • Lindell Wigginton (Iowa State signee)

Other players of note: 

  • Emanuel Miller (2019 prospect with offers from St. Bonaventure and Oklahoma)
  • RJ Barrett (Top player in 2019 class per ESPN, plays at Montverde Academy)

The Scoop:

Other than the USA team, Canada has the most D1 talent of any team at this event. From high-major newcomers like Kigab and Wigginton to a likely 2020 lottery pick in Barrett (or 2019 if he reclassifies), to a slew of guys ready to contribute at the mid-major level, this team is loaded even with some top players choosing to skip the event.

Egypt

Current/committed D1 players:

  • Omar El Sheikh (Fairfield signee)

Other players of note: None

The Scoop:

The hosts of this event, Egypt brings an experienced team from its time playing last summer at the U18 African Championship. Now, El Sheikh, an athletic wing who played at The Knox School this season and will head to Fairfield in the fall, joins the fray. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Egyptians make some noise in their home country.

France

Current/committed D1 players:

  • Killian Tillie (Rising sophomore at Gonzaga)

Other players of note: None

The Scoop:

Another international basketball power, France will look to Tillie and a host of current international players to carry the load. One of the tallest teams in the tournament with an average height of 6-7, the French might be one of the few teams that can match up size-wise with the Americans in this event.

Germany

Current/committed D1 players:

  • Oscar Da Silva (Stanford signee)

Other players of note: 

  • Richard Freudenberg (Played 1 season at St. John’s before pursuing pro career)

The Scoop:

The vast majority of this team is made up of players who play professionally in Germany with the exception of Da Silva, who will join Stanford’s talented roster this coming season. With many players returning from last year’s semifinal run in the U18 European Championships, these players will be hungry to make another run in this year’s tournament.

Iran

Current/committed D1 players: None

Other players of note: None

The Scoop:

From a D1 fan’s perspective, this Iran team isn’t very interesting. To my knowledge, none of the players on the roster are at all likely to play college basketball. One of the lower-ranked teams in the tournament, I’m not expecting a deep run from this Iran squad.

Italy

Current/committed D1 players: 

  • Alessandro Lever (Grand Canyon signee)

NOTE: Lever’s status for the tournament is in doubt due to an ankle injury.

Other players of note: None

The Scoop:

Lever is the most interesting player for the American college hoops fan on this Italian team, as the talented forward could help Grand Canyon to their first-ever NCAA Tournament this coming season. The other players mostly play professionally in Italy. This team will likely provide the biggest test of the group stage for the USA squad.

Japan

Current/committed D1 players: 

  • Avi Schafer (Georgia Tech commit, walk-on?)
  • Rui Hachimura (Rising sophomore at Gonzaga)

Other players of note:

  • Taiga Kagitomi (2018 prospect at St. Thomas More prep)

The Scoop:

The Japanese squad is very undersized, with an average height of just 6-2. The intrigue here is Hachimura, a guy expected to play a big role on a reloading Gonzaga team this season. Zags fans will certainly be watching closely to see if Hachimura and Tillie are the next international players to star in Spokane.

Korea

Current/committed D1 players: None

Other players of note: None

The Scoop:

Korea is improving as a basketball-playing country, but there isn’t much intrigue from an American perspective other than the opportunity to potentially see a guy who one day could be the first Korean to ever make the NBA.

Lithuania

Current/committed D1 players: None

Other players of note: 

  • Donatas Kupsas (Multiple D1 offers for 2018 class, plays at Long Island Lutheran)

The Scoop:

Ranked 2nd in the world, Lithuania should be one of the top teams in the tournament. The small nation of under 3 million has become a strong basketball nation. I had hoped to see Lithuanian native and Northwestern redshirt freshman Rapolas Ivanauskas playing for this squad, but it appears he won’t be participating in the event. Still, watch out for this team to make noise this coming week and a half.

Mali

Current/committed D1 players: None

Other players of note: 

  • Blaise Keita (2019 prospect playing for MOKAN and Sunrise Christian Academy)

The Scoop:

Ranked 30th in the world, I don’t expect much from Mali in this event. Like Angola, it is growing as a basketball-playing nation, and these events are excellent to chart the progress.

New Zealand

Current/committed D1 players:

  • Quinn Clinton (St. Mary’s commit 2018)
  • Tobias Cameron (Abilene Christian signee)
  • Isaac Letoa (Dartmouth signee)
  • Angus McWilliam (TCU commit 2018)
  • Sam Waardenburg (Miami signee)
  • Tai Wynyard (Rising sophomore at Kentucky)

Other players of note: None

The Scoop:

New Zealand is one of the more interesting teams in this event with their glut of D1 players (3rd only to Canada and the USA). Wynyard has yet to earn much playing time at Kentucky, but is one of the most talented players in the tournament. Other future power conference players in Waardenburg and McWilliam make this team dangerous.

Puerto Rico

Current/committed D1 players:

  • Leandro Allende (Rising sophomore at Citadel)
  • Jorge Pacheco (Rising sophomore at Liberty)
  • Brandon Davis (UCSB signee)
  • Jesus Cruz (Fairfield signee)

Other players of note: None

The Scoop:

A rare team in this event with multiple players who have played significant minutes at the D1 level, Puerto Rico shouldn’t be slept on in this event. They won’t have enough talent to seriously challenge the USA, but a semifinal run wouldn’t surprise me.

Spain

Current/committed D1 players:

  • Joshua Tomaic (redshirt freshman at Maryland)

Other players of note:

  • Eric Vila (Undecided Texas A&M transfer)

The Scoop:

Spain is arguably the most successful basketball nation outside of the United States in the world. Players such as the Gasol brothers have donned the Spanish jersey in international competition before. This team features a boatload of overseas talent and a player in Tomaic who is raw but very talented. A contender for sure in Egypt.

United States

Current/committed D1 players:

  • Payton Pritchard (rising sophomore at Oregon)
  • Carsen Edwards (rising sophomore at Purdue)
  • Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky signee)
  • Josh Okogie (rising sophomore at Georgia Tech)
  • Kevin Huerter (rising sophomore at Maryland)
  • Austin Wiley (rising sophomore at Auburn)
  • PJ Washington (Kentucky signee)
  • Brandon McCoy (UNLV signee)

Other players of note: 

  • Immanuel Quickley (2018 5-star prospect)
  • Cameron Reddish (2018 5-star prospect)
  • Louis King (2018 5-star prospect)
  • Romeo Langford (2018 5-star prospect)

The Scoop:

This USA team is far and away the most talented team in the tournament. There are guys who didn’t even get CONSIDERED for this team that would be top players on opposing teams. If they are upset, it will be a complete stunner. Still, I’m excited to watch guys like Wiley, Huerter, and Pritchard, who are potential breakout guys in college basketball.

8 Non-Americans I Can’t Wait to Watch

I’m pretty familiar with all the players playing for the USA team. However, this tournament provides the opportunity to see guys who could make an impact on the college basketball landscape this season who most have never heard of.

  1. Lindell Wigginton (Iowa State, Canada): Expectations are very high for Wigginton, Steve Prohm’s prized guard recruit at Iowa State. Wigginton must play extremely well this season for the Cyclones if ISU wants to reach its 7th straight NCAA Tournament. The talented guard should star in Cairo this coming week in a prelude of things to come in Ames this winter.
  2. Killian Tillie (Gonzaga, France): Like Wigginton at Iowa State, Tillie will have to play well for his Gonzaga team to make up for the losses of Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski. Tillie impressed in limited minutes for the Bulldogs this season, but this event will provide a chance for Zags fans to see him play significant minutes in meaningful games.
  3. Angus McWilliam (TCU commit 2018, New Zealand): The only 2018 kid to make this list, McWilliam is a talented big man who will head to Fort Worth in 2018. Meanwhile, he’s a key piece on this NZL team looking to make a deep run at this World Cup. Horned Frog fans hope that McWilliams winds up as successful as Jamie Dixon’s last New Zealand big man, Steven Adams.
  4. Jorge Pacheco (Liberty, Puerto Rico): Pacheco had a very solid freshman season at Liberty, averaging 8.6 ppg with a 2.31 assist-to-turnover ratio. Now, the rising sophomore gets a chance to play against some of the world’s best as he looks to take his game to the next level for a Liberty team that should contend in the Big South next season.
  5. Prince Oduro (Siena, Canada): A talented recruit who got high-major looks after signing with Jimmy Patsos and the Saints, Oduro might start at center for this talented Canadian squad. One of the early favorites for MAAC Freshman of the Year, Oduro will be a key for Siena as they hope to stay near the top of the MAAC despite losing 4 senior starters.
  6. Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga, Japan): The star of this Japan team, Hachimura will get to show off his talents on the national stage in what could be a prelude to things to come in Spokane. The talented wing could play a big role on a reloading Gonzaga club this season.
  7. Abu Kigab (Oregon, Canada): Between transfers, the NBA Draft, and graduation, Oregon’s roster will be filled with new faces this season. One of those faces is Kigab, the highly-touted wing who could see immediate action with the Ducks. Look for him to play a big role for this Canadian team in Cairo.
  8. Alessandro Lever (Grand Canyon, Italy): A skilled forward who had high-major interest before signing with the Lopes, Lever could contribute right away in Phoenix. For now though, he is tasked with helping Italy try for a deep run in the FIBA World Cup.

NOTE: Lever’s status for the event is in doubt with an ankle injury.

 

Which Mid-Major Stars Will Be Next to Get Drafted?

By Kevin Sweeney

The 2017 NBA Draft cycle is finally over, meaning that we are officially allowed to look ahead to the 2018 draft class. As we saw this year with guys such as Cam Oliver (Nevada), it is increasingly difficult for mid-major players to work their way onto draft boards. Still, there are plenty of guys coming from non-power conferences that I believe have a real shot at walking across that stage donning a semi-ridiculous-looking suit and fulfilling their lifelong dream of being drafted into the NBA. Here’s my early take on which mid-major players have the best chance of being drafted in 2018. 

Mitchell Robinson (Western Kentucky)

The one mid-major guy I 100% guarantee will get drafted next June is Mitchell Robinson, Rick Stansbury’s prized recruit at Western Kentucky. The 5-star center is a top-10 player in the 2017 recruiting rankings and is considered a lottery pick in most early 2018 mock drafts. Robinson has tremendous upside and already is an excellent rim protector as the second-best shot-blocker in NIKE EYBL history. He also has a solid stroke from midrange that will improve over time. Robinson will likely be the anchor of a WKU squad expected to compete for a Conference USA title in what will probably be his only season in Bowling Green. 

Alize Johnson (Missouri State)

A year ago, most of us had no idea who Alize Johnson was. A junior college product, Johnson impressed in his first season at Missouri State, earning first team all-MVC honors. Now, he’s one of the most intriguing prospects in this 2018 class. At 6-9 with freakish athleticism, Johnson is a force on the glass, averaging a double-double this season with 14.8 ppg and 10.6 rpg. However, he’s also more than capable of stretching the floor, as he drained more than one triple per game at a 38% clip. To me, Johnson is the perfect modern NBA power forward and will find his way onto draft boards next June. 

Peyton Aldridge (Davidson)

If you thought Aldridge’s numbers this past season were impressive (20.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) were impressive, imagine what he’ll do this season now that he’s the primary option on offense. With Jack Gibbs graduating, Aldridge will now be the star for a Davidson team that should be a factor in the A10. Aldridge’s NBA prospects will likely be dependent partially on how he measures: if he comes in on the taller end of 6-8, he will be able to project as an NBA stretch 4. For now though, we know Aldridge has at least 1 NBA trait: he is an ELITE shooter. I could see him as a 50-40-90 guy in the NBA. 

Kevin Hervey (UT-Arlington)

Hervey was definitely on track to be an NBA draftee before he tore his ACL midway through the 2015-16. He came back in the 2016-17 season and still put up good numbers, but at times wasn’t himself. With a offseason to improve his game and get more comfortable on his knee, Hervey should be even better in his senior campaign. His long wingspan and floor-spacing ability at 6-9 makes him an interesting prospect, assuming there are no lingering concerns about his knee. 

Jaylen Adams (Saint Bonaventure)

There was only one player in college basketball this season who averaged over 20 points and 6 assists per game. That wasn’t #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, polarizing UCLA star Lonzo Ball, or another top-5 draftee in De’Aaron Fox. It was Adams, the star at St. Bonaventure who is returning for his senior season in Olean. One of the players who explored the draft process this season before electing to return to school, I expect Adams to get serious looks from NBA squads next June. While Adams isn’t an explosive athlete for an NBA guard, he is an excellent passer and shooter who is capable of making plays off the bounce and in transition. When Adams gets hot from deep, he’s capable of taking over games, and he’s going contend for every major award in college basketball this season. 

Johnathan Williams (Gonzaga)

For the sake of this piece, I’ll consider Gonzaga a mid-major because of the conference they play in. Williams seemed to be on the fence about returning to Gonzaga or turning pro for the 2017 draft, but elected to remain in Spokane for his senior season. With a loaded frontcourt that featured mammoth center Przemek Karnowski and top 10 pick Zach Collins, Williams didn’t have to do too much offensively. Still, he was an efficient scorer and an excellent defender, ranking 7th nationally in defensive win shares. Now, with Collins and Karnowski gone, Williams will be the alpha-dog up front, and will put up huge numbers as a result. Look for Williams to be a guy hearing his name called next June. 

Mike Daum (South Dakota State)

Daum will be one of the most interesting players to watch in college basketball next season. While Daum is undoubtably one of the best players in the country and has little left to prove in the Summit League, his game isn’t a perfect fit in the NBA. While a tremendous shooter and rebounder, he isn’t as agile as most NBA 4’s, but he’s not truly an NBA center either. The question will be whether Daum elects to stay at SDSU for his senior season, chooses to enter the draft, or use the grad transfer rule (he redshirted as a freshman and will likely be on track to graduate next spring) to go up to a power conference school. Should he enter the draft, I still believe that a guy who averaged perhaps 30 ppg and 10 rpg would get draft consideration in the second round despite his imperfect fit in the NBA. 

Other names to watch: Markis McDuffie (Wichita State), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), William Lee (UAB), Jock Landale (St. Mary’s), Jonathan Stark (Murray State). 

Which mid-major stars do you think will get drafted next season? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@CBB_Central). 

BREAKING: IUPUI Invited to Horizon League

By Kevin Sweeney

The Horizon League has added a new member. 

According to Tony Paul if the Detroit News, IUPUI has been invited to join the Horizon League. Assuming they accept, they will be the 10th team in the conference, replacing Valparaiso, who left in May to join the Missouri Valley. 

The move is stunning on many levels, as it appeared just a few days ago that the Horizon League would stay at 9 teams for the 2017-18 season and then add up to 5 additional teams following the coming season. It’s unclear at this time whether IUPUI will join for this season should they accept this invitation. 

In addition, IUPUI was not expected to receive the invitation due to their lack of a baseball team. It had been reported that the Horizon League needed to add a school with a baseball team to maintain enough teams to remain its NCAA Tournament autobid. 

However, IUPUI made sense from the perspective of fitting the league’s style of public universities located in cities. IUPUI has a beautiful campus in Indianapolis, an area the Horizon League covers. 

From a basketball perspective, IUPUI doesn’t raise the profile of the league too much. The program has struggled recently, but has seen some success early in this millennium, with 3 20-win seasons and 1 NCAA Tournament bid. 

Still, I doubt that the Horizon League is done expanding. While expansion is likely done for this offseason, I expect 2-4 more teams to be invited next offseason. Schools such as Robert Morris, Omaha, Grand Canyon, and NMSU figure to receive consideration. 

Meanwhile, the Summit League now has a void. While North Dakota will join the league in 2018-19, it remains to be seen whether the Summit will look to add a team. They could add UMKC, a program that recently was in the Summit but left for the WAC.  
MORE TO COME ON THIS DEVELOPING STORY

Milwaukee Hires Pat Baldwin as Head Coach

By Kevin Sweeney

Milwaukee thought it had its head coach of the future.

Just a year ago, following the stunning firing of Rob Jeter, the Panthers hired Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan to be its head coach. Jordan seemingly had the program headed in the right direction after one season, but he left for Butler 8 days ago following the hiring of Chris Holtmann at Ohio State.

Now, Milwaukee will look to one of the top candidates from last season’s search to take over the reigns of the program.

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Northwestern assistant Pat Baldwin has been hired as the head coach of Milwaukee. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish was first to report this news. Baldwin spent 4 seasons on Chris Collins’ staff at Northwestern and helped lead the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. Baldwin has also worked on staffs at Missouri State, Loyola-Chicago, and Green Bay, so he has deep ties to the midwest region.

Baldwin was a standout guard for Northwestern during his playing career, and has gained a strong reputation for his work developing guards such as Blake Shib (Loyola), JR Blount (Loyola), Marcus Marshall (Missouri State), and Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern).

At this time, Milwaukee has one scholarship available for the 2017-18 season. However, as we saw last season when Jeter was fired, it is very possible that the Milwaukee roster could see plenty of turnover as a result of this coaching change. Currently, the Panthers return 4 starters from last season’s team, which looks to continue the momentum from a surprising run to the Horizon League title game.

 

 

3 Up, 3 Down: A Look at Which Mid-Major Leagues Will be Weaker or Stronger than They Were Last Season

By Kevin Sweeney

The nature of mid-major basketball is a cyclic one. Since mid-major programs typically rely on the development of players over 4 seasons to form winning teams, it is natural to have good and bad years. In some cases, this cyclic nature can lead to entire conferences being “down” or “up” depending on the year. As rosters begin to be finalized for the 2017-18 season, it is a good time take a look at which mid-major conferences look strong for the coming season and which leagues won’t reach the level they have in years past.

Up

Conference USA

While there has been perhaps no conference more decimated by realignment than the C-USA, it should finally take a turn for the better this season. The biggest riser is Western Kentucky, who will be the most talented mid-major in the country this season. Rick Stansbury has brought in a top-10 recruiting class along with multiple key transfers to completely overhaul the WKU roster. In addition, UAB is expected to rebound from a rough 2016-17 thanks to the return of several key contributors and the introduction of a very strong recruiting class in its own right. Combine those two rising teams with squads like Middle Tennessee, LA Tech, and Old Dominion that should be extremely good, and you get a Conference USA that will assert itself as one the top mid-major leagues in the country.

Ivy League

Gone are the days that drawing an Ivy League opponent in the NCAA Tournament was good news for the blue-blood playing them. The Ivy has become one of the most dangerous “giant-killer” conferences in college basketball, and the league will be even stronger this season. Harvard continues to kill it on the recruiting trail and brings back a ton of talent from last season. Yale gets back a guy in Makai Mason who may be the favorite for Ivy League Player of the Year after missing last season with a foot injury. Princeton brings back a solid nucleus of talent highlighted by rising junior guard Devin Cannady, and Columbia and Penn could take the next step into being title contenders this season. The battle to just get into the conference tournament will be a difficult one, and whoever earns the Ivy’s auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament will be a team no high-major will want to face.

West Coast Conference

Much has been made about the WCC having the least parity of any conference in college basketball. Gonzaga and St. Mary’s dominate every season, while BYU is also often an NCAA Tournament contender. Finally, the rest of the league is showing signs of life. Kyle Smith did an outstanding job in his first season at San Francisco, and he has the Dons headed in the right direction with a young, talented core. Pacific gets a trio of talented transfers eligible as they look to overhaul their roster and move up the standings in the WCC. Santa Clara added one of the best available grad transfers in Henry Caruso (Princeton) and bring back 3 starters, including a potential all-league player in KJ Feagin. While the 2 typical powers will still likely dominate the league, the WCC will be much more competitive top-to-bottom than it has been in years past.

Down

MAAC

When thinking about which conferences will be down from last season, the first league that comes to mind is the MAAC. Going through things, its hard to find a team that DOESN’T lose a lot of production from last season. Monmouth, Rider, and Siena each lose 4 starters, while a number of other squads saw 3 starters depart to graduation or transferring. Just 5 of the 15 members of the all-conference teams return to the MAAC for this season. Iona is the early favorite despite losing its top 3 scorers from last season, as they bring back star point guard Rickey McGill to head what should be a loaded backcourt. Still, a host of question marks face the majority of MAAC squads, making it a league that I project won’t be quite as good as it typically is.

Missouri Valley

The Missouri Valley loses its premier program in Wichita State and its top returning program in Illinois State saw its roster decimated by transfers. Because of this, the MVC is clearly in for a down year. While Valparaiso was a solid addition to the conference who will be competitive in year one, it seems highly unlikely that “The Valley” can return to form as a multi-bid league this season. As of now, I’d call the favorites to be Loyola (Chicago), Missouri State, and Northern Iowa, but things are wide open in the Missouri Valley this coming season.

NEC

It’s hard to consider a season a “down” year when you will likely still be ranked the same as you were the previous year. Still, I’d make an argument that the NEC will be down this season from the standpoint of what it could have been without transfers. It has been well-publicized (by me at least) the transfer epidemic that has hit the NEC this offseason, with talented players announcing their intent to transfer one after another. Just as you think the league is done taking hits, you are blindsided by yet another name stating that they too will be leaving for greener pastures. Teams like Mount St. Mary’s and Bryant could have asserted themselves as mid-majors to watch this season. Instead, they’ve seen their talented youngsters leave, and the NEC appears to once again be a “16-seed league”.

Why Western Kentucky is No Guarantee to Run Through C-USA

By Kevin Sweeney

Last offseason, Western Kentucky hired Texas A&M assistant and former Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury to run their program. Since, WKU has been a menace on the recruiting trail, landing the 9th best 2017 recruiting class in the country along with a few impact transfers. The Hilltoppers will be unquestionably talented, especially for a team that plays in a mid-major conference.

Many, including myself, have predicted big things for Western Kentucky this season. There are most peoples’ pick to win Conference USA and some are even considering them the top mid-major in the country for next season. I recently predicted that they would win the C-USA this season. However, it isn’t as easy as it seems to take the step to pick WKU to have a huge upcoming season. After all, this situation of having such few returning contributors but so many talented players entering the fray is very rare.

Being talented doesn’t mean success is guaranteed. This article will look at a similar situation to this one from just a few years ago to see how likely it is Stansbury’s band of talented newcomers will live up to the hype. That comparison: the 2014-15 UNLV Rebels.

In the 2014 recruiting period, then-UNLV head coach Dave Rice brought in the 4th-ranked class in the country. That class, headlined by the #12 recruit in college basketball in Rashad Vaughn, featured a pair of 5-star prospects, two 4-star prospects, and a three-star prospect. However, only one player who had played more than 20 minutes per game the previous season returned (Jelan Kendrick played 20.8 minutes per game), leaving the Rebels lacking experience.

Let’s compare that to this 2017 Western Kentucky class. As I mentioned earlier, it was ranked as the 9th-best in the country. The top player, 5-star center Mitchell Robinson, was ranked 8th nationally. In addition to Robinson, the HIlltoppers bring in two 4-star prospects and two 3-star prospects (as well as a pair of 2-stars). Just like UNLV in 2014-15, the Hilltoppers will bring back just 1 player who averaged more than 20 minutes per game (Justin Johnson averaged 31.4 minutes per game). Even Johnson is no guarantee to see action this season, as he will be playing football, then may return to the basketball team following the bowl game.

Still, experience isn’t necessary when there is that much talent on a roster, right? Wrong. While we see John Calipari’s Kentucky teams have no issue relying on almost exclusively freshmen each year, that is the exception, not the rule. Over the last 3 years, of players ranked from 26-50 in the national recruiting rankings, just 21.3% contributed more than 3 win shares as a freshman. Sure, the typical one-and-done freshman can help carry a team to success, but a highly-rated guy who is expected to stay for more than one year isn’t likely to make a national splash.

So, let’s draw that back to our UNLV/WKU connection. Each class had one player in the top 15 (what I deem 1-and-done range) and the rest are above 25th. At UNLV, things played out just as the numbers projected. The highest-touted prospect in Vaughn had a big year, averaging almost 18 points per game in his only season in Las Vegas. However, the other recruits made less of an impact. The next-highest rated player, Dwayne Morgan, posted just 5.3 ppg and 3.0 rpg. After Morgan was Goodluck Okonoboh, who averaged 5.7 ppg and 4.5 rpg. 3-stars Patrick McCaw and Jordan Cornish posted 9.6 and 5.5 points per game, respectively.

So, how did this talented UNLV team do? They stumbled to just a 17-15 mark against D1 competition, going just 8-10 in Mountain West play. This wasn’t an outstanding year for the Mountain West, either. It ranked 13th in conference RPI that season, per WarrenNolan.com, a mark I anticipate being right around where the C-USA falls this season. Vaughn did miss the final 9 games of the season with an injury, but UNLV went 4-5 in those games, compared to 5-6 in the 11 preceding games (all conference tilts).

Now, this comparison isn’t perfect. It fails to account for the fact that Western Kentucky also brings in a pair of experienced transfers in guards Lamonte Bearden (Buffalo) and Darius Thompson (Virginia), along with the fact that Justin Johnson is a better returning player than Jelan Kendrick. In addition, WKU brings back a pair of talented forwards who redshirted this season in 4-star Moustapha Diagne and 3-star Robinson Idehen. It is worth noting, however, that UNLV’s second-leading scorer (and arguably best player) on that 2014-15 team was former top recruit Christian Wood, who was a sophomore that season.

I do still expect Western Kentucky to win 20 or more games and contend for a Conference USA title. However, this example does go to show that highly-rated incoming talent doesn’t necessarily equate to wins. This expectation that the top recruits (with the exception of Robinson) will simply walk in and immediately be starting caliber players isn’t likely to be reality.

All statistics used in this article are per sportsreference.com unless otherwise specified. All recruiting rankings and information are per 247sports.com, unless otherwise specified.