With the lack of college basketball news in the month of August, its a pleasure to get any information that becomes available. Last week, the NCAA early-season tournaments revealed their brackets, so I thought it would be a good time to take an early look at the players to watch for these teams. Of course, as it gets closer to the season, I will look at these players in more detail.
The early-season tournament with the greatest tradition, and, easily, the best locale is the Maui Invitational. With another stacked field this year, let's take a look at each of these teams and for this blog's purposes, the potential NBA draftees.
While Gregg Marshall has put together a solid, competitive team, you are not going to find many future NBA draftees among the roster. If you were to focus on any of the players as future pros, take a look at Toure’ Murry, a smooth 6’4 shooting guard, and Garrett Stutz, a seven-foot junior. Murray has improved his jumper, but is much more comfortable working around the rim, and is a superb offensive rebounder for his size. A decent defender, he needs to work on his on-ball positioning. Stutz is a big-man project, but he has shown steady improvement over two seasons. He moves well for his size, though he needs to become more fluid with the movements. He has a nice shooting touch, and even has the ability to step out to long range and hit a few (though not really where he should be.) A strong game in the opener against UConn can start to get their names out there.
Though off-court distractions have seemed to take their toll on Coach Calhoun and the Husky program, UConn will come into the Maui with one of the better teams, including potential All-Americans in Kemba Walker and Ater Majok. Walker is the engine that makes the team run, one of the fastest point guards on the break you will ever see. He definitely improved his control from his freshman year to sophomore year, and I expect to see the same improvement in his junior year. We already knew about his court vision, but the second half of last season saw him pick up a bigger share of the scoring load. With a more talented team around him this season, I wouldn’t look for much improvement in his scoring numbers, but a nice drop in his turnovers. Majok is still extremely raw, though he should be much improved after missing the first semester last year. Once he was eligible, he played primarily on instinct, and still showed the ability to be a defensive stopper. On offense, he needs to be more aggressive looking for his shot, but I expect that to be different this season as well. As is usually the case, UConn will have a heralded group of freshman, any of the group capable of being a freshman superstar. Michael Bradley, Roscoe Smith, and Jeremy Lamb are all capable of playing major minutes right away for the Huskies, and I would expect Smith to be one of the top players out in Maui.
Even with the recent announcement that Chris Allen would not be returning to the program after a recent suspension and the summer fling between Tom Izzo and the NBA, the Spartans will be in great shape heading into Maui. Led by Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, Michigan State will continue to play Izzo’s style of basketball – tough on-ball defense and making the defense work while on offense. Lucas was on his way to being a potential first-round draft pick last season before a late-season ankle injury shelved that possibility. Lucas did a great job running the offense last season, though the team went through big stretches where it had trouble finding the basket. Lucas will need to work on becoming more of a threat from the perimeter to prevent the defense from sagging. This in turn should open up some room for Summers to do what he does best - going strong to the rim. Summers also showed improvement from the perimeter last season, but still isn’t completely confident outside of 10 feet. The other player to keep an eye on is Korie Lucious, who did a good job filling in for the injured Lucas last season, and provides Lucas the opportunity to operate from the wing if necessary.
I would be lying if I said I knew anything about the Chaminade players, but I hope to learn more before the tourney.
It may be hard to quantify, but losing Willie Warren, Tommy Mason-Griffin and Tiny Gallon is going to make Oklahoma a much better team. If nothing else, Coach Jeff Capel should enjoy coaching this team a lot more. While the talent level is not the same, the cabinet will be replenished soon enough. This season will give some players a chance to shine, and the two I will keep an eye on for the long term are newcomers Carl Blair and Cameron Clark. Blair is a transfer of New Orleans, and because they are going through the re-classification process to become D-III, Blair is eligible to play right away. He has good size for a point guard and comes into the program with some experience. Clark is an athletic wing who has a good first step and does a good job creating separation for his shot. Both players should have a shot at being difference-makers right away for the Sooners.
Another year, another elite recruiting class for John Calipari. And, like last year’s group, don’t expect many of these players to stick around long. Led by potential lottery picks Enes Kanter, Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, and Doron Lamb, this Wildcat team will show more of the same as last year’s group, but without the leadership of a player like Patrick Patterson. Expect the group to look extremely sloppy early on as they work on finding their roles on the court. Kanter will be the one most likely to dominate early. A skilled big-man with great footwork and touch around the rim, Kanter has the ability to put up a double-double from Day 1. Jones will need to work hard on his shot-selection, but he should thrive in the offense by the time the conference schedule starts. Knight and Lamb are not as good a duo as Wall and Bledsoe, but both will be lethal in transition. Again, the lack of leadership will be apparent throughout the season, and this will be another team which will come up short come tournament time.
The departure of Sylven Landesberg will leave a huge scoring void for Virginia, but what is left is a good, young team which should make their mark in another year or two. Of the veterans, keep an eye on big Mike Scott, a bull down low, who knows how to use his body on both ends of the floor. Also, keep an eye on freshman KT Harrell who should be able to get some solid minutes at shooting guard from Day 1. A good shooter with good instincts to get to the basket, Harrell should be able to fill some of Landesberg’s missing point production once he becomes comfortable at the NCAA level. As with any Tony Bennett-coached team, look for this Virginia squad to play tough defense and be extremely disciplined.
While last year’s team leader, Quincy Pondexter, has moved on to the NBA, there is plenty to still be excited about for Huskies fans. Guards Isaiah Thomas and Abdul Gaddy are back for Washington, as well as forward Justin Holiday. Thomas, who is listed at a generous 5’9, finds ways to get to the rim and can be dangerous in the open court. Of course, his lack of size makes it tough for him to operate on the perimeter, but he can nail the open jumper. Gaddy did not have the freshman year that many expected out of him, especially shooting-wise. I expect him to be much more confident on the court this season and to show more of the Gaddy we saw in high school. Defensively, both players do a good job pressuring the ball, but are susceptible to perimeter shooters. Freshman Terrence Ross could provide a spark for the team off the bench, but is likely another year away from being a real threat.
Watch the rest of the week for more Pre-previews of the Early season tournament. Next up – the CBE.