Just a few days into the fresh college basketball season, Courtside examines some of the most slept on teams going in the 2018-2019 Men’s NCAA Basketball season.
It’s hard not to get excited about this Indiana Hoosiers basketball team going into this college basketball season. The amount of potential they have provided with the depth that the team has been lacking in past years. The Hoosiers in the last 15 years have missed the big dance eight times, only advancing past the first weekend three times. Indiana looks to change that narrative, and that starts with a Top-10 recruiting class in the nation. Incoming Five-Star recruit Romeo Langford and Four-Star recruit Jerome Hunter are the headliners. Langford (19 points in his debut game) is the type of player that can instantly change your entire program from top to bottom. Hunter will come in and instantly challenge returning forward Justin Smith for minutes. Joining the two young guns, are proven players like Juwan Morgan, De’ron Davis, and Zach McRoberts. They all look to contribute to showing how deep this Hoosiers team goes. With the immense amount of depth and potential star power Indiana as they will be hard to beat.
Alabama Crimson Tide
It’s hard for Alabama fans even to give an ounce of thought about basketball when Nick Saban is coaching. Sorry Crimson Tide fans but you have a basketball team that is coming for the world of college basketball. Everyone remembers last year’s tournament run with lottery pick Colin Sexton but overlooked just how talented this team is. Last season this team was one of the youngest teams in men’s college basketball. Big man Donta Hall (11ppg) and sharpshooter John Petty (10ppg) look to fill the big shoes left by Sexton and prove they can legitimately challenge Kentucky. Players like Tevin Mack and Kira Lewis are ready to join this team after missing last season. Alabama is loaded with talent and has the depth for a run late in March. Look for the Alabama Crimson Tide to be a major player in the landscape of college basketball.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois basketball won a total of four games last season in conference play. They haven’t finished with a .500 record in the Big Ten since 2014-2015. Brad Underwood is entering his second season as Head Coach and looks to improve a defense who gave up 74 points per game last season. Kent State transfer Adonis De La Rosa will help by bringing over 11.8 points per game and seven boards. The recruiting class consists of two-four-star recruits who should make an immediate impact in College Basketball. Combo guard Ayo Dosunumu will do just that, the 32nd ranked recruit in the nation. Trent Fraizer (12ppg) and Aaron Jordan (7.9ppg) are the two keys to this Illinois team. With Fraizer and Jordan taking that next step combined with their depth, this team is loaded with talent.
New Mexico Lobos
One of the most interesting teams at the start of this season has to be the New Mexico Lobos. With only one returning starter, guard Dane Kuiper and one of the most talented transfer classes of all time. Jaquan Lyle, Vance Jackson, and Carlton Bragg were all once Five-Star recruits. The most proven of the three is Lyle who averaged 11 points per game and four assists as a Buckeye. Joining them will be Anthony Mathis who averaged 12 points a game last season and will now join the starting lineup. Look for Mathis to take a huge step forward and be the teams leading scorer. Mathis connected on an impressive 47.3 percent of his 207 attempts from beyond the arc last season. Coach Paul Weir took a much less talented team to the Mountain West Championship, look for this New Mexico team to make noise in college basketball.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers entered the season with one of the most talented but slept on rosters in College Basketball. After a 22-win season, fans are excited around this program, and they have a right to be. James Palmer Jr is the best player on this team and last year was First-team all-conference. If Palmer Jr has another season like he did last year, then he will be hearing his name called by commissioner Adam Silver soon enough. Isaac Copeland and Isaiah Roby are the two X-factors for Nebraska this season. Copeland, a former 5-star recruit to Georgetown, came to Nebraska and had found a home truly shining in Coach Miles system. Roby is one of the most exciting players to watch in college basketball and if he can fulfill his potential, watch out. Look for the Cornhuskers to finally get their first NCAA Tournament to win this year.
St. John’s Red Storm
The St.John’s Red Storm hired the legendary sharpshooter Chris Mullin four years ago. Enter the Fourth season for the Head Coach and the fan base is starving for a consistent college basketball program. Last season the Red Storm was one of the worst rebounding teams in the NCAA grabbing only 46 percent of rebounds. With Tariq Owens leaving it puts a big question mark around this offense. Players like Sedee Keita transfer from South Carolina and Freshmen Josh Roberts a 3-star recruit from Montverde Academy will need to step up. Guard Shamorie Ponds is one of the most dynamic players in the country. He has already scored 1,000 career points for the Red Storm and averaged 21 points per game last season. His play style is so versatile and really sets the tone for this St. John’s offense. The real X-Factor here is Mustapha Heron, a former Auburn Tiger who averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds last season. If he is granted eligibility, this St.John’s backcourt will rival for the best in the country. Chris Mullin is 38–60 overall and 12–42 in the Big East in three seasons on the job. At some point, he will start winning games, and this team will take the next step. That time is now, watch out college basketball for this high powered St. John’s team.
Auburn is no longer just a football school. The Tigers have continued to build their college basketball program under Bruce Pearl. Going from a middle of the pack SEC team in 2016 to a conference contender and a real threat. Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley are the two names to keep an eye on. They were ruled ineligible by the NCAA last season, but they are back and more motivated than ever. Purifoy, the #66 recruit in the class of 2016 per ESPN, should regain his starting spot, taking over for Heron. At 6’7”, Purifoy has more size than Heron and has the skill set to be equally as effective on both sides of the ball. On defense, he can switch to multiple spots; on offense, he’s a very efficient shooter (37% as a freshman from three). With Mustapha Heron leaving to St. John’s it leaves a big question mark about leadership. Jared Harper who averaged 15 points and four assists last season much take a much larger role. Auburn’s offense is pace and space, and this play style works very efficiently for the Tigers and Coach Pearl. According to KenPom’s offensive efficiency metrics, Auburn’s rating is 113.4 which is by far the highest. Defensively this Tigers team was one of the most physical and aggressive last year in college basketball. If Purifoy and Doughty can fill in for the absence of Murray and Heron, Auburn should be contending for a national title.
Iowa State Cyclones
A streak of six straight NCAA tournament appearances was snapped last season by Iowa State. The Cyclones went through a tough rebuild for the first time in a long time. Freshmen Lindell Wigginton and Cameron Lard were thrust into the starting lineup last season giving them important experience. While the Iowa State Cyclones struggled, they found their starting point guard Nick Weiler-Babb. Lindell Wigginton will have to be huge for this team after a strong freshmen campaign where he averaged 16.7 points per game. He struggled with turnovers (3.0 turnovers to 2.8 assists) and will need to clean that up going forward. Forward Marial Shayok coming over from Virginia will be huge for Iowa State. He will provide stability on the defensive side of the ball and veteran experience late in March. Cameron Lard had a fabulous freshman season as the starting center. He averaged 12.6 points per game and eight board while commanding the paint. He is one of the most dominant and slept on players in this country. This Iowa State basketball team is one of the most overlooked teams in the Big 12 and will prove it.
George Mason Patriots
We all remember the memorable runs the George Mason Patriots made years ago. Fast forward to 2018-2019, and you see a very different George Mason team. Unlike many teams in college basketball, this Goerge Mason team is losing no starters from last season. A season they overachieved and finished 5th in the A-10 tournament. Otis Livingston a 5’11” guard who averaged 17 points, three rebounds, and four assists last season is their best player. He will need to step up and become a leader for this team in a time when they desperately need one. He does everything well across the board putting up a rare shooting line of 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from beyond the arc, and 86 percent from the stripe. Look for Livingston to join the 50/40/90 club this season and truly take that next step. The X-factors for are the two wings, Jaire Grayer and Justin Kier. Grayer is a high flyer who can do just about everything averaging 12 points a game and is very active on the defensive end. Keir went from averaging 6 points per game to 11 points and has improved his three-point shot. Jarred Reuter has joined the team from Virginia, and his experience will be huge for this team in a strong A-10 conference. Reuter is an elite post passer and can stretch the floor, look for him and Livingston to form a dynamic duo. The bottom line is that George Mason will find a way to make some noise in college basketball.
N.C State Wolfpack
North Carolina State is an exciting team this season due to the fact they have only a few players from last season returning. Torin Dorn, Braxton Beverly, and Markell Johnson are the three lone survivors from last season. Dorn will be the starting Power Forward coming off a phenomenal 13.9ppg and 6rpg season. Beverly is the key 6th man coming off the bench, and if Coach Keatts really wants to push the ball, Beverly will be vital. The new players come from all over the place, Derek Funderburk comes from Ohio State where he left due to the school firing Thad Matta. Funderburk, who is a smaller 6-10, is versatile enough to play anywhere. Combining that with Wyatt Walker who is 6-9 and 240 will be a problem for the rest of college basketball. Coach Kevin Keatts says;
“I know we played fast, but I want to play faster with this team. We didn’t get a chance to utilize all of our presses. I would love to press some more, mix it up a little bit more.”
This all starts with Star guard Markell Johnson, one of the most underrated players in college basketball. Johnson led the ACC in assists per game with seven and steals with almost two a game. Helping him in the backcourt will be C.J Bryce who at one point in his career averaged 17 points per game. Defensively, the Bryce and Johnson duo is one of the best defensive backcourt duos in college basketball and will be key going forward. This Wolfpack team is one of the more versatile teams in the ACC with players who can play multiple positions. Don’t sleep when you’re filling out your bracket on the N.C Wolfpack.