Aaron Torres’ Take
Well folks, as hard as it is to believe, we are just hours from the start of college football season. And if it feels like it snuck up on you this season, well, you’re not alone.
Since the end of football season, the basketball world has given us plenty of non-pigskin related sports content to consume. Oh, you know, the whole college basketball season, NCAA Tournament, NBA Playoffs, NBA Finals (even if they lasted for like eight-and-a-half seconds), Draft season, Summer League and Kentucky and Duke overseas trips. Just all that little stuff.
Therefore, you can be forgiven if you aren’t totally ready for college football season, or not totally caught up on what’s going on Week 1. Thankfully that’s what we’re here for. We are the professionals after all, and with five straight days of college football – yes, FIVE – there is a lot to prepare for.
So what do you need to know? And who do you need to watch over the next few days? Here is your College Football Week 1 viewing guide:
No. 21 UCF at UConn: Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
What better way to start the season than watching the old alma mater (at least mine, anyway) take on the defending national champions? Ok, so maybe my alma mater is awful (thanks for nothing Randy Edsall) and maybe UCF isn’t technically the national champs anywhere except on a t-shirt, but hey, at least it’s football, right?
Still, this will be a nice smooth way to ease into the weekend. Whether or not things remain smooth at UCF post-Scott Frost will be one of the more intriguing storylines across the sport this fall.
Northwestern at Purdue: Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Purdue’s offense might have the single best nickname in all of college football (anyone got an extra “Brohm Squad” t-shirt they can send me? Please?) and one of the more interesting teams in the country as well. After Jeff Brohm completely flipped Purdue on its head, and took the program from 3-9 program to a team that won seven games including a bowl, what does he have in store for an encore?
More importantly, after denying overtures from Tennessee last year, how long does he have in West Lafayette before one of the big boys comes and swoops him up?
By Aaron Torres on ©August 29th, 2018 @ 10:00pm
It’s been a tumultuous few months for those of us who love college basketball. Since the FBI probe hit in September it feels inevitable that change is coming to the sport, and it also seems like that change has slowly trickled out all spring and summer long. In April we got the release of the Condoleezza Rice Commission findings. And a few weeks ago we got details on how the NCAA plans to put those findings into place, with the announcement that undrafted players were allowed to return to school and others were allowed to hire agents. As it turned out those findings weren’t quite all they were made out to be. And you knew there would be something else that eventually came down the pipe.
Well that next step came on Wednesday. Unlike the release from the NCAA a few weeks ago in which it seemed like no one (not the NBA, USA Basketball etc. were alerted prior to the announcement) this one came via Team USA Basketball, and it is much more comprehensive. For the first time, all of the major entities in youth basketball – Team USA, the NBA, NBA Players Association and USA Basketball – have announced that they are working together on a new youth basketball initiative.
The goal? Find the Top 20 or so players in each high school class and start giving them the life skills necessary to have success once they get to the NBA.
It also feels like the first tangible step to remove the one-and-done rule.
We’ll get to that in a second. But first, here is the official release from Team USA:
USA Basketball today announced plans to collaborate with the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the expansion of its Men’s Junior National Team program to include additional training camps and year-round player development programming, with focuses on health and wellness and life skills.
Through the expansion, USA Basketball’s Junior National Team will build on its existing basketball development program to provide unprecedented on- and off-court player development opportunities for more than 80 top U.S. high school players.
Approximately 20 athletes from each high school class will participate in six training camps and competitions throughout the 2018-19 calendar year, including the first Junior National Team minicamp for players from all high school grades from Oct. 5-7 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Now with that, I probably know what you’re thinking: Cut through the mumbo-jumbo, Torres. What does it all mean? And how does it impact college basketball forward?
So for starters, this is a big deal because it is in fact the first time that all the major stake holders in basketball (USA Basketball, the NCAA and NBA) are working together to work with kids, starting from the youth level straight to the NBA. The goal is to give them the life skills to cope with transitioning straight from high school to being a professional – if you read the release, it sounds like they will be getting mental health training, money management, things like that.
By KSR on ©August 28th, 2018 @ 1:30pm
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By KSR on ©August 16th, 2018 @ 6:30pm
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These are the supposed “slowest days” on the college hoops calendar – but man, we fans must have done something right, because the college hoops Gods are smiling upon us! That’s right, less than 72 hours after Kentucky wrapped up their four-game tour of the Bahamas, Duke opened up a three-game trip in Canada on Wednesday night.
And seriously, whether you love Kentucky and hate Duke or the exact opposite (I’m guessing I know where most people reading this stand) admit it, it’s good to have college basketball back on our TV’s, isn’t it?
It sure is, and after Kentucky laid down the gauntlet with a four-game bludgeoning in the Bahamas last week, Duke returned volley with a solid 86-67 win Wednesday night in their opener in Canada. The victory wasn’t as impressive on paper as the wins that Kentucky picked up last week, but credit should be given to the Blue Devils who got a solid win, against a good team (more on that coming) without two of their best players. Both Cam Reddish and Tre Jones sat out the game with minor injuries, meaning that Duke was down two starters in the victory.
So what did we learn in Wednesday’s game? Thankfully, I’m here to tell you. As one of 11 people in America with an ESPN+ account (shout out to the 7-day free trial) I figured I’d share a couple thoughts.
Here are five takeaways from Duke’s opening night win, and what you need to know about the Blue Devils going forward.
The team they played was legit:
Of all the questions that I got while discussing the game on Twitter (follow me on @Aaron_Torres if you’re somehow not already), the most prevalent one was “How was the competition?” After watching Kentucky dominate grown men last week I’d say that it wasn’t quite as good as most of the teams the Wildcats played last week – but make no mistake Ryerson is a solid squad.
For those who aren’t familiar with Canadian college basketball (and if you’re not, shame on you!!) they are considered the second best college program in Canada, and while that doesn’t sound like much, it’s actually more impressive than you’d think. The No. 1 team in Canada is a school named Carelton, which has actually played and beaten both Ole Miss and Cincinnati in the last few weeks. And get this: Each win was by more than 20 points. These Canadian schools can play, even if you’ve never heard of them.
If anything, I would compare the skill level of Ryerson to that of a really good Atlantic 10 or Mountain West type team. No, they probably couldn’t compete night-in and night-out in the ACC or SEC, but they would still probably be a fringe bubble team, capable of winning a game or two if they got to the NCAA Tournament. They had real players, a couple of which were definitely good enough to play at the high-major level (that included one kid who apparently committed to Ryerson over UConn – a fact that made me want to vomit).
Therefore, while this was a game that Duke should have won, it was still a solid victory none the less.
Zion Williamson is the real deal:
If you just look at a box score you’d see that R.J. Barrett was the leading scorer for the Blue Devils on Wednesday night. But if you watched the game, you know that Zion Williamson was the star. He finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds, with two MONSTER dunks thrown in for good measure.
And we officially have Zion Williamson's first MONSTER dunk as a member of the Duke Blue Devils pic.twitter.com/V2SdgZz2yC
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) August 15, 2018
What was maybe most impressive is that Williamson performed well, even despite Ryerson implementing a game-plan that virtually everyone in college basketball will use this season. Not wanting to get embarrassed, Ryerson played off Williamson, trying to force him to beat them with the three-point shot. Well he did that by hitting three three-pointers in the first half. Even more impressive was the fact that at a certain point he just decided to go down low and fight for rebounds – and he grabbed a couple simply by jumping right over dudes. It really was a sight to see.
I know Williamson is a lightning rod player, one that plenty of people have doubts about beyond his dunks. But on Wednesday he lived up to the hype.
Duke is once again going to really struggle with depth issues:
Listen, as good as Williamson and Barrett were, it wasn’t all rainbows, sunshine and bad dye jobs for the Blue Devils on Wednesday night. And to me, the biggest problem with the Blue Devils will once again be depth.
Look, I get that Reddish and Jones were out, and Alex O’Connell (who is sporting a heck of a new haircut) was limited after the first few minutes, but it really does look like once again this team will still be limited by depth. Outside of the four freshmen, only O’Connell, Marques Bolden and Javin Delaurier look like they’re ready to play against the better teams on Duke’s schedule.
And while some would say “seven guys are more than enough in college basketball” I do believe it’s something to keep an eye on.
For one, the Blue Devils don’t have a steady point guard behind Tre Jones (although sophomore Jordan Goldwire looked solid in limited minutes) and the offense struggled to run without him at times. Two, it really is dangerous to play with so few dependable players in college basketball. It only takes one injury or a night full of foul trouble for your whole season to go up in smoke.
Duke’s starting five is as talented as anyone in the country. What worries me is what happens when a couple of those guys aren’t on the floor.
Poor Marques Bolden hasn’t changed
This was unquestionably the most disappointing part of the whole game: Now in year three, Marques Bolden looks… well, exactly like Marques Bolden has for the last two seasons. He still has little feel for the game and looks completely lost every time he steps on the court.
I know that at a certain point we’ve got to stop feeling bad for him and let him own up to his lack of development as a player. But at the same time, it should be a warning to every other big-time high school recruit: Make sure the “fit” is right before you commit to a school.
November 6th can’t get here soon enough
Look, it’s only August. We’re still a long way from the start of formal practice, from the first poll being released, and – yes – the first game of the season. But one thing is abundantly clear: Kentucky vs. Duke will be THE game of the first few weeks of the college basketball season. Whether these two teams are ranked No.’s 1 and 2 or not isn’t what’s important. What is important is that these are the two most high-profile teams in college basketball and both are absolutely loaded going into the season.
We have plenty of time over the next four months to break down every aspect of this game.
But just know one thing: November 6th can’t get here fast enough.
By Aaron Torres on ©August 14th, 2018 @ 1:00pm
Well folks, we survived. After four-and-a-half full months without college basketball (oh, the humanity!) we finally got a little hoop over the last week with Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas. And after four games, well, the gauntlet has been thrown down for the 2018-2019 season.
That’s because after a four-game run in which Kentucky absolutely bludgeoned four professional teams from across the globe, there is no doubt: Kentucky – a team which most believed was the preseason favorite coming into the 2018-2019 year – somehow looked better than even the most optimistic fans could have possibly imagined. A trip which was supposed to expose this team’s holes and weaknesses and give them plenty to work on in the coming months, instead did the opposite: It showed that Kentucky has no major holes and that this is one of the deepest, most skilled teams of the Calipari era in Lexington. It also showed that there is no single reason (short of a team-wide outbreak of typhoid fever) that they shouldn’t be in Minneapolis on the final weekend of the season competing for a national championship.
Yes, that’s right, for all the excitement of the off-season, the Bahamas trip showed that maybe we didn’t give this team enough hype entering the season.
Anyway, now a few days removed from the trip, I decided to go ahead and hand out some “grades” for the Wildcats players, while also explaining what I saw, what I liked, and what needs work.
Just know one thing: You’re going to see a lot of high grades. After four-straight games of double-digit wins, there frankly isn’t that much to pick apart.
Tyler Herro (A+++++++)
Yes, as a teacher, my typical grading scale is “A+” to “F” but after Herro’s performance in the Bahamas I couldn’t help but make an exception. He wasn’t just an “A+” player but something well beyond that. Frankly, the only reason I stopped at seven “pluses” is because the key got stuck on my computer.
Yes, Herro was that good.
The simple truth is that Herro was the revelation of the trip, a player who came in with plenty of hype and – like so many of his teammates – exceeded that. In the matter of one week he went from a guy that most UK fans hoped would get a couple buckets off the bench to one that is now being compared with Rex Chapman, Malik Monk and Devin Booker as one of the best wings to ever come through the school.
And if we’re being honest, Herro has earned that praised. Hyped throughout his career as a “shooter” who would add three-point range to this squad, Herro showed that he might already be one of the best all-around scorers college basketball – and no, that isn’t hyperbole. How many guys in college basketball could have done what Herro did against four teams stocked with the best professionals across the globe? Especially considering that he did it on relatively few shots.
As a matter of fact, that was the most impressive thing for Herro in the Bahamas: Despite leading the team in scoring at over 17 points per game, he let the game come to him. He finished the trip shooting 57 percent from the field (23 of 40), a staggering number for a player who does most of his work from 15-feet or beyond. In the process he showed that he isn’t just a “shooter” but an athletic scorer, with the ability to get buckets from pretty much anywhere on the court. There wasn’t one thing you would have wanted to see from Herro that wasn’t on display this weekend.
Point being, there is SO much to like about Herro’s game. And there’s a reason he’s already being compared to Chapman, Booker and so many others.
P.J. Washington (A+)
When it comes to the NBA Draft process, I rarely get too into what a player “should” do. When it comes to making an NBA Draft decision there are simply too many factors at play, be it a player’s family situation, their age, or simply whether they like school or not. But with Washington though, I felt different. Yes, he was projected as a potential second round pick in this past June’s draft. But it really did feel like if he could just improve a few small things (specifically ball-handling and three-point shooting) he could move his way well up draft boards and easily into the first round.
Well apparently, Washington listened to me (OK, probably not) because every single thing an NBA scout would have wanted to see from Washington, he displayed over the course of four games in the Bahamas. The 6’8 sophomore finished as Kentucky’s second-leading scorer (14 points per game) and averaged a cool 7.5 rebounds – a number which probably would’ve been higher if not for Reid Travis. More impressively though he proved to be a much more complete player than he was last season, hitting 3 of 7 shots from behind the arc and initiating the offense on the fast-break at times as well.
But you know what I loved most about Washington’s play in the Bahamas: He became (along with the next guy on this list) the unquestioned emotional leader of this team. He set the tone early with physicality and toughness, slapped away opposing player’s shots after the whistle blew and always seemed to have his teammate’s back when a scuffle broke out.
Understand, it’s one thing for a team to have as much skill as Kentucky does. But when they have the toughness to go with it, that’s a lethal combination. And it’s a toughness created by P.J. Washington.
Well, P.J. Washington and…
Keldon Johnson (A+)
Quick question: Is it too late to name myself the President of the Keldon Johnson fan-club? If not, let me know. I’m already getting t-shirts printed up and buttons made. I also booked the reception hall down the street for our first meeting next Tuesday. It’s a pot luck kind of deal, so feel free to bring a small dessert or something.
In all seriousness, I don’t think there are very many words I can use to describe just how much I enjoyed watching Johnson play this weekend. A player who was already hyped as a Top 15 prospect and maybe Kentucky’s best long-term NBA prospect somehow surpassed realistic expectations, as a tornado on the court, a guy who got after it on the defensive end, while providing the ability to score from all three levels on the offensive end. He also threw down a couple dunks that were so violent, small children shouldn’t be allowed to see the replays because they might have nightmares.
Like this one, for example. Parents, hide the kids.
And then Keldon Johnson took another poor man's soul. MERCY! pic.twitter.com/GlEutG8ksE
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) August 12, 2018
Most of all though, you know what I loved about him? He played with an intensity that is rarely seen from a basketball player anywhere, let alone a college freshman. He was all over the court, yelling and screaming and getting in the opposing player’s faces, screaming after big dunks, clapping his hands after big defensive stops and slapping the ball in disgust when he’d get fouled going in for a layup, clearly mad that he didn’t finish a play that was impossible to finish.
Ultimately, it’s easy to see why Johnson has been described as a “dog” by so many of teammates, and it really does feel like the intensity that he and Washington brought every night was infectious with his teammates. It’s something you can’t put a price tag on once the season begins, as Johnson will be the guy that finds a way to fire up everyone on the roster, even on nights when the natural emotion and intensity isn’t there.
Let’s just say, there really isn’t anything not to like about Keldon Johnson – and yes, I apologize for using a double-negative, but I’m just that fired up!
I want to be Keldon Johnson when I grow up.
By Aaron Torres on ©August 10th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
As hard as it is to believe, we have reached the halfway point of Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas. Man, where does the time go?
(Cue the slow, sad violin music).
In all seriousness though, now two games into this stretch, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say – My goodness does this team look good. Seriously, as good as I thought this team might be, they have been way, WAY better. Whenever a bunch of 18 and 19-year-old college kids can absolutely run train on a group of grown men like the Wildcats did on Thursday night, it makes you wonder what they’ll do against college teams with players their own age.
Still, with the trip now half done, it felt like a good time to reflect and share some thoughts on what we’ve seen so far.
So with that, what have I liked through two games in the Bahamas? Here are a few things.
So yeah, I’m going to start with Herro. Of course I am going to start with Herro – like every recap here at KSR the last few days has – you know, since he has been the breakout star of this event so far. On Thursday, not only did Herro drop 22 points, but did so on a highly efficient 7 of 10 shooting from the floor.
So yeah, this guy has been good. REALLY good. And the coolest part is that he isn’t just a shooter, like some hyped him up to be. Instead, what I have really enjoyed watching is him display an all-around game. This is a guy who can score at all three levels, and also has a really good feel for the flow of the game. When he catches the ball, he instinctually knows whether to pull up for a three, take his defender off the dribble, or pass the ball down low to the post.
Beyond just the box score however, what I’ve loved about Herro is his fearlessness and poise. What’s been so incredible to see is that throughout this event it feels like just about everyone on Kentucky has been hesitant or nervous at times, even veterans like Reid Travis, P.J. Washington and Quade Green. Not Herro though. From the first minute of the first game he has come out and said “I don’t care how big this stage is, I’m ready.”
Finally before we move on, one other thought on Herro: The last time I saw this kid play was at the Nike Hoops Summit back in April. For those of you who may remember, Herro played by far the fewest minutes in that game for Team USA, even though several of the team’s other wing players (like Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford, Keldon Johnson and Louis King) were out with injury.
Following the game I asked the coach of Team USA whether Herro was injured or if there was a reason he played so little, and the coach’s response was (and I’m not exaggerating), “It wasn’t about everyone getting equal time. We were trying to win the game.”
I wrote about it here, but in case you forgot, the U.S. did not win that game. Call me crazy, but I feel like having Herro on the floor might have helped.
Sophomore Nick Richards is real, and he is fantastic:
Shout out to my buddy Drew Franklin, who at some point decided he was all in on the “Sophomore Nick Richards” hype. I haven’t talked to Drew, so I don’t know why exactly he decided that this was the mountain he was going to climb, but credit to him. I thought he was crazy.
Well boy was I wrong, as Richards has been the single biggest revelation at this event. The simple truth is that while I could have seen a scenario where Tyler Herro blew up in the Bahamas (although I would have never predicted it) Nick Richards developing into a low-post force overnight is something I could have never imagined. At all. Truthfully, my biggest fear with Richards was that he became another statistic in Lexington, a guy that got lost in the shuffle at Kentucky, never found his role and elected to either transfer like Sacha Killeya-Jones or take his chances as a pro like Wenyen Gabriel.
Instead, there he was in the Bahamas on night one dropping a cool 23 points and looking like a terror on the offensive and defensive ends. What I most like about Richards’ performances so far is that – as a lot of others have pointed out – he is playing with more confidence than he has in the past. Last year, it seemed like the second that something went wrong for Richards, he would drop his head, mope and wouldn’t be heard from the rest of the game. Now, to his credit, he isn’t letting one bad play turn into two.
There is something else with Richards that is worth considering here: We need to remember that not all players develop at the same rate. Richards might have a birth certificate that says he’s 20-years-old, but he is still relatively new to the sport. He isn’t a kid who has been playing AAU ball since he was 12-years-old, but literally never played a competitive game until he was 16.
Credit to the Kentucky staff for sticking with him and to Richards for sticking with himself. Dan Dakich said it the other night and I agree: If he keeps playing like this, Richards will end up a lottery pick.
Even despite his age, Reid Travis is still a work in progress
So a few months ago when Reid Travis elected to leave Stanford and P.J. Washington was still deciding whether or not to come back to college, I made what I thought was a pretty innocent comment, which ended up causing an uproar in the college basketball media. I said that with all due respect to Travis, if I had to choose between having P.J. Washington back for a second year, or Reid Travis as a grad transfer, I would take Washington.
Interesting development. As Ive said in multiple interviews the last few weeks, Id rather have a sophomore PJ Washington than Reid Travis, no matter how productive he's been. He is however one heck of a fallback option for UK depending on what happens today https://t.co/5aN0gP7z2m
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) May 30, 2018
Now as it turns out, Kentucky got both. But it doesn’t change the fact that most of the media thought I was absolutely insane when I said that. Seriously, look at the mentions in the tweet below. And of course, as usual, I was right.
Look, this is no knock on Reid Travis, or what he did at Stanford. You don’t make back-to-back All Pac-12 teams if you’re not talented. At the same time, I also think we’re seeing that there’s a reason Travis is still in college and not playing in the NBA: He’s not there yet. He’s still a bulky, power low post player, whose game isn’t very refined once he steps more than five feet from the basket. Understand that’s not a knock on him – he’s REALLY good from five feet in. But that’s also the reason he’s still playing college basketball.
Still, that’s also what makes Travis so interesting to me: Even though he’s a fifth-year senior, I really do believe that Travis’ best basketball won’t be played until February or March of this year. I have faith that the Kentucky staff is going to continue to drill him to bring out a more complete game, be it ball-handling, three-point shooting etc.
It’s weird to say that a player so old won’t peak for a few more months. But that’s where I think we are with Travis.
A couple quick thoughts on the point guards
Since these are more short thoughts, I’ll bullet-point all the point guards together.
Quade Green: I loved his bounce back game on Thursday. It was well-reported that after a 1 for 11 performance the first night (in which John Calipari actually came down from the stands to yell at him to shoot more), Green went to the gym late at night, and it showed off in a big way Thursday. He went 4-4 from the field and looked like a completely different player.
As good as Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans are, this team will need Green. And he’ll be up for the challenge.
Immanuel Quickley: To be blunt, I didn’t realize Quickley was as, well, quick, off the dribble as he’s shown in two games.
He and Ashton Hagans are going to be deadly when they are on the floor together.
Speaking of which…
Ashton Hagans: While he’s made some typical freshman mistakes (mostly playing too fast) on the offensive end of the court, my goodness is this guy a terror defensively. The great thing about having Hagans on a roster like this, is because he won’t be asked to play 35 minutes a night (like he might have if he had gone to another school) he can put in 100 percent on the defensive end, make two or three plays over a five-minute stretch, then come out when he’s winded. In those couple minutes on the court though he will absolutely create chaos for the other team.
This is a guy SEC point guards are NOT going to want to see this season.
— Darrell Bird (@DarrellBird) August 10, 2018
Finally, seeing half the team shoot attend an informal shootaround at 11:30 p.m. should be a scary sight for the rest of college basketball
Look, I know at times that we can all get a bit hyperbolic, and make something big out of nothing. But when I see half the team showing up at midnight to get more shots up, after blowing out a group of grown men, I can’t help but think: “Wow, this team could be special.”
It’s only August and it’s way too early to make any definitive statements. But when you have a team THIS talented, that also appears ready to work THIS hard, that’s a scary sight for the rest of college basketball.
And it should be a good sign of things to come.
Not just now, but straight March and (maybe) early April.
By KSR on ©August 10th, 2018 @ 12:00pm
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By Aaron Torres on ©August 06th, 2018 @ 10:00pm
On Monday, CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein made headlines when he declared that Kentucky is the third best team in the SEC entering the 2018-2019 college basketball season. In Rothstein’s defense, I truly think that he believed what he said, and didn’t place Kentucky third simply to get attention. Also in his defense, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
In my defense however, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say: “I reeeeeeeeeeealllllllly disagree with that opinion.” Please understand, I’m not saying that as someone who works for KSR. I say that as someone with common sense.
SEC Offseason Power Rankings:
4. Mississippi State
10. South Carolina
11. Ole Miss
14. Texas A&M
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 6, 2018
The simple truth is that Kentucky enters the 2018-2019 season with by far the most talent in the SEC, and also with more experience than usual. I get the concept that Tennessee returns virtually every key piece off last year’s team which won the SEC regular season championship, setting up the whole “you’ve got to beat the champ, to be the champ” narrative. The problem is, this isn’t never-never land, where snazzy catchphrases carry weight, but instead the real world, where size, talent, athleticism and skill trump teams with good, but not elite talent like Tennessee. There is a reason that virtually every preseason poll outside of Rothstein’s has Kentucky at No. 1 or No. 2 in the country: They have overwhelming talent, with experience to boot.
Anyway, that is all just a long-winded way of me saying that those SEC preseason power rankings feel wrong. And since I am pretty much the foremost expert on all things SEC basketball – or at the very least, the only person that was predicting a historic 2017-2018 season for the conference at this time last year – it only seems appropriate that I weigh in.
After putting out my initial power rankings on Twitter today, here is my updated, impossible-to-argue-with, 2018-2019 SEC Power Rankings.
1) Kentucky: Again, I get the idea that Tennessee won the regular season conference title and returns everyone of substance. I also remember them losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Point being, lots of teams can win big in the regular season based on coaching and system. But in March, when it matters most, talent trumps all.
Well entering 2018-2019, Kentucky has by far the most talent in the league, and frankly, the most in all of college basketball. They have a 10-man rotation that includes nine Top 40 recruits and basically eight McDonald’s All-Americans (by technicality, Ashton Hagans wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, but only because he reclassified). Unlike previous seasons they also have experience, with three guys returning off last year’s team who played meaningful minutes, as well as a two-time All-Pac 12 performer in Reid Travis arriving in Lexington.
At this point, there is no obvious weakness with the 2019 Kentucky Wildcats. And considering that Vegas has them tabbed as the favorites to win the national championship, they are the unquestionable favorites to win the SEC.
Just now seeing this – and I must say, it's preposterous. As the foremost expert on SEC hoops, heres how the ranking should look:
4. Miss State
9. South Carolina
12. Ole Miss
14. A&M https://t.co/Nilq3iEKro
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) August 6, 2018
2) Auburn: Again, it’s hard for me to truly “criticize” anyone for sharing their opinion (like Rothstein did today) because I share plenty of unpopular opinions myself. For example, while most people probably think that Auburn will take a step back next year after losing second-leading scorer Mustapha Heron, I actually think they’ll be better.
The simple truth was that while I love Heron (he is a Connecticut kid like me), Heron was also a ball-stopper and someone that hurt the flow of the Tigers’ offense rather than helping it. With better ball-movement, flow and spacing, look for even bigger seasons from Bryce Brown and Jared Harper (who averaged 16 and 13 points respectively last year) who both made All-SEC last year. And the additions of Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley (who were suspended as part of the FBI probe) will only make the Tigers more balanced.
Bruce Pearl’s club legit has Final Four potential.
3) Tennessee: If #VolsTwitter wants to get worked on this pick, so be it. I stand by it.
Again, I get the argument that Tennessee returns basically everyone off last year’s SEC regular season co-champs. But in getting smoked by Kentucky in the SEC title game and then losing early in the NCAA Tournament to Loyola (IL), it kind of proves that maybe they overachieved a bit in the regular season, and that when the games mattered more, their lack of pure talent showed through.
More importantly, my bigger concern about Tennessee is what I listed above: How much better can they really get? The Vols have a bunch of third and fourth-year players who weren’t very highly-ranked recruits, and credit goes to the Tennessee coaching staff for developing the heck out of them. However, at a certain point there’s only so much developing you can do, and talent kind of taps out. I wonder if we’re about to see that this year with Tennessee.
I don’t expect the Vols to be bad, per se. But just because they return a bunch of key pieces off last year’s team, I don’t necessarily think that makes them the SEC favorites either.
4) Mississippi State: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This Mississippi State team profiles a lot like Texas A&M at around this time last year. As you might (or might not) remember the Aggies were a team which just barely missed the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and returned their whole team in 2018. It ended with A&M not only returning to the Big Dance after a one-year hiatus, but making it to the Sweet 16.
Well, in essence, that’s Mississippi State this season. Last year the Bulldogs were probably good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but were doomed thanks to an embarrassing out of conference slate. This year, Ben Howland’s club returns its top six scorers off that team and welcomes in McDonald’s All-American Reggie Perry. Barring something catastrophic, the Bulldogs will make the NCAA Tournament. The bigger question is how far they’ll go once they get there.
5) LSU: In one of the weirdest statements I will every type, there are few things in life I’m more irrationally excited about than LSU basketball coming into next season. Thanks to a Top 3 recruiting class nationally, the Tigers will have the second most talented roster in the SEC behind only Kentucky. They also have the players who I believe should be the leading candidates to win SEC Player of the Year (Tremont Waters) and SEC Freshman of the Year (Emmitt Williams) entering the season as well. Williams has “NBA Lottery” type potential.
Ultimately, what is most intriguing about this roster is the boom/bust potential. With so much talent, the Tigers are good enough to finish second or third in the league. But they also have one of the youngest coaches in college basketball and a roster where virtually everyone is a freshman or sophomore. Therefore, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they could completely underachieve as well.
Still, sign me up as having the Tigers take home a whole bunch of wins, and finish towards the top of the standings. A run to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is absolutely conceivable.
(By the way, LSU thead coach Will Wade joined the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast a few weeks ago. You can hear his thoughts on the 2018-2019 team by clicking here)
6) Florida: I do believe there’s a big drop-off after the first five in the SEC, but also believe there are a couple NCAA Tournament caliber teams below them. And it starts with the Gators. They return four of their top six scorers from last year and welcome in a loaded recruiting class, including Canadian point guard Andrew Nemhard. He could be one of the biggest freshman surprises not only in the SEC, but all of college basketball.
More than anything though, this is a bet on Mike White. In year one, he took the Gators to the Elite Eight, and last year Florida was a play or two from the second weekend of the tournament as well. Is there anyone in college basketball who gets more out of his players, while also receiving less acclaim than White?
7) Alabama: Entering the 2018-2019 season, the Crimson Tide are quietly the best team in the SEC that no one is talking about. While they do lose Collin Sexton they return virtually everyone else. In total, nine of their Top 11 scorers are back from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, meaning that the drop-off without Sexton shouldn’t be as steep as everyone is expecting. They also add Tevin Mack, who was Texas’ leading scorer two years ago before getting kicked off the team and ultimately transferring.
8) Vanderbilt: The buzz around Vanderbilt this season is both real and fantastic, thanks to the arrival of Top 10 prospects Darius Garland and Simi Shittu. I’m not quite sure Garland is the long-term prospect many people view him as (I for one don’t see him as a one-and-done type guy), but I do think he’ll be a darn good college player who will get the Commodores to a few NCAA Tournaments before his career is all said and done.
9) South Carolina: Frank Martin is back, baby! Well, not quite. But with leading scorer Chris Silva returning and a loaded freshman class, South Carolina should be closer to the middle of the pack in the SEC than the basement the way they were this past season.
One name to keep an eye on for the Gamecocks: Freshman A.J. Lawson. He was a late addition to the roster, but has the size and athleticism to one day play in the NBA. His skills aren’t totally there yet. But he’ll do one or two things a game that make you say “Woah!”
10) Arkansas: Yes, Daniel Gafford is the most dynamic player in the league – but my questions are with the pieces around him. The Hogs did lose six seniors off last year’s team, including an all-senior backcourt of Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford.
However after some careful consideration (and strong nudging from Hogs fans on social media) I decided to move them up a few spots from where I originally had them ranked when I put out my power rankings on Twitter this afternoon. The backcourt should be stabilized with the addition of junior college transfer Jalen Harris, and the freshman class has a bunch of wildly underrated pieces, including Ethan Henderson and Isaiah Joe.
11) Missouri: Mizzou is a lot like Arkansas – I love the front-court pieces with Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter, but the question is, who is going to get them the ball? Virtually every key guard either graduated or transferred out of the program in the last year, and the team’s reinforcements are transfers who won’t be eligible until next season. It’s a bridge year in Columbia, but the Tigers will likely take a major step back.
12) Ole Miss: Four of the top six scorers on this roster are back, and should be better coached than they were last year with Kermit Davis now in charge. Plus, let’s not forget that even in a disappointing 12-20 season the Rebels did pick up some solid wins, including victories over the likes of Florida, Alabama and Missouri.
13) Texas A&M: Aggies’ fans were upset that I had them ranked 14th out of 14 teams in my initial tweet, so to appease them, I decided to move them up… one whole spot! Who says I can’t be reasonable?
In all seriousness though, there just isn’t very much talent on this roster, with Robert Williams, D.J. Hogg and Tyler Davis all electing to go pro early off last year’s Sweet 16 team.
14) Georgia: I really don’t get the Tom Crean hire. I just don’t. And I don’t think the Bulldogs will be much better this coming season when you consider that they lost their best player (Yante Maten) and that this team actually played well for most of the season under Mark Fox. A new coach and not very talented roster has me concerned for the Bulldogs this season – and probably beyond as well.
By Aaron Torres on ©August 02nd, 2018 @ 9:00pm
Well folks, it seems impossible but it really is true: College basketball season is officially back!!
Ok, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. I guess by technicality, the season doesn’t actually begin for four more months.
Still, while tip-off of the first regular season game is still a ways away, we will still get a tiny taste of the season ahead when Kentucky travels to the Bahamas for a four-game foreign tour starting next Wednesday. Their long-awaited tour will give us the first glimpse of what I believe should be the No. 1 team in the country entering the preseason, a group that has as much depth, talent and versatility as anyone in the country.
Yet even with all that talent, the Wildcats still have plenty of questions and there are certainly plenty of things that fans and media members alike should be on the look out for next week.
What are they? Here are seven things to keep an eye out for:
What will the opening night starting lineup be?
Look, we can all be honest with each other: The first starting lineup in the Bahamas is no indication of what could come this season. Things will change between now and the opener with Duke in early November, and they will definitely change between now and next March.
Still, aren’t you a tiiiiiiiiiiiiny bit curious to see who John Calipari rolls out in his first starting lineup in the Bahamas? Remember, even if it isn’t a “be-all, end all” indicator of what will come in the season ahead, it does mean something. Calipari isn’t bringing his team a thousand miles from campus to lose a bunch of games after all.
Therefore it will be interesting to see what lineups he rolls out and how they all together. It’s especially interesting since it feels like nothing is definite. Sure, it feels like P.J. Washington will be a starter and it’s hard to imagine Reid Travis coming off the bench. But outside those two is anything set in stone? Heck, are those two even set in stone?
It doesn’t seem like it, and that is only the beginning of the questions about this team. The next biggest one seems to be…
Which point guards play where – and when?
Figuring out how the entire roster fits together is the biggest puzzle piece for the Wildcats entering the season. But isn’t the point guard position a smaller microcosm of the bigger team picture? I mean, how often does a team have the “problem” of trying to figure how to divvy up minutes among three McDonald’s All-American caliber point guards?
The answer is “never.” Which is what makes the point guard derby especially interesting.
And ultimately what might be even more interesting is not only who plays, but who plays when, where and with who? Quade Green proved that he was capable of playing both on and off the ball last season and – if I’m being completely honest – it feels like a lot of folks have forgotten about just how good he was to start the year. How good can he be at full-strength and with an extra off-season under his belt? And with that experience, how often will Green handle the ball and run the offense? How often will he play off the ball? And when Green isn’t in the game or handling the ball, how ready are Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley to step in run the offense and get others involved?
There are so many “position battles” with this particular Kentucky squad that they feel more like a football team than a basketball one. And the most interesting battle definitely comes at the point guard spot.