The wait is almost over. Almost. Half the year has dragged on without college basketball, and our appetite for hoops is enormous.
Today, we dive into on the AAC.
Best player: Landry Shamet, Wichita State
Shamet went from scoring 26 points his entire freshman season to averaging 11.4 points per game and shooting 44 percent from deep as the Shockers’ starting point guard last year.
Shamet showed plenty of upside in his second year under Gregg Marshall, as his true shooting percentage reached nearly 63 percent, including improved marks from three-point land and the free throw line, as well as averaging 2.3 turnovers per 100 possessions as his team’s primary ball-handler. It was an impressive display from the 6-4 guard, who should take another step in the right direction if his offseason mirrored last year’s.
In a new league, the competition level will be higher, but it stands to reason Shamet will elevate as well.
And, as we’ll discuss in the next section, Wichita State should be an incredibly good team this year. If the Shockers live up to expectations, Shamet will be a huge driver behind their success.
Best team: Wichita State
Could this be the best iteration of the Shockers yet? Better than the one that reached the Final Four? Better than the one that went undefeated until the NCAA tournament? Better than last season?
In a word, yes.
The Shockers were tremendous last season, winning 31 games in repeatedly commanding ways. They finished with the sixth-best offensive rating and second-best defensive rating in the country while making 40 percent of their three-pointers (eighth-best in the country) and grabbing 1,472 rebounds (fifth-most in the country). There was very little they did poorly, outside of their middling turnover mark (11.2 per game), which happens when your three highest scorers are either sophomores or freshmen.
Another thing that happens when your best scorers are either sophomores or freshmen? You get them back the following year. The team’s top 13 scorers are returning from last season, an incredible retention rate for a Top 10 team. And with the Shockers’ depth (eight different players scored at least five points per game last year) being one of the team’s greatest strengths, the importance of returning all of that scoring can’t be understated.
This year’s Wichita State team can compete with the best squads in the country from the first tip-off.
Sleeper team: UCF
It’s hard to forget about the Knights, in part because one of their best players is 7-6. But Tacko Fall isn’t just a good-sized person; he’s also a good player, and one who produced in a big way with increased minutes last season. If Fall just under 30 minutes per game this year, he could average a double-double for the season.
And when Fall isn’t dunking it home, B.J. Taylor should be the man shooting the ball for the Knights. He’s been a high-volume scorer for the Knights since his freshman year, when he was still learning how to be efficient at the college level. Last season, he improved his true shooting percentage in a big way.
If he can work on limiting his turnovers while his usage rate continues to rise, Taylor could be the perfect compliment to Fall’s grinding game in the paint.
Freshman to watch: David Nickelberry, Memphis
In a year with plenty of intriguing freshman at the three, Nickelberry is another player with ample size and athleticism to stretch the floor and attack mismatches against smaller defenders.
At 6-7, the Florida native has an outside shot to go along with a slicing-and-driving inside skill, making him a tough assignment to keep in check. And his playmaking ability — he’ll throw a no-look pass now and then — brings another dimension to his game.
Tubby Smith does 'Hit the Quan dance with iheartMemphis and the Tigers basketball team. pic.twitter.com/EzhquZBKnZ— Mark Giannotto (@mgiannotto) October 13, 2017
As a young gun on a team with older athletes transferring in, Nickelberry might not see as much time as one might expect from such a solid newcomer, but the minutes he gets will be very fun to watch, especially with an eye towards the Tigers’ future lineups.