Official practice won’t start for a month, but there is still plenty to be hyped about from the summer.
Here is a Sweet 16 of news that has me pumped:
1. Andrew Jones is done with chemotherapy: If and when he comes back to playing basketball will be a wonderful moment. Having Jones complete his treatment after being diagnosed with leukemia last season is such tremendous news. Texas has done a great job of supporting him, and Jones has kept the public in the know with his social media posts. What a moment it will be when he actually comes back to the game. Wow. There is no timetable, but you can just sense that Jones will make it happen. His determination is inspiring.
Always Striving and Prospering 🤞🏾 pic.twitter.com/2xgFsSj6b1— Andrew Jones (@DrewdotCash) August 26, 2018
2. John Beilein is doing well and on the road to recovery: The Michigan coach told me he plans on being healthier than ever after having a two-vessel coronary bypass graft surgery. That’s tremendous news. Beilein is a gem. He listened to the Detroit Pistons in the offseason, but then re-upped at Michigan where he will likely finish out his career. He has been the perfect fit at Michigan and in the Big Ten. Beilein has coached the Wolverines to two national championship games in 2013 and 2018. Beilein missed the team’s trip to Spain (coached by assistant Saddi Washington). But he will have his imprint all over this edition once the season starts.
3. Duke’s 1-2 freshmen punch is going to be something special: Let’s push pause on handing out hardware, but there is no question that the combination of freshmen R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson will be must-see every time out. The pair concluded the Blue Devils’ trip to Canada with Williamson averaging 30 points and three assists while Barrett averaged 31 points and five assists across three games. Williamson will be a human highlight wrecking ball when he makes his way toward the hoop. Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski has had his share of coaching elite players — even in year one. But he may find as much pleasure in developing these two as any he has had in Durham.
🌐 #DukeBluePlanet is BACK.— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) August 29, 2018
🇨🇦 Episode 1️⃣: All-access with the squad on the #DukeCanadaTour!
👀 We're bringing you new looks behind-the-scenes every week.
WATCH: https://t.co/Z86t0Gln1a pic.twitter.com/8UJEoejj0P
4. Kentucky is going to be a blast to watch: Don’t judge the scoring margin in the four games in the Bahamas. But some of the stats are hard to ignore. Tyler Herro averaged 17 points a game. Reid Travis was a double-double regular with 10 and 10. Immanuel Quickley had 18 assists and two turnovers. Keldon Johnson made four of nine 3s. And returnees PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green all were major contributors. Travis doesn’t need to be a savior. He simply needs to be a leader, help with adverse situations on the road with his experience and board.
5. Virginia has had no drama: The Cavaliers are as locked in as any team after the disastrous, historic No. 1 vs. No. 16 loss to UMBC last March. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy made it clear last spring that they have worked harder than at any point in their careers. Coach Tony Bennett has kept a low-profile, but there is much more he can say about the game. It happened. He has moved on. And the Cavaliers, with a healthy De’Andre Hunter, are as much a threat to win the ACC as loaded Duke or the hyped Carolina or the experienced Syracuse.
6. Marquette’s new home will be a destination: The Golden Eagles, led by Steve Wojciechowski, are absolutely in love with the new arena, the Fiserv Forum. The Milwaukee Bucks obviously have more dates, but Marquette will benefit just as much. The new arena will be another indicator of how much Marquette and the Big East are continuously major players. And with Markus Howard, a possible Big East player of the year, the Golden Eagles could deliver an NCAA tournament bid and possibly a Big East title season in the Fiserv Forum’s inaugural year. This joint will be jumping and gives the college game another elite venue.
"You walk in there... and you're blown away."— MarquetteMBB (@MarquetteMBB) August 27, 2018
Before you come to Wednesday's #mubb open house at @FiservForum, here's a sneak peak and some perspective on how important this new home is to the program's future. pic.twitter.com/o6o9VP5dm0
7. The Bulldogs got better: Gonzaga was my early pre-preseason Power 36 pick for No. 1. And then the Zags added North Dakota transfer guard Geno Crandall. The Zags were missing one more experienced guard and found one in Crandall, who averaged 16 points a game. Gonzaga has done marvelous work with transfers under Mark Few. And if Crandall completes his NCAA transfer requirements and is all in on day one, then the Zags are even more prepared for a run to the Final Four for the second time in three seasons.
8. The buzz for Memphis and UConn is real: The AAC desperately needs the Tigers and Huskies to be relevant in challenging Cincinnati and a rotation of Houston, SMU, Wichita State and for sure UCF (more on that in a minute). But Penny Hardaway has delivered without coaching a game for the Tigers. Reports all summer were about how well Hardaway and Mike Miller were making an impact in recruiting. There will be a desire to be back at FedEx Forum to see Hardaway deliver on producing a possible tournament team. How the pieces mesh is still unknown, but Dan Hurley’s impact is not. He has the fan base energized and his passion is contagious.
Tigers will face 13 non-conference opponents, EIGHT of them appeared in post-season play in 2017-18. https://t.co/koQivDJuBd— Memphis Basketball (@Memphis_MBB) August 20, 2018
9. UCF is ready to make a move: Johnny Dawkins said B.J. Taylor, Tacko Fall and Aubrey Dawkins are all going to be good to go for the season. Once this team is on the court — the one that was expected — the Knights should be the team to beat in the AAC. There has been so much anticipation for UCF to finally meet its expectations and awake as the sleeping giant. We may finally get a chance to see it actually happen in 2019.
10. The Maui Invitational got the bracket right: The most anticipated November tournament put Gonzaga and Duke on opposite sides. Of course, there’s no guarantee the two top-five teams will meet in the final. But they had to do this. The matchups are all appealing. There isn’t a bad one. Auburn is an SEC title contender going against a Xavier team that will be looking to prove itself under new coach Travis Steele. San Diego State will look to show it belongs in the national discussion in the opener with Duke. And if Maui gets a Duke-Auburn semifinal, the game will be flying up and down. Brad Underwood is convinced his Illini will be much improved, and that means the Zags will need to earn the first win. Arizona is an unknown, but will be out to show they are ready early after an 0-3 turn in the Bahamas last season. The Wildcats get my sleeper team in the Big 12 in Iowa State with its unheralded but special guard Lindell Wigginton. Give me Gonzaga-Arizona for the rivalry or Zags-Cyclones for the guard matchup. Oh, and don’t forget that Trent Frazier plays for Illinois and could disrupt all of the possibilities.
11. Teams are willing to play Buffalo: The Bulls, who upset Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament, have a chance to win the MAC again and be a first-round NCAA tournament winner for a second season. But to do that, to be in position for a decent seed, the Bulls will need some non-conference wins of note. They can’t get the games at home, but Nate Oats isn’t hiding from taking chances on the road. He’s got the squad. The Bulls will play at West Virginia (Nov. 9), at Syracuse (Dec. 18) and at Marquette (Dec. 21). That’s three top 25 road games. Pluck off one or two and the Bulls could be golden.
12. Davidson is primed for a glorious season: Bob McKillop is one of the best coaches in the country. That’s a fact. He’s also one of the most genuine. He’s an educator. His team trip to Auschwitz earlier in the summer — without a hint of basketball — was one of the more remarkable things he has done in his career. Now, the attention turns to basketball where he’s got one of the best guards in the country in Kellan Grady. Grady has a chance to be the best player at Davidson since Steph Curry. Expect monster numbers from Grady and an A-10 title out of the Wildcats.
13. Shareef O’Neal is eligible for the Bruins: UCLA already got a huge lift when Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands were back for another season. Now the 6-9 O’Neal is on board. UCLA should be a legit challenger with Washington and Oregon for the Pac-12 title. There was no reason to believe the Bruins would fade away. Still, getting the key pieces back and adding a player who is more than just a big name creates even more excitement in Westwood.
14. Maryland and Saint Joseph’s were willing to play Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers were desperate for quality non-conference games after reaching the Final Four. Porter Moser wanted to play anyone, especially in Chicago. Moser got a gift when the Missouri Valley-Mountain West Challenge delivered a Sweet 16 rematch with Nevada, a top 25 team, in Chicago. Moser had to take chances for the other high-profile games, even if they are on the road. He took the Maryland game in Baltimore and agreed to play Saint Joseph’s at the Palestra. The Ramblers switched to a better tournament, but they could use Boston College or Wyoming in contention for a bid, assuming they get past Richmond. Loyola is the favorite in the Valley, but any power-rating pop in the non-conference will help in seeding for another deep run in March.
15. Villanova mined the grad transfer market well: The Wildcats landed Albany’s Joe Cremo. He’s a long-distance shooter who put up 17 a game for the Great Danes last season. The Wildcats are still the favorite to win the Big East. But they needed another guard, especially a shooter after losing Donte DiVincenzo to the NBA. Cremo could deliver early and often for the Wildcats.
16. Lagerald Vick returns to Kansas: Vick flirted with the NBA draft but never committed and came back to Kansas. He progressively got better in Lawrence from two points to seven to a dozen last season as a junior. Bill Self always has a few experienced players. He needed at least one more, especially in the backcourt, on this season’s roster. Kansas was going to be picked to win the Big 12 with or without Vick. But his return means the Jayhawks will be fully loaded to compete for the title. Look, Dedric and K.J. Lawson have plenty of reps from Memphis, but haven’t played a real game for Kansas yet. Having bigs Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa as anchors inside is key, but the backcourt was going to be oddly new for Kansas. Quentin Grimes has the hype as the newcomer, but Vick can be a stabilizing force for Self on the perimeter to offset the Lawsons, too.