CFB Picks Week 5

CFB Week 5 Card:
Record: 8-3 (+5u)


Arkansas +18.5 (1.1u): This is as disrespectful of a line as I’ve ever seen. Arkansas has two outright
wins over ranked teams as an underdog, both by double digits. They have an explosive offense, a
defense that flies around and Sam Pittman, who clearly has changed the culture to embody the blue
collar nature of the state of Arkansas. Georgia’s best win? 10-3 over Clemson, who might not even be the 3rd best team in the ACC. This will be a dog fight, an incredible game and will be the easiest win of the weekend. Georgia wins late but Arkansas is a legitimate top-10 team. 18.5 is absurd. Cash it.


Texas -5 (1.1u): Too many people on TCU. Texas was dismissed too early after a loss to Arkansas, how
does that look now? Texas is a top-25 team and will put up 40+ on this pathetic TCU defense. I don’t love road favorites but Texas is getting ignored all because they lost to a top-10 team on the road. Love Bijan Robinson, Thompson is the guy and Sarkisian has things rolling. Cash it.

Kentucky +8.5 (1.1u): Florida is going to get everything Kentucky has, similar to Alabama heading to the
Swamp a couple of weeks ago. Great teams win this game but to expect Florida to waltz in there and win
a game like this by 9 or more is asking a lot. Kentucky’s D is solid enough, and they have one of the best
rushing attacks in the SEC led by Chris Rodriguez Jr. I love home dogs, and especially when it’s a
chance for a team like Kentucky to make a statement. Sprinkle the ML if you’re feeling frisky but 8.5?
Cash it.


Oklahoma St -3.5 (1.1u): This is tough one but I think the Cowboys are better on D and better in the
trenches. Both teams can run the ball, Baylor especially, but the Cowboys have been very effective in
stopping the run. If they can force Baylor into 3 rd and longs I don’t like Bohannon’s ability to make big
plays. They are also getting a lot of love from last week, when largely the game was won on a kickoff
return. Not buying Baylor. Cash it.


Kansas St +10.5 (1.1u): Purely a bet against an overvalued Oklahoma. They barely beat Tulane,
Nebraska and W. Virginia at home. K-State is better than all of them it it’s on the road. The line has
moved heavily towards Oklahoma, so you might be able to get 12.5 on this. Oklahoma does not deserve
to be in the top-10 and should be on upset alert. Another huge home dog. Cash it.


Rutgers +15 (1.1u): I’m riding home dogs this year and here’s another one. They played Michigan very
tough and covered easily last week. Ohio State’s D is still a problem, and when you can’t get stops it’s
hard to win by 3 TD’s. Schiano clearly has something going in Jersey and this is a chance to get them on
the map. Not the same old Rutgers we’re used to seeing get steamrolled. Cash it.

2021 Nebraska Preview

Key Departures: Teddy Allen (–>N. Mexico St); Dalano Banton (NBA); Shamiel Stevenson (Pro);

New In Town: Alonzo Verge Jr (<–Arizona St); CJ Wilcher (<–Xavier); Keon Edwards (<–DePaul);Bryce McGowens (#28); Wilhelm Breidenbach (#100); Quaran McPherson (#207); Oleg Kojenets (#210); Keisei Tominaga (JUCO)

State of the Program:

                  Fred Hoiberg continues to charge forward in his noble attempt to resurrect this Nebraska program from the ashes left behind by Tim Miles’ tumultuous exit. Last season was a step in the right direction, as they improved 50 spots in overall efficiency rankings to 102nd overall, largely behind a top-50 defense. The overall record still looks ugly, with a 5-34 Big Ten record over Hoiberg’s first 2 years, but this season could be another jump forward with another influx of talent. What’s key to watch in rebuilds such as this is an establishment of a winning culture, and to see them competing harder and harder is a positive sign on that front. Improving the defense from 152nd to 40th year over year is absolutely an accomplishment, and a reflection of a culture of competing hard every possession. Now the talent is having a chance to catch up, and if that culture continues to permeate throughout the program then I expect more gains to be made on this journey back to relevance. They also are beginning to get some stability, as they welcome back several key contributors from last season’s team they can continue to build around. That group is led by G Trey McGowens (SR), F Lat Mayen (JR), F Derrick Walker (SR), and G Kobe Webster (SR). All 4 of them started games for the Cornhuskers a year ago and McGowens was the key scorer and playmaker after Teddy Allen left the program mid-season. That group combined with the incoming talent should lift this Cornhusker team out of the cellar of the Conference in another positive step for this program.

What’s New:

                  It’s a huge group of guys coming into the program, with some redshirts likely to come, but the headliner of the group is Arizona St transfer G Alonzo Verge Jr (SR). He was a prolific scorer with the Sun Devils whose game reminds you of former Maryland star Anthony Cowan. He can score at all 3 levels and has the creativity and skill to get a clean look at any moment. The Cornhuskers need that spark and playmaking and he’ll likely be a starter in the backcourt. Also looking to start right away is brother of Trey McGowens, 5-star 6’6” G Bryce McGowens (#28). McGowens is the best recruit Nebraska has ever landed, and is almost a spitting image of former Villanova and current Suns star Mikal Bridges. Same thin, long frame with the same defensive upside, along with athleticism and a more developed offensive game than Bridges had at this stage. He can come in and be a star right away for Nebraska. A couple of other transfers have a shot at minutes, the first of which is 6’7” wing Keon Edwards (FR) out of DePaul. Edwards is largely unproven, as he enrolled early a season ago and didn’t get much action. He was a top-100 recruit though, and comes in as a special athlete that has a high ceiling if he can develop his game. Former Xavier G CJ Wilcher (FR) also enters looking for backup minutes, and his game is mostly as a crafty scorer, as his athleticism doesn’t jump off the page, but he can earn minutes if he can provide some scoring punch. The other member of the Freshman class who has a legit shot at minutes is 6’9” big man Wilhelm Breidenbach (#100) who will battle RS FR Eduardo Andre for backup big minutes. His game is a little quirky, but he has a lot of potential with his height and length combined with decent handles and a decent shot. He should develop as a very good stretch big man, especially if he adds strength to his wiry frame. The rest of the incoming class will likely redshirt or never see the floor, as it’s a massive group on the roster.

Prediction: 11th Big Ten (NR)

                  All-in-all I love what Hoiberg is building and unequivocally believe he will get this program to the NCAA tournament in the next couple of years. I don’t expect them to vie for that this season, but I definitely expect huge steps forward to be taken. They will no longer be the bottom dweller in the Conference, and I think they even pull a few surprise wins over the top teams at home. You will not be able to overlook Nebraska this season, and even though they will likely still be sub-.500 in Conference play it’ll be an entirely different feel this season. The McGowens brothers combined with Verge and Mayen give the Huskers some legitimate threats offensively. If they can maintain the improvements that were made on the defensive end then they should surprise some people in terms of how close they compete against elite teams. Ultimately winning matters above all else, but in this long term resurrection plan this season can be a key turning point for Hoiberg on this journey.

2021 Minnesota Preview

Key Departures: Marcus Carr (–>Texas); Gabe Kalscheur (–>Iowa St); Liam Robbins (–>Vandy); Both Gach (–>Utah); Brandon Johnson (–>Depaul); Jamal Mashburn Jr (–>New Mexico); Tre Williams (–>Oregon St)

New In Town: Luke Loewe (<–William & Mary); E.J. Stephens (<–Lafayette); Jamison Battle (<–G. Washington) Sean Sutherlin (<–New Hampshire); Payton Willis (<–Colgate); Charlie Daniels (<–SF Austin); Parker Fox (JUCO); Danny Ogele (<–Navy); Abdoulaye Thiam (JUCO); Treyton Thompson (#178)

State of the Program:

                  Minnesota is a complete dumpster fire right now, to put it lightly. Richard Pitino had opportunity after opportunity to build and maintain success here and failed to do so, as his 8 year stint came to a crashing conclusion last season after losing 8 of 9 to end the year. That was after reaching as high as 16 in the rankings after beating the likes of Iowa, Ohio St, Michigan and Purdue. The Gophers completely collapsed, and with it came the collapse of the program as virtually everyone from a year ago has exited. New coach Ben Johnson has an almost impossible task ahead of him, as he welcomes 10 new players into the program. He begins his first stint as a head coach after playing for the Gophers and spending the last decade+ as an assistant coach at N. Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Xavier. At this point if you’re still reading this you’re either a Minnesota fan, in which case I’m very sorry, or incredibly bored. I will quickly summarize the outlook for those barely hanging on, and it is as follows; your favorite team will dread playing the Gophers, only because a loss would be a disaster and a stain on the resume and a win will do absolutely nothing for you. The Gophers will be lucky to win 1 game in the Big Ten this season. Remember when Tim Miles left Nebraska in flames and Fred Hoiberg took the reins? He has won 5 total Big Ten games in his 2 seasons there, and he’s coached in the NBA. I can definitively say Coach Johnson faces an even tougher challenge having zero HC experience. Now, if you’re still with me, I’m going to painstakingly breakdown all 10 incoming players, all to surmise that they struggle to win 1 conference game. God bless your obsession to Minnesota hoops if you indulge in the exercise.

What’s New:

                  Kicking it off is 6’4” G Luke Loewe (SR) out of William & Mary. Luke was a 2x All-D and 1x All-CAA selection that averaged 16/3/3 a season ago. He’s a 3 level scorer that uses his craftiness to get to his spots despite his lack of athleticism. That will be more difficult in the Big Ten but the Gophers will undoubtedly need him to be a playmaker. 6’7” wing Jamison Battle (SO) is a southpaw who was also an All-Conference selection a season ago out of the A-10. He is likewise not the quickest, but can get to his spots and shoots well from deep and in the mid-range. Next up 6’3” G EJ Stephens (SR) out of Lafayette, who enters the program coming off an All-Conference selection of his own in the Patriot League. He put up 16 ppg and plays a similar game as Loewe, as he can create his own shot and was the main playmaker for his team a year ago. Sean Sutherlin (SR) is a 6’5” G out of New Hampshire that will represent a nice juxtaposition in the backcourt to the previous 2 guys as he’s a bouncy athlete that excels attacking the basket downhill. He plays a tough and physical brand of basketball, and he averaged 9+ rpg his last season. Payton Willis (SR) returns to Minnesota after transferring to Colgate, and he’ll assume his previous role as a perimeter shooter after shooting 40% a season ago. His experience at major level programs likely allows him to assume a starting role in the backcourt. 6’9” PF Charlie Daniels (SR) will be battling for minutes on the interior. He didn’t ever establish a major role and I don’t anticipate it happening here either, but he will be important for depth inside. Parker Fox (JR) is a 6’8” F that was a NABC DII All-American, for whatever that’s worth, and enters as a prime candidate to get big minutes at the 4/5. He dominated at that level mostly due to the fact he was simply bigger/faster/stronger than many of his opponents, which will no longer be the case, but his high energy high effort style will make him an exciting watch for Gopher fans. Abdoulaye Thiam (FR) is a 6’3” G emerging out of the JUCO ranks who will be looking to use his athleticism to earn playing time in this crowded, but up for grabs backcourt. Danny Ogele (SR) is a 6’7” F out of Navy who like Daniels never really was a standout but is a big body that will compete hard for minutes and provide necessary depth in the frontcourt. Last but not least the 1 true Freshman, 6’11” C Treyton Thompson (#178).  Thompson is a lanky big who can stretch out and shoot from 3 and uses his length to block shots inside. He will need to fill out as he develops, but should become a nice 4 year player for the program.

Prediction: 14th Big Ten (NR)

                  Predicting how the rotation will shake out feels similar to playing darts blindfolded after being spun around in circles. I will say, regardless of who gets more minutes than whom, the outlook feels much the same. The Gophers will not, under any circumstance, be a factor in the Conference beyond the conversation of being a trap game for x contender. Hopefully, for the programs sake, this will just be a bump in the road. But something about a total program exodus followed by the hiring of someone with zero head coaching experience has me a bit pessimistic about the future for the Gophers.

2021 Penn State Preview

Key Departures: Myreon Jones (–>Florida); Izaiah Brockington (–>Iowa St); Jamari Wheeler (–>Ohio St)

New In Town: Greg Lee (<–W. Michigan); Jalen Pickett (<–Siena); Jaheam Cornwall (<–Gardner Webb)         Jevonnie Scott (JUCO); Jalanni White (ßCanisius)

State of the Program:

                  It’s a new era for the Nittany Lions, and after last year’s tumultuous season led by interim Coach Jim Ferry, they have their man in Micah Shrewsberry. Shrewsberry came up under Brad Stevens, as an assistant at both Butler and with the Celtics, and also had stints under Matt Painter at Purdue. Quite the tutelage to have received on your way up, but his first D1 head coaching gig will not come without its challenges. 3 starters from last year’s 11-14 squad have left town, and with limited time to recruit amidst the chaos induced by the resignation of longtime coach Pat Chambers, Shrewsberry will be relying solely on the transfer market to replenish the program. I would expect based on his past experiences, he will come in and try and establish an old school culture based on good defense and disciplined offense. He could have his own style in there, but the impact of a dozen years alongside Stevens and Painter will surely be noticeable. He does get back a few weapons, including a couple of starters and a few role players that should be able to slide into that starting group. They will be led by the returning frontcourt Seth Lundy (JR) and John Harrar (SR), along with guards Myles Dread (SR) and Sam Sessoms (SR). They should represent 4/5 starters while returning G Daillon Johnson (SO) and F Caleb Dorsey (SO) will battle for backup minutes after playing limited minutes a year ago. The remaining rotation will be made up of transfers.

What’s New:

                  Leading the transfer group is Siena transfer, 6’4” G Jalen Pickett (SR). Pickett was a 3-time All-MAAC selection and was the unquestioned leader of the Siena team his entire time there. He was the main playmaker, both for himself and for his teammates, averaging 15/5/6 over 3 seasons with Siena. He should come in and start with Dread and Sessoms in the backcourt, and provide much needed playmaking for Shrewsberry. Next up is 6’9” F Greg Lee (SR) out of W. Michigan. Lee averaged 13/7 in his one season with the Broncos after transferring from CS Bakersfield, and looks to come in and be the primary backup for Harrar at the 5. 6’0” G Jaheam Cornwall (SR) out of Gardner Webb comes in with a pure jumper, having made over 200 3’s at a 42% clip with ability off the bounce and in catch and shoot situations. He should be the primary guard off the bench, and could serve as a sort of sparkplug for an offense that will likely struggle at times. JUCO transfer F Jevonnie Scott (JR) comes in as an elite athlete that excelled at using his quickness and strength to finish above the rim with ferocity. How he handles no longer being the quickest/strongest player on the floor will determine how much playing time he’s able to get in the frontcourt. 6’8” F Jalanni White (SR) enters the program as mostly a depth piece after starting off-and-on over his 4 years at Canisius and not averaging more than 7 ppg in any one season, finishing at only 4 ppg and 2 rpg last year.

Prediction: 13th Big Ten (NR)

                  Expectations for Shrewsberry and Penn St this season are pretty low, as the transition year could be rough at times. What is important to watch is how he’s able to establish and instill his philosophies into the existing talent, and how he can create some cohesion with this hodge podge of a roster. There are enough quality pieces to make them at least competitive so I don’t see it being a total disaster so long as he comes in and establishes a sound culture. Lundy is a bit of an x-factor for this team, as he’s had multiple explosive offensive performances in the past, if he can find some consistency he could become an all-conference performer. His past streakiness, which saw him drop 30+ and then disappear for several games, will need to be overcome however. Over the long term I have high expectations for Shrewsberry, as he’s been being molded for this opportunity over the last dozen years, and his experiences should have him fully prepared for what he’s facing. It will not be easy and it will not be quick, but I think he gets Penn St back to relevancy and back to the tournament a few years down the road. This year marks the beginning of a painful yet hopeful rebuild for a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2011.                  

2021 Iowa Preview

Key Departures: Luka Garza (Grad); Joe Wieskamp (NBA); CJ Fredrick (–>Kentucky); Jack Nunge (–>Xavier)

New In Town: Filip Rebraca (<–N. Dakota); Payton Sandfort (#170); Riley Mulvey (#203)

State of the Program:

                  Another year and another Fran McCaffery led squad that largely ignores the defensive end of the floor and ultimately loses the first weekend in March in their attempt to simply outscore their opponent. I’m thankful I have McCaffery to be the real life example year after year that if you ignore defense you don’t win in March, plain and simple. The Hawkeyes finished the season ranked 75th  on D, and lost to 7 seed Oregon in the 2nd round giving up 95 points. It was quite possibly the most predictable result of the entire tournament. All of this happened even when Iowa had the NPOY and 2x All-American Luka Garza being the most dominate force in college basketball. A real shame. Yet and still, McCaffery will don the Hawkeye sidelines once again, and he will lose Garza, as well as 2nd leading scorer and 2x All-Conference wing Joe Wieskamp. That’s nearly 40 ppg in those 2 that left town, so a huge challenge is forthcoming as replacing that high level of talent is difficult even for the elite programs. The good news is there’s a large young core with which McCaffery can build around, headlined by F Keegan Murray (SO), G Joe Toussaint (JR), and F Patrick McCaffery (SO) as well as veteran G’s Jordan Bohannon (SR) and Connor McCaffery (SR). Murray has a chance to develop into a star after bursting on the scene a year ago, and he is projected by many as a 2022 NBA draft selection. Beyond him McCaffery will be desperately looking for scorers and playmakers.

What’s New:

                  Incoming to help fill the void left behind by Garza is transfer big man Filip Rebraca (JR) out of N. Dakota. He was a nightly double-double threat that has game with his back to the basket in the post, facing up in the mid-range, as well as off the bounce attacking the basket. He was All-Summit a year ago averaging 17/8 and will come in and start alongside Murray in the frontcourt. 6’7” Freshman F Payton Sandfort (#170) comes in as one of the better catch and shoot wings in the class that I’ve seen, as his shot is as pure as they come at this level. He’s not the strongest, quickest or most explosive, but his jumper will earn him playing time and as he develops he could become a lethal weapon for this Hawkeye offense in the years to come. He will battle returning SO’s Kris Murray (SO) and Patrick McCaffery for backup time at the 3-4 spots this year. Last addition is 6’11 C Riley Mulvey (#203) who will likely be buried behind Rebraca and Josh Ogundele (SO) at the 5 spot. He is mostly a project at this point but has decent athleticism and Iowa has been able to develop big men in the past so I would expect him to have a role in a couple of years. Along with Ogundele and the Murray brothers, Iowa also will feature G’s Tony Perkins (SO) and Ahron Ulis (SO) as part of a huge SO class. Perkins and Ulis played sparingly last season but with the loss of Fredrick and Wieskamp they will step in to fill the void in the backcourt off the bench.

Prediction: 12th Big Ten (NR)

                  This Hawkeye team is young, with the exception of Bohannon and C. McCaffrey and will be far less lethal offensively than they were a year ago. They have some promising young players but once again they will reflect the leadership of Fran McCaffrey. That will mean they will struggle defensively and fire up a ton of 3’s. The problem with that is they lost 4 of their 5 best shooters with only Bohannon returning as a proven threat. I see this group struggling not only due to the loss of Garza and Wieskamp, but the continuing lack of Defense and the lack of perimeter shooting, which they typically rely on to make up for their defensive inefficiencies. Keegan Murray has a chance to prove he can play in the league but likely won’t get to do so on a national stage. That may be a blessing in disguise if they can get him to return next year for a 3rd season, as they will have a much better outlook after this young group gets a season without Garza under its belt. They relied on him so heavily it will be a tough transition to life beyond him, and losing the #2 guy at the same time only exacerbates the challenge. The lack of playmakers and scorers combined with the historical lack of emphasis on defense puts the Hawkeyes in the bottom half of the Conference and on the outside looking in come March.

2021 Northwestern Preview

Key Departures: Miller Kopp (–>Indiana); Anthony Gaines (–>Siena)

New In Town: Casey Simmons (#99); Julian Roper (#147); Brooks Barnhizer (#149)

State of the Program:

            I often think of the Chris Collins tenure in a negative way, especially after the collapse of 2018 a season after their historic NCAA tournament win. Most programs would not still employ Collins, but when you’re a program that had zero NCAA tournament appearances, let alone wins, the leash is much longer, especially for the guy who did bring you your 1st tournament win. Still, the years after have been disappointing considering the momentum that was thought to be taking place, as they’ve gone sub-.500 both in conference and overall all 4 years after that tournament appearance and win. They did compete well a year ago, and actually entered the top-25 rankings before losing 13 straight Conference games. It was a brutal schedule and a young team that hopefully, for Collins’ sake, can continue to build on the 6 Conference wins from a year ago. They return 6 of the 9 regular rotation guys, including 4 starters from a year ago, headlined by leading scorer Chase Audige (JR). Other returning starter are Pete Nance (SR), Boo Buie (JR), and Robbie Beran (JR) alongside role players Ryan Young (JR) and Ty Berry (SO). This group did make some strides a year ago, especially defensively as they transformed from 150th to 37th in defensive efficiency. Expectations should be higher as Collins’ seat begins to heat up the farther away he gets from his last successful season.

What’s New:

                  Coming to campus is a pretty nice Freshman class that has a chance to have an impact for the program. Leading the group is 6’5” G Casey Simmons (#99) who enters the program as the 2nd highest rated recruit in 247 sports’ recorded history. He’s not a one-and-done blue chip prospect by any means but his length and athleticism give him a high ceiling, especially for a guy who already shows a natural ability to score the basketball. He should also hold up defensively, and earn plenty of minutes off the bench in year 1. The next member of this class is 6’3” CG Julian Roper (#147). His being undersized for a 2 guard is likely part of his lower ranking, but his handles and playmaking ability at all 3 levels should help him to become a lethal weapon down the road for the Wildcats. The final Freshman coming to town is 6’6” wing Brooks Barnhizer (#149). Barnhizer is not the most athletic, but his height and shot make him a compelling prospect, he will need to get stronger and quicker, but has the skills to make an impact on this program. He will be able to battle for backup minutes off the bench.

Prediction:

                  Collins has a real chance to build on an improved season a year ago. Getting 4 starters back allows for them to remain cohesive and build on their steps forward from last season. Audige, Nance and Buie all showed flashes offensively and if they can gain some consistency in their play that will be huge for Northwestern in taking a step forward. Losing Kopp hurts the ceiling, but with only Nance being a Senior and one of the better classes in school history coming in this is a huge building block year for Collins. A very young team from a year ago gets a little older, and if they continue the defensive strides and expand their offensive abilities they should be even more competitive than a year ago. There are several programs on the decline in the Big Ten this year, Northwestern should not be one of them. Simmons and Roper are promising prospects and most of the team should be coming back in ’22-23, so Collins should be building towards a tournament run again here soon. 6 of the top 9 recruits at Northwester since 2000 will be on this roster, only Nance is a Senior. If 2023 ends in another below .500 season there is no way Collins should remain the HC at Northwestern. They should absolutely win 7 or 8 Conference games at minimum this season and anything less should have Collins feeling very nervous about his future as the HC. I don’t anticipate a surprise tournament appearance this season, but certainly watch for Northwestern as a home dog to upset some teams and you may even see me dropping some cash on them a few times in that scenario.

2021 Wisconsin Preview

Key Departures: D’Mitrik Trice (Grad); Micah Potter (Grad); Aleem Ford (Grad); Nate Reuvers (Grad)

New In Town: Chris Vogt (<–Cincy); Jahcobi Neath (<–Wake Forest); Chucky Hepburn (#122); Markus Ilver (#144); Matthew Mors (#146); Chris Hodges (#151)

State of the Program:

                  Wisconsin had what was likely the most disappointing year of any team in the country a year ago, as they returned their entire team that finished 3rd in the Big Ten in 2020, only to end the 2021 regular season going 4-8 down the stretch as the wheels fell off. There was an apparent lack of leadership, which was highlighted by players and coaches pointing fingers at each other in a private team meeting that ended up being recorded and leaked to the media. The stories that unfolded in the off-season were shocking given the fact that the roster included a large senior class, as they put the blame squarely on Coach Greg Gard’s shoulders. From an outside perspective it seemed a little petty, as the Seniors trashed their coach on the way out the door after collapsing under the weight of the expectations for their success. And then not only did one of them record the private conversation, but in turn leaked it to the media. Not right on any level, so you have to lean towards taking the side of Coach on this one. Gard appears to be in a good place regardless, as there was not a mass exodus aside from the seniors who graduated, and G Brad Davison (SR) is actually returning for his 5th year with the Badgers under Gard. Also returning are key rotation pieces Jonathan Davis (SO) and Tyler Wahl (JR), as well as the rest of the now sophomore class, PF Ben Carlson, G Lorne Bowman (RS), G Jordan Davis, and C Steven Crowl. This will be a very different year for Gard, as it will be all about development for a young team, as he has huge FR and SO classes.

What’s New:

                  This is a large incoming group for the Badgers as they attempt to replace 5 of their 8 rotation players from a season ago. Leading the group is the likely starting C 7’1” Chris Vogt (SR) out of Cincinnati. He’s not going to be a dominate force inside, but he can finish at the rim, rebound and block shots and is an essential piece in a Conference that boasts the country’s most elite big men. He will battle Crowl for minutes at the 5 and I would imagine he earns the start and bigger minutes of the 2. Next up is 6’3” G Jahcobi Neath (JR) who comes from Wake Forest after serving as a backup in his 2 seasons there. He’s a strong, physical guard who excels when attacking the basket and using his strength and athleticism to finish through contact. He will battle for backup minutes once again, and if he can develop a jump shot and defend well he could be a nice piece for the Badgers. The top of the Freshman class is 6’1” PG Chucky Hepburn (#122). He reminds me of a guy like Yogi Ferrell, a small twitchy PG who can shoot as well as facilitate as a playmaker despite being undersized. I like him to explode later in his career, and he even could assume a starting role in the backcourt by season’s end. I think the vets get the start early but expect Hepburn to have an ever-expanding role. 6’8” F Markus Ilver (#144) also enters the program with a shot at minutes early in his career. He is a lethal catch and shoot marksman, and can also attack the basket off the bounce. His limitations involve his athleticism, as he’s not the quickest or the strongest, but his jumper will undoubtedly earn him minutes and he could develop into a great player for the program. Matthew Mors (#146) enters the program as a 6’7” PF similar to Ilver with a bit more strength and athleticism and not as good of a jumper. Mors could earn minutes as a 9th or 10th option or he may redshirt, either way I think he can develop into a nice piece down the road. The final newcomer is yet another PF, 6’8” Chris Hodges (#151). Despite his listing as a PF I see him more as a small ball 5, as he excels at getting position inside, rebounding and finishing underneath. He hasn’t shown ability to stretch the floor yet, but he does have more strength than the other F’s in the class.

Prediction: 9th Big Ten (NR)

                  It projects to be a year of rebuilding for Gard and the Badgers, as they have an influx of talent, but none of which is developed enough to be ready to lift up a program losing 4 starters. Jonathan Davis has star potential, and the return of Brad Davison alongside him will help keep the Badgers competitive. Tyler Wahl should join those 2 as starters, along with Chris Vogt at the 5. That leaves a position open, which Gard could go 1 of 2 ways with. He could start Carlson at the 4 with Davison running the show, or hand the reigns to either true Freshman Hepburn or RS FR Lorne Bowman. I really like Hepburn’s potential, but I don’t know how ready he’ll be to run the show. Gard may feel he doesn’t have a choice, as playing big with Carlson might be a disaster defensively. He could start Bowman alongside Davison if that proves better defensively. A lot of questions but it’s more about unproven and underdeveloped options not a plethora of elite talent. That fact has me believing the Badgers have a tough season, and maybe they can beat up on the bottom of the Conference but they certainly will be on the outside looking in come March. All eyes should focus on 2022-23 as much of this group will be returning.

2021 Rutgers Preview

Key Departures: Jacob Young (–>Oregon); Myles Johnson (–>UCLA); Montez Mathis (–>St. John’s)

New In Town: Aundre Hyatt (<–LSU); Ralph Agee (<–San Jose St); Jaden Jones (#154); Jalen Miller (#185)

State of the Program:

                  What Steve Pikiell has done with this Rutgers program is nothing short of a miracle, as he has turned a program that was the laughing stock of multiple conference over the last 30+ years into a consistently competitive team. Last year they won their first tournament game since 1983, and have turned in back to back .500 or better conference records for the first time since 1991, which was also their most recent tournament appearance prior to last season. Pikiell is the best coach nobody knows in the country, and if I was a major program hiring a HC I would be doing everything I could to bring him in. He has turned this Rutgers program into a nightmare opponent as they have boasted a top-20 defense the previous 2 seasons. The offense has lagged behind, but the talent level is increasing year over year. He will continue to build and push this program in the right direction, and despite a few key losses he welcomes back a solid group from last year’s squad. That group is led by 3rd Team All-Conference Ron Harper Jr (SR), who returns as the unquestioned go-to option offensively. He’s joined by returning starters Geo Baker (SR) and Paul Mulcahy (JR), and key reserves Caleb McConnell (SR) and Clifford Omoruyi (SO). These 5 will likely be the starting group, with the bench roles likely coming from transfers and Freshmen.

What’s New:

                  Headlining the incoming group is LSU transfer wing Aundre Hyatt (SO). Hyatt is an athletic wing that can attack the basket and could develop an efficient jump shot as well. He should fit right in on the defensive side with his quickness and length, and serve as a quality backup wing this season. San Jose St transfer C Ralph Agee (SR) joins as an incredible athlete that excels at finishing above the rim and blocking shots. He also has ability off the bounce to beat his defender and finish inside. He will handle the 5 spot along with Omoruyi and help anchor this stingy Rutgers D. 6’7” F wing Jaden Jones (#154) came to the program early last spring and will look to join Hyatt and returner Mawot Mag (SO) in the wing rotation. He went viral as a 5th grader showing off his game, and enters this Rutgers program with a DeMar DeRozan style offensive style, excelling at attacking the basket and using his craftiness to get open mid-range looks. He should earn a few minutes this year and could develop into a really nice player down the road. Lastly is 6’3” PG Jalen Miller (#185), who is a springy athlete that can attack the basket and finish acrobatically and he has great vision as a playmaker as well. He enters a pretty thin backcourt so he actually could get some time this season as a backup guard, albeit pretty limited as Harper and Baker figure to get play as much as possible.

Prediction: 8th Big Ten (NR)

                  The outlook for this Rutgers group is ultimately pretty similar to last season. The losses of Young and Mathis present a challenge to an already struggling offense, as more pressure will be put on Harper and Baker to score at a high clip. The defense should remain at an elite level, with Omoruyi and Agee as shot blockers inside allowing these athletic wings and guards to put a lot of pressure on opposing teams. This style that Pikiell has implemented has been essential in terms of the rise of the program, however it is also what limits the program’s ceiling at this point. Because he recruits strong, athletic guys who can excel defensively, they all enter the program with offensive limitations. There are no 3-point marksmen or high volume scorers coming in, so an offense ranked 82nd a year ago will undoubtedly continue to struggle to score consistently. Their hard-nose defensive style will keep them competitive though, and they should grind out wins against quality opponents, especially at home. I think Harper can elevate his game some, as well as Baker, but a lot of shooting punch was lost with the exit of Young and Mathis. I expect Rutgers to continue to make program history by making yet another NCAA tournament as a low seed once again, but I don’t think they take a step forward in terms of competing with the top of the Conference. If Pikiell can start reeling in some higher level scorers that’s when Rutgers can really elevate itself as a true challenger for a Conference Championship and deeper March runs, and based on what I’ve seen from him thus far, I’m not ruling that out.

2021 Michigan State Preview

Key Departures: Aaron Henry (NBA); Joshua Langford (Grad); Rocket Watts (–>Miss St); Thomas Kithier (–>Valpo) Foster Loyer (–>Davidson)

New In Town: Tyson Walker (<–Northeastern); Max Christie (#19); Jaden Akins (#52); Pierre Brooks (#59)

State of the Program:

                  Tom Izzo entered last season having never gone sub-.500 in Big Ten Conference play in his 25 years at the helm, but in year 26 he saw his streak come to an end. And even so, the Spartans rallied late to squeak into the tournament, only to fall in the First Four to eventual Final Four team UCLA. Izzo struggled to find consistency from almost everyone on the roster, as he started 11 different guys throughout the season and had 12 guys enter and exit the rotation at various points. Izzo looked desperate the entire season for someone other than Aaron Henry to emerge as a reliable option, and frankly was never presented with one. 5 of those 12 have now exited the program and those who remain will have to battle a very talented incoming class that will look to steal the open roles. Highlighting the returning group are forwards Gabe Brown (SR), Marcus Bingham (SR), Joey Hauser (JR), Malik Hall (JR), and Julius Marble (JR). These 5 will battle for time at the 4-5 spots, with Gabe Brown likely playing a lot of time at the 3 as well. Obviously, the exodus out of East Lansing was in the backcourt, and Izzo will rely on a very young group of newcomers to lead the offense, hoping somewhere he can find a playmaker….or two.

What’s New:

                  The guy with the best chance to come in and fill the playmaking void is Northeastern transfer PG Tyson Walker (JR). The 6’0” Walker averaged nearly 19 ppg last year and became one of the most coveted players in the transfer market. He is a tough shot maker and is crafty in getting into the paint to both finish and facilitate, and his athleticism should allow those skills to translate to high major play so he should come in and be the starting PG for Izzo. 5-star 6’6” SG Max Christie (#19) also comes to campus looking to assume a starting backcourt gig. Christie’s size and skills remind you of someone like Jarrett Culver, a long lanky scorer who can get to the rim and hit tough perimeter shots. Izzo is not known for giving the reigns to a Freshman, but in Christie he has a guy who has skills the rest of the wing players simply don’t have, so I expect the offense to feature Christie heavily. 6’3” PG Jaden Akins (#52) also enters the program looking to compete for a spot in the backcourt rotation, and his athleticism and feel for the game should allow him to compete with AJ Hoggard (SO) at the backup PG spot. Akins has freakish athleticism and controls the game well at the PG spot, and if he improves his jump shot he could become a star for Sparty down the road. Last man in the group is 6’6” SF Pierre Brooks (#59). Brooks is an exciting prospect due to his combination of strength and physicality mixed with scoring ability at all 3 levels. He can create for himself, either for a jump shot or by using his physicality to punish defenders inside. He reminds you of a guy like Raiquon Gray or even current Buckeye EJ Liddell. This incoming group could all end up having very significant roles, with Walker and Christie needing to become scorers Sparty can lean on.

Prediction: 7th Big Ten (NR)

                  Ultimately, seeing this Sparty team appear in a lot of pre-season top-25 rankings is pretty befuddling. You’re looking at a team that lost its only proven offensive playmakers in Henry, Langford, and Watts and will be relying heavily on a group that Izzo swapped in and out of the rotation last year in a display of pure desperation for consistent quality play. That leaves you relying on a transfer out of the Colonial Athletic Conference and a Freshman to be the primary scorers for a group that was already 98th in offensive efficiency a year ago. Listen I love Tom Izzo, best coach in the country hands down in my opinion, but even for him this is a tall, tall order.  Izzo has succeeded all of these years largely relying on two things, an established big man and veteran G play. Neither of those things can be found on this roster. Marble has the best shot at becoming an interior threat, but he was wildly inconsistent a year ago. Walker is experienced in mid-major basketball but the Big Ten is a different animal. How well he can translate his game against bigger faster players will be massive. If the Freshmen can come in and be the rising tide to lift all boats then we may just see Sparty back on track, but as much potential as there is in this group they aren’t as decorated as they need to be to lift an entire program in year 1. Christie will be good, but only good enough to leave them somewhere around .500 again in Conference play and firmly on the bubble come March.

2021 Maryland Preview

Key Departures: Aaron Wiggins (NBA); Darryl Morsell (–>Marquette); Galin Smith (Grad);                                        Jairus Hamilton (–>W. Kentucky)

New In Town: Ian Martinez (<–Utah); Qudus Wahab (<–Georgetown); Fatts Russell (<–Rhode Island);            Pavlo Dziuba (<–Arizona St); Julian Reese (#58); Ike Cornish (#109)

State of the Program:

                  Kind of a ho-hum year it was for Maryland a season ago, as they had a few nice wins, a few bad losses and won a game in the tournament as a 10 seed. It was a rebuilding year of sorts after losing Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith the previous year and Mark Turgeon continues to try and get over the hump. He’s entering his 11th season leading a program that made multiple Final Fours and won a National Championship 18 years ago, and he has reached 1 Sweet 16 with 1 shared Conference Championship. They’ve always been competitive but have never gotten to that level they once had under Gary Williams. Turgeon will have another tough time getting over that hump this season, as he’ll be relying on several transfers coming in to hopefully boost a returning group that lost several key contributors from last season. They do get back honorable mention All-Conference G Eric Ayala (SR), as well as starters F Donta Scott (JR) and G Hakim Hart (JR). Aside from those 3, the entire projected rotation will come from a combination of Freshmen and transfers.

What’s New:

                  The best of the incoming group is 5’10” PG Fatts Russell (SR) from Rhode Island. The 2x All-A10 and All-Defensive team selection comes to Maryland as a scoring guard who will start in the backcourt alongside Ayala. His poor shooting numbers are problematic, but ideally he lowers his volume and improves his efficiency being surrounded by a more talented group than before. 6’11” F/C Qudus Wahab (JR) also comes in as a projected starter, at the 5. He is a great athlete who excels in the paint on both ends, rebounding, blocking shots and finishing inside and provides a fill for a huge hole in this roster.  Next up G Ian Martinez (SO) out of Utah, who was a decent recruit but only had a backup role a year ago, and figures to be in the same role this season, battling with returning SO Marcus Dockery for minutes as a reserve. He’s a great athlete that will need to improve his jump shot in his development at Maryland. Lastly, 6’8” F Pavlo Dziuba (SO) who has only appeared in 8 collegiate games but does have FIBA experience where he flashed good athleticism and the ability to attack the basket off the bounce. He likely will be fighting for backup minutes at the 4/5 positions. The better of the 2 Freshmen figures to be 6’8” PF Julian Reese (#58), who is a gifted athlete that relies on that athleticism to block shots and finish well inside. He’s not as big or strong as Wahab, but he can likely fill a similar role as a smaller 5. I don’t see him pushing Scott to the 3 in the starting lineup as his skillset next to Wahab would clog the offense for the Terrapins. Lastly there’s 6’6” SF Ike Cornish (#109). Cornish, much in the mold of current Terrapin Donta Scott, can bang inside as well as step out and hit an open 3 making him a nice versatile piece for Turgeon. He will likely battle RS FR James Graham for backup F minutes this year, and could develop into a solid player down the road as he’s shown flashes of playmaking and creating his own shot at all 3 levels. If those skills continue to develop he could be an All-Conference performer in year 3 or 4.

Prediction:

                  All in all it’s a hodge-podge of nice pieces that Turgeon will be tasked with marrying together. In Ayala and Scott they have proven shot makers, but Russell will be necessary in the playmaking department. They went through scoring draughts a year ago, as they really had no guys who could breakdown a defense consistently and create for others, so they were forced to take tough contested jump shots. This was exacerbated by the fact that they had no inside presence, which also hurt them on the offensive glass and on defense with zero rim protection. The additions of Wahab and Reese will help in those areas, as Russell should be able to help create some more open looks for Ayala, Scott, and Hart. There’s a lot of promise with this group despite the challenge of cohesion and I think Wahab and Russell help elevate them on paper to a higher ceiling than last year’s group. In conference, Wahab will be especially important when dealing with the elite big men the Conference will boast this season. I don’t think they can contend to win the Conference, but nobody is going to want to go to College Park and I think they can improve on the 9-11 record from a season ago and fall in the 7-8 range in the tournament. But in the end, Turgeon simply won’t have the firepower to get this program back to the heights it was in the early to mid-2000’s this season, and frankly his best chance may have been the 2020 NCAA tournament that never was.