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2022-23 Conference Previews: Mid-Majors
With the start of the college season rapidly approaching, the No Ceilings crew preview some of the key conferences and players to watch for the coming season. To close things out: the Mid-Majors.
The college basketball season is rapidly approaching, but we here at No Ceilings have already kicked off our season in style. After releasing our Preseason Guide and new merch in our No Ceilings store, we could have decided to slow down until early November. However, that’s just not how we roll over here. The crew gathered to preview the biggest conferences in college basketball, along with highlighting some potential mid-major stars. Closing out the series: the mid-majors.
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1. Ignore “consensus” boards and Twitter groupthink. Who is the best NBA prospect amongst these conferences?
Maxwell: I’m going with Jarace Walker. His size, on-ball skills, and defensive versatility scream “modern basketball player.” He has a rare combination of power and grace. Playing on a loaded Houston squad with high expectations, he’ll have plenty of chances to grab the spotlight.
Evan: This might be the easiest answer to this question of any of the preseason previews we’ve done, in my opinion. It’s Jarace Walker by a country mile. The Houston freshman forward is an imposing athletic, physical presence on both ends of the floor and has some phenomenal defensive instincts. I also love the flashes he’s shown as a scorer and playmaker, two skills that are just starting to blossom for him. He’s a no-brainer Top 10 talent in this class.
Nathan: Jarace Walker out of Houston. He’s a favorite of ours at No Ceilings, and I’m stumped as to why he doesn’t seem to be higher amongst consensus rankings. At 6’8”, Walker is a very intriguing blend of power and finesse, as he can overwhelm opponents on the block with his brute strength, as well as fade away into tough fallaway shots with the requisite touch to hit them with grace. A good passer with great vision for his size, toughness, rebounding, and defensive versatility, there isn’t much Walker can’t do on the court. Showing perimeter consistency is his top priority, but he’s right up there with other top prospects in 2023.
Rucker: Jarace Walker. He’s going to make PLENTY of fans in NBA draft circles. Walker has all of the tools to be a special talent at the next level. The only thing holding him back is a reliable jumper. His two-way upside is absurd and you, yes you, should watch plenty of Houston Cougars basketball this year.
Metcalf: Jarace Walker would be my answer for this for all but one conference. He defends every position, initiates the offense, spreads the ball around, and has a shot that works just well enough. Top 5 talent.
Nick: Jarace Walker. His combination of size and playmaking alone is intriguing; when you add in his excellent defense and rebounding gifts, he is hard for me to deny as the best player in college basketball outside of the Power Six conferences.
Albert: Jarace Walker is third on my Big Board right now. Walker should dominate college basketball and the NBA soon. All kidding aside, I love his game with a deep passion. Walker is such a beast, will be loved by his coaches, and can do so much with and without the ball in his hands. His touch around the rim and mid-range is insane. I love this man; the world should know this.
Stephen: It’s Julian Strawther for me. He’s a professional shooter with size that also gives great help on the boards. I’d love to see his Iso defense take a step forward, along with some evidence that he can make some solid reads as well.
2. Admittedly, one of the most satisfying parts of analyzing the draft is being able to look back and say “psh, about time you guys took notice of him. I’ve been hyping him up for ages.” Who is the prospect that you are irrationally high on?
Maxwell: THE TUCK TRAIN IS ROLLING! Drake’s Tucker DeVries provides everything modern NBA teams look for: range beyond the three-point line, playmaking skills, and good team defense. At 6’7”, his size is the icing on the cake.
Evan: I really love what coach Drew Valentine is building at Loyola Chicago currently. The Ramblers roster is filled with fun potential pro prospects. Sophomore forward Saint Thomas and freshman guard Ben Schwieger are intriguing talents in their own right, but incoming Division II transfer Philip Alston, might be the most NBA-ready player on Valentine’s squad this season. The 6’6” 225-pound forward is a brolic and explosive athlete who defends his ass off and scores in a variety of ways offensively. I’m very curious to see if he can find his way onto draft boards over the course of the year.
Nathan: Koby Brea from Dayton. I remember watching him last year and being incredibly intrigued by his shot-making ability as a 6’6” guard/wing. Coming into his junior season, I fully expect Brea to be one of the Flyers’ best options on offense and their tough shot-maker down the stretch of big games. The team as a whole is going to be really, really good, so I would expect Brea to get a massive stage this year along with big man DaRon Holmes.
Rucker: For the love of the NBA draft, I am asking for Taran Armstrong to hit another gear this year. If he can showcase an improved outside shot, I fear that Tyler Metcalf might single-handedly destroy Draft Twitter.
Metcalf: Taran Armstrong will be the best playmaker in the country, again. Armstrong’s playmaking rivals that of players like LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey. He never plays with blinders on and has supreme confidence in his passing accuracy and vision. He must figure out how to score consistently, because he has NBA size and playmaking.
Nick: Julian Strawther. Gonzaga might not have a Jalen Suggs or a Chet Holmgren work their way into the Top 5 of the draft this year, but Julian Strawther will have plenty of opportunities to lead Gonzaga to a repeat of their recent dominance. His three-point shooting is excellent, but it’s his mid-range game that really unlocks the rest of his scoring potential. It will be fascinating to see how he performs in a larger role for Gonzaga this season.
Albert: I’ve loved Julian Strawther for a long time. That dude has a perfect floater, can really shoot from outside, and is a good enough defender. I hope he flashes even more this season and solidifies himself as a potential first round prospect.
Stephen: Houston Mallette out of Pepperdine! I cannot help but love the guy. He is going to be a problem as a sophomore following a quiet but STRONG freshman campaign. He’s automatic from distance and can create off the bounce. There was some evidence last year that he can grow into a solid playmaker too. With a year to get a little stronger and improve on defense, Mallette could easily be a “where did this guy come from?” candidate!
3. Unfortunately, there are two sides to that coin, and they do not have equal probabilities. Which prospect do you like but think has the most likely chance of failing to meet expectations?
Maxwell: I’ve seen a lot of buzz around Malachi Smith, the Chattanooga transfer who is now at Gonzaga. I never “saw it” with him as far as an NBA fit. He’ll need to react better when stuck, find non-bullying ways to score, and take a step forward athletically. With Nolan Hickman and Rasir Bolton in the mix, his minutes might get eaten into if he struggles out of the gate.
Evan: I like Julian Strawther and am excited to see him back at Gonzaga for another season, but I’ve never fully bought into the idea of him as a first round talent. I’m looking forward to seeing him showcase more of his versatility this year and that he can be more than just a really good 3-and-D option at the next level.
Nathan: I sure hope Nolan Hickman takes the reigns at Gonzaga and proves he’s the type of lead guard that can help the Bulldogs get back to where they’ve been every regular season for as long as I can remember. But he’s going to have a much more significant role than he did last season, and he needs to deliver not just as a playmaker who balances the offense with so many mouths to feed, but he himself has to score and, in particular, shoot at a higher clip than he did last year. From his high school tape, it’s easy to believe that he can be a 36% or better shooter from three, but that wasn’t what he showed in a limited role last year. He needs to break out in a big way to remain in first-round conversations.
Rucker: Huge Nolan Hickman believer over here, but that Gonzaga team is going to have a lot of mouths to feed. I’m hoping more than ever that Hickman takes the job and never looks back, but I also could see this turning into a bit of a committee. If that happens, it could make things a bit interesting when it comes to Hickman’s draft stock.
Metcalf: I’m more intrigued by Eric Gaines than most, especially at No Ceilings, but there is a very real world in which his draft stock doesn’t improve this year. Gaines has struggled to figure out his jumper, and it is a glaring hole in his game. If he can find some success with it, though, then he has a crucial skill to pair with his chaotic defense and athleticism.
Nick: The flip side of my support for Julian Strawther is my concern about Nolan Hickman. I think that he has a chance to take the reins for Gonzaga, but I think it’s much more likely that he will take more of a back seat than the believers in his potential might want. I think that Hickman has a place in the NBA, but I’m not sure that he will do enough to declare for the 2023 draft.
Albert: I heard a ton about Hunter Sallis last season and wasn’t the biggest fan. I don’t think he has a single above-average skill. I don’t like how his jumper looks, I don’t think he’s an electric athlete, and I just don’t see the NBA potential as of now.
Stephen: There are plenty of people that still believe in Drew Timme as an NBA player. I just can’t get on board with that unless he improves defensively. He’ll have to be a five in the NBA, but he isn’t a rim deterrent, nor is he laterally blessed. He can give you some post scoring and a little playmaking, but he is a liability in too many other areas. Heck of a college player, though.
4. The shiny new thing is always the most enticing to go after, but there is always a ton of value in older prospects. Based on their previous college seasons, which returning player are you most excited to watch and has the best NBA potential?
Maxwell: Jayden Nunn, the combo guard out of VCU. He’s an electric shooter off the dribble who finished his last ten games with a near 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also guards his man the full length of the floor. His defensive skills and scoring profile make him a wonderful complimentary player type of prospect.
Evan: Wichita State’s Colby Rogers. The Siena transfer is such a smooth scorer and understands how to get to his spots on the floor. He’s a classic shooting guard that makes tough shots look easy on a routine basis, is lethal from mid-range, and has some filthy footwork to top it all off. I’m optimistic he can have a big year for the Shockers and get onto the mainstream draft radar.
Nathan: So many guys I could name here. Julian Strawther for Gonzaga because he can be the type of 3-and-D wing NBA teams would love to be able to draft IF he can take bigger strides as a defender. He has an efficient scoring package overall, especially as a cutter, and can make things happen within a structured system. Marcus Sasser at Houston could be the best guard in the country with his ability to fill it up from deep and hound anyone else in the opposing backcourt. And DaRon Holmes fits the bill for an athletic, rim-running big who can protect the rim and may offer some defensive versatility outside of the paint if he keeps progressing.
Rucker: Julian Strawther is probably one of “my guys” that I’m excited to see after another offseason of development. He’s got the tools to be a fantastic asset at the next level. With good size and a desire to attack the glass, Strawther could be the piece that every contending NBA franchise is looking to add to their roster. I have to give Marcus Sasser some love too. The Houston guard is returning for another year, and he should be the engine behind the stacked Cougars team.
Metcalf: I refuse to pick one and instead will cheat with a few names due to my indecisiveness. Nolan Hickman, Marcus Sasser, Tyler Burton, Julian Strawther, and DaRon Holmes.
Nick: Marcus Sasser. He could have been a first round draft pick last season if he hadn’t gotten injured at the worst possible time. He could rocket up draft boards at Houston this year with the opportunity to run the offense and have Jarace Walker as his running mate.
Albert: Marcus Sasser’s handle is filthy. That man is so fun to watch and should be even more fun to watch with Jarace Walker playing with him next season. Did I choose Sasser just to mention Jarace Walker’s name again? This is true.
Stephen: Tyler Burton of Richmond. He’s a 6’7” shooter that can handle the ball well and rebounds like a big. Last year, he played like the player many thought Caleb Houstan should have been, but he has come back for another run. Now that he’s the focal point, I can’t wait to see the creative freedom he’ll be given.
5. Whether it’s Anthony Edwards dropping 37 points against Michigan State or Austin Rivers ripping the heart out of UNC fans, or De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball, fans are provided with mesmerizing matchups and performances every season. Which matchup, whether team vs. team, player vs. player, or player vs. team, are you most looking forward to?
Maxwell: Gonzaga vs. Pepperdine. Pepperdine’s crew of Mike Mitchell Jr, Maxwell Lewis, and Houston Mallette all have NBA potential. How they perform against the best team in their conference will be telling as far as their 2023 draft prospects.
Evan: Gonzaga vs. Baylor on December 2nd. Both teams have a ton of NBA talent, and seeing these two guard rotations go at it should be incredibly fun.
Nathan: Gonzaga has a loaded schedule this year against the likes of Michigan State, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, but their matchup against Baylor on a neutral court is one that really catches my eye. So much backcourt talent potentially on both sides if Malachi Smith, Nolan Hickman, and Hunter Sallis live up to expectations. The Bears have an equalizer down low in “Everyday Jon” if Drew Timme tries to steal the show in the post. I want to believe in Hickman as an NBA prospect, and this matchup will be one of his toughest outside of when he has to face Cason Wallace and the Wildcats.
Rucker: Houston vs. Alabama. Find me on Playback for that game. My goodness, the talent.
Metcalf: Houston vs. Alabama could be a Final Four preview. There also happens to be plenty of NBA talent on both rosters.
Nick: Houston vs. Alabama. Jarace Walker and Brandon Miller could both easily be lottery picks in the 2023 draft, and Marcus Sasser will certainly have a say in the outcome of this one as well. This should be one of the better matchups of the college basketball season.
Albert: Houston is going to play against Oregon on November 20th. Walker against Ware is going to be a ton of fun.
Stephen: I’m excited to watch Dayton vs. VCU. Dayton has a few pro prospects in a unicorn, DaRon Holmes, and a fun wing, Koby Brea, that I am very excited to see! Jayden Nunn will have an opportunity to show his defensive versatility in this game. This is a Draft Nerd wet dream.
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