2022 Champions Classic Preview | The Morning Dunk
As the college basketball season approaches it's main tip-off event, the Champions Classic, our own Nathan Grubel previews it in full, and recaps the first week of action in scouting.
Man, it feels so good to be back!
The first week of college hoops is in the books, as we now get to turn our collective attention to the event everyone has been waiting for: the Champions Classic.
Every year, a marquee quartet of Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas take the floor on a neutral site to thrust us into early season tournament play. This exhibition of talent is not only great for the sport itself, but it’s also an intriguing state for scouts and evaluators to get a feel for top prospects right out of the gate.
Generally, it takes a bit for freshmen to get their legs under them, as they are moving up in competition. Adjusting to the speed and physicality of the college game, building chemistry on both ends with their teammates, and feeling the magnitude of playing for a high-major program can be a lot to process in one week.
Throw in the fact that the next game is against one of the power programs in the country, and it’s easy to market this event as one of those that have to be circled on the calendar each season.
Therefore, it’s only right to do a deep-dive preview of the top players that will be taking part in this year’s showdown. Who do you need to watch in this game? Who could break out on that very stage, and who might need a little more time?
All of that, PLUS I have my main takeaways from the opening slate including some reactions to my prior questions, and other standout performances from film review.
First TRUE Morning Dunk of the season; let’s get cracking!
Champions Classic Preview
Before I break down the players to watch, one tiny little selfish plug for us at No Ceilings!
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Alright, back to the basketball.
Kentucky vs. Michigan State
The first game of the night involves one program in position to potentially win the national championship, with the other trying to gain its footing in the national polls after the first week.
Kentucky is no joke this year, as John Calipari has an excellent mix of veteran leadership, freshmen talent, and some key transfers to help fortify the bench unit.
Oscar Tshiebwe, Jacob Toppin, and Sahvir Wheeler are the experienced bunch who can all contribute in different ways. Tshiebwe and Toppin in particular are still on NBA radars as potential second-round picks, and can certainly stand to improve even this deep into their college careers.
Now whether we will get to see Tshiebwe on Tuesday night remains to be seen, but Toppin will be raring to go and prove to the draft community he’s on his way to a breakout season.
During preseason exhibitions, Toppin’s confidence looked as though it’s in a much different place than in prior years. He’s more willing to create his own offense and incorporate more jumpers into his arsenal, while still providing the transition play, cutting, and help defense he’s been known for before he even set foot in Lexington. If the perimeter game is real, it’s hard to find big wings who can fill a stat sheet in the same way as Toppin, so NBA teams should be watching his game closely.
In terms of freshmen, it’s Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston who will dominate the conversation for the Wildcats. Wallace in particular almost had a triple-double in Kentucky’s first win of the year, and he looked like a real combo guard doing it. He’s unselfish in the halfcourt, a true transition grab-and-go threat, and has touch from all over the floor. Oh, and Wallace WANTS to defend 94 feet.
With his length and athleticism, there may not be a more complete guard in the country even if he’s not as dominant in one particular area scoring-wise like Nick Smith Jr. or Keyonte George.
Livingston looks like he is going to need some time to really get going, but he’s had a few moments already in his first two games, rebounding the ball on both ends, getting out on the break, and showing some awesome leaping ability to throw down powerful dunks.
Transfer-wise, Antonio Reeves is bringing a TON of scoring punch to Lexington this year and I would expect him to possibly be the X-factor against a rugged Spartan backcourt.
Reeves is a shot-maker first and foremost, and his efficient perimeter shooting has really lifted the second unit, and he’s meshed incredibly well when he shares the floor with the starters. One of the older guards on the team, Reeves looks willing to slot in and help wherever he can, even if that means being the team’s super sub.
I wouldn’t count him out when it comes to the draft. Teams want 6’5” guards who can shoot it at will, and Reeves should continue to fill it up from outside.
One surprise name to keep an eye on for Kentucky: Ugonna Onyenso. The 6’11”, 225-pound freshman has opened eyes in just two games, displaying a combination of size, length, motor, and toughness that have helped the Wildcats in Tshiebwe’s absence. Transition game, hustle points, rim protection—Onyenso can do a variety of things on the court, and he wasn’t heard of in mainstream draft circles before the season started.
Even when Big Oscar comes back, I doubt that Cal can keep Onyenso off the court. He’s been too productive to relegate him to a lower-minute bench role. Expect Onyenso to be firmly in the mix against Michigan State.
Speaking of Michigan State, while there aren’t any blue-chip prospects to keep an eye on, there are a few guards who could see some real looks in the second round.
AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins continue to intrigue me as potential secondary creators at the next level. Each provides something different to the offense, with Hoggard wanting to get downhill and create chaos around the basket, while Akins loves the pull-up game.
Akins in particular is smooth with the ball in his hands, and he has a knack for helping others get involved in the offense. Hoggard, though, is one tough cookie to deal with.
Built like a tank, Hoggard can physically wear down opposing backcourt matchups and is one of the better rebounders at his position in the country. A defensive playmaker as well, Hoggard does a little bit of everything, and scouts could see too many tools to leave him out of the draft conversation.
Lastly, keep an eye on Jaxon Kohler in the frontcourt. The freshman has great feet for a big, and can really get it going in the post. If Kentucky isn’t able to trot out enough size with Tshiebwe, the Spartans could look to Kohler to provide some different looks down low and get some easy buckets. He didn’t look as ready as I’d hoped in the loss to Gonzaga on Friday night, but I’ll give Michigan State a pass there. Outdoor games are a rough adjustment, so let’s see what Kohler looks like in a new setting.
Duke vs. Kansas
This game has ALL of the goods for a draft analyst.
With plenty of prospects on both sides, it’s tough to predict who will come out and have a better night. In terms of winning the game, my money would be on Kansas as I think there’s too much experience on the wings.
Jalen Wilson has gone bananas in the first few games for the Jayhawks, averaging 20 PPG, 10 RPG, and four APG on 45.5/46.2/100 shooting splits. Wilson has asserted himself within the offense, showing three-level scoring versatility with rebounding effort, defensive intensity, and a leadership quality that helped propel Ochai Agbaji to a lottery pick in the 2022 draft. Our own Maxwell Baumbach remains high on Wilson’s prospects after his solid run at the combine, and Wilson has another big stage to prove he belongs in consideration for the first round.
Opposite Wilson are two other great options on the wings in Gradey Dick and Kevin McCullar. If you followed us at No Ceilings last season, you would know we really enjoyed McCullar’s defensive efforts. A legitimate lockdown candidate, McCullar can guard almost every position on the floor in college. While he’ll be more of a perimeter ace in the NBA, being able to slide him up and down defensively against a Duke squad with size and length all over should prove very useful late in the game.
Offensively, that’s where Dick comes in. A 6’8” heat check from three, Dick knows his way behind the arc. Dick is a threat to shoot the second the ball grazes his fingertips, able to come off movement, pop from screens, and even create some offense for himself off a few dribbles. What I’ve been impressed with though is his craft when he gets two feet in the paint. Gradey has shown more of an offensive package than I expected early on for Kansas, and I’ll be curious to watch how he matches up with some of the talented Blue Devils.
In terms of other Jayhawks to watch, I could as easily mention KJ Adams and MJ Rice, but Ernest Udeh has all of us at No Ceilings raising an eyebrow after the team’s first week.
The 6’11” frosh has already been contributing down low as a high-level finisher, rebound magnet, and bully on the defensive end. Udeh may not be the same kind of leaper as Dereck Lively, who I’ll get to in a second, but he’s an enforcer who embraces his role and does whatever he can to help the team. Soft hands, some passing flashes, and all the rim-running goodness NBA teams want from a modern big. There’s more I want to see before I move him accordingly up my board, but he’s definitely someone to watch on Tuesday.
Alright, I saved Duke for last because obviously, they are the marketing machine that always gets the first eyeballs of the season.
There’s still plenty of talent on the roster, but is there enough experience to match in order to take down a veteran-laden squad like Kansas? First-year coach Jon Scheyer should have his hands full, as the expectations that blanketed the program under Coach K still remain.
But we aren’t here to talk about legacies, we’re here to preview prospects!
As I mentioned, Lively is the big man to talk about for Duke. The good news for Blue Devil fans is that Lively did in fact dress and play in the team’s game Friday night, and he did get a chance to get his feet wet in the process.
Playing 14 minutes, he got a few baskets to go, blocked a few shots, and got some good run before a monster showdown on Tuesday. If he’s able to give it 100%, I expect high energy, verticality, and possibly a little shooting touch shown by the gifted 7’1” freshman. I’m still buying in early on his tools and potential, and a game against Kansas is a great way to break out on the national stage.
Dariq Whitehead, the team’s most talented scorer when healthy, isn’t expected to play on Tuesday BUT there are still other names at the forward spots to keep an eye on.
Mark Mitchell has been a fun player for me to watch early on. I bought preseason stock in him playing into the first round of the ‘23 draft, and I stand by that notion.
The 6’8” forward has an intriguing combination of tools ranging from transition playmaking and lob finishing on the break to catch-and-shoot looks and closeout attacks from the corners. He’s even gotten the opportunity to catch, drive, and create his own offense from the wings. Mitchell is someone who you can involve in different screening and short-roll playmaking actions; there are a number of ways for Mitchell to get involved offensively.
And should he clean up some of the defensive concerns away from the ball, could prove to be one of the most important utility options for Duke, starting with the matchup against Kansas.
Kyle Filipowski has also tried to assert himself offensively, showing his ability to space the floor, pop out, make plays out of the short roll, and either score in the post or find teammates out of double teams. Filipowski is certainly another guy Duke can run real offense through, and I would expect nothing less to match up with some of the bigger Jayhawk wings.
But when it comes to running offense, few guards in the country have scouts asking more questions than Tyrese Proctor.
While the shooting hasn’t quite come around for him in these first few games, Proctor looks primed to operate as one of the better playmakers in the ACC. A 6’5” lead guard, Proctor is composed and plays at a good pace when looking to get others involved. He’s creative as a passer, plays his angles well, and can fit the ball in tight windows finding cutters and making those crosscourt passes necessary for any point these days.
Proctor has real chops on the defensive end too, leaving many wondering if he can manage to challenge in the lottery should his scoring and shooting be there for him all year long. He’ll have quite the chance to prove himself in that department in this one, as Dajuan Harris and Bobby Pettiford aren’t pushovers defensively in the backcourt, and I would expect McCullar to see some time on Proctor too.
All in all, two excellent games to engage the college basketball community are coming our way. We just have to wait a little longer.
The Pepperdine Boys
If you didn’t plan to watch Pepperdine in the first week of action, I’d highly advise you to reconsider and catch up on the fun.
Maxwell Lewis and Houston Mallette are REAL NBA prospects, and I’m leaning toward giving both of them first round grades. A true edition of my big board likely won’t be complete until closer to the new year, so there’s plenty of time to let that thought roll around in my head.
But it’s actually more of an argument I’m having with myself. And honestly, I’m not sure it should be much of an argument.
First things first, I’ve been a fan of Lewis since the preseason process. A 6’7” wing with good length, strength, and perimeter skill, there really isn’t much that he CAN’T do on a basketball court.
My biggest question I proposed with Lewis on the Draft Deeper podcast was if he was ready to be a go-to option on an NCAA Tournament team. There’s a ton of hype surrounding the program, and Lewis proving he’s ready to embrace the expectations and lead his guys to the Big Dance would surely fit one bright feather in his cap for scouts and executives.
I can happily report he’s well on his way to doing just that, even if there are stumbling points to get through along the way.
In Pepperdine’s first game against Rice, Lewis scored 29 points on 12-for-15 shooting from the floor including 5-for-7 from three-point range—impressive splits for a season opener. Lewis showed all of the shots in his bag that I expected to see from the preseason tape: spot-up threes, fallaway shots out of the post, and catch-and-drives leading to easy rim finishes.
With his improved ability to pull up from the elbows out past the arc, there’s little he can’t do from a scoring perspective. While he’s still working to improve his handle and setup footwork, there’s real touch from all over the court making Lewis an attractive wing option for NBA teams to evaluate in the 2023 draft.
Of course, with expectations come growing pains though. Pepperdine’s second game didn’t end the same way, as it was a close loss to Cal State Fullerton. Lewis only had 15 points in that matchup, and he didn’t take over the game the same way offensively.
What he did show in both games though is the defensive versatility I want to see from any wing looking to make a jump to the next level. Lewis bodies guys up, navigates through screens, uses his hips well, and has quick hands and feet to react to what’s happening around him. He keeps his head up and surveys the court away from the ball as well, meaning he’s always ready to rotate and help make a play. I’m as big of a fan of his defense as much as his offense.
Whether organizations put as much value into his game as I do remains to be seen. But there are a number of smart evaluators in the social space who have been singing his praises, so I’m not the only one who thinks he could be one of the 30 best prospects in the class.
As for his backcourt mate Mallette, there’s little that I could write that differentiates from the brilliant work my Draft Deeper co-host Stephen Gillespie wrote a little while ago.
What Mallette brings to the table is an electric blend of perimeter shot-making and playmaking. He’s a 6’5” guard who is comfortable bringing the ball up the floor, taking a screen at the top, and coming off of it knowing exactly what to do with the ball. He can make the reads, get into the next level of the defense, or stop and hit a clean shot in the midrange.
Want another guard who can catch and fire off the ball? Put Mallette in an action coming down off screens, set him up on the wing, and watch him tickle the twine like the best shooting guards in the country.
Defensively, I like how he competes at the point of attack. He’s not the strongest guard, but being as tall as he is helps. Plus, he competes on that end just like Lewis. After a 22, five, and five game against Rice, it was as much of a letdown to see him struggle in the team’s second game as Lewis. But I’m buying the Mallette stock early just like my partner in crime Mr. Gillespie.
Both prospects warrant further evaluations and should be on EVERYONE’S radar as we head into the second week of the season and beyond.
Burning Questions Answered?
Last week, I put together a list of five burning questions I had for the first week of college hoops. Well, to my surprise, I think a good number of them have already been answered!
I thought it was worth checking in on some of the prospects I wrote about, and what they were able to deliver in a short amount of time.
Keyonte George was SPECTACULAR in his first game for Baylor. And no, I’m not too amped on my morning coffee when writing that sentence. No, he didn’t have a dominant shooting performance like he did in his second outing, but I watched the game closely to see if he could commit to doing the little things that I outlined in my column.
Making the right passing reads, hustling on both ends, and playing quality defense left no doubt that he’s a starter and one of the most talented guards in the country. George did all of those things and really surprised me.
I was very impressed with George’s pace and poise. He didn’t sit with the ball in his hands. The quick decision-making I saw from George is a game changer in my eyes when it comes to evaluating him for the next level. Teams want guys who see the floor and can react on a dime. George didn’t second guess anything he did and followed up the high IQ play with a toughness defensively that left some of his opposing matchups on the floor if they tried to power through him.
Now with two games under his belt that speak to scouts for different reasons, I can confidently say George is looking every bit like a top lottery pick. Still, with plenty of games to go and a wide array of outcomes for any player in the conversation, George has garnered the favor of a lot of us at No Ceilings, myself included.
Coming around to Jett Howard, I think my main conclusion at the end of my section on him came to pass already.
Get ready to add Howard to the underrated list before yanking him right back off of it and putting him firmly into first round territory. He’s ready to make some noise, and I have a feeling that’s exactly what he’ll continue to do.
That’s word-for-word what I wrote on Howard, and he delivered in a big way to vault himself not just into first round conversation; I’ve heard some real lottery buzz surrounding his name.
The 6’8” frosh came roaring out of the games in preseason exhibitions, and then made another statement with a 21-point, 5-assist game against Purdue Fort Wayne on Monday. Howard is smooth with the ball in his hands, unselfish, and can really stroke it from deep when he’s on.
A blend of perimeter skill with size, length, and the willingness to defend multiple positions, Howard has the tools to slot right in as a role player in the NBA. While there may be more upside to unlock, the floor that he currently presents is arguably too enticing to pass on in the first round.
I was among a number of evaluators who likely underrated him during the preseason scouting process, but now he’s been productive underneath the bright lights of Michigan. Expect Howard to continue producing as the season progresses.
Finally, Nolan Hickman was able to come out of his shell a little more on Friday night against Michigan State and show more of the shot-making and offensive balance I’m expecting to see from the sophomore guard.
Sure, there were some missed shots and miscues (four turnovers on the night), but overall Hickman looked more poised to step up and make plays for Gonzaga. The team picked up a hard-fought win against the Spartans, and his defense in the backcourt and timely shot-making made a difference.
Hickman is still trying to figure out where he fits in the offense best with Drew Timme getting all of the attention in the post, but Hickman hit some shots when others, like Julian Strawther, were struggling. His 10 points don’t seem like a ton on paper, mainly because he picked up three fouls and wasn’t seen much in the game after that, but I felt when he hit a three within the flow of the offense.
And that’s the difference I’m looking for him to be. Andrew Nembhard was a consummate pro from the second he suited up for the Bulldogs, but not every single game was a scoring outburst. Nembhard learned to control the tempo, make plays for others, and then looked to knock in shots when guys around him weren’t able to do the same.
Hickman can be that type of guard in the backcourt, which is the type of guy NBA teams need somewhere on their roster. Is he a sure-fire NBA starter right now? At the moment, I’d answer no to that question. But can he be a change of pace off the bench for a pro team? I still buy into Hickman’s shot-making ability to give that question a resounding yes.
Therefore, Mark Few HAS to find a way to get Hickman the minutes and opportunity he deserves. Just 22 minutes a night isn’t going to cut it when there is no potential difference-maker found elsewhere with as much upside as Hickman.
Quick Scouting Check-Ins
Alex Fudge: Oh baby, it’s Alex Fudge time in Gainesville! In Florida’s first game against Stony Brook, Fudge scored 16 points and knocked in 50% of all his shots. Obviously, we know how lethal of a defensive weapon Fudge is on that end, but the confidence offensively was a nice sight to see from the 6’9” sophomore transfer out of LSU. Side-stepping on his way to the rim and shooting with intent, he looked like he was ready to put the ball in the basket this time around. If Fudge can offer some shot-making to complement his defensive playmaking, it will be hard to leave him out of first-round conversations given his length and athletic profile.
Will Richard: For as much as I’m fond of Fudge as a prospect, I have the same level of faith in Will Richard. The 6’4” sophomore guard is averaging a steady 14.5 PPG through Florida’s first two outings, and he’s been a real difference-maker for the Gators. Another prize out of the transfer portal for Florida, Richard just makes everything look so easy on the floor. The way he glides to the rim on drives, plays out in transition, and shoots on pull-ups all lead me to believe there’s more to his offensive game to still unlock. And he offers the same steal ability that Fudge does defensively, so they’re an excellent pair to deploy on the court. Richard should also hear legitimate draft buzz around his name.
Brice Sensabaugh: There’s just something about “out-of-the-box” players working out in the NBA, and Brice Sensabaugh could be the next guard in line to help keep that trend moving in a positive direction. The 6’6”, 235-pound backcourt threat is a power guard, to say the least, but he has deceptive athleticism and bounce that really becomes pronounced when he bullies his way to the rim and slams it home. Sensabaugh has ups for someone his size, and he’s more than willing to wear guys down on both ends. I really like his mix of perimeter shooting, power game, and defensive upside. Sensabaugh was a prospect I called out in the preseason to watch for, and he’s looked good early on pouring in 17 and 14 points in his first two outings on efficient splits.
Jordan Pope: Another sleeper prospect I went deep into the well for (well, I actually said Oregon State in general had a number of guys to look out for), Jordan Pope had himself a debut for the Beavers with 19 points on 54.5% shooting. Not the biggest guy on the court, the 6’2” guard still has a knack for getting to his spots and beautifully pulling up for open looks. He is a real threat to score from all three levels, and had some good moments passing the other night as well. He’s maybe not the sexiest name out there in draft circles, but I’m keeping an eye on Pope and Michael Rataj for the 2023 NBA Draft.
Judah Mintz: Alright, this one is for my guy Maxwell. He tried to talk us into the Judah Mintz train during the preseason, and I was admittedly hesitant to buy in to a shoot-first guard without plus size. After watching Syracuse’s first outing, however, I’m willing to start walking that back and giving Mintz more of a chance this year as a potential first-round threat. Mintz has the pull-up game, floater craft, and enough passing chops to play a real combo guard role on the floor. What struck me though in the game against Lehigh was how willing he was to sacrifice his body to draw contact and get to the line. If Mintz continues to live at the charity stripe while taking the space, setting up others, and improving his three-point shooting, there will be few arguments against him in the draft. Depending on how high he can reach in some of these areas, you can argue for using a first-round pick on a legitimate top-seven rotation guy.
Trey Alexander: A lot of the buzz around Creighton has surrounded Arthur Kaluma, who is apparently more of a divisive prospect than I expected. Why, you ask? Because Trey Alexander is getting the early shine, and he has in fact earned it. Coming into the year, Alexander was creeping into a lot of second round watch lists as a guard to keep tabs on to potentially garner attention in the first round section on big boards. My questions with him don’t pertain to his playmaking or defensive efforts. I think he has real craft around the basket and interesting setup footwork in the midrange. But can he extend that shot out beyond the arc? Well against North Dakota, Alexander knocked down 4-of-6 triples! He looked comfortable doing it, too. If that outside shot is real for Alexander, there’s too much else to his game to knock him down too far in mock drafts. Keep an eye on him moving forward.
Emoni Bates: Welcome back to the 2023 NBA Draft room, Emoni Bates! What a dazzling display of shot-making from the 6’10” sophomore wing on Friday night against a good Michigan team. Bates went for 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting including 3-of-6 from deep. Bates set up shots for himself on the regular, but he also displayed a level of patience we didn’t see from him in his first stint at Memphis. He looked much calmer on the court, and he took what the defense gave him. That’s what stood out to me about his performance. As we’ve said at No Ceilings, scouting isn’t just about makes and misses. How comfortable a player is on the court, what they recognize, and how they carry themselves are all things that matter to scouts. Bates passed the eye test in his first outing for Eastern Michigan, and I’m eager to watch how this redemption story unfolds.
Dillon Mitchell: To be completely honest, I’m still not quite sure what Dillon Mitchell’s role within the Texas offense will be going forward, but there’s no denying his activity level and athleticism will help him succeed no matter where he is on the floor. Grabbing EIGHT offensive rebounds in the Texas win against Houston Christian, Mitchell was all over the glass, running the floor, and trying to make plays on both ends to help his team win. Plenty of questions remain about his touch and shooting ability, but if he continues to play like this, Mitchell will at least keep his name afloat on scouts’ boards. His length, leaping ability, and determination are game changers for any program, and Texas will continue to benefit from him being in the lineup.
Tyrese Hunter: Last but not least, Tyrese Hunter. I’m here for the breakout season. At Iowa State, he looked like a jump shot away from approaching Donovan Mitchell status at Louisville. No, I’m not referring to the current star version of Mitchell who suits up for the Cleveland Cavaliers. But once upon a time, Mitchell was an undersized, bouncy guard looking to make a name for himself in the draft space, and I see a lot of those same tools in Hunter. Looking more confident on his pull-up jumper, Hunter is still playing the same high level of defense, impacting the game passing the ball, and he’s nearly impossible to stop from getting to his spots. He’s far from a finished product, but I’m buying what he’s bringing to the table this time around. Just because he isn’t one of the first 30 names on my personal board in November doesn’t mean he won’t be there in March.
6 Games To Watch This Week
11/16, 9:30pm EST: Texas vs. Gonzaga - Two powerhouse programs will meet in an early non-conference matchup on Wednesday night. Plenty of firepower in the backcourt for the Longhorns will have to pour it in from the perimeter to keep pace with the efficient post scoring of Drew Timme. Look for Julian Strawther to bounce back and have an effective game from the wing to swing things further in the Bulldogs’ favor.
11/18, 6pm EST: Xavier vs. Indiana - What’s interesting about this matchup is the fact that each team has a very similar NBA prospect on its roster. The battle between Jalen Hood-Schifino and Colby Jones is one I’m excited to watch, as both are plus-sized guards who have a high feel, play defense all over the floor, and can win games for their teams on both ends. Each has their own concerns with shooting from three, so we’ll see who gets the edge there. Indiana’s Malik Reneau is another prospect to watch in this one as a mismatch forward who adds another dimension in the post along with established center Trayce Jackson-Davis.
11/18, 7pm EST: Baylor vs. Virginia - Another reason to watch Keyonte George and Adam Flagler? Say less. The dyanamic backcourt duo will look to carry the Bears against one of the best defensive programs in the country in Virginia. Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark are a great guard tandem to throw at Baylor, as those two will defend as well as anyone else. Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas will make things interesting in the frontcourt for Flo Thamba and Jalen Bridges. Look for Dale Bonner to be an X-factor for Baylor as a dynamic shooting option at guard.
11/18, 9:30pm EST: UCLA vs. Illinois - Illinois has a much more talented roster than I expected. I was familiar with the transfers in of Terrence Shannon and Matthew Mayer, but Coleman Hawkins and RJ Melendez are two interesting names to watch for first-round action in the draft. Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, and Amari Bailey will have their hands full for UCLA in this one.
11/20, 7:30pm EST: Gonzaga vs. Kentucky - I will be very curious to see how both teams match up in this one. Coming off two of the tougher games on their non-conference schedules, both have deep rosters ready to battle it out. Cason Wallace should be able to neutralize the Bulldogs’ main guards defensively, but will Drew Timme have the chance to match up against Oscar Tshiebwe down low? That would be the game-changing pairing to watch out for, but the key for me is Jacob Toppin. If he can hit outside shots and play quality defense against Gonzaga’s wing options, namely Julian Strawther, he could be the reason why the Wildcats come out on top.
11/20, 9:30pm EST: Oregon vs. Houston - Last on my watch list for the week involves the frontcourt matchup I’m looking forward to the most between freshmen in the early going. Kel’el Ware is a massive human being in terms of height and length, but few in the country can match up to the frame of Jarace Walker. His ability to defend all positions, rebound, and contest shots makes him one of my top-rated forwards in the 2023 draft class. If he can make shots as he did in Houston’s second game against Saint Joseph’s, that could be the difference in the game. I fully expect the backcourt battle between Will Richardson and Marcus Sasser to live up to the hype as well.
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