2018-19 college basketball preview: Despite corruption convictions, don’t expect much change — Kansas is favored to win
The 2018-19 season begins Tuesday, about two weeks following the conviction of three people in a pay-for-play scheme. On the court, Kansas is the early favorite to win it all. Does Penn State have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament?
The 2018-19 college basketball season begins Tuesday, with a marquee matchup between No. 2 Kentucky and No. 4 Duke tipping off at 9 p.m.
Here is a peek at what you can look for this season:
What are the effects of the recent convictions in the college basketball corruption case?
The new season starts less than two weeks after the conviction of three men on fraud charges in the initial trial stemming from the federal government's two-year investigation into payoffs, bribes and other corruption in the sport. Testimony revealed more accusations of paying players by schools such as Arizona, Louisville, Kansas, Duke and others. Two more trials are scheduled for early next year involving four former assistant coaches at Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State and Southern California.
After the indictments were announced on the eve of last year's college basketball tipoff, the NCAA appointed a commission, headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which led to the creation of rules designed to curtail the pay-to-play practices.
The expectation for the new season, however, is to not expect much change in the sport.
"I think the state of our program is fine," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins told the Associated Press. "If things happened, we all know they shouldn't have happened, but that doesn't affect the state of our game and the way people go about doing their business."
Who's the next national champion?
Seven months after losing to Villanova in the national semifinals, Kansas is the early pick to win it all in 2019 thanks to a roster that carries three impact transfers, including 6-foot-9 preseason all-American Dedric Lawson, and a freshman class headed by guard Quentin Grimes.
Two other usual suspects, Kentucky and Duke, have an abundance of five-star freshmen – 6-10 E.J. Montgomery and 6-6 Keldon Johnson of the Wildcats, and 6-7 R.J. Barrett, 6-6 Zion Williamson and 6-7 Cam Reddish (Westtown School) of the Blue Devils. And then you have …
Is this the year for Gonzaga?
The Bulldogs — winners of 69 games over the past two seasons — had high expectations after the return of juniors Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura, both of whom flirted with the NBA draft, and the addition of two transfers. But the 6-10 Tillie underwent surgery recently to repair a stress fracture in his ankle and could miss the first two months of the season, including Gonzaga's marquee games against North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington. Still, the Zags should get to the NCAA Tournament for a 21st consecutive year and with good health, make a deep run in the dance.
Is the SEC ready for a Final Four team?
The conference that receives national attention for football has a deep stable of basketball teams that could make some noise in the postseason. Tennessee returns its top six scorers, including 2018 SEC player of the year Grant Williams. Austin Wiley, a 6-11 center who was linked to the FBI's corruption investigation and sat out last season, is back to lead Auburn. Mississippi State is ready to make a run at the top fueled by the returning Weatherspoon brothers, Quinndary and Nick. And yes, there's always Kentucky.
Can Penn State take the next step?
The Nittany Lions enter the new season with higher expectations after winning 26 games — second-most in program history — and last season's NIT, but those have jumped even higher with Saturday's win at No. 13 West Virginia in an exhibition game. The Lions haven't made the NCAA Tournament field in the seven years of Patrick Chambers' tenure as head coach but have the pieces to finish in the upper third of the Big Ten and get that coveted invitation in March.
Five top players
G Carsen Edwards, Purdue, 6-1, Jr.: Edwards won the Jerry West Award last season as the nation's top shooting guard after averaging 18.5 points per game and will be asked to do more this season as the Boilermakers' only returning starter.
F Dedric Lawson, Kansas, 6-9, Jr.: Lawson sat out last season as a transfer after averaging 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds as a sophomore at Memphis. He also is considered one of the better passers on the Jayhawks.
F Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, 6-10, Sr.: Happ's all-around skill set has been augmented by a more reliable outside shot, something that NBA scouts told him he needed when he tested the draft waters after last season.
F Luke Maye, North Carolina, 6-8, Sr.: A former walk-on, Maye hiked his scoring average from 5.4 to 16.9 points last season while pulling down 10.1 rebounds per game. He also is a fine passer and three-point shooter.
G R.J. Barrett, Duke, 6-7, Fr.: The national Gatorade player of the year last season, Barrett steps right into a loaded Blue Devils lineup and he has the all-around game that will allow him to make a smooth transition to the college game.
Five big coaching changes
Chris Mack, Louisville: The successful former Xavier coach, Mack stepped into a mess with the Cardinals, once one of the nation's top programs before being caught up in the sport's corruption scandal. His challenge will be to bring stability and consistency while building a new culture in the hoops-crazed city.
Penny Hardaway, Memphis
Travis Steele, Xavier
Tom Crean, Georgia
Five top transfers
Reid Travis, Kentucky (from Stanford): The 6-8, 240-pound forward was pursued by many major programs, including Villanova, before landing with Kentucky. He will provide experience and leadership for a team that has four five-star freshmen and other young talent.
Dedric Lawson, Kansas (from Memphis)
Joseph Chartouny, Marquette (from Fordham)
Joe Cremo, Villanova (from Albany)
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Mario Kegler, Baylor (from Mississippi State)
Five locals starring elsewhere
Quade Green, Kentucky (Neumann-Goretti)
DeAndre Hunter, Virginia (Friends' Central)
Cam Reddish, Duke (Westtown School)
Lamar Stevens, Penn State (Roman Catholic)
Fatts Russell, Rhode Island (Imhotep Charter)
Five key dates before Jan. 1
Tuesday: Champions Classic in Indianapolis: Michigan St. vs. Kansas, Duke vs. Kentucky
Dec. 9: Gonzaga vs. Tennessee at Phoenix
Dec. 15: Villanova at Kansas, Gonzaga at North Carolina, Tennessee at Memphis
Dec. 22: North Carolina at Kentucky
Five teams to watch (not in the preseason top 10)
Nevada: All-America forward Caleb Martin was one of three players who declared for the NBA draft before returning to the Wolf Pack, and expectations are high.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have a good chance to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2009 with four returning starters and a talented freshman class.
Michigan: The Wolverines lost some key players from the team that lost to Villanova in the national championship game but their returning players are fixated on a return Final Four trip.
Marquette: Markus Howard and Sam Hauser give the Golden Eagles an excellent 1-2 punch from three-point range, and they will be helped by two impact transfers.
Kansas State: The Wildcats return all five starters, including talented big man Dean Wade, from last year's team that reached the Elite Eight.
Inquirer/Daily News preseason top 10
7. North Carolina
10. Michigan State
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