10 Reasons to Be Excited for the 2018–19 College Basketball Season
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1. Duke’s Fab Freshmen
By now, you’ve heard the hype. If you’re not familiar with the Blue Devils’ freshman class—five-stars R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus, who led Duke to the 2015 national championship), plus four-star Joey Baker—you will be, and very soon. Duke having a stellar recruiting class isn’t new, but its 2018 class is uniquely unprecedented. Barrett, Reddish and Williamson are all consensus top-five recruits, the first time ever that one school landed three of the top five in a class. And luckily for college hoops fans, the two schools that have the remaining two—No. 3 Nassir Little, of UNC, and No. 5 Romeo Langford, of Indiana—are both on the Blue Devils’ 2018–19 schedule. Four of the top five recruits in a single class all on a collegiate floor at once? Sign us up.
2. Joe Cremo and New-Look Villanova
The reigning champs are going to look mighty different this season. Gone are National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, Final Four Most Outstanding Player Donte DiVincenzo and starters Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman. But Jay Wright has supplemented returnees Eric Paschall, Phil Booth and Collin Gillespie with five-star freshman point guard Jahvon Quinerly, four-stars Cole Swider and Brandon Slater and a key transfer: Albany guard Joe Cremo. The Wildcats could turn out to be one of the winners of the grad transfer market due to the 6’4” Cremo, who averaged 17.8 points and shot 45.8% from three as a junior for the Great Danes, all while posting an excellent offensive rating. While there’s certainly a notable leap going from the America East to the Big East, he should bring scoring punch and a veteran presence to a coach and a program that is used to churning out high-powered offenses.
3. Louisville Resets Under Chris Mack
It’s a new era in Louisville, for the second straight year. But while last season was marred by turmoil, including Rick Pitino’s ouster just weeks before the season, the saga of five-star recruit Brian Bowen and constant negative attention on the program, the Cardinals can now attempt to start fresh under Chris Mack. Mack had great success at Xavier, leading the Musketeers to the NCAA tournament in eight of his nine seasons and reaching at least the Sweet 16 in four of them, and he brings immediate optimism to Louisville. While the Cardinals aren’t likely to contend for the ACC title in 2018–19, an NCAA tournament bid is certainly on the table, and Mack has already made inroads on the future of the program, nabbing the commitments of four top-100 recruits in the 2019 class.
4. What Will Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean Do for an Encore?
The Ramblers, and by extension Sister Jean, the nun who served as their No. 1 supporter and turned 99 years old over the summer, were the darlings of the 2018 NCAA tournament—and that was before they improbably made a run to the Final Four. The magic of that journey may be over, but don’t expect Loyola-Chicago to fade back into obscurity. Three of its starters and double-digit scorers are back: Clayton Custer, the Ramblers’ leader (and leading scorer), Marques Townes, whose dagger three helped sink Nevada in the Sweet 16, and Cameron Krutwig, who as a freshman went toe-to-toe with Michigan’s Moritz Wagner in the Final Four, scoring 17.
5. A Champions Classic for the Ages
Not only does the college basketball schedule start a few days earlier this year, but it kicks off with the annual Champions Classic doubleheader. Kansas and Michigan State will square off in one battle, then Duke and Kentucky will meet in the nightcap. In all, 10 of the 2018 class’s top 25 recruits are set to take the floor that night. The Spartans are the only team without any, but MSU will bring plenty of experience and cohesion to the floor to face a revamped Jayhawks roster, while the Blue Devils–Wildcats showdown will feature a bonanza of freshman and sophomore talent—plus Reid Travis.
6. The Romeo Langford Experience
He is only the fourth player in Indiana high school history to surpass the 3,000-point mark. Speakers invoked Oscar Robertson and Abraham Lincoln, among other luminaries, at his commitment ceremony. It would take a series of unfortunate events to keep him out of the 2019 NBA draft’s lottery picks. But for the next four months, Romeo Langford is the centerpiece of Indiana Hoosiers basketball, and a fan base hungry to return to national relevance will hang on every bucket as the pride of New Albany dons the crimson and cream. Langford isn’t the only five-star entering the fall with outsized fanfare, but he’s the only one whose arrival in college basketball has the feel of a multi-year culmination.
7. Revenge of the Hoos
How do you recover from being on the wrong side of an unprecedented tourney upset? There’s no blueprint for the journey Virginia is about to embark on, so it’s too early to tell whether it’s a good thing that the Cavaliers brought almost every contributor to last year’s infamous No. 1 overall seed back. Sharpshooters Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will quarterback head coach Tony Bennett’s, methodical offense, sophomore X-factor De’Andre Hunter has returned to 100% health and Mamadi Diakite and Jack Salt have been groomed to take the next step on the interior. Some will advise you to ignore them until March; we say catch as much of a season fraught with narrative intrigue as you can.
8. Will Anyone Be the Next Trae Young?
Trae Young didn’t quite come out of nowhere last season—he was a five-star recruit and ranked 20th in his class—but few foresaw his meteoric rise to take over college basketball. He wasn’t even guaranteed to be a one-and-done before the season began, yet he left as one of the biggest locks in the class to depart for the NBA after one year. Along the way, he became a household name, even despite the fact that both he and Oklahoma cooled off from their absurd early-season pace. Every year, college hoops fans enter the season dreaming that one of their freshmen could have the kind of impact that Young did; the kind that can put a school on the map and make each game appointment TV. We know the obvious names in the class—ones like Zion, Langford, Little and Barrett—but will anyone transcend their ranking and take college basketball by storm?
9. The Lawson Bros in Lawrence
One of the biggest impact moves for the 2018–19 season came back in April 2017, when brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson, formerly of Memphis, announced they would transfer to Kansas. And after sitting out the 2017–18 season, the two are now poised to play essential roles on a KU team that could be the preseason No. 1. The 6’ 9” Dedric could wind up the Jayhawks’ best player after averaging 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals as a sophomore for the Tigers, though his three-point shooting (27.0% on 3.5 attempts per game) needs improvement. K.J., a 6’ 8” guard/forward, averaged 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists as a sophomore at Memphis. While the pair may not garner quite the same stats on a loaded Kansas team, they’re expected to be instrumental as the Jayhawks shoot for their first national title since 2008
10. The Race for James Wiseman
The hottest in-season recruiting battle will likely be for the services of the No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class, James Wiseman. Wiseman’s recruitment is largely thought to be a tug-of-war between Kentucky and Memphis, though he recently announced a top five that also includes Kansas, Vanderbilt and Florida State. The intriguing part about Kentucky vs. Memphis is, of course, the coaching impact: the Tigers are the most recent former school of current Wildcats coach John Calipari, while new Memphis coach Penny Hardaway coached Wiseman in high school and could make him the centerpiece of the Tigers’ revitalization. We’re used to seeing Calipari pull in elite recruits, but he has his hands full in this highly-competitive race for the 7-footer.