FBI probe casts shadow | National college basketball preview

Louisville Scrimmage Basketball
David Padgett has taken over for Rick Pitino as Louisville coach.

Here is a look at  the 2017-18 national college basketball scene.

Five questions

How will the FBI investigation affect the games?

Quite a bit, actually, because the probe is continuing and more arrests are possible. Ten people have been arrested, including assistant coaches at No. 3 Arizona, No. 10 Southern California, Oklahoma State, and Auburn, for allegedly funneling bribes and kickbacks from shoe companies to recruits. No. 16 Louisville has fired Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich. Miami also is under investigation, and other schools will be looking over their shoulders to see whether any of their players or coaches are accused.

How will the indictments affect the programs that were considered national-championship contenders? Louisville, ranked fifth in one preseason publication before its program was implicated, embarks on the season led by David Padgett, a former star player who has no head-coaching experience. Arizona coach Sean Miller has an experienced and talented roster with one of the nation’s top freshmen, 7-foot-1 Deandre Ayton, but the investigation has cast a shadow on the program with the indictment Tuesday of assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson, who is on paid leave and likely to be terminated.

Who’s next?

Who could interfere with Villanova’s plans for a fifth straight Big East regular-season title?

The Wildcats are 4 for 4 since the recreation of the Big East as a 10-team league and have been chosen in preseason polls to win it again. But Xavier and Seton Hall are equipped to make some noise and end ’Nova’s domination. Trevon Bluiett returned to Xavier for his senior season, and the Musketeers, who made last year’s NCAA Elite Eight as an 11 seed, have plenty of experience. Seton Hall center Angel Delgado, who has received preseason All-America consideration, joins guard Kadeem Carrington and wing Desi Rodriguez as the senior leaders of a Pirates squad that will play with confidence. And don’t leave out Providence or Creighton.

Is the football-centric SEC about to make noise on the hardwood?

John Calipari has stocked up again on talented freshmen — eight of them — including former Neumann-Goretti star Quade Green, to make sure Kentucky remains in the national-championship conversation. But Florida returns leading scorer KeVaughn Allen from a team that reached the Elite Eight last season. Texas A&M forward Robert Williams decided he wasn’t ready for the NBA despite a top-10 projection in the draft and has returned for his sophomore season. Then there is Missouri, with one of the top freshmen in the nation in 6-10 forward Michael Porter Jr.

Can North Carolina successfully defend its championship?

The Tar Heels lost ACC player-of-the-year Justin Jackson and some other key contributors from the team that cut down the nets in Glendale, Ariz. Then they lost point guard Joel Berry II, who broke his hand when punching a door, for about the first month of the season. Senior swingman Theo Pinson will be expected to step up on offense, and transfer Cameron Johnson (from Pitt) gives the Tar Heels an excellent three-point shooting threat. They will look for freshmen to take over in the post.

Will Mohamed Bamba be one of the nation’s dominant freshmen?

Bamba, a 6-foot-11 center who prepped at Westtown School in Chester County, is being counted on to anchor Texas coach Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” style of pressing defense and help the Longhorns rebound from a 22-loss season. Bamba has been a pleasant surprise on offense, as well. Texas will win more games than it loses and could make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth.

Five top players

F Miles Bridges, Michigan State, 6-7, soph.: The consensus preseason national player of the year, Bridges averaged 16.9 points as a freshman but saved his biggest news for the off-season, when he passed on the NBA draft for another year with the Spartans.

G Jalen Brunson, Villanova, 6-3, junior: Brunson did a terrific job guiding the Wildcats to a 32-4 record last season and now takes on even more of a scoring and leadership role as one of the elder statesmen of the team.

F Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame, 6-6, senior:  Colson led the ACC in rebounds (10.1) and double-doubles (19) last season, averaged 17.8 points, and provided the Fighting Irish with a basket whenever they needed one.

C Angel Delgado, Seton Hall, 6-10, senior: His desire and his refusal to be budged out of rebound position are why Delgado led the nation with 13.1 rebounds per game and posted 27 double-doubles.

G Devonte’ Graham, Kansas, 6-2, senior: With Frank Mason having departed, Graham is the Jayhawks’ leader and primary offensive threat. He can handle the ball and shoot the three (39 percent accuracy last season, 94 treys).

Five significant coaching changes

Patrick Ewing, Georgetown – The legendary former Hoyas center, now 55, spent 13 seasons as an NBA assistant coach before answering the call to his alma mater. His first head-coaching job is sure to be a challenge; Georgetown lost 63 percent of its scoring and 67 percent of its three-point baskets. His rebuild of the program will be aided by the Hoyas’ nonconference schedule, one of the weakest in the nation.

Archie Miller, Indiana

Chris Holtmann, Ohio State

LaVall Jordan, Butler

Mike Hopkins, Washington

Five notable transfers

Malik Newman, Mississippi State to Kansas – Newman averaged 11.3 points as a freshman for the Bulldogs and declared for the NBA draft, but he withdrew and decided to transfer. The 6-foot-3 guard will provide the Jayhawks with some firepower, although coach Bill Self would like him to be more aggressive and play with the swagger he displayed when Self was recruiting him out of high school in Jackson, Miss.

Kory Holden, Delaware to South Carolina

Cameron Johnson, Pittsburgh to North Carolina

Elijah Brown, New Mexico to Oregon

Allerik Freeman, Baylor to North Carolina State

Five locals starring elsewhere

Ja’Quan Newton, Miami (Neumann-Goretti)

Quade Green, Kentucky (Neumann-Goretti)

Tony Carr, Penn State (Roman Catholic)

Keith Braxton, St. Francis of Pa. (Delsea Regional)

Terry Larrier, Connecticut (Phelps School)

Five top dates before Jan. 1

Nov. 14: Champions Classic in Chicago: Michigan State vs. Duke, Kansas vs. Kentucky

Nov. 30: Notre Dame at Michigan State

Dec. 5: Villanova vs. Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden

Dec. 9: Florida at Cincinnati

Dec. 23: UCLA at Kentucky

Five teams to put on your radar

Minnesota – The Golden Gophers return their top four scorers from the team that made its first NCAA appearance in four years.

Texas Christian – After winning the NIT in former Pitt coach Jamie Dixon’s first season, the Horned Frogs will seek their first NCAA tournament invitation since 1998.

Alabama – The Crimson Tide return four starters but eagerly await an NCAA ruling on the eligibility of super freshman Collin Sexton.

Cincinnati – Wichita State gets much of the attention in its first season in the AAC, but don’t sleep on the Bearcats, who won 30 games last year.

Xavier – The Musketeers overcame injuries to reach the Elite Eight of the 2017 NCAA Tournament and return sharpshooting guard Trevon Bluiett.

Inquirer Preseason Top 10

  1. Duke
  2. Michigan State
  3. Arizona
  4. Kansas
  5. Kentucky
  6. Villanova
  7. Wichita State
  8. Florida
  9. West Virginia
  10. Louisville

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