The college basketball season started just four weeks ago, and we have already seen some amazing hoops. The usual holiday events were bolstered this season by the 16-team PK80 mega tournament. In the “Motion Bracket” of the PK80, the final four alone (Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, and Texas) produced three overtime games and a thrilling championship, with Duke overcoming a 17-point deficit to beat Florida by three.
Among the top prospects, Duke PF Marvin Bagley (21.9 PPG and 11.2 RPG) and Arizona PF/C DeAndre Ayton (19.6 PPG and 11.2 RPG) have been particularly impressive, but neither can top the numbers of fellow freshman Trae Young. The Sooner point guard leads the nation in scoring (28.7) and PER (34.3) and ranks third in assists with 8.7 per game. Young has unlimited range, a tight handle, the ability to get to the rim, and great vision. He is a serious one-and-done candidate, and we are now projecting him as a first-round pick in our latest mock draft.
In addition to Young, players who have seen their stock rise significantly in the first month include Villanova SF Mikal Bridges, Gonzaga PF Killian Tillie, Penn State PG Tony Carr, and Ole Miss SG Terence Davis. Bridges has impressed the most, vaulting into lottery range (11th in our latest rankings) by doing a little bit of everything for the undefeated Wildcats. He is averaging 19 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game, and his stock is further bolstered by the fact that the top of this draft class is thin in terms of tall, athletic wings who can make an impact on both ends of the floor.
Perhaps the most impressive single-game performance thus far this season came from Alabama’s freshman point guard Collin Sexton. Due to a series of ejections vs. 14th-ranked Minnesota, the Crimson Tide had to play the majority of the second half with just three players. Trailing by 14 points at the 10:17 mark, an exhausted Sexton put the Tide within one score with less than two minutes to play, only to have the Gophers pull away for an 89-84 win. Sexton finished the contest with 40 points, and on the season, he is averaging 20.8 PPG.
On the flip side, plenty of prospects have not overwhelmed so far this season, including the entire Kentucky roster. The Wildcats top our latest team rankings with a total of nine prospects on our watch list, but they have looked sluggish against less-than-stellar competition. It would not be surprising if four or five of the UK prospects remained in college for at least one more season. Other prospects who have huge upsides but do not appear ready for the NBA include Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, Arizona’s Emmanuel Akot, and Duke’s Marques Bolden.
While we have learned a lot in the first month, there is still so much up in the air. Nine of our current top-50 prospects (nearly 20%) have combined to play a total of two minutes this season due to injuries, suspensions, or personal reasons. Topping the list is Missouri PF/SF Michael Porter, Jr., who exited the season opener after two minutes due to a back injury. Following the injury, the university announced that Porter would undergo a “microdisectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs,” a relatively minor procedure that will sideline him for a few months (and probably the entire college season). While back issues can be a huge red flag, it’s too early to significantly downgrade Porter.
Questions surround a host of other players. Will former Louisville recruits Anfernee Simons and Brian Bowen go to another school or enter the draft? Will players currently suspended due to the FBI investigation, such as Auburn’s Austin Wiley and USC’s De’Anthony Melton, ever play college ball again? Will Kentucky PF Jarred Vanderbilt (foot injury) and Kansas PF Billy Preston (suspended) see the court this season?
Uncertainty doesn’t appear to apply to our No. 1 prospect, Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic. The 18-year-old Slovenian leads Euroleague in PER (28.3) and ranks second in scoring with 19.7 points per game. He is also averaging 6.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists against the stiffest competition outside the NBA. Doncic is producing similar numbers in the Spanish ACB (PER of 24.7), which is arguably as tough as Euroleague.
Two other European prospects that are performing very well are from the Adriatic League. SF Dzanan Musa is averaging 15.4 PPG for Cedevita, while C Goga Bitadze is averaging 11.4 PPG, 8 RPG, and 2.8 BPG for KK Mega Bemax.
Our No. 25 prospect, Isaac Bonga, who plays for the Fraport Skyliners in the German BBL, is off to a slow start, averaging just 5.6 points in the first 11 games. However, we still love the 18-year-old’s athleticism, skill, and length.
Looking over our latest mock draft, I suspect that a good number of those players will decide not to turn pro this year. Bonga might be one of those players. Struggling underclassmen who are falling into the second round, such as Hachimura and UK’s P. J. Washington, should be among those players.
So, there you have my primary observations from the first four weeks. We will continue to update our rankings and mock draft on a regular basis, and look for us to begin posting scouting reports at the beginning of the New Year.