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Barstool Basketball Mailbag: Illinois, RJ Barrett, Ben Simmons, Conference Realignment and More

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Your Friday basketball mailbag is here. I’ve been doing these for the last 2 years and decided to set on just one day a week so people know when to expect it. Again, this will cover all basketball as we’re starting to see the growth of the sport and it turning into a year-round event. Plenty of questions to get to for this week.

I don’t think you see Illinois back in it this year, but you’ll see an improvement. Brad Underwood is a top-20 coach in America in my opinion and will have Illinois back in the tournament by year 3. I think this year is a little bit of a struggle, but you see them compete. Next year will be a bubble team and then year 3 is when they really look like a NCAA Tournament team. When you see what he’s done at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State, you expect him to be able to come in and improve guard play right away. He’ll exploit mismatches and find a system that works best, probably some sort of high pick and roll, like he did with Jawun Evans. It’s also still a relatively young team this year, which will benefit Underwood as he can work on his system. But, yeah, Illinois will be getting back closer to what Illinois should be under Brad Underwood.

See, this is a question I don’t really love. The whole ‘getting love’ or ‘sleeping on’ argument is incredibly stupid. Everyone has been talking about Markus Howard as one of the best freshmen in the Big East last year and my question as always to this stuff is how should he be talked about? He’s an incredible shooter, but he also turns the ball over more than he had assists. Is it fair to talk about that too? He was on the All-Freshmen Team last year and will probably get votes for preseason All-Big East this year. To me, he’s getting plenty of love.

With RJ Barrett cutting his list to Oregon, Michigan, Kentucky, Duke and Arizona people will start trying to figure out how he fits with each team. The thing is he’s a perfect fit for all 5 of those teams because of his style of play. But, yes, him at Michigan under Beilein would be incredible, especially with Barrett’s ability to attack off the wing. My one concern there though is his inconsistent jumper. Beilein’s offense thrives on wings that can shoot and Barrett can be inconsistent with it. There may not be a better developer of talent in college than Beilein so from that standpoint it would be interesting because we’ve only seen him with a few top recruits – Mitch McGary is the last one to truly stand out. How would Beilein do with the top player in the class? The one thing that would be a beauty here is Barrett’s passing skills in Beilein’s offense.

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As long as Lonnie Walker’s knee injury isn’t serious and he bounces back to what he should be, Miami is the second best team in the conference. Bruce Brown is a legit top-10 NBA prospect and Walker is a lottery pick as well. Throw in Dewan Huell, who was a top-30 recruit, and a guy like JaQuan Newton this team is stacked. Not to mention they have Jim Larranaga as a head coach, who thrives coaching guards. I really like this Miami team and will have them top-10 in the preaseason. In terms of a dark horse, Notre Dame could win it if things go correctly for them. They have the veteran point guard in Matt Farrell, the star in Bonzie Colson and then a supporting cast around them with a top-20 coach in Mike Brey.

The A-10 and AAC will stand as is until there’s the next wave of realignment and the AAC loses someone like Memphis, Houston, UConn, Cincinnati. Granted they are in no-mans land right now as not a midmajor and not a power 5/6 depending what sport you’re talking about, but there’s no reason for schools to leave these conferences unless one of the big ones come calling. The conference to watch though is the Big 12 and what happens there. If they collapse then it’s a free for all, if they end up taking a couple of these schools then you’ll see realignment with the A-10, C-USA, Sun Belt and like the CAA.

Well, that depends strictly on the NCAA. Just because Robinson transfers to Kansas doesn’t mean he’ll be able to play this year since he took a couple of classes while he was briefly at WKU. Assuming the NCAA allows him to transfer without sitting out than Kansas may jump to the No. 1 team in the country for me, because of their depth. I love their backcourt in DeVonte Graham and Malik Newman and then you have Udoka Azibukie – who may break a backboard this year – with Mitchell Robinson in the post? Throw in a guy like Billy Preston and I’d have them jump to the No. 1 spot. Even if they don’t get Robinson, Kansas is one of four teams that you could have at No. 1 without people getting angry.

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To make an ACC team? Sure, he could be a 2nd or 3rd team guy. But, I don’t think he’ll make his way onto the first team. When you look at the ACC and you see the names out there, guys like Joel Berry, Grayson Allen, Bonzie Colson, Bruce Brown, Deng Adel, Ben Lammers and Bryant Crawford as guys returning before you get to the loaded freshman class? Tyus Battle is a good player, but to be first-team All-ACC I don’t see him breaking out that much. The other thing to remember is Syracuse is going to be a bubble team yet again this year and whether you think team success should be factored into this or not, if they struggle he’ll get overlooked.

I’m going to say no, but they’ll consistently be in that 11-25 range. They will likely be ranked in the preseason around. the 17 range meaning they have to jump spots to get up there. Looking at their nonconference schedule they’ll have a limited chance of quality wins. They do get to play VCU and Xavier and need to hope San Diego State improves this year. I like Cincinnati’s team, think they are the 2nd best team in the AAC and a top-5/6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, I just don’t see them being top-10 this year. The biggest downfall for them simply is their schedule, though getting two Wichita State games is huge for the resume.

I thought Seton Hall was better than Xavier last year and they return their top-4 players including Angel Delgado, who should be an All-American. For Xavier, they need to find a way to be more consistent. Trevon Bluiett is really damn good, but can be up and down. JP Macura can be erratic at times too. Where does that change? I think both teams are top-20 teams in the country and pretty interchangeable, but Seton Hall has a solid core. Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington have been playing together for 3 years now and then throw in Myles Powell and Ish Sonogo and I like that starting-5 more than Xavier’s.

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Yeah, he’s still a freak when you look at his game and what he brings to the table. This has been an argument for some time and I believe he still would have been the No. 1 pick in this Draft as well, obviously taking team need out of the equation here. There aren’t many guys that are built like Simmons with his skill set so it’s silly to think that a weird year at LSU playing for one of the worst coaches in America would change.

I’m not sure why anyone is doubting Michigan State in the top-4 or where the hype comes from. They have one of the three best players in college basketball in Miles Bridges, they have one of the four best coaches in Tom Izzo and plenty of depth to go around. You fully expect guys like Cassisus Winston and Josh Langford to make the jump during their second year under Tom Izzo and then you have the proven star in Bridges and a proven second piece in Nick Ward. Throw in a top-10 player in Jaren Jackson to round out your starting five and that’s all sorts of talent. It also doesn’t hurt to bring guys like Tum Tum Nairn, Matt McQuaid, Gavin Schilling, Ben Carter and Kenny Goins off the bench. The key here is going to be Winston’s ability to take care of the ball and cut down on turnovers. If he is able to do that, this team is going to be a real popular pick to win the title.

He sure does. I’m not going to pick him, but there’s no reason to think why he can’t be in contention. The offense will run through Trier as he’s someone who has a high usage rate. Last year when he was on the floor he was a part of 24.9% of possessions with a 121.2 ORtg. He upped his scoring to 17 per game, even with a guy like Lauri Markkanen playing next to him, so there’s no reason to think he won’t get his with DeAndre Ayton out there this year. Throw in Arizona winning close to 30 games and he’ll be in the conversation.

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The A-10 is going to be down a little bit again this year, especially with Dayton taking a step back. I do think URI will be the favorite to win the league, but VCU should compete for 2nd even under first year coach Mike Rhoades. He will have Justin Tillman to rely on, who is coming off a junior year of 12.2ppg/8.7 rpg. I fully expect Rhoades to coach a little bit like Shaka after he was an associate head coach at VCU from 2009-14, so don’t be surprised to see some trapping and press.

The best NBA prospect right now is Mikal Bridges. I actually think Donte DiVicenzo can become that, especially after this year, because I think he’s the breakout guy. Brunson is the best college player, but in terms of NBA scouting they are all looking at Mikal Bridges right now. He’s a borderline 1st round pick mostly because he fits that 3-and-D wing model so many people like. He shot just over 39% from 3 last year and with his length can guard multiple positions.

It might be Corey Sanders just because he plays for Rutgers and it’s hard for people to pay attention to Rutgers basketball. I still think Carsen Edwards gets buried a little being at Purdue and even this year people are talking about Vince Edwards so much that they forget about Carsen. At Maryland you could throw in Justin Jackson as he often is getting overlooked as a great player. The B1G will be interesting this year because you have the clear favorite in Michigan State then a slew of guys who could finish in the top-4. They still don’t have a ton of NBA talent like they have had in the past, but it will be up from last year.