Well people, it's that time of the year again. We at the Can Ball Report have compiled our annual pre season predictions and this year look slike it's going to be a monster one! Though we've lost Cory and Tristan to the NBA lockout and a boatload of seniors to graduation, this could be one of the bigger NC-Double-Eh season yet. Check out who we think will be the players to watch right now right here ...
Most Outstanding Player – Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
I think this will be the year that a little known recruit named Andrew Nicholson will be pushed into the national spotlight during this NCAA season. After having developed beautifully at St. Bonaventure the last three years, he looks poised to be the best big man on campus since the great Bob Lanier. Last season, Nicholson led the Atlantic-10 Conference in scoring at 20.8 (which put 15th nationally) and field goal percentage with .571 while placing in the top ten in rebounds (7th with 7.3) and blocked shots (8th with 1.5) and looks to have those numbers possibly improve if you can believe it. It is likely for these reasons, and the fact that he’s a very, very good player, that he was nominated to the pre season Wooden Award list. Though his chances to win are very slim right now, being on that list is definitely a testament to the player Nicholson has become in the last three years in Olean. As the focal point of the Bonnies offense and anchor on defense, look for St. Bonaventure (who were ranked 4th by the conference coaches on media day) to go as far as Andrew’s big frame can carry them.
Honorable Mention – Kris Joseph, Syracuse – Even though the emergence of Rick Jackson last season may have impinged on Joseph’s shine, make no mistake about it that the Orange were his team. As one of the few experienced upperclassmen on the roster, expect him to play like the player who is on the pre season Wooden Award short list.
Top Newcomer – Myck Kabongo, Texas
It’s not very often that you can be incredibly impressed by a freshman point guard since they come into a position that is both physically demanding and mentally taxing on such a large stage. Well, Kabongo should impress you from day one. Dubbed as the heir apparent to the recently vacated position in Austin, Myck is really the kind of lead guard that has all the qualities to shine – he handles the ball deftly, he likes to pass first, he’s can get to the hole, he defends extremely well and he has a very good personality. He was born to be in this position playing this position and Kabongo will show the why he was so highly regarded coming out of Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. There will be very few newcomers that will have his impact on their team, particularly any Canadians, so once Kabongo is accustomed to the level of play he should have this honor on lock.
Honorable Mention – Ty Nurse, Texas Tech – This junior college transfer will likely be the lead guard on a Red Raiders team that has no other experience at the point. Look for him to get his feet wet early and then settle into his starting spot nicely.
Best Situation – Myck Kabongo, Texas
If you’ve ever been around Myck Kabongo one thing becomes very apparent: he was made for the bright lights of big time college basketball. And this is why he’s in the best situation of any Canadian ball player. The loss of Cory Joseph to the San Antonio Spurs opens up an immediate spot at the point. Junior guard J’Covan Brown is an excellent offensive player who will likely be playing the two spot almost exclusively this year. That means that Kabongo will be the one with the ball in his hands for the Longhorns from minute one of game one. Coach Rick Barnes has employed the running game before and it will likely be the case this season with a lot of speed but little size. Look for this to be Myck playground.
Honorable Mention – Olu Ashaolu, Oregon – Ashaolu was among the big name transfers that were available this summer and he should be able to show why he was this year. On a team that needs big bodies that can rebound, Olu fits that bill and he should get the chance to show more of his offense as well.
Worst Situation – Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Joseph has been tattooed with the term "NBA Potential" since his great run off the bench for the 2009-10 Orange team that went deep into the NCAA Tournament. But along the way he’s had some players to offset his spotlight: Rick Jackson last season and Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins the previous one. Now it’s going to be all on Joseph this year to lead the ‘Cuse. He’s not going to be alone this year as the team will welcome back guards Scoop Jardine and Brandon Tiche as well as some promising underclassmen in Fab Melo, CJ Fair and Rakeem Christmas but the spotlight will be solely on the dynamic Joseph. Last year he was the Robin to Jackson’s Batman but can he step into the lead role now? I would think yes but with all eyes on him, the team’s success will probably be judged on how far he can take them, which can be very unforgiving in the incredibly competitive Big East Conference.
Honorable Mention – Devoe Joseph, Oregon – The other Joseph isn’t going to be asked to shoulder any huge burden with the Ducks but coming onto the roster in mid December when the team has likely gone a third of the way through the schedule can be disruptive, particularly when the team is ripe with fresh faces trying to gel and in need of his shooting ability.
Most Important to the Team – Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
I don’t know who can be more important to his respective team than Andrew Nicholson. He had what you can call his third breakout season in a row and he did it in grand style. Nicholson accounted for 29.9% of the total points for his team attempting 25.4% of the Bonnies shots per game and making 31.8% of the team’s made field goals. He is responsible for 20.3% of the team’s rebounds, 42.4% of the team’s blocks and 33.0% of the teams made free throws shooting 32.4% of the total on the year. What all that translates into is a guy who, if removed from the equation, sends St. Bonaventure into a tailspin to the bottom of the Atlantic-10 standings. And that doesn’t even count the effect he has on other teams when they play them or what he does, whether consciously or not, for his teammates when he’s on the floor. If can find anyone more important to his team than Nicholson, please let me know. Until then, he is the single most important Canadian to his team, end of story.
Honorable Mention – Hernst Laroche, New Mexico State – Say what you want about anyone else, but when you lose 19 points, 6.5 rebounds and the focal point of the offense, the senior point guard becomes the most important player on the team with seven newbies and only five upperclassmen.
Super Sleeper – Hernst Laroche, New Mexico State
For the second year in a row, Hernst Laroche is our super sleeper pick for the year. Last season, all he did was average 11.5 points and rank in the top three in the Western Athletic Conference in assists (2nd with 4.6), steals (3rd with 1.9) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3rd at 1.7) while quarterbacking a team that was hit hard with losses throughout the season. And he still didn’t make an all conference team. This season he’ll be expected to carry more of the offensive load with their star Troy Gillenwater no longer on the team while still providing the steady leadership both on the floor and in the locker room. Teams will likely be looking more to lock in on him since the Aggies will be playing with a whole lot of new faces but Laroche should be able to handle it. Don’t be surprised if this is the year that the league, and possibly the rest of the NCAA, finally recognizes his talent.
Honorable Mention – Alex Johnson, NC State – After two very good years at Cal-Bakersfield, Johnson will be coming over to an NC State team that is loaded with star talent. He should be starting the season coming off the bench for the Wolfpack but with Johnson’s skills that my change as the year wears on.
Best Right Now – Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Joseph is as complete right now as you can get: big body, quick, can shoot from the perimeter, can slash to the cup, can handle the ball, can score from inside, can create his own shot and he can defend. He’s athletic and you can expect him to display all these skills this season as he auditions for a spot in next year’s NBA Draft’s first round. Of course he can always fine tune every aspect of his game but right now, as he is, he is great.
Honorable Mention – Robert Sacre, Gonzaga – Can Sacre improve a few things to make him a better player? Of course he can but he has a few things you can’t teach which are size (7-foot and 250lbs to be exact) and quickness. And did we mention that he can hit his free throws too.
Best Down the Road – Khem Birch, Pittsburgh
To call Khem Birch an athletic player is an understatement. He’s a very, very athletic player. He’s got a lot of length to him, he’s quick and he can leap with the best of them which go a long way to help him defend, rebound and block shots. But at the moment, that’s all he can really do right now. There is no doubt that he will help Pitt immediately with those attributes but he’s still a work in progress. After a year as a Panther, you can expect some big improvements with him in all facets of this game particularly on the O side. Just wait for the player he’ll be when he’s a senior.
Honorable Mention – Melvin Ejim, Iowa State – This guy is a 6’6" wing player that was used at the power forward spot quite a bit last season on a weak team and he played pretty well. Just imagine the player he’ll be when he finally gets to move to the wing and he plays beside Royce White.
Due for a Breakout – Dwight Powell, Stanford
Powell had some high expectations going into his freshman year at Stanford and for the most part he played well. He averaged 8.1 points and 5.2 assists in 24 minutes but his play was inconsistent early on. As he got more acclimatized to the college game, his minutes were steady and he became a steady contributor. Playing another season beside forward Josh Owens should help Powell’s development for and allow him to play more on the wing and show his more complete game. You should also note that Powell had 24 steals and 28 blocks last season which were good for third and second on the team respectively. Being one year older and more experienced, he should have a bigger impact for the Cardinal.
Honorable Mention – Junior Cadougan, Marquette – Cadougan will be the primary ball handler on a very experienced Golden Eagles team. He’s been in the system for a couple of seasons and Coach Buzz Williams will give him the keys to the team. We think he’ll have a very good season too.
Don’t Call It a Comeback – Alex Johnson, NC State
This isn’t really a comeback at all even though it may seem like it is. Johnson is one of those uncommon instances where a player transfers from a lower D1 program to a high major and for him it’s winning situation. He’s been a star on the west coast playing at Cal-Bakersfield under little to no attention from anyone except local media (and us of course) but now he’s going to get to play on a very big stage nightly. He’s not going to be a starter right away and may not start at all in his only season in Wolfpack red but he’s a savvy point guard who has a resume that includes heavy minutes leading his team, great outside range and the ability to find the open man. He should fit extremely well in the NC State system and should shine in floodlights that fill the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Honorable Mention – Junior Cadougan, Marquette – This will not be a comeback since Cadougan played a good amount last year coming off of a serious Achilles injury the year before. The only difference this year is that Junior will have the rock in his hands from day one. He was very productive in 19 minutes a game so let’s see what he can do with more PT.
Remember Me – Brady Heslip, Baylor
Heslip has been so out of the minds of most people for so long that it may be a little while before people will remember exactly what kind of player he was before he resurfaced, so to speak, this summer with the Senior Men’s National Team. After having finished high school in Burlington, ON three years ago, he took a post grad semester at a prep school and then enrolled at Boston College. But when former head coach Al Skinner was canned, Heslip was on the move again this time to Waco, TX and Baylor. Now after two years he has the chance to play his first NCAA game. He’s being dubbed one of the primary guards for this uber athletic team that features one NBA Lottery pick in Perry Jones III and two potential ones in Deuce Bello and Quincy Miller. Look for him to play solid minutes early and to have his rather expansive shooting range be on full display.
Honorable Mention – Devoe Joseph, Oregon – Yes, Devoe had his issues in the past but you’ll remember that he’s still a very shooter who can defend once he steps onto the court and those two skills are never out of style.
Pre Season Fab Five
Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Olu Ashaolu, Oregon
Tyler Murray, Wagner
Myck Kabongo, Texas
Pre Season Next Five
Nem Mitrovic, Portland
Hernst Laroche, New Mexico State
Bryson Johnson, Bucknell
Junior Cadougan, Marquette
Rob Sacre, Gonzaga
Ten Others to Watch
Kyle Wiltjer, Kentucky
Jahenns Manigat, Creighton
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Nik Cochran, Davidson
Harouna Mutombo, Western Carolina
Christian Kabongo, New Mexico State
Tyrone Watson, New Mexico State
Kadeem Green, Missouri
Dwayne Smith, George Washington
Marvell Waithe, Arkansas