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The Best NCAA Basketball Players in the Transfer Portal

The 2022 NCAA Tournament may have just ended, but the arms race to prepare for the 2023 iteration is already in full swing. With the NCAA allowing transferring players to play immediately and granting an extra year of eligibility across the board starting last year, nearly 1100 players are looking to switch teams. Increasingly, transfers are becoming an integral part of team building—it’s hard to imagine Kansas winning the title without Remy Martin or North Carolina making the championship game without Brady Manek. Here is a sampling of the best players that the portal has to offer.

Johni Broome, Center, Morehead State:
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Last season, the 6’10 sophomore was the third best shot-blocker in the country, rejecting 3.9 shots per game. To wit, Broome is no clumsy defensive specialist—his 16.8 points per game led his team. An unheralded three-star recruit in high school, Broome is now one of the most coveted players in college basketball as Gonzaga, Auburn, Texas Tech, Alabama and Indiana are all in pursuit. 

Fardaws Aimaq, Center, Utah Valley:
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Last year, a rebound-vacuuming big man entered the portal and then proceeded to win every major National Player of the Year award at his new school. Could Aimaq do the same this year? Although Aimaq lacks the pedigree that Oscar Tshiebwe had at West Virginia, the 6’11, 245-pound Aimaq was startlingly productive last year for the Utah Valley Wolverines. A two-time Western Athletic Conference first-teamer and defensive player of the year, Aimaq averaged 18.9 points and 13.6 rebounds per game last season. Unsurprisingly, he’s a top target for nearly every major school, with Arizona, Gonzaga, Arkansas, Kentucky, Houston and Texas all interested in him. 

Nijel Pack, Shooting Guard, Kansas State:
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While there are 1088 players in the portal and counting, Nijel Pack might have the most impressive resume of them all. A Big 12 first-team selection last year, Pack is a fearsome scorer and playmaker—his 17.4 points per game ranked third in the conference and were the most of any underclassman. In addition to entering the portal, Pack also declared for the NBA Draft, but it’s unlikely that he will be selected. 

Andre Curbelo, Point Guard, Illinois:
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At his best, Curbelo might be on the shortlist of the best returning point guard in college basketball. The 2020-2021 Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman, Curbelo is a dazzling playmaker, able to manifest his own imagination onto the court so thoroughly that even the most outrageous passes seem preordained. As a sophomore, though, injuries limited Curbelo to just 19 games, in which he may have been the most destructive player in the Big 10. Still, Curbelo has a litany of power conference suitors because of his immense natural talent as well as the possibility that he will be more productive once he’s untethered from a high-usage big man like Kofi Cockburn.

Terrence Shannon Jr, Shooting Guard, Texas Tech:
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Everybody on this list is a great college basketball player; Terrence Shannon Jr. has the distinction of potentially being a great NBA one too. After emerging as one of the star players for Texas Tech in 2020-2021, Shannon was shunted more towards the periphery last year, sacrificing shots to accommodate an influx of transfers. In a new setting, Shannon should be able to showcase the athleticism and budding ball skills that have made him such a productive college player and NBA prospect.

Doug Edert and Daryl Banks, Guards, St. Peter’s:
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You know these guys—Edert was the breakout star of the NCAA Tournament, thanks to his clutch shooting and glorious ‘stache; Daryl Banks catalyzed the Peacocks’ first round upset by dropping 27 points against Kentucky. Interestingly, Edert and Banks have entered the portal just a week after head coach Shaheen Holloway left St. Peter’s to take the Seton Hall job. Makes you think. 

LSU Basketball
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As of right now, the LSU Tigers are more of a zen koan than a real squad—if a basketball team has no basketball players, are they still a basketball team? Facing potential sanctions, LSU saw all 13 of their players from last season opt not to return to Baton Rouge. As part of this mass exodus, highly regarded players like SEC All-Freshman team guard Brandon Murray (10 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game), former five-star recruits Efton Reid (6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 19.6 minutes per game), Adam Miller (missed last year with an injury), and Giannis Antetokounmpo with a jump shot Shareef O’Neal are all leaving the program. 

Antonio Reeves, Shooting Guard, Illinois State:
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More than just about anybody in the portal, Reeves is a bucket; he’s the only potential transfer who averaged more than 20 points per game last year. Upon entering the portal, Reeves received immediate interest from big programs such as Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Texas Tech and Nebraska. 

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Sports Strength

Alabama Commit Jaden Bradley Is Unstoppable In Transition

The high school basketball circuit in the United States is in incredible shape. Over 500,000 boys participated in varsity basketball, and that number continues to grow. With having such an overabundance of talent, it can be difficult to tell who will rise above the rest. A tell-tale sign of development is when one of these high school prospects attends a prep school like Oak Hill Academy, Montverde Academy, or IMG Academy. These programs have done an exceptional job at preparing kids for the collegiate level and beyond. Jaden Bradley who played his last year of high school basketball at IMG Academy is proving he has what it takes to be an elite guard at the next level. Let’s talk about it.

Jaden Bradley is a 6’3” point guard from Rochester, New York. In his sophomore year at Cannon School in North Carolina, Bradley was a dominant floor general dropping 23.1 points, grabbing 6.4 rebounds, and dishing out 6.1 assists per game. Those marks were good enough to earn him the North Carolina Boys Basketball Gatorade Player of the Year. 

<div class =”code”><blockquote class=”instagram-media” data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-permalink=”https://www.instagram.com/tv/B-iLH9VptzI/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” data-instgrm-version=”14″ style=”background:#FFF;border:0;border-radius:3px;margin: 1px;max-width:540px;min-width:326px;padding:0;width:99.375%;width:-webkit-calc(100% – 2px);width:calc(100% – 2px)”><div style=”padding:16px”> <a href=”https://www.instagram.com/tv/B-iLH9VptzI/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” style=”background:#FFFFFF;line-height:0;padding:0 0;text-align:center;text-decoration:none;width:100%” target=”_blank”> <div style=”flex-direction: row;align-items: center”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;flex-grow: 0;height: 40px;margin-right: 14px;width: 40px”></div> <div style=”flex-direction: column;flex-grow: 1;justify-content: center”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;margin-bottom: 6px;width: 100px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;width: 60px”></div></div></div><div style=”padding: 19% 0″></div> <div style=”height:50px;margin:0 auto 12px;width:50px”></div><div style=”padding-top: 8px”> <div style=”color:#3897f0;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;font-style:normal;font-weight:550;line-height:18px”>View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style=”padding: 12.5% 0″></div> <div style=”flex-direction: row;margin-bottom: 14px;align-items: center”><div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px;flex-grow: 0;margin-right: 14px;margin-left: 2px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px”></div></div><div style=”margin-left: 8px”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;flex-grow: 0;height: 20px;width: 20px”></div> <div style=”width: 0;height: 0;border-top: 2px solid transparent;border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4;border-bottom: 2px solid transparent”></div></div><div style=”margin-left: auto”> <div style=”width: 0px;border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4;border-right: 8px solid transparent”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;flex-grow: 0;height: 12px;width: 16px”></div> <div style=”width: 0;height: 0;border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4;border-left: 8px solid transparent”></div></div></div> <div style=”flex-direction: column;flex-grow: 1;justify-content: center;margin-bottom: 24px”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;margin-bottom: 6px;width: 224px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;width: 144px”></div></div></a><p style=”color:#c9c8cd;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;line-height:17px;margin-bottom:0;margin-top:8px;overflow:hidden;padding:8px 0 7px;text-align:center”><a href=”https://www.instagram.com/tv/B-iLH9VptzI/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” style=”color:#c9c8cd;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;font-style:normal;font-weight:normal;line-height:17px;text-decoration:none” target=”_blank”>A post shared by Jaden Bradley (@jbsmoovve)</a></p></div></blockquote></div>

What makes Bradley so special on the offense end is his shifty speed, incredibly high basketball IQ, and decision making. You can tell by his body language that Bradley relishes his role as the primary ball handler. Bradley is able to use that combination of speed and high IQ to dominate in transition. Another key aspect that makes Bradley so elite in transition is his on-ball defense. An absolute pest to any offensive player, Bradley was able to secure 2.9 steals per game. 

At the Nike EYBL-Peach Jam last summer, Bradley played on Chris Paul’s AAU team, Team CP3. Putting up 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game, the #2 ranked point guard in the class of 2022 showed that he is more than equipped to face off against other top-level talent in the country. It should come as no surprise that Bradley was selected to participate in this year’s McDonald’s All-American game. 

<div class =”code”><blockquote class=”instagram-media” data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-permalink=”https://www.instagram.com/p/CZP2nd7JR7R/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” data-instgrm-version=”14″ style=”background:#FFF;border:0;border-radius:3px;margin: 1px;max-width:540px;min-width:326px;padding:0;width:99.375%;width:-webkit-calc(100% – 2px);width:calc(100% – 2px)”><div style=”padding:16px”> <a href=”https://www.instagram.com/p/CZP2nd7JR7R/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” style=”background:#FFFFFF;line-height:0;padding:0 0;text-align:center;text-decoration:none;width:100%” target=”_blank”> <div style=”flex-direction: row;align-items: center”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;flex-grow: 0;height: 40px;margin-right: 14px;width: 40px”></div> <div style=”flex-direction: column;flex-grow: 1;justify-content: center”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;margin-bottom: 6px;width: 100px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;width: 60px”></div></div></div><div style=”padding: 19% 0″></div> <div style=”height:50px;margin:0 auto 12px;width:50px”></div><div style=”padding-top: 8px”> <div style=”color:#3897f0;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;font-style:normal;font-weight:550;line-height:18px”>View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style=”padding: 12.5% 0″></div> <div style=”flex-direction: row;margin-bottom: 14px;align-items: center”><div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px;flex-grow: 0;margin-right: 14px;margin-left: 2px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;height: 12.5px;width: 12.5px”></div></div><div style=”margin-left: 8px”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 50%;flex-grow: 0;height: 20px;width: 20px”></div> <div style=”width: 0;height: 0;border-top: 2px solid transparent;border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4;border-bottom: 2px solid transparent”></div></div><div style=”margin-left: auto”> <div style=”width: 0px;border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4;border-right: 8px solid transparent”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;flex-grow: 0;height: 12px;width: 16px”></div> <div style=”width: 0;height: 0;border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4;border-left: 8px solid transparent”></div></div></div> <div style=”flex-direction: column;flex-grow: 1;justify-content: center;margin-bottom: 24px”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;margin-bottom: 6px;width: 224px”></div> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4;border-radius: 4px;flex-grow: 0;height: 14px;width: 144px”></div></div></a><p style=”color:#c9c8cd;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;line-height:17px;margin-bottom:0;margin-top:8px;overflow:hidden;padding:8px 0 7px;text-align:center”><a href=”https://www.instagram.com/p/CZP2nd7JR7R/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading” style=”color:#c9c8cd;font-family:Arial,sans-serif;font-size:14px;font-style:normal;font-weight:normal;line-height:17px;text-decoration:none” target=”_blank”>A post shared by Jaden Bradley (@jbsmoovve)</a></p></div></blockquote></div>

Bradley will be attending the University of Alabama next season under coach Nate Oats. Bama runs one of the highest paced offenses in college basketball, which makes Bradley the perfect fit for their offensive scheme. The sky’s the limit for Jaden Bradley next season at Alabama and I could not be more excited to see what he can do.

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The Best NCAA Teams That Didn’t Win The National Championship

Every year when March Madness comes around there is almost always a definitive favorite to win the big dance. This year Gonzaga is slated as the best future odds to win the national championship at +300 with Arizona closely behind at +550. If these favorites won the tournament outright every year then the degenerates of America would be very rich, but as we know that is not the case. Instead we get Cinderella stories with wild upsets and buzzer-beaters every round that inevitably busts our brackets. These are the best NCAA teams that didn’t end up winning the national championship.

<div class =”code”><p class = “twitter-tweet”>https://twitter.com/SportsNation/status/581286275996626945?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw</p></div>
2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats: 18-0 in conference, 38-1 overall
Notable Players: Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis

The hype surrounding the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats was ambitious to say the least. Some Media outlets would even put out polls during this season asking the general public if that year’s Kentucky team could beat former NBA dynasties. There is no realm of possibility where an NBA team could lose to an NCAA team, but this Kentucky roster was so stacked that some entertained the idea. Headlined by future NBA big-men Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, the Wildcats finished the regular season undefeated and were clear title favorites. Kentucky’s championship dreams were shattered however in a final four game against Wisconsin and Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky.

2009-10 Kentucky – 14-2 in conference, 35-3 overall
Notable Players: John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Another John Calipari led class of one-and-done hoopers at Kentucky that couldn’t claim the national championship was the 2010 team. Headlined by future NBA All-Stars John Wall and Demarcus Cousins, this team was far from lacking talent. Add the likes of Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson and you have a starting five that could double as an NBA team (albeit they wouldn’t be very good today). This team would meet its demise in the elite eight against West Virginia, truly not living up to expectations.

<div class =”code”><iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/D4eleuM7Flg” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>”,”hed1998-99 Duke: 16-0 in conference, 37-2 Overall “,”subhedNotable Players: Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Shane Battier, William Avery, Trajan Langdon</div>
1998-99 Duke: 16-0 in conference, 37-2 Overall
Notable Players: Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Shane Battier, William Avery, Trajan Langdon

The 1999 Duke Blue Devils roster was stacked with future NBA talent including future Rookie of the Year Elton Brand. Duke tore through the regular season going undefeated and was looking like a lock to win the national championship. Unfortunately for this Duke squad, they would meet their demise in the national championship game against UCONN and future Hall-Of-Fame shooting guard Ray Allen. That 1999 national championship game is one of the most memorable in tournament history as UCONN barely edged out Duke 77 to 74.

<div class =”code”><iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/-28aGo4xNj8″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>”,”hed1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels: 18-0 in conference, 34-1 overall”,”subhedNotable Players: Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, Stacy Augmon</div>
1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels: 18-0 in conference, 34-1 overall
Notable Players: Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, Stacy Augmon

To call UNLV the favorites going into the 1991 NCAA tournament would’ve been an understatement. UNLV had three future lottery picks, one of them being future first overall pick Larry Johnson. The Runnin’ Rebels were coming off a national championship victory where they blew out Duke by 30 points, and on top of that UNLV was cruising on a 45 game win streak entering the final four. They would square off in a rematch against Duke and come up just two points shy of returning to the national championship.

<div class =”code”><iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/GfYb-JTmJs4″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>”,”hed1982-83 Houston Cougars: 16-0 in conference, 31-3 overall”,”subhedNotable Players: Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler</div>
1982-83 Houston Cougars: 16-0 in conference, 31-3 overall
Notable Players: Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler

The 1983 University of Houston Cougars may not be as deep as the aforementioned teams on this list, but the two key contributors make up for that. Leading the Cougars were future NBA Hall-Of-Famers and NBA 75 anniversary team members Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Houston plowed through the regular season and dominated any opponent in its path. Flash forward to the national championship game and they are facing off against lowly NC State coached by some eccentric guy with slicked-backed hair named Jimmy Valvano. In the greatest Cinderella story of all time, NC State would win the national championship on a last-second go-ahead bucket, and the rest was history.

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Sports Strength

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview: Arch Madness

Whether it be the Superbowl in February, having all four major American professional sports on in October, or the non-stop action of wild-card weekend in January, certain months standout in the yearly betting cycle. There is no better time of year for degenerates than the euphoric highs and epic lows of March. Currently teams are battling it out in conference tournaments to earn the right for a trip to the madness later this month. Having more than 300 games slotted to take place in over 30 conferences can be overwhelming. Have no fear because here is our preview of the Missouri Valley Conference ‘Arch Madness’ tournament.

Missouri Valley Conference Arch Madness (March 3rd-March 6th)
Notable Teams:

Northern Iowa Panthers (18-10 overall, 14-4 in conference; +350 to win Arch Madness)

Despite posting the fourth best overall record in the MVC, the University of Northern Iowa has been dominant in conference play and, in turn, have secured the one seed in this year’s conference tournament. Recently, UNI has been red-hot, winning nine of their last ten games, including an overtime win against Loyola-Chicago. Boasting the second most efficient offense in the MVC, UNI has a very real chance of making their first NCAA tournament since 2016. Similarly, UNI has the best free-throw percentage in the MVC giving them a significant edge in tight games. At +350 odds there is a lot of value in Northern Iowa. 

Loyola Chicago Ramblers (22-9 overall, 13-5 in conference; +150 odds to win Arch Madness)

Backed by the pureness of Sister Jean, Loyola has quickly carved a place out in the hearts of ‘Cinderella story’ fans across the nation. Led by first year head coach Drew Valentine, the Ramblers have put together one of the most impressive regular seasons in the MVC despite being slated as the four seed. Loyola plays with the 8th slowest tempo in the MVC, but when Loyola is able to get into their sets on offense, they shoot a conference best effective field goal rate of 56 percent as well as putting in 37 percent of their threes. The Ramblers can get it done on both ends of the floor however, finishing with the second highest steal percentage in the MVC. There is no question why Loyola has the best odds to win Arch Madness despite being the four seed. 

Missouri State Bears (22-9 overall, 13-5 in conference; +400 odds to win Arch Madness) 

Slotted with the third best odds to win Arch Madness, there is a very real chance Missouri State can be the dark horse team to win the tournament. The Bears are fueled by an extremely efficient offense. Ranking first in the MVC in offensive efficiency and turnover percentage, Missouri State does not make a lot of mistakes. If Missouri State can keep a clean sheet, they could make some real noise in Arch Madness.

Notable Players:
AJ Green, Northern Iowa Panthers
(19.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

The MVC Larry Bird Trophy was awarded to Junior AJ Green for the second time in his career. Green is automatic from the free-throw line knocking down over 90 percent of his attempts and has ample experience in Arch Madness. 

Isiaih Mosley, Missouri State Bears
(20.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game)
(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

The Larry Bird Trophy runner-up Isiaih Mosley is an elite scorer. Putting in the second most total points of any D1 hooper while posting a true shooting percentage of 62.1, Mosley can get a bucket on anybody.

Lucas Williamson, Loyola Chicago Ramblers
(14.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists per game)
(Photo by Chris Kohley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rounding out the player of the year voting is senior guard Lucas Williamson. Williamson is a knock-down three point shooter hitting 40 percent of his threes while attempting nearly six per game.

Prediciton:

Sister Jean and Loyola Chicago takes home another Arch Madness title

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The Arkansas Razorbacks Demand Your Respect

For the first few months of the season, the Muss Bus was busted— the tires were all flat, taillights were cracked, the paintjob were peeling, the transmission was irredeemably borked. On January 8th, the Arkansas Razorbacks dropped their fifth game out of their last six, losing to decided non-powerhouses Oklahoma, Hofstra (Hofstra!!!), Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. At the time, they were somewhere in the neighborhood of the 80th best team in the country with one of the worst defenses in the SEC; they seemed like the kind of squad who must unhappily endure the rest of the season because there’s no other alternative. 

After that 0-3 start to SEC play, though, head coach Eric Musselman and the Razorbacks have been nearly unbeatable. They’re 12-1 in their last 13 games with Quad One wins over Alabama, Tennessee, LSU and then-top ranked Auburn. Adjusted for the strength of schedule, Arkansas has been the fourth best team in the entire country during this stretch, according to Bart Torvik. 

During this dominant stretch, Arkansas has rediscovered the stifling defense that fueled their Elite Eight run last year; since January 9th, Arkansas has the best defense in college basketball. They’re a swarming, unrelenting unit, climbing into the chest of ball-handlers and turning each dribble into a chore. This ball pressure redounds throughout the rest of their defense, resulting in forced turnovers and contested shots—Arkansas forces turnovers on more than 20 percent of possessions and holds teams to the second lowest effective field goal percentage. Even if they don’t have a single fearsome rim protector like Christian Koloko at Arizona or Chet Holmgren at Gonzaga, they succeed because of their collective irksomeness. Across every position, the Razorbacks place a tremendous amount of stress on the offense, both cognitively and physically. 

Offensively, the Razorbacks opt for a simpler, more prosaic approach: they go fast and hope JD Notae breaks shit. Last year’s SEC Sixth Man of the Year, Notae is the conference’s second-leading scorer, putting up 18.7 points per game. He’s the archetypal, undersized college basketball bucket getter, slashing to the rim with angular, bruising drives and pulling up for gutsy jumpers. He’s a new-age Russ Smith or Frank Mason III; Kemba Walker without the rubbery handle and New York City kabbalism. Flanking Notae, sophomore big man Jaylin Williams is an athletic, funky point-center who offers a nice counterweight on the interior and at the elbows while Au’Diese Toney and Stanley Umude are athletic wings who can stretch the floor in transition. 

But despite their recent greatness, the Razorbacks still aren’t taken all that seriously. In the AP Poll, Arkansas is ranked 18th, below a Tennessee team that they just held to 48 points in a 10 point win. Bracketologists have them pegged as a prospective sixth seed, while putting Providence—a team that is universally considered to kinda suck—on the four-line; on Draftkings, Arkansas’ +1400 odds give them an implied 6.7 percent chance to make the Final Four, By this point, Arkansas has proven that they’re one of the best teams in the country. It’s a cliche that elite guard-play and defense win championships. Luckily, the Razorbacks have both.

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Is Oscar Tshiebwe the Best Rebounder Ever?

Even in today’s era of apositional weirdos, basketball stardom is informed by certain biases. You need to score a lot, ideally by hoisting tough shots over a defender’s outstretched arms. Your passes need to be infused with smartness and surety. But most of all, you have to dribble. On the most basic level, dribbling creates a certain degree of self-sufficiency, an ability to go out and make shit happen. This is why the balls themselves are made perfectly round to bounce predictably and why basketball is a cooler sport than netball. Dribbling is the most elemental part of being a great player; it’s the foundation of almost all on-court self-expression and actualization. Just as opposable thumbs separate man from beast, dribbling is what separates Steph Curry from Seth Curry. 

Conversely, Oscar Tshiebwe, the University of Kentucky’s center and the presumptive National Player of the Year, would prefer not to do that stuff. This is not to say that his game is devoid of skill or nuance, but rather that he plays basketball with a judoka’s sensibility. He has never taken a three-pointer across his three years of college and is hitting just 34 percent of his jumpers from any distance; he has a grand total of 30 assists this year, against 54 turnovers. Whereas his contemporaries in the National Player of the Year race are swashbuckling scorers with deep bags of floaters or post moves, Tshiebwe dominates through physicality and instincts. 

When Tshiebwe is on the court, he’s going to get the ball, preferably by force. He’s arguably the best rebounder in the history of college basketball; his 15.3 rebounds per game are the most that any player has racked up since at least 1992. On a game by game basis, his rebounding totals boggle the mind—of the 26 games in which a player has had 20 or more rebounds this year, Tshiebwe is responsible for five of them; he’s led Kentucky in rebounding in 27 of their 28 contests; in just 27 games, he set a school record for rebounds in a single season. Although rebounding isn’t quite held in the same regard it once was, Tshiebwe represents a convincing counterargument for its enduring value. Despite unremarkable shooting percentages and shot profile, Kentucky has the nation’s fourth best offense in large part because Tshiebwe ensures that they have so many more opportunities for offense; their 38.4 percent offensive rebound rate is second-best in the nation while his own personal 20 percent offensive rebound rate is better than that of 10 entire teams. 

As such, Tshiebwe’s best trait is that his offensive production is almost entirely additive; while most players demand some degree of schematic accommodation, Tshiebwe produces 16.4 points per game of pure gravy. He converts lobs and dump-offs when given the chance, but nearly half of his points are unassisted putbacks that are the result of his offensive rebounding—thanks to his soft touch and insatiable rebounding bloodlust, he’s basketball’s preeminent composter, turning waste (i.e. missed shots) into something productive and good (i.e. points). In this sense, Tshiebwe is a new kind of star, precisely because he’s so unlike the normal conception of one. 

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Sports Strength

Texas Tech Is Making Defense Cool Again

If offense is an act of creation, defense is destruction. It’s an eradication of possibility. In college basketball, defensive success is most often culled from the weaponization of an opponent’s shortcomings. Fullcourt presses, zones, packlines: all gimmicky defenses rooted in the idea that just about no college team has the combined passing, shooting and dribbling bandwidth to succeed for 40 minutes against them. Even if these tactics are effective, they’re not necessarily fun to watch because failure is never as fun to watch as success. There’s a certain meanness and grimness to these enterprises, informed by a cynical understanding of how college ball Really Works. But, at Texas Tech, Mark Adams and the Red Raiders are making defense cool again.

Purely from an x’s and o’s perspective, Texas Tech plays the same kind of switching, no-middle defense that they’ve perfected over the years; former head coach Chris Beard (now coaching at their hated rival, the University of Texas) is credited with introducing the defense to the mainstream, but current coach Mark Adams is perhaps the most devout no-middle alocyte. With the second best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country, Tech is good at nearly everything a defense is able to be good at. Adjusted for strength of schedule, they allow the 19th lowest effective field goal percentage, force the 20th most turnovers, and have the 41st best defensive rebounding rate. 

The premise of Tech’s scheme is simple—shade ball-handlers towards the sideline and aggressively bring early help from the weakside to discourage drives. Although this scheme has become trendy across college basketball, no team executes it as precisely as Tech. When their defense is humming, which is just about all the time, it seems like there’s a spawn point underneath the basket, pumping out wave after wave of athletic, giant-armed Adonises, such as, say, Adonis Arms. Putative advantages for the offense become harrowing situations once a rotating Red Raider comes screaming from your periphery. Tech doesn’t so much play defense as much as they chase the other team around the court with knives and hammers. 

Notably, Tech’s defense feels proactive. Whereas most defenses are at the mercy of the opposing offense, Tech is so defensively dominant that they effectively erase most scoring options—pick-and-rolls become a lot less appetizing when a hectoring defender is making it a chore to even access the pick and pre-rotating defenders clog driving lanes before they can even truly open in earnest. Against Tech, it’s nearly impossible to run a normal offense; the Red Raiders force their opponents into the fourth-most isolations and the 12th highest three-point rate in the nation.

Despite the fact that Tech turns games into grisly, low-scoring affairs, their heavy-metal ethos ensures they’re still an entertaining team to watch. Extolling a team’s toughness and togetherness is a well-worn piece of coaching palaver, but it feels completely earned in Tech’s case. Mark Adams, a lifelong Texas basketball grinder, has built a team in his image. Whereas Chris Beard tries to recreate a high-budget version of Tech’s institutional grittiness at UT, Adams and the rest of the Red Raiders were born into this grittiness, they were molded by it. Fittingly, not a single player on the roster was tabbed as a five-star recruit in high school and the majority of their rotation transferred to Tech from low-major schools. 

As such, Tech’s roster is stocked with guys who could average prolific stats in a different context, but have opted to play for Tech, usage rate be damned; Kevin Obaner, Bryson Williams and Davion Warren were all big time scorers at low-major schools last year who have seen their box score production dip since coming to Lubbock, Texas. Accordingly, the latent offensive talent is what makes this Tech team so special—this isn’t a team full of unskilled defensive specialists, but rather a team loaded with immensely talented scorers who have chosen to fashion themselves into defensive specialists. 

Ranked #9 in the country with a 21-6 record, the Red Raiders, improbably, might be the best team in school history. While they may not reach the same heights as the 2019 Tech team that made the Final Four, that’s almost besides the point: more joy is found in the process than the results. No one game in March could possibly negate Tech’s tsunami of happy mania as their tortilla-crazed fanbase adjusts to the new reality that the once-lowly Red Raiders are now a true powerhouse. Home games at the United Supermarkets Arena—and one special-occasion home game in Austin—pulse with the same electricity as games at more traditionally hallowed grounds like Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse or Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.

In the national media, Tech is treated as some kind of bemusing interloper or a charming-yet-unmannered party crasher. Everybody acknowledges that the team is very good, but nobody seems to take them seriously because it’s Texas Tech. And yet Tech has swept Baylor and UT and nearly swept Kansas. With each passing week, it’s increasingly clear that blue blood is no match for the Red Raiders. 

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Sports Strength

Auburn’s Walker Kessler Might Be the Best Player in College Basketball

About 4.3 times per game, Auburn University’s Walker Kessler makes his opponent realize they’ve made a huge mistake. At  7’1 245-pounds, Kessler is a hugely imposing interior presence, leading the nation in blocked shots and block percentage; his 7’5 wingspan gives the impression that smaller guards could comfortably perch themselves on his arms, like a parrot on the shoulder of a pirate. A year after Auburn’s defense ranked a leaky 103rd in the country, Kessler has transformed them into an elite unit after transferring from the University of North Carolina during the offseason. With Kessler stalwartly manning the paint, Auburn holds their opponents to 50.6 percent shooting at the rim (the 10th stingiest mark in college basketball) and ranks as the 11th best defense according to KenPom, college basketball’s advanced stats nerd king. Having almost single-handedly transformed the Auburn defense, Kessler is the runaway favorite to be named the national defensive player of the year and a dark-horse candidate for the Naismith National Player of the Year.

Although Kessler’s averages of 11.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game compare unfavorably to the robust stat lines of Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis and Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, no player in the country can match Kessler’s two-way dominance. He’s great in the most elemental, basic way possible: he seldom ever misses shots and he makes it nearly impossible for his opponents to make them. Kessler is the first major conference player since Anthony Davis to block more than four shots per game while also scoring more than ten per game on better than 60 percent shooting. Interestingly, Kessler’s per 40 minutes averages are almost indistinguishable from those of Davis whose one year at Kentucky is widely considered one of the greatest performances in recent college basketball history. 

What’s more, since the start of conference play, Kessler has been unquestionably the best player on what’s questionably the best team in the country; it’s impossible to imagine that Auburn would be 23-2 against a tough schedule if not for Kessler’s massive contributions.  Over his last eight contests, Kessler has racked up astonishing number against high quality competition, putting up 16 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks per game while shooting 68.8 percent from the field. 

Kessler’s impact extends well beyond the stat sheet; he fundamentally alters every aspect of the game. Opposing offenses are forced to permanently account for his presence at the rim, turning layups into floaters and floaters into pull-up jumpers. His offensive impact is subtler, but no less important. An imposing interior scorer and screener, Kessler provides important offensive lubricant, even if his own personal usage rate isn’t particularly noteworthy. Thanks to Kessler’s abilities as a dive man in pick-and-roll, Auburn’s guards Wendell Green and KD Johnson enjoy cleaner paths to the rim, forcing defenses to rotate to stop them, creating clean attempts from 3 for Jabari Smith Jr., a presumptive top three pick in this year’s NBA Draft. 

Accordingly, Kessler isn’t some monotasking rim protector; in fact, he might be the best player in all of college basketball.

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Sports Strength

Kenneth Lofton Jr. Is Proof That Size Matters

Last summer, the United States won the FIBA u19 Basketball World Cup. Unsurprisingly, the roster was loaded with talent. Chet Holmgren, the stick-bug hoops savant who’ll most likely go first overall in this year’s NBA Draft, headed the frontcourt alongside future lottery picks like Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Peyton Watson. In the backcourt, five-star recruit Kennedy Chandler split time with Jaden Ivey and Johnny Davis, who have since emerged as the two best college basketball players in the country. Here was a snapshot of basketball’s future, a Gesamtkunstwerk crafted from the country’s best Zoomer-aged hoops talent. Kenneth Lofton Jr., an unheralded 6’7, 275-pound power forward from mid-major Louisiana Tech, was the team’s leading scorer. 

On a purely corporeal level, Lofton is built different. Generally, basketball demands a fairly uniform set of physical parameters—it’s hard to be a successful player without some combination of exceptional height, length, or explosiveness. Conversely, Lofton’s defining quality is his density, an all-encompassing enormity that functions as the foundation of his game. Lofton may not fit within the traditional understanding of athleticism (at any given moment, he’s probably the least-bouncy and most Kirby-shaped player on the court), but he offers a special blend of nimbleness and girth; he’s found ways to turn his singular, oddball body into a wonderland. 

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As part of a surprisingly storied lineage of Louisiana Tech power forwards, Lofton evinces an old-school sensibility; he has made 69 unassisted shots at the rim, yet only one three-pointer. Whereas other dominant post players like Kofi Cockburn or Luka Garza simply lean against defenders until their opponent relented, Lofton introduces a touch more grace into the proceedings: he throws that ass back. Lofton has thunder in his thighs, using his posterior as a sealant and trapping his opponents on his back to prevent them from contesting his shots. His drop-steps carry a floor-clearing, seismic force, repelling defenders into irrelevancy. No player in the country has a more punishing post game. To guard Lofton is to be discarded.

Despite averaging 17.3 points and 11 rebounds per game, Lofton is undersold by his basic statistics because he only plays 26.5 minutes per game. On a per-minute basis, Lofton is the 13th-most prolific scorer and the third-busiest rebounder. Additionally, although the bulk of Lofton’s games have come against overwhelmed Conference USA teams, he’s similarly devastated high-major competition when given the chance. In the U19 World Cup Finals, he hung buckets on Victor Wembanyama, a spindly, 7’4 superhuman who is the consensus best teenage player since Lebron James. Against NC State, Lofton ravaged the Wolfpack’s big men, finishing with 36 points on 14-19 shooting; against Alabama, he collected five offensive rebounds in under 20 minutes of play. 

Even if Lofton can’t replicate the NBA careers of fellow body-positive kings like Glen “Big Baby” Davis or Luka Doncic, his dominance has revealed an inherent logical rupture that’s hidden within basketball’s evolution: guys like Lofton have been so thoroughly excised from high-level basketball that teams no longer have the capacity to contain guys like Lofton. At a time where teams have almost universally adopted a headier, more skilled approach, Lofton is a hardwood Hannibal, riding an elephant and smashing through Rome.  

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Sports Strength

Isiaih Mosley Is the Best Scorer in College Basketball

The beauty of college basketball is its bigness. Whereas the NBA is a highly scrutinized cabal of 30 organizations who are single-mindedly committed to optimizing their way to glory, college basketball decidedly is not that. Most of the 358 teams exist in relative obscurity—it’s ok if they get a little weird. Since almost no team really has the airtight personnel to play basketball the analytically “correct” way with a well-spaced offense and a switchable defense, teams are free to play basketball their way and creatively explore all the schematic studio space that the NBA has ignored. Here is a place where junky defenses like zones and presses can become impenetrable fortresses of solitude, where a team can become the 11th best offensive team in the country despite not ever really dribbling, where Isiaih Mosley (a 6’5 shooting guard for the Missouri State Bears) can firebomb his way to stardom. 

Although Mosley doesn’t necessarily lead the nation in points per game (his 21.3 points per game are ninth), he’s still the best pure scorer in college basketball—he’s the first player in over a decade to average more than 20 points per game while also shooting over 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free throw line. While Mosley has largely flambeéd mid-major teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, he’s also shown that he can translate his production against better competition: his 40-point masterclass against a powerhouse Loyola Chicago team is arguably the best performance that any player has had all season.

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What makes Mosley special, though, is not just that he scores so much, but rather how he scores so much. Whereas most players are encouraged to do the bulk of their damage either from three or at the rim, Mosley has turned the mid-range into his own personal dojo. He’s taken a plurality of his shots in this liminal space (non-rim two-pointers comprise 45.8 percent of his diet, while only 21.3 and 32.9 percent of shots are at the rim or from three, respectively) and buries more than half of them. 

Even if Mosley lacks the oil-slick quickness that defines most great scorers, he’s such a spell-binding shot-maker and double-jointed ball-handler that it doesn’t matter; you don’t need to blow by defenders when you can always shoot over them.  In this sense, Mosley is practically peerless—there simply aren’t many (if any) wing scorers in college basketball history who shoot so accurately on such a high volume of tough attempts. 

Players like Mosley are what make college basketball so special—he’s a hot weekend in mid-March away from becoming a household name. He’s a unique player with an idiosyncratic game who has been given the total freedom to lead his team. Someday soon, Mosley will be in the NBA and conform to the aesthetic and tactical conventions of professional basketball, but that kind of projection and prognostication is the thief of joy. For now, Mosley still has at least another ten games to terrorize MVC defenses with his ahistorical bag of push shots and step-backs. Appreciate it for as long as you can.