By Adam Hensley
Iowa basketball announced last season that in 2018, it would be competing in the 2K Classic Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
On Monday, the Hawkeyes completed the schedule. Hawkeye basketball will square off against Missouri-Kansas City, Green Bay, Oregon, and either Syracuse or Connecticut. Last season, Iowa competed in the Cayman Islands Basketball Classic, which featured two surprising losses to Louisiana and South Dakota State but ended with a 10-point win over UAB. The 2K Classic is a bit more popular and will feature solid competition.
Similar to the Hawkeyes, the Kangaroos rely on scoring by committee rather than turning to a single player for production. Four KC players averaged at least 10.2 points per game last season. Leading the pack (not in size, but in scoring) was Xavier Bishop. Now entering his junior season, Bishop averaged 11.6 points per game while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from deep. Bishop also led the Kangaroos with 3.3 assists per contest.
The Kangaroos finished 10-22 last season and on paper don’t seem like a team to run the table and win the tournament, but they can hang with some of the country’s better teams. In nonconference play last season, the Kangaroos played Final Four-bound Loyola pretty closely, losing by only 10 points at home.
The Phoenix, unlike the Kangaroos, had just three players average double digits in the scoring column, but two of its players averaged at least 16 points per game.
Khalil Small (18.2) and Sandy Cohen III (16.1) proved to be go-to scorers for Green Bay. Small’s time in a Green Bay uniform is over (he graduated), but Cohen returns for his fifth season in college basketball. The Marquette transfer’s numbers last season — his first with the Phoenix — boomed in comparison with his previous seasons. Cohen played an average of 33 minutes per game (10 more than his highest average at Marquette) while hitting shots at a 47.4 percent rate, including knocking down nearly 35 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Green Bay finished with only 13 victories in 2018, but the Phoenix made it to the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Tournament.
Here’s where the competition makes a leap. One year removed from making a Final Four appearance, the Ducks regressed in 2017-18, and they failed to make the NCAA Tournament. However, they put together an impressive 23-13 résumé, which featured wins over Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA in Pac-12 play.
ESPN’s Myron Medcalf released his Way-Too-Early Top 25 in April, and his list had the Ducks sitting at 15th in the country, led by guard Payton Pritchard.
He scored 14.5 points per game last season and led the team with 4.8 assists per contest. He’s a legitimate 3-point weapon as well, hitting 41.3 percent of his shots from beyond the arc (in a 10-point overtime win against DePaul, Pritchard knocked down seven of his 11 3-point attempts).
Madcalf ranked the Orange just one spot behind the Ducks in his poll, but Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett might have something to say about that.
Battle had thoughts about going pro, but the now-junior opted to return for his third season with the Orange. Battle led Syracuse in scoring last season, netting 19.3 points per game.
Brissett proved to be a threat offensively as well as on the defensive side of the ball, scoring 14.9 points and grabbing 8.8 boards per game. Brissett dazzled people early in the season, putting up a 25 and 14 game against Georgetown. His booming outing came in the midst of a three-game stretch in which the then-freshman averaged 23.3 points and 9 rebounds per game.
The Orange’s season ended in the Sweet 16 with a 69-65 loss to Duke.
The 2018-18 season was a roller-coaster year for UConn fans; the Huskies started the season 4-0 following a 71-63 victory over Oregon. But when the buzzer sounded for the final time in 2018, UConn wound up 14-18, eighth in the American League (its worst record since joining the AAC).
The Huskies’ biggest positive heading into the upcoming season is Jalen Adams, who almost went pro. By returning for his senior season, Adams could easily make a case for himself as one of the nation’s top guards.
He scored 18.1 points per game last season and hit 43 percent of his attempts from the floor. Throw in 4.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.5 steals, and UConn has itself a do-it all guard.
UConn will also turn to Christian Vital (14.9 points per game) and Terry Larrier (13.9) for offense in the 2018-19 season.
Mamadou Diarra might be a surprise for the Huskies this season as well. As a freshman, he started five games last season. While that’s only a small sample size, stats-wise, Diarra averaged 10.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per 40 minutes.