We’re officially four weeks away from the 2019-20 college basketball season tipping off. The days of deciding between watching MLB baseball or re-runs of the Office on Tuesday nights are almost over. Here’s the top returning player from every ‘Power Five’ conference:
ACC: Jordan Nwora (Louisville)
Other than the entire city of Louisville, nobody was more thrilled with Nwora’s decision to return than Chris Mack. His decision, along with center Steven Enoch, gives the Cards a legitimate shot at winning an ACC and National Championship. Jordan Nwora averaged a team-high 17 PPG and 7.6 RPG, and he is predicted by many to be the ACC Preseason Player of the Year this season. The junior’s size and ability to put the ball on the floor makes him tough to guard, but the Vermont native is really known for being a lights-out shooter. Expect Jordan Nwora and Louisville to have a big season after a few years filled with scandals and heartbreaking losses. (i.e. Duke, Virginia)
Big Ten: Cassius Winston (Michigan State)
Tom Izzo’s Spartans once again will be among the elite in college basketball this season, thanks in large part to Cassius Winston. The senior was an AP First-Team All American in 2018, leading Michigan State to another Big Ten crown and Final Four appearance. Check out his averages from last season: 18.9 PPG, 3 RPB, 7.5 APG, 1 SPG and shot 40 percent from three-point range. Expect Winston to have his best year yet under Izzo, as he is more experienced and has more talent around him than his previous three seasons in East Lansing. He could arguably be the best all-around player in college hoops, and possibly the most important player to his team. Sparty will only go as far as Cassius Winston will take them.
Big 12: Udoka Azubuike (Kansas)
There may not be a player in the country that provides a more intimidating presence in the paint than Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike. The 7-foot-1, 270-pound senior from Nigeria helped the Jayhawks get off to a 9-0 start last season before missing the last three months with a hand injury. His best game came against Vermont when he scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 34 minutes of action. Dedric Lawson’s decision to enter the NBA Draft makes Azubuike the focal point on offense. Azubuike and his teammate, Devin Dotson, are the two favorites to win Big 12 Player of the Year.
Pac-12: Payton Pritchard (Oregon)
Payton Pritchard may not look like an elite-level player at first glance, but after watching him play for five minutes, you’ll quickly learn this dude is for real. The senior from Oregon exudes toughness and leadership for Dana Altman and the Ducks. He can do it on both ends of the floor, too, as he averaged 12.9 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.9 RPG and 1.8 steals per game last year. Pritchard seems to make the right play every time, whether it be driving it to the bucket for a layup or dropping a dime to a teammate. He had a down year statistically from downtown in 2019, shooting just 32% compared to 41% his sophomore season. Pritchard is pretty clearly the best player in the Pac-12 at this point in time, and the Ducks just might have the best team.
SEC: Kerry Blackshear Jr. (Florida)
Blackshear was one of the most heavily-pursued graduate transfers not only last year, but in recent memory. The Orlando native picked Florida for his final season of eligibility, and joins a loaded Gator squad with Andrew Nembhard, Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann. The graduate-transfer averaged 14.9 PPG and 7.5 RPG for VT, who finished 12-6 in the ACC a season ago. In his last game as a Hokie, Blackshear scored 18 points and 16 rebounds in a narrow loss to Duke in the Sweet 16. Blackshear will give Mike White an inside presence that he had been missing in Gainesville.