Texas opens the season against Northwestern State on Nov. 10, it’s time to get excited about the upcoming men’s basketball season. So we’re giving out a starting line up of five things you need to know about Texas basketball.
All indications point to Texas center Mo Bamba playing more center than power forward. He was recently named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch-list and, frankly, who was really buying the 6-foot-11-inch, 225 pound shot block artist not playing next to Dylan Osetkowski in the front court? Texas will likely enter every game this season with the top center on the floor with the New Yorker on the low block. Bamba’s talent was on full display against Texas A&M when he scored 15 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and swatted two shots in the 73-69 exhibition game on Oct. 25.
So who will be the top players Bamba faces this year? Well, if it counted, and if it hadn’t happened already, the Aggies’ Robert Williams would probably be No. 1 on the list, but all that didn’t happen. Here’s who really counts:
5. Daniel Giddens, Alabama
The 6-foot-11-inch, 236 pound center is eligible after sitting out last season per transfer rules following a year at Ohio State. Giddens is a former top 50 recruit hailing from Oak Hill Academy who averaged just 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds for the Buckeyes during the 2015-16 season. Now a red-shirt sophomore, he transferred to Alabama and should assume the starting spot for the Crimson Tide.
4. Jamuni McNeace, Oklahoma
There is a good chance that Khadeem Lattin will play some center for the Sooners, like he has during the majority of his time in Norman, and if that were the case, we’d probably make him the No. 1 on this list. But because of McNeace, a 6-foot-10-inch, 222 pound junior center, the Sooners may employee a traditional lineup with two bigs. The key word is may. When Oklahoma reached the Final 4 in 2016 they used Lattin at center and had stretch-four Ryan Spangler. Lattin and McNeace are not stretch fours and aren’t a threat to shoot 3-pointers. So the question is will Oklahoma play four guards with Lattin? It could happen, but McNeace, a tall athletic big is a great option and had his best game of his Oklahoma career against Texas last season when he scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in February.
3. Jo Lual-Acuil, Baylor
A true 7-footer and returning starter for Baylor, senior Lual-Acuil is quietly flying under the radar in most Big 12 preseason talk, but he could wind up being the biggest breakout player for the Bears and key to their NCAA hopes. The lengthy, 225-pound center from Australia blocked 87 shots last season and averaged 6.6 rebounds and 9.1 points for the Bears. He didn’t have a huge impact against Texas last season, never scoring in double figures, but with Lual-Acuil in the middle of Baylor’s zone, he could be the most important player outside of Manu Lecomte on the Bear’s roster.
2. Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
Speaking of important players on a roster, Azubuike will be one of the biggest players Texas will play this season. At 7-foot, 280-pounds, the sophomore is a former top-20 recruit who tore ligaments in his wrist last season that forced him to miss most of the year, including all of Big 12 play. Azubuike had worked himself into the starting lineup the game before the injury, and at just 18, Azubuike had to return to Lawrence for his sophomore season. And the Jayhawks need him to play like a lottery pick. Kansas has just three big men on a roster full of guards and wings. In a scrimmage against Missouri in October, Azubuike scored 16 points, blocked four shots and grabbed four rebounds. Kansas also started four guards in that lineup, so Azbuike could be the key to the Jayhawks’ success in 2017-18.
1. Marques Bolden, Duke
Hailing from DeSoto, Bolden was a top-20 recruit and McDonald’s All-American who picked Duke over Kentucky before last season. The 6-foot-11-inch, 246 pound center struggled as a freshman with injuries that limited his playing time. He opened the season on the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch-list in 2016 and will do the same this year. Bolden’s talent is obvious, and if – a big if – Texas plays Duke at the PK80 Tournament, he’ll be one of the best centers the Longhorns play this season. But he may not ever start. Duke has so much talent and has so many big guys that Bolden may not crack a starting five with 5-star incoming freshman Wendell Carter Jr. on the roster. Will Duke play Carter (6-foot-10), Marvin Bagley III (6-11) and Bolden together? Duke even has two more players who are at least 6-foot-10-inches tall (including 7-footer Antonio Vrankovic) on the roster.