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Rothstein Files | Kentucky roster taking final shape

Jon Rothstein

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1. Kentucky’s roster is starting to take its final shape

John Calipari will likely have two lottery picks — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox — selected in Thursday night’s NBA Draft at the Barclays Center and another player — Jarred Vanderbilt — taken in the second round.

Nevertheless, the Hall-of-Fame head coach — as usual — has reloaded for next season and at some point in the next few days, America should have a final idea of what Kentucky’s roster will look like entering the 2018-19 campaign.

Ashton Hagans’ announcement to reclassify into the 2018 class on Friday gives the Wildcats another quality guard to go with incoming freshmen Immanuel Quickly and returning sophomore Quade Green, but another big piece is still looming.

A source told FRS Sports that Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis will visit Kentucky early this week and his immediate eligibility could be a major factor for next season thanks to his overall experience.

The 6-foot-8 forward would have been the Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year if he stayed in Palo Alto and averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds last season. His addition would give Calipari a fourth quality frontcourt component to pair with PJ Washington, Nick Richards, and incoming freshman E.J. Montgomery; freshmen wings Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson along with sophomore Jemarl Baker could push the Wildcats’ potential rotation to 10 if they do indeed land Travis this week, as many expect.

Everything is aligning for this to be Calipari’s deepest team since the 2014-15 season, when Kentucky went 38-1 and lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four.

2. Seton Hall is taking no prisoners with its non-conference scheduling

Kevin Willard gets it.

If you don’t play teams that are projected to be in the NCAA Tournament, you’re setting yourself up to have bad losses and wins that don’t necessarily move the needle. This is what left Nebraska out of the NCAA Tournament last March despite winning a program-record 13 league games last season and also what left USC out of the NCAA Tournament despite finishing second in the Pac-12 regular season standings and losing to Arizona in a close tilt in the Pac-12 Tournament title game.

Seton Hall isn’t going to be in a similar position next season.

Despite losing four starters — Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Ismael Sanogo, and Angel Delgado — from last year’s team that lost in the Round of 32 to Kansas, the Pirates have a chance to be sneaky good in a year in which the Big East is expected to collectively take a step back. They’re also going to have a non-conference schedule in place that ensures they’ll be protected if the Big East does indeed not live up to its end of the bargain.

Seton Hall will host Louisville, Rutgers, and Atlantic 10 favorite Saint Louis at the Prudential Center, travel to Maryland and Nebraska (Gavitt Games) while also playing three neutral-site games as part of the Wooden Legacy in California. Those eight games don’t include a neutral site game against Kentucky at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8.

That’s nine opportunities for the Pirates to move the needle outside of the Big East, and even if a third of those games don’t turn out to be against NCAA-caliber teams, if Seton Hall goes 3-3 in the other six tilts it’ll be in fine shape for a bid in March as long as it holds up its end of the bargain in league play.

Willard gets it.

We’ll see next March which head coaches don’t, and suffer for it on Selection Sunday.

3. Charles Bassey’s commitment completely elevates Conference-USA

This is where they say “the plot thickens.”

Western Kentucky’s ability to secure a pledge from a five-star recruit and have him reclassify into the 2018 class sent shock waves throughout the college basketball world last week; his presence will not just put the Hilltoppers on the national radar during next season, it will also make Conference-USA synonymous with one of the top freshmen in the sport.

It’s getting harder and harder for mid-major programs to gain national attention during the regular season, and Bassey’s presence will change that for Conference-USA. Every game that he plays in league play — regardless of competition — will now have a chance to be televised because the conference now has a player the caliber of Bassey, who could have played anywhere in the country.

If Western Kentucky can build an at-large résumé in November and December, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Conference-USA could become a multi-bid league if another team other than the Hilltoppers wound up winning the conference tournament.

Rick Stansbury’s squad currently has games on the books for 2018-19 at home against Saint Mary’s and Wisconsin to go with a road game at Arkansas. Western Kentucky will also play three games in the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

The Hilltoppers won neutral-site games a year ago against Purdue and SMU in the Battle 4 Atlantis and won at both Oklahoma State and USC during the Postseason NIT; all of those wins came without a player the caliber of Bassey.

This and That:

— The Big East will begin conference play for the 2018-19 college basketball season on Dec. 31, multiple sources told FRS Sports. Every other major conference is set to begin league play during the first week of January, with the exception of the Big Ten, which will again play a few conference games in early December. 

— Oregon and Baylor are finalizing a home-and-home series that will begin next season in Waco, a source told FRS Sports. There will be a return game in Eugene during the 2019-20 season. Official dates and times are yet to be determined.

— The biggest takeaway from the release of last week’s Atlantic 10 conference pairings? Saint Louis — the league’s most talented team — drew both Saint Joseph’s and Rhode Island twice. That’s more Quadrant 1 opportunities for the Billikens.

— South Florida has quietly landed a pair of former Top-100 prospects as transfers in Mayan Kiir (LSU) and Zack Dawson (Oklahoma State). Brian Gregory may be a year away from turning a corner with the Bulls in the American Conference.

— Towson transfer Zane Martin visited Clemson this past weekend, he told FRS Sports. Martin recently visited Maryland and also is considering Gonzaga. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 19.8 points last season and has two years of eligibility remaining.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FRS Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via ITunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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