Rothstein Files | Collin Sexton the guard to watch in SEC

UCLA rothstein

1. Collin Sexton is the guard to watch in the SEC

Everybody loves their team in October and most 5-star recruits look the part until the lights come on, but with all that said there’s been one resounding theme from those who’ve seen Alabama this preseason: Collin Sexton is the real deal.

That isn’t a shock to those who tracked his game on the AAU circuit, but several NBA scouts who have passed through Tuscaloosa have told FanRag Sports that Sexton’s competitiveness, speed and improved shooting ability could make him the best guard in the SEC this season.

“He’s a blend of the old Isiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said of Sexton on the College Hoops Today Podcasgt during the offseason.

A scoring threat each time he touches the ball thanks to his lethal velocity in the open floor, the 6-3 freshman will pair with veteran guard Dazon Ingram (10.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists in 16-17) and fellow 5-star freshman John Petty on what should be an extremely potent perimeter.

The Crimson Tide are currently ranked 24th in the FanRag Sports Top 25 and open the 2017-18 season against Memphis at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. Tip-off is at 6:30 ET on CBS Sports Network.

2. Northwestern looks like a four or five seed

Don’t call them an upstart anymore.

On the heels of a 24-win season in which the Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Tournament and won a game in the field for the first time in school history, Chris Collins has his team primed to augment its national status.

Northwestern returns five juniors and seniors — Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey, Gavin Skelly, and Dererk Pardon — while adding a redshirt junior, stretch power forward Aaron Falzon, who missed last season due to a knee injury. Freshman guard Anthony Gaines should also be a factor at 6-4 thanks to his ability to defend on the wing, while Falzon’s ability to knock down shots (63 made 3-point shots in 15-16) should solve some of this team’s offensive droughts. Sophomores Barret Benson and Isiah Brown also played valuable roles last season as reserves.

The dynamic of dealing with legitimate expectations will be entirely new for this program after years in the Big Ten basement, but the truth is this: The biggest opponent this team will face this season is human nature.

If Collins can keep pushing the right motivational buttons to mentally prepare his team to be the hunted, and if home games at AllState Arena don’t prove to be too much of an inconvenience due to on-campus renovations, there’s a legitimate chance that Northwestern could the second-best team in its conference behind Michigan State.

After watching this team practice in Evanston last week, it’s not hard to fathom the Wildcats playing as either a four or five seed in the Round of 32 in an effort to get to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Northwestern is currently ranked 21st in the FanRag Sports Preseason Top 25.

3. North Carolina reminded us not to believe everything we hear

A wise man once told me when I got into this business that it was important never to speculate on speculation.

No truer words could have been spoken in regard to the past few weeks in college basketball.

From the FBI probe which led to the arrests of four different assistant coaches, to the news that the NCAA’s committee of infractions was set to announce its findings from its case against North Carolina, the amount of smoke in the sport was filled with crazy speculation.

Would more coaches and programs be implicated by the FBI?

How severely would the Tar Heels be punished for their academic shortcomings?

If we’ve learned anything recently, it’s to not believe everything we hear.

This writer received a call from a person with a direct tie to North Carolina’s program on Friday morning. He told me that NCAA penalties were going to be “very bad” for the Tar Heels.

I nodded.

I listened.

But as I’ve learned in doing this job for over a decade — especially in the past few weeks — the only thing for sure in these cases is that nothing is for sure.

Less than an hour later, the NCAA sent out a release that it didn’t find any academic issues with what North Carolina had done and there would be no severe penalties.

I’m not saying there won’t be arrests from the FBI or that certain things that trend on the rumor mill won’t come to fruition.

However, there is always an importance to decipher fact from fiction. Remembering one key lesson that we’ve all learned from the North Carolina situation: We can’t believe everything we hear.

This and That

– One consistent theme to remember this season regarding Kentucky: It’s very difficult to be a great defensive team with a limited number of veterans in a program. The only returning player to average double-figure minutes last season for the Wildcats is sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel.

– Seton Hall could be a better team than it was last year, but wind up with a worse record heading into Big East play. The Pirates will play Indiana (Gavitt Games), Texas Tech (Underarmour), Rhode Island (Preseason NIT), Vanderbilt/Virginia (Preseason NIT), VCU (Never Forget Games), and Louisville before Christmas. Kevin Willard’s squad was 10-2 last season in the non-conference portion of its schedule.

– One of the reasons for Brad Underwood’s meteoric rise over the past few years? A combined 27-3 record in February during the past four seasons at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State respectively. Underwood begins his first year at Illinois on Nov. 10 against Southern in Champaign.

– Notre Dame has become one of college basketball’s most consistent programs under Mike Brey, but the Irish weren’t done any favors this season in terms of scheduling. Road games await at Michigan State (ACC/Big Ten Challenge), North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia. Yikes.

– Looking for an under-the-radar transfer? Try UCF’s Dayon Griffin. The 6-4 guard averaged 11.3 points two years ago at Louisiana Tech. He has a chance to be a starter for the Knights on the perimeter alongside both B.J. Taylor and Michigan transfer Aubrey Dawkins. The latter is the son of UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins.

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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