What if USA Basketball’s World Cup team was only college players?
Since none of the best American pros seems all that interested in playing in the FIBA World Cup, we decided that it would be fun to take a swing at putting together a World Cup team built with nothing but college players.
This is that team.
COACH: Matt Painter, Purdue
This was a tough decision, but I’m going with Painter over the rest of the field because of the way that he can change what he wants to do and how his teams play. Purdue has been one of the best programs in all of college hoops the past four seasons, finishing in the top ten on KenPom three times - and no lower than 19th - while playing three very different styles. They went from using two bigs with Caleb Swanigan at the four to playing four shooters about Isaac Haas to basing an entire offense on running Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline off of pin-downs and DHOs.
Put another, he relies less on playing a specific brand of basketball and thrives on finding a way to make the pieces on his roster fit together, and in this situation, that makes the most sense to me.
And he has experience in the international ranks, having taken his Purdue team overseas for the 2017 World University Games. The Boilermakers did not win that event largely because his team was not overwhelmingly more talented than everyone they came across, like the rest of the coaches with experience running Team USA at youth levels.
ASSISTANTS: Mark Adams, Texas Tech, and Ed Cooley, Providence
I want Adams on this staff for his defensive mind. He was the brainchild behind what Texas Tech has done the last two seasons, and I personally love the way that his defenses force offenses to the baseline and takes away any and all sets they want to run. I have Cooley here because of the way his teams run through point guards and the prevalence of ball-screens on offense, and with a team that is more or less built around Cassius Winston, that is important.
CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State
This is the easy and obvious pick. Winston is the very obvious pick for Preseason National Player of the Year, and I’m honestly not sure if there is anyone else that can be in this discussion. He’s coming off of a year where he averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists while leading an injury ravaged Michigan State team to a Big Ten regular season title, a Big Ten tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. He’s a senior point guard that thrives in ball-screens, that is unselfish and that is an efficient shooter and scorer. He is the guy that we need to build this team around.
TYRESE HALIBURTON, Iowa State
No player has risen more in the minds of basketball people than Haliburton has in the last 18 months. From a complete afterthought as a recruit to a potential top 20 pick, Haliburton is coming off of a terrific showing in the U19 World Cup. He’s a 6-foot-5 guard that can play the point, defend multiple positions and shoots threes at a 43.4 percent clip. He’s the perfect wing in the modern era of basketball.
JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati
Cumberland is one of the most underappreciated talents in college hoops, as he is coming off of a season where he posted 18.8 points, 4.4 boards and 3.6 assists for Cincinnati while shooting 38.8 percent from three. He’s 6-foot-5 but a physical 205 pounds can will be able to guard bigger wings. He’s also a veteran presence, a scorer that can create for himself and a guy that spent the last three years playing for Mick Cronin. You know the toughness is there.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Florida
Blackshear might be better suited to playing on a team where he is the starting five, but I think he fits as the four in this situation. He can score in and around the paint, but he’s also a capable three-point shooter with the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He’s also one of the few veteran bigs in college hoops right now that has the chance to play in the NBA one day. Getting a 23-year old to pair with a roster full of freshmen and sophomore posts matters.
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis
Wiseman is one of just three freshmen on this team and the only one that I have slotted as a starter. The favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Wiseman is a 7-foot center with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and all the athleticism in the world. He has decent touch and a perimeter stroke that is developing, meaning that there is a world where he is one day a floor-spacer in addition to being the kind of rim-runner I envision him being on this team. Part of the reason I have him starting here is that I think he’ll thrive as the roll man on a team with Winston and three shooters around him. I also think that, if motivated, he has the ability to do the kind of things that Mark Adams will ask a five-man to do defensively.
Wiseman’s status as a No. 1 pick as more to do with his potential longterm than what he is at this very moment, but I do think that the current version of Wiseman is the best fit at the five on this team.
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: There are two talented, undersized scoring guards in the Big East heading into next season and I was only going to take one of them. I went with Powell, who is more athletic, a better defender and less ball-dominant than Marquette guard Markus Howard. Put another way, I think that Powell would fit better on a team where the offense isn’t built entirely around him than Howard is.
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Anthony is a bit of a weird fit on this team, but I think that he is a pretty good change-of-pace for Winston in the backcourt. He will more or less operate as the backup point guard on this roster, and while he plays the position a totally different way than Winston does, an aggressive, score-first guard with athleticism and the stones to take and make tough shots is needed on this roster.
TRE JONES, Duke: Jones is here for one reason and one reason only: perimeter defense. We have yet to see him be anything other than a liability on the offensive end of the floor, but assuming that he spent the offseason working on improving his perimeter stroke, the hope is that will not be the case anymore. Either way, one thing this roster lacked was a lockdown on-ball defender, and Jones will provide it without needing a certain number of shots to be kept happy.
ISAIAH JOE, Arkansas: I wanted shooting. Isaiah Joe is a shooter, knocking down 41.4 percent of his threes with more than eight attempted per game as a freshman. He is also about 6-foot-5 and averaged 1.5 steals at Arkansas, which means he should be able to contribute defensively as well.
AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois: Dosunmu had flashes of brilliance as a freshmen but ultimately returned to school for his sophomore season to prove he’s more of a lead guard than a combo and to continue to develop his jumper. His presence as a secondary ball-handler and what he can bring defensively makes him a nice fit in this roster build.
TRES TINKLE, Oregon State: Tinkle is not a name that many people are going to know, but he is an absolute baller and a big-time scorer. He is coming off of a season where he averaged 20.8 points, 8.1 boards and 3.8 assists, and at 6-foot-8, he has the kind of size that will allow him to play the four in smaller lineups while keeping the floor spaced.
ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: Stewart make end up being the most productive freshman in college hoops this season. He’s 6-foot-9, 250 pounds and a terrific rebounder and finisher in the lane. He’s not all that switchable or much of a rim-protector, but he’ll allow this group to matchup with teams that still play big-bodied posts.
REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State: Perry is going to be one of the breakout stars of college basketball this season. He’s coming off of an MVP run through the U19 World Cup, and the former McDonald’s All-American really came on strong down the stretch of last season.