College basketball is slowly starting to creep up. With some teams less then a month away from preseason exhibition games, the season will be here before we know it. With that being said, every year there are some upperclassmen who rise up draft boards and end up going in the lottery, with the best examples last year being Keegan Murray and Johnny Davis. They’re hard to predict, but some bets are safer than others.
Kris Murray, Junior, Iowa
My personal favorite bet to go lottery, Kris Murray possesses the ability to score in many ways, and is in general molded very similar to his brother, Keegan. Kris has shown flashes to be a good off-ball scorer and has good shot creation, especially for a guy with a 6’8 frame. He’s, generally speaking, a solid rebounder, as well as using his length on defense to make a few impactful plays a game.
This all brings up the question of what is holding him back. For starters, he averaged just under 18 minutes per game last year, not exactly a huge role. His playmaking can be a struggle, only averaging 1.1 assist last year, and .8 turnovers. Granted, you’d likely be drafting him to score, not facilitate. He is best on defense as an off-ball defender, where he can use his length to be a good help defender, and try to get in passing lanes. When he’s put in on-ball situations he can struggle against bigger, stronger players. Above all else, is his consistency, or lack thereof.
All these problems are very fixable. With Kris expected to have the keys to the Iowa offense, he’ll have plenty of minutes to polish his game and take a Keegan Murray type jump, the only thing that can hold him back now is himself.
Julian Strawther, Junior, Gonzaga
Strawther has the exact size you want for a wing at the next level. 6’7 with a 6’9.5 wingspan is very ideal. He started 31 games on a LOADED Gonzaga team, and showed a very all-around game. A very versatile scorer, as his off-ball movement is VERY impressive, as a cutter, moving around the three point line, he shows a high IQ and willingness to be a good off-ball scorer. He can work in the post and he has a beautiful form from three, overall very impressive. On defense, he plays hard and has active hands, making him a true two-way prospect.
One of his biggest problems is his consistency, stop me if you’ve heard that before. To open up his game to the fullest he needs to start hitting the three point shot at around a 40 percent clip. Last year he shot 36.5%, which isn’t horrible and he projects as a good shooter with good form. If he can just get a little more consistent, college basketball is in trouble, he just hasn’t shown it in long stretches yet. He struggles as a playmaker and really hasn’t shown any reason to believe he has substantial playmaking upside. Calling him a ball stopper is a stretch, but he certainly does not give your lineup better ball movement.
His demise last year was his lack of usage to show his versatile scoring off, and it was shown more in flashes then things running through him. Now, he should be the main guy scoring on the perimeter, with Gonzaga bringing in Malachi Smith to be a good fit next to him, and Drew Timme down low, he will have a chance to shine, as Smith won’t be a first option, and Timme does his damage down low. I really like Strawther for a breakout.
Jacob Toppin, Junior, Kentucky
Going into his fourth college season, I call Toppin a junior due to his Covid eligibility, just to clear that up. Now onto the meat and potatoes, Toppin has had an interesting ride at Kentucky, only getting to show flashes of what he can do. These flashes, however, are BRIGHT. Toppin, just like his brother Obi, can jump out of the gym. He plays hard on defense being an incredibly versatile defender being able to consistently guard 1-4, and is very effective in pick and roll situations. At 6’9 he has insane defensive upside. The best non-center lob threat in the country, and he has shown flashes as a shot creator.
The offensive consistency is troubling for Toppin. Every now and then you’ll see him knock down a three, or see him have good footwork on a spin in the post. It just does not seem like he has these moves down to memory. In other words, he’s very raw. He also has always hovered around that 17 minutes per game mark, the lack of playing time certainly doesn’t help.
Overall, Toppin will likely start at the four for the Cats this season. This is his chance. The defense is already there. He won’t be a primary scoring option for the Cats, so insane scoring numbers aren’t needed. If he can just show some offensive polish and good efficiency, he has a serious shot to absolutely skyrocket up draft boards.