Who will Coach K start in the fall? That’s actually a pretty tough question. You’d think that a guy’s minutes playing one of the toughest schedules in Division I basketball would count for a lot. However, the team doesn’t have many guys with a ton of playing time. In fact, only Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Amile Jefferson would qualify. Of the other returnees, Matt Jones probably got more minutes last year but he didn’t play a whole lot. So if you’re going for experience I’m going to go with Cook, Sulaimon, Jefferson, Matt Jones, and probably Jahlil Okafor, since he’s scrimmaged well with an NBA player or two.
Some of the basketball gurus I’ve read seem to prefer a different line-up. I’ve seen: Tyus Jones, Sulaimon, Jefferson, Okafor, and Justise Winslow. That team includes three of the four new guys. Of course, Jones and Okafor are considered arguably two of the top players in the class. I’m assuming that Winslow is included because he is reputed to be an exceptional defensive player and improved defense is surely going to be one of Coach K’s top priorities. He’s also considered by some a good enough ball handler that he could play either guard or forward. We’ll see about that. Sulaimon and Jefferson had lots of minutes last season and except for occasional lapses, they both proved their worth. Cook probably isn’t included because Tyus Jones would be at point and these particular prognosticators don’t see Cook as a shooting guard.
I’m not sure where else to go with this at the moment. With the line-ups above, we’re leaving out Semi Ojeleye, Marshall Plumlee, Grayson Allen, Sean Obi (redshirting), and the two walk-ons. It would be nice to see Ojeleye, Plumlee, and Allen get some minutes but it’s hard to know how much they’ll impress Coach. Last year I expressed high hopes for Plumlee and Ojeleye and neither seemed to have shown Coach K a whole lot.
I predict that competition for playing time will be fierce. There seems to be enough parity that even seven to nine guys may get significant minutes. But team unity will have to be strong enough that, no matter what the line-up and who’s getting more minutes, each member will be unselfish and genuinely supportive of teammates.
I’m sort of walking on eggshells here because of my extremely optimistic predictions last year with Cook, Sulaimon, Jefferson, Hood, Parker, Thornton… I mean, I was making predictions about the Final Four, and then we hit that opening brick wall against Mercer…and well, here’s hoping we don’t forget how that felt. I think if this team can really pull together and improve all year, maybe they will show us more than we could justifiably expect. Let’s hope so.