Projected Starting Five: Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, Jacob Grandison, Kofi Cockburn
Illinois is going to be an interesting team this year in what should be an uber-competitive Big Ten. On one hand, losing Ayo Dosunmu is a big blow. He was the tone-setter on both ends of the floor, and worked hard in orchestrating the offense. Adam Miller’s departure to LSU was also a bit puzzling. However, the biggest news of the offseason came when Kofi Cockburn decided to return to school after reportedly flirting with both the NBA and transferring to Kentucky.
His presence alone makes Illinois a dangerous proposition for any opponent. Illinois is adding three 4-star players from the high school ranks to its squad. Additionally, the Fighting Illini are adding Florida transfer Omar Payne to shore up the front court. Sharpshooting guard Alfonso Plummer is also on the team after transferring from Utah. He’s proven to be a major threat from beyond the arc. While Dosunmu is nearly impossible to replace, the rest of this team remains relatively intact. We could see a big boost in particular from the talented Andre Curbelo.
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Projected Starting Five: Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner, Kadin Shedrick
This is a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Virginia will not out-talent you — nor will they out-athlete you. However, they will out-coach you — and they will attempt to out-discipline you. It seem like Kihei Clark has been at Virginia for 7 years. Yet, he’s just about to enter his senior campaign. He epitomizes the Tony Bennett type of player perhaps more so than anyone. He doesn’t turn the ball over, plays within himself, and is dogged on the defensive side of the floor.
Beekman and Shedrick figure to be role players in the broadest sense of the term. Shedrick will be asked to rebound, play positional defense, and defend the rim. Beekman is a little-used guard with some upside. However, the success of this team sits with the two transfers in Franklin and Gardner. Franklin came over from Indiana where he was averaging over 11 PPG (on 42-percent from three). Gardner was a beast for East Carolina — averaging nearly 19 a game to go along with 8 rebounds and over 50-percent from the field. This isn’t a deep team, which means this group (with maybe one or two reserves) will be playing the lion’s share of the minutes for the Cavs.
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Projected Starting Five: Wendell Green Jr., K.D. Johnson, Allen Flanigan, Jabari Smith, Walker Kessler
Due to a number of factors, Auburn went only 13-14 a year ago. Losing the likes of Justin Powell, JT Thor, Sharife Cooper, and Jamal Johnson wasn’t exactly ideal. However, make no mistake about it…this year’s team has some real big-time talent. We particularly see this in the frontcourt. An incoming 5-star freshman forward (Jabari Smith) will be joined by a former 5-star recruit/incoming transfer from North Carolina (Walker Kessler). The Kessler-Smith duo is as hyped as any pairing in Auburn basketball history. Kessler is a massive human (7-feet-1), whereas Smith is the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with Auburn. At 6-feet-10, he possesses guard skills which — at times — makes you shake your head in disbelief.
To replace the backcourt departures, Pearl hit the transfer market hard. Among the three guards he brought in (Zep Jasper, Wendell Green Jr., K.D. Johnson), Green Jr. should be the one ready to make the biggest impact. He averaged 15.8 PPG for Eastern Kentucky a season ago. Johnson — a transfer from Georgia — likely will start next to Green based upon his experience in SEC play. Guard/forward Allen Flanigan averaged over 14 PPG a year ago. He’ll undoubtedly be the final starter in what should be an intriguing group.
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Projected Starting Five: Kennedy Chandler, Justin Powell, Victor Bailey, John Fulkerson, Justin Huntley-Hatfield
The Vols did lose two promising players from last year in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. Veteran Yves Pons also left for greener pastures. With that said, this year’s team still returns a nice mix of veteran leadership paired with some high-end talent. Rebounding has been a bit of an issue for this program in recent years. However, Rick Barnes — with a little bit of luck and some hard work — has aimed to remedy the situation. All-ACC performer John Fulkerson is returning for his sixth season in Knoxville. He’ll likely start alongside elite freshman big man Justin Huntley-Hatfield. We use the term ‘big man’ liberally due to the fact JHH is a very versatile player. NBA scouts are already drooling over his upside.
Besides Fulkerson and JHH, Barnes also has a plethora of big men (Jonas Aidoo, Uros Plavsic, Olivier Nkamhoua) to use if need be. In the backcourt, Victor Bailey will be joined likely by 5-star incoming freshman Kennedy Chandler. A terrific athlete, the hope is that Chandler will help the team become even more lethal in transition. Jordan James is back in the fold — as is sharpshooter Santiago Vescovi. Auburn transfer Justin Powell is a shot-marker from anywhere on the floor. It would be surprising if he didn’t get the starting nod. If the backcourt can come together and play with cohesiveness, this will be one of the best teams in the SEC this year.
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Projected Starting Five: Tyson Walker, Max Christie, Malik Hall, Joey Hauser, Marcus Bingham
Michigan State is being forced to retool a bit after the unexpected departures of Rocket Watts, Aaron Henry, and Foster Loyer. Henry was the go-to guy for the Spartans last year. He was able to score from all levels of the floor, and often was looked upon in crunch time to produce. Watts played out of position last year, and thus struggled immensely. With Josh Langford also gone, MSU will roll with a brand new backcourt featuring 5-star incoming freshman Max Christie and Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker.
Walker averaged 18.8 PPG last year (including a 27-point effort on the road versus North Carolina). Quicker than a hiccup, Walker lives in the lane and should be able to provide the Spartans with some stability. The frontcourt should be a strength. True to a typical Tom Izzo team, there’s a bunch of returning experience. Hauser is the team’s top returning scorer at just under 10.0 PPG. He’ll be counted upon to spread the floor and operate on the box with his craftiness. Bingham was really coming into his own last year as a shot blocking force. From there, the trio of Hall, Gabe Brown, and Julius Marble should be able to give the Spartans something.
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Projected Starting Five: Caleb Love, Leaky Black, Kerwin Walton, Dawson Garcia, Armando Bacot
Garrison Brooks and Day’Ron Sharpe are gone from last year’s team. However, the Tar Heels return practically everyone else — and added three impact transfers in the process. Garcia is a 6-foot-11 big man with good mobility and range out to the three-point line. With his ability to also protect the rim, a Garcia-Bacot pairing should be one of the best defensive duos in the country. Kerwin Walton can get hot from three-point range at any moment, and Caleb Love is a true NBA prospect at the lead guard spot.
Depth wise, the Tar Heels can go 10 deep with ease. Former Virginia big man Justin McKoy is a bruiser — while OU transfer Brady Manek will be counted upon to space the floor. The same can be said for diminutive guard R.J. Davis and sophomore guard Anthony Harris. If the guard play can be simply decent, this team will be a problem for many in both non-conference and ACC play.
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Projected Starting Five: Caleb Mills, RayQuan Evans, Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne, Naheem McLeod
This projects to be another classic Florida State team. You know — the one you don’t want to play with. A deep team loaded with athleticism, length, size, and defensive prowess. This year, Leonard Hamilton is projected to go with three seniors (Polite, Osborne, Evans) in the starting lineup. Kentucky transfer Cam’Ron Fletcher is a wing with some promise, and incoming 5-star freshman Matthew Cleveland looks like another one of those FSU prospects with an NBA future not too far away.
However, Mills is the headliner in the group. He was a dynamic guard at Houston before transferring to Tallahassee. While there’s not a ton of proven talent around him, he does figure to be one of the ACC’s best players this upcoming season. The Seminoles did lose a lot from last year’s team (Scottie Barnes, Raiquan Gray, M.J. Walker, Balsa Koprivica). With that said, they’ll still come at the opponent in waves.
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Projected Starting Five: Davonte Davis, Au’Diese Toney, JD Notae, Stanley Umude, Jaylin Williams
Eric Musselman has built this program quite similarly to the one he had in Nevada. The guard-heavy offense is predicated upon versatility. He wants to push the tempo constantly, as well as having multiple guys on the floor who can all handle the rock, drive the ball, and shoot. With Arkansas reaching the Elite 8 last year, expectations in Fayetteville are now sky-high.
Also akin to what he did in Reno, the program loaded up on transfers. Toney (Pitt), Umude (South Dakota), Chris Lykes (Miami), Jaxson Robinson (Texas A&M), Trey Wade (Wichita State), and Kamani Johnson (Little Rock) all came from elsewhere. Toney and Umude — both double-digit scorers at their previous stops — figure to be integral members of the starting lineup. The same can now be said for JD Notae. He averaged nearly 13 PPG off the bench last year as Arkansas’ sixth man. The reigning SEC Sixth Man of the Year now gets a chance to establish himself as a bona fide starter within the league.
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Projected Starting Five: Cedric Russell, Jabari Wheeler, Justise Sueing, E.J. Liddell, Zed Key/Kyle Young
Ohio State might not have the high-end talent that some of the other teams in its conference has. However, make no mistake about it…this is a very good team. Chris Holtmann is an excellent coach — and the roster returns a number of integral players from a season ago. E.J. Liddell bypassed the NBA in favor of returning to college. This was a major boon for the Buckeyes. Liddell might be the best player in the Big Ten this season. Losing Duane Washington Jr. was both a blow and unexpected. Fortunately, the staff pivoted and nabbed transfers in Cedric Russell (Louisiana) and Jabari Wheeler (Penn State).
This is also a team with some real depth — particularly up front. Key, Young, Seth Towns, and Joey Brunk are all guys who can offer the Buckeyes minutes in the frontcourt. The key will be getting consistent backcourt play of the bench. Malaki Branham may end up being that guy. The 6-foot-4 freshman shooting guard hails from the same high school as LeBron James. Ohio State beat out the likes of Alabama, Baylor, and Iowa for his services.
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Projected Starting Five: Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford, J.D. Davison, Noah Gurley, Charles Bediako
Alabama was bar none the class of the SEC a season ago. Nate Oats instilled a hectic system which was predicated upon maximizing possessions, getting up and down the floor, and launching as many threes as possible. This year’s team will feature the same system — though there’s plenty of personnel turnover. All-SEC player Herb Jones is gone, along with depth guys in Alex Reese, Jordan Bruner, Josh Primo, and John Petty.
Fortunately, Shackelford and Quinerly decided to come back to school. Davison — an elite 5-star freshman PG — is the perfect player for Oats’ system. He’s a blur in the open court, and is always looking to pressure the opposition. Wing depth outside of Keon Ellis is a bit spotty. However, the front court is bigger than it was a year ago. Between Bediako, Juwan Gary, and Alex Tchikou, the Crimson Tide will have some solid rim protection and length around the basket (which wasn’t always the case last year). Gurley, a transfer from Furman, will also be asked to provide some production in the paint for this guard-heavy team.
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Projected Starting Five: Alex Lomax, Lester Quinones, Landers Nolley, Emoni Bates, Jalen Duren
There may be questions surrounding Penny Hardaway’s ability (or inability) to coach. There are also questions as to how he’s able to lure elite talent to Memphis of all places. Regardless, you have to give him credit for at least bringing high-end players into the program. This year’s Memphis team is the deepest and most talented Hardaway has had. It also might be his best-shooting team.
Getting Duren and Bates — the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the class of 2022 — to reclassify was impressive. Both of those kids are sure-fire lottery picks. Duren in particular looks like a Bam Adebayo clone with a little bit of Ben Wallace thrown in there. Quinones, Jayden Hardaway and freshman John Camden will be expected to give the team some legitimate outside shooting. The Lawson brothers (Chandler, Jonathan) will provide depth, and backup center Malcolm Dandridge is drawing rave reviews this offseason. Nolley is also a very established scorer dating back to his Virginia Tech days. If Hardaway can get this team to play for one another as opposed to showcasing for the NBA, they’ve got a chance to be really good.
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Projected Starting Five: Jeremy Roach, A.J. Griffin, Wendell Moore, Paolo Banchero, Mark Williams
In what will be Coach K’s last season on the bench in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Duke Blue Devils are looking to bounce back from a very pedestrian 13-11 season a year ago. A number of players left the program — though Duke retooled via the ranks of recruiting. The standout by far is forward Paolo Banchero. A Seattle native, Banchero represents the modern day big man with his ability to score from the perimeter and in the post. All the while, he can create for teammates and defend at a decently high level.
A.J. Griffin (son of Adrian) is another 5-star recruit expected to start from the jump. He’s a smooth wing at 6-foot-6 with good defensive skills. Jeremy Roach played decently as a freshman, and will command the PG spot for the Dukies. Moore and Williams both return as players with experience from a year ago. This isn’t a vintage Duke team compared to some from the past. Depth is a question — as is collective three-point shooting. Still, Banchero’s elite talent should enable the Blue Devils to be competitive in the ACC. The two biggest X-Factors on the squad may be Marquette transfer big man Theo Johns and freshman guard Trevor Keels. Keels in particular could be the scoring guard Duke needs.
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Projected Starting Five: De’Vion Harmon, Jacob Young, Will Richardson, Eric Williams, Franck Kepnang
It’s weird to say, but Dana Altman still seems to be criminally underrated as a head coach. No one wants to play Oregon come postseason time — primarily because he throws the proverbial kitchen sink at teams from a defensive standpoint. You’ll see variations of zones, pressing on made baskets, intense man-to-man spurts, triangle-and-two, and anything you can imagine. Offensively, the Ducks play a free-flowing style in which the team shares the basketball with one another. Size concerns are often mitigated by pace. Well, this year’s team is different from the standpoint that it projects to be massive up front.
The Ducks have four players (Kepnang, Nathan Bittle, Isaac Johnson, N’Faly Dante) all at least 6-feet-11 or taller. Each of them were big-time recruits, and you’ll likely see all of them play at times. Tucking into the transfer portal, Oklahoma guard De’Vion Harmon and Rutgers athlete Jacob Young appear perfect for Altman’s system. Both are interchangeable in the fact that each can handle the rock, drive the ball to the cup, and shoot from the perimeter. Will Richardson is one of the Pac-12’s best returning players, and Syracuse transfer Quincy Guerrier is a very good athlete who should thrive as a small-ball four. Couple that with returning starter Eric Williams and JUCO star Rivaldo Soares, and this team should be a Final Four threat yet again this year.
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Projected Starting Five: Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington, Kellan Grady, Keion Brooks, Oscar Tshiebwe
Kentucky went 9-16 a year ago. Hoping to avoid yet another embarrassing year, Coach Calipari has switched things up a bit as it pertains to his recruiting. Instead of solely relying upon uber-athletic yet raw freshmen who couldn’t shoot, Calipari went to the transfer portal and nabbed two upperclassmen (C.J. Fredrick, Kellan Grady) who can both shoot the rock at a very high clip. Speedy PG Sahvir Wheeler was also brought in from Georgia to run the team presumably alongside big-time freshman guard TyTy Washington. Wheeler will be the steadying force, while Washington will aim to be the more assertive scorer of the two.
West Virginia transfer Tshiebwe is finally eligible. He’s a very strong athlete with terrific strength and elite shot-blocking skills. While not the tallest guy in the world (6-foot-9), the Congo native will bring some much-needed toughness to the frontcourt. On paper, this team appears to be one of the more well-rounded groups Calipari has had. What it lacks in high-end talent, it makes up for with experience. We’re curious to see how this squad will gel moving forward.
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Projected Starting Five: James Akinjo, Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer, Kendall Brown, Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua
Baylor lost A TON from last year’s National Championship squad. The three-headed monster of Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague are all gone (as is big man Mark Vital). Those three accounted for practically more than half of Baylor’s scoring (not to mention providing excellent defense). 4-star incoming freshman guard Langston Love was supposed to be a big piece to this year’s team…except he unfortunately tore his ACL recently in a workout. With all of this said, don’t feel too bad for Scott Drew’s team.
Baylor nabbed former Arizona guard Akinjo from the transfer portal. Though a bit of a chucker with questionable decision-making at times, he’s still talented enough to score 20+ points on any given night. Flagler has experience from last year as the team’s fourth guard. A 43.4-percent shooter from three-point range last year, you can expect him to have an even bigger role as a starter. The same can be said for the uniquely-skilled Matthew Mayer. A versatile player, he has experience guarding multiple spots on the floor. He plays the game with both edge and explosiveness (as does Tchamwa-Tchatchoua). Lastly, 5-star Kendall Brown enters as one of the country’s most prolific athletes. He could be the difference in this team competing for a conference title.
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Projected Starting Five: Marcus Carr, Andrew Jones, Timmy Allen, Dylan Disu, Tre Mitchell
On paper, this team is loaded. Marcus Carr is as prolific a scorer from the guard spot that we have in the college game. Timmy Allen was one of the more underrated players in the country before transferring from Utah to the Big 12. Dylan Disu was a serviceable player at Vanderbilt, and Tre Mitchell was widely considered to be among the best transfers available when opting to join UT under Chris Beard. He’s a springy big man with elite skills around the rim.
Not only that, but Creighton transfer Christian Bishop and Kentucky guard Dylan Askew also joined the program. The biggest worries with this team include continuity and size/depth in the front court (behind Mitchell). We could easily see this team win the Big 12 if they gel properly. Duly, we could see the Longhorns underachieving based upon the crazy number of new moving parts.
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Projected Starting Five: Remy Martin, Ochai Agbaji, Dajuan Harris, Jalen Wilson, David McCormack
Kansas is competitive year in and year out no matter what. Despite cycling through players at a seemingly higher clip than normal, the Jayhawks yet again figure to be at worst the co-favorites in the Big 12 (alongside Texas). Remy Martin was a massive addition through the transfer portal. The Los Angeles native (by way of Arizona State) is an all-conference player with the ability to attack off the bounce and from the perimeter. He along with the athletic Agbaji should form a nice pairing.
Jalen Wilson is the athlete doing the dirty work in the frontcourt. McCormack is undoubtedly the balancing act in terms of providing scoring in the paint. Kansas does have a pair of solid guard transfers coming off the bench (Joseph Yesufu, Jalen Coleman-Lands) in addition to silky freshman guard Kyle Cuffe.
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Projected Starting Five: Collin Gillespie, Caleb Daniels, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Dixon
You can never count Jay Wright and Villanova out of contention. Year after year, this program has a way of figuring out things on the fly despite often losing guys to the NBA. Wright is as sophisticated an offensive mind as there is in the country. Using small ball lineups, the quickness, tempo, and execution exuded by Villanova can be incredibly tough to stop. Fortunately for the Wildcats, Collin Gillespie — the Preseason Big East Player of the Year — is back on campus to run it back one more time.
This isn’t an overly big team, but it is one with a lot of collective experience (especially between Gillespie, Samuels, Moore and Daniels). The Wildcats will have a big test early in the season as they travel to Los Angeles to square off against the No. 2 UCLA Bruins in Pauley Pavilion.
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Projected Starting Five: DeVante’ Jones, Eli Brooks, Caleb Houstan, Brandon Johns, Hunter Dickinson
Michigan got within a whisker of the Final Four a season ago before being unceremoniously bounced by the UCLA Bruins. Much of the core from last year’s team returns (Dickinosn, Brooks, Johns) along with a very good transfer PG (Jones) and an elite recruiting class led by Houstan, Moussa Diabate, Frankie Collins, and Kobe Bufkin.
Juwan Howard has cultivated an ecosystem rooted in discipline and toughness. The Wolverines will be huge upfront — and figure to be even more explosive with the additions of Houstan and Diabate. Jones is a grad transfer guard from Coastal Carolina (where he averaged 19.3 PPG and 7.2 RPG a season ago). He’s got a gigantic wingspan which enables him to be a very good on-ball defender. Duly, many of his teammates have publicly praised him for being quite crafty with the ball in his hands.
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Projected Starting Five: Jaden Ivey, Eric Hunter Jr., Sasha Stefanovic, Trevion Williams, Mason Gillis
Purdue is for real this year. Looking at the returning production, all nine of their primary rotation players are back in West Lafayette. This includes arguably the country’s best one-two punch in guard Jaden Ivey and elite big man Trevion Williams. From there, Stefanovic is a terrific glue guy/third option on the offensive end of the floor. 7-foot-4 big man Zach Edey has also proven to be a big-time difference maker when spelling Williams.
The Big Ten is normally one of the tougher conferences in the country. This season is no different, as Purdue figures to battle among the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Illinois (among others) for the conference crown. Simply put, the mix of experience and high-end talent gives Purdue a real shot at cutting down the nets this season.
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Projected Starting Five: Andrew Nembhard, Rasir Bolton, Julian Strawther, Drew Timme, Chet Holmgren
Gonzaga enjoyed a historic season in 2020-21. Mark Few’s team made it to the National Title Game with an undefeated record. However, Baylor didn’t really care — as it obliterated the Zags with waves of quickness, athleticism, and pressure. While the team has had some turnover (Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi now in the NBA), this is arguably a deeper and more talented team than a year ago (although much less experienced).
It starts with Drew Timme. The crafty big man out of Texas can score in a variety of ways. He figures to be one of College Basketball’s best players. Next to him will stand a ‘unicorn’ in Chet Holmgren. Regarded as the best high school prospect in the country, Holmgren is essentially a woefully thin version of Kevin Garnett with elements of Chris Bosh thrown in there. He’ll change Gonzaga’s defensive scheme from the standpoint that he should be a legitimate rim protector. Keep an eye on Julian Strawther…many believe he could have a breakout year. Behind Iowa State (Bolton) and Florida (Nembhard) transfers sit two 5-star prospects in Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis. Both are a bit raw — though still figure to play meaningful roles off the bench.
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Projected Starting Five: Tyger Campbell, Jules Bernard, Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez, Cody Riley
UCLA is setting out to prove that last year’s miraculous run to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed was far from a fluke. Mick Cronin returns everyone from last year’s squad — including Preseason First Team All-American Johnny Juzang and jack-of-all-trades forward Jaime Jaquez. Even more, the team added former Big Ten All-Defense center Myles Johnson from Rutgers, as well as 5-star forward Peyton Watson. Watson is already popping up on many NBA Draft boards as a potential top-10 pick based upon his immense upside.
Without question, this is the deepest team in the country. UCLA’s projected second unit (David Singleton, Jaylen Clark, Jake Kyman, Kenneth Nwuba, Mac Etienne, Watson, Johnson) might be good enough to make the NCAA tournament if it were its own team. Alas, this year’s installment of the Bruins is deeper, longer, and more athletic than it was a year ago. Cronin’s primary goals involve integrating both Watson and Johnson, as well as preventing the team from getting caught up in all of the preseason hype.
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