2018/19 is a season of change for the Australians in NCAA Division I college basketball.
This year there is no Jock Landale. There is no Xavier Cooks, no Chima Moneke, or Duop Reath, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr and all the others who have graduated as part of the deepest Aussie graduating class on record. However this season provides those returning and those arriving, the opportunity to step up to take their place as the next Australian stars of US college basketball.
Entering the season, there are no current Australian players who are considered their team’s star player. This has made the task of naming a preseason Top 10 players all the more difficult, as the crystal ball was pulled out to try to predict the players who are most likely to step up and rise above.
All-Australian First Team
G | Dejan VASILJEVIC | Junior | Miami
Dejan Vasiljevic returns for his junior year as arguably the best credentialed Aussie guard taking to the floor in 2018/19. He will need to deliver his best year yet if the Hurricanes have any hopes of making some noise in a loaded ACC.
‘DJ’ can explode for a big scoring game on any given night, registering a career-high 20 points twice last season, and he is now well-known for being a quality three-point shooter. He drained six triples against Florida State last season, and finished the year averaging an impressive 41.1% from beyond the arc, while shooting 87.5% from the charity stripe.
This guy didn't become one of the best shooters in the country outta nowhere…
— Canes Hoops (@CanesHoops) October 30, 2018
The sharpshooting guard hit 17 points with 5 rebounds in Miami’s recent exhibition win against Barry. While he is a deadly threat from the perimeter, he is also highly skilled at drawing fouls and getting to the charity stripe. The Melburnian started 20 games as a sophomore, and will likely be in the starting line-up on opening night. If he can increasing his scoring output from 9 points per game to 14+ points as a junior, Miami could well surprise many in the ACC and finish higher than the predicted 10th place.
G | Makuach MALUACH | Sophomore | New Mexico
Makuach Maluach was a name not many basketball fans would be familiar with, but after a breakout freshman year for the Lobos in 2017/18, the 6’7 wing from Sydney is set to take his game to a new level this season.
— John Benavidez (@ProfBenavidez) October 23, 2018
Maluach finished his inaugural season for the Lobos averaging 9.6 points per game with a career-high of 26 against Air Force, ranking him fourth all-time on the Lobos freshman single-season scoring list. What was impressive about the high-flying New South Welshman is that while he has an ability to get into the paint and finish strongly at the rim while shooting 55% from the field, he also shot the three-ball at an eye-popping 46% for the Lobos last season. With the Lobos surprising many last season by finishing in 3rd place in the Mountain West Conference, in returning all of their key pieces from last season, New Mexico is now tipped to be one of a few challengers to UNLV for the conference title.
Like New Mexico, many did not predict Maluach’s quick rise to prominence. He has the skill, talent and physical tools to be the next big Aussie at New Mexico, and a chance to potentially return New Mexico to national relevance.
F | Tanner KREBS | Junior | Saint Mary’s
Tasmanian Tanner Krebs will get his chance to be one of the go-to guys for the Gaels following the graduation of fellow Aussies Jock Landale and Emmett Naar, but also back court stars Calvin Hermanson and Cullen Neal. Their only two returning seniors are front court players, and Krebs will be required to help fill the scoring load by their departure of some exceptional talents.
Saint Mary’s will feature 10 international players – the most of any Division I team – including 5 from Australia and two from New Zealand, but Krebs will likely be one of the most important. Standing at 6’6, Krebs ability to shoot over the top of shorter guards will be crucial, having shot the three-ball at almost 40% in 2017/18.
Krebs plays tough at both ends of the court, and can score inside and out and is just one of two starters returning this season. Expect to see him lift his 7.7 points and 5.5 rebound averages this coming season on a team widely tipped to finish second behind West Coast rivals Gonzaga who appear loaded.
F | Kouat NOI | Sophomore | TCU
As a freshman, Kouat Noi made an immediate impact. That impact is set to gear up a level in 2018/19.
The 6’7 forward provided an impressive 10.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in coming off the bench. With elite length for his position, he is an excellent defender, but also has a nice shooting stroke too. He scored at least 10 points 18 times last season, including a season-high 19 against Oklahoma State. The Newcastle product ranked fourth in the Big 12 in 3-point percentage at 43.4 percent and it is his ability to keep defenses honest that makes him so valuable.
Kouat Noi (@KouatN) had a standout Freshman season last year for #TCU. Kouat averaged 10.2 points and 3.9 rebounds & scored in double digits 18 times! He’s a high flyer and 3 point corner specialist. #NextOnes@TCU @TCUBasketball pic.twitter.com/vpgFZFIvIr
— Next Ones (@NxtOnes) August 26, 2018
He only started 9 games last season, and could well work himself into the regular starting rotation this season on a team that enters the season nationally ranked at 21 in the latest USA Today coaches poll. TCU returns five key players from last season, and with Noi firing inside and out, the Horned Frogs promise to be one of the teams to follow this season.
F | Jack PURCHASE | Senior | Hawaii
Normally I would add a centre in, but with a number of standout big men graduating last season (think Jock Landale, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr, Duop Reath etc), I found it tough to keep out some of the forwards.
Jack Purchase is one guy who could make the most of his senior year on a Hawaii team looking to make waves in the Big West. His junior year numbers were relatively modest, posting 7.5 points with 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, however he has demonstrated he has the capability to deliver bigger numbers. The 2018 Big West Sixth Man of the Year, will look to lock down a starting role this season, and started off well by delivering a double-double in a recent exhibition game.
— HAWAII BASKETBALL (@HawaiiMBB) November 1, 2018
Having led the Rainbow Warriors in three-point field goals made the past two seasons (50 made each season), expect no different in 2018/19. The sweet-shooting 6’9 forward is one of the best stretch forwards in the Big West, boasting more than a deadly three-point stroke. He has great vision and passing ability for a player of his position, handing out 63 assists compared to committing 35 turnovers last season.
As one of two Australian’s on the team, Purchase is also one of the side’s leaders and expect to see him shoulder an increased load this coming season.
All-Australian Second Team
G | Jacob RIGONI | Sophomore | Quinnipiac
South Australian Jacob Rigoni impressed in his freshman season at Quinnipiac.
The 6’6 wing averaged 9.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, draining 75 three-pointers at a blistering 45.5% clip, which placed him second on Quinnipiac’s Division I single-season records. The sharpshooting forward will be eying the school record this season as he looks to step up another gear as a sophomore.
— Quinnipiac Men's Basketball (@QU_MBB) September 21, 2018
With a career-best 20 points on 7-11 shooting in a win at Columbia, Rigoni has a capability to light things up quickly with his perimeter shooting, but he is much more than just a one-dimensional shooter. A hard worker, he is a terrific defender and is able to stay in front of most other wings. With a high basketball IQ, offensively he works hard off ball to help provide himself with open looks while helping set up others as well.
Rigoni startd 14 games last season, and in 2018/19 will look to lock up a permanent starting role.
G | Kyle ZUNIC | Sophomore | Winthrop
While Xavier Cooks may have departed Winthrop, sophomore guard Kyle Zunic is set to carry on his legacy with the Eagles alongside freshman forward Tom Pupavac.
The 6’2 guard from Wollongong enjoyed a standout freshman season that saw him come off the bench to provide a solid 6.8 points and 1.3 assists in 18.8 minutes per game. A solid contributor in the back court, Zunic is a projected starter for the 2018/19 season and should be able to significantly increase his output with the opportunity presented – expect to see him better his current career-high of 15 points!
He’s the @WUEagles lesser known Aussie. Thursday’s performance in the @BigSouthSports tourney will start to change that. Story and video: https://t.co/n7zDdpGOTE @zunic_kyle @jzunic91 pic.twitter.com/a3D2J33B0u
— Bret McCormick (@Bretjust1T) March 2, 2018
Selected by the coaches to finish second behind Radford in the Big South, Zunic’s ability to penetrate and hit open shots on a regular basis alongside his solid defence, could well prove to be the barometer to his side’s success. In fact, with Cooks’ gone, there is an opportunity for someone to step up to be the go-to guy. Zunic could well be that guy.
F | Jack WHITE | Junior | Duke
An Australian is a co-captain of the Duke Blue Devils in 2018/19. Yes, Jack White from Traralgon, Victoria is that man.
Despite averaging just 5.7 minutes per game as a sophomore, the 6’7 junior forward who was named co-captain alongside Javin DeLaurier is hoping to see an increase in minutes and impact on the court on one of the most famous programs in the nation. To be named captain of Duke is a prestigious honour, and White – who has remained positive across his first two season – has certainly made a positive impact off the court and as an influential locker room presence.
“I’m honored to be selected a captain,” said White, a native of Traralgon, Victoria, Australia. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity, and the chance to be a captain alongside my teammate and best friend, is tremendously special.”
Looking forward to the big stage. 🎤🎥📡🔵😈👀👀👀
— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) November 3, 2018
One would think that being named a captain will finally translate to some on-court responsibility for White who has patiently bided his time for an opportunity on a perennial NCAA Tournament contender. Entering the season as the 4th ranked team in the nation, there is an expectation that Duke will be making a deep run again in 2019. What role, and how much impact White actually makes remains a question mark, yet there is no doubting his talents. A solid rebounder, defender, and with an ability to hit the three-ball, the 6’7 wing is almost able to finish with authority in the paint. All he needs is a chance. Could this season be it? With NBA-bound players such as RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson attracting all the attention, perhaps the time is right, after all, every team needs a glue guy.
F | Deng RIAK | Junior | Akron
After two years with East Carolina, Deng Riak made the move to Akron in search of more playing time and opportunities, and on a very young team, he should get just that.
A skill front court player, he averaged 3.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game last season. He led his team in rebounding, and is a presence in the paint defensively, able to block and change shots with his athleticism, length and size, but also run the floor and handle the ball if required. The versatile big man started 17 of the final 18 games of the season for the Pirates, and his experience will be a major boost for Akron this season.
— Akron Zips MBB (@ZipsMBB) May 3, 2017
Having clearly overcome the injuries that derailed his freshman season, Riak should find himself inserted into the starting line-up from day one with the Zips and become an important piece in their rebuild across the next two seasons. The 6’10 former 4-star (ESPN) recruit out of high school has an opportunity to realise his potential this season, and is sure not to disappoint.
F | Mason PEATLING | Junior | Eastern Washington
Mason Peatling enjoyed a breakout sophomore season and was recognised by earning All-Big Sky honorable mention honors. The 6’8 forward is expected to start for the Eagles this season, with head coach Shantay Legans forecasting the Melburnian could average a double-double across the season.
— Shantay Legans (@CoachLegans) September 5, 2018
Last season he posted 7.7 points (52.5% FG), 5.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game as a sophomore, and with an increased role and level of expectation, a big increase in production is expected of the Victorian. A career-high 19 points and 13 rebounds in a win against Montana State could be a precursor to what could become a regular occurrence for Peatling in the Big Sky this season.
A hard worker at both ends, just how far Eastern Washington can progress in the Big Sky this season may well depend on how well Peatling plays.
Sam Froling may well be the best Aussie freshman in 2018/19, but with a host of returning lettermen, it was hard to squeeze him into the top 10 preseason list, especially when there are so many unknowns as to how much he will actually play at Creighton this season.
Senior forward George Blagojevic is underrated and is an important piece of Hartford’s line-up. A big season from him could see him make the list come season end. Matt McCarthy is another senior who can make a positive impact on his side at San Francisco.
Isaac White of Stanford has also demonstrated he has the potential to step up a level. Opportunity and grasping it when it comes, will be the key to how big an impact he can have in the Pac-12.
Preseason Player of the Year: Kouat Noi
With bona fide Australian college stars such as Jock Landale, Xavier Cooks, Chima Moneke, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr and Co. having since graduated from college, the 2018/19 season ushers in a new generation of players from down under, and possibly the closest group ever on record. There are no ‘one-and-done’ players, and no returning players who are clearly their team’s star player. This coming season could well be more about Australians playing their role rather than being the stars, and for this reason selecting a preseason Player of the Year is made even more diffcult.
If he gets going and is given ample opportunity, Dejan Vasiljevic could be the Player of the Year. He is tough, experienced, and can flat-out score, and in a hurry too. But he is not that athletic, does not have length and is not as versatile as others. A player that ticks all those boxes, can also fill it up from deep but get inside and score too is Kouat Noi. I’m counting on his second year of development to make a huge difference, and with the opportunity to take on starter minutes, I can see him being thrust into the spotlight as the next Australian college basketball star on a team destined for the NCAA Tournament. Time will tell, but Noi has all the tools to be elite and the best performed Aussie in college hoops this season.