#130 Troy Men's Basketball 2017-2018 Preview

Troy Trojans
2017-2018 Overall Rank: #130
Conference Rank: #3 Sun Belt Troy Logo
Troy made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003, where they lost to Duke in the 2 vs 15 game. Troy won the Sun Belt conference tournament by winning four games in five days and even though they finished the regular season in 6th place, the Trojans were only two games out of 2nd place. Eight teams had at least ten conference wins and five of those teams, including Troy, were in the top 150 of the KenPom rankings. This speaks to the strength of the Sun Belt conference, which is one of the most underrated leagues in the country. Troy should challenge for the top of the Sun Belt once again due to the return of their star player, Jordan Varnado. Varnado may be the best player in the Sun Belt and the athletic forward has a very legitimate shot of being selected in the 2018 NBA Draft. With Varnado and three other starters returning, Troy has a great chance to compete for the Sun Belt crown.
2016-17 Record: 22-15, 10-8
2016-17 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Phil Cunningham
Coach Record:  52-76 at Troy, 52-76 overall
Who’s Out:
The Trojans only lose one starter from last season, Florida transfer DeVon Walker. The 6-6 combo forward was known more for his defensive prowess at Florida, but was a major contributor in his lone season at Troy. Walker is an impressive athlete and averaged 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. His defensive versatility and rebounding ability will be missed and his departure may force Troy to play with a more traditional big man instead of relying on his athleticism. Jeremy Holliman will also be missed as the sixth man who brought instant offense off the bench. Holliman was third on the team in scoring at 11.4 per game and he also shot 41.5% from three. The 6-3 shooting guard flourished off the bench and was more productive and more efficient despite playing less minutes than he played in his junior season. Daniel Peace was not a threat from the three-point line, but the backup PG added solid depth to the backcourt. Peace averaged 2.4 points and 2.2 assists per game as a regular member of the rotation. Aaron Ariri was a seldom used post player whose minutes decreased in each of the three years he was with the program.
Who’s In:
With the graduation of Jeremy Holliman, both freshman Malik Burnett and redshirt freshman Darian Adams have a chance to carve out a role off the bench. Both players will have a chance to start as soon as 2018-2019 because the starting backcourt consists entirely of seniors. Javan Johnson should be a perfect replacement for DeVon Walker. Johnson is an athletic combo forward, which Coach Cunningham seems to love, and should factor into the rotation immediately. If Johnson is ready for starter’s minutes, then Varnado can move back to the center spot and Coach Cunningham can get back to using the three combo forwards at once, which was successful last season. Johnson will need to rebound the basketball at a high level to make this lineup work since Walker was an excellent rebounder and that allowed Troy to play small.
Who to Watch:
Jordan Varnado played center for Troy last season, but the 6-6 junior is more of the “new age” power forward. Varnado was able to play bigger than his size due to his strength and long arms which allow him to hold his own defensively in the post and block shots. Varnado was second in the conference in blocked shots at 1.4 blocks per game and also pulled down 7.1 rebounds per contest. He was Troy’s leading scorer at 16.5 points per game. A good comparison for Varnado is former SMU forward Semi Ojeleye. While Varnado is not as good of a shooter as Ojeleye, he still shot 36.4% from three on 28 makes, which is impressive given the amount of time he spends in the post. Varnado could see even more time on the perimeter if he is slotted at his more natural position, power forward. He is excellent at creating space inside and finishing in traffic due to his bulk and his length, but Varnado is best utilized at the high post where he can accentuate his matchup advantages.
Troy’s starting lineup should be filled with experienced players and could be composed entirely of juniors and seniors. Wesley Person is a senior guard who averaged 14.8 points last season. Person is Troy’s best perimeter threat and forms a nice one-two punch with Varnado. Person is a prolific three-point shooter since he made 94 threes at a 40% clip. He is not the only excellent shooter on the team. Juan Davis Jr. is the epitome of a stretch four and commands attention from opposing defenses. The 6-8 senior forward shot 40.3% from three and scored 7.1 points per game. Davis Jr’s outside shooting is an essential component to the lineup because it provides more spacing for Varnado to work inside and more driving lanes for the other perimeter players. Kevin Baker is the team’s starting point guard, but the redshirt senior often plays off the ball. Baker is a slightly below average shooter in terms of percentage, but he shot a very high volume of threes which dragged down his percentage. He shot 33% from three meaning he made 72 of his 218 attempts. Baker is also capable of putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket if the defense overplays his outside shot. He chipped in 8.1 points and 3.3 assists per game. Rounding out the projected starting five is redshirt junior Alex Hicks. Hicks is a true post player who primarily served as Varnado’s backup last year, but he should begin this season in the starting lineup. Hicks will add some size and rebounding that was lost when DeVon Walker graduated. Hicks is not the versatile defender that Walker was which means the Trojans may have to alter their style of play.
BJ Miller is a 6-0 junior guard and even though he only averaged 1.3 points per game, he was a consistent part of the rotation. Miller could play alongside Person and Baker for stretches in order to get them more shots and more time off the ball. Shawn Hopkins is a junior wing who played sparingly last season. Hopkins only averaged 5.9 minutes per game, but he could see an increase in minutes if the Trojans decide to play a smaller lineup. Jaro Moravek is entering is final season with Troy and could have a bigger role and earn more minutes. Moravek looks to be the backup to Alex Hicks at the center position and his size could be useful off the bench. Whit Moreman is a 6-9 post player and will not factor into the rotation.
Final Projection:
Troy will be a good team next year, but if they are going to be considered a great mid major team they need some reserves to step up and play bigger roles. DeVon Walker and Jeremy Hollimon were key pieces and their production needs to be replaced. Freshmen Burnett and Johnson seem to be the most logical candidates, but some of the more experienced reserves could potentially take a step forward. Javan Johnson is the X factor for Troy. If he is capable of playing starter’s minutes, then the Trojans can play their smaller more versatile lineup that was successful last season. No matter which reserves step up, Troy will finish towards the top of the conference due to their veteran lineup and the stellar play of star forward Jordan Varnado. When you have a star like Varnado, you have the ability to knock off the favorites in the Sun Belt tournament and you have a fighting chance to return to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT/V16
Projected Starting Five:
Kevin Baker, Senior, Guard, 8.1 points per game
Wesley Person, Senior, Guard, 14.8 points per game
Juan Davis Jr, Senior, Forward, 7.1 points per game
Jordan Varnado, Junior, Forward, 16.5 points per game
Alex Hicks, Junior, Forward, 5.1 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 78.1 (63rd in nation, 3rd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 72.1 (174, 7)
Field-Goal Percentage: 45.6 (106, 5)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.8 (117, 5)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 8.4 (85, 3)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 35.8 (132, 3)
Free-Throw Percentage: 72.4 (102, 2)
Rebound Margin: 2.6 (98, 5)
Assists Per Game: 13.1 (204, 6)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.5 (120, 3)