2011-2012 WCC Preview: Strongest mid-major conference this year?

1 Comment

AWARDS

Player of the Year: Elias Harris, Jr., Gonzaga

Picking the WCC Preseason Player of the Year was not a simple task, as the conference brings back a ton of talent, including seven of the ten players named to the all-conference team. Harris wasn’t one of those seven, as the 6’8″ combo-forward struggled through his sophomore campaign, seeing his numbers dip across the board. There were a number of reasons for this — Harris was battling a shoulder injury during the offseason and an achilles injury all year, Gonzaga struggled to find consistent ball-handling and play-making, and Robert Sacre continued to develop as a front court presence. I picked Harris simply because there isn’t a more talented player in the league. He has the potential to be a first round pick whenever he decides to go pro. He’s too strong and explosive in the post to be defended by WCC small forwards, but he’s a bad matchup for power forwards because of his perimeter ability and the fact that he is a dangerous three-point shooter. If he is healthy, he should regain the explosiveness and conditioning that made him such a matchup problem as a freshman. Harris is the most talented player in the conference, and I’m not sure its even close. The question is whether or not he returns to and improves on his freshman year form.

And a close second goes to…: Matthew Dellavedova, Jr., St. Mary’s

Like picking the Player of the Year, this was not an easy decision based on the amount of talent in this conference. I went with Dellavedova here because A) I think that if St. Mary’s is going to compete for the WCC title, Dellavedova is going to have absorb the play-making and leadership roles left open by Mickey McConnell’s graduation and B) I think that St. Mary’s is, in fact, going to compete for the WCC title. I love Dellavedova’s game. He’s a relatively unathletic, play-making combo-guard with an awkward looking jump shot and an even more awkward haircut, but he still manages to post impressive numbers. He was second in the conference in assists last season despite playing on the same team as the conference’s leader in assists. And while its tough to give him the edge over teammate Rob Jones, who will be the heart and soul of this season’s Gael team, I think Dellavedova will be the more important piece.

Breakout Star: Anthony Ireland, So., Loyola Marymount

I really wanted to go with Gonzaga’s Sam Dower or Stephen Holt of St. Mary’s here, but in an effort to try and spread around some of the love, I’ll take LMU’s Anthony Ireland as the breakout star of the WCC. Ireland had a terrific and promising freshman campaign, playing his way into the starting lineup and averaging an impressive 10.6 ppg and 3.0 apg. He really came on at the end of the season as well, hitting for more than 20 points in two of the Lion’s last four games. As a sophomore, this is going to be Ireland’s team to take control of. Drew Viney will be the star, but with Vernon Teel out of the picture, Ireland will take the reins in the back court. And while that record is ghastly — 11 wins, 2-12 in the WCC — LMU was not nearly that bad. They lost seven of the nine games that were one possession differences or went to overtime. They still have the majority of the talent that made them a trendy pick for second in the league. I fully expect them to be better next season, and Ireland will be a major reason why.

All-Conference First-Team:

POY: Elias Harris, Jr., Gonzaga
G: Matthew Dellavedova, Jr., St. Mary’s
G: Kevin Foster, Jr., Santa Clara
F: Rob Jones, Sr., St. Mary’s
F: Drew Viney, Sr., Loyola Marymount
C: Robert Sacre, Sr., Gonzaga

All-Conference Second-Team:

G: Mike Williams, Jr., San Francisco
G: Nemanja Mitrovic, Sr., Portland
G: Rashad Green, Sr., San Francisco
G: Evan Roquemore, So. Santa Clara
C: Brandon Davies, Sr., BYU

Four summer storylines

– Marc Trasolini tears his acl: This was less of a story line as it was an isolated event, but regardless, Santa Clara losing Trasolini for the season is a big deal. The Broncos lost a number of important pieces this offseason — to transfer, graduation, and Europe — but with their big three of Kevin Foster, Evan Roquemore and Trasolini returning, this was a team that many had pegged as a sleeper to make a run at a top three finish in the league. Without Trasolini — who injured his knee playing an exhibition on a team trip to his hometown of Vancouver — SCU will head into the season without a proven front court player.

– Why does Gonzaga have so much roster turnover?: Anyone that has been paying attention to the Gonzaga hoops program will have noticed that over the past two years, there have been a multitude of players leaving the program. In fact, thanks Bud Withers of the Seattle Times, we know the precise numbers — of the 13 players that Mark Few has signed in the three classes that are currently sophomores, juniors, and seniors, seven have left the program. That includes this offseason, as Demetri Goodson transferred to Baylor to play football, Manny Arop transferred to Indiana State and Keegan Hyland left and eventually ended up at Fairfield.

The question this left folks asking is why? Why does Gonzaga have such turnover? Why is this happening at a program whose head coach is as firmly entrenched as any in the country? Is this a sign that there is something wrong with the program, or that it has fully reached the status of high-major, with kids opting to transfer out instead of waiting their turn to play and/or being recruited over? The one thing that is certain is that this hasn’t exactly had a negative effect on the program. Last year was a “down year” for Gonzaga, and they still managed to win a share of the WCC regular season title (something they have done every season since 2000), with the WCC Tournament title, and win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

– San Diego’s point-shaving scandal: Back in April, the college basketball world was rocked when news leaked that two former Toreros — including Brandon Johnson, the program’s all-time leader in points and assists — and a former assistant coach were arrested for their alleged involvement in a scheme to fix the outcome of games. Apparently, Johnson influenced the outcome of a game in February of 2010 and conspired to get another player to influence a game in January of this past season. Johnson plead not guilty to the charges

– Brandon Davies gets reinstated: Back in late August, BYU finally ended almost six months of speculation by announcing that Brandon Davies would be allowed back into school and onto the basketball team. If you’ve forgotten, Davies was suspended last March for violation BYU’s honor code by, reportedly, having premarital sex with his girlfriend. The importance of Davies to the Cougars cannot be understated. With so much leaving in the form of the graduation of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, losing Davies may have left the Cougars in the bottom half of the WCC this season.

Four storylines to follow this season

– How long is BYU going to be in the WCC?: Conference expansion in college sports is all about football, but its effect on hoops is far from negligible. The WCC is a perfect example of that. Due to BYU’s interest in becoming an independent on the gridiron, the WCC was able to add a program that is probably one of the nation’s 50 best over the last decade. That’s never a bad thing, especially for a school like St. Mary’s. Sure, it may be more difficult to finally win a conference regular season title, but that poor strength of schedule that cost the Gael’s two NCAA Tournament trips in the past three seasons is going to be helped immensely.

But conference expansion is far from over, and one of the rumors that has persisted throughout the past couple of months is that the Big 12 has a heavy interest in adding BYU. If BYU does, in fact, head to the Big 12, it means that their stopover in the WCC may end up being as short as a single season. Whether or not that actually happens is far from clear — does anyone actually have any rock-solid info when it comes to realignment? — but it will be a story to keep an eye on.

– Which Elias Harris will we get?: After his freshman season, Harris shocked folks when he announced that he would be returning to Gonzaga. He had a legitimate shot at being picked in the lottery. But as a sophomore, Harris was no where near the same player. Between an offseason shoulder injury and an early-season achilles injury, Harris was put on some weight, got himself out of condition, and lost some of his explosiveness — three things that made him highly-regarded by NBA folks. So which Harris shows up this year? Will he be back in shape, dominating the paint and creating mismatches with front lines around the country? If he is, than Gonzaga has to be considered the favorite to win the conference.

– Will there be more tournament teams this season than in 2008?: Back in 2008, the WCC peaked. Not only did they send three teams to the NCAA Tournament, thanks to San Diego’s epic run through St. Mary’s and Gonzaga to the WCC Tournament title, but that same Torero team knocked off UConn in the first round of the tournament. At the time, the league wasn’t a stranger to getting at-large bids — the was well into Gonzaga’s reign atop the conference — but for the team that came in second to also earn an at-large bid made a statement. Now, with the addition of BYU, the WCC has three programs — Gonzaga and St. Mary’s the other — that head into the season with the expectation, not the hope, of making the NCAA Tournament. But could there be more?

Its a possibility, but it would require a couple of things to happen. For starters, the WCC will have to clean up in non-conference play. Raising the league’s RPI makes everyone look better. The other thing that will likely have to happen is that someone from outside of the big three will need to earn the league’s automatic bid. There are some quality teams in this conference – San Francisco, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount — but the likelihood of those schools earning an at-large bid is quite small. The odds of them getting hot for three games and making a run through the conference tournament is much higher.

– So is Loyola Marymount for real?: This team is tough to peg. There’s no question that they have talent on the roster, but talent isn’t going to guarantee wins when your team lacks chemistry, is ravaged by injuries and cannot win a close game. At least one of those issues will be solved heading into this season. Vernon Teel, who was diametrically opposed to getting along with the coaching staff, is gone. His talent will be missed, but sophomore Anthony Ireland should be enough to fill the void. Better chemistry and a better leader at the point should solve some of the problems in close games, as well. If this team stays healthy, the pieces are there for a run to the top half of the conference.

Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs had a weird year in 2010-2011. It began about as poorly as one can imagine. After being ranked in the top 15 in the preseason, they got off to a 4-5 start before finding themselves at 13-8 and 3-3 in the WCC, three games out of first place with just eight to play. Included in those losses? A 22 point whooping at the hands of Washington State and a 14 point loss at Santa Clara followed by an overtime loss at the hands of San Francisco. But once Mark Few solidified Marquise Carter as the fifth starter and David Stockton and Sam Dower as his first two players off the bench, Gonzaga took off, winning 10 in a row to take home a share of the regular season title and win the WCC tournament championship. But then after beating St. John’s, the Zags were stomped by a Brandon Davies-less BYU team in the second round of the Big Dance.

Gonzaga will, once again, have the look of a top 25 team in 2011-2012 despite some significant roster turnover. Steven Gray graduated while both Demetri Goodson and Manny Arop transferred out of the program. The good news, however, is that Mark Few does return a loaded front line, led by Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. Harris struggled as a sophomore after a promising freshman campaign that had his name being mentioned as a potential lottery pick. Some of that was an achilles injury that limited his explosiveness. If he can return to freshman year form — or improve on it — he’s a potential Player of the Year in the WCC. Sacre has slowly developed into one of the best big men on the west coast. He does a little bit of everything — scoring in the paint, rebounding, blocking shots — and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him continue to develop as a senior. The Zags are deep up front as well. Sam Dower is a potential game-changer off the bench, an active and athletic power forward that really came on strong late in the year. Kelly Olynyk can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot and can hold his own on the glass. The perimeter is more of a question mark. Sophomore point guard David Stockton — yes, that’s John’s son — was a steadying force late in the season, and while he plays smart basketball and can run the team, he’s not an overwhelming playmaker. Senior Marquise Carter, however, has the potential to be. Gonzaga’s late-season surge came when he was moved into the starting lineup, and he had a couple big games down the stretch. Carter can do a lot of things — shoot, drive, find assists — but he will need to become more consistent in his production. The third perimeter spot will be up for grabs. Sharpshooting Mathis Monninghoff started eight games but couldn’t get off the bench at the end of the season. Mathis Keita earned some starts as well, but he, too, couldn’t keep his minutes. Will freshman Gary Bell, the jewel of a six-man recruiting class, start immediately? There’s a chance. Also, keep an eye on freshman Kevin Pangos, who should push David Stockton for minutes at the point.

2. St. Mary’s: It may be hard to believe, but for St. Mary’s, a season in which they won their first share of the WCC conference title in 14 years was a major disappointment. The magnitude their collapse down the stretch — an unacceptable loss to San Diego, losses to Gonzaga and Utah State that would have sealed an tournament trip, and another loss to Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament finals — should tell you how good of a season the Gaels had for three months just to manage a share of the WCC title. In mid-February, they were 22-4 and 10-1 in the WCC, holding a two game lead with three games left while playing sensational basketball. Their season ended fittingly, with WCC Player of the Year Mickey McConnell missing a game-winning layup at the buzzer in the first-round of the NIT against Kent State.

While McConnell has moved on to the professional level, Randy Bennett’s club returns the rest of their roster from 2010-2011. Matthew Dellavedova will take the reins of this team as a junior and he should be primed for a big season as the feature guard in Randy Bennett’s offense. He will likely be joined in the back court by sophomore Stephen Holt, a highly-regarded recruit when he entered the program that had a couple of impressive performances late in the season. Jorden Page missed most of last season with a knee injury. He had a couple of big games in the WCC Tournament two seasons ago and should provide a spark off the bench. Same with Paul McCoy, a transfer that averaged 13.4 ppg as a freshman in 2008-2009. In the front court, Clint Steindl and Rob Jones will start at the forward spots. Steindl is a lanky, 6’7″ sharpshooter at the small forward spot while Jones, despite standing just 6’6″, is the team’s second-leading scorer and best rebounder. He’s more of a combo-forward than a pure power forward, but Jones plays with a mean streak. Kenton Walker got 26 starts last season, but only played 15 mpg. Mitchell Young actually played more minutes that Walker and averaged double figures off the bench. Tim Williams and Northwestern transfer Kyle Rowley will also be in the front court rotation. If Dellavedova and Jones embrace the role of the leader, youngsters like Page and Holt develop into big-time players and the Gael’s front court plays well, this is a team that has the potential to make a lot of noise; not just in the WCC, but on a national level.

3. BYU: While BYU’s storybook season was dulled by the suspension of starting center Brandon Davies in March, it shouldn’t put a damper on what was one of the most memorable years in college basketball in the last decade. Much of that credit is due to the play of Jimmer Fredette, the superstar with unlimited range, a vicious crossover, and a goodie-two-shoes image that made Tim Tebow look like Marlo Stanfield. But with the graduation of Fredette and a couple of other very important pieces and BYU’s move to the WCC for hoops, Dave Rose will, essentially, have a brand new program to work with in 2011-2012.

Not only does BYU lose The Jimmer next season, they well also be playing with out Jackson Emery and Kyle Collinsworth, who will be on his Mormon mission. What that means is that Rose is going to have to build his club around Davies, who recently was officially reinstated to the BYU program. Davies is a quality post presence, able to score on the block with a variety of effective-but-awkward post moves. Davies will be joined on the front line by Noah Hartsock, a senior with the ability to stretch the floor thanks to his jumper, and Chris Collinsworth, who will hopefully be back to 100% after battling through a knee injury and eventually having surgery in January. Throw in Stephen Rogers, a junior reserve, and the crop of freshmen bigs Rose signed, and BYU will have a solid front line, although it would be nice to see that group develop a bit of a mean streak. The perimeter is where the question marks lie. Jimmer and Emery rarely left the court, and when either one did, Kyle Collinsworth was usually the player that slid down to the two. Senior Charles Abouo is back, but he is a small forward that isn’t known for his ability to handle the ball. That leaves a trio of freshmen. Anson Winder, who redshirted last season, and Damarcus Harrison, a true freshman, will initially be relied upon to handle back court duties until UCLA transfer Matt Carlino is able to get himself eligible. How good Carlino ends up being will likely be the determining factor in whether or not BYU wins the WCC.

4. San Francisco: The Dons are in a very good position heading into the 2011-2012 season. Not only is this a team that finished 10-4 in the league last season — just a game behind both Gonzaga and St. Mary’s — they also bring back essentially their entire team, losing only Moustapha Diarra and Marko Petrovic. It didn’t take long for Rex Walters to turn around this program, as he now has USF in a position to legitimately be considered a threat to win the conference title.

The Don’s strength will be in their back court this season. It starts with Mike Williams and Rashad Green, their two leading scorers from a season ago and all-WCC members. Green has about four inches on Williams (who is listed at 6’0″), but is the better playmaker. Williams is a better scorer and more of a consistent three point threat. The back court will be held together by Cody Doolin, a freshman point guard who was forced into a starting role due to another season-ending knee injury to Dominique O’Conner in the second game of the season. Doolin proved to be a very capable WCC point guard with the potential to develop into an all-league caliber playmaker. With a healthy O’Conner and sophomores Charles Standifer and Avery Johnson joining that group, the Dons may have the second best perimeter attack in the league. Inside, losing Moustapha Diarra will hurt their depth. He was big and he produced — 7.8 ppg in just over 17 mpg. But with Perris Blackwell and Angelo Caloiaro back, the Dons will have a solid inside-outside duo. Blackwell is better around the rim while Caloiaro is more of a face-up four, although he does get to the glass at a solid rate. It will be nice if he shoots better than 32.7% from three or takes fewer than five per game, however. 6’9″ German sophomore Justin Raffington will be one of the guys counted on to provide depth in the front court. The WCC will be tough up top, and its always interesting to see how a team handles expectations (see Loyola Marymount last season), but San Francisco should be in the mix atop the WCC all year long.

5. Santa Clara: The Broncos had a terrific year in 2010-2011. They won 23 games, they finished fourth in the WCC and they were able to win a postseason title, beating Iona on the road for the CIT championship. And while Kerry Keating’s club lost two starters and a couple of bench players, the fact that they were returning their big three of Kevin Foster, Marc Trasolini and Evan Roquemore had them being picked as a potential sleeper in the WCC. That was until Trasolini blew out his knee in August.

We already talked about the loss of Trasolini above, so let’s focus on what Santa Clara does have. It starts with their back court, as Foster, a senior, and Roquemore, a sophomore, form a terrific tandem. Foster is one of the most potent scorers in the country, averaging over 20 ppg as a sophomore. Foster can be streaky. He shoots a ton of threes — exactly 10 per game last year — and when he gets hot, watch out. He went for 25 or more points 12 times, including a 36 point outburst in a win against Gonzaga in January. Roquemore is more of an all-around player and a much better creator, but he has the ability to explode as well, going for 30 points in SCU’s win over USF in the CIT. Robert Cowels looks to be in line to start the the three, but the Bronco’s back court depth will more than likely be entirely freshmen. The front court is going to have a ton of question marks without Trasolini. Junior Niyi Harrison and sophomore Jon McArthur are really the only returners, but redshirt freshman Yannick Atanga and true freshman Robert Garrett, a seven-footer, were both highly-rated recruits in high school. At least two players out of that group are going to have to develop into solid contributors this season for the Broncos to have a real shot at finishing in the top four of the league.

6. Loyola Marymount: Last season was disastrous for the Lions. They had a roster stocked with talent and a buzz heading into the season, which is why they were picked by quite a few people to contend with St. Mary’s for the second spot in the conference. But the year ended up being a disaster. The Lions were plagued by injuries, their star guard Vernon Teel couldn’t find a way to get along with the coaching staff, and LMU ended the season with just 11 wins, finishing in last place in the conference at 2-12. One thing that I am positive of is that Loyola was not as bad as their record indicated last season. As a team, its hard to argue with the results, but there was — and still is — plenty of individual talent on that roster.

The issue this season is going to be A) keeping that talent on the court and out of the training room; B) developing team chemistry, which is just as important as talent; and C) winning close games — they were just 2-7 in one possession and overtime games last year. Nine of the 11 players Max Good started in more than one game last season return, including the five guys that were starting by the end of the season. The centerpiece of this team will be forward and 17.2 ppg scorer Drew Viney. (Ed. Note: Of course, the day after we originally posted this preview, Viney had to go and get surgery on his foot.) He’ll be joined up front by sophomore Godwin Okojoni, who was starting by the end of the year in place of Edgar Garibay, another sophomore. Garibay is a big-bodied, 6’10” center that will hopefully be healthy this season. The athletic Ashley Hamilton will also play a big role, while LaRon Armstead and Tom Diedrichs should see minutes up front as well. Anthony Ireland really came on down the stretch of his freshman campaign and should develop into a quality starting point guard. He’ll be joined in the back court by sophomore Ayodeji Egbeyemi, who was able to start by the end of his freshman season because Jarrod DuBois had his year cut short by injuries. With both Teel and Larry Davis gone this year, LMU’s back court may have some depth issues. The Lions have the talent to make a push for a top four finish in the conference, but will all the pieces come together?

7. Portland: The success that Eric Reveno has had in Portland is a perfect example of why the WCC looks primed to be one of the best mid-major conferences in the country for a long time coming. Despite playing in a league that includes three perennial tournament teams in Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and now BYU, Portland has steadily been competitive, not only in the league but nationally as well, despite losing important pieces that past two offseasons. This year will be the test. After losing four starters from the 2009-2010 season, Portland appeared to be a challenger for the league title early in the season before road struggles during conference play derailed that bid. They finished .500 in league play, ending up fifth, right where everyone expected them to be. But their 20 wins and invitation to the CIT should tell you that their season was more successful than it appears on paper.

This season, Portland will once again be forced to deal with the graduation of quite a bit of talent. Leading scorer Jared Stohl graduates, as does the league’s leading rebounder in Luke Sikma and a four-year starter for the Pilots in center Kramer Knutson. The Pilots should be able to handle the loss of Stohl in stride as they have plenty of perimeter talent. Nemanja Mitrovic proved to be just as dangerous of a three-point marksmen, hitting 46.3% of his triples while shooting more than Stohl on the season. Senior Eric Waterford started 23 games at the point, while junior Derrick Rodgers, sophomore Tanner Riley and freshman Kevin Bailey — who was a highly regarded recruit — should all contribute this year. But the x-factor may end up being sophomore Tim Douglas, who earned a spot in the starting lineup late in his freshman campaign. He played well in the nine games he started, leading Portland to a 6-3 record which includes a 26 point, five rebound, four assist performance in a 15 point win over St. Mary’s. Portland lost both games prior to his insertion in the lineup as well as the last three games of the season, which Douglas missed with a foot injury. The front court is a much, much bigger question mark. Only two players that saw any action return — sophomores Ryan Nicholas and Riley Barker, who played a combined 17.1 mpg last year. A couple of freshman will be thrown in the mix as well — John Bailey, Thomas van der Mars, and Dorian Cason. Will any of those five players be able to step up and replace the production and leadership lost with Sikma and Knutson?

8. Pepperdine: Tom Asbury’s second tenure didn’t go quite as well as his first, when he built the Waves into the premiere program in the WCC in the early 90’s. To get a feel for how poorly Pepperdine performed, think about this — the Waves were 12-21 overall and 5-9 in league play while have two of their players, including star Keion Bell, suspended midway through the season, and this was the most successful year in Asbury’s three year reign. Asbury is now gone — along with Bell and second leading scorer Mychel Thompson — but all hope is not lost for Pepperdine.

Clearly, losing a player of Bell’s caliber is less than ideal, but having a player of Bell’s caliber that does not buy into to the concept is just as bad. Case in point — Pepperdine was 6-14 with Bell on the roster last season; they were 6-7 without him. The bigger loss may actually be Mychel Thompson, Klay’s younger brother, who was the team’s leading scorer after Bell left. This season, new head coach Marty Wilson will center his offensive attack around Lorne Jackson, a senior guard that turned into a legitimate go-to scoring threat late in the year, averaging 20.8 ppg in the last five games. Junior Joshua Lowery looks like he might be the answer at the point after solidifying the position as a sophomore. Throw in senior Dane Suttle, junior Caleb Willis, and a couple of newcomers, including touted freshman Jordan Baker and Norweigan JuCo transfer Nikolas Skouen, and Pepperdine has a decent blend of talent and experience on their perimeter. The starters in the front court will most likely be the senior duo of Taylor Darby and Corbin Moore, who both have some size and plenty of experience but lack upside in terms of potential. Those two will combine with sophomore Jan Maehlen and freshman Ramon Eaton, who are going to have to provide minutes even if they aren’t quite ready. The front court will be an issue, but if Pepperdine can get some solid perimeter play out of Jackson and Lowery, than I don’t think a .500 WCC season is out of the realm of possibility.

9. San Diego: Bill Grier had such an incredible start to his tenure at San Diego. He went 11-3 in the league, he knocked off both St. Mary’s and Gonzaga en route to the WCC Tournament title and then he went on to beat UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t get much better than that. And it also doesn’t get much worse than where the program has ended up since then. They won 16 games — and just six in the conference — the following season, seeing those numbers drop all the way to six wins and just two leagues wins last year.

San Diego’s prospects don’t look all that much better for this season. They have a young roster — eight freshmen and two sophomores — and lost two of their top four scorers from last season. There are a couple of bright spots, however. Darian Norris, a JuCo transfer playing his first season as a Division I point guard, proved that he is capable of playing at this level of basketball. He’ll be the only senior of the USD roster next year. The Toreros also have a solid front line. Chris Manresa, a junior, averaged a respectable 7.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg while Chris Gabriel went for 7.5 ppg and 3.4 rpg. Gabriel has the potential to be a real force in the WCC, but he needs to get control of his weight. He’s currently listed at 285 — which is down from the 310 he was listed at as a sophomore — but weight isn’t the only factor when it comes to conditioning. Gabriel only managed to stay on the court for 15 mpg last year. There are some decent freshmen coming in — including redshirt frosh Ben Vozzolla and point guard Chris Anderson — but they will take some time to develop. Expect another year at the bottom of the league.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
16 Comments

Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.

2017-18 College Basketball Preseason Top 25

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
10 Comments

It’s about that time to release the 2017-18 preseason top 25.

A couple of notes here:

  • Final decisions on NBA Draft decisions won’t be made for more than a month. We’re making educated (some more than others) guesses on who will be doing what.
  • We also make some educated guesses on where some of the remaining uncommitted kids will end up going to school.
  • If there is a * next to a player’s name, it means we’re still waiting for official word on what his status will be next season.

Next season’s top 25 is awful uninspiring. There also isn’t anything close to a clear-cut No. 1 team, not with how much is still left to be determined through NBA Draft decisions, transfers and elite recruits picking a school.

Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.

Here is the top 25:

1. Louisville

  • Who’s gone: Mangok Mathiang, David Levitch, Tony Hicks
  • Who do they add: Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Lance Thomas
  • Projected starting lineup: Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell*, VJ King, Deng Adel*, Jaylen Johnson*
  • Louisville has a chance to be very, very good next season. Just how good probably depends on what Donovan Mitchell decides to do — opinions seem split on him, as of this posting — but assuming Deng Adel is back and guys like VJ King, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud take a step forward, the Cardinals might be the best team in the ACC. That says a lot this year.

2. Duke

  • Who’s gone: Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III, Luke Kennard
  • Who do they add: Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Alex O’Connell, Kevin Knox*, Trevon Duval*
  • Projected starting lineup: Trevon Duval*, Frank Jackson*, Gary Trent Jr./Grayson Allen, Kevin Knox*, Wendell Carter
  • We’re going to go through this all over again with Duke next season, aren’t we? Look at that starting five and tell me the talent on that team isn’t scary. Grayson Allen is back for his senior year, but Duke’s season hinges on Frank Jackson returning and landing one of, if not both Trevon Duval and Kevin Knox.

3. Michigan State

  • Who’s gone: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis III, Ben Carter*
  • Who do they add: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman
  • Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward
  • I like this Michigan State team a lot. Nick Ward was a beast last year and Jaren Jackson is the perfect sidekick. Cassius Winston and Josh Langford will both take a step forward. The key, however, is that a potential Player of the Year in Miles Bridges opted to return to school.

4. Arizona

  • Who’s gone: Lauri Markkanen, Kadeem Allen, Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins*
  • Who do they add: Deandre Ayton, Brian Bowen*, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee, Alex Barcello, Dylan Smith
  • Projected starting lineup: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Allonzo Trier, Brian Bowen*, Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic
  • The Wildcats add the most talented big man in the class in Deandre Ayton, and may add Brian Bowen to a class that also includes Brandon Randolph. The reason they’re a top five team, however is the return of Allonzo Trier.

5. North Carolina

  • Who’s gone: Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt
  • Who do they add: Jaleek Felton, Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman, Andrew Platek
  • Projected starting lineup: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson*, Luke Maye, Tony Bradley*
  • The Tar Heels are coming off of back-to-back national title game appearances, and while they will lose three key seniors from that team, and probably Justin Jackson as well, there are some important pieces that will likely return. Berry will be a National Player of the Year contender, Tony Bradley will be a breakout star and Luke Maye will move into the starting lineup.

6. Kansas

  • Who’s gone: Frank Mason II, Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas
  • Who do they add: Malik Newman, Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe
  • Projected starting lineup: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Billy Preston, Udoka Azuibuike
  • The Jayhawks are going to have a lot to replace, but they do have some players coming in. If Devonte’ Graham does come back, I think he’ll be a star and all-Big 12 player at the point, and he’ll be joined by a former top 10 prospect in Malik Newman and a current top ten prospect in Billy Preston.

7. Miami

  • Who’s gone: Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy
  • Who do they add: Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes, Deng Gak, Sam Waardenburg
  • Projected starting lineup: Ja’Quan Newton, Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker, Anthony Lawrence, Dewan Huell
  • Losing Reed and Murphy will hurt, but Bruce Brown was one of the best-kept secrets last year, Lonnie Walker is a big-time scorer and Dewan Huell is a former top 30 prospect in line for a big bump in minutes this year. Jim Larrañaga is exactly the coach to take advantage of this guard-heavy lineup, too.

8. Florida

  • Who’s gone: Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry, Justin Leon, Devin Robinson
  • Who do they add: Isaiah Stokes, Egor Koulechov, Chase Johnson, DeAundre Ballard, Michael Okauru, Jalen Hudson, Dontay Bassett
  • Projected starting lineup: Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Egor Koulechov, Kevarrius Hayes, John Egbunu
  • Coming off of a trip to the Elite 8, the Gators bring back most of their key pieces while adding a talented recruiting class and two players that redshirted last season. Two keys to this team’s ceiling: The health of John Egbunu, who missed the second half of last season, and the development of KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza.

9. Villanova

  • Who’s gone: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds
  • Who do they add: Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillispie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, Omari Spellman
  • Projected starting lineup: Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman
  • The Wildcats are going to take a major hit with Josh Hart finally graduating, but the good news is that Jay Wright is still around, as is Jalen Brunson. Omari Spellman getting eligible will help, and I know I’m not the only one that thinks Donte DiVincenzo has a chance to develop into an all-Big East player.

10. Kentucky

  • Who’s gone: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Mychal Mulder, Dominique Hawkins
  • Who do they add: Hamidou Diallo, Quade Green, Nick Richards, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker
  • Projected starting lineup: Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington, Nick Richards
  • Kentucky is a tough team to peg for next season. They should be really good defensively — Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt are elite defenders — and insanely athletic, but it’s going to be another year where we don’t know who shoots it for Kentucky. They’re in the mix for Mo Bamba and Kevin Knox; the addition of either one, particularly Knox, would make Kentucky a top five team.

11. Wichita State

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Samajae Haynes-jones, Asbjorn Midtgaard
  • Projected starting lineup: Landry Shamet, Connor Frankamp, Zach Brown, Markis McDuffie*, Shaq Morris
  • The Shockers finished the season ranked in the top ten at KenPom, but ended up with a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament because they struggled to get used to each other early on in the season. With everyone returning from last year’s team, don’t be surprised to see Gregg Marshall’s team as a Final Four contender.

12. West Virginia

  • Who’s gone: Tarik Phillip, Nathan Adrian, Teyvon Myers, Brandon Watkins
  • Who do they add: Derek Culver, Brandon Knapper, D’Angelo hunter, Teddy Allen, Wesley Harris
  • Projected starting lineup: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, Elijah Macon
  • At this point, I’m just going to assume that Bobby Huggins is going to put a good team on the floor regardless of the situation. The names don’t even matter, although Jevon Carter is back for what feels like his 17th season in college hoops while Esa Ahmad seems primed for a monster year.

13. USC

  • Who’s gone: Charles Buggs
  • Who do they add: Derryck Thornton, Charles O’Bannon, Jordan Usher
  • Projected starting lineup: Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Elijah Stewart, Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu
  • There is a lot of talent on the USC roster for now, especially now that Metu is returning, but the key to this team is going to be whether or not they get Boatwright and Stewart back.

14. Minnesota

  • Who’s gone: Akeem Springs
  • Who do they add: Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris, Davonte Fitzgerald
  • Projected starting lineup: Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch
  • The Golden Gophers bring everyone back from last season, a year where they were one of the most surprising teams in the country. Minnesota could win the Big Ten.

15. UCLA

  • Who’s gone: Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton
  • Who do they add: LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, Chris Smith
  • Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Aaron Holiday*, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Thomas Welsh*
  • It’s going to be interesting to see how the Bruins move on from the Lonzo Ball era. It will also be interesting to see how LaVar Ball handles the fact that LiAngelo Ball isn’t Lonzo.

16. Cincinnati

  • Who’s gone: Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson
  • Who do they add: Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, Eliel Nsoseme, Cane Broome
  • Projected starting lineup: Cane Broome, Jarron Cumberland, Jacob Evans, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington
  • The Bearcats return a lot of important pieces from a team that won 30 games last season. Broome averaged 23 points for Sacred Heart as a sophomore.

17. Baylor

  • Who’s gone: Ishmail Wainright
  • Who do they add: Mark Vital, Tyson Jolly, Tristan Clark
  • Projected starting lineup: Manu Lecomte, Jake Lindsey, King McClure, Jo Lual-Acuil, Johnathan Motley*
  • It all hinges on whether or not Motley opts to return to school for his final year of eligibility. That’s very much in the air. With him, they’re a top ten team. Without him, they’re probably closer to the 20-25 range. We split the difference and went 18th.

18. Seton Hall

  • Who’s gone: Madison Jones
  • Who do they add: Myles Cale, Darnell Brodie
  • Projected starting lineup: Khadeen Carrington, Myles Powell, Desi Rodriguez, Ishmael Sanogo, Angel Delgado*
  • This is the team that I’m going to probably overhype all offseason. I love this group.

19. Gonzaga

  • Who’s gone: Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, Zach Collins
  • Who do they add: Jacob Larsen, Zach Norvell, Corey Kispert, Jesse Wade
  • Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams III*, Killian Tillie
  • With Nigel Williams-Goss gone, the key to Gonzaga’s season will be the development of Josh Perkins. Can he play the point full-time and do it successfully?

20. Northwestern

  • Who’s gone: Sanjay Lumpkin, Nathan Taphorn
  • Who do they add: Anthony Gaines, Aaron Falzon, Rapolas Ivanauskas
  • Projected starting lineup: Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, Aaron Falzon, Dererk Pardon
  • The Wildcats, a year removed from their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, bring back essentially everyone from last season and get Aaron Falzon healthy. Bryant McIntosh will contend for Big Ten Player of the Year.

21. Alabama

  • Who’s gone: Nick King, Jimmie Taylor, Shannon Hale, Corban Collins
  • Who do they add: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Daniel Giddens
  • Projected starting lineup: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key*, Daniel Giddens
  • The Crimson Tide bring back a talented young core and add two five-star guards, including Collin Sexton, who could lead the conference in scoring.

22. Notre Dame

  • Who’s gone: Steve Vasturia, VJ Beachem
  • Who do they add: DJ Harvey, Nikola Djogo
  • Projected starting lineup: Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, Bonzie Colson, Martinas Geben
  • At this point, I’m fine betting on Brey to have Notre Dame in the mix every year. They’re going to need Rex Pfleuger and Temple Gibbs to take a step forward, but Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell can carry the Irish.

23. Virginia Tech

  • Who’s gone: Seth Allen, Zach LeDay
  • Who do they add: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede
  • Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs, Chris Clarke, Khadim Sy
  • The Hokies return all five starters from last season despite the fact that the team graduates their top two scorers. A healthy Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear will help.

24. Saint Mary’s

  • Who’s gone: Joe Rahon, Dane Pineau
  • Who do they add: Angus Glover
  • Projected starting lineup: Jordan Ford, Emmett Naar, Calvin Hermanson, Evan Fitzner, Jock Landale
  • Losing Rahon will hurt, but with Naar and Landale coming back, the Gaels are going to push Gonzaga in the WCC race once again.

25. Nevada

  • Who’s gone: Cameron Oliver*, Marcus Marshall
  • Who do they add: Hallice Cooke, Cody and Caleb Martin, Kendall Stephens
  • Projected starting lineup: Lindsey Drew, Cody Martin, Caleb Martin, Kendall Stephens, Jordan Caroline
  • Even without Oliver, the Wolf Pack look like a team that can make another run in the Mountain West. Jordan Caroline should be MWC Player of the Year.

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

Joe Robbins/Getty Sports Images
1 Comment

Wichita State is starting to gain more national respect with regards to its non-conference schedule.

Since moving to the American Athletic Conference this spring, the Shockers have not only gained the benefit of being in a multi-bid league every year, but they’re also getting better teams to play them outside of conference play.

According to a report from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, the Shockers now have non-conference games scheduled with Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season. With Wichita State also playing in the Maui Invitational, it gives the Shockers plenty of opportunities to schedule quality opponents and improve its NCAA tournament seeding. And that’s before Wichita State starts conference play.

Although Wichita State was getting invited regularly to prestigious non-conference tournaments such as Maui or the Battle 4 Atlantis, they were having a tough time getting certain schools to book home-and-home series. The Baylor series signifies a small, but significant, change to how Wichita State might be able to do things now.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

J Pat Carter/Getty Images
Leave a comment

USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.