Indiana, Louisville top our too early 2012-13 preseason Top 25

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It’s tempting to place Kentucky atop the ranking for the 2012-13 season.

Yes, the Wildcats are probably going to lose all five starters and the sixth man from the 2012 NCAA tournament champions who won an NCAA record 38 games. But I can’t. Not until Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel decide where they’re playing next season. But once the two top recruits in the class of 2012 choose – they’re both elite players and at least one will be in Lexington – it’ll provide a more accurate assessment of where UK will fall.

Until then, I’m going with one of the two teams that did beat Kentucky this season and returns nearly every player from a 27-win team. Oh, did mention that team also sports a top-5 recruiting class?

(Note: When the NCAA’s NBA draft withdrawal date passes on April 11 and the 10 top 100 recruits commit, this ranking will be more informed. Until then, it’s just a waaaaay too early guess on everything. Also, the early version didn’t include Butler. This one does. Call it a late-night oversight.)

source: AP

1. Indiana Hoosiers (Final ’12-13 record: 27-9)
Tom Crean’s rebuild is complete. The Hoosiers should have four starters back (frontcourt studs Cody Zeller and Christian Watford are expected to return) and five freshman who’ll provide depth and athleticism. Indiana won’t be a scrappy underdog next season. Be interesting to see how the Hoosiers handle it.

2. Louisville Cardinals (30-10)
The game’s most efficient defense will stay that way with Gorgui Dieng back in the middle and a (knock on wood) healthy roster around him. Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear should get the expected freshman-to-sophomore boost, transfer Luke Hancock adds experience and shooting. Also, that Peyton Siva’s pretty good. Only concern? No real impact freshmen.

3. Kentucky Wildcats (38-2)
The Wildcats are all the way down here. Oops. Sharpshooter Kyle Witljer is the only significant returner, but transfer Ryan Harrow spent all season practicing with UK. That’s a nice head start. Add freshmen Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley – not to mention either Muhammad or Noel – and coach John Calipari has the talent for another Final Four run. Who doubts that?

4. N.C. State Wolfpack (24-13)
Too high for a team that was an average ACC team that got hot at season’s end? Maybe. But the Wolfpack return four starters and bring in a top 5 recruiting class headed by guard Rodney Purvis. It’s an athletic, balanced group that also boasts elite athletes. Now we’ll see if coach Mark Gottfried can pull off some magic for an entire season.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes (31-8)
Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. return, along with a group of underclassmen ready for more playing time. Coach Thad Matta has the Buckeyes positioned to contend every year. And if center Jared Sullinger makes a surprise return for his junior season? Even better.

6. Kansas Jayhawks (32-7)
Too kind? Maybe not. The Jayhawks will shot-blocker Jeff Withey, guard Elijah Johnson and steady wing Travis Releford. Throw in touted freshman Perry Ellis and redshirt freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor and Bill Self will have enough pieces to win his ninth straight Big 12 title.

7. Michigan Wolverines (24-10)
This is if point guard Trey Burke returns. Give him Tim Hardaway Jr. on the wing, Jordan Morgan and elite recruit Mitch McGary inside and it’s a team that can contend for the Big Ten title. Losing wing Evan Smotrycz doesn’t help, though.

8. Baylor Bears (30-8)
Quincy Acy’s gone, but there’s still plenty of ballers in Waco, including guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip. Quincy Miller’s season wasn’t that awful and incoming center Isaiah Austin would offset the loss of Perry Jones III goes pro.

9. Creighton Bluejays (29-6)
Too high for a team that doesn’t play defense? Maybe. But Doug McDermott’s a player of the year candidate, Gregory Echenique’s among the best centers in the game and they have solid support. Just need to replace point guard Antoine Young in the starting lineup.

10. Memphis Tigers (26-9)
The Tigers lose guard Will Barton and senior forward Wesley Witherspoon, but remain a talented, deep team that has a coach in Josh Pastner who continues to improve as a motivator and Xs-and-Os guy. Expect Memphis to crush its final season in C-USA.

11. Duke Blue Devils (27-7)
Speaking of no defense, don’t expect another season of soft D in Durham. Austin Rivers may be gone, but the Devils boast experience and shooters. That’s enough for 25 wins with Coach K on the sideline.

12. St. Louis Billikens (26-8)
When you lose one starter from a team that won 26 games, finish among the top 15 in kenpom.com ratings and nearly knock off a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, you get ranked in the top 15. It’s a no-brainer.

13. Florida Gators (26-11)
Billy Donovan’s team got a huge boost when forward Patric Young elected to return. Even if guard Bradley Beal bolts for the NBA, the Gators should be the SEC’s second-best team behind Kenny Boynton, Young and Erik Murphy.

14. Michigan State Spartans (29-8)
This is probably too low for MSU given how Tom Izzo’s team exceeded expectations in 2011-12. But they do lose do-everything forward Draymond Green, not to mention Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood. Can incoming freshman Gary Harris provide scoring?

15. Syracuse Orange (34-3)
Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Fab Melo are gone. But ‘Cuse still has talent in C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams and add a dynamite big man in DaJuan Coleman. Also, they could add Noel. That would be a massive boost.

16. Butler Bulldogs (22-15)
Bulldogs couldn’t hit a perimeter shot this season. That won’t apply next year when Rotnei Clarke and incoming freshman Kellen Dunham suit up. That’ll make life easier for Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall down low, not to mention glue guy Roosevelt Jones.

17. Arizona Wildcats (23-12)
For now, the Wildcats boast the top recruiting class of 2012. Three five-star recruits arrive to bolster Nick Johnson, Solomon Hill and a healthy Kevin Parrom. But this anticipates a young team maturing, something the 2011-12 squad didn’t do.

18. Wisconsin Badgers (26-10)
Floor leader Jordan Taylor’s gone. That’s bad. But every other important player returns, including Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Mike Brueswitz and Josh Gasser. Also, Bo Ryan adds an athletic forward in freshman Sam Dekker. Athletic! At Wisconsin!

19. VCU Rams (29-7)
Senior star Brad Burgess is gone — their best player — but everyone else is back for a team that won a ton of games, featured some nasty defense and apparently is insistent on winning NCAA tournament games every season.

20. San Diego State Aztecs (26-8)
One player’s gone, replaced by three impact transfers. I’d say that’s a healthy recipe for success when Chase Tapley, James Rahon and MWC player of the year Jamaal Franklin are already in the mix.

21. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-12)
Four starters return, but with sharpshooting wing Tim Abromaitis back from a knee injury, Notre Dame could contend for a Big East title. Better be OK playing as favorites, though.

22. North Carolina Tar Heels (32-6)
UNC needs James Michael McAdoo to stay. Desperately. Without him, their frontcourt would be shot, leaving Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston to do the heavy lifting. Hope incoming freshman Marcus Paige is ready to run the show.

23. Missouri Tigers (30-5)
Only regulars Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey return. But Laurence Bowers is back from a knee injury and the Tigers add three transfers in Keion Bell, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross who’ll step right into the rotation. Time to see that national coach of the year at work.

24. Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-7)
It’s really not a Top 25 without Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team loses center Robert Sacre, but everyone else is back. That’s enough for a preseason ranking.

25. Kansas State Wildcats (22-11)
New coach Bruce Weber inherits a nice situation. Four starters return, along with the top three bench players. Will they respond to a guy who’s motivational methods are less severe?

Also considered (in no particular order): UCLA, Texas, UNLV, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida State, Stanford, Colorado, Marquette, Ohio, Saint Mary’s, New Mexico, Xavier, Cincinnati.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

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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

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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.

Following decommitment, four-star recruit makes eye-opening remarks about Ohio State

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Ohio State lost a four-star recruit on Wednesday when in-state Class of 2018 wing Darius Bazley opted to open up his recruitment.

As a rising senior who is just finishing his junior season of high school, Bazley’s decommitment isn’t going to immediately hurt the Buckeyes next season. But the 6-foot-7 wing’s comments about why he opted to open up his recruitment are pretty jarring.

In a story with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, Bazley opened up about why he decommitted from Ohio State. Bazley’s eye-opening remarks include how the Buckeyes might not get him ideal NBA exposure and how Ohio State might miss the NCAA tournament in his freshman year.

“I was excited when I first got the offer,” Bazley said to Jardy. “Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”

Bazley also didn’t appear to be pleased at the recruiting class coming into Ohio State for the Class of 2017, which is the class that is coming in this season. Remember, Bazley is a Class of 2018 recruit who still has to finish his senior season.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said to Jardy. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Ohio State was once one of the major destinations for one-and-done players a decade ago so these remarks are very surprising. D’Angelo Russell was a top-five pick in the NBA Draft only two years ago, and while the Buckeyes might not be as successful in recent years as they once were, they still get plenty of national exposure with regards to producing NBA talent.

The NCAA tournament comments might carry some more weight though. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tournament in two consecutive seasons and things are also looking difficult for them to reach the Big Dance for next season. If Bazley wants to play in the NCAA tournament, then I could understand him wanting to open things up and explore more options.

Still, you don’t often see a player make comments like this about a school after decommitting–especially a program with as much national exposure as Ohio State. Bazley is likely going to face some heat for his remarks, but if those are his true feelings about a future life decision, then he should explore what else is out there.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.