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College basketball outside the BCS is in for a GREAT year

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For those of you that watch college basketball strictly as a way to become familiarized with the next generation of NBA stars, next year may not be ideal for you.

That’s because, as a whole, the upper echelon of college hoops in 2012-2013 isn’t really all that impressive. Indiana has one guy that’s a lock for the lottery in Cody Zeller. Kentucky has Nerlens Noel, who will go somewhere near the top of the 2013 NBA Draft, but the rest of their roster still has to prove themselves to NBA scouts. It’s unlikely, but it’s still possible that Louisville doesn’t see a player from this year’s team go in the first round.

And those are the consensus top three teams in the country?

For college hoops junkies, this is, in fact, a good thing. As entertaining as it was to watch Kentucky steamroll their way through the 2011-2012 season, having a number of teams jumbled at the top of the rankings, without much in the way of separation from the second or third tier programs, creates excitement and uncertainty. We may not be watching many future all-stars, but there will be many upsets and exciting finishes and box scores that leave you scratching your head.

College basketball is wide-open this season, and it couldn’t be more perfect timing for fans of mid-major hoops. There is as much power outside of the BCS conferences as there has been in recent years.

Think about it like this: Andy Glockner put together a primer for non-power conference teams over at SI.com on Tuesday, and in that primer he ranked the top ten teams. It looked like this:

  • 1. UNLV
  • 2. SDSU
  • 3. VCU
  • 4. Creighton
  • 5. Saint Louis
  • 6. Murray State
  • 7. Butler
  • 8. Memphis
  • 9. Northern Iowa
  • 10. Gonzaga

That’s scary.

Why?

Because both Butler and Memphis are potentially top 20 (if not better) teams this season. Butler loses Ronald Nored to graduation, but returns a young, talented and more-athletic-than-you-think team that adds senior Rotnei Clarke, arguably the best shooter in the country, and top 100 recruit Kellen Dunham. The Bulldogs are changing conferences, they might still be a year away from peaking and there’s no telling how much the loss of Nored is going to hurt. But that doesn’t change the fact that this could end up being Brad Stevens’ best team at Butler.

As for Memphis, we’re looking at a team that is finally able to call themselves experienced. The core of the roster — Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black — are all juniors and Memphis natives eager to bury the disappointing finishes of their first two years. Adonis Thomas is back and healthy. Shaw Goodwin has been added to their front line, and Geron Johnson is a talented x-factor in the back court. The deck is set for Memphis to have a memorable final year in the Conference USA.

And, to be frank, the only quibble I would have with Glockner’s rankings is that I think both Butler and Memphis should be a notch above Murray State. Could there really be seven top 20 teams from outside the power six conference this season?

Absolutely.

But that’s not even the end of it, because there are a number of teams that didn’t make this list that will see their names pop up in the top 25 a time or two this year.

St. Mary’s returns one of the most underrated back courts in the country in Matthew Dellavedova, Stephen Holt, Jorden Page, and Paul McCoy and has enough of a front court presence to be a favorite to win the WCC. They didn’t make the top ten. Neither did BYU, who returns Matt Carlino, Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws.

That’s not it. Colorado State returns the majority of the roster of a team that made the NCAA tournament while adding a pair of high-profile transfers, and the Rams may not even be a top three team in the MWC if Nevada figures out a way to put all of their talent together. If Norvel Pelle gets eligible, Iona has the talent to compete in the Big East. Lehigh returns the majority of their roster, including CJ McCollum, from a team that beat Duke in the opening round of the tournament, and they may not even be the best team in their conference with Bucknell around. Should I mention the fact that Davidson brings back all five starters from the team that beat Kansas in Kansas City or that Ohio brings back everyone from a team that made the Sweet 16? (Edit: It’s worth noting that mid-major hoops is good enough this year that I completely blanked on mentioning Drexel — and, for that matter, George Mason — and St. Joseph’s in this post.)

This is a great year to be a fan of mid-major hoops.

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

Report: Virginia Tech forward Blackshear still recovering from offseason foot surgery

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Kerry Blackshear Jr. #24 of the Virginia Tech Hokies and Kamari Murphy #21 of the Miami Hurricanes go for a rebound in the second half during the quarterfinals of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament Verizon Center on March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Virginia Tech sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear will miss the start of training camp as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery, according to a report from Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The 6-foot-10 Blackshear played in all 35 games for the Hokies last season as he battled through the foot injury to average 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. According to Barber’s report, Blackshear had surgery on his right foot five days after the 2015-16 season ended, but he’s still wearing a walking boot to help recover. There has been no timetable given for Blackshear’s return.

Blackshear will be a key piece for a Virginia Tech team that is a bit thin up front this season. Freshman Khadim Sy can provide some minutes up front, but he’s inexperienced and center Nick Fullard has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Getting a healthy Blackshear will be a key storyline for a Virginia Tech team that many will have in the preseason top 25.

Indiana roster dealing with handful of injuries as practice begins

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 20:  A general view of  the SMU Mustangs game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on November 20, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.

According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.

The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.

That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.

Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”

Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.

It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.

Texas lands four-star Class of 2017 guard Jase Febres

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Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.

The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.

Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.

The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.

 

VIDEO: Kentucky fans get married in the ticket line for Big Blue Madness

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Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.

After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.

I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.

Penn State loses freshman on day practice starts

Patrick Chambers
AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
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On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.

Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.

“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”

Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.