Top 25 Countdown: No. 25 UCLA Bruins

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 19-14, 11-7 Pac-12 (t-5th)

Head Coach: Ben Howland

Key Losses: Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson, Reeves Nelson, Anthony Stover

Newcomers: Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad, Larry Drew II, Tony Parker, Jordan Adams

Projected Lineup:

G: Larry Drew II, Sr.
G: Shabazz Muhammad, Fr.
F: Kyle Anderson, Fr.
F: Travis Wear, Jr.
F: David Wear, Jr.
Bench: Joshua Smith, Jr.; Tony Parker, Fr.; Tyler Lamb, Jr.; Jordan Adams, Fr.; Norman Powell, So.

Outlook: I am not high on the Bruins heading into this season. In fact, I’d be surprised if you found any preseason rankings that had UCLA lower than this. When you look at what the Bruins bring back and what they add to their roster this season, the talent level is, frankly, impressive. Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson made up two-thirds of the consensus top three recruits in the Class of 2012, and they are joined by Tony Parker — a top 30 big man — and Jordan Adams — a top 75 wing — in what has to be considered Ben Howland’s best class since he took over in Westwood. And that’s before you factor in the addition of North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II.

When those four are added to the group of players returning — the Wear twins, Joshua Smith and Tyler Lamb — it is easy to see why UCLA has plenty of hype heading into the season.

I’m not buying into it, and there are plenty of reasons why:

  • Eligibility issues: Muhammad’s recruitment is being investigated by the NCAA. The key issue they are looking into is his family’s relationship with a pair of financial advisors and how he paid for his unofficial visits. There are also concerns about his affiliation with Adidas. Muhammad was ineligible to go on the team’s August trip to China. Anderson’s recruitment is also being investigated, although he is expected to be cleared in time for the start of the season. Best case scenario? The investigation — and media inquiries about it — is a distraction the team has to deal with throughout the start of the season while Muhammad, and possibly Anderson, miss some important practice time to get used to their teammates. That’s not ideal, but it’s certainly better than the other possible outcome: having Muhammad (and Anderson?) miss a significant amount of the season.
  • Smith is still out of shape: I’ve made a personal decision to stop making jokes about Smith’s weight this season, because at this point I don’t believe it’s as simple as Smith “being fat”. With his inability to shed the pounds given what’s on the line for him — athletically and monetarily — by remaining out of shape, I don’t think it’s difficult to make the assumption that he has a serious overeating problem, which is an addiction and a disease. That’s not a joking matter. But it is an issue that leads me to believe we’ll never see Smith — who, given his size, soft hands and nimble feet, could be the best big man in the country — live up to his potential. I’d expect the Wears twins and Tony Parker to all be playing over Smith by January.
  • Who plays the point?: Howland has said that Drew will start for him and that he is the team’s “most indispensable” player. This is the same guy that left North Carolina in the middle of the season, unannounced, after watching the Tar Heels improve drastically when he got benched for Kendall Marshall. The irony? Drew may actually be the best option at the point for this Bruins team. Anderson is a terrific play-maker and a special passer, but he’s also 6-foot-8 and nicknamed “Slo-Mo” for a reason. If he’s playing the point, who is guarding Mark Lyons, Jio Fontan and Chasson Randle?

The bottom-line is that I simply do not like the make-up of this team. Howland made a name for himself as a head coach by putting together gritty, blue-collar teams that won games by controlling the pace of the game and digging in defensively. Does the rotation listed above really look like one that will be able to out-physical and out-tough anyone?

There are bigger issues, as well, regarding Howland’s leadership of the UCLA program. Remember the story from Sports Illustrated last February about the UCLA program? It certainly didn’t paint Howland in a flattering light and, frankly, makes it seem like he has lost the control over, and respect of, his team.

Predictions?: There is enough talent on the roster that UCLA will still win games, but I don’t see them contending for the Pac-12 title. I think a fourth or fifth place finish in the conference — which will be improved this season — is more likely. And while the conference as a whole may be better than it was last season, that’s not a guarantee that four or five teams will be headed to the NCAA tournament from the league. I’d bet on UCLA heading into the Pac-12 tournament needing to make a run to (at least) the title game for a shot at avoiding the NIT.

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

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP
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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

___

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter

Duke officially adds Marvin Bagley III

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Duke made one of the biggest recruiting moves of the year official Tuesday.

The Blue Devils announced that Marvin Bagley has formally reclassified from 2018 to 2017 and will join Duke for the upcoming season.

“Marvin is a special basketball talent and a tremendous young man,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “He is completely dedicated to his improvement as both a player and student and, given his family’s deep history in this area, he is fully aware of what it means to be part of Duke University. We’re thrilled to add Marvin to our program.”

Bagley’s history in the area comes from his father, who is a Durham native and played football collegiately at North Carolina A&T.

Duke’s official announcement comes just a day after Bagley committed to the Blue Devils and said he planned to enroll in the fall semester.

Bagley, who was the top-ranked player in 2018 and is considered by many now the top 2017 prospect and potential No. 1 NBA draft pick next summer,  makes Duke the presumptive No. 1 preseason team as he joins a highly-touted recruiting class for Coach K that was previously headlined by Wendell Carter, Jr., Trevon Duval and Gary Trent, Jr.

The 6-foot-11 Bagley averaged 25.8 points, 14.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game while playing in the EYBL this summer.

Duke now the odds-on favorite to win NCAA title, according to oddsmakers

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With Marvin Bagley III now in the fold, Duke has jumped up to become the favorite to win the national title in 2017-18, according to the Westgate Superbook.

MORE: Bagley makes Duke THE story … again | NBC Sports Preseason Top 25

Prior to Bagley’s commitment, both Kentucky and Duke were sitting at 7/1 odds to win the title, but the addition of Bagley not only dropped Kentucky’s chances, it made betting on Duke silly. The Blue Devils are the preseason No. 1 team in the country, but they are anything but a lock to win the title. As we discussed on this podcast, there are still some major flaws with this team. They are not that much better than the field that they deserve to had those odds.

If you’re looking to place a wager on a team to win the title, the bets I really like are USC and Wichita State at 30/1 odds and Miami at 60/1. Those are three top ten teams with the horses to make a deep run in March.

Anyway, here is the full list of odds from the Westgate.

TEAM OPEN CURRENT
Duke 12/1 3/1
Kentucky 10/1 8/1
Michigan State 20/1 10/1
Kansas 12/1 12/1
Arizona 20/1 12/1
Louisville 12/1 15/1
UCLA 40/1 25/1
USC 60/1 30/1
Wichita State 20/1 30/1
Texas 300/1 30/1
North Carolina 12/1 30/1
Villanova 12/1 30/1
Florida 20/1 30/1
Missouri 300/1 40/1
Michigan 20/1 50/1
Alabama 80/1 50/1
Oregon 60/1 50/1
Gonzaga 12/1 60/1
Butler 20/1 60/1
West Virginia 30/1 60/1
Virginia 30/1 60/1
Miami 50/1 60/1
Notre Dame 80/1 60/1
Xavier 80/1 60/1
Baylor 50/1 80/1
Wisconsin 60/1 80/1
Iowa State 80/1 80/1
Oklahoma 30/1 100/1
Florida State 40/1 100/1
Saint Mary’s 40/1 100/1
Seton Hall 60/1 100/1
Purdue 60/1 100/1
Indiana 20/1 100/1
Creighton 80/1 100/1
Vanderbilt 80/1 100/1
SMU 80/1 100/1
Cincinnati 80/1 100/1
UConn 100/1 100/1
Syracuse 100/1 100/1
Maryland 100/1 100/1
Minnesota 100/1 100/1
Northwestern 100/1 100/1
Illinois 100/1 100/1
Arkansas 100/1 100/1
South Carolina 100/1 100/1
Texas A&M 100/1 100/1
Nevada 100/1 100/1
Utah 100/1 100/1
TCU 300/1 100/1
Auburn 300/1 100/1
UNLV 1000/1 100/1
VCU 100/1 200/1
Virginia Tech 100/1 200/1
Marquette 100/1 200/1
San Diego State 100/1 200/1
Providence 200/1 200/1
Georgetown 200/1 200/1
Georgia 200/1 200/1
Oklahoma State 300/1 300/1
Kansas State 300/1 300/1
Texas Tech 300/1 300/1
Dayton 300/1 300/1
Rhode Island 300/1 300/1
Wake Forest 300/1 300/1
Clemson 300/1 300/1
St. John’s 300/1 300/1
Iowa 300/1 300/1
Ohio State 300/1 300/1
Penn State 300/1 300/1
Nebraska 300/1 300/1
Ole Miss 300/1 300/1
Tennessee 300/1 300/1
Mississippi State 300/1 300/1
BYU 300/1 300/1
California 300/1 300/1
Colorado 300/1 300/1
Arizona State 300/1 300/1
Stanford 300/1 300/1
Illinois State 300/1 500/1
Houston 500/1 500/1
UCF 500/1 500/1
Memphis 500/1 500/1
Richmond 500/1 500/1
La Salle 500/1 500/1
Davidson 500/1 500/1
Georgia Tech 500/1 500/1
Pittsburgh 500/1 500/1
NC State 500/1 500/1
Middle Tennessee 500/1 500/1
LSU 500/1 500/1
Colorado State 500/1 500/1
Boise State 500/1 500/1
Fresno State 500/1 500/1
Oregon State 500/1 500/1
Wyoming 500/1 1000/1
Vermont 1000/1 1000/1
St. Bonaventure 1000/1 1000/1
George Washington 1000/1 1000/1
George Mason 1000/1 1000/1
Saint Louis 1000/1 1000/1
UNC Wilmington 1000/1 1000/1
Charleston 1000/1 1000/1
Old Dominion 1000/1 1000/1
Princeton 1000/1 1/1
Harvard 1000/1 1000/1
Yale 1000/1 1000/1
Texas Arlington 1000/1 1000/1
Georgia State 1000/1 1000/1
Arkansas State 1000/1 1000/1
Oakland 1000/1 1000/1
Valparaiso 1000/1 1000/1
Northern Iowa 1000/1 1000/1
Belmont 1000/1 1000/1
Akron 1000/1 1000/1
Ohio 1000/1 1000/1
Buffalo 1000/1 1000/1
New Mexico 1000/1 1000/1
Utah State 1000/1 1000/1
Washington State 1000/1 1000/1
East Tennessee State 1000/1 1000/1
Chattanooga 1000/1 1000/1
New Mexico State 1000/1 1000/1
Grand Canyon 1000/1 1000/1
Boston College 1000/1 1000/1
Florida Gulf Coast 2000/1 2000/1
Louisiana Tech 2000/1 2000/1
Monmouth 2000/1 2000/1
Troy 2000/1 2000/1
Pennsylvania 2000/1 3000/1
Western Kentucky 1000/1 3000/1
NC Central 2000/1 3000/1
Bucknell 2000/1 3000/1
Washington 2000/1 3000/1
Louisiana-Lafayette 2000/1 3000/1
UTEP 5000/1 5000/1
Mount St. Mary’s 5000/1 5000/1
San Francisco 5000/1 5000/1
Wright State 5000/1 5000/1
Jacksonville State 5000/1 5000/1
UNC Greensboro 5000/1 5000/1
South Dakota 5000/1 5000/1
North Dakota State 5000/1 5000/1
Fort Wayne 5000/1 5000/1
South Dakota State 5000/1 5000/1
IUPUI 5000/1 5000/1
Cal State Bakersfield 5000/1 5000/1
Texas State 5000/1 5000/1
Coastal Carolina 5000/1 5000/1
Albany 5000/1 5000/1
FIELD (All others) 300/1 300/1

CBT Podcast: How does Marvin Bagley’s commitment to Duke change college hoops?

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Marvin Bagley III committed to play for the Duke Blue Devils this season on Monday night. Rob Dauster was joined by Scott Phillips of NBC Sports to discuss the commitment. How good is Bagley? How good is Duke going to be? Are they going to be the No. 1 team in the country again? How do the pieces on that roster fit? We break it all down for you.

MORE: Bagley makes Duke THE story … again | NBC Sports Preseason Top 25