The impact freshman of the 2012-13 season

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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 Lists we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Every season since the NBA implemented the one-year rule, college basketball fans have been treated to a plethora of freshman that jump on the scene and immediately make their presence known. Some stay for only one year, some stay for more. Here’ a list of players you may and may not know, but all are equally deserving of your attention when it comes to making an impact for their teams during the 2012-13 season.

THE ONES YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT

Alex Poythress – Kentucky

-Not the Big Blue Big Man you were expecting, huh? We’ve all heard about Nerlens Noel, from his raw offensive skill set to his Anthony Davis-clone defensive abilities. If that’s the case, Noel will get all the on-court attention from opponents, allowing Poythress to have a chance to get some spotlight. He’s got the penetration game and the build (6-8, 200) that screams “the next great John Calipari-coached combo forward.” With all the other incoming talent, he’s going to have to battle for buckets, but if you look at the skills coming in, the measurables and Cal’s history, Poythress fits the mold to possibly be another lottery pick out of Kentucky.

Kyle Anderson – UCLA

-No, this isn’t because Shabazz Muhammad isn’t eligible yet. He may be getting all the publicity, but the one thing Ben Howland’s best UCLA teams had were pass-first players he could rely on — Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison — which makes Anderson so crucial. He was by-far the best passer of the 2012 class and if he has a legitimate freshman campaign he’s probably only going to last for one season, anyway. He’s got the frame at 6-8, 215 and the vision to find anyone on the court. If he can average 6-8 assists and keep all those weapons — assuming Muhammad gets cleared — happy, he’ll be the reason Ben Howland gets deep into March.

Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State

-Teamed with LeBryan Nash, the 6-3, 200-pound Smart may be the missing piece for the most potent 1-2 punch in the  Big 12. The Cowboys aren’t long on guard depth this season, so expect Smart to start and play a lot of minutes, which in turn means he’ll have to minimize turnovers. He could be the difference between an NIT or an NCAA Tournament berth. I fully expect a first-team All-Big 12 season from him.

Perry Ellis – Kansas

-No one can replace Thomas Robinson. But someone has to fill his spot, and that’s probably going to have to be Ellis, ready or not. The 6-8, 225-pounder is going to be the relief to what might be the most bruise-filled season in Jeff Withey’s career. Ellis can do everything that T-Rob did, only obviously on a more raw level. There’s no better option at power forward. Could contend for as much as second-team All-Big 12.

Isaiah Austin – Baylor

Another tall, lanky power forward with wing skills that coach Scott Drew can find infinite uses for. It’s the cornerstone of the Drew attack and whoever is in that spot is almost guaranteed to be in the NBA after college under Drew (Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III, Ekpe Udou). Austin is this year’s lucky future millionaire. The 7-0, 210-pounder has such a skill set that some pundits were calling him a top pick if had been eligible for the 2012 Draft. He’s going to have to fill those voids left by Acy and Jones and is expected to use that length to catch a ton of lobs from Pierre Jackson.

THE ONES YOU’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT

Jordan Burgess – VCU

Burgess, 6-4, 210, will step into a loaded roster and has the expectations to fill his older brother Bradford’s shoes. He was the no. 100 player in Scout.com’s 2012 rankings and by all accounts, he’s got the exact same skill set that helped his older brother lead the Rams to a Final Four and two CAA tournament championships. He already knows what Shaka Smart expects.

C.J. Ford – Murray State

Murray State can’t survive on Isaiah Canaan alone, and that was supposed to be a question answered by Zay Jackson. But now Jackson appears to be facing a tough road back after being suspended following an incident this summer. Enter Ford, 6-1, 180, who has the tools to help fill the void left by the graduation of guards Jewaun Long and Donte Poole.

Semaj Christon – Xavier

He had a high-enough recruiting ranking to get his publicity, but unless you were a hardcore Recruitnik, Christon wasn’t a name up there with the Noels and Muhammads of 2012. If there ever was a freshman that I’d have to bet my life on to play early and often, Christon is most definitely it. Mark Lyons gets dismissed, heads to Arizona. Dez Wells gets expelled, he’s off to Maryland. Then freshman Myles Davis was declared a Prop 48, so Chris Mack will need the 6-3, 182-pound point guard to adjust quickly. It wouldn’t shock me to see Christon play in the 33-36-minute range in 2012-13.

Nick Osborne – Loyola-Chicago

I took to Twitter to find a name or two I hadn’t thought of, and @Title_BU reminded of Osborne, who was first-team all-state in Indiana and rated as high as the no. 2 player in the state. He’s got the size (6-8, 220) to toss people around in a conference like The Horizon League and in signing with a team that went 7-17 overall and 1-17 in conference, he’s going to be a central part of the Ramblers rebuilding efforts under Porter Moser.

Danuel House – Houston

This was a bit of a coup for third-year coach James Dickey. House was a high-major recruit that was supposed to be a get for an Arizona, Missouri or Georgetown. But the 6-7, 195-pound House stuck with the Cougars and he’s the big name in their 2012 recruiting class. There’s a huge logjam behind Memphis in Conference USA and if there’s a player that doesn’t play for the Tigers that can challenge for conference Freshman of the Year, it’s House.

NAMES TO WATCH: SOME OBVIOUS, SOME NOT SO MUCH
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky; Nerlens Noel, Kentucky; Sam Dekker, Wisconsin; Mitch McGary, Michigan; Anthony Bennett, UNLV; Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA*; Shaquille Cleare, Maryland; Montrezl Harrell, Louisville; Kris Dunn, Providence; Rodney Purvis, North Carolina State; Gary Harris, Michigan State; Langston Morris-Walker, Oregon State; Kellen Dunham, Butler; D.J. Balentine, Evansville; Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State; E.J. Reed, Long Island.
*Yet to be declared eligible by NCAA.
David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.