College Hoops Preview: 10 programs on the rise heading into ’12-’13

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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.

NC State: There are three schools located in what’s known as “the Triangle” in North Carolina: UNC, Duke and NC State. Two of those programs — UNC and Duke — have long been considered the most dominant programs in the ACC, while NC State has played the role of the little brother that can’t hang. Herb Sendek got the Wolfpack to five straight NCAA tournaments during his last five seasons at the school, but if you factor out his time there, NC State’s trip to the Sweet 16 in 2012 was their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1991 and only their second trip past the first weekend since 1989. That all changes this season, as Mark Gottfried has done in 18 months what Sidney Lowe, Leo Robinson and, frankly, Sendek were all unable to: he’s turned NC State back into a national power.

Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie both return for their junior seasons. Scott Wood, Richard Howell and Jordan Vandenburg all are back as well. But, more importantly, Gottfried brings in one of the strongest recruiting classes in the country as he adds guards Tyler Lewis and Rodney Purvis and wing forward TJ Warren. Gottfried also has a commitment from top ten recruit Cat Barber in the Class of 2013. NC State has one of the most passionate and die-hard fan-bases in the country. They finally have something to get excited about heading into the season. And if all goes to plan, they’ll have some bragging rights around The Triangle come March.

UMass: UMass basketball history is limited to, more or less, two people. Julius Erving played for the Minutemen from 1968-1971 before going on to become Dr. J. The other person is John Calipari, who took over a program in 1988 that had 10 straight losing seasons. In his fourth year, he led UMass to the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament titles, advancing to the NCAA tournament. He would accomplish that feat for five consecutive years, which culminated in his run to the 1996 Final Four, riding on the shoulders of Marcus Camby, before leaving the program. Bruiser Flint took over and led the Minutemen to two more NCAA tournaments, but they’ve only won one A-10 title — the 2007 regular season — since then. Outside of those seven consecutive NCAA tournaments, UMass has been to one. Ever. In 1962.

That could change this season, as Derek Kellogg has put together arguably the best team in Amherst since the late 90’s. The Minutemen return all but one member of their rotation from last season, including Chaz Williams, who is one of the most exciting and underrated point guards in the country. They also bring back Sampson Carter and Cady Lalanne, both of whom were injured for much of last season. The Atlantic 10 is going to be a rugged league this season, but UMass has the horses to make a run at a top four finish.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes have only had two NCAA tournament appearances in the last decade, none since 2006. In fact, last year’s trip to the NIT was the first time the Hawkeyes advanced to a postseason tournament of any kind since 2006. But with Aaron White, Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe all returning to a team that only loses two rotation players (yes, one was Matt Gatens, I know), the future for the Hawkeyes looks promising. And that’s before you factor in the addition of a very strong freshmen class, including top 100 recruit Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury.

Colorado State: Tim Miles left the cupboard quite full for new head coach Larry Eustachy. The Rams return their top seven scorers from a season ago (although Thursday brought news of starting guard Jesse Carr’s torn ACL), including the talented back court duo of Dorian Green and Wes Eikmeier. Those two will be joined by a former top 75 recruit and Arizona transfer Daniel Bejarano as well as Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson up front. The MWC is stacked up top this season, but CSU should be heading to their second straight NCAA tournament.

Stanford: The Cardinal were NCAA mainstays from the mid-90’s through 2008, when the Lopez twins and Trent Johnson all left the program. Johnny Dawkins took over, but he had a bit of a rebuilding job on his hands. After winning just 20 conference games in his first three seasons in Palo Alto, Dawkins led Stanford to a 26-11 overall record, a 10-8 finish in the Pac-12 and an NIT title. With Chasson Randle, Aaron Bright and Dwight Powell returning and a talented recruiting class coming in, is this the year that Dawkins finally breaks through?

Colorado: The Buffaloes were one of the nation’s most surprising teams in 2011-2012, parlaying a strong showing in league play to a run through the Pac-12 tournament and a trip to the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. That was just their third trip to the Big Dance since 1969 and only the second since Chauncey Billups left the program in 1997. Colorado may not make a return trip to the dance this season, as they lose four of their top six scorers from a season ago. But they do get Andre Roberson and promising sophomore Askia Booker back. They also bring in a solid recruiting class. Last year was a more successful season that most could have expected from Colorado, and sliding back to their original trajectory this season is not a disappointment.

Tennessee: Would you be surprised if I told you that Tennessee finished tied for second in the SEC last season? Because they did, albeit they finished at 10-6 in league play along with four other teams, but the point remains — the Volunteers made the climb back to relevancy awfully quickly. And they just might be the second best team in the conference again. Trae Golden is underrated at the point while Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes provide more bulk up front than just about anyone they’ll face. Oh, and Stokes? He averaged 9.6 points and 7.4 boards despite joining the team in the middle of the season when he was supposed to be finishing up his senior year of high school. If Cuonzo Martin can find some perimeter shooting to go along with those three, Tennessee will be just fine.

North Texas: Tony Mitchell is the name everyone thinks of when this North Texas team is mentioned, and that’s fair. There aren’t a lot of lottery picks that make their way through Denton, TX. But the fact of the matter is that this program is growing around him as well. Sophomore TJ Taylor was signed by both Oklahoma and Marquette before winding up at UNT. Senior Roger Franklin started his career at Oklahoma State. Jordan Williams (So.), Chris Jones (So.) and Alzee Williams (Jr.) are all talented perimeter players with plenty of eligibility left. This program has a chance to make some noise in Conference USA when leave the Sun Belt.

Delaware: There are three names you need to remember when it comes to the Blue Hens: Devon Saddler, Jamelle Hagins and Jarvis Threat. Saddler is a junior that could end up averaging more than 20 points. Hagins is a senior big man that not only averaged a double-double last season, but chipped in with three blocks as well. Threat is a sophomore that posted double figures as a rookie and has quite a bit of hype heading into the season. This will be the year for Delaware to make a run.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs are probably still a year or two away, but there is no denying the amount of talent entering into this program. Former Kansas signee Braeden Anderson, who was ineligible last year, will be able to play at the school this season, as will Robert Upshaw, a top 75 recruit that originally signed with Kansas State. Those two alone should give Fresno State one of the best front lines in the conference in the near future. Add in Pacific transfer Allen Huddleston, three-star recruits Broderick Newbill and Marvelle Harris, and Cezar Guerrero (an Oklahoma State transfer that will be eligible next season), and the Bulldogs will be more than just competitive in the MWC.

Five more programs heading in the right direction: Minnesota, USC, South Florida, Rhode Island, Oklahoma State

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

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.