Dave Rice, Anthony Marshall

Preview: Which ten mid-majors could make some noise in March?

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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.

Editor’s Note: Updated 9 October 2012, 1:22 p.m.

Mid-major Cinderella teams have always been the darlings of March (or the most despised, depending on how much they shake up your bracket). We’re always looking for the next George Mason or VCU, but how easy are they to spot?

Who could be the teams to watch out for as we get ready to begin the 2012-13 season? Take a look below at NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major Watch List.

UNLV

Coach Dave Rice had a monster recruiting haul in 2012, combined with a few key transfers that should have the Rebels solidly in the Top 25 when official polls are released.

Mike Moser is the biggest returning piece for UNLV, coming off a season in which he averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Add him to Top-10 recruit Anthony Bennett, guards Katin Reinhardt and DaQuan Cook, forwards Savon Goodman and Demetris Morant, and transfers Khem Birch (eligible in December) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (out 4-6 weeks with injury) and UNLV is in great position for a run in March.

The biggest question for Rice’s team will be the point guard spot, where we should keep an eye on returner Anthony Marshall.

VCU

It seems that Shaka Smart has his squad in the mid-major mix every season, and this year he’ll have to do it in a new conference: the Atlantic-10.

Darius Theus and Juvonte Reddic are two of the biggest returners for the Rams, along with shooter Troy Daniels and sophomore Treveon Graham.

Smart and the Rams got a gift in the late recruiting period, as Miami commit Melvin Johnson decommitted and pledged his name to VCU. A New York native, Johnson brings more shooting and scoring ability, likely off the bench.

Take these pieces and add it to Smart’s system, his patented “havoc” defense, and the Rams are in position to possibly win the Atlantic-10 in their first season in the league.

San Diego State

Jamaal Franklin & Co. look to make a deeper run in the NCAA tournament than last season, one year after Franklin averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds.

They lose Tim Shelton and Garrett Green, but Chase Tapley, along with Franklin and two other top scorers, return for Steve Fisher’s Aztecs. Look for Fisher to make use of three former transfers as well: JJ O’Brien, formerly at Utah, Dwayne Polee II, formerly at St. John’s, and James Johnson, a one-time Virginia Cavalier.

Murray State

Granted, Murray State will be losing some pieces from last year’s team that some speculated could run the table, but any time a team is returning an All-American (like Creighton is with Doug McDermott), they need to be in the mid-major conversation.

Canaan joins Ed Daniel as a key returner, and the Racers will hope to have guard Zay Jackson back after he was suspended following an assault charge last month.

St. Joseph’s

Fellow NBC writer Rob Dauster is a big believer in Phil Martelli’s team, considering they are returning a backcourt that will be the core of their success this season.

Carl Jones and Langston Galloway combined to average close to 33 points per game last season and those two, together with Ronald Roberts and CJ Aiken, St. Joe’s has four returning double-digit scorers.

Saint Louis

The Billikens will unfortunately be without head coach Rick Majerus as he deals with health issues, but Saint Louis made a run to the NCAA tournament last season and nearly upset Michigan State to advance to the Sweet 16. They lose forward Brian Conklin, but return Kwamain Mitchell, who averaged 12.1 points and 3.8 assists per game last season.

Jim Crews takes over as the interim head coach, and he w0n’t be walking into an easy job with a competitive top end of the A-10.

Others to keep an eye on: Drexel, Creighton, Belmont, Akron

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith

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Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.

The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.

A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.

Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.

Michigan State addingTom Izzo Hall of History wing in remodeled Breslin Center

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.

The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.

“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”

Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.

 

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament moving to Orlando amid Zika concerns

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Amid concerns over the Zika virus, the annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced a change in venue on Monday. Rather than staying on the island, the tournament will move to Orlando and all games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.

The dates and teams will remain the same for the event as it will be played Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20. The field for the event includes Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Tulane and Xavier.

“We enjoy the beauty and accommodations that are afforded in Puerto Rico and wanted to make every effort in playing the event in San Juan, but the concern for student-athlete and spectator welfare became the primary driver in the decision,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events said in the official release.  “We intend to return to Puerto Rico in the future.”

Puerto Rico is currently under a Level 2 alert for Zika according to the CDC. Since there have been cases of Zika on the island with native mosquitoes, it’s probably a smart move to eliminate all concerns over the virus if they can easily move the tournament elsewhere. It probably isn’t ideal for fans who purchased travel packages to Puerto Rico to watch the event, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is also upset with the decision as Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort released a statement on Monday night.

“We are disappointed about this decision that we believe has been based on fear not the facts about Puerto Rico,” the statement read.

“There is no public health reason to cancel the Puerto Rico Tip Off or any sporting event in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt that our strong fan base and local spectators would have turned out to support their teams. Less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population has contracted Zika, a far cry from projections. The hype and misinformation is fostering irrational decisions.”

PHOTO: Purdue unveils statue of John Wooden outside Mackey Arena

John Wooden (Purdue Athletics)
Purdue Athletics
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John Wooden will forever be associated with the UCLA program for what he did while coaching there.

10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. Not bad, right?

What some people may forget is that before he got into coaching, Wooden was one of the best basketball players in the world. He played his collegiate ball at Purdue, where he was a three-time all-american and the 1932 National Player of the Year.

To honor Wooden’s legacy as one of the greatest Boilermakers ever, Purdue built a statue of Wooden and unveiled it in front of Mackey Arena this weekend:

“Not many people think of Johnny Wooden as a Boilermaker, but when I got here in 1957, some of the old-timers still remembered him as a player,” Jim Hicks, the alumnus that donated the statue, said. “I’m so delighted that people will see this statue and read his Pyramid of Success because I think the pyramid was his most important contribution.”

One of the neat touches of the statue: Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is right there for all to see.

North Carolina lands third commitment in 2017 class

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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North Carolina picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2017 on Monday in big man Brandon Huffman.

A four-star prospect who will play his final season of high school ball at Word of God Academy in North Carolina, Huffman’s strength at this point in his development is as a defensive presence around the basket. He stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and should be able to help replace Kennedy Meeks, who graduates this spring.

Huffman’s development on the offensive end of the floor isn’t quite there yet. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Huffman is still learning how to be more influential on that end.

Huffman joins Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek in UNC’s 2017 class.