2012-13 Preview: Top 15 Backcourts

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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.

In the latest installment in our college basketball preview series it’s time to take a look at some of the best backcourts in America. Guard play is a focus of analysts every March, and with the disappearance of the true center over the years it should come as no surprise that many of the teams that make waves have superior guards. Below are the top 15 backcourts in the country heading into the 2012-13 season, with some honorable mentions as well.

1. Missouri
Players: Phil Pressey, Michael Dixon Jr., Keion Bell, Earnest Ross, Negus Webster-Chan, Dominique Bull, Jabari Brown*

Two starters, Michael Dixon Jr. and preseason SEC Player of the Year Phil Pressey, are back in Columbia and they’ll be joined by a talented cast of newcomers. Earnest Ross (Auburn), Keion Bell (Pepperdine) and Jabari Brown (Oregon; eligible at the end of the fall semester) all have college experience and will be called upon to contribute. Missouri may not have been the pick to win the SEC, but this group makes the Tigers more than capable of doing so.

2. Michigan
Players: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht

Burke was an honorable mention All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season, leading the team in both points and assists. Hardaway was Michigan’s second-leading scorer in 2011-12, and if he can raise his three-point percentage (28.7%) the junior will be even more productive offensively. If the freshmen are ready to contribute this becomes an even tougher group to deal with.

3. San Diego State
Players: Xavier Thames, Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley, James Rahon

Franklin, who was Mountain West Player of the Year, led the way with averages of 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game with Tapley not too far behind at 15.8 ppg. Thames runs the show for SDSU, as his 4.1 assists per game led the team and he finished in the top 10 in the Mountain West in both assists and assist-turnover ratio. Add in Rahon and you’ve got a group that can lead Steve Fisher’s program a long way in 2012-13.

4. Baylor
Players: Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, A.J. Walton, Deuce Bello, Gary Franklin, L.J. Rose

Leading the way is Jackson (13.8 ppg, 5.9 apg), who was a Cousy Award finalist and All-Big 12 selection in 2011-12. Baylor also welcomes back sharpshooter Brady Heslip, whose marksmanship played an important role in the Bears’ March run. Walton’s the glue guy of the group while in Bello the Bears have an outstanding athlete who will certainly help them out defensively (if and when his offensive skill set becomes more refined, look out).

5. Louisville
Players: Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Kevin Ware, Wayne Blackshear

Siva’s improved play in March was a big reason why the Cardinals won the Big East tournament, and Smith can have some “Russdiculous” moments his ability to score is something the Cardinals can’t do without. Blackshear and Ware are two skilled players who will figure prominently in the Louisville attack after having limited roles last season due to injury.

6. Notre Dame
Players: Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Scott Martin

While it’s Atkins who initiates the offense for the Fighting Irish it was Grant who led the team in assists last season. Grant posted averages of 12.3 points and 5.0 assists per game with Atkins not far behind at 12.1 and 4.1. Add in an experienced veteran who can both knock down perimeter shots and hit the boards in Scott Martin (9.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and a good shooter in sophomore Pat Connaughton and you’ve got a quartet fit to challenge just about anyone in the country much less the Big East.

7. Memphis
Players: Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Antonio Barton, Geron Johnson, Damien Wilson

Jackson averaged 11.0 points and 3.8 assists per game last season, and both are numbers that can increase in 2012-13 provided he’s matured as a floor general. The experience of seniors Antonio Barton and Chris Crawford will help matter for Memphis, with the latter coming off of a season in which he led the Tigers in assists. The wild card: that would be junior college transfer Geron Johnson, who hasn’t always made the right decisions off the court.

8. NC State
Players: Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood, Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis

While Wood is listed on the official roster as a forward his role is often that of a perimeter player so that’s why he’s on here. The senior was one of the ACC’s best shooters last season, as he knocked down 41% of his shots from beyond the arc. The other returnee is Lorenzo Brown, who is arguably the best point guard in the ACC. Add in a pair of McDonald’s All Americans in Lewis and Purvis and you’ve got a very talented quartet.

9. Cincinnati
Players: Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick, JaQuon Parker, Ge’Lawn Guyn, Jeremiah Davis III

Wright led the team in assists last season (4.6 apg) and finished with an assist-to-turnover ratio better than 2-to-1, and with forward Yancy Gates and guard Dion Dixon gone it’s likely that the senior is asked to do more scoring-wise. Kilpatrick was outstanding throughout for Cincinnati, averaging a team-high 14.3 ppg and shooting 43% from the field. Parker was one reason why Cincinnati was able to adjust to a smaller lineup as he averaged nearly six rebounds per game, and that’s something they’ll likely do again this year.

10. Florida State
Players: Michael Snaer, Ian Miller, Terry Whisnant II, Montay Brandon, Aaron Thomas, Devon Bookert

One big reason why FSU should return to the Big Dance is the return of senior guard Michael Snaer, who led the team in scoring and is also one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. He’ll be joined by point guard Ian Miller, who averaged more than ten points per game off the bench in 24 games. The depth will be provided by Terry Whisnant II, who didn’t see much playing time due to the presence of Dulkys and Loucks, and three freshmen led by Montay Brandon.

11. Indiana
Players: Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Maurice Creek, Remi Abell, Yogi Ferrell

Hulls is the most experienced member of the rotation while Oladipo is a flat-out pest defensively. Oladipo made great strides offensively from his freshman to sophomore season, and a similar jump could land him among the best guards in the Big Ten. Add in Sheehey, who averaged 8.5 points per game last year, and you’ve got a solid trio to begin with. Adding Ferrell and Creek to this group is a plus, provided Creek remains healthy.

12. New Mexico
Players: Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, Jamal Fenton, Hugh Greenwood, Demetrius Walker, Cleveland Thomas

Losing Drew Gordon in the paint definitely hurts, but the return of four guards who played a major role in last year’s championship season is why no one should disregard New Mexico in the Mountain West race. Kendall Williams is UNM’s leading returnee in both scoring and assists while Tony Snell ranked among the Lobos’ most consistent players last season. Jamal Fenton and Hugh Greenwood are back to handle the duties at the point, and by the end of last season it looked as if Demetrius Walker began to figure things out offensively.

13. Gonzaga
Players: Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., David Stockton, Michael Hart, Guy Landri Edi, Drew Barham

Pangos, who was the WCC Freshman of the Year, led Gonzaga in both points and assists last season and finished with an offensive rating of 120 (per statsheet.com). He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by Bell Jr., who was another of Gonzaga’s double figure scorers in 2011-12 (they had four total). David Stockton rarely makes mistakes when running the point, which affords Pangos the opportunity to work off the ball on occasion. And keep an eye on Landri Edi in his second season in the program.

14. Drexel
Players: Frantz Massenat, Damion Lee, Chris Fouch, Aquil Younger

Massenat is the early favorite to win CAA Player of the Year, and he led the Dragons in both points and assists in 2011-12. Lee is only a sophomore and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he won the honor either this season or down the road either, as he’s versatile enough to cause fits anywhere on the floor. And last but not least there is Fouch, who has proven to be one of the best sixth men in the country over the course of his career.

15. VCU
Players: Darius Theus, Rob Brandenburg, Briante Weber, Troy Daniels, Treveon Graham, Teddy Okereafor, Melvin Johnson

Leading scorer Bradford Burgess may be gone but Troy Daniels averaged just over ten points per game last season and Darius Theus led the Rams in assists. Treveon Graham provided an offensive spark off the bench last year as he averaged 7.0 ppg in just under 17 minutes of action, and Briante Weber may have averaged 4.9 ppg but he did lead the team in steals. Brandenburg and Okereafor will add even more depth, and VCU landed a major pickup when Melvin Johnson committed during the summer.

Others (in alphabetical order): Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, La Salle, Marquette, Miami, Nevada, Ohio State, Saint Louis, Saint Mary’s, Stanford, and Syracuse.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

College Hoops Contender Series: Does Kansas have the talent to overcome awkward roster construction?

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers and talked about six different Final Four contenders – Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova, Wichita State, USC and Miami – that are just flawed enough that we can’t call them contenders.

There is a pretty clear-cut delineation between the four or five best teams, the clear national title challengers, and the rest of the country this season.

This week, we will be taking a deeper dive into five of those teams.

What makes them good enough to win a national title?

But why won’t they win a national title?

We took a look at Kentucky yesterday. Now let’s break down Kansas and what makes them a title contender.

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Devonte’ Graham (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WILL WIN

They’re Kansas, and Kansas does not lose Big 12 races.

I don’t expect that that will change this year, and there are four reasons why:

  1. Phog Allen Fieldhouse: Kansas does not lose there. It just doesn’t happen, which means that you can pencil in nine Big 12 wins for them off the bat. Then, consider that …
  2. … the rest of the Big 12 is down: Outside of West Virginia, is there anyone in the league that should scare Kansas? Baylor could be a top 25 team, but losing Jonathan Motley will keep them out of the Big 12 title discussion. Texas should be relevant again, but even with the addition of Mo Bamba and the return of Andrew Jones, I think they’re more ‘top 25 good’ than ‘challenge Kansas’ good. Oklahoma is still rebuilding. Texas Tech and TCU look like they could be NCAA tournament teams, but not much more. Iowa State lost what feels like everyone. Oklahoma State and Kansas State are … whatever.
  3. And Bill Self is still Bill Self: There’s a reason that he is already a Hall of Famer despite being just 54 years old. He’s one of the best in this business, and if the 13 straight regular season titles didn’t convince you yet, I’m not sure that anything will. At this point there is no reason to assume anything other than Self trotting out a team that is going to be in and around the top ten, in the mix for a No. 1 seed and, as such, a Final Four and title contender. It’s just what Kansas does.
  4. Most importantly, Kansas is still super-talented: It starts with Devonte’ Graham, who I think has a real shot at being an all-american this season. He’ll be playing his more natural point guard position, and he may actually be a better pure point guard than National Player of the Year Frank Mason was last season. Malik Newman, a former top ten recruit that redshirted last season, will be joining Graham in the back court. Svi Mykhailiuk is back, as is LaGerald Vick, while another transfer — Sam Cunliffe — will be eligible come December. Throw in Udoka Azubuike and Billy Preston up front, and the Jayhawks have a nice blend of talent, youth and experience.

All that said, I don’t think this will be the best Kansas team we’ve seen in recent years.

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Lagerald Vick (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WON’T WIN

Everything about this Kansas team just feels kind of … weird.

Let’s start with the transfers. They have five of them on the roster this year. Three will be redshirting this season. One, Sam Cunliffe, won’t be eligible until December after transferring out of Arizona State just one semester into his Sun Devil career. Another, Malik Newman, will be eligible to play this season after redshirting last year, teaming up in the back court with Devonte’ Graham, who is in a weird position in his own right.

Graham was a point guard in high school. He was a point guard when he signed with Appalachian State and he was a point guard when he was forced to go to prep school for a year because the Mountaineers wouldn’t let him out of his Letter Of Intent. He was also a point guard when he arrived at Kansas, and he proceeded to spend the next three years playing off the ball as point guard Frank Mason went from being the other guy in a recruiting class that included Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the National Player of the Year as a senior.

For the first time in his college career, Graham will be taking over the primary point guard duties in a back court that includes a player in Newman that wants the ball in his hands and likes to shoot as much as anyone in college hoops.

How that back court pairing gels will likely end up being the most influential part of the Jayhawk season.

But there’s more.

Let’s talk small-ball for a second.

Bill Self, for years, was a coach that wanted to do nothing more than he wanted to play two bigs. Sometimes, those bigs were the Perry Ellis-type, face-up fours whose ability to score in the mid-range was elite. Sometimes, like when he made it to the national title game in 2012, he had Thomas Robinson lining up next to Jeff Withey.

However it played out, the constant was two big men … until last season, when Josh Jackson showed up and suddenly Self had the ideal small-ball lineup: Two point guards, two tough and athletic wings that could make threes and a big body in the post that can block shots and get rebounds. With Jackson now gone, Kansas and Self now have something of a problem on their hands. As it stands, there are just nine eligible scholarship players on the Jayhawks roster. Only three of them can be considered big men — Udoka Azubuike, Billy Preston and Mitch Lightfoot.

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Udoka Azubuike (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

In an ideal world, one where Self has a back court that includes a pair of ball-handlers that will be in his starting lineup and a shortage of big bodies, the Jayhawks would once again play small-ball.

The problem?

Jackson was the glue that held that lineup together. He was the prototype college four. He was tough as nails defensively, he could rebound like a power forward and he defended the rim when needed. He was also a matchup nightmare on the offensive end, a natural wing and skilled playmaker with three-point range and the ability to grab a rebound and immediately spark transition.

Kansas does not have that guy anymore. LaGerald Vick is an excellent spot-up three-point shooter and the kind of athlete that will be a plus-wing defender, but he’s all of 6-foot-4 and he’s nowhere near the playmaker that Jackson was. Cunliffe, when he finally gets eligible, is a little bit bigger than Vick but not all that different of a player. Svi Mykhailiuk is a skilled player on the offensive end of the floor that has, shall we say, question marks defensively.

In theory, the answer to this problem would be for the Jayhawks to play Azubuike, a former five-star recruit, and Preston, a five-star prospect in the Class of 2017, together. Frankly, they actually fit fairly well together. The problem is that this would mean that the only front court depth that Self would have is Lightfoot, who looked out of his element in the 102 minutes he played as a freshman.

There isn’t an easy answer to this issue.

It’s one of the pitfalls of taking three sit-out transfers the same year.

Which is why this Kansas team has such a weird feel to it.


Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

PREDICTION

Overall, Kansas is going to be fine.

Outside of West Virginia, the rest of the Big 12 is not all that intimidating. The Jayhawks should win their 14th straight Big 12 title.

But there is valid reason to be concerned about what this team is going to be able to accomplish against the best teams in the country. Last year, they were the team that created the mismatches, that forced teams to play their way or take the loss.

I just don’t see how that happens this season. I’m not sure Kansas going small would force the best teams to match them because I don’t think it’s all that worrisome having a college four guard the likes of Vick, Cunliffe or Svi. I also don’t think their two-big lineup will be all that effective unless Preston has a bigger impact — i.e. all-Big 12ish — than I expect and Lightfoot proves to be a better bench presence than I realized.

The combination of Bill Self, the amount of talent on the roster and Phog Allen Fieldhouse will keep the Jayhawks in and around the top five throughout the year.

But I think they will be more matchup-dependent in the NCAA tournament than you would think a potential No. 1 seed would be.

Iowa’s McCaffery says, “I’ve turned programs in” for cheating

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There aren’t a lot of unwritten rules in basketball. One of them, though, is that if a coach breaks a real rule, other coaches don’t speak up. Coaches would seemingly rather lose out on a recruit or transfer rather than turning in one of their own for suspected malfeasance.

Not for Fran McCaffery, though.

The Iowa coach was asked Monday about the FBI investigation into corruption into college hoops, and freely volunteered that he has previously turned other programs in for violations – and that he’ll do it again, if need be.

“I’ve turned programs in and I’ll continue to do that when I know that there’s something going on,” McCaffery said at the program’s media day, according to the Des Moines Register. “But a lot of times you don’t know what’s going on. So can you police yourselves? Only if you know something’s going on. But even then it’s hard for the NCAA to do something.”

Turning in another program for violations is really one of the biggest taboos in the coaching profession. That’s why you get coaches look silly in blocking schools for transfers when tampering is suspected, rather than a coach just reporting tampering.

McCaffery’s tactic, while probably frowned upon by many of his colleagues, is probably the best weapon the NCAA has in combating cheating. If coaches make it clear they won’t tolerate cheating – or that if it occurs, it won’t go unremarked upon – that will go along way in changing a culture and system that the FBI is going to potentially uncover with its wide-ranging investigation that already has resulted in 10 people’s arrest and a Hall of Fame coach’s firing.

“Any time the game is cleaned up,” McCaffery said, “it’s better for all of us.”

Report: Louisville offered $1.5 million settlement to Pitino

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When it became clear that Louisville and Rick Pitino were going to part ways, much of the discussion instantly turned to the more than $40 million left on the coach’s contract.

The school reportedly tried to avoid that whole ordeal Monday, but Pitino apparently wasn’t interested.

Louisville offered to pay $1.5 million to a charity started by Pitino in exchange for his resignation, according to WDRB-TV Louisville. Pitino did not accept and was then fired for cause by the Louisville board.

It’s little surprise to see Pitino reject such an offer with so many more millions on the table should he (almost certainly) begin legal proceedings trying to recoup the cash that Louisville says it doesn’t owe him by firing for cause.

I vehemently reject (the school’s) right to do so ‘for cause,’” Pitino said in an affidavit sent to the school. “I have given no ’cause’ for termination of my contract.”

The firing came on the heels of the latest controversy  to hit Louisville under Pitino’s watch. First came the escort scandal that rocked the program, but now the school is part of the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Ten people were arrested as part of the probe, including an adidas executive who is alleged to have orchestrated getting $100,000 to the family of a recruit in order to facilitate his commitment to the Cardinals program.

Pitino may be out at Louisville, but with more than $40 million at stake, the school surely hasn’t seen the last of him.

Louisville officially fires Rick Pitino

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Louisville’s Athletic Association has officially fired head coach Rick Pitino nearly three weeks after an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball linked the Hall of Fame head coach and his program to a $100,000 payment from Adidas to a recruit that enrolled at Louisville.

The association, made up of trustees, faculty, student and administrators, oversees Louisville athletics. They voted unanimously to fire Pitino.

Pitino has $44 million in salary remaining on his contract, which extends through the 2026 season. He was with Louisville for 16 seasons.

Pitino had been ‘effectively fired‘ by the university on September 27th, the day after the scandal first broke.

Earlier this summer, Louisville had received their sanctions from the NCAA in a different scandal that enveloped Pitino’s program. In October of 2015, a book was published by an escort named Katina Powell who alleged that a member of Pitino’s staff had paid for strippers and prostitutes for recruits and members of the Louisville team, some of whom were underage. The NCAA’s sanctions, which included vacating the 2012 Final Four and 2013 National Title in addition to Louisville’s self-imposed 2016 postseason ban, were handed down in June, two weeks after a Louisville coach had allegedly helped facilitate a $100,000 payment from Adidas to Brian Bowen’s family and six weeks before another coach would allegedly attempt to do the same for a 2019 prospect.

Kansas’ Self: Adidas case a “dark cloud on our profession’

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self had come to know James Gatto well over the years, along with just about everyone else involved with the college basketball side of the athletic apparel giant Adidas.

It comes with the territory as one of the company’s flagship schools.

But when Self first heard that Gatto had been swept up in a wide-ranging FBI investigation, centered on Louisville but uncovering corruption elsewhere in college basketball, the Jayhawks’ coach admitted being “very disappointed and disheartened” and likened it to a “dark cloud for our profession.”

Prosecutors have accused the 47-year-old Gatto of conspiring with coaches and others to funnel payments to top prospects and their families to win commitments to play at schools sponsored by Adidas. The idea was that their relationship with Adidas would continue whenever they reached the professional level.

The family of one prospect was allegedly paid $100,000 to commit, according to court documents, and the school was later revealed to be Louisville. The school has since placed coach Rick Pitino on administrative leave while the federal investigation is being resolved. Nine others, including former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans, have been charged in the case.

Self said during a lengthy interview Friday that the cash payments from Adidas surprised him, but “what is not surprising is third parties’ involvement in recruiting. Everyone should know that.”

“That’s prevalent everywhere,” he said. “There’s nothing illegal about agents talking to kids and their families in ninth and 10th grade. There’s nothing illegal about shoe companies funding AAU programs. That is what’s been encouraged and done, so it shouldn’t be a surprise you could have influence from third parties.”

Kansas officials insist they have not been contacted by the FBI, and the school is not under any sort of investigation. It

Kansas recently reached a 12-year contract extension with Adidas that will ultimately provide the school with $191 million in sponsorship money and apparel. Self suggested the affiliation is being used by rivals on the recruiting trail.

“Whenever in recruiting there is something out there that has been reported, whether it’s reliable or unreliable, total myth, whatever, there’s usually competitors that make sure that information gets to people. Unfortunately, that’s how it works,” Self said. “You can say that’s negative recruiting … but a lot of times the things that are reported are so inaccurate it puts you on the defense.”

The Jayhawks already have commitments from two top-100 prospects in 6-foot-9 forward Silvio de Sousa from Florida’s IMG Academy and 6-10 center David McCormack from Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy.

They are also in the mix for several more top-50 prospects in what could be a crucial class for them.

“I’d be lying,” Self said, “if I told you we hadn’t discussed these issues with kids. And has it hurt us to date? I don’t think it has. But it’s not signing day, either.”