Top 25 Countdown: No. 8 NC State

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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: 24-13, 9-7 ACC (t-4th); Lost in the Sweet 16 to Kansas

Head Coach: Mark Gottfried

Key Losses: DeShawn Painter, CJ Williams

Newcomers: TJ Warren, Tyler Lewis, Rodney Purvis

Projected Lineup:

G: Lorenzo Brown, Jr.
G: Rodney Purvis, Fr.
F: Scott Wood, Sr.
F: CJ Leslie, Jr.
C: Richard Howell, Sr.
Bench: Tyler Lewis, Fr.; TJ Warren, Fr.; Jordan Vandenburg, Jr.

Outlook: There may not be a more polarizing team in the country that NC State this season. I say polarizing because, on paper, this team looks great.

Lorenzo Brown has morphed into one of the best point guards in the country. There really isn’t anything he can’t do at the position. He’s always had the size and athleticism, and last season he showed that he can be a primary scorer and ballhandler. What he’s added over the summer, according to most reports from people that have seen the Wolfpack workout, is that Brown has added an elite understanding of what it means to be a ‘point guard’. And with plenty of talent around him this season, the importance of his ability to get everyone shots cannot be understated.

Brown isn’t the only star on the NC State roster, as CJ Leslie is primed to have a monster season. Leslie entered the NC State program as a lanky, athletic forward, but he’s developed his game to the point that it wouldn’t be shocking to see him average 16 or 17 points this year. Leslie still has plenty of doubters, but I think that it’s important to note that he’ll be the sidekick this year. This is Brown’s team, and part of what makes Brown so good and Leslie so promising is that Leslie is going to get eight or ten points a night simply by catching and finishing opportunities created by Brown.

The Wolfpack got huge news back in mid-September when it was announced that the NCAA had granted NC State’s appeal and freshman Rodney Purvis was cleared to play this season. That had been in question, and the talented two-guard didn’t make the trip to Europe with the team. The addition of Purvis is important because he’s talented enough to create his own shot and get 15 or 20 points no a night when Brown and Leslie are struggling. Having that third threat to score is important, keeping defenses honest. The same can be said for TJ Warren, a wing that will play a similar role to what Deshaun Thomas played for Ohio State his freshman season.

Tyler Lewis, the third talented freshmen that Gottfried brought in this season, will back up Brown at the point, while Scott Wood will be the designated floor-spreader. The 6-foot-7 Wood hit 40.9% from beyond the arc as a junior.

The biggest issue NC State has from a personnel issue will be front court depth. Richard Howell, who averaged 10.3 points and 9.2 boards as a junior last season, is back and will start alongside Leslie, but with Deshawn Painter’s decision to transfer closer to his southern Virginia home, the Wolfpack are lacking big men. 7-foot-1 junior Jordan Vandenburg will likely be the first guy off the bench for Gottfried, while sophomore Thomas de Thaey will see some emergency minutes.

There is plenty of talent here, but the questions that most have regarding this team are a) whether or not Mark Gottfried is the guy that can bring that talent together, and b) if NC State is being overrated because of a pair of wins that came in the NCAA tournament.

Gottfried had a respectable tenure at Alabama, winning a couple of division titles in the SEC and making the Elite 8 one season. But he was hardly considered an elite coach during his time there and even fielded a couple of talented-but-disappointing teams. After spending a couple of seasons sitting at a desk at ESPN and making a move to Raliegh, he’s all of a sudden supposed to be able to turn the talent on his roster into wins?

It’s not exactly like last season was a shining example of coaching acumen. The Wolfpack finished 22-12 in the regular season and 9-7 in a top heavy ACC, managing to grab one of the last at-large bids in one of the weakest NCAA tournament fields in recent memory. They went just 1-6 against NCAA tournament teams from the ACC, and their only two wins over tournament teams in non-conference play came against UNC Asheville and Texas, when Longhorn star J’Covan Brown got a technical and was ejected with eight minutes left, completely changing the course of the game. NC State was down 18 in the second half of that game.

Just because they won two games in March means we’re supposed to forget the rest of the season happened?

That’s why this team is doubted by many. And that’s why there are people that believe this ranking will be too high.

Predictions?: Me? I believe in this group. I think there are going to be plenty of kinks to work out. I’m not sure how well Purvis is going to accept being third or fourth fiddle offensively, and Warren coming off the bench could be an issue as well. Any foul trouble up front will be worrisome. As talented as Leslie and Brown as, neither one has really shown that killer instinct; NC State blew a lot of leads last season (most notably a 20 point second half lead at Duke), which is worrisome. But this is a new year, and there is talent on this roster. I think the Wolfpack, who have a cushy ACC schedule, win the conference and get to at least the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

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

USC lands four-star 2018 guard Elijah Weaver

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USC landed an important commitment for its future on Monday night as four-star Class of 2018 guard Elijah Weaver.

Regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the Rivals’ national Class of 2018 rankings, the 6-foot-5 Weaver gives the Trojans a floor leader to build around for the future as he provides great size in the backcourt. Capable of playing multiple guard spots, Weaver has a lot of upside for a program that has done a very solid job of developing backcourt talent under head coach Andy Enfield.

Weaver’s commitment is also important for the Trojans because it comes despite the looming FBI investigation that the program is dealing with thanks to former assistant coach Tony Bland. USC had recently lost a four-star commitment from forward J’Raan Brooks, so the commitment of Weaver is a huge momentum boost for them as they get right back on track in the Class of 2018.

With Weaver in the mix, USC now owns three four-star pledges in the 2018 class as he joins four-star forward Taeshon Cherry and four-star guard Kevin Porter.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?