Conference Previews: The Sun Belt is Tony Mitchell’s playground

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

North Texas.

Tony Mitchell

Those are the names you really need to know in the Sun Belt this season, because North Texas has enough talent that they could push their way into the top 25 this season and are led by Mitchell, who is all-but a lock to be the league’s Player of the Year and should play his way onto all-american teams and into the lottery. It’s not all that often that a player of Mitchell’s talent ends up on a team like North Texas, but it’s also not all that often that a top 20 recruit like Mitchell isn’t able to find a way to get eligible at a school like Missouri. Mitchell was in the Class of 2010, but he didn’t start his collegiate career until last December. And in that one semester of college ball, Mitchell managed to average 14.7 points, 10.0 boards and 3.0 blocks. He could end up making those numbers look paltry this year.

The scary thing is that he’s far from all that UNT has on their roster. Chris Jones is a talented sophomore point guard who will be joined on the perimeter by Alzee Williams and Jordan Williams. Justin Patton, a transfer from Grambling, is eligible this season, and Oklahoma State transfer Roger Franklin is back for another season as well. With Denver out of the picture (they bounced, off to the new WAC), the Mean Green are a lock to win the west and the overwhelming favorite to win the Sun Belt.

But don’t expect Middle Tennessee State to roll over and play dead. Laron Dendy is gone, but the Blue Raiders return a very good perimeter attack led by Raymond Cintron, Marcos Knight and Bruce Massey. MTSU was arguably the best mid-major in the country for much of last season before back-to-back losses in the regular season finale and the first round of the conference tournament derailed their hopes of making the dance. Hunger and redemption are powerful motivators.

Looking deeper, Arkansas State returns four of the five starters from a team that was picked to win the west prior to last season, Western Kentucky is coming off of a trip to the NCAA tournament and Florida International has added Richard Pitino as their head coach. But the sleeper in the conference could end up being South Alabama, but only if they find enough perimeter threats to take the pressure off of Augustine Rubit inside.

All-Conference Team (*denotes Player of the Year)

G: Chris Jones, North Texas
G: Marcos Knight, Middle Tennessee State
G: Greg Gantt, Florida Atlantic
F: Augustine Rubit, South Alabama
F: Tony Mitchell, North Texas*

Predicted Standings


1. North Texas
2. Arkansas State
3. Arkansas-Little Rock
4. Louisiana-Monroe
5. Louisiana-Lafayette


1. Middle Tennessee State
2. Western Kentucky
3. South Alabama
4. Florida Atlantic
5. Troy
6. Florida International

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

Crash survivor Austin Hatch back in LA with Michigan hoops

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Austin Hatch finished high school less than two miles from Staples Center, playing basketball at Loyola High and golfing throughout the warm California winter four years ago.

But he mostly spent his one year in Los Angeles simply learning how to live again after surviving the second tragic plane crash of his young life, a crash that killed his father and stepmother.

When Michigan’s run to the Sweet Sixteen brought Hatch back to downtown LA this week, he was grateful for the chance to see his uncle, his extended family and his Loyola coach, Jamal Adams. They all plan to be in the stands Thursday when Michigan faces Texas A&M, with Hatch helping the Wolverines from his spot on the bench.

“It was only a year of my life, but it was a big year of my life,” Hatch said Wednesday before going through a workout with his teammates. “It was the year that prepared me for Michigan. Great people out here. I was very, very blessed to be a part of it.”

Hatch scored one point in his Michigan playing career, which ended in 2015. He is a student assistant coach now, watching the Wolverines in a suit and tie — except on Senior Day last month, when he suited up and received a stirring ovation at Crisler Center.

With the Wolverines needing only two wins in LA to reach the Final Four, Hatch is grateful to play any small role in their success.

“Obviously what I contribute to the team doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” Hatch said. “But the fact that I’ve been able to add something has given me a sense of fulfillment, if you will. I couldn’t control what happened to me, but I knew I could control how I responded to it. And I think that given the circumstances, I’ve done my best to make the most of it. I know all my teammates appreciate that.”

Hatch’s impact has been immeasurable on the Michigan program and coach John Beilein, who lived up to his scholarship commitment to the promising prospect from Fort Wayne, Indiana, after the June 2011 crash that left him in a coma for weeks. Hatch had already survived a 2003 crash in which his mother, brother and sister died.

Given the traumatic circumstances in which he arrived on the West Coast, his return is a reminder of his resilience. Hatch healed during his year in Los Angeles — and he relished the chance to hit the links in January while Michigan was buried under snow.

“In hindsight, I’m really glad I was here,” Hatch said. “It broadened my horizons a little bit. I’m from the Midwest. I’m from Fort Wayne, a small town. Now I’m in Ann Arbor, which is relatively small in comparison to LA. It was good to come out here and experience a different way of life.”

While his time with the Wolverines will end soon, Hatch isn’t slowing down. He is getting married to former Michigan volleyball player Abby Cole in the summer, and he’ll explore a career in business while deciding what he wants to do next.

But first, he’s hoping for two more weeks of hoops ending in a national title.

“My chapter at Michigan has been incredible,” Hatch said. “I wouldn’t change anything about it. I have no regrets. There’s nothing I wish I would have done. Everyone here has invested so much in me, and I’ve really done my best to show my appreciation by working hard.”

CBT Podcast: 2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview, Picks and Predictions

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Sam Vecenie of the Athletic and the Game Theory podcast stopped by to chat with Rob Dauster about the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. The two went through each of the eight Sweet 16 matchups, detailing how each one of those eight games projects to play out and going over which lines — spread and over-unders — they like.

Dan Hurley will accept UConn head coaching position

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Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley will be the next head coach at UConn, replacing the 2014 national title winner, Kevin Ollie.

Hurley will be signing a six-year deal, according to multiple reports, that could be valued as much as $18 million. Hurley picked UConn over Pitt, who had also offered him a similar amount of money.

Hurley turned the Rhode Island program around during his six-year tenure, capped off with a pair of seasons where the Rams won a game in the NCAA tournament. UConn, which is one of the best jobs but has not been one of the best teams in the AAC in recent years, should be a place where he can continue to recruit talent. Under Ollie, the Huskies have been able to get players. The issue has been the performance and development of those players once they get to campus.

The Huskies finished 14-18 this past season.

Dan Hurley is the son of New Jersey high school coaching legend Bob Hurley and the brother of former Duke guard and current Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley.

VIDEOS: Villanova team bus stuck on icy roads trying to leave campus

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Villanova’s road to the Sweet 16 hit its roughest patch yet on Wednesday as the team attempted to leave campus for the team’s flight to Boston.

Since the Philadelphia area has been slammed with a snowstorm, the Wildcat team bus had issues leaving to get to the team’s chartered flight.

A struggle between team bus and ice ensued. The bus was delayed by 30 minutes before finally being able to leave.

Villanova continues its NCAA tournament journey on Friday when the No. 1 seed Wildcats play No. 5 seed West Virginia in Boston.

Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods to transfer or go pro after graduation

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Wake Forest will be down a key player next season as the school announced that guard Keyshawn Woods will either transfer or go pro after graduation.

The 6-foot-3 Woods was the team’s second-leading scorer this season as he put up 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Woods shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for the 2017-18 campaign.

Also a key member of last season’s NCAA tournament team for the Demon Deacons, Woods transferred to Wake Forest after spending his first season at Charlotte.

“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Manning gave me to be a part of this program and to graduate from this great university,” said Woods in the release. “I am proud that I was able to help the coaches change the culture of the program and build a foundation for the future.”

The loss of Woods won’t be easy for Wake Forest, but the team is scheduled to return some talented guards like Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress next season. Incoming freshmen like Jaime Lewis and Sharone Wright Jr. are also signed to add to the perimeter depth.