Quinn Cook

College Hoops Team of the Week: Duke Blue Devils

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Team of the Week: Duke Blue Devils

This is my opportunity to riff a little bit on the season that Duke has had thus far. Simply put, there is no way that Duke can be ranked any lower than second in your ballot, and they probably deserve quite a few first place votes. Why? Well, they’ve now beaten two of the top three teams heading into the season — Kentucky and Louisville — and supported that with quality wins over VCU and Minnesota. I still think Indiana is the best team in the country, and they’ve done nothing to prove otherwise so I’ll keep them there for now, but the Blue Devils have made a strong case for the top spot.

That said, three of their four wins have an asterisk. Kentucky was without Ryan Harrow and playing their second game of the season. Louisville was without Gorgui Dieng, who broke his wrist against VCU. Minnesota was playing with half of Trevor Mbakwe. There’s nothing Duke can do about that, they can only beat the team that’s on the floor in front but it is worth noting.

Now let me be clear: this isn’t meant as a shot at Duke. They’ve been much more impressive than I thought they would be this season. Mason Plumlee has looked like a top five pick. Seth Curry’s toughness and leadership is invaluable. Quinn Cook has been a revelation at the point, and Rasheed Sulaimon is one of the most underrated freshman in the country right now. Seth Davis made a great point over the weekend that Duke is a veteran team that has roles established early in the season, meaning that they are more prepared to play in November than a team like Kentucky.

It’s too early to make any conclusions other than this: the Blue Devils are playing the best basketball in the country as of November 26th.

Teams Deserving of a Shoutout

Cincinnati: The Bearcats had a strong showing out in Vegas this weekend, as they beat both Iowa State and Oregon, who was fresh off of an upset of UNLV in the Thomas & Mack Center. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright look like they might be the best back court duo in the Big East outside of Louisville.

Colorado State: So the Rams are now 4-0 on the season, with wins over Big Sky favorite Montana at home and WAC contender Denver and Washington on the road. Not many teams anywhere in the country, regardless of conference affiliation, can boast three wins of that caliber. More importantly, Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson is averaging 16.5 points and 10.3 boards. Watch out, MWC.

Illinois: The Illini almost blew their impressive performance out in Maui, needing to be saved by a last-second Tyler Griffey three against Gardner-Webb, but I’ll gladly chalk that game up to jet-lag and the distraction that comes with missing holiday time with family. On the island, Illinois beat USC by 30 and, after rolling over Chaminade, beat down a Butler team that was fresh off of a blowout win over North Carolina. This looks like a different team under John Groce.

Wichita State: VCU looked terrific despite going 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, to the point that they may be the best 3-3 team that I can remember. The other loss the Rams have? To Wichita State. At home. And after the Shockers rolled through the Cancun Challenge, capped off by a win over an improved Iowa team, this looks like a group that could end up legitimately challenging Creighton in the Missouri Valley.

Alaska Anchorage: For the seventh time in the history of the program, UAA finished in fourth-place at the Great Alaska shootout. How did they manage that? By beating both UC-Riverside and Loyola Marymount. The win over UCR isn’t a major surprise, but LMU is one of the better teams in the WCC with one of the best point guards on the west coast in Anthony Ireland. Impressive work from the Seawolves.

Who else was good?: Cal, Gonzaga, Oregon

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

Malik Newman to return to school, considering transfer

Mississippi State guard Malik Newman (14) dribbles past a Northern Colorado player during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/15712769/mississippi-state-malik-newman-withdraw-draft-transfer
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Malik Newman will withdraw his name from consideration and return to school for his sophomore season.

Newman was a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2015, a high-scoring combo-guard that opted to stay home and play for Mississippi State instead of enroll at one of the blue bloods that was recruiting him. He averaged 11.3 points as a freshman, but it was a largely disappointing season as he spent the year off of the national radar playing inefficient basketball.

Put another way, the fourth-leading scorer on a 14-17 SEC team isn’t exactly a lock for the lottery.

But here’s the catch: he may not be returning to Mississippi State, as Newman is considering a transfer, according to a report from ESPN. That report quotes a source close to the situation saying “unhappy with his role and how he was utilized.”

It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Newman would have to sit out a year if he transferred to another Division I program, and for a kid that thought he was destined to be a one-and-done star, locking himself into a three-year college career would be an odd move.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.