Contenders and Pretenders

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A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

Out of any season in recent memory, there are more contenders this season than there have been in recent years. There does not appear to be a great team as of now — although Florida is doing everything they can to convince us otherwise — as opposed to a handful of really good teams that have the pieces to win six straight games in the tournament but a fatal flaw that could leave them exposed in the right matchup.

Here are the nation’s five leading contenders and pretenders:

Contender: Florida Gators

We wrote on the Gators earlier today, so I won’t go into too much detail here. The long and short of it is that Florida is as tough defensively as any team we’ve seen in the last decade, and they can just as effective playing man, going zone or throwing on a press, That’s a nightmare to prepare for, especially when they have an offensive attack that rivals Michigan and Indiana.

Pretender: Arizona Wildcats

Arizona is 19-2 on the season and carries with it a No. 7 national ranking. They are a good basketball team that could end up winning the Pac-12. But that gaudy record is the result of some lucky breaks: Nick Johnson’s game-saving block against San Diego State, Sabatino Chen’s game-winner that was incorrectly waved off, Florida playing like a high school JV team in the final minute. There is nothing about the roster makeup of the Wildcats that scares a championship-caliber team.

Contender: Indiana Hoosiers

The Hoosiers have arguably the most talented player in the country on their roster in Cody Zeller, and he isn’t even the MVP of this team. Victor Oladipo is. That’s how good Indiana is. They are still scoring like they did last season, only now they have a defense that ranks in the top 20 and one of the best on-ball defenders in the country in Oladipo.

Pretender: Duke Blue Devils

Duke is currently sitting at No. 4 in the country, but that has as much to do with what they did at the start of the season — rolling through the Battle 4 Atlantis, where they beat Louisville, VCU and Minnesota — than what they have done recently — which includes a 27 point loss to Miami. Duke is missing Ryan Kelly, who is a key piece on both sides of the ball. Duke will be a pretender until he’s back in the lineup.

Contender: Michigan Wolverines

John Beilein’s club is the most potent offensive attack in the country and led by the most dangerous point guard in the country in Trey Burke. The Wolverines have a typical John Beilein-esque roster makeup in terms of their versatility, but instead of having guys like Zak Novak and Stu Douglass on the wings, they have NBA prospects in Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III.

Pretender: Kansas Jayhawks

Ugh. It kills me to say this because I picked Kansas to win the title this year, but I just think they have too many concerns offensively. They don’t have a point guard, as Bill Self made quite clear. Their star player can’t create on his own. They don’t have a viable low-post scoring threat. As good as Kansas is defensively, I just see them having issues scoring against good teams.

Contender: Louisville Cardinals

Louisville was the No. 1 team in the country and a popular pick as the best team in college hoops as recently a two weeks ago. But then they went out and lost three games — by a total of 13 points — and dropped to 12th in the country. Three close losses changes that much about how a team is viewed? Louisville’s pressure is unmatched, and as long as they avoid extended droughts offensively, they’ll be fine.

Pretender: Ohio State Buckeyes

Deshaun Thomas may be the best scorer in the country. Aaron Craft may be the best defender in the country. Beyond that, there’s a lot of ‘meh’ when you look at Ohio State’s roster. Craft is too often forced into the role of secondary scorer, and that’s not how you want him to play. No interior scoring presence hurts as well.

Contender: Michigan State Spartans

Typical Tom Izzo. Sparty is big, they are tough and they are physical. They rebound the ball and they defend. Most importantly, they have a pair of guards in Keith Appling and Gary Harris that are a threat to go for 20 on any given night.When Tom Izzo has a good team, you don’t want to get caught betting against him.

Pretender: Gonzaga Bulldogs

This one hurts, too. I really like this Gonzaga team. They are as good as they have been since Adam Morrison was stache-ing it up in Spokane. They have a pair of big men that are an awful lot of fun to watch in Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris. Kevin Pangos is as good of a shooter as you are going to find. They just don’t defend well enough — especially when Olynyk is on the floor as the same time as Pangos and David Stockton — to stop good teams with elite guards.

Arizona State lands four-star guard Luguentz Dort

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Arizona State landed a huge commitment on Wednesday night as four-star guard Lugentz Dort pledged to the Sun Devils.

The second commitment for Arizona State in the Class of 2018 in less than a week, the 6-foot-3 Dort is a big-time athlete on the perimeter as he selected the Sun Devils over his other finalists of Baylor and Oregon. Dort took official visits to all three schools during the process.

One of the better shooting guards in the 2018 class, Dort is a physically-imposing guard who should be ready to immediately contribute in the Pac-12.

Dort joins Finnish shooting guard Elias Valtonen in the Arizona State Class of 2018 recruiting haul.

Oregon sued by former recruit who tore ACL during official visit

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The University of Oregon and members of the men’s basketball staff, including head coach Dana Altman, are being sued by a former recruit who tore his ACL during an official visit to campus.

Crisshawn Clark, a junior guard at Portland, suffered his injury during an official visit to the Ducks which began on Oct. 16, 2015. At the time, Clark was a junior college recruit at Canada College and he suffered the injury as Oregon assistant coach Mike Mennenga ran him through a basketball workout during the visit. Clark was treated by an Oregon trainer, and after the injury was believed to be serious, an MRI confirmed a torn ACL.

Clark eventually committed to Pitt and sat out last season rehabbing his knee before ending up at Portland.

Even though Clark had a bad knee injury that required surgery, he is not seeking money for medical expenses. Clark’s lawsuit said that his medical expenses were paid for by Oregon. But Clark is suing for compensation for pain and suffering along with damages for the loss of future income. Clark estimates it will be over $100,000. And he might have a case.

That’s because the lawsuit alleges that Oregon violated an NCAA rule that prohibits on-campus evaluations of prospective student-athletes who are playing at a junior college. Oregon self-reported this violation in Oct. 2015, according to a report from Jack Pitcher of the Daily Emerald, citing athletic department spokesman Jimmy Stanton. The NCAA classified this as a level 3 violation.

If Clark was put through an illegal workout by Oregon — who admitted to violating a rule by self-reporting — then he might have a case. Along with Altman and Mennenga, Oregon assistant coaches Kevin Mckenna and Tony Stubblefield are also named in the lawsuit along with Oregon director of basketball operations Josh Jamieson.

Clark is sitting out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules as he is hoping for two years of eligibility after. Due to his torn ACL, Clark and Portland can apply for an extra year of eligibility for the 2019-20 season.

(H/t: Jack Pitcher, Daily Emerald)

Rick Pitino received subpoena in FBI’s college basketball probe

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Former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has received a subpoena in the FBI’s college basketball bribery scandal, his lawyer told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Wednesday.

Pitino’s lawyer, Steve Pence, confirmed the subpoena as Pitino joins Miami head coach Jim Larranaga as coaches to receive a subpoena this week in the FBI’s probe. Those two head coaches join Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State and USC as the six known subpoenas, so far, in the case.

“We’ve already acknowledged that the coach has a subpoena and he’s gathering documents for the … U.S. attorney,” Pence said of Pitino to the Courier-Journal.

While it was known that Pitino had voluntarily spoken with the FBI thanks to an affidavit submitted to the University of Louisville Athletic Association in a packet from Pitino’s lawyers earlier this week, the subpoena was not mentioned, according to the Courier-Journal. The packet also included results of a lie detector test and copies of text messages.

The subpoena for Pitino doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but coupled with the report of Larranaga’s subpoena, it sounds like the FBI is taking the next steps in its case.

Report: Miami coach Jim Larranaga receives grand jury subpoena for FBI’s college basketball investigation

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Miami head coach Jim Larranaga has received a grand jury subpoena as the FBI continues its investigation into corruption in college basketball. According to Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, Larranaga received a subpoena for texts, emails and other items.

Larranaga’s attorneys told Fenno that the veteran head coach has done nothing wrong. “There’s nothing there,” Larranaga’s attorney said to Fenno. “We’re trying to get them to admit they made a mistake and move on.”

While Larranaga and Miami have previously cooperated with the FBI in turning over phone records and documents in a report from Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel on Oct. 3, the news of a subpoena makes things far more serious.

FBI documents about the scandal don’t specifically mention Larranaga or Miami by name but the school was identified as one of the universities referenced with Adidas allegedly paying players. Miami confirmed the FBI investigation on Sept. 27, stating, “We have confirmed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that, at this time, it is investigating a potential tie to one member of our coaching staff and a student recruit.”

One wiretapped conversation, according to the FBI’s investigation, included a discussion into how much money it would take for a top recruit — believed to be North Carolina 2018 commit Nassir Little — to play at Miami as part of a bidding war.

Patriot League Preview: Can anyone challenge Bucknell?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Patriot League.

The 2016-17 season in the Patriot League was one dominated by the Bucknell Bison, with Nathan Davis’ team winning the regular season title for the sixth time in the last seven years. Led by Patriot League Player and Defensive Player of the Year Nana Foulland, the Bison were the best team in the league with regards to both offensive and defensive efficiency and won the regular season title by three games. After winning 26 games and reaching the NCAA tournament as a 13-seed, the question for Bucknell entering the 2017-18 season is what can this group do for an encore.

The good news for Bucknell is that all four double-digit scorers from last season, led by Foulland and forward Zach Thomas, are back on campus. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season, with the versatile Thomas leading the Bison in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per contest. Add in guards Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie, and Bucknell has a rotation that won’t lack for talent or experience.

Given Bucknell’s recent track record and their returning contributors, there’s a simple question for the rest of the Patriot League: which team is best equipped to make a run at the Bison? One could argue that up to four teams are in the conversation, with there not being much to separate them on paper.

Despite losing an outstanding front court presence in Tim Kempton and another productive senior on guard Austin Price, Lehigh is one of those teams. Head coach Dr. Brett Reed will call upon an experienced backcourt to lead the way, with junior Kyle Leufroy averaging nearly 12 points per game last season and senior Kahron Ross leading the league in assists last season. The Mountain Hawks also add one of the Patriot League’s top newcomers in guard Lance Tejada, who sat out last season as a transfer after playing the first two seasons of his college career at East Carolina. With regard to the front court, the progression of sophomore forward Pat Andree will be key if Lehigh is to threaten Bucknell.

Also in the mix is Colgate, with head coach Matt Langel welcoming back six players who made at least 14 starts a season ago. At the top of that list are sophomore forward Will Rayman and senior guard Sean O’Brien, with Rayman being the Patriot League’s top freshman last season. In Rayman, O’Brien and Jordan Swopshire the Raiders return three double-digit scorers, and if Colgate can become a more efficient team on both ends of the floor look out.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Navy and Boston University should also be heard from in the Patriot League conversation, with the Midshipmen being led by senior guard Shawn Anderson. Ed DeChellis’ team won’t lack for depth, with the team’s top five scorers from a season ago back in Annapolis. As for the Terriers, Boston University has to account for the loss of two of the Patriot League’s best players in Eric Fanning and Justin Alston but the cupboard isn’t bare. Guards Cedric Hankerson and Cheddi Mosely return, as does all-rookie team forward Tyler Scanlon, which should make for a good foundation on which to build a possible contender.

Loyola (MD), Lafayette and Army West Point will look to fight their way into the upper half of the Patriot League standings, with the Greyhounds returning one of the Patriot League’s best guards in senior Andre Walker. Lafayette returns three of its top four scorers, led by the Patriot League’s top returning scorer in senior forward Matt Klinewski. And in his second season as the head coach at Army West Point, Jimmy Allen will look to make strides with a team that won 13 games in 2016-17. Guard Jordan Fox is back for his junior season, and in total five of Army’s top six scorers are back.

American, which won just eight games last season, returns its top two scorers in sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini. However, the Eagles do have to account for the loss of one of the top defenders in the Patriot League in wing Charlie Jones. Holy Cross, which won 15 games last season, will have to account for the loss of its top two scorers in Robert Champion and Malachi Alexander. Head coach Bill Carmody will look to juniors Karl Charles and Pat Benzan to step forward, but with no seniors on this season’s roster it will take the Crusaders some time to develop into a Patriot League contender.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nana Foulland, Bucknell

Not only was Foulland the Patriot League’s best player in 2016-17, but he was also its best defender. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a junior, shooting 63.0 percent from the field.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM

  • Kahron Ross, Lehigh: Ross led the Patriot League in assists (5.3 apg) last season while also scoring nearly ten points per game. With Tim Kempton gone, Ross will have more opportunities to score within the Lehigh offense.
  • Andre Walker, Loyola (MD): Walker averaged 14.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per night for the Greyhounds last season, and he also shot 38.0 percent from three.
  • Shawn Anderson, Navy: The 6-foot-4 senior guard saw his field goal percentage dip as a junior (41.8 percent after shooting nearly 50 percent as a sophomore), but he still averaged 12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per night.
  • Zach Thomas, Bucknell: Thomas led the Bison in scoring (15.9 ppg) last season, while also averaging 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. His ability to score both inside and out will be key for Bucknell.

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PREDICTED FINISH

1. Bucknell
2. Lehigh
3. Colgate
4. Navy
5. Boston University
6. Loyola (MD)
7. Lafayette
8. Army West Point
9. American
10. Holy Cross