Colorado v Illinois

Has Illinois found leaders for the 2013-14 season?

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Year one of John Groce’s tenure at Illinois saw a 23-win season and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. But that team was led by a couple of seniors with tremendous experience as Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were natural leaders on the floor on the wing.

One of the biggest questions Groce — and the Illini — will face in year two is who they will turn to as the new leaders on the floor with Paul and Richardson moving on.

So far, it’s looking like two new candidates might have emerged according to a story from the News-Gazette’s Marcus Jackson.

Illinois assistant coach Jamall Walker works with the guards and says that Tracy Abrams is emerging as a leader.

“I have such a high-character group of guys,” Walker said to the News-Gazette. “I really have some good dudes. Tracy’s really trying to take charge as the leader of the program.”

While working with the wings, another Illinois assistant, Paris Parham, is raving about fifth-year senior Joe Bertrand — a guy recruited along with last year’s leaders Paul and Richardson in the class of 2009.

Now is it Bertrand’s turn to take charge? A  passage in the story about his recovery from an injury to become a leader seems to make him a viable candidate as a team leader:

Another Illini who underwent offseason surgery is fifth-year senior Joseph Bertrand. The guard had surgery in early April to repair the labrum in his right shoulder and spent the summer rehabbing that injury. Parham, who works primarily with Bertrand and the other wing players, said Bertrand is back to full-go.

“Joe can do everything now,” he said. “He surprised us in his workout the other day without doing any conditioning all summer. He’s been playing some pickup games. He’s a competitor. He’s been in every day getting up extra shots.”

While he was sidelined this summer, Bertrand watched his teammates and helped acclimate the nine newcomers with the system and emerged as a leader. That’s something that has translated to the court since his return.

“He’s getting better and more vocal,” Parham said. “He’s realizing this is his last year. When you become a senior, you kind of step out of your body a little bit and do some different things.”
Abrams will return as an experienced junior point guard after starting 32 of 36 games as a sophomore last year. He averaged 10.6 points per game but he’ll need to improve his sub-40% field goal percentage (39.4%) and perimeter shot (27% three-point percentage) in order to be a more balanced scorer and weapon.

Bertrand was the team’s sixth man last season — fourth in scoring (7.3 points) and third in rebounds (4.1 rebounds) — and will be relied on to help carry more of the scoring burden.

Some other great parts in the story include the recruiting of Illinois assistant coaches Walker, Parham and Dustin Ford including a phenomenal phone passage from Parham.

“You can’t put the phone down, you just can’t,” Parham said in the story. “My wife (Keisha) understands that; there’s always a third party in the bedroom — the phone. Sometimes I fall asleep with it in the bed. The other day it was under my pillow when I woke up. She’s all right with it; she really understands it all.”

Top 25 Non-Conference Games

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 30:  Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats and head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks greet each other prior to the game at Allen Fieldhouse on January 30, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Beginning in September and running up until November 11th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Non-conference scheduling has rightfully been much maligned in recent years with many programs opting to keep their non-league slates as a tune-up rather than a challenge, but there are still plenty of gems out there in the season’s first two months. Neutral-site event games again provide some of the strongest matchups, but there are plenty of on-campus contests that will be among the year’s best as well.

THE TOP 15

1. Kansas vs. Duke – Champions Classic (New York) – Nov. 15 (9 p.m.): The Champions Classic has easily become the most anticipated non-conference event most years (until the PK80 next year), and this year’s matchup between the Jayhawks and Blue Devils is the premier non-conference game of the season. Both teams return a ton from last year’s successful seasons and also add stellar recruiting classes. It’s not hard to envision this as a Final Four or national title preview, and there’s a very real chance that it could end up being a matchup between No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Kansas.

2. Michigan State at Duke – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 29 (9:30 p.m.): This game gets the nod over similarly interesting matchups because it’s going to be played on campus in Durham at Cameron Indoor. It pits two Hall of Fame coaches operating near the height of their powers with teams expected to contend for a national championship. It’s sure to be an electric evening.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

3. Kentucky at Louisville – Dec. 21 (7 p.m.): John Calipari has another powerhouse on his hands while Rick Pitino’s squad is expected to continue its upward progression and be a potential top-10 team. This in-state rivalry game will have all the gravitas it normally has along with the national implications that come when two potential No. 1 seeds meet in the non-conference.

4. Kansas at Kentucky – Jan. 28 (6 p.m.): The SEC/Big 12 Challenge is largely irrelevant this season because the Big 12 is down and the SEC looks like a mid-major conference outside of Kentucky. But the Wildcats, who nearly beat Kansas in overtime in Phog Allen last season, and the Jayhawks are both preseason top five teams loaded with NBA talent and positioned to make a run towards another national title.

5. Michigan State vs. Kentucky – Champions Classic (New York) – Nov. 15 (7 p.m.): The other half of the Champions Classic, the Spartans and Wildcats will provide nearly just as much entertainment. The matchup between Michigan State’s super-recruit Miles Bridges and Kentucky’s squadron of them could be the highlight of the night.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - DECEMBER 19: London Perrantes #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers dribbles the ball against Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats in the first half during a game at John Paul Jones Arena on December 19, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
UVA’s London Perrantes guarded by Villanova’s Josh Hart (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

6. Virginia at Villanova – Jan. 28 – (1 p.m.): Virginia deserves credit as one of the elite programs that’s unafraid to challenge themselves with home-and-home series, but I can’t imagine that, when Tony Bennett signed up for this, he knew he’d be taking his team on the road, in the middle of ACC play, to square off with the reigning national champs. It will be an intriguing matchup of styles, both in terms of basketball and the suits worn by the opposing head coaches.

7. UCLA at Kentucky – Dec. 3 (12:30 p.m.): Two of the most storied programs in the sport, the Bruins and Wildcats both figure to have interesting seasons as Steve Alford looks to satiate uneasy UCLA fans and Calipari looks to add another national championship to his resume. UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball facing off against Kentucky’s backcourt in Rupp Arena will garner a lot of headlines. And we shouldn’t forget that the Bruins picks off Kentucky in LA last December.

8. North Carolina vs. Kentucky – Las Vegas – Dec. 17 (5:45 p.m.): UNC is coming off a season where they finished as the national runners-up. Losing Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson will hurt, no doubt, but there is still some talent on the roster. Kentucky, as we’ve mentioned, is once again loaded. Both teams will likely be ranked in the top-10 when they meet in Sin City in yet another clash of the sport’s heavyweights.

9. Michigan State vs. Arizona – Armed Forces Classic (Honolulu) – Nov. 11 (7 p.m.): Not a bad way to tip off the season with the Spartans and Wildcats squaring off in Hawaii on opening night. The game was originally to be played at Pearl Harbor, but was moved to the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaii. Arizona may have lost Terrence Ferguson to the pros, but it’ll have plenty of firepower to match up against Michigan State with Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Atkins.

10. Louisville vs. Indiana – Indianapolis – Dec. 31 (12:30 p.m.): This border battle game will be played off-campus at the home of the Pacers, but with Indy’s close proximity to both schools and a pair of fervent fanbases, this one should have that big-time collegiate feel with two top-15 teams.

11. Kansas vs. Indiana – Armed Forces Classic (Honolulu) – Nov. 11 (9 p.m.): The nightcap of the Armed Forces Classic is another incredibly strong game that will pit the two midwestern powers against each other. Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby will provide quite the test for Kansas’ revamped frontcourt while the Hoosiers will have to contend with one of the country’s strongest backcourts in Kansas’ Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham.

12. Wisconsin at Creighton – Gavitt Games – Nov. 15 (8:30 p.m.): The country knows how strong the Badgers will be this year after the transition to coach Greg Gard propelled them into the Sweet 16, but Creighton is flying a bit under the radar despite having some top-level talent in Mo Watson and Marcus Foster. The Blue Jays also have one of the more underrated home crowds in the game. This one will be a treat in the season’s opening week.

13. Arizona vs. Gonzaga – Naismith Memorial HOF Game (Los Angeles) – Dec. 3 (6:30 p.m.): Two West Coast powers face off in L.A. a month into the season with perhaps a seed line at stake. Gonzaga will likely open the season in the top-15 on the strength of getting senior center Przmek Karnowski back and the Nigel Williams-Goss eligible after transferring from Washington.

t-14. North Carolina at Indiana – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 30 (9 p.m.)

t-14. Syracuse at Wisconsin – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 29 (9 p.m.): The ACC/Big Ten Challenge provides two more top games with the Tar Heels visiting Bloomington and the Badgers hosting the Orange. The Bryant-Kennedy Meeks matchup will be one to watch, while NBA scouts and draftniks will be tuning in to this one to see how Tyler Lydon and Nigel Hayes matchup. The game itself will provide college hoops fans plenty with the Badgers being a Big Ten favorite and Syracuse bolstering its ranks with Nebraska graduate transfer Andrew White.

15. Washington at Gonzaga – Dec. 7 (11 p.m.): The Huskies aren’t a lock to make the NCAA tournament this year, but this game will still be a must-watch thanks to Gonzaga’s strength, Markelle Fultz’s talent and it being an in-state rivalry game played on campus. Don’t underestimate how much these two fanbases dislike each other.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

TEN MORE TIMES YOU’LL NEED TO SET YOUR DVR

16. UConn vs. Syracuse – New York City – Dec. 5 (7 p.m.): Madison Square Garden will play host to this former Big East rivalry game. This is the loudest you’ll hear the Garden all season long, and that includes the games that the Knicks play.
17. Valparaiso at Oregon – Nov. 17 (9 p.m.): Valpo might be the best mid-major in the country and has a potential All-American in Alec Peters. The Ducks may not have Dillon Brooks for this one, but will still likely be ranked in the top-10.
18. Indiana vs Butler – Crossroads Classic – Dec. 17 (5 p.m.): A Hoosier State rivalry game that’s sure to be closely contested.
19. Villanova vs. Notre Dame – Never Forget Games (Newark, N.J.) – 12 p.m.: The defending champs take on one of the ACC’s best.
20. Purdue at Louisville – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 30: Another strong game courtesy of the cross-conference challenge.
21. Villanova at Purdue – Nov. 14 (7 p.m.): This game got more difficult for the ‘Cats without Omari Spellman to combat Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas.
22. Northern Iowa vs. Xavier – Nov. 16 (12 p.m.): A sneaky-strong game with Xavier being a team that figures to push Villanova in the Big East and the Panthers featuring potential MVC player of the year Jeremy Morgan.
23. Oregon at Baylor – Nov. 15 (3:30 p.m.): This will be the Ducks’ only true road game in the non-conference. Baylor’s Johnathan Motley figures to be a tough guard for the Pac-12 favorites.
24. Arizona vs. Texas A&M – Dec 17 (1 p.m.): The Aggies lost quite a bit from last year’s team, but will still be a top-25 contender.
25. Florida State at Florida – Dec. 11 (4 p.m.): The Seminoles will bring quite a bit of talent with them to Gainesville in Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac for this intrastate rivalry game.

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 13: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks over Javion Ogunyemi #0 of the Siena Saints during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 13, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Grayson Allen (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Vanderbilt lands commitment from top 100 big man

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 20: Head coach Bryce Drew of the Valparaiso Crusaders directs his team during the second round of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Nationwide Arena on March 20, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Bryce Drew reached up into Virginia to land a commitment from Ejike Obinna this weekend.

Obinna is a top 100 big man originally from Nigeria. At 6-foot-9, he’s one of the better rebounders in the Class of 2017 and should have an immediate impact on the glass for the Commodores.

Drew beat out Florida, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Virginia Tech, among others, for Obinna’s commitment.

Obinna joins wings Saben Lee and Maxwell Evans in Vandy’s 2017 class.

Butler lands commitment from second top 100 prospect

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Butler landed the commitment of top 100 small forward Christian David over the weekend.

“I am excited and proud to announce my commitment to Butler University,” David posted on twitter on Saturday night.

David is a well-rounded perimeter player. At 6-foot-6, he has the size and athleticism to finish and the rim and overpower smaller defenders, but he can also knock down a three and make plays with the ball in his hands.

A four-star recruit, Butler beat out Pitt and Creighton for the services of the native Canadian.

Pac-12 Commissioner Scott has no issue with pregame protests

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott has no issue with players protesting during the national anthem long as it’s done in a respectful way.

Athletes across the country have staged a variety of pregame protests after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in protest of police violence against African-Americans and minorities.

“Very much believe in the idea of freedom of speech and individuals’ right to express themselves,” Scott said. “I’ve also always seen sport as a great platform for positive social change. To the extent that they’re individuals that want to use their celebrity or use the platform to try to send a positive message and make a positive impact on society. I think that’s great.

“I’ve seen plenty of examples in my career of tennis players and others doing that. As long as it’s done in a respectful way, in a way that’s not demeaning to other people and not disruptive, I think it’s absolutely fine.”

The entire Indiana Fever team recently knelt during the anthem before a playoff game. Several other NFL players, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe and scores of high school and college players also have participated in some form.

Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade gave an anti-violence speech at the ESPYS and expressed their support of the values behind the Black Lives Matter movement in July.

University of California-Berkeley professor emeritus Dr. Harry Edwards told the Associated Press in July that today’s athletes have a level of power that Muhammed Ali and others didn’t have in the 1960s, and they have begun using it to speak out against violence both by and against police. The newfound power of today’s athlete comes from monetary wealth, celebrity status and having the vehicle of social media to communicate directly with the masses.

CBT’s 2016-17 College Basketball Season Preview Schedule

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Believe it or not, but college basketball season technically begins this week, as programs around the country are allowed to start practicing as early as September 30th, this Friday.

With that in mind, it’s time for us to kick off the process of previewing the 2016-17 season, getting you ready for everything that will happen in our beloved sport for the next five months with a series of predictions that, hopefully, won’t prove to be totally and completely wrong by the end of the year.

Here is a complete schedule of everything you can expect to see from us over the next six weeks.

And be sure to bookmark this page, as we will be updating the schedule with links as each story gets posted. That way, if you miss anything — which is unlikely if you follow @CBTonNBC on twitter and like the College Basketball Talk page on FaceBook — you can go back and find it quite easily.

AWARDS

Sep. 27: NBCSports.com All-American Team
Sep. 27: Expert Picks and Predictions
Oct. 31-Nov. 4: Preseason Top 25 Countdown
Oct. 31: Mid-Major All-Americans
Oct. 31: Mid-Major Power Rankings

RANKINGS

Oct. 24-28: Top 100 Players Countdown
Oct. 25: Top Back Courts
Oct. 25: Top Front courts
Oct. 26: Top Lead Guards
Oct. 26: Top Off-Guards
Oct. 27: Top Wings
Oct. 27: Top Big Men

CONTENDERS SERIES

Oct. 3: Final Four Sleepers
Oct. 10: Final Four Favorites, part 1
Oct. 14: Final Four Favorites, part 2
Oct. 17-21: Title Contenders

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS

Sep. 29: WCC
Oct. 4: ACC
Oct. 5: Mountain West
Oct. 6: Atlantic 10
Oct. 7: American
Oct. 11: Big Ten
Oct. 18: Big 12
Oct. 25: Pac-12
Nov. 1: SEC
Nov. 8: Big East

Sep. 29: America East
Sep. 30: Atlantic Sun
Oct. 3: Big Sky
Oct. 4: Big South
Oct. 5: Big West
Oct. 6: CAA
Oct. 7: Conference USA
Oct. 10: Horizon
Oct. 11: Ivy
Oct. 12: MAAC
Oct. 12: MAC
Oct. 13: MEAC
Oct. 14: Missouri Valley
Oct. 17: NEC
Oct. 18: Ohio Valley
Oct. 19: Patriot
Oct. 20: SoCon
Oct. 21: Southland
Oct. 24: SWAC
Oct. 26: Summit
Oct. 27: Sun Belt
Oct. 28: WAC

LISTS

Sep. 26: Best Non-Conference Games
Sep. 28: Programs on the Rise and Decline
Sep. 28: Impact Transfers
Sep. 30: All-‘Yup, He’s Still In School’ Team
Nov. 1: Top Dunkers
Nov. 2: Coaches on the Hot Seat
Nov. 2: Key Assistant Coaching Hires
Nov. 2: Best, Worst Head Coaching Changes
Nov. 3: Impact Freshmen
Nov. 3: Breakout Stars
Nov. 7: Under-the-Radar Stars
Nov. 8: X-Factors
Nov. 9: Potential Cinderellas
Nov. 9: Most Important Players
Nov. 10: 68 Things To Watch For