Coaches pick Manhattan to win MAAC regular season title

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The latest sign that college basketball season is right around the corner (finally!): the unveiling of preseason coaches’ polls.

Wednesday the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference unveiled its’ preseason poll as voted on by the conference’s 11 head coaches, and the Manhattan Jaspers are the pick to win the title. Steve Masiello’s talented squad sitting atop the poll shouldn’t be a major surprise. But the fact that the Jaspers, led by reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Rhamel Brown, received ten of a possible 11 first-place votes is a surprise when considering the fact that Iona has reached the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons.

A key for Manhattan this season is the fact that they’re healthy, something that could not be said during their 14-18 campaign of a season ago. Point guard Mike Alvarado is 100%, as is 6-4 senior wing George Beamon. Beamon played in just four games last season due to an ankle injury, and the hope is that he’ll return to the form that made him one of the best scorers in the MAAC in 2011-12 (19.0 ppg).

Manhattan won’t lack for options, which should allow coach Masiello to play at the pace that made the Jaspers so successful in his first season at the helm (21-13 in 2011-12). But Iona has options as well, even with the graduation of guard Momo Jones and forward Taaj Ridley. Head coach Tim Cluess welcomes back one of the country’s best perimeter shooters in senior Sean Armand, and forward David Laury III was a handful once declared eligible midseason.

Between the two rivals, a Canisius program that’s been rejuvenated by the arrival of head coach Jim Baron and his son Billy (17.2 ppg, 5.0 apg) and a talented Rider squad led by guards Anthony Myles (12.4, 4.6 rpg) and Jonathon Thompson (13.1, 3.9, 3.1 apg) , the MAAC race should be competitive throughout.

The coaches’ poll broke down as follows, with total points in parentheses:

1. Manhattan (189; 10 first-place votes)
2. Iona (108; one first-place vote)
3. Canisius (100)
4. Rider (85)
5. Marist (69)
6. Fairfield (61)
7. Quinnipiac (58)
8. Niagara (39)
9. Saint Peter’s (38)
10. Siena (35)
11. Monmouth (14)

Interestingly enough the coaches seem a bit bullish on Marist, which welcomes a new head coach with NBA experience (Jeff Bower) and returns one of the league’s best big men in senior Adam Kemp. The Red Foxes haven’t finished above .500 since the 2007-08 season, so it will be interesting to see if they can turn things around in quick order.

Losing two quality players in Juan’ya Green and Amen Tanksley dropped reigning regular season champion Niagara to eighth in the preseason poll, but new head coach Chris Casey did retain the services of high-scoring wing Antoine Mason (18.7 ppg). And even though they’re picked to finish tenth in this poll, don’t be surprised if Jimmy Patsos’ Siena Saints finish higher when the season reaches its conclusion in March.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

A post shared by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (@sviat_10) on

The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Swanigan to stay in draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.