2013-2014 WAC Preview: Changes aplenty, but the favorite remains the same

Leave a comment
source:
AP

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

With so much change (seven schools out, six schools in), how will the upcoming basketball season shake out in the WAC? Well, look no further than defending WAC tournament champion New Mexico State for that answer. Head coach Marvin Menzies welcomes back a guard in Daniel Mullings who’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the WAC and a preseason favorite to take home league Player of the Year honors, and brothers Sim (reigning WAC Rookie of the Year and WAC tournament MVP) and Tanveer Bhullar represent the tallest tandem in college basketball. Sim’s 7-5 while his younger brother is two inches shorter at 7-3.

Picking the Aggies to win the conference is an easy exercise. Figuring out how the remainder of the conference will shake out is an entirely different matter. Utah Valley may be the newcomer best equipped to contend immediately, with seniors Ben Aird (15.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and Holton Hunsaker (13.2, 3.1 apg) leading the way for head coach Dick Hunsaker. Seattle, one of the three holdovers, is a team to watch with three of their six newcomers being transfers including guards Emerson Murray (Cal) and Isaiah Umipig (Cal-State Fullerton).

source:
AP

In most leagues losing the reigning league Player of the Year would prohibit a team from contending the following season, but thanks to realignment that won’t be the case for Idaho. Center Kyle Barone is gone but starters Connor Hill (12.1 ppg, 44.4% 3PT) and Stephen Madison (14.1, 4.7 rpg) both return for head coach Don Verlin. Chicago State, which won the Great West tournament and made an appearance in the CollegeInsider.com tournament, returns four starters including forwards Matt Ross (10.1, 6.3) and Quinton Pippen (10.4, 4.2; nephew of Scottie Pippen).

As for the remainder of the conference, Bakersfield will incorporate five players who redshirted last season to go along with guards Brandon Barnes (12.1, 5.3) and Javonte Maynor (10.5 ppg). Grand Canyon, Kansas City and UTPA all welcome new head coaches, with the Antelopes playing their first season as a Division I member as well. The WAC looks a lot different in 2013 than it did a year ago, but look for a familiar face to sit atop the standings come March.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, UMKC, UTPA and Utah Valley
Out: Denver (Summit), Louisiana Tech (C-USA), San Jose State (Mountain West), Texas State (Sun Belt), UT-Arlington (Sun Belt), UTSA (Conference USA), Utah State (Mountain West)

PRESEASON WAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Daniel Mullings (New Mexico State)

Mullings isn’t the type of player who will light up the scoreboard, but he’s the most versatile player in the WAC. As a sophomore he averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game for the Aggies, who won their second consecutive WAC tournament crown. And with the Aggies being the clear favorite to win the league this season, Mullings is well-positioned to take home the league’s highest individual honor.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G/F Quinton Pippen (Chicago State): The nephew of Scottie Pippen, Quinton averaged 10.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game last season. He’ll be productive for a CSU squad that should challenge for a top-half finish in the WAC standings.
  • F Stephen Madison (Idaho): Reigning WAC POY Kyle Barone is out of eligibility, meaning that Madison’s (14.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg) scoring load will increase this season.
  • C Ben Aird (Utah Valley): Aird (15.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) led the Wolverines to the Great West regular season title last season, and he’s a big reason why Utah Valley can contend for the WAC crown.
  • C Sim Bhullar (New Mexico State): Bhullar hit his stride during the latter stages of the 2012-13 season, winning WAC tournament MVP honors and averaging 10.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for the year.

PREDICTED FINISH
1. New Mexico State
2. Idaho
3. Utah Valley
4. Seattle
5. Chicago State
6. Bakersfield
7. Kansas City
8. Grand Canyon
9. Texas-Pan American

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
2 Comments

Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.