2013-14 Season Preview: The Nation’s Best Frontcourts

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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 our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

While the argument can certainly be made that college basketball is a guard’s game, especially in the season’s stretch run (March to early-April), the fact of the matter is that more times than not the national champion also possesses one or more elite big men. So which teams have the front court rotations capable of propelling their school to the Final Four? Here’s a look at the ten best front courts in the country.

1. Kentucky: The Wildcats are certainly young inside, but they don’t lack for talent either. Nerlens Noel (NBA) and Kyle Wiltjer (transfer) are gone but both Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress return, and they’ve been joined by the nation’s best recruiting class. Inside that means Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis, with the first three all being McDonald’s All-Americans and Randle being one of the most talented players in the country.

2. Arizona: Like Kentucky, Arizona has a young rotation that talent-wise merits mention as one of the nation’s best. McDonald’s All-Americans Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are both incredibly athletic, and they join sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. Matt Korcheck redshirted last season and he can be a bit of an “enforcer” for this group, and it remains to be seen whether or not Kansas transfer Zach Peters can provide the Wildcats with even more depth.

3. Syracuse: Senior C.J. Fair should be one of the preseason favorites for ACC Player of the Year, and fellow forward Jerami Grant could be in line for a breakout campaign. Add in Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman, Baye Keita and freshmen Tyler Roberson and Chinoso Okoboh and the Orange won’t lack for options on the back line of their 2-3 zone.

(MORE: Top 15 Perimeter Attacks)

4. Baylor: Could this ranking end up being too low by the time we reach March? With Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson leading the way that could very well be the case. Also back is sophomore Rico Gathers, and a newcomer to keep an eye on is Denver transfer Royce O’Neale (11.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.5 apg last season). Freshmen Johnathan Motley and Ishmail Wainright and sophomore Taurean Prince could also factor into the rotation.

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5. Florida: The Gators lost Erik Murphy from last season’s Elite Eight squad but Patric Young returns for his senior campaign. Florida adds transfers Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and Damontre Harris (South Carolina), but there’s also a big question mark entering the season: the health of senior Will Yeguete. When Yeguete’s healthy the Gators are an entirely different team defensively, so that will be something to keep an eye on.

6. Tennessee: Jarnell Stokes is back for his junior season, and he’ll have a lot more help in the post in 2013-14. Senior Jeronne Maymon is back and healthy after missing all of last season with a knee injury, and junior college transfer Rawane Ndiaye gives the Vols some extra size in the paint. Josh Richardson, who started all 33 games last season, is also back for head coach Cuonzo Martin.

7. Michigan: Michigan’s biggest personnel losses from last season’s national runner-up team came on the perimeter. In the front court the Wolverines have both talent and experience, with Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson II, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford all back in Ann Arbor. And they also add freshmen Zak Irvin and Mark Donnal, both of whom could crack the rotation.

8. Michigan State: Upperclassmen Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson will be asked to lead the way for the Spartans, the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten. Sophomores Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine (he can play multiple positions) will also factor into the rotation, and freshmen Kenny Kaminsky (redshirt) and Gavin Schilling will compete for minutes as well.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks are hopeful that Memphis transfer Tarik Black can be a factor, with sophomores Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor being members of the rotation last season. Add in a promising freshman center in Joel Embiid and Kansas has the interior depth needed to both remain atop the Big 12 and be a national contender.

10. North Carolina: There were some who wondered whether or not James Michael McAdoo would leave for the professional ranks after last season, but he’s back to lead the way for a front court rotation that’s added both size and skill. Freshmen Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks have joined the program, and there’s been a lot of chatter regarding sophomore Brice Johnson. Add in sophomore Joel James and junior Desmond Hubert, and North Carolina will have a number of options in the paint this season.

11. Marquette: Jameel McKay’s transfer came at an inopportune time but the Golden Eagles have depth and experience, led by forward Jamil Wilson and centers Davante Gardner and Chris Otule.

12. New Mexico: Alex Kirk should be in the running for Mountain West POY honors and he’ll be joined by Cameron Bairstow, who helped lead Australia to a silver medal in the World University Games this summer.

13. Colorado: Andre Roberson may be gone but Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott return, with redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon and true freshman Dustin Thomas both having the skill needed to be immediate contributors.

14. Duke: The Blue Devils may have a question to answer at center but they don’t lack for options at other areas in the front court. Jabari Parker and Semi Ojeleye will be impact freshmen, with returnees Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy and redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee also factoring into the equation.

15. UCLA: The Wear twins are back for one more season, but the biggest news may be the fact that sophomore Tony Parker is in much better physical condition. The Bruins could be even better if Wanaah Bail (knee) is back to full strength in the near future.

Note: The uncertain status of junior forward Chane Behanan led to Louisville being left off the list, with their interior depth now even more of a concern. 

Report: Chris Collins to receive lengthy contract extension

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Chris Collins and Northwestern have reportedly agreed to a lengthy contract extension on Monday morning.

According to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, Collins, 43, and the university have come to terms on a deal that will run through the 2024-25 season.

The news shouldn’t come as a surprise. Collins, in his fourth year in Evanston, took Northwestern to the first NCAA Tournament in school history. The Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt in the first round and had eventual national finalist Gonzaga on the ropes in the second round before a controversial call swung all the momentum they had.

In four seasons, Collins has a 73-60 (30-42 Big Ten) record, with back-to-back 20-win seasons.

Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald is also reportedly in line for an extension, according to the Tribune.

Sacred Heart’s Quincy McKnight to transfer

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Quincy McKnight, a first-team all-Northeast Conference selection this past season, will transfer from Sacred Heart.

He announced his news via his Instagram page on Monday afternoon, according to Kels Dayton of WTDH, an ABC news affiliate located in New Haven, Connecticut.

McKnight, a 6-foot-3 guard, averaged 18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a sophomore for the Pioneers. He will have to sit out the upcoming season due to NCAA transfer rules but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

This is an all-too-familiar feeling for Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina. One year ago, Cane Broome, the NEC Player of the Year, informed him of his desire to transfer. This fall, he expects to make an immediate impact on Cincinnati, a program to reach its eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for any mid-major coach, especially for it to occur for the second season in the row. But you can’t blame McKnight — a two-star recruit coming out of prep school — for wanting a chance to play at the highest level possible, just as you can’t blame low and mid-major coaches from accepting better jobs at bigger schools. This isn’t an isolated situation either. With the rise of graduate transfers in recent years and the extended NBA Draft deadline, many programs currently face uncertainty at this point in time.

As we enter the second live recruiting period of April, Latina and his staff can sell recruits on their ability to identify and develop talent by using Broome and McKnight as examples. That recruiting strategy might best be described as cutting your nose off to spite your face but given the current landscape for mid-major programs, isn’t that pitch a silver-lining in what can otherwise be considered another frustrating spring?

Five Takeaways from the adidas Gauntlet Dallas

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FORT WORTH, Tx. — The April Live Evaluation period had its first of two weekends as events took place all over the country. Many of the nation’s top college coaches were stationed at shoe-company events held by adidas, Nike and Under Armour.

I spent the weekend watching a lot of the top Class of 2018, 2019 and even some 2020 prospects at the adidas Gauntlet in Fort Worth.

Here are some takeaways from the event, including some thoughts on Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford and more.

1. Zion Williamson draws a huge crowd but still has some work on his game

Although he only played a game and a half due to a lingering knee injury that ended his weekend early, the national hype machine for YouTube sensation and Class of 2018 star Zion Williamson is very real. Not many players draw large crowds of outsiders during grassroots events but players from other events and local fans turned out en masse to try and see some of the highlights that Williamson has put together these past few months.

He wasn’t quite 100 percent because of the knee, but the South Carolina native still showed the type of rare burst off the floor that allows the 6-foot-6 Williamson to snare rebounds and score over bigger players. People who hadn’t seen Williamson live before were also stunned at how big and strong he actually appears in person compared to the average high school basketball prospect.

Even though Williamson still has to polish his overall skill level and jumper, there are just times that he looks like a man among boys out on the floor.

Williamson will likely be a destructive force at the college level because of his ability to operate around the rim and in transition but he’s also going to have to make sure he tries to develop some range to keep defenders honest. Still shooting a pretty hard ball on jumpers, Williamson has to work on 3-pointers and free throws during these next few months.

2. Romeo Langford is still working on consistency

Consensus top-five Class of 2018 prospect Romeo Langford is an elite shooting guard prospect thanks to his overall package of athleticism and skills and he’s mostly focused on making sure that he brings his best effort every game.

In the past, Langford was the type of player who could go for 40 in one game and then play sluggish in the next as he needed to make sure that he was dialed in during each contest. Although he led the adidas Gauntlet in scoring playing in three games this weekend, it came with more of the same results as we’ve seen in the past.

In two games, scoring came easy for Langford as he was able to do a lot of damage off of isolations while drawing a lot of fouls. Langford shot 24-for-27 over three games at the free-throw line so that type of scoring ability should translate well at all levels.

When Langford starts to get double-teamed and teams play against him in a physical manner, that is when things start to get difficult for him. Langford can get frustrated with contact at times and he’s also prone to some lapses in intensity.

It’s also fair to say that Langford is very talented and that he’ll also adjust as he adds more strength over time. In a class that doesn’t have many top-flight guards, Langford stands out from the rest because his ceiling is just higher.

3. Immanuel Quickley’s improved perimeter shooting puts him in top 2018 lead guard conversation

One of the biggest revelations from an individual player standpoint came from Baltimore native and lead guard Immanuel Quickley. Already considered a five-star prospect in the Class of 2018, the big knock on the 6-foot-4 Quickley was his lack of a perimeter jumper.

While Quickley’s great size and feel for the game enabled him to dominate at times when he could get in the paint and make plays, opposing defenses found they could sag on him and force him to shoot perimeter jumpers because he was inconsistent.

Quickley appears to have shored up his big weakness. Shooting 48 percent from three-point range (14-for-29) this weekend, Quickley really shoot the ball well as he had confidence off the catch and off the dribble. Since Quickley is already a pick-and-roll maestro who can thread tight passes to teammates, this ability to hit deep jumpers opens up so much more to his game.

Quickley isn’t an elite above-the-rim athlete but he has a ton of things to really like about his game and he’s going to be in the mix among the top lead guards in the Class of 2018. Quickley is down to a final seven of Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Miami, Providence and Virginia.

This was the type of weekend that should give Quickley a lot of confidence going forward. Quickley got the better of five-star guards Quentin Grimes and Romeo Langford in back-to-back matchups (going head-to-head with those players on some possessions) so he’s been ready to take on all challengers so far this spring.

It should also be noted that Quickley’s teammates, Class of 2018 guard Montez Mathis, also had an outstanding weekend scoring the ball as he has immediately vaulted himself into a larger high-major discussion.

4. College coaches are still starving for perimeter shooters

As the 3-point revolution continues to sweep across many levels of basketball, college coaches are looking for any kind of shooters out on the circuit this spring. The adidas Gauntlet didn’t yield as many perimeter options as some college coaches would have liked.

As Hoop Seen’s Justin Young pointed out, only a handful of players at adidas made 10 or more three-pointers this weekend and most players played in three or four games.

It’ll be interesting to see if any more shooters emerge the second weekend of the April period because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of floor spacing out there right now.

5. Keep an eye on late 2017 signees like McKinley Wright

One of the interesting things about the April period being back is that it gives unsigned Class of 2017 players a chance to compete in front of college coaches. College coaches started to call Minnesota native McKinley Wright when he decommitted from Dayton after Archie Miller took the Indiana job.

So Wright now gets to play high-level competition in front of a number of college coaches who need an available point guard to come in and potentially play next season.

Since opening things up from Dayton and decommitting, Baylor, Butler, Clemson, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas State, Minnesota, Santa Clara and Utah are the primary schools involved. Wright still has three official visits left as he’s o

“I’ve been talking to a couple of schools about maybe setting up a visit but I haven’t really scheduled one yet. But I’m planning on using at least two.”

Wright is hoping to find a situation where he can play right away. He looked good at adidas, but you also have to keep in mind that he’s one class older than most of his competition. Still, with a lot of colleges looking for anyone who can handle the ball and potentially knock down shots, Wright is an intriguing spring recruit that could be a rotation player next season.

Zylan Cheatham transfers to Arizona State

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Zylan Cheatham will continue his college collegiate in his home state.

According to Jeff Goodman, the San Diego State transfer will enroll at Arizona State. He will sit out next season and have two years of eligibility remaining.

“It had a little bit to do with going back home,” Cheatham told Goodman. “But it was more about the basketball situation and that Coach [Bobby] Hurley and I had the same vision for me and for the program.”

The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 9.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season for the Aztecs.

 

Jevon Carter enters NBA Draft, won’t hire agent

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West Virginia guard Jevon Carter has submitted his name as an early entry into the 2017 NBA Draft. He will not hire an agent, leaving him the option to return to Morgantown for his senior season.

“Jevon will go through the process in a systematic and professional manner by exploring the situation and leaving open his option to come back for his senior season,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said in a statement issued by the university on Monday afternoon.

Carter, one of the nation’s elite defenders, averaged 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game for the Mountaineers this past season.

If this decision is simply exploratory, like many assume it is, Carter has until May 24 to withdraw his name from the draft.

With the 6-foot-2 Carter back in the lineup, West Virginia is projected to be a top-15 team entering the 2017-18 season, according to NBC Sports.