Horizon favorite Wright State’s ‘surprising’ ’12-’13 season was no surprise to the Raiders

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Wright State was picked to finish last in the Horizon League before the 2012-13 season and nobody expected them to be 23-13 and within four minutes of playing in the NCAA Tournament as they were last March.

Except for maybe Raiders head coach Billy Donlon.

The 36-year-old Donlon — known for his quick wit and one-liners — knew Wright State would compete last season, and although he didn’t outwardly predict that the Raiders would hold a six-point lead at Valparaiso during the Horizon League Conference Tournament Championship game, he fully believed it was possible heading into last season.

“Name me a program in the Horizon League that’s won more than Wright State over the last seven years?” Donlon said at Horizon League Media Day in Chicago this fall. “We had one bad year; other people choose to pick us last. I didn’t choose to pick us last. The standard of our program didn’t go down because we had one bad season.”

The Raiders “surprise” season ended in heartbreak, however. Wright State led 50-44 with 5:35 to play in the championship game last season before losing to Valparaiso 62-54.

That was without senior and returning leading scorer Cole Darling, a 6-foot-8 forward who missed the final 11 games of the 2012-13 season with a shoulder injury.

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Horizon League Conference Preview)

Wright State was one of only five teams in the country to not start a senior while being the 11th youngest team in the country. They return 9 of their top 10 and add a valuable transfer in Butler junior guard Chrishawn Hopkins.

But while the Raiders return basically the same team from a year ago, Donlon has moved past the game last season.

“The 11th time I was watching the last five minutes on the bus ride home from Valpo, Scott Woods — he and I have worked together for seven years, he’s one of my assistants — he tapped me on the shoulder and he said, ‘Billy, it ain’t gonna change. Shut the computer off.’ And I did and I haven’t watched it since,” Donlon said.

Darling is focused on coming back and leading the team to the tournament. A first-team preseason all-Horizon selection after garnering second-team honors last season, Darling rehabbed and is ready for this season.

“It was rough, a lot of hours in the training room and everything,” Darling, who averaged 11.3 points and 4.6 rebounds before getting hurt, said. “At first, I healed up pretty quick and wanted to get out of the sling and start moving around. The hardest thing was the anticipation of not moving around in the sling for six weeks. After that, it was just range of motion.”

Players like Darling are the reason that last season the Raiders were one of the biggest surprises in college basketball. The mentality in the program never changed for Darling or the players despite preseason expectations.

“We win at Wright State,” Darling said. “That’s what we do. We have to get in that mindset of a 20-win season and everything that they’ve had in previous years. We have to get back to the tournament.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

Darling said that this year’s group is already off to a great start in practice and he likes the way they play.

“We’re definitely a lot more athletic this season. Everybody can change positions and play different spots and score the ball, so we’ve had a lot of spacing and a lot of equal scoring opportunities,” Darling said. “Also with our depth now, our pace of play doesn’t have to necessarily slow down when we change guys in and out. Which will help us out defensively and offensively.”

Dealing with injuries like Darling’s and also Matt Vest and AJ Packer has been difficult but something Wright State has dealt with thanks to their depth.

“Matt Vest is 50/50 on whether he’ll play or redshirt. AJ Packer had surgery on his foot and he’s doing better,” Donlon said.

“I’ve learned a lot about human anatomy the last eight months.”

Donlon believes that Wright State has always been one of the league’s top teams — with a target on its back — so last season and this season will both be competitive.

“Is there a target on our back? I don’t know, we started 5-1 to start the league. So the rest of the games — I would imagine — after starting 5-1 there was a heck of a target on our back,” Donlon said. “The target has been on our back since Brad Brownell was the coach and that won’t change.”

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.