Buffalo Athletics

Javon McCrea, Bobby Hurley aim to make ‘one-year run’ a successful one

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Buffalo Athletics

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.

At the end of the 2011-12 season the Buffalo Bulls lost a sizable chunk of their offensive production, with MAC Player of the Year Mitchell Watt and guard Zach Filzen among the key contributors. So in that regard some growing pains were expected for a program that entered the 2012-13 campaign having won at least eighteen games in each of the four seasons prior (three seasons of 20 or more wins). But it wasn’t meant to be for the Bulls, who fell behind the proverbial 8-ball in non-conference play and dropped their first three conference games. The end result was a 14-20 record and a coaching change, with Bobby Hurley replacing Reggie Witherspoon.

But Hurley, in his first season as a head coach after assisting younger brother Dan at both Wagner and Rhode Island, isn’t working with an empty cupboard by any means. Four starters return, most notably a senior forward in Javon McCrea who may be one of the nation’s best. As a junior McCrea posted averages of 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. For his efforts McCrea was a first-team All-MAC selection, but the lack of team success has the Newark, N.Y. product hungry to put the Buffalo program back on the right track in his final season.

“When I first got here we won 20 games my freshman season and 20 games my sophomore season, so we’re not really used to having a bad season,” McCrea told NBC Sports. “Everyone’s determined and ready to show that we’re better than last year’s performance.”

McCrea reached double figures in every game with the exception of two last season, shooting 55.7% from the field despite being the focal point of opposing teams’ scouting reports every game. His best outing of the season came in a two-point overtime loss at Kent State, as McCrea accounted for 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Coach Hurley knew the numbers McCrea posted last season and he was able to watch some game film as well, and once individual workouts began it didn’t take long for the coach to realize what kind of talent he’d be working with this season.

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Mid-American Conference Preview)

“I watched a couple games and obviously I was aware of what he had accomplished statistically; I didn’t have a very strong feel but I knew he was a good player, a first-team all-league player” noted Hurley in a phone interview with NBC Sports. “I got very excited the first couple of weeks working with him on the court, just seeing some of the stuff he was doing. As a coach, I knew I would be able to use him in many different ways and that was exciting.”

The ability to use McCrea in a variety of ways isn’t solely about his individual talents, as the Bulls return much of their production from a season ago. Junior forward Will Regan (11.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) has the ability to score both inside and out, as he shot 47.8% from the field and 41.6% from deep in his first season after transferring in from Virginia, and senior guard Jarod Oldham (10.1, 5.3, 4.4 apg) is back after playing just 11 games due to a wrist injury. In 2011-12 Oldham led the MAC in assists, dishing out 5.9 helpers per game, and his return should give the Bulls the boost they need in the backcourt.

Buffalo does lose Tony Watson II (11.3 ppg), but sophomore guard Jarryn Skeete is expected to slide into that role after averaging 7.1 points per game as a freshman. With these pieces the Bulls are well-positioned to improve their standing within the MAC, and ultimately the hope is that McCrea will be able to improve his individual standing with the team enjoying greater success as well.

“We’ve talked a lot about his future and he’s going to play beyond his last year here at Buffalo, so we just want to put him in a better position to make some things happen for himself,” said Hurley. “He’s continued to work on his mid-range jump shot out to about 17 feet, and I’m going to encourage him to shoot that ball because he’s worked really hard. It’s something we’ve discussed, adding an additional dimension to his game, and hopefully people will see that in small doses.”

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

For some programs the transition to a new coach and style of play can be a struggle, with the desire to put one’s stamp on the program possibly being at the expense of the holdovers. But that won’t be the case for Hurley, who wants to take full advantage of the one season he has with McCrea. And there’s no better way to show that Buffalo is back on the right track than to have McCrea enjoy even more success, because that would enable the program to enjoy more success as well. So as the coach begins writing his chapter in the Buffalo history books, the player will look to provide a fitting conclusion to his UB career by helping the team reach its goals.

“I don’t really focus on [individual accolades], I just focus on the team aspect,” said McCrea. “I feel that if we take care of the non-conference first and then focus on the MAC, then everything will be much better. If we play poorly in non-conference play like we did last year, then it can carry over.”

With perennial MAC East powers Akron and Ohio both suffering some key personnel losses, there’s an optimistic feeling in regards to Buffalo’s chances of contending. And with McCrea leading the way, the Bulls are more than capable of rebounding from last season’s disappointing outcome.

USC’s Nikola Jovanovic not expected to return to USC

Southern California forward Nikola Jovanovic pauses on the court during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.

The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.

Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.

The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.

Marcus Lee withdrawing from the draft, transferring from Kentucky

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunks during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.

Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.

“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”

Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The tough part?

It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.

“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”

Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.

Isaiah Briscoe to return to Kentucky

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.

But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.

In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.

Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.

James Blackmon Jr. to return to Indiana, Troy Williams to remain in draft

James Blackmon Jr.
(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.

Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.

Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.

The NBC Sports 2016-17 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25

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Putting together the Preseason Top 25 was more difficult than in past seasons because of the new NBA Draft rule that allows players to test the waters. We won’t know for another month and a half whether these guys are going to stay in the draft. 

To battle with this problem, we put a ‘*’ next to every potential draft pick that we think is returning to school. If a potential pro is not listed, it’s because we think he’s going to stay in the draft. 

The other part is the elite freshmen that have not yet committed to a school. We are not making predictions on where they end up, but we will update the rankings when the decision gets made, just like we will update the rankings when as the transfer market spins. 

So here it is: The NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25. If you see any mistakes in the rosters, please let us know.

1. Duke

  • Returning: Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson, Chase Jeter
  • Newcomers: Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Javin DeLaurier, Marques Bolden
  • Why they’re here: With Grayson Allen returning to school, Duke should be the consensus No. 1 team in the country. Allen and Kennard will fit perfectly on the perimeter with Jackson and Tatum while Jefferson will slide in nicely alongside Giles, giving Coach K what may be the most explosive offensive team that he’s ever coached. The x-factor here is, obviously, the health of Giles’ knees. He’s now had both knees surgically repaired and will have not played basketball for a year by the time Duke’s season kicks off.

2. Kentucky

  • Returning: Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Isaac Humphries, Isaiah Briscoe
  • Newcomers: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard
  • Why they’re here: Kentucky is No. 2 — more like No. 1b — because we were concerned about where they would get perimeter shooting from to space the floor. Fox, Monk and Adebayo will let Coach Cal return to his dribble-drive motion past, but the question is just how good of a shooter Gabriel and Killeya-Jones will be at the four and whether or not Willis can slide in and play small forward for a team at this level.

3. Kansas

  • Returning: Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Carlton Bragg, Landen Lucas, Lagerald Vick
  • Newcomers: Josh Jackson, Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot
  • Why they’re here: That back court of Mason and Graham will be bolstered by Jackson, a supremely talented recruit that has the dog in him to fit in well with that group. If Svi and Bragg can take a step forward, Lucas, Azubuike and Lightfoot should be able to handle the pivot for a team that will be the favorite to win the Big 12.

4. Villanova

  • Returning: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges. Newcomers: Eric Paschall, Dylan Painter, Omari Spellman
  • Why they’re here: Losing Ryan Arcidiacono’s leadership is really going to hurt these Wildcats, but Brunson should be able to step into those shoes and have a major impact as the primary ball-handler immediately. Getting Hart back for his senior season is the difference-maker here, as the trio of Hart, Jenkins and Bridges will be a nightmare for anyone to deal with.

5. Oregon

  • Returning: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Casey Benson
  • Newcomers: Dylan Ennis*, M.J. Cage, Keith Smith, Payton Pritchard, Kavell Bigby Williams
  • Why they’re here: The Ducks were one of the best teams in this country this past season and not only will they return the majority of their key pieces, but they add Villanova transfer Ennis and a solid three-man recruiting class. The key is going to be whether or not Brooks opts to return to school for his junior season.

6. Michigan State

  • Returning: Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling, Matt McQuaid, Tum Tum Nairn
  • Newcomers: Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, Ben Carter
  • Why they’re here: The Spartans lose a ton — Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello — but they also add a ton, bringing in a class headlined by Miles Bridges that is as talented as any that Tom Izzo has brought in in recent years. Their ceiling is high, but the question that needs to be answered is just how well they fit together and just how effective Winston and Nairn will be running the point.

7. Virginia

  • Returning: London Perrantes, Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall, Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson, Jarred Rueter
  • Newcomers: Austin Nichols, Kyle Guy, Jay Huff, Mamade Diakite, DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome
  • Why they’re here: Losing Anthony Gill and Malcolm Brogdon is a tough blow to overcome, but the Cavaliers now have a program that can survive personnel losses like that. Nichols will shine in that system, and we’re expecting one of Perrrantes, Hall, Shayok or Thompson to take a step forward offensively.

8. North Carolina

  • Returning: Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams
  • Newcomers: Tony Bradley, Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods
  • Why they’re here: Assuming that the Tar Heels get the guys back that they’re supposed to get back, they should actually have a better team next season than some may realize. Might they actually be able to repeat as ACC regular season champions?

9. Arizona

  • Returning: Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen, Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright
  • Newcomers: Ray Smith, Rawle Alkins, Terrence Ferguson, Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons
  • Why they’re here: There are some very valid questions about how Arizona’s roster is going to fit together next season. With Trier, Alkins, Ferguson and Simmons all on the roster, will there be enough shots to go around? I’ll trust Sean Miller to get the most out of these guys, but there’s a chance that this No. 9 ranking could end up looking silly next March.

10. Louisville

  • Returning: Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell, Mangok Mathiang, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel, Anas Mahmoud
  • Newcomers: Tony Hicks, V.J. King
  • Why they’re here: The Cardinals are another team that are going to be better than I realized next season. They lose Damion Lee, but expect Mitchell, Adel, Spalding and Mahmoud to all take significant steps forward.

11. Wisconsin

  • Returning: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter, Jordan Hill, Khalil Iverson, Charlie Thomas, Alex Illikainen
  • Newcomers: Andy Van Vliet, Brevin Pritzl
  • Why they’re here: The Badgers return literally everyone from this season, barring a surprise transfer or a player jumping to the NBA. We know about Hayes and Koenig, but don’t be surprised to see Ethan Happ turn into the best player on the roster by next season.

12. Gonzaga

  • Returning: Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Przemek Karnowski
  • Newcomers: Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams III, Zach Collins, Zach Norvell, Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura
  • Why they’re here: The Zags may end up being better next season than they were last season, as Williams-Goss, Williams III and Collins may all end up being all-WCC players. They need Karnowski to decide to return for a fifth-year to anchor their defense.

13. Xavier

  • Returning: Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis, J.P. Macura, Kaiser Gates
  • Newcomers: Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones, RaShid Gaston
  • Why they’re here: We all saw how good Xavier can be this season, and they return the majority of their pieces. The big question with them next season will be in the front court, which is why we have them sitting at 13th.

14. West Virginia

  • Returning: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Tarik Phillip, Esa Ahmad, Nathan Adrian, Elijan Macon
  • Newcomers: Maciej Bender, Chase Harler, Brandon Knapper, Sagaba Konate
  • Why they’re here: Losing Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams is really going to hurt, but this group has enough of a program mentality at this point that they should be able to remain competitive without them.

15. Indiana

  • Returning: Thomas Bryant, James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, O.G. Anunoby, Juwan Morgan
  • Newcomers: Josh Newkirk, De’Ron Davis, Grant Gelon, Devonte Green, Curtis Jones
  • Why they’re here: The Hoosiers are another team that is very up in the air at this point, even with Thomas Bryant back in the fold. Blackmon and Anunoby should be key, but Williams’ loss hurts and Yogi’s graduation is a massive void.

16. USC

  • Returning: Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright, Elijah Stewart, Chimezie Metu, Nikola Jovanovic
  • Newcomers: Shaqquan Aaron, Harrison Henderson, Jonah Mathews, De’Anthony Melton
  • Why they’re here: USC loses Julian Jacobs but still brings back the majority of their important pieces while adding Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron to the mix. They were supposed to be a year away last season when they reached the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed.

17. UCLA

  • Returning: Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday, Jonah Bolden
  • Newcomers: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Kobe Paras, Ike Anigbogu
  • Why they’re here: UCLA is the ultimate wildcard. If Ball has the impact that he’s expected to have, they’ll be a top five team. I could also see them being a .500 team. Your guess is as good as mine.

18. Florida State

  • Returning: Dwayne Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Terance Mann
  • Newcomers: Jonathan Isaac, Trent Forrest, Mfiondu Kabevgele, C.J. Walker
  • Why they’re here: There are talented pieces on this roster, and they should fit together better than the pieces on last year’s roster. Isaac is the wildcard here.

19. Maryland

  • Returning: Melo Trimble*, Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley, Michal Cekovsky
  • Newcomers: Anthony Cowan, Kevin Hurter, Micah Thomas
  • Why they’re here: Because we’re assuming that Trimble is coming back to school. Cowan is going to be good, but if Trimble isn’t there, this team is going to be in full rebuilding mode, and even if he is, this ranking may still be somewhat high.

20. Dayton

  • Returning: Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, Kyle Davis, Darrell Davis, Sam Miller
  • Newcomers: Josh Cunningham, Trey Landers
  • Why they’re here: They return basically everyone from last year’s team, including head coach Archie Miller, and add a former top 100 recruit in Josh Cunningham.

21. Rhode Island

  • Returning: E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Hassan Martin, Kuran Iverson, Jarvis Garrett, Danny Hurley
  • Newcomers: Stanford Robinson, Mike Layssard, Jeff Dowtin, Cyril Langevine, Michael Tertsea
  • Why they’re here: The Rams are as talented as any team in the Atlantic 10 in recent memory. Can Danny Hurley put the pieces together?

22. Virginia Tech

  • Returning: Zach LeDay, Seth Allen, Justin Bibbs, Chris Clarke, Justin Robinson, Kerry Blackshear Jr., Devin Wilson, Ahmed Hill, Ty Outlaw
  • Newcomers: Khadeem Sy
  • Why they’re here: Because this.

23. Cincinnati

  • Returning: Troy Caupain, Gary Clark, Jacob Evans, Kevin Johnson, Justin Jenifer
  • Newcomers: Jaron Cumberland, Kyle Washington, Nysier Brooks
  • Why they’re here: We know how good their guards are. The key for them is going to be how much of an impact Washington has in the front court.

24. Creighton

  • Returning: Mo Watson, Cole Huff, Isaiah Zierden, Khyri Thomas
  • Newcomers: Justin Patton, Marcus Foster
  • Why they’re here: Watson and Foster will headline the Bluejays one of the nation’s best back courts. Their ceiling will be determined by just how good Cole Huff and Justin Patton end up being on their front line.

25. Saint Mary’s

  • Returning: Emmett Naar, Dane Pineau, Calvin Hermanson, Joe Rahon, Evan Fitzneg, Jock Landale
  • Newcomers: Jordan Ford, Elijah Thomas
  • Why they’re here: The Gaels were a year away last season, when they won 29 games and a share of the WCC regular season title. They return everyone from that team, which was top 25 in offensive efficiency.

ALSO CONSIDERED

  • Syracuse (Returning: Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson, Franklin Howard; Newcomers: Paschal Chukwu, Tyus Battle, Matthew Moyer, John Gillion)
  • Texas (Returning: Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., Tevin Mack, Shaquille Cleare; Newcomers: Andrew Jones, Jacob Young, James Banks)
  • Purdue (Returning: Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline, P.J. Thompson, Basil Smotherman; Newcomers: Carsen Edwards)
  • Texas A&M (Returning: Tyler Davis, Tonny Trocha-Morelos, Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg, Kobie Eubanks; Newcomers: J.J. Caldwell, Robert Williams)
  • Wichita State (Retuning: Landry Shamet, Markis McDuffie, Conner Frankamp, Rashard Kelly, Zach Brown, Shaquille Morris; Newcomers: Peyton Allen, C.J. Keyser)
  • Miami (Returning: Davon Reed, Ja’Quan Newton, Anthony Lawrence Jr.; Newcomers: Bruce Brown, Dewan Huell, Rodney Miller, Dejan Vasilijevic, Rashad Muhammad)
  • UConn (Returning: Rodney Purvis, Jalen Adams, Amida Brimah, Steve Enoch; Newcomers: Terry Larrier, Juwan Durham, Alterique Gilbert, Vance Jackson, Mamadou Diarra)