2013-2014 Season Preview: The Top 20 Big Men

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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.

Basketball has five positions, but the way that the sport has grown, particularly at the collegiate level, has produced hybrid players, unusual roster makeups and far too many teams with players that don’t fit into a typical positional category. Few teams actually field a traditional starting five, which is why CBT decided to make our positional rankings reflect that.

We will be ranking:

The final installment of our Top 20 player rankings focuses on the big men, and for all the talk of college basketball being a “guard’s game” post presences are a necessity if a team’s going to win a national title. With NBA Draft eligibility rules being what they are, national champions more often than not have at least one elite big man. Some are bruisers who do the majority of their work inside, while others possess the ability to step out on the perimeter and score as well.

Here’s our list of the Top 20 big men in college basketball:

1. Julius Randle (Kentucky): The 6-foot-9 freshman has the build of a pro already, and the talent is there as well. Incredibly difficult to stop around the basket, Randle is also capable of knocking down perimeter shots. Given how difficult it is to match up with Randle, it’ll be interesting to see how John Calipari utilizes the most talented player on his star-studded roster.

2. Doug McDermott (Creighton): The senior forward, who averaged 23.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season, will be in the Big East and national Player of the Year discussions in his senior campaign. With range well out beyond the three-point line, McDermott shot 54.8% from the field and 49.0% from three in 2012-13.

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3. Mitch McGary (Michigan): McGary’s (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) played his best basketball at the most important time of the year for the Wolverines, who reached the national title game for the first time since 1993. The 6-foot-10 big man averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 boards in the tournament.

4. Aaron Gordon (Arizona): Gordon’s an elite athlete who finishes above the rim with authority. If Gordon’s able to consistently knock down perimeter looks in addition to his ability to score inside, look out. The key? Gordon needs to embrace being a big man at the college level.

5. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville): Harrell, a role player for last season’s national champions, is expected to play a starring role for the Cardinals as a sophomore. Harrell (5.7, 3.6) is a very physical interior player, and he was dominant at times with the United States Under-19 team in this past summer’s World Championships.

6. Adreian Payne (Michigan State): Payne’s been a tantalizing player for much of his time in East Lansing, and he began to show signs of putting it all together during the latter portion of his junior season. Payne, who averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 boards per game last season, can also knock down perimeter shots when left open. Consistency is the key for Payne.

7. Isaiah Austin (Baylor): The 7-foot-1 Austin may be one of the most skilled players in the country, as he can handle the ball on the perimeter as well as score from just about anywhere on the floor. The question for Austin (13.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg), who’s healthy following offseason shoulder surgery, is whether or not he’s better equipped to handle physical play on a nightly basis in the Big 12.

8. Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee): Pound for pound one of the strongest players in America, Stokes averaged 12.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game without Jeronne Maymon (knee) available to help him out in the paint. With Maymon healthy, look for Stokes to be even better as a junior.

9. Cory Jefferson (Baylor): Jefferson went from being a role player to being an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection. Currently fifth in school history in blocked shots for a career (117), Jefferson (13.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg) shot 61% from the field as a redshirt junior.

10. Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky): Cauley-Stein (8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg) was one of the bright spots in what turned out to be a tough season for the Wildcats. An excellent athlete, the 7-foot big man was an SEC All-Freshman Team selection and he’s expected to play a starring role for Kentucky this season.

TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW

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  • 11. Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State): It can be argued that Nash should be listed with the wings, but his versatility allows the Cowboys to use him in a variety of ways. He’s already a handful off the dribble and on the block, but he needs to be a better shooter.
  • 12. James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina): Anyone’s guess as to how long P.J. Hairston will be out of the lineup, but regardless of the shooter’s status, McAdoo needs to be a key figure for the Tar Heels this season.
  • 13. Alex Kirk (New Mexico): A good argument could have been made for Kirk winning Mountain West Player of the Year last season over teammate Kendall Williams. Kirk posted averages of 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in 2012-13.
  • 14. Jerrelle Benimon (Towson): The reigning CAA Player of the Year was outstanding for the Tigers in 2012-13, posting averages of 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
  • 15. Joel Embiid (Kansas): Embiid’s received high praise from many and he’s yet to play a college game. A bit raw offensively, Embiid will likely do the majority of his damage on the defensive end to start the year.
  • 16. Augustine Rubit (South Alabama): Rubit’s a bit underrated nationally, but the fact of the matter is that he was one of the nation’s most productive big men last season. The Sun Belt Player of the Year averaged 19.4 points and 10.5 rebounds.
  • 17. Dwight Powell (Stanford) : Powell’s expected to have a big year for the Cardinal after averaging 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Powell earned first team All-Pac-12 honors and was named the league’s Most Improved Player.
  • 18. Juvonte Reddic (VCU): The last line of defense for the Rams, Reddic emerged as the Atlantic 10’s best big man in 2012-13, averaging 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
  • 19. Akil Mitchell (Virginia): Tony Bennett’s big man is one of the most underrated players in the ACC. He averaged 13.1 points and 8.9 boards as a junior and should be a major part in Virginia’s push for an ACC title.
  • 20. Ryan Anderson (Boston College): Anderson is a major reason that BC is expected to surprise a lot of people in the ACC. He averaged 14.9 points and 8.0 boards as a sophomore.

CBT Podcast: Michael Porter Jr. is back, Duke and Kentucky might be back, Allonzo Trier’s gone

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Fun episode today. Rob Dauster was joined by one of the up-and-coming stars at ESPN, Dalen Cuff, to talk through the changes that Duke and Kentucky have made in recent weeks and whether or not that changes our perception of those teams moving forward. They also discussed Trae Young’s regression as well as the root of their soccer fandom, and all of that happened roughly 90 minutes before news broke that Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. was cleared by doctors to play while Arizona’s Allonzo Trier was once against ineligible for a positive PED test, so Travis Hines of NBC Sports jumped on the podcast to talk through all of that. The rundown:

OPEN: Should Michael Porter Jr. play this season?

10:05: Did Allonzo Trier get screwed by the NCAA?

16:55: Why did Dalen Cuff sully his name by becoming an Arsenal fan?

26:20: Why has Duke been better without Marvin Bagley III?

34:05: Is Jarred Vanderbilt the key to unlock Kentucky’s potential?

39:25: Have you changed your outlook on Duke or Kentucky in the long-term?

43:45: Texas Tech losing Keenan Evans was a bummer.

48:00: So let’s talk about this Trae Young slump.

Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky respond to report connecting players to agent payments

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Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky are the three most visible programs that have had their program connected to today’s report from Yahoo Sports that linked current players to potential NCAA violations involving ex-NBA agent Andy Miller and a former employee, Christian Dawkins.

According to the report, the mother of Duke freshman Wendell Carter had lunch with Dawkins at a Longhorn Steakhouse where Dawkins spent $106 on the meal. The parents of Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges are alleged to have received a mean with $70 from Dawkins as well as a $400 cash advance. Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox or a member of his family is listed as receiving a meal from Dawkins, although his father has already denied that this happened.

All three programs have denied wrongdoing.

“Duke immediately reviewed the matter and, based on the available information, determined there are no eligibility issues related to today’s report,” read a statement released by Duke AD Kevin White.

“We are aware of the report in Yahoo! Sports,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. “While we will cooperate with any and all investigations, we have no reason to believe that I, any member of our staff or student-athlete did anything in violation of NCAA rules.”

“I have no relationship with Andy Miller or any of his associates,” John Calipari’s statement read. “Neither my staff nor I utilized any agent, including Andy Miller or any of his associates, to provide any financial benefits to a current or former Kentucky student-athlete. We will cooperate fully with the appropriate authorities.”

Cal also said in a press conference that he believes Knox will play on Saturday against Missouri.

San Diego State suspends Malik Pope after reports of loan from agent

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San Diego State announced on Friday that they have provisionally suspended senior forward Malik Pope for allegedly receiving $1,400 from a former NBA agent.

He did not travel with the team for Saturdays game against San Jose State.

According to documents from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, documents that were obtained by Yahoo Sports and published on Friday morning, Andy Miller provided Pope with a loan of $1,400 that was to be repaid when Pope turned pro and signed with Miller.

Loans from agents are considered impermissible benefits.

Pope is the first player to be provisionally suspended by his team as a result of today’s news. USC’s De’Anthony Melton and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy have not played this season having being referenced in the complaints released by the FBI in September. Alabama’s Collin Sexton as well as Oklahoma State’s Jeffery Carroll were initially suspended as their program’s attempted to get their eligibility reinstated.

Mark Emmert refuses to acknowledge NCAA’s fundamental issue: The sham of amateurism

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The concept of amateurism has been around for nearly two centuries.

It started back in the 1800s, when organized sport was first beginning in England. The upper class, the one-percenters of that time, lived a lifestyle that allowed them to do things like play rugby, or polo, or soccer, and succeed at it.

When you don’t have to worry about working six or seven days a week in a factory you have the time to practice kicking with your weaker foot. But those blue collar workers, the ones that spent six or seven days a week doing manual labor, they were the better athletes. Bigger, stronger, faster. Those rich guys didn’t stand a chance, which is why amateurism was born.

You cannot be paid to play sports, they said. You have to play sports for the love of the game, which those rich guys were able to do because they didn’t have to spend their days trying to work enough hours to put food on the table for their wives and children.

Amateurism, the core tenet of the NCAA, was quite literally created to keep rich English guys from getting their asses kicked by poor English guys.

Today, that concept, that farce, trumps all else in college athletics.

It’s why, in 2018, the NCAA has contracts that guarantees the association roughly $13.5 BILLION dollars over the next 14 years to broadcast a tournament that Duke’s Wendell Carter may not be able to play in because his mom allegedly had a $106 lunch paid for by a recruiter for an agent two years ago.

On Friday morning, hours after Yahoo Sports published a bombshell report that included documents and spreadsheets detailing the recruitment strategy of former NBA agent Andy Miller, NCAA president Mark Emmert released a statement addressing the evidence presented.

“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now,” Emmert, who made at least $1.9 million in 2015, began in the statement, and he is absolutely, 100 percent correct.

If, as Emmert put it, “we want college sports in America,” we need to do away with amateurism rules. We need to do away with the archaic notion that these athletes do not have any value. We need to do away with the idea that these athletes — athletes with the potential to earn, quite literally, hundreds of millions of dollars in their playing career, mind you — having access to professional representation before they turn 19 years old is some sort of problem.

The simple truth is this: If you do not allow players to access their fair market value without breaking NCAA rules, you are perpetuating the underground economy that is already flourishing. There is too much money in the game, and the numbers that you are seeing tossed around today are simply on the agent side, and from just one agent. Yahoo did not gain access to all of the evidence that the FBI has gathered during this investigation, and even if the did, the network built by Miller is a fraction of the black market created by the NCAA’s insistence that amateurism reign supreme.

Think about it like this: If basketball’s underground economy was a movie, then what we saw today was the shortened trailer that airs three weeks after the movie was actually released.

We’re just scratching the surface.

What you are not seeing now is the money that shoe companies spend to funnel players to certain schools that will help build their brand. Brian Bowen taught us that players that don’t reach the top 20 in a recruiting class can be worth $100,000 to a company like Adidas. If Brian Bowen is worth $100,000 to Adidas, what is a talent like Marvin Bagley III or Deandre Ayton worth to them?

What you are also not seeing is the money that flows from boosters to the players. You don’t think that a booster for, say, Big Tech would love to spend a few thousand dollars to land a player that will help keep them above Big State in the standings? Think about how much you love your favorite team. Now think about how much money you’d be willing to part with every year to help that team get the players they need to get to a Final Four if you had $30 million in the bank.

Say it with me now:

That.

Is.

Never.

Going.

Away.

It doesn’t matter how many smart people Emmert tries to put on a committee.

Boosters are never going to stop wanting their team to win. Shoe companies are never going to stop spending billions of dollars to help build their brand. Coaches are never going to stop looking the other way because getting those good players is how they win, and winning is how they get better jobs and longer contracts.

The fix is so damn easy, too.

Go to the Olympic model.

Schools don’t have to play the players. There won’t be any Title IX issues, which is the crux of the issue when it comes to the “schools should pay the players” debate; it’s not exactly a secret football and men’s basketball subsidizes the rest of an athletic department.

The athletes will be able to receive their fair market value because their ability to profit off of their own name and their own likeness will not be artificially capped by an association that wants to keep all of that money for themselves.

And therein lies the problem.

Think about it like this: Adidas currently has a deal with the University of Louisville that will pay the school $160 million over the next decade for all Cardinal athletes to be decked out head-to-toe in nothing but the three stripes. This deal is far from unique. Under Armour has a deal with UCLA worth $280 million. Nike’s new deal with Michigan is valued at roughly $173 million.

Lamar Jackson (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The goal there isn’t necessarily to get every player covered head-to-toe in their brand. The goal is to get, say, Lamar Jackson wearing Adidas while he’s at Louisville, or Josh Rosen wearing UA while he’s at UCLA. With basketball, it’s even more specific. Nike wants, say, Michael Porter Jr. wearing the swoosh in high school and college so that they can sign him when he gets to the pros and make billions off of his brand if he happens to turn into the next Kevin Durant, or LeBron James, or Kyrie Irving, or Steph Curry.

If amateurism didn’t exist, if Nike could go straight Porter or Adidas could go straight to Jackson when they were 15 or 16 years old, would the incentive to invest billions of dollars in sponsorship deals with the schools still be as strong? There would still be money there, but there wouldn’t be as much because a good chunk of it would be going to the players those companies actually want.

It works on a micro-level, too.

A car dealership in Lexington or a restaurant in Lawrence is going to advertise with the school — on the local broadcasts, with promotions at the game, on the coach’s radio show, etc. — instead of being able to put, say, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a billboard to help sell Toyota Camrys or, say, Devonte’ Graham in a commercial touting a new Happy Hour special.

Let’s put this another way: If you let the labor get paid, then the profits of the company and the salaries of the decision-makers within that company take a hit.

Emmert ended his statement on Friday like this: “We also will continue to cooperate with the efforts of federal prosecutors to identify and punish the unscrupulous parties seeking to exploit the system through criminal acts,” blissfully aware that he and his cronies are the unscrupulous parties exploiting the system, without a f*** to give when that direct deposit hits this afternoon.

Kevin Knox’s father: ‘I’ve never met Christian Dawkins’

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The father of Kevin Knox spoke with SEC Country on Friday morning and told the outlet that he has never met Christian Dawkins or Andy Miller.

Knox is one of the players that was mentioned in the documents disclosed by Yahoo Sports on Friday morning detailing the way that former NBA agent Andy Miller recruited players to his agency. Knox is mentioned in the report as either him or a family member having a meal with Christian Dawkins. The evidence is an expense report that Dawkins filed with Miller in oder to get reimbursed.

“Obviously the investigation is still going on, but the only comment I can say is I’ve never met Christian Dawkins before or Andy Miller, and if they sat next to me at the grocery store, I wouldn’t know who they were,” Kevin Knox Sr. told SEC Country. “Out of respect for the NCAA investigation and the University of Kentucky investigation into this, I’d just say that I’ve never met Christian Dawkins or Andy Miller before and leave it at that.”

He also added that he expected his son to play against Missouri on Saturday night.

Kentucky has not yet commented on the report. Mark Emmert, however, has.