2013-2014 Big Ten Preview: The power resides in Michigan

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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 the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Big Ten is once again loaded this season, with Michigan State entering the season as NBCSports.com’s Preseason No. 1 team in the country. The Spartans caught a break in the offseason, as both Gary Harris and Adreian Payne opted to return to school for another season. The same can be said for Michigan, who lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. but brought back Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III.

All told, the Big Ten should produce at least six NCAA tournament bids with as many as eight or nine teams — depending on how you view Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota — with the potential to play their way into the dance. But what makes this conference tough is that there won’t be an easy out this year. Northwestern returns Drew Crawford and brings in new head coach Chris Collins. Nebraska has steadily improved under Tim Miles, brings back some talent and has a nice recruiting class. Tim Frazier’s return means the Nittany Lions have one of the best back courts in the conference.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. There’s something wrong with Mitch McGary’s back: We just don’t happen to know what it is. McGary has been sitting out of practices and has spent Michigan’s two exhibition games suited up in a shirt and tie. The Wolverines haven’t let anyone know what the issue is, but McGary has said that he’ll be back for the Duke game on Dec. 3rd at the latest. Having the big fella slowed is an issue: he’s never been a guy that is in great shape, and sitting out preseason practices sure won’t help that. And as much as I like Jordan Morgan, he’s just not the same presence inside.

2. Ohio State needs LaQuinton Ross to step up: Ross is a trendy pick to be a breakout player this season for two reasons: everyone saw him go off in the NCAA tournament, when he averaged 17.7 points in the Buckeye’s last three games and hit a game-winner against Arizona. More importantly, with Deshaun Thomas gone, there will be plenty of shots and scoring opportunities available for Ohio State. Thad Matta lacks a true go-to threat offensively. Ross needs to be that guy.

3. Keith Appling is the key to Michigan State’s season: The Spartans are finally healthy this season, with Gary Harris, Branden Dawson and Travis Trice all back to 100%. Adreian Payne is back in the fold and ready to take on a bigger roll. The key for the Spartans, however, is going to be Appling’s ability to run the point. Can he be a leader and a playmaker offensively? He’s had the job for two years now, and he’s yet to fully adjust to being a point guard.

4. Iowa is the team to watch in the Big Ten: The Hawkeyes head into this season as one of the most intriguing teams in the country. They have a nice blend of veteran leadership and talented youngsters with a season of college hoops under their belt. Jarrod Uthoff is finally eligible to play this season as well, meaning that Iowa can go 10 or 11 deep is need be. They have size, they have guard play, they can score. I don’t think it’s crazy to say they can finish top four in the conference.

5. Yogi Ferrell is the most important player in the conference: With the amount of talent that Indiana loses off of last season’s roster, it’s impressive that the Hoosiers are able to enter this season as a top 25 team. There’s potential here, but there are a lot of question marks as well. Does Tom Crean use a bigger or smaller lineup? Two guards? Two posts? How good is Noah Vonleh? Who joins him up front? Does Jeremy Hollowell take the leap this season? The only thing we know for sure is that Yogi Ferrell is their starting PG, and that he can really play. The Hoosiers need him to be a go-to scorer and a leader this year.

PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Gary Harris, Michigan State

We’ve heard it all offseason: last year’s Gary Harris wasn’t the real Gary Harris. He was forced to pigeon-hole himself as a jumpshooter because of a bum shoulder that made it really painful for him to try and drive through contact. And while Harris can shoot it, he’s a much more well-rounded player than he showed last season. Expect him to be an all-american candidate by season’s end.

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THE REST OF THE ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM:

  • Aaron Craft, Ohio State: He’s a winner, a leader and a lockdown defender. Not much else needs to be said.
  • Mitch McGary, Michigan: McGary is a double-double machine and a potential all-american if his back cooperates.
  • Glenn Robinson III, Michigan: A freak athlete, it will be interesting to see if GR3 can become a more well-rounded offensive weapon as a sophomore.
  • Adreian Payne, Michigan: Payne is getting a lot of hype for a guy that averaged 10.5 points and 7.6 boards as a junior, but if he lives up to his potential, he’s a top five big man nationally.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
  • Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
  • Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
  • Tim Frazier, Penn State
  • LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State

BREAKOUT STAR: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

The Big Ten is home to a number of breakout candidates — A.J. Hammons, LaQuinton Ross, Glenn Robinson III — but I’ll go with Sam Dekker. Dekker is a very, very talented wing forward. He’s 6-foot-7 and athletic with range beyond the college three-point line. He’ll be taking on a go-to role in Wisconsin’s offensive this season as well, meaning that there will be plenty of opportunities for him to put up his numbers.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Matt Painter, Purdue

There really isn’t any coach in this league under too much pressure, but I’ll go with Painter for a couple reasons: 1) He coaches basketball-centric Indiana, where the rival Hoosiers are riding high; 2) He’s coming off of a season where he finished under .500; and 3) Painter has some talent on his roster that doesn’t seem to want to buy-in. He’s not at risk of losing his job, but another down year and that seat might start to feel a little warm.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Big Ten ended up being the nation’s deepest conference.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Michigan vs. Michigan State.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 12, Michigan State vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic in Chicago)
  • Dec. 3, Michigan at Duke
  • Dec. 4, North Carolina at Michigan State
  • Dec. 7, Marquette at Wisconsin
  • Dec. 14, Arizona at Michigan

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Michigan State: The Spartans are going to be excellent, but I am having a tough time putting trust in Keith Appling and Adreian Payne to break the mold they’ve set for themselves the past three seasons.
2. Michigan: Replacing Trey Burke won’t be easy, but if McGary’s back injury plagues him throughout the year, the Wolverines are in some trouble.
3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are going to be a nightmare on the defensive end with Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson. But can they score?
4. Wisconsin: Bo Ryan always finishes top four in the Big Ten, so I’ll slot the Badgers top four. Front court depth is an issue, but Frank Kaminsky should have a big season.
5. Indiana: The Hoosiers have the talent. The question is whether or not it will actually come together. They are young and inexperienced, especially up front.
6. Iowa: This is the year for the Hawkeyes. They are deep, they are talented and they are balanced. Can the sophomores — Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, Jarrod Uthoff — make the jump?
7. Purdue: A.J. Hammons is big and talented enough to be an all-american before his career his done, I truly believe that. But does he want to be? He’s already been suspended this year.
8. Illinois: John Groce loaded up on transfers and freshmen this season, meaning that the Illini will have talent on their roster, but it may take a few games for them to truly get into sync. There is a ton of guard talent.
9. Minnesota: Andre Hollins is one of the nation’s best kept secrets, and with Richard Pitino bringing in some back court talent to join him, the Gophers are going to be a dangerous, pressing team. Not sure if they’re tourney ready yet, though.
10. Penn State: Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill form a back court many across the country will be envious of. It’s a shame Jermaine Marshall transferred.
11. Northwestern: Drew Crawford is healthy this season. Chris Collins is now coaching the Wildcats. They still have a lot of work to do, however.
12. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually shouldn’t be terrible. This league is just tough. Is “The Best Last Place Power Conference Team” a compliment?

Quinnipiac set to hire Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy as new head coach

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Quinnipiac will introduce Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy as the team’s new head coach on Tuesday, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Dunleavy has helped the Wildcats to a national championship and multiple Big East championships as the team’s associate head coach. A former walk-on for Villanova who transitioned into a director of operations and later an assistant coach, Dunleavy is the son of Tulane head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. Baker’s brother, Mike Dunleavy Jr., is still playing in the NBA as well.

The 34-year-old Dunleavy has experience with a championship program at Villanova so it will be interesting to see what he can do running his own program for the first time. Quinnipiac hired Dunleavy to replace Tom Moore, who was fired after 10 years with the program.

The Bobcats went to an NIT and made a few other postseason appearances under Moore but the program has never been to the NCAA tournament since making the transition to Division I in the late ’90s.

Report: Duquesne hires Akron’s Keith Dambrot as new head coach

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Duquesne has hired Akron head coach Keith Dambrot to the same position, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman.

The 58-year-old Dambrot has been head coach at Akron since 2004 as he’s helped the program to three NCAA tournament appearances.

The former high school coach of LeBron James at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School in Akron, Dambrot won two Ohio state championships with James before becoming an assistant coach at Akron in 2001. Dambrot eventually took over the head job over from Dan Hipsher.

Dambrot is reportedly getting a seven-year deal from Duquesne so the Dukes are making a major investment in him to turn around the basketball program.

Duke’s Christian Laettner shouts out North Carolina’s Luke Maye on Twitter after winning jumper over Kentucky

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Duke and North Carolina don’t have much in common.

But the historic college basketball rivals now have the distinction of earning late Elite Eight wins over Kentucky that involved a No. 32 making the winning shot.

Blue Devil legend Christian Laettner is famous for his 1992 buzzer-beater over Kentucky in the Elite Eight and he made sure to give some love to North Carolina sophomore Luke Maye after his own Elite Eight shot knocked out the Wildcats.

Rice’s Marcus Evans becomes one of top available transfers

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Rice sophomore guard Marcus Evans will transfer and play his final two seasons elsewhere, he announced on Monday.

The 6-foot-2 Evans has been a major scorer the last two seasons for the Owls as he averaged 19.0 points per game this season after putting up 21.4 points per game as a freshman.

With Rice head coach Mike Rhoades taking the VCU opening and the program struggling to consistently win, Evans seeking to play elsewhere should not come as much of a surprise.

Evans will have to sit out a transfer season before having two more years of eligibility but he should be one of the best options available this offseason. A proven scorer who has become more well-rounded this season, Evans could be a high-quality addition to any program this offseason.

A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, it will be interesting to see if Evans decides to play closer to home.

NBA Draft Stock Watch: Who has helped themselves in the NCAA Tournament?

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The term ‘prisoner of the moment’ is never more fitting than when weighing just how valuable an NCAA Tournament star turn is for a kid’s potential success as an NBA player.

We see it every year. Big tournament performances during deep runs in the dance is a great way to inflate draft stock while disappointing exits are an easy way to hurt it, even if it goes against the season-long data that is telling us something about a player. 

Who are the players that helped themselves the most this March? And who may have put a damper on their chances of hearing their name called early on draft night?

STOCK UP

Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has played his way into the discussion as a potential first round pick by leading South Carolina to the Final Four. He has the physical tools to be an excellent defender in the NBA, and he certainly has the toughness and physicality, but it’s his shot-making that is the game-changer for him. He shot 39.4 percent from three on the season and is hitting 43.2 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament, and while the knuckle-ball action on his jumper is concerning, at some point it’s fair to wonder whether or not his less-than-ideal form is less important than the fact that it goes in. Thornwell, who was the SEC Player of the Year this season, will be an interesting 3-and-D candidate come draft night, and the spotlight on him from averaging 25.7 points while leading the Gamecocks to the Final Four will only help.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox solidified his standing as a potential top five during the tournament. The red flags are still there — Can he make threes in the NBA? — but at the end of the day, the NBA Draft is about whether or not you want one guy or the other guy. This is a draft that is absolutely loaded at the point guard spot, and for the second time this season, Fox outplayed a guy that many have slotted above him, Lonzo Ball. In the Sweet 16, he put up 39 points, the most impressive individual performance of the tournament, as Kentucky skated by UCLA more easily than most of us expected. Ball should probably still be considered the better, but when you’re sitting in that room making those decisions, it’s not going to be easy to bypass the guy that bested him twice.

Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell, a senior, has been one of the best defensive players in the country all season long, and never was that more apparent than when he went for 11 points, 13 boards, eight blocks and four assists against Kansas in the Elite 8. He totally changed that game, making Landen Lucas look like an eighth grader without any confidence and forcing the Jayhawks to miss a number of shots in the lane simply because they were aware that Bell could be lurking. He was probably worth a second round pick already, but that game very likely ensured that he will here his name called at some point on draft night.

Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey is a shot-maker. That’s what he brings to the table offensively. He can score. He’s gone for at least 20 points in all seven tournament games — Pac-12 and NCAA — that Oregon had played this year, and he hit innumerable big shots in the process, including a game-winner against Rhode Island in the second round and a pair of absolute daggers against Kansas. Undersized scorers come a dime-a-dozen at that level, but Dorsey ensured that he will get a shot this spring.

D.J. Wilson, Michigan: Wilson has been one of the most intriguing prospects in college basketball this season given his size, athleticism and skill-set, and the attention that Michigan got as the darling of the conference tournaments and the first weekend of the NCAA tournament certainly didn’t hurt. I’m not convinced he’s in a position to be a first round pick, but I am certain that, if he opts to declare for the draft and sign with an agent, there will be a team willing to bet on the meteoric rise he had this year continuing.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

STOCK DOWN

Lonzo Ball, UCLA: With all the hype surrounding the Ball family heading into his showdown with De’Aaron Fox and Kentucky in the Sweet 16, you would’ve expected Lonzo, who has been terrific this season, to shine on the biggest stage. But that’s not how it went. He was completely overshadowed by Fox, who went for a career-high 39 points when they went head-to-head, bowing out of the tournament with nothing but a Sweet 16 to show for it. There’s a risk in making over-arching judgements on a player based off of one or two games when a season’s worth of data is telling you something else, but it is fair to note that Ball was outplayed in both of his matchups with another potential top five pick at his position.

Josh Jackson, Kansas: We’ve seen all season long what Josh Jackson can do on a basketball court, and one bad game where he got into foul trouble in the first four minutes is not going to change the way that scouts view his ability on the court. The concern with Jackson has nothing to do with basketball. It’s the off-the-court stuff, and it’s his temper. The biggest red flag surrounding him right now is an incident at a bar where he did more than $1,000 worth of damage to a person’s car. He got a few technical fouls this season. Against Oregon, he got into it with Duck players. Whether that affected his play, only Jackson will know, but it’s not all that hard to connect those dots. It’s easier to teach a 19-year old that cares too much to tone it down — the maturity that comes with getting older certainly helps — than it is to get a guy with no heart to be intense and tough, but that’s something NBA teams are going to have to consider when they decide whether to take Jackson in the top three of a draft this loaded.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Justin Patton, Creighton: Patton is incredibly talented and loaded with promise, but after seeing the dip in his production once Mo Watson went out with a torn ACL — 14.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on a 74 percent shooting vs. 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds on 61 percent shooting post Watson — is concerning. Throw in that he was totally underwhelming against an undersized front line of Rhode Island in a first round loss, and there will be questions asked about whether or not he is a guy that is worth a first round pick.

Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard, by all accounts, had a terrific season. He’s a skilled scorer that can get his buckets in a number of different ways. He’s a lights-out shooter with an advanced array of moves to create space to get his shot off and a knack for scoring around the rim with both hands. But the concerns with him is whether or not he will be able to do so against guys that are as athletic and strong as NBA wings are. Picking a second round matchup with a South Carolina team loaded with those kind of defenders to have his worst game of the season wasn’t exactly ideal timing.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart does everything well, and he certainly proved throughout the season that he had improved on the things that he needed to improve — shooting, playmaking, ability off the dribble. But the concern with Hart is whether or not he’s going to be able to get his own shot when the guys he plays against are bigger, quicker, more athletic and just as tough as he is, and the way Villanova bowed out of the tournament — with Hart being unable to create a shot or draw a foul on a drive to the rim — is a perfect summation of the concerns NBA teams have about him.