The development of Fred VanVleet and continued improvement of Cleanthony Early were two crucial elements of Wichita State’s record-setting season, but the driving component was arguably the emergence of Ron Baker. A redshirt sophomore, Baker’s shooting and torrid offensive showings propelled Wichita State to an top ten offensive efficiency rating, and the guard’s three-point touch was much needed for a squad that truly lacked consistent outside shooting in 2013. Jeff Goodman of ESPN reports that Baker will continue to develop in Wichita, and plans to return for his junior season.
That is not to say that Baker didn’t think about leaving college early: the guard requested a draft evaluation from the NBA. However, reports indicate that Baker would have likely been selected in the second round, and since that advice could have possibly been in his returned evaluation, he decided to return to the Missouri Valley program for another year.
Even without Early and Chadwick Lufile, the Shockers will be the cream of the conference. Though he isn’t recognized enough for his player development, Gregg Marshall is one of the best at building ex-juco players, and Darius Carter could be due for a senior year jump. VanVleet will likely be back for his junior season, as will Tekele Cotton (a guard who deserves much more credit for his shooting as well as defensive ferociousness) and Marshall will blend the returning Shockers with a deep recruiting class.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.