Conference Countdown: No. 9 C-USA

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Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Randy Culpepper, UTEP, Sr.

Culpepper
could very well be the most exciting player in the country to watch.
He’s arguably the best dunker in the country, routinely soaring for
highlight worthy dunks despite barely pushing six feet. Culpepper is
not a point guard, however. He is a scorer, through and through, with
no conscience whatsoever. Its not unusual to see him pull-up from 25
feet, and when he gets hot, watch out. Ask Central Florida, who saw
Culpepper go for 39 last season, or East Carolina, who was the
recipient of one of the most impressive offensive performances last
year as Culpepper went for 45 points (31 in the first half) on 14-18
shooting, 9-12 from deep. With Caracter and Moultrie gone, Culpepper is
going to be expected to carry an even bigger share of the offensive
workload as a senior.

And a close second goes too: Gary Flowers, Southern Miss, Sr.

The
Golden Eagles have a chance to be a very good team this season, and it
is in no small part due to the play of Flowers, a 6’8″ power forward.
Flowers was fantastic in his first season with USM, finishing among the
league leaders in points (15.0), rebounds (8.3), and blocks (1.8) and
providing Larry Eustachy with his only real consistent threat
throughout an up-and-down season. Southern Miss has a deep and talented
back court, and Eustachy has been vocal about his willingness to play
four guards around Flowers. Flowers should once again be a steadying
force for the Golden Eagles, and if he can improve upon the season he
just had, there is no reason that Southern Miss cannot build on what
was a positive finish to the 2009-2010 season.

Breakout Star: Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, Jr.

Witherspoon
has not had the smoothest two years in Memphis. As a freshman, the 6’8″
small forward was tried out at point guard, but that test didn’t last
long as John Calipari eventually discovered that it was Tyreke Evans’
natural position. Last year, Witherspoon was expected to carry much of
the workload under new head coach Josh Pastner, but it was an
up-and-down year. Witherspoon had some fantastic performances —
including a two games stretch where he scored 55 points against Gonzaga
and UAB — but also disappeared offensively during some games. This kid
has tons of talent. He’s a lanky and athletic 6’8″ wing that, when he
is at his best, is slashing to the basket and getting to the foul line.
He’s also added a consistent three point stroke, knocking down 43% of
his shots from beyond the arc, although he only took 79 on the season.
Memphis is going to be loaded with talent this year, but the majority
of that talent will be freshmen. Witherspoon, who seems destined to be
a first round pick when he finally heads to the NBA, will be the
experienced leader on this team. Eventually, his talent is going to
take over. Could this be the year? If it is, then I may end up
regretting not picking him as the preseason player of the year.

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY – Randy Culpepper, UTEP, Sr.
  • G – Brock Young, East Carolina, So.
  • G – Justin Hurtt, Tulsa, Sr.
  • F – Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, Jr.
  • F – Arsalan Kazemi, Rice, So.
  • F – Gary Flowers, Southern Miss, Sr.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • G – Aaron Johnson, UAB, Sr.
  • G – Joe Jackson, Memphis, Fr.
  • G – Will Barton, Memphis, Fr.
  • F – Keith Clanton, UCF, So.
  • F – Papa Dia, SMU, Sr.

Freshman of the Year: Will Barton, Memphis

Of
the lauded freshman class that Pastner is bringing in, Barton is
probably the best. A wiry athlete, the 6’6″ Barton has everything you
look for in a wing player. Most importantly, however, is that Barton
can really score. He can take a defensive rebound coast to coast, he
can get to the rim in a one-on-one setting in the half court, he can
finish above the rim, and he is a capable shooter in both the mid-range
and from three. His length also allows him to be a good defender, and
Pastner has said that Barton is the best rebounding guard in this
class. Keep in mind, Barton prepped a year, meaning he is coming in as
a 19 year old freshman. There is still plenty of room for this kid to
grow, but he has the talent, and he will have the opportunity to
showcase it this season.

All-Freshman team:

  • G – Joe Jackson, Memphis
  • G – Preston Purifoy, UAB
  • G – Isaiah Sykes, UCF
  • F – Michael Haynes, UTEP
  • F – Tarik Black, Memphis

What Happened?:

  • Tim Floyd finds a place to land: UTEP did what some believed was unthinkable
    — they hired Tim Floyd, the guy who built the USC program into a
    contender, then left as OJ Mayo’s fallout hit. And it didn’t take Floyd
    long to create a stir. Only months after he was hired, Floyd was off making package deals, bringing in three players — one of whom was Rashanti Harris, who has since been declared ineligible — closely associated with two of his new assistant coaches.

    That wasn’t the end of UTEP’s drama filled off-season. Not only did starting center Arnett Moultrie bolt for greener SEC pastures, but one player Floyd booted off the team, Myron Strong, made quite a fuss on his way out the door.

  • Floyd wasn’t the only one with a drama filled summer:
    Let’s begin with DJ Newbill, a 6’3″ guard that is currently at Southern
    Miss. Newbill, a Philly native, signed a Letter of Intent with
    Marquette only to see his scholarship taken away by Buzz Williams when Jamil Wilson decided he wanted to transfer into Marquette.

    If
    that wasn’t bad enough, take Joseph Young’s case. Young signed his
    Letter of Intent with Providence, but do to his father’s hiring at
    Houston and the illness of one of his aunts, Young decided he would
    rather play for Houston. Keno Davis wouldn’t let him out of his LOI, so Young is sitting out this season while waiting to play for Houston.

    Memphis
    may have had the wildest ride. First, it was Will Barton, the talented
    Tiger recruit that believed that he was initially ruled ineligible
    academically, but once the NCAA received all of the information they
    needed, they reversed their stance and cleared him to participate. Another talented freshman, Jelan Kendrick, has been suspended from the Tigers for allegedly threatening a teammate. We don’t have details, but most believe he will back in Tigers uniform at some point.

  • Floyd also isn’t the only new coach in C-USA:
    Conference USA has seemingly become the preferred landing spot for
    coaches that lost their chance at a Big Six school. Larry Eustachy is
    at Southern Miss, Mike Davis is at UAB, Matt Doherty is at SMU, and Ben
    Braun is at Rice. Now, you can add former Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo,
    the new head man at East Carolina.

    Or how about James Dickey? He was the coach at Texas Tech in the 90’s, but lost his job to Bobby Knight. Dickey replaced Tom Penders at Houston.

    Believe it or not, I’m still not done talking about new coaching hires. Former Citadel head coach Ed Conroy is taking over the Tulane program, while Donnie Jones (more on him in a second) went to a different school within the same conference, leaving Marshall for Central Florida. Tom Herrion was hired to replace Jones at Marshall.

  • UCF is loading up: The future looks bright for Donnie Jones at Central Florida as he is stockpiling talent.
    Not only does he return the entire rotation from last season, he adds a
    talented group of freshmen this year, headlined by Isaiah Sykes. He
    also added three high-major transfers — Jeffery Jordan from Illinois,
    Tristan Spurlock from Virginia, and Josh Crittle from Oregon — that
    will be eligible to play next season. In addition to those transfers,
    UCF also adds two very talented recruits next year in Kamil Wilson and
    Rod Days.

    In case you didn’t notice, Jones now has both of Michael Jordan’s sons — when they aren’t partying in Vegas
    — playing for his program. I wonder is they can get His Airness to
    come play at practice? That would be a hell of a recruiting tool…

    There are a few other notable transfers from the league. Desmond Wade, Houston’s starting point guard, has transferred to Fairfield, while Paul McCoy, who averaged 13.4 ppg as a freshman before struggling last season, has left the SMU program.
    And Beas Hamga, a seven-footer that was a top 30 recruit coming out of
    high school and originally enrolled at UNLV, will be eligible this
    season as a junior for UAB. Yea, he’s tall.

  • Arsalan Kazemi is a player:
    He averaged damn near a double-double as a freshman for a bad Rice
    team, and the future only looks brighter for college basketball’s first Iranian. Why does the future look bright? Well, maybe its the 14 points he had against Team USA in the World Basketball Championships.

What’s Next?:

  • How long will Conference USA be this Conference USA?:
    Its not a secret that Memphis wants to join the Big East, and during
    the conference realignment madness that happened back in June, it was
    rumored that the Tigers, and possibly Central Florida, would be headed
    to the Big East. That didn’t happen, but when BYU made the decision to
    leave the Mountain West, theories started floating around about how the
    country’s second-tier conferences — the WAC, the MWC, C-USA — would
    realign themselves. That process if far from over, and we could end up
    seeing a major change at some point.
  • Can Memphis return to the top?:
    Its not a secret that Josh Pastner brings in arguably the best
    recruiting class in the country. After finishing last season second
    place in the league and missing out on the NCAA Tournament, this crop
    of freshmen should be good enough to get the Tigers back to the top of
    the conference standings. Will it lead to postseason success?
  • More than a one-bid league?:
    Generally speaking, there is pretty good basketball being played in
    Conference USA, but with teams like UAB and Tulsa fading down the
    stretch last season, C-USA was only able to nab a second tournament bid
    when Houston made a run to the league’s tournament title and UTEP was
    given a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. will this conference be able to
    support more than one at-large bid this season? Memphis seems like a
    pretty safe bet to earn themselves a bid, but with a number of solid
    teams behind them — Southern Miss, UTEP, UAB, Tulsa — will anyone
    perform above expectations?

Power Rankings:

  1. Memphis:
    Last season, UTEP took the C-USA title from the Tigers, and while
    Memphis loses four of their top five scorers, don’t expect the Tigers
    to be down for long. Josh Pastner proved himself to be a force on the
    recruiting trail, landing one of the nation’s best classes. It is
    headlined by a few potential stars on the perimeter. Joe Jackson is an
    ultra-quick point guard with athleticism for days that is a nightmare
    to keep out of the paint. Jelan Kendrick is a point forward that could
    stand to improve his handle and jumper, as well as adjusting his
    attitude. It remains to be seen if Kendrick will play this season after
    threatening a teammate.
    Will Barton, a 6’6″ slasher and scorer on the wing, may be the best of
    the bunch. Junior Wesley Witherspoon, a first round pick in the making,
    had a couple of huge games last season, and could develop into a star
    if he can become more consistent. Freshmen Antonio Barton and Chris
    Crawford, as well as Charles Carmouche, a transfer from New Orleans,
    should also get some time in the back court. The Tigers front court
    should also be quite good next season. Will Coleman is a freak athlete,
    a 6’9″, 245 pound dunker and shotblocker reminiscent of Joey Dorsey.
    6’11” Angel Garcia looks like he’ll finally be ready to contribute this
    year, while freshmen Hippolyte Tsafack and Tarik Black, who drew high
    praise for his play on the Tiger’s trip to the Bahamas, will also get
    quite a few minutes. Memphis is a big-time favorite to win the league,
    but how good they are on a national scale will depend on just how good
    some of these freshmen end up being.
  2. Southern Miss:
    USM had a bit of a quirky season in 2009-2010. They started off slow,
    losing to Canisius and North Florida during non-conference play before
    starting 0-4 in the league. But they finished strong — getting to 8-8
    in the conference — and with Larry Eustachy bringing back all five
    starters and a quality class of newcomers, the Golden Eagles look like
    they can make a push towards the top of the league. It starts with Gary
    Flowers, a 6’8″ post player that was USM’s most consistent performer,
    notching averages of 15 ppg, 8.3 rpg, and 1.8 bpg, good enough to earn
    him a spot on the all-conference team. But Flowers is not all that
    Eustachy has on his roster. Juniors Angelo Johnson and Maurice Bolden,
    as well as seniors RL Horton and Sai’Quan Stone, all started for much
    of last season. Johnson and Horton need to mature as decision makers
    and improve their consistency, but they proved to be capable of
    handling the back court duties. At 6’10”, Bolden is a perimeter threat,
    which should help create some space for Flowers, while Stone is a
    tough, physical defender. There will be some depth on this club, as
    well. Torye Pelham was a part-time starter up front last season, while
    Josimar Ayarza also saw minutes in the front court. JuCo transfer
    Aharyo Phillips — who played his freshman season at Nevada before
    being kicked off the team
    — should also compete for time. In the back court, Eustachy will have
    an inexperienced bench, but one that could push the starters for
    playing time. JuCo transfer LaShay Page and freshman DJ Newbill, who
    originally committed to Marquette, were both rated as three-star
    recruits according to Rivals. Four other newcomers — freshmen Kody
    Williams, Trency Jackson, and Cedric Jenkins as well as sophomore
    Kayland Partee — all will have a shot at earning some playing time as
    well. The Golden Eagles aren’t going to win pretty, but with their
    experience, their talent level, and a player like Flowers, Southern
    Miss should be near the top of the C-USA standings come season’s end.
  3. UTEP:
    The Miners will take a big hit to their front court this season, as
    Derrick Caracter headed to the NBA and Arnett Moultrie has transferred
    to Mississippi State. While that loss will no doubt effect this team,
    the good news is that they get, essentially, the rest of their roster
    back, including senior guard Randy Culpepper. Culpepper may be the most
    entertaining player in the country to watch. Barely reaching 6’0″,
    Culpepper is an athletic freak, soaring for highlight reel dunks
    while also being unafraid to jack up any shot he deems fit, even if it
    is 28 feet from the rim. Also returning for the Miners will be senior
    swingmen Christian Polk, Julyan Stone, and Jeremy Williams, who combine
    to form quite a versatile group to complement Culpepper. Another
    senior, 6’11” Claude Britten found himself buried on the bench behind
    Moultrie and Caracter, but he was still able to score a point in every
    two minutes of playing time when he did see the floor. The rest of Tim
    Floyd’s rotation will likely be made up of freshmen. Michael Haynes and
    John Bohannon will see minutes inside, while Michael Perez and DeShun
    Watkins should provide depth in the back court. UTEP will once again be
    in the mix near the top of the league standings.
  4. Tulsa:
    The Golden Hurricane were expected to be a top 25 team last season, but
    struggled down the stretch before being eliminated in the first round
    of the NIT to end a disappointing season. That disappointment was
    compounded by the fact that their two best players — Ben Uzoh and
    Jerome Jordan — both graduated. While Tulsa will have no where near
    the same preseason expectations, there are still enough quality pieces
    on Doug Wojcik’s team that they will once again be at the top of C-USA.
    To start, Justin Hurtt returns for his senior season. Hurtt has been
    the shooter that spread the floor for Tulsa the last few years — and
    successfully, he averaged 14.5 ppg last year — but the Golden
    Hurricane will be counting on him to have a big year this year. Joining
    him in the back court will be UConn transfer Scottie Haralson, two
    players coming off of serious injuries in Donte Medder and Glenn
    Andrews, and two talented freshmen in Tim Peete and Jordan Clarkson.
    Sophomore swingman Bryson Pope should see time on the perimeter as
    well. Up front, Steven Idlet and Joe Richard both return. They split
    time starting last season, and while both have proven to be solid
    rebounders and post defenders, Tulsa is going to need one, or both, to
    become more of a scoring threat. The same can be said for Western
    Kentucky transfer DJ Magley, who started half the time during his two
    seasons with the Hilltoppers. Freshmen Blondy Baruti and Kodi Maduka
    should see minutes as well.
  5. UAB:
    The Blazers lose quite a bit from last season’s 25 win team. Three of
    their top six scorers graduate, while Elijah Millsap, UAB’s leading
    scorer and rebounder, left school to turn pro. This year’s club will be
    based around the perimeter. Aaron Johnson, a 5’8″ point guard, returns
    for his senior season. Johnson, who made the C-USA all-defensive team,
    is a good distributor who will be counted on for more offensive
    production. Starting alongside Johnson will be Jamarr Sanders, a senior
    that averaged 10.4 ppg in his first season under Mike Davis who will be
    the Blazers best perimeter shooter. One player to watch will be
    sophomore Dexter Fields. Fields was a three-star recruit last season,
    and while he saw limited minutes last year, he had a couple of big
    games and was productive when he did get on the court. Freshman Preston
    Purifoy, a 6’5″ small forward, should help fill the void left by
    Millsap at the three, while Robert Williams and Quincy Taylor, redshirt
    and true freshmen, respectively, should also compete for time. The
    front court will be a bigger question mark. Junior Cameron Moore and
    sophomore Ovie Soko both were in the rotation last season, but averaged
    a combined 5 points and 5 boards in just 22 minutes. Freshmen Anthony
    Criswell should also see time, but the x-factor could end up being Beas
    Hamga. An athletic seven-footer, Hamga — who has a 9’6″ wingspan
    — was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. He’s raw, but he
    has a ton of potential. UAB has some question marks, but there is
    enough talent on this team that they could finish in the top four of
    the league.
  6. UCF:
    Things are really looking up for the basketball program at Central
    Florida. As we touched on earlier, Donnie Jones has a serious influx of
    talent coming into the program, and while the addition of that talent
    is still a full season away, there is reason to believe that the Golden
    Knights will be a factor in the C-USA race this season. In 2009-2010,
    UCF played with, essentially, an eight man rotation, and all eight of
    those players return. Six of them were underclassmen last season.
    Sharpshooting junior Isaac Sosa and 6’9″ senior AJ Tyler led a balanced
    scoring attack at 10.3 ppg each. Two sophomores, guard Marcus Jordan —
    who really came on as the season progressed, working his way into the
    starting line up — and big man Keith Clanton, showed that they can be
    impact players at the C-USA level. Senior Taylor Young and junior AJ
    Rompza will handle the point guard duties, while Dave Diakite and PJ
    Gaynor are role playing forwards. What UCF really lacks — and what
    likely won’t be provided by newcomers Jarvis Davis, Dwight McCombs, and
    Isaiah Sykes (although Sykes, a 6’5″ swingman, was a fairly highly
    regarded recruit that attracted a lot of high-major attention) — is a
    go-to scorer. UCF struggled against more athletic and aggressive teams,
    but part of that was an overall lack of experience on the roster. With
    this group now playing together for a second year, the Knights should
    improve.
  7. Marshall:
    The Thundering Herd are going to look a lot different this season as
    both of their talented big men — Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Wilker son
    — and head coach Donnie Jones are all gone. Instead, this is going to
    be a team whose strength in on the perimeter. The leaders will be
    Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson, two junior guards that have the
    potential to be very good at this level. Much is also expected of Dago
    Pena, a 6’6″ scorer that had some big games off the bench last season.
    There isn’t a ton of talent behind them — Justin Howe is a freshman,
    DeAndre Kane was a partial qualifier last season, and Johnny Higgins is
    a JuCo transfer — but the Herd shouldn’t need a ton of depth as Pitts,
    Johnson, and Pena will likely play a lot of minutes. The question is
    going to be where Marshall gets their front court scoring from.
    Replacing the 27 points, 16 boards, and 6 blocks the Herd lost with
    Whiteside and Wilkerson won’t be easy. Tirrel Baines may be the best
    scoring option. Baines, a 6’6″ forward, averaged 11.5 ppg as a
    freshman, but saw his minutes cut as the Herd improved their front
    line. Antonio Haymon returns for his senior year, while 6’10” Nigel
    Spikes could also see more time. Joining them will be some new faces.
    Orlando Allen is a 6’10” transfer from Oklahoma. Eladio Espinosa
    started a dozen games at South Florida before transferring. Aundra
    Williams is a big-bodied, 6’10” JuCo addition. Depending on how the
    Herd’s trio of junior guards develops, this team has a shot at getting
    to 20 wins.
  8. East Carolina:
    The good news for the Pirates is that they basically bring back their
    entire roster. The key to that roster is going to be Brock Young, a
    senior point guard that was one of the more productive players in C-USA
    last season (15.5 ppg and 5.5 apg, which led the league). Young is an
    excellent penetrator, but he needs to improve on his perimeter shooting
    and cut down his turnovers, something that will be helped as he gets
    more production around him. And therein lies the problem — while ECU
    returns the same team from last season, its a team that was only able
    to muster 10 wins, four in league play. There are a couple of kids that
    showed potential last season. Junior Darrius Morrow proved to be a
    capable post player at this level, while senior Jamar Abrams, who can
    really shoot the ball, came on strong down the stretch after a sluggish
    start to the season. Jontae Sherrod joins Young to give the Pirates a
    solid back court, and 6’11” Chad Wynn will likely get the nod at
    center. ECU does have some depth, which will get helped by incoming
    front court players Robert Sampson and Darius Morales, but there aren’t
    many impact players on the bench. Young is a player, but unless he gets
    more help this season, Jeff Lebo will likely lead ECU to another losing
    season.
  9. Rice: Ben
    Braun has not had much success in his first two seasons at the helm of
    a struggling Rice program, but there is reason to be optimistic. Braun
    returns essentially the same group of kids from last season. While it
    is difficult to get excited about a team coming back that won just
    eight games, consider this — the four most important players on the
    roster are back, and three of them were underclassmen last year. And
    while the Owls went 8-23 last year, they weren’t getting run out of the
    gym. This is a group that played hard and played with pride, and as
    their talent level increases — and the young talent on the roster
    develops — Braun’s club only has one direction to go. They will be led
    once again by Tamir Jackson, a 6’2″ sophomore guard, and 6’7″ sophomore
    forward Arsalan Kazemi. Jackson had some big games last season and led
    the Owls in scoring, but he was inconsistent, especially with his
    jumpshot (although, to be fair, it was about what you would expect from
    an overwhelmed freshman on a bad team). Kazemi has the potential to be
    a star. The Iranian nearly averaged a double-double last year, was even
    better in league play, and put 14 points on Team USA in the World
    Basketball Championships. Connor Frizzelle, a junior who is probably
    the team’s best shooter, also returns, as does big-bodied center Trey
    Stanton. Beyond that, there are question marks. Will Lucas Kuipers and
    Suleiman Braimoh ever be more than a role player? Can any other
    returner develop into a consistent contributor? Will any of Braun’s
    freshmen — some of whom look promising, including David Chadwick, a
    6’9′ power forward that was a three-star recruit on Rivals, and Omar
    Oraby, a 7’1″ Egyptian that had 15 points and 8 boards against the USA
    in the 2009 U-19 Worlds — be impact players? Rice is still a long way
    from being considered a contender, but I expect more wins from the Owls
    this year.
  10. Houston:
    The Cougars are going to have some big shoes to fill next season as
    their starting back court of Aubrey Coleman, Kelvin Lewis, and Desmond
    Wade are all gone along with head coach Tom Penders. The cupboard isn’t
    going to be completely bare for new head coach James Dickey, however,
    as the Cougar team looks like it is going to be more oriented around
    front court players. 6’9″ senior Maurice McNeil had a solid season
    after transferring in from a JuCo, while 6’7″ sophomore Kendrick
    Washington looked pretty impressive down the stretch last season. Kirk
    Van Slyke should also see time inside. Like I said, the back court is
    going to have quite a bit of turnover. Seniors Adam Brown and Zamal
    Nixon, who both played about 20 mpg off the bench last season, figure
    to feature prominently next season. Beyond that, there are going to be
    a lot of new faces for the Cougars. San Diego transfer Trumaine
    Johnson, a 6’2″ transfer from San Diego that averaged 11.6 ppg in the
    WCC in 2008-2009, should see quite a few minutes alongside Brown and
    Nixon. Alandise Harris and Mikhail McLean are freshmen forwards, while
    JuCo transfers Darian Thibodeaux and Jonathon Simmons should be able to
    provide some experience. Overall, it seems as if it will be a
    rebuilding year for Houston.
  11. SMU:
    The bad news for SMU is that they lose two of their top three scorers
    from a team that, at times, struggled offensively. The Mustangs also
    lost Paul McCoy to a transfer, a talented guard that struggled to
    repeat his impressive freshman season. Simply put, there are a lack of
    quality pieces returning for Matt Doherty. Doherty’s most dangerous
    weapon is probably third team all-conference forward Papa Dia, a 6’9″
    post player that averaged 12.3 ppg and 8.6 rpg. Robert Nyakundi, a
    sharpshooting 6’8″ forward, should start full time this season as well.
    Beyond that, the Mustangs are going to have some interchangeable
    pieces, which works well given the grind-it-out style that they like to
    play (they ranked in the 300’s in tempo last season, and were at their
    best when the pace was slower than that). Justin Haynes is a tough 6’5″
    wing that was a starter last season, while Ryan Harp, Rodney
    Clinkscales, and Mike Walker all saw minutes in the back court last
    year. North Texas transfer Collin Mangrum should also provide some
    depth in the back court. The front court won’t be as deep for the
    Mustangs, and Dia and Nyakundi are really the only returners. Freshmen
    Leslee Smith and Ricmonds Vilde will compete with seniors Tomasz
    Kwiatkowski and Myles Luttman for minutes off the bench. Unless some of
    the Mustang’s returners develop this season, or their incoming freshmen
    end up being instant impact kids (none of them even received a
    three-star ranking from Rivals, it could be a long season for Doherty.
  12. Tulane:
    The Green Wave didn’t have much success, or consistency, last season,
    as they won just seven games while using 13 different starting
    line-ups. The strength of Tulane this season is going to be in the back
    court. To start, they return leading scorer Kris Richard, a 6’5″ swing
    man that is back for his senior season. Joining him in the back court
    will be two sophomores that had promising freshmen seasons. 6’5″
    Kendall Timmons led the team in scoring during conference play, proving
    to be quite a versatile player, while Jordan Callahan may be the
    program’s point guard of the future. He played sparingly to begin the
    season, but when starting point guard Kevin Sims went down with an
    injury midway through the year, Callahan filled in quite nicely,
    proving to be a capable shooter and distributor while posting a couple
    of big scoring games. David Booker is really the only returning
    interior player for the Green Wave, and as a senior, it would be nice
    to see him become more assertive and improve on his averages of 7.3 ppg
    and 4.1 rpg. After that, the front court is a bit of a question mark
    for new head coach Ed Conroy, who will need Geoff Hogan, Keith Cameron,
    or freshman Kevin Thomas to develop into a player he can rely on. When
    the Green Wave is hot from the perimeter, they should be able to be
    competitive, but expect to see them back at the bottom of the league
    standings again this season.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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Today, we are unveiling the NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25.

As always, there are plenty of caveats here.

For starters, we are still in the process of figuring out who will and will not be returning to school and where the myriad transfers are going to end up this year.

Given the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the way recruiting and the predraft process will work, it is hard to know how and where these guys will end up, which is why every college basketball preseason top 25 published right now is going to have plenty of assumptions, projections and moving parts.

So with that in mind, here is the current iteration of NBC Sports college basketball preseason top 25:

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL PRESEASON TOP 25

1. VILLANOVA

  • GONE: Saddiq Bey
  • COMING BACK: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Bryan Antoine, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

With the exception of Saddiq Bey, Villanova returns everyone from a team that won a share of the Big East regular season title last season while adding Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels (16.9 ppg) and a healthy Bryan Antoine. There is enough talent on this roster that I think they are the clear No. 1 team in the country right now. And while Bey was their best player, I don’t think that they will have much trouble replacing him. Villanova has a roster full of talented wings and perimeter weapons. Bey was the best of the bunch, but Antoine’s healthy, Daniels is really good and the likes of Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels and Cole Swider return as well. Throw in Jeremiah Robinsin-Earl and this roster is loaded.

RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25 (link)

2. BAYLOR

  • GONE: Freddie Gillespie, Devonte Bandoo
  • COMING BACK: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark, Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Flo Thamba
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Adam Flagler, L.J. Cryer, Dain Dainja, Zach Loveday, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark

The Bears get all three of their guards back now that Jared Butler has opted to return to school, and with Mark Vital returning, they’ll once again have two of the best defenders in college basketball on the roster (Davion Mitchell). They’re coming off of a 26-4 season, and there are plenty of bench options at Scott Drew’s disposal — Matthew Mayer, Jordan Turner, Adam Flagler — but the big question is going to be at the five. Which Tristan Clark are we going to get next season?

3. GONZAGA

  • GONE: Filip Petrusev, Admon Gilder, Ryan Wooldridge, Killian Tillie
  • COMING BACK: Joel Ayayi, Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zakharov
  • WAIT AND SEE: Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert
  • NEW FACES: Oumar Ballo, Aaron Cook, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo

The Zags should once again be a powerhouse next season, but they are still waiting on a couple of draft decisions. Their star freshman guard is Jalen Suggs, who would be a perfect fit next to Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert on Gonzaga’s perimeter if both return to school. As much as I like Ayayi as a player, I’m not sure he’s going to be drafted this year. Kispert doesn’t have much else that he can prove at the college level and has a real chance to be a early-to-mid second round pick. Gonzaga’s frontcourt is going to be absolutely loaded even without Filip Petrusev because Drew Timme and Oumar Ballo both have WCC Player of the Year upside. Throw in a healthy Anton Watson, and the Zags should be loaded again.

Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

4. VIRGINIA

  • GONE: Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key
  • COMING BACK: Kihei Clark, Jay Huff, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kody Stattman, Justin McCoy
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Sam Hauser, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Carson McCorkle, Reece Beekman
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Sam Hauser, Jay Huff

The Cavaliers should be much better offensively with Sam Hauser replacing Mamadi Diakite in the starting lineup, and while Diakite is a significantly better defender than Hauser, it’s hard to imagine Virginia ever being a bad defensive team, especially when Hauser has had a year to learn the system. Kihei Clark and Jay Huff are both back, and I would expect Casey Morsell to take a step forward this season. Throw in a strong freshman class, and UVA should be competing for an ACC title once again.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft

5. KANSAS

  • GONE: Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss
  • COMING BACK: Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, Mitch Lightfoot, DaJuan Harris, Silvio De Sousa
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Bryce Thompson, Tyon Grant-Foster, Gethro Muscadin, Latrell Jossell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Tristan Enaruna, David McCormack

When it comes to the amount of talent on the Kansas roster, there are certainly enough weapons here. They are incredibly loaded on the wing — Marcus Garrett, Bryce Thompson, Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Tyon Grant-Foster, Tristan Enaruna, Jalen Wilson, sheesh — and David McCormack showed enough flashes last season that I expect him to be able to do an adequate job replacing Udoka Azubuike. Assuming Self (correctly) plays small-ball again, they should be really, really good. The problem? Other than Garrett, there is not a point guard on the roster that has played a second of college basketball. The best Jayhawk teams have had a killer at that position, and I’m not sure Garrett qualifies as such.

NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES

RELATED: College basketball preseason top 25

6. DUKE

  • GONE: Tre Jones, Vernon Carey Jr., Cassius Stanley, Jack White, Alex O’Connell, Javin DeLaurier
  • COMING BACK: Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Mark Williams, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman, Patrick Tape
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Wendell Moore, Jalen Johnson, Mark Williams

The Blue Devils lose quite a bit of talent off of last season’s roster if as Tre Jones, Vernon Carey and Cassius Stanley all headed to the pros. But with six top 50 prospects coming into the program — headlined by a potential lottery pick in Jalen Johnson as well as point guard Jeremy Roach and scoring guard D.J. Steward — there will be quite a bit of talent on display. A starting lineup that includes those three freshmen and Wendell Moore will be fun. Duke is going to be very young, however, and a frontline that includes a bunch of freshmen and a grad transfer from Columbia is less than ideal.

7. IOWA

  • GONE: Bakari Evelyn, Ryan Kreiner, Cordell Pemsl
  • COMING BACK: Luka Garza, C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Joe Toussaint, Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery, Jack Nunge
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Tony Perkins, Ahron Ulis, Patrick McCaffery
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Joe Toussaint, C.J. Frederick, Joe Weiskamp, Jack Nunge, Luka Garza

Luka Garza will be back for his senior season, which is a helluva way for Fran McCaffery to anchor a roster that looks as good as anyone in the Big Ten. I think Joe Toussaint has a chance to be one of the breakout stars in college basketball next year, which is a pretty good sign for a team that also returns the preseason Player of the Year — yes, I’m taking the liberty of locking Luka into that award — along with talents like Joe Weiskamp and C.J. Frederick.

8. TENNESSEE

  • GONE: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden
  • COMING BACK: John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pemper
  • WAIT AND SEE: Yves Pons
  • NEW FACES: Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Corey Walker, Victor Bailey, E.J. Anosike, Malachi Wideman
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Keon Johnson, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

Last season, one of the biggest issues with Tennessee was a lack of firepower on their perimeter. This year, they will be adding five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer to Josiah Jordan-James and Santiago Vescovi. They’ll have weapons, and that’s before you add in John Fulkerson, who was one of the best bigs in the SEC down the stretch of the season. Yves Pons will be the best defender in college basketball if he pulls out of the draft. If Vescovi can handle full-time point guard duties better with an offseason under his belt, the Vols are going to be the favorite to win the SEC.

9. ILLINOIS

  • GONE: Andres Feliz, Kipper Nichols, Alan Griffin
  • COMING BACK: Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Da’Monte Williams, Trent Frazier
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Andre Curbelo, Adam Miller, Coleman Hawkins, Brandon Lieb
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, Da’Monte Williams, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Kofi Cockburn

Illinois has a chance to be very, very good this coming season. The big news came with just days left before the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the draft, when Ayo Dosunmu announced that he would be returning to school for his junior season. Dosunmu is one of the best big-shot makers in the sport and will likely see his name on a preseason All-American team. With Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili coming back and a couple of talented freshmen guards — Andrew Curbelo, Adam Miller — enrolling, Brad Underwood has a terrific core. With Kofi Cockburn also deciding to return, the Illini will have a real shot at winning the Big Ten title and getting to a Final Four.

10. TEXAS TECH

  • GONE: Jahmi’us Ramsey, Chris Clarke, Davide Moretti, T.J. Holyfield, Russel Tchewa
  • COMING BACK: Kyler Edwards, Terrance Shannon Jr., Kevin McCullar, Avery Benson
  • WAIT AND SEE: Mac McClung, Jamarius Burton
  • NEW FACES: Nimari Burnett, Micah Peavy, Marcus Santos-Silva, Joel Ntambwe, Chibuzo Agbo, Esahia Nzyiwe
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kyler Edwards, Nimari Burnett, Terrance Shannon, Joel Ntambwe, Marcus Santos-Silva

The Red Raiders should have a roster that is a much better fit for the way that Chris Beard wants to play. Kyler Edwards and Nimari Burnett are both built in the mold of a classic Texas Tech lead guard, while Terrance Shannon will be on quite a few of the breakout sophomore lists you’ll find. The two major questions with this group is whether or not Edwards can takeover full-time point guard duties, and if VCU transfer Marcus Santos-Silva or Joel Ntambwe can handle the five spot better than T.J. Holyfield did this past season. There are enough talented perimeter weapons for me to buy-in, but without an anchor at the five a la Tariq Owens, their ceiling is somewhat limited.

11. HOUSTON

  • GONE: Nate Hinton, Chris Harris
  • COMING BACK: Quentin Grimes, Caleb Mills, Marcus Sasser, DeJon Jarreau, Fabian White, Justin Forham, Brison Gresham, Cedrick Alley
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Tramon Mark, Jamal Shead, Kiyron Powell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Sasser, Caleb Mills, DeJon Jarreau, Quentin Grimes, Brison Gresham

We all know that Kelvin Sampson can coach, and he will be bringing back a roster where his top six scorers were all underclassmen from a team that finished top 15 on KenPom. They are going to be loaded in the backcourt — Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes might end up being their third or fourth best guard — and there will be some veterans in their frontcourt. The Cougars look to be the favorite in the American despite the fact that Nate Hinton left school a year earlier than expected.

12. WISCONSIN

  • GONE: Brevin Pritzl
  • COMING BACK: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter, Aleem Ford, Tyler Wahl, Trevor Anderson
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Ben Carlson, Lorne Bowman, Johnny Davis, Jordan Davis, Steve Crowl
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter

After winning a share of last year’s Big Ten regular season title, the Badgers are on track to essentially return everyone of note. Their frontline of Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter will be as good as anyone in the Big Ten, D’Mitrik Trice has developed into a solid shot-maker and Tyler Wahl is waiting in the wings as a super-sub. Throw in Brad Davison, and the Badgers will compete for the league title once again.

13. NORTH CAROLINA

  • GONE: Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Jeremiah Francis
  • COMING BACK: Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, Andrew Platek, Anthony Harris
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Caleb Love, Walker Kessler, R.J. Davis, Day’Ron Sharpe, Puff Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Caleb Love, Anthony Harris, Leaky Black, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

The Tar Heels lost Cole Anthony, but with Caleb Love entering the program, they will once again be led by a five-star lead guard perfectly suited to running Roy Williams’ system. The Tar Heels will also have arguably the best frontline in college basketball, as Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot will be joined by five-stars Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. The key to this team is going to be on the wings, where Leaky Black, Anthony Harris, Puff Johnson, R.J. Davis and Andrew Platek will be asked to carry the load. If I had more confidence in that group the Tar Heels would be ranked much higher.

RELATED: Coaching Carousel
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14. FLORIDA STATE

  • GONE: Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams, Dominik Olejniczak
  • COMING BACK: M.J. Walker, Balsa Koprivica, Anthony Polite, Malik Osborne, Raiquan Gray, Wyatt Wilkes, Nathanael Jack
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Scottie Barnes, Sardaar Calhoun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Polite, M.J. Walker, Scottie Barnes, Raiquan Gray, Balsa Koprivica

Florida State is a tough one to project because it’s hard to know exactly what is going to happen with Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell gone to the draft. Both are projected to go somewhere in the first round. With Scottie Barnes coming in and M.J. Walker returning, Florida State still has some dangerous weapons. The Seminoles are a machine at this point, and I’m betting thatwsc the system will continue to work. And even if both Vassell and Williams had decided to come back, it doesn’t answer the most pressing question of Leonard Hamilton’s team: How do they replace Trent Forrest at the point?

15. MICHIGAN STATE

  • GONE: Cassius Winston
  • COMING BACK: Rocket Watts, Aaren Henry, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham, Julius Marble, Thomas Kithier, Foster Loyer
  • WAIT AND SEE: Josh Langford
  • NEW FACES: Joey Hauser, Mady Sissoko, A.J. Hoggard
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Rocket Watts, Josh Langford, Aaron Henry, Joey Hauser, Marcus Bingham

Rocket Watts showed down the stretch of last season that he was ready to take over the reins offensively, and with Joey Hauser getting eligible, he should have a second scoring threat on the floor with him. That will allow Aaron Henry to play his jack-of-all-trades role, and with Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham all, in theory, taking a step forward, there’s plenty of weaponry, even if a number of those pieces are young and unproven. Losing Xavier Tillman, an anchor and a leader, is a massive blow.

16. KENTUCKY

  • GONE: Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards, Ashton Hagans, Johnny Juzang, E.J. Montgomery
  • COMING BACK: Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen
  • WAIT AND SEE: Olivier Sarr
  • NEW FACES: B.J. Boston, Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew, Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware, Cam’Ron Fletcher, Davion Mintz
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devin Askew, Terrence Clarke, B.J. Boston, Keion Brooks, Isaiah Jackson

Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards are all heading to the NBA. E.J. Montgomery declared as well. Nate Sestina graduated. Johnny Juzang transferredwest. What that leaves is another loaded recruiting class and Keion Brooks. I love the combination of Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston on the wings, and Devin Askew should be able to step in and handle point guard duties along with Davion Mintz. This will be another season for the Wildcats where they have talent but not necessarily a great fit on their roster. The key to their season is going to be whether or not they can get Olivier Sarr a waiver to be eligible immediately.

17. WEST VIRGINIA

  • GONE: Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler
  • COMING BACK: Oscar Tshiebwe, Derek Culver, Miles McBride, Emmitt Matthews, Gabe Osabuohien, Jalen Bridges, Sean McNeil
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Isaiah Cottrell, Taj Thweatt, Kedrian Johnson , Jalen Bridges
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Miles McBride, Kedrian Johnson, Emmitt Matthews, Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe

The Mountaineers are going to be exactly what they were last season: Big, physical, overpowering defensively and on the glass and able to win games when Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews are able to made enough shots to keep defenses from collapsing.

18. CREIGHTON

  • GONE:  Ty-Shon Alexander, Kelvin Jones, Davion Mintz
  • COMING BACK: Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop, Denzel Mahoney, Jacob Epperson, Shereef Mitchell
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Antwaan Jones, Ryan Kalkbrenner
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Zegarowski, Mitchell Ballock, Damien Jefferson, Denzel Mahoney, Christian Bishop

Creighton’s ranking depended on what their talented backcourt of Ty-Shon Alexander and Marcus Zegarowski decided to do. With both of them back, I had the Bluejays as a top four team. Without Alexander, they’re more of a back-end top 25 team. The other question is going to be what happens at the five spot. Christian Bishop was adequate in his minutes last season, and with four-star recruit Ryan Kalkbrenner and a (hopefully) healthy Jacob Epperson in the mix, there will be options to answer that question.

19. RUTGERS

  • GONE: Akwasi Yeboah, Shaq Carter
  • COMING BACK: Geo Baker, Ron Harper, Myles Johnson, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Jacob Young, Mamadou Doucoure, Paul Mulcahy
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Cliff Omoruyi, Dean Reiber, Oskar Palmquist, Mawot Mag
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell, Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson

The Scarlet Knights return basically everyone from a team that would have made the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1991. In total, eight of their top nine players are returning, and only Akwasi Yeboah (9.8 ppg) is gone.

20. MICHIGAN

  • GONE: Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske
  • COMING BACK: Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez
  • WAIT AND SEE: Chaundee Brown
  • NEW FACES: Hunter Dickinson, Mike Smith Terrance Williams, Zeb Jackson, Jace Howard
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Mike Smith, Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, Hunter Dickinson

The Wolverines are going to have one of the better frontlines in college basketball in 2020-21, as they seem likely to return Isaiah Livers in addition to Franz Wagner. Throw in a recruiting class that includes Hunter Dickinson, and the Wolverines will be loaded. Their guards are old, but there are some questions about the upside of Columbia grad transfer Mike Smith and Eli Brooks. Can Wake Forest transfer Chaundee Brown get eligible?

21. TEXAS

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Kai Jones, Jericho Sims, Jase Febres, Kamaka Hepa, Royce Hamm, Donovan Williams, Gerald Lidell, Will Baker
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Greg Brown
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Greg Brown, Jericho Sims

The Longhorns bring back all 12 players from last year’s team, including 11 of whom started at least one game last season. Plus, they add top ten recruit Greg Brown to a team that won five of their last six regular season games. That’s a good thing! Keeping everyone happy on a roster this deep when there are 13 guys available for just five spots on the floor and 200 combined minutes a night? That’s not going to be easy to deal with.

22. LOUISVILLE

  • GONE: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Steve Enoch, Fresh Kimble, Ryan McMahon, Darius Perry
  • COMING BACK: David Johnson, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams, Josh Nickelberry, Aidan Ighiehon, Jaelyn Withers
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Carlik Jones, Charles Minlend, D’Andre Davis, J.J. Traynor
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Carlik Jones, David Johnson, Charles Minlend, Samuell Williamson, Malik Williams

The Cardinals are going to build around sophomores David Johnson and Samuell Williamson as well as senior Malik Williams this season. The addition of Radford grad transfer Carlik Jones should help out quite a bit as well. Johnson and Williamson have both shown flashes of having star potential. The addition of San Francisco grad transfer Charles Minlend should help add some depth on the perimeter.

23. ARIZONA STATE

  • GONE: Rob Edwards, Romello White, Mickey Mitchell
  • COMING BACK: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, Kimani Lawrence, Taeshon Cherry, Jaelen House, Khalid Thomas, Jalen Graham
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES:  Josh Christopher, Marcus Bagley, Holland Woods
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, Josh Christopher, Taeshon Cherry, Jalen Graham

This ranking is dependent on Remy Martin making the decision to return to school for the 2020-21 season, but if they do, the Sun Devils have a chance to be really, really good. Losing Romello White is going to hurt, but Alonzo Verge had a breakout season, and they added Josh Christopher, a five-star prospect from California.

24. RICHMOND

  • GONE: None
  • COMING BACK: Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Andre Gustavson, Jake Wojcik, Tyler Burton
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Isaiah Wilson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jacob Gilyard, Blake Francis, Nick Sherod, Nathan Cayo, Grant Golden

Chris Mooney did not have a senior on the roster of a team that finished 24-7 overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic 10. With Obi Toppin gone, the Spiders will likely be the class of the conference heading into next season. Jacob Gilyard has a chance to be Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.

25. MEMPHIS

  • GONE: James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa, Tyler Harris
  • COMING BACK: D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Boogie Ellis, Damian Baugh, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
  • WAIT AND SEE: Landers Nolley II, DeAndre Williams
  • NEW FACES: Moussa Cisse, Isaiah Stokes
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Alex Lomax, Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones, D.J. Jeffries, Moussa Cisse

Moussa Cisse is the piece that Memphis had been missing. I explain why here.

SIX THAT JUST MISSED THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL PRESEASON TOP 25

UCLA

  • GONE: Daishen Nix, Prince Ali, Alex Olesinski
  • COMING BACK: Chris Smith, Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, Jake Kyman, Jules Bernard, David Singleton
  • WAIT AND SEE: Chris Smith
  • NEW FACES: Daishen Nix, Jaylen Clark
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyger Campbell, Johnny Juzang, Chris Smith, Jaime Jaquez, Jalen Hill

OREGON

  • GONE: Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, C.J. Walker
  • COMING BACK: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, C.J. Walker, Francis Okoro, Chandler Lawson, Addison Patterson, N’Faly Dante
  • WAIT AND SEE: L.J. Figueroa
  • NEW FACES: Amauri Hardy, Jalen Terry, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, Amauri Hardy, Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi

OHIO STATE

  • GONE: Kaleb Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Andrew Wesson, D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney
  • COMING BACK: Duane Washington, Luther Muhammad, C.J. Walker, Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell, Justin Ahrens, Alonzo Gaffney, Ibrahima Diallo
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Seth Towns, Eugene Brown, Zed Kay, Justice Suenig, Abel Porter
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington, Seth Towns, E.J. Liddell, Kyle Young

INDIANA

  • GONE: De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green, Justin Smith
  • COMING BACK: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk, Al Durham, Rob Phinisee, Jerome Hunter, Race Thompson
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: Khristian Lander, Trey Galloway, Jordan Geronimo, Anthony Leal
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Khristian Lander, Rob Phinisee, Al Durham, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk

UCONN

  • GONE: Christian Vital, Alterique Gilbert, Sid Wilson
  • COMING BACK: James Bouknight, Josh Carlton, Akok Akok, Jalen Gaffney, Tyler Polley, Brendan Adams, Isaiah Whaley
  • WAIT AND SEE: None
  • NEW FACES: R.J. Cole, Andre Jackson, Javonte Brown-Ferguson, Richie Springs, Adama Sanogo
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: R.J. Cole, James Bouknight, Andre Jackson, Akok Akok, Josh Carlton

LSU

  • GONE: Emmitt Williams, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor
  • COMING BACK: Charles Manning Jr., James Bishop
  • WAIT AND SEE: Trendon Watford, Darius Days, Javonte Smart
  • NEW FACES: Cam Thomas, Josh Leblanc, Jalen Cook, Shareef O’Neal, Mwani Wilkinson, Bradley Ezewiro
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Cam Thomas, Charles Manning, Josh LeBlanc, Darius Days

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.