Conference Countdown: No. 4 ACC


Pre-season Awards

Player of the Year: Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech

may be an unpopular pick with the folks down in Durham, but let me
explain. Duke legitimately has two, maybe even three (depending on how
good Kyrie Irving ends up being), players that will contend for
conference player of the year. That’s why they are going to be the best
team in the league. Kyle Singler can afford to have an off-night,
because Nolan Smith and Irving, and even a Seth Curry or a Plumlee, are
talented enough to carry the Dukies, at least for stretches. No
disrespect to Dorenzo Hudson or Jeff Allen — both are very good
players — but they are a notch below the second and third options that
the Blue Devils have. I think Delaney has the kind of senior season
that Greivis Vasquez had last year; one where he puts up very
impressive numbers and leads his team to their best season in recent
memory. (Duke also had two, maybe three, viable player of the year
candidates last year as well.) Keep in mind, Delaney has been on the
wrong side of the bubble in each of his three seasons in Blacksburg.
You don’t think he is determined to win something this year?

And a close second goes to: Kyle Singler, Duke

came down to Singler and Nolan Smith, but with the amount of talent
that Duke has in their back court this year, Smith may not have the
opportunites that Singler does. Hell, Smith could very well be a
second-fiddle in the back court to Irving by season’s end. I see Smith
playing a complimentary role — albeit very well, but still as a second
or third option — this season. Before last season, I called Singler
the best complimentary player in the country. Last season changed my
opinion of him. He played fantastic basketball down the stretch, capped
by an outstanding tournament, a better title game, and a Final Four MOP
award. This is Singler’s team.

Breakout Star: Tyler Zeller, UNC

has had a rough first two seasons with the Tar Heels. As a freshman, he
broke his wrist in the second game of the season before returning late
in the year for front court depth and a shot to participate in a
national championship. As a sophomore, Zeller missed 10 games with a
stress fracture in his foot before returning for an essentially
meaningless stretch run. And for the majority of his time in Chapel
Hill, he has played second fiddle to the likes of Tyler Hansbrough, Ed
Davis, and Deon Thompson. Zeller is a talented player in the post, with
a solid back-to-the-basket game and a nice touch of his jumper. Playing
on a team where he is the only real offensive threat in the post with a
talented back court, Zeller should have plenty of opportunities to get
post touches and will be needed to rebound the ball effectively. He
averaged 9.3 ppg and 4.6 rpg playing just over 17 minutes as second
fiddle last year. What happens this season when he is the a go-to guy
in the post and gets 34 minutes?

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY – Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech, Sr.
  • G – Nolan Smith, Duke, Sr.
  • G/F – Harrison Barnes, UNC, Fr.
  • F – Chris Singleton, Florida State, Jr.
  • F – Kyle Singler, Duke, Sr.
  • F – Tracy Smith, NC State, Sr.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • G – Kyrie Irving, Duke, Fr.
  • G – Durand Scott, Miami, So.
  • F – Joe Trapani, Boston College, Sr.
  • F – Tyler Zeller, UNC, Jr.
  • F – Jordan Williams, Maryland, So.

Freshman of the Year: Harrison Barnes, UNC

has a very real shot at being the first pick in the 2011 NBA Draft
should he decide to come out. A 6’8″ small forward, Barnes is an
incredibly smooth player. He doesn’t have the length or freakish tools
of a Kevin Durant, but plays a similar style to Durant. He’s always
under control, thrives in the mid-range, and is an excellent all-around
shooter. Barnes is a smart kid that understands how to play the game
and has sneaky athleticism. Barnes will likely be the focal point of
the Tar Heel attack from day one, and some believe he has a shot at
being a first-team all-american.

All-Freshman Team:

  • G – Kyrie Irving, Duke
  • G – Kendall Marshall, UNC
  • G – Reggie Bullock, UNC
  • G – JT Terrell, Wake Forest
  • F – CJ Leslie, NC State

What Happened?:

  • Coaching Changes: It was a relatively quiet off-season in the ACC, unless you were a head coach. Boston College got rid of Al Skinner, parting ways before the man who headed the Eagles for 13 years interviewed at St. John’s. BC brought in Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, who built the Big Red from an Ivy cellar dweller to a Sweet 16 team.

    Next up was Oliver Purnell, who simply up and left Clemson for DePaul. A week later, the Tigers signed Brad Brownell away from Wright State.

    Perhaps the most surprising coaching change belongs to Wake Forest, who fired head coach Dino Gaudio
    despite making a second straight tournament after another disappointing
    finish to a season. The Demon Deacons hired Colorado head coach Jeff
    Bzdelik, who pulled of one of the more impressive recruiting feats I
    can remember. Bzdelik kept the Wake Forest assistant coaches on staff,
    and was able to convince all five members of Gaudio’s impressive recruiting class to stay and give him a chance.

  • Allan Chaney passes out:
    Chaney, who transferred to Virginia Tech from Florida and was scheduled
    to be eligible this fall, gave everyone a scare this summer. He fainted
    during a workout and had to be revived when a trainer gave him CPR. It
    was ruled dehydration, but after collapsing again later in the summer,
    it was determined Chaney needed more tests. He was found to have a viral inflammation of the heart, and it is not yet known if he will be able to play for the Hokies this season, although it doesn’t look good.

    More bad news was sent the Hokies way when they found out that JT Thompson would miss the season after tearing his acl.

  • Speaking of the Hokies:
    Seth Greenberg always seems to be on the wrong side of the bubble. In
    fact, each of the last three seasons, Virginia Tech has been left out
    of the NCAA Tournament. Would it surprise you that he wanted tournament
    expansion, or that he didn’t like the format of the “First Four”? Regardless, Greenberg has decided to play a tougher schedule in hopes that he avoids being left out again this season.
  • Bernard James: Is it possible that the most interesting person in college basketball is on Florida State? Read this, then answer that question.

What’s Next?:

  • Why does no one want ACC schools?:
    Throughout everything that went on this summer with conference
    expansion, the ACC was really the only league that stayed out of the
    rumor mill. Sure, there was speculation that Maryland could be headed
    to the Big Ten, but that was it.
  • Another national title?:
    The ACC has accounted for five of the last ten national titles. Many
    believe that Duke is far and away the best team in the country this
    season. Can they repeat?

Power Rankings:

  1. Duke:
    The reigning national champs, Duke is easily the favorite to win it
    all. A major reason for that is the talent that the Blue Devils got
    back. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, both of whom are going to populate
    a number of preseason all-america lists, both decided against going pro
    to return to school and try and win a second straight national title.
    Smith will be the anchor for what should be one of the better back
    courts in the country. Joining Smith in the starting line-up will
    likely be Kyrie Irving, who most believe is one of the top five
    recruits in the country. Irving, a pure point guard that plays well
    beyond his years, will be a perfect complement to Smith in the back
    court. Seth Curry — Steph’s little brother who averaged 20+ ppg at
    Liberty as a freshman that will be eligible this season — Andre
    Dawkins, and freshman Tyler Thornton fill out the back court for Coach
    K. With more of a guard-oriented line-up this season, Singler will go
    back to splitting time at the three and the four. Brian Zoubek is gone,
    which means Duke is going to need one of their bigs — whether it is
    Mason Plumlee (who is the most talented of the group), Miles Plumlee,
    Ryan Kelly, or freshman Josh Hairston — to develop a mean streak
    defensively and on the glass. That said, this is still a team that is
    as deep as it is talented. Don’t be surprised if they win both ACC
    titles and a national title.
  2. Virginia Tech:
    The Hokies may just be the second best team in the ACC this season.
    While they missed the NCAA Tournament last year, this was still a
    25-win club that went 10-6 in the ACC, and they return everyone from
    last season. Malcolm Delaney, who could very well be the ACC player of
    the year this season, returns, as does Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson,
    giving the Hokies as good of a 1-2-3 punch as there is outside of Duke.
    Victor Davila and Allan Chaney (assuming he can get cleared) will
    provide muscle inside, which will be all the more important with JT
    Thompson sidelined for the season. Terrell Bell and freshman Jarell
    Eddie give the Hokies athleticism and defensive toughness on the
    perimeter. Erick Green proved to be an adequate back-up at the point in
    limited minutes as a freshman. Its tough to think anyone can take the
    ACC from Duke this season, but Tech has as good of a chance as any team
    at finishing second in the conference.
  3. North Carolina:
    Its going to be interesting to see where North Carolina gets placed by
    writers in the preseason. The Heels were arguably the most
    disappointing team in the country last season and lost quite a bit (Ed
    Davis, Deon Thompson, the Wear twins, Marcus Ginyard) from that club.
    But this is also a team that has had two very good recruiting classes
    back-to-back, which means that there are quite a few question marks. Up
    front, the biggest question mark is depth. There are really only three
    bigs on the roster. Tyler Zeller is back for his junior season. When he
    is healthy, he is a very good post player on both ends, but he has
    battled suffered major injuries each of his first two seasons. John
    Henson was a top 10 recruit in 2009, but until he puts on weight he
    won’t be overly effective in the ACC. Justin Knox, an Alabama transfer,
    will be eligible immediately. His size will be nice, but he averaged
    6.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg as a junior. On the perimeter, the question marks
    will be positional battles. Larry Drew is the veteran point guard.
    Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland were hyped as freshmen, but had
    disappointing first seasons. Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock are
    this year’s talented freshman, and while Bullock could very well end up
    starting for this team, the guy to watch will be Marshall. Drew wasn’t
    the answer last season at the point, and Marshall was a highly regarded
    recruit. It seems the only certainty anyone has with this team is that
    Harrison Barnes will be the real deal. UNC should be improved next
    year, and while I believe Duke and Virginia Tech are still the better
    teams right now, this group should be in the mix for the second spot in
    the ACC.
  4. NC State:
    It seems that Wolfpack fans that have been patient with Sidney Lowe’s
    tenure will finally be rewarded this year, as NC State looks to have a
    team that can make a run at a tournament bid. Its starts up front,
    where the Pack got some great news when Tracy Smith, who led the team
    in scoring and rebounding as a junior, withdrew from the NBA Draft and
    decided to return for his senior season. The news got better when Lowe
    scored an upset, landing 6’8″ Raliegh native CJ Leslie, a top 20
    recruit. With Richard Howell and 7’0″ sophomore Jordan Vandenburg also
    returning, the Wolfpack have a very good front line. Lowe will also
    have a nice combination of experience and young talent in his back
    court. Javier Gonzalez, who started at the point last season, will be
    back for his senior season. 6’7″ shooter Scott Wood also returns, as
    does CJ Williams, a 6’6″ swingman who started 16 games as a sophomore.
    Freshmen guards Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow will provide depth, and
    quite possibly compete for a starting spot. This is the most talented,
    and probably the deepest, team Lowe has had at NC State. It will be a
    disappointment if he cannot lead this group to the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Florida State:
    The Seminoles lost both of their starting front court players —
    Solomon Alabi and Ryan Reid — but should still have enough size up
    front. 6’11” junior Xavier Gibson returns who, along with Terrence
    Shannon, who only played in 18 games, is the only rotational big man
    back from last season. But Hamilton brings in plenty on the front line.
    Okaro White is a 6’8″, top 100 forward. Jon Kreft, who initially signed
    with Florida State is 2006 but has had his share of troubles getting
    into the school, is a seven-footer and former five-star recruit that
    will finally be eligible this year. Bernard James is a 6’10” JuCo
    all-american that spent six years abroad in the Air Force. Florida
    State’s biggest issue last season was their ability on the offensive
    end; simply put, they couldn’t score. With the exception of incoming
    freshman Ian Miller, a four star point guard out of Charlotte, this is
    the same group. The two best players on the perimeter are Chris
    Singleton and Michael Snaer. Both are tremendous athletes — Snaer
    playing the two, Singleton at the three — with a ton of upside, but
    offensively they are limited. One of those two is going to need to
    develop into a legitimate threat with the ball. Derwin Kitchen might be
    the best creator for Leonard Hamilton’s club, but he turns 25 during
    the season. He won’t be getting all that much better. Rounding out the
    perimeter will be juniors Luke Loucks and Deividas Dulkys. Florida
    State is going to be a big, physical, experienced club, and if a couple
    of their better players can improve their scoring ability, this is a
    team that could once again win 20 games, finish above .500 in the
    conference, and make the NCAA Tournament.
  6. Clemson:
    With Oliver Purnell now at DePaul and Trevor Booker getting paychecks
    from the Wizards, its pretty obvious that Clemson is going to be a much
    different team next season. Where Clemson was a team known for their
    full-court press under Purnell, it will be interesting to see how new
    coach Brad Brownell runs this team. At Wright State, he was known for
    his team’s staunch, halfcourt defense and offensive execution. Brownell
    walks into a pretty good situation with Clemson. With Demontez Stitt,
    Andre Young, and Tanner Smith, Brownell has an experienced and tough
    back court returning. Throw sophomore Noel Johnson, who is only going
    to get better, into the mix, and the Tigers will have a very perimeter.
    The key to the Clemson season is going to be how their front line
    develops. Jerai Grant is a known commodity, an athletic, 6’8″ senior
    that is going to get some dunks, some rebounds, a couple of blocks.
    Milton Jennings and Devin Booker, however, were both highly regarded
    recruits as freshmen that had so-so first seasons. Part of it was that
    the two only played limited minutes with Grant and Trevor Booker, but
    if these two can begin to live up to their potential, this Clemson team
    could end up being a tournament team.
  7. Maryland:
    Its could be a tough year for the Terps, coming off of their share of
    the ACC regular season title. They lose Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes,
    and Landon Milbourne to graduation, which essentially means that the
    Terps will lose their three best players. All hope is not lost,
    however. Junior wing Sean Mosley has been quite impressive playing a
    role in his first two seasons in College Park. Center Jordan Williams,
    if he can cut some weight and get a bit quicker and more athletic,
    could develop into one of the better bigs in the ACC. Guard Adrian
    Bowie, swingman Cliff Tucker, and bigs Dino Gregory and James Padgett
    have all shown signs of being capable ACC players. If Mosley can
    develop into a 15 ppg player, Williams continues to improve as a post,
    and the six Maryland newcomers — particularly the two point guards,
    Pe’Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin — are ready to compete at the ACC
    level, Maryland has a shot at getting a bid to the tournament.
  8. Boston College:
    It was quite a tumultuous off-season for the Eagles. It started with Al
    Skinner getting fired, and continued with Rakim Sanders transferring to
    Fairfield, Brady Heslip transferring to Baylor, and with Kevin Noreen
    backing out of his commitment to the school. The cupboard isn’t bare
    for new head coach Steve Donahue, however. Joe Trapani has developed
    into one of the better combo-forwards in the ACC, averaging over 14
    points 6 boards as a junior. Junior Reggie Jackson is developing into
    one of the better all-around guards in the ACC, and Corey Raji is a
    tough, 6’6″ senior forward that really gets after it defensively and on
    the glass. Biko Paris and Dallas Elmore will also see time on the
    perimeter, but that is not where BC will struggle. There is not much
    size on this Eagle roster. Josh Southern, who started 25 games last
    season, is a 6’10” center and Courtney Dunn, who saw action in just 26
    games, are really the only post players this team has. This is an
    experienced group with some talent at the top, but they are not all
    that deep and will be learning the system of a new coach. An NCAA
    tournament bid would be a bit of a surprise.
  9. Miami:
    Miami won 20 games last season, but that number is a bit skewed when
    you consider 14 of those wins came in non-conference play. With Dwayne
    Collins and James Dews, their two leading scorers, graduating, its
    tough to see the ‘Canes improving all that much. If they do, it is
    going to rest on the shoulders of their back court. Durand Scott, who
    had a solid freshman campaign, and Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant are
    both very good back court players. 6’6″ small forward DeQuan Jones is
    one of the best athletes in the conference. Adrian Thomas, at 6’7″, is
    a tough, experienced kid that can score and knock down a jumper. Reggie
    Johnson is a capable center. But when you finish dead last in a power
    conference, lose your top two scorers, and bring in a recruiting class
    that doesn’t feature a program changer, its tough to expect too much.
  10. Wake Forest:
    The Demon Deacons will have as much turnover as anyone in the
    conference. They lose four of their top six scorers, including
    Al-Farouq Aminu and Ishmael Smith. Head coach Dino Gaudio was fired,
    replaced by Jeff Bzdelik. To top it off, center Tony Woods was booted
    from the team after a domestic violence incident. But that doesn’t mean
    that all is lost for Wake this season. Sophomore guards CJ Harris and
    Ari Stewart both had promising freshman seasons, and have the potential
    for a breakout sophomore year. Junior big man Ty Walker was a highly
    touted freshmen that will finally have an opportunity to play extended
    minutes. Georgetown transfer Nikita Mescheriakov will be eligible to
    play, joining a very good five-man recruiting class, which includes
    four four-star recruits. This team is young, and they are
    inexperienced, but Wake has some talent and potential. I think Wake is
    a bit of a sleeper this season, but they are a young squad and probably
    a year away from making the tournament.
  11. Georgia Tech:
    Paul Hewitt’s club is going to have a much different feel to it this
    season as Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal, and Zach Peacock are all gone.
    This year’s team is going to center around the Yellow Jacket backcourt.
    Headlining that group is Iman Shumpert, a 6’4″ combo guard that has
    shown flashes of greatness in his two seasons with the Rambling Wreck.
    But he’s also been inconsistent, something that will need to change as
    he will be counted on to shoulder a much bigger offensive load. Moe
    Miller, who has seen his numbers drop in each of his three seasons,
    will be back for his senior year. Hewitt will need Miller to return to
    the form of his freshman season, when he averaged 8.1 ppg and 3.3 apg.
    Rounding out the perimeter will be sophomores Mfon Udofia, Brian
    Oliver, and Glen Rice Jr. as well as freshman Jason Morris, a four-star
    recruit. Somewhere out of that group, a secondary scorer is going to
    need to develop. Up front, Tech will be very young, as there are going
    to essentially be three freshmen — two redshirt (Kammeon Hosley and
    Daniel Miller) and one true frosh (Nate Hicks, a former Tulane signee)
    — that make up the rotation. It looks like another rebuilding year for
  12. Virginia:
    The Cavaliers will be an interesting team to keep an eye on this
    season. After going 5-2 to start ACC play, the Cavs proceeded to lose
    their last nine games in conference. They also will be without Sylvan
    Landesberg, their leading scorer who was kicked off the team late in
    the season. But could it be possible that this club will be better
    without Landesberg? After he was kicked off the team, Virginia went
    1-3. But all three of those losses came to the two conference
    co-champions. They return Mike Scott, Mustapha Farrakhan, and Will
    Sherrill and add talented freshman KT Harrell. Sammy Zeglinski had
    surgery on his knee and his return this season is questionable. Bennett
    will also bring in his first real recruiting class, which is six
    players deep. Bennett’s roster is not overloaded with talent, but
    neither were his teams at Washington State. Can Bennett mold this team
    into one that can compete in the ACC? While I expect another finish
    near the bottom of the league, I think this could be a team that sneaks
    up on some people in the ACC.

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.

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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.

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.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.