Indiana, Louisville top our too early 2012-13 preseason Top 25

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It’s tempting to place Kentucky atop the ranking for the 2012-13 season.

Yes, the Wildcats are probably going to lose all five starters and the sixth man from the 2012 NCAA tournament champions who won an NCAA record 38 games. But I can’t. Not until Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel decide where they’re playing next season. But once the two top recruits in the class of 2012 choose – they’re both elite players and at least one will be in Lexington – it’ll provide a more accurate assessment of where UK will fall.

Until then, I’m going with one of the two teams that did beat Kentucky this season and returns nearly every player from a 27-win team. Oh, did mention that team also sports a top-5 recruiting class?

(Note: When the NCAA’s NBA draft withdrawal date passes on April 11 and the 10 top 100 recruits commit, this ranking will be more informed. Until then, it’s just a waaaaay too early guess on everything. Also, the early version didn’t include Butler. This one does. Call it a late-night oversight.)

source: AP

1. Indiana Hoosiers (Final ’12-13 record: 27-9)
Tom Crean’s rebuild is complete. The Hoosiers should have four starters back (frontcourt studs Cody Zeller and Christian Watford are expected to return) and five freshman who’ll provide depth and athleticism. Indiana won’t be a scrappy underdog next season. Be interesting to see how the Hoosiers handle it.

2. Louisville Cardinals (30-10)
The game’s most efficient defense will stay that way with Gorgui Dieng back in the middle and a (knock on wood) healthy roster around him. Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear should get the expected freshman-to-sophomore boost, transfer Luke Hancock adds experience and shooting. Also, that Peyton Siva’s pretty good. Only concern? No real impact freshmen.

3. Kentucky Wildcats (38-2)
The Wildcats are all the way down here. Oops. Sharpshooter Kyle Witljer is the only significant returner, but transfer Ryan Harrow spent all season practicing with UK. That’s a nice head start. Add freshmen Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley – not to mention either Muhammad or Noel – and coach John Calipari has the talent for another Final Four run. Who doubts that?

4. N.C. State Wolfpack (24-13)
Too high for a team that was an average ACC team that got hot at season’s end? Maybe. But the Wolfpack return four starters and bring in a top 5 recruiting class headed by guard Rodney Purvis. It’s an athletic, balanced group that also boasts elite athletes. Now we’ll see if coach Mark Gottfried can pull off some magic for an entire season.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes (31-8)
Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. return, along with a group of underclassmen ready for more playing time. Coach Thad Matta has the Buckeyes positioned to contend every year. And if center Jared Sullinger makes a surprise return for his junior season? Even better.

6. Kansas Jayhawks (32-7)
Too kind? Maybe not. The Jayhawks will shot-blocker Jeff Withey, guard Elijah Johnson and steady wing Travis Releford. Throw in touted freshman Perry Ellis and redshirt freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor and Bill Self will have enough pieces to win his ninth straight Big 12 title.

7. Michigan Wolverines (24-10)
This is if point guard Trey Burke returns. Give him Tim Hardaway Jr. on the wing, Jordan Morgan and elite recruit Mitch McGary inside and it’s a team that can contend for the Big Ten title. Losing wing Evan Smotrycz doesn’t help, though.

8. Baylor Bears (30-8)
Quincy Acy’s gone, but there’s still plenty of ballers in Waco, including guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip. Quincy Miller’s season wasn’t that awful and incoming center Isaiah Austin would offset the loss of Perry Jones III goes pro.

9. Creighton Bluejays (29-6)
Too high for a team that doesn’t play defense? Maybe. But Doug McDermott’s a player of the year candidate, Gregory Echenique’s among the best centers in the game and they have solid support. Just need to replace point guard Antoine Young in the starting lineup.

10. Memphis Tigers (26-9)
The Tigers lose guard Will Barton and senior forward Wesley Witherspoon, but remain a talented, deep team that has a coach in Josh Pastner who continues to improve as a motivator and Xs-and-Os guy. Expect Memphis to crush its final season in C-USA.

11. Duke Blue Devils (27-7)
Speaking of no defense, don’t expect another season of soft D in Durham. Austin Rivers may be gone, but the Devils boast experience and shooters. That’s enough for 25 wins with Coach K on the sideline.

12. St. Louis Billikens (26-8)
When you lose one starter from a team that won 26 games, finish among the top 15 in kenpom.com ratings and nearly knock off a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, you get ranked in the top 15. It’s a no-brainer.

13. Florida Gators (26-11)
Billy Donovan’s team got a huge boost when forward Patric Young elected to return. Even if guard Bradley Beal bolts for the NBA, the Gators should be the SEC’s second-best team behind Kenny Boynton, Young and Erik Murphy.

14. Michigan State Spartans (29-8)
This is probably too low for MSU given how Tom Izzo’s team exceeded expectations in 2011-12. But they do lose do-everything forward Draymond Green, not to mention Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood. Can incoming freshman Gary Harris provide scoring?

15. Syracuse Orange (34-3)
Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Fab Melo are gone. But ‘Cuse still has talent in C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams and add a dynamite big man in DaJuan Coleman. Also, they could add Noel. That would be a massive boost.

16. Butler Bulldogs (22-15)
Bulldogs couldn’t hit a perimeter shot this season. That won’t apply next year when Rotnei Clarke and incoming freshman Kellen Dunham suit up. That’ll make life easier for Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall down low, not to mention glue guy Roosevelt Jones.

17. Arizona Wildcats (23-12)
For now, the Wildcats boast the top recruiting class of 2012. Three five-star recruits arrive to bolster Nick Johnson, Solomon Hill and a healthy Kevin Parrom. But this anticipates a young team maturing, something the 2011-12 squad didn’t do.

18. Wisconsin Badgers (26-10)
Floor leader Jordan Taylor’s gone. That’s bad. But every other important player returns, including Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Mike Brueswitz and Josh Gasser. Also, Bo Ryan adds an athletic forward in freshman Sam Dekker. Athletic! At Wisconsin!

19. VCU Rams (29-7)
Senior star Brad Burgess is gone — their best player — but everyone else is back for a team that won a ton of games, featured some nasty defense and apparently is insistent on winning NCAA tournament games every season.

20. San Diego State Aztecs (26-8)
One player’s gone, replaced by three impact transfers. I’d say that’s a healthy recipe for success when Chase Tapley, James Rahon and MWC player of the year Jamaal Franklin are already in the mix.

21. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-12)
Four starters return, but with sharpshooting wing Tim Abromaitis back from a knee injury, Notre Dame could contend for a Big East title. Better be OK playing as favorites, though.

22. North Carolina Tar Heels (32-6)
UNC needs James Michael McAdoo to stay. Desperately. Without him, their frontcourt would be shot, leaving Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston to do the heavy lifting. Hope incoming freshman Marcus Paige is ready to run the show.

23. Missouri Tigers (30-5)
Only regulars Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey return. But Laurence Bowers is back from a knee injury and the Tigers add three transfers in Keion Bell, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross who’ll step right into the rotation. Time to see that national coach of the year at work.

24. Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-7)
It’s really not a Top 25 without Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team loses center Robert Sacre, but everyone else is back. That’s enough for a preseason ranking.

25. Kansas State Wildcats (22-11)
New coach Bruce Weber inherits a nice situation. Four starters return, along with the top three bench players. Will they respond to a guy who’s motivational methods are less severe?

Also considered (in no particular order): UCLA, Texas, UNLV, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida State, Stanford, Colorado, Marquette, Ohio, Saint Mary’s, New Mexico, Xavier, Cincinnati.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Report: Western Kentucky’s Lamonte Bearden staying in 2018 NBA Draft

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Western Kentucky guard Lamonte Bearden will stay in the 2018 NBA Draft after hiring an agent, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-3 Bearden just completed his redshirt junior season with the Hilltoppers as he averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. A slippery guard with good size, Bearden shot 47 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe while also getting in the passing lanes for 1.7 steals per game.

Although Bearden has good size and athleticism at lead guard, his perimeter jumper has been inconsistent during his college career. He was 31 percent from three-point range (a career high) this past season. Starting his college career at Buffalo, Bearden helped lead the Bulls to the NCAA tournament before opting to play in Conference USA for Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers will certainly miss Bearden’s presence in their backcourt as the program has seven new players signed for next season.

USC makes a statement landing Class of 2019 four-star forward Isaiah Mobley

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USC ended a strong week of recruiting with another major statement on Friday afternoon as four-star Class of 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley pledged to the Trojans.

The second major Class of 2019 commitment for USC during the week, the 6-foot-9 power forward joins five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Compton Magic teammates should be able to help replace the loss of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, with Mobley playing the skilled, floor-spacing Boatwright’s role and Okongwu providing the interior energy of Metu.

Having two highly-touted big men commit in the same week is huge for USC. And it looks like the start of even bigger things in a continually-evolving SoCal recruiting war against Pac-12 rival UCLA.

Landing both Mobley and Okongwu is significant for the Trojans for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, both come from the famous Compton Magic grassroots program that runs on the adidas Gauntlet. While landing AAU teammates from a regional program is common for high-major programs of USC’s stature, the commitments signify that the Trojans are the ones with the biggest pull with the Magic at the current moment.

And the Magic used to get raided by UCLA.

In the past few years, the Bruins signed T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill from the Compton Magic. Now, it’s USC who looks to be in the driver’s seat recruiting the program.

The Trojans aren’t done, either.

Newly-hired USC assistant coach Eric Mobley is the father Isaiah Mobley, as well as five-star Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley. As Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi noted in his story about Isaiah, “Barring something strange happening, look for the younger Mobley to join his brother and father by committing to USC within the next two weeks.”

That would mean the Trojans would have landed three top-30 caliber big men in the span of a few weeks. That allows the USC coaching staff to recruit other positions extremely hard. Outside of Kentucky, USC has arguably the best future recruiting status of any program in the country.

The Trojans have taken full advantage of UCLA letting go popular assistant coach David Grace. The Bruins are still pulling in top-100 prospects, as evidenced by Grant Sherfield and Jaime Jaquez’s commitments in the Class of 2019, but losing two Magic kids in a week to a rival has to sting.

Considering where USC was last fall with the FBI investigation, who saw this type of recruiting swing coming? Other programs involved in the investigation like Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State have landed solid recruits. They also haven’t pulled in nearly the high-level talent that the Trojans currently have committed.

Even amidst the uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation, USC is still pulling in elite talent while beating local rivals. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Trojans can continue to recruit at this level as they try to fill out the rest of an important recruiting class.

USF signs Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson

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USF landed a major addition on Friday as the school announced the signing of Oklahoma State transfer guard Zack Dawson.

The 6-foot-3 Dawson is a former consensus top-100 prospect coming out of high school as he’ll have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. A native of the region, Dawson will have three years of eligibility remaining once he’s able to play again.

Dismissed from Oklahoma State on Dec. 14 for violating team rules, Dawson averaged 4.4 points and1.6 assists per contest as he only suited up in five games for the Cowboys. Once Dawson is eligible to play for USF, he gives the Bulls a potentially dynamic backcourt along with rising sophomore guard David Collins.

“We are excited to welcome Zack back home to Florida as a member of the Bulls family,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said in a release. “He is a dynamic and versatile guard who can impact the game in a variety of ways. Zack comes from one of the best high school programs in the state, South Miami High School, so he immediately brings a championship attitude here to the University of South Florida.”

This is a really nice pickup for the Bulls, as they utilized a local transfer to help bolster the roster. Landing top-100 kids out of high school is going to be tough until USF boosts its basketball credibility. But getting a former top-100 player on the transfer market is a solid approach to building the Bulls into a respectable threat.

Michael Porter Jr.: ‘I’m the best player in this draft’

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The more I think about it, the more that Michael Porter Jr. is becoming the most interesting prospect at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft.

As a high school senior, he was considered by many to be the top player in the class, a 6-foot-10 combo-forward with a lethal three-point shot, NBA dunk contest athleticism and the versatility to, one day, be a multi-positional defender that would seamlessly fit into fit into the modern NBA.

But his one and only season at Missouri was derailed by back surgery, and that has allowed the rest of the class of 2017 to shine while we have focused on everything else that comes with drafting Porter. The reputation that he had for the majority of his high school career of being soft. The intel that was coming out of Missouri, that he was cocky and arrogant and something of a bad teammate. Questions about whether or not he is truly a wing or a four, more like a more athletic Lauri Markkanen.

When the only thing that we’ve had a chance to see this season is an out-of-shape Porter struggling in postseason games, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that his hype train has derailed.

“I know without a doubt that I’m the — I played against all these guys, they’re all great players — but I’m the best player in this draft,” Porter told ESPN. “And I just can’t wait to show what I’m capable of.”

And therein lies the conundrum for any team drafting him.

I have little doubt that Porter is going to be able to score and score a lot in the NBA. I think he and Bagley are the safest bets to average 20 points at the NBA level before their rookie contract runs out.

But putting up points and playing on winning basketball teams are not one and the same. For a ten-year stretch after his rookie season, Rudy Gay averaged at least 17.2 points while making the playoffs once during that stretch. Is that what Porter is going to turn into at the next level? Or will be find a way to become the kind of NBA defender his athleticism says he should be and, by the time he signs his first contract extension, end up the player that Paul George is?

The mitigating factor here is that Porter is going to do a fantastic job in every interview he has. He’s an intelligent, charismatic and articulate kid that is going to be able to sell himself. The red flags that he has aren’t going to show when he’s sitting down in front of NBA general managers.

They would have shown up — or been written off — if there was a season’s worth of game-tape available, but there isn’t. What that means is that scouts are going to have to decide whether or not Porter, who by all accounts had a very impressive senior season in high school, is that player or the one that had the reputation for being soft for years before that.

And all of that is going to come after the doctor’s have a chance to examine his back to see if the surgery he underwent fixed what was wrong, or if this is the kind of situation where a recurrence is likely.

The result is the widest range for any player at the top of the draft.

He could sell someone on taking him as a top four pick. He could also slide his way down to the Knicks at No. 9 or the 76ers at No. 10.

Which is what makes him the most interesting prospect at the top of this draft.

P.J. Washington ‘definitely going back to school’ without first round guarantee

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Kentucky forward P.J. Washington is one of the handful of players that currently finds themselves in the tenuous position of having their name in the NBA draft pool without having a clear picture of where, exactly, they are going to end up getting picked.

Will they be a late-first round pick? Will he be an early second round pick? Will he even be drafted at all?

Washington told reporters at the NBA combine this week that, if he’s a first round pick, he’ll be heading to the NBA. If he only gets a second round guarantee, he’ll be returning to school.

As we detailed last week, getting selected in the second round does not mean a player is destined to end up being broke his first year out of school. In the last six drafts, only one college player picked in the top ten picks of the second round (31-40) did not receive a guaranteed contract. In the 2017 NBA Draft, every college player selected in the top 50 received a guaranteed deal of at least one year, and Thomas Bryant was the only player whose one-year guaranteed deal was at the league minimum.

That doesn’t mean that Washington should leave Kentucky if he’s going to be a second round pick. If he returns to school, becomes a 42 percent three-point shooter (and can make free throws) and proves that he’s more versatile defensively than he was his year, then he could move up into the first round in a weaker 2019 draft.

It’s a risk for him, financially, to leave after this year if he doesn’t get that first round guarantee. It’s also a risk to return to school, where the best-case scenario isn’t always what happens.

I don’t envy the decision he has to make, but I am glad that Washington will have every chance in the world to be informed about the decision.