Top 25 Countdown: No. 25 UCLA Bruins

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 19-14, 11-7 Pac-12 (t-5th)

Head Coach: Ben Howland

Key Losses: Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson, Reeves Nelson, Anthony Stover

Newcomers: Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad, Larry Drew II, Tony Parker, Jordan Adams

Projected Lineup:

G: Larry Drew II, Sr.
G: Shabazz Muhammad, Fr.
F: Kyle Anderson, Fr.
F: Travis Wear, Jr.
F: David Wear, Jr.
Bench: Joshua Smith, Jr.; Tony Parker, Fr.; Tyler Lamb, Jr.; Jordan Adams, Fr.; Norman Powell, So.

Outlook: I am not high on the Bruins heading into this season. In fact, I’d be surprised if you found any preseason rankings that had UCLA lower than this. When you look at what the Bruins bring back and what they add to their roster this season, the talent level is, frankly, impressive. Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson made up two-thirds of the consensus top three recruits in the Class of 2012, and they are joined by Tony Parker — a top 30 big man — and Jordan Adams — a top 75 wing — in what has to be considered Ben Howland’s best class since he took over in Westwood. And that’s before you factor in the addition of North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II.

When those four are added to the group of players returning — the Wear twins, Joshua Smith and Tyler Lamb — it is easy to see why UCLA has plenty of hype heading into the season.

I’m not buying into it, and there are plenty of reasons why:

  • Eligibility issues: Muhammad’s recruitment is being investigated by the NCAA. The key issue they are looking into is his family’s relationship with a pair of financial advisors and how he paid for his unofficial visits. There are also concerns about his affiliation with Adidas. Muhammad was ineligible to go on the team’s August trip to China. Anderson’s recruitment is also being investigated, although he is expected to be cleared in time for the start of the season. Best case scenario? The investigation — and media inquiries about it — is a distraction the team has to deal with throughout the start of the season while Muhammad, and possibly Anderson, miss some important practice time to get used to their teammates. That’s not ideal, but it’s certainly better than the other possible outcome: having Muhammad (and Anderson?) miss a significant amount of the season.
  • Smith is still out of shape: I’ve made a personal decision to stop making jokes about Smith’s weight this season, because at this point I don’t believe it’s as simple as Smith “being fat”. With his inability to shed the pounds given what’s on the line for him — athletically and monetarily — by remaining out of shape, I don’t think it’s difficult to make the assumption that he has a serious overeating problem, which is an addiction and a disease. That’s not a joking matter. But it is an issue that leads me to believe we’ll never see Smith — who, given his size, soft hands and nimble feet, could be the best big man in the country — live up to his potential. I’d expect the Wears twins and Tony Parker to all be playing over Smith by January.
  • Who plays the point?: Howland has said that Drew will start for him and that he is the team’s “most indispensable” player. This is the same guy that left North Carolina in the middle of the season, unannounced, after watching the Tar Heels improve drastically when he got benched for Kendall Marshall. The irony? Drew may actually be the best option at the point for this Bruins team. Anderson is a terrific play-maker and a special passer, but he’s also 6-foot-8 and nicknamed “Slo-Mo” for a reason. If he’s playing the point, who is guarding Mark Lyons, Jio Fontan and Chasson Randle?

The bottom-line is that I simply do not like the make-up of this team. Howland made a name for himself as a head coach by putting together gritty, blue-collar teams that won games by controlling the pace of the game and digging in defensively. Does the rotation listed above really look like one that will be able to out-physical and out-tough anyone?

There are bigger issues, as well, regarding Howland’s leadership of the UCLA program. Remember the story from Sports Illustrated last February about the UCLA program? It certainly didn’t paint Howland in a flattering light and, frankly, makes it seem like he has lost the control over, and respect of, his team.

Predictions?: There is enough talent on the roster that UCLA will still win games, but I don’t see them contending for the Pac-12 title. I think a fourth or fifth place finish in the conference — which will be improved this season — is more likely. And while the conference as a whole may be better than it was last season, that’s not a guarantee that four or five teams will be headed to the NCAA tournament from the league. I’d bet on UCLA heading into the Pac-12 tournament needing to make a run to (at least) the title game for a shot at avoiding the NIT.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Ohio State grabs five-star 2019 point guard D.J. Carton

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Ohio State landed one of the biggest commitments so far this summer on Saturday as five-star Class of 2019 point guard D.J. Carton pledged to the Buckeyes.

The 5-foot-11 Carton burst onto the national recruiting scene this spring as he went from a relative unknown into a five-star prospect. Although Carton doesn’t play on a major shoe-company circuit he impressed national scouts and college coaches with his play during the April live evaluation period with Quad Cities Elite — the same program that produced quality college players like Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Montana State’s Tyler Hall.

An explosive athlete who can play above the rim, Carton showed a high amount of upside during the USA Basketball U18 tryouts in June as he competed against many of the top players in his class.

Ohio State is landing a key piece at an opportune time as they now have a lead guard of the future to help build around. Carton is only the third five-star prospect to commit from the Class of 2019 so far, as he’s the No. 17 overall prospect in the Rivals national rankings. Carton joins in-state four-star wing Alonzo Gaffney in the Buckeyes’ 2019 recruiting class as Ohio State has the makings of a potential top 10 recruiting class.

With where Ohio State was last summer, with head coach Chris Holtmann taking the job in June and the roster lacking scholarship players, the Buckeyes have had a monster turnaround in the last 14 months. Ohio State now, once again, looks like a scary team when it comes to recruiting as they should be a major factor for some elite prospects.

Alabama lands four-star wing Juwan Gary

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Alabama added a quality wing to its Class of 2019 recruiting haul on Friday as four-star Juwan Gary pledged to the Crimson Tide.

The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Gary has been a known national prospect since his freshman season as the South Carolina native is an athletic two-way wing who thrives in the open court. Although Gary still needs to polish up his jumper, he has the potential to be an impact player in the SEC, especially if Alabama gets him going in transition.

Gary joins four-star forward Diante Smith in the Crimson Tide recruiting class in 2019 as now head coach Avery Johnson and his staff can focus more of their efforts on adding to a potentially strong class. Pulling Gary out of South Carolina — especially in light of recent NCAA tournament success from in-state programs like South Carolina and Clemson — is an impressive recruiting win for Alabama.

Former UCLA guard Billy Knight was facing child molestation charges before suicide

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Former UCLA guard Billy Knight, who took his own life earlier this week, was arrested in June for sexually abusing a nine-year old girl, according to court documents that were obtained by The Mercury News.

The alleged assaults occurred in April of 2017 and Knight was reportedly arrested in Arizona in June. He was being charged with two counts of sexual conduct with a minor, two counts of sexual abuse, and two counts of molestation of a child.

Knight posted a video to YouTube prior to his death saying that he had lived a life of “sin”.

Jalek Felton signs pro contract in Europe

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Jalek Felton’s college basketball career is over.

The former North Carolina point guard has signed a pro contract with Olimpija Lubiana, a club team in Slovenia, they announced.

“I’m happy to join a club like Petrol Olimpija,” Felton said in a statement. “This is a club with a rich tradition, where many NBA players have begun their careers. For me, this is a big step. I know that this will be a great challenge for me and I am ready to go there and work. My agent told me that Olimpija will play in various competitions and that makes me all the more pleased. Playing in such competitions with Olympia in Europe will prepare me for playing in the NBA. The city looks nice and I heard that basketball there is a religion, so this will be an interesting experience.”

Felton, the nephew of former UNC guard Ray Felton, was a five-star prospect that played in 22 games as a freshman with the Tar Heels. But he was suspended from the program in January and, in March, withdrew from school.

He averaged just 2.9 points in his one season in Chapel Hill.

Creighton lands local 2019 commit

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Omaha isn’t exactly thought of as a high school basketball hot bed, but Creighton has had success mining its hometown for talent in recent years, most notably in recent NBA draft picks Justin Patton and Khyri Thomas.

The Bluejays went back to the well Thursday by securing the commitment of Shereef Mitchell, a 6-foot guard from local Burke High School, he announced via social media.

“Being a kid from Omaha you dream of playing for Creighton and in front of the hotown fans,” Mitchell wrote. “That is something I want to do  and I don’t want to turn that opportunity down.

“I can’t wait to play in front of my family, friends and the best fans in the world!”

Burke was offered by Greg McDermott’s staff just earlier this week, adding to a list of offers that included Bradley, Loyola Chicago and South Dakota State.

Burke recently graduated from his Omaha high school, but will reclassify to 2019 after spending a season with Sunrise Christian in Wichita, Kan.

“I really feel like I will be a way better player than what I am right now after my year at Sunrise,” Mitchell told the Omaha World-Herald. “I think I could have a shot at being an impact player right away and possibly starting after a year there.”

Burke averaged 24.6 points and 3.8 assists per game as a high school senior, earning state player of the year honors in the process. He’s hoping to extend the line of Omaha products to thrive at Creighton.

“I’m a kid from Omaha, and getting an offer from Creighton is something kids dream of and it would be hard for me to pass up,” Mitchell told the World-Herald. “Seeing players like Khyri Thomas and Justin Patton, two kids from (Omaha public schools) that are in the NBA, it gives you hope that you can do the same thing.”