College Hoops Preview: 10 programs on the rise heading into ’12-’13

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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 Lists we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

NC State: There are three schools located in what’s known as “the Triangle” in North Carolina: UNC, Duke and NC State. Two of those programs — UNC and Duke — have long been considered the most dominant programs in the ACC, while NC State has played the role of the little brother that can’t hang. Herb Sendek got the Wolfpack to five straight NCAA tournaments during his last five seasons at the school, but if you factor out his time there, NC State’s trip to the Sweet 16 in 2012 was their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1991 and only their second trip past the first weekend since 1989. That all changes this season, as Mark Gottfried has done in 18 months what Sidney Lowe, Leo Robinson and, frankly, Sendek were all unable to: he’s turned NC State back into a national power.

Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie both return for their junior seasons. Scott Wood, Richard Howell and Jordan Vandenburg all are back as well. But, more importantly, Gottfried brings in one of the strongest recruiting classes in the country as he adds guards Tyler Lewis and Rodney Purvis and wing forward TJ Warren. Gottfried also has a commitment from top ten recruit Cat Barber in the Class of 2013. NC State has one of the most passionate and die-hard fan-bases in the country. They finally have something to get excited about heading into the season. And if all goes to plan, they’ll have some bragging rights around The Triangle come March.

UMass: UMass basketball history is limited to, more or less, two people. Julius Erving played for the Minutemen from 1968-1971 before going on to become Dr. J. The other person is John Calipari, who took over a program in 1988 that had 10 straight losing seasons. In his fourth year, he led UMass to the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament titles, advancing to the NCAA tournament. He would accomplish that feat for five consecutive years, which culminated in his run to the 1996 Final Four, riding on the shoulders of Marcus Camby, before leaving the program. Bruiser Flint took over and led the Minutemen to two more NCAA tournaments, but they’ve only won one A-10 title — the 2007 regular season — since then. Outside of those seven consecutive NCAA tournaments, UMass has been to one. Ever. In 1962.

That could change this season, as Derek Kellogg has put together arguably the best team in Amherst since the late 90’s. The Minutemen return all but one member of their rotation from last season, including Chaz Williams, who is one of the most exciting and underrated point guards in the country. They also bring back Sampson Carter and Cady Lalanne, both of whom were injured for much of last season. The Atlantic 10 is going to be a rugged league this season, but UMass has the horses to make a run at a top four finish.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes have only had two NCAA tournament appearances in the last decade, none since 2006. In fact, last year’s trip to the NIT was the first time the Hawkeyes advanced to a postseason tournament of any kind since 2006. But with Aaron White, Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe all returning to a team that only loses two rotation players (yes, one was Matt Gatens, I know), the future for the Hawkeyes looks promising. And that’s before you factor in the addition of a very strong freshmen class, including top 100 recruit Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury.

Colorado State: Tim Miles left the cupboard quite full for new head coach Larry Eustachy. The Rams return their top seven scorers from a season ago (although Thursday brought news of starting guard Jesse Carr’s torn ACL), including the talented back court duo of Dorian Green and Wes Eikmeier. Those two will be joined by a former top 75 recruit and Arizona transfer Daniel Bejarano as well as Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson up front. The MWC is stacked up top this season, but CSU should be heading to their second straight NCAA tournament.

Stanford: The Cardinal were NCAA mainstays from the mid-90’s through 2008, when the Lopez twins and Trent Johnson all left the program. Johnny Dawkins took over, but he had a bit of a rebuilding job on his hands. After winning just 20 conference games in his first three seasons in Palo Alto, Dawkins led Stanford to a 26-11 overall record, a 10-8 finish in the Pac-12 and an NIT title. With Chasson Randle, Aaron Bright and Dwight Powell returning and a talented recruiting class coming in, is this the year that Dawkins finally breaks through?

Colorado: The Buffaloes were one of the nation’s most surprising teams in 2011-2012, parlaying a strong showing in league play to a run through the Pac-12 tournament and a trip to the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. That was just their third trip to the Big Dance since 1969 and only the second since Chauncey Billups left the program in 1997. Colorado may not make a return trip to the dance this season, as they lose four of their top six scorers from a season ago. But they do get Andre Roberson and promising sophomore Askia Booker back. They also bring in a solid recruiting class. Last year was a more successful season that most could have expected from Colorado, and sliding back to their original trajectory this season is not a disappointment.

Tennessee: Would you be surprised if I told you that Tennessee finished tied for second in the SEC last season? Because they did, albeit they finished at 10-6 in league play along with four other teams, but the point remains — the Volunteers made the climb back to relevancy awfully quickly. And they just might be the second best team in the conference again. Trae Golden is underrated at the point while Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes provide more bulk up front than just about anyone they’ll face. Oh, and Stokes? He averaged 9.6 points and 7.4 boards despite joining the team in the middle of the season when he was supposed to be finishing up his senior year of high school. If Cuonzo Martin can find some perimeter shooting to go along with those three, Tennessee will be just fine.

North Texas: Tony Mitchell is the name everyone thinks of when this North Texas team is mentioned, and that’s fair. There aren’t a lot of lottery picks that make their way through Denton, TX. But the fact of the matter is that this program is growing around him as well. Sophomore TJ Taylor was signed by both Oklahoma and Marquette before winding up at UNT. Senior Roger Franklin started his career at Oklahoma State. Jordan Williams (So.), Chris Jones (So.) and Alzee Williams (Jr.) are all talented perimeter players with plenty of eligibility left. This program has a chance to make some noise in Conference USA when leave the Sun Belt.

Delaware: There are three names you need to remember when it comes to the Blue Hens: Devon Saddler, Jamelle Hagins and Jarvis Threat. Saddler is a junior that could end up averaging more than 20 points. Hagins is a senior big man that not only averaged a double-double last season, but chipped in with three blocks as well. Threat is a sophomore that posted double figures as a rookie and has quite a bit of hype heading into the season. This will be the year for Delaware to make a run.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs are probably still a year or two away, but there is no denying the amount of talent entering into this program. Former Kansas signee Braeden Anderson, who was ineligible last year, will be able to play at the school this season, as will Robert Upshaw, a top 75 recruit that originally signed with Kansas State. Those two alone should give Fresno State one of the best front lines in the conference in the near future. Add in Pacific transfer Allen Huddleston, three-star recruits Broderick Newbill and Marvelle Harris, and Cezar Guerrero (an Oklahoma State transfer that will be eligible next season), and the Bulldogs will be more than just competitive in the MWC.

Five more programs heading in the right direction: Minnesota, USC, South Florida, Rhode Island, Oklahoma State

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

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.