2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 16 UConn Huskies

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 20-10, 10-8 Big East (t-7th); Ineligible for the postseason

Head Coach: Kevin Ollie (2nd season at UConn: 20-10 overall, 10-8 Big East)

Key Losses: Enosch Wolf, R.J. Evans

Newcomers: Lasan Kromah, Terrance Samuel, Kentan Facey, Amida Brimah

Projected Lineup

G: Shabazz Napier, Sr.
G: Ryan Boatright, Jr.
G: Omar Calhoun, So.
F: Deandre Daniels, Jr.
C: Tyler Olander, Sr.
Bench: Lasan Kromah, Sr.; Niels Giffey, Sr.; Philip Nolan, So.; Kentan Facey, Fr.; Leon Tolksdorf, So.

They’ll be good because …: UConn is coming off of a 20 win season where they went 10-8 in the Big East and would have earned themselves a bid to the NCAA tournament if it wasn’t for an APR-induced postseason ban. Everyone of note from that team is back for UConn’s first season in the AAC, with one exception: instead of having Holy Cross transfer R.J. Evans as their first guard off the bench, Kevin Ollie will now be able to use fifth-year senior Lasan Kromah, a veteran that averaged double-figures over his three year career at George Washington.

If that’s not enough, than you should take note of the back court that Ollie returns, which will be one of the best in the country. Shabazz Napier is one of the nation’s most underrated point guards, and while Ryan Boatright has a tendency to get a bit out of control, he’s still an absurdly talented guard that can go off for 20 on any given night. Add in sophomore Omar Calhoun, and UConn’s perimeter will be small but quite difficult to match up with.

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AP photo

But they might disappoint because …: The Huskies just don’t have much size on the interior to take note of. Senior Tyler Olander is back, but he averaged all of 4.3 points and 3.7 boards as a junior. Deandre Daniels is a really talented 6-foot-8 forward, but he’s much better suited to playing as a three than he is on being relied upon to mix it up in the paint. Phil Nolan is a skinny sophomore. Kentan Facey is a skinny freshman. Leon Tolksdorf wants to shoot threes. There just aren’t that many big bodies up front.

Who matches up with Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell? Who in that lineup can slow down Shaq Goodwin of Memphis? SMU and Houston both have a couple of capable big men. The Huskies have enough talent to make a run at winning the conference, but that’s assuming that someone on this team can find a way to become a presence in the paint.

Outlook: UConn may have one of the best perimeter attacks in the country, but I don’t think that it’s crazy to say that they have the third-best set of guards in the AAC. That’s what happens when you play in the same conference as Louisville and Memphis. What that means is that the Huskies’ major advantage, their ability to spread the floor and create mismatches, will be negated against the league’s other two contenders. With the sizable disadvantage that UConn will have in the paint, it’s tough to see the Huskies being able to make a push for the AAC title.

Having said that, Memphis and Louisville are two of just a handful of teams against whom UConn won’t be able to take advantage of their back court talent. So while I think that it is a long shot the Huskies will win the conference, I still think this is a team that can win 25 games and, potentially, make a run in the tournament if they get the right matchups.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.

Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. returning to school

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Nebraska received some important news on Friday night as senior guard James Palmer Jr. will be back for next season.

The 6-foot-6 Palmer had tested the NBA draft waters, but he decided to return to the Cornhuskers. After putting up 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season, Palmer is expected to be an All-Big Ten candidate once again this season. Palmer shot 44 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point range last season.

After transferring in from Miami, Palmer became the Huskers’ go-to scorer last season in helping Nebraska to a 22-win season and NIT appearance.

With Palmer back, Nebraska will have some legitimate expectations for the upcoming season, especially if the team’s second-leading scorer, Isaac Copeland Jr., also returns from the NBA draft process.