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Midwest Region Preview: Is 4-seed Louisville the favorite?

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The biggest gripe that I saw regarding the release of the bracket was regarding Louisville. How did they end up a No. 4 seed? How could a team that is ranked second on KenPom.com end up being ranked fourth in their region? What is the world coming to?

Whatever.

If I’m a Louisville fan, I’m celebrating tonight. They’re in a pod with a slumping No. 5 seed in Saint Louis and the weakest No. 1 seed in Wichita State, and there’s a possibility that the Cardinals will be able to play — and knock out? — archrival Kentucky in the Sweet 16. So, again, what is the problem here?

If there is any team that has a complaint about the way that the bracket was seeded, it’s the Shockers. NCAA Tournament draws can be unflinchingly cruel, and Wichita State ended up with a worst-case scenario. Their Round of 32 matchup will be against preseason No. 1 Kentucky or Kansas State in St. Louis. Win that, and they’re likely looking at one of the hottest teams in the country in Louisville. If that wasn’t enough, that Sweet 16 game would be held in Indianapolis, a 90-minute drive from Louisville. The undefeated Shockers would be going on the road in the Sweet 16.

And here’s the worst part: they will be crucified if they can’t put together another run to the Final Four. An exit in the Round of 32 will essentially render their 34-0 pre-NCAA tournament record invalid in the court of public opinion.

I don’t root for anyone anymore. I think I’ll be rooting for Wichita State to pull this off, if for no other reason than I want to see their season “justified”.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. The Chase for Perfection: Wichita State will be the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991. They will try to become the first team to finish the season undefeated since Indiana in 1976. We’re watching history happen before our eyes. Enjoy it.
  • 2. Can Kentucky pull a Fab Five?: People tend to forget that, as freshmen, the Fab Five were a No. 6 seed before making a run to the National Title game. Kentucky is not quite as good as that Michigan team was, but they were a different team in the SEC tournament than they were … all season long? Can that success continue?
  • 3. Is Louisville headed to a third straight Final Four?: For the third straight season, Rick Pitino has his Cardinals streaking at the perfect time. The last two years, Louisville bounced back from a rough stretch in the regular season to win the Big East tournament title and make a run to the Final Four in 2012 and the National Title in 2013. The Cardinals were written off after Chane Behanan was kicked off the team and they lost at home to Memphis, but a run to the American tournament title has the Cards looking like a trendy pick to repeat as champs.
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The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 2 Michigan

I might end up picking Louisville to win the National Title, I think they’re that good. I like Michigan on the other side of the region. To beat the Wolverines, you need the kind of on-ball defenders that can get up into Nik Stauskas and keep him from having a field day in John Beilein’s offense. Neither Texas or Arizona State has a guy like that. Duke does — Tyler Thornton — but this is a different Michigan team than the one that lost at Cameron in December. They’re running much more of their offense through Stauskas, Walton is a different player and Glenn Robinson III finally woke up. And if Thornton is on Stauskas, who tries to slow down Caris LeVert?

MORE: Eight teams that can win the national title.

Final Four sleeper: No. 8 Kentucky

Are the Wildcats really a sleeper? You kind of sacrifice that name when you are the preseason No. 1 team in the country, but after a disappointing season, Kentucky heads into the dance as a No. 8 seed. The good news? They played their best basketball of the season during those three days in Atlanta. ‘The Tweak’ that John Calipari talked about so much was simply getting his team to buy-in to what he wanted. The key is Andrew Harrison at the point. He was terrific during the SEC tournament. He needs to be terrific in the NCAA tournament. If he is, this is still one of the most talented teams in the country.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 11 Iowa vs. No. 11 Tennessee: One of the three play-in games in the Midwest, this should be a doozy. Iowa is, on paper, a Final Four threat, but they’ve really struggled in the last month and a half. Tennessee is, on paper, an NIT team that has somehow turned into one of the hottest teams in the country the last couple of weeks.
  • No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan: Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello was a walk-on for Rick Pitino at Kentucky and an assistant on his staff at Louisville for six years.

Matchups to root for

  • No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky: I don’t need to explain this, do I?
  • No. 3 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan: I would not complain about a rematch. At all. Both the Wolverines and the Blue Devils have top five offenses and sub-100 defenses, according to KenPom. Can you say shootout?

The studs you know about

  • Russ Smith, Louisville: Once known as Russdiculous, Smith has become more of a point guard for Louisville this season while remaining a terror defensively.
  • Jabari Parker, Duke: Arguably the most well-rounded offensive weapon in the country and a potential No. 1 pick in the draft in June.
  • Nik Stauskas, Michigan: The Wolverines turned into a Big Ten champion when John Beilein allowed Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 sharpshooter with bounce, handle, great vision and noticeable attitude, to be the centerpiece of his offense.
  • Julius Randle, Kentucky: Another future top five pick, Randle is a double-double machine.

MORE: All-Americans | Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State: You’ve heard the name, but have you seen him play this year? Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early are great, but Van Vleet is their engine.
  • Langston Hall, Mercer: Hall is a big time scorer for the Bears that has a knack for hitting big shots in big moments. He’ll give Duke problems in the first round.
  • T.J. Warren, N.C. State: Everyone in the ACC knows about Warren, but he’s slept-on nationally because the Wolfpack were perceived as an NIT team. He went for 40 points in back-to-back games two weeks ago and is the best scorer in the country not named Doug McDermott.

Upsets that ARE happening

  • No. 11 Tennessee over No. 6 UMass: I’m just not a huge fan of the Minutemen this season, and Tennessee is a tough, veteran team playing their best basketball of the season right now. I’d make the same pick if Iowa beats Tennessee in the play-in game.
  • No. 4 Louisville over No. 1 Wichita State: I like this upset for a couple reasons: Montrezl Harrell will dominate the Shockers up front, the Shockers don’t have anyone that can guard Russ Smith and Louisville’s back court is quick and pesky enough to give Wichita State’s guards problems.

Upsets that AREN’T happening

  • No. 8 Kentucky or No. 9 Kansas State over No. 1 Wichita State: This pick has nothing to do with matchups. To me, this will be about desire. I’m not sure there is a better motivator in college basketball than WSU’s Gregg Marshall. The Shockers went 34-0 this season, which means they never slipped up against an inferior team. They never sleep-walked through a game and never overlooked an opponent. They’ll be ready, and they won’t be overwhelmed by the moment against either team.

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 14 Mercer over No. 3 Duke: Duke is a nightmare to try and defend. Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker might be the best 1-2 punch in the conference. But they can be exploited by talented, penetrating guards. Remember, this Mercer team won the Atlantic Sun regular season title over Florida-Gulf Coast last season. They’re good. Can Hall have his C.J. McCollum moment?

CBT Predictions: No. 4 Louisville beats No. 1 Wichita State and No. 2 Michigan en route to their third straight Final Four.

North Carolina’s Seventh Woods serves up vicious poster in The Bahamas

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While arch rival Duke is currently north of the border, playing three exhibition games in Canada as it gets prepared for the upcoming season, North Carolina has been in The Bahamas. Friday night the Tar Heels took on the Bahamas All-Stars, and despite some issues with turnovers Roy Williams’ squad picked up the win by a 112-91 final score.

The game’s best highlight came in the final seconds, as junior point guard Seventh Woods drove the lane and threw down an incredible one-handed dunk. Woods’ landing wasn’t great, as he was knocked off-balance while in mid-air, but he was fine health-wise.

Woods, who finished the game with 11 points, three assists and four turnovers, will be a key player for North Carolina this season. North Carolina has to account for the loss of its two best playmakers from last year’s group in Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, making the development of players such as Woods and freshman Coby White critical with regards to the Tar Heels’ hopes both within the ACC and nationally.

Woods missed 17 games last season due to a broken bone in his right foot, and he played sparingly once healthy, so these in-game opportunities are big for him regardless of the level of competition. It should be noted that the Bahamas All-Stars beat North Carolina four years ago, with a young Deandre Ayton starring for the home team.

As a team North Carolina turned the ball over 27 times Friday night, and taking better care of the basketball will be a point of emphasis for the Tar Heels in their second and final exhibition game of the trip Saturday afternoon.

Video credits: 10th Year Seniors, Inside Carolina

Five takeaways from our Reranking Recruiting Classes series

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Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve rolled out a series re-ranking the eight recruiting classes from 2007-2014.

It was a fun project to put together, in part because of the trip down memory lane that came with a number of the players we discussed, but also because it is interesting to take another look at these rankings once the players involved have reached — or approached — their peak years.

Here are five things that we learned while reranking the recruiting classes:

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PLAYING, AND STAYING, IN THE NBA IS AN EXCEEDINGLY DIFFICULT THING TO DO

I knew this before diving into this project, but rolling through each and every one of those eight recruiting classes reinforced the simple fact that having an NBA career is a damn-near impossible dream for many, if not most, basketball players.

On average, there were a couple of all-stars in each of these classes. Once you got outside of the top ten, however, it was difficult to find players that spent their career as starters. By the back-end of the 20s, you were digging through players that spent most of their career on the end of an NBA bench when they weren’t bouncing around between Europe and the G League.

It doesn’t exactly work out this way, but there are roughly 25 five-star recruits in each recruiting class with is roughly the same numbers of kids from each recruiting class that end up getting more than just a cup of coffee in the league.

That doesn’t mean that the guys on the fringes of the NBA are bad basketball players.

It’s quite the opposite actually.

I wrote a long story on Nigel Williams-Goss earlier this summer. He was identified as an elite talent way back in middle school. He was the first four-year player at Findlay Prep, one of high school basketball’s powerhouse programs. He won two high school national titles. He made all of the all-american teams and played in all of the all-american games as a senior. He was all-Pac-12 at Washington before transferring to Gonzaga where, as a senior, he was a first-team All-American on a team that might have won the national title had he not rolled his ankle in the national title game.

And, after getting picked 55th in the 2017 NBA Draft, Williams-Goss went out and had a monster, nearly-unprecedented season with Partizan, a storied basketball club in Serbia that is known for producing NBA talent. His rights are still owned by the Utah Jazz, but even that wasn’t enough to get him a guaranteed spot on their roster, which is why he will be playing for Olympiacos in Greece next season.

He’ll be paid very well and he’ll play in the Euroleague, which might be the best basketball league in the world outside of the NBA.

But it’s not the NBA.

And it should be proof of just how difficult it is to get there.

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

LASTING IN THE LEAGUE IS ALL ABOUT THE ROLE YOU CAN PLAY

A few years back, I was grabbing a beer with a longtime scout that was working for an NBA team, and we got to talking about the differences in evaluating high school players for the college level and college players for the NBA game. The biggest difference, he said, was that with high school players, you try and predict what the player can be as he continues to grow into his body and develop his game.

You think about the big picture.

But at the NBA level, scouting is in the details. What role can that player have for our team? What can he do at an NBA level? Will he be willing to accept that he is just a glue guy that is going to be asked to only do the things he can do at an NBA level? Does he have the positional size to be able to defend?

Because the truth is this: There are a lot of players that are not in the NBA that are “NBA players”, that are good enough to be deserving of a roster spot somewhere in the most competitive league on earth.

Actually getting one of those spots, however, depends on whether or not you fit into exactly what a team is looking for. Just being able to score 20 points in an NBA game isn’t enough, because unless you are one of the absolute best scorers on the planet, you aren’t going to be good enough in the NBA.

Take Andre Roberson, for example. He was unranked as a high school senior and never averaged more than 11.6 points at Colorado, but he’s been a starter in the NBA for five years and is now heading into the second year of a $30 million contract because he can rebound and he can defend and he is perfectly willing to do nothing but rebound and defend.

Is he a better basketball player than, say, Reggie Bullock, who was a top ten prospect coming out of high school? If you were playing pickup, would you ever pick him over, say, Jerian Grant, who was an all-american at Notre Dame?

Probably not.

But he’s likely going to end up making more money and playing more NBA games than both of those guys combined in his career.

The complicating factor in all of this is …

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

 

… THE NBA IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR

The way that basketball is played today is totally different from the way that it was played even just four years ago, and the result is that players that were, at one point in time, thought to be can’t-miss talents are on the verge of being out of the NBA.

Let’s call this the Jahlil Okafor Phenomenon.

Okafor was a high school superstar in the city of Chicago. He ended up going to Duke, where he teamed up with the likes of Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen as freshmen to win the 2015 national title. He would go on to be the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft — behind Karl-Anthony Towns and D’angelo Russell — before averaged 17.4 points and 7.0 boards as a rookie with the 76ers.

That was the 2015-16 season.

By October of 2017, Okafor was demanding a trade out of Philly because the Sixers had decided not to pick up the option on the fourth-year of his rookie deal, which is almost unheard-of for a player picked as high as he was picked. Granted, there are some off-the-court issues involved here, but the biggest problem that Okafor faced is that the game had passed him by. He was a dominant low-post scorer that couldn’t make threes with limited range that defended on the perimeter like he was wearing cement blocks for shoes.

Philly also had a guy by the name of Joel Embiid on the roster, but it’s telling that Okafor was traded for, essentially, a second round pick and that after half a season in Brooklyn, he signed for a minimum deal in New Orleans.

Four years after looking like he would be the next Tim Duncan and three years after averaging 17.4 points and 7.0 boards as a 19-year old, Jahlil Okafor is Just A Guy.

And it’s not just Okafor, either.

As of today, the position that every team in the NBA is looking for is the big, versatile wing that can defend in space, are switchable and can make threes. Everyone wants the next Trevor Ariza. The O.G. Anunoby’s of the world are in high-demand. It’s why someone like Jaren Jackson Jr. can be looked at as a better prospect than Marvin Bagley III by really smart basketball people.

That’s because the last thing that everyone in the NBA was trying to find — players than can defend the rim on one end of the floor and that can space the court on the other end — were rendered somewhat obsolete by the Golden State Warriors putting together two playmakers that can do both of those things (Draymond Green and Kevin Durant). As valuable as the likes of the Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka and the like are, if they can’t handle the constant switching that is required these days, they become a liability.

And all that is happening because the NBA has become increasingly more reliant on ball-screens this decade.

The ever-changing landscape of the NBA combined with NBA teams that are drafting players that need two or three or four years of development means that the goalposts are constantly moving.

Think about it like this: Is there any chance in hell that Clint Capela would drop all the way to 25th in the 2014 NBA Draft if NBA teams knew that in three years the only way to hope to compete with the Warriors would be to have a rim-running, shot-blocking center than can switch out onto point guards?

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IF YOU MAKE THE NBA, YOU LIVED UP TO THE HYPE

After working through this project, I’d hazard to guess that somewhere around 60 or 70 percent of a player’s success in the NBA has to do with the organization that they land with and the circumstances that they are put in while there.

For some guys, the stars align and they get their chance to shine. Quinn Cook and Jordan Bell have NBA Championship rings — and a likely future in the league — because they ended up being the perfect fit for what the Warriors were looking for. For other guys, they wind up in an organization — like the Spurs, like the Celtics — that prioritizes and excels in player development. For others, they get drafted by the Kings or the Knicks and are all-but guaranteed to be cursed, regardless of how good they actually are.

Does that mean they are “better” than other guys that don’t get their shot?

Not necessarily. It just means they took advantage of their chance when they got it.

To be fair, there are varying degrees of this — it’s hard not to argue that someone like Josh Selby or Byron Mullens was a bust — but given everything that I just said, if a player gets to the NBA and hangs around for a while, they made it, in my mind. Shabazz Muhammad’s career has been a disappointment relative to the expectations he had in high school, but he averaged 13.5 points one season and just signed with Milwaukee, meaning he is heading into his sixth season in the NBA.

He made it.

FOR THE MOST PART, THE GUYS DOING THE RANKINGS DO FINE

No one is ever going to be perfect when making projections, particularly when your projections involve guessing how a 17-year old will react to getting millions and millions of dollars when he turns 19.

They’re ranking a kid’s personality as much as you are their basketball ability, and I don’t know how many scouts there are with psychology degrees.

Some of the biggest busts we found in this project (Josh Selby, Cliff Alexander, Mullens) were ranked high despite their red flags. Some of the biggest misses (Russell Westbrook, C.J. McCollum) had growth spurts while in college, while others (Steph Curry, Paul George, Damian Lillard) were overlooked by recruiters, not just people doing rankings.

It’s an inexact science by definition.

And that makes it a hard job.

But for the most part, the guys that look like the best players in the class at 17 years old often end up being among the best players when they reach the NBA.

Re-ranking the 2014 recruiting class

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July’s live recruiting period, the last of its kind, just finished up, meaning that the Class of 2019 have fully had a chance to prove themselves to the recruiters and the recruitniks around the country.

Scholarships were earned and rankings were justified over the course of those three weekends, but scholarship offers and rankings don’t always tell us who the best players in a given class will end up being.

Ask Steph Curry.

Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be re-ranking eight recruiting classes, from 2007-2014, based on what they have done throughout their post-high school career. 

Here are the 25 best players from the Class of 2013, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

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1. Karl-Anthony Towns (5)

Everyone knew Towns was a stud before he joined Kentucky, but his one year in college basketball revealed that he was potentially a future franchise NBA player. Towns averaged just 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in John Calipari’s platoon system, but he still went No. 1 in the 2015 draft, was the Rookie of the Year and a first-time All Star this past season. His numbers dipped last season, but it’s clear he’s the best player from his recruiting class.

2. Devin Booker (29)

In the last two years Booker has become the face of the the Phoenix Suns. He averaged a career-best 24.9 points while shooting 43.2 percent from the floor and 383.3 percent from 3-point range. That led him to sign an extension with the Suns this summer that will pay him more than $27 million next season and nearly $36 million in the final year of the deal in 2023-24. Not bad for a guy who barely averaged double-digits with Kentucky as a freshman.

3. Myles Turner (9)

The 6-foot-11 center put up pedestrian numbers in his single season at Texas, but he’s become the cornerstone of Indiana’s plans in a post-Paul George world. He’s averaged 12.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game over his career, but his work with Team USA has really turned heads. He’s also begun shooting – and making – 3s, going from shooting 21.4 percent as a rookie to 35.7 percent last year.

4. Domantas Sabonis (UR)

Sabonis being unranked in the 2014 class is a technicality more than anything as a foreign prospect as Rivals did peg him as a four-star prospect, but the son of the Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis should have been slotted higher. His Gonzaga career included averaging a double-double as a sophomore, and he’s shown great strides as a pro. Since coming over to Indiana in the Paul George trade, he’s averaged 11.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

5. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (6)

After being drafted 15th overall in 2015, Oubre looked like he was headed for bust territory when he averaged 3.7 points as a rookie and 6.3 points in Year 2, but his third year in the NBA produced vastly improved results, with 11.8 points and 4.5 rebounds along with 1.2 assists per game as his role with the Wizards expanded. Most importantly, though, he got in one of the NBA’s better fights last year.

6. Justise Winslow (12)

Winslow was the clear No. 3 in Duke’s formidable  freshmen trifecta as it won the 2015 NCAA tournament championship, but he’s arguably shown the most pro promise from the group despite missing the bulk of his second season with a torn labrum. He bounced back well last season  he averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists while playing in 68 games. This season, the last of Winslow’s rookie contract, will be a huge barometer in how the Heat view him as part of their future.

7. Trey Lyles (13)

Yet another member of the 38-0 Kentucky team, Lyles has been consistent if unspectacular in three years in the NBA, the first two with Utah and last year in Denver. The 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Lyles never has had a huge role – he hasn’t cracked 20 minutes per game – but averaged 9.9 points per game for the Nuggets last year along with 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists. He’s shot 43.5 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from 3-point range in his three pro seasons.

8. Emmanuel Mudiay (2)

Mudiay was thought to be in the mold of the modern point guard with his 6-foot-5 frame and athleticism, things haven’t quite worked out as planned for the Australian product. It started with his aborted collegiate career at SMU after eligibility questions pushed him overseas instead of the NCAA. He still went 7th overall in 2015 to the Nuggets, but later shipped to the Knicks for a pedestrian return. He’s seen his role and production decrease every season and would now look to be at a career crossroads.

9. Tyus Jones (7)

Jones was the floor general for Duke’s 2015 title, averaging 11.8 points, 5.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game before being picked by his hometown NBA franchise, Minnesota. The Twin Cities native rode the bench for much of his first seasons, but emerged as a valuable reserve for the Timberwolves last season. He appeared in all 82 games and averaged a career-high 17.9 minutes per game. He hasn’t put up big numbers, but in the last season he seemed to cement his place in the NBA for the immediate future.

10. Jahlil Okafor (1)

Things started off well for the former Duke center, starting with that ‘15 national title and going third to Philadelphia in the draft before averaging 17.5 points per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the floor as a rookie, but things have deteriorated quickly and ferociously for Okafor. Joel Embiid’s emergence in Philly pushed Okafor to the fringes, and the relationship with the 76ers soured rapidly. There have also been injury and off-court issues. This season in Brooklyn could be make-or-break for Okafor.

11. Grayson Allen (27)

The first player yet to make the list who hasn’t played in the NBA yet, Allen had one of the most interesting and productive college careers in recent memory. He burst on to the scene for the Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament en route to the 2015 national championship as a freshman and then evolved into one of the most polarizing players in the country. He was an All-American, and is one of jsut five Duke players to register 1,900 points, 400 rebounds and 400 assists in a career. He also was basically reviled by large swaths of the country. This summer he became a first-round draft pick and will begin his career with the Jazz.

D’Angelo Russell (AP Photo)

12. Kevon Looney (10)

Looney hasn’t put up big numbers during his pro career, but he does have a pair of World Championship rings thanks to the fact he was drafted by the most dominant team of the last three years, Golden State. Looney probably would be getting significantly more run on a lesser team, but he did show himself to be a valuable piece for the Warriors last year as they won their second-straight title and third in four years.

13. Stanley Johnson (3)

After averaging 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in his lone season with Arizona, Johnson was the 8th overall pick in 2015, but is squarely in bust danger zone. He’s never averaged more than 8.7 points or 4.2 rebounds per game and didn’t flash much more in an expanded role with the Pistons last year after coming off the bench in his first two seasons in the league.

14. D’Angelo Russell (18)

It speaks volumes that Russell is probably best known for his role in the breakup of teammate Nick Young and rapper Iggy Azalea (bet you didn’t expect to see that name in a college basketball post) than anything he’s done on the court. The No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, Russell has put up OK numbers on bad teams. He got traded to Brooklyn last summer after two years and one Snapchat controversy, and battled injury and ineffectiveness with the Nets.

15. Patrick McCaw (UR)

McCaw is in the same boat as Looney – not a lot in the way of stats, but he’s seen minutes in big moments thanks to being a second-round draft pick of the Golden State Warriors. The UNLV product has gone 2-for-2 in his NBA career in securing world championships, and he’s been a solid role player for a team dominated by superstars and future Hall of Famers.

16. Justin Jackson (11)

Jackson averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists as a junior for North Carolina’s 2017 national championship team before being drafted 15th overall last summer. He appeared in 68 games for the Kings,  averaging 6.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He struggled finding his shooting touch, making just 30.8 percent of his 3-pointers after shooting 37 percent from deep his last season as a Tar Heel.

17. Dillon Brooks (UR)

Brooks is another player whose unranked status comes as a technicality. He was originally a four-star prospect in the Class of 2015, but reclassified to join Oregon a year sooner. After a solid freshman season, Brooks blossomed into one of the best players in the country that averaged 16.1 points in the Ducks’ Final Four season of 2017. Brooks was a second-round pick last season, but played in all 82 games and started 74 for the Grizzlies last season.

18. Tyler Ulis (21)

The 5-foot-10 point guard has carved out a successful, if nascent, NBA career after being picked in the second round following a breakout sophomore season with Kentucky in 2015-16. He’s started in 58 career games for the Suns, and has averaged 7.6 points, and 4.1 assists per game.

19. Chris McCullough (19)

McCullough finds himself on this list less for what he’s accomplished on the floor than his ability to spend the last three years on an NBA roster. The 6-foot-11 senior averaged 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in his one season with Jim Boeheim and Syracuse, and he has put up 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds in 59 games over three years in the NBA. The Wizards declined his 2018-19 option last fall, and he’s currently unsigned for the upcoming year.

20. Chandler Hutchison (98)

Another player who has yet to don an NBA uniform, Hutchison was taken 22nd overall by the Bulls in June after a successful four-year career with Boise State. The 6-foot-7 wing became one of the nation’s premier players in his last two seasons with the Broncos, culminating in a senior campaign in which he averaged 20 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He’ll get a chance to see major minutes with a Bulls team whose roster remains in flux.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

21. Devonte Graham (36)

Remember when Graham was originally signed with Appalachian State? He’s come a long way since then. He had a brilliant four-year career with Kansas, playing alongside Frank Mason for the first three before running the show last season,  averaging 17.3 points, 4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game on the way to taking the Jayhawks to the Final Four. He was the fourth pick in the second round in June.

22. Mikal Bridges (95)

Bridges, who redshirted his first season on campus at Villanova, finds himself here after a huge junior season in which he averaged 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists to help the Wildcats win a second NCAA national championship in three years. He was drafted 10th overall in June by Philadelphia before being flipped to Phoenix.

23. Jakob Poeltl (UR)

Poetl came into his own as a sophomore at Utah, averaging 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds,  before being taken ninth in the 2016 draft. He played in all 82 games for the Raptors last season, but didn’t make much of a statistical dent. He recently was part of the deal that sent Kawhi Leonard north of the border and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio.

24. Rashad Vaughn (8)

Vaughn was one of the most sought after recruits in the country before the Minnesota native decided to commit to UNLV after spending a year in Las Vegas with Findlay Prep. He averaged 17.8 points for UNLV, but the Runnin’ Rebels failed to make the NCAA tournament in his sole season there. Things haven’t fared much better for him in the pros. He’s been buried on the bench and was relegated to signing two 10-day contracts with the Magic last year before being waived

25. Isaiah Whitehead (16)

The New York product averaged 18.2 points and 5.1 assists in his sophomore season at Seton Hall before being drafted 42ns overall by the Jazz in 2016. He started 26 games for Brooklyn in 2016-17, but played in just 16 games last season. This summer he was traded to Denver, which waived him in July.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

FIVE NOTABLES THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE TOP 25

Cliff Alexander (4)

Alexander’s career struggled to get off the ground at Kansas, where he averaged less than 20 minutes per game and dealt with eligibility issues. He then became just the second former top-five recruit to go undrafted when he did not hear his named called in the 2015 draft. He played eight games for Portland that season, and hasn’t made an NBA appearance since.

Jevon Carter (UR)

The West Virginia senior become one of the nation’s premier defenders under Bob Huggins and became the second pick of the second round in June. He averaged 17.3 points, 6.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game as a senior for the Mountaineers.

Caleb Martin (60), Mike Daum (UR), Reid Travis (44)

Redshirts have kept this trio in college heading into the 2018-19 season, but it’s not hard to envision an NBA future for all three of them. The most surprising story is Daum, who went from no-name recruit to All-American at South Dakota State and may have a chance in the NBA come June. Martin and Travis will both be looking to compete for national titles, Martin with a surging Nevada program and Travis at Kentucky after his transfer from Stanford.

UConn greats expect program to climb back to elite status

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Don’t tell Jim Calhoun or his former players that UConn is no longer an elite basketball program.

Yes, the Huskies have missed the NCAA Tournament three times in four years and are 30-35 the past two seasons while playing outside a power conference. UConn is under investigation by the NCAA, and has accused former coach Kevin Ollie of recruiting violations, prompting his firing in March and sparking at $10 million contract dispute.

But the Hall of Fame coach Calhoun says the program Dan Hurley has inherited remains of championship caliber.

“I still think that with four national championships from ’99, in the last 20 years, the last 19 years, we’re as good as anybody in the country and better than almost everybody else,” Calhoun said last week at his biennial UConn alumni charity game. “And there is no question in my mind that we can keep on going.”

The key to doing that will be for Hurley to embrace that past and the family atmosphere that has traditionally surrounded the program, Calhoun said.

UConn’s recent problems have had a lot to do with player recruitment, retention and development. The Huskies have landed relatively few top recruits and several players who have come have either left early for the professional ranks (Daniel Hamilton), transferred out (Steven Enoch, Vance Jackson) or been unable to contribute to at the level that had been anticipated because of injury (Alterique Gilbert).

Hurley has made a point of convincing current players, including Gilbert and guard Jalen Adams, to stay to create their own chapter in UConn’s storied history.

The new coach and several of his players, including Adams and Gilbert, were in the stands Friday night as about 50 former UConn players and coaches returned to honor Calhoun, raise money for charity and relive past glory.

The gathering included many of the big names from an era when the Huskies had 13 NBA lottery picks. Ray Allen, Donyell Marshall, Rudy Gay, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva and Jeremy Lamb all played.

And while that level of talent may seem like a distant memory to many fans, Allen said he believes Hurley can still get top recruits to come to Connecticut, no matter what conference they are in and despite their recent troubles both on and off the court.

“Every university goes through its lulls,” said Allen, who will be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame next month. “We’ve established such greatness here that we’ve given people a lot to expect and a lot to be proud of. I just think that we have to keep pushing forward.”

Allen and other alumni said they also think it’s important the school settle its dispute with Ollie, who played point guard for the Huskies in the 1990s before becoming an assistant under Calhoun and then taking over as head coach.

The school, in outlining why it fired Ollie, cited several recruiting violations, including shooting baskets with a recruit on a visit to campus and arranging a video call between recruits and Allen.

“I don’t think this (rift) should hurt us and I don’t think it will,” Villanueva said. “There is too much history and too much work that Calhoun has done. At UConn we will always be a family and a brotherhood. That’s one thing that coach (Calhoun) instilled in all of us.”

Ryan Boatright, the point guard under Ollie on UConn’s 2014 national championship team, said he believes the recent hard times have given UConn players and fans another chip on their shoulders.

“We’ve always had that. We won in ’11 and people said we’d never do it again it ’14 (as a seventh seed),” he said. “So as long as these guys come in and work hard and feel they’ve got something to prove, we should be all right.”

West Virginia forward arrested after breaking man’s nose in road rage incident

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Wesley Harris is in trouble again.

The West Virginia forward was charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery and destruction of property over what appears to be a road rage incident.

According to court documents, Harris was driving in Morgantown in mid-July when a driver on the wrong side of the road approached his vehicle. Both Harris and the other driver exited their cars, and after a verbal confrontation, Harris threw the other driver into his vehicle, denting it, before throwing him to the ground, punching him in the face and breaking his nose.

Harris was identified by a bystander who, according to 247 Sports, works for WVU’s athletic department.

“We are aware of the situation, and the matter is being handled internally,” a spokesperson for West Virginia said.

Harris, a 6-foot-8 forward, averaged 5.3 points and 3.6 boards for the Mountaineers as a sophomore, his first season with West Virginia. He was reprimanded during the 2017-18 season after he punched a Texas Tech fan that had stormed the court after a loss in Lubbock. WVU was ranked No. 2 in the country at the time:

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