Big Ten Conference Catchup: Can anyone top heavily favored Wisconsin

1 Comment
source: AP
AP Photo

It’s the first season of the new-look, 14-team, East Coast-infused Big Ten as Maryland and Rutgers join the league in 2014-15. The Big Ten is even switching its postseason tournament to Washington D.C. in 2017 as the Terps switch from the ACC and Rutgers leaves after one season in the American Athletic Conference.

Those new transplants shouldn’t have much of an impact — in the college basketball world at least — this season as Maryland and head coach Mark Turgeon deal with the fallout of some major transfer losses while Rutgers and second-year head coach Eddie Jordan are still rebuilding from the scandal involving former head coach Mike Rice.

Back at the top, however, is Wisconsin.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Bo Ryan’s team is coming off of a Final Four appearance last season even though the Badgers didn’t win the Big Ten regular season or tournament title. Wisconsin is rated as the No. 4 team in CBT’s Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Top 25 and they only lose starter Ben Brust. Center Frank Kaminsky returns as one of the premier inside-outside threats in the country and sophomore wing Sam Dekker and a slew of experienced guards return as well.

Although Big Ten regular season champion Michigan made the Elite Eight and lost to Kentucky, they lost three sophomores to the 2014 NBA Draft as Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all departed for the professional ranks. The Wolverines still return plenty of talent on the perimeter in point guard Derrick Walton Jr., sophomore All-American candidate Caris LeVert and freshman Zak Irvin.

After being considered a national title contender in 2013-14, Michigan State also takes a step down after losing Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Gary Harris (NBA Draft). Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson return to the Spartans and both are tough enough and talented enough to lead Tom Izzo’s bunch back to the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa, Ohio State and Nebraska all faltered in the Round of 64 but could emerge as top-three candidates in the Big Ten this season thanks to Michigan and Michigan State’s losses.

Iowa losses Roy Devyn Marble but they were one of the deepest teams in the country last season and should withstand the senior’s loss as long as Aaron White makes a mini-leap as a go-to player. Nebraska returns Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Terran Petteway and the Huskers proved last season that they’ll have one of the most difficult homecourt advantages in the conference. Ohio State losses senior guard Aaron Craft and main scoring threat LaQuinton Ross, but they welcome Temple transfer Anthony Lee in the post while also adding the Big Ten’s best recruiting class.

A young Illinois team could also make a leap this season while Minnesota should be more accustomed to Richard Pitino’s uptempo style in year two after a run in the NIT.

THREE UP

Wisconsin: Bo Ryan’s team is incredibly versatile and with Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky returning, the Badgers are once again a Final Four candidate. Wisconsin can grind out games at a slower tempo pace or put up triple digits thanks to its versatility and rising-junior wing Sam Dekker also returns while experienced guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson return. Last year’s freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig should also improve while reserve forward Duje Dukan also returns to provide interior depth.

Nebraska: After a surprising run to the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the Huskers return one of the Big Ten’s top 1-2 punches in Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. Forwards Walter Pitchford, David Rivers and Leslee Smith and guard Tai Webster also return after all four players averaged 15-plus minutes a game last season. Nebraska went 15-1 at the brand-new Pinnacle Bank Arena last season and own one of the best homecourt advantages in the country.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes lose leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble, but he was the only player on last year’s team to average over 30 minutes a game and Iowa returns seven players that averaged at least 11 minutes a game last season. Iowa also adds touted junior college point guard Trey Dickerson, who is very quick off-the-dribble and should give Hawkeye shooters even more room to operate.

THREE DOWN

source:
AP Photo

Michigan: Michigan has had two great seasons in a row, but they’re bound to take a small step back in 2014-15 as the sophomore trio of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all depart for the NBA Draft. Jon Horford also transferring to Florida leaves the Wolverines with a glaring lack of interior depth, but John Beilein is one coach who isn’t afraid to go small and stretch the floor from all five positions. Caris LeVert will be asked to be a go-to guy and Zak Irvin will be asked the make a big leap as well after showing signs of strong play during his freshman year.

Michigan State: Much like the in-state rival Wolverines, the Spartans have had some great seasons in recent years, but losing senior leaders Keith Appling and Adreian Payne and sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris hurts Michigan State immensely. Still, if you saw how Tom Izzo’s ballclub responded to a litany of injuries last season, you’ll know that this group won’t back down, the question will be whether Denzel Valentine or Branden Dawson are ready to lead. Junior point guard Travis Trice was serviceable as Appling’s backup last season but can he handle more minutes?

Indiana: The Hoosiers took some big losses in the offseason as freshman post Noah Vonleh turned pro and Jeremy Hollowell (Georgia State) and Austin Etherington (Butler) transferred out of the program. The big question remains whether talented sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell is disciplined enough to make Indiana a winning team. The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in turnovers last season and often looked sloppy, even late in the season.

FIVE NEW FACES

Anthony Lee, Ohio State: Ohio State didn’t have consistent post play on offense last season and the addition of graduate transfer Anthony Lee should help the Buckeyes quite a bit. Lee averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season for Temple and the 6-foot-9 senior should give Thad Matta’s team some production and balance they lacked on the interior.

D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: Russell is the No. 18 player in Rivals.com’s 2014 national rankings and the smooth-shooting McDonald’s All-American should immediately give Ohio State more punch on the perimeter. The Buckeyes struggled to shoot the ball from distance last season and the 6-foot-5 lefty shooting guard instantly makes them better in that category.

Melo Trimble, Maryland: The No. 39 in Rivals.com’s 2014 national rankings, Trimble is a McDonald’s All-American who will be given the ball and expected to score immediately in College Park. With the Terrapins losing starting point guard Seth Allen, Trimble should handle the ball quite a bit and he’s a strong scorer from all three levels on the floor who can really get going with the pull-up jumper. The big question for Trimble remains his ability to be a true point guard and how he’ll distribute the basketball.

James Blackmon Jr., Indiana: Blackmon is a guard who can get buckets in a hurry and the shooting guard and McDonald’s All-American will be asked to help alleviate the backcourt pressure on point guard Yogi Ferrell. The No. 22 player in Rivals.com’s national rankings, Blackmon committed to in-state Indiana before playing a game in high school before decommitting and recommitting during his high school career. There will be a lot of pressure on Blackmon Jr., to produce from day one.

Victor Law, Northwestern: You could make the case for Michigan incoming freshman wing Kameron Chatman for this spot, but with Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin all returning, he’ll likely come off the bench. Enter Law, one of Northwestern’s most important recruits of all time. Chris Collins pulled together a solid 2014 recruiting haul and Law kicked things off with a commitment on the Fourth of July in 2013. The Chicago native was the No. 103 player in the 2014 class and a four-star prospect according to Rivals.com and should start from day one as the Wildcats lacked the kind of talent and athleticism that the freshman should bring to Evanston next season.

Way Too Early Power Rankings

1. Wisconsin
2. Iowa
3. Michigan State
4. Michigan
5. Nebraska
6. Ohio State
7. Illinois
8. Minnesota
9. Maryland
10. Indiana
11. Purdue
12. Northwestern
13. Penn State
14. Rutgers

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
2 Comments

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

AP Photo
Leave a comment

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’

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
3 Comments

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

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.