Can Zak Irvin follow a path similar to that of prior Beilein-era Wolverines?

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In three of the last four offseasons the Michigan basketball program has been faced with the need to account for the early departure of at least one critical player. Following the 2010-11 season point guard Darius Morris left for the NBA, resulting in Trey Burke needing to grab the reins upon his arrival on campus in 2011. Two years later both Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. left after helping to lead the Wolverines to the national title game, leaving another void that some young players needed to account for.

The result in 2013-14: players such as Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert stepped forward lead Michigan to an outright Big Ten regular season title and a spot in the Elite Eight.

The common bond: head coach John Beilein and his staff had players not only capable of stepping forward when their number was called, but just as importantly they took advantage of the summer months in order to make sure they were prepared to do so. With Stauskas, Robinson III and Mitch McGary all having entered the 2014 NBA Draft, that will be key for LeVert (who made major strides last offseason) and rising sophomores Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin.

This is an especially important offseason for Irvin, who averaged 6.7 points per game as a freshman with shooting percentages of 43.4% from the field and 42.5% from beyond the arc. With Michigan having lost two of its top three scorers, the opportunity for the highly-regarded 2013 recruit to step forward will be there.

“Right now [Zak] becomes very core to the future of Michigan basketball,” assistant coach Jeff Meyer said recently on WTKA’s “Michigan Insider” radio show, featuring all three assistants.

“With Zak, the development piece will be similar to what we’ve seen with Glenn and what we’ve seen with Tim — the ability to improve his ball-handling so that he can not only use the perimeter jumper as an offensive weapon, but be able to keep balancing and attacking the rim, using ball screens and finding success in his midrange game.”

Irvin reached double figures in five Big Ten games last season, including a stretch of three consecutive games in early February. Due to the presence of Stauskas, Robinson III and LeVert he was able to easy into a supplementary role last season, but that clearly won’t be the case in 2014-15.

With six freshmen (not to mention redshirt forward Mark Donnal) joining the fold, the production and leadership of the returnees will be important factors for Michigan. But even with the questions that will come as a result of their major personnel losses, Michigan’s recent track record in similar situations should be taken into consideration. With that being the case, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Irvin winds up being one of the most improved players in the Big Ten next season.

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

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Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.