2014-2015 Season Preview: Terry Rozier, Monte Morris headline potential Breakout Stars

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Terry Rozier (Getty Images) and Monte Morris (Getty Images)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Last year, Frank Kaminsky entered the season as a no-name stiff that diehard Big Ten fans knew about. He ended the season as one of the nation’s most improved players and set himself up to be a preseason All-American as a senior. He was the epitome of a Breakout Star.

Here are 25 guys that are in a position to make that kind of an improvement this season.

THE TOP TEN

1. Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier was probably the best NBA prospect on Louisville’s roster last season, but playing as a freshman behind an All-American and the reigning JuCo Player of the Year will make it tough to grab minutes. Well, Russ Smith off to the NBA now, meaning that the opportunity is there for Rozier to shine. Expect the 6-foot-2 combo-guard to put together an all-ACC caliber season as the most talented member of Rick Pitino’s back court.

RELATED: Rozier is ready for his time to shine

2. Monte Morris, Iowa State: Morris played behind — and, eventually, alongside, as he started the last 15 games — All-American Deandre Kane as a freshman, so his production was somewhat limited. What’s tantalizing, however, is that long with the 6.8 points he averaged and 40.6 percent he shot from three, Morris averaged 3.7 assists to just 0.8 turnovers. After the start of league play, he had 103 assists and just 18 turnovers, including a seven game stretch with 46 assists and four turnovers. He’ll be the ignition for Fred Hoiberg’s high-powered offense this season.

3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: I’m torn on how I feel about Hollis-Jefferson as a breakout star. On the one hand, he’s a sensational athlete with the physical tools and intangibles — he defends, he plays hard, he’s aggressive — that make him a favorite of coaches, fans and media alike. And he spent the offseason improving the one weakness in his game: his jumper. But with Stanley Johnson and Kadeem Allen entering the program, and Brandon Ashley healthy, I’m afraid he’ll be relegated to being a role player for Sean Miller, limiting his numbers. Regardless, there aren’t five wing forwards in the country better than him.

4. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: Meeks was an inconsistent as any player in the country as a freshman. He’d have games where he played like a lottery pick with three games where he was completely ineffective sandwiched between them. He spent the offseason getting in shape, losing a ton of weight to the point that he’s now throwing down windmill dunks. He’ll be UNC’s low-post anchor this year.

5. Norman Powell, UCLA: Powell has spent the last two seasons as one of the west coast’s best-kept secrets, as he was stuck playing behind now-NBA players like Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine on UCLA’s perimeter. With a back court that is now quite young and inexperienced, Powell will take over the leadership role. If he’s not a first-team all-Pac 12 performer, it will be a disappointment.

MORE: Powell sees himself as a key for UCLA this season

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6. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin averaged 6.7 points and shot 42.5 percent from three (on 3.9 attempts per game) as a freshman despite playing just over 15 minutes a night. Irvin shouldn’t be expected to make the same kind of jump that Nik Stauskas did as a sophomore, as he’s not the same kind of playmaker off the bounce. But he’s a lethal shooter and will score a lot of points keeping defenses honest and creating space for Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert.

7. Deonte Burton, Marquette: Burton has all the makings of a breakout star. He was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school that played limited minutes (12.6 mpg) but was quite productive (6.9 ppg) during that playing time. He’s in a situation, with new head coach Steve Wojociechowski desperate for players with scoring pop, where his defensive liabilities can be overlooked and he’ll get plenty of shots. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t averaged 15 points as a sophomore.

8. Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s: Jordan posted solid numbers as a freshman — 9.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.0 apg — but didn’t play his best basketball until the final month and a half of the season, when head coach Steve Lavin started allowing him more freedom offensively.

9. Kasey Hill, Florida: A top ten recruit in the class of 2013, Hill struggled with ankle injuries and a shaky perimeter jumper, not to mention being stuck behind All-American Scottie Wilbekin on a veteran-laden team as a freshman. He’ll be Billy Donovan’s lead guard this season, and will be expected to produce like it.

10. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Wiltjer was a top 25 recruit in high school, but he was never in good enough shape — or good enough defensively — to see significant time during his two seasons at Kentucky. All he’s done since is spend two offseasons and a full school year redshirting with the same staff that transformed Kelly Olynyk into a lottery pick. He’s the perfect four-man for a team with Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski, at least offensively.

TEN MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON

  • 11. Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones didn’t get much attention as a freshman because he played for Vandy, but he averaged 11.3 points and 5.7 boards for the ‘Dores.
  • 12. Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State: Iwundu had promising moments as a freshman and should emerge as Kansas State’s secondary-option on the perimeter as a sophomore.
  • 13. Austin Nichols, Memphis: Nichols averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 boards for the Tigers as a freshman when the team was built around four senior guards. They’ll rely entirely on their front court this year.
  • 14. Anthony Gill, Virginia: Playing for Virginia is always going to limit offensive statistics, but the junior was the best big man in March for the ‘Hoos.
  • 15. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: It’s hard to put either Dekker or Hayes on a breakout player list, as Dekker was hardly a secret last year and Hayes will be a role player in a loaded front court. But Dekker’s grown, both in height and as a player, and Hayes is good enough to start for all but about 20 teams this year. Both are much more improved than their stats will show.
  • 16. Rodney Purvis, UConn: Purvis was a top 15 recruit in the Class of 2012, but averaged just 8.5 points in his first season at N.C. State. He transferred and sat out last season at UConn. Their perimeter is loaded again, but Purvis should be the No. 2 option to Ryan Boatright.
  • 17. BeeJay Anya, N.C. State: Like Kennedy Meeks, Anya was a highly-recruited big-boned big man that had promising moments as a freshman and lost a ton of weight during the offseason. His wingspan is 7-foot-9.
  • 18. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington: Williams-Goss is low on this list because he averaged 13.4 points, 4.4 boards and 4.4 assists as a freshman. But he’s on this list because I think he has a shot to become an All-American as a sophomore.
  • 19. Keith Frazier, SMU: The former McDonald’s All-American averaged 5.4 points in just over 15 minutes. With no Emmanuel Mudiay this season, the Mustangs will need another source of back court scoring pop.
  • 20. ShawnDre’ Jones, Richmond: As a freshman, the 5-foot-10 Jones put up impressive numbers when his playing time increased after an injury to Cedric Lindsay.

HONORABLE MENTION: Troy Williams (Indiana), Wayne Selden (Kansas), Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame), Kendrick Nunn (Illinois), Nick King (Memphis)

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.