2014-2015 Season Preview: Caris LeVert, Ron Baker highlight best off-guards in college hoops

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Caris LeVert (Getty Images) and Ron Baker (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

The off guard spot is a loaded position this season, but the top of the class has gotten there in unique ways. The top two players at the position were considered mid-major recruits. The third and fourth best off guards are both from Texas but weren’t considered good enough for the best programs in that state. No. 5 redshirted his first season in college. No. 6 spent two years on a Mormon mission. No. 9 plays at a mid-major program, while No. 10 spent two seasons playing for Houston.

There’s a moral to that story, but I think you can figure it out.

POSITION RANKINGS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wing Forwards | Big Men

THE TOP TEN

1. Caris LeVert, Michigan: It’s amazing how far Caris LeVert has come since high school. A lanky, 6-foot-6 mid-major prospect, LeVert was committed to Ohio until John Groce took the Illinois job. As a junior in college, he’s a first-team all-american and the best off guard in the country. LeVert will replace some of the scoring Michigan lost with Nik Stauskas going pro as he excels in the kind of pick-and-roll actions that John Beilein gets his stars in.

2. Ron Baker, Wichita State: Another guy that was considered a mid-major recruit coming out of high school, Baker had to more or less convince the Shocker staff to take the chance on him as a walk-on. I’d say it worked out well. Baker was a huge part of their run to the 2013 Final Four, was a star on the team than started last season 35-0 and now has a chance to play his way into the NBA Draft’s first round.

3. Terran Petteway, Nebraska: Petteway is one of the nation’s most entertaining players to watch. He’s a big-time scorer for the Huskers, but he’s not exactly the most efficient player. He takes a lot of tough shots, but when he gets into a rhythm, he also makes a lot of those tough shots. You don’t want to restrict his aggressiveness, but with some improved shot selection we could be looking at the Big Ten Player of the Year.

RELATED: The nation’s Top 20 Frontcourts | And Top 20 Perimeters

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Marcus Foster (Getty Images)

4. Marcus Foster, Kansas State: Foster was a revelation last season, averaging 15.5 points as a freshman despite being completely overlooked coming out of high school. He’ll play with the ball in his hands a bit more this season and looked more explosive this summer when I saw him work out. With all the talent on Kansas and Texas, Foster could end up being the Big 12 Player of the Year.

5. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: The nation’s most underrated guard, Brogdon is one of the best all-around perimeter players in the country. He defends, he rebounds, he play the point if need be, he hits threes. He’s also as consistent as anyone in the ACC, as he scored double-figures in every game in league play and every game after the New Year except for one.

6. Tyler Haws, BYU: There isn’t a better guard in the country at running off of screens than Haws, who finished last season shooting 40.4% from three while averaging 23.2 points. With Matt Carlino gone and Eric Mika on his mission, there’s a chance that Haws could end up leading the nation in scoring as a senior.

7. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield was one of the most improved players in the country as a sophomore, becoming a guard that averaged 16.5 points and shot 38.6% from three in Lon Kruger’s uptempo offense. Also a terrific defender, don’t expect Hield’s development to slow down now.

8. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: I had my doubts about ranking Harrison this high, as he was a 35.6% three-point shooter that made a name for himself by hitting three big threes in the 2014 NCAA tournament. But after seeing the way he played during Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas this summer, Harrison looks primed for a big year as he looked to be in better shape and with an improved pull-up game.

9. R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: There may not be a better shooter in the country than 6-foot-5 R.J. Hunter. The son of GSU’s head coach, Hunter is joined by Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware in what is one of the most talented back courts in the country. He needs to get stronger and better defensively, but Hunter could be looking at an NBA career by the time he’s done in Atlanta.

10. Joe Young, Oregon: Young had a very good season for the Ducks as a junior before opting to return to school. As a senior, Oregon likely won’t win a ton of games, but expect big numbers from Young as the Ducks will have limited options offensively.

MORE: Breakout StarsCoaches on the Hot Seat | Mid-Major Power RankingsAll-Americans

THE NEXT TEN

  • 11. Rashad Vaughn, UNLV: One of the most slept-on freshmen this season. Vaughn is a big, athletic guard that can really score. UNLV likes to run, and there will be a lot of shots available. Expect big numbers.
  • 12. Norman Powell, UCLA: Powell struggled to become known playing alongside UCLA’s talented wings the last two seasons. He’ll be needed to play a leadership role on a talented-but-young Bruin sqaud.
  • 13. Wayne Selden, Kansas: Selden struggled with a knee issue last season that limited his explosiveness. If he can stay healthy throughout the season, you’ll see why the powerful off-guard has a chance to be a lottery pick.
  • 14. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews won’t get as much national attention as some of the other guys on this list, but the lefty combo-guard will be one of the best players in the Atlantic 10 this season.
  • 15. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin proved that he is a talented and athletic jump-shooter last season while dealing with bouts of streakiness. He’s not the next Nik Stauskas, not with LeVert and Derrick Walton on the roster, but he’ll be a piece stretching the floor for John Beilein.
  • 16. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke: Sulaimon has a lot to prove after a disappointing sophomore season that saw him lose playing time to less-talented backups. Duke needs him to be a big-time perimeter scorer to compliment Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor.
  • 17. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: DSR has a chance to end up being the Player of the Year in the Big East this season. He averaged 17.6 points as a sophomore and will have a bigger role offensively with Markel Starks gone.
  • 18. Michael Frazier, Florida: Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country, but he wasn’t more than just a shooter last season. Florida will have a lot of new faces, and Frazier will need to take on a more expanded role.
  • 19. D.J. Newbill, Penn State: He won’t get much attention playing for Penn State, but Newbill is one of the best scoring guards in the Big Ten.
  • 20. Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss: Marshall Henderson got all of the attention last season, but it was Summers (17.3 points, 3.8 assists) who was the team’s best player.

ALSO CONSIDERED: Gary Bell (Gonzaga), Jabari Bird (Cal), James Blackmon (Indiana), Kellen Dunham (Butler), A.J. English (Iona), Daniel Hamilton (UConn), DaVonte Lacy (Washington State), Rodney Purvis (UConn), D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State), RayVonte Rice (Illinois), Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall)

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.