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)

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.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.