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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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)

Indiana’s late-run beats No. 11 Michigan State 67-63

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Joey Brunk scored 14 points, including a key layup with 1 minute left to play, and Jerome Hunter made two late free throws Thursday night to close out Indiana’s 67-63 victory over No. 11 Michigan State.

The Hoosiers (15-4, 5-3 Big Ten) have won two straight and four of their last five. It was coach Archie Miller’s 50th win since taking the job three seasons ago.

Cassius Winston had 13 of his 17 points in the second half to lead the Spartans (14-5, 6-2), who lost their third straight in the series.

Michigan State had a chance to force overtime after forcing a turnover, calling timeout and sending Winston through the lane. He flipped the ball to Xavier Tillman for a layup, but the ball rolled off the rim and Hunter grabbed the rebound.

His free throws sealed the win.

The Hoosiers needed everything they had to earn this one after blowing a seven-point halftime lead.

Michigan State rallied by making its first six 3-point attempts in the second half and finally took a 51-48 lead on Rocket Watts’ 3 with 11:05 to go.

It remained a one-possession game the rest of the way.

But Aljami Durham finally gave Indiana what it needed – a 3 with 1:52 left – to break a 60-60 tie. Brunk’s layup made it 65-62.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Trips to Indiana just haven’t been kind to the Spartans lately. On Jan. 12, they were routed at Purdue. This time, they got beat in the closing minutes. Clearly, Michigan State performed closer to expectations than it did at Purdue. But another slow start cost them another game. They will return to Indiana for the conference tournament in March.

Indiana: It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Hoosiers struggled to make shots. But they’ve figured out how to limit the 3s and take advantage of their size and athleticism inside, and it’s made a huge difference. If Indiana’s offense stays in sync this weekend, they just might crack the Top 25 for the first time.

STAT PACK

Michigan State: Aaron Henry had 12 points, while Gabe Brown had 10 points and four 3s. Xavier Tillman finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. … The Spartans had 13 turnovers, but only gave up six points off those turnovers. … Michigan State started the game by missing its first nine 3s. It wound up 9 of 21 from beyond the arc.

Indiana: Trayce Jackson-Davis had 12 points and four rebounds, while Durham finished with 11 points and four 3s. … Race Thompson had four points, two blocks and two steals before leaving the game late in the first half after a hard foul. He sat on the bench the entire second half. … Nine of the 10 Hoosiers who appeared in the first half scored. Only Jerome Hunter, who logged four minutes, was shut out. … NBA star Victor Oladipo attended the game. The two-time All-Star is expected to make his season debut with the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: plays two of its next three on the road, including Sunday’s stop at Minnesota.

Indiana: hosts another ranked opponent, No. 17 Maryland, on Sunday.

Three Things To Know: Marcus Carr beats Ohio State, Indiana wins, Yoeli’s back

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There were no brawls, but there is still plenty to talk about after a full slate of games on Thursday night.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. THE BIG TEN STAYS WILD

It was another bonkers night in the toughest conference in the country on Thursday.

Let’s start with the early game.

Ohio State lost for the sixth time in the last seven games, blowing an 11-point second half lead after Marcus Carr, who finished with 21 points, his a three with 3.3 seconds left on the clock to give the Gophers a 62-59 win.

Daniel Oturu added 11 points and six boards, all of which came in the second half, as he shut down Kaleb Wesson to give Minnesota the season-sweep of the Buckeyes.

Minnesota is now 5-4 in the Big Ten and 11-8 on the season, and while this loss drops Ohio State into 12th place in the Big Ten standings, the work that they did in the early part of the season combined with the depth and strength of the conference they play in means that, as of now, this is still a Quad 1 win for Minnesota.

The late game was just as crazy.

No. 11 Michigan State trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before storming back to take a lead in the final four minutes. But Indiana responded, and caught a lucky break as Xavier Tillman missed a wide-open tip-in with less than a second left on the clock that would have forced overtime.

The Spartans are now 6-2 in the Big Ten, putting them in a tie for first place with Illinois, while Indiana an absolutely enormous win for Archie Miller and this program. With No. 17 Maryland coming to town on Saturday, this was critical for Archie Miller, whose lack of success has gotten the locals riled up.

This should give him some breathing room.

2. YOELI CHILDS IS BACK

It hasn’t really been discussed much nationally to this point, but BYU is a really good, really dangerous team this season when they are at full strength.

The problem has been that they’ve barely been at full strength.

Their best player is Yoeli Childs, a 6-foot-9 center with all the tools that make him an intriguing NBA prospect and, in turn, an absolute monster in the WCC. But he missed the first nine games of the season because of a paperwork issue withdrawing from last year’s NBA draft, and then had to sit out the last four after injuring his finger.

But he’s back now.

And he put everyone on notice with a 26 point, nine rebound outburst in a 74-60 win at Pacific.The Cougars are a very real at-large candidate with the size and shot-making to threaten Gonzaga. Keep an eye on them.

3. HOUSTON SURVIVES UCONN

In one of the weirdest end-of-game sequences I can remember seeing, No. 25 Houston managed to find a way to survive UConn’s upset bid.

Here’s what happened: The Cougars, who trailed for the entire game, finally took the lead late in the second half. They had pushed the lead out to six points, when UConn’s Jalen Gaffney scored with 7.3 seconds left to cut it to four. But after he scored, Houston’s DeJon Jarreau said something to Danny Hurley and was given a technical foul. After Gaffney made both free throws, Jarreau then committed a five-second violation on the ensuing inbounds.

UConn ball.

But this is the strangest part: Since UConn was in foul trouble, they brought in a walk-on — Temi Aiyegbusy — to commit a foul. But no time went of the clock on the turnover, so he had to remain on the court for the UConn possession. The ball ended up in his hands in the corner, and he passed up on a three took a pull-up that missed.

Houston grabbed the rebound, made their free throws, and that was that.

Three Things To Know: Memphis embarrassed; Luka Garza shows out again

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The story of the night in hoops was Zion Williamson’s return to the basketball court.

But there was plenty of action in the college ranks that is worthy of talking about.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. No. 20 MEMPHIS LOST BY 40 TO TULSA

That is not a typo.

The 20th-ranked team in the country went into Tulsa, Okla., and lost to the Golden Hurricane, 80-40. Tulsa was up 40-17 at halftime. This was a butt-whooping that was so bad that all Tulsa needed to do was score a single point in the second half and they would have been able to get the win.

Memphis shot 28 percent from the floor. They were 2-for-21 from three. They finished the night with more turnovers (20) and fouls (22) than field goals (16). This was the worst loss that a top 25 team has suffered against a ranked team in 27 years, since UConn beat then-No. 12 Virginia by 41 points.

For Tulsa, this is a massive, massive win. They are currently sitting all alone in first place in the American standings, a half-game up on Houston.

So good for Frank Haith.

But the story here is Memphis, because the Tigers, considered title contenders before the season began, look anything-but right now.

“We let our defense dictate our offense,” head coach Penny Hardaway told reporters after the game. “We didn’t play any defense today. I think today was the first day we’ve done that ll year. I don’t know if guys overlooked Tulsa because of the name. We did our due diligence as a coaching staff to let them know what was going to happen with the matchup zone and how hard they play.

“It’s pretty embarrassing.”

2. LUKA GARZA WENT NUTS AGAIN

If it seems like Garza is putting up monster numbers every games, it’s because he is.

On Wednesday night, the Hawkeyes welcomed newly-ranked Rutgers to campus and sent them home with an entertaining, hard-fought, 85-80 win. And Garza was the star of the show. He finished with 28 points, 13 boards, four blocks and two steals in the win, anchoring the paint as Iowa out-scored Rutgers 47-37 in the second half.

The big fella is now averaging 23 points and 10.5 boards.

Iowa has now won four straight games to move into a tie for third in the Big Ten standings — with Rutgers, among others — and they have won eight straight games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They are a third of the way through a three-game homestand as well.

3. VIRGINIA TECH TAKES DOWN NORTH CAROLINA

Virginia Tech kept up their push to finish as the fourth-best team in the ACC with a 79-77 double-overtime win over North Carolina.

The Hokies are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC, but the more interesting story might actually be the Tar Heels.

They are 8-10 on the season and 1-6 in the ACC. They have been a disaster for the last month, but there may be some reinforcements on the way in the shape of Cole Anthony. If he returns and the Tar Heels, who are 2-7 in his absence but have wins over Alabama and Oregon with him, get things back on the right track, they are likely going to find themselves in an incredibly awkward situation on Selection Sunday.

Big 12 hands down Kansas-Kansas State fight suspensions

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The Big 12 handed down suspensions to four Kansas and Kansas State players for their role in the fight that occurred in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

Silvio De Sousa, who tried to fight three different Kansas State players and picked up a stool during the melee, received a 12 game suspension from the conference. David McCormack, who went into the stands to confront James Love III, received a two game suspension. Love was given eight games for part in the fight, while Antonio Gordon, the freshman that turned a messy situation into a fight, was hit with a three game suspension.

“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and these suspensions reflect the severity of last evening’s events,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.  “I am appreciative of the cooperation of both institutions in resolving this matter.”

In the final seconds on Tuesday night, after DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from him at halfcourt, De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot and towered over him. That sparked an incident that turned into a full-fledged brawl, as De Sousa threw punches at three different players on Kansas State before picking up a stool as the fight spilled into the handicapped section of Kansas seating.

Self called the fight “an embarrassment” after the game, adding on Wednesday that “we are disappointed in [De Sousa’s] actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior.”

McCormack will be eligible to return for Kansas on Feb. 1st when they play Texas Tech at home. De Sousa will be available to play in the final game of the regular season at Texas Tech. Gordon can return on Feb. 3rd, when the Wildcats host Baylor, while Love will be out until late February. But he has played just one game and two minutes on the season, so there is no clear indication of when he will actually put on a Kansas State jersey again.

The four most important questions after Kansas-Kansas State fight

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Very other sport can treat brawls like comedy, and I think it’s about time that we did the same for basketball.

So let’s take a look at the four funniest moments from last night’s Kansas-Kansas State fight. Shouts to Jomboy:

1. IS THE KANSAS MASCOT OK?

Throughout the entire fight, the mascot is just in utter disbelief. He cannot believe what he just saw, and he certainly cannot be consoled:

2. CAN JEREMY CASE START AT LINEBACKER FOR KU’S FOOTBALL TEAM?

Case is the video coordinator for Kansas. He’s also a former Kansas point guard. He knows what this rivalry is all about, and he also is not going to be afraid to get in the middle of it.

Case starts out on the wrong side of the melee:

But when he sees De Sousa and Love squaring up and throwing punches, he intervenes by throwing himself into a player six inches taller than him:

3. WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES LOVE III’S SHOE?

James Love the third has played in exactly one game this season. He has spent more time on the court fighting that he has actually playing, but he still found a way to get into the middle of this fight and, in the process, lost his shoe:

He’s not dressed for the game.

Did he bring an extra pair of shoes? Did he have to head back onto the bus without a shoe on this right foot? So many questions, so few answers.

4. WHO IS THE MAN IN THE ORANGE HAT?

He’s some kind of photographer.

He got his shot, that’s for sure: