2014-2015 Season Preview: Stanley Johnson, Sam Dekker lead wing forward rankings

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Sam Dekker (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 wing position in college basketball this season will be fun to keep track of. It can be argued that from a depth standpoint this is the strongest position for incoming freshmen, with two players expected to be NBA Draft lottery selections in the near future and others expected to have a significant impact on their team’s fortunes. But there are also skilled veterans among the ranks, including one who reached the Final Four last season and another whose team fell one win short of that goal. What’s the common bond amongst many of these players? Versatility, which allows them to impact games in multiple facets.

Below are some of the best wings in college basketball this season, beginning with a gifted freshman from the Pac-12.

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

THE TOP TEN

1. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson has the build of a pro and the skill set to match, as he’s capable of scoring at all three levels with great consistency. He’s no slouch on the defensive end either, which is key when fitting into what was one of the nation’s best defensive teams a season ago. In a season without a clear-cut choice for national Player of the Year, Arizona’s freshman wing could be right in the mix come March.

2. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker went from reserve to starter in 2013-14 and his productivity was one reason for the Badgers’ trek to the Final Four. Dekker averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field. If he can raise his three-point shooting back to freshman year levels (39.1%), and he looked better shooting the ball at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, Dekker becomes an even tougher assignment for opposing teams.

3. Delon Wright, Utah: The late Bum Phillips’ words regarding Earl Campbell may apply to Wright when it comes to discussing the most versatile players in college basketball: “he may not be in a class by himself, but it don’t take long to call roll.” Wright (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.3 apg) was a pivotal figure for the Utes in 2013-14, leading the team in scoring and assists. It could be argued that Wright should be on the lead guards list given how often he’s allowed to initiate the offense for Larry Krystkowiak’s team, but he fits in at any of the three perimeter positions.

4. Kelly Oubre, Kansas: One of three freshmen to make the top ten in our list, Oubre has the skill set needed to be one of the most gifted scorers in the country immediately. The 6-foot-8 lefty has a slight build, but he can finish through contact and is a good perimeter shooter as well. Oubre also uses ball screens well, an attribute that was on display at the adidas Nations camp in August. Given the production Kansas lost on the wing in the form of Andrew Wiggins, Oubre will have plenty of chances to put points on the board.

source: AP
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

5. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Hollis-Jefferson is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he was very good around the basket as a freshman. The question for Hollis-Jefferson (9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg in 2013-14) is a simple one: how much has he improved his perimeter shooting over the summer? Hollis-Jefferson showed progress in July at the Lebron camp, and a consistent perimeter shot would make him an even tougher player for opponents to defend.

6. Treveon Graham, VCU: The 6-foot-6 senior has been a consistently productive player for Shaka Smart throughout his career, averaging 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season. Graham can certainly shoot the ball from the perimeter, but he’s good in the mid-range game and can put the ball on the deck as well. He’ll be one of the leaders for a team expected by many to win the Atlantic 10.

7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: The third freshman in the top ten, the 6-foot-8 Jackson can score both inside and out for the Tar Heels in 2014-15. As a high school senior Jackson averaged 31.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and his length makes him a nuisance on the defensive end of the floor.

8. Aaron White, Iowa: With Roy Devyn Marble having moved on, the 6-foot-8 White will be an even more important player for the Hawkeyes in 2014-15. As a junior White averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, shooting 58.6% from the field. The loss of Marble should open up more opportunities for White, especially when it comes to the mid-range game where he was so successful a season ago.

9. Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson’s had to navigate injuries for most of his career in East Lansing, but there should be little doubt regarding his skill level. Last season Dawson averaged 11.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, and given the amount of production the Spartans lost (Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne) the senior will need to be even more influential on the offensive end.

10. Wesley Saunders, Harvard: Saunders is one of the leaders for the Crimson, having averaged 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game as a junior. Saunders’ versatility is one of his greatest attributes, and he’s also done a good job of getting to the foul line in each of the last two seasons.

THE NEXT TEN

  • 11. Anthony Brown, Stanford
  • 12. Justise Winslow, Duke
  • 13. Winston Shepard III, San Diego State
  • 14. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
  • 15. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
  • 16. Sam Thompson, Ohio State
  • 17. Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
  • 18. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
  • 19. Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
  • 20. Anthony Drmic, Boise State

ALSO CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Patricio Garino (George Washington), Vince Hunter (UTEP), Nick King (Memphis), Justin Martin (SMU), Sheldon McClellan (Miami), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State), Marcus Thornton (Georgia), Tyrone Wallace (California), Byron Wesley (Gonzaga).

Wednesday’s Things to Know: Buckeye guards star, Marquette comes back and LSU loses to VCU

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There were top-25 teams in action, the Gavitt Games rolled on and there was something of an awkward homecoming in Richmond.

Here are the most important things you need to know from the action around the country Wednesday.

Ohio State’s guards can elevate the Buckeyes

When we talk about Ohio State, we inevitably start with the Buckeyes’ frontcourt. And with good reason. Kaleb Wesson is a hulking 6-foot-9, 270-pound throwback double-double machine. He’s the type of player we just don’t see as often anymore up front, and as such, few teams have a true counter for him.

What we saw Wednesday in the Buckeyes’ 76-51 dismantling of Villanova, though, was that Chris Holtmann’s guards might hold the key to success in Columbus this season. If nothing else, they certainly opened a lot of eyes against the Wildcats.

Duane Washington Jr (14), Luther Muhammad (11), D.J. Carter (11) and CJ Walker (10) all scored in double-figures while Walker had seven assists, Washington had five rebounds and Carton had five rebounds and five assists. That’s on top of Wesson doing Wesson things like recording 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

If the Buckeyes’ guards can give them this kind of production, it’s really not much of a leap to consider this team a serious threat to Michigan State in the Big Ten, and maybe even a bigger contender nationally than we’ve given them credit for this preseason. The team that took apart Villanova on Wednesday night looked like a team that could make it to Atlanta in April. It was that complete a performance.

It’s easy to draw a line from this Ohio State performance against Villanova to Michigan’s last year against Jay Wright’s team, which took a 27-point L to John Beilein last November. The ‘Cats ultimately bounced back and found their stride, but that lopsided result probably said more about how good that Wolverines team was as they eventually went on to secure a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Can the Buckeyes replicate that path? That question is probably best answered with another – can their guards replicate the night they had against Villanova?

Marquette erases 18-point deficit to beat Purdue

Marquette is one of the country’s biggest question marks. There were a few fleeting moments last spring when they looked like a national title contender when Markus Howard decided to return to school, but the Golden Eagles were flung into the “mystery” category after the Hauser brothers decided to bolt, leaving Marquette with an interesting albeit uncertain roster.

Steve Wojciechowski’s team looked like it answered some questions Wednesday, coming from 18 behind to defeat Purdue, 65-55, in Milwaukee.

Howard was his dynamic self with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists on 6 of 12 shooting, but it was the play of Kobe McEwen that is perhaps the most promising. The Utah State transfer went for 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal to help Marquette claw back and win the game.

Marquette needs McEwen to be that productive this season as an offensive second option as defenses do everything they can to try to bottle up Howard. If McEwen can not only be a viable No. 2 but make teams truly pay for throwing the kitchen sink at Howard defensively, Marquette can be closer to that upper-echelon Big East team we thought they might be last spring rather than the enigma they became this summer.

Purdue, meanwhile, saw its offense implode, shooting 33.9 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range. Given the departures from last year’s team, offense is understandably a work in progress, though that progression looked stalled in a second half in which Matt Painter’s team scored just 17 points – while buckling defensively, giving up 40 to Marquette.

Will Wade loses to his former school

As a program that sends many of its coaches on to bigger stages and brighter lights, VCU has figured out quite a few ways to make their status as a stepping stone to their advantage. First off, it’s an attractive job for talented coaches because of the track record. A smaller, but interesting, way the Rams have maneuvered is to work into the coaches’ contract that if they leave for another gig, they have to bring that team back to Richmond.

That’s why LSU and Will Wade were in town Wednesday, taking a 84-82 loss. If they hadn’t, Wade would have owed VCU $250,000.

That bit of info turned out to be at least a little funny, given that a few VCU students dressed up as FBI agents as an allusion to reports that Wade was caught on a wiretap discussing a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit as part of the federal government’s investigation into corruption into college basketball.

Here’s guessing Wade and LSU get plenty of this treatment throughout the season, though it’s probably worth noting the Tigers made it to the Sweet 16 last year amid the controversy and Wade hasn’t missed a beat on the recruiting trail – they inked five-star Trendon Watford last May – so whatever lingering controversy there may be probably isn’t going to be too bothersome to them.

No. 11 Texas Tech rolls To 103-74 win over Houston Baptist

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MIDLAND, Texas (AP) — Texas Tech coach Chris Beard called a timeout after his No. 11 Red Raiders, playing at a neutral site about 120 miles from their campus, had three turnovers without getting off a shot and quickly fell behind to Houston Baptist.

“Just upset with our start. I didn’t think we were being aggressive,” Beard said, after initially joking that he asked his players where they wanted to eat after the game.

“I’m OK if you start the game and have some adversity. I’m OK if you start the game and the ball doesn’t go in when you shoot,” he said. “I didn’t like our energy. I didn’t like our execution of our early game plan.”

The Red Raiders responded with 14 points in a row, going ahead to stay on the way to a 103-74 victory Wednesday night.

Freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey scored 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting and graduate transfer TJ Holyfield had 21 points on 9-of-10 field goals. Kyler Edwards added 13 points with three 3-pointers while Davide Moretti scored 12 points and had six assists.

“My teammates are doing a great job of getting me the ball in scoring position,” Ramsey said. “I believe the chemistry is really high right now. … Everybody connects on and off the floor. It’s a great start.”

Jalon Gates had 21 points with five 3-pointers to lead Houston Baptist. Ian DuBose added 20 points.

Texas Tech shot 60% overall (40 of 67) and made its first four field goals in the game, but only after the early turnovers while Houston Baptist (0-3) jumped out to a 9-0 lead in just over two minutes. After the timeout, the Red Raiders’ fourth field goal was a layup by Ramsey that tied the game 9-9 with 16:18 left, and they went ahead to stay on a 3-pointer by Edwards.

“Just reminded the guys with our truth-telling culture, ‘This is where we’re at. This is where we have to go.’ I think on the flip side to that there’s some positive, though, to respond that quickly,” Beard said. “As disappointed as we were in our start, we were positive on the fact that we showed that bounce-back.”

Ramsey had 20 of his points by halftime, when Texas Tech led 54-39.

PERMIAN STRONG

The game was played inside Midland College’s Chaparral Center, marking Texas Tech’s first regular season game in the Permian Basin since 1951.

Texas Tech players wore “Permian Basin Strong” shirts during pregame warmups prior to tipoff to honor and remember those affected by an August 31 shooting spree.

A gunman killed seven people and injured about two dozen more while firing indiscriminately from his car into passing vehicles and shopping plazas in Odessa and Midland, the two biggest cities in the Permian Basin. The shooter, who was killed by officers, also hijacked a U.S. Postal Service mail truck, killing the driver.

“We were really pleased and proud that we put this game together,” Beard said. “To play this game in Midland for the Permian Basin fans is special.”

BIG ASSIST

Chris Clarke, the other grad transfer, had four points and nine assists and seems to be filling the role as Tech’s sixth man.

“He’s a skilled player. He’s a position-less basketball player,” Beard said. “He’s just an unselfish guy. He’s a guy who’s trying to win the possession. … There will be days sooner rather than later where he’s our leading scorer as well. He’s a guy that can play the game.”

BIG PICTURE

Houston Baptist: The aggressiveness by Houston Baptist inside the paint forced the Red Raiders into foul trouble. The winless Huskies playing tough opponents early on will help them down the road in the Southland Conference.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders’ defense was put to the test against the Huskies, who made their first four shots. Quick adjustments and getting their legs underneath them on offense helped lead them to victory. The Red Raiders did score 56 points in the paint.

UP NEXT

Houston Baptist plays the third of six consecutive games away from campus to start the season, Nov. 22 at Michigan.

Texas Tech is back home Nov. 21 against Tennessee State.

Nwora leads No. 4 Louisville past Indiana State 91-62

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Jordan Nwora scored 21 points, Dwayne Sutton added 14 and No. 4 Louisville shot 59% from the field to run past Indiana State 91-62 on Wednesday night.

Two days after moving up a spot in the AP Top 25, the Cardinals (3-0) made 14 of their first 17 shots for a 16-point lead through 11 minutes on the way to a 47-26 advantage at the break. Nwora’s 14 points, including a pair of 3s got Louisville going, and Sutton had 10 before the break.

Nwora, a junior forward, finished 5 of 10 shooting for his third consecutive game of 20 points or more. Sutton and Steven Enoch each grabbed 10 rebounds as Louisville owned the glass 42-21. The Cardinals shot above 50% for the third consecutive game.

Tyreke Key led the Sycamores (0-2) with 20 points including four 3-pointers, two of which came during a 14-2 early second-half run that got them within 51-40. They got no closer as Louisville quickly answered to stretch the lead above 20 as it shot 58% in the final 20 minutes.

Indiana State shot 34% in its only game this season against a Power Five opponent. The Sycamores haven’t beaten a ranked opponent since topping Butler 72-71 in December 2016.

BIG PICTURE

Indiana State: After making two of their first three baskets, the Sycamores were no match physically against Louisville’s taller lineup. Perimeter shooting was a bright spot as they extended their streak to 345 games with at least one 3-pointer.

Louisville: The Cardinals seemingly couldn’t miss at the start and stayed hot throughout. They never let up even after the outcome was settled.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Cardinals took a step toward remaining in the top five with another game to play this week.

UP NEXT

Indiana State faces Ball State on Sunday in Indianapolis.

Louisville hosts North Carolina Central on Sunday in the third of a four-game homestand.

Hot start helps No. 18 Ohio State rout No. 10 Villanova

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Duane Washington Jr. had 14 points and four other players scored in double figures as No. 18 Ohio State started hot and ran over No. 10 Villanova 76-51 on Wednesday night.

Washington opened the game with a pair of 3-pointers to set the tone as the Buckeyes moved to 3-0 with a significant early-season victory.

D.J. Carton and Luther Muhammad each had 11 points, and CJ Walker and Kaleb Wesson added 10 apiece.

Jermaine Samuels had 14 points and Cole Swider had 11 for the Wildcats (1-1), who shot poorly out of the gate and managed just 30.6% for the game. They were held to a dozen points in the first 16 minutes.

The Buckeyes came out firing, bolted to a 19-3 lead, led by as many as 27 and held a 40-22 advantage at the intermission of this Gavitt Tipoff Game, a November series that matches up the Big Ten and the Big East.

Villanova was stunned by the Buckeyes’ start and didn’t show signs of life until a 9-0 run late in the first half. Kyle Young started the second half with a dunk and the Buckeyes never backed off the gas, leading by as many as 30.

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: Starting a pair of freshmen, Villanova shot poorly and could never catch up with the hustling Buckeyes. The crowd in Columbus chanted “overrated,” which could be the case.

Ohio State: Most everything was clicking in the Buckeyes’ third game of the season. If they can sustain it, they should be able to play with nearly any team in the country.

UP NEXT

Villanova: Hosts Ohio on Saturday.

Ohio State: Hosts Stetson on Monday.

Santos-Silva leads VCU past No. 23 LSU, 84-82, in Wade’s return

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RICHMOND, Va. — Marcus Santos-Silva had 17 points and 11 rebounds and VCU turned 26 turnovers by No. 23 LSU into 37 points in an 84-82 victory Wednesday night.

The Rams (3-0), whose contract with former coach Will Wade mandated he bring his new team to the Siegel Center or have his school pay $250,000, improved to 5-2 against ranked opponents on their home court.

VCU withstood a rally that saw the Tigers take their first lead of the half on two free throws by Skylar Mays with 41 second left.

The Tigers (1-1) had a chance after Santos-Silva made one of two free throws with 4.9 seconds left, but Mays raced up court and lost control of the ball.

De’Riante Jenkins and Marcus Evans added 15 points each for VCU, which was outscored 46-30 in the paint.

Mays led the Tigers with 23 points, but also had seven turnovers. Javinte Smart added 15 points and Trendon Watford scored 11.

The Rams led for most of the game, but a 15-2 run by the Tigers — despite a stretch of five turnovers in six possessions — tied the game at 67-all with 8:56 to go.

The Rams responded with an 11-4 run started by Santos-Silva to lead 78-71 with 3:22 to play before the Tigers rallied again, scoring 11 of the next 14 points and taking their first lead since the early going on a pair of free throws by Mays with 41 seconds remaining.

Jenkins, fouled on a 3-point try, made two of three free throws, and the Tigers missed their final three field-goal tries.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: Wade said he was concerned about how much the Tigers turned the ball over in their opener against Bowling Green, surely with an eye toward the “havoc” style Rhoades has reintroduced at VCU. The Rams certainly made them believers, forcing 12 first-half takeaways and turning them into 24 points.

VCU: The Rams had trouble getting ball inside, but their 3-point shooting and defense bailed them out, especially during an 18-4 first-half run. In one sequence, Isaac Vann made a 3 for VCU, which then forced a turnover, leading to Evans’ 3. The Tigers then turned it over again, leading to a 3 by Vince Williams. All in 53 seconds.

UP NEXT

The Tigers should have a much easier time in their next outing, at home against Nicholls on Saturday.

The Rams continue a six-game homestand to open the season, welcoming Jacksonville State on Sunday.