2014-15 Season Preview: Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky lead a strong crop of big men

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Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo)

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

We’ve already gone over the other positional rankings on CBT this week but now we get to the big men. You’ll see a lot of new faces on the list this year, because the incoming group of freshman has a lot of talented McDonald’s All-Americans playing in the post that should contribute right away. But there are plenty of experienced post cogs as well and some that are versatile inside-outside threats with the ability to stretch the floor.

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

THE TOP TEN

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: It’s high praise for a true freshman to be ranked No. 1 on this list, but then again, Okafor isn’t your typical college freshman. Many viewed Okafor as the No. 1 player in the country in the 2014 class and the 6-foot-11 center is patient, skilled and comes from a winning pedigree. Okafor was a major factor for USA Basketball during his high school career and enters Duke as an instant double-team threat whenever he gets his mitts on a post touch. Coach K will ride his new center as far as he can take him.

2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Now a senior, the 7-foot Kaminsky had a breakout junior season, averaging 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on 52 percent field-goal shooting, 76 percent free-throw shooting and 37 percent three-point shooting. A rare inside-outside offensive threat at center, Kaminsky can be a nightmare to defend because he can stretch the floor, is a patient passer and doesn’t force too many shots. If the Wisconsin big man has a weakness, it’s on the defensive end, where he’s an average rebounder and positional defender on his own.

3. Karl Towns, Jr., Kentucky: You’ll see plenty of Kentucky big men on this list — and quite fairly, as they’re all McDonald’s All-Americans with a lot of talent — but the 6-foot-11 freshman might be the most talented and productive of them all in 2014-15. Towns was a member of the Dominican Republic’s senior national team as a 16-year-old and has steadily improved his overall game ever since. During the Wildcats’ summer exhibition tour in the Bahamas, Towns, at times, looked like the team’s most talented overall player and he’s more offensively skilled than any other Kentucky center.

4. Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang will be one of the most intriguing big men in the country this season thanks to his offseason weight loss and increased role. The 6-foot-8 junior averaged 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last season, but when you consider he was often the Cyclones’ third offensive option, that’s impressive. Skilled enough to step out and hit the long ball, if Niang can improve his 32 percent three-point shooting, he could be virtually unstoppable on the offensive end thanks to his off-balance post looks and mid-range game.

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

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Montrezl Harrell (AP Photo)

5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Harrell was one of the top big men in the country last season as the powerful 6-foot-8 junior averaged 14 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1 steal per game for one of the best teams in the country. The high-motor Harrell never seems to take a play off and he’s relentless on the glass and around the rim when hunting for dunks. If Montrezl can improve his mid-range jumper — which looked shaky in August at adidas Nations — he could take another step forward this season.

6. Perry Ellis, Kansas: The 6-foot-8 junior had a breakthrough sophomore season, as the Kansas native averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game on 54 percent shooting. Skilled enough to hit jumpers, but tough enough to play on the interior, Ellis shot a respectable 76 percent from the free-throw line and even made 8 of 17 three-pointers last season to help keep the defense honest. Ellis also thrives on doing the little things like setting off-ball screens and sealing opposing defenses so his wings have a free lane to the hoop.

7. Cliff Alexander, Kansas: Alexander comes into his freshman season with a big reputation thanks to his bruising 6-foot-8 frame and a dunk-at-all-costs attitude. Seriously, this dude lives to dunk on people and we’ll probably see Big Cliff  deliver some posters throughout the college basketball season. Besides his affinity for dunks, Alexander is a tremendous rebounder and is more skilled with the ball in his hands than people give him credit for. His jumper takes a little bit too long to get out of his hands right now, but it’s workable with the increased reps and practice time Alexander is sure to get in Lawrence.

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

8. Brandon Ashley, Arizona: After Ashley broke his foot in February of last season, Arizona went from a national championship contender to falling just short of the Final Four. The 6-foot-9 Ashley can do it all for the Wildcats as he averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field, 75 percent from three-point range and 37 percent from the three-point line. With Ashley back in the lineup, Sean Miller’s offense can spread the floor or attack on the interior by using Ashley in whichever way creates a mismatch.

9. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: It’s really a shame that Cauley-Stein injured his ankle in the Sweet 16 win against Louisville, because it caused the 7-footer to miss the rest of the tournament. But if you’re looking for positives, that injury likely kept the 7-foot junior in school and he returns to Kentucky as one of the best defensive big men in the nation. Cauley-Stein averaged 6.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game as a sophomore and passed up a guaranteed first-round spot in the NBA Draft to return to Lexington.

10. Trey Lyles, Kentucky: The 6-foot-10 freshman was also a McDonald’s All-American and gives Kentucky a versatile and skilled offensive player. The Indianapolis native can face-up and make plays or score on the block using hooks or short jumpers. Lyles should also be able to rebound well for Kentucky and he’s not afraid to mix it up a bit down low.

THE NEXT TEN

  • 11. Jordan Mickey, LSU: Overlooked by recruiting analysts, the 6-foot-8 Mickey put up great numbers during his freshman season, averaging 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game.
  • 12. Jonathan Holmes, Texas: The 6-foot-8 senior increased his shooting percentages (50% FG, 74% FT, 33% 3PT) and his averages (12.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) across the board in helping Texas get back to the NCAA Tournament last season.
  • 13. Myles Turner, Texas: Another McDonald’s All-American, the 6-foot-11 freshman gives Rick Barnes another shot blocker on the interior, but Turner also has a smooth perimeter stroke.
  • 14. Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara: The pride of the Big West, the 6-foot-8 Williams averaged 21.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game during his junior season.
  • 15. Bobby Portis, Arkansas: An impressive freshman season has NBA people talking highly of the 6-foot-11 sophomore. Portis put up 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1 steal per game last season.
  • 16. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky: The 7-foot sophomore was the starting center on a team that played in the national championship game and is now considered the fourth best big man on the roster. Johnson did lose 20 pounds this offseason and additional mobility should make him that much better.
  • 17. Josh Scott, Colorado: The 6-foot-10 junior has had two productive seasons for Colorado and averaged 14.1 points, 8.4 rebounds per game last season on 51 percent shooting and 81 percent free-throw shooting.
  • 18. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: Incredibly productive in limited minutes as a freshman (7.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg in 16.3 mpg), expectations are high for the 6-foot-9 big man after his offseason weight loss. And keep an eye on Meeks this season as a skilled outlet passer for North Carolina’s transition breaks.
  • 19. Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette: The 6-foot-9 junior has averaged a double-double in each of his first two seasons and averaged 18.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game last season 52 percent field-goal shooting and 42 percent three-point shooting.
  • 20. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: Much like Meeks, Hayes was very productive in limited minutes last season and should see his role increase this season in Madison. The 6-foot-7 sophomore averaged 7.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in 17.4 minutes a game last season.

ALSO CONSIDERED: A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Markus Kennedy (SMU), Justin Sears (Yale), JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova), Jarell Martin (LSU), Kevon Looney (UCLA), Chris Walker (Florida), Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona)

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.

Coaches 4 Change: Siena’s Carmen Maciariello spearheads social justice initiative

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Carmen Maciariello found himself in the same place so many of us did in the days after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

Devastated by what he was seeing. Motivated to find a way to use his platform as the head coach at Siena College to enact change. Struggling with how, as he puts it, “a white head coach from privilege at a school in New York,” can have real, honest, open dialogue with his majority-Black roster.

So he picked up the phone. He called Louis Orr, his former college coach and now an assistant coach at Georgetown. He called his closest friends in the coaching business. He called his advisor, Brad Konerman, an entrepreneur who connected him with a couple of talented website designers. By early June, 25 like-minded people from all walks of life were on a zoom call.

“I’ve never been pulled over and feared for my life for not using my blinker,” Maciariello, who is white, told me. “We had those conversations. How are we talking to our teams about that? What are we doing with the police? How can we help our young people navigate through these tough times?”

That’s how Coaches 4 Change was born.

Maciariello has grand plans for the organization. On a zoom call with nearly all of the 43 coaches that have committed to the group to date, he said he wants “to try to change the world. Let’s not think small, we’ve gotta think big with this.” He is not lacking for ambition.

But Maciariello also understands that something like this has to start small and it has to start locally. It’s why he limited the first group of invitees to coaches that are “doing this for the right reasons.”

“I didn’t want to have a donate link and bring in coaches that felt like, ‘I donated money, I did my part supporting it,” he said. “It was about the time commitment and the vision. We have to focus on one thing first.”

That first thing?

Voting.

C4C developed a sleek, interactive website to help educate young people about social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, things as basic as the difference between systemic and systematic racism and Jackie Robinson’s impact on sports. But the site also provides users with all of the information necessary to vote in this year’s elections, information on what makes voting so important in a democracy and — most importantly — a tutorial for how a person in every state can register to vote, where their polling stations are and whether or not they are eligible for mail-in voting. Their website also has a ‘Keep Learning‘ page that links to all documentaries, podcasts, audiobooks and literary resources available on all streaming platforms, including content for children.

C4C has partnered with Vote.org with a goal of “100 percent voter registration for all college athletes” regardless of the sport they play, Maciariello said.

Currently, the only coaches involved with C4C are men’s college basketball coaches, but that will change. They are in the process of reaching out to counterparts on the women’s side, and will eventually invite staff members from other sports as well. One of the barriers to entry to become a member will be ensuring that every player on a coach’s team is registered to vote.

Eventually, Maciariello envisions C4C developing community outreach initiatives. He wants the members of C4C to connect with their campus communities and put together voter registration drives for students. He wants to eventually connect with lawmakers and work on changing legislation that helps systemic racism continue to exist.

No one ever said he wasn’t ambitious.

But he knows he has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is this platform.

“I want to engage people in issues,” he said. “Educate them, empower them to change, encourage them to grow and evolve.”

CBT Podcast: Pat Chambers, moving the season up, Running Back Buddy Hield’s 46 points at Kansas

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In the latest edition of the Run It Back podcast, Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan recap Buddy Hield’s memorable 46-point outburst in a three-overtime loss to Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 1 back in 2016. The game was unbelievable. Before they dive into the game itself, the boys talk through Pat Chambers’ noose comments to Rasir Bolton and the potential for the college basketball season to get moved up.

Michael Jordan, Roy Williams among UNC greats to condemn systemic racism

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Roy Williams and Michael Jordan joined numerous North Carolina luminaries in condemning systemic racism and voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement in a video that was released by the school on Monday.

“Systematic racism has to stop now,” Jordan said in the video. “We must take the time to listen and educate our family, our friends, our children on social injustice and racial inequality. Black Lives Matter more now than ever before. We have to get this right, so please take time to educate yourself and improve the lives of many people, many Black people. Thank you.”

James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Tyler Hansbrough, Luke Maye and Sean May were among the former players that appeared in the video.

Williams led by discussing Charlie Scott, who was the first Black scholarship athlete in UNC’s history.

“Some of the greatest to play our game have been Black players, but here we are more than 50 years later and our country is still fighting systemic racism and police brutality against Black men and women,” Williams said. “The North Carolina basketball program, our family, our current and former players believe Black lives matter, and it’s critically important that we don’t just believe it. We must stand together and loudly and clearly demand that we as a country and the world embrace the fundamental human right that Black lives matter.”

Former Penn State guard Rasir Bolton left program after coach Pat Chambers made noose comment

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Former Penn State point guard Rasir Bolton has accused of Pat Chambers of making racially insensitive remarks, including a reference to a noose.

According to Bolton, who tweeted about the incident on Monday morning, midway through his freshman season in 2018-19 with the Nittany Lions, Chambers made a reference to a “noose” about Bolton’s neck.  Bolton described the encounter in an interview with the Undefeated, and said that the phrase was a result of Chambers talking about easing the pressure on his freshman’s shoulders. “I want to loosen the noose that’s around your neck,” Bolton recalled.

Bolton also alleged that after his parents went to the Athletic Director with their concerns about this statement, Chambers told him during an exit interview that he was impressed by how “well-spoken” and “organized” his parents are. Remarks like this are considered racially-insensitive because they are based on the underlying assumption that Black people are not expected to be either organized or articulate.

Chambers, to his credit, admitted his wrong in making the noose comment.

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“I’ve realized the pain my words and ignorance caused Rasir Bolton and his family and I apologize to Rasir and the Bolton family for what I said,” Chambers’ statement read. “I failed to comprehend the experiences of others, and the reference I make was hurtful, insensitive and unacceptable I cannot apologize enough for what I said, and I will carry that forever.”

Bolton left Penn State after his freshman season and transferred to Iowa State. He was given immediately eligibility with the Cyclones after mentioning the noose comment when applying for a waiver. He averaged 14.7 points this past season with Iowa State. He also alleged that after he came to the Penn State athletic department with this claim, they offered him a meeting with a sports psychologist who told him how to “deal with Coach Chambers’ personality type.”