The 68 things we can’t wait to see this season

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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.

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1. Remember the Marshall Henderson vs. Auburn fans GIF in 2013? How about Jim Boeheim and his flailing jacket against Duke? I can’t wait for college basketball’s next great Internet meme. (Terrence Payne)

2. Please, please, please: more interviews and great anecdotes from new Ohio head coach Saul Phillips. (Scott Phillips)

3. Cody Doolin at UNLV. If he proves to be the answer many believe him to be, the Runnin’ Rebels can get back to the NCAA tournament. (Raphielle Johnson)

4. Every year, there’s a freshman that enters the season with the hype of being “the next great one”. This year, it’s Jahlil Okafor. Is he the all-american everyone expects him to be? (Rob Dauster)

5. Ryan Boatright’s leadership. He doesn’t need to be exactly what Shabazz or Kemba were, just do it in his own way. Will he successfully do so? (RJ)

6. More Dickie V concert reviews on Twitter. Maybe branch out into live-tweeting films? (SP)

7. Wichita State followed up a run to the Final Four by winning 35 straight games to start a season. So … what’s next? (RD)

8. The academic jokes the Cameron Crazies are coming up with for Feb. 18’s game against North Carolina. (TP)

9. I want TaShawn Thomas eligible at Oklahoma so we have another Final Four contender. (SP)

10. What will Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes do for an encore? Things will be a little different without the help of Alec Brown. (RJ)

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11. How will Kaleb Joseph handle playing the Tyler Ennis role at Syracuse, being the only point guard on the roster as a freshman? Can he lead them to the NCAA tournament? (RD)

12. Can Gonzaga please stay healthy? I want to know if this team is truly talented enough to see Final Four weekend. (SP)

13. Can Utah reverse its fortunes in close games? And if so, are they Arizona’s strongest challenger in the Pac-12? (RJ)

14. The guard play in the ACC: Marcus Paige, Tyus Jones, Jerian Grant, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Angel Rodriguez, Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Rasheed Suliamon, Olivier Hanlan. Should I keep going? (TP)

15. The return of the Stanford cowbell player. (SP)

16. Jerian Grant was having an all-american caliber season before he was suspended from the Notre Dame program last December. After sitting out the second semester, will he be the same player as a senior? (RD)

17. Here’s a rundown of Tim Miles on Twitter last season: The Nebraska coach played Ndamukong Suh one-on-one, had lunch with fans because they asked him and took a selfie after beating Ohio State. What’s next? (TP)

18. I’m interested in the national reaction to Cliff Alexander’s dunks. (SP)

19. The Aaron Thomas/Xavier Rathan-Mayes tandem at Florida State. (RJ)

20. VCU’s Havoc. Do I really need to explain why? (TP)

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21. Which mid-major stars become nationally known this season? High Point’s John Brown and UCSB’s Alan Williams seem like the most likely candidates. (RD)

22. Mike Davis reviving the career of Chris Thomas at Texas Southern. (SP)

23. Who replaces Grant Gibbs as the best college basketball player to follow on Twitter? (TP)

24. National acclaim for Ole Miss’ Jarvis Summers. He was a fixture on our “Chase for 180” list last year andpeople in the SEC knew how good he was, but was criminally underrated nationally. (RJ)

25. It would be nice to see this current North Carolina roster play well because the 2014-15 team has nothing to do with the latest academic scandal. And make some free throws. (SP)

26. We know who the top four in the ACC is this season. Who rises from that second tier to compete with them? Syracuse? Pitt? N.C. State? Florida State? (RD)

27. Chris Holtmann is the third Butler head coach in as many seasons. How does this affect the Bulldogs, who are still adjusting to the Big East? (TP)

28. How long can John Calipari keep brainwashing people — and his own team — into thinking the hockey-shift, platoon system is: A. His idea. B. The right idea? (SP)

29. Romelo Trimble running the show at Maryland. He’s the point guard they so desperately needed last season. (RJ)

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30. D’angelo Russell is a talented, dynamic scorer and playmaker. How long will it take for him to become Ohio State’s go-to guy? (RD)

31. R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow, Kevin Ware and Georgia State giving some team a heart attack in the first game of the NCAA Tournament. (SP)

32. Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas thrived in John Beilein’s offense. Is Caris LeVert the next guy to be turned into an All American? (TP)

33. Whether or not Texas has something in common with Public Enemy … Don’t Believe The Hype. If they remain hungry, the Longhorns can get to Indy. (RJ)

34. Speaking of not believing the hype: I want to see how SMU deals with being the hunted, particularly now that Emmanual Mudiay is in China. Can Nic Moore make us forget about him? (RJ)

35. The SEC is wide-open and Arkansas has as much talent as they’re had since Mike Anderson took over. If they’re ever going to climb out of the muck in the middle of that league, this is the season to do it. (RD)

36. I want to see Pittsburgh’s (once again) soft non-conference schedule hurt them enough to make Jaime Dixon change his scheduling ways. (SP)

37. Memphis vs. Wichita State on Tuesday, Nov. 18 in … uh … South Dakota. (TP)

38. LSU’s front court. Johnny O’Bryant III was a notable loss, but I think these pieces — Elbert Robertson, Jordan Mickey, Jarrell Martin — may fit together better than last season’s did. (RJ)

39. Despite the loss of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, this should be the year Sean Miller finally reaches the Final Four. (TP)

40. Bruce Pearl’s impact at Auburn. Not expecting much this season from a wins standpoint, but the early excitement is definitely there. (RJ)

41. Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin are studs. But Michigan’s season rides on the shoulders of Mark Donnal. Can he make the Wolverines a Big Ten contender? (RD)

42. The continued local hype surrounding Nebrasketball. (SP)

43. Louisville’s impact on the ACC. The conference averaged the fewest possessions per game of any conference last season. One team can’t change that by itself, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Cardinals’ defense impacts their new conference foes. (RJ)

44. Is this the best team that Bo Ryan has ever had at Wisconsin? (RD)

45. To some Rhode Island is considered to be “one year away” from contending in the Atlantic 10. Maybe so, but the Rams are still going to be a scary team. (TP)

46. Is Bryce Dejean-Jones the next transfer that Fred Hoiberg works his magic on? (RD)

47. Can someone threaten Wichita State in the Missouri Valley? I lean Northern Iowa right now, but that race needs to be competitive no matter who the Shockers’ biggest threat is. (RJ)

48. Will Iowa figure out how to get stops this season, or will they continue to play matador defense? (RD)

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49. The relaunch of the Big East is in Year 2. Is there a new rivalry on the horizon? (TP)

50. I want the SEC’s bottom half to be watchable. (SP)

51. Stephen F. Austin in year two under Brad Underwood. Not expecting a 29-game win streak, but they’ll once again be a major factor in the Southland. (RJ)

52. Kasey Hill and Chris Walker are both top ten recruits that played nothing like top ten recruits as freshmen. I can’t wait to see if they make the jump as sophomores. (RD)

53. It’s a really exciting time to be at Louisiana Tech. Michael White’s Bulldogs are the favorites to win Conference USA, which would be the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991. On the women’s side, Pat Summitt’s son, Tyler, is in his first season as a head coach … at 24! (TP)

54. The “unfinished business” trend. So many programs whose seasons ended in disappointment are using it, so who will win out in the end? (RJ)

55. Arizona is the favorite in the Pac-12, and that’s indisputable. The race for the second spot in the league standings will be a fun one to follow. (RD)

56. A close finish to the regular season in the Ivy League. Harvard needs some serious competition from multiple contenders. (SP)

57. Branden Dawson’s senior season is his chance to prove how special he is as a player. (RD)

58. The always exciting Florida Gulf Coast has a highly-entertaining non-conference schedule. Dunk City takes on UC Santa Barbara and Alan Williams. They have a potential matchup against Green Bay and what is sure to be a high-scoring affair against UMass. (TP)

59. The Mountain West race. Seven teams have a chance at winning the regular season title, even with San Diego State being seen by many as the preseason favorites. (RJ)

60. The Peppas. (RD)

61. With Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers back in Cambridge, can Harvard fend off Yale and pull off another NCAA tournament upset? Better yet, would it even be considered an upset at this point? (TP)

62. Shaquille Johnson highlight-reel dunks. (SP)

63. Juwan Staten went from being “just a guy” to becoming an all-american during his junior season. Who makes that jump this year? (RD)

64. Whether or not Villanova can win a second consecutive Big East title. They’ve got the pieces to do it, and stick around longer in the NCAA tournament. (RJ)

65. The Battle 4 Atlantis and its LOADED field. (TP)

66. Was the end of Dwayne Polee’s 2013-2014 season a sign of things to come? (RD)

67. Jimmy Patsos at Siena. The Saints will be right in the mix with Iona and Manhattan in the MAAC, and the conference tournament is back in Albany. (RJ)

68. Friday, November 14th. (RD)

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.