2014-15 Season Preview: Wisconsin is the class of the Big Ten

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Wisconsin junior forward Sam Dekker

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.

Today, we will be revealing our Big Ten preview.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The Big Ten only has one national champion in the 21st century and it came all the way back in 2000, when Tom Izzo and Michigan State reigned supreme. While the conference has had four national runners-up since — and Big Ten newcomer Maryland also won a national title in 2002 — it’s been a long title drought for the Big Ten. Wisconsin is hoping to break that streak this season. Bo Ryan returns most of a 30-win, Final Four team from 2013-14, and the Badgers will be a national title favorite this season. The rest of the conference looks a bit more murky, as the Big Ten loses a lot of talent and experience from last season.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Maryland (ACC), Rutgers (Big Ten)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Wisconsin is nearly as good as last season: Sure, the Badgers lost senior starting guard Ben Brust, but he was really the only major rotational loss for a 30-win team that nearly made the national championship game. Now, Bo Ryan has to decide whether to go bigger (Nigel Hayes as a third forward) or smaller (Bronson Koenig as a third guard) to replace Brust in the starting lineup and go from there. Either way, the Badgers are a major favorite in the Big Ten and, once again, a legitimate national title contender.

2. Michigan and Michigan State have to replace a lot of experience: This season won’t feature the tremendous, high-level basketball you’ve seen from the state of Michigan the last few years, but both programs still have some young talent. Michigan must replace three early NBA draft defections (Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas), Jon Horford (transfer to Florida) and Jordan Morgan (graduated) while Michigan State loses seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne and sophomore guard Gary Harris. The Wolverines at least still have All-American candidate Caris LeVert along with guards Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin while the Spartans still have seniors Branden Dawson and Travis Trice and junior do-it-all wing Denzel Valentine. Both teams are still very much in contention for a NCAA Tournament berth, but don’t expect any Final Four appearances or deep runs this March.

source: Reuters
Frank Kaminsky and Sam Thompson (Reuters)

3. Ohio State will rely more on young players: This won’t be the veteran Ohio State team we’ve seen the last few seasons, either. Gone is Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross, but the Buckeyes still have Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams and Marc Loving. But in order for the Buckeyes to reach their full potential, they’ll need a freshman guard, D’Angelo Russell, to come in and provide a scoring lift for a team that struggled to put the ball in the hoop a year ago. If Loving struggles to score early on, don’t be surprised if Matta gives even more minutes away to freshmen in order to find points.

4. Illinois could be a team to watch: Despite the preseason loss of senior starting point guard Tracy Abrams to a torn ACL, many in and around the Big Ten seem high on Illinois during the 2014-15 preseason. While losing Abrams’ warrior mentality and defensive ability will hurt, head coach John Groce’s offense will improve without him in the lineup and the Illini were 11th in scoring offense in the Big Ten last season. Transfer guards Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) are both experienced upperclassmen who are better shooters than Abrams and freshman forward Leron Black should log extended minutes as another rebounder and potential inside scoring option. If a sophomore like Kendrick Nunn or Malcolm Hill makes a leap and Rayvonte Rice continues his solid play, then Illinois should be in position to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

5. Maryland and Rutgers face immediate pressure: Not only do Maryland and Rutgers face the pressure of joining a new league in the Big Ten, but both Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon and Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan need to have some wins in the new conference in year one. Turgeon might be on the hot seat as much as any coach in the country and likely needs a NCAA Tournament trip to feel secure after this season. Rutgers is rebuilding, and will grant Jordan more leeway, but after his first season with the Scarlet Knights, he brought in a seven-man recruiting class and two new assistant coaches. Winning would give Rutgers some promise going forward in the Big Ten and Jordan needs all the help he can get right now.

PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

What can you say about Wisconsin’s senior center that hasn’t been said before? The 7-footer is one of the more offensively balanced big men college basketball has seen the last five years and his 37 percent three-point shooting draws opposing big men out to the three-point line, spreading Wisconsin’s offense at most positions and creating major problems for defenses. Kaminsky also averaged 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds and shot 52 percent from the field and 76 percent from the free-throw line last season. If Kaminsky can improve as a positional post defender and rebounder, it’ll be icing on the cake to his tremendous offensive skill set.

THE REST OF THE BIG TEN FIRST TEAM:

  • Caris LeVert, Michigan: The Michigan offense will now run through the talented 6-foot-6 junior who averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the three-point line last season.
  • Terran Petteway, Nebraska: The 6-foot-6 junior had a breakout sophomore year, averaging 18.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and leading Nebraska back to the NCAA Tournament. After a strong summer, expectations are even higher on Petteway.
  • Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker didn’t shoot it as well as he’d hoped during his sophomore year (46% FG, 68% FT, 32% 3PT)  but he’s still a tough overall performer and very skilled for a 6-foot-7 forward.
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: The 6-foot junior point guard averaged 17.3 points, 3.9 assists and 3 rebounds per game as a sophomore while shooting 40 percent from three-point range and he could be the conference’s most important individual player this season, in terms of overall team success.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Branden Dawson, Michigan State
  • Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
  • Aaron White, Iowa
  • D.J. Newbill, Penn State
  • Dez Wells, Maryland
source: AP
Derrick Walton Jr. (AP Photo)

BREAKOUT STAR: Derrick Walton, Jr. from Michigan didn’t have to do nearly as much last season with stars like Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III around him, but he did play steady ball from the lead guard and helped guide the Wolverines to the Elite Eight. Now, as one of the returning experienced pieces, the 6-foot sophomore has to take a step up in his play this season while running head coach John Beilein’s offense. Walton looked up to the task in some camps this summer and is a natural floor leader for the Wolverines.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Tom Crean and Mark Turgeon are both facing issues for not winning games and for transfers away from their programs. Crean has also faced recent legal issues for some of his team off of the floor and needs to win even more after the offseason heat surround this fall’s incidents. Turgeon lost five transfers from the Terps last season and has never made a NCAA Tournament appearance at the school.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Number-one seed Wisconsin leads a contingent of seven Big Ten teams in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The evolution of Nebraska with another year of Terran Petteway, Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford. Can this team make the second weekend in the NCAA Tournament?

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 18, Duke vs. Michigan State in Indianapolis
  • Dec. 2, Ohio State at Louisville
  • Dec. 3, Duke at Wisconsin
  • Dec. 12, Iowa State at Iowa
  • Dec. 13, Michigan at Arizona

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @B1GMBBALL

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Wisconsin: The Badgers only lose Ben Brust and still have Kaminsky, Dekker and senior guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson. If Bo Ryan gets more from Nigel Hayes and other bench players, last year’s Final Four team could go back.
2. Nebraska: The Huskers have the talent and scoring power to compete for a Big Ten title between Petteway, Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford. Can this team get stops and win games away from home?
3. Michigan: Losses of Nik Stauskas, Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary hurts, but Walton and LeVert are back along with a crop of talented younger players.
4. Michigan State: Seniors have left East Lansing but Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello return along with some productive guys off of last year’s bench to keep an eye on.
5. Ohio State: Three seniors in Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald return, but the Buckeyes need production from a good freshman group that includes guard D’Angelo Russell.
6. Illinois: Transfers Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks both fill in for Tracy Abrams and provide more outside shooting. If Nnanna Egwu can avoid trouble and get post defense help from someone like Leron Black, Illinois will be in good shape.
7. Iowa: The Hawkeyes return a ton of production from a deep team and gain talented guard Trey Dickerson. Can Aaron White or someone else step up and assume the primary scorer role?
8. Minnesota: The NIT champions need to upgrade their defense and win games down the stretch. Andre Hollins needs to be more efficient but he’s productive.
9. Indiana: The program looks to be in disarray with the off-the-court incidents, but Yogi Ferrell can ball and he has athletes around him. Can the Hoosiers limit turnovers and get stops?
10. Maryland: After losing five transfers, this new-look Maryland returns Dez Wells, Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz and gains Melo Trimble and some other talented freshmen who can shoot.
11. Purdue: A lot rests on the shoulders of junior center A.J. Hammons, but Kendall Stephens, Raphael Davis and a new crop of freshmen gives head coach Matt Painter and fans some hope for a rejuvenated team.
12. Penn State: D.J. Newbill and Brandon Taylor both return, but the rest is uncertain for Patrick Chambers’ team. Can the front court give any boost on offense?
13. Northwestern: The Wildcats could start two freshmen on a young team that features as many as six new freshmen. But five guys with 20-plus minutes a game return from last season, so plenty of experience peppers the roster.
14. Rutgers: Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack are both Big Ten players but the rest of the young roster has to prove they are as well for Eddie Jordan.

Auburn lands 2019 commitment from three-star wing

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Auburn landed a late commitment for the 2019-20 season on Wednesday night as three-star athletic wing Devan Cambridge pledged to the Tigers.

A 6-foot-6, 215-pound wing, Cambridge had a very strong showing at the Nike Peach Jam last week as he averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game during pool play at the event. A big-time athlete who easily gets off the floor, Cambridge fits Auburn’s athletic, up-and-down style as he’s accustomed to playing fast and making plays with his game-changing athleticism.

Cambridge joins a seven-man mega class for the Tigers as he’s a versatile athlete who should play a number of different spots. Cambridge is still working to become more of a consistent perimeter shooting presence, but Auburn has landed a solid late commitment because there aren’t many better pure athletes in the class. If the Tigers can develop Cambridge and take their time with his development then he could turn into a very useful player.

Person avoids prison in college bribery sentencing

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NEW YORK — Former Auburn assistant basketball coach Chuck Person has avoided prison in a bribery scandal that has touched some of the biggest schools in college basketball.

Person was sentenced on Wednesday to 200 hours of community service during the two years the Probation Department will supervise him. Judge Loretta A. Preska said “no purpose would be served by incarceration.”

Sentencing guidelines called for two years in prison, though three other coaches who pleaded guilty to the same charge also received lenient sentences.

Person, who was in financial trouble at the time, accepted $91,500 in bribes to parlay his relationships with top players to steer them to a financial adviser, federal prosecutors said. The adviser, however, was working as a government cooperator.

Preska defended her decision by saying she disagreed “vehemently” with the prosecution’s claim that Person was motivated by “insatiable greed.”

“He is charitable literally to a fault,” the judge said.

She noted that after signing his first NBA contract, he sent most of the money to family members and bought his mother a house. She described how he bought homes and cars for family and friends and made continuous donations. Then, he turned down lucrative jobs in the NBA to make less money as a college coach.

Person wiped tears from his face several times during the sentencing.

Of his crime, he said: “I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.”

Person’s guilty plea in March to a bribery conspiracy charge came nearly two decades after he was a regular presence on NBA courts, where he played for five NBA teams over 13 seasons after being drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1986. In 2010, he earned a championship ring as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lawyers wrote that Person’s previous financial troubles intensified almost as soon as his NBA career ended, when he was paying $30,000 monthly to his ex-wife while he was earning $18,000 annually in his first non-playing role with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Chuck’s singular focus on basketball, his failure to plan for his financial future, and his unbounded generosity ultimately had catastrophic consequences,” they wrote.

The lawyers said he knew he was violating NCAA rules and was betraying his players and their families and Auburn University.

By 2016, when he was an assistant coach at Auburn, where he had set a record as the school’s all-time leading scorer in the 1980s, he was deeply in debt with bank loans, including one to finance a community center in his hometown, and several private loans, the lawyers wrote. One financial institution had obtained a default judgment that garnished 25% of his wages at Auburn, they added.

“Creditors were growing impatient, and Chuck was becoming desperate. Chuck could have turned to his many friends for help, but he was embarrassed and ashamed,” they wrote.

Instead, the man who overcame racism and extreme poverty growing up in rural Alabama got swept up in the college basketball scandal when his search for a new loan earned him an introduction to the government cooperator, the lawyers said.

His lawyers’ submission included letters from Charles Sonny Smith, who coached at Auburn for 11 seasons through the 1980s, and Sam Perkins, another former NBA player who met Person when both competed to be on the U.S. Olympic team in 1984.

Smith called Person “my favorite player ever.” Perkins said Person was “still a good friend.”

Kansas lands 2019 guard Dajuan Harris

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Kansas landed another piece for the upcoming season on Tuesday night as guard Dajuan Harris pledged to the Jayhawks on Twitter.

Previously a member of the Class of 2020, Harris will reclassify and join Kansas for next season. The 6-foot-1 point guard is coming off of a strong Nike Peach Jam in which he helped MoKan Elite to the event’s title with a big week. A recent Kansas offer right before the July Live Evaluation Period, Harris averaged 7.1 assists per game while playing great defense throughout the event.

The Jayhawks adding Harris to the Class of 2019 means they have five members in the group — headlined by four-star prospects Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna while three-star recruits Christian Braun and Isaac McBride are also involved. While Kansas struggled to land its usual five-star talents in this recruiting class, they’ve rebounded nicely with three commitments this spring to help fill out a veteran roster that is hoping to recapture Big 12 glory.

Kansas has plenty young players to build with the next few seasons as it’ll be interesting to see how this new five-man class shapes up. Wilson and Enaruna are expected to contribute, but the rest of the group, including Harris, is a bit of a wild card in terms of producing right away.

Atlantic 10 Offseason Reset: VCU, Davidson, Dayton headline much improved conference

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Atlantic 10

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

THE LEAGUE WILL BE MUCH, MUCH BETTER THIS SEASON: The Atlantic 10 got lucky last season. There was one team in the league worthy of an at-large bid – VCU – and that team lost in the conference tournament. That’s the only reason they ended up as a two-bid league instead of a one-bid league.

This year should be different. VCU and Davidson are both sitting in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. Dayton isn’t all that far behind them. Rhode Island and Richmond both bring back essentially all of the pieces that mattered last season. The top of the league is as strong as it has been in a while, and I think there’s a real chance that we’re talking about the conference getting three or four bids to the NCAA tournament this season.

That, of course, all depends on what happens during non-conference play. Last year it was hideous for the league, and that left them in a position where the computer numbers were ugly and there was no way to add quality wins for the teams that needed quality wins. The bottom of the conference should be just as bad this season, but with three teams at the top worthy of top 25 consideration combined with a much stronger middle, there’s reason to be hopeful.

VCU AND DAVIDSON FIGHTING FOR FIRST PLACE: I think you can go either way when it comes to who is the favorite to win the league, but I don’t think you can pick anyone other than VCU or Davidson. They finished 1-2 in the Atlantic 10 last season and, combined, they lost three players from their rotations. VCU graduated a third-string center and lost a guy who lost his spot in the rotation to a freshman while, hopefully, getting Marcus Evans back to the peak of his powers; more on him later. Davidson brings back their top six, including one of the best backcourts in all of college basketball in Kellan Grady and Jon-Axel Gudmundsson. It will be a fun race between the two programs that couldn’t play more contrasting styles.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

WILL DAYTON’S TALENT COME TOGETHER?: On paper, Dayton is right there with Davidson and VCU. They lose Josh Cunningham, but with the rest of their rotation – including a bonafide pro in Obi Toppin – returning and four sit-out transfers entering the fold, there is more than enough talent, depth and experience on the roster. The reason I have them a notch below the favorites is because I want to see how all the pieces come together. They can certainly win the league, but managing minutes and egos is going to be the toughest part of Anthony Grant’s job this season.

THE BATTLE FOR FOURTH: Best I can tell, there are going to be at least three – if not more – teams fighting for that spot. Rhode Island seems to make the most sense, given just how much they bring back, while Richmond is the sleeper that all the coaches in the conference are talking about. I also think it is worth noting that St. Bonaventure will be better than some believe given that they managed to find a way to keep Mark Schmidt in Olean for another season.

But I also think that it’s possible that a team like La Salle, or George Mason, or Saint Louis can pop up and surprise some people. There’s depth in the conference that wasn’t necessarily there a year ago.

CAN CHRIS MOONEY GO FROM ALMOST-FIRED TO NCAA TOURNAMENT?: Richmond is going to be the most interesting team in the league. There are big-money boosters that have spent the last year or two trying to get Chris Mooney fired. Someone even put up a #FireMooney billboard on I-95 in the city. The irony here is that Mooney may have his best team since the 2011 team that reached the Sweet 16. Grant Golden is arguably the best big man in the league while Jacob Gilyard was a second-team all-Atlantic 10 player last year. Nathan Cayo is back and, perhaps most importantly, Richmond’s best wing scorer Nick Sherod should be healthy again. Throw in Wagner transfer Blake Francis, and there are a lot of pieces on this roster.

We’ll see if Mooney can make it all fit together, but this team is certainly good enough, on paper, to win 12 conference games.

WHO’S GONE

  • PHIL MARTELLI, St. Joseph’s: An Atlantic 10 and Philadelphia institution is gone. After 34 years at the school and 24 seasons as the head coach of the Hawks, Phil Martelli was fired this spring. He landed on his feet – as an assistant coach on Juwan Howard’s staff at Michigan – but St. Joe’s is going to have to completely rebuild. As of right now, there are seven scholarship players on the roster.
  • JAVON BESS, Saint Louis: Bess was the best defender in the Atlantic 10 last season, the anchor for what was the best defense in the league. He also doubled as the best scorer and shooter on the roster of a Billiken team that struggled to score. This is a big, big loss for a team coming off an NCAA tournament trip.
  • JOSH CUNNINGHAM, Dayton: The Flyers will have more than enough talent to replace Cunningham, but losing an all-league senior that was capable of going for 20-10 on any given night is never ideal.
  • COURTNEY STOCKARD, St. Bonaventure: Stockard took a step forward as a senior, helping the Bonnies to remain top four in the league despite losing Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. He was a deserving first-team all-league player last season.
  • OTIS LIVINGSTON, George Mason: The Patriots are going to have to change the way they play this season with Livingston gone. He was one of the best lead guards in the league for the last four years and the guy that allowed Dave Paulsen to run offense without worrying about what happens at the end of a shot clock.
  • ERIC WILLIAMS, Duquesne: The Dukes bring everyone else back, and Keith Dambrot has the respect of every coach in the league, but Williams was their best player. Losing him is a hard way to make up ground in a league where the top five teams all bring everyone back.
Obi Toppin (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

WHO’S BACK

  • EVERYONE, VCU: Well, that’s technically not true. Michael Gilmore, a backup center, graduated and Sean Mobley, who started to lose minutes by the end of the year, transferred. So there are some changes. But all of the truly important pieces – star guard Marcus Evans, De’Riante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Issac Vann, Vince Williams, etc. – are back, and they’re joined by a really good recruiting class. They’re old, they’re experienced, they’re deep, they’re talented and they were a No. 8 seed last season. This is a preseason top 25 team.
  • EVERYONE, Davidson: Last season, Kellan Grady was the guy we all thought would be the best player in the Atlantic 10 after a sterling freshman season got him on the radar of the NBA. Despite being banged up, Grady averaged 17.3 points as a sophomore … and his teammate, Jon-Axel Gudmundsson, won Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Both of them are back, along with the rest of Bob McKillop’s top six from a team that went 24-10 last season.
  • EVERYONE, Rhode Island: The Rams bring back their top four scorers, including Fatts Russell, Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin, and the only player they lose from their rotation averaged just 5.7 points. There is a lot of reason to like this group.
  • OBI TOPPIN, Dayton: One coach told me that Toppin is not only clearly the most talented player in the league, he is the only guy in the conference that is a surefire pro. A late-bloomer, he hasn’t stopped improving throughout his career and should be in line for a major breakout season.
  • NICK SHEROD, Richmond: Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard and Nathan Cayo are the bigger names and they all return, but Sherod is the guy that coaches in the league believe is the difference-maker. He’s a big-time shooter and scorer on the wing that they were missing after he went down with a knee injury.
  • KYLE LOFTON and OSUN OSUNNIYI, St. Bonaventure: Losing Stockard is going to hurt, but sophomores Lofton and Osunniyi are going to be very, very good for a long time in this league. One coach told me he thought Lofton was “the best freshman I’ve seen in the Atlantic 1 in a while, you would never have guessed he was a freshman” based on the way he played and his poised.
  • JORDAN GOODWIN and HASAHN FRENCH, Saint Louis: Goodwin is a do-it-all wing and French might be the best, and certainly is the most powerful, big man in the conference.

WHO’S COMING

  • DAYTON’S TRANSFERS: The Flyers had four players sitting out as transfers last season — Ibi Watson (Michigan), Jordy Tshimanga (Nebraska), Rodney Chatman (Chattanooga) and Chase Johnson (Florida). With Jalen Crutcher and Toppin both returning, the Flyers have as much talent on paper as anyone.
  • SCOTT SPENCER, La Salle: A transfer from Clemson, Spencer should fit perfectly in Ashley Howard’s system and give the Explorers a bit of a scoring pop to help offset the loss of Pookie Powell.
  • BLAKE FRANCIS, Richmond: The transfer from Wagner averaged 17 points before sitting out this past season.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-ATLANTIC 10 TEAM

MARCUS EVANS, VCU (Preseason Player of the Year)
KELLAN GRADY, Davidson
JON-AXEL GUDMUNDSSON, Davidson
OBI TOPPIN, Dayton
GRANT GOLDEN, Richmond

(Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. VCU: We’ve talked plenty about the Rams at this point, but I think their ceiling is still going to be determined by what they get out of Marcus Evans. Their star point guard has suffered an injury to each of his achilles since transferring to VCU from Rice. He rehabbed his entire sit-out season, and then spent last summer rehabbing the second injury. Somehow, he hasn’t lost any of his explosiveness and still managed to average 13.6 points and 3.2 assists last year. I spoke with him back in February, and Evans told me he was excited about this offseason because it was the first time he would have a chance to spend the summer getting better instead of getting healthy. He’s my pick to be the 2020 Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10.

2. DAVIDSON: This Davidson team has a chance to be the best group Bob McKillop has coached since the Stephen Curry days. A healthy Kellan Grady combined with Jon Axel Gudmundsson will give the Wildcats one of the best backcourts in the country. They’re going to be experienced, and Luka Brajkovic and Luke Frampton should both take a significant step forward as sophomores. Brajkovic was one of the best bigs in the league as a freshman. As always, their ceiling will be determined by just how good their defense will be, but on paper this group looks like a tournament team.

3. DAYTON: It’s easier to bet on VCU and Davidson as league champs because we know what they are, but keep in mind that the Flyers return the majority of their rotation from a team that went 21-12 overall and 13-5 in the league last season, and that among the players they return is future draft pick Obi Toppin. Oh, and they also add four sit-out transfers, three of whom came from high-major schools. It’s going to be a fun three-team race.

4. RHODE ISLAND: The Rams certainly have the talent to be relevant in the Atlantic 10 race, but with essentially the same team, they went .500 in the league last season and finished four games behind third-place Dayton. How are they making up all that ground when the teams above them return everyone?

5. RICHMOND: Every coach I’ve spoken to believes that the Spiders are the x-factor in the league race this year. For starters, bringing back Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard gives them one of the best 1-2 combinations in the league. Bringing back Nick Sherod’s size and scoring on the wing will be important, and Nathan Cayo was underrated league-wide. Throw in Wagner transfer Blake Francis, and this should be the most improved team in the conference.

6. ST. BONAVENTURE: Mark Schmidt lost Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley before last season and still managed to churn out an 18-win season and a fourth-place finish in the A-10, so we shouldn’t be all that worried about them after losing four of their top six, including Courtney Stockard. They have one of the best homecourt advantages in the league, Schmidt will find a way to get the best out of his roster and sophomores Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi are ready for bigger roles.

7. LA SALLE: I love this La Salle group. They should have more talent and depth this year, and you know they are always going to play hard. They’ve had a year under Ashley Howard, and what we saw as the season progressed was that this team played together much better than La Salle did under John Giannini. Keep an eye on sophomore Jack Clark.

8. GEORGE MASON: They’re going to have to play differently without Otis Livingston running the show, but Justin Kier is a going to have a chance to become a star in the league. Throw in sophomore Jordan Miller and a healthy Goanar Mar, and there are some pieces for Dave Paulsen here.

9. SAINT LOUIS: The Billikens were built on their defense last season and couldn’t score. They lost their best defender and best scorer in Javon Bess. I like Jordan Goodwin, I love Hasahn French and I think Fred Thatch is in line for a big sophomore season, but I need to see it from this group.

10. DUQUESNE: Coaches in the league have faith that Keith Dambrot will be able to find a way to make it work this year, and there are some pieces returning – notably Sincere Carey – but losing Eric Williams is big. He was their best player.

11. UMASS: The Minutemen have some talent and they bring in a good recruiting class, but I am going to need to see Matt McCall win there before I buy in. Keep an eye on freshman Tre Mitchell.

12. GEORGE WASHINGTON: Jamion Christian should be able to get the most out of this roster, and they’ll play a fun style that will see them bombing away from three, but it will take him a few years to get the kind of talent in the program he needs to make a run at the top of the league.

13. FORDHAM: Fordham won three Atlantic 10 games last season and lose their best player, Nick Honor.

14. ST. JOSEPH’S: Best I can tell, St. Joe’s currently has seven scholarship players on the roster, one of whom is a former walk-on. The post-Martelli era is going to have a rough start.

Penn State gets commit from three-star guard

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Penn State has its first 2020 commitment.

Dallion Johnson, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Maryland, has pledged to coach Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions, he announced Monday.

“Excited to announce my commitment to Penn State University!!” Johnson wrote on social media. “Thanks to God, my family, friends, teammates & coaches for believing in me. Thrilled to join the Penn State family under the coaching of Pat Chambers and staff.”

Johnson committed to Penn State over the likes of Davidson, Richmond and UMass, among others which had offered. He is rated as a three-star prospect.

The Nittany Lions, which had the 12th-ranked recruiting class in 2019 according to 247Sports, went 14-18 overall and 7-13 in conference play, missing the NCAA tournament for the eighth-straight time under Chambers.