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

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source: Getty Images
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.

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.