Kris Dunn (AP Photo)

NBC Sports Preseason All-Americans: Kris Dunn Player of the Year

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PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kris Dunn, Providence

Kris Dunn was criminally-underrated last season, and despite the fact that he’s being projected as a top ten pick, it seems that the media at large is intent on doing the same thing once again this season. Here’s the deal: Dunn is a big, athletic point guard in the mold of John Wall, only, as one NBA scout put it to NBC Sports, a B-plus athlete instead of an A-plus athlete. He’s as good in transition and in ball-screen actions as any guard in the country, which is important because Providence head coach Ed Cooley is going to be putting Dunn in those situations quite a bit this season.

Cooley always asks his point guards to carry the water for his team’s. That’s why guys like Vincent Council, Bryce Cotton and, at Fairfield, Derek Needham put up such big numbers. Last season, Dunn averaged 15.6 points, 7.5 assists and 5.5 boards despite struggling with his efficiency; that’s what happens when you average 4.2 turnovers. Providence hemorrhaged big bodies this offseason and lost leading scorer LaDontae Henton to graduation.

[MORE: Top 100 players | Preseason Top 25]

In other words, Dunn’s usage this season is going to be off-the-charts, and so long as he can rid himself of the massive number of unforced turnovers he committed last season, his efficiency should improve. Throw in his elite defensive ability and (hopefully) an improved jumper, and you’re looking at the nation’s best player.

Now I get it.

Providence is likely going to be one of those teams that doesn’t lock up an NCAA tournament berth until late-February. This is a group that’s probably looking at getting seeded somewhere in that No. 7-No. 10 range.

Assuming the Preseason Player of the Year Award is a prediction of who we think wins it at the end of the year, is it possible to give that honor to a player that isn’t supposed to advance out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament?

When they’re as good as Kris Dunn is, I say yes.

(And as an addendum, I understand why someone would vote ‘no’ there. I get that argument. But leaving him off of first-team all-america entirely? That’s just plain wrong.)

MORE: Top leads guards | Top off guards | Top Wings | Top Bigs

Buddy Hield (AP)
Buddy Hield (AP)

NBC SPORTS’ FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICANS

Kris Dunn, Providence

Marcus Paige, North Carolina

Last season, we had Marcus Paige pegged as the Preseason National Player of the Year. That … did not turn out well, but it wasn’t because Paige suddenly became a bad basketball player. It’s because he was injured. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his ankle. He was able to rest the plantar fasciitis that bothered him last season. He’s back to 100 percent, which means, theoretically, he’s back to being the player that was predicted to be the National Player of the Year at this time last year.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

As a freshman, Hield was considered to be mostly a defensive stopper. Over the course of the last two seasons, however, he developed into one of the nation’s best scorers as well, averaging 17.4 points and 5.4 boards as a junior. He deserves his spot on this list, even if he plays for a team off of basketball’s beaten bath. The next step for Hield will be to solidify his jumper. At the tail end of his junior year, the 6-foot-4 Bahamian shot just 9-for-40 from beyond the arc.

Ben Simmons, LSU

Basketball fans are going to fall in love with Simmons’ game rather quickly. In the pantheon of new-age big men, Simmons, a 6-foot-9 Australian, falls somewhere between point forward and small-ball four. He’s a deft passer and a slick ball-handler, smooth in spite of his size with a flair for making dazzling plays in the open floor. He’s has a bad habit of trying to make the fancy pass instead of the easy pass, and his jumper needs work, but given his size and skill-set, Simmons will likely make a run at Kyle Collinsworth’s record of six triple-doubles in one season.

Skal Labissiere, Kentucky

Labissiere has everything that NBA teams look for in a big man these days. He’s a face-up post scorer with range, for now, out to the college three-point line. He’s functional with his back-to-the-basket. He has the size (7-feet) and the athleticism to catch lobs and finish above the rim. He can protect the rim defensively. He works hard. He wants to be good. He has a tremendous backstory. These are the kind of kids that John Calipari always has success with, and while Labissiere isn’t the defender that Anthony Davis is or the low-post scoring threat that Karl Towns is, but he should be just as good in Kentucky blue.

Denzel Valentine (AP Photo)
Denzel Valentine (AP Photo)

SECOND TEAM

  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble is the star point guard on a Maryland team that is the favorite to win the Big Ten title and has the horses to reach the Final Four. I expect Trimble’s scoring (16.0 ppg last year) to drop this year, but he’ll be this team’s engine and the guy with the ball in his hands down the stretch.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Brogdon is one of those guys that doesn’t have a weakness in his game. He can shoot, he can pass, he can score in the post, he can rebound the ball, he can defend. Tony Bennett loves guys like that, which is why Brogdon is such a perfect fit in Charlottesville.
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine is going to go from being a good player teams in the Big Ten know about to a star in the college ranks this year. As a junior, he averaged 14.5 points, 6.3 boards, 4.3 assists and shot 41.6 percent from three.
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang may be the toughest cover in the sport. The biggest question that he faces this season: How much of his success the past two seasons was due to his ability, and how much was a result of just how good Fred Hoiberg was at taking advantage of his skill-set?
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Wiltjer’s shooting splits as a junior (54.0/46.6/78.9) strongly resembled those of Doug McDermott. I get why people will make that comparison: high-scoring, sharp-shooting, defensively-lacking fours playing for programs outside the Power 5 Conferences.
Fred Van Vleet (Getty Images)
Fred Van Vleet (Getty Images)

THIRD TEAM

  • Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Jackson will be taking over the Jerian Grant role this season. Another super-talented point guard, Jackson will be put into plenty of ball-screen actions by head coach Mike Brey, something he thrives on.
  • Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State: We went with Van Vleet over Baker here. Baker may have the better pro prospects, but Van Vleet is the guy with the ball in his hands in the big moments.
  • Jamal Murray, Kentucky: I’m still not quite sure what to expect from Jamal Murray. He’s a big-time shooter that can get hot in a hurry, but is he truly a lead guard? He’s the odds-on favorite to lead Kentucky in scoring.
  • Perry Ellis, Kansas: Mr. Consistency. For some reason, Ellis always seems to be overlooked when we talk about the best players in college basketball.
  • Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones is going to sneak up on some people this season. A junior, he was one of the best big men in the SEC last season. He’ll be surrounded by shooters this year, meaning he’s going to have a ton of room to operate.

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.