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College Basketball’s Under The Radar Stars

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Deandre Bembry, St. Joseph’s

The 6-foot-6 small forward does a little bit of everything for the Hawks. His numbers last season: 17.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.6 apg and 1.9 spg. There’s a reason that the junior’s been climbing up NBA Draft boards despite the fact that he plays for a St. Joseph’s team that is fairly far removed from the Atlantic 10 title race. Oh, and he may have the best hair in college hoops.

[MORE: Top 100 players | CBT Top 25]

Robert Carter, Maryland

As a sophomore at Georgia Tech, Carter averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 boards. But that was nearly two years — and 25 pounds — ago, and that was also on a bad Georgia Tech team. Carter is now on a very good Maryland team, and he’s going to play a critical role for a group that has a shot at winning a national title. You wouldn’t know that based on the preseason hype, however. Melo Trimble, Jake Layman and Diamond Stone are the three guys with NBA Draft hype entering the season, and the circumstances surrounding Rasheed Sulaimon’s transfer to the Terps make him the more interesting discussion point. But if you talk to people around the Maryland program, Carter may end up being the Terps’ best player.

Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

Collinsworth set a single-season record and tied the NCAA’s career record for triple-doubles last season for the Cougars, finishing with six. He played 33 games, meaning that once every 5.5 games, Collinsworth posted a triple-double. If Collinsworth suited up, there was an 18.2 percent chance that he’d post a triple-double. Think about that for a second. For comparison’s sake, in Kentucky’s illustrious basketball history, they’ve had one triple-double.

One.

Collinsworth had six last season.

Jack Gibbs, Davidson

Bob McKillop had his best post-Steph team at Davidson this past season, and the engine of that group was the 6-foot Gibbs. Just a sophomore last season, Gibbs averaged 16.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.7 boards with shooting splits of 47.9/42.5/85.6. He’s not Steph Curry — no one is, or ever will be — but he led the Wildcats from being predicted to finish at the bottom of the league to an A-10 title.

RELATED: NBCSports All-Americans | Best Freshman | Breakout Stars

Daniel Hamilton (AP Photo)
Daniel Hamilton (AP Photo)

Daniel Hamilton, UConn

When you think of recent UConn teams, you think of dynamic, personality-laden lead guards. Kemba Walker won a national title and turned the reins over to Shabazz Napier, who, three years later, won a title of his own. Last year, this was Ryan Boatright’s team and this season, Kevin Ollie’s back court includes senior Sterling Gibbs and freshman Jalen Adams. But this season, the best Husky might end up being Hamilton, a 6-foot-7 wins that averaging 10.9 points, 7.6 boards and 3.7 assists as a freshman. Here’s the thing about Hamilton: He entered UConn with the reputation for being a gunner, a player that bordered on selfish who looked for his shot first, second and third. He finished his freshman season leading the team in rebounding — he led the AAC in rebounding during league play, averaging 9.1 boards — and second in assists. He could very well end up being the AAC Player of the Year this season.

Danuel House, Texas A&M

House was one of the biggest surprises in college basketball last season mainly because he was declared immediately eligible for the Aggies three games into the season. Seriously. Billy Kennedy’s club struggled through their first two games at a tournament in Puerto Rico the week before Thanksgiving and won the third game of the event when House played and scored 18 points in 29 minutes. On the season, he averaged 14.8 points, as the former five-star recruit helped lead the Aggies to within a win or two of the NCAA tournament. His return, along with the addition of a talented recruiting class, is a major reason pundits believe A&M can finish second in the SEC.

Hassan Martin, Rhode Island

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better defensive player in college basketball than Martin, a 6-foot-7, 230 pound forward that finished his sophomore season averaging 3.1 blocks. Danny Hurley has stockpiled quite a bit of talent on URI’s roster, with guys like E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell and Kuran Iverson in the fray, but Martin’s ability to anchor the defense is just as important as any of those three players.

Sheldon McClellan, Miami

McClellan’s career has been played in relative anonymity. He played two years at Texas, transferring after the disappointing 2012-13 season in which the Longhorns lost in the first round of the CBI to Houston. He left for Miami with little fanfare, a part of the exodus that most believed to be addition by subtraction. After sitting out a season in Coral Gables, McClellan put together a terrific year that was hardly noticed. Miami won 25 games, but went to the NIT. Their two bigs wins, at Florida and at Duke, came when the maddeningly inconsistent Angel Rodriguez went bananas. Quietly, McClellan averaged 14.5 points with shooting splits of 48.4/35.8/82.4.

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

Gary Payton II, Oregon State

The son of … well, you know, “The Mitten” is arguably the best perimeter defender in college basketball this season. That shouldn’t be at all surprising. He’s also a 6-foot-3 senior that averaged 13.4 points, 7.5 boards and 3.2 assists to go along with those 3.1 steals. Junior’s jumper left much to be desired a season ago, as he shot at just 29.3 percent clip from beyond the arc, but he’s still the biggest reason why an Oregon State tournament appearance isn’t completely out of the question this year.

Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa

Coming out of high school, Uthoff was a top 150 recruit that eventually wound up at Wisconsin, redshirting his freshman season with the Badgers. He left the program in somewhat controversial fashion, as Bo Ryan restricted him from transferring to more than 25 schools. He’d end up sitting out another season as a result, meaning that when he finally did suit up for the Hawkeyes in 2013-14, it had been more than two years since he played a meaningful game. This past season, Uthoff played well as Iowa’s second option, averaging 12.4 points and 6.4 boards, but with Aaron White gone, he’s going to be asked to carry much more of the load this year. He’s good enough to do that, meaning he’s a sleeper to be a first-team all-Big Ten player this year.

Taurean Waller-Prince, Baylor

Waller-Prince came off the bench for the Bears last season and ended up as the program’s leading scorer, averaging 13.9 points and 5.6 boards in just 26 minutes while shooting 39.5 percent from three. Prince’s versatility is what makes him so valuable. He’s strong to play the four if needed, but he can also defend on the perimeter, giving Baylor one of the nation’s most physically imposing front lines.

James Webb III, Boise State

I’ve written plenty about Webb this preseason, and it’s because I think he’s going to have a terrific season for the Broncos. The 6-foot-8 redshirt junior was very impressive at the Nike Skills Academy this summer. He’s long and athletic with range out to the three-point line — he should 40.9 percent out there last season — and will play a critical role for the Broncos this season as they try to find a way to overcome the graduation of Derrick Marks.

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.