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Preseason Mid-Major All-Americans

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While the average college basketball fan tends to focus on the talent on display in power conference programs, there are many talented players at the mid-major level who merit consideration.

And every year a player who may not have been discussed much during the winter due to where he plays becomes a national name, with his standout performance sparking an NCAA tournament upset.

Below are some of the best players at mid-major programs heading into the 2018-19 season, with the first team being headlined by one of the sport’s best shooters and a big man who could join the short list of 3,000-point scorers at the Division I level.

As a reminder, the following conferences were not included: American, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC. Also Gonzaga and BYU have not been considered as mid-majors.



FIRST TEAM

G FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford

You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a lengthy list of college basketball players who shoot the ball better than Magee, who as a junior was very nearly a 50/40/90 player. Averaging 22.1 points per game, Magee shot 48.4 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from three and 90.9 percent from the foul line. Among Magee’s best performances last season were a 36-point effort in a win at Georgia Tech, 27 in Wofford’s upset win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and a career-high 45 points in a win over Chattanooga in mid-February.

G JON ELMORE, Marshall

While Marshall was unable to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, losing to West Virginia in the second round, Elmore proved to be one of the most entertaining players in the field to watch. For the season Elmore averaged 22.7 points, 6.8 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game, and in Marshall’s first round win over Wichita State he racked up 27 points, four rebounds and four assists. Elmore has free reign within Dan D’Antoni’s system, and it paid off in a big way for both he and the Thundering Herd. Expect more of the same during Elmore’s senior season.

G D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State

Simonds was the subject of some NBA chatter heading into the 2017-18 season and with good reason, as he’s got good size for a lead guard (6-foot-3, 200) and can both score and distribute. As a sophomore Simonds averaged 21.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, and that was despite struggling with his perimeter shooting (29.2 percent from three). If Simonds can approach the percentage he posted as a freshman (35.6 percent) while continuing to attempt more than four three-pointers per game (1.6 three-point attempts per game as a freshman) he becomes an even tougher matchup for opponents.

F MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State

“The Dauminator” (2,232 career points) is well on his way to becoming just the ninth player in Division I history to reach the 3,000 point mark, and provided he remains healthy the senior forward is a safe bet to join that illustrious group. As a junior Daum averaged 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, winning Summit League Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Daum can knock shots down from anywhere on the court, as he shot 46.2 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from three (on 6.5 attempts per game) and 85.1 percent from the foul line.

F DEVONTAE CACOK, UNC Wilmington

As a junior Cacok was the nation’s leading rebounder, pulling down an average of 13.5 caroms per night while also scoring 17.7 points per game and shooting 58.5 percent from the field. The 6-foot-7 senior is a handful on both ends of the floor when it comes to rebounding, as his offensive (17.7) and defensive (32.0) rebounding percentages ranked second and third in the nation, respectively, according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.

Jon Elmore (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

SECOND TEAM

G CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell

In each of the last two seasons Clemons has managed to make his freshman year average of 18.5 points per game, which is more than respectable, look downright pedestrian. After averaging 25.1 points per game as a sophomore the 5-foot-9 lead guard pumped in 24.9 points per contest in 2017-18. Clemons also averaged 4.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the Camels, and he’s in line to produce another big season as a senior.

G JUSTIN WRIGHT-FOREMAN, Hofstra

The Pride managed to win 19 games last season, thanks in large part to an offensive attack anchored by Wright-Foreman. Last season’s CAA Player of the Year, the 6-foot-1 guard accounted for 24.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, shooting nearly 45 percent from the field on 19 shot attempts per game. Another season like that, and Wright-Foreman could become Hofstra’s first repeat winner of CAA Player of the Year since Charles Jenkins pulled off the feat in 2010 and 2011.

G CLAYTON CUSTER, Loyola-Chicago

The reigning Larry Bird Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year winner, Custer’s back for one final run after helping lead the Ramblers to the program’s first Final Four appearance since 1963. Custer may not have the eye-popping stats that some of the other players on this list possess (Loyola ranking 307th in adjusted tempo had a lot to do with that) but don’t let that fool you; the redshirt senior gets the job done in a variety of ways for Porter Moser’s team. Last season Custer averaged 13.2 points and 4.1 assists per game, shooting 52.8 percent from the field, 45.1 percent from three and 77.0 percent from the foul line.

F NATHAN KNIGHT, William & Mary

While he didn’t receive the attention nationally, Knight was one of college basketball’s most improved players a season ago. The 6-foot-10, 235-pounder raised his scoring average more than ten points, accounting for 18.5 per game after averaging 8.2 points per night as a freshman. Add in his 7.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 blocks per game, and that was good enough to land Knight on the CAA’s second team all-conference squad. Another step forward, and not only will Knight be a first team all-conference selection but he’ll be on the short list of CAA Player of the Year candidates as well.

C/F JAMES THOMPSON IV, Eastern Michigan

Consistency would be a good word to use in describing the 6-foot-10 senior, as he averaged a double-double in each of his first three seasons at Eastern Michigan. Last season Thompson accounted for 14.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, shooting 67.2 percent from the field, and his 20 double-doubles were the most in the MAC. In conference games Eastern Michigan was the best defensive team in the MAC with regards to efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point percentage defense, and having Thompson in the middle of Rob Murphy’s zone was a key reason why.

Clayton Custer (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

THIRD TEAM

G JERRICK HARDING, Weber State

After averaging 9.3 points per game in a reserve role as a freshman, Harding took a significant step forward in 2017-18. The 6-foot-1 guard averaged 22.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, shooting 53.0 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from three and 88.2 percent from the foul line. One of three unanimous first team All-Big Sky selections last season, Harding should be the choice for Big Sky preseason Player of the Year.

G MILIK YARBROUGH, Illinois State

Due to some offseason legal issues there were some questions regarding Yarbrough’s status for the upcoming season. However Yarbrough, who was suspended indefinitely in mid-September, participated in the Redbirds’ first practice of the season and based upon Dan Muller’s post-practice comments the redshirt senior appears OK to play. In Yarbrough the Redbirds have the player best equipped to unseat Loyola’s Clayton Custer as Larry Bird Missouri Valley Player of the Year, as he’s coming off of a season in which he averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

G CJ MASSINBURG, Buffalo

Last season Buffalo won 27 games, the MAC tournament title and whipped Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and Massinburg was one of the biggest reasons why. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 17.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game as a junior, shooting 46.8 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three and 74.3 percent from the foul line. Massinburg will once again be a key cog for a team that returns five of its top six scorers from a season ago.

F JARRELL BRANTLEY, College of Charleston

Thanks to a knee injury Brantley didn’t make his 2017-18 debut until mid-December, and after working off the rust in the Cougars’ first two games the 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward showed just how valuable he was. Brantley finished the season with averages of 17.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, shooting 50.0 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from three and 82.1 percent from the foul line. Brantley was one reason why Earl Grant’s team made the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999, and he’s in line for a good senior season as well.

F DYLAN WINDLER, Belmont

The 2017-18 season was Windler’s second as a starter, but his output was far better than what he produced the season prior. After averaging 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game in 2016-17, Windler averaged 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in 35.4 minutes per game last season. Windler’s improved production helped Belmont account for the graduation of leading scorers Evan Bradds and Taylor Barnette, with the Bruins winning 24 games and reaching the OVC tournament final.

CJ Massinburg (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

FOURTH TEAM

G GARRISON MATHEWS, Lipscomb

After averaging 20.4 points per game as a sophomore Mathews managed to improve his numbers across the board in 2017-18, averaging 21.7 points per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from beyond the arc and 79.9 percent from the charity stripe. In addition to his offensive numbers Mathews also accounted for 5.5 rebounds per night, and he’ll once again lead the way for a Lipscomb squad that won 23 games and finished second in the Atlantic Sun.

G C.J. BURKS, Marshall

The aforementioned Jon Elmore wasn’t the only Marshall guard good for at least 20 points per night. Last season Burks averaged 20.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three and 88.9 percent from the foul line. And this all happened after the 6-foot-3 guard averaged 9.8 points per game in a reserve role as a sophomore. Look for another standout season from the senior guard in 2018-19.

G MAX HEIDEGGER, UCSB

Heidegger was a key contributor for the Gauchos in Joe Pasternak’s first season as head coach, as he averaged 19.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in helping to lead UCSB to 23 wins and a second place finish in the Big West. And after struggling with his shot in a reserve role as a freshman the 6-foot-3 Heidegger made noticeable strides last season, raising his field goal (from 26.8 to 43.2 percent) and three-point field goal (20.5 to 40.4) percentages substantially.

F PHIL FAYNE, Illinois State

The aforementioned Yarbrough doesn’t lack for help on an Illinois State squad that has the pieces needed to dethrone Loyola in the Missouri Valley, with Fayne being the Redbirds’ top option in the front court. Last season the 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward averaged 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, shooting 59.5 percent from the field. A second team all-conference selection, Fayne merits serious consideration for preseason first team All-Valley.

F/C CHARLES BASSEY, Western Kentucky

Given the plethora of talented upperclassmen at the mid-major level, this pick may raise some eyebrows. But there’s no denying the talent that the 6-foot-11 freshman from Nigeria possesses. Bassey was considered to be a Top 10 recruit in the Class of 2018, and his athleticism in the post gives WKU an option that last season’s team did not have. And all that team did was win 27 games and reach the semifinals of the Postseason NIT.

HONORABLE MENTION

Francis Alonso, UNCG
James Batemon, Loyola Marymount
Keith Braxton, Saint Francis (PA)
Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern
John Carroll, Hartford
RJ Cole, Howard
Ernie Duncan, Vermont
KJ Feagin, Santa Clara
Armon Fletcher, Southern Illinois
JaKeenan Gant, Louisiana
Tyler Hall, Montana State
Scottie James, Liberty
John Konchar, IPFW
Anthony Lamb, Vermont
Ja Morant, Murray State
Nick Perkins, Buffalo
Isaiah Piniero, San Diego
Ed Polite Jr., Radford
Vasa Pusica, Northeastern
Isaiah Reese, Canisius
Grant Riller, College of Charleston
Ahmaad Rorie, Montana
Dimencio Vaughn, Rider

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.

Lawsuit filed after two casinos couldn’t take March Madness bets

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A casino operator is suing a tech company after a contract dispute shuttered its sports betting platform at two West Virginia casinos ahead of the NCAA Tournament.

A Friday news release from Delaware North says it’s filed a civil suit seeking monetary damages against United Kingdom-based Miomni Gaming and its CEO, Michael P. Venner.

Miomni’s contract dispute with a third-party technology supplier has prevented Delaware North’s Mardi Gras Casino in Nitro and the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack from taking new sports wagers since March 6.

The casino operator’s lawsuit says Miomni misrepresented its ownership of a key part of the sports betting platform.

A voicemail left with Miomni was not immediately returned.

The suit was filed late Thursday in Delaware.

Gonzaga’s Tillie, Norvell declare for NBA draft

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Gonzaga junior forward Killian Tillie and sophomore guard Zach Norvell will both test the NBA waters.

The school said this weekend that both players will submit their names for the NBA draft, but could return to school.

Under new NCAA rules, college players can retain the services of an agent during the evaluation process but must end the relationship and withdraw from the draft by May 29. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke have also declared for the NBA draft.

A 6-foot-5 guard from Chicago, Norvell started 36 of 37 games in 2019, averaging 14.9 points and 3.1 assists. He led the West Coast Conference with 97 3-pointers and 37 percent from the arc.

Norvell averaged 12.7 points as a redshirt freshman in 2017-18. The Zags have reached the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament when Norvell has played.

Tillie had an injury-filled junior season, missing 22 games with multiple issues. Tillie appeared in only 15 games and averaged 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds. He shot 50 percent in his limited action. He was a preseason all-West Coast Conference selection after a sophomore season where the 6-foot-10 native of France averaged 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.