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Saturday’s Things To Know: The Big 12 rolls, Kentucky’s back, Justin Robinson breaks out

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PLAYERS OF THE DAY: Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech

Robinson had the game of his life on Saturday afternoon.

The senior point guard, who has spent much of this season overshadowed by the emergence of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, scored 24 of his 35 points in the first half, hit nine of his 13 threes and handed out eight assists as No. 10 Virginia Tech bounced back from a couple of embarrassing losses at Virginia and at North Carolina to mollywhop Syracuse in Blacksburg.

The Hokies jumped out to an early double-digit lead, pushed the lead to 19 points by halftime and ended up cruising through the second half as the Syracuse zone had no answer for their ability to pass the ball and shoot over the top of the Orange defenders.

This was exactly the kind of win that Buzz Williams’ team needed to get their confidence back and headed in the right direction.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Kentucky Wildcats

It doesn’t get much better than knocking off a top ten team and getting the nation back on your bandwagon. We wrote about about No. 8 Kentucky beating No. 9 Kansas right here.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Braxton Beverly, N.C. State

The Wolfpack trailed 67-61 with 20 seconds left. After four missed free throws from Marcquise Reed, Braxton Beverly hit this shot to give N.C. State the win:

EXTRA ONIONS: The Hausers

And we all thought that Markus Howard was the bucket-getter for Marquette.

Well, he still is. He had 31 points today. But just as important as those 31 points were the 41 points and 14 boards that Sam and Joey Hauser combined for as No. 12 Marquette erased an 11-point deficit late in the second half on Saturday. There wasn’t a single shot that stood out, but that duo made big shot after big shot, and then hit clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the win.

With those two playing as well as they have been playing, Marquette is looking more and more like a serious Final Four threat.

SATURDAY WAS A GOOD DAY FOR …

THE BIG 12: Thanks to an impressive feat of scheduling, the Big 12 was able to cruise past the SEC in the Big 12/SEC Challenge thanks in large part to the fact that three of the top five teams in the SEC — No. 16 Auburn, No. 22 Mississippi State and No. 25 LSU — were not playing in the event. Kansas-Kentucky was a thriller, and Iowa State-Ole Miss had some intrigue even if it didn’t live up to it, but beyond that, the slate as a whole was something of a snooze.

But it worked out for the Big 12. They won the event 6-4.

THE BIG THREE: It’s not exactly surprising given the competition that they were playing, but No. 1 Tennessee, No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 Duke all cruised to blowout wins. Tennessee was challenged early by West Virginia, Duke was challenged a little longer by Georgia Tech, but overall there wasn’t much of a sweat.

QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON: Weatherspoon finished with 27 points, scoring 20 in the second half as No. 22 Mississippi State landed a much-needed win over No. 16 Auburn, 92-84.

LINDELL WIGGINTON: It has been awhile since we’ve seen Wigginton play like the guy that was arguably the best returning guard in the Big 12 this season, but he did on Saturday. Wigginton scored 18 points in 21 minutes off the bench, shooting 7-for-10 from three and making three threes to help Iowa State land a win at Ole Miss. Getting Wigginton and Cameron Lard playing better is the key to the Cyclones reaching their season.

SATURDAY WAS A BAD DAY FOR …

KANSAS STATE: The Wildcats had won five straight games, turning their season around and setting themselves on a course as one of college basketball’s biggest sleepers, and then the SEC/Big 12 Challenge comes along and Kansas State goes and loses to Texas A&M, who entered this game with a 7-10 record having lost six of their last seven. That’s not ideal.

MISSOURI: The Tigers led No. 25 LSU by 14 points with 2:08 left, and not only did they managed to find a way to get to overtime, but they lost in overtime and failed to cover 5.5 points. This was a bad beat for Missouri and the people that bet on them.

TRAVIS STEELE: It’s bad enough that Xavier blew an 11 point second half lead and lost at home to No. 12 Marquette, but part of the reason that the Musketeers lost is that Steele, with 3:34 left in the game, was hit with a technical foul right after Marquette had regained the lead. He’s had better days.

ISAAC COPELAND: Not only did Nebraska lose at home to Ohio State, the third straight loss for the Huskers as they fight for a spot in the NCAA tournament, but they suffered a much more significant loss: Isaac Copeland is done for the year after tearing his ACL, and he tore it going up for a meaningless dunk after he was called for a travel. Just brutal.

JORDAN GOODWIN: The Billikens might have lost their chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament on Saturday with a 54-53 loss to Davidson, and that loss was due to Jordan Goodwin missing a pair of free throws with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock. That’s a tough one to swallow.

FINAL THOUGHT

Overall, I know the Big Ten is a good basketball conference.

There are two very real national title contenders at the top of the league in Michigan and Michigan State, and they legit.

But beyond that, what are we talking about here?

Because the further we get into the season, the more that I am starting to believe that there is a giant mass of mediocrity in the league once you get past the top two teams.

We all thought Maryland was the team that was going to emerge as the contender to the Michigan schools, but after getting worked by the Wolverines, the Terps turned around and lost to Illinois on Saturday. That’s not good. Neither is the emergence of Wisconsin as potentially the third-best team in the conference after they had a string of losing four out of five, including a home game to Minnesota and a pair of games where they couldn’t crack 15 first half points. Purdue has looked great in metrics like KenPom and NET, but that’s largely due to the number of close losses they have against the likes of Florida State, Virginia Tech and Texas. I don’t trust Iowa or Minnesota. Ohio State just snapped a five-game losing streak against Nebraska, who is on a three-game losing streak. Indiana has lost six in a row.

I fully expect at least nine teams from the Big Ten to get to the NCAA tournament because the Pac-12 is awful, the Mountain West only has one potential at-large team and the Atlantic 10 has none. The bids have to come from somewhere.

But that doesn’t mean I think that those teams are going to be great once they get there.

Bill Self has “no knowledge” if Kansas will be among schools receiving notice of allegations

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NCAA vice president for regulatory affairs Stan Wilcox told CBS Sports last week that at least six schools will receive notice of allegations stemming from evidence and testimony that emanated from the federal government’s probe into corruption in college basketball, with two schools likely to be served early next month.

“We’re moving forward and you’ll see consequences,” Wilcox said.

If one of those schools is Kansas, which was often at the center of developments in the saga, it’s unknown to Jayhawks coach Bill Self.

“I have no knowledge of who he was talking about or anything like that,” Self said Monday, according to the Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World. “But certainly the fan bases of all the (programs) that were mentioned, I’m sure, are very interested in what he meant by that.”

It’s not surprising that Self wouldn’t be in the know here, but his comments echo those made by others critical of Wilcox’s statements, with allegations of prejudgement by the NCAA given allegations haven’t even been formally submitted to schools.

“So now that’s it over, we’re going to be moving forward with a number of Level I cases that will help people realize that, ‘Yeah, the enforcement staff was in a position to move forward,'” Wilcox told CBS Sports.

Upwards of 20 schools were mentioned in the federal probe.

“I just think to predetermine what’s going to happen before investigations are done, I think that comes pretty strong,” Self said, per the Journal-World. “I was shocked to read that something could be said that was not specifically intended for anyone, but it made all 20 schools that were mentioned in the FBI deal and their fan base feel like it was.”

Wilcox did confirm, however, that the NCAA will not have access to a reported wiretap that was alleged to feature Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend discussing financial arrangements around the recruitment of Zion Williamson, who ultimately went to Duke and is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft later this week. No such wiretap was entered into evidence during a trial.

Wilcox’s statements regarding the investigations were atypical, and symbolic of the situation the NCAA finds itself in. The government announced its investigation nearly two years ago, and the twists, turns and revelations of that probe have played out publicly in court rooms, legal documents and news reports over that whole time while the NCAA, understandably, sat out its hands while the legal process was playing out. That leaves many wondering when and how the governing body of the sport will react while the NCAA likely wants to send a message that programs can’t act with impunity. But when you’re judge and jury, as the NCAA is, any whiff of a decision being made before the conclusion of its own investigation is going to draw justified criticism – particularly from the schools whom it effects the most.

 

 

LaMelo Ball to continue professional career in Australia

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LaMelo Ball will never make it to a college campus after all.

Lonzo’s youngest brother and the baby of the Ball family announced on Monday afternoon that he will be continuing his professional career playing for the Illawarra Hawks of the Australian National Basketball League. He previously suited up for a professional team in Lithuania. There had been some speculation that he would try to get himself cleared to play collegiately, but few believed there was any real possibility of getting cleared by the NCAA.

Which means that LaMelo will be heading down under before entering the 2020 NBA Draft.

And I am sure that the family name and memories that we all have of a 6-foot-nothing LaMelo Ball cherry-picking to try and score 100 points while shooting ridiculous, off-balance, step-back threes every possession will make the majority of people reading this scoff at the idea of LaMelo getting drafted, but the truth of the matter is that he is a very real NBA prospect.

He’s 6-foot-7 now. He has the passing, the deep shooting range and the ball-handling to be projectable as a wing player in the NBA. He’s still just 17 years old, believe it or not, and there is still room for him to grow into his still-developing frame. The big concern with him is two-fold — toughness and defense — and those questions are going to get answered playing in the NBL, a league that is much more physical than its Aussie reputation would lead you to believe.

Ball has very limited experience playing against that level of competition. Even when he was in Lithuania, he was not playing against the top tier of the nation’s professional teams. He is going to be tested and required to prove himself if he wants to be a first round pick, but I feel very confident in saying this: Every 2020 mock draft that you read this week is going to include Ball’s name in there somewhere. That’s the kind of potential that he has.

USC grad transfer Thornton picks Boston College over Gonzaga

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Derryck Thornton is heading back to the ACC.

On Monday, multiple reports surfaced that the USC grad transfer and former Duke point guard would be heading to Boston College for his final season of eligibility. Thornton was a five-star prospect as a high school junior, opting to leave school and enroll at Duke a year early. He was a part of the class that also included Brandon Ingram, Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter, but he left the program after one up-and-down year that saw him start just 20 games and averaged 7.1 points and 2.6 assists.

Thornton headed back west to USC, where he averaged 7.7 points and 4.3 assists as a junior.

His return to the ACC is most notable for who he did not pick. Thornton was initially thought to be a Gonzaga lean, as the Bulldogs are in the market for a veteran point guard after losing Josh Perkins. Thornton was one of their main targets, but he instead opted on heading to the program that turned Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman into all-league players and, in Robinson’s case, a lottery pick.

That, in theory, is huge for BC, who could use the injection of talent, but even with Thornton in the fold, this doesn’t exactly look like a tournament team.

It’s far more interesting Gonzaga. As it stands, the starting point guard spot looks like it will be Admon Gilder’s — a grad transfer from Texas A&M that would ideally play off-the-ball — if freshman Brock Ravet can’t handle the job. The remaining crop of point guard grad transfers don’t appear to be the kind of players that will be able to impact a season for a team that is expected to be as good as Gonzaga is.

College Basketball 2019-2020 Preseason Top 25

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There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.

But we’re doing it anyway!

A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them. 

So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.

1. MICHIGAN STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
  • WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry, Xavier Tillman

2. KENTUCKY

  • WHO’S GONE: P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Reid Travis
  • WHO’S BACK: E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickly, Nick Richards
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, E.J. Montgomery

3. DUKE

  • WHO’S GONE: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden
  • WHO’S BACK: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Vernon Carey

4. KANSAS

  • WHO’S GONE: Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson, Quintin Grimes, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Mitch Lightfoot, David McCormack
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna, Isaac McBride, Christian Braun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji, Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike

5. VILLANOVA

  • WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
  • WHO’S BACK: Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree, Brandon Slater
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Bryan Antoine, Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

6. LOUISVILLE

  • WHO’S GONE: Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams, Darius Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Samuell Williamson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry, Fresh Kimble, David Johnson, Aidan Igiehom, Quinn Slazinski
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Fresh Kimble, Samuell Williamson, Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora, Malik Williams

7. MARYLAND

  • WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
  • WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Darryl Morsell
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Chol Marial, Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell, Donta Scott
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Jalen Smith

8. VIRGINIA

  • WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
  • WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kadin Shedrick, Justin McKoy
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff

9. TEXAS TECH

  • WHO’S GONE: Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, Brandone Francis, Norense Odiase, Khavon Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Chris Beard, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew, Andrei Savrasov
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jahmius Ramsey, Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield, Kevin McCullar, Russel Tchewa, Terrence Shannon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jahmius Ramsey, Davide Moretti, Deshawn Corprew, T.J. Holyfield, Chris Clarke

10. GONZAGA

  • WHO’S GONE: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall, Jeremy Jones
  • WHO’S BACK: Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Admon Gilder, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo, Brock Ravet, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zahkarov
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Brock Ravet, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev

11. SETON HALL

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Nzei
  • WHO’S BACK: Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Tyrese Samuel
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quincy McKnight, Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu

12. NORTH CAROLINA

  • WHO’S GONE: Coby White, Nassir Little, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Robinson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cole Anthony, Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

13. ARIZONA

  • WHO’S GONE: Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther, Brandon Randolph
  • WHO’S BACK: Dylan Smith, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams, Alex Barcello, Ira Lee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Terry Armstrong, Christian Koloko, Zeke Nnaji, Stone Gettings
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Max Hazzard, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Ira Lee, Chase Jeter

14. UTAH STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Quinn Taylor
  • WHO’S BACK: Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta, Diogo Brito, Brock Miller, Abel Porter
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alphonso Anderson, Liam McChesney, Sean Bairstow
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Diogo Brito, Abel Porter, Sam Merrill, Brock Miller, Neemias Queta

15. SAINT MARY’S

  • WHO’S GONE: Jordan Hunter
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Dan Fotu, Jock Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alex Ducas, Kyle Bowen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Malik Fitts, Jock Perry

16. XAVIER

  • WHO’S GONE: Ryan Welage, Zach Hankins, Kyle Castlin, Elias Harden
  • WHO’S BACK: Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kyky Tandy, Dahmir Bishop, Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, Daniel Ramsey, Dieonte Miles
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Jason Carter, Tyrique Jones

17. LSU

  • WHO’S GONE: Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Kavell-Bigby Williams
  • WHO’S BACK: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor, Darius Days
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Trendon Watford, James Bishop
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Trendon Watford, Emmitt Williams

18. BAYLOR

  • WHO’S GONE: King McClure, Makai Mason, Jake Lindsey
  • WHO’S BACK: Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler, Jared Butler, Devonte Bandoo, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillespie, Matthew Mayer
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jordan Turner, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, Mark Vital, Mario Kegler, Tristan Clark

19. MEMPHIS

  • WHO’S GONE: Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks Jr., Raynere Thornton, Kareem Brewton, Antwann Jones Jr.
  • WHO’S BACK: Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
  • WHO’S COMING IN: James Wiseman, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge, Damian Baugh, Lance Thomas, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyler Harris, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Precious Achiuwa, James Wiseman

20. AUBURN

  • WHO’S GONE: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer, Chuma Okeke
  • WHO’S BACK: Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola, Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy, Isaac Okoro, Anfernee McLemore

21. TENNESSEE

  • WHO’S GONE: Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone, Grant Williams
  • WHO’S BACK: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons, Derrick Walker Jr., John Fulkerson, D.J. Burns, Jalen Johnson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Josiah James, Drew Pember, Olivier Nkamoua, Davonte Gaines
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Josiah James, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

22. CREIGHTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Froling, Kaleb Joseph, Connor Cashaw
  • WHO’S BACK: Davion Mintz, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson, Damien Jefferson, Marcus Zegarowski
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Shereef Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mintz, Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson

23. VCU

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Gilmore
  • WHO’S BACK: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Vince Williams, Mike’L Simms, P.J. Byrd, Malik Crawford
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jarren McAlister
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Vince Williams, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva

24. OHIO STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington, Kyle Young, Justin Aherns, Musa Jallow, Jaedon LeDee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, EJ Liddel, Ibrahima Diallo, CJ Walker
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson

25. DAVIDSON

  • WHO’S GONE: Nathan Ekwu, Dusan Kovacevic
  • WHO’S BACK: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luka Brajkovic, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Carter Collins, David Czerapowicz, Bates Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Hyunjung Lee, David Kristensen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Luka Brajkovic

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”