NCAA

Bracket Breakdown: North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas give Midwest its blue bloods

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If you want bluebloods, I know where to find them.

The Midwest.

Three of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball sit in the Midwest this year. North Carolina is the No. 1 seed. Kentucky is the No. 2 seed. Kansas is the No. 4 seed. If all four of them can make it to Kansas City, the Sprint Center will be the toughest ticket in sports during the second weekend of the event.

And that’s not all.

Because Houston, who stormed through the American this season, is also in the Midwest, as is SEC tournament champion Auburn and Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State.

Without a doubt, this is the toughest region in the bracket.

Let’s dive into the Midwest breakdown.

THREE STORYLINES

  1. NORTH CAROLINA GOT A SWEET 16 ROAD GAME?: The Tar Heels are the No. 1 seed in the region, and the reward for that is that they get sent to the Midwest to play their regional in Kansas City. If seeds hold, they will be forced to face-off with Kansas in Kansas City in the Sweet 16. If they win that, then they’ll likely end up with: A) Kentucky, which is half the distance from Kansas City; B) Houston, which is actually located in the Midwest; or C) Iowa State, who has a fanbase that considers the Sprint Center Hilton Coliseum South. That’s tough.
  2. MIGHT THIS BE THE END OF BILL SELF AT KANSAS?: There have been seemingly unending rumors that are linking Bill Self to a move out of the college ranks thanks to this FBI investigation into college basketball and the association that his Kansas program has with it. If Self was ever going to jump to the NBA, this seems like it would be a good time to make the move. Get out of town before the NCAA shows up to vacate something.
  3. DID KENTUCKY PEAK TOO SOON?: The Wildcats spend the month of January steamrolling anyone that got in their way. They’ve struggled a bit since then, and while the only losses that they have taken during that span came against LSU and Tennessee, Kentucky was not at their best in a couple of other wins. They are going to need a dominant P.J. Washington to show up, and Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson making shots would probably be a good thing as well.

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky

It’s weird: in the bracket that has the most blueblood programs in it, I feel the least confident about two of those bluebloods battling it out for the right to get to the Final Four. That’s because the rest of the region is really strong. I think that Auburn is a dangerous team that can force turnovers and get on three-point shooting runs with the best of them. Iowa State is a matchup nightmare with a ceiling as high as anyone’s on the right day. Even North Carolina and Kentucky have proven to have a certain level of inconsistency in recent years, and there may be a reason for that: Both UNC and UK start a freshman point guard.

THE FINAL FOUR SLEEPER IS … No. 5 Auburn or No. 6 Iowa State

I really do think both of these teams are dangerous enough to get to the Final Four, but I, for one, will not have the guts to take either one of them.

Because they both have the ability to lose in the first round of the tournament.

Auburn can put up points in a hurry. They love to press, they love to force turnovers, they lose to run and gun, and they love to put up threes. We saw against Tennessee in the SEC title game just how dangerous they can be when they are firing on all cylinders.

Iowa State, however, is a better bet to make a run. They have four play-making wins on their roster, flanking a couple of talented and productive big men. They can really shoot it, they are a nightmare to try to defend, and — after seemingly falling off of a cliff late in the regular season — a player’s only meeting before the Big 12 tournament turned this ship around.

(Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

HERE ARE YOUR UPSETS

No. 13 NORTHEASTERN vs. No. 4 KANSAS: Kansas starts four freshmen. One is their third string center. One was supposed to be a redshirt this season. Northeastern? They’re built like a mid-major winner: They shoot the cover off the ball, they don’t turn the rock over, they don’t give up offensive boards, and they control tempo. Upset city.

No. 6 IOWA STATE to the Elite 8: Every time that I get on the Iowa State bandwagon, the Cyclones turnaround and completely implode. That’s not going to happen this time because I am decidedly no on the Iowa State bandwagon, I’m just picking them to go to the Elite 8. There’s a very big difference.

BUT DON’T PICK THIS UPSET

No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE vs. No. 5 AUBURN: I want to love this NMSU team, but I can’t. I don’t think they have the horses to play with this Auburn team when Bruce Pearl gets them fired up and ready to play.

THE STUDS

  • CAM JOHNSON, North Carolina: Every one loves Coby White and Nassir Little, but it’s Johnson that has been their best player this season.
  • DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas: Lawson has been the one consistently bright spot for the Jayhawks this season, posting double-doubles seemingly every single night.
  • MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: Powell is as explosive of a scorer as you’ll find in this year’s NCAA tournament. He can go for 25 in any given half.
  • P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky: When Washington plays at his best, when he’s a 20-and-10 guy, the Wildcats are at their best.

THE STARS OF MARCH

  • FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford: He is going to set the career record for threes made in a career if he makes three in the tournament. He shoots a ton and has the ultimate green light.
  • D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State: He called his shot in the Sun Belt conference tournament, guaranteeing a win. If he calls his shot to beat No. 3 seed Houston, we need to be on it.
  • SAM MERRILL, Utah State: Neemias Queta is the guy with NBA potential that has folks buzzing, but Merrill is Utah State’s best player.

ONE GAME TO WATCH: No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall

Fletcher Magee is must-see TV. Myles Powell is must-see TV. When they are trading three-point haymakers in a knockout game, the only excuse for not watching is a coma.

ONE GAME THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn

These two teams want to run and gun as much as anyone in the sport right now, and the best part of seeing them face off would be that both rosters are capable of making all of those threes they fired. This game could get played in the 90s. That would be fun.

AND THE WINNER IS …

North Carolina.

I know it’s pretty corny to pick yet another No. 1 seed from the ACC to the Final Four, but I think that this Carolina team can get the job done.

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.”