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What if USA Basketball’s World Cup team was only college players?

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Since none of the best American pros seems all that interested in playing in the FIBA World Cup, we decided that it would be fun to take a swing at putting together a World Cup team built with nothing but college players. 

This is that team.

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COACH: Matt Painter, Purdue

This was a tough decision, but I’m going with Painter over the rest of the field because of the way that he can change what he wants to do and how his teams play. Purdue has been one of the best programs in all of college hoops the past four seasons, finishing in the top ten on KenPom three times – and no lower than 19th – while playing three very different styles. They went from using two bigs with Caleb Swanigan at the four to playing four shooters about Isaac Haas to basing an entire offense on running Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline off of pin-downs and DHOs.

Put another, he relies less on playing a specific brand of basketball and thrives on finding a way to make the pieces on his roster fit together, and in this situation, that makes the most sense to me.

And he has experience in the international ranks, having taken his Purdue team overseas for the 2017 World University Games. The Boilermakers did not win that event largely because his team was not overwhelmingly more talented than everyone they came across, like the rest of the coaches with experience running Team USA at youth levels.

ASSISTANTS: Mark Adams, Texas Tech, and Ed Cooley, Providence

I want Adams on this staff for his defensive mind. He was the brainchild behind what Texas Tech has done the last two seasons, and I personally love the way that his defenses force offenses to the baseline and takes away any and all sets they want to run. I have Cooley here because of the way his teams run through point guards and the prevalence of ball-screens on offense, and with a team that is more or less built around Cassius Winston, that is important.

Jarron Cumberland (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

STARTERS

CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

This is the easy and obvious pick. Winston is the very obvious pick for Preseason National Player of the Year, and I’m honestly not sure if there is anyone else that can be in this discussion. He’s coming off of a year where he averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists while leading an injury ravaged Michigan State team to a Big Ten regular season title, a Big Ten tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. He’s a senior point guard that thrives in ball-screens, that is unselfish and that is an efficient shooter and scorer. He is the guy that we need to build this team around.

TYRESE HALIBURTON, Iowa State

No player has risen more in the minds of basketball people than Haliburton has in the last 18 months. From a complete afterthought as a recruit to a potential top 20 pick, Haliburton is coming off of a terrific showing in the U19 World Cup. He’s a 6-foot-5 guard that can play the point, defend multiple positions and shoots threes at a 43.4 percent clip. He’s the perfect wing in the modern era of basketball.

JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati

Cumberland is one of the most underappreciated talents in college hoops, as he is coming off of a season where he posted 18.8 points, 4.4 boards and 3.6 assists for Cincinnati while shooting 38.8 percent from three. He’s 6-foot-5 but a physical 205 pounds can will be able to guard bigger wings. He’s also a veteran presence, a scorer that can create for himself and a guy that spent the last three years playing for Mick Cronin. You know the toughness is there.

KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Florida

Blackshear might be better suited to playing on a team where he is the starting five, but I think he fits as the four in this situation. He can score in and around the paint, but he’s also a capable three-point shooter with the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He’s also one of the few veteran bigs in college hoops right now that has the chance to play in the NBA one day. Getting a 23-year old to pair with a roster full of freshmen and sophomore posts matters.

JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis

Wiseman is one of just three freshmen on this team and the only one that I have slotted as a starter. The favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Wiseman is a 7-foot center with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and all the athleticism in the world. He has decent touch and a perimeter stroke that is developing, meaning that there is a world where he is one day a floor-spacer in addition to being the kind of rim-runner I envision him being on this team. Part of the reason I have him starting here is that I think he’ll thrive as the roll man on a team with Winston and three shooters around him. I also think that, if motivated, he has the ability to do the kind of things that Mark Adams will ask a five-man to do defensively.

Wiseman’s status as a No. 1 pick as more to do with his potential longterm than what he is at this very moment, but I do think that the current version of Wiseman is the best fit at the five on this team.

Myles Powell (Elsa/Getty Images)

BENCH

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: There are two talented, undersized scoring guards in the Big East heading into next season and I was only going to take one of them. I went with Powell, who is more athletic, a better defender and less ball-dominant than Marquette guard Markus Howard. Put another way, I think that Powell would fit better on a team where the offense isn’t built entirely around him than Howard is.

COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Anthony is a bit of a weird fit on this team, but I think that he is a pretty good change-of-pace for Winston in the backcourt. He will more or less operate as the backup point guard on this roster, and while he plays the position a totally different way than Winston does, an aggressive, score-first guard with athleticism and the stones to take and make tough shots is needed on this roster.

TRE JONES, Duke: Jones is here for one reason and one reason only: perimeter defense. We have yet to see him be anything other than a liability on the offensive end of the floor, but assuming that he spent the offseason working on improving his perimeter stroke, the hope is that will not be the case anymore. Either way, one thing this roster lacked was a lockdown on-ball defender, and Jones will provide it without needing a certain number of shots to be kept happy.

ISAIAH JOE, Arkansas: I wanted shooting. Isaiah Joe is a shooter, knocking down 41.4 percent of his threes with more than eight attempted per game as a freshman. He is also about 6-foot-5 and averaged 1.5 steals at Arkansas, which means he should be able to contribute defensively as well.

AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois: Dosunmu had flashes of brilliance as a freshmen but ultimately returned to school for his sophomore season to prove he’s more of a lead guard than a combo and to continue to develop his jumper. His presence as a secondary ball-handler and what he can bring defensively makes him a nice fit in this roster build.

TRES TINKLE, Oregon State: Tinkle is not a name that many people are going to know, but he is an absolute baller and a big-time scorer. He is coming off of a season where he averaged 20.8 points, 8.1 boards and 3.8 assists, and at 6-foot-8, he has the kind of size that will allow him to play the four in smaller lineups while keeping the floor spaced.

ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: Stewart make end up being the most productive freshman in college hoops this season. He’s 6-foot-9, 250 pounds and a terrific rebounder and finisher in the lane. He’s not all that switchable or much of a rim-protector, but he’ll allow this group to matchup with teams that still play big-bodied posts.

REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State: Perry is going to be one of the breakout stars of college basketball this season. He’s coming off of an MVP run through the U19 World Cup, and the former McDonald’s All-American really came on strong down the stretch of last season.

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.