Taurean Waller-Prince

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WEEKLY AWARDS: Utah’s Jakob Poeltl shines, UNC’s big week

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Jakob Poeltl, Utah

Poeltl has turned into a full-fledged monster in the season’s first month, and it was on full display this past week. On Wednesday, when the Utes hosted arch-rival BYU at the Huntsman Center, Poeltl put together arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 26 points, 13 boards and five blocks in a game that Utah dominated for more than 36 minutes. He followed that up with 21 points, six boards and six assists (!) in a win over IPFW. On the week, Poeltl shot 21-for-28 (75%) from the field and upped his numbers on the season to 21.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 2.5 bpg while shooting 69.2 percent from the floor.

Poeltl’s presence is critical for the Utes. This team is different than the one that Delon Wright had control of last season — that team was young and needed leadership, these guys don’t — but what they miss more than anything is a guy to give the ball to where they know they’ll get a good look out of it. It’s a good bet right now that giving Poeltl a touch will either get Utah a high-percentage shot or get them to the foul line, and that’s before you factor in the six assists he had on Saturday.

The Pac-12 is wiiiiiiiide open this year. When Poeltl plays like this, Utah is good enough to win the league.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Ben Bentil, Providence: Bentil averaged 22.0 points and 7.0 boards on the week, including a 23-point, eight-board performance in a win at in-state rival Rhode Island that also happened to include a game-winning tip-in. Bentil has turned into the perfect complement to Kris Dunn.
  • Brandon Ingram, Duke: Ingram had the best week of his college career, going for 24 points in a win over Indiana and following that up with 23 points against Buffalo. Ingram’s potential is off the charts, but he’s struggled with the physicality of college basketball this season.
  • Taurean Waller-Prince, Baylor: Waller-Prince had the best game of his college career in Baylor’s come-from-behind win over No. 16 Vanderbilt, scoring 30 points while showing off his versatility.
  • Thomas Welsh, UCLA: Welsh was the best big man on the floor as the Bruins knocked off No. 1 Kentucky on Thursday night, finishing with 21 points, 11 boards and two blocks. He followed that up with 15 points and 10 boards in a win over LBSU.
  • A.J. Hammons, Purdue: Isaac Haas has been sensational for Purdue this season, but Hammons was their best center this week. He had 24 points and 12 boards in a win at Pitt, following that up with 16 points and 11 boards, including a number of critical buckets down the stretch, in a home win over New Mexico.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: North Carolina Tar Heels

What a difference a Paige makes.

Marcus Paige played for the first time this season, and it totally changed the product that the Tar Heels put out. He had 20 points and five assists in a win over No. 2 Maryland on Tuesday night and followed that up with 13 points in a blowout win over Davidson on Saturday. It’s amazing what happens when an all-american is added into the mix, isn’t it?

When Marcus Paige is healthy, he’s a legitimate National Player of the Year contender, and with him in the mix, North Carolina may just very well be the best team in the country.

It’s good to have him back and have him healthy, isn’t it?

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Arizona Wildcats: Few were sold on the Wildcats after a less-than-stellar performance in the Wooden Legacy, and rightfully so. There isn’t the kind of talent on this roster that were accustomed to from a Sean Miller team. But that didn’t matter on Saturday when they went into Spokane and beat Gonzaga on a night where Kyle Wiltjer went bananas. I’m not sure there are five more impressive wins this season than that …
  • UCLA Bruins: … but one of those five might actually be UCLA’s win over No. 1 Kentucky on Thursday night. The Bruins are the most frustrating team in the country. They lose to Monmouth and struggle with Cal Poly and LBSU but they manhandle the Wildcats? Ay yi yi. This team may cost Steve Alford that beautiful head of hair.
  • Georgetown Hoyas: There were more impressive wins this season — hell, this week — but I promise that none were as satisfying for the winners as the Hoyas landing a win in the Verizon Center against rival Syracuse.
  • Butler Bulldogs: A 14 point home win over Indiana State is solid, but the reason the Bulldogs are on this list is because they went into Cincinnati and knocked off the No. 17 Bearcats on a last-second jumper from Roosevelt Jones.
  • Wisconsin Badgers: Remember when we had all written Wisconsin off this season? Did we speak too soon? Wisconsin won at No. 14 Syracuse in overtime in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and followed that up by beating Temple at home on Saturday.

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 8 Villanova, Mon. 7:00 p.m. (Hawaii)
  • No. 20 West Virginia vs. No. 10 Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m. (Madison Square Garden)
  • Florida at No. 21 Miami, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • Michigan at No. 22 SMU, Tue. 9:00 p.m.
  • No. 2 Maryland at UConn, Tue. 8:30 p.m. (Madison Square Garden)
  • Dayton at No. 16 Vanderbilt, Wed. 9:00 p.m.
  • Iowa at No. 5 Iowa State, Thu. 9:00 p.m.
  • No. 17 Cincinnati at No. 18 Xavier, Sat. 5:30 p.m.
  • UCLA at No. 13 Gonzaga, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

College Basketball’s Most Important Players

Kris Dunn (AP Photo)
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While the conversation of who is the best player in college basketball can be rather straightforward most years, as many have focused on Providence’s Kris Dunn and LSU’s Ben Simmons ahead of this season, determining who are the most important players in college basketball is a different matter. For some that may mean that they’re the primary scorer, while the importance of other players may best be measured in areas such as defense and leadership.

Below are ten of the nation’s most important players heading into the 2015-16 campaign.

1. Kris Dunn, Providence: Say what you want about the Friars’ chances of reaching the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season, but there’s no denying just how important the redshirt junior point guard is to his team. Last season Dunn averaged 15.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game, emerging as one of the nation’s best point guards. Now expected to be the best player in the country, Dunn has to lead a team that lost three of its top four scorers from a season ago. His skill level and leadership will be critical for Ed Cooley’s team.

2. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: Sure the future professional prospects of players such as Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere are bound to receive attention, but no player may be of greater importance to the Wildcats than their sophomore point guard. Ulis played in a reserve role on last year’s 38-1 team, and given the overall youth of this group his ability to lead will be of great importance to John Calipari’s team. While Kentucky does have some experienced players, the best of that bunch is either returning from injury (Alex Poythress) or getting used to a more prominent role (Marcus Lee).

3. Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble met (and some would argue, exceeded) the hype in College Park as a freshman, accounting for 16.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Also one of the nation’s best at getting to the foul line, Trimble was a key factor in the Terrapins’ turnaround in 2014-15. Now with Mark Turgeon’s team being labeled as a national title contender, Trimble’s strides as a leader will be key for a group that isn’t short on talent by any stretch of the imagination. How will this group deals with those expectations will depend largely upon the play of their point guard.

4. Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Paige is currently sidelined with a broken bone on his non-shooting hand, with the expectation being that he’ll miss between three and four weeks. While that provides some of his teammates with opportunities to step forward, that doesn’t mask just how important the senior guard is to North Carolina’s national title hopes. Paige (14.1 ppg, 4.5 apg) was UNC’s best distributor and scorer a season ago, and he was also by far their best perimeter shooter. He’s the biggest key for a team expected to contend for a national title.

5. Tyrone Wallace, California: We’ve discussed Wallace’s role on here during our preseason coverage and with good reason. The left-handed senior was a Bob Cousy Award finalist last season and will once again run the show for Cuonzo Martin’s Golden Bears. But the circumstances are much different this time around, with Cal being a team expected to both contend in the Pac-12 and be a factor nationally. None of that happens if Wallace, who averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game as a junior, doesn’t lead.

Tyrone Wallace (AP Photo)
Tyrone Wallace (AP Photo)

6. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans lost two key contributors from last year’s Final Four team in Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, but they have enough talent to make a return trip. One of those players is Valentine, a senior whose versatility is matched by few in college basketball. Valentine can play any position on the perimeter, and after averaging 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as a junior he’s capable of taking another step forward in 2015-16.

7. Monté Morris, Iowa State: Morris took a significant step forward as a sophomore, averaging 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game on a team that won its second consecutive Big 12 tournament crown. But that team was one and done in the NCAA tournament, and with a new head coach in Steve Prohm at the helm a team with national title desires will have to adjust to a different style. At the forefront is Morris, and given how point guards who have played for Prohm in recent years (Isaiah Canaan, Cameron Payne) have flourished this could be a big year for the junior. While the front court has talent and experience, how well Morris runs the show will have the greatest impact on the Cyclones.

8. Ben Simmons, LSU: Simmons arrived in Baton Rouge amidst much fanfare and with good reason, as he’s considered to be the top prospect heading towards next June’s NBA Draft. At 6-foot-10 the Australian has the size and athleticism needed to make an immediate impact for a team that lost Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, and his skill set is such at he’ll serve as a point forward for Johnny Jones’ Tigers. How Simmons navigates the balance between scorer and table-setter will be key for a team looking to rebound from their disappointing NCAA tournament loss to NC State.

9. Brandon Ingram, Duke: The reigning national champions have a lot to replace from last season’s team, with three first-round picks (Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones) and senior leader Quinn Cook all having moved on to the professional ranks. Adding another top-ranked recruiting class to the ranks helps with the adjustment process, with the crown jewel being the 6-foot-8 Ingram. Slender of build, Ingram has the skill set needed to play any of the three perimeter positions in Duke’s offense and there’s a good chance he’ll be asked to do so. While Grayson Allen’s expected to make a sizable jump as a sophomore, Ingram’s production could be the key to a run at a sixth title for Coach K.

10. Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas: How far Bill Self’s loaded team goes this season may rest on the shoulder of the junior off-guard. And how ready Selden is to shepherd this group will depend largely upon his mindset entering the season. Does Selden play as the sometimes deferential player he was in his first two seasons in Lawrence? Or does he play in the “attack mode” shown at the World University Games in South Korea this summer? If Selden is the former, Kansas risks not reaching their full potential even with the talent they have on the perimeter (Frank Mason III, Devonté Graham, etc.) and in the post (Perry Ellis, Carlton Bragg, Cheick Diallo if cleared, etc.).

AND TEN MORE

  • 11. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: The last standing member of “The Movement” that was supposed to change Indiana basketball, Ferrell will have to lead the way for a talented team facing high expectations.
  • 12. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: While Iowa State has received a lot of attention as Kansas’ biggest threat in the Big 12, do not overlook Oklahoma with the reigning Big 12 POY being a key reason why.
  • 13. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: The tandem of VanVleet and Ron Baker has accomplished a great deal to this point in their college careers. VanVleet will look to lead the Shockers to their second Final Four appearance from the point, and don’t be shocked if he pulls it off.
  • 14. Daniel Ochefu, Villanova: The Wildcats are loaded with perimeter talent, but do not overlook the importance of their defensive anchor.
  • 15. Caris LeVert, Michigan: Healthy after playing just 18 games due to a foot injury, the versatile LeVert is a key component for a Michigan team more than capable of rebounding from last year’s 16-16 record.
  • 16. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: With Jerian Grant moving on Jackson will run the show for Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish. Expected by many to make a considerable jump as a junior, Jackson is the kind of talent who can make Notre Dame a contender in the ACC.
  • 17. Ryan Anderson, Arizona: The Wildcats’ closest thing to a proven scorer at this level, the Boston College transfer will need to be that guy for a team looking to mesh a lot of new pieces with holdovers who played in supplementary roles the last couple years.
  • 18. Taurean Waller-Prince, Baylor: As a key cog in one of the nation’s top front courts, the 6-foot-8 senior has the ability to score at all three levels. That will be key for a Baylor team with perimeter questions to answer.
  • 19. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State: Rathan-Mayes’ scoring abilities aren’t be questioned based upon what he did as a freshman on a team lacking scoring options. Now with the Seminoles loaded with talent, his role as a distributor will be key for a team that can be a sleeper in the ACC.
  • 20. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Given how much the Badgers lost from last season’s national runner-up team, both Koenig and Nigel Hayes will be key players. The pick for most important is Koenig, as he’ll be the one with the ball in his hands at the point.

College Basketball’s Under The Radar Stars

Kyle Collinsworth (Getty Images)
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Deandre Bembry, St. Joseph’s

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

[MORE: Top 100 players | CBT Top 25]

Robert Carter, Maryland

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

Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

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

One.

Collinsworth had six last season.

Jack Gibbs, Davidson

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

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

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

Daniel Hamilton, UConn

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

Danuel House, Texas A&M

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

Hassan Martin, Rhode Island

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

Sheldon McClellan, Miami

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

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

Gary Payton II, Oregon State

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

Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa

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

Taurean Waller-Prince, Baylor

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

James Webb III, Boise State

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

Ranking the top wings in college basketball

Associated Press
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After ranking the top lead guards and off guards, we move to the wing position.

With more teams moving away from the rigid positions that defined the game of basketball for years, the wing has become a more important role. Nowadays versatility is a trait of many of the nation’s best wings, as they can be used to initiate the offense as either a scorer or distributor.

Without further ado, below are our ranking of the top wings in college basketball. Who’s too high on the last? Who isn’t high enough on the list? Who’d we leave out?

[MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts]

1. Ben Simmons (LSU)

Simmons arrived in Baton Rouge amidst much fanfare and with good reason, as his skill set makes him a player many project to be a high lottery pick in next June’s NBA Draft. The 6-foot-10 Australian will play a “point forward” role for the Tigers, as his ability to initiate offense makes an incredibly difficult matchup for opponents.

2. Denzel Valentine (Michigan State)

Speaking of versatility, Valentine’s a senior who can play any of the three perimeter roles within Tom Izzo’s offense. As a junior Valentine averaged 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from three. His ability to fill the stat sheet and lead will be key for a Michigan State team looking to earn a second straight Final Four appearance.

3. Jaylen Brown (California)

Brown’s a power wing who rates as one of the top freshmen in the country. At 6-foot-7 he has the size and athleticism needed to fill multiple roles for the Golden Bears, who boast one of the country’s top perimeter rotations. And with those options there will be occasions in which Brown plays as an undersized four in order to force mismatches on the offensive end.

4. Brandon Ingram (Duke)

While Ingram has plenty of skill, he’s a slender 6-foot-9 wing who trends more towards the perimeter than the aforementioned Brown does. Ingram can score at multiple levels, and while he does need to get stronger his offensive skill set will apply pressure to opponents within Duke’s offense.

5. Taurean Waller-Prince (Baylor)

Last season Waller-Prince emerged as one of the nation’s most improved players, averaging 13.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest. He took full advantage of increased minutes a season ago, and with fellow senior Rico Gathers Sr., redshirt sophomore Johnathan Motley and junior college transfer Jo Acuil is part of one of the country’s best front court rotations.

RELATED: Top 100 players | Top leads guards | Top off guards | Top Bigs

Taurean Waller-Prince, Getty Images
Taurean Waller-Prince, Getty Images

6. DeAndre Bembry (Saint Joseph’s)

The Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year deserves more pub, as he shouldered a lot of the offensive load for the Hawks last season. Bembry, after starting all 34 games on an NCAA tournament team as a freshman, accounted for 17.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game in 2014-15. Bembry led the Hawks in all four of those categories last season, and could very well duplicate that feat in 2015-16.

7. Justin Jackson (North Carolina)

Jackson’s in line for a breakout season, and his presence is why there isn’t a great deal of concern when it comes to accounting for the departure of J.P. Tokoto. Jackson started 37 games as a freshman, averaging 10.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game and shooting nearly 48 percent from the field. Also ranking third on the team in assists a season ago, Jackson has the ability to find teammates as well as score.

8. Gary Payton II (Oregon State)

The son of “The Glove,” Payton won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in his first season in Corvallis. How big of an impact did he have in Wayne Tinkle’s first season as head coach? Payton led the Beavers in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks and was second in assists. That kind of versatility isn’t all too common, and with Oregon State’s improved depth he could be even better this year.

9. Troy Williams (Indiana)

Averaging 13.0 points per game as a sophomore, Williams led the Hoosiers in rebounding and steals while shooting 54 percent from the field and 74.2 percent from the foul line. While he isn’t much of a perimeter shooter, Williams can knock down mid-range shots and he finishes above the rim with authority. As a slasher he’s a key player who can open things up for Indiana, which has a host of perimeter shooters to call upon.

10. Kyle Collinsworth (BYU)

Collinsworth is one of the most versatile players in the country, and he’s entrusted with the responsibility of running the show for BYU. Collinsworth is tied for the NCAA record for career triple-doubles (six), all of which came last season, and he averaged 13.8 points, 8.7 and 6.0 assists per game in 2014-15. While the loss of Tyler Haws is important, the return of Collinsworth is one reason why BYU is seen as Gonzaga’s biggest threat in the WCC.

  • 11. Daniel Hamilton (Connecticut): The American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, Hamilton averaged 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. And he’ll have even more chances to initiate things offensively this season.
  • 12. Josh Hart (Villanova): Last season Hart emerged as a valuable option for Villanova, averaging 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. His shooting percentages from the field and from three were nothing to scoff at either, as the Big East tournament Most Outstanding Player shot 51 percent from the field and 46 percent from three.
  • 13. Jake Layman (Maryland): Layman’s skill isn’t to be questioned, as the 6-foot-8 senior averaged 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three. But with Dez Wells gone, can he step forward as an even more assertive force for a team projected as one of the nation’s best?
  • 14. Dillon Brooks (Oregon): For all of the talk about how Wayne Selden Jr. (Kansas) and Jamal Murray (Kentucky) played this summer, Brooks also played well on the international circuit. And after earning Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honors, he could be poised for a breakout sophomore campaign.
  • 15. Michael Gbinije (Syracuse): “Silent G” is likely to fill a variety of roles for Jim Boeheim as he has the skills needed to play anywhere from the point to the wing. Last season Gbinije averaged 12.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
  • 16. Tim Quarterman (LSU): Quarterman joins teammate Simmons on this list, and he’s looking to build on a solid sophomore season in Baton Rouge. The 6-foot-5 Quarterman accounted for 11.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and a team-high 4.0 assists per game, doing so despite starting just 14 of the 33 games in which he played.
  • 17. Damion Lee (Louisville): The lone grad transfer on our list, Lee averaged 21.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game at Drexel last season. Given Louisville’s personnel losses, Lee’s abilities as a scorer and defender will be of high importance as the Cardinals look to hold their own in the ACC.
  • 18. Malcolm Hill (Illinois): Hill’s a player who emerged as Illinois’ most efficient offensive option last season, averaging 14.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest as a sophomore. He’s an all-conference caliber player, and Hill could very well earn those honors this season.
  • 19. Dwayne Bacon (Florida State): The 6-foot-6 Bacon is the crown jewel of one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, and with his athleticism and scoring ability the Oak Hill Academy product should have an immediate impact in Tallahassee.
  • 20. Roosevelt Jones (Butler): Jones’ (12.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.7 apg) return from a broken wrist that sidelined him for the entire 2013-14 season was a big reason why the Bulldogs not only reached the NCAA tournament but nearly eliminated Notre Dame in the round of 32.

Others Considered: Malik Pope (San Diego State), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), Isaac Copeland (Georgetown)

Big 12 Preview: Death, taxes, Kansas atop the Big 12

AP Photo
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big 12.

The Big 12 has been arguably the best conference in the country the last few seasons but their play in the postseason last year leaves a lot to be desired. While 70 percent of the league’s membership made the NCAA tournament last season, nobody in that group of seven advanced past the Sweet 16.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kansas remains atop the league until proven otherwise, with or without Cheick Diallo: Kansas has won at least a share of 11 consecutive Big 12 regular season conference titles, and they return plenty of talent from last year’s team. While one-and-done freshmen Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander are gone, experienced players like Frank Mason, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis return as the Jayhawks appear to be even deeper this season. One thing to monitor in terms of Kansas potentially being an elite team: the NCAA situation with freshman big man Cheick Diallo. The McDonald’s All-American was one of the best players during the senior all-star games last spring and his high motor and ability to defend the rim could put the Jayhawks over the top. He has yet to be cleared to play this season as the NCAA is looking into his high school, Our Savior New American in New York.

2. Iowa State is transitioning from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, but they still have title aspirations: Fred Hoiberg and his innovative offensive attack has moved on to the Chicago Bulls, but Iowa State is returning nearly its entire roster from a team that was a No. 3 seed last season. Now enters former Murray State head coach Steve Prohm, who is letting an experienced group do a lot of what they were doing before while also adding some of his own new wrinkles. Senior forward Georges Niang is an All-American candidate and point guard Monte Morris remains as steady as any floor leader in the nation. If the Cyclones have enough depth and their defense improves, they are also potentially an elite team.

3. Texas is moving from Rick Barnes to Shaka Smart. Can they adjust to “Havoc”?: Texas has moved on from the Rick Barnes era as they made the decision to pursue VCU’s Shaka Smart instead of Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. Now that the popular Smart is in the fold, Texas is hoping to become a perennial power in basketball, and the most intriguing part of Shaka taking the job is how he’ll incorporate his “Havoc” style of play into the equation. Many believe that “Havoc” can’t work at the highest level of college basketball, but at the same time Smart hasn’t had this kind of talent at his disposal. Junior point guard Isaiah Taylor is back and the Longhorns have plenty of size and senior leadership.

Buddy Hield (AP Photo)
Buddy Hield (AP Photo)

4. Oklahoma returns Buddy Hield and plenty of talent: Reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield returned for his senior season and gives the Sooners a chance to be in the Big 12 title picture. While the Sooners will miss the play of TaShawn Thomas inside, they return most of the roster. Dependable big man Ryan Spangler is back along with the backcourt of upperclassmen Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. Cousins has drawn rave reviews from scouts and coaches this fall and could be poised for a big senior season as Hield’s second banana.

5. Baylor and West Virginia are still lurking: Baylor and West Virginia both took some lumps this offseason with key losses, but they both still have plenty of talent to win a lot of games and potentially make the NCAA tournament. The Bears still have the tremendously talented duo of Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers to work with and a team that has a lot of length on the defensive end. West Virginia has to replace Juwan Staten, but Bob Huggins has a roster that completely bought into the press that he was selling last season as they made the Sweet 16.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “You can certainly make a strong case for a few teams, but until proven otherwise, it’s probably Kansas.”
  • Sleeper:
    • “West Virginia lost Juwan Staten but they’ll have just another chip on their shoulder. Their style of play will help them with the shorter shot clock.”
    • “Most of the guys in our office believe that Baylor has the length and talent to be a factor.”
  • Best player: “It’s close between Buddy Hield and Georges Niang but Hield gets it done on both ends of the floor. Plus, Buddy is more of an emotional leader and his big plays seem to lift his teammates.”
  • Most underrated player:
    • “Isaiah Cousins seems to be getting a lot of attention this fall — and deservedly so. He can really play.”
    • “I haven’t seen Johnathan Motley’s name in a lot of preseason stuff, but he could be a problem.”

PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

He won this award for real last season, so it’s only right that Hield starts the season atop this list as well. A dynamic scorer, Hield can hit 3-pointers in bunches and also got to the free-throw line 130 times last season. In addition to his scoring, Hield also led Big 12 guards in rebounding last season.

THE REST OF THE BIG 12 FIRST TEAM:

  • Georges Niang, Iowa State: As versatile as any forward in the country, Niang is looking to close out his career by knocking Kansas out of the top spot. Watching Niang play for Prohm should be a fascinating early-season study.
  • Monte Morris, Iowa State: The nation’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio the last two seasons, now Morris gets to work with a new head coach who put Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne in the NBA.
  • Taurean Prince, Baylor: Arguably the nation’s best sixth man a year ago, Prince is incredibly versatile on both ends of the floor. Not many forwards around can knock down nearly 40 percent of 3-pointers and defend multiple positions the way Prince can.
  • Perry Ellis, Kansas: Before getting hurt during the tail end of Big 12 play, Ellis was playing at an incredibly high level. The Jayhawks are hoping that version of their senior forward comes to play every night this season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Rico Gathers, Baylor
  • Frank Mason, Kansas
  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas
  • Devin Williams, West Virginia
  • Phil Forte, Oklahoma State

BREAKOUT STAR: Jevon Carter, West Virginia

With the departure of Juwan Staten, the sophomore will be tasked with taking over full-time point guard responsibilities. After leading West Virginia in both steals and 3-pointers as a freshman, Carter is ready to be one of the focal points  for the Mountaineers.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Travis Ford needs to have a solid year at Oklahoma State in order to keep the heat off of him from fans. You know things are getting a little testy when both the athletic director and the school’s largest donor, T. Boone Pickens, have to publicly show signs of support.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Big 12 regular season was exciting, but did these teams beat each other up too much for big tournament runs?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing how “Havoc” is going to work with the Texas players and against Big 12 defenses. This debate has been raging among college basketball types for a long time and now Shaka gets to see if his system can translate to the highest level.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • 11/17, Michigan State vs. Kansas
  • 12/2, Oklahoma vs Villanova
  • 12/8, West Virginia vs. Virginia
  • 12/19, Baylor @ Texas A&M
  • 12/22, Kansas @ San Diego State

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @RustinDodd

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kansas: This won’t be like the Kansas team we’ve seen the past two seasons with jumbo wings in Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre. The Jayhawks plan to go smaller with Frank Mason and Devonte Graham in the backcourt while Wayne Selden will likely slide over to the three.
2. Iowa State: We already know Iowa State can put points on the board but how will they look defensively during the final year this core group is together?
3. Oklahoma:  Oklahoma seems to be flying a bit under-the-radar nationally this preseason. Remember when TaShawn Thomas became eligible and the Sooners turned into a darkhorse national title contender last preseason? Essentially the same team is back, minus Thomas, and college basketball is weaker this season.
4. Baylor: Baylor’s imposing frontline is well-established but the backcourt is the key question for the Bears this season. With the loss of Kenny Chery, who does Drew pair with Lester Medford?
5. West Virginia: This West Virginia roster perfectly fits what Huggins wants to do — especially with toughness and defense — but without Juwan Staten, scoring is going to be a major concern. The new focus on officiating could also hurt the way the Mountaineers like to defend, but the 30-second shot clock should help them.
6. Texas: The (multi) million dollar question is whether Havoc works against the likes of Monte Morris and Frank Mason? How do big men like Cameron Ridley and Shaquille Cleare fit in Shaka Smart’s system? One thing will be certain: Texas will play hard and bring a lot of energy under its new coach and there’s a lot of upperclass leadership on the roster.
7. Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State’s backcourt will be among the Big 12’s most talented, as Phil Forte returns and McDonald’s All-American point guard Jawun Evans enters Stillwater. Replacing the front court of LeBryan Nash and Michael Cobbins is the bigger issue. The Cowboys have size on the roster, but not many have produced highly at the Big 12 level.
8. Texas Tech: There weren’t a lot of positives from last season’s 3-15 Big 12 showing, but the Red Raiders return 85 percent of its scoring and 86 percent of its rebounding. With some of the other teams in the league adding a lot of new pieces, Texas Tech should be more cohesive out of the gate.
9. Kansas State: Kansas State’s roster was gutted this offseason and it’s hard to say if it will be a good or a bad thing entering this season. While a lot of talent left the Wildcats, a lot of bad apples walked out the door as well. Can improved chemistry lead to a better season for Bruce Weber’s ballclub? Almost the entire roster is unproven.
10. TCU: TCU started 13-0 last season, but played a cupcake schedule, as a 4-14 conference mark brought them back down to Earth. After losing Kyan Anderson, Trey Zeigler and Amric Fields, it’s difficult to say that the Horned Frogs will be much better.