Bernard James

We have a new Florida State this year, but will they be improved?

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BROOKLYN – Florida State’s venture into ACC relevancy the last four seasons has centered around their front court. Big bodies; athletic shot-blockers; tough, physical, grind-you-down defense.

You should know the names: Solomon Alabi. Chris Singleton. Ryan Reid. Most recently, Bernard James, a 27 year old veteran who was, quite literally, a man amongst boys. For the past four seasons, every athletic trainer in the ACC has known that a trip to Tallahassee meant packing extra ice packs and advil for the trip home.

The Seminoles are a much different team this season, however, and it’s not necessarily because they lack size. Boris Bojanovsky is 7-foot-3. Michael Ojo is 7-foot-1. Kiel Turpin, who starts at center, is 7-foot. But what all three of those guys have in common is that they are young, raw, and not quite ready to compete at this level. In 61 combined minutes in the first two games, they had a grand total of three rebounds. The seven rebounds they added in Friday’s 88-70 win over BYU wasn’t really an explosion in production.

This season, Florida State’s strength is on their perimeter, and it starts with Michael Snaer.

Snaer isn’t exactly a secret at this point in his career. He was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. He was Florida State’s leading scorer last season. As a senior, he was named an NBCSports.com Preseason First-Team All-American, thanks to his three-point marksmenship, his penchant for clutch buckets and the fact he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.

But Snaer’s got plenty of help this season.

Talented junior Ian Miller is finally ready to play an entire season, and freshman Devin Bookert, who the Florida State coaching staff loves, looks to be recovered from a preseason knee injury that kept him out of action for about three weeks. That trio combined for 45 points, 11 assists and 16 boards in Friday’s Coaches vs. Cancer semifinal matchup, finishing 15-24 from the floor and 9-14 from three. That kind of efficiency isn’t likely to be repeated on a nightly basis, but BYU is a good basketball team; this isn’t a bad indicator of how good that group can be.

“They’re really skilled on the perimeter,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “In the past you see a front line that’s really athletic and dominant, but their guards are really terrific.”

Throw in Montay Brandon — a 6-foot-7 slasher that is versatile enough that Hamilton used him at the point late in the game, although that resulted in BYU making a run down the stretch to cut into a lead that bordered on 30 — and a pair of quality forwards in Okaro White and Terrence Shannon, and the Seminoles have a chance for success with their rebranded roster.

They do have some issues that need fixing. The 20 turnovers they had on Friday are way too many, even if they were augmented by 20 assists. And the 22 offensive rebounds they gave up are unacceptable. But when taken in concert with the increased pace that Florida State is playing at this season — they had 74 possessions in their first two games, one of which was a loss to South Alabama, and 71 in the win on Friday — you can see the shifting tides.

Florida State’s a new breed this season.

They’re running the floor, they’re spreading the court offensively, they’re shooting threes and, perhaps most importantly for their fans, they are scoring a lot of points.

Whether or not that turns into wins and a trip to the NCAA tournament, we are yet to see.

But if they continue to play like they did on Friday, I don’t think it will be much of a problem.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Burning Questions: Which All-American will flop?

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Real, live college basketball games start on Friday, and with all of our glorious preseason content finally finished, this week we will be providing you with water cooler fodder as we roll through a series of Burning Question. You can read them all right here.

Which player on one of the NBCSports.com All-American teams is the most likely to flop this year?

Mike Moser, UNLV (Rob Dauster): Moser is coming off of a fantastic season for the Rebels, and under normal circumstances, I’d be trumpeting his potential heading into the season. But this isn’t a normal year for UNLV; the Rebels have a front line that’s absolutely stacked, so much so that Moser may end up playing the three this year. That would take away the mismatch advantage he has as a power forward. If he struggles with a move to the wing, he’ll have to share even more minutes with Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch. Will that cut into his production?

Isaiah Canaan, Murray State

  • (Raphielle Johnson): I think the word “flop” in this question is a bit harsh, because I can’t see Canaan’s game pulling a “Vlade Divac” this year. However the loss of perimeter helpers Jewuan Long and Donte Poole, as well as Zay Jackson’s driving in a Walmart parking lot (he can’t play this season as a result) means that Canaan will have even more eyes focused on his every move. I’m expecting some teams to throw junk defenses (box and 1, etc.) at the Racers in hopes of slowing Canaan down, but the bigger issue will be the loss of some important sidekicks.
  • (Troy Machir): It’s close to impossible for Isaiah Canaan to replicate the success he and the Murray State Racer had last season. They were the last unbeaten team in the country. Only the National Championship-winning Kentucky Wildcats had less losses than Murray State. A lot of things will have to bounce Murray State’s way in order for Canaan and the Racers to meet the lofty expectations awaiting them. Murray State lost four important pieces over the off-season, three to graduation and one, sophomore Zay Jackson, to a season-long suspension. I do think Canaan will have a very strong year, but he won’t be able to surprise us like he did last year, and I don’t think he has the talent around him to do something truly special.

Michael Snaer, Florida State (David Harten): He’s as legit a shooter as there is, and he’s on a team that values him. He’s one of the best players in the ACC, averaging 14 points per game. But that’s not all that matters when it comes to being an All-American. The team itself plays a part. Big man Bernard James is gone. As is Snaer’s backcourt mate Luke Loucks. Unless another scoring threat emerges (it’s worth noting Ian Miller’s 10.3 ppg returns), Snaer could face a ton of double teams. And his production could drop.

Peyton Siva, Louisville (Daniel Martin): Siva was chosen to be the Big East Preseason Player of the Year and, considering his performance in the 2012 Big East and NCAA tournaments, that’s warranted. But we saw two different Sivas over the course of last season, one who led Louisville to the Final Four in March and the one who struggled through some doldrums during the middle of the year. Which one will predominate in 2012-13? The fate of the Louisville offense depends on his production, but there is the possibility that he could run into struggles at some point this year. As goes Siva, so go the Cardinals.

Conference Preview: ACC topped by Tobacco Road triumvirate

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Sometimes, things have a way of working out. With Pitt, Syracuse and eventually Notre Dame preparing to join the ACC, unbalanced schedules are the wave of the future. This may be the last season in which the Triangle powers of Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State play one another twice apiece in the regular season. It just so happens that this is also the first time in a long time in which all three programs are nationally ranked and favored to reach the post-season as well, thanks to the Wolfpack resurgence.

This could be a rare jewel of a season in the ACC. And, hey, there are even nine other schools fielding teams this year. We knew that. That’s why we’re the college basketball experts.

Five things to know

1. Pitt and Syracuse join the league next season, which will drastically alter the character of a league that was once so very Southern.

2. Notre Dame will remain independent in football, but may have paved the way to full conference membership by agreeing to move basketball and other sports to the ACC at some point in the near future.

3. Roy Williams endured a cancer scare this fall, but is back and ready to lead his Tar Heels, who are gunning for a third straight 1st-place league finish.

4. Mark Gottfried is in just his second year as NC State head coach, but he has eight Big Dance appearances on his resume. One with the Wolfpack, five with Alabama, and two with Murray State.

5. Aside from hall of famers Mike Krzyzewski (11) and Roy Williams (7), the only other ACC coach with a Final Four appearance on his resume is Miami’s Jim Larranaga, who took George Mason to the brink in 2006.

Impact newcomers:

Rodney Purvis – 6’4”, 190 lb. G, NC State: Purvis (pictured, left) is one of those guys who can get to the hoop in a hurry and he’s not afraid to take some contact once he gets in amongst the trees. ACC coaches named him the preseason newcomer of the year, and we’re not going to dispute that.

Rasheed Sulaimon – 6’3”, 175 lb. G, Duke: Sulaimon is not quite the deadly jump-shooter Coach K had last year in Austin Rivers, but he has a respectable stroke to complement his ability to get to the rim. It probably goes without saying that he’s a very smart player as well, which means he should be able to improve as the season goes on.

T.J. Warren – 6’7”, 205 lb. SF, NC State: Warren is a rangy player from Durham who also drew interest from Chapel Hill. That he ended up in Raleigh is one sure sign the Wolfpack are on the rise. His ability to get open and make plays off the dribble will make him a key reserve on an already loaded team.

Amile Jefferson – 6’9”, 190 lb. F, Duke: Jefferson was a McDonald’s All-American, and was widely considered to be the top prospect coming out of hoops-mad Philly. He’s pretty slender, but he’ll still be a power forward in the mold of Gumby-like Tar Heel John Henson. Great body control, a nice shooting touch, and enough leverage to get inside when necessary.

Shaquille Cleare – 6’9” 270lb. C, Maryland: Cleare is a brick house. He can take it to the rim with authority, or drop in a hook shot over a bodied-up defender. James Padgett was forced to be the leading rebounder for the Terps last season, and it was too much for him. Here comes big-time help.

Breakout players:

Quinn Cook – 6’1” 175 lb. G, Duke: The Blue Devils have made do with combo guards at the point for a while now, if you consider that Kyrie Irving missed most of his one year in Durham due to “the toe”. If Cook makes good use of his increased playing time this year, he’ll become that playmaker who gets the ball inside to the Plumlees and frees up slashing Sulaimon and shooting Curry as marquee scorers.

Reggie Bullock – 6’7” 205 lb. G, UNC: Bullock had a great summer, showing off increased range and leadership skills in the North Carolina Pro-Am league. The most intriguing thing about Bullock is that he puts a wide range of perimeter abilities into a 6’7” body, which makes him a very difficult matchup on either end of the floor.

Ian Miller – 6’3” 186 lb. G, Florida State: Miller put together some really solid games in the ACC last season. He had an 18 point game to help usher in-state rival Miami out of the ACC tournament last season, then fouled out after just 15 minutes against Duke the next night. If Miller gets consistent alongside Michael Snaer, look out for the Seminoles.

James Michael McAdoo – 6’9” 220 lb. F, UNC: As much as everyone’s talking about McAdoo these days, you’d think he’d broken out already. In a way, he did. His wildly inconsistent showing as a freshman started to come together in March, culminating in a 15-point/19 minute explosion against Kansas in an Elite Eight loss. Expect many double-doubles this season.

Alex Len – 7’1” 225 lb. C, Maryland: Len had an up-and-down season as a new guy in College Park, partly because he had to sit out ten games, partly because he didn’t really speak English very well. He’s past those two problems now, and he’s added a lot of strength to his frame. Even if he just keeps up his 2 blocks per game pace, he’s making a huge impact. If he gets his score on, Maryland could break up the Triangle love fest.

Player of year: Lorenzo Brown – 6’5” 186 lb. G, NC State: CJ Leslie is getting the nod from plenty of pundits, and he is likely to be the most visible, highlight-reel-worthy member of the Pack this season. On a team with this much talent, and such high expectations, I’m putting the onus on Brown (pictured, right). His 6.3 assists per game last season ranked second only to Kendall Marshall in the league, and Brown is a major scoring threat as well. He can bomb from downtown, drive and dish, drive and score, and plays marvelous defense. He’s the engine that drives the Wolfpack bandwagon.

All conference performers: Brown; CJ Leslie, NC State; Michael Snaer, FSU; James Michael McAdoo, UNC; Mason Plumlee, Duke.

Coach under pressure: Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest – Now that Seth Greenberg is gone at Virginia Tech, it’s time for a passing of the torch. Many were nonplussed by Wake’s hiring of Bzdelik, a middling college coach at Air Force and Colorado best known for his time at the helm of the Denver Nuggets. Bzdelik has won all of five ACC games in two years, and he looks even less impressive thanks to the fast resurgence of NC State under Mark Gottfried.

Predicted finish

1. NC State – Too much talent. And, honestly, Sidney Lowe was never bad at landing talent, either. But Mark Gottfried seems to know what to do with it, and how to layer in incoming classes behind loyal veterans. That’s classic Tobacco Road-level stuff.

2. North Carolina – Only Kentucky lost more talent to the NBA last season than the Tar Heels, but Carolina has options. Roy Williams will have a nice blend of veterans and talented rookies ready to keep the train on the track.

3. Duke – The never-ending supply of Plumlees has become a core virtue of the Blue Devil program these days. With Marshall injured to start the season, and the point still somewhat in question, coaching will make all the difference. Oh, well then.

4. Florida State – Snaer talked his way onto our preseason watch list, which made us take more note of his play. The ‘Noles will probably struggle a bit without a Bernard James type in the paint, but there’s plenty of talent to make it work, and always that dag nasty Leonard Hamilton defense.

5. Miami – Senior-laden and big as all-get-out. Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson will once again take care of all scoring and defense inside the half-circle, and Durand Scott will be there to drop dimes or score as needed.

6. Maryland – Mark Turgeon may have lost out to Kentucky on some prime recruits, but who hasn’t sung that song in recent seasons? The former Wichita State and Texas A&M head man has a fair amount of talent, and if he can get Pe’Shon Howard and Nick Faust on the floor together, things could go very well.

7. Virginia – Tony Bennett keeps bringing in heralded classes, then watching half of the new guys walk out the door soon thereafter. For years, his rock was Mike Scott, who finally graduated after getting the ‘Hoos back to the Big Dance last season. This year, much falls on senior point guard Jontel Evans, who came up lame to start the season.

8. Georgia Tech – Brian Gregory has a young lineup drawn almost entirely from within the borders of the Peach State. Mfon Udofia and Kammeon Holsey are the inside-out duo, so they’ll need at least one more scorer to step up.

9. Clemson – Brad Brownell is a good coach, but his Tigers have yet to establish an identity. To be fair, their identity under former head coach Oliver Purnell was “over promise, peak too soon, under deliver,” so a little patience may be in order.

10. Wake Forest – Travis McKie is such a strong player, he’d probably be an all-league performer if he were playing elsewhere. CJ Harris is going to do his level best to get the Deacs where they want to go, but losing Tony Chennault to Villanova and Carson Desrosiers to Providence hurt, a lot.

11. Boston College – The jury is still out on whether Steve Donahue’s fancy Ivy League ways will translate to Chestnut Hill. The talent level at BC is just not ACC-caliber right now, so the system will have to triumph for this ranking to change.

12. Virginia Tech – Too much turmoil in Blacksburg. Seth Greenberg was let go too late in the offseason for his unknown replacement, James Johnson, to get a real grip on the reins. This team could struggle to recover for some time.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Top 25 Countdown: Others receiving votes

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Butler:

  • Last Season: 22-15, 11-7 Horizon (t-3rd); Lost in the CBI semifinals
  • Key Losses: Ronald Nored, Chrishawn Hopkins
  • Key Returnees: Andrew Smith (10.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Khyle Marshall (9.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Roosevelt Jones (7.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Rotnei Clarke, Kellen Dunham
  • Outlook: Butler is always a tough team defensively, they are much more athletic than you would expect a Butler team to be, and they addressed their biggest issue from last season (perimeter shooting) with the additions of Clarke and Dunham. The problem? The point guard spot. They lost their best defender (Nored) to graduation and their best play maker (Hopkins) to the dreaded violation of team rules.

Cincinnati:

  • Last Season: 26-11, 12-6 Big East (t-4th); Lost to Ohio State in the Sweet 16
  • Key Losses: Yancy Gates, Dion Dixon
  • Key Returnees: Sean Kilpatrick (14.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Cashmere Wright (10.9 ppg, 4.6 apg, 2.0 spg), JaQuon Parker (9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Justin Jackson (5.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Titus Rubles, Shaquille Thomas
  • Outlook: Cincinnati’s perimeter attack is promising as they bring back Kilpatrick, who will compete for Big East Player of the Year, and one of the most underrated point guards in the conference in Wright. The key will be Parker’s ability to rebound and defend at the four spot, which allows the Bearcats to play small. Cincinnati will  have to do that quite often, as they have quite a few question marks up front.

Davidson:

  • Last Season: 25-8, 16-2 SoCon (1st); Lost to Louisville in the Opening Round
  • Key Losses: None
  • Key Returnees: De’Mon Brooks (15.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Jake Cohen (14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg), Nik Cochran (10.9 ppg, 3.6 apg), JP Kuhlman (10.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg), Chris Czerapowicz (10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: None
  • Outlook: Davidson won the usually-balanced Southern Conference by four full games last season. They went into Kansas City and knocked off Kansas. They gave Louisville a fight in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And they bring everyone back from last season. The Wildcats have a chance to be very, very good this season.

Drexel:

  • Last Season: 29-7, 16-2 CAA (1st); Lost in the NIT Quarterfinals
  • Key Losses: Samme Givens
  • Key Returnees: Frantz Massenat (13.7 ppg, 4.8 apg), Damion Lee (12.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Chris Fouch (10.8 ppg)
  • Key Newcomers: Tavon Allen, Casey Carroll
  • Outlook: With VCU leaving the CAA, the Dragons look like they will be the favorite to repeat as conference champions. Losing Givens will hurt, but Bruiser Flint has plenty of big bodies at his disposal. The perimeter attack will be as good as ever, as Massenat will be preseason 1st team all-CAA while Lee (a sophomore) has a chance to be the conference player of the year before he graduates.

Florida State:

  • Last Season: 25-9, 12-4 ACC (3rd); Lost to Cincinnati in the Round of 32
  • Key Losses: Bernard James, Luke Loucks, Deividas Dulkys
  • Key Returnees: Michael Snaer (14.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg), Ian Miller (10.3 ppg), Okaro White (7.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Montay Brandon, Aaron Thomas, Devon Bookert, Boris Bojanovsky
  • Outlook: Florida State is always going to be a tough team defensively. They are always going to have big, physical post players. That’s never going to change. This year, they’ll have one of the best all-around guards in the country in Snaer in the mix. The key will be if Miller or the talented crop of freshmen guards can develop and provide Snaer with some offensive support.

Kansas State:

  • Last Season: 22-11, 10-8 Big 12 (5th); Lost to Syracuse in the Round of 32
  • Key Losses: Frank Martin (coach), Jamar Samuels
  • Key Returnees: Rodney McGruder (15.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Angel Rodriguez (8.3 ppg, 3.2 apg), Jordan Henriquez (7.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Bruce Weber (coach), Michael Orris, Darrell Johnson
  • Outlook: The Wildcats have a solid core to build their team around. McGruder is a potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidate while Rodriguez is a guy that will be on quite a few breakout performer lists. Throw in Will Spradling in the back court on a front court anchored by Henriquez and the big-bodied Thomas Gipson, and K-State’s got a chance to win the league if they can adapt to Bruce Weber’s coaching style.

Marquette:

  • Last Season: 27-8, 14-4 Big East (2nd); Lost to Florida in the Sweet 16
  • Key Losses: Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder
  • Key Returnees: Vander Blue (8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.6 apg), Junior Cadougan (6.3 ppg, 5.4 apg), Davante Gardner (9.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Todd Mayo (7.9 ppg)
  • Key Newcomers: Trent Lockett, Steve Taylor, Jamal Ferguson
  • Outlook: Marquette has a slew of quality players on their roster, particularly on their perimeter, but there are a couple question marks I have for this group. Is there a go-to guy on the roster? How good will Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett be playing meaningful games? Who has the ball in their hands at the end of a clock? Who fills the role of the face-up power forward vacated by Crowder?

Miami:

  • Last Season: 20-13, 9-7 (t-4th);  Lost in the Second Round of the NIT
  • Key Losses: Malcolm Grant, DeQuan Jones
  • Key Returnees: Durand Scott (12.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.1 apg), Kenny Kadji (11.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 41.8% 3’s), Reggie Johnson (10.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Shane Larkin (7.4 ppg, 2.9 apg)
  • Key Newcomers: Bishop Daniels
  • Outlook: The ‘Canes look like they could end up being the best team in the ACC outside of the Triangle this season. Kadji and Johnson form a nice inside-outside duo in the front court while Scott and Larkin headline a versatile group on the perimeter. If Miami is going to make some noise, this is the year to do it: six of their top seven players are seniors.

Minnesota:

  • Last Season: 23-15, 6-12 Big Ten (9th); Lost in the NIT Final
  • Key Losses: Ralph Sampson III
  • Key Returnees: Trevor Mbakwe (14.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg), Rodney Williams (12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Julian Welch (9.5 ppg, 2.9 apg, 43.8% 3’s)
  • Key Newcomers: Charles Buggs, Wally Ellenson
  • Outlook: Looking at the Gopher’s rotation, there is a lot to like. For starters, double-double machine Mbakwe is back for a sixth-year. Will Williams alongside him up front and a trio of talented perimeter players in Welch and the two Hollinses, Tubby Smith has an NCAA tournament-caliber team. The point guard spot will once again be a year-long question mark, however.

Murray State:

  • Last Season: 31-2, 15-1 OVC (1st); Lost to Marquette in the Round of 32
  • Key Losses: Donte Poole, Ivan Aska, Jewuan Long
  • Key Returnees: Isaiah Canaan (19.0 ppg, 3.6 apg, 45.6% 3’s), Ed Daniel (6.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg), Zay Jackson? (4.9 ppg, 2.3 apg)
  • Key Newcomers: Erick McCree, Jeffery Moss, CJ Ford
  • Outlook: Murray State lost quite a few important players from last season’s team, but the good news is that they do get back an all-american in Canaan and the athletic and energetic Daniel. Those two will put up numbers and Murray State will wins a lot of games, but a stronger OVC combined with Jackson’s off-season arrest makes a return trip to the dance anything but a guarantee.

North Texas:

  • Last Season: 18-14, 9-7 Sun Belt (5th)
  • Key Losses: Johnny Jones (coach)
  • Key Returnees: Tony Mitchell (14.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.0 bpg), Chris Jones (14.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.4 spg), Jordan Williams (10.9 ppg), Alzee Williams (10.5 ppg)
  • Key Newcomers: Tony Benford (coach), TJ Taylor, Keith Coleman, Clarke Overlander, PJ Hardwick
  • Outlook: Normally, teams that finish fifth in the Sun Belt aren’t destined to be top 25 programs, but this Mean Green team is anything but normal. Mitchell is a lottery pick that never was eligible at Missouri. Jones and Jordan Williams were academically ineligible for the second semester last season. Taylor signed with Oklahoma out of high school and Marquette out of Junior College. Roger Franklin transferred in from Oklahoma State. Benford has a very, very good team on his hands.

Oklahoma State:

  • Last Season: 15-18, 7-11 Big 12 (9th)
  • Key Losses: Keiton Page, Cezar Guerrero
  • Key Returnees: Le’Bryan Nash (13.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Markel Brown (10.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 apg), Brian Williams (9.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg), JP Olukemi* (9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Marcus Smart, Phil Forte, Kamari Murphy, Kirby Gardner
  • Outlook: There’s a lot to like with this Oklahoma State team, especially if Olukemi gets his waiver to be eligible all season. Nash and Smart give the Cowboys more consensus top ten recruits than the entire ACC. Markel Brown is a Sportscenter Top Ten play waiting to happen. But they have no size and question marks at the point. Smart has drawn rave reviews at that spot, but can he run the show at the Big 12 level?

Saint Mary’s:

  • Last Season: 27-6, 14-2 WCC (1st); Lost to Purdue in the Opening Round
  • Key Losses: Rob Jones, Clint Steindl
  • Key Returnees: Matthew Dellavedova (15.5 ppg, 6.4 apg), Stephen Holt (10.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 spg), Brad Waldow (8.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Chris Reyes
  • Outlook: Losing Jones will hurt, but with a very talented back court — headlined by Dellavedova and the underrated Holt — returning, Randy Bennett’s club should be able to compete with Gonzaga for the WCC title once again. Two things to keep an eye on: the development of the sophomore Waldow up front, and what, if any, sanctions will come out of the investigation into the Gaels’ recruiting.

South Dakota State:

  • Last Season: 27-8, 15-3 Summit (2nd); Lost to Baylor in the Opening Round
  • Key Losses: Griffin Callahan
  • Key Returnees: Nate Wolters (21.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.9 apg), Jordan Dykstra (11.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 47.3% 3’s), Chad White (9.3 ppg, 47.2% 3’s), Brayden Carlsen (7.3 ppg, 46.1% 3’s)
  • Key Newcomers: Connor Divine, Jacob Bittle, Matt Donlan
  • Outlook: The Jackrabbits bring back Wolters, who is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players in the country. Their game plan is simple: give Wolters the ball, let him try to penetrate, and put shooters in four spots on the floor around him. Those shooters are back, too, although losing Callahan will hurt. When the threes are dropping, this team is fun to watch and tough to beat. Keep an eye on them.

Stanford:

  • Last Season: 26-11, 10-8 Pac-12 (7th); Won the NIT
  • Key Losses: Josh Owens, Andrew Zimmerman
  • Key Returnees: Chasson Randle (13.8 ppg, 43.8% 3’s), Aaron Bright (11.7 ppg, 3.7 apg, 43.6% 3’s), Dwight Powell (5.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Anthony Brown (8.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Rosco Allen, Grant Verhoeven, Christian Sanders
  • Outlook: The Cardinal have plenty of talent on their roster. Randle is one of the country’s best kept secrets, while Brown and Bright provide some balance on the perimeter. Stanford’s front line is the difference maker for this team. Allen, Verhoeven and Powell have plenty of potential, but this team is probably still a year away from peaking.

Tennessee:

  • Last Season: 19-15, 10-6 SEC (t-2nd); Lost in the Second Round of the NIT
  • Key Losses: Cameron Tatum, Renaldo Woolridge
  • Key Returnees: Trae Golden, Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon
  • Key Newcomers: Derek Reese, Armani Moore, D’Montre Edwards
  • Outlook: Did you know that Tennessee finished second in the SEC last season? And they bring back essentially their entire roster? That includes Stokes, who had a very successful season despite enrolling in January, when he was supposed to be a high school senior. The Vols are going to be a tough, physical team that is no fun to play. On the nights they get scoring from their wings, they’ll be very difficult to get a win against.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Twenty-five must-see non-conference games in 2012-13

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of The Lists we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The season is rapidly approaching, with less than two weeks to go before practices officially begin across the nation. So, what are some of the non-conference games that you should keep an eye on this season? Twenty-five such games are listed below including a couple surprises (tried to list a team no more than twice), but the game at the top of the list should surprise no one.

1. Kentucky at Louisville (December 29)
This game topping the list shouldn’t be a surprise, as the Wildcats and Cardinals are two of the teams expected to contend for a national title. Kentucky won both meetings last year, something that the Louisville players will be reminded of quite often. Youth vs. experience and two of the best coaches in the game makes for must-see entertainment at the KFC Yum! Center.

2. North Carolina at Indiana (November 27)
Given the heavy personnel losses that North Carolina suffered the team that shows up in Bloomington probably won’t look like the “finished” product come March. But a game like this can be an excellent learning tool for Roy Williams’ team as they’ll take on the team many have labeled as the favorite to win the national title. North Carolina traditionally ranks among the best teams in the country, but do they have the horses to win at Indiana?

3. Duke vs. Kentucky (November 13)
Another one of the “youth vs. experience” battles for Kentucky, but as we’ve seen during the John Calipari era the Wildcats win them more often than not. But Duke in Atlanta should be an intriguing match-up, especially when considering Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer, Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress taking on Duke’s Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Amile Jefferson.

4. Louisville at Memphis (December 15)
The old foes get together in one final non-conference battle before the Tigers join the Big East in 2013, and Josh Pastner’s got a team that is talented enough to win some NCAA tournament games. Adonis Thomas is back to full strength after missing a sizable portion of last season with a broken foot, and the arrival of Shaq Goodwin will help the Tigers inside. Louisville is deep and experienced, but the game will ultimately come down to how much point guards Joe Jackson (Memphis) and Peyton Siva (Louisville) have improved.

5. NC State at Michigan (November 27)
This is probably a bit high on the list but Michigan should be one of Indiana’s biggest challengers in the Big Ten. Guard Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. both return and John Beilein also has his best incoming freshman class since arriving in Ann Arbor. But the same can be said for the Wolfpack, who have an outstanding freshman class with three McDonald’s All-Americans joining an experienced rotation.

6. Michigan State vs. Kansas (November 13)
The other game in the Champions Classic doubleheader matches two teams that were highly successful last season but have to replace some important contributors. The Spartans have to adjust to life without Draymond Green, meaning more responsibility for veterans such as Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix and Keith Appling. Kansas moves on with Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor in the NBA, and they’ll ask for more from Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey and Travis Releford. Both have highly-touted newcomers as well, and the questions for both teams should make for a fun battle.

7. Ohio State at Duke (November 28)
Part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, this game will offer a nice look into the progression of Duke point guard Quinn Cook. He’ll have the ball in his hands quite a bit this season, but Ohio State has arguably the nation’s best on-ball defender in junior Aaron Craft. The Buckeyes lose Jared Sullinger and William Buford but DeShaun Thomas returns and LaQuinton Ross should be ready to go after minimal playing time once he was ruled eligible last season.

8. UNLV at North Carolina (December 29)
UNLV won last year’s meeting in impressive fashion in Las Vegas; can they do the same in Chapel Hill? A talented cast of newcomers joins a corps of veterans led by senior guard Anthony Marshall, and Dave Rice’s team is more than capable of making serious noise in March. North Carolina has a healthy Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland, and James Michael McAdoo is a player many expect to break out in 2012-13.

9. San Diego State vs. UCLA (December 1 in Anaheim)
While many are focusing on the talent that’s arrived in Westwood don’t underestimate San Diego State when it comes to who the best team in southern California is. Reigning Mountain West POY Jamaal Franklin returns as do Chase Tapley, James Rahon and Xavier Thames, and newcomers such as freshman Winston Shepard will be heard from as well. UCLA will counter with their four-member freshman class and front court returnees who need to step up if they’re to contend in the Pac-12.

10. Florida at Arizona (December 15)
Despite having to go with Nick Johnson at the point the Wildcats held their own in Gainesville in last season’s meeting. With Mark Lyons on board don’t look for Sean Miller to have to make such a move in the rematch. Florida boasts an experienced front court led by Patric Young and Erik Murphy, which will be a good test for Arizona’s young but talented front court.

11. Kansas at Ohio State (December 22)
These two met in Lawrence last season (sans an injured Jared Sullinger) with the Jayhawks picking up the victory. Is Naadir Tharpe ready to take over at the point for Kansas, or will it be someone else that runs the show? Whoever that man may be, they’ll have to deal with the defense of Aaron Craft. And three players who either had to sit out all of (KU’s Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor) or saw limited duty (OSU’s LaQuinton Ross) last season will be on display.

12. Syracuse vs. San Diego State (November 9)
This one’s actually being played on the USS Midway just outside of San Diego, so while the Aztecs are much closer to the venue this won’t be like playing in front of “The Show” from an atmosphere standpoint. How prepared is sophomore Michael Carter-Williams to take over at the point? We’re going to find out as he’ll take on SDSU’s experienced back court led by Mountain West POY Jamaal Franklin.

13. Saint Joseph’s at Creighton (December 1)
Hopefully college basketball fans don’t overlook this battle because both the Hawks and Bluejays are capable of making noise this season. The individual match-up of Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Saint Joseph’s C.J. Aiken shouldn’t disappoint (although it’s possible that Aiken will see more of Gregory Echenique than McDermott), and both teams have very good players on the perimeter as well.

14. Missouri at UCLA (December 28)
This is the Tigers’ final road game before the begin SEC play, and Frank Haith’s club is more than capable of making a splash in their new league. Point guard Phil Pressey is one of the country’s best and a rotation that adds some talented transfers (Keion Bell and Alex Oriakhi being two) should have good chemistry thanks to a summer trip to Europe. They’ll be tested by the Bruins, who have some talented newcomers of their own to rely on.

15. Michigan State at Miami (November 28)
How good can Miami be? Along with Maryland the Hurricanes have the talent needed to make a jump in the ACC standings. Shane Larkin and Durand Scott can be a handful for opposing teams, and the chance to take on Michigan State at home is something that Jim Larranaga’s program needs to take advantage of (statement game).

16. Tennessee at Georgetown (November 30)
The Volunteers’ struggles before Jarnell Stokes arrived on campus did a number on their NCAA tournament hopes last year, but having he and Jeronne Maymon together for an entire season will make them a contender in the SEC. The Hoyas on the other hand lost a lot from last year’s squad but a talented freshman class and the development of Otto Porter should net them another NCAA tournament appearance.

17. Stanford at NC State (December 18)
Two teams that hope to contend for (if not win) their respective conferences meet in Raleigh a week before Christmas. Mark Gottfried’s Wolfpack reached the Sweet 16 last season and some believe this group is capable of winning the program’s first ACC regular season title since 1989. Stanford on the other hand is looking to build on a Postseason NIT title, and the chance to see talented players such as Chasson Randle (Stanford) and C.J. Leslie (NC State) is one fans shouldn’t pass up.

18. Baylor at Gonzaga (December 28)
If there’s one thing people should give credit to Scott Drew for it’s the willingness to take on high-caliber opponents in hostile environments. Last year the Bears went to Provo where they held off BYU, and they’ll be looking to do the same against Gonzaga at “The Kennel”. Baylor has a talented rotation led by guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip, and Gonzaga will counter with a deep group anchored by guard Kevin Pangos and forward Elias Harris.

19. New Mexico at Cincinnati (December 27)
While neither the Lobos nor the Bearcats are considered to be favorites in their respective conferences, both are talented enough to make a run at the Mountain West and Big East titles. Guard play should be good in this one as New Mexico brings Kendall Williams and Tony Snell to the Queen City, where Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick await.

20. Butler vs. Indiana (December 15)
Part of a doubleheader at Conseco Fieldhouse (Notre Dame/Purdue being the other tilt), a lot will be learned about the Bulldogs on the perimeter. Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke moves to the point, and the question is whether or not he can find the proper balance between getting guys their shots and taking a few of his own. Butler’s going to need Clarke to take on both tasks this season, and the duel between he and Jordan Hulls should be fun to watch.

21. Minnesota vs. Duke (November 22)
Trevor Mbakwe is back from the torn ACL that ended his season in 2011-12, and had the now 6th-year senior been healthy there’s a good chance that Tubby Smith’s team would have made the NCAA tournament. He and Rodney Williams lead a Golden Gopher squad that should finish in the top half of the Big Ten (at least), and this quarterfinal game against Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis is one they can win.

22. BYU vs. Florida State (November 16)
The is one of two games in the Coaches vs. Cancer event at the Barclays Center (don’t miss Notre Dame/Saint Joseph’s either), and if BYU wants to avoid an NCAA seed similar to last year (14-seed) they can use this win on their resume. FSU may have lost Bernard James but Michael Snaer and Ian Miller return, making them a threat in the ACC.

23. North Texas at Saint Louis (December 5)
Tony Benford certainly isn’t ducking challengers in his first season in Denton, as the Mean Green begin their season at Creighton. Does Saint Louis, who is expected to contend in the Atlantic 10, have enough inside to contain All-America candidate Tony Mitchell? Can the Mean Green keep SLU’s guards, led by Kwamain Mitchell, under wraps?

24. Ohio at Massachusetts (December 19)
Ohio’s D.J. Cooper and UMass’ Chaz Williams are two of the best point guards in the country, and they’ll be on the same court in this one. Jim Christian takes over a deep team that reached the Sweet 16 last year, but Derek Kellogg can match the Bobcats man for man with his rotation. This game will have major implications for both teams as the conversations about RPI and SOS intensify later in the year.

25. Saint Mary’s vs. Drexel (November 22)
The favorite in the CAA meets the reigning WCC champion in the quarters of the Anaheim Classic and it’s worthy of being a final. But most importantly viewers should keep an eye on the match-up at point guard, with SMC’s Matthew Dellavedova taking on Drexel’s Frantz Massenat.

Five others: Colorado State at Colorado (December 5), Alabama at VCU (December 15), Wisconsin at Marquette (December 8), Florida vs. Kansas State (December 22 in Kansas City) and Marshall vs. West Virginia (December 5 in Charleston, WV).

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.