Damian Lillard

Montana’s Will Cherry is a ‘game-time decision’ on Saturday

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Coming into the season, Montana was one of the mid-major programs that everyone loved.

With quite a bit of talent, including the underrated back court duo of Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar, back for another season, the Grizzlies were expected to improve on a season where they beat out Damian Lillard’s Weber State team for both the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles.

The problem?

Cherry has yet to ‘return’, so to speak. The talented lead guard broke his foot back in September and has yet to make it back to full health.

He appears to be close, according to Shaun Rainey:

[tweet https://twitter.com/ShaunRainey/status/276091221133381632 align=’center’]

I’ll let Jonathon Reed of Big Sky Basketball explain what his return would mean:

Keron DeShields and Jordan Gregory are solid players now and will be good starters eventually, but they are not good or experienced enough right now to lighten the burden on Kareem Jamar. … Cherry is a lockdown defender, but he is also a creator on offense and a guy that defenses have to pay a lot of attention to because of his ability to get to the rim or hit the midrange jumper. They miss him offensively.

While losing Cherry for the non-conference portion of the schedule likely cost Montana a shot at an at-large bid, getting him back in the fold before league play means that he should be healthy once Montana’s truly important games start.

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

Could Utah State’s cold shooting night cost them down the road?

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While it wasn’t a part of any of the in-season tournaments played on Thursday night, an important contest matching two of the better non-BCS programs in the country took place in Logan, Utah.

Saint Mary’s visited Utah State in a game that is likely to become even bigger as the season wears on when we begin to look at teams’ NCAA tournament resumes, and the Gaels left the Spectrum with a 67-58 victory.

Despite out-rebounding the Gaels 49-30 and turning the ball over just ten times, Utah State fell for one simple reason: they couldn’t shoot.

The Aggies shot 32.3% from the field and 3-of-16 from three last night, and leading scorer Preston Medlin managed just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field. Those factors were enough to cancel out the rebounding edge and the fact that junior center Jarred Shaw accounted for 17 points and 15 rebounds.

“I’m not doom-and-gloom about that game and I don’t want our kids to be. We’ve just got some guys who need to find their way,” said head coach Stew Morrill after the game.

“We were nervous, we didn’t shoot the ball well. We hung in there and kept competing, but we just couldn’t make shots. With that poor of a percentage, it’s obviously hard to win, especially against a really good team.”

By comparison the Gaels shot 45.7% from the field with Matthew Dellavedova scoring a game-high 21 points,  Stephen Holt adding 16 and one-time Aggie James Walker III scoring 14 points in his return to the Spectrum.

While there certainly isn’t a need for Utah State or its fans to panic just two games into the season, there is the question of the impact a game like this could have on their NCAA tournament resume to consider.

A look at the Aggies’ non-conference schedule makes you wonder if they’ll have enough opportunities to impress before entering WAC play, with the game at BYU on December 5 looking like their best opportunity for a “statement” victory.

Utah State also has games against Weber State (November 24), who is expected to contend in the Big Sky despite the loss of Damian Lillard, and at Santa Clara (November 28). But the non-conference slate that Utah State has likely makes that BracketBusters home game on February 22 or 23 all the more important should they not grab the WAC’s automatic berth.

Given Utah State’s performance on the offensive end of the floor during the Morrill era, it’s unlikely that Medlin and company will duplicate last night’s shooting performance. But could the impact of a cold two hours cost them on Selection Sunday? Only time will tell.

Quote courtesy of Utah State University

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Conference Preview: Its Nate Wolters or bust in The Summit League

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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.

With the departure of Oral Roberts to the Southland Conference, the Summit League title is up for grabs, and the spotlight will shift from Tulsa, OK to Brookings, SD, home of Nate Wolters and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.  Remember how popular Damian Lillard and Isaiah Canaan were last year? That’s how big Nate Wolters is going to get this season.  I mean, we’re talking huge. Not quite to Jimmer-levels of pandemonium, but it’s gonna be close. The 6-foot-3 senior dynamo is one of the best scorers in the country and he has a savory touch from outside the arch. In short, he is everything you love about college hoops, and everything you need in order to become a superstar. Wolters does have some help (Senior forward Jordan Dykstra), but the Jackrabbits will ultimately go only as far as Wolters can take them.

But if for some reason the Jackrabbits stumble, the Bison of North Dakota State are there to steal the spotlight. The top three scorers from last season return, led by first team All-Conference guard Taylor Braun.  The 6-foot-7 junior was the team’s top scorer last year (15.6ppg) and has all the makings of a high-octane scorer that the Summit League is becoming know for. Since we’re talking about high scoring affairs and the Summit League, we cannot forget about Greg Kampe’s Oakland Golden Grizzlies. Last season the Golden Griz ranked ninth in the country in points per game (79.6ppg) and although Reggie Hamilton is gone, Travis Bader returns and is expected to do the majority of the scoring this season.

The Summit League also features a talented Western Illinois program that should be much improved this season, as well as a first-year program in Nebraska-Omaha.

Then there is the curious case of the shortened acronyms. The Summit League has long been known for housing some of the most interesting school and mascot names in the country. But league officials decided during the offseason that Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) will change to Kansas City, and Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (IPFW) will change to Fort Wayne. Luckily, officials did not mess with Indiana Univeristy – Purdue Univeristy Indianapolis (IUPUI).

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Travis Bader, (Oakland)
G/F Taylor Braun, (North Dakota State)
G Ceola Clark III, (Western Illinois)
G Frank Gaines, (Fort Wayne)
G Nate Wolters, (South Dakota State)*

Predicted Standings
1. South Dakota State
2. North Dakota State
3. Oakland
4. Western Illinois
5. IUPUI
6. Fort Wayne
7. South Dakota
8. Kansas City
9. Nebraska-Omaha

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

Conference Preview: Montana aims for Big Sky repeat

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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.

Last season was a very good one at the top of the Big Sky, as both Montana and Weber State were both teams that college basketball fans had to take notice of. In addition to both of those teams winning 25 games the Big Sky also had its first NBA Draft lottery pick ever as Weber State’s Damian Lillard was selected 6th overall by Portland (Michael Ray Richardson was the 4th pick in 1978, before the lottery was instituted in 1985).

But it was Montana who won both the regular season and postseason titles, and with guards Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar back the Grizzlies are the favorites in the eyes of many. But they’ve incurred a couple of losses before a game’s been played, as Cherry is out for three months due to a knee injury and junior college transfer Marko Kovacevic (will enroll at Utah next season) was not cleared academically.

So while the Grizzlies remain the favorites the door has opened a bit wider for the competition in the Big Sky, with Weber State once again the chief challenger. Scott Bamforth and Gelaun Wheelwright are back along with front court standouts Kyle Tresnak and Byron Fulton. Northern Colorado returns four starters led by guard Tate Unruh from a team that was a bit young to be expected to contend last season, but the Bears are ready to go in 2012-13.

Portland State may have lost leading scorers Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott, but the return of Renado Parker and Lateef McMillan makes them a threat as well. Eastern Washington welcomes back Collin Chiverton and Saint Joseph’s transfer Justin Crosgile will help them on the perimeter, while Freshman of the Year Dylan Garrity leads four returning starters at Sacramento State. Idaho State and Montana State had tumultuous offseasons, and there’s optimism for the future in Flagstaff as former Memphis assistant Jack Murphy takes over at Northern Arizona.

The Big Sky also welcomes two new members, as North Dakota (Great West) and Southern Utah (Summit League) now call the conference home. While it would be tough to expect Southern Utah to contend under first-year head coach Nick Robinson, the same can’t be said for the Fighting Sioux. Four starters led by guard Troy Huff return to Grand Forks, and this is a program that has made consecutive trips to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Montana is the favorite to repeat in the Big Sky, but they won’t lack for challengers either.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Will Cherry (Montana)*
G Scott Bamforth (Weber State)
G/F Kareem Jamar (Montana)
F Collin Chiverton (Eastern Washington)
C Kyle Tresnak (Weber State)

Predicted Standings
1. Montana
2. Weber State
3. Northern Colorado
4. Sacramento State
5. North Dakota
6. Eastern Washington
7. Portland State
8. Montana State
9. Idaho State
10. Northern Arizona
11. Southern Utah

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

Delaware embraces standing as the hunted in the CAA

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ARLINGTON, Va – Recruiting is a fickle science.

As much as any coach or recruiting pundit wants to claim that they can watch an AAU game and pick out who will be the best collegiate players, so much of a program’s recruiting success can come down to dumb luck. Were you in the gym on the right day to see the right kid, or did you give up on a player too quickly after one poor performance.

The former happened to Delaware head coach Monte’s Ross, and the latter nearly did.

Jamelle Hagins is the best big man in the CAA, and there really isn’t much of a discussion to have on the matter. The 6-foot-9 senior is coming off of a season where he averaged a double-double, 12.4 points and 11.1 rebounds, while swatting away 3.0 shots on a nightly basis. But the first time Ross saw Hagins play, he had no interest in the Roanoke, VA, native.

“I was in Vegas and my assistant sent me to see him, and he played three minutes,” Ross said at CAA media day last week. “I’m like, ‘I would like to like him, but he didn’t play, so I don’t know.'”

Luckily for Ross, he had a coaching staff that believed in Hagins, enough so that the same assistant made a trip down to Roanoke over Christmas, a trip that Ross responded to by saying “I think you’re wasting your time, but if you want to, go ahead and watch him.” Eventually, his staff convinced Ross to give Hagins another look, and they offered a scholarship. Hagins picked the Blue Hens over Radford.

“It was the best recruiting trip that he twisted my arm to go on,” Ross said. “That’s recruiting, though. It came down to us and Radford for him, and now he’ll be the best big man in the league.”

And that’s not the only stroke of luck Delaware had on the recruiting trail. At one AAU tournament, Ross and his staff, on the trail for a shooter, happened to walk by a court and see a kid hit a three. By the time they reached the other end of the court, the same kid had hit another three. They decided at that point to stop and check out the rest of the game, and the kid eventually went for 40 points. His name was Kyle Anderson, and he was a 6-foot-2 guard from Illinois. He didn’t have a profile on Rivals.com and he wasn’t graded as a recruit on ESPN.com.

Anderson started 30 games for the Blue Hens as a freshman and averaged 8.9 points.

It hasn’t all been luck for Ross, however, as the biggest reason his team was picked to finish second in the CAA are the two smallest guys on the floor, Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt.

Saddler is a proven scorer; he averaged 18.8 points as a sophomore. Where Saddler needs to improve is in the efficiency department. With the talent surrounding him on the roster, shooting 39.1% from the floor and turning the ball over 3.2 times per game (for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.55:1) is no longer acceptable.

“One of the things that we’ve really talked to him about this summer was, ‘You have to cut down on your turnovers,'” Ross said. “We consider a bad shot a turnover, so be more selective in the shots that you take.”

Ross wants to see Saddler embrace the role that Charles Jenkins played for Hofstra and Damian Lillard player for Weber State. Those guys not only put up massive numbers, but they did so while posting efficiency stats that made Kenpom salivate. “That will allow him to elevate his game,” Ross said. “Maybe he didn’t fully trust it when he was younger, but now he trusts the talent around him and I think that will lead him to making better decisions and also taking better shots.”

One of the guys that Saddler will need to learn to trust is Threatt, who capped off his freshman year in dramatic style. Over the last eight games of the season, Threatt averaged 19.6 points while getting to the line an incredible 92 times during that stretch.

It will be interesting to see how Ross will spread shots and touches throughout his lineup, as both Saddler and Threat are talents that like to have the ball in their hands. Too much talent is a good problem to have, however.

It’s why the Blue Hens find themselves in a unique position heading into the season: as “the targeted and not the targeter.”

“It’s [a different position for us], but it’s a position I like better than being at the bottom,” Ross said.

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

College Hoops Preview: 15 Players with Breakout Potential

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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.

There are a handful of different ways to predict what players are destined for breakout seasons. Were their minutes eaten up by players that have graduated or headed to the NBA? Did they produce high-efficiency numbers while playing limited minutes? Are they finally healthy? Was it simply a matter of a freshman becoming a sophomore or a player legitimately spending a summer improving?

The answer, simply, is yes. To all of the above.

So without further ado, here are 15 guys (plus a few extra) whose name we believe you will become familiar with by the end of the season:

Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: Blackshear, a sophomore, entered Louisville with a fair amount of hype, but spent the majority of last season dealing with a shoulder injury that, originally, was thought would end his season. He put together a couple of promising performances late in the season. A 6-foot-5 scorer on the wing, Blackshear gives Louisville a weapon that they were missing last season. He may not put up huge numbers next year — with how many bodies Louisville has, there may not be anyone that does — but he will be one of their biggest assets.

Michael Caffey and James Ennis, Long Beach State: Long Beach State was one of the nation’s best mid-majors last season, but lose five of their top seven scorers from last season. The two guys that do come back — Caffey and Ennis — should keep the 49ers atop the Big West this year. Caffey, a sophomore, is a dynamic back court presence who should fill the void left by Casper Ware while Ennis, a senior, is a rangy, 6-foot-6 wing whose athleticism is already drawing NBA scouts to Long Beach.

Michael Carter-Williams and CJ Fair, Syracuse: Carter-Williams is a perfect fit for Syracuse on both sides of the ball. A talented scorer in high school, Jim Boeheim recruited the 6-foot-5 guard with the intention of molding him into more of a play-maker. With Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine gone, there will be plenty of minutes and touches available for the sophomore. Fair wasn’t as highly-regarded in high school as MCW, but the long and athletic — and lefty — 6-foot-8 forward has shown flashes of greatness in his two seasons with the Orange. As a primary option in the front court this season, don’t be surprised to see Fair become the best face-up power forward in the Big East.

Quinn Cook, Duke: As we wrote in our preview, Duke has a lot of potential this season, but whether they reach that potential is dependent of a number of factors. The most important is Cook, now a sophomore. The Blue Devils have some weapons offensively, but what they are missing — what they were missing last season — was a play-maker that could break down a defense. That’s precisely what Cook, who finally had a healthy summer to improve his game, is.

Sam Dower, Gonzaga: Despite playing limited minutes for the Bulldogs in his first two seasons in Spokane, Dower was actually quite a productive player. Last season, he scored 8.3 points and grabbed 3.7 boards despite playing a little more than 18 minutes a night. With Robert Sacre graduating, Dower will slide into a starting role as a junior alongside Elias Harris in Mark Few’s front court.

Anton Grady, Cleveland State: Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters has called Anton Grady his future, and he’s right. He was incredibly productive — 8.5 points, 6.4 boards, 1.4 blocks, the team lead in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages — in limited minutes as a freshman, and with so much of Cleveland State’s production from last season graduating, Grady will have plenty of opportunities. Even without Butler in the league, the Horizon has quite a bit of talent. Grady might be the best player in the league.

Treveon Graham, VCU: The Rams bring back the majority of their roster as they move to the Atlantic 10, but the piece they lost was arguably their most valuable: Brad Burgess. Graham, a sophomore, has the tools to fill his role. He’s a bigger wing that has proven that he can shoot the three and rebound the ball, both of which are important as he’ll play as a four in VCU’s pressing system.

Myck Kabongo, Texas: Kabongo entered his freshman season as one of the top point guard recruits in the country, but it took him a while to really learn how to be a point guard at the collegiate level. With J’Covan Brown gone, he’ll be responsible for running the show, and with a core of young talent around him, he’ll need to embrace that leadership role if Texas is to be a contender in the Big 12. All of this is pending a positive outcome to the current agent issue he’s dealing with.

Alex Len, Maryland: Len is an interesting case. He’s a legitimate seven-footer who has put on 30 pounds of muscle during the offseason. He also now has a season under his belt to get used to American basketball. With a full offseason of practice with the team and a chance to spend a full season playing games (he was suspended for the first ten games last year), Len should be on track to become an integral part of Maryland’s offense. Oh, and he’s now able to communicate with his teammates, which is always a plus.

James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina: McAdoo had a chance of being a first round pick if he had left school after his freshman season. Instead, he decided to return, where the former top ten recruit will become the star of the North Carolina front court. And if the 15 points he scored against Thomas Robinson in the Elite 8 last season are any indication, McAdoo is in for a big season.

Otto Porter, Georgetown: Porter is a serious talent. A terrific rebounder and defender, the 6-foot-8 sophomore spent the offseason developing his offensive repertoire. Georgetown’s offense thrives on big men that are able to play on the perimeter and be a threat when facing the basket. That’s Porter. He may not be Jeff Green on the offensive side of the ball just yet, but he’s getting there. That, combined with the threat his imposes in the other aspects of the game, will make him a popular prospect among NBA scouts.

LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: Ross was once the No. 1 recruit in the country, but a series of injuries and conditioning issues dulled the hype. As a freshman at Ohio State, he wasn’t cleared until December and then spent much of the season glued to the bench, playing a grand total of 35 minutes. The talent is still there, however, and with more minutes available as a sophomore, Ross is a guy who could thrive alongside Deshaun Thomas this season.

Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee: Stokes joined the Tennessee program last December, helping lead the Vols to a second place finish in the SEC despite the fact that he was supposed to be preparing for his high school prom. He finished with averages of 9.6 points and 7.4 boards last year. Don’t be surprised if turns into a 15 and 10 performer this year.

Gelaun Wheelwright, Weber State: Wheelwright was a pretty highly regarded prospect coming out of high school in California, as Weber State was able to beat out San Diego State and USC, according to his ESPN profile, on the recruiting trail. He averaged 5.6 points as a freshman backing up Damian Lillard. With Lillard gone to the NBA, the Wildcats offense will be his to commandeer.

Aaron White, Iowa: As a freshman, White averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 boards for an Iowa team that snuck up on some people. With quite a bit of talent returning on that team, Iowa is a sleeper in a loaded Big Ten. White is one of the more promising sophomores in that conference.

Five more breakout candidates to keep an eye on: Anthony Collins, USF; Cory Jefferson, Baylor; Ian Miller, Florida State; Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa; Brad Waldow, St. Mary’s

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