Keith Benson

Conference realignment for Oakland could be on the ‘Horizon’

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It is no secret that for high-major schools, conference realignment is driven by cash. It’s all about the money, revenue, deals, sponsorships, a larger piece of the pie, yada, yada and yada.

But when mid and low-major schools deal with the process of changing conferences, the reasons are much more widespread: location, conference profile, competition level, finances, facility size, etc.

With Butler officially moving to the Atlantic-10 Conference in 2013, the Horizon League will need to find a tenth member to fill the hole left by League’s most recognized university. There may not be another school in the entire country more fitting, and deserving to join the Horizon League than the Summit League’s Oakland University. The reason’s why are plentiful, as Chris Burrows from Run the Floor explains.

First, there is the pedigree. Seven Horizon League members were at one point members of the Summit League.

Then there is also the financial aspect of the move. Oakland spent $1,555,472 on their basketball program in 2010. The average budget for a Horizon League team in 2010 was $1,856,543.

So while they would be in the bottom-half of the league, financially, the Grizzlies still would be a dominant force in basketball, due to the recent success of Greg Kampe’s team. Oakland has made two NCAA tournament appearances in the past three seasons, holds two wins over major-conference school Tennessee, and has produced an NBA draft pick (Keith Benson, Atlanta Hawks, 48th overall in 2011), all coming in just the last five years.  In fact, 15 years ago, Oakland wasn’t even competing at the Division-I level.

There is the location. Oakland is just 26 miles away from Horizon League member Detroit. The closest Summit League team is IPFW, located 185 miles away from Rochester, Mich.

But the relative proximity to Detroit could end up hurting Oakland’s chances, as Horizon League bylaws state that any potential candidate must get permission from league members located within 25 miles from campus. If Detroit wanted to, they could keep Oakland from joining the conference.

If this was a BCS-conference, it would be an apt scenario. Detroit is coming off their first League title  since 1998, and with Butler leaving, the top of league is their’s for the taking. Why would they want another dominant, and local, program to come in and steal their thunder. If this was the Big-XII or SEC, we know what the outcome would be.

But they seem to do things differently at the mid-major level.

The other drawback is that Oakland’s arena is not large enough to meet the Horizon League standards. But Athletic Director Tracy Huth is confident that it wouldn’t be too big of an issue:

I don’t know what some of their facility requirements are in some of the sports. If the call ever came, that would be something we would certainly be looking at.

There is no stopping conference realignment. If schools want to change leagues and conferences, so be it. But there should at least some driving factors other than just money, which is more than apparent in the case of Oakland.

They might not be back-to-back National Championship participants, but the Golden Grizzlies would be a nice fit in the Horizon League, as long as they meet the requirements.

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

Seven good players who are great reasons to watch bad teams

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As teams begin to separate themselves from the pack, we’re beginning to spend more time focusing on and dissecting the elite, and less time on the mediocre.

This shift in attention occurs each season, but if you’re a true college hoophead there’s still plenty of reason to watch or at least follow a number of programs that may not be headed to the NCAA Tournament.

Take Texas’ J’Covan Brown. The Longhorns are already getting the bubble treatment, so I understand that if you’ve got no true allegiance  you’re likely not eager to watch them. But as this program goes through an in-between season, waiting for a top five 2012 recruiting class to get to campus, Brown is carrying this club while growing up at the same time. The Big 12’s leading scorer has improved his efficiency ratings, assist numbers, and is diligently trying to shed his baggage as a headcase.

Brown is just one of many other great stories being written outside the top 25. You just have to know where to look.

The next time you have a chance to watch one of the following players, give the remote a rest and tune in.

Vincent Council – Providence

Despite missing last Saturday’s game against Syracuse at the discretion of coach Ed Cooley, Council has played his way into Big East all-conference consideration. The Friars leading scorer and assist man, Council plays bigger than his 6-2, 180 pound frame and relishes any one-on-one opportunity.  It’s a real bummer the Friars are off to a 1-5 start in league play, but expect Council’s senior season to be special if he continues to improve his game over the summer.

Colt Ryan – Evansville

You know the best player in the Missouri Valley Conference; you don’t know the second best (sorry Kyle Weems). Ryan’s not Doug McDermott, but he’s managed to keep spirits high in Evansville despite the team’s 8-9 overall record. Deadly from beyond the arc at 43 percent, Ryan shouldn’t be mistaken as a one-trick pony. Against Butler, Ryan hurled a curveball at a Brad Stevens scouting report by frequently driving to the basket instead of settling for jumpers. His approach resulted in a 14-18 night from the charity stripe, and an upset win over the two-time national runners up.

Andre Roberson – Colorado

Yeah, yeah, the Buffs are currently first in the Pac-12. They matter, right? Perhaps now, but it’s hard to think that this team will hold form, even in such a mediocre league. Regardless of what happens, continue to follow Roberson, a high ceiling guy who is currently the conference’s leading rebounder. One of those athletic players who must improve his fundamentals and agressiveness, Roberson is a potential NBA lottery pick if he can somehow find some semblance of a jumpshot and a true position.

Arsalan Kazemi – Rice

Because of his background, Kazemi is probably a bigger deal around the world than he is in the United States. Born and raised in Iran, the 6-7 junior forward made his way stateside to The Patterson School after playing professionally in his home country at the ripe age of 16. There’s no question that Kazemi is a true all-around player. He has no major deficiencies or holes in his game, but scouts offer a wide range of opinions on the kid. With the Owls unlikely to appear on national TV anytime soon, you may need to put in a little effort to get a look at Kazemi before he likely bolts back over the pond to play for a top flight European club.

Reggie Hamilton – Oakland

The Golden Grizzlies have won the Summit League the past two seasons. It’s unlikely Greg Kampe’s current roster pulls off a three-peat, but despite guys like Johnathan Jones and Keith Benson long gone, Hamilton continues to keep it real out in Auburn Hills. A transfer from Missouri – Kansas City, the undersized guard is relentless with the basketball, at third in the country in scoring and first in free-throw attempts. Although he’s probably not a favorite amongst KenPom disciples, Hamilton has had some of his best games against tough opponents.

Gerald McLemore – Maine

McLemore attends UMaine but is not from Maine. I am from Maine but did not attend UMaine. Both Gerald and I like basketball. This opportunity to reference the Black Bears excites me. As the leading returning scorer in America East, McLemore continues to score in heaps even though nobody is really watching. UMO is a sub .500 team in a league that currently ranks 31st of 32 conferences, according to RealTimeRPI.com. One reason to keep tabs: McLemore is currently 16 three-pointers away from setting a school record.
Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

Previewing your college hoops weekend: Marquee matchups are few

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Game of the weekend: Sat. 2:30 pm: No. 22 Texas A&M @ No. 13 Florida

This is the one and only game this weekend between ranked teams, and there is good reason to be excited about it as it presents an interesting battle of strengths. Texas A&M really struggled offensively without Khris Middleton in the lineup. Middleton is back in the lineup now, and while he is a guy capable of scoring off the dribble, he’s not a big-time slasher or creator. He thrives as a mid-range scorer and saw his production drop-off last season when Big 12 play came around.

Florida, on the other hand, is a powerhouse offensively. Thanks to their terrific three-point shooting and the emergence of Patric Young in the paint. While they have their struggles on the defensive end of the floor, the Gators are the most efficient offensive team in the country.

Where Texas A&M’s strength lies is in their defense. More specifically, in their perimeter defense. Its not because they are a great rebounding team or force a ton of turnovers, its because they simply do not allow you to get good looks from the field, particularly from three; only Virginia Tech and Alabama State force opponents into shooting a worse percentage from beyond the arc.

So what wins out? Texas A&M’s defense or Florida’s shooters?

Seven more games to keep an eye on

Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 7 Baylor @ BYU: The Bears are a frustrating team to watch. And its not because they are playing poorly; its because they haven’t played anyone yet. Their schedule is 341st in the country to date. Baylor has enough talent to make the Final Four this season, but we thought the same thing about this team last year. The pieces never came together. BYU may not be the same team that they were with Jimmer and Jackson Emery, but they will undoubtedly be the best team that the Bears have faced to date. Let’s see how they fair.

Sat. 2:30 pm: Temple @ Texas: Before the season started, Temple was thought to be the favorite to unseat Xavier from the top of the Atlantic 10. That sentiment may still be true, but with Michael Eric sidelined, the Owls are simply not the same team. They do have a ton of talent on their perimeter, however, and the same can be said for Texas. There may not be a lot of posting up in this game, but seeing these two perimeter attacks go back and forth will be worth the price of admission.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Memphis @ No. 4 Louisville: Two old rivals take the court as the Tigers and the Cardinals meet up in Louisville. The intrigue in this game lies solely in the Tigers. This Memphis team was thought by many to be a Final Four contender heading into the season, and that sentiment hasn’t exactly changed as much as it has been put on hold. For all the talent on their roster, Memphis simply has not been able to perform up to expectations. The key may lie in their effort, or lack thereof, on a nightly basis. Louisville is a stout defensive team that should give the Tigers fits, but the Cardinals have had issues scoring the ball all season long.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Arizona @ Gonzaga: Coming into the year, the sentiment was that these were the best two teams on the west coast. And while that still may end up being true once the season ends, the flaws in both of these teams have been exposed early in the season. Arizona lacks interior depth and playmaking guards that can stay on the court (ahem, Josiah Turner). Gonzaga’s issues lie in the inconsistency in their talented front court — specifically Elias Harris — and the inability of their back court to defend playmakers.

Sat. 5:00 pm: UNLV @ No. 19 Illinois: Illinois is a bit of a question mark at this point in the season. The Illini have made it through the first month of the season with an unblemished record, but they have yet to truly prove themselves. They have some unimpressive wins over uninspiring teams. UNLV, on the other hand, seemingly proved themselves with a win over North Carolina over Thanksgiving weekend, but since then the Rebels have struggled, getting taken to double overtime by UC-Santa Barbara and losing to both Wichita State and Wisconsin in a lackluster fashion. We should learn a lot about both teams in this game.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Villanova @ St. Joe’s: When we talk about heated rivalries, Villanova and St. Joe’s rarely gets mentioned. But The Holy War is widely considered the most intense rivalry in the Big 5. The game has lost some of its luster over the last two years due to the struggles of St. Joe’s, but with the Hawks returning to relevancy and Villanova struggling, we’re looking at what should be a heckuva battle. Believe it or not, St. Joe’s may actually have a better perimeter attack than the Wildcats this year.

Sat. 10:00 pm: Kansas State @ No. 21 Alabama: If you like defense and gritty, gutty basketball, this game is perfect for you. We all know about the kind of team that the Wildcats field under Frank Martin — physical, aggressive, defensive-minded, voracious rebounders. Alabama is similar. They can lock-down defensively as well as anyone in the country, but they struggle to score the ball. Those struggles won’t get any easier against Frank Martin’s team.

Who’s getting upset?: Fri. 10:30 pm: Weber State @ Cal

Cal may actually be the best team in the Pac-12, which isn’t exactly saying much, but with Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp on the roster, the Bears have enough talent to be an NCAA Tournament team. But don’t sleep on Weber State. Damian Lillard is leading the country at 26.9 ppg, capable of putting up some impressive scoring displays — he had 41 points in a win over San Jose State and went for 36 (including 21 straight in the second half) at St. Mary’s. Throw in players like Scott Bamforth, Kyle Tresnak and Kyle Bullinger, and the Wildcats have enough to knock off the Bears.

Five more teams on upset watch

Fri. 10:30 pm: UC-Santa Barbara @ Washington: Once again, Washington has been an enigma this season. They have plenty of talent on their roster — enough that they lost by a combined eight points to both Marquette and Duke in NYC — but they’ve also lost to the likes of Nevada and St. Louis this year. UCSB, on the other hand, has one of the best players in the country that you’ve never heard of in Orlando Johnson. With Joe Nunnally also on the roster, the Gauchos are one of the best mid-major teams in the country.

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 16 Mississippi State @ Detroit: Mississippi State has a shot to be one of the better teams in the SEC this season, but Detroit actually matches up with them fairly well. Ray McCallum is a talented lead guard, and while he isn’t the same player as Dee Bost, there is a reason that so many high-major programs were disappointed when he opted for the Titans. Eli Holman is a good enough big man that he should be able to hand with rnett Moultrie on the block. Throw is leading scorer Chase Simon and the location of this game — Dickie V Court — and the Bulldogs better show up ready to play.

Sat. 2:00 pm: Central Connecticut State @ Northwestern: Normally, it would be a concern if a team was getting just 4.6 ppg out of their fourth-leading scorer. Not with CCSU, however. The Blue Devils have three players averaging more than 19.3 ppg, which should be enough to give Northwestern issues. The Wildcats are 8-1 on the year, but that one loss was a dismantling at home at the hands of Baylor.

Sat. 4:30 pm: Ole Miss @ Southern Miss: The Rebels are an interesting team this season. They are 9-1 on the season and they’ve put together a couple of decent wins this season, but in their one true test they were beaten by 30 by Marquette. Southern Miss lost a lot to graduation last year, but they’ve bounced back nicely this season, putting together a couple of wins against decent opponents en route to a 7-2 record early in the year. More than anything, this game is a chance for us to see if either of these two teams are for real.

Sat. 5:30 pm: Indiana State @ No. 25 Vanderbilt: We all know about the issues that Vanderbilt has had early in the season. They have questionable decision-makers in their back court and they struggle to defend. The good news, however, is that Festus Ezeli is back in the lineup for the ‘Dores. Ezeli will be a problem for Indiana State in the paint, but the Sycamores have more talent than you may think coming from a team that doesn’t look like it will crack the top three in the MVC. At the very least, this game is worth tuning in for to see Jake Odum play.

Mid-major matchups of the weekend: Sun. 1:00 pm: Oral Roberts @ No. 9 Xavier

I know, I know. Its blasphemy saying that Xavier is a mid-major team. But I wanted to write about this game, and its the only place that fit. Oral Roberts is quality Summit League team led by a veteran front court, one good enough to give Gonzaga a fight in Spokane on Thursday night. Xavier will be heading into this game short-handed, as Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dez Wells will all begin their suspensions stemming from the brawl last weekend.

Five more mid-major matchups to watch

Sat. 1:00 pm: Iona @ Vermont: Iona is one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch, regardless of conference affiliation. With Scott Machado, Michael Glover and Momo Jones on their roster, it should be no surprise that this team has been able to pull-off a couple of impressive wins early in the season. But the Catamounts are a tough team to beat at home.

Sat. 5:00 pm: Old Dominion @ Central Florida: Old Dominion is clearly not the same team that they were last season, although that isn’t exactly unexpected given the amount of talent that graduated from Blaine Taylor’s roster. Central Florida, on the other hand, is fairly loaded and already has a win over UConn on their resume.

Sat. 6:30 pm: Boise State @ Denver: This will be one of the more interesting games to keep an eye on this weekend. Both Boise and Denver managed to put together some solid wins early in the season despite not having overwhelming expectations coming into the season. The Broncos match-up well with the Pioneers, who run a Princeton-style offense that loves to control the tempo.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Richmond @ Bucknell: Its never easy to replace players of the caliber of Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper, particularly if you are a program like Richmond. Coming off of a fairly solid beat down at the hands of Iona in their own building, the Spiders must head to Bucknell, the Patriot League favorite.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Oakland @ Valpo: Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton is one of the single-most entertaining players in the country to watch, and this season his Grizzly team has managed to regroup despite losing Keith Benson to graduation. But Valpo looks like they will be a contender in the Horizon this season, coming into this game with a 7-3 record.

The rest of the top 25:

Sat. 6:30 pm: No. 1 Syracuse @ NC State: In their first game with the No. 1 ranking in the country, the Orange leave New York for a non-conference game for the first time three years. NC State is a bit of a sleeper in the ACC this year, but they’ll need big games out of CJ Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood to handle the Orange.

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 2 Ohio State @ South Carolina: Bruce Ellington is finally back in the lineup for South Carolina. But Jared Sullinger has returned for the Buckeyes as well. I think the latter will be more important.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Chattanooga @ No. 3 Kentucky: After watching Terrence Jones sulk his way through a loss at Indiana, I am certainly not the only person that has stated concerns for what kind of player he is going to end up being. Its not so much that he had an off-night shooting the ball, its that he had an off-night effort-wise. That cannot happen. Let’s see how he bounces back.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Appalachian State @ No. 6 UNC: Kendall Marshall is an exquisite passer, but I think that his ability to get Harrison Barnes open looks from the perimeter has helped fuel the theory that Barnes is nothing but a streaky jump-shooter.

Sun. 3:00 pm: William & Mary @ No. 8 Missouri: When you are going up against a team that has been absolutely lethal using a four-guard lineup, its not necessarily a good thing to be a team that puts a four-guard lineup on the floor.

Sun. 1:00 pm: Holy Cross @ No. 10 UConn: I can’t be the only one waiting to see if Alex Oriakhi can break out of the season-long struggles he’s had.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Northern Colorado @ No. 11 Marquette: Chris Otule’s knee injury looks like it will keep him out of the lineup for a while. Will that affect the Eagles?

Sat. 6:00 pm: South Carolina State @ No. 14 Pitt: It will be really interesting to see if Khem Birch is on the court — or even on the roster — when this game is played.

Sat. 12:00 pm: American @ No. 17 Georgetown: Its impossible to overstate how much Henry Sims has improved this season. He’s been one of the best big men in the Big East and a perfect fit for John Thompson III’s offense.

Sat. 12:00 pm: Alabama A&M @ No. 18 Michigan: Michigan deserves much of the credit, along with Indiana, for being the reason that everyone is talking about how good the Big Ten is this season.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Bowling Green @ No. 23 Michigan State: The Spartans have made their way back into the top 25 this season. College hoops is better when Tom Izzo’s team matters.

Sat. 8:05 pm: Houston Baptist @ No. 24 Creighton: How will the Bluejays bounce back from a loss to St. Joe’s?

Other notable games:

Saturday:

– 12:00 pm: Florida Atlantic @ Miami FL
– 2:00 pm: Texas A&M-CC @ West Virginia
– 2:00 pm: Radford @ Cincinnati
– 2:00 pm: Butler @ Purdue
– 2:30 pm: Fordham @ St. John’s
– 3:00 pm: UC-Davis @ UCLA
– 4:00 pm: Campbell @ Virgnia Tech
– 5:30 pm: Notre Dame @ No. 20 Indiana
– 8:00 pm: Arkansas State @ Murray State
– 8:00 pm: San Diego @ Stanford
– 8:00 pm: Alabama State @ St. Louis
– 8:00 pm: Houston @ Oklahoma
– 10:30 pm: New Mexico @ Oklahoma State

Sunday:

– 12:00 pm: Mercer @ Seton Hall
– 2:30 pm: Loyola MD @ St. Bonaventure
– 3:00 pm: South Dakota State @ Washington
– 3:00 pm: Loyola Marymount @ Florida State
– 5:30 pm: Virginia @ Oregon
– 10:00 pm: Portland State @ Oregon State

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

Tuesday’s Shootaround: Xavier wins, St. Mary’s rolls in the second half

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No. 11 Xavier 82, No. 19 Vanderbilt 70: See here.

That link is to what we’ve written on Vanderbilt coming out of this game, but Xavier’s back court needs to get recognition after their performance on Monday night. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons are, simply put, as good as any duo in the country. Yes, I know they struggled for most of the game against a fairly pedestrian Vanderbilt defense. But those struggles disappeared when Xavier needed a bucket. Lyons hit five of his last ten shots of the game, sparked the game-changing, 10-0 that erased the lead that the Commodores had built up and then made the coast-to-coast drive and spinning lay-up that sent the game into overtime.

Holloway was even bigger. After failing to find any kind of rhythm for the majority of the game, the senior hit two daggers on back to back possessions to push Xavier’s overtime lead from two to eight. The best players make the biggest plays in crunch-time, whether or not they have played well during the game. Lyons and Holloway did just that, and they did it to beat a top 20 team on the road. That’s impressive.

No. 6 Louisville 79, Long Beach State 66: Louisville got 18 points from Chris Smith and jumped out to a double-digit lead early in the first half, hanging on to beat a scrappy LBSU team. Louisville hasn’t been running as much as we’ve expected early in the season as Rick Pitino deals with depth issues stemming from his team’s injuries, but the Cardinals looked like the Louisville team we all expected on Monday night.

For the 49ers, this is their third loss after knocking off Pitt on the road, as they dropped close decisions to San Diego State and Montana. That shouldn’t diminish how good this team can be, but unless they string together a couple of wins against some of their big-name non-conference competition, this is a team that is going to have to earn an automatic berth if they want to go dancing.

St. Mary’s 87, Weber State 70: The Gaels got 25 points and 11 assists from Matthew Dellavedova and 24 points and 12 boards from Rob Jones as they used a huge second half to knock off Weber State. The Gaels scored 56 points in the second period and shot 69% from the floor as they managed to outlast Damian Lillard, who was on fire. Lillard finished with 36 points, including 21 straight in the second half to get the Wildcats within six with seven minutes left, but St. Mary’s responded with a 14-2 run to put the game away. Kenton Walker added 14 and 11 off the bench for St. Mary’s.

Oakland 89, Tennessee 81: On the night that they retired Keith Benson’s jersey, Reggie Hamilton did his best to make Grizzly fans forget their standout big man. Hamilton went for 35 points to lead five Grizzlies in double figures as Oakland notched their second consecutive win against the Vols.

UCLA 62, Pepperdine 39: UCLA finally earned their first Division I win of the season as they got 14 points from Laz Jones and held the Waves to just 11 first half points. Perhaps the most notable part of this win? Playing in an arena 17 miles from their campus, UCLA had just 34 students show up to watch the game.

The rest of the top 25:

No. 9 Florida 96, Stetson 70: The Gators were led by 22 points, 10 boards, three blocks and three assists from freshman Brad Beal as Billy Donovan notched his 450th win as a head coach.

No. 16 Marquette 88, Jacksonville 56: Jae Crowder had 27 points, Darius Johnson-Odom had 19 and Vander Blue added seven assists, nine boards and four steals as the Golden Eagles improved to 6-0 on the season.

No. 21 Memphis 70, Jackson State 45: Joe Jackson had 15 points and Chris Crawford added 14, but Memphis struggled through the first 25 minutes before finally turning on the after burners and running Jackson State out of Fed Ex Forum.

No. 23 Cal 73, McNeese State 57: Jorge Gutierrez had 26 points and five assists as Cal sloughed off a poor first half.

Other notable games:

– Georgetown 81, IUPUI 58
– Iona 100, Long Island 84
– West Virginia 77, Akron 56
– Colorado 70, Georgia 68
– Stanford 79, Pacific 37

Top performers

Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones, St. Mary’s: Dellavedova had 25 points and 11 assists and Rob Jones added 24 points and 12 boards to overcome a 36 point performance by Damian Lillard.

Michael Glover and Scott Machado, Iona: Glover went for 28 points and 14 boards while Scott Machado continued to stake his claim as the best passer in the country, notching 10 assists to go along with his 14 points.

Reggie Hamilton, Oakland: Hamilton had 35 points and six boards as Oakland knocked off Tennessee for the second straight season.

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

Seniors rule our preseason All-America team

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Who says everyone jumps early to the NBA? Our 2010-11 college basketball preseason All-America team is filled with upperclassmen.

Among the five teams (25 spots), there are 10 seniors – four of whom are on the first team – and eight juniors. What can I say? I’m a believer in experienced players.

Who on it? Click here to see the spiffy slideshow.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.