Ty Wallace

College basketball’s eight most important NBA Draft decisions

Yogi Ferrell (AP Photo)

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: No one has more on the line with a little more than a week left before the NBA Draft’s early entry deadline than the Hoosiers, who will be waiting until April 25th to find out whether or not their star point guard will be back on the roster in 2015-16. Ferrell averaged 16.3 points and 4.9 assists last year, but more importantly, he was the point guard that made Indiana’s spread-out offensive attack so dangerous. You can’t guard Ferrell one-on-one, but you can’t help off of James Blackmon, or Robert Johnson, or any of Indiana’s myriad of shooters.

With Thomas Bryant set to join the program next season as well, the Hoosiers have already addressed their issue of rebounding, shotblocking and toughness in the paint. Now they just need their point guard back, because with him, they’re a preseason top 15 team. Without him? The NIT is possible.

READ MORE: Who has declared for the draft, and who is returning to school?

Ty Wallace, Cal: The Golden Bears struggled in Cuonzo Martin’s first season as head coach, but much of that was due to a lack of depth and some injuries. With Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews back, Kameron Rooks healthy, Stephen Domingo eligible and top five recruit Ivan Raab joining the program, Cal as the pieces to be a threat in the Pac-12. But, like Indiana, they need their point guard, Wallace, back. He averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 boards and 4.0 assists last season.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: The Sooners are already losing Tashawn Thomas to graduation, and with Frank Booker transferring out of the program, Lon Kruger’s back court depth will already be tested next season. Hield, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, is good enough keep Oklahoma in and around the top 15, considering Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard all return. Without him, and the Sooners will have to scrap to ensure a tournament berth.

Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Mark Few is already losing his starting back court of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell to graduation, and with all due respect to Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, that’s a loss that is going to be tough to overcome. Getting Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis back ensures the Zags will have a formidable front line, but Wiltjer’s ability to spread the floor due to his scoring prowess creates all kinds of space on the interior. He’ll be a preseason all-american if he returns.

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s Preseason Top 25

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Kris Dunn (Getty Images)

Here’s the kicker for Gonzaga fans: It seems going pro is something Wiltjer is actually toying with, but at this point, he’s not an NBA player. But if he gets his degree and decides he wants to start making money playing basketball, can anyone really look down on him for it?

Kris Dunn, Providence: If Kris Dunn returns to school, we’re looking at a first-team all-american that is good enough to carry the Friars back to the NCAA tournament. Without Dunn, who is a late-first round pick, the Friars will likely be back in rebuilding mode. There’s a real chance he comes back, however. Improve his jumper, cut down on those turnovers, and he’s a lottery pick, potentially top ten.

Caris LeVert, Michigan: I’ll just get this out of the way now: I think it would be foolish for LeVert to return to school. He’s broken the same foot twice in the last year, and feet are not a part of the body that professional athletes want to mess with. Playing another year in college is a serious risk, especially if he’s not completely healthy by the start of the year. That said, NBA team are aware of this as well, which means he may have already fallen out of the first round. If he comes back and he’s healthy, we’re looking at an all-american that can climb right back up those draft boards.

With LeVert, Michigan should be really good as well. We all saw how well Beilein had his kids playing by the end of last season, and that was without LeVert or starting point guard Derrick Walton. With LeVert, they’re probably top 25-good. Without him, we’re likely looking at a bubble team.

A.J. Hammons, Purdue: When Hammons is engaged, he’s an all-Big Ten caliber player. This past season, he was engaged, and it helped get Purdue to the NCAA tournament. He’s a defensive menace with a developing post game that would give Purdue a pair of seven-footers on their front line. The Boilermakers still could make an NCAA tournament without him, but if he’s back, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl is a borderline lottery pick, and it would seem sensible for him to head off to the NBA. But there actually seems to be some doubt in whether or not he is going to go, and if he does decide to come back, the Utes will have at their disposal one of the best big men in the Pac-12. With Poeltl, they should make a second-straight NCAA tournament despite the fact they lose Delon Wright. Without him, they’re probably going to end up being a bubble team.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Jahlil Okafor’s free throws, Jerian Grant’s playmaking

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Jahlil Okafor (Getty Images)

Every Tuesday, we will be providing you with a breakdown of the top ten candidates for National Player of the Year. You can read through the older posts here.

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: The scary part about Jahlil Okafor this season is that, despite being the favorite to win National Player of the Year since the minute he set foot on campus, Okafor has seemingly hit his stride over the course of the last couple of weeks. In three games last week, the nation’s best low-post scorer averaged 26.3 points, 8.0 boards and 2.3 blocks while shooting 30-for-39 from the floor, and while posting numbers like that against Toledo, Wofford and Boston College is not all that much to write home about, it’s still a statement to make. How many players in the country can do that?

More interesting, however, is that Okafor has seemingly figured out how to get to the free throw line. Through the first eight games of his college career, Okafor was 13-for-25 from the charity stripe, taking more than four free throws in a game just once and hitting them at a 52.0 percent clip. The last five games? He’s 30-for-50 from the line, an average of 10 free throws a night. That 60.0 percent shooting percentage still isn’t ideal, but it’s worth noting that against Boston College on Saturday, Okafor was 14-for-17 from the charity stripe.

The knock on Okafor has been that he doesn’t know how to use his strength and his size to bully through defenders, that he’s more interested in finesse around the rim that straight power. If he’s finally figured out how to muscle through smaller defenders, that’s a bad sign for ACC big men.

2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: There are going to be two things that stand in the way of Frank Kaminsky eventually earning this award. For starters, he plays on a Wisconsin team that is as balanced and as unselfish as any team in the country. Sam Dekker is another potential lottery pick. Nigel Hayes is a potential all-Big Ten first team player. That’s a lot of shots to go around, and with a team devoid of egos, like Wisconsin is, those shots will go around. The other issue? The Big Ten just isn’t that good. Okafor will get a chance to go against Virginia, Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame this season. Kaminsky will … over power the front lines of Ohio State, Iowa and Maryland? Huge performances in the biggest games are what get the attention of voters; Heisman moments, if you will. How many of those will Kaminsky have this year?

3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: There’s been a discussion about whether or not Jerian Grant is a point guard or a shooting guard, and frankly, it’s a silly one. Grant is a lead guard that can score, create open shots for hit teammates and dunk on defenders by putting his chin in the rim. Monday night against North Carolina, Grant played one of his poorer games of the season — 1-for-8 shooting, eight points, fouled out — but the game gave us a perfect example of just what makes Grant so dangerous.

According to Synergy, 32.4 percent of Grant’s shots come as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll actions and, if you include his passes that lead to shots, he’s had 170 possessions in the pick and roll, nearly half of all the offense he creates. What Mike Brey does is simple: He runs a side ball-screen with Grant as the handler, putting three shooters — usually Patrick Connaughton (who plays the four), Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia — on the other side of the court:

Screengrab via ESPN

The result? If you help on the ball-screen action, Notre Dame gets open threes:

If you don’t, they get dunks:

Grant is one of the best in the country in the pick-and-roll, and he’s the biggest reason why Notre Dame is running the nation’s No. 2 offensive.

4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: There’s not much new to add here. Cauley-Stein hasn’t played in a week, and he’s still the sparkplug for Kentucky’s potentially historically good defense. If you want an idea of just how important he is, he made this list despite averaging just 10.5 points this season.

5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: I understand how weird this may sound, but part of Harrell’s Player of the Year campaign depends on the play of Chris Jones. If Jones can play with the same mindset that he had on Sunday night — pass-first, distributor, team-oriented — Harrell is more likely to put up numbers like he did on Sunday: 25 points and 13 boards.

6. Justin Anderson, Virginia: Virginia is one of the last remaining unbeaten teams, and Anderson has been the best player on the roster to date. He’s shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc and averaging a team-high 15.1 points. According to head coach Tony Bennett, that has as much to do with his shot selection as it does with his shooting ability.

“As long as he keeps taking the good shots and being aggressive where he’s supposed to,” Bennett said earlier this season, “and being sound and being patient the way he is, I think he’s very important for us and has given us a good lift.”

7. Delon Wright, Utah: The Utes blew out both USC and UCLA in the Huntsman Center over the weekend. Wright finished with just 16 field goal attempts and 15 assists. He’s embracing the role of facilitator with the amount of talent around him, and Utah is looking more and more like a team that can compete for the Pac-12 title with Arizona.

8. Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble has been the savior for this Maryland team with his ability to run the point and get the team into offensive sets. He’s still turning the ball over too much — 2.7 per game — and his shooting must improve — he was 7-for-28 as the Terps swept their first two Big Ten games — but his presence has been the difference-maker.

9. Georges Niang, Iowa State: In losses to Maryland and South Carolina, Niang has combined for 20 points on 7-for-27 shooting. That said, he also played his two best games of the season in wins over Alabama and Arkansas, and was sensational after a horrid first half in the win at Iowa. He gets dropped until he shows more consistency in big games.

10. Ty Wallace, Cal: Wallace is still putting up ridiculous numbers, but it’s not helping Cal win games right now. They’ve lost three of their last four — including a home game against Cal St.-Bakersfield — and in his last three games, Wallace is shooting just 13-for-47 from the field and 1-for-10 from three. More than anything, the Bears need Jabari Bird to get healthy. Wallace is having trouble shouldering the entire offensive load.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), D’angelo Harrison (St. John’s), LaDontae Henton (Providence), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State), Wesley Saunders (Harvard), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Joseph Young (Oregon)

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Jahlil Okafor continues to hold top spot

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Jahlil Okafor (AP Photo)

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Just another dominant performance from the nation’s best big man on Monday evening, as he went for 27 points and eight boards in a win over Toledo. There is no more dominant offensive weapon in college basketball.

2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Frank The Tank put together arguably his best all-around game on the season on Sunday night, as he went for 25 points, 11 boards and six blocks against Buffalo while shutting down the Bulls star forward Justin Moss in the process.

3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: It will be interesting to see where Jerian Grant goes from here this season. Notre Dame has looked like an offensive juggernaut through the season’s first month and a half, but they’ve done it against one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country. Will Grant still be a Player of the Year candidate when the Irish are squaring off with the likes of Louisville and Duke? Also worth noting here: take away the 6-for-8 that Grant shot from three in a 48 point win over Chicago State, and he’s shooting just 30 percent from beyond the arc on the season.

Georges Niang, Bobby Portis

4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein actually had a relatively forgettable game as Kentucky beat Louisville in the Yum! Center over the weekend. He finished with just five points, six boards and three steals, but his impact on the defensive end of the floor is hard to quantify simply with stats.

5. Georges Niang, Iowa State: Iowa State will kick off Big 12 play this weekend, which means that Niang will finally get some tougher tests. Niang has been up-and-down against high-major opponents this year. He was dominant in wins against Alabama and Arkansas, he struggled in a loss to Maryland and he had one good half in the win over Iowa. The Cyclones also blew out Georgia State, but Niang was just 3-for-12 from the floor in that game.

6. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Harrell came back from his one-game suspension against CSUN against Kentucky, but he wasn’t all that effective in a loss to the Wildcats, finishing with just nine points and eight boards. He was visibly frustrated with Chris Jones’ inability to run offense by the end of that game. You’d think, instead of taking challenged, fadeaway 23-footers, getting the ball to your future lottery pick would be a good idea, right?

7. Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson has been terrific this season, but my one issue with having him this high is that he’s not a go-to guy for Virginia this season. He’s a complimentary player, a spot-up shooter and a defender, and while he may be the best player in that role in the country, it’s still a role. Is that deserving of being an All-American? If you’re shooting 60.0 percent from, I’d say yes.

8. Delon Wright, Utah: Wright had his most efficient game of the season against South Dakota State: 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting, 10 assists and one turnover. Not bad.

9. Ty Wallace, Cal: Wallace is still putting up terrific numbers, but the Bears have come back to earth a bit after a torrid start to the season. They got beaten pretty handily by Wisconsin at home before Christmas and they wound up losing to Cal-St. Bakersfield on Sunday night. Individual brilliance is only going to get Cal so far this season.

10. Ron Baker, Wichita State: Playing with fire finally caught up with Wichita State, as they lost to George Washington after struggling to wins over Alabama and Hawaii. Baker had his worst game of the season against the Colonials and was not good in Hawaii. He finished with 9-for-31 in his last two games on the islands, averaging just 13 points and shooting 2-for-17 from three.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ryan Boatright (UConn), Tyler Haws (BYU), D’angelo Harrison (St. John’s), LaDontae Henton (Providence), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State), Wesley Saunders (Harvard), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Joseph Young (Oregon)

The top 15 most improved players in college basketball

Ty Wallace (AP Photo)

 MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

Ty Wallace, Cal: I’m firmly entrenched on the Ty Wallace bandwagon, having said repeatedly that there is no player in the country as underrated as Cal’s star point guard. Look at this stat line: 19.3 points, 8.8 boards, 4.2 assists and 46.9 percent shooting from three.

Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson’s emergence into Virginia’s leading scorer has been the biggest surprise of the season for me. Always known as a great athlete and teammate, Anderson is now averaging 15.1 points and shooting 60.0 percent from three. He’s not a go-to guy, but he’s been Tony Bennett’s most valuable weapon thus far.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is starting to live up to his potential this season, becoming the nation’s most versatile defender while anchoring on college basketball’s best defense. A 7-foot-1 center, he can switch ball-screens and has been tasked with stopping an opponent’s best wing scorer at times this season.

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Robert Upshaw (Getty Images)

Robert Upshaw, Washington: Washington’s emergence as a top three team in the Pac-12 can almost entirely be credited to Upshaw, who has become the nation’s premiere shot-blocking presence. He’s averaging 4.6 blocks in just 20 minutes and has completely changed the way that Washington is able to defend. I’d argue he’s one of the ten most valuable players in the country right now.

Christian Wood, UNLV: Wood is playing like a first round draft pick, averaging 13.9 points, 9.6 boards and 3.0 blocks for the Rebels. He had 24 points and 10 boards in UNLV’s win over No. 3 Arizona on Tuesday night.

Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier has done much of what was expected of him this season. His scoring is up to 16.5 points from 7.0 as a freshman, and while he’s not shooting quite as well from the perimeter this season, his percentages are up overhaul and he’s turned into one of the nation’s best, and most important, secondary options.

Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: Someone had to become a scorer for Syracuse this season, and thus far in the year it’s been the senior big man that’s done it. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 8.7 boards, a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for the Orange.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: Auguste has always had the potential to be a big-time scorer in the paint for the Irish, and he’s finally reaching it this year. Auguste’s averaging 14.8 points through the first month, although it will be interesting to see what happens when the Irish start to play some tougher competition.

Levi Randolph, Alabama: Randolph has become a go-to guy for Alabama as a senior, as he’s now posting some impressive numbers: 16.5 points, 4.9 boards and 3.1 assists for the 8-3 Tide.

Dylan Ennis, Villanova: Who saw this coming from Ennis? He’s Villanova’s leading scorer, their most dangerous three-point shooter and one of the best defenders on the roster.

Stefan Nastic, Stanford: With so much of Stanford’s front line graduating, Nastic’s role has been dramatically increased this year, and it’s paying off. Nastic is averaging 14.5 points and has become one of the better low-post scorers on the west coast.

Justin Moss, Buffalo: As a sophomore, Moss averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 boards playing behind Javon McCrea. As a junior, those numbers have bumped up to 17.3 points and 10.2 boards. Oh, and he did this.

Malcolm Hill, Illinois: Hill started a handful of games as a freshman, but as a sophomore he’s moved into a major role for John Groce. His scoring has bumped up to 12.8 points this year, as the Illini look like they could contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones has developed into the star we expected him to be as a sophomore, averaging 16.5 points and 7.1 boards.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans have been a disappointment through the season’s first month, but Valentine has been terrific. These numbers are nothing to joke about: 14.5 points, 5.5 boards, 4.3 assists, 50.0 percent from three.

Cal guard Jabari Bird has a stress fracture

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Cal sophomore guard Jabari Bird has missed the last six games with a foot injury.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jeff Faraudo of the Mercury News spoke to Bill Mellis, Bird’s former coach at Salesian High (California), who told him that the 6-foot-6 guard has suffered a stress fracture and the recovery process has taken longer than initially expected.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take,” Mellis told the San Jose Mercury News. “There’s got to be some level of frustration to it, but he’ll be fine.”

A Cal spokesperson told Faraudo that the injury is day-to-day while head coach Cuonzo Martin has previously said that Bird should be ready to go for conference play, which for the Golden Bears begins on Friday, Jan. 2 against Washington.

Bird was averaging 11.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, but has been sidelined since Nov. 30 following a 64-57 win over Fresno State.

Cal had its seven-game winning streak snapped on Monday by No. 2 Wisconsin.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Jahlil Okafor remains on top

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Jahlil Okafor (Getty Images)

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: I’ve introduced you guys to my friend Rizzo before, a hardcore gambler and a Vermont-obsessed DJ. (Weird combo, right?) Anyway, a couple of weeks back, Rizzo and I got into an argument about Jahlil Okafor. I said that Okafor is a future star, that he’s the best low-post prospect I’ve seen come through the college ranks and that his ceiling is Tim Duncan. Rizzo disagrees. Rizzo think Okafor will be a massive bust, mostly because he watched Okafor get pushed around by Cliff Alexander in the McDonald’s All-American game.

I bring Rizzo up again because after Duke’s win over UConn in New Jersey, Rizzo sent me a series of texts more or less explaining how Okafor stinks because he couldn’t dominate UConn that had Amida Brimah on the floor for 13 minutes. My response?

Well, nothing.

You don’t reason with Rizzo.

So I decided to explain here, for everyone, that Okafor’s ability to pass out of the post is what makes him so good. You see, on Thursday, UConn almost always had two players running at Okafor when he got a touch in the post. Sometimes it was a big-to-big double, sometimes it was Ryan Boatright or another guard digging down, sometimes they doubled down with the guy that threw the ball into the post, whatever. What makes Okafor so good is his ability to distribute the ball out of these situations, creating shots for his teammates when he doesn’t necessarily get an assist out of it.

In this first example, you see Okafor kicking the ball out from the double-team to Justise Winslow, who swings the ball to Quinn Cook for an open three:

In the second example, Okafor throws a ridiculous cross court pass to Matt Jones, who beats a close out and finds Amile Jefferson on the baseline who, eventually, scores:

And then there are passes like this that he makes:

Regardless of how good the shooters are around Okafor, you have to double-team him. When you don’t, this happens:

2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: You got a glimpse on Monday night of what is going to plague Kaminsky all season long when it comes to his Player of the Year candidacy. Nigel Hayes finished with 17 points and 13 boards and Sam Dekker added 14 points. Kaminsky had 14 as well, but he was the third-best player on the floor for the Badgers. As talented as he is, Bo Ryan isn’t going to pound the ball inside to him. When Hayes or Dekker gets it going — which will happen quite a bit this season — they’re going to get plenty of touches. Will that limit Kaminsky’s numbers?

3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: In the past two games, Grant has not shot the ball well, finishing with a combined 19 points on 5-for-22 shooting, including 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. But the Irish won both of those games by at least 25 points, including a 31-point beatdown of Purdue. Grant added 15 assists and just one turnover. That’s a good sign for the Irish.

4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is the guy that makes Kentucky’s engine run defensively. His ability to play at the top of Kentucky’s press combined with being able to switch ball-screens and protect the rim as well as anyone in the country makes him so valuable.

5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: There may not be a more valuable player on this list than Harrell given what he provides Louisville offensively and defensively. He’s their spark, but he’s also the guy that will be suspended for Tuesday night’s game with CSUN after getting tossed for throwing a punch in a win at Western Kentucky. Even emotional leaders need to keep their composure.

6. Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang played just 17 minutes in a 29-point win over Drake since last week. He’s still the focal point for this team offensively, especially if Bryce Dejean-Jones remains in Hoibergs doghouse.

7. Ty Wallace, Cal: Wallace has been terrific this season, and while Cal got worked over by Wisconsin on Monday night, it wasn’t Wallace’s fault. He finished with 17 points, seven boards and two assists and is now averaging 19.3 points, 8.8 boards and 4.2 assists. If you haven’t seen him play, what the athletic, 6-foot-4 point guard does best is help on the defensive glass and slash to the rim off the dribble, where he’s a lefty that finishes better with his right hand. The perfect example:

8. Justin Anderson, Virginia: I keep waiting for Justin Anderson’s shooting to come back to earth. In wins over Cleveland State and Harvard last week, he was 4-for-6 from beyond the arc and is now hitting 60.0 percent from three on the season. That’s pretty good.

9. Delon Wright, Utah: We named Wright a first-team Midseason All-American yesterday. Here’s what we had to say about him: “The Utes are 3-1 in their last four games, beating Wichita State, BYU and UNLV, the latter two on the road. The only loss? By three, at Kansas in Kansas City. In those four games? Wright is averaging 17.8 points, 6.0 boards, 4.3 assists and 2.8 steals while playing 39.8 minutes. He’s the most indispensable player in the country.”

10. Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker’s development as a player has continued this season, as he’s having easily the best season of his college career. He’s averaging a career-high 17.3 points, shooting a career-high 46.0 percent from three and posting a career-high 127.8 offensive rating, according to Kenpom.com. What’s interesting, however, is how much his role has changed this season. As a sophomore, Baker played more of a combo-guard role, getting used in more pick-and-roll actions and acting as more of a facilitator. This season, he’s primarily a spot-up shooter (stats via Synergy):


There’s a reason for this, I believe. With Cleanthony Early on the roster last season, the Shockers had a go-to scorer. They didn’t need Baker to be a guy hunting shots and trying to score 20 points a night. With Evan Wessel in the lineup instead, Gregg Marshall is in need of more of a scoring pop, and Baker is the guy to fill that role.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Craig Bradshaw (Belmont), Tyler Haws (BYU), LaDontae Henton (Providence), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), Angel Rodriguez (Miami), D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State), Wesley Saunders (Harvard), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Joseph Young (Oregon)