Wayne Ellington

Top 25 Countdown: No. 20 North Carolina Tar Heels

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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: 32-6, 15-3 ACC (1st); Lost to Kansas in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Roy Williams

Key Losses: Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson

Newcomers: Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Joel James, JP Tokoto, Luke Davis

Projected Lineup:

G: Marcus Paige, Fr.
G: Dexter Strickland, Sr.
G: Reggie Bullock, Jr.
F: Brice Johnson, Fr.
C: James Michael McAdoo, So.
Bench: Leslie McDonald, Jr.; PJ Hairston, So.; JP Tokoto, Fr.; Joel James, Fr.; Desmond Hubert, So.

Outlook: Roy Williams has been here before.

After he won the national title in 2005, Williams watched Ray Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams all make their way to the NBA, leaving him with an unproven and youthful roster to work with the following year. That team, led by freshman All-American Tyler Hansbrough, had some ups-and-downs that first season, but eventually grew into a national champion four years later. That 2009 title team lost quite a bit of talent as well, with Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green joining Hansbrough in the NBA.

Williams didn’t win a national title in 2012, but that wasn’t due to a lack of talent on his roster. Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall are all making seven figures this season as first round NBA Draft picks, meaning that, once again, the Tar Heels are going to be heading into a season having to reload.

While there is some talent on this roster, including a potential lottery pick in sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, there are a couple of question marks as well, the biggest being the smallest guy on the roster — Marcus Paige.

Paige, a freshman from Iowa, is the heir-apparent to Marshall at the point guard spot. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again quite a few times before the season starts, but I believe that Marshall is one of the two most difficult players to replace this season (the other being Anthony Davis, for obvious reasons). North Carolina’s system thrives on point guard play, and what made Marshall so valuable wasn’t only his unreal playmaking ability (he averaged almost 10 assists per game) but how good he was at hitting ahead in transition. He made the Heels’ fast break just that much more deadly, and there’s certainly no questioning how much better he made his teammates — specifically Barnes — simply by being on the floor. Remember what UNC looked like before he took over for Larry Drew in 2010-2011? Remember what they looked like when he was injured in last season’s tournament?

The bottom-line is this: that role is going to fall into the hands of a freshman — a talented one, but still a freshman — who will be backed up by a transfer from Gardner-Webb, Luke Davis, and a senior combo-guard, Dexter Strickland, coming off of a torn ACL. With so much youth and inexperience on this roster, how Paige handles the pressure at the point could end up making or breaking North Carolina’s season.

The good news is that Paige will have plenty of perimeter talent surrounding him. Strickland, a senior that doubles as UNC’s best perimeter defender, should be back to 100% by the time the season starts. Leslie McDonald should be as well; he tore his ACL before last season even began. One of the more interesting subplots of UNC’s season will be seeing how Williams divvies up minutes on the wings. Strickland and McDonald are the vets that have earned their playing time, but both PJ Hairston — a sophomore — and Reggie Bullock — a junior — are bigger and more talented scorers, and that’s before JP Tokoto, a talented freshman, is factored into the equation.

McAdoo will be UNC’s anchor up front. A top ten recruit coming out of high school, McAdoo spent much of last season watching Zeller and Henson from the bench. He averaged just 6.1 points and 3.9 boards in less than 16 minutes as a freshman, but some impressive play during the postseason — McAdoo averaged 10.6 points and 4.8 boards in the final seven games after Henson hurt his wrist, including a 15 point performance against Kansas and Thomas Robinson in the Elite 8 — combined with his size, strength and athleticism has many predicting McAdoo to become an all-american candidate.

The question is who joins him up front? Will it be athletic-but-slender freshman Brice Johnson? Will it be burly freshman Joel James? Or seldom-used sophomore Desmond Hubert? Will Williams be willing to use a four-guard attack given the size of Bullock, Tokoto and Hairston?

Predictions?: UNC unquestionably has talent on their roster, as always. But there are also question marks. How good is Paige? How good is McAdoo? What happens in the front court? Who makes the leap from role player to secondary scorer? The Heels will still make the tournament and should finish in the top three in the ACC — and they could be even better than that — but given the youth, the inexperience and all the new faces in new roles, this is a tough group to project.

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

The Morning Mix

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Did everybody enjoy the first night of the 2012-2013 Revenue-Generating College Sports season?  The exitement of day-one always overshadows the fact that most of the games are #BeatemDown blowouts. Not the S.C./Vandy game however. That was a “Six yards and a cloud of dust” slobber-knocker  (Gamenote: S. Carolina WR/PG Wayne Ellington recorded no catches and was targeted twice. He also recorded one tackle)

– More headlines from the Dez Wells situation: Andy Katz reports that the former-Xavier star will try for immediate eligibility at his new school. Wells finished his visit at Kentucky yesterday and it appears he will probably not land in Lexington. He will however, visit Maryland this weekend and is trying to make a speedy decision. Xavier on the other hand, has to sort out their priorities

– Rob Dauster thinks Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez is poised for a breakout season despite the coaching change in Manhattan. The crafty guard was a prized-pupil of now-South Carolina head coach Frank Martin

Fran Fraschilla has a great list of coaches that are on the cusp of the coaching elite

– The trio of writers at ESPN take their pick at which coach has the most on the line in 2012-2013

– Checking in on some road trips: Missouri in France, Northern Colorado in Australia, Northwestern State in Canada, San Francisco in Cancun (Sleeper Alert: UCLA-transfer De’End Parker)

– Louisville head coach Rick Pitino compared Cardinals sophomore Chane Behanan to Charles Barkley. Yeah, I can see it, but still, wow

– The Big Ten released their 2012-2013 conference schedule, which features a bevy of high-profile games late in the season. Myron Medcalf lists the five best conference games of the upcoming season

– The Missouri Valley Conference released their conference schedules on Thursday. Geno Ford thinks Bracketology is utterly useless, then says the MVC could get 3-4 teams

– The America East handed out its conference schedules this week. If you’re a fan of A-East hoops, mark these ten dates down on your schedule

– Former-St. John’s guard Malik Stith has decided to transfer to Division-II Fairmont State, where he will have one year of eligibility left

– Former-Kansas freshman Milton Doyle is heading home and will transfer to Loyola Chicago. Run The Floor tries to break down exactly what this transfer means to the school

CAA Hoops provides team previews on both Towson and Georgia State

Manhatthan has a daunting non-conference schedule, but it should prime the Jaspers for a strong BracketBusters match-up and a potential bid in the Big Dance

– The Lehigh Mountain Hawks will receive their 2011-2012 Patriot League Championship rings on Saturday

– An awesome read from Banners on the Parkway on what the gameday experience may be like in 2012-2013

– If Roscoe Smith played college football, I could definitely see him doing something like this

– Your Non-Hoops-Story-of-the-Week: Samsung pays Apple $1-billion in nickels. 30 Trucks full of nickels. #ScroogeMcDuck

Remember, if you find an article that is worthy of being in The Morning Mix, be sure to use the #ReadoftheDay hashtag on Twitter. 

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

Comparing Kentucky to other champs who replaced everything

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Now the all five of Kentucky’s underclassmen stars are officially headed to the NBA (along with senior Darius Miller), it’s time to marvel at the production coach John Calipari must now replace.

Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague and Miller represented93 percent of the Wildcats’ scoring, 94 percent of their rebounds, 95 percent of their blocks, 96 percent of their steals and 96 percent of their assists. Those are simply staggering numbers, per Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal. (He has a complete listing of those totals and by player.)

It’s not anything new for a champion to lose a hefty amount of production. In just the last 10 years, at least four teams have been in the same position.

The 2005 Tar Heels lost their top seven scorers (Sean May, Rashad McCant, Ray Felton, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams and Jackie Manuel), but those players “only” accounted for 84 percent of the team’s scoring. (David Noel and Reyshawn Terry managed to get on the scoreboard.) Those seven did account for massive amounts of rebounds (93 percent), but nothing else was above 83.

When Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Frasor and Danny Green, it wasn’t nearly the same amount of attrition.

Kansas lost 80 percent of its scoring from its 2008 title team (Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun), but returned a sixth man in Sherron Collins and a big man who played a key role in the Final Four in Cole Aldrich.

Even the back-to-back Florida champs didn’t have replace as much even though it also lost its six top players (Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Chris Richard and Corey Brewer). Those six accounted for 83 percent of the scoring, 77 percent of the rebounds, 81 percent of the assists, 81 percent of the steals and 87 percent of the blocks. (Having Marreese Speights, Walter Hodge and Dan Werner helps).

Kentucky will probably be similar to ’06 UNC and Kansas. Both of those teams made the NCAA tournament the following season (Kansas was 27-8, won the Big 12 and reached the Sweet 16; UNC was 23-8 and second in the ACC). Florida (24-12) and the 2010 Tar Heels (20-17)  were in the NIT. The Wildcats’ incoming class – which will likely still add another impact newcomer – has elite players ready to step in at every position. And we’ve already learned that Calipari excels at replacing entire rosters.

It’ll undoubtedly look different, though. When you’re replacing everything, that can’t be helped.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

How do other hauls compare to Kentucky’s recent classes?

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Some things never change.

Kentucky landed 2012’s top prospect in Nerlens Noel Wednesday night, a move that’ll almost certainly give the Wildcats the top-rated recruiting class in college basketball. Consider coach John Calipari four-for-four while in Lexington.

(He’s not done yet, either. Power forward Anthony Bennett, another 5-star player, is considering Kentucky, as are 5-star forwards Amile Jefferson and Devonta Pollard. Bennett is the best bet for the Wildcats, though.)

That’s a run unlike any other in college hoops history and gives the Wildcats four of the top recruiting classes the game’s seen since 2002.

Per Drew Cannon, who’s done work analyzing prospects for Scout.com and Basketball Prospectus, only North Carolina’s 2006 class and Duke’s 2002 class can compare to any of the last four groups Kentucky’s gathered. He places all of the ‘Cats classes ahead of 2007 Ohio State – the Greg Oden-led group that reached the title game – and ’06 Texas, which boasted Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, Damion James and Dexter Pittman (!).

Here’s his rundown of the top 16 classes since 2002, a combination of highly rated prospects and number of guys in said class:

That makes 2012 the closest hoarding of elite talent at a select group of schools since 2006. And those were some good groups in ’06.

All of the above classes include at least one 5-star guy, most have at least two or three. Some, like ’05 Kansas, feature four 5-star guys. And many were extremely successful. At least four (’11 Kentucky, ’06 UNC, ’05 Kansas, ’06 Duke) provided the backbone for national title teams.

The only question I have: Where will Kentucky’s 2013 class fall on this list?

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Coach Cal strikes again: Noel makes Kentucky a favorite in ’13

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Think about this: prior to Wednesday night’s recruiting special where Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad announced where they will be spending one season before heading to the NBA, John Calipari already had signed three recruits that would likely make up the best recruiting class any coach in the country had ever put together.

Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress are both consensus top 20 recruits while Willie Cauley is a top 40 player by most accounts. Add the top-ranked Noel to the mix, and all of a sudden Kentucky once again looks like a Final Four contender, and that’s before you consider who else they may be able to add to the mix: top ten recruit Anthony Bennett, top 25 recruit Amile Jefferson, former UConn big man Alex Oriakhi.

Kentucky could end up losing the top six players from their national title team and still end up heading into the 2012-2013 as the nation’s Preseason No. 1 team.

Noel commits to Kentucky

And that is why John Calipari said the sending five players to the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft was one of the most important days in the history of Kentucky basketball.

In 2009, UNC won the national title and then lost Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. The following year, they added a loaded recruiting class — headlined by John Henson and a handful of other McDonald’s all-americans and blue-chip prospects — to a roster that already included Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller and promptly went to the NIT. In 2006, UConn lost six of their top seven players off of the most-talented (and under-performing?) team in the country — five of whom were draft, four in the first round. They brought in a recruiting class that included Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson and added them to returnee Jeff Adrien and spent hte season as a non-entity in the Big East.

Does anyone see that happening with the Wildcats next year?

Calipari has turned Kentucky into a machine. He barely needs to make a pitch at this point; his program sells itself. He brings in the top players. He coaches them up throughout the season. He gets them competitive on a national level. He sends them off to the NBA. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

What blue-chipper isn’t looking for a fast-track to NBA money?

It’s fascinating, and I don’t think there is another coach in the country that could pull it off or another school at which Calipari would be able to pull it off. It’s the perfect storm, and it creates the nation’s most efficient producer of NBA level talent.

And Noel is just the latest cog in that machine.

The question I have is how long can it last.

Nothing about the job is stress-free. Big Blue Nation is as rabid, passionate and demanding as any fan base in the country. Keeping them satisfied — both with wins on the court and accessibility off the court — is as important as teaching his team how to properly rotate defensively. And you better believe that the teaching part of Calipari’s job is not easy, either. As talented as his freshmen are, they are still freshmen that need to be shown how to play and carry themselves at this level of basketball. And since those freshmen are immediately thrust into the spotlight, there is no adjustment period. They learn on the fly.

And even when they win a national title, they don’t have any time to celebrate. Kentucky won the title on a Monday and got back to Lexington on a Tuesday and by Friday, Calipari was already on the road recruiting, trying to ensure that he would be able to bring in a freshmen class that would live up to the expectations he had built.

Even if Calipari doesn’t ever go back to the NBA, how long is his body going to be able to handle the constant grind?

Because until he decides he no longer wants to roam the sidelines at Rupp Arena, it is tough to imagine a spring Kentucky isn’t following up a deep run through March with a notable signing day haul.

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

Stay or go? Don’t expect many answers today

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Today’s the NCAA’s deadline for college basketball players to remove their name from the NBA draft.

Not that it matters.

As Rob Dauster noted last week, this deadline doesn’t mean players have to decide if they’re going pro by the end of the day. They actually have until April 29 – the NBA’s deadline to declare – which is why obvious lottery picks such as Anthony Davis, Andrew Drummond and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist haven’t declared yet. They can spend the next few weeks gathering info and figuring out if they want to go pro. (They will.)

It’s just tougher to “test the waters” as the kids used to do back in the good old days of 2008 or 2009.

So why the change? How about a quick explanation from Stephen Schramm of the Fayetteville Observer?

The April 29 deadline was moved up this year from May 8 after the NBA bowed to pressure from voices within the college game. And even that date was the result of an earlier capitulation by the league. Prior to 2010, players who hadn’t signed with an agent could withdraw their name as late as 10 days before the draft in June.

That led to situations like the one North Carolina found itself in after the 2008 season. That year, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green all put their names in the draft in late April, kicking off weeks of workouts with NBA clubs. On June 16, the trio announced it would return.

For teammates, coaches and fans back in Chapel Hill, the wait was agonizing. But for the players and the teams looking at them, the period was incredibly beneficial. The teams got a chance to bring them into their facilities and evaluate them up close. The players got an honest appraisal of their games as well as a good feel where, or if, their names would be called. While it frustrated college coaches, the whole process cut down on risk for NBA teams and the players involved.

So, that’s less time for players to gather information and a window to enter, then withdrawal that few players could reasonably fit into.

You’re either in or you’re out. Simple as that. And that’s fine. I doubt many players will approach the decision much differently than they would before. They just have less time to do so. Awesome.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.