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College Basketball 2019-2020 Preseason Top 25

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There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.

But we’re doing it anyway!

A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them. 

So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.

1. MICHIGAN STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
  • WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry, Xavier Tillman

2. KENTUCKY

  • WHO’S GONE: P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Reid Travis
  • WHO’S BACK: E.J. Montgomery*, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickly, Nick Richards*
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, E.J. Montgomery

3. DUKE

  • WHO’S GONE: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish
  • WHO’S BACK: Tre Jones, Marques Bolden*, Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier*, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Vernon Carey

4. VILLANOVA

  • WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
  • WHO’S BACK: Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree, Brandon Slater
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Bryan Antoine, Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

5. LOUISVILLE

  • WHO’S GONE: Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Nwora*, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Steve Enoch*, Malik Williams, Darius Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Samuell Williamson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry, David Johnson, Aidan Igiehom, Quinn Slazinski
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Darius Perry, Samuell Williamson, Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora, Malik Williams

6. MARYLAND

  • WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
  • WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan*, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Chol Marial, Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell, Donta Scott
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Jalen Smith

7. KANSAS

  • WHO’S GONE: Lagerald Vick, Silvio De Sousa*, Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Devon Dotson*, Quentin Grimes*, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Mitch Lightfoot, David McCormack
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaac McBride, Christian Braun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike

8. VIRGINIA

  • WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
  • WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite*, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kadin Shedrick, Justin McKoy
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff

9. MEMPHIS

  • WHO’S GONE: Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks Jr., Raynere Thornton, Kareem Brewton, Antwann Jones Jr.
  • WHO’S BACK: Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
  • WHO’S COMING IN: James Wiseman, Rayjon Tucker, D.J. Jeffries, Malcolm Dandridge, Damian Baugh, Lance Thomas, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Boogie Ellis, Rayjon Tucker, D.J. Jeffries, Precious Achiuwa, James Wiseman

10. TEXAS TECH

  • WHO’S GONE: Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, Brandone Francis, Norense Odiase, Khavon Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Chris Beard, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew, Andrei Savrasov
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jahmius Ramsey, Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield, Kevin McCullar, Khalid Thomas, Russel Tchewa, Terrence Shannon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jahmius Ramsey, Davide Moretti, Deshawn Corprew, T.J. Holyfield, Chris Clarke

11. GONZAGA

  • WHO’S GONE: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall, Jeremy Jones
  • WHO’S BACK: Killian Tillie*
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Admon Gilder, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo, Brock Ravet, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zahkarov
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Brock Ravet, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev

12. SETON HALL

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Nzei
  • WHO’S BACK: Myles Powell*, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Taurean Thompson, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Tyrese Samuel, Dashawn Davis
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quincy McKnight, Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu

13. NORTH CAROLINA

  • WHO’S GONE: Coby White, Nassir Little, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Robinson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cole Anthony, Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

14. ARIZONA

  • WHO’S GONE: Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther
  • WHO’S BACK: Brandon Randolph*, Dylan Smith, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams, Alex Barcello, Ira Lee, Devonaire Doutrive
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Terry Armstrong, Christian Koloko, Zeke Nnaji
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee, Chase Jeter

15. UTAH STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Quinn Taylor
  • WHO’S BACK: Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta*, Diogo Brito, Brock Miller, Abel Porter
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alphonso Anderson, Liam McChesney, Sean Bairstow
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Diogo Brito, Abel Porter, Sam Merrill, Brock Miller, Neemias Queta

16. SAINT MARY’S

  • WHO’S GONE: Jordan Hunter
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Dan Fotu, Jock Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alex Ducas, Kyle Bowen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Malik Fitts, Jock Perry

17. XAVIER

  • WHO’S GONE: Ryan Welage, Zach Hankins, Kyle Castlin, Elias Harden
  • WHO’S BACK: Quentin Goodin*, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs*, Tyrique Jones*
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kyky Tandy, Dahmir Bishop, Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, Daniel Ramsey, Dieonte Miles
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Jason Carter, Tyrique Jones

18. CREIGHTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Froling, Kaleb Joseph, Connor Cashaw
  • WHO’S BACK: Davion Mintz*, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Martin Krampelj*, Jacob Epperson, Damien Jefferson, Marcus Zegarowski
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Shereef Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mintz, Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Martin Krampelj

19. COLORADO

  • WHO’S GONE: Namon Wright
  • WHO’S BACK: McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, D’shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert, Evan Battey, Shane Gatling, Daylen Kountz
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Maddox Daniels
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, D’shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert, Shane Gatling

20. AUBURN

  • WHO’S GONE: Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer, Chuma Okeke*
  • WHO’S BACK: Jared Harper*, Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola, Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jared Harper, J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore

21. TENNESSEE

  • WHO’S GONE: Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone*, Grant Williams*
  • WHO’S BACK: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons, Derrick Walker Jr., John Fulkerson, D.J. Burns, Jalen Johnson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Josiah James, Drew Pember, Davonte Gaines
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Josiah James, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

22. HOUSTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Corey Davis, Breaon Brady, Galen Robinson
  • WHO’S BACK: Dejon Jerreau, Armoni Brooks*, Cedrick Alley, Brison Gresham, Fabian White, Chris Harris, Nate Hinton
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Caleb Mills, Justin Gorham
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Dejon Jerreau, Armoni Brooks, Nate Hinton, Fabian White, Brison Gresham

23. VCU

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Gilmore
  • WHO’S BACK: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Sean Mobley, Vince Williams, Mike’L Simms, P.J. Byrd, Malik Crawford
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jarren McAlister
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Deriante Jenkins, Sean Mobley, Marcus Santos-Silva

24. OHIO STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Kaleb Wesson*, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington, Kyle Young, Justin Aherns, Musa Jallow, Jaedon LeDee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, EJ Liddel, Ibrahima Diallo, CJ Walker
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson*

25. DAVIDSON

  • WHO’S GONE: Nathan Ekwu, Dusan Kovacevic
  • WHO’S BACK: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luka Brajkovic, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Carter Collins, David Czerapowics, Bates Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Hyunjung Lee, David Kristensen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Luka Brajkovic

College basketball trial names big-name head coaches during Christian Dawkins video

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The college basketball corruption trial directly mentioned a few of the sport’s most prominent head coaches in a video played during testimony on Wednesday.

As college basketball’s second corruption trial began its second day in New York, known runner and convicted felon Christian Dawkins mentioned names such as Arizona’s Sean Miller and Louisville’s Rick Pitino during a video played for the courtroom. Dawkins seems to imply that Miller cheated in order land center Deandre Ayton while also appearing to absolve Rick Pitino of knowing any improper recruiting existed during his time at Louisville.

According to a report from CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, the video was played as government witness Marty Blazer was directly examined by the prosecution. Blazer was among two who met with Dawkins in New York on a yacht in 2017 when the video was recorded. Blazer will continue to take the stand when the trial resumes as the defense will get to question him later this week.

“And the the thing with (former Arizona assistant) Book (Richardson), Arizona is like, Sean Miller has to know everything that’s going on,” Dawkins said on the FBI’s video. “I can call Sean and have a conversation like, this is what’s going on. Like, this is what’s needing to be done.”

Dawkins also paraphrased Miller speaking about Ayton in the video by saying, “‘I’m taking care of everything myself. I wanna bring you in. I’ll turn everything over to you.'”

Blazer’s testimony then backed up Dawkins’ notion that Miller cheated to get Ayton.

“I understood him to mean that Sean Miller was talking about inappropriate things with recruiting, paying the money and those sorts of things,” Blazer said during testimony. “Sean Miller was taking care of everything for Deandre Ayton and his family.”

This is the first time Miller has been directly named in court since initial ESPN reports in February 2018 tied him to allegedly cheating to get Ayton. While Dawkins is merely speculating that Miller is cheating, the under-oath testimony of Blazer adds another element to what Dawkins is claiming. Dawkins’ theory, and Blazer’s testimony, still doesn’t directly provide proof of Miller, or Arizona, cheating to land Ayton. It’s merely speculative at this point. But it lends more credibility to the argument that it could have happened and will be a subplot to watch as the trial continues.

It’ll be interesting to see if Miller is also asked to testify in court as defense attorney Steve Haney said Wednesday that he will ask the judge to reconsider the initial ruling that Miller won’t be apart of the trial. If he were to testify, Miller wouldn’t be on federal trial for any wrongdoing, but Arizona and the NCAA would be interested in what he has to say if asked about any of these implications under oath.

Dawkins also gave his thoughts on fired Louisville head coach Rick Pitino — as he appeared to back up Pitino’s claim that he didn’t know about cheating going on to help land Brian Bowen. Pitino was ousted from the Cardinals before the 2017-18 season as he remains in an ongoing lawsuit with the school over the rest of his lucrative contract.

“Rick Pitino may be the only person who doesn’t know what’s going on” when it came to what was happening in his program,” Dawkins said.

“Rick has no clue what’s going on at his school. Most of the bigger guys, they know,” he continued.

The NCAA will likely continue to investigate Louisville regardless of what Dawkins says in this trial, but Pitino and his team will undoubtedly try to use this claim from Dawkins to help their case against the school to claim the rest of his contract.

According to The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, during Wednesday’s testimony a screenshot of a text from Dawkins that said, “these are my guys” listed names that included Arizona’s Sean Miller and Book Richardson, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Kenny Johnson and Jordan Fair, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Dwayne Stephens and Dane Fife, LSU’s Will Wade and Greg Heiar, N.C. State’s Kevin Keatts and UNLV’s Marvin Menzies.

There is no direct evidence that Dawkins actually spoke to all of these people as that evidence has not been presented in court yet. It’s also important to remember that Dawkins did not know he was being recorded during this meeting as he’s attempting to land business on a yacht. It’s entirely plausible that he name-dropped high-profile coaches and linked assistants he spoke to with their bosses in order to impress who he was speaking with.

But now that those names have been listed during the actual corruption trial, it’ll be fascinating to see what else plays out as Blazer’s testimony likely continues through the week.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.

Woman who alleged rape by ex-MSU players speaks publicly

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan State University student is speaking publicly a year after filing a lawsuit against the school alleging that three former men’s basketball players raped her in 2015 and that she was discouraged by counseling center staff from reporting what happened.

Twenty-two-year-old Bailey Kowalski came forward in a story published by The New York Times Wednesday, saying she hopes other victims tell their stories. She will hold a news conference Thursday, the fourth anniversary of the alleged incident.

The woman and players aren’t named in the suit.

It says she met them at an East Lansing bar and was taken to an off-campus apartment where they raped her.

A university spokeswoman declined to comment on the case but said the school takes sexual assault and Title IX situations “very seriously.”

Mooney, Culver carry Texas Tech past Michigan State, into title game

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MINNEAPOLIS — Matt Mooney had just finished off the best — and biggest — game of his career, quite possibly his life.

The South Dakota grad transfer scored 13 of his 22 points in the second half, including a trio of triples to cap a 14-4 Texas Tech run that blew a tight game wide open as Texas Tech advanced to Monday’s national title game with a 61-51 win over Michigan State.

There he sat, a year removed from talking to USD’s one and only beat writer after a game, a gaggle of media shoving phones in his face as myriad cameras recorded his every facial tick, getting told that his coaching staff couldn’t care less about all those points.

“We don’t need to talk about that.”

That’s what Mark Adams, a Texas Tech assistant and the architect responsible for the vaunted Red Raider defense, said when asked about Mooney’s breakout performance in Saturday’s second national semifinal game. He wasn’t joking, either. Those 22 points didn’t matter, not to win anyway. He cared about the 4-for-16 performance posted by Cassius Winston, Michigan State’s All-American point guard and the Peyton Manning of Michigan State’s offense.

“I reeled him back in,” Adams joked. “‘It’s not the offensive end we’re worried about, Matt. Don’t get it lopsided, now.’ He did an exceptional job on Cassius.”

That defensive performance, one that limited Winston to 16 points and just two assists to go long with his four turnovers, is what allowed the Red Raiders to survive what was a decidedly disastrous evening from Jarrett Culver, the star of this Texas Tech team, the resident soon-to-be lottery pick and NBC Sports first-team All-American.

It was the worst possible time for Culver to have his one of his worst games of the season. He finished with 10 points, three fouls and two assists to three turnovers while shooting 3-for-12 from the floor, struggling all night long to find a way to get around, through or over Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid.

And it could not have mattered less.

Frankly, it was a fitting finish to a Final Four Saturday that saw four teams fail to crack 63 points. Three of the nation’s top ten defensive teams were on display in US Bank Stadium, and it showed. But as much as Culver struggled on Saturday, he made the plays when it really mattered. Everyone seated in US Bank Stadium knew Michigan State wasn’t going to go away quietly. They used a 13-2 run over the course of seven minutes, to cut Texas Tech’s lead to 52-51, and it was Culver had the answer. A driving layup with 2:29 left push Tech’s lead to three. After hitting one of two free throws with 1:32 left on the clock, the 6-foot-6 Lubbock native drilled a step-back three with 58 seconds left, the dagger Deep In The Heart Of Michigan State that sent Chris Beard and company within one win of a national title.

Culver was the hero, because that’s what All-Americans do.

They win you games even when they’re struggling.

But Mooney was the best player on the floor for the Red Raiders, on both ends of the court.

It wasn’t always a given that that would be the case.

Because Mooney, for all he could do on the offensive side of the floor, was just not a good defender when he arrived in Lubbock after three seasons in Vermillion.

“He never really had been asked to play defense,” Max Leferve, another Tech assistant coach, said.

The problem, you see, was that Mooney refused to use his wingspan. He stands about 6-foot-3 on a good day, but the Wauconda, Ill., native has a that would make Jay Bilas salivate; a very nice 6-foot-9. But Mooney refused to raise his arms. As Adams put it, he played like he was wrapped in athletic tape. Another player said Mooney might as well have played defense with his hands in his pockets. It was a constant source of frustration for the coaching staff, particularly Adams.

“He would blow the whistle, stop practice and say, ‘Hey, how long is Mooney’s wingspan?'” Mooney recalled. “‘Well, he’s playing like he’s got a five-foot wingspan. It took quite some time [to break the habit]. Probably until halfway through the year.”

What changed?

“I got tired of getting cussed out.”

In what I’m sure Mooney hopes won’t be his One Shining Moment, that wingspan was on full display.

It came with 9:40 left on the clock, after Mooney had scored his 20th point of the night and buried a third three in a two-minute, 35-second span. As he ran back down the floor, he had his arms spread wide, basking in a moment he may never again get to experience.

But that was the peak of Tech’s celebrating on Saturday night.

The job isn’t done yet.

“We came here to play 80 minutes,” Chris Beard said. “There’s the first 40.”

Joshua Langford finds new role amid injury and Michigan State’s Final Four run

Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
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MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Izzo had seen enough.

His Michigan State team had botched its out of bounds defense, and he felt another voice was needed to get the Spartans locked in. So he turned to his injured star, Joshua Langford.

“I said, ‘Josh, it’s time for you to take over,’ Izzo recalled this week. “So if you watch him on the bench, whenever there’s an out of bounds play, he’s getting the guys ready.”

Out-of-bounds defensive coordinator has been the type of role that Langford has been relegated to since a foot injury ended his junior season in December. Then, it seemed as though Langford might be the key to the Spartans’ success as their best pro prospect, but Michigan State has rolled all the way to U.S. Bank Stadium and Izzo’s eighth Final Four as Cassius Winston blossomed into a Player of the Year Candidate and the Spartans became one of the best two-way teams in the country.

That’s left the 6-foot-5 Langford, who was averaging 15 points per game and shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, to contribute where he can.

“I just try to stay involved with my voice, reminding the guys and encouraging the guys, try to make sure they know we’re a great team,” Longford told NBC Sports. “I jumped right into it because I’m a captain on the team. I was already talking and doing things like that. As soon as I was on the sidelines, I just went right back to doing what I felt like I should do for my team.”

Langford’s reaction to his transformation from star to sideline hasn’t been altogether surprising to his teammates.

“He’s been very positive about it,” fellow junior Nick Ward said. “He’s very optimistic. He’s just been helping us no matter his status with the injury.

“Josh is very optimistic and positive person.”

He’s also someone who craves hoops.

“Some guys like the game, some guys love the game, and some guys live the game. Joshua is a guy that lives the game,” Izzo said. “He’s become a quiet kid that became a great leader last summer, and he still leads. That kid has not missed one second of one practice the entire time he’s injured. Even when he rehabs, he either does it right there in front of him or he comes in. H

“We miss him, but we have kept him involved.”

That’s why you’ll see Langford barking directions when Texas Tech takes the ball out under the basket Saturday night.

“I just try to remind the guys to stay down and focus,” Langford said of his out-of-bounds responsibilities. “I don’t really do anything with the defensive schemes. That’s the coaches’ job. I try to remind the guys what our game plan is. I try to make sure they stay down and ready because most of the times teams score on out of bounds because they’re not prepared.”

Langford, though, is dialed in to not only what the Spartans have to do, but what they’ll see from their opponents.

“Just telling us to get down, the plays that they’re about to run,” Ward said. “It’s always good to have reminders.”

It’s also good to have a guy like Langford, even if he’s in a walking boot rather than a pair of Nikes.

“He’s going to be one of those guys that, when he leaves,” Izzo said, “I’m going to be sorry that he left.”