Articles By Athlon Sports

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Why did the NHL change its overtime rules?

 

Overtime games in the NHL are now 3-on-3 (not including goalies), down from the 4-on-4 extra periods of years past and the 5-on-5 regulation-time lineups. In theory, fewer hockey players on the ice will create more space and more scoring opportunities. The NHL would like more sudden-death goals and fewer shootouts, so it introduced this rule change this season. Only time will tell if the drastic step has the desired impact.

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Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 11:01
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/georgetown-hoyas-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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Another season, another gaudy record, another impressive NCAA Tournament seed — and another disappointing early exit in March. That has become the narrative surrounding Georgetown basketball the past few years, and the Hoyas will enter the season looking to erase that perception.

 

Since John Thompson III took Georgetown to the Final Four in 2007, the Hoyas have been to the NCAA Tournament on six occasions — with a four-seed or better in five of those appearances. Yet the Hoyas haven’t reached the second weekend of the tournament since that Final Four run.

 

Despite the departure of three starters, Thompson III still has plenty of talent with which to work — and the biggest goal will be ending the NCAA Tournament trend of the last several seasons.

 

All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Georgetown loses both of its post starters from last season in Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith, but the Hoyas will be deeper, more talented and more versatile.

 

Freshman center Jessie Govan has everyone in the program excited. He wasn’t a five-star recruit in high school, but he could be poised to make as big an immediate impact as any freshman in the Big East. Govan was one of the best back-to-the-basket scorers in the 2015 class.

 

Sophomore Isaac Copeland should be on every list of national breakout players. The 6'9" forward came on strong in the second half of the season, scoring in double figures in nine of the team’s final 17 games — including 14 points in the NCAA Tournament against Utah. He’s long and athletic and can make shots from the perimeter. He has an NBA future.

 

Sophomore forward Paul White was essentially the opposite of Copeland; White hit double figures in seven of his first 16 games but did it just once the rest of the season. He’s another versatile forward who can score around the rim, but he is capable of stepping out and knocking down 3-pointers (37.7 percent).

 

Thompson III has plenty of depth to use in the frontcourt. Four-star freshman Marcus Derrickson is extremely skilled and will fit in perfectly with the Georgetown offense due to his ability to pass and knock down face-up jumpers. Louisville transfer Akoy Agau will become eligible after the first semester, and the Hoyas believe 7-foot senior Bradley Hayes will find minutes off the bench as well.

 


Georgetown Hoyas Facts & Figures

Last season: 22-11, 12-6 Big East

Postseason: Second round

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

Big East Projection: 4

Postseason Projection: First round

 


Backcourt

 

Georgetown’s prospects for the season changed dramatically in the course of a week in early April. On March 31, then-junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera announced he was leaving school and entering the NBA Draft — but one week later, he changed his mind and decided to return for his final season.

 

Smith-Rivera led Georgetown in scoring (16.3 ppg) and assists (3.2 apg), while shooting 38.7 percent from 3-point range. One of the frontrunners for Big East Player of the Year, Smith-Rivera hit the 25-point mark six different times.

 

Sophomore L.J. Peak was a pleasant surprise last season, grabbing one of the starting wing spots and keeping it all season. Peak is a power wing who can really finish in transition, but he was a streaky shooter during most of Big East play.

 

It’s unclear what role sophomore Tre Campbell will play, but expect to see him on the court more often. He had his moments during conference play and is the lone pure point guard on the team. Campbell allows the Hoyas to move Smith-Rivera off the ball or to play three guards with Peak on the other wing.

 


Key Losses: F Mikael Hopkins, C Joshua Smith, G Jabril Trawick

Top Players: G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, G/F L.J. Peak, F Paul White, F Isaac Copeland, C Jessie Govan

 


Newcomers

 

John Thompson III needed some frontcourt reinforcements in the 2015 class, and he certainly succeeded in getting some. Jessie Govan is one of the best low-post scorers in the class and can be counted on as a go-to-guy from Day 1. Marcus Derrickson is very skilled and is tailor-made for the Hoyas’ offensive system. Wing Kaleb Johnson saw his stock rise as a senior and can score from all over the court.

 

Final Analysis

 

Villanova is the Big East favorite again, but there’s a clear-cut top four — and Georgetown is among that group. Where exactly the Hoyas fit into the pecking order is up for debate and will likely come down to how quickly the freshmen acclimate to the college game, as well as how big a leap the sophomores take.

 

Thompson III is counting heavily upon Govan to make an immediate impact, and he needs Copeland or White to have a breakout season up front. If that happens, Georgetown suddenly has one of the league’s most talented frontcourts to go with one of the best guards in the Big East.

 

Is this the year Georgetown finally breaks its NCAA Tournament second-weekend slump? The talent is there, the depth is there, the experience and versatility are there — the Hoyas just need their young players to grow up quickly.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/xavier-musketeers-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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The journey wasn’t always smooth, but Xavier’s 2014-15 season ended in a familiar place — the Sweet 16. The Musketeers, who lost to UTEP and Long Beach State in consecutive games in November and went .500 in Big East play, advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the last eight seasons. Only nine schools can claim such a feat.

 

Making another deep March run is possible. Chris Mack must replace his starting point guard (Dee Davis) and top big man (Matt Stainbrook), but he welcomes back three of his top four scorers and adds several intriguing newcomers. 

 

All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?



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Frontcourt

 

Jalen Reynolds made a big jump in his sophomore season, improving both his production (from 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game to 9.9 and 6.1, respectively) and his efficiency (from 53.3 percent shooting to 61.8). A 6'10" forward, Reynolds scored in double figures 17 times, including a career-high 21 in Xavier’s Round of 32 win over Georgia State. The challenge for Reynolds is to improve his defense, which in turn will allow him to stay on the floor longer with fewer fouls.

 

Senior James Farr doesn’t provide much offense, but he is one of the most effective rebounders in the Big East. He averaged 5.3 boards in only 15.6 minutes per game as a junior and had 13 rebounds against a physical frontline in the Musketeers’ win over Ole Miss in the NCAAs. Sean O’Mara played sparingly as a freshman but could be in position to play a key role up front. The 6'10", 247-pound sophomore is a true back-to-the-basket big man.

 

Makinde London, a 6'10" redshirt freshman, is one of the most exciting prospects on the roster. A top-100 recruit who played his senior year of high school at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, London is capable — in time — of being a difference-maker on both ends of the court. True freshman Kaiser Gates is a 6'8" small forward who has the versatility to guard four positions. He is a skilled offensive player who has a nice mid-range game.

 


Xavier Musketeers Facts & Figures

Last season: 23-14, 9-9 Big East

Postseason: Sweet 16

Consecutive NCAAs: 2

Big East Projection: 3

Postseason Projection: First round

 


Backcourt

 

Davis was a three-year starter at the point who ranked 14th nationally with 6.0 assists per game. He never developed into a scorer — he averaged a career-high 9.0 points as a senior — but provided leadership and ran the offense effectively.

 

His heir apparent, sophomore Larry Austin Jr., played more than five minutes in only four Big East games last season. He isn’t known for his outside shooting, but he can get to the rim with ease and has great vision.

 

Austin will be surrounded by veterans, including senior Remy Abell, junior Myles Davis and sophomore Trevon Bluiett. Abell averaged 8.4 points while shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range in his first season after transferring from Indiana. Davis improved dramatically in his second season in the program thanks in large part to a more aggressive offensive approach. As a freshman, 77.0 percent of his field goal attempts came from 3-point range; last year that number dropped to 59.2 percent. Bluiett was second on the team in scoring (11.0 ppg) as a freshman but slumped from the perimeter late in the season. He is a better shooter than his 32.6 percent mark from 3 would indicate.

 

Sophomore swingman J.P. Macura is another capable contributor. He never lacks in the hustle department; it’s his shot selection that’s questionable at times. Macura scored 17 points in only 13 minutes in the second game of his career and went on to score in double figures six more times during his freshman season.

 

The biggest wild card in the backcourt may be redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner. The 6'5" guard averaged 7.2 minutes in six games last season but was shut down because of chronic tendinitis in his knees. He could play significant minutes at the point if Austin struggles. 

 


Key Losses: G Dee Davis, C Matt Stainbrook

Top Players: G Larry Austin Jr., G Myles Davis, G Remy Abell, G Trevone Bluiett, F Jalen Reynolds

 


Newcomers

 

Kaiser Gates is an athletic combo forward who excels in the open court but can also step out and hit from 3-point range. The staff opted to redshirt Makinde London last year to give him time to develop. He has the size, skill and athletic ability to be an all-conference player at some point in his career.  Edmond Sumner took a medical redshirt after playing sparingly as a true freshman early last season.

 

Final Analysis

 

Xavier has consistently shown the ability to replace key personnel without taking a step back. And that should be the case once again in ’15-16. There are some concerns — Who will take control of the point? Can the Musketeers replace Stainbrook’s production on the low block? — but Xavier has the talent to contend in the Big East and looks like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team once again.

Teaser:
Xavier Musketeers 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/big-east-basketball-2015-16-preview-predictions-and-all-conference-team
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The new Big East lineup may never be able to match what previous incarnations have done, but the conference has nonetheless proven to be formidable.

 

The Big East produced six NCAA Tournament bids last season, more than the Pac-12 and SEC and as many as the SEC. That’s only part of the equation of course. Only one of those six teams (Xavier) made it to the second weekend of the tournament, and the league champion and top-two NCAA seed (Villanova) again failed to reach the Sweet 16.

 

This conference could be a copy of previous seasons. Villanova is the clear-cut favorite. Teams like Butler, Xavier and Georgetown are nibbling around the end of the top 25. Providence may have the best player in the country (Kris Dunn), but no certainty that it will reach the Tournament.

 

What may make the future of this conference particularly interesting is the progress of two name programs that have been treading water in recent years. Marquette is starting to hit its stride thanks to strong recruiting under second-year coach Steve Wojciechowski, and St. John’s made one of the most intriguing hires of the offseason when the Red Storm brought in favorite son Chris Mullin.

 

All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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2015-16 Big East Predictions
1.The Wildcats are eager to move past their NCAA Tournament disappointment last season. Freshman Jalen Brunson could be key on team of vets. Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
2.If everyone stays healthy, the Bulldogs have the pieces to hang around the top 25. NC State transfer Tyler Lewis needs to make an impact. Postseason: NCAA second round
3.It’s officially time for Jalen Reynolds’ breakout season. Myles Davis and Trevon Bluiett will also compete for all-conference honors. Postseason: NCAA first round
4.D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s decision to return keeps the Hoyas in the mix. Freshman big man Jessie Govan is a key addition. Postseason: NCAA first round
5.There’s Kris Dunn ... and well, not much else. However, he’s arguably the best point guard in college basketball, and that might be enough. Postseason: NCAA first round
6.Steve Wojciechowski brings in an excellent recruiting class, highlighted by five-star Henry Ellenson. The Golden Eagles are on the rise. Postseason: NIT 
7.Transfers Maurice Watson Jr. (Boston University) and Cole Huff (Nevada) will have to make an immediate impact with the loss of three starters. Postseason: NIT 
8.The Pirates lost nine of their final 10 games to fall out of postseason contention, but Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado are both back. Postseason: NIT 
9.The Blue Demons finished better than last place for the first time since 2008. Dave Leitao inherits three double-figure scorers. 
10. 

Chris Mullin faces a tough task as only 4.0 points per game return from last season. Newcomers will have to play big roles.

 

Big East Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Kris Dunn, Providence

Best Defensive Player: Kris Dunn, Providence

Most Underrated Player: Daniel Ochefu, Villanova

Newcomer of the Year: Henry Ellenson, Marquette

Top Coach: Jay Wright, Villanova ()

Coach on the Hot Seat: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall ()

Teams in the : No. 10 Villanova, No. 20 Butler

 

All-Big East First Team

G Kris Dunn, Providence

G Kellen Dunham, Butler

G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown

F Roosevelt Jones, Butler

F Daniel Ochefu, Villanova

 

All-Big East Second Team

G Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova

G Billy Garrett, DePaul

G Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

F Henry Ellenson, Marquette

F Jalen Reynolds, Xavier

 

All-Big East Third Team

G Jalen Brunson, Villanova

G Mo Watson Jr., Creighton

G Myles Davis, Xavier

F Angel Delgado, Seton Hall

C Luke Fischer, Marquette

 

Big East Recruiting Roundup

 

1. Marquette: Steve Wojciechowski has a top-15, five-man class led by five-star big man Henry Elllenson.

 

2. Georgetown: Top-50 ranked post Jessie Govan highlights a top-25 class.

 

3. Villanova: Jay Wright has a star coming his way in five-star point guard Jalen Brunson.

 

4. St. John’s: First-year coach Chris Mullin will lean heavily on a quality five-man class that will have to contribute right away.

 

5. Creighton: The jewel of the Bluejays’ class, Justin Patton is considered one of the top sleepers in the 2015 class.

 

6. Providence:  Physical big man Alex Owens is the top recruit in Ed Cooley’s five-man recruiting class.

 

7. Seton Hall: The Pirates are hoping for immediate contributions from Amarveer Singh and Myles Carter.

 

8. DePaul: The Blue Demons have four quality recruits in Dave Leitao’s class.

 

9. Butler: The Bulldogs are hoping for an immediate impact from the shooting of Sean McDermott.

 

10. Xavier:  Chris Mack only has one recruit in his class, but Kaiser Gates is an athletic forward with intriguing upside.

Teaser:
Big East Basketball 2015-16 Preview, Predictions and All-Conference Team
Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/butler-bulldogs-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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Chris Holtmann proved to be a pretty good crisis manager last season, leading to a six-year contract extension for a guy who wasn’t the Butler coach on a full-time basis until after Big East play started.

 

Now comes the tough part — dealing with expectations.

 

“If our team can have a similar chemistry, a similar toughness about them (as last season), I think we’ll be pleased with how we perform,” says Holtmann, who was named interim head coach when Brandon Miller took a medical leave of absence just before the start of preseason practice.

 

Many observers expected Butler to struggle after that. The Bulldogs were picked seventh in the Big East coaches’ poll, but they tied for second and returned to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence. Holtmann was named coach on a permanent basis in January and received a contract extension in March after reports surfaced that other schools were pursuing him.

 

The Bulldogs return two of the Big East’s best players in Roosevelt Jones and sharpshooting Kellen Dunham. But a program that prides itself on defense lost two of the league’s top defenders to graduation and needs contributions from three talented sophomores who were inconsistent last season in order to challenge for the Big East title.

 

All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?



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Frontcourt

 

Andrew Chrabascz isn’t overly athletic at 6'7" and 236 pounds. He doesn’t have the look of a primary post scorer. But he’s a master at using the glass to get the ball over taller defenders and cutting and finding gaps in the lane. His emergence was one of the most important developments in Butler’s 2014-15 season, and he’s being counted on heavily again.

 

But the Bulldogs will have a hard time making up for the loss of Kameron Woods, a menacing force defensively and on the boards. Tyler Wideman will get a chance to do so. He doesn’t have Woods’ wingspan (few do), but he was the strongest player on the team last year as a freshman. He’s a potential load on the blocks and showed a soft shooting touch around the basket. Wideman has said several times that his biggest problem is he sometimes “struggles with his motor.” That’s something Holtmann doesn’t want to hear this season.

 

Jackson Davis played sparingly as a freshman, but Holtmann is looking for him to be an energy guy and stretch opposing defenses. He was a prolific scorer in high school, but his defensive play must improve. Expect incoming freshman Nate Fowler to get a long look. He could provide another burly body next to Wideman. Returning senior Austin Etherington adds depth.

 


No. 20 Butler Bulldogs Facts & Figures

Last season: 23-11, 12-6 Big East

Postseason: Second round

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

Big East Projection: 2

Postseason Projection: Second round

 


Backcourt

 

Dunham had a reputation as a good shooter before last season. He became a great one, shooting 41 percent from 3-point range despite being the primary defensive focus of most teams. Dunham gets his shot off quickly, and Butler’s offense is at its best when it gets the ball to him on the wing in transition.

 

With the possible exception of Providence’s Kris Dunn, no Big East player is more valuable to his team than Jones, who bounced back in a big way after missing the 2013-14 season due to a wrist injury. The 6'4" Jones is listed as a forward, but it’s hard to pigeonhole him. He doesn’t shoot particularly well — he didn’t attempt a 3-point shot — but his running floaters in the lane are a nightmare for opposing defenses. He’s an exceptionally strong on-the-ball defender and is one of Butler’s primary ball handlers. 

 

Alex Barlow’s leadership and defensive play at the point will be missed, but Tyler Lewis is an experienced replacement and should be an upgrade offensively. Lewis redshirted last season after transferring from NC State, where he started 18 games during the 2013-14 season.

 

Kelan Martin got off to a terrific start offensively as a freshman before slowing down during conference play. St. Bonaventure transfer Jordan Gathers is expected to provide needed depth and versatility.

 


Key Losses: G Alex Barlow, F Kameron Woods

Top Players: G Tyler Lewis, G Kellen Dunham, F Roosevelt Jones, F Andrew Chrabascz, F Tyler Wideman

 


Newcomers

 

Nate Fowler is the closest thing to a post player on the roster and has a chance to start. The Bulldogs badly need a replacement for Kameron Woods, especially on the defensive end. Jordan Gathers has one season of eligibility left after transferring from St. Bonaventure and can play both on and off the ball. Sean McDermott went to the same high school as Kellen Dunham and has a similar style and build, but he looks to be reserve player as a freshman.

 

Final Analysis

 

Butler has all the makings of a solid team, and a return to the NCAA Tournament is likely. Can the Bulldogs be a great team and contend for the Big East title? That might be a stretch. There isn’t much size, and it’s hard to see them being as good defensively without Woods and Barlow. Still, only a fool would underestimate this program considering its run of success. It should be another fun season around Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Teaser:
Butler Bulldogs 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/providence-friars-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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The entire tenor of the Providence College basketball program changed for the better when Kris Dunn turned down a spot in the first round of the NBA Draft to return for his junior season.

 

With Dunn leading the way, the Friars have the returning Big East Co-Player of the Year, a National Player of the Year candidate and the type of leader who can carry a team a long way. Can that Dunn-led path lead all the way to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth? That’s certainly the plan for Dunn and coach Ed Cooley’s young team. The Friars won 11 Big East games and finished 22–12 overall, but as Dunn walked off the floor after a bitter NCAA loss to Dayton, he vowed to get back to the big stage and win.

 

There is talent, but not much size, in these Friars. Dunn could make players such as Ben Bentil, Jalen Lindsey and Rodney Bullock known commodities around the Big East this season as Providence fights to find a way to remain in the mix near the top of the conference.

 

All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?



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Frontcourt

 

The unexpected transfer in mid-May of 7'2" center Paschal Chukwu cemented the fact that no Big East team lost more up front than the Friars. LaDontae Henton’s 2,000 points/1,000 rebounds were already gone, as were the 7-foot defense of Carson Desrosiers and scoring skills of Tyler Harris, who bolted for a one-year transfer to Auburn.

 

That leaves precious little size up front, but Cooley says he likes his options. The leader will certainly be Bentil, a powerfully built 6'9" bruiser who came on like gangbusters late in his freshman season. He banged his way to five double-doubles in the season’s final dozen games, including 26 points and 23 rebounds in two Big East Tournament games. The problem is that Bentil may just be the team’s center, which will only be a problem on defense. The June addition of wide-body freshman Quadree Smith will turn out to be huge if he can eat up some minutes in the lane.

 

Bullock was a prep star in Virginia back in 2013 but was suspended as a freshman and then sustained a season-ending knee injury last October. Cooley says that if healthy, Bullock would have played a key role last season attacking the rim and hitting the backboards.

 

Lindsey and freshmen Ryan Fazekas and Ricky Council will all fight for time at the small forward spot. Cooley would love to play two of them at the same time frequently, especially if they show they can rebound effectively. Lindsey, a top-100 recruit from Tennessee, averaged a disappointing 3.8 points and 1.5 rebounds as a freshman, though he did score 12 points in a season-high 39 minutes in the NCAA loss to Dayton.

 


Providence Friars Facts & Figures

Last season: 22-12, 11-7 Big East

Postseason: First round

Consecutive NCAAs: 2

Big East Projection: 5

Postseason Projection: First round

 


Backcourt

 

First with Bryce Cotton and now with Dunn, Cooley has enjoyed pointing the best guard in the Big East in the right direction and watching him make history. Cotton led the Friars to the Big East title in 2014, and Dunn carried the load in ’15 and now may just be the best point guard in the country. Dunn was third in the country in assists (7.5 apg) and fifth in steals (2.73 spg) a year ago while averaging 15.6 points. If can find a way to cut his turnovers — he led the nation with 138 — and make more than 68.6 percent of his free throws, the results this season will be scary.

 

“Kris is the best player in the country, in my opinion,” says Cooley. “He can carry us, for sure, but our guys need to learn to play off him. We lost an awful lot, especially the leadership of LaDontae. We need a whole lot of guys to step up to replace him.”

 

Kyron Cartwright started eight games alongside Dunn as a freshman and will find a way to play major minutes again. Junior Lomomba is a tough defender, and Cooley will find out if redshirt Tyree Chambers or freshman Drew Edwards is ready to help.

 


Key Losses: C Paschal Chukwu, F Carson Desrosiers, F Tyler Harris, F LaDontae Henton

Top Players: G Kris Dunn, G Junior Lomomba, G Jalen Lindsey, F Ben Bentil, F Rodney Bullock

 


Newcomers

 

Indiana sharpshooter Ryan Fazekas committed to the Friars before his junior season and was a Mr. Basketball finalist. Baltimore guard Drew Edwards can play both backcourt spots, and Ricky Council can add needed wing shooting. Late pickup Quadree Smith is 285-pounds big and needs to help right away.

 

Final Analysis

 

Providence fans are about to find out just how far the best point guard in the country can lead a team. Without Dunn, the Friars would hover near the bottom of the Big East. With their star dominating the ball, and a few young players ready to blossom, the Friars should find a way to stay in the upper half of the conference.

Teaser:
Providence Friars 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/villanova-wildcats-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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It couldn’t end the same way, right?

 

It didn’t seem like last season’s version of Villanova would suffer an early exit from the NCAA Tournament after a terrific regular season — like the Wildcats had done in 2014 (and 2010, for that matter). After all, Villanova had won 15 games in a row entering the NCAA Tournament, was ranked in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and was hitting on all cylinders after rolling through the Big East Tournament.

 

Of course, the Wildcats ran into a hot NC State team, couldn’t defend the paint and couldn’t make shots when it mattered. Suddenly, Villanova was sent home after a 33–3 season.

 

Jay Wright’s group enters the season as the Big East favorite yet again, but the Wildcats are hoping to reach the second weekend in March this time around.

 

All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?



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Frontcourt

 

Villanova has received far more publicity for its guards than its big men over the past few years, but the key to the Wildcats this season could be Daniel Ochefu. One of the most improved players in the Big East during his career, Ochefu was the team’s leading rebounder (8.5 rpg) and shot 64.4 percent from the field last season. The 6'11" senior had monster performances (19 points and 24 boards against Seton Hall comes to mind), but he needs to do it consistently. If Ochefu can produce double-doubles with regularity, he can provide the inside balance Villanova needs with all its perimeter options — especially with JayVaughn Pinkston graduating after last season.

 

Starting alongside Ochefu likely will be junior forward Kris Jenkins, who gives Wright an option up front who can step outside and knock down shots from the perimeter or score inside the paint. Jenkins had nine double-figure scoring outings last season.

 

Junior Darryl Reynolds, who appeared sparingly in 27 games last season, is one of the few options off the bench up front. Freshman Tim Delaney could play some minutes.

 


No. 10 Villanova Wildcats Facts & Figures

Last season: 33-3, 16-2 Big East

Postseason: Second round

Consecutive NCAAs: 3

Big East Projection: 1

Postseason Projection: Sweet 16

 


Backcourt

 

As usual, the perimeter is the strength of Villanova — even without Darrun Hilliard, an all-conference guard and the team’s leading scorer last season.

 

Ryan Arcidiacono, the co-Big East Player of the Year in 2014-15, is back for his senior season. His production (10.1 ppg, 3.6 apg) and shooting numbers (.394 from the field, .372 from 3) never jump off the page, but “Arch” consistently hits big shots and is the guy who makes Villanova go. It’s not a surprise that two of Villanova’s three losses came in two of Arcidiacono’s worst games of the season.

 

Expect a bigger role for Josh Hart after the junior wing emerged as one of the best sixth men in the country a year ago. He was the team’s second-leading scorer (10.1 ppg) and was terrific in the Big East Tournament. Hart can score in a variety of ways, and his ability to finish in traffic makes him a tough matchup.

 

Wright has never been afraid to use two point guards in his starting lineup, and he certainly has options this season. Incoming freshman Jalen Brunson was a five-star prospect and was extremely impressive during the FIBA U19 Championships for Team USA this summer. It wouldn’t come as a shock to see him starting sooner rather than later. Sophomore Phil Booth saw extended minutes during league play last season, and he’s a talented guard who can run an offense or play off the ball.

 

Delaware native Donte DiVincenzo could play a bench role as a freshman, while former four-star recruit Mikal Bridges will now suit up after redshirting last season. Bridges brings versatility.

 


Key Losses: G Dylan Ennis, G Darrun Hilliard, F JayVaughn Pinkston

Top Players: G Ryan Arcidiacono, G Jalen Brunson, G Josh Hart, F Kris Jenkins, F Daniel Ochefu

 


Newcomers

 

Jalen Brunson could be one of the biggest impact freshmen in the country after being one of the elite point guards in the 2015 class. He’s good enough to start immediately and move Ryan Arcidiacono off the ball. Donte DiVincenzo is a quality local product who can play both guard positions. Tim Delaney brings toughness and a rugged style of play to the paint.

 

Final Analysis

 

It’s a testament to Wright’s consistency and success that his team can lose an all-conference guard (Hillard), a veteran starter (Pinkston) and a third starter (Dylan Ennis) and still be picked as the clear favorite in the Big East.

 

Despite the losses, the Wildcats are poised to make national noise again. Arcidiacono and Ochefu bring experience — and could both be all-conference picks — while Hart is primed for a breakout season. The key likely will be Brunson, who brings an added dimension to the lineup and could push Villanova to the next level.

 

Of course, the team won 62 games the last two seasons, but everyone remembers the early March exits. Villanova should rectify that this year.

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When we last saw West Virginia, it was taking a 39-point beating at the hands of Kentucky. It made for a TV spectacle, especially after the words of brash freshman Daxter Miles, who predicted a Mountaineers win. What seems to be forgotten, though, is that the Mountaineers were playing in the Sweet 16 after defeating Maryland by 10 points. Also forgotten: That WVU roster was youthful.

 

Perhaps that’s why Bob Huggins is looking forward to 2015-16. “We have a lot of experience back plus a very good recruiting class,” Huggins says. “The schedule is harder, but I think we’ll be better.”

 

That’s a tall statement considering “Press” Virginia was 25–10 and advanced to the second weekend of the NCAAs. Yet 10 Mountaineers averaged at least 10 minutes per game in 2014-15, and only two — leading scorer Juwan Staten and fellow guard Gary Browne — are gone. Back is double-double machine Devin Williams, ball thief Jevon Carter and swat king Jon Holton. Incoming is Ohio High School Player of the Year Esa Ahmad.

 

The looming question is whether the Mountaineers can navigate their schedule, which includes a Big 12/SEC Challenge game at Florida and a matchup with Virginia in New York.

 

All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

The problem up front for Huggins is that he doesn’t have a player over 6'9". He plans to overcome that, however, with bulk and length.

 

Williams is a 6'9", 255-pound load who already has 17 double-doubles in two seasons. “I thought he had a heck of a year last year,” Huggins says. “He got better, more confident and finished better. And he’s continuing to expand his game. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor, get to the basket and use both hands.”

 

Holton, who boasts a wide wingspan, has been disappointing after transferring from junior college. He committed too many fouls, and his coach says he “got in a hurry” last season. Still, he has potential. Holton, now a senior, averaged 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds and was a weapon in the press last season.

 

Back, too, is muscled 6'9" sophomore Elijah Macon, a former four-star recruit who showed rust last season after a redshirt year. “He’s shooting better,” Huggins says. “More active.”

 

The one to watch is Ahmad, WVU’s top incoming recruit. “He understands the game,” Huggins says. “He’s a very good passer and rebounder. He gives us the size on the perimeter we’ve been looking for.”

 

Forward Brandon Watkins might miss the season after an ACL injury. Nate Adrian is back after wrist surgery.

 


West Virginia Mountaineers Facts & Figures

Last season: 25-10, 11-7 Big 12

Postseason: Sweet 16

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

Big 12 Projection: 6

Postseason Projection: First Round

 


Backcourt

 

If you’re wondering how Miles, who averaged 7.3 points, weathered the storm after the Kentucky loss, Huggins says: “Just fine. He plays hard. He’s extremely competitive. I think he’s going to be improved and shoot better. He’s gotten bigger.”

 

No one was bigger for WVU last year, though, than Carter. WVU led the nation in steals, and Carter led the team with 67, setting a school record for a freshman. “Great freshman year,” Huggins says. “When we moved him to point (guard), he didn’t shoot as well as he had, but it was a great experience for him. He played in hard venues and gained a lot of confidence.”

 

WVU will boast much depth in the backcourt. Jaysean Paige is back for his senior season. Tarik Phillip, who “might be (WVU’s) most improved over the summer,” says his coach, returns for his junior season.

 

The Mountaineers are also adding transfer Teyvon Myers, who led the junior college ranks in scoring at 25 per game.

 


Key Losses: G Juwan Staten, G Gary Browne

Top Players: G Daxter Miles, G Jevon Carter, F Jonathan Holton, F Devin Williams, F Elijah Macon

 


Newcomers

 

Bob Huggins is hoping his program is back to where redshirts can be used again. He might use them on two incoming players: guard James “Beetle” Bolden and forward Lamont West. Esa Ahmad and Teyvon Myers, however, will certainly see action. Ahmad was a consensus top-100 recruit. Huggins went all the way to North Dakota to find Myers for scoring.

 

Final Analysis

 

Don’t sell WVU short. Huggins is expected to again use a pressing style and has terrific depth at his disposal, especially in the backcourt. Williams is the anchor in the frontcourt and Carter the leader at guard, but watch for Ahmad, who picked WVU over Ohio State, Wisconsin, Maryland and Oregon, among others.

 

There will be two keys. First, the Mountaineers must shoot the ball better than last season. Of 345 teams nationally, WVU was No. 287 in field goal percentage (.408). What offset that, however, was the Mountaineers’ ball-hawking defense. West Virginia took 512 more shots than its opponents. Huggins is hoping Ahmad and Myers will jolt his team’s offense. Another key will be fouling less. A full year of pressing could help there, but officials whistled West Virginia for more fouls than any team in the nation last season.

 

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Shaka Smart said in his introductory press conference at Texas that he believed there were two kinds of people — “energy givers or energy takers.”

 

Ask any Texas basketball fans, and they’ll put Smart firmly in the category of energy giver.

 

From his full-court, up-tempo playing style to his ability to connect immediately with fans as well as current and former players, Smart has the Texas fan base excited about the 2015-16 season.

 

“He called me minutes after taking the job, and you could feel his energy and excitement,” says former Texas point guard T.J. Ford, who led the Longhorns to the Final Four in 2003. “Then he called (former Texas players) Royal Ivey, Kevin (Durant) and LaMarcus (Aldridge). We’ve welcomed him in, but the most important thing is the current players love him. That’s what really matters.”

 

Texas plans to build a new basketball arena estimated to cost $450 million as the current arena will be demolished in three to five years to make room for a new medical school. Based on Smart’s ability to connect with the fan base and donors on a personal level already, athletic director Steve Patterson appears to have the right guy to help him raise some money as well.

 

Now, Smart just has to win, and he may have a team to do it.

 

All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Despite losing NBA Lottery pick Myles Turner, the team’s leading shot blocker, after just one season, Texas will still have one of the biggest and most experienced frontcourts in all of college basketball. That’s thanks to returning seniors Cameron Ridley (6'9", 285) and Prince Ibeh (6'10", 260).

 

And while the Longhorns lost lone senior Jonathan Holmes, a versatile 6'8", 240-pound, power forward, Texas adds 6'8", 290-pound space-eater Shaq Cleare, who sat out last season after transferring from Maryland. Cleare provides brute force down low and adds to the rim protection provided by Ridley and Ibeh that helped Texas lead the nation in blocked shots (7.8 bpg) last season.

 

Coaches like the pick-and-pop potential with senior forward Connor Lammert as well as the athleticism of sophomore forward Jordan Barnett. Barnett showed in high school he could score inside and outside, but he played very limited minutes as a freshman.

 


Texas Longhorns Facts & Figures

Last season: 20–14, 8–10 Big 12

Postseason: First round

Consecutive NCAAs: 2

Big 12 Projection: 5

Postseason Projection: First Round

 


Backcourt

 

Perhaps the best recruiting job by Smart in 2015 had nothing to do with his three incoming freshmen. According to teammates, junior point guard Isaiah Taylor, who led the team in scoring (13.1 ppg) and assists (4.6 pg) last season, was at least 50-50 to enter the NBA Draft after UT’s disappointing Round of 64 NCAA Tournament loss to Butler last March.

 

But Smart told Taylor he didn’t think there was anyone better in the country at playing fast with the ball in his hands than Taylor — and that Texas was about to start playing fast under Smart.

 

Smart told Taylor he’d never work harder than he would under Smart, but he’d also never have more fun.

 

“We’re demanding, but positive,” Smart says. “This is a game players love, and they need to have fun playing it.”

 

Taylor anchors a deep backcourt loaded with veteran experience but no appearances beyond the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. Seniors Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland as well as junior Kendal Yancy all have experience playing the point and off the ball.

 

Freshman shooting guards Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach will be expected to bring much-needed outside scoring punch to a team that ranked eighth in the Big 12 in scoring offense (67.4 ppg) last season.

 

Incoming freshman Tevin Mack is a versatile swingman whose specialty is defense and getting to the rim.

 


Key Losses: F Jonathan Holmes, F Myles Turner

Top Players: G Isaiah Taylor, G Demarcus Holland, F Connor Lammert, F Shaq Cleare, C Cameron Ridley

 


Newcomers

 

Swingman Tevin Mack brings an athletic, attack-mode mentality. Guard Kerwin Roach can create his own shot and has the ability to score from outside and the mid-range. Guard Eric Davis brings an aggressive scoring mindset that should be welcomed on a team that struggled to score last season. Forward Shaq Cleare averaged 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds two years ago at Maryland.

 

Final Analysis

 

Smart inherits a talented team that may have just added the biggest missing piece — togetherness. Players have said they have a much closer player-coach relationship with Smart than they did with Rick Barnes, whose tough-minded approach kept players at arm’s length on purpose.

 

Smart isn’t used to playing with guys as big down low as Ridley, Ibeh and Cleare; he’ll have to be smart about when to run and how much. But players say they are excited to play in the up-tempo, full-court Havoc style Smart is bringing to Austin. They say the energy in and around the program since Smart’s hire will be even more evident on the court thanks to their energy-giving new coach.

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Baylor boasts a potential first-round draft pick in Taurean Prince, one of the nation’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers and a budding star in Jonathan Motley. Still, the main theme surrounding the Bears entering the 2015-16 season doesn’t even involve the players who return. It’s about the players who left.

 

Along with being two of the best players on last year’s squad, guards Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale were also the most important. Whether it was with their play, their words or their demeanor, Chery and O’Neale brought a sense of calm and structure to a program long known for its erratic style of play. With Chery and O’Neale setting the tone, Baylor played hard — and the Bears also played smart more often than not en route to a 24-win season.

 

“We’ve got to find someone to replace their leadership,” Bears coach Scott Drew says. “If we do, I think we could be in store for another great year.”

 

All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Gathers, Prince and Motley may not be the best inside trio in the country — but they should at least be in the conversation. Gathers averaged 11.6 rebounds per game last season, a mark that ranked third in the nation. A 6'8", 275-pound bruiser, Gathers is one of the most physically imposing players in college basketball. He knows that a strong senior season is vital if he hopes to be selected in the 2016 NBA Draft.

 

As promising as Gathers has been, Prince, a senior, is regarded as an even better prospect. He averaged a team-high 13.9 points off the bench as a junior and was one of the top players on a U.S. team that won the bronze medal at the Pan-American Games in Canada over the summer. The 6'7" Prince shot just under 40 percent from 3-point range last season and ranked second on the team in steals with 1.48 per game.

 

Although he’s still incredibly green, Motley is as skilled as any frontcourt player in the Big 12. The 6'9", 230-pounder has the length, bulk, footwork, ball-handling skills and shooting touch that make NBA scouts drool, but he needs to play with more energy and fire. This could be a breakthrough season for Motley, who helped Baylor finish second in the league in rebounding margin last season and first in points allowed. Motley averaged 7.7 points as a redshirt freshman.

 

Also, look for 7'0" junior college transfer Jo Acuil to make an immediate impact. Acuil averaged 20.1 points, 11.2 points and 4.7 blocks for Neosho (Kan.) Community College last season.

 


Baylor Bears Facts & Figures

Last season: 24–10, 11–7 Big 12

Postseason: First round

Consecutive NCAAs: 2

Big 12 Projection: 3

Postseason Projection: Second round

 


Backcourt

 

Difficult as the losses of Chery and O’Neale will be to absorb — they combined to average 21.4 points and 7.5 assists — it’s not as if the Bears’ backcourt is totally depleted. Replacing Chery at the point will be Lester Medford, a returning starter who averaged 7.6 points per game as a combo guard last season. Medford can be erratic at times and often floundered in big moments, but Drew notes that Medford led Baylor to a 4–1 record when Chery was out with an injury. Medford is a solid 3-point shooter (38.5 percent) who simply needs to make better decisions.

 

Two players will vie for quality minutes alongside Medford in the backcourt. Al Freeman was a consensus top-100 recruit out of high school who initially signed with UCLA before switching his pledge to Baylor when Ben Howland was fired. An excellent long-range shooter, Freeman redshirted his first season at Baylor before playing sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2014-15, when he averaged 4.8 points. Freeman is better suited as shooting guard, although he can handle point guard duties when called upon.

 

Freeman’s biggest competition for minutes will come from King McClure, the jewel of Baylor’s 2015 recruiting class. The 6'3" McClure operates with a scorer’s mentality and has been compared to former NBA standout Ben Gordon. McClure must make an immediate impact for Baylor to achieve at a high level. Incoming freshman Jake Lindsey, who has good size at 6'5", also will have a chance to contribute.

 


Key Losses: G Kenny Chery, F Royce O’Neal

Top Players: G Lester Medford, G Al Freeman, F Johnathan Motley, F Johnathan Motley, F Rico Gathers

 


Newcomers

 

King McClure is a big-time scorer who can light it up from long range. He’ll be counted on to make an immediate impact in Baylor’s thin backcourt. At least one recruiting service ranked the 7'0" Jo Acuil as the top junior college prospect in the nation. Jake Lindsey’s father, Dennis, is the general manager of the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

 

Final Analysis

 

Last season’s NCAA Tournament berth marked first time in history that the Bears had appeared in the NCAAs in back-to-back years. Scott Drew’s squad should make it three in a row this season, and it could do some serious damage — both in the Big 12 and the postseason — if players such as Medford, Freeman and McClure step up in the backcourt.

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Buddy Hield recognized that there was work to be done before jumping to the NBA. Work for himself, and the Sooners.

 

Hield, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, passed on an early payday for a return to Oklahoma for his senior season. With Hield leading four returning starters from a 24-win team that advanced to the Sweet 16, the Sooners’ sights and expectations are soaring.

 

“I’m on a great team, and we have a lot of unfinished business,” says Hield, who will be among the National Player of the Year favorites. “I just can’t wait to see what’s in store. I want to go to the Final Four.”

 

All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Senior forward Ryan Spangler willingly surrendered some of the interior scoring load a year ago to accommodate transfer TaShawn Thomas. The two worked well together, but with Thomas gone, more scoring from Spangler likely becomes a necessity, at least until Khadeem Lattin or Akolda Manyang proves capable on the offensive end.

 

Lattin provided meaningful minutes as a freshman a year ago, but mostly as a defender and an energy guy. Ideally, he remains a key piece off the bench while he continues to work on building size and strength and an offensive game.

 

That’s likely if Manyang, a junior college transfer, proves that his versatile skills translate to the Big 12. A 7-footer who is expected to be a rim protector, Manyang could alleviate a heavy reliance on Spangler to produce points in the paint if, as expected, he quickly adapts and becomes a solid scorer.

 

Dante Buford figured to be an immediate contributor last season, before NCAA issues with his Florida high school forced him to redshirt. Buford, a 6'7" forward, again projects as an impact player and one who can help inside and out, with an offensive game capable of extending to the perimeter.

 


No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners Facts & Figures

Last season: 24–11, 12–6 Big 12

Postseason: Elite Eight

Consecutive NCAAs: 3

Big 12 Projection: 3

Postseason Projection: Sweet 16

 


Backcourt

 

Hield is the headliner, a game-changing talent who averaged a Big 12-best 17.4 points a year ago, along with 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He scored in double figures in 32 of 35 games, led the league’s guards in rebounding average and produced the program’s fourth-most made 3-pointers with 93 treys.

 

“He’s meant so much to the program,” says Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, “and obviously he wants to finish some business.”

 

Hield is flanked by quality veteran help in Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins in the Sooners’ three-guard lineup. Woodard is a gritty and clutch performer at the point, while Cousins is the team’s best perimeter defender. Both need to work on becoming more consistent with their scoring.

 

Dinjiyl Walker struggled to handle the backup point guard role last season, forcing Cousins to cover when Woodard was off the floor. Walker’s playing time may be linked to his improvement, with incoming freshmen Rashard Odomes and Christian James expected to push for major reserve roles.

 

Odomes, at 6'7" and accomplished on both ends of the floor, gives the Sooners an element they didn’t have off the bench a year ago. James is a bit behind after suffering a broken leg and missing the regular season of his senior year in high school, although he did return for the playoffs.

 


Key Losses: G Frank Booker, F TaShawn Thomas

Top Players: G Jordan Woodard, G Buddy Hield, G Isaiah Cousins, F Ryan Spangler, F Khadeem Lattin

 


Newcomers

 

Akolda Manyang, a former four-star prospect, will be given every opportunity to start at center. Rashard Odomes, a wing from Copperas Cove, Texas, may be the most polished of the prep recruits and projects as a key reserve. Christian James should also contribute at guard. After an NCAA-forced season on the sideline, forward Dante Buford figures to command a major reserve role.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Sooners managed a breakthrough of sorts last March, winning in the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Kruger, after a pair of one-and-done displays the previous two years. They played well, too, eventually falling to surging Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

 

Now there’s momentum for more. And there’s reason for optimism, with Hield and the other veterans in place and the appearance of improved depth— boosting one of the few problem areas with last year’s squad.

 

“It’s great that we have an experienced group and a new group that will challenge those guys to continue to get better,” Kruger says.

 

The Sooners face an aggressive schedule that includes Villanova (in Hawaii), visits to LSU and Memphis and home games against Wisconsin and Creighton before getting into the Big 12. But this should be a team built for the challenge, with four returning regulars who have started every game the past two seasons to lead the way.

 

Oklahoma should be ready to challenge for the Big 12 title — and more.

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Fred Hoiberg’s tenure at Iowa State produced the most successful five-year run in program history. In addition to leading the Cyclones to four straight NCAA Tournaments and two consecutive Big 12 Tournament titles, Hoiberg was immensely popular with the fan base. 

 

Steve Prohm, who led Murray State to a 104–29 record over the last four years, has a tough act to follow.

 

The good news for Prohm is that “The Mayor” left a talent-laden roster behind when he bolted for the Chicago Bulls over the summer. Four of Iowa State’s five leading scorers return to make up a roster that includes one of America’s most unique players in Georges Niang, along with Monté Morris, who is one of the nation’s top point guards. 

 

The basketball program in Ames isn’t broken, and Prohm doesn’t intend on trying to fix it.

 

“I’m going to try to keep a lot of things in place that they are familiar with,” Prohm says. “I want to keep their comfort level at a good place, especially with an experienced group.”

 

All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Niang is one of the most fascinating players in college basketball. The 6'8" “point forward” is so intriguing that Prohm spent a solid chunk of time in the offseason studying tape — specifically how Hoiberg used Niang the last couple of years.  

 

“He has that ability to pass and shoot from anywhere on the floor,” Prohm says. “He’s such a great personality and ambassador for this university.”

 

Niang led Iowa State with 15.3 points per game last season while knocking down 40 percent (46-of-115) of his 3-point shots. Expect Niang to be a strong contender for the Big 12’s Player of the Year award this season.

 

Halfway through last year was when Iowa State’s true rim protector became eligible. Marquette transfer Jameel McKay was quite the difference maker for the Cyclones. The big man averaged 2.4 blocks per game in addition to his 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds en route to being named the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year. McKay should be even better this season.

 

With the departure of ace rebounder Dustin Hogue, the development of senior Abdel Nader will be critical for the Cyclones. The former Northern Illinois transfer showed flashes of brilliance last year but never consistently strung quality games together. Nader is a versatile 6'6" forward who can hurt the opposition from beyond the arc.

 


No. 7 Iowa State Facts & Figures

Last season: 25–9, 12–6 Big 12

Postseason: First round

Consecutive NCAAs: 4

Big 12 Projection: 2

Postseason Projection: Elite Eight

 


Backcourt

 

Prohm is itching to work with Morris. The Flint, Mich., native was second in scoring for the Cyclones at 11.9 points per game last season, but he truly shines when it comes to distributing and taking care of the basketball. In 1,153 minutes last year, Morris committed only 38 turnovers. He’s led the country in assist-to-turnover ratio two seasons in a row. “He had five assists to one turnover last year, and that’s phenomenal,” Prohm says of Morris. “I’m going to try to continue to expand and grow his game. As a coach, you always want a really good point guard, and we are fortunate enough to have one.”

 

Joining Morris in the backcourt will be veterans Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas. Mitrou-Long, a charismatic senior, converted on 39.1 percent of his 3-point attempts last year. Thomas, a junior, limped to an average of 4.9 points per game and has yet to reach his full potential.

 

Oregon State transfer Hallice Cooke will attempt to bounce back from offseason hip surgery, but if healthy he will provide another combo guard for Prohm’s rotation.

 

Another impact transfer, Deonte Burton from Marquette, will be eligible in December. At 6'4", Burton is an explosive player who lacks a true position but is talented enough to crack the starting lineup. Freshman point guard Nick Noskowiak will be assigned to shadow Morris, while junior college walk-on Jordan Ashton is good enough to provide depth.

 


Key Losses: G Bryce DeJean-Jones, F Dustin Hogue

Top Players: G Monte Morris, G Naz Matrou-Long, F Abdel Nader, F Georges Niang, F Jameel McKay

 


Newcomers

 

Deonte Burton and Hallice Cooke could both be difference makers. Cooke made 46 percent of his 3-point attempts as a freshman at Oregon State, while Burton has a chance to be one of the most explosive players in the Big 12. Nick Noskowiak is believed to be the point guard of the future. Brady Ernst, a late in-state signee, is coming off of an ACL tear and was brought on to provide depth.

 

Final Analysis

 

As it did during the Hoiberg era, Iowa State will continue to score at a high rate under Prohm. It’s what this roster was created to do. But defensively is where the Cyclones can take a large step in the right direction. The Cyclones finished 2014-15 ranked 108th nationally in defensive efficiency. “We have to have a mindset that we want to put consecutive stops together,” Prohm says. “That’s something we have always tried to do and emphasize.”

 

Iowa State will boast a Final Four-caliber starting five, but this team does lack proven depth, especially in the frontcourt.

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One of the most impressive streaks in college basketball history is alive and well in the Big 12, where the Kansas Jayhawks are the favorites to capture a 12th straight conference title. “Winning the league is always our top goal,” point guard Frank Mason says. “But this year we’ve got our sights set on bigger things, too.”

 

Understandably so. After losing in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 the past two seasons, Kansas boasts a roster that appears built to give the school its first Final Four berth since 2012. Along with eye-popping size, length and depth, the Jayhawks will also be one of the nation’s most experienced teams. Kansas returns eight players who averaged double-digit minutes a year ago, and that doesn’t include incoming freshmen Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg, two McDonald’s All-Americans.

 

“We’ve definitely got the pieces,” coach Bill Self says. “We’ve just got to find a way to make them all fit.”

 

All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

With leading scorer Perry Ellis returning for his senior year, the Jayhawks will be as deep as any team in the country down low. Ellis averaged just under 14 points in each of the last two seasons, and his ability to score in the paint, from mid-range and beyond the arc makes him a difficult matchup. Self has long expressed his displeasure with Ellis’ lackluster play on defense, an aspect of his game that Ellis has vowed to improve.

 

As successful as Ellis has been, he may end up playing second fiddle to Diallo, a 6'9", 218-pounder who is known for his motor, toughness and physicality — something the Jayhawks have lacked in recent years. The MVP of both the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic, Diallo is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

 

Diallo and Ellis are far from Kansas’ only weapons. Forward Jamari Traylor, a fifth-year senior, is a favorite of Self because of his work ethic and grit. He averaged 20 minutes last season and will be in the rotation again. Senior Hunter Mickelson finally appears ready to make significant contributions after transferring from Arkansas, and 240-pound bruiser Landen Lucas showed flashes of brilliance toward the end of the 2014-15 campaign. Mickelson and Lucas are both 6'10". The wild card of the bunch is Bragg, a versatile forward who can score in multiple ways.

 


No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks Facts & Figures

Last season: 27–9, 13–5 Big 12

Postseason: Second round

Consecutive NCAAs: 26

Big 12 Projection: 1

Postseason Projection: Elite Eight

 


Backcourt

 

Impressive as it is down low, the depth in Kansas’ backcourt may be even more eye-popping. Mason, who averaged 12.6 points and 3.9 assists as a sophomore, should be one of the most improved players in the Big 12 after leading the U.S. to the gold medal in the World University Games. Self has always been a fan of Mason’s bulldog mentality, often comparing him to former KU All-American Sherron Collins. But only recently has Mason displayed the type of leadership skills that helped Collins lead the Jayhawks to the national title.

 

Mason will likely be part of a three-guard lineup that will also include junior Wayne Selden and sophomore Devonte’ Graham. A McDonald’s All-American in high school, Selden has been a mild disappointment thus far. He averaged just 9.4 points a year ago and failed to show up in big games, going scoreless in Kansas’ NCAA Tournament loss to Wichita State. Self, though, says that Selden was the team’s best player in the World University Games. If he and Graham (who averaged 23.4 minutes in Kansas’ final seven games last season) continue to make strides, Kansas’ backcourt could be lethal, especially considering what the Jayhawks have on the bench.

 

Brannen Greene is a 6'7" sharpshooter who went 17-of-24 from 3-point range during one stretch last season. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is a 6'8" combo guard from Ukraine who saw limited action as a freshman. Don’t be surprised if Mykhailiuk is Kansas’ first guard off the bench in 2015-16. His ability to play all three guard spots and his high basketball IQ are the main reasons he’s projected as a first-round pick in the upcoming draft.

 


Key Losses: F Cliff Alexander, G Kelly Oubre

Top Players: G Frank Mason, G Wayne Selden, F Jamari Traylor, F Cheick Diallo, F Perry Ellis

 


Newcomers

 

Cheick Diallo gives Kansas the physical, intimidating presence it has lacked in the paint since the graduation of Jeff Withey in 2013. But the likely one-and-done is skilled, too. Carlton Bragg’s athleticism and offensive versatility would earn him a starting spot at most schools, but he may have trouble earning significant minutes as a freshman in KU’s crowded frontcourt.

 

Final Analysis

 

Other than Iowa State, which has a new head coach, there doesn’t appear to be a team in the Big 12 with enough talent or manpower to challenge the Jayhawks for the league title. The bigger issue will be whether Kansas can return to the Final Four for the first time in four years — and perhaps claim its first NCAA championship since 2008. With this roster, nothing is out of the question.

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Change has been a constant in the Big 12 — except for Kansas being on top.

 

When the run of Kansas’ Big 12 championships began in 2005-05, the league still had 12 teams, and the roster of coaches included Eddie Sutton and Bob Knight. With Rick Barnes gone to Tennessee, Baylor’s Scott Drew is the only coach remaining from the start of the Jayhawks’ run.

 

Even with two new coaches in the league at Iowa State and Texas, the Jayhawks may face their toughest challenge in the conference in a while. The Cyclones and Oklahoma both have top-10 caliber teams, but — as usual — we’re picking Kansas until Bill Self’s team gives us reason to pick someone else.

 

All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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2015-16 Big 12 Predictions
1.With a nice blend of veterans and rookies, the Jayhawks appear poised for a 12th straight league title. Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
2.New coach Steve Prohm, who averaged 26 wins per year at Murray State, inherits a Final Four contender. Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
3.

Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins form one of the nation’s top backcourt tandems. The Sooners are ready to contend. Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16

4.Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince are stars, but the Bears need a floor leader to replace point guard Kenny Chery. Postseason: NCAA second round
5.Shaka Smart is bringing Havoc to Austin, but how quickly will the Longhorns adapt? Postseason: NCAA First Round
6.

Losing Juwan Staten hurts, but the Mountaineers still will be one of the Big 12’s toughest teams. Postseason: NCAA First Round

7.Freshman Jawun Evans will try to provide a spark to a team that lost three starters. Postseason: NIT 
8.Tubby Smith’s squad competes hard and returns a ton of experience — but the talent level is still low. 
9.Offseason transfers and dismissals have put Bruce Weber’s Wildcats in an unenviable position. 
10.The Horned Frogs are no longer pushovers, but they lost three of their top four scorers. 

Big 12 Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Georges Niang, Iowa State

Best Defensive Player: Jameel McKay, Iowa State

Most Underrated Player: Isaiah Cousins, Baylor

Newcomer of the Year: Cheick Diallo, Kansas

Top Coach: Bill Self, Kansas ()

Coach on the Hot Seat: Bruce Weber, Kansas State ()

Teams in the No. 6 Kansas, No. 7 Iowa State, No. 9 Oklahoma

 

All-Big 12 First Team

G Frank Mason, Kansas

G Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

F Georges Niang, Iowa State

F Perry Ellis, Kansas

F Rico Gathers, Baylor

 

All-Big 12 Second Team

G Monte Morris, Iowa State

G Isaiah Taylor, Texas

G Wayne Selden, Kansas

F Taurean Prince, Baylor

F Jameel McKay, Iowa State

 

All-Big 12 Third Team

G Phil Forte, Oklahoma State

F Devin Williams, West Virginia

F Cheick Diallo, Kansas

F Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma

C Cameron Ridley, Texas

 

Recruiting Roundup

 

1. Kansas: This top-five national class is headlined by five-star big men Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg.

 

2. Texas: A trio of four-star perimeter players are custom-built for Shaka Smart’s system.

 

3. Oklahoma State: McDonald’s All-American Jawun Evans is expected to make a big impact at point guard.

 

4. West Virginia: Four-star wings Esa Ahmad and Treyvon Myers headline a four-man recruiting class.

 

5. Baylor: Four-star guard King McClure leads a four-man class that ranks in the top 40.

 

6. Oklahoma: Junior college 7-footer Akolda Manyang is the top recruit in the Sooners’ three-man class.

 

7. TCU: Two highly ranked three-star junior college prospects top the Horned Frogs’ class.

 

8. Texas Tech: Tubby Smith hopes he has a couple of sleepers in his recruiting class.

 

9. Kansas State: Promising forward Dean Wade leads a six-man recruiting class to Manhattan.

 

10. Iowa State: Former Marquette recruit Nick Noskowiak is the top recruit in the two-man Cyclones class.

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Gonzaga this season could look very much like the 2015 and ’13 versions of the Bulldogs. Those two squads went a combined 67–6 and are considered at or near the top of the list of all-time GU teams, meaning that this year’s Zags remain clear favorites in the WCC and a fixture on the national landscape.

 

The similarities to last year’s 35–3 squad, which reached the Elite Eight for the second time in program history, are obvious. The Zags relied on one of the nation’s best frontcourts in center Przemek Karnowski and forwards Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer. Those three return to anchor the current squad.

 

The Kelly Olynyk-led 2013 team, which finished 32–3 after being upset by Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32, enjoyed a relatively injury-free year, other than Gary Bell Jr.’s late-season foot/ankle issues. The Zags could use another healthy campaign with just nine scholarship players on their roster.

 

Gonzaga may be short on depth but not on talent.

 

All West Coast Conference predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

The trio of Karnowski, Sabonis and Wiltjer combined to shoot 59.4 percent from the field last season. They averaged 37.4 points and 19.0 rebounds per game. Those numbers should improve following an offseason of skill development and conditioning. Karnowski and Wiltjer considered leaving early for the NBA Draft before electing to return for their senior seasons. Sabonis, projected by some as a first-round pick, decided early to come back for his sophomore season.

 

The three bring different specialties, adding to their collective effectiveness. Wiltjer, who dropped 45 points on Pacific, can score from the rim out to 25 feet. He continues to make strides physically, which has helped his post-up game. His ability to stretch the floor makes it tough for foes to double Karnowski or Sabonis.

 

Karnowski is a low-post force who burned paint-conscious opponents with his passing ability. He’s a quality rim protector on defense. Sabonis is a relentless rebounder and an emotional spark, often shouting to punctuate dunks in traffic. He is working to expand his offensive game with a mid-range jumper and the ability to create via the dribble.

 

The three will probably see some court time together, depending on the matchups at both ends of the floor.

 

Ryan Edwards, who has the size (7'1") to compete with Karnowski in practice, figures to play in the 8-12 minute range.

 


No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs Facts & Figures

Last season: 35–3, 17–1 WCC

Postseason: Elite Eight

Consecutive NCAAs: 17

West Coast Projection: 1

Postseason Projection: Sweet 16

 


Backcourt

 

The biggest questions concern the backcourt. The exit of rock-solid four-year starters Bell Jr., Kevin Pangos and Byron Wesley (first three years with USC) leaves three starting jobs open. Pangos and Bell were deadeye shooters and remarkably consistent. Wesley was a perfect fit slashing from the wing.

 

Five players are essentially competing for the three spots, but all will be counted on to contribute. Point guard Josh Perkins was off to a promising start before suffering a season-ending broken jaw against Georgia in the fifth game. He’s a gifted passer and appears to have the tools to be a capable scorer.

 

Silas Melson, pressed into duty after Perkins’ injury, could step into Bell’s role. With opponents concentrating on GU’s interior, the athletic Melson and the other guards should have spot-up shooting opportunities.

 

The 3, manned by Wesley last year, is up for grabs, though senior Kyle Dranginis has seen extended time at the position. Bryan Alberts, who redshirted last season, is another option.

 

Eric McClellan, a quality defender, can play any of the guard positions. Mark Few has never been shy about using three-guard lineups in the past, and that could be a possibility at times this season.

 


Key Losses: G Kevin Pangos, G Gary Bell Jr., G Byron Wesley

Top Players: G Josh Perkins, G Kyle Dranginis, F Kyle Wiltjer, F Domantas Sabonis, C Przemek Karnowski

 


Newcomers

 

Wing Bryan Alberts should crack the rotation after redshirting last season. He has the size and shooting ability to help at the 3. Under NCAA rules, transfers Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) and Johnathan Williams (Missouri) can practice with the team but must sit out this season.

 

Final Analysis

 

For the last four years, Few rarely had to worry about his starting backcourt. Pangos, the 2015 WCC Player of the Year, and Bell, the WCC Defensive Player of the Year, were unselfish, knock-down shooters who made few mental mistakes. Gonzaga’s new backcourt will probably be bigger and more athletic, no matter what combination Few puts on the floor; but they have huge shoes to fill.

 

Gonzaga’s talented frontline will draw most of the attention, which should allow for an easier transition for the guards. If they show that they can share the ball, hit open shots and defend, and primary players stay healthy, the Zags have the makings of another 30-win team capable of an extended run in the NCAA Tournament.

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San Diego State is always itching to be taken seriously on the national stage, and an opportunity was missed that might have solved that issue once and for all.

 

The Aztecs were exposed by eventual national champion Duke in the Round of the 32 of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, as a season-long inability to score finally caught up with a team that went 27–9. And that is what must change this season for San Diego State to shed that perception of being scrappy and tenacious but not ready for big-time status.

 

The Aztecs need to figure out how to score after averaging just 61.8 points in 2014-15. Improving on shooting percentages of 41.8 overall, 32.0 percent from 3-point range and 63.0 percent from the free throw line is a must if San Diego State wants to reach the Sweet 16 for the third time in school history.

 

The defense should be as unyielding as ever, and the program has a solid chance at winning 25 games for the seventh time in eight seasons. Shot-blocking center Skylar Spencer and forward Winston Shepard are returning starters, but Matt Shrigley, the team’s top 3-point threat and a 17-game starter in 2014-15, was sidelined with a torn ACL during the summer.

 

The Aztecs remain the most talented team in the MW, but the squad once again enters the season without a go-to scorer and will be counting on forward Malik Pope to improve on an inconsistent first season and incoming freshman guard Jeremy Hemsley to be a difference-maker.

 

All Mountain West Conference predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Shepard has been an enigma over the past three seasons, as his production often falls short of his talent. He led the Aztecs in scoring last season at a modest 11.1 per game. He fancied himself as a one-and-done player when he arrived at San Diego State and never intended to be around for his senior season. Shepard checked out his NBA Draft options in the spring, but a 9.6-point career scoring average and other deficiencies didn’t impress evaluators, so he’s back with one more chance to evolve into one of the better players in the Mountain West.

 

Another player who surprisingly considered applying for the NBA Draft was the 6'10" Pope, who didn’t start a game while averaging 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman. Despite his lack of productivity, Pope’s length and projections about his shooting ability led to scuttlebutt that he would be a first-round selection. The Aztecs would like to see his skills flourish while he’s still in college, and the opportunity is there for Pope to become that needed go-to player. However, he scored in double digits only four times last season.

 

Spencer is already the top shot blocker (231) in San Diego State history, and the 6'10" senior will be asked to improve his rebounding average of 5.1. He’s an offensive liability, but the Aztecs are willing to live with that due to his ability to dominate on defense.

Senior Angelo Chol, a former top recruit who began his career at Arizona, figures to be the top inside reserve unless highly regarded redshirt freshman Zylan Cheatham emerges. Cheatham, a former top-100 national recruit, missed last season due to a foot injury but is fully recovered.

 

Shrigley, who averaged 5.1 points and made 41 3-pointers as a junior is hoping to return to the lineup during February.

 


San Diego State Aztecs Facts & Figures

Last season: 27–9, 14–4 Mountain West

Postseason: Second Round

Consecutive NCAAs: 6

Mountain West Projection: 1

Postseason Projection: Second Round

 


Backcourt

 

San Diego State is thin in the backcourt and will once again use an abundance of three-forward alignments to make up for the shortages.

 

Sophomore shooting guard Trey Kell started the first 15 games a year ago before getting demoted to reserve status. He shot just 33.3 percent from the field, including a woeful 22.1 percent from 3. The Aztecs are hoping the experience he gained last season will lead to an improved all-around game.

 

Hemsley will open the season at the point unless he proves to be overwhelmed or overmatched in the weeks leading up to the first game. The much-ballyhooed prospect seems primed to make an immediate impact.

 

Junior Dakarai Allen is a stellar defender and will again be a key player off the bench. Junior D’Erryl Williams provides added depth.

 


Key Losses: F JJ O’Brien, F Dwayne Polee, G Aqeel Quinn

Top Players: G Jeremy Hemsley, G Trey Kell, F Winston Shepard, F Malik Pope, F/C Skylar Spencer

 


Newcomers

 

Jeremy Hemsley was a consensus top-100 recruit who shouldn’t need much time to get comfortable at the collegiate level. Zylan Cheatham received valuable practice time last season after his foot injury healed, and that should reduce the learning curve. Nolan Norain, originally part of the class of 2016, reclassified over the summer. He was a great late addition for the Azetcs.

 

Final Analysis

 

Coach Steve Fisher is 70 years old and wants to take the Aztecs to the Final Four before he retires. But that doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility with the current squad, which is too similar to last season’s offensively challenged group.

 

A seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament is a near certainty, and so is an 11th straight 20-win campaign, but reaching the Sweet 16 appears to be the ceiling for this team.

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Wichita State handled Indiana and knocked off Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. After a loss to Notre Dame, its winning streak resumed.

 

Alabama came hard after coach Gregg Marshall, waving big dollars and the lure of the SEC. The university and community rallied to push Marshall’s salary to $3 million and keep him in Wichita. Junior guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet looked at their professional options before deciding to spend one more season thrilling fans.

 

Disaster loomed for a few days in the spring. Then things took a dramatic turn in favor of the Shockers. With those three architects of WSU’s run to national prominence on board, the status quo looks great at Koch Arena.

 

Baker and VanVleet form one of the nation’s top backcourts. The rest of the Shockers will work with them to form an efficient offense and a fearsome defense. With a Final Four and a Sweet 16 on their résumés, Baker and VanVleet get one more shot at something bigger.

 

“It’s hard to fathom it’s my last year,” Baker says. “Every year I’ve been here and been to the NCAA Tournament, good things have happened. That’s the motto we have — improve on the year before.”

 

All Missouri Valley Conference predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Senior center Anton Grady filled the team’s biggest need when he announced in May that he would play his final season at Wichita State. Grady averaged 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds as a junior at Cleveland State, earning All-Horizon League honors and a spot on the All-Defensive Team. Grady played three seasons without coming close to the NCAA Tournament. He chose WSU to end his career with a big winner. He made an immediate impression by coming to the gym early to work on his shooting and taking a lead in the weight room during the summer. “He’s been wonderful to coach,” Marshall says. “He’s very strong. He’s a grown man.”

 

Senior Evan Wessel returns as an undersized power forward. He made 36 percent of his threes, and coaches love his hustle and ability to set screens. He plays tough defense, putting that skill on display against former high school teammate Perry Ellis in WSU’s win over Kansas.

 

With Grady a proven commodity and Wessel a smart and solid player, Marshall can see which of his returners grow into larger roles. Sophomore Shaq Morris earned MVC All-Freshman honors. Rashard Kelly is rebounder, and Rauno Nurger can score. Senior Bush Wamukota earned more minutes in March because of his defense.

 

On the wing, sophomore Zach Brown made his case in March to replace Tekele Cotton as WSU’s stopper. He made 11-of-26 3-pointers and could begin the season in the starting lineup.

 


No. 14 Wichita State Shockers Facts & Figures

Last season: 30–5, 17–1 Missouri Valley

Postseason: Sweet 16

Consecutive NCAAs: 4

Missouri Valley Projection: 1

Postseason Projection: Sweet 16

 


Backcourt

 

VanVleet is eager to run an offense with Baker, Wessel and sophomore transfer Conner Frankamp spreading the defense with their shooting ability. Those threats will give VanVleet and the big men room to operate in the lane and around the basket.

 

Baker improved his scoring from 13.1 points per game as a sophomore to 14.7 as a junior, but his shooting dipped from .456 to .433. Look for his efficiency to improve in ’15-16. Frankamp, from Wichita, played little at Kansas before transferring just prior to the ’14-15 season. He practiced with the Shockers last season and is eligible on Dec. 12, the day they play Utah. “He is unbelievably skilled,” Marshall says. “He shoots it as well as anyone I’ve coached. He’ll make us very difficult to guard.”

 

Freshman guard Landry Shamet should give WSU the depth in the backcourt it lacked last season.

 


Key Losses: F Darius Carter, G Tekele Cotton

Top Players: G Fred VanVleet, G Ron Baker, G Conner Frankamp, G Evan Wessel, C Anton Grady

 


Newcomers

 

Senior forward Anton Grady is eligible immediately. Sophomore guard Conner Frankamp is a Wichitan with considerable offensive skills. He transferred from Kansas and is eligible on Dec. 12. Guard Landry Shamet and forward Markis McDuffie are ranked in the top 150 from the class of 2015 by national recruiting analysts. A year at a prep school helped Eric Hamilton improve physically and with his work ethic.

 

Final Analysis

 

WSU’s unprecedented run of success will continue with Baker and VanVleet back. The Shockers should win the MVC for a third straight season and cruise into the NCAA Tournament with a favorable seed.

 

Grady’s presence alone won’t make WSU a Final Four contender. It needs Morris to continue his development and give the Shockers a powerful two-man punch in the lane. If Kelly can improve his offensive game and Nurger his rebounding, WSU’s rotation of bigs will be satisfactory.

 

WSU should be deeper and more physically imposing than last season. If Frankamp fits in smoothly, the Shockers should be considered a legitimate threat to reach the Final Four.

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Because of a high volume of players serving two-year church missions, BYU is continually a program in transition. But even by the Cougars’ standards, 2015-16 is a season of change. A combination of graduation, missions and transfers took away 10 letterwinners from last year’s team, undoubtedly one of the biggest numbers in Division I basketball.

 

BYU coach Dave Rose is intrigued by the players who are scheduled to join or rejoin the Cougars at various points, with some of them currently on missions. “If you look at our depth chart for the next two or three years, I think we’ve got good, young talent,” Rose says.

 

Rose’s immediate challenge is maximizing the skills of senior guard Kyle Collinsworth, one of the country’s most versatile players, while trying to replace guard Tyler Haws, the school’s all-time leading scorer.

 

All West Coast Conference predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Rose has found success with small lineups recently, partly out of necessity and partly because the WCC is a perimeter-oriented league. The Cougars adjusted well last season when center Nate Austin was sidelined by a hamstring injury after 10 games and UNLV transfer Jamal Aytes was unable to play following ankle surgery.

 

Austin received a medical waiver from the NCAA, so he’ll return as a senior. If he can get healthy, Aytes will increase BYU’s athleticism. Corbin Kaufusi, originally recruited to BYU as a lineman in football, continues to develop as a basketball player. He’s not much of a scorer, but he gives BYU an inside presence that many WCC teams lack.

 

Kyle Davis, a transfer from Utah State, is eligible this season and should provide scoring and rebounding after starting 27 games for the Aggies in 2013-14. Davis posted 16 points and nine rebounds in USU’s loss to BYU at a neutral site in Salt Lake City that season.

 

Jakob Hartsock could fit into the rotation as a freshman.

 


BYU Cougars Facts & Figures

Last season: 25–10, 15–5 West Coast

Postseason: First Four

Consecutive NCAAs: 2

West Coast Projection: 2

Postseason Projection: NIT

 


Backcourt

 

The 6'6" Collinsworth is a multidimensional player. He made a remarkable recovery from the knee injury that ended his 2013-14 season, averaging 13.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.8 steals last year and posting six triple-doubles.

 

Wake Forest transfer Chase Fischer functioned well in BYU’s three-guard offense amid the defensive attention given to Collinsworth and Haws. With Haws having graduated after scoring 2,720 career points to break Jimmer Fredette’s school record, opponents will focus more on Fischer. He averaged 13.2 points and shot 41.5 percent from 3-point range, hitting 10 3s vs. Chaminade.

 

Several candidates will compete for the role of third guard in Rose’s scheme. Jale Toolson is among the Cougars’ few holdovers from last season, while Cory Calvert has returned from a mission. Nick Emery, Jordan Chatman and Zac Seljaas are freshmen.

 

“We’ve got not only really talented players, but talented players that fit together,” Rose says. “The core of the group is really diverse.”

 


Key Losses: G Tyler Haws, G Anson Winder, G Skyler Halford

Top Players: G Kyle Collinsworth, G Chase Fischer, G Jake Toolson, F Jamal Aytes, C Corbin Kaufusi

 


Newcomers

 

BYU’s list of newly arrived players is usually long and complicated because so many players serve two-year church missions before or during their college careers. That’s the case again in 2015-16, with the added element of transfer Kyle Davis (Utah State). A group of freshmen and returned missionaries (some fit both categories) figure to be in the mix at guard, including Zac Seljaas, Nick Emery, Jordan Chatman and Cooper Ainge.

 

Final Analysis

 

BYU has played in the NCAA Tournament in eight of Rose’s 10 seasons, but the Cougars have advanced to the Sweet 16 only once. They’re scarred by a First Four loss to Ole Miss last March, which Rose hopes will motivate the returning players.

 

Even with the loss of Haws, who averaged 22.2 points, BYU will find ways to score after averaging 81.1 points in conference games last season. The biggest issue is defensive improvement. The Cougars weren’t bad on that end of the floor, but they will need to be better — they ranked fifth in the 10-team WCC in defensive efficiency in league games — to contend for a conference title.

 

Like every school in the WCC, the Cougars are chasing Gonzaga. BYU has not won a tournament title in the WCC, with its most recent postseason championship coming in 2001 in the Mountain West.

 

The program remains popular, with its average attendance of 16,125 ranking No. 9 nationally. Construction of a new practice facility, renovation of the Marriott Center and a five-year contract extension for Rose have BYU well positioned for the future.

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The subject line of a May email to LSU students and supporters was two words: “He’s coming.”

 

Now, he’s here.

 

The email’s message featured two hands holding a basketball. Below was a graphic advertising ticket prices — six months before the games would be played — with a promise that “No. 25 is coming.”

 

The arrival of Ben Simmons, the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation, has ignited an excitement around LSU basketball not seen since current coach Johnny Jones was an assistant in the days of Chris Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal.

 

Simmons’ close friend Antonio Blakeney and Louisiana’s Mr. Basketball Brandon Sampson — who’ve adopted the moniker “The Killer B’s” — round out Jones’ consensus top-five class that had fans drooling before the 2014 season ended.

 

Simmons and crew are projected, if not expected, to improve upon last season’s showing — which ended with an agonizing loss to NC State in Round of 64 — and take LSU back to prominence.

 

All SEC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

LSU lost two All-SEC big men who patrolled the Tigers’ frontline with little help. Jordan Mickey, the No. 33 overall pick in the NBA Draft, played 34.9 minutes per game last season, while Jarell Martin (No. 25 pick) logged 35.1. Mickey’s 3.6 blocks per game led the SEC by a full block, and his 9.8 rebounds also topped the conference.

 

Now who’s to replace this production? Newcomers, of course.

 

Simmons is labeled “positionless” by analysts and coaches, but if they had to slot his 6'10" frame somewhere, it’d be on the block. Jones, however, maintains that he won’t handcuff Simmons and will allow him to bring the ball up the floor and handle the point.

 

Craig Victor, a New Orleans native who transferred to LSU after only one semester at Arizona, appears destined for a more permanent role inside when he becomes eligible in December. Victor’s 235-pound frame will be vital to keeping opponents off the glass.

 

While Victor sits out, LSU will need to rely on the improvement of two rising sophomores. Elbert Robinson III arrived with high acclaim and found himself starting the first four games, though he finished with more fouls (13) than defensive rebounds (11) and more turnovers (nine) than offensive boards (six). His playing time diminished late in the season.

 

Picking up Robinson’s time was Aaron Epps, who battled through an injury-filled freshman season to become a serviceable post man off the bench. Jones believes a clean bill of health and the freshman-to-sophomore transition will help Epps earn more playing time.

 


LSU Tigers Facts & Figures

Last season: 22-11 (11-7 SEC)

Postseason: NCAA first round

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

SEC projection: 4

Postseason projection: NCAA second round

 


Backcourt

 

What experience LSU lacks on the frontline, it compensates for in the backcourt, returning four guards who played more than 24 minutes per game, including the team’s only two seniors — Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray.

 

Hornsby showed himself as a natural leader on the floor last season and will reprise that role. Gray, a high-volume scorer in junior college, tended to force the action too much early in the season — which led to a reduction in his playing time — but he adjusted to a new role later in the year and found his niche as a distributor and occasional shooter. Hornsby should be firmly entrenched in the starting lineup with Blakeney, a smooth shooter on the wing who can score in bunches. Blakeney’s challenge will be to adjust to the collegiate game on the defensive end.

 

It could once again be point guard by committee, with Tim Quarterman leading the charge. Quarterman was the Tigers’ most improved player last season, transitioning from sixth man to starting point guard by the end of the season and leading the team with 3.8 assists per game.

 

When Quarterman isn’t on the floor, the Tigers can go with a conventional point guard, sophomore Jalyn Patterson, or allow Simmons to bring the ball up the court. Simmons possesses superior court vision and can create scoring opportunities from any spot on the floor.

 


Key Losses: F Jarell Martin, F Jordan Mickey

Top Players: G Tim Quarterman, G Keith Hornsby, G Antonio Blakeney, F Ben Simmons, F Craig Victor

 


Newcomers

 

Ben Simmons spearheads perhaps the most heralded group of newcomers in LSU basketball history, and all four are primed to see premium playing time. When he’s eligible, Craig Victor could be crucial inside, a place where LSU lacks the depth it has in the backcourt. He’ll team with Simmons at times down low, while Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson will see significant time on the wing.

 

Final Analysis

 

Blakeney told reporters over the summer that he believed LSU would win the national championship this season. While his prediction seems lofty, the Tigers have a once-in-a-generation player in Simmons and a seasoned backcourt that now has NCAA Tournament experience. This team has the talent to make a deep run in March.

 

Now the Tigers must prove they can live up to the lofty expectations.

 

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LSU Tigers 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
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Why not climb out on a limb if you’re already on a hot seat? That’s what Texas A&M basketball coach Billy Kennedy did. He’s guaranteed the Aggies will be in the NCAA Tournament field this season.

 

Had Rick Pitino, John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski made that promise there would be no doubters. But that’s a bold statement considering A&M hasn’t made the NCAA in any of Kennedy’s four seasons at the school. Last year, the Aggies looked like a safe bet to make the field in mid-February but lost four of their last five games and had to settle for a spot in the NIT.

 

Kennedy has some very good reasons to be so brazenly optimistic. The Aggies return two players with All-SEC credentials — one who led the league in assists — and have an influx of talent from a consensus top-10 recruiting class that will provide desperately needed size and depth.

 

The combination of proven veterans and heralded newcomers will give Kennedy more options than he’s had before. Perhaps that will give him more success, too.

 

All SEC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Jalen Jones, who began his career at SMU, averaged 13.7 points and 6.6 rebounds to earn second-team All-SEC honors from the conference coaches last season. Jones, however, desperately needs help inside. That aid may come from several sources.

 

Fingers are crossed that freshman Tyler Davis, a 6'10", 270-pound center from Plano, Texas, will make an immediate impact. Rated among the nation’s top 30 prospects by all recruiting services, Davis averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds in leading his high school team to a state championship. Davis and 6'9", 240-pound Elijah Thomas, another highly rated freshman prospect, could potentially form an intimidating inside presence.

 

If the freshmen struggle to transition to the collegiate game, the Aggies can give more minutes to 6'7" junior Tavario Miller, who injected a measure of toughness as a sophomore. Miller averaged 3.0 rebounds in only 11.3 minutes last season. He’s limited offensively, though, and converted just 40.7 percent of his free throws.

 

There are also high hopes 6'10" Colombian Tonny Trocha-Morelos will blossom in his second season. Trocha-Morelos did not make a significant contribution as a freshman, but Kennedy likes his athleticism, jump shot and work ethic.

 


No. 25 Texas A&M Aggies Facts & Figures

Last season: 21-12 (11-7 SEC)

Postseason: NIT

Last NCAA Tournament: 2011

SEC projection: 3

Postseason projection: NCAA second round

 


Backcourt

 

Guard play has been the Aggies’ greatest asset, and that should be the case again if senior Danuel House stays healthy and Alex Caruso gets some help. A transfer from Houston, House led the team in scoring with a 14.8-point average and increased his production in league play (16.2 ppg). He shot nearly as well from 3-point range (.400) as he did overall (.417). House broke his foot late in the season, and the Aggies dropped back-to-back games (vs. Alabama at home and vs. Auburn in the SEC Tournament) that knocked them out of NCAA Tournament consideration.

 

Touted freshmen D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder could provide needed depth behind House. The 6'7" Hogg averaged 17.6 points as a high school senior and hit a buzzer-beating jumper for a victory in the state championship game. Gilder averaged 30.7 points as a senior at Madison High School in Dallas.

 

Meanwhile, the versatile Caruso, who led the SEC in assists and shared the lead in steals, faded at the end of the season. He shot just 22.2 percent and committed 19 turnovers in the Aggies’ final four games. He figures to get more help this season. Sophomore Alex Robinson was inconsistent in his debut season but showed flashes of his immense potential. At the very least, Robinson should ease some of the point guard demands on Caruso. If Robinson doesn’t progress, Kennedy can turn to Anthony Collins, a senior transfer from South Florida who will be eligible immediately. Collins isn’t much of an offensive threat, but he averaged 5.2 assists in his final season with the Bulls.

 


Key Losses: G Jordan Green, F Kourtney Roberson

Top Players: G Alex Caruso, G Alex Robinson, G Danuel House, G/F Jalen Jones, C Tyler Davis

 


Newcomers

 

Tyler Davis figures to start immediately and will team with Elijah Thomas to provide a physical inside presence A&M hasn’t had in years. Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg are sharpshooters who can ease the reliance on Danuel House. Raquan Mitchell was a late addition after reclassifying. Anthony Collins was a three-year starter at South Florida and is the only player on A&M’s roster with NCAA Tournament experience.

 

Final Analysis

 

There is great optimism that Texas A&M will return to the NCAA Tournament after a four-year drought. A nice mix of returning starters — House, Jones, Caruso — and a heralded recruiting class suggest the Aggies will be better than last season’s team that finished 21–12 and tied for third in the SEC with an 11–7 record. When March rolls around, A&M either will be playing in the NCAA Tournament or searching for Kennedy’s successor.

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Texas A&M Aggies 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
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Billy Donovan is gone to the NBA, and with him the face of Florida basketball. Many wonder whether the Gators’ winning tradition will follow.

 

New coach Mike White steps into Donovan’s shadow after four seasons at Louisiana Tech. White also walks into a rare rebuilding situation in Gainesville. A year after reaching their fourth Final Four under Donovan, the Gators finished 16–17 — the program’s first losing season since 1998.

 

“There’s probably a lot of doubters out there like, ‘Oh, Florida is not the same. They are not going to be the same program. They are not going to compete like they used to because they don’t have Coach D,’” sophomore forward Devin Robinson says. “We don’t listen to that. We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder. We have a lot to prove.”

 

White, 38, has more to prove than anyone. His teams were 101–40 at Louisiana Tech, playing an exciting, up-tempo style on both ends. He also never coached his team to the NCAA Tournament, something Donovan did 14 times during 19 seasons in Gainesville.

 

All SEC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith led the Gators in scoring (13.1 ppg), rebounding (6.2 rpg) and 3-point shooting (.426) last season. But he needs help.

 

The Gators hope center John Egbunu, a transfer from South Florida, will provide the physical inside presence Florida lacked last season. Listed at 6'11", 266 pounds, Egbunu averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman at USF in 2013-14. He also shot just 54.5 percent from the foul line and looks to become a more efficient low-post scorer.

 

Robinson is dynamic off the wing, but he is rail thin and prone to poor shot selection. He had more airballs (nine) than field goals (eight) nine games into his freshman season. Small forward Alex Murphy, a Duke transfer who sat out the first semester, was increasingly effective in the open court, but his 3-point shooting (6-of-33) was abysmal.

 


Florida Gators Facts & Figures

Last season: 16-17 (8-10 SEC)

Postseason: None

Last NCAA Tournament: 2014

SEC projection: 5

Postseason projection: NCAA First Round

 


Backcourt

 

White was a point guard, two of his assistant coaches (Jordan Mincy and Darris Nichols) were point guards, and his best player at Louisiana Tech (Speedy White) was a point guard. Good thing, because shaky point guard play was a big reason for the 2014-15 Gators’ struggles. White, a four-year starter at Ole Miss, will push junior Kasey Hill and sophomore Chris Chiozza to improve.

 

“I’m a little harder on point guards than the other four spots on the floor, little bit more demanding,” White says.

 

Hill’s ability to respond could be the key to the season. A 2013 McDonald’s All-American, Hill has mixed flashes of brilliance with poor decision-making and shooting. He enjoyed a three-game stretch early last season with 25 assists and four turnovers. He then had four turnovers or more in six SEC games. During a stunning loss at Missouri, Hill hit 2-of-7 from the field and 1-of-8 from the foul line. For the season, he shot 52.6 from the line and 27.6 percent (8 of 29) from 3-point range.

 

Chiozza similarly struggled with his shot, finishing at 32.3 percent from 3-point range and 47.7 percent from the foul line. But as a first-year player, he showed the court sense Hill too often lacks.

 

Redshirt freshman Brandone Francis and first-year player KeVaughn Allen should provide scoring punch. Junior DeVon Walker, who returns from an ACL tear, also can shoot but is more valuable as a perimeter defender.

 


Key Losses: G Eli Carter, G Michael Frazier II, C Jon Horford, F Jacob Kurtz

Top Players: G Kasey Hill, G Chris Chiozza, F Devin Robinson, F Dorian Finney-Smith, C John Egbunu

 


Newcomers

 

John Egbunu should step into a starting role, while KeVaughn Allen should be an immediate factor, too. He averaged 25.2 points to lead North Little Rock (Ark.) High School to its third straight state title. Kevarrius Hayes is a long, athletic shot blocker and rebounder, while Keith Stone is a combo-forward who can score anywhere inside the arc. Schuyler Rimmer provides another big body.

 

Final Analysis

 

White turned down previous job offers at Missouri and Tennessee but believed Florida was too good an opportunity to pass up. He was born near Tampa and has strong recruiting ties in the Sunshine State.

 

White embraces the challenge of following a legend and has quickly won over his players with his high-energy personality and aggressive playing style. Louisiana Tech averaged 21 3-point attempts last season and forced 8.4 steals per game.

 

Yet outside of Finney-Smith, the Gators have a roster of unproven players. The schedule features trips to Michigan State and Miami, visits from Florida State and West Virginia, and two games with Kentucky. White could be hard-pressed to get the Gators to the NCAA Tournament in Year 1.

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Bend your knees. Spread your arms. Move your feet. Guard your man.

 

There are fancier ways to analyze what matters for the Indiana Hoosiers this season, but nothing is more relevant than this simple truth: Tom Crean’s experienced Hoosiers must defend better than they defended last season if they intend to grow into more than a team that wobbles into one of the final NCAA Tournament spots.

 

The Hoosiers played top-10 offense, averaging 1.15 points per possession last season. They made 319 3-point attempts, shooting nearly 41 percent as a team. The Hoosiers played bottom-100 defense, allowing 1.07 points per possession as opponents shot a Big Ten-best 45.3 percent.

 

If the Hoosiers keep scoring as efficiently as they did last season and discover the value of defensive resolve, Indiana can be a top-15 team. If not? More grumbling at Assembly Hall.

 

All Big Ten predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Thomas Bryant, a 6'10" center, is Indiana’s most important recruit since Cody Zeller four seasons ago. He’s a solid shot blocker with the bulk and mindset to control the rim. He also turned down Kentucky, Syracuse and Missouri because he recognized the void in the middle at IU, which used the departed Hanner Mosquera-Perea (no low-post game) and Collin Hartman (only 6'7") inside last season.

 

Troy Williams is determined to follow the Victor Oladipo growth chart at one forward position — from inconsistent freshman to dynamic sophomore to first-round draft pick as a junior. Williams led the Hoosiers in rebounding (7.4 rpg) while scoring 13.0 points per game. Improving those two numbers would be a plus, but not as much of a plus as cutting back on his turnovers and upgrading his defense. Spectacular in transition, Williams worked with John Lucas last summer on becoming a complete player.

 

Hartman can play anywhere from center to guard. Crean will employ him according to matchups and foul trouble. He protects the ball, makes threes (47.5 percent) and hits the floor.

 

Word is that sophomore Emmitt Holt is primed for a breakout year. He trailed on the learning curve after signing one week before classes started. But he showed the ability to block shots and finish. Holt has worked to develop his range to 10 feet and will be Bryant’s primary backup — along with Max Bielfeldt, a fifth-year transfer who averaged 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds for Michigan last season.

 


No. 17 Indiana Hoosiers Facts & Figures

Last season: 20-14 (9-9 Big Ten)

Postseason: NCAA first round

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

Big Ten projection: 4

Postseason projection: NCAA second round

 


Backcourt

 

This is one of the five best backcourts in America if (you guessed it) they improve their commitment to defending, especially against dribble penetration.

 

Point guard Yogi Ferrell (16.3 ppg) and James Blackmon Jr. (15.7 ppg) both considered declaring for the 2015 NBA Draft but wisely realized they needed work.

 

Ferrell ranked in the league’s top 10 in scoring (sixth), assists (fourth), free throw percentage (second), 3-point percentage (sixth) and minutes (sixth). He is a legitimate Big Ten Player of the Year candidate because he can score from anywhere.

 

Blackmon is recovering from minor offseason knee surgery. He made 77 3-point shots and was Indiana’s second-leading rebounder. Improvement on his ball handling and defense will determine how quickly he’s NBA-bound.

 

Robert Johnson, a sophomore, had a difficult assignment playing between two guys who love to score, but he handled it well, contributing 8.9 points and finishing second on IU in assists. Nick Zeisloft, a fifth-year senior, can shoot with anybody, making 45 percent of his attempts from distance.

 


Key Losses: F Hanner Mosquera-Perea

Top Players: G Yogi Ferrell, G Robert Johnson, G James Blackmon, F Troy Williams, F/C Thomas Bryant

 


Newcomers

 

The Hoosiers had to find a center. Thomas Bryant’s late commitment gave the class the piece it needed. Bryant has a solid, mature body and was described as an outstanding teammate during summer drills. Bryant’s transition should be aided by Max Bielfeldt, who battled injuries at Michigan but became a solid contributor last season. Freshmen Juwan Morgan and Og Anunoby are athletic but will need time.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Hoosiers allowed 88 points against Eastern Washington, 94 against Louisville, 91 against Georgetown and 92 against Wisconsin — all in defeats. Crean understands that the commitment to defense is non-negotiable. He hired a new strength and conditioning coach whose first request was to build a sand pit outside Assembly Hall, where the players worked on their lateral quickness and toughness.

 

Bryant and Holt can alter the defensive tone with their physical presence and willingness to challenge shots. Indiana must also improve on the boards.

 

But the heart of this team remains Ferrell, Williams and Blackmon. They have to score as efficiently as they did last season but prove that the other end of the court is where championships are won.

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One year after proving yet again that a Tom Izzo team should never be counted out in March, Michigan State will be back in the hunt to cut down more nets this season.

 

The Spartans will not be the favorites to win the Big Ten but should be watched closely for clues that they might be on the march for a potential eighth trip to the Final Four under Izzo.

 

“I think we have a chance to be better than last year, talent-wise,” Izzo says, “I don’t know about team-wise. That’ll be my job to get them there.”

 

Despite the losses of Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, the Spartans will be deeper, more athletic and a better shooting team than last year’s squad, which advanced to the Final Four before losing to Duke.

 

Izzo will seek continued excellence in team chemistry and renewed defensive toughness. These are difficult areas to gauge, but Izzo swears by them — and the Spartans will eventually be strong in those categories again.

 

All Big Ten predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling formed a functional tag team at the center position a year ago and are back as an improving asset. Costello has good strength and skill on the block at both ends, and he can nail the open face-up jumper. He has taken his leadership skills up a level and is bent on helping Izzo notch his second national title. The toughness and determination Costello showed on defense and the glass in a must-win situation against Purdue last year — while Dawson was out with an injury — revealed what kind of performer Costello can be on a regular basis.

 

Schilling is the most athletic big man Izzo has ever had, and he needs to put it to better use as a finisher around the rim. Schilling must improve his dependability, especially on the glass.

 

“I need to get more out of Costello and Schilling in order for this team to take a big jump,” Izzo says.

 

Javon Bess is quietly developing behind the scenes as an impact player. He would have been a part-time starter for last year’s team were it not for a maddening foot injury. Now healthy, he’s strong, skilled and crafty, with ability to help at either forward position.

 

Incoming McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis is a big, bouncy athlete with length and pure scoring ability. He adapted quickly to program expectations during his first summer in East Lansing.

 

Marvin Clark is the strongest guy on the team and a sweet shooter from deep. He is a quality offensive rebounder but needs to prove himself on defense. 

 


No. 12 Michigan State Spartans Facts & Figures

Last season: 27-12 (12-6 Big Ten)

Postseason: NCAA Final Four

Consecutive NCAAs: 18

Big Ten projection: 2

Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16

 


Backcourt

 

Denzel Valentine is an Izzo-molded senior, shooter, rebounder, leader, passer and triple-double threat. He performed well for the Pan-Am Games team in July. The All-America candidate’s only weakness might be that he isn’t harsh enough on his teammates, but his will to lead them back to the Final Four is immense.

 

West Virginia transfer Eron Harris can create his own shot, drill it from long range and finish at the rim with sky-walking hops. He is an instant All-Big Ten candidate.

 

Bryn Forbes, perhaps the best shooter of the Izzo era, packed on a much-needed layer of muscle. Izzo called him the team’s MVP of the summer.

 

Fast and strong, Lourawls “TumTum” Nairn has added a dependable jumper to his quality repertoire at point guard. His ability to move the ball to open teammates on-time and on-target will enhance the team’s offensive productivity. Nairn is Izzo’s next great leader.

 

Alvin Ellis has occasionally provided a surprising scoring lift, including last year’s 16-point binge at Indiana. His wavering level of commitment has bothered Izzo.

 


Key Losses: F Branden Dawson, G Travis Trice

Top Players: G Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, G Eron Harris, G Denzel Valentine, F Matt Costello, F Gavin Schilling

 


Newcomers

 

Eron Harris will provide go-to scoring ability as one of the more talented guards in the Big Ten. Deyonta Davis compares favorably to former first-round pick Adreian Payne. Matt McQuaid impressed Tom Izzo in the offseason with athleticism, long-range shooting and IQ. Kyle Ahrens is tough and skilled but must overcome nagging injuries. Springy walk-on Kenny Goins could be a contributor someday.

 

Final Analysis

 

Locker room chemistry will remain a strength for the Spartans, but it may take awhile to establish on-court cohesion with a talent like Harris looking to find his niche within an established group of skilled veterans. Overall, that’s not a bad problem to have, especially with the agreeable personalities of Valentine, Costello and Nairn embracing him.

 

MSU will be able to run, score and deliver highlight-reel moments, but Izzo is more concerned about harnessing a championship level of defense and rebounding. Once he gets it, this team will be a threat to win conference tournament and NCAA Regional championships — again.

 

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The quality of the food wasn’t the main reason for Purdue coach Matt Painter’s tweet on the afternoon of May 19: “Had one of the best lunches I’ve ever had today on campus.”

 

That was the day Painter learned that the Boilermakers had landed Fort Wayne Homestead High School forward Caleb Swanigan, a consensus top-25 national recruit. With that, they went from good team to Big Ten title contender. The trio of the 6'9" Swanigan, 7'0" A.J. Hammons and 6'7" Vince Edwards should form one of the nation’s best frontlines.

 

“Very few teams in the country can play big,” Painter says. “Most of the time, your better players are guards. That’s what the game has evolved into. I think we’re going to be that traditional big team with Caleb playing the 4.”

 

All Big Ten predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Swanigan led Homestead to the Indiana Class 4A state title, the state’s largest class. He made an oral commitment to Michigan State before changing his mind and signing with Purdue. Painter says Swanigan’s skill set is such that he would be able to start if he were just 6-feet tall.

 

“His ability to pass and rebound will really help us,” Painter says. “We like the matchup with teams having to guard him with their second-best guy on the floor. We like that matchup every single night.”

 

But as highly touted as Swanigan is, Purdue’s best player figures to be Hammons, who broke through during his junior season and became the dominant post player most expected after an uneven first two years with the Boilermakers.

 

“I thought he was really consistent during those last two months, and hopefully he can build off that,” Painter says. “He’s always been big offensively, but I really liked what he showed between games. He developed some good habits. He showed some leadership ability.”

 

Swanigan’s arrival means that Edwards moves from power to small forward. He led Purdue in assists last season with 90, and the Boilermakers were 6–0 in games in which he was the leading scorer.

 

Purdue is so deep that 7'2" center Isaac Haas comes off the bench, even though he was one of 21 finalists for the Kyle Macy National Freshman of the Year Award last season. Basil Smotherman also had a good season coming off the bench but will have to battle for playing time in a loaded frontcourt.

 


No. 16 Purdue Boilermakers Facts & Figures

Last season: 21-13 (12-6 Big Ten)

Postseason: NCAA first round

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

Big Ten projection: 3

Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16

 


Backcourt

 

Here’s the good news: Rapheal Davis returns after being named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year. At 6'5" and 217 pounds, he’s got the size to guard most of the top players in the league. Davis also stepped up offensively, averaging 12.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in conference games.

 

But there are question marks after that. Purdue struggled from the outside last season, finishing 12th in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting at 32.7 percent. Dakota Mathias and Kendall Stephens are the best returning shooters, and Painter expects them both to improve after being slowed by injuries last season. Freshman Ryan Cline will push for playing time.

 

Purdue might start a transfer with just one year of eligibility remaining at point guard for the second consecutive season. Jon Octeus gave the Boilermakers a huge boost after transferring from Colorado State during the 2014-15 season, and Johnny Hill will get a long look during preseason practice after moving in from Texas-Arlington. “If he could be as productive as Octeus,” Painter says, “that would be a real blessing.”

 

P.J. Thompson showed promise as a freshman and also is in the mix. Few Big Ten players will match his quickness.

 


Key Losses: G Jon Octeus

Top Players: G Rapheal Davis, G Kendall Stephens, F Vince Edwards, F Caleb Swanigan, C A.J. Hammons

 


Newcomers

Caleb Swanigan was the No. 4 center in the nation by the 247Sports Composite. Ryan Cline is an excellent shooter. Johnny Hill started 15 games at point guard for Texas-Arlington last season. Grant Weatherford was a two-way star in football for Hamilton Heights High School last fall. Grady Eifert is the brother of Cincinnati Bengals tight end and former Notre Dame standout Tyler Eifert.

 

Final Analysis

 

This clearly looks to be Purdue’s best team since the JaJuan Johnson-E’Twaun Moore-Robbie Hummel era ended when Johnson and Moore finished their careers in 2011.

 

The combination of size and athletic ability on the frontline is impressive. Expect the Boilermakers to see a lot of zone from opposing teams because of that. If they develop into a good outside shooting team, watch out. They’ll be a Big Ten title contender and in line for a deep NCAA Tournament run. 

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The theme of this season in the Big Ten could be the Year of the Comeback team.

 

Maryland, our pick to win the conference and contend for a spot in the Final Four, is the most obvious pick to be a comeback team. The Terrapins will enjoy their highest preseason rankings since the 2002 national championship. Yet the Terrapins won 27 games last season. This is more of an ascent than a true comeback.

 

The comeback teams in the Big Ten include Purdue and Indiana. Both snuck into the NCAA Tournament as bubble teams and bowed out early. Now, the Boilermakers and Hoosiers expect to spend most of this season in the top 25.

 

The home for the biggest comeback may be in Ann Arbor. Michigan’s season fell apart after injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton. With those two healthy, the Wolverines expect to make a push for the league title.

 

All Big Ten predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, and on newsstands everywhere.

 

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2015-16 Big Ten Predictions
1.Add the league’s best freshman (Diamond Stone) and best transfer (Rasheed Sulaimon) to its best player (Melo Trimble) and you have the league’s best team. Postseason: Final Four
2.Tom Izzo has Final Four momentum, three starters, West Virginia transfer Eron Harris and McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis. Postseason: Sweet 16
3.The Boilermakers went 9–3 down the stretch in the league — and return four starters plus McDonald’s All-American Caleb Swanigan. Postseason: Sweet 16
4.

The Hoosiers led the league in scoring and were last in points allowed. Guess which number must improve? Postseason: Second round

5.

Bo Ryan has never finished outside the top four in the Big Ten, but he has never lost two first-round picks and three more seniors in one season before. Postseason: Second round

6.

Injuries toppled the Wolverines last season, but Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton are healthy again Postseason: Second round

7.

You win with seniors. The Hawkeyes have three good ones – Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury. Postseason: First round

8.

Thad Matta welcomes a top-10 recruiting class, and he’ll need it after losing D’Angelo Russell, two senior starters and all of his interior size. Postseason: NIT

 
9.

Keep an eye on the Wildcats. Chris Collins keeps adding talent — and Tre Demps can shoot them to a victory any night. Postseason: NIT

 
10.Tracy Abrams’ Achilles injury was a big setback, but the Illini still have a solid collection of perimeter players led by Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. Postseason: NIT 
11.

The Nittany Lions built momentum by winning two Big Ten Tournament games, but D.J. Newbill is a huge loss.

 
12.

The Gophers add a sub-par recruiting class to a team that lost a dozen Big Ten games and its top two players.

 
13.

The Cornhuskers underachieved last winter and lost their star power when Terran Petteway went pro.

 
14.The story never changes in Piscataway: The Scarlet Knights do not have enough talent or experience. 

Big Ten Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Melo Trimble, Maryland

Best Defensive Player: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Most Underrated: Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa

Newcomer of the Year: Diamond Stone, Maryland

Top Coach: Tom Izzo, Michigan State ()

Coach on the Hot Seat: John Groce, Illinois ()

Teams in the : No. 4 Maryland, No. 12 Michigan State, No. 15 Purdue, No. 17 Indiana, No. 19 Wisconsin, No. 22 Michigan

 

All-Big Ten First Team

G Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

G Melo Trimble, Maryland

G Caris LeVert, Michigan

F Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

C A.J. Hammons, Purdue

 

All-Big Ten Second Team

G Bronson Koenig

G Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

F Jake Layman, Maryland

F Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa

C Diamond Stone, Maryland

 

All-Big Ten Third Team

G Derrick Walton, Michigan

G Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern

G Eron Harris, Michigan State

F Troy Williams, Indiana

F Caleb Swanigan, Michigan State

 

Recruiting Roundup

 

1. Ohio State: Five four-star prospects provide Thad Matta with a top-10 class.

 

2. Illinois: A trio of four-star perimeter players highlight this top-20 class.

 

3. Michigan State: McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis and sharpshooter Matthew McQuaid lead a top-20 class.

 

4. Indiana: IU’s class has one of the top post players in the 2015 class in Thomas Bryant.

 

5. Nebraska: The Huskers have big expectations for Glynn Watson and Ed Morrow.

 

6. Purdue: Matt Painter salvaged a top-40 recruiting class with the late pickup of McDonald’s All-American Caleb Swanigan.

 

7. Maryland: Mark Turgeon won an enormous recruiting battle to secure the services of top-10 big man Diamond Stone.

 

8. Penn State: Four-star prospects Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins are expected to contribute immediately for the Nittany Lions.


9. Rutgers: Athletic four-star point guard Corey Sanders headlines Rutgers’ class, which is ranked in the top 50 nationally.

 

10. Wisconsin: The Badgers’ class is led by dynamic scoring guard Brevin Pritzl.

 

11. Minnesota: The Gophers’ class is a deep, perimeter-oriented group that is led by four-star Kevin Dorsey.

 

12. Northwestern: Four-star forward Aaron Falzon is one of the top shooters in the class.

 

13. Iowa: Wing Brandon Hutton is the top recruit out of six future Hawkeyes.

 

14. Michigan: John Beilein’s only recruit is highly regarded Moritz Wagner of Germany.

Teaser:
Big Ten Basketball 2015-16 Preview, Predictions and All-Conference Team
Post date: Thursday, October 22, 2015 - 07:00

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